Tag Archives: Issue No. 1 – ‘Home’

Walking

Walking


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.