Tag Archives: South London

Ghost street

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I walk past this corner at least twice every day but only recently noticed the ghost sign painted above the newer enamel one. I assume it was previously covered up, otherwise I’m sure I’d have spotted it at some point in the past five years. Perhaps the jutting pipe points to recent usage.

Much as I like a painted street sign, this one is particularly interesting as it dates back to a time when the street – a short stub of road – had a different name entirely. According to Steve Chambers, who knows about such things, this was one of three name changes in the area – including the eradication of the similar Hamilton Terrace on Shakespeare Road – brought about to tidy up postal addresses.

The ghost sign for the ghost street sits opposite a ghost pub. Hamilton Supermarket occupies the site of the Hamilton Arms, a cosy corner pub opened in 1878 that was captured magnificently in these old photos. It closed in 2004.

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Muhammad Ali in Tulse Hill, 1974

In 1974, this picture was taken of Muhammad Ali at Tulse Hill Comprehensive, sparring with a schoolboy.

But how did the world heavyweight champion – and one of the most famous men in the world – end up in a South London state school shortly after the Rumble In The Jungle with George Foreman in Zaire?

Well, he was invited by civil rights campaigner Paul Stephenson, who was on the school’s board of governors and thought it would be a good idea to ambush Ali in the lobby of the Hyde Park Hilton and suggest he come to the school assembly.

We continued to chat and he wanted to know how much I’d pay him. I looked him straight in the eye and said: ‘Muhammad, I haven’t got a dollar.’ He responded ‘Not even a dime? You have more nerve than Frazier.’

The full story is here, and it’s a cracker.

Secret London: Toulouse-Lautrec in Catford

Say what you like about South London, but it clearly has something about it. Why else would a trinity of the world’s greatest 19th-century artists have come here?

You probably know about Vincent Van Gogh’s time in Brixton because of the play from a few years ago. Van Gogh lodged in Hackford Road, Brixton in 1873 and regularly walked from there to Covent Garden where he worked as an art dealer.

This is the only surviving picture he sketched during this period It’s of the Georgian houses on Hackford Road itself.

Van Gogh also lived in Isleworth in 1876, at 160 Twickenham Road, when he later returned to London as a teacher. Hackford Road now has an English Heritage blue plaque for Van Gogh, and there used to be a Van Gogh Cafe on Brixton Road, but it’s closed down.

Camille Pissarro painted around a dozen pictures of Sydenham and Dulwich during his time in South London in 1870. I particularly like this one, of Lordship Lane Station.

As Michael Glover writes in the Independent: ‘The painting shows us a new kind of modernity. Here is London being mightily transformed by the growth of housing and the ever onward thrust of the railways in the second half of the 19th century.’ Pissarro lived at No 77 Westow Hill and then on Palace Road, and married at Croydon Registry Office. He returned to London a number of times. Lordship Lane station was demolished in 1954. A non-English Heritage blue plaque adorns the site of his house on Westow Hill and a restaurant called Pissarro is in Chiswick, but I’m pretty sure that’s named after his son Lucien.

Best of all, though, is the fact that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec did time in Catford in 1896. The diminutive brothel-loving soak was a huge fan of cycling and in 1896 was asked by a company called Simpson to work on a poster for their new bike, which used a new type of chain. This, according to Wiki, ‘was composed of linked triangles forming two levels. The inner level was driven by the chainring and the outer drove the rear cog. Instead of teeth, the chainring and cog had grooves into which the rollers of the chain engaged.’

I’m not sure what that means, and probably neither did Lautrec, so he came to the newly built Catford Velodrome to watch the bike in action during special races, set up by Simpson to advertise their product. Lautrec produced a couple of images during his visit. The poster was one of the last he designed before his death in 1901.

The velodrome was knocked down in the 1990s and there is no trace of it left (it’s location was approximately around Sportsbank Road), but there is at least a brasserie in Kennington called Toulouse-Lautrec.

But perhaps Toulouse-Lautrec had more influence on Catford than we may have thought?

Consider this, a famous poster advertising one of Lautrec’s favourite clubs by one of his contemporaries and very much in Lautrec’s style.

And this.

If you do not wish to go all the way to Catford to pay homage, an exhibition of Lautrec’s work goes on display later in June at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, where you can also see Pissarro’s lovely picture of Lordship Lane Station.

Secret London: the Russian tank of Bermondsey

That there is an authentic Russian tank parked in a patch of wasteland on a side street off the Old Kent Road is one of those things that is so brilliant it should be mentioned on the news at least once every day. (I felt much the same way about Gordon Brown’s glass eye.  A Prime Minister with a glass eye! How cool was that! What a wasted opportunity.)

The tank is a T34 Russian tank that was possibly used against the Czechs in the Prague Spring uprising of 1968. It arrived in London in 1995 when it was used for the filming of Richard III. The tank was then purchased by Londoner Russell Gray as a sort of giant and very expensive pun after Southwark refused him planning permission to build houses on the site. Gray instead applied for permission to put a tank on the site. They thought he meant water tank, but he didn’t. The tank’s gun is trained on the council office.

How much truth there is to that story is surely irrelevant. It feels right. And when it comes down to it, all that matters is that there is a bloody great Russian tank on the streets of South London and people don’t seem to realise quite how incredible this actually is.