T J Boulting – From Sanitary to Contemporary
By Clive Jennings
One of Fitzrovia’s most loved buildings is the elegant Arts & Crafts block at the corner of Riding House Street and Candover Street, famous for the luxuriant turquoise and gold mosaic panels, proudly pronouncing in swirling Art Nouveau script, “T J Boulting & Sons Gas & Electrical Engineers. Est.1808” and “Sanitary & Hot Water Engineers” on its two facades.
There is a small enclave of similarly styled mansion blocks in the surrounding streets, an area that would have still been predominantly Georgian in 1903 when they were built, and would have been the height of fashion at the time, taking their cue from the style made popular by near neighbour, Arthur Liberty, in Regent Street who popularised what was flatteringly known on the continent as “Style Liberty”.
The latest incumbents are Trolley: a dynamic combination of publishing house and cutting edge contemporary art gallery. Directors Gigi Giannuzzi and Hannah Watson fell in love with the building and patiently waited a year to move in while a saga that included a lorry knocking down a tree, that resulted in excavation that caused water damage unfolded. In fact they have embraced the building to the extent that the gallery arm is now called T J Boulting, while the publishing arm remains Trolley Books, an inventive solution that I’m sure would flatter the eponymous T J Boulting, and sons, who were obviously very proud of their business. The building is Grade II* listed, and in their sympathetic refurbishment, they have peeled back layers of lino to reveal parquet floors and another beautiful mosaic in, appropriately for sanitary engineers, the bathroom.
The story of Trolley starts in 1997 when Gigi was involved in publishing a book of photographs by cult America photographer, Nan Goldin. He went on to work with art world greats Richard Serra, and Richard Long and by 2000, was promoting his latest publications around the book fairs of Europe. Lacking the funds for an official stand, and unconventional by nature, he chose a strategy of guerilla attacks, sporting a red velvet suit and pushing his stock around in a shopping trolley, hence the imprint name. Gigi moved his operation to London in 2001, meeting Hannah, then an intern at the Peggy Guggeheim Foundation, in Venice in 2005. They ended up in Redchurch Street, the once scruffy thoroughfare that connects Shoreditch to Brick Lane.
Taking over the premises of Stuart Shave’s “Modern Art” gallery, now relocated in nearby Eastcastle Street after a spell in Bethnal Green, they started organising exhibitions there in 2005. Redchurch Street still had an edgy attraction then, and was home to several galleries and louche bars. As always, the money followed the art and the Street’s fate was sealed when Terence Conran opened his boutique hotel Boundary, the designer stores moved in and most recently artist, Sam Taylor Wood filmed her beau, actor Aaron Johnson, throwing himself around for an REM video. Exorbitant rent increases and the desultory offer of a shipping container round the corner for over £30,000 per annum made Fitzrovia, an area Hannah knew from days working in Newman Street, with its buzzing gallery scene seem very attractive.
The irony of the cycle of people having to move from an area that only became popular due to their creative energy because they are now priced out (Hoxton and most of lower Manhattan being typical examples) is not lost on Hannah and Gigi. The old gallery had the legend “Greed, it ain’t going anywhere” painted the length of the building, a prescient sentiment. Like Josh Lilley Gallery across the road the modest ground floor is the tip of iceberg, and visitors walk through the informal open plan publishing side to the impressive basement gallery, many times its size. Down here, ceilings are a majestic 4 metres high in places, and a beautiful arch has been uncovered, having been panelled in for years.
The Gallery got off to a flying start in mid October with an anarchic exhibition by Kling & Bang, an Icelandic artist led gallery who have previously shown at Tate Modern and Frieze in nearby Regents Park. It consisted of a video archive playing concurrently on ten individually headphoned screens and individual pieces by member artists ranging in size from small drawings to whole room installations. On the opening day, there was a party atmosphere with performance, music and a custom-built gold bar. The contributing artists, of whom there were many, mainly with names ending in “dottir”, dispensed Icelandic Schnapps whilst others cooked Icelandic pancakes. A Prosecco fountain was fed by 180 bottles of Prosecco, sourced from the vineyard next to Trolley’s printers in Italy.
Trolley Gallery started with exhibitions by artists connected to books they had published. Paul Fryer, author of “Don’t Be So” illustrated by Damien Hirst, being an early example. Subsequent highlights include photographer Nick Waplington, Nina Gehl and a group show curated by Tracey Emin. The gallery has established a good relationship with many artists and photographers that has lasted, and, as is often the case, the roster has grown organically, often through artist recommendations. Forthcoming exhibitors include Jennifer Taylor in December and Boo Saville in February. Plans are also afoot to mount a mini exhibition in the building’s oak panelled vestibule with its half timbered ceiling, which only has about a square metre of floor space, a real private view with room for only two at a time.
The publishing arm specialises in photography and photo-journalism with a wide ranging list from the wonderful sartorial perfection of the sapeurs featured in “The Gentlemen of Bacongo” who stride across the war torn rutted landcape of sub Saharan Africa looking like characters from PG Wodehouse, to very hard hitting documentation of war and conflict, such as “Attack on Gaza” with text by Noam Chomsky and “The Only House Left Standing” the Middle East journals of Tim Hundalls. Art and architecture also feature and the attention to detail in the design of the books makes them a pleasure to handle and read. Trolley is renowned for the respect with which it treats its contributing photographers’ documentation of what Gigi calls “life trajectories”. A typical example is the experience of Philip Jones Griffiths, whose photographic essay “Recollections” they published. He explains: “Meeting Gigi was the closest I’ll ever come to a religious conversion. While most publishers baulked at the number of photographs I want to include, Gigi said ‘No good’ and asked for more.”
Two recent publications concentrate on events on either side of Fitzrovia, both within a ten minute walk of Riding House Street, in Soho and St Pancras. “Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues, The First 30 Years” documents, through illustrated flyers and Gaz’s recollections, the one nighter that ran and ran, still hosted by the ebullient Gaz, son of ‘60s blues man John, and still playing the best ska and reggae in town every Thursday night at The St Moritz in Wardour Street, a time warped ‘60s nightclub with a Swiss chalet theme, apparently very popular at the time.
Trolley’s first foray into fiction is “The Hardy Tree” by first time novelist Iphgenia Baal. It tells the story of how, 150 years ago, a young and sensitive Thomas Hardy headed a group of thugs known as “The Resurrection Men” whose job was to disinter and rebury on consecrated land 10,000 corpses whose graves were on the route of the Great Midland Railway from Manchester to London. The only memorial now extant being the tree in the grounds of St Pancras church from which stacked gravestones emanate like the spores of a necrogenic upturned mushroom.
Hannah and Gigi would love to know more about their building. Did any engineering actually take place there or was it an administrative headquarters? Was T J Boulting Fitzrovia’s answer to Thomas Crapper, who was also a sanitary engineer and popularised the flushing water closet at around the same time from his base in West London? Any information or stories about Boulting or any other previous occupants, from local residents and workers would be gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org
T J Bouting, 59 Riding House Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7EG
Boulting and Sons Grade II* listed building is in the East Marylebone Conservation Area.