This is Kentish Town station, in north London. I came here when I was meeting up with my friend James one evening, and stood outside a curry house opposite sketching as buses and cars trundled up Kentish Town Road towards Tufnell Park and the Archway. There are a lot of old tube stations that look like this, with the dark ox-blood red glazed terracotta tiles and the typical arches, and one day I swear I would love to sketch them all (hint hint London Transport, a fun book commission?), though I hurried through this one a bit, not drawing the whole length of the building (it would make a really good panorama…) and added the colour when I got home. It was designed by Leslie Green, who built many of the iconic London Underground stations over a century ago, and is on the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line. It’s a pretty interesting place, Kentish Town, and this was my first time here in years, other than passing through. Though in fact I did end up passing through, ending up meeting my friend in nearby Camden Town, where we swapped world cup football stickers.
The Wren sketchcrawl continued… we had a lot of sketchers from all over on this sketchcrawl, and after finishing St. Stephen Walbrook I bumped into international-travelling urban sketcher Sue Pownall, and we walked over to St. Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside. The approach to this old church up the narrow Bow Lane is lovely, although the buildings are now modern you can just use a bit of imagination to fly back through the centuries and picture the narrow timber-framed houses leaning into each other over dirty streets, the sound of the Bow Bells echoing through the dark, bustling lanes. Yes, this is the church of the Bow Bells; the tradition is that a Cockney, a true Cockney, was born within the sound of the Bow Bells (and not Bow in East London as many wrongly believe), that is, within London. Cockney is synonymous with all Londoners now, London being much bigger than in Dick Whittington’s day, though of course he famously heard them from up on Highgate Hill, calling him back to his destiny as London’s Lord Mayor. You know the story. There’s a statue of his cat on Highgate Hill, near Whittington Hospital, but that’s far from here. The Bow Bells were important to London not because of fanciful stories and cockney categorization, but because in the middle ages these were the bells that rung to sound the curfew, and the closing of the city gates. If they rang and you were outside the city, you spent a night sleeping in the filthy gutters of Southwark or Finsbury. These days you can just get a Night Bus, and it’s a similar experience.
Those bells and the old church of St.Mary-le-Bow were burnt to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666, so Sir Christopher of course got to work building a new church, this one above. Well, kind of – it was destroyed again by the Nazis in the Blitz, but rebuilt after the War. I just drew the spire, time being of the essence, but it was a nice little courtyard to be sat in.
Before going to sketch St.Paul’s (I had this huge panorama in mind…didn’t quite make it) I wandered about to find a less well-known Wren church. I headed to St.Vedast-alias-Foster, up in Foster Lane, mostly because I liked its unusual name. when I got there, the staff were bustling about, preparing for a wedding. Though it looks like Just Another Wren Church (™) from the outside, the inside is quite spectacular, with a beautiful ceiling and a polished hall filled with light. The friendly suited man at the door welcomed me in to look around, and I asked him a bout the history of the church and its unusual name. Apparently in the middle ages this part of London was popular with Flemish immigrants from Arras in northern France, whose patron saint was St. Vedast (from the Latin name Vedastus; in Norman French and Flemish he was St. Vaast). This was corrupted into English as ‘Foster’, hence Foster Lane, and so the church is called ‘alias-Foster’ as a result. He showed me around the lovely courtyard, and said that a sketcher would love to sketch in there, and showed me the history of the parish churches associated with this one, many now combined (the ‘United Parishes’), including one church called St. Mary Aldermanbury which was badly damaged in World War II, and then closed down, with its remains being shipping across the Atlantic for rebuilding in Fulton, Missouri, significantly the place where Winston Churchill made his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946. All historied-up, I went out into the street and found a spot to sketch the tower. I kept it brief, because my next building was so much bigger than all of the others (probably put together).
The plan was for a panorama, but I couldn’t decide on a good view, at least not from up close. Besides, the day was pressing on and I wanted to be done before our final meet-up at 4pm. So I stood across the front entrance from St. Paul’s Cathedral, as traffic and tourists rumbled by, and sketched in traditional London grey. It was actually a very sunny day, one of the more pleasant London afternoons. I remember those sorts of afternoons from when I was a teenager, wandering central London’s streets on a late Saturday afternoon, falling in love with the city. In those days St. Paul’s was much greyer, dirtied with decades of pollution and urban grime, but in recent years the grand old cathedral has been cleaned up significantly, and now sparkles white as if new-born. This is Wren’s masterpiece, but its significance to London is much older. For many, St. Paul’s is London. There has been a cathedral dedicated to St. Paul’s on this site, the top of Ludgate Hill (King Lud being an old figure of pre-Roman British legend who may or may not be related to the name of London itself), since St. Augustine brought Christianity to the Angles and Saxons. Not much is known about the early cathedrals, until the fourth incarnation, a huge Gothic cathedral, was built in the twelfth century. That was one of the largest buildings in Europe, but alas, along came the Great Fire of 1666 and in a matter of days it was gone. Along came Wren. As I’ve mentioned before, he had plans to rebuild London including St. Paul’s on his drawing board for several years before the convenient fire, and for London’s landmark cathedral he wanted not another towering spire but a large Romanesque dome, technologically advanced and rivaling the greatest buildings in Christendom. The wooden model of his first design is still on display, but it looks rather different from the final buiding. This was late seventeenth-century England, not a time to make your premier church look, well, too Catholic. It was shaped like a Greek cross, and the nave was not long enough; it just didn’t look English. Wren went back to the drawing board, and in the end built the Cathedral we have today. It’s hard to think of more ‘London’ building than this. During the darkest days of World War II, when bombs flattened everything around it, the dome of St. Paul’s stood untouched, a symbol of hope for a city devastated. The ‘people’s church’ this was, and probably because of that, it was here that Prince Charles married Lady Diana in 1981 rather than at the traditional Westminster Abbey.
So it was here that we finished out sketchcrawl, and our journey through Wren’s City. Those of us who were left gathered by the steps of St. Paul’s to look at each others’ sketchbooks. I met some great sketchers for the first time, and reconnected with sketchers I have met with before. I can’t tell for certain (because I didn’t take photos of everyone’s books) but I’m pretty certain that as a group we covered most of the Wren churches from my map on this day. Here are some photos from the end meeting; you can see some more on my Flickr set Sketching Wren’s City.
And here is the final group shot…spot the sketchers you know!
Everyone that came and made it to the end got a little sticker that said “I Sketched Wren’s City”. I like making stickers. If you’re interested in following our steps and sketching Sir Christopher’s City, click here to download the little guide and map I handed out on the day: Wren’s London booklet (pdf)
After this, we reconvened at a pub on Fleet Street called The Old Bell, which, by the way, was built by Christopher Wren. Who else! To those of you who came along, it was brilliant to meet you and see all of your lovely work. See you next year! (For…”Dickens’s London”? “Coren’s Cricklewood”? “Pete’s Burnt Oak?”)
Just over a month ago I organized a sketchcrawl in London based on a theme I have wanted to sketch for many years. It was titled “Sketching Wren’s City”, and was going to focus on finding and sketching the buildings of the great architect Sir Christopher Wren, that still exist in the City of London today. (Hence Sketching Wren’s City, not Wren’s London – he has some lovely buildings outside the City of London). Christopher Wren, for those of you who may not know, was the man given the task of rebuilding most of London’s churches and many other buildings after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The Great Fire, you say, what’s that? Well in September 1666 a baker called Thomas Faryner in a street called Pudding Lane had the misfortune of having a fire start in his bakery one night, a fire deemed so insignificant that the Lord Mayor, awoken with the news of flames rising above the rooftops, famously said that, well, it could be extinguished by a member of the female persuasion urinating upon the conflagration (he didn’t use those exact words). However, the fire spread, and kept on spreading, and no amount of wee (male or female) was able to make up for the lack of a decent fire-fighting service (if only they had fire hydrants in 1666!). The City of London was destroyed, including the grand old St.Paul’s Cathedral, and a good number of churches. Enter Christopher Wren. He had been redesigning London on a grand scale since, er, before the massive unforeseen and entirely coincidental catastrophe that gave him his big break, and now here was his chance. The people of the City however did not want a grand urban-planned metropolis, they wanted their land in the same place thank you. So London kept its medieval street plan, and Wren got to work on the churches. It was a Wrenaissance, if you will. And that’s where we come in…
I decided recently that I would do a sketchcrawl in the City charting a course that could let me sketch as many Wren buildings as possible in one day. Not easy, and it would mean not getting super-detailed (I never got my big panorama), but if I invited other London sketchers, perhaps we could do it, perhaps we could cover them all. I created the map above (click on it for more detail) showing which Wren churches are left – there were more originally, but Father Time and the Luftwaffe trimmed down the numbers somewhat. I gave this map to everyone, as we met up at the Monument, and off we went. I love meeting London’s sketchers!
We started out at The Monument to the Great Fire. Built by Wren and topped with a blazing golden ball, if it fell over it would rest exactly where the fire started, which must have made the city planners a little nervous (“Likely to fall over is it then, Chris?”). When it was built it was the tallest column in the world. You can walk up the stairs to the top and look out over the ever-changing skyline. I sketched it quickly, with one of the newer skyscrapers in London behind it, I think it’s called the Cheesegrater, because all of London’s new tower blocks have to have some silly name or other. If the Monument were built now it’d probably be called the Bunsen Burner or something.
Here is my very quick sketch of the tower of St. Magnus the Martyr, just downhill from the Monument. I recall telling people on my old tours of London that this was London’s most haunted church, but I don’t recall why (probably something to do with ghosts). The bells were very loud and chimed for the longest time, as traffic belted by. St. Magnus used to be right on the River Thames, right by London Bridge itself, its clock being used by ships and bridge traffic for centuries, but as the embankments were built and bridges widened another building has now blocked its riverside view.
I crossed over the busy traffic junction at King William Street and Cannon Street, and found the rather unassuming St. Clement’s Eastcheap. St. Clement’s…now where do you know that from, ah yes the famous song, “Oranges and Lemons”. This is the St.Clement’s of the song, not St.Clement Dane (the more famous one, located on Strand), and probably so alluded to because of the fruit cargoes offloaded from the riverboats nearby. Or maybe just because it kind of rhymes with lemons. I sketched in an alleyway. It’s not one of the more interesting pieces of Wren architecture. In fact it’s almost as though he couldn’t be bothered at all. “Oranges and lemons, do me a favour, I’ve got fifty-odd churches and a bunsen burner to build,” he was reported to have said, before designing the more handsome and dashing St. Clement Dane. This one is the forgotten little brother.
Further down that same alleyway I found the church of St.Edmund, King and Martyr. A lot of Martyrs around here. I have a joke for you, what is King Edmund’s favourite sauce? Martyr Ketchup! … Anyway, as you can see I attempted to draw the reflection in one of the shiny buildings, so I hope that’s obvious somehow. Standing on Lombard Street, in the shadow of mightier structures, St. Edmund’s is no longer a practicing parish church but is home to the London Centre for Spirituality.
I met my good friend Simon (seen below sketching in messy charcoal), the actor and TV Tsar (no really, watch Houdini on the History Channel this week, he plays the Russian Tsar) and my friend Tamara (herself a stage director and playwright), out sketching with her family, and we sketched the wonderful domed church of St. Stephen Walbrook, one of Wren’s most beautiful churches. Oh, on the inside that is. It was closed this day (doh!) so we made do with sketching its wonderful exterior, Starbucks and all. Still, it was very nice to catch up with old friends and do some sketching. St. Stephen Walbrook by the way was Wren’s dummy-run for St. Paul’s (spoiler alert for part two, St. Paul’s is domed as well) and the inside truly is a delight to behold, ok it’s not the Aya Sophia or anything but it’s still lovely. You’ll have to just imagine it I’m afraid, or maybe I will just sketch it next time.
Please join me tomorrow for more urban sketches in Part Two: Wren’s Wrevenge…
After the day at Warwick Castle, we drove down through the countryside to Stratford-upon-Avon, a place synonymous with William Shakespeare, because all of the signs in this entire section of England say so. Stratford is a lovely place, in a lovely part of the country. When we got to the house in which Shakespeare was born and grew up, I had to sketch it of course. Yes, I’m a tourist and very proud of it. After this, we drove through the Cotswolds, which are lovely, before driving back to London. So now I’ve been somewhere else I’ve never been before!
I went somewhere I have never been this summer. I’ve never been to warwick. Never been to the Cotswolds. Stratford-upon-Avon, none of them, and I never even thought abut it until a couple of days before going there when my Mum said, I’ve got an idea, how about going to Warwick? Warwick, I thought, that’s in like the Midlands somewhere I think, oh yeah Warwick the Kingmaker, he had a castle I think. My years of studying maps of the UK and reading British history was not wasted then. I quickly saw that it was a bloody great idea, and it really was. I never see much of England, ever, usually if I go somewhere when I’m back in London I go abroad to the foreign lands where they speak foreign. I forget how lovely Britain and its countryside beyond the M25 can be. We used to go all over when I was a kid, Mum or Dad would drive us to lots of places around the country, Cornwall or Norfolk or Lancashire, and to be honest when I became an adult my interest in visiting different parts of Britain kind of fell away in a kind of “well they’re not going anywhere” kind of way. Warwick hadn’t even occurred to me, but let me tell you I’m glad it occurred to my Mum because it was great. Warwick Castle was one of the best castles I’ve ever been to – still pretty complete, full of rolling ramparts and sweeping towers, but also highly touristy with lots of swordplay medieval action going on – yeah, I LOVE that stuff! I sketched the towers above while we watched a falconry display.
And I did some archery. There I am look (a French shirt with an English longbow) getting my best Hawkeye on, bro. I was pretty good too, hit the yellow target many times, and didn’t hit a single caravan unlike the last time twenty odd years ago. Doesn’t half work your arm muscles though, but then so does standing around with a sketchbook. This was one of several little activities set up for kids and bigger kids, another was teaching young kids how to best use a sword. My Mum said, oh you’d get so bored standing doing that all day wouldn’t you. I’m like, eh, dressing up like a knight, playing with swords all day and teaching kids how to knock the stuffing out of dummies? That sounds like great fun!
We watched some pretty intense jousting down in the meadow by the river, before settling down to watch a display of medieval weaponry and warcraft. Yeah, I love it, all those swords and axes. Well actually I decided to have a little wander up some steps to the higher towers first, and sketched very quickly the scene below as the crowds (you can’t see them) gathered for the fighting demonstration. I didn’t add much detail to this one but here it is anyway.
Now a bit of history. Warwick Castle is about a thousand years old, with William the Conqueror building a motte and bailey fort shortly after the Norman invasion upon an existing Anglo-Saxon burh. That’s an old fortified settlement the English used to create to protect against Danish invaders. London was a burh once too, in the days of Alfred the Great, Lundenburh. The burh of Warwick was located near the old Roman road, the Fosse Way, which was really handy, making this a vital position. William gave Warwick to one of his Norman henchmen, Henry de Beaumont, who became Warwick’s first Earl. In 1260 the castle had a major upgrade when they decided stone walls might be better than the old wooden ones. Simon de Montfort came and conquered it in 1264, but the castle soon passed into the Beauchamp family, and eventually passed to the Nevilles. The most famous of the Neville family was probably Richard, known as the “Kingmaker”, which sounds like a really cool name for an old pistol, but was actually a fairly bogstandard indie band from the early 1990s. No, he was important during the Wars of the Roses, but died in the Battle of Barnet (again, probably a reference to early 1990s indie bands’ haircuts). His daughter Anne married Richard III, who actually took possession of the castle and made a number of significant improvements, yet ironically did not think to build the car park less than twenty minutes walk from the castle. Funny how karma works, eh Richard. There’s Richard the Third on the right. I didn’t sketch him, but I did do his famous “Now…” speech from the Shakespeare play, “Now something something something”Other stuff happened down the centuries, withstood a siege in the Civil War, Capability Brown came and did some landscape gardening, Canaletto came and did a painting, and then finally I came along and did a little bit of archery, that pretty much brings us up to date. More history lessons next time!
We went into the armoury to wait for a tour. What actually happened next was that the sky decided to turn into an unbelievable storm, nringing a downpour so heavy that almost everybody in the castle grounds tried to squeeze into the same room as me. No tour, then. Convenient timing. It gave me an opportunity to do a little more sketching, so I sketched the antique firearms above, including the long-barreled 18th century Blunderbuss. “You homo sapiens and yer guns.” The rain did not let up, so I sketched the armour of a jousting knight on horseback. This only took me fifteen minutes. I sketched really quickly, while my Mum went looking around the Royal Weekend Party rooms.
The rain stopped in time for the long walk back to the car park, and time for some much-longed-for fish and chips on the way to the hotel, in the nearby village of Barford. Yeah, Warwick is really nice. Good suggestion, Mum!
This is Denmark Street, just off of Charing Cross Road in Central London. I sketched it over a period of two and a half hours one Wednesday afternoon, having taken the morning off from sketching (I was up in the loft searching for my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books), and added the rest of the colour later on. Denmark Street is famous within British musical history as our very own ‘Tin Pan Alley’, home of music publishers and recording studios, and later of music stores. There are lots of guitar shops, as well as other instruments of course, and is also home to the famous 12 Bar Club. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, all are associated with this street in some way (the Pistols actually lived here for a bit). Not only music – the comic shop Forbidden Planet was founded at number 23, where that red awning is in the picture now. It’s around the corner on Shaftesbury Avenue now. This place is steeped with history and it’s a street I have always had a lot of love for, being a bit guitar-obsessed when I was younger (it took me years to actually pluck up the courage to enter one of those stores though, very intimidating to a shy teenager!). I actually bought my current acoustic guitar from Macari’s, though it was from their other branch, on Charing Cross Road, back in 1996.
So when I heard that Denmark Street was under threat of demolition, all part of the Crossrail redevelopment that has completely destroyed the junction of Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, I knew I had to sketch it while it still looked like this. Many of these buildings are ‘listed’, historic buildings of importance. Whether they will be knocked down or just somehow modernised is not clear, what it will mean for the historic character of Tin Pan Alley is also unclear, will the music stores be forced out in favour of latte shops and corporate office space is also not clear, but let’s face it. If Denmark Street loses its character it will be yet another blow to London.
Here’s my sketchbook. I used the watercolour (“art-plus”) Moleskine, with a uni-ball signo um-151 brown-black pen. Oh, and here is a map showing where Denmark Street is.
And finally, I thought you might like this. As you may know, I like drawing fire hydrants, mainly because I find them exotic and foreign, for we don’t have them in the UK. Well, actually we do, but they are underground, with metal coverings on the pavement. Here is one I sketched on Denmark Street. So there you have it!
Parliament Square! Click on the image for a closer view. After sketching the Royal Court I went back to Westminster, and stood in Parliament Square to sketch a panorama of the Palace of Westminster, that is, the Houses of Parliament. I know what you’re thinking, I spent a lot of time sketching the tourist attractions this time and not enough time sketching little newsagents or hidden side-streets, but they are all to come, don’t worry. When I passed through the frankly impossible Parliament Square I thought, well why not. There really is a lot of traffic around this square, and not many crossings to get into the middle; it’s never been one of my favourite places. But in the golden sunshine, what a spectacular view! When I was a tour guide I loved the turn into this square, it was almost cinematic with Big Ben (yes I know it’s the bell) and centuries of history unfolding all at once. We’ve had a parliament here since the thirteenth century, though most of the Palace of Westminster – including the Clock Tower (that houses the bell Big Ben), now officially called “Elizabeth Tower”, being renamed in 2012 after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – was built in the 1800s by Sir Charles Barry after the old palace burned to the ground. The oldest part of the building is Westminster Hall, built by King William II (William Rufus) in around 1097. That’s the part with the big sloping roof.
The square is, naturally, a popular place for protest movements. On the left is Parliament Street which leads to Whitehall, many of the British government buildings are located here. Westminster Bridge leads off, over the Thames; in the distance there you can see the Shard, tallest building in Europe. I’ve included the statue of Winston Churchill which, I was told when training as a tour guide, is actually electrified with a low voltage to prevent pigeons from sitting on his head. “We will fight them on the statues.” It’s hidden away a bit but you can just make out the statues of Oliver Cromwell, former Lord Protector, a strange choice for a statue outside Parliament because despite leading Parliamentary forces in defeating the Royalists in the Civil War, he did also shut Parliament down as and when it suited him too. On the right hand side you can just about make out St. Margaret’s Church, the parliamentary church; on my old tour I would joke that it was a place where Tory and Labour MPs would go and pray together but not the Lib-Dems because they haven’t a prayer, tee-hee, well times have changed now haven’t they. This church backs onto Westminster Abbey.
Here’s a close-up. I worked in Westminster Hall once back in the 90s, serving tea as part of a catering job I was working on (it if I recall rightly a Jewish single’s night organized by the MP Oona King). I remember walking about the amazing building, seeing where William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace was tried before his execution, wandering about the old stone corridors and hearing voices echoing down the stairwells. I went to the toilet, and remember the booming sound of Big Ben making me jump, opening the window and seeing the large clock face right there. I do love this old building.
Here’s a map showing whereabouts I stood. After this, my drawings were done for the day, and I spent the rest of the afternoon mooching around bookstores.