Farewell to the 491 Gallery

491 Gallery Leytonstone

The 491 Gallery now lies in a pile of rubble between Grove Green Road and the M11 Link Road. It’s been sad to walk past and see it come down day-by-day – from the wooden hoardings going up a couple of months ago, watching the roof beams carried out and placed on a trailer, to the final bricks being knocked down on Tuesday.

491 Gallery Leytonstone

I did Life Drawing classes on a Monday night in that room that hangs from the edge of the building in this photo. I bought two hand-built bird boxes that hang in my garden for a fiver there as well. Where there is a pile of bricks below I went to an all day gig where people watched the bands slouched on bean bags and cushions. The 491 was a very chilled out place in my experience.

491 Gallery Leytonstone IMG_9236

For a ‘post-link road’ Leytonstoner such as myself, the 491 Gallery was a link to the spirit of former times. A vestige of the period when Leytonstone had the largest population of artists in Europe although it dates from after the road it is a legacy of it. The building had been used as a storage facility for the building of the Link Road. Previous to that it had been a factory that built safes. The demolition guys carrying out the heavy roof beams said to me there was still an enormous safe inside that they had to get out somehow.

491 Gallery Leytonstone IMG_9243

This kind of squatted social space links back to the London I knew when I first came to live here in 1989 and is slowly fading away. There are groups that still operate social spaces, sometimes in conjunction with the property owners using meanwhile leases, but they are necessarily temporary without time to grow roots into the community. The 491 Gallery was a real presence in the Leytonstone community and it’s very sad to see it go to be replaced with yet another uniform block of flats.

491 Gallery Leytonstone

Rest in Peace 491 Gallery may your spirit live on.

The mysterious allure of the backs of buildings



Why did this vista grab me by the elastic hood straps of my rain jacket this morning? I walk past it every day – sometimes twice but today I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I was compelled to take out my camera in the rain and grab a couple of snaps. A tube train a-clunk-a-clunked past and ruined the first photo and to be honest even this one that I’ve cropped doesn’t do the magnificence and mysteriousness of the view proper justice. It’s the back and side of the 491 Gallery – the front of which must be one of the most photographed buildings in Leytonstone with its glowering Alfred Hitchcock mural. The other rear corner is pretty interesting too, offering a peek into the gallery’s sculpture garden. But this aspect almost appeared to me this morning across the tube tracks as a Tuscan hill town bathed in the Leytonstone rain. The moisture from the grey pellets showered down from the cinder block sky saturated the colours of the pollution marinated brickwork. The doors shone brilliant azure, the white walls gleamed dazzling the drivers on the M11 Link Road. I’ve done life drawing classes in one of those rooms and never saw anything as remarkable – not even the display of Japanese Rope Bondage that proved to be a sketch too far.

Waste of Space at the 491 Gallery

The 491 Gallery in Leytonstone is far from being a waste of space in its current incarnation as a squatted artist run space offering workshops and organising exhibitions.
Ownership of the building has passed from London Transport to a private developer who plans to knock the place down and build a block of flats (with wonderful views of the M11 Link Road). The residents of the 491 have been given notice to vacate the premises on 13th January, so today’s exhibition marked one of the last opportunities to drop by.

The fire-pit was blazing in the ad-hoc landscaped garden with its furniture and sculptures made from recycled junk. I bought a beautiful hand-made bird-box for £6 at the Jumblegeddon on the ground flair.
Upstairs was a fascinating photographic exhibition/installation exploring ‘the use and misuse of space in the modern world, peering into hidden worlds and darkened corners to reveal the secret stories of forgotten buildings and of the people who try to bring life back to them’ (as their hand-out tells us).

Of course Leytonstone has form in this area with the squatted houses that became the focus of the protests against the building of the Link Road in the heyday of ‘Leytonstonia’.

The photographs range from nicely interior designed houses in Spain inhabited by musicians to the old Courage Brewery in Bristol where a forest of weeds have filled the void. The photos of rooms in houses are linked via coloured woolen threads creating a new para-space within the gallery.

The exhibition runs till Saturday 22nd December – go along not just to have a look at this great installation but also catch a glimpse of Leytonstone’s last occupied space before it’s gone.