It’s about the time of year…

10 November 2013
Ben Pentreath

When I realise just how much I love living in London.   If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might remember one or two little odes to the place I live and love… London, beautiful city, for instance, and today was another of those sparkling autumn days when the grey bricks and mortar of sprawling London town come alive.

Let’s face it, I’d been expecting to write about the new website, which is launching, as some of you may already know, on Monday, or might it be Tuesday now?… be sure to watch this space,… and be even more sure to let us know what you think.

However, I can’t write about that at all, not even a whisper. Colin forbad it. “Are you crazy person?” he told me. “We cannot possibly cope with the entire traffic of your blog hitting the website on the first hour of the first day. It will totally melt“.  That was the conclusion of a conversation where I had walked into the shop office and Colin had asked me if I wanted to lunch on Monday or Tuesday.

I was a bit mystified but settled on Tuesday. I was just thinking that I don’t really do lunch at all when I realised that Colin, who is French, was talking about something entirely different: the launch of the website. (In other words, let us know gently if you find any spelling mistakes…).

Well, luckily, there are other things to write about.  It was just another day, really.  Yesterday, in the grim rain and the first really cold day of winter, had been a bit of a wipe out. I ventured to have my hair cut on Lambs Conduit Street, near-deserted in the dreadful freezing gloom. I scuttled home as quickly as I could, and lit a fire, and had the quietest evening in imaginable.  Ben Pentreath’s exciting life, hey?

This morning by contrast dawned bright and cold and clear. I had made a plan with Maggie, our neighbouring shopkeeper, to head down to the V&A to have a little glimpse at ‘TOMORROW”… the installation by Elmgreen & Dragsett that I had been reading a bit about recently. First, I wanted to get my car deep cleaned, to get rid of months of filth. My usual plan at that moment is to drop it off and have breakfast next door at the Zetter.  The car cleaning company was closed for another hour. Well, how would you fill an hour early on a Sunday morning when the sun is shining in East London? Yes, a trip to Columbia Road.

I hadn’t been to Columbia Flower Market for I can’t remember how long. Which is strange, because it used to be a very regular occurrence for Mags and me.  I guess one day we  woke up and cynically realised that cut flowers from Waitrose do tend to last about 3 times as long as those luscious bunches of Columbia Road tulips… and then the Old Parsonage began to happen… which dragged my Sunday mornings in a very different direction… and with one thing and another… habits changed. So it was with a lot of happiness that we sped along through the deserted streets of Shoreditch to the market.

“they’re not artificial, honest” said the trader with a twinkle in his eye as I stared at these.

“I guess it’s really not the time of year for tulips, is it” said Maggie… as we turned around to find these:

Although I was quite taken by these:

The whole street, for those who have not visited, is lined with fantastic little shops with interesting people doing interesting things. I think that most of the shops are only open on a Sunday, maybe Wednesday’s too.  My sort of shop.

It’s a very good vibe. I realised how much I’d missed Columbia Road.

I popped around the corner to enjoy the beautiful little streets of Barnet Grove.  Bridie’s old stomping ground, from the days when I first met her – we were introduced by our friends Maisie Rowe and Thomas Heatherwick, who this week catapulted to new heights with the launch of the Garden Bridge Trust to build his beautiful bridge across the Thames. Drop a comment to the consultation if you are able.

I have a feeling this was Bridie’s old flat somewhere along here:

which is where I first saw her corals on black plinths, and wax models of dead sparrows… twisted bliss.

Of course you may be wondering about Sivill House – the tower block behind. You can read a bit more about it in one of the more intriguing blogs I’ve read in a little while, here.   I know I shouldn’t, but I like Sivill House.

I know I shouldn’t, but I also rather like the fact that no-one has taken this shop in hand. Columbia Market beyond.

I’m not normally in favour of motivational mottos, but I admit I am very in favour of Dolly Parton, courtesy of ‘J&B’ shop on the south side of Coumbia Road.

I’m also in favour of a coffee shop that is 2′-0″ wide. Delicious coffee from Start.

To be fair, every corner presents what I sometimes have been known to call a ‘bloggortunity’.

I was very in favour of the aesthetic at H. H. Jones, at Number 114.

And I was very happy to buy masses of sedums for my new roof terrace from this happy Kiwi, who it has to be said seemed a bit more interested in his bacon buttie than in driving home sales.  His stall was exactly what I was looking for.

We were on our way out when Maggie bumped into Liz de Havilland, wife of Terry de Havilland, the self-styled ‘Rock & Roll Cobbler’ and king of 70s London. We found Terry peacefully doing the crosswords in the car around the corner, while Liz bought her flowers. My sort of rock and roll.

Thank god for that yellow car parked outside the zany Victorian flats at the top end of Columbia Road.


Next stop, South Kensington, collecting Will on the way, and meeting Luke who’s just joined the decoration.

Talk about a tale of two cities.  (Frenchmen walking their spaniel in South Ken. Bliss.).

The V&A is, I regret to say, another place which I haven’t visited (properly) for years.

‘Tomorrow’ presents the fictional apartment of aging architect Norman Swann. We sort of liked it, but sort of thought could be better.

I LOVED, however, this little glimpse to the now hidden ceiling of some long-lost ancient gallery.

Back downstairs, the entrance glowed in the brilliant sunshine.

After lunch we decided to blast up to the ceramic gallery for a two minute crazy moment.

It’s rooms like this that makes Will a minimalist architect.

It’s not really my thing, but I do kindof dig the marble columns back downstairs.

Back home, there was a beautiful glow in the afternoon sunlight.

Yay! At last!! (not for one minute my own work: thanks to my friend Mike of Burton Landscapes down in Dorset for the trellis and installation, and my friend Robin for the beautifully done planting). I’m so happy.

I potted up a few more bulbs, and at that point should have really got on with a bit more work. The afternoon was still too beautiful.  I went for a final walk.

A good day to blow bubbles in Queen Square.

The superb newly painted facade of the Post Office Sorting Office, at Mount Pleasant. I’ve tried a quick search on the internet to see if I could find out who is responsible for this completely brilliant scheme. Does anyone know? I’d love to find out.

I loved the rows of post vans looking back to the Post Office tower.

And I loved this road sign to help everyone around. One of these days it would be nice to write a little blog about Post Office style. I was fascinated to note the Post Office Archive around the corner. A visit is probably due.

I carried on up the hill towards Islington, and took a few final shots as the sun went down:

And then Val called from New York, with lots of exciting news, and it was time to put the camera away.

London, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love you.

22 comments on this post

Jo Stellasays:

Dear Ben
Lovely post. You should do a riverside walk sometime over here in W6! A few weeks ago Alan Powers gave a talk about the artistic community betwixt the wars along the Hammersmith riverside. Its a great architecture walk with Morris & Ravilious both resident at various times. Mr Powers also has a handsome new book on Eric Ravilious – one for the shop.


Surprising as it may be some of us don’t live in London……………..


Thanks for another good dollop of London life! Loved the Staffordshire “crowd” in the V & A.

the only thing better than following your meander round columbia road market, is being there myself. i love the essence of place, the unexpected earthy smells in a gritty east london street, the colours even on a wintery day and the steamy windows of the cafes and pubs. did you catch the coffee stall selling freshly baked pasteis de nata – to die for. thanks for your blog, i always look forward to your imaginative combination of pictures and prose. jax

Dear Ben,

Diane here, I promise to keep my verbosity in check! I was last in London several times during the ‘90s and I’ve never forgotten those visits. The second hand bookshops cost me a fortune in postage, sending books back to Germany where I was living at the time. Stupid of me but I didn’t want to wait for shipping. I was amazed at how you could get on the subway in the center of town, ride for about an hour and still be IN London!! I look forward to future visits, gods willing.

My favorites among your many delightful photos, are of your London home. The peek outside through the doorway (with steps up to it, bowl of paperwhites noted!) is the most charming view I’ve seen in ages, makes me think of a Dutch painting. What a cozy roof retreat, with that lovely, aged brick chimney stack and terra cotta pots within stroking distance. (OK, I have a thing for chimney pots! Blame it on too many viewings of Mary Poppins.)

Speaking of pots, that’s an absolute phantasmagoria of ceramics in the V&A! I missed them when I was there, thank you for the “crazy moment. “

And, may I wish you an early HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!



Margaret Powlingsays:

The ceramics in the V&A, sure that is part of the Lady Charlotte Schriber collection? We took my (now late) Mum there in te 1980s, mainly to see the Wedgwood Exhibition but then made our way to the top of the building, were on a hot day it was really like an oven, to see the wonderful collectin amassed by this wealth lady.
Love all those flowers – we don’t see such an array here in the sticks, sadly. But then, we have the benefit and pleasure of living in one of the loveliest counties and within walking distance of the sea … there are compensations for not living in The Smoke.


How funny you should be on a flower tip! I am myself lost in a heady array of flowers at the moment. I have some wonderful lime green daisies sitting in the kitchen sink waiting to go in a vase; geraniums brought in from the frost and delphiniums waiting to be potted on; as well some ornamental cabbages on a shelf that seem to go through the whole rainbow every time I look at them. And there was me planning for Christmas.


Really enjoying reading your observations. Have you ever walked from Old street down Clerkenwell towards Grey’s Inn? -I think that is the route. I haven’t walked it for over a decade but I remember a Manga comic shop, an Art Deco public loo converted to a shop & a gallery called Gallery Singleton. But what I used to marvel at was the clock makers – old boys working in old ways in the view of the shop Windows. It is a week day walk but well worth it – some things in London change in front of your eyes. Others are timeless.

Kristian Kaminskisays:

Ben, delighted that you are pleased with the Mount Pleasant Royal Mail Sorting Office scheme. I think the initial concept came from Terry Farrell and Partners but I distinctly remember selecting the locations for the text and the dark bronze colouring of the windows – as Design and Conservation Officer. Also good to see you know the wonderful Lloyd Baker Street even though Ian Nairn described the pedimented pairs as ‘dutifully climbing Lloyd Baker Street, two by two’, as ‘like a parody of the Greek Revival’!


Kristian, you are a STAR!!!!! 🙂

Ben… Still love your framed map of London. Is it available at your shop? Thanks!


dear pigtowndesign: we’re hoping to re-print the maps in 2014. Delicate negotiations in place!!!


I too love walking around London, so thank you Ben for this delightful tour…please do Chelsea one Sunday… that’s my London and I shan’t be back until May!


Just returned from a long week-end in New York. I have to say that Sunday brunch in West Village, and a lazy afternoon at the Met, is pretty hard to beat… I’m smitten.


Hi Ben, ooh sooo inspiring your blog as always, how lovely to be able to just wander around London when you want. I am on the Southcoast which is beautiful but do miss London. The roof garden is coming along nicely, be interesting to see it through the seasons….keep the pics coming! 🙂


Oh you’ve gone and done it now Mr P.! Here I am, happily settling in to rural bliss after a lifetime in London and you go and publish that. All the memories of London came flooding back: Columbia Road on a freezing Sunday morning AND the V&A – all in one go. How could you? I could cope with the one, but with the double whammy, it was just too much. I am now going to make myself a strong cup of tea and go and stare at my wonderful Vic Lee print of Columbia Road and try to remember the hideous parking fine we incurred last time we went and not the mad, colourful and vibrant place that erupts every Sunday morning. As for the V&A, I could write forever on my memories of that, the hundreds of students that I have taken round in an effort to introduce them to British culture (always a hit.) The first time I’ve felt nostalgic since I left 5 weeks ago and I might have known that you would be the one to do it.


Sorry Mandy 🙂


Ben, I’ve visited London a grand total of twice. But, your blog has inspired me to make another trip. Planning it now. Adding fun spots you’ve talked about. How lovely! Thank you!

Sophie Ruckersays:

I love the inspired giant ‘destinations’ lettering on the facade of the Post Office Sorting Office at Mount Pleasant: do please let us know when you discover who is responsible for its revamp. Thank you for cheering up my Monday morning and for giving me a taste of vibrant, London life while I work from my home office, looking out onto the grey Mendips…

I agree with Diana; your London blogs are the best reads of all. Apart, perhaps, from those late-afternoon-in-the-garden pix from The Parsonage.

Have you seen the gilded ballroom in the V&A; the one they took lock, stock, and gold-leaf-everything from some enormous country pile up north? It’s just incredible.
There’s also a huge (think: room-size) tapestry that depicts a formal French garden in the country. That’s another gorgeous gem hidden away in the V&A.

Elizabeth Cornwellsays:

What a lovely blog.I live miles away in deepest Northumberland,& I must say that my view of London tends to be coloured by all the negatives things one hears,but this shows that in places it is still beautiful & relatively unspoiled!I love the photographs.


Dear Ben – of all your blogs I love the London walks the most. It was my home for over twenty years; you take me to to places that are very familiar and show them to me afresh and introduce me to areas where I never set foot. My heart aches but is uplifted at the same time ! Thank you.

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