Sadler’s Wells – How Water Shaped North Clerkenwell

London today is covered by streets, pavements and buildings. Apart from the larger parks, there are a limited number of small green spaces. So much of what shaped the surface has been long hidden, but we can still find signs as to why the built environment appears as it does, and how names recall features we cannot see.

Clerkenwell, up to the Angel has been shaped by water. The River Fleet created much of the western boundary. New River Head was built at a point which was almost at the same 100m contour that followed the river back to the springs in Hertfordshire, the fall in height to the City and Thames provided a distribution system using gravity.

We can see this by overlaying an elevation map on top of a street map. In the following extract, dark blues are lowest height, with the colours changing up to red as height increases (map from topographic-map.com)

Sadler's Wells

We can see the dark blues of the River Fleet valley. As elevation increases the map shades through green then orange and red as the height increases up to north Clerkenwell, Finsbury and the Angel at the top centre of the map.

Much of this area had numerous springs and wells, and as the land increased in height, it passed through bands of London Clay and gravel, and it is a band of gravel and a well that gave rise to the location of today’s post – Sadler’s Wells.

Sadler’s Wells is a world leading theatre and centre of dance, located at the northern end of Rosebery Avenue. There has been a theatre on the site for many centuries, the current building opened in 1998, photographed below looking north along Rosebery Avenue with Arlington Way on the left.

Sadler's Wells

William J. Pinks in the History of Clerkenwell (1865) describes the origins of Sadler’s Wells: “This popular place of amusement is the oldest theatre in London. Some time before the year 1683 a wooden building, called Sadler’s Music House, stood on the north side of the New River about this spot. Sadler, as well as being the proprietor of this establishment, was a surveyor of the highways. In the year last mentioned, his servants, while digging in the garden for gravel, discovered a well of mineral water, which shortly afterwards became very celebrated for its curative properties; so that it was visited by five or six hundred people every morning”.

The well that Edward Sadler’s workmen had discovered possibly dated from the 12th century or earlier when many of the wells in Clerkenwell were used by the Clerkenwell priory to persuade people that the virtue of the waters came from the strength of their prayers. (Books have different accounts of Sadler’s first name, with Richard or Dick being frequent references, however the Survey of London concludes Edward as being the almost certain name, based on a Chancery Court proceeding against him. Edward Sadler was a vintner, who in 1671 had taken a 35 year lease on the area that would become Sadler’s Wells).

The wells were closed at the reformation as they were claimed to support a superstitious believe in the power of the waters.

Pinks provides some additional description of the well found by the workmen: “When they had dug pretty deep, one of them found his pick axe handle strike upon something that was very hard, whereupon he endeavoured to break it, but could not,; whereupon, thinking within himself that it might, peradventure, be some treasure hid there, he uncovered it very carefully, and found it to be a broad flat stone, which having loosed and lifted up, he saw it was supported by four oaken posts, and under it a large well of stone arched over, and curiously carved”.

Sadler capitalised on the discovery of the well, and quickly promoted the health benefits of the waters, and as Pinks described, the wells were soon visited by several hundred people a day.  Sadler encouraged the regular drinking of the waters, and put on several forms of entertainment to encourage people to come, stay, and spend money. Treatment included recommendations to stay at the well for a whole day, drinking the waters at specified times, walking and resting around the surrounding gardens in between drinking sessions.

Sadler and the well that his workmen discovered would provide the name for the site, and most histories seem to put the discovery of the well as the starting point for the following centuries of the site as a place of entertainment, however Pinks provides a hint that it was probably providing such a function for many years prior to 1683:

“A petition from the proprietor of Sadler’s Wells to the House of Commons, stating that the site was a place of public entertainment in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. If this be correct, Sadler was certainly not its first possessor for musical purposes and water drinking”.

It appears that Sadler was not running the site for too many years after discovery of the well, and the popularity of the well would also quickly decline. In the 1690’s the well appears to have been closed, but by June 1697 the following advert would appear in the ‘Post Boy’:

“Sadler’s excellent Steel Waters, at Islington, having been obstructed for some years past, are now opened and current again, and the waters are found to be in their full vigour, strength and virtue, as ever they were, as is attested and assured by the physicians who have since fully tried them”.

By 1699 the building occupying the site was called Miles’s Music House, and entertainment, rather than the waters seems to have been the main focus.

The following photo was taken a little further south along Rosebery Avenue and shows how close Sadler’s Wells is to New River Head which is on the left, with the curved Laboratory Building on the left of the theatre.

Sadler's Wells

Today, Sadler’s Wells is in the heart of north Clerkenwell / Islington. A short distance south from the busy junction at the Angel, however the theatre has its origins when the area was still rural.

In the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map, I have circled the location of Sadler’s Wells.

Sadler's Wells

The rectangular shape in the upper part of the circle is presumably the theatre, surrounded by gardens. Note the New River coming in from top right down to the round pond of New River Head to the left of Sadler’s Wells. The New River would form a southern border for the site for many years. The River Fleet is on the left of the map, running between the lines that indicate sloping land forming the valley of the river – exactly as we can see today on the elevation map, and when walking the streets.

The map also shows that in 1746, over 60 years since the discovery of the well, Sadler’s Wells was still surrounded by fields.

At night, the area between Sadler’s Wells and the City was a notorious area for thieves, and those heading back often risked their lives, as the following report from the Newcastle Courant in 1716 makes clear:

“On Saturday Night, a Gentlewoman, one Madam Napp, and her Son, betwixt 10 and 11 coming from Sadler’s Wells at Islington, where they have been to see the Diversion of Dancing, to their House in Warwick Court in Holburn; were attacked by some Foot Padders, on this Side of Gray’s Inn Garden Wall. 

The Gentleman Collar’d one of them, and flung him down to the Ground, and whilst he was struggling with another, his Mother cryed out Murder; upon which the third Rogue fired a Pistol and shot her dead.

Some People at Bromley Street hearing the Pistol go off, ran to see what was the Matter, and the Roques scoured off, and had not Time to take any Thing from the Gentleman, but his Hat and Wigg. A Soldier, and two others, were seized on Suspicion of being the Rogues, and carried before Mr Plummer, a Justice of the Peace in Bedford Row, who committed them to Newgate”.

Not every attempted robbery ended with such fatal consequences, but judging by the number of newspaper reports, care needed to be taken when walking home at the end of an evening’s performance.

One hundred years later, and London had reached, and surrounded Sadler’s Wells as shown in the following extract from Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London of 1847:

Sadler's Wells

And for no other reason than I love maps, and will use any excuse to put one in a post, this is an extract from the large scale map of Clerkenwell in Pinks’ History of Clerkenwell, showing the location of Sadler’s Wells around 1860.

Sadler's Wells

From Sadler’s original Music House, the buildings of Sadler’s Wells have been through many iterations with rebuilds and additions as the popularity of the site changed, along with the type of entertainments put on by the theatre.

In 1731, 15 years before the Roque map, the following print shows Sadler’s Wells in a very rural location, the theatre surrounded by trees and a couple of out buildings.

Sadler's Wells

Sadler’s Wells also featured in a 1738 print by Hogarth from his Four Times of Day series. In “Evening”, we see the entrance to Sadler’s Wells on the left, with the inn, the Sir Hugh Myddelton on the right. In the scene, a Dyer and his family are strolling over a footbridge by the New River.

Sadler's Wells

The entertainments provided at Sadler’s Wells were many and varied. An advert from July 1740 stated that there would be “rope-dancing, tumbling, singing, and several new grand dances, both serious and comic. With a new entertainment called ‘The Birth of Venus’ or Harlequin Paris’. Concluding with ‘The Loves of Zephyrus and Flora’. The scenes, machines, dresses and music being entirely new”.

An advert from 1742, concluded with “Several extraordinary performances by M. Henderick Kerman, the famous ladder dancer”.

In the 1740s. Sadler’s Wells were described as a place of “great extravagance, luxury, idleness and ill fame”, and that there were frequently great numbers of loose, disorderly people.

Probably because of the perception of Sadler’s Wells, it was included in a number of satirical prints of the time, including the following print from 1784:

Sadler's Wells

The devil plays the violin whilst three dogs dance. Each dog has the head of a politician. The Whig politician Charles James Fox is on the left. Facing him is the Whig MP Edmund Burke, and on the right is Lord North, who had resigned as Prime Minister the previous year following a vote of no confidence after the loss of the American War of Independence.

Dancing dogs were indeed one of the 18th century forms of entertainment at Sadler’s Wells, and other forms of animal entertainment included a singing duck.

In the 18th century, theatres and plays needed to be licensed. The Licensing Act of 1737 theoretically prevented all theatres apart from the Royal Patent Theatres at Drury Lane, Covent Garden and Haymarket, from putting on drama without musical accompaniment. Many theatres did continue to put on productions, including Sadler’s Wells and the licence conditions do not seem to have been rigorously enforced. They were mainly meant to prevent anti-government propaganda, with plays having to be submitted for approval. Remarkably, this continued until 1968.

In 1790, Sadler’s Wells had a large sign on the side of the building indicating that the theatre was licensed.

Sadler's Wells

There was tragedy at Sadler’s Wells in 1807, when eighteen people lost their lives and many more were badly injured. From a newspaper report of the time:

“DREADFUL ACCIDENT AT SADLER’S WELLS. On Thursday night, as the curtain was letting down at Sadler’s Wells theatre, to prepare for the water scene, in the Wood Daemon, a quarrel commenced in the pit, and some people cried out ‘A Fight’. The exclamation was mistaken for a cry of ‘Fire’. It was a benefit night and the house was crowded. Every part was immediately terror and confusion; the people in the gallery, pit and boxes, all pressed eagerly forward to the doors, but could not obtain egress in time to answer their impatience. The pressure was dreadful; those next to the avenues were thrown down and run over by those immediately behind, without distinction of age or sex. Of those quite in the rear some became desperate; they threw themselves from the gallery into the pit, and from the boxes onto the stage. A horrible discord of screams, oaths and exclamations reigned throughout. On the exterior of the theatre, the scene was not less dreadful; at every door and avenue might be seen people dragging out those persons whose strength was exhausted, and who were unable to effect their escape, but had just strength to gain the passage, or had been forced forward by the crowd behind. Not less than 50 women were fainting at the same time, on the inside and outside of the house”.

Of the 18 dead, there were seven men, seven women, three boys and one girl. Two men suspected of causing the initial commotion were taken to Clerkenwell Bridewell and brought before a judge, however he directed the jury that they could not be found guilty of murder or manslaughter, and that the eighteen met their deaths “Casually, accidentally and by misfortune”.

On a happier note, the first couple of decades of the 19th century were when the actor, comedian and dancer, Joseph Grimaldi was one of the leading attractions of Sadler’s Wells, and also recognised as one of London theatres leading clowns.

Grimaldi appeared at Covent Garden, Drury Lane and Sadler’s Wells theatres, but appears to have been more successful at the Islington venue. In 1812 he earned £8 a week at Covent Garden and £12 a week at Sadler’s Wells.

It was common at the time to publish the songs from well known entertainers such as Grimaldi, along with a suitable drawing portraying the theme of the song. One of those sung by Joseph Grimaldi at Sadler’s Wells in 1807 was Poll of Horselydown:Sadler's Wells

Also in the early years of the 19th century, Sadler’s Wells made use of the theatres proximity to the New River. Pinks writes that “An immense tank was constructed under the stage, and extending beyond it, which was filled by a communication with the New River, and emptied again at pleasure. On this aquatic stage, the boards being removed, was given a mimic representation of the Siege of Gibraltar, in which real vessels of considerable size, bombarded the fortress, but were subdued by the garrison, and several of them in appearance burnt”.

The Aquatic Theatre as such performances were known added another novel element to the performances at Sadler’s Wells. The following ticket was for a box on Monday 22nd September 1817 to watch one of the aquatic performances.

Sadler's Wells

The view on the ticket presents Sadler’s Wells still in a rural setting. Trees in the gardens and the New River flowing alongside the boundary of the theatre.

As well as the Siege of Gibraltar, another performance that made use of the water tanks under the stage was the Battle of the Nile, performed with “Real Water”.

Sadler's Wells

We can get an impression of the interior of the theate during one of the aquatic performances from the following print. The boards on the stage have been removed and the performance is now taking place in a large tank of water.

Sadler's Wells

It was common for audience members to throw themselves into the water at the end of a performance – probably with the help of plenty of alcohol consumed during the evening.

Competition for London audiences was intense, and perhaps more difficult for Sadler’s Wells having a location outside the centre of London. The theatre was always on the look out for ever more dramatic and daring events.

in May 1833 Sadler’s Wells announced that there would be a stupendous representation of the Russian Mountains. This consisted of “sliding down at break-neck speeds in cars along a highly inclined plane of wood, previously laid over with blocks of ice united into a mass of water thrown purposely over them. The cars descended with great velocity from a considerable height at the extremity of the stage across the orchestra to the back of the pit”. No record of what must have been a number of injuries from this performance.

A colour print of the entrance to Sadler’s Wells with the New River running alongside:

Sadler's Wells

The following print from 1830, also shows Sadler’s Wells and the New River, but look at the background, just to the left of the theatre and there is a smoking chimney – the pump house at New River Head.

Sadler's Wells

From the 1840s onwards, the performances put on by Sadler’s Wells started to change. No more dancing dogs or representations of sea battles, rather more intellectual and improving performances. Samuel Phelps, the manager at this time planned to put on productions of all of Shakespeare’s plays. He succeeded with 30 plays, and under his management there were four thousand nights of Shakespeare’s plays with Hamlet being put on for 400 nights.

By this time, Sadler’s Wells was a substantial theatre. London had now grown out from the centre and surrounded the theatre, which had also lost most of the gardens and trees. The theatre in 1850:

Sadler's Wells

Although by the second half of the 19th century, Sadler’s Wells was putting on serious productions, some were not without controversy, such as when the American actress Adah Menken appeared in May 1868. The Era provides the following description of the performance:

“SADLER’S WELLS – Miss Menken has been giving her celebrated impersonation of Mazeppa at this house during the week. The audiences have been good, and the far famed actress has nightly been received with great applause. Though Mademoiselle causes a sensation by appearing very sparsely clad in the course of her performance, she is splendidly dressed at the commencement of it. Her page’s costume, which she wears as Casimer in the first act, is of the most costly and gorgeous nature. Whatever may be thought of the propriety of a lady making a public exhibition of her figure, with the outlines of it almost as distinct as those of a piece of undrapped sculpture, there can be no question that the beauty of the form displayed by Miss Menken is of remarkable character”.

In the latter decades of the 19th century, Sadler’s Wells went through a period of considerable change, and a variety of uses. During one period of four years, the theatre had eleven managers. Shows were put on, but they were not successful enough to attract the funding needed.

In 1875, 104 pounds of lead were stolen from the theatre’s roof. There were rumours that the building might be sold for a furniture warehouse, but by June 1876, the theatre had been converted and reopened as the New Spa Skating Rink and Winter Garden – however this use failed within a couple of months.

The building was used for boxing and wrestling matches, although these events were closed down by Police. In 1878 an application for a theatre licence was refused because the building still had wooden stairs which were considered a danger compared to stone stairs.

The theatre did manage to stagger on, putting on a range of different productions from variety to serious drama – all with variable success. For a short time at the start of World War I, the building was in use as a cinema.

Real change came in 1925. The Old Vic, south of the Thames was run by Lilian Baylis, and during the 1920s the plan to expand north of the river was considered. Baylis pursued the idea of purchasing Sadler’s Wells and engaged as many people in public life as possible to support the proposal, and to raise funds. On the 30th March 1925, a public appeal was launched:

“To purchase Sadler’s Wells (freehold), reconstruct the interior, and save it, with its historic traditions, for the Nation,

To establish it as a Foundation, not working for profit, under the Charity Commissioners, and by providing for its use by the Old Vic Shakespeare and Opera Companies, conjointly with their present Theatre in the Waterloo Road, to give an old Vic to North London”

The appeal was successful, and a new theatre was designed by F.G.M. Chancellor, opening on January 6th 1931, with a performance of Twelfth Night (suitable for the date), with John Gielgud.

The new theatre brought together Opera and Ballet, and included a School of Ballet.

The new theatre still retained the well, which was to be found at the back of the pit, concealed under a heavy iron plate. Here, a Miss Noble tests the depth of the well:

Sadler's Wells

The 1931 building is shown below, as it appeared in the early 1970s, looking from the same viewpoint as my 2020 photo at the top of the post:

Sadler's Wells

After the war, the ballet company of Ninette de Valois which had formed at Sadler’s Wells moved to Covent Garden to become the Royal Ballet.

The theatre continued the long tradition of dance and the D’Oyly Carte Opera performed seasons at Sadler’s Wells. The theatre hosted touring companies from across the world. However there were financial challenges, rumours that the site may be sold as part of development plans from the New River Company (which by then was a property company).

In the 1990s there was again significant change at Sadler’s Wells, with a campaign for a new, purpose built dance theatre. The campaign was successful, including a significant £36 million from the National Lottery.

The new theatre opened in October 1998, and continues the tradition of dance and entertainment on this site in north Clerkenwell / islington well into the 21st century.

I started the post talking about how this area of London has been shaped by water. If the location had not been the site of a well, the name would be very different, and perhaps also without the initial fame of the well, Sadler’s original gardens and music house may not have continued too much further than the 17th century.

Although the area is very different to the fields covering the area in the 17th century, the water is still there, deep below the surface. A borehole in the sub-basement of the theatre descends some 600 feet to the chalk basin that runs under London, from where water is taken for the sinks, toilets, heating and cooling of the theatre. The borehole supplies water at a rate of 12 litres a second and at a temperature that varies between 11 and 12 degrees Centigrade.

Walk down Arlington Way, to the west of the building and there is a door facing onto the street, to the right of the large grey door.

Sadler's Wells

On the door is a sign confirming the location as the site of the Sadler’s Wells Borehole pumping station, where Thames Water are also extracting water from far below the surface.

Sadler's Wells

Thames Water hold the licence to extract water from the borehole, however up until 2004, the Sadler’s Wells Trust held a licence to extract water for water bottling. I cannot find any reference after 2004, so I suspect that was the last time you could buy bottled water drawn from below the theatre.

Again, a weekly post only allows me to scratch the surface of the history of Sadler’s Wells.

The History of Clerkenwell by William J. Pinks provides a detailed history of the first couple of centuries of the theatre. The Story of Sadler’s Wells by Dennis Arundell provides a detailed history up until 1977, and the Survey of London, volume 47 provides the usual highly detailed history. All prints used in this post are  © The Trustees of the British Museum

Sadler’s Wells, a very successful theatre that owes its name and probable longevity to a patch of gravel and discovery of a well in the fields of Clerkenwell.

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Monkwell Street, Barbican – Discovering A Lost Street

For this week’s post, I am back in the Barbican, looking for the location of one of my father’s photos of the area, taken soon after the war and before redevelopment had started.

The photo shows a derelict building standing alone with surrounding buildings having been demolished down to their foundations. There appears to be a street running in front of the building.

Whilst the street has disappeared in the rebuilding between London Wall and the Barbican, I will hopefully bring the street back to life by discovering the history of Monkwell Street.

Monkwell Street

Where was the location of the photo and Monkwell Street? The 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows the street in the centre of the following extract (under the V of St Olave) running roughly north – south, terminating at the junction with Wood Street Square and Hart Street, just south of the church of St Giles Cripplegate which is almost the one fixed point we can find in the same area today (All OS maps are credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ .

Monkwell Street

This photo was from a negative, so there were no written details of the location. I was able to find the location of the photo by using some of the features in the background, and the 1951 revision of the Ordnance Survey map.

If you look at the original photo, just to the left of the derelict building is a church tower. This is the church of St Mary Aldermanbury, and the view to the church tower is just over the small brick extension to the ground floor at the rear of the building.

Drawing a line between the corner of the derelict building and the church tower on the 1951 map gives an idea of where the photo was taken.

Monkwell Street

I have marked up the photo with details of what is in the scene, including some of the background details such as the spires of the Guildhall, and the location of Wood Street and Monkwell Street.

Monkwell Street

There are a couple of additional photos of the same view, and using these I can narrow down the location for all photos to within the yellow oval in the following map, where there is a passageway from Monkwell Street to a small open space in front of the Barbers’ Hall.

Monkwell Street

The Worshipful Company of Barbers’ is one of the City’s livery companies and had an address on Monkwell Street, although was set back from the street and reach through a passageway.

In the following photo of the same view, but from a slightly different position, there is a pavement between the remains of walls in the foreground. This is the passageway leading from Monkwell Street to the Barbers’ Hall.

Monkwell Street

And in the following photo which is slightly further back from the previous two, and looking slightly to the right, there is the remains of a wall, with a door. This is where the passageway opened out to the small open space in front of the Barbers’ Hall. The door must have been to whatever was at the rear of the building on the southern side of the passageway.

Monkwell Street

The majority of the damage done to Monkwell Street was during the night of the 29th December 1940 when the area north of St Paul’s covering the area now occupied by London Wall and the Barbican and Golden Lane estates were devastated by fire and explosives.

The following photo from the London Metropolitan Archive, Collage collection shows Monkwell Street after the raids. The view is looking north with the church of St Giles Cripplegate visible at the end of the street.

Monkwell Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0019302CL

To the left of the photo is an arched passageway leading off from the street. I suspect this was the passageway leading to the Barbers’ Hall. By the time my father took the photos, the area had been cleared down to foundation level to remove the danger of collapsing walls and falling masonry. I do not know why the single building in my father’s photos was left as it does look badly damaged.

Is there anything left of Monkwell Street today? Apart from an element of the name, the answer is no.

I have marked the approximate location of Monkwell Street on today’s map in the extract shown below  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Monkwell Street

The street ran up from what is now London Wall (previously Silver Street and Falcon Square), to just south of St Giles, where a line of buildings separated the end of Monkwell Street from St Giles churchyard.

On a wet day in October of last year I was in the area of the Barbican and went to have a look at the area once occupied by Monkwell Street. These are poor photos due to the weather, I had intended to return this spring to photograph the area again in better weather, but the Barbican is a bit too far for an exercise walk.

There are no physical remains of Monkwell Street. The name does remain in a route that leads off from Wood Street, the name Monkwell Square applies to this route, and the square in front of Barbers’ Hall. This is not a general access road, it has a barrier across so only accessible for residents of the buildings on the right, the hall and the offices on the left.

Monkwell Street

The above entrance street to Monkwell Square runs parallel, but slightly to the south of Hart Street on the 1894 OS map.

The following photo is looking across Monkwell Square to the Barbners’ Hall – the light brick building directly across the square. Monkwell Street ran left to right, almost directly in front of Barbers’ Hall in its current location.

Monkwell Street

The Barbers’ Company is one of the old Companies of the City, dating back to the early 14th century. The company was incorporated by charter in 1461.

For many years there was friction between Barbers and Surgeons. This combination of trades came from the employment of barbers in medieval monasteries for the purpose of blood letting, and as Barbers made use of sharp instruments and their gradual development of basic surgery.  A Guild of Surgeons was based in London in the early 15th century, competing with the Barbers’ Company. In 1462 Edward IV granted the Barbers’ their first Royal Charter to regulate the practice of surgery in London.

In 1540 the roles of barbers and surgeons in London were defined by an Act of Parliament. The act also combined regulation of the two trades within the combined Company of Barbers and Surgeons. The act ensured that Barbers could not perform any surgery and Surgeons could not cut hair or shave another, although both trades could continue to pull teeth.

As the profession of Surgery developed and grew in status, the association of Barbers and Surgeons within the same Company was uneasy and an Act of Parliament in 1745 constituted surgeons as a separate body, one that eventually became the Royal College of Surgeons.

From 1919, links between the Barbers’ Company and the Royal College of Surgeons were established and today surgeons are also members of the Barbers’ Company.

The following photo shows the hall of the Barbers’ Company facing onto Monkwell Square.

Monkwell Street

In the above photo, Monkwell Street ran left to right almost directly in front of the hall. Originally, and as shown in the OS maps, the hall was set back further from Monkwell Street and reached through the alley. The hall was destroyed during wartime bombing and was rebuilt 30 feet to the east, as the earlier hall had included the medieval bastion in the western side of the building, and the rebuild required the bastion to be free standing.

This move of the hall to the east, therefore built over much of what was the alley, and took the front of the hall almost up to where Monkwell Street once ran.

To take the photos, my father was therefore standing somewhere just inside the Barbers’ Hall.

Walking towards London Wall and there is an office block facing onto the southern side of Monkwell Square. It is hard to be precise, but the following photo is looking roughly along the western edge of where Monkwell Street once ran, with the Barbers’ Hall on the left, the Wallside terrace of the Barbican development at the far end, occupying the space once occupied by Hart Street and Wood Street Square.

Monkwell Street

Much of the space to the west of Monkwell Street, apart from the Barbers’ Hall, is now open space, providing grass and a walking route along the old route of the Roman wall, and the medieval bastions.

In the following photo, London Wall is on the right, Barbers’ Hall on the left, and Monkwell Street ran left to right, in front of the brick building directly opposite.

Monkwell Street

Monkwell Street was a very old street. In ‘A Dictionary of London’ (1918), Henry A. Harben  writes the following regarding the name and age of the street:

“First mention: ‘Mukewellestrate’ in the 12th century. Other forms ‘Mogwellestrate’ 1287, ‘Mugwellestrate’ 1306, Mugglestreet’ 1596, ‘Munkes Well Streete’, ‘Mongwell Street’ (1666), ‘Mugwell Street’ (1677), ‘Monkwel Street’ or ‘Mugwel Street’ (1708).

Stow says the street was so named of a well at the north end, which belonged to the Abbot of Garendon, whose house or Cell was called ‘St James in the Wall’, of which the monks were the chaplains.

Riley says that this derivation is purely imaginary, and suggests that the earliest forms were Mogwell or Mugwell Street. This is, however, an error, for though the street was called by these names interchangeably from the 13th to the 18th centuries, the earliest form is, as shown above, ‘Mukwellestrate’ and this may easily have been a contraction of ‘Munkwell’ the ‘n’ being omitted. 

On the other hand, it seems more probable that the name is derived from the family name ‘Muchewella’, ‘Algarus de Muchewella’ being mentioned in a deed of the early 12th century. The family may have been named from the well. There seems to have been a well in existence under the crypt of Lamb’s Chapel in this street.” 

It is next to impossible to be absolutely certain as to the source of a street name, however I have found Harben to be one of the more well researched and accurate sources of information regarding the naming and history of London’s streets.

What is clear is that Monkwell Street was a very old street, dating back to at least the 12th century, but lost during the redevelopment of the area in the 20th century.

In 1746, Rocque shows Monkwell Street looking much as it would do 150 years later in the 1894 Ordnance Survey maps, running between Silver and Hart Streets, with Fell Street (although with a single L) on the right and the courts on the left.

Monkwell Street

The last sentence of Harben’s account of the street mentions a Lamb’s Chapel (also Lambe) in Monkwell Street. The location of this can be seen in the above map where at the top left of Monkwell Street is marked Lamb’s Chapel, above the large number 9.

In the following photo taken from one of the Barbican walkways, the bastion seen to the upper left of the number 9 in the 1746 map is at the far end of the grass space. In the map, the chapel is shown up against the old wall, to the right of the bastion. Although a stretch of the wall has since been lost, the chapel was up against the wall, roughly to the left of where the footpath crosses the water.

Monkwell Street

A corespondent to the Gentleman’s magazine describes the chapel in the 1783 edition:

“Lamb’s Chapel is a place perhaps not one in a thousand of your numerous readers hath ever visited. It is situated in an obscure court, to which it gives its name, at the north west corner of London Wall. It was founded in the reign of Edward I, and dedicated to St. James, when, it was distinguished from other places of religious worship of the same name by the denomination of St. James chapel, or hermitage, on the wall, from it being erected at or near the city wall in Monkwell Street.

At the dissolution of the religious houses, King Henry VIII granted this chapel to William Lamb, a rich clothworker, who bequeathed it, with other appurtenances, to the company of which he was a member, and from him it received its present name.

In this chapel is a fine old bust of the founder in his livery-gown, placed here in 1612, with a purse in one hand and gloves in the other. here are also four very delicate paintings on glass of St Peter, St Matthew, St Matthias and St James the Apostle.

It is in length from east to west thirty-nine feet and in breadth from north to south fifteen. In it are a pulpit, a font, a communion-table, with the portrait of Moses holding the two tablets, and a half length carving of the founder. The chapel is furnished with seats, benches and other accommodations for the master, wardens, and liverymen of the clothworkers company, and also with seats for the almsmen and women. There are also a few gravestones although some the brass plates are taken away, but on others they remain. The only inscriptions now legible are, one to Henry and Elizabeth Weldon of Swinscombe in kent, 1595 and another to Catherine Hird, daughter of Nicholas Best of Grays Inn, 1609″.

Lamb was a member of the Clothworkers’ Company and became their Master in 1569. He died in 1580 at the age of 85 and bequeathed the chapel to the Clothworkers’ in his will

The Clothworkers’ decided to close the chapel and almshouses in 1820, and they were both rebuilt on land the Clothworkers’ owned in Islington. The new church was dedicated to St James’ with St Peter, thereby reinstating the original pre-dissolution dedication of the chapel of St James on the Wall.

The 1612 bust of Lamb mentioned in the Gentleman’s magazine extract was moved to St. James, islington, where it can still be seen.

The crypt of the old chapel was later moved by the Clothworkers’ Company to All Hallows Staining, where it remains to this day.

The almsmen and women mentioned in the above text were from some Clothworkers’ Almshouses built adjacent to Lamb’s Chapel. The crypt of the chapel was still in existence in 1859 when it was part of the first visit to the City by members of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society.

The crypt of Lamb’s Chapel in 1859:

Monkwell Street

As well as the Clothworkers’ the Salters’ Company had a terrace of Almshouses in Monkwell Street for four hundred years. They were located along the east side of the street between Hart Street and Fell Street.

The original almshouses were built in 1578 by Ambrose Nicholas, Lord Mayor of the City. The almshouses accommodated twelve women. The original almshouses were destroyed during the 1666 Great Fire, after which the Salters’ Company rebuilt the almshouses, and it is these buildings which appear in the following drawing of the Salters’ Almshouses in 1818:

Monkwell Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q8051250

The plaque details the founding of the almshouses and was located above the central door of the terrace.

The almshouses survived to 1864, by when they had become rather dilapidated. They were demolished after the move of the residents to new Almshouses in Watford. A report in the Illustrated London News provides the reason for the remove, one which sounds very similar to today, where the value of London land is often the driver for a change to more profitable use: “The rebuilding of the almshouses of the civic companies in the environs of the metropolis instead of the densely crowded City, as occasion requires, is a sanitary change much to be commended. It is true that we miss many a quaint old building in a quiet City nook and on the margin of the great town; but the value of property in these localities has increased to such an extent as to render the removal profitable to the funds of the company, besides adding to the lives and comforts of the poor almspeople”

As well as the drawing of the almshouses, I found a couple of photos of the passageway that led from Monkwell Street to the Barbers’ Hall.

The first photo dates from 1863 and shows the entrance to the passageway, with the courtyard and Barbers’ Hall part visible at the end of the alley. At the time the entrance was described as “Inigo Jones’s picturesque entrance”. It was around this courtyard that my father took the photos of a devastated landscape.

Monkwell Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: m0010600cl

In 1863 / 1864 after the above photo was taken, it appears that the building with the passageway at the lower right was demolished and a new building and passageway constructed. The following photo from 1864 shows the new entrance to the Barbers’ Hall.

Monkwell Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: m0010599cl

I like to really understand who lived and worked in London’s streets. the architecture can only tell you so much. It is the details of those who lived and worked in the street that can really bring the street to life.

Monkwell Street had long between an industrial / commercial street. Census reports list very few people actually living in the street, with the buildings instead being occupied by manufacturers, agents and warehouses. The move of the almshouses consolidated the street as one long run of industrial / commercial premises, and we can get a good view of the trades working in Monkwell Street by looking at the directories of the time.

Let’s take a walk along Monkwell Street in two separate years to understand the occupancy of the street and the type of business operating in this part of the City.

Looking at two years also allows a comparison of how trades changed and how long lasting businesses were in London.

I will start at the Coopers’ Arms Public House on the corner of Silver Street, walk along the east side of the street, then back along the west side of the street, as shown in the following map:

Monkwell Street

The following table is an extract from an 1895 directory, listing the building number, name of the occupying business and their trade:

Monkwell StreetMonkwell Street

With a few exceptions, Monkwell Street was occupied by companies that manufactured things that people would need in their day to day life. – gloves, shirts, umbrellas, collars, dressing gowns. They also made items that would ornament clothing such as ostrich and fancy feathers and braid.

There were a number of agents, typically in multi-occupancy buildings. I imagine these were single person or small businesses who facilitated trade between different businesses and shops.

Numbers 41 and 42 were occupied by the Artisans Dining and Refreshment Company – that is the type of name that I would expect to find for a coffee shop in east London today.

There was one strange address on the street, number forty and a half. This was occupied by Mrs Jane Davies whose trade was listed as “Dairy”, so I assume Jane Davies was running a small business selling milk, cheese and other basic products to the workers on Monkwell Street.

Now jump forward 20 years to 1915, and the following table is a walk in the same direction, listing the businesses occupying Monkwell Street. I wondered how many of those in the street in 1895 were still there twenty years later – I have highlighted these businesses still in Monkwell Street in yellow.

Monkwell Street Monkwell Street

Monkwell Street was still an industrial / commercial street, as it would be until the devastation of 1940. Still with the same types of trades, manufacturing for the clothing market, and agents who must have acted as the middlemen between those who produced products and the shops that would sell them.

Of the 59 businesses in the street in 1895, only 12 were still there 20 years later. I did not include the Coopers’ Arms at number 1A or the Dairy at number 40.5, as although these were still in business, they were run by different people. For example in 1895 the dairy was run by Mrs Jane Davies and in 1915 by Miss Margret Blott.

I suspect the dairy was a job for someone who was widowed, or not yet married. In 1915 the dairy was run by a “Miss” and in the 1901 census Mrs Jane Davies was listed as a Widow. She had been born in 1853 in Machynlleth in Wales. She lived in number 40 Monkwell Street with here sister Bridget Edwards, aged 41 and listed as single. They are both listed as Confectioners, so I assume they sold more than just dairy produce.

The census also perhaps helps with the strange address of the dairy as forty and a half. I suspect the dairy was in number 40 Monkwell Street, but they used a separate door / window for the dairy business and labelled this as 40.5.

The dairy must have been doing reasonably well, as at the time of the census they also had a General Domestic Servant, 18 years old Daisy Bedford.

There is so much more to be written about this historic lost street.

It was reported that Shakespeare lodged in a house on the north east corner of Silver and Monkwell Streets, and that the pub, the Coopers’ Arms was later built on the site. He lodged there for a number of years with a French Hugenot family named Mountjoy. In 1931 it was reported that the Coopers Arms has an old inscription commemorating Shakespeare’s stay, which ran from roughly 1601 to 1606. Every pub needs a Shakespeare connection.

Many London pubs were also a centre of some form of sporting activity. Pubs along the Thames often supported some form of river sport such as rowing, but at the Coopers Arms it was billiards. On Saturday November 8th 1890, the Sporting Life reported that:  “Last Thursday evening a large company assembled in the billiard saloon at the Cooper’s Arms, Monkwell-street, E.C. so ably presided over by Mr George Schneider. Two important events were set for decision, the first being the final heat of Mr Schneider’s Annual Amateur Handicap, for which prizes valued at £12 were given, and afterwards Mr Aldrich, a player in the front rank of amateurs, played a match of 1,000 up, three spots allowed, against Mr T.W. Horner, to whom he conceded 500, or half the game”.

There are many more newspaper reports that provide additional background to life in Monkwell Street, along with adverts for the products produced by the businesses occupying the street.

The earliest I could find was from the 28th September 1753, when: “About six weeks ago a Journeyman, who worked with Mr. Hearne, a Farrier in Monkwell Street, was bit by a mad dog, that belonged to a Jeweller in Noble Street. The said dog bit two or three other Persons who were afterwards dipped in Salt Water. They endeavour’d to persuade the Farrier to go along with them, but he seemed to make a Joke of the Affair, saying, that his Wound was but trifling, and would soon be healed; but on Sunday Morning he was seized with Symptoms of Madness, and yesterday he died raving mad“.

Other reports covered what was probably day to day life in such a street. Theft (for example one incident where 3,000 ostrich feathers were stolen), the occasional fire, and the follow up sale of damaged goods, adverts for staff and the sale or rent of premises.

Monkwell Street is long gone, after at least 800 years in this historic part of the City. The area was part of the Roman city and fort. Human occupation may have been for much longer. In London by George H. Cunningham, his final sentence in the entry on Monkwell Street is “Stone implements of Paleolithic man have been found in this street, far below the surface”.

The only part of Monkwell Street that remains today is part of the name in Monkwell Square, but at least we can stand in this quiet part of the Barbican and consider the many thousands of Londoners who have called this lost street home and workplace.

Some of my other posts that cover related places mentioned in this post are:

The church of St Mary Aldermanbury

London Wall

St Giles Cripplegate and Red Cross Street Fire Station

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The Bellot Memorial at Greenwich

Too often, I walk by the numerous memorials in London with little more than a cursory glance to see if there is anything of specific interest. This is even more true for those that I have walked by so many times, they become a part of the street scene. One such memorial is the Bellot Memorial on the riverside footpath at Greenwich – a slim obelisk on a grass mound between two footpaths.

Bellot

The base of the obelisk facing the river, has the work Bellot inscribed in large letters.

Bellot

Whilst on the side facing inland there is some text which gives a partial clue as to who the memorial is commemorating.

Bellot

The key to finding out who Bellot was, and why he has a memorial on the river path at Greenwich is through the second name.

This is Sir John Franklin, the Arctic explorer and Royal Navy officer.

Franklin was a 19th century experienced Arctic explorer, having been part of three expeditions to explore northern Canada and the Arctic. His fourth and final expedition took place in 1845, where he led two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror on an expedition to explore the final miles of the north west passage, the route from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the north coast of Canada. Finding such a route would reduce the time to travel between the two oceans significantly and would be a major advantage for the Royal Navy and British trade.

The 1845 expedition was the best equipped to date, and included a supply ship which took additional supplies to be transferred to Erebus and Terror at Greenland, leaving the two ships to head to northern Canada fully supplied.

They left the Thames in May 1845, and after transferring supplies, headed west. The last confirmed sighting of the two ships was on the 26th July 1845. They were not seen again.

They were heading to a place where ships did not travel, forms of communication such as radio were still many decades in the future, so it was expected that there would be no contact with the ships for some time, but after two years there was widespread concern as to the state of the expedition and the fate of the crew of the two ships.

Franklin’s wife, Lady Jane Franklin petitioned the Admiralty to arrange an expedition to search for her husband and the crew of the two ships. The Admiralty put up a sum of money for finding the ships, and a number of expeditions set out to northern Canada. One of these was carrying a young lieutenant of the French Navy, Joseph Rene Bellot © The Trustees of the British Museum:

Bellot

The Illustrated Times of the 1st December 1855 provided some background on Bellot:

“Bellot was a native of Paris, and first saw light in March 1826, his father being by trade a farrier and blacksmith. When Bellot reached the age of five, his father removed from the French capital to Rochefort, and the embryo here was educated in that marine town. In his sixteenth year, Bellot was placed at the naval school of Rochefort, and soon afterwards entered upon his professional career.

From a boy, Bellot was remarkable for his sense of duty, sweetness of temper, and nobility of soul; and, as time passed on, these high and generous qualities not only endured him to his friends, but gave him a strong hold on the hearts of all with him he shared peril and fatigue.

The conduct and career of Lieutenant Bellot in connection with our Arctic expeditions in search of Sir John Franklin, are well known. His own diary, recently published, and read by many with breathless interest, furnishes, of course, the best narrative of adventures and enterprises, and the story becomes more and more enchanting as it proceeds. ‘So often’ says a contemporary, ‘as the Golden Book of Modern Travel comes to be made up, one of its best and brightest pages must be reserved for Joseph Rene Bellot; since rarely, in any age, has love of adventure been ennobled by higher motives and mere unselfish feelings than those which stirred the young French adventurer. The nationality of Bellot, too – his gaiety as well as his goodness – makes his journey peculiarly engaging’.

To indomitable courage and indefatigable perseverance, were added the charms of lightness of heart and poetry of fancy. He seems to have been able ‘to laugh and make laugh’, to dance when a young Orcadian Miss was to be found by way of partner, to read Byron, to think of Scott and to hear about Shakespeare, as if he had been merely one of those Parisian carpet travelers, who imagine adventures in foreign lands, while he lounges homewards, cigar in mouth, as if he had not been a real hero in the hour of danger, hopeful and calm when death was upon him.”

Given his apparent thirst for adventure, an expedition to rescue Franklin must have been a brilliant opportunity for Bellot, so much so, that he participated in two expeditions, the last one would cost him his life.

The first expedition under the command of Captain William Kennedy was during the years 1851 and 1852, and the second, this time under the command of Captain Edward Inglefield, set out later in 1852.

It was during Inglefield’s expedition that Bellot lost his life when “this noble minded officer perished in the Wellington Channel in a gale of wind, by the disruption of ice, whilst carrying dispatches from Beechy Island to Sir Edward Belcher, a service for which he generously volunteered”.

Sir John Franklin, HMS Erebus and Terror, and the crew of the two ships were never found. Lady Franklin continued supporting searches, including later searches for written records that the expedition may have left, however she died in 1875 with no firm conclusion as to her husband’s fate, apart from the fact that he had died.

Sir John Franklin © The Trustees of the British Museum:

Bellot

After Bellot’s death, there was considerable interest in creating some form of memorial for a French Lieutenant who had died in the search for one of Britain’s Naval heroes and Arctic explorers.

Sir Roderick Murchision, President of the Royal Geographical Society was the Chair of a committee set up to arrange a suitable memorial. Public meetings were held, money was donated and plans were put in place.

The initial plan was for a memorial to be built in Bellot’s home city of Rochefort, however after correspondence with the Mayor of Rochefort it was understood that the city was already planning a memorial, and two separate memorials was not considered the best approach.

The committee therefore decided on Greenwich as a suitable location, as: “Under these circumstances, and being assured that the French government will cordially approve their decision, the committee have come to the conclusion, that Englishmen, wishing to honour in the most emphatic manner the memory of one who was so esteemed and beloved among them as Lieutenant Bellot, should pay to him the same respect as to their own illustrious dead. In this case, if it be decided that a cenotaph, column, or monument be placed on the banks of the Thames, at or near the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, the committee feel assured that every Frenchman who may pass by on the river, or visit our great naval hospital, would see that we had paid to our lamented friend the very highest compliment in our power, and that our tribute was a pledge to be forever before us, and that we desired to perpetuate the mutual good-will which so happily exists between the two nations”.

Over £2,000 was subscribed towards the memorial. the cost was only £500, with the remaining funds being distributed to the sisters of Bellot. The French Emperor, Napoleon III also granted an annuity of 2,000 francs to Bellot’s family.

The following print from soon after the memorial was installed in 1856 shows the obelisk of Aberdeen granite, standing on a grass mound between two walkways along the Thames and in front of the Royal Hospital – as it does today.

Bellot

Bellot is not just commemorated in Greenwich and Rochefort, there is also a geographic feature named after Bellot. On a previous Arctic expedition he had covered, with William Kennedy, over 1,100 miles on foot and dogsled over the ice. They found a previously unknown feature, a channel of water between Somerset Island to the north and the Boothia Peninsula to the south. This channel of water was named Bellot Strait.

A high level map is below, to show the very remote location of the Bellot Strait  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Bellot

In a very different location to the Bellot Strait, the Bellot memorial looking over the Thames, a stretch of water with which Bellot and Franklin must have been very familiar. Bellot

Although scattered remains would be found of the ship and crew, HMS Erebus was only recently discovered in September 2014. The book Erebus, The Story Of A Ship by Michael Palin provides a detailed account of Franklin’s expedition and the discovery of the Erebus.

But the final word must go to Lieutenant Bellot, who wrote a last letter to friends, to be delivered in the event of his death:

“My dear and excellent Friends – If you receive this letter I shall have ceased to exist, but should have quitted life in the performance of a mission of peril and honour. You will see in my journal, which you will find among my effects, that our captain and four men were necessarily left behind in the ice to save the rest; so, after effecting that, we were compelled to go to the assistance of these worthy fellows. Possibly I had no right to run such a risk, knowing how necessary I am to you in every way; but death may probably draw upon the different members of my family, the consideration of men, and the blessings of Heaven – farewell ! to meet again above, if not below, Have faith and courage. God bless you, J. Bellot”

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The Buildings of Smithfield Market

Over the years I have been trying to photograph London’s buildings as they change. An example is the area around Euston where buildings and streets have been demolished ready for HS2. Another area that will be changing considerably over the coming years is Smithfield Market.

The arrival of Crossrail, the transfer of the Museum of London from London Wall to part of the old Smithfield Market buildings, will have a significant impact and will drive change across the surrounding area.

I have been taking photos of the market for many years, but over the last few years have made it a focus to take more photos as change starts to accelerate.

For this week’s post, here is a sample of my latest photos showing the current state of the Smithfield Market buildings (or at least a few months ago).

Smithfield Market is comprised of a number of different buildings. There is the main Central Market facing onto West Smithfield, however there are many other market buildings all the way down to Farringdon Street, along with supporting buildings in the surrounding streets.

in the map below I have identified the main Smithfield Market buildings (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Smithfield Market

The buildings bounded by the red line are the London Central Market – the main meat market of Smithfield Market.

The building bounded by the green line is the Poultry Market.

Blue surrounds the old Smithfield General Market.

The purple line surrounds the old Fish Market and the Red House.

There is so much history and architecture to be found in the area bounded by Farringdon Street, Charterhouse Street, Lindsey Street and West Smithfield, that for today’s post I will concentrate mainly on the area between the Grand Avenue of the Central Market and Farringdon Street. Future posts will cover the rest of the area and explore more of the history of Smithfield Market.

I will start in Farringdon Street, and the following photo is looking at the western wall of the General Market, opened in 1883.

Smithfield Market

As with many of the buildings to the west of the main market, they are closed and boarded up. The pediment at the centre of the roof line has the arms of the City of London, confirming the ownership of the market, the buildings and land.

On the corner of Farringdon Street and Charterhouse Street, a later addition to the market buildings, forming one of the main entrances to this section of the market, along with market offices.

Smithfield Market

A number of business had taken up space on the ground floor of this building. Executive City Barbers were still in operation where Charterhouse Street meets Farringdon Street – not sure if they are still there.

Smithfield Market

Further along Charterhouse Street is Harts of Smithfield – the location of the Christmas Eve meat auction, with to the left, one of the main entrances to the General Market buildings.

Smithfield Market

If we walk back to Farringdon Street, we can walk along the other side of the General Market buildings. The following photo is to the right of the photo at the top of the post, and is on the corner of Farringdon Street and West Smithfield.

Smithfield Market

The view looking up West Smithfield with the General Market on the left and the old Fish Market on the right.

Smithfield Market

The buildings we see above ground are just part of the market, and there is considerable space below ground. The building below is on the left in the above photo and on the left is one of the access points for Crossrail construction, where a ramp slopes down to the basement levels.

Smithfield Market

On the opposite side of the ramp is this round corner building, showing the way use was made of every available space, and the unusual architecture that resulted.

Smithfield Market

Directly opposite, where Snow Hill branches off to the right is the old Fish Market.

Smithfield Market

If you look on the corner of the above building, towards street level there is a rectangular plaque. This records the opening of the market in 1888 by Sir Polydore de Keyser.

Smithfield Market

Polydore de Keyser was an interesting character. A Catholic immigrant from Belgium who became Lord Mayor of the City of London. I wrote a post about him, his hotel by Blackfriars Bridge and his time as Mayor.

A report at the time of the opening of the fish market records the reasons for having a fish market at Smithfield, as well as Billingsgate:

“Mr. Perkins, Chairman of the Markets Committee, briefly explained the circumstances which had induced the Corporation to construct the present market. The old fish market on the other side of the roadway, which was originally intended for the sale of fruit and vegetables, had proved a loss to the Corporation of about £10,000 a year. Hence the erection of the present market, Billingsgate having proved insufficient for the supply of fish for the Metropolis. Nearly every shop in the new market was let, and the old market would be used in future for fruit and vegetable. the Corporation hoped that it would be successful, and prove advantageous to the salesman.”

Based on the current plans for the new Museum of London at Smithfield, the old Fish Market buildings will become the location for “food and beverage and events”.

The old General Market buildings will become the site for “Displays, events and installations”, with a museum restaurant and bar towards Farringdon Street. The following photo is looking down West Smithfield at the General Market buildings. This will be an impressive location for the Museum of London.

Smithfield Market

There are numerous architectural features on the old market buildings which hopefully will be retained by the Museum of London. The following photo is of the apex of the roof where the overhead walkway in the above photo joins the market building.

Smithfield Market

The doors to the old general market building were open so I had a quick look in. Much of the space has been cleared, with just the frames that supported the old market stalls remaining in place. I assume these will go to open up the space for the museum.

Smithfield Market

The roof comprises angled glass panels to let in as much light as possible to illuminate the market below.

Smithfield Market

First floor rooms, showing the construction technique to build partitions between rooms.

Smithfield Market

Back outside, and at the junction of West Smithfield with Smithfield Street, and in the triangular space where the two streets converge is this small building, which I believe were once public toilets for the market.

Smithfield Market

The building shown in the above photo covered in scaffolding, and below as a facade is the Red House, built in 1898 as a cold store. I have not fully worked out the sequence of buildings around the Red House, and the reason for the facade, but there is a considerable amount below ground here, with vaults extending out under the streets for storage, freezer infrastructure and connecting corridors.

Smithfield Market

View of what I believe was the old toilet block from in front of the facade of the Red House.

Smithfield Market

Across West Smithfield to the above photo is West Poultry Avenue which separated the General Market (on the left) from the Poultry Market (on the right).

Smithfield Market

The following view looking down West Smithfield towards Farringdon Street. The Poultry Market is on the right.

Smithfield Market

The Poultry Market is relatively new compared to the rest of the Smithfield Market buildings. It was completed in 1963 to replace the original Poultry Market which had been destroyed by fire in 1958.

The photo below shows the remains of the old Poultry Market after the fire. Note that the infrastructure that carved the space up into individual market stalls is the same as in my internal photo of the General market.

Smithfield Market

The fire was very difficult to contain, and resulted in the deaths of two firemen. The Sphere reported on the fire:

“Two firemen died fighting what has been described as the worst subterranean fire London has ever known, when the cellars of Smithfield Poultry Market blazed last week. The outbreak was discovered at 2 a.m. on Thursday morning. As the day progressed it spread throughout a labyrinth of cellars and tunnels over an area of 2.5 acres. As flames began to break through the floor of the market, firemen abandoned attempts to drive the fire from one side of the Union Cold Storage Company’s basement to the other and concentrated on keeping the blaze from getting a hold on the surface buildings.

Station Officer Jack Fourt-Wells and Fireman Richard Stocking lost their lives, suffocated in the smoke-filled underground passages. Nearly forty firemen were injured and eight were taken to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke. In spite of thousands of gallons of water being pumped into the cellars the fire spread to the central poultry market buildings. The following day the market was a roofless gutted shell, and the fire was still burning. Two of the four ornamental towers on each corner of the building had collapsed and paving stones had been flung into the air. Two more firemen were injured during the day.”

The new poultry market was of a very different design to the original. Rather than ornate market buildings, the new market was made of reinforced concrete with brick cladding. The roof is a concrete shell that spans the central market space, only supported at the edges leaving a large area of free space. It was a radical design by T.P. Bennett and Son. The following model shows the new market building.

Smithfield Market

The walls facing onto West Smithfield and Charterhouse Street were of brick covering the reinforced concrete shell, with, as can be seen by my photo above, frequent sections of wall which included hexagonal glass blocks, with more normal windows above.

Smithfield Market

Designed to maximise the flow of light from outside the market into the interior.

The poultry market is one of the Smithfield Market buildings that will become part of the Museum of London. I hope that these wall sections of glass blocks are retained, which they should as the building is Grade II listed. They are a unique feature from early 1960’s architecture and when viewed along the full length of the wall, break up what could have been a long expanse of brick.

Returning to Charterhouse Street, and there are a number of buildings that whilst not part of the central market, formed part of the overall market infrastructure that occupied so much of Smithfield.

The following building, dating from 1914 and built for the Port of London Authority was a cold store. The five large entrances at the front show where deliveries and collections would have been made, with lorries backing up to transfer their cargo.

Smithfield Market

The Port of London Authority were not exactly retiring when it came to having their name spread across the front of the building. Along the very top of the building can be seen the PLA’s motto Floreat Imperii Portus, which seems to translate as “Let the Imperial Port Flourish”. Again, not a sign of a retiring organisation.

The building also illustrates how much there is below ground level across Smithfield. There are several floors below the building which were originally used for the storage of meat, however they have now been put to a unique use, as E.On / Citigen have built a power station in the space below ground.

Comprised of two natural gas fueled, combined heat and power generators, the building provides not just electricity for London, but also heat and cooling which is used for buildings such as the Guildhall and the Barbican Centre.

Adjacent to the PLA building is another cold store. This is the Central Cold Store, designed by C. Stanley Peach and built in 1899. The building is Grade II listed.

Smithfield Market

According to a number of planning applications, the building is also part of the E.On / Citigen power station, and houses the majority of the generating infrastructure.

The name and original function of the building is displayed in a rather ornate manner on the front.

Smithfield Market

Walking further along Charterhouse Street are the main buildings of the Central Market. These date from 1868 and were designed by Sir Horace Jones. They start at East Poultry Avenue, which is the street that runs between the Central Market and the Poultry Market. The name avenue is a strange name for this short stretch of roadway which is mainly used for access to the buildings on either side, and is covered for the whole stretch between Charterhouse Street and West Smithfield.

It does though provide some perfect opportunities to photograph these unique buildings.

Smithfield Market

Through the roof, we can see one of the ornamental towers that sit at each corner of the building. The original poultry market was of the same design, and had similar towers. The sight of flames spreading out from the towers indicated how serious the damage was in 1958.

Smithfield Market

The new market was part of the 19th century City improvements and was designed to replace the previous market where livestock was driven into Smithfield. The chaos that this created in the crowded 19th century City was considerable, and the City of London decided to transfer the livestock market to Copenhagen Fields in Islington, and in the last Christmas market at Smithfield in 1854, the number of animals at the market was 6,100.

The livestock market was therefore at Islington, which included associated infrastructure such as slaughter houses, with the meat market at Smithfield. A solution that allowed a meat market to continue in the City of London, but moved the less attractive elements away from the City.

The following print from 1855 shows a bull raging through Smithfield Market when livestock were brought directly into the City. The text offers best wishes to Copenhagen Fields and Islington.

Smithfield Market

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q607963x

The view looking along West Smithfield, with East Poultry Avenue on the left. The main market buildings disappearing into the distance.

Smithfield Market

Looking back along East Poultry Avenue, the street that separates the poultry market from the main meat market.

Smithfield Market

The main market buildings consist of two main blocks, the east and west market buildings, either side of the Grand Avenue, where West Smithfield becomes Long Lane. The photo below shows the impressive entrance to the Grand Avenue.

Smithfield Market

This has just been an introduction to some of the buildings of Smithfield Market. There is so much more to cover, including the main market buildings, the areas underground, the rail sidings and route under the market, more buildings along Charterhouse Street together with the long history of the market – all to be covered in future posts, when I dig out more photos of the area.

Work on Crossrail continues, the space within the General, Poultry and Fish Markets should become the new Museum of London.

The meat market continues to trade, however the City of London Corporation plans to move the meat market, along with the City’s other managed markets to a new site, with Barking Reach being the current preferred location.

In years to come, the area between Lindsey and Farringdon Streets will be very different.

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St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Nuns and Robert Hooke

St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Nuns and Robert Hooke – sorry, but the post is not going to be as exciting as the title may suggest, however it does tell the story of one of the City’s ancient churches, a nunnery and some of those buried at the church.

The City churches are fascinating, not just each individual church, but the part they play in the City’s landscape, being one of the few fixed points in a thousand years of history.

Standing in front of a church such as St Helen’s Bishopsgate, it is easy to imagine the church as the time machine in the 1960 film of H.G. Wells book, The Time Machine, where the time machine is a fixed point and as the machine moves through time, the surroundings change at a rapid pace.

Or perhaps I was getting carried away by my imagination as I stood outside St Helen’s Bishopsgate last September during Open House weekend.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

A church has been on the site for many hundreds of years. P.H. Ditchfield writing in London Survivals (1914) states “Several legends that are baseless cluster around the church. They tell us that the Emperor Constantine built the earliest edifice on the site of a heathen temple in the fourth century, and dedicated it to his mother, St. Helena. Some writers assert that there was a church here in 1010, but there is no direct evidence of such a building.”

The first firm, written records of the church date to around 1140, when two Canons of St Paul’s Cathedral were granted the church for the duration of their lives, provided that they paid 12d a year to the chapter of St Paul’s.

The church has a very distinctive appearance compared to the majority of other City churches. Looking at the main entrance on the west facing side of the church, a small wooden bell turret sits at the middle of two separate entrances, both with large windows above the doors.

The following print from 1736 shows the church looking much the same as it does today.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q6010382

The wooden bell turret was originally added to the church around 1568, with the existing turret dating from around 1700.

The text at the bottom of the print records that St Helen was the mother of Constantine the Great. The father of Constantine was the 3rd century Roman Emperor Constantius. Helen had converted to Christianity, and when Constantine became Emperor, Helen went on pilgrimages, and also on a search for early Christian relics. She was alleged to have found the three crosses buried where Jesus was crucified, to have ordered the destruction of the Roman temple built on the site and the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Medieval literature included references to St Helen, trying to tie her origins into British History, including Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote that St Helen was the daughter of a Welsh leader Coel, or Cole who legend also attributed to be a ruler of Colchester in Essex. Where there is reasonably firm evidence, it gives Helen’s origins as Greek.

St Helen’s, Bishopsgate survived the Great Fire and bombing of the City during the Second World War. The church was badly damaged during the 1990s by two IRA bombs, in 1992 in St Mary Axe, and a bomb in Bishopsgate in 1993. Both bombs caused considerable damage to the church. The architect Quinlan Terry managed the rebuild which included reconfiguration of the interior space. Aspects of the church that could not be rebuilt included a medieval stained glass window.

As the main walls of the church have not been substantially rebuilt for many hundreds of years, walking around the walls shows how they retain the echoes of so many previous features, stages of construction and a range of different building materials, frequently thrown together to build part of a wall.

The following photo shows part of the south facing wall:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

A 17th century, pedimented door dated 1633 with reference to St Helena (one of the variations of the name Helen):

St Helen's Bishopsgate

London: The City Churches by Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner describes the walls as of “random rubble” and this is easy to see, including where there is a range of different features which have been part of the walls over time and perhaps show where external buildings were built into the church wall. Part of the south facing wall:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The south transept extends out from the south eastern corner of the church:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Again a mix of old features and building materials along the corner of the south transept contrast with the modern office blocks that now surround St Helen’s Bishopsgate.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Within the paved area surrounding the southern edge of the church is one of the works from the Sculpture in the City initiative. This is Crocodylius Philodendrus by Nancy Rubins:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The view from St Mary Axe, showing a shaft of sunlight picking out part of the church, with Tower 42 in the rear and to the left, the tower of 1 Undershaft, and the entrance to the underground car park which now occupies much of the space to the south of the church.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

I mentioned nuns in the title to the post, and it is down to a nunnery that was on part of the site for 300 years, that the church is of the form we see today. Returning to the photo of the west facing side of the church. There are two sections to the church. The section on the right of the central buttress is slightly smaller than the section on the left.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The section on the right is that of the original parish church, and on the left is the nave of the former nuns church that was added to the parish church when the nunnery was established.

This was in 1210 when the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s gave permission to a William, son of William the Goldsmith, to build a nunnery to the north of the church, with a church for the nuns to use being added to the side of the original parish church, but being 4 foot wider than the original church.

The nunnery occupied the space to the north of the church. Returning to the book London Survivals, there is an interesting description of the church and nunnery: “The parish church, therefore, was in existence before the foundation of the nunnery, and to the parochial nave the founder of the nunnery added a second nave on the north side for the services of the nuns. This double use of the church is still evinced in its construction. It has two parallel naves divided by an arcade of six arches; and lest the eyes of the nuns should wander from their devotions, a wooden screen separated the conventual from the parochial church, the floor of which was much higher than that of the nun’s choir.

The cloister and other conventual buildings were situated on the north side of the church. in the midst of the present crowded streets and houses of modern London, it is pleasant to recall the memory of the fair garden wherein the sisters wandered. A survey taken in the time of the arch-destroyer of monasteries, Henry VIII, tells of a little garden at the east end of the cloister, and further on a fair garden of half an acre, and on the north of the cloister a kitchen garden which had a dovecot, and besides all this a fair wood-yard with another garden, a stable and other appurtenances.”

During the Dissolution, the Nunnery was taken over by Henry VIII, and Thomas Cromwell then obtained the buildings and land from the Crown, which he then sold on to the Leathersellers’ Company.

The Leathersellers’ used the refectory of the old nunnery as their Hall, and they continued to use the buildings until they were demolished in 1799 to make way for a new Hall, with offices also being built around what would become St Helen’s Place.

This print from 1819 shows the ruins of the old nunnery. It is a rather strange print as the area looks very rural rather than in the heart of the City. Although there is probably some considerable artistic interpretation of the view, it probably does give a good idea of the remains of part of the nunnery, with the church being seen on the left of the print.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q688426x

The following print from 1801 probably shows a more realistic view of the ruins of the nunnery and the church:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

© The Trustees of the British Museum

The following print dated 1800, shows the remains of the crypt of the nunnery:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

© The Trustees of the British Museum

The text underneath the print reads “REMAINS of a crypt part of the ancient priory of BLACK-NUNS adjoining St Helen’s Church in Bishopsgate Street. It was situated under the Leather sellers Hall; and together with the Hall, and with some less considerable remains of the priory, was discovered and demolished in the year 1799.”

In the roughly three hundred years of the nunnery, it seems to have had the usual challenges of financial management, maintaining the behaviour of the nuns and ensuring they were separated from the general population of London, property disputes and issues regarding rights of way that ran through the grounds of the nunnery.

Wealthy London residents contributed to the upkeep of the nunnery, and in 1285 there was an event which built on the legends of St Helen. Edward I visited the church on the 4th May 1285 to deliver to the church a piece of the True Cross that had been found in Wales. Building on the legend that Helen had found the original crosses in Jerusalem, and the Welsh ancestor of Coel who Geoffrey of Monmouth alleged was Helen’s father.

Time to visit the interior of the church, which was repaired and reconfigured to provide a much more open and flexible space following the bombings of the early 1990s. The damage was such that the roof was lifted off the walls by the force of the explosions.

A gallery runs part the length of the western wall, and from the gallery we can get a good view along the church, showing the section of the nuns church on the left and the original parish church on the right.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The large central arches date from around 1480. Before the 1990s restoration, the floors of the various sections of the church were at different levels,some lower than at present, reflecting their different original use and periods of build. They were rebuilt to the same level in the 1990s. which does make the space easier to use, but the Pevsner Guide to the City of London Churches appears to be rather dismissive of this change, saying that “Terry remade the floor at one indiscriminately high level throughout”.

St Helen’s Bishopsgate has a large number of memorials and monuments. London Survivals records that the number of these have given the church the name “Westminster Abbey of the City”.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Many of these are fascinating, not just through the story of the subject of the memorial, but the way the story has been portrayed. This is the memorial to Martin Bond – a worthy citizen and soldier.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The text states that he was “son of Will Bond, Sheriff and Alderman of London. He was Captain in the year 1588 at the camp at Tilbury and after remained chief captain of trained bands of the City until his death. He was a Merchant Adventurer and free of the Company of Haberdasher. He lived to the age of 85 years and died in May 1643. His piety, prudence, courage and charity have left behind him a never dying monument.”

I love it when I can tie posts together, and the reference in the memorial to Martin Bond being at the camp at Tilbury in the year 1558, is a reference to Tilbury Fort which I wrote about here.

1588 was the year when additional reinforcements were made to the fort at Tilbury due to the threat from the Spanish Armada. In March of the previous year, Queen Elizabeth I requested the City to provide a force of 10,000 men, fully armed and equipped. Billingsgate Ward contributed 326 men, one of which would have been Martin Bond.

His memorial may well therefore show him in his role as Captain, in his tent at Tilbury Fort.

As well as memorials, there are bits of stonework that further demonstrate how churches of this age are made up of many different bits of stone from different sources.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The plaque at the top reads “The insertions in the wall beneath are a weathered fragment of marble of Moorish or Venetian workmanship (XII or XIII century) discovered in the interior of the Bernard monument adjacent on its removal (in 1874) to its present position. A Purbeck marble panel, part of the ancient Clitherow Monument (formerly of the church of St Martin Outwich) used to repair the Pemberton Monument on its reconstruction in 1796 and removed on the restoration of that monument in 1874”.

Monuments tell stories of the life of those recorded on the stones and marble. The monument shown in the photo below is to Dame Abigail Lawrence, who died at the age of 59 on the 6th June 1682.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

She is recorded as being the “tender mother of ten children, the nine first being all daughters she suckled at her own breasts, they all lived to be of age, her last a son died an infant”. Described as an “Exemplary matron of this Cittie”.

The walls on which these monuments are now mounted are all firm and dry, but it is interesting to read of earlier improvements, the state of the walls and the problems faced by employing workmen in such a historic building.

There was an article in the London City Press dated the 22nd July 1865, reporting on the repairs and renovations that were about to take place at St Helen’s Bishopsgate. In the article, the walls were described as being built with nitrate of lime, and as a consequence being almost always wet.

The article also mentions that the church is home to a large number of brass memorials and that during the last restoration in 1845 several of these brasses were lost – the implication being that they were stolen at the request of antiquaries. The article also references the loss of large quantities of lead, stolen from the coffins by workmen, working on repairs at Stepney Church.

The article recommends that the church authorities put in place measures to protect the artifacts in the church, as “the power of whisky over the working man is very great, and it is feared that the mere value of the brass may have caused some of them to have been taken away”.

The church has a late 18th century Poor Box which is mounted on a 17th century figure of a bearded man, holding a hat ready to receive alms.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

There are numerous memorials and monuments across the church, too many for a single post, and there is one further subject in the post’s title that I want to cover, one Robert Hooke.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Robert Hooke was far more than a scientist. He was also an engineer, surveyor, inventor and architect. Your first contact with Hooke may have been during school science lessons and Hooke’s law which stated that the force needed to extend or compress a spring is proportional to the distance extended or compressed.

After the Great Fire in 1666 he was appointed the Surveyor for the City of London and worked on many of the rebuilds of the city churches, frequently with Christopher Wren. This work included the Monument to the Great Fire.

He has been somewhat overshadowed by Wren, and other scientists of the time such as Newton. He also had a number of disagreements and controversies with other scientists during his lifetime, Possibly because of these, there are no drawings or paintings of Robert Hooke which survive to this day. Apparently Newton removed Hooke’s name from the Royal Society records and destroyed his portrait after one rather passionate argument.

Hooke’s bones were removed from the graveyard at St Helen’s during the 19th century, probably during one of the many Victorian clearances of the City graveyards. They were moved to an unknown destination in north London.

There was a memorial window to Robert Hooke in St Helen’s Bishopsgate which was one of those destroyed during the IRA bombings of the early 1990s. The following is a 1930s photo of the window:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

St Helen’s Bishopsgate, although surrounded by modern office blocks, has roots that stretch back across the centuries of the City’s history. Leaving the church, I was still thinking of the Time Machine, and everything the church has seen built and then demolished, and all the people who have passed through and by the church, and what the church will see in the future.

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Ely Cathedral and Oliver Cromwell

As well as London, my father took lots of photos around the country during the late 1940s / early 1950s whilst youth hosteling with friends from National Service. Long term readers of the blog will know that I am also visiting the locations of these photos with occasional trips out of London, and for this week’s post I am returning to the City of Ely in Cambridgeshire, to visit Ely Cathedral, and a historic house.

This was last August, but it seems a very long time ago now.

My father’s photos were taken on the 23rd July 1952, my photos 67 years later on the 12th August 2019.

Ely is a fascinating city, both from a historical aspect, but also the location of the city. Built on the highest point (around 20 metres) where an area of Kimmeridge Clay provides elevation above the surrounding Fens, which through their marshy and waterlogged landscape, turned Ely almost into an island.

The marsh has been drained, however the magnificent Ely Cathedral still rises over the surrounding landscape, giving the building the name of the Ship of the Fens.

Approaching the cathedral from the west provides a view of the magnificent west tower, standing 215 feet tall. The lower two thirds of the tower date from the 12th century, with the upper section being added in the 14th century. The view in 1952:

Ely Cathedral

The same view today:

Ely Cathedral

In the foreground in both photos is a cannon. This is a Russian cannon captured during the Crimean war and was presented to Ely in 1860 by Queen Victoria to mark the creation of the Ely Volunteer Rifles.

The walls of an old building can just be seen to the right of the above photos. This is the Old Bishop’s Palace building:

Ely Cathedral

1952 above and 2019 below. I suspect that is the same tree to the left of the photo showing 67 years growth.

Ely Cathedral

The Old Bishop’s Palace dates from 1486 when it was built by John Alcock. It was the home of the Bishop’s of Ely from 1486 to 1941, when it was taken over by the British Red Cross. The building is now part of King’s Ely public school.

Ely has seen its fair share or religious persecution over the centuries. During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, her attempts to reverse the English reformation and restore the Catholic church resulted in two Protestant martyrs being burnt to death on the green outside the cathedral and Old Bishops Palace.

William Wolsey and Robert Pygot were both from the local town of Wisbech. Wolsey was accused of not attending Mass and also of possessing and reading a smuggled New Testament in English. Pygot was accused of not attending church. They were both burnt at the stake on the 16th October 1555.

Wolsey was almost looking forward to his fate. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records that in the days preceding his execution “that being wonderful sore tormented in the prison with the toothache, he feared nothing more than that he should depart before the day of execution (which he called his glad day) were come.”

During their execution, copies of the English New Testament were also burnt, and Foxe records that “With that cometh one to the fire with a great sheet knit full of books to burn, like as they had been New Testaments. ‘Oh,’ said Wolsey, ‘give me one of them;’ and Pygot desired another; both of them clapping them close to their breasts, saying Psalm cvi., desiring all the people to say Amen; and so received the fire most thankfully.”

Elizabeth I followed Queen Mary and the country returned on the reformation path of Protestantism. It was now the turn of Catholics to be prosecuted and between 1577 and 1597 the Old Bishops Palace was used as a prison for “Catholic Recusants”  – those who remained loyal to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Thirty two recusants were held in the Palace buildings between the years 1588 and 1597 during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Fortunately Ely is a far more peaceful place today.

The street that runs in front of the main entrance to the cathedral has the unusual name of “The Gallery”. I will visit the cathedral later, but to find the location of more of my father’s photos, I turned right along The Gallery, and walked alongside the buildings that are currently the home of the Bishop of Ely.

This was the view looking back towards the cathedral in 1952:

Ely Cathedral

The same view in 2019:

Ely Cathedral

Further back along The Gallery, and here to the right we can see the external structure of the Octagon, one of the magnificent internal features of Ely Cathedral.

Ely Cathedral

The same view in 2019:

Ely Cathedral

Along the cathedral side of the street, The Gallery has the Bishop’s residence, the external wall of a walled garden, and at the end of The Gallery is the gatehouse shown in the photo below. At the end of The Gallery, the street joins Back Hill which then descends to the River Great Ouse. The downwards slope of the street away from the cathedral down towards the river helps demonstrate that the cathedral was built on higher ground in a low lying region.

Ely Cathedral

The Gatehouse today:

Ely Cathedral

The Gatehouse leads into Cherry Hill Park, an open space which includes Ely Castle Mound, the site of a long demolished castle. The park also provides a walkway down to the river, with superb views of the southern facing side of the cathedral.

There is another historic building in Ely which my father photographed in 1952. Oliver Cromwell, who led Parliament’s forces to victory during the Civil War and led the country as Lord Protector during the period of the Commonwealth, lived in Ely between 1636 and 1646.

This was Oliver Cromwell’s house in 1952:

Ely Cathedral

The same house in 2019:

Ely Cathedral

Cromwell inherited the house along with a number of other properties in Ely from his uncle. He was firstly the MP for Huntingdon, then from 1640 the MP for Cambridge, and raising troops to defend Cambridge was one of his first actions at the start of the civil War, including a number of soldiers from Ely.

The building today has a Tourist Information Office and also has a Civil War Exhibition. The building also hosts Murder Mystery evenings and an Escape Room – all the commercial things that historic buildings without large numbers of visitors need to do to survive.

Ely Cathedral

I could not find the location of the following photo:Ely Cathedral

We walked around all the buildings that look as if they would have such a window, but could not find the location. I suspect it is within the King’s Ely school.

The inscription tells that the house was erected by the piety and charity of Mrs Catherine Needham, Widow of New Alresford in Hampshire, but originally of Ely. She left certain estates in the town and neighbourhood of nearly eighty pounds per annum, to be used for poor boys born in the City of Ely of poor parents. For their school clothing and putting them out as apprentices.

Having had a walk around the town, the next stop was to visit the inside of Ely cathedral.

Ely Cathedral occupies a site with a long religious history – from a time when the area occupied by the town was surrounded by marsh and water.

Originally, a monastery founded by Etheldreda, an Anglo-Saxon queen in 673, was built on the site of Ely Cathedral. The site was probably the location of an earlier religious building.

Etheldreda reached Ely after fleeing from her husband, the King of Northumberland. The Isle of Ely was part of her wedding dowry.

The monastery was a mixed community of both monks and nuns.

Etheldreda would be viewed as one of the more important English saints, compared with St Cuthbert, and Thomas Becket. Bede portrayed her as an English version of the Virgin Mary.

After her death, she was buried in the monastery, and her body was believed to be incorruptible.

In the 10th century, Ethelwold, the Bishop of Winchester converted Ely into a Benedictine Monastery, and the Isle of Ely was defined by King Edgar as a Liberty and therefore free of royal interference.

The next name from history to pass through Ely was Hereward the Wake, an Anglo Saxon noblemen and one of the rebels against the Norman Conquest who assembled in Ely in 1071. William the Conqueror sent a force which surrounded Ely. There are various legends as to how Ely was taken, that the Norman’s built a causeway over the marshy land, that they bribed a monk to show them a safe route into the town or that the majority of the would be rebels negotiated. However Ely was taken, Hereward the Wake apparently disappeared into the marshes, and again become a figure of legend, possibly being pardoned by William, hiding in Scotland or being ambushed and killed by Norman knights.

Building of a new Norman cathedral that would replace the Anglo-Saxon monastery could now commence, and this was started in 1082 by Simeon who was the brother of the Bishop of Winchester. Work on the new cathedral was slow and gradual, with the style changing over the years as new Bishop’s took over and new design approaches were tried.

Bishop Ridel was appointed in 1169 and completed work on the Gothic west front.  The church had a Norman central tower, however in the early 14th century this would collapse leading to one of the most beautiful features of the cathedral we see today, being constructed in its place.

This was the central Octagon which required far more substantial foundations than those that supported the Norman tower, so parts of the central church were demolished to create a large space for the Octagon supporting structure to be built, and foundations were dug down to a depth of 3m. At the very top of the Octagon is a magnificent lantern.

The view of the nave after entering Ely Cathedral:

Ely Cathedral

The painted roof was part of the Victorian restorations of the cathedral, and is the work of two artists, Henry Styleman Le Strange and Thomas Gambier Parry, who painted the final six of the panels – you can see the change of style halfway along the roof.

Ely Cathedral

Underneath the Octagon – a magnificent example of medieval architecture and construction.

Ely Cathedral

Occupying the space of the collapsed central Norman Tower, the pillars were moved further out to enlarge the central space, and were built on much firmer foundations.

The Octagon is topped by a central Lantern and is built of wood covered in lead to reduce weight, as a stone lantern would have been too heavy for the pillars to support.

The height of the Octagon is 142 feet, and was the work of Alan of Walsingham. John of Burwell carved the central image of Christ and in total, the Octagon took 18 years to complete.

Close-up view of the lantern:

Ely Cathedral

The space directly underneath the Octagon is occupied by an octagonal altar:

Ely Cathedral

The Octagon and Nave viewed from the Choir:

View towards the north transept and the choir:

Ely Cathedral

Mid fifteenth century hammer beam roof with flying angels of the south transept:

Ely Cathedral

There is a remarkable amount of graffiti across the cathedral. If this happened today we would condemn such an activity, but graffiti from the past is often preserved and studied. Does make you wonder who IN was and what he was doing in Ely Cathedral in 1628 (assuming they are the initials of a person).

Ely Cathedral

The remains of the canopy of a stone tomb. An information panel states that these have been mistaken as part of the Shrine of St Etheldreda. The Shrine was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII.

Ely Cathedral

A plaque set into the floor marks the spot where the Shrine of St Etherdreda was located:

Ely Cathedral

The Lady Chapel includes unusual additions to the windows. The names of companies that have contributed to the cathedral.

Ely Cathedral

There is the base of a wayside Saxon cross in the Cathedral, oldest of all the monuments. It was found in the nearby village of Haddenham and the Latin inscription on the base reads “Give, O God, to Ovin your light and rest”. Ovin was apparently a common Saxon name.

Ely Cathedral

I have only just scratched the surface of the history, architecture and story of this wonderful city. The Cathedral is stunning. As you approach Ely, the cathedral rises up above the surrounding landscape, and must have been even more dominant during the medieval period.

Walking the side streets reveals many more historic buildings. The River Great Ouse has played a part in Ely’s history and the drainage of the surrounding marshland which has transformed Ely from the Isle of Ely, to the city we see today. I doubt Hereward the Wake would recongise the landscape if he could return.

After a long walk around the city, we returned home. After his visit in July 1952, my father headed to Ely Youth Hostel, which I suspect by today’s Youth Hostel standards, was rather basic. A long bike ride from London.

Ely Cathedral

Ely Youth Hostel Dining Room.

Ely Cathedral

Ely is on my list of places to return – which at the moment is getting longer every day.

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Shadwell Dock Stairs

Six week’s ago, I walked along the north bank of the Thames from Tower Bridge to the Isle of Dogs, hunting some of the stairs down to the river. I am trying to trace all those that have been lost, and visit all those that remain. I have already covered a number of these fascinating places, and for this post I am at one of the probably lesser known stairs, Shadwell Dock Stairs.

The red circle in the following map extract shows the location of the stairs, between King Edward Memorial Park and the entrance to Shadwell Basin  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs are shown on the 1894 Ordnance Survey map, but in a rather unusual location as they are almost hard up against the entrance to the Shadwell New Basin. This was the eastern entrance to the London Docks, so must have been a busy place with ships entering and departing from the London Dock complex.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The reason they are there is explained by looking at an earlier map, the 1746 Rocque map of London which shows the stairs in place, long before the build of the Shadwell Basin. They are highlighted by the red oval in the following map.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The above map also explains the source of the name. If you look to the left of the stairs, there is a narrow channel leading a short distance inland to the street Lower Shadwell. This channel of water is named Shadwell Dock. There is a Timber Yard across the street, so perhaps Shadwell Dock was the route by which timber was landed to be moved to and from the Timber Yard.

So, I suspect it is safe to assume that Shadwell Dock Stairs are earlier than 1746, and were named after the nearby dock.

The Faithorne and Newcourt map of 1658 shows a continuous line of buildings along the river at this point, without the stairs or Shadwell Dock, so they must have been built in the years between 1658 and 1746.

UPDATE: Reader David Crowther highlighted in the comments a key point regarding the location of the stairs which I completely missed. In the 1746 map, Shadwell Dock Stairs are to the west of Labour In Vain Street, however in the 1894 map the stairs are just to the east of the same street. To check that this was not a mapping error in the 1746 map, I checked Horwood’s map of 1799 and that also shows the stairs to the west of Labour In Vain Street, the same position as the 1746 map. 

The Shadwell Basin entrance was constructed in the 19th century, and aligning Horwood’s map with the position of the basin entrance shows that the original position of the stairs was where the new entrance would be constructed, so the stairs were re-built just to the east of the basin entrance, to the new position shown in the 1894 map.

This perhaps demonstrates the importance of the stairs, in that they were not simply lost when the Shadwell Basin was constructed, but were rebuilt just to the east of the new basin entrance.

The following maps (1746 on left and 1894 on right) clearly show the change in location between Labour in Vain Street (red oval) and Shadwell Dock Stairs (yellow circle).

My thanks to David for finding this.

Shadwell Dock Stairs today are fenced off and show evidence of an alternative use of providing access to the river. They are located on the pathway that leads from Glamis Road to the southern end of the King Edward Memorial Park, where the northern ventilation  / old pedestrian access building for the Rotherhithe Tunnel is located.

This is the view looking towards the top of the stairs. The walkway is behind the fence at the top of the photo.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The LMA Collage archive has a similar view of the stairs from 1978, when much of the land behind was still derelict.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0639_78_120_100_2

The clue as to the most recent use of the Shadwell Dock Stairs is found in the space between the stairs and the entrance to Shadwell Basin. This space is now occupied by Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre which provides water sport activities, and the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.

The steps provided a launching route into the river for the adjacent organisations, however there now appears to be a much larger slipway built directly into the entrance to Shadwell Basin so I assume the stairs are now redundant, hence the current condition.

Boats would have been run down and up the metals runners which have been installed over the steps.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs feature in numerous newspaper reports over the years. All the usual accidents, drowned bodies being found, crime, ships for sale etc. There are three reports that I want to cover, as they reveal some of the more unusual aspects of life on the river, centred around these river stairs.

From the Morning Chronicle on the 16th January 1841, a report which shows that it was not just the Thames around the area of the City that froze in winter:

“NARROW ESCAPE OF THREE WATERMEN ON THE RIVER – On Thursday night, at about six o’clock, three Greenwich watermen, who had been into the London Dock with a vessel they had brought up the river, were returning from the upper entrance at Wapping, when their progress was stopped by a large field of ice, which nearly broke their boat in two, and drove them towards Shadwell Dock-stairs. Here they were completely hemmed in among the ice, which extended from one side of the river to the other, and completely blocked up the navigation.

The boatmen endeavoured in vain to extricate themselves, and were at length driven nearly into the middle of the river. Here they remained stationary for some time, exposed to the sleet and snow.

Soon afterwards the ebb tide drove the ice a little further down the river, and again the poor watermen tried to get out, but with no better success than before, and the field of ice was again stopped by the barges and shipping.

The watermen continually hailed the people ashore to render them some assistance, but none could be afforded, and the masses of ice were not sufficiently consolidated together for any one to venture in safety.

The men at last began to complain of the wet and cold, and said they could not hold out much longer. They had been four hours among the ice and their situation became very critical.

Some watermen and lightermen ashore threw lines towards them, but they fell very far short of the boat.  At ten o’clock, when they appeared quite exhausted, Judge, an Inspector of Thames police, and three river constables came to the spot at Shadwell and determined to make some effort to save them.

They borrowed two hurdles and some ropes. Constable Jones ventured as far upon the ice as was consistent with safety, and threw a line towards the boat, but the men were unable to catch it. The Thames Police, finding no time to be lost, and that the men were benumbed with cold, and incapable of any exertion, resolved upon a bolder attempt to save them.

A rope was fastened around Jones, the youngest and most expert of the party, and he placed one of the hurdles across the blocks of ice in advance of the one he was standing on. 

After much difficulty, Jones got back with a second line he had made fast to the boat. On reaching the shore, the Thames police, with the assistance of five other men, pulled the boat right over the ice, with the three men in it, and brought it close alongside one of Mr Charrington’s coal barges.

The watermen were taken out and were conveyed to the nearest public house.

Their exposure to the snow storm had affected them so much that it was some time before they recovered; and had not the greatest attention been paid them one or more would have perished.”

Very descriptive, and looking across the river at this point, it is hard to imagine that it could have frozen, being much wider than in the City, but in reality the sheer number of moored ships and barges would have provided plenty of spaces where ice could aggregate, and tides would have broken free large sheets of ice which would have drifted around the river as described in the report.

There are a number or reports which mention a ferry running from Shadwell Dock Stairs, but so far I have not been able to find any detail of the type of ferry, the destination and for how long it operated. There was consideration of starting a large steam powered ferry service from Shadwell, similar to the Woolwich ferry, and in Lloyd’s List on the 15th February 1893, there is a report that the London County Council is proposing a ferry between Rotherhithe and Shadwell.

The article reports on the considerable differences in opinion of the effect on navigation of a two ferry-boat service running across the river at intervals of every 15 minutes throughout the day. The proximity to the entrance to the London Docks was identified as a risk, with a ferry being a serious danger to ships entering or leaving the docks.

The Rotherhithe to Shadwell ferry was part of a bill put before Parliamentary Committee, but the ferry proposals did not make any progress, the proposal for a road tunnel underneath the Thames was a much better option, able to move far greater volumes of traffic and with no impact on river traffic. The Rotherhithe Tunnel opened in 1908, and now runs underneath the river, very close to Shadwell Dock Stairs.

I have often wondered whether these Thames stairs were administered or overseen in any way, or whether they provided open access to the river. In the days when there was so much traffic on the river, with people and goods of all types being stored on ships and barges. Given the right tide, the river was probably the fastest method of moving across London. The Thames stairs were important gateways between the river and land.

An article in the London Sun on the 10th March 1868 mentions a Watchbox at Shadwell Dock Stairs.

The article reports on the trial of Thomas Deacon, a 19 year old lighterman who was charged with violently assaulting Edward Dove, a Waterman at Shadwell Dock Stairs. The report states that:

“The complainant said that the prisoner was a perfect nuisance at the place and was in the watchbox at Shadwell Dock-stairs last night with another man. They had no right there, and were requested to turn out, which they refused to do, and the prisoner, who is a strong and powerful fellow, struck the complainant a tremondous blow on the mouth with his clenched fist, and completely wounding the upper lip.”

Thomas Deacon was sentenced to two months of hard labour for the assault.

Watermen were higher in the river hierarchy than lightermen, and watermen had a range of rights covering their work on the river, and perhaps were involved in some form of policing, or watching over the river and stairs.

The Watchbox at Shadwell Dock Stairs possibly being part of this approach – a problem with writing this blog, researching any topic always opens up lots of additional subjects to investigate.

Looking down Shadwell Dock Stairs and the following photo provides a better view of the stones forming the causeway leading out into the river.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The LMA Collage archive has a better photo of this part of the stairs at low tide in 1971. Interesting in comparing the above and below photos, the 1971 photo did not have what looks to be some form of concrete / stone platform either side of the causeway. This must have helped with preserving the state of the causeway. The concrete appears to have replaced the wooden posts that once held the side of the causeway in place.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0639_71_35_513_23

Looking west along the river with Shadwell Dock Stairs in the lower left corner. To the right, between the marker post and the opposite river wall is the entrance to the Shadwell Basin, showing how close the entrance is to the stairs.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs are Grade II listed, and they were included in the impact assessments for the construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel and close by is one of the construction sites for the tunnel, where part of the river facing walkway has been closed off. The following view is from the location of the Shadwell Dock Stairs, looking east, with the old Rotherhithe Tunnel pedestrian entrance, now ventilation point on the left, and the construction site on the right.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

A small part of King Edward Memorial Park is now part of the construction site, but the major part of this park is unaffected. It is a park with a fascinating story, including competition for Billingsgate Fish Market. I wrote about the history of the park here.

Large, black, storage tanks form an interesting view along the southern edge of the park:

Shadwell Dock Stairs

A longer view of the Tideway Tunnel construction site. Shadwell Dock Stairs can just been on the left edge of the photo.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs were in existence before the London Docks, and the construction of the entrance to Shadwell Basin must have demolished the Shadwell Dock seen in the 1746 map, that the stairs must have been named after.

Shadwell Basin is the only remaining expanse of water from the London Docks, with the entrance to the basin being adjacent to the stairs.

A large lifting bridge remains over the entrance to the basin, carrying Glamis Road from Wapping Wall up to The Highway.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The section of the basin entrance between bridge and river is now occupied by the Outdoor Activity Centre.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Looking from the bridge in the opposite direction with the basin entrance leading into the larger Shadwell Basin. The towers of the City in the distance.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

At the risk of sounding repetitive as I have mentioned this in my previous posts on Thames Stairs, I do find them fascinating. Shadwell Dock Stairs today is fenced off, but as with all the stairs I have looked at, they are a focal point for discovering the human history of the river and shore.

Standing by the stairs, we can imagine the thousands of people who have used the stairs to get to and from the river. The coming of the Shadwell Basin must have had a huge impact on the stairs. The times when ice from the frozen river broke up against the stairs, and the watchbox that must have been a scary place to sit on a dark winter’s night – all part of London’s centuries old relationship with the River Thames.

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The Royal Aquarium, Cock Inn and Westminster Hospital

Many of London’s buildings seem so substantial that they almost appear permanent, however looking back there have been so many buildings of all types that at the time must have seemed destined for a long future, but in reality would only grace the city streets for a limited number of years.

There are so many trends that influence the buildings that spring up across the city. Changing work and living patterns, the economy, financial incentives, industrial changes, government policy, transport etc. and it is interesting to speculate how this might continue as the city we see today is only ever a snapshot of a point in time.

In 30 years time will there be campaigns to preserve the Walkie Talkie building, threatened with demolition as with technology changes there is a significantly reduced need for office space in the City and the City of London is now approving hotel and apartment building? Demand for office space across London may be reduced in the next few years as more companies recognise the economic benefits of staff working from home?

What got me thinking about this was looking at a map, and seeing a large building that was only in existence for a few decades.

Last summer, a reader generously gave me a number of maps, including large-scale Ordnance Survey maps from the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. One of these covered Westminster, and just opposite Westminster Abbey, there was a large building with bold lettering naming the building as the Royal Aquarium.

Royal Aquarium

The Royal Aquarium was a rather magnificent building, as illustrated by this view of the building from the book The Queen’s London. the view is from the yard outside Westminster Abbey. Tothill Street is running to the left of the Royal Aquarium.

Royal Aquarium

The Royal Aquarium had a relatively short life. Opened in April 1876, it was demolished in 1903, to make way for the building that we find on part of the site today – the part facing Westminster Abbey – the Methodist Central Hall.

Royal Aquarium

The Royal Aquarium was built by the Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Garden Society, a limited company which had been set-up with an initial £200,000 of capital through the sale of shares of £5 each.

An aquarium had recently been built in Brighton and was financially very successful with the shares at a 30% premium to their original sale price, and the Society argued that the same success could be achieved in London, although I would have thought that a sea-side town like Brighton was a much more suitable location for an aquarium than central London.

Despite the name, the Royal Aquarium would cover far more than the display of marine life, and it was intended to deliver, in the Victorian approach of such institutions, cultural and educational entertainments. These would include “vocal and instrumental performance of the most brilliant manner, supported by a splendid orchestra and best known artists of the day”. The Royal Aquarium would also feature Reading Rooms, a Library and Picture Gallery.

The Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Garden Society was soon renamed the Royal Westminster Aquarium Company. Opening commenced in January 1876 with a formal opening of the main building by the Duke of Edinburgh. The rest of the building’s facilities opened during the following months with the theatre opening in April.

The Royal Aquarium was a really big building, and some idea of the scale can be had from the following description from The Era on the 3rd of October 1875:

“The Royal Aquarium promises soon to be an accomplished fact, for already the building is so far advanced that on Tuesday, in response to the invitation of the Managing Director, a number of gentlemen inspected the works. 

There is still, of course, a great deal of scaffolding to interrupt the view of the building. Still enough can be seen to form some idea of the size, grace and elegance of design of this new addition to the pleasure resorts of the Metropolis.

The large tanks for fish on each side of the great central avenue have sills of polished granite, and are lighted both from above and at the back; the plate glass in front being one inch in thickness. the whole of the flooring of encaustic tiles on concrete cement is now being laid down. The promenade, or winter and summer garden, is about 400 feet long by 160 feet wide, and is approached by two bold entrances from the Tothill-street frontage, surmounted by pediments; with representations of Neptune and the sea-horse, above which rises a figure of Britannia, twelve feet in height. 

The height of the gallery from the floor of the promenade is sixteen feet and from this level to the springing of the vaulted roof is about sixteen feet. The whole height from the floor level to the top of the roof is seventy-two feet. The galleries round the building are forty feet in width, a large portion being set apart for refreshments. On the north side in the centre is the large orchestra, sixty feet by forty feet. The concert room at the west end is a noble and lofty apartment, and is capable of being converted into a large and handsome Theatre. It is 106 feet long by sixty-six feet in width. the stage is thirty feet in width to the sides of the proscenium, and forty-three feet in depth.

There are also two galleries, which, together with the ground-floor space, will accommodate an audience of 2,500 persons. About 800 tons of iron have been used in the construction of the building.”

The name Royal Aquarium does not really cover the multiple functions that the building could serve, as from the description, with the galleries, large promenade, concert room / theatre, this really was a multipurpose space, capable of being converted to host a range of different functions.

The Royal Aquarium photographed in 1902 from Victoria Street:

Royal Aquarium

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_536_78_7349

There was some criticism soon after opening regarding the lack of marine life, for example: “It was said that the Aquarium does not deserve its title because there were no fish, but great efforts have been made of late to stock the tanks, and some drawback in their construction and arrangement having been removed, the public will have the opportunity of judging the Institution fairly.”

The Royal Aquarium was eventually well stocked with a variety of marine live, however the methods used to transport animals to the Aquarium were very basic and often resulted in a tragic outcome.

In 1877 a whale was being delivered to the Royal Aquarium from Labrador, Canada, however on arrival it was found to be suffering from what appeared to be a bad cold, with mucus coming from the whale’s blow hole. It arrived on a Wednesday but died the following Saturday. The lungs of the dead whale were found to be very badly congested and the cause was identified as the method used to transport the whale.

It had been on an exposed open deck during the trip across the Atlantic, and had been covered in sea water every five minutes, however water evaporated quickly between the regular soaking, which resulted in extreme cold, and the subsequent impact on the whale’s lungs.

A very barbaric treatment of the whale for the sole purpose of entertainment.

Some idea of the scale, the volume of iron used, and the way an iron framework was used to construct the building can be seen from the following photo that was taken during demolition of the Royal Aquarium (note the twin towers of Westminster Abbey in the background):

Royal Aquarium

The following drawing shows the interior of the Royal Aquarium:

Royal Aquarium

Picture credit: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

From the above view it can be seen that the design was very similar to that of the Great Exhibition, with a long central space covered by a glass arched roof. Side galleries also ran the length of the building.

Entertainment at the Royal Aquarium was what would be expected of late Victorian mass entertainment, consisting of Music Hall style acts along with people who were considered very different to the norm. One being Chang the Great Chinese Giant:

Royal Aquarium

Credit: Poster: Royal Aquarium : Chang, the great Chinese giant : admission one shilling. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Chang, according to his obituary, was born in China in 1842. He came to England in 1868 and toured extensively across the UK and Europe, including displays at the Royal Aquarium. It was claimed he was 8 foot tall.

He settled in England and married a woman from Liverpool, but settled on the south coast at Bournemouth, where he was listed as a resident under the name of Mr Chang Woo Gow. He was known for his readiness to help and get involved in local matters, he sold Chinese objects at charitable bazaars and exhibited at local art exhibitions.

He died in 1893 at the age of 51 and was buried in a local Bournemouth cemetery in the same grave as his wife. His coffin was reported as being 8ft 6in long. Chang and his wife had two sons who were still alive at the funeral of their father.

Other entertainments were similar to those put on at a Music Hall, but on a much larger scale. The following is the Autumn Season in 1886, where you could see the Mysterious Disappearance of a Lady, in full view of the audience, or Professor Beckwith and Family’s New Swimming Entertainment.

Royal Aquarium

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_GL_ENT_125b

One of the events hosted in the Royal Aquarium was when the management “scored a great success with their first ping-pong or table tennis tournament”.

The drawing below shows the final in the ladies section between Mrs Thomas and Miss V. Eames, when “each lady scored one game and twenty-five points, upon which it was decided to play for five consecutive points, Miss Eames ultimately scoring, and winning the ladies championship.”

Royal Aquarium

A very different appearance at the Royal Aquarium, was that by James Gordon, a street-porter from Dundee, in December 1886.

He was 47 years old, and originally apprenticed as an engineer, however he had his right hand smashed at work and lost his thumb and three fingers. He then tried work as a baker, as a painter, before finally working as a light porter in Dundee. He had twelve children. four had died and one had emigrated to New Zealand. Finding work was difficult and some weeks he would only earn four shillings.

With his disability, there was very little hope of finding any better work, so he decided to push a wheel barrow from Dundee to London and back – a distance of roughly 1,000 miles.

On reaching London, he rested for three days and appeared at the Royal Aquarium, where many visitors came to see him. He had a collecting box in his wheel barrow and people put in money during his journey, and at each town he stopped at, he would pay in the money at the Post Office, to be sent back to his wife at Dundee.

Mr James Gordon pulling his wheel barrow and setting of at the start of his return journey from London to Dundee.

Royal Aquarium

By the early years of the 20th century, the Royal Aquarium was in decline. It had grown a slightly dubious reputation as the newspapers of the time reported on the “single women” who would walk the galleries of the building.

So after a short 27 years in existence, the main building closed in January 1903. At the closing performance, the president and managing director of the aquarium company referred to some of the successful entertainments put on at the Aquarium, including Ladies’ Cycle Races, a Boxing Kangaroo, and that the public had paid one shilling a seat to watch a man in a trance awake (an experience that was compared to simply watching a sleeping man wake up !!). The theatre would continue on until 1907 when it too would be closed and demolished.

The site would soon be handed over to the Wesleyan Methodists, who would build their new Central Hall which would be open by 1912. The Central Hall today, from along side the Queen Elizabeth II Centre:

Royal Aquarium

Although the Methodist Central Hall has a very different purpose to the Royal Aquarium, the building is now the location for the BBC’s New Years Eve concert before and after the fireworks, so there is a small entertainment link remaining with the popular culture of the Royal Aquarium.

The Ordnance Survey large-scale maps are fascinating, there is so much detail to discover. In addition to the Royal Aquarium, I have circled three other sites:

Royal Aquarium

The red circle is around some text stating The Cock Inn (site off).

The Cock Inn was one of London’s very old inns:

Royal Aquarium

Image dated 1845 © The Trustees of the British Museum

According to Stow, the original Cock, or Cock and Tabard existed as far back as the reign of Edward III (1327 to 1377), and workmen were paid at the Inn during the building of Westminster Abbey. This original Inn may at some point have been demolished, and a new Inn, the Cock, was built on the opposite, north side of the street, which would be the location marked on the map.

Timber was reused from the original Inn to build the new, and there is a story in Old and New London which was also reported in the London Evening Standard on the 9th January 1854:

“DISCOVERY OF ANCIENT GOLD AND SILVER COINS – On Saturday morning, while some workmen were taking down some outhouses belonging to the well-known Old Cock and Tabard Inn, Tothill-street, Westminster, in the occupation of Mr Flixton, they came in contact with a large oak beam, which was hollow in the centre, when to their great surprise, they discovered a very large quantity of gold and silver coins, besides other antiquities of the reign of Henry V and Henry VII. The men, not knowing the real value of these coins, which are in a state of very good preservation, sold several to parties in the neighbourhood for a few pots of beer. Fortunately Messrs. J.C. Wood and Co., the eminent brewers, of Victoria-street, Westminster, hearing of the discovery, got possession of the remainder; and it is supposed by antiquaries and others competent of judging that they must have remained in the place where they were found for 500 or 600 years.”

The newspaper report uses the old name for the Inn, and there does seem some confusion regarding whether the inn on the northern side of Tothill-street was the original inn, or whether it was a rebuild of an inn that had existed on the opposite of the street, Old and New London states that the large oak beams were from the original inn, and it was common to reuse building materials.

The Cock Inn was demolished in 1873 to make way for the development of the Royal Aquarium – a sad fate of an inn that was probably around 500 years old.

The yellow oval is around another building that had a longer life than the Royal Aquarium, but has since been demolished and replaced by a very different building.

This is the Westminster Hospital:

Royal Aquarium

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0579_5846C

The above photo is dated 1913 and shows the Westminster Hospital facing onto the yard at the entrance to Westminster Abbey. The front of the Methodist Central Hall can just been seen on the left of the photo.

The site of the Westminster Hospital is today occupied by the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, and the grass space in frount.

Royal Aquarium

The origins of the Westminster Hospital date back to 1716. The founders (Henry Hoare from the Hoare banking family, William Wogan, a religious author, a wine merchant, Robert Witham and the Reverand Patrick Coburn) were concerned about the very unhealthy conditions along the north bank of the Thames in Westminster. The area was subject to frequent flooding and the land was marshy.

In 1719, the Westminster Infirmary opened in a small house in Petty France, as a voluntary hospital, dependent on donations for all running costs.

The Westminster Hospital opposite the Royal Aquarium was the fourth version of the hospital, as it expanded and moved around Westminster as property became available.

Built in 1834 with an initial capacity of 106 in-patients, the hospital expanded over the years, with the additional of nurses accommodation and a medical school.

The first operation under general anesthetic was performed at the Westminster Hospital in 1847. One of the Doctors at Westminster Hospital was Dr. John Snow, who was responsible for tracking down the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho in 1854.

Within 10 days there were a large number of fatal cases of cholera within a small radius of the junction of Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) and Cambridge Street (now Lexington Street).

John Snow worked meticulously on tracking down all those who became infected to discover any common link between infections, and he gradually came to the conclusion that the common source was a water pump close to the junction of Broad and Cambridge Street’s. To confirm that this was the source, he also tracked locals who were not infected to find out where they sourced their water and in all cases it was a different source to the water pump.

He had some trouble trying to convince officials that the pump was the source, but after the pump handle was removed, cases stopped appearing.  In his report to the Medical Times and Gazette, he wrote:

“I had an interview with the Board of Guardians of St. James’s parish, on the evening of the 7th, and represented the circumstances to them. In consequence of what I said, the handle of the pump was removed on the following day. The number of attacks of cholera had been diminished before this measure was adopted, but whether they had diminished in a greater proportion than might be accounted for by the flight of the great bulk of the population I am unable to say. In two or three days after the use of the water was discontinued the number of fresh attacks became very few.

The pump-well in Broad-street is from 28 to 30 feet in depth and the sewer which passes a few yards away from it is 22 feet below the surface. the sewer proceeds from Marshall-street, where some cases of cholera had occurred before the great outbreak. 

I am of the opinion that the contamination of the water of the pump-wells of large towns is a matter of vital importance. Most of the pumps in this neighbourhood yield water that is very impure; and I believe that it is merely to the accident of cholera evacuations not having passed along the sewers nearest to the wells that many localities in London near a favourite pump have escaped a catastrophe similar to that which occurred in this parish. ” 

An early example of the importance of track and trace, and of listening to experts.

A pub called John Snow is now on the corner of Broadwick and Lexington Street, close to the original location of the contaminated pump.

Back to the Westminster Hospital, and the buildings opposite Westminster Abbey remained open until 1939, when a new and enlarged hospital building was completed at St. Johns Gardens.

Westminster Hospital remained at St Johns Gardens until 1993, when the buildings of the 5th version of the hospital closed, and reopened as the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on Fulham Road.

The hospital buildings opposite Westminster Abbey remained for a number of years, and there were plans to build a new Colonial Office on the site. The following is an illustration of what the Colonial Building could have looked like.

Royal Aquarium

There were plans for the site to become an open space, or alternative government offices, however it was not until 1975 that the plan for a conference centre was approved, and construction of the current building that occupies the site started in 1981 with the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre opening in 1986.

There is one final site marked on the map by the blue circle. This is the location of Cockpit Steps, which I wrote about here.

I started this post with the theme of how London’s buildings change continuously, and the Royal Aquarium, Westminster Hospital building and a 500 year old pub are now just historical footnotes. But they all hold a wealth of history, whether the story of James Gordon pulling his wheelbarrow from Dundee to feed his family, hidden treasure in centuries old beams, or a pioneering doctor who found the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho.

The same will apply to nearly every building across London today, at some point they will also become a historical footnote as the city responds to continuous change, and reinvention.

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Battersea Easter Parade 1979

Forty one years ago (where did the time go) in 1979, I went to photograph the Battersea Easter Parade. I was using my new Canon AE-1 camera, recently bought on Hire Purchase which was the only way I could afford the camera, being on an apprentice wage.

The weather was somewhat like this weekend, warm and sunny. We got to Battersea Park a bit late as we had been out the night before, and walked around where the parade was assembling, but by the time we got to the route of the parade, I could only find a place to the back of the crowds lining the route.

For this Sunday’s post, whilst we are on lock down, and the thought of standing in large crowds of people now seems surreal, let’s take a trip back to the London of 1979, and the Battersea Easter Parade.

Battersea Easter Parade

Disney characters get everywhere:

Battersea Easter Parade

I have tried to adjust the colour of the photos, but they do have a heavy blue tinge. I had not scanned the negatives until earlier this year, so it may be down to a degree of deterioration.

Battersea Easter Parade

1979 marked the 150th anniversary of the first horse-drawn bus in London, and there were a number of buses on the parade, starting with horse-drawn, through to the latest bus on London’s streets. A couple can be seen in the background of the following photo.

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

Fire Engines:

Battersea Easter Parade

The Battersea Easter Parade was the latest incarnation of the Van and Cart Horse Parades traditionally held at Easter. My father photographed the parade at Regent’s Park in 1949. Although the Battersea Easter Parade by the 1970s featured many other different types of floats, horse and carts continued to participate.

Battersea Easter Parade

More Disney:

Battersea Easter Parade

Young & Co, when they still had a brewery in Wandsworth:

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

When the parade started, we could only find places towards the back of the crowd, so some poor photos of the parade in progress.

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

The Capital Radio bus:

Battersea Easter Parade

This was when Capital Radio was a local London station, with creative broadcasters such as Kenny Everett rather than the national station it is today.

The 194 reference is to the Medium Wave frequency, which at the time served the majority of listeners with VHF FM gradually growing in use.

The 194 signal was broadcast from Saffron Green, next to the A1 and just south of the South Mimms junction with the M25. Capital’s original Medium Wave transmitter used a wire strung between the chimneys of Lotts Road power station in Chelsea.

What would Capital Radio have been playing that week? I checked the music charts for the Easter week, and this was the top 30:

Battersea Easter Parade

Squeeze, Sex Pistols, Dire Straits, Kate Bush, Jam, Sham 69, Siouxsie, Generation X and Elvis Costello – those were the days when brilliant, creative music occupied the charts (or perhaps it is just that I am getting old).

A rather more traditional form of music:

Battersea Easter Parade

Steam haulage:

Battersea Easter Parade

I suspect the theme of the following float was 101 Dalmatians:

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

Post Office Telecommunications – my employer at the time. “London Telephones link the world”

Battersea Easter Parade

There were a number of Carnival Clubs who participated in the Battersea Easter Parade. The following float was by the Wick Carnival Club from Glastonbury – probably not a theme you would expect to see today.

Battersea Easter Parade

Fire engines:

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

Well it is in London:Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

Continuing the theme of the old Van and Cart Horse Parade:

Battersea Easter Parade

There was one photo left on the film, I took this as we walked away from Battersea Park, on the north bank of the Thames looking towards Chelsea Bridge and Battersea Power Station. A view that has changed considerably today with the development of the old power station, and east along the river.

Battersea Easter Parade

Forty one years is not that long ago, but in many ways it feels like a different time.

As well as differences in fashion and haircuts, whenever I look back at my earlier photos the big difference is not a single mobile phone.

Associated Press have a newsreel style film of the event which can be accessed here.

The weather will be much the same this weekend as it was in 1979, but Battersea Park will be very different.

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Dr Barton’s Airship

Staying at home has provided the opportunity for more research into a number of London related subjects, and in this post I would like to introduce you to one of the early pioneers of flight, who built his machine at Alexandra Palace, and flew from Alexandra Palace to just outside of Romford, Essex. This is the story of Dr Barton’s Airship.

At the end of the 19th century and during the first years of the 20th century there was considerable competition to demonstrate powered flight. The concepts were clear, but the design and build of a machine were challenging with the technology and materials available at the time.

The Wright brothers in the US were working on a machine that led to the first powered, heavier than air and manned flight in 1903. The Wright brothers machine was very rudimentary, but was something that today we would recognise as an aeroplane. Other inventors were taking a different approach.

One was Francis Alexander Barton, a medical doctor from Beckenham in Kent. Born in 1861, Barton had always been interested in mechanical invention and was an early user of the motor car. He had also been experimenting with balloons and by the end of the 19th century was President of the Aeronautical Institute.

Dr Barton looking suitably late Victorian / Edwardian:

Dr Barton's Airship

He had been working on a design for a powered airship that used some of the principles that would be adopted into the design of aircraft – the use of aeroplanes, or small wing-shaped structures, that would allow the airship to be navigated without the use of ballast or the release of gas, constraints that limited the time an airship could spend in the air.

Barton saw his airship as a stepping stone to a future aircraft design where the balloon of an airship could be removed and the craft would be held aloft and navigated by the use of aeroplanes, or wings as we would call them today.

Dr Barton proposed an airship design to the War Office, who in 1901 gave him an order for a machine.  He hired Frederick Rawson as a consulting engineer for the project and in 1902 they started work on the machine in space that had been provided to him at Alexandra Palace in north London.

A model of the proposed airship used to support the proposal to the War Office is shown below:

Dr Barton's Airship

A hydrogen filled balloon provided the lift for the machine. Below this was a bamboo structure with a platform for those who would operate the airship. At the rear was a large rudder to steer the craft left and right, and along the platform are the “aeroplanes” which would help provide up and down navigational control to remove the need to release gas, or use ballast.

Diesel motors also supported on the platform were connected to propellers which would push the airship through the air.

The crew of the airship would also sit on the platform, surrounded by the bamboo structure and a hydrogen filled balloon just above.

Dr Barton had some competition and the Brazilian Santos-Dumont was also using a similar design. The following view of his machine shows how exposed crew were below the balloon:

Dr Barton's Airship

Dr Barton’s airship was gradually taking shape at Alexandra Palace. Building the machine was relatively standard engineering, however the real risk was with the generation of sufficient hydrogen gas to fill the airship balloon. Hydrogen is an exceedingly flammable gas and early 20th century, amateur airship builders were perhaps limited in their approach to safety when dealing with hydrogen.

A report in the Daily News on the 5th July 1904 covered an explosion at Alexandra Palace where Dr Barton was very lucky to survive:

“DR BARTON’S AIRSHIP – EXPLOSION OF GAS – INVENTOR BADLY INJURED. The work of constructing Dr. Barton’s airship at Alexandra Palace has been attended by numerous incidents, none of which, however, have occasioned personal injuries to those engaged in the undertaking. Yesterday, what might have been a much more serious affair, attended by the gravest results to the balloon and its inventor, occurred in the early hours of the morning.

The airship itself is rapidly approaching completion. The gas necessary for the inflation of the balloon is manufactured in a miniature works just outside the shed which contains the airship. Here iron shavings are thrown into a very strong solution of sulphuric acid, which is contained in specially constructed lead-lined generators.

About two o’clock yesterday morning, Dr. Barton fancied the generator was not working as quickly as it should; so, standing on the platform which is fixed about halfway up the generators, he removed the plate and threw in another pailful of iron shavings.

A tremendous explosion ensued, the force of which may be gathered from the fact that it woke the manager of the works, who was asleep in his house a mile and a quarter away, and blew the pail which Dr Barton had been using to the boundary of Alexandra Park.

The labourers engaged immediately ran to the assistance of Dr. Barton, who was found lying on the platform, the railing of which had prevented his being blown to the ground. He was at once carried into the airship shed, and medical aid was sent for.

In the meantime the injured man became unconscious. Two doctors arrived about three o’clock, and he was carried to his home some distance away on the ambulance stretcher attached to the Palace. There it was found that the patient had received serious burns about the face, and his hair and moustache were partially burnt away.

The worst injury, however was to the eyes, a number of fine particles of iron having been blown rather deeply into both. By the aid of a powerful magnet these were all removed, and Dr. Bremner, who with Dr. Maler performed the operation, believe that in the absence of complications Dr. Barton will be quite restored within a week.”

Despite this set back, Dr. Barton was made of strong stuff and was soon back at work.

Dr. Barton standing in the bamboo frame of his airship:

Dr Barton's Airship

Dr. Barton, and the Alexandra Park Trustees were also in trouble with the council in 1904 as the borough surveyor had found out that waste from the gas-producing plant was being dumped in the Council’s sewers. The surveyor was told to monitor the situation.

The first trial of the airship was in July 1905, when:

“A preliminary trial of Dr Barton’s airship took place at the Alexandra Palace, and it claimed that at a height of 40ft, she obeyed her helm well and readily forged ahead against the wind, which was blowing at an estimated rate of between 15 and 20 miles an hour. The airship was not allowed to make an unfettered trip. The balloon, which it will be remembered, was originally designed for the War Office, is 180ft long, 60ft high, and 40ft wide. The aeroplanes and motors, the propellers and rudders, all worked smoothly, and the balloon had a lifting capacity of several tons.”

By 1905, construction and flight of the airship had taken so long that the War Office had cancelled the contract, and Dr. Barton was now funding the airship from his own funds.

Soon after the trial, also in July 1905, the airship would make its first, and only flight. The Essex Newsman reported on the 29th July 1905:

“Immense interest was taken in the ascent of Dr. Barton’s airship at the Alexandra Palace on Saturday afternoon. The airship rose gracefully at 4.45, and it was universally agreed that the ascent was a magnificent one. Dr. Barton was in charge, and he was accompanied by Mr. E. Rawson, Mr. Spencer, and Mr. Gauderon. 

In the upper air the ship was cleverly maneuvered, but a wind was blowing, in the teeth of which it was found impossible to steer the ship. After some clever tacking, therefore, Dr. Barton gave up the idea of steering the airship back to the Palace grounds. After over an hour’s sail he descended at Havering. The airship was well seen from various parts of Essex, and the ease with which the tacking operations seemed to be done evoked great admiration.

After the descent, alas the ship was wrecked. At Heaton Grange, Havering, at the house of Sir Montagu Turner, a garden party was in progress, and the descent of an airship close by was not the least interesting item of the day’s proceedings. Two farm labourers ran after the trail rope and hung onto it. 

At that moment the keel touched the turf and she bounded about 50ft in the air, throwing the men head over heels. In the rebound, the ship cleared a hedge which divides the field from a few acres of potatoes on the other side, and the anchor catching in the obstruction, the ship pulled up and sank gracefully to the earth, which she touched without a tremor.

Then came an exciting time. As the ship lay there, on a perfectly even keel, Mr Gaudron and Mr Rawson, in a moment of forgetfulness, joined Dr. Barton in the bow, where the latter was receiving the congratulations of the garden party. This sudden shifting of the weight upset the equilibrium and the stern of the airship rapidly rose in the air. 

With presence of mind, Mr. Harry Spencer, who had remained in the stern, grasped the ‘ripping gear’ with which the ship was fitted and tore open the balloon from end to end. Once the rip started, the imprisoned gas did the rest, and with a noise comparable to that of a dozen rockets being fired at once, what remained of 200,000 feet of pure hydrogen was liberated and the vessel sank back to earth.”

The flight had been a success, flying a straight line distance of over 14 miles, and landing perfectly. The airship was destroyed through the excitement of those who had made the flight, rushing to meet those who had come to see them.

It must have been quite a sight – the following view is of Dr Barton’s airship before take off at Alexandra Palace.

Dr Barton's Airship

The route of the airship (Maps © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Dr Barton's Airship

The landing-place on today’s map, just north-west of the Gallows Corner roundabout on the A12:

Dr Barton's Airship

Dr. Barton had put a considerable part of his life and money into the project. The final paragraph of the Essex Newsman article provides a rather poignant summary of the day’s flight:

“In the potato patch as the aeronauts passed home there stood a solitary policeman, engaged in a nocturnal vigil over all that remained of the labours of twenty years and the expenditure of more than £4,000.”

Dr. Barton would not construct another airship. The future was flight without hydrogen balloons, and Dr. Barton did have an attempt at a float plane which he built at the Isle of Wight. This was also constructed of bamboo as it was a strong and importantly cheap material. There was no engine of sufficient light weight for the plane, so Dr Barton conducted some tow tests, but the float plane was wrecked on one of these tests.

He did briefly look at another airship design just before the first world war, however he was unable to get enough support for the project, and he returned to medicine.

Dr. Francis Alexander Barton died in April 1939 – a turn of the century amateur inventor and pioneer of flight, and probably one of the few people to have flown from Alexandra Palace to Havering, near Romford in Essex.

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