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New Deal For East London – Sclater Street To St. George-In-The-East

Following on from last week’s post, here is the second part of my walk through the category B sites (Medieval village centres) considered at risk in the January 1972 article “New Deal for East London” in the Architects’ Journal.

This week I am walking from site 37 (Sclater Street) to site 43 (the church of St. George-in-the- East). The map extract from the 1972 article below shows the location of the sites:

At the end of last week I was in Shoreditch High Street. To get to the next site, I turned into Bethnal Green Road and then into Sclater Street to look for:

Site 37 – Weaver’s House In Sclater Street. Now Derelict

Although the title for this site is singular, the map shows a run of buildings along the south side of Sclater Street adjacent to the railway lines. In the same location as in the original map are these buildings, which if they are the same, can still be given the description of derelict.

These houses once ran the length of Sclater Street and the 1972 map shows them continuing towards where I took the photo below. Apart from the derelict run of buildings that still remain, most were demolished to make way for a car park.

Sclater Street shows its age at the junction with Brick Lane where on the side of the building at the junction is the plaque shown in the following photo which reads “This is Sclater Street 1798”.

I then crossed over Brick Lane to get to Cheshire Street. A little way along Cheshire Street, I turned left into St. Matthews Row to find the next location:

Site 38 – George Dance’s St. Matthew’s And Watch House

Walking towards the church of St. Matthew’s, I firstly found the Watch House on the corner of the churchyard:

Which looks almost the same as in the photo from the 1972 article:

According to the Architect’s Journal, the Watch House dates from 1820, however on the web site of the church there is an earlier date of 1754, which I suspect, is correct.The article explains why it was built “A watch-house stands at the corner of the churchyard. Body-snatching reached its peak during the 1820s and most London graveyards have, or had, watch-houses dating from that period. The Anatomy Act of 1832 put body-snatchers out of business. before that doctors could legally have only corpses of criminals for dissection.”

The church web site states that “by 1792 a person was paid 10s 6d per week to be on guard. A reward of 2 guineas was granted for the apprehension of any body snatchers.”

This is one of the finest examples of a watch house that I have seen.

A short distance past the watch house is the church of St. Matthew’s.

The original church was completed in 1746 to a design by George Dance. It was badly damaged by fire in 1859, reopening two years later. It was again badly damaged in 1940, with bombing reducing the church to a shell. It was not until 1961 that the church we see today was finally rebuilt and opened as recorded in this plaque in the foyer of the church.

The church has an association with some of Bethnal Green’s criminal past. Joseph Merceron was a churchwarden (see The Boss of Bethnal Green by Julian Woodford) and the funerals of Ronnie and Reggie Kray were all held at St. Matthew’s, the church being central to the area in which they grew up and commenced their criminal activities.

The interior of St. Matthew’s following the post war rebuild.

View of the rear of the watch house from the church yard.

The view of the church and churchyard from the rear of the watch house. Imagine being paid 10s 6d a week to watch over the churchyard overnight to stop any body snatchers.

Walking back down St. Matthew’s Row, the Carpenter’s Arms is on the corner with Cheshire Street. Once owned by the Kray’s, the pub now has a far more relaxed atmosphere.

The area around Cheshire Street is fascinating. It was originally named Hare Street as can be seen in the following extract from John Rocque’s map of 1746. The name came from Hare Fields, the open space that was here before the development of the streets, the beginnings of which can be seen in the map.  Leading south from Hare Street is a small street named Hare Marsh – the street is still in existence retaining its original name. The church of St. Matthew’s can be seen on the right with still large open spaces to east and west.

Cheshire Street is relatively quiet. Brick Lane seems to form a boundary between the busier streets to the west and the quieter streets to the east. In a few places Cheshire Street still retains the same feel as this area did when I first started walking here over thirty years ago.

In the following photo, an alley off Cheshire Street leads to a graffiti covered footbridge.

I was here for about 15 minutes and did not see a single person.

Peer carefully over the top of the bent metal spikes along the top of the metal panels along the edge of the bridge and there is a view of the rail lines into Liverpool Street station.Looking in the other direction and a Stanstead Express train heads from Liverpool Street towards the airport.

The far end of the bridge.

Another turn off from Cheshire Street is Chilton Street and just along this street is St. Matthias Church House.

This was originally the parish rooms and hall for St. Matthias Church which was directly opposite as shown on the following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map.

In the 1895 map above, Cheshire Street was still Hare Street, however by 1940 as shown in the following extract from the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Atlas of Great London, it had changed to Cheshire Street. No idea why or when the street changed name, but I prefer Hare Street as a reminder of the open fields that these streets have now covered. To the right of the church, crossing the Great Eastern Railway is a footbridge – the same (although of later construction) as the footbridge I walked across earlier.

The 1940 map also shows St. Matthias Church (the church marked above the first ‘E’ of Cheshire. I have not been able to confirm, however I suspect the church was damaged during the war and became one of the many churches that were not rebuilt.

Stone laid by Princess Christian on the 20th April 1887 on the front of St. Matthias Church House.

Entrance to Grimsby Street from Cheshire Street – another graffiti covered street running alongside the railway.

I walked the route of this and the previous post just before the 2017 General Election. This was the only election advertising that I saw.

Long terrace of Victorian buildings with shops running the length of the terrace along Cheshire Street coming back to the junction with Brick Lane.

FAX number of Bashir & Sons above their shop. It is the pre-April 1995 071 number. According to their web site they still use FAX, but the number now has the 0207 prefix. Cannot be many users of FAX in 2017 and I suspect it will become rare to see a phone number above a shop.

My next stop was in Whitechapel Road, so I walked south along the length of Brick Lane then turned east along Whitechapel Road to reach my next destination:

Site 39 – Mid To Late 18th Century Whitechapel Bell Foundry

It is somewhat ironic that a site that the Architects’ Journal was concerned about in 1972 survived the intervening 45 years, only to be at risk in 2017.

The bell foundry was established in Whitechapel in 1570 and has occupied the current premises since 1738, however production at the site ceased earlier this year. The announcement on the website of the bell foundry provides a number of reasons for the closure, including some that tell of the changes to the area, including “In recent years the area in which we are located has changed from commercial use to almost entirely residential use. New developments now in the process of being built adjacent to our site will give us neighbours who would find difficulties with our industrial output and noise.”

It is very noticeable how areas such as Whitechapel are changing from a mix of different industries, commercial business, retail and residential, to mainly residential developments. Whilst the shortage of housing within London is critical, districts turn rather bland and their local character is lost without a range of different activities.

The bell foundry seen from across Whitechapel Road.

The foundry buildings along Fieldgate Street:

Taking a break:

With the closure of the business at Whitechapel, I can only hope that the buildings will stay substantially as they are (Grade II listing should help) and that some form of industrial activity continues at the site.

Continuing along Feldgate Street, I turned into New Road to look for:

Site 40 – Late 18th Century Terraces

The 1972 map shows two rows of terraces either side of the junction of Fordham Street with New Road. The first row of terraces:

Within the terrace are two pairs of identical houses.

With some of the most cheerful keystones above the doorway that I have seen:

Opposite Fordham Street is Walden Street and although not mentioned in the Architects’ Journal, there is this lovely terrace of houses along one side of the street. There are so many architectural gems to be found walking around east London.

Walking back along New Road, these buildings are the next section, past the junction with Fordham Street marked on the Architects’ Journal map:

I imagine that the top floor is rather dark in this building:

Continuing along New Road:

In the photo above, there is a red brick Victorian building on the right of the photo, taller than the others in the terrace. A plaque on the front of the building records a meeting held here in 1865:

To find the next location, I continued to the end of New Road, crossed over Commercial Road into Cannon Street Road, where a short distance along, opposite the junction with Burslem Street I found the next buildings.

Site 41 – Late 18th Century Group

The Architects’ Journal map, has a line marked along Cannon Street Road, directly opposite Burslem Street and here I found this lovely terrace of buildings.

It was interesting walking the length of Cannon Street Road as I did not notice any buildings with more than five floors, even the post war housing. Keeping buildings to a similar height along a street does help integrate very different architectural styles and materials.

A short distance along Cannon Street Road from the above photo is the junction with Cable Street. It is at this junction that John Williams, the alleged murderer in the Ratcliffe Highway murders was buried after he apparently committed suicide whilst awaiting trial.

The Ratcliffe Highway murders caused panic within this small area of east London in December 1811 following the brutal murder of two households. The investigation to find the murderer was somewhat chaotic and confused, but finally the trail seemed to lead to a seaman called John Williams. He apparently committed suicide whilst waiting trial, which was taken as admission of guilt and a show burial took place with his body paraded around the scenes of his crimes prior to being dumped into a pit dug at this junction.

The newspaper reports of the time provide a vivid account of his burial:

“INTERMENT OF JOHN WILLIAMS, On Monday, at midnight the body of this wretch was removed from the House of Correction, Coldbath Fields, to the watch-house near Ratcliffe Highway; and on Tuesday morning, at about ten o’clock, he was placed on a platform, erected six feet above a very high cart, drawn by one horse. The platform was composed of rough deals battened together, raised considerably at the head, which elevated the corpse. A board was fixed across the lower end, standing up about six inches, to prevent the body from slipping off. On this platform the body was laid; it had on a clean white shirt, quite open at the neck, and without a neck-handkerchief or hat, but the hair neatly combed, and the face clean washed. The countenance looked healthful and ruddy, but the hands and the lower part of the arms were of a deep purple, nearly black. The whole of the arms were exposed, the shirt being tucked quite up. The lower part of the body was covered with a pair of clean blue trowsers, and brown worsted stockings, without shoes. The feet were towards the horse, on the right leg was affixed the iron Williams had on when he was committed to prison. The fatal mall was placed uptight by the left side of his head, and the ripping chisel  or crow-bar, about three feet long, on the other side. About 10 o’clock the procession, attended by the head constable and head boroughs of the district, on horseback, and about 250 or 300 constables and extra constables, most of them with drawn cutlasses, began to move and continued at a very slow pace.”

The article goes on to describe the route of the procession which passes the murder scenes until reaching the junction on the photo above, where:

“a large hole being prepared, the cart stopped. After a pause of about 10 minutes, the body was thrown into its infamous grave, amongst the acclamations of thousands of spectators. the stake which the law requires to be driven through the corpse had been placed in the procession under the head of Williams, by way of pillow, and after he was consigned to the earth, it was handed down from the platform, and with the maul was driven through the body. The grave was then filled with quick lime, and the spectators very quietly dispersed.”

A rather strange scene to imagination, standing at the junction today. The book “The Maul and the Pear Tree” by P.D. James and T.A. Critchely provides a fascinating account of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders along with alternative theories as to the real murderer.

Either side of the above scene is:

Site 42 – Late 18th Century Terrace And Shop Front

The map shows two markers for this site, one along Cable Street and the other along Cannon Street Road down towards The Highway.

This is the terrace along Cable Street:

This is a lovely terrace of houses along Cable Street from the junction with Cannon Street Road, until the entrance to St. George’s Gardens.

A little way along, the terrace is broken by the entrance to Hawksmoor Mews.

The blue plaque on the right is to Dr. Hannah Billig, a rather remarkable doctor who was born in Hanbury Street, Spitalfields in 1901 and moved to the above house from 1935 until 1964. The plaque records that she was known locally as “The Angel of Cable Street” and was honored with a George medal and MBE for her bravery in World War II and for Famine Relief Work in India.

At the end of the terrace, is the entrance to St. George’s Gardens. Alongside the entrance is the mural commemorating the Battle of Cable Street.

Work started in the mural in 1976, but it was not finally completed until 1983. Vandalism caused delays to the project, and this continued to take place after the mural was finished. My father took the following photo of the mural in 1986 showing a typical problem with white paint having been thrown at the mural.

Sclater StreetThe other marker on the map for this site was along the eastern side of Cannon Street Road between Brick Lane and The Highway, where a long terrace of houses, of slightly different design run along the street.

Sclater Street

Including this building at number 44 which is Grade II listed and built in 1810, so would have been here when John Williams was buried at the road junction.  I have not been able to find out who was the “Thomas” named on the parapet, but it is the only building in the street with this type of decoration.

Sclater Street

At the end of Cannon Street Road is the final site in this walk around east London:

Site 43 – Hawksmoor’s St. George-in-the-East And Rectory

St. George-in-the-East was one of the 50 churches planned for London under the New Churches in London and Westminster Act of 1710. Only twelve were built of which St. George was one.

Work started on the church in 1714 and the church was consecrated in 1729, providing a new church for the rapidly expanding population of east London.

Sclater Street

Although east London’s population was expanding rapidly, it was mainly running along the river, south of the Ratcliffe Highway, north of this road it was still relatively rural. The extract below from John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the new church in the lower left with the Ratcliff Highway running below the church from west to east. North of the church is Bluegate Field (now Cable Street) and it is rather tempting to imagine that where a track is shown running diagonally across the fields, there was a blue gate between the track and the road.

Sclater Street

The rectory referred to in the Architects’ Journal listing for the site is shown by the black rectangle in front and to the left of the church in the 1746 map above. The rectory building is still there:

Sclater Street

The church suffered considerable damage during the war and was gutted by an incendiary bomb in May 1941 with only the external walls and tower still standing. The church was rebuilt after the war and rededicated in 1964. The rebuilding though was rather unusual.

Rather than rebuild the church to the same original Hawksmoor design. the external walls and tower were left standing and a new church building was constructed within the interior, therefore when you walk through the main entrance under the tower expecting to walk into the church, there is an open space, open to the sky with the post war church building to the rear of the original church.

Sclater Street

A rather clever use of space as the original church was probably far too large for post war congregations and the new building provides a more intimate space. This was achieved whilst also preserving the external walls and tower so that externally the church still appears as when originally built.

The view from across The Highway:

Sclater Street

Within the churchyard is an old mortuary building. This was converted into a Nature Study Museum in 1904 with the aim of providing local people with more contact with the natural world.  The museum included live fish, stuffed birds and mammals and displays of butterflies. The information plaque in front of the building records that during the summer months up to 1,000 people, mostly local school children, would visit the museum each day. It was closed during the war, did not reopen and has since fallen into the state of disrepair that we see today.

Sclater Street

This last site concludes my walk to find (along with last week’s post) the sites in category B between Shoreditch and St. George-in-the-East.

It has been a brief walk, there is so much more to write about this area of east London, but I did achieve my aim of checking to see if the sites of concern in 1972 have survived, and it is good to see that the majority are still here, and looking in good condition.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is a reminder that these buildings, along with so many other historical buildings across London, will always be at risk from the constant threat of demolition, or an unsympathetic development.

The Architects’ Journal wrote about these sites in 1972, 45 years ago. It will be interesting to take the same walk in 2062.

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New Deal For East London – Shoreditch And Hoxton

A few months ago I started a series of posts following the sites that were identified as at risk in an Architects’ Journal article written in January 1972. This was a point in time when East London had been through a period of post war decline, and the changes that have developed East London to the area we see today could just be seen on the horizon.

A key focus of the article was a concern that should there be comprehensive development of the area in the coming years, then a range of pre-1800 buildings should be preserved. The article included a map that identified 85 locations where there are either individual or groups of buildings that should be preserved. The area includes parts of south London, although still to the east of the central city area, therefore considered as being east London.

The 85 locations were divided into different categories based on how the locality had developed. I have already written about the Category A sites, and part of Category B. For this week’s post I am starting on the Category C sites which the Architects’ Journal classified as “Medieval village centres”. The article describes these as:

“Inland villages grew more slowly than those on the ‘industrial’ riverside. They remained a series of basically rural communities, with a heavy smattering of rich Londoners’ country retreats until London’s great expansion in the early 19th century. However this countryside, even in the 17th and 18th centuries, was not totally unaffected by its proximity to the City whose dwellers used it for relaxation – Hoxton in the 17th century was a popular fresh air resort and Pepys would walk there across fields from Seething Lane – and also exploited it for industrial purposes. Hanway wrote in 1767: ‘we have taken plans to render its (London’s) environs displeasing both to sight and smell. The chain of brick-kilns that surround us, like the scars of smallpox, makes us lament the ravages of beauty and the diminution of infant ailment'”.

An extract of the map from the article is shown below. For this post I will be walking from site 31 in Shoreditch to site 36 with a detour via Hoxton, covering the sites listed in the Architects’ Journal along with a few of the features I found whilst walking in this fascinating area of East London.

Hoxton

Site 31 – 1725 House In Charles Square, Shoreditch

I walked to Charles Square from Old Street station, with the square being found just north of the junction of Old Street and Great Eastern Street. A small park in the centre of the square is surrounded on all sides with post war housing, however the 1725 house identified in the article stands out clearly.

Hoxton

In 1972 this was the view across the square to the house:

Hoxton

I could not take a similar photo as the trees were in leaf and they obscured the view of the house so I had to get closer, however the house looks much the same today (including the buildings on either side).

Hoxton

The house in Charles Square is a remnant of attempts in the late 17th and early 18th centuries to start a West End type of development that would attract rich City merchants. The house is a very different architectural style to the rest of the buildings that line the sides of the square, however all the later buildings are of roughly the same height as the 1725 house which helps the different styles to integrate.

Leaving Charles Square I headed to the next site in Hoxton Square, firstly crossing Pitfield Street where on the corner with Coronet Street is one of the many old Truman’s pubs that can be found across London. This is “The Hop Pole”. Closed in 1985 and now converted into flats.

Hoxton

Coronet Street leads into a large open area bounded by Coronet Street and Boot Street. At one end is a large brick building that is now the home for the National Centre for Circus Arts:

Hoxton

However originally this was an electricity generating station for the Vestry of St. Leonard Shoreditch. The building dates from 1896, a time when electricity generation was mainly the responsibility of the individual Vestries across London who constructed generation stations to serve the growing electricity requirements of their local area.

The original function of the building is still recorded above the main entrance.

Hoxton

The plaque on the building records that the generating station burnt rubbish to create the steam needed to generate electricity. This was a rather unique power source at the time as the majority of other London electricity generating stations burnt coal.Hoxton

The Shoreditch Electricity Generating Station operated until 1940 then post war developments with the national grid and construction of large power stations meant that this type of local station was redundant.

The building was derelict for some years, but today, as well as the Circus Arts school, the building is also an event venue for hire with the large rooms needed to house the original equipment providing the perfect space for the uses to which the building is now put.

As well as the National Centre for Circus Arts, the square has a statue of a “Juggling Figure” by Simon Stringer, created to “Commemorate the traditions of Theatre and Music Hall in Hoxton and Shoreditch”

Hoxton

From Coronet Street, it was a very short walk to my next location:

32 – A Few Late 17th Century Relics In Hoxton Square

The text is not specific as to where these “relics” can be found in Hoxton Square, however the map shows a black marker at the location on the south western corner of the square where Hoxton Square connects to Coronet Street.

At this location I found the following single building which looks to be of around the right date.

Hoxton

Hoxton Square is a fascinating area that deserves a dedicated post to cover the history of the area. The central garden was laid out in 1709 and the surrounding housing was largely finished by 1720. Although the Architects’ Journal shows the building(s) at a different location, it may just be a mapping error as probably the oldest remaining building on the square is number 32, on the eastern side of the square, probably dating from around 1690. This is the building on the right in the photo below:

Hoxton

Hoxton Square has a variety of buildings of different ages and architectural styles as shown in the following photos:

Hoxton

Hoxton

Hoxton

Hoxton

Walking around Hoxton Square, it is possible to trace how the square has developed from the earliest buildings at the end of the 17th century, when the square was mainly residential, as industry such as furniture making took over many of the buildings, the construction of St Monica’s Catholic Church in 1865 (on the right in the above photo) to serve the poor local Irish population through to the present day.

Hoxton

I could have stayed in Hoxton Square for some time, and I will write further on this fascinating area in the future, however I had many other sites on the map to walk to.

The next location was in Hoxton Street, where firstly I found the following crest of the London County Council on the side of Follingham Court. I love finding these as they are a reminder of a time when London housing was being built for Londoners as genuinely affordable, rather than the so called luxury apartments that now take over almost any available plot of land, or disused building.

Hoxton

The Macbeth – thankfully still a music venue as locations such as these seem to be disappearing from London’s streets.

Hoxton

I was not expecting to see the following plaque on the side of a recent building at the junction of Hoxton Street and Crondall Street:

Hoxton

William Parker, Lord Monteagle had a house here in Hoxton and it was here that he received the letter revealing the details of the gunpowder plot.

The opposite corner of Crondall Street – these are the types of buildings and food outlets that I will always associate with Hoxton.

Hoxton

Site 33 – Early 18th Century Pair

Based on the map in the Architect’s Journal, I believe that the buildings shown in the photo below are the early 18th Century pair.

Hoxton

I assume that when built, these buildings were set back from Hoxton Street with perhaps an ornamental garden between house and street, or given that the other two, much lower status, buildings on the right are also set back from the street, this may have been a small square set back from the road. The 1893 Ordnance Survey map does not help as it shows two buildings set back, one of which (on the left) also has a building extending to the street.

There is also no photo in the Architects’ Journal showing these buildings in 1972 so difficult to tell how long they have been sealed off from Hoxton Street in this manner. A shame that these buildings are hidden in this way.

Also in Hoxton Street – Hayes and English – funeral directors since 1817:

Hoxton

F. Cooke pie and mash shop, the family business started in 1862 by Robert Cooke in Sclater Street.

Hoxton

Leaving Hoxton Street, I walked down Falkirk Street to Kingsland Road to find:

Site 34 – Geffrye Almshouses

The Geffrye Almshouses, or as they are better known today as the Geffrye Museum look much the same today:

Hoxton

As they did in the 1972 Architects’ Journal article:

Hoxton

The Geffrye Museum was originally built as almshouses for the Ironmongers’ Company in 1715. Early in the 20th century, the Ironmongers’ Company moved their almshouses out of Hoxton and there was a serious risk in 1913 that the buildings could have been demolished.

Purchased by the London County Council, they were converted into a museum and are now run by the Geffrye Museum Trust.

I am surprised that the Geffrye Almshouses were included in the Architects’ Journal list as their definition of sites to be included was “buildings that should be considered for preservation if comprehensive redevelopment of East London were undertaken.” Even in 1972, and with the buildings in apparently good condition, I would have thought that there would be no question that these buildings would be preserved.

The article did use the Geffrye Museum as an example of how “Learning and Looking” could be distributed across London, rather than in the overcrowded museums and art galleries in west and central London, The article comments that:

“Indeed it is a matter for astonishment that museums run on the lines of the Geffrye Museum in Kingsland Road, London, E13, are not a recognised part of our education system in every city. As a result of the Geffrye’s aim of interesting and involving children, all sorts of stimulating knowledge-hunts are provided there. As a result it has the unique distinction among museums of having sometimes had to close its doors on Saturdays, declaring ‘ house full’ because the children pour into it in such crowds. 

There seems to be absolutely no serious reason why our great museums and art galleries should not establish new branches, colonising – if you like – such regions as east London, by siting their much needed expansions in that area. This would be good not only for those who live there, and above all their children, it would also bring a number of tourists into this half of London with all the advantages already discussed here, including that of relieving the summer congestion in the West End.” 

A sensible aim which unfortunately did not progress any further than the article.

Hoxton

Above the main entrance to the almshouses there is a statue of Sir Robert Geffrye. He was a former Lord Mayor of London and also a previous Master of the Ironmongers’ Company. Geffrye’s bequest after his death provided for the construction of the almshouses.

Hoxton

Again, the Geffrye Almshouses / Museum justifies a dedicated post however I had more sites to visit on the Architects’ Journal map. I left via the entrance at the northern end of Kingsland Road, adjacent to the small cemetery for those associated with the almshouses.

Hoxton

Hoxton

Adjacent to the northern entrance to the almshouses is this old water fountain dated 1865 and the gift of the Hon. Mrs Rashleigh of Berkeley Square. The only Rashleigh’s I can find are a family from Prideaux in Cornwall. Early in the 19th century Philip Rashleigh was the MP for Fowey. In 1873 a Sir Thomas Rashleigh died, again from Cornwall. I can find no reference that they had a house at Berkeley Square, however Robert Geffrye had been born in Cornwall so perhaps there was some association between them.

Hoxton

At the southern end of the almhouses, the adjacent building retains a large advertisement for Bloom’s Pianos.

Hoxton

I then walked south along Kingsland Road to the junction with Hackney Road to find:

Site 35 – George Dance’s St. Leonard’s Church and 1735 Clerk’s House

St. Leonard’s Church stands in a prominent position at the junction of Kingsland Road, Hackney Road and Shoreditch High Street. A church has been on the site for many centuries, possibly earlier than the 11th century.

Hoxton

The present church was opened in 1740 after the previous church partly collapsed.  Designed by George Dance the Elder the church has an impressive portico topped by an ornate tower.

Walter Thornbury writing in Old and New London however was not impressed with the new church “The present St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, occupies the site of a church at least as old as the thirteenth centruy. The old church, which had four gables and a low square tower, was taken down in 1736, and the present ugly church built by the elder Dance, in 1740, with a steeple to imitate that of St. Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, and a fine peal of twelve bells. The chancel window, the gift of Thomas Awsten, in 1634, and a tablet to the Awstens, are the only relics left of the old church. St. Leonard’s is the actor’s church of London; for in the days of Elizabeth and James the players of distinction from the Curtain in Holywell Lane, and from “The Theatre,” as well as those from the Blackfriars Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe, were fond of residing in this parish. Perhaps nowhere in all London have rooms echoed oftener with Shakespeare’s name than those of Shoreditch.”

As with the Geffrye Almshouses I am surprised that the church was included in the Architects’ Journal article as I would have thought there was no threat to the church, even in 1972. The article does though mention several times the risks of “wholesale demolition”, covering large areas without any thought to the buildings that would be demolished – the risks to remaining 18th century buildings in East London seemed very real in 1972.

What may have been at risk was the Clerk’s House which dates from around the same time as the church. This small building is in a corner of the churchyard with a frontage directly onto the street.

Hoxton

A short distance along Shoreditch High Street, at the junction with Calvert Avenue is Syd’s Coffee stall. Both myself and my father have included Syd’s while taking photos around the area over many years. This is from my walk round in 2017:

Hoxton

And in 1986. The car is obviously of the time, but the rest of the photo could be today rather than 30 years ago.  The only other obvious change is the phone number for Hillary Caterers from an 01 number in the photo below to an 0181 today.

Hoxton

Syd’s dates from 1919 and there is an excellent article on SpitalfieldsLife covering the history of the coffee stall.Hoxton

A short distance in Shoreditch High Street from the junction with Calvert Avenue is the last of the locations in today’s post on the category C sites:

Site 36 – All That Remains Of Pre-Victorian Shoreditch High Street

The Architects’ Journal is not that specific regarding these buildings, just stating “all that remains” so it is not possible to check whether all the buildings in 1972 remain in 2017, although I suspect not.

There are a number of pre-Victorian buildings that remain, including this interesting building on the corner with Boundary Passage with a strange set of windows along the side passage included one rather large, blocked up window.

Hoxton

And opposite is this rather nice row of pre-Victorian buildings:

Hoxton

That completes the first part of my walk through the Architects’ Journal category C sites and 45 years after the article was published it is good to confirm that the sites listed as worthy of preservation are still here.

In my next post, I will continue from Shoreditch High Street, via Bethnal Green and Whitechapel to the edge of Shadwell.

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Sir Polydore de Keyser – Hotelier And Lord Mayor

There are names that keep coming up whilst exploring London’s history, and this week’s post is about one of those names, Sir Polydore de Keyser.

I first came across him whilst writing about the area directly to the north of Blackfriars Bridge. Then a few months ago, my blog started to get a number of redirects from the Guardian website from an article about the Supreme Court judgement on Brexit – a judgement in which de Keyser’s hotel was referred to several times. I also recently found Polydore de Keyser again during a walk through Smithfield.

I was taking photos of the market buildings as the area will undergo considerable change in the years to come, when I saw a plaque I had not noticed before on the corner of a building at the junction of West Smithfield and Snow Hill (the corner of the building facing the camera on the right of the following photo, the plaque is just below the round window)

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The plaque records that the market was opened by Sir Polydore de Keyser on the 7th November 1888:

de Keyser

So who was Polydore de Keyser? There does not seem to be much written about him, so I thought a read through some old newspaper archives might shed some light on this interesting character with the foreign sounding name, and from the above plaque was Lord Mayor in 1888.

I found the fascinating story of an immigrant from the Continent who reached the highest of offices in the City of London, but who also faced continual criticism because of his origins.

Polydore de Keyser was born in 1832 in the Belgium town of Termonde (the French name or Dendermonde in Flemish) in the north west of Belgium between Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent.

He moved to London in 1842 with his father, Constantin de Keyser and mother, Catharina Rosalia Troch. His father had been a teacher in Belgium, but on arrival in London he purchased a hotel which he renamed de Keyser’s Royal Hotel. A strange career change and I have been unable to find any references as to why the de keyser’s moved to London and took up the hotel business.

One of the first references to Polydor de Keyser are in newspaper adverts across the country from 1856. He was an importer of the German drink “Maitrank” and his advert in the Newcastle Journal on the 19th July 1856 reads:

“THE LIQUID HEAVEN of the Germans – Who that has tasted the delicious ‘Maitrank’ or May drink of Germany, can ever forget it. Poetic in name, and inspiring in its essence, it is the wine of wines. the exquisite flavour of that lovely mountain flower – the Waldschloschen appears to be heightened by its being wedded to the juice of the grape, and may well the refined connoisseur hang upon the memory of its tempting fragrance. The worshippers of this nectar have become almost frantic with delight by the announcement that a Herr Polydore de Keyser has succeeded at length in imparting to it the additional charm of effervescence, a right sparkling attribute, which it alone required to bring it to perfection”.

Orders were requested to be sent without delay to either Polydore de Keyser of 24 Cannon Street, London, or to his agents across the country. Maitrank could be purchased for 72 shillings per dozen.

Also in 1856, Constantin left the running of the hotel to his son Polydor.

He does not seem to have been involved in any activities that justified a newspaper article for a number of years, he was running his hotel and probably getting involved in societies and good causes in his local area and that justified an interest due to his background.

In 1866, at a meeting in St. Ann, Blackfriars, Polydore de Keyser subscribed £2, 2s to a testimonial to acknowledge the service of Mr. R.E. Warwick who had “for many years past has endeavored to obtain a better distribution of the charges for the relief of the poor in Unions”. At the meeting, other subscribers included the Mayor and Alderman so de Keyser was moving amongst those who managed the running of the City.

A year later, de Keyser was perhaps using his European contacts as he was acting as a steward for an anniversary celebration for the German Hospital in Dalston, held in the London Tavern on Bishopsgate Street.

Polydore de Keyser already had a hotel in Blackfriars, the hotel that his father became the proprietor of when he arrived in London. This was the Royal Hotel, in Chatham Place, New Bridge Street, Blackfriars.

Chatham Place was the space at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge, between the bridge and New Bridge Street. The following map shows the location in 1832:

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I cannot find the exact location of his original hotel, however I suspect it was part of the block on the left of Chatham Place as this is where his new hotel would be built.

Newspaper reports help provide an idea of the way local commissioners and wards worked, and how complaints could be resolved. In the London City Press on the 26th March 1870 there is a report that he was summoned before the Commissioners of Sewers.

He had been summoned to explain why he had not carried out a number of works to his hotel to make it safe. There was a crack in the hotel but it had been filled in years before and had not changed since. The charge was thrown out on the grounds that Alderman Stone found the building was not dangerous and that the complaint by a Mr Power was malicious as de Keyser had apparently made an earlier complaint against him to the Commissioners of Sewers.

By 1872, de Keyser was ready to make his mark on Blackfriars and an article in the Morning Post of the 6th May 1872 announced the plans for his new hotel:

“IMPROVEMENTS AT BLACKFRIARS – In the background of the Victoria Embankment there are many ugly spots, which can only be beautified by the enterprise of private individuals, the Metropolitan Board of Works having no authority over the unsightly  looking places alluded to. One of the chief eyesores is the ungainly group of gasometers at Blackfriars Bridge, and it would certainly be a pity if such monsters should remain in their current position. It is gratifying to know that they will cumber the ground where they are reared but a short time longer, as a very enterprising and highly respected Belgian, Mr. Polydore de Keyser, of the Royal Hotel at Blackfriars, now a citizen of London, has matured a vast plan by which a hostelry such as can only be paralleled by that called ‘grand’ at Paris will be shortly added to the few handsome buildings to be seen along the river front. This hotel, when completed, will extend from the corner of William Street, along a curved frontage of 380 feet, on to the entrance of the ground at the back of the embankment, sweeping away the gasholders now there. 

The hotel, the design for which is in the modern French style, will have an entrance from the embankment into a spacious courtyard, into which carriages can drive, whilst the ground floor and basement will contain a series of elegant shops. The hotel is to be fitted up on the Continental system, with a spacious and handsome dining room as well as another room facing the embankment. Mr Gruning is the architect, and Messrs. Trollope and Sons the builders. it is anticipated that it will be completed and opened within a period of 21 months. On Saturday the foundation-stone was laid, in the presence of a large company of ladies and gentlemen by Miss Wich, daughter of the Belgian Consul, and at the dinner which followed, Sir Benjamin Phillips who was in the chair, wished every prosperity to Mr. de Keyser, a sentiment in which his numerous friends most cordially joined.”

The hotel opened in 1874 and the following print shows the hotel in that year.

de Keyser

An interesting feature appears to be a tunnel from the edge of the river allowing deliveries to be made by river, then transported into the hotel underneath the road. If you click on the photo to enlarge, you will see there is a man rolling a barrel into the tunnel.

This later photo from the southern end of the bridge also shows the hotel curving round from the Embankment.

de Keyser

The Morning Post on the 7th September 1874 carried the following report of the opening of the hotel:

“THE NEW ROYAL HOTEL – The latest addition to the palatial hotels with which London is now adorned is to be found in the new Royal Hotel, at the City end of the Victoria Embankment, which is to take the place of the Royal Hotel in Bridge Street, so long kept by Mr. Polydore de Keyser, representative in the Common Council of the Ward of Farringdon Without. This hotel, now completed, was open to the friends of Mr and Mrs de Keyser on Saturday, and after a pretty thorough inspection of this magnificent building, it may be safely said that in many respects it is altogether unequaled in London or in any of the great Continental cities, not excepting the famous caravanserai in Geneva, Interlaken, and other places to which tourists resort in such numbers. As Mr de Keyser has had ample experience in providing for his numerous foreign and English visitors, and as the internal arrangements have been carried out after his own designs, it may be safely said that nothing is wanting to make a stay in the new hotel agreeable. The view from the front windows over Blackfriars Bridge and the Embankment and over the busy Thames extending to London Bridge on the one hand and Westminster on the other, is most remarkable, and will give anyone a just idea of the immense traffic constantly going on in the metropolis.

The restaurant is capable of seating 400 visitors, and on the five floors there is a vast number of rooms either for bed chambers or sitting rooms. Those on the lower floors, which may be presumed to be state apartments, are fitted with exquisite taste and with every comfort; while in the upper apartments are equally calculated to make a stay in every way agreeable. All the adjuncts of a first class hotel, such as billiard, smoking, reading and drawing rooms for ladies, are provided, and the lifts and arrangements for ventilation are on the most approved principles. On Saturday Mr. and Mrs De Keyser welcomed at a dinner and subsequent concert some 400 of their friends, who heartily wished them success in their great undertaking. The new building, large as it is, is but half of that which is intended, the other portion being destined to occupy, with some slight deviations, the site of the buildings in which business has hitherto been carried on.”

The following pages from an 1891 brochure for De Keyser’s Royal Hotel provide an idea of what would await a guest during their stay at the hotel. (From New York Public Library Digital Collections – free to use without restrictions)

de Keyserde Keyser

de Keyser

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de Keyser

De Keyser seems to have been involved in numerous other activities as well as running his hotel. In 1875 he was elected to the Committee of the Hotel Keepers’ Association and in 1876 he was on the London Executive Committee for the organisation of the British exhibits at the Brussels Exhibition. It was at this exhibition that he would meet the Prince of Wales who declared himself “well pleased with the British section in all respects”.

I get the impression that de Keyser was a master of the art of networking.

In 1877, de Keyser was elected as a Common Councilman of the Ward of Farringdon Without and in 1882 he was elected as an Alderman of the same ward, although this was not an appointment to which everyone agreed. There were two protests against de Keysers appointment, one by Mr. ex- Sheriff Waterlow who was the unsuccessful candidate and one by Mr. john Hill and other electors of the ward, on the grounds that de Keyser was an alien born, and that he was the holder of an innkeepers licence.

To address these protests, a special meeting of the Court of Aldermen was held at the Guildhall on Tuesday 20th June 1882. He had won the election by over 300 votes so he had won the election fairly and clearly. The final decision was delayed until the first week of July when the protests that he could not be an Alderman as being alien born and holding an innkeepers licence were overruled and de Keyser took his seat as an Alderman of the Ward of Farringdon Without.

An example of the activities that de Keyser took part in through his role as an Alderman is a report of a meeting of the inhabitants of the Precinct of St. Brides, held in St. Bride’s Church on Thursday May 22nd 1884 when de Keyser was in the chair. The meeting was held to discuss the impact of the London Government Bill, part of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882 that was continuing the consolidation of powers from the various Vestries and Wards that had been the traditional holders of local power across London.

The meeting resolved that “In the opinion of this meeting the Municipal Bill for London, if it becomes law, would be prejudicial to the interests of local self-government, and would create a vast system of centralization involving increase of rates, with no compensatory increase of efficiency.”

Despite the meeting’s resolution it was powerless to prevent the gradual centralization of powers across London.

In 1887 de Keyser reached the pinnacle of City of London governance when he was elected Lord Mayor, however the election was somewhat contentious and newspaper reports highlight the fact that he was an “alien” he was “born in Belgium” and that he was “the first Roman Catholic who has been elected to the civic chair since the Reformation”.

One newspaper report stated that “The gentleman who took his seat on Tuesday in the civic chair of the City of London has before him a somewhat difficult task. The difficulty arises from the fact, principally, that Mr. Polydore de Keyser is a foreign born subject of her Majesty. The spirit of freedom and tolerance, of which Englishmen are prone to boast upon every available occasion, has made it possible that a naturalized alien should occupy the high position of Chief Magistrate of the greatest city in the world. Unfortunately, however, there is just now rife a feeling of resentment against anything foreign among the masses, which Mr. Polydore de Keyser will, we hope, do nothing to aggravate. he has hitherto demeaned himself under inquisitiveness of a peculiarly active kind so wisely and so well that we may safely give him credit for sufficient tacticianly discretion to sail the civic ship safely and unimpaired through the troubled waters into which, we fear, she is destined to pass before the expiry of his term of office at the helm.”

A rather amazing article which seems to be saying that although we are tolerant, just keep quiet and see out your term as quickly as possible.

As a Catholic immigrant from Belgium, Polydire de Keyser who started selling Maitrank through newspapers was now the owner of the Royal Hotel, Blackfriars and the Lord Mayor of the City of London – quite an achievement.

The following portrait of de Keyser (© National Portrait Gallery, London) shows him in November 1887 at the start of his year as Lord Mayor.

de Keyser

And a photo of him during his term as Lord Mayor:

de Keyser

During his term of office, de Keyser took part in all the activities expected of a Mayor. There were preparations for an exhibition in Paris, he attended fund raising events (for example a “Smoking Concert” in aid of Police Charities), there was plenty of entertaining at the Mansion House, concerts at the Guildhall School of Music, fairs and bazaars to be opened.

In May, probably due to his heritage, there was a reception and dance at the Mansion House for the “burgomasters and aldermen from Belgium” at which there were “over 500 ladies and gentlemen present to meet the representatives of Belgian municipalities, and the guests on arriving were received in the saloon by the Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress” – one of the very few references to de Keysers wife, Louise Piéron who he had married in 1862.

During his term of office, there were continuing critical, often abusive, articles written about de Keyser, for example:

“The worthy Polydore de Keyser must be either an exceptionally guileless or an abnormally conceited person. Last week he inspected the boys of the training ship Warspite, and, of course, favoured them with the usual florid oration. In the course of his speech he announced that the Lady Mayoress had great pleasure in giving each boy a Jubilee shilling, which he hoped they would keep throughout their future lives as a souvenir of the present occasion!’ The notion of a British tar treasuring up Herr de Keyser’s shilling for years, and studiously refraining from spending it on grog is really sublime.”

In August, de Keyser returned to the town of his birth, Termonde in Belgium where the “streets and houses were gaily decorated with the mingled colours of Belgium and England, and the arms of the City of London”.

The following painting (By Jan Verhas (kunstschilder) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) shows the celebrations put on by Termonde for de Keyser’s return:

de Keyser

In September, there was the prospect of a new Lord Mayor with thoughts turning to who would follow de Keyser. Newspaper reports continued to focus on de Keyser’s foreign birth as in the following from the London Letter section of the South Wales Daily News:

“Next Saturday the Livery of the City of London will meet to elect a successor to Alderman Polydore de Keyser as Lord Mayor. After this strange foreign name it will be a relief to get a thoroughly English patronymic as Whitehead. There is little doubt but that Mr Whitehead, who is the senior Alderman not having passed the chair, will be selected.”

The “Jack the Ripper” murders took place during de Keyser’s time as Lord Mayor. Although Whitechapel was outside of his jurisdiction, on the 2nd October 1888 it was reported that “the Lord Mayor, Mr Polydore de Keyser, after consulting Sir James Fraser, Chief Commissioner of the Police of the City of London, announced that a reward of £500 would be given by the Corporation for the detection of the miscreant.”

At the end of his term as Lord Mayor, de keyser became Sir Polydore de Keyser and performed his last public duty as Lord Mayor, the opening of the new Fish Market which is where I found the plaque featured at the start of this post. The London Evening Standard report of the official opening published on the 8th November 1888 reads:

“THE NEW FISH MARKET – The Lord Mayor (Sir Polydore de Keyser) yesterday opened the new Fish Market in Farringdon Street which has been specially erected for the trade by the Corporation of the City of London. The building, which was designed by the late Sir Horace Jones, has been constructed by Mr. Mark Gentry, at a cost of about £26,000. It is situated at the southern roadway leading from Farringdon Road to Long Lane and fronting Snow Hill. The market, which covers an area of 14,000 square feet, has been erected over the joint lines of the Metropolitan and London, Chatham and Dover Railways.

The Lord Mayor, who went in semi-state, accompanied by the Sheriffs (Mr. Alderman Gray and Mr Newton) was received at the principal entrance of the building by the Chairman (Mr. James Perkins) members of the market committee and the Town Clerk.

A silver gilt key was handed by Mr. Perkins to the Lord Mayor, with which he unlocked the huge iron gates amidst the cheers of those assembled outside.

His Lordship having been conducted by the Town Clerk and the members of the Market Committee to a dais, covered with scarlet cloth, at the southern end of the building.

Mr. Perkins, Chairman of the Markets Committee, briefly explained the circumstances which had induced the Corporation to construct the present market. The old fish market on the other side of the roadway, which was originally intended for the sale of fruit and vegetables, had proved a loss to the Corporation of about £10,000 a year. Hence the erection of the present market, Billingsgate having proved insufficient for the supply of fish for the Metropolis. Nearly every shop in the new market was let, and the old market would be used in future for fruit and vegetable. the Corporation hoped that it would be successful, and prove advantageous to the salesman.

The Lord mayor, who was heartily cheered, in declaring the market open, said he was exceedingly pleased to think that his last public duty in his official capacity was to open a market which, he hoped, would result in great benefit to the community, to the Corporation, and to the ward of which he was Alderman (cheers). the Corporation had for years past shown the great interest it took in these matters, and how thoroughly alive it was to the great responsibility of making all our markets as complete and as commodious as possible (cheers). In addition to supplying the wants of London and the suburbs, which now numbered nearly 6,000,000 inhabitants, our markets supplied the wants of the people all over the country. Having complimented the architect and builder upon the magnificent market which they had succeeded in producing, his Lordship formally declared the market open,

Cheers having been given for the success of the market, the proceedings terminated.”

de Keyser ended his term as Lord Mayor at the end of the same week as opening the new market. Even then, newspapers continued to provide a negative portrait of de Keyser as a foreigner, for example, in reporting on the banquet for the new mayor, the Pall Mall Gazette on the 10th November 1888 reported:

“The faces of the distinguished guests afford a remarkable study in physiognomy. The new Lord Mayor has a handsome, clear-cut head and an expansive brow, offering a marked contrast to the florid and jolly hotel-keeping countenance of the late Belgian de Keyser. It was very amusing to hear the toastmaster pray for silence of the late Lord Mayor, as if poor Sir Polydore de keyser were dead and about to rise – say, from the Guildhall vaults.”

On the 4th December 1888, de Keyser was at Windsor Castle to receive his knighthood from Queen Victoria.

After ending his term as Lord Mayor, de Keyser continued organising British participation in overseas exhibitions. In 1889 he was the Executive President of the British Section at the Paris Exhibition.

He also continued his role as Alderman of the Ward of Farringdon Without and in October 1891 was presiding over a meeting of the inhabitants of the ward who were objecting to the letting of any portion of land on the Thames Embankment to the Salvation Army as it would be detrimental to the interests of the City including the concern that “there was no doubt that the processions &c, with drums, trumpets and cymbals, would lead to danger”.

In 1892 de Keyser resigned from the post of Alderman on the account of “bodily infirmity” – among other issues, he was going deaf.

In July 1893 a bust of Sir Polydore de Keyser was unveiled at the Mansion House. It was presented as a token of respect to de Keyser who had played an important part in the affairs of the City and the Ward of Farringdon Without.

de Keyser

Sir Polydore de Keyser died on Friday 14th January 1898 after a “long battle with cancer”. His funeral was on the 19th January and on the 20th the London Evening Standard reported on the funeral:

“The remains of Sir Polydore de Keyser, formerly Lord Mayor of London, who died on Friday last, were interred yesterday in the family vault in Nunhead Cemetery. There was a large attendance of mourners, headed by Mr. Polydore W. de Keyser, his adopted son and nephew, and Messrs. C.M. and A. Fevez, other nephews. Among those present were Alderman Sir Joseph Savory M.P. who served as Sheriff with Sir Polydore in 1883; Mr Alderman Treloar, who succeeded him in the Court of Alderman; Mr. W.J. Soulsby, representing the Lord Mayor; Mr. Marshall Pontifex, Ward Clerk of Farringdon; the Rev. Henry Blunt, rector of St. Andrew’s Holborn, who was Sir Polydore’s Chaplain when Lord Mayor; Colonel Sewell, representing the Spectacle makers’ Company; Mr. H. deGrelle Rogier, the Belgian Consul; Mr. Wilhelm Ganz, Mr. E.A. Gruning, Mr. Walter Wood, Mr. C. Val Hunter and deputations from the Belgian and other Societies with which Sir Polydore was associated. The Service at the grave was read by the Rev. John Stevens, rector of the Roman Catholic Church of Our Immaculate Lady of Victories, in Clapham Park Road. Lady de Keyser who died in 1895, is buried in the same vault.”

de Keyser did not have any children of his own, but appears to have had a large extended family, including a number of nephews, one of which he appears to have adopted in some way. In the year before his death, his ownership of the hotel was transferred into a separate company, the Company of de Keysers Royal Hotel Limited. I assume he did this to make the distribution of his assets after his death easier as shares in the company were set aside to provide annuities to various members of his family. His adopted nephew Polydore Weichand de Keyser also inherited an annuity and the residue of his estate.

Sir Polydore de Keyser then fades into history. His nephew however continues to play a part both in the governance of the City and in London’s hotel business.

An article in The Sphere on the 9th May 1908 reports on the opening of a new hotel – The Piccadilly Hotel – of which the nephew Polydore de Keyser (he appears to have dropped the name Weichand) was the joint manager. He was described:

“as a man of great energy and ability. He is the nephew and adopted son of Sir Polydore de Keyser, who was Lord Mayor of London twenty years ago. Educated at Westminster School and on the Continent, de Keyser has devoted many years to the practical study of modern hotel-keeping. The great success of de Keyser’s hotel affords conclusive proof of his administrative ability. he is deputy lieutenant of the City of London and a member of several City companies.”

So as well as the hotel business, he was also following in his uncle’s footsteps in the City of London.

de Keysers Royal Hotel continued in operation until the First World War when it was requisitioned to house officers. I suspect that after the war it had lost much of its pre-war grandeur and the world was a very different place approaching the 1920s than it had been when the hotel was built in 1874. In 1921 it was leased to Lever Brothers who eventually purchased the building in 1930 in order to demolish it, and build their new office, which is still on the site today, and occupied by Unilever (formed by the merger of Lever Brothers and Margarine Unie in 1929).

Margerine Unie originated in the Netherlands in the 1890s when Jurgens Van den Bergh opened the first factory to produce margarine.  Given de Keyser’s continental European origins it is somewhat fitting that a part Dutch business occupies the same site as his hotel.

One final question – why did de Keyser feature so prominently in the Supreme Court judgement on Brexit? The Guardian article explains this better than I can, however in summary it appears that the de Keyser hotel company applied for compensation after the hotel at Blackfriars was requisitioned during the First World War. Government did not approve any compensation although Parliament had already set out terms for wartime compensation so it was whether the Government has the right to ignore a decision already made by Parliament, and de Keyser’s judgement of 1920 was one of the landmark cases as the de Keyser Hotel Company successfully sued for compensation.

Unilever House is now on the site of de Keysers Royal Hotel at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge. This is Unilever House under construction:

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And this is Unilever House today. The curved facade follows the same curve as de Keyser’s Royal Hotel.

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That is Polydore de Keyser, a fascinating Londoner. An immigrant from Belgium who became Lord Mayor of London and a leading London hotelier. As far as I have been able to check, there have not been any other Lord Mayor’s who came to London as an immigrant since de Keyser.

Newspapers only provide a glimpse of his life, but I suspect he must have been highly ambitious and driven to achieve what he did. I hope the plaque at Smithfield survives to keep his name associated with the market he opened in 1888.

alondoninheritance.com

 

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

This is one of the scenes photographed by my father in 1947 that is to me, a fascinating photo being 70 years old, however I am not sure if there was a specific reason, point of interest etc. to take this particular photo. The scene is Clerkenwell Close with the steps leading up to Robert’s Place at the end of the close, adjacent to the Pear Tree Court and Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The same scene in 2017:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

A view that has hardly changed apart from the two trees, cars and the buildings at the far end around and behind the steps.

To find this location, head north from Clerkenwell Road to Clerkenwell Green, then follow Clerkenwell Close around the edge of the church of St. James where you will find the site of the above photos. I have marked this with an orange circle in the 1940 map below (the streets here have hardly changed):

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Going up from the orange circle, there is a road to the left, this is Pear Tree Court. Just above this junction are the steps at the far end of the photos which lead up to Robert’s Place and then into Bowling Green Lane.

This is one of the photos were I can work out exactly where the original was taken, leaning up against the wall underneath the Clerkenwell Close sign.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The buildings seen in the photo are part of the Clerkenwell Estate built by the Peabody Trust. The estate runs along Clerkenwell Close and Pear Tree Court, and consists of a number of Victorian five storey blocks clustered around a central courtyard. Each block given a letter rather than a number which, along with their appearance, does give the impression of blocks of barracks. The entrance to block C from Clerkenwell Close:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The view along Pear Tree Court:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The Clerkenwell Estate was one of six estates built by the Peabody Trust in the late 19th century. The Peabody Trust emerged from the The Peabody Donation Fund which was set up by the American, George Peabody in 1862. He was born in Massachusetts in 1795 but moved to London in 1837 where he remained for the rest of his life.

Peabody wanted to do something to help alleviate the poverty that he saw across London. It was suggested to him that people needed better living conditions with an affordable rent so he set up the Peabody Donation Fund with the first housing being built in 1864 at Commercial Street, Spitalfields.

The Clerkenwell Estate came about through the clearance of a number of slum sites under the Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Improvement Act of 1875 which allowed the Metropolitan Board of Works to buy up and clear six sites across London. The area around Pear Tree Court had already been condemned as unfit for human habitation.

The architect of the new estate was Henry Darbishire. The model used for each of the blocks consisted of units of five flats around a central staircase. In the late 19th century it was still standard practice for many facilities to be shared so each unit of five flats had shared lavatories and sculleries.

Entrance to Block C:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Block E – I do like the brick construction, however they do present a rather institutionalised appearance.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Block D:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

On the side of the estate towards Farringdon Lane, there is an obvious change in construction where to the left a short terrace of two storey buildings run to the left. This terrace is the site of Block G which was badly damaged (along with Block H) by bombing in December 1940 with 12 people being killed in the attack.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Entrance to Block A – flowers and sunlight and I am startng to really appreciate these buildings.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The site is built on a considerable slope as can be seen in the photo below. The site slopes down towards Farringdon Road and the old route of the River Fleet.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Looking across the courtyard towards Blocks E and F. An air-raid shelter could still be found in the courtyard until 1985. The area is now occupied by a children’s playground.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The steps at the end of Clerkenwell Close were not that old in 1947 having been built as part of the Peabody development. Clerkenwell Close was extended towards the current position of the steps and a wall that blocked the route onward towards Bowling Green Lane was demolished to allow a route through via Robert’s Place.

There is much to discover in both Clerkenwell Close and the surrounding area which I hope to write about in more detail in the future. For example, the street was originally known as St. Mary’s Close after the old Benedictine Nunnery of St. Mary, part of which was latter incorporated into the church of St. James on the corner of the close. Clerkenwell Close has also had a number of well known inhabitants including Oliver Cromwell and there is a story that the death warrant of Charles I was signed in his house on Clerkenwell Close.

Oliver Cromwell’s house:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

I am still no wiser as to why my father took the original photo, what interested him in the scene, although I am pleased he did as it is ordinary street scenes that I find so fascinating and they always lead me into looking at an area in a bit more detail.

alondoninheritance.com

The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote two posts covering a walk around the West End of London to find all the working theatres. There are also a number of buildings that were once theatres but have now taken on a different function. I had not intended to write about these yet, however there was one old theatre building where the light of an early afternoon in late May highlighted a wonderful architectural feature that runs along the facade of this building. This is the Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue.

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

The facade is not what you would typically associate with a cinema and gives away the building’s original function. This building was originally the Saville Theatre.

The Saville Theatre opened in 1931 and according to an introduction to the theatre in one of the early theatre programmes was “built by Messrs Gee, Walker and Slater of 32, St. James’s Street, SW1 from plans of the Architects, Messrs T.P. Bennett and Son, of 41 Bedford Row, WC1 who were also responsible for the whole colour scheme, lighting, furnishing etc.”

The exterior of the building looks much the same today as when it first opened as the Saville Theatre, apart from the canopy over the entrance and the glass blocks that now replace the wrought iron windows in the enclosed area above the canopy.

The cover from the 1934 programme for the production of Jill Darling shows the theatre entrance as built:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

The Saville Theatre operated as a theatre until the end of 1969, however during the 1960s, as well as plays the theatre would also put on concerts by The Beatles, The Who, Elton John among many other big names from the period, and for a while was owned by Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles.

In 1970 the theatre was purchased by EMI who converted the building into a cinema which opened as part of EMI’s ABC cinema chain at the end of the year. ABC cinemas went through a number of ownership changes, until the chain was owned by the same company that had brought Odeon cinemas from the Rank Group. The ABC cinemas were then gradually re-branded as Odeon Cinemas.

The interior of the theatre was a luxurious 1920s design that included an early example of how shopping could be integrated with other activities. The theatre featured the “Saville Theatre Salon”, described in the programme as “The Saville Theatre Salon is unique. Tea, Coffee and other Refreshments are served, whilst there is also a fine display of the latest costumes, coats and jewellery, by leading London West End Stores. It is, indeed, well worth a visit by our patrons in the Stalls and Dress Circle. There is no access to it from the Upper Circle.”

I assume the reference to having no access from the Upper Circle is to reserve access to those in the more expensive seats.

Whilst the interior decoration has been lost during the various cinema conversions, the facade of the building retains the magnificent frieze that runs the length of the facade along Shaftesbury Avenue, and it is this frieze that stood out so well as I walked past.

The frieze is titled “Drama through the Ages” and the sculptor was Gilbert Bayes.

Gilbert Bayes was a prolific artist and sculptor during the first half of the 20th Century. His works can still be found on buildings across the country and perhaps his most famous work is the large clock and statue combination “The Queen of Time” above the main entrance to Selfridges in Oxford Street.

The frieze is 129 feet in length and tells the story of drama across time and from left to right starts with Minstrels, Players and St. George:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Greek Chorus and Gladiators:Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Imperial Rome and Bacchanalia:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Bacchanalia and Harlequinade:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Harlequinade and Romantic:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Romantic and Twentieth Century:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

The frieze is very detailed and it takes some time to look along the frieze and pick out so many individual features. Here is Gilbert Bayes name recorded in the very lower left of the frieze:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Punch and Judy:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

The masks of a Greek Chorus:

Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue

Before being installed on the facade of the Saville Theatre, parts of the frieze were displayed at the Royal Academy during 1930 and 1931.

If you go back to the photo of the front of the theatre at the top of the post, there are also a series of round plaques. They are also the work of Gilbert Bayes and show Art through the Ages.

The theatre did suffer some limited bomb damage during the early 1940s, however the frieze survived this damage, along with the subsequent conversion of the Saville Theatre into the ABC then Odeon Cinemas.

Whatever forms of entertainment take place in the West End in the future, I hope that Gilbert Bayes magnificent frieze lasts for a very long time.

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Salisbury – Poultry Cross, High Street Gate And Cathedral

As long term readers will known, as well as London, my father also took lots of photos outside of London during National Service and through the only realistic travel option to see the country in the post war period – cycling between Youth Hostels.

There are a limited number of photos from each place visited, film was expensive and there was not much storage space when you were cycling away from home for several weeks. As well as the London photos, I am also trying to identify and visit the locations of all these photos.

Therefore, for this week’s post I am travelling down to Salisbury.

Salisbury is a cathedral city in Wiltshire, located at the point where several rivers meet to join the River Avon. The cathedral is the focal point of the city, a beautiful medieval building with the highest spire in the country.

Although part of Salisbury has suffered from the mania of a few decades ago to rebuild city centres with pedestrianised shopping centres, much of Salisbury has survived and it does still retain the feel of a small country town.

My father cycled through Salisbury in 1949, whilst cycling from London to Cornwall and stopping at Youth Hostels along the way. The route has already passed through Winchester and Stonehenge and Salisbury was a short distance to cycle further south.

The first photo is of the Poultry Cross. Salisbury originally had four crosses, each marking the location where specific market produce was sold. As well as the Poultry Cross there was a Cheese Cross, a third cross marked the location for the sale of wool and a fourth cross, Barnwell Cross marked the location for the sale of livestock.

The Poultry Cross is the only surviving one of the four crosses. The first mention of a cross being here was in 1307 and the first written record of the name occurs in the following century.

The core of the cross is the original, the side wall, buttresses and canopy are later additions. There is a J.M.W. Turner painting of the cross from around 1800 which shows just the central cross and the side walls. The painting can be found here.

The Salisbury Poultry Cross in 1949:

Salisbury

And a view of the cross from the same location in 2017:

Salisbury

There have been minor changes to the surrounding buildings and the street in my father’s photo (Butcher Row that runs in the lower part of the photo from left to right) has now been pedestrianised.

Salisbury Cathedral is enclosed within a large space, part of which is the Cathedral Close. The entrance to the Close from the High Street is through the High Street Gate. This was built between 1327 and 1342 and is still in use as a gate, being closed at 11pm and opened at 6am. As well as controlling access to the Cathedral Close, the gate also housed a small lock-up for those committing a crime in the cathedral grounds.

View of the High Street Gate in 1949 from the Cathedral Close looking back towards the High Street:

Salisbury

The same view 68 years later:

Salisbury

The Cathedral Close leads into the grounds surrounding the cathedral. The western front to Salisbury Cathedral in 1949:
Salisbury

And the same view on a summer’s day in 2017:

Salisbury

Construction of Salisbury Cathedral started in 1220 in order to build a new church to replace the one at Old Sarum that had been built just after the Normal invasion in the centre of an Iron Age hill fort just a few miles to the north. The cathedral was consecrated in 1258 and rest of the cathedral (with the exception of the spire) completed by 1266.

Given that Salisbury Cathedral has been here for almost 800 years, the 68 years between my father’s photo and my visit is a relatively very short period of time. Standing here it does make you think about all the generations who have also looked at the same view of the cathedral.

The tower and spire were built between 1300 and 1320, and the spire is the highest cathedral spire in England at 404 feet. The spires of Lincoln Cathedral and St. Paul’s Cathedral were originally higher, but as both these buildings have since lost their spires, Salisbury Cathedral now holds the record.

The tower and spire of Salisbury Cathedral:

Salisbury

Salisbury Cathedral is a wonderful example of a medieval church, historically and architecturally impressive both inside and out. After a walk around the church it was time to explore inside.

The view along the Nave towards the west frount of the cathedral:

Salisbury

Turning round from the position of the above photo and this is the view of the Quire with the Altar at the far end:

Salisbury

Named seating along the side of the Quire:

Salisbury

Salisbury Cathedral originally included a stand alone Bell Tower located between the Cathedral and the High Street Gate. The Bell Tower was demolished in 1792 and the original clock within the tower that dates from around 1386 was moved to the main cathedral building and worked in the cathedral tower until 1884. It was then stored, but rediscovered in 1929 when it was moved into the main body of the church. Repair work was needed in 1956 and following completion it was moved to its current position from where it has been in continuous operation.

The clock can still be seen in the cathedral, possibly the oldest working clock in existence:

Salisbury

18th century weather vane:

Salisbury

The artist and illustrator Rex Whistler lived in the Cathedral Close until his untimely death at the age of 39 whilst leading his troop of tanks into action on the Normandy Beaches in 1944.

A memorial to Rex Whistler in the form of an engraved prism can be found within the cathedral. The prism was engraved by Rex’s brother Laurence who died in the year 2000.

Salisbury

There is so much about the cathedral that can be classed as the finest remaining medieval example of its kind. This includes the tomb of Giles de Bridport who was the Bishop at Salisbury at the time of the cathedral’s consecration in 1258. He died in 1262 and his 13th century tomb is still well preserved in the cathedral.

Salisbury

During my visit to Salisbury Cathedral, the cathedral library was open for a small art exhibition, which was good however I always love seeing old books. The oldest book held by the library dates from the 9th century.

Salisbury

Many of the books were originally chained. This method of securing books is not is use today, although the original chains are still stored in the library.

Salisbury

Entrance to the library through a small circular staircase from the ground floor.

Salisbury

Wood to build the bookcases was donated by Henry VIII, although his bust at the top corner of the door in now obscured by the edge of one of these bookcases. I suspect he would not be pleased.

Salisbury

The Chapter House of the cathedral had on display Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of the original 1215 Magna Carta. This is apparently the best of the four remaining copies and is protected within a small viewing gallery in the centre of the Chapter House so that the copy is protected from light. I have not seen the other three copies, however the copy on display is very well preserved and fascinating to see a document of such age and importance.

Salisbury

The roof of the Chapter House:

Salisbury

The Cloisters that run around an enclosed garden also add to Salisbury Cathedral’s list of records as they are apparently Britain’s largest Cloisters, and having walked along all sides I was in no position to argue.

Salisbury

Leaving the cathedral, I walked back through the Cathedral Close to see the other side of the High Street Gate.

Salisbury

The view down the High Street provides the impression of a small town decked out for summer.

Salisbury

Salisbury today has an affluent feel, although this has not always been the case for the many visitors who have descended on the city. Writing in 1934. J.B. Priestley in English Journey describes his arrival in Salisbury:

“So we descended upon Salisbury. Once in the city, I could not see the cathedral, but I saw the Labour Exchange and, outside it, as pitiful a little crowd of unemployed as ever I have seen. No building cathedrals for them, poor devils: they would think themselves lucky if they were given a job helping to build rabbit-hutches. We ran into the big square, into which coaches like ours were coming from all quarters, and anchored off Oatmeal Row.”

At the end of the High Street, turning right into Silver Street takes me back to the Poultry Cross.

Salisbury

I walked past the cross, along the now pedestrianised Butcher Row, then into Fish Row (wonderful names that indicate the trades that once worked in these streets),

It was in Fish Row that I found a connection to London, a plaque commemorating the dash by Lieutenant John Richard Lapenotiere from Falmouth to London in November 1805 to inform the Admiralty of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Lord Nelson.

The plaque records that it took 37 hours to cover the 271 miles between Falmouth and London with 21 changes of horse, Salisbury being the 14th change of horse on the afternoon of the 5th November 1805.

Salisbury

There are apparently many more plaques marking the route taken by Lieutenant Lapenotiere from Falmouth to London including a number of plaques in London which I have not noticed before, however the wonderful London Remembers site has found them.

My visit to Salisbury was all too brief, it is a fascinating city which deserves more time. I shall have to return, however I am pleased to have found three more of my father’s photos outside of London.

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West End Theatres – Donmar to Palladium

A bit later than planned, however here is part two of my walk around the theatres of London’s West End on Saturday 27th May 2017. My earlier post covered the background and why I wanted to complete this walk and in part two I continue with my next theatre, the Donmar Warehouse, before walking to all the remaining theatres in the West End, finishing at the London Palladium.

The following interactive map shows all the theatres covered in my two posts:

 

 

The Donmar Warehouse

After leaving the New London Theatre in Drury Lane, I then headed back to Seven Dials and in Earlham Street found the Donmar Warehouse:West End

The Donmar Warehouse occupies a building that, as the name suggests, was a former warehouse providing storage for the nearby Covent Garden market.

Donmar is derived from the first three letters of Donald Albery’s first name (the theatre producer who purchased the building in 1961) and the first three letters of his wife’s middle name of Margaret.

Donald Albery’s son Ian converted the building into a rehearsal space.

In 1977 the building was purchased by the Royal Shakespeare Company who converted the space into a small theatre for workshops and productions open to the public.

In 1990 Roger Wingate acquired the building and two years later it reopened as the Donmar Warehouse.

It continues to operate as a small, independent theatre, one of the West End’s smallest with a seating capacity of 251.

The Donmar Warehouse was presenting The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui

Cambridge Theatre

From the Donmar Warehouse it was a short walk along Earlham Street to find the Cambridge Theatre facing onto Seven Dials between Earlham Street and Mercer’s Walk:

West End

I am not sure what work is being carried out on the theatre building, but it was comprehensively covered scaffolding and sheeting.

The Cambridge Theatre is one of the relatively recent West End theatres having opened in 1930, since when it has hosted an almost continuous run of plays and musicals.

The Cambridge Theatre is currently showing Matilda by Roald Dahl

Tristan Bates Theatre

The Tristan Bates Theatre is very different to all the other theatres I have covered so far. The theatre is to be found in what appears to be an office block along Tower Street at the junction with Earlham Street:West End

The Tristan Bates Theatre is part of the Actors Centre, an organisation set up in 1978 to support actors throughout their careers. The Actors Centre moved to the current location in 1994. At this time the actor Sir Alan Bates became a Patron and the Tristan Bates Theatre was set-up as part of the new location. The theatre is named after his son Tristan who had died at the age of 19 in 1990.

The Ambassadors Theatre

From the Tristan Bates Theatre I then walked along Shaftesbury Avenue and down West Street to find the Ambassadors Theatre:West End

The Ambassadors Theatre was opened in June 1913 and has been run as a theatre since this time. The only period of change was for a short time during the late 1990s when the theatre was converted into two performance spaces allowing the Royal Court Theatre to be resident for three years. After the conversion back to a single performance space the theatre was renamed the New Ambassadors Theatre, but reverted back to the original name by dropping the “new” in 2007.

The St. Martin’s Theatre which is next door to the Ambassadors is best known for being the home of the long running play The Mousetrap, however The Mousetrap actually started its long run of performances at the Ambassadors Theatre, opening on the 25th November 1952 and continuing at the Ambassadors until 1973 when The Mousetrap moved to the theatre next door.

The Ambassadors Theatre is currently showing Stomp.

The St Martin’s Theatre

The St Martin’s Theatre is adjacent to the Ambassadors Theatre, separated by the alley way of Tower Court:West End

The St. Martin’s Theatre was designed by W.G.R. Sprague who was also responsible for the design of the Ambassadors, although St Martin’s opened three years later in 1916 with construction having been delayed by the start of the 1st World War.

The St. Martin’s Theatre is best known for the long running play by Agatha Christie, The Mousetrap and a plaque on the theatre commemorates the 50th anniversary performance in 2002, however the plaque is possibly not quite clear as for almost the first half of these 50 years The Mousetrap was playing at the adjacent theatre.West End

The Arts Theatre

A walk down Upper St. Martin’s Lane took me to Great Newport Street and the Arts Theatre:West End

The Arts Theatre was opened in 1927 as a private members club. This enabled the theatre to bypass censorship by the Lord Chamberlain.

The Arts Theatre is one of the smaller West End theatres with a maximum capacity of 350.

The Arts Theatre is currently showing Judy!

Wyndham’s Theatre

From Great Newport Street then down Charing Cross Road to the Leicester Square Underground Station where I found Wyndham’s Theatre:West End

Wyndham’s Theatre opened in 1899 and is named after the original owner of the theatre, the actor – manager Charles Wyndham. It was designed by the prolific theatre designer W.G.R. Sprague, who as well as being responsible for St. Martin’s and the Ambassadors which I have covered above, also designed the Noel Coward Theatre, the Aldwych, Novello, Gielgud and Queen’s Theatres.

Although hard to see due to the large tree that is covering part of the theatre facade, it has a lovely symmetrical design. The original design for the theatre included a winter garden on the roof space, however council approval for this feature was not granted so what would have been a rather unique feature for a West End Theatre did not get built.

Wyndham’s Theatre is currently showing Don Juan in Soho

Leicester Square Theatre

The Leicester Square Theatre is not in Leicester Square, but can be found up the side street of Leicester Place:West End

The Leicester Square Theatre is rather unusual as the theatre entrance is part of the church of Notre Dame de France.

The church is a French Catholic church consecrated in 1868 to serve the large French community of the area. The church was damaged badly during the war and went through a number of restorations and rebuilds with the main rebuilding being completed between 1953 and 1955.

The area occupied by the Leicester Square Theatre was used as a French cultural centre after the rebuild, but changed use in the 1960s to become a music venue hosting bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Who and in 1979 it was the location for the first performance of “London Calling” by the Clash – an album that seemed to perfectly sum up the final years of the 1970s.

It opened as the Leicester Square Theatre in 2008 and hosts a wide variety of performances including music and comedy.

Noel Coward Theatre

Back to Charing Cross Road, cross over to walk along St. Martin’s Court to reach St. Martin’s Lane and the Noel Coward Theatre:West End

The Noel Coward Theatre has been through a couple of name changes since it opened in 1903 as the New Theatre. The first production at the New Theatre was “Rosemary” in which Charles Wyndham (the original owner of Wyndham’s Theatre) and his future wife Mary Moore starred.

in 1920 Noel Coward made his debut here, but it would be several decades before the theatre took his name. In 1973 the theatre changed name from the New to the Albery after the son of Mary Moore, Bronson Albery who was a long standing manager of the theatre. Bronson was born during Mary’s earlier marriage to the dramatist James Albery who had died in 1889.

West End theatre in the couple of decades before and after 1900 seems to have been a very close knit community with the same names coming up for theatre design, theatre owners, actors and managers.

The theatre finally changed name to the Noel Coward Theatre on the 1st June 2006, so it has only had this name for a relatively short 11 years in the 114 year history of the theatre.

The Noel Coward Theatre is currently showing Half A Sixpence.

The Duke of York’s Theatre

Also in St Martin’s Lane is the Duke of York’s Theatre:West End

The theatre opened in 1892 and was known for a very short period as the Trafalgar Square Theatre, before changing name in 1895 to the Duke of York’s Theatre for the future king, George V.

West End Theatres have been through many different types of ownership over the decades, with many theatres originally owned by individuals, often directly involved either as actors or managers. Today, the majority of theatres are owned by organisations, for example the Duke of York’s is today owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group who also own in London the Apollo Victoria, Duke of York’s, Fortune, Harold Pinter, Lyceum, Phoenix, Piccadilly, Playhouse, Savoy and Trafalgar Studios.

The Duke of York’s Theatre is unusual in that it is the only West End theatre I have found that was once owned by a radio station. From 1979 until 1992 the theatre was owned by Capital Radio.

Today, the Duke of York’s Theatre is showing Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour.

The London Coliseum

At the southern end of St Martin’s Lane is the London Coliseum:West End

The London Coliseum is perhaps better known as the home of the English National Opera and English National Ballet rather than as a traditional West End theatre, however this was not always so, and the London Coliseum has, and continues to be home to a broad range of productions.

Opened in 1904 as the London Coliseum Theatre of Varieties, the theatre was more in the tradition of music hall and variety acts and at the time held the record for the largest theatre in London with around 2,500 seats.

As with many other West End theatres, the London Coliseum has been through some changes since it opened. It has put on plays, musicals, comedies and pantomimes and for short periods has been used as a cinema.

The name has changed relatively little with “London” being dropped from the name between 1931 and 1968.

The theatre has been the West End home of the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company since 1968 when the company relocated to the London Coliseum, changing their name to the English National Opera in 1974.

The large tower above the theatre dominates the surrounding area. I assume the large globe with the name Coliseum on the top of the tower still rotates – one of those features you take for granted.

The advertising on the facade of the London Coliseum is for the June opening of the musical Bat Out Of Hell.

Garrick Theatre

From the London Coliseum I took a short walk back up Charing Cross Road to the Garrick Theatre:West End

The Garrick Theatre was opened in 1889 (it really is remarkable how many West End theatres were opened in the years around 1900 – the West End must have been a hive of theatrical activity around the turn of the century).

The theatre was named after the 18th century actor David Garrick and as far as I can tell, it has not changed name in the 128 years since the theatre opened. The Garrick Theatre has put on an almost continuous run of plays, musicals and comedies since opening.

The Garrick is currently showing The Miser.

The Adelphi

It was now time to leave the cluster of theatres around Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane and head to the next cluster of theatres in Aldwych via the Strand. The first theatre in the Strand is the Adelphi:West End

There has been a theatre at the location of the Adephi since 1806. The original theatre was called the The Sans Pareil, and the name changed to the Adelphi in 1819, then the Theatre Royal, Adephi from 1829, Theatre Royal, New Adelphi to mark the construction of a new theatre building in 1858, then the Royal Adelphi Theatre.

The “Royal” was finally dropped in 1940 which is strange as I would have thought that at the peak of the last war, theatres would have wanted to maintain patriotic connections.

The current theatre building dates from 1930 and is the fourth theatre building at this location.

The Adelphi Theatre was the location of the murder of the actor William Terriss in 1897 who was stabbed by a fellow actor as he entered the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre at the rear of the theatre in Maiden Lane. The murderer, Richard Prince was jealous of the popularity of Terriss. Whilst he was found guilty, he was also diagnosed as insane and died in Broadmoor.West End

The Maiden Lane entrance in the photo above. The ghost of William Terris is alleged to haunt the Adelphi and the nearby Covent Garden underground station.

There is a plaque to William Terriss at the rear of the Adelphi in Maiden Lane.West End

The Adelphi Theatre is currently showing Kinky Boots.

Vaudeville Theatre

A short distance further along the Strand is the Vaudeville Theatre:West End

The Vaudeville Theatre was originally built in 1870 with a narrow entrance onto the Strand as there were originally two houses on the site facing onto the Strand. These two houses were demolished in 1889 and replaced by the facade of the theatre. The exterior view of the Vaudeville has only had minor changes since.

The theatre has hosted an almost continuous run of productions since opening, and as far as I can tell has retained the original name.

The Vaudeville Theatre is currently hosting Stepping Out.

The Savoy Theatre

On the opposite side of the Strand can be found the Savoy Theatre, somewhat concealed alongside the entrance to the Savoy Hotel.West End

The Savoy Theatre was opened in 1881, eight years earlier than the adjacent, much larger, Savoy Hotel. Both the theatre and the hotel were built by Richard D’Oyly Carte.

The interior of the theatre has been through a number of major rebuilds and restorations including after a major fire in 1990 which resulted in the closure of the theatre for just over three years.

The best view of the size of the Savoy Theatre is through a short walk down Carting Lane where the large size of the theatre, which has a seating capacity of 1,158, can be appreciated.

West End

The Savoy Theatre was also the first public building to be lit by electricity, a fact recorded on a plaque on the side of the theatre in carting Lane.West End

The stage door entrance to the Savoy Theatre in Carting Lane.West End

The Savoy Theatre is currently showing Dreamgirls.

The Lyceum Theatre

North of the junction of the Strand and the approach to Waterloo Bridge is Wellington Street and a short distance along is the Lyceum Theatre:West End

The Lyceum Theatre was opened in 1834 with the name Theatre Royal Lyceum and English Opera House. The main body of the theatre was rebuilt in 1904 retaining only the facade and the large portico and the theatre continued to run until 1939 when it was purchased by the London County Council who intended to demolish the theatre to make way for road improvements.

The timing of the purchase resulted in nothing happening to the building due to the outbreak of war and following the war the original plans were abandoned.

The theatre was empty until 1951 when it reopened as the Lyceum Ballroom having been converted into a large ballroom. The Lyceum Ballroom would go on to host pop concerts throughout the 1960s, 70s and early 1980s for bands such as The Who, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Genesis.

Closing again in 1986, it did not reopen until 1996 following a significant restoration project to return the building to a theatre capable of staging large scale musicals, a function it has performed ever since.

View of the Lyceum Theatre from the junction of Wellington and Exeter Streets showing the large size of the theatre which has a seating capacity of 2,100.West End

The Lyceum Theatre is currently showing The Lyon King which has been playing at the theatre since 1999.

The Novello Theatre

At the junction of Catherine Street and Aldwych is the Novello Theatre:West End

The Novello Theatre was originally opened in 1905 as the Waldorf Theatre, becoming the Strand Theatre in 1913.

The theatre was hit by bombs from a Zeppelin during a raid on London on the 13th October 1915 and although there was some damage to the theatre, it continued in operation with the production that night of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The theatre would also suffer some damage in 1940.

The theatre continued with the name of the Strand Theatre until 2005 when after a major refurbishment it reopened with the new name of the Novello Theatre in honour of the composer and actor Ivor Novello who lived in a flat above the theatre from 1913 until his death in 1951.

The Novello Theatre is currently hosting Mama Mia.

The Duchess Theatre

A short distance along Catherine Street from the Novello, is the Duchess Theatre:West End

The Duchess Theatre opened in 1929 and is one of the West End’s smaller theatres with seating for 494.

The theatre has seen an almost continuous run of productions and also appears to have retained the original name since the theatre opened.

The Duchess Theatre is the location of the shortest run for a West End production. On the 30th Match 1930 the first staging of “The Intimate Revue” was taking place, however as some scene changes were taking upwards of 20 minutes, a number of scenes were abandoned allowing the finale to be completed by midnight. The Intimate Revue did not have a second night and as several scenes were abandoned during the first night, technically it did not even complete a first night.

Perhaps appropriately, the Duchess Theatre is currently hosting The Play That Goes Wrong.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

At the junction of Catherine Street and Russell Street is the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane:West End

There has been a theatre on the site of the Theatre Royal for centuries. The first theatre was built by Thomas Killigrew in 1663 who had received a Royal Charter from King Charles II.

Killigrew replaced the original theatre with a second to occupy the site in 1674 and this building lasted until the third theatre building to occupy the site was constructed in 1794, designed by Henry Holland and with a capacity for 3,600 people.

The third version of the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1809, following which the final version of the theatre which we see today was built and opened in 1812.

The portico on the front of the building was an addition in 1820, and the long side colonnade along Russell Street was an addition in 1831.

The following print of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is from 1828, three years before the side colonnade was added.West End

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was the location of an assassination attempt on King George III in 1800.

The King was in the royal box in the theatre on the evening of the 15th May 1800, when during the singing of the national anthem, James Hadfield who was in the stalls, fired a pistol at the King.

Fortunately for both the King and Hadfield he missed. He was tried for high treason, but pleaded insanity. He had suffered a number of previous war injuries to the head, and it was these that supported his plea of insanity. He was acquitted of the charge, but was detained indefinitely in the Bedlam Hospital after the Criminal Lunatics Act was swiftly passed by parliament in 1800 in reaction to Hadfield’s trial and acquittal. He did have a brief period of freedom following an escape, but was quickly recaptured and lived for 41 years following his attempt on the King’s life, dying of tuberculosis in 1841.

The Canterbury Journal reported from George’s Coffee House that:

“Hadfield is cleared, it being fully proved that he was insane at the time he committed the offence of firing at the King. The trial commenced at nine o’clock this morning and ended between three and four. the Attorney General not being prepared to annul the insanity of the prisoner the court recommended the Jury to acquit him”

Print of the assassination attempt:West End

There is a memorial fountain to Augustus Harris on the front of the theatre. Harris was responsible for the theatre from 1879 to 1896, and during his tenure he put on a wide range of plays and pantomimes. The success of his pantomimes was considerable and they starred many of the musical hall stars of the day.

After his death, public subscriptions provided for the memorial fountain which was unveiled in 1897.West End

Music cover for the “The Pantomime Quadrille” dedicated to Augustus Harris with a photo of Harris who died at the relatively young age of 44.West End

Walking along the Russell Street side of the Theatre Royal, I found a couple of parish boundary markers, the first I have seen on a theatre. The marker on the left is St. Martin in the Fields, and on the right is St. Paul Covent Garden. Note the original boundary marking painted on the brickwork for St. Paul.West End

Stage door for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane:West End

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is currently showing 42nd Street.

Fortune Theatre

In Russell Street, opposite the side of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is the Fortune Theatre:West End

The Fortune Theatre opened in November 1924 and is one of the West End’s smaller theatres with a capacity of 432. As far as I can tell, the theatre has retained its original name and has had an almost continuous run of productions since opening.

The facade of the theatre is mainly of concrete and high above the main entrance is a sculpture of Terpsichore (one of the nine muses in Greek mythology with an emphasis on dance). The sculpture was created by the arts and crafts artist M. H. Crichton.West End

The facade of the theatre is also shared by an entrance to a church which looks rather out of place in the lower left corner of the facade. The entrance is to the Crown Court Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church that has been here since 1719. The original church was replaced in 1909 so the current church predates the Fortune Theatre which must have integrated the entrance to the church within the new facade of the theatre in 1924.

The Fortune Theatre is currently hosting The Woman In Black

Aldwych Theatre

From Russell Street, turn right down Drury Lane to the junction with Aldwych where on the corner is to be found the Aldwych Theatre:West End

The Aldwych Theatre was built in 1905 at the same time and to the same design by the architect W. G. R. Sprague as the Novello Theatre which I visited earlier in this post.

Unlike the Novello, the Aldywych Theatre has retained the original name, and has seen an almost continuous run of productions, including a twenty one year period from 1960 when the Royal Shakespeare Company were in residence at the Aldwych.

The stage door of the Aldwych Theatre. Whilst the main frontage of the theatre onto Aldwych is of stone, the side walls of the theatre in which the main body of the auditorium and stage are located were built of brick to save money.

West End

The Aldwych Theatre is currently showing Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

The London Palladium

For my final theatre visit, I walked back along the Strand to Charing Cross to catch a Bakerloo train up to Oxford Circus to visit the theatre at the north west corner of my boundary of West End theatres, the London Palladium in Argyll Street:

West End

The Palladium dates from the turn of the century expansion of West End theatres having opened in 1910 on the former site of Argyll House.

Argyll House was built on land owned by the Duke of Argyll by his younger brother Lord Ilay. Construction started in 1737 and continued with the addition of various rooms and extensions for the next couple of decades.

Lord Ilay became the Duke of Argyll following the death of his older brother and the house passed down the Argyll family until being sold in 1808 to the Earl of Aberdeen. The house was sold in 1862 by the Earl of Aberdeen’s son, the last nobleman’s town house to survive in the area around Oxford Circus and Regent’s Street.

Argyll House as it appeared in 1854 from a drawing by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.

West End

It was demolished soon after and over much of the site was built the Corinthian Bazaar and Exhibition Rooms.

The majority of the Corinthian Bazaar was demolished to make way for the Palladium, however the facade onto Argyll Street, although modified, is from the original Bazaar building.

The facade looks as if the theatre is directly behind, however it is an L shaped theatre with the entrance providing access to the rear of the auditorium which then runs to the stage behind the buildings down Argyll Street to the right of the main entrance.

The Palladium has hosted a wide range of events over the years, including plays and musicals, but has also hosted TV programmes such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium, many of the Royal Variety Performances, variety from performers such as Ken Dodd and Bruce Forsyth and shows by stars such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bob Hope Max Bygraves, Julie Andrews and Cilla Black.

On the day of my visit, the Saturday 27th May 2017, the London Palladium was hosting one night of Simple Minds Acoustic 2017 tour.

West End

And the London Palladium concludes my walk around the theatres of London’s West End for a snapshot of their history, appearance and productions on Saturday 27th May 2017.

In my two posts I have covered 41 theatres within my definition of the West End. I knew there were many theatres, but did not realise quite how many and I may have missed a couple of smaller theatres (please let me know if there are any I have missed).

I have only scratched the surface of their long and fascinating history and it is good to see buildings that are often over one hundred years old, with the earliest occupying theatrical sites that date back to the 17th century, still playing such an active part in the cultural and commercial life of the city.

They have survived threats from new forms of entertainment during their time, such as the cinema and television and still appear to be in fine health. The Society of London Theatre’s 2016 Box Office report stated that:

  • Gross revenue of £644,719,639
  • Attendances of 14,328,121
  • Weekly attendance set a new record during week commencing the 26th December 2016 at 439,103

The report also records that audiences have risen from 10,236,362 in 1986 to 14,328,121 in 2016 and that 44 was the average number of theatres open in 2016 (numbers have stayed reasonably static over the past 30 years). The number was slightly higher than my 41 theatres but may be due to slightly different geographic scope, or maybe I did indeed miss a couple.

It was a fascinating theme for a walk. The warm weather dictated a couple of stops at pubs along the way, which is perhaps a theme for a future walk around London, although I fear that the longevity of these will not be as good as the theatres of the West End.

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Old Swan Stairs

Following last Sunday’s post covering the first part of my walk around London’s West End theatres, I had been expecting to publish the second part a couple of days ago, however I must admit I have never really counted up how many theatres there are (over 40), so I am still working on the post. Therefore today, back to one of my father’s photos of London 70 years ago.

This is my father’s post war view of the stretch of the north bank of the River Thames between London Bridge and Cannon Street Station:

Old Swan Stairs

The magnificent framework of the original glass roof of Cannon Street Station is in the rear of the photo, the glass had previously been removed so this is just the metal framework.

My father was standing on London Bridge to take the photo and the river front consists of space cleared of buildings damaged by wartime bombing and some of the remaining warehouse and wharf buildings.

I took a wider photo of the scene today to set the context as the side walls of Cannon Street Station are now obscured and the station has long since lost the original roof.

Old Swan Stairs

The scene has completely changed, and the perspective of the two photos looks different due to very different lens and camera types, however there are some features remaining that allow the buildings in the original photo to be located.

The following map extract is from the 1952 Ordnance Survey map of the area (published in 1952, surveyed the previous year).

Old Swan Stairs

In the map, Cannon Street Station is the large building, partly shown on the left of the map.

The first feature to identify on the photo is Old Swan Pier. In the map, this can be seen running from a small, rectangular indentation in the river wall. In the original photo, this is the metal walkway that can just be seen running out from the river wall, with the small indentation in the river wall also partly visible.

This allows the building to be identified adjacent to the pier, this is Swan Wharf, the building has a date on the very top which I can just make out as either 1896 or 1894.

Now follow the river wall from the pier and Swan Wharf back to the right hand edge of the photo and the river wall steps back twice, once alongside the edge of the Swan Wharf building, and the second slightly further along. These two steps backs in the river wall can also be seen in the 1952 map which identifies the building to the right of the crane as the building at the end of Old Swan Wharf in the map.

The definition of the original film is not sufficient to clearly read the white writing on the side of the crane, but it appears to read “The Swan Wharf & ———“. I cannot make out the last word.

Given the level of redevelopment in this area it would be surprising if any of these features (apart from the station) remain, however there are some that allow the location of the original buildings to be placed along the river’s edge today.

Firstly, look along the river wall in today’s photo and you will see an indention in the river wall. This is the same indentation as at the location of the pier in the original photo and was retained as this gap in the river wall is the location of Old Swan Stairs, one of the many historic stairs leading down to the river.

Two dolphin structures can also be seen in the river, these are a couple of the remaining supports from the Old Swan Pier.

To the right of the stairs in today’s photo is a large tree, this is the location of the Swan Wharf building in the original photo.

From the tree to the right of today’s photo there are two step backs in the river wall. These are the same as those in the post war photo, with the old building to the right of the crane being the building at the end of Old Swan Wharfe in the 1952 map.

Old Swan Stairs have been here for many centuries. The following extract from John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Old Swan Stairs.

Old Swan Stairs

In the 1746 map, the stairs are at the end of Ebbgate Lane, in the 1952 map this lane was then Swan Lane with Old Swan Lane to the left in both maps.

Swan Stairs were mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys and in Stow’s 1603 Survey of London there is a mention Old Swan: “This ward turneth into Thames streete westwarde, some ten houses on a side to the course of the Walbrooke, but East in Thames streets on both sides to Ebgate lane, or old Swan.” in his description of the boundaries of Downegate (Dowgate) Ward.

In Old and New London, Walter Thornbury writes about how Swan Stairs were used to avoid the dangers of passing under the old London Bridge by boat: “The Swan Stairs, a little ‘above bridge’ was the place where people coming by boat used to land to walk to the other side of Old London Bridge when the current was swift and narrow between the starlings, and ‘shooting the bridge’ was rather like going down the rapids. Citizens usually took boat again at Billingsgate, as we find Johnson and Boswell once doing, on their way to Greenwich in 1763.”

Old Swan Stairs were also the starting point for the Swan Upping ceremony when it started in central London. My father took some photos of Swan Upping starting around Old Swan Stairs and in the following photo is Mr Richard Turk who was the Vintners Swan Marker and Barge Master, with the Old Swan Pier in the background. The sign on the right of the piers indicates that boats to Greenwich could be boarded here. My full post on Swan Upping can be found here.

Old Swan Stairs

I am not sure exactly when Old Swan Pier opened, however the first adverts I can find for sailings from the pier are from 1838, when on the 21st May the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette carried an advert for “Steam – Cheap Fares from Old Swan Pier” . The sailings were:

  • To Gravesend – every morning at 9 o’clock, precisely. Cabin 1s: Saloon 1s 6d
  • To Richmond – Daily at half-past 9, calling at Hungerford at 10 o’clock, and to Twickenham every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Week days 1s 6d; on Sundays 2s.
  • To Woolwich – Every Sunday at 10, 2 and 5, calling at West India Dock Pier, Blackwall, at 11, 3 and 6. To Woolwich 1s, to Blackwall 9d, from Blackwall to Woolwich, 6d

The earliest newspaper report I could find referring to Old Swan Stairs is from the 9th August 1729, when it was reported that:

“Last Monday a Waterman, naked all but his shirt, rowed in a Butcher’s Tray from the Old Swan Stairs, to Greenwich, for a Wager of four Guineas, and won the same”

There are frequent mentions of Old Swan Stairs in newspaper reports since the early 18th century, and they describe the life and tragedies that must have been day to day experiences along this stretch of the Thames.

From the London reports of the Ipswich Journal on the 12th February 1743:

“Sunday Morning a young Man, dressed in a Sailor’s Jacket with Trowsers and a speckled Shirt was found in the Mud near the Old Swan Stairs; his Buckles, which were supposed to be Silver, were taken out of his Shoes. He was carried into the Church-yard, near the Stairs, till own’d, or a Warrant granted for his Burial”.

The implications being that either he was murdered for the silver shoe buckles, or he had died accidentally and his shoe buckles had been stolen.

Standing at Old Swan Stairs would have provided a fascinating view across to what would later be Southwark Cathedral with London Bridge to the left. John Cleverly made the following drawing  (©Trustees of the British Museum) of the view from Old Swan Stairs in 1792. Old Swan Stairs

Despite the land along the river having changed so dramatically over the last 70 years, we can still find features that date back hundreds of years and allow us to accurately place events from centuries of London’s history.

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West End Theatres – Playhouse to New London

West End Theatres, the subject of this week’s post, has come about for a number of reasons. Firstly whilst I love a random walk around London, I also like walking to find specific places or to follow a particular theme. Secondly, working with my father’s photos I often find myself wishing that he had taken more photos of other subjects and locations to those in his collection, it would have been interesting to see photos of so much else in the London of the time..

This week’s subject was also prompted when I scanned the following photo from 1981 from my own negatives showing the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand.

The West End of London has a large concentration of theatres. These have changed function over time, some have ceased to be theatres, some have spent periods of time as a cinema and occasionally new theatres have opened.

Theatres are also a snapshot of their time. The shows put on, the actors. the external advertising are all of their time. When I looked at the above photo appearing on the screen during scanning I recognised the names, but three of the four have since died and the theatres of the West End have since been populated by generations of new actors.

I therefore thought that an interesting theme for a walk would be to hunt down and photograph all the theatres of the West End and photograph them to provide a snapshot of West End theatres and their productions on a single day. This would have been an interesting series of photos I would have loved my father to have taken in the late 1940s and 1950s.

So last Saturday I worked out a route around the West End to try and hunt down as many theatres as I could find. I bounded the West End by the area enclosed by Oxford Circus, the southern end of Tottenham Court Road, Aldwych and Trafalgar Square – I hope this is a reasonable area to consider as the traditional West End Theatre Land.

There are many theatres to cover, so this will be in two posts, the first today and the second later in the week. There is only a brief history of each theatre, a single day’s view of the theatre and the production on the day was my main aim.

I have put together the following interactive map showing the theatre locations. In today’s post this has the first set of theatres covered and in the second post will have the complete set (for those receiving this post via e-mail, the map will appear as a picture, the interactive map can be found on the website).

 

 

So on Saturday 27th May 2017, I set out to find all the West End Theatres. I started at one of the edges of my boundary of West End Theatre land, on the Embankment looking at the:

Playhouse Theatre

The Playhouse Theatre is on Northumberland Avenue, almost at the junction with the Embankment. The current building dates from 1905 which was a rebuild of an earlier theatre from 1882 called the Royal Avenue Theatre.

 

West End Theatres

From 1951 to 1976 the Playhouse Theatre was run by the BBC as a live performance location. After 1976 the theatre fell into disrepair. I cannot remember the year, but in the early 1980s when I was working on the opposite side of the river there was a significant fire in the building.

In 1986 the derelict theatre was the location for Queen’s video for A Kind Of Magic. It was restored in 1987 to form the building we see today

Today the Playhouse Theatre is showing My Family: Not the Sitcom by David Baddiel.

Trafalgar Studios

From the Playhouse Theatre, I walked up Northumberland Avenue to Trafalgar Square and a short distance along Whitehall is the Trafalgar Studios.

West End Theatres

This theatre was originally the Whitehall Theatre and opened in 1930. The Whitehall Theatre presented plays, revues and farces until the mid 1970s when it was then closed until 1986. From 1997 it was used for TV and radio productions for a couple of years. The theatre was refurbished and reopened in 2004 with the new name of Trafalgar Studios.

Externally, the building looks rather plan, however internally the building retains many superb art deco features from its original design.

Today the Trafalgar Studios is showing The Philanthropist by Christopher Hampton.

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Leaving Whitehall, up Cockspur Street to Haymarket to find the Theatre Royal Haymarket:

West End Theatres

A theatre has been on this side of Haymarket since 1720 when John Potter established the Hay Market, or later the Little Theatre in the Hay.

The current theatre dates from 1821. Designed by John Nash who also arranged for the new theatre to be built slightly to the south of the original 1720 theatre so that it stood directly opposite Charles II Street, and if you stand in St. James Square and look down Charles II Street the view is of the theatre at the far end.

A view from 1822 of the Theatre Royal Haymarket is shown in the following print (©Trustees of the British Museum), which demonstrates that the theatre today is little changed from the original Nash building.

Today, the Theatre Royal Haymarket is showing “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia” by Edward Albee

Her Majesty’s Theatre

Opposite the Theatre Royal and at the junction with Charles II Street is Her Majesty’s Theatre:

West End Theatres

A theatre was opened on the site slightly earlier than the Theatre Royal as the first theatre was opened in 1705. Originally called The Queen’s after Queen Anne, the original theatre was used for the performance of opera rather than plays.

The theatre seemed to have changed name dependent on the sex of the monarch. After Queen Anne, the theatre changed name to The King’s Theatre for George I. It stayed the King’s Theatre until Queen Victoria’s accession when it changed name to Her Majesty’s Theatre, then in 1901 to His Majesty’s for King Edward VII, and the final change to Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1952 for Queen Elizabeth II, so I assume that at some point in the future it will change name again back to His Majesty’s Theatre.

Subscription tickets were used in the early 19th century to gain access to reserved seats and boxes in the theatre. The following photo (©Trustees of the British Museum) is of a subscription ticket for Her Majesty’s Theatre, or as it was known in 1824, the King’s Theatre.

There have been many different versions of the theatre building on the site since 1705. The current building dates from 1897.

West End Theatres

Her Majesty’s Theatre is currently showing “The Phantom of the Opera” which has been at the theatre since October 1986.

Harold Pinter Theatre

For the next theatre, I walked up Haymarket, turned down Panton Street to find the Harold Pinter Theatre at the junction with Oxendon Street:

West End Theatres

This theatre opened in October 1881 as the Royal Comedy Theatre, later abbreviated to the Comedy Theatre. It was renamed the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2011. Although there was significant reconstruction work carried out in the 1950s, much of the original 1881 theatre building remains.

The Stage Door of the Harold Pinter:

West End Theatres

The Harold Pinter Theatre is currently showing “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf” by Edward Albee.

Prince Of Wales

Continuing up Oxendon Street to the junction with Coventry Street to find the Prince of Wales Theatre:

West End Theatres

The current building is the second on the site bearing the name Prince of Wales. The first theatre was built in 1884 and called Prince’s Theatre before being renamed in 1886 as the Prince of Wales Theatre, after the Prince of Wales who would later become King Edward VII.

The current building dates from 1937 and the Prince of Wales Theatre is today showing “The Book of Mormon”.

The Criterion Theatre

From the Prince of Wales Theatre, I walked along Coventry Street to Piccadilly Circus to find the Criterion Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Criterion Theatre is part of a much larger complex that has been redeveloped a couple of times over the years.

The original theatre was opened in 1873 and as well as the theatre, the buildings included a restaurant, dining rooms, ballroom and concert hall. Apart from brief periods for development and restoration work, the Criterion has put on productions since opening apart from a break during the last war when the theatre was used by the BBC as a studio for live and recorded productions.

The theatre was at risk in the early 1970s when GLC development plans risked the loss of the theatre, however a high profile campaign ensured the theatre was retained, although renovation work between 1989 and 1992 resulted in significant changes to the substantial building that surrounds the Criterion. The auditorium is still substantially the original Victorian auditorium.

The Criterion Theatre is currently showing “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery” by the Mischief Theatre Company.

Piccadilly Theatre

The Piccadilly Theatre is not on Piccadilly, but is reached by walking from Piccadilly Circus up Glasshouse Street then Sherwood Street to reach the theatre in Denman Street

West End Theatres

The Piccadilly Theatre has rather a plain facade, but of the theatres I have visited so far has the most visible advertising – the large advert for Annie is a screen, not a poster so was continuously changing display.

The Piccadilly Theatre is also relatively recent having opened in 1928, and is also one of the largest theatres in central London capable of seating 1,232. Although rather plain from the outside, this hides an Art Deco interior.

The Piccadilly Theatre is currently showing Annie.

The Lyric Theatre

From the Piccadilly Theatre, I walked down Denman Street to perhaps the heart of West End Theatre land, Shaftsbury Avenue. There are a number of theatres along this street, the first of which is the Lyric Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Lyric Theatre is the oldest surviving theatre building on Shaftesbury Avenue having been built in 1888. The facade of the Lyric Theatre is different to the majority of other West End Theatres, being built of brick rather than stone.

Apollo Theatre

Next door to the Lyric Theatre is the Apollo Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Apollo Theatre opened in 1901 and has been putting on an almost continuous series of productions.

The design, materials used for the facade and slightly greater height of the Apollo Theatre are very different to the original Lyric Theatre next door, probably to make the new theatre stand out more than its earlier neighbour. The gleaming white stone and ornate decoration around the circular windows on either side of the top of building make the facade of this building one of the more opulent on Shaftesbury Avenue.

One thing i did find puzzling about the design of the building is that the windows are not symmetrical on either side. The pairs of windows are of the same height and alignment on the right of the building, but the pairs of windows are offset on the left. I am sure there is a good architectural reason for this, probably to be found in the interior.

West End Theatres

The Apollo Theatre is currently showing “Love In Idleness” by Terence Rattigan.

Gielgud Theatre

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Rupert Street is the Gielgud Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Gielgud Theatre originally opened in 1906 as the Hicks Theatre, named after the author of the first play (The Beauty of Bath by Seymour Hicks) that was performed in the theatre.

Unfortunately for Seymour Hicks, his place in West End theatre history was hidden when the theatre was renamed the Globe in 1909. It retained this name until 1994 when it was renamed the Gielgud Theatre to avoid confusion with the newly opened Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre at Bankside. The name was chosen as a tribute to Sir John Gielgud who had performed at the theatre in 1928.

The Gieldgud Theatre is currently hosting “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”.

Queen’s Theatre

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Wardour Street is the Queen’s Theatre:

West End Theatres

A very different building to the other West End Theatres I have so far walked past. Originally opened in 1907 it was designed as a pair with the Gielgud Theatre, however the Queen’s Theatre was the first West End theatre to be put out of action by bombing on the 24th September 1940. This brought to an end the production of Rebecca with Owen Nares, Celia Johnson and Margaret Rutherford that was running at the time.

The Queen’s Theatre reopened in 1959 after a reconstruction project costing £250,000 and which explains the radically different appearance of the building to other theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue.

The Queen’s Theatre is currently showing “Les Miserables”.

Soho Theatre

To visit my next destination I turned off Shaftesbury Avenue to walk down Dean Street to find the Soho Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Soho Theatre is one of the West End’s newer theatres, it has been the home of the Soho Theatre Company since 2000. It is also one of the smallest with a 150 seat auditorium. The building also has a smaller 90 seat performance space and houses the Soho Theatre Bar.

West End Theatres

The Soho Theatre was hosting two productions, “Blush” by Charlotte Josephine and “Roller Diner” by Stephen Jackson.

Prince Edward Theatre

I then walked back down Dean Street then turned into Old Compton Street to find the Prince Edward Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Prince Edward Theatre was opened in 1930 and has had a number of different uses in the following years.

In 1936 the building opened as the London Casino, running as a cabaret restaurant. During the war the building housed the Queensbury All Services Club  broadcasting shows to British Forces across the world. It was during this time that almost every well known war time performer was at the Prince Edward for one of these broadcasts including Vera Lynn, Glenn Miller, Tommy Handley, George Formby and Flanagan and Allan.

After the war the Prince Edward returned to theatrical productions until 1954 when it was converted to a cinema, a role it continued to perform until 1978 when the Prince Edward was restored to a theatre, a role it has continued to perform to this day.

The Prince Edward is currently hosting the musical “Aladdin”.

The Palace Theatre

Back down to Shaftesbury Avenue and at the junction with Charing Cross Road is the Palace Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Palace Theatre is a large, red brick building with a capacity for 1,400 theatre goers.

The theatre was opened in 1891 for Richard D’Oyly Carte who intended the theatre to be the home of English opera and on opening the theatre was known as the Royal English Opera House. The first production was Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe, however when this closed there was no follow up production and the Royal English Opera House closed.

D’Oyly sold the building and in 1911 it opened as the Palace Theatre of Varieties, commencing a theme of musical productions which have run for most of the theatre’s time. With the emphasis on musicals rather than variety productions, the theatre dropped the last part of the name to become the Palace Theatre.

Today, the Palace Theatre is hosting probably one of the biggest productions in the West End for some years, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.

Phoenix Theatre

Walking up Charing Cross Road, I found my next theatre, the Phoenix Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Phoenix Theatre has two main entrances, one on Phoenix Street (above) and the other on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Flitcroft Street (below).

West End Theatres

The Phoenix Theatre was opened in 1930 to a design by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Bertie Crewe and Cecil Masey. Since opening it has held an almost continuous run of plays and musicals.

The Phoenix Theatre is currently hosting the musical “The Girls” by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth.

The Dominion Theatre

Continuing along Charing Cross Road to the junction with Tottenham Court Road where the Dominion Theatre is located.

West End Theatres

Built in 1939, the Dominion Theatre has operated as a theatre, cinema and live music venue.

It did not last long as a theatre as by 1933 it was owned by the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation as a cinema and with the occasional exception of a live performance, remained primarily as a cinema until the late 1970s. It then went through a period of hosting live music including David Bowie and Bon Jovi, before returning to a theatrical venue in the late 1980s.

My first visit to the Dominion Theatre was when it was a cinema. I cannot remember exactly how old I was, probably around 8 or 9, when my parents took me to the Dominion Theatre as a birthday treat to see the film The Battle of Britain (although it was also probably a rather clever ploy by my dad to get to see the film).

In 2014, the 12 year run of the musical We Will Rock You came to a close, ending the period when a giant gold statue of Freddy Mercury adorned the front of the theatre.

West End Theatres

The Dominion Theatre is now showing “An American In Paris”.

Shaftesbury Theatre

To reach my next theatre, I walked along New Oxford Street, and down Shaftesbury Avenue to find the Shaftesbury Theatre:

West End Theatres

The Shaftesbury Theatre occupies a prominent corner location. Opened in 1911 it was originally called The Princes Theatre. For over a century the Shaftesbury Theatre has hosted musicals, plays and comedies and in 1968 the run of the musical Hair commenced in September, made possible by the ending of theatre censorship laws on the 26th September 1968 when after 231 years of theatre censorship, the Lord Chamberlain had his powers to censor plays removed.

Hair ran for almost 2,000 performances before it was forced to close owing to structural problems in the building that required urgent restoration work. During closure, there were attempts to redevelop the building, however it was saved as a theatre and reopened in 1974.

The Shaftesbury Theatre is currently hosting “Motown The Musical”.

New London Theatre

Next on my route was the New London Theatre which I reached by walking along High Holborn then down Drury Lane:

West End Theatres

The New London Theatre opened in 1972 in a new building on the site of an earlier theatre.

The Middlesex Music Hall was on the site from 1851, and in 1911 this was replaced by a new theatre but with the similar name of the New Middlesex Theatre of Varieties. In 1919 it became The Winter Garden, a name which it retained until 1959 when the theatre closed.

The building stood empty for much of the 1960s until it was demolished and replaced with the building that is on the site today (although it is hard to get an idea of the building underneath the advertising).

The New London Theatre is currently showing “School of Rock, the Musical”.

And with the New London Theatre I complete my first post of West End Theatres. In my second post, later this coming week I will complete the set, having hopefully found all the theatres in London’s West End.

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Flying Over London

One of my first posts, three years ago, was about flying over London in a vintage de Havilland Dragon Rapide. I took a number of these flights between 1979 and 1983 as I loved flying, I had started working so I could afford tickets and I had a reasonable camera.

I continue to scan my negatives and I recently found some more photos of flying over London from Biggin Hill, over east London and the City before returning to Biggin Hill. For today’s post, here are a selection of photos from the earliest (black and white) to the later years (colour) of flying over London in a de Havilland Dragon Rapide.

I will start with the earliest and you will see an improvement over the years in the cameras I was using.

Firstly, here is the de Havilland Dragon Rapide. A design from the 1930s with this plane being manufactured in 1946:

Flying over London

The flights from Biggin Hill changed the routes taken to get from the airfield to the City each year which provided the opportunity to see different parts of south London. The flying height was low enough so that detail on the ground was clear, and the lower speed compared to jet aircraft allowed sufficient time to pick out the locations along the route.

In the following photo, the large cemetery in the lower left of the photo is alongside Hither Green Crematorium, with Catford in the background of the photo.

Flying over London

Hither Green – the railway can be seen running from the bottom of the photo, just to the left of centre, with Hither Green station being roughly a quarter of the way up the railway line:

Flying over London

Bromley:

Flying over London

The distinctive loop of houses to the lower right of the following photo is the appropriately named Oval Road, just to the immediate north-east of East Croydon Station.

Flying over London

The next three photos are flying up to and over Rotherhithe and the land once occupied by the Surrey Commercial Docks. The Isle of Dogs can be seen across the river.

Flying over London

Flying over London

Flying over London

Moving on to a later year and I have changed to colour film and the flight from Biggin Hill has taken a slightly different route so we can see the Thames Barrier in the final stages of construction:

Flying over London

Flying over London

The northern end of the Isle of Dogs with from the top, the West India Dock (Import), the West India Dock (Export) and the South Dock. If you look just above the top dock, over to the right is the spire of a church, this is All Saints Church, Poplar. The Balfron Tower can be seen just behind the spire of  the church.

Hard to believe that this is now the Canary Wharf development and One Canada Square is now in the centre of these docks.

Flying over London

Looking back over the Isle of Dogs. Limehouse Basin is the area of water in the centre of the photo.

Flying over London

Looking back over Limehouse Basin. The Limehouse Cut can be seen running from the top corner of the basin. The Regent Canal is the line running from the lower left corner.

Flying over London

The church of St. Mary the Virgin, Rotherhithe is clearly visible in the lower part of the following photo. Shadwell Basin is across the river.

Flying over London

Approaching the City:

Flying over London

In the following photo, the railway line into Liverpool Street Station is running from lower right to top left of the photo. The grassed area in the centre of the photo is Weavers Fields, Bethnal Green.

Flying over London

Another view looking along the railway into Liverpool Street Station. Bethnal Green on the right, Stepney and Whitechapel on the left.

Flying over London

Approaching the City:

Flying over London

This was the view of the City when the NatWest Tower (now Tower 42) was the highest building in the City. It had just been completed when this photo was taken.

Flying over London

Flying over the river, looking west. This was before HMS Belfast was moored on the river and when warehouses still covered much of the south bank. Note the flying boat moored just north of Tower Bridge. This was a Shorts Sandringham – a remarkable sight to see on the river. The large white building on the north bank of the river is the old British Telecom Mondial House building.

Flying over London

Now for the final trip with a better camera and film, and a different route. The sports ground at Crystal Palace:

Flying over London

Slightly different angle on Crystal Palace. The tall Crystal Palace TV mast can be seen in the upper right of the photo:

Flying over London

Not sure where the next two photos are, somewhere over south London:

Flying over London

That may well be Croydon to the upper right:

Flying over London

The isle of Dogs again:

Flying over London

View looking over Bermondsey, Southwark and Lambeth with the railway running into London Bridge Station in the lower right quarter of the photo, long before the Shard.

Flying over London

View from over south London looking north. The River Thames is running across the middle of the photo from left to right. The green areas in the upper part of the photo are St. James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park.

Flying over London

Another photo looking from south London over towards the north west. Just to the left of centre is the old gas holder at Battersea. The chimneys of Battersea Power Station can be seen just to the right of the gas holder and Battersea Park behind.

Flying over London

View looking over the City:

Flying over London

The City of London, with still the Nat West Tower being the only really tall building. Note also how few cranes there are across the City. I counted about five in this photo. It would be very different now. The rate of construction has increased rapidly since the early 1980s.

Flying over London

Another view of the City.

Flying over London

HMS Belfast is now moored on the river.

Flying over London

A final view whilst crossing the river.

Flying over London

These flights let me pursue my early interests in flying, photography and London all at the same time. Unfortunately I have not taken any similar flights since the early 1980s. My aerial views of London now are when I have been working abroad and fly back into Heathrow. I always make sure I book a seat on the right of the plane in the hope that the landing will be from the east, and even after all these years, I am still the one with my camera pressed up against the window.

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