Carol Kenna’s Woolwich
I first came across multi-disciplinary artist Carol Kenna when trying to work out who was responsible for the extraordinary Rathmore Benches and discovered the answer to several other questions about local street art at the same time. Greenwich Mural Workshop is responsible for many of the slightly-fading-now-and-in-places-painted-over giant murals and intricate mosaics all over South London. I didn’t know she was a photographer too.
Her work is largely locally-based – she’s responsible for the exciting (and ongoing) Charlton Reminiscence Project and that means that she herself is also based around here. Hell – she grew up in Woolwich, going to the Granada with the giant Wurlitzer that rose up and down from the orchestra pit and having afternoon tea at the Co-Op’s restaurant or the Lyons Corner House, the longest, narrowest restaurant in London, apparently. I don’t remember Lyons Corner Houses, but I wish someone would bring them back. Just for a flavour here’s a picture of the frontage that’s been saved in the Museum of London. Many of them were even posher.
Carol’s been taking pictures of Woolwich for the past forty years – that’s a lot of pictures – and a lot of change. And of course, we’re still right in the middle of change – even before the riots this summer, there was all manner of stuff going on – a new DLR makes the place just a little less cut off, though the Crossrail project doesn’t look any closer. Beautiful old buildings are gone, ugly old buildings are gone; even modern buildings like Peggy Middleton House are no more, we still await the completed results of the development. General Gordon Square is a skateboard park and the Arsenal has become rather posh. There’s a rather odd giant TV screen and new pavements, but the market just about clings on and my favourite Chinese, appropriately named the Favourite Inn, still peeps shyly from behind the station.
Carol loves the town with a passion – from Southern Electricity’s display window to the brass pistons that drove the Woolwich Ferry, from the working-class grandeur of the Co-Op Society’s several buildings to the garrison-feel of the town. She’s been capturing this change and there’s an exhibition of her photographs just beginning at the Heritage Centre, documenting the change the town has seen over nearly half a century.
May I recommend, to go with it, A Tree In the Quad, by Iris Bryce, which you can almost certainly also find at the Heritage Centre. A slim pamphlet of a volume, it’s the sequel to her utterly wonderful Remember Greenwich. The young Iris moves from Greenwich to Woolwich where she discovers, almost impossibly to believe now, the place is a hub for the late 50s/early 60s Trad Jazz revival and the radio and television shop she starts with her musician-husband becomes a magnet for duffle-coated beatniks and beardy hipsters from all over London. Her account of the various music clubs they ran together becoming meccas for jazz afficionados lends a very different slant to the Woolwich we think of now…
Carols’s exhibition Woolwich – A Town in Flux is at the Heritage Centre until Saturday 28th January.
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