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0 Notes

Phew. Just finished reading this book, Owen Hatherley’s The New Ruins of Great Britain - who’d have thought an extended architecture rant could be so unputdownable? Over the last decade I’ve visited most of the places he talks about, and photographed many of the buildings that also grab his attention, but I never knew so much before about the architectural, planning and political landscapes that underpin them. Hatherley’s been longlisted for the Orwell Prize for this effort (guess there’ll be one going spare if they de-Orwell Johann Hari) - good luck to him. If like me you enjoy buildings as huge thrilling sculptures, and are strangely moved by windswept vistas of tragi-comic failed aspirations, read this book. There’s more about it here. Oh, and it’s a superb cover – reminding me somehow of the work of Sex Pistols cover designer Jamie Reid, crossed with the colourways of Gilbert & George – but is in fact by Dan Mogford, who blogs here.

Phew. Just finished reading this book, Owen Hatherley’s The New Ruins of Great Britain - who’d have thought an extended architecture rant could be so unputdownable? Over the last decade I’ve visited most of the places he talks about, and photographed many of the buildings that also grab his attention, but I never knew so much before about the architectural, planning and political landscapes that underpin them. Hatherley’s been longlisted for the Orwell Prize for this effort (guess there’ll be one going spare if they de-Orwell Johann Hari) - good luck to him. If like me you enjoy buildings as huge thrilling sculptures, and are strangely moved by windswept vistas of tragi-comic failed aspirations, read this book. There’s more about it here. Oh, and it’s a superb cover – reminding me somehow of the work of Sex Pistols cover designer Jamie Reid, crossed with the colourways of Gilbert & George – but is in fact by Dan Mogford, who blogs here.

Filed in architecture maps and guides

7 Notes

Bye bye Dirac House

Above: Pseudomodern Dirac House, possibly soon to be renamed

A while back I posted a map and guide to “Dirac’s Bristol" – things either named after or associated with the Nobel-winning mathematician Paul Dirac, who was born and schooled in the city. There weren’t many such places, and now there’s possibly going to be one less, because according to the email here from one of its occupants, Dirac House (pictured above) is being vacated by the Institute of Physics Publishing, and may be renamed. While I’m impressed that Paul Dirac’s daughter opened it in 1997, and by the affection my correspondent obviously feels for it, it’s hardly a great building. I’m currently gripped by architecture blogger Owen Hatherley’s brilliant book “The New Ruins of Great Britain”, and Dirac House is of the toytown style he cleverly calls Pseudomodernism. Bristol’s a proper city, ancient and established enough not to have been overwhelmed by this kind of sandy-bricked mediocrity, but even so they’d be better off losing all of Dirac House, not just its name. The greater point is that Bristol should be naming nicer things after Paul Dirac in the first place, and making far more of their fascinating connection with Britain’s Einstein. It certainly wouldn’t be hard to better the current unprepossessing memorials to him, which you’ll find in my guide here. And if you’re interested in the architectural politics of the last 60 years, and the strange “non-places” post-war planning has created, I can’t recommend Owen Hatherley’s mordantly descriptive, passionately-argued book and associated blog Urban Trawl highly enough. It even has an entry on Bristol, which he seems to find as fascinating as I do.

Filed in architecture Bristol

4 Notes

Eastmans Exeter Xmas Display by varney2008 on Flickr.
Not a Damien Hirst… but a traditional butcher’s window in Exeter. It’s from an unusual Flickr stream by Norman Finnimore, a veteran of the butcher’s trade. He’s posting lots of photos of old butcher’s shops, dating back decades - evocative images of some beautiful window displays, with pithy reminiscences. Fascinating for anyone interested in the history of shops, as I am.

Eastmans Exeter Xmas Display by varney2008 on Flickr.

Not a Damien Hirst… but a traditional butcher’s window in Exeter. It’s from an unusual Flickr stream by Norman Finnimore, a veteran of the butcher’s trade. He’s posting lots of photos of old butcher’s shops, dating back decades - evocative images of some beautiful window displays, with pithy reminiscences. Fascinating for anyone interested in the history of shops, as I am.

Filed in architecture shopfronts

1 Notes

Ghost road signs – some photos

Road sign, "No 1 Oxford Street", Oxford Street, London W1, 2003

I love evocative road names, especially if they’re painted on brick – it’s a very niche area of the ghost sign. Here are a few that have caught my eye.

Below: "No 1 Oxford Street", Oxford Street, London W1, 2003. What a pity this is blurred, I just snapped it in passing, not realising the entire block would one day be demolished for Crossrail. So now there is no No 1 Oxford Street any more.

Road sign, "No 1 Oxford Street", Oxford Street, London W1, 2003

Below: "Creek Street", Creekside, Deptford, London SE8, 2002. Roads with Creek in the name are always worth exploring; Creek Street, now called Creekside, runs through an arty area housing many creative studios and the Laban Dance centre.

Road sign, Creek Street", Creekside, Deptford, London SE8, 2002

Below: "Paradise Street", Poole, Dorset, BH15, 2004. There are loads of roads called Paradise Street, and they’re often pretty grim. This one’s fairly quaint, though most of Poole isn’t.

Road sign. "Paradise Street", Poole, Dorset, BH15, 2004

Below: "Cleveland Street", London W1, 2005. On the corner of Tottenham Street, opposite a corner of this attractive Fitzrovia backwater which was later demolished for a misbegotten Candy Bros “luxury” development, now stalled due to the recession.

Road sign, "Cleveland Street", London W1, 2005

Below: “Goodge Street”, Goodge Street, London W1, 2002. Well, it dosn’t actually say anything, but it would say “Goodge Street” if it did – it was later neatly repainted.

Below: “Almond Road”, Bermondsey, London SE16, 2002. A DIY job in an alley running beside some railway arches.

Road sign, "Almond Road", Bermondsey, London SE16, 2002

That’s all – find them also on Flickr.

Filed in ghost signs typography architecture

0 Notes

Ghost signs – disappearing docklands

Ghost signs, "Johnsons Tea Warehouses", Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003

Lots of people seem to like ghost signs, so I’ve dug out a few more. These were  taken in London and Liverpool docklands in the early noughties, before mega-development swept them away. I wish I’d shot more now, so beware: today’s ghost signs are tomorrow’s soulless new buildings – record them while you can.

Above and below: Ghost signs, “Johnsons Tea Warehouses”, Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003. A city centre area now redeveloped less colourfully: in those days, the door featured a useful diagram of a penis.

Ghost signs, "Johnsons Tea Warehouses", Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003

Ghost signs, "Johnsons Tea Warehouses", Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003

Ghost signs, "Johnsons Tea Warehouses", Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003

Below: Ghost signs, “GR Dennis Electrical Wholsalers”, Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003. I’m not sure if this building is still there – the area is almost unrecognisable compared to how it looked in 2003, and far less attractive in my opinion.

Ghost signs, "GR Dennis Electrical Wholsalers", Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003

Ghost signs, "GR Dennis Electrical Wholsalers", Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003

Ghost signs, "GR Dennis Electrical Wholsalers", Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003

Ghost signs, "GR Dennis Electrical Wholsalers", Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003

Below: Ghost sign, “Refiners”, Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003. A type-fancying pigeon appreciating some barely-there lettering.

Ghost sign, "Refiners", Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003

Below: Ghost sign, “Clarence Graving Dock’s”, Waterloo Road, Liverpool L3, Merseyside, 2008. Love the rogue apostrophe. The extensive docklands area north of Tate Liverpool (to the right as you face it) is compelling; some semi-derelict, some still working, all grand and evocative. And there’s a good art gallery round there too – Ceri Hand at 12 Cotton Street.

Ghost sign, "Clarence Graving Dock's", Waterloo Road, Liverpool L3, Merseyside, 2008

Below: Ghost sign, “Lovell’s Wharf”, Pelton Road, Greenwich, London SE10. Shortly afterwards, this entire historic area was razed for a sorely undistinguished housing development – they didn’t even retain the name. Here’s a link to see it being built on Google Streetview.

Ghost sign, "Lovell's Wharf", Pelton Road, Greenwich, London SE10

Ghost sign, "Lovell's Wharf", Pelton Road, Greenwich, London SE10

Ghost sign, "Lovell's Wharf", Pelton Road, Greenwich, London SE10

Below: Ghost sign, “Victoria Wharf”, Dragoon Road, Deptford, London SE8, 2005. A wharf named after me – as so many things are – now given over to self-storage. It’s in Dragoon Road, a name evocative of the area’s martial history.

Ghost sign, "Victoria Wharf", Dragoon Road, Deptford, London SE8, 2005

Below: Ghost sign, “Evelyn Wharf”, Creekside, Deptford, London SE8, 2002. Roads with Creek in the name are always worth exploring; Creek Street, now called Creekside, runs through an arty / light industrial area housing creative spaces such as  Cockpit Arts and the Laban Dance centre.

Ghost sign, "Evelyn Wharf", Creekside, Deptford, London SE8, 2002

That’s enough wharves – there’s more on Flickr.

Filed in architecture ghost signs typography London Liverpool

4 Notes

Ghost signs – some images

A few images related to my previous post – “Ghost Signs and the Typography Gene" – about the ghost sign project. Read that, enjoy these, then go out and find some more!

Ghost sign, "Refreshments", York Way, Kings Cross, London N1, 2006

Above: Ghost sign, “Refreshments”, York Way, Kings Cross, London N1, 2006. Pictured just prior to disappearing under the never-ending Regent Quarter redevelopment.

My previous post discussed the typographic gene and the beauty of ghost signs, but it was too long to show many examples, so I’m putting them here. Sadly most of my sign photos, while definitely ghostly, don’t match the criteria of the official ghost signs group, which is strictly for advertisments and self-promotional signs painted on brick, not tiled or mosaic ads, and not my plethora of utterly pointless random sign fragments. The definition of the original Flickr ghostsigns group, as set out by its mastermind Sam Roberts, is on the discussion thread “Do These Count”, and there’s an informative essay at literarylondon. Therefore I’ve created two Flickr sets, one for ghost signs on brick, and a ghost signs miscellany for all the others. But personally I prefer to scroll quickly through an edited selection of images and captions on a blog than keep clicking on Flickr’s inconsistent and jumpy interface. So here’s an edit of my own sets… and if you enjoy them, maybe you’ll be inspired to go out and record some better ones.

Ghost sign, "Cash Supply Stores", behind 23 Clapham High Street, London SW4, 2002

Ghost sign, "Music Roll Exchange", behind 29 Clapham High Street, London SW4, 2002.

Above: "Cash Supply Stores" and "Music Roll Exchange", behind 23 and 29 Clapham High Street, London SW4, 2002. Both were later gentrified away.

Ghost sign, "WJ Perry", Sutton, Surrey, 2002     Ghost sign, "Inch & Co Cash Chemists", Kennington Park Road, London SE11, 2001

Above left: “WJ Perry”, Sutton, Surrey, 2002. Nice the way it fades in and out, Rothko-like, at  top and bottom. Above right: “Inch & Co Cash Chemists”, Kennington Park Road, London SE11, 2001. What a fine name!

Ghost sign, "Dyson Provisions & Groceries", Stoke Newington Road, London N16, 2002

Above: “Dyson Provisions & Groceries”, Stoke Newington Road, London N16, 2002. Now being encroached on by white paint - see sarflondondunc

Ghost sign, "Beehive Clothing Stores", Poole, Dorset, 2004   Ghost sign, "Tyres", Kennington Road, London SE11, 2005

Above left: “Beehive”, Poole, Dorset, 2004. A ghost sign on a ghost sign. Above right: “Tyres”, Kennington Road, London SE11, 2005. There used to be several old shop signs in Kennington, but they’re fast disappearing.

Ghost sign, "Floor Cover", Atwell Road, Peckham Rye, London SE15, 2010

Above: "Floor Cover", Atwell Road, Peckham Rye, London SE15, 2010. Strangely beautiful, as with much of Peckham Rye’s visual tangle.


Ghost sign, "AS Ashby", Bath Street, Frome, Somerset, 2008   Ghost sign, "AXO Opticians", Castle Street, Sheffield, 2010
Above left:
"AS Ashby", Bath Street, Frome, Somerset, 2008. Ah, film – now an almost-forgotten format. Who’d have thought it? Above right: “AXO”, Castle Street, Sheffield, 2010. Not concrete poetry, but an opticians.

Ghost sign, "A Century's Experience Vye & Son the Kentish Grocers", Whitstable, Kent, 2002

Above: “Vye & Son”, Whitstable, Kent, 2002. Must have been hidden behind two smaller signs. Looks 1930s to me, so they’d presumably been going since the 1830s.

Ghost sign, "Church Furniture", Southampton Row, Holborn, London WC1, 2002

Above: “Church Furniture”, Southampton Row, Holborn, London WC1, 2002. Something to do with the nearby baptist church.

Ghost sign, "CH N.Katz", Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London E1, 2003

Above: “CH N.Katz”, Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London E1, 2003. A reminder of the days when Brick Lane was full of Jewish rather than Bangladeshi / hipster businesses. Curry15 on Flickr, who does excellent research, discovered that Katz, which used to sell string and bags, closed circa 1998.

Ghost sign, "Dowell's Coals", Norway Street, Greenwich, London SE10, 2005

Above: “Dowell’s Coals”, Norway Street, Greenwich, London SE10, 2005. An old docklandsgate stanchion that disappeared under riverside flats.

That’s enough for now – there’s more on my Flickr page.

Filed in typography architecture ghost signs shopfronts

5 Notes

Ghost Signs and the Typography Gene

Do you possess the typographic gene? If so, you may appreciate the beauty of ghost signs…

Ghost sign, "A Century's Experience Vye & Son the Kentish Grocers", Whitstable, Kent, 2002

Above: Ghost sign, “A Century’s Experience Vye & Son the Kentish Grocers”, Whitstable, Kent, 2002. Must have been hidden behind two smaller signs.

I’ve always been transfixed by typography. One of my earliest memories is the script logo on a 1960s fridge, and once I came of scissor-wielding age I’d cut out the decorative letters from sweet packets in a vain attempt to collect entire matching alphabets (imagine how I felt about all that wasted time when I discovered Letraset). Not surprisingly I went on to study graphic design, and as soon as I got a camera in my hands – one of the many great revelations of art school – I started taking photos of type I liked, which tended to be on crappy old shop fronts.

I still remember the reaction of a photography tutor when, in a crit at the RCA, I put on a slide show consisting mainly of bits of text found on decaying signs around Soho. Although the other students (mostly graphic designers too) seemed to appreciate it, and to my gratification found some of the images amusing, the tutor – a highly regarded nature photographer – declared himself completely bewildered. He simply couldn’t understand why I would bother with such boring images, and suspected I was taking the piss. I, meanwhile, was genuinely surprised that he couldn’t see the beauty in these fragments of communication: formal compositions of shape and colour, constructed from words which lent them a narrative. To me, they were compelling urban tales which deserved noticing and recording.

This was well pre-internet, but even then I knew I wasn’t alone. I concluded my obsession must be due to having a “typographic gene”; most graphic designers seemed to document similar things, and plenty of non-designers enjoyed them too. And then came the world wide web, and Flickr – and what a lot of typographic gene owners there turned out to be, as the world’s font fanatics proudly posted their terabytes of type photos online. Except me; despite my enjoyment of recording and categorising tens of thousands of mainly text-oriented images over the years, there’s not that many ways to photograph a dodgy old sign, and I could never see the point in uploading an image a squillion other type nerds had uploaded too. Until, that is, I discovered the Flickr group called “ghostsigns”.

The term refers to faded old wall signs, survivors from the days when business names and product ads were skillfully painted directly onto bricks and mortar – often lingering on in unreachable places, or revealed by building works. Not a new subject, of course; photographers from Atget onwards have been beguiled by such graphics, and there are plenty of individual collections. But it took the internet to enable the possibility of a global collaborative collection, and a member of the typographic genome fraternity called Sam Roberts to give the subject a marketing identity: “ghost signs”. In 2009 he went viral with the term, popping up all over the UK media to encourage people to record these disappearing treasures and, if they wished, to donate the digital rights to his collaborators the History of Advertising Trust (HAT). He tells his own story in this Time Out piece and you can find out more about his project at the Ghostsigns website (although the HAT Ghostsigns archive was throwing up error messages when I last visited). There’s also a blog, a lively Facebook page and a Twitter feed @ghostsigns. However Sam Roberts has since moved to Cambodia for a couple of years and the underfunded HAT seems to have stalled; the main repository is now the Flickr ghostsigns group, where several area-based pools have popped up, and where you can view geotagged ghost signs on a map.

For all its faults (of which I think there are many), Flickr is currently the best gathering place for such image communities, and with so many ghost signs now disappearing, it’s clearly worthwhile to collate them. I don’t personally have many such photos – it’s not one of the main subjects I pursue, more a byproduct – and I’m sure that other people will have posted better versions of all my findings. But ghost signs change over time, as the weather beats and the graffiti creeps, so there’s no harm in having multiple views; and if this post can encourage other typographic gene owners to participate too (ideally donating their images to the HAT Ghost Signs archive – assuming it’s still operative – or even helping them out), so much the better.

I do find the scale of it all rather daunting though. Imagine if every ghost sign in the real world was also preserved on the internet. Then it would be just as random to find interesting examples online as it is in real life, and I’d rather wander round living neighbourhoods than navigate Flickr pools or Google Street Map (addictive as it is) for my typographic fix. And it’s slightly depressing to think that there may one day be no old signs left to be discovered (although an alternative view would be to get over it, and start contemplating the future). Of course, the same could be said for anything that’s migrating online, which is why we need editors. So I shall do my bit by recommending you get started with curry15, a retiree who has uploaded decades-worth of her evocative photos on many architectural subjects, and does absolutely brilliant research and captions. My own Flickr set is here, but I’ll post a few of my own ghost signs in a follow-up entry, as this one’s really long. In the meantime, here’s an art-related ghost sign to be going on with…

Ghost sign, "Hoxton Electrovision" by Bob & Roberta Smith, London N1, 2004

Above: Ghost sign, “Hoxton Electrovision” by Bob & Roberta Smith, Hoxton Street, London N1, 2004. This is actually an artwork, one of several similar wall signs placed down Hoxton Street by Bob & Roberta Smith (who is really one person, British artist Patrick Brill) as part of his exhibition Shop Local. But since they were done so long ago they’ve become real ghost signs - or rather, art ghost signs.

Click here for a few of my ghost sign images and details of the Flickr group

Filed in art typography architecture ghost signs shopfronts

10 Notes

Bristol: the Paul Dirac trail

"Bristol produced the greatest British scientist of the past century, but there isn’t much to mark that fact. Even the suggestion of naming a school after him got turned down" – Graham Farmelo

Dirac at blackboard  Dirac book cover

Above: Dirac in regulation “genius-at-blackboard” pose (l); and Farmelo’s biog (r). The map below links to a google map at http://bit.ly/9YvBWO

Bristol is a multi-textured and somehow mysterious city, full of layers both metaphorical and physical in its piling up of history and hills. It’s a place I’ve not yet tired of exploring, and after reading Graham Farmelo’s gripping biography of brilliant Bristolian Paul Dirac,"The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius" (Faber), I had one more route to map. Dirac, who foresaw string theory and anti-matter, is considered the greatest British physicist since Newton, and as paradigm-shifting as Darwin. Yet though he was born and educated in Bristol there’s very little to commemorate him there, so I decided to compile all the relevant locations I could discover on a Google map. The most interesting source I found was a blog by Hamish Johnston, “My Neighbour Paul Dirac" – the comments include some first-hand reminiscences, plus clarifications by Graham Farmelo. There is also a good article featuring an interview with Farmelo in This Is Bristol. For those who haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it: peruse this un-paywalled Guardian review then pop over to Amazon to purchase. For those who have read it, below is a clutch of Dirac-centric locations. Nearly all are stunningly dull, but that’s apt for a scientist who was widely believed to have no personality.

DIRAC’S BRISTOL HOMES

spacerHome 0: 42 Cotham Rd, Bristol BS6 
• Dirac’s parents’ first home (Farmelo, p9). Not exactly compelling as he wasn’t even born at this time.

Monk Rd 1plaquespacerHome 1: 15 Monk Rd, Bristol BS7 
• Dirac was born here in 1902 (Farmelo, p10) when the houses were very new, and left in 1913. The plaque outside was dedicated the same day as the Small Worlds sculpture, below, and wrongly says Dirac left the house in 1923; see the magisterial correction by Graham Farmelo on Hamish Johnston’s blog – he explains that it took him “years to pin down” the correct 1913 date.

julius rdspacerHome 2: 6 Julius Rd, Bristol BS7 
• Dirac’s family moved here in 1913 (Farmelo, p18). Apparently the current owners were incredibly helpful while Farmelo was researching his book, whereas the owners of of 15 Monk Road (see paragraph above) wouldn’t let him in.

DIRAC’S BRISTOL EDUCATION

School 1: Bishop Road Primary School, Bristol Road, Bristol BS7
• Dirac’s primary school, where he first learned about maths and technical drawing. Bizarrely, one of his co-students was the young Carey Grant, then known as Archie Leach. “There was an age difference of two years between them, so I’m sure they must have encountered each other at school,” says Farmelo. “I’m also sure Dirac would never have spoken a word to him.” The school still exists and recently won a “dream playground”.

Merchant ChambersspacerSchool 2: Merchant Venturers’ School, Unity Street, Bristol BS1
• Merchant Venturers’ was Dirac’s secondary school. However, having lent out my copy of Farmelo’s book, I’m not entirely clear if he studied at these original Victorian Gothic premises, which are now swanky but contentious flats, or at Cotham School, below, which was also once part of Merchant Venturers’ operations.

Cotham SchoolspacerSchool 2 (?): Cotham School, Cotham Lawn Road, Bristol BS6
• Dirac’s secondary school, Merchant Venturers’, later became known as Cotham Grammar School, then in 2001 simply Cotham School; but I’m not sure if Dirac studied at this site, or the original Merchant Venturers’, above. Whatever, Cotham School has a Paul Dirac Building, which was apparently a lab when it was Cotham Grammar. By 2009 it housed art activities, but due to asbestos the school is being redeveloped, and the Paul Dirac Building may be demolished and rebuilt.

Bristol unispacerUniversity 1: University of Bristol, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8
• Bristol’s attractive university area, full of gardens and grand buildings, is worth exploring in its own right. It was here that the fast-tracked Dirac came to study mathematics at the age of 16, before going on to Cambridge and the wider world – he ended up winning the Nobel Prize, marrying a Hungarian widow and becoming a prof in America. 

DIRAC’s BRISTOL TRIBUTES

  Dirac road

Above: Dirac House (l) and Dirac Road (r). Exciting!

Tribute 1: IOP Dirac House, Temple Back, Bristol BS1
• Named after Dirac: a nondescript millennium-style building housing the Institute of Physics Publishing.

Tribute 2: Dirac Road, Ashley Down, Bristol BS7 
• Also named after Dirac: a boring new-build road way out of town.

Tribute 3: Small Worlds, @Bristol, Anchor Road, Harbourside, Bristol BS1
• “Small Worlds” is an easily-missed pointy memorial sculpture by Simon Thomas, composed of “concentric cones which create a scaled path through space pointing towards the ever smaller worlds studied by Dirac,” accompanied by a tribute plaque in the pavement. Located outside annoyingly-named kids’ science exhibition @Bristol, it was unveiled by Professor Sir Michael Berry of Bristol University Physics Department in 2001. The best thing about @Bristol used to be that you could point the electronic telescope outside to Uranus, a word which it then spelled out on a giant LED sign for all to see (well, it always made me laugh), but then it stopped working. Dirac: genius; me: moron. Sigh.

Filed in Bristol architecture area guide: Bristol Paul Dirac trail art maps and guides

0 Notes

Wozencroft: a typographic namesake

Above: Wozencroft Opticians, 9 Osmaston Road, Derby DE1 2JH

I present this for two reasons, both graphic design related. Firstly, it’s a beautiful sign, in a classic mid-century commercial script. You can still find plenty of businesses in Europe bearing swashy calligraphic lettering, but the only time I’ve come across them in the UK – and then only rarely – is on old-fashioned and generally Jewish emporia, evoking visions of a vanished Mittel-Europa (or maybe I just over-react to fonts). Whether such scripts were ever common on UK shop facades I don’t know, but my researches suggest not; perhaps they were considered too foreign and fancy. My second reason for posting it is that one of the graphic design profession’s more highly regarded commentators – an RCA tutor and some-time Neville Brody collaborator – is called Jon Wozencroft. It’s an unusual name, sounding Polish but deriving from the Old English Wulfstan, so I’m wondering if the optician is some relation. I’m not enough of a design stalker to go googling around the internet to find out, but either way it’s nice that a graphics guru’s optical namesake has such charming typography. And, on the subject of calligraphic shop signs, below are two examples to illustrate my earlier point: Lindys bakery in Golders Green, London, and Douglas drugstore in Berlin, Germany. There used to be another Lindys in Goodge Street, just along the road from a striking maroon-and-white fronted patisserie called Grodzinski (below), but both disappeared under the tide of chain outlets which started blandifying this characterful corner of Fitzrovia in the 1990s.

Grodzinski patisserie, Goodge Street, 1992

Above: Grodzinski, Goodge Street, London W1, on a snowy evening in 1992

Lindys patisserie, Golders Green, 2003

Above: Lindys, Golders Green, London NW11, on a rainy day in 2003

Douglas Parfumerie, Berlin, 2003

Above: Douglas, one of a chain of drugstores, Charlottenburg, Berlin, 2003



Filed in typography architecture Derby shopfronts

0 Notes

Primitive Methodism v. Nazi Disco

Above: Quicksilver Amusement Arcade, Green Lane, Derby, DE1

Wherever I go I photograph commercial facades, and Derby had two I found particularly striking. The one here, Quicksilver Amusement Arcade, echoes my post about Derby Hippodrome, and stands diagonally opposite: it’s another faded entertainment hall, occupying another imposing building. This twin-towered bastion started life as a Primitive Methodist chapel, but now looks as if an ornate spacecraft has descended from planet portentious and landed on top of a Nazi disco bunker. Perversely I like it, although it’s damaged a fine building. Due to being on an ancient route, the Green Lane area has an important mix of Victorian and Regency architecture, including a huge old Victorian Gothic ex-art school (image below); the locals are currently trying to get it designated a conservation zone, galvanised by their council’s enthusiasm for wanton “redevelopment”. There’s an in-depth article about the area’s architectural delights by local historian Maxwell Craven here, and some photos of various buildings here.

Below: the old art school in Green Lane, Derby, designed by FW Waller

Old art school, Derby

Filed in typography architecture

0 Notes

Derby art, architecture and ale

Derby makes a good stopover for a Nottingham art trip, and has merits of its own. Here are nine of them: three exhibition venues, three pubs, and three decaying buildings. In addition, arts venue Quad is hosting UK Young Artists from Oct 24, which ties in well with the extensive October art activity in Nottingham (see my guide here).

Derby google map

This map links to a proper Google map – find it at http://bit.ly/aRgezQ

An idiosyncratic selection perhaps, but then there isn’t that much actual art to see in Derby. My building choices may suggest urban decay, but the reality is a stolidly built small provincial town with interesting buildings from many eras dotted between a predictable array of overbearing malls and tired shops. It’s an industrial heritage area with pleasant strolls along the Derwent River and three noted real ale pubs (being allergic to wine I seek out craft beer), though two are somewhat unreconstructed for my taste – which would be a plus point for many. Highlight is the art and multimedia venue Quad Derby, whose rolling programme of arthouse films means there’s always evening entertainment for the mimsy transient art fan; they do decent light meals and good bottled beer too, at half London prices. Note: the train station is a long, confusing and rather unpleasant walk from the so-called Catherdal Quarter, but it’s nicer if you go via the riverside path.

THREE DERBY EXHIBITION VENUES

Quad Derby
Market Place, Cathedral Quarter, Derby, DE1 3AS
derbyquad.co.uk

Quad Serbyspacer• I stayed in Derby while visiting Nottingham, and it’s fair to say that without this cultural oasis I’d have been pretty lost, especially on a quiet Sunday evening. The art shows are intermittent, but there’s a civilised cinema with a fast-changing roster of films, performances, talks and events, plus a BFI Mediatheque with free access to over 1,700 film and TV classics, so there’s always something new to see. I was able to amuse myself with an extensive Ian Breakwell exhibition, followed by Banksy's film, which I'd missed in London, topped off with a good value locally-sourced burger/poncey beer combo. The glass-walled cafe/foyer/bar area is quite small and starkly trendy in an Ikea-baroque kind of way, but it's got comfy corners and a panoramic view of the square outside, not that there's much to admire out there unless skateboarding goths are your bag. It opens till late, spilling light onto its bleakish surrounds, and is a pleasant place to while away time; so it was heartening to see a wide mix of ages and races enjoying the facilities, from trendy asian youngsters to crusty caucasian ancients – all seeming equally at home. With the high profile failure of provincial noughties archi-star venues such as as Nigel Coates' drum-like HUBs in Sheffield (once a pop museum, now a students’ union) and West Brom’s The Public (a Will Alsop-designed multimedia pink elephant, now fighting back from administration), it’s good to see a millennium-style arts emporium confidently meet, and even exceed, local needs.

Derby Museum and Art Gallery
The Strand, Derby DE1 1BS
derby.gov.uk/LeisureCulture/MuseumsGalleries

Derby Museum typographyspacer• A typical small municipal museum, worthy but frozen in hessian-clad time due, presumably, to lack of funding. The world’s largest collection of Joseph Wright of Derby paintings (which means one medium-sized room-full) is genuinely worth seeing, and deserves finer surrounds than this dowdy gallery – which won an award in the 1990s, but must have lacked love since then. It was also sad to see a collection of 1960s ecclesiastical sculptures – made by a local artist and rescued from a hospital chapel, details of which I’ve been totally unable to excavate via Google – distributed across three floors, and literally propped up in corners. On the plus side, there are regular shows of local and national contemporary art, and it’s an interesting accretion of buildings melding Victorian Gothic with a classic early 1960s frontage. It just felt as if the decent art holdings could be displayed much better.

The Silk Mill / Derby’s Industrial Museum
Silk Mill Lane, off Full Street, Derby, DE1 3AF
derby.gov.uk/LeisureCulture/MuseumsGalleries

Silk Millspacer• An industrial relic housing yet more industrial relics, this was one of the first factories in the world: the Lombe brothers’ Silk Mill, completed circa 1723. It is now part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and currently showcases, in slightly ramshackle fashion, historic examples of local industry – which will be of most interest to those with an insatiable curiosity about the innards of Rolls Royce jet engines, which are manufactured nearby. It’s a subject which was more artfully treated in Jane and Louise Wilson’s film installation "Spiteful of Dream" (2008), specially created for the launch of Quad Derby.

THREE DERBY REAL ALE PUBS

The Brewery Tap
1 Derwent Street, Derby DE1 2DE‎; T 01332 366 283‎
derbybrewing.co.uk

• Offers a superb array of beers, including some Belgian fruit varieties (yum) plus beer’n’cheese sampler trays; a top pub with nice decor, though considered a trifle identikit-sub-gastro for the knowledgeable punters on beerintheevening.com. I can see their point, as it was a bit characterless and suit-friendly, but I still preferred it to the two real ale dens below – maybe because I’m not a bloke.

The Old Silk Mill
19 Full Street, Derby, DE1 3AF;  T 01332 369748
theoldsilkmill.com

• Swirly carpeted old-style boozer with around 12 beers and two cats. It’s favoured over The Brewery Tap by beer purists but a bit old skool for my taste; it used to be a bikers’ pub apparently, and still has that grotty feel.

The Flowerpot
23-25 King Street, Derby DE1 3DZ; T 01332 204 955
No website found 

• This has a big fan following for its in-house brewery and multiple ales, but both times I attempted entry I was almost instantly repelled by a rebarbative mixture of shouty men, amplified rock music, and sticky-looking decor. Guess I’m just a girlie sap.

THREE DERBY BUILDINGS

Bath Street Mill
Bath Steet, Derby DE1

Bath St Mill ruin  Bath St Mill ruin

Above: the ruins of Bath Street Mill from the river (l) and hill behind (r)

• Or ex-mill: Google satellite view shows this as still intact, but what was once a historic ex-silk mill is now a sorry if romantic ruin on the riverside, just upstream from Derby’s only high-rise tower block. Built around 1850, for most of the 20th century Bath Street Mill was home to various small industries, but in 2009 it was bought by a developer and subsequently went up in flames – a similar tale to the Hippodrome, below. There seems to be a lot of “mysterious” developer-related destruction in Derby, which is sheer cultural vandalism given the town’s industrial heritage. For anyone who’s interested, there are a few links to this intriguing building below.

Derby Hippodrome
Green Lane, Derby DE1 1RT

  Derby Hippodrome ruin  Derby Hippodrome ruin

Above: the decaying Hippo in early 2010 from in front (l) and behind (r)

• Another tale of destruction in the name of development: an important building that, under shady circumstances, has become a burnt-out wreck – though rescue may be on the horizon. This historic theatre started life as Derby Hippodrome in 1914, became a cinema in 1930, and was more recently a Walker’s bingo hall. It was sold to a property developer in 2007, and while the locals tried to save it, the poorly-protected premises became a target for vandalism and arson. Then, while “renovating” the roof in 2008, the owner’s contractors started “accidentally” smashing the walls with an immense digger, as the videos below demonstrate. The unauthorized demolition was stopped, and the case went to court, but the damage was done. The Hippodrome was left in an unhappy state, its frazzled auditorium open to the elements (you could peer in from the car park behind), and many original features lost. Meanwhile, the developer submitted plans to erect a multi-story car park on the site, and further demolish the building. Derby’s citizens have been putting up a fight against such philistinism, and there’s lots more info at the links below, including a Save Derby Hippodrome Facebook campaign. The latest news is that the council appears to have rallied behind the campaigners, threatened to bankrupt the developer, and a realistic rescue operation may now be possible. Good luck to them – you can support their Facebook campaign above, and there are links below giving the fuller story.

  • youtube - The disgraceful demolition in progress
  • youtube - The back-story and the developer’s so-called plans
  • derbyhippodrome.co.uk - Excellent site with all you need to know about the Hippodrome and the campaign
  • youtube - Mini-history-doc on the Hippodrome
  • derelictplaces.co.uk - Inside the ruin with Derelict Places
  • facebook - Save Derby Hippodrome Facebook group

Public loos and clock tower
The Spot, St Peter’s Street, Derby DE1

30s loos  30s precinct

Above: the art deco loos (l) and matching shopping precinct (r)

• A bit of easily-missed architectural interest: Victorian-style civic pride in an art deco stylee. You often see these thrusting clock tower / public loo confections in Victorian and Edwardian guise (draw from that what Freudian connotations you will), but this rectilinear 1930s version is far less usual. It’s opposite a large curved terrace of run-down shops in matching style, which was probably Derby’s finest mall in the 1930s, but is now at the fag-end of town (no double entendre intended). And it’s at the fag-end of my Derby guide, too.

Filed in architecture art art guide: Derby maps and guides

0 Notes

The wrong Saatchi on “shit churches”

Fake Charles Saatchi Twitter page

dotclearsquareTwitter keeps suggesting I follow @charlessaatchi - who is clearly not the real one but even so has around 4,000 followers for his imposter’s intermittent, unfunny stream of non-sequitur ranting and bad puns. The joker responsible has linked his profile to a blog called “Shit Churches”, which would be quite diverting except a) it’s blatantly derivative of the “Crap Towns” concept; b) it’s an ugly-looking site; and c) there’s hardly anything on it. Which is probably why, unlike the fake Charles Saatchi’s tweets, it has only a handful of followers. But shit is the operative word, and neither venture is really worth following. Above is something far more interesting: a truly weird and monstrous 1950s bunker of a church, designed by Adrian Gilbert Scott (bro of the more famous Giles). It’sSt Mary and St Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Poplar, London E14 – you can find out more about it here. Apparently there’s a very similar one by him in Canada.

Filed in art architecture

0 Notes

Kettle’s Yard’s mystery light switches

Here’s me photographing light switches at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, which from the the 1950s to the 1970s was home to legendary Tate curator Jim Ede. Everything in the art-and-craft-filled house is as he left it, with every last detail almost painfully considered, so I became intrigued by the unusual switches, plaques of thick clear glass framing pits of dodgy-looking wiring. Inspected with a 2010 eye they are in the manner of today’s modish pseudo-minimalist-modernist (cod-min-mod?) sculptors – the likes of Nicole WermersMatthew Smith and Jim Lambie, who play with elements of home decor and shop fittings in an elegant, knowing way. But Jim Ede was an original Modernist, and for him cutting-edge sculpture ran more along the lines of Henri Gaudier-BrzeskaConstantin Brancusi and Henry Moore, none of whom was renowned for jokey electrical interventions. After an OCD-style investigation of all the light switches in the house (everyone else there was writing sensitive poetry – it’s that kind of place), I discovered Ede’s reasoning: a charming piece of decorative paper precision-placed between glass and gubbins (above left) – very Elle Deco. Presumably the other switches were once similarly dressed. Or maybe Ede’s wife Helen did it, in an attempt to cheer the place up: apparently she was very unhappy in the super-tasteful but rather funereal showcase house, and the couple spent their final years in Edinburgh (also quite gloomy), upon which Ede donated Kettle’s Yard to the nation. As for me, I never did write any poetry, but I did take some nice pictures of light switches…

Filed in Cambridge architecture art Kettle's Yard