Tag Archives: london

we need to talk about camden

Camden Lock
Camden Town, ladies and gentleman. There’s no way to properly describe Camden, it’s just Camden. It’s grimy and tacky and great, and vibrant and awful and touristy and local and rough and everything, it is Camden and can be everything at once. Everyone in north London has their own Camden I think. I for one have a lot of personal history around here, nights out, days about, the odd gig, too many night buses, a good few birthdays, and of course my stag party. I haven’t sketched much around here, so I wanted to do a bit while I was back. I chose the Regents Canal, specifically Camden Lock, well Hampstead Road Lock. I stood, with the sun shining, and sketched the lock, as far as I could. I didn’t do any colour except the red cross of the flag. The clouds were rolling in, oh big black clouds, scary looking but not enough to stop me. And then, whoah, massive thunderstorm, super heavy rain – good job I got the ink done, because this rain was stupendous. People dashing about like mad things, and I took shelter in a doorway. When I added the colour later I left it as the luscious N1 summer blue sky, pre-tempest.
Dublin Castle pub, Camden
This is the Dublin Castle pub on Parkway, Camden Town. It is approximately 1994. No no, wait, it’s 2014, I got confused there. It’s easy to get confused, it hasn’t changed in the slightest. Well, maybe the price of beer. Anyway, I arrived soaking wet, having run through the rainstorm from Camden Lock (see the handy map below to figure out my route), to see if this old haunt had gone the way of the so many London pubs – gentrified, sanitized, or worse, closed. Thankfully it was still the same, though being the daytime it was practically empty. I got a beer (actually wasn’t expensive, for London) and sat and sketched the red interior. As I was sketching the big ‘Madness’ poster, I heard a guy talking to a woman at the bar whose voice was familiar, and it was in fact Suggs himself, the Madness singer. Now he does have a long association with this pub and this area (here’s his ode to the area) but still it was fun seeing him in there, briefly, especially as I was drawing his poster (he’s on the tube-sign one next to it too). Oh, this old place, many evenings were spent in here, back in the 90s and early 00s. Playing the Who on the jukebox. Talking Serbian poetry with students from Belgrade. Watching very serious unheard-of bands while surrounded by record company band-scouts. Getting my drink knocked vertically across the bar by bouncers steaming past quickly to conclude a fight. Dancing to Anarchy in the UK while my friend Tel threw up in the toilets. Yep, there’s a lot of social history in a place like this. I sketched here until the sun came out, before heading back to Burnt Oak for dinner.

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And here’s the map…

camden map sm

at the westminster bridge

Westminster Bridge, London
Westminster Bridge, crossing the River Thames. As I started sketching this, the rain came down, so I moved into the little tunnel next to the bridge (which I had never seen before; is it new?) and sketched from there. Eventually the rain stopped. Then started again, then stopped. It was one of those days. There is a very famous clock tower on the other side of the river. I like bridges. I even bought a book about bridges while I was back. In fact I spent a lot of time in bookshops in London. Bookshops are the best. Anyway, I had planned to sketch a lot more bridges in London but you know it is. Maybe that is the next sketchcrawl I organize? Those curves were not easy to capture with absolute mathematical perfection while stood against the wall in a damp tunnel with wet people shuffling by. But here it is, Westminster Bridge, painted green because the seat in the House of Commons are green (Lambeth Bridge further down is red because the House of Lords has red seats). It was opened in 1862 and Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about it.

deep down in the borough

Borough Market, London
Borough Market is great. It may be one of my favourite markets. On this one Saturday morning, I took the train down to London Bridge station and marched right over to my favourite sandwich stand, lovely chicken served by the same guy with the amiable smile. You always get a lollipop too, well I do anyway. But as I now like sketching iconic markets (hey this is still a new thing, but after Barcelona’s La Boqueria last year, San Francisco’ Ferry Building and of course, er, Davis Farmer’s Market, I needed to sketch the market under the railway arches, with all its goats-cheese middle-class craft-beer tourist-trail glory. I stood and sketched the scene above, next to the Globe pub. There’s been a market here, on and off, since the eleventh century (not really surprising in the least given that London Bridge and the gates of the City and all the docks and the Pool of London were like, right there). Apparently it was abolished in the 1750s by an Act of Parliament due to ‘traffic congestion’ which let’s face it Borough Market, don’t make things up. Cars weren’t even invented for another hundred and fifty years, so stick to the facts, Borough Market. Anyway it came back and thrives today, a fun and colourful spot to be on a Saturday morning. I had a few hours to sketch before heading off to take my son to his first Spurs game at White Hart Lane.
Stoney Street, London
I sketched the scene above from stoney Street, right on the other side of the market. It was pretty crowded as I walked through. That huge great big triangular glass tower is the Shard, tallest builidn gin Europe. One of those buildings you look at in its development phase and its like, oooh, hmmm yeah, yeah that’s different, and then when its built its like, “take a photo from this angle! Ooh and this angle! Ooooh and this old church in it as well, juxtaposition of the old and the new!” (By the way, never, ever utter that phrase in my presence, ever.) And now it’s like, er, London did you see this thing? You do know you can’t just get rid of it when you’re bored of it? It’s like a big glass Orthanc, or whatever that tower was called in Mordor, ‘Eduard Balladur’ or something. Or maybe the Ministry of Truth. It dominates proceedings. Look London its things like this that become symbols of the city in the long run. Is this what London is now? A big, sharp glass behemoth standing high above everything else like an oligarch’s shiny fantasy? I wouldn’t be surprised if the sides actually turn into a V-style TV screen so that some benevolent rich dictator  can tell us how happy we are, how contented we are, and to destroy Emmanuel Goldstein. Yeah, not sure I like the Shard all that much, but we have it now. We need another, somewhere else in London, just as a counterweight. But I do like Borough Market.
borough map sm

And here is the late-night hand-drawn map. The odd thick lines are traintracks, isn’t it obvious, and I foolishly decided to add some buildings before deciding that was quite pointless. Anyway, this shows where I sketched. I had a job interview down here once, about a decade ago, at the Institute of Linguists. I wished I’d gotten it, because I always wanted to be coming down here every day (I had been working in Finchley, nice place but this was nearer to the Thames) . I never did, and then I moved to America. Ok, enough life story. More London sketches to come.

solid old oak

silkstream parade, burnt oak
I always intend to sketch more Burnt Oak whenever I’m back home but I never quite get around to it. And I should – the old place keeps changing in small, and sometimes pretty big, ways. Since my last trip, at least one of the historic focal points of the area has closed down, probably for good: the Bald Faced Stag, the old pub on Burnt Oak Broadway. Love it or loathe it (and it was often pretty loathed), the Stag played a big part in many of our lives as Burnt Oakers, and it just doesn’t feel right that it’s no longer there. What then is left of old Burnt Oak? Rather a lot, B.O. fans, rather a lot. I did a quick solo-sketchcrawl one afternoon, starting with the distinctive buildings of Silkstream Parade, above. This is between the Library and the Station, and to many of us these were the shops you went to when you went Up The Road. The old newsagents on the corner, at one time called Magson’s but I don’t recall its previous name, was replaced by Costcutter’s many years ago, but you can still see the long-disused cigarette vending machine on the side of the building. Heron Pharmacy is still there, unchanged in decades. Zam’s chicken is where Toni’s used to be, an old ice cream and sweetshop, I remember showing my Mexico 86 sticker album the Italian guy Toni who ran the place and him telling me all about the Italy players. Whenever I think of Paolo Rossi I think of Very Cherry Slush Puppies (remember them? You remember them). The kebab shop is also long gone, that had one of the most often broken windows in the whole of England I recall. There used to be a butchers shop here too, and was there a greengrocer’s? Was that the whole set? Tanning salon now. Anyway that’s enough “How We Used To Live”, any more of that and I may as well start every blog post with “Who remembers Penny Sweets, remember them eh, Kola Kubes eh, not like that any more eh”).
hassan
I moved up Watling Avenue to Hassan, which has been there since before I was a kid, unchanged. They don’t make shop signs like that any more, it’s all primary colour plastics now, but Hassan has class, gilded edges which of course my sketch doesn’t really show. Not being much of a clothes shopper, and this being a clothes shop for Men (my Mum, not being a Man, never dragged me through this shop as a kid, unlike John Ford and other Burnt Oak shops), I’ve never ever been inside Hassan’s. I know people who do, people who live far from Burnt Oak and come out of their way to go there. Personally I just love that it is there, still there. So now I’ve finally sketched it. I stood opposite outside a closed-down cafe on the corner of Gaskarth Road. Cafes, eh, remember cafes? Don’t get cafes any more, it’s all Starbucks these days, etc.
captain's cabin
Sketching across Watling Avenue wasn’t too difficult. As busy a street as it is, it’s pretty narrow. Burnt Oak Broadway on the other hand is much wider, so when I sketched the old fish and chip shop the Captain’s Cabin I had to squint a lot more. Burnt Oak Broadway is what we call this part of Edgware Road, itself part of the ancient (and I mean ancient) Watling Street, the long straight road built by the Romans linking Londinium with the north-western reaches of Britannia. It’s from Watling Street that Watling Avenue gets its name, and in fact the name Burnt Oak is a reference to the old Roman custom of burning an oak tree to mark the boundaries between places, or so we were told at school. See, my town got some history, bro. This chip shop is pretty much the only one in ‘downtown’ Burnt Oak (to use an Americanism) left from the Olden Days (“who remembers fish’n’chips, eh, vinegar, chip butties, eh, it’s all piri-piri cappuccinos now”). I do remember there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken next door when I was a kid (remember those? No seriously, you don’t get them any more, all KFC now) and a Barclay’s Bank on the corner which got turned into an amusement arcade, not sure how amusing it really is though, maybe it amused NatWest across the street. The Captain’s Cabin is still there, the sign is different from when I was a kid, so I sketched it. Personally I used to get my chips from the Golden Fry down the Watling, where they had the Space Invaders games my brother used to play (“Who remembers Space Invaders, eh? Don’t get that any more, it’s all Minecraft and Halo and Words With Friends now”). Captain’s Cabin for me was always that bit further to walk for the same thing, but I still always liked their chips.
burnt oak map

And here is a map of Burnt Oak, you don’t get maps like this any more, it’s all iPhones now, but it was with maps just like this that I managed to navigate my way around town when I was a kid. No not really. I just wanted to draw a bit more of a fun treasure-island-style map (and yes I know north is in the wrong direction, I’m not working for the Ordnance Survey or nothing) for my home town (and yes Burnt Oak is not an actual ‘town’, just a small nook in the expanse of London, an offshoot of Edgware really, but Burnt Oakers everywhere, even those who have long since emigrated to the far-flung corners of the world, we know that it is its own place, our home town, but once you start getting too sentimental it’s only one step away from “Who remembers bus passes, remember bus passes eh, get on a bus and go somewhere yeah, can’t do that now eh”). I do love to sketch the place though, to capture it for old time’s sake, because by golly it changes fast. But…not that fast.

up kentish town

kentish town station
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.

kentsh town map sm

sketching wrens’ city…part two

St Mary Le Bow sm

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.

St Vedast sm

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).

St Pauls sm

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.

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

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.

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014
Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014
Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014
Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

And here is the final group shot…spot the sketchers you know!

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

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?”)

Urban Sketchers London

sketching wren’s city…part one

Sketching Wren's CityJust 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…

Sketching Wren's London Map sm

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!

The Monument sm

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.

St Magnus Martyr sm

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.

St Clement Eastcheap sm

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.

St Edmunds sm

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.

St Stephen Walbrook sm

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.

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

Please join me tomorrow for more urban sketches in Part Two: Wren’s Wrevenge…