Monday, 30 March 2009

Looking for "La Dolce Vita" in Sunny Surbiton

It could be that 'The Good Life' is one of the main reasons anyone not from the South West of London is aware of Surbiton. Like Woolfie Smith and Tooting or Hancock and East Cheam or even Monty Python and Balham, some sitcom's and their fictional settings just seem to stick in the mind. I suspected there might be a little more to Surbiton than that though. I knew the High Street was Victorian in character as I used to work for Wizard Wines who had branch in the town (now a Majestic Wine Warehouse) so I had it in my mind that it might be worth a visit if the opportunity arose...

The background - I may not have done Surbiton the justice it deserves. A Saturday or two ago AFC Wimbledon were taking on the dark powers of Welling United and for various reasons I found myself at the ground a few hours early. Not a problem, I remembered that Surbiton was only down the road from Kingston so I set off for a nice stroll in the sunshine. Unfortunately it was a little further than I thought, about a 5 mile round trip so by the time I got there I had to think about getting back again pretty quick! There was only time for a swift stroll down the High Street and down to Brighton Road before retracing my steps back to the game.

Victoria Road: This has the look of an old municipal library about it and it's easy to let the eye slide over its richly ornamented surface. It's well worth a closer look though. It's the sort of fascia we'd swoon over if it was in a French village but as it's in London I suspect we tend to devalue it.
Victoria Road: Some modern municipal art here which would have been better if I could have fitted both panels in their entirity. I didn't fancy trying to take a photo stepping off the pavement and backing into the traffic though so I opted for the more artistic 'random section of mural ' approach. Presumably it's a celebration of all things Surbiton, although most of it seems to consist of trains and trams...
Seething Wells gets a mention though. I always thought it was the name of a ranting punk dub-poet but actually seems to be a water treatment works by the Thames.
Brighton Road: Right at the end of my stroll was an intriguing remnant of a corner sign. A single letter 'D' is all that remains of ....something. A close look might reveal some clues from the shading left.
Corner of Brighton Road & Victoria Avenue: There's an interesting tower on the corner of these roads that has an elaborate piece of ironwork at its top. I've zoomed in as close as I could and it seems to have the worlds smallest weather vane on the top. I could hardly make it out with my little zoom lens so I can't imagine that it would have been of any use to the average passerby.
Victoria Road: I spotted this plate on the main road and it is obviously directions to a hydrant of some sort. These are usually water hydrants but I'm not sure what the SC refers to.Whatever it is it seems to be 3? ft away. I've also looked at the picture as closely as I can and I still can't make out what the ? is!
Brighton Road: This ghost sign is now almost illegible and on the side of a building that as you can see not at all shop-like.You can just make out the words LADIES TAILOR though...
"... And Fancy Goods" is also on the front of the same building. I can't see what's to the left of the window though.
Victoria Road: There's an attractive and large building on the junction of Brighton Road and Victoria Road. It's now divided into separate shops but it was obviously originally built as a single unit.Almost all of the columns are painted but one owner has taken the trouble to remove the paint to reveal some really intriguing and attractive green marble. As usual the original is so much more interesting than the current version that I find myself wondering how the painters felt covering it up for the first time.
Victoria Road: "Stuarts (?) Your 'Do it Yourself Flooring Centre" A great example of the need to always look over your shoulder.I hadn't seen this when going down Victoria Road but when you turn around and head for home you really can't miss it. I'm pretty sure it says 'Stuarts' and I'd assume it was originally in a lighter colour such as red which has faded over time much quicker than the black. It's also slightly strange to see 'Do it Yourself' rather than DIY. It almost comes across as a snapy retort or even an order rather than as a positive lifestyle suggestion.
Victoria Road: "Jones & Hommersham - London" Luckily I wasn't just looking up, I was also keeping my eyes on the ground (although not at the same time, obviously) My next little gem was a local coalhole with a name new to me and an attractive compass-point design. This and the Stuart ghost sign really made the trip worthwhile. (nb Some quick checks reveal that the more familiar use of company name was Homersham & Jones.That's with one 'M' in the Homersham and with Jones coming second.There are various leases the National Archive but this one seems pretty representative
Counterpart lease of numbers 28, 30, 32 Clarence Street for 25 years KX88/2/26 1897

Elizabeth Sarah Jones of Lampeter, Mount Hermon Estate, Woking, widow, and Sophia Eleanor Homersham, wife of Alfred Wyeth Homersham of Ormsby House, Richmond Park Road, Kingston, ironmonger, to Alfred Wyeth Homersham
So can we put this one down as a mis-spelling on the part of the foundary worker?
Right next to the Jones and Hommersham coalhole was this unusual example of a grid coalhole. You might thing this looks more like a drain but it's position and size exactly mirrored the other coalhole and I've no doubt that's what it is. Very intriguing though.
Apart from a couple of bricked up doors that I'm saving for a future 'Ghost Doors' posting, that was all I had time to record. However I'm sure that such a cursory examination doesn't do Surbiton justice. Like Arnie and McArthur I'll have to promise that one day "I'll be back!"

And, just for the record, Wimbledon lost...

Saturday, 28 March 2009

"...and the barriers are coming down all over Wimbledon"

Hamilton Road, South Wimbledon:
After the minor frisson caused by the removal of the advertising hording over the Wimbledon TrueForm sign, I couldn't believe my luck to find that another featured sign had also been exposed to general gaze. I assume that this rash of exposures must be due to the particular time of the fiscal year when rents and rates are due. It might be that the options on these particular sites are not being continued so the frames and all other hardware are being removed. I expect they'll be back again as soon as the economy picks up but for the time being it looks like being a bit of a bonanza time for humble recordist such as myself.

Well here it is, Townsend & Son in its full glory. Or rather full grubby - it looks as though it could do with a good rain-storm or two to wash away the grime. I like the Hosiers & Hatters legend though - in other words, 'from tip to tail'...!

Friday, 27 March 2009

The Great Wimbledon "What Is It?"

I received an intriguing tip-off from a friend the other night about an 'interesting object' that he often passed in Sunnyside Road, Wimbledon. He kindly attached a photo of what looked for all the world like a strange alternative-universe variation on a Victorian post box. The black and green livery looked very smart though and it obviously required further investigation, so I paid a quick visit during my lunch break.

It wasn't too hard to find, sitting at the end of Sunnyside Road just by Sunnyside Passage. I don't know what your first thoughts are on seeing it below but, as there was a padlock on what was obviously a door, I thought it might be a way of providing access to a ladder that led down to the main sewer.
That didn't seem all that convincing though as being perched on the top of a hill at the end of a fairly isolated road didn't seem like ideal main sewer territory. Very intriguing though, especially as this picture shows double hinges allowing almost half of the object to swing open like a wardrobe door. Any thoughts yet?
As you can see from the pediment the whole object was really quite ornate with quite a spectacular point on te roof, reminding me of some sort of kiosk from Topkapi Palace in IstambulAha! Could this be another clue? Ventilation holes running underneath the lid. Could this be to help disperse any noxious fumes from the sewer below? But again a nice show of cast-iron decoration. Whatever it is there's obviously been a lot of thought gone into its design and decoration.
The locks are not new either and provided a major clue as to the actual use of the structure. Getting a bit of an inkling now??
Then when searching around the back I caught sight of a plaque.I had to photograph it from the other side and through the foliage but it really gave the game away when I read the inscription "The British Electric Transformer Co., Hayes, Middlesex".
So there it was, this attractive and unusual object was a very early electric transformer box, the sort that these days seems to consist of either a bland box up against a wall or those strange little brick buildings if they are a bit on the larger side. The padlock clue was the fact that it was stamped with the initials L.E.B. which stood for the London Electricity Board
The LEB ceased to exist in 1990 so those padlocks have been around for a few years so I hope through all the changes in ownership that no-one lost the keys! There were other clues, including these electricity covers at the base of the unit, but all in all an intriguing and interesting piece of street furniture.

A quick google found another example listed in Molesy and recorded by the local Industrial Archaeological unit Their explanation was that it was used to 'boost the flagging voltage at the end of a long supply feed' which would make sense for this site too. However I don't think their illustration is quite as ornate as the Wimbledon example, especially when it come to the pediment. Definitely the same overall design though...

If you wanted to get seriously nerdy, it could be that the kiosk originally housed a Static (Berry) Transformer 1919 if this book published by the British Electric Transformer Company can be taken as good circumstantial evidence. Anything beyond that though would be total conjecture. Anyway it's a really pleasing object and a real find!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Chalk and Paint

A slight departure from the usual here. Every now and then I come across a hand-painted sign that catches the eye and I can't resist taking a photo. It's unlikely that they'll ever fit neatly into any other category so I thought I'd create a 'special place' I can drop them into whenever a new one pops up.

Clapham Old Town "Anyone lost a skateboard it is at fire-station"
Do people still skateboard these days? If you found one would you bother to leave it at a local fire-station? Would you then take the trouble to chalk up what you'd done on a nearby wall? Well done whoever took the time out to do so...

Surbiton: "CCTV in Operati"
This sign is so close to getting away with it, just an imaginative whisker from pulling it off... Imagine the hotel employee being tasked with painting an authoritative, 'official', warning sign. You start painting and slowly it dawns on you that you can't fit in the last word. What do you do? Most people would progressively shrink the lettering hoping to get away with it but the writer here brazens it out and decides to stop it dead. But a little bit of me thinks it would have been just a little bit more imaginative to have wrapped it around the side of the building...

Tooting: "Not to be used as toilet. You being watched"
You have to feel for the unfortunate residents of flats 331A & B. Desperation sending them out with a pot of white paint and what must be a fairly toothless threat. Would anyone happy to use their alley as a toilet be worried that they might be being watched? And let's face it at night it's probably too dark to read it anyway. Good luck to them though.

Trueform Uncovered - and a couple from Kingston,

Many thanks to Sebastien Ardouin for putting me on to this one. I had recorded the presence of this Trueform ghost sign in Wimbledon High Street some time ago but Sebastian had noted that the modern poster had been removed. Sure enough the sign is now revealed in all its glory and the fact that the gantry has also gone makes me wonder whether it is going to stay that way for some considerable time. Anyway its worth getting a photo as soon as possible as you can never really tell what's going to happen next!
What's also clear is that the sign was originally painted before the smaller neighbouring shop had extended its frontage to cover the lower section of the sign, making it impossible to see unless you are at some very strange angles.Whilst I'm looking at a ghost sign, how about these two from Kingston to top it up. I spotted this one on the pedestrianised High Street. I would imagine there was originally a company name in a lighter typeface which has disappeared but the secondary text is still just visible below. It seems to say Local Arms China but that doesn't seem to make much sense unless there was a type of china called Arms! But is this a 'trick of the brick'? Does it actually say Rams ? Neither leap out as obvious suggestions though...
The last example must be well- known to everyone who has ever driven around the Kingston one-way system. I can't recall what it's called these days (or what goes on there either) but even with the original signage removed the Empire 'ghost ' is hard to miss.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

St John's Hill Ghost Sign

St Johns Hill, Clapham Junction
Well this was a bit of luck. I was in the passenger seat being driven back from Clapham and suggested a route going back by the old Granada cinema. I'd heard that since becoming a bingo hall it had now been knocked down and I was interested to see what had happened (it still seems to be in one piece) but my attention was gabbed by a ghost sign opposite.
I took the photo through the windscreen and all in all I think it came out ok. The building itself looks quite modern,especially the roof and extension to the rear, but I would assume that the original shape of the building has been lost over the years. Also annoying is the loss of the name so there's not much chance of finding out who it related to. What does seem obvious though is that the sign had been preserved by an advertising board and whether it will be replaced or not remains to be seen. It's not particularly old or ornate but it was nice to stumble accross it nonetheless.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

"So, farewell then Fred Palmer, cash butcher..."

This shop sign caught my eye the other day. It should do, as it's just outside my work and I knew it wasn't there the week before.

The existing shop-front fascia had been taken down whilst workmen were fitting out the rest of the building, revealing this older example beneath. It's quite interesting on a couple of levels; firstly because it harks back to a time when this particular row of shops would have mainly been retailers rather than service industries (the shop is now a solicitors and its neighbours include a washing machine repairers, accountants and art gallery); secondly it's quite interesting from the historical and production point of view in that it reveals previous occupants, and thirdly it's interesting because I'm wondering what a 'cash butcher' was!

Fred doesn't seem to have been the first butcher on this site as a close look at the board seems to show 'ghost writing' underneath. It still seems to be the sign for a 'cash butcher' but not, I'd guess, Fred.You can see here that the lettering is larger, which implies that the main name was probably shorter than Fred Palmer's
The composition of the lettering is surprisingly complex as well, with a range of yellow, red, white and black shading. Look at all the different elements on the letter 'R' above, for example.
My assumption is that there must have been two types of butcher - one who sold meat on account, to be settled monthly (possibly one catering for the middle class homes) and one who dealt on strictly 'cash-only, no credit' terms - hence a cash butcher.

I had taken for granted that the fascia would be covered when whatever work required had been completed, but the next day scaffolding was up and the sign was in pieces, presumably destined for the dump. The new sign is ready so no doubt next week I'll be able to update this post with a picture its modern replacement. Until then it looks as though Fred Palmer has had his last burst of recognition before fading into final oblivion...

UPDATE: Well the new fascia is up although there's obviously a bit more work to do. It does the job I suppose but it's a pity Fred isn't lurking quietly underneath any more.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Boundary Markers and Milestones

There's something about a boundary that makes you want to straddle it. I suppose it's a throwback to the 'half of me here, half of me there...' feelings of childhood so I always get a little frisson when I see a marker by the roadside. Of course what you really want to know is exactly what is being delineated - a parish, a borough or even a county. Of course if you're really lucky you might find something dividing two things that no longer exist but few of us are granted that privilege...

Here are a few local markers I've spotted over the last few weeks and then, because they have their own charm and unique appeal and accompany the boundary markers so well, an assemblage of my milestone posters, with the odd new one or two -

These first few are all parish boundary's around Morden. I assume it was important to maintain these boundaries for a number of reasons, not just which church you should go to. For a start the church used to collect a local tax or tithe. It would have been important to know in which parish something like a water mill fell (as below, for example). Secondly there would have been the issue of Poor Relief that was issued to the destitute of the parish. You wouldn't want them lingering in your neck of the woods if you could help it, and thirdly births deaths and marriages were organized by parish. As it was therefore important to know where the limits were there used to be annual processions known as 'Beating the Bounds' where choirboys were taken to these markers and given a beating to make sure they could remember where they were!

Canterbury Road, Morden SM4
This one sits as perky as you like down a suburban street that was constructed in the 1930's. Strange to think that this parish marker had already been sat there for 50 years!
I'm not sure if H. Knight was the parish councillor or the manufacturer.
Morden Hall Park SM4
Butting up to the banks of the Wandle , just behind the Snuff Mill the Mitcham Parish is still legible but you have a hard time making out Morden Parish on the other side. Still just about there though...
Morden Hall Park SM4
Not more than 15 yards away from the riverside marker is this example under a fine and expansive tree. Mitcham were obviously very keen to keep the poor of Morden off of their Poor Relief!
Cambridge Road KT1
This is an interesting example of a civil marker which also happens to be outside of Kingsmeadow Stadium, home of mighty AFC Wimbledon and the not-quite so mighty Kingstonian FC. There's even a Wimbledon supporter in the background for added local colour...
The boundary is between Malden & Coombe on the left and Kingston Upon Thames to the right. As it seems to be built into someone's front drive you could easily miss it.
Beverley Bridge, Kingston Vale (A3)
Bridges are always good places to stick a boundary marker and you get two for your money on the Beverly Bridge by Richmond Park. The top section shows the boundary between the Borough of Wandsworth on on side and the Borough of Malden & Coombe on the other. It just also happens to be where the London County Council met the Surrey County Council
Brighton Road Sutton
I found a string of milestones that I presume once ran along the main road down to Portsmouth or Southampton (or even Brighton?). This one was to the south of Sutton. Looks nice and clear, although it's a pity the number isn't clearer. XII possibly? I believe that the symbol at the bottom of the stone - the arrow under a line - was the sign of the War Office so it might tie in with some military function. The date looks nice and clear here ...

...but around the side is this inscription and date. Was it freshened up and re-engraved in 1892?
Rose Hill Sutton SM1
Just the other side of Sutton sits what must be one of the most pampered milestones around. They've given it its own park, flower-beds and railings.No mention of the Cornhill here nor any War Office markings. Instead were measuring our way to theRoyal Exchange and Whitehall.

Moeden Hall Road SM4 following on the same route as the two above, a couple of miles down the road is this remnant. Badly weathred and with no discernable markings sadly...
London Road SM4
About a mile away and on a convergant route, this milestone leans drunkenly to one side. Still nice an legible though.
And finally, up near London Bridge
Off Tooley Street The 'S' is for south but I haven't really cracked the mystery of the 'O & I' yet. We will though...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

"Artistry & History Underfoot" Gillian Cooksey interview

Well I'm still engrossed with this little book and I'm more than happy that the author, Gillian Cooksey, has agreed to provide a bit of background and insight into how she came to write it. For me one of the fascinating aspects of Gillian's interest is that she looks on them with a designers eye as much as a historians. This is something I hadn't considered a great deal myself other than on a 'I quite like/dislike that' sort of level. I'll be looking at them with a fresh eye from now on...
Q How and when did your interest in coalhole covers begin?

A In the mid 1970s I attended evening classes on church brasses, but rubbing brasses in country churches with no transport and two young children in tow was not practical. Our lecturer mentioned other more accessible objects to rub with heelball, for example the cast iron plates covering the entrances to coalholes of Victorian houses.

Q Where did you find examples of coalhole covers?

A All around where I lived in a Victorian area of Watford, particularly outside the corner-shops. They had been there all the time – I just hadn’t noticed them. Another good source was the pavements outside the big houses in the Squares and Gardens in Bloomsbury, near my husband’s workplace.

Q What was it about coalhole covers that appealed to you?

A The great variety of designs, some very ornate. The Victorians loved to decorate everything, even mundane objects such as covers for coalholes. Also the names and addresses of ironmongers and foundries that were on many covers. Most of the companies had ceased trading decades before, but their names remain on cast iron plates set in the pavement!

Q How did you record them in the 1970s?

A By laying a sheet of thin white paper over the cover and rubbing with heelball or black wax. The raised design showed black on a white background. Although the process was quicker than rubbing church brasses, it was still hard on the knees!

Q How did you store the rubbings?

A On top of the wardrobe to keep them flat. Coalhole covers are usually at least 12 inches or 30 cm across.

Q What reactions did you get from passers-by?

A Mixed! Some gave me strange looks and a wide berth, while others were interested and even told me where to find other examples.

Q Was there general interest in coalhole covers at the time?

A There were one or two articles published in magazines and newspapers, and Lily Goddard published a book in 1979 entitled 'Coal Hole Rubbings – The Story of an Artefact in Our Streets'.

Q Have you been collecting designs non-stop since then?

A No, there was a gap of twenty years or so – work and family commitments took precedence.

Q What rekindled your interest?

A Six or seven years ago, I noticed a cover in Hastings with a Hastings ironmonger’s name on it, and that made me wonder if the Watford covers I had seen in the 70s were still in situ.

Q Were they?

A No, a lot of them in Watford had disappeared, but there were still very many different designs around, especially in London.

Q So what did you do?

A I set about recording as many different designs and company names as possible before they too disappeared.

Q Do you still record them by rubbing with heelball?

A No, digital cameras make the task much easier these days!

Q Do you just take photographs?

A No, although a photograph gives a true record of the state of a coalhole cover, I am more interested in the actual designs and company names, which are sometimes not very clear on a photograph. I prefer to adapt the photograph to a black and white illustration.

Q How do you do that?

A I print out the photograph, trace the outline of the raised areas with a black pen onto another piece of paper and scan the tracing back into the computer. I then use suitable software to fill in between the outlines with black. The result is like a rubbing.
Q How did you come to write your book?

A I realised I had acquired a mass of information on coalhole covers. Since 2002 I have taken photographs of about four hundred different coalhole cover designs, mostly in London, and collected a long list of company names. I became interested in the history of a few of the companies – how their designs had changed over the years, sometimes subtly and sometimes radically. I also researched various patents for self locking plates and those with illuminating prisms etc. I decided to put all this information in one place – hence the book!

Q What were your main sources of information for the company histories?

A The Guildhall Library in London has a few old ironmongers’ catalogues and one or two company histories. I found some on line too thanks to Google. I checked company addresses and followed the expansion of companies using historical trade directories such as Kelly’s Post Office Directories or Pigot’s Directories. The best place to search for these is The University of Leicester’s Historical Directories website.

Q How did you get your book published?

A Having unsuccessfully tried Shire Books, who publish books on all sorts of unusual collections, I decided to publish my book myself using a print on demand publishing company called Lulu. The book content is uploaded to them and copies of the book are printed by them as and when they are required.

Q What are your favourite designs?

A I particularly like those covers with trademarks and those with very ornate designs.

Q Are you still collecting designs and company names?

A Definitely! I’m sure there are very many different covers to be found in London, let alone the rest of the UK. The Faded London site has already displayed several that are new to me!

(Details of how to obtain a copy of "Artistry & History Underfoot" can be seen on the previous post.)