Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Walkie Round The (Covent) Garden

I have a basic assumption that anything interesting in Central London has probably been photographed numerous times and posted on loads of blogs, but despite that  but I still can't help taking the camera along if there's any chance that I might find myself in a new (for me) area. So a few weeks ago a trip up to town to take in some of the Chinese New Year celebrations turned into an impromptu Faded London session as a couple of interesting items caught my eye.

Almost the first thing that stood out was this Ghost Sign just down Oxford Street and easily visible when you emerge from Tottenham Court Road tube.
 It's been revealed by the knocking down of the adjacent building and I'm pretty sure that it's been the topic of posts on various other blogs and websites. I'm also sure that lots of research has been completed to find out  a bit more about Veglio's but, never afraid of being behind the times, I've had a quick go myself to see if I could get an idea of the type of eatery it was. 

One of the few direct references I could find was in  Samuel Butler - A Memoir by Henry Festing Jones. When recalling a friend of Butler's called Thomas Ballard - a decent but unworldly painter who walked the pavements with his pockets full of apples whilst reading books and weaving in and out of other pedestrians with his uncanny ability to avoid collisions - Veglio's gets a passing mention.
"I remember Ballard quite well. I have seen him with a model at Veglio's restaurant, which used to be on the Euston Road, not far from his studio. If, after a day's work, he thought that his model had not had enough to eat lately, he would bring her with him to supper. Appearances might be against him - he did not care."
Ballard was tall, thin with a straggling beard and moustache. He also had poor teeth with several of the front ones missing but although he continually underpriced his work, and was constantly broke as a result, he had a reputation for generosity and of being more than happy to give a needy soul the very shirt off of his back. And posibly of not having a huge amount of luck with the ladies...

All of which suggests that Veglio's Italian restaurant might be acceptable for the impoverished Middle Classes but probably wasn't a landmark London eatery. The Baedeker's Guide had it marked down as 'moderate' which seems about right.

 Just off Leicester Square I caught sight of some surviving tile-work that's been hemmed in, chipped about, partially covered and truncated. It's still very attractive though, even if it's major role these days is to provide an anchor for a burglar alarm.
I think most people would agree that life is made all the more interesting by a healthy dollop of whimsy now and then. Not too in your face either, just whimsical enough to catch the eye, pull in the punter and then leave them with a large, metaphorical question mark hanging over their head before the slow realisation sinks in that they've been had. Which this plaque does in spades. It's situated high up above a shop on the approaches to Leicester Square so that even on maximum zoom from the other side of the street the Faded London Box-Brownie was unable to capture it with anything other than a blurred, arm-shaken effort.
My best effort at transcription is as follows:
This plaque has been placed at the high water mark of one of the worst floods of the En'kymhirian  times. Incredibly after two years at sea on their rafts of asphalt the Tehapchapi, the great road builders of Extrellita [the initial 'K' is not usually written] nearly foundered here at the end. But that first rezhen as the waters receded, the sky cleared, revealing a sign. No new heavens at all, but, for just that one night the stars from the other side of the world and so they called the place New Extrellita the name now given to this realm of Arctic Islands
The big clue is at the bottom of the plaque which records the website and from having a look around on there it looks as though The Great Dageroo Flood is only one of a number of plaques sited around the world recording the history of a culture and civilization whose existence touches our own at various points. Basically it seems to be a fantasy and story-telling based site. So it's organised whimsy on a world-wide scale.

Cricket and Fish & Chips - what could be more evocative of England? I was really surprised to see this around the side of Leicester Square tube station, but it's such a prominent and highly visible part of the building fabric that I'd imagine that the locals are quite blasé about it.

Apparently the station was built in 1906 without the offices above, but it wasn't long before they were added and Wisden moved in. John Wisden himself was long-gone having died in 1884,  but he had a long association with the area having been in business with Fred Lillywhite, a partner who was later to be a competitor and who still has a famous store named after him. They set up "...a tabbaconist cum sporting goods depot off the Haymarket in London, subsequently relocated in Leicester Square"  (Silent Revolutions by Gideon Haigh) but whereas Lillywhites eventually survived as a sporting goods store, Wisden was the winner when it came to the publishing side of things.  
What used to be the doorway and steps up to the offices is now a small shop. Burgers, kebabs, falafals and pizzas may not be quite as English as Fish & Chips though.

I headed off toward Covent Garden down Long Acre and here on the corner of Mercer Street was intrigued to see this sign which looks in suspiciously good condition! The businesses have gone but I wonder if the owners have decided it was better to keep the signage in good condition rather than let it flake off?
 Slightly further along I was very taken with these two regal ladies sitting above the entrances to Langley House. The style of ornamentation is described as 'Flemmish Rennaisance' on a Listing Appraisal and from that it seems that a significant section of land in the area is owned by the Mercers Company, as this extract (and the name Mercer Street!) suggests
Elmfield, to the north of Long Acre, was not bought by Henry VIII, but remained in the possession of the Mercers' Company. In 1614 the Mercers granted a 30 years' lease of it to Thomas, Earl of Exeter, who in the following year sold his lease to Sir William Slingsby. The street called Long Acre was laid out at about this time by Slingsby and the Earl of Bedford, the line of the street following approximately the line of the common boundary of their properties. Thenceforth the term Long Acre was frequently applied to the ground on both sides of the street, and in 1650 when the Mercers' ground was surveyed it was referred to as "Elme Close alias Long Acre," and a certain Captain Disher tried to prove that it was part of the property purchased by Henry VIII. From: 'Long Acre', Survey of London: volume 20: St Martin-in-the-Fields, pt III: Trafalgar Square & Neighbourhood (1940), pp. 125-127.
The Worshipful Company of Mercers were basically an association of Merchants dealing mainly with the luxury end of the market and their website has a description of a mysterious figure known as The Mercer's Maiden!
 The Mercers’ Maiden is the symbol and coat of arms of the Company. She first appears on a seal in 1425. Her precise origins are unknown, and there is no written evidence as to why she was chosen as the Company’s emblem.She is often depicted wearing the fashions of any given period because she was not formally granted as a coat of arms until 1911. Over many centuries she has graced letterheads, legal documents, furnishings, and property of the Company. Maiden ‘property marks’, usually crafted out of stone, often adorned the exterior walls of buildings belonging to the Company, and are still common sights in London
So the hunt is on! These two maidens looks as though they could well have triggered a future posting about Mercer Maidens found around the city.

 The next two items are nowhere near as glamorous but they are still of interest in their own way. A while back I had a posting devoted to what I called 'wall braces' but this seemed to spark a vigorous debate on an American architectural site, the outcome of which was that as they did not push things apart as braces do, but pull them together, the correct term should be 'bearing plates'

I won't make that mistake again, so here are a couple of nice hand-made bearing plates!
And Finally, back in Long Acre the signage for another Carriage Manufactory , this time fading away gently in very low-vis yellow paint.
 That was pretty much it for my quick tour. I enjoyed the Wisden sign, decided that I hadn't missed much by not dining at Veglio's, was intrigued by the Dageroo Flood and then found out something new about the Mercer Maidens. Definitely worth taking the camera for. Chinese New Year was fun as well....


Wellwynder said...

... except that they're not plates, so surely 'bearing crosses' (or something like that) would be more accurate.

I must have got out of the pedantic side of the bed this morning.

Love the Wisden sign, though, especially as I must have walked past it a thousand times and never noticed.

Yelfy said...

I had the same reservation and had the thought that 'Bearing Flange' would probably have covered all variations. I don't want to upset any engineers by making up new names though so I thought it wiser to go with the flow...

Proud Maisie said...

I must go to find Veglio's now... my imagination runs riot.

Anonymous said...

I like a good cafe and think that Veglio's might have been right up my street, so to speak.

I wonder if anyone has done a history of cafes. The interesting thing is that many typically English cafes are in fact run by Italians, Turks, Germans and other nationalities.

One of our pleasures at weekends is to go out to breakfast in one of our favourite cafes. I think we would definitely have given Veglio's a try.

Jane said...

Thanks for the info on the Mercers area of Covent Garden and the Mercers' Madien... i took pics of lots of these signs yesterday and about to collate them.
Have you seen the mess that the ASC Coachwork sign is in these days? Someone has attempted to touch it up, and it surely wasn't a signwriter employed to do the job. I don't know why people bother retouching these old defunct signs. Ditto the Flegg building in Shelton St which looks really bad as they've used shiny paint. I will load up a pic of the ASC sign to Flickr shortly.

cheap mulberry bags said...

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