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My Scrap Collection

October 20, 2018
by the gentle author

For some time, I have been collecting Victorian scraps of tradesmen and street characters. I am especially fascinated by the mixture of whimsical fantasy and social observation in these colourful miniatures, in which even the comic grotesques are derived from the daily reality of the collectors who once cherished these images.

Street Photographer

Exotic Birds

Sweets & Dainties

Acrobat & Performing Dog

Performing Dogs

The Muffin Man

Street Musician

Street Musician

Baker

Smoker

Butcher

Waiter

Itinerant

Sweep

Naturalist

Lounge Lizard

Dustman

Costermonger

Spraying the roads

Milkman

Knife Grinder

Scottish Herring Girls followed the shoals around the East Coast, gutting and packing the herring.

Herring Girl

You may like to see these other scraps from my collection

Cries of London Scraps

Victorian Tradesmen Scraps

At The Barbican

October 19, 2018
by the gentle author

Polly Powell, whose father Geoffry was one of the architects of the Barbican, sent me this short memoir of growing up in the shadow of the design and construction of a Brutalist masterpiece. Inspired by Polly, I took a walk around the Barbican recently with my camera, trying to look with fresh eyes and seek photographs that are not the familiar images.

“The Barbican was never far away in our household. Beneath our feet were those distinctive maroon floor tiles so redolent of the place which my father, Geoffry Powell, had chosen for the entire seamless ground floor of our house, Glen Cottage in Petersham. Presumably he had got a rather good deal on them. But they absolutely epitomised what he liked. They were well-made, robust, richly coloured, with a nod to ancient Roman heritage, but mostly they responded well to polishing, a means by which light could be brought into the house.

But the tiles were not the only reason for the Barbican to loom large in our lives. The entire development, thirty-five years in the making, coincided with the formative years of the family.  We were sheltered from most of the ups and downs of the development’s protracted gestation because my father was by nature a cheerful person and preferred to leave work at the door. I remember an occasion, however, towards the end of the building of the development, when he was required to make an inspection from the top of one of the towers. He described how he had had to do a little jump in order to get into the window-cleaner’s cradle. I was both admiring and terrified by this feat of bravery. In fact, I learned later that the purpose for his inspection had been prompted by the threat of litigation which was perhaps more frightening.

The main office of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon was in Lamont Rd Passage, situated behind the kink in the King’s Rd, Chelsea. The building was a late-Victorian print works which the partners chose because of its large north-facing windows that let in maximum light. The building was divided into two floors: the top floor had one enormous space with cubby-hole offices for each of the partners and a meeting room. It was accessed via a shaky double-height spiral staircase which was always exciting to climb. On the ground floor, where everyone else sat, there was an old parquet floor covered with huge ink splodges from its previous tenants. According to one of the architects who worked there, you could tell if the practice was busy by looking at the angle of the drawing boards. If the boards were flattish (with fewer people in the office), then it was quieter, but if the boards were at a jaunty angle (more people necessitating more squeeze) then business was good. Needless to say, the firm was largely busy throughout its life and was, reportedly, the largest architectural practice in Europe at one point. In due course, the practice opened a second Barbican site office in one of the early flats overlooking the lake.

The three partners – Jo, Geoffry and Christoph – maintained a life-long respect and admiration for each other, enjoying holidays and Sunday lunches together outside the office.  An important ingredient in this was the role of Jean Chamberlin who was married to Jo. Jean was a warm but determined woman who ran the Lamont Rd Passage with a rod of iron and bustled around the place, more often than not with a dash of lipstick on her whiskery face. Christoph Bon lived with Jo and Jean for most of his adult life, the three of them sharing a triumvirate of beautiful homes – South Edwardes Sq in Kensington (including a self-contained flat for Christoph), Mas Gouge in Provence, and The Mill House, Sonning. Mas Gouge was a fortified farm, simple and solid with a large terrace overlooking the valley below.  The main structure was an old farmhouse, the guts of which had been removed to create a soaring three-storey open atrium sitting area with bedrooms and studies overlooking the main space from the floors above. Walls were decorated with contemporary craft pieces, some created by their friends. Here at Mas Gouge, they went to relax and enjoy the local French food – the vast fully-equipped kitchen was Christoph’s domain and was designed with white square tiles and a large tiled island, long before such things became popular. Despite the grandiose nature of the house, it still required a small hand-pump to bring water into the building. Everyone who stayed there was required to spend ten minutes at the pump.

The Mill House in Sonning was set on an island in the Thames, and allowed them to keep an Edwardian launch which was chugged out on special occasions. In the garden, there was a concrete structure surrounding a fire pit, comprising two high-backed semi-circular concrete benches. The idea was that there would be a blazing fire which, once calmed, would comfortably heat the concrete seats. The Mill House was also the setting for the Practice’s retirement party, an occasion at which the partners insisted on serving everyone who had ever worked at the firm. The Mill House is better known now as the home of George and Amil Clooney. When Jo died, Christoph and Jean spent much time travelling with the Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Christoph personally financed a monograph on Bawa’s home Lunaganga.

My father and Christoph lived long enough to witness a new-found affection for Brutalism in general and the work of the practice in particular. The partners were from a generation that regarded architecture as a profession and as such were not self-promoters – indeed there are very few photographs of them other than holiday snaps. Arguably, their ambivalence towards PR was perhaps a factor behind the Barbican’s negative reception in the early years. So it is particularly gratifying to see the Barbican and other buildings by the firm being appreciated once more by people voting with their feet.” – Polly Powell

Polly Powell’s memoir is included in THE BARBICAN ESTATE by Stefi Orazi & Christoffer Rudquist, published by Pavilion Books to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the estate in 2019

You may also like to read about

Dorothy Annan’s murals at the Barbican

On Top Of Britannic House With Lew Tassell

How To Make Prashad

October 18, 2018
by the gentle author

To celebrate publication day for the very first London Sikh biography, A MODEST LIVING, MEMOIRS OF A COCKNEY SIKH by Suresh Singh, we are making prashad – the Sikh holy sweet – and two other delicious Punjabi recipes.

In the book, Suresh Singh’s chapters of biography are alternated with Jagir Kaur’s traditional recipes from the Punjab, as cooked in Spitalfields over the last seventy years at 38 Princelet St.

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Prashad is made using butter, semolina, sugar, and water – four simple ingredients. Dad used to make this ‘gracious gift’ and we still make it today. It is always given out at gurdwaras whenever Sikhs gather, served to everyone irrespective of rank or caste. The offering must be served with and accepted with hands only. At 38 Princelet St, Dad said we could use plates. Before anyone eats, five portions of prashad representing each of the five beloved gurus, are taken out of the bowl and laid aside. Dad used to make us put these into the fire.

Traditionally, the person receiving prashad must be seated or low on the ground to humbly accept the offering with two hands. Both the person giving and the one receiving the offering should try to cover their heads. (At home, we used to have to run off to find something to cover ours.)

Makes about twenty portions

1 cup ghee or unsalted butter
1 cup coarse semolina
1 cup sugar
3 cups water

Add the sugar to the water in a pot and bring to the boil.

In another pan, melt the ghee or unsalted butter.

When the butter is melted, add the semolina to the melted butter and stir the mixture continuously to lightly toast the flour.

Continue stirring the flour and butter mixture while the sugar and water mixture boils to make a light syrup. The butter will separate from the toasted flour, turning a deep golden colour and emanating a godly aroma.

Pour the boiling sugar syrup into the toasted flour and butter, mixing it with a wooden spoon. Stir rapidly until the water is absorbed. Keep stirring the prashad as it thickens into a firm mix.

The prashad is ready when it slides easily from the pan into a bowl. We like serving each portion with a few raisins and then the blessing is complete.

Sarson Da Saag is served in gurdwaras. Dad and all the family loved it because it is a distinctively Punjabi recipe and a glorious green colour. Yellow rotis are traditionally eaten with this dish.

Makes about twenty generous portions

FOR THE VEGETABLE BASE

4 bunches of saag (mustard leaves) 2 bunches of spinach
1 bunch of bathua (pigweed)
2 bunches of methi ( fenugreek)
1 leek
1 bunch of large spring onions, cleaned and chopped 1 bulb of garlic, (about 6–8 cloves) peeled, not chopped

FOR THE CARAMELISED ONION MIXTURE

mustard oil
butter/ghee
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 bulb of garlic (about 6–8 cloves), finely chopped 8–10 green chillies, finely chopped
salt
3 inch piece of ginger
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 cup makki atta (corn flour)

Wash and finely chop the mustard and spinach leaves, piling them into a large pot. Add the chopped onions and the whole garlic cloves. Add one litre of hot water to the greens and bring to a boil. Simmer for about half an hour until tender.

Meanwhile, in a smaller pan, add the onions, then the mustard oil, butter/ghee, garlic, ginger, green chilli and cumin seeds. Cook until the onions are caramelised and the mixture turns a golden brown (when I was young, the National Front used to beat me up for smelling of caramelised onion).

Add the onion mixture to the large pot with the greens and mix well together. Add the makki atta gradually, mixing thoroughly.

When everything is combined, blend the whole mixture in a blender, being careful not to make it too mushy and leaving some of the texture intact. Once the mixture is blended, simmer for another fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with yellow rotis.

Kahdi - this Punjabi gurdwara yogurt fills you up. Turmeric gives it a beautiful yellow colour. When asked, I always say that this is our curry. The lovely thing about our yogurt is that you can add as many vegetables as you please to it.

Makes about twenty generous portions

FOR THE BASE

400g full fat yogurt
3–3.5 litres of hot water
1 cup besan flour (gram/chickpea flour) 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
75g butter

FOR THE CARAMELISED ONION MIXTURE

butter/ghee or mustard oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, diced
1 can of tomatoes
1 whole bulb of garlic, finely chopped
7 green chillies, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
1 pinch Hing-Asafoetida
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
3 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
5 curry leaves, rinse them under water if you use dried ones
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder

First make the base. In a large bowl, mix the yogurt, turmeric, besan flour and butter. Gradually add the water – do this slowly and mix well to make sure there are no lumps.

Pour this mixture into a large pot on a medium heat and bring to a boil. You need to stir the mixture all the time (I used to love doing this job for my mum). If you do not stir the mixture continuously, it will become lumpy and stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the mixture has come to the boil, reduce the heat. The base mixture must simmer for about two hours, and you need keep stirring it regularly.

To make the caramelised onion mixture, cook all the ingredients in the butter/ghee or mustard oil until golden brown.

Once the base mixture has been simmering for about two hours, add the caramelised onion mixture and simmer, stirring occasionally, for another fifteen minutes.

For added flavour, you can sprinkle some Garam Masala on top. Jagir uses a teaspoon each of jeera (cumin), coriander seeds, cardamom seeds, green cardamon, sunth (dried ginger powder), and two whole cloves of garlic, one cinnamon stick and three black peppercorns. She mixes and grinds this all together.

Suresh Singh & Jagir Kaur at 38 Princelet St this summer

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

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Click here to order a signed copy of A MODEST LIVING for £20

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Suresh Singh will be in conversation with Stefan Dickers at the Write Idea Festival at the Whitechapel Idea Store on Saturday November 17th at 1pm. CLICK HERE TO BOOK A FREE TICKET

The Small Trades Of Spitalfields

October 17, 2018
by the gentle author

This Saturday 20th October at 11am I am giving an illustrated lecture on THE SMALL TRADES OF SPITALFIELDS in the crypt of Christ Church, exploring how the culture of artisans created the identity of Spitalfields and how the small traders are faring today. This event is part of HUGUENOT SKILLS DAY which includes demonstrations, workshops and lectures. Click here for tickets and further information

When these die-cut Victorian scraps of small trades are enlarged to several times their actual size, the detail and characterisation of these figures is revealed splendidly. Printed by rich-hued colour lithography, glossy and embossed, these appealing images celebrate the essential tradesmen and shopkeepers that were once commonplace but now are scarce.

In the course of my interviews, I have spoken with hundreds of shopkeepers and stallholders – and it is apparent that most only make just enough money to live, yet are primarily motivated by the satisfaction they get from their chosen trade and the appreciation of regular customers.

Here in the East End, these are the family businesses and independent traders who have created the identity of the place and carry the life of our streets. Consequently, I delight in these portraits of their predecessors, the tradesmen of the nineteenth century – rendered as giants by these monumental enlargements.

You may also like to take a look at these other sets of the Cries of London

London Characters

Geoffrey Fletcher’s Pavement Pounders

Faulkner’s Street Cries

William Craig Marshall’s Itinerant Traders

London Melodies

Henry Mayhew’s Street Traders

H.W.Petherick’s London Characters

John Thomson’s Street Life in London

Aunt Busy Bee’s New London Cries

Marcellus Laroon’s Cries of London

John Player’s Cries of London

More John Player’s Cries of London

William Nicholson’s London Types

John Leighton’s London Cries

Francis Wheatley’s Cries of London

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana of 1817

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana II

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana III

Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

More of Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

Adam Dant’s  New Cries of Spittlefields

Lew Tassell At Charles & Diana’s Wedding

October 16, 2018
by the gentle author

We join Detective Constable Lew Tassell of the Fraud Squad on duty on the roof of Ludgate House for the wedding of His Royal Highness Prince Charles & Lady Diana Spencer on 29th July 1981, thanks to his personal photographs published here for the first time

The view from Ludgate Circus at dawn

“In July 1981, I was a Detective Constable in the City of London Police attached to the Fraud Squad at Wood St Police Station. The City of London force was quite small and an occasion such as a royal wedding required every officer to be involved, as well as drafting officers from other forces for the day.

On the day of the wedding, I was based in Ludgate House on the north-west quadrant of Ludgate Circus. The night before I walked to Hyde Park to watch the fireworks and then back along the route to Wood St, where I spent the night sleeping on the floor of my office before a very early morning start. Following a shower and wearing my best suit, I walked to Snow Hill Police Station for a 5:45am muster.

Then I walked to Ludgate House taking my camera along. The procession along the Strand to St Paul’s did not just involve royalty and the military but also celebrities. The crowd loved that. Spike Milligan held the proceedings up on at least a couple of occasions in Fleet St and Ludgate Hill by stopping the car to interact with the crowd.

Although it was extra to my duties as an investigator in the Fraud Squad, I really enjoyed all the state duties I was involved with and I felt it was a privilege – I certainly got to meet some interesting people.”

Ludgate Hill

NBC TV crew on the roof of Ludgate House

Fleet St

Ludgate Circus

The Queen & Prince Philip

Prince Charles & Prince Andrew

Earl Spencer on the way to the Cathedral with Diana

Awaiting the return procession

Charles & Diana

India Hicks, thirteen-year-old bridesmaid

The Queen Mother & Prince Andrew

Princess Anne & Princess Margaret

The Duke & Duchess of Kent

Princess Alexandra & Sir Angus Ogilvy

Detective Constable Lew Tassell of the Fraud Squad, 1981

Photographs copyright © Lew Tassell

You may also like to take a look at

On Night Patrol With Lew Tassell

On Top Of Britannic House With Lew Tassell

A Walk Around The Docks With Lew Tassell