Wednesday, 20 January 2021

London history on demand

Lockdown has been, to put it kindly, a mixed blessing. However, one of the bright spots is that talks previously only available to those who could listen in person are now available to all. The Greenwich Industrial History Society is one of the organisations to have made the move online, launching a YouTube channel for their fantastic lectures. So far, these include a fascinating exploration of global telecoms in Greenwich, Charlton and Woolwich by Alan Burkitt-Gray; a lecture from notable local historian Mary Mills; Greenwich's contribution to the first telegraph line linking Britain to India; and underground Greenwich. 

Another highly worthwhile YouTube channel is London Historians. This fantastic society has been sharing its annual lectures for some years, but now has monthly lectures and shorter presentations too. Definitely worth exploring!

Do you have any other channels you would recommend? 



Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Olympia Warehouse sunset

Discussion about the development of Olympia Warehouse, part of Convoys Wharf in Deptford, has been going on for well over a decade. Visions of the building being reused as a cultural space, a celebration of the former Royal Dockyard's history, and so on have not come to fruition: on a recent walk, it still stood in lonely splendour. 

Photograph taken in late afternoon light. A single-lane private road leads to a warehouse, whose two gables are distinctively curved. Its first and second floors are of rusty corrugated iron, pierced with rows of windows. The ground floor storey is painted cream with large garage-type doors. In front of it and to the side of the road is bare soil interspersed with scrubby vegetation. Behind the warehouse, a high-rise block of flats is visible.
 

The long and sorry history of the development of Convoys Wharf has been well covered by the Deptford Dame. The Warehouse itself has survived thanks to being a Grade II listed building - not just for its distinctive curved roofline, but because it is an important piece of industrial heritage. 


Built in 1846 by George Baker & Son, it is of distinctive iron-framed construction: the original wrought- and cast-ironwork is still visible inside. Originally, the two spans covered slipways, allowing ships to be constructed within. They led into the dockyard basin (now filled in) rather than directly into the river. While the building now has a concrete floor and its more recent use was simply as a warehouse, the slipways are intact a little below current ground level. Only one other such shipbuilding shed survives, at Chatham.
 
Thw warehouse has survived long beyond its original working life. It was originally part of the royal naval dockyard, first established by Henry VIII on a site used for trading since before Roman times - and closed in 1869, less than a quarter of a century after the warehouse was completed. Convoys Wharf was therefore the site of a huge amount of maritime history; much was lost last century, with more to be sacrificed to the current (forthcoming?) development.  

The following photographs are from a visit (part of one of those many consultations) back in 2011.

Detail of the front gable wall. The photograph shows a section of corrugated iron, pierced with windows. Each window is subdivided by metal frames into numerous small, rectangular pains. Towards the bottom of the image, a sign shows the letters O, Y and PIA.

Exterior photograph of the warehouse. The view of the buildling is similar to that in the photograph above, but there is no road leading up to the building: instead, the foreground shows bare earth.

Photograph of the interior with steel pillars and struts and a corrugated iron roof. The interior is otherwise empty; the front gable wall and windows are visible in the distance.

Interior photograph showing the roof including steel beams and struts and a corrugated iron roof.



 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Ghost signs (142): Fortescue Bros of Reading

A ghost sign painted on red brick: a white background, with black text reading 'FORTESCUE BROS LTD CYCLE MAKERS. A manicule points left, with the text 'TO WORKSHOPS'

This ghost sign is tucked inside a covered alleyway off West Street, Reading - but it was worth stepping around the bins for. 

A photograph of the ghost sign and surrounding alleyway: the red brick wall, covered with graffiti tags, joins onto a flat concrete roof. To the left of the picture, a daylit yard is visible; to the right, a colourful shop front. In the foreground is the top of a large red commercial bin, bleached pink by the sun.
 

It (literally) points passers-by to the workshops of Fortescue Bros Ltd, cycle makers. In business by 1898, they continued through at least the first half of the twentieth century but are now long gone. The workshop may be defunct, but a jaunty manicule gestures on, jacket sleeve flashing a strip of cuff and cufflink, nails forever neatly trimmed. 

A detail of the ghost sign: a photograph of the manicule.
There is even a local London connection for me! Another branch of the Fortescue family were part of Saunders and Fortescue, who made and sold cycles in Lewisham, Peckham and Croydon.




Monday, 4 January 2021

Straight to the point

 Today, just a little teaser for a forthcoming ghost sign post - because who could resist this lively manicule? Those fingernails! The thumb wrinkles! The cuff and cufflink!

A small section of a red brick wall, painted grey-white wiht a painted outline of a pointing hand, incuding fingernail and cuff details.




Sunday, 3 January 2021

A stroll through Sables-d'Or-les-Pins

 

A bright blue sky with scattered white clouds, over a golden beach in the centre of the image and dunes covered with grasses in the foreground.

Let's go back to late summer, and stroll down the broad boulevard and elegant side streets of Sables-d'Or-les-Pins. This seaside resort in Brittany, France, was created in the 1920s by Roland Brouard. This estate agent from Saint Malo wanted to build a resort to compete with La Baule and Deauville. Behind the sand dunes, he built a fashionable and stylish town which hosted fashionable events including horse and sports car races, and jazz concerts. 

Photograph of a long building with a stone ground floor and two half-timbered gables, painted cream with rust-red woodwork. A sign says 'Garage'.

Its amenities included a casino and a high-class restaurant, as well as a garage for those sports cars - but also a chapel. The original building was a temporary wooden structure, described by the local newspaper in 1928 as more shed than place of worship - albeit appealing and well-attended. However, plans for its replacement came to an abrupt end when the Wall Street Crash and subsequent depression, followed closely by Brouard's death, brought the town's heyday to an end. Only in 1956 was the current chapel inaugurated - by which time Sables-d'Or had begun its new life as a family resort.  


Photograph of a small white chapel with steeply pitched grey roof and spire; its blue front door is sheltered by a porch which also has a steeply-pitched roof. In the foreground is the trunk of a tree.

The resort has a distinctive architectural style: stone and half-timbered buildings, some with sea-themed decoration, are well-spaced along wide streets. It remains a popular and attractive seaside town, even if the heady days of its glamorous prime have never quite been recaptured. 

Photograph of a large building on the corner of a road; its first two floors are stone, with doors and shuttered windows. The upper floors are half-timbered, with timbers painted in bright colours, and a hipped mansard roof with several steeply-pitched gables.

This blog previously visited Sables-d'Or to take a look at some slightly scary ice cream cones!

Photo showing part of a large fibre-glass ice cream cone with swirls of soft-serve ice cream and a disturbing face with the tongue poking out.
 

A photograph of a golden beach and turquoise blue sea, below a blue sky; in the foreground are plants and grasses on a sand dune.


 



Saturday, 2 January 2021

313 Oxford Street

Making a rare visit to a near-empty Oxford Street, I had the opportunity to get a phtograph of this fantastic late-Victorian building unobscured by passers-by.

Photograph of a tall, narrow four-story red brick building with white stucco details. These include two second-floor niches, each holding a statue of a figure with one arm raised and outstretched.

 313 Oxford Street was built in the 1870s, and its stucco flourishes show some of the exuberance of the period. (The shopfront below is, of course, a much later alteration.) It is Grade II listed, and the listing text apprpriately describes it as 'eclectic'! 

Perhaps most striking are the statutes at second-floor level, and there is an intriguing suggestion in the listing text that they might originally have supported lanterns. A closer look confirms that both figures have an arm outstretched, perfectly poised for holding a light. In fact, their forearms are so elongated it's hard to think of another explanation!

Photograph showing the two figures in niches. Their outstretched arms can be more clearly seen: the forearms look disproportionately long.


Thursday, 31 December 2020

Top posts of a strange year

2020 was certainly different, and this blog had its own uncharacteristic period of silence. The end-of-year round-up is therefore slightly smaller than previous years, with a top three rather than the usual top five. So let's look back on some brighter moments!

The top three posts published in 2020 are: 

Section of a mosaic frieze saying 'Aux Belles Poules', with rose wreaths at either end of the words, and blue borders; and its reflection in a mirrored ceiling.

 In third place, a look at a less-known piece of Parisian history: the former licensed brothel, Aux Belles Poules. Uniquely, its decoration has survived and been restored. 

Interior of a dovecote: the walls are white, with a checkerboard pattern of square niches for the pigeone; a central wooden post extens to the roof, with a ladder which is curved to match the curve of the dovecote.

 Second place goes to another Parisian post: a  look inside a mediaeval dovecote, now incongruously sat in a suburban housing estate. 

A dirty, dusty sign says 'Trains to Stevenage' with a British Rail logo, and below that, 'Moorgate'. It rests on some dirty and abandoned-looking steps.

 

The most popular 2020 post is, though, a very London story: a look at the secrets of Moorgate Underground Station, right in the heart of the City.

And the all-time top three are: 

Photograph of a clock extending from a building facade on a scrolled bracket. The clock has a rectangular face with the word 'Shippams' above the dial, 'Meat & fish pastes' below. A large metal wishbone hangs beneath it.

 A fantastic clock from an iconic Chichester brand, Shippam's sandwich paste, takes third place. The post also has some great comments, with memories and family connections.  

A photograph, taken in low artificial light, of rows of femurs end-on to the camera to form a wall, with one row of skulls about half-way up and another towards the bottom of the image.

In second place, a look inside the catacombs of Paris

Photograph of a tunnel entrance. In the foreground is a metal arch between stone posts, with a height restriction sign on the top and a black-and-yellow horizontal bar. There are warning lights to either side, and a raised barrier. Round traffic signs indicate no overtaking for 1.25 miles. Beyond the arch are two cars driving along a narrow two-lane road towards the arched mouth of a tunnel whose interior appears dark. The approach is lined with trees and a brick building.

 The most popular post continues to be my walk through Rotherhithe Tunnel - a walk which is, frankly, best experienced virtually!

Of my pages, Unusual London visits remains the most popular (even if the visits are currently strictly virtual).

Photograph of a triangular stone pediment, inside which are the words 'Facts not opionions' in embellished Victorian lettering.