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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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Chepstow And The River Wye

In addition to photos of London, my father took lots of photos of the rest of the country whilst cycling and staying at Youth Hostels (a very popular post war pursuit) and during National Service. As well as tracking down all the locations of the London photos, I have a side project to track down this geographically wider set of photos. I have already featured a number of these locations in previous posts and this week I am visiting Chepstow and the River Wye.

These photos were taken in 1947 whilst my father was based with the army near Chepstow as part of his National Service. The post will be in two parts, today covering the town of Chepstow and the River Wye. A mid-week post will visit Chepstow Castle. Construction of the castle started in 1067 which makes Chepstow one of the earliest Norman castles in the country. I will be back in London next Sunday.

The River Wye runs up from the River Severn and here forms the boundary between England and Wales. Chepstow is located in one of the many loops of the River Wye, just on the Welsh side of the river, not far from the River Severn.

The following extract from a 1930s edition of Bartholomew’s Revised Half Inch Contour Maps shows the location of Chepstow. These are wonderful maps, their use of colour to show the height of the land, the typeface used for the lettering and the symbols used for landscape features produced maps that are lovely to look at as well as highly functional.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The River Wye between Goodrich, Monmouth and Chepstow runs through several sections of limestone, with deep valleys, large meanders and densely forested cliffs. Meanders are usually associated with a sluggish river, but this is not so with the Wye. It is a fast running river and also has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world with a range of up to 44 feet (13.4m) at the bridge in Chepstow. Large volumes of water are therefore moved up and down the river each day.

Despite the large tidal range, Chepstow was once a thriving port. The town’s location within the Welsh Marches meant that imports and exports were free from duties to the Crown, providing that the ships did not call at Bristol.

Such was the success of the port of Chepstow that in 1791 there were 31 ships belonging to the town of 2,495 tonnage which grew to 75 ships with a tonnage of 5,782 in 1824.

Trade from Cheptow was with the rest of the UK as well as the Continent and ships from Chepstow carried spirits, wines, wheat, barley, flour, cider, iron, millstones and timber for the navy from the forests that lined the Wye Valley. The level of trade justified a Customs House at Chepstow which was in operation until the mid 1850s. Goods were also transferred from sea going ships at Chepstow onto lighters which would transfer goods further up the River Wye, to towns such as Monmouth, Hereford and Hay on Wye.

The port went into decline after the 1850s, probably due to the arrival of the railway at Chepstow in the same decade. Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway bridge across the Wye at Chepstow was a remarkable engineering achievement and whilst a new support structure was put in place in 1962, Brunel’s original cast iron pillars still support the bridge.

Time to take a walk to explore Chepstow and the River Wye. According to my father’s notes all the Chepstow photos were taken over two weekends, the 5th and 6th and the 12th and 13th of July 1947, so I assume these were periods of leave. In the collection there are also many photos of army life at Chepstow, including one of a troop of 18 and 19 year National Service recruits leaving “for a p*** up”, so I am not sure if the inhabitants of a quiet Welsh market town appreciated having the army so close. My visit to Chepstow was on Saturday the 8th July so as close as I could get to being exactly 70 years between the two sets of photos.

I will start just outside the original town, at the entrance to the Town Gate, originally the only landward entry to Chepstow in the walls that surrounded the town and port.

The original town gate was built in the 13th century at the same time as the walls. The gate in place today dates from the 16th century with the usual repairs, part rebuilds and modifications that would be expected for a building in such a prominent position in over 400 years.

On the right of the town gate is the George Hotel. An Inn has been here since the early 17th century however the current building dares from 1899.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The same view today, 70 years later. Mainly cosmetic changes to the buildings. The increase in road traffic is such that traffic lights now control traffic through the town gate.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Walking through the Town Gate takes us into the High Street. This is the view looking up the High Street back towards the gate.

Chepstow And The River Wye

And looking down the High Street from the same position. These two photos show the slope of the land as it descends down towards the River Wye.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Thankfully Chepstow retains the feel of a local town with individual businesses rather than being overrun with national chains, although one national coffee chain has established a prominent position at the bottom of the High Street.

Along the High Street, I found a connection with London, although a rather derogatory reference:

Chepstow And The River Wye

The text is from a poem by the Rev. E. Davies:

Unlike the flabby fish in London sold,
A Chepstow Salmon’s worth his weight in gold,
Crimps up delightful to the taste and sight,
In flakes alternate of fine red and white,
Few other rivers such fine Salmon feed,
Nor Taff, nor Tay, nor Tyne, nor Trent, nor Tweed.

The earliest references to this poem I have found are from the early 19th Century so this was written at a time when salmon were relatively abundant in the River Wye at Chepstow. Salmon numbers have fluctuated considerably over the centuries, periods of over fishing and poaching as well as environmental factors have contributed to reductions in numbers however salmon seem to recover well and the 1960s and 70s were record decades with salmon weighing in excess of 30lbs and measuring over 4ft long being caught and over 6,000 being caught each year in the late 1980s.

Salmon numbers plummeted dramatically soon after so by 2002 only 357 salmon were caught. Numbers are gradually recovering and in 2016 there was a spring catch of over 500 as salmon returned to the river in numbers not seen for 20 years.

I did not get a chance to try a Chepstow salmon so cannot compare with the flabby fish in London.

From the High Street, I walked into Middle Street and immediately along the pedestrianised St. Mary Street.

This is the view looking up St. Mary Street. The Chepstow Bookshop is on the left of this street – a brilliant independent bookshop where I bought a couple of books on the history of the area.

Chepstow And The River Wye

At the end of St. Mary Street is Upper Church Street and this was the view in 1947:

Chepstow And The River Wye

And the same view in 2017 which stupidly I took in landscape rather than the portrait format of the original.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Again the scene is much the same with only cosmetic differences. There is however one remarkable difference between the two. All my photography of street scenes and buildings today are generally plagued by cars. Roadside parking and street traffic generally obstructing the view of a building or scene, however in the above pair of photos there are three cars in 1947 and nothing in 2017. Traffic in Chepstow is much lighter than London and I was lucky that there was no parking in the marked bay in front of me, but it did seem strange not to be trying to take a photo in between parked and passing traffic.

Staying in the same position as the above two photos, but turning to look in the opposite direction is this large old building in Bridge Street at the end of Upper Church Street.

Chepstow And The River Wye

These are the Powis Alsmhouses. The plaque above the door states that the almshouses were built following an endowment in 1716 from Thomas Powis, a Vintner from Enfield in Middlesex for six poor men and six poor women of the town and parish. His connection with Chepstow is that he was born in the town. The cellars underneath the almshouses were used by wine merchants during the 18th century.

The almshouses are now Grade II listed and the following photo shows the full building, which again is little changed from 1947.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Above the plague there is a sundial projecting from the edge of the roof. This was also in the 1947 photo.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Bridge Street, as the name suggests is the road that leads down to the original bridge over the River Wye, linking Chepstow to England. One side of the street is lined by 3 storey houses. This is Castle Terrace and consists of an unbroken row of 14 Georgian houses built between 1805 and 1822. The rear of the houses look out onto the castle. They are also Grade II listed.

Chepstow And The River Wye

At the end of Bridge Street is the bridge over the River Wye. This was the view in 1947 a short distance on the bridge looking back towards Chepstow.

Chepstow And The River Wye

70 years later the view is much the same.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The building at the end of the bridge surrounded by scaffolding was the Bridge Inn, a Grade II listed pub, however the pub has now closed and the building is being converted into a cafe, shop and apartments. Just one of the twenty one pubs that are closing each week according to a Campaign for Real Ale report.

The bridge provides a very dramatic view of the River Wye and Chepstow Castle. This is the 1947 view with a high tide showing the full width of the river.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Similar view in 2017 – rather more ornate lights have replaced the 1947 versions.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The tidal range of the River Wye at Chepstow is one of the largest in the world. The lowest astronomical tide is 1.2m and the highest is 14.6m giving a maximum tidal range of 13.4m (44 ft). The highest tidal range of 16.2m is at the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada, 15m at Ungava Bay in north eastern Canada, followed by 14.7m across the Severn Estuary, then Chepstow at 14.6m.

The following photo was taken as the tide was receding – low tide had not yet been reached. Tide height can be seen by the height of the mud banks and also by the tide line on the cliffs in the distance.

Chepstow And The River Wye

There is a much later road bridge carrying the A48 into Chepstow, however this is the original road bridge.

Chepstow And The River Wye

There has been a bridge on the site since the 13th century, the first built of wood and with a central stone arch it was subject to frequent damage requiring a ferry to provide transport across the river until it was repaired. There was also an earlier Roman bridge further upstream.

The current bridge was built between 1815 and 1816 and is the largest remaining iron arch bridge built prior to 1830. The original Ironbridge in Shropshire is about 35 years older but is a shorter bridge than the one at Chepstow.

The bridge was designed and built by John Urpeth Rastrick – an engineer who has been rather overshadowed by the likes of Brunel and Thomas Telford.

Born in 1780 in Morpeth, Northumberland, Rastrick built steam engines, including the first engine to be run in the USA. He was the chairman of the judging panel for the Rainhill Trials in 1829 where 5 engines competed along a mile of track at Rainhill. Stephenson’s Rocket was the only engine to complete the trials. He was also the engineer for the extension of the London to Brighton railway from Croydon to Brighton.

If you look back at the map at the top of the post, the bridge carried the A48 across the River Wye and was the only road bridge to cross this section of the river. Also, if you follow the River Wye down to where it meets the River Severn you can see there is a ferry at Beachley. This was long before the Severn road crossings were built and the only route across was via the ferry or a long detour via Gloucester.

The bridge has a very elegant design and looks remarkable during a very high tide when the water fully covers the concrete piers and the white arches appear to be floating on the water.

As well as the high tide, the Wye has been known to flood. In the photo below there is a plaque at the bottom of the white pillar at the end of the railings. The plaque marks the high tide level on the 17th October 1883.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The River Wye is home to a growing population of salmon, and there have been very occasional sightings of seals who have come up from the River Severn to hunt fish. Remarkably on the day of my visit there was a seal hunting for fish in the muddy water slightly downstream of the bridge.

Chepstow And The River Wye

A short distance from the bridge, there is a small wine bar / restaurant along the banks of the Wye. A July day with a beer and some food sitting outside along the banks of the River Wye was hard to beat.

Directly opposite are these limestone cliffs. There is a large, square hole in the cliffs. This opens out onto a much larger chamber. There are a number of possible origins and use of the chamber, one of the most credible uses was to unload and provide a temporary storage place for goods that could not be unloaded from ships at the shallower wharves across the river.

If you look just below and to the right of the hole is a Union Jack. This was originally painted in 1935 for the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The flag has been repainted a number of times since.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The tide mark for a high tide is very visible in the above photo and in January 2014 heavy rains and flooding caused the River Wye to reach above the flag.

My father took the following photo from the top of the cliffs shown in the above photo, looking back onto Chepstow and the River Wye. I tried to get up to the same spot, however housing seems to have been built along the cliff and I could not find the same view point, although I was by then short of time, so an excuse for another visit.

Chepstow And The River Wye

There are rows of benches along the river’s edge in the above photo. Then as today, this is a lovely place to sit on a summer’s day and watch the rise and fall of the tides.

I assume the following photo was from around the same spot as the above. This is looking downstream and the railway bridge across the river can be seen on the left. The white painted building towards the right of the photo facing the river is now the Riverside Wine Bar. The photo again gives a good view of the tidal range at Chepstow.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Chepstow and the River Wye is a wonderful place to visit and I was really pleased that tracking down the locations of the old photos provided the motivation to make the journey. There was much more to see – I will cover the castle in my next post, however the town also has a museum (which I did not get time to visit), there are long walks along the River Wye and Chepstow has some excellent pubs and restaurants (one of which I did get the time to visit).

From London, Chepstow is roughly a three hour train journey, or by car, straight down the M4 then turn right after crossing the River Severn – it is well worth the journey.

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St James Clerkenwell

It is 11:30 on a sunny Sunday morning, the 6th September 1953 and my father is in Clerkenwell Green and took the following photo looking down Clerkenwell Close towards the church of St James Clerkenwell.

St James Clerkenwell

One of the doors to the church is open, perhaps there is, or has been a Sunday service. I doubt the man walking his dog would have attended, he was probably more interested in when the pub on the corner would open.

And this is the same view in the summer of 2017 (although a week day rather than a quiet Sunday morning).

St James Clerkenwell

A wider view of the area:

St James Clerkenwell

The church of St James Clerkenwell we see today was built between 1788 and 1792. It replaced a much earlier church, parts of which dated back to the twelfth century. Prior to the reformation there was an Augustinian nunnery dedicated to St Mary on the site, and after the reformation parts of the building were used by the parish as the parish church. The following print from Old and New London shows the old church of St. James.

St James Clerkenwell

The old church originally had a steeple but appears to have suffered a common problem of London’s churches, due to their age and poor maintenance of the fabric, as the steeple collapsed in 1623 and there was a later second collapse due to poor construction of the replacement. Repair work was carried out and the church was left with the squat tower shown in the above print rather than a steeple.

I am always fascinated by the growth of London and how parts of the city were once on the boundary. The following map produced in 1720 for Stowe’s Survey of London shows the parish of St James Clerkenwell. The red ring marks the location of what at this time would have been the original church and not much further north were open fields.

St James Clerkenwell

The street in the centre running from top to bottom of the map is St. John Street which retains the same name today. In 1720 St. John Street was labelled as “the road to Chester” which is an interestingly distant location to mark on a parish map.

The new church was designed by the architect James Carr. It cost nearly £12,000 and was consecrated by Bishop Porteus in 1792.

St James Clerkenwell in 1812, twenty years after completion (©Trustees of the British Museum) .

St James Clerkenwell

In my father’s 1953 photo there is a pub on the corner of Clerkenwell Green and Close and the pub is still there today and does very well on a summer’s day.

St James Clerkenwell

This is the Crown Tavern and occupies the corner plot, but if you look at the above photo, the houses on the right and left of the pub are of exactly the same style and construction – these buildings were originally part of the pub and although internally they have been subject to major reconstruction, externally they maintain the link. These building are of mid 19th century construction with some reconstruction in the late 1890s.

The Crown Tavern is allegedly where Lenin and Stalin first met in 1905.

Although the front of the church and main entrance is on the end of the church where Clerkenwell Close bends around the church, the entrance today is the side entrance looking back towards Clerkenwell Green. A flight of steps lead up to the church entrance, which as can be seen in the photo below, is well above street level.

St James Clerkenwell

The interior of the church was subject to Victorian “restoration” so is very different to the original interior. Today the church appears to rent out work space so I thought it best to avoid walking round the church taking photos and disturb those working. This is the view from the entrance.

St James Clerkenwell

There is still a large churchyard surrounding the church, although any original gravestones are long gone.

On a summer day, the churchyard is now a major lunchtime attraction for local workers.

St James Clerkenwell

The church is surrounded by a number of mature trees which help to distance the churchyard from the surrounding busy streets.

St James Clerkenwell

One of the trees has a sculptural installation of bird boxes by London Fieldworks and dating from 2011.

St James Clerkenwell

Before leaving St. James, it is good to see that the tower and steeple still rise above the surrounding buildings. Too many central London churches are now in the shade of their surroundings. This is the view of the church from Clerkenwell Road.

St James Clerkenwell

St James Clerkenwell and the area around Clerkenwell Green deserves a much longer write up, however I have had too many other commitments this past week so I shall have to return in the future – perhaps on a Sunday morning at 11:30.

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Queen Square – A Water Pump, Zeppelin And Medical Imaging

For this week’s post, I am in Queen Square, Bloomsbury tracking down the location of the water pump that my father photographed in 1947;

Queen Square

The view from the same position 70 years later:

Queen Square

The cast iron fountain dates from 1840 (although the lamp at the top is of a later date). On the base of the water pump on both sides are the coats of arms of St. Andrew and St. George. The strange white and black symbol half way up is a temporary survey marker.

Queen Square

The above view is looking west towards the church of St. George’s Holborn and in the photo below looking east towards where Great Ormond Street meets Queen Square:

Queen Square

The fountain is surrounded by four bollards, three of Portland Stone and one of cast iron – no idea why there is this single iron bollard. The same set of bollards appear in the 1947 photo. I wonder if the single cast iron bollard is original being of the same material as the fountain and the stone bollards are latter replacements following damage to the other three cast iron bollards?

The water pump sits within a large paved area at the southern end of Queen Square with the gardens running north and occupying the majority of the centre of the square.

Queen Square

Construction of Queen Square started in around 1706. The square was built on the gardens of Sir Nathaniel Curzon’s house, which was typical of the expansion of London in this area with new houses and squares taking over the from the large houses that were once surrounded by countryside. The square was completed by 1725 but buildings only occupied three sides, the northern side was left empty so that the inhabitants of the square could enjoy the views over open countryside to the hills of Hampstead.

The following extract from John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Queen Square in the centre, just below the line formed by the page fold. All the land to the north of the square is still open country. The map indicates that at the northern end of the square there were some ornamental gardens and trees to provide a boundary between the square and the lane running from left to right named Powis Wells in the map, this would later become Guildford Street.

Queen Square

The map also shows that in 1746, gardens occupied the centre of the square north from the junction with Great Ormond Street with the large paved area occupying the southern end of the square as it does today.

Behind the water pump in my father’s photo are two buildings of very different style. The same buildings remain to this day as shown by my photo, although they are now somewhat obscured by the trees that have grown around the water pump.

The building on the left has a rather large and ornate coat of arms above the door and along the width of the building, below the top floor windows, is written “The Italian Hospital”.

Queen Square

The Italian Hospital dates from 1884 when it was founded by the local Italian businessman Giovanni Batista Ortelli to provide medical care for sick Italians living in London who could not afford to pay for health care. It originally started operation in Giovanni’s home in Queen Square but moved into the purpose built building shown above following construction in 1898 to 1899.

It closed in 1990, but is now part of Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The buildings on the right are two Georgian houses that are now occupied by the Mary Ward Centre. Although there have been considerable changes to these two buildings, they are some of the few remaining original buildings with the first lease being granted on the 19th June 1703 by Sir Nathaniel Curzon.

Queen Square

At the junction of Queen Square and Old Gloucester Street is the St. George the Martyr Parochial School. Built in 1877 as a church school aligned with the adjacent church. The school has long closed and the building appears locked and empty. Just to the rear of the building on the top floor can be seen the metal frame of the meshed cover over an outside playground – the only way to provide outside play areas at inner city schools.

Queen Square

Queen Square

The plaque on the corner of the building records the year of opening and also that the school was for 200 boys.

Queen Square

Next to the school and in the south west corner of Queen Square is the church of St. George, one of the first buildings on the square The church dates from 1706, its construction having been funded by some of the wealthy inhabitants of the new square.

Queen Square

There was no space available for a graveyard adjacent to the church, this was instead provided in the land just to the north of the Foundling Hospital and is marked on the Rocque map shown above.

The antiquarian Dr. William Stukeley was rector of St. George from 1747 until his death in 1765. It was Stukeley who popularised the association of Stonehenge and Druids and in Old and New London, Edward Walford records Stukeley as also being known as the “arch druid”. For some reason, he had requested to be buried in East Ham rather than the burial ground of the church of which he was rector.

Opposite the church and to the right of the above photo is another of the original buildings. This is the pub “The Queens Larder”. The building now occupied by the pub was first let by Sir Nathaniel Curzon to Matthew Allam, a stationer.

George III stayed in Queen Square whilst under the care of a Dr. Willis whilst he was suffering from the mental illness that would impact so much of the later years of his reign. Queen Charlotte would apparently store the food that the King preferred in the cellar underneath the building which gave the pub its name during the King’s reign.

Although Queen Square is built with houses on three sides which were occupied by the business and professional classes who could afford homes on the edge of the city with the benefits of the countryside and clean air, during the 19th century the square and many of the surrounding streets were rapidly occupied with charities and medical institutions which resulted in rebuilding of much of the square.

Old and New London provides some background to the institutions that occupied the square in the years leading up to publication:

“Queen Square, as well as Great Ormond Street which we shall shortly pass, seems to be a favourite centre of charitable institutions. At the corner of Brunswick Row is the Hospital for Hip Diseases in Childhood, which was founded in 1867. At No. 22 was for many years located the oldest of Ladies’ Charitable Schools. This institution, for although called a school, it is in reality one of our oldest institutions, was established in 1702 for educating, clothing and maintaining the daughters of respectable parents in reduced and necessitous circumstances. The Ladies’ Charity School was removed in 1883 to new quarters in Notting Hill; and the site of the building here is being utilised in an extension of the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic, which adjoined it. This hospital was instituted in the year 1859.

At No. 29 is the College for Men and Women, with which is incorporated the Working Women’s College, both offshoots of the Working Men’s College established in 1874 with the object of supplying to men and women occupied during the day a higher education than had hitherto been within their reach.

No. 31 formed the head-quarters of some Roman Catholic charitable institutions, among which are the Aged Poor Society.

A large double house on the south side of the square is the College of Preceptors, founded in 1846, its object is to afford to commercial and other public and private schools those tests of results which were afforded to other schools by the university local examinations. “

This is just a sample of the institutions that were operating in the area in the later half of the 19th century. These also included the London Hospital for Sick Children which opened on the 2nd of January 1852. The hospital is today better known as Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Plaque above one of the entrances into the central gardens:

Queen Square

Inside the gardens, the following view is looking south towards the location of the water pump. The sculpture is titled “Mother and Child” and is by Patricia Finch. It was installed in the gardens in 2001 in memory of Andrew Temple Meller who was a Director of the Friends of Great Ormond Street Hospital from 1995 to 2000.

Queen Square

Nearby there is a plaque set into the ground that is rather easy to miss. It records the night of the 8th September 1915 when a bomb dropped by a Zeppelin fell on the location of the plaque. The Zeppelin was the L13 commanded by Heinrich Mathy.  The Zeppelin’s route over the city resulted in bombs being dropped in Golders Green, close to Euston Station, Bloomsbury, Clerkenwell, Smithfield and the railway lines into Liverpool Street,

Queen Square

As the plaque states, there were many people asleep close to the bomb in Queen Square, but luckily there were no casualties. This was not the case at other locations as there was a death in Lambs Conduit Passage, along with deaths in Clerkenwell (four children) and in Smithfield.

The following photo (© IWM (Q 58456)) shows the L13 Zeppelin.

Queen Square

The L13 was decommissioned in 1917 however Heinrich Mathy died on the 2nd October 1916 when he was commander of L31 which was shot down near Potters Bar. Mathy along with his entire crew died after jumping from the burning Zeppelin.Queen Square

Queen Square is named after Queen Anne, the monarch at the time of the construction of the square and there is a statue at the northern end of the square which was originally thought to be have been Queen Anne however as the plaque on the pedestal (shown below) states it is now thought to be of Queen Charlotte, who was also responsible for the naming of the Queens Larder pub.

Queen Square

At the north eastern end of the square there is a recent statue of Lord Wolfson, the chairman of Great Universal Stores (remember them ?) and also founder with his father of the Wolfson Foundation in 1955 which was endowed with £6 million of Great Universal Stores shares.

Queen Square

The Wolfson Foundation is a charity that provides grants to individuals and organisations in the fields of science, health, education and the arts and humanities. I assume that the medical institutions that now surround Queen Square have benefited from the Wolfson Foundation, hence the statue.

The square dates back to the start of the 18th century, however standing at the north eastern corner it was strange to hear a 21st century sound with the rhythmic thumping of an MRI scanner working in a large container parked in the street. There are other reminders of the functions of the buildings surrounding the square. Whilst I was there, patients in wheelchairs were being pushed around the square. As well as being a historic square this is also a centre of medical research and treatment.

Queen Square

Along the eastern side of the square are buildings of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Queen Square

The plaque below is on the building shown above.

Queen Square

Next to the above building, there is a later building, also part of the same hospital, that was opened in 1937. The majority of the building was covered in scaffolding and sheeting, however one of the doors to the street was clear and there is an excellent relief above the door.

Queen Square

This is by A.J.J. Ayres who was born in Paddington in 1902 and worked from a studio in Hampstead. There is a second door from the building which also has another relief by Ayres, however this door was covered when I walked past.

This was the second photo I had taken of this door and relief. When taking the first I surprised a doctor coming out the building who was faced by someone taking a photo at as distance of a couple of feet. he had not noticed the relief before – it is strange how you do not notice things when you pass them so many times.

On the west side of Queen Square is this building – St. John’s House.

Queen Square

Build in 1906 for an organisation of the same name which was founded in 1848 as a ‘Training Institution for Nurses for Hospitals, Families and the Poor’. St. John’s House recruited and trained nurses for many of the major London Hospitals, however in the early 20th century recruitment into a religious training organisation was falling as hospitals were starting to recruit and train their own nurses and the St. John’s House organisation closed in 1919. The building was then used as a centre for nurses who had been trained at St Thomas’ Hospital.

St. John’s House is now occupied by the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging.

There are some rather nice decorative features on the building. At the top of the first floor on the right is the following plaque which records that St. John’s House was founded in 1848 and rebuilt in 1906.

Queen Square

Just below the above plaque is this small stone which records the date of 1906, however the name of the builders appears to be now unreadable.

Queen Square

The plaque on the left of the building:

Queen Square

The building below is the Queens Square Imaging Centre. Owned by the University College London Hospitals Charity it is strange to think that behind this rather ornate facade are some of the latest medical imaging systems.

Queen Square

Reliefs from the top of the second floor of the above building:

Queen Square

The final buildings in my tour of Queen Square are these in this view of the northern side of the square. It is here that during the first decades of the 18th century when the square was built that the square was open to provide views across open countryside up to the hills of Hampstead.

Queen Square

The building on the left was the head offices of the Royal Institute of Public Health and now houses private consulting rooms.

The building on the right is the 1930s apartment block Queen Court. There is a blue plaque on the building for Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas who lived in Queen Court for a short period. Yeo-Thomas was a Special Operations Executive agent who went on a number of missions to occupied France during 1942 and 1944, ending with his betrayal and capture in Paris. He suffered severe torture by the Gestapo and was sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Following further transfers and a number of escape attempts he managed to escape and made it back to Allied lines in April 1945. After the war he participated in the Nuremberg War Crime Trials, then settled in Paris where he died in 1964.

A couple of years ago in 2015 a potential developer paid £150,000 for the ground beneath Queen Court, presumably with the expectation of building large basement apartments. It seems crazy that the ground beneath existing buildings can now be sold for such ridiculous figures, presumably with no regard for the occupiers of the building above ground.

Limited work has started, however the residents obtained an injunction forcing the developers to halt the work. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

That was a brief run around Queen Square. It is one of the locations in London I like to walk through when I am feeling cynical about London and the over priced apartment buildings that are being built at every opportunity, bland architecture, the loss of local character and disconnection with the past

Queen Square does what London does best. Loads of history, a wide mix of different architectural styles dating back to the first building in the area as London expanded, a concentration of expertise, institutions and professions, all still very relevant today – and a good pub.

Long may it continue.

alondoninheritance.com

St. James Gardens – A Casualty Of HS2

The rate of change within London is such that streets can take on a very different appearance within a matter of months, however it is unusual for a public park and old burial ground to disappear, however this has been the fate of St. James Gardens.

St. James Gardens are alongside Euston Station, between Cardington Street and Hampstead Road. They were used as a burial ground for the parish of St. James Piccadilly between 1790 and 1853. In 1887 the majority of the monuments and tombstones were removed and St. James opened as a public garden.

The location of St. James Gardens is the green space to the left of Euston Station in the map extract below from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London. I have used this map as the gardens have now disappeared from Google Maps (apart from an unlabelled small green rectangle). The gardens are still visible on Streetview which also has the ability to rollback to historic views of a location, however I believe this is not a feature with the basic map so it is interesting to consider how locations will be recorded long term if we rely on Internet mapping services.

St. James Gardens

The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map clearly shows St. James Gardens and also shows how what was once a rectangular burial ground had already been cut through by Cardington Street and the original Euston Station.

St. James Gardens

The land occupied by St. James Gardens is needed for the expansion of Euston Station to accommodate HS2, so the gardens closed at the end of June to enable preparatory work to be undertaken prior to HS2 construction.

This will primarily involve the exhumation of the bodies buried across the gardens, the removal of the monuments that remain along with the trees that line the gardens.

I have seen various estimates for the number of bodies that are thought to be buried, anything between 30,000 and 60,000 which clearly means no one really knows, however it will be a major task for the exhumation and reburial of such as large number bodies. The first phase of work will be the excavation of archaeological trial trenches so that the scale of the task can be better understood.

A week before the planned closure, I managed to get down to St. James Gardens and photograph a historic space that will soon be lost from the landscape of London for ever.

The plaque at the entrance from Hampstead Road recording the opening of the burial ground as public gardens on the 17th August 1887.

St. James Gardens

The Camden Council welcome sign:

St. James Gardens

The majority of the original gravestones and monuments were removed when the burial ground was converted into public gardens and only a few now remain. These were already fenced off.  The HS2 statement of the archaeological work to be carried out across the garden states that the remaining gravestones and monuments will be recorded, then removed and safely stored. There is no indication of their long term fate.

St. James Gardens

View across the gardens:

St. James Gardens

One of the most significant remaining monuments is that to the Christie family:

St. James Gardens

The memorial is to James Christie (the founder in 1766 of Christie’s auctioneer’s), who was buried in St. James Gardens. The memorial also records his wife and children (although I cannot find out who the John Chapman is, the only one on the memorial without a Christie surname).

St. James Gardens

John Christie, who was buried in St. James Gardens in 1803 (Source: Thomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

St. James Gardens

He had four sons, who are recorded on the monument. His eldest son, also James Christie took over the Auction business is recorded as are the other three who, I assume not being the eldest and therefore not inheriting the family business had to make their way in other professions.

Edward Christie is recorded as having been a Midshipman on HMS Theseus when he died at Port Royal, Jamaica of fever whilst on board a captured slave ship on the 18th July 1802, aged 19 years.

Albany Henry Christie is recorded as aged 39 when he died on the 3rd October 1821, but with no information on his profession or location, although I have found references to him being an articled clerk so he may have been in the legal profession.

St. James Gardens

The monument also records the death of his second son, Captain Charles Christie of the 5th Regiment, Bombay Native Infantry, killed in Persia by the River Aras in an attack made by a body of Russian troops on the 1st November 1812.

St. James Gardens

Captain Charles Christie had an adventurous life as part of the Bombay Regiment. In 1810, disguised as horse dealers, he was exploring a possible route through what is now Afghanistan and Iran to explore if a route was possible for European armies to invade India.

Christie was also part of an officer corp that entered Persian service following an 1809 treaty with the Shah of Persia. This included training Persian infantry and commanding one of the Persian regiments.

He was also involved in a number of military actions between Persia and Russia, as Russia was trying to take control of the area to the north of modern day Iran.

This involvement with Persia formally ceased in 1812 after an agreement between Great Britain and Russia, however a number of officers, including Christie, remained with the Persian army.

In a battle between the Persian and Russian armies in what is now Iran, Christie was shot in the neck, but refused to surrender and apparently killed six men before he was finally killed by the Russian forces. He was buried where he died close to the village of Aslan Duz which today is on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan on the River Aras.

The monument provides a snapshot of the careers of sons of the business and professional classes in the late 18th century. The eldest son would take on the family business, the route to financial success for the other sons would then often be the Navy, Army or Legal professions, as shown by the Christie family.

Unfortunately for Edward and Charles, their careers did not end with success, but with an early death a long way from home.

If you look back at the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shown above, you will see St. James Church between the burial ground and Hampstead Road. The print below from Old and New London shows the church facing a very rural Hampstead Road:

St. James Gardens

Edward Walford writing in Old and New London provides some more information on the church and who is buried in the burial ground, a location which does not get a very positive description:

“St. James’s Church, formerly a chapel of ease to the mother church of St. James’s, Piccadilly. It is a large brick building, and has a large, dreary, and ill-kept burial ground attached to it. Here lie George Morland, the painter, who died in 1804; John Hoppner, the portrait-painter, who died in 1810; Admiral Lord Gardner, the hero of Port l’Orient, and the friend of Howe, Bridport and Nelson; and without a memorial, Lord George Gordon, the mad leader of the Anti-Catholic Riots in 1780, who died a prisoner in Newgate in 1793.”

This was published in 1878 and the description of the burial ground as dreary and ill-kept probably explains why it was cleared and turned into public gardens in 1887.

View across St. James Gardens with some of the mature trees that will be lost:

St. James Gardens

Although the gravestones do not now exist, many of those who have unmarked graves in St. James Gardens played a significant part in late 18th and early 19th century history.

Captain Matthew Flinders, the navigator who led the first circumnavigation of Australia was buried here in 1814.

Lord George Gordon who led the protest from St. George’s Fields to the Houses of Parliament and which evolved into what became known as the Gordon Riots was buried here in 1793.

St. James Gardens

View over to the location of the London Temperance Hospital, the majority of which has now been demolished.

St. James Gardens

Walking around the gardens I found that the occasional solitary grave remains:

St. James Gardens

The mature tress have large, colourful cloths wrapped around their trunks. This was the result of a “yarn bombing” where hand knitted scarves are wrapped around the trunks of trees to draw attention to their fate.

St. James Gardens

St. James Gardens

The open space between the park and the Hampstead Road that was occupied by the London Temperance Hospital:

St. James Gardens

A few more of the remaining monuments and gravestones. The gravestone to lower right is to Catherine Griffiths and Griffith Griffiths along with their daughter Elizabeth and their son Daniel who is recorded as being drowned in the Thames on the 18th June 1852 at the age of 16.

St. James Gardens

View across the gardens from the edge of the gardens adjacent to Cardington Street:

St. James Gardens

Cardington Street on the left:

St. James Gardens

Cardington Street entrance to St. James Gardens with an HS2 poster announcing the closure of the gardens:

St. James Gardens

View across Cardington Street to the entrance:

St. James Gardens

St. James Gardens are now closed. Hoarding will hide the archaeological investigations across the site and the eventual removal of the monuments and the remains of those buried. St. James Gardens will eventually disappear beneath the development of Euston for HS2.

I hope that the few remaining memorials are moved to a location where they still have some relevance and with public access. It would be a shame if Captain Charles Christie, buried on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, looses his remaining tangible connection with London.

alondoninheritance.com

55 Broadway – London Underground’s Modernist Head Office

I have been on the majority of the London Transport Museum’s Hidden London tours, but until a couple of weeks ago had not been on the tour of 55 Broadway. Built in 1929 as the head office of the Underground Group, 55 Broadway continues to serve this role through the descendants of the original company, London Transport and Transport for London.

55 Broadway is reached from Westminster by walking up Tothill Street to where Broadway divides past the building, which is also above St. James’s Park underground station. Despite being almost 90 years old, 55 Broadway is still a very impressive building.

55 Broadway

In the first decades of the 20th century, the London Underground was expanding rapidly and the company needed a headquarters building that suited a forward looking and innovative company. The architecturally overly decorative and fussy buildings of the 19th and early 20th centuries did not meet the aspirations of those running the Underground Company, the Chairman of the Board, Lord Ashfield and Frank Pick the Managing Director (although these aspirations did not include moving away from the hierarchical structure of the company as will be seen when touring the building).

The modernist architect Charles Holden had already worked with the Underground Company and was commissioned to work with Ashfield and Pick on the design for 55 Broadway.

The site for the new building was a rather complex shape and had to accommodate the underground station and the station entrance at ground level.

Holden designed the main building in the shape of a crucifix with the longest wing leading back from where Broadway met Tothiil Street to provide the imposing view seen above when walking from Westminster.

The crucifix shape of the building also makes best use of natural light within the building with all the offices being close to large windows, made possible as the external walls are not load bearing as the building uses a structural steel frame for support.

Just above the main entrance facing Tothil Street is the name of the building, the station and between these is the Royal Institute of British Architects, London Architecture Medal for 1929, the year the building was completed.

55 Broadway

In the following photo from the Britain from Above website, 55 Broadway can be seen slightly above and right the centre of the photo. The crucifix shape of the building is clear in an aerial view. The photo is from 1928 and whilst the main body of the building is complete, the steel frame for the central tower shows that this part was still awaiting completion.

55 Broadway

The large windows can be clearly seen in this view looking towards the centre of the building with two of the wings of the crucifix shape and the central tower. Note also just over half way up, the buttress between the two wings to provide additional structural strength by tying these two wings together.

55 Broadway

Although the building was intended to be of a modernist design and not to be covered with the decorative features so common in buildings of the previous century, Holden and Pick did want the building to create a visual impact and therefore commissioned a number of modernist sculptors to provide a small number of sculptures for the building which would complement rather than overwhelm the design of the building.

On the two main sides of the building are statues by Jacob Epstein. These were highly controversial at the time and divided opinion among the public and art critics.

The statue in the photo below was the first of the pair to be finished and is titled “Night”.

55 Broadway

The following extract from the Illustrated London News on the 1st June 1929 is typical of newspaper reporting of the statues:

“THE MUCH-DISCUSSED EPSTEIN STATUARY ON A NEW LONDON BUILDING; ‘NIGHT’ – A GROUP WHICH THE SCULPTOR HIMSELF DESCRIBES AS ‘AN EMBODIMENT OF THOUGHT IN PLASTIC FORM’. Mr Jacob Epstein has again provided London with a public work in sculpture that has aroused a storm of aesthetic controversy. ‘Night’ is the first finished of the two companion groups (the other being ‘Day’) executed for the new Underground Railways Building over St. James’s Park Station. It is about 9ft high, and represents a mother (called by the sculptor a ‘Madonna’) soothing a child to sleep. While some critics hail it as his finest work, others denounce it as repellent, formless, and distorted. Mr Epstein himself is reported to have said: ‘Sculpture can only live as long as it is the embodiment of thought in plastic form….I do not distort the human form more than is necessary to force my main idea. All the greatest sculptors of the world have modified nature to suit the purpose of the subject – Michelangelo especially. The sculptor must understand anatomy from A to Z; but he is not a surgeon – he is an artist.”

The unveiling of “Day” continued the controversy with campaigns for the two statues to be removed, however Epstein robustly defended his work. In a newspaper article titled “Epstein Defends His Night” he wrote:

“If the man in the street does not like the look of my ‘Night’ on his daily way to work he can always avert his eyes from it. In any case the artist who considers that the taste of the masses is a goal is stultifying his own art. Why ask the opinion of the man in the street at all? One does not ask this man in the street his opinion of good music, one goes to hear it oneself, and forms an opinion of the work on its own merits. So why ask him about sculpture?”.

Epstein’s work did seem to generate very divided and strong opinions, one of his works in Hyde Park was tarred and feathered soon after installation.

As a compromise to let the Night and Day statues remain, Epstein did remove 1.5 inches from his statue “Day” shown below:

55 Broadway

In addition to these two main features, there were other sculptures with the theme of the four winds.

West Wind by Henry Moore:

55 Broadway

South Wind by Eric Gill:

55 Broadway

North Wind by Eric Gill:

55 Broadway

West Wind by Samuel Rabinovitch:

55 Broadway

North Wind by Alfred Gerrard:

55 Broadway

East Wind by Allan Wyon:

55 Broadway

There are also a couple of unusual foundation stones, laid by a long standing employee:

55 Broadway

And by one of the foreman stonemasons employed on the construction of 55 Broadway:

55 Broadway

On entering the ground floor reception of the building there is an original Train Interval indicator. The information on the central panel reads “The passing of a train at a given point on each Underground Railway causes a stroke to be marked on the dial of the clock. These strokes therefore indicate the number of trains run in each hour.”

There is a clock display for the District, Metropolitan, Central, Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Northern Lines. 

55 Broadway

The interior of 55 Broadway retains many of the original features. Wood frame doors with glass panels leading off each lift lobby to the office areas.

55 Broadway

View from the lift lobby to the wood paneled Directors corridor:

55 Broadway

The Directors corridor. The Underground Company, along with many other large companies of the time, was very hierarchical and the status of the employee was reflected in their surroundings. The high ceilings and expensive wood paneling of the Directors offices clearly show their status within the company.

55 Broadway

The quality of the workmanship and the cost of the materials is still very apparent after almost 90 years. Note the original brass door handles and the very long door finger plates:

55 Broadway

The largest office on the floor at the end of the corridor:

55 Broadway

Original stairwell features:

55 Broadway

Original lighting feature:

55 Broadway

Looking from the stairs at the doors which lead into the lift lobby, again the original doors. This is the 6th floor as indicated by the number which was needed as each of the floors looks identical.

55 Broadway

Signs from London Underground’s past have been added to the stairwell.

55 Broadway55 Broadway

Even in the stairwell, the level of detail in the tiling indicates the amount of work and money that went into 55 Broadway:

55 Broadway

There are two external levels at the top of the building. The first provides a good view of the tower:

55 Broadway

And the clock:

55 Broadway

But it is from the top of the tower that the best views of London can be found. Here looking towards Westminster with the Shard in the background, London Eye to the left and the towers of the Barbican on the left edge of the photo:

55 Broadway

Around the edge there are panels providing information about the view and the key features to be seen:

55 Broadway

The view at this level allows some of the external features to be seen slightly better than from the ground. Here is one of the original rainwater hoppers which displays the year 1929, but also includes the underground symbol with the large U and D letters that began and ended the uppercase UNDERGROUND with a smaller size of the font used for the letters between the U and D.

55 Broadway

View towards the north-east. The BT Tower on the left across to the Barbican on the right. The green trees of St. James’s Park provide a contrast with the built city.

55 Broadway

On the day of my visit, the weather was overcast with the threat of rain, so the views were rather hazy, but I always find it interesting to look across London from a high point.

The BT Tower with Euston Tower in the background:

55 Broadway

The Ministry of Defence buildings in the foreground and the towers of the Barbican in the background:

55 Broadway

A hazy St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is from these high points that the topography of an area becomes clear. 55 Broadway being close to Victoria and north of the river, you might expect to look along the north of the city to see St. Paul’s, however as can be seen the view is across the south bank of the river and the Royal Festival Hall:

55 Broadway

The London Eye with the towers of the City in the background. The cranes immediately behind the London Eye are constructing the new towers that will soon surround the old Shell Centre tower.

55 Broadway

As a slight diversion from 55 Broadway, the Shell Centre Tower has the most complex scaffolding I believe I have ever seen, stretching from ground to the top of the tower. I walked past the Shell building earlier this past week and took the photo below. No idea what construction work demands this level of scaffolding.

55 Broadway

Yet more cranes, this time round the Battersea Power Station development:

55 Broadway

Towers of existing apartments at Vauxhall:

55 Broadway

The information panels around the top of 55 Broadway’s tower show how quickly the view can change. In this panel looking towards the south-west, a large office block is shown obscuring much of the view:

55 Broadway

The office block is currently being demolished, revealing a view from the top of 55 Broadway which has not been visible for many years, although no doubt an equally high tower will soon be built.

55 Broadway

55 Broadway is an extraordinary building and its design reflects the ambitions of the London Underground in the 1920s and how the Underground was seen as the modern way of travelling across the city.

Transport for London, the current descendant of the 1920s Underground Company are relocating to new headquarters in the Olympic Park, which is understandable given the limitations of a 1920s building for today’s ways of working requiring flexibility of space and a dependency on IT services across the building.

I understand that whilst Grade I listing protects much of the internal and external features and structure of the building, the future use of the building is still uncertain. I suspect, given what typically happens to redundant buildings in central London, the future of 55 Broadway will be either luxury apartments or as a hotel. A sterile and repetitive outcome which will be a waste of such a wonderful building.

The London Transport Museum’s Hidden London tours of 55 Broadway are currently sold out, however if more become available I really recommend taking a tour of this fascinating building.

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