Sunday, 30 May 2021

International Hall

On Lansdowne Terrace, Bloomsbury, is a large hall of residence for University of London students. International Hall was opened in 1962, and remains a major hall of residence today. However, we are not looking at the accommodation, but at the decoration on its exterior. 

The walls are adorned with shields, each representing a country. They offer a snapshot of the time: India, for example, was independent, but Northern Rhodesia was still two years away from becoming Zambia. Malaya had achieved independence in 1957 but would not form the federation of Malaysia until the following year. In other words, this hall does not only illustrate the international membership of the University of London but also the changing place of London and the UK in a wider, and decolonising, world. 


That is also illustrated by the stone commemorating the building's opening by Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who had until the previous year been India's High Commissioner in the UK. Part of the prominent Nehru/Gandhi family - her brother, niece, and grand-nephew were all Prime Ministers of India - she had been widowed in 1944 when her husband died following his imprisonment for supporting independence. Already a senior politician who had been imprisoned three times for her work in the independence movement, Pandit became an ambassador in 1947 and first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1953.

Saturday, 15 May 2021

London ghost signs get their book!

If, like me, you love both ghost signs and books then you have probably felt the lack of a dedicated volume on London's signs. While some other places have books - Liverpool Ghost Signs is a lovely example - the capital doesn't... but soon, it will. 

Photograph of the Ghost Signs cover mock-up, showing a palimpsest ghost sign painted onto a cream wall, with a blue sky above.

Sam Roberts, the leading expert on London's signs and instigator of the fantastic (UK-wide) Ghostsigns Archive, has created Ghost Signs: A London Story with photographer Roy Reed. As well as images of about 250 signs, it includes their stories, historical images, and introductory essays. It launched on Kickstarter a few days ago, and it's no surprise that it became fully funded almost immediately - but you can still take advantage of the opportunity to pre-order your copy (and get other rewards).  

Photograph showing a detail from a Redferns ghost sign: a scroll with the words 'In an old sole' on a blue background, painted onto a brick wall.

Then, we just have to wait patiently for delivery in November - a Christmas present to look forward to!

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Cathedral lights

 Photograph of the west facade of St Paul's Cathedral, taken from the north-west. The steps leading up to the cathedral doors are empty. In the foreground to the right is the statue of Queen Anne.

The pandemic has spawned a small photography genre: London looking empty. I hadn't contributed much to it as I've hardly been into central London in the last year, but a recent library trip was a good excuse for a walk which took me past St Paul's Cathedral. For the first time, I saw its steps without people! 

A more constant, but nonetheless interesting, presence are the streetlamps in front of the Cathedral. With space and leisure for a closer look, we can see that they are dated 1874 and rich in details. The cast iron posts include the Dean and Chapter's coat of arms, with cherubs above. 

Photograph showing detail on the cast iron lamp post, including the coat of arms and cherubs described in the text.

In fact, these lamp posts are Grade-II listed in their own right. They were designed in 1874 by the Cathedral Surveyor, architect FC Penrose, as part of wider improvements to the space in front of the cathedral's west end. Although nearby Holborn Viaduct would get electric lighting four years later, these were gas lamps. (They have since been converted to electricity.) 

Photograph of St Paul's cathedral taken from the south-east. The south facade and famous dome are visible. In the foreground is a lawn bordered by flower beds filled with pink and purple flowers including tulips, and small, shaped conifers. The far wall of this garden has a row of bronze lion heads spouting water.

 While this area is decorated with lamps and statutes, the south side of the cathedral has flower beds and fountains. A note of springtime to finish upon!

Photograph showing detail of the flower bed. A purple tulip is in the foreground. Behind it are the blurred images of other flowers in similar colours.

Photograph showing detail of a textured concrete wall with bronze lion heads attached, each spouting water from its mouth. One lion head fills the foreground; another is visible but blurred behind it, and more thin streams of water stream above them.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Burnham-on-Sea's tin tabernacle

Photograph of a small, corrugated iron building painted light grey with white windows and trim. It is rectangular, with three rectangular windows and a small porch to the left with a door facing the viewer. The roof, bowed downwards in the middle, has a little steeple with a cross on top. The building has a lawn and path in front of it, with a white gate and hedge in the foreground; next to the gate is a sign saying 'Parish of St Andrew's, Edithmead Church' with a notice for service times. Behind, trees and fields are visible.

Edithmead Church, just outside Burnham-on-Sea, is a small, slightly wonky-roofed building of a special kind: a 'tin tabernacle'. These fascinating buildings are made not of tin but of corrugated iron on wooden frames. They were bought by Victorian congregations from catalogues, delivered in flat-pack form, and usually intended to be temporary. However, Edithmead's celebrated its centenary in 2019! 

In fact, its story is even longer than that since it was an Adult School in nearby East Brent before moving to its current location for a new, and long, life as a church. A resident of East Brent recalled, much later, how the Adult School was used for tea parties, Bible readings, and a Sunday service. 'Then one day there came a shock, a big lorry came with two horses and several men, and took our beloved Adult School away to Edithmead.' That unusual origin explains the rectangular windows: many tin tabernacles had suitably gothic arched windows, some even with instant 'stained glass' supplied as a ready-made film.

The Church is actually a chapel of ease to St Andrew's Church in Burnham-on-Sea - a much older and more solid building. It even has a London connection: a little group of angels who were originally part of an altarpiece in Westminster Abbey. The interior of Edithmead Church is plain and simple by contrast. 

A photograph showing a closer view of the building in the previous photograph.

Unusually, this post is about a building I haven't yet visited myself (although I will before too long, pandemic permitting): thank you to Shaun Derry for the lovely photographs.  

Tin tabernacles I have photographed in person include the smart, green church in Littlebury Green, Essex; the mission church in Shrubland Road, Hackney; a chapel-turned-battleship in Kilburn; and the mission hall in Ganllwyd.

Friday, 23 April 2021

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Wednesday, 21 April 2021

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Saturday, 17 April 2021

Street signs

Photograph of part of a Victorian brick wall with a sign reading 'EDWARD STREET S.E.8' in the centre. The metal sign is rusted and damaged at the edges; the writing is in black on dirty white, with the postcode in red. Above it is a window. Below is the top of a bricked-up arched window. To the left are three arched windows, now bricked up, and part of a white sign with blue text, for a food and wine shop.

London has an impressive diversity of street signs, as I was reminded today when this example on Deptford High Street caught my eye (much to the bemusement of a passing cyclist!). It's a little tattered and rusted around the edges, and dirty all over, but still boldly proclaims 'EDWARD ST. S.E.8'. That makes three more full stops than are found on the modern sign.

Detail of the central section of the previous photograph, showing the 'DEPTFORD S.E.8' sign.

There are so many other variations to be found on the city streets. Below are just a few from my collection. However, if you would like to see many more signs, and learn a lot more about them, then there is now a dedicated book by Alistair Hall, London Street Signs: A visual history of London's street nameplates. I would strongly recommend it: there is so much wide-ranging information, from the development of the London postal district to the creation of alphabets; from official regulations to the materials and manufacture of signs. And of course, lots and lots of photographs.

Photograph of a street sign in front of a wire fence. The modern sign is white, with black text saying 'BRAITHWAITE STREET E1 formerly Wheler Street, LONDON BOROUGH OF TOWER HAMLETS'

Photograph of a sign mounted on a concrete alleyway roof, white with faded lettering saying 'City of Westminster' in a gothic-type typeface, 'BROAD COURT' in thick, narrow typeface, and 'W.C.' in faded italic type.

Photograph of a pale stone wall with carved decoration. A modern street sign with a City of London crest says 'ST. MARGARET'S CLOSE EC2'. Below, painted directly onto the wall, are the words 'CHURCH COURT' in fading black paint.

Photograph of the corner of a brick building. On one wall are two signs, both saying LOMAN STREET SE1'. The upper sign is older and smaller; it says 'Borough of Southwark' at the top, abbreviates 'street' to 'St' and writes 'SE1' as 'S.E.1'. The lower sign is a modern one. On the other wall is a tall, narrow arched window divided into many small panes.

Photograph of a section of brick wall. In the left half of the picture is a fancy cream tablet with leaf and flower decoration, cracked and with 'SCLATER STREET' barely legible; it is surrounded by a red brick frame. To the right, in the lower part of the image, are two smaller rectangular signs. The upper one says 'SCLATER ST. E.1.'; the lower one, smaller and a little battered, is in Bengali script.

A photograph of a brick wall with a black, metal drainpipe and large bracket on the right-hand edge. There are two signs, similar in age and style. The upper one has a cracked white background and says 'BOROUGH OF HOLBORN' in red, 'THORNHAUGH STREET' in black, and 'W.C.1' in red italics. The lower one has black text reading 'LEADING TO WOBURN SQUARE'