Golden, Grace

Above: Looking west above Bankside
(probably while standing on Southwark Bridge).
Drawn by Grace Golden in 1927.

Detailed Description of the Image

The scene in the drawing needs further explanation. Although we are now used to strolling along Bankside – passing the restaurants, pubs and the Globe Theatre – it was not always like we see today. In the 1970s, Bankside was a lonely street with few people walking there. A lone crane, like those seen in the drawing, still stood beside the Thames where the Globe Theatre is today. In the 1920s and 1930s, Bankside was anything but peaceful and was also a very dirty, sooty place. Where the Tate Modern building stands, was a gas-works. The mean streets leading from Bankside were filled with either poor housing or large warehouses, with goods being moved in and out on an almost daily basis. Notice the street-lamp on one corner in the drawing.

Barges are seen moored beside the river-wall and the man in the foreground is pushing a hand-cart loaded with rubbish towards a shoot which then falls down into the barge. It was dusty, dirty and smelly work. The whole of Bankside – which in those days extended from the Anchor tavern all the way to Blackfriars Bridge – would have looked much the same. It was only in the 1970s that most of the street was made into a pedestrian footpath. Grace Golden lived in a house very near the scene in the drawing and she experienced first-hand the dirt and hard work that was commonplace.

When most people want to make a record of what they are looking at, they just take a picture – sometimes on their camera but often on their mobile phone. Grace Golden started observing the world around her in the 1920s and 1930s but, because she had the wonderful gift of being able to draw, she just made rough sketches of what she wanted to remember and then later she used those sketches to produce a drawing or painting.

Grace Lydia Golden (2 April 1904 – 3 June 1993) was an English illustrator and historian. She was born into a working-class family in East London. When she was five, her parents moved to a house near Southwark Bridge and she grew up on Bankside, taking a great interest in the working life of the Thames – with wharves and cranes, workers unloading goods delivered by lighters and many other activities. After her education at the City of London School for Girls, she won a scholarship to the Chelsea College of Art, where she studied from 1920 to 1923. She progressed to the Royal College of Art, first as a student and later teaching there for two years, from 1926. She became an Associate of the Royal College of Art. She also studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic.

Grace Golden began a career in book illustration in the early 1930s. She received a small legacy in 1934 which enabled her to work on exhibition pieces. Working in both watercolours and oil paint, she exhibited at the Royal Academy, as well as the Fine Art Society and Leicester Galleries.

Her fascination with the Thames led to her producing a book called ‘Old Bankside’ with 51 illustrations of the wharves and alleys beside the Thames, between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge. Years later, Sam Wanamaker invited Grace Golden to become the honorary archivist for his Globe Theatre project.

Grace Golden died on 3 June 1993, aged 89 at the Royal Free Hospital. For anyone who knew her, she had a real interest in London and especially its social life. In her later years, she was approached by the Museum of London which acquired many of her sketches and preparatory work in notebooks for the archives. During the 1930s Grace spent a great deal of her spare time visiting theatres and other public venues, making many quick and insightful sketches of people which today are invaluable as a source of study for those seeking to find out about the way of life in the years before and during the Second World War. Many of those sketches were made in small notebooks and often consisted of just a few lines hurriedly made in pencil of how a person looked or the posture that they adopted.

Using just one example to explain how important her work was, Grace produced a painting of Sir Henry Wood conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Queen’s Hall in 1940. Wood was the instigator of the London Promenade Concerts which are still being held today. The concerts were first held at Queen’s Hall which was later bombed during the Second World War. The concerts are now held at the Royal Albert Hall. Her painting shows a unique moment in the history of London’s concert life for which there is no better visual record.

Most of her work had an immediacy as well as fine detail that it is so hard to capture in a photograph. As well as being held in the archives of the Museum of London, much of Grace’s work is also at the Tate Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and at the National Archives. She is an important artist of the 20th century.


This entry was posted in /Persons (c3), /Sou-Southwark. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Golden, Grace

  1. Penelope Tay says:

    Thanks Adrian. It would be good to see Grace’s book, did you know her?


  2. Yes, I knew her very well. What is the connection with the other Website?


  3. Richard Maddison says:

    I am interested in Grace Golden due to a connection with my mother.
    I have 3 small pictures by her, interior of old Vic 1924, London Colissium 1938 and th Bear garden museum 1972.


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