Jane Amelia Parker: designer/maker

Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 48 seconds

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  How well do you know London? Not just the quickest way to get to the Angel or down to the river, but all its layers of history? Holloway local Jane Parker helps us see what’s special about London through her photos, blog and unique designs made from things she’s found on the shore of the River Thames.  Interview by Nicola Baird

Jane Amelia Parker is a skilled designer/maker. She’s brave enough to cut her own hair and for this vintage dress she removed the collar and narrowed the waist before she felt it was ready to wear.

Jane Parker is a skilled designer/maker. She’s brave enough to cut her own hair and for this vintage dress she removed the collar and narrowed the waist before she felt it was ready to wear.

“If someone says ‘can I speak to Amelia’ then I know they mean the clay pipe me,” says Jane Parker as we sit down with coffee and biscuits at the Resource Centre off Holloway Road (just by Waitrose).  On the wall behind are photos displaying another part of her working life – the ‘history her’ which can be found at www.janeslondon.com. These photos were taken as part of the Postcards of Holloway exhibition – definitely worth a look to see how well you know that road.

Jane’s originally from Romford, Essex but after taking A levels in maths, art and technical drawing she took the train to London and stumbled into the advertising world. Since the 1990s she has worked as a freelance graphic designer but over that time she’s developed so many business skills – including photographing London, a huge bank of history knowledge and recycling old bits of leather as well as clay pipes she finds on the River Thames beaches. Jane has two personae – Jane and Amelia. Jane is the London observer and photographer; Amelia is the designer-maker and recycler.

I met Jane when she had a stall at the Holloway Festival (Hornsey Street 1 June 2014) where alongside her Holloway prints she was also selling hand-made necklaces and earrings made from the old clay pipes Londoners used for a smoke before cigarettes. For this venture Jane calls herself by her middle name, Amelia Parker, explaining that “it helps to keep things separate. If someone calls and asks to speak to ‘Amelia’ then I know they mean the clay pipe me. Prices start at around £20 so if you are not a cash-carrier, or are unsure where her stall will be next, a good way to buy them is via her website, http://www.amelia-parker.com/ “I don’t think of my designs as jewellery,” she says firmly, “it’s London’s history recycled.”  She also sells a range of leather holders, purses, wallets for mobile phones, cards and spectacles, plus some amusing greeting cards featuring Clay Pipe Pete and his lazy friend Joe.

Jane Parker: “Before Amelia Parker if it was a nice day I’d look at a map on the wall, find a bit I didn’t know and then go and take loads of pictures." Now, in addition to the photography, Jane goes beachcombing on the Thames or recycles her finds into unique necklaces, earrings and key fobs to sell at London markets.

Find the Amelia Parker stall at London markets and museums selling recycled finds transformed into  unique necklaces, earrings and key fobs.

Making jewellery from the curios she finds while foraging on the foreshore is the obvious use of Jane’s practical skill set. “I teach myself to do most things,” she admits, “it’s from my mum – I look back and realise she made everything. She was cooking, decorating, fixing – a one woman DIY centre. My Nan used to crochet. When I was seven I taught myself by copying her! Then I taught myself how to knit and was constantly knitting jumpers for friends.”

She moved to Islington in 1988 and eventually settled in Holloway. “I wanted somewhere I could afford that offered good travel connections to and from Covent Garden where I worked. Plus I wanted to be within Zone 2 as there weren’t so many night buses back then and a taxi journey was only £5.” She’s become such a fan of the place that not long ago her sister Anna moved here too.

Places Jane Parker loves in Islington

“My recommendation is to look more.  If you open your eyes you see delightful things.”

  • The rowan trees in Windsor Road and at the lower end of Sussex Way near where I live are so beautiful especially with their red, orange  and yellow berries. And I love the shadow another tree throws on to a building off Axminster Road.
  • The Swimmer is my local pub – it’s more like a community centre and is full of a good cross-section of open-minded conversational people. There’s always someone I know there.
  • One of my favourite places is the New River Path (behind Essex Road that follows the old New River route through to St Paul’s Road). It’s a beautiful park and so evocative.
  • I like sitting and watching people on Highbury Fields.
  • The hot chocolate from the little El Molino, Hornsey Road (opposite Holloway tube) is the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s so good you have to have more.

Settling in Holloway gave Jane the chance to explore London properly – and it wasn’t long before she was drawn to the River Thames. “Since I was little I’ve always picked up things on beaches – I find a plain sandy beach rather dull. I have always liked to collect interesting stones especially if they resemble other things like faces, animals, sweets etc.. And if I find artefacts then I’m in heaven!”

“One day I went to the Museum of London with my friend Micky and then because the tide was low we went down to investigate the Thames foreshore. The access steps were beautifully coloured with bright green algae. The beach was littered with so many textures including worn bricks and bits of rope. I was taking photos. I remember thinking I’ve got to stop picking up stuff to take home because what can I do with it? Then I saw some nice bits of clay pipe, all 30-40mm long and worn beautifully by the tide. I picked them up and said ‘I’m going to make a necklace’. Micky just laughed.”

That first necklace received great feedback, so Jane made three more necklaces as gifts for friends she was visiting in New Zealand and Malaysia. “They all liked them and each immediately went to look up more about clay pipes in history on the internet and encouraged me to make more.” Back home that’s what she did and so the range expanded. The result is London’s history recycled by Amelia Parker.

My best customer is the American tourist – usually a middle-aged woman. She totally gets it and wants to take home more than a London mug that was made in China,” says Jane. People who love London’s history love her stuff too, after all how else can you get to ‘wear a piece of London history’ first used in the 1600s?


Over to you
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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 jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola