27 April 2009

Do it yourself

This week’s Time Out (No.2018) has a feature about DIY. It encourages us all, in these ‘tough’ times, to save a bit of money, get out the toolbox and fix things around our homes ourselves.
Home improvement by the homeowner, whether for repair or to keep up with the latest styles, isn’t a new thing by any means as we have been building, renovating and improving our own homes since we learned to stand up and walk and clean out the cave.
The phrase ‘do it yourself’ was coined in the 1950s and quickly abbreviated to DIY. The 50s was a boom time for DIY with the fad for modernism and clean lines. Since that decade we have been discovering and renovating the paneled doors and ornate fireplaces hidden by our granddads back when he thought it was a good idea to encase them in hardboard and cover everything with wood-chip wallpaper (also known as ingrain paper). I have today discovered, that the wood-chip process was invented way back in 1864 by a German pharmacist Hugo Erfurt but not used as wallpaper until the 1920s – well, well!
Even the Victorians weren’t averse to doing it for themselves – in one chapter of the brilliant* The Diary of a Nobody, which originally appeared in Punch in 1888, Mr Pooter gets busy with two tins of Pinkfords red enamel paint. He paints all sorts of things around the house such as flower-pots, a washstand, a chest of drawers and even the spines of his Shakespeare books. He then goes on to paint the bath with diastrous results.
Anyway, it occured to me that I have taken quite a few pictures of ghost signs that relate to this subject, either on the shops that sold items for the DIY enthusiast, or as advertisements for traders such as builders and decorators. A selection is shown below and, as usual, you can find them and more at Flickr.
Column 1: G. Purkiss, Fulham; Chas B, Hampstead; H. Callcut & Son, Highbury.
Column 2: Miller Beale & Hider, Camden; John Hirst, Dartmouth Park; Magicote Paint, Chiswick; James Rugg, Earls Court.
Column 3: R.V. Amey, Walthamsotw; A. Davey, Portobello; Builders Merchants, Highbury; Claude Bastable, Willesden Junction; Brooke, Upper Clapton; Builders, Earls Court.
Column 4: Cakebread Robey & Co., Stoke Newington; Builders' Ironmongery, Shepherd's Bush; R. Hewett, Acton.

And here are three old-style independant DIY shops that are still trading today.
From left to right in Dalston, Willesden Green and Clapham:

*when I say ‘brilliant’ I mean the original book, not the disappointing BBC4 adaption starring Hugh Bonneville.

19 April 2009


April 23rd is St Georges Day so my latest post for Londonist is on the theme of dragons.
Here is a montage of some of the pics I have used:
Top: Smithfield, EC1; West End Lane, NW6; Caledonian Park, N7.
Middle: Earls Court Road, SW5; Strand, WC2, Smithfield, EC1; Upper Clapton, E5.
Bottom: Cleveland Street, W1; Inglewood Road, NW6; St James', Bermondsey, SE16.
My previous Urban Sightseeing articles on subjects such at chemists, pawnbrokers, gasometers and foreign travel are listed at the bottom of the above link, or click here

4 April 2009

Happy easter

School's out for Easter, the sun is shining and the pubs are full of drunken teachers.
Bunnies, chicks, spring, crosses, bonnets, eggs, flowers, chocolate... I think I've got it covered

3 April 2009

I love my postcode

Last month I got an email from Rachel at I Love My Postcode
She had read my Londonist interview and invited me to champion N7 by answering some set questions on her blog. Well, how could I refuse? Here's her blog
My piece is called Jane's N7 and can be found in her recent posts list.

2 April 2009

Time Out 1st April 2009 – a scottish theme

It's no joke... I've got another article in Time Out this week. Peter Watts, editor of The Big Smoke, asked me to put together the scottish theme because Gordon Thomson, the magazine's editor, is leaving and this was (is?) his final issue.
This issue is a particularly good one, not just because of my contribution, but because in the first 28 pages alone there are lots of interesting things in it including the pieces on the baroque (ooh baroque!), an interview with Wussel Bwand and a collage of articles about why London is brilliant (it just is!). And Richard Cudlip aka the cabbies capital, who I have met through our postings for Londonist, has managed to get his name in the masthead at the beginning of the Big Smoke section as an associate editor... he's put together some pieces about his observations as viewed from his black cab. Well done him!
My last article for Time Out was about closed pubs.