Dorothy Annan’s Technology Mural

Much as I love the Barbican  it can seem pretty bleak, especially in the late afternoon of a grey February day. So it is always a pleasure to plan a route to the library that takes me past Dorothy Annan’s joyful celebration of British technology in the 1960s.

Dorothy Annan mural Speed Highwalk Barbican Estate

Dorothy Annan Mural Speed Highwalk, Barbican London 


Now to be found on the Speed Highwalk between Speed House and the Barbican Centre, these nine beautifully crafted ceramic panels celebrate the “white heat” of 1960s communications technology.

Dorothy Annan Radio Communications and Television, Mural Speed Highwalk, Barbican Estate London

Radio Communications & Television


The murals were commissioned in 1960 (at £300 a panel) by the Ministry of Public Building and Works to “add interest at street level” to the Farringdon Street side of the Fleet Building.  So named because of the subterranean River Fleet flowing beneath, the thirteen-storey  glass and concrete block  was built to house the Central Telegraph Office.  Designed under the supervision of the GPO’s Chief Architect Eric Bedford (who later designed the longer-lasting Post Office (now BT) Tower) this was London’s largest telephone exchange boasting 12,000 subscriber lines and employing 600 staff.

Dorothy Annan took her inspiration from the new communications technology. She researched her subject thoroughly, visiting Post Office buildings across London and photographing physical elements of the new technology to incorporate into her designs.

Power & Generators Dorothy Annan Mural Speed High walk Barbican, London

Power and Generators


The stylised and abstract panels representing the hardware of communications technology at the cutting edge: cables, pylons, aerials, generators, power lines, is softened by the muted colour palette.

Lines over the countryside Dorothy Annan Mural Speed HIghwalk Barbican, London

Lines over the Countryside


Each one of the nine panels is a unique work of art and the influence of her contemporaries including Ben Nicholson, Paul Klee and Joan Miro is evident.

Impressions derived from the patternsproduced by cathode ray oscilligraphs used in testing Dorothy Annan mural Speed Highwalk Barbican London

Impressions derived from the Patterns Produced by Cathode Ray Oscilligraphs used in Testing


The panels are each made up of forty biscuit-ware tiles, each roughly thirty by forty-six centimetres and manufactured by Hathernware Ltd of Loughborough.  Dorothy Annan hand scored each of the 360 wet clay tiles to her own design in the Hathernware studios and, after the first firing, she decorated, glazed and fired them in her own London studio.

detail from Cable Chamber with Cables Entering from the Street Dorothy AnnanMural Speed Highwalk Barbican, London

Detail from Cable Chamber with Cables Entering

Dorothy Annan (1908-1983) was a ceramist and a painter and is now best known for her murals. Politically left-wing, she was a member of the Artists International Association (along with Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson and Frank Auerbach) whose aim was the “unity of artists for peace, democracy and cultural development. The AIA saw travelling exhibitions and murals as a means of promoting wider access to art. Many functional and utilitarian post-war public buildings like the Fleet Building were brightened up by murals.

Overseas Communication showing cable bouys Dorothy Annan Mural Speed Highwalk Barbican, London
Overseas Communication showing cable buoys


Sadly very few survive, Dorothy Annan’s largest work, Expanding Universe at the Bank of England was destroyed in 1997. Her only other surviving work in London – a London County Council commission for Caley Street school in Tower Hamlets – was happily rediscovered in 2008.  The Fleet Building mural was heading for the same fate. The building had been in a state of near dereliction for many years after computerisation superseded telegraph and Telex, and Goldman Sachs  – who had acquired the site to build their new £350m European HQ  – did not initially see merit in the work.


Fleet Building Faringdon Street
Fleet Building Farringdon Street © Copyright Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

But thanks to a campaign by 20th Century Society and Tile and Architectural Ceramics Society among others, the mural (though not the building to which it was affixed) was awarded Grade II listing by English Heritage in 2011.  In 2013, with agreement of the Corporation of the City of London and a dowry of £100,000 from Goldman Sachs the panels were relocated to Speed Highwalk preserving them for posterity and “adding interest” at highwalk level.

Dorothy Annan mural Speed highwalk Barbican, London
Dorothy Annan mural – looking back from the end


Oonagh Gay: inspiring London walks

Great interview here with Oonagh Gay of Crouch End Walks

Islington Faces Blog

Everyone has a story. Oonagh Gay may have retired in June 2015 from running the Parliament & Constitution Centre, which she set up at the House of Commons Library 15 years ago, but she’s now able to focus on her passion for local history and run some great weekend walks – many starting in Islington. Interview by Nicola Baird

Oonagh Gay xxx Oonagh Gay runs weekend walking tours – several start in Islington. Try her Stroud Green walk, or Angel or Holloway Road. Info at crouchendwalks and inspiring london walks.

Oonagh Gay, OBE, claims she’s always been immersed in local history. Her father Ken Gay, who recently died aged 91, was president of the Hornsey Historical Society and had a huge local history collection. “We’ve just had to clear 11,000 books,” says Oonagh surprisingly calmly considering she’s spent the past two years winding up the job she’s had for 30 years, packing up and selling her…

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Third Thursdays


Pioneers, Poets & Pacifists in Bloomsbury – Thursday 19th May 11:00 am

On this stroll though Bloomsbury squares we meet ten of the lesser known women who played a significant role in science, medicine, politics, the arts. They include the distinguished scientist imprisoned as a conscientious objector, the first woman to gain a Master of Surgery degree, the novelist who championed education for disabled children but opposed women’s suffrage, and more…

Meet at Euston Square underground  Click here to book

Now that the days are longer and the evenings lighter Third Thursday Walks shift to the evening

The ‘New Woman’ in East Bloomsbury – Thursday 16th June 6:30 pm 

Follow in the footsteps of some of the pioneers of women’s education, employment and suffrage.  On this walk through east Bloomsbury’s quiet streets and squares we will see where the first women Doctors trained,  discover the Rational Dress Society and why it was needed, meet the advertising copywriter who became a famous detective writer, the activist who established a women-run printing press and much more.  This is a circular walk from Russell Square tube.

Meet at Russell Square underground    Click here to book 

Clowning about in Clerkenwell – Thursday 21st July 6:30 pm

This two-hour walk centres on Joseph Grimaldi, the most celebrated English Clown, who lived, worked and died in this historic area. Hear the extraordinary story of Joey’s life, loves and work as we stroll through an area long associated with entertainment and with the Italian community. We meet at Chancery Lane Station (north exit – Grays Inn Road side) and finish in Joseph Grimaldi Park near Kings Cross.

Meet at Chancery Lane Station Click here to Book



On tomorrow’s stroll though Bloomsbury

Noor Inayat Khan  Children’s Author  &  WW2 SOE operative

On tomorrow’s stroll though Bloomsbury squares we meet ten of the lesser known women who played a significant role in science, medicine, politics, the arts. They include the distinguished scientist imprisoned as a conscientious objector, the first woman to gain a Master of Surgery degree, the novelist who championed education for disabled children but opposed women’s suffrage, and more…

Booking via Eventbrite:

The ‘New Woman’

Meet the independent women of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Long before the Boris bike (though that should really be the Ken bike) the Rover safety bicycle offered new freedom to women as well as healthy outdoor exercise.


Fashion adapted to meet these new demands,  introducing simpler more business-like styles.

 In America, Amelia Bloomer gave her name to a particular form of comfortable clothing, while a few years later in the UK, the Rational Dress Society protested  “against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms” .

Jaeger rational dress

Its members were more likely to advocate Dr Jaeger’s ‘sanitary’ woollen wear.  Just the thing for the the aspiring doctor studying at the London School of Medicine for Women!


Join my walk on Saturday 16th January  to discover Bloomsbury’s ‘New Women and they legacy they left behind.

Mark Aston: Islington Museum & Local History Centre Manager

Islington Faces Blog

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Any idea what you do if you want to find out more about your Islington roots – either your family or the places you know in the borough? Or maybe you want to know more about Tufnell Park, Clerkenwell or the people who’ve lived in Islington like Joe Orton or find out who is buried here?  If you’re curious about the old Islington then try booking an appointment at the Islington Local History Centre, where there’s a good chance you’ll meet enthusiastic Mark Aston who is in charge of Islington’s local history.  Interview by Nicola Baird

xx “This isn’t a crusty museum,” says Mark Aston who runs Islington Museum and Local History Centre. “I’m keen to get more popular culture into  this museum – sport, music and literature – because there’s history in everything.”

Mark Aston lives in Camden but he knows Islington better than…

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