diamond geezer

 Monday, August 20, 2012

The Marquis Of Lansdowne should be just another dead London pub. On Cremer Street, a narrow thoroughfare linking the Kingsland Road to Hackney Road, round the back of the Geffrye Museum. It last served a pint in 2000, having been opened way back in 1839 by Charrington's Brewery. The new Overground station at Hoxton disgorges passengers no more than a hundred yards away, but even that footfall wouldn't have been enough to save the place. The cornerhouse stands empty, boarded-up, decaying... one of the few surviving unbombed buildings round these parts, but unwanted and derelict.

Except for this weekend. An art project named Traces moved in, with wares to display, and transformed the old pub into a place of wonder. They weren't letting on much to start with. All they were willing to divulge regarding their exhibition's location was a sequence of clues, be that a video, some images or an out-of-date map. This was to be one of those cryptic events which not every Tom, Dick nor Harry could find, and those who finally turned up could feel slightly special at having cracked the code. Actually it wasn't too difficult to find, but when you're selling stuff you don't want too high a proportion of your potential audience staying away.

Inside - the old pub recreated - the bar up one end, a speckled mirror behind. With candles burning at every table and windows draped, the atmosphere is dark but alluring... and also purchasable. The catalogue for the exhibition has been dressed up as a local Victorian newspaper (excellently so). Details of the furniture and decoration are illustrated across the centre pages - tiles, coasters, oil paintings, the lot. Everything down to the bottles behind the bar are up for sale, that's after the weekend display is over, via their creators' websites.

The pub's patrons wouldn't normally have stepped upstairs, but the staircase leads to a landing beneath a charming glass skylight. Three curtains shield a rather different tale, a recreation of the brothel that's assumed to have been located here in the late 19th century. In the boudoir, wow, what could best be described as a "flower bed" with a stuffed dog sleeping at the foot. A silk screen, a mirror-seated chair etched with lace, and Victorian erotica wallpaper. Nextdoor in the madam's office, a shopping list of girls in gilt frames and a cardboard stag's head. And in the "stolen goods" room, all sorts of hand-crafted ephemera, from porcelain jewellery to tiny dolls. The overall effect is most impressive, the whiff of immorality never far away.

You've missed Traces now, but the project hopes to be back next year. A different theme, probably a different location, a fresh brief for all the designers to work to. I can't imagine any of this stuff in my flat, it's more for those with money to spare, and those whose personal taste is measured by the number of unique objets d'art they have on display. And as for the Marquis Of Lansdowne, this faces simultaneously a brighter and a darker future. The pub is now under the protection of the Geffrye, sited as it is on the corner of the museum's site. They plan to add it as an annexe, sometime in 2014, accessed across the garden beyond the extension. The Victorian façade will stay, but the rooms will be gutted and the interior replaced to create a suitable accessible display space (or maybe relocate the restaurant). Good, then, to have seen traces of the old pub before it's almost completely swept away.

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