22 December 2023

Youth by William Dudeney – a lovely statue near Gough Square

Outside the door of  Pemberton House, 6 East Harding Street, between Gunpowder Square and Gough Square, there is a lovely sculptural piece of a young man casually perched on one knee.

I can find no marks on it at all; no date, no signature. The chunky athletic build is typical of the 1930s – rather Eric Gill-ish or Edward Bainbridge Copnall-like, or he might even be a Jacob Epstein creation. 

I had occasionally made attempts to find out more, specifically to ascertain who sculpted this piece and to clarify whether this building was constructed in the 1930s or the 1950s, made all the more confusing seeing as there is no mention of 'Pemberton' House' in the 1939 directory shown here, although it might have already been a whole block by then and perhaps the name of Pemberton House might have been later applied when it was converted and repurposed to recognise Pemberton Row at the end of E Harding St. 
A sculpted panel at the top of the building showing a representation of the printing industry bears the dates 1476-1956, though this doesn't actually confirm that 1956 is the date of the building – especially as the strip containing those dates looks to be a later addition. 
I wondered if it the building might have been constructed by Eyre & Spottiswoode, an interesting18th century printing company that, as you can see, also had a club in the same block/building. Whether the club was for all members of staff of just for the directors, I don't know. It might well have been a sports facility and this would tie in with this young man's athletic features. 

So back to the young man – it turns out that until today, I hade been searching using the wrong keywords, not using the name 'Pemberton' – basically, I hadn't looked very hard because all the info I needed is on Chris's excellent Ornamental Passions and has been there since 2012! 

He is called 'Youth' and was carved by William Dudeney, commissioned in 1955 by The Starmer Group, a company started by this man, that by the mid-1950s had acquired this site as their HQ, though this doesn't clarify when the building was constructed or when the name Pemberton was applied to it.
I am therefore assuming the name change happened quite recently when the block was converted to residential use. Any further info welcome. Incidentally, a furnished one bedroom flat starts at about £530 per week, which seems cheap to me considering the location. 

Read about another of William Dudeney's printer-related sculptures here  – and notice how one of the figures in that group is holding a printing block that containing Dudeney's name (with letters reversed) – clever. 

20 December 2023

Theobald's Road ghostsign – a family business?

On the East-facing wall at the corner of King's Mews on the side of No.12 Theobald's Road, there are remnants of a painted advertisement.

It's clear that this wall was once completely slathered in lettering, but thus far, all I have managed to decipher is the word FAMILY (at the extreme left, directly above the horizontal) followed by another word starting with a small cap S. The sign is tough one to photograph. It's not always visible, by which I mean, on most days it's barely noticeable at all. I have tried messing about in Photoshop but no matter which way I blast it, I can't make it any clearer: 

I had an idea that the old postal directories might help and give me a 'ping' moment. But I am still flummoxed. Also, signs on walls do not necessarily advertise the services available in that particular property and I think this might be an example of an adjacent business paying to advertise on this prime site. 

To illustrate my point, I'm here including three excerpts that show this stretch of Theobald's Road in 1899, 1915 and 1939:

Perhaps this was an ad for one the many solicitors along that terrace who specialised in family law? Or the sign could well have advertised the corner shop opposite; the 1915 confectioner or the 1939 Italian refreshment rooms? By the way, look how many businesses are listed with offices at No.12 in 1939.

Another idea is that this advertisement directed the reader to a business at the other end of Kings Mews in Northington Street, previously Little James Street. Again, I'm showing listings for 1899, 1915 and 1939:

As you can see, this back street has been an ever-changing mix of small shops, tradesmen and manufactories. I can get lost in listings like this especially when I see names or businesses that I recognise from elsewhere, and I particularly like how in this 40-year period we see horse-powered transport and coach-building evolve into the era of motor cars. 

If you do manage to decipher anything else on that wall, please do let me know.

Northington Street is still today an interesting little street. The motor garages and public houses are still evident albeit converted for residential use and Cockpit Yard is today Cockpit Studios, a hub for designer makers. Well worth a detour if you are visiting the nearby Charles Dickens Museum

15 December 2023

The Imperial Hotel Russell Square – James Bond-tastic

There's a 1960's era hotel facing Russell Square that I absolutely Love love love. I've been concerned about it for decades now. It's in that 'too new to be treasured, not old enough to be saved' zone especially as many people jump on the bandwagon about on about awful it is and how it replaced a huge bit of Edwardian OTT. Indeed that 'To The Turkish Baths' sign in the pavement harks back to that long-gone previous building. Oh yawn. People just don't use their eyes! 

Well, I love it. Check out the extended orange letters (Microgramma? Eurostile?) the vertical stripes of gold mosaic interspersed with fine pebbled concrete, the windows that let in extra light due to being angled, how the design continues through the drive-way and into the courtyard at the rear which leads to a fountain in the same design and an enclosed area containing elements saved from the old hotel.

Bloomsbury has a few other hotels like this, but The Imperial is the King of them all. Yet trying to find info online about this 1960's James Bond gem is proving to be an uphill struggle. I can't even find the name of architect. Instead, all I find is moans and groans and violins about what's gone before. 

Last year, June 2022, when I checked in on the building, there was no sign of the statues said to be saved from the old building and arranged around a wall at the rear. However, the galleon weather vane, the clock and bells were still there, and the sign for the closed casino. I took some photos and a uniformed man came out and told me to stop. I'd assumed the hotel was empty but it seems it was being used as temporary homes for Ukranian refugees. That's nice.

Earlier this month, Dec2023, I was ambling past when I noticed that new hoardings were around the hotel at ground level announcing renovations were underway, to be revealed in Spring 2025. Eek! That's a long way off and who knows what blandification could occur here seeing as what happened behind Debenhams when a totally unique car park from this era was completely destroyed. Where is façadism when you really need it?

I raced round the the back of The Imperial and found the main building was fenced off and looked to be empty. The pic above right shows a small grey quadrant at the bottom left. I'm sad to report that was where the fountain was. And here's how it looked in June:

And looking back out to the street, towards Russell Square:

Some lovely, simple but effective, blue tiles are visible just above that traffic cone. They arestill there. I say are in the sense of three weeks ago. I hope they get saved or, at least, repurposed:

I need to find out what's happening at this site. I really hope they are going to make something of this zigzag magnificence rather than just destroy it and replace it with another faceless, uninteresting glass blob. OK, so people might miss the old Gothic pile, but there are plenty of similar hotels of that era still standing, and at least here the old fusty spires were replaced with something innovative and of it's time. And groovy too. There really is nothing comparable I can think of, except perhaps the Seifert towers and the Hilton Hotel.

Do let me know if you have any further info.

7 December 2023

Lyndie Wright's puppets – until Sunday December 10th

Whoops – I should have done this days ago but I have been knocked sideways by a horrible bug. Cough, sniff, snort! But enough about me – this is to let you know that the wonderfully creative Lyndie Wright has, for a short period, turned her workshop into a museum to showcase the delightful puppets she has made since moving into this space in the 1960s. Find out more here.

When I visited last Sunday afternoon, I was entranced by the little people and animals all around me. I kept thinking I was ready to leave but then, I'd spot something I hadn't previously noticed, such as a cat under a table, a demon on a high shelf, a beautifully sewn leather hand or a finely painted face. The whole place is a delight. Yes a delight. Shall I say 'delight' again?! 

Many of the pieces you might recognise from movies or similar. And then there's the workshop itself. I do love a creative/shed environment and Lyndie's workspace  shows its ever-evolving history in well-worn wood, benches, vices and clamps, and little drawers full of useful things. 

I urge you to pop in and say hello. It's open Noon–7pm until Sunday 10th. You'll find it next to The Little Angel Theatre in Dagmar Passage behind St Mary's Islington. 

4 December 2023

Sad loss of Lidstone butchers ghostsign at South Woodford

I have only just found out about the overpainting of the lovely hand-painted sign that advertised Lidstone Ltd's chain of butchers, a few minutes from South Woodford tube station, here on the corner of Daisy Road. The pic here is a screenshot from that link.

The dry cleaner shown in the pic has gone and the new owners have been renovating the premises, converting it into a café – like we need more of those! Hence, a hand-painted sign that was uncovered back in 2015, having been previously been protected by a boxed ad, preserved for multiple decades, has been obliterated in a matter of hours by a business that will struggle to compete in a bean-soaked saturated market and may well be gone in a year. 

Heathens! The Lidstone sign had, for the past eight years become a much-loved local treasure. Indeed, my friend who lives near here insisted on taking me to see it. It's very doubtful that the locals will be using or even promoting this new café – the new proprietors have clearly shot themselves in the foot.  If they really needed to conceal the old sign, could they not have installed a boxed panel over the top of it? This would have again preserved the old sign whilst providing a flat surface on which they could have painted their own branding. Today, if you go there, you will find the whole wall has been painted brick red. The local paper has written about it, but, as per at that article makes clear, the sign was not a historically listed item. The new owners are simply making use of a space that is now theirs. And this is the nature of these things. 

Consider, for instance, that if you look closely at the image above, a screengrab from google from just after the sign was uncovered, it's clear that the Lidstone sign had already been overpainted with another sign that had larger letter forms within a blue border (hints at the bottom right). I can make out the words LARGEST at middle left, but not much more. Although this might well have been a subsequent Lidstone ad.

So what have we lost? 

The sign appears to date from the period 1910-14 when Lidstone's had a shop at this location and the branches shown on the ad were also listed within the Kelly's Post Office directory of that time. It shows their head office at 75&76 Park Street, Regents Park, NW1 (having moved the office from Bucklersbury in The City of London), with outlets across London, listed in lovely script letterform within three panels at the bottom, the first two panels shown above. The third panel right listed outlets in Highgate Rd, Finchley Rd, Mill Hill and Chislehurst in Kent. The London directory for 1914, shows not only these Lidstone Ltd addresses, but also other butcher shops in the name of Lidstone, so it's fair to assume that these others were probably part of the wider Lidstone family.

I have also discovered a butcher by the name of Lidstone trading at 70 Fore Street, Kingsbridge, Devon, since the 1830s. The shop closed in 2017 but the company name can be seen forged in metal above the shop. This might be the same family, some of whom later relocated to the bright lights and deep pockets of London – the earliest reference I have yet found of Lidstone butchers here in London is in the 1891 directory which shows their shops in the very well-to-do areas around Kensington:

Today, you can find, what I believe to be the (now) only remaining physical reference of this company in London, here above their 1890's Thurloe Place shop, a stone's throw from South Kensington station.

UPDATE 20Dec2023: 
My aforementioned friend who lives round the corner from this sign has sent me this pic showing that the Lidstone ad has be reinstated. By which I mean it’s been repainted and this now makes it a pastiche of the original. Sorry to sound like a moaning Minnie but I don’t like it when signs are touched up or repainted as this loses all the other layers. It makes it no longer a ghost(ed) sign. We’ve now completely lost the hints of large letters that I make ref to above and, unless an information panel is installed to explain the relevance of this new version, then I really cannot see the point. I’d have preferred it if the new tenants had created a new sign for their own company at this site. 

There are other ghost signs to admire at South Woodford – let's hope we don't lose these too...

At the other end of the terrace to the Lidstone sign, there's a multi-layered sign that was also uncovered in 2015. Today, it's easy to see 'J. S. Soundy's / drapery & millinery' but, if you look closely, you'll see that there's another name in larger letters across the top of those two lines. For a very short time back in 2007 when the boxed ad that covered it was being revised, it showed that A. C. Pain had taken over this business with the bottom line reading 'drapery & millinery establishment'. 

Plus, there is a vertical panel on the left/street side that also has multiple layers of paint which could at some point be lost to us being as it is easily reached, but it's doubtful that the wide sign will be overpainted any time soon as it is too high up to access without the aid of costly scaffolding. 

And, finally, there's the lovely low relief sign that's only visible for the station platform – THE RAILWAY COFFEE TAVERN can be seen on the side of this Victorian building which now offers yoga and face treatments, but no coffee. But hey, you'll be able to get a hot drink just up the road where Lidstone's used to be – don't you dare!

1 December 2023

If Not Now, When at The Saatchi Gallery

Those of you know me well will know I roll my eyes and sigh every time I hear there's a women's thing on. Hence why I wasn't going to bother with this show at the Saatchi until 22 Jan 2024. Ah, but I'm always up for a free tour, so I went along and was pleasantly surprised by the content of this show. By which I mean the quality of the work, the ideas, the execution, not the 'what it is to be a woman' stuff, which I can never understand unless you also have had experience of being a man and can compare the two!

The show emphasises how women have struggled to be seen and heard in the art world throughout the decades, specifically since the 1960s. As you can see from my pics here, there's an emphasis on childbirth, body parts and restrictive clothing. I am still confused as to whether these women are boasting or complaining (a question I often ask when someone tells me they have a hangover after a big night or had to do [paid] overtime!). 
I probably find it hard to empathise because I have always worked in a male-dominated world, first for my father at his upholstery shop, dealing directly with sometimes stroppy customers as well as his boisterous friends in the pub, and then in the world of advertising and print where the air was often blue – if you didn't give back as good as you were given, or manage the situation there and then, then you'd simply fail. Don't be a mouse etc. I recall one print rep who was particularly colourful with his language. He was asked by my male colleague to tone it down. The fella assumed the reason was because I was there. He looked at me and said "oh yeah, mustn't swear, there's C*** here" – Unbelievable! Nobody laughed. We were all gobsmacked by him. He certainly didn't win any work for his company.
You might think idiots like that rep are made up creations for 1980's movies and dramas, but no, these characters were common and banter like that was considered amusing, if only to their peer group. I used to sometimes deliver items for print to the newspaper offices on Fleet Street and the uncouth things that were said to me because I was an 18-yr old blue-eyed blonde, beggared belief. Even at the time I thought these men were pathetic, all trying to outdo each other to be the biggest, rudest, puffed shirt. I wondered if there was a prize for who could say the F-word the most times in one sentence. Bless em! It must be hard being a man sometimes; competing with other men, jostling for attention, rutting and strutting and guzzling pints. here's an idea – the Saatchi could put on a show for men who feel they aren't powerful in today's world; my wife doesn't understand me; she thinks I'm an idiot, etc

But back to the ladies. I researched this females in art thing early last year whilst pulling together an online talk about women who are commemorated by statues in London; Nightingale, Seacole, Pankhurst, Cavell etc. I noticed that most of the memorials were created by male artists which seemed odd, and rather ironic. So I started 'collecting' women sculptors across London, expecting there to be a just a handful, and the list keeps getting longer. It's worth considering that many of the female artists whose work adorns our streets were active well before WW2 and I'm not sure they'd like to be considered as hampered by their sex. 

For example, and just picking a few ladies that come immediately to mind, we have Kathleen Scott near Carlton Terrace, Liz Frink and Irene Sedlecka in Mayfair, Karin Jonzen and Cristina Iglesias in The City, Barbara Hepworth in Oxford Street, Gillian Wearing in Parliament Square, Maggi Hambling in Charing Cross and Emily Young all over the place! 

I really should reinstate that talk, but I still need to work out how to condense it into one hour. Ditto the walking tours designed as three distinct routes, but I keep getting distracted. For instance, it's taken me ages just to write this blog post. I often say that I need about seven parallel universes just to finish all the stuff I've started, let alone walk the walks, read the books, and see other things myself.

28 November 2023

Ghostsign for Hackney Empire in Dalston

Out for a wander up Kingsland Road and Dalston High Street this past weekend and I checked up on a few old friends. Specifically, a couple of ghostsigns that face each other near the junction with Englefield Rd.   

The palimpsest on the side of No.474 is well known, shown here as screen grab from Google Streetview. It shows ads for Gillette safety razors, the Sunday Illustrated newspaper, a cafe, and more as yet undeciphered.

But there's another sign on the other side of the road that has intrigued me since I first started taking photos of these things. It's on the north side of the KTS's corner shop at No.415-417, a joy in itself! The hand-painted sign here often goes unnoticed being as a marvellous tree obscures it for most of the year (Google snapshot below is from here).

Being north-facing, only the very top of the sign has been affected by the weather, leaving blue letters at the middle and bottom that were always to me intriguing but difficult to decipher. I'd often assumed that the sign was simply an ad for a bygone business at that corner. I'd take some snaps and say to myself, "I must get the old directories out and look into this one when I get home"... but then I'd get distracted by something else. 

Well, ta-da! – I've finally had a better look at it. The first pic shows a fair representation of the light available from the street on Saturday at approx 3pm 25th Nov 2023, and the pic on the right, taken by standing on the front path of one of the houses adjacent to the sign gives a straight-on view. My original pic was dark and gloomy, but with a simple but of photo enhancement, beefing up the contrast and colour balance (whilst on the bus home, no less! duh! why had this taken me song long?!) it's now clear that the signs reads:


I am pretty sure that the top faded part alluded to the Hackney Empire, about a mile away due east in Mare Street quickly accessible via Richmond Rd. Indeed, the Our History part of the theatre's website shows this old pic of the building with a similar sign on the side.

If only all ghostsign sleuthing was this easy!

Other signs for 

27 November 2023

More remnants of wood blocks – Old Street and Woolwich

Here are two more roads where I have seen woodblocks in man hole covers within the street.

First to Old Street. There is one outside No.1 on the north side at the junction with Goswell Road. There's only a teensy tiny bit of wood visible but, if the Islington ones are indicative of hoe today's road surfaces will erode, we'll hopefully see more of this one in due course:

And there's another one east of there. You'll find it on the other side of the road within the bus lane outdide No.134. Tho this one doesn't look like it will be there much longer – the road is in a poor state and the man hole is sunken, so I rather assume that the next re-surfacing may well see this man hole disappear:

My pics are the ones where the wood blocks are wet. Top left pic shows the view looking west past St Lukes (you can just see its spire above the trees). The fourth image, bottom right, was sent to me by Dave Brown who alerted me to this in 2021, and shows the blocks dry. 

Next, across the river to Woolwich. I was strolling along Powis Street, the main shopping thoroughfare, when I spotted this one outside No.29-31:

There are bound to be others in the Woolwich area, so I will be back on a wood blocks hunt there soon. 

Do let me know if you've seen others – my A-Z of London wood blocks can be found here

7 November 2023

Patterns in the pavement

This can be filed in the box called 'little things that please me'.

Walking along Lower Thames Street, at the junction with St Mary-at-Hill, I noticed some markings in the pavement that, at first perplexed me:

Ooh – circles and squares in patterns – my kind of thing, here in what looked at fisrt glance to be a variety of designs, some with borders, some with alternating circles, some more grid-like.

And then it dawned on me that these are simply the marks left by the bottom of scaffold poles where the soft surface, possibly warmed in the summer sunshine, this being south-facing, has taken on the pattern of the bottoms of the square footers, or whatever they are called as there's probably a specific name for these things.

12 October 2023

Fashion City at Museum of London Docklands – How Jewish Londoners shaped global style

There is a marvellous exhibition at MoLD about the world of fashion and tailoring, couture and the Swinging Sixties. This museum, within an old warehouse that abuts one of the docks is somewhere you'd usually go to find out about the history of shipping and trade in this area, and fascinating it is too, told chronologically within the upper floors of the building.

Yet this latest exhibition about the garment making industry. It fills the ground floor space previously occupied by their marvellous Executions show, and it is certainly up to that same high standard – packed full of information about the innovative and skilful tailors, designers and makers who created beautiful clothing and accessories adjacent to this part of the River Thames.

One only has to walk around the nearby Spitalfields area to get a sense of the clothing-related trades that once thrived in the area. I noticed whilst researching my ghostsigns and Art Deco walks that many of its streets, such as Hanbury Street and Fournier Street, were in the 1880s occupied by tailors, trimmers, furriers, outfitters, hatters, leatherworkers etc, and approximately 80% of them listed with Jewish names. 

1940s: Monica coat by Koupy / 1970s: bra by M&S / 1960s: shirt by Mr Fish

This engaging exhibition echoes that manufacturing history and, just like the main museum, it is a chronological journey, starting with the Jewish immigrants as they arrived via boat, seeing how and where they lived and were schooled, with rooms laid out as evocations of shops and a tailor's workshop. The East End is then linked to Bond Street via Central Line corridor, the construction of that tube line better enabling these talented people to get their wares to West End. 

There are some beautiful handmade pieces on show both by unknown tailors and by well-known names such Cecil Gee, Chelsea Girl, Moss Bros, M&S, Mr Fish, Irvine Sellars and David Sassoon. Plus lovely leather luggage, some fabulous hats by Otto Lucas, and a stunning wedding dress by Neymar (Netty Spiegel). There are references to, and examples of, clothing worn by celebrities from the worlds of film, music, sport and royalty, as well as actual garments worn by Princess Diana and Dot Cotton. Oh, and the music and soundtracks in every room is cleverly designed to echo each era or district. 

It's really very good. I was so engrossed that I spent many hours in there reading every panel and assessing every sequin such that I forgot to take any more pics than the three shown above. I do love a well-made fitted coat, especially a red one, the bra with its interchangeable straps and evocative lace pattern reminded me of my mum, and I was blown away by the teeny tiny stitching on that Mr Fish shirt!

Museum of London Docklands (free)
This exhibition – 13th October until 7th July 2024 – Various prices – find out more here

2 October 2023

George Carter & Sons of Maida Hill – glovers, hosiers and shirtmakers

 A few months ago, within a post about bygone company names that display '& Sons' I included a business by the name of Carter, based in Old Kent Road, with many more shops across London.

Well, this afternoon I had one of those 'ping' moments when I recalled that earlier this year after a wander in the Kensal Green area, I was ambling eastwards along Harrow Road when I stumbled across a shop that still sports some of its original Victorian shop fittings including a beautiful threshold mosaic, here at number 371.

Not only does it have the marvellous mosaic, but it also retains the fine wooden spindle window frames above granite and metal on which the words GLOVERS, HOSIERS & SHIRTMAKERS are still perfectly visible. It's an absolute treat and an amazing example of the Art Nouveau shopping era that also included curved windows, polished brass and aproned staff.  

There is a mirrored wall to the left side as you enter from the street, designed to make the shop look bigger and bounce more light into the the shop (this being north-facing), and there are additional mirrors in the ceiling above this area. This next pair of pics shows the effect looking down and looking up: 

I have my fingers crossed that this old Carter & Sons shop is a listed/protected property. It's unusual, to say the least, especially with so many elements intact at one location. Retrospective Google streetview shows that it was hidden behind boards in the period 2008-2012 before it reappeared as we see it today. I am interested to find out from anyone who lives in the area if they have any info about the shop pre-2008.

I have found other similar examples across London, but mostly on shops that originally sold jewellery or funeral services. And not all of those shops have survived; sadly modernised with plate glass within UPVC frames. 

The description of 'Shirtmaker' can also be found on some outlets in the covered arcades either side of Piccadilly, as well as on the low curved corner of 67 Moorgate in the City of London, here

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 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 jane@janeslondon.com