What a rare delight! A small piece of stained glass, dating back a little more than a century, that nestles in the Shaw Library (more about that later) at the London School of Economics.
This is the Fabian Window - for many years missing, but now back where it belongs.
It was commissioned in 1910 by that archetypal Fabian, George Bernard Shaw - who features in it, top right, dressed in green; the man in red helping GBS hammer the world into shape is Sidney Webb, perhaps the most influential of the Fabians and - alongside his wife Beatrice Webb - a founder of the LSE; on the left working the bellows is Edward Pease, the secretary of the Fabian Society. There's a really good piece about the history of the window here.
The artist, Caroline Townshend, was herself a Fabian as well as a designer of stained glass of some distinction. And this is so charming, mischievous, self-mocking ... and so very English.
An array of prominent Fabians are shown kneeling at the foot of the window as if in prayer - though the books they appear to be revering are not holy scriptures but Shaw's plays and other similarly improving works. Sue Donnelly, the LSE archivist, has identified most of these 'worshippers':
The women are led by Maud Pember Reeves (1865-1953), founder of the Fabian Women’s Group and author of Round about a Pound a Week, who was married to the School’s third Director, William Pember Reeves. The figure at the far right is said to be Caroline herself. In between is Mary Hankinson (1868-1952), a gymnastics teacher claimed as the model for St Joan; Mabel Atkinson (1876-1958), who was involved in organising Fabian summer schools and later moved to South Africa; and Mrs Boyd Dawson author of a Fabian Tract on co-operative education.
The men include the actor manager, Charles Charrington (1854-1926); Aylmer Maude (1858-1938), translator of Tolstoy; George Stirling Taylor (died 1939) a lawyer and member of the Executive Committee; and Frederick Lawson Dodd (1868-?) who was the instigator of the Fabian summer schools. At the far left is the writer H G Wells. He is shown cocking a snook at his former colleagues in the Society following his failure to oust the old guard, including Shaw and Webb, from their leadership of the Fabian Society.
The window was unveiled at its new home at the LSE in 20o6 by ... Tony Blair. (My thoughts exactly!)
I discovered the Shaw library this week when visiting the LSE to hear Sachin Pilot, an up-and-coming Indian politician and the deputy chief minister of his home state of Rajasthan. He is a rising star in a sinking party (he's a member of the Indian National Congress) - and among the most impressive, articulate and sincere of Indian political figures.
I knew Sachin's father, the late Rajesh Pilot - indeed I travelled with him around Kashmir when he was India's internal security minister in the mid-1990s. And I first met Sachin when (I guess) he was still in his teens and did a brief internship in the BBC bureau in Delhi. He described me the other day as his first boss!
And peering down on Sachin Pilot in the Shaw library - yes, that's Sidney Webb. There's a portrait of him and his wife which takes pride of place in the room - which also boasts a stylish glass cupola and (perhaps uniquely for a library!) two Steinway grand pianos.
You may have assumed that the LSE's Shaw library, bearing the Fabian Window which George Bernard Shaw commissioned, was named after the great GBS. Wrong! It takes its name from his wife, Charlotte Shaw, an important benefactor to the LSE in its early years. Her maiden name was Charlotte Payne Townshend - but as far as I can make out she's no relation to the Townshend who designed and made the window.
Talking of which, let's have another look at it - along with an adjusted close-up which reveals the titles of the books so reverently placed among between the two lines of kneeling Fabians -
An eye-catching piece of street-art has come up on Highgate Road ... but if you want to see it, don't hang around.
It's on a new hoarding on the site of a long-disused garage and petrol station close to the junction with Chetwynd Road. An up-market apartment block is to be built here.
NW5's street artists must hardly have been able to believe their luck when the hoarding went up. But word is it's about to be replaced by bespoke hoarding extolling the virtues of the development it's screening from public view.
That's a pity - because this more-classy-than-average street art is a lot more colourful and worthy of attention than an outsize sales pitch.
This striking design depicts a mural painted in 1911 or thereabouts for the main hall of Mildmay Radical Club in North London. It seems to have been one of several murals commissioned for arched recesses in the main hall. The club is still going strong, the hall is very much there, but the murals (and indeed the arches) are no longer visible - though it is at least possible that they are concealed under subsequent layers of paint, paper and renovation.
A representation of the mural survives only because it was proudly placed on the cover of the club's half-yearly report and balance sheet (and library catalogue!) for the latter part of 1911. This is on display in a cabinet on the first-floor of the club. Whether the artist, W. White, was a club member or someone commissioned to undertake the murals is not clear.
The design is intriguing - a flat capped working man surrounded by men all with different headgear and working dress who seem to represent international labour: one looks Indian, another perhaps Turkish or North African and the others, well, perhaps Australian and American.
Some of the imagery is puzzling - a curious shaped container, with a dragon's tail, is spilling out jewels and other items of value ... perhaps the wealth that comes from fraternity and cooperation. There's clearly an Imperial angle here, but it's difficult to read the artist's message (if he had one). It is of course very masculine - apart from a rather aethereal likeness of a woman representing, of all things, 'fraternity'. In the foreground there's a beehive, a common representation of useful toil, along with a cornucopia of fruits and flowers.
There are some points of comparison - check out the headgear! - with the socialist Walter Crane's design from some years earlier on the same theme - fraternity.
There's an even more striking analogy with a couple of the plasterwork figures - attributed to Walter Crane - in the grounds of the King's College Library off Chancery Lane, a remarkable series of plaster panels about which I have blogged before:
I am not suggesting that Crane's work provided the model for the Mildmay mural ... but they do have something in common, especially the hats, caps and turbans!
LATER: Prompted by the comment from Felix Driver, an historical geographer who has written about Walter Crane and his depictions of Empire, I am also posting Crane's imperial map - which posits 'fraternity' as well as 'freedom' and 'federation' as the virtues of Empire:
It's not what you expect on a winter's day on Primrose Hill. Bursts of bright plumage - and darting between branches, birds with a wingspan as big as a buzzard's.
These are two pet macaws being given a bit of exercise by their owners.
Look at the length of those tail feathers!
Primrose Hill is no stranger to the colourful and exotic - the place is bursting with ageing music stars and actors. But this was just something else ...
You'd have to have a hard heart not to be moved by the graffiti that's sprung up on the flank wall of KwikFit - where else! - on Gordon House Road in Gospel Oak.
I don't know whether it's a tale of unrequited love - or just a manufactured street drama ... but I'm curious ...
So, in an elegant blue cursive script, which can't be all that easy with spray paint, the initial graffiti reads: 'A public display of deep affection: I [heart sign] you Mind body, Soul & Kids Lets find the Magic path Luke x'. And no, this isn't from the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke!
So come on, this is quite something - a declaration of a love that will never be exhaust-ed (geddit!??), an affection that cannot be punctured, an amour that will never go flat, a romance that requires no rebalancing, a relationship with no need of a respray ...
The love ditty seems to be addressed - what do you reckon? - to Loo ... which doesn't feel right, and is not the normal way of spelling the short form of Louise (maybe that explains the response, who knows) -
The rejoinder - from 'Loo' or otherwise - is in a bold feminist pink. And it is certainly succinct: 'NO!' - though there is a pink heart sign tagged on, so perhaps all is not lost.
We have no more hope of solving this riddle than working out the 'HOPE' mystery which is another Gospel Oak enigma - but then riddles without a solution are always the most intriguing.
This splendid Tudor baptismal font adorns a suburban parish church barely sixty years old - the rather attractive St Mary's with St George's on Cranley Gardens in Hornsey at the foot of Muswell Hill.
The font was originally at St Mary's on Hornsey High Street and is of much the same antiquity as the tower, the only part of the old church still standing. It later moved to St George's in Hornsey - which suffered a direct bombing hit during the war - and was rescued from the rubble to find, eventually, a new home on Cranley Gardens.
Its current home is an elegant modern church, which was built next door to the older parish hall of St George's. The whalebone shape, modern stained glass and lighting are rather fetching. Have a look -
So the church is, to use a riff on the title of that revered hymn book, a mix of ancient and modern.
Cromer Street isn't the prettiest corner of central London, but I'm rather fond of it. There's the wonderful Anglo-Catholic (much nicer from the inside) Holy Cross church ... an excellent cafe, Casa Tua ... the historic 'Boot' public house, which Dickens knew and seems to have been standing at the time of the Gordon Riots almost 250 years ago ... and the Hillview estate, sturdy mansion blocks which have been (a rare mix) renovated but not gentrified.
And this is all just a couple of minutes stroll from King's Cross, on the south side of Euston Road.
There's now another reason to head to Cromer Street - this stand-out mural by Mohammed Ali.
This is what the Love Camden site says about the mural:
This wall art explores stories of journey, arrival and hope by people making Cromer Street their home. It was made by aerosol artist Mohammed Ali who worked with residents to reveal stories from the neighbourhood.
You can experience this artwork in augmented reality by downloading the Camden People’s Museum app which will launch on the 13th of October. You will hear the voices of Cromer Street residents, sharing their experiences of living in Camden.
Mohammed Ali is a British-born internationally acclaimed aerosol artist working across the world. His work attempts to build bridges between different communities.
If you haven't raised a glass to Charlotte Despard in the Islington pub that bears her name, you've missed your chance. It's closed! Part of the winnowing out of London's pubs. A pity to lose it - not least because there aren't many pubs named after women suffragists, communists and republicans (not even in Islington).
The pub was on Archway Road, not all that far from the Whittington hospital and from Archway tube station. Its website gives the impression of business as usual - but I guess it shut quite a while ago. It looks as if (I hope I'm wrong here) a row of properties are destined for the bulldozer.
Charlotte French, born in 1844, married a wealthy Anglo-Irish banker, Maximilian Despard, who died at sea in 1890. It was only when a widow that Charlotte Despard got involved in politics.
She was an active opponent of the Boer War and at various times supported the Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Labour Party, the Women's Social and Political Union, the Women's Freedom League, Sinn Fein, the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain.
She was a prominent suffragist and pacifist and remained active into her nineties. She died in 1939.
There are two London streets named after Despard - one in Battersea, and the other adjoining the Despard Arms in Archway. So it's reasonable to assume that the pub took its name from the street. Though it's just possible that the pub is a direct successor to the (alcohol free) Despard Arms in Cumberland Market, set up during the First World War in the building which had housed Mary Neal's Esperance Club (more details in Curious Camden Town).
The pub signboard captures something - something - of Charlotte Despard's toughness, though even by the modest standards of this art form, it's not exactly stand-out. Still, for a while at least she still gazes out onto Jeremy Corbyn's backyard.
Mr dear wife Carrie and I have just been a week in our new house, 'The Laurels' ,Brickfield Terrace, Holloway - a nice six-roomed residence, not counting basement, with a front breakfast-parlour. We have a little front garden; and there is a flight of ten steps up to the front door, which by-the-by, we keep locked with the chain up. ... We have a nice little back garden which runs down to the railway. We were rather afraid of the noise of the trains at first, but the landlord said we should not notice them after a bit, and took £2 off the rent. He was certainly right; and beyond the cracking of the garden wall at the bottom, we have suffered no inconvenience.
This is the opening paragraph of a comic classic, George and Weedon Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody - which was first published in Punch from late 1888 and appeared in book form in 1892. It's a glorious comedy of manners and suburban social pretension with illustrations by Weedon Grossmith. And it immortalised the hapless City clerk, Charles Pooter, whose self-important diary we are invited to dip into .
But - where was the Pooters' new home, 'The Laurels'?
This is the most favoured model for 'The Laurels' - it's 1 Pemberton Gardens, close to St John's, Upper Holloway, on Holloway Road. It's not an exact match of either the description in the book's opening paragraph or of Weedon Grossmith's drawing, as you can see, but it's not far off - and it does back on to the rail lines at Upper Holloway station.
The truth is, of course, that there is no exact match - The Diary of a Nobody is a pastiche of lower middle-class Holloway of the 1880s not a documentary.
I went for a walk today around 'Mr Pooter's Victorian Holloway' and Jane, our guide, came up with an alternative theory. She believes that some of the houses fronting on to the west side of Holloway Road, close to the junction with Tavistock Terrace, are a really good fit - even though there are no railway lines to the rear. What do you reckon?
This is a good match for the architectural details in Weedon Grossmith's drawing. But the Grossmiths lived in Canonbury and he may well have drawn from houses in his own backyard for the Pooters' home.
Does it matter much? No - but it is quite fun looking for Mr Pooter's "Laurels".
Thanks to the Open House weekend - and the even more admirable volunteers of the Friends of Hornsey Church Tower - I have achieved a longstanding ambition. I've been to the top of St Mary's church tower in Hornsey.
The tower - fifteenth century in part - has outlived a whole succession of adjoining churches, and now stands alone and aloof with its trademark turret and crenellations.
The vestry has been restored and is in wonderful condition. Religious services are held here a few times a year (this is no longer Hornsey's parish church but it's still owned by the church) - otherwise it's available for hire, an 'intimate space' for performance or kids' parties, with room for about twenty-five.
But this isn't the way up the tower. That's through a recessed side door, and a perilous spiral staircase with 120 narrow steps. That leads first to the bell ringers' chamber (though the bells have long gone) and then beyond, past the deserted bell chamber, to the larger-than-you might-expect roof.
From the top you have a commanding view of Muswell Hill, Alexandra Palace, White Hart Lane, Crouch End's "hog's back" and beyond t0 the skyscrapers of the City and Canary Wharf.
I took this short video - starting off facing, very roughly, south and then moving clockwise:
And here's a selection of views from the top of St Mary's tower:
Next time Open House weekend comes around, head straight to Hornsey!
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