We had an enjoyable visit to the handsome Institution of Civil Engineers at 1 Great George Street. This year they are celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of their founding, by eight civil (as opposed to military) engineers at Kendall’s coffee house in Fleet Street. As the Institution grew they moved premises several times. The last move, which was caused by the demolition of their building for the construction of the present Treasury Building, was across Great George Street, where the present stone-clad building was completed in 1913, incorporating the very fine wooden panelling from their old headquarters, only finished in 1986.

We were lucky to be able to see all the ground floor rooms, in which the earlier panelling was installed. These are often used for conferences, and are each called after a distinguished early engineer and feature many portraits of past presidents – there were many familiar names: Brunel, Stephenson and Telford among them. We then proceeded up the magnificent stairs to the first floor, where there is a lecture theatre and a very sumptuous reception room, previously used for engineering examinations and their annual ball, as well as the old library in which the Institution puts on exhibitions open to the public. We were also taken upstairs to their excellent modern library, which is much used by their 90,000 members.

On the way the portrait of a past president was pointed out: Mr Brodie, who was president from 1920 to 21 and solved the problem of disputes over whether football goals had been scored or not, by proposing the attachment of nets to the back of goals! A good example of the wide-ranging problem-solving that engineers are trained for.

The main entrance, staircase and exhibition room are open to the general public, Monday to Friday and are well worth a visit, especially to view their bi-centenial "Invisible Superheroes" exhibition. 



Walking through Saint James’s Park will never be quite the same again after an illuminating session with Royal Parks Arboriculturist Greg Packman who extolled the secrets of many trees we have been walking past for years without really noticing. 

He started off with a Judas tree near the war memorial in front of Horse Guards Parade. It is a lovely looking tree with beautiful crimson flowers and we were amazed to learn that botanically it is part of the Pea family and in Asia is pollinated by bats.

Next, a bit further down in front of Duck Island was the sprawling Medlar which arrived with the Romans. It looks as though it is hundreds of years old but turns out to be as young as 60 years. It looks as though it is on its last legs but there is a younger one nearby if anything happens to it.

Among other specimens which stood out were a Caucasian Wing Nut tree. Its leaves make you think it is an Ash but actually it’s a member of the Walnut family. We were intrigued by the Weeping Beech on the southern side of the bridge by the lake which is only weeping because of a past mutation or graft. If you planted seeds from it they would grow up straight but any cuttings would produce a similar Weeping Beech.
We were delighted that a maximum of 21 people attended and we are very grateful to Greg who has kindly offered to do further walks for us in future. One option would be The Green Park which he says is much more interesting than it seems at first sight. We will look forward to that and, hopefully, many other walks in future.
In the shade of a Weeping Beech

With the sound of sharp scissors in the background, Richard Hawker, Creative Consultant, described enthusiastically the history of one of the most remarkable survivals of the Gothic Revival of the C19th. Established in 1874 by three leading late-Victorian church architects, George Frederick Bodley, Thomas Garner and George Gilbert Scott, the Younger, all friends and in competition with William Morris at the time.  

Their first workshop in Baker Street was run by none other than Ms. Charmaine Windows ! They kicked off with a prestigious private client list but launched on to the national stage for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee at St Paul’s Cathedral. So it was not the furnishings that first took off, it was the vestments and especially the copes. In 1911 they moved from Baker Street to Dacre Street and established their embroidery school. At this time they produced the exquisite ‘Lady of the Rosebush’ for exhibition, which we were shown.



In 1939, their safe storage unit took a direct hit and much was tragically destroyed, but after the war, the business was handed down through the Scott family and reinvented itself.  Family member, Graham Hoare was tempted to sell the business to Liberty but his wife took an interest and ran it very successfully. She moved the business from Dacre Street to Tufton Street, to the Edwin Lutyens building it now occupies. Elizabeth Hoare had a passion for embroidery and put out a call for 18th and 19th century work to preserve it and create a collection at the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. She sent samples of wallpaper and fabric to Augustus Pugin for the new Palace of Westminster and whilst recovering the alter kneelers in Westminster Abbey, discovered when stripped down, they had been made in wartime from Tate & Lyle sugar crates, which they dutifully re-upholstered. On to the 1980’s, when David Gadesley, took over with a sure eye for good design and expanded the collection testing the new technology of digital machine embroidery. Today Watts makes copes for all Royal Weddings and have numerous customers in palaces, parliaments, private houses, cathedrals and churches around the world, including St Thomas’s, 5th Avenue, New York.  With such knowledge, they advise set and costume designers for film and TV.

A wonderful visit and many thanks to Richard for sharing his enthusiasm and showing us some of the most beautiful patterns and intricate, delicate embroidery.


On Wednesday 15th November 2017, the Society held its 31st AGM with the generous support of Grange Hotel Rochester.  Following the business of the meeting Caroline Shenton spoke on her fascinating new book "Mr Barry's War", sequal to "The Day Parliament Burned Down". 


In October we started our collaboration with our neighbour Chelsea College of Art and Design. As part of their BA Interior and Spacial Design course, 20 students were given an orientation tour, covering the history, culture and architecture of The Thorney Island area. They then visited the Archives in groups with their tutor, Shibboleth Shechter, browsed and found an object that sparked their interest. From this they sketched, measured and photographed, then went away to research, plan and create a new piece of work based on the item.

We could hardly wait to see what they produced and eagerly accepted the invitation to their exhibition in early December. Attended by past and present tutors, including a curator at the V&A, each student presented their own and their group’s work and the tutors gave comment, praise and criticsm. There were a wide range of subjects that were well thought out, then skilfully and beautifully crafted.

Here are some of the exhibits and what inspired them:

From a 1950’s 'Bakelite-type' telephone, the 1953 Coronation Approved Souvenir Programme and souvenir cups, came an installation work; a 1950’s desk unit, complete with original tv footage of the Coronation playing on a fitted screen accompanied by other objects of the day and a study of the social significance of the first such public broadcast.  From an embroidered purse, or wallet, containing a personalised invitation to Queen Victoria’s Coronation complete with seat number, a study of the owner, Lady Gerard and her journey from her home in Mortlake to the Abbey on 28th June 1838 and a 3D pop-up paper collage, displayed with an embroidered fabric book. 



From an C18th drawing of Dr Busby’s (Headmaster at Westminster School 1638-1683) chair, a study and reproduction of the caricatures depicting English grammar on the chair. From a description of Devil’s Acre, a small hand bound illustrated children’s book entitled “The Story of Old Pye Street through the eyes of Tommy”. Tommy was a pickpocket and the work included items that Tommy might have in his own pockets!  A study and architectural drawings of Millbank Penitentiary. 

From an old photograph of once local Pulic Baths, a study of its use and a 3D pop-up cut out collage.

From a shoebox containing objects found on the Thames foreshore and on local building sites, a giant box containing 3 students work. One was a working jug made of mosaic of old glass and ceramic fragments.  From a plaster model of Buckingham Palace, a number of same size reproductions in herculite, wax and clear Perspex, made from a rubber mould and a study of methods of fabrication and value depreciation caused by the mass production of souvenirs.

From a small wooden plaque carved with the words “For My Pet” found in the foundations of 50 Tufton Street, a study into the house, its  inhabitants and possible pets!  Also a model of the interior of the ‘original’ house.  A pop-up book and study of the Abbey and The Chapter House. Copies of a newly created local newspaper full of Thorney Island articles and pictures. These were displayed in a lit case standing on carved legs copying the thorns in our logo.

A study of the Womens Suffrage Movement, their local meeting places and how letters from June Stubbs to an MP to save a building, showed modern womens’ continuing determination to be heard.  Lastly a study of the Army & Navy Stores and comparison between a 1907 copy of their global mail order catalogue and the Argos catalogue and Amazon. 

Apologies to those whose work is not described here due to lack of space, but we would like to thank all the students, Shibboleth, the tutors and Chelsea Local for making this collaboration such a success. We hope to exhibit this work again soon.


Chelsea College of Art & Design Collaboration