Tag Archives: Thistle Grove

The Red Portfolio: more tales of old Brompton

It’s an archivist’s joke. The watercolour paintings by an unknown artist which were formerly kept in a red portfolio are now stored in a green archive box labelled…the Red Portfolio. The pictures, probably loose sheets by the time they fell into the archivist’s hands were carefully removed from the portfolio and mounted or (later) put into acetate sleeves. On the reverse of the sheets the artist wrote notes, some of them copious. These were later transcribed, not always precisely, as the archivist was sometimes better informed than the artist on certain historical points.

Old Brompton 2530

The village of Old Brompton in the late 1820s (“opposite Brompton Heath and Selwood Lane”). A rural spot with a motley collection of houses looking a little like they might be about to collapse. In the house on the left the hindquarters of a horse are visible, and a woman in the window remonstrating with someone. Actually I think it was Sallad Lane, as shown on this map of 1829 by Crutchley.

Crutchley 1829 Brompton - Copy

The map locates Old Brompton fairly precisely. Since then the name has been used to describe a much vaguer area. Nearby was another quiet thoroughfare.

Old houses Thistle Grove 2525

Thistle Grove (now Drayton Gardens, not the modern Thistle Grove). On the right the Jolly Paviours Inn (Paviours were artisans who laid paving stones – though not in this neighbourhood by the looks of it), a favourite of the artist George Morland. He was said to be responsible for painting the inn sign, and for paying his bar bill with a painting for the parlour. They always say that about feckless artists though, don’t they? (Although Morland was more feckless than most.)

I like the house on the left with the stairs leading up to the front door, conveniently situated above the muddy road. Quite a nice house for an artist or a place for a visitor to stay.

We learn a few facts about the painter of these pictures along the way but we never find out a name or a gender. The artist was familiar with the history of the area through local tradition and thorough knowledge of the work of Thomas Faulkner, one of the pioneers of local history in west London to whom he or she sometimes refers in his penciled notes. (The slight evidence of poor handwriting and time spent in taverns made me lean towards a male artist, but the same handwriting and a certain delicacy of touch made my colleague M argue the case that she was a woman. There is no overwhelming proof either way.)

We have to move off the map section above way past the western limit of the territory we can call Brompton to a cluster of buildings near Putney Bridge called Fulham. In the High Street was a tavern called the Golden Lion Inn.

Golden Lion front 2520

A Golden Lion still exists today, a little altered probably.  Down the same street closer to Putney Bridge stands a building which is now a pub called the Temperance, an ironic name for a former temperance hall. I remember it in the 1970s when it was a snooker / billiards hall. When I first went there my friends announced that we were going to a place called “Lards”. It had that name because those were the only remaining letters in the illuminated sign.

Forgive my digression. I brought you down here for a glimpse inside.

Golden Lion Inn High Street Fulham interior of the hall 1837-40 2518

The artist gives the measurements of the empty room and reports that it was the residence of Bishop Benson.

Golden Lion Inn High Street Fulham interior servants room 2521

This equally vacant space was the servant’s hall.

This is what I wanted to show you. Perhaps it was a habit of painters at this time but this interest in empty rooms is also a feature of the work of that other enigmatic local watercolourist Marianne Rush. (Try the link) There are other shared characteristics.

Florida Gardens 2529

The extravagant and slightly inaccurate foliage is a Rush trope. So is the over-sized writing on the sign and the figures which don’t quite seem to belong. Florida Gardens, Hogmore Lane  was a house which had been converted into a public tea garden by Mr Hyam,”a German gardener“. It was located on the east side of what is now Gloucester Road, opposite the tube station. There are now many establishments on this spot where you can buy burgers or coffee, or change some currency. No gardens to sit in though.

Residence of M la Touche Little Chelsea 2526a

The residence of Monsieur la Touche in Little Chelsea has the same exotic vegetation with some  particularly wild trees. I have been unable to find any details about the resident himself. Is that door open? Is there a smudge-like figure standing at it? Mrs Rush used to like details like that.

I’m not suggesting the artist actually is Mrs Rush. There are plenty of differences. To be unkind for a moment it may be that they share a lack of some artistic skills with regard to depicting objects and places but I could also say they share a kind of weird vision which overcomes any objection to technique.

Billings Well 2533

Here is Billing’s Well, in the northernmost of a set of fields called the Three Billings. The artist gives an autobiographical snippet: “I use to go for the purpose of gathering water cresses,  being large and good”.

“In 1781 the  waters spread from this well over a large piece of ground….the well is resorted to and frequented by visitors..the water said to be good for sore eyes and legs (its qualitys not known by me)”

The avenue of trees on the right conceals a path which would have taken a walker to Holland House.The field is now part of Brompton Cemetery.

Even though we know her name, the unknown artist is perhaps less of a mystery than Mrs Rush. She or he had a liking for pieces of local history and tradition.

Old House which stood nearly adjoining the Swan Inn 2527

This house  was “nearly adjoining the Swan Inn” (look back at the map), and had been a pest house (a place where victims of infectious diseases were kept, sometimes forcibly). In the early 1700s it was full of Scottish lodgers so was called the Scotts Barracks or slightly libellously the Beggars Rest. The figure of a one legged man is included to illustrate this.

Ship Inn 2523

The Ship Inn (later the Swan) stood, according to the archivist in Swan Lane (later Selwood Terrace) where Queen’s Gate intersects with Old Brompton Road. You can see from the map that this is not quite right as Selwood Terrace (where Dickens stayed briefly before his marriage) was nearer to Fulham Road.

I’m only showing you eleven pictures this week. I’m holding back a few of the Red Portfolio pictures for another day. But the last one is an intriguing one I think.

Red Lion Tea Gardens Brompton 1782 2537

The Red Lion Tea Gardens, “stood on the high Brompton Road to Earl’s Court“, an unfortunately imprecise description. (There was a tea garden behind the Swan). The sign, surrounded by a ring of ropes, depicts a somewhat eccentric red lion with a word which looks like “snips“. Beneath it hangs an embroidered smock and a bonnet. The artist suggests that these are a prize for the winner of a game played in the grounds. I on the other hand am tempted to imagine some esoteric or ceremonial rural activity involving an effigy and a person. But more than a century of supernatural stories lie between me and the artist so I won’t let my imagination run away with me. I’ll leave it to you to wonder who was going to wear those garments and why. Perhaps if you had been walking by that day you might have shuddered and waked on instead of entering.

We’ll do that ourselves and as the sun goes down we’ll stroll back through the fields and paths back to those upper rooms in Thistle Grove. We could cross the road to the tavern later and look at Morland’s picture. And listen, like the unknown artist, to some of our fellow patrons’ stories of old Brompton.

Postscript

The unknown artist shares his or her area of interest with our old friend the  artist William Cowen who was a rather more skilled painter. But I’m glad to add her or him to the list of artists who have chronicled that rural hinterland between Kensington and Chelsea. I’m sure we’ll be back there again.

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The artist in the mirror world – Yoshio Markino

Some years after Mortimer Menpes made his first journeys to Japan and brought a Western sensibility to an Eastern country, another artist was making the same journey in reverse. Yoshio Markino (Heiji Makino as he was born, in 1869) sailed from Yokohama to San Francisco at the age of 24. In 1897 he travelled to London where he stayed for more than forty years, bringing the artistic sensibility of Japan to his new home.

Markino lived in various parts of London including Greenwich, New Cross, Kensal Rise, Norwood and Brixton. But he found his longest lasting home in Kensington and Chelsea.

Chelsea Embankment - JAIL

He painted the city in many moods but his preference seemed to be for overcast  days, for night time and above all for fog.  London in mist is far above my own ideal….the colour and its effect are most wonderful. I think London without mists would be like a bride without a trousseau….The London mist attracts me so that I do not feel I could live any other place but London.

He was sometimes called the painter of fog.

The Thames at Ranelagh - JAIL

Some of the figures in his pictures look lost and lonely as if he was anticipating the night time urban views of Edward Hopper. Here is a view of his lodging house in Sydney Street.

Copy of Our Lodgings in Sydney Street RAR

The monochrome view makes the street look grim and cold. But there were bright lights in the misty places as in this picture of Earls Court Station.

Earls Court Station - JAIL

Look at the bright clothes of the two women in the foreground, travelling to or from a theatre or the nearby exhibition centre:

The Lake Earls Court by night COL

There is that Japanese love of water too. The wet pavement reflects everything as if the whole city was built on a lake.

Sloane Square wet day COL

“A wet day in Sloane Square”

He did venture out in daylight too but as he says December is my favourite month in London.

Cale Street Chelsea in snow January 1907

Cale Street, quite close to his lodging house, perhaps looking out of the window.

There were some summer and autumn days, never entirely without the hint of mist.

Reading in Kensington Gardens - JB

A woman sits reading in Kensington Gardens. A little further south there were crowds in Brompton Road outside the  museums Markino admired.

Outside South Kensington Museum - JAIL

But it was the gloom he loved best, the glimpses of people entering or leaving  brightly lit interiors setting out on a night time journey.

The Oratory Brompton Road COL

Here at Brompton Oratory, or below at the Carlton Hotel.

The porch of the Carlton Hotel at night COL

Markino wrote several books about his life in London. He experienced hardship and illness before he could make a comfortable living as a freelance artist and writer but never lost his commitment to his adopted home. At one point he worked for a stonemason in Norwood designing angels  for memorials in the nearby cemetery. The stonemason regretfully let him go because his angels were too feminine – “more like ballet girls than angels”.

Perhaps the feeling of being a stranger gives his pictures that air of lonely detachment. I was pleased to find this one in My Recollections and Reflections (1913).

Copy of Thistle Grove RAR

Thistle Grove with its Narnian lamposts which bring back memories of William Cowen the water colour artist who painted that area nearly seventy years before.  It’s difficult to be sure whether this view is looking north or south. Because of the wall I’m leaning towards the Fulham Road end. Not so far from this scene:

Fulham Road - JAIL

The tall grimy buildings, the distant tower of St Stephen’s hospital, the shadows, the damp, the mist and amid the gloom the lights of shops and the brightness of the people living in the dark city.

Postscript

I had only been vaguely aware of Markino when I was looking for something to follow up last week’s post on Menpes. And this, if you don’t mind me saying, is the value of  special collections in libraries, in our case of biographies and books about London. I found  a great many pictures by Markino in his memoirs and his collaborations with other writers. The  quotations come from the introductory essay in The Colour of London.

Like Mortimer Menpes we may come back to Yushio Markino.

A Japanese artist in London (1912)

My recollections and reflections (1913)

The colour of London (with W J Loftie) (1907)

Yoshio Markino: a Japanese artist in Edwardian London (1995). By Sammy I. Tsunematsu.


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