Today on my lunchtime jaunt to Waitrose in Bloomsbury to pick up some halloween novelties I spotted a mythical character not usually seen around these parts. The guy was in his mid 60’s, grey hair styled into a compact quiff and had on a pair of chunky brothel creepers. The leather biker’s jacket he wore had a selection of patches (a few shaped like Iron Crosses) on the back and he looked me straight in the eye as if I was his enemy and gave me such a scowl. This was a genuine teddy boy/greaser hybrid that once frequented English seaside towns or drove buses in the Midlands in the 1970’s.
Cutting through Barter Street on my way to purchase cheap headphones at Richer Sounds, Holborn I usually pass the side entrance of Swedenborg Hall and up until this week I never really gave it much thought. On Monday while passing I noticed on the railings in front of the building a poster for an evening there with David McKee, the creator of the children’s TV programme from yesteryear Mr Benn (complete with screenings of all the episodes of the show) which looked great but sadly took place the week before.
The front entrance of the building is at 20-21 Bloomsbury Way and is the London HQ of the Swedenborg Society that promotes all things to do with the great Swedish scientist, philosopher, inventor (and a whole heap of other things too) Emanuel Swedenborg.
The society is a registered charity and also a publishing house. The building houses a bookshop, library and museum and regularly hosts a broad section of events Swedenberg-related (more on the events here). Next month they have an exhibition of ceramic art inspired by Wiliam Blake and Swedenborg called “The Humble Servant“ which looks well up our street and is free to boot! How good is that? P
The Humble Servant
Ceramic art inspired by William Blake and Swedenborg | Diane Eagles 18 October-30 November 2017 | Mon-Fri 9.30 am – 5.00 pm daily |
Swedenborg House Bookshop,
20-21 Bloomsbury Way
London WC1A 2TH
020 7405 7986 Free entry
A bargain was bagged last week for the princely sum of £2.94 (including p+p off Amazon), it was a book by Geoffrey Fletcher which inspired the film “The London Nobody Knows” as featured in the last post. It’s a nice old book with illustrations by Fletcher (who was a graphic artist as well as a writer) and a preface written in 1989 where he mentions the changes in London since the original publication of 1962.
The book features lots of places that have long disappeared, language from a time gone by (some that now wouldn’t be politically correct) and some just plain daft: “Weird youths…stare listlessly into radio and jazz shops, youths with white-eyeleted shoes accompanied by their fun-molls. Each couple has horribly pointed shoes that make me think of elves; they twitch epileptically to the sound of jazz”. God knows what he’d say if he was still about today about London’s youth (and also the 50-odd year old punks wandering around New Cross with “Discharge” painted on the back of their “levver” jackets) but we love this book and it comes highly recommended!
If they were ever going to do a contemporary rewrite of the book and were looking for someone to do the illustrations we here at Liylh reckon they should be done by the artist Marc Gooderham (his “Elder Street, Spitalfields” above and Hawksmoor’s “Christchurch” below) as he uses decaying London as a major inspiration (examples of his London paintings here). As it says on his website about his work “Capturing the singular beauty to be found in those neglected buildings that have fallen into disrepair as the living city continues to evolve around them”. Fletcher would have liked that! By coincidence “The London Nobody Knows” was and is used by Marc as his bible and in his own words: “for drawing and sketching, looking for lost architectural delights… the book was a great discovery”. Have a look at more of Marc’s work here.
And finally while researching this post I found two episodes of a Radio 4 programme from 2011 where Dan Cruickshank revisits Geoffrey Fletcher’s old haunts in the first episode hereand in the second he visits his own quirky favourites here. One of them is the abandoned St Mary’s Underground Station in Whitechapelwhich is featured on this short BBC film here. The London nobody knows indeed! P
This week a friend told me about a very melancholic piece of music by Gavin Bryars called “Jesus’ blood never failed me yet” which samples a homeless man singing taken from an outtake of a 1970’s film about men who lived rough around Waterloo Station. It’s a well crafted number but be warned it’s very poignant and not one to have on if you’re feeling a bit down or you’ll be in tears within seconds.
The song put me in mind of a scene from a film featuring James Mason touring the capital which has always stuck in my mind. He was interviewing some men living in a Salvation Army hostel and said to them (on the subject of prejudice against homeless people when trying to get employment) “you are simply, down on your luck”.
The film is the wonderful “The London Nobody Knows” from 1967 produced by Norman Cohen originally from a book of the same name by Geoffrey Fletcher circa 1962 (available from Amazon on paperback very cheaply here). It is a snapshot of London in times well gone by and starts with the heavy reverberated voice of music hall legend Marie Lloyd and James Mason’s footsteps in the then dilapidated Bedford Theatre, Camden Town now sadly gone.
Music-related locations like The Camden Catacombs (underneath Rehearsal Rehearsals where The Clash and Subway Sect would practice) are featured as well as The Roundhouse. There’s even public loo’s (“All men are equal in the eyes of a lavatory attendant” Mason quips) featuring one in Holborn which supposed once had goldfish in the cistern and the classic double doorway type urinal in Star Yard which we featured here.
It’s a lovely slice of life from back then and features street entertainers you don’t see anymore (the Yosser Hughes/Screaming Lord Sutch-like song and dance duo above and Johnny Eagle the strongman come escapologist below who had a regular pitch near the Tower of London so I’ve been told) alongside an array of sheepskin coat-clad characters. So grab yourself half a stout, have a butchers at this film and when it’s over you can rightly say “Gor blimey guv’nor they don’t make films that like anymore”. P
Walking past The Polish Cultural Institute which I never knew even existed, I took a left down Magpie Alley which has a series of tiles (aka The Magpie Murals) on the wall telling the story of the good old days of “The Print.” Interesting stuff if you love stories about Caxton, hot metal, web offset printing and the like which I do.
But it didn’t stop there, I kept on going until I hit the back entrance of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP on the left (just before the alley morphs into Ashentree Court) and went through the small iron gate just to the side of the building and down some steps and treated myself to a butchers of the crypt of the old White Friars priory which once stood near there.
It’s well worth it, as it’s light years away from Clinton Cards, Pret a Manger and the hustle and bustle of Fleet Street once you’re at the bottom of those stairs. P
Found at a car boot in Vauxhall for the princely sum of 50 pence last weekend. It was published in 2014, there’s been a few changes in the capital since then but this is a great guide. Features stuff I didn’t know or just heard rumours of (like the old cells of possibly Newgate Prison in the cellar of The Viaduct Tavern, Newgate Street, more here) and even mentions my old favourite The Roman Bath, Strand Lane (more here). A book worth searching out. P
This week I was walking back from a trip to the great Loon Fung chinese supermarket in Gerard Street and decided to take a shortcut back to work through Cecil Court.
I’ve walked back through there a good few times, I’ve laughed at the price of yellowing punk fanzines/Sex Pistols posters on sale there and thumbed through obscure 1970’s T’ai Chi manuals in the oldest esoteric bookshop Watkins Books and waved at the tarot card reader sitting in their window.