From tigers to Hackney

Saturday, March 2nd 2013

We started our day by going down to St Pancras station to look for breakfast before moving on to somewhere else. One of the first things that grabbed our attention was this magnificent tiger.

The Recycled Tiger
The Recycled Tiger
Designed and built by Faith Bebbington

Made out of the material of 300 plastic milk bottles, this fiercely beautiful cat was on show to advertise a three-week event at St Pancras station, Tiger Tracks (March 1st to 21st), organized by the Born Free Foundation. There will be all sorts of events intended to entertain as well as to inform and to bring to the notice of the public the precarious state of tigers in the wild. With only some 3,500 tigers left in the wild, we are in real and imminent danger of losing this magnificent and iconic species.

Sadly...
Sadly…
…this is a real possibility

Surprisingly few people are aware of how close we have come to witnessing the demise of the wild tiger in our own lifetime. Organizations like Born Free are working hard to stop this slide into extinction, but they need the concerned awareness – and, of course, the financial support – of the public in order to work effectively. Hence the Tiger Tracks event which both entertains and educates as well as raising money for essential work to protect habitats, prevent poaching and, not least, find ways in which tigers and indigenous human communities can live together without undue friction.

St Pancras station
St Pancras station
The upper level

We enjoyed a pleasant conversation with one of the young ladies hosting the Tiger Tracks event and then went off in search of breakfast. Out of habit more than anything, we went to the upper level as we used to but as the Camden Food Co cafe is now but a shadow of its former self, we did not tarry.

Pret A Manger
Pret A Manger
At King’s Cross station

We went next door to King’s Cross station and had our breakfast at Pret A Manger. The setting is functional rather than elegant but the food is reliable and not overpriced.

Blessed African Food Centre
Blessed African Food Centre
Morning Lane, Hackney

After breakfast we took a bus to Hackney. Hackney is, I think, quite an interesting place, well worth visiting from time to time. Like any London Borough, it has posh bits, less posh bits, shops, amenities and vestiges of an interesting history. It is, after all, a place where people live and work and lead their lives. It is a lively borough with a lot to interest the visitor.

The Hackney Empire
The Hackney Empire
Many famous performers have appeared here

Among other attributes, Hackney is the proud possessor of the Hackney Empire, built as a music hall in 1901 and the venue, since then, of many kinds of entertainment, including TV broadcasts. Its architect was the well known designer of theatres and music halls, Frank Matcham, and it is today a listed (Grade II) building. See here for more about its history.

Doorway
Doorway
The Old Ship, Mare Street entrance

Also in Mare Street and nearby is a doorway. The wall tiling and the floor mosaic indicates that it is a pub called The Old Ship (though the word  “Old” is missing from the floor mosaic for some reason). Apart from that, there is no sign of the usual pub façade. Tigger proposed going in for refreshments but I was dubious about this slightly unpromising-looking place until she reminded me we had been here before.

Passageway
Passageway
Leading to the Old Ship

The door admits you to a long, bare passageway. My guess is that this was once an open-air alley. If this seems a strange way to arrange the main entrance to a pub, the answer is that this turns out not to be the main entrance. The pub is “the wrong way round”, as we shall see.

Inside The Old Ship
Inside The Old Ship
Modern decor – all character removed

The interior is quite pleasant though the character of the original pub (which has been here since 1877) has been carefully expunged. The modern style might be described as “minimalist with luxury fittings”. The reason for this will become clear when I tell you that many of the tables were already prepared for diners and that as well as being a pub restaurant, The Old Ship is a “boutique hotel”. (Not having viewed the hotel accommodations I cannot say whether the appellation is justified.)

Framed like an old master - the TV
Framed like an old master – the TV
Quirky but amusing

Unlike the normal pub, the staff greet you as you enter to enquire whether you wish to have a meal or just a drink, and then lead you to the appropriate area. They were polite enough but there was a lack of affability. There was even a suggestion that our business might not have been to their entire satisfaction, as we shall see…

Proper tea
Proper tea
Tea pot and tea strainer

I ordered black tea and was pleased when it turned out to be properly brewed in a tea pot from loose leaf tea and was accompanied by a tea strainer, just as tea should be made. But do you notice something else on the table to the right of the tea pot? Yes, a reserved notice. Hardly had we sat down when one of the members of staff came and put this on the table, a none too subtle hint that we should not stay too long.

“They don’t like the cut of our jib,” remarked Tigger, and that was certainly one possible interpretation. Then again, it might have been because they were awaiting the lunchtime rush and didn’t want us taking up space that could be occupied by customers shelling out for a whole meal. Either way, it was rather rude and unwelcoming.

Old Shio main entrance Sylvester Path
Old Ship main entrance
Sylvester Path

To leave the pub, we turned our backs to the way we had come in and went out by what might intuitively have seemed to be the back entrance. In this case, however, it was the front entrance, and this is in a narrow street called Sylvester Path. That perhaps explains the long passageway: the pub is actually in Sylvester Path, a back street, but the original owners wanted it to have a presence on the main road in Mare Street.

Georgian terrace Entrance steps
Georgian terrace
with entrance steps

We went for a ramble around the back streets where there is always something interesting to see. When I saw the high front doors of these Georgian houses I asked Tigger how she would feel about hauling our shopping trolley up those steps, but answer came there none!

Central heating vent
Central heating vent
Florfield Passage

We also had a visit in mind so turned back towards the Town Hall. We found it dressed all over in plastic sheeting, pending refurbishment, and not fit to be seen. So…

Palm tree
Palm tree
Town Hall garden

…I took a photo instead of this fine looking palm tree, one of a pair in the Town Hall garden. Despite the winter weather they look to be flourishing, along with the flowers around their bases. This is just one indication of how Hackney takes pride in itself and in its appearance.

Hackney Museum
Hackney Museum
General view

Where we were going was the Hackney Museum. We have been here therefore but it is a museum that is worth revisiting, firstly because you cannot absorb everything on a single visit and secondly because the museum also mounts exhibitions that change regularly. It is a well organized and well kept museum with what I think is the right balance between features of interest to children and plenty of exhibits and information to entertain and educate adults. They have avoided the “dumbing down” that too often afflicts “child friendly” museums. The staff member on duty was very helpful and ready to talk about all sorts of matters regarding Hackney and its history.

Hand pump fire engine
Hand pump fire engine
Used for fighting fires from 1838

There are plenty of real objects such as this 19th century fire engine and the remains of an Anglo-Saxon boat (difficult to photograph because it is protected by a transparent panel the reflects the lights. Incidentally, photography is allowed in the museum as long as its not for “publication”. When I asked for a definition of “publication”, I was told that posting pictures on the blog would be acceptable. This enlightened attitude is one for other museums and galleries to emulate.

Advertising lamp
Advertising lamp
From the pie and eel shop

There is, quite rightly, an emphasis on local history, not just “big name history”, but the history of local events and the lives of ordinary people, which I have represented by my picture of the pie and eel shop lamp. There is also on display the front of the shop and, similarly, machines and tools rescued from an old print shop.

Tribute to Daniel Defoe
Tribute to Daniel Defoe
Who was pilloried for his criticism of religious intolerance

There is also a nice tribute to Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe and sometime inhabitant of nearby Stoke Newington, who was put in the pillory in 1703 for criticising religious intolerance. His bust is accompanied by his gravestone, originally placed in the Bunhill Dissenters burial ground. It shows his name as he would have written it – Daniel De Foe.

Antique photographic equipment Antique photographic equipment
Antique photographic equipment
Photographic portraiture was popular in the Victorian era

As well as intriguing and often moving stories of ordinary people and their lives, the museum hosts a collection of more general exhibits such as this photographic equipment which, though we now regard it as “antique”, was cutting edge technology in its day. How these early photographers would have loved to get their hands on the marvellous cameras and accessories that we take for granted today. Even so, what they produced with their own tools is remarkable for its quality and artistic flair. Many of the photos they considered simply as everyday products have come down to us as precious historic documents. There is something very touching about the portraits of couples and families. 

"Cartes de Visite"
“Cartes de Visite”
A favourite form of portraiture among the Victorians

In addition to the permanent displays, Hackney Museum also holds exhibitions which, I believe, change every four months. The current one of called Creative Journeys and is described as “An exhibition of visual and audio art of the creative journeys taken by those who have suffered severe and enduring mental health issues”. The art works on display covered many genres and were for the most part individualistic and complex. The photo below shows just one of the many works on show.

1001 Ways Of Letting It Go
1001 Ways Of Letting It Go
By Karen Eliot

This work by Karen Eliot, called 1001 Ways Of Letting It Go, consists of a flock of paper birds, whose shadows are cast on the stark white screen by the spotlights. Unlike the other works which are finished and static, this one grows. On a writing desk nearby are a typewriter, paper and instructions for folding the paper to make paper birds. People can write or type their fears, concerns, etc. on a sheet of paper and then fold this to make a bird. The bird symbolizes letting go of one’s concerns. These birds will eventually be ceremoniously thrown into the local river and will float away. The paper is biodegradable so as not to harm the environment.

Broadway Market
Broadway Market
The market and the surrounding shops, pubs and cafes were packed with people

We caught a bus in the general direction of London Fields and took a few photos here and there but the time came when I needed the loo again, so we looked for a place where there would be pubs or cafes. We thus chanced upon Broadway Market. Markets are held in many towns and their popularity varies. I can say that this one seems extremely popular. It was so crowded that we found it hard to move along the street.

Broadway Cafe
Broadway Cafe
Drinks, then lunch

We found a cafe with a toilet for customers (most cafes do have them these days, I am glad to say, which was not always the case in the past) and ordered drinks. Then we decided we might as well stay for lunch. The pace was quite busy but the service was efficient and friendly.

House in Croston Street
House in Croston Street
Now a house, presumably once a pub

We set off again towards London Fields and in Croston Street spotted this unusual house. Its beautiful green tiled ground floor suggests that it was built (or converted into) a pub in the Victorian or Edwardian eras. The panels painted cream may well once have borne the name of the pub and the name of the ale that it sold. (It would have been nice if at least the pub name could have been preserved as is often done these days.)

Artist at work
Artist at work
Capturing a scene in the park

As we approached London Fields, almost the first thing we saw was an artist at work. I didn’t want to distract or annoy him so I contented myself with a discreet photo from the back! When we passed this way again a little later, he had disappeared.

London Fields
London Fields
Too big to capture easily

London Fields is today a large park and public space, too big to capture with a single photo. Perhaps the artist has a better chance of expressing its essence than the photographer who can only render it piecemeal. It is a varied space with trees and metalled paths but also with lots of grass and it is the grass that symbolizes its history.

The Flower Sellers
The Flower Sellers
A sculpture that alludes to the history of London Fields

A feature of the park is a cement and pebble sculpture by Free Form Arts (1988) representing a pair of flower sellers and some sheep. This alludes to the fact that London Fields was originally common land where local people could graze their cattle and also part of the drover route to Smithfield. Market traders would also come here to sell their wares. All these activities ceased long ago and London Fields today is a place of amenity and recreation.

A concentration of rooks
A concentration of rooks
Finding food in the grass

We left the park and walked along Lansdowne Drive to find a bus stop where we could catch a bus home. Quite close to the railings we saw a crowd of what I at first thought where crows. I was surprised as I had never seen so many together at once, at least not in town. I later decided that they must be rooks and that someone had left food in the grass. The pigeons were also very active.

One black suit...
One black suit…
…among the grey

The rooks were nervous of people and of the fact that I was taking an interest in them, and they soon flew away, all except one brave individual who was not in the least fazed and continued feeding among the pigeons, occasionally calling loudly to his companions. (Probably cussing the nosy photographer!)

Our bus came and we boarded, bringing our Hackney adventure to an end, at least for today. I will leave you with a self-portrait as I have not posted one for a while. When I caught sight if myself in a mirror in Hackney Museum, I couldn’t resist… 🙂

SilverTiger in the mirror
SilverTiger in the mirror
Hackney Museum

Copyright © 2013 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to From tigers to Hackney

  1. WOL says:

    As always with repurposed buildings, I wonder what the house in Croyden looks like inside. Victorian photography fascinates me. By then the cameras were sophisticated enough and exposure times short enough to catch a bit of the subject’s spirit.

    Like

    • SilverTiger says:

      I wasn’t able to look at the pub/house inside short of peering rudely through the window. The building is not listed as far as I can see and may have been considerably altered.

      Photography certainly took off in the Victorian era. This was exciting for them and, of course, of great interest and value to us who see these portraits and landscapes as historical documents. It is remarkable what the photographers were able to do with their – to us, primitive – equipment.

      Their portraits are often so lively that their subjects seem to breathe and be about to step out of the frame.

      Like

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