Better late than never

Yesterday I visited a couple of roman sites (more to come later) as part of a guided tour and it turned out the tour was part of the “Londinium: The City’s Roman Story” festival that’s been going since late July. Summer was a bit of a blur here so I can excuse myself for missing a couple of months of it but there’s still a fortnight left to take advantage of the events. More on the festival here.

If you want to take a walk around Roman London for free do download the Roads to Rome leaflet from CoLAT (The City of London Archaeological Trust) here. Do the tour on a lunchtime, bring the kids too or even take the dog for a walk back in time. Talking of said pet below is a paw print from a Roman one on a clay tile on show at the excellent Billingsgate Roman House and Baths (which is well worth a visit).

And while we’re there, here’s a feline one and next to that (to quote the guide) “Something larger…”

 Roman London, you have to love it! #RomanLondon P

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The Mithras touch

The Lost City of London
Paternoster Square
London EC4M 7DX

Until 29th October 2017
Admission Free – 24 Hrs a day.

On Tuesday I took an pre-work trip to the The Lost City Of London exhibition at Paternoster Square. It’s an excellent collection of rarely seen photographs taken from archaeology digs unearthed when London was being redeveloped after the blitz.

There’s a good few roman sites on show here including some that are now buried under office blocks, filled in or not accessible to the general public. There were remains I’d never heard of before like a part of a roman wall preserved in the London Wall car park, roman bathhouses at Cheapside, Huggin Hill and Billingsgate and a roman forum and basilica at Gracechurch Street. There was also a good section about the famous discovery of that time The Temple of Mithras that had people queueing in the streets for hours just to see it!

It wasn’t just the usual Time Team photographic fare that interested me but a couple of images of an era gone by. The first was of archaeologist Audrey Williams holding the head of Mithras while a Brendan Behan look-a-like with a cigarette cheekily hanging out of his mouth assists and the second a view of five ladies trying to get a sneaky look at the dig at The Temple of Mithras through a hole in the corrugated iron fence “ere Ethel, have a butchers at this”.

So if you fancy all things roman and want to spend an interesting fifteen minutes pop down to Paternoster Square one lunchtime with a sarnie and treat yourself! More on events happening in a roman style in London here. #RomanLondon P

The Bloomsbury set

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

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

The brotherhood of the leaky boot and other stories

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

Where sweet Caroline met Happy Jack

It’s not every day you get to ask a couple of machine gun-toting policemen for directions but last Monday lunchtime I did. I was lost outside the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Green Park and trying to find my way to an address that once housed an organisation that changed the face of UK radio forever.

In the days of old there were no pop music radio stations in the UK until Radio Caroline changed all that in 1964 (more on the station here). I’ve long been fascinated by the offshore pirates of the 60’s and have just finished Ray Clark’s “Radio Caroline: the true story of the boat that rocked” so the other afternoon I decided to take a trip to 6 Chesterfield Gardens W1 (once known as “Caroline House”) where the station had their London HQ from 1964 to 1967.

It’s funny what impressions an address gives as I was expecting the location to be a nice square surrounding a leafy park but alas it wasn’t; it was a nondescript gloomy looking dead-end filled with expensive cars and builders busily filling skips. Looking at the building today it looks a lot cleaner compared to the images of it back in the sixties and is now a bright and airy office complex which now houses a collection of finance related firms.

Back then the building contained the Caroline organisation (that had offices over all four floors and a recording studio down in the basement) and other music related companies they rented floor space out to. These included the actor Terrence Stamp, Robert Stigwood (who managed The Bee Gees, Lord Sutch and Cream) and Track records (ran by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp who also managed The Who) and it was here Roger and the boys filmed their Happy Jack video. In the promo film directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in 1966 you can see the grand staircase and one of the high-ceilinged rooms with classy chandeliers.

If you want to see more of what the place was like in its heyday there’s a wonderful short film from 1965 about Radio Caroline here and the first two minutes features the interior and exterior of Caroline House. As the narrator in the film says says “(It’s) a big building for a big organisation”. It sure was! P