Being an ex-postman and a lover of all things letter and stamp related, I couldn’t help but be drawn to a lovely story on the BBC website (here) about one of the earliest purveyors of mail art who lived not a million miles from where I reside.In the early days of the General Post Office the rules of what actually could be sent by the postal service were flexible to say the least and were tested by a few people. One of the best known was W Reginald Bray from “Devonshire Road, Kent” an accountant by day but in his spare time made it his job to challenge the postal system to the max. Some of his proudest moments included posting himself (on not one but three occasions), sending a potato with the recipient’s address cut into the skin (with stamp affixed) and even his Irish Terrier Bob wasn’t spared a trip through the post. He was an keen autograph collector too, sending out thousands of requests by postcard to all sorts from Pericles Diamandi, The Human Calculator, Ken “Snake-Hips” Johnson, the Jazz band leader who died at Cafe De Paris during the Blitz in March 1941 and the English Clown Whimsical Walker. They must have loved Reggie Bray at the local post office.
On the road are still a couple of the old Penfold style postboxes and amazingly enough the one outside number 135 where he lived for 10 years is still there and it would be lovely to think that the Post Office have left it there as a tribute to the great mail artist. If you’re ever in the area do stick something in that postbox and you’ll be secure in the knowledge that something far more bizarre has possibly been popped in there! P #SE23localhistory #Wreginaldbray #Mailart
More on W Reginald Bray with lots of pictures of his postcards and other wonderful curios here and what looks like a great book about him called The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects by John Tingey (and cheap as chips on Amazon by the way). Also thanks very much to John for supplying the press cutting about the potato (where you can make out the bottom line of the address as Forest Hill). #Foresthillpostedpotato
By the way as it’s that time of year Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year to all from London In Your Lunch Hour!
This lunchtime while walking down Tottenham Court Road a couple of buskers were going through their paces outside the tube station. I’ve seen these two before; a dreadlocked singer/percussionist with a tambourine strapped to his left foot and a guitarist giving it loads in a non-John Williams style.
During a version of Black Uhuru’s “Shine Eye Gal” (with some vocals stylings borrowed from Junior Reid’s One Blood) a lone passer-by got up and done his stuff. He was still there when I returned about ten minutes later. The duo were half way through Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” the dancer now jacketless and doing a bad nervous twitch/Jagger strut type dance mixed with a impression of a chicken. Well worth 80 pence of anyone’s money. And the music? It certainly beats the “Theme from The Deer hunter” any day! P
The other Saturday at 10.30am myself and ten others found ourselves queueing at an unmarked door outside a drab office block at 101 Lower Thames Street. It was a lovely sunny morning not that it was going to make a lot of difference to us as for the next two and a half hours we would be spending it mostly underground.
We’d all signed up for From the private to the public: life in Londinium a tour of two important sites of Roman interest; The Billingsgate Roman House and Baths and The Roman Amphitheatre under the Guildhall (pic above and also featured a few years ago here). I won’t give too much of the game away but if you like Roman remains then these two sites (and the soon to be reopened Temple Of Mithras) are for you.
The Billingsgate Roman House and Baths were originally a small amount of stand-alone buildings that were developed over a couple of years into a villa complex with a private bathhouse and the remains on show include parts of the original flooring and the hypocaust (underfloor heating) system underneath. There’s even a part of the heating system where the pilae stacks (the pillars which the flooring stood on as part of the hypocaust) have been “bodged” by unscrupulous builders of the time; there were rogue builders around even then. The visit lasted about an hour the two guides who showed us around certainly knew their stuff and we all left the underground car park-like basement as pleased as punch.
The second part of the tour was picked up by another guide who funnily enough told us while walking the ten minutes or so up to the Guildhall that his mum queued up (with hundreds of others) to see the original Temple of Mithras excavation in 1954 (as mentioned in our post here). On the way there we popped into the excellent St Dunstan in the East church, bombed in the 1941 blitz and now a public garden which I reckon I’ll visit at a later date as it looked interesting. At the time we passed at 11.30ish there were a German scout troop sitting having elevenses, a jazz dancer being photographed by a random tourist and a couple of cycle couriers sitting on a bench enjoying one of those cannabis-infused cigarettes.
At the Guildhall we were taken to one of the stairwells in the gallery to see Londinium Romanum a painting of what Roman London would have looked like as imagined by the archaeological painter Alan Sorrell.
On the way to see it we passed a very large painting of the Queen sitting at a long table at a banquet and were told by our guide that this piece was to commemorate her jubilee back in 1977. I overheard a couple there who mentioned that the art critic Brian Sewell got into a bit of trouble at the time when he reviewed it and supposedly said “Ghastly! They’ve made the Queen look like a Pink Blancmange!” I cannot find anything about said painting and nothing about the Brian Sewell comments either but it did make me laugh!
Downstairs in the basement the Amphitheatre is displayed rather futuristically, in the words of W when he reviewed it a few years ago here “you get to a large room done out like a Tron backdrop” (Above: his pic from then). He was the only one there when he visited it and I imagine it was creepy to say the least but last weekend I wasn’t alone and having a guide talking you through everything helped too. I wouldn’t have known anything much apart from guessing what the remains were and I certainly would have missed the wooden drain (under the glass on the floor) going into the arena with the original planks still there preserved through the damp London clay.
At 1pm I walked back out into 2017 feeling a bit “roman-ruined out” at the time while my eyes got used to the daylight. Looking back it was a great morning, £12 well spent if you like that kind of thing. Here’s to Londinium! P #RomanLondon #Guildhall #Londinium
NEWS EXTRA: We were told last week that the Museum of London was planning to move in a few years time and the site of the Smithfield Meat Market might be the location.
Billingsgate Roman Villa & Bathhouse
101 Lower Thames St,
London EC3R 6DL
£8 for adult/£6 concessions
Book in advance only here
London’s Roman Amphitheatre
Underneath The Guildhall Art Gallery
off Gresham Street
London EC2V 5AE
Monday – Sat 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12pm – 4pm
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.
I automatically assumed that he’d just come out of the Rebel Threads – Clothing of the bad, beautiful & misunderstood exhibition at The Horse Hospital. The exhibition is free and until Saturday 4th November it features a small selection of what is on offer upstairs in The Contemporary Wardrobe Collection. So if you like “yer vintage threads” well this one is for you! P
Rebel Threads – Clothing of the bad, beautiful & misunderstood
The Horse Hospital
Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1JD
Until Saturday 4th November Wed-Sat 12pm-6pm
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 here and in the second he visits his own quirky favourites here. One of them is the abandoned St Mary’s Underground Station in Whitechapel which is featured on this short BBC film here. The London nobody knows indeed! P
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve passed this strange sight a few times while walking through Clifford’s Inn from Fleet Street. It looks like one of those plastic boxes you bring your cat to the vet in but there’s no handle on the top and it’s very very large (you’ll never get this on the bus!) Any ideas? Is it the second home of the Black Dog of Newgate perhaps? Whatever it is, we at LIYLH would love to know! P