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.