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.