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Nicholas Borden’s Winter Paintings

April 24, 2014
by the gentle author

Junction of Vallance Rd & Three Colts Lane (Click to enlarge)

This new picture by Nicholas Borden from last Winter shows the exact spot I first met him in Vallance Rd, painting in the snow, over a year ago. Since then, Nicholas has been extraordinarily productive with two successful shows in Spitalfields and another coming up at the Millinery Works in Islington in the Summer. “When I began, I was at a low point and I needed to help myself, that’s all it was – I didn’t have an audience,” he admitted to me, “but now I have a lot more confidence in my work, it’s allowed me to look at what I do seriously and realise there is a future in it.”

Now we can say for certain that Winter is over, it is possible to take a look back at the oil paintings Nicholas has achieved, working outside while the rest of us were huddled by the fire. “I spend as many days as I can out on the street, if the weather allows I am out seven days a week,” he assured me, “but I can’t work for more than several hours at a time.” Hardy by nature and an experienced fisherman, Nicholas is not discouraged by the weather as these dozen paintings testify. In fact, he is a connoisseur of our cloudy Northern skies which overarch most of his canvasses.

“I’ve always known I wanted to do this,” Nicholas confessed to me as he contemplated his new paintings in modest satisfaction, “but it’s not a social reflex, I don’t have a political agenda – I just feel a compulsion to record what’s around me.”

Shoreditch High St (Click to enlarge)

Mare St (Click to enlarge)

Crescent on Essex Rd (Click to enlarge)

Morning Lane, Hackney (Click to enlarge)

Kings Cross Rd (Click to enlarge)

Kings Cross Station (Click to enlarge)

St Pancras Station

St Pancras Hotel

Covent Garden Underground Station

Charlton Place, Islington

Barbican Towers - work-in-progress

Nicholas Borden

Paintings copyright © Nicholas Borden

You may like to take a look at more of Nicholas Borden’s work

Nicholas Borden’s East End View

Nicholas Borden, Artist

Adam Dant’s London Bestiary

April 23, 2014
by the gentle author

Adam Dant has been at work over Easter to create this splendid portfolio of chiaroscuro wood cuts of Ten Creatures of London Legend which make their debut with TAG Fine Arts at the London Original Print Fair that runs at the Royal Academy from tomorrow until Sunday. In the sprit of Hogarth, you can buy a customised woodcut ticket from Adam for £20 and get a chance to win one of two sets of these prints being raffled.

The Vegetable Lamb Of Tartary, Lambeth Palace

This was believed to be a sheep grown on a plant from a melon-like seed. Introduced to England by Sir John Mandeville in the fourteenth century, an example of this legendary zoophyte can be found at Lambeth Palace.

The City Of London Dragon, Chancery Lane

The dragon guards the boundary of the City of London and its design is based upon a seven-foot-high original created by J B Bunning in 1849, upon the roof of the former Coal Exchange in Lower Thames St.

The Werewolf Of London, Guys Hospital

In 1963, Dr John Illis of Guys Hospital wrote a paper On Porphyria & Aetiology  Of Werewolves, arguing that red teeth, photosensitivity and psychosis experienced by those suffering of Porphyria may have been the characteristics that led to them being mistaken for werewolves.

The Enlightenment Merman, British Museum

Part-monkey and part-fish, the Merman was ‘caught’ in Japan in the eighteenth century and given to Queen Victoria’s virtuous grandson Prince Arthur who donated the desiccated creature to the British Museum, where it may be found today in the Enlightenment Gallery.

The Olympic Park Monster Catfish, Stratford

In December 2011, a Canada Goose was dragged beneath the waters of the River Lea by an unseen predator believed to be a Monster Catfish known to locals as ‘Darren.’

The Sheep Having A Monstrous Horn, Royal Society

This animal from Devonshire gained fame in the capital having been presented to the Royal Society on account of a giant twenty-six inch horn which grew from its neck.

Old Martin, Martin Tower At The Tower Of London

Old Martin, the phantom bear of  the Tower of London’s Martin Tower is reported to have scared one unfortunate beefeater to death. A bear by the name of Old Martin was given to George III by the Hudson Bay Company in 1811 when the Tower had its own menagerie.

Spring-Heeled Jack, Bearbinder Rd In Mile End

Numerous sightings of a violent demonic creature with supernatural abilities at jumping terrorised people  in the East End in 1838.

The Phantom Chicken, Pond Sq Highgate

The half-plucked Chicken, which was seen most recently in 1970 by a caressing couple, is said to be the same chicken which Sir Francis Bacon had attempted to pack with ice in 1626 during an early experiment in freezing food that resulted in the philosopher’s death from Pneumonia.

Twelve Foot Fossilised Irish Giant, Broad St Station

Weighing two tons and fifteen hundredweight and standing twelve feet two inches tall, the fossilised ‘Irish Giant’ disappeared from Broad St Station in 1876 after being dug up by a Mr Dyer in County Antrim and toured around Liverpool and Manchester.

Images copyright © Adam Dant

Email to buy a customised woodcut ticket for £20 for a chance to win one of two sets of  woodcut prints of Ten Creatures Of London Legend being raffled.

Greengrocers & Hardware In Aldersgate

April 22, 2014
by the gentle author

Aldersgate takes its name from one of the ancient gateways to the City of London that formerly divided the street into “within” and “without.” Here Shakespeare once owned property and, in later days, John Wesley had a religious experience which led to the founding of Methodism.

Yet Aldersgate does not declare its history readily, dominated now by the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates. Although Crescent House still harbours a string of independent shops which tell their own modest story of the family businesses that have lined this street for centuries – as Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven & I found out when we went calling recently.

John Horwood, Greengrocer

“My dad Harry, his old shop used to be opposite Barbican Underground station,” explained John, “He got moved out in 1964, when they were building the Barbican, and he opened up here in Crescent House in 1965 – but William, my grandfather, he had a shop before that in Goswell Rd.”

John was standing amidst a fine array of high-quality fruit and vegetables that testify to the three generations of experience which lie behind him and also to his nightly visits to Covent Garden Market, topping up the stock daily to keep everything fresh. Mystified why people visit the supermarkets that surround him to buy inferior produce at higher prices, John is proud that he has kept faith in the trade he grew up in. It is a matter of honour for him. Consequently, John has loyal customers who once visited his father’s shop and still buy their vegetables from John regularly today, including several retired nurses from St Bart’s Hospital who live locally – one of whom, Nancy, is ninety-six.

“Five nights a week, I get up at quarter past one and and I am at the market by quarter to two, then I get back here around five thirty and. after preparation, I am ready to open at eight,” he admitted to me proudly, “In the past, this shop had five or six people in it but now there’s just me.”

John’s greengrocer’s shop is one of the most appealing I have visited, not for the overtly demonstrative nature of his displays but because everything is chosen and arranged with such care and attention. “I attempt to find the best and I have a big range of fruit,” he assured me with twinkly eyes and quiet enthusiasm, ” I have artichokes and chicory at present, which are very popular with the Italian travel agents across the road.”

These days, John supplements his business by selling a splendid variety of plants alongside clay flowerpots, watering cans and compost, fulfilling the demand from residents of surrounding flats who cultivate window boxes and pot plants upon their sills. So, if you are in Aldersgate, I urge you to seek out John Horwood, a dignified professional and the last of the gentleman grocers in this corner of London.

Marc, Peter, Betty, Paul & Simon Benscher, three generations in hardware

If you were of the Do-It -Yourself frame of mind and you walked into City Hardware in Aldersgate, then you might have an experience of religious intensity – comparable with that of John Wesley three centuries ago – in response to the mind-boggling range of ironmongery that may be obtained here, supplied by the Benscher family.

Simon Benscher who runs the company with his brother Paul told me they have four hundred corporate clients, and his son Marc fitted all the locks at the Olympics – which is mighty impressive for a business started by their parents Peter & Betty in 1965, selling china, glass and fancy goods from a single shop in the same parade. Originally, Peter & Betty were publicans in Poplar who were sick of getting up at four in the morning and wanted a quieter life.

“Simon joined the business from school but I worked in retail in the West End for fifteen years before I started working for the family,” explained Paul, who spends his days behind the counter while his brother Simon handles the paperwork. “He’s office based, I’m counter based,” admitted Paul, outlining the demarcation of responsibility and acting careworn in an exaggerated fashion when his brother appeared waving an invoice. “We’re just a classic Jewish matriarchal family,” Simon announced, by means of explanation, as Paul telephoned his wife, Sonia, who speaks five languages, for an impromptu translation on behalf of a customer with no English. “I do enjoy serving the public,” Simon assured me, “I’ve served everyone from Princess Anne down.”

The two enterprising brothers took over premises close to their parents’ shop and never looked back. And fifty years after they set up their own shop, Peter & Betty are still involved in the family business.“They turn up twice a week and tell us what we’re doing wrong!” confided Simon affectionately.

Paul Benscher

Simon Benscher

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

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Patricia Niven’s Golden Oldies

At The Charterhouse

April 21, 2014
by the gentle author

Brick buildings of 1531 in Preacher’s Court with the Barbican beyond

Desirous of a second visit to view the magnificence of the Charterhouse more closely, I made another call upon my new friend Brother Hilary Haydon one sunny afternoon last week, using the excuse of undertaking a photoessay, and these pictures – interspersed with lantern slides from the Bishopsgate Institute of the same subject a century ago – are the result.

Hilary is also enamoured by the atmosphere of repose conjured by the ancient buildings and lush gardens at the Charterhouse. “I must say, it is very pleasant to relax here and leave those fellows over in the City doing all that stressful hard work,” he confessed to me, now happily retired and enjoying the peace and quiet, after a long career as a Barrister in the Square Mile.

Carved details of the Gatehouse and the Physician’s House, 1716

Gateway of c1400 with Physician’s House built above in 1716

Cloisters in Preacher’s Court

The Preacher’s House built in the eighteen-twenties

Old pump in Preacher’s Court

Tudor chimneys in Preacher’s Court

The Great Staircase, erected in early seventeenth century and destroyed in 1941

Wash House Court

Passageway into Wash House Court

Master’s Court built in 1546

Great Hall built by Thomas Howard in 1571 while under house arrest here for plotting with Mary Queen of Scots to depose Elizabeth I

Portrait of Thomas Sutton in the Great Hall with Thomas Fenner below

Portrait of Elizabeth Salter attributed to Hogarth in the Great Hall

Chapel Cloister

Chapel Cloister

Tomb of Thomas Sutton, the founder of the Charterhouse

Thomas Sutton

The  fifteenth century South Aisle of the Chapel

Brother Hilary Haydon in the North Aisle of the Chapel, added in 1614

Names of Charterhouse schoolboys etched upon the glass in the nineteenth century

Tudor brickwork upon the exterior of Wash House Court

Physician’s House built in 1716

Entrance to the Charterhouse viewed through the former Priory Gate

Knocker upon the main gate

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

Tours of the Charterhouse are available by clicking here

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Hilary Haydon, Brother at the Charterhouse

Viscountess Boudica’s Easter

April 20, 2014
by the gentle author

She may be no Spring chicken but that does not stop the indefatigable Viscountess Boudica of Bethnal Green from dressing up as an Easter chick!

As is her custom at each of the festivals which mark our passage through the year, she has embraced the spirit of the occasion wholeheartedly – festooning her tiny flat with seasonal decor and contriving a special outfit for herself that suits the tenor of the day. “Easter’s about renewal – birth, life and death – the end of one thing and the beginning of another,” she assured me when I arrived, getting right to the heart of it at once with characteristic forthrightness.

I feel like a child visiting a beloved grandmother or favourite aunt whenever I call round to see Viscountess Boudica because, although I never know what treats lie in store, I am never disappointed. Even as I walk in the door, I know that days of preparation have preceded my visit. Naturally for Easter there were a great many fluffy creatures in evidence, ducks and rabbits recalling her rural childhood. “When my uncle had his farm, I used to put the little chicks in my pocket and carry them round with me,” she confided with a nostalgic grin, as she led me over to admire the wonder of her Easter garden where yellow creatures of varying sizes were gathering upon a small mat of greengrocer’s grass, around a tree hung with glass eggs, as if in expectation of a sacred ritual.

I cast my eyes around at the plethora of Easter cards, testifying to the popularity of the Viscountess, and her Easter bunting and Easter fairy lights that adorned the walls. There could be no question that the festival was anything other than Easter in this place. “As a child, I used to get a twig and  spray it with paint and hang eggs from it,” she explained, recalling the modest origin of the current extravaganza and adding, “I hope this will inspire others to decorate their homes.”

“Cadbury’s Dairy Milk is my favourite,” she confessed to me, chuckling in excited anticipation and patting her waistline warily, “I probably will eat a lot of chocolate on Easter Monday – once I start eating chocolate, I can’t stop.” And then, just like that beloved grandmother or favourite aunt, Viscountess Boudica kindly slipped a chocolate egg into my hands as I said my farewell, and I carried it off under my arm back to Spitalfields as a proud trophy of the day.

Viscountess Boudica writes her Easter cards

“yellow creatures of varying sizes were gathering upon a small mat of greengrocer’s grass, around a tree hung with glass eggs, as if in expectation of a sacred ritual”

Viscountess Boudica turns Weather Girl to present the forecast for the Easter Bank Holiday - “I predict a dull start with a few patches of sunshine and some isolated showers. In the West Country, it will be nice all day with temperatures between sixty and eighty degrees Farenheit. There will be a small breeze on the coast and sea temperature of around fifty-nine degrees Farenheit.”

Easter blessings to you from Viscountess Boudica!

Viscountess Boudica and her fluffy friends

Be sure to follow Viscountess Boudica’s blog There’s More To Life Than Heaven & Earth

Take a look at

Viscountess Boudica’s Domestic Appliances

Viscountess Boudica’s Blog

Viscountess Boudica’s Album

Viscountess Boudica’s Halloween

Viscountess Boudica’s Christmas

Viscountess Boudica’s Valentine’s Day

Viscountess Boudica’s St Patrick’s Day

Read my original profile of Mark Petty, Trendsetter

and take a look at Mark Petty’s Multicoloured Coats

Mark Petty’s New Outfits

Mark Petty returns to Brick Lane