Last month I invited London's sketchers to join me in a little afternoon-evening sketchcrawl around the streets of Whitechapel, in London's East End. Titled "Sketching Jack's London", the theme was to be looking for what is left of the city once stalked by the notorious Jack the Ripper. Of course, there was no requirement to sketch the Ripper's London, you could if you wish just draw the hipsters. I made little hand drawn maps and gave everyone a small micro-sketchbook I had made myself. There were around thirty-five of us in total (many came for the first half, while others joined in after work), some from all around the world (such as Alissa Duke from Australia and Sue Pownall who was visiting from Oman). So many lovely sketchers there! It was an unusually hot London day, but great to see so many sketchers out! Here is the starting group...
We started at Whitechapel tube station, bustling with the local market around us. It's been more than a decade since I was last in Whitechapel, and while much has changed, much remained as I remember it. I sketched the station. I don’t imagine Jack the Ripper coming by tube, but the station dates back to the 1870s so it’s not impossible. I wonder how he would have felt about the current extortionate ticket prices. “What a Rip-off” probably.
I wandered down Whitechapel Road to the old Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Established in 1570, this is in fact the oldest registered manufacturing company in Britain – or the world, as the various bike tour guides passing by would say. Still, they have a magnificent history (see their website) – this is where the Liberty Bell was cast (though it broke, of course), as well as the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the bell from the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and perhaps the most famous bell of all, Big Ben, a bell so famous that most people think it’s a clock. Big Ben is also the biggest bell they ever cast here. I didn’t go in, but sat in the shade of a tree outside while locals stopped and said, oh wow man, and offered to give me cold drinks.
Next, Aldgate East, and stood opposite the magnificent building above the station, and the lovely Whitechapel Art Gallery. I had planned on finding the "canonical five" Ripper sites and sketching the cobbles in Mitre Square, but the evening was pressing on and I needed to head up Brick Lane.
I love Brick Lane, I used to come here for a curry every week when I was a student in Mile End. These days there are lots more hipsters than in the late 90s, but the same old curry houses I used to love are still here in the heart of Bangla Town. I sat outside and sketched my old haunts...
And finally to Christ Church Spitalfields, built by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the English baroque style it was completed in 1729 (so definitely a big part of Jack’s London).
Oh, and then there are the sketches I did in my own 8-page micro-sketchbook. As I said, I gave one to everyone with the proviso they must sketch London in it. I did, but mostly I took the opportunity to draw London people...
And that's it! This sketchcrawl was definitely the highlight of my trip, and it was nice to reconnect with an area I had all but forgotten. I really enjoyed the final meeting at the end where we looked in each others sketchbooks, and it was lovely to meet such excellent and artistically diverse sketchers. And I finally got to meet London Urban Sketcher James Hobbs! Amazing to look through his sketchbook. Afterwards, several of us popped into the Ten Bells pub across the street for a pint, and a little more on-the-spot people sketching. I look forward to meeting the London sketchers again on a future visit!
Urban Sketchers London
by Pete Scully