I have known Southwark and its environs since early childhood, when I walked past bomb sites curiously sanitised by brightly flowering weeds in yellow, purple, white and red. Alighting at London Bridge and walking to St. Paul’s Cathedral back then was so different from what it’s like today; and yet, then as now, the area was full of contrasts, the grand buildings and bright flowers camouflaging dark pits where bombs had fallen. My mother knew that dark side only too well, having worked as a nurse through the Blitz.
The shadows of a more distant past haunt Red Cross Way. Since medieval times prostitutes have lain buried there in unconsecrated ground, the so-called “Winchester Geese” who presumably plied their trade in the shadows of Winchester Way just round the corner. And round that corner were rich merchants and learned scholars in Southwark Cathedral, where Bishop Lancelot Andrewes led the Westminster group who translated the King James First Bible in the 17th century.
Perhaps it is no surprise that my painting emphasises light and dark, the stark “XX////” shadows of the bridge disguising, almost undermining, the perspective of the old warehouse buildings. This was the title I nearly gave the work. There is also the darkness of the rail bridge at the very top giving way to the sunlight shining through, before further down the shadow takes over, populated by ordinary people going about among the dereliction of boarded-up premises clad with scaffolding.
As I sketched and photographed I was not sure whether demolition or restoration would ensue. Another paradox was the “Goods Inwards” sign above an arched entrance, with a small red “Keep Out” sign immediately below. I did not have to look far for something else to signify denial of passage: two “No Entry” signs guard the entrance to Red Cross Way from Southwark Street.
I enjoyed the broad brush of shadow against the pattern of arched windows and entrances. I delighted just as much in discovering rich textures in the boarded entrances and decaying doors, and the details of a broken “No. 3” and black knocker. There seemed so much history and memory bound up in the walls. Whether restored or demolished, there would still be the shadows and people scurrying to and from London Bridge, and tourists and children, and traders from Borough Market, the future colliding with the past. Artists are able to take the time to reflect — such a luxury in a busy world.
Editor’s note: Goods Inwards, Red Cross Way is being shown at A Stone’s Throw, an exhibition of works associated with Southwark by six members of the Society of Graphic Fine Art, from 2nd November to 13th December 2013. The venue is the Refectory Gallery at Southwark Cathedral.
Profile of the artist
Dr Jo Hall PSGFA was born in London and cannot remember life without drawing. After obtaining a PhD in Plant Pathology at Imperial College, London she pursued a career as a biologist in the water industry. In 1990 Jo joined the Association of Illustrators and created artwork for advertisers and periodicals as well as corporate and private clients. She went on to stage a solo exhibition at the European Space Agency’s Technical Centre in Noordwijk in the Netherlands, and in the UK has taken part in many group exhibitions. London venues include the Medici Gallery, Gallery 27 in Cork Street, the Society of Women Artists and Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour at the Mall Galleries and the SGFA Annual Open Exhibitions at the Menier Gallery. Jo is an experienced art tutor and leads workshops in London and Berkshire. She joined the Society in 1994, served on the Council as Vice President from 1999 and was elected President in 2012.