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A large and knowledgeable audience were treated to a “Celebration” of street furniture when the Society welcomed back Matt Brown of the essential Londonist website. Jo East reports. 

From phone boxes to stink pipes Matt “set out his stall” that this could only be a canter through the various street furniture that gave such interest to this great city of ours. Beginning with phone boxes Matt briefly outlined the history of the K Series and taught us to identify our K2s (bigger with a regular lattice of panes) from our K6s. (Smaller and with glass recalling old celluloid film – Big frame in the middle and smaller runners down the side) and then talked about how they had been repurposed throughout the city as mobile tech takes over. From a flower kiosk in Russell Square to a book exchange in Lewisham inventive uses have been found for these structures that, being listed, often have to grace our streets long passed the time of their original purpose. Diverting briefly into the sociological significance of tart cards – A 30 year collection now held by the Wellcome Trust to reflect our changing taste, tech and morés – Matt then moved on to post boxes: We saw a map of all the relatively rare Edward VIII boxes. Outer London reigning supreme reflecting the direction of development at that time. As before the more interesting uses to which various redundant boxes had been put were shown. A city farm chicken hutch surely being the “coop” de theatre.

Bollards. All shapes, all sizes, Matt showed us some of his favourite throughout London and beyond. Being the most basic of street paraphernaelia it was not surprising to discover that they dated back at least as far as the Romans. Used to either restrict access or protect something from vehicle damage the most beloved bollards are those that reflect the place where they are sited. An outline of a helmet wearing policeman outside a former Belgravia police station. A pile of bronze books outside a Cambridge Library. Even a rather phallic Anthony Gormley designed special: Famed for using his body as the source material if you want to seek this out try Bellenden Street in Peckham. 

The hour flew by and Matt ranged from Coal-posts out on the periphery of London to venting stink pipes that signal the drains beneath our feet. Another fascinating evening and the Q&As where audience members provided as much information as the speaker showed how fondly this subject is enjoyed by the streetwork cognoscenti. With this in mind Matt filmed us giving an almighty “Yes” to his idea for a book to convince sceptical publishers and if this comes to fruition hopefully Matt will come back and draw on more of his vast range of photos and knowledge. With nibbles and venue provided by Hoare Lea in their smart new Kings Cross Granary Square HQ and drinks from the Society’s coffers it made for a very convivial evening until we finally were sent back out onto the streets. All with our vision sharpened for the design features that add such interest to our London landscape.