At City Art & Framing
Clive & Ken Woolhouse
If you should find yourself walking bent-double against the ferocious blast which howls down Artillery Lane at this time of year, you can always take refuge inside in the fine old nineteenth century warehouse that houses the gallery and workshops of City Art & Framing at number thirteen. Directly on the right of the door, shielded from draughts, you will very likely discover the Woolhouse family, Ken and Joyce with their son Clive, the picture of domestic contentment as they huddle together round the cosy fireplace where their beloved German sheepdog enjoys the warmest spot.
“My dad started the business in 1989, and years later he granted me the opportunity to take it over which gave him the chance to take some time off,” explained Clive with a significant nod to his father as he made the introductions, while pulling up another chair and inviting me to join them behind the counter and warm myself at their fireside
“I used to run a shop called New Sound, selling Bang & Olufsen electronics at 228 Bishopsgate,” continued Ken, “but when the company insisted I refurbish my shop and I didn’t have the money, I didn’t know what to do. I was looking out the window one day and a van went by with “Picture Framing” on the side, so I signed up for a week’s course and that was it. I just put a picture frame in the window and people started coming in. The workshop was upstairs on the first floor but you had to go out of the door to reach the stairs to get there, so I cut a hole in the ceiling and ran up and down a ladder every time a customer came in. Eventually, we outgrew the shop and this place came up. It had been the “London Yacht Space” where I once used to come buy things for my sailing boat.”
Joyce smiled benevolently throughout, as her husband retold the oft-rehearsed tale and I could not but notice the close resemblance between father and son, emphasised by their similar beards with Clive’s being a version of his father’s. “I always wanted to work with my dad and give him some time off.” revealed Clive,“I joined him at twenty-four and I framed the pictures so that he could work three days a week.”
“And I used to serve behind the counter and help with the accounts,” added Joyce, just to complete the portrait of this family endeavour. “I never had a day off since since 1984, until Clive came to help me,” confessed Ken, in disbelief at his former self. “Before this, I had a shop in Upminster. I heard there was this place in Bishopsgate selling off some electronics but when I came up here, I liked it so much I bought the shop.” he informed me, “I was there through two IRA bombs.” This last comment was followed by a collective silence, broken only when Clive launched into the next episode in the family narrative.
“It was on a Saturday morning and I was in the cellar when it went off – “bang,” and that was it.” he said, widening his eyes for effect,“I came upstairs and because our window was flexible, it did not break. But when I went outside, there were pieces of glass hanging out of windows and all the blinds were flying about and there was paper everywhere and the streets were full of glass.”
“We heard it on the radio and we drove up to see if he was safe. It was very scary.” interposed Joyce, revisiting her fearful emotions,“When we got here, the police wouldn’t let us through the barrier, but we said, ‘We’ve got to see our son.’ Once we arrived, I saw him through the window and he was alright, and I cried with relief.” Joyce’s face crumpled into an apologetic smile at this admission, as Ken and Clive exchanged a glance of affectionate recognition.
To move our conversation forward – once the moment had been duly observed – I asked Joyce if she was an East Ender. A question which delighted her. “My maiden name was Cladingboel, a Huguenot name.” she informed me proudly, “I was born in Hoxton Sq, but we got bombed out so my dad found us a house in Hornchurch. It was right next to the aerodrome and I could watch the planes come in.”
“My mum was born in Hoxton too and moved out to Edmonton, and my wife and I met through working in a factory in Romford.” confided Ken enthusiastically, expressing pleasure at their shared history. It was a theme that he expanded further with his next statement, as if to suggest that there were some greater plan to the workings of the metropolis which was beyond the comprehension of its inhabitants, yet might be glimpsed occasionally. “During the war, my mum used to be a conductor on a trolley bus on the route which is now the 149 that stops right outside my shop in Bishopsgate.” he said. The Woolhouse family nodded in shared satisfaction, as if to agree that this present circumstance at City Art & Framing, sitting peacefully with the German sheepdog by the fire, was the ideal outcome of events prior to that moment, both recent and historical.
Clive and his father Ken, thirty years ago.
Ken Woolhouse who started the business in 1989.
Clive Woolhouse runs the business today.
The original premises at 228 Bishopsgate.
The Woolhouse family in Artillery Lane.
City Art & Framing, 13 Artillery Lane, London, E1 7LP 020 7247 2320
Bishopsgate photograph courtesy Bishopsgate Institute
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