Sketching Wren’s London – 2016

wren's city sticker
On Sunday July 24, a lot of us gathered outside St.Paul’s, and then dispersed and sketched Christopher Wren’s London. It’s the second time I have run a Wren-themed sketchcrawl, and the fourth themed ‘crawl I have hosted in London since 2012. I’m already thinking of themes for next year! As in the past, I created special handouts which included a hand-drawn map showing all of the Wren churches (and other buildings) within the City boundaries. There are a couple of Wren’s City churches not showing, only because I didn’t stretch the map far enough north, and of course it shows none that are outside the Square Mile; perhaps we’ll sketch all of those next time! Here is the map:

Sketching Wren's London Booklet MAP

We started at 10:30am outside St. Paul’s, and I gave a little historical introduction (see this photo by James Hobbs!) talking about London leading up to 1666, starting with the beheading of Charles I, which many English people believed had brought a curse upon them, manifesting in the year of the beast, 1666. That was the year of the Great Fire of London; I won’t tell the whole story here, you had to be there. We were joined by a good number of people from around the world who were in England for the Symposium, including my Portland sketcher friend Kalina Wilson (Geminica). I met a lot of great new people that day too, as well as old friends. It was very international – in addition to the UK and the US, we had sketchers from Singapore, Hong Kong, Italy, France, Pakistan, Luxembourg, China, This was day two of London’s Urban Sketching pre-Symposium, and it was a little cooler, and a lot calmer than the previous day in Trafalgar Square. I do like the City on a weekend.

Temple Bar

In 2014, I sketched seven Wren buildings in one day, and my ambition was to sketch more. However, you sketch what you can sketch, and I’m pleased to say I at least matched my previous haul. I did use more pencil while sketching than usual, something I am doing more. First off though I sketched the Temple Bar gateway in pen. This was originally down at Fleet Street at the entrance to the City but removed many decades ago, only to sit languishing in Theobolds Park near Cheshunt. It was restored and placed next to St. Paul’s just over a decade ago, forming the entrance to Paternoster Square. It was from that still-shining-new plaza that I sketched St. Paul’s itself. I have always struggled with the great domed cathedral from this angle but that’s ok, you have to draw St. Paul’s.

St Pauls Cathedral

Next up, a couple of neighbours to St. Paul’s. First of all, St. Augustine’s Watling Street, largely destroyed in the Blitz. I sketched this in pencil from the gardens of St. Paul’s churchyard while talking to my old friend from high school, Joan Uloth (check out her Instagram) and Beliza Mendes from Luxembourg. I really want to sketch Luxembourg, I met more Luxembourg sketchers in Manchester.
St Augustines
Then I sketched St. Nicholas Cole Abbey, which is visible across the street (now that the building that was in the way has been demolished, that is).
St Nicholas Cole Abbey

This one was sketched across a busy street, St. Benet’s Paul’s Wharf, the church where they hold the sermons in Welsh.

St Benets Paul's Wharf

Ok this next one was sketched from an angle and with the very loud and quite chaotic bells ringing. St. James Garlickhythe (haunted by “Jimmy Garlick” who sounds like an old washed up musician from the early 70s). I did the old paint splatter thing because the great Tia Boon Sim from Singapore was on the sketchcrawl and I’ve always been inspired by her paint-splatter styles. It seemed appropriate given the noise of the bells!

St James Garlickhythe

My final sketch was of the neighbour to St. James, which is St. Michael Paternoster Royal. What I loved about this crawl was that wherever I went there would always be at least one or two other sketchers there busy plugging away. This by the way is the church where legendary (but historically very real) Mayor Dick Whittington (he of the cat and the pantomime) was buried. Nobody knows where his grave is now though, but while Wren’s tomb says “Look Around You” I presume Whittington’s tomb says “Look Behind You”.
St Michael Paternoster Royal

And then we met up at The Monument, to look at each other’s sketchbooks. Of all the people that made it to the finish (and quite a few did not; I checked the number of maps given out and I think we had around 80 participants total), we got together and I read out the names of each Wren building, asking sketchers to raise hands if they had sketched it.

You’ll never guess – we sketched ALL OF THEM. Every single one! Great job, London sketchers!!!

Here are a few photos from the end. You can see more at Urban Sketchers London (JAmes Hobbs has posted a nice set “In Wren’s Footsteps“) and on this Flickr set “Sketching Wren’s London“.

Afterwards several of us went to a pub near Borough Market for a post-sketchcrawl-pint. I sketched two sketchers, Rachel and Jimmy…

jimmy and rachel

And here is the final group photo at the base of Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire! Can’t wait to sketch with Urban Sketchers London again in the near future. So nice to meet so many new sketching friends.

IMG_0611

Oh, and everyone got a sticker!

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

camping by the river

thames jubilee campers

As some of you may have been aware, this year is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – celebrating 60 years on the throne. It’s only the second time in the history of the country that a monarch has reached that milestone, the previous one of course being Queen Victoria. Long live our noble Queens, eh. On Sunday June 3 (59 years and 1 day since the actual coronation) a huge and historic River Pageant was planned, taking the royal party down the Thames followed by a large flotilla of boats. I was going to a street party in my old road so was unable to stand by the Thames in the rain with thousands of others (ah well, next time), so I went down to the river on the Saturday (June 2nd, 59 years since the coronation!) and sketched some of the people who would be braving the elements to see the Queen. This was down by Tate Modern, and the weather, while overcast, was very pleasant. The folks setting up camp had come from all over the UK, and the atmosphere was very happy. I think they were even looking forward to Sunday’s impending rain – nothing like a brolly, a cup of tea, a nice bit of cake and the Queen sailing by, Rule Britannia. Fair play to them. I sketched, and then moved on down the Thames to sketch some more.
sketching the jubilee campers

þe mayster-toun hit evermore has bene

I’m back in London, for the first time in a year.
st paul's

After such Davis heat, I am happy to say that the rain I had wished for has come in abundance, though I got out to sketch on Saturday with my old long-missed sketching (and lightsabering) buddy in some great sunshine, drawing from St.Giles to St.Paul’s. I stocked up on pens before coming and have really not had many chances to wear them out yet; but I have been eating hob-nobs, drinking millions of tea, looking at old photos, spending time with family, catching up with friends over many a cider in Camden, gettig frustrated with the sheer amount of people gong here and there in this mad mad place. How did I ever survive here for so long? But I did, and this is still my town. The town I know so well. More to say have I, but not the energy just yet.

By the way, ten points (or an MA in my case) to they who can guess the reference in the title.