Quaker Court art

Someone let rip with their creativity. If only this happened in more places!

If you go down Banner Street from Whitecross Street towards Bunhill Road, you pass Quaker Court on your right. A very undistinguished, post-War, low-rise, block of flats. But one of the residents has done something remarkable. On all the columns supporting the building above are photos by Elina Jokipii of some of her neighbours in the block dressed up as former residents of the area from the past (the 1911 census to be exact). What a wonderful inspired idea – and so beautifully executed!

It is very much in keeping with the Whitecross Street area tradition for decorating walls with graffiti and art.

The work is called ‘Block X’ by Elina Jokipii. Block X was produced by ‘Kunstraum’ for the Whitecross Street Party 2019 with support from the Arts Council of England.

‘Block X’ was a block of flats in the Peabody Whitecross Street estate on this site until it was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941. Whitecross Street estate was built by Peabody in 1883 following the compulsory purchase orders of previous dwellings in the area that were deemed unhealthy – as part of a plan to improve the living conditions of the working poor. Along with other buildings nearby ‘Block X’ was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1941.

The photographs show current local residents (Elina Jokipii’s neighbours) taking on the characters and trades of people from the past, inspired by Block X’s actual residents as recorded in the census of 1911.

The project was intended as a tribute to past and present residents of the Whitecross Street area. Jokipii said: “By dressing as characters from the past we have been touched by the lives which have made Whitecross Street a vibrant area through the centuries. Although the fabric of the areas gone through some extreme changes, some of them violent, it is the people who continue to make Whitecross Street what it is, past, present and future.”

For this project Jokipii explored London Metropolitan archives, Islington local history Centre and Peabody’s own archives.

How to get into Whitecross Street

The council has redone the road system and, as a result, made it very difficult for vehicles to get into Whitecross Street. The main potential knock-on effect is that potential customers may be put of coming to Whitecross Street restaurants and other businesses because they can’t easily get close enough.

If you want to get into Whitecross Street by walking, you are fine. By bicycle, also not too difficult. But if you want to get into Whitecross Street using a car, it’s not easy.

You can enter Whitecross Street from Chiswell Street in the south, but you can only get as far as just short of Waitrose. You can drive no further north beyond that point (even when the street is not full of market stalls).

It’s impossible to enter Whitecross Street through any of the cross streets to the west. Fortune Street between Golden Lane and Whitecross Street is closed except for permit holders and buses. Roscoe Street is open only so as to give access to the Peabody estate without reaching Whitecross Street. Banner Street is ‘no entry’ from Golden Lane.

Garrett Street is rather misleading. It has a sign on Golden Lane saying Garrett Street is a dead end except for cyclistis. In fact, there seems to be no problem about exiting the street at the Whitecross Street junction in a car as long as you want to turn left to go to Old Street. It seems to be open to question whether you can ever turn right. A sign on Garrett Street itself says that between 9.00am and 2.30pm, Monday to Friday, you can only turn left back towards Old Street – which suggests that at other times you can turn right into Whitecross Street. But outside the Whitecross Tap public house is a no-right-turn sign without any reference to a time limitation. And in case you were thinking of chancing it, there’s an ominous security camera sign right underneath.

You can’t enter Whitecross Street from Old Street at the northern end at all. There’s no luck either further along at the Bunhill Row junction with Old Street. You have to go as far as the roundabout and then down City Road before you can find a way into the area, if you tackle Whitecross Street from the top end.

The only way to get into the middle of Whitecross Street is down Banner Street on the east side. But that is not made easy either.

From City Road you can turn into Featherstone Street, cross Bunhill Row, and go straight ahead into Banner Street (and then to Whitecross Street). If you want to get out again you can’t do the reverse; you can’t go the other way along Featherstone Street. You also cannot turn right to go down Banner Street towards the Barbican end of the street. Once you are in, you can only go up and out into Old Street.

You can however reach the middle of Whitecross Street by starting from Chiswell Street. You can drive up Bunhill Row from Chiswell Street and then turn left into Banner Street, which takes you through to the middle of Whitecross Street. Again, once you are in, you can only go up and out into Old Street because Bunhill Road is one way in the direction of Old Street.

So, all in all, bad news for businesses relying on customers who need to come by car .