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18 September 2023

Update on the three wood-filled LCC Tramways access plates in Angel, Islington

Here is an update on the manhole covers in Islington, all a short walk from Angel tube station. 

From the station, heading north, keep to the right hand side and as you pass The York pub you will find the first of the three within in the bend of the road just before the junction with Duncan Street. Two years ago I had reported that this one had been covered in Tarmac and was, therefore, no longer visible as seen here. But, good news, I noticed recently that the modern road surface is gradually eroding and quite a bit of the wood is now again visible. Hurrah!

From there, keep heading north along Islington High Street along keeping the tram station to your left and mid-way along the building there is another one, as shown below in a screenshot from Google streetview adjacent to the offside rear wheel of the Royal Mail van:

Look closely to see that it shows more of the LCC TRAMWAYS mark along the centre bar, as would most of the others of similar design. This one, and the one shown above are less eroded due to being on a back street.  

Finally, here is the third one, found by turning left at the end of the tram shed and then right in the main Road. The impressive circular plate is today set within the modern paving just before Pizza Express. It would have originally been in the road it but when the pavement was widened, the access holes were retained. 

I am here pairing it with its close neighbour, a lovely oblong of striated paving stone, though I very much doubt that this slab will remain here as long as the man hole cover – I suspect it will soon be replaced before it becomes a greater trip hazard.

If you do spot any more remnants of outdoor wood surfaces to add to my London A-Z Directory of Woodblocks please leave a comment under this blog post or email me at

12 September 2023

Keeping it in the family

This is just a nice little collection of independent shop signs across London that feature "& Sons" within them. Some businesses are still trading, some are long gone but the signs remains in place, and others have disappeared completely since I took the photos. 


Chard & Sons, butcher, 101 Gloucester Road, SW7. I took the photo back in January 2009. More info about the old shop here. Most of the marvellous Doulton tiles are still visible but the old name is today obscured.

E. Price & Sons, English & Foreign Fruiterers, 96-98 Golborne Rd, W10. Photo September 2016. Lovely hand-painted exterior, with roll down shutters, very typical of greengrocers of old with one shop as the shop and the other used as storage. By 2019 these two shops were already being renovated and refitted, and this is how they look today. OK, so the name has gone, but it's really good to see that the lovely windows have retained, especially in a street that is known for antiques and bric-a-brac. 

John Lovibond & Sons Ltd, brewery. This lovely tiled sign for this Greenwich and Salisbury company can be found on the side of what used to be a beer retailer at the corner of 28 Clapham Road, SW9.


W. Burrows & Sons, wet & dry fishmonger. This fabulous shop complete with its green tiled and gilded exterior was obliterated over seven years ago as I wrote here. However, a faded painted advertisement, a ghostign of the old business, still clings to the uppermost part of the north-facing side wall and would have been clearly visible from the Savoy Circus and the A40. The top two lines read W.BURROWS & SONS / FISH & CHIP RESTAURANT but I am still trying to decipher he bottom line which starts ALL C...

James Smith & Sons, umbrella makers, 53 New Oxford Street, WC1. Smiths, founded in 1830 in Soho, is still trading here on the edge of Bloomsbury and, thanks to its olde worlde charm, appealing to tourists who want to buy a bit of English craftsmanship, the company continues to thrive within this Grade II* shop. Hurrah. Long may that continue. 

White & Sons, ironmonger, 207 Oxford Street, W1. No prizes for guessing that this shop, which was almost opposite Gt Titchfield Street, isn't there any more – today you'll find a TK Maxx within a modern building. I spotted this coal hole cover plate in nearby Harley Street. The shop would have been a general hardware shop, also selling ironmongery.

Mr White traded here from at least the 1850s as part of Gibbons, White, Smith & Son. Mr Gibbons was already here in the 1840s when it was 345 Oxford Street, the road at that time being consecutively numbered from St Giles westwards to Edgware Rd along the North side and then back eastwards along the South side. The Gibbons cover plate shown here is near Rutland Gate, Kensington. Mr Smith seems to have moved on by the 1870s when the business became simply Gibbons & White. He might have gone into business on his own elsewhere as there are a couple of possible candidates for ironmongers by the name of Smith in Kensington and Bloomsbury, so I am going to leave him be for now. 

Mr Gibbons had also dropped out of the picture by 1882 when the shop is listed as White & Son (just the one son), then upgraded to White & Sons (plural) by 1891 with works at Nags Head Yard (where?). The Whites were still in Oxford Street in 1910 but by 1915 they had moved round the corner to 42 Berwick Street as a limited company but I am not clear for how much longer they traded because there iare no listings for them by the late 1930s.


L. Terroni & Sons, Italian delicatessen and café, 138 Clerkenwell Rd, EC1. Still trading today and claims to be the oldest of its type in London.

C. E. Norris & Sons, 73 Whidborn Street, WC1, opposite the excellent McGlynn's (a proper pub). The style of the lettering looks 1950s to me and, although I have no conclusive evidence, judging by previous occupants here, I'd guess that the Norrises were also greengrocers . What's cool about the hand-painted sign here is it shows the old telephone number; TER 4577. TER = Terminus which was the three letter code for the Kings Cross area equating to 837 in today's terms. More about the old phone codes here.

G. Carter & Sons, hat manufacturer and hosier, 162 Jamaica Road, SE1. Another doorway/threshold mosaic, a stone's throw from Bermondsey tube station. George Carter established his hat making business in 1851. By 1882 he is listed here with a larger shop at 215-217 Old Kent Road and a hosiery shop at 249 Southwark Park Road, SE1, on the left corner of Blue Anchor Lane, today a charity furniture shop. The company office was on the opposite corner at 251a within The Blue Anchor pub building. The Old Kent Road shop was later expanded to include men's clothing and the premises itself enlarged and rebuilt as an impressive and well-known establishment. Sad to report that this was demolished in the 1970s and today is a BHF furniture store

The Carter family continued to trade from the Jamaica Road shop until at least 1915, but they'd gone from there by 1939. Ah, but that's not the end of the story; quite the opposite. The 1939 Post Office directory shows that the family moved the company office to Surrey Square (just over the road from the OKRd store) and other shops were opened across London in Deptford, Shoreditch, Woolwich, Kensal Green (where a lot of the old shop front remains and I will write this up soon), also Brixton, Dalston, Tooting, Camden, Wandsworth and more. But no Islington shops, although it has to be said that Holloway Road and Upper Street were already saturated with men's outfitters. I understand that the Carter family also had stores further afield in the south in Chatham and Croydon.

The company continued trading until the later 1880s. However, I think I am going to have to stop now as I appear to have entered a G. Carter & Sons whirlpool. When I started writing this, having found the montage of nine pics that I made over a year ago, I thought "I'll just do a quick short blog post on that, perhaps a line on each company" – hmm that was many hours ago. I then got completely lost in research. No wonder my tummy was rumbling! If you want to delve further into Carter's history, there's lots of info online about the Carter company and this book by Diana Jones.  

10 September 2023

More manholes with woodblock infills, hiding in plain view on London's main roads

This latest collection of manhole covers with remnants of wood blocks within them are specifically grouped together because they are all on streets I know well, so it's surprising it's taken me decades to notice them. 

First, here is a fabulous example in Holloway Road, ten minutes' walk from my home. I often lead guided tours here pointing out all the hints of late Victorian history when the street was often referred to as The Oxford Street of the North. Yet, although I often mention trams and old forms of transport, I hadn't actually spotted this fabulous example of wood blocks in the middle of the road. It can be found between The Coronet/Waitrose and Holloway tube station, slap bang in the middle of the road. Basically, I have been walking past it about three times a week for thirty years (doh!):

It's the second Holloway one I have discovered (see first entry in here) and, convinced that there surely must be more in the vicinity, I am now often to be seen scouring the road like a demented idiot who has lost something.  

Next, to Kentish Town. This is a short walk from Holloway and an area I also thought I knew well as regards little details etc, yet, although I'd found one wood-filled manhole cover by a yellow line in the southern end of this street, this one, almost opposite Islip Street, had eluded me until someone messaged me about it:

On Pentonville Road, outside Joseph Grimaldi Park, there is another one. I'd previously glimpsed it from the top deck of a number 73 bus, as this is what I do from buses now; I play a new game I have invented: Manholehunter. On the day I went to photograph this one, the street was extremely trafficated, as a friend used to say (and I like it) so I had to stop the slow-moving cars to be able to stand over it and get a decent shot. The driver of one car looked at me very quizzically then parked round the corner to come back and see what I was so interested in. He chatted for a while, and I told him to look up Jane's London but I haven't heard from him since. Perhaps he's reading this now. I hope so! Due to the traffic that day I am here accompanying my photo with a street view pic from Google (the name of the road isn't actually painted on the Tarmac!):

And so to Clerkenwell Rd. I wrote before about a fine example at the end of Leather Lane. Well, I'm sorry to report that since that stretch of road was resurfaced, it has completely gone. But, on the bright side, I found another one a little further east, almost at the junction of Hatton Garden, by the zebra crossing. At first glance it looks like it's all tarmac-filled. But that's not the case – the tarmac has eroded around the edges, and little glimpses of wood can be seen, though that might not be immediately evident here:

And finally (for this blog post only as there are sure to be more!), this next one is just south of Angel Islington, on the west side of St John Street by the pedestrian crossing, just before the junction with Rosebery Ave and Sadlers Wells:

See you with more of these soon, no doubt.

For the full list of all my sightings thus far, please click here. Do let me know if you find any more. 

7 September 2023

Baker Street station Hidden London tour into the non-public areas

Earlier this week I was lucky to be part of one of the test runs for one of the new tours run by Hidden London for London Transport Museum which took us into the back rooms and disused passages behind, beneath and above Baker Street station's many platforms. Indeed, I understand that Baker Street, with its many interconnecting rail and tube lines, has the most platforms of any station on the network.

I'd already been on Hidden London's tours of the tunnels beneath Euston station and the disused station at Highgate (having searched my old blogposts, I cannot now fathom why I didn't write reviews of those) and, three months ago I went on their excellent tour of the Holborn Kingsway tram tunnel, so I was intrigued to see what Baker Street station had to offer. 

I can confidently report that the tour is a diverse and fascinating delight, mainly due to the how the station has coped and evolved with the ever-expanding transport network and the need for customer connectivity. It was bizarre and fascinating to be looking down onto the curved roof of an escalator or standing almost hidden from view watching passengers (or is it customers, commuters or travellers?!) waiting for a Bakerloo line train. 

I especially liked seeing some lovely teal wall tiles in the disused sections that once housed the passenger lifts where there are also some remnants of old advertising posters, and I never before realised that there is tiled footbridge at the western end of the Circle and District line platforms which are available to use any day of the week. 

See all the Hidden London tours here – note that not all locations are available all the time, so it's well worth subscribing to be notified of updates to the schedule as these tours sell out fast. 

I'd also recommend a visit to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and the larger Acton depot where you'll find lots more fascinating exhibits from bygone eras, such that you are bound to be pointing and exclaiming, "Oh I remember these!"

1 September 2023

More wood blocks – side streets and access roads

Here's the latest update on woodblock sightings. These are all in side streets or back alleys.

Find the current list here.

First, here's one I spotted and photographed years ago but completely forgot abbot until recently. This unusual elliptical shaped man hole cover can be found just inside the side alley to the right of 169 Bermondsey Street, SE1:  

Next, a regular shaped man hole cover, jam-packed with lovely big chunks of wood. This can be found in Crooked Billet Lane, a narrow street under the Overground railway line at the southern end of Kingsland Rd, E1. I read in a 1930's book about London that this little street was [then] a wonderful evocation of a bygone Victorian age (or something similar). A couple of 1880's buildings do remain on the right/north side but, apart from that, there's not much left except this marvellous example of the old road surface that would have covered the whole street 150 years ago: 

A similar example can be found lurking in the little road parallel to West End Lane, West Hampstead, specifically behind Oddbins with access from Sumatra Road, NW6:

Finally, I mentioned earlier this year that I'd been on a tour of the Holborn Kingsway tram tunnel and I'd noticed that many areas of its woodblock road surfaces were still intact. Here are some more pics: 

27 August 2023

Marvellous Marquetry at The Royal George, Euston

I do love an 1930's pub. By which I mean one of those Tudor Revival or Neo Georgian houses built by the big breweries at that time in an effort to keep up with new innovations in construction, design and facilities, whilst holding onto old comforts, like log fires, polished wood and deep-buttoned leather chairs. 

I often stop at an example of one of these on my Art Deco guided walks, explaining that not everyone was keen on the new fangled Moderne and geometric or streamlined styling, hence the many public houses were rebuilt in a way that would entice new and younger customers yet wouldn't scare off the existing clientele. I have often been heard saying that a customer back then could be quaffing either a pint of stout or a gin cocktail whilst smoking a pipe or a dragging on a cork-tipped Craven-A. 

Well, at the side of Euston Station, this is illustrated in wood within the walls around the fireplaces of The Royal George public house, Grade II listed and for good reason. 

There has been a pub here since 1877, named after the HMS Royal George, a Royal Navy flagship vessel that sank in 1873 with the loss of 1,200 crew. In the late 1930s, Truman Hanbury & Buxton, the then owners (hence the those lovely eagles on the building) rebuilt the pub with its front designed to echo the stern of the boat. 

The boat is depicted in its full glory inside the pub with sails a-billowing within a magnificent large marquetry panel, on the right hand side as you enter, above what would have been an open fireplace. It's hard to get a decent pic in there because the pub seems to constantly be showing sports on multiple TV screens and these are reflected in the wooden panel. However, we shouldn't really complain because in recent memory the marquetry panel was itself was covered by one of those TV screens, so we are lucky it wasn't removed, boarded or overpainted:

But that's not all. On the other side of the pub, in what would have originally been one of the other two bars, separated by walls or panels and accessible by its own street door, there is a non-functional angled fireplace in the far left corner with slim panels of marquetry either side. 

Within these panels, and again, hard to photograph due to the poor lighting conditions in there, hence I am only showing eight of them here, the age of steam and science is contrasted with the age of cocktails:

As you can see, these graphics created from thin slivers of different woods, depict a range of subjects such as the brewing industry, bar games (skittles), science, engineering, transport and travel (luggage on a trolley). 

I think these panels are absolutely marvellous.  It amazes me when I take friends and fans of this sort of thing into The Royal George and other drinkers in there look at us quizzically as if we are the idiots! 

Marquetry is a skilled and time-consuming craft that is dying out today. Find out more here. I have only found a few other examples within other London public buildings, albeit nothing comparable to the illustrative quality shown above. I will endeavour to hunt out some more (any excuse for a pub crawl!) – there surely must be more out there, simply hiding in plain sight – please let me know if you can add to the collection. 

24 August 2023

Bermondsey Beach – little things mean a lot

I was recently in Bermondsey for a River Thames event and, as mudlarking guide, I was there to share a bit of local history and provide a kind of Show & Tell with the attendees, explaining to them the dos and don'ts of access to the foreshore and what we might hope to find on the surface in this area.

Bottom left: a little bit of broken cardboard that happened to make the shape of J (for Jane)!

As I explained to the group, unless you have, like I do, a permit purchased from the Port Of London Authority which allows you to scratch the surface, you can do little more than walk the dog or enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. You cannot dig. Even if you do have a permit (and the PLA are not allocating any new ones at the moment) you can only disturb the very top couple of inches. But, quite frankly, you don't need to dig as it's simply a matter of getting your eye in and, if all you are picking up are broken bits of shell and pottery sherds, that's fine. But please be selective. Many people take bag loads of found items home with them and then don't know what to do with it all. Hence, it ends up in household rubbish and then in landfill which is a shame. Better for it to stay as part of the River Thames. Therefore, I always encourage people who join me for my foreshore forages to choose just three items to take home with them and leave the rest behind to be covered by the next tide. As with all unusual finds, if you do find something that you think might be an artefact of historical interest, simply contact the lovely people at Portable Antiquities Scheme who will advise you. 

Here are some little gems that picked up at Bermondsey, some of pieces are tiny, less than 1cm across, and we found them simply sat on the higher drier parts of the beach looking carefully around our legs. All the blue and white crockery was in an area less than 2 metres square. It's not that someone dumped it there, it's because the tide dropped it there being as it was all of similar weight. This is evident on curved stretches as the tide copes with different obstacles and the beach changes from a swathe of sand to small shingles, then a heap of bricks and masonry, then a muddy section and back to shingle again. 

The seven fragments top left are single-sided, late Georgian through to twentieth century as are the six little pieces in the top middle pic which are two-sided (the flip side shown top right). And I do love bit of tide-worn glass, or sea glass as some people call it. I don't know what that B stands for (it's probably from a beer bottle) but holding up the fragment to the light made it look like a cola ice lolly, especially against the beach!

I found quite a few bits of intriguing pottery, some glazed on both sides (top left and centre) plus some lovely little pieces of semi-precious stone, marble, flint some of which have holes worn within them or are pleasing shapes shuch as the ling tubular bit of flint and the Shard-shaped triangle which I had meant to hold up against the London skyline to replace the building on the Southbank, but completely forgot to do that!

Bottom left, above, shows a collection of stones with layered rocks and sediments some of which resemble fancy cakes or cuts of meat. As a gauge of size, the largest piece is approx 35mm long. A larger version of the 'roulade' is here to better illustrate the food idea. One of the pieces looks at first like it is glazed, especially as the pattern within the stone resembles a map of Cyprus! And the collection bottom right is simply about colours and textures; a selection of alabaster, coral, brick and stone. I also collected a few fragments of clay pipe (not shown here) which I will soon turn into items of wearable jewellery etc.   

Finally, some Health and Safety advice about accessing the foreshore – despite any historical images you might have seen showing people paddling in the Thames or sitting on deckchairs on its beaches, the Thames is not akin to a day out the seaside. If you do venture down there be sure to wear sensible, preferably waterproof, shoes or boots and access only via staircases that are clearly managed and maintained. However, note that these steps can be very slippery due to algae or silt. And on the foreshore, if a surface looks dodgy or slippery then it probably is; don't stand on it or you might sink into soft ground. Be sure to stay close to the access steps because when the tide starts coming in again it will come in fast and you really don't want to get stranded or swept away in the current. And, if you do want to pick anything up, please remember that the water is not clean; wear gloves, use sanitiser. 

21 August 2023

The London A-Z Directory of Old Wood Block Surfaces

As I mentioned on my @janeslondon Instagram feed recently, there turns out to be many more remnants of wood block surfaces than I'd expected when I first wrote about them in April 2021

What I thought would be a handful of examples here and there turns out to be more than thirty and counting (Aug 2023) as, when you get your eye in and start looking in the right places, you'll see more and more, similar to finding little pink shells on a beach.

I have therefore compiled this A-Z listing all the places I have discovered woodblocks thus far. I will be adding to this directory as and when I find more.

The listings in bold italics with links are those I have already written about inc photos. All others, except those in brackets, I have photographed but they are currently lurking in a 'To Do' folder for future blog posts. 

Please do let me know if you find any more – add a comment below or send me an email:


Wood Blocks in London – A-Z by street name or location

Belvedere Rd, LCC offices, County Hall, SE1 – rectangular blocks in the street outside the main entrance 
169 Bermondsey High Street – elliptical manhole cover in side alley 
Bermondsey Leather Market, 11-13 Weston Street, SE1 – manhole cover within cobbled entrance 
Brentford High Street set within the pavement 
Brixton Village MarketColdharbour Lane, SW9 – manhole cover within access 
221 Chalk Farm Rd, Camden NW1 (corner Inverness St) – manhole cover in pavement 
259 Chalk Farm Rd, Camden NW1 (opp Buck's Head) – manhole cover in pavement  
285 Chalk Farm Rd, Camden NW1 (south of canal) – manhole cover in pavement 
Chalk Farm Rd, Camden Lock, NW1, 217 Place (north of canal) – manhole cover 
Chequer St, Bunhill Row – large repaved area of rectangular blocks
64 Clerkenwell Rd, Leo Yard, EC1N – square blocks within rectangular manhole 
83 Clerkenwell Rd, near Hatton Garden – manhole cover in the pavement 
Colliers Wood - new/modern square blocks at various locations 
Crooked Billet Yard, Hoxton, under the railway bridge – manhole cover 
Farringdon Street - exact location tbc 
243 Gray’s Inn Rd / Acton Street – manhole cover in the middle of the road 
Hampstead Village, Windmill Hill, Upper Terrace, NW3 – manhole cover 
Hampstead Village, 14 Willow Cottages, Windmill Hill, NW3 – manhole cover 
326 Holloway Rd, N7 – manhole cover in the centre of the road 
405 Holloway Rd, N7 –  manhole cover near the central reservation   
335 Islington High St – manhole cover in the pavement outside Pizza Express  
90 Islington High St – manhole cover behind the electricity/tram station 
111 Kentish Town Rd – manhole cover opposite the old hat factory 
315 Kentish Town Rd, – manhole cover by the crossing 
(King Street, Twickenham – more info needed) 
Kingsway Tunnel, Holborn – oblong woodblock surface 
Mora Street / Nelson Passage, EC1 – manhole cover 
New North RdRoyal Mail depot, N1 (Eagle Wharf Rd)  – manhole cover within access 
130 Old St, EC1N – manhole cover in the bus lane 
90-92 Pentonville Rd, N1 – large private forecourt, patches visible 
Southwark StRedcross Way – manhole cover 
St James’s Place, W1 – rectangular manhole cover near the Stafford Hotel
St James’s St - utility cover at the northern/Piccadilly end 
292 St John Street / Spencer Street – manhole in the road
377 St John Street – manhole near kerb, near junction with Rosebery Ave 
38 Shepherdess Walk / Underwood Row – manhole cover 
44-48 Shepherdess WalkMicawber St – manhole cover 
104 Shepherdess Walk / Shaftesbury Street (pillar box) – manhole cover 
Sumatra Rd / 229 West Hampstead (rear of Oddbins) – manhole cover 
Thurland Road junction with Spa Road - two in the road 
West Square, Lambeth, SE11 – manhole covers, at least two 

Outside Greater London
Waltham Abbey – man hole cover in the road near the church 
Whitstable castle – large paved area within the covered entrance

26 July 2023

Kensington Coal Holes in the Rain

I was out for a wander on Saturday and happened to be following the Long Water from the Italian Gardens to the Serpentine Gallery via the Peter Pan statue. It started to rain so I tied back my hair and buttoned up my mac and headed into the streets behind Kensington Gore as it occurred to me that I'd never properly explored that zone. 

Well, what a delight. Embassies and empty houses, cul-de-sacs, courtyards, mews and gardens, and hardly a human in sight. And I'm sure that wasn't due to the inclement weather on that day. I kept noticing how lovely some of the coal cover plates looked, highlighted by the rain. 

I turned into Palace Gate and noticed some ironmongers' designs that were new to me so, of course, I had to start taking snaps. If you notice any strange rainbow effects in these images it is the reflection of my colourful stripy umbrella!

First, above, two covers from distant locations – Lely's of Station Approach, London Bridge, with its four circular lenses sparkling in the rain, and a Luxfer Prisms of Clerkenwell cover, its centre section in-filled with cement. 
Then, on the West side of the street, I found a very unusual nobbly self-locking plate, here contrasted with one of its neighbours, in the conventional flatter style, here made by Needham & Sons. I am at a loss where or who Stockport John is/was.

I turned into Kensington Gate, a lovely enclosed street with private gardens, and along its northern side I found lots of what I can only call 'pretty' plates. It's as if someone had filled or coloured in the holes within the discs. Or perhaps it was just the water highlighting their features: 

These are two almost identical Hayward's plates, yet the left one looks to have marble inserts in some of the holes, and the one on the right contains a variety of coloured mosses, making it looked like an artist's palette. 
A James Bartle & Co plate further along looks like someone has been busy with a gold pen. And the holes in an adjacent Woodrow plate are filled with seeds etc, making it look like a little biology collection:

Then two unbranded plates, each with four lightwells/lenses but clearly (opaquely?!) using different grades of glass as one is more blue than green:

And here's another self-locking plate with little samples of grass within it alongside an earlier James Bartle design sporting five concentric circles:

Along the southern side of Kensington Gate I found some makers' names new to me including J. W. Benney & Co of Stepney in the East End (pic not included here because the photo's not very good) and two plates bearing the name of a local company J.W. Lawson of Kensington:

Both are floral, but I particularly like the unusual design on the one on the left. The one on the right shows a High Street Kensington address – a quick peek into the 1882 directory shows the business at No.108 as John Welch Lawson, builders' ironmonger which is directly opposite the tube station and it may well have been inside this building
I hope you enjoyed looking at these as much as I did finding them. There are lots more streets I haven't investigated in this area of Kensington, so I am pretty sure there are more architectural gems to be found there.
To see more of my coal hole observations, click here

7 July 2023

Th Crucible at The Gielgud Theatre: numbing not electrifying

Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ is one of those classics on my list of never read or seen. It was on the curriculum at school but not for my stream. I know the basic story, being as it’s based in fact, about the Salem witch trials, which Miller used to make a point about MacCarthyism. I hadn’t even seen the two movies made. So I bought a ticket.

You may have read on here that I don’t like to find out too much about something before I go and experience it for myself. I had seen short promos online and headings to reviews in the press praising the way the show was staged and how the whole thing was a magnificent revival, or perfect as shown here on the Gielgud’s site. A word repeated used to describe it, used far too often which suggests a copy and paste job, was/is ‘electrifying’

Dear reader, it is soporific. It numbed me. I think I dozed off a couple of times!  Everyone speaks at the same tone to the same beat with no break or pauses like a metronome hence the hypnotic rather than stimulating effect. It certainly didn’t give me sense of dread or foreboding as I later found out it was meant to do. 

Having subsequently read a synopsis of the play, I realise many poignant things that were said on stage were missed by me completely. I hadn’t grasped who was related to whom, who had done what when or who most of the characters were. Seems to me that this is a performance for people who have studied the play who are already in the know. Which was evident here and there when audience members laughed (laughed?) in that in-the-know way they do to prove how brilliant they are, whereas I was sat there questioning what had been said. Many of these loud chucklers looked to be young students who I guess are studying the play at the moment  

I did like the look of it though. The rain effect, the costumes, the moodiness, the way people appeared like ghosts from the rear of the stage. But I also noted that the positioning of actors on the stage was often too equally spaced in the same way they that had been directed to deliver their lines - I’ll speak then you speak and he will speak then she will speak, all in the same tempo and in strange Bostonian(?) accents. Actually, here’s a thought… had that or any US regional accent set in by that time period? Surely these early settlers had all come from various places inc England and Europe and would not have yet had a common accent..?

Anyway. I sat for five mins of the interval and wondered whether to stick it out. I pondered how I’d seen quite a few people leave already during the performance. Perhaps 18 people of varying ages. I wondered if the second half would bring it all together for me. I Googled a synopsis and realised there was too much I hadn’t already understood and so I too left to read it properly on the bus home. I later looked up reviews of this show, a few of which also said they found it strangely paced and relentless as regards the dialogue. 

A shame. Disappointed. Numbed not electrified.

4 July 2023

Remnants of Rachel Whiteread's 'House' on Wennington Green, Grove Road, East London

Wandering westwards along Roman Road recently from its welcoming arch at the Parnell Road seeing how the road has evolved from the wonderfully scuzzy and diverse market street I used to know in the 1970s when my friend's family lived nearby, I arrived at the junction of Grove Road and pondered whether to carry on to Bethnal Green, head south to Mile End, or go for wander along the canal to Hackney. There's lots to see here. Instead, I entered the green space opposite the St Barnabas church and revisited a patch of art history. 

Scrutinising the ground, I found what I was looking for. A couple terracotta bricks in an L shape were partially obscured by the grass so I scraped away at the area with the soles of my shoes to better reveal them, then repeated the process at other spots close by.

These are some of the bricks that indicate the outline of where Rachel Whiteread's 'House' used to be, at what was No.193 Grove Rd. To see the original house and the artwork's construction see this film on YouTube. It was here in 1993, that this major artwork was demolished as Rachel won the Turner Prize that year

For the life of me I still cannot fathom how that decision was made – the demolition, not the winner of the Turner Prize! It's akin to the destruction of the Art Deco Firestone Factory in West London. Had 'House' been on land that was earmarked for development and reconstruction then I might understand that its removal was necessary. But today there's just a large expanse of mown grass mostly used by dog walkers. 

30 years ago Rachel's star was in ascendance, yet a bad decision was made to remove her innovative and thought-provoking sculpture. It always seems to me in these situations that no-one wants the 'responsibility' to be the one who authorises a controversial decision that might rock the boat. No-one wants to be the person who instigates a U-turn. The powers that be, the pen pushers, the jobsworths, the complainers, the people unable to see further than their noses, the people who just do what they are told, the contractors, the "it's out of my control, I've got a bit of paper" people who justify themselves by carrying out orders and not being personally responsible for these things. All exacerbated by non-thinking fools who just repeat whet they see in the tabloids about an 'ugly lump of concrete' yet rarely do readers visit the project themselves or attempt to understand the rationale, the meaning, the relevance to local and social history that is being told.  

People who did notice me taking pics and pacing out the ground simply looked at me like I was a bit bonkers. Which I'll accept! Had they known what I was doing I am sure they'd have come over for a chat as I was being rather obvious about it.  Ah Well. What's gone is gone. All that's left, three decades later, is a few bricks in the grass, but there's no explanation for them. I had expected to find something of that kind attached to one the benches that sit in the long grass within the plot, but no. 

Something else I noticed that day, which I thought was bizarre, was the nearby two picnic benches: 

These both had small cushions on them at the corners (not fixed in place) and one had a briefcase at one edge and a clip board at the other. It looked a bit religious, as if some people had just had a meeting and then wandered off, leaving their stuff behind. Is it always like this? Or was it just on that Saturday?

Then I noticed, between the adjacent bushes, some remnants of cushions and other food-related rubbish, plus a discarded Tigger stuffed toy. Looks like a dog had attacked a family picnic! 

What's that all about?!

30 June 2023

After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art at The National Gallery – ooh lovely!!

Oh my, this is good. What a lovely surprise – an absolute delight.

Just like my last post about the Ai WeiWei show, I had no idea about the content here until I entered the show. Immediately I saw some fabulous works of art, many of which I knew and had seen before elsewhere, others I had seen only in print or online, and quite a lot of pieces that I had never seen or heard of before. Breathe, breathe.

It's bloody good. It's got works by all the faves, Klimt, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Mondriaan (yes, I did spell that correctly), Seurat, Gaugin, Picasso, Matisse, et al, including many pieces new to me being as they are from private collections, the like of which we might never see again. Ooh. Lovely.   

I've put together a few details here – perhaps this could be a quiz – can you recognise the artists and/or the works? 

I have been told that many critics gave bad reviews about this show... Eh? Were those critics blind or lazy? Have they actually been to the show? Or, as I see often, did they copy and paste from one idiot's experience at a packed preview where the works cannot be seen due to the amount of people blocking the view? 

It's on until 13th August. Ignore the critics. Make up your own mind. Just show up, buy a ticket and walk in. I'm hoping my pics are temptation enough, but if you really need more info, click here.  

I might go a second time. Did I say I liked this?! 

29 June 2023

Making Sense of Ai Weiwei at The Design Museum – wonderfully evocative

I went to see this show on a whim, it was a sort of an unplanned visit being as the Design Museum was a convenient place to meet my friend. Immediately as we entered the space we said "wow!" out loud. Both of us are into collections, patterns, history references, etc, and this show brings together all of that and more.

Ai Weiwei has been through so much in his life and this show brings together much of his hard fought experiences, making beautiful arrangements out of thought-provoking remnants and broken parts, and new pieces inspired by his time in incarceration. 

We were especially intrigued as to how the many thousands of elements were placed. For instance, if this show moves to another location, will the many individual fragments be arranged in exactly in the same configuration?  To this end, I took photos of some of the corners of the displays so that we might be able to compare them with any future shows. 

The idea of exact replication would be a major undertaking, but we think it might be the case, especially in the case of the arrangement of little porcelain balls which clearly has specific areas of different coloured clay within the smaller size, something we decided was intentional. There's also a pattern within the layout, like arrangements of fans. 

Lego bricks also feature, recreating Monet's Water Lilies with the addition of portal to a hidden bunker. It's a mesmerising and thought-provoking show in many ways. 

The show is on until 30th July – more info here – though I always say, don't look at pics of things before you go to see things – just get a hint of it and get the 'hit' of the new when you get there, just as we did. 

In amongst AW's political, historical, topographical and social observations, I learned that there are two types of woodworking in China – furniture making and house building are called 'small carpentry' and 'large carpentry'. How nice. Many of the arrangements at the show gave me the urge to get creative with a needle and thread or to rearrange my own collections, especially my clay pipe fragments, something I have been meaning to return to as an art project rather than just a jewellery outlet.

16 June 2023

St James's Place and Blue Ball Yard– so much to see

I popped in to St James's Hotel and Club yesterday afternoon to have a chat with Graham, the head concierge. We swopped stories and observations about London's quirks and unusual details and he asked me whether the lamp in adjacent Blue Ball Yard was a still powered by gas. Hmm. I didn't know, so I went to check it out.
I'd done a lot of research on gas lamps last year when planning my walking tours on the subject, so it was strange how I'd not previously investigated this particular little enclave of streets between St James's Street and the park. 

Blue Ball Yard* today gives access to the rear of The Stafford Hotel's American Bar and, yes, the wall-mounted lamp at the left side is indeed a functioning gas lantern. There is another one at the far end but it is hard to access so I'm not sure if that one too is also powered by gas. See the google streetview here.

It occurred to me that there surely must be other gas lamps in the vicinity. A logical idea, being as St James's Palace, The Mall, Carlton Terrace and St James's Park were all mostly lit by gas during the reign of George IV, so it follows that the well-to-do streets here would also be similarly illuminated.

I ventured into St James's Place, the next street down, and immediately found another wall-mounted lamp on the left of the street at No.44 and two more opposite at No2 and No8 (the green plaque commemorates Sir Francis Chichester) with a similar lantern down the turning to the left that leads to the Duke Hotel and a tall standard lamp at the end of the yard. On the left side there's also a row of low level lanterns that appear to have been completely disconnected.

More tall standard lamps can be found at the western end of the main street. most of which marked GeorgeV 1910. I'm surprised they aren't older being as others in the St James's area date from the reign of George IV.  

I counted eleven gas-powered street lamps in St James's Place and this doesn't include those on privately-owned buildings such as the impressive pair outside Spencer House or the one above the door of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, shown below centre. 

I also found some other interesting oddities along the road. For instance, there are only a few coal hole cover plates. All of them sport geometric patterns rather than overt branding although some bear the name Mason, see below left .

There is a bizarre circular cover plate near the lamp at No.45 with brass letters bearing the name of F. Devereux, silversmith, who, I am assuming lived/worked there. These discs usually show the name of the foundry/ironmonger who made/sold the plate. I've looked in old directories but I can't see anyone by the name of Devereux here. Instead, the address is listed as a lodging house in 1882 through to at least 1915 when it's shown as apartments. Any ideas?  

At the far corner, at No 26 there is a twentieth century building that you could say looks out of place with the rest of the street. It's not an office block but a Grade II* luxury apartment building designed by Sir Denys Lasdun and constructed 1959-60. It sports a RIBA architecture award plaque (that I forgot to photograph) but what I particularly like about it is the zeitgeist 1950s typeface used on some of the signage – it's very Univers Condensed Bold Italic
Back to the street furniture and metalwork...  just before the entrance to The Stafford Hotel, almost underneath one of the wall-mounted gas lanterns, is a rectangular man hole cover. If you've read my previous posts about this kind of thing you are probably ahead of me here in guessing that this contains twelve little squares of wood block paving, see above right which I'll add with better photos to my next group of wood block findings in another post soon (ooh the excitement!).

Finally, at the far end of the street, there is a little alley off to the right that leads to the rear gate of the St James's Hotel, the building in which I had started this mini-journey. The sunlight on the buildings yesterday afternoon was amazing, making it look more like somewhere in Italy. 

*Blue Ball Yard – I'd been mis-calling it Blue Bell Yard ever since yesterday. I originally thought it was ref to a flower or a hanging bell that with a clapper that was coloured blue. But no, it's a ball. But what blue ball? Is it a game? Was it a sign for something?  There are other Blue Ball pubs in the UK, but I have yet to find out the significance of the name. And Cabbie Blog in this link also gets his bells and balls confused. Incidentally, if you haven't already read his book about his life and observations doing The Knowledge and driving customers around London, I wholeheartedly recommend it.