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Save The Chamber St Wall

February 21, 2020
by the gentle author

This week Historic England refused the application to list the Chamber St wall and offer it protection, so now it may be destroyed. As the most visible and best preserved piece of shrapnel damage from World War II in the East End, this wall carries great significance for a lot of people and its loss would be a disaster. It is – in effect – a war memorial that commemorates the bombing of London and the East End, and the thousands who died and were injured.

Last year, Tower Hamlets approved a planning application to demolish the wall to make way for a hotel extension. Yet it would not be impossible for the hotel to be constructed around the wall, leaving it in place as a feature to remind future generations of the important history that it witnesses.

The developers say they propose to reassemble the wall on the site within a publicly accessible courtyard, although there will be no legal obligation for them to follow this through. I think it is clear from the photograph above, which shows the complex and subtle scarring of the wall, that any attempt to take it apart and rebuild it will destroy its value as an authentic relic.

Please write to the owner of the site, Henry Bartlett of Marldon Developments and ask him to build around the wall and not move it. Email hrbartlett@marldon.net Copy in the East End Preservation Society eastendpsociety@gmail.com so we know how many people have written.

Here is the current building which the developers want to extend, Prescott House, showing the Chamber St wall to the right

Here is the developer’s proposal for their hotel extension that will replace the wall of shrapnel damage with the location of the existing wall marked

Extract from Historic England’s explanation of their decision to refuse listing the wall

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Peta Bridle’s New Etchings

February 20, 2020
by the gentle author

Since 2013, I have been regularly publishing Peta Bridle’s splendid drypoint etchings of London and it my pleasure to present this selection of recent works, many seen publicly for the first time here today.

Commercial Taxis, Commercial Rd, Limehouse

“This taxi office once stood in a parade of little shops and businesses, facing the busy Commercial Rd. But in 2018 the terraces on either side were pulled down, leaving the cab company stranded.”

The former Kings Head Pub, Three Colt St, Limehouse

“Today it is an ex-pub painted a striking cobalt blue with a golden angel hanging over the doorway, but in the thirties it was the premises of a banana merchant, B A Lambert.”

The former Lion Pub, Tapp St, Bethnal Green

“Now converted into housing, this old pub sits on a quiet backstreet next to a railway bridge and a faded Trumans sign still hangs on the wall.”

Manzes Pie & Mash, Deptford

“A traditional shopfront in dark green with gold lettering on black glass. This shop has been in the Manze family for over a century and they still make pies, mash and liquor daily.”

Goddards at Greenwich, Pie & Mash Shop

“My daughter Daisy enjoying cherry pie and a tea upstairs at Goddards, a family run business who have been making pie & mash since 1890.”

The Regal Cinema, Highams Park

“This fine art deco cinema first opened in 1911 as The Highams Park Electric Theatre but was renamed the Regal in 1928. Over the years it has been a bingo club and a snooker hall, before finally closing as a cinema in 1971. When I saw it last, it offered an excellent perch for pigeons to survey the road below.”

Morden Wharf, Greenwich

“I passed this former warehouse with its green sign on a walk along the Thames from Greenwich. The pathway is quiet and undeveloped as yet, and willow trees and long grasses line the bank. I believe Morden Wharf takes its name from landowners Morden College, established in 1700 by Sir John Morden with a gift of land.”

Chinese Cake Selection, Chinatown, Soho

“These cakes were bought in various shops around Chinatown. They are little works of art in themselves and very enjoyable to eat afterwards! Top row (left to right): red bean chess cake, red bean mini moon cake and lotus puff with salty egg yolk. Bottom row: taiyaki fish with red bean and mini lotus moon cake.”


View over Mare St, from St. Augustine’s Tower, Hackney

“I visited St Augustine’s Tower recently. Although I do not like heights, it was worth the struggle up the stairs for the view from the top. A man sat begging under the bridge while people on mobiles walked past, red buses turned the corner onto Mare St and the towers of the City huddled in the distance.”

George Davis is Innocent, Salmon Lane, Limehouse

“This graffiti has survived under a railway bridge, adorned with metal signs, since the seventies. I like graffiti and street art because it manifests the human touch. George Davis was an ex-armed robber who was imprisoned in 1975 for an armed payroll robbery at the London Electric Board Offices. Graffiti proclaiming his innocence can still be found on walls and railway arches.”

The Poplar Rates Rebellion Mural, Hale St, Poplar

“This bold mural, painted in primary colours, commemorates the rates rebellion led by councillor George Lansbury in 1921, pictured on the wall in his hat and chain of office. Poplar Council refused to take rates money off their poor residents because they believed it was unjust. Thirty councillors were imprisoned for contempt of court but were released after campaigning and their names are listed on the wall.”

The Thames Pub, Deptford

“This derelict pub, once know as the Rose & Crown, sits on the corner of Thames St and Norway St, and has been painted a deep rose hue. It is surrounded by new building and a brand new supermarket across the road, so I think its days are numbered.”

Petro Lube, Silvertown

“This derelict building, once the headquarters of Petro Lube, stands on an industrial estate in Silvertown. Note the building works in the background – (a common theme in many of these etchings).”

Abandoned Caravan, Poplar

“This caravan had been abandoned at the side of a minor road near the tip. When I returned a few weeks later to take reference shots, I discovered it in pieces piled on top of a skip. Nothing stands still in London.”

Gasometer, Bow Creek, Poplar

“I spotted this Victorian gasometer while out for a walk along Bow Creek. It was already partially dismantled and, when I returned a couple of months later, it had totally disappeared.”

Abandoned Nissan, Chapman St, Shadwell

“This car is not going anywhere, but I found it made a good subject with its graffittied bonnet and crazed windscreen.”

Spur Inn Yard, off Borough High St, Southwark

“Borough High St was once lined with inns . The Spur Inn, first recorded on a map in 1542, was desrcibed by John Stow as one of the ‘fayre Innes for receipt of travellers.’ It stood the test of time, even though it ceased to be an inn in 1848. A huge wooden beam was set into the left hand wall as you enter under the high archway and, on the right, timber frames criss-crossed the brickwork. The cobbled yard was narrow yet quite beautiful. This is the view from the back of the yard looking towards Borough High St. The tarpaulin at the top hides the roof and chimney stack, prior to demolition. Spur Inn Yard was swept aside to be replaced by a new hotel which opened in 2017. All that remains is the timber set into the wall and the old stone cart tracks.”

Prints copyright © Peta Bridle

Some of Peta Bridle’s etchings are on exhibition at Southwark Cathedral until 20th March

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The Return Of The Goodsyard Monster

February 19, 2020
by the gentle author

The monster proposal for the BIshopsgate Goodsyard which first reared its ugly head in 2015 has returned. The Goodsyard is public land yet this greedy commercial development offers less than a hundred genuinely affordable housing units when the site has the potential to deliver thousands of public homes for Londoners. This beast will blight Spitalfields and Shoreditch for generations to come unless it can be stopped. Details of how to object are below.

The view from Shoreditch High St

The view from Norton Folgate

The view from Great Eastern St

The view from Quaker St

The view from Commercial St

The view from Bethnal Green Rd

The view from Shoreditch High St

The view from Bishopsgate

The view from Commercial St

The view from Elder St


Click on this image to enlarge

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Edith Tudor-Hart In London

February 18, 2020
by the gentle author

Mark Richards explores the controversial work of photographer Edith Tudor-Hart and her secret life as a Soviet agent in London during the Cold War.

Edith’s photographs are featured alongside the work of Dorothy Bohm, Elisabeth Chat, Gerti Deutsch, Laelia Goehr, Elsbeth Juda and Erika Kochin a new exhibition ANOTHER EYE: WOMEN REFUGEE PHOTOGRAPHERS IN LONDON AFTER 1933  at Four Corners in Bethnal Green from 27th February until 2nd May.

Child staring into a bakery window, Whitechapel, 1935 (Courtesy of National Gallery of Scotland)

On a wall in a flat in Maida Vale hangs this small photograph. It is a window into a world of social unrest, poverty, espionage and insurrection.  The photograph and the story behind it add weight to the view that there is often little truth in photography. What we see is what the photographer wants us to see.

I saw the photograph when I visited the late photographer Wolfgang Suschitzky for an interview and portrait session in 2016.  It was not taken by him, but by his sister Edith Tudor-Hart (1908–1973). The picture had pride of place on a wall of well-known photographs just inside the entrance.  Edith Tudor-Hart was one of the most talented documentary photographers of her time, but has now faded into obscurity after being being blacklisted for her Communist activity.

For me, it is one of the strongest photographs of its era. One of those pictures that all photographers hope to be able to capture one day. Its ability to tug the heartstrings and generate strong emotion remains even eighty years after it was taken. On face value, it is a photograph of a poor child staring into a bakery window in Whitechapel in 1935.  The disparity between the hungry child and the plentiful display has an enduring poignancy, inspiring a futile desire to intervene.

This photograph was first published next to another of a baby chimp in a zoo, which was much better fed than this girl. The message was clear, as was Edith’s ability to use her camera as a weapon for social justice. The picture was subsequently reproduced widely in Communist leaflets, representing a call to action. Yet to grasp the nature of this phenomenon and understand the other photographs that Edith took of the East End, we need to appreciate both the social context and her personal motives. None of the photographs that she took at that time can be taken at face value.

There is no doubt that this photograph was staged – the bundle clutched tightly in the girl’s left hand is evidence of that. We shall never know who the girl was or how she became to the subject. Edith destroyed her photographic records in 1951 for fear of prosecution, so the background to most of her work is now lost. She used photography to highlight social inequality and deprivation, realising early on – while studying at the Bauhaus – that photographs have the power to alter people’s beliefs and change the world. In her time, photography had become a medium for social change, ideal for the promotion of political views to a large audience, affecting them through the impact of the visual image more powerfully than by the written word.

Edith was acutely aware of the potential to use photography to break down social barriers and influence an audience like never before. For her, photography represented a move of the locus of control into the hands of the people, offering the possibility of self-representation for everyone. She understood that those who press the camera shutter can control the story that a picture tells.

As well as being an accomplished photographer, Edith was also a committed Communist and a Soviet agent who used her power to further her hidden agenda.  Born in Vienna in 1908, she had grown up during a period of unprecedented political and social upheaval which shaped her beliefs. Her radical views are probably best summed up in Das Eland Wiens by the Marxist writer Bruno Frei, which attacks the inequality of capitalism and demands a commitment to revolutionary activism and change. Unusually, the book contained photographs and this was probably a decisive influence in Edith’s choice to become a photographer.

Edith’s father ran a Socialist bookshop which stocked Bruno Frei’s work and she mixed in radical Jewish circles in Vienna. In 1927, she trained as a Montessori teacher in England until she was deported to Austria in 1931 after being photographed at a Communist rally. Once in Austria again, she worked as a photojournalist for the Soviet news agency TASS, but in 1933 she was arrested there, again for being a Communist activist. At this point, Edith fled from Austria with her husband and was exiled in England.

Back in England, she continued her affiliation with the Communist party, both as an activist and a Soviet agent. It is likely that she had been recruited by the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) as early as 1927. Edith is often portrayed as a low-level agent yet she spotted and recruited Kim Philby. He was one of the Cambridge spy ring with Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who caused damage to British interests and threatened its intelligence relationship with America during the Cold War. Edith knew Kim Philby’s wife Litzi Friedmann and was the one who introduced Philby to Arnold Deutsch, the Soviet Agent who managed the Cambridge spy ring. Her recruitment of Kim Philby was a seminal moment in her espionage activities.

In 1964, Anthony Blunt described Edith in his confession as being ‘the grandmother of us all.’ Yet, although she continued to be monitored by the security services until her death in 1973, she was never prosecuted for spying due to lack of evidence.

She had planned to produce a book of her photographs called Rich Man, Poor Man, after the nursery rhyme:

Daisy, daisy, who shall it be?

Who shall it be who will marry me?

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,

Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief,

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor…

The ambition of the book was to highlight the contrast between rich and poor in British society and it would have featured her photographs of the East End, together with a series she took of mining communities in Wales.  The shocking juxtaposition of her ‘Poodle Parlour’ photograph with the picture of the Clerkenwell slums at Gee Street in Lilliput in 1939 demonstrated he power of her approach. However, the book was never published. Eventually, the difficulty of being a woman photographer as well as being blacklisted for her Soviet connections led Edith to abandon photography altogether at the end of the fifties.

Some of the images that were intended for this book are incredibly powerful and reveal the nature of her talent as a photographer. Her method included talking to her subjects instead of photographing them from a distance and she showed a real ability for putting people at their ease.

Bakery Window was to have been the cover photograph of Rich Man, Poor Man and what a book it might have been. Today it lies unconstructed among the negatives of her photographic archives held by the National Gallery of Scotland which were given to them by her brother Wolfgang in 2004.

Slums at Gee St, Clerkenwell 1936

Poodle Parlour, West End, 1935

Family Group, Stepney, 1932

No Home, No Dole, London 1931

Communist Party demonstration, Hyde Park, c.1934

In Total Darkness, London 1935

Caledonian Market, 1931

Self portrait with unknown man, Caledonian Market c.1935

Edith Tudor-Hart, self portrait 1936

Photographs courtesy National Gallery of Scotland

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The Silent Traveller

February 17, 2020
by the gentle author

When I encountered the work of Chiang Yee (1903-77) writing as ‘The Silent Traveller’ I knew I had discovered a kindred spirit in self-effacement. These fine illustrations are from his book ‘The Silent Traveller in London’ published in 1938 and I am fascinated by his distinctive vision which renders familiar subjects anew.

‘This book is to be a sort of record of all the things I have talked over to myself during these five years in London, where I have been so silent,’ he wrote, ‘I am bound to look at things from a different angle, but I have never agreed with people who hold that the various nationalities differ greatly from each other. They may be different superficially, but they eat, drink, sleep, dress, and shelter themselves from the wind and rain in the same way.’

Summer afternoon in Kew Gardens

Morning mist in St James’s Park

Snow on Hampstead Heath

Early Autumn in Kenwood

Fog in Trafalgar Sq

Coalman in the rain

Umbrellas Under Big Ben

Deer in Richmond Park

Seagulls in Regent’s Park

At the Whitechapel Gallery

London faces in a public bar

London faces in winter

Coronation night in the Underground

Jubilee night in Trafalgar Sq

London faces at a Punch & Judy show

Images copyright © Estate of Chiang Yee

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The Division Bells Of Westminster

February 16, 2020
by the gentle author

There were once as many as four hundred Division Bells in the pubs and restaurants of Westminster, summoning MPs back to parliament to vote, but when Contributing Cartographer Adam Dant & I set out to see how many we could find last week we could barely discover a dozen.

Apparently BT charged £3000 a year to provide the service which has now been discontinued and replaced by an app. In one bar, the manager used a piece of sellotape to reattach the disused bell and, in a restaurant, the maitre d’ opened a cupboard under the counter to reveal the dead plastic box that once relayed the Division Bell.

Regretfully, we realised that these are the last days of the Division Bells of Westminster but, as a consolation, our walk provided ample opportunities for refreshment.

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Click on the map to enlarge

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DIVISION – A MAP OF WESTMINSTER’S DIVISION BELLS

“When I was nine, I wrote a letter to my MP asking if he would grant me and my classmates a tour of Parliament. Very soon we were stuffed into the St Lawrence’s Catholic Primary’s rusty school bus and driven to the seat of power in Westminster.

What I remember from our tour of the chambers and the corridors lined with scary dark Victorian book cases is our MP’s description of his home in the capital. Did he come here from his constituency every day, I asked. When he told us that he also had a home in London ‘within the division bell’ I imagined that he actually had his living quarters inside a bell.

Once I had drawn this map, I realised that in effect MP’s do all live within a big bell. As well as the bells within the Parliamentary estate to summon MPs to the chamber to vote, there is also a network of extra-mural bells scattered across Westminster to remind MPs to return within eight minutes or miss a vote.

This custom originated when the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt after the fire of 1834 and the lack of food provision required MPs to visit local pubs and restaurants for sustenance. It is even claimed that last words of Pitt the Younger were not ‘Oh my country, my country‘ but ‘I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies.’” – Adam Dant

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The Parliamentary Division Bell at St Stephen’s Tavern in Bridge St nestles discreetly in the left hand corner of the bar beneath the old radio

At the Marquis of Granby in Romney St

Anna Boot is guardian of the Division Bell at the Marriott Hotel in the former City Hall

Division Bell at the Blue Boar in Tothill St

Handsome bar at the Westminster Arms in Storey’s Gate

Division Bell at the Westminster Arms

Division Bell in the basement canteen of the Institute of Civil Engineers in Great George St

Division Bell behind the bar at the Red Lion in Whitehall

At the Red Lion

Stelios Michaelides is guardian of the Division Bell at St Ermin’s Hotel in Caxton St

Adam Dant’s Map of Westminster’s Division Bells was originally commissioned by The Critic

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CLICK TO ORDER A COPY OF MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND BY ADAM DANT

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Adam Dant’s MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND is a mighty monograph collecting together all your favourite works by Spitalfields Life‘s Contributing Cartographer in a beautiful big hardback book.

Including a map of London riots, the locations of early coffee houses and a colourful depiction of slang through the centuries, Adam Dant’s vision of city life and our prevailing obsessions with money, power and the pursuit of pleasure may genuinely be described as ‘Hogarthian.’

Unparalleled in his draughtsmanship and inventiveness, Adam Dant explores the byways of London’s cultural history in his ingenious drawings, annotated with erudite commentary and offering hours of fascination for the curious.

The book includes an extensive interview with Adam Dant by The Gentle Author.

Adam Dant’s limited edition prints including the MAP OF WESTMINSTER’S DIVISION BELLS are available to purchase through TAG Fine Arts

Eleanor Crow At Leila’s Shop

February 15, 2020
by the gentle author

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Illustrator Eleanor Crow is giving a lecture at Leila’s Cafe, showing her watercolours and telling the stories of the shopkeepers from her book SHOPFRONTS OF LONDON, IN PRAISE OF SMALL NEIGHBOURHOOD SHOPS at 7:30pm on Tuesday 25th February.

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CLICK HERE FOR FREE TICKETS

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Click here to order a copy for £14.99

At a time of momentous change in the high street, Eleanor’s witty and fascinating personal survey champions the enduring culture of Britain’s small neighbourhood shops.

As our high streets decline into generic monotony, we cherish the independent shops and family businesses that enrich our city with their characterful frontages and distinctive typography.

Eleanor’s collection includes more than hundred of her watercolours of the capital’s bakers, cafés, butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, chemists, launderettes, hardware stores, eel & pie shops, bookshops and stationers. Her pictures are accompanied by the stories of the shops, their history and their shopkeepers – stretching from Chelsea in the west to Bethnal Green and Walthamstow in the east.