Monthly Archives: February 2015

One Year Of Blogging, Seventy Years Of Photography

A year ago I wrote my first blog post. It was about the location of the first bomb on central London in the last war, a site in Fore Street commemorated by the sign in one of the photos my father took shortly after the war:

IMG01992 - 1

It seemed a fitting place to start a blog where my main focus is to discover how London has changed over the last seventy years, and to learn more about the history of each location.

It has been a fascinating year and I have learnt so much about London by researching the subject of each week’s post.

I would like to thank everyone who has read, commented, provided some additional information, subscribed by e-mail and followed on Twitter. It is really appreciated.

To mark the first year, it would perhaps be a good time to provide some background as to why I started the blog and the photography that I am using to build up a personal view of how London has changed.

As a family, we have a long attachment to London. My great-grandfather was a fireman in East Ham, my grandfather worked in an electricity generating station in Camden, but it was my father who was born and lived in Camden during the last war, who started taking photos of London at the age of 17 in 1946. I also grew up listening to family stories about London and being taken on walks to explore the city.

I have had his collection of photos for many years. Not all of the photos were printed, many were still only negatives and have been stored in a number of boxes in the decades since the photos were originally taken.

Film for cameras immediately after the last war was in short supply. The first film he used was cut from 35mm movie film which had to be rolled into canisters before use. When standard 35mm camera film cartridges became more readily available, the film quality also improved with Ilford being a major provider to the retail market.

I have been looking after these boxes of photos and negatives and about 10 years ago started a project to scan all the negatives. The very early ones on the worst film stock were starting to deteriorate so the time was right to begin this work. Due to family, work and other commitments it took the 10 years (and now on my third negative scanner) to complete the series of black and white photos, over 3,500 covering not only London, but also post war cycle trips around the UK and Holland along with his period of National Service starting in 1947.

Some of the storage boxes of negatives:

negatives 1It was a really interesting project. Seeing long-lost London scenes appear on the computer screen. Never knowing what a new strip of negatives might contain.

A number of the photos were easily identifiable. Those which my father had printed often had the location, date and time written on the back, but for many there was no location.

Flicking through these photos on the computer, a project to find the locations, understand the changes since the original photo was taken and use this as a means to learn more about this fascinating city seemed the logical next step.

I also needed an incentive to follow this through. A blog seemed a possible method to document the project and attending one of the Gentle Authors blogging courses last February provided the final kick I needed to get this underway.

Photography just after the war was very different when compared with the cameras available today. My father started taking photos using a Leica IIIc camera in 1946.


(Photo credit: By Rama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Leica produced these from 1940 to 1951 and apparently they were readily available after the war, brought home by returning solders who had bought them cheaply in Germany. This was the source of my father’s camera.

Unfortunately he sold this in 1957 to purchase a Leica IIIg camera, however this one I still have as he continued to use this until the late 1980’s when he finally bought a new SLR camera. This is his Leica IIIg which I still posses:

Leica IIIG 1The lens on the camera is not the standard for the Leica IIIg, it came from my father’s original Leica IIIc. Lenses on the Leica III range up to and including the “g” model were a screw fitting and compatible throughout the range, so although the camera body of the Leica IIIg was not used for the early photos of London, the lens was from the original Leica IIIc and was used for all the 1940s and 1950s photos in my blog.

I have recently had the camera serviced to fix a sticking shutter, so a future project for the Spring is to start taking photos using the Leica, which, having the same lens as used for the original photos should make it easy to get the same perspective. Not always possible when using a new digital camera with a completely different lens for the current comparison photos.

It will be an experience to be taking photos of the same scene, from the same place, almost 70 years apart and with the photo taken through the same lens.

I have used cameras with inbuilt light meters since my first camera in the mid 1970s. The Leica III range did not have this facility and external measurement was needed in order to set the correct aperture and speed before taking a photo. I still have the Weston Light Meter that my father used for all his photography with both the Leica IIIc and g:

Weston 1The Weston Master Universal Exposure Meters were made by Sangamo Weston in Enfield from 1939 and provided a method of measuring the light level. The user would hold up the rear of the light meter (which had a light-sensitive cell which generated an electric current proportionate to the intensity of the light), towards the subject of the photo. The meter on the front would then display the light intensity and using the dial below the meter, this reading would be used to calculate the aperture and speed settings for the camera, specific to the scene being photographed.

With practice it was possible to visually estimate the light level and the settings needed, and some degree of wrong exposure could be corrected when the photo was developed in the dark room. There was both an art and a skill to getting the correct exposure, something I need to try to learn before taking the Leica back onto the streets of London.

Any serious amateur photographer of the late 1940s and 1950s would develop their own photos and my father was no exception (he was also a member of the St. Brides Institute Photographic Society). The lens on the camera also served as the lens on the enlarger which projected the negative onto the paper during the developing process (another reason why he kept the lens from the first camera).

When printing photos, it was useful to record the details, not just when and where the photo was taken, but also the settings on the camera and developer. He recorded this on the back of the photo. The following is a photo of the Thames at Shadwell:

shadwell front

And on the rear is recorded that the photo was taken on the 26th May 1953 at 11:15 am, along with the speed and aperture settings and that a filter was used. On the third line is recorded the film type and the parameters used during developing.

Ishadwell rear

My father continued taking photos of London through the 1980s and 1990s. I have started scanning these and they cover not just central London, but also the Isle of Dogs, north and east London, Greenwich etc.  The posts on London Hairdressers and Murals and Street Art from 1980s London are some of the first I have scanned.

I started taking photos of London in the mid 1970s (can an urge to photograph London be inherited?). The photos from the posts on Baynards Castle and a Dragon Rapide over London are some of my early photos.

The first camera I could afford on pocket-money was a Russian built Zenith-E. The only problem with this camera was a random sticking shutter so you would never know whether you would have a good photo until after they were printed. Very frustrating.

My first serious camera was a Canon AE-1 bought on hire purchase in the late 1970s when I first started working.


A job on the South Bank, started in 1979, introduced me to the photos my father had taken when he showed me the printed photos he had taken of the same area just after the war and before the Royal Festival Hall and the Festival of Britain.  I think it was from this point that I knew I wanted explore all the photos he had taken. I included some of these photos in last years posts here, here and here.

I switched from film to digital in 2002 and now use a compact Panasonic Lumix and a Nikon D300 and hopefully soon a Leica IIIg if I can master the techniques needed to correctly set the exposure levels.

Digital photography has provided significant benefits over film photography, however having been through the process of scanning these negatives, the earliest of which are almost 70 years old it does make we wonder how many of today’s digital photos will still be usable in 70 years time.

Negative film can be stored cheaply in a shoe box and providing it is not exposed to extremes of heat, cold, humidity and light will last a long time. To view the original photo, it is simply a matter of shining a light through onto a receptive surface, whether photo paper, within a scanner etc.

Apart from professionally archived digital photos, how many personal digital photos will survive the next 70 years? Computer hard disk failures, changes in technology etc. over the next 70 years may well mean that the majority of photos will be lost or unreadable.

Looking back on the first year of the blog, one of the most remarkable events happened when I published the following photo of a man repairing a chair on a London street:


Thanks to the Internet, the photo was seen by Rachel South who identified him as her grandfather, Michael George South. Remarkably, Rachel is still following the same craft and her website can be found here. The original post is here.

My favourite location from the first year has to be the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It was from here that just after the war my father took a series of photos showing the whole panorama of London. The devastation caused by bombing in the immediate vicinity was clearly visible and the City skyline looks very different when compared with today.  The full posts can be found here and here, and below is one example of the original photo, looking towards Cannon Street Station with the 2014 photo of the same scene following:

IMG02591- upload

And the same scene in 2014:

DSC_1392-uploadMuch of the devastation around St. Paul’s was caused on the night of the 29th December 1940. It was fascinating to research the story of the St. Paul’s Watch and the night of the 29th December for posts here and here.

London continues to change. One of the major projects going through planning approvals during the year was the Garden Bridge. This will have a dramatic impact on the Thames and surrounding areas. I gave my thoughts on this in a post in December which can be found here.

The Garden bridge will have a very dramatic impact on this view from Waterloo Bridge:

garden bridge 13So looking forward to the second year, I have many more places to explore and research. I plan to extend the range a bit further. My father took a river trip from Westminster to Greenwich and there are a whole sequence for photos showing the old docks and wharfs along the river as they were in the early 1950s. Also a series of photos of Hampstead will require a couple of visits to hunt down all the locations from these original photos.

Again, my thanks for your interest in the blog, and if you see someone in the coming year on the streets of London trying to work out how to take a photo with an old light meter and camera, that will be me with the Leica IIIg. 


Aldwych Underground Station

I have an underground map from 1963 and whilst there are some very significant differences when compared with an underground map of today, for example the yet to be constructed Jubilee Line, there is one station on the 1963 map that has disappeared.

Underground Map 1

Find Holborn Station in the above map. This has the Central and Piccadilly lines passing through, and there is a short stub section of the Piccadilly line going to an Aldwych station.

Aldwych station closed to passengers in 1994, however every so often the London Transport Museum organises tours of the station and yesterday I headed to Surrey Street, just of the Strand to take a look inside a station that I have walked past many times, but have never seen inside.

The external entrances of the station are still very visible. The station was built on a block of land between the Strand and Surrey Street with an entrance in each.

The following photo shows the block with the Strand entrance on the right and the Surrey Street entrance just visible on the left.

Aldwych 2

A close up of the Surrey Street entrance. The tiling is a very distinctive feature on both entrances:

Aldwych 1

The station was built on the site of Royal Strand Theatre which closed on the 13th May 1905. The site had been a theatre for much of the 19th century. The Royal Strand opened on the 5th April 1858 and was a reconstruction of the Strand Theatre which had previously stood on the site.

The underground station opened in 1907 as the Strand Station. It was renamed Aldwych in 1915.

On entering the station, one is greeted with a now empty set of telephone booths. A reminder of the pre-mobile days when a fixed pay phone was needed to make a call when travelling in London.

Aldwych 18

The original lifts remain, although they do not work and were one of the reasons why the station closed. The lifts were still mainly the original 1907 equipment and replacement was urgently needed, however the very significant cost of replacing two lifts could not be justified for a station with only 450 passengers a day.

Aldwych 21

Passenger numbers through the station were very low from opening. This resulted in the ticket office being closed in 1922. Ticket booths were built into the lift cars so as well as operating the lift, the lift man could sell and collect tickets.

Lift control equipment:

Aldwych 19

Without operational lifts, the platforms are now reached by a spiral staircase of some 160 steps. The base of the staircase:

Aldwych 22

Platform 1 is the first platform to visit. This has an old Northern Line train in position along the platform. This platform and the train are used for training of the Underground’s Emergency Response Unit and has also been used as a film set for a considerable number of TV programmes and films. The old posters are more recent reproductions as part of creating an authentic platform for filming.

Aldwych 6

Aldwych was not part of the main Piccadilly Line and only had a shuttle service operating to Holborn.

More advertising posters:

Aldwych 13

This platform still has an operational track towards Holborn station:

Aldwych 8

During the war, Aldwych station was a major air raid shelter which could accommodate up to 1500 people and was equipped with first aid facilities and a canteen. The train service to Holborn was suspended on the 22nd September 1940 from when the station was used as a shelter. The following photo is from the Imperial War Museum’s collection (© IWM (D 1675))

IWM (D 1675)

The following, also from the Imperial War Museum’s collection (© IWM (HU 44272)) illustrates just how basic and uncomfortable the facilities were, but considerably safer than being above ground during a major raid.

IWM (HU 44272)

The shelter formally closed as a shelter in May 1945 when war ended. peak usage had been during the early years of the war, with a second peak when the V1 and V2 weapons were targeted at London during the closing year of the war.

To get from platform 1 to platform 2 there is the walkway above the platforms as is typical in many other operational stations:

Aldwych 5

Platform 2 is very different to platform 1. This platform was closed for train services in 1914 with only platform 1 continuing to be used. Much of this area and the tunnel to Holborn was used as a store-room during the war. Many of the treasures from London museums were moved here for safety, including the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum. This is looking in the direction of Holborn.

Aldwych 24

On the right can be seen part of the original Strand name of the station, shown below in more detail:

Aldwych 12

Only the “AN” still visible of Strand. The “Station Closed” posters are modern reproductions.

Platform 2 has also been used by London Underground to create mock-ups of station tiling and decoration in a realistic environment.

The opposite end of the platform, away from the Holborn direction is bricked off, with the exception of a door:

Aldwych 10

Behind the door is the original 1907 run off tunnel:

Aldwych 15

If a train did not stop, it would continue into the run off tunnel which had sand laid along the ground to try to slow the train. At the end of the tunnel are the original 1907 buffers and beyond these the tunnel terminates in a brick wall. Hopefully the dragging effect of the sand and the buffers would have done their job.

Adjacent to the run off tunnel are some of the original stairs. believed to have been intended as the original entrance to the platform:

Aldwych 14There are also a number of tunnels which were never used by passengers and remain in their basic state. Even when the station was under construction there were concerns that passenger numbers would be low so only the main exit / entrance passages were fully finished.

Aldwych 16It was here that our guide told the story of why it is possible to feel a breeze, without the passing of any trains through the station.  The lead actress in the last play to run at the Royal Strand Theatre before it was demolished to make way for the station  was so unhappy that the play that was going so well was being cut short, swore to come back and haunt the station.

Sniffer dogs in training at the station have also been known to avoid this area of the station. A nice story, but looking into the dark of these tunnels does allow the imagination to run wild for a moment.

Aldwych 17

All too soon, it was time to climb back up the 160 steps to ground level and head out into Surrey Street, which as the sign below suggests, provides a short walk down to Temple Station.

Aldwych 20

A fascinating insight into one of the disused underground stations that are to found scattered across the underground system. As usual, the tour was superbly run by the London Transport Museum, with their highly knowledgeable staff and volunteers as guides.

Battersea Power Station, Pimlico Gardens, The Tyburn And Vauxhall Bridge

Battersea Power Station is one of London’s most well known industrial landmarks. The first phase of the power station was completed in 1933 and the station finally stopped generating electricity in 1983.

Since then, the majority of the building has been left a shell, preserved due to being a grade 2 listed building and the subject of various schemes for rebuilding and regeneration of the area.

My father took the following photo of the power station from the north bank of the Thames, in the very early 1950’s when three-quarters of the building was complete.

Battersea 2

When the photo was taken, the power station only had three chimneys. Power stations are frequently built using a modular approach so that the site can start generating electricity as soon as possible and capacity added when there is sufficient demand and an economic justification. This approach was used in the 1930’s and continues to this day.

Battersea “A”, the first phase of the power station consisted of the right hand side of the building as seen from the north bank. Construction of this part of the building started in 1929 and the station was operational soon after the Sir Giles Gilbert Scott brick exterior work was finished in 1933.

Battersea “B”, the left side of the building commenced in 1944 with the fourth chimney completed in 1955 when the power station reached the configuration that was to last until closure.

There have been many failed scheme to reconstruct the building since closure, however work finally started last year, so before there was too much change, last summer I took a walk along the north bank of the Thames to take some photos from the same position as my father’s original.

Battersea 1

There is about 62 years between the two photos and although the power station is now only a shell of the original, the overall impression of the site is of very little change in the intervening years. The first crane has arrived on site and the very early stages of work has commenced on the building.  The site will soon change dramatically.

The gas holder in the background in both the original and later photos is nearly 300 feet high and 180 feet across and could hold seven million cubic feet of gas.

I recently found another photo my father took, probably on the same day. This was at the very end of a strip of negatives and has some damage to the edge which caused a problem with scanning but I finally managed to scan the following:

Battersea 12

This photo was taken from the north end of Chelsea Bridge and very clearly shows the three chimneys, with a crane at the far corner, probably engaged in the construction of the remaining part of Battersea “B”.

This year, I took the following from the same position as my father’s original photo, which also shows how work has rapidly increased since the summer of last year.

Battersea 11

Following publication of this post, I received the following from Adrian Prockter who runs the “knowyourlondon” blog:

“Only three chimneys were required because there were only three boilers underneath. The fourth chimney was added purely for decoration and, probably more importantly, to provide an even weight distribution for the building. Because it is built on clay, a symmetrical shape will provide an even pressure across the foundations”

Which answers why in all the photos I have seen of Battersea in operation, I have not seen one with smoke from the fourth chimney.

Battersea power Station is now a major construction site. One of the first major changes being the removal of the chimney on the corner of the building to the right of the photo. The level of corrosion and cracking on the original chimneys was such that they were considered unsafe without major work. Apparently the only way to deal with this was to dismantle the original chimneys and then rebuild to the same designs. Unfortunately when the building is complete they will not be the original chimneys, but at least the overall appearance of the building with a chimney at each corner will be the same.

Battersea Power Station was photographed from the air by Aerofilms during the period the building evolved from the initial configuration with two chimneys through to the final four chimneys. The following photo was taken in 1946 and clearly shows the three chimneys in operation with a space in the lower quarter where the final generating unit and chimney would soon be added to complete the building.


This Aerofilms image taken in 1952 shows the main building nearing completion with only the fourth chimney to be added. My father’s photo’s would have been taken at around the same time.


I have no idea whether there is any truth in this, but one of the stories my father told me as a child was that when construction of the building was on-going during the 1930s and tensions with Germany were on the rise, there were rumours in London that the chimneys were actually very large guns. The fact that the chimneys point straight up so would not have been very effective as guns does not seen to have been considered. No idea whether this is true, but a nice story.

The following photo is of the cranes on the edge of the river that were used to unload coal from barges on the river to conveyor belts that moved the coal to storage areas ready to be burnt.

As well as above ground storage, the power station also had a sunken storage area adjacent to the river. This was almost 200 yards long and was able to store 75,000 tons of coal.

The cranes ran on rails and could move along the river edge to the location of the waiting barge. The current cranes are from the 1950s, replacing the original cranes from the 1930s. These cranes are also grade 2 listed and will be retained.

Battersea 3

As well as the external appearance, Battersea Power Station had a number of other very unique features.

The power station had a gas-washing plant. This was able to remove more than 90 per cent of the sulphur in the smoke emitted during operation. The plumes of smoke were white rather than the very dark smoke from other earlier power stations. A very key benefit given the problems that London was experiencing at the time with air pollution.

Another unique feature of the power station improved the living conditions of people on the north bank of the river. The Churchill Gardens housing estate is opposite the power station and is heated by the power station. The Pimlico District Heating Undertaking implemented a system whereby exhaust steam from two turbines in the power station was used to heat water to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It was then pumped under the river to a storage system on the north bank where it heated water in the residential supply before being circulated back to the power station. For the time, a very unique combined heat and power system.

The weather when I took my first Battersea photo last summer was excellent so a walk back along the north bank of the river into central London was a very easy decision. There are a number of interesting locations along the short stretch to Vauxhall Bridge.

The first is the lovely Pimlico Gardens between the Grosvenor Road and the river.

Battersea 6

At one end of the gardens is a statue to William Huskisson, a member for parliament but unfortunately also one of the first to be killed in a railway accident.

From “The Face of London” by Harold Clunn:

“Huskisson was killed by a locomotive at the ceremonial opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway on 15 September 1830. The procession of trains had left Liverpool, and at Parkside, the engines stopped for water. Contrary to instructions, the travellers left the carriages and stood upon the permanent way. Huskisson wanted to speak to the Duke of Wellington, and at that moment several engines were seen approaching along the rails between which he was standing. Everybody else made for the carriages, but Huskisson, who was slightly lame, fell back on the rails in front of the locomotive Dart, which ran over his leg; he was carried to hospital, where he died the same evening.”

After such a terrible end, Huskisson now quietly watches over Pimlico Gardens:

Battersea 7

Pimlico’s river front was not always so calm. From “The Trip down the Thames by the Victoria Steamboat Association’s Steamers, 1893”:

“Pimlico, once noted for its public gardens. Among them was ‘Jenny’s Whim’ a summer resort of the lower classes, where duck hunting, bull-baiting and al fresco dancing were the order of the day”

A short distance on, the River Tyburn reaches the Thames as recorded by the following plaque on the Thames Path which records the route of the river:

Battersea 13

If we walk on a short distance and walk along Vauxhall Bridge, and providing the tide is low, the Tyburn outflow tunnel is very visible:

Battersea 8

From Vauxhall Bridge we can also look back at the sweep of the river and the power station. This will look very different in a few years time. The south bank of the river from the end of Vauxhall Bridge to Battersea Power Station is currently under a frenzy of building with the new American Embassy and a large number of flats / apartment buildings all of which are probably outside the financial reach of the majority of Londoners.

Battersea 9

The first Vauxhall Bridge was built in 1811-16. The current bridge was opened in 1906 and the most interesting features of the bridge are not visible when crossing over the river. The following photo shows the eastern side of the bridge. Above each of the granite piers is a colossal bronze statue, four on each side of the bridge. The statues were by Alfred Drury and F.W. Pomeroy and are of draped women representing the Arts and Sciences. They were added to the bridge in 1907.

Battersea 10

On the eastern, downstream side of the bridge are Drury’s statues representing Science, Fine Arts, Local Government and Education:

east side statues

On the western, upstream side of the bridge are Pomeroy’s statues representing Agriculture, Architecture, Engineering and Pottery:

west side statues

Each statue weighs roughly two tons and as can be seen from the above photos are very detailed. It is a shame that these probably go unnoticed by the majority of people travelling across and around Vauxhall Bridge.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • Arthur Mee’s London (A complete record of London as it was before the bombing) published in 1960
  • The Face of London by Harold Clunn 1970 reprint
  • Lure and Lore of London’s River by A.G. Linney

The Lost Buildings of South Square, Gray’s Inn

Gray’s Inn is one of those self contained areas in London with a very distinct character when compared to the surrounding streets. One of the four Inns of Court with the long held right to call a person to the Bar and to hold the position of Barrister.

Within Gray’s Inn are many different squares, buildings and alleys, there is also a large area of formal gardens, also known as The Walks which have a history dating back to their creation in 1606 by Sir Francis Bacon.

Whilst the history of Gray’s Inn could fill a number of posts, for this week I want to focus on one small area of Gray’s Inn.

There are several small entrances to Gray’s Inn, many of which are closed and locked outside of working hours and last Saturday, on a very bright January morning I walked down the only entrance that is open at the weekend, the same entrance that my father had walked down 67 years ago to photograph some of the buildings damaged by wartime bombing.

Walk from Chancery Lane underground station along Holborn and immediately before the Cittie of Yorke pub, you will find an archway through which a narrow side street provides the main entrance to Gray’s Inn. Walk down this side street, to the first square. This is South Square, the subject of this week’s post.

Stand just inside the entrance and look out to South Square. This would have been the view just after the war:

South Square 1

The dark area on the right is the back of one of the wooden doors that closed off the entrance. I am not sure why my father took the photo from this position rather than move into the square.

The building on the right is the Hall, the focus for the communal life of the Inn. The building on the left is one of the 17th and 18th century buildings that ran along the edge of the square and provided offices and accommodation for the members of the Inn.

The type of damage to the building on the left is typical of incendiary bombs, where a bomb has landed on the roof, caused a fire which was extinguished before reaching the floors below. The archway between the two buildings provides access to the rest of Gray’s Inn with Gray’s Inn Square being just beyond the arch.

In 2015 I took the following photograph of the same view:

South Square 4As you will see from this and the following photos I did not pick the best day to avoid deep shadows. A very bright, but low January sun caused deep shadows from the surrounding buildings.

The Hall on the right was rebuilt after the war with the main features of the building being retained.

The original Hall was built-in 1555-60 and we can get a view of what the Hall was like from “Arthur Mee’s London – A Complete Record Of London As It Was Before The Bombing”:

“The Hall is famous for its magnificent hammerbeam roof and is a noble example of Elizabethan architecture. Its windows have heraldic glass of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the walls are gay with heraldry painted on its Queen Anne panelling. Here hang portraits of three Stuart kings, with Nicholas and Francis Bacon, Bishop Gardiner, and Lord Birkenhead. there is also a fine portrait of Queen Elizabeth showing her as a young woman, She is said to have given the oak screen at the west end of the Hall; it has four richly carved columns supporting a beam on which the decorated gallery rests. On the gallery balustrade are busts of women, and figures holding palms and wreaths recline in the spandrels of the arches. It was in this hall that Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors was acted at the Christmas of 1594.”

The oak screen mentioned in Mee’s text was said to be made from the wood of a galleon from the Spanish Armada. Although the Hall suffered severe damage in the war the screen had been taken apart for removal and was fortunately recovered with minimal damage. The screen is now in the rebuilt Hall.

The Hall is also one of the few buildings in London that was bombed in both the first and second world wars. In the first, an incendiary bomb landed on the Hall but was quickly extinguished before any serious damage, unlike the second war.

The following photo shows the pre-war interior of the hall (“Reproduced with the kind permission of the Masters of the Bench of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn”.)

Hall Gray's Inn

What did surprise me was that the entrance to the rest of Gray’s Inn had been slightly relocated to the left and the original building on the left has been replaced with one of post war construction. A real shame, as from the post war photo, damage did not seem too bad and before visiting the site I was expecting to find the same buildings, but with repairs to the top floor and roof.

The Archivist of the Hon Soc of Gray’s Inn has kindly provided the following information regarding the building on the left:

“the large building to the left of the little bridge, although in the style of the other buildings in the squares, was the Common Room block, built only in 1905 to replace a ramshackle brick structure (this area is the site of the old kitchens). It was in fact repaired after the war, I imagine for precisely the reason you give, but was taken down in 1970/71 – when the bridge was also taken down, although rebuilt in 2011 –  and replaced by the present building, by the architect Quinlan Terry. One of the aims was to align the frontage with that of  No 1 Gray’s Inn Square behind it, and the block was moved several yards to the west, in the process covering the old passageway that used to run from that corner of South Square into Field Court, which was just off the left side of your father’s photo”

Just above the door to the Hall in both the modern and post war photos can be seen the badge of Gray’s Inn, the golden griffin on a black background.

South Square 7

The griffin as the badge of Gray’s Inn has been in use from the 1590s, replacing an earlier badge.

If you now enter the square, turn right and walk to the corner of the square, look across to the building next to the Hall. This is the old Steward’s Office or Treasury Office (built in the 1840s)and this is the photo my father took just after the war:

South Square 2

The name “Gray’s Inn” dates from the 14th century: the premises of the manor house of the de Grays were in use as an Inn of Court by, at the latest, 1388, including the Chapel.

Today’s view of the site of the old Steward’s office is shown below:

South Square 5

A very different building following post war reconstruction, but with the same style of three arches to the entrance.

Now turn to the left and look at the far side of the square. After the war this side of the square was still showing the severe damage suffered during the war:

South Square 3

The building on the right is the same building as in the first photo looking into the square. Post war this side of the square was completely rebuilt:

South Square 6

Whilst this is a post war reconstruction, note that the entrances are the same style as the original building to the right. I suspect that these entrances were recovered from other buildings when they were demolished and reused on the post war buildings to integrate them more into the square and give the impression of earlier construction.

Charles Dickens would have known the South Square well as he was employed there between 1827-8 as a clerk. South Square featured in Dickens David Copperfield. It was in South Square that Tommy Traddles and his wife had rooms at the top of the house when they were first married and it was in this house that they had to house the five sisters from Devonshire when they came to visit.

As with so many places in London, South Square is not the original name. The Inn was originally divided into four courts, Coney Court, Holborn Court, Field Court and Chapel Court. Holborn Court was the original name for South Square.

To the right of the Chapel is the Library. This was also destroyed in the last war and with it, some 32,000 books were lost including books such as the complete collection of old English and Ecclesiastical laws of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The rebuilt library along one side of South Square with the statue of Francis Bacon standing in the central gardens:

South Square 8

Very few of the original buildings survived the considerable damage done to South Square during the last war, a couple of buildings have survived including this one from 1759.

South Square 9

This building has the same entrance as the building in the post war photo and the same as on the post war reconstructions. The square must have been a fantastic sight before wartime destruction if the three sides of the square were this type of building with identical entrances lining the square, all facing the original Hall and Chapel.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • My thanks to the Archivist of the Hon Soc of Gray’s Inn for providing corrections to the original text and for the pre-war photo of the interior of the Hall
  • The Lost Treasures of London by William Kent published in 1947
  • Georgian London by John Summerson published in 1945
  • Arthur Mee’s London (A complete record of London as it was before the bombing) published in 1960
  • The Face of London by Harold Clunn published 1932
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878