Sunday, 14 January 2018

Ghost signs (131): Venetian mosaics

There is limited scope for ghost signs on Venice's streets, simply because most streets are so narrow and their buildings are crammed in so tightly that highly-visible gable ends are uncommon. Some businesses responded creatively, by placing mosaic adverts on the pavements. 

My first, and very favourite, find was this wonderful travel agency mosaic complete with aeroplanes. SAIET were established in 1952 and still operate in the Veneto, offering freight shipping services by road, boat and air. 71G San Marco, at the outer corner of St Mark's Square, is now an art gallery. 

Another travel agency (now apparently gone) and American Express remind the pedestrian that they are in the tourist heart of the city, near St Mark's Square.

AmEx travellers' cheques cashed, food and entertainment were waiting nearby. The Martini night club seems to have disappeared. There is still a Taverna dei Dogi, although it may not be the same one.

Further north, in Cannaregio, the casino also seeks to tempt tourists to part company with their  holiday money. 

Ironically, the most restrained sign is advertising a mosaic-maker in Dorsoduro. However, their Grand Canal facade does a better job of showcasing their wares. Salviati himself was a lawyer, not a glassmaker, but he founded the company in 1859 alongside craftsman Lorenzo Radi and contributed a talent for marketing. (Their London showroom on Regent Street is now an Apple Store but still displays beautiful mosaics on its facade, too.)

I haven't been able to find much information about this form of pavement advertising. If anyone knows of its history, it would be wonderful to learn more!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Ghost signs (130): Pickering and Mayell

In Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter is a building full of fantastic historical features, not least the ghost signs painted along its front and side facades. Pickering and Mayell Ltd was founded in 1913, not as a jeweller but rather to make the packaging in which other firms' jewellery was supplied. Twenty years ago, it merged with the Pickering Group and it still supplies its products to clients ranging from Argos to luxury brands. 

Their original premises began life in the early nineteenth century as a pair of homes. The style of the building, and features such as the doorframe, are continuing evidence of those beginnings. To its rear are purpose-built workshops.

The building is Grade II listed; and included in the listing text is its wonderful window panel bearing the company name and street number. 

Another distinctive feature is the cast-iron letterbox with its unusual semi-circular shape. This design is characteristic of the Jewellery Quarter, with a number of surviving examples to be found.

Inevitably, my favourite feature is the street sign! Not only the name, but also the cast iron  sign itself, are fantastic. The crescent heads on the cast-iron railings are another local style. 

Pickering and Mayell are no longer at these premises, however. They have moved into the building of the Talbot Group a little way down the road.

This building is a wonderful piece of the Jewellery Quarter's past. Let's hope it has a happy future.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Goodbye, 2017

As another year ends and 2018 begins, here's my annual look back at the most popular posts. First, the top five of 2017:
In fifth place are vintage street features which remind us of how much has changed both legally and socially when it comes to smoking: now-empty cigarette machines
Fourth place goes to the strange underground world of Clapham South Deep Level Shelter. From World War II to Windrush, and periods as London's unlikeliest hotel, it has a surprisingly varied history. 
It's another kind of Underground for number three, an intriguing piece of vintage signage in Oakwood Station on the Piccadilly Line. 
Soaring upwards for second place are the beautiful Tulip Stairs in the Queen's House, Greenwich. An elegant combination of history, architecture, and engineering! 
In first place, the most popular of 2017's posts takes us outside London, but very much focused upon it. An underground fortress was built at Mimoyecques to fire V3 rockets at the city; fortunately, the war ended before an attack could be launched. Today it's a memorial, a bat colony, and a chilling reminder of the threats London faced. 

And the top five of all time:
Fifth is a brief history of servants' bells, which balanced privacy with convenience for the wealthy.
A more democratic invention - Shippams sandwich paste - makes a striking appearance at number four.
Striking for all the wrong reasons is the example of facadism, possibly the ugliest in London, which squats in third place.
Not pretty, but fascinating, are our second place stars: the rather macabre catacombs of Paris.
Number one every year since it first appeared is a walk through Rotherhithe Tunnel - an experience which was worthwhile in theory, truly horrible in reality. I hope that this post has spared the lungs of at least a few readers!

Finally, and most importantly, thank you to all who have read in 2017 - and I wish you all a wonderful 2018!

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Clacquesin, a taste of the past

In 1860, chemist Paul Clacquesin created a liqueur which blended Norwegian pine infusion and spices, intended to improve lung health and breathing. His wife Pauline later took control of the business side, and the drink was sold as an aperitif. It was produced in central Paris, on rue du Dragon just off the Boulevard Saint Germain.

After it won a medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, the liqueur took off in popularity and production moved to a factory in Malakoff, on the outskirts of Paris. Crucially, Pauline Clacquesin's gift for marketing raised the liqueur's profile internationally. Between the wars, sales of 'the healthiest aperitif' thrived - not only in France, but also across Europe and North Africa. About 5 million bottles were being produced every year, and the pine-tree logo appeared everywhere - on the streets, in the Metro, and at the Tour de France. Radio advertising was adopted with enthusiasm; Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker sang Clacquesin's praises. 

The building is still there, but production of the liqueur stopped during the Second World War; Pauline died in 1942; and sales never really got going again. Production moved in 1995, with the Malakoff site now a location for events. The drink seemed to be undergoing a terminal decline.

However, that may now change. Charlotte Bataille Sauzey, a direct descendant of Paul Clacquesin, has relaunched the drink. Twenty-nine spices are combined with the extract of Norwegian pine: the recipe is secret, but includes cloves, cinnamon, juniper, and lemon. After distillation, the alcoholic blend is mixed with caramel, which gives a dark colour. The resulting product is currently sold in specialist shops, offering a nostalgic and unusual taste. 

But what kind of taste? Does the favourite of the annees folles have appeal for modern palates? 

Clacquesin can be drunk hot or cold. Chilled, serving suggestions include with a twist of lemon zest; or with tonic water, champagne or beer. We tried it neat and cold, then with tonic and lemon. Both were surprisingly good: it has a complex, smoky flavour with a subtle pine taste. In fact, it fits very well with contemporary cocktail styles.

It can also be combined with hot water for a grog, or with milk: the following recipe was created for the Paris Cocktail Festival. 
Clacquesin Milk Punch
Heat and froth 100ml of full-fat milk (as for a capuccino). Pour the milk into a glass with 60ml of Clacquesin, 20ml of cognac, 4 dashes of vanilla extract. Top with the milk froth and garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg. 

For 'the healthiest aperitif', what could be more appropriate than the French toast of 'santé'?

Friday, 15 December 2017

Think this is fun?

There are many worrying food models, and a number have featured here - the self-saucing hot dog; the lolling-tongued chip; the impaled or cross-eyed doughnuts; the various ice cream abominations - with a nightmare grin, a wonky face, a tiny child, or an emaciated cow. However, M&Ms World has found a new low. 

Behold ... the seductive chocolate candy. 

I realise I'm not the target market: too old, not a tourist, aware the M&Ms are much cheaper in Asda. But the answer to this bold question had to be no. No, it isn't. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

Short life of a long-lived station

Blackfriars Station - now usually referred to as Blackfriars Road to avoid confusion - is still visible on Blackfriars Road. Restored in 2005, its emphatic black name is clearly visible under the railway bridge stands out  as clearly as it did when the station opened in 1864. Over a century and a half later, the entrance is a firm survivor. 

It stood on the line built to connect London Bridge and Charing Cross. London Bridge was, of course, central London's first terminus. It first ran to Deptford in 1836, and lines now ran to Greenwich, Croydon and Brighton - but a connection to the City was badly needed. The Charing Cross Railway Co was therefore given permission by Parliament to build the link, crossing the garden of St Thomas' Hospital and travelling by viaduct over Borough Market. In Southwark, thousands of people lost their homes to the railway construction (over 1,800 on the company's own conservative estimate). 

Yet this station was open for a mere five years: it was replaced by Waterloo Junction (now Waterloo East) in 1869. Stranger still, although the Charing Cross Railway Co constructed the line and station, it was taken over by the South Eastern Railway Co before it opened. The frontage is therefore a long-lived reminder of a very short time. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

To the trains!

This rather nice sign with its guiding manicule is in Stepney Green underground station, directing passengers down the stairs to the platforms. It has been carefully painted around and preserved, 

It is a little mysterious. Since it is part-way down the staircase, and there is no other direction to go unless you turn around and retrace your steps upwards, why was it needed? Perhaps just to reassure the nervous traveller that they are on the right track. Or right stairs. 

Stepney Green station opened in 1902. At that time, the Underground was not a single entity, but an assortment of lines and services run by competing companies. Since adding new capacity in London was expensive, given the compensation which had to be paid to the densely-packed properties disrupted by construction, some of these companies looked to extend services outwards. In that spirit, the District Line and London, Tilbury and Southend Railway were partners in developing the Whitechapel and Bow Railway, linking the District Line at Whitechapel to the Southend Line at Bow Road. Stepney Green was an intermediate stop, as was Mile End. 

The line was fully absorbed into London Underground in 1950. The Whitechapel and Bow Railway is largely forgotten but a few reminders, including this sign and other heritage features, remain at the station. 

Friday, 24 November 2017

Tunnels under Trafalgar Square

With its plinths, fountains, the imposing facade of the National Gallery, and of course Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square looks solid and stately. However, beneath its paving and pools, empty tunnels snake unseen. 

These tunnels were dug during the construction of the Jubilee Line, whose Charing Cross station opened in 1979. Used to transport spoil and materials, they ran from the station at the south-east of the square, up to the north-west corner where the National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing now stands. 

The far end is now blocked off, ending roughly underneath the fourth plinth (the former empty plinth, now used for temporary displays). 

Cast iron plates line the tunnels. Each bears its year: evidence that some were reused from earlier projects. 

There's a noticeable curve to the tunnel. It's not a navigation error on the part of the builders, but a deliberate detour to avoid Nelson's Column. 

These aren't the only tunnels at the station which the public don't see. Another set are used to ventilate it: the grilles allow those within to observe passing people...

... and passing trains. 

At the end, a ventilation shaft reaches up to the surface and far down below our feet. 

It's an extraordinary look behind the scenes: part of the Hidden London programme from the London Transport Museum. The Charing Cross tour combines these tunnels with a visit to the disused Jubilee Line platforms. Booking is open for the forthcoming season, including visits to Clapham South Deep Level Shelter and poster-lined abandoned tunnels in Euston Station

Friday, 17 November 2017

Hidden Charing Cross Station

In 1999, the Jubilee Line was extended to Stratford, via the soon-to-open Millennium Dome. However, south and east London's gain was Charing Cross's loss: formerly the terminal station for the line, it was now bypassed altogether. Instead, the Jubilee line south of Green Park diverted to Westminster and beyond. 

The result: two platforms of Charing Cross underground station were closed. However, that doesn't mean that they are abandoned. On the contrary, their disused status has allowed them to serve three new functions. First, they are used as sidings and stabling for the extended Jubilee line, and for ventilation: useful, but not very exciting. They are use for much more than that, though. 

Second, the former Jubilee Line station is a popular location for filming. If you want a fairly modern tube station, with escalators and all the rest but without those pesky passengers, Charing Cross is probably your location of choice. Visitors have ranged from James Bond to Paddington - and they've left some subtle traces. 

You'd have to do a lot of circuits of this station to find the District and Circle lines, since they actually run through nearby Embankment Station. The signage is left from filming of Skyfall, where it served as a (somewhat inaccurate) stand-in for Temple Station. (The 'stand on the right' signs were also removed from the escalators to avoid injury during the chase scene.)

Art of Lies is nowhere to be found on IMDB, and won't be in cinemas near you. 

And if you want to sign up to this 'fiber optic' broadband provider, think again: there are no contact details. These are filming artefacts: as showing real posters on screen can cause copyright issues, some have been replaced by generic mock-adverts instead.  

Even the famous roundel has been remodelled for one event!

Finally, the platforms are used to test proposed innovations. Some have since been extended across the network, such as raised platform 'bumps' for step-free access. Others, like these glow-strips near platform ages, have not made it further than Charing Cross.

We might add a fourth use: tours of these platforms are a popular part of London Transport Museum's Hidden London programme. Booking for the next season is about to start, and includes Clapham South Deep Level Shelter and abandoned tunnels at Euston

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