30 July 2021

Clogs, brushes and cycle accessories – 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. I went to check on what's happening at the top end of Norton Folgate, a part of Bishopsgate that I'd understood had been saved from development. It used to be an interesting architectural patchwork as you can see here.

As my pic here 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The two signs face each other across the now defunct Victorian railway line that has been replaced by the new section of rails for the Overground Line further along the street. It's really weird how these old buildings are somehow still hanging on in there surrounded by an undulating sea of tall glass.

The east-facing advertistement on the bottom right (above) is barely legible, and would need access to that upper level where the train carriages are to get a better view of the wording in the whole sign. Tetramesh has a better shot of it here. I originally thought I could see "MEX" in there at the middle right and wondered if this was a link to rubber from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Indeed, Milton Manufacturing Co cycle accessories was at this end of the street in 1915. Or it might be a ref to The East London Rubber Company or Rotax Motor Accessories who were both nearby in 1939.
But I have since had another, better, idea which also links to two-wheeled vehicles – I now think it's 'MAX' as in Max Steiner cycle accessories who were located at 35 Curtain Road, on the other side of the Gt Eastern St junction, for at least the period 1915-1939. More info on Max Steiner and the Pelissier brand here which includes some press ads. More can be found within Grace's Guide. I am pretty sure that, armed with the info in these ads, some of the wording on this wall sign can be deciphered. 

The sign on the side of No.55 is much clearer. It reads 'MAKERS OF. CLOGS. DRAIN & SWEEPS. MACHINES.' – this photo shows it more clearly in the 1980s. Having assessed the late Victorian directories, I think this is a sign for two or more products or companies available in this street.

At the very top front centre of No.55 there is a clear date mark: GT 1893. This surely must 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. It's possible that he was related to, the son of, Thomas Stevens who was listed at No.39 in 1832 (this might be the same property and the road might have been re-numbered, but I haven't checked). Thomas was one of two French clog makers in this street, the other being George Martin at No.44, before the railway line and before the building on which the sign was painted when clogs had evidently evolved to become boots. 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 wearer from splashes, see right (a page in a Gamages catalogue). 

Ideas and info welcome – please use the comments section or contact me via social media @janeslondon

*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.