More Brexit talk tonight. On the one hand the pessimists think that a fear of the consequences of mass migration, the demagoguery of the Murdoch press and the repulsive opportunism of Boris Johnson will bring about our departure from the European Union, producing ten years of chaos in which we have to negotiate trading terms with our former, now implacably hostile European partners. On the other hand, the moderate optimists think that a natural conservatism and caution about the consequences of exit, combined with a recognition of the benefits of European subsidies, particularly to farmers, the support of the Labour party for European protection of workers’ rights and a guarded admiration for the way in which David Cameron has renegotiated the terms of membership, will bring about a narrow, polling booth victory.
I’m not that keen on Piccadilly as a street, which never seems to have the monumental coherence of Regent Street, nor the opulence of the shops in Bond Street. Maybe it’s a memory of it being yellow on the Monopoly Board, a bad square to land on, next to Jail. But tonight, walking across Piccadilly Circus, with the sun going down beyond the carriage lamps, it had vestiges of its Edwardian stateliness, looking past the old Swan and Edgar building, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1910, hit by a Zeppelin in 1917 and then rebuilt, down past the columns of Norman Shaw’s Piccadilly Hotel, his last work, towards the RA somewhere in the distance:-
I somehow managed to miss two openings of the Vogue exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery so called in en route from Piccadilly to Blackfriars. I had forgotten how relentlessly and magificently glamorous images in Vogue can be, particularly with heightened digital imagery and over-posing. I preferred starting in 1916 with vintage prints of ladies of fashion by George Hoyningen-Huene and Edward Steichen, Tallulah Bankhead by Cecil Beaton and Nancy Cunard by Man Ray. What I hadn’t realised, but should have done, is how many famous photographic images first appeared in Vogue, including Edith Sitwell by Cecil Beaton, Alfred Hitchcock and Evelyn Waugh by Irving Penn, and Martin Amis by Tony Snowdon. Clifford Coffin gets my vote as photographer, plus Corinne Day for her wilfully downbeat and colour-drained photographs of Kate Moss.
I don’t normally talk about politics in my blog. But after an evening in which nothing was discussed but the forthcoming referendum, I feel it is worth recording that out of 16 people sitting down to dinner not a single person was in favour of exiting: a few were sitting on the fence, but the majority were in favour of Europe, not because of any narrow economic benefit, but a much longer historical perspective which sees the benefit of a family of nations with a shared history of warfare, but which has since the second world war been united by common democratic purpose. Very few people, including the Prime Minister, have been willing to articulate this larger purpose. But it is good to talk about it.
Whilst thinking about the pros and cons of the development of Norton Folgate, I noticed that the small group of Victorian almshouses in Puma Court, just off Commercial Road, is called Norton Folgate Almshouses. As the inscription reveals, they replace an earlier group of almshouses built in 1728, but demolished to create ‘The New Street’ – presumably the north half of Commercial Street laid out by James Pennethorne in the 1850s to connect the docks to Great Eastern Street:-
The new almshouses were designed by T.E. Knightley and opened in 1860:-
I went to see Miranda Argyle’s very nice small exhibition upstairs in Chris Dyson’s drawing room at 11, Princelet Street. I should probably have photographed the work, but it is quite delicate, made up in many cases of stitching on linen, intermingled with dark and atmospheric photographs. Instead, I took photographs out of the window at the back:-
We have often meant to leave the M2 to see the old harbour buildings at Sheerness which have been restored by the Spitalfields Trust. The dockyard was built by John Rennie in the 1820s, terrace houses for the naval officers at the same time. These survive and have been renovated, but not yet the church:-
We went down to Margate yesterday to hear Rose Wylie be interviewed by Alastair Sooke. She has had a remarkable career. Born in 1934 (of course, he was not so ungallant as to reveal this), the seventh child of the Director of Ordnance in India and granddaughter of James Hamilton Wylie, historian of the late middle ages, she went to Folkestone School of Art and – I think she said – Goldsmith’s, where she met her husband Roy Oxlade, also a painter. She married aged 23, had three children and then went to the Royal College of Art in her late 40s (this to me is the most unusual thing about her career). I first saw her work in the 1990s when she was represented by Stephen Lacey. But it is only in the last few years that she has become famous, following a solo exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery in 2012. She was elected as a Senior RA last year.
At the lower end of the Hackney Road where it meets Shoreditch, there is what I thought was a deserted pub, but turns out to be a striptease joint, called Ye Olde Axe, which looks slightly as if it belongs in the Wild West with its turret and pub sign swinging in the wind, but has good terracotta lettering and very fine capitals:-
I have been meaning to do a blog about Wells & Company, the old commercial ironmongers opposite St. Leonard, Shoreditch. It was opened in 1877 for Edward Wells & Company, which sold stoves, gutters, pipes and decorative ironwork to the building trades. The building, designed by Fowler & Hill, is part-Gothic, part- Moorish, with a surviving mosaic inscription, ‘Wells & Company Commercial Iron Works’, in spite of the fact that it ceased trading in 1895 and became a bank:-