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  • Writer's pictureLondon On The Ground

Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City

See some of the London that the artist and writer feared was disappearing in the 1960s and 1970s.

Welsh Dairy, Carter Lane by Geoffrey Fletcher 1970 (London Metropolitan Archives)

Best known for his 1962 book The London That Nobody Knows, Geoffrey Fletcher was prolific in recording the city in his sketches, paintings, books and newspaper column.

 

Summer schedule of walks available for booking

For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks through to September, please click here. These include two Geoffrey Fletcher walks I am leading on behalf of the London Metropolitan Archives in June, marking the 20th anniversary of his death.

 

Geoffrey Fletcher was born in Bolton in 1923. He first came to London as a student, living in the attic of a boarding house in Bloomsbury. He discovered London from there, walking the streets of the metropolis with his sketch pad.

 

He studied at the Slade School of Art and won a scholarship to attend the British School in Rome in 1950. While attending the Bartlett School of Architecture, part of University College London, he studied with Sir Albert Richardson, a leading architect of the time (among Richardson's work was Bracken House, the headquarters of the Financial Times).

 

Fletcher's artistic and architectural interests were further fuelled by his love of the works of Charles Dickens and John Ruskin. His fondness for Georgian and Victorian architecture and his dislike of post-war tower blocks are strong themes of his work. He liked to sketch quickly, capturing not only the detail of what he saw, but also his feelings about it.

 

He later lived in Ashtead, Surrey, and created drawings and paintings across the country and Europe, but London remained his greatest passion.

 

Geoffrey Fletcher wrote and illustrated 18 books and wrote and illustrated the long running 'Peterborough' column for The Daily Telegraph (he also worked for The Guardian and The Sunday Times). His 1962 book, The London Nobody Knows, was made into a documentary film of the same name in 1967, narrated by the actor James Mason (click here to see this film).

 

In the book, The London Nobody Knows, Fletcher wrote: "My theme is off-beat London, the unexplored, unknown-to-the-tourist-London… I have a liking for the tawdry, extravagant, and eccentric… the whimsical…"

 

He was concerned by how London was changing in the decades after World War II and documented, drew and painted the London he feared was vanishing. However, although his books and newspaper column promoted the preservation of historical buildings, he was not really a campaigner in the way that, say, John Betjemen was.

 

His comments in The London Nobody Knows suggest that he was almost resigned to London's transformation:

 

"…most of the things in this book are destined to go... in a London that has become the prey of bureaucrats developers and destroyers... Off-beat London is hopelessly out of date, and it simply does not pay. I hope, therefore, this book will be a stimulus to explore the undervalued parts of London before it is too late, before it vanishes as if it had never been".

 

In his 1978 book, Portraits of London, Geoffrey Fletcher compared London to other great cities of Europe:

 

"It lacks the consistent grandeur of Rome, is less picturesque than Amsterdam, inferior in general beauty to Paris or Venice and considerably below Florence in elegance; yet, starting from a Roman port on the edge of the Western Sea, it has become the metropolis of the world".

 

Attempting to explain its appeal, he added that London had "architecture of all periods; there are churches, stores, palaces, rivers, parks without number; but all this is only background stuff…"

 

His next observation was as true in the centuries before Geoffrey Fletcher arrived in London as it is today:

 

"…why we really come to London is to get in touch with life, to share in a vivid sense of things happening, a feeling of being important, comprehensive, capable of prodigious activity, that for some reason is not obtainable elsewhere."

 

Islington was one of Geoffrey Fletcher's favourite parts of London, while the City of London was probably the area in which he was most prolific.

Geoffrey Fletcher Walking tours

In partnership with the London Metropolitan Archives, I am delighted to be leading two walks in June to mark the 20th anniversary of Geoffrey Fletcher's death on 22 June 2004. First, Geoffrey Fletcher's Islington is at 2pm on Saturday 8 June 2024 and Geoffrey Fletcher's City of London is at 2pm on Sunday 16 June 2024. Compare some of the sites that Geoffrey Fletcher captured so lovingly with how they appear today and, on the way, learn about these two areas' history and heritage.

Below is a very small selection of Geoffrey Fletcher's work in the City of London (with thanks to Jeremy Smith and Symeon Ververidis of the London Metropolitan Archives for the images), preceded by one of his paintings in Islington (my own photo of a painting in the collection of the Islington Local History Centre).

The Angel, by Geoffrey Fletcher, 1971. Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
The Angel, 1971 (Islington Local History Centre)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
Hanging Sword Alley, 1969 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
Welsh Dairy, Carter Lane, 1970 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
Water Lane, 1967 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
Old Dr Butler's Head, 1970 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
Lovat Lane, 1968 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
Lamb Tavern, 1967 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
Horn Tavern, 1969 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
St Andrew's Holborn, 1970 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
St Mary Aldermanbury, 1964 (London Metropolitan Archives)
Walking in Geoffrey Fletcher's London: Islington and the City, London On The Ground.
St Mary Somerset, 1963 (London Metropolitan Archives)
 

Summer schedule of walks available for booking

For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks through to September, please click here. These include two Geoffrey Fletcher walks I am leading on behalf of the London Metropolitan Archives.

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