Colourful Streets In London To Brighten Up Your Day
So, we’re writing this in late 2020. It’s lockdown, the bright colours of autumn are fading, winter sun is off the menu and it’s started getting dark at 4pm. We’re not supposed to leave London, we’ve watched everything on Netflix, eaten everything in Tesco (rubbish), Sainsbury's (better) and now also Waitrose (tasty, but we’re poorer) and are considering getting into frivolities such as recipe boxes, gin clubs and ordering dumplings from Din Tai Fung (oh, how we miss you). Coupled with this we’ve found ourselves with an inexhaustible desire to leave the house, which means we’ve been doing a fair amount of safely exploring the localities of our home city whatever the inclemency of the weather. Luckily, London can be pretty amazing for culture and very beautiful even when everything is shut with everything from street art by some famous names to pastel coloured streets brightening up areas of the city. Below, we’ve listed some of London’s most colourful streets from North to South, East to West, with a short stop in Central if you’re still travelling in for work. Colour and sunshine is therapy to us, so if you live close to some of the below (or are reading this from the future), go and check them out for a little bit of happy colour fix.
Here's some of our favourite colourful places in London
North London | Falkland Road, Kelly Street & Chalcot Crescent
If you have time, you can do these ones as a bit of a walking tour starting at the pretty Falkland Road in Kentish Town. The first house to be painted was the turquoise blue one which belongs to a musician and takes its inspiration from a Rossini opera score cover. Legend has it that one by one the neighbours either fell for colour or fell to fomo, resulting in the rainbow hued street we see today being listed as a conservation area. Heading down Kentish Town Road towards Camden brings you to Kelly Street, which has a particularly cute community website that gives a little bit of the history of the road. Apart from its colourful houses, Kelly Street was notable in the late 1800s as being the ‘worst street for immorality in its Division’, by the social historian Charles Booth, who created poverty maps of London with streets colour coded by wealth. Despite being coded as ‘fairly comfortable’ a few of the houses on Kelly Street were suspected to be brothels, with a report commenting that ‘plenty of women living here… bring men into their home occasionally’. Such a crime.
Heading further south and a little bit west walks you down the colourful Hartland Road and through Camden Market, with it’s vibrant umbrella street. Walking a little further brings you to pastel coloured Chalcot Square & Chalcot Crescent in Primrose Hill. Primrose Hill is named, not after the small yellow flowers that bloom in late spring but rather after Archibald Primrose who served as prime minister in 1894. Chalcot Crescent and the surrounding roads have a few notable residents, including Silvia Plath and Jose Rival, a Filipino polymath who, amongst other wild rumours, is occasionally perceived in strange corners of the internet to be the father of Hitler.
East London | Aberfeldy Street & Walala Parade
We could well have taken you down Brick Lane for East London, but whilst the home of some pretty spectacular street art, we felt it was a little obvious. Instead, we’re going to Poplar & Leyton to see some of the best street art in London.
Aberfeldy Street in Poplar (above) represents how we would love all streets to be if we were in charge and was definitely our favourite one of all in this blog. Sadly, we’re not in charge, but the Aberfeldy Street Murals are pretty cool for a bunch of reasons and were only completed in August 2020, so are fairly low on everyone's radar at the moment. Commissioned by Poplar Harca just after lockdown in March, the murals of Aberfeldy Street are in part designed to keep businesses sustained within the local area, creating a hub for people to come to. The murals were created by Jan Kattein Architects and Meanwhile Space and painted by the London Mural Company. The designs take their inspiration from the residents of the area, from both the Bangladeshi Kantha tradition of recycling old textiles to create something new, as well as swatches donated by the local community for the project, with each shop and the flats above having a different design. At the end of the road is Jimmy C’s portrait of Tommy Flowers, a technologist who built the world’s first programmable electronic computer at Bletchley Park. Flowers was born just around the corner and Jimmy C is a well renowned street artist with a few different walls around London. If you’ve taken a stroll along Southbank recently, you might well recognise his pointillist London Cityscape on the end of the tunnel just before Blackfriars' Station.
Heading right from Leyton Station up the high street brings you to Walala Parade, one of the latest in a series of commissions by Camille Walala that add some much needed vibrancy to the streets of London.
Walala originally hails from France, but studied printed textiles in Brighton, which to us, as Brighton born textiles graduates, is proof that that heady combination can really take you places. Walala’s art takes its inspiration from the South African Ndbele tribe, Bauhaus, Constructivism, Op Art and Memphis style patterns, which do not come from Memphis but rather from Italy in the 1980s. Walala’s art operates on the premise that “colour and pattern [has the power] to transform atmospheres, elevate moods and spark positivity”. The walls in Leyton were crowdfunded by residents & are Waltham Forest’s largest public artwork.
If you’re looking for more Walala in East London, there’s a pretty cool building just past Old Street Roundabout towards Shoreditch and she recently redid Rich Mix at the end of Brick Lane with amazing designs for the London Mural Festival.
South London | Leake Street Tunnel & Thessaly Road Bridge
When we were doing the initial research for this blog which combined a decent bit of internet searching with some virtual walking up and down London’s roads using the trusty Google Street View, we couldn’t find too many places in South London that were really colourful. If you know somewhere good, hit us up and we’ll add it to the blog. Otherwise, step it up South Londoners- colour is good for the soul.
Leake Street Tunnel is technically central London but it’s on the south side of the river so we’ve decided it counts. Once a slightly sketchy way to get from York Road to the infinitely nicer Lower Marsh, Leake Street was transformed in 2008 when Banksy used the site to host the Cans Festival, inviting artists from all over the world to spraypaint the walls. Today, the tunnel’s ever changing artwork creates a destination in itself where you can see graffiti artists at work. In normal times you can go to something amazing at The Vaults, a warren-like venue of underground tunnels that hosts cool experiential performances & nights out.
Thessaly Road Bridge (above) is actually quite near where we live, so we popped to check it out on our lunch break. The location of this one just behind New Covent Garden Market might not make it a destination within itself, but if you’re in the Nine Elms/Battersea/Stockwell area, you should definitely check it out because it’s super colourful. Renamed Happy Street (and doing a good job of it, in our opinion), the art for Thessaly Road Bridge was created by Yinka Ilori, who could give Camille Walala a run for her money with regards to colourfully patterned public architecture. Illori is a British-Nigerian artist whose work is inspired by traditional Nigerian parables and bright West African textiles, but where Walala’s prints are always bold, Ilori’s use of colour contains a subtlety to its brightness that creates space for breath and reflection, allowing you to get a little more lost in the details.
West London | The Hillgate Village Loop & Portobello Road
These ones can also be done in a little bit of a walking tour, starting from Notting Hill Gate Station and finishing at the top of Portobello Road. Hillgate Village is actually a set of four or five colourful streets just off the main thoroughfare that were constructed in the 1850s. We are unsure whether the name implies that at the time the area wasn’t built up like we see today, or whether the use of village is a rebranding effort by residents that fits the cutesy vibe and pastel coloured houses. Similarly to Kelly Street, Hillgate Village was described in the 1870s as a “dingy, ill favoured slum”, but is now designated as a character area by Kensington & Chelsea council.
Heading back across the main road takes you to the end of Portobello Road, where you can walk up past a colourful parade of residences that include George Orwell’s house (commemorated by a blue plaque) and on to Portobello Market. My dad used to trade antiques and electricals there in the '90s, where I witnessed, as a child, that haggling with a strong willed Lebanese man takes fine skill and is not adeptly handled by most tourists. Portobello road on Saturdays when it’s not lockdown makes for a properly London-y day out, where you can combine colourful houses with shopping for vintage clothes, knick knacks, antiques and hunting for the best coffee.
Central London | The Neal’s Yard Loop
Central London is a little bit of a ghost town at the moment and with the addition of Christmas decorations has the slightly sorry air of someone all dressed up with nowhere to go. However, in future times or if you’re working from Central during lockdown, the Neal’s Yard Loop is a nice way to brighten up your lunch break. We’d start at Covent Garden, walk through the Petersham Nurseries courtyard and up to Floral street, where the Floral Street Coffee House is covered in some particularly vibrant fake flowers. From there, go through Conduit Court with its illuminated, colour changing ‘Infinity Chamber’. We’re not sure who the Infinity Chamber is by, but it’s kinda fun, and right now you’re way less likely to be disturbed by other people’s pictures. Heading straight on takes you into Slingsby Place, or The Yards, which is currently full of a few different pieces of public artwork and some pretty cool illuminated ceilings that cover different entrances. Again, we’re not sure who designed these but being colour fiends, we like them. Heading up towards 7 Dials and Monmouth Street brings you to Neal’s Yard, a winding, colourful alley full of independent shops including the eponymous dairy & Neal’s Yard Remedies, which was founded in the courtyard. It seems painting buildings bright shades is a general strategy for regeneration across the city, with Neal’s Yard developed as we see today from a set of derelict warehouses to a vibrant courtyard with an ethical focus by Nicolas Saunders in the 1970s. The street takes its name from 17th century politician and developer Thomas Neale, who also developed Shadwell, East Smithfield & Tunbridge Wells and held the curious title of Groom of the Bedchamber. We decided not to google what that means, because, you know, it’s way more fun to make it up.