All posts by darkblue

The Riding House Cafe

The Riding House Cafe

Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alexandria Coe

The unanimity of secrets and veils, the conformity, the place where we all go. In my home town of Leicester, it’s said that you can tell a Leicesterian by their insistence upon meeting at the clock tower any time of the day. Here in Fitzrovia, it is said you can tell a Fitzrovian by their insistence upon meeting at 43-51 Great Titchfield Street morning, noon and night. Sat at the corner of Riding House Street and Great Titchfield Street, I give you the story of this infamous meeting spot that doubles as a work point for creative types locally and afar. Alas the local haunt, The Riding House Café.

Our story begins in south London, Bermondsey. Adam White had previous ambitions of designing fast lawnmowers and bread baskets, for his friend. Clive Watson, it was being a DJ. Leaving their backgrounds’ behind them, Adam and Clive decided to pool their talents and turn their passion towards hospitality with the ambition of creating a successful gastropub that caters for the needs of the local community. In 2003, the pair opened The Garrison Public House in the fast-developing Bermondsey Village. With its success, the two decided a few years later to open a cocktail bar and brasserie in East Village at the far end of Bermondsey Street. Both sites became a go-to within the creative community as a workplace.

Having founded Village London, with two successful sites up and running in Bermondsey, Adam and Clive had in mind a new prospect. The philosophy behind Village London is to create local spaces that people can learn to love, where creative communities can flourish, its members finding a home away from home. Their intention was to open a third site in the West-End. With the idea growing on them, the two discovered Fitzrovia.

Feeling that the area captured the Village London philosophy, they felt it could mirror what they had already found success in. This fish-bowl like space on Great Titchfield Street, at the base of an unattractive 1950s block, was once the home to a number of chain offerings and questionable concepts. When Adam and Clive discovered the site almost four years ago, their determination to turn this space into a welcoming and attractive local restaurant similar to those they had established in Bermondsey seemed somewhat ambitious.

‘The café’ (as I so often hear it referred to) may find itself misperceived by non-residents. Before my first visit, it was my belief that this was a formal dining environment where people flourish and play – I’m almost certain that I’m still known as the Fitzrovia Journal guy. Like many Fitzrovia hotspots, the staff are well connected with the abundance of local coffeehouses, salons and creative businesses. A welcoming, informal environment with curios such as a number of stuffed squirrels, architectural salvage from around the globe and antiques that fill this individual setting, The Riding House Café came to open its doors in April 2011.

Amongst the catalogue of global cuisines in the area, The Riding House Café has found itself frequented by local Fitzrovian’s as a retreat throughout the day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Although largely a destination for Fitzrovians and our Soho cousins just across the Oxford Street border, the restaurant has found itself a reliable work setting for creative types. Meetings of creative origin take place all day long at the restaurant – I must confess that a lot of my own take place here too – offering its early morning until late evening menus daily, led by head chef, Paul Daniel. A modern brasserie, the Riding House Café’s dishes vary from the Fitzroviaesque Titchfield muesli with nuts, to Falmouth Bay rock oysters and the renowned ‘special recipe’ cheeseburger.

As you pass by the lounge chairs to the back of the restaurant, you will find yourself transported into the basement of the café where you’ll find The Stables: A private, concealed area, capable of seating 14 people, the room is a cross between a horse stable and a hunting lodge. The room offers seclusion under the streets of Fitzrovia that’s almost unrivalled in the area. Annoyingly enough, I wasn’t aware that it existed until now.

If you stare into a wash of liquors, beers and wines where the bartender moves back and forth behind the long bar, you’ll notice the whispers of fashion styling, marketing and film, wetting the appetite for your own creative endeavour. An illustrator may sit to add the final detailing to their next project, or a writer sat discussing the completion of a novella. Signature cocktails include another nod to the neighbourhood with the Fitzroy twinkle, the Negroni Sbagliato and, with a nod to the south London routes of the Café, the elegant Bermondsey Breeze.

It goes without saying that, since its appearance, the Café has made its mark on the surrounding area having integrated itself as a unique way for Fitzrovia to connect and network. On top of its high standards of cuisine and its reputable bar, the Riding House Café clearly reflects the surrounding community; people coming together in the heart of the West-End. The Riding House Café has set the standard in Fitzrovia for an all-day meeting point and sits proudly as a place where creativity thrives. I find myself consistently telling people to meet me at The Riding House Café, or simply ‘the café’. This is certainly one my favourite meeting points in the area. What is your local Fitzrovia haunt?

The Writing on the Walls

The Writing on the Walls

Words Jane Singer

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss

Sitting on the border of Westminster and Camden, historically bohemian Fitzrovia is affluent in both its business interests and property owners. It is also classed as ‘above averagely deprived’. Through this disparity, the visual markings of graffiti, defined as ‘writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place’, are common. These include works by the well-known Banksy and Bambi, but also by lesser known artists, part of the Burning Candy crew and High Roller Society, such as Mighty Mo and Gold Peg. Graffiti is usually anonymous and on someone else’s property, but above all, it is illegal. Thus, it is both amusing and infuriating the differing stances taken by Westminster Council on graffiti. However, they could, in the end, have the last laugh in the face of this illegal visual expression of opinion.

Beyond the legal issues, graffiti is seen as an artistic movement that includes several different styles (spray-paint graffiti, street art and stencil) and is associated with varying socio-cultural groups. What makes it art comes down to the viewer. For those artists like Banksy, their artistic quality has been recognised and in turn, their art has been attributed monetary value. Such pieces have drawn interest from collectors and gallery owners and sold for thousands. Despite the financial gains, graffiti is illegal since it is created without permission from the owner of the surface upon which it is placed. Additionally, it remains illegal, even when the graffiti does not damage the property owner and in some cases, increases the value of the property.

Consent is vital in the production of graffiti. Although, with prior consent, it wouldn’t be graffiti! Property owners can consent ex post facto to graffiti that was originally unauthorised. In these cases, property owners have accepted the graffiti works on their property (usually for the potential financial value), leaving the artists free from arrest. A recent example is Bristol Council deciding to keep one of Banksy’s graffiti pieces after an open poll showed that city residents favoured preservation of the work.

One of the most well-known pieces of graffiti by Banksy is One Nation under CCTV. Painted on a wall looking onto the vehicle parking yard and Newman Street, an area of London under heavy surveillance, Banksy’s piece, like so many of his others, examines political issues.  Here, he is protesting against Britain’s surveillance system. The image depicts a young boy wearing a hoodie on the sixth rung of a tall ladder, rolling out the block lettering. To the left is a police officer and watchdog. The irony is that the boy is openly mocking the police officer and the government’s attempts to restrain his freedom painting, by his piece against CCTV surveillance right under a CCTV surveillance camera.  A closer inspection reveals the CCTV camera to be on a pan and tilt motorised mounting, but the operators do not seem to move its field of view at all. Like so many London CCTV cameras, it provides a convenient roosting perch for pigeons and other birds. Banksy’s text is also a play on the American Pledge of Allegiance, whereby citizens pledge their loyalty to the US. Taking the stance that it was “graffiti and if you condone this then what is the difference between this and all the other graffiti you see scrawled across the city?” Westminster Council painted over it in 2009. The Council argued that Banksy had not sought permission from the owner.

Having a change of heart and possibly swayed by the potential financial gains, Westminster Council opted to keep Banksy’s 2011 piece If graffiti changed anything – it would be illegal. The lettering is written in blood red paint with the stencil of a rat with red paint on one its paws, appearing as if it has recently signed the work with a paw print. Not without political meaning, Banksy pays homage to anarchist Emma Goldman, who, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, founded Mother Earth, an anarchist magazine. A strong advocate of women’s rights and social issues, she expressed her frustration with the political system, famously saying, “If voting changed anything, it would be illegal.” Perhaps playing on his own frustrations with the illegality of graffiti, Banksy’s piece remains in its original location, attracting tourists and Londoners alike.

Accompanying this graffiti on the corner of Clipstone Street and Cleveland Street is one of the 12 Rude Popes by Bambi, nicknamed ‘the female Banksy’. Stencilled in 2013 on top of the protective Perspex covering Banksy’s piece, it depicts an image of Pope Benedict XVI, who stepped down in February of that year, sticking two fingers up in a rude gesture. Bambi’s work costs tens of thousands of pounds and she has been commission by celebrities including Rihanna, Robbie Williams, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Will this additional piece of graffiti add to the potential financial value of the wall?

There are though, hundreds of graffiti works in Fitzrovia. Yet, when does graffiti become vandalism and unwanted? In 2012, a series of yellow spray paint stencils saying ‘fight the Bid’ and ‘No BID in Fitzrovia’ started appearing on bins and pavements in Fitzrovia. It was in protest of the planned BID (Business Improvement District) in Fitzrovia. Many residents publicly voiced their disproval and anger of this graffiti although ironically, the graffiti campaign only added to the argument for the BID which was proposed in order to improve the ‘inner city slump’ by ‘business interests’. Despite the resistance, the Fitzrovia BID was formed.

It would appear that the owner of the building (on which the wall the graffiti is created) becomes the owner of the graffiti and potentially, owner of a valuable piece of art. Thus, Westminster Council could be sitting on several hundreds of thousands of pounds in the form of a Banksy and Bambi piece, no less together. With political and social messages imbued in his works and a recognisable dislike for authority and the establishment, how entertaining it would be to see Westminster Council benefit financially from the art of Banksy.

The Fitzrovia Community Garden

The Fitzrovia Community Garden

Words Centre Director

Photography Erin Barry

“Putting the garden together was both exhilarating and joyful. At the same time it was one of the most challenging things we have ever taken on as a Centre.”

The whole experience was powered by sheer hard work fuelled by the one-minded belief that the Centre could take a dark, unwelcoming and neglected space and transform it into something remarkable for all to enjoy. The project, which also included the Warren and Whitfield Street site, was a much needed respite from the more mundane day-to-day operational demands of running the Fitzrovia Community Centre (FCC). Towards the end of the project we were up against the clock, working seven day weeks in order to complete all work on time.

From the beginning, we knew that it was important to create something that matched the high standards of the building. And in the end what we achieved is a village fête-come-English country garden with just a smidge of Alice in Wonderland’s ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party’. What set the project apart was the need to give recognition and visibility to something that deserved to be cared for whilst having a clear vision of what the space could be.

The important starting point was to harness the potential of local talent and resources in the area, capturing the spirit of Fitzrovia. As a result, over 100 people were involved in putting together the garden; this of course required a high degree of interpersonal competence. As a Centre, we wanted to help people to reconnect with what was around them and discover what inspired them about the neighbourhood. “Engaging a community is a challenge. Good communities are created, they don’t happen by chance. People come into a community often and need to realise they’re not checking into an area, they’re checking into a family. I am always curious to understand who and what creates a good community – is it the people from the safe environment, the perfect environment or the imperfect environment? It’s a diverse mixture of backgrounds that create it. Everybody ultimately transcends into the creator category of a good community; that’s the challenge for us as a Centre.” Edward Turner, Fitzrovia Community Centre Chair, explains.

While our objective was to create a peaceful haven in the heart of the West End it was anything but a peaceful process. Fraught with setbacks and let downs and disappointments, each day presented a new challenge, but this only served to bolster our enthusiasm, unleash our creativity and embrace the extraordinary that is Fitzrovia.

The ability to participate and make it a shared challenge is the essence of collaboration which is what community is all about. The choices we make to get involved, to be engaged and contribute in some way encourages the heart, you get drawn in and the experience makes you want to do more. Here at the Centre we like to think that we pay attention to what we believe is important. What the garden project provided us with was an opportunity to build something in the community with the community and for the community. It is something we can say we achieved together.

The Middlesex Hospital closed almost a decade ago, and with it the former nurses’ quarters, John Astor House (JAH). The eastern corner of the building was refurbished and reopened as the Fitzrovia Community Centre around 2 years ago on the back of section 106 funding. JAH was sold last year to leading housing association, Genesis.

We also wanted to set an example of cooperation and reciprocity not simply amongst those that use the facilities at the Centre but with people who work in the area, with local tradespeople, housing associations, community organisations, residents, developers, businesses and creative industries. Pivotal to our success was the on-going support from Derwent London and Soundings, the donation of planters and support with the irrigation system. Input from Sir Robert McAlpine, Kier and Knight Harwood, who undertook the masonry and construction work, Metro Bank were responsible for the bulk of planting. The children from All Souls Primary School had a hand with the design and parents from the school produced the bunting. Additional funds were also provided by Circle 33, horticultural hours from Westminster Adult Education (WAES) in the form of Clive McEwan, and historian Mike Pentelow assisted with the local history element.

Creating the garden itself was the easy task. Measuring in at just 12.5m x 6.9m, the Centre knew that in order to make the most out of the small space it would be essential to make sure every millimetre counts. Sitting in the shadow of the BT tower, we were also guided by the nuances of the existing buildings; the outside wall of the disused swimming pool, the flat roof of the electrical sub-station, the grand Georgian windows and the huge party wall with its strong vertical dimensions. These marked out the boundaries of the courtyard. From within the Centre itself, we wanted to make most of the bridge at the top of the stairs which now allows for a perfect vantage point from which to capture a sweeping view of the entire courtyard. We wanted to achieve intimacy, calm and a sense of seclusion.

To the side of the electrical sub-station, hidden from view, stands a small sentry shed imported from Germany, which is perfect for the gardening equipment. At the base of the steps that lead up to the disused swimming pool sits the decommissioned Smeg fridge which will house a small outdoor library. An uncomplicated and low maintenance design, the copper topped gazebo with its easy elegance dominates the centre of the space giving form and resonance to the structure of the garden, offering both shelter in the rain and use as a buggy park, which is very practical. In 1877 one in every three children in the area died before the age of five. Disease spread quickly as a result of overcrowding. While those threats no longer remain, the development of children and family services is important for both the Centre and the future of Fitzrovia as a residential area.

Here and there are classical touches: the mural adds a focus of interest, the impact of the Moroccan water feature visually extended by under-planting with Cordyline. The mosaic table gives a nod to the Romans who invaded in 43 AD, nearly 2,000 years ago, and built the road where Oxford Street is now. On the roof of the sub-station stands a sheep. A donation from the British Library, it is a reminder that the area of Fitzrovia was once pasture land. There is a surprise element that works well, a 21st century urban fox. With an eclectic mix of furniture, the garden is enveloped in swathes of bunting.

Much of the garden is frost free in the winter, and cool in the summer. Its size and scale made it easier to invest in good quality plants. Suppliers including Homebase provided much of the larger evergreens and specimen plants. A simple mixed planting of small trees, magnolia and acer, and shrubs like the large leaved false castor oil plant (Fastia Japonica), red robin and bay, mingled with thoughtfully combined herbaceous perennials, the general tone is restful and subdued. Small beds were constructed to provide balance to the oversized planters which are assembled to create different levels and frame the enclosed space. The whole area is now carpeted with an immaculate lawn.

“It was a case of people giving up some of their time or lending their own particular skill/product to the project that wouldn’t take up much of their time or cost them much at all. Had we gone out into the market and looked for this, from a financial point of view the project never would’ve got off the ground. The businesses involved have gotten as much out of the project as we have – those involved wanted to be more active in their local community,” explains Edward.

To the back of the garden, along the wall of the disused swimming pool is a topiary garden of bay and yew under-planted by blue lobelia and to the left, behind the up-cycled sofa, the 6m high bamboo provides a partial screen. Large structural tropical plants, such as the Mediterranean fan palm and Chinese windmill palm sit comfortably with silver variegated holly and other evergreens. Elsewhere there are hostas, ferns, euphorbia, hardy and ornamental sage. Cascades of colour are provided by annuals which will die back to allow for seasonal planting.

It is hoped that the garden will evolve in time, a goal that will require the continued support of volunteers to maintain it. It is also available for hire. Towards the end of the summer when the nights grow shorter, the bunting will be replaced by 1000 Led lights in the autumn. The Centre also hopes to develop a pop-up café. The first Indoor/Outdoor exhibition is due to take place in the spring of next year when we will be introducing ArtFitzrovia. At present, on display is a photographic exhibition by Julian Foy featuring local tailor Paul Kitsaros of Cleveland Street.

Over 250 people came out to support the opening, bringing new people to the Centre. Having been awarded the initial community grant of £30,000 from Derwent London we never imagined how successful the project would be.

Shabnam Eslambolchi

Shabnam Eslambolchi

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Astrid Schulz

“I use a lot of elements of people’s lives in my work: history, art and culture. By juxtaposing them I try to create a sense of an immersive tangible sublime…”

If you speak, do so with grace. Silks, cottons and threads. Shades of nude and turquoise. I first came to know of Shabnam through designer, Andreas Kristoffer Feet, in the Summer of 2013. Though I did not meet her personally, I was (quite embarrassingly) working alongside a group of striking young girls who were modelling her collection. Stood just behind them was me, fairly nervous, wearing a sleeveless shirt and getting ready to step up onto the runway at the London College of Fashion press show.

Shabnam was raised in Tehran, Iran and has led a rather cosmopolitan life. As a youngster, her passion was very much in art; she painted and still does today. When it came to making a decision as to what to study, she was torn between studying the arts or the sciences. Her family background is in business and sciences, and she was encouraged to have her passion for creativity and her interest in art as something partial to a career. And so, a little different to her life in the fashion world today, Shabnam decided to study natural resources engineering. Her passion, however, has always been with the arts and creativity, though she does admit, herself, to a small affair with mathematics and physics.

Her degree lasted for over 6 years in total: exploring natural resources, specifically different elements of aquatic systems. Although in a somewhat unconventional way, her degree gave her the opportunity to explore her fascination with nature. She began to focus on learning about population genetics, a branch of molecular genetics and thus exploring just what can be taken from the environment or a population, without then damaging it. For instance; how many of a particular breed of fish can be taken from the ocean before the species population becomes damaged, or on the verge of extinction? Following her degree, Shabnam began working in a prestigious research centre in her home country of Iran.

After some time, she decided that it was time to leave, a choice she discusses with me: “It is home, but at some stage in life we have to leave home or we’ll never grow up. Iran had given me whatever it could and at that point I had already offered what I could. Had I stayed there longer, it would have become a plateau situation,” she says. On leaving Iran, she lived for some time in various other places, believing that living in different locations would help to bestow a better perspective of the world.

A career in engineering behind her, much to the surprise of those she knew, Shabnam made the move to settle here in London, initially settling in the East-End of the city. With her passion for creativity and the arts looming, she decided that it was time at last for her to pursue her passion and apply it to fashion design. She began studying Fashion Design Technology: Womenswear at London College of Fashion (LCF): “The best place to do something internationally in fashion was always going to be in London.”

During her studies she came to meet the man who would become her husband, Yann, and she soon found the home that she knew she’d been searching for all along. Love at first sight as she would describe it. It was thanks to her husband that Shabnam soon discovered Fitzrovia as he has lived in the area for almost 10 years. “It is the perfect neighbourhood. There is a unity but also an amazing diversity here. As a result, it provides you with ‘the feeling of belonging” but, unlike some other areas in London, Fitzrovia doesn’t put a label on its residents. It also has had some sort of direct and in-direct input on my work. What I love is that it is an all charm area, it is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in London. To me it is like living in a piece of history, not just an area. There are also some modern buildings such as the BT tower in the neighbourhood without damaging the historical charm” she laughs.

Shabnam had already built up a smaller label back home in Tehran at the time she was studying engineering and her studies at LCF offered a chance to develop her skills as a designer, setting the groundwork towards creating a larger label here in London. I ask her how she found studying fashion in England: “It was a very mixed bag whilst I was at LCF. Sometimes, especially during the first year I felt it wasn’t getting me where I wanted to be” she admits. But in the last year of her studies, her involvement in different external projects and through working directly with Rob Phillips, creative director of LCF, the situation turned into something challenging, more productive and interesting. Here she began to experiment with various ideas and concepts for her designs, resulting in the creation of a collection entitled ‘The Plateau’: a modern interpretation of her homeland, a bricolage of different elements from history, costume and both Persian ancient and modern art and literature. In other words: a contemporary homage to the history and culture of Persia. At the end of her course this collection was exhibited on the runaway by LCF at The Yard, Shoreditch.

‘The Plateau’ is riddled with subtle hints to its cultural roots; the sculptural shapes of the bodices and sleeves were mainly inspired by ancient Persian statues and clothing from royal dynasties in Iran – this certainly explains Shabnam’s obsession with shapes and the mixing of different elements. She also chose a dominant use of pale colours inspired by the ‘wabi-sabi’ aesthetic: a simple and rustic beauty, and the colour ‘white-crème’, the primary colour used by the Persians to express serenity and peacefulness. These shades are occasionally accompanied by the symbolic use of expressive block colours such as different blues and ochre yellow.

Shabnam explains the reasoning behind her eclectic aesthetics: My designs are contemporary narratives created by juxtaposing different elements of human life. By reflecting on culture, history and art in my work I create objects of beauty which are socially conscious.” Elucidating on this point, she talks about what exactly goes into crafting the effect: “Abstract forms and voluminous shapes, as well as symbolic use of block colours accompanied by pale shades are the other highlights of my aesthetics to create a sense of an immersive tangible sublime. If time allows me, I would love to make the first samples for my designs myself. In the process of making, I think about the pure joy of creating something. It feels natural to me.”

Shabnam is currently designing her new womenswear collection and is also working on building up her business; though she believes it will still take a few of years to become well-established. Although based in Fitzrovia, she works and designs from her studio in Hackney. She hopes to open a boutique whilst also focus on wholesale. She aims to manufacture her womenswear line right here in England, in order to help maintain a high level of quality in her products, as well as to guarantee an ethical production process.

Today, Shabnam has lived in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood for almost 5 years. She finds herself inspired by the environment of the area. From what she tells me, Fitzrovia is rife with the inspiring spirit that helps fuel creative endeavours: “As a designer I get a lot of my inspirations from people and the world around me. I just walk around and see so many things that inspire me. I get lots of ideas from literature also, walking past Virginia Woolf’s house always inspires an urge to create in me.” On a whole, she never intended to just ‘make clothes’; she wanted to bring an artistic sensibility to her fashion. If you speak, do so with grace.

Julian White

Julian White

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Erin Barry

“Without stories civilisation would wither and die. They are the basis of everything we do: fantasy, religion, education, projection and motivation. Stories recounted by your elders embellished by history and conjecture are endlessly fascinating.”

Films, like any art form, are made through patience, diligence, collaboration and creative thought. Every frame of a film that you have seen did not simply occur, they were brought to life by intensive decision making and a multitude of ideas both creatively and financially. Each character and set, crafted and enhanced beyond its norm, translates onto screen due to the myriad of technicians employed through its trajectory. A chief lighting technician or “Gaffer”, Julian White tells me of his past, his career in the film industry and his painting.

​Born in Amersham, 1966, Julian has always been something of a wanderer. When he was 2 months old, his parents moved to Senegal, West Africa. 3 years later, they moved to Stockholm and then to Bombay at the age of 6. He attended Highgate boys’ school for one year before moving to a large Cambridgeshire comprehensive.

During this time, a friend of his Italian grandmother gave Julian a set of oil paints and took him for a day’s painting in the Italian countryside. He tells me of the result of this trip: “My mother has that painting hung in her kitchen. It wasn’t a masterpiece but it was something I enjoyed. The smell of the paint and oil was enough. Back home drawing and painting opened up another world.” Encouraged by his parents and art teachers, he soon made it his main goal in life to draw and sketch the local farmlands at weekends and painting every day, describing it as ‘the only thing in the world.’

After an arts foundation course at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, he concluded his BA at the Liverpool School of Art: “I loved my foundation course.” He says of his studies, “Unfortunately, my degree wasn’t quite the same. The last place I wanted to be was at college.” It was by happy chance that Julian met another student, Michael Hurst: “Mike was a local to Liverpool, he had a rich knowledge in the culture of Liverpool’s art scene and already dabbling in films and performance art.” I’m told of this burgeoning friendship. “Bumping into him in the canteen, we chatted briefly and we agreed to try and make some kind of art. We worked together for the next five years, constructing performance art pieces as well as making personal films for our degree; graduating in 1988.” At the time he had begun to do some lighting for the Bluecoat Performing Arts Centre, including world music acts, one night theatre and dance pieces such as Sun Ra, Ken Campbell, Ian McCullogh and Fugazi. Since he had no training or prior knowledge in this art form, each day became a day of learning.

The last year of college saw his life begin to take a turn for the worst; His eldest brother died of cancer, he lost his father to a fatal cardiac arrest, life’s grim realities were beginning to hit home. By the age of 24 he had become a home owner, a husband and a father. Having left the world of performing arts after the death of a collaborator and friend, Julian found that he needed to get some work. A colleague of his, who had started working at Mersey TV, suggested a job in the arts department, although he had some reservations about accepting: “I did it, but never really synched with it. I just needed the money. The problem became ‘why I was doing it…’ my motivation was a life that I never imagined or really wanted.”

The gap began to widen between what he wanted to do and what he had to do. In the frantic scurry to bail out his family, but without the any real life-skills at his disposal, Julian began to lose sight of who he was: “My first real act of growing up had begun. All of the pieces of the jigsaw I thought were destined to fit had changed shape. The picture was blurred and I couldn’t work out what was relevant anymore,” he says.

Seeing his mother losing a son followed with the birth of his own, Felix, the circle seemed to turn inwards on itself. In less than two years of college, it was almost impossible to recognise what his life had been and what he wanted to be. ​Removing himself from “the equation” in an attempt to come to terms with it all, Julian made the difficult decision to go to Seville. “The only way you can get true focus, perspective, is distance, objectivity,” Julian muses.

He left in a £200 car with all of his possessions and, after nearly a week of driving in a broken down, over-heating car, and sleeping in the boot, he made it. It was in Seville that Julian was to meet New Yorker, Christina Boehm, now his partner, he attributes his success in finding a balance solely to her: “We met almost within three weeks of arriving. Within a month we had moved in together. On paper it should never have been. We celebrated our 22 year anniversary in August, Cristina was the making of me. She’s my life and my soul mate,” he explains.

Upon their return to England, Julian and his now partner, Christina, spent some time in Brighton before making their way to London, or, more specifically, Fitzrovia. Julian tells of this return: “I’d spent the early months of 1991 sharing a small flat in Gosfield Street with a friend and really enjoyed it, so we decided to look in W1. It seemed such a fantasy but, having lived here now for over ten years, we couldn’t live anywhere else in London.” He expresses the inherent homeliness of the area, “Everything is at your fingertips, there’s all you need, including the community. Many of the shopkeepers, café owners and restaurateurs we know by name and feel a sense of belonging. Considering we live between the ‘river of cars’ that is Euston Road and the ‘river of people’ that is Oxford Street, it’s amazing that anything living or cultured could exist. This area of London, including Soho, Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Mayfair has always been deep in cultural, political and artistic endeavour. From Karl Marx to Jimi Hendrix it has had some of the most interesting feet in history walking its pavements.” I instantly recognise the feeling as he relays it to me.

​Julian sees his painting as a way of creating something in isolation where film-making is something of a different beast altogether: “When I’m working on a film it is collaborative, which I like, but I’m part of it but not ‘it’. It isn’t solely mine, I share it. It imposes limitations on me which I accept. Others problems are my problems and vice versa.” He says of the difficulties encountered in collaborative project, “My art, however, has no such limitations, when I stop painting the painting stops. If the painting is bad it is my fault. I love them both. I guess when I leave as a physical body I feel a need to leave some unique impression to state I existed.”

​Julian’s career in film has humble beginnings; it started with him working as an electrician until progressing to working as a gaffer. Over the past 15 years, his career has thrived and he has moved further into the film industry. Some of the earlier projects Julian worked on include the 2004 adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, ‘Enduring Love”]’, Hanif Kureshi’s 2006 film, ‘Venus’, a Vietnam war film by celebrated director, Werner Herzog, even ‘The American’ a 2009 thriller set in Italy that stars George Clooney, although it is the 2007 profile of the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, ‘Control’ that he describes as his favourite film experience. Most recently, he’s almost finished with the long and demanding hours working on Brian Helgeland’s ‘Legend,’ with Tom Hardy as infamous gangsters, Ron and Reg Kray. Despite the impressive resume, such jobs still seem to surprise Julian as he tells me about his thoughts on being in the business: “I never expected to work in the film industry and am proud to have made 27 films. I wish my dad had been alive so I could have introduced him to Peter O’Toole, Michael Caine and John Hurt among others. My father was a big influence on my decision to keep on in the industry. I’m sure he would have been thrilled to meet his heroes” he says.

Julian’s father seems to have had a major influence in his career. In Bombay, he ran a cinema club which Julian would often visit and upon returning to England, his father took him to see Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane and other classics at the local Community Centre’s cinema club: “He seemed to be rather lapse on enforcing the films certification” Julian laughs.

Making films is never a solitary activity and, in his work, Julian meets hundreds of people in short spaces of time with whom he finds himself working alongside during the long inhospitable hours. As tedious as this may sometimes get, however, Julian likes to on the bright side of the situation: “With it come huge amounts of camaraderie, laughter, banter and emotional support. It can be an 18-23 hour day with few pauses. By standing in the snow, hail, rain, blazing sunshine and wind swept desolate landscapes, sometimes all night, you see how people are and can be. Pressure brings out people’s emotions; who are fighters and who are healers? Who can see their way through the complexities of the project? It can be the best and the worst place to be” he explains. Julian currently lives with his girlfriend, Cristina along New Cavendish Street. A neighbour and friend, we once lived only 2 doors down the corridor from one another in our apartments in Collingwood House, now we still meet from time to time for coffee, another part of the puzzle that makes up Fitzrovia.

Daniel Barber

Daniel Barber

Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Rankin

“I love to surround myself with people who are all about encouraging and making creativity happen. I love working with creative people, whether it is a camera man, a wardrobe designer, writers or actors – it is just the most fantastic thing to work creatively. Creativity is everything to me. Creativity is all.”

There is a rare glow of energy and positivity that roars from this recently discovered neighbour. Quietly in one another’s shadow we have moved about Fitzrovia unbeknownst to each other, until now. A perfect balance of quirk, intellect and talent – I present to you a man whose endless creative motivation has moved swiftly between the small screen and the silver screen. A BAFTA winner and Oscar nominee, British Film Director Daniel Barber tells me of his work in commercials, his Fitzrovia birthplace, directing Michael Caine and his latest feature film starring Sam Worthington and Brit Marling.

A true Londoner and Fitzrovian, Daniel was born in the Middlesex Hospital. He spent much of his youth in Camden Town, Rochester Road. He describes himself as loving to hear stories as he was growing up, indulging his curiosity for them by reading and watching numerous films, holding a special fascination with the Western genre. During his youth, he watched on as his father worked as a film and theatre producer, running a company for Albert Finney. “The process for me is always about; what is the story? My love is stories. When I was growing up I always loved to hear stories. I liked to read stories, I like to see stories on film. For me that’s where it started. The writing of a story is the most important element of a film to me.” Says Daniel.

Studying graphic design at St. Martins School of Art, he graduated in 1988 and went on to join the TV department at Lambie-Naim & Co. Here Daniel began to establish himself by designing title sequences, such as those for the BBC Nine O’clock News as well as the BBC brand identities for both BBC1 and BBC2 in the 1990s. Remember those number twos that you may remember having being been covered in paint? Yes, that was Daniel.

Going on to work for and becoming a partner of Rose Hackney Barber, Daniel won numerous awards for his work in commercials both in Europe and the United States. In 2006, after having made hundreds of various commercials, he joined Soho-based production company Knucklehead with whom he also became a partner. With Knucklehead, Daniel was able to work on commercials for clients such as the automotive giants Audi and BMW, on top of Adidas and British Airways.

The time had come for Daniel to turn his talents to filmmaking, and in 2008 he released his first short film The Tonto Woman, a 35 minute western adaptation of the short-story by Elmore Leonard whom he describes as ‘the writer’s writer’. Daniel tells me of the process that led to the creation of a previously watched art form: “It took about ten years or so to get into features. I was very much into graphic design and graphics for film, one of the nice things about that was I would work initially in a solitary way. I love living in my own little world in my head and slowly introducing my ideas to other people who can help bring them to life. I’d managed to build up a network around me of very talented creatives (actors, musicians, designers) who I could ask for criticism and discuss ideas with. I guess at first I was always a little shy, it’s taken me a few years to have the confidence to get to this stage” Daniel concedes.

He explains to me that one project generally tends to lead to another. With his short-film winning Best Film at both Palm Springs and LA film festivals, as well as garnering an Oscar-nomination, Daniel turned his eyes to a full-length feature. A friend, cameraman Ben Davis, told Daniel of a script he thought he would be perfect for. Unfortunately it already had a director attached, and in any case Miramax, who were producing, would not work with a director who had not directed a full length feature. However, it was British film producer, Kris Thykier, a co-producer on this project, became a firm advocate, ultimately offering Daniel the chance to direct another of his scripts, an opportunity that led to the release of Harry Brown in 2009.

A modern urban western written by Gary Young, the film was shot on location in South London, primarily on the infamous Heygate Estate prior to its closure and demolition. “It was wonderful that as a London boy I got to make a film that was so about the city. I would pass the Heygate Estate on my way to college and think ‘oh fuck, I’m glad I don’t live in there…’” Daniel laughs. The film is a reflection of the grim reality that surrounds youth crime in 21st century Britain and it stars Sir Michael Caine in the title role as the widowed veteran who decides to take matters into his own hands following the murder of a close friend. “It was very interesting talking to Michael, who grew up just down the road from the estate. Estates like Heygate were the way to the future. Architects never took into account the sense of claustrophobia of living in such close proximity with people. In Harry Brown, the sounds that you hear through the walls were what I heard through the walls” he explains.

He describes working on this project as one of the memorable experiences of his life, made more so special by the infamous Caine. He recalls watching Zulu (1964) and The Italian Job (1969) as a child and the longstanding memories that go hand-in-hand with these films. Working with Caine would be any director’s dream and, indeed, he describes it as a beautiful process working with one of the UK’s most recognisable faces. “Michael is a salt of the earth, a pure English guy whose worked his arse off to make the most of his talents and to get himself to where he is now. He talks to everybody. Whilst we were on set he would always talk to people. He always said he’d be nowhere without his audience” Daniel talks about Caine with a fittingly impeccable cockney accent.

Daniel was sent to meet Michael at the infamous Mayfair fish restaurant, Scotts. Michael had the seafood cocktail and the fish & chips (which he always has). Sitting nervously, Daniel had the same. When the waiter approached, Michael said ‘we’ll have two of what I have.’ They discussed the Harry Brown project, and Caine suggested an idea, while pausing to think on Caine’s thought, Sir Michael said, ‘I’ll have lots of ideas, and most of ‘em will be shit, but there might be the occasional diamond in there, anyway, when we make the film, you’re the boss, so I’ll do what you say.’ “He’s got that fantastic traditional working ethic of his generation, he’ll never stop working” says Daniel. Sir Michael Caine wrote in his autobiography that the film was one of his top 10 films he’d ever worked on.

Daniel has recently finished working on his second feature film, The Keeping Room (2014) written by Julia Hart, which was filmed entirely in Romania, doubling for North Carolina – the area has become a hub for movie making in recent years. Set in the dying days of the American Civil War, the film tells the story of three women fighting to survive in desperate times where the antagonists are two rogue soldiers. The film differentiates from the conventional western as it has the three women in the centre roles, with men placed in the side lines. Daniel discusses how it was to have this departure: “It was a fantastic opportunity to make a film with such strong female characters. In most films, the women’s roles are reduced to the love interest where the only conversation they have is about the men in the film.” The Keeping Room premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September and distribution has already been sold in the UK to Lionsgate, who also distributed his previous project. The Keeping Room will be released in the UK early next year.

Daniel’s projects have often begun at his kitchen table top, starting on the production of a script between director and writer. The industry has helped him to develop as an individual and created a foundation for his confidence. “I’m a student of body language, I endlessly observe people, watch what they do and how they do it, this feeds my work, and helps to make it both natural and real” he says.

Today his career is looking bright; he is able to work on personal projects as scripts keep flying in. He has decided, as ever, that he is going to choose his next very carefully, feeling strongly that creativity cannot be forced. The process for Daniel is always born of the story. He will always want to affect people with his filmography, he wants to tell stories that pass on a message and cause people to ask questions. He wants to treat the audience with intelligence, rather than force-feed them. He wants the audience to be moved by his films, for them to cause and create conversation. Living along Colville Place, we dip in and out of conversation about many local businesses, florists and restaurants. We discuss the meaning of local, we talk on and on about the elusive thing that is working creatively, Daniel is somebody I admire for his unique way of making creativity happen.

Reverend JW Simpson

Reverend JW Simpson

Words Peter McSweeney

Photography Kirk Truman

“I like Fitzrovia as it is where creativity meets business…”

Fancy a tipple where you once got a tickle? Two burning candles sit either side of a black doorway along Goodge Street, transients barely question it all. Fitzrovia’s Cocktail cool kids have turned a Reverends Living Room (and former #sexytimeplace) into a drinking den where West-End cocktail lovers flock to satisfy their curiosity. In the untouched setting of a former brothel, I give to you the story of a local drinking hole with a difference, the eponymous Reverend JW Simpson.

Bourne & Hollingsworth, a Fitzrovia cocktail bar, has been running strong for seven years offering a creative environment that has somehow made pictures of my 1950’s Grandmothers lounge look like the perfect date spot. However, a few doors down at 32 Goodge Street is Reverend JW Simpson (or Rev’s) which is B&H sister bar offering a unique story and a bit of history with a twist to their expertly thought out cocktails.

Mark Holdstock, owner and the creative brains behind the B&H Group informs me this building had always been hot property, so when he managed to get his hands on the property he was thrilled but had no idea what he and his team would discover.

The site had always been known for operating a more ‘liberal’ environment of champagne and ‘extras’ thereafter becoming vacant for 2 years. When Mark acquired the site it was very clear where the main action took place. However, when starting to dig deeper Mark and his team found the original shape of the site was far from the Sodom & Gomorah reputation; it was in fact, previous to this, the living quarters of a Man of the Cloth, Reverend JW Simpson, where the bar gets its name from.

When walking through the mysterious black door and down the stairs you enter a hidden gem of Fitzrovia where you can clearly make out the lounge area, a kitchen (now part of the bar area) and a bedroom area where more it can only be assumed endless sexual acts may have taken place when formally a brothel. It makes does cause one to wonder just how something so committed to faith could then go on to evolve into something quite the opposite end of the salvation line, through to today where it is a bar.

What is clear about Rev’s is the confidence the team have in the space in keeping it in its original ‘Vicar esq’ format just adding some comfy seating, expert mixologists (cocktail maker) and subtle extras. They are certainly keeping to the Reverend’s choice of Feng Shui, to give it a relaxed feeling of speak easy meets Parochial housing. The main bar room is entirely untouched – the original wallpaper is still on the walls with cooking equipment in one corner of the room still hanging from the wall. In a back room a door opens to a brick wall next to the outline of a crucifix and a former headboard on the wall.

It has a creative buzz about it and to quote the owner ‘I like Fitzrovia as it is where creativity meets business.’ As a resident of the area I agree. It is not as far left and out there as East but has more of an edge than Mayfair whilst it is certainly not Soho.

‘Hide it, then tell them it is hidden’ was a statement I made to colleague recently when I walked past the venue. It has that air of ‘nobody told me about it but I’m sure I’ve heard something about it.’ What I found interesting was Mark’s experience of how the area has developed. When he started Bourne & Hollingsworth Saturday nights was a quiet one. Thursday and Friday’s people hung out after work but by 10pm everything was winding up whereas today the area now has a real night-time buzz and people make a special journey to make a night of it in Fitzrovia.

However, B&H grew organically and the B&H group’s passion for creative events (their main business ‘Prohibition/Dark Circus Party) and unique venues is certainly something displayed at Rev’s.

The manager of the venue tells me about their list of events soon to feature at Rev’s from bespoke cocktails evenings where you get to learn, and drink, three special cocktails to some novel ideas with food.

The bar at present keeps its relaxed Reverend’s living quarters feel to it by it’s exclusively seated tables service set-up, a nice touch whereas most bars in the area on a Friday nights you will spend 30 minutes waiting to get served at the bar. However, there are plans to extend the bar area to allow for a few more standing places which I think will give it a happy medium and allow more people to enjoy the venue.

Another nice touch is the gourmet popcorn (although I did not know popcorn could be gourmet) this stuff is top notch and is made in house along with a range of fruit based cocktails ingredients. All giving the drinks that extra bite. One of my favourite treats was the Douglas Fir Liquor (used in the Fir Douglas Rathbone Esq). It tastes like Christmas! Not that I’ve tasted Christmas, but if I had it would taste like Fir.

What would the Reverend make of the current use of space? As much as Sunday Service or the spiritual needs (resisting the obvious cheap pun) of the patrons not being administered in the traditional sense I am sure he would be more fond of the current occupiers than the previous. It is fulfilling and adds a relaxed dignity to throwing back a few rounds of Old Fashions or their recent addition, a Whisky/Guinness/Egg mix, a real strange delight.

What would the other previous owners of the establishment make of the new place? Hard to say. Anybody I have spoken to admits ever visited the old place. Everyone has ‘heard of it’ but no ever went down apparently so I don’t have much to go on.

With the respect shown to the more proper memory and history of the site it is clear their cheeky twist on a classic speakeasy cocktail bar gives it a divine edge. I could not resist one cheap gag, at least I won’t be asking for absinthe-lution. I know… Forgive me. I repent.



Words Kirk Truman

Photography Astrid Schulz

“I worked as a critical care nurse at the University College Hospital. It gave me my determination, discipline and hard-working ethic. It is still what drives me today, it is a strong contributing factor to who I am and the brand itself…”

Like the many that do pass by the cobbles of Grafton Mews to view the quote “invisible permanent clothing” inscribed upon the wall of number 15a Warren Street, I have come to stop in my tracks to query at the meaning of this riddle. Behind the greenery that has come to dress the curb-side of this shop front is what I once assumed to be the suited location of a spa, a yoga studio, some lavish retreat. I can confirm it is the latter. Carin Mansfield unveils to me the meaning of the writing on the wall and the philosophy, the story behind the brave venture which is Warren Street’s first fashion store, In-Ku.

The home of the Universal Utility brand, In-Ku is the first standalone store of its kind for the brand that has previously been available through the likes of Dover Street Market London & Tokyo, Egg London as well as a fleet of Comme des Garçons stores in Japan. The story of Carin’s brand does not begin in fashion, far from it in fact. She began working as a critical care nurse at the University College Hospital (UCH) here in London. Working in nursing, Carin learnt from nursing the meaning of a strong work ethic, discipline and determination – a lesson that is still carried with her today. After nursing, she started working as a start-up stylist in the 1980s. Over a decade later she landed a role in film wardrobe or, as she jokingly calls it, ‘washing actors socks at 3am in the morning…’ Her creative career began whilst working in this industry – learning and understanding how to make clothes amid networking within the industry.

Carin realised that her timeless, day-to-day, non-seasonal garments, with their ‘worn-in’ look and feel, filled a gap in the market, and in the early stages, she began developing a number of patterns and designs. Carin tells me of these surprising beginnings: “It was an accident that I started making clothes really. I thought I’d make a few frocks, people told me that I should try to get it into a store.” She began to produce and design her first collection and soon developed a suitable umbrella with the Universal Utility (UU) brand. Her designs for women are proudly masculine and simplistic, with a folky edge. The outfits and shop offer a unique and suited shopping experience – in one light an art gallery, another a clothing boutique, Carin has certainly come a long way since she first wholesaled her clothing to Knightsbridge based store Egg.

The level of long-lasting quality offered by the brand is something that Carin had come to love and admire from her days in South Africa where, during the apartheid, black South Africans chose to invest in high-quality clothing over cheap generic garments. Strong and durable, it offered a level of dignity and respect that the high-street never could. Although the quality of the Universal Utility brand is reflected in the price on the label, the product itself is visibly worth it and certainly made to last – something that the high-street could never follow, what with competitive pricing for garments that barely make it past the weekend.

Carin made the decision to ensure that at all costs her clothing would be produced to the highest quality and standard, thus making for one of the primary ethics of the brand. A rarity today, all of Carin’s products are made in England by London based seamstresses and cutters with 40 years of experience, all of whom she has worked with since the beginning. Though Carin feels there is quality in foreign manufacturing, she feels that the ethos of manufacturing, say for instance in developing nations, is unfair and that, although the quality of the produce is visible, the quality of the life and living of the workers is not. This is something she doesn’t want to be associated with her brand. The manufacturing techniques used to produce Carin’s line are somewhat anachronistic in today’s factory made, assembly line garments, but the quality is an exceptional outcome.

Her clothing sold for around 6 years at Egg until she made the decision to become more focused on the Japanese market. The Japanese market appealed to Carin due to the Japanese outlook on clothing itself, something she feels complimentary to her own product; quality focused, practicality over appeal, non-trend orientated and branding-free. Her brand is popular in Japan, so much so that it’s often simply known as ‘UU’ in the Japanese world. To date, Carin has worked alongside Rei Kawakubo for 10 years collaborating on the Japanese Comme des Garçons Edited Black project.

Whilst at the wholesaling stage, Carin was putting incredibly long hours into producing her line, which were becoming increasingly tiring – it wasn’t unusual for her to work well into the night. During this time, her brand was sold to many Comme des Garçons stores in Japan. This form of business however, soon showed that the income did not reflect the energy and sheer passion she was putting into her work. Making the choice to never borrow any money and with no financial backing, Carin made the brave choice to put the days of wholesaling behind her, so much so that she declined an offer to have her product made under license by Comme des Garçons. Funded entirely by herself, Carin decided that it was time to begin working independently, and the search for a home for the Universal Utility brand began.

Her eyes set upon central London, Carin had begun to look at Covent Garden, though soon came to the realisation that the location was unsuitable. She explored various other locations in the West-End until she stumbled upon Fitzroy Square where, she relays, “I thought to myself what a lovely square, I can’t believe I’ve never seen this wonderful place before.” From there, she wondered along Warren Street where she discovered the small shop space just past Grafton Mews where, today, you’ll find has become a fitting home for her brand.

When looking to open the store, Carin discovered that many brands have similar names to her own, as well as a shop-front side to their business, places like ‘Universal Clothing’ and ‘Utility Clothing’. She knew that giving her store the same name as the brand would prove problematic. Carin tells me about the inspiration behind the stores new name, “I didn’t want to call the store universal utility. I created the brand about 18 years ago” she says, “the name In-Ku has been challenging as many people don’t know what it means. In-Ku is the home of the Universal Utility brand, not the name of the brand. The word ink came to mind, I thought that I can’t just call it ink so I looked up the Japanese meaning for ink which is In-Ku.” I ask if there’s any other significance to the name that can be found and Carin answers with an explanation that fits perfectly with the store, “A Japanese friend of mine told me that the two characters have different meanings. The ’in’ means stillness or shadow, the ‘ku’ means emptiness or sky – both had a lot of relevance to my own spiritual beliefs. In-Ku without the hyphenation is a broad a term for ink or dye, but with the hyphenation separates the two characters into a much deeper meaning.”

I have come to learn that the quote on the façade of the store ‘invisible permanent clothing’ is a perfect symbol for Carin’s philosophy; timeless and subtle, high-quality clothing. Today the brand is worn by the likes of Donna Karan, Ronnie Newhouse and, Comme des Garçons designer, Rei Kawakubo. The store itself is a peaceful minimal space. The ground floor and basement are similarly sized, though there is a warren of small narrow floors above the ground floor where clients can venture too. It’s asked that people remove their shoes when entering so that they can feel at home in the space and themselves. There are plans in the works to start selling the most special, authentic tea available, as well as a range of high-quality baskets. Carin is at the store most days of the week and welcomes anybody to visit and view her collection, though, if you’re worried you might miss her, she is also available by appointment.

Trolley Books & TJ Boulting

Trolley Books & TJ Boulting

Words Kirk Truman

Portrait Carla Borel

“We were partners. We did everything together. I was working on developing the gallery; he was working on developing the books. We were a working couple…”

In the nooks and crannies of this rare, eccentric space at the corner of Riding House and Candover Street, there is a distinct rumour of a man who briefly wondered about the room. A man who sat on a large, rather peculiar British racing green sofa. The story of an arrival here alongside a parade of publications, all tackling difficult topics, is that of Gigi Giannuzzi, or ‘the trolley man’. An inscription above the doorway reads TJ Boulting & Sons, whilst another says Gas & Electrical Engineers, Established 1808 – a factory, a bygone studio or the home of Trolley Books? Surprise greets me behind the doors of this wonderful building where so little is known of its past. Gigi’s successor, Hannah Watson explains the story behind the title Trolley Books & TJ Boulting, the toughness of the creative publishing industry and the passing of her friend and former lover.

Gigi was born in 1960s Rome. To escape military service, he moved to London in 1986 where a friend of his father helped him to find a job working on the logistics of importing fish. He worked in numerous roles afterwards, including tour manager for Big Audio Dynamite (BAD) and later in banking. His first chance to work in publishing was with Rizzoli in Italy and, after numerous publishing endeavours and with no financial support, he set up his first independent publishing house called Westzone with his friend Guido Costa. The first book the publishing house released was Ten Years After: Naples 1986-1996 by Nan Goldin. A paperback, it was originally published in Italian and managed to sell 14,000 copies.

The publishing house went on to produce numerous books, including a controversial edition displaying a series of photographs by Zed Nelson, documenting the American ‘macho gun culture’, called Gun Nation (2000). With Westzone falling into financial ruin, Gigi sold the company to a UK group but managed to remain in a directorial position. However, after just over a year, Gigi resigned, feeling squeezed out by his fellow directors. As you’d expect, Gigi was devastated following the end of his baby, though it wasn’t long until a trolley made a somewhat unconventional appearance.

Trolley Books was started in Venice in 2001. Gigi spent time going back and forth between Venice and London, eventually basing the business in the east-end. The name Trolley Books originates from the Frankfurt Book Fair which, I am told, Gigi attended in a red velvet suit and, instead of paying for a stand, he pushed a shopping trolley around with all of his ideas and book proposals. He would, according to Hannah, just continue this whilst walking around the isles talking to people: “He was known as the trolley man. People knew him as being this crazy Italian guy in a red velvet suit beavering around not giving a shit about the confines of having a stand.” Hannah fondly expresses, “He had his own stand, he couldn’t give a shit. Gigi did it his own way, he had his own style and approach” She jokes that one day the red velvet suit will one day hang in the Victoria and Albert museum.

After its original base on Long Street, Trolley was re-located to Redchurch Street in the heart of Shoreditch in a space comprised of a gallery at the front of house and an office for the Trolley office toward the back. As well as the home of his business, the address also acted as Gigi’s living quarters. Hannah Watson was first introduced to Gigi in 2005, during a period of the work experience with the publisher. After a stint at the Guggenheim in Venice, she was approached by Gigi to return to London to work from there. At this point, Gigi had taken his usual route of falling out with the people he worked with – it was suddenly just him and Hannah on Redchurch Street. Given her background in art, Hannah pushed to grow the space as a gallery.

While Hannah was working on developing the Gallery, Gigi focused on growing Trolley Books and establishing the publisher as a maverick of its field focusing primarily on reportage, contemporary art and photography. Trolley Books has since grown and is established within the publishing and photographic industries for its originality and approach towards photo book publishing. As a publisher it has also become renowned for its support of underexposed stories and happenings in the world, a tradition at the heart of Gigi’s dream: “He wanted to do books about difficult subjects as he felt that they needed to be written. There was a core bravery to what he wanted to do but no income. He was a man of passion,” Hannah tells me.

Whilst working together, Hannah and Gigi’s relationship evolved into a more personal one, and Hannah explains the closeness of their partnership that would eventually lead to this coupling, “We were partners. We did everything together. I was working on developing the gallery, he was working on developing the books. We were a working couple.”

Noting the rise of Shoreditch and the changing of Redchurch Street, soon many local landlords sought to benefit from the boom. For a long time, the street had been a gallery street – but, with rental fees rising, many local businesses were pushed out of the area, including Trolley Books.

Thus, Hannah and Gigi looked to resettle their gallery and publishing house their eyes turned to Fitzrovia, soon finding the small gallery space at the corner of Riding House Street and Candover Street, which had formally been a purpose-built art and crafts factory, a somewhat appropriate history. At this stage, their relationship began to break down, ending early 2011. However, the two decided to remain close friends and business partners, moving into the Riding House Street gallery space nearly a year later, having had to wait for the construction work to be completed.

Shortly after their move to Fitzrovia, Trolley Books, with its portfolio of photojournalism and contemporary art publishing, made the decision to also begin publishing fiction. This decision was, in part, down to a specific author, Iphgenia Baal, from whom Gigi had rented her spare room during the interlude between Shoreditch and Fitzrovia. At this stage, with Hannah’s art background having had an influence over Trolley Books, it was decided that the gallery would be given its own identity. And so, the publishing house and gallery began to be run as separate businesses, united under one roof on Riding House Street. After considering various titles, it was when Hannah and Gigi took a step outside and, looking upon the mosaic wall display on the side of the Riding House Street corner building, it was agreed that the gallery would be called TJ Boulting.

With the gallery and publishing house now location in an area the two admired, things were on the up. Gigi had ideas about starting another publishing house in Mexico City – he was some way down the line in setting it up with his new girlfriend, Masumi Rioja, when he received a piece of daunting news. In June 2012, Gigi was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. The art world came to his assistance, with the likes of Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and Damien Hirst donating their workto help fund his cancer treatment. In his final months, he lived in a small flat, close to the Riding House Street gallery on Hanson Street. Growing weaker, Gigi was visited by many of the artists, writers and photographers to have worked with him over the years. Unfortunately, he lost the fight and died on Christmas Eve, 2012.

Today, Trolley Books is based on the ground floor of Riding House Street, the tattered red velvet suit once worn by Gigi hangs next to the large green sofa he sat upon. In the high-ceilinged basement below lies the gallery space of TJ Boulting. On the ground floor Hannah works from a large wooden desk, surrounded by the archives of the various Trolley Books publications. She carries on without her friend and former lover from whom she has clearly learnt so much about the industry and indeed herself. A passionate, outspoken man with particular taste, I imagine that Fitzrovia Journal would be a magazine that Gigi Giannuzzi would’ve loved. I’m sure that our passion for publishing would’ve gone hand in hand. As I deliver the journal on a bike, I am reminded of the infamous trolley. Goodnight old boy and thank you for your trolleyology.

Ramon vs. Champs

Ramon vs. Champs

Portraits & Words Paul Vickery

With a not to the past and an eye very much on the future, Champs Barbers have built a formidable reputation and a loyal following in the two years since they opened. the boxing-themed mens grooming station is headed up Ian Hoyos who had a clear vision for the business from the outset: “We didn’t want to be simply a barbers shop” Ian points out. “We wanted to be a lifestyle choice.” With it’s sense of place and history Fitzrovia was the perfect location.

Bubbledogs & Kitchen Table

Bubbledogs & Kitchen Table

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Adedotun Adesanya

“You don’t have to be in a fancy restaurant to drink good champagne. You don’t have to have fancy food to go with good champagne and vice versa…” says Sandia Chang, Sommelier and General Manager at Bubbledogs.

It is day – afternoon, evening or later, it doesn’t matter: Tuesday noon, Friday evening, late into Saturday evening. Come wind, come rain, come snow and shine, a queue mounts on the sidewalk amid the burgundy neon glow behind the window of 70 Charlotte Street. The chatter of the week has gone, replaced with a new theme: word circles of a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, that serves gourmet hotdogs and grower champagne, with a little-known secret restaurant, Kitchen Table, hidden behind a leather curtain at the back. Husband and wife team, James Knappett and Sandia Chang unearth the story behind their relationship that has given birth to Fitzrovia’s ever-popular Bubbledogs, whilst I sample the menu and admire the butchering of a trout.

Having acquired the site in January 2012, the couple were able to open in August the same year. Now, almost 2 years on, Bubbledogs is a subtle transatlantic import from our not so distant American cousins. James and Sandia met whilst working together at Thomas Keller’s restaurant, Per Se, in New York. Having forged a more-than-work relationship, the two decided to settle themselves here in London where Sandia began to reminisce to her days living in New York and the various dining experiences available; from the high-flying Chelsea and Greenwich Village, to the cool of Williamsburg and Brooklyn. “We both came from a fine dining background but couldn’t agree on the same concept for a restaurant we wanted to start. I wanted to stray away from that, though James, as he’s a chef, wanted to carry on with his routes,” says Sandia.

The concept behind Bubbledogs is to create an informal dining environment for everybody to enjoy: where good food meets good champagne minus caviar, without the formality of table cloths and city boy antics, along the cool of Charlotte Street. New York based restaurant Crif Dogs, a favourite of both James and Sandia, resonates.

Sandia Chang’s years living in New York appear to have donated much to her inspiration for the restaurant, with hotdogs called anything from ‘Fourth of July’ to the ‘Mac Daddy’, which I thoroughly recommend with a side of ‘Tater Tots’ (an American take on the British hash brown). Alongside hotdogs, Sandia bares a love for fine wines and grower champagnes, the two coming together to form Bubbledogs. “I was always big into grower champagne and it was with that in mind I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to open a champagne and hotdog restaurant.’ It was that moment (six bottles in) where I said, ‘I want to open a champagne and hotdog restaurant!’ I said, ‘you know what, I’m going to do it, I’m going to open a grower champagne restaurant!’ I was tired of people in England drinking cocktails and drinks with little sparklers at the clubs. I was tired of every bar being stamped with these big house names because they have the marketing budget for them, when nobody knows about these small growers who are growing their own grapes and marking their own champagne. I wanted to start a restaurant that just lists these small growers instead,” she explains.

Initially, the couple had very different visions – Sandia was keen to start a relaxed dining experience, fronted with a fine wine and champagne selection. James, however, had a vision of creating a fine dining restaurant. “Mostly, the champagne and hotdog thing was my idea. That’s the reason that we have ended up running two very different restaurants in here.” Sandia explains, “It so happened that we ended up with this space where we can run the bar and the kitchen separately.” She says that Fitzrovia is the ideal location for Bubbledogs thanks to the prevalent mixing of younger people and professionals in the area. She goes on to explain this even further, “They’ve all travelled around and they’re a bit more open-minded in terms of dining out, they’re not stuck in the mind-set of having to sit down at the table, having to have three courses, having to have table cloth when drinking champagne.”

The environment is calm and informal: “You don’t have to be in a fancy restaurant to drink good champagne. You don’t have to have fancy food to go with good champagne and vice versa,” says Sandia, looking about the room. As you step around the front-of-house area, you are greeted by an array of bare brick walls, champagne glasses nestled behind the bar facing out onto Charlotte Street, a stretch of stools lining the stairwell where a collection of illustrations show a dog flirting wildly with a bottle of champagne. The images bear an uncanny resemblance to Sandia’s own pet dog, Noodle, who was rescued from Battersea Dogs home and had become a firm fixture at the restaurant. It is explained to me that, in a sealed tunnel underneath the building, scenes from The Beatles movie “Yellow Submarine” (1968) were filmed, just another addition to Fitzrovia’s rich history. Of the general atmosphere and casual environment of Bubbledogs, Sandia tells me “I wanted to open a champagne bar that wasn’t stodgy, stuffy and pretentious; I wanted it to be cool and easy going. I wanted to make people feel like they can drink champagne all the time. I didn’t want people to feel like they have to wait to drink champagne until it’s their birthday or their anniversary. I wanted it to be caviar free. Great wine and great food doesn’t have to be a four star table experience.” She then goes on to proclaim that “Fitzrovia was the place to have it!”

In the background of this informal spectacle of bubbles, there is a brown leather curtain which you would assume leads to the kitchen, and indeed it does, though there are no hotdogs in sight here. Noodle tries to follow us into the kitchen but is turned away as we pass through the curtain. I’m enter onto the sight of a trout laid upon a table as it’s carefully sliced and butchered by the head chef (and Sandia’s husband) James Knappet, who greets me. I welcome you to the theatre! There is a strong contrast between the informality of the front-of-house and the back where, stepping from the wooden deck of Bubbledogs into Kitchen Table, 19 front row seats make for the smallest reservation only, rectangular Fitzrovia kitchen you will find. The sheer focus that James conjures, as he tears at and slices through a large trout that has been laid out across the table I find similar to the crafting a piece of art, whether it’s making illustrations or the careful turn of a photographer’s lens. This is a thing of artistry; this is a personal, serious-faced dining experience. James explains that “in here it’s about the food. I pick all the herbs and ingredients fresh from a location in London, the ingredients we’re using today were picked yesterday. I am a huge advocator of chefs foraging for their own ingredients. It’s all about cooking good quality seasonal food. It’s a personal dining experience where we explain to people where things come from, what they’re eating,” he continues, knife in hand. The menu for Kitchen Table changes daily, entirely dependent on what James and his staff feel works for that particular day, or have been able to collect during their foraging trips. “It’s about us cooking what we want to cook, rather than being some posh restaurant in the city giving people what they want. Here it’s all about what we want to cook; it’s about personality, of course, though, we want people to enjoy what they’re eating. If I feel like making pasta tomorrow then it’s on the menu. Don’t come here if you want roast duck every night… you won’t get it!” he warns.

Miraculously, each member of staff has a role which moves them between both Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table. The two restaurants may differ significantly but they work together to make for one of London’s rarest combinations, a place with a harmonious meeting of formality and informality. Since opening, almost two years ago, there has only been the one Bubbledogs & Kitchen Table on Charlotte Street, and now, both Sandia Chang and James Knappett are beginning to express an interest in expanding further. A legitimate London based New York wiener experience, looking out onto a mounting queue along Charlotte Street, with a passionate chef and talented sommelier: husband and wife, kept carefully at bay on either side of a leather seal. This is a rare experience and it is right here in our neighbourhood.

Fitzroy Place

Fitzroy Place

Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Sarah Maycock

Fitzroy Place is, according to its developers Exemplar and Aviva, ‘the most significant new development in Fitzrovia for 50 years.’ I took a tour of the site with the aim of getting under the skin of a project that has both fascinated and, at times, divided the Fitzrovia community. Ultimately, I was surprised at the delight I experienced with what I found.

Yes, Fitzroy Place has had its detractors, and yes many people still miss the Middlesex Hospital, on whose site it now sits. But there is another side to the story which sees Fitzroy Place as an important new addition to Fitzrovia that is also sympathetic and respectful to the past. Originally opened as an 18 bed infirmary on Windmill Street, the Middlesex Infirmary was the first hospital in England to add ‘lying-in’ maternity beds to its wards. In 1757 it moved to Mortimer Street where it became the Middlesex Hospital. Various extensions were added to the original, though in 1924 the decision was made that the building had become structurally unsound and it was proposed for a new one to be built to replace it. The work was completed in stages, meaning that the hospital didn’t have to be closed and the new Middlesex Hospital was completed in 1935

At its peak there were many nurses, nuns and hospital staff living in Fitzrovia, due to its locality to the hospital. But, after almost 250 years of being based on Mortimer Street, it closed in December 2005, with the main building and three acre site earmarked for sale to developers. Although, , when the main structure was demolished in spring 2008, the unconsecrated 1890 Chapel (Designed by John Loughborough Pearson) was preserved, along with the historic facade on Nassau Street and corner building on Mortimer Street.

After luxury property developers, Candy and Candy, failed to redevelop the site under the largely opposed title of ‘NoHo Square’, the site was bought by fund manager Aviva and developer Exemplar in late 2010. The original ‘NoHo Square’ development was rejected and in 2012 a new development, designed by London-based architects Lifschutz Davison Sandilands and Sheppard Robson was granted planning consent. Now Fitzroy Place is an emerging development, with 235 prestigious apartments, alongside high quality office and retail space, with a new square and public space at its heart.

Cue ‘O Fortuna’. With its crisp white stone façade, contrasted with strips of red brick, echoing the former Middlesex Hospital on Nassau Street, Fitzroy Place complements the heritage façade to the west. On Mortimer Street, 1 & 2 Fitzroy Place will act as office space spread over eight floors – both office buildings due for completion in the third quarter of this year. In mid-May, Exemplar and Aviva promised to add another dash of colour to the area by agreeing to lease the whole of 1 Fitzroy Place to, fashion and cosmetics giant, Estee Lauder.

In my journey around the new development, I pass the ground floor site of a new restaurant, to be occupied by the creator of some of the best new eateries in Belgravia and Pimlico Cubitt House. Hammers clang, workers move to and fro between buildings, trucks wade out through the gates onto the street. This is the centre of Fitzroy Place, and it is hard to believe that within a year it will become the biggest new square created in W1 for 100 years. The name for the square is courtesy of architect John Loughborough Pearson whose listed Chapel is currently in the final stages of an exhaustive 2 million pounds restoration, truly it resonates.

The chapel glows both internally and externally as it nears completion, with its polished gold ceilings reverberating light throughout and its crisp red brickwork repainted – she looks fresh, new faced and fully restored to her heyday. The chapel is to be donated for community use. A new pathway has been created through the site, allowing people to walk through in a way that wasn’t possible during the days of Middlesex Hospital. Into a hoist and so begins my climb from the ground floor, through ten more, to the apartments and penthouses above.

We reach the top floor of Fitzroy Place – this corner of the building is home to two penthouses with private balconies, huge open plan living spaces and lifts, giving occupants private access directly into their home. From the west facing penthouse on the northwest corner Parliament appears merely a stone’s throw away, just beyond Oxford Street, Centre Point and Soho. Looking down, this birds-eye view gives me a chance to envisage the finished article of Pearson Square where trees, nature and the sociability of the Fitzrovia area will fill the square and surround the timeless Chapel in all its carefully restored glory. From the opposite northeast corner penthouse, the former home of Charles Dickens is visible below on Cleveland Street, ahead in the distance, the British Museum, the City, King’s Cross and, let’s not forget, Fitzrovia’s renowned maypole – the Telecom Tower.

With their tall sash-window frames and the beautifully restored red brickwork, the Nassau Street apartments feel different to the penthouses above; they remind me of the former Georgian building on the site. These apartments are much smaller, but their ceilings are high and the living space is broad and engaging. Despite this, it feels almost impossible to think that these same empty, largely incomplete spaces that are currently littered with random metal beams and wiring will be alive and inhabitable for residential use.

Exemplar’s Richard Shaw, who has lived and breathed the project, says that “Fitzroy Place offers a rare and exciting opportunity to promote and define an important part of Central London. Fitzrovia is a thriving, established and harmonious community with an interesting heritage, and the development plans reflect this. We want to ensure we deliver a high quality, sustainable scheme that enhances and adds value to this well connected and desirable part of London.”

Some people in Fitzrovia embody the very British habit of opposing all development, or to put it more generally, anything new: I must confess myself as among these voices until I had explored the new development. Now I listen to words of sheer presumption, rumour and very little of the now. The memory of Middlesex Hospital and the conjecture surrounding a grade II listed chapel add to this thickened plot. A place that brought life and spirit to so many in this area has long disappeared; what resonates now is life. This is the now. I emplore you to denounce rumour, denounce tale, there is due the arrival of something which I daringly pronounce quite special in Fitzrovia.

There is no denying it. If you live in Fitzrovia and if you know these streets well then chances are that you know somebody who understands the tensions caused by this development, which primarily relate to the site’s former occupant. I am, like many in our community, famously averse to change. Now though, I confess myself admirable of a space that I have seen empty for so long slowly being readied for Fitzrovia to admire for years to come. I say to you, modernity in Fitzrovia. I say to you, Fitzroy Place.



Words Kirk Truman

Photography Adedotun Adesanya

“…this idea was constantly at the back of my mind, I thought it was a great opportunity to open a café that was similar to places back home in Australia. I wanted to follow my dream.”

There is a rumour on Great Titchfield Street, circling from door-to-door amid the winding smell of the roasted Square Mile Coffee and the delicious fresh food that pleasantly lingers around door number 66. Amid the evening chatter that goes from glass to glass, outside The Kings Arms, over the busied table tops of The Riding House Café, the rumour flows and it grows. All over London people step from their houses and desk fronts into the day to say, ‘let’s have us some caffeine,’ meanwhile, in Fitzrovia, it is rumoured that people say ‘let’s have us some Kaffeine.’ Peter Dore-Smith tells me the story behind his award-winning Australian coffee shop over a famed cup of Square Mile Coffee.

After working in restaurants and hotels back in his home city of Melbourne, Peter first came to London for a three year long stay in 1995, he returned in 2005 when a simple idea came to the minds of he and his wife: ‘let’s go for a nice cup of coffee’. However, Peter tells me that “at the time there really wasn’t many places around that were similar to places in Australia, we thought it was an idea for the future.” Having decided to settle permanently with his wife in London, he worked in hospitality recruitment for a little while and after some time began to work in the catering department at the Marylebone Cricket Club, where he was for about 4 years. “I had to make a decision about what I wanted to do with my life – this idea was constantly at the back of my mind, I thought it was a great opportunity to open a café that was similar to places back home in Australia. I wanted to follow my dream,” he says. And so, the makings of this idealistic dream began its manifestation into a reality.

It is explained to me that, in recent years, unlike we Londoners, drinking coffee in cafés has become a favoured alternative to drinking alcohol as a means of socialising in Australia. Peter explains that this influx derives from the idea of drinking and driving being frowned upon so much there. Thus, unlike chain coffee vendors, such as Starbucks, where people generally get take-out coffee, in Australia, coffee is served in addition to a meal. “In terms of starting points, the concept for Kaffeine reflects the Australian coffee scene which arrived in Melbourne in the mid-1990s through to today. This is something that is very current in London now.”

The Great Titchfield Street site for Kaffeine was sighted by Peter’s wife who, at the time, worked in the Fitzrovia area. After fidniding the place, she told her husband, “there’s a shop up the road that’s up for rent, you should take a look!” Until the late 1990s, the site for the café had once been Frumkin’s Wine Shop, where they sold kosher wine to mainly Jewish functions. Having had their first store in the East End, the Frumkin’s name has become relatively famous within the Jewish community. After the business closed, the site became a café named Route 66. “It closed in August 2008 – I came in and there was a newspaper from the day it closed. The owner had left almost everything here. It was pretty dire. I think it’d been a café for sometime,” Peter says. I detect that, really, there is very little that’s worthy of compliment to the predecessor at number 66. Few seem even to remember it.

Peter details to me the enormity of the tasks involved in taking over the premises and making his Kaffeine dream a reality. At this stage, the emotional support and guidance of silent investor, Hayden Smart, was called upon and the idea was turned into a reality. The flooring was removed to expose the beautiful original wood, the concrete on the walls was also removed and the brickwork underneath restored to its former glory – all in the name of creating a fresh minimal environment with an original organic touch. Echoing a typecast Australian coffee shop, long wooden benches now sit alongside a long black bar filled with a range of salads and sandwiches which stretch on to meet a barista pouring cup after cup of Square Mile Coffee. I ask Peter where the name for Kaffeine came from. “I don’t know what it means or where it came from. I didn’t come up with the name, either my wife or a friend did. I’ve had people say that they wish they’d thought of it first,” laughs Peter. “To me, Kaffeine means hospitality. It’s about doing everything we can to get things perfect every time. When people come in, no matter how they’re feeling when they leave they’ll feel better. That’s our goal”.

After an extensive face-lift, the doors to number 66 reopened  in August 2009. Kaffeine was instantly well received, impartially due to Square Mile Coffee having just come onto the scene, not to mention the need for something so niche in the area. There was a strike of fear in Peter’s mind when an urban myth was told to him by a number of people: that the shop is cursed! “People told us that nobody does well here, that the shop was cursed!” Despite an estranged urban myth, Peter and his coffee shop are yet to succumb to the jinx of number 66, Great Titchfield Street.

“I first identified the sort of people that would be attracted to the product, which, of course, is good decent coffee, salads and sandwiches. I thought about the kind of people that I would enjoy serving and identified those people as fashion, media, advertising, design and digital orientated people,” he says, on choosing Fitzrovia as the home for his business. Many of the regulars can be seen donning their BBC lanyards from the neighbouring Regent Street Headquarters – there are whispers of journalism, news, tales and a variety of professions. A distinct aura of creativity from the residents looms among the local, often familiar faces seated about the ground floor. The arrival of Kaffeine was welcomed immediately; people soon began to flock and become regulars astonishingly quickly. Although much of the business comes from the local area, Peter tells me that “at the weekends we get a lot of people from out of town coming in. We also get a lot of international visitors who have heard about us internationally to see if it is as good as people say.” I am told how a lady came into the shop on the first Saturday of business to welcome Peter and his staff to the area. She said, “Welcome to the area, we call this Titchfield village. What she said was very true; there is a very ‘village’ feeling to Fitzrovia. It’s nice and quiet, especially on weekends.”

Today this small independent coffee shop has established itself as one of the West-End’s most popular and renowned destinations for award-winning coffee and freshly made food. With its reputation stretching across London, Europe and even back to Peter’s homeland in Australia, visitors are coming from all over the globe. “Perhaps I’m a bit humble about it. The way I look at is, there’s still 20 years to go, and I’m currently 44. Apparently people back in Australia say, when going for coffee in London, ‘go to Kaffeine.’ One of my beliefs is, never believe that you’re the best, though we do aspire to be the best!” Peter says. A committed father of two, Peter Dore-Smith is highly family focused and, with some further emotional support from his wife, is intent on broadening the future of his independent coffee shop, with plans to open a second site in London in the near future. His passion is balanced in the bond of family, the meaning of quality, hospitality and only ever the very best Kaffeine-highs available. As they say: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ There are no lows here, only good coffee and food. Hopefully, another Kaffeine shall arrive in Fitzrovia in the years to come. Watch this space.

The Kings Canary

The Kings Canary

Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alexandria Coe

“I made a joke about calling it The King’s Canary. Gav loved it, I was joking. We wanted to attach ourselves to bit of Fitzrovia’s legacy…”

Sat amongst the galleries and wholesale stores, towards the north end of Great Titchfield Street, an image of a bird is etched upon a sign hanging next to the glass window front of a long ground floor space at the base of a Georgian terrace. From the roadside, to the sound of ‘snip snip’ and the faint pattering of water dripping about a basin, there are distinct roars of chatter and talent echoing from a small group of hair stylists. Match made in Fitzrovia, I speak to duo Gavin Cornwell (formally of Joe & Co, Soho) & Stanley Watts (formally of Chandler Wright, Blackheath) about their business partnership that make up the foundations for The King’s Canary.

Before they met, both Gavin and Stanley were leading separate careers as stylists, yet, unbeknownst to one another, they shared a similar idea: starting their own salon. The two were introduced by a mutual friend, Lee Pavey, who was working in post-production in the area: “he had his hair cut by me and also by Gav. After a while he figured out that the two of us wanted the same thing so he said we should meet,” says Stanley. At the time, Gavin was in the process of going solo and setting up a barber shop. “I was way down the line with it. And then Lee and I went for a drink and said I should meet his mate who was really good with girls’ hair. I was always looking over this way, I looked at Soho too.” Quite soon, a meeting was arranged and the two were introduced at everybody’s favoured formal setting, the pub. Following this introduction, Gavin & Stanley made the decision to merge their business plans and begin moving forward with their salon vision.

The two went back and forth between ideas of where to lay down their salon and make it all happen in the West-End, but soon decided on Fitzrovia. They searched the area for a place that appealed to them and it was the former location of a wholesale clothing store on Great Titchfield Street that caught their eye, making for the perfect setting for the salon. But, there was a catch: “Initially we were up against a coffee chain to acquire the site, we were told that from the beginning. Me and a friend, who’s an architect, pulled all-nighters and prepared a CGI-presentation of what the shop would look like, as well as a pitch to show why an independent business like this would be more suited for the area.” Gavin explains.

The Fitzrovia area appealed to the duo due to its character and the sheer volume of independent local businesses in the area, thus they strived to ensure that their small independent business would claim the site over a major chain. The two feel that independent shops being squeezed out and chains trying to creep in isn’t an option for the region. For some time, Stanley had been looking to set up a salon with his wife in Greenwich, although, on choosing Fitzrovia as the destination for the salon, he says “it made a lot more sense to have it here.”

Soon after acquiring the site, Gavin and Stanley began pulling all-nighters and battling over power tools. “From acquiring the site to opening, it was a couple of months to get things moving,” says Gavin. Curiously, the question came about as to what to call the salon and it wasn’t long until a novel and former Welshman who lived in the area was mentioned. “The original working title was Bare Hench,” Stanley jokes, “I was on the train down to Cornwall when I called Gav. I’d been looking through Google and looking up Fitzrovia, what came up was a lot of history about poet Dylan Thomas. The book The Death of the King’s Canary came up, I made a joke about calling it The King’s Canary. Gav loved it, I was joking!” Laughs Stanley. I can see where Gavin’s feeling comes from, however, to me the title feels current and original, relevant and Fitzrovian.

In a letter Thomas had written to a friend in 1948 regarding plans to write a novel, he writes, “I’d like to make it the detective story to end detective stories, introducing blatantly every character and situation– inevitable Chinaman, secret passages–that no respectable writer would dare use now.” The Death of the King’s Canary, which is largely concerned with the assassination of a Poet Laureate, saw collaboration between Dylan Thomas and, noted critic/writer, John Davenport. In the same letter, Thomas wrote that “it could be the best fun, and would make us drinking money for a year.” In 1949, Dylan’s plans were executed and the canary was born.

With the name, The King’s Canary, the duo has achieved exactly what they set out to create: a modern hair salon with a subtle hint of Fitzrovia. “We wanted to attach ourselves to a bit of Fitzrovia’s legacy. We didn’t want to be called ‘Gav & Stan’ or ‘Cornwell & Watts’. That ‘90s approach would’ve made this a whole different place to be,” says Stanley, looking at the logo of the perching canary.

After the seemingly undying all-nighters spent building their bird, an echo of Dylan Thomas returned to Fitzrovia. The King’s Canary opened its doors just over a year ago, on the 1st of June, with a positive reception from locals, as well as many not-so-distant Londoners far and wide. “A lot of my clients from Soho have shifted themselves over here, I guess their hair is something that’s quite personal to them,” laughs Gavin. Stanley is bold in saying, “simple; we’re a no bullshit hairdresser. You can see some girls are a bit, false eyelashes and blonde highlights. You can see that’s what they’re about. I always ask them why they don’t want to go to one of the big glitzy places. They say they’re fed up standing to attention whilst they get their hair done, they come to us because it’s relaxed, professional and chilled.”

The original concept of the salon had been to divide a minimalistic space with a barber shop at the back and a salon at the front, but as Gavin tells me, “now things have gotten rolling it’s all dictated itself.”. As you step into the salon, a table sits by the window with an arrangement of fashion and lifestyle journals spread over the woodwork. A long array of mirrors face a queue of barber chairs which lead on to the back of the salon flooded with light, where a number of basins are laid. Professionalism is consistent throughout the whole canary salon, experience complimented by a relaxed, non-stuffy environment with a team of staff evidently, selectively assembled to form a healthy salon family. Though professionalism is prevalent, Stanley remarks that “it is incredibly informal – no uniforms for the staff, nothing corporate, nothing too formal.” An introduction from a mutual friend was the unlikely matching of two people destined to collaborate. What is certain at the small window front of this unique salon is that, where The Death of the King’s Canary is a fictional work, this The King’s Canary has life, it has wings and they are certain only to grow.

Ezra Axelrod

Ezra Axelrod

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Astrid Schulz

“My parents are both writers. I grew up in a storytelling environment, and music quickly became my preferred medium. I wanted to tell stories through music…”

A man approaches the tall sash window fronts. An eye looks towards Charlotte Street as a taxi makes the awkward turn onto Rathbone Street. The vacant seat at the piano front is taken up and fingers are raised above the keys at the corner of Rathbone Place and Percy Street. The thoughts borne are of music, lyrics and endless composure. In the moment of the idea the fingers are caused to tremble between songs and words. The contrast of Bach’s classical numbers, the riveting ‘Goldberg Variations Aria’ and endless European pop influences cause his lips and vocal cords to stammer between ideas. The idea is set, a composition presents itself. The piano keys begin their clicking. Lyrics are recited; the voice is soft and airing. The American begins his singing. Ezra Axelrod tells me of his American routes, finding his musical feet, new ventures and his beloved Fitzrovia.

Born in Ohio and raised in the state of Oregan, USA. He describes himself as being from the middle of nowhere or as he calls it, “a tumbleweed town” he says. I learn that he grew up in a literary household: “My parents are both writers,” he tells me – his mother writes essays, his father poetry and non-fiction prose. “I grew up in a storytelling environment. I was the only musician in the family. I wanted to tell stories through music.” He continues to tell me about his conflicted upbringing in the United States, “where I grew up was complicated, it was a place full of contradictions.” He goes to explain the lack of outlet for these feelings, “they weren’t contradictions that I could speak about at school. People didn’t understand those contractions although they were part of them.” Ezra was raised in a secular Jewish family, though identified as an atheist at age 11, although he admits his views on spirituality are ever-evolving. Growing up in the United States, Ezra was aware of the troubling contradictions that surrounded him. Many aspects of his home country both politically and socially were issues that Ezra wanted to speak out about, like abstinence-only education for a highly sexually active youth or lack of educational funding vs. military spending, anti-abortion campaigns yet lack of resources for mothers. “The U.S. is complicated, it’s a place full of contradictions, where you’re expected to be exceptional but ostracised if you stand out. My parents taught me to be very analytical and critical, so at a young age I was aware of what was going on around me, but didn’t feel entirely at ease exploring the contradictions of my environment. Music became the coded language through which I could discuss these issues,” he explains.

A self-confessed Tori Amos fan, Ezra was inspired by Amos’ candid approach to controversial issues and began writing pop songs at the age of 11, having already studied piano from the age of 5. Ezra went on to study music at university in Vermont, at Middlebury College, focusing on voice, piano and composition. In contrast to his pop song-writing, at university he delved deep into classical music. As we discuss everything from Schubert’s Winterreise forward to Swedish pop, his diversity in musical taste and performance becomes all the more evident as we converse. “Coming from a region that was very much country music orientated, I’ve had a lot of folk influences. Also having studied so much classical music and classical piano I’ve had a combination of lots of influences. I’m now living in Northern Europe where it’s so electronic. For a while I was really resistant to this genre as I was so attached to my roots but finally, after six years in London, I can really hear my new home taking hold in my music.”

Ezra moved to London in 2008 after his husband (who’s been his partner since they were teenagers) was offered a job here, the decision feeling right for the both of them, as binational same-sex couples didn’t have access to immigration rights at that time in the U.S. (Ezra’s husband is Colombian). He and his husband spent about 4 years living in Soho, first in a shoebox on Old Compton Street and then another shoebox on Rupert Street. Although they were fond of Soho, at times they grew tired of its constant buzz. “When you live in an environment like that you don’t notice how frenetic, chaotic and cluttered it really is and how similarly your mind is frenetic and chaotic. There really was no rest from the constant flow of people,” he says on his years living in Soho. He had started looking at properties in East London though as a keen runner, Ezra often ran through Fitzrovia to reach Regent’s Park and longed to live in the quiet, ultra-Central neighbourhood. On a whim, he phoned an estate agent and found a rare gem of a flat and hasn’t looked back since, now living in the purple corner house on Rathbone Street. “I think it’s the one neighbourhood in London that I really identify with. It’s made all the difference to me! I come from a really stunning natural setting where you look out of your window and see mountains, you of course don’t get that in London. I needed something I could latch onto, and I think it’s being able to walk around and feel like you’re in a small town that drew me here. It’s that element of minimalism and character that I fell in love with, you can tell that the people who live here take pride in the neighbourhood. That is a very Scandinavian quality to me, and Scandinavia is a place that influences me a lot, so Fitzrovia to me is the perfect home to come back to after those adventures in the North! In terms of my creative process, last October I started a routine where I got up at 6am every day to work and record demos. Fitzrovia helps me work creatively” he says on how Fitzrovia has helped rejuvenate his talents.

In essence, songwriting is Ezra’s chosen poetic language utilised to explore all of the issues that surrounded him during his youth through to his present. “I really discovered pop music in high-school – I wanted to be a soul singer! I continued on with my songwriting through to university though my desire for pop and soul faded in university, when I was pushed more toward academic music. I stopped songwriting for some time,” he explains. When Ezra moved to London, he rekindled his relationship with pop and embarked on writing his first album, American Motel (2012). On the album, he explores stories of lust, love, and the trial and error of learning to live as a young gay man. “My first album all about learning how to love and lust as a gay man without having any precedents to follow, no stable role models to look up to. I think the album tells a fairly unique story in pop music,” he says. Ezra turned the album into a live theatre piece that had a 20-show at Leicester Square Theatre in 2012. Currently working on his second album while balancing a career on the business side of the music industry, Ezra is also preparing to embark on a new musical journey this autumn as a graduate student at the Royal College of Music.

Now a permanent resident in the UK, Ezra feels very much at home in London and in Fitzrovia. “It’s taken six years, but I’m finally starting to feel like I have a community here.” With his new album, Ezra is exploring themes of recovery, the struggles of so many people he holds dear to his heart, and their resilience. “The new album is very dance and pop orientated, and I think that’s appropriate, this is a celebration, even if the content is still moody and dark at the core,” he says. I am assured that this truly creative musician who fears not the need to express his inner soul through the voice of his talent shall only continue to rise to success in the years to come. The piano keys stop their clicking. The voice slows. Ezra Axelrod stops his singing.

Laurence Glynne

Laurence Glynne

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Adedoton Adesanya

“The character of anywhere, especially in London and all of the places that I’ve worked in over the years, is that they have an identity and a personality. That’s the beauty of London and Fitzrovia…”

There are many familiar figures in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, all of them current, all of them present. Roaming between Scandinavian Kitchen and the table fronts of The Attendant, you may encounter the familiar positivity and quirkiness, quite appropriately dressed in Oliver Spencer attire. Born in the Middlesex Hospital some years ago, I present to you the unique perspective of a Fitzrovia-cross-East Midlands gentleman who offers a rare glimpse at the character and personality of our neighbourhood, from past to present. Laurence Glynne details to me his Fitzrovia birthplace, the former Fitzrovia rag-trade, interweaved in our conversation about our upbringing in the East Midlands.

Laurence was raised with a Jewish background and, for much of his youth, he grew up in Nottingham. At the time of his birth his parents were living with his grandmother, originally from Russia, in a rented property on Notting Hill Gate. “My Dad came out of the army, my Mum was pregnant and I was born, I have a twin sister,” says Laurence. Due to a growing sense of anti-Semitism which followed on from the Second World War, the family changed their name from Goldstein to Glynne. His father was working in the rag-trade when Laurence was just 18 months old when his father had a job opportunity in the same trade in Nottingham. To keep the family together, they decided to move together.

When Laurence was in his teens, his father brought him back to his birthplace and routes, Fitzrovia. His father showed him the epicentre of the Fitzrovia rag-trade. He recalls Riding House Street, Great Portland Street and the huge thriving Jewish community in Fitzrovia at the time. He was also reintroduced to his birthplace, the Middlesex Hospital, currently being replaced by Fitzroy Place. “I think that, as long as the history of the Middlesex Hospital remains, so will the spirit of the area. For local people and people coming to the area it is important for them to know what the site is all about,” he says of his feelings on the current building site.

After finishing his studies in Hotel Management and Business Studies at Ealing in the 1970s, Laurence returned to his West-End birthplace. Initially he thought about using his knowledge to start working in marketing, but taking his passion for cooking, he finally decided to pursue a career in catering. After working many jobs such as  in the kitchen at Coq D’or, as a waiter at Connaunght Hotel and also at the BBC in catering he found himself working in property for a number of companies in the West-End. He worked for Keith Cardale Groves and Anscombe and Ringland where worked and gaining his first experience in his field. This new direction was far removed from his career hopes. In the late ‘80s he decided that he either wanted to get out of the business or ‘start his own thing’ in residential property. And so, Laurence founded ‘LDG’ (an acronym of his full name, Laurence David Glynne) in 1987, a place situated on Marylebone’s Queen Anne Street, at the heart of the West-End comprise at the time of little more than a desk and a word processor. His company has also been based on Marylebone Lane, South Molton Street but, today, it’s situated right here in Fitzrovia, on the corner of Foley Street and Candover Street. Laurence tells me that “for this period of time, over about 5 years, we had been concentrating in on the area that I passionately love: starting in Marylebone, through to Fitzrovia, Covent Garden and Soho. Each of these areas has a wonderful identity. Even today there are very few agents that I think know these individual areas in terms of their own intrinsic character. That’s what we love about them, the variety.”

Due to his passion for the West-End and those ‘villages’ that he feels it’s comprised, Laurence decided to settle his business on the doorstep of his birthplace, where LDG now operates. “The character of anywhere, especially in London and all of the places that I’ve worked in over the years, is that they have an identity and a personality. That’s the beauty of London and Fitzrovia. I recently came back from a trip to New York, one of the things I love so much about New York and equally about London is that it’s made up of a combination of villages. Each area (Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Mid-Town and Up-Town) has its own character and feel. That is something that is equally reflected in Fitzrovia and it’s neighbouring villages,” he remarks. Laurence talks of the character of Fitzrovia, its differentiation between Marylebone, Bloomsbury, the loud of Soho and the glitz of Mayfair.

I find his motive for starting his business here in the neighbourhood fascinating. As I engage with various members of the Fitzrovia community it enthralls me to find the connections between the characters of our neighbourhood unearthed, their stories intertwined. In the case of Laurence Glynne, he is a rare example of a rather jolly gentleman who doesn’t know how to stop in his tracks, who knows only how to strive for that he believes in. When he isn’t raving to me about his passion for Arsenal and Nottingham Forest Football teams, I find Laurence talking of his sheer love and admiration for the neighbourhood that has given him so much, not to mention his birth.

Matthew Sturgis

Matthew Sturgis

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Astrid Schulz

“I suffered quite badly with dyslexia when I was young. I really struggled to learn to read. And writing was even more difficult. And yet I had this odd sort of compulsion towards books and the literary life – even though I had very little ability with which to achieve it…”

His hands are laid together, the paper and ink sit under his nose, the writer waiting patiently at his desk. He looks about the room – what is that sound? That ringing and dancing sound he hears? The sound of ideas. A thought of Aubrey Beardsley is quickly silenced by one of the incomparable Oscar Wildes stomping about London. The rattle of a bike making the turn into Warren Mews where the wheels begin to totter and shake over the cobblestones is familiar – he wonders if it is his wife, Rebecca or just the postman late again. Writer, critic, biographer, fellow Fitzrovian Matthew Sturgis explains to me his early days in Fitzrovia, his writing method and current endeavour; a biography of the essayist, writer and poet Oscar Wilde.

Raised in London, Matthew was born, as he would put it, ‘just up the road’, in Gloucester Crescent, Camden Town. After reading History at university he decided to look for work, finding it in publishing. “It gave me an insight as to how books were made and published, though really I wanted to be on the other side of the fence; making mistakes rather than correcting them.” Matthew laughs. Soon after, he received a commission from just over the border in Bloomsbury. The publisher was in a panic: they needed somebody to write the words to go between the pictures of a new publication: “It was to be a book about cats and I love cats. They were rather desperate and needed somebody urgently. I said ‘yes could do it.’ It gave me the courage to stop being a publisher and begin as a writer.” The book in question is The English Cat At Home and has had the honour of being a Christmas bestseller, Matthew says that it has probably sold more copies than any of his other publications.

Matthew’s most recent book, When in Rome, is an account of how the Latin city has been visited as a tourist destination for the past 2000 years, exploring what people have looked at during each century and why. But he is best known for his books about the rich cultural world of the fin de siècle such as Passionate Attitudes, a study of the English Decadence in the 1890s and acclaimed biographies of the artists Aubrey Beardsley and Walter Sickert (also another great Fitzrovian). Such texts take a huge amount of labour and research alongside long hours in libraries and at his desk. So as a diversion, and a necessary financial supplement, he also writes a bit for the papers and magazines. Anything from book reviews in the TLS (“even less remunerative than writing biographies of cultural figures from the late Nineteenth Century”) to articles on art and travel for the in-house magazine of a luxury Swiss watch brand. He has also dabbled as a football reporter for the Independent on Sunday.

Fitzrovia has long been a part of Matthew’s life and he recalls its slightly seedy, exotic flavour in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a time in which his father, an architect, worked just off Fitzroy Square. “It seemed un-English, and that made it an exciting place to be. I also remember the excitement of watching the post office tower being built and then the greater excitement of going up it – only to the viewing platform, the revolving-restaurant remained a dizzying and unattainable ideal.” He first came to live in the area in the early 1980s, after his years at university. He found a small flat on Cleveland Street opposite the former Middlesex Hospital where, he tells me, “There was a fine view of the men’s respiratory ward. The sun never came in through the windows, except for a small sliver that pierced the gloom at noon on mid-summer’s day. It was thrilling, though, to be in there in the heart of town.” he reminisces, echoing the thoughts of many living this central to the city. It was only a few years after this that Matthew met his wife, the gallery owner Rebecca Hossack. Today the two live together on Warren Street.

Matthew mostly writes from a small study at the top of the Warren Street house, where he sits at a desk and works away: he still uses a pen and paper. Sturgis goes on to tell me of this slightly anachronistic working style: “Sometimes, if I have trouble with a page, I will go and sit in another chair, or maybe write with a pencil rather than a pen, just to trick my mind.” He continues, explaining why he only uses his computer as a word processor when preparing his manuscript for publication: “I notice I write in a very different way if I type opposed to writing by hand. The sentences form themselves differently. As soon as you sit down at a keyboard, I stop being left-handed and become ambidextrous. That must have an effect on the way thoughts travel from the brain down to the hand, or the fingers.ˮ But of course, as with any biography, the research is an even larger task as the writing and not everything can be done with a pen in the study: “One of the great things about living in Fitzrovia is that I’m very close to the British Library,” Matthew says.

At present, Matthew is in the early stages of working on a new biography of the famous Irish poet and writer Oscar Wilde, a text which is set to be published by John Murray publishers. Wilde made frequent forays into Fitzrovia, visiting the high-minded artistic community at 20 Fitzroy Street (which was, at the time, presided over by Herbert Horne and Arthur Mackmurdo) as well as seeking out the brothels around Cleveland Street that offered questionable services relating to the author’s oft quoted “love that dare not speak its name.”

I myself write fiction novels, when I’m not working on Fitzrovia Journal, each taking around 9 months at best to write. From research, to writing, to editing through to publication, Matthew estimates that a biography like his current project will take about six years.

A wonderfully renowned figure in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, Matthew Sturgis is one of the many writers to have walked through our streets shadowing the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Rimbaud and even Oscar Wilde. The writer watches about the room again, it is decided that the distinct tottering of the bike wheels along Warren Mews could only be those of his wife’s.

The Characters of Fitzrovia

The Characters of Fitzrovia

Words Peter West

Illustrations Sarah Maycock

Fitzrovia, with its welcoming village atmosphere and bohemian lifestyle, has always attracted creative individuals. Here we focus on five famous characters who have contributed to the creative spirit of Fitzrovia.

Dickens, Woolf, Thomas, Dylan and Hendrix. Just five of the famous names who have either lived or frequented Fitzrovia.  And the legacy will continue as many more poets, painters, writers and musicians are drawn to one of the most creative places in London.

The images featured here have kindly been provided by Fitzroy Place who commissioned artist Sarah Maycock to create a series of illustrations to celebrate the creativity of Fitzrovia.


Jimi Hendrix

The musical revolution in the 1960s also produced Jimi Hendrix and he was another to gravitate towards Fitzrovia. He arrived in 1966 and formed his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, in the October of that year.

Around that time one of the most popular late-night venues in London was the Speakeasy Club on Margaret Street, which was alleged to be owned by the Kray Twins. Jimi played with many famous names at the club and also frequently met friends there during the late sixties.

On one occasion Mick Jagger turned up, with his then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull, to watch Hendrix play. After the set, it’s reputed that Hendrix sidled up to Faithfull and whispered in her ear “What are you doing with this jerk?” Years later in an interview, Marianne was reported to say “It’s one of the greatest regrets of my life. I should have said, ‘Okay mate, let’s go.’”

The Berners Street Hoax

The Berners Street Hoax

Words Peter McSweeney

Illustrations Alexandria Coe

I love a good hustle. Since before I could walk I’ve found getting into places I shouldn’t a real thrill. I now find the taste of a smoothly executed hustle (or as us Manchester folk called it ‘The Blag’) is much sweeter than actually being approved credibly by the appropriate gate keeper, access to an exclusive venue. I personally pride myself on being a master blagger, from gaining VIP passes for top fashion events and film premiere after-parties, to backstage with David Guetta in Nice, Guns & Roses in Vegas and having Harvey Weinstein shake my hand with a confused ‘Who the hell is this Kid on my boat?’ in Cannes. ‘He’s got a funny accent, get rid!’ he said to the puzzled security guard. Too bad the boat had already left Port Harvey…

A blag can also come in the form of a prank. Now forget the well-known ‘Pizza Prank’ popular with students, where you order lots of Pizza to a friend’s house from various delivery companies and get them to arrive all at the same time, or the taxi version of this prank which I was victim to on many occasions. These are both somewhat silly and juvenile and they require little skill or innovation. There is one man who puts my little social victories to shame and makes the cast of BBC’s Hustle look like amateurs, that gentleman is one Theodore Hook, a 19th century playboy, writer and all-round ‘hashtag lad.’ Modern day popular media would probably use clichés such as ‘living legend’ and quote Charlie Sheen and ‘#winning’ when describing this fella. His neighbours? Well they might have a different slant on it.

Rewind to Fitzrovia Nov 27th 1810, 5am on a well-to-do street in central London called Berners Street. Mrs. Tottenham (in some sources spelt Tottingham) was fast asleep when a chirpy Chimney Sweep arrived. The maid quickly sent him on his way as no such service had been requested. Moments later another sweep arrived, then another and another! They keep on coming, twelve in total. As no such serviceman had been ordered they were all swept promptly on their way abruptly. What a strange hour it was, however it had just begun.

Suddenly, a fleet of large coal carts arrived, followed by tradesman from every service industry thinkable. Along came Doctors, Lawyers, Fishmongers, Butchers, Shoemakers, and a Priest who was preparing to minister the last rights after being told ‘the master of the house was dying.’ They were accompanied by a team of bakers bearing wedding cakes for Mrs. Tottenham’s big day. The Priest must have been rather confused!

According to The London Annual Register for the Year 1810, these deliveries included “Wagons laden with coals from the Paddington wharfs, upholsterers’ goods in cart-loads, organs, pianofortes, linen, jewellery, and every other description of furniture.” It did not stop there: out of the chaos, six men rocked up holding an Organ, along with a dozen pianos. Mrs. Tottenham must have been a keen musician. They were joined by wine porters, barbers with wigs, mantua-makers and an optician. By this point the road was blocked and members of the public were stood watching and amused by this Comedy of Errors.

However, room could still be made for the Lord Mayor of London accompanied by two of his servants. Mrs. Tottenham was a lady of wealth and status so could call upon such dignitaries throughout the day, which also included the Governor of the Bank of England, the Duke of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury! What a popular lady she was that day. By now she was nowhere to be seen, as she was hiding in her room after being summoned by the Police who had been brought in for crowd control and to deal with bedlam of the roads being closed in the very heart of The British Empire. A few doors down a young Mr. Hook watched on, in what I can only imagine as being ecstatic excitement that his carefully planned Hoax had been executed with military precision.

To pull off such a prank today would require some planning and man-hours. However, in a time before social media, booking apps, email or even the telephones, it required months of work as everything needed to be arranged by letter or in person. It is thought that Mr. Hook sent over a thousand written correspondents and in a manner that would not arise an ounce of suspicion.

Why did he go to such feats? Well, like the birth of many great enterprises, it was no more than a bar bet to see if he could turn one street in London into being the most talked about, famous street in the land. He succeeded! His antic made the national press and the Police embarked on a manhunt for the perpetrator of such a wicked hoax.

Although Mr. Hook was questioned about the matter, he was never formally charged or found guilty of the hoax, even though he is widely believed to be the brains behind it. He went on to live a varied life that one would expect from such a character, from the refines of a sponging house for debtors to launching his own newspaper and being the inspiration for the characters of Lucian Gay in Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Coningsby and also Mr. Wagg in Vanity Fair. He certainly left his mark on the world in many ways.

What would he be doing today? Well, probably much of the same. Although he might have found the commercial success that television pranksters and showman such as Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat & Ali G), David Blaine and Dom Joly have enjoyed. At the very least, he would have gotten a spot on Channel 4’s Balls of Steel. There is no doubt his prank caused a lot of hardworking tradesman a wasted journey (and some a real loss of earnings). Saying that, it is hard not to admire the planning and gall on some level, but I would strongly advise any budding pranksters to take a different approach to Mr. Hook and find notoriety elsewhere. Partly because they will no doubt leave a trail that will result in prosecution, or a beating of some kind, but mainly because I now live on Berners Street and I don’t want the hassle. However, let’s raise our glasses and say cheers to Mr Hook, one of the greatest pranksters Fitzrovia has ever seen.

Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia

Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Astrid Schulz

“When I do come to Fitzrovia, bang do go my plans in a horrid alcoholic explosion that scatters all my good intentions like bits of limbs and into the saloon bars of the tawdriest pubs in London.”

– Dylan Thomas, 1936


On a bomb-damage map of our region there is a circular stain from the bottom of a beer glass over what is widely considered to be the epicentre of Fitzrovia, our Fitzroy Square. No, it is not the panache of drunks come again, wailing and moaning through their teeth, but the stamp of a new local project titled ‘Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia’. The grinning actor, Mr. Jason Morell, seems somewhat occupied with what his friend, Griff Rhys Jones, has recently succeeded to persuade him to undertake; the enormous task of becoming the director and organiser of the Dylan Thomas festival. Jason gives me an insight into the organising of the festival, the events which will unfold in October this year and indeed Dylan Thomas himself.

Jason, who began acting school as young boy, has appeared in numerous films to date, including Mrs. Brown (1997) and Wilde (1997), he is also a familiar face in the Royal Shakespeare Company. Considering this, what baffles me so much is how it comes be that such a diverse, classically trained actor has found himself directing a literary festival. Ironically, it turns out that he became involved in the festival through the very thing he’s familiar with; stage acting. Just over four years ago Jason was playing Mr. Sowerberry on Drury Lane in “Oliver!”, the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famous novel. In the dressing room next to him at the time, playing Fagin, was Griff Rhys Jones. Working together over a period of 6 months led to them to almost inevitably become friends. Last year they met again and soon the topic on the table was far removed from the stage: “We were having lunch together last year when Griff was explaining to me about a production he was putting together about the final week in the life of Dylan Thomas (‘A Poet in New York’, aired 18/05/14, BBC TWO). He was also talking to me about Fitzrovia. If I remember correctly he said to me ‘what we need is a festival to celebrate Dylan Thomas’ rich and rollicking life in Fitzrovia!’ I, perhaps unwisely, said it was a good idea…’ laughs Jason.

Early last year he began to carry out research for the project and looking into initial sources of funding. Since last October he has been working on it almost full-time, 7-days a week most weeks – in running my own project, I can relate to how tiring yet thrilling this can be. After this period, Jason realised that, from a funding front, it would be better for him to register the festival as a charity. He describes the whole process as a sleepless one that involved a lot of chasing people, though in balance he speaks of what a wonderful opportunity it is for him to be heading an event of this scale. “Excitingly and stressfully we’ve now gotten to the stage where we’ve got a lot of agreements in place, although many of these need to be pinned down. Much of the funding is now promised, but there is still much that needs to be crystallised,” he explains. Jason bravely states that it will be conclusively proven that Dylan Thomas is the father of hip hop. A personal favourite of mine, I am left doubtful as to what the ensemble of N.W.A. would say on the matter. Nonetheless, we shall see indeed whether hip hop came ‘straight outta Wales…”

The project is fast progressing, with numerous events and appearances carefully being pieced together to form a complete festival. The London Welsh Chorale is set to sing at the Eastcastle Street Welsh Chapel on the corner of Conway Street and Warren Street’s Welsh Dairy will feature poetry – not to forget cake! Remarkably, even Dylan’s writing shed will travel from Laugharne in Wales to Store Street. There are many events that will be included in the festival, including a screening room at the Saatchi & Saatchi building on Charlotte Street, I am humoured to discover that, in true Welsh spirit, there will be sheep right here in Fitzrovia! “We’ve got a gala concert organised on the eve of Dylan’s birth at the Dominion Theatre,” I’m told, “we’re currently looking for headline acts for that. Griff will be doing something hopefully along with our patrons.” I look in awe as Jason shows to me a sample of a never before seen series of photographs of Dylan Thomas, taken by Nora Summers, which will be exhibited during the festival. Welsh art will be on display in galleries and shops throughout Fitzrovia.

Other than Griff and Jason, high-profile patrons of the festival include Sir Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation, X-Men series), Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, The Amazing Spider-Man), Sian Phillips CBE (Clash of the Titans), Jonathan Pryce CBE (Tomorrow Never Dies, Pirates of the Caribbean series) and Owen Sheers (Welsh poet & author). This collection of big named stars will be lending their honourable support and, for some of them, may even feature in the festival. “The committee; Hannah Ellis (Dylan’s Granddaughter); Griff Rhys Jones; myself; Alasdair Graham; Colin Tweedy; and Bronwen Price from literature Wales are the drivers behind the project,” Jason stresses, highlighting the collaborative efforts involved.

Arguably one of the greatest poets and writers to have come out of Wales, Dylan Thomas’ work is still widely appreciated today – being both read and performed for an international audience. This year marks the centenary of the birth of this infamous poet who was at one time, somewhat ironically, banned from just about every pub in Fitzrovia. ‘Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia’ is just one of many high-profile and innovative events that will be staged across the world for celebration of his 100th Year and it will be a festival to celebrate every aspect of the bohemia in which the poet thrived. On a whole, the event will focus in on the late poet, though it will also bring the area, and many small local businesses, together in a way never before seen. The ambition here is to involve as much of Fitzrovia as possible in some way, shape or form. Jason Morell – I salute you sir. The festival runs 25th – 26th October 2014 right across Fitzrovia, for what is sure to be a landmark event for the area. See you there!

The Independent Businesses of Fitzrovia

The Independent Businesses of Fitzrovia

Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alexandria Coe

Fitzrovia is a growing and diverse community of new and existing independent businesses. With the journal we are always looking to document local and independent businesses, if you have an independent business in the area then we want to hear from you on how we can work together in an upcoming feature.


Formerly a Victorian toilet built around 1890, The Attendant was dormant for more than fifty years before being lovingly transformed into one of Europe’s most unique independent espresso & food bar spaces.



Extracts from the novel ‘The Writer The Villain and The Stone’ Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alexandria Coe

The gust finds me again as I turn onto Mortimer street, the chill presses at me the way tailors slip to press pins into clients waists. I am impetuous by the roadside ignoring shoulders and toes, dismissing them and the bodies which they entail spying hastily to the rare red brickwork which remains of the Middlesex hospital on Nassau street.

It is clear to the rare faces on this quiet January morning that I mean to be somewhere beyond the still road beside the construction site of Fitzroy Place and the long overhanging white cranes which dwindle in the hissing rain. Somewhere beyond this corner of mortimer street and newman street where the new corner tavern is being readied with a startling shade of grey. The odd leaves that still survive on into the winter clutter the air to brush against my shoes and to glide past the news store where on the awning “monocle” is haughtily inscribed. The stretch of charlotte street goes onto the square, onto the noise and the startling panic of euston road and the eerie warren street terraces, and the mews’ which burrow from it.

The Express

The Express

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Adedotun Adesanya

“Convenience, n.: The quality of being convenient, generally: i.e. of being suitable or well-adapted to the performance of some action or to the satisfying of requirements; suitability, commodiousness.”

Even according to the Oxford English Dictionary, convenience is just a bore. Sleepwalking through the resounding cries, bops and bleeps of cash registers and self-service tills we are completely unaware that we are stomping about in the supermarket revolution – the undying, slogan filled monopoly of the High Street. We are told competition is a healthy routine, but in a small community, such as our own, it comes at the cost of the independent sellers. The rise of the corporate is tough and it is leaving desolate, empty spaces on our streets. They say “We’re all in this together,” but are we really? If so, who? This is something that local residents feel must be reduced to ensure the preservation of our charismatic neighbourhood. Our local businesses deserve to appropriately co-exist alongside major competitors, giving them an assured longevity in the area; they are not for the gallows.

Walking about her small store in a long traditional striped grocer’s apron is Christine Vasili, a shop owner based on New Cavendish Street. Above a traditional awning, under which fruit and vegetables are displayed, is a sign which aptly reads Christine’s Express. The business has been selling fresh fruit and day-to-day essentials for over 60 years. Christine, originally from Cyprus, tells me that she started her business when she came to England in 1954. She speaks to me about her years in the area, changes in scenery, the telecom tower being built, the IRA bombing in 1971, the demolition of Blitz damaged houses and the rebuilding of the area. She used to run the Express with her late husband, it had been an off-licence then, but she decided to drop alcohol from her shelves after his passing. All of her stock is purchased in London and she tells me from where its is sourced, “Me and my son, we go to Brick Lane market where we buy all of our fruit and vegetables fresh on a Sunday. Once we brought everything from Covent Garden market but that’s a tourist area now.”

Chalk Doors

Chalk Doors

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Jonas Laclasse

“They do not work on their own, they work because of imagination. The concrete is for your imagination. Lots of people ask me ‘what is behind the door, where is the key?’ and I tell them, the answer is the mind.”

What do you see? Where do doors take us? The door is an invention, a simple interval between one room and another. Early August, summer 2013, a series of chalk doors began to appear in the West-End neighbourhoods of Euston, Fitzrovia and Soho. As I look out of the window to the corner of Fitzroy and Maple Street there is a door etched in white chalk on the side of a building, untouched for over 6 months. People still stop and make queries, take photographs and allow their imagination to draw its own perceptions: ‘Whodunit?’, ‘why draw a door?’ and ‘where does it lead?’ There is a door at the corner of Warren Street and Grafton Mews, Fitzroy Street, Charlotte Street and along Rathbone Place. I heard rumours of a graffiti artist from one of the local universities, the wobbly theories of a madman – none of which proved to hold any truth. They sounded oh so Victorian, so Jack the Ripper. Investigating the mystery of what I have simply come to refer as ‘chalk doors’, I had high hopes of discovering an odd type. Instead, behind every door I found the wonderful Jonas Laclasse.

Raised in Orleans, Santa Catarina, Brazil, Jonas now lives in Bordeaux, France. With a background in photography and design, he made the decision to commit to his own personal projects and drop commercial work in design just over a year ago. Today he is an artist and photographer. Although, as he would put it: “I would call myself an artist, though I don’t like the term, I think it sounds quite pretentious. Photographer is what I say to people if I want to be quick.” He experimented with numerous projects, all of which were personal to him, though none were given foot to until The Doors came about in 2012. “It was always a bit of trial here and there. This is the first project that was making sense in my mind. It was putting all my different skills together; I get a certain amount of satisfaction from the project.” In Bordeaux, Jonas began to draw the doors throughout the city. “First there was one door and then two doors, then four, then six and so on.”

Jonas originally drew the doors and watched people interact with them from afar. After working on the project in Bordeaux for some time, he decided to take the next step and began photographing people’s interactions with the doors: “One day there was a guy who passed by. He was very strong, he had three big dogs, and he was a very charismatic guy. I thought to myself that I have to get him in the photograph. I went to speak with him, at the beginning it was only for documenting The Doors. When I got back to the studio and looked at the shot I thought ‘this is something’. I knew I was onto something.” That year he experimented with the idea in Bordeaux and drew more of the doors in a town near Paris. The feedback he received from onlookers was inspiration for Jonas to continue the project – the interpretation of his viewers matched and exceeded his expectations: “It is quite a simple idea; the door is not a door, it is concrete, it is a possibility in people’s lives to remind them of the power of imagination. Most doors are closed; this is just a drawing on the wall. They are becoming stronger when people have to think about them. They do not work on their own, they work because of imagination; the concrete is your imagination. Lots of people ask me, ‘what is behind the door, where is the key to the door?’ and I tell them, ‘the answer is the mind’. It could be that the door is going to many places depending on who is looking at it.”

The idea soon came to him, during the winter, of taking The Doors project with him on a trip around Europe. After leaving France, Jonas travelled to major cities; London; Berlin; Budapest; Warsaw; Bucharest; and Lisbon. There is almost a door in every major European city. Today there are, astonishingly, over 200 in Bordeaux, with an estimated 150 across the continent. He also has plans this year to take The Doors to other cities such as Madrid, Roma Athena, Brussels, Riga and even the United States. Jonas began to walk through the local neighbourhood early August last year, beginning in Euston and then proceeding to Fitzrovia. As he walked along Warren Street, he discovered the cobbles of Grafton Mews where he began to run his chalk over a wall: “When I started to draw the door… somebody from the building I was drawing on came to speak to me, he was angry. When I explained what I was doing he calmed down and let me finish. He liked the idea; he let me photograph him next to the door.” (When drawing his doors he will begin to approach passers-by to pose in front, allowing him to photograph them. After taking the image of the subject he will take a point-of-view shot facing away from the door, capturing the environment). Following this, Jonas proceeded back along Warren Street and along Whitfield Street where he found himself in Whitfield Place.

Another trademark of his is to draw what he refers to as a ‘special door’ at the request of a passer-by; at Whitfield place Jonas drew one of these doors, as he explained to me: “I drew the ‘jail one’ for a guy I met at the park, it was a special type of door that I will draw for somebody I meet at the time.”

After extensive research, I discovered Jonas Laclasse, the man behind The Doors, through his photography and documentation of his project online. It felt ground-breaking to have solved something that I have so often heard people enquire about. The Doors will take the viewer anywhere. From the concrete, to the bottom of one’s mind and back again, what do you see? Chalk doors.

Rebecca Hossack

Rebecca Hossack

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Paul Vickery

“Fitzrovia is my song-line, as the aboriginals would say.”


The usual radiance of positivity and aid from a recently discovered neighbour, this is found in the strikingly tall Rebecca Hossack. I am told to look here, to read this, observe, to go nowhere and to always listen, to learn. To watch the art and see, venture to the farthest corners our neighbourhood, to turn sleuth in searching for the previous occupants of her home, to be at home in her gallery(ies), Fitzrovia and always myself. I am told many things by Rebecca, many stories. There are many words that ring on, though the single most resounding sentiment in reference to hanging flowers from my window ledge is: “if one person makes a difference on their street and their community, it will change everything.” I told myself this article would not become personal, though if I am to abide the spirit of my neighbour, I can only be honest and at home in my thoughts.

Australian, a promoter of Aboriginal Art and other cultures, Rebecca was born in Melbourne, 1955. She began studying the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in the early ‘80s when she first came to England, soon after opting for a career in art. She found home along Warren Street and still, today, after establishing two successful Fitzrovia based galleries, with another in the heart of Lower Manhattan, New York, her presence is as fierce as her message: to create a place where people can come to find themselves in the sanctuary of the art, greenery and peace of her galleries. Her first gallery opened March 1988, Windmill Street, “it’s now a hairdressers!” she says, “it was very cheap. It was all done on a handshake. I didn’t have any money at all, so I borrowed £20,000 and used it to start the gallery.” I ask Rebecca what it is that brought her to the area: “It was a beautiful summer day, at that time no one ate outside in London, there were no tables and chairs, except on Charlotte Street. It was sunny, and everyone was sitting outside; I said ‘wow!’ It reminded me of Melbourne.”

The original gallery ran for nearly 20 years. With the approach of the lease expiring, she sought new ground moving the gallery to a larger three-story building on Conway Street. “After 20 years at Windmill Street the lease was up and I was worried that, with all the developments in the area, it’d be too expensive, and that’s when I found Conway Street in 2008. It was a dump; it was actually a recording studio where Jamie Oliver made his cooking programmes. It looked really bad, there were no trees, it looked really ugly.” In addition to the new Conway Street gallery, another smaller sister gallery was opened in the heart of Fitzrovia, Charlotte Street. Both galleries were opened within a year of one another; the smaller sister of the two was the former home of a bookshop. “It was a fantastic bookshop called Atlantic Bookshop. It was a left-wing bookshop – I think they moved to Brixton. The person who owned the house said to me, ‘why don’t you have it as a gallery and we’ll give you a very good rental rate to stop it becoming a chain store;’ Starbucks wanted to move in”.

Her spirit and message are found at both sites in Fitzrovia. The two sisters adopt Rebecca’s signature red tables and chairs, posted at the front of the galleries to bring informality and energy to the street. It becomes clear to me in talking to Rebecca that she feels the strong need to rebel, to adapt her environment to her own vision; one community embodying nature and sociability into each site. “There were these gloomy little businesses on Windmill Street. There were no trees and no tables and chairs. I painted the first gallery yellow and I had this campaign to get trees put outside. I got a skip and I planted trees and daffodils outside the gallery, the council couldn’t do anything. And then, eventually, they relented and now there’re trees all along the street. When you start doing that and you put tables and chairs outside it’s kind of like making the street less custom. And so other little galleries moved into Windmill Street and it became a really nice area; because there were galleries, coffee shops opened too. Conway Street was equally dreary with no trees; I wanted to bring life and energy to the street.” I was astounded to learn that in 2007 she raised over £20,000 running the New York Marathon to pay for trees to be planted on the very street I live, Maple Street. I am pleased to know she felt the need to plant greenery at the stone feet of the telecom tower.

Across the Atlantic lies the American cousin of the two sister galleries in Fitzrovia; set in the heart of what can only be described as a New York based match for the area. Nolita, or ‘NoLIta’ (short for ‘North of little Italy’), was described to me by Rebecca as being “the Fitzrovia of New York City, the only place I could open a gallery.” Mott Street runs from Bleecker Street in the north, downward (one-way, southbound) to Chatham Square in the south. I brave a cold, clear February morning from Prince Street Subway Station to make the walk 4 blocks east to Mott Street through the mountains of snow left by the sidewalks. The signature red table and chair, a tree planted by the entrance and a metal dog dressed in blue velvet in the window (compliments of artist Peter Clark) greets me along with gallery director, Kinsey Robb, and her associate, Allison Therrien. “The wood of the floor doesn’t exist anymore. It is Green Elm that existed when Abraham Lincoln was alive; the building was his monument for the hall of weapons for the law of independence during the civil war. He would’ve walked on our floor we think!” I recall Rebecca saying, as I look about the gallery, stepping over the slanted green elm floor where Lincoln once trod; thought to have been a butcher’s at one stage. The same spirit is embodied, the presence of greenery and trees, the informality of the table & chairs left by the entrance. Her energy is very much alive on Mott Street. The gallery is set very much in one of the most surprising neighbourhoods in Lower Manhattan. At the turn of every corner I look high up to wait for the view of the BT tower – instead I see The Empire State Building to the north, The Freedom Tower to the south, at the site of the World Trade Centre. Nolita and Fitzrovia were destined to be lovers from afar: “Rebecca and I met in the Hampton’s in July at an arts fair for a kind of impromptu interview. What I thought was going to be an hour long interview turned into a 6 hour hangout, I had my puppy in tow. We got along on a personal and artistic level,” says Kinsey Robb, on her first encounter with Rebecca. “The gallery has been here for about 3 years now so we’re still kind of in our infancy; I started in August 2013. There’s been a lot of exciting work going on, I don’t think there’s ever a dull moment in the gallery.”

As a neighbour of the Conway Street gallery, we humour ourselves that we will wave to each other from our rooftops from now on: “we have to make a high-line swinging between your roof and ours, like a cable car. You can swing down to our roof and we can swing over to yours; a jungle kind of thing.” I turn to look about the Conway Street gallery, strolling through the open space of the second floor and notice the simple symphony of a tap tap, the unlit lights hanging over the pane of glass. I begin to revisit the memory of a winter evening as a teenager when my first girlfriend showed to me the front of the Conway Street gallery, illuminated under the soft January snow. It is undeniable to me that her joy for greenery and flowers, for positivity, for peace, is inspiring to me and true to what Fitzrovia is; a haven for all those who aspire to create community. Quietly, one rainy January morning, I walked the sidewalk along Conway Street, past the lights that hang from the roof of the gallery and on into the square. As I passed No.29 Fitzroy Square and looked up to the blue plaque where the words ‘Virginia Woolf – Novelist and Critic lived here 1907-1911′ are inscribed, I wondered quietly whether my neighbour, the art promoter, the very tall and beautiful Rebecca Hossack, knew that she was an unlikely destine reincarnation of a woman who never lived, never spoke, was an invention; the fictitious Clarissa Dalloway. After all, what is certain is that my neighbour would insist on quite thoroughly buying the flowers herself.

Griff Rhys Jones

Griff Rhys Jones

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Paul Vickery

“I want all the doors open, every shop doing something. I want everybody doing something, everybody together,”

he says on the topic of the upcoming Dylan Thomas Festival whilst wandering about the kitchen.

“Is it ‘The’ Fitzrovia Journal, or Fitzrovia Journal?” he said to me, quite simply, at an art opening on Charlotte Street. I told him the latter. The ensuing conversation made me realise that, really, I know so little about Fitzrovia, past Charlotte Street and a few buried cobblestones. I had met more than a funny man. I had met a true Fitzrovian. Griff Rhys Jones seems to have undertaken so many ventures, it seems impossible to call him anything other than a rarity. From the days of Not the Nine O’Clock News (espousing his comedy partnership with the late Mel Smith), to Alas Smith and Jones, Talkback, to television presenter, Jones is witty, equally sharp and to the point; a business man one minute, an intellectual, actor or comedian the next. I talk to my neighbour about Fitzrovia, his Dylan Thomas venture and the changing of our inner city scene.

Born in Cardiff, 1953, Griff grew up in Epping with parents Gwyneth and Elwyn. In his youth he spent time sailing around the coast of Suffolk with his father: “my Dad was a doctor so he had a little boat, so that was my holidays when I was a kid. They were spent examining pieces of mud in the wet, in Suffolk.” He attended Brentwood School with a gap year on the P&O ship Uganda, where he worked for a company which organised school trips. Having studied at Cambridge, he began working at BBC Comedy Central, Grafton House, in the 1970s (now, again, the current BBC Comedy Central). “My first job, after I left university, was working for the BBC and the first place I went to was Grafton house in 1975, in comedy, and then, within months. we moved into Langham Street, which is now being demolished! It’s extraordinary to discover that now, after nearly 40 years, they’ve moved their comedy department back into Grafton House – it’s like it goes around in circles!” He worked in radio whilst at Grafton House, before moving on to television.

As well as living in Fitzrovia, the Jones family also have a house in Suffolk: “I brought my first house in the country and intended to become sort of hippie and live in the country. Then I discovered that the work was here, and that’s sort of how it went.” Griff and his wife lived in a factory conversion in Clerkenwell. They then lived in Islington, before eventually deciding to relocate to Fitzrovia in the late 1990s. I ask Griff what really drew him to the area: “I wasn’t! I wasn’t particularly attracted! What exactly drew me was that I worked for a lot of my life in the BBC. Then I set up Talkback, we had offices, originally, in Brewer Street. Then Carnaby Street, then we really based ourselves down here in Percy Street. It’s an amazing thing for people who work down Charlotte Street, and to walk up toward the square and go ‘wow’ look at this square. People don’t know Fitzrovia is here. Nobody knows it’s here, nobody knows about this area.” His Fitzroy Square home has changed much through the years: “When we moved here, a lot of buildings were taken over after the war by institutions. When we moved here Fitzroy Square was a sort of slum. The house has been an architect’s office; I think it was a hospital at one point too.” Some years ago, the square itself, before it’s renovation in recent years, had gone downhill and become a peculiar centre of the used-car trade. Day by day, around the centre of the square garden, car transporters were parked, full of second-hand cars. When asked about his own first impression of the Fitzrovia area, Griff’s answer seems an all too distant image of the area we know and love today: “you came out of great Portland Street Station and you thought: ‘oh this is the middle of town.’ It seemed to be a really sort of grimy, noisy place. It was identity-less for me at the time; a sort of inner-city London, near Regents Park type place. It’s ironic that I’ve ended up living here!” Today he is an active member of the local community, having lived in the area for 15 years. He is well involved with the local affairs and is sociable with many people in the local area, from art promoters to property developers.

The same passion that Griff has applied to his home, family and work over years has led him into a new venture that he is passionately injecting direct into our local community; the spirit of a bohemian poet, Dylan Thomas. In the form of a two-day weekend festival this coming October (25th & 26th), there will be a series of events commemorating the 100th birthday of the infamous Welsh poet. Thomas thrived in the Bohemia of 1930s and 1940s Fitzrovia. He wrote various poems as a regular (renowned excessive) punter in the local area and made contacts that led to his eventual employment within the British Film Industry.

“Ever since the 18th century these streets have been the streets of the artists and writers, and so, for that reason, that sort of aspect of Fitzrovia needs celebrating and highlighting. I have run businesses in the area myself and I fully support that mix of workspace, retail and residential. But we all need to recognise the quirky and individual nature of the small shops and galleries, the craft suppliers and grocers, the restaurants and tiny cafés and their history, and ensure that there is room for them to prosper as the region changes: it’s like an audit. We need to know what we have got that’s good to make sure we hang on to it. The festival wants to celebrate that,” he says. Griff wants for all local businesses to partake in every possible way that they can; galleries featuring Dylan Thomas, selling Thomas t-shirts, flying the flag for the spirit of Bohemia with which we pride ourselves, and our history, on as a community.

Though I believe it is common practice to him, Griff is very much the funny-man I remember from my youth, and better so a neighbour. Inspiring, confident and knowledgeable, he is proud to walk the area as a devoted Fitzrovian. He crosses passion with wit in almost every sentence, from his days in Epping to his days at Grafton House, forward to the local area which he has carefully adopted as his suited home. He takes pride in living in the area that launched his career, and I feel strongly that our local funny man will remain sharp and witty by our village green indefinitely. As I remember him clearly saying some time ago, in a gallery on Charlotte Street: “if there ever were a village in London, it would be Fitzrovia”.

25th & 26th of October 2014. Save the date, the Dylan Thomas festival is coming.

Astrid Schulz

Astrid Schulz

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Paul Vickery

The sweet and tender rebel. She sips at her coffee and says, “What makes people want to make magazines in a day and age as we have now?”

“Astrid wants to meet you! She saw your hair and wants to photograph you.” I recall hearing these opaque words from my first girlfriend. It was summer 2011, the first time I met her was a matter of coincidence – a rather odd hair-style of mine was central to our meeting. She was putting together a new series titled ‘hairdressers’ and wanted to photograph me. I sat in the barber’s chair; my hair in curls, nervous, and so came forth a creative with a camera in hand. She said, from behind the lens, “Nothing is real, everything is fake, we are not really changing your hair, we are just pretending for the photograph.” Snap! Astrid shot me, the frame was done. Devout to Grafton Mews, Astrid Schulz tells me about her quiet area, her creative endeavours, the Berlin Wall coming down, and the death of the house next door.

Astrid was born in Hamburg, 1963. There is an uncertainty about her family tree; though she would regard herself as nothing short of purely German, she will always be uncertain of her true routes, a global citizen at heart. “There is an unknown factor in my family tree, but let’s not go there. From my upbringing, and the people that brought me up, I would say that I am purely German.” Whilst being raised in Hamburg, she was quite the sweet and tender rebel. As a teenager, in the early 1980s, she would escape to West Berlin, often hitchhiking in total secrecy from her guardians. Eventually, she moved away from her hometown to the capital, Berlin, and worked part-time as a tailor to fund her two years of study. “After my studies, my employers asked me if I wanted to become a partner in their fashion business. The wall came down, and suddenly our outgoing expenditures were doubled and we struggled to make it work.” With the fall of the Berlin Wall new life and energy was injected into the culture and the arts of the city, though in contrast the infrastructure of the entire city was at stake at the end of the Cold War. “When the wall came down it was fascinating, East Berlin was quite down and the infrastructure was rotten. There were a lot of derelict houses and nobody had put any money into the area. West Berlin had to cope with its vast amount of potential. It was very exciting after the wall came down, suddenly you had all of these pop up clubs that came about, they quietened down and then closed.”

A time came when Astrid knew it was time to leave Berlin and start fresh. During the 1980s she was a punk: “London was everything I was looking up to. I was a punk; I was out clubbing with other creatives and musicians at the time.” Making a friend in London, the two slowly began to allow their friendship sink further and the title of friend drift further afar, unnoticed under the carpets. She was a very young girl who felt a connection to the city, though moving didn’t feel possible to her. They fell in love, in time the two knew something had to give. “Would you like the long story, or the short story?” she laughs, “I met somebody who became my boyfriend, we had a long distance relationship. One knew the other had to move to the other city. My business in Berlin was in crisis after the wall came down. I felt like it was time to move on.” And so it was, she moved to London. She felt as if costume inspired her more so than fashion and decided to enrol in a course at Wimbledon School of Art and move down the creative path she wanted to follow. “That was the tipping point! I came over. That relationship didn’t work out, but I’m still here so something must’ve been right about all of this!” laughs Astrid, oddly our stories relate.

The entirety of her work is freelance; she is not in full time employment and hasn’t been since her days in Berlin. “There are good times, and bad times. January is a bad time. If I had to, because I couldn’t even buy the milk for my tea anymore, I might consider looking for a permanent job. However, I think that by now I am quite unemployable, after having had a life like this! The only time I have ever worked 9 to 5 was when I had my fashion business back in Berlin,” she says. From costume to photography, Astrid’s work is a reflection of herself stylistically; pure quirk, satirical, often humorous, loud and eccentric. “A lot of my life is actually based on projects, but sometimes I need to think about how personal projects are great, but don’t bring me any money. Sometimes I just have to turn around and do something else instead.” Astrid spent some time teaching Photoshop to clients, though now only occasionally hosts private one-to-one sessions. She regards herself as a designer and photographer by title: “My costume design is still present, sadly irregular, but it still happens.” Until very recently she was away for exactly 3 months in Vietnam, starting a new project for which she is hoping to progress within the next year or so. “I have started a project in Vietnam about textile and wallpaper design which I am now writing a business plan for, it is in development but I’m hoping to push it next year. It’s a slow process. The time in Vietnam was nice because I could focus solely on design. Other than dealing with typhoons, It was really productive.”

Since moving to London 20 years ago, it is fair to say that Astrid has lived all over the city; from living on a friend’s floor, to a studio flat opposite Clapham South tube station, to living on Columbia Road in Tower Hamlets. She describes herself as always having been lucky with finding flats. She moved to Fitzrovia about 10 years ago and hasn’t looked back since arriving at her blue building on Grafton Mews. “I’ve lived here for 10 years now, and always on my mews. It’s very German of me, when we find a good place we like to hang on to it,” she smirks, “I am very, very proud to live in Fitzrovia, and I’d like to protect it in some way. I want to make it happen.” Since 2008, Astrid has been fighting alongside her neighbours to prevent the demolition of a building next door to her own. Finally, the developers won the battle to knock down the house and demolition began in 2013. At present, all that remains of the former building is a missing tooth on Grafton Mews and muddy hole in the ground. She tells me, “When they knocked the house down next door… it was unbearable, let’s not go there! Because I’m working at home so much, I’m now thinking of renting a shared office space somewhere. I’m terrified thinking about when the new building site appears. It’s quite an issue for people who live in that quiet place. What they’re putting there instead is a house that attaches to the house in front in the square.” She expresses an attachment to the local area and how she has found home in the neighbourhood. She describes how Warren Street has become more contemporary from when she moved here, 10 years ago: “I enjoy some of the funny developments, especially the new gallery at the corner of Whitfield Street. Fitzrovia is quite conservative, and suddenly you have these things sprouting; they’re completely mismatched to the area, it’s what was missing for me. Let’s have some diversity here and keep it!” She exclaims, referring to the buzz, the shops and the supermarkets in the area. She walks out of her quiet mews street and everything is at her doorstep. “It’s how I lived before – Hamburg is a big city, Berlin is a big city. I really have what I like.”

Astrid describes the area as having become very noisy in recent years, for an area that she would regard as being so quiet. I sense that she battles to remain focused in her work, with the crashing and banging next to her building, as she sits at her computer working from home. What is a certainty is that there is nothing loud enough to taint the spirit of a woman I would regard so strong. She is passionate, incredibly opened minded to faith, to creation and change, to new ideas and innovation. As she steps about the cobbles of her mews onto Warren Street, or in reverse past her haunt, The Grafton Arms, onto Grafton Way, her golden hair and loud coat dragging in the breeze, she is always keen to promote her positivity and energy wherever she goes and travels. So, “what makes people want to make magazines in a day and age as we have now?” Well, the grace and positivity of a rare person like you, the sweet and tender rebel. Astrid Schulz is home.

Alexandria Coe

Alexandria Coe

Words & PortraitS Kirk Truman

“You’ve got to believe in yourself, otherwise what is there? Life is just black and white, you have to add colour to it.”

Walking past the many coffee shops of Fitzrovia you may notice the local illustrator Alexandria Coe. You may first hear the scratching of a pencil and then the sweep of a brush. It will draw not only your attention but your self on a page. Undistracted by the passing of people, wailing of sirens and mindless routines that blow through the roadsides and cobbles of Fitzrovia, a young girl is observing, drawing and illustrating; the twitching of a nose; the floating of an eyelash; common gestures; the very nature of reality we assume is pure subjective fantasy. Great Portland Street, autumn 2011, on a Sunday evening, in amongst the crowds that gathered as a fight broke out in a supermarket I met a young lady who turned out to be my neighbour – a creative and close friend. Meet Alexandria Coe, or ‘CoCo’, the illustrator in the frame.

Alex was born in 1990. Her parents were educated in art. She grew up in Colchester, Essex, surrounded by creativity. This environment led to something that gave her direction in life. “Both of my parents went to art school, it’s always been natural that there would be art books out, there would be art documentaries on the television, we would go and look at art. We were generally around people who were also interested in art. I guess, I didn’t appreciate until now I’m older and I have to go and buy my own art products how much I could have for free. My dad had an entire set of oils and acrylics. I was never pushed, but always encouraged. In some respects I wish I had been pushed – that’s just my personality. I spent my childhood drawing and being creative, it has always been quite natural. I’ve got sketchbooks from when I was really tiny. I’ve always drawn people and animals more than anything.” Alex describes herself as coming “to London to study at Chelsea, I haven’t turned back since.” She studied textile design at Chelsea College of Arts, though this wasn’t the route she decided to go down. She learnt about the design process, about how to look for inspiration, how to be a creative worker and her own critic. “I wish I would have done an illustration course, because I would’ve had the contacts and not be doing a portfolio now. In another respect, my course taught me how to push myself and how to say ‘no, that’s not good enough.’ We were constantly taught, ‘how can I improve this, how can I make it better, how can I make this be improved upon?’ So, rather than improving your own style, it was about making something completely new, or evolving something. I think, in that sense it built me up to be the person I am now. It wasn’t really that different, half of the course was drawing. It was drawing interpretation onto fabric; it’s just your end product and what you’re thinking about at the end that is very different. It’s much more either commercial or fine art. Because it’s a three-dimensional object, you are thinking very different about your market and everything. It feels much more natural to me when it’s just pen and paper.”

Like most, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do; having had numerous levels of experience in textile design, including an internship with Liberty of London. “I wanted other people to see my work. I think that’s maybe why illustration appealed to me. I think that’s why I loved my internship with Liberty of London, because when I did the window displays I always thought about how many people saw them every day. It’s about having that audience participation, which is great. When I was there, and I remember a woman painting the flowers in the beauty room, I fantasised about wanting that job.” Throughout her course she knew that illustration was her passion, most importantly her strong point. “In a selfish way we always tend to only want to do things that we think we’re good at. Underneath it all, even if an artist says ‘this is rubbish, this isn’t good enough,’ they always know they’re good at something. This is what I think I’m good at. I never felt confident at textiles, though I still got great grades. I didn’t feel confident, but I still got a degree from Chelsea. You need to have a mindset that says ‘I am the best’.”

Her illustrations have one very distinct element of consistency which tells of a very personal relationship between herself and her work: Alex only draws women and the female body. “Because I am a woman I think it’s easier to get into that mindset and I generally enjoy drawing the shapes that make up a woman, there’s a lot of fluidity to it. Even for somebody who doesn’t do it as their focus, it is much more natural drawing a woman than it is a man. I draw stories that are in my head more than anything, like characters. Obviously as a young child you often live in a fantasy world of what you’d like life to be. It’s often been little characters that I’ve drawn in my head.” Her work is inspired by her surroundings, the people that walk among us, the things we see; from the stranger on a train, the whispering woman alone, an image that captivates her imagination, anything can find itself the subject of her work. Alex enjoys drawing a range of things and making the subject her own style, despite her preference and passion being to draw fashionable women: “It just matches how I respond to the paper,” she says.

Today, her sole income comes from producing her illustrations. Alex works freelance, mostly producing illustrations for websites. With her ‘pencil for hire’ she creates, on request, illustrations to suit a brand or service. “I work with a range of companies. It’s an industry all about making contacts. It’s about who you know and who you don’t.” Though do not be fooled by these quotes of confidence: Alex is strong, yes, but she is in no way afraid to admit that she has been through hard times in her life. Though, really, I suspect that this remarkable artist, in times of gloom, turns to her empty pages to draw the positive, and truly escape. She says, “I think the old fashioned phrase is ‘you do what you love, you love what you do’. You just kind of get to a point where you’re just like ‘no, I want to do this’. I wanted to make this my path. I think otherwise I’d end up going off into every other path in life. You have to follow your dream in a really sad way. I used to read all those quotes and think that’s just silly. You’ve got to believe in yourself, otherwise what is there? Life is just black and white, you have to add colour to it.”

Alex needed the security of a familiar place and headed for central London. Despite never having previously explored the area she found a home in Fitzrovia through pure luck and coincidence on Wells Street in 2011. “I’d never really explored this area before, you feel very special when you find little quirky spots in somewhere so central. For somewhere you so associate with a shopping district, you suddenly realise it has all of these little creative holes. It’s the people, there’s no central landmark that says ‘this is great’. It’s the vibrancy of the people, that’s what inspires me and that’s why I draw people, I’m kind of obsessed with it.” I begin to talk to her about what the area means to her, what makes Fitzrovia Alex’s home? “I would say it is the influx of coffee shops!” she laughs, “either creative people like working alone or around buzz. I think I thrive off that buzz. Every day is different and it is quite nice that you can be a complete stranger yet feel like you’re in a community. Especially around here, not everybody who walks along Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street has found these little pockets in our Fitzrovia.”

Something tells me it is fate that Alex found the blank page as an outlet for her talent. “I remember going to primary school and everyone being asked to draw a self-portrait of what they wanted to be when they grew up and put it on the wall. Even then I drew myself as an artist.” With every illustration, CoCo reflects women in their day to day lives, however, she says that it is every illustrators dream to draw a children’s book. Behind every line, every movement of her brush is a subtle reflection of herself on the page. Alex is very much at home in her illustrations, truly she finds comfort in her frame and Fitzrovia.

The Ship’s Galley

The Ship’s Galley

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Adedotun Adesanya

“I wanted to call it ‘The TARDIS’… I think I would’ve got in trouble with that,”

Keith Dedman, the man behind The Ships Galley, laughs. There are many places to journey to during one’s lunch hour in Fitzrovia. From the BBC’s finest to those working in the retail outlets of Tottenham Court Road, many traipse from the quirk of The Attendant to the self-service checkouts of Tesco, to the calm benches of the leafy Fitzroy Square. Just off Foley Street there is an unarguably quaint street lined with traditional, red-brick mansion blocks and plant-pot dressed porches. Amongst the quiet of the street is a closely kept secret. It doesn’t take a deficiency of one’s sight to miss a small cafe sat between two tall Victorian terraces on Hanson Street boasting, only, an awning and a small grill offering sandwiches, tea and coffee. I talk to the Dedman’s who run the smallest cafe in Fitzrovia and, arguably, this side of London’s West-End.

The cafe is certainly a missing tooth, filled on Hanson Street in-between two buildings, but certainly not a spoilt one nor sweet. I think ‘duck duck GOOSE’ when I walk along the street, though touched and drawn by the small family-run food outlet, neighbouring the flowers which hang at the fronts of the mansion houses. In spring this street feels Parisian, in winter, a dark English pre-war setting. Nonetheless, this is another primary street in creating Fitzrovia’s ‘village green,’ if there were ever such a thing. The cafe is fitting, yes easily missed but certainly the goose that stands proudly amongst the ducks.

This is no ordinary year at the Galley for Keith. After twenty years of watching his regular customers’ change, from the leather wearing dispatch riders to the buzzing media heads, he is steadily handing it over to his sons, Andrew and Nathan, who grin at me back-to-back from behind the tiny service desk in the kitchen. I ask Keith if he knows anything about the history of the site: “It’s been a greengrocers, it’s been an electrical shop and a tailors. It’s been a food outlet now for thirty years. I’ve had it since 1993.”

The area has changed a great deal over the years; Keith has seen the closure of the Middlesex Hospital in 2005, the arrival of the BBC, the dispatch riders depart and the eight week long protests against the ITC on Foley Street, spring 1999. “The girl I’d bought it off had been running it for about three years. The bikers congregated round here, they put the office staff off. They were a friendly bunch, but they frightened them in their leather, chatting away, drinking their tea. It was a bit off-putting to the office staff. Slowly, as they dwindled, the faces changed.” He says, sat in one of only two seats in the tiny cafe. “Remember when they closed that television station down and we had them all camping out in the whole area and on Foley Street?” reminisces Keith, raising his voice to his sons who do not recall. Keith watched on at the end of the 90s as, for eight weeks, protesters camped on nearby Foley Street, against the broadcasting suspension of Kurdish satellite television station, Med TV, by Britain’s ITC (Independent Television Commission). “Anyway, what happened is, they camped outside of that building over there for about eight weeks. There was loads of police over there, the whole area changed in about eight weeks!” It is news to Nathan and Andrew who only seem to remember it vaguely.

As the exterior of Fitzroy Place nears completion day-by-day on the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, only one listed facade of the building remains on Nassau Street, an original, small chapel is incorporated into the new design. “It’d had its time, but when the hospital closed that was a bit of a blow; not only for me, but a lot of places round here. We got a hell of a lot of doctors and nurses coming back then, the BBC have sort of filled in,” he says of the Middlesex Hospital, as a regular comes and goes.

There is one word that comes to mind when describing the Galley and that is ‘minute.’ There are two seats to your right as you enter through the door, which itself is half the width of the entire cafe. In a queue, between 12 and 1 o’clock, during the busy lunch hour, four people stood in front of the kitchen. With Keith and his sons moving between cooking, back-to-back, and handing customers their change, from a cash desk sat in a hole-in-the-wall, where a fireplace once was, it’s a bit of a squeeze.

A keen sailor, Keith’s sailing can be seen as the inspiration for the aptly named Galley. It is rare to see the collaboration of a father and two sons operating so efficiently in what really is such a small space – really, I truly envy them for it. An impression was set on me; some part of me reaches out to them, wishing I was bound to a family tradition or trade. The Dedman’s know they aren’t saving the world, though that’s not to say that they take their business lightly. That is to say, they come here so often that their Galley is common to them. They have resided here for a long time, Keith holding the longest tenure, and become blind to what a quaint thing they have forged. As Keith steadily departs, the brothers are doing what they feel ‘Dad said works’ and has done for twenty years: keep it plain sailing and keep it in the Galley.

The Image

The Image

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Paul Vickery

“It was sort of accidental. I did go to Art College in Bournemouth, I moved up to London in the 1980’s and sort of drifted…”

Underneath the tarmac that has come to hide the traditional cobbles, once braving the four seasons of Fitzrovia’s Foley Street, is a man who, for just over twenty years now, has been following something equally traditional; with only a red light and a radio to keep him company. It is, what I assume, by the event of a miracle and sheer aptitude that printer, Peter Guest, has remained patient and sane. Peter allows very few members of the general public to visit him, only his much valued array of professionals are regulars to his darkroom. I visit Peter for tea and a crash course in old school photography.

I make my way down into the cellar of 24/25 Foley Street. It gets progressively quieter until silent; except for the occasional faint roar of a passing motorbike is clear overhead. Peter, emerging from a revolving door, greets me, whilst keeping the darkroom free of natural light. There are tall stacks of magazines around me; Jocks & Nerds, Pop, Italian Vogue and numerous cycling magazines, like Rouleur; more prints than there are magazines, and enough stock film-negatives from Peter’s clients to rework The Maltese Falcon. There is an odd scent about the air. It is the darkroom, and the distinctive flavour of something really quite ‘niche’, as Peter would put it, the developing of photographs. I am shown about the small corridors of the cellar, passing the covers of numerous magazines, presumably left by clients. There is a back-room where a bike is kept. Peter has two darkrooms, both of which are the building’s traditional storage pits for coal: “’Round the corner at the end there’s another darkroom, it’s just like this one, but it’s not as big. I use it solely for contacting [making contact sheets],” he says. All of this points to the making of a family man, a keen cyclist, an underlying creative.

Peter arrived on Foley Street in 1993, having worked in the trade for over 20 years, and The Image began; though he was not alone then. “I’m here nowadays on my own, though I did used to have other people working for me, but now I’m very much a one man band, although my wife comes down and does the books and bits and pieces which helps me out.” Originally from Dorset, Peter went to Arts College in Bournemouth and moved up to London in the 1980s. When moving to London he had various jobs, though, as he would put it, pursued ‘nothing terribly interesting’. “One day I met somebody who spoke to me about dispatch riding on a push bike and I thought: ‘oh, that could be interesting, I could probably do that!’” He rode around the West End, client-to-client for a couple of years until, one day, a client, black and white printer Kevin Tobin-Dougan, invited him to take a look at his new darkroom on Lexington Street: “He said he was looking to take on an assistant. I went away and I thought ‘I’m going to go back and ask if I could have that job!’” Peter worked alongside Kevin for some time until he chose to leave the trade, leaving Peter the opportunity to start his own studio. Today he works alone, quietly, in the minimal setting of the studio; through his own technique, he is very much at home in his work.

Very few darkrooms have come to survive in the modern age, and the revolution of the new and, all too often, favoured digital format. “With digital photography there is so much you can do, though, equally, it cannot replicate what film can do. I’ve always had lots of work; the high-end magazines tend to use older photographers who generally only use film.” I tell him that digital photography is an infrequent hobby of mine; that I’m no photographer, though I do dabble. I ask Peter about the process from developing the film to creating a finished print. He brings a negative (‘neg’) into focus in his enlarger: “it’s made up of what you call grain, what I’m really looking for is the grain in the emulsion and bringing it into focus.” He begins to move his fingers and palms around the light as he exposes the photo paper to the image on the ‘neg’. I observe in awe. His hands flex and bend, they turn and they reshape, as if he were conducting a symphony; the uneven figure of a tentative portrait, the practice of worship. It is the only image that he doesn’t see on a negative, the alluring one I witness as Peter manually ‘dodges’ and ‘burns’ the image. He transfers the photo paper into the liquid developer, seconds pass and we talk on. I peer down at the paper as the image of the subject appears on the paper. The subject is a Scottish novelist (now deceased), the photograph was taken somewhere between the late ‘70s and the early ‘80s. I ask him who the photographer is, startlingly he tells me, “…but it’s sort of something I’d rather keep under wraps. I have to be very discreet about who I’m working for. Photographers are lovely people but they’re quite sensitive about who’s doing their work.”

Despite his online following and the occasional querying prowler, such as myself, Peter’s preference is strictly not to publicise his studio but for the users of this rare trade to find him somewhere along the celluloid trail. I talk to him about where the majority of his work comes from: “Currently, I’m doing an editorial for a French magazine called Número, but I get less of this type of work these days. The majority of my work is actually all negatives from people’s archives which I’m working on for exhibitions, fine art galleries, art books and photographers’ own portfolios. Most of my clients are ‘old school’ but younger photographers are now discovering this format, eager to find a point of difference and something less homogenised than digital photography. And that brings them back to the original art of image creation using light and chemistry. Many of his clients are regulars; he doesn’t feel the need to seek any more work than he has already. He goes on to explain that his work is very much back-to-back, that he has more than enough to keep him busy.

I look further around the room, where photographs left and right are left to dry amid the murmur of the radio, and ask the curious question of how Peter deals with spending so much time in the dark: “I’m not seeing much daylight generally but, in some ways, it can be very therapeutic!” He laughs, “I find that it’s one of the reasons I’m a very keen cyclist. I live in Kingston so I cycle in [to Fitzrovia] every day through Richmond Park. Cycling gives me a good feeling of the outdoors and getting a bit of fresh air really. It’s actually quite a sociable job in a lot of ways, I get a lot people coming down here like yourself and photographers coming and going.” There is a feeling of calm and wonder in the studio that I haven’t encountered before, that is lived and breathed by the man himself. Day-by-day Peter watches on as he develops the negatives and slowly the faces, locations and intricate workings of the lives of others unfold beneath him, in photographs taken by his clients. That wonder, which must circle in him, fills the studio. It is a perceptive emporium of the lives of others, a place where the impressions taken of dissimilar beings flourish, in this uncanny format of photography.

Having first met Peter a year ago, I remember that fresh feeling of intrigue and surprise to hear that there was a darkroom in our neighbourhood. I felt then, as so many people do now when I tell them what lies beneath Foley Street, curious. “I don’t think there’s ever been a particularly rich black and white printer!” Laughs Peter, “it is a passion, I do really love it, though it’s not the only thing in my life, I am down here a lot of the time, but I’ve got the wife and family to take care of!”

The reality is, unless you are a black and white photographer, you will never set foot in a curious place such as Peter’s darkroom, for this I consider it a pleasure to have experienced what is a rare and, all too often, found to be dead profession. You may read this and take from it what you will. There is a magic in Peter’s work that, in talking to him further, I realise he accepts as a common practice. I ask him whether he considers what he does to be as fascinating as I perceive. “No, not really!” he laughs. With every movement of his fingertips and palms he physically perfects, dodges and burns photographs for his clients. “The whole business is incredibly time consuming. The process of creating each print can take up to an hour.” He then develops, dries, flattens and retouches them, solely by hand, ready for collection. There is an element of his work that I feel is equal to his need to cycle and his infrequent references to his family. It is a passion and Peter Guest is very much at home in his image.

The Attendant

The Attendant

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Adedotun Adesanya

Some years ago, I remember making the walk along Foley Street and peering through the gate of a gentlemen’s toilet where rusty cans, old leaves and cigarette butts lay undisturbed. Only a year ago, an unnoticed, disused men’s public convenience on the corner of Foley Street and Great Titchfield Street opened its lavatories once again to the public, though something had changed entirely. From the street above, the scent of the Caravan Market Blend coffee wanders about the front of the Crown & Sceptre pub and up the street. Lights shine above the metalwork of the entrance – a coffee shop lies beneath the paving stones, the toilet has gone. I speak to the new owners of a rare example of an espresso bar on the eve of the one year anniversary of Fitzrovia’s The Attendant; the coffee shop in the setting of a men’s public toilet, which ironically is without a lavatory.

Originally built around 1890, this Victorian lavatory had been closed for more than 50 years until 2013, when it found itself the home of a new speakeasy espresso & food bar. The Attendant opened a year ago, founded by Pete Tomlinson and Ben Russel. Early this year, the founders chose to let go of the keys and allow new owners, Ryan De Oliveira and Roshan McKeown, to take the throne. Ryan describes the transition between owners as very good indeed: he and Roshan both explain that nothing about the current coffee shop will change. Only they feel there is a need for more seating: “It is small though it doesn’t mean we can’t use the space to our advantage. We’re looking to increase the seating capacity, sometimes we do have people come in and leave, or get take out because of how busy it can get down here sometimes. We’re looking to take the fridge out and put seats in its place with a new fridge underneath the bar. We want people to come here feeling totally relaxed and refreshed. We don’t want them to come and experience something that’s worse than their office, that’s why they came here in the first place,” says Ryan.

Ryan speaks of the origins of this collaboration: “Roshan and I know each other from university. We’d both hit a crossroads in our life where we were trying to figure out what we really wanted to do. I’ve always been a massive coffee fan. Roshan came to London for lunch; we went to a coffee shop in Shoreditch and talked about coffee, and the industry. We started looking at the independent coffee industry because that’s what we liked – we didn’t want to start a high street chain like Starbucks. We wanted something that was unique and quirky, something that had a really awesome interior and feel, something that made people feel revitalised and refreshed from their day to day routine. That was the kind of atmosphere we wanted.” They were looking at and researching many coffee shops in London with the intention of discovering a brand which they would grow. The two were captivated in the same way that many people are when visiting The Attendant, it is cause for experience and escapism, not just for its truly excellent coffee. Instantly the two saw the opportunity to apply their vision of speciality coffee, excellent service and quality experience – a place to break up the norms of day to day life. “We came across a lot of difficulties because we were new in the coffee industry, although we both had a lot of experience; my Mum had a coffee shop in South Africa. The Attendant came across our path, we knew about this place from all of our extensive research about speciality coffee shops. It was one of the places that stuck out to us the most. When we both saw it we immediately got on the phone to each other and said ‘this is amazing’. It was clear in our heads that if we were going to take over this place we weren’t going to change anything because of the value we really saw in it, nothing needed to be changed, we didn’t feel that any adjustments needed to be made,” says Ryan.

After just a few weeks Roshan and Ryan have started to build good relationships with regular and local customers. “We’re listening to what everybody is saying and trying to ensure that we’re always providing the highest level of quality coffee and service,” says Ryan. “It is important that we start to open on Sundays – I’ve seen people waiting by the entrance before, we don’t want to turn people away,” says Roshan, although the pair express that this won’t be for some time yet. As minor changes go on inside, the pair are looking to soon extend the bar capacity and to install another coffee grinder to enable them to offer both filter and single options of coffee. When the transition between owners was made, the two found that “they wanted two new owners to come along and carry on their baby, as it were. It’s quite a labour intensive job, we’re here every day. There’s still a lot to do with this place. I don’t think there’s another site out there that’d suit the same name if we’re to grow the concept,” says Roshan. The two are looking to expand the concept of ‘coffee shops in unexpected places’ but protest that this won’t be for some time, and that also the concept behind The Attendant isn’t something that they will look to replicate. “If we were to find another site like this we feel The Attendant would lose its value, it would feel like we’re trying to expand. That’s not what we’re about. I don’t think in London you can find another urinal in such fantastic condition, this is the last,” says Ryan.

The Attendant is 1 year old now, and the site still continues to grow in popularity by the day. It is perhaps the only coffee shop in Central London where the interior environment itself is as much a caffeine-high as the coffee itself. Where cubicles once stood, a table is laid; where the urinals are lined along the wall, a bar and chairs are sat. As Ryan would say, “the great thing about this place is that you don’t feel like you’re in a toilet, when you actually are.” I would describe The Attendant as the speakeasy coffee bar for the escapists amongst us all. People come here first and foremost because the coffee and food is incredible, though also to escape from the London world above. The partnership between Roshan & Ryan is strong, a friendship they extend to their customers. There’s even talk between the pair of turning The Attendant into a two-sided business – a speakeasy coffee shop by day and a cocktail bar in the evening, from this summer. Happy birthday and watch this space.

Pollock’s Toy Museum

Pollock’s Toy Museum

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Adedotun Adesanya

A pub on the corner, an award winning fish & chip shop a few doors down and a neighbouring pigeon infested row of benches that face out onto Tottenham Court Road, their backs to the long avenue that stretches downward from Warren Street to meet Windmill Street at the base. Whitfield Street is arguably just as admired as its big sister, Charlotte Street, running parallel. Beginning to walk north from Goodge Street along Whitfield Street one will notice a large jester that dances upon the well-aged brick wall of the house at the corner of Scala Street. Do not be fooled, this beautiful house and its neighbour have more to pose than this dancing jester. If you approach, do so with caution. The sheer unimaginable excellence of this rare collection of exhibited, ingenious and engaging articles, lost in time, is undoubtedly a worthy and untamed match for J.K.Rowling’s ‘Diagon Alley’. I wander the many curious rooms of the Georgian crossover Victorian house, No.1 Scala Street, with Eddy Fawdry, to talk Victorian dolls, toy theatres, rocking horses and, his leading lady, Pollock’s Toy Museum.

The door knocks an array of bells that quickly begin to chime as I make my entrance. A vintage cash desk rings, what seems like an endless ticking of clocks resounds and battles about the ground floor shop of the museum and on through toy shop. Haggis, the small dog that wonders about the museum, taps its nose at my knee and soon after I am greeted with what I assume is an eccentric home environment more than it is the most carefully disclosed toy museum in London, perhaps England. It is not a museum; it is an emporium, an exposure of human creation and the width of children’s imagination through the modern ages.

Amidst the hordes of vintage toys stacked behind the desk, I am greeted by a unique proprietor, Eddy Fawdry. Before Eddy, sitting in pride, day by day, at the counter of the museum, with his dog lying by his side, his father had taken his place. Before that, his grandparents held the throne and, prior to that, the Pollock family, originally being based in Hoxton. The Museum came to Fitzrovia in 1967: “This building is the Victorian one, and then this has just been cut through. This is the Georgian one; this was built in the 1780’s.” Despite having had the roof bombed by the Luftwaffe, I quickly come to realise that No.1 Scala Street is one of Fitzrovia’s oldest surviving buildings. “It’s not been restored, some of it was rebuilt after the war – it was damaged during the raids of the Second World War. We originally had the Georgian building. My grandmother, noticing it was empty, enquired about the building next door. It turns out that the owner had died overseas, fighting in the war. It was some sort of electronics shop, they sold theatre lighting. The whole thing was empty, though there were odd glass domes left in the attic. It was apparently very odd inside. It was really quite strange: “We still use some of the domes in the museum!” The Victorian building was acquired during the early 1970’s and soon after was conjoined with the existing museum.

I am taken, by the proprietor from the cash desk, up a creaking stairwell and on in to the first room of the museum for a rare guided tour. The setting is warming. Imagination can flourish here: a jack-in-the-box and a toy World War I tank, to name a few, catch my eye. A well-worn rug leads to a fireplace, above which he points to a rocking horse: “I can’t remember the exact date; it was made in England during the 1840’s.” We climb another level of stairs to the second room where a vast array of distinct model theatres, from all over the globe, greets me. He begins to show me an original toy theatre produced by Pollock’s in Hoxton some years ago: “you’d buy the theatre and then you’d buy the backdrops, the characters (all of which are on little sliders so you can pull them in and out). They came with scripts so that you could have a performance using the theatres and leave them to a child’s imagination. There were quite a few people printing the theatres, though Pollock was the last. I don’t know about famous, but if anybody knows about these toy theatres they’ll certainly know about Pollock.” I point to a toy Aston Martin DB5, “I added that myself,” says Eddy.

Questionable at first, the most remarkable sight greets me. Amid the array of toys, that seem only to talk and whisper on at those approaching, a small section cuts through the red painted brick wall which leads from this house to the next. Eddy climbs the narrow staircase before me: “We knocked through this wall and the one downstairs,” he remarks. I feel the uneven flooring under me and tilt my head to stand up in the top floor room of the Georgian house, much lower than the Victorian room we had just left. The floor is quite noticeably tilted, a trait of its undeniable age. “This building is much more interesting than the other one, there’s quite a lot the other one but not like this.”

Feed me, pull at my hair, shoot the runner, nurture and learn from me; the perennial modern images of children at play with their toy dolls. From behind a glass pane, where a door once stood, I am startled by the dozens of dolls and their luminous eyes that watch me from a manger. The aged floor, almost every corner of this, encased pastime. “It’s meant to be a child’s Victorian nursery. That’s the idea. They used this in a computer game believe it or not. It was one of those computer games where you’d have to find things, it was an odd idea. They did it in quite a few rooms, but I specifically remember them using this one. We’ve had quite a few things go on here over the years, filming and whatnot. It’s quite photogenic in here. The dolls go quite far back, especially the wax ones,” he says pointing toward one of the dolls. The plainest image that sinks through my mind is that of the chilling “Emily Rose”, though the less shallow side of me sees the beauty. The Victorian’s were particularly puritanical. Toys such as these, even when new, would only be given to children to play with on a Sunday in the Victorian era, especially Noah’s ark, because of its religious message.

We arrive back into the ground floor of the building, and on into the toy shop. As a gentleman enters to enquire about purchasing a Rubix Cube, Eddy smirks and tells him this isn’t his line of toy. I smile to myself. I realise that, really, this building, this very shop and museum is a step behind: a step into the past. As I leave through the exit, Haggis scurries behind me and is quickly pulled back behind the door. Everything goes back to colour and instantly I reconcile about my tour and encounter with Eddy, purely in black and white. I shall return soon for a venture about the many rooms of the museum to escape to find a pastime in the walls, the toys and the spirit of this place that will capture the mind and soul of even the smug ones among us all. I would thrive in this house in exchange for the blessed routine. That part of us all that demands still to be a child alone and at play with their thoughts that go bang and kaboom.