Picturing Forgotten London at the London Metropolitan Archives

Islington Spa engraving

Met the brilliant Dave Binns the other week for a look at the Picturing Forgotten London exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives. The mood was perfectly set by the walk up through the winding backstreets of Clerkenwell to the LMA by Spa Green Fields. After signing in at reception, then being directed to deposit our bags in a locker, we were free to go up to the exhibition with the instruction that all notes were to be made solely with a pencil and that our notebooks should be carried in a large transparent plastic bag (which was provided).

The exhibition starts on the staircase to the gallery – an ante-room to the main archive. The first image to grab my attention was an aerial photograph of Caledonian Market on Copenhagen Fields taken in 1930, a site I’ve been interested in for a number of years. It captures the full extent of the market grounds, some of which is now preserved as parkland along with the majestic clocktower.

In the gallery I was drawn to the glass display case dedicated to artist and writer Geoffrey Fletcher, presented as if containing holy relics. There was a photo of Fletcher sat on the ground sketching the Roman Temple of Mithras (recently relocated) along with a fine hardback edition of London Overlooked and a penguin paperback of The London Nobody Knows. A banner printed with a large photo of the Skylon at the 1951 Festival of Britain hangs nearby.

A collection of images show ‘The Devil’s Acre’, an area of poor housing just to the south of Westminster Abbey that was described by Charles Dickens in his magazine Household Words. A section on Housing includes an engraving from 1775 of The Norman Baynard’s Castle on a corner by the confluence of the Fleet and the Thames near a photo of a prefab on the back of a truck in 1962, and wooden cottages in East India Dock Road in 1860.

Layers upon layers of London are hanging on the walls at the Metropolitan Archives, whole other worlds within worlds. The exhibition runs until 31st October 2018 and is highly recommended.


In my head as I approach writing this blog just before midnight I have the Iggy Pop song, Nightclubbing bouncing around inside my skull – y’know, the track that shares a distinction with half of Scotland’s actors of being made famous by the film Trainspotting. What Iggy Pop and Trainspotting also shared in common was heroin addiction – maybe that’s why Iggy’s other tune on the soundtrack, Lust for Life, became the film’s anthem.

But I’m not writing about Iggy Pop or Trainspotting but a walk I took the other night from Queen Square Bloomsbury through the streets of old Holborn, for the sake of a wander, and also for my series of walking vlogs.

I don’t know a great deal about that area but somewhere in the gloom I saw the spirit of Thomas De Quincey shuffling ahead of me bound for the Penton Mound. De Quincey has become synonymous with London walking, the cult of the flaneur, and borrowed by psychogeographers to lend some notion of heritage to this strange habit of walking around unpromising corners of the city. In his most famous book, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, he writes of walking at night “in Oxford Street by dreamy lamp-light”. He noted that, “being a peripatetic, or a walker of the streets” – he often found himself in the company of prostitutes. And as you’ll have deduced from the title of his book was also fond of heroin, like Iggy Pop.

As I found myself approaching the foothills of the Angel and contemplated descending into Black Mary’s Hole I remembered that Samuel Taylor Coleridge used to walk through this way to visit his friend Charles Lamb in Islington. De Quincey moved himself into Coleridge’s social circle and it was Coleridge who by one stage removed introduced De Quincey to opium:

“The powers of that great agent I first learned dimly to guess at from a remark made to me by a lady in London; then, and for some time previously, she had been hospitably entertaining Coleridge …. Consequently, she was familiarly acquainted with his opium habits”.

In Lamb’s Conduit Street I admired what I took for an old gas lamp but I don’t really know how to spot them. Geoffrey Fletcher was fond of these relics of old streetscape and sketched them for his books and pamphlets. In Offbeat in London he encourages the reader to take the 171 bus from Chancery Lane to Mount Pleasant and admire the old gas lamps – more or less the route of the walk I had taken. He also notes the lamps in Queen Square – the point I had started my walk and the first shot in the video.

The Duke Pub John Mews

I followed old tracks from the beginnings of this blog when I nightly walked from the South Bank to the top of Pentonville Road. I wanted to enjoy once more for the sake of my video the junction of John’s and Roger Streets spelling out my name if you carry the ‘s’ across to the end. I stopped to admire the fine block of art deco flats next door at Mytre Court, built in 1938 by Denis Edmond Harrington.

Perambulating down a dark Grays Inn Road Arthur Machen came to mind, I think he lived here, he certainly mentions it in his book The London Adventure, “what strange things I experienced in chambers in Grays Inn”. It also became his base camp for ventures further afield,

“But in writing this book of mine I was to dip rather into the later years; into the 1895-99 period when I first found out the wonders that lie to the eastward of the Gray’s Inn Road, when Islington and Barnsbury and Canonbury were discovered, when Pentonville ceased to be a mere geographical expression.”


The sound of Manze’s Pie and Mash shop Chapel Market

I recorded this audio clip whilst stopping for some much needed Pie and Mash on one of the walks for This Other London. It’s got great acoustics – something to do with all those tiles and marble worktops.

Here’s a bit from the book:

I move on quickly into Chapel Market where I can sate the desire for Manze’s pie and mash that had been stirred in Walthamstow. I order a small pie and with a dollop of mash smeared around one side of the plate and swimming in parsley liquor, it is placed on the marble counter top. The tea comes in a glass mug with the spoon standing upright. I settle on a wooden bench in one of the booths under the glow of a line of petal-shaped lights reflecting in the mirrors. It is a gleaming working-class food palace. The white-tiled walls are broken up with brown borders containing a band of decorated green tiles embossed with a chain of ribboned flowers.This Other London p.233

This Chapel Market Manze’s (there are a few dotted around London that grew out of the original empire established by Michaele Manzo, an Italian immigrant from Ravello) features in the film version of The London Nobody Knows. It makes a going for pie and mash look like a trip to the Twilight Zone.