77 St John St EC1M: the ASLEF building

Next time you are walking along St John St, look out for this dome, with the elephant wind vane. It’s on the West side, just a bit further North than the White Bear pub.

77 St John St EC1M, 9″ x 7″ in Sketchbook 13, 17th March 2023

I can’t find out anything about why there’s an elephant up there. The wind vane is on number 77 St John St, currently occupied by, amongst others, ASLEF the train drivers union, and “Liberation – Justice for Colombia”

JFC was set up in 2002 by the British trade union movement to support Colombian civil society in its struggle for human rights, labour rights, peace and social justice.

All JFC work is carried out in response to the demands of our partners in Colombia: the political activists, trade unionists, peasant organisations, human rights defenders, and other civil society groups who are on the front line in demanding peace and social justice.

JFC promotes links of solidarity between British and Irish trade unions and organisations in Colombia and gives a political voice internationally to Colombian civil society through our work in the British, Irish and EU Parliaments

“Justice for Colombia website: https://justiceforcolombia.org

The building in the centre of my drawing is numbers 69, 71 and 73 St John St. These buildings are listed Grade II, list entry no: 1195730.

In 2015 there was an application to build another floor on top of number 69, for residential use. As part of the planning submission, the applicant commissioned a detailed historical study from Paul Edwards, Dip Arch (Oxford) IHBC, Historic Environment Specialist. His 15-page report provides fascinating information about the houses. For example:

Nos 69-73 are depicted in Tallis London Street View, drawn 1838-1840,
… There were three bays, at the centre an alley leading to an internal yard flanked by buildings of
three storeys and attics, each with two windows each side of the alley.
The facades had classical Georgian or Regency proportions, with tall
sash windows at 1st and second floor levels and continuous small pane shop windows at ground floor level. A gambrel roof was set behind an eaves parapet.
The northern house was leased by John Newton a cork manufacturer
who took over the whole premises and whose firm remained there
until the First World War.
The ground floor front of No 69 was re-modelled in the mid-19th century with arched openings and Ionic pilasters in stucco. The shop front of No 73 dates from 1884. There had been a fire in the cork
warehouse in 1882 which was then partly rebuilt with No 69 being extended over the alley between the two houses. In 1896 the two buildings were made into one.

Paul Edwards, 69 St John Street, Islington, Historic Asset Assessment (Version 1) February 2015.

The proposal was rejected by the Islington planning officer in 2018, after appeal.

Here is a sketch map showing where I was standing and my view-line:

St John Street is a fascinating area, with layers of history, and still evolving. I’ve sketched here a number of times.

39 Clerkenwell Road, EC1

Here is a row of shops on the Clerkenwell Road.

Roni’s Café, 39 Clerkenwell Road, 15th Feb 2022, 10″ x 8″ in Sketchbook 11

In the centre of the picture is Roni’s Café, where I sheltered to finish my drawing of 84 Clerkenwell Road.

My idea was to draw the view looking West along the Clerkenwell Road, from number 84. By the time I reached the spot, the rain was falling heavily. I spotted a large window. The people inside kindly agreed to host me for 45 minutes while I sketched my lines. Then I went out into the rain. I finished the picture at my desk.

Colours are: Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber, Transparent Pyrrol Orange.

84 Clerkenwell Road, EC1

This building is at the junction of Clerkenwell Road and Albermarle Way.

84 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M, 21st January 2022, 14:30, 7″x 10″ in Sketchbook 11

The land, on the recently established Clerkenwell Road, was bought in 1879 by a jeweller, Edward Culver, who funded a new factory for his business on in this rapidly developing area. The building cost £11,ooo, and was finished in October 1879. His business occupied it until about 1894. (from British History online, see Note 1)

In 1915, the ground floor and basement were converted for use by the “London County & Westminster Bank” (Note 1). This turned out to be a long tenancy. A photo in the London Picture Archives shows that a descendant of the same bank, the National Westminster Bank, was there in 1976. (Notes 2 and 3).

The ground floor is now a design company, “Frem”. Before that, it was a hairdressers. The building is labelled “The Printworks” but I am unable to discover when, or indeed if, it was a printworks.

I sketched the building from the corner of the Clerkenwell Road and St John’s Lane. On the other side of the road, I saw a man come and lay out a large flexible chess mat on the stone bench in St John’s Square.

Later, a woman appeared at my elbow carrying a green metal chair. “Would you like to sit down while you draw?” she asked. I would indeed. She told me she was from the café just up the road. Very grateful, I sat down and continued sketching. By the time I’d finished the pen sketch, there were several dozen people clustered round the bench in St John’s Square. There were now many chess sets laid out. And I was very cold.

Roni’s Cafe: warm and friendly

I picked up the green chair and went to the café to give it back. It was warm and friendly in there, so I stopped for a coffee. I learned that the chess players come every Saturday. First there were just a few, now there are dozens. The youngest is 7 years old. As I drank my coffee, some of the chess players came into the café, hopping from one leg to the other with the cold, as I had done earlier. They bought takeaway coffee or hot chocolate, left a phone to charge up by the till, and took off again to join the fray.

The friendly proprietor of the café admired my picture and pointed out that I could see the building, if I took a certain table by the window. “Then you can do the colour”, she said. I could. She brought a cup of water, a porcelain saucer, and a large amount of paper towel. This is a lady who knows what watercolour painters need. A mug of tea arrived as well. Comfortable and warm, I continued my sketch.

If some of these road names seem familiar to you, it might be because this area is the setting for much of the story in the novel “Troubled Blood” by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling.


Note 1: 84 Clerkenwell Road, early history: ‘Clerkenwell Road’, in Survey of London: Volume 46, South and East Clerkenwell, ed. Philip Temple (London, 2008), pp. 385-406. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp385-406 [accessed 22 January 2022].

Note 2: 1976 photo: London Picture Archive, Record 60792, on this link

Note 3: NatWest Group has an excellent History section on its website: https://www.natwestgroup.com/heritage.html?intcam=. The current “NatWest” is the result of the acquisition of over 250 banks over several centuries. The London County and Westminster Bank was one of them.

London & Westminster Bank Ltd (1833-1909) opened in 1834 with a head office at 38 Throgmorton Street and a branch at 9 Waterloo Place. It acquired a succession of other banks, then in 1909 it amalgamated with London & County Banking Co to form London County & Westminster Bank Ltd. London County and Westminster Bank underwent a number of amalgamations and mergers, notably merging with the National Provincial Bank in 1968 eventually to form the National Westminster Bank in 1970.

No. 33 Charterhouse Square EC1

This is a little white building I always enjoy walking past. It is the westernmost end of a thin terrace of warehouses and showrooms, lodged in a triangle between the road and the railway. As I passed it the other day I saw that the tree which has taken root above the door was putting out leaves, and flourishing in its unlikely place.

On the bottom right is Hayne Street, which forms a bridge over the railway lines. There is a dark deep gap. The buildings on the right are the other side of the railway. The railway lines are the Hammersmith and City, Circle, and Metropolitan underground lines, which emerge briefly into the open air at this point . This is good to know, in case you are trying to send a text message from the tube train.

33 Charterhouse Square (left) and Hayne Street EC1. 10″ x 7″ in sketchbook 9. 19 April 2021

Recently this building has been used as some sort of office or headquarters of the Farringdon Crossrail development which is now completed. The construction workers have left, and this building looks vacated and rather sad, but noble in its sadness.

Here are some maps1 (click to enlarge):

Here are some photos of the location and work in progress.

The drawing was done at about 17:30 at the end of a gloriously sunny day. The colours here are: Transparent Brown Oxide, Fire Gold Ochre, Phthalo Blue Turquoise, Buff Titanium, Mars Yellow. There is Transparent Pyrrol Orange for the road sign and the leaves of the tree are Green Gold. The paper is Arches Aquarelle 300gsm.

This building was completed in 1875-6. The architect was the aptly named Coutts Stone. This and other fascinating and detailed information is in the scholarly “Survey of London” 2008 edition.

Here is their entry on the row of houses on the South side of Charterhouse Square. I have drawn number 33, the westernmost section.

Nos 33–43

The Metropolitan Railway acquired the whole of the south side of Charterhouse Square and emptied the properties in order to construct their extension from Farringdon to Moorgate in 1864–5. The cutting of the railway entailed the demolition of Nos 32–38 on the south side of the square, along with the whole of Thomas Neale’s Charterhouse Street. Nos 39–43 were briefly left standing, but the operation left the whole south side as an awkward set of narrow sites whose amenities were further diminished by the new east—west thoroughfare completed in front of them in 1873–4 (Ill. 338).

In 1875 the railway company sold the whole frontage to Tubbs, Lewis & Co., manufacturers of elastic fabric, silk throwsters, warehousemen and ‘smallware agents’, with premises in the City, Birmingham and Manchester, and a manufacturing base in Gloucestershire. The firm also had a line in the speculative building of warehouses at this period, on which they spent about a quarter of a million pounds. The row which they erected here was one of several local developments they carried out during the mid-1870s, including Charterhouse Buildings at the corner of Goswell and Clerkenwell Roads . The company chose as its architect Coutts Stone, a friend of George Devey. Early drawings suggest there was some thought of rebuilding from No. 38 eastwards with houses , but in the event the whole block became warehousing. Construction took place in 1876–7. Andrew Killby was the builder for Nos 33–42, with interior structural ironwork provided by H. Young & Co.; Scrivener & White took on the separate No. 43.

Nos 33–42 (Ill. 341) stand four storeys above a basement protected by heavy iron railings. The block is divided into three sections. The front elevation, faced in red brick, has a strong horizontal emphasis, with broad banks of mullioned windows relieved by some minor brick detailing. No. 43 has a narrower frontage and an extra storey topped by a pediment, while its main windows are of iron and flanked by decorated pilasters.

Tenants for these warehouses were mainly involved in the textile trades. At No. 41 one of the original occupants was Griswold & Hainworth Ltd, early specialists in portable knitting machines for domestic use.  In the early 1890s the whole of No. 40 was occupied by David Marcus, importer and agent of Eastern manufactured goods: ‘The basement is reserved as a show-room for Oriental carpets and furniture; the ground floor is divided in front into a splendid show-room, and at the rear forms the wellappointed office; while the upper floors are fully utilised as show and stock-rooms’. In 1917 No. 42 became the first premises of J. Collett Ltd, ladies’ hat makers; they gradually took in Nos 41 and 43 and spread elsewhere in the square. The projecting clock which survives at No. 43 was put up by them in 1930. Though there were still four clothing firms here in the mid-1970s, there had been a shift towards printing, illustration and white-collar work. Since then most of the row has been fitted out as offices and studios, including No. 41 by Campbell Zogolovitch Wilkinson Gough (CZWG) in 1980 for the pop artist Allen Jones. “

1 Citation for text above and map:   BHO  Chicago  MLA ‘Charterhouse Square area: Introduction; Charterhouse Square’, in Survey of London: Volume 46, South and East Clerkenwell, ed. Philip Temple (London, 2008), pp. 242-265. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp242-265 [accessed 20 April 2021].

Update: here is a tweet from @nicholas_sack, (4th Sept 2021) with a wonderful photo of the same building, 20 years ago.

The Horseshoe, Clerkenwell

Here is The Horseshoe, in Clerkenwell Close.

The Horseshoe, 24 Clerkenwell Close EC1

I enjoyed the way the pub is slotted into that corner space, amongst the taller buildings. The building behind it looks as though it might be older than the pub. The arched window-alcove to the left, above the car, has been partly obscured by the wall of the pub. The purpose of this alcove is unclear. It isn’t an ordinary window, and can’t let much light into the building as it is so recessed. It looks as though it might have had some industrial purpose.

And much is happening at roof level. On the right of the pub, high up, someone has made a roof garden. They have a glasshouse, and a weathervane in the shape of a whale. Behind that, even higher up, is a huge bridge-like construction, with arched supports, which looks as though it is a roof on top of a courtyard, behind the buildings I could see. Notice also the formidable collection of communications equipment: a satellite dish and three aerials near the whale, and on the building in the background there were at least two mobile phone masts, with antennae like loudspeakers, pointing in different directions.

The pub itself has a roof garden, with brightly coloured bunting and many flowerpots. I drew this picture yesterday, during Lockdown 2, so sadly it is closed. However it is going on my “After Lockdown” list.

Here are maps:

Here are sketches of work in progress, and some snapshots of the location. I did a preliminary sketch on brown paper, as you see. It was cold, 6 degrees C. I didn’t manage to finish the colour outdoors, but scuttled home to complete the detail in the warm.

This picture took about 1 hour 45 minutes on location, including a chat with a friend who passed by on his afternoon stroll. Then another half hour at home working on the colour detail. The colours are: Phthalo Turquoise (W&N), Burnt Umber (DS), Mars Yellow (DS), Green Apatite Genuine (DS), Fired Red Ochre (DS), with some Perylene Maroon and Prussian Blue to get the greys, and a few dots of Transparent Pyrrol Orange, Hansa Yellow Mid, and Green Gold (all DS). The picture is size 7 inches by 10 inches on Arches Aquarelle 300gsm watercolour paper, in a Wyvern sketchbook (Sketchbook 9)

This is one of an emerging series of drawings of pubs in the Clerkenwell area. Here are some others in the series:

The Sekforde, Clerkenwell

I sketched The Sekforde, sitting on a step on the other side of the road. The pub was closed today. It looked like a good pub. While I was sketching I received confirmation of this. Two portly men strolled past, paused, and asked me if I was waiting for the pub to open. I said…

Jerusalem Tavern, Britton St

Here is a sketch of The Jerusalem Tavern, Britton St, Clerkenwell, made as the light faded. I find this a particularly lovely building. The curves over the windows are semicircles and there is a pleasing symmetry to the upper floors. The semicircle over St John’s Passage exactly matches the door to its left, on another…

The Eagle, 2 Shepherdess Walk

Here is The Eagle. This is a very old pub, located at a significant junction on City Road. In the picture above, the alley on the right of the pub is called “Shepherdess Place”. It leads to a police car park, and several office blocks. I went down there to draw a picture of The…


I discovered this picture of the pub in 1972:

The Horseshoe, from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp54-71

Jerusalem Tavern, Britton St

Here is a sketch of The Jerusalem Tavern, Britton St, Clerkenwell, made as the light faded.

Jerusalem Tavern, 55 Britton St, 16 Nov 2020

I find this a particularly lovely building. The curves over the windows are semicircles and there is a pleasing symmetry to the upper floors. The semicircle over St John’s Passage exactly matches the door to its left, on another lovely house which has amazing tall windows on the first floor.

Britton Street was surprisingly lively on that Monday afternoon. There are offices along the street and people rushed in and out of doors, or came and stood on the pavement smoking. Delivery drivers were the main traffic, both vans and bicycles. They all seemed to know each other. A package was delivered to the office next to me. A woman came out to receive it. It was evidently expected. The driver returned to his van, and sorted more packages inside.

Here are some work in progress pictures and a map. I have just finished reading “Troubled Blood” by Robert Galbraith. If you’ve read the book you’ll know that much of the action takes place in these streets in Clerkenwell. As far as I can work out, all the streets mentioned in the book exist, and the routes described are realistic.

This drawing took about an hour. The colours are: for the walls – Fired Gold Ochre (DS), Mars Yellow (DS) and Phthalo Turquoise (W&N) , for the light in the windows Hansa Yellow Mid (DS). The drawing is 7″ x 10″, done in a sketchbook on 300gsm Arches Aquarelle Paper.

While I was drawing, I detected a movement in my peripheral vision. A spider of alarming size was climbing the wall against which I was leaning. It was making little spurts across each brick, then secreting itself into the mortar, trying to become invisible, before making its next jump. As I watched, it turned around meaningfully, and started heading down towards my rucksack, which was upright on the pavement, open, leaning against the brickwork like a spider-catching bucket. I moved the rucksack, and closed its flap. I was more-than-usually disconcerted, because we had been watching “Dr No” the previous night. I could recall rather too vividly that scene of the poisonous spider which crawls on James Bond while he is sleeping. I stood away from the wall, and monitored the spider’s progress. I did not have long to wait. It reached pavement level, no doubt disappointed that the bright yellow rucksack had somehow disappeared. Then it went into a pavement-level crack to decide what to do next. I decided to stop worrying about it.

To see the spider, scroll down – if you dare. Trigger warning: SPIDER.

Spider. It is about half the height of a house brick. Those are bricks on the wall, against which I was leaning.

The Sekforde, Clerkenwell

I sketched The Sekforde, sitting on a step on the other side of the road.

The Sekforde, 34 Sekforde St, EC1R 0HA

The pub was closed today. It looked like a good pub. While I was sketching I received confirmation of this. Two portly men strolled past, paused, and asked me if I was waiting for the pub to open. I said I wasn’t because I guessed I was going to have to wait a long time. The men agreed, and informed me it was a good pub, and has “been here a long time”. As they retreated, one of them called back, “I was here when it opened!”

This is unlikely. This is a Georgian pub. It opened in 1829.

Back home I found out a lot more about the pub, and was then keen to visit it when it re-opens. It is privately owned, says its website, and “we aim to be an instrument of change within Britain and the world”. They do that by hosting lectures and debates on “some of the most difficult political, moral and scientific subjects of our time”. How have I not encountered them before?

They also donate all the profits to the Sekforde House Trust, an educational charity. It offers scholarships to students each year: the Sekforde Scholars. According to the Islington Tribune (2017)* this generosity is inspired by the owner’s grandmother, “eminent scientist Kathleen Lonsdale, who was from a poor Irish family but was awarded a scholarship to university in London when she was 16″.

The place underwent a redevelopment from 2015 to 2018. There is a guest suite, very modern, which is let out on AirBnB.

Here is a sketch map showing where the pub is, in case you also would like to go there, when it re-opens, for a pint and a debate:

*Islington Tribune (2017) describes the refurbishment by David Lonsdale, who bought the pub in 2015. He is a property lawyer, and lives in the area, they say.


Brewhouse Yard, Clerkenwell

Looking up, I saw the clock.

The clock on 7 Brewhouse Yard

I sat on a convenient step to draw it. It was really hard to get all those perspective lines in the right place. While I was struggling with them, a car pulled into the silent square. It was shiny, gold metallic, and very clean. It came to a halt, and rocked a bit on its tyres. A man got out and disappeared from my field of view. I assumed he was the director of one of the architecture practices round there. I continued adjusting my perspective lines. Then I saw the man walking about photographing the car with a big digital camera. The camera made that artificial shutter-click, lots of times. He was taking a lot of photographs of the car. He moved it and photographed it from a different angle. It was a Citroen CX GT 2400. That was written on the boot lid. He must have seen me looking at it, because he came over and asked, very politely, if his car was in the way of my drawing. I was astonished, drivers are usually uncaring about parking in your sightline. But this guy cared. So I smiled and said that no, it was fine, I was drawing the clock up there, but thank you very much for asking. So he went on clicking, and I went on shifting the lines on my drawing, and we co-existed happily in the square.

He moved the car again and I thought he’d gone. But when I packed up my stuff and was examining the house I’d been drawing, he called out to me, “Did you get it?”. He meant, did I capture the view in my drawing. I said yes, and would he like to see the picture? He would. We talked about the house. He said it’s residential. Someone lives there. The resident had just gone out, in fact.

It’s clearly the former headquarters of the Brewers Yard. The door is very splendid. The pillar on one side has hops, and on the other side, barley and hops.

Here is a map showing where I was:

Museum of the Order of St John – garden

I drew this in the Cloister Garden of the Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell, a beautiful tranquil place on a hot day.


It was a very hot day, and I’d left the flat in some irritation, after a series of frustrations, mostly computer-related. Then one of my favourite cafés charged me far too much for a coffee, and added service charge without telling me. So I went to the garden.

Because I’d left the flat in such haste, I’d forgotten to bring my water pot, which was going to be a problem. However by the time I’d done the pen sketch, the woman on the bench opposite had finished her lunch, and I was able to ask her for her empty drinks bottle. This she graciously gave me, commenting on how pleased she was that it was going to be re-used. If you are reading this, thank you.

Screen Shot 2019-09-16 at 18.07.26.png
The logo of the Order of St John

The modern Order of St John is a charitable foundation. They are behind the St John Ambulance. This latter organisation has the commendably clear strapline: “We Save Lives”. They do this by educating people in first aid, and providing highly trained volunteers at events and disasters.

The Cloister Garden is by the Priory Church.

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Map credit: website of the Museum of the Order of St John.

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