29 August 2014

Breaker's Yard at Sutton House, and a walk through Clapton and Stamford Hill

Sutton House, Homerton, is North London's oldest residential house. Built in 1535 by a rich courtier of Henry VIII, it's now owned and managed by the National Trust.
I finally went there last Friday for a guided tour. The house is just what you'd expect from an NT property – history, eccentric past owners, wood panelling, tea rooms etc. But I was more interested and impressed by the ingenuity of Breaker's Yard, a paved garden that has recently opened on the land adjacent to the the house which in centuries past used to be part of a tannery and, more recently a breaker's yard, hence the name.
This inspirational garden contains all kinds of creative and interactive elements including planters made from huge tractor tyres, recycled rainwater, a vegetable garden, a sand pit and, my favourite elemnt, a double-decker caravan that has been transformed into a mini stately home using reclaimed panelling, an old staircase, a wooden chandelier and other decorative elements. I'd just love something similar in my own garden! Read more here.

After the tour I decided to walk through Clapton along the A107 and on my journey I spotted quite a few things that were either new to me or had changed since the last time I really took a good look along there.
For instance, in the lobby of St Andrews Mansions at No.157 Lower Clapton Rd there are some lovely tiles (see top left, below). However, the sister building next door does not retain the same.
The toilet block T the end of Millfield Road is still closed and surrounded by blue boards – that's at least six years now. Somebody do something please! Question: why are hoardings like this always painted bright blue? Answers please.
I popped into the gardens that surround nearby Clapton Pond, sat for a while with a sandwich and read the info board about the conservation area. Glad to see The White Hart pub falls into that zone and has, since I was there last, had new life breathed into it. And an old carved, recessed sign is now visible along the front reading, "The Clapton Hart". I am still waiting to see what becomes of the old cinematograph building next door.
Across the roundabout, I noticed the change in colour within the brickwork on the side of the old tram depot which I think shows where the ramps used to go up to the second floor. Further along, on the corner of Cleveley's Road, there is a clunky old optician sign.

I have for many years been trying to get a good angle on the ghost sign above Clapton Station to try to work out what it might have advertised. Well, whoopee, I think I have finally cracked it – it appears to be a NestlĂ© ad, and may have looked like this one except the lettering on the Clapton sign looks to be be outlined rather than solid. Sorry, but the pic above doesn't really capture very well what I could see on the day.
I continued towards Stamford Hill, noticing that by now almost 75% of people passing me were wearing wigs, big black hats or thick tights. None of them were wearing a smile. I tried smiling at them but they ignored me as if I wasn't there. A lot of them looked thin, pale and undernourished; others looked far to young to have three children in tow.
At Clapton Common I turned left into Oldhill Street. It's interesting to note that there are lots of hills in the road names around here; Stamford Hill, Spring Hill, Big Hill, High Hill, Harrington Hill, Bakers Hill.
Oldhilll Road contains some very strange diddy little houses – there are two skinny buildings facing the street as per normal, but a few doors further up there are some more that are set sideways like back-to-backs. I have never seen these in London before. See here. And further along the road I noticed that Stamford West Grove still has its old framed enamel street sign showing the now defunct London N.E. area. These days NE is Newcastle. The South London S code was also abolished in the 19th century.
Returning back to the main road via Braydon Road I spotted an old workshop with broken windows and peeling paint with a sign that read, "Accident Repair Centre". Quite ironic really. The faded blue paint on the shutters was pleasing. That same blue again.
I walked back to the corner of Oldhill in front of the impressive 19th century houses that face the common and mused how similar it looked to other park-facing terraces elsewhere in London i.e Highbury Fields, Clapham etc.
On an information board outside St Thomas's Church, on the corner of Oldhill, there are some old photos showing how the area used to look 100 years ago. One of them features the Swan Tavern. I used to drink there in the 80's with a friend who lived close by – it was the only decent pub in the area. As you can see by these pictures, the building has changed considerably over the years. It's now a Jewish centre and barely recognisable as an old pub. It's been even further 'simplified' since the image in the link above – the front of the building is now practically flat and I could see that the interior has been plasterboarded and magnolia'd with bright strip lights added to the ceilings. Why they couldn't have kept some of the decoration and mouldings is beyond me. At least the church who took over the Rainbow/Astoria at Finsbury Park had the decency to keep the architectural details there intact. Hallelujah.
Anyway... continuing my journey...
I stopped to snap some mish-mash patchwork wooden hoardings on another building site and then spotted an interesting church spire in a street beyond the northern side of the road so I went to check it out.
Sitting next door to the Arriva bus garage in Rockwood Road is a Grade II listed building orginally built by the Agapemonites cult in the 19th century as 'The Church of the Arc Of The Covenant'. Read more about this quite-frankly bonkers group and its loony leader here. The building is covered in intriguing sculptures featuring among other things depictions of various beasts appearing to crush humans underfoot.

There are also some and some interesting bronzes up high. The building is now used by the Georgian Orthodox community. Here's a video about it.
On the opposite side of the road there is the New Synagogue which also has some lovely stained glass windows.
I thought that was enough for one day so I got on a 254 bus and went home.

26 August 2014


I was just about to put a collection of pics together about this past weekend's walk from Greenwich to Wapping when it occurred to me that I still hadn't posted about last month. So here goes...
I went with a couple of friends to the foreshore on the southern side of the river under Blackfriars Bridge and then we wandered along eastwards.  I spotted a strange hardened lump of metal that looked like stone made from petrified eels, and some plastic poking out of the ground such like it seemed as if it was growing there. Also a foot shape ring of tufts which I though odd. There were also the usual bits of old weathered wood, oyster shells with holes in them and, of course, clay pipe fragments.

But it intrigued me how I kept seeing so many bits of leather shoes.
At first, I made a small collection and included a 'pair' of black gloves. But I kept finding more and more pieces of heel and soles, often hobnailed and beautifully handmade. In 30 minutes I managed to collect more than 30 bits so I arranged the best of them on the access steps near Tate Modern for other people to admire. The ages of these items varied a lot. Most were Victorian/Edwardian; others definitely came from the mid-20th century, and some were quite plainly less than 10 years old.
So... why/how have these all ended up here? I have never seen shoes in such profusion on any other sections of Thames' foreshore.
Was this an area particularly affiliated with cobblers?

20 August 2014

Sunshine and a rainbow

Hard to believe it's August at the moment. It's cold and wet and windy out there.
So I have put together some sunny-coloured things to remind us of that big hot thing that usually sits in the sky.

I was asked to tweet about my favourite colour of the rainbow earlier this week for Samsung's #MidnightRainbow event. I actually prefer indigo – this old post features some lovely old dark blue tiles and links in nicely with the above.

Here's a photo of the rainbow made using lots of Samsung Tab S screens taken at the press event last night where I bumped into my old school mate Andy who is now the big cheese there.
See the rainbow today on the Southbank near Gabriel's Wharf.

18 August 2014

Pretty patterns

I had a kaleidoscope when I was young. I loved the patterns it made. I also liked colouring in graph paper to make intricate patten repeats. But that's another story.
This has post nothing to do with London except that I bought a (replacement) old kaleidoscope at a London boot fair while back and rediscovered it this past weekend.
Nice eh.
Who needs technology?!

12 August 2014

Making an impression

I have been snapping marks made in wet cement or tarmac for years now and have collected a few of them together here.
Some are accidental impressions made by shoes, cones or birds; others are clever or specific written messages:

But the most common ones are where people have written their names:

7 August 2014

London shop fronts and their signs

I have been taking photos of shops signs and frontages for many years now. I am drawn to old hanging signs, hand-painted lettering, curved glass and wonderfully-arranged or jam-packed window displays. It's always frustrating when I realise I missed a photo when a shop I had taken for granted closes before I had a chance to snap it (as in the case of the old Shelly's shop at the Holloway end of Seven Sisters Road that disappeared over ten years ago and had the original Victorian walk-in windows at the front. If anyone has any photographic reference, please do contact me).
Emily Webber is also interested in London's shop fronts and many of her photographs are featured in  this short film
Support your local shops!!!

5 August 2014

The Rising Sun

Continuing on from my recent post about the emporiums of Tottenham Court Road, there is another building also covered in amazing reliefs and decorations, and that's the Rising Sun public house on the corner of Windmill Street, a street so-named because there used to be a windmill in the street.
Originally a Truman's pub, this fabulous example of Art Nouveau Gothic was designed in 1897 by Treadwell & Martin architects, which can be seen stamped onto the building between the first and second floors. The upper floors are painted stucco and the ground floor still has its original larvikite cladding.
Also note the beautiful floor mosaic at the entrance, which is one of my favourites of its type in London.