The Dark Horse – Belfast

A couple of weeks ago I was in Belfast attending a conference – the first one for a few years. Being good, sitting through the conference sessions and catching up with people I hadn’t seen face to face for some time, I didn’t have much time for exploring the city. However, on the second night of the conference one of the major equipment suppliers traditionally hosts a free shin dig and this year was no different, so with just about everyone one else attending the event I made my way to the Cathedral Quarter and the Dark Horse.

Inside it’s a very traditional Irish pub with lots of glass and polished brass.

But one of the main attractions is the courtyard behind the pub where all the walls are a gallery of street art depicting scenes of Irish history and culture – with a good helping of Irish humour too.

The Wigan Mining Monument

WordPress blogger Wednesday’s Child has been very quiet in recent months. Not suprising given that she’s a doctor working in a hospital in Manchester. I hope she’s keeping safe and healthy.

I enjoy reading her posts and particularly like one of her themes – statues and monuments in Manchester, Glasgow and other locations. Wigan, being a bit of a cultural backwater, has rather a dearth of public art works, but in recent years the local council and other organisations have made some effort to install some sculpture and monuments in and around the town centre. The most recent, installed last year celebrates the mining heritage of Wiagn.

Despite Wigan once being the “capital” of the Lancashire coalfield, there was nothing to mark that and celebrate the heritage of an industry that used to dominate the town. It took a group of volunteers -the Wigan Heritage and Mining Monument group, WHAMM – a registered charity formed by two local women Anne Catterall and Sheila Ramsdale, which raised the funds to provide a statue in a prominent location in Wigan town centre.

The project came to fruition last year but, unfortunately, the planned unveiling ceremony couldn’t go ahead due to you know what.

The statue, created by sculptor Steve Winterburn, depicts a man, woman and child, probably a family, all of who worked in the pits. They’re wearing the traditional footwear – wooden clogs with clog irons and as the sculpture doesn’t have base or plinth so that they appear to be walking on the cobbled street.

The woman, carrying a sieve or screen, would have been a “Pit Brow Lass“, one of the women who worked on the surface (women being forbidden to work underground by the Mines and Collieries Act 1842) at the coal screens on the pit bank (or brow) picking stones from the coal after it was hauled to the surface or loading wagons.

Coal has been mined in Wigan from at least the 16th century, and the industry grew to dominate the town, peaking around the end of the nineteenth century. According to local history records, in the 1840’s there were over 1000 pit shafts within a 5 mile radius of Wigan town centre. 

Source: Wigan World

The Northern Mining Research Society has compiled a list of colleries in the area that were opened in the 19 Century. There aren’t any left now – the last pits in the Borough and Lancashire coalfield closed after the big strike of 1984.

Over three centuries, more than 750 million tons of coal were mined from the vast Wigan coalfields, which over time had over 1000 pits, large and small. It would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of the town to the industrial revolution and the wealth it brought to Britain. However, this was achieved at great cost to local people. Hundreds of people died in accidents, and countless thousands were maimed or left with diseases caused by the working conditions. Two huge mining disasters are still remembered and commemorated more than a century after they occurred. In 1908, 75 men lost their lives in the Maypole pit near Abram.

WHAMM Crowdfunder website
Unemployed Wigan miner in the 1930’s Source: Wigan World

There are few traces of the industry around the town these days. So the monument is a very welcome addition to the town to remind us of a proud heritage and tradition, and, more importantly as a tribute to the thousands of local people – men women and children – who laboured in awful conditions in the pits

Keith Haring at Tate Liverpool

Last Saturday we travelled over to Liverpool to take a look at the latest exhibition at the Tate on Albert Dock. It’s had a lot of good reviews so I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was about. I didn’t know a great deal about the artist, Keith Haring, but had seen some of his works, probably most notably his large canopy was hanging in the ceiling of the stairwell in the grand hallway of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam during a visit last year. He’d painted it for a solo exhibition at the museum in 1986.


So, the extensive Tate retrospective was a good opportunity to find out more about the artist. The exhibition was busy (but not crazy busy like some of the blockbusters held in London), so it was clearly popular. But there was plenty of space to allow us to take time to look at the paintings and reflect on them.

The Tate exhibition website tells us

A part of the legendary New York art scene of the 1980s, Keith Haring (1958–1990) was inspired by graffitipop art and underground club culture.

Haring was a great collaborator and worked with like-minded artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. All were interested in creating art for the many. Haring designed record covers for RUN DMC and David Bowie, directed a music video for Grace Jones and developed a fashion line with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. In doing so, he introduced his art and ideas to as many people as possible.

Tate Liverpool website

The exhibition covered the whole of the top floor of the Tate and there were a large number of works on display from the whole of his career, including these two early works when he was influenced by Walt Disney cartoons. And cartoon like figures and symbols were prominent in his work throughout his career. Unlike most Tate paid exhibitions photography was allowed.

When he moved to New York, he became known for chalk drawings he produced on the black paper on empty poster spaces in subway stations; drawing quickly as people walked past and stopping to watch him. There was a video in the exhibition of him doing just that and then getting arrested! The pictures became popular that they were taken away almost as soon as they were finished. There were a few examples in the exhibition, although they were difficult to photograph due to reflections in the glass protecting them.

He’d paint on almost anything he could lay his hands on, like this Yellow Taxi bonnet (or “hood” as our American friends would say!)

and quite a few works on display were painted on tarpaulins – a lot cheaper than canvas.

A number of icon like symbols recur throughout his works, including a crawling baby, a dog, a figure with a whole in its stomach, a cross, computers and some others. Most of his work contain one or more. There’s a good discussion of the symbols and what they represent here, and the Tate provide a key in the free booklet you’re given as you enter the gallery.

He was a political artist and many of his works carry a message, whether about nuclear energy, South African Apartheid, gay rights, racism or drugs.

And, as a gay man living in New York in the 1980’s, he used his art to raise awareness of AIDS. He himself was diagnosed with the disease in 1988. His poster Ignorance = Fear refers to the challenges people who were living with AIDS faced. 

Here’s a few more examples of his work

Before the visit, I was a little sceptical about the exhibition. I knew about his cartoon like paintings and thought it would be fun, but that I’d have tired of it after seeing a selection of them. But that wasn’t how it worked out. Despite the apparent simplicity of his style, there was a lot more depth and complexity than I expected.

There was a lot to see – besides the paintings there were a number of videos about his life and work – so there was too much to take in in one visit. One advantage of being Tate Members is that we can hopefully go for another look before the exhibition finishes in November.



The second day of our recent trip to Amsterdam we decided to do something different and cross the Ij to the north side of the city. We took of the free ferries from Centraal Station across the water over to NDSM ( Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij – the Dutch Shipbuilding and Dry dock Company), a former ship yard that is now being redeveloped as a “cultural area”. I’d seen a post by Anabel, the Glasgow Gallivanter who’d visited it with her husband earlier this year, so we thought we’d follow their example. We were lucky and despite a cloudy morning during our visit after midday we were blessed with a hot, sunny day with bright blue skies.

In 1937, the NDSM was the largest ship-building company in the world, but like many European shipyards facing competition from the Far East it declined after the Second World War and went bankrupt and closed in 1984.  Initially it lay derelict but in the 90’s artistic and creative types moved in, squatting and taking advantage of the space offered by the massive buildings.  As is often the case, developers have now started to move in and we’ve seen the construction of hotels, restaurants, offices and housing. One of the cranes has even been converted into an expensive hotel.


Arriving at the ferry terminal we passed an old submarine moored in the Ij


and a ship hotel


Despite this, there’s still a large creative community occupying the old shipbuilding facilities. And like in many such places, the buildings and anything else that isn’t moving is covered with street art.



We even saw some of the artists at work.














The main former shipyard building is still used by creatives who’ve built themselves a complex of workshops and studios in part of the massive space. We had a mooch around inside.






Afterwards feeling hot and thirsty, we wandered over to the “funky” Nooderlicht cafe built to serve the artistic community




Refreshed, we made our way back to the ferry terminal to take the boat back to Centraal Station. We had plans for the evening.

Street Haunting in Spitalfields


Last Tuesday I was working in the east of London, in Aldgate. After work, I still had 2 and 1/2 hours to kill before my train so, as it was a pleasant afternoon, I decided to have a wander around Spitalfields, a short walk away.

In the 17th and 18th century the area was associated with silk weaving after Huguenots fleeing from persecution in France settled here and brought their skills with them. Later, Irish linen workers settled here. In the Victorian period, following the decline of the silk and linen industries it became something of a notorious slum. There were further waves of Jewish and then Bangladeshi immigrants bringing new cultures and energy to the area. Today, like much of the East End it’s become somewhat gentrified. The old Victorian market and surrounding streets being redeveloped.

It’s an interesting place to walk around, with some historic buildings and modern street art to look at.

For me, the star of the show is Hawksmoor’s magnificent gleaming white Christ Church



one of the six, eccentric English Baroque churches for which he is best known.

There’s an interesting war memorial in the church yard.


Close by, on Commercial Street,  the Fruit and Wool exchange building has been controversially redeveloped against local opposition, over-ruled by the former Mayor of London and current “Clown Secretary”. The white neo-Classical façade has, fortunately, been preserved.


A number of old commercial buildings nearby  have also been preserved




I quite liked this building with it’s neo-Gothic features


and these more modern flats with an Art Deco look


There’s street art dotted around the redeveloped market. Here’s a selection I spotted.

The Spitalfields Goat by Kenny Hunter



A pear and a fig by Ali Grant


Dogman and Rabbitgirl with coffee by Gillie and Marc


Wooden Boat with Seven People by Kalliopi Lemos, features an authentic boat that was used to transport refugees from Turkey to the shores of the Greek islands. The installation aims to reflect Spitalfields’ rich history of providing shelter for successive waves of migrants across the centuries.


I couldn’t find out who had created this “steampunk” motorbike



Return to “Funky Fitzroy”


Fitzroy is a suburb of Melbourne, just 3 km north east of the Central Business District. Like Prahran, it’s a very lively, trendy “hipster” area. I’d enjoyed exploring the district during my previous visit to Melbourne in 2014 so we decided to go and take another look around.


The district was created in 1839 and rapidly grew as a working class suburb during the 19th century. Consequently there are a large number of very typical Australian Victorian terraced houses. During the 20th Century it became populated with immigrants from many different countries. These days the area has been gentrified and has become popular with trendy middle class “hipsters”. The character of the area reflects all of these.


There are a large number of well preserved Australian style Victorian era working class terraced houses. They’re smaller and more compact than those I saw in the more prosperous region to the east of the city centre, but still have verandas and balconies decorated with intricate ironwork and with corrugated iron roofs.


Many of the houses and buildings have been decorated by street artists



and there’s plenty of great street art all around the are

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More artistic decoration of street furniture



There’s even an urban garden centre


Some interesting modern buildings – a sign of gentrification


and the old, neo Classical Town Hall, quite different from other buildings in the area


Melbourne’s Arcades and Laneways

Melbourne’s laneways are narrow streets and alleys that were originally intended to provide rear access to properties facing big streets. Many were later roofed as ‘arcades’ to provide refuge from the weather and crowds and to provide more space for shops and there are also some purpose built shopping arcade. We’d had a wander through some of them on the evening we arrived and decided to have a mooch and explore them a little more on the morning of our 4th day in the city.

The lanes, such as Degraves Street, and the arcades are the centre of Melbourne’s “café society” and many of the alleyways are a mecca of street art.  Here’s a few photos

Into the Block Arcade with some rather fancy shops

and a café that rather looked like a Melbournian version of Betty’s of Harrogate and with a similar queue outside

Lots of other cafes with plenty of character to stop for a brew

Into the Royal Arcade with more fancy shops and the clock with its accompanying giants – Gog and Magog

Out into the laneways there was plenty of street art

and for some reason references to Manchester cropped up here

One of Melbourne’s 1930’s Art Deco style skyscrapers is the Manchester Unity Building and there’s an arcade running through it


Summer of Love Bugs in Liverpool

We were in Liverpool on Monday, the last Bank Holiday until Christmas. It was a warm sunny day and while we were strolling through the Liverpool One shopping centre we spotted this rather jazzy Beetle.


Liverpool never misses a chance to take a collection of objects, paint them up with different designs and leave them in strategic locations around the city – all starting with the 125 two-metre-high Superlambananas  during Liverpool’s Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008. So this looked like it might be another series.

Not quite. In this case there were only 3 VW Beetles that had been decorated to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, when 100,000 musicians, artists and hippies flocked to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. Three artists had been commissioned by Liverpool One to create images on the cars. The first one we saw, on Thomas Steers Way, was painted with a psychedelic design by Kieran Gorman from Zap Graffiti.


The other two cars, both on Paradise Street, were painted with Beatles related themes by Krishna Malla .

One based on the Beatles song, Penny Lane, selected following a vote for the Liverpool public’s favourite song from 1967.


I lived near there for a year when I was at University. I loved the green Liverpool Corporation buses – but they all went when the “deregulation” was enacted by the Thatcher regime. Now all the local colour of  municipally owned bus companies has gone, replaced by the 2 or 3 national monopolies with their uniform liveries across the country.


And the second Beatle Beetle, celebrating the Sergeant Pepper LP that was released in 1967


Here’s the Fab Four


and a list of the songs on the LP