the lamb and flag and the brown bear

Lamb and Flag London 2022

Here are a couple more drawings I did last summer, not on location but from photos I took while in London. I always want to draw as many old London pubs as I can, so I drew these two on big pieces of paper, and in fact the top one sold at the Pence Gallery’s Art Auction in September. It’s the Lamb and Flag, a popular old pub near Covent Garden off Garrick Street. I’ve been there a few times myself, though more often I pass it by when slipping through that alleyway on the right (Lazenby Court) to get up to Long Acre (via Floral St and another alley) when I’m on my way to Stanford’s map shop (which has now moved around the corner). There’s been a pub on this site since at least the 1770s, and it took the name Lamb and Flag in 1833, although the brickwork is from the 1950s, replacing an older building from 1638. This is what their website says, although the sign outside says ‘Circa 1628’ so who knows. Actually to confuse things further the sign actually says ‘Circa 1623’ but my eyesight is circa 1976 and therefore prone to get things wrong from time to time. The 3 looks like an 8. See also, whatever the hell is going on with those window panes. Whichever date is correct, doesn’t really matter, it’s a nice pub to stop into for a quick pint while out walking about London. The one below, the Brown Bear in the East End of the City, on Leman Street. It is one I’ve never actually been to, but I passed by it while walking from Aldwych to St. Katharine’s Dock back in the summertime, and I thought, I’d like to draw this, but I’m on my way somewhere else right now, and it looks like it might rain. So I filed it under ‘draw larger when I get home’. I definitely prefer drawing on site though, for some reason my eyesight works better outside in normal (preferably overcast) light than it does sat at my desk with the artificial desk-lamp light. This east-end drinker dates back to Victorian times and even from across the street it kind of looks like what my dad would call a ‘villain’s pub’. It’s probably nothing of the sort, but it does have a bit of local villainy in its history, allegedly being where George Cornell had a punch-up with Ronnie Kray. This is also Jack the Ripper land, and those murders were investigated by the cops at the nearby police station on Leman St. There was another pub a little further down the street I would like to draw sometime, the Sir Sydney Smith. London has been losing so many of its great historic pubs in recent years, especially lately, for one reason or other, mostly because property is so expensive in London that many old places can’t afford to stay in existence, and with beer being so expensive these days and the cost of living being so high, people can’t afford the pubs like they used to. I always try to make sure I spend some good time in old pubs whenever I’m back home; use them or lose them. Many are historically so important to the local area. I heard recently that The Tipperary on Fleet Street was closed for good; that was the first place in London to sell Guinness (first place outside Ireland I think) and the pub dates from 1700. History rapidly vanishing, being replaced with vapid gourmet burger joints and chain coffee shops and expensive apartments.

Brown Bear London 2022

a thousand things i wanna say to you

London - Prince Charles Cinema 2022

I had a big grin on my face when I got out of the tube at Holborn and started wandering about the streets I always knew so well, but are now thousands of miles away. I always feel so comfortable being back in this old place, sure it’s crowded and the city air makes your throat scratchy, sure so many things have changed lately, and what’s with all the big new tall buildings, but it’s still London. I stopped along Long Acre in Covent Garden and drew the Sun Tavern pub (below), which is a pub I’m not even sure I’ve ever actually been to, there are so many around there, I wasn’t a regular to any. In Covent Garden I mostly spent time in art shops (well, one specific art shop) and map shops (well, one specific map shop) (both of which I visited again on this same morning). The scene above, that isn’t in Covent Garden but just off nearby Leicester Square, on the corner of Leicester Place and Lisle Street, as you enter Chinatown. The cinema on the corner is a proper London icon, the Prince Charles Cinema, which is beloved in London as a place to watch films that are out of circulation from the general commercial cinema circuit, so you might catch old movies here or runs by a certain director, movie marathons, occasionally new films, but often classics (as I write, August 12, I see that they are showing Pulp Fiction tonight, me and my wife still love that film) – I remember years ago (mid-90s) coming here to watch a late night screening of The Godfather Part II, which is so long it needed an intermission, and didn’t finish until after 1:00am (that’s Night Bus territory, as all Londoners know, which in 1996 meant a pretty long wait for the N5 on Charing Cross Road, I would eat greasy fried chicken while waiting in the cold). The Prince Charles also did singalongs to classic musicals, “Sing-along-a-Sound-of-Music” was popular on a Friday night, people would dress up, and I did go to see the long-running sing-and-dance-along to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, they showed that here for years. I think they are doing Sing-along-a-Grease soon – by the way, rest in peace Olivia Newton John – and Sing-along-a-Dirty Dancing too, both of which were well played and well sung-along to in our house growing up, not by me but by my two sisters. I wish we had a Prince Charles Cinema in Davis, it’s one of the places I miss most from London.

London - Sun Tavern Cov Gdn 2022

Below is the St. Moritz Swiss restaurant on Wardour Street. Wardour Street was one of my favourite roads in London, I always seemed to end up somewhere there back in the 90s. The St. Moritz has been there for ages. While I never ate at the restaurant, I did go regularly to the St. Moritz club next door (or underneath, Soho nightclub geography always confused me). It was tiny, but the music was always good. I remember I knew one of the DJs who worked a club night there, it was a good hangout. I remember one night out there, I was studying French at university and really had to finish my book by the next day, I think it was Le Pere Goriot or something, I’m sitting there reading with a beer in the dim light while everyone in the club was dancing to the Stone Roses or something, it’s a funny memory. I never finished the book – well, no, I did, I definitely got to the end, but I do remember skipping long bits. I recall trying to read it on the night bus too, eating greasy fried chicken, and still reading it next morning on the tube down to Mile End on my way to class. I had a lot more energy in those days. As I drew this, it was a Saturday afternoon and there were a lot of Hen parties about (Bachelorette parties, as Americans would call them), groups of women (many in costumes) going from place to place enjoying their Saturday, and a few did stop by as I was drawing to say “Wow! That’s lovely!”. Soho has a real buzz to it, it’s an interesting neighbourhood, being both party central and local residential area, it has always had a community spirit to it. Soho is changing, no question, and isn’t the Soho I remember from the 90s, but it still makes me smile. I used to dream about drawing the whole of Soho, capturing it all before changes swept through, and while the most interesting Soho is gone, some of it is still there if you look.

London - StMoritz 2022

Also on Wardour Street, a pub I used to enjoy going to the most (they always played good rock music in there): The Ship, which is not far from the St. Moritz, on the other side of the street. It’s a little cleaner in there now but hasn’t changed that much, the toilets are still pretty tight (no chance of social distancing in there), and I popped in for a pint and to rest my weary legs. It’s always been a good rest-stop, in the middle of Soho, but I loved coming here in the evenings when it would be crowded and people would spill into the little courtyard outside. Literally spill. I remember coming here with friends in about 1996 and then going over to the Intrepid Fox across the street (best rock pub ever, now long gone, though the stone sign remains), and then on to the Hellfire Club on Oxford Street. You will notice all the union jack bunting all over the place. London was preparing for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which was the following week, celebrating her millionth year on the throne, something like that. People were making a big deal about it. Thing is, I presume she had to get up from the throne occasionally, to go to the toilet or watch the racing, so it’s probably not 70 years continually sitting down.

London - Ship Soho 2022

Speaking of the Jubilee, I did do a quick sketch at Piccadilly Circus (you can see Lillywhites across the street, where I used to get football shirts, though the place gives me a headache now), and there are some of the big union flags that were all over London for the upcoming festivities. I didn’t bother finishing this drawing. I don’t really like Piccadilly Circus much. And so, this was my first big sketching-day in London for ages, and while I probably could have got more drawn, I did wander and explore a good bit too. The jetlag was kicking in, and it was time to head back to my mum’s for dinner.

London - PicCirc 2022

gardening leave

Covent Garden Tube Station

For this year’s Pence Gallery Garden Tour show, they couldn’t actually have the in-person garden visits like they have done in years past, with the artist painting or drawing in the garden (and sneezing, in my case) while visitors looked about at the pretty plants and flowers and then we exhibited our finished artwork at the Pence later. I’ve done it a few times and it’s fun (apart from the sneezing). But as I say, they can’t do that this year so instead they are having a garden-themed show, and asked us to submit our garden-themed artwork. I don’t have a garden (just a small back yard with not much in it) and haven’t been sketching much foliage this year yet, but…well I have been drawing old Leslie Green tube stations from London, and I hadn’t yet got around to drawing Covent Garden…that is garden themed, right? It’s one of my favourite gardens after all, and I really love drawing these old Leslie Green stations. I drew a whole load of them last summer, using only three colours (QOR watercolor paints Nickel Azo Yellow, Ultramarine, and Quinacridone Magenta – I don’t often use a limited palette but these very strong paints were a winning combination). I just realized while searching for those old posts to link to that I never actually posted them here, so I guess I’ll need to write a new post about those old stations…soon. Maybe I will draw a few more first. 

I miss London, and I especially miss wandering about the little shops of Covent Garden. I don’t miss the tube station itself (I never get off there; coming down on the Northern Line I always get out at Leicester Square and walk up, it’s quicker) (the distance between the tube stations of Leicester Square and Covent Garden, which is on the Piccadilly Line, is one of the shortest in London – the tube actually takes twice as long as walking, especially as you have to get into a crowded lift at Covent garden tube, ugh). (Plus I use all the short cuts to beat the crowds). After living away from London for sixteen years now though, many of those short cuts through the centre of the city are becoming lost to me, not just through memory but through construction. The CrossRail project demolished many buildings around Oxford Street and changed a lot of the geography. There was a really useful unsignposted short cut between the central and Northern lines inside Tottenham Court Road station that meant avoiding the escalators, but that is now blocked off.) Thankfully Covent Garden isn’t too changed, it’s a labyrinth as it is, but some landmarks are gone or moved, such as Stanfords map shop, which is now smaller and around the corner from the old Long Acre site. I used to run through Covent Garden’s narrow streets on the way from the 134 bus-stop at New Oxford Street to my classes at King’s College London on the Strand when I was doing my master’s degree, that was a long time ago now. I miss London. I miss the pubs, and the people from all over the world, and the stories, and the sounds, and the smells, and the memories it makes me think of every time I dash round a corner. I love living in California, but blimey I miss London.