Jane Tuely: landscape architect

6 Apr

Everyone has a story. Jane Tuely has lived in Islington since the early 1960s, when she first rented a room at 22 Packington Street, but she was brought up a long way from the city, in a very isolated part of rural Kent “at the bottom of a hill on the edge of Romney Marsh.” So how did she end up working on the development of Harlow New Town and later living in Highbury? Interview by Nicola Baird  

Jane Howell: xx

Jane Tuely: a life of art and plants.

“I always wanted friends,” explains Jane Tuely but for some years good friends were elusive thanks to the culture shock of being moved from a boarding prep school she loved and then sent to the local grammar school in Rye. “I didn’t like anyone and didn’t listen to radio or pop,” she says with her now very friendly smile. At 17 she went to Canterbury Art School which she also remembers “wasn’t fun. I shared a flat with a nice person but she was 12 years older than me. I was very shy and gauche and lots of the students lived miles away at the coastal towns of Whitstable, Margate and Sandwich so I never really saw them.”

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

Life improved when she moved to London and the Central School of Arts & Crafts at Holborn (now Central Saint Martins) where Jane studied graphic design and thrived in a more multicultural world. “I was such a country bumpkin it was wonderful to meet people who wore a sari,” she says.

After graduating she found work designing easy-to-read leaflets for the scientific instrument makers Hilger and Watts. “I was saving up to go to India. I earned £8 a week and I’d only saved £19,” she says “so when two friends told me they were in Athens and had discovered they could earn a living teaching I gave in my notice. A month later I was in Greece after trundling through Europe by train. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

A lithograph by Jane. It's signed Jane Tuely "I was so proud of my name until my husband did some research and found it was a 17th century spelling mistake."

A lithograph by Jane. It’s signed Jane Tuely (Jane’s original surname): “I was so proud of my name until my husband did some research and found it was a 17th century spelling mistake.”

In Athens, the friends taught English and learnt Greek from boyfriends but were “incredibly hard up. I never went to Crete, even though it would have cost only 80 drachmas (about £1).”


From The joy of essex  (c) Pete May


New job
After a year Jane came back to England and “stayed with a friend [Louisa Nicholson, niece of the artist, Ben Nicholson] behind Liberty’s.

I didn’t know what to do so I talked my way into being a landscape architect – one of the first – and went to work at Harlow for three years where Freddie Gibberd was building the new town. It was very much a garden city. I was living in Soho and commuting out,” says Jane, adding “I enjoyed my job working in the drawing office and planting trees. We had wonderful conversations and were surrounded by cows, but it would have been dismal living in Harlow – I’d come home and go to the Academy cinema in Oxford Street.”

It may have been Soho, but Jane’s flat was basic. “It had no bathroom so we used the kitchen sink and the public baths. If we went up beyond the fire escape into the attic there was a smelly loo.”

Yehia El-Nemer: "As soon as these Highbury people see the sun they come here."

Oasis Café in Highbury Fields, run by Yehia El-Nemer, is one of Jane’s favourite places for coffee and a flapjack.

What services does Islington have for the partially sighted?

  • “I got good cane training at the sensory disability team at Archway but Islington is lousy for partially-sighted services. The day centre for people with sight loss on Balls Pond Road has closed down,” says Jane Tuely.
  • “I’ve a passion for talking books from RNIB,” says Jane Tuely.
  • Moorfields Eye Hospital is in the borough at 162 City Road, EC1.
  • This is a visual services directory compiled by Islington Council.

Picking roses
“I’m quite good at prickly plants because we used them in Harlow to protect areas from being vandalised,” explains Jane who broadened her plantsman knowledge when she became a woman garden labourer (real job title) for £9 a week in Kew Gardens. “The work was monotonous – I spent three months behind the Palm House deadheading roses,” says Jane demolishing the idyll, “but I picked off sprigs and by drawing them I remembered names and what happens to plants like cotoneaster.”

She also gave bunches of roses to the lavatory attendants. “What an opportunity, but they were terrified of their supervisor finding out!”

“I wanted to settle down and that’s when I met David at a wedding in Oxford. He was a very quiet person. I’d been living with all sorts of people but he was the first I’d ever met who had been to university – all my friends were arty types,” explains Jane. After a few dates David asked Jane to join him on a package holiday to Czechoslovakia with five men and 27 women! By 1967 they were married: David was 40, Jane 30 and they bought a house in Highbury for £7,000.

Here the pair brought up their two children – sending both to William Tyndale Primary school. “No one plays outdoors now, but my children used to. They’d cycle round Highbury Fields,” adds Jane.


Jane helped set up the Arvon Road allotments.

In the early 1970s and in spite of deteriorating eyesight, Jane made use of her gardening and landscape architecture know-how by offering to chair the new Arvon Road allotments which were owned by the Greater London Council. “We mended the fence and levelled the ground,” says Jane who no longer has an allotment but is happy that the group is going strong.

Although Jane is now registered blind, art is still important to her. “I’ve been unable to draw since about 1995, but I could still do monoprints for some years. I also did many linocuts and lithographs. It was very difficult to adjust sight loss, but the plus side is when people help me across the road – I often have mad conversations as they tell me their life story!”

In 2014, Jane generously donated a watercolour by Eric Ravilious to the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, Essex, which specialises in 1930s art.

Her mother had bought the painting from the artist for £20 – more than half a century later it was valued at £150,000.

“My daughter Victoria never liked it, and my son Philip did, but he’s living in Germany so I gave it to the people at the Fry Art Gallery in memory of my parents who knew Eric Ravilious. Ravilious’ children were at school with me,” explains Jane. “The painting is of Tea at Furlongs (1939). It’s the artist Peggy Angus’ cottage on the South Downs where I used to stay regularly. It was fairly squalid. I remember once there was a package on the table and when I opened it there was a piece of wedding cake that had been there for years. Peggy said the couple had already got three children!”

Jane Tuely is full of tales about the people she’s met during her life. Though this interview is just scratching the surface of the decades she’s lived here, it still reveals how people who have lived in Islington for years always have much more to say than just hello when you pass on the street.

Sir Frederick Gibberd was a modernist architect who acquired the site for Harlow New Town in 1957 (when Jane was 20). You can visit a memorial garden in Harlow, see http://www.thegibberdgarden.co.uk/

Arvon Road allotments – there’s a waiting list for an allotment, but you can look around on Sunday 19 June at Open Garden Squares Weekend. The entrance is on Arvon Road, opposite Drayton Park School. 

Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) died in Iceland as a war artist observing a search and rescue mission – plane lost in a storm. Find out more about the painting Tea at Furlongs here.

Fry Art Gallery is open April-October (check times). Fry Art Gallery, Castle Street, Saffron Walden, Essex.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola



One Response to “Jane Tuely: landscape architect”

  1. nicola baird blogs April 6, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    From Andrew: Thanks, Nicola – another good one! I particularly wanted to know more about how Jane’s surname was a spelling mistake, a personal interest as my maternal grandfather’s surname was rumoured to be both a misunderstanding and a spelling mistake! When the brothers arrived in England from Latvia they were asked for their surnames but not speaking English thought they were being asked where they’d come from so said Riga. The immigration officer misheard or misspelt it on the form as Rigal from which it became the family surname

    Reply from Nicola: I expect there are a lot of names which stem from misspellings! What an interesting story your family has.

So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: