26 September 2022

Sekforde Street doorways and fanlights

Walking down Sekforde Street again recently, I stopped to admire the lovely coloured glass fanlights above the doors at numbers 31 and 32. 

Ooh. Nice. 

This little street offers an amazing diversity of Georgian doorstep gorgeousness and the following eight examples are all from the northern half of the street...

I wonder if the people who drink at the Sekforde Arms have ever noticed these delightful doors, let alone the impressive façade of The Finsbury Bank For Savings.

22 September 2022

How do you pronounce Canonbury?

If you ever pass through Canonbury Square on a TfL 271 bus you will hear the automated announcement for the next stop. This bemuses me every time because the recorded female voice is heard to pronounce Canonbury as' Canon-burrie' turning the last part into something that rhymes with hurry or curry when it really it should be condensed to sound something like 'bree'. 

The bury ending for a place name indicates that there was once a castle, stronghold or fort at that location and it can also be found in many nearby places such as Highbury and Barnsbury, yet the on-board announcements for those are OK, so why has TfL got Canonbury wrong?!

Yes, I know it's an automated, patched-together, voice thing and I could almost forgive the error if she said it in the same way as the verb 'to bury' which is pronounced 'berry' and echoes the market town in Greater Manchester. But here in Canonbury, the misappropriated burrie thing makes no sense when there is no word that sounds like that at all. I mean, what is a burrie?

Isn't the English language fun?!

Feel free to enlighten me either in a comment of via jane@janeslondon.com

Recently I wrote about the coal hole cover plates in Canonbury Square, N1.

Thanks for the comments – for some reason I am unable to reply/comment myself at the moment (Sep2022)

19 September 2022

More coal hole cover plates – this time in Marylebone

Last week I was looking up at demons and here I am looking down again, but it's far from gloomy... 

I was recently on a mission to check up on some 'Art Deco' buildings in the area between Marylebone Station and Baker Street when I happened to spot a few coal hole cover plates with names on that I was sure I hadn't seen before. The one that first caught my eye was in Balcombe Street almost at the junction Ivor Place and it bore the name 'Whitehead'. I took a snapped a quick pic and was about to continue my journey when I noticed another plate a few metres away with the same name but a sporting different design (see below, top left and middle). Hmmm... I scanned some adjacent plates and noticed the diversity of names, a couple of which I was convinced weren't in my mental database. 

Oh gawd. What to do? Continue with PlanA or let myself get distracted by this new project? Of course, I went for the latter. 

From the Ivor Street junction, I walked northwards keeping to the left/west side of Balcombe Street, then at the top I crossed over to the other side and went back down to where it the street meets Dorset Square. I then did a circuit of the square and went back up the left side of Balcombe Street to complete the full loop, ending back at the Whitehead plates.

I have endeavoured to show the plates in roughly proportion to each other here. Most residential plates are the smaller 12" ones (excluding the outer ring), though I did snap a couple of the larger 15" ones which are more usually seen outside larger establishments such as pubs or restaurants and this hints to me that some of these houses here, being a stone's throw from Marylebone Station, were hotels. Indeed, I didn't check to see if they might still be. 

A few of the plates here have holes within the designs to allow ventilation within the coal cellar below. These are evidently part of their manufacture, but I have seen many examples elsewhere where holes have been retrospectively drilled in a random fashion by people who clearly have no regard for the design!  The three different Matts plates (below) show how that company's name and address has evolved in many ways.

Notice how in some cases the patterns on the covers are the almost identical. This is simply because the ironmonger's name has been added to a pre-made mould that was already available at the foundry. However, some of the more successful and wealthy ironmongers had their own bespoke, and therefore identifiable, designs created, as per the Gibbons plate at the very top and, although the initial process would have been expensive, repeat orders from that mould would be the same price as the off-the-shelf ones.

Unusually, compared to other streets of this era, there is no clear single winner amongst the range of local ironmongers shown. Elsewhere, it's evident that one local business has been engaged to supply the plates for a whole terrace having been contracted by the developer or contractor when the houses were first built. Instead, in this part of Marylebone, there is a mix of all sorts – some show local businesses in Marylebone, Edgware Rd and Lisson Grove, but others come from further afield, but only a few miles, as can be seen by the streets and locations on them. There are, of course, quite a few sporting the name Haywards of Southwark, the company being the B&Q of their day. And, without going back to count them, I'd guess either Sampson of Euston Road or Matts of Paddington were the two most common local names in this vicinity, with Stone coming in 4th. 

Something else I found in Balcombe Street that I don't think I have seen before... some HUGE slabs of York stone paving which I estimate are almost the size of a double bed.  

At the top end of the street, north of Ivor Place, on both sides of the road, some unusually large pieces of natural stone sit above the coal cellars as street paving. These super-size slabs must have been really expensive and I wonder how they were transported and how difficult it was to install them. There are coal holes within every one of them although some have been removed or infilled. A few of the coal holes have been filled and replaced with strange bits of flint that looks like left-overs from church walling – something else I have never seen the like of before. 

Looking down can be so fascinating... later that day, I as good as stumbled upon a 21" Haywards cover plate about half a mile away from Balcombe Street, by which time I had run out of phone battery and it was getting dark. I will return to it soon and put together another collection.

13 September 2022

Devils, Demons and Dragons

Oh how my eyes roll when I hear that daft story about why these delightful demons leer down over Cornhill in the City of London. If you don't know what I talking about, go google. I mean, really, eh?! If true, why did the clergy leave them in place? They are indeed unique in form, possibly one-offs, but they aren't the only sculptures of this type in London – you need only to look up and around you to see that London is splattered with fabulously devilish embellishments akin to these fellas. And I'm not here talking about gargoyles and grotesques on churches and the like.

To illustrat my point, I've put together here a selection of some of my favourites, starting a few minutes' walk from these little demons. And I'll start at the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Cannon Street where there are lots of strange lumpy lizards:

At first glance the building resembles a triangular wedding cake, but look closer and see that between the windows on the upper floors there are many different dragon-like beasts, each one totally unique as if made by a different person. 

From here, continue along Queen Victoria St to The Blackfriars public house where you'll find these two spooky fellas in amongst all the other marvellous embellishments there:

Next, to another public house, and probably my favourite London demons. Every time I am near Paddington Station I have to make a detour to check that this old Truman's pub with its its unusual adornments is still intact:

Many residential properties built in the late Victorian to Edwardian era feature baying dragons above the front windows. These, I think, would have been available from the equivalent of today's Wickes or Travis Perkins builders supplies store:

And then there are serpents and mythological beasts on door knobs in Marylebone, under windows in Kensington and climbing up many different kinds of buildings, such as here in Chancery Lane:

You'll find them on tiled shop fronts in Kensington, almost everywhere you look at St Pancras Hotel,  lurking within panels and friezes as per here on a Fulham pub, or sitting atop others in Earls Court and Clapton: 

Aren't they fab?

10 September 2022

Coal hole covers in Canonbury Square, N1

Last week I delivered a talk about coal hole cover plates at London Historian's History in the Pub night. This meant I had to wade through my photos to choose the best ones to best illustrate the diversity and how these things intrigue me. I am known for stopping suddenly in the street, mid-conversation with a friend, because I have spotted a name or a design that I have never seen before. I have written about these discs in the past, see here

Since last Wednesday's talk I have been revisiting my archive in an attempt to better collate them and delete the repeats, but with coal holes now uppermost in my brain, I have been out spotting more and have further expanded my photographic collection. I've even started making a A-Z list of the ironmongers' names that I have found. This shows how names evolve and businesses move to new locations or expand within an area. Talk about nerdy, or is it geekery?!

Yesterday I was in Canonbury Square, Islington, N1, so I walked the full perimeter to see what unusual delights I could find:

I discovered only five names and quite a lot of generic ones with no specific wording – the patterns on the plates offering a textured non-slip surface, as per the ones along the eastern side where George Orwell used to live. The one showed bottom right here can be found nearest to the green plaque commemorating the Big Brother author. 

Of the named ones, I would guesstimate about 80% of them,bear the name John Aston, a company that was located nearby at 70 Essex Road at the corner of Britannia Row. The lovely Georgian building, that +100 years ago would have been festooned with ironmongery and all things household is still there today but it's occupied by an estate agent. However, the Aston company lives on as part of Aston Matthews further along the street at 114-117. 

Of the other plates in Canonbury Square, Alfred Syer and John Hunter were both based about a mile away adjacent to the busy Nags Head shopping area of Holloway N7 and, being just around the corner to me, would have been my personal local ironmongers, though I wouldn't have needed a coal hole cover plate – these are 1870's houses but there are no coal cellars along the street – the coal would have been taken through the house to the coal bunker in the garden at the rear of the scullery. 

The name Harry Hunt is new to me, having never seen one of those before, but I'm sure if I go for a wander around Newington Green I will find lots more. The G. Guy one is strange being as Orchard Street is near Selfridges, off Oxford Street, and quite how this plate ended up in Canonbury is anyone's guess. I wonder if oddities like this were replacements for missing or broken plates, either brought by here by the new resident, or purchased from a second hand dealer.

5 September 2022

Criminal damage at Gilray House, 146-150 City Road

Earlier this year I wrote about the vile plans for Willen House in Bath Street, Moorfields, and how a horrible coating of dull grey paint will soon be covering a truly unique 20th Century building. 

Well, just around the corner, in an area that forms part of a conservation area, there is another building that earlier this year succumbed to the slate grey treatment. I had noticed that scaffolding had been erected around it last year and I simply thought it was being cleaned. It used to look like this (pics from Google streetview): 

But no, today it looks like this:

I have often wondered if the name of the building is in some way related to the clever Georgian artist and satirsist James Gilray. I hope not, because this is no laughing matter. The delicate details are now hard to see. It has been sloshed over with what looks like a layer of thick soot, slathered across the whole building all the way up to the top where only the new addition on the roof, which looks like a spaceship, is a unpainted. 

I am saddeneed at the grey-washing of the 'deco-esque' upperfloors which continues across the elegant metal windows, previously highlighted in Barclays Bank blue which sang out against the pure white walls and contrasted with the creamy-coloured faeince tiles of the streetlevel banking hall. The whole clearly showed how the architecture in the 1920s morphed from pretty decorative styles into the simplicity of the Bauhaus. The building not only housed Barclays Bank for almost a century, but it was also originally a Post Office with offices above for Royal Mail employees.  

About 8 years ago, the building was renovated and cleaned and I understood at that time that an application had previously been made to add anther storey or two to the top and this had been rejected due to this being in the Moorfields conservation area, although they did allow another floor to be added, but it was not visible from street level – notice how the buildings on this West side of City Road are all relatively low level in comparison to the high rise modern monoliths on the other side that, incidentally, have generated a nasty wind tunnel, especially problematical as you approach Old Street from East Road. I wonder if the energy created by these manmade howling gales here, and elsewhere where other ridiculously tall buildings have been constructed, could somehow be harnessed to exacerbate the forthcoming fuel bills. And what happened to that idea about gym running machines as generators? Anyway, I digress...

Conservation areas are clearly pointless. They do little protect the buildings from greedy developers keen to cut corners and make a quick buck. But I notice here at Gilray House that the horrid light-absorbing shades of dullsville on this East-facing site has done little to tempt in new leasehoolders – most, if not all of the building, is standing empty. A big shame all round.

This building and Willen House feature on my Art Deco Shoreditch walking tour.  


2 September 2022

A new architectural style in Spitalfields, E1 - Revivialist Pasticheism

Walking from Aldgate to Old Street last weekend via Spitalfields market, I cut across Wentworth Street and into Toynbee Street. Ahead of me, on the right, I saw an Art Deco style building. I stopped in my tracks – this definitely wasn't there a few years ago and I recalled a ramshackle mess of low-level buildings along that north side, covered in posters and graffiti, as shown below, top left, and here on retrospective streetview. This new building is quite clearly a modern take on the late 1930's style of architecture complete with geometric motifs. Indeed, on the front of it proudy shows 2021. How bizarre.

I contunued along the street to find more pastiche structures in the form of late Georgian workshops, and Victorian warehouses, all with strangely colourful windows frames, and another 1930s-style building in grey tones at the far end. 

I went to investigate the other side of the block in Commercial Street and found that a Jazz Age façade now replaces some derelict low level buildings at the rear/front of the black-tiled building in Toynbee Street. 

What is going on here? If these were reconstructions of the buildings previously demolished here I'd kind of understand the point of it. But that's clearly not the case. This appears to be some kind of showcase of the kinds of buildings you might have found in the area sometime in the past. A bit touristy and cheesy in my view. Sort of like the set of a cartoon movie.

Is it that today's architects run out of new ideas?

What do you think? Do you have any further info?

Next week I will post about two lost Art Deco gems in this area.

12 August 2022

Following a trail of bloody footprints between N19 and N4

Early this morning I made the effort to get out for a walk and back home again before it got too hot out there. I was doing well, having been up to Hornsey Rise and over to the Archway station area, then into Aldi for some groceries and by 9.30 I was walking back hown headed down Holloway Road laden with two bags of shopping. Halfway down the hill the blazing sun was in my face so I turned left into Alexander Rd, N19, to make use of the shady south side of that street. 

Looking up, down and around me, like I do, because there are always new things to see, I noticed a curved brown mark on the pavement that was clearly the outline of the front part of a shoe or trainer. And then I saw another, and another, and many more. This clearly had been made by someone with a bloody wound in their right leg who had been heading in the direction I’d just come from, towards Holloway Rd. 
Hmm. How intriguing. 
Where was this person going? Where had they come from? And what had happened to cause this loss of blood?
I decided to follow the trail to find the source of the incident. 
This took me across Cornwallis Rd to the end of Alexander Rd where it meets Sussex Way, then right into Tollington Way Second pic shows view looking east), then over Hornsey Road (but sort of diagonally, not using the crossings) to Tollington Park where, by the pillar box, I noticed that these earlier prints are surrounded by lots of little blood splatters which I guess were caused by the impact each time the foot hit the pavement. Oh my god, this person was losing a lot of blood. I also think, judging my the gaps between the prints, that he was  running.
My shopping bags were starting to cut into my fingers but I was hooked, intrigued. 
The trail continues along the south side of Tollington Park and it occurred to me, seeing as we haven't experienced any rain for weeks now, that these bloody marks that appear relatively fresh, dare I say shiny, could have been made weeks ago. There was a road sweeper so I asked him how long he'd known about them but he told me he’d only just started working in this area today as he was covering for someone else. 
We had a jolly chat about sleuthing and how it made me feel like an excited 8yr old finding hidden treasure, mysterious marks and secret spaces that nobody else knew about (they did, but they never said so!). I also recalled back in the '70s when, in the middle of the night, our dog Toby barked ferociously at the back door. We flew downstairs to see what was wrong but saw nothing to concern us and assumed it was a cat out there. When we looked again the next morning we found someone had left bloody footprints down the full length of our garden and, on the paved area by the back door, a semi-circular spray of reddish brown which must've been when he span round as Toby hurled himself at the window. The fella's tracks then went half-way back up the garden where he'd climbed over fence into next door's garden and exited into the street by their sideway, ending with a large bloody mess outside the school where, we deduced, he must've got into a car. I remember enjoying the sleuthing process. And here I was this morning repeating the process. The road sweeper likened me to  Miss Marple and I wondered if I should have told him about my Agatha Christie walks and talks
I continued along Tollington Park and found that the marks crossed the road and then crossed back again to continue down the southern half of Stroud Green Rd. Well, what I mean is, this is where the guy had come from. At this point I decided it was getting way too hot to be  out sleuthing, especially whilst carrying heavy bags, and I and came home and wrote this. 
I am guessing that some kind of horrible altercation happened near Finsbury Park station, or in the park itself, and the wounded guy fled to the Upper Holloway area. He may have been heading home, or perhaps he was going to Whittington Hospital?

I can't help myself, I really do need to find out more. Later this evening or sometime over the weekend before the much-needed rain arrives, I will follow the trail in both directions to see where they start and end. 

Update 1: Saturday 13th August. 
I went back to Alexander Road this morning to follow the trail to its end and there I noticed that the splatter marks are far greater than I’d observed in earlier parts of the roue, such as in Tollington Park. Stands to reason really. I also paced it out and, even though I take fairly long strides myself, I am pretty sure by the length of the gaps that the wounded fella was running (I am still assuming a male).   
At Holloway Rd he turned right. On reaching The Crown PH he crossed over to the other side of the road. The tracks stop outside No.517/519. I couldn’t venture into those gardens because it is private property and some men were hindering my sleuthing as they went in and out to those properties installing protective metal panels on the windows and doors. I asked one of them why and he said it was due to squatters, druggies and anti-social behaviour. Ah.

Having looked further along the pavement there in both directions, between Wedmore Rd and Tavistock Terrace, I found no more bloody shoeprints. But outside No. 517, near the back door of the SPS van shown above, there are a couple of naked footprints that also might be bloodstains. Whether these were made by the same guy, I don’t know. 

Update 2: Sunday 14th August
OK, I’ve worked out where it started… 
Every Sunday there’s a Farmer’s Market in the playground of Stroud Green School, N4, here at the junction where Perth Rd meets Ennis Rd opposite The Faltering Fallback public house. I wonder how many of the people there today sipping their Fairtrade coffee, buying their organic veg and Italian wines, enquiring about the vegan cheese, etc, have noticed the very clear bloody prints that run around the school, let alone are aware of any trouble in the area recently? 
I have deduced that whatever happened to cause the loss of blood occurred on the pavement near the school’s main gates at the other side of the building on Woodstock Rd because there I found prints of varying strength in pointing this way and that. The wounded guy looks to have at first headed south towards Finsbury Park Station and then changed his mind at the end of the school fence and decided to turn round and head in the opposite direction because, bwteen there and the scholl gate there are two clear trails heading in each direction. Then clear, now very bloody, marks continue along the pavement around the school, over Ennis Rd, past the pub where he ran along the double yellow lines and then into the middle of the road before crossing over to the pavement on the east side of Stroud Green Rd.
And then it's as I have written above... he turned westward nto Tollington Park, crossing to the north side diagonally at Charteris/ReginaRd before crossing back again at the next junction, Evershot/FonthillRd. Then he went all the way to the end of Tollington Park, diagonally over Hornsey Road into Tollington Way, north/right into Sussex Way, left into Alexander Road, then over Holloway Roadd, to what I’m guessing was home. 
I've tried googling to see if this has been reported online but, even though I’ve found a couple of other incidents in the area these past few years, there’s nothing on this. I will send a tweet to Stroud Green Police and report back here if anything comes back from them.

3 August 2022

Mudlarking with Thames21 at Broomhouse Dock

In my last post I mentioned I recently visited the foreshore at Broomhouse Dock, right (Google Streeview pic). 

This event was an initiative created by Thames21 with the idea to get people involved with the river and local history. A few months before, I'd lead a similar event for Thames21 and Frames of Mind in North Woolwich, which was delightful success. 

When the date was set for this Hammersmith location as Saturday 16th July, when the tide would be at its lowest between 11.30am and 1pm, we had no idea that it would end up being one of the hottest days on record. And here we were planning to be on the southern-most top of Hammersmith, on a beach, with no form of shade at all apart from the shadow made by The Hulingham Club's thin boat access ramp.

Nevertheless, behatted and fully dressed, with any visible area of skin slathered in factor50, I donned a pair of the provided wellies and some gloves, picked up a bucket and made my way down to the water's edge through what must be the muddiest, slimiest, gloopiest access slope I have ever had to use to get to a foreshore. Some of the Thames21 crew and volunteer helpers were busy doing a litter pic and I was saddened to see the vast amount of nasty wet wipes* they collected that morning. If you'd like to join these clean-ups find out more at Thames21.

The pic below shows the marvellous view across to Wandsworth's recycling plant, but today there is no ferry boat at Broomhouse Dock to take us to the south side as there would have been +200 years ago.

About twelve people of all ages came to join us on the day. We had hoped for more, indeed the cool box was well-stocked with plenty of ice lollies, but the hot weather was aagainst us. Once I'd moved the group to a cleaner part of the foreshore it was lovely to see how interested people were in the whole experience. It's the possiblitly of finding hidden treasure, I think. But it wasn't a good day for finds. We found old bits of metal in the form of nuts, bolts and nails, some small animal bones and some late 1990s electrical components(!) but I didn't see a single piece of broken clay pipe stem or any sherds of pottery worth sharing with the group. However, you could go back to that same location on another day and the shore could be completely different depending on the tide and recent weather conditions. 

As I explained to everyone that day, when not with an organised group like this, in order to go mudlarking on the Thames foreshore, you need a licence, and these can be obtained from the PLA here. But there are restrictions as to what you can do even if you have a permit, such as you cannot start digging holes (you don't need to – just walk slowly and look carefully) and certain sections of foreshore are out of bounds.

In Broomhouse Lane at the corner of Daisy Lane, I noticed that the lovely building there is covered in scaffolding. Argh no, I thought. Oh phew – they are converting it into a care home, see here

*People seem to think the word 'disposable' means it will decompose. Realistically, everything is 'disposable' whether it's a car or an apple core. In this instance, 'disposable' tends to intimate that the product is for single use – just use it and throw it away, ta da!  Victorian era magazines were full of ads for disposable items, but the products back then were made of glass, paper and other components that were easy to separate and repurpose. Our plastics, especially since the 1950s, not so. Products such as wet wipes weren't on the shelves a few decades ago yet mothers the world over managed to cope ably. So, if these things are evil waste, literally clogging up the planet, why aren't they simply removed from sale? Why are companies still being allowed to manufacture them? And note, they are packaged within mostly non-recyclable plastic. Don't worry though, the children of the future will fix all this.

31 July 2022

The Parson's Green ghostsign – let's go to the Palace!

Way back in the dim distant past, in November 2008 (wow and ouch, that's almost 15 years ago!) I took some photos of a huge hand-painted sign on the side of Woolverstone House, 45-47 Parsons Green Lane. The sign is painted on the rear of what was originally a beer retailer/ publichhouse and faces north across the District Line railway on the other side of the road to the station. In 2008 the sign looked like this:

It was faily easy to decipher most of the words (see further down). I filed the pics, intending to return to the site another day when the light was better for photography.

But this area of Fulham sits in an area I rarely pass through, let alone stop, and it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I finally paid another visit to the sign. I was at last in the vicinity because I had been asked to lead a mudlarking group on the foreshore at nearby Broomhouse Dock. As I came out of Parson's Green station (possessive apostrophe there or not? I wish they'd make up their mind!) I crossed the street to check on my old friend and was delighted to find it's all still there, in fact more of it is visible than before being as that white panel is no longer in place. I had expected the whole wall to have been overpainted in some way or completely whitewashed, but I was pleased to see it intact. This was about 11:20am on a very sunny, hot and hazy day, and not anywhere close to the best conditions for photography. Hence why the best shot is this one taken from underneath the railway lines.

The sign is an advertisement for variety nights at The Victoria Palace Theatre, the Grade II* 1911 Frank Matcham building topped by a gilded statue of Anna Pavlova. 

I have returned to my first batch of pics and created this over-enhanced image to better illustrate the content.What is immediately evident by the patchwork effect here, is the amount of different panels that have covered this wall throughout the decades and, as such, helped to protect what still exists.

Top left, within a panel across 2/3rds of the wall:
(time) TWICE NIGHTLY (time


I think what we have here is a build up of signs over time with the earliest one at the top left, its letterform is distinctly early C20th. It reminds me of the sign for the Palais de Danse that used to be visible from the Dictrict Line plaforms at Hammersmith until that marvellous music venue was demolished in May 2012. 

The repetition of the venue name at centre looks to be later addition, rendered as it is in a simpler sans serif form. And at the very bottom, partly obscured by that vertical dark stripe, is a delightful interconnection of 'Twice' and 'Nightly' where the two words are set diagonally against each other as per my pencilled example, right.

And finally, at the extreme bottom right, under the rule, it reads LONGMANS – this is probably the signwriter and, if so, could be the largest 'signature' I have ever seen on a hand-painted sign, the letters being three bricks high! There looks like there might be some other smaller letterforms to the right of that name and this could have been a telephone number, but being as the mortar between the bricks has been replaced across the whole wall, this is very hard to discern now. 

Does anyone have any better pics?

28 July 2022

Gillespie Park Nature Reserve – if the flowers start to grow, do you pick them? No no no!

I went for a wander around Gillespie Park earlier this week. I often do when I am close by. It's lovely there. It's like entering into an old woodland or part of Epping Forest because it feels like it has been there forever. Yet this magical space has only existed since the reserve was created in 1983. Prior to that, this was part railway sidings and part Stephen's Ink factory. 

I sat and watched butterflies. I listened to birds. I gazed up and around myself and sighed happily. But I couldn't see any fish in the pond. I decided to take snaps of the many signs dotted around the reserve. All very informative, but many are also inadvertently amusing, telling us about pirhana goldfish and annoying spotty people.  

Re the content, whilst I forgive the children for their amusing errors, I can't excuse the use of poor grammar in some of the other signs, many of which I have seen in parks all across the metropolis. But hey.

Today, this 2.8 hectare space, is a haven for many species of flora and fauna within its various areas of grassland, woodland and ponds. The Islington Ecology Centre at the Arsenal station end provides a lots of information and resources and, as such, is a marvellous learning hub for the local schoolchildren who visit here. It was built as the borough's first carbon neutral building and boasts many eco-friendly features though, as you can see from one of the pics above, the wind turbine that powers the buildings is no longer functional and a new source of energy is being devised.

If you haven't ventured up and into here, then I really do urge you to do so, because it's a delight. Though please take note that only a small section is available to dogs (accessible via where it says 'you are here' on the map below). Once you know it's there, you will, like me, make a detour if you are in the vicinity.

On exiting from the stairs at the Finsbury Park end, I often feel as if I have just emerged from a secret enchanted place and am now back in the real world. Do check out the three mosiac panels on the wall there as they are delightful too.

Gillespie Park and Ecology Centre – more info here


27 June 2022

The Old Operating Theatre – a delight

Last month, after years of walking past The Old Operating Theatre and thinking, 'I must go in there some day soon' I walked past and thought to myself, 'I must go in there some day soon' and then I stopped, turned round and said, 'no, go in there NOW!' 

And I am so glad I did. Finally. They suggest it's a 45-minute experience but I was in there well over twice that. There's lots to see and find out up there including some quite scary surgical implements intermingled with beautiful books and other acoutrements of the trade. 

The volunteers who assists there are full of fabulous facts and info – I really enjoyed the interaction with them which was probably why I was there so long. On the day I visited I was one of only four people up there and I sat in the theatre for ages simply contempleting the room and imagining the noise and mess of the past. The whole space, including the wooden room that houses the museum, complete with it's creaky floor and cabinets full of curiosties, is a delight will definitely return, either alone again or with any friend who also has never set foot inside as I am sure that they too will love it.

The museum is just a stone's throw from Borough Market, London Bridge, Guy's Hospital, and that tall spiky thing. Getting up to and inside is via this door at the foot of the church bell tower and then a climb up a one-way narrow spiral staircase, so be aware that this is not a wheelchair-friendly museum. Find out more here.

This has got me thinking about all the other places that I walk past and think 'I must go in there some day soon' which includes Dr Johnson's House. Really. Hard to believe, I know. I did try once but it was closing in ten minutes.  

22 June 2022

A marvellous manicule in NW5

The Way To Church Lands

Walking along Gordon House Road a few months ago I spotted a directional panel at low level here just to the right of the protuding block. I took a couple of crude snaps:

This manicule (pointing hand) is probably the most elaborate device of this kind I have ever seen in London. It is not simply painted onto the slab but instead has been carved in low relief complete with chubby fingers and a lacy cuff hinting at wealth and prosperity. This ties in nicely with the kind of well-to-do traders and businessmen who would have moved their families to this area in the eighteenth century – a perfect location adjacent to the open spaces and clean air of Hampstead Heath with direct access into the City via St Pancras and the New Road (Euston, Pentonville and City Rds today). For an idea of this, you need only look the impressive houses along Grove Terrace, set back from Highgate Road. 

Other words are carved into the panel at either side of the ellipse – there is a large cap N on the left and what might be '15 Feet' on the left. There may well be more at the bottom under that veil of render. 

I think the sign points to the beginning of a footpath but I cannot find evidence of that and neither can I work out which church this might refer to. It's also extremely doubtful that the sign is in exactly the same position as when it was first sited because the panel is embedded in a wall that was constructed in 1965 as part of the Haddo House development.

I will update this when I find out more info

20 June 2022

Homepride Wallpapers ghostsign, Walworth Road, SE17

Every time I pass this Homepride Wallpapers ghostsign at 214 Walworth Road it brings a smile to my face because it takes me back in time to the 1970s when many lads wore shirts featuring a repeated pattern of little bowler-hatted Homepride Flour men. I had hoped to be able to link to a pic of a vintage shirt here but I can find nothing available, so if you've still got one of these gems, it's now clearly a collectors' piece. I did find this TV ad though – graded grains make finer flour!

To me, this painted sign conjures up mental images of walls covered in the same Homepride flour men. But where in your home would you paste it? In the kitchen, I suppose, near the larder, and surely only on one feature wall. Sounds like a ridiculous idea, but back in the day, young men who probably couldn't boil eggs, wore those shirts!

Ah, but this ghostsign pre-dates the flour. This is 'homepride' as in a pride in one's home. In the 1930s the shop at No.214 was home to Globe Art, wall paper manufacturers and the 1939 directory shows that the company had quite a few outlets in South London:

I have not as yet ascertained which of these address was the actual manufactory (tho I suspect it was most likely the Tower Bridge address where Haddon Hall now sits) but it is amusing to notice that the phone code for the Walworth Rd location and the Peckham High St shop used to be 'Rodney' as in Del Boy etc – I wonder if John Sullivan knew that when he wrote the sitcom...?

Wall coverings inspired by the Trotters' flat in Only Fools and Horses are suggested here!

18 June 2022

Old shops ain St Pauls, Road, Highbury and Islington

I am often to be seen walking from Holloway to Canonbury and back, and this means I use the stretch of St Paul's Rd between the two terraces of shops at the western end which still displays some hints of a bygone age or two. The shops on the right hand side adjacent to the Hen and Chickens pub are clearly older and I will return to them another day, but it's north/left side I'm going to talk about here. It starts with a single shop, No.306a, an large add-on to No.306 which is the first of six paired premises. The shops at street level have angled entrances each side of a door that leads to residential accommodation above. The door numbers are beautifully incised into the street-facing fabric of the building in a clear sans serif letterform at each side of the arches with a flower motif above them. 

First, let's look at No.296, today a barber/hairdresser. Above the shop door there two small signs in the glass advertising Ogden's St. Bruno, a tobacco product that is still available today:

In the 1930s this was a tobacconist shop managed by the wonderfully-named Samuel Brilliant. On the subject of names, at No.298 in the 1910s, there was a confectionery shop run by the perfectly-named Miss Eliza Sweetland. I wonder if she was led into this line of work by nominative determinism?!

Two doors along at No.290 is Sawyer & Gray. As far as I can make out this café and homewares shop (no wifi or laptops, hurrah!) took its name from a name that was uncovered about ten years ago. Indeed, today's S&G was established in 2012. But the Sawyer and Gray of 1939 was a confectionery shop (Miss Sweetland no longer in evidence). It's really nice to see old signage revitalised like this.  

And now to a location past just the bus stop and the cobbled access to the rear. At No.276 today you'll find Firezza Pizzeria. Thick layers of green paint are currently being removed to reveal shiny ultramarine blue tiles. And this suggests it was once a laundry:

A quick look at the old Kelly's directories confirms my hunch. This was indeed a Western's Laundry shop. This blue-tiled exterior being the usual style for Western's and for Sunlight Soap – see more here. Customers' sheets and shirts were collected by vans at the rear via that cobbled side access and then taken to the large facility in Drayton Park which I waffle about on YouTube here(!).  The 1915 directory tells me that this site was previously Isendure Laundry Ltd, an independendent local business that looks to have been subsumed into the Western's umbrella by the 1930s. 

I really hope if they manage to clean off all the green paint and retain the blue tiles, not just for their specific historic value but for logic's sake. I mean, what is the point of painting tiles?! Tiles are washed by rain, or easily wiped. 

Next door to the old laundry, at a site recently vacated by St Paul, there was a dairy/grocery store, no doubt also making good use of that cobbled side access. Throughout bygone centuries, Islington was well-renowned for the quality of its milk – that's a story you've probably heard me tell many times if you've been on my walking tours. 

In 1915 the dairy at No.274 was run by a woman called Mrs David Davies. At some time in the 1920s it had become part of United Dairies, a company famous for pioneering pasteurised milk. 

As you can see by my dodgy pics, taken through the window, the shop interior still retains much of its interwar United Dairies tiled walls with clean white walls and geometrics in two tones of green.  The exterior still has the panelled sections in the window glass but the minty-green tiles and air vents at low level have been covered or replaced by wooden panels. This view from 2008 shows those elements still in place when it was a chemist's shop. The pic on the right shows the UD shop in New Eltham, dated 1933, and this is how this St Paul's Rd store would have looked. How lovely.