Shiplake House, Arnold Circus

This is the “Boundary Estate”, Britain’s first council estate, opened in 1900. It was built to the design of Owen Fleming and his team.  Fleming was a member of the Housing of the Working Classes branch of the LCC’s* Architecture department. He was 26 years old.

The aim of Boundary Estate project was to replace slums, in an area of disease, want, squalor and crime known as “Old Nicol”. The slums were pulled down, and replaced  by dwellings that were more healthy, and more pleasant to live in. The area was also provided with schools, a laundry, shops and clubrooms. The problem was, of course, that these dwellings were more expensive than the previous slums. The former inhabitants of the area couldn’t afford the rent, and had to go elsewhere. Better-off workers in stable employment moved in.

Here’s what one part of it looks like now.


This is Shiplake House, on Arnold Circus. It didn’t look in very good repair. The paint was flaking. As you see, the outside was festooned with wires, some going no-where. The windows were dirty, though none were actually broken. This disrepair was surprising, as these are sturdy buildings, close to trendy Shoreditch High St, Brick Lane, and the City.

Arnold Circus, showing my direction of view for the picture of Shiplake House.

Shoreditch High St is visible from the little hill which is Arnold Circus, where I sat to draw the picture. There are seven roads which meet at Arnold Circus. Is this a record?

I read about the Boundary Estate in “Municipal Dreams, the rise and fall of council housing” by John Boughton. This is a fascinating book, answering my questions about why governments over the decades have, and have not, built council houses. Why did they do it, and why did they stop doing it? His website Metropolitan Dreams is also a great read and recommended.

Here is the drawing before the colour went on, showing Shiplake House in the background.


*LCC= London County Council, disbanded in 1965, and replaced by the GLC = Greater London Council which covered a larger area. The GLC was itself abolished in 1986, and its powers went to the London Boroughs. It was abolished largely because its leader, Ken Livingstone, was a high-spending Labour politician whose policies were opposed to those of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Then when the GLA= Greater London Authority was established in 2000 the first Mayor elected was Ken Livingstone.  He began his victory speech with the words: “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted 14 years ago …”

On the way to Coal Drops Yard

Here is the view from Graham St Garden, Finsbury, on the way to Kings Cross.

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I sat on a bench dedicated to the memory of someone called Rick Clarke. It was a new bench, in a lovely position. May Rick Clarke rest in peace. I am grateful to those who knew him for putting the bench there.

Graham St is the extension of Central St northwards, and I was on my way north to Kings Cross to meet someone at the Skip Garden. But the Skip Garden was closed on Mondays, and my friend was waiting outside. We adjourned to the marvellous new development “Coal Drops Yard”. This is a 21st century adaptation of old coal sheds. The old sheds are turned into two levels of shops and restaurants, but in the modern way, old brickwork and chunks of Victorian cast iron are retained. Most spectacular is the roof.


The architects were Heatherwick Studio. On the right of the drawing people were experimenting with strange rotating chairs, also designed by Heatherwick Studio, and other people were watching them.

Here is work in progress on the drawings.


A short walk in the City

Here is the stunning view looking east from outside 12 Throgmorton Ave.


TwentyTwo Bishopsgate now rises above Tower 42. I have previously drawn both these towers as part of a skyline from Lauderdale Place: From Lauderdale Place: Eastern Cluster.

This was a quick sketch, perhaps 25 minutes. The moon hung just above Tower 42, as you can just see in the picture, and in this short time, it moved until it was over TwentyTwo.

I was on my way to see if the new rooftop garden on 120 Fenchurch Street was open to the public as advertised. With very low expectations I found my way between the immense towers of the insurance district, and presented myself, in my anorak with my rucksack, at what I deemed was the correct entrance. It looked like a corporate reception area, with a person in uniform with a label round their neck. Expecting to be asked my business and turned away, I asked politely if I could go up. “Yes of course,” said the uniformed individual, smiling broadly, “Just put your bag through the scanner.” It was as easy as that. I was amazed. More uniformed people were on hand to welcome me into the lift and out when I reached the 15th floor.

This roof garden is stunning. The sun was shining, and a estuarine wind ruffled the heads of the tulips. People were standing about on the clean concrete areas as though in an architectural layout. 120 Fenchurch Street is not particularly high, on the grand overall scale of things, but the view is spectacular because it is embedded within other towers, so it’s like being in a sculpture park. The Gherkin, the Scalpel, and TwentyTwo Bishopsgate are all round it, and there’s the Lloyds Building, and a distant view of St Pauls, and the glint of the Thames.

I decided I would be selective, and not try to draw a wide view. So I settled out of the wind, on the West side, and drew this.


I enjoyed the chasm, and the roof paraphernalia. The drain pipes were much in the steampunk tradition. They took flamboyant routes over the brick, with far more right angles than is strictly necessary. See also the iron staircases and platforms, more like the set of “Streetcar Named Desire” than office blocks in the financial district.

Here is work in progress, and the sketchbook on the paving of the roof garden.

The drawing took 1hour 15 minutes.

Here are maps showing where I was.

Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye

I went up to the marvellous roof garden, on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.

Here is a picture of the Royal Festival Hall, with the London Eye behind it. The tower of Westminster looms behind the wheel.


This roof garden seems to be a place for serious discussions. Some people at the next bench were discussing whether to stay employed or not. One of the options was to “go travelling”. Another, as far as I could work out, was to “get married”. It was hard to keep track of their wide ranging conversation, because I had to concentrate on the beautiful curve on the front of the Royal Festival Hall. It was a luxury to be there, and to appreciate the lines of the architecture. The lines were somewhat compromised at this roof level by the many creeping plants, floodlights, and surveillance cameras which you see encrusting the ventilation shaft in the foreground. Also note the prominent mobile phone mast on top of the Royal Festival Hall. I would not have granted planning permission for that.

The roof garden is a wonderful invention, and well done. By the time I’d finished the drawing, many people had made their way up, and were discussing work, and relationships, all very earnest. I discovered that I was sitting in the smoking area, which is adjacent to the vaping area. Marijuana smells wafted up from somewhere, perhaps from the skateboarding area in the Undercroft below. I could hear the crashes and the calls. But there was also a smell of grass, actual green grass, as in the picture.

Here is work in progress and a photo of my sketchbook on the concrete:

The drawing took 1hr30mins.
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The London County Council (LCC), as it then was, initiated the building of the Royal Festival Hall as their contribution to the Festival of Britain. The foundation stone was laid by the Prime Minister Clement Atlee in 1949 and a mere 18 months later, in 1951, the concert hall opened with a gala concert, which shows what can be done if you are determined and have a deadline.

The project was initially led by the LCC chief architect Robert Matthew, then later by Leslie Martin, with Edwin Williams and Peter Moro. It was built on the site of the Lion Brewery, which was built in 1837.

[this information from the Royal Festival Hall website, and the Twentieth Century Society]

Sketching in Kennington and Vauxhall

In Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens there is a strange geometric building. I drew it, sitting on the grass.


There is a tiny sign on the Tyers Street side of the building which says “Cabinet”. We saw someone come out. They said, “It’s an art gallery, you should check it out!” We pushed the door and went inside. There is indeed an art gallery on the ground floor. Currently it is showing an exhibition of the notebooks and sketches of Antonin Artaud: “Cahiers de Rodez at d’Ivey 1945-48”. Rodez was or is a mental asylum.

“An unclassifiable volume of writing and drawing. Portraits, names, calculations, glossolalia, sigils, lists and drugs and foodstuffs, formulae, totems, lexicons, anatomies, objects, […] machines and implements of obscure purpose” (curation, 132 Tyers Street SE11 5HS)

We asked the receptionist what the building was. It was designed by Trevor Horne Architects. It is financed by Charles Asprey. There is a gallery on the ground floor. On the top floor there is a “project space”. In between there are two “residential floors”. The tiles on ground floor were identical to the tiles on the Barbican Podium, but newer. The walls were unfinished concrete inside, with pleasing concave curves.

Charles Asprey has many interests.

“CHARLES ASPREY is a publisher and arts patron. He runs an exhibition space in an award-winning building he commissioned on the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in London. He is co-editor of the arts quarterly PICPUS and Chair of the Grants Committee of the Henry Moore Foundation. “

He is also an initiator of the “London Fountain Co.” which aims to provide fresh drinking water in London “helping to provide the infrastructure needed to move away from plastic bottled water”. The quote about Charles Asprey, above, comes from the London Fountain Co. website.

The windows of the building have “A” shaped frames:

A for Asprey.

Off to the right of the picture is Vauxhall City Farm. The Christian cross you see to the left of Asprey’s building is on top of the “All Nations Apostalic Church” on Tyers Terrace. The neat house on the far left is 127 Tyers Street. It is now residential, a fine conversion of a row of shops.

In the far distance you see the tower blocks round Elephant and Castle.

Here is work in progress on the picture. It took about 1hr45min.

Then I walked along Tyers Street and towards Waterloo.


This is a view from outside “Mountain House”, a 1930’s block on Tyers Street.

You see Arden House on the right. The huge modern block is “Parliament House Apartments”, which is on Black Prince Road on the North side of the railway tracks. In the middle is a row of 1970s houses, odd numbers 1-21 Vauxhall Walk.

This was a really quick sketch: about 15 mins, drawn and coloured on the narrow pavement outside Mountain House.

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From Lauderdale Place: Eastern Cluster

It is amazing how many buildings you can see from Lauderdale Place. Lauderdale is the Westernmost of the three Barbican Towers. I am standing beside it, looking South-East, over Lambert Jones Mews.


The towers are members of the so-called “Eastern Cluster”. The new building, 22 Bishopsgate, with its 60 floors, makes the former “NatWest Tower” look small. The NatWest Tower used to be the tallest tower block in the City. It is a mere 42 floors, and is now called “Tower 42”. Perhaps that is because of the number of floors. I never thought of that before.

You can just glimpse “the Scalpel”, the pointed crystalline building on Lime St, near the Lloyds building. In the picture it is between 22 Bishopsgate and St Giles’ Church.

I have annotated all the buildings here:

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Here is work in progress:

We think of the Barbican as concrete, but in fact there is quite a lot of brick. I studied the brickwork on Lambert Jones Mews carefully, and then found it was more difficult to draw than I expected. The pattern is very particular: long-short-long-short.


The drawing took 1hr45min, drawn in bright sunlight and a light breeze. I finished it at 12:15pm. Then I went home and had a Hot Cross Bun which I had bought from St John’s Bakery. The bag was standing beside me while I was drawing, smelling spicy.


A walk to Wapping

Today was a beautiful day. It was a day to go for a walk.

I went to the river. Near Old Billingsgate I looked under London Bridge and saw Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast. This is a 15 minute sketch, watercolour-only, no pen.


Onwards towards the East, I stood on Sugar Quay, which has only just re-opened after years of being closed while the nearby hotel is built.

Here is the Shard, in context,  from a wooden bench on Sugar Quay.


This map shows my walk:


Tourists congregate around Tower Bridge. East of Tower Bridge, after St Katherines Dock, there are no tourists at all. It was suddenly very quiet. I went down “Alderman Steps”. There was this great view. The wind was fierce, and my eyes were streaming. I had a go anyway. Two mallards bobbed around amongst the floating quays, chatting away, looking around as if searching for something lost.


Then I went on East. I had lunch in a hipster café called “Urban Baristas” on Wapping High Street.

Lunch at the hipster café “Urban Baristas”

A man at the next table discussed flats on his mobile phone. He said Shoreditch was too expensive, so he was looking in Wapping. He’d found a good place, a view of the river, open plan, lots of space. Maybe it was offices he was describing, not flats.

Then I went on East. The river opens out here, it starts to feel more like an estuary. There are 1980s flats, brick-built, but in the river shores are the remains of the old trade: the old chains, the stanchions, huge shafts of timber, rotting piers.

Then the river bends again, and there’s a magnificent view of Canary Wharf.


I drew this in about an hour, sitting in sunlight spiked with the smell of someone else’s fish and chips.

Here is work in progress:

Here is me drawing: