Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


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The Streets of London: Pullens Yards

It started with a tweet by a publisher I follow. A mention of Pullens Yards, an open studios and a postcode intrigued me; I like to think I know many of the studios around my area but this was new to me. I had a few hours to spare before an afternoon of volunteering at a local theatre and as I had to pass through SE17 on the way I thought, “why not?”

I already knew that behind the Walworth Road in SE London there are many Victorian streets, full of original housing stock, but discovering some beautiful Victorian artisan workshops was a complete surprise.

Pullens Centre Sign

Pullens Centre Sign

The yards sit within the Pullens Estate. This was built between 1870 and 1901 by local builders, James Pullen and Son. Included in the estate design were four yards, of which three remain, Iliffe Yard, Clements Yard and Peacock Yard. The Yards were purpose-built workspaces, designed originally as a work/live spaces, something that is still seen today in several locations around Southwark.

It was a great day to visit – the sun was out and London was basking in a kind of post-election lethargy. As it was quite quiet when I arrived many of the artists were happy to chat. I spent some time in the studio of David Cowley, who seeks to capture his responses to music and literature in his paintings. His work was fascinating and I could have spent all morning chatting with him about art and synaesthesia, but there were three yards to get round so I had to move on.

The yards are a celebration of everything you know about Victorian building. From the wrought iron gates and the cobbled roadway, to the worn out staircases and arched doorways they are the epitome of the attention to detail that the builder brought to a project. Today they continue to house a wide range of artists, from Royal Academicians to lute makers, photographers, jewellers, potters…the list is endless.

I was keen to visit Tiny Owl Publishers who are based in Peacock Yard. This publishing house focuses on books which aim to bridge cultural experiences, creating the most beautiful books about love, friendship or freedoms. I had a lovely conversation with co-founder Karim, who took time to show me their latest publications and the themes they focus on. If you are a fan of picture books that really say something then have a look at their titles. You won’t be disappointed.

Back in the 1970s the workshops and surrounding flats were heading for demolition. Thanks to the far-sighted campaigners who saved them in the face of bailiffs and police, the area was saved and is now a sought after place to live. As we see the shape of the Walworth Road and the Elephant and Castle changing on an almost daily basis, I hope these small-scale spaces remain as a creative hub, continuing to bring a little beauty to our lives.

Peacock Yard

Peacock Yard

The Yards host an Open Studios event twice a year in the Summer and at Christmas. Details can be found via their website http://www.pullensyards.co.uk/

©Chez l’abeille  2017


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The Streets of London: Thames Path, Tower Bridge to Greenwich.

Leaving Tower Bridge

It’s almost exactly a year since I’d walked along the north bank of the Thames from Tower Hill to The Isle of Dogs so a stroll along the south side seemed the perfect thing to be doing on a late spring Sunday. Having lived in Southwark for over 20 years now I thought I knew my bit of London quite well but there were still surprises in store.

Heading along from Tower Bridge the first signs of history started to appear around St Saviours Dock. The tide was out and the Thames mud glistened in the sun, rippled with algae like some noxious ice cream recipe.

Dickens apparently described this area as “the filthiest, strangest and most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London.” I don’t know if he would recognise it today as the many warehouses and storerooms along the old Bermondsey Wall have gradually been converted into expensive apartments.

Just along Bermondsey Wall East is a collection of brass statues, dedicated to Dr Alfred Salter and his wife Ada. Both Alfred and Ada Salter worked hard to change the lives of the poor in Rotherhithe. His pioneering work lead to the establishment of a comprehensive health service in Rotherhithe, long before the NHS. He also went on to become the Labour MP with Ada becoming the first female mayor of Bermondsey Borough Council. His daughter’s cat sits on the wall watching carefully!Dr Salter's dream

From here the path turns towards old Rotherhithe, that bit of Southwark that thrusts into the Thames and loops it northwards. It also takes you back in history again to The Mayflower Pub and St Mary’s church across the way. In the pretty little church garden I found a monument to Christopher Jones, the Captain of the Mayflower who started out for the New World, with the Pilgrim fathers, from a mooring nearby. Through the churchyard, in the garden of the St Mary’s Rotherhithe Free School and Watch Tower I also discovered a delightful hidden cafe. As it was now time for a cup of tea it was a most welcome find and I was also able to do a bit of research into the school next door. It was founded in 1613 by Peter Hills and Robert Bell, two Elizabethan seafarers, to teach the sons of local sailors. You can see two children wearing their bluecoat uniform above the doorway. Free schools are seen as a rather modern phenomenon, but in a time when universal access to education was not an expectation, the money gifted for children’s schooling would have been a precious gift indeed.

The next surprise along the way was The Brunel Museum. Obviously with my Cornish heritage I have a fairly good knowledge of things Brunel – or so I thought. This is actually connected to Marc Brunel, father of the possibly more famous Isambard. He built the first tunnel under the Thames, an endeavour that took from 1805 to 1841. The tunnel is in use today but not as a foot tunnel as he envisaged. Nearby is the partner ventilation shaft to the one I saw at Shadwell, keeping the Rotherhithe road tunnel aired.

It was getting rather hot by now so the next stop along the way was the rather splendid Cafe at Surrey Docks City Farm. As a former Southwark teacher I’ve probably brought hundreds of children here for educational trips over the years but as a consequence, I don’t think I’ve ever had the time to sit and enjoy their cafe! The farm was full of squealing children and baby animals and it’s great to see that it is thriving despite the times of austerity we live in.

The farm is on the East side of the peninsular and from here you cross over from Southwark into Lewisham. This part of the docks was severely bombed during  WW2, but also played a major part in building the “Mulberry Harbours” used in the D-Day Landings, named after Mulberry Quay. Many of the docks were named for their role in seafaring life. The Greenland Dock, Ordnance Wharf, Canada Wharf and Columbia Wharf all give you a clue as to where their ships were destined.

Deptford Strand Pepys Estate

Passing through The Pepys Estate, the path turns into Deptford Strand, where a gated set of steps stand rather forlornly, heading down into the mud and debris of the foreshore. However, they once marked the site of the Tudor docks of Deptford, and are where Sir Francis Drake, newly returned from his circumnavigation of the world on the Golden Hinde, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth 1st.

Much of the Deptford section of the Thames Path is inland, so I was mostly weaving through the back streets until I passed into Royal Greenwich onto the Thames riverbank again and the Cutty Sark hoved into sight. First though I had to walk past the rather bizarre statue of Peter the Great.

Between 1697 and 1698 Czar Peter 1st of Russia came to Deptford for four months to study shipbuilding. The statue shows Peter the Great with his court dwarf and his favourite travelling chair. A large group of Russian tourists were busy placing flowers at his feet, so clearly Peter is still an important figure for many.

Arriving at Greenwich

Greenwich was busy with a Bank Holiday/school half term air so I didn’t linger long. The sky had also turned from glorious sunshine to a rather ominous grey; It was time for home after a day of local history and some great cups of tea along the way.

Tower Bridge to Greenwich: Approx 6.5 miles/10.5 kilometres

©Chez l’abeille  2017


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The streets of London: Ghost Signs #3. Bermondsey and Borough

This post is a bit of a mash-up really. It combines two of my favourite things here at Chez L’abeille: walking around London and spotting ghost signs.

What, I hear you ask, actually IS a ghost sign? Well let me tell you. According to Mr Ghost Signs himself, Sam Roberts, it is a “painted sign, fading on walls.” Should you wish to read Sam’s academic research and argument for this definition look here. I’m happy to accept the word of someone who has done an immense amount of research and what’s more is very happy to walk you round and show you. I’ve followed Sam and his work on ghost signs for quite a while, more recently on twitter and through contributions to an earlier crowd sourced flickr album, where ghost sign hunters around the planet shared their passion. He also leads walks in London so a few weeks ago I signed up to follow him in real life and headed over to Bermondsey Street to meet up outside No 55.

Chadwick Road ghost signI’ve actually got a couple of ghost signs near me. The best one is the marvellous Cutts and Co. Printing Office sign on the corner of Chadwick Road, but there’s also a completely washed out expanse of white paint high up on another wall in Bellenden Road. I’d not given this one much attention but after spending a few hours walking around Borough and Bermondsey with Sam I’d learned a thing or two. This seemingly pointless expanse of whitewash has scalloped corners. This means it was once a sign! There’s nothing left but white paint so I can go no further with it but wherever you look around London those fading painted signs are lurking, sometimes where you least expect them.

It was a pretty grim day with a cold easterly wind so walking was quite a good idea and stopping for a long time was freezing which meant our small band of hunters went a quite a pace. Having spent years working in and around the Borough I thought I knew most of the signs, but it turned out there were some surprises in store. I’m not sure how I ever missed the Bermondsey Wire Works but there it was, as big as a Victorian warehouse facade!

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Oh, Honey Honey.

Bees feature rather a lot in the world of Chez L’abeille. This is a good thing because they are rather an important part of our world generally and in some cases are in rather a perilous situation. Even today a friend has shared an article about bees going onto the endangered wildlife list in America. I was intrigued then, when I heard about a very local supper club  event hosted jointly by Gosnells Mead and Bee Kind and Dine, who provide sustainably sourced meals, which aim to engage more people in the issues within our food systems. Bees, food and drink all rolled into one evening – why not?

Firstly some info about mead. I have to admit, the first (and last time) I drank the stuff was on Lindisfarne. It can’t have made too much of a lasting impression because I haven’t gone out of my way in the intervening 20 or more years to seek it out. But this is 21st century Peckham, so it came as no surprise that there is an actual mead brewery about five minutes from my doorstep.

This, however, is modern mead – still made from honey and water but blended to make an entirely surprising, light and exceedingly tasty beverage. During the course of the evening we sampled drank several bottles of the current Gosnells’ range. (And admired the exceedingly lovely labels!)

The London mead is a delicately flavoured mead with a subtle sweetness and was a refreshing opener for our meal. Our second bottle was the hopped mead which had more strength but still maintained the honey notes of the drink. My favourite (not least for its fabulous label) was the citra sea mead which will be finding its way into my fridge asap! For this limited edition brew, honey is combined with lemon peel, tarragon and hops then blended with sea water as a surprise ingredient. The lemony, tangy flavour went particularly well with my monkfish main course. We rounded off the evening with the winter mead – not bottles this time, but more measured tumblers. This one is definitely worth savouring over desert.

Our accompanying supper was equally delicious. As we arrived the potatoes were cooking outdoors on a large open grill which whetted the appetite nicely. The flavours of honey were threaded through the menu in our appetiser and desert, but my favourite dish was the perfectly cooked Cornish monkfish in lieu of pork belly. As you will also see below, the cuttlefish, tomato and polenta starter disappeared before I remembered to take a picture!

Information, fabulous food, conversation and mead all combined into a very entertaining meal. I for one will be round to the nearest Gosnells’ stockist (also five minutes away) with a new admiration for this very old drink!

©Chez l’abeille  2016


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Mirror, Mirror

Sometimes things just happen. That, I guess is what constitutes a happening. The arrival of a mirror maze in Peckham for one weekend only is always going to be a happening. Add that it’s in the Copeland Park/Bussey Building’s achingly hip enclave and it is always going to be up there in the zeitgeist.

I’m not going to write a lot about the background to the work – there’s a really decent article by Creative Review, which tells you everything you need to know. Briefly, the work is by Es Devlin who has a background in stage design. It’s exploring scent, memory and identity. It’s created in partnership with i-D and Chanel to celebrate creativity from women in arts and culture aross the world.

What it actually is: a really fabulous, immersive, mesmerising artwork!

I’m glad I went down early on the opening day as I think visitors would be queuing round the block by the end of the weekend as word spread. By the time this post goes out it will all be over, but that I suppose is what makes it the best kind of memory – a transient moment of total magic.

©Chez l’abeille  2016

 

 


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Vegging out.

If you really, really want to know what’s out there in the zietgeist then there’s one sure fire way to find out.

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Love Lambeth

Yes – that would be the Lambeth Country Show and you KNOW where that leads: straight to the carved vegetable competition.

I actually thought there was a queue to get into the Flower and Produce tent but it turned out the judges were just being all judgy. A quick jaunt up to the jousting and the canvas flaps were lifted. We were in and there was a definite first day of the sales type scrum to get pole position around the carved veg entries.

So what’s hot in the world of veg carving in 2016?

First there was American presidential hopeful Donald Trump in triplicate:

I thought Donald Trumpkin was particularly inspired, but the butternut squash should be commended for genius use of beetroot. Continue reading


Testing, testing…

Once more I have embarked on the endless project known as “Fixing Chez L’Abeille”. I’ve not had the energy to do anything since the last epic dust storm but the time has come to bite the bullet once again. However, what I thought would be a few days upheaval whilst some simple adjustments to decor and plug location were completed, has turned into a need to rewire my poor old house so everything has ground to an unplanned halt. It’s a situation that is definitely testing me!

Thus, as the sun came out over London town for what seems the first time in months, I was desperate to get out and see something more stimulating than bare plaster walls and holes where uplights once lived.

I was headed for the newly opened Tate Modern extension but halfway there I was waylaid. In fact that really should be weigh-laid because the never visited Kirkaldy Testing Museum was open, so I looked in.

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Now if you’ve ever looked up in Southwark Street, you may have pondered over this inscription:

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The motto “Facts not opinions” gives you some sense that this was a place of science – and as soon as you step through the door you are whisked back to 1874, when David Kirkaldy set up the testing works at No.99.

As a result of the Industrial Revolution many new materials were developed, but their weaknesses were not always understood, resulting in major incidents such as the 1879 Tay Bridge Disaster. Setting himself up as an independent consultant, Kirkaldy designed and built his own testing machine to investigate and check the strength of many different materials used in building and industry.

The museum houses this enormous machine along with many other examples of testing equipment. I wasn’t in time to see it in action but I can only guess how impressive this is, given the size; the bolts alone are the size of my hand!

I did get to see the Charpy machine working – this tests the brittleness of materials and determines the energy needed to break them. This test was invaluable during the Second World War when the hulls of many Liberty Ships  cracked under the extreme conditions in the North Atlantic.

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The Charpy Machine

Visiting this museum I was struck by the sheer brilliance that a combination of human ingenuity, determination, passion and scientific application can achieve. The tests developed in the 19th century out of the Industrial Revolution are still pretty much the tests used today, albeit with probably more health and safety legislation attached to them. So despite the things I need to fix, those Victorians built me a home which is still standing over 100 years later.

As we move forwards into uncertain times and another form of revolution, I hope that some of those truly British characteristics will surface.

The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is open on the first Sunday of the month