18 July 2024

Overpainted Unigate tiles at The Old Dairy, Crouch Hill

Last year I wrote about some shops near Highbury & Islington station and the loss of a lovely tiled interior that was evidence of its previous life as a Unigate Dairy

More recently, whilst checking a route for walking tour I was going lead for the Stroud Green Women's Institute, I was standing opposite The Old Dairy at the junction of Crouch Hill and Stroud Green Road and I took some photos, including the one below. 

The Friern Manor Dairy Company, of East Dulwich, installed this marvellous red brick entranceway in 1891, complete with the impressive scraffito panels, and managed the site until 1919 when it became a franchise of Premier Dairies.  I recalled that by the mid-1920s it was under the Unigate Dairies umbrella.  
Hmmm, I thought... is there any evidence of this? So I went to look closer.

Shown here is a screengrab from Google Streetview of the corner section at 1-3 Crouch Hill, before the pub reopened in Spring 2024. This would have been the shop where customers could have bought their milk, butter and other dairy products. Under a few layers of dark paint, hints of 4" tiles and chevroned border panels can be seen peeping through either side of the door. You'll have to take my word for it, or go and see for yourself, because it's very hard to photograph.

The interior of the shop would have also have had tiled walls in the same design, as per the Highbury shop, and I am convinced (or possibly deluded) that I recall remnants of those tiles in there when it first opened as a pub in 1997. But today the walls are all panelled and painted dark green. Considering that it’s called The Old Dairy, making a big deal of the building’s heritage, you'd think they would have retained as much visual history as possible. 

Please do let me know if you have further info or pics of this Stroud Green shop – jane@janeslondon.com or add a comment below.

This has now got me thinking about other tiled dairy outlets across London that have been converted for other use and how I really ought to pull a collection together. I'm surprised that I haven't already done this – watch this space, though don't hold your breath!

12 July 2024

Update on the horrid revamp of Willen House, Bath Street, Moorfields, EC1– a unique example of architecture from the 1940s

Almost two and a half years ago I wrote this piece about the proposals for the overhaul of Willen House, an unusual 'art Deco' style building in Moorfields. Since then I often take a detour if I am in the area to see what's happening, approaching the building with trepidation, scared at what I might find. With so much time having elapsed, I wondered if, perhaps, the plans had changed.

Here's the building looking fab on Google Streetview in August 2022:

And here's mosaic of some of my photos showing how marvellous it looks when the sun is shing

Earlier this week, I wandered eastwards from Central Street along Lever Street towards Bath Street. The rear of Willen House appeared to be as was (phew!) and the Lever Street side seemed OK:

But, as I turned the corner into Bath Street, I was horrified to see that they've hacked away at the tiles on the corner, for what purpose I do not know. The commemorative plaque stating that this building was opened in 1948 surely meaning very little to today's property developers (see more about this further down). I hope they, at least, keep the plaque in situ.

Moving round into Bath Street, scaffolding was being erected on the Galway Street side: 

I noticed that the interiors were gutted and the ugly secondary glazing has already been removed. Sections of tiles have been chipped away in strips along the front of the building. I wondered why. But what I couldn't find a board or panel showing the plans and contact details for the contractors and architects as is normal in situations like this. 

A bit of sleuthing online and I discover that tp bennett architects is no longer listing this as a project on their site. Instead, Infrasture Investments has instructed Beachrock to create a 208-bedroom scheme at a cost of £60million, due to be completed in 2025 – a scheme that could have been slightly cheaper had they not budgeted so much money on unnecessary paint. A brochure here tells the full story. Whilst I am all for a much-needed upgrade of the interior spaces, I cannot fathom how and why Islington Council's planning department approved the alterations to the main façade.  

I am upset, disappointed, bordering on furious, at the rape of this very unusual building, constructed in the 1940s, a decade when barely anything interesting was built, let alone something of this quality, due to austerity after after WW2. Indeed, I am only aware of a couple of other developments that were constructed in the 1940s, also special in their own way:

1940The Coronet PH, Holloway Road, N7, was originally opened as The Savoy Cinema. Stayed open during WW2. The date 1940 can also be seen on the hoppers on Senate House (on the Russell Square side), but these are later additions being as the building was completed in 1937.

1941 – I'm pretty sure that Russell Square House, at the corner of Woburn Place, was completed in 1941. These government offices were under construction when WW2 broke out. There are some interesting ventilation grilles at low level that, to me, look like Union Jack flags.

1942–1945 – I am not aware of any buildings constructed in these years. However, in 1943, the County Plan For London was implemented.

1946 – The New River Company's Claremont Close housing development, Islington, accessed from Claremont Square.

1947Wall Court, Stroud Green Road, N4. This well-designed housing development was quickly followed by similar schemes in 1948 at nearby Lawson Court, Wiltshire Court and Marquis Court as well as houses in Osbourne Rd.   

1949–1950 – Nothing in my files. But, surely, there must be other residential schemes in other parts of London that I am not aware of, as well as municipal buildings, such as school, libraries, police stations and town halls...? Hmm, I wonder if they were all too busy planning exciting things for 1951's Festival of Britain. 

I am struggling to find any other examples from this decade. Please do let me know if you can add to the list. 

As I have said before, if Willen House had been constructed for/by a well-known name such as M&S there would have been a public outcry, as per the proposals that were overturned in Oxford Street. 

Let me know your thoughts.

29 June 2024

London street signs – additions to postal zones

My last post mentioned a patch added to a sign along The Broadway in Woodford. This got me thinking about the many additions and changes to street name signage across London. This became necessary as an area has became so populated that the postal district had to be sub-divided, such as Holloway N, becoming Holloway N7, etc. 

As London expanded, districts needed to be defined to prevent confusion between, for instance, Brewer Street in Soho and a road by the same name in another part of the metropolis, and so simple points of the compass were added. More often than not a complete new batch of signs was created to replace/cover the old ones. But in some places, a little patch or tile was added adjacent to the existing name plate, such as these examples in Soho where a small white tile bearing a red W for West has been added next  to the brown and white 1870's tiles that show the street name:

Soho's single letter square tiles are perhaps copies of the similar, earlier, more elegant ones in the Hampstead area where there are also some later additions:

Single letter tiles can also be found in nearby Loveridge Road NW6. Near there you'll also find some lovely blue and white vitreous enamel signs, such as this one in Oxford Road which, like many others in that vicinity, has a little metal plate to the side: 

But surely a more effective and visually pleasing amendment would have been to make small blue enamel [N.W.6.] signs in a condensed typeface to competed cover the N.W. within the sign itself? These could have then been spot welded to the original sign. Hey, but what do I know?!

This extraneous patch device can also be found in W8, as shown below in Cromwell Grove where the little metal tiles that display the full postcode of that era have been better designed completes with fancy corners and affixed centred under the street sign. But where is West W6?!

In Strode Road NW10, it looks like the local council was on a money and time saving exercise as the basic little hand-painted metal add-ons here look like they were created cheaply and attached in a hurry. Incidentally, the punctuation on these old signs often intrigues me. Full points, and sometimes semi-colons too, randomly applied, like a game of Spot The Difference. For instance what happened to the full point after W on the Cromwell Grove sign? But I digress. 

Finally, staying in NW10, in the well-to-do Chamberlayne Road area there are elegant cast metal N.W. signs that also have little 10s attached to the side or below them, but here we can see that the contractor remembered to use a spirit level:

I do like these little quirky add-ons. When councils created complete new street name plates they were mostly fixed directly over the previous one. There are, however, instances where new signs were placed adjacent to the old ones which can be a bit confusing. I will compile a collection of some of my favourite oddities in a future post. 

26 June 2024

Chemists, Chymists, Pharmacists and Druggists – three in one week

Last week, on Monday 17th June, I was in North West London presenting a talk for the Northwood Hills U3A group. Afterwards I went to Wembley to check on a couple of ghostsigns – this one for a Daimler dealer and this one for a butcher's shop. I am glad to report that both are still intact. 

As I made my way towards the station, a bus came along headed for Ealing Broadway and so I got on that instead. I do like a mystery tour, and sitting on the top deck of a bus is a wonderful way to see places I barely know. The route went through Alperton (all new to me) and ended at bus stop 'A' at the northern end of The Broadway here.

As I disembarked, I noticed a marvellous old chemist shop at No.36 – much of D.Lewis's Art Nouveau shop fittings are intact both inside and out. Coloured glass, curved windows, bronze fittings, marble plinths and more. The interior looks to have much of the wooden shelving, display cases and drawers. For some reason I didn't go inside. Instead, I just took a couple of snaps making a mental note to return and properly investigate the whole parade another day when I had more time.

Two days later I was in Woodford, waiting for a friend and admiring the parade of shops that is also called The Broadway. I noticed at number 12 a carved and gilded sign for Chrystall, chemist and druggist. The shop also boasts lovely window displays which include metal frames, and curved and red glass etched with the services available. 

When my friend arrived, we went inside to investigate the shop's interior and found that the whole left side still retains it's wooden displays and shelving. I took just one photo, of the exterior, shown above right ( the one on the left is a google screen grab from here). We walked along the parade to see what other similar delights might be on offer and found that most of this parade still has elements of the original shops. As we walked past number 12 (four doors from the chemist, consecutive numbering, and now Euronics) I happened to notice that there were words at low level around the glass windows advertising confectionary [sic] and chocolates. 
Looking into the shop, I noticed that they had an old carved and gilded sign on the side wall at the rear of the shop, and it looked practically the same as the one at the chemist's. We went inside and chatted to the staff, who were lovely. Whilst they didn't know much about the sign or the Hermann family, they were clearly proud to have this impressive chunk of local history on their wall:

This sign for Hermann Brothers, Pastry cooks and confectioners is very impressive and unlike any I have seen before. Rather than a plain black background, this has a marble green and black effect which I am sure would have been top-of-the-range expensive, hinting at the quality of products the Hermann Bros would have made and the kind of well-to-do people that would have lived in this area before the tube line arrived. The bottom right corner of the sign shows that the sign was made by Brilliant Signs of Grays Inn Road, though I'd be surprised if they installed the sloppily applied/wonky later addition of 'Limited' as a stuck on patch (under Bros). It's interesting that 'confectioner' is spelled with an 'e' on the sign board but with an 'a' within the etched glass. 

And then, on Friday 21st June, I was wandering through Tyburnia, Connaught Village and the Hyde Park Estate, following a route specified in an old 1960's guidebook about old pubs and taverns to see if what was written about then was still in place today. I then crossed over Edgware Road and headed along Crawford Street, a street that also contains remnants of Victorian shops. It includes the marvelllous signage and multicoloured lantern of Meacher, Higgins & Thomas, chemists:

Again, I only took a few quick snaps, although this time I did go inside to chat to the owners. They are really proud about the history of their shop. I said I was embarrassed that although I had known about the shop for decades, since I worked round the corner in the late 1980s, yet I hade never stepped inside until now. 
Well, it turns out there's more old signage in there, plus glass jars and some of the orignal fittings in the form of wooden drawers and shelving. The exterior gilded sign is another one made by Brilliant Signs (see under 1814), a company name that appears on many of the best signs of this era*. 

There are, of course, many other lovely old chemist shops across London, but the three that immediately spring to mind are these – Walden, 65 Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, Allchin, 28 Englands Lane (but, since 2014, the lovely gilded script has been covered by dullness) and K.King at 35 Amwell Street, Islington:

Finally, a couple of ghostsigns featuring chemist's shops. There are many I could include here, but I suspect the two that people will recognise the most are these two – Boots facing Camden Town tube station and Dean's on Clapham Pavement on the north side of the common.

*I have built up quite a collection of signs made by this company and I really ought to pull together a blog post to showcase them.

15 June 2024

Big, beautiful boot scrapers

I've been wandering around and properly investigating the St. James's area a lot these past few years, yet until earlier this week I hadn't noticed some superb metalwork within the entrance to 50 St. James's Street. Considering that I have quite a large photographic collection of London boot scrapers, I was confused how I'd managed to miss this enormous pair of decorated beauties either side of the door. 

A sign near the entrance says that the building is being renovated. There are remnants of scaffold pole footers and the whole thing needs a wash and brush up. The boot scrapers are sublime. I have never before seen any so opulently decorated. The lanterns at the top of the street level posts are no longer in place, hence why they are cropped out of my phots here, but their gas feeds are still evident below their three-legged struts. I had an inkling that building this would have originally been one of the area's many gentlemen's clubs as per White's, Boodle's, Brook's etc. But what was it more recently? I needed to do some delving.

Well, it turns out that for over 12 years this site has been behind scaffolding or under wraps of some kind which is evidence by looking at Google's retrospective street views. In 2012 the site shows that the building looked like the image above. 

A quick bit of googling and Wikipedia tells us that this is an 1827 Grade II listed building that was has been a gentleman's club (yes!*), a bridge club in the 1920s and then various casinos or gaming institutes. There are plans to convert the building for use as either a hotel or as residential properties. However, the written timeline in that Wiki link doesn't seem to correlate with the google streetview which clearly show that scaffolding was in place by August 2014 so I am a bit confused when the squatters were there.     

This 2012 image show the lovely gas-fired lamps beautifully silhouetted. I suspect that the lanterns were removed for safety reasons during the building works and I am hoping that, going forward, they will be reinstated, complete with the gas feed as per other lamps in this area, rather than retrofitted with LEDs.

* had I applied my brain I could have worked that this was William Crockford 's club – he was an interesting character to say the least!

13 June 2024

Ooh ooh – more woodblocks sighted in Camden Town

Rushing from a bus stop opposite Sainsbury's to Camden Town tube station yesterday, I glanced down at the kerb outside the pub on the corner (these days called The Camden Eye, previously The Halfway House and many more names pre-that) and I noticed a man hole cover plate half filled with wood blocks. 

I just took a quick snap, above left. The second pic is a screengrab from Google Streetview here.

I have added it to the A-Z of Woodblocks here

7 May 2024

It's a wrap! Marvellous metal in Greville Street by Groupwork + Amin Taha

Last week I was wandering along Leather Lane becoming a bit despondent at how the market has lost its proper 'anything and everything you need' vibe as it was when I worked in the area in the 1980s. I mused that it was still decent street market selling all sorts until the early 2000s. In 2011 I wrote about how London street markets were gradually diminishing. Then Covid-19 hit our street markets hard* and these days all you are likely to find here, or any of the other previously vibrant markets such as Berwick Street or Whitecross Street, is street food, although I'd counter that buying a meal in a box that you need to sit down and eat with cutlery on a flat surface doesn't constitute street food. There are no bite-sized snacks, pasties, or fried locusts on a stick available. Anyway... I digress.

Memories of Lether Lane market got me thinking about the places and businesses that were in the Hatton Garden area in the 1980s when I used to work in Bleeding Hart Yard. This was a name that almost everyone thought I'd made up. No need to swear love! I can't recall anyone back then talking about the bloody legend of the spurned lady. This vague info I had discovered on a panel outside the wine bar restaurant by the same name in the corner of the yard. The pic above is a screen grab from Google dated 2020 and shows a pub on the corner of BHYard and Greville Street. Despite all the info written on the pub's exterior, it certainly wasn't a pub in the 1980s or else I'd have used it! I'm told it was a café, but I don't remember that. 

Today I am more interested in the building on the left side of the street. In the pic above you can see a sample of what was to happen here, attached to the corner as a test piece. I was keen to see how that had evolved. Well, it's marvellous. They've done it again!  As per at Clerkenwell Green and Upper Street

Here we have a mesh surround that allows light through and it's just lovely. I'll leave it at that. Go see for yourself, or find out more here

In 1981-1983, I used to work for a small advertising company in the building that's partially visible in the bottom left picture, though my drawing board/desk was on the other side of the building, facing east.

 *Markets – The big supermarkets offering a one-stop-shop, trollies and car parking, have been a major factor here, and I hear that youngsters are not keen to continue a stall-holding businesses when their costermonger parents retire.

6 May 2024

The Grosvenor Cinema – Art Deco splendour inside The Zoroastrian Centre at Rayners Lane

The gorgeous Grosvenor Cinema cinema opened in October 1936, as part of the Gaumont chain, situated on Alexandra Avenue, a stone's throw from Rayners Lane tube station. Indeed, the whole area is an Art Deco fan's dreamworld being as it forms part of 1930's era Metroland. I first experienced the interior of this marvellous movie theatre during Open House Weekend in September 2016 as part of a guided tour. We heard all about the building and learned about the Zoarastrian faith. I really enjoyed ever aspect of the tour and I resolved to keep an eye out for an opportunity to revisit the building. 
In March this year I was delighted to be able to join other London Appreciation Society members for another guided tour.

As you enter the building from Alexandra Avenue you enter the foyer. This was originally designed as a sunken café area and the church still uses it as such. They had put out a lot of info boards for us to look at showing how the building and the local area had evolved through the decades and the pic above shows how this space looked back in 1986. I noticed that part of the geometric pattern in the metalwork that encloses this area looks like JL – perhaps I could use as my avatar!

The ceiling here is stunning:

Stairs at the front of the building, allow light from the street and lead you up to the auditorium...

...which brings you to the back of the circle and excellent view of the undulating ceiling, today spotted with modern ceiling lights and fans, although the original effect is not lost.

And here's a wide shot I took inside the auditorium back in 2016:

Find out more about the history of this cinema here where I've just noticed the main pic is practically same as mine! 

23 April 2024

On a few days left to see The Cult of Beauty at The Wellcome Collection

Do go and see this – It's FREE – finishes on Sunday 28th April.

You might say that you aren't interested in hair and make up and how you present yourself, but you'll be missing out by not seeing this fascinating exhibition – it's about the history of self expression and the pains and strange lengths people will go to in order to fit into the latest fashions or to make themselves stand out from the crowd. As such, as with every exhibition curated by the Wellcome Collection, it's packed full of intriguing artefacts, sculptures, products and applicators, as well as ancient illustrations and newly-commissioned artworks. I little things like velveteen stick on mouches (moles), was equally absorbed by old and new forms of body modification as in corsets and surgery.

And do grab a handset and headphones for the audio guide (also free) – I particularly enjoyed listening E-J Scott talking about the Museum of Transology (stop14) where some very thought-provoking points are raised, and David Arnold's 22-minute movie 'Permissable Beauty' shown every half hour. 

Did I mention this is FREE?! Isn't London marvellous! 

There's also a very good cafe and an extensive gift shop, both near the main entrance, and the excellent permanent exhibition on the next floor, albeit recently dumbed down and re-arranged because some people complained that some of the exhibits of human bodies and medical instruments were too explicit. Hmm. Fools!

15 April 2024

Boots and Shoes – a ghostsign in Trafalgar Road, Greenwich

On the North side of Trafalgar Rd there is this a shop at No.117 painted purple (or mauve or lilac) with some faded letters on the brickwork above. 

I took a couple of quick snaps simply to make a note of it, knowing that my phone camera isn't really good enough for deciphering this sort of thing. I'd expected that someone else had done the legwork already and I'd be able to find out more about what was written here whilst drinking a cup of tea on my sofa. But no. 
Caroline usually beats me to these things but all she's got is this pic on her Flickr photostream, with no explanation. Using her pic I have managed to decipher most of it. 
Here's a rough idea of how it might have looked using a random serif typeface that I have squidged* and stretched for visual effect :

A quick look at the old directories tells us that in 1904 this is where you would have found Hermann Kaiser, boot & shoe maker. I have not as yet ascertained if he was related to the Peter Kaiser shoe company established 1838 in Germany and still manufacturing today.

By 1918 this was the Popular Boot Stores and it had spread into a part of the next door building too. 

As ever, all additional information is most welcome, either via the comments or to jane@janeslondon.com

Another Greenwich ghostsign here.

*this is not a typographical term, and neither is 'stretched'!  

11 April 2024

Guinness advertising in London

My last post about the mural over the railway in Camden got me thinking about other examples of old Guinness advertising on London's streets. We might not have the huge signs that used to be at Piccadilly Circus or the moving clock near Angel tube station shown below, but there are still a few remnants clinging to the walls, hinting at the colourful ads of the past.  

First, the Millennium Time clock on the side of The Archway Tavern which has been gradually falling apart for decades.

The montage above comes from this post I wrote in May 2017 – but it's looking even more sparse these days. That link also includes my pic of six happy Guinness glasses that used to be on the corner of Rosie McCann's pub in York Way. Below is a screen grab from Google streetview showing the pub with its jolly sign in August 2008. Rosie and the sign were gone by June 2012.

Which reminds me of a few others that have recently disappeared, such as the large painted "Sláinte" (health/cheers!) that used to be on the side of The Eaglet in Holloway, N7. For some reason, in 2019 this 6ft pint of the black stuff was completely overpainted a dull black and nothing has as yet replaced it, as shown in this Google screengrab pic (all pics from here will be from Google unless I specify otherwise):

Back in Camden, but we're now on the High Street looking at the top of The Camden Head, where a neon sign advertising Guinness and The Liberties (its previous name), was still in place until Summer 2015, albeit not illuminated, the pub having reverted to its original name by 2009. 

On the same day that I happened upon the railway mural, I'd already discovered another Guinness sign nearby, in the form of a plaque above the doorway of The Lord Southampton public house at the other end of Southampton Road. 

I'd have gone inside and tested this information claim but the pub is closed at the moment. It appears that some moaning minnies who live in the area do not want it to reopen as a pub because of the noise. Hmmm. One wonders why they chose to live close to a pub in the first instance! After all, this pub, with its gorgeous handmade blue Doulton Lambeth tiles and original wooden interior has been a community hub for over a century. It's one of the oldest pubs in the vicinity and would have well-served people visiting or working at Queen's Crescent shops market. Pubs don't have to be noisy and only a handful of people get drunk. I'm guessing the moaners are noisy themselves and assume everyone else is too. 
I took a pic through the window – it's lovely in there and I hope this interior, with its wood panelled walls and bar, is retained.

Probably the best, most intact, heritage pub signage in London can be found on The Crown & Cushion pub on Westminster Bridge Road, almost opposite Lower Marsh where there are two Guinness signs. The panel on the left depicts three flying toucans each balancing two pints of the famous stout on their bills!  Note that the top bird is 3D and protrudes from the board. 

And, d'uh. I almost forgot to mention The Toucan in Carlisle Street, near Soho Square, which is daft because I spent a lot of time in there back in the 1990s, usually in the basement bar which was a welcome refuge on hot days rather than sweating in the noisy street outside. I haven't been in there for over ten years. Is the list of Guinness cocktails still down there? I must go back soon. 

As regards the signage here, the faded hanging sign at the top of the basement stairs is fairly old, but the two flying toucans above the awning are quite new – they were installed in 2013 to fill the spaces where air con units used to be. 
The White Swan, Deptford has two different hanging signs protruding from the building – one is the standard black and gold roudel. I particularly like the other sign of the Guinness mug with a handle, something we rarely see or use these days. The pic below is from 2015, but the pub didn't look open the last time I walked past a few months ago and might well have closed its doors for good by now.

But definitely gone, is the once lively Ravenscourt Arms in Hammersmith, a flat roofed pub, looking welcoming in the pic below but today the site is being developed and the four toucans on the sign have flown away to who knows where.

A ghostsign I missed – I never managed to get to Balham to photograph the remains of a painted sign that used to be on the side of the launderette. A friend who lives near there had told me about it but by the time I visited her in early 2019 it had been overpainted. Maggie has taken a good pic of it here. There must have been more hand-painted ads like this all over the country so it's surprising to have never actually seen one myself. 

Sometimes the brand can be found within street art. In Islington, there was a cute little cherub in Pickering Street (off Essex Road, near South Library) holding a broken bottle of Guinness. But this has since been overpainted white: 

I didn't find out who the artist was – most likely to be the work of Bambi who had other artworks on the same building back in 2014. If not her, then it could be Loretto or Pegasus who have similar pieces in this area.

What else? I only have to look at a wall like this one to think of Guinness, ditto those tubular street litter bins when they have a white polythene waste bag dribbling over the top edge. 
A friend told me about this artwork in Hackney Wick which has clearly been added to and, of course, we've got the Guinness Trust buildings all across London. If you can think of any other instances, on the outside of buildings, not inside pubs or on glasses or mats, please let me know.  

Finally, as a teenager I used to have a black long-sleeved sweatshirt with the Guinness brand in white on the upper left side. I'd bought from a stall on Romford Market. I also had a JPS one (Jane Parker Special!). I wore the Guinness top to take my driving test, which I passed first time, and later that day realised that it was a bit daft to be wearing an alcohol brand whilst driving a car and under the pub drinking age! People sometimes asked me what the other side was. Oh ho ho ho. It wasn't until a few years later when the sweatshirt was old and Mum and I were doing some painting and decorating that she suddenly exclaimed "Martini's the right one"! Too late!