4 September 2015

A Forage on the Foreshore in Rotherhithe then a walk around Surrey Quays along the Thames Path to Greenwich

On Sunday 23rd August I met up with a group of friends for a Forage on The Foreshore. This time we met late morning outside The Angel pub at Rotherhithe with a plan to walk east towards.
The weather forecast had not been favourable and so we were not surprised that soon after we hit the foreshore the clouds broke. We managed to stay beachside for just over an hour before the rain set in and retired to The Mayflower for lunch where we assessed our finds including the usual bits of pottery, clay pipe, glass and metal fragments, plus an old leathermakers awl.
The sky cleared so we continued eastwards along the Thames Path to Greenwich...
Start point outside The Angel / lunch at The MayflowerOld Salt Quay / Malcolm and Graham admiring the view 

A short stop at The Blacksmith's Arms for excellent coffee. It's a lovely old wood-panelled pub with multi-hinged hooks for coats and bags on the walls and under the bar (take note modern pub designers!) and a restaurant at the rear. I enjoyed chatting to Stuart/Stewart, one of the locals, at the bar. I also spotted a great old photograph of how the Surrey Quays area used to look in its docklands heyday – compare that with how it looks today
We then popped in to Surrey Docks Farm; I will post about that separately sometime soon.

Continuing along the Thames Path – there are a few bits of unlabelled metal chain and what look like discarded anchors here and there but nothing to explain them. A prime example is an old crane near Custom Reach House. Note the strange net curtaining in the cabin window! I could see no information about this one piece of preserved history and wonder if people actually know why it is there or what it used to be used for. It's the same on The Isle of Dogs.
Click here for info about the history of London's docks.
A few minutes along the path is Helsinki Gardens with its expensive modern riverside apartments. A pretty friendly cat was keen to enhance William Pye's Curlicue. But we had no idea why it was there or what its relevance was so thanks to Tom for doing the research.
There are many different types of dockers' mistresses along the path and you can clearly see why they are so affectionately called by by looking at some of the ones along this stretch! Others though, like the ones at South Dock Marina, look more like Wellington boots.
This is the only area along the route where signage is used to explain about the historical features left behind as hints of the past; the hydraulic lifting gear, the swing bridge (not shown here), the lock keeper's cottage,etc. I also noticed a couple of lovely old Victorian lamp posts.
Further along the signage stops. A Pair of gateposts just stand there with no explanation, ditto a badly repaired obelisk. These must, I am sure be remnants of long-ago dismantled wharves. And I often wonder if anyone else knows what those freestanding crumbling manmade constructions in the river were used for. Read on...
More unlabelled things as we advanced on Deptford.
A gridded orb sits on one of the stuctures. A wooden board is all that remains to explain it; the plaque that used to be screwed to it having been been removed. I photographed it years ago and can here tell you that it's called Circumsphere by Chris Marshall and Stephen Lewis and was erected in September 1998. The plaque read: "The [red] discs [on its surface] show the route of Sir Francis Drake's circum-navigational voyage around the earth which was completed at this waterfront in 1581." It went on to explain that it is mounted on a 'dolphin' which is the name given to many small mooring structures that sit by the River Thames and provided low tide moorings for ships, barges, tugs and liners. So there you go.
Faded, scratched, unkempt boards show an attempt at generic historical information near the old Royal [Navy] Dockyards buildings (now the Pepys Research Centre) and Convoys Wharf (at the time of writing, a huge empty fenced-off wasteland awaiting redevelopment).
We also spotted a signpost with six pointers on it each none of which have anything written on them. Who knows, perhaps this is also art. It's hard to tell. Ditto the set of raised stairs that Malcolm climbed "just cos they were there". 
And so to Paynes Wharf which in the past five years has been transformed into apartments and exhibition space. All that's been retained of the old wharf buildings are some of the boundary walls including the arched river frontage though I can't understand why 'they' decided to paint white the landward-facing side of the building opposite Twinkle Park (what a lovely name!). The charming cobbled street that leads down to Watergate Steps is still intact.   
These are older pics. The first two pics are mine taken in 2009. The archive pic (sorry, I can't now recall where I got this from) shows how the name along the top is not the same as it appears today.    
Left, the shell of the Princess of Wales pub in a back street.
The Dowell's Coals depot at Deptford Creek is now long along with this sign which used to sit on the gate at the junction of Creek Road and Norway Street. When I was there in 2009 the mouth of the creek was more visible from the Thames and there was a lot of mud and remnants of old piers and landings to be seen. I now wich I had photographed that. Now we've got 'swanky', 'luxury' apartments wrapped around keep fit centres, restaurants and supermarkets.
The last two pics show me on the throne (thanks to Meike). I can't recall who that fella with the small head is but he's holding a clay pipe.
And finally... Greenwich.
What a great day out. Thanks to all who came along!

More Info
Please note that finding specific info on the area for the above has proved difficult and I have as good as given up. Googling the streets and squares tends to results in lists from estate agents. Wikipedia gives a rough outline of the general area here

1 September 2015

Why is the UK still knocking down historic cinemas?

That's the heading on this article from BBC News.
Well I don't know.
Of the London cinemas that remain but are no longer used for their orginal purpose many have been gutted and used for other things. The only ones that seem to have retained their interiors are now being used as churches or pubs. Many others are now converted into shops or other businesses and oly hints of their once sparkling past can be seen on the street-facing façades.

Top: Essex Rd, Finsbury Park, Leyton
Middle: Edgware Rd, Acton, Holloway
Bottom: Stratford, Westbourne Grove, Hoxton
Top: Lea Bridge Rd, Bruce Grove, Bethnal Green
Middle: Dalston, Oval, Willesden
Bottom: Walthamstow, Kilburn, Camden
Many more architecturally interesting London cinemas have been reduced to rubble over the decades, mostly since the 1970s. And, to me, it just beggars belief that the developers didn't at least retain the ornate façades or re-use some of the lovely bricks and tiles. (Note to self: Rein it in Jane, you about to start ranting about modern glass architecture with a projected lifespan of 15 years...whoa!)
Seeing as everything these days, films, music, etc., is available as downloads, or on demand, for how long will the few magnificent palaces that remain, some of which I show below, still stand?

Top: Shaftesbury Ave, Dalston, Holloway
Bottom: Brixton, Leicester Square x2
My two favourite cinemas used to sit adjacent to each other in Camden. 
The Parkway was a lovely old Art Deco cinema with a red dralon seats and just two screens. I particularly recall seeing Oliver Stone's JFK on the big screen there in 1991 whilst munching on a box of Maltesers. The small above the ticket office showed independent films and there was a piano on the first floor next to the confectionery and drinks counter and very often someone was tinkling the ivories before the film began. I am pretty sure that I read that John Boorman used the cinema when filming parts of Hope and Glory. There is a great scene when the lad who is the lead in the film can be seen leaning forward in the first row of the circle transfixed by the film he is watching.
The cinema was gutted and modernised just prior to the last offensive about saving our old cinemas. Really bad timing and such a sad loss. 
The Camden Plaza around the corner, opposite the tube station, showed art house films and was simpler inside, but I recall the small entrance lobby/ticket hall was wood panelled, almost Tudor in design. At one point the cinema formed part of the Gaumont chain (later Odeon) and a pic of the faded sign on the side of the building is shown below.

It's just occurred to me that many long gone cinemas gave their names to the junction on which they sat* as in the case of The Savoy Cinema in Acton (Savoy Circus). I used to drive past it often in the late 1990s and I just took it for granted. Then hoardings went up around it and very soon there was a big empty space. It stood empty like a barren wasteland for years. Below are some comparison pics. Amazingly I cannot find any older pics than these from 1971.

Top left approx mid 80s. Top right: late 90s I think (note the blocked up doors)
Bottom: 2009 and the plans for the site today
Lots of great pics and info about demolished London cinemas can be found here – click the tabs under the map to see other categories.

*I have often wondered whether there was a cinema called The Apex at Apex Corner. I have so far drawn a blank about where this name come from. Or possibly there was a shop? Whatever it was, it's now long gone. Londonist wrote a piece about the naming of road junctions a while back... does anyone out there have any more info?

30 August 2015

Brewfest - Bank Holiday Weekend August 2015

Yesterday I went to check out Meantime Brewing Company's Brewfest 2015 in the shadow of the O2 on the Greenwich Peninsula. The event continues today and tomorrow too and I recommend it. Even in the rain!
Going to a beer festival is a bit like a taking a test as much cross-referencing in the catalogue is required to read about the different beers. But it makes it more fun and you get to chat to the staff and swop feedback with other customers.
I tasted/tested/supped some lovely ales (avoiding lagers and stouts) and can report that of the ten I tried (calm down; these were little 1/3 pint glasses and I was with a friend!) my favourites were Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Nectar (from USA), and Schönramer Dunkel, St. Bernardus ABT and St. Bernardus Blanche (all German).
There are also spirits, cocktails and even alcoholic iced tea available plus a few tempting food stalls.
It was such a shame that the weather kept the punters away as earlier in the day we'd enjoyed lazing about on the grass and listening to the live music.

So, wet already, we went for a stroll in the rain around the Thames Path all the way to Greenwich....

Top: the event itself looking damp and grey
Middle: Pic1 in places The Thames Path around the O2 feels like a prison enclosure.  Pic2 the most 'interesting' cladding on the peninsula.  Pic3 a view of the Dangleway (prob not the best day to get a good view!).  Pic4 intrepid dome walkers on the roof of the O2 (again, prob not the best day for it!)
Bottom: Pic1 it's art Jim, but not as we know it. WTF is it supposed to be?!  Pic2 birds on the foreshore.  Pic3 why? do they?  Pic4 view to the Isle of Dogs 

27 August 2015

What's the time Mr Wolf? Damaged clock faces in Holloway Road

Directly above No.296 Holloway Road, just north of the tube station, there are two angled clock faces under a lovely old eight-sided windowed cupola. It harks back to a time in the 1890s when this area of Holloway was affectionately known as the Oxford Street of the North and lined mostly with outfitters' shops.
For over a hundred years these two clock faces remained intact, albeit telling the wrong times, but over the past few years both have suddenly deteriorated.

Top left: the 1970s. Top right: March 2006
Bottom: two pics from November 2010
Top: March 2013. Bottom: February 2014
Friday 29th August 2015
As you can see from the pics above, chunks started falling out of the right hand one sometime after March 2013. But the speed of this deterioration confuses me – if you assess the earlier pics you'll see that there were no cracks on that face, so how did the breakage occur? Note also how the left hand clock was still completely intact 18 months ago.
This week I noticed with sadness that the pair are now in a terrible state with practically all of the central white areas on both clocks empty apart from one little triangular piece hanging on in there.
Some people tell me they think this is just general wear and tear over time. Perhaps the seal around the circles had reached the end of its lifespan? But, to me, it seems odd to me that these sections would break and fall off in such a short space of time. I wonder if this damage could have been caused on purpose, either by people who have got up inside the cupola and damaged the clock faces by hand, or they have been used as some kind of target practice from a vantage point somewhere across the road, in which case, it's vandalism.
Let's hope the clocks can be restored; it can't be that difficult.

The title of this post refers back to a post I wrote last year about children's playground games.

25 August 2015

Birthday fun at London Zoo (ZSL)

I share my birthday with many people including Princess Anne, Ben Affleck, Oscar Peterson and Napoloeon Bonaparte but, best of all, with my friends' lovely daughter Dorothy.
This year she turned six and I began another in my prime and we spent the afternoon with Dot's parents at London Zoo (ZSL).
What a great day – giraffes, reptiles, penguins, lemurs, gorillas, pigmy hippos, hunting dogs and more.

I always thought Peter Gabriel sang "Dotty plays with Jane". But having just checked, it's Lotte. The song then goes on to say that Jane played with someone else and is happy again. Fnar.

20 August 2015

Brunswick Square and Hornsey Road

Compare and contrast

I took these snaps within Brunswick Square because I like the patchwork quilt effect and geometrical shapes:

Walking along Hornsey Road near the junction of Tollington Way last week, I noticed a similar effect:

That's it.

18 August 2015

A walk along Kings Road (part 2) – The Chelsea Potter, RSoles and The Pheasantry/PizzaExp

This continues from my post on July 24th

An Art Nouveau-esque typeface on the optician's sign uses a cut of Arnold Böcklin by Otto Weisert harking back to the 1960s when this kind of retro look was very 'in'. Think Biba.
Next, The Chelsea Potter's ornate railings and pub sign.
On the next row, hints of the road's distant history can be glimpsed when looking at the lovely old house, home to RSoles boots and shoe shop. Note the  quirky cyclist art for sale above the ground floor. Possibly sold by the time you read this as I took these pics in March.
And then we have the splendid Grade II listed Georgian frontage of The Pheasantry, so called because in and around 1865 George Samuel was breeding pheasants, cattle and foxes at this site. Three plaques on the building show that the site was occupied by Amédée Joubert & Sons (1880-1914) who seemed to be masters of a multitude of trades including upholstery, cabinet making, wood carving and gilding. They also manufactured bedding and furniture and imported and restored tapestries and carpets. It would have been during this period that the triumphural entrance, the courtyard and architectural mouldings and details were added. AJ&S produced and sold not only full size items but miniatures for dolls' houses.
After 1914 the building became the home of a dance studio/ ballet academy, and was used as studio space by artists. In the mid 1930s the basement was turned into The Pheasantry Club and for decades was a popular haunt of artists, actors, writers and the like. It closed in 1966; the basement became a nightclub and the upper floors were converted into apartments.
It has been a branch of Pizza Express for as long as I can recall (date to be checked).
I can't find any info as to who the two people depicted in the roundel on the main gate are (shown in the pics bottom right). Possibly it's Monsieur Joubert and his wife? ... any ideas?

14 August 2015

Tour and Lunch at Middle Temple Hall

I cannot believe I haven't posted about this earlier as it was way back in April that I did this.
Hidden away between Fleet Street and The Embankment is an area where it feels like time has stood still for centuries. In amongst the legal offices is the magnificent Elizabethan Middle Temple Hall.
Guided tours are available and these include outer rooms and offices.
A fantastic buffet lunch is served most weekdays. You don't have to be a member of the Inns of Court or on a tour to eat there; just pre-book through the website, but note that there is a dress code of sorts (no jeans or trainers) and no photos are allowed during meal time.
If you want to go on a guided tour, where pre-meal photos are allowed (as you can clearly see from here) then again, please check the website.

Top left: the exterior of the building.
Bottom right: a close-up of the wonderful hammer-beamed Tudor ceiling.
The other three pics show tables being laid ready for lunch.
All around the walls, around the main hall and all along the adjoining corridors, are members' coats of arms laid out in chronological order. I was amused to see that many of these were loosely inspired by the surnames, such as Field-Fisher, Lilley, Shelley, Hollis, Elverston and Swan.
I was also captivated by the stained and coloured glass and the standard of craftsmanship that went into the making of them. Note the close-ups above showing some very amusing lions.
More things that caught my eye.Top row: A very long table made from one piece of wood; interiors from two of the other rooms; a rare painting of Queen Elizabeth IIMiddle row: James II and William II showing off their fashion sense; The Queen Mother; The Right Honorable Charles Abbot Baron Tenterden wearing a truly marvellous wig; Sir Henry Montague in a wonderfully deep ruffle collar, which makes me wonder... surely this is a fashion device that has yet to recur... you read it here first, dear readers... The big designers will have these in their collections very soon.Bottom row: George I's fabulous ankle boots; a painting of The Judgement of King Solomon, though why these women felt it necessary to have their breasts on display like that I don't know.
And finally, bottom right, a round table that confused me... what shape are the drawers in this piece? Are they all 45 degrees such that they swing/angle out rather than pull out straight on runners? Or perhaps only four are real drawers and the alternate ones are fake. Hmmm. But there were keyholes on all sections. I had a surreptitious pull on the knobs but it was locked. Any ideas?

11 August 2015

College Street and Little Green Street, NW5

Tucked away parallel to Highgate Road, between Kentish Town and Highgate, behind The Vine public house, is a lovely little footpath called College Lane.
Starting at College Yard it runs northwards past pretty little workers' cottages where it's hard to believe that a bus route is a stone's throw away.

Walking northwards from Somerset Road (top left)
The path then continues through a foot tunnel under the railway line and eventually becomes Grove End and then Grove Terrace.

Before the tunnel is the junction of Little Green Street:

With just eight houses on one side and two on the other, all of which were built in 1780 and are Grade II listed, it harks back to a bygone age of carts and flat caps. The street was the inspiration, and featured briefly in the video, for The Kinks' Dead End Street*. More recently the road was threatened with demolition in order to create a gated driveway for 30 new properties being built at the rear. Read more about that evil plan here. And here for a 2012 update.

* which surely inspired this great video by Oasis

7 August 2015

Update on Harpers of Holloway ghostsign

A few months ago I noticed that scaffolding had gone up all around the Harpers Building on Holloway Road and was covering the old sign for Harpers of Holloway Pianos. The building is currently being converted into swanky new flats. I kept my fingers crossed that the sign would not be tampered with.
Last week I noticed the scaffolding had been removed from the side section and I am sad to report that elements of the old hand-painted sign have been have scrubbed away:

The top two photos show the sign in 2008, and the bottom two snaps show how the sign is now thinner with many of the old white words removed; see how the word 'OF' that used to be in the middle has gone completely.
Note also the bad patching in of the bricks where modern machine-made ones have been used to replace the old London stocks.
The decorative moulding of a woman's face on the front corner (and all the way along the front of the building) have since been reinstalled

Below is a view of the whole Harpers building, taken earlier this year before the scaffolding went up, and a close up of the 1893 date stamp at the centre:

More news on this renovation when the full scaffold is removed.

5 August 2015

Gone but not forgotten – G. Smith & Sons, tobacconist and purveyor of snuff

The first of a new series remembering shops and businesses I have known or used myself that have closed down or been demolished in the last few years.

In the middle of a long line of antiquarian bookshops, that used to run from Cambridge Circus down to Leicester Square Station, was G.F Smith & Sons at No.74, a beautiful old tobacconist's shop with a lovely old mirrored frontage and hand-painted gilt lettering showing they were purveyors of fine cigars and smoking paraphernalia. The shop was established in 1879 and was reputed to be one of the oldest/longest-trading shops in Soho. It was also the meeting place for the The London Snuff Club

I took these pics in 2008 when the shop was a garish orange (it was soonafter repainted royal blue – you can just make out the scaffolding in the mirror).
Sadly, the shop closed in 2012 or 2013. I can't seem to find a definitive date or what exactly caused the shop's demise but I suspect the revised smoking laws of 2006 had a huge effect on sales – see above for their adaption of My Way that was in the shops' window in August 2008 and with my pink highlights (grr!). And I suspect that the humidor at the rear of the shop fell foul of the regulations against indoor smoking within work premises.

As you can see by this screenshot, from Google Streetview (July 2015), the shop is still there with the same woodwork painted a soft beige, but I wonder what became of Smith's lovely painted glass, the stock and and all the advertising ephemera?
Charing Cross Road used to be lined with bookshops of all kinds and have been inspiration for novels and films etc. The larger shops were at the northern end (Foyles, Waterstones, Blackwells etc) and smaller independents specialising in certain fields especially, art, maps, second-hand and rare antique books could be found south of Cambridge Circus.
At the time of writing, the specific section of the road mentioned above has only about three bookshops left, the others having been replaced with cafés and coffee houses, souvenir and clothes shops; crushed under the wheels of high rent and homogenisation. It's called progress.
More antiquarian shops can be found a few minutes' walk away in St Giles Court and St Martin's Court, (both further down Charing Cross on the left just after Leicester Square station) where you will while away hours amongst books, prints, maps, coins, stamps, medals and more.

Hmmm... thinks... Smith the stationer, Smith the umbrella maker, Smith & Nephew the chemists and Smith the tobacconist and snuff seller... any more?  

3 August 2015

Ghostsign palimpsest recalled

I was walking down Canonbury Road last week and I spotted this food trailer parked up on the pavement:

It reminded me of this lovely ghostsign palimpsest on Stoke Newington High Street advertising the things that used to be available at N. Robey & Co.:

That's it!
Have a nice day,

28 July 2015

Whittington Park's hidden mural

Whittington Park near Upper Holloway Station is just a short walk from my house. I often go there to sit, meet friends, relax, attend events or just people-watch.
I met a friend for some tea and cake at the park's cafe recently and then showed her the little wooded area that abuts the back wall of Yerbury Primary School. Walking through there in the past I had half-noticed that there was paint on the walls but hadn't ever taken a closer look. Jen always has a camera hanging round her neck and so we investigated further.

The first two rows show the mural.
The images in the bottom row show the construction of some hideous container-style apartments being built along the Wedmore Street side of the park, some lovely meadow flowers and thistles, and a tree with a face.
On closer inspection we found, hidden behind the climbing plants and graffiti, an old well-painted mural depicting people partaking in different kinds of sport. The only ones we could identify easily were table tennis and football. A woman in a striped dress and hat may have been intended as a spectator or just a park-goer.
I have no idea how when this mural was painted but suspect it's at least 20 years old judging by the Gary Lineker style shorts on the footballers.
Any info welcomed.

24 July 2015

A Walk Along Kings Road

The groovy shops and cafés of the King's Road in its 1960s heyday have all disappeared but there are a few interesting details along the street that hint at this might have once been a road fit for a king.

Starting at the corner of Sydney Street by Habitat and walking east towards Sloane Square... 

The Curzon Cinema and some of its Art Deco details 

Opposite Habitat and the cinema there's Chelsea Town Hall, the Scottish Methodist Church and a lovely Shoe Repairers' sign
And then there's 'Antiquarius' the lovely Grade II listed Arts and Crafts billiards hall constructed by The Temperance Movement*. By the second half of the twentieth century the balls had been packed away and the building had been converted into small retail spaces, home to many boutique shops and antique dealers. These days it houses some big name High Street brands.  
Actually, I think I'll save the rest of this walk for some future posts.

Meanwhile check out this link about Kings Road in the 1960s.

* Ha ha... hope you enjoyed that diversion.
Here's a link to the 'correct' Temperance Movement.

21 July 2015

Dirty Millennium Bridge – here we go again

Just like the Golden Jubliee Bridges, the Millennium Bridge's handrails are the only clean bits to be found along the structure as people take in the views left and right.
View from Millennium Bridge looking east

Beneath the rail, once shiny areas are now really grubby, and dirt sits tight in the textured metal underfoot. Chewing gum has been trodden into the grooves onto which Ben Wilson paints his wonderful little designs. Indeed, he was busy creating a new one on the evening I took these photos.

And now they calculating the cost of a bloody garden bridge... what kind of state will that be left to get into?

Oh... re chewing gum, and the disposal thereof... #GUMDROPLTD have come up with this clever recycling solution which turns discarded gum into plastic receptacles for disposal. There are many pink recycle points across central London already.