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25 March 2024

The Terraces and Textures of Thamesmead

Last month I ventured to Abbey Wood where I attended a guided walk in Thamesmead looking at the architecture and topography of this vast residential area as well as its use as a location for many films and TV dramas. 

It was a grey day. I took a these snaps and made a mental note to return and investigate on a warmer day.

I was saddened to discover that there's nothing left of the lakeside area once trodden by The Droogs which would have been to the left of the orange signage in the pic bottom right, above. And I was amazed/confused that there seemed to be no pubs or cafés or corner shops anywhere, meaning everyone, children, old ladies etc, has to hike all the way to the shops near Abbey Wood station or use one of the mega stores that surround this zone, each one larger than an average sports hall. Mind you, considering the amount of properties here, we hardly saw any other humans at all, except for few dog walkers. I considered that everyone might be at work, but no, it was a Saturday. Perhaps the were all that the mega malls and leisure centres, or simply indoors watching TV or playing computer games?

A few weeks later I went to the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park. I was some admiring some paintings and prints of brutalist architecture (ooh the patterns, ooh the grids and lines and geometrics) and began talking to the lady next to one of the pieces only to discover that she was the artist! It's hard to fathom how I'd never discovered Mandy Payne or her work before. To cut a long story short, we got chatting and discovered that we have lots of common interests. We swopped Instagram accounts and within a few days we'd arranged to go to Thamesmead together on Monday 25th March.

Mandy had also been to this part of Thamesmead before but she hadn't seen or known about some of the places that she'd admired in my photos taken in February which I had posted on my Instagram @janeslondon account. She was enthused and clearly enthralled when we reached the raised walkways. As I'd expected, she took hundreds of photos. I took little more than the three above and the ones shown below which are mostly of some retaining walls near the lake that Mandy was also keen to see. They have an amazing crackle-glaze effect, caused where modern paint applied over un-prepped surfaces has shrivelled and peeled to create marvellous textural patterns. 

However, we are concerned that this accidental abstract art won't be visible for much longer. It looks like Bexley Council is planning to paint these walls a boring shade of mid grey, evidenced by a few test squares here and there, as shown below. This shade of grey is light absorbing rather than light reflecting and I've written before about the overuse of this ubiquitous shade of dull here

We also noticed that paint peeling from handrails and metalwork revealed colours of past decades, starting with peach and then blue and green, most recently overpainted in black, Black. BLACK! What's this obsession with monotone? But, on the plus side, the subtle pastel effect created by what I think is different shades white paint is lovely, especially when contrasted with the vibrant natural greens of the healthy moss and lichen that is growing in the cracks and along the tops of the walls.

And then Mandy took me to see something that I'd somehow missed when I had visited the first time. A raised terrace above the convenience store has seating and what I guess could have originally been constructed as structures for basketball hoops. One of them is painted a gorgeous vibrant red (much more exhilarating than black or grey) and the metal seats show a palimpsest of colours throughout the decades

My last two pics, are of some windows above one of the many rows of garages there, designed for cars that were much smaller back in the 1960s and 70s. I was thinking, as I watched the pigeons walk along the roof, that these buildings resembled bird lofts. And then I noticed my initials JP on the glass!
Back to London central on the Elizabeth Line. I returned to Islington and Mandy went to do something in Paddington. As I write this she is on another train heading back to her home and studio in Sheffield. Thanks Mandy, and see you again soon for another brutalist appreciation session!

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Thanks, Jane