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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. 

12 June 2023

A large Hayward Brothers coal hole cover – size really does matter

There are lots of coal hole cover plates embedded into the streets of Marylebone. A large percentage show they were manufactured by Hayward Brothers of Union Street, Southwark. At the eastern end of Devonshire Street, outside what is now the Turkish Embassy at 69 Portland Place, there is this coal hole cover plate, also made by Hayward Bros:

But look closely near the centre and see that it a 21" coal plate. I can't say that I have ever seen one of these larger formats anywhere else. To put this into context, here it is in vague proportion with a collection of other Hayward Bros cover plates in the immediate vicinity, all of which have standard 12" plates, some of them set some within a ring/rim. 

And to further illustrate the size difference, here re shots that include my lovely trainers.

Cool huh – both the large cover plate and my Nike Internationalists!   

Question is, why was this building created with just one very large access/storage point for coal rather than a long bunker under the pavement with multiple standard size plates as I have seen outside many other large properties? I suspect it was a constructed as large family home, but I don't have access to the any info as to who lived there originally. Any additional info welcome. 

For more of my posts about coal hole covers, simply click here

1 June 2023

Hidden London tours of Kingsway Tram Tunnel

Two weeks ago I finally visited the disused tram tunnel underneath Holborn Kingsway, a subterranean passage that was built for public transport just below street level, linking North and South London via Bloomsbury and The Embankment. 

We met our guides at the top of the one in ten access slope at the junction of Southampton Row and Theobald's Road here. Note the impressive railings and lamp standards that protect the entrance. I'm simply going to show you some of my photos. 

The base of the central lamp directly above the tunnel entrance bears the cartouche LCC, London County Council 
Looking down at the rails. In some places you can see clear to the void below and we were advised not to let anything drop down there, because they wouldn't be able to get it back. Some old posters which I think were real as there are also hints of posters and signage installed more recently being as this tunnel has often been used as filming location.

My two photos show the steps leading up to the exit that was almost opposite Holborn tube station. The archive image is the other exit near Bush House and shows that in order to get to the tram platforms you had to play with the traffic at ground level

Ooh look, more wood blocks! And a lovely pattern of rails, and a modern Fire Exit sign, though I'm sure not quite as attractive as the ones of 100 years ago would have been. 

The large panels within the pic on the left are metal and these would have been used for advertising posters. They are still in amazingly good condition. I like abstract patterns made by colourful wires on sooty walls. 

There might be trams in Croydon, and I am sure that I heard about a decade ago, a proposal for trams to be reintroduced to Oxford Street etc, but, for many reasons, there are no plans to bring them back to this old subway. Today, most of this underground space is used by Camden Council to store redundant street furniture.

Rad blocks, barriers, lamp standards, and all sorts being stored here. 

I spotted some attractively-arranged storage in some of the recesses along the access slope. They look like little art installations. Surely this isn't an accident?! I think the curators probably use those two chairs and were off having a tea break when we were there!  

The southern section under Aldwych is still a functioning underpass, used by small vehicles rather than public transport, and headed northwards only. Access is from Lancaster Place at the northern end of Waterloo Bridge. Many years ago, when I had my little Fiat Panda, I used to love whizzing through there like I was in the Monaco Grand Prix, down the slope, swing to the right, swing to the left, emerging into Kingsway triumphant just before Portugal Street. And then sitting in traffic (of which I was part!). 

Pat and Kat were our guides on the day and their enthusiasm shone through. It's a really good tour, albeit a bit expensive, but you're only going to do it once. Find out lots more by experiencing the tour yourself through London Transport Museum's website here, where you'll also find archive images and more information.