Writing is at standstill at the moment as I have an eye problem that prevents me from working on the computer (or it takes so long that I can’t do it anyway), so as doorways seems a popular feature of blogs, I thought I’d dig out a few of my favourites. The featured image is of a street of blue doors in East London, the others follow:
Truly abstract I think. Love the subtle muddy colours and the starkness of the image.
This is a piece of graffiti on a wall in London’s East End (Brick Lane area). It’s a wonderful place in which to make artistic discoveries. This one comes from the camera of London photographer Steve Moore who has given me permission to use it.
Having watched every episode of Tony Jordan’s 20-part brilliant evocation of Charles Dickens’ world (Dickensian, BBC 1), it has whetted my appetite for the London of the novels, for the streets and alleyways that he populated with an array of the most colourful characters ever to leap from a page.
The series is a true celebration of a master story teller, where people like Miss Haversham, Nancy, Bill Sykes, Fagin, Jaggers the lawyer, and the Cratchit family, are all cleverly interwoven into a Victorian tapestry, perfect for the small screen. Dickensian carried with it a constant surprise, as there were no hints given as to who would pop up or from which book. And as always, with a BBC production, the location, the settings and the atmosphere are pitch-perfect. And it’s fun trying to remember in which book a character appeared, and in admiring the clever way Jordan has stitched together a new story using these familiar characters.
Although Dickens wouldn’t recognize London should he return today, we are lucky enough to be able to suss out some of the haunts he mentions, the alleyways, streets, pubs and inns, many of which survive, although what the Blitzkrieg couldn’t destroy, the city planners have almost managed to accomplish.
The City of London was once a walled city covering a mere square mile, inside which the Guilds and Liveries reigned supreme – in fact they still do, along with the money merchants, the financiers, the major world Banks and the controllers of a shadowy world of high finance. Established in around AD50, seven years after the Romans invaded Britain, the City, or Square Mile as it has become known, is the place from which modern-day London grew. Walk through the surrounding areas, and with just a little imagination, you can begin to populate the streets with Dickens’ characters. A good place to start from is St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Sir Christopher Wren, who, while his great church was being built, lived in a house on the other side of the River Thames from which rowed across the river daily, to check on its progress.
The historian Dr. Ruth Richards claims to have discovered the workhouse, the Strand Union in Cleveland Street, that inspired Oliver Twist. This wasnear where Dickens lived as a child, and it is thought possible that he worked with a lot of the poor apprentices from that workhouse during his time at the blacking factory. Most workhouse children were hired out, or apprenticed, to places like these, and if the young Dickens did work with the workhouse paupers, he would have heard tales of the hardship in that establishment, all of which were grist to the mill when it came to writing what is one of the best loved, and most often filmed, stories of all times.
When Pip in Great Expectations arrived in ‘ugly, crooked, narrow and dirty’ London he got off the coach at the Cross Keys Inn on Wood Street, a posting Inn and a terminal for the coaches from the countryside bringing passengers and parcels to the City (read Great Expectations for his description of the nearby Cheapside market and ‘the great black dome of St. Pauls). Little remains of the Cross Keys inn today save a paved area in the nearby churchyard in Wood Street, marked by railings with cross keys on them, the symbol of St Peter, keeper of the gates to Heaven.
This is also the inn where the young boy, Charles Dickens, aged 12 and alone, arrived from Rochester in Kent after his spendthrift father had once again made the family destitute (Dickens senior subsequently spent time at the Wood Street Compter just a little bit further down the road from Cross Keys). From Wood Street, Pip walked along London Wall to the offices of Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer, through narrow streets where the houses are crammed tightly together and jostle for space. You are near Postman’s Park here so a detour to this delightful spot can be recommended and although nothing to do with Dickens, I would recommend a detour to see this very Victorian location.
But it was Southwark, a less reputable area, that haunted Dickens and coloured his outlook and his novels ever afterwards. A portion of the Marshalsea Debtors Prison wall still stands in St. George’s churchyard off Borough High Street, the prison in which the Dickens’ family languished, and his vivid description in Little Dorrit leaves the reader in no doubt of his intense loathing of the place.
The George Inn, just off Borough High Street, has survived, one of the many “rambling queer old places” that the writer described in The Pickwick Papers. A little further along is Lent Street where the writer lived and from where he walked to the hated job at the Blacking Factory in the Strand. The factory that caused such grief to the young man but which gave him so much material for his novels is no longer there: on the site now stands Charing Cross Station.
There is to be another series of Dickensian, and I urge anyone who has not seen the first series to catch up with it and then follow on with the second series. Mr. and Mrs. Bumble we’ve met, Mrs. Gamp and Sarah Peggotty, but there are many characters yet to be given a backstory, characters who lived life on the edges of the tales, like Laura Badger, Ham Peggotty, Mrs. Ticket, and the one remembered by every child that saw the original black and white production of Oliver Twist – Magwitch.
Dickensian is not Tales from Dickens, it is a re-imagining of a Dickensian London peopled by the colourful characters from the novels of one of England’s greatest writers. It is not to be missed
Between July and November 2014, at the Tower of London, a magnificent display of 888,246 ceramic poppies filled the Tower’s famous moat to mark the centenary of the First World War. The number of poppies represented one for each British and Colonial death during the conflict.
Created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, the installation, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, attracted thousands, possibly millions, from all over the country and overseas, who queued for hours, often in the rain, to view the sea of scarlet progressively filling the Tower’s famous moat, between 17th July and 11th November 2014. The poppies encircled the iconic landmark, creating a spectacular visual commemoration, and although thousands wound their way around the magnificent display, it was noticeable that most people were given to inward reflection rather than discussion.
I was moved, as was everyone else who attended this magnificent tribute to the fallen, and the poppies that streamed from one of the windows or arrow slits in the wall of the Tower, recalled to mind the words of William Blake from Songs of Innocence and Experience:
“And the hapless soldiers’ sigh, Runs like blood down palace walls.”
These photographs were all taken by my friend, and London photographer, Steve Moore, who spent a couple of days there. Steve gave me a CD of about 150 pictures – it was not easy choosing images to represent the Photo Challenge as my mind kept switching to the reason for the poppy display, but I hope you like them. I wish I’d been there at night. There is something about that night scene that resonates deep within me.
Postman’s Park in London contains a simple but evocative Memorial to unsung heroes of the 19th and early 20th century, in the form of a collection of glazed Doulton plaques on a wall protected from the elements by a loggia. Each of these plaques commemorates someone who, in tragic circumstances, died a hero, trying to save the lives of others.
What and where is Postman’s Park in the City of London?
First the name: the park acquired the Postman’s Park name because during it’s heyday in the 19th century and before it became the site of the Memorial, it was popular as a lunchtime retreat with workers from the General Post Office in nearby Clerkenwell, long since demolished.
Situated between King Edward Street, Little Britain and Angel Street and just round the corner from St Paul’s Cathedral whose steps are normally crowded with tourists hugging backpacks and guitars and where the streets are full of bankers and financiers bursting with self-importance, it contains a gallery of tiled memorials to extraordinary people who were, nonetheless, just ordinary citizens.
The brainchild of the Victorian painter and philanthropist, G.F. Watts (1817-1904), a radical socialist who felt deeply about the dreadful conditions of the London poor, and who had twice refused a Baronetcy, it is now regarded as a Memorial to Watts who made no attempt to hide his dislike of the greed of the upper classes of the time.
About the Tiled Memorials
A long, high wall covered with Royal Doulton ceramic plaques, decorated in burnt orange and blue, names, ages, occupations and means of death engraved on the tiles – this is a wall before which people have been known to stand with tears in their eyes. Tragedy after tragedy told in a few simple phrases, bring to life drownings, raging fires, train disasters, and runaway horse accidents, in which these workers and children had saved someone’s life by giving their own.
There is seating under the plaques and the garden area of the park is a restful place with bright flower beds and a gently trickling fountain, interesting shrubs and flowering plants. Of special interest are the large banana tree, musa basjoo, which flowers in late summer, and the dove tree, davidia involucrata. In fact, Postman’s Park is a perfect place for a lunchtime picnic.
In 1887, Watts wrote to The Times to suggest the creation of a park to commemorate ‘heroic men and women’ who had given their lives attempting to save others. This, he said, would be a worthy way to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year.
His letter to The Times did not stimulate any interest, however, but in 1898, St Botolph’s Church at Aldersgate purchased land that had previously been owned by the City Parochial Foundation, and they approached him regarding the Memorial. So, on the site of the former churchyard of St. Bolophs, there was erected a 50ft long open gallery along the wall of which he planned to place glazed Doulton tablets commemorating acts of bravery, each one detailing a heroic act.
One of Britain’s leading tile designers at that time, William de Morgan, agreed to work with Watts. Their collaboration, first unveiled in 1900, is what you see on the early plaques when you visit Postman’s Park.
About the Tiles and Plaques
The plaques could easily be overlooked in the somewhat hidden corner of the park, but these beautiful hand-lettered tiles hand-painted at the Royal Doulton factory, when once you see them, live with you forever. Each one tells the story of a boy or girl, man or woman, who died trying to save another at the expense of his own. Told in a few poignant words, they nevertheless manage to paint a picture of a life unfulfilled that ended in tragedy. Take, for instance,
the young Alice “daughter of a bricklayer’s labourer who by intrepid conduct saved 3 children from a burning house in Union Street Borough at the cost of her own young life”. Or
William “drowned in the Lea trying to save a lad from a dangerous entanglement of weed”.
The stories seem almost Dickensian until the very real tragedies these plaques represent hit home and one realises that this was real life, not fiction. Life was harsh for those who didn’t own land or property of some sort in those days: violence and disease were everyday events. Prostitution and child abuse were rife in late-Victorian London, and these children who died, many of them orphans or ‘indentured workers’, each and every one of them would have been working at some poorly paid job.
Reading the tiles one is struck by the occupations that don’t exist any more and the causes of death that remind one of nothing so much as a Victorian engraving – a runaway carriage of four with a child trampled beneath the horses, a boy in the Thames (probably a mudlark) attempting to swim to land with his friend in his arms.
G.F. Watts and his Reasons for Erecting the Memorial
GF Watts wanted to use his art as a force for social change and his intention was to build a memorial that honoured ordinary people, people who would not have had a burial tomb at Highgate, Brompton or even St. Pancras & Islington Cemetery.
Watts had for many years collected newspaper reports of heroic actions and the plaques were based on these cuttings.
It was planned to have one hundred and twenty tiles in place for the opening, but sadly, it was only possible to erect four. By this time Watts was too ill to attend the unveiling and only nine more were added during his lifetime. His wife Mary, took over the work and added what she could before her death. Then, 78 years later, in 2009, the Diocese of London added a new tablet to commemorate one Leigh Pitt who rescued a nine-year-old boy from drowning in a canal. The plaque reads:
Leigh Pitt, Reprographic operator, aged 30, saved a drowning boy from the canal at Thamesmead, but sadly was unable to save himself. June 7, 2007.
Today you can see rows of blank spaces, although no doubt there were unsung heroes in the intervening years who were never commemorated.
This wall of tiled plaques to these forgottenLondoners is one of the city’s most moving Memorials and in 1972, along with other key elements in the park, it was Listed as a Grade ll site.
Postman’s Park in Recent Film
The BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning film Closer which stars Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen (based on the play of the same name by Patrick Marber) references Postman’s Park in that the character Alice Ayres (Natalie Portman) fabricates her identity based on Ayers’ tablet on the Memorial which the film character had read.
Tate Britain, the original Tate Gallery to distinguish it from Tate Modern, is situated near Lambeth Palace and just a short walk from the South Bank, the Eye and Westminster. It is an elegant building with a neo-classical portico in the area of Millbank and stands on the site of the former Millbank Penitentiary. It houses the greatest collection of British Art in the world, works by Epstein, Gainsborough, Hirst, Hockney, Hogarth, Rossetti, Sickert, Spencer, Stubbs, and the artists of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who revolutionised British art in the 19th century.
Special attention is given to three outstanding British artists from the Romantic age: Blake and Constable have dedicated spaces within the gallery, while the Turner Collection of approximately 300 paintings and many thousands of watercolours, is housed in the specially built Clore Gallery.
Originally called the National Gallery of British Art it started with a collection of 65 modern British paintings given by its founder Sir Henry Tate (he of the sugar cube and sugar refining firm) when it opened in 1897. A further gift from Sir Henry in 1899 enabled an extension to be built, and in 1910 thanks to the gift of Sir Joseph Duveen, the Turner Wing was completed.
Over the years the Gallery amassed a collection of works dating from the 16th to the 20th century, to include Modern Art in 1916 and three new galleries for foreign art ten years later. This led to a change of name from National Gallery of British Art to The Tate Gallery.
The Tate is rightly famous for its collection of the works of the foremost English Romantic painter and landscape artist – J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Turner left his collection of oil paintings and thousands of studies to the nation on condition that they were kept together, and in 1987 the Clore Gallery was opened to house this magnificent bequest.
When the Tate Modern opened on Bankside in 2000, a decision was made to create more space by transferring the collection of international modern art from 1900 to the present day to the new gallery. Tate Modern, a former pumping station, is the perfect repository for modern art, and in the Turbine Hall, it has space to display enormous installations.
Tate Britain however, continues to house the Turner Prize exhibition, one of the art world’s most controversial prizes. Awarded to an artist under 50, British or working in Great Britain, the Turner Prize attracts both media attention and public demonstrations, former well known winners being Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry and Gilbert and George.
The Tate is no stranger to controversy, from accusations of favouritism in the purchase of work by Royal Academicians in the 19th century to media ridicule of the works it purchases today. There was the famous case in 1972 of the work by Carl Andre popularly known as The Bricks, which caused The Times newspaper to complain about institutional waste of taxpayers’ money. In 1995 a gift of £20,000 from art fraudster John Drewe came to light, along with the fact that the gallery had given Drewe access to its archives from which he forged documents authenticating fake paintings which he then sold. The last major scandal was in 2005 over the Tate’s purchase of Chris Ofili’s work The Upper Room for £705,000 with accusations of a conflict of interest.
None of these controversies however, detracts from the Tate’s magnificence. Whatever time of the year one chooses to visit, there will be one or two challenging exhibitions ranging from Neo-classical sculptures, exhibitions of the work of Rubens, William Blake, and Millais (founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), to film and video work of Derek Jarman and that of the Iranian film maker and photographer, Mitra Tabrizian. All this as well as the gallery’s normal offerings.
Three year’s ago the Tate held the Francis Bacon Exhibition (1909-1992), a re-assessment of his work in the light of new research since his death, comprising around 60 of his most important pieces from each period of his life. It showed in great detail, the work of possibly the 20th century’s greatest painter of the human figure in an exhibition that captured its sexuality, violence and isolation. The artist’s bleak outlook, his flamboyant homosexuality and his colourful private life had made him a controversial figure in life as much as in death.
For those visiting Liverpool, the superb Tate Liverpool which opened in 1988 shows various works from the London Tates as well as mounting its own eclectic displays and for those heading for Cornwall, the Tate St. Ives has an equally impressive collection.
The out-of-London Tates entail rail or coach travel from London, but Tate Britain is an easy walk from Westminster. For a truly memorable arrival, the best way to travel is by river-boat which leaves half-hourly from Tate Modern on the Thames, stopping at the London Eye along the way.
Like that other great palace of art in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, the Tate also offers free admission apart from special exhibitions.
Bus No. 77A runs from the centre of London through Westminster, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and Aldwych to the Museum every ten minutes. Nearest underground: Pimlico. Two superb licensed restaurants are in the basement of the Gallery.
Visitors wanting a quick and expert guide to parts of the Gallery should take one of the free one-hour tours offered daily which start at 11 a.m. 12 p.m. 2 p.m. and 3 p.m (Saturdays and Sundays 12.00 and 15.00 only).
The Shard. Ah! I look up from the ground and marvel at the design, at the shards of glass that catch the light and splay out at the top. I had watched it slowly take over its London site, putting in the shade even the famous green glass building that the locals have named The Gherkin.
Then last week during the World Travel Market at Excel, I was privileged to be invited to take a trip to the top of The Shard to experience the incredible views over London from this spectacular building designed by Master Architect Renzo Piano. And what a vista.
With a 360 degree view over the city to a distance of 64 km (40 miles), and from 800 feet up in the sky in the tallest building in Western Europe, London had never looked better. The Shard is twice as high as any other viewing point in London and the only place in the city from which you can see all of London.
The View from the Shard
For the first time I could see how the River Thames has helped create this great city, how it snakes in and out, meandering north and south in ways I had never realized. Tiny boats sailed on its muddy waters, like toys pushed off from river banks by little boys.
From high in our eyrie on Level 69 we could see all of London’s famous landmarks – even on a grey drizzly day. Easy to pick out the Emirates Stadium (home of the Arsenal football team), Wembley Stadium, Windsor Castle, St. Paul’s etc. and by following the railways with their toy-trains for all the world like the Hornby set I played with a child I could find the railway stations and using this as a guide, find lesser known sites in the area.
Technical Help on Viewing Platform
Of course there are telescopes too. Not just telescopes, but Tell:scopes, a state of the art system that provides both day and night views of London and information in ten languages. One thousand years of history and some of the most iconic buildings in the world lie before the viewer as digital Tell:scopes help visitors explore the cityscape in every direction.
From these viewing galleries it is possible to ascend even higher to Level 72 where, at the highest accessible point of The Shard, guests can stand in the open air, surrounded by the giant shards of glass that seen ti disappear into the sky. The Shard title derives from the sculpted design which consists of glass facets that incline inwards but which do not meet at the top but instead, open to the sky to allow the building to breathe naturally.
Further Details and how to book:
The View from the Shard will offer a totally immersive experience of one of the greatest cities on earth when it opens to the public on February 1st 2012.
Restaurants, offices, executive apartments and the Shangri-La Hotel their first time in London ) occupy different floors of the building. Two lifts whisk visitors to the top in 30 seconds.
Tickets can be reserved for dates next year at www.theviewfromtheshard.com at £24. 95 for adults and £18. 95 for children or via the box office hotline +44(0)844 499 7111. Open 0900-2200 daily. Nearest tube station is London Bridge, bus routes 43, 141, 148 and 521 stop there and bus 151 goes from London Bridge. Boat from Westminster Pier leaves hourly.