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Cecil Osborne’s Lost Murals Rediscovered

February 25, 2018
by the gentle author

Today I can reveal the three lost murals by East End artist Cecil Osborne (1909-96) which once hung in St Pancras Town Hall in Euston Rd and have recently been rediscovered. Now the owner is seeking a permanent new home for these paintings where they can be seen publicly and I hope my readers will be able to assist in this endeavour.

St Pancras & Kings Cross, 1956 (Click to enlarge)

Camden, Highgate & Hampstead, 1958 (Click to enlarge)

Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia, 1965 (Click to enlarge)

Last week, David Buckman author of From Bow to Biennale, the history of the East London Group of painters, took me to meet anthropologist Dr Kaori O’Connor at her flat on the top floor of an old mansion block near Bedford Sq.

There was an air of mystery about David’s invitation and I was excited because he promised to show me three important lost murals by East End artist Cecil Osborne illustrating the history of the former London Borough of St Pancras. Let me confess, I was not disappointed to encounter this splendid triptych revealed here today.

Cecil Osborne was born in Poplar in 1909 and, after studying at a commercial college, sought clerical work. Yet he had artistic talent and educated himself in art by reading books and visiting galleries. After viewing the East London Group exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1928, Cecil presented his work to the leader of the Group, John Cooper, and joined Cooper’s art classes at the Bow & Bromley Institute. As a consequence, Cecil exhibited around thirty of his paintings in East London Group exhibitions from 1929 until 1936, as well as supplying his clerical skills as secretary and treasurer of the Group.

In writing his book, David Buckman spent more that twenty years researching the lost history of the East London Group which had become dispersed after the Second World War. When David corresponded with Cecil in the last years of his life, after he had retired to Spain, David learnt of three murals which Cecil had painted for St Pancras Town Hall in the Euston Rd that had been removed from their original location and subsequently lost.

Cecil’s son Dorian Osborne supplied this description:

“The offer was from my father to supply three pictures painted in oils depicting the history of the Borough on canvases to be hung in the small Assembly Room at St Pancras Town Hall in Euston Rd. The council supplied the materials and father designed and painted the series which are six feet by six feet square.

We were living at 46 Belsize Sq at the time and that is where the first was painted, the work commencing in, I seem to recall, 1956 or thereabouts.  My brother and I were used as artist’s models for some of the children depicted. Also there are two rather ragged children shown in some sections which were based on the Bisto advertisement – for example, in one panel, pushing a hand-cart. The motorcar depicted in the illustration of the Doric Arch at Euston Station is a Triumph Gloria.

In 1958, we moved to 7 Redston Rd, N8, and that is where the second panel was completed and the third executed.  It is the third which shows the Post Office Tower, as it was in progress when Mary and I married in 1965 and she remembers seeing this panel in the house. At a later date, the council moved all three to the public lending library in Brecknock Rd near Kentish Town from where they were moved into storage.”

After David’s book was published, Dr Kaori O’Connor contacted him to say she had the murals, as she explained to me:

“I did not acquire the paintings so much as rescue them. They turned up in a weekly sale at the old Phillips auction rooms in Bayswater in the nineteen-nineties. Not a picture sale, but a general one, thrown in with furniture and oddments.

I saw one of the canvas panels poking out from behind a fridge. The Phillips staff knew nothing about their background and did not know what to make of them. I realised that some of the places featured in the paintings were near to where I live in Bloomsbury and knew I had to save them. If they had failed to sell, they would have been scrapped. As I recall, there were no other bidders.

Once I got them home, I realised they were a unique social history of a part of London that is rapidly changing out of recognition, while also acquiring a new cultural and artistic life today. Only recently, when I met David Buckman, I learned about the artist Cecil Osborne, his life and how the panels came to be painted for the old St Pancras Borough Council which no longer exists.

I have had the panels for some twenty years, and they remain as fresh and fascinating as the day I first saw them. They have a unique presence with a very strong sense of time and place, and tell their many stories eloquently. They are also very good company.

They were painted for a public space, intended to be seen by many people, so I would like them to find a new home where they can be widely appreciated as the remarkable artworks they are. I believe the past they depict can only enrich the present and future.

If you can offer a new home for Cecil Osborne’s triptych please email and I will forward your messages to Dr Kaori O’Connor.

St Pancras Town Hall, now Camden Town Hall, where Cecil Osborne’s murals originally hung

Paintings photographed by Lucinda Douglas Menzies

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Old Mother Hubbard & Her Wonderful Dog

February 24, 2018
by the gentle author

Courtesy of Jemmy Catnach of Catnach Press, it is my pleasure to publish this early nineteenth century shaggy dog tale of the devoted Mother Hubbard – believed to be by Sarah Catherine Martin

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In Praise Of Older Women

February 23, 2018
by the gentle author

Contributing Photographer Chris Kelly sent me this glorious collection of  her pictures of older women from the East End and elsewhere, entitled In Praise Of Older Women after the book by the Hungarian writer Stephen Vizinczey.

“Iʼve taken many pictures of inspirational women over the years but these are among the ones that make me smile the most,” Chris told me, “I know nothing about the private lives of the people in these photographs, I only know that the characters were strong, determined and fun to be with.”

Peggy Metaxas & Rosie, Whitechapel, 2013

Members of All Saints Dance Club, Poplar, 2003

Members of All Saints Dance Club, Poplar, 2003

Older people from France on an exchange visit to Kent, 1993

Older people from France on an exchange visit to Kent, 1993

Kazia Cander, farmer, Northern Poland, 1984

Kazia Cander, farmer, Northern Poland, 1984

Community Centre, Southwick, East Sussex, 1985

Members of Maidstone CND at Greenham Common, 1983

Irene Livermore & Mary Christmas, Wapping Pensionersʼ Group, St Peterʼs Centre, 2003

Spectator at National Carriage Driving Championships, Windsor, 1983

Queenie Baxter, Connors House, Canterbury, 1993

Sheffield Pensioners Action Group at a rally in Manchester, 1988

Sheffield Pensioners Action Group at a rally in Manchester, 1988

Sheffield Pensioners Action Group member sells copies of Senior Citizen

Sheffield Pensioners Action Group members dress up to commemorate eighty years of Old Age Pensions

Spectators at Ascot Races, 1983

Fernande Bressy, wine producer, Rhône Valley, 1991

Irish Emma leading the bingo at St. Patrickʼs, Wapping

Methodist Centre, Bethnal Green, 2003

Bridie Murphy and Warden Anne Baine, Twinbrook Estate, Belfast, 1989

Anwara Begum, Cable St Community Gardens, 2012

Balkis Karim, Cable St Community Gardens, 2012

Administrator at North London Community Centre, 1998

Photographs copyright © Chris Kelly

You may like to take a look at these other photographs by Chris Kelly

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Chris Kelly’s Cable St Gardeners in Colour

Chris Kelly & Dan Jones in the Playground

East End Women Take Action

February 22, 2018
by the gentle author

If we should ever need evidence that the spirit of the East End Suffragettes of a century ago is still with us, Contributing Photographer David Hoffman‘s astonishing images of women’s protest in the eighties are an enduring and inspirational witness to our unquenchable desire for justice.

East End Peace Women’s Group in action in Dalston

“Some of these photographs are of our gang, Tower Hamlets Women for Peace, along with two blokes from Tower Hamlets Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, blocking the Whitechapel Rd near the Cambridge Heath Rd crossing early in the morning of Tuesday 20th Dec 1983.  Most of us were nicked and defended ourselves in a remarkable court case at which we were all found guilty but unconditionally discharged.

Other photographs show when we blocked Whitechapel Rd close to the Vallance Rd crossing, sometimes by crossing the road back and forth repeatedly rather than sitting down. We did this whenever we got a message on the Greenham ‘phone-tree’ that Cruise nuclear convoys were on the road. We wanted to publicise this as well as the fact that Whitechapel Rd is a Military Service Route to be taken over as such should our government or the United States government decide to wage a nuclear war.

There are also photographs here of the Blood Money demo outside British Association of Film & Television Arts at 195 Piccadilly where there was a conference of arms traders and manufacturers on International Women’s Day, 8th March 1984. Our Peace Group joined others there to chuck red paint in their general direction. One of the pictures shows the arrest of an older woman in a shawl writing a note on her wrist, who was the one who had the good wheeze – sadly not possible on modern public transport – of hopping onto a bus and chucking her paint from the platform as it passed. Unfortunately, the cops caught up with the bus at the traffic lights.

Various arrests and  court cases ensued, of which I remember only my own at which I got off by showing – with the help of David Hoffman’s photos – that my red paint had actually hit BAFTA’s door, not the public pavement I was accused of damaging.”

A Member of Tower Hamlets Women for Peace

East End Peace Women’s Group in action in Whitechapel

East End Peace Women’s Group in action in Hackney

East End Peace Women’s Group in action in Piccadilly

“I started photographing protest and other social issues in the seventies. I was living in Whitechapel at that time and the women I knew were involved in squatting and generally trying to resist the horrors of the Thatcher era. The women’s peace movement really took off with the establishment of the American nuclear missile base in Greenham and East End women were among the most active and committed.

I felt privileged to be trusted with advance notice of some of the actions and to be able to photograph them. These pictures are from the winter of 1983-84 and, if anyone has caption information or memories to share, I would love to be able to add that to these images.”

David Hoffman

East End Peace Women’s Group in action in Whitechapel

Photographs copyright © David Hoffman

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Women Of The New East End

February 21, 2018
by the gentle author

Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie took these portraits of women in Hackney as a commission for Hackney Museum. “I was aware there were a lot of women in the workplace but mostly in behind the scenes roles,” Sarah explained to me, “I wanted to give them visibly and also show the variety of work that women were doing.”

Sarah’s exhibition WOMEN OF THE EAST END AT WORK runs at the Brady Centre in Hanbury St from 5th-30th March as part of Women’s History Month – all are welcome at the opening on 6th March 6-8pm.

Terrie Alderton, Bus Driver

Loretta Leitch, Electrician

Rosemary More, Architect

Fontanelle Alleyne, Environmental Health Officer

Hackney Regristar of Births, Marriages & Deaths

Jenny Amos, Heating & Ventilation Engineer

Carol Straker, Dancer

Annie Johns, Sculptor

Sue Hopkins, Doctor at Lawson Practice Baby Clinic

Lilly Claridge, Age Concern Charity Shop Manager

Karen Francis & Carolyn Donovan, Dustwomen

Helen Graham, Street Sweeper

Denise Martin, Truck Driver

Judy Benoit, Studio Manager

Luz Hollingsworth, Fire Fighter

Diane Abbott, Member of Parliament

Dionne Allacker, Joanne Gillard, Winnifred John, Clothing Warehouse Supervisors

Lanette Edwards, Machinist

Nora Fenn, Buttonholist

Jane Harris, Carpenter

Eileen Lake, Chaplain at Homerton Hospital

Dr Costeloe, Homerton Hospital

Ivy Harris & E Vidal, Cleaners at Homerton Hospital

Sister Ferris Aagee, Homerton Hospital

Joan Lewis, Homerton Hospital

Sister Sally Bowcock

Valerie Cruz, Catering Assistant

K Lewis, Traffic Warden

Gerrie Harris, Acupuncturist

WPC Helen Taylor

Mary, Counter Assistant at Ridley’s Beigel Bakery

Mandy McLoughlin & Angela Kent, Faulkners Fish & Chip Restaurant

Terrie Tan, Driver at Lady Cabs

Maureen McLoughlin, Supervisor at Riversdale Laundrette

Anna Sousa, Hairdresser at Shampers

Jane Reeves, Councillor

Carolin Ambler, Zoo Keeper

Mrs Sherman, Dentist

Eileen Fisher, Police Domestic Violence Unit

Yvonne McKenzie, Jacqui Olliffe & Dirinai Harley, Supervisors at Oranges & Lemons Day Nursery

Jessica James, Active Birth Teacher

Di England, Supervisor at Free Form Arts

Sally Theakston, Chaplain, St John’s Hackney

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

Photographs courtesy Hackney Museum