Thursday, 13 October 2011

Cheam Sainsbury's and a Mystery Solved!

The recent 'Open Buildings' weekend is always a great oppportunity to go out and have a look at some of those places that you just never seem to get around to in the normal course of life. Mind you, as good a prompt as it is it's not infalible and I've still failed to get a look around the Carshalton Water Tower (maybe next year...).

However I did find myself taking a trip out to Cheam village in Sutton to have look at some of their buildings - mainly the 15th century Whitehall which was very interesting and well worth the (minimal, for me anyway) effort involved. However, when I went for a quick look around at the local shops and buildings - as you can't help doing when you've got a Faded London sort of mindset - I spotted a shop mosaic that looked strangely familiar.
Suspiciously like the Balham shop-front?

The mosaic was just outside a shop that was undergoing a bit of a renovation or a refit. Being a Sunday afternoon it was all shut up but the floral design was identical to one I had seen locally a few months ago and mentioned in a post called A Balham Mosaic.

At the time I thought it was an intriguing on-off and didn't think much more about it but it seems it was actually more like a trade design and what's more I would guess that it was contemporary with the David Greig mosaic and tile-work that I spotted in Brixton. It is, in fact, the corporate design for J. R Sainsbury and on this site not only has the external design survived, but pretty much the whole of the interior has as well! It was tricky to photograph it through the glass doors, especially as it covered the whole of the visible floor-space, but you can get an idea of the quality of the preservation from this threashold mosaic proudly declaring the shop name

Looks as though Blue and Brown were the corporate colours back then

With only a phone camera to capture it through the doors I couldn't get much of a view inside but it was interesting to see that the floor plan was typical of the day with counters running around three walls and the customers safely in the middle. I was also really intrigued to see that the shop-front itself looked original with huge sash windows either side of the door to allow them to convert into open spaces when the weather was decent.

I'm not sure what the future holds for this shop - whether it's part of a preservation scheme, going to be gutted or whether the owners are going to incorporate the original features into whatever it opens up as - but it was a real pleasure to stumble across it in such an unexpected manner.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Bits of Brixton

 Brixton Market: I spotted this advertising plaque on the window of a store in Brixton market a week or two ago when I was visiting a very impressive Colombian cafe. It has a nice sort of late-50s feel about it (the sign, not the cafe) so I decided to have a look and see if I could find out much about the company itself, not being familiar with Avia as a brand.

As it turns out, I'm not the only one and the internet seems to be full of people not being able to find out much information about old Avia watches they've acquired! Some snippets of information that were floating around seem to suggest that the company had its roots in 1830, but then doesn't seem to have been registered as a brand until 1910. It was a London company and it's quality seems to have been thought of as being pretty good, at least up to the advent of quartz watches when it seemed to tail off somewhat. The company was bought by an American business in 2001 and still has a presence mainly providing inexpensive watches to department stores.

It looks as though this sign may have been put up during the company's heyday in the 1950's although interestingly 'guaranteed Swiss watch' doesn't necessarily mean that the whole watch was of Swiss manufacture. It could be that certain elements of the movement were assembled and checked in Switzerland but that the majority of the watch was made elsewhere, as described in this article. Nice advertisement though.

Having finished the  Colombian lunch (huge portions, two courses, lovely flavours £7ish) I thought I'd have a little stroll before heading off home. Then a couple of other items caught my eye.

Coldharbour Lane: Moving off down the road out of the arcade I went past the ever-impressive Sanitary Steam Laundry that I recall as being situated close to the unemployment office on Coldharbour Lane. Judging by the vans in the forecourt it's still in the same line of business which is quite impressive. I'm not sure that the unemployment office has had the same longevity, although I do know that the old UB40 is no longer in existence.

Of course it's the clock tower and the bold fascia lettering that really do it for me on this building and with a frontage like that you just knew that there would be some information around about it somewhere on the internet. As it turned out I didn't have to look very far because, in a very heart-warming sort of way, not only does Walton Lodge still have the same sort of business on the premises, it actually has the same company in it,  which was a bit of a surprise!

Walton Lodge Laundry Services have a page on their website devoted to the history of their company and an interesting read it is to.  Walton Lodge was acquired in 1895 and since then the business has had to develop and move with the times, from dealing mainly with domestic laundry to that of laundry for hotels and of linen hire. Still going strong by the looks of it.

Atlantic Road: I recall there being a David Greig shop in Battersea when I was young and being taken every Saturday for a bit of shopping. Quite a pleasant type of place if I recall correctly - a large thistle mosaic in the middle of the floor and counters around the sides with a single payment box in the corner. It was a sort of dairy cum grocers I think, the sort of place to go for a nice bit of cheddar and some ham wrapped up in greaseproof paper. Although much earlier than my own memories, there's a nice wartime photo of a David Greig store on Flickr.
 Apparently, according to Wikipedia, this Brixton store was the first ever David Greig and actually opened in 1870. I couldn't say whether the tiles are of the same vintage but I wouldn't have thought they would have been too far off - maybe they were part of a later development as the chain grew in size?
The Scottish-ness of David Greig's was a big part of it's public image and the thistle was it's main emblem, as you can see here with this attractive bit of tile-work. Strangely enough - and a bit of a surprise for me - was the fact that the company was a North London one, and not some exotic import from the Highlands! I assume that they had very strong Scottish roots though and decided to celebrate them in their shop designs. And why not...
 The colours of dark green, golden-yellow and a sort of russet red all suggest to me the colours of autumn in the glens. Very rich but quite subdued as well. I've no idea whether it was intentional or not but the overall effect is quite tasteful I think. The chain was sold in the 1970's and the name has pretty much disappeared now, apart from the odd preserved shop front like this one.

Brixton Road: Just beside the Ritzy Cinema is a ghost sign whose picture pops up with great regularity around the world of the blog. Bovril (in a Quite Interesting sort of way) was named after Vril a magical foodstuff in a book called The Coming Race, combined with the first part of bovine, hence Bo(vine) Vril. That little snippet of knowledge is courtesy of a dissertation I did on Utopian and Dystopian Literature of the 19th century and I'm very pleased that my copious research has finally come in useful!
However what most of the ghost sign pictures miss out is the interesting stink-pipe with electric light brackets in the foreground, next to a very solid looking public convenience. Three for the price of one!

(Coma y Punto was the Colombian Cafe, and I'm happy to recommend it to anyone looking for something slightly different and value for money!)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Kings Road (2): The Rest

Real life has a way of intervening in the best of intentions, so its taken a little longer than I'd of hoped to finish recording the items of interest I spotted on a short walk from Sloane Square tube to just past Flood Street. The first post concentrated on coal plates in and around the main street but the Kings Road in Chelsea isn't just a collection of interesting coal plates. By occasionally looking up a bit and aiming my my field of vision just a bit higher I was able to spot a couple of other interesting items.

One object I particularly liked was this stately cows head stuck on the side of what was once Wright's Dairy.
The Exciting Postcard site has a couple of postcards of old Chelsea relating to the dairy. Firstly Dolly and Daisy the Chelsea favourites and the front of their old shop itself.

This site looks a bit more imposing than the postcard so I'd imagine it was actually more a sort of head-office of a small local business than somewhere for one man, his cows and a three-legged stool. It is a very impressive head though...
Wright's Dairy with it's impressive bovine bust
In an idle moment I  was wondering what the cow's head itself might be made of and how it's actually attached to the wall. My best guess is that it's a lightweight metal alloy that's bolted on but it's lasted well however it's been applied.

A young Margaret Morris
On the corner of Flood Street and the Kings Road there's a building that not only looks like a converted old cinema, but which is also covered with some attractive - if slightly battered - glazed tile-work. It's currently a very tasteful 'Out of India' sort of shop but a little bit of digging around and I was delighted to discover its slightly more radical and artistic history. Its original use was not as a cinema, as I first suspected, but as a dance theatre opened and operated by a remarkable character called Margaret Morris.

Margaret developed a form of free-flowing dance based on classical Greek vase illustrations and her theatre soon became one of the centres of free-thinkers and radicals
Tile-work on Flood Street
of the avant-garde in the years leading up to the First World War, although her involvement in the political word seems to be played down in her wiki entry which concentrates more on her dance techniques. She died in 1980 and her theatre later became first an antiques market and now retail space, but the art nouveau tile-work still provides the clue as to it's livelier and more radical origins. Grace Brockington's book "Above the Battlefield: British Modernism and the Peace Movement 1900-1918" actually places the influence of this dance theatre on a par with the Bloomsbury Group as one of the key havens of pacifist thought in the run up to the Great War
"...Two such groupings - Bloomsbury, and a previously unrecognised circle of artists, writers and performers based around the Margaret Morris Theatre in Chelsea - are the focus of this important study. Brockington reveals the exhilarating expectation of an international cultural Renaissance that motivated the Edwardian avant-garde, and that militated against conflict in 1914. ...Her analysis of the Chelsea circle draws on a wealth of new archival material about experimental performance during the war, overturning the convention that avant-garde theatre was moribund after 1914. There emerges a rich and interconnected world of hellenistic dance, symbolist stage design, marionettes and book illustration, produced in conscious opposition to the values of an increasingly regimented and militaristic society, and radically different from existing narratives of British wartime culture."
Detail of some Art Nouveau tiles
Just off the main Kings Road . It could be their rough, unpolished, artisan style, but for some reason I thought of Pompeii when I caught sight of these two mosaics outside houses. They are striking enough as it is, but when I had a closer look I was really taken by the mixture of laborious and the erratic. 
What looks so regular and uniform at first glance
... actually has a huge variety in in shape, size and layout
This is the second with what looks to me to be a more traditional 'Roman' border. 
Apart from just enjoying them there's not much more to say about them really, other than to wonder if having the extra floating 'L' in the corner of the border in the last mosaic is all that traditional?

 Saint Leonards Terrace runs parallel to the Kings Road and this nice old lodge sign is part of the entrance to the grounds of the Royal Hospital
 Thomas Faulkner in his book An historical and topographical description of Chelsea and its environs of 1810 describes the entrance in this way
The principal and grand entrance to the Royal Hospital is by an iron gate of elegant workmanship and great height ornamented on each side by lofty stone pillars surmounted with military trophies The entrance is also ornamented with two handsome porter's lodges 
The pillars and military ornamentation are still there but I couldn't in all honesty describe the porters lodges as being 'handsome'. Possibly the current ones are not original?

However I do like old brass bell buttons with their porcelain centres and verdigris surrounds and even though they are not of 1810 vintage these two were quite fetching. I keep meaning to do a collection of them at some point and if I do these will no doubt feature.
In quite good condition with only a couple of missing screws.
A bit of wear and tear on this one. Looks like the Porter was kept busy.
Nice, but a bit grimy
Off near Sloan Square and if you look up you can see a very ornate street sign on the corner. Very attractive it is too, and still showing the patina of a sootier age.

Its on the square itself though that I spotted a Metropolitan Drinking Fountain. Quite an attractive design too, as befits its position I suppose. Looking around for some information on this one took me to a site with everything I could possible wish to know about Chelsea's faded bits - Grouped Pieces and Miscellaneous Items from the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.  With reference to this particular piece it notes
Steps for children, a space for the dog and staples for the cup chains
"Originally this fountain, which
cost £50 and funded by Miss
Knightingale, was erected on
Elgin Road in 1882.
It was reinstalled at Sloane
Square in 1883. The
inscription reads, “Revered
husband and father from his
loving wife and children” and
presumably was added when
it was moved."
Clearly labeled with the Association name
I wonder why there are no names mentioned?
Original taps still in place
This bought me back to the tube station and finished off a fairly short walk that managed to produced an interesting mix of coal plates and assorted local items of interest.  I only walked a short section of the entire road as well so I'm sure there's much more of interest still to find