Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Creating a walk – ‘Walbrook where art thou?’

Nouormand: Pliaque à Londres
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This was never meant to be a stand-alone theme,  it developed from a walk I was asked to do for the Lord Mayor’s Show, which started at Mansion House and ended at Blackfriars. It was all planned and prepared but somehow the story of this long disappeared river of London kept coming up en route - when you are aware of the evidence of its existence it is hard not to mention it. So instead of a walk about food I've ended up with water!

My interest had started to be aroused nearly a year earlier at a LAMAS Lecture at the Museum of London when Stephen Myers gave a talk, he is the author of ‘Walking on Water’ about London’s hidden rivers. It was riveting and the notes taken by a colleague became the basis of this walk.

Not sure why I did not go out and buy the book, it just didn’t happen that way. Just used the notes, Stow, and a couple of interesting Victorian writers on the subject, one with the surname ‘Foord’!  So appropriate to the subject. Copious notes followed all to be pared down to bullet points taking up three pages – definitely a page and half too long!

Also began walking what was recorded to be the meanderings of the river picking up from the West end of Broadgate, under the Roman Wall, across London Wall, along Copthall Avenue, down Token House Yard through the church of St Margaret Lothbury and so on.  The fact that St Margaret straddles two wards is because? Yes, a river ran through the site of the original church. Also the name Lothbury is a clue, previously known as ‘upon Lothberi’ perhaps describing a crossing over a tributary of the Walbrook.

MOLA Hoarding - Bucklersbury Hythe -
 Artists Impression of dock as high up as Bucklersbury

In Court of Common Council records it is written that the Walbrook created an administrative division between the then 24 Wards (self-governing districts within the City), denoted by ‘East of Walbrook’ or ‘West of Walbrook’ certainly until the end of the Tudor period. The church rebuilt in 1440 straddled the culverted Walbrook and still has plaques denoting Coleman and Broad Street Wards on the building.

Nero coin found Bucklersbury Site
and shown to us on 18/02/13
Creating a walk requires considerable time and research and then it has to be walked and tried out several times. Even on the day of the first walk there are still tweaks, omissions and additions to consider. Also your audience can ask a question which you may have the answer for but did not initially recognise its relevance, and importance to the listener, so the next time you include it. Of course you need to be timely with your stops and when you have so much to tell but only a short time to tell it, you have to be succinct. Which can be frustrating, but that’s what the training and practice is all about. I think that is the hardest part to know when to stop and move on.

(c) Steve Duncan - Urban Explorer
Walbrook 'springs eternal'

Today I found a copy of Stephen Myer’s book at the Guildhall Library and it’s a great read. Of course I have now discovered even more interesting things to include.  It also raised further questions and perhaps even doubts.  That’s the way with talking and walking history, you never know what will be discovered or what new information is forth coming, there is not one way of telling it but many. 

One thing is for certain the Walbrook may have been the first of the London rivers to disappear but it will certainly not be the last time you will be hearing about it.

Come and join me and let me tell you more -

Check out the MOLA site below:

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Friday, 25 January 2013

Metropolitan Line Walk (20th January 2013)

On a grey and snowy Sunday Anne and I met up at the Great Midland Hotel (1873) at St Pancras to set out and walk the Metropolitan Line (above ground I hasten to add). The day had originally been chosen as a ‘Continuous Professional Development’trip for the City of London Guides of 2012. The weather had put many off who had too far to come for comfort.  We could understand that.

Kings Cross Station - nearly free of clutter!
After coffee and delicious cakes in the Lounge,  I took Anne to gaze in wonderment at the George Gilbert Scott staircase, the extra wide corridors, to accommodate Victorian fashion, the Booking Hall and the serene lounge where we had enjoyed refreshments that had long ago been full of hansom cabs, porters and the hustle and bustle of C19th travel.

The first stop of the route is St Pancras Station (Train Shed 1864), so we had done that; then on to Kings Cross Railway Station (1852), viewed across the road from the Milestone at the start of Grays Inn Road. From there on to Chad’s Place, looking over the cutting (we never found this!). However found some interesting alleys and lanes covered in virgin snow, so we explored. This is the point when you need the rest of the group with you.

We must have passed by Stop 4. Acton Street or circumnavigated it somehow, nor Stop 5. Riceyman Stairs (now Gwynne Place) but did arrive at Mount Pleasant – Stop 7. Post Office Railway – main terminal of the railway lies under the site.

King’s Cross Road looked like a small town street, very quiet, lots of snow covered roof tops so clean with all the snow, and pretty to look at, not something you would usually say about the area.

Behind a bus stop on
Kings Cross Road
Found Farringdon Lane and the pub 'Betsy Trotwood' named after a Dickins character, appropriate as this Stop No. 7 is about ‘Dickins and the Slums’.  The presence of a residential block of the Peabody Housing Trust signalled the improvements over time.  No sign of the steam train on the Metropolitan Line, although we have to confess we were not listening or looking out for it.

A detour round Clerkenwell Green because it looked so pretty in the snow, and noted the Communist Club from a previous walk that Anne had been on. On to Farringdon Station, the old and the new facing each other.  The Castle Tavern pub would have been the lunch stop for the group but we decided to plow on.

Pediment over door in Leeke Street
Arrived at Smithfields  (Stop 10) and decided we should to make our way further into the City and out towards home.

An enjoyable foray and we both look forward to doing this walk again with our colleagues and companions, who will no doubt know the route and of course we will learn so much more about each stop on the way.

The last set of stops are:

Barbican Station
The Barbican
Moorgate Station
Finsbury Circus
Liverpool Street

This walk was created and designed by David Brown

St Pauls Cathedral
You forget how hilly London is
Warehouse conversion

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Saturday, 19 January 2013

Visit to Conservation Department at the Guildhall Art Gallery

On 16th January 2013 Vicky and Harriet met us in the Victorian Gallery  at the Guildhall Art Gallery ('GAG')and took us (City of London Guides Lecturers Association 'CLGLA') down below the Amphitheatre in the goods lift to the Conservation Department. High security all the way, lots of beeps and alarms as we put our bags and coats away in a secure area so we would not bump things with our ‘stuff’.

The conservators (all five of them, only one employed full-time) are responsible for all of the City of London Corporation art collection (totalling some 4500 works), including works of art at the Mansion House, Old Bailey, various schools, council offices, out on loan and of course those displayed and stored at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

An all-encompassing role involving advice on environmental monitoring, disaster planning, surveying paintings on a rolling basis, also offering advice to other institutions plus arranging loans, transportation and insurance. Not all their work is practical and as is the case for many of the arts, more staff and resources would be welcome.

Vicky showed us The Opening of Tower Bridge, London, 30th June 1894 by William Lionel Wyllie sitting on an easel.  The painting was in for inspection as some of the paint had begun to flake, as well as some earlier conservation work looking a little tarnished. There was also a possibility that it might need relining.  A painting is made up of canvas, ground and paint, the canvas reacts to humidity. Often after 150 years or so relining is required when they glue a type of fabric on the back of a failing canvas to stop it from expanding and contracting excessively, thus not supporting the paint layers as was, and to avoid further flaking. The policy of the gallery is to avoid relining if at all possible. If required they have some clever equipment – a vacuum table, it holds the layers in place while the heat it emits bonds the glue.  The painting is removed  from  the stretcher (the wooden frame that makes the canvas taut) to achieve this. Work of this nature would take one person approximately 200 hours.

The Opening of Tower Bridge - Photo: Peter Sander
The use of ultra violet light is important to search out these problems.

Photo: Peter Sander
The next painting was a portrait of Thomas Barrow by George Romney (1734-1802). Vicky had been working on cleaning up this portrait and it was almost finished.  Romney is apparently well known for portraits of children, so this work is of interest  as it is an artist painting another artist at work.  No structural problem with this work but it had on a previous occasion been covered in thick layers of varnish, also an earlier attempt had been made to clean it, this had all showed up under  the ultra violet light.  Oddly the old varnish seemed to only  outline the figure, not across it.  Uncertain as to why?  The UV shows up loss or damage in a painting as a very dark mass. 

I’m not sure if I listed all the cleaning products correctly, my shorthand is not as good as it was, but they are all organic. Aqueous (water?), solvent free, plus alcohol various types, white spirit and the conservators make their own resin soaps.

Also hasten to add varnish is good! Varnish is important as it saturates the paint and gives enhanced colour also it protects the painting.

Next up was Harriet (an intern who is working at GAG for six months). She is working on the Westminster Bridge, London c1774 (Pendant / companion piece to Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul’s   c1774) by William Marlow (not the painting we studied for the Guildhall Art Gallery Course).

Westminster Bridge, London circa 1774
Photo: Peter Sander
Harriet spoke confidently about her work and pointed out that the two paintings are checked together, or at least one after the other,  as each painting must fit in with the aesthetic of the other, one cannot be bright and glowing and the other left mucky! (My own technical term)  All work on paintings are photographed and recorded as required.  This painting does not require extensive treatment, although investigation had uncovered minor problems with the stretcher which will be sorted out relatively quickly.  Harriet used UV lights and a microscope to check over the work. This painting had been lined. Also pointed out the tacking ‘margins’ had moved beyond the stretcher e.g. actually on the front and part of painting rather than at the side, perhaps to avoid tacking old canvas; this would not be done in conservation today. The tacking marks will not be seen by the public as the frame will hide this.

We then moved into the studio where the frames are restored, repaired and reconstructed.  Judy introduced herself as the part-time part of the team, the other half, so to speak was absent on maternity leave at this time.  A small team dealing with not only the framing element but also involved in the preparation of paintings going on loan and being shipped abroad.  Ensuring they are ‘fit to travel’ as well as making sure they will survive in the gallery they are being loaned to. They are cleverly provided with their own ‘vacuum packed capsule’ within the glass and the frame.  More about this below.

Judy had just completed the frame for Deep Sea Fishing by James Clarke Hook (1819-1907) – it is now ready to go on loan to the Bulldog Trust (  for ‘Amongst Heroes: The Artist in Working Cornwall’ exhibtion.  Harriet went on to explain that the painting had been water damaged which had caused shrinkage, in turn this had created  a ‘tented’ effect of the paint on the canvas, rather like little ripples to you and I!  This had now been ’retarded’ and would no longer ‘distract’ the viewer by getting worse. The work had also undergone cleaning.  A ‘new’ frame has been used circa 1950’s, there is no record of the original.

John Gilbert’s paintings are all in frames as chosen by the artist. The gallery has a considerable collection of his works, as gifted by him and later by his brother.  All framed by Dolman* framemakers.

Judy mentioned Alma Tadema also designed all his frames for his paintings, alas not all his paintings sport them, and the gallery would just love to have the resources and time to reframe the paintings to his original design – how different they would look in their ‘bespoke’ frames !

Another painting with an interesting  ‘frame’ story is John Gilbert’s Ego et Rex Meus  - 1888. The frame was in such bad condition it had been 80% reconstructed. Most of it made from scratch using existing patterns/style of Dolman frames and remaking a moulded frame. A brilliant reconstruction made on the premises, such skill. Take a closer  look at it the next time your visit the gallery.

A question was asked regarding the Sunderland Frame surrounding Sir John Wyndham (London Gallery) - originally gilded.  Had it been painted over in black? Judy explained that over time gilding fades, especially in harsh modern lighting and wears away. An expensive repair job if you have twenty two frames to be re-gilded so in the C19th some of the frames were painted over in bronze paint, this oxidises over time and darkens, goes brown.  The strips of gilding you see in the top right hand corner of the frame was a ‘test’ by conservators to see how the gilt may have been applied originally.

All sealed up 'fit to travel'
Photo: Peter Sander
As mentioned previously paintings going out on loan are protected by a ‘sealed capsule’  so they can withstand changes in temperature and moisture. On our way out we saw Heart of Empire by Niels Muller Lund all sealed in with a weighty  41 kilo laminated glass (ordered from Germany) to the front, a polyester membrane which controls the temperature within and around the painting and silver backing and tape to keep it vacuum packed. The painting has of course been beautifully cleaned and is ready to travel to Yale in the U.S.A . It will be flown out shortly with a courier, a conservationist from one of the many galleries in the UK will accompany it (a shared scheme nationally as a cost saving strategy). 

Please note the Eve of St Agnes William Holman Hunt is now on tour, first to Moscow and then to Washington, should be back by the end of August.

Eve of St Agnes - On Tour
(c) Guildhall Art Gallery
Special thanks to the Conservation Department at the Guildhall Art Gallery for our visit arranged by CLGLA.                         

MissB will be taking a Guided Tour of the Gallery on Thursday 7th February at 11.00am. You can book on Eventbrite via Footprints of London                    

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Aldwych Underground Station Visit

English: Aldwych Underground Station The old f...
English: Aldwych Underground Station The old facade at the top of Surrey Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is a really interesting article on several fronts. Answers some questions - the reason why it was shut, how it still proves to be useful? Plus what is it used for today?

Read on.
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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

150 Years of the Underground - Gresham Lecture

English: "Underground; the moving spirit ...
English: "Underground; the moving spirit of London", Published by Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd, 1910, Printed by T R Way and Company Ltd, 1910 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The London Underground Electric Railway Compan...
The London Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd published this poster in 1924 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MissB is going to the Gresham Lecture this afternoon to hear all about Art of the Underground.   Within 24 hours you will be able to download or read the lecture on this website.
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English Heritage to stop Blue Plaques

English: Blue plaque to Jimi Hendrix on his ho...
English: Blue plaque to Jimi Hendrix on his house at 23 Brook Street, London, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Government cuts and less funding for English Heritage means further Blue plaques are on hold. 

There seems to be a mixed reaction about this among the Guiding fraternity, some find them to be a blot on a great building, others love them as recognition of some people and/or buildings that may not otherwise be noticed. 

However, I feel the conclusion is that if people want to commemorate someone or something generally people power takes over, monies are raised and the job done!

Also English Heritage have not ruled out the situation changing as funds become available.
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Christmas Crackers with Peter Berthoud

Had to blow the dust of my blog keyboard. It has taken an age to get back to it, although I have lots to to tell you and exciting news to share!

Firstly my excellent early morning excursion on Christmas Morning with Discovering London.

My learner driver son drove us through the deserted streets from Wimbledon to Embankment! A steady stately drive ensured we arrived safely to meet up with Peter and a cheery group of early morning revellers under Admiralty Arch for 6 a.m!

Crackers were pulled and paper hats put on with a shot of Baileys to keep out the early morning chill.  It was eerie seeing the metropolis so cool, calm and quiet.

The visit to the 'Duke of Cambridge' monument outside Horse Guards, complete with a real nose bag and real straw for the horse, I won’t tell you why as it is a spoiler!  No naked rider I hasten to add, was a taste of interesting and unusual topics to come! 

Beneath the Pillars of Hercules towards Charing X Road

The rain changed from a drizzle to a downpour but our spirits were not dampened, the Bailey's and Quality Street saw to that, plus Peter's great stories. From Christmas trees to giant letterboxes, secret drinking holes (hope I can find them again!), to silent Oxford and Regent Street. To a policeman in Santa Claus outfit jumping out of his vehicle and running amok at Piccadilly Circus!  My particular favourite spot was under the Pillars of Hercules, for that Dore engraving moment, where we sheltered from the rain.

Ended with a hot cups of coffee and a full English at a Café off Leicester Square.

Highly recommend this Christmas madness, set us up for the day, returned home to snuggle under rugs in front of the telly with hot mince pies and steaming cups of coffee!

Oxford Street (East)

Regent Street corner of Oxford Circus

Carnaby Street

Fortnum & Mason - City of London Lord Mayor Theme!