I dropped by to visit Rodney Archer, the Aesthete of Fournier St, yesterday for a Saturday afternoon cup of tea and to admire the new exhibition of drawings by Clare Winsten (born Clara Birnberg in 1894) who was the only woman artist among the so-called ‘Whitechapel Boys.’
Studying at the Slade between 1910 and 1912, with Isaac Rosenberg and David Bomberg, Clare was the sole female exhibitor in the 1914 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery which marked the formation of the group. After her marriage to fellow artist Stephen Weinstein, she and her husband changed their names to Winsten.
This new exhibition offers a poignant opportunity to appreciate the work of an unjustly-neglected artist, whose occasional drawings reveal a lively talent and a keen observer of personality. Dating from Clare’s art school years until her death in 1989, these drawings and portrait sketches comprise the contents of a portfolio accumulated throughout a lifetime and they look at home displayed together upon the panelled rooms of Rodney’s old house on Fournier St.
Clare Winston’s Drawings are at 31 Fournier St from next Tuesday 5th until Saturday 16th May. Numbers are limited and visits are by appointment only.
To receive an invitation, please email email@example.com saying when exactly you would like to visit and how many will be in your party.
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The Spitalfields Trust presents ELECTION HUSTINGS with Parliamentary Candidates at 7pm on Tuesday 5th May at Toynbee Hall, Commercial St – discussing the proposed developments at Bishopsgate Goodsyard, in Norton Folgate, and on the Holland Estate. Admission free & all welcome.
An Election Entertainment by William Hogarth
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Canvassing for Votes by William Hogarth
Barn the Spoon makes a May Day whistle
Taking advantage of the spring sunshine, I wandered over to Stepney City Farm to visit Barn the Spoon’s Green Wood Guild, where ancient wood working techniques are taught. Clouds of smoke were emerging from the forge and inside, Nic Westermann, a Bladesmith was teaching his students how to make knives for spoon carving. They were hammering strips of metal to forge the blades, carving wooden handles and then burning the blades into the handles to fit them in place.
Barn the Spoon and I decided to leave the noisy workshop and seek a quiet corner of the farm, where he showed me how to make a sycamore whistle – a traditional instrument to celebrate May Day and the arrival of summer.
Working quickly with practiced skill and using a straight knife of the kind I had seen being forged, Barn cut a short section from a sycamore branch. First he carved out the mouthpiece at one end and then incised a line in the bark around the circumference of the branch.
“At this time of year, there’s a lot of activity in the tree with the sap moving,” Barn informed me, while tapping his branch with the handle of his knife playfully,“so you can pull the bark from the tree.” The new year’s growth takes place where the trunk meets the bark, known as the ‘cambium,’ which allows you to slide off a neat cylinder of bark – as Barn did, once he had loosened it by tapping. It was an impressive trick.
Barn’s final step was to carve out the sound chamber for his whistle before sliding the bark back into place. Then, in a moment of expectation, he raised the whistle to his lips and, to our shared amazement, it worked. Justly proud, Barn sat there beneath the tree with his pipe at the ready to welcome summer, just like a character of legend.
Nic Westermann, Bladesmith
Nick hammers a blade
One of the students burns the knife into the wooden handle
A straight knife and a spoon knife
Barn carves the mouthpiece of his sycamore whistle
Barn demonstrates how the loose bark can be slid off the branch
Barn carves the sound chamber of the whistle
Barn tests his whistle
A sycamore whistle
Barn the Spoon’s shop is at 260 Hackney Rd, E2 7SJ. (10am-5pm, Friday-Sunday)
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In a narrow hidden yard behind the Good Samaritan public house at the back of the Royal London Hospital grows the ancient Whitechapel Mulberry. Roy Emmins, the sculptor, who has lived in the flats next door for more than thirty years told me about it and opened the locked wooden gates to usher me inside this week.
Overshadowed on three sides by high walls, the yard is barely used by residents but – in the middle of the day – it functions as a sun trap, and this is sufficient encouragement for the Mulberry to flourish. Entering the quiet of the yard and leaving the clamour of Whitechapel behind you, it is astonishing to encounter the venerable Mulberry sequestered there, like a mythical beast lurking in a secret den. At six feet above ground, the twisted trunk divides into three branches, angled like a candelabre and lifting up the crown towards the light. Of indeterminate age, gnarled and supported by props, the Whitechapel Mulberry still produces fruit and Roy remembers harvesting the crop with his father to make wine thirty years ago.
Once we had paid due horticultural homage , Roy took me upstairs to show me the new water features in his rooftop sculpture garden and introduce to me to his three-legged cat, Sid, who has joined the household since I last visited. From here, we were able to peer down upon the Mulberry from above and raise our eyes to enjoy the view across the Whitechapel rooftops on a perfect spring day.
The Whitechapel Mulberry
The Whitechapel Mulberry seen from Roy’s roof garden
Looking east from Roy’s roof garden
Sid, Roy’s three-legged cat, dozes in the spring sunshine
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and Mulberry Trees
In response to the campaign launched by David Collard and supported by readers of Spitalfields Life, the developers have decided to retain the facade of Spiegelhalters so that the legend may live on
Spiegelhalters, Mile End Rd
Five years ago, you could look through the metal shutter and see Spiegelhalters’ nineteenth century shopfront intact with its curved glass window and mosaic entrance floor spelling out “Spiegelhalters.” Since then, with disdainful arrogance, the owners of the building have destroyed this, leaving just the front wall of the building – and were ready to proceed with demolition to create a glass atrium when the campaign to Save Speigelhalters was launched in January of this year.
At first, the developers claimed fatuously that the void in the terrace left by the demolition would be a ‘homage’ to Speigelhalters but – after a petition signed by two thousand seven hundred people and objections by the East End Preservation Society, Victorian Society and English Heritage – Resolution Property have revised their planning application as you see below.
Demonstrating modesty worthy of Uriah Heep, the architects’ spokesman admitted, “we are not arrogant enough to believe we are right and everyone else is wrong,” then qualifed his statement by adding, “we still feel it is a slightly missed opportunity to create something more interesting.” So, although the development that is proposed for Wickham’s itself remains hideously overblown and the nineteenth century fabric of the Spiegelhalter building and its beautiful shopfront should never have been destroyed, we have been granted this small mercy.
Resolution Property have abandoned their proposal to replace the historic Spiegelhalters with a void
The revised proposal for Spiegelhalters by architects Buckley Gray Yeoman
Resolution Property’s scheme for Wickham’s
THE STORY OF SPIEGELHALTERS
Observe how the gap-toothed smile of this building undermines the pompous ambition of its classical design. Without this gaping flaw, it would be just another example of debased classicism but, thanks to the hole in the middle, it transcends its own thwarted architectural ambitions to become a work of unintentional genius.
Built in 1927, Wickham’s Department Store in the Mile End Rd was meant to be the “Harrods of East London.” The hubris of its developers was such that they simply assumed the small shopkeepers in this terrace would all fall into line and agree to move out, so the masterplan to build the new department store could proceed. But they met their match in the Spiegelhalters at 81 Mile End Rd, the shop you see sandwiched in the middle. The first Mr Spiegelhalter had set up his jewellery business in Whitechapel in 1828 when he emigrated from Germany, and his descendants moved to 81 Mile End Rd in 1880, where the business was run by three Spiegelhalter brother who had been born on the premises. These brothers refused all inducements to sell.
I wish I could have been a fly on the wall of the office of those developers because there must have been words – before they came to the painful, compromised decision to go ahead and build around the Spiegelhalters. Maybe they comforted themselves with the belief that eventually the gap could be closed and their ambitions fully realised at some later date? If so, it was a short-lived consolation because the position of the Spiegelhalters’ property was such that the central tower of Wickham’s Department Store had to be contructed off-centre with seven window bays on the left and nine on the right, rather than nine on either side. This must have been the final crushing humiliation for the developers – how the Spiegelhalter brothers must have laughed.
The presence of the word “halter” within the name Spiegelhalter cannot have escaped the notice of bystanders - ”Spiegel-halter by name, halter by nature!” they surely observed. Those stubborn Spiegelhalters had the last laugh too, because the lopsided department store which opened in 1927, closed in the nineteen sixties, while the Spiegelhalters waited until 1988 to sell out, over a century after they opened. I think they made their point.
As self-evident testimony to the story of its own construction, the Wickham’s conglomeration is simultaneously a towering monument to the relentless ambition that needs to be forever modernising, and also to the contrary stick-in-the-mud instinct that sees no point in any change. Willpower turned back on itself created this unique edifice. The paradoxical architecture of Wickham’s Department Store inadvertently achieves what many architects dream of – because in its very form and structure, it expresses something profound about the contradictory nature of what it means to be human.
Wickhams seen from Whitechapel
Spiegelhalters in 1900
The Spitalfields Trust presents ELECTION HUSTINGS at 7pm on Tuesday 5th May at Toynbee Hall, Commercial St – discussing British Land’s proposals for Norton Folgate with Parliamentary Candidates. No booking required
The East End Preservation Society presents HERITAGE ACTIVISM, A FORCE FOR GOOD a talk by Loyd Grossman at St Botolph’s Church Hall, Bishopsgate at 6:30pm on Tuesday 26th May. Admission is free but email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place