30 August 2016


The white garden at Sissinghurst is one of the most famous in England and one of the most popular. Suburban visitors make notes and try to improve their own small plots along the same lines. It's an English garden, redolent of the Romantic philosophy of Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson, though with hints of southern Europe in its figs and occasional exotics. Conservation is important to the trustees but there are innovations like the new meadow planting.

How do you make such a garden? First, not everything is white. Grey and silver figure strongly, and as no plant flowers long there have to be assertive leaf forms as well. Second, there has to be a background, and the weathered red brick, old terracotta pots, statues, antique urns and oak furniture help a lot. Even better if you can arrange a foil of dark grey clouds. Third, you have to have a lot of money. Sissinghust was bought by the aristocratic Vita Sackville-West. As a woman, she didn't inherit, so she was rather strapped for cash. Sissinghurst was a ruin in 1930 and cost £12,000; Harold Nicolson reckoned it would take £15,000 to put in order. At current house prices that's about £115 million.

27 August 2016


I was taught art at school not only before the internet but also before Letraset, the transfer lettering widely used in the 1970s and 1980s. My teacher, Connie Passfield, a sweet, Slade-educated lady, insisted that for poster and book design we had to be able to draw our own letters, and the letter forms she taught us were based on Trajan Roman and Gill Sans.  Gill Sans, designed by Eric Gill, was one of the ubiquitous letter forms of the 20th century. The others were Times New Roman, designed by Stanley Morrison, Univers, designed by Adrian Frutiger, and Helvetica, designed by Max Meidinger. When I was a graphic designer, I preferred the modern Univers and Helvetica and was irritated when small printers, not quite up to date, thoughtlessly substituted Gill. But Gill is a classic letter and has had a revival. It’s talked about a lot now because the type on which it's based, Johnston’s Railway type, has its centenary this year.

Yesterday I went to look at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Crafts in the village where Gill set up an artistic colony in the 1920s. Converted from a waggon store, the museum has adapted a piece of vernacular architecture to modern use and recently added a fine extension. It’s an Arts and Crafts gem, focusing on the Roman Catholic artists who were attracted to Gill, on the wider artistic circle in the village, including the weaver Ethel Mairet, and on vernacular lettering from the area.

Gill Sans was, of course, used by Penguin Books for decades. It’s also used by the John Lewis Partnership, who have made it look more modern by using lower case and altering some of the letters. It’s used in many other places too.

Personally, I’ve never been much interested in Gill. He was a Catholic convert of a weird kind and doesn’t seem to have submitted to Church discipline. His art was erotic, he was a pacifist and a Distributist, he had silly ideas about dress and didn’t believe in trousers (see picture). I gave up reading his autobiography, all about his ideas and feelings with not much about events. Then Fiona MacCarthy’s biography, making full use of his diaries for the first time, revealed that his ideas about sex were not merely odd, but that he used them to justify his repeated rape of his daughters. We can forgive Frans Hals his alcoholism, we can even forget the murder Caravaggio committed, but can we overlook Gill’s conduct?  I wonder if Mrs Passfield would have stuck to Trajan Roman if she’d known more about Gill?

If he was alive, it would make sense to ostracise him, just as Gary Glitter is ostracised. If his work was insignificant, his evil would drive us to other artists, just as no-one would want Hitler’s paintings on their wall. If there was a connection between his sexual abuse and his art, we would drop it, and we might think twice about his erotic art now; but the typeface has no connection at all. Nevertheless, although I like Gill Sans, it's preferable sans Gill.

25 August 2016


I discover good ceramists every day. Here are two pieces by Vivien Moir, a Scottish artist. She trained as an illustrator at Jordanstone College of Art and Design and lives on the west coast of Scotland. I found these images on the website of the Water Street Gallery in Todmorden, and the Heinzel Gallery in Aberdeen, where she exhibits. Her blue-and-white illustrations recall the 17th century ceramics of Delft, in particular their naive pictures of Adam and Eve and of King William III on a horse. Utterly charming.

24 August 2016


Here is a good description, with many photos, of the "Aesthetic" suburb of Bedford Park, written by Phil Beard. Bedford Park was a development for artistic people built in the last quarter of the 19th century and a concentration of Arts and Crafts ideals.

G.K.Chesterton mocked it in The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), which opens like this:

"The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset. It was built of a bright brick throughout; its sky-line was fantastic, and even its ground plan was wild. It had been the outburst of a speculative builder, faintly tinged with art, who called its architecture sometimes Elizabethan and sometimes Queen Anne, apparently under the impression that the two sovereigns were identical. It was described with some justice as an artistic colony, though it never in any definable way produced any art. But although its pretensions to be an intellectual centre were a little vague, its pretensions to be a pleasant place were quite indisputable. The stranger who looked for the first time at the quaint red houses could only think how very oddly shaped the people must be who could fit in to them. Nor when he met the people was he disappointed in this respect. The place was not only pleasant, but perfect, if once he could regard it not as a deception but rather as a dream. Even if the people were not "artists," the whole was nevertheless artistic."

23 August 2016


On Sunday I came back from exhibiting at Hatfield Art in Clay, slept well and unloaded the car the next day. Now a moment of reflection. Who were the best in show? Impossible to say, but here are ten good ones, reflecting my tastes and prejudices. What I looked for was a personal voice, sureness of execution, mastery of technique and that indefinable energy that makes a piece of pottery stand out from the rest. Naturally, I respond to the use of colour, but there are some muted pieces here as well.


At 80, Robin was the senior potter of the show. In his long career he's been a production potter, making thousands of pieces on the jigger-and-jolley with a band of assistants, and is now an artist potter of distinction working alone. I bought two bowls by him and a little life story written as an A-level project by his grand-daughter; but why is there no serious biography of this major figure of 20th century studio pottery?


I love Yo Thom's small, shy, grey pots. She was born in Japan, studied in the UK and trained with the Japanese-inspired British studio potter, Lisa Hammond. She works in Dorset and sells in the UK, Europe and Japan. Yo's Facebook page is here.


I picked out Vilas's work last year and perhaps it's unfair to others if I pick him out again, but his Zen Rogue heads have developed and are now drained of colour. He works meticulously, as you might guess from his small, neat appearance. Website here, but unfortunately he doesn't show his most recent work.


Daphne taught me at Harrow and I still refer to her notes on ceramic chemistry. She's one of the few tin-glaze potters in the UK and shows great restraint in her monochrome drawing, forgoing the dozens of colours available for maiolica. Line and texture dominate, with botanical themes that have the right balance of realism and abstraction. Website here.


A new potter to me. She graduated from Camberwell in 2014 and has already made a considerable impression. She's inspired by mathematical relationships, which she explores through geometric patterns applied to distorted forms. As an anti-Romantic I'm drawn to artists who make calculated and unemotional work like this, and Rhian does it well. She's artist in Residence at The Ceramic Studio Warwickshire and is supported by the Crafts Council's Hothouse 2016 programme. Website here.


Now for a colourist. Barry Stedman works in earthenware so that he can get bright colours in his ceramics. He's also an accomplished watercolour painter. Every time I see his work, it's developed just a little bit. His colours this year are paler and softer; the matt, unglazed areas are getting bigger and he now uses drawn lines in addition to fields of colour. Website here, but, again, no recent work is shown.


If you watched The Great Pottery Throwdown you'll have seen Richard in the background - he was one of the technicians on the programme. Richard combines the direction of Froyle Tiles, a company making high-quality tiles, with individual work of originality. His stoneware vessels are thrown and pressed, then dozens of little transfers are applied. Website here.


Another figurative potter, making work as different from mine as you could imagine: amusing but rather unsettling figures. Wu says, "I always had a hard time when asked about my work - I have no deep meanings - not ones that I recognise anyway! I just produce from my heart, sensing when what I’m creating begins to feel right." So just enjoy it. Like all the others, superbly made. Website here.


Traditional slipware in earth colours remains popular. Jennifer Hall's work is not original but it's made with verve, the shapes are just-so and there's a well-judged translucency in the slip. Website here.


Perfectly made, wood-fired ceramics from Germany. Susanne Lukács-Ringel works in Zweifalten in south-west Germany but regularly appears at Hatfield. I always want to buy her work but - and this is the problem potters have with potential customers - I'd have to throw away something to make room for it. OK, next year. Website here.

15 August 2016


As I'm packing my ceramics to show at the Art in Clay pottery fair next weekend, I wondered how many sales opportunities potters have in this country. There's Art in Clay in Farnham as well, Ceramic Art London, ditto York, Ceramics in the City at the Geffrye Museum, the Potfest fairs (three of them), Earth and Fire at Rufford in Nottinghamshire, the Craft Potters Association show for its members in Oxford, a big pottery jamboree in Aberystwyth, the Ceramic Biennale in Stoke on Trent - that's a dozen. I may have forgotten some - let's call it a dozen and a half. Then I suppose one should include the craft fairs that include not only pottery but other crafts as well - Craft & Design lists 62, so 80 altogether. That's pretty good.

I've mentioned in other posts that there's virtually no public support for craft marketing in the UK. The government-supported Crafts Council runs Collect for galleries, emphasizing artistic crafts of international standard and therefore inaccessible to 99% of makers. France and Italy have more fine-grained, city based support for the crafts. If you think that 80 craft fairs in the UK is good, here's the list of markets dedicated to pottery alone in France - 217 of them:

ALBERTVILLE Juillet Marché Des Potiers
ALBI 19 Mars Au 19 Septembre 2016 Journées Portes Ouvertes Aux Poteries D´Albi
ALLANCHE Juillet Marché De Potiers
ALLEYRAS Juillet Fête De La Poterie
ALLONNE Juin De Briques Et De Pots
ALLONNE Juin La Fête De L´Argile De Briques Et De Pots
AMPUIS Octobre Exposition De Céramique
ANCENIS 03 Au 04 Décembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
ANDUZE Juillet Marché Potiers
ANDUZE 13 Au 15 Août 2016 Festival De La Céramique
ANDUZE 25 Septembre 2016 Braderie Des Potiers
ANDUZE Décembre Marché Des Potiers
ANNECY Mai Marché De Potiers
ANTIBES 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché Potiers DŽantibes
APT 17 Août 2016 Marché Potier
ARBOIS Mai Rencontres Céramiques
ARCUEIL Avril Marché De Potiers
ARGENTON SUR CREUSE Juin Marché National De Potiers
ARGENTAT Aout Marche De Potiers
ARPAJON Avril Marché De Potiers
ARVIEUX 12 Août 2016 Marché Potier De Arvieux
AUBINGES Aout Marché Potier De Morogues
AUVILLAR 2eme Week End Octobre Marché De Potiers
AUVILLAR 08 Au 09 Octobre 2016 Marché De Potiers
AYEN Mai Marché Potiers Métiers D´Art
BANDOL Mars Le Printemps Des Potiers
BARJAC 28 Juillet 2016 Marché De Potiers
BAUME LES MESSIEURS Mai Rencontres Céramiques À Arbois
BAVENT Juin Festival Bavent Terre D´Argile
BEAUMONT DU PÉRIGORD Septembre Marché Des Potiers Et Céramistes
BEAUREGARD DE TERRASSON Juillet Marché De Potiers Festivi Terre
BEAURONNE 13 Au 14 Août 2016 Marché Des Potiers De Beauronne
BEAUVAIS Novembre Salon De Céramique Contemporaine
BÉLESTA Avril Mai Journées De La Céramique
BERGERAC Mai Festival Des Potiers
BERGÈRES Mai Marché De Potiers
BONNIEUX WE Pâques Marché Potier
BOUCHAIN Juin Biennale De La Céramique Et Verre
BRESSUIRE Septembre Fête De La Poterie De St Porchaire
BRICQUEBEC 07 Au 08 Aout 2016 Marché Des Potiers
BUSSIÈRE BADIL Mai Foire Des Potiers
CADENET Mai Marché Artisanal Floralies Potiers
CAHORS Mai Marche De Potiers
CALLIAN Avril Marché De Potiers
CAJARC Décembre Marche De Potiers
CASSIS 03 Septembre 2016 Marché Des Potiers De Cassis
CASTELLANE 11 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
CASTELNAUDARY Juillet Marché De Potiers
CAYLUS 15 Août 2016 Marché Des Potiers
CHANAZ Juillet Marché Potier
CHANTEMERLE LES GRIGNAN Juin Biennale De La Céramique
CHARLIEU Juin Terrus Locus
CHÂTEAURENARD Juin Marche Potiers
CHÂTILLON SUR CHALARONNE Décembre 30 Potiers Sous Les Halles
CHÉNIERS Juillet Marche De Potiers
CLIOUSCLAT Juin Marché De Potiers
COLLIAS 04 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
COTIGNAC 04 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
CRILLON LE BRAVE 21 Août 2016 Marché Potier De Crillon Le Brave
CUCURON Juillet Marché Potier De Cucuron
DIE Mai Marché De Potiers
DIGNE LES BAINS 10 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
DINAN Septembre T´Rance Ceramique
DOURDAN Juin Marché De Potiers
ENGHIEN LES BAINS 08 Au 09 Octobre 2016 Les Créateurs
ETRETAT 16 Au 17 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
FAVIÈRES Mars Marché De Potiers
FERNEY VOLTAIRE 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché Des Potiers
FLAYOSC 21 Juillet 2016 Marche De Potiers
FLORENCE Octobre Fiera Internazionale Della Ceramica
FONTVIEILLE Juin Marché Potier
GIMONT 1er Mai Braderie De Potiers
GIROUSSENS Juin Marché De Potiers De Giroussens
GORDES Juillet Marché Potier De Gordes
GOUTTIERES Avril Marché De Potiers
GRIGNAN 03 Août 2016 Marché De Potiers
GRUYÈRES Octobre Arts Du Feu, Marché De La Céramique, Du Verre Et Du Métal
HASTINGUES Mai Festival De Céramique
HERBIGNAC Mai Marché De Potiers
HONFLEUR We Paques Marché Des Potiers
HONFLEUR Mars Marché De Potiers
HUSSEREN WESSERLING Avril Mai  Marché Des Potiers
ILLZACH Avril Biennale De La Céramique
ISPAGNAC 10 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
JOUY LE POTIER Juin Marché De Potiers
KAYSERSBERG 03 Au 04 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
LA CHAPELLE AUX POTS Juin 2017 Marché Des Potiers De L’Oise
LA COTE SAINT ANDRÉ Aucun En Mai 2016 Marché Potier
LA TOUR D´AIGUES 1er Mai Fête Des Potiers
LAGRASSE 20 Au 21 Août 2016 Marche De Potiers
LAMBALLE Mai Marché Des Potier
LANGEAIS 20 Au 21 Août 2016 Les Céramicales De Langeais
LAUZERTE Juillet Marché Potier
LE BEAUSSET Aout Marché Potier
LE BEC HELLOUIN Avril Marché De Potiers
LE CHANGE 15 Aout Marché De Potiers
LE CHATELET Juin Marché De Potiers
LE FUILET Juillet Marché De Potiers
LE GRAND BORNAND 10 Au 11 Août 2016 Marche Potier
LE VIGAN Mars Marché De Potiers
LES VANS Juillet Marché De Potiers
LILLEBONNE 01 Au 02 Octobre 2016 Marché De Potiers
LIMEUIL Juillet Marché De Potiers
LIMOUX Juin Marché Des Potiers
LONGCHAMP Septembre Fête De La Céramique Et Des Métiers D´Art
LONGUENESSE 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 La Céramique Dans Le Parc
LYON Avril Céramique Au Fil De L´Eau
LYON 10 Au 11 Septembre 2016 Les Tupiniers
MALICORNE SUR SARTHE 18 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
MANOSQUE 06 Août 2016 Marché Potier De Manosque
MARSEILLAN Juin Marché De Potiers
MARSEILLE Mai Marché De Potiers
MEILLONNAS Mai Marché De Potiers
MELUN 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers De Céramiques Sur Seine
MELUN 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Céramiques Sur Seine
MENOTEY Juin Marché Des Potiers
MEYRUEIS Juillet Marché De Potiers
MILLAU Mai Marché De Potiers
MILLY LA FORET 24 Au 25 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
MIREPOIX Aout Marché De Potiers De Mirepoix
MONS 04 Août 2016 Marché Potier
MONT DAUPHIN Juillet Marché Potier De Mont Dauphin
MONTBAZIN Mai Marché Potiers De Motbazin
MONTELIMAR 20 Au 21 Août 2016 Terra Potiers
MONTPEYROUX Juillet Marché De Potiers
MORESTEL Juillet Marché De Potiers
MOROGUES Aout Marché Potiers
MOUANS SARTOUX Juillet Marché De Potiers
MOULINS LA MARCHE Juillet Marche De Potiers
MORESTEL Décembre Marché De Potiers
MOURIÈS 07 Août 2016 Marché Potiers
NARBONNE Juillet Marché De Potiers
NEUVY Juin 9ème Marché De Potiers
NIMES Octobre Salon De L´Art Santonnier
NUITS SAINT GEORGES Mai Juin  Marché Des Potiers
NYONS Juillet Marché De Potiers
PLAPPEVILLE Mai Marché De Potiers
PARIS 5ÈME ARRT Juin Festival Céramique Village Mouffetard
PARIS Juin Juillet Les Journées De La Céramique
PARIS 11ÈME ARRT Avril Festival De Céramique
PARIS 14ÈME 05 Au 09 Octobre 2016 Salon Céramique 14
PÉLUSSIN Juin Marché De Potier
PERNES LES FONTAINES Juillet Marché Potier De Pernes Les Fontaines
PIERREFONDS Mai Marché De Potiers
POCE SUR CISSE Avril Marché De Potiers
POITIERS Mai Marche De Potiers
POMMIERS Mai Marché De Potiers
PRÉVELLES Juin Juillet Biennale Internationale De La Céramique
PROVINS Décembre Marché Des Céramistes & Potiers
PUJOLS 28 Août 2016 Marché De Potiers
QUIMPER 03 Au 04 Septembre 2016 Marché De La Céramique
RABLAY SUR LAYON 20 Au 21 Août 2016 Marché De Potiers
RAVEL 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
ROCHEFORT EN TERRE Juillet Marche De Potier
ROQUEBRUNE SUR ARGENS 21 Août 2016 Marché Potier
ROUSSILLON Juin Marché Potier De Roussillon
RUMILLY Juin Marché De Potiers
SADIRAC Juin Marché Potiers
SADIRAC Juin Festival Céramique En Fête
SAINT AVÉ Octobre Marché De Potiers
SAINT CANNAT Juillet Marché Potier De Saint Cannat
SAINT CÉRÉ 11 Au 12 Août 2016 Marché Des Potiers
SAINT CHAMAS Juin Fête De La Terre
SAINT CLÉMENT LES PLACES Juillet Marché De Potiers
SAINT CYR LA ROSIÈRE Février Marché De Potiers
SAINT CYR LA ROSIÈRE Juin Marché Potiers Et Artisans
SAINT GABRIEL BRECY Mai Marché Des Potiers
SAINT JEAN DE FOS 06 Au 07 Août 2016 Marché De Potiers
SAINT JEAN LA POTERIE Septembre Fête Des Lises
SAINT JUST SAINT RAMBERT Avril Céramique Au Fil De L´Eau
SAINT LEU LA FORÊT Mai Tout Feu Tout Flamme
SAINT PALAIS Mai Marché De Potiers
SAINT PAUL SUR SAVE Mai Exposition De Poterie Et Portes Ouvertes De L´Atelier
SAINT PÉRAY Septembre Marché De Potiers De Rhone Crussol
SAINT PONS DE THOMIERES Juillet Marché Potiers
SAINT PRYVE SAINT MESMIN 25 Au 27 Novembre 2016 Salon De Céramiques Contemporaines Ceramicalies
SAINT QUENTIN LA POTERIE Juillet Festival Européen Céramique
SAINT SAUVEUR EN PUISAYE Décembre Foire Aux Potiers
SALERNES Juin Festibols
SALERS 20 Au 21 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
SALLÈLES D´AUDE 14 Au 15 Août 2016 Marche De Potiers
SARZEAU Juillet Marché De Potiers Suscinio
SAULT Aout Marché Potier
SAUVE Juillet Marché Potiers
SEILLANS 15 Août 2016 Marché Potier
SÉVERAC LE CHÂTEAU  Aout Marché De Potiers
TAMNAY EN BAZOIS Juillet Marché De Potiers
TOULOUSE 08 Au 09 Octobre 2016 Les Allées Céramiques
TOUR EN SOLOGNE 1er Et 02 Octobre 2016 Marché De Potiers
TOURRETTES SUR LOUP 04 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
TOURTOUR 19 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
TREIGNY 13 Août 2016 Au 14 Août 2016 Festival De Céramique
TRÉVOUX Juin Marché Des Potiers
UZES Mars Marché De Potiers
UZECH LES OULES Aout Foire De La Poterie
VALBERG Juillet Marché Potiers De Valberg
VALLAURIS Juillet Marché De Potiers
VALLOUISE 02 Août 2016 Marché Potier De Vallouise
VANNES 10 Au 11 Aout 2016 L´Été Des Potiers Sur Le Port
VARAGES 14 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
VARAGES 14 Août 2016 Fête De La Céramique
VELLERON Aout Marché Potier De Velleron
VENCE Mai Marche De Potiers
VENOSC 04 Août 2016 Marche Des Potiers
VERSAILLES 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Les Journées Des Potiers
VILLANDRAUT Aout Foire À La Poterie
VILLEFRANCHE DE ROUERGUE 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
VINON SUR VERDON Décembre Marché Potier

POSTSCRIPT 17 August 2016

Irena Sibrijns writes: "Many markets doesn't necessarily mean a good thing. I spent 7 years in France trying to make a living and found it diabolical. Lots of cameraderie and meals in the evening organised by the mairie or the potters of the village but few sales. I love being a potter in the UK and find there is a supportive public and many galleries for our work."
_______________________________________________CLICK HERE FOR NEWS OF UPCOMING EVENTS

14 August 2016


I went with Kati on her birthday to a nice restaurant in Shoreditch, the Rochelle Street Canteen. With a dash of irony it’s been set up in the bike shed of an old school.

I liked the food and the ambience, here at the heart of Remain Britain, where The New European was conceived. But the visit had a special interest for me because my mother went to Rochelle Street School early in the last century.

Here she is in Class 4, in a white dress in the centre of the front row. On her left with the fringe is her lifelong friend, Renee Lands. I sat in the same schoolyard the other day enjoying my aubergine, chickpea and shallot with labneh. When the photo was taken in 1920, my mother spoke only Yiddish and my grandmother had to borrow money to feed the family.

Rochelle Street is in the Boundary Estate, the first public housing scheme in Britain, put up by the London County Council (LCC) under a Liberal-Labour administration.

When my mother told me about the Boundary Estate, when I was a child in the mid-1950s, you couldn’t find much about it in it print, but it's now well-known and well documented. In the fifties, the flats were pretty much as my mother knew them in the 1920s, small and without baths, some without inside toilets. The LCC were just enlarging them by knocking three into two. In the 1970s, the estate’s profile was raised when squatters moved in homeless Bangladeshis. They stamped their culture on the area much as the Jews had done seventy years before. When I reconnoitered there, editing my late mother’s autobiography in 2000, it was still unfashionable. Now the old Rochelle Street School is an arts centre and there’s this chic restaurant. The buildings are listed, Grade II, and designers and media types are falling over themselves to buy anything that comes on to the market - a two-bedroom flat in Sunbury House costs £725,000.

Sunbury Buildings, 1897. My mother was born there in 1916. (London Metropolitan Archive)

An original scullery. (London Metropolitan Archive)
My mother never called it the Boundary Estate, always The Buildings. She was the youngest of four in a two-room flat with no bath, no toilet and no inside water. The three boys slept on the couch and she slept with her parents. No wonder there were no more children after her.

There was a large Jewish community and Rochelle Street School had so many Jews that it closed on Jewish holidays as well as Christian ones. There was open anti-Semitism, not just on the streets but from teachers as well. There were places Jews didn’t go, especially Hoxton, where Mosley’s Blackshirts flourished.

Let's not be sentimental about the old East End: my mother hated it. There were bedbugs. Her father was in poor health and often out of work. Until her older brothers went to work they were always short of money. The close community spirit was nothing to her: she disliked people living in each other’s houses and, when she married, she moved to a semi-detached house in Pinner and closed the door behind her.

Today we would call the Boundary Estate development "sustainable": there was the improved accommodation, local employment in workshops interspersed with the flats, communal gardens, a central park with a bandstand, a laundry, schools and shops.

Charles Canning Winmill
Boundary is famous as the first housing development for the working class in Europe and it’s notable for its Arts and Crafts Architecture. At the LCC, the Arts and Crafts ideals of high-minded simple living and good design came together with the radicalism of the Liberals and the socialism of Labour. In 1893 they created a branch of the architects’ department dedicated to the Housing of the Working Classes. Most of its staff were influenced by William Morris, Philip Webb (who designed Morris’s Red House), Norman Shaw and W.R.Lethaby. Lethaby himself was commissioned by the LCC’s Technical Education committee to devise a new scheme of craft education, which bore fruit in the Central School of Arts and Crafts. The 1890s, when the estate was built, was the apogee of the Arts and Crafts movement and its philosophy permeated the LCC’s housing, education and design.

The Boundary Estate's principal architect, Charles Canning Winmill, one of the first appointed to the Housing of the Working Classes department, was a friend and disciple of Webb's and his conception and details are totally Arts and Crafts.

Boundary Estate, 1907, with one of the communal gardens. (London Metropolitan Archive)
The Estate was laid out in a radial pattern of tree-lined avenues around Arnold Circus. There's variety in the buildings and, according to my mother, all the flats were different. They were designed for the artisan class. Capital was raised commercially and the rents were high, which meant that the poor displaced from the former slums couldn't afford to live there. The high rent may have been the reason why my grandparents always had to borrow.

Sunbury House  has a façade facing an inner courtyard, with end façades facing Swanfield Street and Hocker Street. It's constructed of red brick with bands of yellow. The main façade is arranged in bays and recessed portions, enlivened with gables, turrets, dormers, stone copings, tiled window surrounds and window heads of different shapes. The other buildings show similar lively detail - stone bands between courses of red bricks, Dutch gables, dormers, varied window heads and interesting gable ends. This colouring and detail is partly the effect of Ruskin’s advocacy of Venetian architecture, a type of building derided as the "Streaky Bacon Style". The British Architect called the Boundary Estate “Stripeland”. Ruskin began to regret his influence on building and deplored the fancy brickwork on factory chimneys and the pubs in Italian Gothic.

The LCC’s second housing development was the Millbank Estate in Vauxhall, also in Arts and Crafts style, and also worth looking at when you visit Tate Britain. It had better accommodation than Boundary, but less variation in colour and material.

Hurley House: bands of red and yellow brick, tall chimneys, Dutch gables and glazed tiles.
The estate is attractive and its layout, architectural details and social purpose make it still desirable. It reminded me of an Arts and Crafts development for the working class that I visited last summer, the Wekerle Estate in Budapest, which is also a desirable and popular place to live in.

4 August 2016


Travel broadens the mind and it's a good source of ideas for artists - not only the grand sights but also the humble ones. In Amsterdam last December, during a mild spell, we wandered round the canals in the early morning, in a wonderfully low, pearly light, looking for breakfast. We came across Koffiespot on the Ellengracht, which lives up to its name with the best coffee in the city. I liked the way they decorated the tables with berried twigs in a jar.

Earlier in the year I'd done a short course on painting at Guanghwa, the bookshop in London's Chinatown. I'm a brushaholic and always visit Guanghwa after a Chinese meal for their amazingly cheap brushes, and last year I saw a card advertising lessons in painting, Chinese style. My style of decorating pottery depends on the type of one-stroke painting that the Chinese perfected, so I thought I might learn something.

On my first lesson I went into a little classroom in the basement and exchanged greetings with my teacher and fellow-students, all of whom were Chinese. To begin the lesson the teacher addressed me first. "Do you speak Mandarin?" "No."  "Oh, the teaching is in Mandarin." I might have retired from the class if it hadn't been for Kelvin, a very kind bilingual lawyer, who interpreted for me throughout the ten lessons.

Learning to paint in the Chinese style means learning rules and putting aside western Romantic ideas of freedom and self-expression. Bamboo leaves have to be combined in odd numbers, arranged asymmetrically and to be of different sizes and intensities of ink. There are styles for bamboo in the rain, bamboo under dew and bamboo in a light west wind. Don't imagine you have anything personal to contribute. My teacher had a little English: as she inspected my work she would say, "Nice" or "Not nice."

I do hope she thinks my humble rendering of the berried twigs in Koffiespot is "Nice".