Tag Archives: Battersea Park

Christmas Days : Bignell – a childhood in the 50s

I often turn to Bignell at short notice when I’m not sure what’s coming next on the blog. There are so many striking images in our collection that even a random selection works. I’ve been working on a full length post with a particular theme, looking through the collection for suitable pictures but scanning any that appealed to me. In the course of this I came across enough images for one of these short posts. Most of these pictures come from the 1950s when Bignell was first making a name for himself, and they all feature children.

on-chelsea-bridge-1954

If you’re not familiar with Chelsea Bridge you might think they were doing something dangerous, but they’re not. The parapet is pretty wide at this point.  The picture is dated 1954. Battersea Power Station, in the background is still under construction. (It was built in two phases, one in the 1930s and one after the war. Here Station B is still awaiting the completion of one of its chimneys.)

The boys in this picture are in mild peril of falling off. I admire them for the sheer silliness of what they’re doing.

battersea-bridge-steps-1956

The dog is clearly amused. This is 1956, and another of Chelsea’s bridges, Battersea.

Speaking of Battersea, what about the Festival Gardens in 1954, a remnant of the Festival of Britain which lingered on for many years although I think this feature had gone by the first time I went to Battersea Park.

festival-gardens-1954-01-copy

A quiet spot for mothers to take young children, with the possibility of water- based play for older ones. There was a paddling pool not far from this spot but on this particular day you could get your feet a little bit wet if you fancied that. No danger.

The duo below are doing nothing risky either , in 1959.

chips

Although they’re clearly starving.

In another part of Chelsea in the same year, a more decorous pastime.

victor-sylvesters-dance-studio-gaumont-cinema-kings-road-1959

The girls are having to dance with each other at Victor Silvester’s Dance Studio at the Gaumont Cinema, in the King’s Road. This is the rock’n’roll era, so are they jiving? (I’m no dance expert)

I recently attended the premiere (at the gate Cinema) of a film called Two Potato, an exploration of urban play made by pupils at Colville School in conjunction with Digital Works, a regular partner of the Local Studies library. You can  see it here:

http://www.onepotato.org.uk/film.html

(Full disclosure: I’m among the people who get thanked in the credits.) There’s usually a Q and A after the film in which someone asks the film makers if they would rather have lived in the days depicted in photos by Bignell and others, when kids apparently wandered the streets looking for odd things to do, as in today’s pictures. Rather than the screen dominated lives of modern children. I always like it when someone says no. I enjoyed my 1960s childhood, which did involve a certain amount of wandering around unaccompanied by adults, but in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with modern childhood. There’s more Lego for one thing.

 

Monkeys

Today’s monkeys in the archives are working on a private project.

dsc_6677

Quentin and Vinnie are doing the searching while Steve keeps a look out.

dsc_6679

See you tomorrow.

 

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Christmas Days: a little bit of Bignell

I had another mini-post almost written when I realised that with a few related pictures and a bit of research I could make it into a full-length post and I never waste those ideas when they come so who could I turn to for today’s mini-post but my old friend John Bignell? I’m breaking my own mini-post rule because I could easily grab a few more Bignell pictures and make it another long post but actually putting this handful of images into a short post throws them into relief and emphasises how special they are.

So here are three great Bignell pictures.

From the artistic world, the Tate Gallery in 1959.

Tate gallery Epstein retrospective 1958

A group of men wrestle with a massive sculpture at a retrospective for Jacob Epstein. Struggle seems to bleed out of the statue into the effort to move it. Not being familiar with Epstein’s work at first glance I thought this was a kiss between two titans, but of course thanks to Google Images I realise now that this is a Biblical struggle – Jacob and the Angel. The figure at the rear is lifting the other upward supported by his alabaster wings.

I’ve taken photos of men moving a massive object (a giant safe which had to be taken out of an archive room and moved the length of the basement to a suitable lift) so I understand the process but Bignell has caught the emotional content of the action. The comparatively thin sculpture at the rear seems to convey a sense of anxiety, for the movers, or the statue.A clever bit of framing by Bignell, or just a piece of luck?

If you look at my post about Lionel Davidson’s novel the Chelsea Murders you’ll see one of Bignell’s fanciful pictures, Satan Triumphant featuring a black clad man in a devil’s mask with a woman in white.

This picture from 1955 is in the same vein.

Virtue fight back - Bignell 1955l

Entitled “Virtue fights back” this is a very strange image. On a rooftop opposite St Paul’s Cathedral another black clad man with the face of a skull and clawed hands fences with a woman who looks like a circus performer. What is going on? Is it the same couple? It looks like the same cape. I’ve yet to find any more Bignell pictures in this vein so you may never read a long post about Bignell and urban fantasy. That’s what it reminds me of though,Neal Gaiman’s novel/TV series Neverwhere and Christopher Fowler’s first (and best in my opinion) novel Roofworld, both about hidden worlds which co-exist with the mundane version of London.

From the circus to a funfair:

Battersea fun fair 1957 jb113

This is another late 50s picture, one of a small set featuring the fun fair in Battersea Park. The woman having some 1950s difficulty with her wide skirt and its supporting petticoat is climbing out of the Caterpillar, a favourite ride for couples.You have to wonder if Bignell set this up but what is definitely genuine is the atmosphere of good humoured fun.

So there’s Bignell playing with the real and the artificial, in three different ways. Every photograph sits somewhere on the line between chance and intention.


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