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Charles Fort

Charles Fort


Words David Sutton

Illustrations Ross Becker


“…he was determined to unlock whatever weird secrets the British Museum hid behind its imposing neo-classical façade.”

As editor of Fortean Times magazine there are two questions I tend to get asked. The first, unsurprisingly, is: why is it called the ‘Fortean’ Times? I explain that the magazine is named after the American writer Charles Fort. The second question: Who was Charles Fort? Despite being something of a cult figure, Fort remains little known to the wider public, even though he coined the word ‘teleportation’, imagined alien invasions long before the dawn of the UFO age and inspired hit TV shows like The X-Files. Flying saucers and ancient astronauts; mysterious animals and troublesome poltergeists; psychic powers and strange disappearances; rains of blood and spontaneous human combustion; pick these or any other sufficiently weird subjects and the chances are that Charles Fort wrote about them nearly a century ago. Those famous falling frogs in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia? A homage to Fort, of course.

So, who was Charles Hoy Fort? And what connects this visionary American writer to Bloomsbury? Fort was born in Albany, upstate New York, in 1874. Rebelling against his domineering businessman father, the young Charles became a writer, starting out as a reporter on the Albany Argus and the Brooklyn World. Having married and moved to New York City, he tried his hand at novels and short stories, holding down jobs as a joke writer or a dish washer to pay the rent. Many of the results are lost to history – burned manuscripts, abandoned novels – but, in the end, he found his own unique voice in four books, published between 1919 and his death in 1932, that pretty much set the template for the study of ‘strange phenomena’. The Book of the Damned, New Lands, Lo! and Wild Talents were dense, difficult and funny by turns, full of bizarre facts, mind-blowing philosophical speculations and humorous assaults on stuffy scientific orthodoxy. They were like nothing before or since, although every subsequent work on the paranormal owes a huge debt to Fort’s pioneering efforts.

He’d started off reading old newspapers in public libraries, in search of ideas for stories, but found something far more interesting: real-life events so unusual they made fiction seem redundant and suggested our world was far stranger than anything dreamt of by novelists. He became fascinated by what he called “damned data”: the unexplained and often inconvenient facts that the high priests of mainstream science – who preferred to chop reality into reassuring artificial categories – sought to exclude or ignore. He pored over collections of scientific journals in reading rooms and libraries, marshalling his army of anomalies, recording thousands of notes on cards stuffed in shoeboxes. Once in a while, he’d destroy them and start, obsessively, all over again.

It was this search for “damned data” that brought Fort and his wife Anna to Bloomsbury. He had already ransacked the New York Public Library; now he was determined to unlock whatever weird secrets the British Museum hid behind its imposing neo-classical façade. Arriving in early December 1920, the Forts took a small furnished flat at 15 Marchmont Street for six months so that Fort could conduct his researches. It was to prove nowhere near long enough, so they returned to Bloomsbury in the December of 1921, this time taking a longer lease on a flat above a greengrocer’s at 39A Marchmont Street. Here, they quickly settled into a pleasant routine. Charles would rise at eight each day, “knock around the rooms” and work on his notes all morning; after Anna had prepared a midday meal, he’d go out at two, walking the short distance to the British Museum. Here, in the great domed reading room, he would continue his “grand tour” of old newspapers, astronomical journals and scientific periodicals. He’d return home around five, and after a modest supper he and Anna would either go to the cinema to enjoy the silent features and newsreels or for an evening stroll in Hyde Park. Fort enjoyed listening to the men who held forth at Speaker’s Corner, usually finding a group to argue with about the future prospects of space travel or other unlikely topics. Anna later recalled that her husband would often stop in their evening walks and stare up at the night sky, pointing out the planets and constellations above their heads. Once back at the Marchmont Street flat, “he would throw open the windows and stand gazing at the stars. That was his delight for a long, long time”.

As Fort’s daily researches in the British Museum continued to yield more anomalous data and throw up new avenues of explanation, his notes grew apace, the shoeboxes overflowing with gathered weirdness. Unsuspected correlations between phenomena revealed themselves. Some of them were close to home: “There is a triangular region in England, three points of which appear so often in our data that the region should be specially known to us, and I know it myself as the London Triangle…” Sometimes, oddities would crowd even closer, as when, between 1924 and 1925, the Forts were subjected to a spate of apparent poltergeist activity in their flat – pictures would fall from walls with loud bangs but no obvious explanations. Charles suspected that he and Anna were somehow unconsciously causing the phenomena themselves.

In the end, their London sojourn lasted far longer than the couple had ever envisaged: it wasn’t until early 1928 that they finally boarded a transatlantic steamer bound for New York and home. By then, Fort’s eyesight was failing – worn out by years of squinting at yellowing papers – and his health in decline. He died on 3 May 1932 at the Royal Hospital in the Bronx, aged 57.

Fort’s London adventure had yielded much in the way of material for his books, but the years he spent here left no discernible mark on London. He was a shy man, neither overly find of company nor remotely fashionable or well connected. It’s strange to think of him carrying on his obsessive quest and dining on beer and strong cheese through the 1920s, while just around the corner the self-styled and rather better-fed Bohemians of the Bloomsbury set held court. There’s no record that either was aware of the other, but it’s hard to imagine Fort finding much of interest in Mrs Dalloway; and Virginia Woolf or Lytton Strachey would have thought The Book of the Damned the ravings of a madman.

Belated recognition of Fort’s time in Bloomsbury came eventually. In 1997, Fortean Times founder Bob Rickard got an unofficial plaque put up at 39 Marchmont Street. Now, a more permanent blue plaque commemorates Fort’s years at the address. Commissioned by the Marchmont Association, it was largely financed by Brij Parmar, the owner of Bloomsbury Building Supplies, the business that now occupies No 39. and unveiled on 28 March 2015 by the Mayor of Camden and FT’s co-founding editor, Paul Sieveking.

The plaque calls Fort the “founder of Forteanism”, which he would have hated, being mistrustful of all ideologies and -isms; when a Fortean Society was founded in New York the year before his death, Fort refused to join it. Nonetheless, it was a sign that his influence would be a lasting one, and Society members included Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Buckminster Fuller. Rechristened the International Fortean Society, it continues to this day. Meanwhile, here in the UK Fortean Times has been publishing continuously for nearly half a century. We continue to pursue Fort’s search for anomalies and can count among our subscribers over the years writers like Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Jack Womack and Phil Rickman; film-makers such as Guillermo del Toro and Paul Giamatti; and musicians including Jerry Garcia, Rat Scabies and Kate Bush. So, next time you’re walking down Marchmont Street, look up when you pass No. 39 and remember the weird and wonderful legacy of Charles Fort: you’ll be among very good company.

Giovanni Spezziga

Giovanni Spezziga


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“…you know, I guess you could say it’s a grand café, and I’m the gatekeeper.”

Just off Bedford Square, right in the heart of Bloomsbury, is a bar like no other, and today I’m getting the grand tour from its general manager, Giovanni Spezziga. We’re at The Bloomsbury’s Coral Room, where Gio, as he’s known, is looking as sharp as ever in a double-breasted velvet jacket as he takes me from room to room and floor to floor, greeting and charming guests and staff alike. Gio is well known in the industry as an established host and manager, and since late last year The Coral Room has been his stomping ground.

I recall my first visit here when, oddly perhaps, I was reminded of the bar which features in the Stanley Kubrick film of Stephen King’s The Shining. I assure you, it was meant as a compliment! You may remember the scene where Jack Nicholson sits and has a drink at the Overlook Hotel’s grand bar. The key difference is that The Coral Room, while equally grand, couldn’t be less sinister. In fact, the environment is both relaxed and glamorous. The vibrant coral walls are decorated with the works of acclaimed artist Edward Luke, while from the double-height ceilings are suspended five bespoke Murano glass chandeliers. The luxurious interior, designed by the acclaimed Martin Brudnizki, is redolent of the Bloomsbury of the 1920s, or of an exquisite country house transported to the heart of Central London. It’s candy for your eyes, and the food and drink offerings a true delight for your taste buds.

Gio was the perfect choice to helm this new venture. He has well established roots in hospitality, having spent seven years of his career in London, prior to which he had gained valuable experience back home in Italy. “I guess I’ve moved around since being in London. From the W Hotel in Leicester Square, to the Rosewood over in Holborn, I’m lucky enough to have worked in some of the best venues in the city,” he says. “After working with the Rosewood, an opportunity arose which interested me, and I think I knew from the off that I wanted to be involved. I couldn’t ignore the idea of the The Coral Room. Restaurants and bars have always been like bread and butter to me, you know? This felt like the beginning of a place which I wanted to be associated with.”

Gio was first introduced to The Bloomsbury last year when he was invited to meet with members of the team about the upcoming project. “The vision was clear. I was very happy to be given the opportunity to helm The Coral Room – and just to be invited in! The dream was always to be able to open a place afresh – it’s exciting to be part of a new opening, and to watch something unfold in front of you like that,” he says. Once on board, Gio worked closely with the team at the hotel and the interior designers in order to help perfect the vision that would become The Coral Room. From the trademark coral walls to the elegant fused marble bars and other immaculate details, Gio has been at the centre of the project, ensuring that functionality and good looks went hand in hand.

It’s an attention to detail that has paid off. The bar inhabits what was once a handsome but underused reception area. With its incredibly high ceilings and wooden panelling – now updated in striking coral – it was fitting that this huge Edwardian space should be brought back to life as a grand salon bar for the 21st century. The dining options, I’m pleased to say, are as desirable as the location itself, with a fantastic brunch menu, a selection of fine English sparkling wines and an inimitable cocktail list for the evening – I’d especially recommend the Barber & Barrel whiskey sour, a personal favourite.

Gio and I are passing back into The Coral Room via the terrace when he observes: “You know, I guess you could say it’s a grand café, and I’m the gatekeeper. We’re open from 8 o’clock every morning until late. The food and drink offerings are amazing, and the location ties it all together. It’s a meeting spot for Bloomsbury.” Gio goes on to explain how The Coral Room is used as an office away from work, or perhaps a living room away from home, by many people within the creative industries, agencies and companies in the surrounding area. As he greets guests around the room, it seems that he has got to know quite a few of them already.

Visit The Coral Room at The Bloomsbury, 16-22 Great Russell Street or alternatively visit their website to read more or to enquire about bookings

Redemption Roasters

Redemption Roasters


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Despite us only working with a relatively small group of individuals, we’re having a much wider impact overall…”

Everything is (almost) like most noteworthy cafes I know. There is coffee in a great location and an array of great people flurrying in and out of the doors. We’re on Lambs Conduit Street, which is arguably one of the greatest streets in London. However, the backstory and spirit of this newcomer to Lambs Conduit Street is distinctively different to other roasters in London. Head of Coffee & Operations, Harry Graham, is telling me about the backbone of this unique new opening; great coffee meets 17-21 year old young male prison inmates. I know what you’re thinking; maybe the two sound like they shouldn’t be in the same sentence?

Nestled amongst the diverse businesses on Lambs Conduit Street, Redemption Roasters looks like any other successful London café: a great location on one of the city’s premier streets, a steady stream of customers enjoying top-quality coffees and an inviting array of snacks and pastries. But there’s a twist in the story of this particular coffee shop – one that really does mark it out as quite unique. After all, you don’t normally expect to find the terms ‘great coffee’ and ‘young offenders’ in the same sentence, but that’s the surprising backstory behind Redemption Roasters – perhaps I’d better start at the beginning…

Harry Graham is Redemption’s Head of Coffee, and he’s telling me how it is that the company came to offer a fresh start to young male prison inmates aged between 17 and 21. He gives me a bit of insight into the plight of young offenders like this: 50% of them are highly likely to reoffend after being released without skills or a job to go to. They return to the only thing they know: a life of crime. With this in mind, Redemption Roasters were approached by the Ministry of Justice to help address the problem of reoffending. The result was that they started operating a roastery and barista training centre within Aylesbury Prison, as well as a café for the prison community and visitors. The young inmates not only pick up useful skills but learn the importance and value of a job and a routine. The end result – to go back to that surprising sentence – is the creation of great coffee made by young offenders.

The process means that inmates are able to apply for roles at Redemption Roasters within the prison walls of Aylesbury, join their training program and earn a wage. This is the beginning of teaching inmates how to create coffee, work as baristas and, more importantly, offer them real jobs when released.

“It’s a way to take these guys out of the habit of reoffending and show them respect for something. Despite us only working with a relatively small group of individuals, we’re having much wider impact overall in stopping these individuals from reoffending,” says Harry. “So far, we’ve had a 100% success rate with the inmates we’ve worked with. Most roles offered within prisons are more like chores than actual work – things like sorting rubbish and doing laundry. What we’ve been able to offer is far more substantial.”

After the success of the roastery and the wholesaling side of the business, planning started on launching the first Redemption Roasters café in the heart of Bloomsbury. “It became obvious that there was a missing link in our business structure,” says Harry. “There we were, training these individuals and giving them all of this knowledge, but potentially leaving them with no way of putting it to good use. We felt that it would be a natural progression for the business to launch our own café. That way, we could be there when inmates were released and be able to offer them a job as a barista outside of the prison. It was a conscious decision, and the perfect way to offer roles to members of our training program. The case with many young offenders who leave prison and go into an employment situation is that they lose the job after a number of months. Employers aren’t typically familiar with prison culture. There are little routines and procedures within prison walls that don’t apply to day-to-day reality outside, and this can lead to employees losing their jobs. The difference with us is that we already understand prison culture, so we know how to work around issues such as these.”

The search for Redemption’s first café was on, although Harry stresses that they weren’t in a rush: it was all about finding the right place at the right time. “For us, Lambs Conduit Street had a strong identity behind it. It’s one of those London streets which is unforgettable – it’s proper London. We wanted it to be taken seriously, to fit comfortably with the other unique tenants on the street, but also to stand out from the crowd and have its own distinct personality.”

The café launched last July, and all the indications are that it’s been well received by local residents and neighbourhood businesses alike. Perhaps that’s because people can understand the social impact of the idea and see that it makes Redemption Roasters a special place – after all, getting these young men out of reoffending benefits not just them but wider communities. This isn’t your ordinary café; I guess you could call it a landmark. And the idea of giving young offenders a second chance via caffeine? Somehow, there’s an element of genius to the idea.

Visit Redemption Roasters at 84 Lamb’s Conduit Street or visit their website

Cathy Ward

Cathy Ward


Words Cathi Undsworth

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“The Internet has revealed much that was hidden. It is its own dark mirror by its very nature of conjuring up secrets and knowledge. But not everything can be googled. There has to be mystery out there somewhere…”

“It was random, if not magical circumstances, that brought me here,” says artist Cathy Ward of Bloomsbury. “Family from many generations gravitated here, all within streets of each other, none born Londoners. My mother trained as a nurse at UCH in WWII and I’d grown up hearing how a bomb shattered her bedroom, killing her roommate. Her mother was a talented painter and attended The Slade, across the road, at the start of the century – quite something for a woman then. The Suffragette movement undoubtedly played a part in her ambitions.” Cathy’s works – which range from immense canvases of mesmeric monochrome megaworlds to tiny, ink-on-mother-of-pearl sculptures that seem to have the sea and sky captured within them – are so intricate in detail that they transport the viewer into a different realm. Something that echoes the fin de siècle ideas of The Yellow Book and the occultist Austin Osman Spare: the Bloomsbury of her grandmother’s age.

“I feel I’m a direct descendant from her struggles, she was my one beacon of hope as, growing up in the 1960s, a career as an artist wasn’t encouraged,” she says. “Her ambitions were in conflict with the man she married and she died at 40 after bearing nine children. Such was the fate of many women. I live among reminders of that: The Women’s Freedom League in Bury Place and Hawksmoor’s St George’s, the only church that would take the body of Emily Davidson after her death under the King’s horse.” Cathy herself arrived early in the 1980s: “I hung out in a Bohemian scene. I went to raves at the YMCA and squat parties in Great Russell Street opposite the British Museum. Marchmont Street had forgotten, dusty charms with a stock of eccentrics. I’ve been lucky to have known many artists, including the great sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. He gifted me pieces of his work in the late 1980s related to his vast iconic commission for Tottenham Court Road station. I’d never imagined decades later this would be my home stop. Every time I use that station I think of him and that association. It is magical. I’m still sad his entrance arches were omitted in the redesign, as everything he did was so interconnected. There was always something memorable about coming through them on the journey down to the underground.”

London is changing so rapidly; has the area been irredeemably damaged? “The city’s reconstruction has seemed almost as destructive as the Blitz this past decade,” Cathy considers. “It’s been a task for residents checking the planning notices. Over the past decade our small team, headed by Helen McMurray (South Bloomsbury Association) and Jim Murray (Bloomsbury Association), have helped preserve buildings. We’ve had jubilant wins and crushing losses. South Bloomsbury faces the most relentless building programme and we can’t predict the full effect of Crossrail.”

What are the things that keep you going? “Walking to The Wellcome via the green corridor of squares. Independent bookshops like Atlantis on Museum Street, Treadwell’s on Store Street and Maggs Rare Books’, now relocated to Bedford Square. On Great Russell Street, the most romantic art store, L Cornellissen & Son, which is delightful to just wander into and gaze at all the glass bottles of pigments.”

Which brings us back to Cathy’s work. The one thread that links it all seems to be the search for the magical. The first exhibition I saw by her, in collaboration with American artist Eric Wright, was at the Horse Hospital in 2000, the fairytale forest of Transromantik. “I went to the first exhibition at the Horse Hospital,” Cathy recalls, “Vive le Punk, with the clothing of Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren. At the Horse, they set their own rules, screened cult films and grew an audience of writers, photographers, musicians and art oddballs which I am lucky to count as friends. When they wanted us to do an exhibition it was a real affirmation. Transromantik took two years to make and was one of the best experiences. Sacred Pastures with myself, Eric and Norbert Kox, was a great success. Later this year I will be presenting a solo exhibition. It’s a great honour.”

History plays a big part in Cathy’s output. Her TRYST exhibition featured Home Rites, a piece incorporating her corn dolly sculptures, alongside works by medium Madge Gill, whose automatic drawings were made to communicate with her son and daughter, tragically lost in the flu epidemic of 1918. “She is one of our most prolific women artists, though still relatively unknown. I have a definite interest in history of the intuitive, visionary and marginalised because is not part of academic or theory-based practice. The occult is similar, it plays on emotions and is associated with women, so it is feminist in its own way. I try and incorporate mystery into my work and make things that can function like talismans. If your work has meaning that is not the art world kind of meaning, then it can either be ignored or explained away with theory. But here has to be mystery out there somewhere…”

I love the fact that you like to bring in the work of other women whose contributions may have been forgotten, is that important to you?

“Yes, it is. It feels like we’ve come full circle in our conversation. So many women in past decades who were not given the chance, were disregarded or plagiarised. It still happens, but visibility is improving. If I’m given the opportunity to introduce more talented women, I will. One of the things I have learnt is patience, and that is a virtue.”

To read more about Cathy, go to her website 

Made of Stone

Made of Stone


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alice Chiariello


If you recall one of our earlier issues this year, you’ll remember illustrator and artist Alice Chiariello’s Walking feature back in May. Originally from the South of France, Alice is now based in Bloomsbury and uses her talents to capture the character and spirit of the neighbourhood’s architecture. For this issue, Alice has chosen to focus on the area’s less travelled corners, the secret places most people may be unaware of.

Susan Collins

Susan Collins


Words Matthew Ross

Photography  Kirk Truman


“I always tell other people that having the opportunity to make the work you want to make has to be success.”

 

From a Jerusalem rooftop, a camera looks across the West Bank towards the Jordanian mountains. It records time. Far away, the peak of Mount Nebo, where Moses stood to view the Promised Land. Closer, the Mount of Olives, the West Bank, the impassive trees of Israeli Jerusalem. Pixel by pixel, over 12 hours, the camera lays down the timeless landscape. Centuries of history in a single frame. Behind the camera is Susan Collins, British artist and Director of the Slade School of Art. In her echoing office, hidden beyond the neo-Grecian half-rotunda that ceremoniously fronts the Slade, she tells me the about the latest in a series of commissions that, over 15 years, have become an enduring illustration of her art.

The pieces place network cameras in remote locations, where they construct images one pixel at a time, from left to right, top to bottom, and then write them over again. The images might be seascapes, made in the time it takes for the tide to go in and out. Or they might be landscapes, recorded in just under a day. The Jerusalem camera sits atop Mount Scopus and, in a nod to Halachic time, which divides the hours of daylight into 12 equal periods, creates its landscape over 12 hours. The works are slow reflections; palliatives to the snowballing speeds of digital existence, the tones of their horizontal bands gradually encoding slow changes in light and movement through the day. “I choose my time frames according to the subject. The images that emerge – the image that’s emerging from Jerusalem – are timeless. They unify landscape in a single frame, which for me is a quiet response to a very particular situation.”

A gallerist looking for an easy label might describe Susan’s practice as ‘new media’. Susan would demur. “I work with media, but my materials are time, the network and transmission, and my subjects are landscape, seascape and the natural environment. It’s not about technology at all; it’s about looking over time, which is actually very old fashioned.” When Susan returned to the Slade in 1995 to create the School’s first programme in electronic media, eight years a Slade alumna herself, she had a vision that would, she hoped, quicken the interface of art and technology. The Slade she knew as a student in the 1980s defined its categories crisply. “The ethos was: ‘Well, are you a painter or are you a sculptor? What are you?’ I was neither; I was a very awkward student. Later, within a mainstream art setting, artists working with technology were either celebrated too much or denigrated. My whole idea when I came back to the Slade was that artists working with technology would be judged alongside others on equal terms.”

Susan resists the notion that her practice and leadership have already left their enduring mark on the Slade. The observer might disagree. Her forebears as Slade Director constitute a heavy mantle of eminent, male, establishment pedagogues: Alphonse Legros, Henry Tonks, William Coldstream. As a student, Susan likely passed Coldstream himself on the Slade’s sweeping stairway, and she feels his influence on British art education keenly. But she wears the mantle lightly and refuses to take sole credit for the integration of art and technology she has overseen: a wider cultural transformation, she claims, was at work. Similarly, not once does she mention that she is the first woman to be Director of the Slade and the Slade Professor of Art at UCL. Some truths speak for themselves.

Fostered as an art student by the Slade, allowed to burn the midnight oil night after night in UCL’s computer science basement, Susan came of age stateside. On exchange in New York in 1986, she met her first Macintosh Plus. She began drawing with early Mac Paint and discovered the redemptive power of memory. “As an artist, learning to draw and paint, you have to push it to learn anything. You have to take a drawing as far as you can, and there comes a point when you’ve pushed too far and the work is destroyed. The beauty to me, who wants to have my cake and eat it, from that very early encounter with computing, is that you can do a drawing, save it, take it in different directions, destroy it, but still have it.”

Throughout her career, Susan has valued interfacing with the real world above commercial audiences and markets. Her early experiments with computer drawing soon evolved into animated sequences but, faced with the echo chamber of animation industry audiences, she began experimenting with interventions in public spaces. And there her focus has remained. “I want to make work that interrupts people’s everyday; not something that people choose to look at as a spectacle, but something that might be a surprise or an intimate moment; something that you could stumble across and feel like it was talking only to you.”

Has such ambivalence about the commercial art world been a hindrance? “I always tell other people that having the opportunity to make the work you want to make has to be termed success.” The artist who has been picked up by a commercial gallery often has to vault the huge gulf between working on their own terms, alone and small-scale, and running a studio the size of an aircraft hangar with a team hanging on their next flash of brilliance. “To develop work, you need to be private at times, to fail and actually make mistakes, and not have to articulate everything immediately to someone else.”

Are there really no great frustrations or regrets in her heart? “I would have loved to be a singer. There’s something so uplifting and energizing about it. It’s just you and your voice and that’s all it takes. Still now, there are times when I wish I could just do it, only everyone else would run screaming. I mouth ‘Happy Birthday’ because I don’t want to ruin people’s birthdays!” The response, I come to understand, is pure Susan Collins. Coursing with energy, she tempers her distinction with a keen sense of the ridiculous and a deep-rooted belief that her art is for people, not rarefied white cubes. The previous night, an email from a colleague had dropped into Susan’s inbox. “She said simply, in an aside, that she still finds my Jerusalem images so haunting and so very moving. Your colleagues are your best, your worst and your scariest critics. And from someone I’ve worked alongside for years, who didn’t have to say that, it means a lot.”

Cockpit Arts

Cockpit Arts


Words & Illustrations Sophie Pelissier


“When you study your art or your craft you aren’t taught how to run a business…”

There is an air of quiet industriousness down the wooden hallways of Cockpit Arts. You could be forgiven for thinking the ghosts of the original 1920s furniture workshop were still working behind the studio doors were it not for glimpses of colourful textiles, bold typography, or polished ceramics. True to its legacy of craft manufacturing, this discreet white-brick warehouse in Holborn is home to 90 ‘makers’ of various craft professions: tailors, jewellers, potters and more. With the squeeze on central London studio spaces, the resident designer-makers have been handed a golden ticket by Cockpit Arts, an award-winning social enterprise and the UK’s only creative business incubator.

“What I’ve noticed is that people find their way here at different stages or with different intentions for their products, and this place allows you to get it together.” Ian Scott-Kettle, 49, sits on his work table with his hands in his lap, contemplating the role of Cockpit Arts in his varied trajectory through the fashion world. He was granted a studio space at Holborn five years ago in partnership with a textile artist, but they found that their initial product idea was floundering. “Cockpit very graciously gave us the space to try and figure it out. So, we both re-grouped and we’re both still here but doing very different businesses. Still very good friends.” And after three years on his own it would appear that Ian has indeed figured it out, having developed a scale-able business making and marketing bespoke men’s accessories made using traditional pattern cutting techniques. Now he sees a steadily growing stream of clients making their way to his studio. So how exactly does Cockpit Arts work to help designer-makers launch their businesses so successfully?

There have been ‘starter’ craft studios on the premises of Cockpit Yard since 1986, but it wasn’t until 1993 that Cockpit Arts was formally created as a social enterprise. It offers talented makers the means of growing their businesses, providing them with an affordable studio space at one of two sites in either Holborn or Deptford. Cockpit’s current CEO Vanessa Swann explains how having a hub of creatives under one roof delivers the first “informal layer” of support, “a cross-fertilization of skills and contacts”, which is then combined with a “formal layer” of business development advice. This is tailored to makers’ needs, no matter what stage they are at in their careers, and delivered via one-on-one mentoring from a small, full-time business incubation team. The Cockpit package provides further support from Associates, a network of external professionals in sales and marketing, accounting and intellectual property. Getting help with their business strategy is all the more invaluable since, as leatherworker Candice Lau says, “When you study your art or your craft you aren’t taught how to run a business”. It’s a sentiment I hear echoed in the experience of other makers I meet. Candice arrived at Cockpit in 2015 having won the Leatherseller’s award, one of many such schemes that sponsor studio spaces for around 20 applicants each year, providing them with access to equipment and industry contacts. “I wouldn’t be where I am without Cockpit. It’s helped me to become very professional, and there are other people around me who are designing and making products. We feed off each other so much creatively.”

This community spirit at Cockpit is enabled in an important way through shared studios, and not necessarily between makers who are cut from the same cloth, so to speak. Onome Otite came to Cockpit in 2016 through the Creative Careers Programme, which works in partnership with The Prince’s Trust to help young people between 18–30 establish a career in craft. Her figurative illustrations using textiles and printed materials started life in her living room, and she admits that pre-Cockpit she would never have considered a shared studio. “But actually… you get so much more out of it. You see more, you share more ideas… You learn a lot, whether that’s a new technical skill or about a show, stockist or supplier.” The transferral of knowledge has come full circle now in the large, airy studio she shares with three other jewellers and milliners from the new 2017 Creative Careers intake; after her first year at Cockpit she can now pass on her own experiences and advice about business strategy.

Shared studio spaces are one of many ways in which Cockpit fosters an open dialogue about running a craft business. Makers are encouraged to be vocal and engage with each other through the social enterprise structure and using digital tools like Google Groups, which functions as a Cockpit instant messenger for makers to find out about shows and possible commissions, or even just to ask for a lift to a specific event. It all goes towards building a mind-set that encourages them to seek out opportunities for themselves. “You get into the habit of talking,” Onome tells me. “I’m constantly talking about myself and my work as everything is so shared, so you’re forced to. I’m not somebody that was comfortable with sharing my own personal experience… but luckily this is a safe environment.”

Building a business from your passion isn’t easy; but neither is building a business and sustaining it. That is why Vanessa Swann is so keen to insist that Cockpit Arts is also about “acceleration… in case there’s any misunderstanding about incubation and it being solely for makers just starting out. We’ve always been about supporting makers at different stages and ages.” Theo Wang, for instance, has been at Cockpit for nine years but had to re-launch his letterpress business in 2017 in order to adapt to his business partner leaving London. “Being a maker and running your own business is all about evolving and developing, whether it’s your skills, your markets, the way you promote yourself. You need different kinds of support and advice at every stage.”

But every small business needs customers and local supporters, thousands of whom are welcomed to Cockpit Arts during the twice yearly Open Studios. Makers decorate their workspaces to introduce their products to customers and buyers, while the public have the opportunity to dodge the high-street and buy unique, tailor-made creations with their own narrative attached. One of many long-standing local residents and supporters is Anne Beresford, who has spent the last 20 years buying homewares, jewellery and clothes for herself and as gifts at Open Studios. “I was fortunate enough to win the raffle one year, so I put that towards a one-off sample jacket that I’d been coveting. I love the fact that things are made close by, and that I know at least some of the people involved in the making.” In the face of diminishing local businesses in Holborn and Bloomsbury, there is a sense of pride amongst residents to have witnessed and supported Cockpit’s development. Josie Firmin, owner of a china painting business nearby, has employed many freelance artists working at Cockpit Arts over the years. Jane King is another resident in John’s Mews and reiterates how much inner-city areas need cultural centres and independent businesses “in order to be a balanced community – I do not want to see my neighbourhood become just an investment and a dormitory for the very rich.”

 

Every maker, employee and resident I speak to comes back to the importance of community – one that encompasses the internal structure, the Associates, Trustees, Sponsors, then of course the enthusiastic buyers of beautifully designed, handmade products at Open Studios. “You get the feeling that everyone is on your side”, is the way Ian Scott-Kettle puts it.

It is a structure that exists not just to help makers create a viable business but also to realise their dreams, as Vanessa passionately affirms: “There is nothing more satisfying than thinking ‘could we help this person realise what it is that deep down they want to do, and have the capability to do, even though it appears to them to be very difficult’.” Under the guardianship of Vanessa and her team and with the support of their fellow makers, the future is bright for anyone honing their craft at Cockpit Arts.

Roger K. Burton

Roger K. Burton


Words Cathi Unsworth

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I never had the opportunity to go to university or the desire to… I became a jack-of-all-trades and wheeler-dealer.”

When Roger K. Burton first stepped inside The Horse Hospital on the Colonnade, it was not a pretty sight. “The building had been unused for about 10 years when my friend Guy Adams found it on a recce to Bloomsbury in 1993. When we first got in the door there were pigeons flying about, rats and mice everywhere and ivy growing through the collapsed roof; not to mention a thick layer of printing ink completely covering up the fabulous floor.”

By that time, Roger had made his name styling iconic music videos, and supplying original period clothes for films such as Quadrophenia, The Rutles, The Wall, Dance with A Stranger and Sid & Nancy. He had an unerring eye for detail – and the Contemporary Wardrobe, the largest youth fashion collection in the world, which had taken him an eventful lifetime to amass. Although it would take six months to get the place shipshape, he had finally found both the perfect home for his Wardrobe and the Capital’s last truly independent arts space.

Today, fashion students are flocking to The Horse to see the exhibition Rebel Threads that complements Roger’s luxurious new book, a catalogue of the collection and insider’s view of the styles that adorned successive generations of tearaways, from Spivs, Teds and Mods to Skinheads and Punks. But Roger was never a student. Everything he learned began in the Mod clubs of 1960s Leicester.

“I never had the opportunity to go to university or the desire to. Hating authority, I just wanted to leave school as quickly as possible,” he says. “I became a jack-of-all-trades and wheeler-dealer.”

Those trades included restoring antiques, which led Roger through the flea markets and junk shops of the Midlands in the 1970s, to the opening of his first shop, Pioneer Antiques in Leicester, later Hollywood Fashions. Now making a living from vintage clothing, Roger’s path crossed with two up-and-coming designers, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. By 1976, there was a buzz in the air, which the couple had anticipated. Punk damaged Roger’s business – but he loved it.

“In 1977, Rick Carter, Steph Raynor, Helen Robinson and I opened a shop called PX selling military clothing. We were offered this old fruit-and-veg warehouse on James Street by Andrew Czezowski, of Roxy club fame. I had a clear idea of what I wanted it to look like, and just happened to be passing a closed-down building in Mayfair when they were clearing it out. We paid £20 for all this industrial ducting and metal cages, which fit perfectly with the low-tech boiler room/submarine vibe I was after – all courtesy of MI5.” After that, he took a stall on Portobello Road, where destiny came calling, in the form of the art director for Quadrophenia.

“It was great to be able to supply most of the clothes for the film and use my first-hand knowledge of original Mod style,” Roger reflects. “But thanks to Punk and the New Romantics, period authenticity as a fashion was disappearing and led me to another way of thinking about restyling period clothes.” One way in which Roger developed this was with McLaren and Westwood in the redesign of their shops, World’s End in 1980 and Nostalgia of Mud in 1981, the latter being described by Peter York as the most innovative of the decade.

“Malcolm and Vivienne were going through one of their most creative periods, so it was very exciting to be able to spend time with them. Everything was drawn upon, from my favourite Midlands pub, the Crooked House in Himley, to pirate ships, Alice in Wonderland, Hogarth prints and the Sony Walkman.”

It was also the dawn of the pop video age and Roger styled both The Specials’ Terry Hall (in ‘Ghost Town’) and The Kinks’ Ray Davies (‘Come Dancing’) in the same 1940s pinstriped suit. “It’s funny, looking back. Both Terry and Ray were true professionals and generally bands were respectful, but of course, some tried it on. Debbie Harry didn’t want to give back a leopard print dress, until I put a huge price tag on it; likewise, Keith Richards tried to hang on to a beautiful old biker jacket. But George Harrison was a proper gentleman. He loved a Victorian frock coat I styled on him in a Traveling Wilburys video so much that he had me copy it exactly so he could wear it all the time.”

Since discovering the Horse, Roger has been a host and inspiration to two decades’ worth of fashionistas, film freaks, writers, artists, musicians and bohemian types. But life has not always been easy. “The owners have been trying to prise us out of the building for 15 years. First, they wanted to redevelop it, but we managed to get it Grade II listed. Then they tried to make me forfeit the lease. We got it listed as a Community Asset and, as the owners didn’t want to take on Camden Council, they have left us alone for over a year now. So, I’m optimistic about the future, particularly as 2018 marks a double anniversary, 25 years at the Horse Hospital, and 40 years of Contemporary Wardrobe.” The publication of Rebel Threads is a landmark for fans of real style – but does Roger see any new youth cultures on the horizon, or are we doomed to endlessly recycle ourselves now? “I wish I did, but you never know, in these less-than-certain times,” he considers. “One lives in hope!”

Citizens

Citizens


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


Russell Square is Bloomsbury’s watering hole, where all creatures great and small converge. Some live locally, others just come to peer at the neighbours and sniff out the competition. From a Greek-food loving pooch to a paper-shredding parrot, this autumn Journal comes face to face with Bloomsbury’s cosmopolitan creatures.

David Moore

David Moore


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


David Moore is a man unafraid of a floral pattern and a huge fan of the Human League – two facts I discovered almost simultaneously as he greeted me, decked out in a fedora and colourful shirt, at his Fitzrovia restaurant Pied à Terre. I found him thumbing through a selection of vinyl albums, one of which was the relatively obscure early Human League offering Travelogue. It’s always nice to find you share a common interest.

Pied à Terre opened in 1991 and showcases David and head chef Andy McFadden’s impressive gourmet dining credentials – credentials that have attracted a number of big names over the years, from the Monty Python gang to Annie Lennox and John Hurt… though sadly not Phil Oakey thus far. “John Hurt was very entertaining character. He came in for dinner once and ordered a really expensive bottle of red wine, which he’d never done before. I was quite surprised. It was £265, and he got two or three of them! The bill came and he paid it, no problem. The next time he came back, I asked him about it. ‘I didn’t have my reading glasses,’ he said. ‘I thought it was £26.50!’ So, I said, ‘Dinner’s on me tonight’ and he was thrilled.”

Sitting down to eat, I soon find out what attracts such an illustrious crowd. Mackerel with fennel, mustard and frozen parmesan; John Dory with grapefruit, miso, quinoa and brassicas; a chocolate, mandarin, honeycomb and stem ginger dessert: each of them is a delicious architectural wonder – as if Zaha Hadid and Joan Miró had decided to open a cooking school. “The bizarre thing is that as a kid, I was stubborn,” David tells me. “I liked mashed potatoes and omelettes with raspberry jam!” These days, though, there’s definitely a sense of playfulness about both David and Pied a Terre’s offerings. It’s a quality that served him well when, at the age of 20, he went for his first big job interview with Alain Desenclos, restaurant director at Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. “I used to watch a TV program called Take Six Cooks, and I remember Raymond Blanc talking about restaurants and food being like an opera… then they panned across to Alain Desenclos, and I thought ‘God he looks scary!”’

Undeterred, David came up with a novel strategy for the interview. “I had to drive 243 miles from Blackpool to Great Milton. So, I thought ‘This seems like too good an opportunity not to have lunch!’ I put my smartest Freeman Hardy and Willis shoes on and my Burton’s grey suit with very thin grey tie,” he adds, laughing. Once he’d finished eating, David called the waiter over and said, “Could you tell Monsieur Desenclos that his 3pm appointment is here and would he like to join me at my table?”

“Everyone came out to have a good look at this guy who’d invited Alain to join him!” He landed a job as a waiter, but his progress to head waiter was hindered by his lack of French. “I was the only English waiter! I remember in the first couple of weeks I thought the French waiters were all big Smiths fans… because how do you say ‘I’m pissed off’ in French? ‘J’en ai marre’ – Johnny Marr!”

In 1998, David decided to buy a property close to the restaurant.“I’d been engaged a year, we were getting married and had got a small deposit together.” He narrowed his search to a 20-minute circle around Pied à Terre. “We explored Soho, Marylebone, Camden, but we just loved Bloomsbury.” David and his wife Val finally chose an “amazing space” on Gray’s Inn Road, close to many of the places they now hold dear in the area, from the small farm at Coram’s Fields to the British Museum and Sir John Soane’s Museum. One of Bloomsbury’s hidden gems is The Cockpit Arts Studio, an award-winning social enterprise and business incubator for craftspeople, which soon became one of David’s favourite haunts. “I saw the sign for their open studio and went in. Cabinet maker Toby Davies (Hunky Dory Furniture), immediately caught his eye. “I saw this beautiful sideboard with this pink inlaid leather on the front of it – very camp! You opened the drawers and it had purple leather on the bottom of each one –  it was magnificent!”  He later commissioned Toby to design tables for his restaurants, as well as some pieces for his home. Another favourite at the Studio is milliner Karen Henriksen. “Fabulous designs and each one crafted piece, such love and dedication to making!”

Following an article in the Evening Standard in which he’d sung Toby’s praises, Cockpit Arts chief executive Vanessa Swann offered him a position as a trustee. “I’ve been there three years and signed up for another two. We’ve done a couple of dinners here, and they brought movers and shakers in the craft world. It’s also a great opportunity to discover new craftsmen.” David also was also one of the first volunteers in Bloomsbury’s People’s Supermarket, a local food co-operative. “It’s such a good idea, the community coming together to work for everyone’s benefit. I had some real OCD issues when I was on duty though. I’d want all the canned drinks to face the same way and had to fill gaps immediately as it messed with the aesthetic!

“McKenna butchers. They have an old-fashioned craft that’s dying out and needs supporting… and they have great banter! It’s one of those amazing little spots where you go in and say ‘do you have some sweetbreads’, and they say how many kilos would you like? They’ve helped out Pied-à-Terre on more than one occasion!” At the end of our stroll around the neighbourhood, David jumps onto a Boris bike, his regular mode of transport, to head back to Pied à Terre. “We should get Phil Oakey to join us next time!” he shouts as he cycles off.

Karen Henriksen

Karen Henriksen


Words Sophie Pelissier

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


It’s a Saturday morning in June, and the Bloomsbury cafes are filling up with brunch orders and locals doing their weekend coffee-and-croissant run. Runners pound up and down Lamb’s Conduit Street and the small shops are beginning to open for summer trading. But further down the quieter Regency streets I find that milliner Karen Henriksen is already at work in her little studio. “I don’t mind it,” she says with a broad smile as she shows me inside. “There’s no-one else around and I have the radio on, so it’s a productive time to work.” We are in Cockpit Arts, site of the award-winning social enterprise and business incubator for UK crafts makers hidden away in the streets of Holborn. Flat caps and ladies’ cloche hats from Karen’s ready-to-wear collection line the walls, alongside rolls of fabric, jars of pins and paper patterns covered in black marker pen. But beyond the clutter there is calm orderliness to Karen’s workshop. “I’m a bit of a control freak”, she grins. It’s partly what drew her to millinery at the prestigious Royal College of Art: “I like having complete control over the whole process from start to finish. Whereas in fashion you’re always passing on work to pattern-cutters or seamstresses.”

It was during her post-graduate degree in millinery at the Royal College that Karen won the Hat Designer of the Year award, with her first collection later being bought by Selfridges when she launched her label in 2004. Her personal style remains true to her original MA collection: sculptural yet wearable re-workings of traditional hats for men and women, but especially the English country flat cap, which inspired her iconic ‘Windswept’ collection. This is Karen’s USP: a range of large, asymmetrical flat caps which provide the basis for her ready-to-wear collections. “It kind of happened almost by accident,” she explains when asked how the idea to urbanise the quintessential country hat came about. “When I did my Royal College collection, that was inspired by really functional styles of headwear but they turned in to these sculptural, dramatic pieces with giant headscarves and giant caps. I featured a flat cap that I then started to develop into a more commercial idea, and it evolved from there really.” She admits that the original Windswept styles are possibly still “too out there” for a lot of customers, but the flat cap variations that she has developed since are growing in popularity. I tell her that I’d recently spotted one in a selection of flat caps in the menswear section of a well-known newspaper’s magazine – undeniable evidence of the cap’s transition from country-wear to the London man’s casual wardrobe.

While the caps form part of Karen’s ready-to-wear collection, using pattern-cutting, she also produces a range of couture pieces employing the art of a traditional milliner. “This is most peoples’ perception of millinery, which is blocking – so either steaming or wetting a fabric like straw or felt over a block, then wiring and trimming it. It’s a much more elaborate process and a completely different technique to pattern-cutting.” To show me, Karen picks up a small red piece, no larger than a tea cup, which she is making up for an order to send to Melbourne. She found the vintage fabric in Paris, where she goes twice a year during Fashion Week to present her collections at the leading fashion accessories trade show Premier Classe.

Despite people’s willingness to embrace casual headwear in the last decade, couture millinery is still largely constrained to smart weddings and events or race meetings. But if anyone is going to turn heads with their choice of headwear, all eyes are undoubtedly on the Royal Family; not always kindly, if one remembers the media frenzy about Princess Beatrice’s ‘pretzel hat’ at the Royal wedding in 2011. It is Zara Tindall, however, who has gracefully donned some of Karen’s elegant couture designs at high-profile occasions like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Christmas Day services at Sandringham.

Karen’s fascination with asymmetrical, structural design is especially apparent in these couture hats; with their swathes of fabric ruched in layers, curves or angular lines, she seems more like a sculptor than a designer. It’s no surprise to discover, then, that her formative years after leaving school began with an art and design foundation at the Leeds College of Art, in the extraordinary footsteps of alumni Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. “They certainly did influence my designs later on, and knowingly so. But even back then I think there must have been some sort of influence through osmosis,” she agrees, when asked how far these sculptors shaped her own style.

Eventually, our conversation turns to Bloomsbury and Cockpit Arts, where she has been able to develop her work and her business since 2005. There are two sites, the original one in Holborn and a second site in Deptford. The craft studios within the Bloomsbury building can trace their creative history all the way back to 1745, when Cockpit Yard was taken over by a cabinet maker. It wasn’t until more 200 years later, in 1986, that Camden Recycling created the first five ‘starter’ studios for young craftsmakers trying to start their own businesses. Now with around 80 ‘makers’ working in single or shared studios in Bloomsbury alongside Karen, there is what sounds like a merry and bohemian community of jewellers, typographers, picture-framers and designers in the heart of London: a welcome success story among the growing concern over a shortage of studio spaces for artists and designers in the capital. “We open the doors to the public twice a year, in June and November. Cockpit Arts was actually one of the first places to start doing open studios.” In the run-up to Christmas, the November opening normally welcomes thousands of people to the studios, and it seems to be an important ritual through which the makers can reaffirm their relationship with the local residents of Bloomsbury.

Surely working in a part of London with such a rich creative history must be another source of inspiration? “Literature and architecture have both always been common themes for me. My ‘Two Cities’ collection for winter this year was inspired by the different architecture and history of London and Paris during the French Revolution, as in the Dickens novel. Then I did actually do one collection in 2015 that was influenced by the Bloomsbury set called ‘Night and Day’, after Virginia Woolf’s novel, and I did the photo shoot around the British Museum and Russel Square.” It seems fitting, as a Bloomsbury local, that she also enjoys playing on words, and making up names for her hats based on word associations. “One of the cloche hats that’s been the biggest best-seller was named for Debbie Reynolds’s character Kathy in Singing in the Rain.” In fact, there is always a touch of silver screen glamour in millinery, she tells me. “Ask any milliner and they’ll always cite those old Hollywood actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Greta Garbo as inspiration.” But as a designer she stresses that she is “appropriating vintage styles, as opposed to copying them. I enjoy thinking of ways to make them more relevant and contemporary.” It’s a formula that is clearly working, with her hats now catching the attention of international fashion editors and stylists and being exported to specialist boutiques and stores around the world. And imbued as their work is with little dashes of Bloomsbury history, one hopes that Karen and the other makers who have brought Cockpit Yard back to life have many creative years ahead of them.

The Life Goddess

The Life Goddess


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“You know, the Greek tradition and culture of cultivating, preparing and sharing food is a ritual to us…”

George Nyfoudis, founder of The Life Goddess, is giving me a lesson in Greek culture and cuisine. Bear with me here because I’m going to start by telling you how we ended our conversation – with the legend of The Life Goddess. According to ancient Greek legend, a sacred goat named Amalthea nurtured the infant Zeus, making him into the strongest deity of his time and later ‘king and father of the gods’. From Amalthea’s magical horns, Zeus made the horn of plenty, or cornucopia, which was always filled with whatever was desired. The goat Amalthea was and is a symbol of nourishment, abundance and life. A life goddess. This is where our story begins.

The Life Goddess was born around five years ago when George began to develop an idea for a Greek deli in the city. “After the crisis in Greece, I started to think about beginning a new venture that celebrates the spirit and tastes of my origins. I’ve always loved the character and structure of London, and knew Bloomsbury was where I wanted our business to be. We wanted to be a deli in the city showcasing the best in Greek tradition. Absolutely everything was sourced from Greece in the beginning, whereas today we have a mix of Greek and UK-based suppliers. Our suppliers are both our left and right hand… we’d be nowhere without them!” he says. “I didn’t feel that you could easily buy traditional Greek products in London. I wanted to bring small independent brands and produce to our store. When we opened, we stocked dozens of Greek brands that had never been available in London before. It began as a deli and slowly we started to adapt and become more of a restaurant. This was what we found our local customers wanted us to be, and so we listened. With time, as we have grown, we have begun to focus more on homemade food, though the deli element is still a huge part of what we do.”

In Greek culture, preparing a meal for someone is the ultimate token of respect, gratitude, friendship or love. As a passionate Greek, this is a quality that George was determined to bring to his London venture. “You know, the Greek tradition and culture of cultivating, preparing and sharing food is a ritual to us. The journey of the senses starts from mother-earth and finishes at a feast on a table where all the family, friends and companions share the same nourishment and enjoy the sublime result of their efforts,” he says. On the menu, everything diners can expect at The Life Goddess is prepared with 100% fresh Greek products: feta cheese, olives, aubergines, and lamb – although meat is not the focus at The Life Goddess, with much of the menu deliciously vegetarian or not too meat-heavy.

The restaurant has settled comfortably into its Bloomsbury home, bringing the best of Greece to the beautifully designed space at 29 Store Street. “Our landlord, The Bedford Estates, shares the same vision as us. They want to create a destination for local people and build a relationship with the Bloomsbury area. It is the relationships on Store Street between customers and businesses which has built its name as a Bloomsbury destination,” says George. Lining each wall is a seemingly endless array of Greek products, with a particular focus on fantastic cheese and, of course, wine, which is perhaps one of the most renowned specialities on offer at The Life Goddess. “We love wine… it’s one of our defining factors, and of course, all our wine is Greek. Why would we sell anything else?” he laughs.

The restaurant has built a name for itself serving sublime Greek breakfasts, exquisite cold tapas-style dishes and a wide selection of fresh sandwiches and baguettes. By night, you can enjoy an evening sampling some of the finest Greek wine and cheese. “I believe if you want to stay somewhere for many years you must have many loyal customers. Our customers are our friends, and the community element is hugely important to the success of what we do here,” George says. “Although we are a Greek deli and restaurant, we are a Greek deli and restaurant in London, with the pace and feel of London living and dining. The philosophy of The Life Goddess is always to use the best quality ingredients and create healthy products.” With a second site having opened recently in Soho’s Kingly Court, George, along with his brother Nikos Nyfoudis and Elias Koulakiotis, has made his mark on London in less than five years, creating a deli-cum-restaurant that brings the very best in Greek produce to the city’s diners. If you haven’t yet experienced the culinary plenty that the Life Goddess has to offer, then I suggest you pay her a visit soon.

Walking

Walking


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alice Chiariello


Originally from the south of France, Bloomsbury-based illustrator and artist Alice Chiariello has turned her talents to capturing the spirit of her adopted home. In this series of illustrations, she uses the streets and landmarks of the neighbourhood as a backdrop to scenes of everyday life in this corner of the capital.

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“…too beautiful and too romantic to survive.”

This is no ordinary hotel. It’s a London icon, a spectacle; there’s something undeniably romantic about the sight of its fairy-tale towers rising above the eastern end of Euston Road. If its distinctive red exterior is High Victorian splendour, then its interior is the stuff of gilded fantasy – at every turn it reveals some new treasure. The Midland Grand Hotel, now once again resplendent as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, is one of the masterworks of architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who spent most of his time designing cathedrals and places of worship. It has been the face of one of London’s major gateways for almost 150 years. Firmly embedded within the British psyche, it has stood through two world wars and narrowly escaped death at the hands of 1960s planners. There is history and wisdom in the building’s red brick and coloured Midland stone, and quite a story to tell.

By the 1860s, the Midland Railway was thriving, connecting the industrial heartlands of the East Midlands and Yorkshire with the capital but, lacking a southern terminus, was forced to share tracks with other companies to get its trains into London. So, the decision was made that the Midland would create its own line into the capital. A site for the company’s new London terminus was chosen on the northern side of New Road (today known as Euston Road) in the largely undeveloped district of St. Pancras. Once William Barlow’s spectacular single-span train shed structure was in place, the Midland selected the prominent ecclesiastical architect George Gilbert Scott to design a hotel that would form a spectacular frontage for the station. Scott had recently received a commission from Queen Victoria to create the memorial in Hyde Park to her late husband, Prince Albert. Barlow planned for a large luxury hotel extending westwards along Euston Road, with Scott’s designs making the most of this huge canvas. Taking inspiration from Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin’s Gothic Revival Palace of Westminster (aka the Houses of Parliament), Scott’s designs were grand, costly and far beyond the expectations of Midland: the imposing and ornate structure he was planning was more palace than railway station. In the face of scepticism, Scott persisted, feeling that he was creating an entirely new style as opposed to reviving an old one.

Scott’s audacity paid off, and he promised the Midland that his vision for the hotel would completely eclipse every other terminus in London. Red brick came to be the signature material for his creation; manufactured in the Midlands, it helped create new wealth to the region. While still unfinished, St Pancras Station began operating in 1868. By this time, construction of the neighbouring hotel was under way, and over the next five years, builders, stonemasons, artists, craftsmen and tradesmen laboured to bring Scott’s vision to life.

When the first guests saw the hotel in May 1873 its lavish interiors must have seemed plucked from the realm of fantasy. The grandest rooms on the lower floors included spectacular, 18ft-high decorated ceilings, neo-classical murals and vast south-facing windows to maximise the penetration of natural daylight into the deep floor plans. There were ornate Gothic fanlights over every door, wall-to-wall Axminster carpets, huge fireplaces with carved marble surrounds and Walnut furniture with gold inlay. In the Dining and Coffee Room (today The Gilbert Scott restaurant), pillars of polished limestone lined the walls, their gilded capitals carved with conkers, pea pods and bursting pomegranates. The Ladies’ Smoking Room, the first public room in Europe in which women were permitted to smoke, boasted a breathtaking painted ceiling as well as granite pillars, carved stonework and a magnificent terrace overlooking New Road. Walking about the corridors of the structure today, the grandness of the architecture still makes a powerful and lasting impression; compared to to Scott’s masterpiece, most modern London buildings seem dull and unimaginative.

Perhaps the greatest spectacle of the entire building is the Grand Staircase. This High Victorian, neo-Gothic explosion of extravagant decoration creeps up three storeys before reaching an extraordinary vaulted ceiling. At the time of opening, The Midland Grand was a masterful showcase not just of architecture but technology, featuring flushing toilets and hydraulic lifts. In its heyday, guests paid between three-and-a-half shillings and several pounds to spend a night here, with only The Langham on Portland Place being more expensive.

For over 30 years, the hotel thrived; but rival establishments around London had opened around the turn of the century, and by the 1920s the Midland Grand’s once revolutionary design features were considered to be behind the times. In 1935, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway accepted the inevitable and the hotel closed. Becoming known as St Pancras Chambers, the building survived all attempts by the Luftwaffe and London’s modernising planners to knock it down, being used as offices by British Rail and its hospitality business, British Transport Hotels. During the 1960s, city planners sought to sweep away ‘inefficient’ swathes of London’s architectural heritage, replacing them with system-built blocks – and they had St Pancras and the hotel firmly in their sights. Sir John Betjeman called the plan to demolish St Pancras “a criminal folly”. A founding member of the Victorian Society, along with architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, Betjeman was able to mobilise a popular campaign against the demolition plans, fearing that St Pancras was “too beautiful and too romantic to survive”. Thankfully, he succeeded in securing for it a Grade I listing in 1967, ensuring its preservation.

The hotel building was eventually abandoned in 1985, standing empty and neglected for almost two decades. It made occasional onscreen appearances, including scenes in Batman (1989) and as the setting of the music video for the hit Spice Girls single ‘Wannabe’. By the mid-1990s, change was in the air, and the largely empty and under-used St Pancras Station was chosen to become the new terminus for the Eurostar service. Again, work began to turn St Pancras into the most advanced and admired station in the UK. In 2002, new life was breathed back into the hotel, with work starting on luxury loft-style apartments on the upper floors. Supported and advised by English Heritage, the Manhattan Loft Corporation (MLC) partnered with Marriott International in restoring the building, and operating the remainder of it as a hotel once more. Hundreds of specialist craftspeople, painters and conservation experts from across the UK started to restore the Midland Grand to its former glory. Today, from the fiery, rich reds and golds in The Gilbert Scott Restaurant (taken from the 1892 interior scheme) to the lighter, calmer greens and golds of the Ladies’ Smoking Room ceiling (a replica of the original 1870s design), the hotel’s historic heart beats on, meeting modernity as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

Gillian Mosely

Gillian Mosely


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“As I get older I realise I absolutely love the Ancient Egyptian aesthetic,” says Gillian Mosely. “That’s the art I choose to collect. Maybe it’s a past life thing.” Reincarnated or not, her current life has certainly encompassed a wide variety of interests and passions.

Though Mosely was born in London, her parents emigrated to the States when she nine. While returning to the UK as a visitor over the years, it was only when she was 22 that she moved back to London full-time and started working as a freelance journalist, covering such disparate topics as the rave scene in Goa, martial arts and shamanism. A far more personal piece was her article on the Marchioness disaster – the catastrophe on the Thames in which the 1,800-ton dredger Bowbelle collided with a 90-ton pleasure steamer – from which she barely escaped alive. The official investigation concluded that the Marchioness was completely submerged just 30 seconds after the impact: 51 of 131 people on board died, including the host of birthday party being held on the boat and two of Gillian’s friends. “I had gone under and I’d started seeing stars, and literally started saying goodbye. And then I came back up in an air bubble and someone opened what turned out to be a door above my head”.

I first met Gillian many years ago in Fred’s bar, a hideout for artists avoiding the limelight of member’s clubs like the Groucho. It boasted one of the most celebrated cocktail makers in Soho, the sadly missed Dick Bradsell, and an eclectic mix of pop culture movers and shakers: Pete Burns, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees rubbed shoulders with club kids and budding talents like Hamish Bowles, David Collins and Mosely herself. Many of them were also regulars at the notorious Kinky Gerlinky and Taboo clubs. “Taboo was always my favourite. At this stage I was 17 and there was a huge posse of us that used to hang out together. I didn’t know who Leigh Bowery was at the time, so I just wandered up and started chatting to him. I think he might have just been charmed that somebody was so unconscious around him, and so we struck up a friendship!”

By the mid-1990s, Mosely wanted a change, and television presented itself as the next logical step. “The subjects I was covering as a print journalist weren’t necessarily the subjects I was most passionate about,” she says. “I wanted to do things like history and science.” She began pitching to television commissioners, and eventually an idea for Channel 4 was shortlisted. Her fascination with ancient Egypt, harking back to childhood and a brief spell studying the subject at University, led her to produce a series of documentaries on the subject for the BBC, fronted by Professor Joann Fletcher. While producing another series on Egyptian mysteries, the unusual prospect arose of actually mummifying someone. This germ of an idea transformed into a documentary that took nine and a half years to complete, going through five commissioning editors, three companies, several co-producers, and, last but not least, two potential subjects for mummification. “All of which,” she points out, “is unique in television history”.

Though initially rejected as too sensationalist, the project soon found development funding from Channel 4. The long gestation period it went through helped identify some genuine scientific questions that could potentially be unravelled by proceeding with the experiment, but it also revealed that the legal and moral knots involved would be as labyrinthine as an Egyptian tomb, since the living subject willing to be mummified – in this case a terminally ill patient – would have to consent to the filming, as would their family.

After responding to a newspaper advertisement placed by the production team, former taxi driver Alan Billis became the first person to be mummified using this technique in 3,000 years. In the end, Mummifying Alan ended up winning a BAFTA in the specialist factual category, along with a slew of other awards. It was a welcome validation of Mosely’s supposedly ‘sensationalist’ approach to bringing the past to life: “The thing that I feel is most important about history is that you need to contextualise it so people understand why it relates to them here and now”. It’s an ethos she has carried through the 19 films she has made about ancient Egypt over as many years, for the BBC, Channel 4, Discovery, National Geographic and others.

Her involvement in all things Egyptian extends further than television: she spent five years on the Committee of the Friends of the Petrie Museum of Egyptology. “It’s an underappreciated resource in Egyptology, right here in Bloomsbury. It’s full of rare and special things – everyday objects that give you an intimate portrait of life in ancient Egypt that you won’t get from anywhere else, other than perhaps the Cairo Museum.”

Witnessing Marylebone’s burgeoning gentrification 12 years ago, Gillian decided she needed to relocate to somewhere “more integrated, less homogenous, less relentlessly upmarket”, and she settled on Bloomsbury. Her home certainly reflects her passions: imagine the secret chambers of the Great Pyramid (one staircase lies under the watchful eye of a Pharaoh) mixed with Sir John Soane’s Museum and you’ll have some idea of its colourful, eccentric charm. For Mosely, Bloomsbury has been a fertile place where she’s forged strong personal and professional bonds; but it’s also an area whose rich history acts as a constant inspiration and where having the British Museum, University College London and Senate House Library on her doorstep has been invaluable for her work.

Bloomsbury is also host to medialab, a venture she started to advance her own vision of the future of media production. “Back in 2006-7 it was becoming obvious that making full-length programmes is fantastic and writing articles for magazines is fantastic, but really there should be a way to join everything up”. This concept of creating ‘joined-up’, 360-degree content has seen the company working across various media as it has evolved, as well as in partnership with other production houses, bringing together professionals with contrasting sets of experiences and knowledge. Upcoming projects include focus on contextualising important historical subjects, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or examining big themes, like the impact of technology on human lives. Mosely is also currently editing her first novel, which is set in London and also deals with the interface between humans and technology.

Gillian Mosely has never looked back since moving to Bloomsbury. She feels confident that the area is insulated against the gentrification that pushed her away from Marylebone: “You get this mad mixture of £4 million townhouses and a lot of council property, and what that means is that you get to live with everybody – which is just what I wanted!”

Foundling Museum

Foundling Museum


Words Matthew Ross

Illustrations Sophie Pellisser


Stroll past the tall white walls at the north side of Guilford Place and you might hear the innocent racket of children at play coming from Coram Fields, the protected children’s park and playground. Two centuries ago, you might have heard a different strain: from an imposing Georgian edifice, the swell of an organ and children trebling the remorseful hymn: Left on the world’s bleak waste forlorn; In sin conceiv’d, to sorrow born; By guilt and shame foredoomed to share; No mother’s love, no father’s care.

The voices were those of children given up by their mothers out of poverty, destitution or shame; the building was the legacy of sea captain and philanthropist Thomas Coram. Distressed at the plight of Georgian London’s countless abandoned infants, Coram created the Foundling Hospital to save as many of them as he could. From its completion in 1747 until its demolition in 1926, the Hospital took in thousands of foundlings. It renamed, nursed and fed them, and through a disciplined, wholesome upbringing gave them best chance they had to make a respectable way in the world.

The grand building is long gone, its history enshrined in the Foundling Museum to the north of the old Hospital’s site. But as you thumb the pages of your Bloomsbury Journal over a quiet pint in The Lamb or emerge from Bon Vivant after a working brunch, the walls around you vibrate with foundling histories. Scroll back to 1750, and the land north of Guilford Place was open field and pasture, where the thwack of willow on leather or the dying cry of shot snipe might be heard. Come 1789, the Foundling Hospital’s governors voted to let its land holdings on building leases to provide the Hospital with income. They set out the street pattern of a tract of Bloomsbury now bounded by Tavistock Place to the North and Guilford Place to the South. Georgian London’s mastermind builders, Thomas Cubitt and James Burton, bought the bulk of the leases. And so, for 200 years, the bricks and mortar that still stand today kept the Hospital’s young wards fed and nourished.

The governors assembled weekly to approve the Hospital’s expenses. Page on stiff, faded page of their archived minutes detail the coming and going of tradesmen and their bills. Douglas for Bread, Hilson for Pease, Flaxman for Butter, McTaggart for Rice. The loops and ligatures of a secretary’s hand tell of the porridge and plum pudding set before generations of children in the Hospital’s silent dining hall.

Curator Dr Jane Levi passed countless quiet hours tracing the Hospital’s food history though these archives for the Museum’s Feeding the 400 exhibition. “It was so moving to turn the pages of those faded leather-bound books and discover the great pains these eminent gentlemen took for the children; that their food should be nutritious, and that they should like it.”

The distinguished governors also decreed that this new corner of Bloomsbury was to be respectable: residences for gentlemen like them and no common, noisome trade. Behind Burton’s handsome new facades on Guildford Street lived lawyers, surgeons and clergymen, the Hospital’s governors, the surveyors of its estates, its physicians and preachers. Scores of foundling girls spent their teenage nights in servants’ rooms behind the same facades, since most were apprenticed at sixteen to domestic service, many surely to Bloomsbury’s better households.

But even gentlemen cannot live by cash alone, and soon traders inveigled themselves into the new town’s streets. The governors read complaints of sheep, lambs and calves driven for butchery into premises in Compton Mews; in Hunter Street, a certain Mr Cartwright and his poor family were assailed by the smell of warm blood rising from this unlicensed slaughterhouse. The oldest trade of all brought silken vice to the doorsteps of Hunter Street and the grand Mecklenburgh and Brunswick Squares. More upright tenants petitioned the Hospital to turn their premises into butchers, bakers, cheesemongers and public houses. Gradually the governors began to acquiesce.

Lest all the new town go to the dogs, some streets were to remain residential, but Marchmont and Kenton streets would now be for shopping. Milliners, chemists and coal merchants moved in, and so began the ever-shifting microcosm of northern Bloomsbury’s enterprise that still thrives today. The Marquis of Cornwallis started loosening the tongues of liquorous traders in 1804. Balfour the bakers laid claim, one cold January day in 1900, to houses that for years still bore their old tenant’s name in their new guise as a bistro. Their rents trickled back to the Hospital’s lease books and onwards to the Flaxmans, Hilsons and McTaggarts whose foodstuffs fed the foundlings behind proprietous walls.

Enterprise is far from the only cloth to carry the silver thread of foundling history. How many matrons, apothecaries and gardeners of the Hospital entered its gates at Guilford Place? How many foundlings were chaperoned to the houses of Bloomsbury gentlefolk to entertain them with their musical skills, which they learned at the hands of music masters who lived and taught within the Hospital? How many of Bloomsbury’s society, high and low, visited to hear the children sing their chapel services and see then dine in their silent, serried ranks, as was the popular custom?

Once, the beer-blunted eyes of drinkers staggering from The Lamb would have seen a statue of Thomas Coram towering above the Hospital gates on Guilford Place. Now, little more than the gatehouse remains. The grandest rooms of the razed building have been preserved in suspended animation in the Foundling Museum, where the visitor can whisper studiously before artworks that Coram elicited as donations to his cause from Hogarth, Gainsborough and their peers. So as you order your pint in the Marquis of Cornwallis, remember the children its bricks once clothed and fed. And as you pass those high walls on Guilford Place, listen as the ghostly voices sing down the years from the vanished chapel: Forgive me, Lord, for thy dear Son, the ill that I this day have done; that with the world, myself, and thee, I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Noble Rot

Noble Rot


Words Matthew Ross

Photography Kirk Truman


51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, May 1706: On a site that was lately fields of cress and winter rocket, Mr Jos Walker takes the very first lease on four handsome storeys of London stock townhouse. For seven pounds, nine shillings and sixpence a year, his tenant will be a certain Mr Chisledon.

51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, October 2015: The Rugby School Estate grants the lease of the same handsome townhouse to Messrs Andrew and Keeling, vinters and restaurateurs. Noble Rot hits Bloomsbury.

One bleary morning eighteen months later, Mark Andrew and Dan Keeling sit in the window of their wine bar and restaurant Noble Rot and tell me over plentiful coffee how it all happened. “The magazine started out with me and him writing a couple of pieces and thinking: hang on, where do we get some images from?”

It’s a well-reported story. Keeling, the A&R man who signed the undiscovered Coldplay, and Andrew, buyer for Kensington wine merchant Roberson, launched Noble Rot magazine in 2013 backed by a motley crew of Kickstarter donors, from expert winos to Popbitch. Now fully fledged, the magazine is blessed with golden contributors, with Marina O’Loughlin, Giles Coren, Francis Ford Coppola and former Beastie Boy Mike D in the latest issue alone. But it’s not been easy: contacts don’t hang like apples on the tree of knowledge.

I wonder whether Mark and Dan see Noble Rot as the Drew Barrymore of wine magazines. “We grew up in public, if that’s what you mean”, Mark replies. “But we genuinely love the fact that we’ve come from a humble beginning, and we cut our teeth along the way. I don’t think you learn anything unless you make mistakes. Remember when Guy Pierce was going out with Mrs Mangel’s granddaughter in Neighbours? Now look at him.”

“I thought he was better in Neighbours, actually,” says Dan. For him, Noble Rot’s Ramsay Street days are its mark of honesty. “When I worked in music, the Arctic Monkeys had this demo tape. Most record companies would posh that up and get it out, which a lot of the time would strip the essence of the band. But not them. They got a lot of traction with their demo. A lot of music lovers just got it because it seemed a lot more real.”

Above our heads hang framed back-issues of Noble Rot. On one cover, a bulldog chews a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. It’s an issue that pitched English sparkling wine against Champagne in a garrulous blind tasting (the bulldog won), interviewed Mark Ronson and rhapsodised over star Loire valley domaines. That’s Noble Rot’s ethos to a T. Mark explains why. “We want to be entertaining as well as to write about wine in an intelligent way. The product that’s created in this world can be incredible, but then you get some toffee-nosed twat in the corner who wants to ‘educate’ you about it. F*@k off! We never want to hijack the conversation in that way.”

It was never the plan to open a wine bar and restaurant either. But with a growing reputation, Andrew and Keeling started to suspect that if they threw their own doors open, people might come. Dan recalls the days they spent walking London’s streets searching for Noble Rot’s temporal home. “All the places we loved were in old buildings with lots of character. We knew about Lamb’s Conduit Street, but we didn’t know it. And when we saw this place at number 51, we thought it was amazing. We sent the owner some copies of the magazine in an Uber, and three weeks after getting the keys we opened the doors.”

The shared spirit of enterprise that permeates Lamb’s Conduit Street has made it the ideal terroir. “We love the combination here of old and contemporary Bloomsbury”, Mark reflects. “Lamb’s Conduit Street is this closely knit mercantile community, where food, drink and fashion all complement each other. We’re part of that community, and we really believe there is potential for it to be even better. We’re also a destination for people who are interested in what we’re doing and want to come back time and again.”

Best mates, first dates, great loves; Noble Rot is the place whenever a bottle of wine needs to be shared by an open fire. Built as a Georgian home, first let to our mysterious man Chisledon, scraps of its eighteenth-century wood panelling and an original wine cellar still remain. It’s also a serious destination for its magnificent Franco-British menu, devised with the tutelage of The Sportsman’s Stephen Harris. Lincolnshire Smoked Eel, Yorkshire Rhubarb and Soda Bread. Braised Rye Bay Turbot, Watercress and Alsace Bacon. Pistachio Cake, Blood Orange and Mascarpone. Each a perfectly tuned triad.

Is Noble Rot the place an embodiment of Noble Rot the magazine, with its spine of anarchism? Mark prefers the word disruptive to anarchic. “We’re classicists. We love the classic wines of the world, the great domaines of the world; we love the great cuisines and the great craft and art that goes into those wonderful dishes. But neither of us are posh lads. We’ve just never been prepared to leave all the good stuff to the blue bloods. We want to get stuck in and stake our claim. We want to have our own take on it, and our own opportunity to enjoy it, to talk about it and share it with people in the way that we want to.”

“Irreverent is a good word too”, Dan adds. “Irreverent of the status quo of the wine trade, which is and has been a very stale thing for decades. From 1800 to 2017, has it changed that much? Wine is a great thing. It encompasses so much – history, art, geology, physics, travel – that you can bring into your own life. But you don’t have to be pretentious, status-driven or affected with it. That’s the fundamental point really. Just don’t be a twat about it.”

After so successful a start, Andrew and Keeling could be tempted by quick wins.  But wisdom trumps temptation. “What’s next?” Mark reflects. “Lunch at two o’clock! For now, we’re still cracking on with this place and when we’re comfortable with what we’re doing, we’ll kick on from there.” Something bigger? “Not necessarily”, Dan replies, “because bigger isn’t always better… but something.” Something that’s not being a twat? Mark is adamant: “There will be no twatification about it.”

Betsy

Betsy


Words Pippa Brooks

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“…I get a kick out of the journey, the challenge and all that makes me tick.”

Betsy strides into the room in silver platform heels, photo-ready with immaculate hair and make-up, and immediately launches into a major anecdote about her recent experiences during Paris Fashion Week. ”There was Karl Lagerfeld, Mario Testino, Nicki Minaj, Pharrell… the most eccentric, glamorous people EVER! So we had dinner and I sang for them afterwards,” she says in her gorgeous Welsh lilt.

I’m lurking in the basement at Cahoots – the quirkily retro, Blitz-themed cocktail bar hidden away just off Carnaby Street – where singer Betsy is being shot for Soho Journal, showing off her hair, lips and legs but, most importantly, strength in every frame. Having already having signed UK and US record deals, once heard, she’s hard to forget. Betsy’s voice is a real surprise – especially if the first time you hear it is when watching one of her videos. “She doesn’t sound how she looks,” her manager says. And it’s true. One obvious stab at describing her vocal sound would be “very Cher”. And it really is – especially 90s-era, anthemic, big-production Cher. And like Cher, Betsy definitely isn’t afraid of glamour: “Coming from such a rural place in Wales, I’ve always liked glamour, because for me that’s the opposite of being born on a farm in the middle of nowhere.” But it’s a very particular glamour that she exudes, evocative of the 1970s, of Jerry Hall, Studio 54, dining at Mr Chow with Andy Warhol by night and being shot by Helmut Newton by day – glossy, Amazonian and assertive.

I wonder when Betsy first found her singing voice, since it’s hard to imagine a child sounding the way she does. “I remember when I was eight and in a school play, a friend said to me that I sounded like Snow White because my voice was ‘all wobbly’, and I think that’s the first time I realised that I had this kind of vibrato-y thing. It’s always been quite strong as well.”

One of Betsy’s earliest memories was sitting around a campfire on the farm where she grew up, while her Dad and Uncle, who were in a band, sang. “Also, Wales is quite a songy place, you know, with church and at school, and there’s a big history of these kinds of massive voices like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey.” Betsy loves Bassey, who reminds her of her own great grandmother, who was still living large in diamante and velour well into her 90s. “She was that type of woman from the valleys, who’s so glamorous but hard, you know? It’s like, ‘Here I am – have it!!” It’s definitely in the genes.

Rural Wales is a world away from Soho, and Betsy’s teenage dreams came true when she landed a place at St Martin’s to study fashion. “I remember being a sixth former and my teacher asking me what I wanted to do in the next year or so, and I was like, ‘I want to sing and make clothes and go to parties with men in high heels and wigs!’ – and that’s exactly what I did, and more! Soho was my introduction to London, and being around the corner from St Martins, Old Compton Street was the centre of our lives. All my mates were gay blokes and we lived in G.A.Y. We used to get hammered in there – I remember one time being passed out under the stage while naked Porn Idol was going on! For a girl from a farm in Wales it was a culture shock, but I kind of jumped in and it was everything that I had wanted and more.”

Soho also proved to be the perfect place to be studying fashion. “Obviously, the other thing about it was Berwick Street, where we used to go and get all our fabrics. We used to go down to the Cloth House a lot and they would always give us little samples that we could use.”

There was some hard work amid all the partying, then; and it paid off when Betsy landed a job in Paris at high-end fashion house Balenciaga. The singing part of the dream was temporarily shelved as she was thrown in to the fashion business full-time, working weekends and long days. But the desire to give music her all began to consume her and, despite being at the centre of fashion’s elite bubble, she decided to jack it all in, move back to Wales, ensconce herself in her brother’s caravan and only come out when she’d written an album’s worth of songs. “I’d left my job in Paris and gone back to Wales and I thought I had to do it on my own. I sat down and made this demo, created the songs myself on Garage Band.”

By the time she met her manager, Betsy already had a pretty complete idea of what she was after, with a whole bunch of songs already written, and a vision – literally mood boards – for each one. It meant that rather than being moulded to someone else’s idea of what she should be, the two of them could work collaboratively to create the “timeless” sound she had always wanted, for example by recording them with real strings. Betsy’s love of the whole process is infectious, her ambitions are global and she absolutely loves what she does: “With music, my main aim and ambition is to write that one song that will last forever,” she says. Perhaps that will be her upcoming single, ‘Little White Lies’, but she’s already thinking way beyond that. “I think that drives me really. I’ve always been incredibly ambitious and I get a kick out of the journey, the challenge and all that makes me tick.”

Fenella Fielding

Fenella Fielding


Words Robert Chilcott

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“Of course, being dressed as a prostitute meant that everybody was terribly interested to have a word with you and so forth…”

The husky, seductive voice is unmistakeable after all these years: no one else sounds like Fenella Fielding, who remains a unique and much-loved figure of British stage and screen. You can hear for yourself: she’s currently reading her memoirs at a Saturday matinee residency at the Phoenix Artist Club on Charing Cross Road.

Fenella’s first credited television role was as a lady of the night in a BBC Sunday Night Theatre in 1957, ‘The Magnificent Egotist’, now missing and the tape presumably wiped. “I didn’t have very much to do, but I had a lot of hanging round. Of course, being dressed as a prostitute meant that everybody was terribly interested to have a word with you and so forth… It was a very distinguished director… I can’t remember his name. Everybody in it was terribly important, except for people like me who were totally unknown. Rupert Davies – he was the leading man – swept me up in his arms and carried me across the room. As he got to the door he banged my head on the frame. But I thought it doesn’t matter. I was still in one piece, and I had a lovely time!” That same year Fenella had a part in three episodes of a TV police show called Destination Downing Street. “I can’t remember anything about it at all,” she confesses.

Her first memories of Soho date back to her time at drama school in the 1950s. “It was like going abroad. It was wonderful! All these different shops – all foreign, with huge cheeses and racks of clothes – every different thing you could think of to buy, all pushed together. Of course, it’s a bit like that now – but not really.” She remembers The 2i’s coffee bar on Old Compton Street – where Tommy Steele was launching his career as Britain’s first teen idol in the basement – but she didn’t dare go in. “There were all kinds of naughty ladies walking around in Soho, which I thought was very thrilling”.

“There was a lovely eating place that’s still there called Mildred’s. Oh, and I liked Ronnie Scott’s, very much! I remember doing the first night of a revue. I was with my agent who said, ‘Oh, don’t let’s go to a restaurant to go over your performance. Let’s go to Ronnie Scott’s and have a lovely time.’ And so we did!” On another occasion Fenella met Jeffrey Bernard at a party, “and we started trotting about”, although she insists that their relationship was not really much of an affair, “because he was always so pissed”. Bernard, of course, took her to Soho drinking club the Colony Room. “Muriel Belcher was terrifying. I kept my mouth shut,” Fenella recalls, although she still has a memento of the Colony – she got the upright piano when it closed down.

I ask Fenella if it was Ron Moody who gave her her first break? “No, no, it wasn’t. Did he say so? Balls!” In 1954, Moody was putting on an amateur revue at the London School of Economics, where he was a student, and Fenella got a part in it, replacing a girl who had fallen ill. Soon after that, though, she decided that going on the stage was ridiculous and that she needed a job that would bring in regular money every week – so she answered an ad for an apprenticeship at Robert Fielding on Regent Street. “I came down from Edgware. It was deepest winter, bitterly cold on the tube. I came out into the snow, which was all over Leicester Square, and there was Ron. And he said, ‘You’re just the person I want to see. Remember those guys who came to the London School of Economics? Well, you can come with me now to the new Lindsay Theatre club in Notting Hill and I’ll do some sketches with you for them – the ones we did then. So I said ‘I’m ever so sorry darling, but I’ve got an appointment for an interview to work at a hairdressers shop, so I’m afraid I can’t come.’ But in the end I thought, ‘Oh what the hell, manicurist be bothered!’ So I went with him.“

In 1958, Fenella became an instant star in the Sandy Wilson musical Valmouth, and by the following year was appearing with Kenneth Williams in Pieces of Eight, a comedy revue written by Peter Cook and Harold Pinter. She was an habitué of Cook’s Establishment Club on Greek Street, where she recalls rehearsing for a show and seeing rather thickset men in belted overcoats and squashed hats walking around. “There was a gang that was quite famous at the time, the Nash Brothers, and these chaps were walking round the foyer. I don’t know if they were the Nash Brothers or if they were some other brothers, but that’s why we were a bit worried about going to do our show there. Anyway, we went on rehearsing, and the thing was that Nicholas Luard, Cook’s business partner, spoke terribly ‘like that’, very high society; and the Nash Brothers, or the something-or-other brothers, spoke very ‘like that’, very cockney. It turned out that the only place in Greek Street that didn’t have to pay protection money was The Establishment, and that was because Nicholas couldn’t understand a word these brothers were saying. And in the end the man who was trying to get the money went away in despair!”

Her film career also took off in tandem with her stage work, with notable appearances opposite Dirk Bogarde in the Doctor films. If there’s one screen role with which Fenella will forever be associated it’s that of the vampish Valeria in the 1966 Carry on Screaming, where she appears reclining on a chaise-longue and asking “Do you mind if I smoke?” as clouds of dry ice billow around her velvet-clad bust. The Carry On films – she’d earlier appeared in Carry on Regardless – were made quickly, and budgets were tight. For Screaming, she even had to pay £9 for her own ring.

Other appearances in the sixties and seventies, none of them exactly conventional ones for such a talented stage actress, cemented her cult status. She was the voice of Caroline the Cow in Anthony Newley’s television masterpiece The Strange World of Gurney Slade, and the voice of the Blue Queen in Dougal and the Blue Cat. Perhaps her most memorable, if uncredited, voice role, though, was as the Village announcer in The Prisoner. “Patrick McGoohan was simply lovely. On the day, he just came into the sound room and said ‘Don’t make it too sexy’. So I didn’t, and that was it. The mere fact of being in it was like getting a medal.” There were numerous other television appearances, including several on The Morecambe and Wise Show. “When you worked with somebody who did comedy, what they usually wanted was for you to support them but not to be funny yourself. But I found with them that they definitely wanted you to be funny – they didn’t want you to be dreary, just hanging about being a famous presence. They wanted you to be part of it.”

Fenella has also done plenty of serious theatre, from Shakespeare to Sheridan, and most notably a performance in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler that was described by the Times as “the experience of a lifetime”. “The writing in the play is so incredible, and the fact of it is that she is such a cow, such a beast, but she’s riveting. And the audience, when everything goes wrong for her at the end, they are very upset. It’s so unusual, and marvellous.”

While film roles may have been rare in recent years, Fenella has kept busy with stage, radio and recording work – including readings of JG Ballard’s Crash and T. S. Eliot’s poems. Among her more recent roles, in 2012, was a return to television in Channel 4’s Skins. “If only I hadn’t died in that episode – I would have loved to have gone on and on doing it. But they can’t bring back the dead, and that’s that!” she observes philosophically.
Fenella’s memoirs ‘Do You Mind If I Smoke?’ will be released as an audio book in May and will be available from www.fenellafielding.com. Fenella will be reading chapters live at The Phoenix Artist Club every Saturday afternoon in June, and there’s an evening show at Crazy Coqs on 11 July.

Vulgar Tongues

Vulgar Tongues


Words Cathi Unsworth

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“Cant – thieves’ slang – is the oldest slang we have, and Soho in the past was never short of characters who were living on the far side of the law…”

Soho and its environs, with its hostelries, clubs, ‘vaulting academies’ and nefarious street trades, can be credited as one of the greatest sources of slang. Through its ‘rookeries’, teeming with ‘jades’, ‘footpads’ and ‘mollies’, once strolled a venerable gentleman named Captain Francis Grose. Despite the dangers around him, the Captain was on a mission – to compile a dictionary of the cant of criminals that would arm the unwary with a guide against being fleeced. His resultant Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, first published in 1785, is the inspiration for Max Décharné’s wonderful new book, Vulgar Tongues: An Alternative History of English Slang.

Pictured in the frontispiece, the Captain (1731-1791) appears an avuncular cove, whose impressive girth would preclude sudden flight from menace. Which is what makes his achievement all the more impressive to the svelte and dapper Décharné, an author whose previous work includes Straight From The Fridge, Dad: A Dictionary of Hipster Slang, and a musician who fronts the cinematically noir Flaming Stars. “An artist, antiquary, ex-military man, and most of all, the kind of man you’d want to prop up a bar with, he spent many a late night on the wilder shores – and he didn’t need the protection of a detachment of soldiers, unlike Dickens half a century later,” Max says with a smile. “Two thirds of the world’s trade was coming through the Port of London in his day, and Covent Garden and Soho specialised in parting all those sailors from their money. Imagine the language that accompanied that!”

The result of years of research, Vulgar Tongues has its roots in Soho and the area’s proximity to those two pillars of justice, The Old Bailey – in Grose’s day, Newgate Prison – and Tyburn Tree. “Cant – thieves’ slang – is the oldest slang we have, and Soho in the past was never short of characters who were living on the far side of the law. If you hung around the late-night hostelries, this would have been a large part of the way that people talked.”

Max’s evident delight in his material stems in part from how many of these phrases have survived. “It’s incredible how 17th and 18th century London slang has spread around the world,” he says. “They were already calling a stomach your ‘bread basket’ and illicit brandy was known as ‘moonshine,’ because it was smuggled by night. My favourites are ‘fly’, (knowing, aware), which rappers are still using, and ‘shag’, which then, as now, was a slang term for a bout of horizontal athletics.”

Another form associated with Soho is Polari, the secret language of homosexuals. “It started out as showmen’s and carnival slang, with no particular gay focus,” says Max. “The Punch & Judy men in Covent Garden are quoted using it in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour & The London Poor (1851), but it only starts to be closely associated with the gay scene after World War II. Indeed, the majority of gay slang of any kind dates from after 1900, though gay men referred to each other as ‘mollies’ in the early 18th century. The high point of Polari was undoubtedly the 1960s, thanks to Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick’s radio characters Julian and Sandy and the final legalisation of homosexuality towards the end of their run in 1967.”

Kenneth Williams was a good source – “All his diaries should be required reading,” Max considers – as was another Soho face, Derek Raymond, who augmented his debut 1962 novel, The Crust On It’s Uppers, with a glossary of slang. Interestingly, some of his terms – ‘screwing’ and ‘having it off’ – had a different meaning only a few decades previously, while ‘charvering’ meant the same. “In that other fine London novel, James Curtis’s The Gilt Kid (1936), ‘having it off’ was pulling a robbery, and ‘screwing’ specifically meant burglary,” Max explains. “‘Charvering’ (having sex), however, goes back at least as far as the classic Victorian The Swell’s Night Guide (1846).”

And what of today’s Soho – will it go on providing new expressions that will be heard centuries from now? Or will it all be buried under concrete? “Very hard to say. There’s still a hell of a lot of life in Soho, but it’s heart-breaking to see how the local authorities are allowing significant sections to be bulldozed and redeveloped. Whoever’s signing off on these deals should be made to ride a foal sired by an acorn – and yes, that’s some more slang that 18th century Soho residents would have known. To give you a clue, the way to take such a ride was down the western end of Oxford Street, when pushed off a cart at Tyburn by the hangman, Jack Ketch.”

Max Décharné’s Vulgar Tongues is published by Serpent’s Tail, as is Derek Raymond’s The Crust on its Uppers. James Curtis’ The Gilt Kid is published by London Books.

Joe and Co.

Joe and Co.


Words Matthew Ross

Photography Kirk Truman


It was 1997, and Soho was down to the roach of its truly gritty days. Joe Mills bought the lease on a debt-ridden Peter Street cobblers and opened The Lounge, his first hair salon. The door was kept locked, and female clients were chaperoned to the salon from Wardour Street. DJs, Maltese gangsters, working girls and celebrities: Joe worked his craft on all comers. Two decades later, the neon sex-shop signs may be flickering out as the sanitising hands of investors sweep old Soho away, but Joe’s light shines more strongly than ever.

With its concrete floors, chilled beer, and Playstations for the clients, The Lounge blazed a trail that others would follow, with iPads replacing consoles as the digital revolution exploded. But after twelve years of styling at the same chair, and with women gazumping men for the lion’s share of his scissor-time, Joe struck out again in 2010 with a new, dedicated barbers. Joe and Co. was born. While the mainstream renaissance in men’s barbering wove its ubiquitous tweedy pastiche, Joe and Co. cut a distinctive cloth of its own. Right down to its logo and signage, Joe and Co. riffs in a graphic, geometric style on the traditional idea of a barbershop.

It’s a riff with pedigree. After a three-year apprenticeship under Dutch New Zealander Gert Renzenbrink, Joe took a job in the oldest barbershop in the City of London, perfecting traditional barbering skills as the only young buck in a company of retired Jewish barbers. Come the early 90s, it was time for change. Joe blagged an interview with Paul Burfoot at Fish on D’Arblay Street, and turned his craft to the punky energy of the salon that gave the decade many of its eponymous cuts. It’s no surprise that the openings of The Lounge and Joe and Co. were quickly lauded by the likes of Vogue, GQ and Monocle.

An inimitable pedigree runs through Joe the man too. He claims everyday dressing is his comfort zone, but Joe’s everyday is another man’s envy. From the peppery temples and close-clipped beard to the selvedge denim and vintage Vans, he inhabits a style somewhere between Walker Evans Americana and GQ urbanity. Vintage cars, motorbikes, a touch of rockabilly that belies the 1980s Margate of his teens: they’re all layered through Joe like multiple exposures on old celluloid film.

Jamie Dornan, Russell Tovey, Zayn Malik: icons for many but a day’s work for Joe. Surprisingly, for a man with a talent for making the handsomest even handsomer, and with two legendary salons, Joe is humility itself. “If this work teaches you anything, it’s that people are people. You see people at their best, and you see them at their lowest, whoever they are. Famous or not, barbering is about working with a person, finding a mirror to their personality. A friend once described me as being a facilitator, a gentleman’s gentleman. That captures it exactly.” Visit Joe and Co. and you might find yourself seated in one of their classic Japanese barber’s chairs next to a well-known actor or the hottest young band getting spruced up ready for a tour. When the Journal photographed Martin Freeman for our third issue, he arrived freshly coiffed from Joe’s chair. It’s a democratic style that comes from Joe himself.

It’s also evident that the ‘and Co.’ is as important as Joe. “It’s the hardest thing to take creative people and help them to gel. It starts right at the beginning. It’s not about how cool you are. I want inquisitive, questioning people. And it doesn’t stop here in Peter Street. It’s great that barbers who spent time cutting and learning here at Joe & Co. have gone on to become main players at new salons like Taylor Taylor and The Lion & The Fox. The ‘and Co.’ is far bigger than me.” Speaking of ‘Co.’, Lead Barber Hayley comes over between cuts to tell us about The Spiderman. “He’s this well-known Soho character, must be in his late 40s, comes in wearing a full Spiderman outfit.” Is he some kind of performance artist? “Nah, I think he just likes the slinky feel against his skin or something. It takes all sorts.”

Does Joe think Soho is losing these characters and its own special identity as the area changes? “I have an issue with not embracing change and being blinkered about the future. No one wants the crack dens back again. Soho has to be forward-thinking and diverse. Look at Paris and its mix of old and new architecture. Great cities change. Soho is changing. Joe and Co. is part of that. When everyone went east, we stayed in Soho. We had to weather the exodus and it took a while to regrow, but we’re here for the long term. The beauty of Soho is that it will always be an interesting place. We want to bring something to the area, not take it out.”

And Soho remains a constant inspiration. “I still cut hair at every opportunity. It’s what I love. And there’s an arsenal of knowledge in everything I do. Now, it seems like everyone wants to be a barber, but it takes so much more than twelve weeks of training. Behind the technique, barbering draws in culture, film, fashion, history, street style. Soho has all these things.”

“It takes more than twelve weeks” could be Joe and Co.’s mantra. Step through the door and the salon is simple and functional in the best way. But behind each cut there are decades of history populated by gangsters, ladies of the night and latter-day matinée idols. Stories to tell the grandkids for most of us. For Soho’s finest men’s stylist? A day’s work.

Alex Zane

Alex Zane


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“A little bit of luck, and a little bit of talent. It was the right place and the right time…”

It’s early on a cold December morning in London. “It’s been a while since I’ve walked through Soho at this time. It’s wonderful: you get to walk about and see last night’s decadence splattered all over the pavements. The bottles being collected ring to the sound of the mischief, mayhem and dismay of a rollicking good night out on Dean Street,” says comedian and presenter Alex Zane, toying with his tie and dressed head-to-toe in Joshua Kane Bespoke. We’re sitting in Blacks Private Members Club, switching between talking about the beginnings of his comedy career and the film releases of the past year. Alex started out in Soho, performing stand-up in tiny venues where his fellow performers often outnumbered the audiences. His career may have taken off, with diverse strands in comedy and television, but this corner of London remains close to Alex’s heart.

Born and raised in Leeds, he moved to London to study medicine at UCL in 1998, intending to pursue a career as a doctor. But, finding that he enjoyed the Bohemian lifestyle, he soon decided to drop out of university and embrace a radical change of direction. Telling his parents he was about to begin performing stand-up comedy in Soho clubs and bars for bugger all money wasn’t easy, and it’s probably not surprising that at first they had little faith in his chosen path. “I owe Leeds for a large part of who I am. 2017 is the year that I will have been living in London as long as I lived in Leeds,” says Alex. “I grew up admiring the whimsical monologues of rock-star stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard. I imagined that the words coming out of his mouth simply rolled off his tongue; little did I know that his style of humour was the product of scrupulous writing and planning.”

“Soho was where it all started. At this point, I was living in what was in essence a squat in Camden: a flat where when you took a shower, water streamed down the hallway. I would show up, along with other comedians, at these open-mic nights, which were mostly empty. There would always be that moment where someone would say, “So, shall we perform to each other?” And God, it was fucking awful. That was until one day I was in the right place at the right time…”

It was on Dean Street that Alex found himself an agent, on a night when comedian Ricky Gervais, in his pre-Office years, was in the audience. “It was the first time we’d met, and I just remember coming off stage thinking it had gone alright. I’d been playing around with some half-arsed joke about liking the boy band Five,” he laughs. “Quite often I’d start a joke without knowing where it would go; that was one of those that didn’t really go anywhere. Somehow, Ricky thought it was alright, and so too did the man who’s now my agent, who asked me to come for a meeting after that show.” With his stand-up career on the rise, and on the back of an introduction from Ricky, Alex got the opportunity to be a radio presenter on Xfm. “It was the graveyard shift from 2-5am. If there is ever a time that you don’t want to answer the phone in a radio studio, it’s when you’re doing the graveyard shift. The kind of people that were calling in were not the kind of people you wanted to be speaking to when you were on your own in a radio studio!” he laughs.

In 2002, Alex performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in a three-man show, completely unaware that there was an MTV producer in the audience; after the show he was asked to audition for them back home in London. “A little bit of luck, and a little bit of talent. It was the right place and the right time,” he says. “Back then – this was when video rental stores were still a thing – I was watching films day and night from my local store in Camden. I was trained in how to be a presenter by producer Rob Lewis, and ended up presenting Screenplay. It was a critical movie review show, and remains to this day one of my favourite shows I’ve ever worked on.”

Alex later began work on a pilot entitled Dude, Where’s My Movie Quiz? In essence, it was Never Mind The Buzzcocks, but about film. Sadly, the pilot never went to series, but did lead to Alex being asked by Channel 4 to join a new comedy prank show entitled Balls of Steel. “I was asked to come and do the quiz element of the show, and the rest is history. It was great fun, and a great success. I’m not one for nostalgia, but I am particularly proud of that one. However, in terms of having actual balls of steel, what I did was at the lowest end of the spectrum! It was no way near as terrifying as some of the stuff that people did on that show,” he says. Hosted by Mark Dolan, special guests would perform stunts and try and hold their nerve during hidden camera set-ups in the presence of celebrities or the public.

As well as Balls of Steel, Alex went on to host Popworld with co-host Alexa Chung, and landed a number of acting roles in films including Dawn of the Dead (2004), Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (2005), Land of the Dead (2005) and The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (2005). After a magazine interview in which he discussed his love of movies, he was approached by Sky and offered his own show for Sky Cinema, Alex Zane’s Guest List. “We’d begin each interview discussing the film the actor was currently promoting, before moving on to discuss three of their favourite films. It was basically Desert Island Discs with movies! What’s really interesting for me is hearing from these people about the films that have really framed their lives – that’s quite something,” he says. “I feel like what I’m doing right now at Sky Cinema is where I want to be at this point in my career. Getting to fly around the world and interview movie stars for a living isn’t all that bad at all,” he laughs. “I’ve had some fantastic experiences with stars all over the world. From flying in a helicopter with Hugh Jackman, to meeting Hollywood legend Burt Reynolds, and nearly dying whilst standing on top of the BFI Imax cinema with Tom Cruise. I feel very fortunate to do what I do.”

As well as his presenting career with Sky, Alex is a keen scriptwriter and has recently finished work on a new sitcom entitled Friday Night Frights. He expresses both pride and pleasure in having written the script with friend and long-term collaborator Johnny Candon. After 17 years in London, Soho is still at the centre of Alex’s life and career, with his taste for rest and recreation in the neighbourhood bringing him back to Dean Street and its surrounding watering holes on a regular basis. “It’s just been one of those places, from the moment I arrived in London, that I’ve loved spending time in,” he says. “It’s tinged with some sadness, too: the thing about Soho is that it evolves so damn quickly – much quicker than the people that make it what it is.”

Aesop

Aesop


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality…”

Even on a crowded London high street, there’s a certain store that stands out from the crowd. There aren’t many brands that have successfully mixed aesthetically pleasing design with high quality skincare products, but Aesop has done exactly that, and much, much more.

It all started in Melbourne in 1987, when hairdresser Dennis Paphitis launched a small range of hair products that formed the basis of the Aesop brand; fast-forward to today, and Aesop has gone on to create some of the most thoughtfully designed and curated concept stores in the world, including one right here in Soho. Aesop’s brief is to formulate skin, hair and body care products of the very finest quality. With this in mind, they look far and wide to source both plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients, using only those with a proven record of safety and efficacy.

Thomas Buisson, Aesop’s General Manager in Europe, tells me about the serious-minded brand with an eye for design. “I was always captivated by the product and concept. I was intrigued, and it led to a meeting through a mutual contact with Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis and CEO Michael O’Keeffe, all the way back in 2008. I was convinced to join the European team and can thankfully say that it has been a rewarding and enlightening journey ever since.” It’s a role that sees him working closely with colleagues in deciding all aspects of new Aesop products, with everyone in the team giving their own local perspective and suggesting specific developments. “We are all involved in new product development. For instance, fragrances are of particular interest to us in Europe while our Asian colleagues are focused on the development of light serums for their hot and humid climate. Every region is able to make an impact, and new products are introduced only if they make absolute sense within the range and we are able to formulate them in a way that meets our standards of excellence on all fronts: sourcing, ingredients, quality and efficacy.”

The striking and highly individual design of Aesop’s retail outlets is the product of a similarly thoughtful approach. Each location first goes through a carefully controlled creative process, led by Thomas and Aesop’s talented design team. “As we go through this process we take into account the local environment, elements of the space itself, and of course our functional requirements. In this capacity, and depending on our inspiration, we work closely with our design team either in collaboration with external or in-house architects,” he says. In each of the brand’s unique spaces, consultants display the Aesop range to guide customers’ selections and decisions, in a setting as carefully crafted and curated as Aesop’s products themselves. Due to the strong cultural ties that Aesop has always had with the Old World, when the decision was made to open spaces outside Australia, Europe was high on the company’s priority list. “The first store in Europe opened in Paris in 2007, closely followed by London in 2008. When we move into a neighbourhood, our idea is to build something for good, both in terms or architecture but also in terms of establishing links with the community and neighbourhood. The first London store opened in Mayfair on Mount Street and was designed by Ilse Crawford. It was a homage to British elegance and savoir vivre that embodied our desire to build stores that celebrate the city and the area where we build them with a light and respectful touch,” Thomas says.

Aesop’s Lexington Street store opened its doors in 2011, in what was at the time a quiet corner of Soho. “The Soho store opened in a location that was previously occupied by a chicken shop and was stripped back so that we would really be able to reveal the simple and beautiful structure of the building. Located in one of the less touristy parts of the neighbourhood, it found its clientele among people working or living in the area, but at the same time it attracted international customers as well. It’s a perfect example of store that really belongs to the area – which means that people are comfortable walking in for a warm cup of herbal tea, a chat or to top up on their favourite skin care product. This is a good summary of what we are aiming to build with our stores: a place of interaction and discovery for the community.”

 

Thomas thinks of the Aesop brand as a set of ideals and beliefs translated into skin, hair and body care. The best ideas, he tells me, are rarely the ones that happen on spreadsheets or via structured brainstorming. “They’re about blood, sweat and many tears. We began with a small range of hair products in 1987. From there we explored the many variables of body care, and by 1991, we were ready to devote ourselves to developing the best skin care possible. Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality. It doesn’t matter what you do; the point is to do it well – with sincerity and conviction.”

Looking to the future, Thomas says that the intention is “to continue to open locations where we see the opportunity to focus on strong, meaningful and respectful retail. This takes time and means that we need to remain flexible and agile so that our development is always consistent with who we are. We will continue to develop innovative new products and will build appropriate capabilities to support our business.” In addition to this, Aesop aims to launch more initiatives and partnerships to further enhance its difference from other brands in the beauty industry. Continuing to support the arts is one avenue through which Aesop plans to inspire, learn and communicate; hosting exhibitions and events, collaborating on film projects and publishing new writing online are just some of the ways that Aesop continues to be about much, much more than just its fantastic products.

Lesley Lewis

Lesley Lewis


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“It’s an institution, but I’ve made it my own institution with time… I do with it what I feel is the right thing to do with it.”

When you walk into 49 Dean Street, it looks as though every inch of the walls is decorated with pictures evoking the memories and characters of the Soho of yesteryear. You soon realise, though, that it’s not just the walls here that tell a story of Soho’s history and spirit; you can feel in the air itself, taste it in the half pints of beer, and find it embodied in the landlady of one of London’s most iconic pubs. The French House is a Soho institution. During World War II it was a meeting place for the Free French, and exiled French leader Charles de Gaulle is said to have written his most famous wartime speech here, while the French’s reputation for playing host to an array of Bohemians – from Brendan Behan to Francis Bacon – is unmatched; for this is the neighbourhood’s ‘village pub’… as well as what is believed to be the biggest seller of Ricard Pastis in Britain. Landlady Lesley Lewis is part of the fabric of The French House; and you’ll find her picture on its walls too.

It’s no exaggeration to say that The French House and modern Soho have grown up hand-in-hand. Although it is believed to be of Victorian origin, it is not known for certain exactly when the building itself was constructed. Back in 1891, one Herr Schmidt, a German national, opened a venue here called The Wine House. With Schmidt deported at the beginning of World War I, the Berlemont family took over, importing barrelled French wine and signing the lease on December 30th 1914, a date still celebrated today. The pub, officially called The York Minster, took on a new lease of life, and quickly became a popular meeting place for Sohoites, among whom it was known, appropriately enough, as ‘the French’ or ‘The French House’.

Lesley arrived in Soho in 1979, in search of work. Her first job was running a strip show on Old Compton Street. “It had been run by my friend Dilly, and she then passed the job on to me. There were a lot of dark times in the strip shows – a lot of the girls got quite badly beaten up. This was the time back when the Maltese ran Soho, and there was a lot of violence and aggression stemming from the rivalry between clubs,” she remembers. “I came to London to study at college. I wanted to be an actress, but my father wouldn’t let me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. It was different back then – much different to today. It was lovely in those days. Nobody wanted to actually live here, so I had my own flat and studio where I choreographed the shows and made the costumes. I’m a Welsh girl, originally from South Wales. I’ve had a long love affair with Soho ever since coming here, and I don’t want to ever leave this place which has become my home.”

After moving on from the strip shows, Lesley worked in a number of different jobs. This included performing as a snake dancer; you can see this for yourself on the first floor of The French House, where she is pictured half-naked, dancing with a fierce snake. She also did a stint as General Manager for Theme Holdings, owners of premises that included Peppermint Park and Coconut Grove. It was all valuable experience. In 1989, Lesley became the new landlady of The French House, and she has happily remained here for just shy of 30 years. “The landlord was retiring, and they needed somebody to take over, and I was very lucky to have The French House handed over to me,” she says. “By this time, the place was very, very loved, almost adored. In the whole history of the pub there had only been two landlords before me. So for me, it was very difficult taking over from the previous landlord, Gaston Berlemont, who was born in the pub in 1914. We had to do some serious work on the place just to keep the licence, keeping it as close to the old place as possible. It took me a couple of years to be accepted by regulars, as I was constantly compared to the previous landlord, but since then it’s been wonderful!” she says, laughing over a glass of wine. “We’ve had such amazing people come through those doors, we really have. I did nearly give up at one time, but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s an institution, but I’ve made it my own institution with time. It will always have its historic connections, but I do with it what I feel is the right thing to do with it.”

As Lesley says, there are ghosts here… ghosts of the past, and perhaps literal ones too. She tells me of the rumours of dead Frenchmen, buried under the cellars decades ago, and the cold air that passes through you in certain corridors. Mostly, though, it’s the spirit of place you feel here – the spirit of old Soho. The French House (officially renamed as such in 1984) remains somehow timeless: despite evolving over the years, it is indeed an institution with its own rules: no music, no machines, no television and no mobile phones – a rare haven in London for conversationalists. As in Gaston’s day, beer is served only in half pints (they have occasionally auctioned off a pint for an astronomical figure). Lesley sees her role as maintaining the continuity of this very special place, keeping a watchful eye on its legacy and its role as a pub for its Soho regulars, not to mention remembering everybody’s usual tipple. By the way, mine’s a glass of pinot noir.

Bao

Bao


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Initially, we weren’t set on it having any longevity…”

I am anything but patient, but to get into Bao I waited for 20 minutes with a can of Taiwanese lager in my hand. I’ve been watching the ever-expanding queue outside for a year now as I’ve gone up and down Soho’s Lexington Street, and wondering: what makes all these people stand in line for a restaurant that only seats 15 people and sells Taiwanese street food? Well, the answer is in the eating, as more and more people are finding out: Bao crossed the border into Fitzrovia last year, with the still fresh-faced venture opening its doors on Windmill Street to yet more acclaim.

Brother and sister Wai Ting Chung and Shing Tat Chung, and Shing’s wife Erchen Chang, are all under 30 and the idea of starting a restaurant came to them while were travelling together. Journeying through Erchen’s home country of Taiwan, they were inspired by the informal street food culture and culinary traditions they discovered – and that was how Bao came to be born. “We’d all just graduated, so we made the decision to travel around Taiwan together. We ate all over, and from there we were inspired to come back and start our own venture,” says Shing. “We discussed the idea of a market stall whilst travelling back to London. We thought introducing some of my home traditions, including the bao itself, on the stall could be a cool idea. It was much less risky for us to start out as a market stall in the beginning, as opposed to starting our own restaurant right away. Initially, we weren’t set on it having any longevity; we never planned for Bao to grow into what it has done. The initial response and attention it received was fantastic, and it was an organic progression.”

In 2013, Bao started out as a market stall at Netil Market in Hackney, and it remains a permanent fixture there on Saturday afternoons. Taking things to the next level, from stall to restaurant, Bao opened their first permanent premises on Soho’s Lexington Street in 2015. Both their Soho and Fitzrovia restaurants offer a relaxed environment, with charming yet efficient service, and the interiors bring the trio’s background in fine art to life with catchy branding. “When we opened our Soho site, we had a keen following at this point, but even on opening we didn’t know what to expect. We adapted the space to the brand, and the brand to the space. It’s a small space, and it seems as popular as ever, with customers still queuing daily to sample the menu,” says Shing. “With our Fitzrovia opening, we liked the idea of diners watching as drinks are prepared, we wanted people to be engaged with the aesthetic of the brand and feel like they’re at the centre of the restaurant. We wanted the basement to have the exact opposite feeling. We wanted to create a completely different vibe, with a tin-clad and spacey feeling to it as you look into the kitchen and watch the food being prepared,” adds Erchen.

The name Bao itself originates from their signature Chinese steamed bread roll, known as bao, which is served with a filling of meat, fish or vegetables. Their menu itself is split into four sections, focusing not just on bao but also chicken, fish and rice dishes, with special Taiwanese rice sourced from Chi Shiang, and vegetable sides. In both branches, diners order dishes via their menus on a tick-style system. But before that comes the long wait – whether on Lexington Street or Windmill Street – that can sometimes last up to 45 minutes. It’s a stretch by anybody’s standards, but there’s something about Bao that makes it all worthwhile. Of course, the food is the thing: the tantalising menu is fresh and innovative, and while it’s based on Taiwanese street fare, the kitchen pushes far beyond those boundaries. At the same time, I can’t think of many eateries in this area of London that have matched Bao’s innovative aesthetic, and the result is a brand identity that will doubtless continue to thrive and grow. Although the three are typically modest about their baby, I suspect they take a quiet satisfaction in knowing they’ve created something really quite special. Bao has certainly added another fine food destination to the already independent-led Lexington Street; and if you haven’t already been to check it out, I can only suggest that you hurry along and join the queue.

A Soho Squat

A Soho Squat


Words & Photography Bob Aylott


“These are iconic images from this period in London’s history”

By trade, I’m a press photographer. I discovered in my attic some months ago this vintage collection of vintage black and white images, hidden away for some years. It’s unusual to find original wet prints of contemporary historical importance. This project was a labour of love that I’d put on the shelf. I knew I had one set of exhibition prints, but I’d forgotten about the box of extra prints and was amazed to find them. Back in 1972, I explored the seedier, dark and destructive yesteryear of a Soho squat. As a personal project, I spent a year recording life in one of the last squats in this part of London. Due for demolition, the Victorian tenement in Drury Lane was a haven for London’s homeless teenage runaways, junkies, winos and street thieves, including a convicted murderer, and a baby.

These subjects lived in the most squalid of conditions, often surviving on rotten fruit from the famous market. Rape, beatings, robbery, drug overdoses and death were common in a building overrun by rodents and with no running water, sanitation or electricity. These images are particularly special because they are not only iconic images from this period in London’s history, but were also printed shortly after the pictures were made in 1972. Only one or two prints of each subject have survived. The prints are un-retouched and show abrasions that would have been on the original negative, such as dust spots and scratches.

Aesop

Aesop


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality…”

Even on a crowded London high street, there’s a certain store that stands out from the crowd. There aren’t many brands that have successfully mixed aesthetically pleasing design with high quality skincare products, but Aesop has done exactly that, and much, much more.

It all started in Melbourne in 1987, when hairdresser Dennis Paphitis launched a small range of hair products that formed the basis of the Aesop brand; fast-forward to today, and Aesop has gone on to create some of the most thoughtfully designed and curated concept stores in the world, including one right here in Bloomsbury. Aesop’s brief is to formulate skin, hair and body care products of the very finest quality. With this in mind, they look far and wide to source both plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients, using only those with a proven record of safety and efficacy.

Thomas Buisson, Aesop’s General Manager in Europe, tells me about the serious-minded brand with an eye for design. “I was always captivated by the product and concept. I was intrigued, and it led to a meeting through a mutual contact with Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis and CEO Michael O’Keeffe, all the way back in 2008. I was convinced to join the European team and can thankfully say that it has been a rewarding and enlightening journey ever since.” It’s a role that sees him working closely with colleagues in deciding specific aspects of new Aesop products, with everyone in the team giving their own local perspective, and suggesting some aspects of development. “We are all involved in new product development. For instance, fragrances are of particular interest to us in Europe while our Asian colleagues are usually focused in the development of light serums for their hot and humid climate. Every region is able to impact on our new product. New products are introduced only if they make absolute sense within the range and we are able to formulate them in a way that meets our standards of excellence on all fronts: sourcing, ingredients, quality and efficacy.”

The striking and highly individual design of Aesop’s retail outlets is the product of a similarly thoughtful approach. Each location first goes through a carefully controlled creative process, led by Thomas and Aesop’s talented design team. “As we go through this process we take into account the local environment, elements of the space itself, and of course our functional requirements. In this capacity, and depending on our inspiration, we work closely with our design team either in collaboration with external or in-house architects,” he says. In each of the brand’s unique spaces, consultants display the Aesop range to guide customers’ selections and decisions, in a setting as carefully crafted and curated as Aesop’s products themselves. Due to the strong cultural ties that Aesop has always had with the Old World, when the decision was made to open spaces outside Australia, Europe was high on the company’s priority list. “The first store in Europe opened in Paris in 2006, closely followed by London in 2008. When we move into a neighbourhood, our idea is to build something for good, both in terms of architecture but also in terms of establishing links with the community and neighbourhood. The first London store opened in Mayfair on Mount Street and was designed by Ilse Crawford. It was a homage to British elegance and savoir vivre that embodied our will to build stores that celebrate the city and the area where we build them with a light and respectful touch,” Thomas says.

Bloomsbury’s Lambs Conduit Street store opened in 2015, giving the brand the ability to reference the history of the street and the space. “The water installation inside the store is a destination in itself and combines beauty with fascinating engineering. Residents and retailers alike have responded incredibly well to this project. Even though Bloomsbury is very much in the centre of London, it retains a village-like feel. It’s a true gem of the city, with some of the best retailers – and personalities – in London. We have very much enjoyed being a part of the Lambs Conduit Street Traders Association and always look forward to hosting the meetings in our basement; perhaps it’s a nod to the Bloomsbury Group of old.”

Thomas thinks of the Aesop brand as a set of ideals and beliefs translated into skin, hair and body care. The best ideas, he tells me, are rarely the ones that happen on spreadsheets or via structured brainstorming. “They’re about blood, sweat and many tears. We began with a small range of hair products in 1987. From there we explored the many variables of body care, and by 1991, we were ready to devote ourselves to developing the best skin care possible. Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality. It doesn’t matter what you do; the point is to do it well – with sincerity and conviction.”

As to the future, Thomas says that the intention is “to continue to open locations where we see the opportunity to focus on strong, meaningful and respectful retail. This takes time and means that we need to remain flexible and agile so that our development is always consistent with who we are. We will continue to develop innovative new products and will build appropriate capabilities to support our business.” In addition to this, Aesop aims to launch more initiatives and partnerships to further enhance its difference from other brands in the beauty industry. Continuing to support the arts is one avenue through which Aesop plans to inspire, learn and communicate; hosting exhibitions and events, collaborating on film projects and publishing new writing online are just some of the ways that Aesop continues to be about much, much more than just its fantastic products.

Jack Bond

Jack Bond


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever…”

The first time I met Jack, I wanted to be him. In his late 70s, whereas many people might opt for a slower pace of life, Jack still continues to pursue his undying passion for filmmaking – an extensive career which has spanned six decades – along with other favoured pursuits, including drinking and smoking. He’s charming, handsome, oozing with wit, sophistication and an infectious energy – everything I’d hope to be in my later years! Film director Jack Bond remains one of Bloomsbury’s most creative residents – and one of its best storytellers.

A Londoner through and through, Jack was born, quite literally, at Hyde Park corner, in what was then St. George’s Hospital, and was raised in East Sheen, Richmond. His youth was spent observing the sights and sounds of a wartime city regularly bombed by Nazi Germany. “I was fully conscious of the war as a child,” he says. “My Dad was away fighting in it, and my mother and I elected to stay in London and not to evacuate. Every night, you’d hear the sirens going, and then the sirens would be followed by the droning of the bombs. We just sat there underneath an iron bed for protection. The windows came in, but we weren’t ever actually hit, except for one incendiary bomb, which didn’t go off. I pleaded with the air raid wardens to let me have it, but they wouldn’t give it to me. Bastards!” he laughs. “I spent the war talking to German officers through the fence at the prisoner of war camp in Richmond Park and dismantling bombs with my friends in my father’s shed. Now I look back, none of this did me any harm. These were life-forming experiences for me.”

Leaving school at 18, Jack found himself doing the then two years of compulsory National Service, something he didn’t much take to. “The Army loomed… In those days, the way it worked was if you didn’t want to go in the army, they’d throw you in prison. So, I opted for two years of obligatory military service. I thought: “Oh Christ almighty, this is going to be terrible. The first three months were pretty rugged. That was an ordeal, particularly if you weren’t inclined to be so obedient. One icy morning I slipped in my boots and made a mess of a turn. A very brutal Sergeant came up to me, stuck his stick in my gut and said: ‘I’ve got a fool on the end of my stick’. I replied ‘Oh really, which end?’ Straight in the slammer for a week I got for that,” Jack remembers. During his years in the military, he was offered the chance to go to Beaconsfield to train as a schoolteacher. On completing the training, he was based in Hong Kong, where he remained for the rest of his military service, later becoming headmaster at the school.

At the end of his time with the Army, Jack made the decision to refocus his energies in a new direction. “I got back to England, and that was it, I was out,” he says, “I thought, ‘I know what it’ll do, I’ll go and join the BBC and become a filmmaker.’ The only way to get in at that level was to have a university degree. Although I didn’t have one, they let my service as a teacher count as if I did.” With his foot in the door, Jack started off not making films but trailers, the first being for director Philip Savile. “It was for a television play called Mad House on Castle Street. My habit was to go and sit in the control room whilst they were rehearsing and take notes about what aspects would make for the best trailer,” he explains. “I was sitting up in the control room, and suddenly I heard a voice. It was American – a man singing and playing the guitar. I said to the PA, ‘Who’s the guy with the guitar?’ because I couldn’t make out from where I was sitting. She said to me, ‘I don’t really know, Jack, I think his name’s Bob Dylan, and Philip has put him in the play.’ Bob and I afterwards did some separate recordings in a different studio, and these were the makings of my first trailer. You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever. If you remember a great experience working with somebody, it means you’re benefiting from the talent they bring to the process.” After just four months, Jack moved on towards making full-length television films.

Directing The Pity of War (1964) and George Orwell 1903-1950 (1965), Jack next latched on to a dream project; making a film about Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali. “They’d already been trying to get him for 15 years. Everybody at the BBC told me to forget it – nobody thought I’d get him,” he says. “I contacted Dali’s manager, who told me, ‘Its nothing personal, he just wont make a film with anybody.’ So I kept ringing him over and over and annoying him, until one day Dali came back to him and asked to meet me for tea, making it clear that there’d be no film.” Accepting the offer, Jack set off to meet Dali for tea in Paris. En route, he kept turning over in his mind a speech that might persuade Dali to work with him on a film about his career. “Tea arrived, and I was a bit awed by this startling figure of Dali sat in front of me. He was sitting in this high-backed chair with a cane in his hand. Nothing could prepare you for the shock of actually meeting him – he had such a powerful presence, and it was seriously unnerving. He caught me off guard, and said to me: ‘If we were to make a film together, which we never will do, what would have been your intention?’ And so I sat in a frozen position trying to remember the speech. Nothing came out – silence. I forgot everything I wanted to say. I said to him: ‘My intention would have been… my intention… err… to drill a hole in your head to destroy and penetrate your unconscious once and forever from the inside out! Where these words came from, I do not know” he laughs. “Dali went silent, and I was thinking about how I’d fucked it up. We sat for about three or four minutes and not a word was spoken… and then suddenly he pointed at me and said: ‘I will make a film with you.’” Jack and Dali’s collaboration, Dali in New York, was released in 1966, and remains one of the most notable films in Jack’s filmography.

Jack’s career went on to see him work on the South Bank Show, contributing films about figures ranging from Werner Herzog to Patricia Highsmith, directing a number of feature films, and not least making a number of documentaries about artists. Most recently, Jack completed a documentary about Essex-based Chris Moon, a self-taught artist who was formally a painter and decorator, with no prior training or experience in fine art. An Artist’s Eyes (2016) received a warm reception when it premiered privately at the Charlotte Street Hotel late last year. The film focuses on the creative process behind Moon’s work, tracking him from his studio in Essex to a London exhibition and another in the Chelsea district of New York, concluding with a road trip across Spain in Moon’s vintage Mercedes Benz. “There’s no talking to camera in this film. I really hate that as a technique. There’s no interviews, only talking and sound,” says Jack, “Chris is now a highly priced artist who discovered that he had the knack for art. I was particularly happy with the finish of this new film. As an artist, there is no greater critic than yourself, and watching the immense pressure and depression that an artist like Chris has to overcome to enable him to work was something I could relate to and admire.” Today, Jack resides in Bloomsbury’s Brunswick Centre, which he describes as like living in the sky. Jack’s energy and humour show no sign of dimming any time soon, and neither does his career, with a new film project already on the horizon.

Miles Copeland

Miles Copeland


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“I’ve stuck with it, and it’s become a part of my character. Music is embedded in me….”

We’re on the third floor of a Georgian house on Lambs Conduit Street, where Miles Copeland and I are looking through a collection of carefully arranged records in his home. He passes me a few, and together we examine the sleeves. Zooey, Angelina, Luca: the names of just a handful of artists signed to the WONDERFULSOUND record label, founded by this charming and remarkably humble DJ and record producer. “It’s got a sort of 70s sound to it, a soul and feel that I don’t think you hear around anymore,” he says, showing me the sleeve of Angelica’s new album, Vagabond Saint. With his roots firmly in Bloomsbury, Miles has built a business that takes in music consultancy, publishing, and production. He’s built a reputation for working with new and independent artists, bringing love and passion to the journey of producing music, continually searching for that wonderful sound that remains the ultimate destination of all his projects.

Miles was born in London and raised in Bournemouth. His relationship with music began as a youngster, when he started collecting records; soon, his growing knowledge and passion for sound set him on an a whole new path. By coincidence, when he was just 14, he was asked to DJ, which begun to set things in motion for him. “It was a mate of mine, my sister’s friend. He used to work as a sort of jazz wine bar place, and he knew I was into my music; so he asked me to DJ for him. I turned up with a little bag of records, wearing a Miles Davis T-shirt, and DJed from 8pm until 1am,” he laughs. “God knows how I did it! I assume I must’ve started playing the same records over and over. That was it – that was the first time I DJed. After that, it began a semi-regular thing for me, and I became known among my friends as the one that was into music. I’ve stuck with it, and it’s become a part of my character. Music is embedded in me. I wouldn’t call myself a vinyl snob, but as far as streaming and downloading goes, I have my own preference. I like the idea and aesthetic of listening to a record – the actual process of putting a record onto a turntable and listening to it is a totally different medium of sound to me.”

Miles originally moved to the West End to study sound art, but he also began to learn about how to work in the music industry and become a sound engineer. “It was about thinking outside of the box, thinking about and working with sound from a more left-field, avant-garde point of view. I had tried to make my way into the music industry already at this point, but going to college was my way of trying to work out what I wanted to do.” On leaving, Miles came to set up the company that became WONDERFULSOUND. Many people in the industry at the time believed that artists could operate as individuals, without the support of record labels. “At this point I was actually in a band, and we sort of fell for it and begun putting our own records out under the label. About a year into it, the distributor we were working with was pressing for us to move forward with another record. Thus it became clear to us that you needed to have wider support to make a success of your own music,” he says. “This is where we really begun to redouble our efforts, and begin enhancing the record label side of WONDERFULSOUND. Naturally and organically, we began to start producing records through people we already knew and various contacts.”

His company brings together a number of specialisms under the umbrella of WONDERFULSOUND. “There’s a record label element, and also music consultancy. I produce music for fashion shows, providing help when clients require live music and mixes. It’s no doddle; producing six minutes of music for a fashion show can be really tricky work, and can easily be done badly, but you get there eventually,” he explains. “A big part of what I do is consulting with designers on music, including menswear label Oliver Spencer, whom I collaborate with on a regular basis. In essence, this involves me taking their vision of a fashion show and bringing a sound to it, which reflects the collection and the show. With Oliver, I’ve come to act as his ‘mouth’ when it comes to dealing with musicians and artists for his shows, on the day and beforehand,” he says. “I’ve been doing fashion shows for just over 12 years now, including Jasper Conran, Margaret Howell, Asprey, and assisting Paul Smith.”

Bloomsbury, and Lambs Conduit Street in particular, has been Miles’s home for just over 15 years. When he first arrived, the street was a very different place. Back in the early 2000s, many of the street’s celebrated stores were mostly empty shops, or businesses on their way out rather than their way up. “It’s an infectious area,” enthuses Miles. “It’s such a brilliant neighbourhood, I wouldn’t want to give it up for anywhere else. It was far from what it is today when I first came here. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, let’s leave people to be the judge. It’s certainly a conduit for artists and the creative, and no other street in London has amassed so much talent in one single place,” he says. “I try to live up to the street’s name too –to be a conduit for artists. I want the young, creative people that I meet to thrive. I want to promote, publish and record the work of those whose talents I truly admire. A lot of creatives are really struggling, so I try and enhance their talents however I can. From the artists that produce the sleeve artwork for my records to the people that work on them, that’s what WONDERFULSOUND is all about.” Miles is as enthusiastic about the work of others as he is disarmingly modest about his own, but his love for recorded sound and soulful pop, often on a budget, continues to shine and find new outlets. When he’s not producing records with his artists or providing the soundtrack for some of the biggest names in UK fashion, you’ll find him indulging his passion in yet another way – hosting a regular DJ spot on the independent station Soho Radio.

Christina Harrington

Christina Harrington


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“I want it to be a place for people to come and come back to and build a connection to and weave into their own histories.”

Where do curious people go? How have people made sense of their world in the past, and how do they do it today? Welcome to Treadwells. Christina Oakley Harrington opened her bookshop in 2002. It was named Treadwells, after her grandmother, and its inception marked a point in Christina’s life where knowledge, ancestry, belief, strength and a desire to share and pass these things on all came together. Christina’s father worked for the United Nations in the programme for developing nations, so the young Christina, brought up in West Africa and Southeast Asia, was exposed every day to the local forms of what Western culture might see as esoteric, or even pagan, practices and beliefs.

“In Liberia, the religions are very localised and un-named, and my exposure was via playmates and through my family’s beloved cook and housekeeper Daniel, who took us to his village numerous times. We also had Liberian friends who kindly took us to parts of the country where most Westerners weren’t interested in going, to ceremonies for local village communities. The first religious ceremony I ever remember – in my entire life – was in upcountry Liberia in a tiny village by the edge of the scrubby outlands, from where there appeared a hundred girls marked up in white chalk. It was the final stage of the girls’ initiation into womanhood, when they came out of seclusion to be welcomed back to the community. There was dancing, drumming and the elders were in a state of trance possession and wearing masks. I was quite disturbed but fascinated, and clung tightly to my mother’s hand. In Burma, we lived in Rangoon and went with Burmese family friends to many, many pagodas, monasteries, shrines and community religious festivals.”

Eventually, when she was in her mid-teens, the family moved to the USA, where Christina noticed that, compared to the environments she’d grown up in, there was a certain ‘lack’. There were, of course, the formal organised religions, and while some traces of pagan heritage could be still found, as with Halloween, it was the actions that had survived, while the underlying meanings hadn’t. As a compulsively curious individual, Christina found herself on a quest to find meaning in her new environment, searching for the kinds of threads that run through most ‘esoteric’ beliefs: nature, ancestry, tribalism, community, symbolism, a language of meaning, and meaning within meaning. It was a search for magic – something you can harness, that’s already there, but isn’t yours.

So Christina voraciously read whatever she could get her hands on and kept searching. Eventually, during one of those long, late night conversations at university, a friend told her about Wicca. This sounded like the ‘it’ that she had been looking for: so she packed her bags and moved to London.

As with many alternative belief systems or ‘sects’, there was a certain element of secrecy involved, and Christina had to feel her way around the fringes, finding the ‘ins’ and the clues: the little hidden gem of a bookshop providing a pointer, the meetings with a contact. Finally, her persistence paid off. She found her way to the ‘centre of the flower’ and became first an apprentice to Wicca, and eventually a Wiccan high priestess – a white witch. Sadly, magic and witchcraft don’t pay the rent! So she applied her trademark sense of curiosity to a day job of lecturer in medieval history at St Mary’s University College. Medieval art and culture are filled with rich symbolism and meanings hidden within meanings – the visible and the invisible. Christina became adept at understanding this particular era, interpreting the breadcrumb-trails of codes and symbols to arrive at a more complete understanding of how people thought at the time. Coincidentally, the study of esoteric beliefs and practices was having something of a boom at this point, at last being taken seriously as a genuine area for research and study.

One day, St Mary’s embarked on one of their restructuring drives, as universities are wont to do. And it was at this point in her life – with at least two demonstrable academic specialisms, a few good omens and a small inheritance from Grandmother Treadwell – that the bookshop was born. It wasn’t a straightforward birth. The young chap in the loans department of the bank was very sceptical about the long-term prospects for books, never mind bookshops – wasn’t it all going digital? But the plan was for more than ‘just’ a bookshop. It was to be a meeting place for practitioners and scholars, offering classes and lecture series, and a place in which like-minded and curious people could understand, communicate and experience rituals. It started in Covent Garden, with an orange box for a counter and volunteers to keep it open, but once again fate stepped in, or rents stepped up. Christina found herself drawn to Bloomsbury’s Store Street – situated near the Petrie Museum of Egyptology, the Folklore Society, Fitzroy Square, the British Museum, SOAS (the School of African Studies) and the rich seam of curious people who frequented the locale.

So, she mixed a great big potion, made a few incantations to the Moon on the third Tuesday of spring and – poof! – got a shop on Store Street. Ok, so that’s a fib; the truth is rather more prosaic, but she did get the shop, and people came. And that’s one of the surprising things about Christina and Treadwells: it’s not some kind of ‘cloud cuckoo land’ enterprise, but an extremely well organised and curated, research-rich resource providing history and information on anything you could possibly imagine (and plenty you can’t) about the beliefs and cultures of the world. It informs about magic and the occult, which are rooted in folklore and offer an alternative path to that of ‘Enlightenment’ rationalism. New Age, it is not: Christina is not of the school that believes that positive thinking can cure everything. She tells me that they often get people in the shop talking about how ill they feel and enquiring about books on healing. The staff ask gently if they have been to see their GP. To me this seemed (as one entirely clueless about occult matters) a contradiction, but as our conversation happily meandered I realised that the whole idea behind these fairly randomly grouped and quite disparate beliefs that are called esoteric is that they are quite willing to embrace what’s current and new; they don’t view it as a threat to their way of life or system of belief, but as a potential enhancement to their understanding of the world and the people living in it.

So what about the clientele? Who comes to Treadwells? “A very mixed bunch,” says Christina, ”but there are trends – like when Harry Potter was big in the early 2000s there was a lot of interest in magic. Interestingly, there is a strong feminist thread through many of these alternative beliefs which value the role of the female, unlike some strands of organised religions, which don’t; so we have a number of younger female participants who are seeking a strength from within themselves which is offered in alternative beliefs. So I’m pleased about that. My main wish is to ensure that we have what people need, or want, or are curious about, so that when have an interest, it doesn’t die on the vine.” With so much to find out about it’s hard to know where to start, but here are a few good recommendations for beginners: The Book of English Magic by Richard Heygate and Philip Carr-Gomm, The Secret Lore of London by John Matthews, and What is a Witch? by Pam Grossman. Asked what she wants for Treadwells in the future, Christina replies after some thought “Longevity. I want longevity for Treadwells. I want it to be a place for people to come and come back to and build a connection to and weave into their own histories.”

Gay’s The Word

Gay’s The Word


Words Roland Glasser

Photography Kirk Truman


“You get a sense that people feel they are in a space of their own.”

A smile plays across Jim MacSweeney’s face as he sits, pensive, clasping a mug of tea in his nook at the rear of the shop. His eyes twinkle as he stares at a point in space just over my shoulder, contemplating visions of the past and future projected on the spines of the books packed tightly on the shelves behind me. Jim has been working here for nearly three decades, two of those as manager. What Jim doesn’t know about Gay’s the Word, the UK’s only remaining dedicated gay and lesbian bookshop, probably isn’t worth knowing.

Gay’s the Word opened in 1979, just 12 years after homosexuality was legalised in the UK. In those days, mainstream bookshops simply didn’t have dedicated sections for gay and lesbian writing. If you were lucky you might have been able to track down a particular book in one of the more niche independent or secondhand bookshops, but it was very hard to get hold of certain titles, particularly non-fiction. Mail order from the USA was often the only option. Gay’s the Word was a lifeline, even though it took a number of years for HM Customs and Excise (who carried out a raid in 1984, seizing hundreds of books) to finally accept that the place was a serious bookshop not a porn peddler.

The long, narrow space contains an astonishing breadth of content. The front part of the shop has a strong fiction section with the usual display of new titles, but keep going, past a slim revolving stand of DVDs (feature films and documentaries), and you’ll find works of non-fiction, poetry, plays, biography, art, erotica, theory, history, fashion and music. An important part of Jim’s job is scouring publishers’ catalogues for anything of “queer interest” (he explains that he uses the term “queer” to cover gay, lesbian, bi and trans, because it’s easier). “There are some novelists who happen to be gay, but the key thing is whether their books have gay themes or protagonists. If so, we’ll consider whether they will be of interest to us. Colm Tóibín is an example. Some of his books are gay, and a whole load of them aren’t. And we will sell less of the ones that aren’t gay because people are coming in here specifically to look for lesbian and gay writing. And obviously we’ll stock novels with gay themes even if the writers are not. Now if it’s poetry, John Ashbery or Mary Oliver, for example, both of whom happen to be gay and lesbian, their work doesn’t deal directly with passion or sexuality or desire, but we’ll stock them because they happen to be queer and they’re poets. We want to have as wide a range as possible, but we need titles that sell. Esoteric books, we might only get one or two copies in, while others like queer theory, will become part of our core stock.”

For many years, the shop was a focal point for gay and lesbian activists and community groups. The rear of the premises, including the very nook where Jim and I are chatting, was where many of them used to meet. There was tea and coffee, a piano for sing-a-longs and a large noticeboard where people posted ads, flyers and leaflets about anything and everything. The piano and coffee bar have long gone to make way for more bookshelves, but several groups still meet at the shop – the Lesbian Discussion Group has been meeting here for over 35 years – and there are regular events, readings and book launches. I am amazed when Jim tells me they can seat 45 people on folding chairs.

Gay’s the Word still plays an important role as a portal for those seeking advice or support, or simply exploring their own queer identity through literature, regardless of age or gender. Jim recounts how a woman recently came in with her 14-year-old daughter: “She sat down in the teen section and looked at the books, and the mum chatted to me and then went off for a coffee, letting her daughter work away. When she came back, her daughter had chosen and her mum paid for the books. And I loved how relaxed she was, and how things have changed. Because it’s so easy to think of difficult times, bricks through the window or homophobic abuse. We get very little of that now.”

I wonder what place there is for Gay’s the Word today, given how easy it is to find many of these titles in large bookshops or online. Jim is adamant: “A lot of the sections in mainstream bookshops aren’t very good, with a few notable exceptions, or else they focus on erotic fiction, more obvious stuff. They are also getting smaller as they run out of space. People come in here because we have an extraordinary range of books pulled in from everywhere. We really know the stuff, and we read. It’s also a non-judgmental space. There’s a community feel. I really like the amount of young women and men we now get coming in since the film Pride, which really made people aware of the history of the place. They ask for recommendations, they talk about books, they ask questions. You might see some of them holding hands, or stealing a quick kiss at the back. And of course we get people from abroad who search us out. You get a sense that people feel they are in a space of their own. Whereas if you’re in a mainstream bookshop, say, and you’re buying a book on coming out, or erotica, or gay spirituality, you might feel uncomfortable as you go up to the counter, but here this is what we do.” Love, indeed. Love of books and love of people. In these uncertain times, Gay’s the Word remains as special and as vital as ever.

A Bloomsbury Garden

A Bloomsbury Garden


Words Yvonne Craig

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


It has been said that one of the most beautiful private gardens in Bloomsbury is that enjoyed by the residents of Ridgmount Gardens. From the windows of their Bedford Estates’ mansion flats they watch the seasons changing the magnificent trees from spring gold to autumn bronze. When one of these was destroyed in a storm some time ago, its mighty branches crushing a resident’s car, his first words were: “Poor tree!” This love of our garden is shared by passers-by, who also delight in the summer fragrance of the cascading mimosa and stop to photograph it – just as the pilgrims do for the Bob Marley blue plaque outside my flat.

The garden has a fascinating history. The Bedford Estates have kindly provided archival information about its construction, after an earlier one, of unknown date, was demolished. The 1890 Surveyor’s Specification, “for His Grace the Duke of Bedford”, showed that he, like subsequent members of his family, was concerned to meet the highest standards, which should conform to those of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Master Builders’ Association. One example was the Duke’s insistence that “trees were not to be disturbed unless permitted by his Forester”, and that roots were to be carefully “bridged”. It seems that the garden’s construction relied on the Surveyor, it being too early for a landscape designer. The current Head Gardener, Thomas Abbott, devoted to arboreal care, now has fewer employees, although he has been able to plant new trees, including the Persian Ironwood and Chinese Sacred Bamboo. The North American Smokebrush has an alliterative Latin name: Cotinus coggygna! We always delight in the autumnal multi-coloured Maple, and are intrigued by the recent wood sculptures fashioned from trimmed upturned roots. Plants like the appropriate London Pride or Heuchera, the spring bulbs, and the glorious gardenias graciously add seasonal colour to the garden.

The garden’s wild life is as competitive as that of humanity, and swooping seagulls demonstrate this. The squirrels swing on our nut feeders and fight off the tits, which fly to the nearby fatballs. The ubiquitous pigeons are called avian rodents because they spread disease, so we discourage them by withholding our breadcrumbs, although we welcome the thrushes, blackbirds, starlings and occasional wagtails. These and smaller birds like the London sparrows, finches, wrens and our beloved robins, especially delight us, although they are scarcer now, as leaf-blowing sweeps away the tiny insects on which they feed. It is rumoured that many years ago nightingales could be heard, and we have occasional visits from exotic birds-on-the wing, while the colourful jays and jackdaws may hunt for eggs, and crows herald the dusk. The nocturnal foxes, with their vixens and cubs, chase up and down the garden and also the street, where they tear open the black refuse bags left overnight and devour the food scraps inside. Although our excellent porters place large-print hall notices warning residents not to “feed the foxes”, they always outfox us. Dog owners are compliant, however, as the Bedford Estates forbid the entry of our furry friends into the garden to avoid soiling of the grass and paths where residents and their children sit, walk and play.

Residents of all ages love and enjoy our garden. Babies roll about on rugs on the grass. Toddlers tumble, jump and run around, while older children play hide-and-seek among the shrubbery. They all delight in dancing under the hosepipe or splashing in their plastic pools. Parents relax, rejoicing that their children can play safely away from the traffic. Elderly people enjoy watching it all, and also the passers-by dressed in the colourful clothes of international and still Bohemian Bloomsbury with its surging numbers of students. Some of these reside in Ridgmount Gardens while studying at UCL, SOAS and RADA, and they grace the grass with their beautiful young bodies as they lie there with their textbooks before the summer seasonal exams. Residents also include permanent professors at Bloomsbury colleges as well as temporary visiting ones from overseas. These tend to sit in the shade with their laptops, perhaps composing their magnum opus.

Such diversity leads to a great variety of garden activities. There are all kinds of parties. Children’s birthdays are made magical by balloons and streamers festooning the trees, while the grown-ups have cocktail parties, and couples cuddle together with champagne when it grows dark. The Residents’ Ridgmount Garden Association (RGA) Committee regularly hosts soirees when we bring drinks and bites to share, while flags are hung on the railings for special occasions. One was the Queen’s birthday, when we all sang the national anthem. A long time ago, when I had tenure of the RGA committee chair for eight years, I bought a potted Christmas tree for the garden, decorated with apples for the birds, and we all sang carols around it. These events, and our private garden in general, always attract the interest and envy of passers-by, although residents are free to bring in their guests. Now, at the age of 91, my greatest joy is to rest in bed, watching the sun’s rising and setting illuminating the garden, its life, and ours.

Eclectics

Eclectics


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“We formed a collective in order to reach our fullest potential and keep our craft fresh.”

In the private gardens of the Bedford Estates, a strikingly beautiful young girl steps forward. She slips into a heavy REMADE Schneetarn Anorak by English fashion designer, Christopher Raeburn. First, she begins to shimmy from side to side, then to flex her body, the fabric following her limbs in their every move. Her face wears an elusive smile as she begins to dance. She is immersed in her passion: her name is Valerie Ebuwa.

I’ll come clean: dance is something of a riddle to me, simply because I can’t do it to save my life. Which only increases my admiration for the profound commitment and sheer passion for performance that this group of young artists share. Valerie and her team of urban contemporary dancers captivate me, so I’m fascinated to learn more about the origins of their Eclectics dance and performance group and hear about their relationship with the Bloomsbury area.

Valerie tells me that Eclectics was something she and her colleagues had always foreseen. The group is made up of a trio of close friends who met during dance training at Bloomsbury’s The Place, a powerhouse for dance development that leads the way in training, creation and performance. Though they all received frequent individual offers of work from a variety of different events and agencies, their shared interests in dance, music, and fashion led them to take their passion to the next level by becoming a group. “Having a variety of multidisciplinary skills, we formed a collective that performs, choreographs and teaches in order to reach our fullest potential and keep our craft fresh,” explains Valerie, “and having many different backgrounds within the group we often teach each other too – so it’s a constant, ever-growing collective.” The group comprises London-born Valerie Ebuwa and Ryan Munroe, and Claire Shaw from Wales. Together, they manage bookings, events, rehearsals and choreography, collaborating with a mix of independent businesses, venues and brands, including some international names such as Nike.

As individuals, the members of Eclectics naturally have their own personal ambitions, but as a collective their aim is to promote contemporary dance to new audiences who may not know much about this particular world; it’s a way to both inform and inspire others. “The contemporary dance world has a niche, elitist audience – usually contemporary dancers, their friends and families. It’s our aim to educate people about what exactly contemporary dance is whilst also changing the face of contemporary dance. Not too long ago, dance degrees could only be obtained by those whose families could support vocational training. As a result, contemporary dance companies have often been made up of people from similar backgrounds and ethnic origins,” says Valerie. “These people often do similar work because they have all been trained in the same way. Eclectics aims to have mixed ensembles of talented individuals from all backgrounds in order to change the perception of contemporary dance for good.”

The group spent three years in training at the London Contemporary Dance School (aka The Place), the UK’s number one school for contemporary dance. As the school is located on Bloomsbury’s Duke’s Road, the three then-students spent much of their time in and around the neighbourhood for the duration of the course. “Having spent three years here, we as a collective realised that Bloomsbury residents were still unaware of how the area plays such a huge role in the future of contemporary dance,” says Valerie. Once they’d graduated, they decided to make their keep their base in the area, choreographing site-specific works that would both educate people about contemporary dance and also pay homage to the area that had nurtured them and so many other UK dance artists.

When I asked Valerie to explain what makes Eclectics different from other contemporary dance groups, she emphasised just how multidisciplinary the collective is and how it lives up to the promise of its name. “We not only choreograph and train in contemporary dance, but we regularly perform hip hop, dancehall, samba, commercial, African and jazz choreographies. We integrate all of our different styles together, rather than just contemporary dance. We often travel to different countries to enhance our understanding of different dance styles and genres and also use other movement art forms such as yoga, capoeira, kung fu and other martial arts to enhance and inform our work,” she says. Eclectics also design all of their own sets, costumes and lighting: “So all the work comes from us.”

This is an exciting time for the group, who have plenty of plans for the future. “We are be looking to expand our connections with local residents and this year’s graduates of London Contemporary Dance School in order to keep the promotion of contemporary dance within the area alive and fresh. We hope to bring contemporary dance to the foreground in Bloomsbury, and get it out of its current somewhat backyard existence,” says Valerie. The group are also in talks for many more events, shows and residencies, as well as music video performances. As I watch Valerie, Ryan and Claire improvising together, I try and define what it is that makes their performance so captivating. It’s a matter of personality and spirit, of sheer love of dance, but of something else too. As they dance, jump and stretch, I notice that their eyes meet as they constantly observe and react to one another: and it’s clear that what makes Eclectics special is that they are three friends who share a close, courageous creative bond.

 

Louise Russell

Louise Russell


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


 

“Bloomsbury is a centre of culture, joining together education, history and diversity at every turn…”

We have left behind the leafy street corners of Bloomsbury and find ourselves in the green fields of Woburn, Bedfordshire. Through the country lanes full of ferns that lean toward the roadside, we make the approach to the 13,000-acre estate of Woburn Abbey. Although it is 50 miles from London, this is the home of a family that has been integral in helping develop Bloomsbury into the place we know and love today. As we walk through the corridors of the Abbey, soaking up the sense of history and admiring the many portraits that line the walls, a lady approaches with a small dog in tow. Her Grace, Louise Russell, The Duchess of Bedford, lives at the Abbey with her husband Andrew, the 15th Duke of Bedford, and their two children. Though it is 50 miles from London, this is the home of a family that has been integral in helping develop Bloomsbury into the place we know and love today. It soon becomes clear, as Louise talks about Bloomsbury’s Bedford Estates and her role as Patron of the upcoming Bloomsbury Festival, that this is very much an ongoing relationship.

The Russell family has been part of the fabric of the Bloomsbury neighbourhood for over 300 years. When William, Lord Russell, married Lady Rachel Wriothesley in 1669, the Bloomsbury Estate came into the ownership of the Russell family. Rachel had inherited the estate upon the death of her father, the 4th Earl of Southampton, two years earlier. He had died leaving three daughters but no male heir, thus his estates were divided equally between his children. William, Lord Russell, was the eldest surviving son of the 5th Earl of Bedford. He became implicated in the Rye House Plot of 1683 and was executed for treason. The family was later pardoned, and the Dukedom was created in 1694. The couple had lived at Southampton House in Bloomsbury with their children, including the future 2nd Duke of Bedford. Southampton House became the primary ducal London residence and was renamed Bedford House in 1734 and later demolished in 1800, facilitating the creation of Russell Square. Much of the landscape and architecture of Bloomsbury is the work of past Dukes and Duchesses of Bedford. It was the formidable Duchess Gertrude, widow of the 4th Duke, who created the much admired Bedford Square and Gower Street, while Tavistock Square takes its name from the courtesy title given to the eldest sons of the Dukes of Bedford: the Marquess of Tavistock.

Louise has a passion for Bloomsbury, describing its notable architecture, fine Georgian squares and rich history as captivating and unmatched in Central London. “I hate the term up-and-coming, though there is something really quite unique about Bloomsbury that defines it as different from nearby neighbourhoods such as Fitzrovia, Soho and Marylebone,” she says. “Bloomsbury is a centre of culture, joining together education, history and diversity at every turn. Iconic literary and intellectual figures throughout history have made Bloomsbury their home, from Charles Dickens to Virginia Woolf. The Bedford Estates is proud of this heritage.”

Since it was established in 2006, The Bloomsbury Festival has become a focal point of the neighbourhood calendar. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the festival is a creative explosion of arts, science, literature, culture and fun. It’s a unique event, representative of the neighbourhood’s spirit, bringing together over 100 world-leading institutions, from drama, dance and visual art colleges to creative businesses, theatres, cinemas, ground-breaking scientists, thinkers, and publishing houses. Led by festival director Kate Anderson, the 2016 Festival takes place over five days from 19th to 23rd October, with a schedule of about 150 events in venues across the neighbourhood – streets, parks, museums, galleries and public and private buildings are all involved. For 2016, the theme of the festival is language, marking the Centenary of SOAS and also reflecting the rich diversity of the neighbourhood’s population. The interpretation of the theme is broad, promising a varied programme that will bring it to life: expect street parties celebrating the language of dance, debates on the language of social change, poets battling it out against technology, a sound installation of endangered languages, and many more wide-ranging creative projects and performances throughout the festival’s duration. Throughout the weekend of the festival, Store Street’s unique independent shops and restaurants will remain open later than usual and will each house a different art or music experience.

The Bedford Estates is one of the lead partners of this year’s Bloomsbury Festival, and has supported the event for many years, with Louise acting as Patron. The Duchess is an ambassador for the entirety of the programme, meeting with the festival chair and director throughout the year to discuss strategic plans, development and fundraising. Louise takes an active role in all of these capacities, hosting a number of receptions to help raise the festival’s profile and support its fundraising drive. The Duchess is a particular advocate for work that involves the community at all levels, especially the Step Out Store Street event, which this year takes place on Friday 21st October. “I would love to encourage as many people to come as possible – it’s really worth coming along! It’s a happy, vibrant and relaxed atmosphere, which captures the essence of the neighbourhood. If this corner of London is accessible to you, it would be a shame to miss it. Last year’s event on Store Street was a huge success,” she says. “It was attended by some 3,000 people, and the street was lined with fire sculptures inspired by 2015’s theme of light.”

The 10th Bloomsbury Festival is set to both captivate and represent the neighbourhood over its five days, and it’s one way in which the Bedford Estates maintains its historical links with the neighbourhood and continues its work here in modern day Bloomsbury, working closely with various stakeholders and the local London Borough of Camden to enhance the public realm and celebrate the cultural heritage of the area.

Cathal McAteer

Cathal McAteer


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“I fell in love with clothes, the idea and process of making the best clothes that I could…”

Folk is a word that can refer both to a sense of tradition and to the ordinary people who sustain it. Making your way along Lambs Conduit Street, it’s also a word you’ll see adorning two shop-fronts: one at No 49, and another at No 53. Here, on one of Bloomsbury’s premier streets for both independent shops and bigger high-street names, Scotsman Cathal McAteer, founder of Folk Clothing, has established a brand that is now a name for refined style and quality.

Folk offers elegance enriched by subtle details to its products for both men and women. In essence, it’s about style without the drama. Detail is key to the brand: from the stitching and buttons to the fabrics themselves, there are no shortcuts or half-measures.

“We don’t try to be mainstream. We’re niche – it’s all about the small things” says Cathal. “We don’t go to the button shop. We take care of every single detail ourselves: we never compromise. The thing we come back to quite a lot is to have more than you show. We like things to be instantly recognisable, without a label or a brand on them. Everything is in the details – and in the hidden details, the textures and fabrics too. Some people might say we care way too much, or waste too much time doing these things, but we think this finishes pieces off in a way that makes us satisfied with the garment. It just happens to be how I like to do things, you know?”

Cathal founded Folk in 2002, and has since navigated between streetwear and the architect-designer aesthetic, helping create a scene for well-made casual clothing with a modern British edge. Cathal grew up in Glasgow, where he started out working in shops from an early age. “I’ve been working in fashion since I was about 17. I’m not from a design background, I started out working in shops and then later on ended up working as a buyer,” he explains. “My friend told me I should call it Folk, so I did. Sometime later he wanted to call his brand Folk, but I was already too far gone!” he laughs. “I basically always knew it was going to happen. It was a natural progression from what I was doing before. I’d been in Japan with a friend of mine, and these guys had asked me when I was going to start my own brand. Some people offered to pay for their orders in advance, which helped me get things started. For about five years I’ve always had another business that helped to fund Folk. The profits went into the brand, until we began working with a selling agency further down the line. It kind of started organically, and from there it went on to become what it is now. I fell in love with clothes, the idea and process of making the best clothes that I could, and making them as accessible as possible to consumers.”

Beginning as a menswear line, Folk has since gone on to expand into footwear, accessories, furniture and womenswear. Bloomsbury has long been the backdrop for the brand, with the first store having opened on Lambs Conduit Street more than a decade ago and its head office based just round the corner on Emerald Street. “I guess I’ve always been a bit of a hippy at heart,” says Cathal. ”Our customer is really into clothes. They recognise quality and craft in products – they posses a real vanity for covering up vanity.” Looking back, he admits “the first few collections were truly shit. But as time went on we found our way. A friend of mine asked to meet me for a pint on Lambs Conduit Street way back. He told me if I was ever going to have a shop, I should have it here.” It turned out to be a wise decision. “Back then, there was nothing here compared to what there is today. To me, it’s a great position in London – it’s set perfectly in the middle of town. I’ve worked all over, but this is as perfect as it gets.” In the future, Cathal intends to evolve Folk and keep it embedded here in London, mentioning the possibility of a potential third store on Lambs Conduit Street in the near future. Whatever lies ahead for the brand, Folk’s roots will remain right here in Bloomsbury where it all started.

 

Grant Museum of Zoology

Grant Museum of Zoology


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“He was a biologist 30 years before Charles Darwin ever published. He taught Darwin evolution. Grant was his mentor…”

One of the great pleasures of living in Bloomsbury is its constant ability to surprise, to give up a new secret, to reveal another hidden gem. I’m almost ashamed to admit that it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered one such secret, a wonderful cabinet of curiosities that had hitherto gone under my radar. I speak of Bloomsbury’s Grant Museum of Zoology on University Street. I met Jack Ashby of the University College London Public and Cultural Engagement Department to learn something of the history of this remarkable collection.

Jack tells to me that the museum’s name derives from Professor Robert Edmond Grant (1793-1874), who established the Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in 1827 to serve as a teaching collection at the then newly founded University of London (what you and I now know as University College London). Born in Edinburgh, Grant studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and became best known for his work on marine invertebrates, in particular sponges, sea pens and molluscs. “Nobody has ever heard of him. He’s not in any way famous, though he should be. He was one of the earliest evolutionary biologists. He was a biologist 30 years before Charles Darwin ever published. He taught Darwin evolution – Grant was his mentor,” says Jack. Grant was the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in England, and upon arrival at London University found there were no teaching materials with which to conduct his courses – so he immediately began to amass specimens, material for dissection, diagrams and lecture notes. On his deathbed, he was persuaded by colleague William Sharpey (1802-1880) to leave his considerable collection of books, academic papers and natural history specimens to the college. This ensured that successive generations of students would have access to his knowledge. While, sadly, Grant’s personal papers have never been found, his collection forms the basis of the museum today.

The collection has grown organically over time up, getting considerably larger between the early 1980s and early 2000s when other colleges and universities throughout London began to donate their own collections to the Grant museum. “They had decided they no longer required any sort of collection of zoology,” says Jack. “Animal biology had begun to go out of fashion, with people just teaching molecular biology and genetics. Today many universities in London have realised that you can’t teach a student what a tiger looks like by looking at its genes – you actually need some whole animal bits too!”

In absorbing a whole variety of collections, the museum has effectively become a museum of museums. Today, it houses a collection from the Gordon Museum – a collection of animal brains from the comparative anatomy collections at King’s College London – and Imperial College London’s entire fossil, skeletal and spirit specimen collection, which was transferred to UCL in the 1980s. Soon after, in the 1990s, primatology and fossil hominid materials were donated from the Napier Collection, along with subsequent donations from a variety of other sources throughout the city. A large majority of the specimens in the collection originate from the Victorian era, with many others having been on display for over 180 years. Among them you’ll find one of the rarest skeletons in the world, that of the extinct quagga, an unusual half-striped zebra from South Africa. It’s the only mounted quagga skeleton in the UK, and no more than seven quagga skeletons survive globally. The museum also boasts a number of wax models used in teaching and around 20,000 microscope slides, many of which are displayed on a giant vertical light box – which makes for interesting viewing, to say the least.

Having been traditionally only made available to students, the collection was fully opened to the public in 1997 for two afternoons a week; today, teaching takes place every day in term time and the Grant Museum is open to visitors six days a week. In over 170 years much has befallen the museum. In 1884, a ceiling collapse destroyed a number of specimens; there were further ceiling collapses and flooding in the 1890s; and by the 1970s the roof was completely missing. During the dark days of the Second World War the entire collection was evacuated to Bangor, and in subsequent decades it faced numerous threats of closure. In recent years, however, the museum has gone from strength to strength.

The museum itself has relocated many times. When it was opened to the public in 1997, the collection moved to the UCL Darwin Building. In March 2011, the museum was moved again, this time to the wonderful Rockefeller Building on University Street, which was formally the Medical School Library. The museum continues to be used as a teaching collection, just as it was in Professor Grant’s day. Today, it is fully accessible to more people than ever before through outreach and through public displays. Remarkably, the museum remains something of a secret from the wider Bloomsbury neighbourhood in which it rests. Jack Ashby and the staff at the museum fully encourage visits from the general public and are always keen to raise awareness of this hidden gem. The Grant Museum is sure to stimulate the imagination of anybody who steps into its corridors and explores its numerous odd exhibits. After all, with such a wonderfully eccentric collection on your doorstep, you’d be mad as a box of quaggas not to pay it a visit!

 

Skoob Books

Skoob Books


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Kirk Truman


“What makes Bloomsbury important is the culture that’s here…”

Exit Russell Square tube station, having conquered its seemingly never-ending steps, bypass the crowded Brunswick Centre, veer off the main shopping drag, and you will find one of the great treasures of Bloomsbury. In an unassuming location – next to Waitrose and down a flight of stairs – is Skoob, the second-hand bookshop that is home to possibly the largest privately owned book collection in the world. Venture down those stairs in search of a particular book and you will not only find it but most likely come away with several other titles you didn’t even know you were looking for. Yes, Skoob is a treasure-trove of a place, its tightly-packed shelves playing host to around 65,000 volumes on the shop floor alone, another 45,000 in basement storage, and around one million in a warehouse in Oxford. If you didn’t believe me when I said it was a large collection, those numbers should do the talking.

It’s fitting that Skoob – which opened 1978 on Sicilian Avenue, near Bloomsbury Square, and has operated from a variety of premises around London – is now back in the literary haven of Bloomsbury, where it has made its home for the past 9 years. With such a vast collection, your first question might be (well, mine was) where does it all come from? Chris, the manager and the man behind the seemingly endless rows of books, tells me that it comes from anywhere and everywhere. Oxford colleges, London academics, people downsizing, or their own lucky finds. Thankfully for Chris, we Londoners are typically short on space and always looking to shed a few volumes. The book collector of today is changing. Space is hard to come by, and even if you do have some room, downsizing is a reality. Not only that, but we’re constantly on the move. So as Londoners find themselves running out of space or leading a transient lifestyle that makes them reluctant to be weighed down, Chris and the rest of the Skoob staff are there to pick up the literary remains. They gather collections both great and small and of every conceivable genre to fill their shelves, which burst with books for every kind of reader.

“We undertake not to shred, and to find another read, another buyer, for a book,” says Chris. All of the books they collect, even yet more Jilly Cooper paperbacks, will eventually end up on the shop floor or on the carefully selected online shop. Skoob is committed to continually replenishing whatever sells with something better, so that customers are never at a loss to find something. Restocking happens every time a sale is made, but the process is not random. As Chris explains: “If I just replace that with any old book, then gradually the quality goes down. So what we need to do every time a book sells is replace it with a better one. Better than the gap that’s left.” It’s the sort of approach that demonstrates how much attention Skoob pays to its customers: the staff always want to find the right book for every shopper. “We recognise that all our customers are individuals and aren’t going to be herded into buying the latest fashion.”

I am one of the many customers to which Skoob caters. As a student I thankfully discovered Skoob not far into my first year of reading English Literature. I say thankfully because had I not taken a friend’s recommendation early on into my first few weeks of living a stone’s throw from Russell Square, my three years of education in London would have wound up being a lot more expensive. Even when I moved out of the area, I still returned to Skoob on a regular basis, not simply for practical reasons but out of a fondness for its packed shelves. I never left empty handed and rarely with just the items on my list; testament not just to my shopping habit, but also to how well stocked this shop is. If I went in looking for an affordable copy of Little Dorrit, I left with an armful of Faulkner as well.

The last decade has seen a huge change not just in the make-up of Londoners, but more specifically in the capital’s student population. They buy fewer books, and when they do, they go second-hand, both online and in penny-saving sanctuaries like Skoob. This is great news for the shop, whether students have grouped together and shared the cost of one reading list, or whether they go solo as I do. It’s great news for impoverished readers too, and makes Skoob an utter haven for people like me, looking to shave off some academic costs so there’s something left for cocktails. The easy atmosphere, extensive back catalogue and low prices make the shop a destination for London’s students, particularly given its location close to many university halls.

For regulars, students or bibliophilic tourists, Skoob is more than just a Bloomsbury institution and a shrine to the area’s literary history. As the shop continues to evolve and grow, as the staff forever restock the shelves, Skoob continues that history in the best possible way. Chris will keep buying books because of his desire to always delight his customers and to maintain the literary legacy of the area.

“One of the things about Britain is the vibrant literary culture”. Bloomsbury, synonymous as it is with the names of Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, and other key members of the Bloomsbury Group, has played host to much of that cultural history. The plethora of blue plaques and famous landmarks are a testament to this, and people flock here for that very reason. Despite its celebrated history, the area is increasingly in danger of being homogenised. Seventeen bookshops have closed in the area in the last 10 years. That’s why Skoob, in its dedication to continually cultivating its collection and looking to the future, is one of the most important treasures of Bloomsbury. Long may it remain here – if only to convince me that I need more Faulkner.

 

Store Street Espresso

Store Street Espresso


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“We’re one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent”

Walk down Store Street and you leave behind the roar of the West End and cross the bridge into the more peaceful world of Bloomsbury. Starting at Tottenham Court Road in the west and ending at Gower Street in the east, Store Street is one of the most diverse in the neighbourhood, indeed in all of central London. Just a short walk from the British Museum and some of London’s top universities, Store Street Espresso has become a favourite with students, locals and visitors alike, making it a serious contender on London’s independent café scene.

Serving delicious artisan coffee since 2009, Store Street Espresso has fast became an institution on the street from which it takes its name and one of the best coffee shops in Bloomsbury. Boasting an excellent selection of sandwiches and pastries, as well as consistently delicious coffee, Store Street Espresso caters for a growing band of loyal customers. As you’d expect, they’re a diverse clientele, drawn from the neighbourhood’s mix of academia and commerce. The café was the brainchild of friends Rog and Jack. Having identified an impending coffee explosion in the city, they opened up with a simple aim: to offer great coffee to the people of Bloomsbury.

“Originally we just wanted to make some nice coffee, work with great equipment and have a cool space for the locals to hang out. On top of that it is always important that we provide a fun environment for people to work in, and for them to feel that they can have influence on what we do,” says General Manager Momo. Coffee is still at the centre of what they do, and their passion and enthusiasm for experimenting and trying new suppliers is evident both in their vast selection and on their Instagram feed, which on any given day is full of shout-outs to their most popular suppliers. “I’m open to all suggestions,” says Momo, “and because of that we were one of the first speciality coffee shops to produce cold brew, bulk brew filter and matcha, all of which has brought us a lot of success.”

It was this success that led to the opening of a second branch, closer to King’s Cross. “Honestly”, Momo tells me, “we were victims of our own popularity. We had reached the limits of what we could do in the space we had, the second store provided us with an opportunity to have an in-house kitchen so we could make our own sweets and offer cooked brunch for customers. It was a chance to try something new and different from the original, but to keep it familiar.” Recognising the need for expansion allowed them to grow the business on their own terms, and keeping their duo of cafes close together has facilitated this. The second Store Street Espresso can be found on Tavistock Place, not far from Russell Square, offering a port in the storm for anyone looking to escape King’s Cross and enjoy a peaceful interlude of coffee, cake and people-watching through the vast street-facing windows.

“All we knew was that we wanted it to be simple, minimal and different.” This signature minimalist style runs throughout every element of both locations. The relaxed café is a haven for students escaping the library, busy freelancers seeking a bit of human interaction and tourists and locals in search of sustenance and a break in their busy day. The minimalist interiors keep the space light and airy, with few distractions other than the array of tempting treats on offer. Store Street Espresso sources from anyone and everyone: local suppliers, recommendations or requests from regulars, or members of the team championing something they’ve discovered. This collaborative approach fits well with the community vibe that the café shares with Bloomsbury in general.

Arriving at 40 Store Street, you’re quickly lured in by the distinct aroma of coffee. The skylights at the rear of the café make it feel a bit like an airy workshop, while the bright walls add to the cheerful feel. At present, those walls also illustrate Store Street Espresso’s dedication to the local community, hosting an art exhibition in conjunction with the upcoming Bloomsbury Festival.

Is Store Street Espresso Bloomsbury’s living room? Perhaps. What is certain is that it guarantees excellent service and some of the best coffee in the area – not to mention the perfect vegetable quiche. It continues to be clear about its aims: great coffee for every taste, and a relaxing environment for people to visit. As Momo puts it, “We’re one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent, Jack and Rog still work closely with the team every day.” Expansion will hopefully continue for Store Street Espresso as they explore new locations, but they intend to stay anchored in Bloomsbury – with the area’s unique community feel, it remains the ideal base of operations.

 

Julia Lundsten


Words Chloe Moss

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“When designing clothes I always felt like the body says what the clothes look like… but shoes are always the same.”

My first thought upon being handed a pair of towering FINSK heels was that I was about to take a tumble. Being slightly lacking in grace and poise, I braced myself for at least a wobble. But once I’d donned the striking colour block shoes with their cut-out heels I soon realised that not only was I not going to fall, but that my feet were surprisingly at home in this initially scary footwear. If even I can stay upright, then it’s testament to the fact that FINSK shoes are as functional as they are eye-catching.

Created in 2004 by Finnish designer Julia Lundsten, FINSK has become synonymous with avant-garde yet entirely wearable designs, championing an architecturally driven aesthetic and a simplified colour palette. With an emphasis on a modern, structural look, FINSK keynotes include cut-out heels and colour blocking, eschewing frills and embellishments and letting the shape of the shoe do the talking. Most importantly, Julia’s shoes take into account comfort, and actually allow the wearer to move. Whilst collaborating with Dutch fashion designer Iris Van Herpen for her Spring/Summer 2016 collection at Paris Fashion Week, Julia was a huge hit with the models, who told her they were in awe of how easy the shoes were to move in. “All the models were like ‘Wow! I feel like I can run around’”. So although the shoes make an intimidating first impression, they are ultimately founded on a strong understanding of practical components, making for incredibly wearable design.

The focus on architectural influences comes naturally to Julia, whose parents both worked as architects. Having studied fashion design at the Royal College of Art, she realised that footwear was her true passion because of her appreciation for structural design. “When designing clothes I always felt like the body says what the clothes look like – because someone is big or someone is thin and they look so different – but shoes are always the same.” After graduating in 2003 Julia worked on a freelance basis for numerous clients whilst honing her own design plans. By working for a Brazil-based company she was able to explore what would become the base for her own future studio and had the opportunity to begin working on her own collection while still learning from other, established brands. After a year or two, Julia launched her first collection and FINSK, with its distinct brand identity, was born.

Having gained access to Brazilian ateliers through her freelance work, Julia made the decision to base her own factory there because of the highly skilled craftsmen, and the opportunity to ethically source every material going into her shoes. Her guiding principle was that “we never use leathers just for the sake of the leather”, so the primary materials for the shoes come from animals farmed for meat, rather than solely for their hides. Basing the atelier in Brazil also allowed her to take advantage of local craftsmanship and the unique techniques used in shoemaking there. With Brazil hosting fourteen people working on the practical side, two others overseeing the work, and Julia and her business partner based in Bloomsbury, FINSK operates with a relatively small team, allowing the collections to feel like a genuinely collaborative effort.

FINSK hash numerous shared credits under its belt, having worked with the likes of Basso & Brooke, Marimekko, Tia Cibani and Ports 1961 to create footwear to accompany their respective runway collections. There is also the collaboration with Iris Van Herpen for Spring/Summer 2016. Van Herpen’s collection combined craftsmanship with technology in a line that involved laser-cut, highly structural pieces. Julia’s footwear, then, with its sky-high and intricately carved heels in nude and black, provided the perfect accent to a collection that focused on sharp shapes.

Another exciting collaboration sees FINSK teaming up with Finish heritage rubber footwear brand Nokian. Famous for their wellington boots made using natural rubber, the brand’s secret formula, created in 1989, is still used today. The challenge for Julia was to combine her own techniques, established over a decade, with those of a European-based factory to create something that represented the FINSK aesthetic. Having worn Nokian boots as a child, Julia wanted to create versions that she could wear as a busy adult. The collection itself showcases the artistry of both brands, with the distinctive FINSK stamps of colour blocking and a structural heel transforming the humble wellington into something that you might even wear to the office.

Having introduced a unisex line, Julia continues to showcase the diverse nature of her designs, as well as responding to the ever-changing landscape of the fashion industry. FINSK has long since ceased to adhere to the traditional fashion calendar, preferring to respond to their clients’ desire to shop the looks they want when they want – and many international brands are now following suit. While some buyers seemed initially bemused by Julia’s intimidatingly architectural shoes, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. FINSK has built a loyal following and continues to offer exciting and challenging designs.

Brunswick

Brunswick


Words Mary-Rose Storey

Illustrations Ross Becker


“…it’s as though you’re living in the clouds, not just looking at them.”

A 1960s concrete housing estate is not an image that springs to mind when picturing the architecture of Bloomsbury but The Brunswick Centre has more in common with the elegant Georgian squares of the area than one might think.

As the architectural journalist Steve Rose wrote in The Guardian “By anyone’s standards, the Brunswick is a radical building. It would be a great setting for a sci-fi movie, with its huge concrete frame, elevated walkways and stepped ranks of apartments with curious angled windows. It’s such an odd building, variously called a “superblock” or a “mega structure”. Its banked ramparts and soaring service towers bring to mind the fantasy designs of the Italian futurist Antonio Sant’Elia; but more commonly, the Brunswick’s raw concrete and structural articulation put it firmly in the new brutalist school, alongside other ambitious structures of the time, such as Sheffield’s Park Hill housing estate or London’s Trellick Tower.”

Built in 1964 by architect Patrick Hodgkinson, based on studies by Leslie Martin, The Brunswick has had a troubled history. Initially it was intended as a private development and planned to be much larger, extending all the way to the Euston Road, but the Ministry of Defence, whose Territorial Army headquarters was in nearby Handel Street, refused permission for Camden Council’s compulsory purchase, using the excuse that the building contained a very large, hydraulically mounted gun – what if war should break out during the moving process?

Another problem for the development occurred when, in 1964, the newly elected Labour government brought in rent controls and agreed to rehouse all tenants evicted by compulsory purchase. Camden Council signed a 99-year lease in 1966, and the potential buyers of The Brunswick flats pulled out when they realised they would be sharing the building with council tenants. The developers still kept ownership of the structure and the shopping areas but the original designs were compromised due to lack of funds.

The concrete exterior was designed to be painted Crown Commissioners Cream, in keeping with the Georgian buildings of the area, but the concrete was left unpainted, resulting in unattractive streaking and water seepage problems. Over the years, the building fell into disrepair, shops began to close and it became litter-strewn and uncared for. Only the Renoir Cinema remained as a beacon of culture.

But salvation was at hand. Allied London Properties bought the freehold in 1998. Luckily, the founder, Michael Ingall, liked the property and hired Patrick Hodgkinson to submit a revised scheme. He brought in David Levitt (who actually lives at The Brunswick) and David Bernstein, who both worked with him on the original design and in November 2002, the £22 million project began. The exterior was cleaned and painted in a cream colour (Desert White). A large Waitrose store opened and The Renoir Cinema became The Curzon Bloomsbury.  New shops, cafes and restaurants were attracted to the centre and it began to be used as the architects’ vision had intended: a London village with a thriving mixture of flats and businesses, the sloping glass roofs giving the residents hours of light and sunshine.

The Brunswick is now Grade II listed and though adored by most of its residents, it has always had a love-it-or-hate-it reaction from the wider public. It has been variously described as a “Bloomsbury Prison”, “Alcatraz”, “Planet of the Apes” or, more affectionately, “Like some giant spaceship landed in genteel Bloomsbury – really cool”. The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni, who used locations of bleak urban landscapes to depict modern alienation, featured the Brunswick Centre in his 1975 film The Passenger. Its star, Jack Nicholson, can be seen striding across the square to meet Maria Schneider, who waits for him on the (since demolished) steps.

When reviewing Todd Longstaffe-Gowan’s book The London Square, A.N. Wilson remarked on its failure to mention The Brunswick, stating: “It managed to achieve the sort of living space provided by the ideal square. It combines the qualities of Inigo Jones’s sunny piazzas and the domestic intimacy of Canonbury and the Lloyd Baker Estate.” The film director Jack Bond, who recently moved to The Brunswick, finds the building inspiring: “I love its brutal simplicity. Also the sky plays such a dominant part – it’s as though you’re living in the clouds, not just looking at them. From any angle, you tend to look up because you’re in this valley, this trough of buildings created by a triangular centre part. The other thing I like is that it’s a gathering place for people to come and relax, have a coffee or a meal or go to the cinema. When I look across at the flats opposite, it reminds me of those Spanish mountain villages where houses are tiered above each other.”

When architect Brendan Woods moved into The Brunswick 22 years ago, he found it a bit like Eastern Europe in terms of its general decrepitude. He was a personal friend of the architect Patrick Hodgkinson, who sadly died in February this year at the age of 85, and wrote Hodgkinson’s obituary for the RIBA Journal. He likens living at The Brunswick to living on a sailing ship. As he wrote in the Architectural Review in 2007, after the restoration work was completed: “I think the transformation is near miraculous after the years of neglect. ‘The SS Brunswick’ stranded in Bloomsbury (a bit like the SS Great Britain malingering in the Falkland Islands) was weather-beaten and appeared semi derelict.  The stained concrete and render added to its sense of abandonment and neglect. Patrick Hodgkinson had always intended that the building be painted but was thwarted by McAlpine who wanted to save money.”

Woods is hoping to develop the idea of ‘greening’ the building by introducing much more planting (new owners, Lazari Investments, support this idea and have said they will provide irrigation). He loves The Brunswick because he finds it wonderfully private with a sense of being far away from other people. He doesn’t consider the architecture ‘Brutalist’, which he thinks a much-abused term.  “I have grown to appreciate what an extraordinary achievement it is. Few architects can boast of anything comparable.” As Alan Powers wrote some years ago about the portico to Brunswick Square: “Against the evening light, or on a winter’s evening, the tall thin columns standing out against the chiaroscuro background provide one of the few genuinely sublime architectural sights of London.”

Continental Stores

Continental Stores


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Kirk Truman


“We are drawn to Bloomsbury. The clientele, the mix of students, academics, tourists, residents and business workers, provides a wonderful eclectic mix I doubt we could find again in such a small area of London”

The coffee scene in London is pretty crowded. I’m talking physically, of course, given the way in which I navigate, on the daily, through crowds of people in my local haunts with the determination familiar to many a disgruntled, deadline-ridden freelancer looking for their preferred table (close to a plug socket) and a caffeine fix. It’s more than just that, though. Since the city saw a boom in independent coffee shops five or six years ago, everywhere you turn you’re forced to choose between three independent coffee bars, each staffed by men with impressive beards standing behind marble counters with exposed light bulbs overhead. That’s not to say I don’t love the latte art and the highly photogenic interiors that dominate even my Instagram feed; but if we’re honest, such is the embarrassment of riches we Londoners face, it sometimes feels as if we have too much choice. That’s where Store Street Espresso comes in.

The story behind Store Street Espresso begins, predictably, at 40 Store Street, from which the café takes its name. The busy street, home to a multitude of cafés, restaurants, bars and bookshops, sits under the watchful eye of the nearby British Museum, and Store Street Espresso has been part of it since 2009. Initially conceived by friends Rog and Jack, who spotted an impending coffee explosion in the city, its aim was simple: to offer up really great coffee to the people of Bloomsbury.

Momo, the General Manager, explained the initial concept. “Originally we just wanted to make some nice coffee, work with great equipment and have a cool space for the locals to hang out. On top of that it’s always important that we provide a fun environment for people to work in, and for them to feel that they can have an influence on what we do.” Coffee is still at the centre of what they do, and their passion and enthusiasm for experimenting and trying new suppliers is evident both in their vast selection and on their Instagram feed, which is crowded with shout-outs to their most popular suppliers on any given day. “I’m open to all suggestions, and because of that we were one of the first speciality coffee shops to produce cold brew, bulk brew filter and matcha, all of which have brought us a lot of success.”

This success led to the opening of the second branch closer to King’s Cross, a café I’ve frequented on many a daily jaunt. “Honestly”, Momo tells me, “we were victims of our own success. We had reached the limits of what we could do in the space we had. The second store provided us with an opportunity to have an in-house kitchen so we could make our own sweets and offer cooked brunch for the locals. It was a chance to try something new and a bit different from the original, but keep it familiar.” Recognising the need for expansion allowed them to grow the business on their own terms, and keeping their duo of cafes close together has further enabled this. The second Store Street Espresso is nestled in Tavistock Place not far from Russell Square, offering a port in the storm for anyone looking to escape hectic King’s Cross for a peaceful interlude of coffee, cake and people-watching through the vast street-facing windows.

“All we knew was that we wanted it to be simple, minimal and different”. Their signature style runs throughout every element of both locations. The relaxed café is a haven for students needing a break from the British Library, freelancers seeking some human interaction and tourists and locals looking for sustenance and a pause in their busy day. The minimalist interiors keep the space light and airy, with few distractions other than the array of tempting treats on offer. Store Street source from anyone and everyone: local suppliers, recommendations or requests from regulars, or members of the team championing something they’ve discovered. This collaborative approach lends itself to the community vibe that Store Street Espresso shares with Bloomsbury in general.

Just as Bloomsbury, with its rich history, acts as a hub for British literary culture and attracts an eclectic mix of people, so Store Street has become a hub for a similarly diverse clientele. With the surrounding streets crowded with students, tourists, local residents and stressed-out freelancers alike, there’s no shortage of exciting new people to meet as well as loyal regulars. Store Street continues to be clear about its message: great coffee for every taste, and a relaxing environment for the customers. And, as Momo adds: “We’re also one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent. Jack and Rog still work closely with the team every day.” Expansion will hopefully continue for Store Street Espresso as they explore new locations, but they intend to stay anchored in Bloomsbury – with the area’s unique community feel, it remains the ideal base of operations.

Dalloway Terrace

Dalloway Terrace


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Simon Brown


Cross Tottenham Court Road to Bedford Square, and you’ve left Fitzrovia and entered Bloomsbury. There’s something quite distinct – unique, even – about this part of London; you feel its charm as you pass Bedford Square’s central garden and make your way down Adeline Place to Great Russell Street. Home to a number of hotels, an art supply shop, a furnishing store, and numerous cafés and restaurants, it’s a traditional London thoroughfare, but one that somehow encapsulates Bloomsbury’s neighbourhood spirit. Recently, a new arrival has added still further character to the street.

A carefully curated collection of eight family-owned luxury and urban hotels, the Doyle Collection is spread across superb locations in London, Dublin, Washington DC, Cork and Bristol. Each hotel has established a strong identity closely connected to its location, and a slice of its cultural setting is woven into the fabric of each building and the experience of its guests. With 153 rooms and suites on offer, all promising luxurious comfort, The Bloomsbury is at the heart of the neighbourhood whose name it bears. Tucked away on one side of the hotel is the newly unveiled Dalloway Terrace, taking its name from the eponymous character in Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway. Evoking Woolf’s own literary attachment to the neighbourhood, the new bar and restaurant, like the hotel as a whole, taps into the history and spirit of the area.

Accessible from either the main entrance of the hotel, or via the carefully concealed side entrance, the main terrace area is peaceful and charming, carefully hidden from Great Russell Street and the hustle and bustle of nearby Tottenham Court Road. The fully heated indoor/outdoor space is open throughout the year, offering all-day dining from 7am-11pm and a menu overseen by The Bloomsbury’s Head Chef, Paul O’Brien. From light breakfasts and small plates to more substantial culinary delights, the menu caters for both those working in the local area and guests staying at the hotel itself. Small plates include seared tuna and pickled radish with wasabi, and the all-day dining menu features favourites like Lamb cutlets and broccoli champ with mint béarnaise or hand-dived seared scallops with spinach, chanterelles & teriyaki dressing. There are also daily specials, which change throughout the week.

Dalloway Terrace is also a perfect meeting spot, serving coffee and traditional afternoon tea, as well as a wide range of cocktails, all inspired by the Bloomsbury set, that influential group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists that put the area on London’s artistic map. The terrace area feels like a secluded secret garden hidden away from the city; it boasts a fully retractable roof, making it inviting in the autumn and winter and the perfect alfresco hideaway in the spring and summer. The design of Dalloway Terrace was created by Alexander Waterworth, Interior Designer for London’s Annabel’s, Q on The Roof and High Road House, as well as The Musket Room in New York. His work brings an elegant and quintessentially British feel to the space. Tucked away under the terrace is a concealed lower floor, otherwise known as The Bloomsbury Club Bar. Here, Waterworth has taken inspiration from the bohemian 1920s and 1930s and added a modern twist: the results are truly memorable.

In contrast to the tranquillity of the terrace, the lower-floor bar feels discreet and exclusive; as you descend the staircase, you are transported from one realm to another. Upstairs menus feature a floral motif based on the technique of preserving fresh flowers, while downstairs, classic typefaces evoke a comforting sense of nostalgia that blends seamlessly with the stylish contemporary setting. The setting resembles a hidden grotto or an old railway arch. From its glassware, cocktail techniques, hand-illustrated menus and dim setting, it makes quite an impression.

Both venues are appealing enough to while away the evening in. Perhaps the ideal would be to enjoy cocktails and a relaxed dinner above ground and then to disappear quietly below decks for a discreet postprandial tipple: think a fine whiskey or a glass of Champagne. Dalloway Terrace is very much in its infancy, having only opened its doors back in the spring, though what already resonates is its connection with the surrounding Bloomsbury neighbourhood. Having built relationships with many local businesses, residents and figures in the area, Dalloway Terrace has the potential to become ‘Bloomsbury’s living room’ in the years to come. For breakfast, lunch or dinner, for a daytime meeting or an evening drink, stop by at any time and see for yourself.

Maggie Owen

Maggie Owen


Words Chloe Moss

Portraits Kirk Truman


“It was around 4pm on a December evening, when people hadn’t quite closed their curtains, and it just sparkled – Lamb’s Conduit Street just sparkled”

I might be influenced by my lifelong magpie tendencies, but I believe many a great tale starts with a necklace. I know some of my most notable experiences are defined in my memory by whatever (usually gaudy) sparkle I had decking out my neck and hands at the time. We’re not talking Titanic here, but rather more compelling jewellery that one would be less inclined to throw off a boat: jewellery that will captivate, that will be treasured, that will be a talking point on every occasion it gets an outing. We’re talking about the sort of jewellery that you’d only expect to find by stumbling upon a treasure trove.

Maggie Owen London is that treasure trove. Nestled amongst the fellow businesses and homes of Rugby Street, the accessories shop sells work by an array of carefully curated costume jewellery designers. Not only that, but it stocks books similarly lovingly chosen, championing British poetry in a marriage that celebrates the literary and artistic history of Bloomsbury. And it all started with one necklace.

That necklace was the work of designer Philippe Ferrandis, a piece Maggie found in 2001 whilst visiting a boutique in the south of France. Ferrandis’ designs focus on costume jewellery, standout pieces using intricate design and high quality materials. The sculptural quality of his work made Maggie an instant fan, and a subsequent return trip just a few months later saw her investing in another Ferrandis original. Maggie was enamoured with the uniqueness of his designs, which appealed to her as both statement pieces and works of great artistry, and it was her enthusiasm that began their close working relationship of 20 years and counting.

Ferrandis’ work spurred a further interest in sourcing costume jewellery, and a visit to a Bloomsbury-based client one December was the starting point for a standalone shop. Having found her way to Lamb’s Conduit Street on a bright winter’s day, a shop front located on nearby Rugby Street caught Maggie’s eye. Rugby Street is a unique find even within the already unique Bloomsbury, a tiny street off the beaten track, which Maggie struggled to find on her second visit. Although the property was derelict at the time – perhaps that added to its charm – Maggie moved in six months later and launched Maggie Owen London. She’s still there today, 10 years on.

It is easy to see why Maggie chose Rugby Street as her permanent home. The small street runs off Lamb’s Conduit Street, a stone’s throw from Russell Square, the British Museum, the Foundling Museum and countless Bloomsbury landmarks. It captures everything people love about the area: the literary history – Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’s wedding night residence is just across the street – and the melting pot community feel of the area. As Maggie puts it: “We are in the middle of a complete social mix”. She clearly cherishes the community spirit, telling me that “it’s rather lovely being in with other independent traders who have been long established”. When I visit the shop, plans are very much underway for the street party that Sunday in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. Maggie is an active member of this community; her Instagram account is full of photos of her fellow local businesses and archival images of the area that she has sourced and shared in an effort to continue the legacy of Bloomsbury and to celebrate its history. Given her involvement, it’s no surprise that she is fondly referred to by many as the “Queen of Lamb’s Conduit”; such is her presence within the village-like community.

“You wonder why, over time, so many creative people gravitated to this area. From the original Bloomsbury Group, back to Charles Dickens, and even earlier, Thomas Coram. All of these guys, Handel even – Messiah was performed just down the road – or Jacob Epstein’s studio on Lamb’s Conduit Street. All of these people who came to live and work here.”

Part of the reason people continue to visit, live, and work in Bloomsbury is because that history is still palpable in the streets and buildings, and independent businesses with unique personalities are a huge part of that. As Maggie writes on her website: “Bloomsbury is still at the forefront of artistic and cultural innovation – it’s as vibrant, dynamic and creative as it has ever been”. Although the area has seen some necessary improvements over the years, it has maintained its individuality. She observes that “the area has probably become a bit grander, a bit smarter, but it hasn’t become sterile as has happened to large swathes of London. We haven’t become anesthetized. It still has its rough edges”.

The designers and accessories that Maggie sells in the shop have all passed under her discerning eye. Much like that first Ferrandis necklace, all of the jewellery “has to fulfil a criteria which is ‘do I like it?’ and I’ll go with that gut instinct. I think once you start analysing and over-analysing you get horribly lost”. When you enter the shop you are struck by how colourful it is, with collections sitting in colour co-ordinated displays to create a rainbow effect in the brightly lit space. The shop is narrow and packed full of treasures, from gem-encrusted bug pendants to Missoni-esque Italian teddy bears, to the special edition poetry books from Faber & Faber, with equally colourful covers, celebrating some of our best-loved poets. Maggie believes she works with “with some of the best in the world”, a statement that is difficult to refute when you step inside and are greeted by the vast collection of eye-catching jewels. As we chat, a mix of regulars and newcomers peruse the shelves and are welcomed with open arms and discerning eye, with Maggie on hand to discuss everything costume jewellery.

Maggie has cultivated a space both for fans of costume jewellery or followers of specific designers and for passers-by stumbling upon a new discovery. Aside from branching out into the online marketplace five years ago there are no plans for physical expansion on the cards. Maggie is “very happy with what I have here. I think that kind of organic growth is fine but I have no ambition to conquer the world. If I was starting out in my 20s I might have a different outlook, but I prefer to be in control of what I do and I think that if you do expand you have to sacrifice that – it does become diluted and it does become somebody else’s vision.” Luckily for those of us who have discovered Maggie Owen London, then, it looks set to remain the jewel in Bloomsbury’s crown.

Kenneth McKenzie

Kenneth McKenzie


Words Gordon Ritchie

Portraits Kirk Truman


“Bloomsbury does feel like a classic part of London…”

“If you go along to Lambs Conduit Street there are classic pubs, classic restaurants, like the Italian over there. All round the back streets here – pubs, fish and chip shops. Things like that make it very much like classic London. If you know it really well there are lots of really interesting things, but it’s almost like a weird kind of in-between area.”

Enter the Interzone. A dark, wet, London night. A date with the future. The Beat That My Heart Skipped at The Renoir. Walking rain-soaked terraced streets beneath an umbrella from Queens Square hospital. Suddenly through the mist a huge monolith, a temple to Modernist architecture, rears up out of the dark. Concrete towers shoot into the heavy grey sky as torrents of raindrops pelt down. Like a transplant from a wrecked future it feels out of place. A huge, multi-tiered concrete ship washed up on Bloomsbury shores from an outer place; unknown, abandoned. The life-sign of cinema the only light.

From Dundee to Bloomsbury, the screenplay of Kenneth MacKenzie’s life takes in design courses in the North of England, classic London fashion label The Duffer of St. George, and the creation of his own label, 6876. 6876 aimed to smash down the seasonal sales calendar of the fashion industry long before the mega-brand disruptors of today, forging its own path, referencing insurrection, student uprisings, and underground activists, all in a minimal style. “The very first promotional pictures we did for 6876 were taken in here in The Brunswick in 1995. The photographer knew someone who had a flat. From then on I was always interested in the idea of it.”

In the first 6876 collection was a clean minimal take on the classic blue shirt. Covered placket, no visible buttons. The shirts laid the path for the pared-down aesthetic that the label developed as it moved, shape-shifting to a focus on, and a cult following for, outdoor rain-ready gear. North West mountain ridges and standing-only South Stand terraces. This was casualwear worn by casuals, edgy apparel for outside agitators, riot-ready for resistance against those who sought to reject true modernist ideals. “It just feels like a natural thing now to be in The Brunswick. It’s kind of a peculiar period. A lot of the things that I’ve always been really interested in and friends of mine have always been interested in. Brutalist architecture and a real hard form of modernism are starting to get a bit mainstream. I see myself as a real arch-modernist. I have that feeling now that modernism is in the hands of people who aren’t modernists. It’s starting to become a misquoted word.”

Transported up and into the interior of The Brunswick. The wind blows across the tiered residential steppes that look down into the barren grey valley of the new shopping plaza. Rainwater gathers on the paving stones. A hooded figure with purpose and attitude, dressed for the cold, the wind the weather brings. Brutalist expression, a stand against the established path. This is the right area. “A business partner in 6876, photographer Norbert Schoerner provided the introductions and contacts. There are only 12 commercial units in the whole building and they rarely become available. It was about 6 or 7 years ago and I jumped at it as I always had this idea that I would like to be in here. I always knew the building and knew about the history of it. When we got a studio here, everyone was like: it’s ridiculous, it’s the perfect place for your kind of miserable aesthetic,” he says with a smile. “It suits it well.”

Hidden from sight, high up in The Brunswick, Kenneth communicates from 6876 HQ with a group of friends, artists, and film-makers situated in similar concrete situations across the UK. They find common ground in Modern Studies, a subject a young MacKenzie excelled in and was inspired by at school in Scotland, and now an inspiration and reference point for artistic and aesthetic projects. Single minded, but with a healthy attitude to collaboration throughout the timeline of the brand. Japan called, as did Fred Perry, Rohan, Cash-Ca and Clarks, to receive transmissions of 6876 design code. The outdoor trail, hiking, biking and mountain apparel, ubiquitous now and still gaining ground, owes a debt to the influence of Kenneth MacKenzie and 6876.

“When I’ve been using things like Ventile, Harris Tweed or waxed fabric, I still like to challenge by doing it in a very modern, designed way. Going round day to day, you look at how people are dressing and look at what people are interested in. In some sense, I react to that. I’m going to go the opposite way. I reverted back to the early days. Designing the garments, I wasn’t quite sure whether they were ugly or not. They were quite brutal in terms of design, and maybe that’s a subconscious act, but the main thing was that it was a real reaction against the prevailing mood of nostalgia and faux-artisan culture, which felt really alien to me. My friend Scott King called it the Mumfordisation of Britain, complete with bogus folk music, while 6876 felt more electronic, more modern. The Brunswick is the right place to come up with that kind of design. I think it reinforces some things. There has been a bit of a reappraisal in Britain of Brutalist architecture and it’s got a lot to do with buildings like this and the Barbican. They haven’t always been that brilliantly maintained. This is a Grade II listed building. The stairs outside here, they got rid of them, but in the Antonioni film The Passenger there’s a scene where Jack Nicholson walks down those stairs.”

Since moving into The Brunswick, Kenneth has been an observer. As 6876 continues the resistance, moving forward in hard times for an independent clothing business, he has seen his immediate environment change. “I used to really like The Renoir Cinema even though it wasn’t very comfortable. Now they’ve changed it into The Curzon, it’s actually amazing in there, but it’s another aspect of changing the building, from its old, slightly more low-key style. There have been a lot of changes. Originally you couldn’t get in from the outside – that end was blocked off – but when they did the refurbishment a few years ago, they took that off. Before, there just used to be an Iceland, a noodle bar and some funny Italian caff with loads of football memorabilia. It didn’t really look part of this area of London.”

“We make a lot in England – small runs. It’s quite niche. Each thing has to finance the next. You want everything to sell really quickly, and it’s very hard work. There’s no way I could even produce 6876 without the support of my wife, especially, and my family and friends, plus the extremely loyal customers. The industry has changed a lot. There is a different generation, new people getting into the brand.” The cult of 6876 now engenders digital myths of superfast sell-outs as limited editions are released, and there is a parallel secondary market trading in increasing values. Critical acclaim lights up the Internet with each new release. Kenneth now teaches millennials at Central Saint Martin’s and Kingston University, and a day will soon come when the next generation will tell stories about the 6876 aesthetic and Kenneth MacKenzie’s influence, all sound-tracked by brutal electronic music and documented in stark colours. They will look back at 6876’s sparse, concrete environment and recognise its progressive, forward-thinking, modernist attitude.

Oliver Spencer

Oliver Spencer


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“Not only does it feel like the centre of Bloomsbury, but it feels like the centre of London in a way…”

Farringdon, Portobello, Lambeth: familiar names of various London districts, but also those of a wealth of garments designed by Oliver Spencer, whose clothes have earned a reputation for distinction, comfort and sheer cool. Designing and making handcrafted garments with stylish accents and practical details for modern men and women, Bloomsbury-based Spencer has produced his own individual take on relaxed British style.

Having grown up in Coventry, Oli first moved to London in the early 1990s to study art. Frustrated by the limitations of art school, he abandoned his studies and enrolled in what he describes as the University of Life, selling second-hand clothes from a stall at Portobello Market. “Lots of things happened which I would describe as being pivotal in framing where my life would go next. I learnt lots of lessons – some good and some bad,” he says. He woke up at 4.30am every day so he could get his pitch, and it was there on the market stall that his relationship with clothes really began, giving him with an enduring love of the product and a passion for shopkeeping.

Oli spent a decade creating and expanding his first venture, formalwear brand Favourbrook, during which time he designed waistcoats for the 1994 film Four Weddings And A Funeral and began to establish his place on London’s design map. Eight years later, he wanted to embark on a new venture with even greater ambitions – success on the global scene. His plan was to produce a range of clothing that combined the quality and craft of traditional tailoring with a more relaxed modern style. His philosophy: quality needn’t mean formality; casual needn’t mean careless. “I have a feeling towards clothing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dressing up or dressing down  – it’s involved in every step of my life in any case,” he says. “When my customers purchase something from us, I want them to feel a sense of belonging – as if they’ve bought something that’s like their best friend… something they’ve owned forever. Every season, I strive to get there. I want to create clothes that talk to people. Most of my customers like to be seen but not heard – that’s why I don’t brand my stuff.”

The Oliver Spencer label was born in 2002, and its founder’s philosophy soon found a number of adherents in the heart of Bloomsbury and beyond. Ironically, Oli’s arrival in Bloomsbury came about through friend and founder of Folk Clothing, Glaswegian fashion designer Cathal McAteer. “I already loved the shops on Lambs Conduit Street, and then my friend Cathal asked me to open a shop here,” he tells me. “Bloomsbury has come up and up. It’s become a much more residential neighbourhood, but also with many more businesses locating here. It’s a melting pot, and full of academics. You can slide into a pub here and you could end up spending your evening with a doctor or professor, but equally they might work in the film industry or law. Bloomsbury, for me, is a very educated neighbourhood. People here are interesting and very creative: you can feel it when you’re walking down the street. The architecture of the place captivates me – it’s steeped in history. The whole atmosphere of is wonderful. If you think back to its heyday, with the Bloomsbury Group and everything else, you can still really feel it here. With our shops, one – No 58 – was a bookshop, and No 62 was a picture framers. They bound books underneath one, and made frames underneath the other.”

The brand first came to Lambs Conduit Street in 2007. Oli’s store at No 62 is home to the latest collection each season, with the original surviving shop fittings making for an immaculately dressed setting. Underneath the shop, where the framer’s was once based, the Oliver Spencer team is at work making for the main office for the brand. Another prominent fixture below the shop is Oli’s studio, where the collections are designed. The numerous sketches of jackets, shirts and other garments pinned to the wall attest to the work that goes on there. Two doors along, No 58 is home to the Oliver Spencer Shoes & Accessories collection. “The brand is wholly focused on menswear. I’ve got lots going on with it,” he says.

Since launching on Lambs Conduit Street, Oliver Spencer has gone on to expand across London, with shops in Shoreditch and Soho. “Not only does it feel like the centre of Bloomsbury, but it feels like the centre of London in a way. Lambs Conduit Street, to me, is the best street in London, because of the mix of people,” says Oli. “I’d imagine it’s the way London was about 50 years ago, with lots of independent stores based along the street. You can do most things in life on this street; get drunk (or merry), do up your house, dress nice, smell nice and eat well… and that’s where we want to be.”

Oli is uncompromising in the standards he sets for production and provenance, sourcing the finest fabrics and yarns from artisanal British and Italian mills. He prides himself on producing his garments in only the best European factories and workshops, with around 40 per cent of the collection made here in London or elsewhere in England.

Despite the emphasis on British quality, Oliver Spencer’s eye is firmly fixed on the global market. Today, his clothes are stocked in many of the world’s leading department stores, from Selfridges to Liberty of London, and he has opened shops in Toronto and Paris, as well as developing a profitable international online business. With wearers of his brand including Daniel Craig, Tinie Tempah, Alex James and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, Oli confesses that his next ambition is to become a household name.

Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Wellcome Trust


“My plans exist in my mind like a jigsaw puzzle…”

At the northern edge of Bloomsbury stands a remarkable building. Enter through the revolving doors of 183 Euston Road and you’ll find a place that unites the traditions of medicine and art and explores our history and future in all sorts of fascinating ways. Describing itself as “the free destination for the incurably curious”, Wellcome Collection offers visitors contemporary exhibitions and historic collections, and boasts plenty of surprises at every turn.

Wellcome Collection is part of the Wellcome Trust, a charitable foundation dedicated to improving health on a global scale. The Trust, in its own words, “supports a range of bright minds in science, humanities and the social sciences as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine”. Upon his death in 1936, the Trust was established under the will of founder Sir Henry Wellcome. Today, it is the largest independent charitable foundation funding research into human and animal health in the world. The Trust has supported such transformative work as the sequencing and understanding of the human genome, and their research has established front-line drugs for malaria. The Trust’s broadly defined mission allows them to respond flexibly to medical needs and scientific opportunities. As well as tackling immediate priorities, their independence and long-term perspective enable them to back research that will benefit future generations. In short, think of Wellcome Collection (which is immediately next door to the Trust’s headquarters) as the showroom for the Trust’s endeavours globally – past, present and future – and a permanent exhibition exploring the human condition.

This all sounds amazing – so amazing that I have an incurably curious question of my own: how did one individual come to found an organisation such as this?

Henry Wellcome was born – a long way from Bloomsbury – in 1853 in the American Wild West. He developed an early interest in medicine and marketing, and the first product he advertised was ‘invisible ink’ (in fact, just plain lemon juice). He and his college friend Silas Burroughs left the US for Britain in 1880, setting up a pharmaceutical company called Burroughs Wellcome & Co. At this time, medicines were traditionally sold as powders or liquids, and Burroughs Wellcome & Co. were one of the first to introduce medicine in tablet form under the 1884 trademark ‘Tabloid’. Burroughs died in 1895, with Wellcome continuing to lead the company under his own name.

As Wellcome put it himself: “My plans exist in my mind like a jigsaw puzzle… and gradually I shall be able to piece it together.” And that he did. His multinational pharmaceutical company had begun to master modern techniques of advertising, such as promotion, image and branding, as well as establishing world-class medical research laboratories. At the same time, Wellcome used the wealth his company brought him to amass one of the world’s most impressive (and most eccentric) collections relating to medicine and health through the ages. Pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector, Henry Wellcome was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating men of his age, and received a knighthood before his death in 1936. By this time, the collection was greater in size and scope than those of many of Europe’s most famous museums.

With his ever-growing collection in mind, Wellcome had planned and constructed the Wellcome Building on Euston Road. Today, little about it has changed. There have been minor refurbishments in recent years, including the introduction of the world-renowned Wellcome Library and the addition of a rather expensive spiral staircase, but the building remains more or less as Henry envisioned it. His intention was to create not just a space to house his constantly developing collections, but one where professionals could come to learn more about the development of medicine and medical science.

Both aspects have proved successful, and probably beyond Henry’s wildest dreams. The Wellcome Collection opened to the general public in 2007, and now receives over 500,000 visitors every year. The Collection is divided into several spaces throughout the building, including the ‘Medicine Man’ section housing a permanent display of extraordinary objects from Henry Wellcome’s own personal collection. Another permanent fixture, ‘Medicine Now’, combines art, mixed media displays and exhibits to tell the story of modern medicine and the work of the Wellcome Trust since Henry’s death. This particular area features a postcard wall where visitors are encouraged to contribute drawings – I’ve seen contributions illustrating everything from genitals to unicorns!

Wellcome Collection also features a main exhibition space that plays host to a varying programme of events and exhibitions throughout the year, including work by Felicity Powell and Bobby Baker. In recent months, perhaps one of the most captivating exhibitions to date was displayed in the ground floor space – Tibet’s Secret Temple: Body, Mind and Meditation in Tantric Buddhism. The exhibition uncovered the mysteries of Tantric Buddhism and the rich history of its yogic and meditation practices. Taking its inspiration from a series of intricate murals that adorn the walls of the Lukhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, the exhibition showcased over 120 outstanding objects from collections around the world that illuminate the secrets of the temple, once used exclusively by Tibet’s Dalai Lamas. A leisurely wander through the 12 rooms of the exhibition made for a calming and educational experience.

There’s another exhibition space on the first floor, which from October 2015 to January 2016 housed the first part of Wellcome Collection’s year-long exploration of human consciousness. Ann Veronica Janssens’ exhibition last year, entitled ‘yellowbbluepink’, made for a hot topic on Instagram. Her installation filled an entire gallery space with brightly coloured mist, exploring perception through the use of light and colour. Hues were caught in a state of suspension, defying the apparent immateriality of the medium and veiling any detail of surface or depth within the space. The second part, launched in February, is ‘States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness’. This major exhibition brings together artists, psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists to investigate the terrain between consciousness and unconsciousness, featuring historical material, objects, artworks and an evolving programme of contemporary art installations. The exhibition will run until 16th October this year.

When I first stumbled upon Wellcome Collection, I was shocked that this remarkable place was just moments from my home and yet had taken me so long to discover. Shock soon gave way to delight, though, as I began to explore the building’s many eccentric spaces. Its reading room has become my second home: it feels more like a meticulously designed sitting room, but one in which you can find yourself examining anything from a straitjacket to a vintage X-ray machine. The library is another space that captures the imagination of visitors – and makes for the perfect writing spot, incidentally. I’d certainly recommend you drop into Welcome Collection for yourself – one visit to this spectacular collection and you’ll probably, like me, find yourself feeling incurably curious.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


“…it is done; & I have been sitting these 15 minutes in a state of glory, & calm, & some tears…”

If one name is synonymous with the word Bloomsbury, it’s that of Virginia Woolf. Although her time as a resident of the area was relatively short, it nevertheless provided her with a crucial space in which to bloom creatively. In return, she added immeasurably to the literary character of Bloomsbury, and her influence is still visible today.

Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in Kensington on the 25th of January 1882. Her father was a notable historian, and her mother modelled for the Pre-Raphaelites; it is safe to say Virginia was exposed to the creative world from a very young age. Losing her mother in 1895 and her father in 1904, at a time where education for women was virtually unheard of, she turned to her brother Thoby, who was studying at Cambridge, telling him: “I don’t get anybody to argue with me now, and feel the want. I have to delve from books painfully and all alone.” And this is how the 22-year-old Virginia came to move out of her home at Hyde Park Gate, accompanied by her sister Vanessa and her brother Adrian, and venture into the emancipating and disreputable atmosphere of Bloomsbury from her new address at 46 Gordon Square.

It was at this time that things really started happening for the eager Virginia. With the help of some family acquaintances, the inelegant district slowly began to come alive for her. It was this simple change of address that led to her metamorphosis from an impatient young woman to a literary visionary. A friend, Violet, introduced her to the Guardian where she took on the position of literary critic. Soon after, she was writing for the Academy and the National Review and contributing weekly reviews to the Times Literary Supplement. Bloomsbury opened up a wondrous new world for Virginia, allowing her to gain the experience she needed. Simultaneously, it was here, in this still rather dubious area of central London, that the stuff of artistic legend was made and the Bloomsbury Group began to form.

It all started when Thoby invited a few select friends from Cambridge University to spend Thursday nights at 46 Gordon Square. Virginia found herself a part of something – a group of people who were throwing off the shackles of a stagnant Victorian decorum. One such instance is recorded in her collected autobiographical writings: “Suddenly the door opened and the long and sinister figure of Mr Lytton Strachey stood on the threshold. He pointed his finger at a stain on Vanessa’s white dress. ‘Semen?’ He said. Can one really say it? I thought and we burst out laughing.” Such seemingly trivial incidents illustrate the genesis of the Bloomsbury Group and paved the way for Virginia’s break with the restrained artistic past as she embraced the possibilities of the future.

Of course, such gatherings would soon enough become a sort of movement, as this group of artists, writers, critics and philosophers became something bigger – a loose collective we now know as the Bloomsbury Group. Countless articles could be written about every controversy, racy happening and rumour that the group gave rise to. As historian Charles Snow puts it, they “believed in pleasure… They tried to get the maximum of pleasure out of their personal relations. If this meant triangles or more complicated geometric figures, well then, one accepted that too.”

The fledgling group of pleasure-lovers was not without its tragedies. In 1906, doctors mistook typhoid fever for malaria and, at the age of 26, Thoby Stephen was dead. In 1931, Virginia would credit her completion of her ground-breaking experimental novel The Waves to her youngest brother, writing that “it is done; & I have been sitting these 15 minutes in a state of glory, & calm, & some tears, thinking of Thoby & if I could write Julian Thoby Stephen 1881-1906 on the first page. I suppose not.”

Seeking solace after another major loss, Virginia turned to her sister, Vanessa for support. Alas, there was little to be found there, as Vanessa had recently been courted by and subsequently engaged to Clive Bell, a man Virginia described as “having more taste, I think, than genius.” Her sister’s forthcoming nuptials meant that it was time for Virginia to move away from 46 Gordon Square. Luckily, she was able to find a place not too far from Bloomsbury. In a letter to a friend, she says that: “Adrian and I try to get a house, and I hope I have found one now in Fitzroy Square.”

There is, of course, much more to say about the life and times of Virginia Woolf, but for now we can only turn the page on this chapter of her life in Bloomsbury as a new one opened up in neighbouring Fitzrovia, just across the Tottenham Court Road. Witness to fresh beginnings and seismic cultural shifts, Bloomsbury had shaped Virginia as much as she has come to shape it. Through the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia met her future husband, Leonard Woolf, whom she married on the 10th August 1912. This year also saw Virginia hit with an extreme bout of depression that forced her to leave the city and take up temporary residence in Asham House, Sussex. This residence was to become the couple’s holiday retreat until 1919 and a viable location for Virginia’s writing. Indeed, it was here she put to pen to paper and produced her debut novel, The Voyage Out (1915).

28th March 1941, Monks House, Sussex: Virginia pens a thoughtful letter and leaves it for her loving husband to find. Putting on her coat and walking out of the door, Mrs Woolf proceeds to line her pockets with stones and pebbles. She walks with purpose towards the section of the River Ouse close to her home. She steps calmly into the water until it comes over her head and she disappears under its waves and ripples. Virginia Woolf lives on in Bloomsbury, the area that allowed her creative soul to flourish; but for such an artist, her real immortality is in her words.

Judd books

Judd books


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“We have been primarily an academic shop from the start…”

Walking the streets of Bloomsbury, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the long relationship London’s literary village has had with the written word. The independent bookshop is still a much loved and common sight in Bloomsbury, from Skoob Books, once to be found on Sicilian Avenue and now hidden away beneath the iconic Brunswick Centre, to LGBT bookshop Gay’s the Word, which greets you on Marchmont Street. You can follow a trail of bookshops across Bloomsbury, reflecting the area’s long association with the literary world. While the growth of the digital world has seen many of London’s bookshops closing their doors (there have been casualties here in Bloomsbury), Marchmont Street’s Judd Books continues to fly the flag, selling a wide range of second hand and bargain books from its Marchmont Street shop.

Judd Books was founded in 1992 by Nigel Kemp and Alexander Donaldson, and was originally just around the corner on Judd Street – hence the name. When the shop moved to it new home on Marchmont Street, the Judd Books moniker went with it. Once a butcher’s shop, the Marchmont Street site first opened as Judd Two Books, only becoming Judd Books proper when the old Judd Street shop shut for good. Marchmont Street is a traditional London thoroughfare, once home to a fishmonger’s, a baker’s and other traditional trades. While these have all left the street, Judd Books carries on, alongside a traditional launderette, a number of well-known pubs and other bookshops.

The shop sells a wide range of publications, from art, photography and literature on the ground floor, to history, philosophy and classical studies in the basement. “We have been primarily an academic shop from the start. We carefully choose our remainders and returns so that our customers can easily find good books without having to plough through lots of irrelevant titles,” says Nigel. “We have particularly strong sections on art and have been fortunate in acquiring two working libraries from retired academics.”

The printed book has often been described as a dying medium in recent years, under constant threat from the supposed convenience of digital equivalents. Judd Books, though, takes a different – and longer – view. During the near quarter century that the shop has been trading, the whole book market has changed several times. “For a hundred years, there was the net book agreement where publishers dictated the price of a book, which booksellers had to follow if they were to continue to receive supplies – this ended in 1990,” Nigel tells me. “The large chains hoped to benefit by undercutting the small bookshops and taking over their business. What happened was it let in the supermarkets, who were soon undercutting everyone for the bestsellers until Amazon arrived.”

Each published book has its own ISBN (a unique number only relating to that book), and the ISBN was soon at the centre of books being sold online. It was now possible to have a database of all publications in circulation. “This allowed them to use their computer skills to list every book. This meant that the astonishing amount of books in print could all be accessed directly by the public, not just by members of the book trade,” says Nigel. “In the beginning, Amazon only sold new books. But soon they saw the opportunity to dominate the second-hand market using the same tools. They make much more from selling other people’s second-hand books than their own,” he confides. “And then came the Kindle. Many said it was the end of the book… All these events have wreaked havoc on bookshops, both new and second-hand. At least for the time being.” Between 2005 and 2013, according to the Booksellers Association, bookshops selling new books declined from 1,535 to 937; the decline of second-hand bookshops was even steeper.

Despite the growth of online retailers and the birth of the Kindle and other devices, the digital age hasn’t been all bad news, Nigel explains, and something positive has emerged from the digital revolution. “One thing the Internet has done with second-hand books is to show which books are very common and which books are scarce,” he says. “Many books can no longer be put economically on the shelves in the shop, so we put them outside in trays.” Traditionally, bookshops would also have had glass cases or ‘back rooms’ where the most valuable and fragile books were displayed. “Today, we put these on the Internet, together with very obscure books which we can offer to a much wider audience,” he says.

As a publisher, I believe in print, and in its strong sense of identity. Books and magazines are like people; they’re individuals, and over time they age and mature. So do bookshops – and we should cherish them. If they were to disappear from our high streets altogether in the decades to come, it would be a real tragedy. Whatever the shelf life of print as a medium in the future, I am confident that Judd Books is here to ride out the changes until the end. I’ve visited bookshops all over London, but there’s something quintessentially British and authentic about Judd Books that takes you back to Bloomsbury past – a time when the Kindle would have been science fiction and Amazon unthinkable. So, look away from your screen, put down your mobile device, and pick up a book: look at the cover, turn the pages, sniff the paper – you might be inspired to go and discover your local bookshop and help keep the wonderful medium of the printed page alive…

The Espresso Room

The Espresso Room


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Chris Rahlenfeldt


“We still have customers coming in who are surprised to discover that it’s now a coffee shop…”

I know a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by. On a winter morning, or a sunny summer afternoon, it remains a perfect, diminutive, sanctuary on Great Ormond Street. Doctors and nurses come and go, making their way to the hospital across the road, but here – in one of London’s best coffee shops, and one of Bloomsbury’s closely guarded secrets – you can sit, right in the centre of Bloomsbury, among its distinctive residents, and just while away the time.

The Espresso Room is really just that – a space no larger or grandeur than a garden shed or a small bedroom. In a previous life, it was a tiny launderette, and then, set against Bloomsbury’s literary backdrop, it was fittingly reborn as a bookshop.

“Great Ormond Street Hospital’s just across the street. Sometimes, years can go by between people’s visits to the hospital, so to this day, we still have customers coming in who are surprised to discover that it’s now a coffee shop,” says co-founder Tom Mullings. Tom and his partner Chris, however, are no strangers to coffee. As well as The Espresso Room, they have opened Holborn’s Freestate Coffee as well as Covent Garden’s New Row Coffee. Tom’s no stranger to Central London either: “I was born in Soho. I can remember when I was kid learning to ride a bike on Old Compton Street – I guess not many people can say that!”

This latest incarnation of the little ‘room’ on Great Ormond Street arrived in 2009. Despite the bite of the ongoing recession, independent cafés and coffee shops were on the rise in Central London. Kaffeine and Lantana, for example, had opened their doors in neighbouring Fitzrovia during what must have seemed the most challenging of times to begin a new business venture.

With a small seating area inside, a carefully designed barista bar and a minimalistic interior, The Espresso Room feels like Bloomsbury’s contemporary equivalent of the classic tearoom or coffee house. It’s a good fit for the neighbourhood: unpretentious, sensible and intelligent. “It’s a given, I guess, that we get a lot of business from the hospital opposite and the staff. Many doctors and nurses are regular visitors, as well as residents from around the area, not to mention Lambs Conduit Street,” says Tom. “Its a weird feeling coming to work here – everybody knows everybody. Every day, it’s a case of ‘who’s spoken to who?’ You can really feel the local element. We didn’t advertise or promote this at all, but we recently began opening on Saturdays. As locals started to come in each Saturday, word spread through the area from person to person. Bloomsbury’s like that!“

With indoor seating for about four or five people, The Espresso Room has expanded its minimal capacity by moving outside. Tan wooden benches line the street during the café’s opening hours, helping integrate it into the neighbourhood’s social fabric. Out here, it’s even easier to observe the bustle of Bloomsbury locals, business owners, doctors and nurses, going about their day-to-day lives.

The limited capacity of this tiny coffee shop somehow makes The Espresso Room all the more special: it feels a bit niche, a hidden gem that you’ll only hear about through the Bloomsbury grapevine. The choice of food and drink is likewise small but equally memorable – mainly espresso-based coffees, a soup of the day, a sandwich or two, and a few baked goods. The place feels like a shrine to the soul of espresso, which is made with consistent and consummate skill using beans from Square Mile Coffee Roasters. A visit always provides me with what I’d describe as “textbook coffee” – something steering dangerously close to perfection and served with pride by the café’s wonderful baristas. Weather permitting, sitting outside The Espresso Room and watching the world go by in the company of a flat white (or whatever your coffee of choice happens to be) is a moment in Bloomsbury spent well.

Orchidya

Orchidya


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I love phalaenopsis because it has a long flower period. I like vanda because it has a special pattern on the petal like a wild animal.”

Leaving behind the screaming neon and frenzy of Tottenham Court Road and walking past the sweeping crescent of South Street with its grand, red-brick offices and the sleek Imagination Gallery, you move towards the earnest, studious calm of Bloomsbury and come across the perfectly situated Orchidya. Behind the door of Number 42 Store Street are the keys to the kingdom and mystery of Orchids.

The interior is arranged in two halves, “to reflect the history and modernity of orchids”. One half is the front room of an eccentric, Victorian orchid grower, indulging in a grand excess of ornament; the walls hung with rows of framed botanical prints, dark wood cabinets artfully cluttered with trifles and curios, gewgaws; and orchids, orchids everywhere. The other half is quiet, white, modern.

It was a 20-million-year old prehistoric bee preserved in amber, along with the orchid pollen on its wing tip, which first told us that orchids were at least as old as the dinosaurs. Given the fact that orchids have survived all this time, their incredible diversity should come as no surprise. There are presently more than 30,000 recognised species, distributed around the globe. They survive in obscure habitats – the vertiginous slopes of dense rainforests, the craggy outcrops of all but impassable Himalayan cliff edges – but also in plain sight: water lilies, magnolias, avocado, black pepper and vanilla plants all belong to the orchid family. The human desire to possess beauty plays out in the field of orchids, as elsewhere; and as in many a Greek tragedy, it can lead to a kind of madness. In Victorian times, it was dubbed Orchidelerium. Explorers and orchid hunters were sent to every corner of the earth on long and sometimes perilous expeditions to bring back the rarest, most exquisite, most unusual orchids. The danger didn’t end with the expedition’s return: orchid thieves could still be employed by unscrupulous collectors to steal the prize from under one’s very nose. Unfortunately, this desire to possess orchids didn’t always go beyond their acquisition, and despite the exorbitant expense showered on their retrieval many withered and died upon arrival; making them, of course, even more desirable – madness indeed!

Orchidya opened four years ago “inspired by a love of flowers in general and a passion for orchids in particular”. Perhaps revealing shades of Orchidelerium, the owners have between them 17 multiple-medal-winning greenhouses across the world – from Thailand, Malaysia and China in Asia to France, Poland and England in Europe – where they have been carefully cultivating orchids for 25 years.

A slightly disquieting thing about orchids, which becomes obvious once you know about it, is that the flowers are totally and completely symmetrical. Theories abound as to the significance of facial symmetry in humans – the more symmetrical a face, the more attractive it will be to others. The mesmerising symmetry of orchids appears to elicit the same response. No wonky petals; no endearing little bumps; just perfect, impenetrable, chilling symmetry: the Grace Kellys of the flower world. Normally the eye rests on imperfections, but since with orchids there are none, it can only do a double take or continue to gaze in awe at the perfection before it.

As a plant that symbolises luxury, the orchid has no shortage of customers in London; Japanese, Russian, Singaporean and British converge on Orchidya. “As London diversifies, so do the clients. Their requirements vary; more established clients and collectors pre-order particular varieties,” to be sourced and grown bespoke before being added “to their own cherished collections”. And with up to 300 new varieties of orchid named each year this is no mean feat. There is even a triannual event nicknamed the ‘Orchid Olympics’ where hundreds of participants from at least 55 countries gather to display the flowers born from the art and cutting edge science of orchid breeding; from the bizarre (e.g. Zygoneria Pine Road, which looks like two mismatched flowers glued together), to the intriguing (e.g. Coelogyne mayeriana, a fresh, green, intricately designed and striped orchid) to the breath-taking (e.g. Anguloa uniflora – pale, delicate, demure and beautiful).

So how on earth do you care for such exotic plants? I had visions of elaborate regimes… crushed pearls brought by divers from the Tuamotu Archipelago to be gently dusted on the uppermost leaves at first light; mixtures of artisanal nutrients exclusive to Amazon rainforests fed to the orchid root system every three hours, drop by drop… But no, apparently not; and that sort of nonsense would probably kill them. As my mental image of vintage laboratory glassware shatters, Sophie the store manager assures me that “the best way to look after orchids is not to look after them”. As several million years of perfectly competent evolution attests, orchids “prefer to be left alone, only needing to be watered sparingly at the root with a spoon,” (or maybe a vintage glass dropper if you are that way inclined).

As a purveyor of luxury, Orchidya offers a lot more than an orchid in a pot. Much like the rest of the Store Street shops in this little gem of a road – from the restaurants, art gallery, independent coffee shops and delis to the bespoke bicycle shop, artisanal dry cleaner and instrument makers – it goes that extra mile by way of craft and depth of knowledge. Using “only the freshest and finest flowers” Orchidya creates imaginative and memorable arrangements and helps its customers select “the best orchids for their individual styles”.

Flower arranging is an art in itself – an ancient Japanese art called Ikebana, to be precise. Established in the 15th century and originally taught by Buddhist priests, it became a disciplined art form for creative expression. By employing a series of rules, the artist could convey his or her intention via the particular colour combinations, shapes and natural lines used in the final exhibit, bringing nature and humanity together. Sophie herself studied flower arranging in Paris, “learning how to manipulate organic materials and develop concepts and designs by utilising a variety of their properties”. Then she spent a further six months at the Orchidya greenhouse in Lincolnshire, “learning to care for and nurture the growing plants”. Her enjoyment and depth of knowledge of Orchidya’s wares is evident from her answer to my question: “What is your favourite orchid?” Sophie just about managed to stop herself at five. And that was five orchid families, not five individual orchids. “I love phalenopsis because it has a long flower period, I like vanda because it has a special pattern on the petal like a wild animal. Slipper orchids look so unique and wild. Dendrobidium orchids are so elegant. Cambria orchids have a special fragrance – some of them smell like orange blossoms, some smell like delicate jasmine, and some smell like chocolate.” I suspect she could go on; and luckily for those who visit Orchidya, funds allowing, they too can choose as many as they like.

Kate Anderson

Kate Anderson

 


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


Kate Anderson isn’t simply engaged in her role as Director of the Bloomsbury Festival, she’s totally immersed in it. Facts and thoughts and ideas and their interconnections come tripping off her tongue, thick and fast and relevant. There’s a lot of information, but it’s all part of the process: focus, not whimsy. So by the time we part – hell, barely half way through the interview  – I really, really want to go to the Bloomsbury festival this year.

Kate was born and went to school in Hastings, East Sussex, where “drama was the only thing [she was] any good at,” so she went on to study it full-time and gain her Equity card. Her first job was working ‘front of house’ in a local theatre. Having been brought up in a hotel, running around front and backstage felt like coming home. Having found an environment she was happy in, Kate swiftly progressed through the ranks, gaining experience in different roles in the theatre and finding each one more exciting and challenging than the last. As administrative director at the Nuffield Theatre her job included the ambitious organising, scheduling and logistics of an EU-funded four-year programme of street arts involving groups from France and the UK. Now, all these threads have come together in her role as Festival Director.

The aim of the Bloomsbury Festival this year is to go one better than the previous one. Last time, it was about showcasing the locale – the work that goes on in the area, the diversity of its inhabitants – and this year they want to amplify it, scale it up, write it large and make it a unique and cutting-edge event. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘language’, so a ‘creative lab’ has been set up, bringing together individuals in the area from disparate disciplines and seeing what happens. The cast of one of these creative labs sounds like a madcap production in itself. From the world of theatre – tumbling in from stage left in a riot of colour – we have a choreographer, a digital curator, someone from the Bureau of Silly ideas and a performance poet. From stage right – ponderously swaying, wrapped in the mists of time – we have the contingent from the British Museum: a keeper of ancient Mesopotamian script, the head of learning, a Babylonian writing specialist and a Rosetta stone expert. Finally, from SOAS (the School of African Studies) –  nimbly tiptoeing amongst them all, looking and listening with exaggerated movements – come an epidemiologist, a specialist in computer language, a researcher into the sexual language of teenagers and an archivist of endangered languages. Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on that wall? Well, in a way you can – the results, whatever on earth they might turn out to be, will be on show at this year’s festival – organic, avant garde, exciting and unpredictable.

Another developing idea is the Coram song cycle, responding to the stories of 12 people from the community and retelling them in music. It will take place in Coram’s fields to celebrate it’s 80th anniversary, with choirs, orchestras and local people performing, all tutored by professionals. Audience members will be able to move off and physically follow whichever story takes their fancy.

Bloomsbury’s demographics make it a perfect spot in London to mine for fresh ideas. Only 48 per cent of the area’s residents were born in the UK – the London Borough average is 63 per cent. You can practically hear the organisers rubbing their hands in glee – they have virtually the whole world to play with! One particular aspect that has influenced this year’s theme – along with Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary and the SOAS centenary – is the fact that Bloomsbury is more linguistically diverse than average, with 12 languages besides English spoken by at least 100 residents. It’s worth noting that, even with all these diverse small communities, only two per cent of area’s residents speak no English whatsoever, which means they tend to be willing and able to join in and become part of the wider Bloomsbury community.

Kate herself admits that by calling something a ‘community festival’ the assumption is that aspirations are low. That assumption, though, would be wrong, and disproving it is partly why Kate Anderson is at the helm: her knowledge of all aspects of theatre, her contacts in that world, and her own reputation mean that she can call out the big guns and they will come, allowing the festival to take place on the scale it deserves, with professionals, artists and communities all at the vanguard. Bill Gee, a highly experienced producer, programmer and arts consultant with expertise in large scale, walkabout, street-based and visual productions, and Orit Azaz, an artistic director and creative thinker with an international reputation for working in cultural and community settings, are both artistic associates of the festival this year.

Of course, ambition and large-scale thinking alone are not enough: there has to be money. The Bedford Estates, the largest private landowner in the area, has not only given financial backing but has been instrumental in garnering support for the festival from other local business by quickly grasping and communicating the essential concept of supporting and embracing the communities it is designed to serve. Further core funding comes from Camden Council, the University of London and a number of other Bloomsbury-based institutions, while project funding comes from the Wellcome Trust and other foundations and sponsorship from local businesses and individuals.

Hearteningly, the lessons learnt from last time around were that the hackneyed clichés of other festivals – loud, with bad music, and half-hearted stalls selling things you don’t want – simply don’t work here. The things that did go well were all original and inclusive without being po-faced and patronising. Indeed last year’s Light Up Store Street event was a case in point. Inspired by the design of the ‘Karachi bowl’ used in traditional Bangladeshi cookery, fire sculptures were lit, mime artists and musicians took up residence in local shop windows, and street food and mulled wine were on offer. It was so successful and enjoyable that the Store Street shops want to do the same again – but Kate has convinced them that they can do even better. We’ll see what they come up with. I get a sense that this is what Kate and the Bloomsbury Festival are aiming for all the time: learning from the past and taking creative risks while harnessing the skills and talents of people who can deliver a great experience for everyone. Hopefully, the result will see Bloomsbury as a whole is represented, with its diverse residents helping write a new page in the area’s rich cultural heritage.

Jonathan Quearney

Jonathan Quearney


Words Jenna Walker

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“I have had pointed out to me that I’m not easily impressed. Perhaps this is part of what can make a good craftsman.”

Tucked away behind the hustle of Tottenham Court Road is Windmill Street. And, nestled into its neat selection of esteemed boutiques is Jonathan Quearney of London. Quearney believes in the art and craft of classic tailoring; creating timeless classics for the modern world. A well-cut suit has always been a thing of desire. A mark of wealth, of respect, of sartorial consciousness. Indeed, Savile Row gained its place of prominence as far back as the days of the iconic rogue, Beau Brummell, who was the envy of the town. As a personal friend and confidante of King George IV, a young Brummell set the stage for the fashion of his day. Single-handedly, he did away with the overly ostentatious attire that was popular at the time, in favour of a more subdued and ‘fitted’look. From that point on, gone were the ruffles and frills, in was the tailored suit.

Today, as men desire a more custom approach to their outfitting, tailors such as Jonathan Quearney are becoming increasingly sought after. According to Quearney, the process of tailoring a bespoke suit is as individual as the person wearing it. This process runs further than taking measurements – rather, you need to take onboard the entire person. “This helps establishing what is necessary on this occasion and find the best starting point, whether you’re dealing with a newcomer or a more experienced man. I have had pointed out to me that I’m not easily impressed. Perhaps this is part of what can make a good craftsman. As a tailor examining cloth daily I have become well trained in the tuning out of cloths that don’t impress me. This helps me be independent in my taste. When you meet someone, you look them up and down – and everyone does it. But when we do it, that’s the natural line of the body we’re looking at and what you put on top of it influences how people see you.”

However, there is more to a bespoke suit than the cut of the cloth. “It’s the combination of the person’s personality, the function the suit’s going to have and the carefully selected cloth”Quearney explains. “When we combine these three elements, we can build something that has great value, a great design sensibility and integrity.” Tailoring runs in Quearney’s blood. His father, who was a cutter in Dublin, planted the seed in Quearney’s early years. “My dad brought me to work and I had an early age introduction to tailoring – it wasn’t training, it was just early exposure.” However, it was after he finished school that he realised his love for clothing was more than just a passing fad. He began working in clothes shops, but soon found that he had an appetite to learn design.

“Before I left Ireland, I worked for a designer called Cuan Hanly,  Paul Smith’s right hand man, who went on to become the creative director of Jack Spade. He encouraged me to go to the UK and study. He called me and said, ‘You’ve got talent, you just don’t realise it yet!’ So he motivated me to go back to college. He mentored me through the process of designing and understanding how to present a portfolio.”

After that, when he was 24, Quearney made the decision to come to the UK, accepting interviews at London College of Fashion and in Glasgow. “I got offered a place in both colleges,” he says, “but I took Glasgow because it felt like I was going to learn more there. The college in Glasgow taught you how to make clothes properly as well as design them.”

After a period of work experience with Prince Charles’ tailor Thomas Mahon – “he made me aware of the importance of precision, procedure and detail in his work” – Quearney was ready for the move to London. Mahon provided a reference with Quearney’s application for a position at Airey & Wheeler of Savile Row and his reference secured the job. This period of his career involved both learning the craft of cutting and how to put into practice the training received from Mahon.

Airey & Wheeler was founded in 1883 and their focus on lightweight clothing went hand in hand with Quearney’s soft tailoring style. He had mainly worked with Worsted wool business suits up until this point but Airey & Wheeler customers required outfitting; deconstructed featherweight blazers, patch pocket shirts, safari Jackets, Nero collars and one piece collars. This opened up the world of cloth’s colour, composition and construction. “Within a few years of making suits, I could see the importance of having my foundation in the craft. Customers, colleagues and students all value my knowledge and now 13 years on I still enjoy building on that and practicing the techniques with new cloths and cuts” says Jonathan.

His customers vary from the suit wearing elite of New York and London, the British Royal family, to a whole host of designers and artists who appreciate Jonathan’s ability to turn the craft of tailoring into an art. Having worked as a tailor for over a decade, Jonathan has seen many different faces of the industry throughout the years. Does he reckon it’s changed much? “Oh yeah,” he says, “without a doubt. When I started there were very few apprenticeships outside the main Savile Row houses and there was a huge shortage of craftsman within the top tier of tailoring. The Savile Row Academy and Newham College have been set up with vital input from Savile Row –that’s made a huge change, as there’s far more interest in bespoke tailoring as a career.“

“The difference is that, before the students looking for work experience had very little technique, whereas now these colleges try to give them some training in sewing skills. That gives us the chance to establish their potential quickly and if necessary take them into a business and give them the training they need to get to an industry standard. It’s not just learning a craft, it’s taking it seriously as a career, because you don’t get into it for the money. You’ve got to make clothes for a living.”

Woods Bagot

Woods Bagot


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“Our aim was to create a proper design studio rather than adapt to a typical office space.”

Design and creativity are two of my oldest passions; and more specifically architecture, though it’s often somewhat of a mystery to me. But it provides the perfect context for a romance between the two. Here in London as in cities across the globe, architects are the very backbone of our skylines, creating and crafting the wildest and most beautifully captivating structures that define the destinations we so often admire.

In Fitzrovia, I have come to discover that we are home to a global design and consulting firm with a wide-ranging and eclectic portfolio under its wing. Woods Bagot has a global team of over 850 professionals working across studios in Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America. More than 60 of these are based in the practice’s London studio situated in Riding House Street. Fitzrovia is home to a diverse range of businesses, not only architects and engineers but also TV companies, fashion wholesalers and a vast range of other creative and digital businesses with Woods Bagot as an obvious fit for the neighbourhood.

In 2014 and 2015, Building Design’s ‘World Architecture 100’ ranked Woods Bagot as the 7th largest architecture firm in the world. The practice’s project output spans almost 150 years – a legacy of design excellence. In London, its clients include: The Edwardian Group, Warner Music, Firmdale, Apple, Ballymore, Pegasus Life, Four Seasons and Marriott. Their current projects include the Leicester Square Hotel, a landmark building integrated into the fabric of the West End cinema experience, with 360 guest rooms across 7 floors. A model of this project, which is currently on display at the studio (see above image) shows the main body of the building formed in natural Portland stone, complemented by an inner layer of royal blue faience, creating moments of colour and texture.

Woods Bagot’s expertise covers a number of key sectors including Transportation, Education, Science & Health, Lifestyle and Workplace. The ‘Next Generation Global Studio’ model which underpins all Woods Bagot’s activities means that all its studios worldwide are interlinked and work collaboratively across borders, using the latest technology to share its design intelligence and strengthen its knowledge base around the globe.

Working across the disciplines of architecture, consulting, interior design, masterplanning and urban design, Woods Bagot understands its clients’ operational and cultural needs, and is able to draw on its own research and expertise to create realistic and functional solutions to meet those needs. Currently the practice invests 2% of its turnover annually into its research arm, ensuring the upkeep of its competitive advantage through constant innovation.

Woods Bagot moved its London studio earlier this year to its current purpose-designed space at 75 Riding House Street across the lower ground and ground floors of the building, following a number of years based in Oxford Street. Jonathan French, the company’s director  says “The process of approving a design with colleagues, many of whom are professional designers themselves, was extremely complicated in order to reach a common consensus. The problem was deciding which great ideas we had to drop.”

The structure of the building itself posed particular challenges. The column grid and base building layout are irregular, making it difficult to optimise seating arrangements. The team created a layout that helps to maximise the opportunity offered by the street frontage, integrating clients into the studio environment and creating a flexible working setting. In addition to the existing staircase and lifts on the Foley Street side, a new second staircase now connects the ground and lower ground floors on the Riding House Street side. A kitchen and informal meeting area have been incorporated into spaces at the bottom of the staircase, helping to encourage movement between levels as well as greater interaction between clients and colleagues.

The reception area has been designed as a gallery space and is currently hosting work from artists who have worked with Woods Bagot in recent years. This space is also used every Friday evening for ‘London Salon’ presentations; a regular activity that helps to broaden design discourse in the London studio by engaging with contributors from a range of disciplines, including design. In June this year, the studio participated in the RIBA London Open Studios programme as part of the London Festival of Architecture by exhibiting the work of three contemporary artists. Attended by an array of architecture and design enthusiasts, the event also offered the Fitzrovia neighbourhood an introduction to the new Woods Bagot studio space.

“Our aim was to create a proper design studio rather than adapt to a typical office space. This is also a studio which is broadly aligned with — and complementary to — the design of other Woods Bagot studios across the world,” Jonathan French continues. “To help achieve this, we collaborated with designers across our Global Studio to ensure that the Woods Bagot ethos is embedded in the new space as strongly as possible.”

Picture

Picture


Words Kirk Truman

Photography John Carey


“We were welcomed by locals and other businesses with open arms and have felt part of a real community ever since. There is a charm to the area unlike most others in London.”

Now, I’m not one to pick favourites, but I must confess that my arm is somewhat bent when it comes to a certain modern European restaurant at 110 Great Portland Street. From an unforgettable à la carte menu to one of my favourite bars to sip carefully away at whiskey; some would regard this place as an emporium of upmarket British-European fare in a utilitarian-chic space with plastered walls. Though its founders prefer   the title Picture.

Picture opened its doors in 2013, founded by trio Tom Slegg, Alan Christie & Colin Kelly; restaurateurs with a diverse portfolio from front-of-house to fine dining. Front-of-house Tom who originated in Suffolk worked in restaurants in his home county from the age of 15. He moved to London in 2009 to work as a restaurant manager for the Michelin star rated Arbutus Restaurant Group. Chef Alan, originated from Aberdeen where he trained and worked. Moving to London in 2000, he worked at Putney Bridge Restaurant later working at Arbutus when it opened in 2006 where he became head chef in 2007. Chef Colin, originated from Tullamore, Ireland. He trained and worked in Dublin before moving to London in 2002. Colin worked at The Orrery restaurant before moving to Putney Bridge Restaurant then on to Arbutus Restaurant Group.

With the trio working within the same restaurant group (Arbutus) for a number of years, they shared a desire to begin their own venture. “We all got on well and had our own ambitions. It seemed the logical step to give it a go together and see what we could create. It has been a real bonus to have input from both front-of-house and the kitchen within the team” says Tom.

Location was first on the agenda for the trio, whose eyes were  initially drawn to the Soho neighbourhood. “Soho has such an amazing energy and has become a hub of fantastic restaurants. Unfortunately with that comes a price-tag that was above the budget of first time restaurateurs like ourselves!” says Tom. However they were swiftly drawn away from the Soho allure to the more exclusive postcode of Fitzrovia. “We loved the area. Fitzrovia and Great Portland Street has a lovely neighbourhood feel despite being so close to Oxford Street and all the hustle and bustle associated with it.” A site on Great Portland Street was soon suggested by an agent. It ticked all the boxes particularly  when it came to the size and feel. With the BBC and many other local businesses being so close by, they saw an opportunity which they knew would bring something new to the street.

Seeking to be in keeping with the area, the trio wanted to create a restaurant with a real neighbourhood feel. “Opening a restaurant in London today is tough – there is a concern that you need to be ‘on-trend’, that you need to ‘keep up or get forgotten’. We are all strong believers, however, that if you focus on serving the best food you can with genuinely warm hospitality you can’t go too far wrong. Our aim was to create an un-intimidating environment where people can have fun” says Tom. For some time, the owners were tossing and turning between names for the restaurant. Conclusively they decided on Picture a name evocative of the neighbourhood’s relationship with design and media.

Exquisite food and value for money embody the ethos behind the menu at Picture. From Pork cheek with kohlrabi, mustard seed and a Granny Smith apple to Hake brandade, brown shrimps, sea greens and sourdough croutons, the à la carte menu caters to a wide variety of tastes. The six course seasonal tasting menu (available at £39 per head) has proved particularly popular amongst regular diners and is a great way to sample all of their current dishes. “The food itself I suppose would be categorised as modern European. It is light and fresh and a lot of care is taken with the quality of the product coming in to the kitchen. The majority of our suppliers are London based but we also like to look a little further afield for produce that is really worth it. For example, the highest quality lamb from Elwy Valley in Wales has become a staple on our menu.” To add to the incredible menu and relaxed dining environment, Picture boasts a beautiful parquet-topped bar in a modern setting with a team of experienced bar tenders creating truly innovative cocktails.

Upon acquiring the site in 2013 the initial renovation took its toll on the overall budget. But welcomed entirely by locals and other businesses, Picture and its founding trio have felt part of a real community from the outset. “The area around us immediately seemed to be booming. When we opened we knew that we were taking a risk. Thankfully, we have seen other restaurants and bars arrive, adding a vibrancy to the area that can only mutually benefit our neighbours. We attract a lot of regular guests and are aware that this repeat business and word-of-mouth is what will keep us running successfully!” says Tom.

Picture, now an established part of Fitzrovia’s restaurant scene, always has an eye to improving their offerings and keeping their ideas fresh. The restaurant looks forward to many years ahead in the area and a potential expansion. “We are looking to open more restaurants in the future, and will probably stay as central as possible. There is no doubt however that we will always look at Fitzrovia as home.”

Nina Hamnett

Nina Hamnett


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“One had to do something to celebrate one’s freedom and escape from home.”

Serendipity occurs when we least expect it and for Nina it was in France, 1914. She had already earned a reputation in London and decided on a visit to Paris. Who should she run into but famed artist and central figure of the art world at the time, Amedeo Modigliani. Well, it wouldn’t be too long before fame came-a-knocking.

Primarily an artist, part-time writer, Nina existed in a space of her own. She not only crafted art, she lived art and played muse to some of the most important figures of the twentieth century. Born in the sleepy Pembrokeshire town of Tenby, Wales in 1890, Hamnett worked hard to escape a life in the doldrums and was never shy of standing out: “In the daytime, I wore a clergyman’s hat, a check coat and a skirt with red facings…I was stared at in the Tottenham Court Road! One had to do something to celebrate one’s freedom and escape from home.” Of course, it was her talent at painting that afforded Nina her freedom. At 16, Nina won a place at Pelham Art School. So, as any sane person wanting to embark in the world, she accepted and moved to London. She graduated in 1907 and went straight into studies at the London School of Art –finishing courses in 1910.

Nina had only one place to go from here: Paris. 1914 and Nina Hamnett found herself in the café La Rotonde. After a fortuitous meeting, Modigliani introduced the bright young thing to giants of the art world: Picasso, Diaghilev and Cocteau. It was within this group of bohemians that Nina was finally able to find a home and further develop her individuality. In this setting, Nina also met the man who would become her future husband, Norwegian artist Roald Kristian. This match was seen as somewhat unusual and Nina once remarked, of a painting done of the two by Walter Sickert, “We looked a picture of gloom.” This was also a period where Nina gained first-hand experience of the French avant-garde movement – one she would later, as a self-appointed ambassador, bring to the artistic communities of London.

Nina lived the next few decades of her life flitting between Paris and London, cementing a reputation for the avant-garde within both her art and lifestyle. She soon became known for her promiscuity: it is said that she would get drunk and tell everyone how Modigliani thought her to have the ‘best tits in Europe,’ proceeding to prove it. Most scandalous, of course, was her open admittance to being bisexual (an orientation unheard of in polite society). There is even an alleged fling with Vanessa Bell of the Bloomsbury group –although all signs point towards this rumour being propagated by Ms Hamnett herself.

In her book, Laughing Torso, Nina writes “One day somebody said, “You might get a job to paint furniture and do decorative work at the Omega Workshops in Fitzroy Square.” And so she spent some time working at the premises at 33 Fitzroy Square. Founded by artist and critic, Roger Fry, Omega Workshop was primarily intended to provide visual expression in textiles of the post-impressionist and modernist styles that were in vogue. For Nina Hamnett it was a way to make a living (yes, the workshop paid).

Nina’s roles were varied: one day she would be painting a mural or a lampshade, the next she could be found stitching together a cubist duvet. But, on top of this more creative role, she also sat as a model for the artists in the group. One piece in particular is the embodiment of the artistic community of the 1910s: a painting by Roger Fry, currently hanging in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, at the University of Leeds, shows Hamnett modelling an Omega Workshop dress designed by Vanessa Bell. Its use of colours and slightly off angles also makes for a prime example of post-impressionist portraits.

With her lavish lifestyle and numerous modelling jobs, it is sometimes hard to remember that Nina Hamnett was quite rightly a celebrated artist herself. In fact, she superseded some of her contemporaries, becoming celebrated in both Paris and London, with her paintings hanging in many galleries, from Salon d’Automne to The Royal Academy.

In Nina Hamnett, Queen of Bohemia, Denise Hooker explains “By the mid-thirties, Nina was producing very little work beyond quick portrait sketches in pencil or chalk… Always willing to tell another anecdote in return for the next drink. Gradually… the celebrated Reine de Bohème took over from the serious artist.”

Her adventures with fellow creative, all regulars at the Fitzroy Taven, gave the area its flair and bohemian style. Here, revelling in the lively atmosphere, she mixed with luminaries such as Augustus John, Jacob Epstein and even Aleister Crowley. Hamnett and Crowley’s encounters ranged from the purportedly intimate – he claims she shared a bed with her but was incredibly rude about the experience – to litigious, when in 1934 he sued her for claiming he practiced “black magic.” He lost the case but maybe some form of magic was involved because not long after, Nina’s life commenced a precipitous decline.

Unlike many of her contemporaries and friends – Fry, Picasso, Woolf – the Queen of Bohemia’s artistic reputation is sometimes overshadowed by the stories of her reckless behaviour in later years, from vomiting into a handbag to urinating in public. December 1956: Nina Hamnett was found impaled on spikes at the feet of her apartment building. Was she pushed? Did she drunkenly fall? Or was it suicide? Her last words, possibly hinting at how tired she was of living as a shadow of herself, furiously chasing her earlier fame and recognition… “Why won’t you let me die?”

The Omega Workshops

The Omega Workshops


Words Jane Singer

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


“In so far as taste can be changed by one man, it was changed by Roger Fry” (Sir Kenneth Clark)

In 1913, the Omega Workshop was founded by Roger Fry and was based at 33 Fitzroy Square. In stripping away the divide between decorative and fine arts, Fry wanted firstly to introduce into the applied arts a Post-Impressionistic approach to design and colour and secondly, to provide a source of part-time work for impoverished artists. By the end of the 19th century the word “omega” was commonly used as meaning the last word on a subject, and many of Fry’s friends believed he chose this name to imply that the workshops were the last word in decorative art.

Roger Fry, artist and critic, was the most influential individual in the introduction of modern art to England at the start of the 20th century. It was his observation of Poiret’s École Martine in Paris, which he had visited in 1911, that contributed to his philanthropic notion to create the Omega Workshop. Poiret’s Atelier was established to encourage free activity in the decoration of objects, fabrics and furniture. Fry admired the simplicity and vivacity in the work produced there and a number of the early Omega works share these qualities.

Unlike the political and philosophical aims of William Morris’aesthetic in the 1880s and the more intellectually rigorous Bauhaus in Germany in 1919, Fry was more concerned with providing a situation where artists could enjoy absolute freedom from convention and infuse their work, and the making of it, with a sense of joy, which ultimately would be conveyed to the owner. On a commercial level, he was also aware of the need for a viable project, which enabled artists to earn money. In contrast to the Bauhaus, Fry did not attempt to forge closer ties between design and industry. He did, however, share Morris’ belief that machine-made objects suffered from a deadness and lack of humanity and admired the simplicity of design of the Bauhaus movement, believing that objects became impractical when they were very ornate.

Founding members of the Omega Workshop included Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. It was established as a limited company, with shareholders, employees and a number of subcontracted craftsmen producing wares, offsite original Omega prices. At the height of their production artists included Wyndham Lewis, Frederick Etchells, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Winifred Gill, who ran the workshops from the start of the war until 1916. During 1913, Vanessa Bell, often described as the ‘matriarch of Bloomsbury’ because of her ability to organise the practical concerns of life, was a regular visitor to 33 Fitzroy Square. Her training and experience as a painter and her knowledge of Post-Impressionist theories of art (through Bloomsbury discussions with Roger Fry and her husband, Clive Bell) gave a sureness of touch to her work. Bell believed that the English were unable to appreciate simplicity or boldness in design. As a result the pieces she produced there were fresh, bold and unselfconscious. If the public lived with objects decorated by these artists, Fry believed, they could understand and appreciate post-impressionist paintings.

The Omega Workshop produce ranged from painted furniture to bead necklaces. One could find a Fauve shawl, a Post-Impressionist chair or a Cubist gown, all under one roof. 33 Fitzroy Square was where artists and wealthy buyers mingled and where artists’ designs were sold directly to the consumer. One of the defining features of the works was that they were sold anonymously, signed only with the symbol Ω, the Greek letter for Omega, creating a fair and level playing ground. Omega could also offer interior design and to that end, three rooms at 33 Fitzroy Square were decorated in the Omega style. In addition, artists worked a maximum of three-and-a-half days a week for thirty shillings. The Omega Workshop extended beyond the artistic and the organisation really was enjoyable and social; friendship was a key factor in the set-up.

When the Omega Workshop opened, it was viewed as scandalous, mainly by the press, who were still grappling with ideas of modern art. The boldness of the work offended numerous members of British society who preferred and valued the technical expertise and elaborate qualities of Morris designs or the elegance and subtlety of Edwardian décor. In the catalogue for the official opening in July 1913 Fry stressed the joviality and the enjoyment – experienced by the makers. The roughness in the final product assured against the emphasis on finish that Fry believed deadened the imaginative life; he did not value craftsmanship as such and did not share Morris’desire to revive the crafts. Any product that required skilled labour was sent out to craftsmen.

The limited concern for craft and finish, which was intended to preserve ‘the spontaneous freshness of peasant or primitive work while satisfying the needs and expressing the feelings of modern cultivated man’, resulted in a number of problems. Legs of tables or chairs sometimes fell off, and on one occasion, the paint on a set of outdoor furniture peeled off after the first shower of rain. The steep learning curve, which the artists experienced, was financially difficult to accommodate. In addition, the often bizarre and exuberant character of the Omega products, which only appealed to a small, wealthy avant-garde, meant that customers bought on a single occasion but usually did not go back. By 1915, Omega had branched out beyond household goods and started to introduce clothing into the repertoire, inspired by both the costumes of the Ballets Russes and Duncan Grant’s theatre designs. Avid supporters included the flamboyant dresser and socialite Ottoline Morrell and the famous bohemian artist Nina Hamnet who helped by modelling the clothes.

Artistic talent often breeds arrogance and resentment and none more so than from the British artist and writer Wyndham Lewis. Despite being an early member of The Omega Workshop, he quickly split away from the group in a dispute over Omega’s contribution to the Ideal Homes Exhibition. Lewis circulated a letter to all shareholders, making accusations against the company and Roger Fry in particular, and pouring scorn on the Omega’s products and ideology. He left the group, along with Frederick Etchells, Cuthbert Hamilton and Edward Wadsworth, to set up the Rebel Art Centre in opposition and competition. This subsequently led to his establishing the rival Vorticist movement and the publication in 1916 of its two-issue house magazine, Blast.

As early as 1914 there were financial problems and the war hastened Omega’s decline. By 1916, many of the artists were involved in the fighting or working out of London on various agricultural projects as conscientious objectors. Whilst Roger Fry continued to support Omega in London, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved to Charleston in Sussex, where they put their efforts into decorating the entire house in Omega style – an effort which is now maintained by the National Trust.

Despite its connections with high society patrons, the Workshops’ reputation suffered due to the fact that many of its products were poorly constructed. Although the Workshops managed to survive the war, increasing financial problems eventually forced their closure in June 1919. Ironically, Omega’s biggest commercial success was its final closing down sale, when everything went for half price.

The Omega Workshop had neither timing nor good management on its side. However, it opened opportunities for English artists and illustrators, who would have struggled to enter the commercial design business and established interior design as a legitimate artistic activity; its influence continued from the 1920s onwards.  And even more recently, many of its designs have served as inspiration for contemporary brands like Sanderson, Mulberry and Laura Ashley, bringing about a timely revival of the Omega Workshops’ creative output.

Rose Blake

Rose Blake


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Catherine Hyland


“When I go to an exhibition I’m almost as interested in the people looking around as in the work itself. I keep a little sketchbook on me so I can remember day to day narratives that I see around me.”

Though I may not quite count myself as an artist, I would count myself an admirer of anybody courageous enough to pursue their creative endeavours deep into the trees. Rose Blake is such a person. Using her experience in editorial illustration, she leaps a giant step further into self-expression, freedom and fine art, bringing together a remarkable collection of new works in her first solo exhibition at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery.

As a youngster, Rose was born into and raised within a creative environment which progressively shaped her own desire for the arts and personal expression, namely illustration. “My mum and dad are both artists so I was really surrounded by it as a kid. Then I was lucky enough to have a few really inspiring art teachers at school (especially at sixth form), so it just went from there really” she says. The daughter of the renowned English pop artist Sir Peter Blake (creator of the infamous album sleeve art for the Beatles’Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Rose was soon to progress her interest in art and continue her family trend, studying Illustrator and Animation at Kingston University. During her time at Kingston Rose was awarded the D&AD Best New Blood Award. She followed this with an MA at the Royal College of Art. Soon after her studies, Rose began to complete commissions for papers such as The New York Times, The Telegraph & The BBC. “It was just the natural progression after I graduated. The more and more editorial stuff you do, the better your clients get!” she says, “When I first graduated I was mainly working on in-house business magazines illustrating boring articles about stocks and shares!”

In this debut, Rose has chosen to focus on the subject of vast museum-scapes. “I had made a few of these drawings previously, and when I showed them to Rebecca she was really into them, and we decided together that they would make a cool show” she says. In the series, Blake captures the busy hum of a gallery concourse and narrative of day-to-day lives. A couple exchanging flowers, children tottering along hand-in-hand with their parents, a droopy teddy is almost lost in the movement, and a yoga-loving bystander is entertained by a giddy cluster of school children with matching rucksacks; Blake’s series captivates the characteristics of the happenings in life that often go by unnoticed. “I’m really interested in observing people around me” she says, “when I go to an exhibition I’m almost as interested in the people looking around as in the work itself. I keep a little sketchbook on me so I can remember day-to-day narratives that I see around me.”

In her work, each digitally-designed character contributes to the rich narrative which the scene portrays, all with their own lives and personalities. And the art on the wall, which Blake hand-paints onto the image, breathes its own history. In a meta-artistic fashion her imagined museums become playful forums in which to redefine what is regarded as ‘exhibition-worthy’. “I decided to create these gallery scenes and make smaller scale work within them”she says, “its basically lots of shows within a show.” Illustration as art is affirmed, and truly celebrated.

A few years ago, Rose first came to meet gallerist Rebecca Hossack at an opening. Soon after the two first met, they arranged a meeting to discuss Rose’s work, following which Rebecca & Rose began to make preparations for an exhibition. “I’m not really used to exhibiting my work in galleries” explains Rose, “my work is normally for print/editorial so now it feels really exposed to me.” The exhibition, aptly entitled ‘Now I Am An Artist’, takes its title from the nature of Blake’s tentative debut show, being somewhat nervous in having her first solo exhibition.

In putting together the exhibition, Rose’s illustration commissions were on hold for a month, though now she is back to work. “I’ve got a few things lined up. I’m doing a little collaboration with Heals, and I’m working on two book proposals, a children’s book and a cook book!”says Rose. There is also talk of exhibiting her work at the Mott Street Rebecca Hossack Gallery in New York in the coming year, an exhibition that Rose expresses having many more ideas for. “I’d love to be able to keep a balance of doing illustration work and making work for shows. It’s nice to have the contrast of really quick paced editorials, while being able to work a lot more freely on my exhibition work. I’ve had so much fun making the work for this one!”

Hard Working House

Hard Working House


Words Kirk Truman

Designs Urban Projects Bureau


“Living in Fitzrovia is more like a community than living in the usual semi-detached commuter belt so many young families opt for”

From 1714 to 1830, the first four British monarchs of the House of Hanover (George I, George II, George III, and George IV), reigned in continuous succession in the United Kingdom. With its centred panel front doors, large rectangular windows and distinctive chimney tops, Georgian architecture bares the name of the monarchs that reigned during this period. A notable example of such architecture locally in Fitzrovia is Robert Adam’s elegant Fitzroy Square, while nearby, a remarkable reinvention of the style can be found at 33 Grafton way.

London’s most hard working architectural typology, the Georgian townhouse itself is more-or-less public, or more-or-less private. In the project produced, designed an reimagined by the architectural practice, Urban Projects Bureau, an ordinary Georgian house has been pushed to the limits adapting the typology to provide a mixed-use socially sustainable development that provides commercial spaces and a three-storey family home.

The project itself was the vision of husband and wife duo, Eva & Paschalis Loucaides. Including a full-scale renovation, reorganisation and reinterpretation of the existing building and a light-weight roof-top pavilion and garden – the building was an opportunity and challenge for Urban Projects Bureau to use architecture to support a mixed-use urban environment and to experiment with central London’s essential urban tissue. Alex, founder of Urban Projects Bureau, had previously met Eva whilst studying in Cambridge and the two have remained friends ever since.

The conversion and extension of 33 Grafton Way was given the name Hard Working House by Urban Projects Bureau as the project was a chance to experiment with and bring new innovations to the Georgian town-house typology so as to make it ‘work harder’. Using the design principles of typological adaptation and addition, the derelict property which was in a severe state of disrepair was reconfigured to provide a compact high-density dwelling, with a range of residential and commercial spaces including a newsagent, 2 studio apartments and a three-storey private maisonette with a new roof-top pavilion and terrace.

With Fitzrovia closely monitored by both Camden and Westminster Council conservation teams, the project was subject to many stringent planning and conservation area regulations. Working closely with the local authority and planning consultants Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, the property was re-imagined as a positive contributor to the historic fabric of the neighbourhood. Undertaking a detailed visual analysis of their proposals through complex 3D modelling of the property and its urban context, the design itself was influenced significantly by views from the streets and neighbourhood buildings in order to design the rooftop pavilion to be invisible from the street, while appearing to be a contemporary adaptation of the neighbourhood roof-scape. Through three rounds of pre-planning consultation, the planning officers and local conservation area groups were very supportive of the project and its potential to innovate the historic fabric, meet housing and workspace policy ambitions, and to set a precedent for future development.

Key to the project was the ambition, care and trust of the Loucaides family, who Alex and the Urban Projects Bureau team worked closely with throughout the project at all stages. Having been the family grocery store at the ground floor at one stage, the property has been in Paschalis Loucaides’ family for the last 40 years. Paschalis was determined to rectify 30 years of neglect inflicted on the house and to set a precedent for high-density inner city living and to create a compact dwelling for he & his family. On the project, Paschalis says “the hardest part was the pressure and cost of renovating a derelict building. As it was so far gone, banks would not mortgage against it as it needed such extensive work to be habitable.”

As well as the sensitive conservation and reconfiguration of the house, the key architectural addition to the property is the roof-top pavilion and garden. Conceived as an ‘urban room’, carefully positioned openings and site lines frame key views of surrounding urban landmarks, orchestrating a series of dynamic relationships between the domestic dwelling space of the house and its urban context. The property itself was gutted entirely from within, leaving only the existing masonry walls, which were repointed and cleaned. While the interior timber structure (which was rotting, leaning and bowing) was replaced, as much of the existing fabric was recycled as possible. This included re-using timber joints and trusses as structural elements where possible, or as internal features such as built in furniture and a new dining table. The thermal and environmental efficiency of the building was upgraded through lining all the walls and window reveals with Thermalcheck insulation, replacing all the windows with new high-performance double glazing, and replacing the flat roof with a new high-performance thermally insulated warm roof with roof garden above. The drainage, services and heating systems in the original building were not fit for purpose and were replaced with integrated energy-efficient systems.

For Paschalis and his family, the property has been renovated in such a fashion to adjust to his family’s needs, though there are still ready-plans to extend the rear of the house. At the base of the house, where his relatives once ran a grocer’s, he has sighted the possibility of reviving community spirit set by his relatives in the form of a café. He adds, “I know most of the people in our street and we can live on top of the shop without any trouble at all. Living in Fitzrovia is more like a community than living in the usual semi-detached commuter belt so many young families opt for.”

Orchidya

Orchidya


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I love phalaenopsis because it has a long flower period, I like vanda because it has a special pattern on the petal like a wild animal.”

Between the screaming neons of Soho, the lively bustle of Tottenham Court Road and the studious calm of Bloomsbury lies Orchidya. Perfectly situated and perfectly hidden on the leafy oasis that is Store street. Behind the door of Number 42, a kingdom of mystery awaits you, and more to the point, mysteriously beautiful Orchids. The shop is arranged in two halves ‘to reflect the history and modernity of orchids’.  One half, the front room of an eccentric, Victorian, orchid grower indulging in a grand excess of ornament. The walls hung with rows of framed botanical prints, dark wood cabinets artfully cluttered with trifles, curios, gewgaws and orchids, orchids and more orchids! The other half a quiet, white, modern space perfect for the composition of beautiful bouquets, Orchidya’s other specialty.

It was a 20 million year old prehistoric bee preserved in amber, along with the orchid pollen on its wing tip, which revealed that orchids were at least as old as the dinosaurs. Given the fact that orchids have survived all this time, their incredible diversity should come as no surprise with over 30,000 recognised species so far, distributed around the globe, surviving in obscure habitats –  vertiginous slopes of dense rainforests, craggy outcrops of all but impassable Himalayan cliff edges, but also in plain sight –  water lilies, magnolias, avocado, black pepper and vanilla plants all belong to the orchid family.

Human desire to possess beauty plays out too in the field of orchids and like many a Greek tragedy it lead, in Victorian times, to a kind of madness dubbed Orchidelerium. Explorers and orchid hunters were sent to all corners of the earth on long and sometimes perilous expeditions to bring back the rarest, most exquisite, most unique orchids. Unfortunately, back then, despite the exorbitant expense showered on bringing back these rarities, many orchids withered and died upon arrival, making them, of course, even more desirable – madness indeed! Standing in Orchidya, one can almost feel the intrigue and exotic adventures these intrepid globetrotters lived seeking out these flowers. But here at Orchidya, the plants prosper in the hands of such dedicated specialists.

Orchidya opened four years ago “inspired by a love of flowers in general and a passion for orchids in particular. We stand out from other orchid suppliers because of our attention to detail: when we pick the plants we look at the roots as well as the shape, colour and direction of the flowers to make sure our customers get the finest orchids.” Orchidya, who’s nursery won three Gold Medals and two Silver ones from the Chelsea flower show, also specialise in orchid arrangements, bringing together incredible bespoke combinations to suit even the most demanding clients.

A slightly disquieting thing about orchids, which becomes obvious once you know about it, is that the flowers are totally and completely symmetrical. Theories abound about the significance of facial symmetry in humans – the more symmetrical a face, the more attractive it will be to others. The mesmerising symmetry of orchids appears to illicit the  same response – no wonky petals, no little bumps just perfect, impenetrable, spellbinding symmetry – the Grace Kelly of the flower world!

As a plant that symbolises luxury there is no shortage of clientele in London. Orchidya boasts clients from Russia, the Middle East, America and of course right here in the UK. “As London diversifies so do the clients. Their requirements vary; more established clients and collectors pre-order particular varieties, sourced and grown bespoke to add to their own cherished collections”. Sophie adds “Older clients like to specialise and collect, unusual, interesting orchids.  Young professionals like to buy large arrangements of orchids as luxury gifts.”

So how on earth do you care for such exotic plants? I had visions of elaborate nurturing techniques… crushed pearls hand picked in the Tuamotu Archipelago, to be gently dusted on the uppermost leaves at first light… or maybe mixtures of artisanal nutrients exclusive to Amazon rainforests fed to the orchid root system every 3 hours through an eye dropper… But no, apparently not, and that sort of nonsense would probably kill them. As my mental image of vintage laboratory glassware shatters, Sophie the store manager assures me that “the best way to look after orchids is not to look after them”, as several million years of perfectly competent evolution attests, orchids “prefer to be left alone, only needing to be watered sparingly at the root by spraying filtered or rain water. (Though I’m sure using vintage glass eye dropper, if you are that way inclined, would be just as effective!).

As a supplier of luxury plants, Orchidya offer a lot more than an orchid in a pot. Sophie explains that more recently, the shop has seen a huge expansion in its cut flower and bespoke bouquet arrangements with a variety of clients from the Sanderson and St. Martin’s Hotels to Sotheby’s and Senate House to mention only a few. Using only the freshest and finest flowers, Orchidya create imaginative and memorable arrangements. And much like the rest of the beautiful shops on Store Street – from restaurants and art galleries to independent coffee shops – they go that extra mile by way of craft and a depth of knowledge of their respective subjects to satisfy their customers.

Flower arranging is an art in itself, an ancient Japanese art to be precise, called Ikebana. Established in the 15th century and originally taught by Buddhist priests, it became a disciplined art form for creative expression which, by employing a series of rules the intention of the artist could be conveyed via the particular colour combinations, shapes and natural lines used in the final exhibit, bringing nature and humanity together. Sophie herself has extensively studied flower arranging in Paris learning how to manipulate organic materials and develop concepts and designs by utilising a variety of their properties. She then spent a further 6 months at the Orchidya greenhouse in Lincolnshire learning to care for and nurture the growing plants. Her enjoyment and depth of knowledge of Orchidya’s wares is evident not only from the lush, almost tropical feel of the shop but from her answer to my question: what is your favourite orchid? Sophie just about manages to stop herself at 5. And that’s five orchid families, not five orchids!

“I love phalenopsis because it has a long flower period, I like vanda because it has a special pattern on the petal like a wild animal. Slipper orchids look so unique and wild. Dendrobidium orchids are so elegant. Cambria orchids have a special fragrance, some of them smell like orange blossoms, some smell like delicate jasmine, and some smell like chocolate.” I suspect she could go list many more and luckily for those that visit Orchidya, funds notwithstanding, you too can choose as many as you like.

Taylors Buttons

Taylors Buttons


Words Omri Rose

Photography Erin Barry


“I don’t know how many buttons we have. Thousands. Thousands and Thousands.”

“I don’t dream about them.” The words of Mrs. Maureen Rose, owner and proprietor of Taylors Buttons, a shop which could easily be in place along the streets of J.K.Rowling’s Diagon Alley or amidst a Dickensian tale. Fitting then, perhaps, that the buttons for the Harry Potter films were provided by Taylors Buttons and that Dickens himself twice lived as a young man in the narrow Victorian house, which for the past 17 years has been home to this a treasure of London’s artisan past.

Established for over a century, the shop came into the Rose family when Maureen’s late husband Leon, in his time known as ‘Mr. Buttons’took over from the previous owners around 50 years ago. Originally located on Brewer St. in the heart of Soho’s once thriving trade, Maureen has said she “couldn’t believe what they’d taken on –there was so much stock and it was all stacked up in a room which was smaller than the shop is now. It only had one light bulb above the desk.” As business flourished Maureen and Leon relocated to Silver Place, where they stayed for many years before finally moving and settling in their current home, at 22 Cleveland St, in Fitzrovia.

Taylors Buttons is filled with a combination of antique sewing machines, mysterious old tools for hand crafting, an impressive lead till from a bygone age, and of course the hundreds of dusty boxes – vintage collector pieces themselves – which contain the myriad of buttons, buckles, and more and more buttons that the shop has to offer. Too many types and styles to list, whether it be metal, glass, pearl, horn, wood, leather, dyeable, covered or whatever you may be after, Maureen possesses  the knowledge of their exact location. But pointing to the many shelves overflowing with buttons, charmingly arranged in what can only be described as organised chaos, she confides mischievously, “They move at night!”

With all the shop has to offer, it is perhaps Maureen herself – sometimes referred to simply and with reverence as ‘The Button Lady’ – who is the real pearl of Taylor’s Buttons. It is Maureen’s good humour, sharp wit and rapport with her many customers, from Savile Row tailors and Wedding Gown Makers to Theatre and Film designers, Walk Ins, and first-timers that makes Taylors Buttons such a unique and authentic experience. Despite her modesty and after much cajoling, Maureen shares, some of the famous names that have become customers: from Gary Oldman to Vivienne Westwood, from Elton John to the Royal Family themselves.

But no matter who the customer may be, Maureen adds jokingly “We don’t charge extra for the dust!” Perhaps she should though, as it is that dust, of authenticity, that is part of what makes Taylors Buttons the charming and utterly unique shop that it is. “I have one rule. If you drop it, you pick it up.” And no doubt, many a curious or clumsy shopper has found themselves on their hands and knees doing just that!

Maureen may not really hold you to that rule, but in reverence to this humble yet historical shop – a place from an imagined bygone era still alive and relevant today – you may want to! After all, chances are you dropped them in the first place and if you don’t retrieve them, they may very well be lost forever. You’d be helping Maureen out as well, who these days finds less and less time to save buttons from the dreaded floor. But it’s all ‘a day in the life’ of the button shop and in a corner a massive container filled with assorted buttons, lovingly referred to as ‘floor buttons’, is a constant reminder of what happens to the ones that get dropped and never find a way home to their original boxes. “I don’t know how many buttons we have. Thousands. Thousands and Thousands.” As for favourites, she says she has a few. “I like the cherries. They’re pearl. A gentlemen once put them on his jacket.” She smiles as she says this, relishing the fact that one of her favourites has found a good home. “The most important thing is that you have to like them.” Her emphasis on ‘you’ and the way she phrased those two thoughts together however gave me the impression that her beloved cherry buttons would not necessarily have been her own first choice for the gentleman’s jacket. “The right button can really make all the difference.” After all, the devil is in the detail.

Between dealing with customers and phone calls, Maureen’s days are often spent working with covered buttons, most often for bridal ware, and it is in the making of these that one gets a sense of a true artisan at work. Maureen expertly and seemingly without looking, works the various pieces required for covering a button into her machine, deftly turning the handle and pressing down as she creates from fabric, backs, and moulds the many varieties of covered buttons that are required. “The small ones are very finicky. Sometimes you have to cover them twice.” Along with buttons, Maureen also covers belts and buckles, a secondary aspect to the business. And hers is the one shop in London that provide a facsimiles of the cut steel buttons used by the prestigious office of ‘High Sheriff of London’, the only person allowed to take their sheep over London Bridge!

Charmingly eccentric and a gateway to the past, Taylors Buttons is not without its modern touches. They recently launched their first website, entering into the 21st century with the charm, modesty, and the grace associated with them. No trumpets, no bangs, just honest quality and good spirits. “We’ll never get all the stock online. We’ve only put a tiny portion of it up so far.” Whatever the next steps for Taylors Buttons, it remains a testament to London’s past and an inspirational for small businesses to aspire to. Long may it remain as a symbol and reminder of the spirit of London’s artisan legacy.

Brandy Row

Brandy Row


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“I’m like the Artful Dodger meets Al Capone.”

I met Brandy Row about 4 years ago, but really our paths should have crossed much earlier. I’d been looking for a guitarist to help me record some songs with a talented blues singer, and the manager of Soho’s So High Soho recommended one of her employees. I wanted someone local just to make things easy. “Brandy Row. He’s a multi-instrumentalist” she suggested “and best of all, he lives nearby.” But never could I have imagined how nearby – Brandy’s flat and mine shared a wall! He was my next door neighbour, only I was two floors above him.

I discovered an animated, passionate character for whom, it soon became evident, life was both toxic and intoxicating. He looked a lot like a modern day Robert Mitchum from Night of the Hunter, carrying the same gravitas and intensity but with a caustic sense of humour. This guy was totally absorbed by the desire to write and perform his own music. And his sartorial style was a living embodiment of his dark, sometimes apocalyptic lyrics. Suited like he might be attending a funeral in a Flannery O’Connor Southern Gothic novel, his hands and face covered in a constellation of peculiar tattoos, Brandy Row was definitely not your average Fitzrovian.

And to think our paths had never crossed… How could I have missed him? So I started photographing Brandy to make up for lost time and delved into his music. I discovered his folky psychedelic solo material but also, a harder, 70s english punk side which he showed off with another  project, The Gaggers. But even his bluesier material had a punk edge to it so I was curious to know where that came from. “People like  Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Robert Johnson, Stiv Bators, The Stones, Etta James, Alan Watts, Karen Dalton, Iggy Pop, Lux Interior, Bill Hicks, Joe Strummer, Bruce Lee… they all influenced my songwriting and even life choices! I also love all that Delta Blues stuff and the 50’s 60’s Chicago movement, the list goes on and on!!”

One of the highlights of his life happened last summer, when he got an opening slot for some of the artists he had long admired. “I played a couple of shows in the UK opening for a supergroup formed of Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Earl Slick (who worked with Bowie) and Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats. More recently, I opened up for Adam Ant! What a great show! He’s someone I use to dress up like as a kid so him calling me asking me to support was a trip!”

Speaking of trips, Brandy toured America again earlier this year. “I’ve toured a lot in America: the Midwest, the East Coast, West Coast. I met some great people that have changed my life. The last time I was in the States was a few months ago now, I did a tour that started on new years eve in Brooklyn, New York City, at a place called The Beast of Bourbon, run by an english castaway that has been anchored in NYC for 20 years.” It was there that Brandy hosted and promoted a night and got a bunch of musicians that he’d known and shared a stage with many times before in the Big Apple. “It was a great night! My band flew out to do the show. We played into the New Year, then I flew back to LA with my good friends and family Tina de la Celle and Julian de la Celle.”

Touring. Working. Recording. Working. Every penny Brandy earns he throws back into his music, funding 7” single releases, photo shoots and even elaborate videos. And his most recent video might well be one of his most ambitious not to say craziest… “Julian de la Celle and I went to the Nevada desert to shoot a new music video. By the time we were done shooting, I was covered in blood, as part of the story had me being filmed with an array of replica weapons. Anyhow, we drove to Vegas after that, but I had to stop in a busy parking lot to use the toilet! We were all sleep deprived and a bit frazzled. I opened the trunk and all the guns and knifes from the shoot spilled out! To make matters worse, for some reason I had 100 dollars in one dollar bills in my pocket. They all flew out, blowing across the windy desert carpark. That day, the good people of Nevada saw the Artful Dodger dressed as Al Capone, wearing a black mac, splattered with blood, chasing dollar bills in a desert rest stop, waving a gun and cursing in British gibberish at the money flying above his head… the sort of thing that makes a good video in its own right! Needless to say, we got out of there pretty quick.”

The last few months of Brandy’s life have seen him return to studio, off the radar with social media, concentrating on new material, evolving musically yet again. “I’ve been recording a new EP since January with my very talented amigo Rex Whitehall and a great producer and sound engineer called Alastair Jamieson, who owns and operates from Park Studios in Birmingham. It’s full of great 60’s equipment, old reverbs, everything. A great vibe!” Based in a beautiful Victorian building in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter, the studio has become Brandy’s second home. “Alastair brings out the best in me and the sessions we have are organic, we capture magic from the madness!”

But Brandy’s ideas for all this new material more often than not originate from his real home, back in Fitzrovia. “My whole writing routine consists of long walks around Fitzrovia and Soho at night. I get a vibe from an idea at home, record it, chop down a mix then put it my ears and take it out to streets. Out there, history seeps from every wall… you see what reality is really like, and that’s what I take from the area: triumph, failure, the truth, fraud, outcasts, junkies, artists, chancers, movers and shakers, its all out there in the dead of night!”

Greta Bellamacina

Greta Bellamacina


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“I think all art forms are connected to statements – and educate in some way. I like to think that through fashion, music, art you can change the way people think.”

On the seam which separates Fitzrovia from east and west sits Maple Street. Cornered in by Banksy’s contribution to the neighbourhood and the post office tower, Maple Street is the bridge from Camden to Westminster. As my former home, I know Maple Street all too well. Though, recently I have come to discover a neighbour whose creative habits are not too dissimilar to my own. Poet, writer, artist and model, Greta Bellamacina tells of her relationship with the Fitzrovia neighbourhood and her works.

Greta grew up in Camden, which explains why the area always felt nostalgic to her. Having previously attended RADA, she studied at King’s College London where she graduated in 2012 with a BA in English. Her true passion, writing, came about as no coincidence for Greta… in fact it was almost intended. Her father, a musician, would endlessly play melodies on the piano to her in order to encourage her to write lyrics: “…they were always more like poems. I don’t think I really became interested in it properly until I was at school – I remember being really drawn to Lord Byron’s epic poem Don Juan,” she recalls.

Her first credited contribution came in 2007 when working for US Vogue as part of her artists/writers journey on the publication of ‘The World in Vogue: people, parties, places’. In 2011, Greta released a limited edition collection of poetry titled ‘Kaleidoscope’, which later aided her in being short-listed as the Young Poet Laureate of London in 2013. Though currently poetry editor of Champ Magazine, her writings and works have also graced the pages of a variety of publications, from The Telegraph to Wonderland, Vogue (UK, US & Italia), and Harper’s Bazaar UK.

Growing up Greta read a lot of poetry by writers such as Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin; all of whom Greta felt devoted to understand. She explains, “I felt close to their unleashed silences and noiseless despairs. But now I think I am more influenced by poets who have a way of looking at landscape as a continuous home; poets like Octavio Paz and Alice Oswald, looking at land as part of a greater system, something more cohesive with our dreams, part of the weather and the trees. I like to explore these themes a lot in my writing.”

Last year, Greta edited a collection of poetry, ‘Nature’s Jewels’, in collaboration with MACK publishers, where she was later assigned the role of poetry editor. Earlier this year, she was commissioned to write a series of poetic texts for the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy, while in February she launched a collection of British contemporary love poems with Faber & Faber. Greta is currently collaborating on a collection of verse with the poet, Robert Montgomery. “We started writing together a while ago and decided our styles seemed to complement each other. The poems all come back round to the idea of being British, the night buses going round the circus squares of London, the left-over mornings of the week, and the BT privatisation,” she explains.

But Greta has more than one string to her bow. She recently directed a documentary about the importance of saving our slowly vanishing public libraries (released last month) and is currently working on several short films which will premiere at the end of this year. In addition to filmmaking, Greta has also modelled for a number of years, and has starred in fashion campaigns for various brands including Burberry and All Saints. “I was spotted in a lift by a photographer in the Conde Nast building in New York, whilst I was working for Vogue in my gap year before I went to university. He sent some images to Models1 in London and I got signed,” she says. She sees these two creative pursuits – modelling and writing – as having developed alongside one another. “I think all art forms are connected to statements – and educate in some way. I like to think that through fashion, music, art you can change the way people think,” says Greta. Currently, she is represented by VIVA Model Management on their talent board which is based in London and Paris.

Greta first visited the Fitzrovia neighbourhood when visiting French’s Theatre Bookstore on Warren Street to look for plays and scripts during her studies at RADA. She felt strongly that Fitzrovia was in some ways a lost neighbourhood; in being so central, though equally quite forgotten from the rest of the West-End, despite its literary history and charm. “I like the rhythm of the place; everyone arrives into town and leaves so quickly that it feels like there is a lot of stillness and space,” she says, now a resident of Fitzrovia for two years.

With her literary agent based around the corner, Greta is well adjusted to Fitzrovia, a neighbourhood which has come to inspire her in recent years. With the signs of poetry and old magical history everywhere in her path – from Banksy’s art at the end of her street reading ‘if graffiti changed anything – it would be illegal’, to the rooftop graffiti on Maple Street reading; ‘the writer, the villain & the stone’ – to Greta Fitzrovia is a realm of independence and creativity.

Percy & Founders

Percy & Founders


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Laurie Fletcher & James Brown


“We want to be the natural social hub that people want to go to not once a week, but two or three times a week.”

Peer and landowner, Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, is a name which is quietly synonymous with Fitzrovia. About the streets, subtle references to a man who developed and built on the name of our region from Percy Street to The Northumberland Arms are evenly spread. In 1755, Hugh Percy and a group of philanthropists came together and founded the Middlesex Hospital. Forward to today; for many, Percy and his founders would appear as but names in history. Now, on the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, a new reference to their legacy and the heritage of Fitzrovia has come to light. Sure to become as synonymous with the neighbourhood as Hugh Percy himself, Fitzrovia’s newest social destination Percy & Founders is a restaurant and bar which takes its name from Hugh Percy and the men who founded the Middlesex Hospital.

Having opened this spring, Percy & Founders is situated within the new Fitzroy Place development at a prominent corner where Berners Street and Mortimer Street meet, backing onto the soon to be unveiled Pearson Square. The restaurant is the first creation of Open House, the recently formed sister company to Cubitt House, renowned for its award-winning beautifully designed public houses in Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Pimlico and Marylebone – The Orange, Pimlico, being a particular favourite of mine. The formation of Open House marks the group’s evolutionary jump from a traditional pub to a contemporary, all-day dining venue.

Percy & Founders’ modern all-day dining is complemented by the different areas of the restaurant being tailored to a variety of needs at different times of the day – with a notable focus on ease and accessibility. Welcoming both reservations and casual walk-ins, the restaurant itself offers residents and visitors alike everything from morning coffee and breakfast through to lunch, dinner and evening cocktails. Alfresco dining is offered for the warmer months. Each section of Percy & Founders is purposefully designed to flow effortlessly into the next, thus making for a reassuringly comfortable venue. “We want to be the natural social hub that people want to go to not once a week, but two or three times a week,” says Open House Director Stefan Turnbull.

Great emphasis has been put on the design and finish of Percy & Founders, with the interior of the restaurant sympathetic to the heritage of Fitzrovia and its surrounding architecture. The logo of the restaurant is inspired by elements of the Percy family coat of arms. The Middlesex Hospital, and adjoining Grade II listed Fitzrovia Chapel at the rear, are echoed throughout the restaurant and bar with subtle nods to their respective styles: from bold colours, to patterns, textures and unique marble detail. The design philosophy of the restaurant appropriately centres on traditional craftsmanship with bespoke, handcrafted joinery throughout. The perfect combination of glass, brass and wood panelling paired with oak and terrazzo flooring make for a custom designed feel with surfaces hand-finished by oiling, brushing and oxidising – bespoke furniture honours both the style and substance of high modernism without being mistaken for nostalgic or retrograde.

Walking about the restaurant from the centre bar to the view directly into the restored Fitzrovia Chapel, the array of art collections by notable artists and illustrators is striking. Hanging from the ceiling above the central circular bench is a tailored piece by Alex Randall titled ‘The Butterfly Domes’, acting as a crossroads where a tree rests. When entering through the main entrance, directly on the left is the well-lit and traditionally styled cocktail bar for which there is a capacity of 65, with a mix of high and low level seating with four large Chesterfield sofas at the centre, and a marble topped bar. For the summer months, the large concertina windows can be folded open with comfortable window seats below each. On the far wall of the bar is another nod to the heritage of The Middlesex Hospital; ‘Acts of Mercy’ (Frederick Cayley Robinson 1916-1920), a collection originally commissioned and hung in the hospital itself. In part, Robinson’s collection represents the traumatic effects of conflict on patients sent back from the First World War.

To the right of the main entrance, adjacent to the cocktail bar, capable of seating 25 is The Reading Room. The casual feeling here is complemented by low furniture and window seats from which to work and relax: sumptuous fabrics, eye-catching glass light wall fittings and bookshelves (even some neatly tucked away copies of Fitzrovia Journal). On into the restaurant where there sits a series of dining spaces, again each tailored to different needs – all tables are centred around the central division bar. Here the Fitzrovia Chapel’s arresting interior can be viewed through a glass door – rest assured, a table here by the chapel is a real view to a kill. These areas are designed to host a variety of flexible private functions; from canapé receptions to sit down dinners.

Laid out along the left wall of the restaurant toward the stairwell, hangs the original 16 piece ‘A Rake’s Progress’ by British painter David Hockney (a 1960 adaptation of William Hogarth’s 1733 ‘A Rake’s Progress’), drawing attention to the challenges of social mobility and of maintaining one’s personal identity. At the far end of the restaurant it is difficult to distract yourself from the endearing pose of ‘Sick Dog’ by German painter, Michael Sowa, hung above the staircase. Where dogs were once as in abundance as guests in public houses, it seems appropriate for this be placed within the restaurant; Percy & Founders is a dog-friendly establishment.

Toward the far end of the restaurant, quickly stealing your attention is the superb open kitchen. Standing within this arena of creativity and buzz is a 1.5 tonne Maestro Venetti oven, custom designed for/by wonderful Executive Chef, Diego Cardoso. Standing before the kitchen are two high level sharing tables which allow for guests to experience the atmosphere and excitement of the kitchen through the Pyrolave pass, which is a glazed volcanic lava stone; past the kitchen, to the left and down the bespoke terrazzo and brass staircase leading to the lower ground floor, is the private dining room. Capable of seating 20 guests, and complete with its own bar, the dining room launched just last month. The versatile design of the space will be able to tailor to a number of different private functions such as drinks receptions, presentations, board meetings and family celebrations.

Percy & Founders Executive Chef, Diego Cardoso, has brought his wealth of experience to Fitzrovia, having previously worked in an array of some of the world’s most creative and exciting kitchens; most recently having worked as Head Chef at Angela Hartnett’s Murano. The all-day menu he has created features a fusion of simple British and modern European delights. There is a concise list of six starters, six mains, salads, sides and a dry-aged beef section. Mains such as the Sea Trout and Middle White Pork are delicious. There is also an all-day bar menu, including bar snacks – note the courgette wafers, cream cheese and Iberico ham, which are mesmerising. The restaurant is also open for breakfast at 7:30 throughout the week and has a weekend brunch menu – not forgetting a traditional Sunday Roast. Hand-in-hand with the menu itself, staff in the restaurant and bar are polite and informal, adding to the overall relaxed and casual setting at the heart of the neighbourhood.

Starters straight from Cardoso’s menu, such as the Lobster & Prawn Scotch Egg or Crispy Short Rib, make for a refreshing start to dinner, however, I was won over by a daily special; asparagus with quail eggs. Main dishes include Rib of Dry-aged Beef with baked bone marrow to share, Hand-made Linguine and Lamb Burger (harissa spiced mayo and sweet potato fries).

The restaurant’s salads include Grilled Chicken with crispy skin and Hot Smoked Salmon, with the options of sides in the form of Truffle Fries, Charred Greens and Mac & Cheese. Puddings are all presented with paired wines if desired and include Percy’s Mistresses (maple syrup butter), Yorkshire Treacle Tart and Lemon & Yoghurt. In switching between the traditional Old Fashioned fare and Percy & Founders’ own New-Old Fashioned, the drink offerings are respectably affordable, pairing wines from small grower labels alongside established producers, all of which are served by the glass, carafe and bottle.

From its attachment to the heritage of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, and its respectful nods both in design and interior toward the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, Percy & Founders becomes as synonymous with the area as Hugh Percy himself. With summer now well on the rise, Fitzrovia’s newest all-day social destination is set only to flourish.

Grant Museum of Zoology

Grant Museum of Zoology


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“He was one of the earliest evolutionary biologists. He was a biologist 30 years before Charles Darwin ever published. He taught Darwin evolution, Grant was his mentor…”

I admit it! I’m guilty of unveiling my favourite secret hideaways in the journal. And as ever, it’s a pleasure to do. Have you ever heard of Fitzrovia’s Grant Museum of Zoology? Don’t worry neither had I! And I’ll confess, I find it somewhat worrying that, up until about a year ago, this wonderful cavern of intrigue and wonder had not registered on my radar.

Jack Ashby of the University College London’s Public & Cultural Engagement Department explains that the name Grant derives from Professor Robert Edmond Grant (1793-1874), who established The Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy to serve as a teaching collection at the then newly founded University of London (now known as University College London). Born in Edinburgh, where he studied medicine, Professor Grant remains a relative unknown to the public, though he is recognised within his field for his work on marine invertebrates, in particular sponges, sea pens and molluscs. “Nobody has ever heard of him. He’s not in any way famous, though he should be. He was one of the earliest evolutionary biologists. He was a biologist 30 years before Charles Darwin ever published. He taught Darwin evolution, Grant was his mentor,” says Jack. Grant was the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in England and upon arrival at the University found there to be no teaching materials with which to conduct his courses. Thus, he immediately began to amass specimens, material for dissection, diagrams and lecture notes. On his death bed, Grant was persuaded by a colleague, William Sharpey (1802-1880), to leave his considerable collection of books, academic papers and natural history specimens to the college. This ensured that successive generations of students would have access to his knowledge. Though his personal papers have never been found, his collection forms the basis of the museum today.

This collection has grown organically through time, until the early 1980s through to the early 2000s, when its size increased dramatically. It was during this period that other colleges and Universities throughout London had begun to donate their collections to the Grant museum. As Jack remembers, “They had decided they no longer required any sort of collection of zoology. Animal biology had begun to go out of fashion, with people just teaching molecular biology and genetics. Today many universities in London have realised that you can’t teach a student what a tiger looks like by looking at its genes – you actually need some whole animal bits too! We teach every day during term time.”

In absorbing a whole variety of collections, the museum has effectively become a museum of museums. Today it includes collections from the Gordon Museum, which consists of an assortment of animal brains from the comparative anatomy collections at King’s College London: The Imperial College London’s entire fossil, skeletal and spirit specimen collection was transferred to the UCL in the 1980s and soon after, in the ‘90s, primatology and fossil hominid materials were donated from the Napier Collection along with subsequent donations from a variety of collections throughout the city. A large majority of the specimens originate from the Victorian-era, with many having been on display for over 180 years. Among the specimens lies one of the rarest skeletons in the world: that of the extinct quagga – an unusual half-striped zebra from South Africa. As if that weren’t unique enough, it is also the only mounted quagga skeleton in the UK; no more than seven quagga skeletons survive globally. The museum also boasts a number of wax models which are used in teaching and around 20,000 microscope slides from scientific research material through to sets that students would borrow for a year – many of which are displayed on a giant vertical light box. And look out for my favourite, the jar of (many, many) moles!

Traditionally, the museum was only available for students to visit but in 1997, it was opened to the public for two afternoons a week. Today, however, it is open 6 days a week. In over 170 years, much has befallen the museum: in 1884, a ceiling collapse destroyed a number of specimens, with further collapses in the 1890s and, after flooding in the 1970s, the roof was completely destroyed. During the dark days of the Second World War, the entire collection was evacuated to Bangor while the museum on many occasions was threatened with closure. In recent years, however, the museum has gone from strength to strength, relocating several times to expand the space for its collections. When it was made open to the public in 1997, the collection moved to the UCL Darwin Building. In March 2011, the museum was relocated again, this time to the wonderful Rockefeller Building on University Street, formally the medical school library.

The museum continues to be used for teaching, as it was in Professor Grant’s day, as well as serving as a fully accessible resource to more people than ever before through outreach programmes and its different exhibitions. Jack Ashby and staff at the museum fully encourage visitors and remain keen to create awareness of this beguiling collection.

Celeste Wong

Celeste Wong


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Tom Brown


“I’ve said this before of my relationship with coffee, that it is bitter sweet. It’s hard work, but the highs definitely outweigh the lows.”

There are oh so many elements of my life that I have come to admire and conversely so many I find distasteful. However, there is one addiction I am proud of. My long-term love-affair with coffee has turned serious: these days I can drink nothing less than 5 cups per day. New Zealand born Celeste Wong has helped me sustain my addiction, and her relationship with coffee is equally bittersweet. The girl in the café speaks to us about Fitzrovia, coffee, and developing her own coffee web series.

Born in Dunedin of Chinese origin, Celeste began her accidental relationship with coffee while studying in New Zealand. She sought out a job in an edgy and progressive café, with seemingly huge odds stacked against its success. “It was a little shack of a building on a back street that you’d expect no one to know about, but it was roasting coffee on a little 10kg (Turkish) Toper and we had lines out the door. Once we were out of food and coffee, we were out. We always sold out.” Being the youngest of the team, she was proud to be part of such a successful café. She admired the quality of the coffee and the experience of working with passionate, knowledgeable people in the industry.

On a holiday to London, from her newfound home of Melbourne, Australia, Celeste quickly made the decision to live here, falling in love with the vibe and energy of the city. “I was wide-eyed with hope and ready for a new adventure and opportunity!” Having worked at Soho’s Flat White (one of London’s original artisan café’s) she then helped run its sister café, Milkbar. About 3 years ago, she started working at Australian owned Lantana, where she became head of coffee and manager, with the objective of continuing to raise the company’s focus and reputation for quality coffee. Fitzrovia felt like a slightly more upmarket version of Soho, though in balance a hub for business, creativity and hustle. “I guess working here, there’s a growing sense of community. But maybe that organically or naturally happens when you get to know people and the surrounding businesses better,” she says of the neighbourhood.

This relationship and passion for coffee that Celeste had forged back home in New Zealand was now becoming a career for her as she began delving ever-deeper into the coffee industry. She developed a particular fascination: is coffee a science or an art? “When I first started making coffee, I was obsessed with espresso and certain technicalities of milk texture and speed but as my instincts have become deeper rooted, I now trust and rely a lot more on my senses and experience over just technicalities and theory. I’ve said this before of my relationship with coffee, that it is bitter sweet. It’s hard work but the highs definitely outweigh the lows. Coffee is so complex yet delicate – it’s that and the process of making it and drinking it. That’s what I fell in love with. I love the taste of coffee and how it makes me feel!” she says.

With Celeste experiencing both the Melbourne and London ‘Third wave’ of coffee, she has been fortunate enough to have only worked with some of the top individuals in the industry such as Tania Vorrath, Jason Chan and Cameron McClure and other pioneers. “What I respect most about the people that have influenced my work and career is their attitude and support. They love what they do, and as a result, they are good at it. There is a defiance within them to do it ‘their way’ not giving in to outside opinion which is incredibly inspiring in this world were comparison and imitation is rife” says Celeste.

However, Celeste is by no means just the girl in the café. Her passion for coffee has led her to go one step further by launching her own brand, eponymously titled The Girl in the Café; an exploration of coffee, people, its culture, the science and its place in the world. “In short, I had an idea and I went with it. It is an interview series with inspiring, creative people who are living their dreams with authenticity. I go within and beyond the coffee industry, so it encompasses a range of topics, depending on who my guest is, with a couple of surprises thrown in too. I wanted to create a medium where people who aren’t exposed to this sort of conversation can have access to such ideas and inspiration. I have been fortunate to have met many inspiring and determined people within and outside the industry. It is through my personal experience and insight with these people that I share stories, lessons and thoughts with others through my web series, blogs and vlogs in a casual but entertaining and insightful way,” she says.

The primary focus of her brand at present is the online series itself, blogs and vlogs. In addition to this, Celeste will be setting up a two-day pop up café in Dalston in August with friends who are involved with the project and the coffee industry. “It’s like a hang out with friends and a good opportunity to try some new concepts and have some fun. I’ve also designed a range of #ThatsHowILikeMyCoffee t-shirts which have been really well received,” she says on the brand. The 1st season of Celeste’s online series will launch later this year with an eye to growing the series on an international level and working with larger companies in the industry, and getting on board with a digital distributor. “I have so many ideas as to how to expand from the series. The sky’s the limit! I have new ideas all the time about how to expand, but television is the obvious option, along with my podcasts and other related products”.

For Celeste, her personal relationship with coffee is undying. An accidental vocation has now become her career, passion and fascination. “I want to be consistent, do more of what I enjoy and somehow contribute to the world in a positive way. Being in the coffee industry challenges me in ways that keep me interested. So in that way, my relationship with coffee is like any other long-term relationship; it takes passion, patience, perseverance, and ultimately trust and love.” With her brand still in its infancy, The Girl in the Café seems ready to embrace the limitless prospects of this long term love affair.

The Disguisery

The Disguisery


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman


We’ve really strived to learn and perfect our techniques here, and we’ve got to such a standard now that we’ve reached the benchmark.”

The door is semi-concealed, the intercom sits slightly above the rest. Buzzed in I climb, half a flight of stairs, open the first door, follow the paper trail of signs, taped business cards. A small kitchen; another door outside again; over rooftops; a small unit, perched, a busy workshop, a hive of industry. The secret industry that Fitzrovia thought it had lost. It’s here on the roof, hidden from the eyes, in disguise. The Disguisery: the word, the plural noun for a collective, or group of tailors. A Disguisery. “We were looking for a name for the business. A customer suggested it and it just seemed to fit.”

Becky’s parents in Somerset had been in the business, designing and making clothes for Liberty of London Department store. After a spell in modern art, she fell onto The Row and into the art of tailoring trousers, particularly for men who were particular about their trousers. “I have been lucky enough to have many different teachers. We’ve really strived to learn and perfect our techniques here, and we’ve got to such a standard now that we’ve reached the benchmark. All the trousers and waistcoats are made on the premises, and the Jackets are made by other specialist Jacket makers nearby. As the business grows we would also like to bring the Jacket-making in-house. Our suits are all made completely in Fitzrovia. Essentially we are a bespoke tailoring house. We endeavour to create any style that our customer requires.”

Giles, the knowledgeable, sartorial, Man about Town, the front man with a background in Soho media makes the coffee, puts on the Jazz when the customers call at their house. A house which also acts for the moment as the showroom for their clientele. Small for now but growing, by the end of this year The Disguisery hope to have a ground level storefront in Fitzrovia, where they can host, and boast of, their skills, their style, their sharp cuts. “We live in Fitzrovia, work in Fitzrovia, and other people we work with are based in Fitzrovia. This is our neighbourhood. It’s an area with history and heritage. We feel very much part of the fabric of Fitzrovia (no pun intended).

You’d be surprised who we make clothes for in here. It’s quite quiet today but it can get quite frantic, quite hectic, especially when we have deadlines to meet. You see the names on the tickets: Royalty, famous people.” The Disguisery are discreet, they don’t give any names away. I don’t ask. They have concerns about talking too much about who else they cut and make bespoke pieces for. So I won’t say. It’s a mark of their pride, loyalty, agents of integrity. “I am proud of the fact that we support tailoring houses in the West End.”

The research is deep, a sneaky red and black classic soul Atlantic seven sits in front of Giles on the table unmentioned. Their taste in clothes and the mid-century items that furnish their home sit juxtaposed with the tailoring on their homepage, reflecting their aesthetic indulgences. “We are always on the lookout for unique vintage cloth.” We discuss enduring images, espionage and subterfuge in bespoke tailoring. Transatlantic sixties style, Steve McQueen in the Thomas Crown Affair, Sean Connery in Dr No, these are the most common references for men with a modern agenda who require a suit.

“It’s classic style. It’s the most natural style, the closest to the body’s proportions. I was reading a lot, cutting manuals and tailoring guides from the sixties. The elements we draw from this era are timeless and will endure well into the future.” Giles sports a jacket. Green/black checks with a red line running through. Single-breasted, three buttoned. Only the middle button fastened. Showing me some of their work, a navy blue double breasted pinstripe number looks sharp. The lapel peak in exactly the right place, the slant pockets make all the difference. Attention to detail.

The Disguisery deals only in true bespoke. Whatever details the customer requires, or desires, the luxury of choice. Style, pocket, cloth lapel, cuff, buttons, all to be picked, a pattern cut, created from scratch, personal, just for you. Paper proportions archived, your silhouette preserved in paper. This is how you really measure up in the sartorial stakes. The needle that sits under The Disguisery name points the way forward. “People talk about the bespoke trade and tailoring dying out, but we think the opposite. We’re very busy in here and we need more space. You can hardly move in here sometimes.” They are already growing and expanding. Another tailor, Becky worked here for a few years, Edita has joined the team. “Edita has recently become a partner in the business. Over the years we have discussed and analysed all the advantages and disadvantages of different construction methods and have hand-picked all the details that give the garments we make the high-quality level that we present to our customers. Every part of the cut and construction has been decided on for a reason – nothing left to chance. What we bring is the quality, the precision, the detail.”

The Disguisery offers modernist takes on bespoke tailoring: a lifestyle. “There is a growing clientele who have a love of style and quality clothing but prefer a more relaxed environment to discuss their sartorial requirements which is something we can offer. At present, most of our clients are local. Our customers are our best advert. Wearing a suit from us they get asked, and we get recommended. It’s all by recommendations just now.” Building a reputation on word-of-mouth, a word you may not be familiar with, The Disguisery is worth investigating. I spy the exit and leave, unseen but sharp, over the rooftops of Fitzrovia.

John Constable

John Constable


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“No two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither was there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world.”

There’s a saying at my alma mater, the University of Essex, which states that you will leave the university behind. Well, there’s certainly no escaping this character whose work bleeds out of the Essex-Sussex border to the grey-blue skies of Fitzrovia, artist John Constable. I decided to look into this interesting figure from history and take a peek at just a few of his most famous works as well as get a snippet his life and times.

Born in 1768, John Constable had many homes in London and he certainly moved around a lot. Starting from East Bergholt, Sussex where he was raised, he moved to London in 1795, apparently his father consented to this “for the purpose of ascertaining what might be his chance of success as a painter.” Well, we can guess how that turned out. He first moved to Cecil Street, off the Strand, a move that soon after came marked with an inauguration into the Royal Academy in 1799. From here, he moved on to 52 Upper Norton Street, just off Portland Road –today labelled by The Guardian as “Britain’s most gentrified street”.

Of course, it was in Sussex where Constable found his inspiration to sketch and paint some of his most iconic works. Perhaps the most famous of these is Dedham Vale (1802), currently on display at the Tate Gallery; this artwork was produced one summer and sees a perspective of the landscape seen from Gun Hill, near Langham. Although it depicts a midsummer’s day, Joseph Farington, noted landscape painter and mentor to Constable, declared that he saw the picture “rather too cold and stormy to suit the idea.” It may, therefore be unsurprising to note that Constable’s use of cold blues and stormy skies would later become a signature to many of the works produced whilst in London.

However, life wasn’t all rosy for Constable whilst in London. It was in the early hours of the 10th of November that a slight tragedy occurred within his home at 63 Charlotte Street. He had been living above Richard Weights’ upholstery workshop when a fire broke out. Writing to Maria Bicknell, whom he was courting at the time, only to be married in 1816 – when Constable was 40 – he exclaimed that “I have been fortunate in losing none of my works; I am troubled only by the alarm and inconvenience this bustle has caused on my art.” For Constable, it was only the mutual love shared with Maria along with his talents that mattered. During the fire at Weights’, he braved the fumes to save his “most valuable letters.” He was reportedly showered with glass whilst rescuing a painting owned by Lady Heathcote along with the servant woman’s savings.

Sometime afterwards came the arrival of a baby girl on the 19th July 1819, and a “change of air” was called for. So they moved again from East Bergholt and returned to the outskirts of London: Hampstead. From here, Constable had a completely different view of the city than living central; whilst he could see the hills of Hampstead Heath from his home in Fitzrovia, he could now see Fitzrovia and beyond from Hampstead Heath. Thus he started paint the many views he could get from the heath. After his death, a resulting work, simply known as A View of London from Hampstead Heath was purchased by one of his seven children in an auction that lasted thirteen days through May 1838 (such was the scope of works produced) and took place at an auction house on Charlotte Street, this particular piece went for the princely sum of £35.

Before we skip too far to the end, let us go back to the beginning and the reason Constable is an inescapable figure for all and sundry. A seemingly innocuous landscape painting from 1816 has kept Constable in my mind for many years; a simple painting of cows in the field, fishing on the lake, a grand country house in the background. This painting is of Wivenhoe Park, now the site of the University of Essex. Currently being hung with pride at the National Gallery, this piece is described: “A pleasant sense of ease and harmony pervades this landscape of almost photographic clarity. The large areas of brilliant sunshine and cool shade, the rambling line of the fence, and the beautiful balance of trees, meadow, and river are evidence of the artist’s creative synthesis of the actual site.”

The bright intensity of the piece stands apart from the mainstream depictions of the day, take J.M.W Turner for instance – who’s namesake gallery, might I add, contains a number of Constable’s works – his landscapes tend towards the dramatic; storms; seas; wreckages; a hint of hope in the burst of light often emanating off-centre from the horizon: whilst Turner shows us the future, Constable looks at the pastoral beauty still existing within the present and provides an idleness we can still hope to experience in daily living.

So, when in the busy, fast-paced London life most have become accustomed to, we can always think of the man who offers peace. It is to John Constable of Charlotte Street that we can look and take a breath, for all beauty is not lost if we take the time to look for it.

The Rag Trade

The Rag Trade


Words Gordon Ritchie

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


In Fitzrovia, behind Oxford Street, boxed in by Regent Street, New Cavendish Street and Berners Street lays London’s very own Garment District. Anyone who has spent time on these streets, just one block behind one of the busiest shopping streets in the world, would have seen signs reading “Sample Sale,” “not open to the public,” “trade only.” This is where the stores go shopping. Straight out of Fitzrovia, the garments head to shops around the UK and even further afield.

The world of wholesale: where the buyers buy, secret undercover operations where mainstream trends, fashions and styles spring forward. Around Eastcastle Street, Great Titchfield Street and Margaret Street, behind closed doors, up on First floors, commercial creativity is in future thinking mode. Deciding what you’re going to want to wear before you’ve even thought of it. Before you even know you want it. It’s from these streets that brands, businesses and people have built reputations, and in some cases riches, in the Rag Trade. For how much longer though?

The Rag Trade is referenced in every article about property prices in the area, and the local industry used to extend much further towards Tottenham Court Road. In the Charlotte Street Hotel they have tailors’ dummies in every room. The area has fashion written in the stone walls, but is becoming increasingly fashionable. Galleries and coffee shops are moving in and opening at a rapid rate. Berners Street has big brand showrooms in number, but with The London Edition and Berners Tavern joining The Sanderson on the street, the new fashion set might well be edging out the old!

Kevin Stone worked for Fred Perry and Ben Sherman, who were both once based in the area, and has spent the last few years running his successful wholesale agency from a showroom based in Eastcastle Street. He has now taken the decision to move on. “It is becoming so expensive. I would stay if I could. The area is really accessible and business has been incredible.” The trade used to be a lot more visible, says Stone, “with the Cash and Carry places and Morplan, you used to bump into people in the street.”

Once upon a time the rattle of metal running rails on concrete and tarmac would ring through the area as hundreds of cellophane-wrapped clothes on hangers would go from lorry to showroom to van, in and out as the constant hubbub and bustle of commerce took place on the pavements. Out of Fitzrovia, flew clothes destined for boutiques, not just in London or the South East, but to be shipped up and down the country and even to ports and docks to be loaded into containers, destined to be stowed or stacked on ships bound for Spain, sometimes Japan, even the Caribbean.

Morplan is the best known supplier of shop fitting equipment and fixtures. Bill Edwards is their CEO: “Our Business has grown up over the years, serving the rag trade which is why being situated in Great Titchfield Street has been key to us. Although the business started elsewhere, it changed direction and specialised in supplying the rag trade in 1894, when we moved to our current premises at 56 Great Titchfield Street. Most people in the rag trade know Morplan. In recent years we received the Royal Warrant from H.M the Queen. We supply her Dresser with specialised supplies.”

Giant Spanish Department Store chain, El Cortes Ingles, used to have a buying office stationed high up on the corner of Eastcastle Street and Great Titchfield Street, with an eagle eyed view over Market Place, and of course, in the South West corner of the area, the loading bays of Philip Greens monolithic temple to consumerism. Top Shop and Top Man consume the prime product through the back doors. In the past, they used to spit back. The cabbage, the dead ducks, the bits that didn’t sell pushed back out again, barrow boys waiting to snap anything they could get their hands on at rock bottom prices. Dyed and sold up the market, it still turned a pound, no matter what it sold for.

In the area, cash was king and some of those market traders would go on and open shops. Hand to mouth in the beginning, the Rag Trade in Fitzrovia eventually allowed them in and gave them a break. In the late eighties, author and film-maker, Mark Baxter was one of them. “I started walking down Eastcastle Street and Great Portland Street, and the stuff was just fantastic. It got us going. Some would deal with you and some wouldn’t. Jewish families, London families, Asian people, it was really mixed, every second shop. Some were quite hard-nosed business men and others were more open to negotiation, doing a deal. It was quite entertaining. There was one that had really good stuff, loads of samples, odds and sods, bits and pieces. One day, the guy just said to me, ‘we’ve got a room at the back here. Go and have a look at that.’ I was going through it and there was a button missing, or it was a bit grubby or needed a bit of sewing. I’ll have all that, I told them. You’d buy it for a pound or two quid each and knock it out for fifteen or twenty. The cabbage was stuffed in a black bag. There wasn’t a lot of glamour to it. People don’t really think about where this stuff comes from, they just buy it.”

For those involved in other industries and businesses, there have always been perks to working among the merchants of Fitzrovia. In the pubs, coffee shops and snack bars around the area, office girls and receptionists would keep their ear to the ground for the next sample sale, when the showrooms sold off at even cheaper prices, the pieces they had been tempting the boutique buyers, that had now ran out of steam, with were replaced by the next trend. Nowadays, they are more likely to be savvy software and new media darlings who get tipped off digitally when the locally based PR firms that represent cool and classic brands are selling off sample ranges in basements full of bargains.

So why are there not more stores in the area? “When everyone works in the trade, used to healthy discounts, no one wants to pay retail, but that is going to change soon,” says Kevin Stone. “I think the future is retail.” The area is in such close vicinity to the world’s prime retail properties that it is surprising it hasn’t happened before now. Reiss now dominates Market Place and there is no doubt more High Street chains will be breaking out into the back streets in the South West corner of Fitzrovia before long. Let’s hope that an area that has a real heritage and stories, that has remained out of sight but contributed to commerce and the look of the nation of shopkeepers, can keep small pockets of resistance alive and keep some of the character and characters that make it a unique hub of an industry that everyone is closer to than they realise.

All Saints Church

All Saints Church


Words & Photography Mary-Rose Storey


You’ll need to look upwards to take in the glorious Victorian Gothic architecture of All Saints Church, as it’s tucked away between buildings in a rather narrow part of Margaret Street and you could easily walk right past it. The renowned Victorian architect, William Butterfield, designed this magnificent church in 1850 and it was the building that initiated the High Victorian Gothic era. He chose pink brick, which was more expensive than stone, inspired by the churches of Italy and North Germany. The use of intricate, patterned brickwork called polychrome was considered a pivotal project, as was his use of elaborate colour, both inside and out. In 1849, just before Butterfield designed the church, John Ruskin, the leading art critic at that time, had published his Seven Lamps of Architecture, in which he urged the study of Italian Gothic and the use of polychromy.

The poet and writer, Sir John Betjeman, who founded the Victorian Society and was a passionate defender of Victorian architecture, wrote of All Saints, “It was here, in the 1850s that the revolution in architecture began… It led the way, All Saints Margaret Street, in church building.” In January 2014, the church was chosen by Simon Thurley, head of English Heritage, as one of the ten buildings that changed the face of Britain. If you go through the pretty courtyard and enter the church there’ll be even more of a feast for your eyes and soul, for the exotic interior is breath taking. Betjeman described it as “a riot of colour, there’d never been anything like it.”

The colour and patterns of the brickwork, the ornate details and tiles covering the walls and floor are fabulous. The tiles were designed by Butterfield and painted by Alexander Gibbs, who also designed the beautiful stained glass windows. The panels depict a variety of scenes from the Bible and the Early Church. Alexander Gibbs also designed the beautiful stained glass windows. Father Alan Moses, who has been the vicar for the past twenty years, officially holds the title of Prebendary, although, as he says, “Nobody has any idea what a Prebendary is and I spend my life explaining it. It is actually an honorary Canon. In the Middle Ages, cathedrals, which weren’t run by monks, had chapters of clergy. Their incomes were provided by a manor or farm, which was called a prebend. The Bishop hands these titles out as a kind of good conduct medal I suppose. It means I have a stall in St Paul’s Cathedral choir.”

Recently, the church has been impeccably and sympathetically restored. Father Moses was responsible for the fundraising and leadership of the restoration programme, which has been a great work but still not yet finished. It’s been 20 years in different phases. The roof was done first, as it was an urgent problem, then the organ was rebuilt, which cost another half a million pounds. Some exploratory work of what was underneath, paintwork was done and then the main interior in three successive years. Things had got very dirty because for the first 50 years the church had coal gas lighting and there were no real restoration techniques as we have them now, so the only thing then to freshen things up was to slap paint over everything. The stonework, which you now see restored to its natural state, had dull flat paint on it, which drained the life out of it and lost all the texture. The tiles were all very dirty and some of the painted designs you can see now had been painted over and the design lost. The restorers went back to the last restoration by Butterfield, which was in the 1880s and settled that that would be the scheme. In 1910, the east wall fresco deteriorated so badly that it had to be completely replaced. The same design was used but with the paintings on Elmwood panels rather than straight onto the wall.

“One of the things about the building is that it’s so elaborate that you keep discovering things you hadn’t noticed before, or you see things in a different light. I suppose because I sit in it saying my prayers every day that it’s the ethos of the whole place that appeals.  It’s home to me. It took me about six months to settle in because I’d worked in a church in the centre of Edinburgh before I came here, which was the place I was used to. It takes a while to settle into a new home,” says Father Moses.

Butterfield talked about the ‘floating jewels’ yet not much evidence of these was seen until the windows were cleaned and the stonework restored. If you come in on a sunny morning, you can see reds and blues and greens where the light has streamed through the upper windows onto the stonework. The church itself has always had a very strong choral tradition. When it started there was a choir school and the choir sang services every day; the choir school closed in 1968. It only had about 20 boys so it was no longer really educationally viable and unfortunately there wasn’t a local boys’ school it could be attached to. There is now, however, an excellent adult professional choir. They sing on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings with a very wide repertoire, from Plain Song to Mozart, from extravagantly operatic to austerely plain. The organ is a cathedral standard organ and new music is constantly added, often composed by some of the musicians.

The church is open daily from 7am to 7pm, and supports a number of projects for the homeless as well as helping people who come to the door. The congregation is very mixed, attracting people from all over the world. One regular parishioner, Dr Yvonne Craig, who is in her nineties, says of All Saints, “It’s a treasure, founded with Christian concern for the poor and now has a lighted candle for the persecuted. I love its integration of celebration and compassion.” So, even if you’re not of a religious disposition, you can go and sit at peace inside, have a moment of quiet reflection and absorb the beauty and magnificence of your surroundings.

John Zack

John Zack


Words Laurence Glynne

Photography Kirk Truman


Fascinatingly Fitzrovia finds fashion! Simple but true. The history is colourful, patterned and can be displayed in many styles. I am treated to a coffee and a croissant on the benches of the Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street, next door to his showroom. John is accompanied by his terrier Roxy who wanders back and forth searchingly until distracted by an attractive bitch far more interesting than our chatter. John Zack has earned his living in this special location for over 40 years, remarkable in so many ways but first and foremost because there are so few people who can claim to have spent the majority of their working life here. He reveals as we enter the cavern of his world, a treasure chest of his Fitzrovia experiences which at times has me in stitches!

All Flutes Plus

All Flutes Plus


Words Darren Hawes

Photography Kirk Truman


“I suppose it’s what you call a ‘destination store’… so being in a really desirable part of London is really important for us. Fitzrovia fits that well indeed.”

Nietzsche once said that “in a world whose essence is Will to Power, [we] may be reminded that Schopenhauer, although a pessimist, ACTUALLY–played the flute.” It wouldn’t be a stretch to see this wonderfully, usually so soothing an instrument as a symbol of peace, something that can turn even the most ardent pessimists into hopeful cherubs. I met with Nigel James, director of All Flutes Plus to see how this concept can be made into a successful specialist business that starts in Fitzrovia and makes it all over the world.

60-61 Warren Street is a rather unassuming premises, but it contains a veritable treasure trove for music. Stepping into All Flutes Plus, I was reminded of a jewellery store with the glimmering shine of instruments kept behind their glass cases – here is a place that self-evidently cares for the artistic quality and integrity of its specialism.

Another thing I noted about the shop, it really gets busy. Nigel took me downstairs into the Warren Room (a practise room that doubles as a place for events) for a chat, saying “I might have to leave from time to time if people come in.” He’s adamant of giving the customer the utmost care and attention.

Nigel’s brother opened the original All Flutes Plus on Dorset Street in 1990 but Nigel started working there soon after. In time, the team “outgrew” (as Nigel puts it) the building in Marylebone and relocated to the two floored building in Fitzrovia. “It’s a lovely area, it’s incredibly accessible, which is what we need.” I’m told of the reasons behind opening the new shop here. “I suppose it’s what you call a ‘destination store’, good transport links to all mainline stations. And there are customers coming to us all over the world, so being in a really desirable part of London is really important for us. Fitzrovia fits that well indeed.” Nigel’s enthusiasm for the area cements the business’ booming state. I ask him if there is a lot of custom from around Fitzrovia. “We have the West-end musicians. One or two of them live locally. Then there are the schools for the educational side of music, we do a lot of business with these.” But it isn’t just the local clientele that Nigel aims for, “for us it’s the location which is great. Being situated on Warren Street is brilliant because it’s actually quite quiet, but close to Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road, which are busy but not quiet. So it’s ideal.” The location, I notice, means that a lot of the foot traffic coming from around the busier streets opens up the business to a world of clientele.

Of course, it isn’t just the wandering eye of a passing traveller that All Flutes Plus rely on, although they’re always happy to help you. As Nigel says, “If it’s a complete beginner we can guide them in terms of what the quality and budget they have to find a suitable instrument.” If you’re a seasoned player, there are also services on offer for you too. Nigel’s view if you want a change in instrument is simple, “Let’s try lots and see!” When it comes to the flute, whatever your skill, level or interest you’ll get quality service here. They also offer a range of services to schools, “We try and promote the instruments. We will organise workshops around different schools: Sometimes with just flutes, sometimes we’ll work with other companies that specialise in other instruments, like Brass.” Nigel tells me, “and we’ll go and organise workshops in schools. Beyond anything, we want to promote instrumental uses. And that’s crucial to education. It’s been proven over and over again that learning an instrument helps brain function: particularly with mathematics.”

The team comprises of music specialists (all of whom are skilled players in their own right) and technicians (for any servicing and refurbishments you may need). “Most of our staff are highly trained musicians. So they know instruments, they know music.” Nigel seems incredibly, and understandably, proud of the quality of his staff. “Importantly, they know what customers need.” On top of this, there are the workshop staff, Eliana Amos and Antonio Fernandez Obelliero who, as Nigel tells me, “if you have a problem they can fix it.”

I ask Nigel about the sorts of issues they see to from time to time. “A common issue is with some of the students at the conservatoires – we’re just up the road from the Royal Academy. They’re so busy practising all the time; they can’t find time to organise in their schedule to plan a few days when they can book the flute in for a proper servicing.” Giving an uncomfortable laugh he goes on to highlight the problem with this, “So, inevitably what happens is that they’ll have an important audition, exam, rehearsal, whatever, and ‘Oh dear!’ Their flute packs up on them.” Nigel tells me that in such situations they do what they can to get the flute in full working order (sometimes in the space of only two hours!) Service is a last resort, however, and Nigel does urge players to keep their instrument in good condition. I asked if they should get regular check, “Yeah, if it’s a player that’s using it a huge amount get it serviced regularly, rather than waiting until it packs up on you.” If you want to avoid the stresses caused by a broken instrument, All Flutes Plus offer many services that will help keep it in good working order.

Finally, Nigel tells me that they keep a close relationship with their suppliers and manufacturers. “We have personal contacts with most of the good quality manufacturers in the world; a lot of them are Japanese and America and we even have a few individual makers and craftsmen in the UK. The quality of Asian products has gotten better and better.” He tells me that Chinese products used to be rather poor but are now becoming good quality. “We check everything as it comes here.” All Flutes Plus offers unrivalled quality and an internationally renowned service.

I can see why Nietzsche was surprised to learn that a pessimist still played the flute, but why should this instrument be just for the few? It really is a beautiful instrument that requires a lot of care and attention. And you can find that right here in Fitzrovia.

French’s Theatre Bookshop

French’s Theatre Bookshop


Words Darren Hawes

Photography Erin Barry


“It’s a strange little shop and always has been… the fact that it exists is kind of wonderful in a world where everything would tell you that this shop has everything going against it.”

I suppose it’s all rather fitting that at the junction of Warren and Fitzroy streets sits a cave of wonders – French’s Theatre Bookshop – not a minute away from Fitzroy square. I went into this establishment to have a look around, as well as chat to its owner/manager what? Peter Langdon

My first impression of the shop comes from before I even enter; black wooden frames catch the eye, drawing my attention towards the mountains of books inside. Of course, this feeling of awe at the sheer size of the shop floor collection does not diminish upon entering; plays stacked by author, theme, teachings and more line the walls (and much of the tables) of this establishment. It isn’t just any old bookshop either, Peter tells me of the things they’re involved in. “We are a publisher, so we publish plays, we also represent the rights to plays, so if anyone wants to perform the play we sell the license to perform it on behalf of the author, then collect the money and supply it to the author. And we also have the shop which has been around for a long time.” In fact, French’s was involved in the recent production of Elephant Man at the West-End, starring Bradley Cooper in the titular role.

As Peter goes on to tell me, “People are a bit unclear as to when the shop actually started, but it was in the early 19th Century. The company started in 1830, so we’ve got our 185th anniversary this year.” The location of the shop has changed throughout the centuries, but I learn that its current incarnation has been in Fitzrovia since the 1980s, and before that Covent Garden. Peter tells me about the effect this change of location has had on the bookshop. “When we were in Covent Garden it was more in the heart of theatre land, but we do have theatres here as well. And we’re not so far from the West-End. So really, if you are in London and interested in theatre we’re very close by.” On top of the location, French’s has expanded outside of the physical world, “We also have a website which offers our entire range online.” Peter lets me know that he thinks this makes them “probably one of the biggest theatre bookshops online now too!”

This specialism Peter talks about can be seen easily in the shop, and the people who work here are always willing to help, “We have people in the shop who just know theatre inside out,” he tells me. “If there was a production in 1962, you want to find out about it, we’ve probably heard of it and can find it for you.” This wealth of knowledge is not confined to those who know what they want either: “our specialism is quite broad… Simon the manager, who’s been with us for thirty…ish years, has in his time come across almost anything. It would be great if we could get people who don’t normally read plays to do it. You wouldn’t think to get a play and just sit down and read… but some plays – not all but some – are just fascinating to see on the page.” French’s is beginning to expand outside of simple bookselling too, “We are starting to do more events in the shop. Book launches and talks in the evening, always on weekday evenings. As well as external events and workshops: we’ve done one of these workshops on how to audition in May with 250 people.” Whether you’re just passing, or really need something in relation to theatre, French’s can and will provide.

As well as current offerings, Peter lets me know that “there’s quite a lot of things we want to start doing, and we definitely want to find more people and bring them into the shop. Make it more of a shop that local people feel they can use and pop in to find a really interesting work.” The atmosphere in the shop allows for discovery. “You can come in some days and see a group of people all sat around a table reading. It’s not always possible to like the book but we want to offer a place where people can think and just try out new things, whatever their reason.”

During the long history of French’s Theatre Bookshop business hasn’t stopped, and Peter proudly tells me about how they’ve kept the place at the centre of not just the theatre industry, but literature on the whole. “It’s what makes us different, I mean it’s a strange little shop and always has been, it’s a highly particular market, but I think the fact it exists is kind of wonderful in a world where everything would tell you that this shop has everything going against it. But our sales are up on last year, and we really want to make sure we’re as useful as possible for people. We don’t want to get stuck in the past and we’re aware of the different needs people have now.” Seemingly a bookshop is no longer just a bookshop, it’s a place where you can meet people, where you can go have events. It’s a place of discovery now. Whereas, for example, the online world is a place for what you want and what you already know.

Finally, along with its long history and many guises, there is something special, almost ethereal about the Samuel French brand. “Quite a lot of people get really excited when they get their first Samuel French publication through. They say that when they were a kid they always had a Samuel French book on their shelf. So it becomes really exciting when we accept a play from one of these people and they become a part of it too.”

Eclectics

Eclectics

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“The contemporary dance world has a very niche, elitist audience, that being contemporary dancers and their friends and families. It would be our pleasure to educate people about what exactly contemporary dance is.”

Dance is somewhat a riddle to me, most likely because I don’t know how to. However, I must admit my own admiration and fascination with the practice of performing arts and the sheer commitment and passion for dance that this group of young artists share. Valerie Ebuwa and a team of urban contemporary dance artists unveil their passion and the origins of their Eclectics dance/performance group, alongside their relationship with the Fitzrovia area.

Valerie says Eclectics was something that she and friends had always foreseen. The group is comprised of a cluster of close friends who met during dance training over in Bloomsbury. Sharing similar interests in dance, music and fashion they frequently received offers as individuals from different events and agencies offering work, thus deciding that they needed to take their passion to the next level. “Having a variety of multidisciplinary skills, we formed a collective that performs, choreographs and teaches in order to reach our fullest potential and keep our craft fresh. Having many different backgrounds within the group we often teach each other to so it’s a constant, ever growing collective,” Valerie explains.

The three main members of this group (Valerie Ebuwa, Ryan Munroe and Anna-Kay Gayle) handle bookings, events, rehearsals and choreography. Other members include Claire Shaw and Franklin Dawson who regularly dance at events. Valerie tells me, “We have other members who have yet to perform but we are hoping in 2015 to expand and include more of the wonderful performers we know.”

Taken individually, all members of Eclectics have their own personal ambitions. As a collective, they want to provide contemporary dance to newer audiences, an audience perhaps lesser understanding of contemporary dance, as a way to inspire and inform others. “The contemporary dance world has a very niche, elitist audience, that being contemporary dancers and their friends and families. It would be our pleasure to educate people about what exactly contemporary dance is: also changing the faces of contemporary dance. Not too long ago dance degrees could only be obtained but those whose families had enough to provide them with a vocational training. As a result, contemporary dance companies often have been made up of people from similar backgrounds, ethnic origins and these people often provide similar work because they have all been trained in the same way,” Valerie explains. Eclectics want to have mixed ensembles of talented individuals from all backgrounds in order to change the perception of contemporary dancers for good.

The group spent the last three years training in London Contemporary Dance School, the UK’s number one school for contemporary dance, located just over the border on Duke’s Road, with much of their time spent in and around Fitzrovia. “Having spent three years here in the area, we as a collective realised that Fitzrovia residents are still unaware of how the area plays such a huge role in the future of contemporary dance,” says Valerie. Upon graduating, the group decided to make their work resident within the area by choreographing site-specific works in order to not only educate people about contemporary dance but to also pay homage to an area that has been prevalent during the birth of their careers and that of many other dance artists in the UK.

I prompted Valerie as to how customary the work of Eclectics is in the dance world, and she explained by unveiling how multidisciplinary the collective is, that the group are individual in the dance industry. “We not only choreograph and train in contemporary dance, but we also regularly perform hip hop, dancehall, samba, commercial, African and jazz choreographies. We integrate all of our different styles together, rather than just contemporary dance. We often travel to different countries to enhance our understanding of different dance styles and genres and also use other movement art forms such as yoga, capoeira, kung fu and other martial arts to inform our work,” Valerie explains to me. Eclectics also design all of their own sets, which include costume and lighting – “so all the work comes from us.”

For Eclectics, the future is looking bright. This year the group are heading off to Brazil where they will train and perform. “After our trip to Brazil we will come back and perform more frequently in the Fitzrovia area. We will be looking to expand our connections with local residents and this year’s graduates of London Contemporary Dance School in order to keep the promotion of contemporary dance within the area alive and fresh. We hope to achieve bringing contemporary dance to the foreground of Fitzrovia, not keeping it in its current somewhat backyard existence,” says Valerie. The group are also in talks for many more events, shows and residencies, as well as music video performances.  It goes without saying, the group is looking to embark on a rather busy 2015! However, their focal ambition this year is to further expand and generate awareness about dance as a career. Though really, this is already truly being put into practice.

Reg Gadney

Reg Gadney

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Astrid Schulz


“The last two decades have seen gradual changes. The atmosphere of Fitzrovia has perhaps become more residential.”

It is oh so difficult to decipher this gentleman – genuine ingenious or the perfect balance of pure wit, charm and creativity? About the tall bookshelves lined with an archive of penguin classics and signed photographs from a widespread career sits an array of paintings and novels. Though there is something striking that connects the two; they are solely the work of one man. Painter and author, Reg Gadney tells me of his life in Fitzrovia and intriguing fascination with creativity.

Born in 1941 at Malsis Hall, Cross Hills, Yorkshire, some 6 miles from Haworth, Reg is the son of B.C. Gadney, a preparatory school headmaster, former Captain of the England Rugby Football XV, remembered most fondly for a time in 1936 when England beat the All Blacks at Twickenham for the first time in history.

Reg was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford and Stowe. Commissioned into the Coldstream Guards, he later served in Libya and France. In Norway he qualified as a NATO instructor in Winter Warfare and Arctic Survival. Subsequently, he was employed in the British Embassy in Oslo as Assistant to the Naval, Military and Air Attaché.

He then went on to read English, Fine Art and Architecture at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge. In 1966 Gadney was awarded a Josephine de Karman Trust Scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was a Research Fellow. He was appointed Deputy Controller of the National Film Theatre in 1969, the next year becoming a part-time Tutor at the Royal College of Art. He went on to become a Senior Tutor, Fellow and the youngest Pro-Rector in the history of the College. He has lectured at Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, Harvard, Yale and MIT in the USA, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and at the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Moscow.

Both in the Army and at Cambridge, Reg pursued his life-long passion for Boxing and beat the Cambridge University Boxing Blue. “Alas, we were both admitted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital. I decided to retire.” The link to the boxing world isn’t gone though as he will shortly be painting a portrait of Lennox Lewis.

Over the past 45 years, Reg has written a total of 13 novels, non-fiction and works of history. He also devised and wrote a 10-hour TV drama, Kennedy (1983) starring Martin Sheen that was broadcast on NBC TV. The show was sold to 50 countries; 27 of them broadcasting the series simultaneously. Kennedy went on to be nominated for 3 Golden Globes and 4 BAFTA awards, later winning the BAFTA for Best Drama Series. Reg has also adapted Iris Murdoch’s The Bell (1982) for BBC TV and Minette Walters’ The Sculptress (1996) for BBC TV, which won him a BAFTA and Writers’ Guild and Mystery Writers of America nominations.

More recently, Reg completed his fourteenth novel, Love & Splendour in the Sun-Fire Kingdom, a love story set in Arabia. At present he is rekindling his old passion for Boxing “…which may or may not provide the idea for a fifteenth story either for a novel or a screenplay.” He explains, “I have no immediate plans to come out of retirement, though a year ago my wife did very sweetly give me Undisputed Truth, the autobiography of Mike Tyson.”

In the 1960s, his first portraits were of Alexander Zafiropoulo, the writer and art historian and Lieutenant General, The Honourable Sir William Rous. “I am presently working on portraits of the poet, Greta Bellamacina; the comedian, Joy Carter; the Italian sisters, Alessia and Gaia Pasin; and Ian Fairservice, founder of Motivate Publishing in partnership with His Excellency Obaid Humaid Al Tayer, currently the UAE Minister of State for Finance.”

Reg continues by telling me of one of his influences. “John Constable, who once lived on Charlotte Street, is a particular hero of mine,” he says. “Constable’s The Haywain of 1821 is my favourite. Kenneth Clark reckoned it’s survived ‘the destructive popularity of a hundred thousand calendars… and remains an eternally moving expression of serenity and optimism…’ I agree.”

In May 2014, his most recent one-man exhibition, ‘Portraits’ opened in London. The exhibition included portraits of Sir David Hare, Helena Bonham Carter, Nicole Farhi and Bill Nighy, the painter Motoko Ishibashi and Sir Mark Allen, CMG, former head of MI6’s counter-terrorism unit.

Reg Gadney has lived with his wife, Fay Maschler, Restaurant Critic of the London Evening Standard, for some twenty years in Fitzroy Square. “The last two decades have seen gradual changes. The atmosphere of Fitzrovia has perhaps become more residential. When Fay and I arrived, Fitzroy Square was chiefly known for St Luke’s Hospital, for the Clergy whose Christmas Carol Services are much missed. It also housed The London Foot Hospital & School of Podiatric Medicine which specialised in chiropractic treatments. The excellent and much-loved Fitzrovia Medical Centre carries on the tradition of first-rate medical treatment. The original site of St Luke’s is now the new home of the clinic Make Yourself Amazing (MYA) which offers breast enhancement, liposuction and rhinoplasty.”

“Whether or not one remains in Fitzrovia, well as Doris Day (still going strong at 90) has it in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much: ‘Que sera, sera.’”

Reg is unsure how the future of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood is looking. However, the fate of one particular structure does interest him. “Perhaps an exciting new use will be found for the GPO Tower. Kate Hoey, veteran MP for Vauxhall, chirped up about it in Parliament some years ago: ‘Hon. Members have given examples of seemingly trivial information that remains officially secret. An example that has not been mentioned, but which is so trivial that it is worth mentioning, is the absence of the British Telecom tower from Ordnance Survey maps. I hope that I am covered by parliamentary privilege when I reveal that the British Telecom tower does exist and that its address is 60 Cleveland Street, London.’”

Ben’s House

Ben’s House

Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“I’ve worked in Marylebone and Bloomsbury; Fitzrovia is the perfect space in-between the two. Once I found the space here on Grafton Way, I knew I’d found the perfect spot – I felt completely at home!”

There’s something about Grafton Way. It seems like a wave of fresh air that goes on to the square, not the punch on the nose of the West-End that flows and flows. Though for a long time I have wondered just who would have the courage to come along and snap up a spot on the Way, my answer arose in the fashion of a gentleman I have come to respect and admire. Tasteful, meticulously curated and admirable, Ben Leask tells me of his London-centric grocery store & cafe, Ben’s House; a 21st century grocery store entirely “Cured, Created and Crafted by London.”

Having grown up in South London and now living in The Angel, Ben describes himself as a hideously passionate Londoner. Growing up, he observed his father in the day-to-day running of his jewellery business in Blackheath, South London. “I don’t think as a youngster I ever really wanted to get into shop-keeping, even though I always adored going to my father’s shop, I adored watching my father through the gaps in the banister… chatting, cajoling, confiding, selling. But most of all I loved the sense of community,” Ben explains. “My father was at the heart of everything in that community. He was a friend and ear to everybody: working class, upper class, gangster, judge or artisan; never a gossip, but always a storyteller,” he smiles.

Having spent his entire career within the fine food industry, Ben knows his onions; managing a variety of world class stores & ventures for La Fromagerie, Ginger Pig and Rabot Estate to name but three. Ben also wrote a ‘1 Year Diploma in Chocolate’ for Hotel Chocolat which isn’t something you hear every day. However last year Ben made the decision to go it alone by starting his own grocery store & cafe. As a proud Londoner, he is passionate about produce that lives and breathes the same London air as him. His eponymously titled store is influenced by his father’s own community centred background, and his passion for London itself. “My father was a shop-keeper so I’ve always had his passion running through my veins… 20 years later and now I’ve got my own shop, seemingly it’s in the blood!” laughs Ben.

The search for the perfect location for Ben’s House was carried out just about all over London; from Brockley to Brixton, Kentish Town to Marylebone and finally Fitzrovia. “I did it by walking, walking and more walking, it’s the only way. I found that estate agents didn’t help me find what I needed. I once spent a summer or two in Fitzrovia, living above L’Etoile on Charlotte Street. I’ve worked in Marylebone and Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia is the perfect space in-between the two. Once I found the space here on Grafton Way I knew I’d found the perfect spot – I felt completely at home!” Ben remembers.

Though his relationship and passion for London is eternal, the concept for the store itself began about 8 years ago, following dinner at legendary restaurant Konstam, overseen by the iconic chef Oliver Rowe. “His restaurant was incredible. Everything in the restaurant was grown in London; carrots grown in flower pots on Brick Lane, salt made from the Thames water, although it didn’t last for long. Konstam was a showcase for what London could produce. I, there and then started keeping illicit little lists of everyone I met in London making great flavours. So many of my suppliers have never been on a shelf in a shop before, it’s important the wonders they produce get displayed and get eaten. It’s important to support these small producers while they grow.”

Ben also cites the importance of creating an informal environment at the heart of the grocery store. “Fine food retail in London is often so boring: the same products on the same shelves with the same labels. I wanted to create a store people wanted to hang out in. Somewhere people came for a coffee and a doughnut then left with a case of fine wine. Somewhere people could try the gins and tonics or nibble a sample of cheese if that’s what they wanted to do.” Ben also wanted to make his favourite customer (his wife) happy. “We often talked about why we couldn’t both go and enjoy a treat together, when one of us was in the mood for a glass of wine, the other wishing for a coffee.” Very few places offer both in such a charmed way.

A store graced with bounty from every corner of London; a visit to Ben’s House itself will see you educated & enthralled by the sheer volume of products formed right here in London. From Dalston Chillies Chipotle Ketchup to Gay Farmer olive oil, W1 marmalade from Warren Street and Half Hitch Gin from Camden, right down to Postcode Honey where fascinatingly each particular honey is harvested from the flowers of that particular postcode. The list is endless and growing by the day. Keeping to his ethos of “Cured, created, crafted in London,” the physical space takes up the mantra. The centre-piece table top is crafted from reclaimed London wood, the tree-stump which supports it being taken from a ‘London Plane’ tree felled outside the store whilst Ben was preparing to open.

The environment of Ben’s House is informal and relaxed with the ever diverse community of Fitzrovia flowing through day-by-day. Ben is forever on hand and ever willing to discuss the origins and stories of each and every product. “That’s why my name is above the door. In too many shops and businesses you rarely see the same person twice. You never get to meet the maker or even get to learn the names of the staff. I know every single one of my suppliers and I want to be a conduit for their passions.”

Ben’s House is still really quite new to the area, having only opened its doors in November last year. Remarkably in this short fraction of time Ben and his team on Grafton Way have made strong lasting impressions in the Fitzrovia area. I personally believe that Ben’s concept for this ‘cured, created and crafted’ in London store is a sure match for our Fitzrovian neighbourhood. I am certain in saying that his concept shall prosper with time and therefore long remain. Throw me a line, if I reach it in time I’ll meet you there.

Indre Serpytyte

Indre Serpytyte

Words Jane Singer

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


Sitting opposite Indre Serpytye in her Fitzrovia studio, I confessed that I had not come across her work. She smiled and knowingly agreed that you cannot know of every contemporary artist. We shared an appreciation for the ounce of frustration of being asked if you know a particular current artist and having to shake your head. Her studio is large and on freestanding shelves sit dozens of beautifully carved wooden houses. They are exquisite and so delicate. Against the wall I can see, singular black and white photos of the houses. There is a story to be told here and with my hands clasped round my mug of chamomile tea, I wait for Indre to tell me.

Moving to England at the age 14, Indrė took up photography by chance when her parents suggested she studied more creative subjects for her A-Levels. ‘It gave me a voice. I felt I could express myself,’ she explained. This interest led to the University of Brighton where she undertook a BA in Editorial Photography, followed by an MA and an MPhil in Photography at the Royal College of Art, London. Indrė’s current project focusses on buildings in Lithuania that were places of interrogation and torture during the period of Soviet occupation. Records show that there were over 300 interrogation houses in Lithuania; many of them are now either residences or places of work. Indrė tells me that she ‘came upon the archive set up by the Lithuanian government run by one woman for 20 years.’ Neither she nor her family had heard about these houses, despite there being one in every village. Delving further into why it has remained unknown, Indrė offered ‘that history hasn’t been passed on as it doesn’t want to be remembered.’ By changing the use of the buildings from interrogation houses to residences, these places have in effect ‘cleansed themselves.’

Capturing this piece of Lithuanian history was always going to be an enormous task. It took a few years before deciding on the most appropriate method. Indrė began by making trips to Lithuania to take photographs of the buildings. It wasn’t enough though; there wasn’t enough poignancy. She tried architectural modelling, followed by 3D printing which was available as one of the facilities at the Royal College of Art. However, none of these methods truly encompassed what Šerpetytė wanted to achieve. It was a four-month residency in Paris focussing on architecture that gave her, in her own words, ‘a lightbulb moment.’ Upon distancing herself from this project, she thought about using woodcarvings which have a long tradition in Lithuania.

Working with the Woodcarving Association, Indrė set three craftsmen the task of creating a model woodcarving from her photographs. Whilst two of them looked architecturally perfect, she chose the model that looked ‘raw’ and photographed it. This is the finished product. These have become her works. ‘It speaks to the human touch.’

Two threads run through this project: first is the idea of memory.  Acknowledging that her home country was not trying to cover up the interrogation houses, Indrė emphasises the importance of remembering these events. ‘Whilst the goal in Lithuania was to become more Western, the shift was so fast,’ Indrė tells me, ‘that ‘there wasn’t enough capacity to remember everything.’ This project aims to look back and unlock these memories. Indrė spoke about wanting Lithuanians to be proud of what these women and children went through in going against the KGB. These calm, beautiful photographs of houses challenge the idea of a home which traditionally should be safe and secure.

Secondly, there is the interpretation. Indrė interprets the houses in her photographs. The woodcarver then interprets the photographs resulting in the model carving. Indrė then reinterprets carvings through her photographs. Interestingly, Indrė explained that she has not yet met this woodcarver. They have formed a virtual relationship. Like her, he didn’t know about the Lithuanian interrogation houses and Indrė has noted that as the project went on, he learnt more about the subject and took more care in the carvings. Indrė sends him four photographs, the four sides of the buildings. Does she want to meet him? ‘Yes, when I have finished. I don’t want to influence him.’

Exploring the reaction to these powerful works, Indrė has already exhibited them in Lithuania which, whilst not provoking a negative reaction, did not have ‘as much of a reaction as [she] would have liked, but that will come in time.’ Behind Indrė on the noticeboard two images stand out.  One is a photograph of an ISIS beheading and the other of Manet’s The Execution of Maximillian. Indrė explains that she is currently exploring the backdrops to death. In both these images, the viewer is confronted by horror in the foreground and desperately looks elsewhere to escape. Her own photographs of the carved houses sit blankly on a grey background. There is no colour. There is nowhere else to look. We stare openly at these houses which have stood as ‘silent witnesses’ in the interrogations.

As our conversation draws to an end, I ask Indrė about the future of the model houses. ‘They are not for sale,’ she laughs. This isn’t the first time she has been asked it seems. Originally she was going to destroy the carvings and not even display them. However, they have become a big part of this ongoing research project. They are here to stay. Despite being only half way through the project, Indrė is looking ahead and hopes to move from photography to paintings; this is a new phase in her career.  Throwing back her head, she laughs, ‘From mistakes you learn.’ This is a simple philosophy from the creator of such poignant, thought-provoking works.

Tomoyuki & Co

Tomoyuki & Co

Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“I work together with my clients to make sure they leave with beautiful hair, cut into a style that suits their lifestyle and needs…”

It is a paradox that the very best of things find themselves becoming the very best kept secrets. As is the case on the 1st floor of no. 37 Eastcastle Street, just feet from the hustling and bustling wails of Oxford Street; where sits the studio of a talented gentleman who has come to settle here in our neighbourhood; hair stylist Tomoyuki Otsuka. He told me of his Tokyo routes and the story behind his salon, Tomoyuki & Co.

Tomoyuki is no stranger to hair styling having quickly made a name for himself back home in Tokyo. Noted for his talent, around 8 years ago he was approached by a hair salon with chains all across Japan to launch their very first branch right here in the UK.  Having spent 6 years working for the salon chain in the heart of Fitzrovia, Tomoyuki observed the neighbourhood feel of the area; its residents and transients, consequently falling in love with Fitzrovia and the clientele. This  became his new home.

Otsuka’s approach to hair styling is unique in itself and somewhat personal. He believes in creating bespoke cuts and styles tailored to each individual client. He also believes in the importance of a hairdresser to take note of the vision and preference of the client. “I work together with my clients to make sure they leave with beautiful hair, cut into a style that suits their lifestyle and needs,” he explains. It’s almost no wonder at all that Tomoyuki being the perfectionist he is, has styled the hair of many icons and celebrities such as Olivia Palermo and Cara Delevingne.

His clients had often asked him about the possibility of opening his own salon, triggering something in his mind and setting the idea alight. He had already envisioned how he wanted his salon to be: a classic and minimalistic boutique feel in the heart of the city. A speciality of Otsuka’s is his individual and tailor-made hair treatments. He believes the success behind a beautiful cut and style begins with a healthy scalp. He explains the health of his clients’ scalps, giving them tips on how to treat their hair from root to tip.

Amid the array of galleries and boutiques that make for the character of Eastcastle Street, Tomoyuki & Co opened its doors in November 2013, on the 1st floor of door no. 37. Closely located to Market Place and Oxford Circus station, the salon is a neatly tucked away escape from the wicked west-end, revealed purely via word of mouth. Abiding Tomoyuki’s vision of a purely minimalistic salon space, the salon boasts neutral decor through and through, an enjoyable non-pressure salon environment where clients can enjoy the experience of the hair treatment Tomoyuki knows they deserve.

Whilst Tomoyuki fronts Tomoyuki & Co, other integral members of the team specialise in their own fields such as Iris, a highly experienced hairdresser from Germany specialising in cut and colour. In addition to hairstyling, the salon also offers services from wonderful nail technicians, who create the most exceptional looking nails using the latest colour trends, shapes and specialist nail art. In opening the salon, the team wanted to create a comfortable and relaxing environment where the clientele could escape the lively and busy streets of Fitzrovia, to which all team members contribute.

Bringing his far-eastern home to the Fitzrovia area, Tomoyuki always keeps a selection of impressive Japanese green teas at the salon for those who want to try a cup. The overall treatment of clients here is relaxed and calming. Be prepared for a wonderful head massage (in order to stimulate the scalp), followed by a bespoke hair treatment (cut and style). For those clients who live a busy city life, where time is precious, Tomoyuki & Co offers a manicure service at the same time as the haircut.

I discussed with Tomoyuki his decision to base his salon right here in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood. He felt that, due to the character of the area, this would be the perfect setting in which to open the salon. It was an area that he had begun to understand, getting to know the people and developing strong connections. In the heart of the capital and convenient for all clients to get to, Fitzrovia itself is his favourite area in London. Future aspirations look to opening a second salon and the creation of a personalised product line. A self-confessed hair geek, Tomoyuki will no doubt make sure to use only the very best ingredients in his merchandise.

In this neatly kept secret on Eastcastle Street Tomoyuki and his team have come to create a salon that is true to his ethos of hair styling whilst remaining true to the neighbourhood with its calming and diverse backdrop. With high ambition and drive, this small independent business is set to flourish in the years to come.

Contemporary Cave Painting

Contemporary Cave Painting

Words Jonathan Velardi

Photography Kirk Truman


Fitzrovia is no stranger to underground activity. A boring machine, 40 metres shy of the height of the BT Tower tunnels, with precision below the streets of its southern edge with neighbouring Soho, in the name of Crossrail railway. In parallel with the underground works carving its way through the capital, a different kind of excavation all together surfaced at the beginning of the year when artist, Thomas Allen unearthed a cave – less subterranean, more subconscious – for his latest artwork. Thomas took up residence at contemporary aboriginal art specialist, Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery on Charlotte Street over the course of a month in January to embark on a decidedly analogue investigation of the area and its community for source material towards the production of an immersive installation titled, ‘Contemporary Cave Painting’.

“My aim was to design a calm, meditative space,” Thomas tells me of his conceptual cave. A prescription for the local community consumed with construction and disruption, or a refuge for the West Sussex-based artist transplanted into metropolitan madness, I wondered. “In the same way prehistoric man would have retreated into deep, dark chambers underground in order to turn inward – performing rites and rituals – I turned inwards to create a record of the internal world,” he explains. This record, or ‘mindscape’ as Thomas refers to it, was central to the cave’s conception, which orbited around emergent and collective phenomena: the interaction of a multiplicity of individual units. The artist’s background as a graduate in sociology informs his approach to art-making. “I’ve been interested in emergent phenomena for a while now, whether it’s the way thousands of termites conspire to create what is an incredibly complex structure: a termite cathedral; or the way a number of essentially abstract marks come together on a piece of paper to form a recognisable representation of something.” During an application for an artist residency a few years ago, Thomas had the idea of representing his interest in collective phenomena into the collective unconscious of a locality. He looked at the Surrealist method of automatic drawing from the early twentieth century, whereby the hand is allowed to draw freely on paper as a means of tapping into the unconscious of individuals, in order to reach some idea of the collective unconscious.

Having approached Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, a platform that has championed non-Western artistic traditions from artisans around the world, with his intentions of creating a twenty-first century primal mural, Thomas soon began work on the installation at the gallery’s Charlotte Street address. He spent time walking around and observing daily life, drawing inspiration from the sights and sounds of Fitzrovia. With only the use of pen and paper he solicited scribbles from members of the public to engage with their individual unconscious. “The public were surprisingly receptive to the idea, so long as they didn’t assume I was carrying out a survey or asking for money when I approached them with my clipboard,” he laughs. Hundreds of automated drawings were collected on the street as well as from visitors to the gallery who watched Thomas install his painting with the sole use of a handheld lamp; an ironic caveman’s torch. With a comical wave of his hands, he illustrates how he then turned ‘art medium’, deciphering the random scribbles that created an introspective landscape of strokes and textures, which in turn were translated onto the gallery walls in charcoal, sanguine and graphite. I asked Thomas how the public reacted to his elementary request in an age of universal image-making – whether it be society’s ‘curated’ eye with various photographic apps or drawing tools on their tablets:  “the diversity of these archetypes were fantastic. I could often recognise different artistic styles in embryonic form embodied on the page, such as Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse or Mondrian. However, I hadn’t expected the considerable number of people who struggled with the idea of scribbling without thinking about it, without drawing anything in particular. It seems like such a simple idea and yet, quite often they froze up.”

Visitors to the space were confronted with a hessian curtain hung at the entrance of the cave that acted as a veil between the internal and external worlds; ‘a receptacle for the collective unconscious of Fitzrovia’ reveals the artist. Once inside, a single lamp illuminated the blacked out space and its warm ochre-wash interior that had been created from approximately 300 tea bags, which stained twelve square metres of paper to line the walls. The unique portrait undulated from corner to corner, floor to ceiling and commanded greater intrigue by the fact it was born organically from the artist’s direct relationship with the local environment and the hundreds of contributions from the public. Thomas explains, “the only thing I couldn’t plan for in advance was the drawing itself; that had to emerge spontaneously.”

The ‘Contemporary Cave Painting’ embodied multi-contextual collaborative and performative qualities, not least a possibility for this topographic artwork to perform a visual commentary at various travelling sites and locations. While there are no immediate plans for him to take his conceptual cave elsewhere, Thomas is considering new angles to source these topographic portraits. “Today’s use of technology is really interesting to me. I’ve flirted with the idea of obtaining contributions from the public via an online app and I wonder how the medium might affect the scribbles.” He tells me he’s also very interested in comparing the communities where he carries out his projects by identifying not only the differences but also the similarities between social areas. Thomas continues, “I’ve always found that my enquiries – artistic and philosophical – tend towards an investigation of universalities,” before posing the eternal question that bridges the worlds of art, archaeology and sociology together: “what do we all have in common?”

The 100 Club

The 100 Club

Words Peter West

Illustrations Luke Stuart


1942 was a prodigious year in terms of musical talent. It saw the birth of Paul McCartney, Brian Jones, Ian Dury, Brian Wilson, Jimi Hendrix and Carole King to name but a few. It was also the year that a new musical venue was born, one that went on to achieve legendary status around the world: the 100 Club.

Situated at 100 Oxford Street, it started life under another name: The Feldman Swing Club. In fact, let’s back track, it was originally a downstairs eatery called Mac’s Restaurant. One September evening in 1942, Robert Feldman, a jazz performer and enthusiast, happened to call into the restaurant and as he looked around he began to see the potential of the space. “I thought to myself, this would make a nice little club.”

The enterprising Feldman negotiated with the owner of Mac’s, recruited top jazz musicians and opened for business on October 24, 1942. The Feldman Swing Club soon became known as the place for the best jazz music and dancing, in particular, jitterbugging. This new type of jive, loved by American servicemen, wasn’t welcomed in some of the more upmarket, smarter clubs because of its energetic and physical style.

The Feldman Swing Club quickly became a success, largely by making itself accessible to the average working man price-wise and through attracting exciting performers. These included Ronnie Scott, Johnny Dankworth, Benny Goodman, Stephane Grappelli, Kathy Stobart, Ray Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Mel Powell, Art Pepper, Humphrey Lyttleton, George Melly and others.

Jazz continued to be at the very heart of the club through the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s (it’s still going strong today), but to reflect broadening musical tastes, the Feldman Swing Club changed its name to the 100 Club in 1964, drawing inspiration from its address, 100 Oxford Street: the Who, the Kinks, the Animals, David Bowie and the Spencer Davis Group were just some of the names who appeared in the newly-named club.

Then came the ‘70s and Punk arrived with its hard-edged style and anarchic attitude. The 100 Club hosted the first ever Punk festival in September 1976. Unbelievably, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Buzzcocks, the Vibrators, Subway Sect and Siouxsie & the Banshees all performed for the first time in the capital at the 100 Club. The festival proved to be a defining event as other venues were wary of Punk. The 100 Club seized the initiative and championed the movement which some would argue changed the face of music. The Sex Pistols went on to record a live album at the club. At about this time, Reggae sessions and the likes of Eddie Grant, Steel Pulse and the Mighty Diamonds also began to feature at 100 Oxford Street. Into the ‘80s and the beginning of the 6Ts Northern Soul All-Nighter gigs at the 100 Club. South African township music also thrived at the venue at this time, with many musicians appearing who couldn’t perform in their own country because of apartheid.

The following decade saw the 100 Club start to showcase indie bands and performers like Suede, Oasis, Travis, Catatonia and Kula Shaker throughout the ‘90s. Indie music is still welded to the 100 Club today.

The 100 Club has always been a great testing ground for bands and musicians. Many secret concerts and warm-up shows have taken place to try out new material by the likes of Paul Weller, the Rolling Stones, Blur, Paul McCartney, Mark Ronson, Alice Cooper and Metallica. The 100 Club likes a laugh, too. Comedy stars like Al Murray, Harry Hill, Arthur Smith, Bill Bailey and Mark Lamarr have appeared on special comedy nights.

Given its enthusiasm for musical diversity and many other forms of entertainment, it seems unthinkable to ever consider the 100 Club would cease to exist. But in late 2010, owner Jeff Horton admitted the venue faced closure because of increasing overheads. A Facebook campaign, Save the 100 Club, helped raise awareness of the club’s plight and, in February 2011, Converse announced a sponsorship partnership and the 100 Club was saved!

Thousands of performers have strutted their stuff at the 100 Club, and it would have been impossible to have listed more than just a fraction of them here. So apologies if a particular favourite has been omitted. But perhaps the most important thing is that the legendary venue will continue to nurture new talent and be a home for established stars. A unique, intimate, sticky (despite the air conditioning) space, where enthusiastic audiences can enjoy and celebrate so many fantastic musical genres: here’s hoping the 100 Club will still be going strong in 2042 when it will be 100 years old. Now that will be some party!

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


“Somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived.”

We’ve all seen them, dotted around the buildings of Fitzrovia, London, the whole of the UK even. Small blue circles that present our connection to the past, our past; our collective unconscious. 29 Fitzroy Square houses such a plaque, as do several of the properties in the picturesque Georgian square. However, this one betrays an address bubbling with creative activity, for not only did it play host to one, but two seminal authors of the twentieth century. First, George Bernard Shaw lived here between 1887 and 1898. The second name is one I’m sure you’ve heard of, Virginia Woolf née Stephen, who lived here from 1907 to 1911.

Not everyone was overjoyed about Virginia’s choice of property, shared with her half-brother, Adrian. As Woolf wrote of a friend, “Beatrice comes round, inarticulate with meaning, & begs me not to take the house because of the neighbourhood.” A view I’m sure we’ve all had at some point about this under-appreciated creative backwater so close to central.

Like the flâneurs whose words make up the articles in this journal, Woolf travels the streets of London, from Victoria St to Regents St, via Oxford St and Brooke St, exploring the shifting nature of place in time and the minds formed around it. But what is it about the area that so fascinated Mrs Woolf? What is so captivating to the most bohemian centre of the Capital in the early twentieth century?

Of course, Virginia was no stranger to London: she was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in Kensington, on the 25th of January, 1882. Her father a notable historian, and mother a model for the Pre-Raphaelites, Virginia was exposed the creative industry from a very young age.

The places of her youth had a strong influence on her work. Frequent holidays in St. Ives were adapted for the setting of To The Lighthouse (1927), transposing the Cornish town for the Scottish Isle of Skye.  It is therefore unsurprising that the areas of London Virginia called home would become a lasting motif for many of her works – most notably the deliciously described streets that link Oxford Circus to Regent’s Park.

During the time Virginia was living at Fitzroy Square, she became part of a famed group of writers, artists and critics that lived just on the boundaries on what is now Fitzrovia. Virginia’s sister Vanessa, writer E.M Forster, the post-impressionist Roger Fry and Virginia’s husband-as-of-1912, Leonard Woolf are just a few of the names linked to a creative collective known as the Bloomsbury Group.

This group would have a profound impact on young Virginia. For one thing, it was scandalous for the male-oriented world of academia to allow women to get involved in their creative endeavours, yet it was that members of an exclusive ‘Cambridge society’ did just that in their adventure of literary proportions.

It was within this group that Virginia would find inspiration for her famous work, Mrs Dalloway (1925). Her strongest emotion is towards the city itself, and the freedom given by being a part of the group allowed the author to explore what makes it tick: “In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London.” A century later and these scenes are still fresh in our minds; the rumble of the city goes on, unabated and unplugged.

Allowing our minds to move across the pond we can see how Woolf’s words influence today: In Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (1998), New York continues on from London’s template, we are introduced to an area that “was once the centre of something new and wild; something disreputable; a part of the city where the sound of guitars drifted all night out of bars and coffeehouses; where the stores that sold books and clothing smelled the way [Clarissa] imagined Arab bazaars must smell.” This snippet of the city so good they named it twice began in London; in Fitzrovia; right on our doorstep.

Alas, it was not to last for poor Virginia Woolf. The busy city environment she loved so much was quickly becoming detrimental to her physical and mental wellbeing, in 1912 she began to take long breaks at Asheham House in Sussex. If Fitzrovia and the surrounding districts formed the basis for Virginia’s fiction, it was Asheham House where she put pen to paper, and it was here that she finished her first novel, The Voyage Out (1915) – which also introduces the character of Clarissa Dalloway, eponymous protagonist of her later work.

On the 29th of May, 1912 she agreed to marry Leonard Woolf – four months after the initial proposal. Biographer, Quentin Bell calls this “the wisest decision of her life.” They married in August that year. In 1917, after several more bouts of depression that have led to the speculation that Mrs. Woolf suffered a form of Bipolar Disorder, the two decided to move into the country, buying up a property in Richmond, Surrey and setting it up as a base for their newly founded Hogarth Press.

Over the years, Virginia would flit back and forth from Surrey to London – her health making this journey less viable as time went by. Who can forget the scene in Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of The Hours (2002) where Nicole Kidman’s Virginia leaves the house and wonders to the station in order to get a train to take her back to the city?

Like so many of these tales, Virginia’s must come to an end. It’s the 28th of March 1941. Virginia has been left alone in the house. She pens a thoughtful letter and leaves it for her loving husband to find.  Putting on her coat and walking out of the door, Virginia proceeds to line her pockets with stones and pebbles.  She walks with purpose towards the section of the River Ouse close to her home. She walks calmly into the water until it comes over her head. Disappearing under its waves and ripples. It is here that she was able to find peace. And it is with a sombre tone that I leave you with her final words, written with the love and affection for her caring husband. Farewell Mrs. Woolf, sleep tight as the city never left.

“Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.”

Iggy Hammick

Iggy Hammick

Words Gordon Ritchie

Portraits Kirk Truman


“Every twist and turn uncovered something new – an old local business, a beautiful Fitzrovia residential mews…”

The sky dark, the moon full, illuminating rain clouds, glinting on black tiled roofs, metal and glass constructions. The BT tower watches over empty streets.

“I’d heard about Fitzrovia without ever really knowing what it was. I began to explore the area. I realised how charming it was. Every twist and turn uncovered something new; an old local business, a beautiful Fitzrovia residential mews, calm, with the craziness of the West End a stone’s throw away, I landed a job as the brand designer for LOVEFiLM. I grew up in Hampshire and it always felt London was on my doorstep. The job gave me the chance to fully commit to the city.”

An indistinct figure appears, collar up, partly concealed, keeps moving along; Not in any hurry, no clear destination; Keeping close to doorways and shop fronts; Stopping sometimes, something catching their attention, then quickly moving on again.

“I had a meandering route into web design. I had no education in design or development. I had little idea what I wanted to do. I started out on a sports degree but quickly changed to Creative Writing and Journalism. The element I loved the most was designing a newspaper layout, so the tutor invited me to take his web design evening course. I was instantly sold. The classes taught me enough to scrape a part-time job at a really good e-commerce agency. When I graduated the following year they gave me a job as a designer. I worked and learnt every day and after work I’d go home and learn and practice some more. Those late nights self-teaching are where the name Dark Blue comes from.”

It was shortly after midnight. I had filed the last of my copy, was about to turn in when ‘ding’, the iPad pings, out of the night a communication. Iggy Hammick had made contact. I opened it.

As I read through the document, his story unfolded in front of my eyes. Training in journalism had made him a talented wordsmith and it revealed his addiction for aesthetics, his pursuit of print perfection and dignified looking digital domains.

“My style is really clean and minimal. I love interacting typography with big photography. I’m fascinated with replicating and advancing editorial/print style design for the web and digital space. That maybe comes from a natural love of the printed press – type, photography and layout. I can’t walk past a magazine shop without losing 45 minutes browsing. Not even reading, just looking at how the type and photography work together!”

I’d been on his trail, tipped off about his talents, told he frequented or resided in Fitzrovia. Determined to track him down, I pounded pavements. Euston Road in the North, behind Oxford Street in the south, spent rainy days around Goodge Street and wound up being blown up Charlotte Street. I spent days in Fitzrovia doorways reading the names on silver intercom systems. Nothing.

Then word came from the other side of the dark tarmac thoroughfare that divides the city. He might be in a newsagent on the Soho side of the tracks. Damn, it was out of our jurisdiction. “I work from the Central Working, co-working offices on Bayley Street. It’s a great place as there’s so much talent and energy around with a plethora of creative technology start-ups. It was from starting there I came across Fitzrovia.”

Determined, I had kept asking after him, but my investigative instincts were exhausted. Maybe he didn’t really exist. I’d tried to track him down online, heard he used the name Dark Blue, but there was no evidence to be found. I spent weeks revving my search engine, trying to get it to crunch into gear. No luck. There are a million stories and mysteries in Fitzrovia. This was just one of them.

“I believe geographic identity is an important aspect of a company’s culture. You should be proud of the neighbourhood you call home. Active in your community, collaborating with local companies and protecting the area’s heritage you develop a strong geographic culture. At Dark Blue we build successful websites for our clients and grow as they grow. My dreams go beyond building a successful company. We run the company as a for benefit organisation. We earn profit and use it creatively for socially responsible projects. At Christmas we sent 100 boxes containing thermal shirts, flasks, USB sticks and Costa Coffee cards to a homeless shelter. We’re privileged to work within this incredible industry, so if we can work harder and put the extra profits into creative ways to help those in need that can only be a good thing. To me, that’s what being socially responsible is and it forms the culture I want inside this company. I hope this is the beginning of a life-long adventure.”

In Iggy’s story I could sense the reluctance to boast of his skill and talent. I minimise the page to find a second email with some links. “We’ve created campaigns for Secret Escapes, South Africa Tourism, Visit Scotland and British Airways. The travel industry is a great place for design as you get stunning photography to work with. Lonely Planet, I see them as the pinnacle of editorial travel. Throw a dart at a map. Wherever it hits, Lonely Planet will tell you where to eat dinner! I’d do anything to get those guys!”

It’s clear that Iggy has his eye on the sky, but his head’s not in the clouds. He talks of nocturnal thoughts, dreams, and the power of taking your mind out of the city and looking up. Scrolling through the showcase of work Dark Blue has produced, it’s the quality and the clear concise nature of the design that stands out. Ethical concerns, entertainers and aesthetes have all had the Dark Blue treatment.

“A lot comes through referrals. Every project has led to more work. It creates a consistent flow, and means we’re doing our jobs well! If there’s a customer I really want, I’ll do my homework and drop off a little handwritten note, with some Dark Blue propaganda and a gift. There’s an Indian themed bar near my house, so I dropped round and gave them some hand-painted postcards I’d picked up from Pushkar a few years before. I got a call within 48 hours. I think people appreciate the attention to detail.” So one late night, the dark blue sky pierced by the BT Tower, you catch a glimpse of a silhouette, flitting from doorway to doorway, pausing momentarily; surreptitiously leaving calling cards. Iggy Hammick is out. Out of sight.

Tallowin

Tallowin

Words & Photography Mary-Rose Storey


“Thirty years down the line, if one comes back, I can track it. If one goes to auction, or if one gets passed on, the provenance is known. I’m trying to make things that will last decades.”

In a discreet shop in Windmill Street, Mark Tallowin creates objects of beauty, making exquisite leather bags that ooze quality and refinement. He only makes to order and only in one colour – black.  There is a core collection of five bags in varying sizes and shapes, named the Splitwedge, Flatiron, Kettlebell, Nightjar and Inkwell, and a collection of wallets he calls the Carta Collection.

He uses highest grade Italian Veg Tan leather, which is a natural way of tanning without the use of chemicals. The hardware on the bags is high quality, solid brass, 24-carat gold plated by a jeweller in Hatton Garden. All his work is hand stitched, so neatly and immaculately that it’s hard to believe he hasn’t used a machine. “I don’t actually know how many stitches go into the bags because it would take me an hour to count them, but I know on the smallest bag there’re 738 holes that I have to hand cut first before I even start the stitching,” he explains.

For the hand stitching, he uses French linen thread which he then coats with beeswax. “This is what makes my work different to most peoples. Everyone comes in here and expects to see a sewing machine but I’ve never used a sewing machine on leather.” His attention to detail is limitless; even his leather working tools he makes himself by hand, using wood and antler for the handles. Mark, a charming young man, didn’t begin working in leather. He began working as a tree surgeon before spending some time in Texas where he discovered a passion for knife making. His first blade was forged from a piece of railway line.

After having made the knife, he made a leather sheath to protect it, which led to making bags. You can see his exquisite tools and knives displayed in a stunning mahogany cabinet, as well as examples of the bags themselves. Each bag is unique and only available direct from TALLOWIN; the waiting list currently stands at two months for the handbags and one month for the wallets. He has a distinctive ordering system, which makes his products almost impossible to fake: on the inside of each bag there’s a small gold-plated disc with a number and code on the back so he is able to trace the product’s history and who placed each order. “I don’t offer any personalisation because it’s already incredibly personal.”

There’s a little cavity in the front section of the flap where he hides a postage stamp size piece of vellum parchment. On this a note is made of the client’s name, the year the bag was finished, the order number and the code. “Thirty years down the line, if one comes back, I can track it. If one goes to auction, or if one gets passed on, the provenance is known. I’m trying to make things that will last decades.”

Mark is self-taught, using a lot of the same skills that are used in saddle making and fine shoe making. Everything he makes can always be repaired, taken apart and put back together. All the designs are simple, yet feel so right and are beautifully shaped. Inside, the bags are raw and unlined. You won’t find a pocket for a mobile phone or a specific space for your tablet or laptop. The pockets he does make are based on either standard passport or credit card size, which haven’t changed in years. He explains that the reason is because “I don’t do anything for technology. I don’t make any pockets for phones or laptops because technology changes so quickly. The newest iPhone will be obsolete in five years.”

Mark will take on special commissions although he has been known to turn a commission down if it doesn’t feel right or isn’t taking him in the right direction, believing that he has to be in synch with the person and their ideas. His first major commission was with the Champagne company Billecar-Salmon, they needed a carry case to fit a pair of their distinctive ‘Foundation’ bottles and the result was a beautiful, sculptural, kidney-shaped case.

Another unusual commission was for the Swedish designer, Lina Zedig. She always carried her keys around her neck and wanted something more glamorous for the purpose, so he made her a leather sash with a large tassel that apparently she now wears across her every day. “I came up with a plan for an oversized key fob, scaled up to human scale; it overtakes the thing it began life augmenting, envelops it and becomes a strange thing in its own right. She’s in Tokyo at the moment and I really like the idea of it being worn there.”

London Craft Week, a new annual event taking place from the 6th to 10th May, will give Mark an opportunity to showcase his work.  The event will feature exceptional craftsmanship, hidden workshops and highly specialised skills alongside famous shops, galleries and luxury brands. A TALLOWIN bag will last a lifetime and beyond. They are expensive but, unlike some products, you can sense the dedication, time, quality and craftsmanship that go into their making. You’ll be buying an heirloom.

K Dental Studios

K Dental Studios

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Thanos Livas


“It wasn’t my idea. My Dad has amazing ideas generally. My dad knew that I liked the arts and sciences so he said to me why not study dentistry.”

I suppose there is much we commit to phobia; water, wriggling insects and health issues. No matter where your phobias may take you, or indeed what they may cause you to evade, undoubtedly overcoming them lies in trust and assurance. Fear not, for there is no phobia here but expertise and an abundance of trust, care and precision in this wonderful business that truly has come to capture me and take me beyond health care. Irene Kaimakamis tells me of her career in dentistry that led to the founding of K Dental Studios, Fitzrovia’s newest private dental practice.

Irene tells me that in her teenage years she, like so many of us, was terribly unsure as to what she could envision taking up as a career. With her passion lying in arts and sciences, the contrast between the two did not appear so dissimilar. Perhaps slightly adverse to the idea at first, her father proposed that she moved toward dentistry. “It wasn’t my idea,” she tells me “My Dad has amazing ideas generally. My dad knew that I liked the arts and sciences so he said to me why not study dentistry.” It was during a work placement that Irene had her first encounter with dentistry. She saw an extraction being performed and begun to instantly feel intrigued by the practitioner. She thought the skill, precision and technique of this form of healthcare to be something she wanted to pursue. Upon completing her studies she began a vocational training job which she describes as “working under the wings of somebody else.” Following this, she provided NHS and private care in north London, where she also taught dentistry once a week. She soon began to pursue a new direction in her career when she realised that she wanted to be able to offer more to her patients. She started a 1 year full time Master’s degree in Conservative Dentistry. “It was the toughest thing I had ever done in training. The course was intense, involving me spending lots of long nights in the lab preparing things and I often received heavy critique from tutors” she explains.

Wanting to focus predominantly on providing a relaxed and comforting experience for her clients; after 7 years of working in various practices Irene decided that it was time to go it alone and begin her own business. And so the challenge to find a team of dental experts to work alongside her in the practice, and to create the practice itself began. She first discussed this prospect with her cousin Pano (also a dentist) who agreed it was the right time to open a practice together. Keeping it in the family, Irene and Pano decided to start the business as a team, first of all seeking for a location to host it. I wasn’t long until the search led them to 116 Great Portland Street, Fitzrovia. They were attracted to the mix of transients and residents in the area, and the balance of big business and small independent shops that make up the neighbourhood. They found the location to be ideal for the practice. “Our families and their property development business, Atlas Property Lettings Ltd, played a big role in helping us find and develop this space. They have been behind us every step of the way,” says Irene, quick to accredit the support she received throughout her journey.

Irene was particularly attracted to the space itself. The skylight at the rear of the practice was a particular feature that would enable her to create what she had in mind. “I thought to myself ‘how wonderful it would be to have a relaxing space for seeing my patients, with state of the art equipment for undertaking treatments and taking x-rays, a decontamination room for effective sterilisation, rather than the nurses cleaning in the surgeries.’ It would mean I would have my own laboratory where I could plan and prepare work for patients and also liaise with all the specialists in the practice about the patients’ treatments.” Irene’s designer Thanos, aided the creative side of the business by focusing on the logo and online branding of the practice. This helped Irene and MEraki Design achieve their ideas for the interior of the practice, which were executed by Pelican Contractors Ltd. who created a minimal and comfortable atmosphere for clients.

Irene and Pano wanted to create an environment that was calm, clean and peaceful for all. Most fitting to compliment this was receptionist Martina Spano who welcomes all guests and helps in organising the smooth running of the practice, all while Marija Rapaic their dental nurse, ensures that the patients are comfortable while undergoing treatment and the environment is kept clean. At K Dental Studios, a focus of the business has been in building a team of experts in a variety of dental fields. The team is made up of an array of dental specialists: a root canal expert, orthodontist, gum expert and an oral surgeon all of whom can initially assist the client. “The practice itself is no ordinary dental practice, but a practice where experts in all fields offer patients complete and quality dental care under one roof,” explains Irene.

Today the dentists and specialists at the practice are working on complex cases together which could require orthodontic intervention, gum treatment, reconstructive and implant work. “The preparatory work in the laboratory is a big help, where we can sit down to discuss and plan with clinical photographs and waxed up study models,” says Irene.

K Dental Studios opened its doors in April last year. From the front of house through to consultation, the patient process at the practice is thoroughly calming. Irene and her team are not only experts in dentistry, but effortless specialists in calming and assuring patients through day-to-day check-ups and procedures, and more often than not the common phobia of dentistry. Expert advice is on hand regarding all dental issues ranging from diet to general health and lifestyle; in short any aspect integral to the upkeep of healthy teeth.

The treatment of patients is an amalgamation of relaxation, intrigue and guidance. The K Dental Studios team are quick to explain the history of a patient’s mouth, through photographs and x-rays, which themselves give an in-depth insight in to their lifestyle. The staff were able to advise me as to what particular food and drink I should avoid in order to keep my teeth and gums healthy; explaining acidic drinks and their effects, as well as showing me how I can still enjoy these things whilst avoiding damage.

With a range of dental treatments available, Irene and her team have begun treating local residents and visitors to the area alike. The practice itself also believes in giving as much back to the industry by hosting quarterly onsite lectures for dentists through their Study Club. As a practice with a strong focus on quality over quantity, and of course treatment itself, the attention goes to building relationships with the local area, including an interest in being involved with local schools to try to raise oral health awareness. The practice is firmly becoming a stalwart of the area with April marking the one year anniversary of K Dental Studios.

All Along the Watchtower

All Along the Watchtower


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Adedotun Adesanya


“This is very much an operational BT building, but we try to create as many opportunities for people to visit as possible. The tower is intrinsic to the operation of the United Kingdom, some of the things that go on here have implications for the country as a whole.”

Under the veil of some hissing rain, I saw you standing there. Under the mist and the wet, you stood announcing yourself to the bodies below, mighty above the chimney tops, the square and some stony Mews. ‘But what is it?’ I thought: some wondrous thing unknown to the people who allow themselves to become so busy below. The years have gone by and I’ve heard, through and through, the words ‘Post Office tower’ by summer under the burning sun, the words ‘Telecom tower’ by winter under drifting snows. The pinnacle of British Telecommunications rises right here in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, finally the mysteries mounting amongst us all along the watchtower I seek to answer.

I recall as a teenager, using the tower as a beacon point to help find my way home after last orders in pubs all over the city. Every Londoner has their relationship with the tower. Over the years, I’ve heard reference in anything, from local gallery owner, Rebecca Hossack, referring to it as the maypole of the village, forward through to watching the 1966 ‘War Machines’ Doctor Who episodes which centre around the square and tower.

On the site of the BT Tower there had long stood a transmitter; running temporary cables between cameras at Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and the BBC’s only transmitter at Alexandria Palace. In 1937, BT made history transmitting King George VI’s coronation live to homes throughout the UK. This broadcast was made from a much shorter steel lattice tower on the same site as the current. Soon after the coronation of the king, microwave radio technology replaced cable transmissions. Today, BT makes transmissions through fibre-optic technology where each able is made of plastic, or glass, and is thinner than human hair.

The erection of the BT tower was delayed considerably by World War II. It was only after having been commissioned by the General Post Office that construction of the tower began in June 1961. Due to its height, its foundations sink down through 53 metres of soft London clay, formed of a concrete raft measuring 27 metres square and reinforced with six layers of steel cables. On top of this sits a reinforced concrete pyramid. Throughout the vast majority of the construction a tower crane jib sat atop the tower. The crane itself raised questions in parliament at the time, with Doctor Reginald Bennett MP asking the Minister of Public Building and Works how the crane would be removed after having fulfilled its purpose. For the contractors, Peter Lind & Co Ltd., it was not seen as an issue for the crane to stay in situ.

Originally designed by Eric Bedford, the senior architect behind the actual build was Mr. G. R. Yeats and, although construction of the tower was completed in July 1964, it wasn’t officially opened until over a year later by Prime Minister, Harold Wilson on 8 October 1965, and was made open to the public on 16 may, 1966 when it was operated by Butlins. The total cost of construction came in at £2.5 million pounds, with the tower being constructed out of a whopping 13,000 tons of concrete and steel, with 50,000 square feet being used for the exterior windows alone.

The tower quickly became a familiar fixture in London; although visible from almost anywhere in the city, the tower was ‘officially’ a secret, not appearing on Ordnance Survey maps until Kate Hoey MP confirmed its existence on 19 February 1993. Originally meant to have been a simple stalk at 111m high, the design expanded and today it stands at 189m – the equivalent of 25 double-decker buses packed end-to-end. In comparison to other structures in London; the Gherkin stands at 180m; 1 Canada Square, 244m; finally, we have the Shard dominating at 310m. At the time of its completion the BT Tower held the title as the tallest building in London, as well as the United Kingdom, holding on to its claim until being overtaken by the NatWest Tower (183m) in 1980.

The narrow, cylindrical shape of the building was a pragmatic choice that conforms to the requirements of the communications aerials, allowing for the building to shift no further than 25cm when up against wind speeds in excess of 95mph. At the time of its public opening, the tower, in addition to office space and communications equipment, featured viewing galleries and a souvenir shop. The first 16 floors were for technical equipment and power. Following that, a 35 metre section was used to hold up microwave aerials.

Beyond these aerials, of course, lies the famous revolving restaurant, or ‘Top of the Tower’, on the 34th floor where, in 1971, a bomb was hidden in the men’s toilets of the restaurant. Fortunately, when the bomb exploded, nobody was injured or died: responsibility for the blast was claimed by the Provisional IRA. Debris from the explosion was littered along Cleveland Street and New Cavendish Street, going as far afield as Oxford Street. Windows below were blown out by the sheer power of the burst, and they flew along Charlotte Street and beyond. This was a turning point for the usage of the revolving restaurant. The initial damage was catastrophic and much of the western face of the building destroyed. All windows and the structure were damaged, with the western face completely exposed. Work soon begun to repair the tower and public access to the building ceased in 1980.

Today, much to the disappointment of Londoners below, access is exceptionally limited due to the practicality of a building that wasn’t designed with today’s regulations in mind. One cannot simply walk into the BT tower to see a 360 degree panoramic view of London from above. In fact, BT now have to exclusively invite people to visit the tower: such patrons have included Her Majesty the Queen, Their Royal Highnesses Prince Edward and Countess of Wessex, Lord Sugar, Orlando Bloom & Dame Kelly Holmes. The tower today is continually used for BT’s corporate and charity fundraising events and, in the event of an international crisis, is utilised to host an online donating system and call centre on the 34th floor – all of which can be arranged in less than 24 hours.

I was lucky enough to be invited to find out how it is inside. Before entering the tower, all entrants must put on visitor badges and undergo a strict airport security-style search of their person and belongings. Passing through the main lobby of the tower, guests are then led into a small lift to climb the tower. Stomachs clench and turn as the high-speed glass-elevator-esc lift transports you up to the 34th floor of the tower at 7metres per second, making it to the destination in just under 20 seconds (yes I was sad enough to take the time to count).

And then begins the rotating of the 34th floor of the tower, 158m above ground. Fitzroy Square appears so small, the size of a 10 pence coin. To the south, parliament sits in the distance on the banks of the Thames and the Shard pokes into the low clouds ahead. The entire floor, and the widest part of the tower at almost 20m, makes its rotations as if it were alive, taking 22 minutes to perform a single cycle.  The floor itself sits on trucks which move it – although I would protest that I enjoy heights, the moment that BT head of brand delivery, Ian Shaw, informed me that we were indeed rotating, I instantly started to feel somewhat alarmed, deciding to appropriately attach myself to a railing and continue nervously asking questions. “This is very much an operational BT building. We try to create as many opportunities for people to visit as possible. The tower is intrinsic to the operation of the United Kingdom. Some of the things that go on here have implications for the country as a whole.” Ian explains, nonplussed to the movement around.

Often I hear the assumptions that, since the removal of the radio antennas on the exterior of the building, the tower has become a defunct dusty relic to the company’s past. However, little known to the public, at the base of the tower lays the operations centre for BT’s broadcast services. From this £5 million state-of-the-art international media centre, nearly every transmission to every television in the United Kingdom, from every network in the world (from CNN, to the BBC, to Sky) is monitored. The Tower sits at the centre of a vast network and even played a crucial role in the first ever live international HD transmission, first international 3D transmission and a number of other broadcasting firsts. In 2012 the tower played a key role regarding an international event held in London. As Ian tells me, “We were the communications partner for the 2012 Olympics. Not a single message left the Olympic Park without passing over our network. It was something we really didn’t want to screw up!”

As a significant figure on the London skyline, BT and Camden Council have agreed that the building will steer clear of promoting commercial messages through the LED information band at the top of the tower. Installed in October 2009, the information band is made up of 177 separate panels each with 177,000 pixels and 528,750 LEDS. Considered to be the highest of its kind in Europe and Americas, messages such as the results of games during the 2012 London Olympics were presented to the city via here, as well as the ‘It’s a boy’ message displayed in summer 2013 to welcome the birth of Prince George. I find this works in line with BT’s tagline – “connecting people.”

On the ground floor, there is an overwhelmingly large hall of mostly disused data connections to the entire country which have steadily been replaced by fibre-optics. These sit in library fashion with individual wires stretching from right here in Fitzrovia, throughout London, Birmingham, Manchester, and beyond.

Still today, the upper floors of the tower, between the ground and 15th floor, have been largely disused for more than a quarter of a century. Midway up the tower, control boards still sit unused, vintage wiring sits unused and telephone centres sit unused. What echoes are the control panels of a SPECTRE-like lair from Sean Connery’s era of the James Bond series: I recall watching, from my previous home on Maple Street, this section of the tower; puzzling over what goes on here – disappointingly enough it does nothing at all, perhaps a suited alternative to Doctor Who’s TARDIS control panel at best.

The assumptions that pass between us all here in Fitzrovia are of a disused tower, a revolving restaurant that hasn’t turned for decades. This tower, this maypole of our villages is alive. It is the beating heart that connects us all in our day-to-day lives and it’s right here in Fitzrovia! Though still, despite all of these solutions I’ve been given to questions that have gone unanswered for so long, I can’t help but keep one thing in mind; in living so close to the tower that is not as disused as we may think, how is it that I still cannot get BT Infinity into my Berners Street flat? We go about our days and we look up to you. Under mist, rain and the heat of sun, we see you to know that we are home in Fitzrovia, all along the watchtower.

Kin

Kin


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Astrid Schulz


“My father and I already knew the area very well, but I’ve never done anything like this before. It has been a challenge both in starting a business and opening a coffee shop in Fitzrovia.”

Whilst wandering about Foley Street last spring I found myself entering a building site. ‘Another?’ I thought to myself, another coffee shop to line the streets of Fitzrovia. Another addition to the emergence of cafés and coffee shops in our region! I thought. Behind the grey façade, sat amidst the quiet of a leafy autumn morning on Foley Street, lies a café that offers something really quite rare among the invasion that has come to Fitzrovia in recent years. Consultant Sarah Tyers and the real next-of-kin, owner Charlie Meadows, explain to me the meaning behind one of Fitzrovia’s newest cafés, their vegetarian offerings and the story of Kin café.

Kin?’ you say. This building here at 22 Foley Street has been in the Meadows family for a few years now. The area is no stranger to the family, with Charlie’s father Peter being based in the now dying rag trade in the Fitzrovia area for some years. When the space on the ground floor of the building became empty in 2012, and with Charlie’s background in marketing, music and events, he began to contemplate the idea of embarking on an entirely new venture, away from his media orientated career. As he tells me, “My father and I already knew the area very well, but I’ve never done anything like this before. It has been a challenge both in starting a business and opening a coffee shop in Fitzrovia.”

The space has been various cafés over the years that seem to have only come and gone. Noting that the area has been slowly becoming more and more vibrant in recent years, Charlie and his father saw the opportunity to open a new café that could adapt to the vibrancy of the area, with Charlie leading the way. He explains, “I decided around March 2013 that I started to think about the possibility of turning this space into a café. We began looking at competitors across London, the world and right here in Fitzrovia.”

With the implication of his idea looming, he knew that there was nothing with which to allow it to flourish without the experience and guidance of somebody who had followed a route within the industry. Charlie and Sarah Tyers were introduced through a mutual friend, Ed. With Sarah’s background in working as a chef in many restaurants and training as a barista at two of London’s favourite coffee shops; Bloomsbury’s The Espresso Room and, leading chain, Taylor Street Barista’s, she was the ideal candidate to act as a consultant in establishing Kin. “I realised that university was going to cost me a lot of money and not really get me where I wanted to be. I was quite shy. I loved cooking and looking after people, so I dropped out of school to become a chef. I travelled for a lot of years and then eventually ended up in London. I’d always wanted to open my own café so I began to learn how to make coffee,” Sarah elucidates.

With Sarah having always wanted to open a café herself, this was the perfect opportunity to follow one of her own dreams and equally allow Charlie’s business idea to come to life. With his idea of opening a local accessible café for all residents to enjoy in the ever-growing vibrancy of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, Charlie discussed with Sarah concepts ranging from the title of the café to the cuisine and layout of the interior.

On deciding that the food element of the café would be a focal point of the business (in addition to its speciality coffee and tea), it was decided that Kin was to become an entirely vegetarian establishment. With a menu that offers anything from a signature beans on toast (my personal breakfast favourite) to a lunch menu of salads, sandwiches and more – all available for takeaway or to eat-in – their bill-of-fare is like no other in the area. The food is truly a spectacle worth venturing to Foley Street for, a healthy option for breakfast, brunch and lunch in the area. Sarah tells me, “When you’re making food, if it’s fresh and healthy, then the only way to make it taste good is to make it fresh, that’s how good tasting healthy food is made.” She makes a point to emphasise the importance of the health element of their menu.

After deciding upon a vegetarian café, the two wanted to create a title and atmosphere that was less contrived as it was pro-green, and, more-so, unannounced as being vegetarian from its façade, its primal colouration and interior setting. “The name choosing process went through a lot of permutations. We wanted the title of the café, as we’re vegetarian, to be uncomplicated. We didn’t want to call it Supernatural Greens, or Veggies Are Us,” Sarah laughs. “We didn’t want it to be unwelcoming. We wanted it to be discovered-to-be-vegetarian. We wanted it to be a simple, easy to spell, easy to the hear word that people could remember and keep fresh in peoples’ heads,” she concludes.

And so, taking into account Charlie’s relationship with his father, without whom the business never would’ve happened, they decided that it would be essential to include this relationship in the naming process of the café. “From a visual perspective Kin works well as a logo, of course there is a personal element behind the title too.” Charlie tells me, “People remember the name, we’ve found that people really like it!” He explains to me. What followed was an all grey interior and exterior with minimal low-key furnishings that have a somewhat Japanese feel. The café has been intentionally designed as a ‘blank canvas’, a neutral environment, semi-influenced by Charlie’s Swedish mother.

With a few minor delays, as per any business venture, Kin opened its doors late May, 2014. Progressively the café has become a staple of the neighbourhood for meetings, brunch and as a lunch hour retreat – or what I refer to as my ‘time out space’. At Kin you’re able to leave behind the wicked-west-end and find calm. Kin currently uses Notes Coffee; though they rotate their speciality coffee blends every quarter.

In addition to their tea and coffee offerings, the café makes their own juices: from my personal favourite green juice, through to a carrot and apple blend juice, a perfect alternative to caffeine when looking to punch start your day. In aiding the New Year detox I find these to be an excellent healthy alternative to coffee. The ingredients of Kin’s juices are entirely organic and have slowly become the norm in beginning my day.

This father and son venture has firmly taken off to achieve the start that Charlie and Peter had hoped for – perhaps even more so in fact! With the café now open on Saturdays, it has been allowed to spread its wings as the staff have become acquainted with many locals, both residents and transients. The café has come to house the defining elements of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood; socialisation, independent business and niche. With an eye firmly set on the future, I say to you bravely that here is a café for you and your kin to watch.

What is Fitzrovia?

What is Fitzrovia?


Words Jenna Walker

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


As the old saying goes, ‘If you have to ask, you’ll never know.’ And that’s true of a lot of things. The lottery numbers? Sure. The difference between men and women? Forget about it. The length of a piece of string? Lost cause. But if you dared to ask, ‘What is Fitzrovia?’ Well, that one’s relatively straight-forward.

Often described as having an ‘urban vibe with a bohemian history,’ Fitzrovia is nestled in the little pocket between Marylebone, Soho and Bloomsbury, lying partly in the City of Westminster, and partly in the London Borough of Camden. While its land is laid with shiny digital start-ups, historic pubs, hip hotels, a smattering of independent cafés  all claiming to sell London’s best coffee, and Charlotte Street, unofficial sponsor of Thursday lunchtimes for media execs, Fitzrovia is, perhaps surprisingly, classified as being ‘above-averagely deprived.’

The area was first referred to as Fitzrovia in the 1930s, taking its name from the Fitzroy Tavern – the cosy little Sam Smith that sits on the corner of Charlotte Street and Windmill Street – where the writer and artist community used to gather. Until that point, it had only been known by its major streets, such as Great Titchfield Street or Tottenham Court Road, and was often seen as an extension to the West End, or referred to as London’s ‘Latin Quarter’.

As far as we know, the story behind it goes like this: right up until the end of the nineteenth century, the district belonged to Charles FitzRoy, 2nd Duke of Grafton. FitzRoy’s father, 1st Duke of Grafton, had already started work developing the northern part of the area in the early eighteenth century, before buying and giving his name to the Manor of Tottenhall. He later built Fitzroy Square, to which he also gave his name, along with the nearby Fitzroy Street. Part designed by Robert Adam in 1794, and completed by his brothers James and William Adams in 1978, the square remains one of the most distinguished of Fitzrovia’s original architectural features.

While the Duke of Grafton was responsible for the northern part, the Duke of Newcastle took on the south-western side – establishing what was then called Oxford Market, and which is now Market Place and its surrounding area. By the start of the 19th century, this section of London was extensively built upon, severing the Marylebone Passage into what now remains of it on Wells Street.

Having been developed by minor landowners, Fitzrovia is made up of small, irregular streets. This structure is quite different to those in neighbouring districts – such as Marylebone and Bloomsbury – which, as built up by only one or two landowners, were designed with stronger grid patterns and a greater amount of squares. While it was always FitzRoy’s intention to build residencies for the upper classes in Fitzrovia’s jagged tapestry of streets, the aristocracy quickly migrated to the likes of Belgravia and Mayfair, causing a sudden sub-division of such grand houses into flats, studios, workshops and even single rooms to let.

When French and Italian immigrants came to London at the end of the eighteenth century, they established Fitzrovia as a centre for the furniture trade, inviting a host of tradesmen and craftsmen to set up shop, including Thomas Chippendale and John Constable. Literary figures, such as Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw and Arthur Rimbaud also made home in Fitzrovia. Throughout the 1930s, Augustus John and Dylan Thomas were part of a bohemian set that made the space just north of Oxford Street their hangout.

It’s been claimed that John himself was the coiner of the name ‘Fitzrovia’, in honour of his favourite hostelry, the Fitzroy Tavern. Although, it is largely believed that the name was used first by the editor of Poetry London, M. J. Tambimuttu, when talking of the stretch of pubs between Soho to Charlotte Street; it first appeared in print in the Daily Express gossip column by Tom Driberg in 1940. The name was later made popular by chronicler of the 1940s, Julian Maclaren-Ross, in his book, Memoirs of the Forties (1965).

While the name ‘Fitzrovia’ was widely used by the early 1960s, there was little written evidence of it. The term was less commonly used by the late 1940s, due to much of the bohemian community having moved on, or died. However, in 1973, the first ever street festival to be held in Charlotte Street was called ‘the Fitzrovia Festival’ – bringing the name back into common currency and, more importantly, giving residents a label for which to try to define their neighbourhood.

Though it wasn’t officially recognised until 1994 when, following pressure from residents, Fitzrovia’s name appeared for the first time on Ordnance Survey maps. Property developers’ later attempts to rebrand the area ‘Noho’ were immediately quashed.

Biographer Paul Willetts describes Fitzrovia’s name as a “…retrospective label applied to a district of central London where, between roughly 1925 and 1950, the pubs, restaurants, cafés and drinking clubs provided a fashionable rendezvous for a diverse range of writers with a taste for bohemian life. The label, which had passed into common usage by the early 1960s, acknowledged the one-time status of the Fitzroy Tavern at 16 Charlotte Street as the area’s pre-eminent venue. Together with Rathbone Place, Charlotte Street forms the crooked spine of Fitzrovia.”

Today, Fitzrovia is home to around 6,500 people, workplace to some 50,000, and celebrated by all of London. Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?” In the case of Fitzrovia, it’d seem quite a lot. But if you have to ask, then you’ll never know.

Getty Images Gallery

Getty Images Gallery


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


There is probably very little of my life and your own that you will not relate here, Fitzrovia too. Those distant country lanes of the suburbs and the chaos filled stories told to us of the war, of the musicians that have come and gone. Life and the very humanity of our own existence is captured through a seemingly infinite array of imagery, telling stories, often horrors, and unveiling the beauty of all we know and see. I look behind the scenes through their archives and into the past of Fitzrovia, the home of Getty Images Gallery in the heart of our neighbourhood.

Getty Images houses some of the greatest photographic collections in the world, with their gallery offering a unique insight and access to their collection. The archives themselves hold millions of negatives, prints and transparencies from the 1850s through to the modern day. A vast contemporary library features some of the most creative photographers of the past and present. Their aim is to make their incomparable collection accessible to all. Getty Images Gallery right here in Fitzrovia was set up to in order to offer accessibility to the general public to an array of high-end/bespoke photographic prints.

Getty Images supplies stock images to businesses and consumers from its archive of over 80 million still images and illustrations, as well as more than 50,000 hours of stock film footage. The archive itself being made up of more than 15 miles of racking holding over 1500 individual collections. In 2004, Getty Images Gallery made the decision to move from the somewhat artistic area of Chelsea to Fitzrovia, Eastcastle Street. At this time, although there were many galleries in the area, Eastcastle Street was far from the art-gallery-laden street we know it today. The gallery begun to influence gallery owners to arrive in the area with more and more galleries popping up over the past decade.

With just one percent of their existing archive available online, Getty Images mass catalogue of archived imagery is rich in the lives of us all. From catastrophe to love and hope, to celebrity and war, the Getty Hulton Archive hosts many elements of recent history. Behind the doors of a seemingly ordinary warehouse by Westbourne Grove Station (roughly 5 minutes on foot) lies the Getty Hulton Archive. A David Bowie portrait sits in the distance, the corridors themselves stretch on and on through the archive with all image negatives miraculously ordered shelf-by-shelf by a somewhat patient Getty Images team.

What sets Getty Images Gallery aside from other photography galleries is helping clients by going beyond the gallery walls with extensive research able to be carried out by the Getty Hulton Archive team should a client seek an alternate to their current exhibitions. Their various collections can be looked through and a lightbox of images created and tailored to the client’s needs. When a selection of images has been chosen, Getty Image’s experienced darkroom technicians will study the negatives of the images in a ‘neg-check’ determining the quality and size of the final print.

All prints are produced from the original negative in one of Britain’s last remaining wet darkrooms. Prints are often patiently coaxed from damaged negatives or poorly exposed plates – the skill and patience of which is exceptional, though viewed as an essential part of the process. The outcome is an extremely high end photographic print, many of which being unique to the client as so much of the existing archive is yet to have been printed since its first publication.

From annual events to sudden catastrophes, from celebrity deaths to economic disaster, the Getty Images team are often called into action to scour their extensive archive for the usage of the world’s press, hosting images relating to just about every single topic and category imaginable. I am told of how, in the case of the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, the team were rushed into action to uncover and bring images of her career to light and deliver it to the press.

Amongst these shelves, as I wander guided by the Getty team, we uncover photographs of Salvador Dali along with a signed letter written by the late artist and images which tell a story of the history of photography itself (dating as far back as the 1850s). Wartime images present themselves to us from all over Britain, through to some original photographic portraits of unknown people – some of the images being the first ever taken of their kind.

We begin to uncover photography of our very own Fitzrovia neighbourhood, the backdrop for the Eastcastle Street Getty Images Gallery. First we uncover mid-20th century photography of the area, including Newman Passage and Charlotte Street. When searching further we discover photographs of Tottenham Court Road’s Centre Point, later there’s eerie imagery of the BT Tower shortly after being bombed by the IRA in October 1971.

Searching further, the Getty Images team and I discover a series of remarkable photographs taken along Warren Street as well as in and around Fitzroy Square of the once thriving used-car trade in full swing. Cars can be seen parked up and down Warren Street, their owners talking with potential buyers: the backdrop of the area appears almost entirely unchanged even those these images were all taken during the 1950s. We next uncover the original contact strips of the photographer who’d taken the shots with a particular image highlighted for usage in an article about the used car scene in the area at the time.

Getty Images gallery keeps up a regular programme exhibitions in order to showcase their collections, all covering an array of topics and themes with each exhibition carefully curated from their collections. Exhibitions have included an exploration of the career of The Beatles in 2009, and a series in 2012 capturing the Olympics through the ages. Most recently an exhibition of the works of Michael Putland was displayed featuring a star studded array of photography including David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and other iconic artists such as T-Rex and The Who. Currently on display is an exhibition capturing the year of 2014 with all images taken by a variety of artists throughout the world. (The exhibition is actually celebrating 2014 in ‘Getty Image’s photographers’ only.)

What Getty Images Gallery offer is truly unique in the photographic world. Their gallery and achieve incorporate the very history of photography and still today continue the tradition of darkroom photo-processing. With their archive consistently expanding as the years pass by and the history of the lives of others continuing only to grow, it would appear that Getty Image’s goal is to take moments from life respectfully, and go on to allow them to be enjoyed and accessed by future generations. There is no doubt about it; you will find much of your own life captured in their archives. Everything you think you know about yourself is just a shot away.

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

An address in Fitzroy Square, the creation of many novels, plays and essays, George Bernard Shaw represents the epitome of Fitzrovian: the bohemian writer from Ireland. The man whose work H.G Wells once likened towards “an idiot child screaming in a hospital.”

Shaw’s first play, simply referred to as Passion Play (1878), didn’t go anywhere, existing only in fragments now. His second, and appropriately titled, short play, Un Petite Drame (1884), didn’t do too well either. But his third play, Widowers’ Houses (1892), saw Shaw gain a reputation as a playwright and allowed him the funds to move to an up-and-coming area of London – Fitzroy Square.

In fact, Shaw produced over fifty plays in his lifetime, alongside five novels and a multitude of essays, ranging from socialist treatises to musical criticism. If anybody can be celebrated for their creative endeavours it is most certainly George Bernard Shaw: The man whose success is built upon imagination, which, as he put it in Back to Methuselah (1921), “is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”

From 1887 to 1898, number 29 Fitzroy Square was where Shaw called home – later to be the residence of Virginia Woolf, this address has been home to two of the most creative minds of the twentieth century. Born in 1856, Shaw would live until he reached 95 years old before succumbing to his mortality on November 2, 1951.

Shaw was raised in the city of his birth, Dublin, Ireland. His mother, Lucinda Elizabeth Shaw was a professional singer who came from a middle-class, land owning background. For George Bernard Shaw’s father, however, there’s a different story. George Carr Shaw was a merchant, when he wasn’t attempting to work for the council: his endeavours were rarely successful, although it gave him a modicum of respectability that was only enhanced by marrying up. Suffice to say, Lucinda left her husband in 1873 to teach singing in London.

George Bernard Shaw didn’t really enjoy his time at school, owing to a feeling of its utter worthlessness that went beyond childhood frustration; he was to write in a letter in 1917 that, “Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents.”

Indeed, this animosity towards formal education is realised in Shaw’s novel, Cashel Byron’s Profession (written 1882, but published in 1886). Young Byron decides at an early age to remove himself from school and pursue education in the real world, declaring to a prospective employer, “I have been at school; but I didn’t learn much there.” He would also see formal education as a form of ‘class warfare’ between parent and child, reducing offspring to a slave-like status as he explains in a 1910 Treatise on Parents and Children.

At 15, Shaw left school, after having attended many with varying degrees of success. And, in 1876, at age 20, he decided to move away from Ireland and followed in his mother’s footsteps to London. It wasn’t long before Bernard Shaw was introduced to the area that was to become Fitzrovia. A combination of ill health and her son’s sudden fortune as a writer found Lucinda moving just around the corner of Fitzroy Square, Fitzroy Street.

In London, Bernard Shaw would witness first-hand the subject he was most interested in; social problems such as poverty, healthcare and class privilege.  The latter finding its voice in the 1917 play Pygmalion (later to be adapted into the musical hit, My Fair Lady) which also brings to light the feminist message that was just gaining ground then. With lines such as, “If you can’t appreciate what you’ve got, you’d better get what you can appreciate.”  Bernard Shaw’s cynical wit became synonymous with his ideas.

He remained in his Fitzrovia residence until 1898 when he met Charlotte Payne-Townshend. Also Irish, Townshend was of the same high born variety as Bernard Shaw’s mother, the two met as part of Bernard Shaw’s political activities: it was between 1879 and 1902 that he worked as a local councillor for the St. Pancras area of London. In relation to his position in politics, Bernard Shaw would state that his aim was to, “Just do what must be done. This may not be happiness, but it is greatness.” The same approach he took in his many creative endeavours.

In 1902, upon leaving politics, George Bernard Shaw and his new wife decided to leave London behind, although they maintained the residence at no. 29 Fitzroy Square for occasions that meant Bernard Shaw’s presence was required, what with his numerous plays to be performed just down the road in the West End and multiple philanthropic events he would attend with his wife. Upon such events, deemed an excuse for the ‘champagne socialist’ to drink and discuss the ills of the world from the comfort of an exclusive club, George Bernard Shaw would respond: “Alcohol is the anaesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.”

The later years of his life would be spent in Hertfordshire with his wife. Although, interestingly, it is said that Bernard Shaw never got around to consummating the marriage, apparently at his wife’s insistence. He would, however, partake in affairs of the extramarital variety. Such activities would continue even into his twilight years: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Overall, George Bernard Shaw is a character entirely fitting to Fitzrovia. Eccentricity meets creativity. A veritable multi-tasker, with a thirst for knowledge that breaks the boundaries of a stilted formal education. At 94, Shaw would proclaim the now-famous words of “I think I’m going to die now.” Before slipping into a one day coma and eventually passing on in body.

All that’s left for me to write about is: read George Bernard Shaw, find out where his many plays can still be found performing, for they can. Hell, watch My Fair Lady if you think it will do him some justice. And above all else, never forget these words: “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”

The Cleveland Street Scandal

The Cleveland Street Scandal


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom…”

In 1891 Sherlock Holmes appeared in a short story called Scandal in Bohemia, where the detective races against the clock to smooth over what could become an international incident. Less than two years before Sherlock’s encounter a real scandal with true political implications struck at the heart of London. Hidden away down Cleveland Street, an outrage of titillating realisations had occurred.

It came to light in 1889 that 19 Cleveland Street was housing a dark secret. Far from the legitimate businesses you can now find along the streets of Fitzrovia, the proprietors were in search of decadent delights, hushed away from public knowledge and even downright illegal – for a Mr Charles Hammond had, for quite some time, been running an illicit male brothel.

At this time, Constable Luke Hanks, investigator of a supposed theft at the London Telegraph Office, came across a 15 year old messenger boy, Thomas Swinscow, who was in possession of something much more damning than his bag of letters… he had, in his coin purse, money to the princely sum of fourteen shillings (equivalent to around £300 in today’s currency!).  Of course, there was little to be suspicious about young men carrying out this work, but, at this time, it was illegal for them to even carry around their personal allowance. It seemed to be unequivocal evidence of the boy’s guilt. Hanks must have thought he’d got his man!

Here the plot thickens… It is reported that, in his statement, Swinscow was adamant to profess that he “got [the money] doing some work away from the office…  [for] a gentleman named Hammond.” And the story takes a turn. Let us remember that in 1889 Cleveland St was a relatively unimportant place of nondescript houses, its only claim being that Charles Dickens’ childhood home was at number 22. Swinscow admitted that he “…got the money for going to bed with gentlemen at [Hammond’s] house.” And the fate of Mr Hammond was sealed. Of course, it was not only Hammond who was indicated in the crime. The statement also reads, “[Henry Newlove] asked me to go into the lavatory at the basement… we went into the water closet and shut the door and we behaved indecently together.” Of the names that later came to light in the ensuing investigation there are some that stand out greatly, people with direct links to the British establishment. Naturally, those I am about to list are largely alleged to have been clients of Mr Hammond’s.

Allow me to introduce somebody whose links to the surrounding area live on today: Henry James Fitzroy, Earl of Euston.  His involvement came out through an article by Ernest Parke in a radical newspaper at the time, The North London Press. Lord Euston admitted upon trial that he had indeed visited the premises of 19 Cleveland Street simply on the presumption that it was housing a display of artistic nudes – the sign on the door read Posés plastiques. Euston’s innocence was proven, based on contradictory accounts by the defence failing to correctly identify or formulate an indicative narrative of his guilt.

Poor Euston never managed to stake claim to the area that surrounds Fitzroy Square since he died before he was able to inherit his father’s land. Instead, it passed to his younger brother, Alfred, later the Duke of Grafton, adding to the rich tapestry that is now a centre for creativity, Fitzrovia.

Two more names stand out on the list of the accused: Lord Arthur Somerset and, most scandalous of treats, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, grandson of Queen Victoria. Interestingly, the former was a client of the brothel named by none other than Lord Euston himself during an account of his visit. Amongst a growing mountain of evidence, and some strong anecdotal accounts, Somerset’s hand was against him. Through contacts and dealings, Lord Somerset (allegedly) was able to convince the Home Secretary of the time to put a halt to court proceedings and delay the time until action would be taken.

Seizing his chance, Somerset fled to Germany on the 22nd August 1889. Upon returning to England, he was tipped off that his trial was imminent and that he would be unable to evade prosecution. With this knowledge, the not-so-noble-lord fled again, this time to France, and commenced travels that took him as far as Constantinople (Istanbul now), before settling back in France, where he was to die at the age of 74 in 1926, 37 years after evading justice.

And so, I’ve left the juiciest tidbit until last, the curious case of Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Was it mere rumour that spread across Old London town, as these things so often do? Was it a fabrication of Lord Somerset, in the hopes that it would take some of the focus off himself? Was it just another episode like that of Lord Euston?

Many historians deny that the Prince had any involvement in the scandal, continuing the narrative that it was raised to merely try and deflect some of the darker charges from other culprits. Regardless of truth, the inclusion of the Prince’s name gave the case further infamy. This was the moment it would change from a scandal to a cultural phenomenon where homosexual acts and despicable deeds became viewed as aristocratic vices, proof that the very pillars of the establishment were embroiled in decadence of morality, and outright debauchery. Almost a gift to the speculation, Prince Albert’s inclusion led to something most unheard of… The Prince of Wales himself took a key interest in the case, intervening personally to put a stop to the degrading of his son’s character. To the outside eye this could quite easily be seen as an attempt for a cover-up. Indeed, it led to much speculation.

The buzz in the air caused by this scandal did not die down within a few weeks. It became the spark to light the fuse, resulting in an explosion of anti-homosexual activism. The stories surrounding Cleveland Street became legend fast, just another moment to be bandied about in court with regards to ‘gross indecency’.

A review in the Scots Observer asks of Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), “Why go grubbing in muck heaps? … [Wilde] can write for none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys.” This reputation was to come to a head in 1895 at Wilde’s trial. Suffice to say, the release of his novel so close to the scandal led to an inextricable link. Upon verdict, it is reported that a cry of “Shame!” ran through the courtroom and, when the accused looked to the judge and asked “May I say nothing my lord?” the so-called honourable Justice Wills waved a hand at the warders merely to stop the man from fainting to the ground.

The ultimate verdict was that “you, Wilde, have been the centre of a circle of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind.” So it was to be that on the 25th May, 1895, Oscar Wilde was convicted for gross indecency and received the maximum sentence for his crime: two years hard labour.

All that is left to say about the Cleveland Street Scandal is that it has gone down as a cultural keepsake. And although if you were to venture down Cleveland Street now, a search for number 19 would be in vain (the address was stricken from the land register in 1894), the energy of the area lives on in various guises. In Fitzrovia, experience meets art and creativity takes many forms – from sheep in Fitzroy square, to a public-lavatory-turned-coffee-house.

Filmed in Fitzrovia

Filmed in Fitzrovia


Words Peter West

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


Over the years, location scouts, producers and directors have flocked to Fitzrovia to make use of its buildings and streets in a variety of films and TV programmes. Here’s a look at some of those productions. As a prime example of a beautiful Georgian space, Fitzroy Square has attracted many film crews keen to use its authentic locales for historical dramas and period pieces. The BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma (2009) filmed extensively in the square, while 3 Fitzroy Square was the home of Vanessa Redgrave who took the title role in Mrs Dalloway (1997). The interiors of 6 Fitzroy Square served in the BBC pre-Raphaelite drama, Desperate Romantics (2009) and again in Vanity Fair (2004)a version of Thackeray’s novel starring Reece Witherspoon.

Fitzroy Square has also popped up in later time periods such as the pre- and post-WW2 drama The Heart of Me (2003), as well as the BAFTA-winning Vera Drake (2004), the story of an illegal abortionist set in the 1950s, with Imelda Staunton in the eponymous role. More than one filmmaker decided that 33 Portland Place had the right look for an office. It served as Lionel Logue’s office in The King’s Speech (2010) and as the office of Peter Sellers’ agent in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004).

“Sherlock Holmes’ Adventures in Fitzrovia” isn’t the title of a Conan Doyle book, but the area has been used in two films about the great detective: Robert Downey Jr starred in Sherlock Holmes (2009), where scenes were shot in Bedford Square, while the BBC’s Sherlock (2011) filmed a night scene in Whitfield Street for the episode entitled ‘The Reichenbach Fall’. Fitzrovia has caught the eye of horror filmmakers: The Mummy Returns (2001) was filmed in and around UCL, while a city worker met a grizzly end at Tottenham Court Road tube station in An American Werewolf in London (1981). 

But, perhaps the most famous – or infamous – horror film that featured Fitzrovia was Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), which used the Newman Arms, Newman Passage and Rathbone Place as locations. This thriller/horror film, directed by Michael Powell, told the story of a serial killer who captured his victims’ dying expressions of terror on camera. The film was highly controversial when released but was later hailed as a masterpiece. Another controversy-later-acknowledged masterpiece was Stanley Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Curiously, he used Berners Street as a stand-in for Greenwich Village.

Fitzrovian restaurants have featured in films. Hugh Grant tells a girlfriend it’s all over at Hakkasan in Hanway Place in About a Boy (2002). Gwyneth Paltrow both worked and drank at Bertorelli’s on Charlotte Street in the rom-com Sliding Doors (1998). Charlotte Street has appeared in a variety of films including Sapphire (1959), a British crime drama about racial tensionMike Leigh’s film Naked (1983), and Smashing Time (1967), where Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave, two Northern girls in London strolled down the street after a party. Night rain scenes were filmed where Charlotte Street intersects with Percy Street in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971).

Beatlemania was in full swing in 1964 so a Beatles’ film made sense both commercially and as a reward for their dedicated fans. In A Hard Day’s Night (1964), the ‘Fab Four’ ran down Charlotte Street and ended up in the Scala Theatre, where they played a concert. Sadly the theatre no longer exists – it was damaged by fire and later demolished in 1969. Fitzrovia’s largest landmark is the BT Tower. This prominent building has figured in a number of films such as Bedazzled (1967), a British comedy starring Dudley Moore, with Peter Cook as the Devil; Sebastian (1968), where Dirk Bogarde and Susannah York sipped tea in the then-rotating restaurant at the top of the tower. An episode of The New Avengers (1976) showed Garth Hunt and Patrick Macnee (AKA Gambit and Steed) looking out over a deserted London from the 34th floor of the tower. In the War Machines (1966)the original Dr Who, William Hartnell, landed the TARDIS near the BT Tower in Fitzroy Square.

But perhaps the most famous appearance of the BT Tower was not actually the tower at all.  Rather, it was a model. It appeared in an episode of the popular British comedy TV series, The Goodies (1971), which starred Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie: entitled ‘Kitten Kong’, the episode centres on a white fluffy kitten called Twinkles who grows to an extraordinary size after being fed some super-growth food. The shot of the kitten scaling the BT Tower was forever etched on all who saw the episode in the 1970s. You’ll find it on YouTube.

Jack Bond

Jack Bond


Words Kirk Lake

Photography Marie Rose-Storey


“Jane told me she wanted a bear. So I rang Harrods and arranged to have it delivered to us in Wales.”

Jack Bond is telling me about a time back in the early 1970s, when a phone call to Harrods could probably get you anything you wanted. At the time Bond was producing Jane Arden’s directorial debut, The Other Side of the Underneath (1972). He had previously worked with Arden on his first feature, Separation (1967), and on his documentary, Dali in New York, released in 1965. This screen version of Arden’s radical feminist stage production, A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches, was being filmed in the small Welsh town of Nantyglo in 1970 – not the usual habitat for a bear of any kind.

“Well I had imagined a bear like something out of a nursery rhyme,” laughs Jack. “But this one was a sloth bear and had a long pale snout and huge claws. And it wasn’t happy.” The bear was a late addition to the cast of a wild party scene that was to be filmed in the grounds of a ruined castle. Bond had booked some travellers to take part, as well as a band of itinerant musicians and as many local villagers who could be persuaded to turn up on the promise of free food and barrels of beer. To complement Arden’s desire to create an atmosphere of potential chaos and disorder, Bond had also arranged for a coach load of patients from the local psychiatric hospital to join the shoot: as it turned out, the bear was the least of his problems.

“By the time we were ready to wrap for the day it was outright mutiny,” remembers Jack, “The bear had wandered off towards the village and we couldn’t get him back, and the inmates from the hospital were drunk and refused to go home. One of them had run away in a gypsy caravan. After an hour, we managed to cajole them back on to the bus.” All’s well that ends well. Except that wasn’t the end of it: “I followed the coach back towards the hospital, but the van we were travelling in had a flat tyre and, by the time we’d fixed it and caught up with the coach, it had pulled over so that somebody could go for a pee and most of the patients had taken the opportunity to run off into the woods. So we’d filmed the scene, but I’d lost a bear and a busload of psychiatric patients!”

Little wonder that when Bond turned up at the hospital, minus most of the people he’d pledged to take care of, the matron dubbed him the “most irresponsible man on the face of God’s earth.” Irresponsible or not, now in his mid-70s, Jack Bond is one of the last remaining true mavericks of British cinema.  His career began at the BBC – where he was swiftly fired for making up the viewers’ letters on Points of View, only to be rehired to make a documentary on the poetry of World War I – and encompasses television programmes, feature films and eccentric documentaries on the likes of Salvador Dali, Patricia Highsmith, the Pet Shop Boys and, most recently, Adam Ant. Add into this a few years spent as a Hollywood script-doctor, another few spent nefariously on the Swiss/Italian border, and still more as a self-confessed “playboy”, and you end up with a life lived to the full. Even now, Bond has more energy than many men a quarter of his age.

I was originally introduced to Jack by a mutual friend on the suggestion we work together on a book of his life. Now, a few years on, we’re no closer to getting the words down on the page, but we have spent many hours in the pubs and bars near to the Fitzrovia apartment he’s called home for more than a decade. The book still floats above us, but, for Jack, looking back is not as exhilarating as looking forward. His most recent feature length documentary, The Blue Black Hussar (2013), was released late last year and we’ve been working together on a script for his next feature film, Oceanpoint. I’ve even managed to convince him to take his first acting role since the 1960s in the short existential gangster film Over & Over, produced by Powis Square Pictures.

Discussion of his next feature leads Jack to bemoan the state of a British film industry in which anybody who wants to make films that don’t tick the right bureaucratically controlled boxes finds it hard to get funding. “The director, Louis Malle, once told me that, if I’d been born in France, I would’ve been making film after film,” he says ruefully. “But here, it’s fucked. I made a film called Anti-Clock in the 1970s. It won awards in the USA and Andy Warhol called it his film of the year, but when I brought it here, I was offered a pittance for the distribution rights, so I thought, ‘Fuck you, I won’t show it at all.’ And I didn’t. That was a sign of the way things were going.”

Commerciality has never been a prime concern of Jack’s and after Arden’s death in 1982 he had forbidden the screening of any of the films they had made together, and Anti-Clock (1979), a prescient thriller about surveillance society, had been shown only twice in the UK before the BFI embarked on a series of archival Blu-Ray/DVD releases of his films in 2012.  And whilst the approbation of being part of the BFI catalogue is all well and good, Jack’s still keen to keep adding to his filmography. His current project, a typically idiosyncratic film portrait of the artist Chris Moon, has seen him filming in New York and Essex, amongst other locations.

“One day,” he says to me, as he pours out another glass of wine, “we’ll get around to writing that book. But for the moment, I’ve still got films to make.” The Blue Black Hussar is available now on DVD from Sunrise Pictures. Over & Over will screen at various festivals through 2015.

Katie Glass

Katie Glass


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


One of the great things about my job is that I have to know and understand what is new and cool in an area. For me, my work life and living in Fitzrovia complement each other perfectly.”

A place: a home. That restaurant: that vile graffiti sat on the wall. The square: the rattling of Euston Road and the roars of Oxford Street. From coffee shop to coffee shop and bar to bar, this young lady knows just what is defining of Fitzrovia, what makes it a place to be. Indeed, I have met my match in this youthful, cheery character whom delights in calling Fitzrovia her home. Google’s community manager, Katie Glass explains how she came to settle here in our neighbourhood.

It was just an ordinary day in 1987, but then, amid the mounting traffic of the Hammersmith flyover, went Katie’s parents racing with a police escort to the hospital. Having gotten stuck in traffic, her father managed to catch the attention of a police car to escort him and mother-in-labour to hospital. Though she was born in London, Katie was not raised in the city. She grew up in the beautiful ideal setting of Bath, surrounded by masses of farm land, greenery and of course sheep.

Both of her parents being Londoners, throughout her life Katie had always felt that she was a city girl at heart. She wanted to live in the city and decided to take the step of becoming a Londoner in the footsteps of her parents and begin studying in the city. She first began studying Philosophy at UCL, leaving the course in less than a year of starting it. She made the decision to begin studying at King’s College instead, where she read English. During this time, Katie began to familiarise herself with the West-End and the surrounding neighbourhoods to which she instantly felt connected with.

She moved various times when first settling into the city and has lived in various different places, from Stoke Newington to Old Street, and even Marylebone. At one stage she found herself living in the shadow of her mother’s past in Islington. Her parents are property renovators – “not developers!” as she would put it. They share a passion for the creative process of renovating buildings, something which has filtered through to her.

Katie finds herself fascinated with innovation and exploring her own imagination. From history to architecture and design – she often actively and inactively seeks to uncover the answers behind matters, especially now living in our neighbourhood. Katie eventually found home right here in Fitzrovia via a close friend who miraculously decrypted a Chinese notice for a vacant flat on Windmill Street, soon to become her shared home.

Living in our neighbourhood instantly began to have an effect of Katie, who tells me that, “inner-city living means that my routine isn’t broken up. I hated taking the tube to work when living in different parts of the city. I walk to work now; my home life and my day job are completely interconnected.” Following university, she worked in various different roles until she found herself a freelance job working at AKQA on their Nike account. Whilst there, Katie began interviewing for various new roles until she found a role at Google. With numerous locations all over the city, Katie mostly works in the Victoria offices of the company (though she also spends time at the offices just off Tottenham Court Road and Seven Dials). “One of the great things about my job is that I have to know and understand what is new and cool in an area. For me, my work life and living in Fitzrovia complement each other perfectly.” Glass explains.

Her role with Google in community management uses her gift to be interested in knowing and understanding areas particularly well – hence she is just about as culture and lifestyle orientated as they come. I find myself baffled mid-conversation with Katie to find that she can quite easily interpret a particular bar, restaurant or social hangout on the basis of very little: particularly in the case of Fitzrovia which, to my annoyance, she knows alarmingly well. Nonetheless, Katie has exceptionally good taste and frequently uses her social media platforms to document her endeavours throughout London, the UK and beyond.

Her role with Google is a balance between marketing and community management. This entails working alongside Google City Experts and, in looking after a community, taking care of the social channels that are local to an area, such as Google Local London, via various social media platforms. Alongside her online role, she also organises events for members of Google City Experts throughout the country. As she would put it, these events involve ensuring that members are taken to the coolest locations without fail. “I guess living here I can’t help but build my home into my work. Even a few events that we have arranged have been in Fitzrovia. Not so long ago we organised a visit to the BT Tower. During the event somebody from BT stood up to talk about the tower, we also had photography lessons being given.” She explains to me.

Today Katie lives on Great Portland Street and is occasionally fortunate enough to work from her local restaurants and coffee shops in the area. Katie is defining of what it means to be actively living in Fitzrovia. An example of young people living in the neighbourhood, she is one of the new breed, if you will. Her fascination for the area is evident; her passion is undying and only grows. There is a journalistic way about Katie in how she leads her life here. “I always try and distinguish how much of my behaviour is based on because I’m generally interested in something and how much of it is driven because of my work.” She laughs to me. “My Dad, being self-employed, would always say to me, ‘don’t try to fit yourself to a job. Try to find a job that fits you.’” And, to that, she truly has. For Katie, Fitzrovia feels concealed from the rest of London. Like myself, she still feels that slight shivering feeling when meeting people in the city who do not know the area of Fitzrovia, despite how central in the city it is.

Erin Barry & Fraser Watson

Erin Barry & Fraser Watson


Words Peter McSweeney

Photography Adedotun Adesanya


“We share the same work ethic and lifestyle of being creative all the time. So we thought, why not start a business where we bring these skills together?”

In a Georgian house just off Fitzroy Square, two filmmakers express their genuine love for living in Fitzrovia and, not only creating, but living out their projects in the area. With their hearts firmly set in Fitzrovia, I talk to Erin Barry and Fraser Watson, a powerhouse wonder-couple whose career as a pair of independent filmmakers is taking shape in their new-found company Foliage Films.

Fraser originates from a very small village in Scotland, where around 4,000 people live. He came to London for art school, studying sculpture at Camberwell in South London. Erin grew up in the Metro Detroit area near a lake in Michigan, USA. She came to London in 2003, originally to do an internship at The Face Magazine. She tells me, “I was curious to travel and to live abroad as all the magazines and culture seemed avant-garde and raw compared to the overly retouched and perfect imagery in America. I liked how raw and rough the models and magazines looked. It felt much more real and honest to me.” She spent 2 years living in New York City before returning to London, and she has been living here for nearly a decade.

Erin & Fraser’s relationship sparked when Erin moved into an art studio in the same building as Fraser over in Marylebone. She remembers when she first came to his studio; he had over 500 VHS tapes, he said he loved the way VHS tapes age over time and all the imperfections of film. They (like me) share a love of film stocks and have an eye for colour. It was a slow burning friendship that soon caught fire. They later moved to Fitzroy Street across from French’s Theatre Bookshop. They started their own business in 2013, working as freelance designer/art directors for various brands, including photography and video. Erin tells me, “I believe that you are either creative or you’re not – it’s a complete lifestyle for me. When I met Fraser I was totally blown away by his absolute enthusiasm for creativity and his sheer passion for stories and movies. We share the same work ethic and lifestyle of being creative all the time. So we thought, why not start a business together where we bring these skills together?”

We begin to discuss how they came to be in and what it is about the neighbourhood that made the two want to live here. Fraser explains, “I can’t say I really spent any time in Fitzrovia before 2012, but it definitely kept a hold of me as soon as I did. I love the fact I can walk to work, I’ve lived all over London and the commute time was really getting me down; I wanted the 20 hours a week back so I could spend it working on other things. I love how quiet it is at the weekend. The architecture is some of the best in London: from the square to the Saatchi building, it’s a very entertaining place to live.”

Erin used to live in Ogle Street and she gleams, “That was one of the best summers of my entire life. I would walk to and from work to meet clients – never once setting foot on the tube. The sheer amount of time I save by walking!” Erin is a woman after my own heart. When you look at London life for 90% of people, it often results in 10 hours a week traveling, 20 or more for many others. Living in central might cost a few more pennies but, with what you save in travel, and the gift of time, it’s a price worth paying in my book. That time can be spent creating, which is why so many young entrepreneurs are based in Fitzrovia.

We talk a little more about living in the area and what impact the Fitzrovia neighbourhood has had on their own creative direction, as well as the process of setting up the company. Erin jumps in to say how she finds Fitzrovia really inspiring. We talk about the convenience when meeting clients and being able to pack more meetings into a day. She tells me, “I also feel like it has as a great balance of work and home lifestyle. The energy of the people and local businesses are great – it keeps me motivated. I love the greenery of the square and having Regent’s Park at my doorstep.”

Fraser talks about how living in the area has definitely helped the progression of Foliage Films and how easy it is to have collaborators and clients over for meetings. “As it’s in the middle of London,” he tells me, “with lots of great transport links, it feels like we are building something great, and people are responding well.” They both agree that they shall be staying in Fitzrovia no matter how large the company gets.

We begin discussing projects abroad as Fraser informs me that they are actually on their way to catch a flight to shoot and direct a music video in New Orleans. Next they will be directing and producing a short, dark comedy for modern women, to enter into festivals next year. Eventually, they want to move into film production more as producers for Foliage Films and bring together a strong team of creative people to collaborate on bigger projects. The two explain that amongst their high profile clients, and of course one of their personal favourites, is Fitzrovia Journal.

Somehow we get onto the subject of Erin’s Piano. As Fraser states it as one of the reasons he won’t be moving out of Fitzrovia; “I have moved Erin’s piano too many times already. Do you know how many men it takes to move an upright piano…?” He jokes, “When we first met I thought it was beautiful that Erin owned a piano, who thought then I would have moved the piano 3 times already?”

We begin to bring our conversation to a close, talking a little more about their work. They have a few more music videos in pre-production, so 2015 will be exciting for them. Erin expresses how interested she is to see how they can do something different in video that isn’t really being done and work with lots of different people from bands to brands, from businesses to actors needing video tests for their show-reel. “Each brief is different, it’s taking what the client wants but also making it your own style and putting your own spin on it- working with a great team of collaborators also helps! We have met a few screenwriters recently who we are collaborating a few short film projects.” Erin says.

What strikes me about Erin and Fraser – or Fraser and Erin – is that they both come from an Art background. There is a new trend of original work coming from areas of creative education like Art School. Hammersmith-born filmmaker and Oscar winner Steve McQueen also comes from such a background. On the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, the two explain how they would personally like to see the area grow furthermore into a creative hub in its already strong contemporary state and heritage.

As we wrap things up, Fraser has one burning question… “Why are there not more cool bars, New York style bars that play Live Music till late in the area?” This is something for a Fitzrovia entrepreneur to tackle in 2015 possibly? If you launch one, let us know! We will spread the word.