Click on photos to enlarge.
There’s no telling how much longer this place will remain, at least in the form it now has. As I was walking around looking for angles from which to photograph the facade of No. 68 Drury Lane in London, a man stopped and asked if he could help me find something. I said, yes, maybe he could. I was looking for No. 68 and I had found Nos. 67 and 69, but there was no No. 68. There was just this unnumbered place between the two. The numbers on the other side of the street were well up into the 100s. So I was pretty sure this was what I wanted, but I wasn’t yet fully convinced. Had I gone up to the door and seen the notice there (see second to last photo, as well as short discussion below), I would have known, but I hadn’t done that yet. So I fell into conversation.
“There was a supplier for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes here,” I said. “I’m pretty sure it was this one here. The house number should be 68.”
“Well,” the man replied, “all the houses are numbered consecutively on this street, so let’s look… Yes, 67 and 69… Yes, so this is what you’re looking for. I live in the next building down, so I know the neighborhood pretty well. What did you say was in here?”
“It was a supplier for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.”
“My goodness,” the man said. “The Ballets Russes. Right here. And I never knew.” Then after a brief pause, he said, “These buildings are all marked for major reconstruction. They’re going to add a couple of floors on top of each. So they’re not going to look like this much anymore. The Ballets Russes! Somebody should take pictures of these places before they change them.”
“Actually, that’s what I’m doing, ” I said. “I write about buildings and places connected to Russian culture all over the world. I take pictures of these places and I put them on the internet.”
“Well, that’s what people need to do. Take pictures of these places before they are lost!”
And that’s just what I did. They aren’t the most exciting photos I’ve ever taken, but they may turn out to be the last photos taken of this spot more or less as it looked when Brodie and Middleton supplied the Ballets Russes with materials for the making and painting and decorating of sets.
My photos, unspectacular as they are, capture this place in the first, creeping stages of oblivion. You can find other photos online that still bear the proud name of Brodie and Middleton and Russell and Chapple (late comers after B&M worked with Diaghilev under their own name) emblazoned above the window. You can see those here, if you’re so inclined. In my photos, the name is gone, just the black background left. In the doorway is a sign indicating that “Russell and Chapple” have moved to a new address. Nothing about Brodie and Middleton. At first blush B&M would seem to have fallen by the wayside on their way out of this part of the City of Westminster. So I went to the Russell and Chapple website as listed in the doorway, and, sure enough, found just a sliver of a reference left to the original suppliers, Brodie and Middleton. That moniker remains in the names of a few items that Russell and Chapple continue to provide their customers, such as cellulose varnish, French chalk, Damar crystals, Aqualac matt and gloss glaze, and, perhaps, a few others. Go here to see the name Brodie and Middleton applied to these products. But, lo and behold, Brodie and Middleton is apparently more than just merely a ghost no longer hanging onto its sheet. When I ran a check for this honored name, I came upon a website that looks suspiciously like the Russell and Chapple site, with the same telephone number, the same address, and virtually all of the same products – only without the Russell and Chapple name! So I don’t know what these guys have going, and, frankly, it has nothing anymore to do with the Ballets Russes. So I will let that little mystery remain unexplained and get back to my original topic.
I found this place, as I did numerous others connected to the history of the Ballets Russes, thanks to a very cool page on the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It narrates a long walk beginning and ending at the Covent Garden underground stop. In between it offers up 32 addresses, with brief stories, about places that were either important in the history of the Ballets Russes’ connection to London, or which were of minor importance, but fun nonetheless. I only detected a minor error or two in all the information, and most – though not all – of the locations are still there to be seen. This little place, which, under the name of just Brodie and Middleton, supplied Diaghilev’s artists with paints, brushes, pigments, drapes and other materials, will apparently soon join the few other places that have gone the way of all things made by men and women.
For the record, the final shot below is not of Brodie and Middleton or Russell and Chapple. It is merely a shot of the sign designating the street where the old building is located. Since it turned out to be more attractive than the “business” shots, I added it for beauty.