The blind beggar and his dog

AN ELIZABETH AND AN ELISABETH figured in my mother’s life during my childhood years. One was the cookery writer Elizabeth David (1913-1992), whose recipes my mother followed faithfully. The other was the sculptor Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993). Although she never met the cookery writer, she was a good friend of the sculptor. Between 1954 and 1962, Frink taught sculpture at St Martins School of Art, which was then located in Charing Cross Road. During that period, my mother, a sculptor, worked in the sculpture workshops in St Martins. It was probably then that she and Elisabeth became friends. ‘Liz Frink’, as we knew her, visited our home in Hampstead Garden Suburb as a dinner guest regularly and I remember meeting her on these occasions. My memory of these meetings was revived when visiting London’s East End this month (March 2022).

We were walking eastwards along Roman Road from Globe Road towards the Regents Canal when we passed the Cranbrook Estate, a collection of six rather bleak looking blocks of flats. The buildings are arranged around Mace Street, which is in the form of a figure of eight. The estate was built on land which had formerly accommodated a factory, workshops, and terraced houses. The blocks were completed by 1963. They were designed by Douglas Bailey and Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990). Born in Georgia (Russian Empire), Lubetkin lived in Russia during and after the 1917 Revolution. He studied in Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg), where he became influenced by Constructivist architectural principles. In the 1920s, he practised architecture in Paris, and by 1931, he had emigrated from the USSR to Great Britain, where he mixed with the artistic community then based in Hampstead (see my book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92). In London, he founded Tecton, an architectural practice. He is particularly well known for his Penguin Pool at London Zoo and his luxurious block of flats in Highgate: High Point. The flats he designed on the Cranbrook Estate were for social housing.

Various other buildings and features have been added to the estate. One of these is a triangular garden surrounded on two sides by rows of single storey houses (bungalows for the elderly). In the middle of this, the Tate Garden, there is a pond with a fountain. Perched on what looks a bit like a diving board made of concrete discs piled one above another, there is a sculpture of a man and a dog. As soon as I saw this, I was reminded of Elisabeth Frink’s sculptures. Later, when I investigated it, I discovered that it is a sculpture by her. Entitled “Blind Beggar and his Dog” and cast in bronze, Liz Frink created this in 1958, which was when she and my mother must have already become friends. A sculpture depicting the Blind Beggar and His Dog, who figure in a tale that gained popularity in Tudor times, was commissioned in 1957 by Bethnal Green Council. Incidentally, there is a Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel Road, where in 1966, the gangster Ronnie Kray shot dead a member of a rival gang, George Cornell.

We had visited the area near the Cranbrook Estate to see a small exhibition. As it had not taken long to view it and it was a warm sunny day, we took the opportunity to roam around the area. Had we not done that, I doubt that I would have become aware of this sculpture by an old friend of my mother.

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