One of the strands of talks and events that the Society is holding this year is on London Icons. Here Matt Brown, the curator of the strand, explains what he's setting out to achieve.
Is there another city on the planet with as many icons as London? We have architectural icons, like Tower Bridge, Wembley Arch, the dome of St Paul’s and (the tower popularly known as) Big Ben.
Numerous inhabitants -- real and fictional -- instantly remind us of London whenever we hear their names: Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Sherlock Holmes, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan… We have iconic double-deckers and iconic black cabs. Our iconic phone boxes and post boxes are found all over the country but are particularly associated with London. Where else in the world will tourists pose beside street furniture?
Then there are the troops and tribes: the Beefeaters, the Queen’s Guard, the Chelsea Pensioners, the Pearly Kings and Queens, the punks, the hipsters and the bowler hatted gents who remain an icon of London despite recent extinction. We have an iconic black door in Downing Street and an iconic blue door in Notting Hill. London, uniquely, has an iconic zebra crossing.
A London icon is not simply something famous in London, it must be synonymous with London. To say its name or view its image should immediately conjure the capital, as all the examples above surely do. But the word has been hijacked and diluted. Old Street roundabout, to take one unlikely example, has been described as iconic, many times. The aura has rubbed off on nearby buildings. At least two new developments and an adjacent coffee shop have themselves self-identified as ‘iconic’. It is now a routine label. Some developments use the adjective even before they’ve been built. ‘Iconic’, and its dependable playfellows ‘luxury’, ‘exclusive’ and ‘bespoke’, can be spotted on a thousand hoardings across the city.
This strand of events hopes to rescue the lost word in two ways. Some talks examine the indisputable icons of London -- the buildings, objects and people whose mention suggests ‘London’ to any world citizen. Others focus on subjects that are perhaps lesser known, but are far more deserving of ‘iconic’ status than any new residential block in zone 2. So join the iconic London Society for a series of iconic events, as curated by the iconic Matt Brown, author of the iconic Everything You Know About London Is Wrong.
Events in the London Icons strand include: talks on The Survey of London, London's Street Furniture and Lost Icons. Tours of The Travellers Club, Eltham Palace, Willow House and Senate House; walks on the South Bank, through Clerkenwell and Smithfield, and London Pedways; a 'pub crawl' to some iconic boozers; a screening of the film London Symphony at Southwark Cathedral; and a debate: "Architectural Marmite: 8 iconic buildings you'll love or hate."