On the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street

For this week’s post, I am in Cheapside in 1986, looking across to the shop of Shirt Makers L&R Wooderson, on the corner of Wood Street:

Wooderson

Thirty five years later and the building is still there, however L&R Wooderson have now been replaced by a card shop, Cards Galore:

Wooderson

A wider view, showing Wood Street leading off Cheapside to the right:

Wooderson

The location is shown in the map below, by the red circle. For reference, part of St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen to the left  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Cheapside

There is much to discover in this small, corner plot of land, part of which has a large tree which towers over the top of the shop, and can just be seen in the above photos.

The tree has been a significant landmark on Cheapside for very many years, and it was mentioned frequently in newspapers throughout the 19th century, for example in the following from the London Sun, when on the 1st April 1846 the paper reported:

“A ROOKERY IN CHEAPSIDE AND A CHERRY TREE ON LONDON BRIDGE – It is a singular fact that at the present times there are two crows’ nests on a lofty tree at the corner of Wood street, Cheapside; the birds are mated. One day last week, a furious fight took place between the four of them, which ended in the partial demolition of one of the nests. The damage has been since repaired. On the City end of London bridge a cherry tree, growing from one of the chinks in the granite, is now putting forth leaves. It is almost three years old.”

The tree appears to have been under threat in 1881, when multiple newspapers carried the following report:

THE CHEAPSIDE TREE – A flagrant act of arboricide is about to be perpetuated of malice aforethought and in open day. If there is one tree in London the position of which, apart from all personal charms and apart from the rest due to venerable age, deserves to be saved from the innovating axe, it is ‘the Cheapside tree’. For generations its pretty group of foliage has peeped out as a surprise and contrast to the surrounding masses of stone and brick. It has been a standing emblem to thousands of fagged and dust-stained city clerks of their annual fortnight holiday. It is blessed amongst trees. A tree of the street is infinitely more precious than ‘a tree of the field’. But it is doomed, and bad luck to the ruthless contractor or avaricious land-jobber by whose instigation the Cheapside tree is to be laid low.”

The tree did survive, no doubt helped by the number of references to the possible destruction of the tree in newspapers using such graphical descriptions as in the above report.

The tree was also used in adverts and references to shops and businesses in the immediate vicinity of the tree, adding the tree to their location to help potential customers find their business. L&R Wooderson were also using the tree as a reference in the 1986 photo, as shown by the following extract from the photo of the shop door:

Wooderson

The term “Under the Tree” was used by a number of businesses operating in the terrace of buildings of which L&R Wooderson is part, for example:

  • Illustrated London News: 13th August 1853 – Rowe’s 25,000 Cab-Fares to and from all the Railways, Public Buildings, &c in London. Samuel Row, Under the Tree, Cheapside
  • Kentish Mercury: 31st January 1890 – The Express Dairy Company’s new branch at 130, Wood Street, Under the Tree, Cheapside is now Open for Business
  • The Bystander: 2nd August 1905 – For Gentlemen, the H.W. Velvet Grip Boston Garter. The Acme of Comfort, the Height of Perfection. L&R Wooderson, Under the Tree, 122/4, Cheapside, E.C.

It is difficult to determine the age of the tree. It is a London Plane tree, and the Woodland Trust define the tree as a cross between the Oriental plane and the American sycamore. They also state that the tree was first noticed in London in the mid 17th century, and that planting across London started in the late 18th century, so the tree probably dates from at least the late 1700s and must be around 250 years old.

A view of the tree from Wood Street, looking back towards Cheapside shows the impressive height and spread of the tree:

Wood Street

The tree also featured in the following photo from the book Wonderful London by St John Adcock, from the first decades of the 20th century:

Wooderson

The shop of L&R Wooderson is also in the above photo, looking much the same as it would many years later in 1986. Friday Street, and the plaque on the right of the above photo will be the subject of a future post.

The first written reference I can find to L&R Wooderson is an advert in the Daily Telegraph and Courier on the 27th September 1899 for:

“HOSIERS – Improver WANTED – apply personally or by letter, L.R. Wooderson, 45, Eastcheap, E.C.”

However whilst the name is correct, in 1899 their address was at the eastern end of Eastcheap, towards Great Tower Street. The 1895 Post Office Directory confirms their original Eastcheap address and gives their full names as Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson.

This is where researching these posts always leads me down different routes, as having their full names, I wanted to know a bit more about them.

Searching the census records resulted in a bit of a mystery. The 1881 census records Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson living at 47 Lester Square, St Anne Soho (the parish).

I am not aware that there was a Lester Square, or that Leicester Square was originally called Lester Square, and could not believe there was an error in the census data. Reading through the census entries for 1881 there is also a St John’s Hospital at 45 Lester Square. There was indeed a St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin at number 45 Leicester Square from 1865 to 1867, which confirmed that the spelling of the square was wrong in the 1881 census.

In 1881, Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson were part of a large family at number 47 Leicester Square, which consisted of:

Cheapside

Llewellyn and Robert were aged 8 and 6 in 1881, and whilst the rest of the children were born in London, Robert is recorded as being born in Canada.

Their father, Henry Wooderson is listed as a Fruit Salesman, as is the eldest of the sons, also a Henry, however although son Henry has the same first name as his listed father, he cannot have been his biological father.

There is a 12 year age difference between Henry (28) and his wife Sarah (40), and if Henry had fathered the younger Henry, he would have been 11 at the time, so possibly Henry, George and Edwin are the sons of a previous marriage of Sarah’s with Llewellyn and Robert possibly being Henry’s biological sons.

The two Henry’s worked in Covent Garden market as a Henry Wooderson & Sons is listed in the 1913 book “Covent Garden, Its Romance and History” by Reginald Jacobs. The younger son George may well have gone into the same business as a George Wooderson is listed as having a shop in the north row of shops at Covent Garden.

By the 1891 census, the father Henry could possibly have died as there is no mention of him in the census. The eldest son Henry was now married to Harriet and they were living in Tavistock Street. Llewellyn who was now 18 and Robert, 16, were living with them. By 1891 they had started in the profession that would result in their shop in Cheapside as their were both listed as Hosiers Assistant, and not long after they would open their first shop in Eastcheap.

By 1901, Llewellyn had joined the commuting class having moved out to Somerset Road in Reigate, to a terrace house which is still there. Married to Alice, and with two sons Llewellyn (2) and Malcolm (0). The business must have been doing reasonably well as also living in the house was a domestic servant

In the 1911 census, Robert Wooderson was married to Nellie Geraldine and had two sons. In the 1881 census, Robert was listed as being born in Canada, however the 1911 census adds the city of Toronto. It would be fascinating to understand why, of all the family members, only Robert was born in Canada, and what his mother was doing in the country at the time.

Also in 1911, Robert was listed as a Gentlemens Hosier, and he was living along with his family in Lessar Avenue, Clapham. His house is still in the street.

By the 1939 Register, Robert had moved to Atkins Road, Wandsworth, and his son Thomas was aged 40, single and listed as a Master Hosier so had probably joined the family business in Cheapside. Robert would die in 1957.

I cannot find any reference to Llewellyn’s later life.

They also seem to have had the two shops, the original on Eastcheap, and the shop featured in the photos at the start of the post on the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street. It would have been fascinating to try and find out more about their life, however I am always constrained by time within the scope of a weekly post.

Behind the old L&R Wooderson shop, and where the tree is located is a small patch of open ground facing Wood Street:

Cheapside

This was the churchyard of the church of St Peter West Cheape. The churchyard can be seen in the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map, on the left, above the “C” of Cheapside:

Cheapside

In the above map of 1746, a row of buildings is shown between the churchyard and Cheapside, following the line of buildings that we see today, however in the earlier 1682 map by William Morgan, the churchyard (above the E and A of Cheap) is an open space up to the edge of Cheapside:

Cheapside

The appearance of the buildings, of which L&R Wooderson was a part, gives the impression of being of some age, however there is no (that I can find) confirmed dating of the terrace, however they do follow the alignment shown in the 1746 map, so they do follow the property boundaries of the post Great Fire rebuild.

The church that once occupied the space, along with its churchyard, was one of the churches lost in the 1666 Great Fire, and not rebuilt.

In the book “London Churches Before The Great Fire” by Wilberforce Jenkins (1917), the old church was described:

“The ‘Church of St Peter, West Chepe, stood on the corner of Wood Street, Cheapside, and was not rebuilt after the Fire. The well-known tree in Cheapside marks the spot, and a small piece of the churchyard remains. It was sometimes called St Peter-at-Cross, being opposite the famous Cross which stood in the middle of the street, and was at one time an object of pride and veneration, and at a later period the object of execration and many riots, until pulled down and burnt by the mob. The date of the ancient church is uncertain, but there would appear to be a reference to it in 1231. In the ‘Liber Albus’, one Geoffrey Russel is mentioned as having been present when a certain Ralph Wryvefuntaines was stabbed in the churchyard of St Paul’s and being afraid of being accused, fled for sanctuary to the Church of St Peter.

Thomas Wood, goldsmith and sheriff, is credited with having, in 1491, restored or rebuilt the roof of the middle aisle, the structure being supported by figures of woodmen. Hence, so tradition says, came the name of the street, Wood Street.”

The “famous Cross” mentioned in the above extract was one the crosses erected by Edward I in 1290 on the corner of Wood Street, to mark the resting places of Queen Eleanor’s coffin on its way from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey.

The cross was a large structure and was decorated with religious iconography including images of the Pope and the Virgin. From the mid 16th century onwards, the cross was the subject of attack by puritans who objected to the religious symbols on the cross.

On the 2nd of May, 1643, the cross was demolished, which was illustrated in the following print produced by Wenceslaus Hollar in the same year (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cheapside

The illustration at the bottom of the print shows the “Booke of Sportes upon the Lords Day” being burnt on the site of the cross.

The Book of Sports was a book first published in 1617 during the reign of James I to define what sports were allowed on a Sunday. Initially only covering Lancashire to try and resolve a dispute between Puritans and mainly Catholic gentry, the guidance within the book was applied across the whole country in the following year.

Republished by Charles I, the book was a constant problem for Puritans who considered any playing of sport on a Sunday against their religious principles. As the influence of Puritanism grew in the lead up to the English Civil War, Parliament ordered that the book be publically burnt, one of the burnings was on the site of the cross, on the 10th May 1643.

The old churchyard of St Peter, West Chepe is now a small open space with a small number of gravestones. In the following photo, the brick rear of the building on Cheapside, including the old shop of L&R Wooderson is shown on the left:

Cheapside

Some of the graves are from the early 19th century showing that while the church was not rebuilt after the Great Fire, the churchyard continued in use.

Side gate between the buildings facing Cheapside and the graveyard:

Cheapside

On the railings facing onto Wood Street is an image of St Peter, along with the cross keys frequently shown with St Peter as the “keys to heaven”.

Cheapside

And on the rear of the image of St Peter, is the date 1712 and the names of the churchwardens, which appears to date the railing to 1712:

Cheapside

I would have liked to have had the time to find out more about the Wooderson family. For how long the family was involved with the shop and when it finally closed. Cards Galore who currently occupy the shop seem to have been expanding during the 1990s, however I cannot find their Cheapside shop listed during this decade, so perhaps it was in the 2000’s that L&R Wooderson finally closed.

This has been an incredibly interesting corner of Cheapside, tracing the family of the shop, a church destroyed during the Great Fire and the Cheapside Cross destroyed in the years leading up to the English Civil war, however as usual, I am just scratching the surface.

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Bagnigge Wells, House and Gardens

Although today there is very little of it to see, water has shaped much of London. The alignment of streets, property boundaries, rise and fall of the land have all been shaped by water. Whilst these are all subtle indicators of the historic presence of water there are still a number of more visible signs that hint at an areas history, and one of these is on a building on the western side of King’s Cross Road.

Bagnigge Wells

The sign reads “This is Bagnigge House Neare the Pinder A Wakefeilde 1680”.

The Pinder of Wakefield was a pub that dated back to the early 16th century in Gray’s Inn Road. A pub with the same name was on the same site until 1986, when the building was purchased by the “The Grand Order of Water Rats” charity, renamed the Water Rats, and is now a performance venue.

Bagnigge House and the Wells that were found in the gardens of the house are the subject of today’s post.

The house in King’s Cross Road with the Bagnigge House sign:

Bagnigge Wells

The location of the Bagnigge House stone, along King’s Cross Road is shown by the red circle in the following map  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Bagnigge Wells

The red rectangle highlights the area covered in the post.

If you look to the left side of the red box, you will see Cubitt Street, a street which unlike the rest of the streets in the area, does not follow a straight line and is curved around an area of land between Cubitt Street and King’s Cross Road.

To the left of Cubitt Street, the map shows the light blue line of the old River Fleet. I have double checked with my go to reference for London’s old rivers; “The Lost Rivers of London” by Nicholas Barton and Stephen Myers, and the routing of the Fleet shown in the above map is roughly right.

Before the streets and buildings of London had extended this far north, this was an area of fields and agriculture. The River Fleet ran through the fields, the area was low lying and rather wet, especially after heavy rains when the Fleet would have flooded.

Rocque’s map of 1746 provides a view of the area in the middle of the 18th century. Fields cover the majority of the area, but in the upper centre of the map there are buildings and formal gardens bounded by the River Fleet and a street named Black Mary’s Hole.

Bagnigge Wells

The street to the left labelled “Road to Hampstead and Highgate” is today, Grays Inn Road.

Black Mary’s Hole is now King’s Cross Road. There are various interpretations of the name, but the majority of sources refer to a black woman called Mary, who sold water in the vicinity from a well or fountain.

As well as the Fleet, the Rocque map extract also shows the irregular shape of a number of ponds, confirming that this was an area where there was plenty of water.

By 1816, streets and buildings had started to reach the area, and the following extract from the 1816 edition of Smith’s New Plan of London shows the area between the Fleet and King’s Cross Road (in the centre of the map) now labelled Bagnigge Wells.

Bagnigge Wells

To the right of the map is New River Head and on the edge of the map, Sadler’s Wells, further illustrating how water has shaped the area.

Turning off King’s Cross Road into the side streets, and we can get a view of the drop in height down to King’s Cross Road and the rise in height on the opposite side. An indication of the river valley of the Fleet.

The following view is looking down Great Percy Street from Percy Circus, with the rise of Acton Street across the junction. The River Fleet would have run from right to left along the lowest part of the view.

River Fleet

The area of land shown in the Roque map between the Fleet and Black Mary’s Hole appears to have been enclosed at some point in the second half of the 17th century. The land was to the east of a field called Action Field that occupied the area west to what is now Gray’s Inn Road. The name of the field is preserved in the present day Acton Street.

When a Thomas Hughes purchased the land in 1757, he had the waters from a well that was already in use, tested by a Doctor John Bevis, who reported that the water from the well had chalybeate properties (in the context of water, the name chalybeate means that the water contains iron, see also my post on the Chalybeate Well in Hampstead).

To capitalise on these findings, Thomas Hughes opened the gardens and the well to the public in 1759. This was the period when there were many pleasure gardens opening up around the City. Outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, in places such as along the south bank of the Thames, in Islington, and in Bagnigge Wells.

They provided a pleasant place to visit, away from the smoke, dirt and noise of the City. St. Chad’s Well was another well a short distance away from Bagnigge Wells that had gardens and a pump house where customers could drink the water. I have written about St. Chad’s Well here.

The gardens around the well were attractively laid out, entertainment, food and drink was also provided to customers, both to attract customers to the gardens as well as for profit.

Bagnigge Wells seems to have been a success as some of the land on the opposite side of the River Fleet was purchased to expand the gardens.

A print from 1843 appears to show the stone that is now in King’s Cross Road above the garden entrance (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Bagnigge Wells

The inscription on the stone in my photo at the top of the post has the date 1680. In the print above it could be 1689, so either an error, or a later updating of the inscription over the years has changed the original date on the stone.

The date does pre-date the time when the gardens and well were part of the pleasure gardens so the house referred to must have been one of the earliest houses on the land.

Although the caption to the following print does state “The Original Garden Entrance To Bagnigge Wells, Established in 1680”, the gardens and wells were not a public gardens at that time (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

River Fleet

Presumably, the view is looking north with the garden entrance on the left and Bagnigge House behind the trees on the right.

The river running along the middle of the print must therefore be the River Fleet, which looks rather serene and calm, however it was not always so, and heavy rains around the source of the river in Hampstead could quickly result in the river flooding as the following article from the Derby Mercury on the 9th September 1768 reports:

“And about One o’clock yesterday morning the water came down in such torrents from Hampstead that the road and flat fields about Bagnigge Wells were overflown; the water rose eight feet perpendicular above the usual height of the drain, and was nearly four feet above the foot bridge at that house; the Pleasure-garden, cellars, and Out-houses belonging thereto were overflown, and several of the Pales broke down by the Violence of the stream. Great damage was done to Mr Harrison’s Tile-kiln near the said Wells, where three young men were sleeping in an Out house and were surprised by the Flood, and two of them drowned. The house of Dr. Sharpe, near Bagnigge Wells, was four feet deep in water, and a man and woman behind the House narrowly escaped being drowned.”

The article mentions Mr. Harrison’s Tile-kiln and if you refer back to the extract from Smith’s New Plan of London, you can see the tile-kilns just to the north east of Bagnigge Wells.

The rain was probably caused by the brief, very heavy showers we have also seen in London recently which cause a flash flood. Today, this volume of water falling in north London would now be carried by the same sewer in which the old River Fleet in now buried.

The following print is from 1777, eleven years after the floods in the above article and shows the buildings at Bagnigge Wells, with the entrance to the gardens on the left (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

Today, roughly where the River Fleet once ran, is Cubitt Street (originally Arthur Street). This is the street that curves slightly to the west of King’s Cross Road and is where the River Fleet formed the original western boundary to Bagnigge Wells as shown in Rocque’s map of 1746,

The view south along Cubitt Street:

Cubitt Street

And the view north along Cubitt Street:

Cubitt Street

In the above view, the River Fleet would have run roughly along the line of the street. Bagngge Wells was originally to the right, and following the commercial success of the gardens, expanded to include the left of the photo, with wooden bridges providing access between the two sections of the gardens.

Seats were arranged along the River Fleet for those who wanted to smoke or drink ale or cider. Tea, cake and hot buttered rolls were served, and concerts were held in the main room of the house. A small temple shaped building was created to house the wells from which water was taken and sold.

London’s pleasure gardens and their visitors were often the subject of satirical prints. The following print from 1781 shows “Mr. Deputy Dumpling and Family enjoying a Summer Afternoon” at the entrance to the gardens at Bagnigge Wells (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

18th century pleasure gardens were intended to be peaceful places in London’s countryside, away from the noise and dirt of the City. Where people could spend an afternoon or evening, being entertained, or just drinking and eating and seeing and being seen by others at the gardens, however they were not always places of peace.

in May, 1784, Bagnigge Wells was the scene of some violence between two opposing political groupings, as documented in the following newspaper report:

“Yesterday evening the gardens at Bagnigge Wells exhibited a strange scene of riot and confusion. How the affair began is not easy to be determined, but, at the same moment, several hundreds of Stentorian lungs vociferated the cry of ‘Hood and Wray’ and these were answered by the exclamation of ‘Fox for ever’. Intoxicated with liquor and politics those who were for Hood and Wray boxed with the friends of the Coalition and Fox, and many on both sides were knocked down with the canes and sticks of their adversaries. So sudden a disarrangement of the tea-table apparatus was perhaps never before seen and innumerable fragments of china shone on every walk, and served to give issues to the inflamed blood of the fallen and sprawling heroes. Those peace officers were sent for, the tumult was not appeased for near two hours and a half. Three men, who had been active in fomenting the disturbance, were taken into custody and were soon rescued”.

The same newspaper also reported on a “violent fracas” between the same two opposing groups in the Piazzas, Covent Garden.

Wray was Sir Cecil Wray who was a member of Parliament but was highly critical of proposals to raise taxes by a “receipts tax” which he claimed would fall “on the middling ranks of people and very partially and unequally laid”. Wray preferred a land tax, which in his view had always been too low in the country, but was opposed by the land owning classes (some things do not change).

He also presented a petition that had been drawn up by the Quakers calling for the abolition of slavery, which he called “an infamous traffic that disgraced humanity”.

The MP Charles James Fox put forward the East India bill which proposed nationalising the troubled East India Company, and Wray was strongly opposed to such an action.

At the general election Wray and Lord Hood stood against Fox with Wray standing as an Administrative candidate in Fox’s Westminster constituency. It was a violent election period as indicated by the trouble at Bagnigge Wells, however Fox won and Wray then appears to have abandoned any plans to try and get back into Parliament. He was described as being “one of the most upright, one of the most virtuous, one of the most honourable and independent men” in Parliament.

Up until the end of the 18th century, Bagnigge Wells continued to be a fashionable place to visit, however its days were numbered as the buildings and streets of London started to surround the gardens.

Less desirable and the “lower class of tradesmen” were now to be found in the gardens, and there was petty crime and prostitution, as illustrated by the following print from 1799 titled “The Road To Ruin”, where a young man, possibly an apprentice, in poor fitting clothes, stands between two prostitutes who appear to be berating him (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

In 1813, the manager of the gardens went bankrupt, they reopened somewhat reduced the following year and attempts to rejuvenate the place by building a concert hall in 1831 led to nothing as the customers of the concert hall were described as being of the “disreputable sorts”. The concert hall closed in 1841 and what was left of Bagnigge Wells was built on.

With the River Fleet now buried in a sewer, there are today no signs above the surface of the waters that once made this area an attractive place to visit, away from the noise and dirt of central London.

I have photographed the plaque before, however there was a bus stop directly in front which made the plaque rather difficult to photograph. The following photo is from about 18 months ago and shows the bus stop in its original position.

Bagnigge Wells

If you refer back to the second photo from the top of this post you can see that the bus stop has now been moved to the right. No idea why this has been done, but it does make the plaque easier to see, which is to the good, as it is the only reminder of Bagnigge House, the Well and Gardens now to be found in the area.

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The Death of the London Telephone Box

Before exploring the London Telephone Box, an update on the walk exploring Islington’s place in the history of London’s water supply and some of the original buildings at New River Head, that I wrote about in a post a couple of week’s ago. I will be guiding on some of these walks and whilst most of walks have now sold out, the only walk that has tickets remaining is on Friday 10th September (PM). They can be booked here.

I cannot remember the last time I used a telephone box, or when I last saw anyone else using one. The mobile phone has effectively killed off the need to find a telephone box, yet they are still to be found across the city.

I have a number of photographic themes when walking London’s streets and for the last couple of years, London’s telephone boxes has been added to my theme list. So long a key part of the city’s street infrastructure, I wonder for how long they will survive.

The majority do not work, many have had their phone equipment removed, and many are not in a state that you would wish to stand in and make a call, even if they did work.

Some have found new uses. The most common being advertising as they are often in prime street locations, with full length advertising covering their windows.

The original red telephone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a design he entered into a Post Office competition in 1924. The model K2 telephone box was the result, which first appeared on the streets of London in 1926. He would then update the design to the K6 which first appeared in 1934 and is the traditional red telephone box we see across the streets of the city.

There have been many modifications, and significant redesigns, the majority of these coming after the Post Office / British Telecom was privatised in the 1980s.

The technology in the phone box has changed over the years. I can just remember the manual method of paying for a call when you had to Press Button A to put coins into the phone to make a call, then if the call was not answered, Press Button B to return the coins.

Having the right change for a phone call was always a problem, and hearing the dreaded pips when the money was running out and you had no more change was a challenge for calls of more than a few minutes.

There are some 2,390 telephone boxes which have been listed by Historic England. The majority are Grade II, but some Grade II*. Historic England have a spreadsheet available for download here, which details the location of all listed telephone boxes.

I have to admit to finding telephone boxes rather scary. I know exactly why. As a young teenager I watched the short 1972 Spanish horror film La Cabina, or the telephone box on TV. It is why whenever I used a telephone box I would always keep my foot in the door, to keep it slightly open. The film is on Reddit, here.

So, still never letting a door shut me in a phone box, here are a selection of photos of London telephone boxes, starting with Charterhouse Square:

Telephone Box

Grade II listed (the larger K6 models) telephone boxes at Smithfield Market:

Smithfield Market

One of the modern versions of the telephone box, also showing how so many of these are now used for advertising. This one is in Aldersgate Street:

Aldersgate Street

Advertising is a potentially profitable business for the reuse of telephone boxes. They are in locations where they are easy to be seen, and where there is a high footfall, so they originally could be found when you wanted to make a call. These original reasons for locating a phone box also apply to sites where advertising works best, and as advertised on the phone box in the photo below, at the junction of London Wall and Moorgate, there is a company (Redphonebox Advertising) that specialises in this new use.

Telephone Box

Perhaps the most photographed telephone box in London is this one in Great George Street / Parliament Square:

Parliament Square

Before Covid, there would frequently be queues of tourists waiting to get their photo taken in a London red phone box with the Elizabeth Tower, or more probably Big Ben to those taking photos, in the background.

With the lack of tourists this phone box is now much quieter, and looking inside, even in such a prominent position, the telephone does not work, with the front panel being pulled away from the rear.

Telephone Box

The following telephone boxes in Parliament Street are also a frequent destination for those wanting a photo with a phone box.

Parliament Street

The following phone box is by the side of Grosvenor Road:

Telephone Box

Internally, whilst the phone still has power, and the display reads BT Payphones, there is no chance of talking to anyone with the vandalised handset:

Telephone Box

This view of the telephone box shows changing street furniture. The old, unused telephone box alongside a TfL cycle dock:

Telephone Box

The above telephone box was made by Walter Macfarlane & Co, at their Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. It seems the company took on the manufacture of phone boxes in the late 1940s after their traditional markets started to disappear. The foundry closed, and the site demolished in 1967, however the company has left their mark on multiple telephone boxes across London:

Telephone Box

Outside Pimlico Station:

Pimlico Station

Duncannon Street, looking towards Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery:

Telephone Box

St Martins Lane, opposite the Duke of York’s theatre:

Telephone Box

Great Newport Street:

Telephone Box

The large blue plaque in the above photo records that the artist Joshua Reynolds lived there between 1753 and 1761.

Charing Cross Road, looking up towards the junction with Shaftsbury Avenue:

Charing Cross Road

The telephone box in the following photo is in St Giles High Street with the church of St Giles in the Fields in the background. The door was left open, and at the time, it was not a phone box you would want to make a call from, even if it was working.

St Giles high Street

Shaftesbury Avenue:

Telephone Box

Bloomsbury Street, opposite the Bloomsbury Street Hotel:

Telephone Box

As with many telephone boxes across London, despite being in Bloomsbury Street, the phone box is used as a litter bin. The telephone equipment has been removed.

Telephone Box

Outside the British Museum:

British Museum

Telephone boxes have been converted to other uses. In Russell Square, two have been converted to a take away coffee shop:

Italian Tiranisu and Coffee Shop

Known as the Italian Tiramisu and Coffee Shop:

Russell Square Gardens

Walking further around Russell Square Gardens and there are another three, which according to the Historic England spreadsheet are Grade II listed:

Russell Square Gardens

At the entrance to Regent Square Gardens on Regent Square:

Regent Square

Looking inside the Regent Square Garden’s telephone box:

Regent Square

At the junction of Euston Road and North Gower Street:

Euston Road

Upper Street, Islington:

Upper Street

Across the road from the above phone box is the following:

Islington

Waterloo Place, looking up towards Piccadilly Circus:

Waterloo Place

The Strand, close to Charing Cross Station:

Charing Cross Station

Opposite Charing Cross Station are these four telephone boxes:

Charing Cross station

They are usually more obvious, however the black hoardings to their right are slightly obscuring them.

Hard to imagine seeing a row of four, empty telephone boxes, however they were sited together in an area of frequent use. In a high footfall area, between the Strand, Charing Cross Station, Trafalgar Square and the theatres of the West End, they would have attracted a considerable number of users.

When I commuted into and out of London during the 1980s, train distruption would always lead to long queues at the phone boxes as the only means of communicating with those at home, or who you were to meet, that you would be late.

Later conversions of telephone boxes have tried to keep them relevant, however Internet access on a mobile phone renders WiFi from a phone box a failed model for their continued use.

Telephone Box

These two telephone boxes are Grade II listed, so even if there are no customers who have an urgent need to make a telephone call from in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, they will probably be here long into the future:

St Paul's cathedral

In the triangle of land where St Martin’s le Grand meets Cheapside:

Telephone Box

Telephone boxes advertising the time when cards as well as coins could be used to pay for a call:

Telephone Box

Euston Road:

Euston Road

Outside St Pancras Station, with the sex work adverts that were once common across central London telephone boxes:

St Pancras

I titled this post the Death of the London Telephone Box, however that is not quite true. Many of them are listed so presumably will be around for years to come, and they are valuable assets as an advertising platform, however what they will not be used for is their original purpose of making telephone calls.

What is clear is that many are not maintained or cleaned. I have found very few that actually work. Many have had their equipment removed, others have been vandalised and many of the remainder are just dead.

I suspect the majority of people under the age of thirty have never used a telephone box, and find the concept of a fixed, wired phone rather antiquated.

They are a left over from a time when the only way to make a call when out on the streets was from a telephone box. When you needed to call for a lift home late at night, meet with friends, change an appointment, check on a place to meet, or just simply calling someone for a chat, the red telephone box was an essential part of street infrastructure.

One of my other photographic themes is information panels, intended to show the passerby what can be seen in the area. I walked by this one a couple of weeks ago, close to the Bank junction:

Bank junction

The plaque was unveiled by the Queen in October 2002, and shows the City’s skyline as it was, just 19 years ago,

Thr highlighted buildings include the London Stock Exchange, Tower 42 (the old NatWest Tower), 30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin) and the Lloyds of London building.

it is a strange location as none of these buildings can be seen from the location of the plaque. I cannot remember if it has been moved from a different location. The “You Are Here” label on the map implies it is in its original location.

Bank junction

Walking further into the Bank junction and only Tower 42 remains visible, although now partly obscured.

Bank junction

London’s streets will continuously change, as technologies change as do the buildings lining the streets.

As with the transition from telephone boxes to mobile phones, there seems to be another transition gradually underway with the introduction of low traffic neighbourhoods, closure of many city streets to vehicles, cycle lanes etc.

It will be interesting to see how this impacts the city’s recovery from the pandemic, Does it enhance the city, or restrict its viability as a place to work.

In future, will the car in a city be seen the same as a telephone box today, an essential in the past, irrelevant in the future?

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Churchill Gardens and Battersea Power Station

If you travel along Grosvenor Road, the road that runs along the Thames embankment in Pimlico, opposite Battersea Power Station, you may catch a glimpse of a tall, round tower between the blocks of flats that form the Churchill Gardens estate.

It looks rather out of place. An industrial construction within an area dedicated for residential housing. It is now 70 years old, and is the remains of an innovative solution to make use of waste heat from Battersea Power Station to warm the homes of those living on the opposite bank.

Churchill Gardens

The tower is the most visible part of a highly complex system, that took hot water from Battersea Power Station, pumped it under the Thames through specially constructed pipes, stored water in the tower, then distributed it across both the Churchill Gardens and Dolphin Square estates for heating and hot water.

The system is described in considerable detail in a book published in 1951 for the Festival of Britain by the Association of Consulting Engineers. A large book that celebrates the work of civil engineering and construction across a wide range of projects.

The introductory paragraph to the section on the Churchill Gardens project provides an excellent description:

“In the ancient City of Westminster, almost within the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, so severely damaged by German bombers in 1942, great blocks of new flats are rising to meet the needs of London’s teeming millions, thousands of whom are still living in bomb-shattered houses built a century ago.

It is perhaps indicative of Britain’s will to survive and to surmount her economic troubles, that this great new housing estate, together with, it is expected an existing group of flats – probably the largest in Europe – is to have complete space heating and water heating by means of a district heating plan, thus banishing the dust and drudgery of the open coal fire, and the nuisance caused by the delivery and removal of fuel and ash for each block of flats. This plant is unique in two respects: it’s the first public heat supply in London, and it is also London’s first district heating plant wherein the heat is the byproduct of electricity generation. By this means the thermal efficiency of electric generating stations may be raised from its present figure of 25 per cent, to a figure approaching 75 per cent, for stations generating both electricity and heat.”

The section in the book is titled “District Heating Scheme, Pimlico Housing Estate and Dolphin Square”, as at the time the book was put together, the estate had not yet been given the name of Churchill Gardens.

The book includes diagrams and photos of the project.

In the following diagram, we can see Battersea Power Station at lower left, pipes leading under the river to the Churchill Gardens estate which is bounded by Lupus Street, Claverton Street, Grosvenor Road, and Westmoreland Terrace on the western boundary (now an extension of Lupus Street).

Churchill Gardens District Heating System

In the lower centre of the estate is the tower, labelled as the “Hot Water Accumulator”. Dolphin Square, which also received hot water from the scheme is to the right.

The pipes under the Thames were installed in a pre-existing Metropolitan Water Board tunnel, and they consisted of 12 inch bore pipes for feeding water from Battersea and pipes for the return of water. They were insulated by being covered in 2 inches of compressed cork.

The water sent from Battersea Power Station was up to a maximum of 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius) and was stored in the tower, or to use its correct name, the “Hot Water Accumulator” before being distributed across the estate.

Hot water was fed directly to radiators for heating and to a calorifier for hot tap water (a calorifier is basically a coil of pipe inside a tank of water allowing heat to be transferred between the two, so water from the mains supply was delivered at the tap, rather than water from the power station).

The purpose of the tower was to store a sufficient supply of hot water to balance demand, for example when there was higher demand than could be provided immediately through the pipes under the river.

Water temperature was regulated by the injection of the cooler return water to the hot water as by the time water had been used to heat the estate and it was being pumped back to Battersea, it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit cooler then originally sent.

The following diagram shows the supply chain from power station to flats:

District Heating System

The hot water accumulator tower, along with the rest of the heating system was constructed at the same time as the rest of the Churchill Gardens estate:

Churchill Gardens

The system had a number of safeguards built in as the Ministry of Health required assurance that the system would prevent the release of water at 200 degrees onto anyone who was working on the system. This included measures such as automatic stop valves which would operate when a fall in pressure was detected.

The outer surface of the tower consists of a steel framework with translucent glass panels.

Within the tower was the accumulator vessel which was 126 feet in height, and 29 feet in diameter. Constructed of mild steel plates and with a 3 inch layer of cork to provide insulation.

Hot Water Accumulator Tower

The project would save a considerable amount of coal, with the text in the book calculating a total of 10,000 tons of coal saved each year by taking the waste hot water from Battersea Power Station.

The amount of heat supplied to the individual flats across the estate was not measured, and a standard charge was applied to all residents for the service. For other buildings, the charge was based on the surface area of the installed radiators.

The hot water accumulator tower, and the first blocks of flats on the estate on the day of the official opening in 1951:

Hot Water Accumulator Tower

The following map shows the area today, with the Churchill Gardens estate within the red box, Dolphin Square with the blue box, and the hot water accumulator tower marked by the orange circle. Battersea Power Station is across the river marked by the light blue box (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Churchill Gardens

I went for a walk through the Churchill Gardens estate to find the accumulator tower and to take a look at the estate. Starting at the eastern side of the estate, I walked through the road that runs through the centre of the estate – Churchill Garden Road.

This is the view looking into the estate from Claverton Street:

Churchill Gardens

Map of the estate at the entrance from Claverton Street:

Churchill Gardens

Along with an early speed limit sign:

Churchill Gardens

The A.G. Dawtry. Town Clerk mentioned on the speed limit sign was Sir Alan Dawtry, who was town clerk, then chief executive of Westminster City Council from 1956 to 1977. He lived for 61 years in the nearby Dolphin Square complex and was instrumental in saving the building when in the 1960s the company that owned Dolphin Square was going through financial problems, and there was a risk that the buildings would be sold off and converted to a hotel.

The above sign probably dates from the later part of the 1950s, as the estate was being completed.

Pre-war, the area occupied by the Churchill Gardens estate had consisted of industrial buildings and terrace houses. Bomb damage during the war, and the slum conditions of the housing meant that the area was ideal for redevelopment.

The 1943 County of London plan had proposed the development of large, well planned estates, and at the end of the war, Westminster City Council launched a competition for the design of a new estate.

The competition was won by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, who were also responsible for the design of the Skylon for the Festival of Britain, the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster and the Museum of London building at London Wall.

The winning design by Powell and Moya included buildings with a variety of heights, consisting of eleven storey blocks to three and four storey houses and maisonettes. This was intended to break up any monotony across the estate, and to attract a broad cross section of residents.

Gardens and playgrounds would be provided between the buildings, and to address the urgent need for post war housing, the estate was designed to accommodate a high density of 200 people per acre, which was the maximum allowed at the time.

The first part of the estate that we reach from Claverton Street was the last finished. Built in the early 1960s, this part of the estate makes more use of glass than the rest of the estate:

Churchill Gardens

One of these 1960 to 1962 blocks crosses Churchill Garden Road, almost creating the impression of a gateway to the rest of the estate:

Churchill Gardens

Looking along Churchill Garden Road, we can see the main blocks of flats:

Churchill Gardens

The road curves as it runs through the estate, so the main blocks of flats do not form a continuous wall along the road. They are also aligned north – south so as to maximise the amount of day light that would fall on their main east – west facing windows.

The blocks that were built during the first phase of construction, from 1946 up to 1951 have large, glazed stairways protruding from the sides of the blocks. Later blocks would have galleries running along the length of the blocks.

Churchill Gardens

Well kept gardens between the blocks:

Churchill Gardens

Shelley House with a glimpse of the hot water accumulator tower to the right:

Churchill Gardens

In the above photo, a blue plaque can be seen on the wall.

Shelley House was one of the first four blocks completed by 1950 and the blue plaque is a Festival of Britain Award for Merit granted to these first blocks. These four blocks (Chaucer House, Coleridge House, Shelley House and Keats House) along with Gilbert House and Sullivan House on the western edge of estate, and the accumulator tower are also Grade II listed, and indeed the whole estate has been designated as a conservation area.

The Festival of Britain Award for Merit:

Festival of Britain

Looking back along Churchill Garden Road, and the block on the left has another plaque:

Churchill Gardens

This plaque marks the official opening of the estate on the 24th July 1951 when the first phase of the estate, including the hot water accumulator tower, had been completed:

Churchill Gardens

In the 1951 book by the Association of Consulting Engineers, the estate was called the “Pimlico Housing Estate”, as the estate had not yet been given an official name. A newspaper article in the Westminster and Pimlico News dated the 23rd March 1951 provides the sources of the name:

“It was disclosed at Westminster Council meeting that the name ‘Churchill Gardens’ was the brainwave of Housing Committee chairman, Councilor Miss Paton Walsh.

Mrs. Winston Churchill has agreed to perform the opening ceremony of the estate and of the district heating undertaking on Thursday, July 19.

Miss Paton Walsh pointed out that Mr. Churchill had many connections with Westminster in that he had lived and worked there and he was also their first honorary freeman of the city.”

The official opening covered the first phase of the estate and construction would continue into the 1960s. The 1950s were a difficult time for construction as there were so many competing demands for workers and materials as post war reconstruction gathered pace. This was also having an impact on Churchill Gardens as this article from the 3rd of August, 1951 edition of the Westminster and Pimlico News reported:

“Heartbreaking – It will be heartbreaking for home-seekers if flats at Churchill Gardens are held up while huge Government buildings started in the city are favoured and supplied with all the steel they need.

Sir Harold Webbe, Westminster’s MP attended the opening of Churchill Gardens. He is fully acquainted with the position. If there is a grave delay in the building of these flats he will undoubtedly use his influence in an effort to get things moving.”

Although the streets and houses that Churchill Gardens replaced had suffered bomb damage, with many regarded as slums, they were still occupied, and people were only moved when building had reached their part of the future estate. In 1959, contractors were preparing for demolition of the houses on the eastern edge of the estate ready for construction of the blocks that would be built in the early 1960s, however as the Westminster and Pimlico News reported on the 31st July 1959, there could still be delays:

“Demolition of houses in Claverton Street and Ranelagh Road, Pimlico on the site of Section IV of Churchill Gardens housing estate depends on rehousing the families still there.

Ald. C.P. Russell, chairman of the housing committee, said this at the Westminster Council meeting in a reply to a question put by Cllr. O.M. Boyd.

If rehousing proceeded at the anticipated rate, he expected demolition to start in the sprint of 1960.”

Another plaque from A.G. Dawtry. Town Clerk, this time banning Hawkers, Canvassers and Street Musicians, along with cycling on paths, throwing stones or other missiles, and that exercising dogs on the paths and lawns is not allowed.

Churchill Gardens

It is at this point in the estate that we meet the hot water accumulator tower:

Hot Water Accumulator Tower

At the base of the accumulator tower are buildings that house equipment for the heating system.

The supply of hot water from Battersea Power Station ended in 1983, when the final generators at the power station closed.

The system supplying heat to Churchill Gardens was then converted to what we would now call as District Heat and Power system. In the buildings at the base of the accumulator tower are boilers along with heat and electricity generating systems which produce heat for distribution across the estate, along with electricity which is fed into the National Grid, which provides revenue to help subsidise the costs of the system.

A poor view through the fence into the equipment rooms at the base of the tower, along with a graphic of the tower on the glass:

Churchill Gardens

The range of the system has extended from the original 1951 installation. As well as Churchill Gardens, the system now provides heating for Abbots Manor, Russell House and Lillington Gardens, with 5km of underground pipes serving 3,250 homes along with schools and commercial premises.

Another view of the equipment rooms, with the brick base of the hot water accumulator tower in the right:

Churchill Gardens

When you get up close, you can see that the tower is built within a deep pit, the following photo shows part of the side walls to this pit:

Belgrave Dock

These walls look as if they have some age, older than the Churchill Gardens estate, and their original purpose is rather surprising.

Before the war, there was a considerable amount of industry in the area now occupied by the Churchill Gardens estate. A distillery, saw mills, engine works and a furniture stores. There were also a number of wharves and docks, including one long dock called Belgrave Dock. This can be seen in the following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey Map (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’:

Churchill Gardens

In the map, I have outlined the area occupied by Churchill Gardens in red and Dolphin Square in green. Note the difference in street layout between the area to the south of Lupus Street and the area to the north, which still remains much the same.

In the centre of the map is a long stretch of water – this is Belgrave Dock. I have marked the location of the hot water accumulator tower with the orange circle, and you can see that it stands in the middle of the dock.

The brick walls that can be seen in the pit next to the tower are the original surviving walls of Belgrave Dock. Rather amazing that these reminders of the areas industrial past survive.

Belgrave Dock seems to date from the early 19th century. The first written reference I can find is from the 26th February 1832 when the London News reported on a number of accidents during some of the very thick fogs that were covering parts of London at the time. As well as the Belgrave Dock, the report mentions the Grosvenor Canal, which was just to the left of the railway tracks on the left of the above map:

“FATAL ACCIDENTS DURING THE LATE FOG – Between eight and nine o’clock on Friday evening, a police constable discovered a woman in the Grosvenor-canal, Pimlico, quite dead: with assistance he got the body out, and conveyed it to the station-house, in Elizabeth street. The body was owned yesterday, and proved to be Mrs. Ann Hart, aged 72 years, residing in St George’s-row, near the wooden-bridge, Pimlico. There is no doubt that the poor old woman had, during the intense fog, walked into the Canal, which is very dangerous from its unguarded state, as she had her clogs on and a basket in her hand when found. She had merely gone out on an errand.

On Friday morning, john Dillon, a police-constable of the B. division, discovered the bodies of two men at the entrance of Belgrave Dock. They proved to be the bodies of Mr. Wilson, of No. 22, Prince-street, Lambeth, a wadding manufacturer, and his son-in-law, Mr. York; who it is supposed walked into the water during the fog.

The place is in a most dangerous state, particularly in foggy weather; and the only wonder is, that more accidents have not occurred. The place belongs to the Marquis of Westminster; and it is to be hoped that his Lordship will give immediate orders to have the evil remedied. We have heard that another female was brought out of the Canal yesterday morning.”

The report provides an impression of what the area was like in the early 19th century, and I like the address for poor Ann Hart as “near the wooden-bridge, Pimlico”.

Walking down the side road to the tower, and this is the view of the tower from the south:

Accumulator Tower

In the above photo, and in the photo below there is a large building completely covered in scaffolding, including scaffolding stretching across the road, presumably to provide some buttressing support to the building.

Balmoral Castle

Buried underneath the scaffolding is a closed pub – the Balmoral Castle. A painted sign can just be seen on the side of the pub.

Balmoral Castle

The Balmoral Castle dates from the mid 19th century and was part of the original development of the area. It can be seen in the 1894 Ordnance Survey extract above under the dark blue circle.

The pub seems to have been the focus for a number of sporting clubs, with the Metropolitan Cabdrivers Rowing Regatta and Mechanics’ United Rowing Club, along with the Pimlico Athletic Club all using the Balmoral Castle as their meeting place.

It was retained during the development of Churchill Gardens as the intention was to include community facilities for the residents. The pub closed in 2004, and the scaffolding was erected in 2014.

There have been plans to redevelop the area occupied by the pub and nearby Darwin House, but these do seem to be progressing rather slowly. In the meantime, part of the pub also seems to be supported by an incredible growth of what looks from a distance like a form of ivy.

Balmoral Castle

Continuing along Churchill Garden Road, and we can see blocks built during later phases. These do not have the multiple external stairs, but have galleries along each floor.

Churchill Gardens

There are design features such as concrete canopies over the entrances to the blocks:

Churchill Gardens

As well as the Balmoral Castle pub, a school was retained during the construction of the estate. This is St. Gabriel’s Church of England Primary School.

Churchill Gardens

The block of flats behind the school has the distinctive white rendered, rooftop drums for water tanks and lift equipment found on the top of the blocks across the estate.

At the end of Churchill Garden Road, I reached the western end of Lupus Street which forms the western boundary of the estate. The following photo is looking back through the estate:

Churchill Gardens

We then walked along Grosvenor Road, along the Thames for another view of the hot water accumulator tower, with the scaffolding surrounding the Balmoral Castle to the left:

Accumulator Tower

Part of the Churchill Gardens estate faces directly onto Grosvenor Road, however there are some original buildings that have survived:

King William IV

One of which was another pub that has recently closed and is now being redeveloped. This was the King William IV, originally from the mid 19th century and rebuilt in 1880:

King William IV

The future of the old pub seems to be some form of housing. The Health and Safety Executive Notification of Construction Project taped to one of the windows states that the address is now “Travel Joy Hostels Ltd” and the project will consist of 6 new apartments being designed and built, an extra floor added, and a basement to be constructed to the rear.

The old doors to the pub, with a gutted interior behind:

King William IV

A short distance along Grosvenor Road is Dolphin Square. This large estate was also provided with heating from the original Battersea Power Station / Churchill Gardens system:

Dolphin Square

My original reason for exploring Churchill Gardens was to find the hot water accumulator tower, and there was one final part of the original system that I had to visit, and this was Battersea Power Station, which supplied the waste hot water across the river to heat the estate.

Battersea Power Station seen from across the river:

Battersea Power Station

I also wanted to see how development of the old power station and the surrounding area was progressing. In the above photo, the large, glass apartment block that now sits between the power station and railway bridge can be seen on the right.

In the following photo, the additional building on top, and to the side of the power station can be seen:

Battersea Power Station

Crossing the river on Chelsea Bridge, and the apparently random jumble of towers that are spreading along the side of the Thames in Vauxhall can be seen:

Vauxhall

Battersea Power Station closed in 1983, and for many years the building was empty, roofless and derelict. After many false starts, much of the old building has been redeveloped. This included the complete reconstruction of the chimneys as the originals were structurally unsafe.

One of the chimneys is planned to included the Battersea Power Station Chimney Lift, which will lift visitors to the top of the tower to get a view from above. It is planned to open in 2022.

The redevelopment of the area follows the standard plan for any London developments – glass and steel apartments above, restaurants, cafes, shops and entertainment venues at ground level.

Alongside one of the new apartment blocks, restaurants, bars and a cinema have been built into the arches that line the railway viaduct:

Battersea Power Station

From the Battersea side of the river, we can look across the river to the blocks of Churchill Gardens, and the hot water accumulator tower that was once supplied by the power station:

Battersea Power Station

The new apartment block on the right closes in on the power station. There are restaurants on the ground floor and a small area of landscaping up to the river:

Battersea Power Station

Looking between the power station and apartment building. A similar glass and steel building has yet to be built on the opposite side of the power station as the area links up with the tower blocks currently being built along Vauxhall.

Battersea Power Station

The area behind and to the east of the power station is still blocked off for construction work, so there is not that much to see, apart from the area in front and around the new apartment building.

On a sunny Sunday, the cafes and restaurants seemed to be doing reasonably well.

The district heating system for the Churchill Gardens estate was the first of its type in London, and probably in the country. There have been a number of systems built since, the latest is the Bunhill 2 Energy Centre, built at the location of the long closed City Road underground station. Rather than waste heat from a power station, Bunhill 2 is unusual in that it takes heat from the Northern line tunnels below.

Bunhill 2 is an addition to the existing Bunhill energy centre built in 2012, which makes use of the more traditional gas powered engine to produce heat and generate electricity. The energy centre is open during this years Open House London event.

That was a rather long post, so thank you if you made it this far.

As usual there is so much to explore and discover. I find the combination of the hot water accumulator tower, built into the old Belgrave Dock, with the original side walls fascinating – relics of two very different industrial activities in Pimlico.

Churchill Gardens does have its problems, but is an estate that shows what can be done to provide housing with innovative design, well chosen materials, and importantly continuous maintenance of the buildings and landscape.

It was a fascinating walk.

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Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration and New River Head

House of Illustration is a small arts and education charity dedicated to the art of illustration – an art form that can be found on almost every aspect of modern life. Originally based in King’s Cross, the charity is moving to a very historic location and transforming into the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

Quentin Blake has been one of the most prolific and high profile illustrators of the 20th and early 21st centuries, with his work across many forms of illustration, including illustrating the works of the author Roald Dahl.

The new location for the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration will be at New River Head in north Clerkenwell / Islington, the site of the reservoir that terminated the first man made river bringing supplies of water to the city of London in the early 17th century.

Having been empty for many years, the base of the early 18th century windmill, the engine house and coal store at New River Head will be sensitively transformed over the coming year into the new centre. This transformation will ensure that these buildings are preserved and after being hidden away for so many years, will be given a new life hosting one of London’s small, but so important charities and exhibition spaces. The centre will also eventually be the home for Quentin Blake’s archive.

So why is this the subject of this week’s blog post? A while ago, a colleague from the Clerkenwell and Islington Guide (CIGA) Course was offered the opportunity to visit the site and create a walk that would illustrate how water has been key to the area’s development, and to visit the interior of the windmill and coal stores and the exterior of the engine house before work begins to create the new centre. 

Offered the opportunity to be involved, it took about a second to say yes, and for one week only there is a series of walks exploring the Fluid History of Islington, which, with the support of the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, includes access to the base of the early 18th century windmill, the coal stores and around the outside of the engine house at New River Head. I will be guiding on some of these walks, and colleagues from CIGA will be guiding the rest.

This is a unique opportunity to explore how water has influenced the development of the area, see these historic buildings up close, and learn about their future use.

The full set of walks are available to book here

As an introduction to the walk, the following illustration is the proposed plan of the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, Tim Ronalds Architects

In the above plan, the round building to the lower left is the base of the early windmill. I took the following photo of the building on a recent visit:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

The large building to the right is the old engine house. The interior will not be open for the visit as it is currently difficult to navigate, however we will walk around the outside of the building and talk about the part the engine house played in the development of New River Head and London’s water supply, along with the future of the site.

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: New River Head © Justin Piperger

The old coal store forms the longer building to the right, and will be open during the visit:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

As can be seen from the following illustration, when transformed to a new exhibition area, the fabric of the building will retain its industrial heritage:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, Tim Ronalds Architects, Prospective Gallery

The location for the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration is at a place that played a key part in the supply of clean water for London’s growing population for a considerable period of time.

The New River and reservoirs at New River Head were the first serious attempt at bringing significant volumes of water into London from a distance, and avoiding the need to draw water from the Thames, which by the end of the 16th century was not exactly a healthy source of drinking water.

The New River dates to the start of the 17th century, a time when there was a desperate need for supplies of clean water to a rapidly expanding city. Numerous schemes were being proposed, and the build of the New River tells the story of how the City of London, Parliament, the Crown and private enterprise all tried to gain an advantage and ownership of significant new infrastructural services, the power they would have over the city, and the expected profits.

The New River proposal was for a man-made channel, bringing water in from springs around Ware in Hertfordshire (Amwell and Chadwell springs) to the city. A location was needed outside the city where water from the New River could be stored, treated and then distributed to consumers across the city.

The site chosen, called New River Head, was located between what is now Rosebery Avenue and Amwell Street. The red rectangle on the following map shows the area occupied by New River Head (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

The story of the New River dates back to 1602 when a former army officer from Bath, Edmund Colthurst who had served in Ireland, proposed a scheme to bring in water from Hertfordshire springs to a site to the north of the city.

As a reward for his military service, he was granted letters patent from King James I, to construct a channel, six feet wide, to bring water from Hertfordshire to the city.

Colthurst’s was not the only scheme for supplying water to the city. There were a number of other private companies, and the City of London Corporation was looking at similar schemes to bring in water from the River Lea and Hertfordshire springs.

Whilst Colthurst’s project was underway, the City of London petitioned parliament, requesting that the City be granted the rights to the water sources and for the construction of a channel to bring the water to the city.

In 1606 the City of London was successful when parliament granted the City access rights to the Hertfordshire water, a decision which effectively destroyed Colthurst’s scheme, which collapsed after the construction of 3 miles of the river channel.

It was an interesting situation, as Colthurst had the support of the King, through the letters patent he had been granted, whilst the City of London had the support of parliament.

The City of London took a few years deciding what to do with the water rights granted by parliament, and in 1609 granted these rights to a wealthy City Goldsmith, Hugh Myddelton. He was a member of the Goldsmiths Company, an MP (for Denbigh in Wales), and one of his brothers, Thomas Myddelton was a City alderman and would later become Lord Mayor of the City of London, so Myddelton probably had all the right connections, which Colthurst lacked.

Colthurst obviously could see how he had been outflanked by the City, so agreed to join the new scheme, and was granted shares in the project. Colthurst joining the City of London’s scheme thereby uniting the rights granted by James I and parliament.

Work commenced on the New River in 1609, but swiftly ran into problems with owners of land through which the New River would pass, objecting to the work, and the loss of land. A number of land owners petitioned Parliament to repeal the original acts which had granted the rights to the City, however when James I dissolved Parliament in 1611, the scheme was given three years to complete construction and find a way to overcome land owners objections, as Parliament would not be recalled until 1614.

There were originally 36 shares in the New River Company. Myddleton had decided to enlist the support of James I to address the land owners objections, and created an additional 36 new shares and granted these to James I who would effectively own half the company.

in return, James I granted the New River Company the right to build on his land, he covered half the costs, and Royal support influenced the other land owners along the route, removing their objections, as any further attempts to hinder the work would result in the king’s “high displeasure”.

The New River was completed in 1613. It was a significant engineering achievement. Although the straight line distance between the springs around Ware and New River Head was around 20 miles, the actual route was just over 40 miles, as the route followed the 100 foot height contour to provide a smooth flow of water, resulting in only an 18 foot drop from source to end.

The New River Head location was chosen for a number of reasons. A location north of the city was needed to act as a holding location, from where multiple streams of water could then be distributed through pipes across the wider city.

The location sat on London Clay, rather than the free draining gravel found further south in Clerkenwell, and it was also a high point, with roughly a 31 meter drop down to the River Thames, thereby allowing gravity to transport water down towards consumers in the city.

The site already had a number of ponds, confirming the suitability of the land to hold water.

By the end of the 17th century, London had been expanding to the west and developement was taking place around the area now called Soho, including Soho Square.

The challenge the New Rver Company had with supplying water to London’s expanding population was down to having sufficient volumes of water available, and with maintaining water pressure.

The City of London was much lower than New River Head, and water pressure was generally good, however further to the west of the city, the land was higher, and the difference in height between places such as Soho and New River Head was insufficient to provide a good supply to new developments.

This is when the windmill appeared. The New River Company built a new reservoir at Claremont Square, towards Pentonville Road. This new reservoir provided extra storage capacity, and was also higher than New River Head, thereby able to deliver water at greater pressure.

A method was needed to pump water to the new reservoir and the method chosen was a windmill. This was in operation by 1709, but was never very efficient and the top of the windmill was severely damaged by a storm in 1720. Newspaper reports of the storm refer to “the upper part, quite to the brickwork, was blown of the Windmill at New River Head”

The storm also damaged large numbers of ships anchored in the Thames, and: “The Horse-Ferry boat, that passed to and fro from Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs was lost and is not yet found, and the Storm was so violent as to lay the Isle of Dogs under Water by the beating of Water over the Banks”

The following print shows the windmill in the 1740s with the sails and top section missing after the storm  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

By 1775, the top of the windmill appears to have been castellated. The first engine house is in operation to the left. The engine house replaced the windmill and later horse power by providing the power for the pumps.  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

The following print from 1752 shows the New River Head complex with the remains of the windmill after the 1720 storms  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

New River Head

To the lower left of the windmill is a small building that would have housed the horse-gin, used between the storm and the installation of the steam engine to power the pumps, pumping water to the reservoir which can be seen in the lower part of the view.

If you look closely between the reservoir and the windmill, you can see what appears to be a couple of pipes running between the windmill and a building on the edge of the reservoir from where water is pouring into the reservoir.

Although now reduced to just the base, it is remarkable that part of the windmill has survived over 300 years, and it is the base of the windmill that we will see inside during the walk.

After the storm, a “horse gin” was employed which consisted of a small building adjacent to the windmill that provided room for a horse to walk in a circle whilst harnessed to a wheel. The rotation of the wheel was transferred to the pumps to provide the power to move water from New River Head to the higher reservoir.

Later in the 18th century, this was replaced by a steam engine. Whilst we will not be able to go into the engine house, we will walk alongside to explore the history of the building:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: New River Head © Justin Piperger

Behind the engine house is a coal store used to store the fuel for the steam engines in the engine house. The following photo shows the coal store buildings on the left, with a storage area marked with dimensions on the right:

New River Head

Some photos of the interior of the engine house:

New River Head
New River Head
New River Head
New River Head
New River Head

New River Head would continue to play a part in the supply of water into the 20th century.

Reservoirs eventually built at Stoke Newington were of the size needed for London’s ever growing population, and the New River would come to terminate at these reservoirs rather than continuing on to New River Head.

The central Round Pond was drained in 1913. The remaining filter beds had disappeared by 1946, and New River Head became the head offices of the Metropolitan Water Board, along with supporting functions including a large laboratory building.

New River Head continues to be a key part of London’s water supply with one of the shafts to the London Ring Main on the site. The shaft is one of the 12 main pump out shafts across the ring main where water is taken out and distributed locally.

New River Head appeared in a 1748 print with astronomical drawings describing an eclipse of the sun. New River Head is at the bottom of the print, then fields and with the City in the distance  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

New River Head

One of the two characters at bottom right is using a telescope, presumably to observe the eclipse which took place on the 14th July 1748.

The above print is the type of find that sends me searching for something that is not really related to the subject of the post, however as New River Head is in the view, there is a tenuous link.

The 1748 eclipse was an event well publicised in advance, and numerous papers published recommendations on how to view the eclipse, which sound very similar to what we would do today (apart from the candle).

1. Make a pin-hole in a piece of paper, and look through it at the eclipse. Or,

2. Hold a piece of glass so long over the flame of a candle, till it is equally blackened; and then the eclipse may be viewed through it, either with the naked eye, or through a telescope. Or,

3. Let the sun’s rays through a small hole into a darkened room, and so view the picture of the eclipse, upon a wall, or upon paper. Or,

4. Transmit the image of the sun through a telescope, either inverted, as usual on a circle of paper or pasteboard.

In London the eclipse would start at four minutes past nine in the morning and end at ten minutes past twelve. The eclipse was partly visible, however for much of the time it was obscured due to what were described as “flying clouds”.

I can guarantee that there will not be an eclipse at New River Head during the week of the walks, however the walks will provide a unique opportunity to view some of the buildings that contributed to the development of London’s water supply, learn about their future use, and to hear how water has influenced the development of Islington.

The walks can be booked here.

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The Angel, Islington and Plackett’s Common

Even if you have not visited the area, or travelled to the underground station with the same name, you probably recognise the name of the Angel, Islington.

This is probably down to the game of Monopoly, where The Angel, Islington can be purchased for £100, and is one of the light blue board positions, along with Euston Road and Pentonville Road.

Monopoly is probably why the name Angel is nearly always followed by Islington. Unlike the majority of other places on the Monopoly board, the Angel, Islington is not a street, and when you buy a hotel for the location in the game, you are bringing some historic reality to the game.

The original Monopoly game was a US invention, and its migration to the UK happened when the board game makers John Waddington licensed the game for UK sale. The game required UK locations, and the story is that the Managing Director of the company, Victor Watson, along with his secretary, Marjory Phillips, visited the capital looking for locations for the game. Dependent on different Internet sources (always a dangerous thing), they either met, or had lunch at the Angel, and decided it would be a good location and name for inclusion in their new game.

The Angel, Islington had been a key London landmark and meeting place long before its appearance on the Monopoly board.

It appeared in the 1896 book “The Queen’s London”, published as a pictorial and descriptive record of London in the 59th year of the reign of Queen Victoria.

In the book, the Angel, Islington is described as:

“Trams and omnibuses give an invaluable gratuitous advertisement to the inns at certain points on their route; and one of the hostelries best known in all London – by name at least – from this cause is the Angel. For here trams start and stop, and innumerable omnibuses converge and diverge. The Angel occupies a commanding position at the corner of the High Street, Islington, and of Pentonville Road, leading to King’s Cross, while it faces the end of the City Road, Goswell Road, and St. John’s Street Road. It is no wonder, therefore that the pavement in front of it should be always thronged.”

The photo from the 1896 Queen’s London showing the Angel, Islington:

Angel Islington

The text from the Queen’s London sums up why the Angel, Islington became such a well known location – its position at the junction of four important London Roads.

In the following map, I have circled the location of the Angel (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Angel Islington

To the left is Pentonville Road, opened in 1756 as the eastern section of the New Road. It took its current name in 1857 after the Pentonville Estate which had been built on land around the road.

To the right is the City Road, completed in 1761, to continue the New Road on towards east London. These streets formed an 18th century “North Circular” allowing traffic to pass around the City, and to reach the best street for entering the City. One of these was Goswell Road which in the map above branches off to the south from City Road.

To the south is St John Street which led to the City and provided a direct route to Smithfield Market.

To the north, Islington High Street now forms the A1, indicating the street’s importance as the start of a key route to the north of the country.

The Angel, Islington was therefore located where drovers and farmers bringing their sheep and cattle to Smithfield Market would stop off before making the final journey. Where those heading north or south would stop before continuing their journey. Where those travelling around the City would stop, as the junction was a key meeting point, a place where people could relatively easily travel to and meet others from across both London and the rest of the country.

The area has long been associated with livestock. Local cattle farms as well as the fields around Islington providing stopping off points to feed and fatten cattle on their way to Smithfield Market. The Royal Agricultural Hall, built a short distance away in 1862 continued this tradition.

Long before the construction of Pentonville Road / New Road / City Road, the Angel had been a key stopping point. In the following extract from Rocque’s map of 1746, I have circled the location of the Angel, at the junction where the road that would become the start of City Road, with the branch of what is now Goswell Road, meet the street that continues south to Smithfield.

Angel Islington

Looking towards the upper half of the map, we can see how three key streets converged just before the Angel, which also contributed to the location’s importance.

The Angel, and the buildings lining the road up to Islington Green, Upper and Lower Streets are surrounded by the fields that were used for livestock and for the temporary provision of grazing prior to completing their journey to Smithfield Market.

The building seen in the photo from the Queen’s London was originally built in 1819, however by the time of the 1896 photo it had been heavily modified over the years and was known as the Angel Hotel. It was demolished to make way for a new version of the Angel, built by the owners of the site, Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. – the London brewery company.

The 1903 building (again, modified a number of times over the years) is the building that we see on the site today:

Angel Islington

The location of the Angel has long been the site for an inn or tavern. Some of the first references are to an inn on the site towards the end of the 16th century, when the property on the site was called Sheepcote.

The name Angel for the inn appears around 1614. There is a Wikipedia reference as to the origin of the name, however I cannot find any written references, either to confirm the Wikipedia suggestion, or to offer an alternative. When researching these posts, I prefer to have at least two different written sources, so for the purposes of the post I cannot find the source.

The excellent “Streets with a Story – The Book of Islington” by Eric A. Willats does state that early in the 17th century, the Angel had a sign of the Angel of the Annunciation, with wings outstretched, however the sign only aligns with the name, and does not identify the source.

The inn was a staging post for travelers from and to the city, and it was a good place to spend a night before entering the city. There are numerous 18th century newspaper articles about thefts and muggings across the fields, paths and roads between Islington and the built edge of the city, so after dark it was not a safe place to travel, and the Angel Hotel was the perfect place to stay until the following morning.

The following print shows the Angel as it appeared in 1808  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Angel Islington

The view is from what is now Islington High Street. The singe storey buildings to the left of the picture are stables that were on land owned by the Angel, located where Pentonville Road now runs, and extending across the street to the opposite side of the Angel.

The following print shows the view from the Angel, looking down the City Road. Goswell Road is the road branching off to the right  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Goswell Road

The print mentions the Blue Coat Boy public house. This is the building on the left of the print.

The print is also a perfect example of how easy it is to go off on a tangent with London’s history. The text at the bottom of the above print mentions Jack Plackett’s Common as the space where the obelisk now stands, (to the right of the print) at the junction of City Road and Goswell Road.

I suspect that Jack Plackett was John Plackett who was executed on City Road in 1762. A newspaper report of the time reads: “Yesterday the report was made to his Majesty at St. James’s, by Sir William Morton, Knight, Recorder of this City, of the Six Capital Convicts in Newgate, when John Plackett, for robbing Mr. Jacob Faye, was ordered, for Execution on Wednesday next, near the Turnpike-House, on the New Road from Islington to Old-Street”.

John Plackett was a career criminal who had already served seven years transportation for house robbery. At the end of this sentence, he returned to England and continued to commit a series of robberies between Islington and London.

The crime that led to his execution happened on the 10th June 1762, after he had spent the day drinking in a pub in Wapping. He left the pub around midnight and met the Norwegian merchant Jacob Faye (also written as Fayne).

Faye was trying to find his lodgings in Shadwell, however because of his poor English he could not explain where he wanted to go, or get any directions. Plackett met him and indicated that he should follow. Faye assumed he was taking him to Shadwell.

They walked for a lengthy time, and ended in the fields around Islington. It was here that Plackett hit Faye on the head from behind. Faye collapsed to the ground and after a while awoke to find that Plackett had stolen all his clothes and possessions, including his pocket book and money.

A reward was offered, and Plackett was quickly found, still in possession of Faye’s shirt. He was sentenced to be hung, and was executed on the 28th July 1762, on City Road, close to where he had committed his crime in the fields of Islington.

Although the obelisk has gone, there is still a landmark where City and Goswell Roads divide and at the point where Jack Plackett’s Common was located.

A short walk down City Road from the Angel, and this is the view where the roads divide:

City Road

A clock tower is now at the space once occupied by the obelisk – the area identified as Jack Plackett’s Common in the print.

Apparently, the obelisk was replaced by a clock tower, which in turn was replaced early in the 20th century by the clock tower we see today.

City Road

Around the base of the clock tower are the words from the third verse of the nursery rhyme “Pop goes the weasel”, as the City Road in the rhyme passes to the left of the clock tower:

Up and down the City road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel

The clock tower was made by the St Johns Square, Clerkenwell firm of J. Smith & Sons, and they donated the clock to replace the previous version. It was originally clockwork, and the company retained responsibility for maintaining and winding the clock. It is now electric.

It was somewhere on the space that stretches south from the clock tower that John Plackett was executed for the crime he had committed in the surrounding fields.

The view looking back towards the Angel, from where City and Goswell Roads divide, shows how both the height of the land, and the corner location contributed to the Angel being in such a prominent position for those travelling the roads in and out of the City of London:

Angel Islington

Although many of the 18th century newspaper references to the area around the Angel often refer to crime, there are the occasional reports that bring to life the people that once walked these streets. A report from the 5th January 1793:

“Saturday, a cutler, in the City road, undertook for a wager of five shillings, to hold by the spokes of a carriage wheel, while it was turned round for a given distance. A Hackney Coach was in consequence procured, and he placed himself on the outside of the wheel, holding the spokes with his knees and hands, and in this position continued from the Angel at Islington, to the turnpike, the coachman driving for the most part of the way with great velocity. At the turnpike he leaped from the wheel while in motion, and when the horses were in a smart canter, resumed his station on his return, eating with much composure, an orange”.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are many adverts for staff, adverts for auctions taking place at the Angel, and also references to the many meetings that would take place, many with an agricultural theme, continuing the Angel’s long term association with those bringing their livestock to Smithfield Market, and also those visiting the nearby Royal Agricultural Hall. For example, in December 1900, there was a meeting of the Cotswold Sheep Society, who held their annual general meeting in the Angel Hotel.

The Angel was also a stopping place for coach and mail services. The following print dated 1828, shows the Royal Mails at the Angel Inn, Islington, on the night of his majesty’s birthday  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Angel Islington

The destinations listed on the side of the coaches are Holyhead, Manchester and Liverpool, illustrating the routes that would be taken by those passing the Angel.

Lettering on the side of the building reads “Angel Inn Tavern and Hotel for Gentlemen and Families”.

The Angel would change significantly in 1921, when the lower three floors of the building were converted into a Lyons’ Café, with a Grill in the basement, Café on the ground floor, and cafeteria on the first floor.

The Lyons’ Café lasted until 1959, with the site then being sold to the London County Council.

The Angel had long been at an important road junction, with an ever increasing volume of traffic moving through the junction in front of the building. In 1932, Harold Clunn in The Face of London was describing the junction as “the busiest traffic centre of north London”.

The road junction was the reason for the London County Council’s purchase of the Angel site. There had long been proposals for ways in which the junction could be improved, however in the 1960s and early 1970s, a rather large roundabout was proposed as the solution for the amount of traffic using the junction, and the traffic bypassing the junction and using residential streets as alternative routes.

In January 1973, Mr. George Cunningham, the MP for Islington, South-West asked a parliamentary question about the plans for the junction and whether the Greater London Council or the national Government would be funding the costs.

Cunningham describes “The proposal at the Angel is for an enormous roundabout, the central island of which will be an acre or perhaps 1.1 acres in area. It will be surrounded by a relatively narrow carriageway of 20 yards—relatively narrow, that is, in relation to the central island”

There was strong opposition to the loss of the Angel, and such a large roundabout taking so much space, and in 1975 the GLC started researching less ambitious options for the junction. There was an updated proposal in 1979, however with political changes, proposals for the junction disappeared and the junction remained as we see it today.

The Angel, along with the Angel side of Islington High Street is now part of the Angel Conservation Area. In 1979 it was sold by the GLC to the New River Company, which by then was a property company and a subsidiary of London Merchant Securities. The building was refurbished and opened as offices and a bank on the ground floor. It now appears to be owned by an offshore property company.

The western side of Islington High Street, with the Angel at the southern end has an interesting range of buildings, that tell part of the story of the evolution of this part of Islington.

Angel Islington

In the above photo, the old Angel Hotel is on the far left. To the right is a Wetherspoons pub called the Angel. This is on land that was part of the original Angel Inn.

The narrow building with the tower is the remains of the Angel Cinema, built in 1911, the building was the narrow entrance foyer to the cinema, which led back to a large auditorium on land behind the buildings that face onto Islington High Street.

The building to the right dates from 1891, then the large brick building, along with the much smaller three story building on the right edge of the photo mark the site of another old inn, serving the people passing along these roads. This was the Peacock Inn that lasted from 1564 to 1962.

The large brick building was the final version of the Peacock and dates from 1931. The small building on the right is all that survives of the terrace that formed the 1700 version of the Peacock.

This was a fascinating walk around a very small area, and as usual there is so much to discover. Opposite the location of the clock tower was the original entrance to Angel underground station, which I covered in an earlier post.

The Angel is still a well known landmark, as it was well before the game of Monopoly brought the name to the attention of those who had never been to the area.

When exploring London, it is always interesting to find long lost places and place names, that tell some of the history of London life, and discovering Jack (or John) Plackett’s Common was a perfect example.

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The Strange Story of the Biddenden Maids

I ran out of time this week to complete the research and writing of the London post I had planned, so as it is summer, how about a trip to Kent, to visit the village of Biddenden, and discover the strange story of the Biddenden Maids.

This is not a random choice. As long term readers of the blog will know, as well as London, my father took lots of photos whilst cycling around the country and staying in youth hostels. This was with friends from London, and from his period of National Service.

I am also trying to visit the location of as many of these photos as possible, and take an updated photo to mirror the original.

One trip in 1948 included a route through the county of Kent. I have already written about the visit to Canterbury, however they also passed through the small village of Biddenden, and this was the view of the village green on a summer’s day in 1948:

Biddenden Maids

This was the same view in July 2021:

Biddenden Maids

Although there is 73 years between the two photos, the area around the central village green of Biddenden still looks much the same. For a change, I even managed to take the “now” photo with similar weather to the original, although this was more through luck than clever planning.

The main difference is the number of cars parked, and the more organised road markings and boundaries.

The central green area has also lost the original iron railings, and the village name sign has also been moved back further into the green.

Biddenden is one of the many very picturesque villages in the Weald of Kent, the area of once forested land that stretched across the south of the county.

I have marked the location of Biddenden in the following map . The town of Ashford is the grey built area to the right of the map, with Maidstone to top left of the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Biddenden Maids

The Ordnance Survey map from around the time of my father’s visit shows a small village surrounded by fields  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Biddenden Maids

The village green in the above photos is located at the road junction to the right of the street with buildings lining both sides. There has been some development, mainly to the north of the village, and west of the church, however Biddenden is still very much a village surrounded by fields.

Many villages in this area of Kent have rather ornate name signs, which frequently include a historic fact about the village, however few illustrate a story as strange as that of Biddenden.

Biddenden Maids

Looking closer at the name sign, it shows two women standing beside each other (1948 above and 2021 below):

Biddenden Maids

They are the so called Biddenden Maids, or the conjoined twins Eliza and Mary Culkhurst.

A newspaper article from the 15th May 1885 provides some background to the Biddenden Maids:

Among the various charities in the parish of Biddenden, in Kent, is one which has acquired some celebrity. On the afternoon of Easter Sunday a quantity of small flat cakes, made only of flour and water and impressed with the figures of two women, united at the sides after the fashion of conjoined twins, are distributed in the church porch to all comers. Bread and cheese, to a considerable amount, are given at the same time to the poorer parishioners. This, says tradition, was the legacy of the twin sisters, called the Biddenden Maids, who lived for many years united in their bodies after the manner represented in the cakes, and then died within a few hours of each other. There is also given to the recipients of the cakes a printed paper bearing upon it a representation of the impression on the cakes, and purporting to contain ‘a short and concise account of the lives of Elisa and Mary Culkhurst, who were born joined by the hips and shoulders, in the year of our Lord 1100, and in the county of Kent, commonly called the ‘Biddenden Maids’ .

It then proceeds- ‘The reader will observe by the plate of them that they lived together in the above state thirty-four years, at the expiration of which time one of them was taken ill and in a short time died. The surviving one was advised to be separated from the body of her deceased sister by dissection, but she absolutely refused the separation by saying these words ‘As we came together we will also go together’ and in the space of about six hours after her sister’s decease she was taken ill and died also.

By their will they bequeathed to the churchwarden of the parish of Biddenden, and his successors, churchwardens, for ever, certain pieces or parcels of land in the parish of Biddenden, containing twenty acres, more or less, which now let at 40 guineas per annum.

There is usually made in commemoration of these wonderful phenomena of nature about 1000 rolls, with their impressions printed on them, and given away to all strangers on Easter Sunday after Divine service in the afternoon; also about 500 quartern loves and cheese in proportion, to all the poor inhabitants of the said parish”.

At a distance of 900 years, it is hard to know the truth of this story.

Edward Hasted, writing in the “The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent” referenced the story as follows:

“There is a vulgar tradition in these parts, that the figures on the cakes represent the donors of this gift, being two women, twins, who were joined together in their bodies, and lived together so till they were between twenty and thirty years of age. But this seems without foundation. The truth seems to be, that it was the gift of two maidens, of the name of Preston; and that the print of the women on the cakes has taken place only within these fifty years, and was made to represent two poor widows, as the general objects of a charitable benefaction.”

Hasted did not seem convinced about the original story of the Biddenden Maids, however he does not give any further details or sources for his suggestion as to the truth of the story.

The money for the cakes and loaves came from the rents received from twenty acres of land known as Bread and Cheese land. If you look back at the Ordnance Survey map of Biddenden earlier in the post, two large fields to the upper left of the village were still called Bread and Cheese Land.

The first newspaper reference I can find to the Biddenden Maids is an article in the London Evening Standard in 1829. There are then numerous articles, mainly reporting on the Easter Sunday charity distribution, and the large number of visitors to the village who came to see and participate in the distribution of the cakes.

Popularising the Biddenden Maids would have helped the economy of the village.

According to Biddenden’s web site, the charity distribution still takes place:

“Once a year Bread and Cheese are given to local widows and pensioners at the Old Workhouse. Biddenden Biscuits, baked from flour and water, are distributed among the spectators as souvenirs. They bear an effigy of two female figures whose bodies are joined together at the hips and shoulders.”

A close up of the village sign in 1948:

Biddenden Maids

In 1948, the wording between the two women was “IN KENT” – a continuation of the village name above to show the county of the village, however by 2021, the names of the two women, Mary and Eliza had replaced the county name.

Biddenden Maids

The origin of the sign dates back one hundred years. In 1920, the King discussed the revival of village signs during a speech at the Royal Academy.

The Daily Mail then organised a village signs competition and exhibition with a fund of £2,200 being available in prizes. Of the ten awards made, the design for the sign at Biddenden received a special prize of £50.

There are a number of subtle differences between the signs of 1948 and 2021. This is probably down to the complete refurbishment of the sign in 1993.

This may have included the changes, such as, moving the sign back further into the green. replacing the county of Kent, with the names of the twins, and replacing the pole as the original square pole is now round, with some gold spiral decoration.

The photos of the village in 1948 and 2019 tell a story of how villages change, and stay the same. If you go back to the 1948 photo at the top of the post, there is a sign on the very first building on the left. The sign is for a bank, and looking at the high resolution scan from the scanner it seems to be a Lloyds Bank. Remarkable at a time when bank branches are disappearing by the day that in 1948 a small village of the size of Biddenden would have their own bank branch.

The building that was once the bank is shown in the photo below:

Biddenden

Not visible in the 1948 photo, but there is a terrace of rather special houses continuing on from the bank. These were Flemish Weavers cottages, dating from the 17th century:

Biddenden

Directly opposite the above terrace, there is a pub and café:

Biddenden

As we had travelled by car, the pub was out of bounds (Biddenden did have a railway station, however this branch of the Kent and East Sussex Railway closed in 1954), so we went into the Bakehouse Café, which was excellent, and which had the following inscription on one of the windows overlooking the street:

Biddenden

The main street through Biddenden village:

Biddenden

Behind me, in the above photo is the entrance to Biddenden’s church which stands at the western end of the village:

Biddenden Church

Parts of the church date from the 13th century, however there has been much later rebuilding. Unfortunately it was locked on the day of our visit so no opportunity to take a look inside.

Biddenden Church

At a distance of 900 years, it is almost impossible to be sure of the origins of the story of the Biddenden Maids, however the story is still central to the village, and it has been the driving force behind a charity distribution which has taken place for hundreds of years, and in a world where places get more and more standardised and similar, it is good for a place to retain its own unique identity.

For next Sunday, I will be back in London.

Southbank Walks

A couple of tickets have become free on two of my Southbank walks. If you are interested in exploring the history of the Southbank and the Festival of Britain, there is:

All other walks have sold out.

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Carter Lane – 17th Century Houses, Hairdressers and Alleys

One ticket has just become available on my walk next Wednesday, 4th August on The South Bank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain. This ticket can be booked here.

As with my Roupell Street post a couple of weeks ago, for this week’s post, a mid 1980s hairdressers is the reason why I am revisiting Carter Lane in the City of London. Initially to find the location of the Gentlemen’s Hairdressing Salon and Nichola’s Hair Designs of St Paul’s, but then to explore a very historic street, alleys, and two houses that have their origins back in the 17th century.

But first, here is the hairdressers on the corner of Carter Lane and St Andrews Hill, photographed in 1986:

Carter Lane

The same place in July 2021:

Carter Lane

The hairdressers are no more, and the latest occupier of the site, L’Express City, part of the L’Express chain of restaurants / coffee shops, has since closed. Possibly one of the casualties of the lack of customers in the City since the start of the pandemic.

The above two photos are on the corner of Carter Lane and St Andrews Hill. Carter Lane is an old street, but today is much longer than in previous centuries.

In the following map, St Paul’s Cathedral is the large building in the upper centre. Saint Paul’s Church Yard is the street immediately to the south of the cathedral. Keep going south, and the next street you will come to is Carter Lane  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Carter Lane

As can be seen in the above map, Carter Lane is a relatively long street. It has a central section in white, and the two outer sections are in grey. As we walk along the street, the relevance of the different colouring of the street will become clear.

In the above map, the eastern section to the right has green space between Carter Lane and the cathedral. This space is today the location of the City of London Visitor Centre, and an expanse of gardens, however this was once a densely built area.

The following map is from the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London.

Carter Lane

Here we can see Carter Lane running from Blackfriars Lane in the west, to Old Change in the east. The area above the right section of the street, above the word “Lane”, now the site of gardens and visitor centre was then built up, with Black Swan Court running between Carter Lane and St Paul’s Church Yard.

There are a couple of key buildings highlighted in dark red in the above map, which I will come to later in the post.

The Carter Lane of the above two maps, was not the original Carter Lane. To see the original Carter Lane, and many of the side streets and alleys that we can still find today, we need to look at Rocque’s map of 1746:

Carter Lane

In the above map, running where Carter Lane is today, we find three named streets. From left to right: Shoe Makers Row, Great Carter Lane (underneath the circled number 15), and Little Carter Lane.

Harben’s “Dictionary of London” gives the first mention of the street as Carterstrete in 1295, with Great and Little Carter Lane’s appearing prior to 1677.

Great and Little Carter Lane, along with Shoe Makers Row were abolished in 1866 when the whole street became simply Carter Lane.

Many references on the Internet refer to the name of the lane being associated with carts, however Harben attributes the name: “the early forms of the name suggest that it was intended to commemorate a former owner of property there”. Many streets were named after either owners of the land, property on the street, or an original builder, so whilst is is impossible to be sure of the source of a centuries old name, Harben’s does sound the most probable.

Time for a walk along Carter Lane. In the following photo, I am standing at the junction of Carter Lane and Godliman Street, looking east.

Carter Lane

This is the section that was Little Carter Lane in Rocque’s map.

Today, only one side is built, and the lane is a pedestrian walkway with gardens to the north. The area was badly damaged by fire during bombing on the night of the 29th December 1940 and the northern side of Carter Lane was not rebuilt after the war. It is now gardens, with the building on left being the City of London Visitor Centre.

Looking in the opposite direction, and the following photo shows the section that was Great Carter Lane in Rocque’s map of 1746:

Carter Lane

Walking along the street, and the building on the right is the old home of the St Paul’s Cathedral (Choir) School.

Carter Lane

Purpose built for the school in 1874, the school moved to a new building in New Change during the 1960s, when Carter Lane was threatened with a road widening scheme which thankfully was not carried out. The building is now one of the hostels of the Youth Hostels Association.

There is some rather ornate decoration on the walls of the old St Paul’s Cathedral School:

Carter Lane

To the left of where I was standing to take the above photo, there is a modern building. Look carefully on the pillar to the right and there is a plaque:

Carter Lane

The plaque records that the Bell originally stood on the site, and it was in the Bell that Richard Quiney wrote to William Shakespeare, and his letter is the only letter addressed to Shakespeare known to remain.

The Bell tavern

A photo of the letter can be seen on the site of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust here.

The Bell was a very old pub. The earliest written reference I could find to the pub dates from a report in the Kentish Gazette on the 12th October 1776, when it was reported that on the previous Sunday, Mr Milward, master of the Bell inn, Carter-lane, Doctors Commons had died.

The address of the Bell inn in the above report included “Doctors Commons”. Doctors Commons was the general name used for an area between Carter Lane and what is now Queen Victoria Street that included the College of Advocates and Doctors of Law, along with Ecclesiastical and Admiralty Courts.

The buildings were demolished in 1867 after the functions of the College and Courts had been consolidated into other roles, or been abolished.

In David Copperfield, Charles Dickens had Steerforth describing Doctors Commons as:

“It’s a little out of the way place, where they administer what is called ecclesiastical law, and play all kinds of tricks with obsolete old monsters of acts of Parliament, which three-fourths of the world know nothing about, and the other fourth supposes to have been dug up, in a fossil state, in the days of the Edwards. It’s a place that has an ancient monopoly in suits about people’s wills and people’s marriages, and disputes among ships and boats”.

The Bell was demolished at the end of the 19th century to make way for the Post Office Savings Bank building referenced in the plaque by the mention of the Post Master General. Prior to demolition, the Bell seems to have been a thriving establishment, as can be seen from this advert in the Morning Advertiser on the 24th February 1869 when the Bell was for sale due to the ill-health of the current proprietor:

BELL TAVERN AND WINE-VAULTS occupying a most commanding corner position in one of the busiest and most improving parts of the City of London, close to St. Paul’s in a much frequented thoroughfare, and surrounded by many vast mercantile Establishments, affording an almost unlimited variety of sources of the best class of trade. The billiard-tables alone realise sufficient to pay the rent, and the extremely profitable nature of the business generally in the City is universally admitted”.

A shame that after the above sale, this centuries old pub would have less than thirty years left.

The Bell inn was on the corner of Carter Lane and Bell Yard which can be seen in the Rocque map. Bell Yard sort of still exists as New Bell Yard, an alley between two modern buildings:

New Bell Yard

As we walk further along Carter Lane, we come to the part that survived the fires that surrounded St Paul’s Cathedral during the 1940s. Epic Pies on the corner of Carter Lane and Addle Hill:

Carter Lane

Addle Hill is worth a quick walk down, to see a survival from the late 19th century Post Office building, which can be seen half way down the building on the left:

Addle Hill

Go back to the 1940 map, and on the block occupied by the building on the left of the above photo was a building called Faraday Building. This was part of the complex of Post Office buildings in the area that formed one of the London hubs of the growing telephone network.

The original late 19th century door surround to the Post Office building has been retained:

Faraday Building

The plaque records that this was the “Former site of Faraday Building North, City, Central, Long Distance and International Telephone Exchanges, 1902 to 1982”.

For much of the life of the Faraday Building, long distance and international telephone calls would need to be connected by an operator, and hundreds of operators worked in the building, sitting at desks labelled with the country that was connected to their desk. the operator would manually plug in patch cables to connect a caller to the destination’s telephone network.

An example of a small part of the operator positions in the Faraday Building is shown in the following photo (with Addle Hill labelled as the emergency exit above the Montreal position – from the booklet “The Post Office Went To War“):

Telephone Operators Faraday Building

Continuing down Carter Lane, and we can see the building that was the hairdresser in the photo at the top of the post, along with the Rising Sun pub:

Carter Lane

But before we come to the home of the hairdressers, we pass the entrance to Wardrobe Place.

Wardrobe Place

Wardrobe Place was so named as up until the Great Fire of 1666, it was the site of the King’s Wardrobe (the storage, administration and expenditure office for the King). The Wardrobe was moved here from the Tower in the 1360s into the mansion owned by Sir John Beauchampe. From Stow’s Survey of London:

“Then is the kings greate Wardrobe, Sir John Beauchampe, knight of the Garter, Constable of Dover, Warden of the Sinke Portes builded this house, was lodged there, deceased in the yeare 1359.  His Executors sold the house to King Edware the third”.

We then come to the site of the 1980s hairdressers at number 59a Carter Lane. which was on the corner of Carter Lane and St Andrew’s Hill:

Carter Lane

In between the hairdressers and becoming a food / coffee take-away and cafe, the site was home to KK Newsagents in the 1990s.

Although the café / takeaway has now closed, there are still a number of these in Carter Lane. We perhaps think that the vast number of such establishments on London’s streets is a recent phenomena, however there has always been a need to provide food and drink for those who lived and worked in the City.

In the 1895 Post Office directory, there were five listed:

  • Number 29: Florence Jones-Albrt, Dining Rooms
  • Number 55; Miss Sarah Ann Ash, Coffee Rooms
  • Number 66; Miss Eliza Louise Catchpole, St Ann’s Coffee House
  • Number 75; William Clemenace, Dining Rooms
  • Number 79; Charles Batchelor, Dining Rooms

I suspect the number of such establishments can be used as a measure of the number of people working in the City, and similar to number 59a, many of these have closed over the last year.

St Andrew’s Hill leads down to Queen Victoria Street, opposite where Puddle Dock was originally located and according to George Cunningham in his 1927 Survey of London, was originally called Puddledock Hill (although I have been unable to find any other reference that confirms this, however it could well have been an earlier or alternative name as the street leads up from both Puddle Dock and the church of St. Andrew’s by the Wardrobe.)

One of the Bollards outside number 59a. This is different to the 1980s photo, and I am not sure of the age of either the bollard, or the City of London name panel which appears to slot over the bollard.

City of London

On the St Andrews Hill side of number 59a is a boundary marker on the right:

At Andrews Hill

And an FP plate on the left. According to a document on the Essex Fire Brigade web site, FP stands for Fire Plug. Apparently in the early days of the fire service, and when many underground water pipes were made out of wood, firemen would dig down to the water main and bore a small, circular hole in the pipe to obtain a supply of water to fight the fire.

When finished, they would put a wooden plug into the hole, and leave an FP plate on a nearby wall to alert future firefighters that a water main with a plug already existed.

When wooden pipes were replaced by cast iron pipes in the 19th century, workmen would often bore a small hole in the pipe and fit with a wooden plug when they saw an FP plate.

This would later be replaced with the Fire Hydrant method, which would be identified by a large H.

Just after number 59a, we come to the part of Carter Lane, that on Rocque’s map was in 1746 called Shoe Makers Row:

Carter Lane

It is still a distinctive section of the overall street, as at the end of what was Great Carter Lane, the street narrows considerably into Shoe Makers Row.

However, before continuing further, there are a number of interesting buildings and streets at this junction of streets.

The building in the middle of the following photo once had a ground floor with symmetrical doors on either side, and possibly a much grander entrance or windows in the centre. It has now been modified somewhat by an entrance cut into the face, possibly as access to a goods loading bay or car parking. It is often how buildings survive over time in the City if not completely demolished, by being modified for different use.

Carter Lane

On the corner of Carter Lane and Burgon Street is the Rising Sun, a Grade II listed, early / mid 19th century building, the Rising Sun is a typical City pub.

Rising Sun pub

And to the right of the above photo, leading north from Carter Lane, is Creed Lane, another old City street that is currently blocked off as part of a building site:

Creed Lane

Continuing on down Carter Lane, and although the previous section of the street was not that wide, the section that was Shoe Makers Row is a much narrower street. There are very few written references to the street, and I suspect that the original name of the street refers to the trade that was carried out here.

Carter Lane

This section of the street feels older than the rest of Carter Lane, and leading off from the street are a number of alleys.

In the following photo is Cobb’s Court:

Cobb's Court

According to Harben, Cobb’s Court was first mentioned in 1677, and the name originally referred to a central court, with the passage leading down to Carter Lane (the section shown in the above photo) called Postboy Passage. We can see this original name in the extract from Rocque’s 1746 map at the start of the post.

Standing in Cobb’s Court, we can look across Carter Lane to another alley, this time leading south:

Cobb's Court

This alley has the rather unusual name of Church Entry:

Church Entry

Harben records that the name was first mentioned in 1677, and in 1559 was called Church Lane.

A short distance along Church Entry, there is a raised garden:

Church Entry

A plaque mounted on the railings providing some background as to the name of the alley, the garden, and the location being part of the church of the Dominican priory at Blackfriars.

Church Entry

After the dissolution, the land and buildings were sold, and it appears that Church Entry may have been formed when new, or perhaps a division of the existing buildings, allowed the alley to be formed.

The earlier religious nature of the area changed considerably over the following years, and we can get an impression of the street in the middle of the 18th century from the following report from Pope’s Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette on the 9th June 1763:

“Yesterday morning, about Three o’Clock, two young men, one a Peruke-maker, the other a Watch-maker, went into a House of ill Fame in Church Entry, Black-friars, when a Dispute arose about paying the Reckoning; on which the old Bawd gave the Barber a violent blow on the Head with a Poker, and called a soldier, who was then in the House, to her Assistance, who fell upon them with the aforesaid Weapon; the Watch-maker, in his Defence, drew a Knife and cut the Soldier cross the Belly, who was carried to St Batholomew’s Hospital, where he lies dangerously ill. The Barber has received a most dreadful Blow on his Head, several inches in length, quite to his Brain; and, with the Mistress of the House and one of the prostitutes, is committed to Clerkenwell Bridewell; and the Watch-maker, who is charged with wounding the Soldier, is committed to New Prison, Clerkenwell”.

It is fascinating to think about these events when standing in the alley, and the amount of individual stories that could be told about every London street and alley is one of the overwhelming things about researching the city.

There is one rather unqiue building remaining in Church Entry:

Church Entry

This is the Vestry Hall of St Ann’s Church.

Although the church of St Ann’s was not rebuilt after the Great Fire in 1666, the vestry hall seems to have continued. The building we see now is much later than the original church, having been built in 1905 and is now Grade II listed.

St Ann’s Vestry Hall is now home to the Ancient Monuments Society and the Friends of Friendless Churches.

Walking back up to Carter Lane, and a little further along are two rather special buildings. Both of these buildings, although considerably changed over the years, date back to the late 17th century. On the left is 79 Carter Lane, and part of number 81 is on the right.

17th Century houses

They are both Grade II listed, and the Historic England listing for number 79 reads:

“Possibly late C17, stuccoed in C19. 3 storeys plus continuous dormer. 2 windows. Shop. Corniced 1st floor windows. Crowning cornice and parapet.”

And for number 81:

“Late C17, stuccoed and altered. 3 storeys plus continuous dormer in roof. 3 windows. Shop and passageway. Storey-bands. Parapet.”

Remarkable to think that there could be buildings that at their core date back to the late 17th century in the heart of the City.

I started the post with a hairdresser / barber, and I am almost finishing the post with another one, as at ground level at number 79 is the closed Carter Lane Barbershop.

Carter Court

Under number 81, and between numbers 79 and 81 is another alley, Carter Court:

Carter Court

Referring back to the Rocque map, and in 1746, Carter Court was called Flower de Lis Court. I double checked this with Richard Horwood’s map of 1799, and the same name appears to cover the court.

There were a number of alleys and courts in London with variations on the Flower de Lis name, and no clear source for the name, with a number of possible origins including the name of a wharf, a tenement, or a tavern.

Walking down what is now Carter Court, and looking at the wall of number 81 we can get a sense of the age of the building and the construction methods and materials used as the building has been repaired and modified over the centuries. It is extremely rare to see this exposed form of construction.

17th century houses

Further down the court, there is more evidence of the early date of construction, and at the end, a small window opening into the court.

17th century houses

I have now reached the end of Carter Lane, the point where the street meets Ludgate Broadway and Black Friars Lane. Looking back up the street, to what was Shoe Makers Row, with the oldest buildings on the street, numbers 79 and 81, on the right.

Carter Lane

With the exception of the part of the street that was Little Carter Lane, and the western end of Great Carter Lane, the rest of the street was not destroyed by wartime bombing. Victorian building along the street was relatively modest, and much of this 19th century and early 20th century building occupied the original plots of land.

Carter Lane is today part of the St. Paul’s Cathedral Conservation Area which should give the street some protection.

A street that is well worth a walk, and where a sense of the historic City of London can still be found.

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Living in Stepney

Build Back Better has been a slogan much in evidence over the last year, however without a clear understanding of the problems that need to be fixed, or a plan for how to fix them, slogans often end up as meaningless statements.

In the 1940s there were a number of studies and plans published, recommending how London should rebuild after the devastation of the war. How this was an opportunity, to use the current slogan, to “Build Back Better”.

I have covered a number of these plans in previous posts such as the 1943 County of London Plan, 1944 Post War Reconstruction of the City of London, and the report of the 1944 Railway (London Plan) Committee.

London’s boroughs also wanted to improve the living conditions of their residents, and to fix many of the problems that had built up over decades of unrestricted growth that had resulted in some boroughs having the most over crowded, densely built housing in the country.

One such borough was Stepney, and the independent Stepney Reconstruction Group, Toynbee Hall published their report in 1945, detailing the past and present in Stepney with proposals for the future.

The report was titled “Living in Stepney”:

Living in Stepney

The Stepney Reconstruction Group was an unofficial group, led by Dr. J.J. Mallon, the Warden of Toynbee Hall. The group had been working through the early years of the 1940s, studying the causes of bad living conditions in the borough and the impact of various London wide plans that were being developed. In 1943 the group held an exhibition titled “Stepney Today and Tomorrow” at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

The 1945 written report, Living in Stepney, was the group’s attempt to summarise the past, present and possible future of the borough, and to encourage those who lived in Stepney to engage with their elected representatives to ensure that their views were taken into account.

The first chapter of the report gives an indication of the themes that the report would address – Crowding, Congestion and Chaos.

The borough of Stepney was formed in 1900 through the consolidation of a number of east London parishes. It would last as an indepent borough through to 1965 when it was in turn consolidated into the larger London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

The key driver to the growth of Stepney was the Thames, along with the docks that would take over the southern part of the borough along the river. Docks, industry and the need to house thousands of workers created uncontrolled growth that would lead to dense housing with many people to a house. Lack of green space, health problems, poverty and misery would characterise much of the area.

Living in Stepney provides a comparison with the City of Plymouth. Before the war, Stepney had a population almost as large as Plymouth, but occupied less than a fifth of the area of Plymouth.

Proximity to the docks resulted in much damage through wartime bombing. The report highlights the democratic test for the future of the borough “Here came the blitz, where many had died before through poverty and slums, and little was done. Here the sincerity of democracy will be tested”.

The central area in the following map dated from 1833 shows the area that would become the Borough of Stepney.

Living in Stepney

Building had initially extended along the river from the City to the left, and then continued in land to where the original village of Stepney was located, around the church of St. Dunstan And All Saints. In 1833, the area from Bow Common onwards was still mainly open land, but this would change during the rest of the 19th century as London continued its eastward expansion.

The report identifies four phases in the growth of the borough:

  • 1000 to 1800: The Riverside Village
  • 1800 to 1870: Unplanned Growth
  • 1870 to 1914: No More Room
  • 1919 to 1939: Half-Planned Social Services

The period from the end of the First to the start of the Second World Wars were characterised by Borough Council and London County Council attempts to improve housing conditions as these were the only organisations undertaking any new building, apart from some limited building by housing associations and larger private owners. Almost no rebuilding was undertaken by private estate owners and very few houses were reconditioned to modern standards and repairs to the housing stock were frequently neglected.

In the late 19th century, where rebuilding did take place, it was often at the expense of those living in the buildings to be demolished. The following photo from Living in Stepney is titled “Tenants evicted from slums for the new model blocks to be built”.

Living in Stepney

Also illustrated are some of the dense housing and limited outside space of many of the buildings in Stepney, including Paragon Mansions, Stepney Green:

Living in Stepney

Pre-war housing development by the London County Council, also had the effect of reducing the population of Stepney by relocating people as the slums were cleared. The following map shows the distribution of 3,478 Stepney families as they were moved out of the borough to new LCC estates during slum clearances between 1932 and 1938.

Living in Stepney

Whilst these clearances started to reduce overcrowding in the borough, the impact of these relocations was the break-up of established communities. The report states that whilst the new estates to which people were moved were more healthy locations, they “did not have the social amenities of Stepney. There were not enough pubs, or shops, and far too few clubs or social centres”.

Living in Stepney illustrates the pre-war choice offered to those being moved, from: “A crowded flat”:

Living in Stepney

“With work on top of you”:

Living in Stepney

To a “modern house with a garden in the suburbs (in Dagenham)”:

Living in Stepney

“But with a long journey to work”:

Living in Stepney

This was the challenge with pre-war housing strategy. The London County Council was making considerable improvements in housing standards, however these often meant relocation and the break up of communities which would take time to reestablish, along with the failure to provide social facilities in the new estate.

The impact to these communities was very clear to me when I went to find one of my father’s photos from east London in 1949. I wrote about Hardinge Street, Johnson Street And Ratcliffe Gas Works, with Hardinge Street being a street just off Cable Street, a third of a mile east of Shadwell Station. The was the view of the street in 1949:

Hardinge Street

And following post war redevelopment, all the streets, shops and pubs in the above photos were demolished and the population dispersed. This was exactly the same view a couple of years ago:

Hardinge Street

The arch of the railway bridge being the only part of the 1949 view that remains.

Living in Stepney has a section on “community”, and includes a description of the old parishes that consolidated into the Borough of Stepney. These parishes still had their own characteristics which the report describes:

Wapping is an island which lives to itself. Access is not easy, as no buses pass that way, and there is only the underground line from Whitechapel. The nearest market is Watney Street, and there is no cinema nearby. The population is largely Irish in origin and is strongly attached to the area.

The areas adjoining the City are crowded with factories and warehouses. Spitalfields is a largely Jewish area, where old eighteenth century weavers’ houses, factories workshops, and old fashioned tenements jostle with a large number of common lodging houses. There are few open spaces.

Whitechapel is not so crowded, but presents similar problems. It is in these areas that industry has taken over space from housing, and there has been the largest fall in population.

Mile End and Bow Common were laid out at a later date. Around Burdett Road, once lived a wealthy class who kept carriages. The houses are larger, with gardens, and there are trees in the streets. There is not the same congestion as in the other areas in the West of the Borough.

Limehouse is still a place of ships and seamen and many work to provide their needs. It suffers from being cut up by the canal and railways, and from too much industry, but the old centre remains.

St George’s is one of the most crowded areas of Stepney. In the west live foreign seamen, and a coloured population. There are many Jewish people, but they do not extend much east of Cannon Street Road.

Towards Shadwell are to be found some of the most typical East End streets. Shadwell and Ratcliffe merge into St George’s and Limehouse, but across Commercial Road, Stepney is different. Here are better houses and squares and some well laid out streets, and the houses are old. But around the Commercial Road Gas Works, there was, before the blitz, an area of bad houses”

Living in Stepney illustrated a section titled “What is Wrong With Stepney”:

“Old Damp Houses, mostly 100 years old, with no bathrooms, usually only one tap and the lavatory outside and often shared”

Terrace housing

Crowded Houses, with no space for a garden or proper yard, block out light and air. Dull monotonous streets waste space”

Living in Stepney

“Overcrowding, which is intense, mainly hits large families with children. Stepney had more overcrowding than any London borough. 60 per cent of all families share houses”

Living in Stepney

“Small workshops crowd the ground, using valuable space, and creating unhealthy working conditions. This court was partly cleared in 1937, but there are many like it”

Living in Stepney

“Clubs and Social Centres have not proper buildings. Voluntary bodies have done wonders, but all needs have not been met. Some areas are badly served”

Living in Stepney

“Open Spaces hardly exist in Stepney – 45 acres for 200,000 people in 1938. Children have to play in the street, the great playground and meeting place”

Living in Stepney

“Commercial Road – typical combined main road and commercial centre, causing accidents and traffic congestion. With control of advertisements and buildings it could be a fine street”

Living in Stepney

Living in Stepney includes the following graphics which highlight the impact of overcrowding and compares Stepney with the more affluent and less crowded Lewisham:

Living in Stepney

The lower part of the page identifies the causes of crowding, although in 1945, and just before the start of the war, the population of Stepney had been in decline since the start of the 20th century. The report provides the following summary of Stepney’s population:

Stepney population

Along with some facts on the 1938 population:

Housing space

The themes identified in the above graphics from the 1945 report can still be seen today. In 1945 there were a higher number of deaths per thousand in Stepney than Lewisham, and a considerably greater infant mortality.

The same issues can be seen today, both nationally and within London. The following table comes from the Office for National Statistics latest release “Life expectancy for local areas of the UK: between 2001 to 2003 and 2017 to 2019 and shows that for males within Westminster and Tower Hamlets (of which Stepney is now part), the life expectancy in Westminster is currently 4.53 years longer than that in Tower Hamlets:

Life expectancy

The above graphic also identifies land prices as one of the problems with rebuilding at lower densities and with the provision of open space, with land in 1945 being worth between £10,000 and £30,000 per acre.

The situation is probably even worse today, with land prices explaining why most residential building today appears to be high density apartment blocks. According to the Economic Evidence Base published in 2016 by the Mayor of London, residential land prices in East London were £7.3 million per hectare. (A hectare is 2.47 acres, so the equivalent in 1945 would have been £74,100 to today’s £7.3M).

Living in Stepney also includes a graphic which identifies the cause of high land prices, with the landowner benefiting whilst the tenant pays in rent, rates and the cost of goods.

if landlords do not rebuild, the local authority has to house as many people on a site, so opts for higher density housing, and with more rents coming in for both private landlords and local authorities, the value of land increases – a vicious circle.

Land costs

Many of these themes still drive land prices today, and is one of the reasons why London’s skyline is growing taller, and why Vauxhall in now growing a collection of densely built apartment towers.

On the left of the above graphic is Industry, and in 1938 there was a considerable range of industry in Stepney. In addition to the Docks, there were metal working firms, paint and oil seed crushing firms, printing works, drug, soap and other chemical works, wood, furniture and building firms, and the gas and electricity works. The clothing industry was the largest employer as illustrated in the following summary of how the 140,000 workers were employed in the borough (although slightly more were employed in the general business of buying, selling and distribution):

Stepney jobs

Living in Stepney notes that although the Clothing industry was the largest employer, work was carried out in few large factories, with the majority of workers employed in small, unhealthy workshops in houses and backyards.

The 7% unemployed may give the impression that compared to some impressions of employment in east London, the percentage in Stepney was relatively low, however 7% masks the highly variable nature of employment in the Docks and the Clothing trades, as for many work was precarious, and the unemployment figure could rise or fall considerably within a short period of time.

In asking “Who Governs Stepney”, the report illustrated how the rates were spent, by the two authorities responsible for different aspects of Stepney’s governance – the London County Council and the Borough Council.

Firstly, the responsibilities of the London County Council, and the money spent from the rates on each of their responsibilities:

Stepney council rates

The Borough Council was responsible for many local services, such as street lighting, libraries, public bathes, roads and sewers:

Stepney council rates

Living in Stepney makes a number of recommendations for how Stepney should be transformed. Housing was a big concern, for many of the reasons already stated. Over 90% of families in Stepney did not have a bathroom. Two thirds of families lived in a shared house, and whilst this was less than other parts of London, in Stepney, the high number of small terrace houses meant that where they shared, families lived in much smaller and more crowded conditions.

Many houses dated back to the 18th and 19th centuries, and the borough’s character of streets of terrace houses was seen as a positive rather than a borough of streamlined flats which was considered “entirely contrary to the spirit of the East End”. It was the decayed condition of the housing stock, lack of modern facilities and overcrowding that were the problems, not the concept of terrace housing.

Living in Stepney recommended that housing the population should move from this:

Living in Stepney

To this:

Living in Stepney

Where modern terrace housing replaced the old.

it is interesting to compare the photo of the old terrace housing that the report recommended replacing with one of my photos from last week’s post on Roupell Street.

Terrace Housing

Ignore the roof line, and the design of the terrace is basically the same, even the curved top of the doorway. The key issues in Stepney were overcrowding and the lack of maintenance and upgrading the housing stock. Fix these issues and the original terrace housing would probably today be worth a fortune.

The plan also included recommendations for transport through the borough. During the 1940s, the future of personal transport was seen to be the car, and in the majority of planning for post war reconstruction, major road routes were planned through and around London to support the expected growth in car numbers.

This would also impact Stepney, and plans had already been put forward in the 1943 County of London plan. This included new arterial roads. A sub arterial road to the west of Stepney crossing below the river in a new tunnel, along with an arterial road through the eastern side of the river to what was described as a “doubled Rotherhithe tunnel”.

New routes would also traverse the borough from east to west, however all these new arterial routes were mainly for through traffic with few access points recommended within the borough.

These arterial routes are shown in the following map.

Stepney Road Plan

These routes can also be seen in the road plan from the earlier 1943 County of London Plan. I have ringed the route to the left of the above map in red. It is this route that included a new tunnel under the river just to the east of the Tower of London. This would would act as an inner ring road.

County of London road plan

Open space was a critical issue in the report. At the time of the report, Stepney had a total of 45 acres of open space. The County of London Plan recommended 4 acres for every 1,000 people, which would mean 376 acres for Stepney instead of 45, however the London County Council reduced the ratio down to 2.5 acres per 1,000.

The report recommended making use of the river front and stated that the river is the greatest advantage that Stepney has. At the time, there were three miles of river front within Stepney, but of this, only 700 yards were open to the public.

An example of how this could be achieved was provided by the following illustration where a riverside park stretching from St Katherine’s Dock to Shadwell Park would provide nearly one and a half miles of river front open to the public.

Stepney open space

The Port of London Authority were not happy with this approach, stating that the wharves which occupy the space are particularly suited for the trades which use them, and that the approach would provide less employment in Stepney.

The County of London Plan included proposals that the Living In Stepney report did not agree with. The following table compares a number of key statistics for Stepney as they were in 1938 and as proposed in the County of London plan:

Stepney statistics

The County of London plan proposed a significant reduction of people living in the borough. This figure had already been gradually reducing during the early decades of the 20th century, however the plan proposed a significant further reduction (some of which had already been achieved by bomb damage to the housing stock).

Stepney Borough Council wanted the population target to be 130,000 rather than the much lower figure proposed by the County of London plan. The Council also wanted the majority (60 percent) to be in houses, rather than flats, which the council did not regard as the ideal location for families, older residents, or for the development of a community. The County of London plan had a much higher target of 67 per cent living in flats.

The County of London plan also targeted a density of 136 people to the acre, where the Council wanted this to be 100 people or less per acre.

Living in Stepney also recommended that where industries have been bombed, they should not be allowed to rebuild and start up again, unless it was of vital national interest that they remain in Stepney.

Although the council wanted a higher population than the County of London plan proposed, Living in Stepney was not encouraging a large scale return of those who had moved out of the borough during the war – only those who for personal or work reasons needed to live in Stepney.

Mid 1940s ideas for New Towns was part of the thinking for how Stepney would evolve.

New Towns were seen as the logical destination for industry, along with the workers that industry would need.

The report mentions a number of the possible locations for New Towns, with a focus on Essex – the county that has long been the destination for much east London migration.

New Towns were proposed at Chipping Ongar, Harlow and Margaretting, along with expansion around Brentwood, East Tilbury and Romford.

Harlow did become a new town, I was aware of the Chipping Ongar proposals, but not that Margaretting in Essex was a possible location for a new town. Margaretting is a small village on the old A12 to Chelmsford with a church that dates back to the 12th century – it would have looked very different today if it had become a new town.

Living in Stepney finished with a plea to residents to make sure they told their elected officials how they wanted their borough to develop. The report was concerned that very few people voted in local elections, or take an interest in their local councils. At the time, Stepney had 3 members of Parliament, 6 Members of the London County Council, and 60 Members of the Borough Council.

The local population was encouraged to make sure their representatives knew what they wanted.

It was interesting reading the report to see how many of the issues raised are still valid. The price of land, the root cause of land prices and the type of building that this price dictates.

The best type of housing and whether flats or houses are preferred. Maintenance and modernisation of housing and the impact of landlords. Access to open space, and access to the river, and the inner city location of industry.

The build of the new towns would see continued migration to the Essex new towns of Harlow and Basildon as well as many south Essex towns.

Stepney would change considerably in the following decades, much of which was down to issues outside the control of any local planner. Containerisation and the move of cargo ships to much larger ports resulted in the closure of all the docks within Stepney.

Reports such as Living In Stepney tell us much more about life and thinking at the time, rather than how the future would develop, which is almost always influenced by events that at the time seemed impossible to consider.

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Roupell Street and Aquinas Street – Two Streets on Lambeth Marsh

A short distance from Waterloo Station, there are some wonderful streets. Lined with terrace housing that date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. A couple of weeks ago, I went for a walk along these streets, starting at Roupell Street and ending at Aquinas Street.

The reason for the visit was to revisit the site of a 1986 photo of a men’s hairdresser on the corner of Roupell Street and Cornwall Road:

Roupell Street

The same view 35 years later in June 2021:

Roupell Street

What was then, simply a “mens hairdresser” is now “First Barber”. Really good to see that the same type of business is in operation thirty five years later.

Getting your hair cut is a service which cannot be provided over the Internet, so hairdressers / barbers are the type of shops that will hopefully be on the streets for many years to come.

It did though get me thinking about name changes. In the 1980s I went to a hairdressers, or a hair stylist (see my post on the Hairdressers of 1980s London for lots more examples). When did the shop for a men’s hair cut change from a hairdresser to a barber? One of those gradual changes that you do not really notice until you compare street scenes.

Another 1986 photo shows the rear of the houses in Roupell Street. A jumble of chimneys and TV aerials:

Brad Street

I walked down Brad Street, which runs behind the southern side of Roupell Street, trying to find the same chimney combination as in the 1986 photo, but there seem to have been many subtle changes. The following photo is the nearest I could get:

Brad Street

The centre tower in the 1986 photo was Kings Reach Tower, the home of IPC Media, publisher of a vast range of titles from Country Life to NME. It was sold some years ago, had additional floors added to the top (hence the difference in height between the two photos) and is now apartments.

The location of the hairdressers / barbers is shown in the following map (red circle) (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Roupell Street

Roupell Street runs to the right of the red circle, and Waterloo East station is below.

Part of a roundabout can be seen on the left edge of the map. This is the large roundabout at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge, and Waterloo Station is just off the map to the left.

Development of the area is relatively recent. It was long part of the area known as Lambeth Marsh. An area of low lying land, with many streams and ditches, and marshy ground. During the 17th century, much of the area was being converted to different forms of agricultural use, and in 1746, Roqcues map shows some streets, limited building, and a network of fields (red oval is future location of Roupell Street and green oval future location of Aquinas Street, which I will be coming to later in the post).

By 1816, Smith’s New Map of London was showing increased building in the area, however the area around what will become Roupell Street (red oval) was still open land, with what may have been large plots extending back from the houses on Broad Wall.

Roupell Street

The yellow oval is around the first stretch of Stamford Street. This is the road that runs to the north of the area I am walking, and is a busy road connecting Blackfriars Road and Waterloo Road.

Note the Strand Bridge. This was the recently built first bridge on the site of what is now Waterloo Bridge. Also, running south from Strand Bridge is the outline of a street labelled “Intended New Road”. This is the future Waterloo Road.

In the above map, there is a track called Curtis’s Halfpenny Hatch where the future Roupell Street would be located.

This was named after a William Curtis who was the founder of a Botanic Gardens in the area. It was a suitable location for aquatic and bog plants as the area was low lying. The Halfpenny element of the name was the cost to use the route when it was previously a short cut through the agricultural land on either side.

The 19th century would bring considerable change and development to the area with the arrival of Waterloo Station, however this had not yet been built by the time of the 1847 edition of Reynolds’s Splendid New Map Of London. Roupel Street had arrived, but apparently not yet fully built, along with the streets that would fill in the area to the north (more on this later in the post).

Roupell Street

Between the 1816 and 1847 maps, Stamford Street was completed linking Blackfriars and the now completed Waterloo Road.

To explore the area, I went for a walk from Roupell Street to Aquinas Street, shown by the dotted red line in the following map, starting at the red circled location of the hairdressers (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Roupell Street

This is the full view of the corner building with the barbers at street level:

Roupell Street

On the opposite corner is an identical building, even with the same bricked windows:

Roupell Street

With a bakers shop now occupying the corner position.

Looking down the full length of Roupell Street:

Roupell Street

The name of the street comes from John Roupell, who purchased the land and built the estate in the early 19th century.

John Roupell had a Bankside metal works, and seems to have inherited the wealth needed to pay £8,000 for the land through his wife’s family.

The street was laid out and construction started around 1824. when John Roupell was 64. The houses in the street seem to have been occupied from the early 1830s as from 1835 onwards, references to those living in the street, or local events, start appearing in the press. One strange mention concerns a murder in a pub garden in Broad Wall, at the eastern end of Roupell Street, when during the inquest, one witness stated:

“John Bingley deposed he is a private watchman. On Sunday morning, about twenty minutes after two, witness was in Roupell-street; he heard a voice – apparently that of a women – exclaim ‘Here’s a villain! – he has got me down and is trying to kill me’.

By the Coroner – Did you hear any other words?

Witness – Yes, i heard the same voice say ‘Come to me’ and then in a fainter tone, ‘Have mercy on me’.

Apparently John Bingley thought it was a drunken row, and took no notice of the matter, he did not see any person answering the description of the deceased either alone, or accompanied by any other person – he does not sound perhaps the most pro-active watchman that you would want to employ on London’s streets.

Roupell built two storey terrace housing. Brick built, directly onto the street with no front garden or a small area protected by railings. Open the front door and you are directly on the street.

Roupell Street

The first time that Roupell Street features in London’s newspapers is when the London Evening Standard reported, on the 1st June 1829, the impact of Roupell’s builders working extra hours:

“On Saturday evening a fire broke out in Roupell-street in one of the new houses belonging to Mr Roupell. On the first alarm, the engines of the Palladium and West of England fire-offices promptly attended, and by the aid of a plentiful supply of water the flames were prevented from spreading, and eventually subdued in about an hour, but not before one of the houses, nearly in a finished state, was totally destroyed and the adjoining one considerably damaged.

The fire originated under these circumstances:- Mr Roupell had bound himself by contract to have both houses finished by a given time, and the period fast approaching, men were employed to work beyond the usual hours.

Some of them were in the act of pitching some gutters, when the pot boiled over and set fire to the shavings and wood with such rapidity that it was with some difficulty all the workmen succeeded in effecting their escape.

Of course none of the houses were insured, as they were in an unfinished state.”

The street was quickly finished after the fire. By the time of the 1841 census, Roupell Street seems to have had a good population, with 250 people recorded in the census as living in the street.

Roupell had built the street for what were described as “artisan workers” and the 1841 census provides a view of the professions of what must have been some of the first people living in the street. This included; painters, labourers, clerks, printers, bakers, carpenters, bricklayers, compositors, paper hanger, hatter, an excise officer, lighterman, warehouseman – all the typical jobs that you expect to find in such a street in 1840s London.

Roupell Street

This Citroen has been parked on the street for many years, and provides one of the most photographed views of the street.

Roupell Street

Walking further down Roupell Street, and a pedestrian walkway that was once a street cuts across. This is Windmill Walk.

On either side of the northern entrance to Windmill Walk are two buildings that have what appears to be shop fronts, along with what could be a very faded painted advertising sign on the wall.

Roupell Street

The 1910 Post Office Directory confirms that these were shops, and the businesses that operated in them at the start of the 20th century.

At number 61 (nearest the camera) was john Bowen Walters – Dairyman and at number 62 was Arthur Edward Cowdery – Baker.

The 2007 Conservation Area Statement records that the shop fronts are replacement / reproductions of the originals.

Directly across the street from the above old shops, is the Kings Arms, a brilliant local pub:

Kings Arms

The Kings Arms was part of the original build of the street and has retained the same name since opening in the 1830s.

The first reference to the pub in the press provides a fascinating view of the agricultural nature of the area. An advert from the Morning Advertiser on the 22nd March 1836:

“Broadwall, Blackfriars-road – to Timber-merchants, Hard Wood-turners, Veneer-sawyers and Others, By Mr. C. COULTON on the Premises, a field opposite the King’s Arms, Roupell-street, Broadwall, on THURSDAY, March 24, at Twelve.

COMPRISING two hundred Yew Trees – to be paid for on the fall of the hammer. may be viewed till the sale, and Catalogues had of the Auctioneer, No 32, Union-street, Borough”.

The advert shows that in the 1830s, reminders of the old agricultural nature of this part of Lambeth could still be found. Two hundred yew trees sounds like a reasonable number so this was not a small field. I do not believe they like water logged conditions, so the typical wet conditions of the Lambeth Marsh were also disappearing.

The trees were almost certainly being sold to release the field for building, as in the late 1830s and 1840s, the remaining open space was being built on.

The majority of Roupell Street has a uniform appearance, however walking further east along the street and there is a three storey pair of houses.

Roupell Street

These houses were not part of the original construction of the street as within the triangular pediment at the top of the building there is the date 1891 which is presumably the date of construction.

The two houses retain the same width as those along the rest of the street and the doors and windows are also much the same, so it may be that in 1891 only the top floor and pediment was added to two existing terrace houses. Perhaps some late 19th century home improvements.

John Roupell died on the 23rd December 1835, when the St James’s Chronicle reported that he had died in his 75th year at his own residence in Roupell Street. Along with Roupell Street, he had a substantial portfolio of land and property in south London, part of which gets mentioned in a news report when his son Richard Palmer Roupell was a witness to a possible murder in his grounds at Norwood. At the inquest, Richard Palmer Roupell was described as a lead merchant of Cross-street, Blackfriars who has a country residence at Brixton Hill.

It may have been Richard Palmer Roupell who developed Theed Street which runs north from Roupell Street:

Theed Street

Theed Street still consists of a terrace of two storey houses, however there is a very different treatment at the top of the buildings where instead of the rise and fall of the triangular wall in Roupell Street, Theed Street has a top wall blanking off the roof at the rear, giving the impression of a more substantial row of houses.

According to Reynolds’s Splendid New Map Of London published in 1847, Theed Street had not yet been built. See the annotated map below:

Theed Street

I am not sure whether the 1847 map is correct. Greenwood’s map from 1828 shows what would become Theed Street as an unnamed street running between two fields. It could be that in 1847 it was still unnamed and running between fields and therefore not considered worth recording – one of the challenges of trying to interpret maps of different scales and over the years as London changes.

Greenwood’s map does show that Roupell Street was originally called Navarino Street (after a naval sea battle fought by the British and allies against the Ottoman and Egyptian forces in the Greek War of Independence in 1827). This was in 1828, and Roupell seems to have quickly changed the name of the street.

Branching off Theed Street is Whittlesey Street which continues the same architectural style of Theed Street:

Whittlesey Streeet

Looking back up Theed Street towards Roupell Street – not a parked car in sight which adds considerably to the view:

Theed Street

In the above photo, the house on the right is to the same design as those in Theed Street, and the way that the top line of brick hides the rear slopping roof can be seen.

Not what you expect to see running across the street of such a densely built area:

Whittlesey Street

Where Windmill Walk crosses Whittlesey Street:

Windmill Walk

The towers in the distance of the above photo are the new blocks recently built around the Shell Centre site on the Southbank.

Reaching the end of Whittlesey Street, where the street meets Cornwall Road, the following photo is looking south with the railway bridge over the street and above that, the pedestrian walkways that take travelers down to the platforms of Waterloo East.

Cornwall Road

On the corner of Whittlesey Street and Cornwall Road is another pub – the White Hart:

Roupell Street

Another pub that has been here since the development of the area and that has retained the same name. The first record I can find of the pub dates from the 25th January 1849 when they placed an advert in the Morning Advertiser for a Barman or Under-Barman. In the advert the pub was described as “a respectable Tavern”.

From here, I am going to take a short walk from the area of Roupell’s developments as there is another street with some fantastic architecture.

Following the route in the map shown earlier in the post, I walked north along Cornwall Road to turn right onto Stamford Street, then south down Coin Street to find Aquinas Street:

Aquinas Street

Aquinas Street is early 20th century, so later than Roupell, Theed and Whittlesey Streets, but like these early 19th century streets, Aquinas Street is lined by rows of terrace houses of a continuous and unique design.

This is the south side of the street:

Aquinas Street

The south side of the street dates from 1911, and in the conservation area statement are described as Neo-Georgian, with their original doors, sash windows and railings. The terrace is Grade II listed.

The northern side of the street has a continuous terrace of houses, but of a very different style:

Aquinas Street

Substantial three storeys, each with a full height bay. They are not what you expect to find in this part of Lambeth and represent a rare example of a surviving, continuous terrace of houses dating from the early decades of the 20th century.

Aquinas Street

Aquinas Street is a perfect example of some of the wonderful streets that can be found by turning off the main streets of the city.

Aquinas Street

I started the post with the hairdressers / barbers on the corner of Roupell Street, so I will conclude the post by returning to the Roupell family.

John Roupell, the original developer of the estate, died in 1835. He died a wealthy man.

His son Richard Palmer Roupell had four children, however it appears that John Roupell was unaware of his grandchildren as Richard had the children with Sarah Crane who was recorded as the daughter of a carpenter. John Roupell would apparently have disapproved of this match, so Richard hid the relationship from him.

One of the four sons of Richard Roupell was William Roupell. He discovered that his father left his estate to his brother Richard, who was the only son born after Richard and Sarah had married (after John Roupell had died).

Richard forged his father’s will to leave his estate to his mother with Richard as executor. He was able to borrow against the estate. He also became an MP for Lambeth.

He had substantial debts and when those who had lent him money called for the debts to be repaid, he fled to Spain. He was persuaded to return, and then tried at the Old Bailey in 1862.

The trial gained considerable publicity, because of the level of forgeries, and because Roupell had been an MP.

An account of the trial was published, published in 1862 and described as “From the shorthand notes of Mr. G. Blagrave Snell – Shorthand writer to the Court of Bankruptcy”. The introduction to the account provides an indication of the sensational nature of the trial:

“The following pages contain the whole of the startling details of one of the most extraordinary series of forgeries that was ever disclosed in a court of justice in this country. No work of fiction, it may safely be said, ever was conceived, in which all the incidents that go to make up a tale of thrilling interest, can be more striking than is this bare, unvarnished tale of truth.

The principal party concerned in it was but the other day a member of Parliament, and a man of whom many prophesised that it would be no long time ere he would rise to distinction in the senate; but who by embarking on a career of reckless profligacy, has brought down absolute ruin upon himself, and upon his family an amount of calamity wholly undeserved, which would have been far greater had he not surrendered to justice by placing himself in the felon’s dock.

It was but recently that the pubic were surprised at the resignation of the Member for Lambeth. They little knew the tale that lay behind that resignation. They little knew that forgery and fraud had been the common paths and beaten ways of William Roupell for seven long years; that he had wasted the patrimony of his family, and had reduced them to comparative poverty even before his father’s death.

At length the fatal truth came out, and he was obliged either to face his father’s executors or fly the country. The family property had been fraudulently sold, and it was only when overwhelmed with difficulties, pecuniary and otherwise, that he resolved to confess the whole truth, even at the bar of the court of justice”.

A dramatic end to a once wealthy family, however we still have John Roupell’s original development as a memorial to his achievements, rather than his fraudulent grandson.

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