Tag Archives: bloomsbury

Karen Henriksen

Karen Henriksen


Words Sophie Pelissier

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


It’s a Saturday morning in June, and the Bloomsbury cafes are filling up with brunch orders and locals doing their weekend coffee-and-croissant run. Runners pound up and down Lamb’s Conduit Street and the small shops are beginning to open for summer trading. But further down the quieter Regency streets I find that milliner Karen Henriksen is already at work in her little studio. “I don’t mind it,” she says with a broad smile as she shows me inside. “There’s no-one else around and I have the radio on, so it’s a productive time to work.” We are in Cockpit Arts, site of the award-winning social enterprise and business incubator for UK crafts makers hidden away in the streets of Holborn. Flat caps and ladies’ cloche hats from Karen’s ready-to-wear collection line the walls, alongside rolls of fabric, jars of pins and paper patterns covered in black marker pen. But beyond the clutter there is calm orderliness to Karen’s workshop. “I’m a bit of a control freak”, she grins. It’s partly what drew her to millinery at the prestigious Royal College of Art: “I like having complete control over the whole process from start to finish. Whereas in fashion you’re always passing on work to pattern-cutters or seamstresses.”

It was during her post-graduate degree in millinery at the Royal College that Karen won the Hat Designer of the Year award, with her first collection later being bought by Selfridges when she launched her label in 2004. Her personal style remains true to her original MA collection: sculptural yet wearable re-workings of traditional hats for men and women, but especially the English country flat cap, which inspired her iconic ‘Windswept’ collection. This is Karen’s USP: a range of large, asymmetrical flat caps which provide the basis for her ready-to-wear collections. “It kind of happened almost by accident,” she explains when asked how the idea to urbanise the quintessential country hat came about. “When I did my Royal College collection, that was inspired by really functional styles of headwear but they turned in to these sculptural, dramatic pieces with giant headscarves and giant caps. I featured a flat cap that I then started to develop into a more commercial idea, and it evolved from there really.” She admits that the original Windswept styles are possibly still “too out there” for a lot of customers, but the flat cap variations that she has developed since are growing in popularity. I tell her that I’d recently spotted one in a selection of flat caps in the menswear section of a well-known newspaper’s magazine – undeniable evidence of the cap’s transition from country-wear to the London man’s casual wardrobe.

While the caps form part of Karen’s ready-to-wear collection, using pattern-cutting, she also produces a range of couture pieces employing the art of a traditional milliner. “This is most peoples’ perception of millinery, which is blocking – so either steaming or wetting a fabric like straw or felt over a block, then wiring and trimming it. It’s a much more elaborate process and a completely different technique to pattern-cutting.” To show me, Karen picks up a small red piece, no larger than a tea cup, which she is making up for an order to send to Melbourne. She found the vintage fabric in Paris, where she goes twice a year during Fashion Week to present her collections at the leading fashion accessories trade show Premier Classe.

Despite people’s willingness to embrace casual headwear in the last decade, couture millinery is still largely constrained to smart weddings and events or race meetings. But if anyone is going to turn heads with their choice of headwear, all eyes are undoubtedly on the Royal Family; not always kindly, if one remembers the media frenzy about Princess Beatrice’s ‘pretzel hat’ at the Royal wedding in 2011. It is Zara Tindall, however, who has gracefully donned some of Karen’s elegant couture designs at high-profile occasions like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Christmas Day services at Sandringham.

Karen’s fascination with asymmetrical, structural design is especially apparent in these couture hats; with their swathes of fabric ruched in layers, curves or angular lines, she seems more like a sculptor than a designer. It’s no surprise to discover, then, that her formative years after leaving school began with an art and design foundation at the Leeds College of Art, in the extraordinary footsteps of alumni Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. “They certainly did influence my designs later on, and knowingly so. But even back then I think there must have been some sort of influence through osmosis,” she agrees, when asked how far these sculptors shaped her own style.

Eventually, our conversation turns to Bloomsbury and Cockpit Arts, where she has been able to develop her work and her business since 2005. There are two sites, the original one in Holborn and a second site in Deptford. The craft studios within the Bloomsbury building can trace their creative history all the way back to 1745, when Cockpit Yard was taken over by a cabinet maker. It wasn’t until more 200 years later, in 1986, that Camden Recycling created the first five ‘starter’ studios for young craftsmakers trying to start their own businesses. Now with around 80 ‘makers’ working in single or shared studios in Bloomsbury alongside Karen, there is what sounds like a merry and bohemian community of jewellers, typographers, picture-framers and designers in the heart of London: a welcome success story among the growing concern over a shortage of studio spaces for artists and designers in the capital. “We open the doors to the public twice a year, in June and November. Cockpit Arts was actually one of the first places to start doing open studios.” In the run-up to Christmas, the November opening normally welcomes thousands of people to the studios, and it seems to be an important ritual through which the makers can reaffirm their relationship with the local residents of Bloomsbury.

Surely working in a part of London with such a rich creative history must be another source of inspiration? “Literature and architecture have both always been common themes for me. My ‘Two Cities’ collection for winter this year was inspired by the different architecture and history of London and Paris during the French Revolution, as in the Dickens novel. Then I did actually do one collection in 2015 that was influenced by the Bloomsbury set called ‘Night and Day’, after Virginia Woolf’s novel, and I did the photo shoot around the British Museum and Russel Square.” It seems fitting, as a Bloomsbury local, that she also enjoys playing on words, and making up names for her hats based on word associations. “One of the cloche hats that’s been the biggest best-seller was named for Debbie Reynolds’s character Kathy in Singing in the Rain.” In fact, there is always a touch of silver screen glamour in millinery, she tells me. “Ask any milliner and they’ll always cite those old Hollywood actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Greta Garbo as inspiration.” But as a designer she stresses that she is “appropriating vintage styles, as opposed to copying them. I enjoy thinking of ways to make them more relevant and contemporary.” It’s a formula that is clearly working, with her hats now catching the attention of international fashion editors and stylists and being exported to specialist boutiques and stores around the world. And imbued as their work is with little dashes of Bloomsbury history, one hopes that Karen and the other makers who have brought Cockpit Yard back to life have many creative years ahead of them.

The Life Goddess

The Life Goddess


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“You know, the Greek tradition and culture of cultivating, preparing and sharing food is a ritual to us…”

George Nyfoudis, founder of The Life Goddess, is giving me a lesson in Greek culture and cuisine. Bear with me here because I’m going to start by telling you how we ended our conversation – with the legend of The Life Goddess. According to ancient Greek legend, a sacred goat named Amalthea nurtured the infant Zeus, making him into the strongest deity of his time and later ‘king and father of the gods’. From Amalthea’s magical horns, Zeus made the horn of plenty, or cornucopia, which was always filled with whatever was desired. The goat Amalthea was and is a symbol of nourishment, abundance and life. A life goddess. This is where our story begins.

The Life Goddess was born around five years ago when George began to develop an idea for a Greek deli in the city. “After the crisis in Greece, I started to think about beginning a new venture that celebrates the spirit and tastes of my origins. I’ve always loved the character and structure of London, and knew Bloomsbury was where I wanted our business to be. We wanted to be a deli in the city showcasing the best in Greek tradition. Absolutely everything was sourced from Greece in the beginning, whereas today we have a mix of Greek and UK-based suppliers. Our suppliers are both our left and right hand… we’d be nowhere without them!” he says. “I didn’t feel that you could easily buy traditional Greek products in London. I wanted to bring small independent brands and produce to our store. When we opened, we stocked dozens of Greek brands that had never been available in London before. It began as a deli and slowly we started to adapt and become more of a restaurant. This was what we found our local customers wanted us to be, and so we listened. With time, as we have grown, we have begun to focus more on homemade food, though the deli element is still a huge part of what we do.”

In Greek culture, preparing a meal for someone is the ultimate token of respect, gratitude, friendship or love. As a passionate Greek, this is a quality that George was determined to bring to his London venture. “You know, the Greek tradition and culture of cultivating, preparing and sharing food is a ritual to us. The journey of the senses starts from mother-earth and finishes at a feast on a table where all the family, friends and companions share the same nourishment and enjoy the sublime result of their efforts,” he says. On the menu, everything diners can expect at The Life Goddess is prepared with 100% fresh Greek products: feta cheese, olives, aubergines, and lamb – although meat is not the focus at The Life Goddess, with much of the menu deliciously vegetarian or not too meat-heavy.

The restaurant has settled comfortably into its Bloomsbury home, bringing the best of Greece to the beautifully designed space at 29 Store Street. “Our landlord, The Bedford Estates, shares the same vision as us. They want to create a destination for local people and build a relationship with the Bloomsbury area. It is the relationships on Store Street between customers and businesses which has built its name as a Bloomsbury destination,” says George. Lining each wall is a seemingly endless array of Greek products, with a particular focus on fantastic cheese and, of course, wine, which is perhaps one of the most renowned specialities on offer at The Life Goddess. “We love wine… it’s one of our defining factors, and of course, all our wine is Greek. Why would we sell anything else?” he laughs.

The restaurant has built a name for itself serving sublime Greek breakfasts, exquisite cold tapas-style dishes and a wide selection of fresh sandwiches and baguettes. By night, you can enjoy an evening sampling some of the finest Greek wine and cheese. “I believe if you want to stay somewhere for many years you must have many loyal customers. Our customers are our friends, and the community element is hugely important to the success of what we do here,” George says. “Although we are a Greek deli and restaurant, we are a Greek deli and restaurant in London, with the pace and feel of London living and dining. The philosophy of The Life Goddess is always to use the best quality ingredients and create healthy products.” With a second site having opened recently in Soho’s Kingly Court, George, along with his brother Nikos Nyfoudis and Elias Koulakiotis, has made his mark on London in less than five years, creating a deli-cum-restaurant that brings the very best in Greek produce to the city’s diners. If you haven’t yet experienced the culinary plenty that the Life Goddess has to offer, then I suggest you pay her a visit soon.

Walking

Walking


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alice Chiariello


Originally from the south of France, Bloomsbury-based illustrator and artist Alice Chiariello has turned her talents to capturing the spirit of her adopted home. In this series of illustrations, she uses the streets and landmarks of the neighbourhood as a backdrop to scenes of everyday life in this corner of the capital.

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“…too beautiful and too romantic to survive.”

This is no ordinary hotel. It’s a London icon, a spectacle; there’s something undeniably romantic about the sight of its fairy-tale towers rising above the eastern end of Euston Road. If its distinctive red exterior is High Victorian splendour, then its interior is the stuff of gilded fantasy – at every turn it reveals some new treasure. The Midland Grand Hotel, now once again resplendent as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, is one of the masterworks of architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who spent most of his time designing cathedrals and places of worship. It has been the face of one of London’s major gateways for almost 150 years. Firmly embedded within the British psyche, it has stood through two world wars and narrowly escaped death at the hands of 1960s planners. There is history and wisdom in the building’s red brick and coloured Midland stone, and quite a story to tell.

By the 1860s, the Midland Railway was thriving, connecting the industrial heartlands of the East Midlands and Yorkshire with the capital but, lacking a southern terminus, was forced to share tracks with other companies to get its trains into London. So, the decision was made that the Midland would create its own line into the capital. A site for the company’s new London terminus was chosen on the northern side of New Road (today known as Euston Road) in the largely undeveloped district of St. Pancras. Once William Barlow’s spectacular single-span train shed structure was in place, the Midland selected the prominent ecclesiastical architect George Gilbert Scott to design a hotel that would form a spectacular frontage for the station. Scott had recently received a commission from Queen Victoria to create the memorial in Hyde Park to her late husband, Prince Albert. Barlow planned for a large luxury hotel extending westwards along Euston Road, with Scott’s designs making the most of this huge canvas. Taking inspiration from Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin’s Gothic Revival Palace of Westminster (aka the Houses of Parliament), Scott’s designs were grand, costly and far beyond the expectations of Midland: the imposing and ornate structure he was planning was more palace than railway station. In the face of scepticism, Scott persisted, feeling that he was creating an entirely new style as opposed to reviving an old one.

Scott’s audacity paid off, and he promised the Midland that his vision for the hotel would completely eclipse every other terminus in London. Red brick came to be the signature material for his creation; manufactured in the Midlands, it helped create new wealth to the region. While still unfinished, St Pancras Station began operating in 1868. By this time, construction of the neighbouring hotel was under way, and over the next five years, builders, stonemasons, artists, craftsmen and tradesmen laboured to bring Scott’s vision to life.

When the first guests saw the hotel in May 1873 its lavish interiors must have seemed plucked from the realm of fantasy. The grandest rooms on the lower floors included spectacular, 18ft-high decorated ceilings, neo-classical murals and vast south-facing windows to maximise the penetration of natural daylight into the deep floor plans. There were ornate Gothic fanlights over every door, wall-to-wall Axminster carpets, huge fireplaces with carved marble surrounds and Walnut furniture with gold inlay. In the Dining and Coffee Room (today The Gilbert Scott restaurant), pillars of polished limestone lined the walls, their gilded capitals carved with conkers, pea pods and bursting pomegranates. The Ladies’ Smoking Room, the first public room in Europe in which women were permitted to smoke, boasted a breathtaking painted ceiling as well as granite pillars, carved stonework and a magnificent terrace overlooking New Road. Walking about the corridors of the structure today, the grandness of the architecture still makes a powerful and lasting impression; compared to to Scott’s masterpiece, most modern London buildings seem dull and unimaginative.

Perhaps the greatest spectacle of the entire building is the Grand Staircase. This High Victorian, neo-Gothic explosion of extravagant decoration creeps up three storeys before reaching an extraordinary vaulted ceiling. At the time of opening, The Midland Grand was a masterful showcase not just of architecture but technology, featuring flushing toilets and hydraulic lifts. In its heyday, guests paid between three-and-a-half shillings and several pounds to spend a night here, with only The Langham on Portland Place being more expensive.

For over 30 years, the hotel thrived; but rival establishments around London had opened around the turn of the century, and by the 1920s the Midland Grand’s once revolutionary design features were considered to be behind the times. In 1935, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway accepted the inevitable and the hotel closed. Becoming known as St Pancras Chambers, the building survived all attempts by the Luftwaffe and London’s modernising planners to knock it down, being used as offices by British Rail and its hospitality business, British Transport Hotels. During the 1960s, city planners sought to sweep away ‘inefficient’ swathes of London’s architectural heritage, replacing them with system-built blocks – and they had St Pancras and the hotel firmly in their sights. Sir John Betjeman called the plan to demolish St Pancras “a criminal folly”. A founding member of the Victorian Society, along with architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, Betjeman was able to mobilise a popular campaign against the demolition plans, fearing that St Pancras was “too beautiful and too romantic to survive”. Thankfully, he succeeded in securing for it a Grade I listing in 1967, ensuring its preservation.

The hotel building was eventually abandoned in 1985, standing empty and neglected for almost two decades. It made occasional onscreen appearances, including scenes in Batman (1989) and as the setting of the music video for the hit Spice Girls single ‘Wannabe’. By the mid-1990s, change was in the air, and the largely empty and under-used St Pancras Station was chosen to become the new terminus for the Eurostar service. Again, work began to turn St Pancras into the most advanced and admired station in the UK. In 2002, new life was breathed back into the hotel, with work starting on luxury loft-style apartments on the upper floors. Supported and advised by English Heritage, the Manhattan Loft Corporation (MLC) partnered with Marriott International in restoring the building, and operating the remainder of it as a hotel once more. Hundreds of specialist craftspeople, painters and conservation experts from across the UK started to restore the Midland Grand to its former glory. Today, from the fiery, rich reds and golds in The Gilbert Scott Restaurant (taken from the 1892 interior scheme) to the lighter, calmer greens and golds of the Ladies’ Smoking Room ceiling (a replica of the original 1870s design), the hotel’s historic heart beats on, meeting modernity as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

Gillian Mosely

Gillian Mosely


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“As I get older I realise I absolutely love the Ancient Egyptian aesthetic,” says Gillian Mosely. “That’s the art I choose to collect. Maybe it’s a past life thing.” Reincarnated or not, her current life has certainly encompassed a wide variety of interests and passions.

Though Mosely was born in London, her parents emigrated to the States when she nine. While returning to the UK as a visitor over the years, it was only when she was 22 that she moved back to London full-time and started working as a freelance journalist, covering such disparate topics as the rave scene in Goa, martial arts and shamanism. A far more personal piece was her article on the Marchioness disaster – the catastrophe on the Thames in which the 1,800-ton dredger Bowbelle collided with a 90-ton pleasure steamer – from which she barely escaped alive. The official investigation concluded that the Marchioness was completely submerged just 30 seconds after the impact: 51 of 131 people on board died, including the host of birthday party being held on the boat and two of Gillian’s friends. “I had gone under and I’d started seeing stars, and literally started saying goodbye. And then I came back up in an air bubble and someone opened what turned out to be a door above my head”.

I first met Gillian many years ago in Fred’s bar, a hideout for artists avoiding the limelight of member’s clubs like the Groucho. It boasted one of the most celebrated cocktail makers in Soho, the sadly missed Dick Bradsell, and an eclectic mix of pop culture movers and shakers: Pete Burns, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees rubbed shoulders with club kids and budding talents like Hamish Bowles, David Collins and Mosely herself. Many of them were also regulars at the notorious Kinky Gerlinky and Taboo clubs. “Taboo was always my favourite. At this stage I was 17 and there was a huge posse of us that used to hang out together. I didn’t know who Leigh Bowery was at the time, so I just wandered up and started chatting to him. I think he might have just been charmed that somebody was so unconscious around him, and so we struck up a friendship!”

By the mid-1990s, Mosely wanted a change, and television presented itself as the next logical step. “The subjects I was covering as a print journalist weren’t necessarily the subjects I was most passionate about,” she says. “I wanted to do things like history and science.” She began pitching to television commissioners, and eventually an idea for Channel 4 was shortlisted. Her fascination with ancient Egypt, harking back to childhood and a brief spell studying the subject at University, led her to produce a series of documentaries on the subject for the BBC, fronted by Professor Joann Fletcher. While producing another series on Egyptian mysteries, the unusual prospect arose of actually mummifying someone. This germ of an idea transformed into a documentary that took nine and a half years to complete, going through five commissioning editors, three companies, several co-producers, and, last but not least, two potential subjects for mummification. “All of which,” she points out, “is unique in television history”.

Though initially rejected as too sensationalist, the project soon found development funding from Channel 4. The long gestation period it went through helped identify some genuine scientific questions that could potentially be unravelled by proceeding with the experiment, but it also revealed that the legal and moral knots involved would be as labyrinthine as an Egyptian tomb, since the living subject willing to be mummified – in this case a terminally ill patient – would have to consent to the filming, as would their family.

After responding to a newspaper advertisement placed by the production team, former taxi driver Alan Billis became the first person to be mummified using this technique in 3,000 years. In the end, Mummifying Alan ended up winning a BAFTA in the specialist factual category, along with a slew of other awards. It was a welcome validation of Mosely’s supposedly ‘sensationalist’ approach to bringing the past to life: “The thing that I feel is most important about history is that you need to contextualise it so people understand why it relates to them here and now”. It’s an ethos she has carried through the 19 films she has made about ancient Egypt over as many years, for the BBC, Channel 4, Discovery, National Geographic and others.

Her involvement in all things Egyptian extends further than television: she spent five years on the Committee of the Friends of the Petrie Museum of Egyptology. “It’s an underappreciated resource in Egyptology, right here in Bloomsbury. It’s full of rare and special things – everyday objects that give you an intimate portrait of life in ancient Egypt that you won’t get from anywhere else, other than perhaps the Cairo Museum.”

Witnessing Marylebone’s burgeoning gentrification 12 years ago, Gillian decided she needed to relocate to somewhere “more integrated, less homogenous, less relentlessly upmarket”, and she settled on Bloomsbury. Her home certainly reflects her passions: imagine the secret chambers of the Great Pyramid (one staircase lies under the watchful eye of a Pharaoh) mixed with Sir John Soane’s Museum and you’ll have some idea of its colourful, eccentric charm. For Mosely, Bloomsbury has been a fertile place where she’s forged strong personal and professional bonds; but it’s also an area whose rich history acts as a constant inspiration and where having the British Museum, University College London and Senate House Library on her doorstep has been invaluable for her work.

Bloomsbury is also host to medialab, a venture she started to advance her own vision of the future of media production. “Back in 2006-7 it was becoming obvious that making full-length programmes is fantastic and writing articles for magazines is fantastic, but really there should be a way to join everything up”. This concept of creating ‘joined-up’, 360-degree content has seen the company working across various media as it has evolved, as well as in partnership with other production houses, bringing together professionals with contrasting sets of experiences and knowledge. Upcoming projects include focus on contextualising important historical subjects, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or examining big themes, like the impact of technology on human lives. Mosely is also currently editing her first novel, which is set in London and also deals with the interface between humans and technology.

Gillian Mosely has never looked back since moving to Bloomsbury. She feels confident that the area is insulated against the gentrification that pushed her away from Marylebone: “You get this mad mixture of £4 million townhouses and a lot of council property, and what that means is that you get to live with everybody – which is just what I wanted!”

Foundling Museum

Foundling Museum


Words Matthew Ross

Illustrations Sophie Pellisser


Stroll past the tall white walls at the north side of Guilford Place and you might hear the innocent racket of children at play coming from Coram Fields, the protected children’s park and playground. Two centuries ago, you might have heard a different strain: from an imposing Georgian edifice, the swell of an organ and children trebling the remorseful hymn: Left on the world’s bleak waste forlorn; In sin conceiv’d, to sorrow born; By guilt and shame foredoomed to share; No mother’s love, no father’s care.

The voices were those of children given up by their mothers out of poverty, destitution or shame; the building was the legacy of sea captain and philanthropist Thomas Coram. Distressed at the plight of Georgian London’s countless abandoned infants, Coram created the Foundling Hospital to save as many of them as he could. From its completion in 1747 until its demolition in 1926, the Hospital took in thousands of foundlings. It renamed, nursed and fed them, and through a disciplined, wholesome upbringing gave them best chance they had to make a respectable way in the world.

The grand building is long gone, its history enshrined in the Foundling Museum to the north of the old Hospital’s site. But as you thumb the pages of your Bloomsbury Journal over a quiet pint in The Lamb or emerge from Bon Vivant after a working brunch, the walls around you vibrate with foundling histories. Scroll back to 1750, and the land north of Guilford Place was open field and pasture, where the thwack of willow on leather or the dying cry of shot snipe might be heard. Come 1789, the Foundling Hospital’s governors voted to let its land holdings on building leases to provide the Hospital with income. They set out the street pattern of a tract of Bloomsbury now bounded by Tavistock Place to the North and Guilford Place to the South. Georgian London’s mastermind builders, Thomas Cubitt and James Burton, bought the bulk of the leases. And so, for 200 years, the bricks and mortar that still stand today kept the Hospital’s young wards fed and nourished.

The governors assembled weekly to approve the Hospital’s expenses. Page on stiff, faded page of their archived minutes detail the coming and going of tradesmen and their bills. Douglas for Bread, Hilson for Pease, Flaxman for Butter, McTaggart for Rice. The loops and ligatures of a secretary’s hand tell of the porridge and plum pudding set before generations of children in the Hospital’s silent dining hall.

Curator Dr Jane Levi passed countless quiet hours tracing the Hospital’s food history though these archives for the Museum’s Feeding the 400 exhibition. “It was so moving to turn the pages of those faded leather-bound books and discover the great pains these eminent gentlemen took for the children; that their food should be nutritious, and that they should like it.”

The distinguished governors also decreed that this new corner of Bloomsbury was to be respectable: residences for gentlemen like them and no common, noisome trade. Behind Burton’s handsome new facades on Guildford Street lived lawyers, surgeons and clergymen, the Hospital’s governors, the surveyors of its estates, its physicians and preachers. Scores of foundling girls spent their teenage nights in servants’ rooms behind the same facades, since most were apprenticed at sixteen to domestic service, many surely to Bloomsbury’s better households.

But even gentlemen cannot live by cash alone, and soon traders inveigled themselves into the new town’s streets. The governors read complaints of sheep, lambs and calves driven for butchery into premises in Compton Mews; in Hunter Street, a certain Mr Cartwright and his poor family were assailed by the smell of warm blood rising from this unlicensed slaughterhouse. The oldest trade of all brought silken vice to the doorsteps of Hunter Street and the grand Mecklenburgh and Brunswick Squares. More upright tenants petitioned the Hospital to turn their premises into butchers, bakers, cheesemongers and public houses. Gradually the governors began to acquiesce.

Lest all the new town go to the dogs, some streets were to remain residential, but Marchmont and Kenton streets would now be for shopping. Milliners, chemists and coal merchants moved in, and so began the ever-shifting microcosm of northern Bloomsbury’s enterprise that still thrives today. The Marquis of Cornwallis started loosening the tongues of liquorous traders in 1804. Balfour the bakers laid claim, one cold January day in 1900, to houses that for years still bore their old tenant’s name in their new guise as a bistro. Their rents trickled back to the Hospital’s lease books and onwards to the Flaxmans, Hilsons and McTaggarts whose foodstuffs fed the foundlings behind proprietous walls.

Enterprise is far from the only cloth to carry the silver thread of foundling history. How many matrons, apothecaries and gardeners of the Hospital entered its gates at Guilford Place? How many foundlings were chaperoned to the houses of Bloomsbury gentlefolk to entertain them with their musical skills, which they learned at the hands of music masters who lived and taught within the Hospital? How many of Bloomsbury’s society, high and low, visited to hear the children sing their chapel services and see then dine in their silent, serried ranks, as was the popular custom?

Once, the beer-blunted eyes of drinkers staggering from The Lamb would have seen a statue of Thomas Coram towering above the Hospital gates on Guilford Place. Now, little more than the gatehouse remains. The grandest rooms of the razed building have been preserved in suspended animation in the Foundling Museum, where the visitor can whisper studiously before artworks that Coram elicited as donations to his cause from Hogarth, Gainsborough and their peers. So as you order your pint in the Marquis of Cornwallis, remember the children its bricks once clothed and fed. And as you pass those high walls on Guilford Place, listen as the ghostly voices sing down the years from the vanished chapel: Forgive me, Lord, for thy dear Son, the ill that I this day have done; that with the world, myself, and thee, I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Noble Rot

Noble Rot


Words Matthew Ross

Photography Kirk Truman


51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, May 1706: On a site that was lately fields of cress and winter rocket, Mr Jos Walker takes the very first lease on four handsome storeys of London stock townhouse. For seven pounds, nine shillings and sixpence a year, his tenant will be a certain Mr Chisledon.

51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, October 2015: The Rugby School Estate grants the lease of the same handsome townhouse to Messrs Andrew and Keeling, vinters and restaurateurs. Noble Rot hits Bloomsbury.

One bleary morning eighteen months later, Mark Andrew and Dan Keeling sit in the window of their wine bar and restaurant Noble Rot and tell me over plentiful coffee how it all happened. “The magazine started out with me and him writing a couple of pieces and thinking: hang on, where do we get some images from?”

It’s a well-reported story. Keeling, the A&R man who signed the undiscovered Coldplay, and Andrew, buyer for Kensington wine merchant Roberson, launched Noble Rot magazine in 2013 backed by a motley crew of Kickstarter donors, from expert winos to Popbitch. Now fully fledged, the magazine is blessed with golden contributors, with Marina O’Loughlin, Giles Coren, Francis Ford Coppola and former Beastie Boy Mike D in the latest issue alone. But it’s not been easy: contacts don’t hang like apples on the tree of knowledge.

I wonder whether Mark and Dan see Noble Rot as the Drew Barrymore of wine magazines. “We grew up in public, if that’s what you mean”, Mark replies. “But we genuinely love the fact that we’ve come from a humble beginning, and we cut our teeth along the way. I don’t think you learn anything unless you make mistakes. Remember when Guy Pierce was going out with Mrs Mangel’s granddaughter in Neighbours? Now look at him.”

“I thought he was better in Neighbours, actually,” says Dan. For him, Noble Rot’s Ramsay Street days are its mark of honesty. “When I worked in music, the Arctic Monkeys had this demo tape. Most record companies would posh that up and get it out, which a lot of the time would strip the essence of the band. But not them. They got a lot of traction with their demo. A lot of music lovers just got it because it seemed a lot more real.”

Above our heads hang framed back-issues of Noble Rot. On one cover, a bulldog chews a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. It’s an issue that pitched English sparkling wine against Champagne in a garrulous blind tasting (the bulldog won), interviewed Mark Ronson and rhapsodised over star Loire valley domaines. That’s Noble Rot’s ethos to a T. Mark explains why. “We want to be entertaining as well as to write about wine in an intelligent way. The product that’s created in this world can be incredible, but then you get some toffee-nosed twat in the corner who wants to ‘educate’ you about it. F*@k off! We never want to hijack the conversation in that way.”

It was never the plan to open a wine bar and restaurant either. But with a growing reputation, Andrew and Keeling started to suspect that if they threw their own doors open, people might come. Dan recalls the days they spent walking London’s streets searching for Noble Rot’s temporal home. “All the places we loved were in old buildings with lots of character. We knew about Lamb’s Conduit Street, but we didn’t know it. And when we saw this place at number 51, we thought it was amazing. We sent the owner some copies of the magazine in an Uber, and three weeks after getting the keys we opened the doors.”

The shared spirit of enterprise that permeates Lamb’s Conduit Street has made it the ideal terroir. “We love the combination here of old and contemporary Bloomsbury”, Mark reflects. “Lamb’s Conduit Street is this closely knit mercantile community, where food, drink and fashion all complement each other. We’re part of that community, and we really believe there is potential for it to be even better. We’re also a destination for people who are interested in what we’re doing and want to come back time and again.”

Best mates, first dates, great loves; Noble Rot is the place whenever a bottle of wine needs to be shared by an open fire. Built as a Georgian home, first let to our mysterious man Chisledon, scraps of its eighteenth-century wood panelling and an original wine cellar still remain. It’s also a serious destination for its magnificent Franco-British menu, devised with the tutelage of The Sportsman’s Stephen Harris. Lincolnshire Smoked Eel, Yorkshire Rhubarb and Soda Bread. Braised Rye Bay Turbot, Watercress and Alsace Bacon. Pistachio Cake, Blood Orange and Mascarpone. Each a perfectly tuned triad.

Is Noble Rot the place an embodiment of Noble Rot the magazine, with its spine of anarchism? Mark prefers the word disruptive to anarchic. “We’re classicists. We love the classic wines of the world, the great domaines of the world; we love the great cuisines and the great craft and art that goes into those wonderful dishes. But neither of us are posh lads. We’ve just never been prepared to leave all the good stuff to the blue bloods. We want to get stuck in and stake our claim. We want to have our own take on it, and our own opportunity to enjoy it, to talk about it and share it with people in the way that we want to.”

“Irreverent is a good word too”, Dan adds. “Irreverent of the status quo of the wine trade, which is and has been a very stale thing for decades. From 1800 to 2017, has it changed that much? Wine is a great thing. It encompasses so much – history, art, geology, physics, travel – that you can bring into your own life. But you don’t have to be pretentious, status-driven or affected with it. That’s the fundamental point really. Just don’t be a twat about it.”

After so successful a start, Andrew and Keeling could be tempted by quick wins.  But wisdom trumps temptation. “What’s next?” Mark reflects. “Lunch at two o’clock! For now, we’re still cracking on with this place and when we’re comfortable with what we’re doing, we’ll kick on from there.” Something bigger? “Not necessarily”, Dan replies, “because bigger isn’t always better… but something.” Something that’s not being a twat? Mark is adamant: “There will be no twatification about it.”

Aesop

Aesop


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality…”

Even on a crowded London high street, there’s a certain store that stands out from the crowd. There aren’t many brands that have successfully mixed aesthetically pleasing design with high quality skincare products, but Aesop has done exactly that, and much, much more.

It all started in Melbourne in 1987, when hairdresser Dennis Paphitis launched a small range of hair products that formed the basis of the Aesop brand; fast-forward to today, and Aesop has gone on to create some of the most thoughtfully designed and curated concept stores in the world, including one right here in Bloomsbury. Aesop’s brief is to formulate skin, hair and body care products of the very finest quality. With this in mind, they look far and wide to source both plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients, using only those with a proven record of safety and efficacy.

Thomas Buisson, Aesop’s General Manager in Europe, tells me about the serious-minded brand with an eye for design. “I was always captivated by the product and concept. I was intrigued, and it led to a meeting through a mutual contact with Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis and CEO Michael O’Keeffe, all the way back in 2008. I was convinced to join the European team and can thankfully say that it has been a rewarding and enlightening journey ever since.” It’s a role that sees him working closely with colleagues in deciding specific aspects of new Aesop products, with everyone in the team giving their own local perspective, and suggesting some aspects of development. “We are all involved in new product development. For instance, fragrances are of particular interest to us in Europe while our Asian colleagues are usually focused in the development of light serums for their hot and humid climate. Every region is able to impact on our new product. New products are introduced only if they make absolute sense within the range and we are able to formulate them in a way that meets our standards of excellence on all fronts: sourcing, ingredients, quality and efficacy.”

The striking and highly individual design of Aesop’s retail outlets is the product of a similarly thoughtful approach. Each location first goes through a carefully controlled creative process, led by Thomas and Aesop’s talented design team. “As we go through this process we take into account the local environment, elements of the space itself, and of course our functional requirements. In this capacity, and depending on our inspiration, we work closely with our design team either in collaboration with external or in-house architects,” he says. In each of the brand’s unique spaces, consultants display the Aesop range to guide customers’ selections and decisions, in a setting as carefully crafted and curated as Aesop’s products themselves. Due to the strong cultural ties that Aesop has always had with the Old World, when the decision was made to open spaces outside Australia, Europe was high on the company’s priority list. “The first store in Europe opened in Paris in 2006, closely followed by London in 2008. When we move into a neighbourhood, our idea is to build something for good, both in terms of architecture but also in terms of establishing links with the community and neighbourhood. The first London store opened in Mayfair on Mount Street and was designed by Ilse Crawford. It was a homage to British elegance and savoir vivre that embodied our will to build stores that celebrate the city and the area where we build them with a light and respectful touch,” Thomas says.

Bloomsbury’s Lambs Conduit Street store opened in 2015, giving the brand the ability to reference the history of the street and the space. “The water installation inside the store is a destination in itself and combines beauty with fascinating engineering. Residents and retailers alike have responded incredibly well to this project. Even though Bloomsbury is very much in the centre of London, it retains a village-like feel. It’s a true gem of the city, with some of the best retailers – and personalities – in London. We have very much enjoyed being a part of the Lambs Conduit Street Traders Association and always look forward to hosting the meetings in our basement; perhaps it’s a nod to the Bloomsbury Group of old.”

Thomas thinks of the Aesop brand as a set of ideals and beliefs translated into skin, hair and body care. The best ideas, he tells me, are rarely the ones that happen on spreadsheets or via structured brainstorming. “They’re about blood, sweat and many tears. We began with a small range of hair products in 1987. From there we explored the many variables of body care, and by 1991, we were ready to devote ourselves to developing the best skin care possible. Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality. It doesn’t matter what you do; the point is to do it well – with sincerity and conviction.”

As to the future, Thomas says that the intention is “to continue to open locations where we see the opportunity to focus on strong, meaningful and respectful retail. This takes time and means that we need to remain flexible and agile so that our development is always consistent with who we are. We will continue to develop innovative new products and will build appropriate capabilities to support our business.” In addition to this, Aesop aims to launch more initiatives and partnerships to further enhance its difference from other brands in the beauty industry. Continuing to support the arts is one avenue through which Aesop plans to inspire, learn and communicate; hosting exhibitions and events, collaborating on film projects and publishing new writing online are just some of the ways that Aesop continues to be about much, much more than just its fantastic products.

Jack Bond

Jack Bond


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever…”

The first time I met Jack, I wanted to be him. In his late 70s, whereas many people might opt for a slower pace of life, Jack still continues to pursue his undying passion for filmmaking – an extensive career which has spanned six decades – along with other favoured pursuits, including drinking and smoking. He’s charming, handsome, oozing with wit, sophistication and an infectious energy – everything I’d hope to be in my later years! Film director Jack Bond remains one of Bloomsbury’s most creative residents – and one of its best storytellers.

A Londoner through and through, Jack was born, quite literally, at Hyde Park corner, in what was then St. George’s Hospital, and was raised in East Sheen, Richmond. His youth was spent observing the sights and sounds of a wartime city regularly bombed by Nazi Germany. “I was fully conscious of the war as a child,” he says. “My Dad was away fighting in it, and my mother and I elected to stay in London and not to evacuate. Every night, you’d hear the sirens going, and then the sirens would be followed by the droning of the bombs. We just sat there underneath an iron bed for protection. The windows came in, but we weren’t ever actually hit, except for one incendiary bomb, which didn’t go off. I pleaded with the air raid wardens to let me have it, but they wouldn’t give it to me. Bastards!” he laughs. “I spent the war talking to German officers through the fence at the prisoner of war camp in Richmond Park and dismantling bombs with my friends in my father’s shed. Now I look back, none of this did me any harm. These were life-forming experiences for me.”

Leaving school at 18, Jack found himself doing the then two years of compulsory National Service, something he didn’t much take to. “The Army loomed… In those days, the way it worked was if you didn’t want to go in the army, they’d throw you in prison. So, I opted for two years of obligatory military service. I thought: “Oh Christ almighty, this is going to be terrible. The first three months were pretty rugged. That was an ordeal, particularly if you weren’t inclined to be so obedient. One icy morning I slipped in my boots and made a mess of a turn. A very brutal Sergeant came up to me, stuck his stick in my gut and said: ‘I’ve got a fool on the end of my stick’. I replied ‘Oh really, which end?’ Straight in the slammer for a week I got for that,” Jack remembers. During his years in the military, he was offered the chance to go to Beaconsfield to train as a schoolteacher. On completing the training, he was based in Hong Kong, where he remained for the rest of his military service, later becoming headmaster at the school.

At the end of his time with the Army, Jack made the decision to refocus his energies in a new direction. “I got back to England, and that was it, I was out,” he says, “I thought, ‘I know what it’ll do, I’ll go and join the BBC and become a filmmaker.’ The only way to get in at that level was to have a university degree. Although I didn’t have one, they let my service as a teacher count as if I did.” With his foot in the door, Jack started off not making films but trailers, the first being for director Philip Savile. “It was for a television play called Mad House on Castle Street. My habit was to go and sit in the control room whilst they were rehearsing and take notes about what aspects would make for the best trailer,” he explains. “I was sitting up in the control room, and suddenly I heard a voice. It was American – a man singing and playing the guitar. I said to the PA, ‘Who’s the guy with the guitar?’ because I couldn’t make out from where I was sitting. She said to me, ‘I don’t really know, Jack, I think his name’s Bob Dylan, and Philip has put him in the play.’ Bob and I afterwards did some separate recordings in a different studio, and these were the makings of my first trailer. You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever. If you remember a great experience working with somebody, it means you’re benefiting from the talent they bring to the process.” After just four months, Jack moved on towards making full-length television films.

Directing The Pity of War (1964) and George Orwell 1903-1950 (1965), Jack next latched on to a dream project; making a film about Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali. “They’d already been trying to get him for 15 years. Everybody at the BBC told me to forget it – nobody thought I’d get him,” he says. “I contacted Dali’s manager, who told me, ‘Its nothing personal, he just wont make a film with anybody.’ So I kept ringing him over and over and annoying him, until one day Dali came back to him and asked to meet me for tea, making it clear that there’d be no film.” Accepting the offer, Jack set off to meet Dali for tea in Paris. En route, he kept turning over in his mind a speech that might persuade Dali to work with him on a film about his career. “Tea arrived, and I was a bit awed by this startling figure of Dali sat in front of me. He was sitting in this high-backed chair with a cane in his hand. Nothing could prepare you for the shock of actually meeting him – he had such a powerful presence, and it was seriously unnerving. He caught me off guard, and said to me: ‘If we were to make a film together, which we never will do, what would have been your intention?’ And so I sat in a frozen position trying to remember the speech. Nothing came out – silence. I forgot everything I wanted to say. I said to him: ‘My intention would have been… my intention… err… to drill a hole in your head to destroy and penetrate your unconscious once and forever from the inside out! Where these words came from, I do not know” he laughs. “Dali went silent, and I was thinking about how I’d fucked it up. We sat for about three or four minutes and not a word was spoken… and then suddenly he pointed at me and said: ‘I will make a film with you.’” Jack and Dali’s collaboration, Dali in New York, was released in 1966, and remains one of the most notable films in Jack’s filmography.

Jack’s career went on to see him work on the South Bank Show, contributing films about figures ranging from Werner Herzog to Patricia Highsmith, directing a number of feature films, and not least making a number of documentaries about artists. Most recently, Jack completed a documentary about Essex-based Chris Moon, a self-taught artist who was formally a painter and decorator, with no prior training or experience in fine art. An Artist’s Eyes (2016) received a warm reception when it premiered privately at the Charlotte Street Hotel late last year. The film focuses on the creative process behind Moon’s work, tracking him from his studio in Essex to a London exhibition and another in the Chelsea district of New York, concluding with a road trip across Spain in Moon’s vintage Mercedes Benz. “There’s no talking to camera in this film. I really hate that as a technique. There’s no interviews, only talking and sound,” says Jack, “Chris is now a highly priced artist who discovered that he had the knack for art. I was particularly happy with the finish of this new film. As an artist, there is no greater critic than yourself, and watching the immense pressure and depression that an artist like Chris has to overcome to enable him to work was something I could relate to and admire.” Today, Jack resides in Bloomsbury’s Brunswick Centre, which he describes as like living in the sky. Jack’s energy and humour show no sign of dimming any time soon, and neither does his career, with a new film project already on the horizon.

Miles Copeland

Miles Copeland


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“I’ve stuck with it, and it’s become a part of my character. Music is embedded in me….”

We’re on the third floor of a Georgian house on Lambs Conduit Street, where Miles Copeland and I are looking through a collection of carefully arranged records in his home. He passes me a few, and together we examine the sleeves. Zooey, Angelina, Luca: the names of just a handful of artists signed to the WONDERFULSOUND record label, founded by this charming and remarkably humble DJ and record producer. “It’s got a sort of 70s sound to it, a soul and feel that I don’t think you hear around anymore,” he says, showing me the sleeve of Angelica’s new album, Vagabond Saint. With his roots firmly in Bloomsbury, Miles has built a business that takes in music consultancy, publishing, and production. He’s built a reputation for working with new and independent artists, bringing love and passion to the journey of producing music, continually searching for that wonderful sound that remains the ultimate destination of all his projects.

Miles was born in London and raised in Bournemouth. His relationship with music began as a youngster, when he started collecting records; soon, his growing knowledge and passion for sound set him on an a whole new path. By coincidence, when he was just 14, he was asked to DJ, which begun to set things in motion for him. “It was a mate of mine, my sister’s friend. He used to work as a sort of jazz wine bar place, and he knew I was into my music; so he asked me to DJ for him. I turned up with a little bag of records, wearing a Miles Davis T-shirt, and DJed from 8pm until 1am,” he laughs. “God knows how I did it! I assume I must’ve started playing the same records over and over. That was it – that was the first time I DJed. After that, it began a semi-regular thing for me, and I became known among my friends as the one that was into music. I’ve stuck with it, and it’s become a part of my character. Music is embedded in me. I wouldn’t call myself a vinyl snob, but as far as streaming and downloading goes, I have my own preference. I like the idea and aesthetic of listening to a record – the actual process of putting a record onto a turntable and listening to it is a totally different medium of sound to me.”

Miles originally moved to the West End to study sound art, but he also began to learn about how to work in the music industry and become a sound engineer. “It was about thinking outside of the box, thinking about and working with sound from a more left-field, avant-garde point of view. I had tried to make my way into the music industry already at this point, but going to college was my way of trying to work out what I wanted to do.” On leaving, Miles came to set up the company that became WONDERFULSOUND. Many people in the industry at the time believed that artists could operate as individuals, without the support of record labels. “At this point I was actually in a band, and we sort of fell for it and begun putting our own records out under the label. About a year into it, the distributor we were working with was pressing for us to move forward with another record. Thus it became clear to us that you needed to have wider support to make a success of your own music,” he says. “This is where we really begun to redouble our efforts, and begin enhancing the record label side of WONDERFULSOUND. Naturally and organically, we began to start producing records through people we already knew and various contacts.”

His company brings together a number of specialisms under the umbrella of WONDERFULSOUND. “There’s a record label element, and also music consultancy. I produce music for fashion shows, providing help when clients require live music and mixes. It’s no doddle; producing six minutes of music for a fashion show can be really tricky work, and can easily be done badly, but you get there eventually,” he explains. “A big part of what I do is consulting with designers on music, including menswear label Oliver Spencer, whom I collaborate with on a regular basis. In essence, this involves me taking their vision of a fashion show and bringing a sound to it, which reflects the collection and the show. With Oliver, I’ve come to act as his ‘mouth’ when it comes to dealing with musicians and artists for his shows, on the day and beforehand,” he says. “I’ve been doing fashion shows for just over 12 years now, including Jasper Conran, Margaret Howell, Asprey, and assisting Paul Smith.”

Bloomsbury, and Lambs Conduit Street in particular, has been Miles’s home for just over 15 years. When he first arrived, the street was a very different place. Back in the early 2000s, many of the street’s celebrated stores were mostly empty shops, or businesses on their way out rather than their way up. “It’s an infectious area,” enthuses Miles. “It’s such a brilliant neighbourhood, I wouldn’t want to give it up for anywhere else. It was far from what it is today when I first came here. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, let’s leave people to be the judge. It’s certainly a conduit for artists and the creative, and no other street in London has amassed so much talent in one single place,” he says. “I try to live up to the street’s name too –to be a conduit for artists. I want the young, creative people that I meet to thrive. I want to promote, publish and record the work of those whose talents I truly admire. A lot of creatives are really struggling, so I try and enhance their talents however I can. From the artists that produce the sleeve artwork for my records to the people that work on them, that’s what WONDERFULSOUND is all about.” Miles is as enthusiastic about the work of others as he is disarmingly modest about his own, but his love for recorded sound and soulful pop, often on a budget, continues to shine and find new outlets. When he’s not producing records with his artists or providing the soundtrack for some of the biggest names in UK fashion, you’ll find him indulging his passion in yet another way – hosting a regular DJ spot on the independent station Soho Radio.