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?!