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Tony Armstrong Jones In The East End

September 19, 2017
by the gentle author

Tony Armstrong Jones (1930-2017) is remembered today as Lord Snowdon, husband to Princess Margaret, yet – before all that royal hullabaloo took over his life – he was a jobbing photographer in his twenties and took these photographs of the East End, as published in his book LONDON in 1958.

Cheshire St

Sclater St Market, Sunday Morning

Bomb site, St Mathias School, Bethnal Green

Rathbone St Market, Canning Town

Rathbone St Market, Canning Town

Garage hand, Stepney

The Magpie & Stump, Cable St

The Railway Tavern, West India Dock Rd – open 6am to 8am

Cafe in East India Dock Rd

Wens Cafe, Bethnal Green

Tattoo parlour

Tower of London

Smithfield Market

Christmas in Cable St

Pub in Cable St

Juke Box Dance

Deuragon Arms, Hackney

Bethnal Green Rd

Photographs copyright © Estate of Tony Armstrong Jones

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The Coal Holes of Old London

September 18, 2017
by the gentle author

These hundred and fifty drawings of cast iron plate covers for coal chutes were sketched by a young medical student, Dr Shepherd Taylor, while studying at King’s College Hospital in the Strand in 1863. “I determined to try to reproduce them on paper, and, although I had no particular artistic skill or genius, I found no great difficulty in making a fair sketch of the more simple devices,” he admitted proudly. Whether Dr Taylor was a purist who omitted those with their maker’s names because he preferred abstract design or whether he simply could not do lettering, we shall never know.

Dr Taylor was ninety years old before his cherished designs were published in 1929 and he christened them Opercula, which means a cover or a lid. I will give a prize to anyone that can send me a photograph of any of these opercula drawn by Dr Taylor still in its location today.

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James Leman, Silk Designer

September 17, 2017
by the gentle author

The oldest surviving set of silk designs in the world, James Leman’s album contains ninety ravishingly beautiful patterns created in Steward St, Spitalfields between 1705 and 1710 when he was a young man. It was my delight to visit the Victoria & Albert Museum recently and study the pages of this unique artefact, which is currently the subject of an interdisciplinary research project under the auspices of the V&A Research Institute, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Leman Album  offers a rare glimpse into an affluent and fashionable sphere of eighteenth century high society, as well as demonstrated the astonishing skill of the journeyman weavers in East London three hundred years ago.

James Leman (pronounced ‘lemon’ like Leman St in Aldgate) was born in London around 1688 as the second generation of a Huguenot family and apprenticed at fourteen to his father, Peter, a silk weaver. His earliest designs in the album, executed at eighteen years old, are signed ‘made by me, James Leman, for my father.’ In those days, when silk merchants customarily commissioned journeyman weavers, James was unusual in that he was both a maker and designer. In later life, he became celebrated for his bravura talent, rising to second in command of the Weavers’ Company in the City of London. A portrait of the seventeen-twenties in the V&A collection, which is believed to be of James Leman, displays a handsome man of assurance and bearing, arrayed in restrained yet sophisticated garments of subtly-toned chocolate brown silk and brocade.

His designs are annotated with the date and technical details of each pattern, while many of their colours are coded to indicate the use of metallic cloth and different types of weave. Yet beyond these aspects, it is the aesthetic brilliance of the designs which is most striking, mixing floral and architectural forms with breathtaking flair in a way that appears startling modern. The Essex Pink and Rosa Mundi are recognisable alongside whimsical architectural forms which playfully combine classical and oriental motifs within a single design. The breadth of James Leman’s knowledge of botany and architecture as revealed by his designs reflects a wide cultural interest that, in turn, reflected flatteringly upon the tastes of his wealthy customers.

Until last year, the only securely identified woven example of a James Leman pattern was a small piece of silk in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. Miraculously, just as the V&A’s research project on the Leman Album was launched, a length of eighteenth-century silk woven to one of his designs was offered to the museum by a dealer in historical textiles, who recognised it from her knowledge of the album. The Museum purchased the silk and is now investigating the questions that arise now design and textile may be placed side by side for the first time. With colours as vibrant as the day they were woven three hundred years ago, the sensuous allure of this glorious piece of deep pink silk adorned with elements of lustrous green, blue, red and gold shimmers across the expanse of time and is irresistibly attractive to the eye. Such was the extravagant genius of James Leman, Silk Designer.

On the left is James Leman’s design and on the right is a piece of silk woven from it, revealing that colours of the design are not always indicative of the woven textile

The reverse of each design gives the date and details of the fabric and weave

Portrait of a Master Silk Weaver by Michael Dahl, 1720-5 – believed to be James Leman

All images copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Click here to read about recent research into James Leman’s Album

With grateful thanks to: Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner, Senior Curator of Designs – Dr Victoria Button, Senior Paper Conservator – Clare Browne, Senior Curator of Textiles – Dr Lucia Burgio, Senior Scientist and Eileen Budd, V&A Research Institute Project Manager

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William Nicholson’s London Types

September 16, 2017
by the gentle author

William Nicholson created his London Types in 1898. They were a set of images that, alongside his Almanac of Twelve Sports and An Illustrated Alphabet, were to make his reputation as a printmaker. At that time, his son Ben who was to eclipse him entirely in the history of British Art was only five years old.

Working within the culture of the British popular print, Nicholson deliberately chose to use the coarse-grained side of the block in his wood cuts. This was a style that owed more to Toulouse Lautrec and Japanese precedents than to native visual traditions, which gave his work an innovative quality, even as he appeared to be celebrating traditional roles in British society.

Although not strictly Cries of London, some of these street characters are familiar from prints stretching back through the previous century and Nicholson portrays them as curiosities from another age. The doggerel by W.E. Henley that accompanied them poked fun at the anachronistic nature of these stereotypes, outlining their equivocal existence  - whether a street hawker displaced in Kensington far from his East End home, or an aristocratic lady at Rotten Row challenged by her suburban counterparts, or a drunken Sandwich-man displaying moral texts, or a fifteenth generation Bluecoat boy at Charterhouse School in Smithfield, now moved out to Horsham.

These chunky monochromatic images fascinate me because they characterise their protagonists with subtlety, placing them in a dynamic relationship with the viewer and the social landscape of London as it was in the final years of the nineteenth century. Irrespective of the disparity in their circumstances, The Lady and The Coster confront us with equal assurance. Nicholson’s subjects retain self-possession because, although the prints illustrate their diverse social situations, their demeanour is consistently impassive.

Working in partnership with his brother-in-law James Pryde under the pseudonym the Beggarstaff Brothers, Nicholson enjoyed a successful career creating lively graphics which served the boom in advertising that happened in the eighteen-nineties. After 1900, he shifted his attention to painting, embarking on a series of portraits including J.M.Barrie, Rudyard Kipling and Max Beerbohm, that filled the rest of his career. Nicholson had always wanted to paint, regarding his graphic work as a lesser achievement, a reservation confirmed by his modest self-portrait as a pavement artist.

William Nicholson’s London Types provide a distinctive contribution to the innumerable series of images that have portrayed street life throughout the centuries, remarkable both for their superlative graphic elegance and as a complex and witty social portrait of London at the dawn of the twentieth century.

News-Boy, the City – “the London ear loathes his speeshul yell…”

Sandwich-Man, Trafalgar Square - “the drunkard’s mouth awash for something drinkable…”

Beef-eater, Tower of London – “his beat lies knee-high through a dust of story.”

Coster, Hammersmith - “deems herself a perfect lady.”

Policeman, Constitution Hill - “whenever pageants pass, he moves conspicuous…”

Lady, Rotten Row - “one of that gay adulterous world.”

Bluecoat Boy, Newgate St. - “the old school nearing exile…”

Flower Girl, - “of populous corners right advantage taking…”

Guardsman, Horseguards Parade. - “of British blood, and bone, and beef and beer.”

Barmaid, any bar – “posing as a dove among the pots.”

Drum-Major, Wimbledon Common – “his bulk itself’s pure genius…”

William Nicholson portrayed himself as pavement artist

Images copyright © Desmond Banks

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The Forgotten Corners Of Old London

September 15, 2017
by the gentle author

Who knows what you might find lurking in the forgotten corners of old London? Like this lonely old waxwork of Charles II who once adorned a side aisle of Westminster Abbey, peering out through a haze of graffiti engraved upon his pane by mischievous tourists with diamond rings.

As one with a pathological devotion to walking through London’s sidestreets and byways, seeking to avoid the main roads wherever possible, these glass slides of the forgotten corners of London – used long ago by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society for magic lantern shows at the Bishopsgate Institute - hold a special appeal for me. I have elaborate routes across the city which permit me to walk from one side to the other exclusively by way of the back streets and I discover all manner of delights neglected by those who solely inhabit the broad thoroughfares.

And so it is with many of these extraordinary pictures that show us the things which usually nobody bothers to photograph. There are a lot of glass slides of the exterior of Buckingham Palace in the collection but, personally, I am much more interested in the roof space above Richard III’s palace of Crosby Hall that once stood in Bishopsgate, and in the unlikely  paraphernalia which accumulated in the crypt of the Carmelite Monastery or the Cow Shed at the Tower of London, a hundred years ago. These pictures satisfy my perverse curiosity to visit the spaces closed off to visitors at historic buildings, in preference to seeing the public rooms.

Within these forgotten corners, there are always further mysteries to be explored. I wonder who pitched a teepee in the undergrowth next to the moat at Fulham Palace in 192o. I wonder if that is a cannon or a chimney pot abandoned in the crypt at the Carmelite monastery. I wonder why that man had a bucket, a piece of string and a plank inside the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. I wonder what those fat books were next to the stove in the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries’ shop. I wonder who was pulling that girl out of the photograph in Woolwich Gardens. I wonder who put that dish in the roof of Crosby Hall. I wonder why Charles II had no legs. The pictures set me wondering.

It is what we cannot know that endows these photographs with such poignancy. Like errant pieces from lost jigsaws, they inspire us to imagine the full picture that we shall never be party to.

Tiltyard Gate, Eltham Palace, c. 1930

Refuse collecting at London Zoo, c. 1910

Passage in Highgate, c. 1910

Westminster Dust Carts, c. 1910

The Jewel Tower, Westminster, 1921

Fifteenth century brickwork at Charterhouse Wash House, c1910

Middle Temple Lane, c. 1910

Carmelite monastery crypt, c. 1910

The Moat at Fulham Palace, c. 1920

Clifford’s Inn, c. 1910

Top of inner dome at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1920

Apothecaries’ Hall Quadrangle, c. 1920

Worshipful Company of Apothecaries’ Shop, c.1920

Unidentified destroyed building near St Paul’s, c. 1940

Merchant Taylors’ Hall, c. 1920

Crouch End Old Baptist Chapel, c. 1900

Woolwich Gardens, c. 1910

The roof of Crosby Hall, Richard III’s palace in Bishopsgate , c. 1910

Refreshment stall in St James’ Park, c. 1910

River Wandle at Wandsworth, c. 1920

Corridor at Battersea Rise House, c. 1900

Tram emerging from the Kingsway Tunnel, c. 1920

Between the interior and exterior domes at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1920

Fossilised tree trunk on Tooting Common, c. 1920

St Dunstan-in-the-East, 1911

Cow shed at the Queen’s House, Tower of London, c. 1910

Boundary marks for St Benet Gracechurch, St Andrew Hubbard and St Dionis Backchurch in Talbot Court, c. 1910

Lincoln’s Inn gateway seen from Old Hall, c. 1910

St Bride’s Fleet St, c. 1920

Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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