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.

the attachments to this post:

lyons lo
lyons lo

Gen Gordon Sq. Oct 2011 carol kenna
Gen Gordon Sq. Oct 2011 carol kenna

Gen Co-op Woolwich stairs-small Carol Kenna
Gen Co-op Woolwich stairs-small Carol Kenna

Gen Co-op tower small carol kenna
Gen Co-op tower small carol kenna

5 Comments to “Carol Kenna’s Woolwich”

  1. Mary says:

    Some of Carol’s work is around in east Greenwich – I would, for instance, point to carvings on the steps which go into the river beween the two jetties at Enderby Wharf. The carvings show the development of cable making on the site -and are right at the point where the liner terminal will be built.

  2. Wow – was that her? I noticed those only recently and -gah- didn’t have my camera on me. I didn’t know it was Carol’s work.

  3. The indefatigable Ms. Kenna’s work also extends to Deptford where the multiple award winning Twinkle Park welcomes all and has contributed to an increase in wildlife habitat and space for young and old to enjoy.

  4. Carol says:

    I would like to claim the Alacatel steps as all my own work….in fact they were carved and installed by sculptor Richard Lawrence who is based in Deptford. I helped instigate the project and worked with Richard refining the design, but the credit goes to him.The project was one element within a larger project funded by Groundwork Trust to install art works and environmental improvements along the East Greenwich waterfront.

  5. Andrea Moore says:

    As a local photographer myself I also never knew Carol was recording photographic images of Woolwich. I met Carol in the 70′s at Greenwich Mural Workshop and greatly admired her many Murals and Mosaics..a woman of many talents.
    I look forward to visiting her current exhibition at the Royal Arsenal