Monthly Archives: September 2017

Highgate Station – A Hidden London Tour

The London Transport Museum run a series of excellent tours under the title of Hidden London. Up until a couple of weeks ago I had been on all these tours with the exception of the “Highgate Wilderness Walkabout”, so I was really pleased to complete the set and take the Northern Line up to Highgate Station on a Friday afternoon at the beginning of September.

Unlike the majority of Hidden London tours, this one is above ground and explores the old Highgate high level station. I have wanted to visit this station for some time after finding some postcards of Highgate Station which show a large station and tunnels in a valley adjacent to the Archway Road.

The high level Highgate Station is above the underground station of the same name on the Northern Line. The high level station (which I will call Highgate Station from now on) was opened on the 22nd August 1867 by the Great Northern Railway on a new line that ran from Finsbury Park up to Edgware, High Barnet and Alexandra Palace.

The following postcard shows a view of the station from the south. Archway Road is on the left. The view of the station is not as originally built when the platforms were along the side of the tracks. The main central platform was added soon after.

Highgate Station

This postcard shows the station as first built with the two side platforms.

Highgate Station

Another view of the station which shows how quickly trees had grown on the embankments surrounding the station.

Highgate Station

A postcard showing the platform and through the tunnel.

Highgate Station

The description at the bottom of the postcard regarding the foliage perfectly describes the station environment today.

When Highgate Station was built, much of the area further out from central London was still countryside. There is a report of the opening of the station in the Illustrated Times on the 26th October 1867. This includes the following description of the surrounding countryside and the benefits that the new line will bring:

“The beautiful country around Finchley, Hendon, Mill-hill, Edgware and Stanmore, has hitherto been practically a remote and inaccessible region. One or two vehicular enormities in the shape of ‘busses’ and the ‘carriers cart’, with its incurable jog-trot have literally been the only means of transit for passengers, goods and parcels between London and a large, healthy, and populous district within five to twelve miles of the Bank! Now, however, smart, roomy carriages, lighted with gas, and ‘tooled’ into the City in less than half the time formerly occupied, will no doubt, draw out the travelling capacities of our secluded friends; while the household requisites and numerous articles of merchandise necessary to the existence of a modern civilised community will be scattered by a beneficent goods-train in rich profusion over a district contented till lately, with the mere beauties of nature.”

Strange to hear Finchley being described as a “remote and inaccessible region” !

The opening of Highgate Station must also have had a very positive impact on the price of property in the area (the result of the construction of new transport lines still visible today, for example along the route of Crossrail). Adverts for property in newspapers in the years after the opening of the station mention “near the recently opened Highgate Station”.

The map below from the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Greater London Atlas shows the position of the station (circled in red). Follow the tracks to the left, through the tunnel (dotted line) and the tracks run on to East Finchley along with another set of tracks which run to Alexandra Palace (top right) having passed through stations at Cranley Gardens and Muswell Hill.)

Highgate Station

The following photo dated 1938 from the Britain from Above collection just shows the entrance to the northern tunnels from Highgate Station, at the very bottom of the photo. Follow the direction of the tunnels higher up the photo and slightly to the right and you can see where the tunnels emerge with two lines of track running up to East Finchley. The branch to Alexandra Palace can also just be seen. The photo therefore gives a good idea of the length of the tunnels.

Highgate Station

During the 1930s there were plans to significantly expand the railways serving the northern reaches of London. The Northern Line would be extended from Archway Station and a new deep level station at Highgate would connect to the high level station to form a major junction.

Work was progressing well, when in 1936 Charles Brand & Son Ltd started the construction of new tunnels extending from Highgate deep level station up to ground level just south of East Finchley station where the tunnels would emerge on either side of the high level tracks.

The tunneling work was helped as a new rotary excavator was used in addition to the normal tunneling shields. The rotary excavator was claimed to dig 170 feet  of tunnels per week, roughly twice as fast as the traditional shield method.

An inspection of the works was held for journalists in early 1938 and at the following luncheon the intentions were made clear for the volume of traffic at the combined high and low level Highgate station which would be served by 35 trains per hour at peak times, with 14 serving the high level platforms and 21 the low level platforms.

The start of the war in 1939 slowed down work on electrifying the northern routes, extension of the Northern Line and integrating the high and low level stations at Highgate. The original high level station buildings were demolished and a new central platform with reinforced concrete canopies were built, including a stairway leading down to the new Highgate Northern Line ticket hall. The central platforms dating from this time are still in place today.

The deep level station opened to traffic in 1941.

After the war, the lack of finance, along with a reduction in passenger numbers conspired against any further electrification or expansion of the northern rail lines and whilst the Northern Line was not at risk, traffic through the High Level station was such that routes through the station gradually closed, with the last passenger train running through Highgate high level station to Alexandra Palace in July 1954.

The line continued in use for a few years to carry freight, however the tracks were removed between Highgate and Alexandra Palace in 1958 and along the rest of the route in 1971.

The stations at Cranley Gardens and Muswell Hill on the Alexandra Palace line were demolished and today nothing remains of these station buildings, however the Parkland Walk now follows sections of the route of the railway line from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace.

The station has remained ever since, with the tracks and embankments being gradually reclaimed by nature

Time to take the tour. The station is reached from the curved footpath descending from Wood Lane which was one of the original entrances to the station as shown in the postcards.

This is the view along the platform looking towards the northern tunnels.

Highgate Station

From the same platform looking towards the southern tunnels. The concrete canopy is from the 1941 reconstruction of the high level platforms.

Highgate Station

At the end of the platforms looking at the northern tunnels.

Highgate Station

These photos show how this once busy station in the centre of north London and adjacent to the busy Archway Road has been reclaimed by nature.

Highgate Station

This stairway was also part of the 1941 reconstruction of the station and led down to the ticket hall for the deep level station below.

Highgate Station

The walk to the southern tunnels feels like a walk through some woods, such is the level of tree growth. Recent rainfall had also turned the pathway into a muddy track which further enhanced the sense of a walk in the country rather than in central Highgate.

Looking back from the southern tunnels to the station in the distance.

Highgate Station

The southern tunnels.

Highgate Station

A redundant litter box.

Highgate Station

The two southern tunnel entrances.

Highgate Station

Whilst it is possible to walk in the tunnels, they are closed off to protect the six different species of bats that now call these tunnels home.

Highgate Station

A final look along the central station platform.

Highgate Station

This was a fascinating glimpse of a station that was once intended to be a significant transport hub in north London and now forms a very natural and overgrown valley next to the Archway Road.

As usual, the guides and staff from the London Transport Museum were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Having completed the current set of tours, I can only hope that there are plans to open up a few more locations in the future.

The Hidden London page on the London Transport Museum web site details the tours as they are available.

alondoninheritance.com

111 Strand – A Street Map In Portland Stone

So much modern architecture is bland, built to a cost, and does not have any features that associate the building with its location or the activities carried out by the occupants of the building.

The same style and designs can be found across the country and indeed globally, whilst a trend towards relatively short-term occupation has driven design of buildings to provide a flexible shell and interior which can support many different occupiers over the life of the building.

I have previously written about buildings such as 262 High Holborn, Imperial Chemicals House and the Faraday Building, all of which were designed with decoration to illustrate something about the occupier of the building, or the activities carried out within.

I found another building recently, one which I have walked past many times and had not noticed the decoration covering one part of the building. across five floors of the facade.

This is 111 Strand.

111 Strand

The building dates from 2002 and the architect was Squire and Partners.

At first glance it looks like another standard office design with no redeeming features, however if you look at the right hand edge of the building, above the large street number 111, there is an intriguing design running from the first floor to the fifth.

111 Strand

Study the design and it clearly appears to be a street map, carved in Portland stone panels.  It was created by the artists Langlands & Bell following a competition to work with the architects on the design of the building.

The street map represents a vertical segment of the local streets running north from Savoy Hill at the bottom of the map to the junction of Catherine Street and Tavistock Street. I have tried to align the map on the building to the actual street map from Google. This is shown below.

111 Strand

I have outlined 111 Strand in blue. The scaling of the two maps is slightly different, so they do not exactly align at the same level, however the area covered by the Portland stone map is very clear in the Google map.

From Savoy Place at the bottom of the map, it crosses Savoy Hill and Savoy Row to the location of 111 Strand. Then across the Strand to the location of the Lyceum Theatre and the junction of Wellington Street and Exeter Street, then across a diamond shape plot of land bounded by Exeter Street, Catherine Street, Tavistock Street and Wellington Street leading to where the top of the map is reached.

I really like the idea of having a street map carved on the facade of a building. It acknowledges the surrounding landscape and that the building is part of this landscape, however I do wonder why 111 Strand was not marked on the map to place the building within the surrounding streets. Interesting also the scope of the map. The River Thames is only slightly further to the bottom of the map and would have placed 111 Strand in relation to the river, which would also help explain why the Strand is named as it is.

I do like the attention to detail. If you look at the diamond-shaped plot of land at the top, the number and shape of the buildings along Tavistock Street at the top of the diamond are the same as in the Google map. Also within the diamond, the large block of the Duchess Theatre can be clearly seen.

I have no idea how I have missed this stone map in the fifteen years since 111 Strand was completed – I must be looking at new buildings with an inbuilt assumption that there is nothing of interest to see – I will have to pay more attention to more recent buildings in the future.

alondoninheritance.com

Clifton Suspension Bridge

In 1952 on one of his cycling trips across the country, my father was in Bristol and took some photos of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

The bridge has been on my rather long list of places to visit, so when tours of the hidden vaults beneath one of the abutments supporting the bridge were announced, I booked, and a couple of weeks ago the day arrived to visit the bridge and take the tour. I even found some very tangible links back to London and the River Thames.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge spans the River Avon from the Clifton area of Bristol to Leigh Woods on the opposite side of the large gorge that the river has cut through limestone rocks.

The first photo is my father’s photo showing the Clifton Suspension Bridge from the side of the River Avon at the bottom of the gorge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

I started my visit to the Clifton Suspension Bridge by walking up from the centre of Bristol to the Clifton end of the bridge. This was the view in 1952:Clifton Suspension Bridge

Sixty five years later and the view is almost identical. A bit less tree cover, and today there are automatic barriers to collect the one pound charge for traffic to cross the bridge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Clifton Suspension Bridge opened on the 8th December 1864.

The Illustrated London News on the 17th December 1864 covered the opening of the bridge and included some history of the efforts to build the bridge:

“The history of this project is somewhat remarkable. In the year 1753 Alderman Vick, of Bristol, bequeathed to the Society of Merchant Venturers the sum of £1000, directing that such sum should be placed out at interest until it should accumulate and increase to £10,000, when it was to be applied to the building of a stone bridge across the Avon from Clifton-down, in the county of Gloucester, to Leigh-down, in the county of Somerset. this was the origin of the gigantic scheme that has only just now been carried into execution after the lapse of 111 years.

It was at once perceived to be impossible to build a stone bridge across so vast a chasm. For nearly 80 years the £1000 left by Mr Vick was allowed to accumulate; and in the year 1839, when the railway system was beginning to make itself felt, the citizens of Bristol began to think of the old legacy and the possibility of applying it to the purpose for which it was left. At the time the money had increased to £8000 and it was resolved to use the amount as the nucleus of whatever sum might be required to construct the bridge. An Act of Parliament was obtained, and plans were advertised for. The first estimate given for the stone bridge was £90,000, about half of what such a building, if practicable, would cost; so stone was given up for iron, and Telford, the builder of the Menai bridge, and the late Mr Brunel, competed for the honour of giving a design for a suspension bridge. Mr Brunel’s design was preferred. His estimate was £57,000; but when £45,000 had been spent only the towers had been built, and the work came to a stop. His design was a chain bridge of a single span of 700ft, two chains passing over two towers, and being anchored deep in the limestone rocks behind them.

In 1843 all the money was gone, and the scheme was in abeyance for want of funds, and though many propositions were made to the trustees under the old Act of Parliament, the bridge would very likely have been incomplete to this day had not the removal of the Hungerford Bridge become necessary. Mr Brunel, as it happened, had been the engineer of Hungerford Bridge; and when, therefore, its chains had to be pulled down and to give place to the bridge of the Charing-cross Railway, it occurred to Mr Hawkshaw to have them applied to the completion of one of Mr Brunel’s bridge designs. For such a purpose the money was soon forthcoming. A new company, under a new Act and presided over by Mr Huish was started, with a capital of £35,000. The chains of Hungerford Bridge were purchased for £5,000; the stone towers built by Mr Brunel for the old company, for £2000. Two years ago the work of slinging these chains began and the bridge is now finished.”

The Hungerford Bridge referred to was the original Hungerford Bridge that crossed the Thames prior to the construction of Charing Cross Station. The old Hungerford Bridge had to be demolished to allow a railway bridge to be built in its place.

I asked the guide whether all the suspension iron rods were from Charing Cross, he was not sure of the actual number as some new rods had to be made, but many of the rods suspending the deck of the bridge today are the originals from Hungerford Bridge. These rods look out on a very different river to the one they originally spanned.

The following print shows the original Hungerford Bridge and it is clear that the same design principles are used for both this bridge and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Another of my father’s photos looking along the bridge from the Clifton side:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The same view today. The height of the bridge is very apparent, being 245ft above high water. The banks of the gorge are wooded. The size of the large brick abutment supporting the bridge tower at the Leigh Woods end of the bridge is very apparent. Within this abutment are the chambers that I will be visiting.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

During the construction of the bridge, people and materials needed to be transferred between the two banks of the Avon. To achieve this, a metal rod was pulled across the Avon gorge. From this rod a basket was suspended and was pulled across the gorge by ropes. Given the height of the gorge this must have been a rather dramatic crossing.

A report in the West Kent Guardian on the 3rd September 1836 wrote about one of the events when there was a near disaster when crossing the river by this means:

“In the afternoon of Saturday, several persons were attracted to the spot where the bar crosses the Avon, in consequence of some gentlemen being observed taking a car over the Leighwood side of the river. In a short time it was perceived that this car was being affixed to the iron bar, and in a few moments two young gentlemen entered it, and it was drawn about midway, hanging over the river, here it stopped, owning it is supposed, to their being an obstruction in the bar caused by its fall; the rope by which the car was being drawn was then slackened to a very considerable degree.

The Benledi steam vessel at this time approached, and the mast just caught the rope; a cry of horror was uttered on both shores. The parties on board the steamer not being aware of the circumstance, did not stop the vessel, which proceeded, drawing with it the rope, the bar, and the car. The people on the shore covered their eyes with their hands, and expected every instant to hear the report of the bar breaking, for if this had been the case the young gentlemen would have been precipitated into the river below.

Fortunately, however at this awful crisis one man had sufficient fortitude and presence of mind to cut the end of the rope, and thus let the voyagers free from the steamer, but the car then swung to and fro with the most awful rapidity and a gentleman who was present states that the sight was so dreadful, that it was impossible to give a description of it. After a lapse of some time the car became steady, and the young gentlemen were drawn to the rock in safety. A gentleman then got into it, and was drawn to the same spot. he ascended from the car to the bar, and was apparently engaged in endeavouring to remove the obstruction, but our informant had seen enough and left the spot, assuring us that what he had witnessed had made such an impression on his mind that it was some time before he recovered his self-possession.”

An inscription on the top of the Clifton tower records the start of construction in 1836 and completion in 1864. The iron chains supporting the bridge pass through the tower and roll over a mechanism that allows the chains to move very slightly to avoid undue pressure on the tower.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Plaque on the side of the bridge recording the laying of the original foundation stone. It would be almost three decades before the bridge would be complete.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

There was an extravagant opening of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1864. The following drawing shows the crowds assembled for the ceremony.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Illustrated London News recorded the opening ceremony:

“The ceremony of opening the new bridge was attended with much festivity and pomp. There was a procession through the city of Bristol, composed of all the trades and benefit societies, bearing the banners and models illustrative of various callings. This procession, which came early, was immense in numbers, and took nearly three hours to wind through Bristol to the edge of the Clifton ravine, whence they wound down by the ‘zigzag’ to the banks of the Avon. 

There was another and more dignified procession, which came precisely at twelve o’clock to perform the actual ceremony. This procession did not arrive upon the ground till all the spectators and visitors were assembled – that is to say, till the approaches to the bridge were filled, till the heights of Leigh Wood were crowded, and the ledge of steep grey cliffs lined with dense masses of people. 

The opening ceremony was performed by the procession crossing the bridge from Clifton to the Leigh Wood side, amidst a grand salute from the Volunteer Artillery. from the Somerset side the return was made in the same order to the Clifton or Gloucestershire end, when a halt was called in frount of the grand stand erected for visitors; and Captain Huish, the chairman of the company, read a brief address setting forth the history of the undertaking, which was loudly cheered.

The Bishop of Gloucester offered up a prayer; after which, in a few brief words, the Earl of Ducie, for the county of Gloucestershire and the city and county of Bristol, and the Earl of Cork for the county of Somerset, each formally declared the bridge opened to the public for traffic, amidst renewed cheers, which were repeated again and again.

In the course of the afternoon a late dejeuner, or early dinner was given in the Victoria Rooms, to which all the chief visitors and the leading gentry of Bristol and its neighbourhood were invited. 

During the night the bridge was illuminated with the electric light and with Bengal fires.”

The Victorians knew how to open a bridge !

This is the view from the centre of the bridge, looking inland as the River Avon curves around Bristol and heads to Bath.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

From the opposite side of the bridge, the Avon gorge is very apparent. In this direction the river heads towards the River Severn and the Bristol Channel. The A4 is the road that runs along the base of the gorge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

My father took this view from the Clifton end of the bridge, looking down on the road. During my visit, this side of the bridge was closed, so the above photo taken from the Leigh Wood end was the closest I could get.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The view of the bridge from the Leigh Wood side looking back at Clifton. Unlike Leigh Wood, the Clifton tower was built on rock so does not have the very large abutment to be found supporting the Leigh Wood tower.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Leigh Wood tower:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Leigh Wood tower has the Latin inscription SUSPENSA VIX VIA FIT which translates as “A suspended way made with difficulty”. It is also apparently a play on words to record the name of Alderman Vick who made the original £1000 contribution to the bridge in 1753.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

View looking along the bridge from the Leigh Wood end.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Time to enter the chambers beneath the abutment.

It was long assumed that the abutments were solid, however when a builder was replacing paving slabs, he found that the wooden sleepers on which the slabs had been fitted had started to rot and a small hole had appeared. Poking a rod through the hole the builder found a large void underneath.

On descending down the void, they found holes leading off which led into other large chambers and discovered that rather than being solid, the abutment comprised a number of large, vaulted chambers, untouched since the bridge towers had been constructed.

In the photo below, to the right of the seat, just before the start of the shadow there is a manhole cover. This is the location where the discovery was made.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

To gain access to the chambers, an entrance way has been cut into the side of the abutment which is reached by a walk down the side of the abutment, then a short vertical ladder to reach the floor level of the first chamber.

The first sight of the chamber is stunning. A large vaulted chamber, original builders rubble on the floor and stalactites hanging from the ceiling.

The rock on the left is part of the natural rock formation, showing how the abutment and chambers were built onto and around the rock edge of the gorge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

In the above photo you can see a hole in the roof of the chamber. Apparently this was used for access during the completion of the abutment, and then sealed.

On the surface of the bridge, the hole is located roughly at the end of the traffic island, in the centre of the road in the photo below.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

From the first chamber, a small hole leads through to the next chamber:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The first chamber is up against the rocky edge of the gorge, this chamber is at 90 degrees to the first chamber and the wall at the end of this chamber is the wall that faces out from the abutment, across the gorge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

This is the largest part of the abutment and there are similar chambers on either side and below. In the photo below you can see two round holes, high up on the side walls of the chamber. these lead through to chambers on either side of this chamber.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

View of the access hole to the side chambers:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

There are also lower access holes to the side chambers – it would be a very narrow crawl through these:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

And on the floor there is a ladder leading to the chambers below. When looking at the external view of the abutment, it is hard to believe that there as so many large chambers hidden within.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

On the floor of the chamber there are a number of stalagmites, built up over the decades from the water dripping from above.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge is a superb example of Victorian engineering. Not only highly functional and built to last, but the bridge also looks so good and blends perfectly with the surrounding landscape.

It is surprising how on all my visits to locations outside of London I always find a link with London, and in the case of the Clifton Suspension Bridge a very tangible link, walking across knowing that some of the supporting iron rods had once also supported the deck of the original Hungerford Bridge.

After the tour of the chambers, I climbed the hill at the Clifton end of the bridge to the observatory for a final view of the bridge before heading back down into Bristol.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Clifton Suspension Bridge has an excellent visitor centre and the volunteers who run the tours are really knowledgeable and enthusiastic about this wonderful bridge.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge web site has details of the visitor centre and the hard hat tours of the abutment chambers. It can be found here.

alondoninheritance.com

Regents Park Basin, Cumberland Market Estate And Wartime Bombing

For this week’s post, I am in for me, a rather special place. This is the Peabody Cumberland Market Estate, a large estate of flats, mainly completed by 1937 and built around the old Regents Park Basin, also known as the Cumberland Market Basin, built to facilitate delivery of hay, vegetables, ice and loads of other goods to Cumberland Market, which was located at the end of the basin.

It is a special place for me as my father moved into Bagshot House as a child in 1939, lived here throughout the war (apart from about 2 weeks of evacuation), and continued living here until the early 1950s.

Regents Park Basin

Construction of the flats was started in the mid 1920s on land owned by the Crown Estate. The flats were built on land once occupied by warehouses, workshops and houses, all surrounding the Regents Park Basin. The basin was connected to the Regents Canal by a short run of canal that passed through Regents Park, then alongside the Regents Park Barracks. Cumberland Market was at the end of the basin. This extension of the canal was built in 1830.

The architect of the estate was C. E. Varndell and there is a street named after him running from Cumberland Market to the Hampstead Road.

The following map from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas for Greater London shows the basin to the left of centre. In the above Peabody map you can see Redhill Street and Augustus Street with allotments now running through the centre of the estate on the area once occupied by the basin.

Regents Park Basin

It was from these flats that for a child the rest of London was a playground, where the impact of war would be seen both in the distance and in his own block of flats and where a 14 year old would see the horrendous human consequences of the bombing of a civilian population.

It was also from the flats that immediately after the war he would set out walking and cycling to photograph London and a few of these photos include views of the estate.

If you return to the Peabody estate map at the top of the post, you will see Redhill Street, then Bagshot House, then Swinley House.

Swinley House was a long row of flats that faced onto the Regents Park Basin. When built, the basin was still full of water, however this was the post war view across what was the Regents Park Basin looking towards Swinley House.

Regents Park Basin

I could not get to the exact same location, however this is roughly the same view today – I will explain why the views are so different after the photo below.

Regents Park Basin

Firstly, if you look along the top of Swinley House, the roof level flats are missing along the left of the building in the post war photo. This was as a result of incendiary bombing in 1940 which I will describe later in this post.

Also in the post war photo all the land in front of Swinley House is full of rubble. This had once been the Regents Park Basin, however, during the war the basin and canal extension was gradually filled with the considerable volumes of rubble caused by bombing across the city.

As Cumberland Market had closed, the basin served no purpose, and therefore provided a convenient dumping ground.

The following extract is from my father’s account of his experiences in London during the war, written in the summer of 1945, and mentions the in filling of the basin. This was the year 1943.

London’s bomb sites continued to be cleared and building repairs carried out. The number of static water tanks increased as sites and basements became available, and huge piles of brick and masonry rubble appeared where buildings had once stood. 

That section of the Regents Canal from its Camden Town branch to the Regents Park Basin had been filed in over a period of many weeks. The water had not been drained but remained beneath the layer of rubble which had been dropped from a continuous fleet of lorries reversing towards the basin and tipping the contents into the water until one very small area of water remained, massed with gasping fish. Luckily all the ducks had flown.

I often wondered what personal belongings and perhaps human remains were buried with the filling, and thought the loss of water foolhardy as air raids might well resume.

Cumberland Market became a Council Depot for building materials, huge mounds of sand and bags of cement, the site enclosed with old doors which were plentiful.

The large area in front of Swinley House is now occupied by allotments, as topsoil was placed over the rubble.

The following view is looking down the full length of the old Regents Park Basin towards where Cumberland Market would have been just after the flats at the very end. Swinley House is on the right.

Regents Park Basin

The two buildings in the distance in the above photo are Euston Tower on the left and the BT Tower on the right which should help with the location and orientation of this area.

Walking back into the courtyard area, this is part of Bagshot House. My father lived in a flat along the first floor balcony on the left.

Regents Park Basin

I stood in the courtyard imagining the scenes here in 1940. This extract from my father’s account is about the heavy bombing during the later half of 1940:

“On another night during this period our block of flats and Swinley House directly opposite were showered with incendiaries. As father was on day shift at the time we were all in our beds resting as well as we were able, until the characteristic incendiary noise had us quickly out of bed. Father, a big man over six feet tall, the son of a fire chief officer and born in a fire station, was no man to hang about if a fire was in the offing. Donning his steel helmet, dressing gown over his pyjamas and a pair of slippers on his feet he rushed out of the doors and disappeared along the balcony towards the stairs. Mother called out to him in anguish but to no avail, the days of the horse drawn appliance rushing to a fire was in his blood. Up to the top floor directly above us he went, grabbing a stirrup pump in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. A pump with buckets of water and sand were normally available at each stair landing. An incendiary had crashed through the roof above, entering the top most flat, and in short time would no doubt have burnt its way through to us or at least have ruined all our possessions with water. However with the help of the occupier who was panicking for the A.F.S. (Auxiliary Fire Service) father soon had both the fire and the bomb extinguished.

Meanwhile, the incendiaries which had fallen on Swinley House went unnoticed. In one top floor flat bedroom windows could be seen the now familiar dazzling white light, soon turning to orange, as I watched from the bedroom window. Presently the roof began to burn through. Noticing figures in the courtyard below, now beginning to be illuminated by the flames, father could be seen rushing across to the stairs to grapple with this new challenge. The top floor balcony soon became doted with silhouettes of men throwing what they could salvage down to the courtyard, a dangerous and pointless task carried out in desperation, as anything of value would be looted before daylight. This fire was too advanced for stirrup pumps and buckets of water and due to the great number of fires that night a trailer pump did not arrive until the fire was well underway. In the meantime, my father and others carried on as best they could, eventually arriving home with blackened face, wet and filthy, his dressing gown and pyjama trousers singed, and slippers ruined. Concrete floors and stairways saved the block from complete destruction, the rooms and furniture directly beneath the top floor remaining soaked with sooty water for weeks. As for salvage, bedding was hung over balcony walls to dry, an unsatisfactory and lengthy process without an alternative. Furniture carried down to the courtyard and left to the elements until it could be carted away, that is what remained after further looting.”

The comments on looting are interesting, even within a reasonably enclosed estate. There are many examples of the “Blitz spirit” in my father’s accounts, but they also demonstrate that there will always be people willing to take advantage of the misfortune of others.

There are many accounts of happenings throughout the war on the estate in his written records, another extract from early 1944 during the “little blitz” again covers bombing directly on the estate:

” I wasn’t going to miss this chance of rushing out and extinguishing as many incendiaries as could be found, and after a short argument with mother over the chances of not coming back I shot out of the front door followed by father, although at this stage of the war he had become weary and lost some of his enthusiasm for fighting fires.

From all sides came the familiar sights and sounds. A mile or so over King’s Cross way was the great orange glow of many fires taking hold where the first missiles had fallen, and below in our courtyard and all around lay the incendiary bombs, burning with that intense incandescent, white light. Already many people were running from bomb to bomb with sandbags, dousing the bombs as best they could. Then came pandemonium. Explosions, cries and shouts from all sides. it seemed as though all hell had been let loose as there came hundreds of explosions from all around in quick succession. 

Instinctively father and I dropped to the balcony floor behind the brick parapet wall that separated the balcony from the 20 foot drop to the courtyard below. For a minute or so we were completely dazed. The explosions had come suddenly and without warning and now, hot, steel fragments were whining in all directions. 

As the explosions became less frequent I shakily joined father to peer over the wall to the courtyard below. Realisation came that these were not the old incendiaries which could be picked up or kicked into the gutter to burn out, these weapons were fitted with some anti-personnel device of explosive fitted to the original type of bomb, so timed to explode about three minutes after the bomb had ignited. In other words, just as some likely person, it could have been me or father, was stooping over to extinguish the bomb, which is exactly what had happened.

By the time the two of us had reached the courtyard, most of the bombs had thankfully blown themselves to pieces, saving the effort of having to extinguish them, but with the penalty of perhaps having a body riddled with white hot steel and burning magnesium.

The device had proved very successful as we watched lifeless and injured residents being carried away.”

Thankfully the courtyard is very peaceful today.

The following photo was taken on the balcony outside my father’s flat. looking out through the gap between Swinley House and Ascot House. The old Regents Park Basin is behind the railing, land where bombed buildings have been cleared is behind that, with houses along Stanhope Street in the distance.

Regents Park Basin

I did consider walking up and along the balcony to take a photo of the above scene today, but this would be immediately outside people’s homes so decided not to, although I would love to have walked along the balcony and look down on the courtyard below.

The next photo is off Datchet House, along Augustus Street (see the estate map at the top of the post). I could not get a photo from the same position today as land in front of Datchet House which was a derelict bomb site when my father took the post war photo, has since been built on.

Regents Park Basin

This is the view of Datchet House from the corner of Augustus Street and Cumberland Market. The entrance arch and ornate window help identify the position. Compare also the roof on the part of the building above the entrance arch in the photos above and below. You can see in the above photo the result of incendiary damage. the top floors of the building have since been rebuilt as shown in the photo below.

Regents Park Basin

As with the rest of the estate Datchet House is in fine condition and the archway and ornate window seen in the above photo are still looking good.

Regents Park Basin

The following photo is of the end of Datchet House (on the right of the photo) with Windsor House running along Cumberland Market, the large block that runs to the left of the photo.

Regents Park Basin

Again, due to building on the derelict land in front of the flats there was no view of the flats from the position of the above photo today, so the photo below is of Windsor House from the corner of Augustus Street and Cumberland Market.

Regents Park Basin

The original photo was taken on the corner of Stanhope Street and Varndell Street. This is the view today looking in the same direction – new building completely obscuring the view, however if you look to the bottom left or both the photo below and the post war photo you will see the same rectangular manhole cover on the corner of the pavement.

Regents Park Basin

Returning to Swinley House, this is the view along the front facade of Swinley House that once faced the basin and now the allotments. The railings are along the original edge of the basin.

Regents Park Basin

This is the view from the opposite end to the above photo, the whole allotment area on the left was once the Regents Park Basin.

Regents Park Basin

At the far end of what was the Regents Park Basin, and now the allotments, in between the basin and the old Cumberland Market is a rather ornate block of flats with a clock tower:

Regents Park Basin

This is the view from the opposite side, this is all Windsor House, but this section is indented with gardens and an ornate gateway facing onto Cumberland Market.

Regents Park Basin

Bagshot House is one of the very few homes or workplaces that remain in London where my family have lived in or worked over the years. Most of these places have long since been demolished.

The Crown Estate attempted to sell the estate in 2011, however a campaign to resist the sale to developers resulted in Peabody taking over the estate and it looks incredibly well run. It is good to see the flats looking externally much as they would have when my father lived there during the war.

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Chepstow Castle

After visiting the town of Chepstow and the River Wye in last Sunday’s post, in this post I explore Chepstow Castle – one of the earliest Norman castles in the country.

Chepstow Castle is on a large limestone cliff overlooking the river and town. Construction started in 1067, the year after the Battle of Hastings and the coronation of William the Conqueror as King William I.

William had given Chepstow to William Fitz Osbern, the Earl of Hereford and it was William Fitz Osbern who started construction of the castle. The castle passed to William Marshall in 1189 and stayed in the Marshall family until 1245 when the Marshall estates were divided between five daughters with Chepstow going to Maud Marshall and through Maud’s marriage to Hugh Bigod, the 3rd Earl of Norfolk, it passed to the Bigod family.

As the castle passed through various families, it was extended considerably, existing buildings were remodeled and the castle lived a relatively peaceful life until the Civil War.

This is the 1947  view of the castle from across the River Wye. The castle is rather hard to see, but is behind the bridge, on the left bank of the river. The castle from a distance can appear to blend in with the cliffs on which it is built.

Chepstow Castle

And this is the view in 1947 taken from one of the castle towers looking back towards where the above photo was taken.

Chepstow Castle

The same view today. The buildings at both ends of the bridge are the same, however the buildings at the bottom of the 1947 photo have been cleared to make way for a large car park and the visitor centre which are located directly in front of the entrance to the castle.

Chepstow Castle

A 1947 view of the external walls and towers of the castle:

Chepstow Castle

Another view from inside the castle looking over the river and bridge.

Chepstow Castle

The same view today:

Chepstow Castle

My father took these photos during his National Service when he was at an Army base just outside Chepstow, and he was at the castle with a number of his colleagues from the army – there are photos of them in and around Chepstow and the castle, including this one rather precariously sitting on the edge of the cliff lookiing back towards the castle.

Chepstow Castle

The lighting was not ideal in the above photo to show the height of the cliffs on which the castle was built, however this photo shows the height of the cliffs and the sheer vertical ascent above the river.

Chepstow Castle

The setting of Chepstow Castle high on the cliffs over the river has attracted many artists over the centuries to paint and draw different views of the castle. The following painting by the Flemish artist Hendrik-Frans De Cort shows a rather overgrown and ruined castle. The bridge in the background is the version of the bridge prior to the existing bridge.

Chepstow Castle

Cellars underneath the castle provided storage and also access to the river. The following 1947 view is of the large opening from the cellar overlooking the river. From this opening, goods could be winched up from boats on the river below.

Chepstow Castle

The view from the cellar in 2017:

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle was further fortified in the early 15th century to prevent any attacks by Owain Glyndwr, the last Prince of Wales to be a native Welshman, and who led a number of revolts against the rule of Wales by the English.

In the 16th century the castle become more of a home than a castle and was modified for a more comfortable form of living, however it was during the English Civil War in the 17th century that the castle was to see considerable action.

During the Civil War, much of Monmouthshire and South Wales supported Charles I, and Chepstow was the main Royalist base in the area.

Parliament briefly gained control of the castle in 1643, but for the majority of the Civil War the castle remained loyal to the Royalist cause. In 1645 the castle was besieged and surrendered without waiting for a full attack.

In November 1647 whilst being held at Hampton Court Palace, Charles I briefly escaped. News of his escape triggered a number of Royalist rebellions across the country, including at Chepstow where Sir Nicholas Kemeys captured the castle in a surprise attack with 160 soldiers.

On May 11th 1648 Cromwell arrived in Chepstow and captured the town but not the castle. He left part of his army at the castle to commence a siege.

The siege lasted for two weeks, when Kemeys was offered terms for surrender which he refused until only unconditional surrender was offered.

Kemeys realised he could not continue to hold the castle and he arranged to escape by boat, however the boat was seen by Royalist soldiers who captured the boat before Kemeys could escape.

The Parliamentary forces then breached the walls of the castle, and in a last desperate fight, Kemeys was killed. Of his original force, only 40 survived and surrendered.

A plaque on the interior wall of Chepstow Castle records where Sir Nicholas Kemeys met his death.

Chepstow Castle

After the Civil War, Chepstow Castle entered a long period of peace and gradual decay as illustrated by this print from 1787 (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Chepstow Castle

View inside the castle in 1947:Chepstow Castle

Along the top of the ramparts:

Chepstow Castle

View across the castle to the cliffs on the opposite bank of the River Wye. In the bottom right hand corner is the Georgian Castle Terrace (see the photo in last week’s post of the street facing facades of these lovely buildings)

Chepstow Castle

I could not find the exact location that the above photo and the following two photos were taken from, a task that should have been easy given the number of obvious landmarks, however I suspect the point where the above photo was taken is now closed off, and the following two photos may have been taken just outside of the castle on land that rises behind and now looks to be mainly wooded.

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle

Back in Chepstow Castle, the following photo shows the remains of the Great Tower. It originally consisted of a two storey tower built between 1067 and 1115 making this the earliest stone structure in the castle.

Chepstow Castle

It was extended over the years and as the rest of the castle developed, the Great Tower moved from being a purely defensive structure to being ornate private apartments and ceremonial space. The photo below shows some of the decoration that remains within the Great Tower. In the centre there is the remains of a decorated arch. Part of a pair that crossed the width of the hall.

Chepstow Castle

The ornate east doorway to the Great Tower is shown in the photo below. Note the layer of Roman tiles running along the wall and over the arch of the door. There is no evidence of a Roman building on the site of the castle, however there were Roman buildings nearby and the tiles probably came from one of these buildings.

Chepstow Castle

The interior of Marten’s Tower which was built between 1288 and 1293 by Roger Bigod. Possibly intended as a guest suite for a king, it contained grand private rooms on three floors along with a private chapel.

Chepstow Castle

Recent tree ring dating tests have identified a gate that until 1962 still hung at the main castle gateway, as being the oldest castle doors in Europe. Tree ring dating identified the doors as having been made no later than the 1190s. Just image the people that have passed these doors and the events they have witnessed over the almost 800 years that they were in place.

Chepstow Castle

That concludes my all too brief visit to Chepstow Castle, one of the oldest Norman castles in England and Wales, and indeed my visit to Chepstow.

There are more photos from 1947 and 1948 taken in the areas around Chepstow so I hope to return one day and track these down, but I was really pleased that tracking down the locations of the photos in these two posts gave me a reason to visit Chepstow and discover a wonderful town that is really worth a visit.

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