This is Caledonian Road in north London, more commonly known as The Cally. It’s been called the Cally for ever, but they felt it necessary to write it in big bold letters on the railway bridge in case people forgot. The Cally is not the area of London where I am from (I grew up in Burnt Oak), but is very much my Dad’s manor. He grew up around here, living up the near the Nag’s Head in Holloway. When I was a kid my dad would occasionally drive me over here when he had to visit his mates or my uncles, who still live locally. I remember him driving his Citroen full speed around narrow streets, shouting the ‘occasional’ swear word, his tools rattling around the back of the car. I was always scared of this area to be honest, it seemed a lot more dangerous than my neighbourhood (and I’m from Burnt Oak!), so even as an adult I never came down the Cally, except passing through on the bus from Crouch End, where I lived before moving to California. My dad moved from here in the 70s, and I knew several other friends in Burnt Oak whose mums or dads had ’emigrated’ from Holloway. This is still a pretty rough area, despite the trend of Islington gentrification. A couple of months ago though I had to come here for a meeting with a publisher (news very soon!), and so I just had to sketch the place. Actually, I think this would be a very interesting place for a sketchcrawl.
This is HM Prison Pentonville, the ‘big house’ which casts an imposing presence over Caledonian Road. Pentonville was opened in 1842 and has had many famous residents, such as Éamon de Valera, Dr. Crippen, John Christie (and Timothy Evans who was wrongly hanged for Christie’s crimes), Oscar Wilde, and George Michael. I sketched it from a cafe across the road called, appropriately, the Breakout. Condemned inmates were executed here at Pentonville until 1961. Prisons are horrible places.
From the Jail house to the Free House…this is actually at the back of the Breakout Cafe, which looks like it was built in the space of a closed-down pub. This is part of the old pub signage around the corner from the Cally on Blundell Street. My dad actually went to school on this street, though the school is long gone. I wanted to colour this in, but left it as it is.
Now this last one, my pedigree chum, is not on Caledonian Road or even anywhere near it but I’m including it anyway, because it was my last sketch of the day (and of my trip to London, unexpectedly). I got a bus that went all the way down the Cally to King’s Cross, because I still had some of the afternoon left to kill (actually to sketch, just sketching, no killing goin’ ‘ere guv). I was going to meet my mate down in Farringdon for a beer before we were meeting another mate later for another beer. It was an ‘ot summer’s day in London. Rather than get the bus the whole way I stopped in King’s Cross, thinking, oh I’ll just draw St. Pancras, no biggie. Piece of piss. There was definitely a lot of that about. After ignoring a very drunk woman shouting “Oi! Chris Evans!” at me I picked a spot opposite the magnificent St. Pancras International Station and decided actually, no, this is too big and too complicated, and life is too short to stand around King’s Cross drawing the same window over and over again until your hand hurts. Sorry St. Pancras, some other time perhaps. I wandered in a vague southwards direction (the back streets of this part of town are a little uncharted to me), and sketched this pub, the Queen’s Head, on the way. As you can see, I miscalculated the length of the sign when writing the pub’s name in there and so the word ‘Head’ is squashed up, and this is something I pretty much never do. At the end of a trip full of complicated and pretty well-thought-out sketches, I took this as a sign to say, yeah let’s call it a day, and go and have a beer. Until next time, London, until next time!