I've been reading Ian Nairn's incomparable Nairn's London recently, and mused over his phrase, used a couple of times, of places being 'plugged into the big city'. Well yesterday I found the perfect example of what he meant. I was in conversation with the good folks at Daniel Lewis & Sons on Hackney Road. For 215 years they have supplied London with metals of all shapes and sizes, and much more besides. I was there discussing a pallet of thin aluminium sheets being printed on by the Goldmark Atelier for the inimitable Nelly Duff gallery, coincidentally just round the corner in another fascinating city enclave, Columbia Road. "They're doing what with them?" they said at Lewis's. "And who's the Goldmark 'otel anyway?". So it went on, until I noticed the afternoon sun highlighting this enormous wooden coat-of-arms on the wall. And then, as we ended up out on the pavement, I saw this beautifully lettered vitreous enamel sign, presumably denoting a previous encumbent. With that comma hinting at another sign now missing from the next bay down. And I just had this overwhelming feeling of London life going on for so long in this terrace of businesses, stretching back over the years. The shouts and arguments, the clanking of iron and steel and trains whistling and rumbling over the nearby railway bridge in and out of Cambridge Heath station. Somebody came in and asked for 24 big rubber wheeled castors- "With or without brakes?"- and a pretty girl poked her nose in through the door, thought about saying something and decided not to. All of us plugged into the big city.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012) and Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012)