Part of the charm of ghost signs is the slow, ethereal fading away - if the inscription wasn't visibly ageing it wouldn't have that magic about it.
But it's still frustrating when you come across a ghost sign that's no longer fully legible. Take this one, for 'John Hirst, Builder, on the gable end of the house he lived in, in Dartmouth Park. What does it say?
Even the most assiduous of ghost signers has failed to make it out in full. But here's my best attempt:
????? Sanitary Work
If anyone can fill-in the blanks, do let me know. The sign is at the junction of Twisden Road and Chetwynd Road, NW5.
The admirable Kentish Towner has had a good look at the ghost signs at the heart of Dartmouth Park. There's a more detailed, and illustrated, account by M.H. Port, 'Living and Building in Victorian Dartmouth Park', published by the Dartmouth Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee. Many of the streets in Dartmouth Park, especially those on the southern side, bear all the hallmarks of speculative builders. They would buy a small lot of land, cram in a few houses, and the telltale sign is the variegated design - walk down a street such as Spencer Rise, and you get small clumps of houses all with the same design, then a jarring change not just to design detail, but often the number of floors as well.
It's one of the commanding landmarks of N19 (Upper Holloway to the untutored) - and has a fair claim to be one of north London's most enduring murals.
This 'smiley sun' - and doesn't the reference to "Atomic Power" date it - is painted on a gable wall at the junction of Dartmouth Park Hill and Hargrave Park. I've lived nearby for the last sixteen years, and have driven past this mural and seen it as part of my London since I moved to the city more than thirty years ago.
Various attempts to find out how this smiley sun came into existence - and more details here - have thrown up two facts: it was all about the squatters' movement so evident in north London in the late '70s, and this particular piece of public art was the handiwork of Kelvin 'the mushroom maniac'.
Well, I have now heard directly from Kelvin - it's only taken three years or so to track him down - and here's his account of how this landmark was born:
Thanks for your interest ... in that 'smiley'!
Well, can't imagine how you ever found out, but you were right, twaz me that scrolled it!
How? Well, a lucky combination of circumstance I guess - A copy of that book [John W. Gofman and Arthur R. Tamplin, Poisoned Power: the case against nuclear power plants before and after Three Mile Island, 1971], a flourishing anti-nuclear movement, and me, a young headstrong hothead in thosde days, in love with life and convinced the world could be saved, (and magic mushrooms).
When? Well, I can pin that down for you too - It must have been (incredibly) - 1976. How am I so certain? Well, the man who told me of your website (born at the end of '75) was a babe in our arms at the time. Homeless and living on £5 a week we heard of the incredible squatting community that thrived in that area at that time - and with a massive sign of relief we moved into that house!
Why'd I graffiti my own house? Hard to say, perhaps having just got back from a nightmare demo at Aldermaston - where I'd experienced the most hideous mushroom induced vision I'd ever had in my life - (before or since) - may have had a little something to do with it! - ...
Where? how? Having come across a few tins of old paint while on another blindingly enlightening anti-nuclear trip I was suddenly seized with the absolute necessity to do something about it then and there - so, in the middle of the night, much to the misgivings of my long suffering wife and convinced I'd be getting busted for it in the morning (if not while doing it) I grabbed a ladder from a building site opposite and dashed it off. (If I'd have known it was to last half a lifetime I may just have taken a little more care over it! I was in such as hurry I remember I nearly fell to my probable death in the process! - anyway,
There's your story.
And it's a great story, Kevin. Thank you!
The steep slope at the back of the Dartmouth Park reservoir was in great demand this afternoon - ideal for sledging and toboganning, though sometimes there was a bit of crash ending to the slide. Great to see this rather desolate piece of open space being put to such exuberant use.
It was a 'frost fair' sort of day - nice to have a weekend day to make the most of the snow.
A bright, sunny New Year's day - and I'm on my way. Hightailing through Dartmouth Park (not the posh conservation area, but the distinctly unposh space surrounding the covered reservoir on the east side of Dartmouth Park Road) - trying not to notice the overpowering whiff of dope surrounding the only guy on the benches at the highest point - and marvelling in this little known vantage point looking out to Canary Wharf, the Gherkin and the Shard.
A little further east along Junction Road towards Archway, there's one of the most elegant buildings in this part of north London - now a great gastro pub, the mid-Victorian St John's Tavern.
The building dates from the 1860s, and was recently renovated with support from English Heritage and Islington council - there's more about that on this council site, from which I have taken the wonderful photo of the pub more than a century ago in 1904:
Then past the distinctly inelegant Archway, along St John's Way, and pushing over to the north end of Hornsey Road - a fairly anonymous area, though with lots of patches of open space, which I suspect reflects how badly it suffered in the blitz.
'The Shaftesbury' was shut - it seems to be one of those great local pubs which has closed and, happily, been reborn. Nearby there's a Shaftesbury Road and an Ashley Road - Ashley was the family name of the great social reformer the Earl of Shaftesbury (his big issue was improving working conditions in factories). I suspect the pub dates from the time of his death in the 1880s.
Along Hanley Road are a couple of buildings, council flats by the look of them, which have a crest with the motto: 'Deus per Omnia'. This translates as 'God through all things', or more colloquially 'in God we trust'.
No coincidence surely that this is also the motto on Arsenal's crest - their ground isn't all that far away.
On to Stroud Green Road, and what I guess I had in mind as the destination of this walk - one of London's most magical buildings. It's now a rambling pub, The Old Dairy, and was built in about 1890 by the Friern Manor Dairy Farm, which had an earlier buidling on this site (which probably explains why the building bears the date 1866).
There's a little about the history of the dairy on this wiki about Stroud Green - but it would be nice to know more about the fantastic, eye catching panelling. There are seven panels in all, in excellent condition - the two below illustrate 'Old Style Delivery' and 'Present Day Delivery' (do remember this was 120+ years ago).
If you have never seen this building, then just get out there and do it - the junction of Hanley Road and Crouch Hill to be precise. You won't be disappointed.
It has some really extraordinary architectural features - among them a couple of stone owls peering down on passers by. Lord knows what that's all about.
It's not quite what you expect in this otherwise rather drab and out-of-the-way corner of north London, but it is a real architectural curiosity and delight. The dairy apparently had quite a few offices and depots across London - but I'm not aware of anything else that quite matches this.
Just a few yards away is Crouch Hill station - and due any minute, a service on what I still call the North London line, which delivers me back to Gospel Oak in less than the time it's taken you to read this blog.
So that's how I spent my New Year's Day. Many more happy wanderings to come, I trust, in the course of 2013.
The treasures that you can find if you keep your eyes open!
It was S. Mary Brookfield's summer fete in Dartmouth Park this weekend - a church about as 'high' as you can get within the C. of E. With, as its parish priest, Father Guy Pope. No kidding!
The rain forced the stalls out of the vicarage garden and into the interior of this beautiful 1875 Butterfield church. And inside I spotted something I'd overlooked before - this beautiful fifteenth century alabaster representation of one of the more obscure Celtic saints.
A plaque underneath reads: 'The Legend of Saint Arthmael. Nottingham Alabaster XVth Century, found at Plas y n Pentre, a Grange of Valle Crucis Abbey, Llangollen. Placed here by Philip Harold Reeves Vicar of this Church 1907-1928.'
St Arthmael or Armel was born in south Wales in the sixth century, during the reign of King Arthur. There are indeed suggestions that he was King Arthur. The alabaster, though damaged, strikes me as a real treasure. And however it made its way to NW5, I'm very happy to have stumbled across it.
The previous blog showed the view from my window as it was until this morning - now it's what you see above.
Thames Water certainly didn't waste any time levelling everything in sight. And now the pastoral reservoir bank looks like a newly cleared copse - or a bit of the Amazon rain forest being converted into beef burger grazing.
Two men, well under a day's work, and a few decades worth of natural growth is gone.
So what can we still see from our bedroom?
Well, the view's not bad - indeed it has a bit of a 'wow' factor. On my tinny point and shoot, you don't get the full majesty of the evening sun catching Canary Wharf. The human eye picks it up much better.
But the wide vista to the east and south-east is really enticing.
And to the right you can see, little more than a mile away, Arsenal's Emirates Stadium - often floodlit in the evenings. A compelling piece of modern architecture.
And below you can see our glimpse of the City skyscrapers including, lurking behind some stray branches, the Gherkin - another mpiece of the modern that really works on the London skyline.
I live next to a covered reservoir, the Maiden Lane reservoir, which gives a heartlifting pastoral aspect to this crowded corner of north London. You can see for yourself - the photo above is the view from my bedroom window (which also takes in the Emirates Stadium, Canary Wharf and quite a few of the City skyscrapers). You can just see the top of the reservoir, and the fenced off banks are home to foxes, woodpeckers, finches - a decent array of inner city wildlife.
There's a network of covered reservoirs across north London - at Highgate, Hornsey Rise, Stroud Green and Claremont Square and I'm sure many other locations as well. Most date from the mid-Victorian era when there was an acute need to provide water to a rapidly expanding city.
It's only when repair work started on the reservoir that I was reminded of its name. Maiden Lane was the ancient name for the route from King's Cross to Highgate, now fallen into disuse. The northern part of the lane was renamed Dartmouth Park Hill as long ago as the 1870s.
Sometimes in my more lurid imaginings, I fear that the reservoir is about to burst and sweep us all away down the hill, following - no doubt - the route of the former Fleet River. So I suppose I should be grateful that Thames Water has of late been conspicuous in carrying out repairs.
A few years ago, they rooted out the trees fronting Dartmouth Park Hill, without much of a by your leave, to ensure the integrity of the reservoir. Now another round of inspection and repair appears to have revealed a small crack in the reservoir lining. This means the impending loss of all the trees in the photos above and below, and the driving of massive concrete piles to ensure the reservoir remains stable.
I suppose it's better than losing the space altogether - not that the reservoir and banks are accessible to the public (I've lived alongside for fifteen years without setting foot in it, though the area on the far side of the rails constitutes the windswept and rarely visited Dartmouth Park). But it would be nice to keep the reservoir in one piece - and the trees and bushes and the wildlife they harbour. Is that asking too much?
For the past thirteen years (with a few years off in Delhi for good behaviour) I have lived in a north London house with 'Dartmouth Park' in its postal address. We're not in the Dartmouth Park conservation area - not in the sort of white stuccoed four-storey 1860s terraced house which sells for £1.6 million - but like to feel we're in nodding distance. Still, it's come as a surprise to learn first from 'The Times' and now from Anne McElvoy in the 'Evening Standard' that we're part of pinkish London's biggest socio-political hotspot.
It was only after Ed Miliband's fratricidal triumph that I discovered he was almost a neighbour - he and his partner had bought, yes, a white stuccoed four-storey terraced house at the Heath end of Dartmouth Park Road. Now, says Anne McElvoy, there's a 'Dartmouth Park posse' of Milibands, Kinnocks and associated hangers-on which is giving our area a touch of class.
Well, I've only spotted Ed once, pushing a buggy on the Heath - and have yet to alight (knowingly at least) on a Kinnock. The late Adrian Mitchell used to live nearby - you can still spot the house from the 'Stop the War' posters in the windows. I occasionally see the novelist Julian Barnes making his way up Dartmouth Park Hill. But for such a well-heeled enclave, Dartmouth Park is astonishingly free of celebrity.
Lots of lawyers, a few behind-the-scenes cultural types, not much in the way of famous faces. A bit like the old part of Highgate cemetery (Karl Marx and George Eliot are in the 'new' bit, the Eastern Cemetery), where there's lots and lots of old bones, and almost all remarkably anonymous.
Anne McElvoy, by the way, lives in ultra-fashionable Amwell, where Peter Mandelson once had a flat. Not many know where Amwell is - but it's chic, smart, with wonderful architecture, and easy walking distance from Fleet Street. Let's learn a little more about that posse.
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