‘Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and have her nonsense respected.’ – Charles Lamb
The Charles Lamb is one of Islington’s hidden gems. Tucked away on the appropriately and satisfyingly named Elia Street (evoking Lamb’s famous ‘Essays of Elia’), near the Camden Passage and behind Angel Station, the Charles Lamb is one Islington pub that isn’t filled with city boys during the 6.30 after work drink slot. Its approach is beautiful, along Quick Street and beside the Regent’s Canal; it’s possibly the bit of London that I would like to live in the most.
Once you actually arrive at the Charles Lamb, it doesn’t disappoint, living up to its beautiful surroundings. The pub is painted tastefully in duck egg blues, creams and pale greens, with a hat-stand in one corner that always seems to be replete with intriguing hats. The menu is also excellent: particular highlights are the delicious sausage rolls and olive tapenade (both of which I suspect are homemade), the oft-renewed selection of beers, and the presence of a personal favourite, Camden Lager.
However, the real curiosity of the Charles Lamb is the amazing map of London on the wall of its back room. ‘The Island’ is an original drawing by Stephen Walter, measuring 101 by 153 cm and tracing not only the geographical contours of the city, but its historical, sociological and peculiarly personal elements as well. The map never fails to attract attention from the pub’s clientele, as it is almost impossible to resist the urge to examine it, using the magnifying glass that hangs next to it on the wall and is required to read the map’s minutiae. Walter is a Londoner himself, and began the map as a two year labour of love after making similar cartographic experiments depicting the UK and Ireland. For Londoners reading the map, part of the fascination comes from looking up your borough and teasing out Walter’s verbal and visual depiction of it. Kentish Town gets the equivocal tagline, ‘Still strong in the Indie scene’, where Stoke Newington (‘Stokey’ on this map, as it is to residents) gets ‘NON CONFORMISTS LESBIANS PRAMS’, among other well-chosen epithets.
‘The Island’ is an artwork with an excellent sense of humour, as much about the character of London and its boroughs as the geographic limits. Drawn to the limits of legibility, it has the air of a written over manuscript, with images and words layered on top of each other like fossilising rock. Walter himself states that ‘London is one of the great living palimpsests of our time. Its layers of history and its constant energy to re-invent itself fuels this vast grey magnet.’ In this way, the map is as much about its viewer as its subject. It would be difficult and time consuming to read the whole of ‘The Island’ in a single sitting, perhaps impossible, but the casual observer of the map is attracted to areas they know, have lived in, or have some kind of attachment to. Again to quote Walter, this is a map that ‘acts as a mirror.’
Walters has since transformed ‘The Island’ from a single drawing into a whole series of 34 prints: London, the original island, and its 33 boroughs extrapolated from the original and reproduced in isolation. ‘The Island – London Series’ is currently exhibited in Fenton House, Hampstead. Walter’s work has been shown in a range of serious collections: at the Courtauld, the V&A, and in the permanent collection at the British Library. He is one of only two living artists to appear in the British Library’s amazing cartographic exhibition in 2010 (the other was Grayson Perry). The prints celebrate “a city’s ability to constantly reinvent itself, building on top of what was before, continually shifting its cultural identity.” The maps combine the trivial with the serious, the comic with the vanished and the accurate with the conjectural. They are a maverick cartographer’s, and a Londoner’s paradise.
For an interactive version of ‘The Island’ where you can zoom in to read about your borough, click here.
All images from ‘The Island – London Series’ have been published by TAG Fine Arts.
Visit the Charles Lamb