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Rubble Music Thor McIntyre -Burnie A site-specific sound installation A Measure commission in partnership with The Friends of Arnold Circus

“The fact that the circus mound was created from the rubble of the slums is hard to ignore, for me it is an integral element of the sites allure. Stood atop the mound one senses that the ground beneath ones feet has a quite potent resonance�. Thor Mcintyre-Burnie



View of the Boundry Street Estate, 1906. © The Metropolitan Archives

Rubble Music is a site-specific sound installation by artist Thor McIntyreBurnie at the Bandstand, Arnold Circus, Shoreditch, London. It is special commission by Measure as part of the Concrete and Glass music and arts festival which takes place on 2nd – 3rd October 2008 in over twenty established music venues and art galleries in the Shoreditch, Hoxton and Brick Lane areas of East London, supported by Time Out London.

The aim is to tap into this resonant site and give voice to the mound by replaying its inner vibrations as sounds from the sites bandstand, thereby temporarily transforming the function of this derelict bandstand into an ear on the earth. Arnold Circus is now a site for gardening and regular events organised by the Friends of Arnold Circus.

Using specialist seismic and infrasoundrecording instruments, Thor will record the vibrations and sounds found beneath Arnold Circus mound; a park created from the rubble of one of London’s worst Victorian slums, cleared for one of the first housing estates in Europe.

There is something about Arnold Circus that offers visitors a sense of discovery, on the one hand its so grand and central and in the other its ragged and forgotten. As the epicenter of the grand urban design, fed by seven roads it feels like a kind of hub, a vortex of threads, drawing in and bulging up into a mound. The fact that this mound was created from the rubble and ruin of one of London’s worst slums is hard to ignore, it becomes an integral element of the sites allure. Consequently one senses here, that the ground beneath ones feet has a quite potent resonance. Especially as few of the slums inhabitants were actually housed in the grand new estate, but were in fact marginalised by that old gentrification process. I began thinking of the space as a kind of volcano, with the bandstand as the vent hole at its apex.

The Bandstand, Arnold Circus, in 1912 © The Metropolitan Archives

Beneath the surface of green gardens and its cap of tarmac, history bubbled. In fact the way the space fell into decline and dereliction of the years, seemed almost as if the sites seedy history couldn’t stay covered and had began seeping through. Yet at the same time the place retains a beauty and offers a peaceful oasis from the city without - a place for contemplation. It’s these functions, the feel and form of the site that I wanted to work with. This installation marks the first stage in a process of work over the next year of exploring alternate functions for a bandstand in the 21st century. Thor Mcintyre-Burnie



Sir Robert Arnold (1833-1902) © The Review of Reviews’ Vol X1, edited by W.T.Stead, Jan-June, 1895

In 2007, the Friends of Arnold Circus ran a side activity to their Circus on the Circus event. People were given big sheets of paper and encouraged to draw what they imagined under the caption ‘Who was Arnold Circus?’ All sorts of strange characters emerged. None of them, needless to say, bore the slightest resemblance to the real but forgotten Mr Arnold, who originally gave his name to the Circus. Arnold, Robert Arthur (or Sir Arthur as he became), belonged to the solid ranks of Victorian men who made their lives in public service. He had been a Liberal MP but lost his seat and when he failed to gain another, stood for the newly-formed London County Council in 1889. He sat as an Alderman on that innovative body for 15 years. The LCC was a reforming body, bringing a comprehensive system of government to London for the first time. Its early act was to pull down the notorious slums that had formed the Old Nichol to build the very first social housing estate.

The Boundary Estate is still a marvel – created with areas of salubrious open space in its large courtyards, small workshops, bath house, laundry, schools and all the facilities that decent life required. Instead of throwing away the rubble of the past, the architects had it shaped into a mound right at the epicentre where seven roads met (and also, coincidentally, at the end of a ley line), making two tiers of handsome gardens with a bandstand at the top. Sir Arthur himself hadn’t been convinced about the wisdom of state run housing. He thought that the poorest would – as indeed proved the case – be dislodged. But nevertheless, his stewardship entitled him to have the space at the centre of the Boundary named after him and become Arnold Circus in perpetuity. Text kindly written by Naseem Khan, The Friends of Arnold Circus

Boundary Estate occupies the northeast corner of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and is a Victorian development of grand scale and imposing construction. It’s extraordinary in that the Boundary Estate was the realisation of the dream of one man - a tireless local vicar, determined to rid London of its most squalid and infamous slum. Like so many East End slums this area, situated so near to the walls of the City, had seen much better days, before unplanned and uncontrolled building turned the rural hamlet around St Leonard’s Church into a byword for crime and disease. It was originally part of the garden of the Nunnery of St John the Baptist, Holywell. But in the 18th century the rapidly growing East End population was exerting pressure on space, and the land was turned over to housing.

View from Shoreditch High Street in 1895 during the constuction of the Boundry Street Estate, clearly showing the site for the banstand. © The Metropolitan Archives

You can still see the origins of this expanded building activity at 74 Swanfield Street, the last remaining weaver’s house in the area. But even as Swanfield Street was laid out, the East End ’s great days as a weaving centre was behind it, with cheaper fabrics being produced on the Continent. And soon the new houses were subdivided, with each room home to small workshops and ‘manufactories’, where East Enders scraped a living making matches, matchboxes, clothes pegs, shoes and cheap clothes. By the mid-1800s the area, bounded by Virginia Road to the north, Mount Street to the east, Boundary Street to the west, and Old Nichol Street to the south, was famous as the worst slum in London. Friars Mount, as it was then more poetically known, became the now infamous ‘Old Nichol’.



View during the constuction of the bandstand. © The Metropolitan Archives

The inhabitants were the poorest of the East End ’s homeworkers. So notorious had the Old Nichol become that it caught the attention of two influential outsiders. The first was the Reverend Osborne Jay, who subsequently accepted the living of the parish in December 1886. It was to be a cheerless Christmas in the area Charles Booth named ‘the most poverty-stricken in London’ where 5,700 people were crammed into the tiny area. Crime was rife, street fights between the rival gangs were a regular event, the death rate was 40 per 1,000 - twice as high as the rest of Bethnal Green and four times that of London as a whole, and one child in four died before his or her first birthday. The Reverend Jay realised that simply preaching from his pulpit wouldn’t change things – most of his lost souls never strayed through the doors of his

church. Instead he began to work on the streets, a cheerful and charismatic presence. Within ten years he had raised £25,000 to build a new church, social club, gym and lodging house in Old Nichol Street. But he wasn’t content in ministering to his parishioners’ social, physical and spiritual needs; he realised that nothing would really change until the Nichol was reduced to rubble and built anew. And so in 1890, he persuaded the newly formed London County Council (LCC) to clear the slum and build new flats. The second influential outsider was writer Arthur Morrison, whom Jay persuaded to visit the area. The shocked writer poured his observations into the seminal ‘A Child of the Jago’.

Edward VII) opened the rebuilt estate in 1900, he mentioned Morrison’s book, saying: ‘Few indeed will forget this site who had read Mr Morrison’s A Child of the Jago.’ The new flats comfortably housed 6,000 people, and statistics from the LCC had recorded 5,666 previously squeezed into the rat’s nest of streets and alleys. Before, the widest road was only 28ft across; some of the ground floors of houses were below street level, many of the houses were built back-to-back, and the average room was home to 2.25 people (with 107 rooms housing five or more).

Victorians were horrified by the barely fictionalised account of a child’s struggle against poverty. So deep did it cut that when the Prince of Wales (the future

Detail of Arnold Circus looking towards shiplake buildings, 1966. © The Metropolitan Archives

Now there rose huge blocks of flats, sited round the circular park of Arnold Circus (formally titled ‘Boundary Gardens’), with a bandstand provided for the residents and the blocks named after Thames beauty spots. From Rosemary Taylor view of the Old Nichol and its characters below, from her ‘Walks Through History: Exploring the East End’. Read Sarah Wise’s fascinating new study, ‘The Blackest Streets: the Life and Death of a Victorian Slum’, for a different picture.


Measure is a not-for-profit arts organisation that commission new work by contemporary artists. We invite filmakers, sculptors, sound artists & performers to make sitespecific work by presenting a nongallery venue as their exhibition space. The unique qualities of these spaces actively inspires the artists and the exhibitions themes. Old tube stations, modernist housing blocks, Victorian warehouses, music halls and church crypts have been the inspiration for artists works, creating truly inventive and atmospheric artworks. Measure’s commissions enables artists to challenge their own practice and evolve new ways of working.

Measure colaborates with other organisations such as The London Festival of Architecture, English Heritage, Museum of London & London Open House to combine elements of art, history and architecture. Through these collaborations we attract a wide and varied audience to an art event. We also collaborate with a number of partner organisations to offer a range of outreach art activities to local schools and community groups.



Measure and Thor would like to thank the following people who have contributed to Rubble Music:

To find out more about Measure, Concrete and Glass festival and The Friends of Arnold Circus please visit:

Concrete and Glass Friends of Arnold Circus Pip Thomas London Borough of Tower Hamlets Naseem Khan Chris & Nicky Cox Cox Workshops Jean Locker

Above all Measure aims to inspire a passion for art, architecture and history to the widest audience.

British Geological Survey

For more information please visit our website

Rob Hukin

(esp Mr John Laughlin and Dr Brian Baptie)

SEIS-UK (esp Dr. David Hawthorn),

Dr John Louise

Dealing directly with the context of the space offers a fully immersive, engaging and often unique experience for visitors.

Guralp Systems Ltd. (esp Nathan Pierce)

Geomatrix Earth Science Ltd (esp Alex Thornton)

Dr Julian Bommer (Imperial College, London)

Charles Stoyer Magus Electronics (esp Philip Shaw)

Rubble Music Thor McIntyre-Burnie A site-specific sound installation 2 – 3 October 2008 Open 2.00pm – 10.00pm Bandstand, Arnold Circus, Shoreditch, London For more information visit

Rubble Music, Thor McIntyre-Burnie  

This leaflet was published in 2008 to accompany the exhibition Rubble Music. Using specialist seismic and infra-sound recording instruments,...

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