London Lives: new book about characters that make the city
Regent's Park gardener and Bar Italia owner interviewed
12 October, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary
AND so to Piccadilly, to meet Dr Andrea Tanner, via the pages of a wonderful new book – London Lives.
Author Danny Rosenbaum has joined forces with photographer Rupert Vandervell to tell the story of our city by interviewing someone with a role that reflects something about our home.
Their subjects range from New Covent Garden-based greengrocer Paul Murphy to the Brick Lane beigel baker Sammy Minzly, Gordon’s Wine Bar proprietor Gerard Menan through to Evening Standard photographer Jeremy Selwyn.
“Whatever time of day, the people we have featured enjoy their jobs and this creates a virtuous circle of motivation leading to excellence, leading to further motivation,” says Danny Rosenbaum.
They headed to Piccadilly, to Fortnum & Mason, and it was there they met Dr Tanner. A Glaswegian by birth, the book explains, but “…it would however be hard to find anyone more immersed in London history,” they say.
She had worked previously at the Public Record Office, as a genealogist at the College of Arms and an archivist at Great Ormond Street.
She joined the Queen’s grocers in 1996 and began chronicling this famous institution.
“The archivist is the keeper of the company memory,” she says.
“Because we are normally shy and retiring, people forget it’s the archivists who decide what is remembered. If we don’t hang on to something, people won’t remember it.”
Fortnum’s dates from the 1700s, and has always had a store on Piccadilly.
But for Andrea, the issue is that many records simply were not seen as important at the time and have been lost.
“Shops are a bit like theatres, she says. “It’s the next production that is most important.”
And before she took the job, no one else was doing it – meaning things were saved simply by chance.
“I’m regularly on eBay, and other websites, buying back bits of our heritage. “Caviar pots and wicker baskets are the items that most come up for auction.
“Nowadays our buyers and shop-floor staff know that before they throw anything out, they’ve got to tell Dr T!”
Regent’s Park head gardener Tom Moss- Davies speaks of his life keeping the Regency park spick and span.
He started in 1973 and his work includes looking after the immaculate Queen Mary’s Gardens – he is responsible for the 17,000 roses that burst into colour each year.
“I’ve worked in Regent’s Park for 45 years,” he says. “I have put quite a lot of my life into this job. It’s given me a lot of pleasure.”
Then it’s down to Frith Street, Soho, to meet Antonio Polledri, the co-owner of the famous Bar Italia.
Founded in 1949 by Lou and Caterina Polledri – Antonio’s grandparents – the famous café has changed little since they served their first espresso, even though the area has.
“It still has the same terrazzo floor, the red and white Formica bar counter, and the same Gaggia coffee brewing machine,” writes Danny, on top of the mementos and gifts that celebrate London’s Italian community on the wall.
Perhaps the best-known exhibit is the boxing gloves of world heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano.
He’d visit Bar Italia when he was in London, and loved their polenta and risotto.
“I’m lucky that I’ve spent the best part of my life coming down to the place I love to be in,” says Antonio.
“That’s Soho, that’s Bar Italia. I feel deeply privileged. It’s a great place to sit and watch the world go by – day and night.
“You will see the latest fashions, the best fashions. You’ll see the world’s worst fashions. Soho has changed but it is still the most vibrant place in London.”
London Lives is a reminder of the people who make our home so special.
l London Lives, Perfect Pair Publishing, £20