Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

London Slant: Be among the first to step inside a Huguenot’s house

If I was asked to pick my most fascinating road in London, Fournier Street in Spitalfields would be near the top of my list. Ever since its houses were built in the early 18th century it has been home to artist-craft workers starting with Huguenot silk weavers and leading up to current residents Tracey Emin and Gilbert & George. I love to look up and see the garrets where looms once rattled and it’s rare that I visit and don’t encounter the Besuited Duo striding along. (On one particularly surreal day they came gliding along the pavement towards me: without breaking gait they parted to let me go between them, eyes fixed on the middle distance, then came back together and continued their unruffled trajectory once they’d passed by.)

31 Fournier Street

First floor of 31 Fournier Street, transformed into an atmospheric art gallery.

I grab any chance to go inside these houses. I’ve visited gardens on open days and attended a handbell concert in one as part of the Spitalfields Festival. So when I heard that No 31 was opening by appointment for an art exhibition, I didn’t hesitate to book.

31 Fournier Street

The garden at 31 Fournier Street.

This inaugural show by Trevor Newton was the perfect choice to kickstart what will be a series of exhibitions, book launches and performances over coming months. Many of his works capture idiosyncratic architecture and interiors—perfectly at home crammed onto the wood-panelled walls of a house that its owner, Rodney Archer, describes part salon, part cabinet of curiosities. Other works, from Newton’s travels in the Australian outback, went rather well with the tree ferns and other exuberant greenery in the garden outside.

31 Fournier Street

Part salon, part cabinet of curiosities.

Many of the house’s original features have been preserved, while incomers, like the fireplace that once belonged to Oscar Wilde, lend a theatrical touch and yet only add to the Miss Havisham atmosphere. It was a delight to amble around with a glass of wine, and imagine who had lived here before Archer arrived 35 years ago.

On 1 July a new exhibition of prints and drawings launches: portraits-cum-caricature by Edward Firth. Then, on 12,15 and 17 July the house will be buzzing once again as part of the Huguenot Thread Festival, when it will host a collection of original 1850s silk velour patterns. All the shows mentioned are selling exhibitions, at advantageous prices since there is no gallerist involved. The opening of the house is a win, win, win situation—for buyer, seller and owner, who gets to share his fascinating home with an eager public for the first time. See 31 Fournier Street  for full details.

31 Fournier Street

Front door…


31 Fournier Street

…back door



Happy Easter, everyone! The sky’s bright blue and I long to put on my hiking boots and head for the hills. But it’s far too chilly for the Chilterns, so join me on a West London Easter walk.

Easter bunnies

Easter bunnies on parade, with the lady who organised the display.

Let’s start off with a bit of seasonal fun. While rambling along Collingham Rd near Gloucester Rd tube I spotted this family of luminous bunnies. As I took a snap the owner emerged from her house. She told me that she started putting on similarly festive displays for her children every Christmas. They loved them so much that she’s since extended their range. “We’re planning Halloween now,” she told me, then leapt into her sports car and zoomed off with a most unbunny-like roar.

But the walk I’m about to suggest starts two stops along the District and Circle lines, at Sloane Square. Download the route from http://www.london-footprints.co.uk/wkchelsearoute.htm

Colbert brings a touch of Paris cafe society to Sloane Square.

Colbert brings a touch of Paris cafe society to Sloane Square.

When I did this walk a few weeks ago I began with a fortifying breakfast at Colbert, adjacent to the station. The manager recommended various treats such as their Eggs Benedict and superfruit salad with pomegranate jewels. As he said, you should only order things in restaurants that you wouldn’t make for yourself back home. The food was delicious, the atmosphere relaxed and fun. Most memorable were the gorgeous loos. With their nautical decor, including sea green tiles, they had the feel of a glamorous 1930s French liner. I was in no hurry to dry my hands.

Cafe Colbert

Coffee in Colbert, to kick start the walk.

Setting off outside, my first fascinating port of call was the Arts and Crafts Holy Trinity church (four stars in Simon Jenkins’ Thousand Best Churches book). The morning light was streaming through the Burne-Jones stained glass east window. I loved the writhing patterns of the floral wrought iron chancel gates.

London slant Chelsea arts club

Entrance of the Chelsea Arts Club.

From here, the route zig-zagged back and forth between the King’s Road and Cheyne Walk, past all sorts of curious buildings tucked away down tiny streets. In addition to the places I’ve photographed I passed Godfrey Street—a row of tiny houses painted different colours—and the Manolo Blahnik shop window in Old Church Street, arrayed with shoes sprouting multi-coloured protuberances that looked like exotic plants.

London slant

Cow’s head above former dairy building in Old Church Street.

I enjoyed seeing Oscar Wilde’s former home in Tite Street (with a pair of suitably louche lamps with shades of guinea fowl feathers in the window) and seeing Whistler’s house overlooking the Thames and matching the views to his Nocturnes.

London slant

Building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose studio was nearby.

I passed a slab of the Berlin Wall in the National Army Museum grounds, entered the magnificent chapel of the Royal Hospital (home to the Chelsea pensioners) and eventually wound up in the food market just outside the Saatchi Gallery (both of which were heaving with crowds.) I found plenty more cups of coffee to keep me going until the sun went down in a blaze over Battersea Park.

London slant

Delightful sign on a nursery school.