London 1980 (1)

It may not have escaped your notice that we are approaching Christmas and the New Year. This is a time when I may not be at a keyboard every day and will be concentrating on other things than writing posts for this site. But also when those of you who read it (and about 4,500 pages are currently read each day) will perhaps want something to entertain you when suffering from an excess of Turkey and mince pies.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook will know that for some time I have been posting an image and its story from my black and white work in the 1970s and 80s each day. But FB is pretty ephemeral, although it keeps a record of everything we post, comment or like to aid its profit-making activites, anything we posted more than a few minutes ago soon becomes hard to find. So as I’ve done previously I’ll post a series of digests here on >Re:PHOTO, where it is always easy to search the archives, and search engines should be able to find content. So here we go with the first set from 1980.

Jesus, Mornington Crescent, Camden, 1980
23i-15 factory, graffiti, horse-trough,

I didn’t see this graffiti until it was faint, though its message was still clear, on the southern corner of Mornington Crescent. The wall is still there, though I can see no trace of ‘JESUS’, and the wall is now kept in better condition, doubtless having been painted several times since – and there is now a gate at its left.

The game ‘Mornington Crescent’ had made its first appearance on ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ in August 1978, around 18 months before I made this picture, and it was doubtless in my mind on my wandering walk from Central London via St Pancras in February 1980 which took me to the street from which the Underground station and the great game were named.

The wall is at the end of the ‘Black Cat factory’, the former Arcadia Works of the Carreras Cigarette Factory, one of the finest remaining Art Deco buldings in London, controversially built between 1926-8 on the communal garden of Mornington Crescent. Designed by M.E and O.H Collins and A.G Porri, the long building (168m) was where Craven ‘A’ cigarettes were made, and the logo of the company, a rather domestic looking black cat, was reflected in two large Egyptian cats on each side of its entrance. High along the frontage, above the Egyptian-style pillars were a row of the trademark-style black whiskered moggies. But back when I made this picture, the factory was in a poor state, the decorations stripped when it had been converted to offices in 1961. The two giant Egyptian cats, representations of the Egyptian cat god Bast had been shipped out when the factory closed in 1959 to stand in front of other Carreras factories in Basildon and Spanish Town Jamaica. Apparently Carreras had originally planned to call the factory after Bast (aka Bastet) but then realised that everyone would refer to it as Bastard House.

Years later I got a shock when sitting on a bus going up the Hampstead Road, and had to rub my eyes and pinch myself to be sure I was not dreaming as I passed the factory restored to its former glory (almost) and with two black cats again guarding its entrance. The factory had been bought by a new company in 1996 who had restored it to an excellent replica of its Art Deco original. And had doubtless painted out any remaining traces of ‘JESUS’.

Fire Engine, Mornington Crescent area, Camden, 1980
23i-21: graffiti,

Situsec seems to be a company which supplied asphalt and similar materials and made road repairs, but I can’t remember exactly where this picture of one of their yards was taken, though earlier in my walk I had been on Phoenix Road in Somers Town and a couple of frames later I was photographing painting on a fence on a corner site on Mornington Place for the Albert St Carnival. This yard was somewhere in my wandering between the two.

The walls are tall and thick, with buttresses; that in the foreground appears to have been built up with a thinner extension, which can also be seen on the rear wall, above which another brick structure, with arches roughly doubles the height to something like 20 ft, suggesting a building on a truly giant scale, which in this area suggests it was a part of some major work connected with the railways, either around St Pancras or Euston.

Clearly the wall on which the fire engine was painted has been fairly crudely breached since it was painted to provide or widen the entrance to the yard, where some cars are parked and notices on the wall read ‘Soft Sand’ and (I think ‘Sharp Sand’, though only a couple of letters of this are visible.)

Is Innocent O.K., Mornington Crescent area, Camden, 1980
23i-22: graffiti, shop,

In 1974 the message ‘G Davis is Innocent, OK’ began to appear on walls, bridges and elsewhere across the country, protesting the innocence of the east London minicab driver jailed for his part in an armed robbery. Police were caught out as having lied to get his conviction, making up a statement he was alleged to have made, fiddling the results of ID parades, deliberately ignoring evidence. His conviction was clearly unsafe, and almost certainly he was innocent of that particular robbery at the London Electricity Board’s offices in Ilford for which the police had fitted him up – and for which he was the only man convicted.

Of course, though innocent of this particular crime, Davis was a villain, and within a couple of years of his release in 1976 by Royal prerogative he was back in jail again, this time admitting his guilt, for an armed robbery at the Bank of Cyprus on the Holloway Rd.

The graffiti in this picture was clearly inspired by this case, though who was innocent I clearly intended to remain anonymous, with only the final ‘OUS’ of the name in frame, next to the former shop at no. 54. Which street this was on is also something of a mystery, and I think the house in question has probably been so altered as to be unrecognisable.

Circus, Mornington Buildings, Camden, 1980
23i-24: graffiti,

Mornington Buildings were on Mornington Place, I think at its corner with Mornington Terrace, and were in process of demolition when I photographed this painted fence. At its left are two posters for the ‘Albert St Carnival’, too small for the details to be clearly read, but which had I think been on the 14th July, probably from the previous year, 1979, and for which I assumed the painting had taken place.

The 2nd Earl of Mornington was the elder brother of the Duke of Wellington and became Governor-General of India, defeating the French there and making it a part of the British Empire. During the Napoleonic wars, by now Marquess Wellesley, he became ambassdor to Spain. By the time this estate was being developed in the 1820s he was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

FB comment by Ken Bates: There was 2 separate blocks for Mornington Buildings, the larger block was on Mornington Terrace (now Clarkson Row), this block went right up to the corner with Mornington Place. There was then a gateway into the grass area behind it before the smaller block that was in Mornington Place.

Corner Cafe, Phoenix Rd/Midland Rd, Camden, 1980
23i-32: cafe,

It should be easy to locate an image which contains a street sign and a street number, but although the street sign says Phoenix Road NW1, this is misleading, and this picture was made at the corner of what is now Brill Place and Midland Rd. The 1894 OS map actually calls the road Phoenix St, and shows a railway line crossing it – which I think the arch at extreme left was supporting – leading to the goods yard now the site of the British Library and Francis Crick Institute.

The Brill was the area between Euston Square and Kings Cross Station, getting its name from a tavern there and had a Sunday market where the many navvies in the area would come to buy their boots and clothing. Why the pub was called ‘The Brill’ seems a mystery; perhaps it was from the fish of the same name, or some connection with the Buckinghamshire village (there is a Brill in Cornwall too as well as Den Briel in the Netherlands, and it is also a Dutch family name) or was the word ‘brilliant’ just too long to fit on the inn sign?

Corner Cafe, Phoenix Rd/Midland Rd and gas holders, Camden, 1980
23i-33: cafe, gas holders, traffic light,

A second picture of the Corner Cafe makes its position clear, showing both the gas holders on the corner of Wharf Rd and Cambridge St (now Camley St) and the road under the railway lines from Midland Rd that led to them, though the scene has now changed completely with the rebuilding of St Pancras Station to provide a shopping precinct which makes the walk from the Underground platform to get on a train much longer, something I curse every time I use the station.

The site of the cafe is now a rather neglected piece of land at the edge of the parking area for Neville Close. The gasholders are no longer on their original site and have flats inside them and St Pancras station now extend much further to the north.

Shop fitting, Camden, 1980
23i-52: plastic sheet,

Much of what people think of as central London is a part of the London borough of Camden and I think this shop being fitted out was somewhere in the area roughly between Trafalgar Square and Monmouth St, and the next frame on the contact sheet (not shown on this site) is in Monmouth St, with the name board for ‘Neon’ and the ‘ghost sign’ next door for B Flegg, saddlers. This picture could well also have been in Monmouth St.

I walked around this are fairly often when visiting the Photographers’ Gallery, then on Great Newport St. In 1980 it acquired a second space a couple of doors down from the original premises. As well as showing some great photography (and particularly in later years some rather less great) it also had a cafe where you could sit and look at one of the shows, as well as meeting people.

Somehow it seemed a much friendlier place than the much improved new premises on Ramillies St, and I often met people – staff and other visitors I knew there, and it seemed rather easier to talk with strangers, who were always a part of a wider photographic community.

As well as visiting to see the shows, as entry was always free you could drop in while passing for another look – or just to have a coffee or even just use the toilets – I also used to go with some of my pictures to a ‘young photographers’ group which met regularly there and to which sell-established photographers often dropped in to give their opinions too. Though we learnt much and enjoyed it, these meetings were clearly something the gallery’s education officer, who was responsible for them found an ordeal, with much questioning of some of the gallery’s practices and more. When London Independent Photography came along in 1987 she clutched to them as a lifebelt to end the group.

To be continued…

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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