Caesar, your bath’s ready

They say don’t meet your heroes as you’ll be disappointed and I reckon this applies to some ancient monuments too. I’ve always had a love of all things roman, an early memory is of going to the Lunt Roman Fort in Coventry as a child and being mesmerised watching roman soldiers marching on the parade ground, brandishing swords and looking menacing. Little did I know that they weren’t part of the roman army just Coventry council workers on overtime dressed up for the day.

For years I’ve been fascinated by the Roman Bath in Strand Lane. Roman? It’s probably not. It’s more than likely a cistern for a garden water feature of the original Somerset House dating from the 1600’s. In the 1770’s the cistern was reclaimed and advertised as a “cold bath” and it’s presumed in the 1830’s the owner thought if they gave it a roman angle more punters would use it and it’s stuck ever since. More on the bath’s history here and here.

On the numerous occasions I’ve visited I’ve only looked through the (if not dirty then steamed up) window seeing next to nothing but my own reflection and have always wanted to go inside. Thursday lunchtime I did just that after an email to dcreese@westminster.gov.uk It’s free to visit but they require at least one week’s notice.

Before last weekend it was easy to view the bath even though it’s off the beaten track. All you had to do was walk up Strand Lane to the building that has a National Trust sign outside (above) and if the gate was unlocked you could peer in through the window. It seems that all’s changed since the London Bridge terrorist attack as the passageway through Surrey Steps is locked and there’s now a security guard at the bottom of Strand Lane only letting Kings College employees in. I had trouble getting through even after showing him a email confirming the visit from Westminster Council so be warned.

I was met at the site by a Westminster council gardener from nearby Embankment Gardens who let me in and stood outside for the duration of my visit. If you intend to go do read up a bit about the place first as you won’t be getting tour of the guided variety.

The first thing I noticed as I entered the dark entrance hall was the acrid smell of damp and then the feeling of intense cold. The council worker didn’t mention it but there were a couple of switches inside you can flick on for the lights in the hall and one outside which seems to control the main light over the actual bath itself. In the hall there was a table with a couple of maps of Strand Lane and above that a few photocopied sheets about the history of the place. To the right was a bricked up tiled doorway to what once was a second bath (The Essex bath) which is now covered over.
Straight ahead through the hall was a small dark room with a couple of mis-matched chairs, a roman bath sign and a modern day fusebox (above). It made me think of the room in a prison in an old black and white film where they’d keep an electric chair in. Spooky!

To the left was the room with the plunge bath in (main picture at the top) which had a metal bar that stopped you going in any further to explore the room. To the side of the bath was a 60’s style serving hatch (above) that made me smile.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of anything remotely roman. It is said in the 1770’s the room was festooned with artefacts and in the picture above it suggests decoration in a roman style but there’s sadly nothing of the sort these days. Amongst the broken paving stones lying on the bare flooring I did see what I thought was a discarded statue of a roman deity (below) but on second glance it was probably a piece of twisted up copper pipe. 
After about 5 minutes I had had enough, there wasn’t much else to see and the damp and the cold were getting to my bones. My lust for the roman bath has now been satisfied and I doubt if I’ll be popping down there again. If only the council worker who came to meet me was dressed in a toga and sandals and there were fake antiquities dotted about the bath house; things would have been oh so different. P

But Geoffrey Fletcher did

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

No man is an island

No man is an Island

Walking across the Millennium Bridge this morning I came across a box type thing upon The Thames with a model of a child on the top and what looked like a travelling bag at the bottom.

It was only later tonight while writing this post that I found out it’s an installation called Floating Dreams from South Korea’s Ik-Joong Kang and a memorial to the millions displaced during the Korean War of 1950-53. I imagine it has more impact at night but it’s still very impressive by day. Around until Friday 30th September and well worth seeing. More details hereP

Don’t touch that dial

Radio Live transmission

As a fan of all things radio I merrily legged it from Covent Garden over to the Tate Modern this lunchtime to see Cildo Meireles Babel. It’s a tower of around 800 radios of varying ages, from valve sets at the bottom to small modern electronic radios at the top, displayed in a darkened room.

As a self-confessed radio nut the installation is great to see and also hear, as each set is tuned to a different channel making each time you go to visit a one-off experience. The only complaint is it’s only audible at a low volume so hard of hearing punters like myself have to strain to have a listen.

Worth popping over to the Tate and having a look but pack your ear horn and bring a torch! More on the installation here. P

Flexing those lunchtime muscles

xray

Earlier this year we featured the excellent X-Ray Audio exhibition at The Horse Hospital (post here.) Well it’s back again and well worth going to if you haven’t already been!

X-Ray Audio – Bone Music 1946-1964 
Saturday 28th November – Saturday 19th December 2015
The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1JD

It’s all about illegal recordings cut into X-ray plates from the cold war period and here’s more about them from  x-rayaudio.squarespace.com

“In the Soviet states during the cold-war era, most modern Western bands and music was banned for all sorts of reasons including ‘neo-fascism’, ‘mysticism’ and even ‘obscurantism’. Much Russian music was also forbidden for a variety of other reasons. Even certain rhythms were regarded unfavourably. But a vibrant, secret and risky trade grew up in what became known as ‘Bones’ or ‘Ribs’”.

“These Bones were medical X-Ray fluorography sheets unofficially obtained from hospitals, cut into discs and embossed with the grooves of bootlegged gramophone records – a kind of medical version of a DJ dub plate.”flexi

Alongside the great exhibition are two related live events that are a must to go to, if you like the sound of that sort of madness.

The first is on Saturday 5th December with Strictly Kev (DJ Food) (£6.50/£8) talking about his flexidisc collection with Stephen Coates (The Real Tuesday Weld/X-ray audio) and there’s a free mystery flexi for the first 20 people through the door. (Above: Some of this writer’s flexi discs.) More details here.

And on Friday 11th December (£10/£12) the night features Lydia Kavina (grand-niece of Lev Theremin) and one of the best Theremin players in the world performing, alongside x-ray audio, who provide a live demonstration of recording onto X-Ray plates. More details here. Earlier this year we attended a similar event and all we can say it was brilliant!

So go and have a look at the exhibition during a lunchtime or attend on the night(s), you won’t be disappointed! P

There’s a whole lot of (hand) shaking going on…

Freemason_1

Yesterday I popped into The Library and Museum of Freemasonry at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queens Street WC2 5AZ to have a look at the exhibition “Spotlight – Freemasons and entertainment.”

Firstly I thought it would be hard work getting into the building, imagining going through a handshake test, followed by all sort of trouser rolling and apron wearing jollities but no. It was a straightforward “go up the stairs and keep to your right for the exhibition.” When I reached the library I was greeted by a happy librarian only willing to talk about the Freemason’s Hall which is a fine old Art Deco building by the way.

The exhibition itself is interesting enough if you like that sort of thing but the only information I gleamed from it was Rick Wakeman and Freddy “Parrot-face” Davies are examples of lodge members who are also “modern day entertainers.” Not my sort of entertainers, sorry.

Freemason_3

But it’s in the far room off the library (which houses the exhibition) where all the good stuff is. This is where the actual museum is and if you like pottery, regalia, cloaks and daggers and such-like with mad imagery on them, this is the place for you!

There’s plates printed with pyramids, tea pots with weird logos, strange looking medals and also a stone supposedly from King Solomon’s mines. It’s all mad stuff and well worth spending half an hour at. Below is my personal favourite from the exhibition.

freemason_2

But on no account leave a bad comment in the visitors book or you might find next time you want a bank loan or planning permission you might be mysteriously declined with no explanation. P

There’s more to life than lunchtime shopping (or is there?)

I’ve been neglecting my writing duties at LIYL of late due to life getting in the way and never ending trips to the supermarket come lunchtime.

capital salon

Though not in a lunch hour, the good folks at Antique Beat (who are related to the brilliant x-ray audio exhibition we covered a few months back here) have some very interesting things going on, especially their monthly talks in the westminster arts library under the banner of salon for the City.

It’s a very intimate series of events which are around great london-related content held in a reference library with a free gin cocktail and cups of tea for everyone, in some nicely designed crockery too!

We visited the counter culture event last week on a flying visit and it was a sit down affair with about 40+ people and that was with extra seating, as the talk was so popular. So be warned, as it’s a such a small do, tickets I imagine go very quickly so if you’re interested do put your name down on their mailing list at info(at)antiquebeat.co.uk

Also from Antique Beat is the brilliant 32 Londoners which takes place on the London Eye in the summer. It features 32 talks on famous Londoners which last year the subjects included Thomas Becket, David Bowie, Michael Faraday and those Kray twins.

All the above mentioned events are all tied in with The Clerkenwell Kid (who like ourselves likes a bit of London) who records with The Real Tuesday Weld and their music goes a little something like this…

As Shaw Taylor used to say “Keep em Peeled!” P