19 September 2021

A cotton-picking conundrum in Goswell Road

There is a lovely temple-esque tiled façade on a building at 338-346 Goswell Road, a stone's throw from the Angel junction in Islington. On it are four roundels depicting, from left to right, a worker in a cotton field, a sailing ship, a steam ship and a steam train.

These two pics show the building in 2015 when the metal panels between the windows were painted white

In 2015 the paint on the window panels was removed to appear as a bronze colour, taking them back to how I suspect they would have appeared when the building was first constructed. Then, in 2019, a lick of black paint was applied.

In the last few years there has been serious debate concerning the depictions of historic figures associated with the slave trade. This has lead to the subsequent removal of statues and memorials across the country. Here in Islington, questions were also raised about this Goswell Road building and whether the roundel showing a black worker in a cotton field was suitable in today's climate.

In November 2020 scaffolding was erected and, during another renovation process, the roundel depicting the cotton fields was over-painted as solid blue. However, if you look closely, indeed from the other side of the road, you can easily still make out the raised lines.

Whilst I do understand the important decisions we should make as to who is commemorated on our streets, nobody has as yet come up with a decent explanation as to why this cotton-picking roundel was put here in the first instance; who or what does it accurately relates to? And I think that's important. If mistakes have been made then we should learn from them. I, for one, would like to see a small plaque at street level, explaining why the blue paint is there so that people can learn about the past and how we should improve ourselves going forward. 

So who built 338-346 Goswell Road? And for whom? Where were the cotton fields? Over the past six years or so I've occasionally tried to look into this and I have a few ideas (see below). Back in 2016, an enquiry on the subject was made to Islington Archaeology and History Society and Michael Reading gave this explanation which seems to have become the cut-and-paste explanation for everywhere else I've seen it referenced:

[edited] These used to be five separate properties ... a variety of business and trades, except for no 346 which was occupied for the whole period as the Brethren Meeting House. From around 1930 to 1933, there were no entries ... The 1933 directory shows that nos 338-346 were occupied by the International Tobacco Company Ltd and Peter Jackson (Tobacco Manufacturers) Ltd. The 1935 directory has the same entry, but 1939 shows that these premises were now occupied by Post Office Stores Dept (Goswell Road Dept)... I would venture the black worker signifies tobacco farming. The two images of ships, one by sail and the other by steam, signify the export of tobacco around the world over many years and, finally, the image of a steam train the delivery of finished tobacco products. 

Having checked the available directories and maps myself, this all rings true as regards who was there at those dates. However, this often-repeated explanation of the roundels has always confounded me being as the depiction here is clearly of cotton fields rather than a tobacco plantation.

A few years ago I found something about this site being the premises of the Cooperative Wholesale Society but I cannot now find where I sourced that – I probably lost my reference in The Great AppleMac Crash of 2018 along with a large chunk of other un-archived research – grr!  If my memory serves me well, and this is indeed a CWS construction, I'd suggest that this beautifully designed building is a product of the architects working under consistently-innovative Leonard Grey Ekins, head of the CWS's London-based architects, and the gap in the records could suggest that the building was constructed in the early 1930s, which visually looks to be about right. Then, when CWS vacated the site the tobacco company moved in for a while prior to the buildng becoming the Post Office Stores. 

This would explain the reference to cotton farming and the transport of that commodity because Robert Owen, the founder of the CWS, was a social reformer and philanthropist who had started as an importer of cotton. If Robert Owen is the key to the roundels, and I rather hope so, then I very much doubt that he was employing what we'd call 'slaves'. As an advocate of workers' rights and good working conditions, he would have more likely paid his workers a decent wage and offered on-site housing of some kind.

I had an idea that perhaps the building simply depicts some motifs relevant to the area's history. Indeed there is another link to cotton here – British History Online makes reference to John Hall, a City cotton merchant having factory premises adjacent to here in the late 18th century and this also ties in rather well with the images in the four roundels. John Hall is quite a common name, and I found this, which I think is probably the same man and makes for interesting reading. But, if that is indeed what's being shown here, it still doesn't explain who constructed the building and for whom, so I'm clinging on to my Robert Owen idea and I will update here if I find out more.

Oh, and another thing... I am wondering if these ceramic roundels were created by the wonderfully-gifted Gilbert Bayes as they really do look like his style. Which reminds me, I really must organise an online talk about him. To much to do, too little time... 

338-346 Goswell Road, September 2021


18 August 2021

Remembering Romford market in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s

In 1964, when I was two years old, we moved from Dad's family home in Becontree, into a house in Albert Road, Romford, Essex, 17 miles east of central London, in the London Borough Havering. 
During my school years this was a part of Outer London Education Authority (OLEA). Today I notice that Romford is classed as London. It seems that these days anywhere within Transport for London's travel zones is considered to be part of London. But when I was at school, we never thought of Romford as was London. We lived in Essex. We went to London. Catching a train to go into the big city was something you did occasionally for a special day out with the family or friends.
Elderly members of Mum's family talked when they were children in the 1900s and the town was little more than a cattle market town surrounded by fields. There had been a fair bit of expansion and new build in the 1930s but that was just a few shops here an there, a couple of cinemas, a shopping arcade etc. The pic below is from a book that used to be my granddad's, but it's not dated or credited. I think it could be late 1930s as it does show some buildings of that era. 

It shows north street and South Street cutting a diagonal from top left to bottom right, with St Edward's church on the north side of the market, just above centre. The triangle to the right was all demolished, indeed, an area twice what's shown here, was to be flattened and replaced in the 1960s. A few decades later, the buildings to the left side would also be demolished, including those that made up the Ind Coope brewery.  
As a young child in the late 1960s, I recall mum being really disappointed about the ring road that was built to be around the central shopping zone. Many buildings were subsequently demolished in the name of progress. Mum, then approaching 30 years old, had lived in the area since a child herself and was saddened at the scale of the redevelopment. It was out with the old and in with the new; a bulldozer approach. She often commented that Romford had lost almost all its history with no attractive memorial, markers or statues. And, for some inexplicable reason, despite being a well-known stop on a Roman Road, a busy market town, the town wasn't even listed in the Domesday Book.  
This 13-minute [silent] video from The London Film Archives clearly shows the extent of the changes that were made at that time.
The major problem was traffic flow. By the 1960s the town had expanded from a rural cattle market to a major shopping town and the narrow streets could no longer cope with the congestion, especially at the junction of North St, South St and the High Street when buses could barely turn the corner, as this film shows. Traffic could no longer drive straight through the market to continue through into Main Road and this caused a bottleneck at the centre.
As a schoolchild, I actually remember the new shopping precinct being constructed, especially at the side and rear of M&S. A carousel was installed, probably to keep the punters distracted and happy during the mess.
The new ringroad effectively took the soul and vibrancy out of the town, making the area within a kind of dead zone after the shops closed in the evening. Only a handful of old pubs, St Edwards church and the cobbled market area remained to hint at its bygone bustling and vibrant past. This fate was to befall many of London's satellite towns during the 1960s.
The new shopping centre called The Liberty, recalling a large house that it replaced, was a success and Romford continued be the best shopping destination in Essex with the added bonus of the huge market on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, offering superb diversity and quality of produce – a real go-to place. 
A strange modern fountain was installed in at the centre, a tall structure in shades of blue above three octagonal pools, that I later used as unconscious inspiration for an art project. In later years, the structure was painted brown – they said to be reminiscent of old market crates (eh?!) but it always looked to me like a defunct outdoor swimming pool that had been transformed in a hurry. 
I must admit that, as a teenager, I used to think the naming of High Street was odd. I thought it was an odd road to nowhere with strange shops at the far end near the roundabout on the ringroad – it just didn't' occur to me that it had previously been the main thoroughfare in the past. To my mind, the main road was South Street because that's where the big shops and the station was sited. Hindsight eh?! 
By October 1980 I had a job in Covent Garden and was travelling back and forth into London five days a week. I loved working in central London; the history, the bustle, the shops, the mix of everything, the opportunities. In 1985 I was earning enough to buy myself a little starter home near Harold Wood Station, two stops further out from Romford, and I only went into Romford town centre on occasional Saturdays or before or after visiting Mum and my sister. 
Then, in 1988, I moved to Holloway, north London, to be even closer to work and my social life, returning to Romford only to visit Mum until she died in the late 1990s. I have kept in touch with a few school friends, but Romford has rarely been the place to meet.
In 2005, after visiting a friend in Gidea Park, I went for a nose about around the shops for old times' sake. Oh dear. I walked about with my mouth open, aghast at how so much further change had taken place. Mum would have been even more disgusted. I walked through to where the brewery used to be, shops arranged around a huge car park – the likes of Next, Boots and TKMaxx. It looked more like an out-of-town industrial park. My facial expression obviously gave me away because three different ladies stopped to ask if I was OK/lost!!
That wasn't a market day, and I made a mental note to return to see if the once jam-packed bustling market that I remember from my schooldays was still anywhere near as vibrant. For inspiration, I hunted online and found there's lots of pictoral and video reference to be found including these short films about the market on YouTube. This inspired me to recall the stalls I remember in the years up to about 1985. 
Starting from the High Street end and making our way to to the ring road at the junction with the library at town hall:
There was a brilliant record stall on the right, just before the Quadrant Arcade, cheaper than the aforementioned Downtown Records, WHSmiths, or Woolworths. My handsome friend Vince used to work there. Opposite, on the left side, two rows of stalls included an excellent stall for knitters offering all sorts of well-priced yarns (I was prolific and knitted back and forth to work on the train, making mohair and aran-style jumpers for friends!), a housewares stall (one of mum's favourites, tho I think she fancied one of the fellas there), a brilliant stall with knock-off 'branded' logo sweatshirts and T-shirts, etc. I particularly recall my JPS one which I said was Jane Parker Special, and the black one with a Guinness roundel.This was before I'd ever had a sip of the marvellous black stuff – I wore that sweatshirt to take my driving test, which I passed first time.
Just past St Edward's church and Wykeham Hall (marvellous jumble sales) there was a men's clothing stall aimed at the belcher chain wearing 'casuals' and I recall hearing a young geezer, in a pale blue jumper and beige slacks, ask the stall holder if he had "any of those Perry Car Din jumpers". In this zone and all the way up to the Rumford Shopping Hall on the left there were three lanes of stalls piled high with fruit and veg, and many more on the opposite side outside Littlewoods, Coles and Habitat. It was so colourful. The calls from the traders was marvellous. Free furra pahnd etc. Think of that "Morny Stannit" sketch by the Two Ronnies (which doesn't seem to be available online or I'd include it here).
Outside Debenhams, which I recall as a small child being Stones, there was a broken biscuit stall and one of the best material/fabric stalls in the market stocking fab end-of-line cut-price suitings and linens. I made lots of my own clothes back then, including lined jackets and trousers – why oh why did I not take photos of my creations and what did I do with those pieces? Then, continuing along the Debenhams side, all the way up to almost the end of the market by the Rossi's ice cream van (yummy!) there was an excellent selection of shoe stalls. 
Oh, and I now remember Kiddie City the toy shop at the end of the entrance to the precinct – much earlier, when I was about five years old this was a cycle shop and Dad took me here to buy my first bike, a big blue tricycle with an open compartment at the rear. I cycled it all the way home, partly along Mercury Gardens which was then just a country lane/track. Today, that lane is a dual carriageway forming part of the ring road. And I have vague memories of walking past old houses at the top end of the market that then linked to little paths at the side of the Town Hall enabling us to cut through to the streets that led to grandma and granddad's house in Dorset Ave
Back to the market area. The Rumford Shopping Hall behind the fruit stalls contained many more good haberdashers and material stalls plus second hand and antique stalls. And then, within the widest section at the far end on the left adjacent to the bus stops, there were four rows of stalls offering a wide variety of things. When I was a small child, I remember seeing animals/pets for sale here; puppies, rabbits, birds, small reptiles, etc, but by the 80s these were long gone. The end of the market today looks like this but this pastiche construction was not there when I lived in the area. I recall large wooden construction with ads pasted onto it. I am sure it was a sort of muddy green/khaki colour framed in white – it doubled up as sheds for the traders' stall frames.

Well, it's taken about 17 years to get around to another visit, specifically on a market day. This was brought about by one of my online talks via Zoom which is about street markets in central London and how they have diminished, adapted, or disappeared completely as our shopping habits have changed. Conversations after that talk have provoked discussions about markets on the periphery of London and how Romford was one of the best. On Saturday 14th August I made the pilgrimage. I met up with a couple of ladies who have attended my talks (nice to finally meet them in the flesh!) and we were joined by one of my schoolfriends who lives in Rush Green.
Here goes... Actually, no... I've changed my mind... I keep remembering more things... this is already too long and I have lots of pics to sort out that I took on the day. I do the 2021 update in a separate post.

6 August 2021

The changing face of Warren Street – long-lost pubs and international cuisine

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Fitzroy Square, particularly when I used to work at Gannaways/ArtIntegrators within No.4 in the late 1980s. I had intended for that piece to include some other places in the vicinity but as I started typing I started to recall many other things associated with the company and that particular post just got longer and longer.

Here I am returning to the area as a sort of part 2; the shops pubs and cafes that I used to frequent on this northern part if Fitzrovia during that same era. Today, wandering around the streets immediately adjacent to 4 Fitzroy Square, I can see quite a lot has changed, although at first glance it's not immediately obvious. On closer inspection, I can see that many pubs have been irrevocably ruined, many shops and cafés have changed and many businesses have gone, some having completely disappeared without a trace even though the building that used to house them still stands.

Back in the 1980s it was usual to go to the pub at lunchtimes, not just after work, whether to have meetings with workmates and/or clients or simply just for a bite and a pint. This being before the age of mobile phones it was relatively simple to find employees 'still out at lunch' by sending someone out to do a quick circuit of the local taverns. And we had a marvellous choice here. Exiting from the rear of 4 Fitzroy Square into the mews and turning right there was the Grafton Arms with its lovely upper room, evoking the days of Georgrian splendour. Today's website makes the whole place look a bit too sanitised and MDF pastiche for my liking. What is this obsession with 'boutique' – This isn't Carnabay Street ofr the Kings Road in the 1960s. I don't want to buy a Biba dress!

At the other end of the mews on the corner of Warren Street there used to be Rive Gauche, an excellent French café that had absolutely best cherry clafoutis I have ever tasted. They also served marvellous lunches accompanied by a short but good wine list. Today it's home to Little Nan's.

Heading eastwards along Warren St towards TottCt Rd you'll find The Prince of Wales Feathers public house almost oppostite the side exit of Warren Street tube station. In the 1980s this pub had the most amazing horsehoe-shaped bar. I recall even back then thinking how marvellous this was and how there weren't many pubs that still had a similar interior. Being just one shop wide it was a little cramped such that there was perhaps more space behind the couter than there was customer area, but I loved how conversations were held across the bar thus involving the staff. It was really inclusive. There was proper seating at the rear, like a snug. No surprises to find that the interior has been completely gutted (I know not when) and replaced with a long boring bar along the rear wall, with laminate flooring and homogenous furniture and fittings. They call it progress.

On the plus side, I am glad to see that Jai News, the family-run newsagent next door, is still going strong. I used to take my rolls of 35mm film into there for processing, this being the local Colorama collection point.

At the other/western end of Warren Street, on the left, just before Cleveland Street, there is the Smugglers Arms public house. Another absolute favourite of mine when working in this area in the late-80s. But today, the 'olde worlde' seaside exterior complete with its mini-smuggler-figurehead belies its boring ubiquitous interior. I recall dinstinctly c1990 taking a group of friends there a life drawing class nearby, telling them how this pub that was reasonably similar inside to The Crosse Keys in Endell St, Covent Gdn, that it was run by a family with a marvellous friendly dog, lovely atmosphere and hand-made doorstop sandwiches in a cabinet on the bar (thick slices of crusty bread packed with proper fillings such as ham salad, corned beef and pickles, cheese and coleslaw) ... the minute I stepped across the threshold, and noticed that the pub carpet had been replaced with something modern, a lump came to my throat and I looked up to see a renovation that as good as broke my heart. Deciding that I couldn't bear to go inside (I still haven't returned) I instead took the group to one of the other pubs adjacent to Gt Portland St station. 

The Smugglers Arms was one many pubs to be stripped of any interest and history during the 1990s; something that was spreading like a disease, a plague, across the whole country at that time. The big breweries, having seen how well a pub was doing under indepenedent management, sought to cash in and many leases were not offered for renewal. Familes who had run a successful and popular business for decades now had no source of income and no homes. Gone in a flash was individuality and decades of layered history, and in came blandness and homogenisation. A particularly great loss during this time was the marvellous White Swan in Covent Garden; OK that pub is still there but since that transformation it has never regained the popularity of the 1980s*. 

Another good thing – nearby in Warren Street, at the corner of Conway Street is the marvellous corner shop of  J. Evans, dairy with its gorgeous blue tiles and shop fascia, today an Italian deli. And opposite, a building of the 1930s with geometric pattern details, which is one of the stops on my Art Deco Fitzrovia tour.

Heading back to Fitzroy Square there is a building that really intrigues me. At 43 Fitzroy Street the house is painted or maintained to look like it is in a permanent state of decay. I say this because the five pics at the top here were taken in July 2021, yet the bottom row shows my pics of 2008. Bizarre huh. Look at those layers of painted history. And I am fascinated by the little lock-up shed in the basement area. Whatever the are owners are doing here, I just love it.

Writing this reminded me of other places long gone, yet fondly remembered, perhaps you can add to the list?:

The Adams Arms in Conway Street. This was another early loss in the early 1990s. Much missed and probably the favourite choice of the staff at No.4 Fitzroy Square. This 1742 building had a marvellous front bar, many Georgian and Victorian fittings, an enclosed conservatory area at the rear, and good friendly staff lead by jovial Colin the manager, also a bit-part actor/extra and often to be spotted in ads and videos of that era including Holly Johnson's Love Train where he appears both as a bridgegroom and a flag-waving guard.

Il Pappatore – an Italian restuarant that used to be in a 1970s development at 235 Euston Rd, where now sits the green and white University College Hospital. Although I continued to go there when working at Fitzroy Square, my best memory of the place is a few years earlier when I spent all day there from 10.30am until well gone midnight with Del, the account handler at Strata, just over the road at 22 Stephenson Way. I remember the pale pink on white tablecloths. This extra-long lunch was a treat for successfully managing and completing a job that our client was really pleased with. We had brunch, lunch, dinner, nibbles and alcoholic beverages of all kinds. Other staff from the company popped in to join us throughout the day. And, being as we both lived in the Romford area, it was just one cab ride home also part of the reward. We both showed up for work the next day at 9.30am. And probably went to a pub after work!

The Warren – a marvellous large wine bar underneath The Grafton Hotel, accessed via the alley at the side of Caffe Nero or from Whitfield Street. It was lovely down there. It was often the venue for leaving dos and birthday parties. I tried to take a friend there in the 1990s but found it had gone. 

There were many excellent Indian restaurants to suit all pockets at this northern end of Whitfield Street. I particularly liked the ones that offered fab value help yourself vegetarian lunches. Of these restaurants, only Agra seems to remain. There are still some marvellous Indian restaurants to be found in what's left of Drummond St on the other side of Euston Rd

Directly opposite Agra on the corner of Whitfield Place was Stern's African record shop and I recall going in there quite a few times with a friend who would come to meet me for lunch. He often DJ'd and was really into World music of all kinds. The shop had an amazing atmosphere.

Pirroni's on Tottenham Court Road – another Italian restaurant where I used to go for lunch or meet friends in the evening. I can't find any ref of it now, but I'm pretty sure it was where Honest Burgers is today. I was told that the name had links to Marco Pironi the guitarist in Adam and The Ants which could be true seeing as he hails from Camden.

I think I'll leave it there. If I think of more, and I am sure I will(!) I will add them in.

*Some time soon I'll do a series of Covent Garden in the 1980s posts.

30 July 2021

Two ghostsigns clinging on to what's left of Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, EC2

So much is changing around Shoreditch these days. Low rise Georgian, Victorian and early C20th buildings are fast being demolished to be replaced with high rise glass blocks.

Last week I made a detour to go and check on what's happening at the top end of Norton Folgate, a part of Bishopsgate that I understood had been saved from development. It used to be an interesting architectural patchwork as you can see here.

As my recent pic above shows, part of this terrace that  abuts Folgate Street has [sort of] been saved but only those properties with red brick façades remain (some are covered in netting); the rest of these structures will be completely rebuilt albeit not as tall as the blocks that are going up to the left hand side which forms the beginning of Shoreditch High Street where once stood one of my favourite interwar buildings, a castellated showroom façade covered in beige faience tiles; Niclar House*.

Rather jaded by this, I went for a wander around the nearby streets to see what else has changed during this past year, specifically interested to see if two old hand-painted advertisements were still in situ in Holywell Lane. I'm glad to report that they are indeed still there but clinging on for dear life, so to speak.

The two signs face each other across the now defunct Victorian railway line that has been replaced by the new section of rails for the Overground Line further along the street

The east-facing sign on the right is barely legible, though I am convinced that I can see "MEXICO" in there at the middle right. Tetramesh has a better shot of it here. Assuming this was advertising an adjacent business, the best possible ideas are Milton Manufacturing Co, cycle accessories, which was at this end of the street in 1915 or, possibly, The East London Rubber Company, there in 1939. Mexico could easily tie in with the Yucatan Peninsula which was a well-used rubber producing area pre the 1950s. Rotax Motor Accessories were also in the vicinity.

The sign on the side of No.55 is much clearer. The words 'MAKERS OF. CLOGS. RAILSWEEPS. MACHINES.' can be easily be seen, though other smaller words may be now obscured by the graffiti, and there must've been more above and below.

Having assessed the old directories, I think this is a sign for two or more companies. The front of No.55 has a clear mark at the top centre showing GT 1893. This would be George Tyrie, brushmaker. He could well have made the railsweeps; brushes that were often fitted to the protuding section at the front of steam trains to sweep away the leaves and other debris. Or it could refer to brushes and brooms used by railway workers who cleaned the rails manually. A dirty job.

And this links in with another company in the street, because at the same time, in the late 1890s, on the other side of the road at No.12, George Stevens is listed as a washing clog maker. These heavy duty items of footwear had canvas leg coverings, sometimes up to thigh height, tightened and kept in place by leather straps and buckles. They protected clothes and the person from splashes, see right (a page in a Gamages catalogue). 

However, I still find this sign an enigma being as it advertises three very different things: brushes, shoes and machines. I think it's unlikely that one company was making all of these at the same location. Any ideas welcome.

*Find out more – Niclar House features on London's Lamented Art Deco, my online talk via Zoom about some demolished interwar buildings and the structures that have replaced them. Click here for info. It used to form part of my Art Deco Spitalfields guided walk. Sigh.

23 July 2021

Remembering Fitzroy Square in the late 1980s

On Wednesday last, after leading a lovely group of London Historians on a meandering route through Fitzrovia looking at 1920s-30s buildings (people call the era Art Deco but it mostly isn't!), I decided after a much-need drink in The Wheatsheaf, Rathbone St, to wander back up to Fitzroy Square and have a look at something other than interwar buildings. Specifically, I was intrigued to see how this area has evolved since I worked at 4-5 Fitzroy Square in 1988-90.

For just short of two years I was studio manager and typographer for Art Integrators, a small artwork company situated in the rear lower level of this building which comprised two co-joined Georgian houses, the main reception being in the hallway of No.4 (the red door) which since 2012 is called Willan House and home to The British Association of Dermatologists. 

Art Integrators had external clients such as Cato Johnson, who I used to visit for briefs at Greater London House AKA The Carreras 'Black Cat' Factory which, coincidentally, is a building and company I talk about as a presentation via Zoom. We also did a lot of work for the other companies within the building, all of us being under the Gannaways umbrella. John Gannaway its founder and director took a great pride in the building and I recall vividly the colourful paint on the metal banisters in the stairwell and the paintwork too, all of which John had researched. At the time I thought the pinks, purples, blues an greens a bit strange, but you need only to visit Smithfield market to see the same palette.  

Looking at the building last week I noticed for the first time that there are three animal skulls within the frieze at high level. I have no idea what they refer to. I had also never noticed the fine fancy fanlight above the front door, though I do rememer the front door being mid-grey. And now I'm noticing that gorgeous lampholder and the railing. I have no recollection the great view of the BT/PO Tower as you exit the building. I obviously had other things on my mind back then.

Intrigued at whether anything could be seen inside, I peered in through the window at the side of the front door to see that the hallway is the same as I remember as regards layout and fittings but today the colours are muted, bland, very tame. Very pale grey and magnoila. There's no way the Georgians, the Victorians, indeed the early C20th century bright young things would have lived in anywhere as dull. poor John and all his hard work. I peered down into the front basement area and remembered the two Johns and Frank who used to work out of that office, yet I am not aware of them using these steps. Instead, they would access through Art Integrators, going past my desk, back and forth to Solar Typesetting which was situated at the very rear of the building abutting Grafton Mews (see below). 

I really liked the guys in Solar, in particular Mick and Ron the bosses who were always always immaculately well-dressed in that old-school 1960s way; shiny shoes, tie pins, clean hands and aftershave. They sometimes let me use the compositor machine to make my the headline lettering for jobs myself, the machine being a kind of enlarger that produced crisp-edged large format letters on photo-quailty paper. Using turning handles to get the right size and focus on a single character you then hit the button to photograph it, then moved on to take a snap of the next letter. I was so in my element there as, since starting in the industry back in 1980, it had often been commented on that I have a natural ability for letterspacing; The Queen of Letraset a skill I think is sadly lacking these days where you can often easily 'drive a bus' through the gap in 11 and then blame technology if anyone points it out.

I particularly recall how I liked working with affable and super-efficient, self-effacing Bob, one of the Solar typesetters, and how impressed and intrigued I was at how he/they could turn my mark-ups supplied to them as instrucutions on A4s into beautiful long silky sheets of words, often created overnight to be ready for me next morning, having typed up the whole thing up manually, looking at screens of coloured codes and symbols that to my mind looked nothing like my starting point or the marvellous end product. there ceratinly was no opportunity for amendements. Once it had gone to the typesetter that was it. Any changes were costly. Unless, like me you were adept with the PMT camera and bit of clever cut and shunt. Today, just like I am doing here, we can amend our copy as we go along and change styles and fonts in seconds, effectively acting as designer, typographer, typesetter, artworker, even printer, all at once. Jacks of all trades. Masters of none.

There was a wonderful exchange of ideas and skills between AI and Solar with many of our in-house  chats taking place in Ian's office, someone I was to keep in touch with for years to come. Indeed, when I was made redundant from this company in October 1990, a fate that befell most of us there, I had by that time made good friends within the building and many of us stayed in touch furthering each other's careers going forward. Who was it who said "workmates are friends your boss found for you"?! 

This got me thinking about bygone times, places and people connected to this company, so I sat down on one of the benches for a while to try and remember the people I worked there. Let's return to the front door and then travel around the building. 

I cannot now recall who or what was in the office to the immediate left of the front door, ditto the room beyond the reception to the left. I think it was probably a marketing company that I rarely had to deal. My department, Art Integrators, was down the stairs towards the rear. There was an office to the right of the corridor and the main studio to the left. The corridor then lead to Solar and a back door to Grafton Mews. 

Returning to the stairs and going up to the first floor front, John Gannaway and his business partner Eddie (aaargh, can't remember his surname), their jolly can-do PA (again, name drain here. Jackie? Janice?) had offices either side of the lovely conference/meeting room which ran across the front of the building and in a previously time zone would have been a family dining room/reception. The accounts dept was adjacent to the stairs. I am now remembering bubbly colourful Janet from accounts, she was marvellous. I loved it when she did the rounds handing out the payslips every month. Indeed, as with most accounts depts, they went a bit party-mad whenever the was a birthday or party celebration on a Friday. I think this is because, unlike the rest of the company who were in pubs practically every lunch time and after work whatever day it was, they had to keep a clear head for figures and restricted their binges.  

First floor rear was The Sharp End, another design and artwork company, headed by Keith, backed up by head creative Roger and managed by Chrissie. This larger studio worked mostly for the large holiday companies of the day producing brochures and ads, with a lot of work coming in from Yugotours, much of which also filtered down to AI. Staff at AI included Nigel, Jane, Chris, Paul, Erica, Dylan, Debbie, [Miss] Watmough on telephone and secretaral duties; I can hear her lovely husky south London accent in my head as I type this. At certain times both studios were full to brimming expanded by freelance artworkers employed to produce the paste-ups for those thick holiday brochures. Paste-up, for the unitiated, involves paper, glue, scalpels, Rotring pens and PMT machines. The end products then get photographed by a reprographic company pre going to print. Wow. To the under 40s this must sound like I am writing in a foreign language. How times have changed. 

So back to the tour... The upper floor was Gannaways advertising company. Here goes, and sorry if I miss anyone out, but hell, this was 30 years ago... production dept by the stairs comprising Phil, Tim and Ruth (strong Wakefield accent). Client handlers Hilary and Andrew (who, coincidentally links in a different way to the Carreras building mentioned above), creatives Dexter, Paul and another well-spoken bloke who's face I can see but name I can't recall (?Rupert) worked on a lot of film company and VHS ads (we all used to go to screenings in Hammersmith. Happy days). Barry the illustrator in the central zone opposite the marriage of Jon (pictures) and Leon (words) with Mike the creative director in the corner room. Phew! I think that's the whole building done.  

When I'd only been working there a few weeks a photo was taken of all employees outside the building. I was wearing a hat I had recently purchased from Zone at Harvey Nichols. I've still got that hat. It's like a cross between a lady's riding hat and a funeral director's top hat. I never got a copy of the group photo. However, I do have a few photos of some of the people mentioned above – please do contact me if you are interested and I will send them to you.

Sitting on the bench, looking at the laminated aggregate that now runs a full ring around the beautiful gated gardens at the centre, I was reminded that back in the 90s there were fuctioning roads with parking spaces all the way round and at lunchtimes I often went inside the gardens with workmates. I don't recall anyone having a key or opening a gate. I am sure we simply walked in and sat on the grass, though I suspect it was only accessible on certain days and times.

It's doubtful that 4-5 Fitzroy Square was initially designed to be one property being as the columns above No.4 are not repeated on No.5. It's an enigma. Simliar pairings are evident further along and are more easily discerned being symmetrical in design as regards their additional embellishments. I suspect one door would have been used by the owners for slipping in and out unannounced, and the was other for visitors, with servants/trade making use of the access at the rear. However there are other divisions, such as shown top left here (green door) which show a history of change. 

Other points to note along this side of the square, shown above: some lovely metalwork in the form of balconies, railings and boot scrapers, and more beautiful delicate fanlights. Within the upper pediment of 7-8  it looks as if some architectual details in the form of floral motifs have been removed. The blue plaque commemorates Charles Eastllake, 1793-1865, Painter and First Director of the National Gallery who lived here (for a length of time unspecified!).

I will continue my observations in this area in another post.

20 July 2021

Phew, it's hot out there

I have just pulled together this topical collection from my London photos – it includes a ghostsign for a well-known soap brand on a wall in Hackney, a fire insurance marker, a couple of sundials, a mosaic memorial in St Pancras churchayard and a few pubs, Oh and Lloyd's Bank.

My BBC Weather app tells me it's 27ºC out there at the moment (mid-day 20th June 2021) and it's forecast to rise a little higher after lunch with the threat of thundery showers and light winds which I'm quite looking forward to – I might go out for a walk in it.

The weather has been very changeble here this year. We've had heavy rainfall, strong winds, a dull/cold June and now this, which has got me thinking about extremes of weather, specifically in London. I think, being as we Brits do like to talk about this subject, that I will design a new online talk about it – I even have a title ready – Frost Fairs and Long Hot Summers. See my other website and schedule for updates.

But first, I'm off to have another luke-warm shower.

21 June 2021

Goodbye Habitat Tottenham Court Road – but let's save those curved windows

Heading down Tottenham Court Road on a bus in early March this year, I noticed that Habitat had moved out. Oh dear. I got off the bus to take a few snaps. The exterior signage had been removed and the interior was being stripped. The lovely curved display windows that run around the shop on both sides were covered in dust. 

The windows around this part of the building are double co-joined curves – an expensive innovation, but this design allows the products to be seen clearly rather than be hindered by reflections from the street. The glass would have been installed in the late 1930s by Pollards, the go-to shop-fitting company of that era who had 'imported' this curved glass idea from the US. 

I went back in April and took some more photos. With all the furniture removed this gave clear views across the store space of the windows. Really good infitity shots are to be had from the exterior where mirrored end panels along the top sections repeat the curves.

I recall there also used to be curved windows along the Heals section of this TCRd site – those curves were replaced with boring sheet glass c2000 (I didn't take pics or note that down specifically).

This got me thinking about how unusual horizontal curved glass panels are these days. I can only think of three other locations in London where they are also installed, and they are all slightly different:

Fox Umbrellas, London Wall, Moorgate – as I understand, this is the first site where this curved glass was installed. It's really hard to photograph, especially when the place, which is today a cafe bar, is closed during lockdown or open with people sat in front at tables. The double curves here are shallower than at the other three sites, not so deep. I haven't a clue what those blobby bits of art in the window are supposed to be.

And then, of course, we have what is possibly the best-known example of these windows at Joseph Emberton's marvellous building for Alexander Simpson, a stone's throw from Piccadilly Circus. It opened in 1936 selling Simpron's range of men's clothing and is today home to Waterstone's bookshop. Here we a have a row on single deep curves, again with the mirrored ends. During the Christmas 2018 period part of the windows were damaged and suffered huge cracks, as shown below protected by thick adhesive plasitc sheets. This being a Grade I listed building, the glass was replaced. Phew.

The beautifully-designed building has, in effect-two front doors – the southern entrance in Jermyn Street is just as impressive, implementing the same curved glass:

And the fourth/last London example, unless someone can tell me where to find others, is on the old gas showroom on Crouch End Broadway, today home to Barclays Bank, where there are double shallow curves along both sides of the building.

Also note the eight beautifully-carved panels carved by Arthur Ayres that run around the building at higher level depicting diffrent things that gas power can do for us.

14 May 2021

Thomas Heatherwick's lift buttons at Coal Drops Yard, NC1

I have been having a tidy up and found some photos I took soon after the coal drops at the rear of Kings Cross station, adjacent to Granary Square, were opened as a shopping and leisure zone back in October 2018. It's impressive and a clever re-use of space, although the shops do sell a lot of over-priced guff, but it's great for a wander about.

I was there again last month with a friend, enjoying the peace and quiet and the lack of people, and I showed her the delightful surounds around the push buttons for the lifts. She loved them too.

Cool huh. Probably my favourite thing thee.

Going up.... ground for perfumery, stationery and leather goods...

10 May 2021

Coulourful houses in Falkland Road

Here's another riot of colour. Last week it was bollards, this week it's houses:

The western end of Falkland Road in Kentish Town, N6, between Leverton Street and Fortess Road is one of many streets across the metropolis with a series of coloured houses. I often wonder how the owners choose what shade to use in order to either contrast or complement with the neighbours. Ker-pow!

I made a little video about it here.

6 May 2021

Bollards in Crystal Palace

Today we are in lovely South London. Well, I say that, but I took these pics well over a year ago.

As you exit Crystal Palace railway station and head to the park, do ake a closer look at the bollards in Ledrington Rd, dated 1854. The peeling paint patterns is delightful.

The tops illustrate layers of colourful history – dark green, pink, red, blue, turquoise and yellow, though not necessarily in that order.

It's about time I went back for another wander – it's a lovely part of town.

30 April 2021

Would you believe it? Wood block surfaces still visible on London streets

A few months back I was involved in an email exchange about the patch of wood blocks adjacent to Bunhill Row Cemetery, just off Artillery Row, specifically, and perhaps coincidentally (ironically?), in Chequer Street. Back in ye olde Victorian times this street ran alongside Star Works, the De La Rue postage stamp manufactory, though I don't know if this company was related to Danny

This little road is a patchwork of setts and cobbles and looks to have been repaired, extended or updated with various kinds of blocks – in addition to this patch of wood, there are also granite setts and vitreous setts, the latter being a by-product of the gas industry and said to be identifiable by their bluish glaze. Note also a couple of interesting man hole cover plates. 

Ah, but this isn't the only patch of wood paving in the metropolis – I have happened upon quite a few other places that show hints of this eco-friendly-but-hard-to-maintain wooden surface. I've found enough to start a specific collection on my desktop and here I am sharing some of them with you... 

At 90-92 Pentonville Road N1, on the corner of Penton Street, there is evidence of a whole paved private courtyard that is currently used for car parking. Patches of wood can be seen peeking out from under the receding Tarmac. 

Research shows that this was once the display forecourt outside the ground floor showroom of R. W. Wilkins & Son, marble, granite and stone merchants, monumental masons, sculptors, table-top manufacturers, shopfitters, and interior decorators in marble and tiles. This had originally been constructed as three Georgian houses with deep front gardens, mirroring those across the road, and was converted into one premises in the 1860s by Henry Webb Wilkins, probably RWW's father. The rectangular blocks appear to be the same shape and size as the ones at Chequer Street. 

Many good remnants of wood block can also be found nestling within the segments of some old manhole covers. Just east of here, near the border of Islington and Hackney (when this was Finsbury and Shoreditch, respectively) there are examples in Mora Street on the southern side of City Road:

And in Shepherdess Walk on the northern side – my pics were taken on a rainy day but, believe me, there's wood under them there puddles:

There's another example not far from there in New North Road, at the end of Wharf Road, and on Clerkenwell Rd at the end of Leather Lane (centre pic below). Plus a couple in West Square, Lambeth, a well-to-do 1790s development of private houses, one of which, here:

In the middle of Grays Inn Road at the junction of Acton Street, there is a superb example, as shown below on the left with the streetscaape below it, and two good ones on Islington High Street – one set within the pavement near Pizza Express, as shown, and another in the road at the rear of the former electricity transformer station and tram depot. A third one, by the southern door to that building, at the corner of Duncan Street, sort of facing The York pub, has been recently covered in Tarmac. 

I'd really love to experience the sound of horses walking on a wood-blocked street. The super-informative Roads Were Not Built For Cars shows us that Bartholomew the cartographer, produced road surface maps of London where streets coloured yellow denoted wood, green indicated sheet asphalt, blue was setts, and pink for macadam (a pre-cursor to Tarmac). The rationale that wood blocks offered the benefit of a quieter environment explains their implementation in residental streets such as West Square and in the old hospital zone around City Road.

The same 'quiet' effect would also apply at this next location – the rear of City Hall, on Belvedere Road, built as the London County Council's head offices in 1911 and, hence, a really busy municipal street. 

Here, long wooden oblongs, arranged in a grid format, have been uncovered for many years. Whenever I am in the Waterloo area I often go to check they are still visible. The random piece of flat metal is, I suppose, an attempt at protection. 

I'm pretty sure I have located more patches across London, but I can't find the pics right now – do let me know if you've found any others yourself.

Update July 2021:  due to the recent wet weather, the woodblocks in Artillery row are framed in grass. I think it’s lovely

27 April 2021

A stinkpipe in Islington

Oh my god... how many time have I walked past this and never noticed it until last month?

Estimate = 825 times!

I am always banging on about how things are hiding in plain view, to look up, look down and around you,  yet here's me not noticing a stink pipe across the road from Essex Road Post Office. 

I happened to notice it when I had to side-step a woman who was texting and walking but not looking where she was going (grr!) and I was immediately confronted by the maker's name on the metalwork. I then looked down at the wide base and thought, ooh that looks very stinkpipey, and so I stepped back to take a better look. Yep!

Much of Ham Baker's Victorian metal street furniture, in the form of lamp posts and stink pipes, still lines our modern streets. Indeed the company is still trading.

Considering the amount of stink pipe pics I have taken over the years I am surprised I have posted more about them. Here's a post from back in 2010 which shows some with attractive crowns

Staying in Islington, earlier this year, I also [finally] noticed another stink pipe at the Holloway end of Liverpool Road on the triangle in front of the Baptist church – estimated previous walk-pasts = 384(!). And, near that, there's also another one on Holloway Road at the end of Eden Grove (which I had spotted ten years ago).  Closer to my home, there's one up near the railway line in Sussex Way, N19, at the corner of Hatchard Rd, and another on St John's Way, N19. I'm sure I will think of more once I hit the 'publish' button here, but hey, that'll do for now.

This Essex Rd pipe will now form part of my "The Only Way Is Essex Road" guided tour. Tho, it can't be the only one in the vicinity.

23 April 2021

Finsbury Park Art Deco – the renovation of Oxford House

I'm so pleased to see how the renovation of this marvellous link to the world of movie making has evolved.

This is the former home of Kay Film Printing – a film processing company based here in Oxford Rd, N4, adjacent to Parkland Walk and Finsbury Park.

Its now almost finished and it looks marvellous. I really love those 'Jazz Age' style railings.

Pic from 2014 – retrospective Google Streetview

It's gone from a sad-looking building to a marvellous example of 1930's splendour.

Happy days. I am not sure how to include this on my Art Deco tour of the area but it's sure to be included on one of my walks. 

18 April 2021

Saloons – Everyone's gone to the pub or the hairdresser

Here in the UK, some restrictions as regards social distancing have been lifted – pubs with outdoor table space are open again and hairdressers are busy attacking our lockdown barnets*

It occured to me that both are historically linked by the word 'saloon' so I've pulled some pics together in my old montage-stylee showing a selection of lovely signage across London.

Most of these are pub signs but, as you can see, some are on hairdressers and barbers. Perhaps you recognise some of them or know of some other beauties...?

The separate rooms for saloon, lounge, public, private, snug and offsales is a thing of the past these days, harking back to a Victorian era of class and gender segregation. However, a few pubs in London still have the original walls/dividers and others have reinstated them. This latter section includes The Princess Louise in Holborn, the Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street and the Angel at Rotherhithe. 

Never mind sitting outside a pub; that's just not for me. I am looking forward to getting back inside; to stand at a bar or sit on a barstool; to read a newspaper in a comfy chair by a real fire; to talk to barstaff and locals... sigh.

Barnet Fair = hair (London Cockney rhyming slang)

7 April 2021

I have been otherwise occupied

Oh my good... look at the date on my last post – the middle of January!!  And now we are fast heading for the middle of April. Whoosh! How did that happen?! 

Although I have been almost constantly collecting ideas for this site, I have been filing them away in a 'To Do' folder and can now see that I haven't actually been sharing them with you. I will make a big effort next week as there are a few good things I have noticed or been alerted to these last few months.

The thing that has kept me so busy lately has been designing, researching and hosting virtual tours (online presentations via Zoom) in lieu of leading actual guided tours on the streets being as that's still not really possible yet due to the pandemic restrictions. 

Presentations need good pics and reference, so I've been out and about in London's empty streets, wandering about in beautiful winter sunshine, snapping away with my camera to make the slides that accompany my talks. 

London is Lovely
I am really pleased how the presentations are going – lots of people come back to me time and again, and from all over the world – how lovely. And I will continue to do these going forward.

Find out more about my tours and talks at www.janeslondonwalks.com or simply click here for the upcoming schedule which gives more info about each one.