King Henry’s Stairs and Execution Dock

This week, I am back in Wapping, exploring one of the stairs that line the River Thames – King Henry’s Stairs.

The location of King Henry’s Stairs is shown in the following map. Along Wapping High Street, they are adjacent to Wapping Pier, and opposite Brewhouse Lane (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

King Henry's Stairs

The alley that leads to the stairs, opposite Brewhouse Lane:

King Henry's Stairs

The alley is between two of the few remaining undeveloped buildings alongside Wapping High Street. Looking towards the river, the Phoenix Wharf building is on the right and on the left is King Henry’s Wharf. Not yet developed into the standard apartment building which has been the fate of the majority of old warehouses that line the river. I am sure their time will come, indeed Phoenix Wharf has had a number of planning submissions and ownership changes, but nothing yet seems firm as yet.

King Henry's Stairs

King Henry’s Stairs are unusual for a number of reasons. Their current name is not the original name, they have a rather macabre history, and alongside the location of the stairs is the Wapping Pier, with an elevated walkway leading alongside the stairs out to the pier.

The following photo shows the entrance to the stairs down to the river foreshore, with the walkway to the pier on the right:King Henry's Stairs

However looking over the edge, where one would expect to see a series of stone steps leading down to the foreshore, there is nothing but a sheer drop down to the sand and mud below.

On the right, a metal ladder, a couple of feet out from the edge of the stairs, is hooked over the pier, and provides the only access to the foreshore below:

King Henry's Stairs

I stood there for a few moments trying to decide whether the ladder was safe. It looked straight out of a TV hospital drama, where you know what will happen next and anyone risking the ladder would find themselves flat on the ground below.

Swinging one foot out to the ladder, it swung on where it was hooked to the pier, the ladder not being fixed to the ground. Other foot on the ladder, and despite swinging I made it to the ground.

The foot prints in the above photo are mine as I took the photo after getting back up. On arrival the sand and mud was perfectly smooth.

Looking back at the ladder from the foreshore. It may have been fixed at the base at some point, but today is just hooked over the rail alongside the walkway out to the pier. Apart from a couple of steps at the top, there is no evidence of any steps having ever been in place.

King Henry's Stairs

The view back to the entrance. When I arrived, the blue gate was wide open which seems somewhat risky given the lack of stone steps and the abrupt fall to the foreshore.

King Henry's Stairs

Sticking out from the ground, a short distance away from the wall, are two lengths of wood with a metal pole between, They are angled towards the top of the stairs, and give a clue to what was here.

The following photo from the LMA Collage archive shows King Henry’s Stairs in 1971, and explains the wooden remains. There were once a full set of wooden steps leading from the top of the wall down to the foreshore.

King Henry's Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0638_71_35_518_8

There is no indication of the age of the steps in the 1971 photo, however they look in reasonably good condition, and provide a safe route down to the foreshore. There is just under 50 years between the above photo and my photos, which shows the power of the Thames to erode and decay wooden structures. Daily tides, the continual immersion in water followed by exposure to the air and sunlight has reduced these steps to the two wooden stumps we see today.

The view from the foreshore is always worth it. A smooth layer of sand / mud covered in the tide worn remains of London brick, stone, and the lumps of chalk used to provide a smooth base for barges and lighters.

The algae covered walls show the height of the tide, and the old warehouses stare out on a very different Thames to when they were built.

The view looking to the west, towards central London:

King Henry's Stairs

The view to the east, with the towers of the Isle of Dogs behind the Wapping Pier:

King Henry's Stairs

The building on the eastern side of King Henry’s Stairs is King Henry’s Wharf:

King Henry's Stairs

The building probably looks much as it did when barges would be lined up on the foreshore, with the crane moving goods between barge and warehouse.

London Wharves and Docks was a directory of all the wharves and docks along the River Thames. Published by Commercial Motor. The directory provided key details for the hundreds of wharves and docks that lined the river from Teddington to Tilbury. According to the 1954 edition, King Henry’s Wharf was known as St. John’s and King Henry’s Wharves. The occupier was R.G. Hall and the building was owned by W.H.J Alexander Ltd of Leadenhall Street.  The facilities included;

General, dry goods, specifically dealing with cocoa, coffee, sugar, spices, dried and canned fruit, gums and cheeses. The cranage was 60 cwt and the building provided 1,900,000 square feet of storage space. The building included customs facilities and bonding, an examination floor and sufferance. The river facing side of the building had space for barge berths and the depth of water at high tide was 10 feet.

A closer view of the crane on the side of the building:

King Henry's Stairs

On the western side of the stairs is Phoenix Wharf. The Commercial Motor book does not have a listing for a Phoenix Wharf on Wapping High Street so I wonder if this was a name given to the building relatively recently. The small space between Phoenix Wharf and King Henry’s Stairs was Swan Wharf (the 1894 OS map does show a Phoenix Wharf, mainly as open space just to the left).

King Henry's Stairs

Looking back from the water’s edge. Phoenix Wharf on the left, then the open space of Swan Wharf. The walkway to Wapping Pier above. King Henry’s Stairs to the right of the walkway followed by the corner of King Henry’s Wharf.

King Henry's Stairs

I was puzzled by the name of the stairs and the adjacent building – why King Henry?

The earliest use of the name I could find was from 1823 when on the 8th November the London Sun reported: “SINGULAR SUICIDE – on Thursday morning, about two o-clock, a Gentleman went to a waterman plying at King Henry’s Stairs, and asked him to take him across the river in his boat, which he instantly got into, and the waterman proceeded with his passenger. When they had nearly reached the middle of the river, the stranger took off his hat, and in a moment threw himself overboard, after which he was never seen. There is no name in the hat, nor anything that can lead to a discovery of this unfortunate man”.

Newspapers of the later 19th century offered a clue as to the source of the name when they referred to the stairs, for example in the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette on the 7th July 1840, there is an article about a new pier being erected here, and the article states “King Henry’s Stairs, where in ancient times, the monarchs of England landed and embarked”.

What I do not understand is why monarchs of England would have embarked using these stairs in Wapping, in whenever “ancient times” were. As far as I know, there was no establishment or activities such as hunting on this side of the river that would have attracted a monarch, and there were far safer places towards the City for boarding boats.

The same newspaper article also provides an alternate name for the stairs by stating that they were: “commonly called Execution Dock”. I found this to be a recurring reference in 19th century newspaper reports that King Henry’s Stairs were formerly known as Execution Dock.

I checked Rocque’s map of 1746 for help, and in the location of King Henry’s Stairs was the name Execution Dock Stairs (in the middle of the map with the name extending out between ships on the river).

King Henry's Stairs

To confirm that this was the same location, comparing 2020 and 1746 maps confirms some streets in exactly the right location.

The stairs are off the road Wapping High Street (2020) and Wapping Dock (1746), but opposite where these stairs join this road, is a street with the same name and shape on both 1746 and 2020 – Brewhouse Lane. Compare Rocque’s map above with the 2020 map below:

King Henry's Stairs

Execution Dock is used for the name of the stairs in all early maps, always at the same location as King Henry’s Stairs.

The following maps all show Execution Dock at the same location: C. and J. Green (1828), R. Harwood (1799), William Morgan (1682). See the Layers of London site to layer these maps on a contemporary map.

Another example is the following 1755 Parish Map. Although not named, Brewhouse Lane can be seen with the same shape as in the other maps to confirm the location. What I like about this map is that three boats are shown clustered around Execution Dock. This was to show (as confirmed by the earlier newspaper article) that these were stairs where watermen were stationed ready to take a passenger along the river.

King Henry's Stairs

Execution Dock probably needs no introduction – it was the place where those found guilty of crimes at sea when the death sentence was imposed, were taken to be hung.

There was a considerable number of executions here, I have been trawling through records compiling a spreadsheet of dates, names and convictions (yes seriously) but ran out of time to complete for this post, however some example are worth examining to get an idea of the crimes and how the convictions were carried out.

Being executed at Execution Dock was a major spectacle. The authorities probably encouraged this so that “justice was seen to be done”, and it would also act as a major deterrent to those considering similar crimes.

Most references to Execution Dock refer to the crime of Piracy, however you could also be executed there for many other crimes, including Insurance Fraud, such was the fate of one Captain William Codling in 1802.

Captain Codling was on trial for “sinking a ship and cargo with intent to defraud the Underwriters”. It appears that his ship, the Adventure, should have been carrying a quantity of silver, however he had hidden this onshore, and when off Brighton, made holes in the hull of the ship causing her to sink. He and a couple of accomplices could then keep the silver and claim on the insurance – a crime that in 1802 was “an Offence most justly rendered Capital by Statute”.

Captain Codling was found guilt and handed the death sentence. The London Star on the 29th November 1802 carried a detailed account of the execution at Execution Dock:

He was executed on Saturday 27th November and between trial and execution was held at Newgate where since the Friday evening he had been “in solemn devotion and prayer, preparatory to his fatal exit”. His main regret was separation from his wife Jane and his son aged nine.

His wife Jane had traveled to Windsor to try and obtain a pardon from the King, but was not successful, arriving back at Newgate early on Saturday morning, without any success. He had a nephew who assured him that he would look after his wife and son. He appears to have been resigned to his fate, and his main concern was consoling his wife when she returned to the prison:

“The tender scene which now followed would require the pen of the most pathetic writer. The prisoner conducted himself with manly fortitude, and used every argument to console his wife, begging that she would suppress her grief, for that it affected him much more than his own unhappy fate. After some mutual endearments, she became more tranquil, and when they passed about an hour together, Dr Ford, the Ordinary of Newgate, entered, and advised Mrs. Codling to take her last farewell of her husband; Captain Codling himself joined in the request. Any description of their parting scene would appear a mockery of such real woe”.

The article also provided details on the procession that assembled to take Captain Codling from Newgate to Execution Dock. When reading this, consider that this was to guard someone convicted of insurance fraud and was accepting of their fate. The procession was as it was to show the power of the state, the law and judiciary and to act as a very strong deterrent:

“The cart was drawn up by two horses, a board nailed across for a seat, and another as a back to it. The Deputy Marshal was on horseback arranging the constables. Messrs Canner and Holdsworth (the two City Marshals) were likewise on horseback, with their staffs in their hands. A few minutes before nine o’clock the Marshal of the Admiralty arrived in his carriage, with two footmen behind, and the two Sheriffs were next in their carriages. The Rev. Dr. Ford, the Ordinary, followed in his carriage. There were about fourteen of the Sheriffs’ men on horseback to guard the prisoner, whilst the number of constables, all on foot, was about two hundred. Just as St Sepulchre’s clock struck nine, the executioner and his men came out with a pair of steps, which placing them in the back of the cart, they were both ascended. The Under Sheriff, came out with the death warrant in his hand, which he delivered to the Deputy Marshal. he then returned to the prison, and again appeared. conducting the unhappy Captain Codling to the cart and assisting him up the steps.

The mob, which had been collecting for some hours was now immense. the street, lamp-posts, windows and the roofs of the houses, were wonderfully crowded“.

The route taken from Newgate prison was along Ludgate Steet, passing St Paul’s Churchyard, , Cheapside, Leadenhall Street, High Street, Whitechapel, then down Gravel Lane and along to Execution Dock, where the procession arrived at half past ten. The cart was backed up the alley to the stairs.

The crowds in the City were recorded as being larger than for a Lord Mayor’s show. It was market day in Whitechapel, which caused problems getting through the crowds, and along Gravel Lane “the crowd was so great, and the street so narrow, that they were obliged to move very slowly and with great precaution”.

The gallows had been erected about ten to twelve paces from low water mark. Planks had been placed on the mud on which the officials could stand. Then at twenty minutes before eleven, on a signal from the Sheriff “the board was knocked from under his feet, and he was launched into eternity”.

Unfortunately with this method of execution, the end was not so quick. Although he was a weighty man, Captain Codling “struggled hard for three or four minutes”. After being left for a further fifteen minutes, he was taken down, covered with a black cloth, and his body was put into a boat to be taken away.

Captain Codling was described as “a stout well-made man, about 45 years of age – the complexion of a man used to the sea – very pleasing and affable in his manner; and prior to this, bore an extreme good character. he was dressed in double breasted blue coat, with guilt buttons and black collar”.

A print of an execution at Execution Dock in 1795, seven years before Captain William Codling, so probably very similar.

King Henry's Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p7491142

To the rear of the above print is a church tower. This is the tower of St Mary, Rotherhithe.

Unfortunately, Wapping Pier obscures the view of the church today from King Henry’s Stairs:

King Henry's Stairs

I took the following photo a little to the west of King Henry’s Stairs, the location of the stairs is marked by the red arrow. The church tower can be seen on the opposite bank.

King Henry's Stairs

Executions at Execution Dock covered many different crimes, the common factor being that the crimes happened at sea:

  • May 1701, Captain William Kidd was hung for piracy and murder and his body hung in chains off Tilbury
  • March 1734, the pirate Williams was executed and his body left to hang in chains
  • March 1737, four unnamed pirates were hung on the same day and left in chains
  • For the worst offences, the bodies of those executed would be left hanging from the gallows, or their bodies would be left in a cage for the tide to pass over them. Penalties were severe for anyone removing a body. In January 1739, a reward of £100 was being offered for information on who cut down and removed the body of James Buchanan
  • in January 1743, Thomas Rounce, who had been convicted for high treason by fighting against his King and country in a Spanish privateer was hung, drawn and quartered at Execution Dock
  • December 1781, William Payne, Matthew Knight and James Sweetman were hung after being convicted of Felony and piracy on the high seas. The bodies of Knight and Sweetman were hung in chains at Execution Dock, however the town of Yarmouth had applied to the Admiralty for the body of Payne, so it could be hung in chains on the coast at Yarmouth as a deterrent
  • In July 1800, James Wilson was executed after being convicted of fighting against his country, on board a French privateer
  • In July 1806, Akow ” a tartar” was executed for the willful murder of one of his countrymen on board the Travers, an East indiaman, on the high seas
  • In June 1809, Captain J. Sutherland was executed after being convicted of murdering his cabin boy – a crime of which he was protesting his innocence all the way to the gallows

Some of the crimes which carried a sentence of death seem relatively trivial. In December 1769, six “pirates” were hung in one day at Execution Dock. Edward Pinnel was hung for sinking and destroying a merchant ship, the five others; Thomas Ailsbre, Samuel Ailsbre, William Grearey, William Wenham and Rchard Hide were sentenced to death for entering a Dutch ship two leagues from Beachy Head and stealing sixty hats.

Newspaper reports of the execution of the six men provide an account from the time of how these events proceeded “They appeared very hardened and seemed totally ignorant and careless about the sudden transition they were going to make. the principal of them even wore a blue cockade in his hat, and when they arrived at the place of execution, he bow’d his neck to the halter and threw his hat among the populace. It is thought that more hardened wretches were scarce ever seen. From the great number of people that pressed to see the punishment of the above unhappy men, the great rails along a wharf near Execution-dock gave way, and above 60 people fell over the wharf; by which accident several of them were much bruised and one man killed”.

Executions at Execution Dock would decline in the first decades of the 19th century. The execution of George Davies and William Watts in December 1830 for the crime of piracy was recorded as being the first at Execution Dock for ten years. They would also be the last people executed on the foreshore of the River Thames.

From the 1830s onward, references to Execution Dock were for the normal occurrences at any of the Thames Stairs – accidents on boats close to the stairs, theft, boats for sale, bodies being found, problems experienced by the waterman with difficult passengers, fires and floods etc.

In the latter decades of the 19th century, references to Execution Dock turned from day to day events to historic tales of those who had been executed. I suspect that the new name of King Henry’s Stairs was gradually taking over, but it took some time as a name with the resonance of Execution Dock would take many years to be replaced in the conversations and memory of those who lived and worked in Wapping.

The name change was possibly down to the growth in Victorian trade and industry along the river’s edge at Wapping. To the Victorian businessman, the area was a place to be celebrated for trade and industry, rather than looking back at the barbaric practices of the past.

There is much speculation regarding the exact location of Execution Dock. Maps dating back to 1682 show what are now King Henry’s Stairs as Execution Dock, and the location in respect to Brewhouse Lane is the same. The change in name occurs in the first half of the 19th century, with the earliest use of King Henry’s Stairs being in 1823, with the name growing in use throughout the 19th century, as use of the name Execution Dock declines.

Many sites along the Thames at Wapping have claimed to be the location of Execution Dock, for example the Prospect of Whitby pub has a noose hanging from a gallows over the foreshore at the rear of the pub:

King Henry's Stairs

I suspect that King Henry’s Stairs / Execution Dock was the central location for executions, but in the hundreds of years that the practice was carried out, the location shifted along the foreshore to east and west of the stairs as the mud and foreshore shifted, to move around obstructions such as moored boats, building work facing on to the river, perhaps for the more notorious executions, the need to ensure good visibility of the execution from the shore and from boats on the river also dictated the location.

It is a very different place today – the view looking east from Execution Dock. hard to image the scenes that occurred here and where poor Captain William Codling was hung for the crime of insurance fraud.

King Henry's StairsI have not been able to find out why King Henry’s Stairs was used as the name for the stairs. Were the stairs named after the adjacent King Henry Wharf, or was the wharf named after the stairs – what was here first? I need to find some detailed maps of the area around the 1820s when the name appears to have been first used.

After leaving the foreshore, I climbed back up the ladder and stepped across to the top of the river wall, where the missing stairs should be leading down to the foreshore. I closed the gate as I headed back to Wapping High Street as if you were not too careful, and were expecting stairs, a nasty fall into the river or the foreshore could be the result – and there have been far too many deaths here over the centuries.

alondoninheritance.com

St Mary Woolnoth – The Church with the Underground in the Crypt

St Mary Woolnoth is an unusual church. A short distance from the Bank, the church can be found at the junction of Lombard Street and King William Street. St Mary Woolnoth has one of the more unusual towers of the City churches, a Hawksmoor church, built after post Great Fire repairs to the medieval church failed, a church that survived the blitz, but 50 years earlier had almost been lost to the City and South London Railway.

The view of St Mary Woolnoth from the Bank junction.

St Mary Woolnoth

The church occupies a small space, surrounded by City offices and from this perspective, the unusual tower is clearly viewed.

The current church was built between 1716 and 1727 by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The previous church had partly survived the Great Fire of 1666, but needed considerable repair. This work was carried out from 1670, but there were obviously problems repairing a medieval church which led to the decision for Hawksmoor’s replacement church in the early decades of the 18th century. The new church was part of the plan for 50 new churches, funded by a tax on coal.

The tower is interesting. From the front it is substantial and broad, but look from the side and the tower is narrow. Four columns give the impression of two separate towers, this view being reinforced by the two small turrets rising at the top. The turrets are small versions of the square towers that would normally be expected on a City church.

This print from 1838 shows St Mary Woolnoth when the tower of the church was still higher than the surrounding buildings. Note the clock on the left wall of the church, over hanging the street. The clock is still a feature of the church today.

St Mary Woolnoth

As well as the tower, another feature of the church is one that almost led to its destruction. If you look along the King William Street side of the church, there is an ornate wall projecting out from the corner of the church, today being the location for a Starbucks. In the far arch of the wall can be found the entrance to a lift.

St Mary Woolnoth

The City and South London Railway had opened in 1890. The railway had originally been planned to run from King William Street to the Elephant and Castle, however extensions were being quickly implemented and the line would eventually become the eastern branch of the Northern Line.

The City and South London Railway required space around the Bank in what was already a very congested area. The late 19th century was a time when a number of City churches were demolished as the population of the City had declined and there was no longer a sufficient congregation for what was still a number of churches that suited the Medieval City rather than the Victorian City.

Although proposals for the demolition of the church were put forward, a compromise was agreed, as detailed in the following report from the Standard on Friday November 23rd 1900:

“In 1893 the Railway Company obtained an Act for making a railway, and under that Act they scheduled the site of the church. Owing to the lack of means there was no opposition to the Act on the part of the churchwardens, and the only portion of the Act which affected the church was the clause relating to the removal of human remains which might be disturbed.

Nothing was done till 1896, when the Company obtained an Act to extend the period for the construction of the line. Opposition was then raised by the present Claimants and the Bill was opposed in both Houses, though in the protection of public monuments. the result was that in the Act a clause was inserted that the Company could not purchase any part of the church, but only portions of the land adjacent and under the church, and the clause provided that the arbitrator, in considering the compensation, should take into account the additional cost to the Company of this change to their plans.

in February 1897, the Company under their powers served notice on the Churchwardens, and shortly afterwards took possession of the church and carried on their works. These works had been in progress nearly three years, and all the Company had done was strictly within their rights. On the lands they had made approaches to the station, which was formed of the crypt of the church, and was 4ft above ground level. So far as the engineering went, it was a wonderful piece of work”.

It was indeed a wonderful piece of work. The church lost its crypt, which became part of the station infrastructure for the City and South London Railway, and the church above ground was strengthened with steel reinforcement.

Most importantly, it was a compromise which ensured this unique Hawksmoor church would survive.

The side of the church facing King William Street is now masked by what was the former Underground Station, designed by Sidney R.J. Smith and built between 1897 and 1898 as part of the works described in the Standard article above.

The Pevsner “London: The CIty Churches” does not think much of the facade,  describing it as “a Hawksmoorish rusticated centrepiece, let down by mediocre flanking figures in low relief”.

St Mary Woolnoth

The arch on the right provides access to a lift for step free access to the Northern Line platforms – the old City and South London Railway.

The churchwardens probably regarded the loss of the crypt as an extremely good result as only a few years earlier the church had to be closed because of the state of the crypt. This also sheds light on what an appalling state most City churches must have been in during the 19th century until their crypts were cleared. The following article explains:

“One of the oldest churches in the City of London has actually had to be closed in consequence of the effluvia arising from the dead bodies in the vault. This is St Mary Woolnoth. The congregation who worshiped there were not only annoyed, but made ill, and the clergyman, after the three services, generally went home with a sore throat. At times there would be no smell in the church, at others an intolerable odour came up in whiffs and gusts. It is computed that the remains of between seven and eight thousand bodies are massed together within a few feet of the floor”.

So the City and South London Railway fixed the problems with the crypt and the churchwardens received back a strengthened church, although now without a crypt.

The article mentions that the church is one of the oldest in the City. There appears to have been a church on the site in the 12th century. The church was rebuilt in 1438, and it was this church that was badly damaged in the Great Fire.

There are a number of explanations as to the name “Woolnoth”. Pevsner states that the name “probably commemorates an 11th century founder named Wulfnoth”. Wilberforce Jenkinson in London Churches Before The Great Fire (1917) links the name with the wool trade.

This print from 1812 also associates the name of the church with the wool trade stating that “the distinctive term arises from the Wool Mart being near”.

St Mary Woolnoth

The side view of the church in the above print shows how narrow the tower is from the side, compared with the width of the front view.

Another view of the church from around 1830 with a good view of the clock.

St Mary Woolnoth

The interior of St Mary Woolnoth is relatively compact, Three large columns on each corner support a square opening, above which there is a space with an arch shaped window on each side, with a chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling.

St Mary Woolnoth

Surrounding the altar is some impressive woodwork, with two ornately carved columns supporting a canopy decorated with gilded cherubs.

St Mary Woolnoth

View up to the roof. It was overcast on the day of my visit, and the windows do not let much natural light through to the church interior below.

St Mary Woolnoth

The organ gallery and organ case above the entrance to the church. According to the Pevsner guide, the organ case dates from 1681, so perhaps it was part of the post Great Fire restoration of the medieval church, and was saved for use in Hawksmoor’s church.

St Mary Woolnoth

In a corner of the church is a clock mechanism:

St Mary Woolnoth

The mechanism is within a perspex cover, and just below is printed an extract from The Waste Land by TS Eliot:

St Mary Woolnoth

Thomas Stearns Eliot was an American who moved to England in 1914 when he was 25 and became a UK citizen. In The Waste Land, Eliot is concerned about the state of Europe in the 1920s and the impact the modern world is having on the cultural, spiritual and moral state.

He worked in the City for a bank, so must have known the area well, and the description is of City workers flowing over London Bridge, up and down King William Street as they make their way to work, with the clock at St Mary Woolnoth reminding them of the time they needed to be in their offices.

Although written in the 1920s, it is a scene that could still be seen up until March of this year, and I suspect Eliot would be just as concerned today as he was then about the moral state of the world.

St Mary Woolnoth has a memorial to perhaps the most celebrated rector of the church, John Newton:

St Mary Woolnoth

John Newton was born in Wapping in 1725, the son of a Master Mariner, so his life at sea was as good as guaranteed. His early career at sea was in the slave trade, working on slave ships, including three voyages as captain. In 1748 he converted to Christianity and from the same year worked as the Surveyor of Tides in Liverpool. During his time in Liverpool he studied theology and although considered a radical, finally found a position as curate at the church of Saints Peter and Paul in Olney, Buckinghamshire.

Whilst he was at Olney, he worked with the poet William Cowper on a collection of hymns which included Amazing Grace.

His time at St Mary Woolnoth started in 1780 when he became rector of the church. During his time at the church, he supported William Wilberforce, he published a pamphlet titled “Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade” in which he wrote about his time as a slave trader, wrote about his regret of his role and was outspoken in his condemnation of the slave trade.

He supported the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade which had been formed in 1787, and the committee purchased copies of Newton’s pamphlet to be sent to every member of the House of Commons and the House of Lords

John Newton provided evidence to the parliamentary committee set up to examine the slave trade, and used his experience as a slave trader to speak about the appalling conditions of the trade.

The law to abolish the slave trade, the Abolition Act passed into law and soon after, in December 1807, John Newton died. He was buried in the crypt of St Mary Woolnoth, alongside his wife.

When the crypt was cleared for the construction of the Underground station, the bodies of John and his wife Mary were moved to the church in Olney where he had been churchwarden.

Newton’s pamphlet “Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade” provides a very clear account of the unbelievable cruelties of the trade and makes for a very harrowing and upsetting read.

The Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney can be found here, and they also have a copy of the pamphlet in PDF form which can be downloaded from the following link:

https://www.cowperandnewtonmuseum.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/thoughtsuponafri00newt.pdf

The Reverend John Newton:

St Mary Woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth is an important church. A church has been on the site since the 11th century. Architecturally, it is a fine example of Hawksmoor’s work. The church survived the arrival of the Underground railway and suffered minimal damage during the blitz.

Many millions of City workers must have looked up at St Mary Woolnoth’s clock on their way to and from work, and from John Newton we can learn first hand about the appalling cruelties of the slave trade.

alondoninheritance.com

New Terrace, Duncan Terrace, Colebrooke Row and Charles Lamb

The following photo is from the early 1980s and shows part of a terrace of houses. The house on the left with the pediment has a plaque stating “New Terrace – 1791”.  The location is in Islington, a short distance south east of Islington Green. New Terrace, now Duncan Terrace is separated from Colebrooke Row by a strip of grass which has an interesting history.

Colebrooke Row

This is the same view almost 40 years later. The perspective is not exactly the same as the trees in front of the house with the pediment have grown significantly and obscure the pediment and plaque when looking from the original viewpoint.

Colebrooke Row

Many of the terraces in this part of Islington were in a poor state in the early 1980s, but the decade would bring a transformation to the area. New Terrace at the time seemed to have escaped the problems suffered by many other terraces and was in good condition as the terrace approached the age of 200 years.

The location of New Terrace is shown in the following map extract. To the south east of Islington Green, the terrace is the upper row of houses in the red oval, north of Charlton Place (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Colebrooke Row

The houses in this area have a complex history, with piecemeal construction starting in the 18th century. Originally, the land was comprised of agricultural fields, clay pits and nursery gardens.

In 1613, the New River was constructed, and the route can still be traced today by the grass strip that runs from New Terrace all the way down to City Road. In the above map, the green strip shows the grass and public park between Duncan Terrace and Colebrooke Row, the grass strip running further north in front of New Terrace is not shown on the map, but is indicated by the gap between the terrace and Colebrooke Row.

Duncan Terrace is named after Admiral Duncan the commander of the Naval Fleet at the Battle of Camperdown against the Dutch in 1797.

Colebrooke Row is named after Sir George Colebrooke who developed the Colebrooke Row side of the street.

New Terrace was built in 1791 by James Taylor, a young surveyor and builder. The terrace has gone through a number of name changes from New Terrace to Colebrooke Terrace, to Duncan Terrace, the name which remains to this day.

The grass strip running in front of the terrace was the route of the New River. The river was enclosed in a pipe in 1861 which was covered and planted. The pipe was out of use by 1950 and was then removed leaving the grass strip as a reminder of the early history of London’s water supply.

Colebrooke Row

Looking north along the original route of the New River:

Colebrooke Row

The view to the south showing how the terrace was built at a raised level to the river:

Colebrooke Row

As the terrace could not face directly onto the New River, a raised pavement was built in front of the terrace, and this remains today to give access to the front doors of each house:

Colebrooke Row

In 1793, Taylor continued the southern extension of the terrace and built what are now numbers 46 to 49 Duncan Terrace on the opposite side of the junction with Charlton Crescent. This area was originally known as Clay Pit Field as it had been occupied by clay pits, extracting clay for the manufacture of bricks, but as the clay was exhausted, the land was more valuable as a site for houses.

This southern terrace followed a similar design to the northern New Terrace with a raised pavement between the houses and the New River:

Colebrooke Row

Further south along Duncan Terrace is the rather magnificent church of St John the Evangelist, built as a result of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 which released Catholics from the restrictions that had been imposed on them since the Reformation.

Colebrooke Row

The land was purchased for the church in 1839, and the design completed by the Catholic architect Joseph John Scoles. It took a number of decades for the church to be completed with work on the towers commencing in 1873.

The terraces either side of the church are today in lovely condition, but as with much of Islington this is a result of restoration work over the last few decades and the considerable increase in value of properties in the area.

In 1953, the route of the New River had not yet been landscaped, or turned into a park, as shown in the following photo from 1953, and there was a gap in the terrace where one of the houses had suffered bomb damage.

Colebrooke Row

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_182_53_19

Crossing the route of the New River and into Colebrook Row and the street is lined with similar terraces:

Colebrooke Row

And this is where the Regents Canal enters the Islington Tunnel – this is the view looking along the canal on approach to the tunnel:

Colebrooke Row

The entrance to the Islington Tunnel, under Colebrooke Row. The tunnel runs to Caledonian Road and is 878 meters long.

Colebrooke Row

Walking back along Colebrooke Row, and the park follows the route of the New River and separates Colebrooke Row and Duncan Terrace. They are now landscaped, planted with trees, with a central path running the length of the park:

Colebrooke Row

Although today there is a one way system running through the parks, with the appropriate warning signs about social distancing:

Colebrooke Row

The following photo shows the eastern side of Colebrook Row, with the street, then the New River route on the left, then Duncan / New Terrace (on the left but not visible in the photo). As can be seen from the slight differences in architectural styles, the terrace has changed over time. as different builders added to, demolished parts of, and changed the style of the buildings.

Colebrooke Row

I have walked from New Terrace at the top of the oval in the map, to the Regents Canal at the lower end of the oval, and back again along Colebrooke Row, as there is one house to find that is earlier than all the other houses, and was once the home of a rather interesting character.

The white painted house at the end of the terrace in the following photograph is Colebrooke Cottage, number 64 Duncan Terrace, dating from around 1760.

Colebrooke Row

Colebrooke Cottage was originally a single house, standing alone in the fields that covered the area, and faced onto the New River. It remained a single house until the construction of New / Duncan Terrace on the left. The following photo shows Colebrooke Cottage, New / Duncan Terrace to the left and the route of the New River running between terrace and road.

Colebrooke Row

The following print shows Colebrooke Cottage as it was before the construction of New Terrace. It is rather idyllic view. The cottage is surrounded by trees, the New River runs along the front and a boy is fishing in the river  © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Colebrooke Row

Comparing the two prints shows a number of differences mainly down to 19th century changes, including a reduction in the number of windows. Restoration work in the 1970s uncovered evidence of the side windows that would have had to have been bricked up when New Terrace was built.

The print is titled Charles Lamb’s House At Islington.

Charles Lamb was a poet and essayist. Born in Office Row in the Temple in 1775 where his father worked in the legal profession. On the death of his father’s employer, the family consisting of Charles, his sister Mary and their mother and father had to leave the house tied with his father’s job and move into cramped lodgings nearby.

After a short spell at the South Sea Company, he moved to the East India Company in 1792, where he would spend the rest of his working life. He was employed as a clerk, a job he did not enjoy.

His first published work was a small collection of sonnets that he provided for a book of poems published by Coleridge in 1796.

But it was not until the 1820s that he achieved a degree of fame when he published a series of essays in the London Magazine under the name of Elia (a name he adopted, allegedly the last name of an Italian man that had also worked at the South Sea Company)

However in many ways he had quite a tragic life which probably influenced his writing.

After the death of his father’s employer, the family were forced to move to cramped lodgings, and Charles and his sister Mary seem to have been responsible for supporting the family, and it was the resulting pressure which probably led to his sister Mary, in a fit of insanity to kill their mother and badly wound their father.

Charles took Mary to an asylum, and to avoid her imprisonment, he agreed to look after her at home, which he did for the rest of his life.

Mary did suffer mental health problems for the rest of her life, but she also published works with Charles, including a retelling of Shakespeare for children, a book which is still published today.

He did not marry. His first proposal of marriage to one Ann Simmons was rejected which led to a short period of what at the time was called insanity, probably what we would now call depression.

His second attempt at marriage, with a proposal to an actress Fanny Kelly was rejected, probably because she could not contemplate a life which involved looking after Mary.

He moved to Colebrooke Cottage in 1823 and stayed there for only 4 years, but it was here that he was the happiest he had ever been. He retired from work at the East India Company, and lived here with Mary, surrounded by books and the Islington countryside, and entertained literary friends. He described leaving his job as “33 years’ slavery…a freed man, with £441 a year for the remainder of my life”.

He described the house as a cottage, “for it is detached, with six good rooms. The New River runs close to the foot of the house and a spacious garden is behind. I feel like a great lord, never having had a house before”.

However the writer Thomas Hood called it a “cottage of ungentility for it had neither double coach house nor wings, and like its tenant, it stood alone”. Some author snobbery or competition perhaps.

The New River caused occasional problems for his guests as the myopic writer George Dyer fell into the river after leaving the house.

In 1827 he left Islington and moved to Enfield, followed by a move to Edmonton in 1833, where he died the following year after a fall.

A print of Charles Lamb dating from 1828  © The Trustees of the British Museum:

Colebrooke Row

A London County Council plaque is on the front of Colebrooke Cottage to commemorate Charles Lamb’s time on Colebrooke Row, Islington.

Colebrooke Row

Walking along Colebrooke Row, there is not really anything that would stand out – it’s a street of rather nice late 18th / early 19th century terrace houses as can be found across much of Islington. I went there to find the location of one of our 1980s photos. However, what makes this street so special is a single house that remains from the time when this was all agricultural land and clay pits. Finding one of the few places where the route of the New River can still be clearly seen, and how houses were built to face on to the New River.

And finding a literary character who was in the shadows of the major literary characters of the time, who should have had a happier life, but who seems to have enjoyed a few years surrounded by the Islington countryside.

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Bastion 14, Cripplegate

This week, I am very close to Monkwell Street, the subject of a post a couple of weeks ago. I was going to include this location in the Monkwell Street post, but I did not want to inflict an even longer post on you, so Bastion 14 in Cripplegate gets its own post. At the end of the post, I also have a couple of photos of an archaeological dig in the City which I need help identifying.

The following is my father’s 1947 photo of Bastion 14 of the Medieval City wall. The bombed buildings have been cleared away from around the bastion, which is now almost fully exposed, for the first time in many years.

Bastion 14

This is Bastion 14 today:

Bastion 14

The main difference between the two photos is the height of the bastion. In 1947 only part of the structure was above the surface. Future development including the nearby build of the Museum of London, the Barbican and the landscaping of the green space along the line of the old Roman Wall, resulted in the lowering of the ground level and the exposure of a considerable part of the bastion.

Some of the features on the external wall of the bastion can be seen in both photos. The brick line along the top of the wall extending from the left of the bastion is also the same, although the lowering of ground level has revealed the arched feature in the lower part of the wall.

In the background of today’s photo are the glass and steel office blocks that now line London Wall, whilst in the 1947 photo, the Wood Street telephone exchange is in the background.

Bastion 14 is one of a number of bastions that line the route of the north east corner of the Roman Fort / City Wall, just to the south of St Giles’ Cripplegate. The following map shows the location and numbers of the bastions I will cover in today’s post  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

 

The map shows the green space that was created as part of the post war development of the area. It is now possible to walk from London Wall, through the green space up to Bastion 12. The redeveloped Barber Surgeons Hall is set back from Bastion 13.

The area was so very different before the devastation of the Second World War. The following map shows the area in 1894:

Bastion 14

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

The map shows that in 1894 Bastion 14 was not free standing, indeed it was an integral part of the buildings that ran along Castle Street. To take today’s comparison photo, I was standing roughly where Castle Street once ran looking up at the bastion.

Part of Bastion 13 was visible, and the structure was part of the Barbers Hall. Bastion 12 was facing on to the churchyard of St Giles.

I am gradually documenting how the area has changed. In the above map you can see Monkwell Street, covered in this post and immediately to the south of Bastion 14 is now the new route of London Wall covered in this post.

The following photo is looking west along the southern edge of Bastion 14. London Wall is immediately to the left, and the entrance to the underground car park that runs under much of London Wall can be seen to the lower left.

Bastion 14

There is a Roman wall (not part of the City wall) in the underground car park – a subject for a later post, and for those who walk London, there are some toilets just inside the entrance.

The story of the post war excavation of the bastions is just as interesting as the history of these structures. There are two excellent books I have used to research the bastions, these are:

  • The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London by W.F. Grimes (Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited 1968), and;
  • Excavations at Medieval Cripplegate, London by Gustav Milne with Nathalie Cohen and contributors (English Heritage, 2001)

Professor W.F. Grimes was the excavation director for many of the post-war excavations across the City and his book is a fascinating read covering many of these sites, and Gustav Milne’s book covers the post war archaeology between 1946 and 1968 of Cripplegate with a detailed review of post war work and a modern update and interpretation.

The bombing of London resulted in large areas of destruction across the City. As many of my father’s photos show, buildings had been demolished down to their foundations and cellars to remove any danger of the walls collapsing and to prepare the areas for whatever development would be coming next.

This presented an opportunity to excavate and discover what lay beneath the surface – an opportunity never before available on such a scale. However, as with all things, archaeological excavations cost money, and after the war, money for such work when there were so many other demands was not easily available. The Ministry of Public Buildings and Works contributed £26,300, and Grimes’ book records several pages of donations from Business, Livery Companies and individuals, with the names of those donating down to £1 being recorded.

The scale of the work was such that the Society of Antiquaries in London formed the Roman and Mediaeval London Excavation Council to organise excavations across the City, and work began in July 1947.

Grimes writes that there were some twenty one bastions known or recorded along the City walls, with the stretch to the south of St Giles having a number of the bastions that have survived, with Bastion 14 being the best preserved.

The bastions are not Roman, they form part of the medieval City defences and were built up against the medieval wall, which used the Roman wall for foundations. Their use as a defensive structure did not last long and for much of their time they were used for other purposes, and with Bastion 14 that included being an integral part of a warehouse built across the site.

A quantity of pottery was found at the base of the excavated bastion during the work in 1947, however it was not till later that this was used, along with other findings during the excavations, to firmly date the bastions to the thirteenth century.

Bastion 14 displays medieval stone work and features on its outer facing, but internally the bastion has been faced with much later brickwork and other features. The following photo shows the internal view of Bastion 14.

Bastion 14

In the above photo, the gravel covering the floor of the bastion marks the floor level at the time of the excavations. The work digging below this floor level revealed a number of finds that helped date the bastion and also exposed the medieval base of the bastion.

The following photo is from Grimes’ book, and I have identified the main features of the bastion. By comparing with the above photo, you can see where the floor level was dug out revealing the medieval base.

Bastion 14

Grimes included the following drawing of Bastion 11 at All Hallows on the Wall in his book. It looks very similar to Bastion 14 with the bastion built up against the line of the original Roman wall, with the City ditch falling away in front of the bastion.

Bastion 14

The reduction of ground level in front of Bastion 14, and the way the ground slopes down from the base of the bastion means the view today must be very similar to when the bastion was originally built.

Grimes also included a photo in his book showing a section cut through the interior of Bastion 14 “showing gravel floor (arrows) overlying the Roman city ditch, its inner end coinciding with the top of the Roman fort wall (extreme right) as surviving”.

Bastion 14

The exterior of the bastion retains a number of early features which are still visible today. I have labelled these on my father’s photo of Bastion 14.

Bastion 14

The area between bastions 14 and 12 is a lovely bit of green space, and as well as the bastions, parts of the walls remaining from the buildings that occupied the site can still be seen.

This is the view looking back at Bastion 14 from the north, with a line of wall extending from the bastion (built on the original alignment of the Roman Wall). London Wall is on the elevated structure behind the bastion.

Bastion 14

The following view is looking in the opposite direction to the above photo, and shows the post war Barber Surgeons Hall.

Bastion 14

The location today of Barber Surgeons Hall is slightly different to the pre-war location and the large bay windows are relevant to the previous location.

The hall was originally built right up against Bastion 13, but as part of the planning for the new hall, it was a requirement to move the hall 30 feet to the east, separating the hall from the bastion (see my post on Monkwell Street).

That is the reason for the gap between the hall and Bastion 13 which is shown in the following photo.

Bastion 14

Grimes writes that Bastion 13 was once part of the courtroom of the Barber Surgeons Hall, the shape of which is today mirrored in the large bay which now faces the bastion across the 30 foot gap,

Bastion 13 is not in such good a condition as 14, and as well as once forming part of the Barber Surgeons Hall, the north west section was at the end of St Giles churchyard which as can be seen in the 1894 map above, originally curved around Bastion 12 and had a narrow extension down to Bastion 13.

Grimes writes “Bastion 13 survives only to the level of St Giles’ churchyard and has suffered extensive mutilation in other ways. Recent investigation has shown that on the north externally it ends on the city wall; to the south the junction has been destroyed. Internally, the ends of the bastion have been cut away or underpinned by modern foundations. In spite, however, of the low level of the cellar enough remained to show that the foundation, a little over 2 feet deep, was set in the floor of the Roman city ditch, the base of which has survived”.

A closer view of Bastion 13 and the adjacent Barber Surgeons Hall:

Bastion 14

Continuing walking north and there are more walls from the buildings that once stood here.

Bastion 14

On a sunny morning it is hard to believe that you are so close to London Wall and the Barbican:

Bastion 14

Approaching the northern end of the green space, part of what was St Giles’ churchyard and the buildings along Well Street have disappeared under one of the lakes built as part of the Barbican development.

Bastion 14

At the end we find Bastion 12 which formed the north west corner of the Roman Fort / City Wall, and from here the wall turned to the right, running to the south of the church which was “without” the City wall.

Bastion 14

Grimes does not have too much to say about Bastion 12, and refers to it as “the well known Cripplegate bastion”. Bastion 14 had been hidden within pre-war buildings, Bastion 13 had been part of the Barber Surgeons Hall, so they were the main points of interest.

In Gustav Milne’s book, reference is made to the bastion as standing “some 9m above the contemporary ground surface, which has been substantially lowered since the 1950s during landscaping”. So, the exterior probably looked like Bastion 14 in my father’s 1947 photo with much of the bastion still below the pre-war ground level.

Bastion 12 was excavated in 1947, but unlike Bastion 14, no artifacts were recovered from the interior. The bastion had already been excavated at the start of the 20th century and it had been through a number of restorations which made interpretation of the age of phases of the bastion somewhat complicated.

Bastion 12 may have been part of Lamb’s Chapel which I explored in my Monkwell Street post.

Looking back at some of the pre-war walls that remain:

Bastion 14

The following print from the LMA Collage archive and dated 1779 shows Bastion 12 at the point where St Giles’ churchyard curves round to extend down to Bastion 13.

Bastion 14Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q4769128

At the right edge of the print is Bastion 13 as it was included in the Barber Surgeons Hall. The following print from 1800 shows the bay extension to Barber Surgeons Hall in detail. The medieval bastion 13 was incorporated within this feature.

Bastion 14

 

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: v9041147

The following print from 1841 shows Bastion 12 with the churchyard of St Giles’ curving round the bastion  © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Bastion 14

Grimes book was published in 1968 and allowed some discoveries to be included which had not been part of the original excavations. As part of the Barbican development, the churchyard around St Giles’ was lowered ready for the Wallside building along the southern edge of the development, with space for grass and a water feature.

This lowering of the ground level revealed the remains of a new bastion. This was identified as Bastion 11A as it was between the known Bastion 12 and Bastion 11 at All-Hallows-on-the-Wall.

This new bastion survived as two curving stumps built against the city wall. The outer part had been cut away by a 17th century sewer which had been following the line of the ditch built along the external side of the city walls.

The remains of Bastion 11A can be seen in the photo below which is looking along the remains of the city wall towards Bastion 12. The remains are the low curved stones jutting out into the water.

Bastion 14

These bastions provide a fascinating glimpse of the medieval defences of the city, and how London made use of these features as the need for a walled city was replaced by the ever expanding need for warehouses, housing and halls. Thankfully the integration of bastions 13 and 14 meant that they survived, and Bastion 12 seems to have survived as the corner feature of St Giles’ churchyard.

I suspect that there was concern as to whether the bastions would survive the redevelopment of the City. On the 12th October 1942, a Mr Sydney R. Jones wrote to The Times:

“Recently I proceeded from Guildhall to the garden of St John Zachary and its adjacent neighbourhood to find not only interest but excitement as well. It is now possible to trace the line of the Roman wall in a manner which has not been known for hundreds of years. A sharp eye may detect many relics of the rampart incorporated in the work of subsequent buildings. These show all along London Wall on each side of the upstanding relic that had always been visible in the disused churchyard of St Alphage. At St Giles, Cripplegate, the wall joins the well-known bastion, and at that point, the right angled turn, carrying the wall southward, may be plainly followed until it meets another bastion which, though known of, hitherto has remained hidden. The once hidden bastion, now in full view, and other relics make a visit to this spot well worth while for those interested in the story of London. I do hope that all these Roman remains will be adequately recorded, for they may be lost for ever when London rises again glorious on its ancient foundations”.

My father took the original photo in the same year as W.F. Grimes had started excavations. He was limited in the number of photos he could take by the cost and availability of film, but it is always frustrating when looking at these photos as I always wonder what else could be seen – could he have photographed the inside of Bastion 14 and seen the excavations underway?

The book by W.F. Grimes provides a fascinating account of post war excavations across the City of London, and the book by Gustav Milne, along with Nathalie Cohen and contributors provides an equally fascinating update and appraisal of these excavations of Roman and Medieval London. Together they provide a comprehensive view of how our understanding of Roman and Medieval London developed during the later half of the 20th century.

The Sphere on the 15th November 1947 included a report on the excavations with the following photo of “Mr W.F. Grimes, Keeper of the London Museum, assisted by Miss Adrienne Farrell, a volunteer worker”:

Bastion 14

An Unknown City Excavation

I have recently scanned more of my negatives and came across a number of photos of an excavation somewhere in the City in the early 1980s. I cannot remember where it was and did not make any notes, so would be really grateful if by any chance, a reader recognises the site:

Bastion 14

There are some interesting features exposed at the bottom of the excavations.

Bastion 14

Today, with the number of photos limited by the size of memory card, I would take lots of photos of the surroundings of the excavation. Back then I was using 36 exposure film, and these were on the end of a film. How very different photography is today – I currently have a 4TB hard drive filling with photos and scans.

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Limekiln Dock and the Black Ditch

Walking between Tower Bridge and the Isle of Dogs back in early March, I crossed the entrance to Limekiln Dock. The tide was out and the dock presented the strange view of being completely empty of water.

Limekiln Dock

Limekiln Dock is a relatively short expanse of water leading off from the Thames at Limehouse. Over the last few centuries the dock has been called several variations of the name, including Limekiln Creek, Limehouse Creek and Limehouse Dock.

Limekiln Dock seems to be the most commonly used name.

The following map extract shows Limekiln Dock in the centre of the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Limekiln Dock

The map implies there is a road running over the entrance to the dock. This is the Limehouse Link Tunnel and runs underneath the entrance to the dock – the lighter colour used for the road on the map shows the extent of the underground routing.

Limekiln Dock is an old feature. In the following Rocque map extract from 1746, the dock is to the right.

Limekiln Dock

Rocque shows that on the southern side of the dock entrance was Lime Kiln Yard. This was the location of the lime kilns that as well as giving their name to the dock, were also the origin of the name Limehouse.

The following extract from Haines & Son map of 1796 also shows Limekiln Dock to the right of the map.

Limekiln Dock

The views of Limekiln Dock in the two 18th century maps show an inlet from the Thames, wider at the entrance, and tapering along the length of the dock. It was not the shape of many other docks along the river, which were more of a rectangular shape, with the full width of the dock staying almost constant along the length.

The reason for the shape of Limekiln Dock is that it is a mainly natural feature. Whilst the shape may have been modified over the years, the dock is the shape it is as it was the entry point into the River Thames of the Black Ditch.

The Black Ditch is one of the many London rivers and streams that has long been hidden underground, becoming part of the City’s sewer system.

As can be seen in the two maps, during the 18th century, the city was extending along the Thames and had reached Limehouse, although still the majority of building was located close to the river. Inland, most of the area was still field and agricultural, although long rope walks could be found, where the open space provided the large elongated area needed for the manufacture of ropes for the shipping industry.

We can get an impression of the area from the following 1773 print. The entrance to Limekiln Dock is just visible, about three quarters of the way along the shoreline © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Limekiln Dock

The whole area saw a dramatic increase in industry and housing during the 19th century, and by 1894, Limehouse was a large area of East London, covered in streets, warehouses, factories and terrace housing.

Limekiln Dock had grown a Dry Dock, with a second Dry Dock built just to the south of the entrance, all part of Limekiln Dockyard – it seems that the original Lime Kilns had disappeared many years earlier ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ ..

Limekiln Dock

Walking along Narrow Street, Three Colt Street and Limehouse Causeway, it is not obvious that Limekiln Dock is there – hidden behind the old warehouse buildings and the recently constructed apartment buildings.

The photo at the start of the post was taken from the footbridge that now crosses the entrance to Limekiln Dock, and from on the river, we can get a good view of the entrance to Limekiln Dock today.

Limekiln Dock

The footbridge is a swing bridge as there are historical rights to bring ships into the dock and moor at the warehouse buildings, although I suspect that this very rarely happens. The bridge was completed in 1996 and designed by YRM and Anthony Hunt Associates and built by Littlehampton Welding.

The photo above shows all the new apartment buildings that now line the majority of Limekiln Dock. These have been built over the last 30 years, and in 1981, the entrance to Limekiln Dock looked very different:

Limekiln Dock

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0912_81_120_6813_4

The only buildings that remain from the 1981 photo are some of the older buildings visible in the above photo towards the end of the dock.

I love finding little details in these photos which are the same, despite significant change in the area. If you look at the right hand corner of the dock entrance, on both photos there is a section with vertical lines, perhaps reinforcing rods. There is also the same crack visible leading down to the base of the wall, although in the 2020 the crack seems to have extended higher.

I have enlarged the two sections below:

Limekiln Dock

During the 19th century, Limekiln Dock was a very busy place, with goods being unloaded and loaded into the surrounding warehouses. It cannot though have been a very pleasant place to work as the state of Limekiln Dock was a continuing problem.

In a letter to the East Observer on the 27th February 1869, a Mr P. writes:

“THE LIMEKILN CESSPOOL – On several occasions the Limekiln-dock has been alluded to at the Limehouse District Board, as the common receptacle for the sewerage of part of Fore-street, and also being a harbour for a large portion of the animal refuse of the Thames. The place alluded to is Limekiln Creek. The sanitary condition of the place may be seen by any of your readers who will ask permission of several occupiers of houses adjoining the abominable place; we hear of fevers and other contagious diseases being prevalent. Need we wonder ! What will be the consequence if the present mild winter is succeeded with a warm spring?”

The letter was one of the few places I found the word Creek being used rather than Dock. The state of the dock was obviously a long standing problem, as 24 years later, the responsibility for cleaning Limekiln Dock had reached the courts. From the Standard on Thursday December the 14th 1893:

“The Conservators of the Thames V. The Sanitary Authority of the Port of London – This was a specially constituted Court for a hearing of a special case stated by Mr. Mead, Metropolitan Police Magistrate, sitting at the Thames Police-court, in respect to a dispute between the Corporation of the City of London, in their capacity as Sanitary Authority for the Port of London, and the Conservators of the Thames.

The dispute arose in reference to the cleansing of Limekiln Creek, at Limehouse. The Creek, which runs inland some 500 feet from the river is occupied by wharves on each side, is said to have become a public nuisance, and dangerous to health, through the accumulation of foul sewage matter, besides floating dead animals, refuse thrown from barges, &c.”

Initially, the Magistrate found in favour of the Corporation of the City of London, and that it was the Conservators of the Thames responsibility to clean Limekiln Dock, however on appeal, this was overturned and the responsibility was with the Corporation of the City of London as Sanitary Authority.

The following photo is of the far end of Limekiln Dock. You can see at the end there is a large pile of rubbish left as the tide has gone out. I suspect the dock has the same problem as the 19th century articles described where the incoming tide carried rubbish into the dock, which settled and remained at the end of the dock as the water then went out.

Limekiln Dock

As well as everything that washed up from the Thames into Limekiln Dock, the dock also suffered from everything that was washed down the Black Ditch and into the dock as the Black Ditch’s access point to the River Thames.

The Black Ditch is one of London’s lost rivers and has not been very well documented. Most of the detailed routings come from the time when the Black Ditch was a sewer, and whilst the name was used for the full extent of the sewer, it may not have been the original route of the stream.

Care is also needed as the words “black ditch” seemed to have been used as a generic description of a polluted, dirty stream or ditch of water and there are a number of references to other black ditches across London.

The East London Observer had a fascinating regular column going by the name of Roundabout Old East London. The column would be packed with local history, although it is difficult to know how true there all were, but the columns always provide some interesting background information to East London at the time. In the 5th April 1913 column, there was reference to the river running from Limekiln Dock, but under a different name (although the Black Ditch was mentioned). The paragraph was headed The Barge River:

“It would seem from old records of place names in the parishes and hamlets along the Thames side, that Limehouse Hole was so-called because a stream – a Century ago called the Barge River – at that place found its way to the great River.

This effluent, which through the greater part of its course came to be little more than an open ditch, is now the Limekiln Dock Sewer. It is described in the first Metropolis Act 1855 as a Main Sewer of the Metropolis, as commencing at Bonner’s Hall Bridge, leading into Victoria Park, and it extends along Victoria Park-road, East side of Bethnal Green, Globe-road, White Horse-lane, and Rhodeswell-road. It passed under the Regent’s Canal at Rhodeswell Wharf, thence along the Black Ditch, Upper North-street; and discharges into the River Thames at Lime Kiln Dock.

For a considerable length before it entered the Thames the Barge River was tidal, even within living memory.

In 1835 there was an old resident of Narrow-street, Limehouse, who recalled through his father, some strange yarns of smugglers and Revenue Officers on the Barge River when it was navigable for ships and boats for a considerable distance at some seasons and tides.

There are vague references to this stream, and to another which probably joined it across what was afterwards called Bow Common by way of South Grove in the extreme west of Mile End Old Town in very old land records. Of this latter now subterranean river, the engineers of the extension of the Underground Railway made troublesome acquaintance when the tunnel was being constructed”.

I suspect that the use of the name Barge River was an error. I cannot find any other references linking the name to the Black Ditch. There are a few cryptic references to a Barge River near the Lee and in Tottenham, but that is it – I suspect the author was describing the route of the Black Ditch.

I checked the referenced 1855 Metropolis Act and it does not mention the Barge River, but does list the same route for the Limekiln Dock Sewer. The Metropolis Act is a fascinating document (if you like that sort of thing, which I do) as it lists all the main sewers across London in 1855, and there was a considerable number of them. Many were old rivers and streams, covered in and converted to sewers.

The route compares well with the route of the Black Ditch described by Nicholas Barton and Stephen Myers in The Lost Rivers of London. Running alongside Upper North Street, Rhodeswell Street and the east side of White Horse Lane.

One tributary then goes a short distance over Mile End Road to Globe Road. Where the book and article differ is that Barton and Myers do not have the Black Ditch heading up to Victoria Park. They have the ditch in three separate streams heading to Whitechapel, Spitalfields and Bethnal Green.

I suspect the 1855 Metropolis Act correctly routed the sewer which ran from Bonner’s Hall Bridge. Part of the route included the route of the Black Ditch, with pipes leading from the main sewer carrying the old Black Ditch to the destinations listed by Barton and Myers.

There are very few maps which show any part of the Black Ditch. Some show some tantalising river like features. For example, the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map shows a river like line to the south of Rhodes Well.

Limekiln DockRhodes Well is the source of the name Rhodeswell Road, and was located roughly within the red oval as shown in the following map extract – exactly where the Black Ditch was described as crossing the Regent’s Canal (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Limekiln Dock

One of the tributaries of the Black Ditch was from Spitalfields and in the following extract from 1746, there is a wavy line forming a boundary between what appears to be cultivated fields to the north and grassland to the south. This must be a natural feature due to the irregular line which looks as you would expect of a stream.

Limekiln Dock

The possible stream in the above map runs from the junction of Vallance Road and Buxton Street down to Woodseer Street on today’s streets, and is similar to the route mapped by Nicholas Barton and Stephen Myers.

The Black Ditch may have formed a boundary between Mile End and Bethnal Green. At a meeting of the Mile End Old Town Vestry in August 1877, the upgrade of a sewer was one of the points for discussion, and the sharing of costs between Bethnal Green and Mile End Vestries. During the meeting, it was stated that “The old sewer, as it had been called, was really no sewer at all, but the old black ditch through which the ancient boundary of the two hamlets ran. It was in a horrible state, and if not attended to at once, should heavy rains ensue, it was hard to say what might happen”.

The state of the Black Ditch had been the subject of complaint for many years prior to the work in 1877.

In 1859 it was described as the “receptacle for the sewage from a great number of houses”. The Black Ditch ran under houses for part of its route. In an 1831 murder investigation it was revealed that there was no problem with access to a house which was built over the Black Ditch as anyone could gain access to the premises from the Black Ditch than accessing the house above.

The route of the Black Ditch is on my list of future walks, however I suspect that there is very little to see of this lost river which now runs below the streets in London’s sewers, but it is always worth having a listen at any manhole covers along the route after heavy rains.

Returning to Limekiln Dock, lets have a look at some of the buildings that line the dock.

When walking along Narrow Street, it is not immediately obvious that the dock is behind the buildings, however the names of the buildings provide a clue.

Dunbar Wharf is one of the buildings that date from the time when Limekiln Dock was a busy dock on the Thames. Today, the building retains many of the original external features:

Limekiln Dock

Dunbar Wharf was named after the Dunbar family who had a very successful business at Limekiln Dock.

The Dunbar family wealth was initially from a Limehouse brewery established by Duncan Dunbar. It was his son, also called Duncan, who used the money he inherited from his father to build the shipping business that was based at Dunbar Wharf.

Dunbar’s ships carried passengers and goods across the world as well as convicts to Australia. Whilst very successful, this was not without the occasional disaster, as described in this article from the Western Times on the 7th November 1865:

“The Wreck Of The Duncan Dunbar – The passengers and crew of the Duncan Dunbar reached Southampton on Saturday morning on board the Brazil mail steamer Oneida. It seems that the vessel struck on the reef Las Rocas at about half past eight in the evening of the 7th of October, and an awful night was passed on board. On the following morning they were all, 117 in number, landed on a little island or bank of sand, which was covered with birds. They remained in this situation, with the exception of the captain, one of the passengers and six seamen, who started in a lifeboat to Pernambuco for aid, till the 17th, when they were fetched off by the Oneida. Though the sufferings, mental and bodily were indescribable, not a life was lost or a limb broken.”

The Duncan Dunbar stuck on the reef off the coast of Brazil.

Limekiln Dock

The problem I find with researching a specific subject is that it always opens up another interesting subject, and so it was with Duncan Dunbar.

He was widely known as a “protectionist” in matters of trade, and the battle between trade protection and free trade came to a head in 1849.

During the previous couple of centuries, a number of Navigation Acts had been put in place which protected British trade, and gave a commercial advantage to British manufacturers, agriculture and shipping.

By the mid 19th century the Free Trade movement was pushing for the repeal of these acts, and the opening up of Global Trade.

A large meeting was held in the City of London in May 1849 of what were known as “Protectionists” and Duncan Dunbar was at the meeting and was elected to the committee – an indication of his reputation. An association was formed and went by the name of the The National Association for the Protection of British Industry and Capital. One of the resolutions passed stated:

“That it is of the opinion of this meeting, that the adoption of a Free Trade policy has failed to produce the national benefits predicted by its promoters; that it has been followed by deep injury to many of the great interests of this country; that a reaction in public opinion is widely diffused, and is rapidly extending in favour of just and moderate protection to the productions of the land, the manufacturers, and the industry of the United Kingdom and British possessions; and that it is of the utmost importance to the restoration of the prosperity to the nation, that the influence of agricultural, colonial, mercantile, manufacturing and shipping interests should be united in resistance to the further progress of experimental legislation”.

Duncan Dunbar and his fellow members of the new association were not successful, and the repeal of the navigation acts remained in force.

Duncan Dunbar died in 1862. The report of the funeral, published on the 17th March 1862 provides a view of the standing of Duncan Dunbar in London and the wider shipping community:

“Funeral Of The Late Mr Duncan Dunbar, the Shipowner – The funeral of the late Mr Duncan Dunbar, the eminent shipowner, took place on Friday at Highgate cemetery. The mournful cortege, which comprised ten mourning coaches and several private carriages, left the deceased gentlemen’s residence, Portchester Terrace, Bayswater, at 12 o’clock, and reached the cemetery shortly after 1 o’clock. the mourners comprised a number of gentlemen of high standing in the commercial world. At Poplar and Limehouse much respect was shown. Nearly all the shipping in the East and West India Docks had their colours hoisted half mast high, as also the flags on the pier head entrances of the docks, the lofty mast house at Blackwall and Limehouse Church, the bells of which tolled during the hours appointed for the mournful ceremony.”

Duncan Dunbar did not have any children so his wealth was divided across his wider family members, although no one in the wider family wanted to continue the shipping business. The ships and warehouses were sold, however Dunbar Wharf remains to this day as a reminder of a once highly successful shipping business.

As well as Dunbars Wharf, there are a number of other building remaining along Narrow Street that face onto Limekiln Dock, including Dunstans Wharf:

Limekiln Dock

And Limehouse Wharf:

Limekiln Dock

On the corner of Narrow Street and the southern stretch of Three Colt Street is an old pub:

Limekiln Dock

This was the Kings Head, a late 18th Century / early 19th Century pub, that although it is still clear that this was once a pub, closed a long time ago, around the early 1930s after which it became the office of a banana importing business.

Walking along Three Colt Street towards the river is Limekiln Wharf, dating from 1935:

Limekiln Dock

Further along is one of the new apartment blocks that now surround the entrance to Limekiln Dock:

Limekiln Dock

At the end of the wall with darker bricks, there is a dark green door built into the wall.

A rather faded plaque on the door provides some background:

Limekiln Dock

“This is a replica of the door which served the old Limehouse built around 1705 and demolished in 1935. The original door was donated to the Ragged School Museum Bow E.3.”

Which really brings me back to where I started. The Lime Kilns at the southern entrance to Limekiln Dock that gave the dock its name, and indeed the area of Limehouse.

Standing on a new footbridge looking along Limekiln Dock opens up the history of the dock, one of London’s lost rivers that ran to Spitalfields and Bow, one of the 19th centuries most successful shipping companies, the tension between protectionism and free trade, and the location of Limehouse Lime Kilns.

alondoninheritance.com

The Queen’s London

The Queen’s London was published in 1896 and described as “A pictorial and descriptive record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis in the Fifty-Ninth Year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria”.

The book is a fascinating snapshot of London at the end of the 19th century and the last years of Victoria’s reign. It was a century that had seen considerable change across the city. Railways, Underground Trains, Sewers, new streets such as Queen Victoria Street, new cultural institutions, dramatic growth of the London Docks, industry, the emergence of a middle class.

It was these themes that the book portrayed, the Great Metropolis at the heart of an Empire on which the sun never set.

What the book did not show was the poverty, the impact of industrialisation, crowded and insanitary housing which was still to be found across large areas of the city.

The photos can look rather strange, almost a combination of photography and drawing. Some of the people in some of the photos look as if they have been added. This may all be down to the photographic and printing processes of the time.

The photos in the book change between photos that are instantly recognisable today (take away the horse and carts and replace by cars and the scene is almost the same). to photos of places which have changed beyond all recognition.

I was planning to do a then and now sequence of photos, but the current lock down has stopped that, although I have included a couple of examples. Hopefully something to revisit.

The photos and their supporting text also help understand how well known locations have developed, one such example is:

The Scottish Gathering at Stamford Bridge (1895)

Queen's London

The text with the photo states “Stamford Bridge, on the Fulham Road is the best known athletic ground in the Metropolis, being the headquarters of the London Athletic Club and the scene of the amateur championship competitions whenever they take place in London. The annual Scottish Gathering is one of the most popular fixtures held here”.

This is the same Stamford Bridge that 10 years later in 1905 would become the home for the newly formed Chelsea Football Club. Additional land was purchased around the ground, but the home of the London Athletic Club since 1877 would become the core of Chelsea’s ground. Another London ground featured in the book was:

Football At The Crystal Palace

Queen's London

The text states “Football has become so popular with all classes of the community that the Crystal Palace authorities were well advised in laying out a part of the fine gardens at Sydenham as a football ground. The lake was filled in for this purpose; and from the spectators point of view, there is no finer ground in the country. Our picture shows in progress the final tie for the Football Association Cup in the 1894-5 season. This match, the most exciting of the year under Association rules, was won by Aston Villa, who defeated West Bromwich Albion by a goal to nothing”.

Although Crystal Palace would not become a professional club for another 10 years (in 1905), Crystal Palace as an amateur team had been formed a couple of decades earlier to enable the cricketers of the Crystal Palace Company to play sport during the winter.

What I cannot work out with the photo is why the people in the immediate foreground appear to be standing on some form of terraced stand, so far back, with a grass space between them and the pitch.

St. Pancras Station: The Exterior

Queen's London

The railways, one of the great 19th century changes to London, here show by St. Pancras described as “this splendid Gothic pile, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, is ornate to a degree seldom seen in such structures, and is of a rich red, well calculated to defy the begriming effects of London’s atmosphere. The front, facing the Euston Road, constitutes the Hotel. The clock tower is the finest feature of the facade. On the right of the picture is shown the entrance to King’s Cross railway station, the terminus of the Great Northern Railway, with part of the station hotel”.

The interior was also featured:

St. Pancras Station: The Interior

Queen's London

“Without question, the London terminus of the Midland Railway Company can challenge favourable comparison with any other station in the world. The station itself is not so extensive as the Great Eastern terminus, in Liverpool Street, but it is said to have the largest roof, supported by a single pillar, in existence. This triumph of construction was designed by Mr. Barlow”.

It was not just railway stations that had wonderful 19th century arched roofs. Another was at the Agricultural Hall, Islington:

The Cattle Show, 1895

Queen's London

“Many Londoners never realise that Christmas is at hand until the Smithfield Club’s annual show of fat beasts is opened at the Agricultural Hall, Islington. Our view was taken after judging was completed, and on the notices above the exhibits are recorded the awards won, the weights, and the names of the butchers who had purchased the beasts for Christmas beef”.

Whilst the photo of the Agricultural Hall is clearly a photo, with the following example, it is not clear whether elements of the overall scene may have been drawn, or somehow added to the photo.

St. Clement Danes

Queen's London

Whilst the church is obviously a photo, I am not sure about the people. Look close and they just do not look right. Possibly the way the photo was printed, real people may have been enhanced in the process, or they may have been added.

The text states that “St. Clement Danes’ occupies a commanding position near the eastern end of the Strand. It was built in 1682, under the superintendence of Wren, the tower, however, being added in 1719; and it was restored in 1839. The tower is 115 feet high”.

Fleet Street, Looking East

Queen's London

“Our view shows this narrow, though main, thoroughfare, the headquarters of London journalism, in a characteristic state of bustle. On the left is the resplendent office of the Daily Telegraph, marked by an electric lamp, on the other side is the advertisement office of the Daily Chronicle. The figure of Atlas a little further on calls attention to the office of the World, and in the same court, which leads to St. Bride’s church, Mr Punch is at home”.

St. Saviour’s, Southwark

Queen's London

St. Saviour’s, Southwark became Southwark Cathedral in 1905, up till then the church had been known as St. Saviour’s, and much earlier, before the reformation, as the Priory Church of St Mary Overy.

I have no idea what the strange wooden contraption  is at the front right of the photo. It may have been part of restoration work on the building, which happened a number of times during the 19th century. In 1840 when the nave was rebuilt, with a later rebuild of the same nave as the earlier had been to such a poor standard.

The Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street

Queen's London

The Memorial Hall (the building in the centre of the photo with the tower), was built by the Congregationalists “in memory of the two thousand clergymen who, for their non-subscription to the Act of Uniformity, were deprived of their livings in 1662″.

The Act of Uniformity restored the Anglican Church and the two thousand clergymen refers to those with a Puritan leaning who could not support the restored church.

The building contained a hall capable of holding 1,500 people, a library and offices. The building occupied the site of the Fleet Prison and was demolished in 1968.

Another lost building is:

Columbia Market

Queen's London

“In the belief that one of the crying needs of London was ampler market provision, the philanthropic Baroness Burdett-Coutts had Columbia Market built in Bethnal Green, in the Columbia Road, off the Hackney Road, near Shoreditch Church”.

It was intended that the market would sell meat, fish and vegetables, however the market was never really a success. The central market was enclosed by residential buildings, originally named the Georgina Gardens, but were more often referred to as the Baroness Burdett-Coutts Buildings. The building was later taken over the by City of London and demolished in the 1950s.

Sloane Square

Queen's London

“Sloane Square, as well as other places in the neighbourhood, owes its name to Sir Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum who purchased the Manor of Chelsea early in the last century”.

Hampstead Heath: The Flagstaff With Approach To “Jack Straw’s Castle”

Queen's London

“That part of ever-attractive Hampstead Heath marked by the Flagstaff is one of the highest and breeziest points. Our view embraces part of the pond dear to dogs and horses; and ever attractive to children, and in winter to skaters of all ages”.

The view of the Flagstaff is one of the photos where people in the scene are obviously photographed, rather than added or enhanced as in a number of photos. Fascinating to see these late 19th century Londoners on the streets of the city.

Ostrich Feathers At Cutler Street Warehouses

Queen's London

The Cutler Street Warehouses in Houndsditch were owned by the London and St. Katherine’s Dock Company. Covering four acres and with a floor space of 630,000 feet, they provided a vast amount of storage space for goods of all kinds.

Ostrich feathers were classed as of “great value” and are shown in the photo being stored in the warehouses. The caption to the photo adds that “Such feathers such as those shown above may well have a fascination for all womankind, from a duchess to a coster’s sweetheart”.

Wentworth Street On Sunday Morning

Queen's London

“Wentworth Street is off Middlesex Street, once known as Petticoat Lone – and appropriately so, for it was the headquarters of the old cloth trade – not far from Aldgate Railway Station. In Wentworth Street, any Sunday morning, may be seen such a spectacle as is portrayed in our picture”.

Newgate Prison

Queen's London

“At the corner of Newgate Street and of the Old Bailey is the gloomy granite building which was once the chief prison in London, but is now only used for prisoners awaiting trial at the Central Criminal Court, and for those condemned to death”.

Although Newgate Prison was demolished many years ago, the pub on the corner, the Viaduct Tavern, is still there and looking over a very changed view.

Olympia

Queen's London

The Victorians made good use of the materials and ability to construct large spaces, covered by an arched roof. Railway stations, the Agricultural Hall in islington, and in the above photo, Olympia, providing, until Earl’s Court was built, the largest stage in London.

Olympia could seat ten thousand spectators and hosted shows such as Barnum’s Show, the Paris Hippodrome, the Spectacle of Nero, Venice in London, the Sporting and Military Show.

The text adds that an innovation at Olympia was the ability to reserve seats in all parts of the building.

The Strand, With St. Mary’s Church, Looking East

Queen's London

St Mary-le-Strand was designed by James Gibbs, the first of the so called fifty churches planned during the reign of Queen Anne. It was substantially completed in 1717. Today, the church sits on an island with the Strand passing on both sides. When the photo was taken, the Strand ran to the right, and the narrow street to the left of the street was Holywell Street, which would later be demolished to allow for widening of the Strand.

Old Weavers’ Houses At Bethnal Green

Queen's London

The photo is of Florida Street, Bethnal Green, a street that still exists but looks very different with all the old weavers houses demolished. Just think how much they would be worth now if they had survived.

View From St. Paul’s Looking South-West

Queen's London

The view of an industrial city, where chimneys competed with church towers. The shed of  Blackfriars station of the London, Chatham and Dover railway, with the railway bridge on the left long with Blackfriars Bridge. Waterloo Bridge in the distance.

I took a photo of the same scene a couple of years ago. The station is now hidden, and apart from the bridges, the only features which remain are the Houses of Parliament in the distance and in the foreground, the tower of St Andrew by the Wardrobe.

Queen's London

View from St. Paul’s Looking North-West

Queen's London

Paternoster Row is in the foreground of the above photo, an area that would be obliterated just under 50 years later. The tower of the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street (earlier photo in the post) is the large building on the left. The church tower to upper right of centre is that of St. Andrew’s Holborn.

The same view today. The tower of St. Andrew’s Holborn is just visible in the upper centre of the photo.

Queen's London

The Old Bailey appears in the “now” photo and not in the 1896 photo, as work on this latest incarnation of the Old Bailey would not be started until 1902, opening in 1907. Even in the first years of the 20th century, the skyline of the city could change very quickly.

View From St. Paul’s Looking North-East

Queen's London

Again, an area that would see heavy damage almost 50 years later. In the centre of the photo is the distinctive tower of St Giles Cripplegate. In 120 years St Giles Cripplegate would just about remain visible in the same view.

Queen's London

In the above photo, apart from the church, there is just one other building that has remained. On the lower left of the above photo is a building on a street corner – this building can also be seen in the 1896 photo.

I wonder what the Victorian readers of The Queen’s London would have thought if they could have known what London would look like around 120 years later. Comparison photos like this always make me wonder what the same view will look like in another 120 years.

Cannon Street, Looking West

Queen's London

“This view of ever-busy Cannon Street is taken from the rising ground just east of the railway station of the South-Eastern and Metropolitan Companies. The church on the extreme right of the picture is St. Swithin’s with the exterior wall of which is incorporated an old stone, believed to be that from which distances on the British roads were measured during the Roman occupation”.

St. Swithin’s church is one of those lost during the last war. Badly damaged, the church was not rebuilt. The old stone referred to in the text is the London Stone, which can still be seen in Cannon Street, now located in a new housing.

Interior Of Charing Cross Station

Queen's London

Another of the iron and glass covered buildings of the 19th century, Charing Cross Station was the terminus of the South-Eastern Railway. The station included a Customs House where passengers arriving from the Continent were “examined”.

A London County Council Band In Battersea Park

Queen's London

The London County Council was responsible for many of the “improving” initiatives across London during the later decades of the 19th century. This included the organisation of a number of Council bands, funded by the council. The Queen’s London commented that “The Council’s bands, it must be said, are capitally organised, and no ratepayer with any music in his soul can feel that he does not get his money’s worth”.

The Lord Mayor’s Procession (1895) From Punch Office In Fleet Street

Queen's London

The 9th November 1895, and the new Lord Mayor, Sir Walter Wilkin is on his way to the Law Courts to be sworn in to his new role.

Covent Garden Market

Queen's London

“Covent Garden is, as all the world knows, the chief fruit, vegetable and flower market in London. it stands in a district abounding with the most interesting historic memories, but the present market buildings were only erected in 1831: and although they have been enlarged since then, they are quite inadequate for their purpose. Since the middle of the sixteenth century, Covent Garden has been the extremely profitable property of the Dukes of Bedford”.

The Dukes of Bedford ended their ownership of Covent Garden in 1913 when they sold the building and land. The estate is now owned by the listed company Capital & Counties Properties PLC.

Holborn Viaduct, From Farringdon Street

Queen's London

Holborn Viaduct was opened just 27 years before The Queen’s London was published. Before then, travelers had to pass along the descent of Holborn Hill. The text with the photo gives an indication of the importance of infrastructure within the city during the 19th century as the text remarked that a great deal of the engineering skill of the bridge, was in carrying the gas and water pipes across, without being visible.

The Monument

Queen's London

A photo from the time when the Monument still rose above the surrounding buildings. There is an indication of new services being rolled out across the city, with on the roof of the building to the left of the Monument, a telegraph pole, carrying the wires of the early telegraph / telephone system across the city.

Leicester Square

Queen's London

Leicester Square looking very different to today. The Alhambra Theatre of Varieties is the large building with domes on the roof. The brick building to the right is Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School.

Euston Station

Queen's London

In the Queen’s London, Euston Station was described as having a “less lofty roof than any other London termini of the great railway lines; but it is the oldest of them all”. The book states that seventy trains go in and out of Euston daily; and that there are three hundred leavers in the station’s signal box.

In an indication of the expected readership of The Queen’s London, the text states that “the station presents a remarkably crowded appearance in August during the two or three days prior to the beginning of the shooting season in Scotland”.

The Palace Theatre

Queen's London

“It is generally admitted the the Palace Theatre is the most beautiful playhouse in London. Regardless of expense it was built for Mr R. D’Oyly Carte by Mr. T.T. Colcutt, the architect of the Imperial Institute, who was fortunate in obtaining such a splendid site as Cambridge Circus. The Royal English Opera House was opened with a great flourish of trumpets, and with the highest hopes on January 31st 1891, Sir Arthur Sullivan’s grand opera Ivanhoe being for the first time produced. But Mr. Carte’s operatic scheme did not gain the support it deserved, and in July of the following year, the name of he house was changed to the Palace Theatre”.

The Palace Theatre a couple of years ago, looking identical to 1896.

Queen's London

St. Batholomew’s Hospital: The West Entrance

Queen's London

The western edge of the hospital is similar today, but a very different hospital can be found behind. The church behind the gate is St. Bartholomew the Less, founded at the same time as the hospital.

In almost all of these photos, there are little details that add to an understanding of how London functioned at the time. There are some horse and carts in the centre of the above photo. Enlarging these we can read the text on the side.

Queen's London

These were the “white vans” of the time – the delivery vehicles of the Great Eastern railway. The one on the right being number 224 from the Bricklayers Arms Station, Old Kent Road. These, along with carts from the other railway companies, would be seen all across London, collecting and delivering goods for transport on the railways.

Drury Lane, Theatre Royal

Queen's London

Drury Lane Theatre was founded in 1663. The building shown in the photo was built between 1811 and 1812. The Queen’s London refers to the theatre being famous for its Christmas pantomimes.

The Mile End Road

Queen's London

The view is looking east along the Mile End Road from the junction with Cambridge Heath Road.

On the left of the photo is the Vine Tavern, a pub possibly dating back to 1625, but demolished not long after the photo was taken, in 1903. If the photographer had looked to the left, we would see the pub on the corner of Mile End Road and Cambridge Heath Road – the White Heart – a pub which is still there today.

The Victoria Embankment, From Westminster Bridge

Queen's London

The photo is from Westminster Bridge, with one of the “floating steam boat piers” shown to lower left. Two of the steamboats that carried passengers between piers along the river are seen. The lower boat is now on its way to London Bridge, whist the second boat is arriving at Westminster Bridge, before departing for Chelsea – a 19th century version of the Thames Clippers that transport passengers along the river today.

The Queen’s London provides a snapshot of London at the very end of the 19th century. The city had changed much over the previous century, and would change again during the following 100 years. Considerable damage during the Second World War, the loss of industry and the docks, and the growth in height of many of the new buildings of the later decades of the 20th century.

The Queen’s London also provided a very positive view of London, from a particular perspective. The nearest the book gets to showing working class homes are the Weavers Houses of Florida Street. There are no photos of the crowded and poor condition housing that remained.

Given how much has changed, many of the scenes are still very similar, and if a reader from 1896 was standing on Westminster Bridge today, the view would still be very familiar.

alondoninheritance.com

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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