Graffiti at Arnold Circus
Since I wrote about the historic graffiti on St Paul’s Cathedral last year, I have been searching for some closer to home and this week I got a tip-off to look on the Boundary Estate. So I took my umbrella and walked through the rain up to Arnold Circus to investigate. I love these tall red brick buildings constructed in 1902 around the circular raised park, which is shortly to be restored under the supervision of the Friends of Arnold Circus. There is something warm and humane about their vernacular style, with steep pitched roofs that recall Norman tithe barns and their intricate layout which feels like the plan of an ancient castle or medieval city.
From the Circus, I walked down Navarre St and on the right came to Wargrave House, which is currently being renovated and is covered in scaffolding. This was where I was told to look. The first I noticed was G.GOLDSTEIN 1950 AGED 12 and I halted in surprise, although the graffiti had been there sixty years it looked spontaneous and fragile. Immediately I wondered, where is G.Goldstein – now aged 72?
Quickly, more caught my eye, all at child height and some incised deeply into the bricks. As I took out my camera and began snapping, I became aware of two workmen with brushes touching up the bricks, they were a few yards to my right and edging towards me as I was taking my pictures. With a flash of emotion, I thought, is this the last moment to capture these inscriptions before they are erased forever? But once the first workman arrived, I showed him the graffiti and he lit up with delight, bringing his pal over to see the names, written before any of us were born. We shared a reverential moment of silent awe, before the guys reassured me that they were simply tinting some of the bricks to restore the tone of the wall and the inscriptions would not be affected.
So then the three of us set to work, conveniently sheltered from the rain by the scaffolding, the workmen tinting the bricks and me recording the dozens of names on the wall. You can see a few of my pictures below. Some people just left their surname and initial, some their full name, some the date, some the date and time, and a few their date of birth. I was interested by those who had chosen to give the day of the week and exact time, commonly 3:30pm, because I assume they had just come out of Virginia Rd or the Rochelle School. These timed inscriptions serve to pinpoint a single moment, whereas those where the age is given record a time of life and those with the date of birth simply declare “I exist.”
Most are from the nineteen fifties and sixties but the oldest complete inscription I can be sure of is Roy Lyons 3 June 1947, although there are two worn initials from the second decade of the twentieth century for which the final digit of the date is gone, CW 191?
The nature of the names is revealing too, Goldstein and Rosenfeld are Jewish surnames, Kelly and Murphy are Irish, while Bertrand and Lyons suggest French Huguenot origin. The egalitarian mixture of names collected together on the wall in Navarre St now comprises a map of the different cultures of the peoples who have passed through this neighbourhood and of whom little else remains.
I walked all around the building and examined some other streets but although there were signs of worn graffiti, I could find none with the clarity of the names on the Navarre St side of Wargrave House. I am fascinated by the survival of these modest inscriptions, but I do not know if they survived because that street is sheltered from the elements, or if more names were written there because it is the quietest street.
The question I have now is, does anyone know where Richard Mills, R.Rosenfeld, P.Kelly, G.Goldstein, Mark & Sherri Bertrand, Lily Sampson, Roy Lyons, Albert Harris, A.J.A Bedford, A.Silkoff, Peter Keogh, Shirley Wiseman, T.Nile, and C.Jones are today? A reward will be given for anyone who can help me find them, because I think it is time we caught up with these young vandals. I want to confront them with their handiwork of half a century ago and ask them to explain themselves to us.