JUDD STREET, BLOOMSBURY

Walking back from the Art Workers Guild to St Pancras Station I stopped to look at this pretty shop at 63 Judd Street and was curious about the sculpture above the window of putti with a corncupia overflowing with grapes, which suggests it was once the premises of a wine merchant. (Next door, at No. 61, by the way, Alexander Herzen operated the Free Russian Press between 1854 and 1856.)

Anthony Trollope’s description of the street, from Phineas Finn, 1874, is still surprisingly accurate: “Judd Street runs into the New [Euston] Road near the great stations of the Midlands and Northern Railways, and is a highly respectable street. But it can hardly be called fashionable, as is Piccadilly; or central, as is Charing Cross; or commercial, as is the neighbourhood of St. Paul’s. Men seeking the shelter of an hotel in Judd Street most probably prefer decent and respectable obscurity to other advantages.”

Theodore Lane, ‘A Wooden Substitute’, 1821 © National Portrait Gallery London

Judd Street used to be part of the Skinners Estate. The Skinners Arms nearby and a couple of other pubs still belong to them, but nearly everything else has been sold now. One of the earliest residents of No. 63 (then numbered 79) was the artist Theodore Lane, who was well-known for caricatures of George IV and Queen Caroline. By the age of 19 he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy but his promising career was cut short by his falling through a skylight in 1828. After his death, for about twelve years, the house belonged to a tallow chandler called Paul Biddle.

Emma Biddle, the daughter of the tallow chandler Paul Biddle, who lived at 63 Judd Street, was baptised in 1829.

From the 1850s to the 1880s the shop belonged to an undertaker, then in the 1890s a tobacconist. As the population of St Pancras increased at the end of the century, the house went into multiple occupation and it’s difficult to tell from all the names in the Census who exactly is running the shop. But in 1911 Paolo Cagno, who came from Genoa, and his English wife Annie had a confectioner’s there.

So the motif of the putti with grapes is quite misleading and the shop never had anything to do with alcohol.

ALTHEA MCNISH AND JOHN WEISS

John Weiss and Althea McNish. Photo by Arvin Isaac

I’ll be visiting the exhibition of Althea McNish’s textiles at the William Morris Gallery shortly, but I wanted to relate the remarkable story of the N15 Archive devoted to her and her husband, the jeweller John Weiss.

Althea died in 2020 aged 95. John had died shortly before. I knew John as a fellow trustee of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and met Althea a couple of times at SDC exhibitions. Althea’s achievements in textile design date from the early fifties in London and unfortunately it’s only since her death that her importance has been fully recognised.

Shortly after her death, someone walking past their house saw some interesting things in a skip. As part of the house clearance, much of their artwork had been thrown away. It was rescued and formed the basis of the N15 Archive. Most of John’s meticulous teaching notes, which he’d kept over many years, are, sadly, lost.