Who could possibly think that a few blocks down a dead end road in Walthamstow, after walking by a couple of industrial units, a completely unusual, surreal and somewhat hallucinogenic world would hide? Probably very few people could. And yet, here it is, ten minutes away from Wood Street station, the neon Wonderland built by the Bracey family is majestically opening its doors to the public, overwhelming them with bright colours and what seems to be, in this instant, an infinity of wonders.
The late neon artist and founder of God’s Own Junkyard, Chris Bracey, used to describe the place as “what the inside of [his] brain looks like”, a sort of giant mess of hidden gems. Many of the works are self-produced neon lights, referencing popular culture and iconic imagery from the streets of Soho of the 1970s, thus featuring the tattoo culture, more than one evocative statement, and a big bundle of reflective texts. The pieces, which include some of Chris’s previous works in film and fashion, range from original illuminated sculptures, to salvaged signs, vintage signage, old movie props and retrospective display artworks.
Originally, God’s Own Junkyard was the name of a book by American writer Peter Blake, who didn’t like the way the face of America was changing, and thought that all the signs down Route 66 were a block on the landscape and that God’s Own Country – aka America – was fast becoming God’s Own Junkyard. Once he finished this book, Chris Bracey said to his wife, Linda: “We’ve got these signs. This is what we collect. These big brash all flashy singing and dancing neon signs. That’s what we’ve been collecting for 40 years. That’s what we’ve got… We’ve got God’s Own Junkyard”. Or at least a more positive and brighter take on the original one…
In this modern Aladdin’s cave, the warmth comes as much from the neon as it comes from the Braceys. And the only thing missing at the opening probably was the possibility to sit and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee in this very unique and bright environment. As time passed and God’s Own Junkyard became increasingly popular, the family decided to grant their visitors’ wishes and opened The Rolling Scones Café and licensed bar, giving birth to one of the most unbelievably unusual venue in London.
* The Rolling Scones Café *
The Rolling Scones Café owes its name to Chris’s passion for the Rolling Stones and Linda’s love for cream tea and scones – a mix of both of the souls that gave birth to a Rock’n’Roll version of Wonderland.
The fully licensed café is open until 9 and offers the possibility either to be sat surrounded by flashy neon or at a table in the cosy rear terrace, outfitted with wooden tables, huge teapots and mushrooms, a tea shed for customers to sit under cover, and a waterfall made of old drums, at the foot of which lie some religious crosses.
At the back of the café inside, opposite the counter, there is a sort of backdrop stage, which is often used for gigs and recently welcomed local folk/blues singer-songwriter, Harry Pane. Today, the Braceys are planning on doing more Friday night events, such as themed film nights, music nights, art events, private events, corporate talks among others, and creating the menu accordingly.
With cover for at least 80 people (50 to 60 inside and about 30 outside), the Rolling Scones Café and its menu are as versatile as the space they inhabit. A café during the day and a bar in the evening, the Rolling Scones adapts its menu to the seasons, the special occasions, and all generations and people. In order to cover all age groups visiting Chris Bracey’s temple of art, the menu features nachos, beef burgers, hotdogs, fish finger baps, sandwiches, quiches, sausage rolls, and so on and so forth. In winter, the Braceys offer more soups and puddings. On Valentine’s Day, everything is heart-shaped. The Rolling Scones also serves vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. And now, as summer approaches, the café is about to introduce a seaside platter, composed of smoked salmon, oat cakes, afternoon tea of pastries and meringue delicatessens to go as an after of the platter.
Moreover, one of the most important things for Linda and her family is to support local producers, which is why the fully stocked bar includes beer that’s brewed in the building next door, and why the food is entirely locally sourced. All cakes are handmade by local women who bring a selection of their best recipes every week, and the meat – used to notably make the burgers and the hotdogs – comes from the East London sausage company, situated two minutes away from God’s Own Junkyard. “We want them to put their cards out”, Linda explains.
And what better setting is there to enjoy a traditional afternoon tea with scones and pastries than one that feels like the world of Alice in Wonderland? A world where there’s a new surprise around each and every corner, and gems everywhere, where the décor is changing constantly and making the whole place “organic, but in a strange way”.
* The Blitz Factory *
A few units down God’s Own Junkyard is the Blitz Factory.
The Blitz Factory is an events space, more spacious than the Rolling Scones Café, used when people wish for a larger event and less neon lights. The area sometimes acts as a gallery space and alternatively hosts weddings, an indoor market (notably a Christmas market), children events, parties, yoga classes and much more.
There’s a bar to have a drink and a customisable zone, which can serve as a dance floor, a playground, or a sports hall. The whole space is livened up by a few neon lights that read “club”, “cabaret”, “yes!”, “utopia” and “God is a DJ”, and features a couple of illuminated stars, arrows and hearts, some confortable vintage chairs and sofas and a disco ball.
It is possible for this space to be themed and customised by adding more neon artworks or by removing some. “It’s a blank canvas. It can be whatever you want it to be”, Chris’ widow, Linda Bracey, explains.
God’s Own Junkyard is open at weekends : Friday – 11am to 9pm / Saturday – 11am to 9pm / Sunday – 11am to 6pm.
The Rolling Scones Cafe is open for food and drinks all weekend.
Gods Own Junkyard
Unit 12 – Ravenswood Industrial Estate
London E17 9HQ
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