27 January 2023

Wood block paving in Camden (Part 4 in a series)

You might have already seen my posts about remnants of wood block paving still in situ in today's roads. See here. This kind of surface was implemented to minimise the clippity-clop noise of horses' hooves back in the days before the motor car, yet here and there on today's Tarmac'd streets you'll see small patches of this old surface type, though mostly within man hole covers or on private forecourts.

I'd been told there are some examples hiding in plain sight in Camden, and so last week, on a walk from Hampstead to Mornington Crescent, I kept an eye open for them. 

Heading down Chalk Farm Road, the first cover plate I found with rectangular blocks within it was between the railway bridge and Regents Canal adjacent to Camden Lock Market, shown above looking north. 

I then found a second one on the other side of the canal, this next pic is also looking northwards:

There are more cover plates along that western side of the road, almost evenly spaced, between the canal and the tube station. 

Another woodblocked example can be found on the corner of Inverness Street, viewed here from outside Offspring shoe shop:

I thought I'd found four examples, but when I got home and looked at my photos it seems I only took pics of three of them. Camden is always so busy, it's hard to see where you are going, let alone go on a woodblock hunt. 

The man hole at the end of the road, opposite the tube station, almost at the junction with Parkway, is infilled with Tarmac. I did a quick search around the junction in the hope I might find some others but, no.  

I'm sure there are more to find in this busy zone. After all, with the amount of distribtuition going on in this vicinity, plus Gilbey’s stabling and tunnels linking the various buildings, today converted into subterranean market spaces, there surely must be many more pockets of wood paving here are there. Woodblocks would have been prevalent here to assuage the noise of all those horses’ hooves. In due course, I’ll go for a wander around the market areas as I am bound to find something. I'll update you if and when I find more evidence.


Update August 2023: I have set up a London A-Z Directory of Woodblocks. If you can add to the list, please leave a comment under this blog post or email me at jane@janeslondon.com

25 January 2023

Whitby's of Acton – a ghostsign for the garage

Aha! As I had suspected... the ghost sign facing East along The Vale in Acton, W3, that I alluded to a few weeks ago in my post about Christmas Day, is indeed advertising the services of a business further along the street. 

I messed about in Photoshop with one of my other images until I could make out the following:

[3 letters] PEOPLE
[rely on or similar?]

A quick Googlywoogle and I found this 1935 ad showing that Whitby's was a motorcycle dealership specialising in BSA bikes. 

A second bit of printed ephemera here shows that the building was adapted to how we see it today in a more Streamline Moderne style, complete with long horizontal windows and hexagonal corner turret and this is how it appears today. I have often made many mental notes to find out more, but never applied myself to the task until now and I am really glad to have discovered that it was indeed part of motoring history. 

However, I hadn't considered motor bikes and had long assumed that the building was previously a petrol station or a car showroom. Aha again. This is backed up by the Post Office listing for 1939 which shows, Whitby's of Acton, Motor Car Agents. At that time the company is also listed at No.7 The Vale here at the junction of Askew Rd, which I am assuming was the office for admin etc. 

I do love an old pre-WWII garage, especially those that were adapted or newly constructed at that time in what was to later be called the Art Deco style, the best known of which is the Daimler Garage in Bloomsbury

Back to the ghostsign... as regards the two layers of yellow and black paint peeking out at top left, I am doubtful that these allude to Whitby's, even though the first letter we can see is indeed a W, albeit lower case.  I think, judging by the style, it was more likely for a completely different company or brand, possibly a newspaper.,

19 January 2023

Parliament Square – coal holes and thieves

Have you ever spotted the coal hole cover plates around the edge of Parliament Square?

Dark pics taken on a January evening. 

We take for granted that this open space adjacent to Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster has always been here, but it wasn't created until 1868, as these well-spaced coal hole plates along the southern side of the square clearly indicate – there used to be houses here. 

The new square was designed to improve traffic flow, indeed the first set of traffic lights was installed approximately where Winston Churchill stands today. The revised road layout necessitated the loss of many buildings and a complete change in the topography of the area. 

Here are a couple of maps to show the layout before the parliament buildings, the grass and demonstration space:

Above, Greenwood's map of 1828 shows a labyrinth of little streets – I particularly like the name of the street with the dog leg; Thieving Lane!

The second map is from the 1890s and shows the District Line running under the area and Charles Barrie's parliament buildings.

I am still unclear which exact buildings the coal holes actually served. Any help welcome.


8 January 2023

M. Walker & Sons, Tanners, Vinegar Yard, Bermondsey

For years – actually at least two decades now – I have been revisiting a ghosted hand-painted sign that overlooks Vinegar Yard in Bermondsey, here, to see if I can decipher the wording

Well, it's finally showing through, and there are some lovely logos also visible these days.

At the top, above and behind the crane, it reads:


Extract is a reference to vinegar, used in the leather tanning process. 

Then, to the left, below the crane there is a logo of sorts that reads: 

around an illustration of a rose

Underneath in block letters, we have:

AND [oil?] SOLES
[horizontal rule]
[something... I can't see below that]

On the right side there is a correlating panel that starts with diamond-shaped motif containing the words:


REGD and LEATHER are set smaller than the product name.
It continues:


It appears the company was making heavy quality leather for shoes and work boots.
William Walker and Sons, 1895-1980, are listed here with lots more info about the company here in The Bolton News

There are quite a lot of ads for Dri-Ped available online. My favourite is this one.

5 January 2023

Charles Herbert Tidman, optician in Stockwell

I just pulled together a montage of some of the nice things I spotted in the Wandsworth and Vauxhall area last week, and added it to that post see here. Whilst doing that, I rediscovered a couple of pics I'd snapped from the top deck of that No.88 bus, just north of the Stockwell station junction.

Facing the street outside the house at No.247 South Lambeth Road I spotted what looked like railings at that resembled co-joined spectacle frames:

Here's the view from checked on Google Streetview: 

A quick delve into the old street directories shows that an optician called Charles Herbert Tidman was here in 1939, though I have no other access to other info to find out when he might have had these marvellous railings installed.
My guess is that this was his home and workshop where he performed eye tests etc, and No.159 was the shop/showroom were customers could choose frames and make appointments. 

The Stockwell Partnership is at No.159 on the corner of Tradescant Rd today, complete with some interesting nature-inspired pavement mosaics – these two pics I photographed back in 2009:

I wonder how many people in the Stockwell area walk past these things without noticing them...?  

4 January 2023

Overground to Willesden Junction and Harlesden in the rain

I had an appointment in Kentish Town on Wednesday 28th December at 10am. I took the 29 bus from Holloway and got off at Camden Town Station. This reminded me that I'd read on Ian Visits, that the Overground Line was making a detour for a few days to allow for maintenance work on the section between Camden and Willesden, so after my appointment I returned to the station to take advantage of the mystery tour.

From Camden Town Station the train branched left (ooh the excitement!) then slowly glided (glid?) over Hawley Street to the west side of Chalk Farm Road passing the rear of The Roundhouse and stopping for a while at the moss covered defunct platforms of old Primrose Hill Station. How annoying it was raining. Photos were futile. And then we chugged slowly through a tunnel to emerge at South Hampstead, which is basically Swiss Cottage East, if there was such a place.

I toyed with the idea of getting off at Kilburn, but decided to stay on the train to Willesden Junction. By now it was raining quite heavily. I'd only popped out for an hour for a journey that was supposed to involve a quick bus ride to Camden and back and there I was in the wide open spaces of NW10. I considered getting on a Bakerloo train that was pulling in to the adjacent platform. It said 'Elephant and Castle' on the front and I was tempted to head south, for the novelty of using a tube line that I only ever get on if I need to go to Wembley Central from Baker Street, which is rare, but instead found myself climbing the steps to street level where I headed north and investigated the nearby streets, along pavements I haven't pounded for about 10 years.

Willesden Junction isn't really near Willesden Green or Willesden cemetery at all. It's actually the main station for Harlseden which, until only a few decades ago, was a go-to shopping area. I recall going there many times with my friend back in the mid-80s. Its demise as a shopping zone must have come about when Brent Cross shopping mall opened followed later by Westfield at Shepherd's Bush. Both are short bus rides away. 

Near the station, there's a marvellous old hotel building complete with imposing portico and mosaic threshold, but the building appears to empty now. 

Further into the shopping streets, I was pleased to see that Harlesden town centre retains many signs of its Victorian heyday. 

A few hand-painted ghostsigns are still there including the fab Whitbread stout sign, but a little further along that terrace I hunted in vain for the vitreous enamel sign that announced 'you may telephone from here' that used to be above the newsagent
A large hand-painted sign at the end of the High Street, facing north into Craven Park still needs deciphering, though I think it's advertised Victoria Wines Ltd. Any ideas?  

At 4 Park Parade there is a grocer shop that was once part of the David Greig chain. I have a bit of a thing about DG shops and have been known to shout "Stop the car!" if, when passing, I notice remnants of an old shop. These are evident by the name, the initials or thistle motifs. Having just done a quick search of this blog it's hard to believe I haven't pulled together a collection of my collection as it's far bigger than the pics shown in the above link. As you can see from streetview the Harlesden shop still retains the DG pilasters on each side of the exterior. Inside has fully-tiled walls sporting the thistle motif, though most of those tiles are covered by products and many of the tiles are damaged where shelving brackets have been added and removed. Nevertheless it is one of the best DG interiors I found in London. 

The rain was starting to get the better of me and my hat was not really the right one for wet weather. I was also starting to get hungry. A No.18 bus came down Craven Park with Euston Station on its bus blind. I nabbed a top deck front seat and sat there all the way to the end peering through the steamed-up rain droplet-ed windows at intriguing buildings along Harrow Road, making a mental note to go back again soon. 

I was back home in Holloway and changed into dry clothes by 1.45pm. What an interesting, unexpected and productive morning. Who needs world travel when London offers so much..? 

1 January 2023

Boxing Day 2022 – Holloway to Highgate, Clapham to Vauxhall

Happy new year people. Where did 2022 go?!

I am here catching up with my travels this past week. 

On Boxing Day, 26 Dec 2022, after a day spent admiring Art Deco temples to industry, I had intended to stay at home, take it easy, edit yesterday's photos, perhaps do a bit of DIY, mend a few things with the sewing machine, listen to music, watch a couple of recorded movies etc.  

But the sky was blue and inviting – it was much too nice out there to be staying inside so I walked out of the front door and followed my nose then zig-zagging through Tufnell Park and Dartmouth Park, I found myself heading north towards Highgate Village and as I passed the tennis courts the driver of a No.88 turned the ignition key. Its destination blind announced it went all the way to Clapham Common. Ooh, I thought, I've never travelled this route. So I hopped on and took up a 90 minute residence on the upper deck front seat above the driver. And what a treat... 

It went through Kentish Town, across Camden High Street into Delancey Street and then left into Albany Street, across to Gt Portland Street area and down Regent Street to Oxford Circus. There was at that point an audible 'wow' but not because of a marvellous view. I was amazed to see how many people were out shopping. From my elevated viewpoint the crowds looked like a writhing mass of black ants being as there were hardly any colours other than than the dark end of monochrome being worn. It was basically a sea of uniform black puffa jackets and dark jeans. It occurred to me that their carrier bags were also probably full of the same replica clothes. 

The people on the seats nearby were also commenting on this. This led to some amusing conversations with us all questioning why would these shoppers, who we all decided were visiting tourists, be doing this on such a nice day when there was so much more to see and do in London. Perhaps the best sale-price puffa jackets get snapped up quickly? It was definitely consumerism because once past Piccadilly Circus the density of humans on the streets subsided considerably and I noticed that Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and Parliament Square were fairly empty. 

The bus continued past Westminster Abbey and turned left into Gt Smith Street and Marsham Street to stop behind The Tate Gallery. Then over Vauxhall Bridge with great views up and down the Thames. Then into Vauxhall bus station which confuses me for many reasons. I recently asked a friend who lives near there 'where is Vauxhall?' – I was serious, because there is nothing much left of Vauxhall at all as regards a shopping street or obvious centre. Just a row of buildings that hint at a bygone high street, and a Georgian era house clinging on to a plot of land, today occupied by Lassco the reclamation company. Every time I revisit that area always have to go and check that it's still hanging on in there.

The junction is surrounded by areas of wasteland and a half-designed recreation space surrounded by high rise glass – here's the view from Vauxhall bus station. Many years ago I went to a promotional thing about the renovation of the area. They talked about 'Vauxhall Village' and I queried where that was supposed to be. They as good as said they were creating it, as some kind of community environment. I'm still looking for it.

From the canopied island, the No.88 bus continues down South Lambeth Road to Stockwell where it joins the A3 and makes its way down Clapham High Street. 

I got off the bus just before the end of the route at Clapham Common South Side so that I could check up on some of the old hand-painted ghostsigns in the area including the well-documented printer's one, the insurance one and chemist's one (see the montage below). 

The Old Town here still retains some lovely old original shop exteriors, with many still sporting large display windows, threshold mosaics, spindle window frames, and old shop names such as at 16 The Pavement which has WSD (Welford's Surrey Dairies Ltd.) at low level between lovely green tiles complete with black and white border tiles that were so common on dairies and groceries in the past.

Just north of there, at 13 North Street, there's an old hand-painted sign for the local Wavy Line grocery store. I'm surprised here's no Wikipedia site for that company as I recall in the 1970s they were everywhere, the equivalent of a Sainsbury's Local today. Go Google.

On reaching Wandsworth Road I checked up on a few hand-painted ghostsigns in the area. The Redfern's one, the NestlĂ© one, the sanitary engineer one. I took a few photos but by this time it was well gone 3.30pm and light was fading, so my pics aren't that good. A strange Art Deco structure beckoned me and I was tempted to investigate the industrial streets behind it to the north but decided it was probably best to postpone that for another, brighter, longer day. 

I continued my walk along the main road passing Larkhall Park where there's a pub sporting the name of a North London brewery on the left and a ghostsign for pungent pink ointment on the right, as well as many hints of old shops and the like.  There is an interesting mis of architecture here including Georgian houses converted to shops at low level, imposing but elegantly-design social housing developments, a 1928 Royal Arsenal Co-operative branch building pronouncing "Each for all and all for each" and a 1936 Granada cinema building that is now a gym. I notice that cinema was opened by Gracie Fields. She seems to have been very busy cutting ribbons and laying foundations stones at that time.

As I approached Vauxhall proper I recalled that a workmate lived in this area in the early 1990s. I do remember that we went shopping in the big new Sainsbury's to get stuff to cook for dinner. I recall a little Victorian cottage very near to the railway lines which I thought was probably between Wyvil Street and Miles Road. so I wandered up and down that vicinity but couldn't find anything suitable. Looking at an old map now, perhaps that residential street has been demolished as it could have been here at truncated Trenchold Street. However, more likely is that he lived on the other side of the junction here in the little streets adjacent to Vauxhall Park (not the pleasure gardens) in what must be, drum roll please... the only bit of 'Vauxhall Village' left today.  

And then I remembered that I used to visit here often about ten years ago when Kiwi friends lived adjacent to Lansdowne Gdns. Isn't it weird how we forget things. It was by now getting dark. And cold. I toyed with the idea of waiting for a No.88 to take me back but decided, seeing as I'd have to then change to another bus in Camden, that the Underground was much a more sensible idea, Victoria Line to Finsbury Park.  

Another really good day out. Here's a montage of some of the nice things I spotted: