Saturday, February 11th 2015
Today’s expedition took us to two districts of London and although the area of ground covered was not huge, we did take a lot of photos. While I am not shy about writing long blog posts (as you may have noticed!), even I felt there was too much material for one post and therefore decided to divide it into two parts. The wall art will turn up in the second part while this one shows a few other items of interest.
Our hunt for breakfast took us to King’s Cross, once a rather run-down and notorious area but one which is now being redeveloped. The Regent’s Canal runs along behind the station, and the old grain store where barges once unloaded their cargo has now been turned into a public amenity in an open space called Granary Square. We thought to eat there but nothing caught our interest. Before leaving, I photographed this unusual craft. It is a 1920s Dutch barge which was converted into a bookshop in 2011 and has been active in the book trade ever since, despite the difficulties of finding a permanent mooring. More information on the book barge’s Facebook page.
We then took a bus to Finsbury Square and started walking through the City. In Exchange Square, off Appold Street, we found this sculpture by Xavier Corberó. Completed in 1991, it is called The Broad Family, perhaps because this area is known as Broadgate. It is a group representing parents, child and dog. It is often remarked that the figure of the child, though abstract, has a pair of normal and shiny shoes peeping out from beneath it. (Click to see a slideshow of views.) More on the sculptor and the work here.
Behind the sculpture is an impressive stairway that takes you into the main part of Exchange Square. Its size reflects the amount of movement expected during the week but on Saturdays it is almost eerily quiet.
In the other seasons of the year, the square is an open area with benches and fountains. In winter it is transformed by the construction of a skating rink. This is no doubt popular with skaters but it does clutter up the square and reduce its value as an amenity.
It also crowds the Broadgate Venus uncomfortably. You need room to stand back and admire this voluptuous lady and the rink prevents this. I had to resort to using my camera’s panorama function to get this photo.
We made our way through Liverpool Street Station and up Brushfield Street to Commercial Street where the scene is dominated by Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, built between 1714 and 1729. In front of it is what was once a large underground public toilet, for both men and women, surrounded by robust railings, and with two stout “stink pipes”, one at each end. Like too many toilets in towns, these have been decommissioned and have found a new purpose, currently as an antiques emporium.
We set out to explore the back streets because we were looking for street art. Whether you call it wall art, street art or graffiti art, it has become a flourishing art form and where it was once disapproved of, it is now gaining acceptance. In Toynbee Street we found this row of shops with living accommodation above them, closed and ready for demolition. This is a typical area for street art but we were disappointed as there was not much to be seen here.
In Wentworth Street, there is a modern housing development but its rather pretty gateway survives from a much earlier estate. It bears the date 1886 and the inscription
This company was a Jewish charitable organization founded by the Rothschilds to provide “the industrial classes with commodious and healthy Dwellings at a minimum rent”. The company, renamed, still exists and continues work but under a new name, IDS. Interestingly, the green post you see in front of the gate (presumably there to prevent vehicles entering through the gate) is even older, being dated 1846.
On the other side of the road stands this tall, narrow building. It displays no date but my guess is that it is Victorian and was perhaps a tenement for workers. Over the left-hand window on the ground floor is a plaque with lettering on it. One can just make out the words “COLLEGE BUILDINGS”. Why “College”? Was this once a residential block for a college or was there simply a college nearby? Or perhaps, as is still the case in parts of London, the land on which the building stands was owned by a (university) college.
Turning into Gunthorpe Street, we found a Victorian or possibly Edwardian school. Originally called the Commerical Street School, it was built in the the fateful year of 1901 and could therefore belong to the reign of either monarch. It was founded by the London School Board that was set up in 1870 and closed in 1903 by merger into the new London County Council.
In Old Montague Street, we discovered a place where rainwater had gathered in a large puddle. People who blame town pigeons for being dirty obviously don’t realize that they are dirty only when they lack the opportunity to be anything else. The puddle was being vigorously used by a group of pigeons as a communal bath. There was much flapping and splashing as the pigeons cleaned themselves in the water. Unfortunately, the scene was not entirely peaceful…
…because one of the males seemed to think he had exclusive rights to the puddle and kept chasing the others. They were obviously used to this and used their numbers to frustrate him because he couldn’t chase all of them simultaneously. In the end, perhaps more by luck than by judgement, he achieved his goal and was left alone in his pond.
It was time for a rest and refreshments so we went into the historic Spitalfields Market and visited Las Iguanas, a Latin-American cafe-restaurant. We sat in front where the glass doors and walls allow us to see out and watch goings-on in the market.
Venturing into a narrow way off Commercial Street called Puma Court, we discovered the Norton Folgate Almshouses. A plaque on the wall gives an outline of their history:
THESE ALMSHOUSES WERE ERECTED
IN THE YEAR 1860 FOR POOR INHABITANTS
OF THE LIBERTY OF NORTON FOLGATE
IN PLACE OF THOSE BUILT IN 1728
LATELY TAKEN DOWN FOR THE NEW STREET
The Liberty of Norton Folgate was a district belonging to the Dean of St Paul’s and therefore to that institution. I am not clear on the legal and constitutional implications of this but think that it implied direct rule from St Paul’s, insulating it from the secular authorities. The Liberty, as a coherent district has all but disappeared, being now shared between Stepney and Shoreditch. It’s good to know that 155 years after they were built (and 287 years after the building of their predecessors), these almshouses continue to perform their intended role.
We wandered around the old Huguenot district of Spitalfields. This was where the silk weavers settled and made the area famous for the excellence of their creations. In Princelet Street, in what would once have been a Huguenot silk weaver’s house and workshop, a sign advertises the “Modern Saree Centre”. I don’t think the company still operates from here but, when they did, they were carrying on the traditions started by the Huguenots.
Throughout the ramble described above, we had been looking for street art but in the earlier part of the walk had found lean pickings. Things improved in the more eastern part of our range and I will tell you about that in the second instalment, Floating books and wall art (2).