Tuesday 30 October 2012

Pathology and cake

The Pathology Museum at St Bartholomew's Hospital is not generally open to the public, although it does hold special events including an interesting seminar programme. A more unusual opportunity to visit was provided by Eat Your Heart Out, an 'anatomically correct cake shop'. From aorta cupcakes to dissected arms, there was plenty to feast upon - literally the sweetest health education I've ever experienced!

However, the real star of the event was the museum itself. Built in 1879, and opened by the future Edward VII, it retains a wonderfully Victorian atmosphere with its wood-and-iron interior, shelves of specimens, and spiral staircase. Five thousand specimens, from organs to skeletons, line the walls. Surgeon John Hunter was educated at the hospital and his bust now watches over the museum.

In fact, Hunter would have had access to an earlier version of the museum during his studies: anatomical preparations were kept at the hospital from the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1828, two surgeons donated their own collections and encouraged the keeping of specimens in a central museum rather than private collections. In 1844, medical illustrations were added, with photography also used later in the century. 

As medical education changed in the later twentieth century, so pathology museums fell out of favour.  Only a few additions were made to the collection after 1912. Happily, St Barts' museum is Grade II listed and has been undergoing a conservation programme, so it will continue to educate - about both anatomy and the history of medicine.  

Sunday 28 October 2012

Ghost signs (83): Kennington Cross

The lovely Ariel sign in Kennington Lane is one of London's best-known, although the company it advertises and the 'Writers' shop it belonged to are now gone. Ariel were bicycle and, later, motorcycle manufacturers and, as the sign says, 'Leaders of Design'. In fact, the company had two beginnings: first, a partnership between James Starley and William Hillman, it introduced bicycle features such as spoked wheels. It was then amalgamated into Rudge-Whitworth and the name disappeared - only to be resurrected by Dunlop. In the 1890s, they had a near-monopoly on inflatable tyres, and their entry into cycle manufacturing as well caused great concern among competitors who were using Dunlop's products on their wheels and didn't want to advertise a rival. Dunlop therefore renamed its cycle-making section Ariel. 

When Ariel was in turn taken over by Cycle Components Manufacturing, it quickly turned to making motorised vehicles. The first such tricycle came in 1898; a motorcycle followed in 1901. The company continued to manufacture motorbikes until its closure in the 1960s. 

Sebastien of Painted Signs and Mosaics makes a convincing case for the sign having been painted in the 1950s, and Ghostsigns traces the slogan back to 1951. The equine logo was designed in the 1930s, and there is a rider on the horse's back although it has now virtually faded away. 

There are other treats to be seen in this spot. Visible in the photograph is the sign's neighbour, the Durning Library, with its fine Victorian building. It is named for Jemima Durning, a philanthropist who endowed the library, and shared Tate Britain's architect Sidney R J Smith. 

Just across the road is a Victorian public toilet - now closed, but being transformed by Friends of Kennington Cross into an arts venue. Although the facilities are underground, there is a very fine cast-iron ventilation pipe at street level. Among the features of note are the proud crown at its summit and the manufacturers' mark near the base. While Glasgow foundries dominated this market, our ventilation pipe bears the name of B Finch & Co of Lambeth, sanitary engineers. 

Friday 26 October 2012

Pedestrian centenary

Happy 100th birthday to the Woolwich Foot Tunnel! There wasn't much of a party - the council are presumably too embarrassed about the botched refurbishment - but a small group of London Historians took a walk through this historic passageway to mark its centenary. (There was also a marathon starting in the tunnel earlier this morning - although in obedience to its 'no running' rule the first section was walked.)

A hundred years ago, the local riverscape was very different, edged with working docks and lined with industry. In consequence, thousands of people worked on one side of the Thames but lived on the other. However, getting across the river to work was a bit of an issue. A free ferry service (founded by Bazalgette and still running today) was very helpful but couldn't always operate - especially during London's then-frequent fogs

A weatherproof, cheap-to-use solution was needed. Luckily, there was a local champion: Will Crooks, working-class trade unionist, MP for Woolwich and former Mayor of Poplar. Thanks to his efforts, London County Council commissioned the tunnel which was designed by their chief engineer Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, who had already built Rotherhithe Tunnel and Vauxhall Bridge. It was dug by hand using the shield method; a tube of cast-iron rings was formed, then hidden by a concrete lining and tiles. There is also visible cast iron in the structure: the treads of the spiral staircases in each shaft.

On 26 October 1912, the 504-metre-long Woolwich Foot Tunnel opened. Since construction had begun on 1 May 1910, the whole process took less time than the current refurbishment which began on 19 April 2010 but is still incomplete. The rotunda entrances are shrouded by scaffolding, the lifts are closed, and there is an air of despondency about the place. It currently feels very much the aging centenarian - quite undeservedly. 

Although the last hundred years have seen dramatic changes to the local area, so that thousands of dockers and factory workers no longer walk through to work each day, the tunnel continues to provide a valued local service. Hopefully, a completed refurbishment will soon reflect that. 

The rotunda in sunnier, scaffolding-free times.

Thursday 25 October 2012


On my way to Chislehurst Caves, I happened across this lovely - if leaning - Penfold letterbox. The model is named after its designer, John Wornham Penfold - an architect who also designed Goldsmiths College's main building in New Cross. (It was originally the Naval Training School.)

This was the standard pillar box design in the 1870s, and the first to be manufactured in red. However, it was expensive to produce so was replaced by a plainer, round model. About 150 Penfolds survive, but they are so popular that the Post Office have recently supplied about 100 replicas to various locations. 

Readers of a certain age will recognise the name Penfold. Dangermouse's hamster sidekick was named after these boxes!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Sheltering in Chislehurst Caves

Think of a London bomb shelter in the Second World War, and the most common images are tube stations or Anderson shelters. However, for many people in south-east London and beyond, their shelter was a 22-mile complex of chalk caves in Chislehurst. (In fact, they are really tunnels, having been created by many centuries of human labour rather than natural forces.) 

15,000 people could shelter here, making the caves more populous than many towns. It's unsurprising, then, that the amenities extended beyond bunk beds to include canteens, cinema, a hospital and consecrated chapel. There was even a barber shop! Electric light - no longer in place - made the extensive tunnels easier to navigate and live in, while fans circulated air. While the caves offered excellent protection, there were disadvantages to being so far underground. One of these was the lack of plumbing, with chemical toilets the most advanced form of sanitation practicable. 

Pitches were paid for at the entrance; the pitch numbers are still visible on walls throughout the caves. Each had a triple-decker bunk bed, the family's 'home' for the night. For some who had been bombed out of their houses, their pitch was in fact their home. One baby was even born here, and was given the middle name 'Cavena'. 

Rules for those taking shelter were strict - understandably, if sharing space with so many others was to be tolerable. Cleanliness, quiet, and the prohibition of commercial activities formed the core of the rules. Bedtime for children was 9pm; quiet was required after 10pm; and lights-out was at 10.30. Volunteer 'cave captains' supervised sections, and breaking the rules could lead to loss of the pitch. 

Its time as a shelter was just one episode in the eventful history of this network of tunnels. It has also been an ammunition store, mushroom farm and concert venue, as well as a source of chalk. Today, the caves are primarily a tourist attraction, offering the atmospheric experience of a walk through tunnels lit only by paraffin lamps.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Ghost Signs (82): Romford Road

I photographed this Forest Gate sign in May, having spotted it from the bus. Like its counterpart in West Norwood, this is an example of preservation by hoarding: the older image on Google Streetview shows most of the surviving paintwork covered by an advertising poster. 

Here is the familiar blue-and-yellow BryMay logo; the only clearly legible wording to survive is 'BryMay Safety Matches'. However, there are traces of wording to the bottom left which, can just about be deciphered as 'save the panels'. This exhortation also appears on the BryMay sign in Alpha Road, Deptford

Friday 19 October 2012

Deptford's anchor under threat

Tucked away in a consultation on improvements to Deptford High Street is a suggestion that the anchor might be returned to Chatham Historic Dockyard, who originally provided it. The Deptford Dame has more information about the proposals. 

However, the Deptford anchor is not just a local landmark - it is also an important symbol of the town's past, in all its complexity. Here is a post originally published in 2008, considering just what the anchor symbolises. If you are local/visit Deptford, and think we shouldn't lose that connection with the maritime past, good and bad, do fill in the consultation questionnaire

Deptford's anchor: a potent symbol of the past

The anchor at the end of Deptford High Street very obviously commemorates the town's seafaring past. However, it is more than simply a symbol of ships and dockyards: it is also a reminder of the tragic side of London's maritime history.

Deptford had multiple connections with the slave trade. Just a few examples: Catherine of Aragon arrived here with two slaves when she came to marry Henry VIII's elder brother Arthur; Sir Francis Drake, knighted in the town, played an important part in establishing the transatlantic slave trade with his uncle and Deptford resident Sir John Hawkins; ships built and refitted in Deptford went on to carry slaves across the notorious middle passage from Africa to the Caribbean and America. The traces remain visible: Paul Hendrich has drawn out the symbolism of slavery visible on that monument to civic pride, Deptford Town Hall.

However, the anchor is more than a tangential reminder of Deptford's links to the slave industry. It can also be read as a more direct symbol of the strong connections between Britain's maritime and slave-trading histories, through the figures of Sir Ambrose Crowley and his son and heir John. A leading steelmaster in the early eighteenth century, Sir Ambrose's huge factories foreshadowed the manufacturing advances of the Industrial Revolution. He made his fortune as a naval contractor during the Anglo-Dutch war with France; when that ended, he and his son turned to the transatlantic trade. They had a virtual monopoly on anchor manufacture; other major products included agricultural implements for American and Caribbean plantations worked by slaves, and chains and manacles for slave ships.
Crowley's factories were in north-east England but he preferred to live in Blackheath to be near London's shipping. In order to manage his factories from this distance, he laid down detailed 'Rules of the Crowly Iron', ironically known for their fairness to his workers and provision of welfare facilities. Outworkers were employed making nails in the Midlands; he also built a large warehouse at Highbridge, until then marshland beside the Thames at Greenwich.

Crowley was, therefore, a pioneering figure in England's manufacturing history; a man closely involved with the shipping industries in Deptford and Greenwich; and a key supplier of horrific equipment to the slave trade. This intimate connection between England's industrial, maritime and slave-trading histories is neatly encapsulated by the placement of an anchor in Deptford High Street.

Related post: Sir Francis Drake

Thursday 18 October 2012

Ghost signs (81): Au Pont St Jacques

A former cafe in Lamballe still flaunts the flamboyant typography of its sign. Or rather, signs, since there are at least two layers visible. The cafe name, Chez Basset, appeared on both although it has become less prominent in the repainting. The choice of smaller text was perhaps in part to accommodate the fuller name 'R Basset'. 

Above the name curves a double 'Au Pont St Jacques' (at St Jacques' Bridge). Below are two lines of text. The earlier says simply 'Cafe. Cidre' in bold text; over it was painted '?END A BOIRE ET A ?ER' - probably 'vend a boire et a manger' (we sell food and drink). 

Since its days as a cafe, the building has housed an art gallery and then an employment service. Signs for the latter have gone, but its current use was not apparent when I took these photographs.  

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Ada Lovelace Day: Mary Somerville

It's Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating women in science and technology. To mark it, I'm sharing my post from 2010 again; it features mathematician and scientist Mary Somerville. 

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating women in technology. (Last year's post on Hertha Marks Ayrton is here.) Ada Lovelace, effectively the world's first computer programmer, worked with Charles Babbage. She had been introduced to him by another important woman mathematician, Mary Fairfax Somerville.

Somerville, born in 1780, was the daughter of Admiral Sir William George Fairfax and Margaret Charters. Her education was haphazard and her mathematics largely self-taught. As an adult, she pursued her studies through her brief first marriage, widowhood and a second marriage to her cousin, naval surgeon Dr William Somerville. She combined her scientific career with being mother to six children and a stepson!

Best known as a mathematician, she invented commonly used variables for algebra. However, her scientific interests extended more broadly. In 1826 she presented a paper on solar magnetism to the Royal Society. (As a woman, she could not become a member so she was honoured instead by a bust in the Society's rooms.) The following year she published her first book, a translation of Laplace's Mécanique Celeste: she not only translated from French to English, but also popularised the work. In her own words, 'I translated Laplace's work from algebra into common language'. She went on to publish original works: On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, Physical Geography and Molecular and Microscopic Science.

Somerville was respected by her fellow scientists, receiving honours including the Royal Geographical Society's Victoria Medal. She and Caroline Herschel were the first women members of the Royal Astronomical Society; she also received a Civil List pension of £200 per year. Her last book was published when she was 89; she continued to read algebra and solve problems until her death, aged 92.

Perhaps her most lasting memorial is Somerville College in Oxford, named for her. Or perhaps it's the word 'scientist' itself, coined by William Whewell in a review of her On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences.

Image: Mary Somerville, from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Deptford - Australia

October is Black History Month, and among Lewisham Libraries' programme of events was a walking tour of Deptford with historian and novelist S I Martin. He took us through the area's Black history from the the sixteenth century to the present; among the figures he introduced were two extraordinary men who - involuntarily - left Deptford for Australia where they became notable among its early convict settlers. 

John Caesar escaped slavery in the Caribbean, only to be convicted of stealing £12 in Deptford and transported to New South Wales in 1789. There, although known as a hard worker, he continued to commit thefts motivated by hunger. He escaped to the bush with a musket and cooking-pot, but couldn't find enough game to feed himself. Instead, he resorted to stealing food  - and was caught in a matter of weeks. Sent to Garden Island to work in fetters, he was soon allowed to work unchained thanks to his good behaviour - and escaped once more, returning to the mainland in a stolen canoe. This pattern of theft, capture and escape was repeated several times, until in 1795 he formed a gang of runaways. A reward was now offered for his capture, and an attempt at capturing him ended in his being shot and killed in 1796. 

Despite this difficult life with its unfortunate end, Caesar became famous as Australia's first bushranger. These runaway outlaws have taken on an ambivalent status in Australian history, with many viewing them as romantic rebels; while others such as Ned Kelly are better-known, Caesar was the first of them. 

In contrast, Billy Blue would achieve success in Australia. He had worked in Deptford as a sugar lumper (labourer) - but his employers were unwittingly providing one of the key ingredients for his other work as a chocolatier. When he was caught and convicted, his sentence was transportation. 

In Sydney, Blue became a ferryman who took passengers across Sydney Harbour. He was very popular, and became a water bailiff responsible for watching for smugglers. Unfortunately, within a year he was accused of smuggling liquor himself; his explanation that he had found it floating in the harbour and was just bringing it ashore wasn't believed. He lost him his official position as a result; there would later be other brushes with the law; but he continued to enjoy support from the authorities. He also had financial security, since in 1817 Governor Macquarie had granted him 80 acres of land in perpetuity. Today, that land in North Sydney is still known as Blues Point. 

There are more Black History Month events running throughout October, including an evening with S I Martin and performance poet El Crisis on Thursday - click here for the full programme

Image: portrait of Billy Blue by T B East, 1834, from Wikipedia

Friday 12 October 2012


The exact extent of London is controversial, but its outer boroughs certainly include territory not really on the mental landscape of most Londoners. Thus Crayford feels like it's outside the city, and has a long history as a Kentish town, but is now part of the London Borough of Bexley.

The first feature to catch my eye on leaving the (zone 6) station was this fine clock tower. Its unassuming brickwork and 'ER' in metal letters at first suggested it might be fairly modern, perhaps marking the current Queen's coronation. However, a closer look demonstrated otherwise: first, the date 1902 on a terracotta plaque showed that the monarch commemorated was Edward VII. Second, an inscription confirmed that the clock was paid for by subscription to mark his coronation. It also explained the building's purpose: it was a Sewage Lift Station built by Dartford Rural District Council. Two pumps are housed at its rear; the venting at the top of the tower also reflects its use. How Edward VII felt about this rather prosaic tribute to his reign doesn't seem to have been recorded. 

Although the clock is now at the entrance to a retail park, it originally stood in much more industrial surroundings. The town first specialised in fabric printing and was later dominated by Vickers, armaments manufacturers who made the famous Maxim gun designed by Bexley resident Hiram Maxim. The First World War brought a rapid expansion both in Vickers' business and in the town. Even the town hall is the firm's former works canteen; it is now closed and due to be redeveloped a second time, into commercial premises.  

Sir Cloudesley Shovell is among the most notable former inhabitants of Crayford. He restored the town's church of St Paulinus, was MP for Rochester, and also served as Commissioner of the Sewers with responsibility for the Thames embankments between Deptford and Gravesend. However, he is best-known as a naval hero, who fought everyone from Barbary pirates to the French and Spanish in the latter half of the seventeenth century. In 1706 he rose to Commander-in-Chief but, returning from Toulon in 1707, disaster struck: his ship and several others were wrecked on rocks off the Isles of Scilly. Sir Cloudesley was one of almost 2,000 sailors to die that night: a tragic event which gave impetus to the search for an accurate way of calculating longitude.

Earlier in his career, Sir Cloudesley had served under Sir John Naresborough. After the latter's death, Sir Cloudesley married his widow. His two stepsons, aged 22 and 23, died alongside him in the Isles of Scilly. Although he has a memorial sculpted by Grinling Gibbons in Westminster Abbey, this fine memorial to his wife is in St Paulinus.

The church has another distinction. While from the side it looks fairly typical, it is in fact twin-naved. St Paulinus was a popular stopping-point for those seeking protection as they crossed the robber-infested area around Shooter's Hill - or wanting to give thanks for having made it through safely. Thanks to these travellers' offerings, the church was able to add its second nave in the fourteenth century. 

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Ghost signs (80): drink in Dinard

My last visit to the stylish seaside resort of Dinard, Brittany focused on a relatively modern sign. By contrast, this one is a classic in every sense: not only its greater age, but its brand - St Raphael feature on many Breton ghost signs - and its design. 

Although the sign has faded to its outlines, we can still clearly read the words 'St Raphael quinquina'. (This product is one of several French quinine-based aperitifs) The window is framed by a dark oval in which a waiter can just be seen holding a tray. As the logo featured two waiters, one a white silhouette and the other red, we can assume that a companion has faded to invisibility - although there are perhaps suggestive hints to our survivor's right. He would usually be to the left, but the window may have forced a redesign - or perhaps the traces I see are just wishful thinking. There has been ample time for fading: the rounded lines and restrained central logo tells us that this predates the 1950s, when the brand underwent a dramatic change in style

I've talked before about how my family have gradually been converted, more or less willingly, to ghost-sign spotting. This example was found by my dad and photographed by my brother-in-law - a successful family effort! 

Monday 8 October 2012

Sandys Row Synagogue

In the nineteenth century, Spitalfields had a thriving Jewish community with a number of institutions. Most of these have now closed down, and many have disappeared, but Sandys Row Synagogue is very much alive.

Sandys Row Synagogue interior

This year, it welcomed Open House visitors for the first time; it also has an exhibition of photographs of Spitalfields taken one day in 1912, which runs until February next year. The exhibition is lovely - there's an online preview here - and the building is a real jewel.

Sandys Row is the oldest surviving Ashkenazi synagogue in London. The site had been bought by Huguenots in 1763 and dedicated as a church in 1766. It was later converted to a Baptist chapel, but in 1867 the leasehold was acquired by the Society for Loving-Kindness and Truth. This mutual aid society had been formed a decade earlier by fifty Dutch-Jewish families, many of whom worked in the local tobacco trade. They had now outgrown their rented premises, and N S Joseph remodelled the building on Sandys Row.  The entrance was moved from the east to the west of the building, but much of the Georgian interior was retained (helpfully, there was already a balcony) and a new office building was added. 

The architect, Nathan Solomon Joseph, was a local man, having been born a short walk away in Minories. However, his life was very different to that of the working-class Sandys Row congregation. He was a civil engineering graduate, brother-in-law of the Chief Rabbi, and became the leading synagogue architect of his generation. Nonetheless, he was also very interested in social issues, education and public health, and worked on projects such as the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company. While he excelled at 'cathedral synagogues', he also supported small East End congregations: hence his work on Sandys Row. 

Joseph clearly disagreed with his brother-in-law on this issue. The Chief Rabbi had opposed this new synagogue, serving a poor, migrant community, and had refused to be associated with it. (Many larger synagogues felt that these congregations should accept free seats in existing establishments rather than founding their own.) However, the society were undaunted and Sandys Row was consecrated by a leading Sephardi rabbi instead. By the late nineteenth century, it was one of the largest congregations in the East End. 

Later in the twentieth century, the congregation declined, but it has enjoyed a recent revival. Renovations have been completed - in particular, the roof was in a perilous condition thanks to wartime bomb damage but has now been replaced - and various significant pieces of the synagogue's history have been discovered and restored. Both the inception plaque listing 50 women's names and an embroidered velvet bimah cloth celebrating Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee bear witness to the significant role of women in the nineteenth-century congregation. 

Practical info: the exhibition is open until February 2013, most Sundays, 10-4pm. (Check the online calendar for dates and times.)

Sunday 7 October 2012

Ghost signs (79): West Norwood revisited

When I photographed West Norwood's ghost signs a couple of years ago, one was nearly obscured by a hoarding. Happily, it is now fully visible (as I found out thanks to a comment from jayceeiams) so I revisited it a few days ago. 

Like the Bryant & May sign in New Cross, this one promises 'British matches for British homes'. Although the Brymay name is prominent, 'Bryant & May Ltd' is written in full underneath. We can see that the company's standard blue and yellow colour scheme was used, although the area not protected by a later hoarding was over-painted in red. 

Also visible at the top of the sign is evidence of a previous advertisement. However, very little of it is distinguishable so I haven't been able to work out what was being advertised. The sign hasn't given up all its mysteries yet!

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Tide, time and talents

There was a double dose of Victorian history at one Open House property in Rotherhithe. The Old Mortuary, now the home of Time and Talents, is unassuming but has a great deal of interest. 

First, the mortuary was built in 1895 to deal with bodies found in the Thames. Many washed up in Rotherhithe, and fees were paid to the finder - with more money if an inquest was held, and perhaps a reward from the family of the deceased. One factor for the finder to consider was just how much the retrieval was worth; Rotherhithe paid more than some neighbouring areas such as Deptford. There was therefore a steady supply of bodies arriving here from the river. 

However, they needed to be dealt with efficiently and hygienically; an area in which Old and New London suggested the city was lacking. Published in 1878, it quoted 'a correspondent in a weekly journal' at length:
It would be reasonable to suppose that with an average of some 150 to 200 of these bodies requiring attention every year there would, at proper intervals along the river-banks, and at no great distance from the river, be found not only mortuaries of the most complete and perfect construction, but every facility for conveying the bodies to them. Such, however, is by no means the case. ... The idea of a corpse—it may be in an advanced stage of decomposition—being dragged from the river, laid in a filthy shell, and carried upon men's shoulders for a distance of two miles, and that, perhaps, in the height of summer, is something most revolting, and altogether discreditable to those who are responsible for it. In other cases the distance is not so great, but the accommodation for properly dealing with the dead is altogether wanting. ... The discussion that has lately been going on as to the best method of finally disposing of the dead, is no doubt a very important one; but it is evident that in London at least we have not as yet given anything like sufficient attention to the disposal of the dead during the interval between death and the final solemnity, whatever it may be. 

Twenty years after this account was published, Rotherhithe got this new mortuary (Tower Bridge would house another). Its creation was entirely practical: the building was designed by the vestry surveyor and built by the cheapest builder to quote for the job. The budget, including for post-mortem scales, was £999; it was exceeded by only 11 shillings and threepence. 

The rooms included infectious and non-infectious mortuaries, post mortem room and a microscopic room. In fact, the infectious mortuary doesn't seem to have been used for that purpose and became a chapel of rest. Other facilities included a viewing lobby for those who came seeking to identify corpses. There were drainage channels in the floors, hooks in the ceiling, and a slate table in the post mortem room. There were also fireplaces, perhaps not the ideal amenity in the circumstances. The mortuary operated until 1965.  

Second, the Time and Talents Association has an equally venerable association with the area. It was founded in 1887 by women who wanted to address both the waste of protected young ladies' time and talents and the conditions of young working women in this area. Their programme of education and social work has evolved over the following century or so, and today they run the premises as a community centre. It runs many activities, with a particular focus on young children and the over-fifties, and moved to the former mortuary in 1980. Among the activities taking place there are the meetings of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey Local History Group.

Monday 1 October 2012

Sands Films, Rotherhithe

Perhaps my most extraordinary visit during Open House was to Sands Films in Rotherhithe. The building is very interesting: an eighteenth-century warehouse built using ships' timbers. However, the contents are unique. Sands Films are a production company, costumier and film studio; they also open their Rotherhithe Picture Research Library to the public. 

While similar buildings have been converted to luxury flats, Sands Films have purchased their premises thanks to an Enterprise Investment Scheme share offer (shares are still available). That means this quirky, fascinating business, with its cinema club and picture library, is more firmly settled than ever.