From the Waterloo Tatooist to Charlie Brown’s Roundabout.

My trip up to Barbican Library often starts at South Woodford where my parents live, near to Charlie Browns roundabout on the A406. This is not particularly exciting but its relevance will be seen as we go along.

One of the books from my last visit to Barbican Library has again proved fascinating. A Camera on Unknown London by E O Hoppe was published in 1936 but this edition proudly displays Reissued at a cheaper price 1937. Its a collection of photographs of unusual London curiosities. The book has a feeling that I should know all these places but they all seem to need further exploration to see if they are still there. Mr Burchett the Tattooist at 72 Waterloo road. The Smugglers jugs in the cellars of the Hoop and Grapes in Aldgate. The shop selling imported skeletons for artists drawings and medical students at 18 Fitzroy street. I can seem me referring back to this book again for some further jaunts to explore the stories.

However, one entry caught my eye. A Tavern Museum. This Public House at the time of the book was known as Charlie Brown’s but had started out as The Railway Tavern  which stood on the corner of Garford Street and 114-116 West India Dock Road. The original Charlie Brown, who had been a boxer, was a successful landlord of The Railway Tavern from 1892 until his death in 1932. His funeral was a grand affair with his burial at Bow cemetery said to be attended by 16,000 people. During his time as Landlord, he’d built up a collection of curios which he displayed. People say he’d collected them from sailors and dockworkers who’d frequented the pub but actually, he was a shrewd collector who had sourced the items from dealers and built up his collection with pieces he liked. On his death, the collection was split between his son, Charlie Brown Junior and daughter, Ethel Chandler. It was Ethel who kept on The Railway Tavern with her husband Tom, displaying her half of the curios and  the name Charlie Browns. Charlie Brown Junior took his half of the curios over the road to the Blue Posts pub and opened his Charlie Browns. Confusing I know.

charliebrownsThe book gives directions to The Railways Tavern and shows this picture. I’m thinking it might be Ethel among the curios rather than over the road at the Blue Posts where Charlie was host. It gives an idea of what the place might have looked like.

In 1938, Just after the book was written, Charlie Brown Junior moved to The Roundabout Public House at Woodford. Those who know the area or Travel the A406 will see the link. On the Corner, near Raven Road, this large pub quickly became Charlie Browns and was distinctive for the Model Roundabout outside on a pole. In 1972, the Pub was demolished along with much of the area, to widen the roundabout and Southend Road as well as the flyovers for the M11.

The Railway Tavern survived a little longer but was demolished in 1989 to make way for  Westferry station on the Docklands Light Railway and the construction of the Limehouse Link Tunnel. They say that the funeral in 1932 of Charlie Brown senior has never been exceeded except for Ronnie Kray.And that gets me thinking about the rumours of a body, disposed of in the concrete pillars of the M11. Maybe I’ll walk a little faster as I walk under the subway to cross Charlie Browns.

Below is a film clip showing the area at the time. Fascinating.


The Seagull and the Harmonium

I told you in my last post that I had a half remembered story about a Harmonium and here it is. You couldn’t make it up. I had to ask my Dad for the details and here they are such as we can remember. It concerns Ivor Cutler, Scottish poet, songwriter and humourist. My Dad had always told me that the Harmonium that Ivor Cutler accompanied himself with on several recordings was his.A bold claim and one worth investigating.

Me: Dad, how is it that Ivor Cutler ended up with your Harmonium?

Dad: Well, I had a tubular bell, but I swapped it with the lady with the performing seagull for the harmonium.

Me: Why did the lady with the seagull want the tubular bell?

Dad: Well the seagull couldn’t play the harmonium.

You couldn’t make it up. It seems that in Leytonstone in the 1950’s, there lived a theatrical family. The trained seagull, called Peter after their son who died, had star roles in films. My Dad did mention Kes, but I can’t see a seagull having the acting skills to play a Kestrel with any conviction. She also had a crocodile, or so we are told.The husband was a ventriloquist who never got other the death of his son, replacing him with the dummy but I know no more than that. My Dad swapped his tubular bells (origin unknown) for this family’s harmonium. Had he kept his Tubular Bells, he might have been on Mike Oldfield’s Records. I’m guessing that the harmonium proved too much for Beachcroft Road. A friend of Dad’s, also in the film business heard that Ivor Cutler was on the hunt for a Harmonium and the deal was done.

All of this sounds rather fantastic, in the true sense of the word, but there are several things that make this sound plausible. Firstly, my mum had Ivor Cutler records in her box of singles. Secondly, as children, we were all brought up at bath time singing “I am the boo boo bird” which features on Ivor Cutler of Y’Hup released in January 1959. This was usually accompanied by drying our  parts that the bird mentions in the song, with a towel while standing on the toilet lid. When singing “I’m Invisible”, we covered ourselves completely in the towel, and for some reason added the line “They all dropped off”

If you want to listen to the Boo Boo bird and hear the Harmonium, the clip is below. I’ve emailed my aunt for more details. Did the crocodile have any parts in films or was the Seagull the bread-winner?

Musical Opinion

Its April 15th and today, I’ve found Volume 42 of the Magazine Musical Opinion covering October 1918 to September 1919. The advertisements are good to look at. After the war, there is a sense of optimism and a feeling that, a piano at home and a book of good tunes, will see everything back to normal. I am surprised how many Piano tuners are advertising in the small ads section.image

I am also impressed to see the many different piano makers. The ads show a very different time to the present where making music was still very important to most people lives rather than listening to recorded music. wireless and the gramophone are still not for everyone.

I am also very surprised to see an advert from a company R. Spurden Rutt and Co. Organ builder in Leyton, E.10. bet there aren’t too many around in London now.

My mind is drawn to the adverts for harmoniums as it is reminding me of a story told to me by my Dad. I can’t recall the details so we’ll return back to it at a later date.

So what did I get out today? We’ve gone highbrow. I have the Hawkes Pocket Score for Berlioz Roman Carnival. This was a piece we studied for my O Level Music and I don’t think I ever got to the end at the same time as the music. Somehow, I always seemed to finish first. I want to try to see if I can still do it, and if I’m actually any better.

My book from the London Collection seemed to Jump out at me. Written in 1967, the year f my Birth by a man then living in Enfield. Maskelyne and Cooke, Egyptian Hall London 1873-1904 by George A. Jenness. The entertainment in Piccadilly seems exotic to say the least and I’ll report back when I find out more.

As I write this, there is a concert on in the hall below us and the Orchestral music is coming up through the floor. Beautiful.

Sunshine on the terrace

imageWhat a difference some sunshine makes. Surely the hottest day of the year so ar. I’m having a quick tea and a bag of crisps before changing my books. Its lunchtime and the terrace is full of people grabbing a quick lunch and a burst of sunlight. There seem to be people posing for official looking cameras and I’m wondering if there is some sort of photography course.

Back to the Sewers

HollinsheadI mentioned the book Underground London in my last post and as it was so fascinating I thought I would tell you more. John Hollinshead, the author, was a journalist and Theatrical Impressario. He manager the Gaiety and Alhambra theatres ad we have him to thank for introducing London to the Can Can and for bringing Gilbert and Sullivan together. He also wrote a number of books in his life time which are in a really readable style and could have been written today.

Much of Underground London focuses on Sewers and I can’t say it is a subject that I would usually be interested in. But I have to say I have learned a lot. There is an extensive interview with a Sewer Worker who recounts his story in the same way my Granddad would. Slow and Laborious. He tells how he found a Leg down there one day. And then another. And then an Arm. Even a head. The authorities had to be called to try to get to the bottom of it. Eventually the mystery is solved. Body snatchers had given the bodies to medical students who were throwing the unwanted parts into the open waterways. Ah, so that’s OK then. In 1862 apparently.

I find it extraordinary to hear about the plans Bazalgette has for building sewers in London including the new embankment scheme. Bazalgette was a good old Enfield Lad and I like to hear of him. There is also an extensive chapter on the battle with St Paul’s to build a sewer outside its boundary. Apparently, they didn’t like the idea and the letters make fascinating reading.

There are appendices which set out the route street by street of the underground sewer branches and if I had more time, I’d follow them. There are also details of the sewage its self and what it comprises of. No one really seems to question what this is doing to the Thames and the other ancient waterways of london.

I also love the chapter on Gas or “The Genii of the lamps” as he calls it. This new utility is obviously exciting Holligshead and he enthused on the use for lighting. There were 37,728 gas lamps in London by 1862 he says. Sounds a lot but there are still 1500 gas lamps in London today each lit by a British Gas engineer and there are over 14,00 electric street lights in Westminster alone. There was a problem apparently with the gas mains affecting the water mains in some places and the two becoming mixed. I love this letter to a “Leading Water company” which is written as quoted in the book, names obviously being kept secret:

Mr. Blank presents his compliments to the Blank Company, and wishes to know whether they supply Gas or Water. Mr. Blank is led to make this inquiry because one of his servants went to the cistern with a pitcher and a candle  and instead of procuring water,she blew up the roof of the wash-house.

Underground London and a Holborn Fire

Udergroundlondon bookIt’s Wednesday 1st April and I’ve avoided April Fools so far. The Library seems busier on a Wednesday. I’ve had a chat with the Music Library Librarian who has shown me the small selection of books about Music Teaching in school. She informs me it is an area they Library would like to develop further. Good quality books for teaching Primary School Music are thin on the ground.

I’ve borrowed a copy of “Free as Air” by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds who were better known for “Salad Days” I’ve only seen this show once. An Amateur production at the Lloyd Park Pavilion in Walthamstow, which I hear sadly is no longer. I love the CD of the Original London Cast apart from one of the main characters who, to me, sounds slightly off Key.

Sometimes a book seems to jump out at you. Today, in the London Collection, I found a copy of “Underground London” by John Hollingshead. This subject fascinates me and I several books of my own. There is a lot about the sewers and the romantic notion that Blaggards and other rascals might be hiding in there. The book then goes to show it is not true. The Underground Railway section is rather short. But then a quick google to decipher the Roman Numeral on the front page show me the book is from 1862. I take my hat of to The Barbican Library for trusting me with such treasure. I’m also impressed to see that the book was originally in London and County Bank’s Library which is now part of the Nat West. I wonder if banks still have libraries for the staff. Perhaps that’s where we are going wrong.

Why should this book be more relevent to today? I’m now sitting having some lunch at Holborn having just passed an amazing butchers in Clerkenwell Road. Having a quick tweet on twitter, I’m informed that there is a major fire under the road, round in Kingsway. I wonder if there is anything in the book that might help. Perhaps I should nip round for a quick word with the chief fire officer. Actually, I want a new pair of Converse, so i’m off out of the way before anything happens.

Barbican Station

Barbican Undreground roundalI”m loving my trips to Barbican Station when visiting the library. The Hammersmith And City trains seem never-ending. I’m sure I could walk along it from station to station without it moving. Here at Barbican, the Underground is Overground, Well you can see daylight anyway if nothing else. Opening in 1865 as Aldersgate Street, its name has changed several times, through Aldersgate, Aldersgate and Barbican to the now familiar Barbican in 1968 I’m a little worried now. In 1866, three passengers were killed,a guard seriously injured and a passenger suffered severe shock after a girder fell on a train at the station. Perhaps I’ll walk a little faster