Speaking Stones audio trail will let artworks ‘talk’

Street art at Turnpike Lane tube, where The Ritz cinema used to stand. Above Laurel and Hardy is a f

Street art at Turnpike Lane tube, where The Ritz cinema used to stand. Above Laurel and Hardy is a flying saucer from the 1930s Flash Gordon films. Part of the speaking stones trail - Credit: Archant

Following a loop from Finsbury Park to Crouch End the local culture project takes in 30 statues, murals and street art with each described in words and song

The Spriggan by Marilyn Collins, on the Parkland Walk, Crouch End

The Spriggan by Marilyn Collins, on the Parkland Walk, Crouch End - Credit: Archant

If you’re taking your daily walk around Crouch End or Finsbury Park, then a timely art trail is set to offer both entertainment and a dose of local history.

Speaking Stones traces an audio-visual loop through Green Lanes, Stroud Green and Seven Sisters taking in 30 artworks, from commissioned bronzes to street art - including a possible Banksy.

Download the googlemap and you can stop and hear the artwork ‘speak’ in specially written words and song performed by actors and musicians.

Stroud Green playwright Martin Malcolm of Critical Moment Theatre oversaw the project, working with community volunteers and local creatives on the sound installation.

A relief outside Harringay Green Lanes train station by Judith Bluck

A relief outside Harringay Green Lanes train station by Judith Bluck - Credit: Archant

“We asked local people who hadn’t written before to give a voice to these artworks hanging around on the street, often unexplained,” he said.

“There was supposed to be a big launch and writing workshops, but the pandemic has meant doing them online instead. It’s turned out to be exactly the project for these times. For people taking their daily walk it will help them see these artworks that are hiding in plain sight. And for those who can’t leave their homes, they can take in the images and video clips virtually from their sofa.”

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Malcolm did extensive research on both artists and subjects working with libraries, local historians, youth clubs and social clubs to create the content.

“Some are commissioned artworks, some are the kind that turns up unexplained by street artists, and some are vernacular, like the row of carved cow heads on the Victorian villas in Cavendish Road.

“People have speculated there was a dairy there once, but I’ve traced them back to the Temple of Vesta in Rome and my best guess is the person who built the houses just liked them.”

Commissioned artworks include a steel statue of Soul II Soul legend Jazzie B who was born in Finsbury Park - performance poet Naomi Knox has contributed a verse about the sound sytems that inspired his music.

And ‘suffrajitsu’ pioneer Edith Garrud who was among the first female professional martial arts instructors and a bodyguard for Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst.

“There are cartoons of her doing ju-jitsu on policemen throwing them over her shoulder,” says Malcolm.

Edwardian social reformer Florence Keen left a lasting legacy in Finbsury Park.

The Highgate Presbyterian started her Infant Welfare Centre and School for Mothers in Elthorne Road Archway before buying two houses in Manor Gardens offering clinics, lessons in infant care and wards for sick babies.

“She asked why do so many babies die in North Islington and not Hampstead so she opened a hospital and halved the infant mortality rate in three years,” says Malcolm.

The centre continued to offer ante-natal and mother and child services into the 80s and remains a provider of health and welfare services to the disadvantaged.

In 1915 Keen wrote presciently: “We feel now, as we have never felt before, that all of us, rich and poor, are members of one another. The fact that a baby born of working-class parentage in a poor Islington street should run twice the risk of death in the first year that a baby does who is born in ‘residential’ Hampstead is becoming

intolerable to us. We realise with new vividness that our national existence

must in the future depend on the efficiency of our whole people; and when the

sons of every class were fighting and dying side by side, those whom they left

behind became conscious of a new sympathy with each other, and a new

common responsibility.”

Crouch End artworks include a smiling brass fish on the drinking fountain at the foot of the clocktower, a bas relief of a torch bearer on the old Gas Showroom, and TB Huxley-Jones’ reclining bronze outside the library.

On the Parkland Walk is The Spriggan by local artist Marilyn Collins which appears to be climbing out of a railway arch. The story that local children would dare each other to walk past the bridge in the dark is said to have inspired Stephen King’s spooky short story ‘Crouch End’.

“It’s a malevolent Cornish sprite, the ghost of a giant. There’s an urban myth that it haunts the Parkland Walk and plays tricks on people.”

One hard-to-pin down mural was Judith Bluck’s sculpted relief of a steam train outside Green Lanes station.

“The artist is dead and I couldn’t find out who commissioned it so it remains a mystery. When I asked local historians about it they said ‘is there?’ I hope Speaking Stones will get that reaction from people, making them see again what they already thought they knew - like hearing birdsong in lockdown, it’s always been there, we just notice it more.”

Street art includes a mural of silver screen stars on the site of a former cinema, and a possible Banksy on the side of a Poundland on Whymark Avenue, Wood Green.

A rat holding a card reading ‘why?’ is on the site of a Banksy that was hacked off the wall in 2013.

“He seems to have returned at a later date after the artwork was stolen and painted the rat instead. Next to it is a portrait of a boy balancing a spoon on his nose which may or may not be a Banksy.”

Malcolm adds: “At a time when many creatives have lost their income the project has provided work for 14 artists. It is a great way of bringing artists and local people together to weave all these stories into a trail getting people to look at what they already have. Hopefully the more you look, the more you’ll see.”

Funded by the Mayor of London’s Culture Seeds Fund, audio trial and storymap can be accessed from May 30 by following the link @StonesSpeaking.