Artisans and History at the London Design Festival

London Design Festival ….. one of the most important fixtures in the Design World calender. Two districts significant for their rapid and relatively recent reputation as centres for innovative design are the Shoreditch Triangle and Clerkenwell Design Quarter.

In close proximity to each other both areas were the focus of slum clearance in the nineteenth century becoming largely industrial combining skilled craftsmanship with the poorest workers engaged in the sweated trades.

Shoreditch was renowned as the centre of the furniture trade; cabinet makers; upholsterers; French polishers and all the associated peripheral trades of that industry.

In latter years the beautiful SCP showroom has been at the heart of the Shoreditch Triangle showcasing new and established talent in design. Established in Curtain Road by Sheridan Oakley in 1985 in a building originally a cabinet makers and then by the early twentieth century an upholsterer’s.  SCP’s commitment to support British manufacture brings the story of furniture design in Shoreditch full circle into the twenty-first century.

Rivington Street described by Niklaus Pevsner as a good example of ‘authentic and varied nineteenth century industrial building’ is home to many designers amidst the iron pillars and remaining wall cranes that provide a very distinct character to this part of Shoreditch.

Lee Broom  London Design Festival 2012

Lee Broom
London Design Festival 2012

Walk along Old Street towards the City to find  Clerkenwell Design Quarter in a district which became the centre for workers in precious metals,  wanting to practice their craft outside the restriction of the City. Rising as the heart of the watch and clock manufacturing in London the district became almost entirely industrialised during the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Reviving the tradition for bespoke jewellery design and silversmiths in the Clerkenwell Design Quarter is the Goldsmiths Centre in Britton Street designed by John Lyall architects and incorporating the conversion of a Grade II Listed Victorian Board School.

Goldsmiths Centre Eagle Yard Clerkenwell

Goldsmiths Centre Eagle Yard Clerkenwell

Illustrating print in its most skillful and innovative form is the Imprint Exhibition at Craft Central. Showcasing jewellery, ceramics, textiles and prints in the Gallery at 33-35 St. John’s Square.

Also on Thursday 19th September is the opportunity to visit jewellery designers at their benches within the Craft Central studios.


Join me with Creative Clerkenwell during London Design Festival and discover the warehouses behind the design studios of Shoreditch, the French Polishers Beer Strike, ghosts of the Old Nichol and see inside contemporary artisan studios.

Cornwell House and Pennybank Chambers

Cornwell House and Pennybank Chambers


Gin in Clerkenwell and Chelsea

Events for Clerkenwell Design Week 2013 and Chelsea Fringe have found boz metaphorically and literally immersed in Gin over recent weeks ….. in the interests of research naturally …

Beginning in Clerkenwell for Clerkenwell Design Week 2013 in conjunction with Creative Clerkenwell was a short taster walk around the area finding the illicit gin shops and nineteenth century distilleries which are an integral part of the history in that district of London.

During the Gin Craze 1721-1851 it was estimated that in the area of St. Giles, William Hogarth’s chosen location for Gin Lane in 1851 one in four houses were premises for the sale of gin. Nearby in the slums of Clerkenwell and particularly the notorious quarters around the Fleet ditch and Red Lion and Cowcross streets a similar proliferation for gin prevailed.

A far cry from the sweet viscous spirit originating with Dutch Geneva, every slum back kitchen that could find a pot to distill in would be producing base and frequently toxic spirits sold loosely under the guise of excise free ‘gin’ much of which had never seen a juniper berry. Frequently sold on the streets as well as licensed premises with added turpentine to improve the ‘flavour’.

This was the stuff that gave rise to the term ‘Mother’s Ruin’ and which fuelled the campaign to staunch the craze for unregulated gin distilling. Additional taxes and licensing laws did little to prevent the sale of the roughest gin, although restricting the distillers of good gin, whilst the consumption of bad spirits continued to rise. Finally culminating in the 1751 Act the campaign for which included two prints from the hand of William Hogarth ‘Gin Lane’ and ‘Beer Street’ commissioned …. not unsurprisingly …. by the brewing industry. Hogarth’s beautifully depicted pieces of propaganda are such well known widely available images that boz finds nothing to be gained from reproducing them here …. although the original copper plates for the engravings can not be viewed in London being part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Following the 1751 Act, regulation of the industry saw the establishment of the large distilleries and in the nineteenth century the development of a superior refined clear spirit London Dry Gin. The distilleries that were to become the household names of Booth, Nicholson, Tanqueray and Gordon all established in Clerkenwell by the mid-nineteenth century and continued there until after the Second World War. Magnificent and rapidly expanding buildings as the industry grew and those still standing are notable for their contribution to architectural merit in Clerkenwell.

Nicholsons 1953

Nicholsons Distillery 1953

For Clerkenwell Design Week The Gin Garden arrived to demonstrate contemporary and innovative alchemy with gin. Located in communications agency Lansons pretty courtyard in St. John Street for the three days of Clerkenwell Design Week creating beautiful gin cocktails with a new twist using plant based serves developed by The Herball, this provided the perfect setting for boz to commence a short stroll around the history of gin in Clerkenwell culminating in much sampling of said spirit.

Nettle Gimlet

Nettle Gimlet

Following this it was necessary to attend a further day of research into the new way of Gin in London  with The Gin Garden. This time situated in the very lovely surroundings of Chelsea Physic Garden for a day which included a fascinating and entertaining introduction into botanicals from the very expert herbalist Christopher Hedley and later a visit to the Sipsmith distillery in Hammersmith.




There is still just time to book a day with The Gin Garden as the event will be repeated tomorrow Friday 7th June and also the Gin Garden bar will be open from 4pm – 8pm for visitors to Chelsea Physic Garden

Sipsmith Still

Sipsmith Still

Mixing serves from The Herball

Mixing The Herball serves










This weekend for Open Squares The Gin Garden can also be found at Arlington Square on in Islington on Sunday 9 June from 2pm to 5pm

For World Gin Day Saturday 15th June boz will be returning to Clerkenwell to walk through three centuries of Gin so do join us in  ‘Gin Lanes’ should you be so inclined

Three Mills Bromley-by-Bow

Until the Summer of 2011 boz had no idea of the existence of this tranquil historic oasis. Found by chance whilst pulling off the A12 to wait for Blackwall Tunnel traffic to subside, on a quiet Friday afternoon, before the Olympic Park site had been completed, and hardly a soul about, Three Mills Island almost encapsulates a bygone era.

Clock Mill

Designated as a conservation area by the London Borough of Newham in 1971, Three Mills is a man-made island within the Lower Lea Valley. The conservation area is bounded in the West by the River Lea and the Bromley-by-Bow bridge; to the South by the Channelsea River; and to the North by Abbey Road and the ‘Greenway’ embankment.

Domesday Survey 1086 recorded eight tidal Mills on the River Lea, the sites of five of which are recorded in the Lea tributaries: Pudding Mill; City Mill; Waterworks Mill; Abbey Mill and Three Mills. At Three Mills the mills were built on a man-made island to make the most use of the ebb tide. By the late sixteenth century the area of Three Mills was comprised of two water mills producing corn and gunpowder.

In 1872 House Mill was purchased by gin distillers J&w Nicholson & Co. of Clerkenwell. This was of particular interest to boz as regulars readers will know there is much tarrying to Clerkenwell from this quarter and recent forays into Clerkenwell history are inextricably linked with the history of Gin but that is for another post.

Having obtained this little amount of information about the place, along with the fascinating connections of the gin industry within the familiar  exhibiting environs of Clerkenwell, an invitation to participate in an exhibition at House Mill was accepted with great pleasure. Makers at the Mill Exhibition was created in partnership with the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust and nineteen designers each creating Mill inspired pieces for the exhibition. Such is the presence of this beautiful Grade I listed building the choice of subject matter from the Mill buildings; the largely intact working interior; and the wildlife of the environs was wide and varied.


Hand printed vintage French linen glass cloth Mary Ann Chatterton

In 1728 Three Mills was purchased by the Huguenot partnership of Peter Lefevre and Daniel Bisson, of whom the latter went on to construct House Mill 1776 later rebuilt in 1802 following a fire.This mill served the gin distillery next door on Three Mills Island in addition to flour making and was in operation until 1941.

Clock Mill on the opposite side of the site with its distinctive Clock Tower and bell was built 1817 and in use as a mill up to 1952 now Grade II Listed. Originally a windmill also stood on the site, being the third of the Three Mills and remained to around 1840.

Having been saved from demolition by the Passmore Edwards Museum Trust in the 1970s House Mill passed to the Tidal Mill Trust. Work on the building commenced 1989 and whilst the fabric is now fully restored, the project to reinstate all four water wheels and restore some of the mill machinery continues. Footage of the restoration project and an insight into the workings of the Mill can be seen here:

The fascinating and atmospheric interior of House Mill  and the beautiful grounds set within the conservation site proved a wonderful source of inspiration for the designers exhibiting in Makers at the Mill exhibition

Millstone by window

Mill Stones in Chains – Rosemary Lucas

Mill Window etching and aquatint – Jim Churcher

The House Mill etching – Paula Duggen

Mill Pigeon

Mill Pigeon – Nick Darrieulat

Millers – Gudrun Sigriour Haraldsdóttir

The buildings to the east of House Mill and Clock Mill which originally housed Nicholsons Gin Distillery are now home to 3 Mills Studios the largest film studios and rehearsal rooms in London and benefitting from a perfectly placed setting

The cobbled causeway leading from Three Mill Lane to the film studios is a bustling lively thoroughfare especially during the day. Part of the waterside footpath which serves the film studio staff; cyclists; dog walkers; visitors to House Mill; customers for the friendly café in the Millers House adjoining House Mill; and the excellent tours which regularly take place, of which details can be found here:

The proximity of the Olympic Park has inevitably brought with it much regeneration of the area adjacent to the conservation site in a part of London which drew little attention prior to all that will now be marked in history as ‘London 2012’. This lesser known East End, further out than the now fashionable streets of what were once slum quarters for for urban missionaries and social reformers, is comprehensively explained in Neil Fraser’s recently published book Over the Border, The Other East End

Three Mills – Jane Young

Makers at the Mill exhibition continues until 9 September 2012, ten per cent of all sales go towards the House Mill restoration project. With well deserved thanks to curators Paula Duggen, Rosemary Lucas and Mary Ann Chatterton, it has been a wonderful experience to exhibit work in such a unique and beautiful setting, made all the more enjoyable by the fabulous dedicated staff and volunteers at House Mill.