London Library

I had booked a slot on the first day of the London Library re-opening. I arrived at 11.25, expecting a queue round St. James’s Square, but I was allowed straight in where the books I had ordered online were waiting for me. The London Library gets my top marks for service during lockdown, sending things out by post without charge, including a rare book about the Neues Museum which is unaffordably expensive and which arrived boxed up pretty much by next day delivery. Everyone is exceptionally friendly: a consequence of not having seen human beings for months is that one greets them is if they are the only other people at the North Pole. I felt waves of nostalgia for the Entrance Hall, although one’s passage through it is much more disciplined, exit through Mason’s Yard:-


Paradise Cycles

My new favourite shop since taking up cycling again is Paradise Cycles on the Roman Road: the staff are so helpful and knowledgeable, they kept open during lockdown for emergency workers, they are part of the hippy utopian elements of Globe Town alongside the buddhists, and are well named:-


Victoria Park

Victoria Park has only been in the news recently in connection with bad behaviour, but my limited experience of it during lockdown, and especially today is the opposite: large numbers of well-behaved people – small children and families, a few sunbathers, people on roller skates, using the park as it was originally intended when it was first proposed in 1840 as the lungs of east London, providing light and air to alleviate the burden of urban deprivation:-


Stepney City Farm

I found it oddly reassuring to be able to go back to the Saturday farmer’s market at Stepney City Farm and see mostly the same stallholders as before – the bread stall, the stall which sells apple juice – but some new as well, including a stall selling freshly made pasta and a proper cheese shop; but also the sense of nature in the middle of east London even including the pigs:-


Millicent Fawcett

Given the amount of interest at the moment in public statuary, I took the opportunity yesterday to walk across Parliament Square, which is in some ways the nation’s Valhalla, although a gloomy one, normally little seen because it is treated as a traffic roundabout. The most recent addition is Millicent Fawcett, unveiled in 2018, done by Gillian Wearing. I thought it was effective, more so than many recent statues, and was interested to find, which I had assumed, that it was modelled using the latest 3D scanning system, based presumably on original photographs. It demonstrates that it is still possible to produce convincing contemporary monuments, worth looking at as a model as the demand grows for new ones as replacements for those which are removed:-


The City

I walked through the City this morning: as deserted as the West End, maybe more so. Not a worker in site, just people hurrying along the pavements.

A few familiar sites. Eric Parry’s new building at 120, Fenchurch Street:-

The Lloyd’s Building:-

St. Paul’s:-

Charles I in Temple Bar by John Bushnell:-


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (36)

Every fortnight I attend a Zoom meeting about the current state of the plans for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

This week the key issue was whether or not the recent controversy surrounding the granting of planning permission to Richard Desmond’s plans for housing on the Isle of Dogs will in any way influence the views of the planning inspector who will be responsible for the planning enquiry opening on October 6th. Two things may arise. The first is the question as to whether or not Whitechapel will need a new luxury boutique hotel post-Coronavirus and whether or not it is going to be economically viable. Who are the tourists going to be who are going to want to swim in a tenth-story swimming pool overlooking the local mosque and pay Soho House rates when Soho House itself is rumoured to be in financial difficulties? The second is the extent to which the planning process is susceptible to lobbying and how far the current system is so heavily weighted towards developers who can afford to pay expensive planning consultants and political lobbyists, not to mention attend tory party fundraising dinners where a case can be put directly to the Secretary of State over coffee. Please keep October 6th. in your diary. There needs to be a show of public support for keeping the Foundry as a foundry and not allowing change-of-use.


The breach of lockdown

I think it would maybe be a good idea if the planned awayday of Special Advisors organised by Dominic Cummings began by asking them to watch the accompanying film made by Open Democracy and then asking them to hold a roundtable discussion on their response:-


Portrait of a Black Gardener

I have just been reading Christopher Woodward’s characteristically lively account of the Garden Museum’s timely acquisition of Harold Gilman’s Portrait of a Black Gardener, a remarkably interesting picture by Gilman, who married an American and died young of Spanish flu:-


New Statues

I support this proposal (as below) to commemorate Mary Prince which feels like a good and constructive idea to make use of the existing plinth outside the Docklands Museum. But the question will soon arise as to who should undertake the commission ? And the truth is that there are very few people who have the skill and interest to make good and convincing modern commemorative monuments, as I learned when I was involved in the group to commission a monument to Lloyd George in Parliament Square where there were so few sculptors even willing to enter a proposal. Until the recent upsurge of public interest in civic monuments, it was treated as a dead genre and no-one has been taught or trained to undertake them for at least three generations (ie since the second world war). Or am I wrong ?