Category Archives: London

Bignell’s world of the strange – an anthology

John Bignell was a jobbing photographer for most of his working life and took photographic assignments wherever they took him, from the banks of the Thames to ancient Greek cities. Or just round and about in Chelsea. I once had to look for something in the Chelsea News and went through an entire bound volume of a year’s weekly papers and found at least one photo by him in almost every issue. He covered news stories, did catalogue shoots and took portraits. He did what used to be euphemistically called “glamour” work (although some of the pictures in this genre look a bit odd, rather than erotic,by modern standards ) and documented burlesque shows at the Chelsea Place and elsewhere. And sometimes, when the mood took him he took pictures which now look like some kind of 1950s idea of illustrations to 21st century urban fantasies. I’ve featured some of these before as lone items but I’ve wanted to collect them together along with some more of his “strange” pictures. So some of these images will be familiar to regular readers and some won’t. But all of them are in some way weird or eccentric.

I realise that I am imposing something of my own love of the uncanny or the Fortean onto these images. But go with me. These two,for example,look they belong in an adaptation of a Neal Gaiman story. If Neal Gaiman had lived in the 1950s that is.

Virtue fight back - Bignell 1955l

“Virtue fights back”, 1955. I used this in December 2014, and made the connections with Gaiman’s book / TV series Neverwhere and Christopher Fowler’s novel about another London Above, Roofworld. This could be the same duo.

Satan triumphant 1958 - Copy

“Satan triumphant” 1958.

Actually I think the models are the same, Desiree and Pierre, from the Chelsea Palace. Here they are on stage as “apache” dancers, a favourite cabaret theme of the time.

apache-dancers-desiree-with-pierre-1956-copy

 

This picture was also part of a stage show, continuing the “claws” theme.

SF 13

Never mind the knife, Madam. pick up the ray gun!

Bignell had started playing with strange scenarios as far back as 1949, in these two pictures, illustrating Cinderella, in a King’s Road antique shop called Horace Walpole.

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The two ugly sisters are represented by dummies with the stuffed heads of deer.

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Seedy and sinister like something out of a fantasy by Powell and Pressberger, which leads us to the next image.

This picture from 1958 was entitled “Probably the most widely seen eye in the world.” The eye belonged to the Mayor of Chelsea’s mace bearer and featured in posters and publicity for Michael Powell’s ill-fated film Peeping Tom, which more or less ended his UK career.

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On the back of one print of the picture Bignell has written a reference to Susan Sontag’s book “On Photography”, even noting the page number in the Penguin edition of the mention of Peeping Tom. There’s nothing particularly illuminating there but perhaps Bignell wanted to remind anyone who read the caption that someone thought the film was a serious piece of work. There seems to have been a lot of moral panic about it when it first came out, which seems almost inexplicable in the light of what we’ve seen since. Following Bignell’s lead I refer you to David Pirie’s “A new heritage of horror: the English Gothic cinema” for an account of the film and its reception.

Continuing the gothic theme is this atmospheric picture of a respectable looking man alone in a dark alley, actually Carlton Mews, near Trafalgar Square.

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He looks a little like a character in an M R James or Algernon Blackwood story on his way to a supernatural rendezvous.

Less morbid is this picture,  of an ecstatic dancer named Lyn, in a Margaret Morris style pose on a beach at Foulness in 1956. Bignell entitled it Lyn-a- leaping

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Next a picture from 1955 (or possibly 1956) that is wrong on many levels.

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It was entitled “Ancestor worship”, to add more misconception to the wrongness of a Frenchman in a gorilla suit holding a juvenile chimpanzee. (Yes, it was Pierre again.) What did they imagine the young ape was thinking? He can’t have been fooled for a second, so perhaps he thought it was just another of the inexplicable things the humans did from time to time. This was at Chessington Zoo, a perfectly reputable establishment where they probably still had chimpanzee tea parties in the 1950s and other anthropomorphic entertainments, so some of the apes would have been used to close contact with people.

Bignell couldn’t resist another photo of the “Chessington gorilla”. Here he is with his partner Desiree again.

desiree-and-pierre-the-chessington-gorilla-1956-copy

Although this is also a strange picture it will offend no hairy humanoids, and might interest human or non-human lovers of wacky cars. These so called bubble cars used to be seen around the place in the 50s and 60s. Motoring experts will correct me if my identification is wrong but I think it’s a Heinkel. (Interestingly there was another variety of bubble car made by Messerschmitt – what prompted aircraft manufacturers to make tiny cars?)

The last picture is simply a salute from the master of the revels, Bignell himself, with his eye on the camera, and the viewer.

bignell-and-friends-including-ma-daly-at-lord-nelson-c1968-1954-copy

For the record, and I know a few of you will wonder, they’re at the Lord Nelson (later the Trafalgar) in the King’s Road. There are two dates on the picture, 1968 and 1954. The earlier one seems more likely but you never know in Bignell’s world of the strange.

The trouble with Bignell

The trouble with the work of John Bignell and writing about it is that for most of his career he was, as I said in the first sentence, a working photographer going where the work took him, and fitting in the more personal / artistic work when he could. For most of his career he doesn’t seem to have concerned himself too much with his place in the history of photography. When he eventually did a book it was called John Bignell: Chelsea Photographer. It’s a good book but it established him as an observer of Chelsea/ London life. That’s not a bad thing in itself but I think he was so much more than that, as photos like the one in this post and others show.

I’m going to carry on writing about him and posting photographs by him. One of these days perhaps the wider world will recognize him as a great original.

Postscript

One of the many great qualities of the Bignelll collection is that you’re always finding surprises, or variations on photographs you thought you knew, a different print or an unexpectedly informative caption in Bignell’s hand. As often happens while trawling through the collection for this post I came across further ideas for new posts. There could have been more on childhood in the 50s for example. There’s probably a possible post about Wimbledon Common too or more on Bignell’s models. To spare your sensitivities I’ve never done a post on his glamour work but that too is aesthetically interesting . Strictly speaking the nude and the sundial (featured here) should be in this anthology  as it has a few mystical connotations, with a second picture from the same session but to keep this post safe for work we’ll keep that one back for now. We’re used to thinking of the 1950s as a staid, conventional era, but there was plenty of strangeness bubbling up under the plain clothing.

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Before the Westway: a North Paddington skyline

This week we have the long awaited return of my occasional co-blogger Isabel Hernandez who grew up in the area  sometimes called North Paddington and has many memories of it as it changed in the years around the building of the Westway. Like myself she has been looking closely at the photographs of Bernard Selwyn.

 

The city skyline changes over decades much as mountains change shape over centuries. Our small local areas, places we call home, or used to call home, places we are familiar with, are no different. These urban cityscapes seem to undergo a makeover every fifty years or so. From the overcrowded terraces of the Victorian period to the later concrete brutalism of the 1960’s, we are now witnessing the era of glass and mirrors built in angular shapes in what is now contemporary modern architecture.

Still, the shadows of the past remain in photographs and to continue with my study of the Westway (Paddington-side) I thought I would share with you a few more images of this corner of London before the infamous Westway motorway was built.

Below is a panoramic view of North Paddington bordered by North Kensington at the top. You can see the Kensal Gas Works and the St Charles’ Hospital tower, formerly the Marylebone Infirmary. [Click on the image to see a bigger view]

The Great Western Railway to the left cuts unimpeded through the built-up area.

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This is the same view a a short time later. The second tower block – Oversley House – is under construction.

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Below,a closer view. In the background you can see Ladbroke Grove bridge more clearly, connecting North Kensington to Paddington. If you look closely there is also a footbridge on the left that appears to have a tree growing out of it. Obviously it isn’t, but from this angle the bridge resembles a horizontal chute. It wasn’t a very appealing crossing, but it was a shortcut through to Westbourne Park and North Kensington. I made use of it many times, sometimes late at night, probably not a very wise thing to do with hindsight, but it saved time. The dilapidated Victorian houses, a stark contrast to their taunting new neighbours, await the bulldozer. Nowhere was there a more densely packed neighbourhood than in this part of Paddington.

oversley-polesworth-house-kensal-gas-works-5-july-1965

 

The houses come down and a temporary wasteland is created, with the exception of these houses in the foreground. They do seem a little grander than the terraces behind them and I wonder why they are still standing at this point when their neighbours have been demolished

pre-brindley-2

 

The strange case of the solitary houses. I suspect they were slightly more upmarket than the usual fare in the area. There is also the interesting feature of the residents coming and going as has always been their routine perhaps; shopping or simply getting from one place to another. The lady (left of the house) probably had no idea she was being included in a photographic survey.

 

pre-brindley-est

 

If you like trains, then the Great Western Railway before you would have been a spotter’s delight. Below is possibly Alfred Road or Torquay Street in the pre-redevelopment period. There is a builder, or certainly a very brave man,who appears to be intently prodding the side of a roof with a stick. By contrast an elderly gentleman with a walking stick is passing by, perhaps studying the changes in his area. Although there is a lot of pixilation when studying photographs at close range, when they are enlarged there is still enough to intrigue us.

pre-westway-alfred-rd-1964

The juxtaposition of the concrete towers to the dilapidated, slum terraces is a striking image – like two Lego blocks strategically placed inside of a crowded moat. Although you cannot see it, running parallel to the two tower blocks is the Grand Union Canal.

polesworth-oversley-house-july-1965

Below is a composite image of three photos showing the lower end of the Harrow Road. None of the shops seen here along the length of the long street now exist. Many have been replaced by the various convenience stores and take-away outlets you see today. On the corner of Bourne Terrace the Stowe Club was opened, now a doctor’s surgery and offices I believe. Many residents within Paddington and North Kensington did a lot of their shopping along the Harrow Road.

Westbourne Grove, by contrast (to digress a little), was more the Bond Street of the area with William Whiteley identifying the road as having future potential once the underground railway opened in 1863 and many more transport routes being opened up. He opened a small drapery in the area, tentatively doing what is essentially market research and gaining experience before expanding to what later became the department store, Whiteley’s of Queensway, attracting and catering for the wealthier clientele residing around Bayswater and Hyde Park.

warwick-estate-october-1962

Here is another image of the same area, magnified a little to give us more detail. If you look closely you will see the ‘Tardis’, a police box, no doubt placed there to keep an eye on things whilst the area was undergoing its concrete revolution. A billboard to the left advertising glue is almost comical given the toy-like remodelling we see from this perspective

 

 

harrow-road-showing-bourne-terrace

In the picture below, the Post Office Tower, the highest building in London at the time, can be seen in the distance. It is almost impossible at this point to imagine the Westway being a part of this landscape. The Harrow Road here is clearly seen under an open sky. Within a few short years all of the buildings on either side of the Harrow Road in this image were demolished, and the Harrow Road itself partially covered by the huge motorway above it. Engineering ingenuity in the name of progress or engineering folly – a question that is still debated today.

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Another composite image I pieced together looking north:

warwick-brindley-skyline

 

I had to include this one as it’s my old address – Gaydon House. I lived there for about 26 years. That is a long time to be anywhere. The rather forlorn, gothic-looking tree in the foreground appears in quite a few of the photographs before it was unceremoniously cut down to make way for more flats and other younger saplings ready for the next generation. All remnants of what came before, almost vanished within a ten year span.

gaydon-house-c-1964

Below is Westbourne Park Villas. It runs parallel to the Great Western railway on the other side of the tracks. The spire of St Matthew’s Church can just be seen to the right of the image and in the middle you can just about make out the dome of Whiteley’s. A little behind that is the dome of the Royal Albert Hall. On the left, along Bishops Bridge Road, are a series of buildings that make up what was known as The Colonnades up until recently, before Waitrose took over. Further back, (I had to really expand this image), you can make out the four chimneys of Battersea Power Station. After being derelict for many years, and a few investors later, it is now undergoing a major redevelopment: the usual combination of luxury flats and shopping outlets so typical of London now.

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Here’s another view of Westbourne Park on the other side of the tracks, looking further west towards Notting Hill and Kensington – an interesting mixture of modern flats and late 19th century villas.

 

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And finally, a colour image of the Harrow Road most likely photographed by Selwyn from Wilmcote House, the first tower block to be built of the six now in existence. Two buses (probably the number 18) can be seen making their way north. Interestingly there existed along the Harrow Road a 2 ½ mile track from Amberley Road to Harlesden around 1888 for trams. These were replaced around 1936 by trolleybuses and later still (1961-2) by motorbuses such as the ones you see in this image.

harrow-road-facing-south

As always Selwyn’s wonderful collection of photographs fails to disappoint. Dave and I have posted a number of them now on the blog knowing that you will probably appreciate them as much as we do. Or at least we hope you do. The posts I have written thus far about this part of Paddington are obviously a trip into a past that pre-dates my tenancy there, but in my view, still feels so very familiar and nostalgic. Now, not having lived in the area for a few years, I feel more like an outsider looking in with an abstract knowledge of a community I was once a part of. What I realise when I look at historical photographs, is just how temporary everything is, and how changeable. The only forever in these instances are images such as these frozen in time. Perhaps this is why we always find them so appealing. A record of a slither of time that we witness much as a fictional Time Lord in a Tardis would. Except we do it without having to travel very far.

 

Postscript

Thanks to Isabel for another fascinating post. I particularly like the panoramas she has created, something Selwyn himself used to do using the medium of sellotape. Once again, if anyone knows an easy way of adding an author in WordPress I’d be grateful.

I will spend my week off working on some new posts in an unhurried languid sort of way and return next week with some of the usual stuff.

Dave.

 


From the Penta Hotel: 1974

In this week’s post our roving surveyor Bernard Selwyn leaves his perch on the West London Air Terminal / Point West and crosses the Cromwell Road to take up a vantage point on one of the upper floors of the Penta Hotel which we saw last week. This was it in the days of the Air Terminal, not one of Selwyn’s pictures.

Copy of Penta Hotel

The 25-storey Penta was designed by Richard Seifert and partners and built in 1971-72. Although it looks vast and imposing it was actually smaller than the original design which would have included a bridge to the Terminal. The Architectural Review, in a piece called “Bad Dreams coming true”, called it “a terrifying interruption of the weave of this part of London” although the writer did admit that the large site meant it could sit out of alignment with the buildings next to it which caused less harm to the street layout. I love architectural language. “What the passer-by sees is an apparently chaotic pile forcing its way upwards through successive layers of low level impediments.”

Is that a Ford Capri in the foreground?

Penta Hotel p137

The hotel was subsequently called the London Forum and more recently the Holiday Inn. It still sits rather incongruously among the other buildings which line the Cromwell Road although in the passing years residents have grown used to it.

Selwyn got to one of the upper floors in 1974. I’ve made a selection from two films showing the views he got from up there.

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I like the way part of his vantage point is visible in some of the pictures. It makes it easier to picture him leaning out of a window to take the pictures. As someone prone to vertigo (who has nevertheless been up many tall buildings) I get a hint of the danger / thrill of high places in some of these pictures. This particular view is not  terribly interesting but it does show the Gloucester Hotel (1972-73) which the Survey of London describes as “better-mannered” than the Penta. It certainly blends in with the skyline. Below you can see it next to Bailey’s Hotel which was built almost a hundred years earlier.

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This view shows Gloucester Road and Cromwell Road looking east.

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And there’s that white building I referred to last week. After writing last week’s post I was looking through the packets of photos and found a couple which would have answered my question immediately.

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Here you see Gloucester Road Station laid bare, before it was built over in the 1990s. There are two trains, in different liveries,  stopped at the platforms. on the right a sparsely populated car park is is temporary use. Below you can see the outline of Lenthall Place.

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The buildings are gone, and the former mews has become another parking area. The former bank on the corner of Gloucester Road has gone (see it in this post) and the remaining buildings are propped up with scaffolding. Can you see that irregularly shaped structure next to the trees? What was that used for, I wonder?

Selwyn turned towards central London.

Penta Hotel July 1974 001

The green domed tower of the Imperial Institute is a nearby landmark. The tall buildings further away are harder to make out. So look in the foreground at the surprising bulk of St Stephen’s Church.

In the next picture Selwyn pointed at the Natural History Museum but he also caught the V&A, the Brompton Oratory and in the distance you can make out Big Ben and St Paul’s.

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And then there’s this 1960s  building, relatively recent in 1974.

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Still called the Post Office Tower at this time, and still a bit of a wonder against the relatively subdued north London skyline.

This was a much more familiar landmark.

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The picture shows how impressive the Albert Hall must have been when in dominated the landscape around it. You can see the Gothic spires of the Albert Memorial rising above the trees of Kensington Gardens.

Selwyn must have moved to a different vantage point for this view westwards.

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The unmistakeable Earls Court Exhibition Centre and beyond it the Empress State Building on Lillie Road, a significant local landmark.

Continuing the movement round, we’re now looking south west.

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The gasometers are south of the New King’s Road. You can also see the back of one of the stands at Chelsea Football Club, and below it the trees of Brompton Cemetery, the dome of the chapel just about visible. The cemetery grounds are also visible here

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The church, after some puzzling, I think is St Luke’s Redcliffe Square.

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Now this church is St Mary the Boltons, but there are two cathedrals of power generation in the background, Lots Road, showing one of its chimneys, and Fulham with four of them in line.

Finally, a look down from where Selwyn was standing to see some smaller but still impressive chimney stacks surrounded by trees.

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Postscript

I must have set some sort of record for the number of links to other posts here, but like a virtual Selwyn I’ve covered a lot of ground since starting this blog. There are going to be another couple of posts based on his pictures coming up soon, but neither of them covering as wide an area.


Thomson’s guide to London

Now the weather is warmer and we’re in the serious summer, we can relax a little and revisit an old friend, the artist and illustrator Hugh Thomson. Along with his annual “big books” with colour pictures, a couple of which we’ve already looked at, he also had some regular jobs which kept the wolf from the door. One of those was the Highways and Byways series. These were travel books of British counties, informative but chatty, written and illustrated by a variety of authors and artists. Thomson worked on several books in the series but the one of most interest to us is Highways and Byways of London, published in 1902 with a text by Mrs E T Cook (Emily Constance actually, don’t know where the T came from.). Some of the illustrations were by the leading engraver F L  Griggs, who tended to do the sober pictures of streets and churches. Thomson concentrated on the life of London and particularly its people.

Here’s a typical London scene, someone giving some directions.

Sightseers

Third left, second right, You can’t miss it. Thomson captures the confidence of the policeman, the confusion of the older man and the anxiousness of the mother and daughter attempting to follow the complex instructions.

They might be forgiven for taking the tube instead.

An Underground Station

Except that it looks a bit frantic down there. This is clearly one of London’s defining characteristics as Thomson saw it. In his London there seems to be quite a bit of rushing about.

The Hansom

The picture is called The Hansom, but the focus is on the brisk young woman who is threatening to overtake the horse drawn carriage.

The other main theme for Thomson is fashion. In an interview with Raymond Blathwayt in 1901 he said: “I think the last two years rival the costume of Gainsborough’s time. For the book on which I am now at work I went up to the Row several times to make sketches, and I said to a friend: why doesn’t some big painter make a picture of this? Women catching up their gowns just as Japanese women do and wearing Gainsborough hats; why, they are full of charm, and if properly grouped, such a picture would make a great sensation.”

Thomson’s favourite period for women’s dress was the 18th century, and perhaps the early 19th (which you can see in other posts here and here) He had come to admire contemporary fashion almost as much. See some pictures of the Row later.

Below, a pair of fashionable young women cast a sidelong glance at an older lady walking a tiny dog.

Crossing at Piccadilly Circus

 

Below, another pair in fashionable outfits at the front of the crowd at a popular exhibition.(No timed entry in those days by the looks of it.)

At the Royal Academy

Another good spot for seeing the latest trends was Regent Street. This group are crowded around the windows of one of the high class establishments. (Compare it with one of the pictures featuring Regent Street in this post about Yoshio Markino.)

I wonder what the woman at the rear of the group is looking at? Something going on in a first floor window?

In Regent Street - Copy

I originally intended, as I have with other travel books, to  quote relevant passages from the text. But although the Royal Academy picture is placed in a section on London galleries, the author doesn’t mention it at all. You get the impression that author and artist weren’t exactly working closely together. Thomson seems to have followed his own interests in selecting subjects. Literary London was clearly one of those.

In the Charing Cross Road

A group of book fanatics are clustered around a shop in the Charing Cross Road, the southern end I think, opposite Leicester Square station. Charing Cross Road was one of the first places I visited regularly when I came to live in London and apart from the clothes this scene is quite recognizable. I can pinpoint it almost exactly in my memory.  Of course in 1973 very few young women had to gather up their skirts to get past a gathering of enthusiasts.

Male book lovers are also in the majority in this picture of a railway bookstall.

A Railway Bookstall

The lone woman looks on as if faintly amused by the concentration of the book-buyers. The bookstall was one of the key features of a large station. Literacy had increased in the last decades of the 19th century and the appetite for literature, high and low, had grown enormously. Even today, nothing beats a book for whiling away the time on a train journey whether short or long. Thomson continues his look at London’s readers in one of the circulating libraries.

Mudie's

At Mudie’s, one of the leading subscription libraries the female customers seem to be in the majority, examining the latest titles and discussing the finer points of modern literature. A messenger boy is carrying two armfuls of books, coming in or going out and a gentleman is looking at a set of books – a four volume novel? In the background a library assistant ascends a rolling set of steps in search of some particular volume.

Thomson also covered some staider pursuits, such as al fresco dining in Kensington Gardens.

Tea in Kensington Gardens

A little further east in Hyde Park things were a little more athletic.

Rotten Row 2

The woman in the foreground seems quite determined to avoid the attentions of the man raising his hat. Perhaps she’s in a race with her friend, whose horse is also galloping. The dark coloured horse seems as determined as his rider. Perhaps he wants to attract the attention of the filly.

Of course, for others, the horse is just a comfortable place to sit while engaged in polite conversation.

Rotten Row

Conversation could also be had indoors. The busy establishment below is one of the tea rooms of the Aerated Bread Company. The name comes from the industrialized baking process developed in the 1860s as an alternative to fermentation with yeast. The Company opened a chain of tea rooms second only in size to J Lyons. These were know as places where respectable women could go by themselves or in groups without any men to accompany them. Although there are plenty in this picture

An aerated bread shop

 

The ABC tearooms, according to Wikipedia, have made many appearances in literature from Dracula to Agatha Christie. The name survived as far as the 1980s. (I can remember a baker’s shop bearing the name in the 1970s, on Camden Road.)

The family in the first picture could always of course have taken the bus. This driver looks like an obliging fellow, ready for a casual chat with his passengers on the upper deck.

Bus Driver

Downstairs the conductor is collecting fares. He signals the number of coins required to the old gentleman groping for change in his deep pocket.

Inside

Meanwhile a book-loving lady is opening her purse, her latest purchases (or loans) wrapped up neatly on her lap.

The bus might be crowded but it would get you home in style.

At the end of a long day, getting home again might be the best part. This Bank Holiday couple look exhausted after their day’s outing.

The return, Bank Holiday

Thomson does what he does best – catching nuances of expression and details of clothing. You can easily imagine this couple’s life, he a clerk in the City, she at home with their daughter in their first home together, part of an emerging lower middle class engaging in new leisure activities, wearing their Sunday best.

They make me feel tired, so I’ll put my feet up now and look forward to the next Thomson post which will be in a couple of weeks or so and will take us back to the same era as the first Thomson book I wrote about.

Postscript

I’ve looked at a few other examples of Thomson’s work in the Highways and Byways series. The volume on Kent (1907) is typical. The drawings are much sketchier than his London pictures, and much more concerned with depicting the rural settings. Thomson was at heart a country boy, and a lover of rural scenes. The London pictures are more in line with his work for novels and plays, of which we have seen many, and hope to see more.

Now as soon as I wrote those words I thought I’d better check some others, other than Kent. F L Griggs did some on his own but Thomson often worked with other artists such as Joseph Penniel. In the North Wales (1893) and Devon and Cornwall (1897) volumes I found a few character based illustrations. So here’s a bonus picture from the Devon and Cornwall volume, depicting a rare move into the realm of the fantastic with a folk tale about a man who encounters a mermaid on the beach.

H and B in Devon and Cornwall p276

Thomson did a few fairy tale books in his career. Perhaps he should have done more.

 


Markino returns: alone in this world

The recent Christmas post I did about Yoshio Markino, the Japanese artist who lived in Chelsea, reminded me that there were still some images I hadn’t used in a post, even though I wrote four about him in 2014. I was flicking through Sammy Tsunematsu’s small but exquisite book of Markino pictures when I saw several which cried out to go into a new blog post. Markino is one of those local residents who have become part of a pantheon of characters I’ve written about over the last  few years, like Marianne Rush, Margaret Morris, Mortimer Menpes, Dr Phene, Edward Lynley Sambourne and many others. It’s good to welcome back a familiar face from the bohemian art scene of early twentieth century London. And for anyone who wasn’t reading the blog in 2014 it’s an introduction to a fascinating artist.

Markino - view from beyond serpentine bridge - Copy

This is a typical Markino picture – a little bit of darkness, an indistinct view of distant trees and a spire, a lot of water, with a glimpse of a figure almost off the edge, possibly a woman being rowed along the Serpentine. Markino loved London (“I am in mad love of London”) but he saw it as exotic, a mysterious place full of unfamiliar sights and people.

Markino - Covent Garden at 4am July - Copy

The porters and traders at Covent Garden were just as enigmatic for Markino as any of the London women he admired.

Markino - Sunday morning in Petticoat Lane - Copy

Markino wasn’t just interested in the middle class women he saw coming in and out of theatres, waiting for trains or walking in parks, but also the working class women such as those in this view of Petticoat Lane. The central figure, an old woman examining some cloth, and the sharp eyed man strolling through the crowd are well observed but I think Markino was just as interested, or possibly more interested in the woman on the left, seen from behind with a mass of blonde hair, wrapped up in baggy clothes, her red haired daughter beside her. The most significant action is on the edge of the picture just as in the Covent Garden picture where the two men with mustaches on the right appear to be in close conversation.

One of his rare interiors:

Westminster Abbey - the south ambulatory looking east COL

Westminster Abbey. From a lonely vantage point he observes a group of visitors. Departing I think into a gloomy afternoon.

Markino liked the darkening days of autumn and winter.

Flower sales girl JAI91 p152 - Copy

Late on an autumn afternoon, a flower girl offering a small bouquet to a pair of elegant but indifferent ladies

Trafalgar Square afternoon COL - Copy

The street light s are on again here in one of his favourite spots with more crowds of grey men and colourful women.

Those women take the centre of the picture in this picture of a crowd outside some shops.

Walking in the street - JB - Copy

As evening drew in Markino would wander the night streets, along with many others.

Hotel entrance in Knightsbridge COL

Early evening at a hotel entrance in Knightsbridge,….

Early evening Buckingham Palace COL - Copy

…..or outside Buckingham Palace..

…..or at the Constitution Arch near Hyde Park.

Constitution Arch Hyde Park BB - Copy

Bright lights cut through the gloom in the theatre district.

Night lights in Piccadilly Circus COL - Copy

 

Markino’s friend Arthur Ransome wrote in his book Bohemia in London “The only man I knew in Chelsea was a Japanese artist who had been my friend in even earlier days when both he and I had been too poor to buy tobacco..”

Night coffee stall Hyde Park Corner COL - Copy

.. “there is something gypsyish about coffee stalls, something very delightful…I have often bought a cup of coffee in the morning hours to drink on the paupers’ bench along the railings…that was a joyous night when for the first time the keeper of the stall recognized my face and honoured me with talk as a regular customer. ..I used to spend a happy twenty minutes among the loafers by the stall.”

Posters COL - Copy

“The safety in the midnight. Wherever in this world is such a safe town like London? You can walk anywhere in London at any time in night. You need not have any fear at all. This is awfully convenient to me to study the night effect.”

Walking home he observes a set of posters on the ragged end of a building, rising above a wooden hoarding. Once again at the edge of the scene a crowd shuffles into the night.

Back in his lodgings Markino works on another autumn view.

Markiino - Kensington Gardens in Autumn

Kensington Gardens, unadorned by any figures. Markino remained “in mad love” of London until he finally left it in 1942.  But in San Francisco, London, Paris, Rome or Japan he remained, in his own words:

“I am simple Yoshio Markino, quite alone in this world.”

Postscript

My apologies for the late launch of this post, especially to those who usually read the blog on a Thursday morning. I’m sure some of you will be thinking how could a post on Markino take him more time than usual? Isn’t it just a matter of a few pictures and some text featuring mist, overcast weather, dark smoky streets with dim lights and Edwardian women showing a flash of white petticoats? Well, I guess it is in a way, but nevertheless I think it was worth coming back to Markino. I’ve done a lot on book illustrators in the last year or so and he belongs in that Golden Age group, as one of the best of them.

Quotations from Alone in this world: selected essays and A Japanese artist in London by Yoshio Markino and Bohemia in London by Arthur Ransome.


Christmas days: a Markino bonus

Today’s short post  is a small installment of pictures by an old friend of the blog, the Japanese artist who lived in London, Yoshio Markino. This one is simple called Autumn:

Studio Vol 33 p165 Autumn by Yoshio Markino - Copy

The woman wrestling with her umbrella has a stylized expression of sadness (or merely exasperation) on her face. Behind her the rest of the scene is indistinct ,in a traditional Markino mist.

Below, some images from a biography which was illustrated by Markino. In a Japanese setting a causeway vanishes into a lake of  lillies floating on barely glimpsed water.

Lotus lake at Tsushima p172

A monochrome temple.

Shinto temple of Tsushima p224

London. A stone lion couches in the wet square. Although this image is also in damp fog, the location is unmistakable.

Misty evening in Trafalgar Square p122

A house in south London. There are lights on the ground floor but above a single light blazes from a bedroom.

151 Brixton Road p136

This would have been one of Markino’s early London residences, in Brixton.

This picture, from the Studio magazine is another monochrome view of a familiar London sight.

Studio vol 35 p341 Markino The Clock Tower Westminster - Copy

A small group of people take a walk along the embankment. The night is dark but the woman in the foreground is carrying her coat so it must be a warm evening.

The final image is the most characteristic work. It has Markino’s favourite subject, well dressed women in London on an overcast day.

Two women window shopping in Bond Street, one looking towards the artist. Markino liked to compare London’s women with insects wrapped in carapaces of fur and thick coats.

Beautiful women in Bond Street p158

Behind them yet another mist.

Today’s soft toy is also characteristically Japanese.

PTDC0005 - CopyPTDC0003 (2) - Copy

Happy Christmas from the goth Hello Kitty. HK is also an appropriate companion for the anglophile Markino since it emerged that Kitty’s surname is White and that she and her family live just outside London. Markino would have approved.

See you tomorrow.


Halloween story: the door

This year we have another post from regular guest blogger Marianne Collins, Head of Investigations at the European Institute of Archives. This piece was forwarded to us by her deputy Ms B. Azdajic

To: centrallocalenquiries@rbkc.gov.uk
From: Blanka33@gmx.com
Date: 31 Oct 15

1.

It was a cold Monday morning in February.

The dead girl wore black clothes – a big padded black parka, shiny in the winter light. She had black jeans, fur lined boots laced up the front and a wool hat with an incongruously large pom-pom. Being dead she didn’t need the warmth, but she said she admired our dedication to keeping warm and comfortable. She wished she’d had that parka when she was alive.

But she’d been dead a long time, and would never tell me when she last walked around as a living person. Her first sponsor, my ex, told me that the longer the dead survive in their new bodies the less human they are. They stop thinking like us from the moment of their death and every dead day that passes the more alien they become.

So Blanka, the dead girl, who last walked around London alive sometime in the 19th century, must have been making a considerable effort to pass for human since she returned from wherever it is they return from. Don’t worry, Daniel said, they’re not dangerous. They don’t eat brains and blood. They don’t need to eat at all, although some do. They watch and listen, sometimes they lie dormant, and some of them speak. Blanka had even taught herself to breathe, or imitate breathing. So she came across as a slightly weird Goth. With her pale skin and calm manner she was attractive to a certain kind of man, or woman. I had no worries about taking her to the building site where yet another subterranean development had unearthed a basement room no one had known was there. I had a feeling she might be able to help me with the contents.

The site manager spoke to me to tell me about how his men had found the basement room when they were digging out the roots of a tree. He kept glancing at Blanka. I wanted to shout at him: hey, I’m wearing a parka and a wool hat and I’m also interestingly pale. I’m also blonde, which should count for something. So why are you staring at the dead girl? I refrained from saying anything of the kind and listened as he explained that there were ladders which we could get down through the hole they had enlarged but nobody else wanted to go down with us. His men were afraid of the room he said, and he had a meeting at another site. I would have exchanged a knowing glance with Blanka but as I’ve said they don’t think like us so I just said we would go down.

The Institute is on a retainer paid by a professional organisation the big building firms use so we get the occasional call to have a look when something unexpected connected with books and records turns up.

At the bottom of the ladder there was a room with bookshelves covering two walls. There was a big table against one of the other walls, neat and clear of mess. The other wall had a door. The site manager hadn’t said anything about that.

The books on the shelves were interesting, no doubt about that, and I would have them packed up and shipped back to the Institute. Some of them were familiar, some not. There were a large number of guide books, none later than 1900 I thought, some for cities I couldn’t quite place.

There were a number of interesting items. Vincent’s New Map of Faery (1924), Dr Zachary Smith’s Experiments with Spiritism (1913), the 1903 illustrated version of Ariel Fletcher’s picaresque 18th century novel Miranda. Collected editions of de Sade and de Selby.
There was also a quarto volume – a copy of Hiram Endicott’s Skeleton Etchings, of 1910.

I looked at the cover with its complex gold embossed pattern of shapes which looked abstract but at the same time gave the impression of surgical instruments. That alone made it worth coming. I had to look at it with Blanka leaning over my shoulder, her head against mine, her whole body pressed against me in the impersonal way of a marine iguana basking on a rock.
The Asylum Edition, she said in a flat voice, her accent barely discernible.

Yes. There are people who would pay the price of whatever building they’re making here to get it. We’ll take it back ourselves.

Let’s look.

I held the book closed. It’s very unpleasant I hear.

She gave me a look I knew which said something like: such dark sights I have seen, mortal woman, which you could not imagine. I gave her a look back which said: stop pissing about, dead woman.

There are some images which are literally unforgettable I’ve been told which neither time nor death can erase. So let’s leave this one to the end user.

She shrugged. Another of her “living” gestures. I got on the phone to the office and arranged for a van to come straight away.

I was about to say let’s go back up when Blanka detached herself from me and went to the door. I was going to say there wouldn’t be anything behind it when she opened it, and afternoon sunlight fell into the room.

Through the doorway I could see a ruined building like a temple surrounded by undergrowth.

garden

Blanka had a distinct expression on her face somewhere between surprise and resentment. She stayed to one side of the door with air of not wanting to step through accidentally. I moved closer but I also had no intention of passing that threshold.

Blanka closed the door and spoke.

The Choronzon Sanctuary. It used to be in my country.

What happened to it?

The communists destroyed it I heard.

This time the door opened on a quite different view, a noisy room full of women working in cubicles. A telephone exchange  I thought. Nothing sinister there, although it was odd to be staring at the living past, if that’s what it was. One of the standing women glanced at me.

room

The third time there was a gloomy room with stone walls and and a window. As the interior door swung open you could see something like a wooden operating table in the foreground. There were heavy steps coming closer. Katya didn’t need telling to shut the door quickly.

door
The fourth time there was a desert landscape. There were the remains of a wooden building in the foreground. A distinctly cold breeze blew through at us. I still had no inclination to step through.

Leng, Blanka said.

Desert

 

Once she’d shut the door Blanka said this: The fifth time opens a gate to the Third City.

The van won’t be long. Let’s go up. I wasn’t at all sure about the Third City.

The site was now deserted, with no hint of any building work. Perhaps they all had meetings. It was quiet behind the wooden fencing. There were still some patches of muddy grass and irregular depressions in the ground. Blanka spoke again. Pretty garrulous for her.

There are any number of entrances to the Third City but for each person only a limited number of exits.

She might have been quoting from something, or it could just  have been one of her enigmatic comments.

2

After the excitement of the find I had to work hard in the office listing the books. In the evenings we did normal stuff. We watched DVDs. I tried to explain to Katya why I thought Nicky and Bourne had been lovers. When I couldn’t convince her I put an episode of Hannibal on to illustrate my point that there are plenty of images you wish you hadn’t seen.

That night I dreamed about two women in hooded costumes walking through an empty film studio. Although I was watching in the dream I knew the two women were Blanka and I.

Women in Hooded Dresses - Copy

Something had been going on in my subconscious which burst out late one night.

I want to go back and go through the door.

I couldn’t say why I’d changed my mind but somehow the idea had taken hold of me. Blanka pointed out that everyone goes there eventually but that didn’t deter me.

We returned to the site the next day. It had been cleared to a depth of thirty feet or more, and flattened out. They were spreading concrete at the bottom. The old site manager had moved on but the foreman told me the site would be a car park, notwithstanding the loss the developers would incur. The building that had been demolished was a three-storey block of flats slotted into the site in the sixties. Its predecessor, we had discovered in the local achive, presumably the home of the basement room, had been an odd building with a normal sort of Victorian town house exterior surrounding a mock Tudor courtyard. The house was left empty after the war following the death of the owner, a book dealer named Trankler who was murdered in his shop in the City in 1944 in the course of a burglary. I’d found a reference to an incident at the house in the war diaries of Jane Fletcher, a local ARP warden: “Called to _____ Street. Incendiaries in some of the gardens. We entered one house where a ceiling had collapsed inside. I saw part of a body, the foot, sticking out of the rubble. A woman’s leg. I turned away to call Mr Carter and when I looked back the leg was gone, as if the woman had slithered away under the wreckage. I was in a funk. Mr Carter told me not to be a b____y fool and we left the house.”

sundial

The foreman also told me there had been plans to construct an extensive new basement utilising the footprint of the building and the garden, but the developers had changed their minds for some vague reason to do with the Fletcher Estate who owned property nearby. That was all very interesting but I had one question.

I asked Blanka: What about the door?

Gone. Moved probably. That can happen.They open for people like me. Her calm was irritating.

I can look for another, if that’s what you want.

We didn’t discuss it again. I prepared a go-bag with a camera,binoculars, a tablet, a solar battery provided by the buyer of the Endicott book and a few other necessities. I kept it in the car. Some months later I was called to a building awaiting demolition after a partial collapse. The damage had uncovered a hidden room on the top floor.

Although it was a warm day I carried my black parka in with me. I made sure I was the first person inside the newly revealed room and looked carefully around. The door between the bookshelves wasn’t apparent until Blanka came up behind me. We stood there in our hard hats looking faintly comic.

The first scene was a river in summer, a house visible on the other side. The water was disturbed as if someone had just vanished beneath the surface.

026

The second showed an eccentric house with a tower. American I thought. There were figures in the porch.

house

Without leaning through the door I looked closer through the binoculars.

costumes
Halloween costumes I supposed. Or not. None of my business anyway.

The third time we saw an empty gallery, picture frames laid out on the floor. Either they were moving out, or some pretty throrough thieves had paid them a visit.

A door opened in the distance and a small group of people started coming towards us. We held our nerve for a good thirty seconds before closing the door.

gallery

The fourth was an old fashioned photographer’s studio. I didn’t care for the woman having her portrait done.

veiled woman

The fifth was close to a decayed classical structure. High above it there was a vertiginous stone staircase. I could see the spindly towers of an enormous impossibly ornate Gothic railway station.

Blanka spoke into my ear in a low voice. She had never said so much at one time.

Go up the stairs. Don’t talk to the caryatids. There’s a plaza in front of the Grand Terminus. Look for a nun. Ask her to show you the way to the Doll Makers’ Cafe. Amelia is one of the waitresses. She can get you work at Lord Gregory’s house – it’s got a library. You may need to stay for a while.

She had given up pretending to breathe in my presence. All I felt was a slight impression of cold at my back as if I was standing next to an open fridge.

I’m standing here keying in a few more words on my phone. Blanka has her hand on my shoulder as if about to propel me through the door into an autumn afternoon in the Third City.

villa - Copy

[Message sent 21/06/15]

BA- Marianne Collins is on sabbatical leave from her post for an indefinite period. I told her she would have to learn the Trick before she could come back. I found a print inside that copy of the Endicott book.

drawing

There was also a note written by Bernard Trankler:

“Copy of the Skeleton Etchings by Hiram Endicott. A set of etchings he did in the 1880s, images of inmates at the notorious Crypt Penitentiary in New York State. The Crypt was a vicious place. Doctors, guards and some of the inmates got up to all sorts of mischief there and committed many atrocities. No one there got out alive, it was said. How Endicott got access is a mystery. How he got the book published is another. But he did, in a limited edition of twenty-five nearly all of which are in the hands of private collectors. Five of the twenty five were bound with a supplement of a further dozen plates. Those were called the asylum edition. This copy is one of them. Formerly the property of the library at the Society of Holy Angels in Brooklyn. We know this is their copy because of the extensive handwritten annotations assumed to be by Endicott himself. One note refers to the peculiar nature of some copies which have the capacity to open doors. The book is of considerable value to some collectors although I must assume this copy was stolen”

Postscript

As I always say, normal service will be resumed next week. DW


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