Category Archives: London Buildings

Queen Square – A Water Pump, Zeppelin And Medical Imaging

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

Queen Square

The view from the same position 70 years later:

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

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

Queen Square

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

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

Queen Square

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

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

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

Queen Square

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

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

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

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plaque above one of the entrances into the central gardens:

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

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

Queen Square

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

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

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

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

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

The plaque below is on the building shown above.

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

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

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

Queen Square

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

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

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

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

The plaque on the left of the building:

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

Queen Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long may it continue.

alondoninheritance.com

55 Broadway – London Underground’s Modernist Head Office

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

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

55 Broadway

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

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

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

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

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

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

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

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

55 Broadway

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

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

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

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

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

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

55 Broadway

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

West Wind by Henry Moore:

55 Broadway

South Wind by Eric Gill:

55 Broadway

North Wind by Eric Gill:

55 Broadway

West Wind by Samuel Rabinovitch:

55 Broadway

North Wind by Alfred Gerrard:

55 Broadway

East Wind by Allan Wyon:

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

Original stairwell features:

55 Broadway

Original lighting feature:

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

And the clock:

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

The BT Tower with Euston Tower in the background:

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

Towers of existing apartments at Vauxhall:

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

55 Broadway

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

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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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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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.

alondoninheritance.com 

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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Building Bankside Power Station

In 1953, soon after it started operation, my father took the photo below of Bankside Power Station. The photo suffers from a problem I often have when taking a photo of the southern bank of the river from the north on a clear day as the sun is in the south and puts the power station into silhouette.

In the photo, Bankside Power Station also looks only half built, which indeed it was. There is a smaller building on the left with two rows of chimneys receding from the river’s edge. This is the original power station on the site.

Bankside Power Station

Roughly the same view today. The Millennium Bridge now crosses the river in front of the old Bankside Power Station building.

Bankside Power Station

A view from further along the river showing the full size of the former Bankside Power Station building.

Bankside Power Station

This area of Bankside has produced energy for many years before the current Bankside Power Station was built. The following extract from the 1892 Ordnance Survey map shows towards the right of the map an Electric Lighting Works and on the left the Phoenix Gas Works. Both of these industries were located adjacent to the river as they both used coal to generate either electricity or gas.

Bankside Power Station

The original power station was built by the City of London Electric Lighting Company in 1891 and over the years underwent a number of extensions and upgrades to form the building with the two rows of chimneys as seen in may father’s photo.

Each chimney was connected to an individual boiler and a separate building contained the generator that was driven by the steam from the boilers to produce electricity for distribution in the local area and by cables across the river to the City. Electricity generation was originally a local activity with no national grid to distribute across the country. There were power stations located across London, including the Regent’s Park Central Station where my grandfather was superintendent.

The design of the original power station and the equipment used was highly polluting with so many chimneys pouring smoke, ash and grit onto Bankside.

Planning during the war identified the need for a significant number of new power stations across the country with post war consumption of electricity expected to surge. London would be one of the areas where the old, polluting power stations urgently needed to be replaced with cleaner power stations with higher generation capacity.

The 1943 County of London Plan proposed the redevelopment of the south bank of the river to remove heavy industry and line the river with offices, flats and public gardens with commercial and light industrial buildings to the rear. Heavy industry such as power stations were to be relocated out of central London to places such as Poplar, Rotherhithe and east along the river. The following extract from the 1943 plans shows the proposals for the south bank:

Bankside Power Station

As always happens with long-term, strategic plans, events take over and problems such as power shortages during the very cold winter of 1947 forced different decisions to be made and the go ahead was given in 1947 for a new power station to be built at Bankside. In giving this approval there was one major change. Originally it was planned for the power station to continue using coal, however the level of pollution in the area, the space needed for coal storage and the need to diversify power production away from one signal source Influenced the Government to change plans for the new Bankside Power Station to switch from coal to oil. As well as being slightly less polluting, oil had the advantage that it could be stored in large underground tanks, thereby removing the need for large fuel storage areas above ground.

Although oil was slightly less polluting, the new Bankside Power Station would continue to have an impact on the local area and on the river. Flue gases were washed by water taken from the river. These waters would then be returned to the river with a higher particle content and acidic level.

When the go ahead was given for the new power station, as well as concerns about locating such an industry in central London, there were also complaints that the new building would dwarf St. Paul’s Cathedral. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott changed the design from dual chimneys to a single chimney and ensured that the overall height of the chimney was lower than the dome of the cathedral. This was helped with the land on which the cathedral is built being higher than the river side location of the power station, however the reduced height of the chimney did contribute to ongoing local pollution problems.

Construction of the first half of Bankside Power Station took place between 1947 and 1953. This saw the completion of the western half of the building and the central chimney with first power being generated in 1953, and this is the status of Bankside Power Station that my father photographed in the photo at the start of this post.

He had also walked around the area a number of years earlier when construction first started. He took the following two photos showing the demolition of the buildings that had been on the site, and the start of construction of the new power station.

In this first photo, he is standing in front of what would become the wall of the building facing to the river, at the western edge. Five chimneys on the rear of the original power station can be seen, and on the far left of the photo are the lower levels of the new chimney.

Bankside Power Station

I took the following photo further away from the power station than my father’s photo above. If I was much closer it would just be looking directly into the building, however it does give a view of the same scene as it is today with the base of the chimney on the left of both photos. In the above photo it is the central core of the chimney which is seen, the brick outer structure is yet to be added.

Bankside Power Station

The second photo is looking directly across the construction site towards the south.

Bankside Power Station

The Britain from Above website has a number of photos taken by Aerofilms which show the Bankside site under development. The first photo is from 1946 and shows the site prior to development of the new power station. The site can be located by the double row of black chimneys of the original power station which is located in the middle of the lower part of the photo.

Bankside Power Station

The next photo is from 1952 and shows the power station nearing completion. The core of the chimney is complete, but it lacks the outer brick facing. The metal framework around the upper part of the chimney is the same structure as shown on the lower part of the chimney in my father’s photo. The original power station can clearly be seen covering the land where the second half of the new Bankside Power Station would later be built.

Bankside Power Station

The next photo is also from 1952 and shows the power station looking from the north. This again shows the original power station to the left of the new Bankside power station.

Bankside Power Station

And the final photo in June 1952, a couple of months after the above photos now shows the main building and chimney almost complete. The photo also shows the structures on the river that allowed oil tankers to dock and unload their cargoes into the underground tanks of the power station.

Bankside Power Station

Both the old and new Bankside Power Stations continued in operation until 1959 when the old power station was finally decommissioned and demolished. The second half of the new power station was built between 1959 and 1963 by when the building we see today was finally in place. In all, around 4.2 million bricks were used on the external walls of the building and chimney.

The oil crisis during the 1970s had a considerable impact on the financial viability of oil fired power stations. The power station was also continuing to pollute the local area and the river. Power stations were also being built out of cities and there were now power stations further down the Thames. The continued operation of Bankside Power Station could no longer be justified and electricity generation finally ended at Bankside in 1981, almost 100 years from the first, small steps in electricity generation on the site.

The building remained unused for a number of years until plans were put in place to transform the building into Tate Modern. A competition was held for a new design which was won by the firm of Herzog & de Meuron. Their design made very few changes to the external structure of the building so the original design of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott is basically the building we see on Bankside today.

Bankside Power Station is a wonderful building. It is from an era when power stations were built as cathedrals of power, Battersea Power Station being another example of the style. The preservation of the external structure of the building and that now through Tate Modern it is fully open is to be appreciated.

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262 High Holborn And Pearl Assurance

One of my issues with modern architecture is that at street level buildings tend to be very bland. Lots of glass, steel and stone cladding, falling far short of the original architects usual description which frequently seems to include the work “iconic”. Office buildings in the City today are often multi-tenant rather than built for a specific occupier and blandness of the exterior offers no indication of the occupier of the building.

Whilst the existence of the majority of companies is obviously to make a profit for their owners, the function within the company that produces these profits often appears to be a sideline for financial manipulation. Buildings that have any external pride or recognition of the business of the occupiers are now rarely seen.

This was not always the case, many older buildings in London retain symbols of their past occupiers. A couple of examples I have written about include Imperial Chemicals House on Millbank and the Faraday Building on Queen Victoria Street.  Unilever House at Blackfriars is another building that has company related decoration.

There is another building that has some fascinating decoration, 262 High Holborn has a relief that looks more suited to Glastonbury than adorning an office block in High Holborn.

The following photo is of 262 High Holborn, once a property owned by the Pearl Assurance Company. Their main office was the very grand 252 High Holborn, the edge of which is just seen to the right.

262 High Holborn

In contrast to their main building, 262 High Holborn was a very bland and functional office block but look to the far right of the building and an elaborate relief can be seen running up alongside floors 1, 2 and 3.

At first glance it looks as if the designer of this relief may have had some substance assisted creativity, but in reality this tells a company history and relationship with London.

262 High Holborn

I have wondered about the detail of the relief every time I have walked past, however a chance find of the book “Pearl Assurance – An Illustrated History” published in 1990 provides a full description of the individual elements of the relief and how they relate to Pearl Assurance.

The relief is a representation of the armorial bearings assigned to Pearl Assurance on the 30th November 1911. The following picture from the book shows the armorial bearings in their standard form and it may take a bit of back and forth comparison between the two pictures, but the common elements should be clear.

262 High Holborn

The book includes the following description of the individual elements from information gleaned from an article in the Pearl Magazine of 1950 reporting research by the editor of the time, Len Miller.

The book explains:

The Shield: In general terms the shield refers to the geographical origins of the company and the figure represents Pearl. The Covered Cup is associated with St. Dunstan, the patron saint of the Borough of Stepney, where the company had its first office, in Denmark House, Commercial Road. 

The Sword represents the City of London (the sword of St. Paul). as does the dragon in the crest above the shield. Both refer to the company’s association with the City through Adelaide House, London Bridge. 

The Wounded Hind and the Red Cross, or Saltire, are taken from the Arms of the Borough of Holborn. Although in 1911 the company’s head office was at London Bridge, the move to Holborn had been planned. The wounded hind refers to St. Giles in the Fields, an allusion to the legend that St. Giles received a crippling injury whilst saving a hind from the huntsman. The cross refers to St. George the Martyr and St. George, Bloomsbury, both churches in what was, in 1911, the Borough of Holborn. 

The Crest: This consists of a figure representing St Margaret, with a Pearl in her right hand, a palm branch in her left hand and a dragon at her feet. Saint Margaret of Antioch, the Christian daughter of a pagan priest, was imprisoned for her faith and devoured by Satan, in the form of a dragon. With the cross that she wore she possessed the power to burst the dragon open and she emerged unhurt. 

Margarita (Margaret) is Latin for a pearl, hence a pun links the name of the company with the legend. The palm branch is an emblem of honour and a symbol of success. 

The Motto: ‘Damus Plus Quam Pollicemur’ when translated reads “We give more than we promise’ “

The motto was not included in the relief on 262 High Holborn, however the rest of the relief is a brilliant interpretation of the armorial bearings of Pearl Assurance and provides a graphical history of the company.

The Pearl Life Assurance Loan and Investment Company Limited was formed on the 8th July 1864. It was very much an East London company with all the original directors living within a mile of the Aldgate Pump and the company was registered at the home of one of the directors in Commercial Street.

The name Pearl goes back further to 1857 and the Pearl Loan Company, also operating in Commercial Road, with four directors of the company also becoming directors of the 1864 company.

Pearl Life Assurance expanded rapidly and moved into offices in City Road, then in 1878 to Adelaide House adjacent to London Bridge. In 1914, the company had outgrown Adelaide House and a new, considerably larger office building was constructed at 252 High Holborn. In the same year the company changed name from Pearl Life Assurance Company Limited to Pearl Assurance Company Limited allowing the company to expand its range of products.

Pearl Assurance operated from 252 High Holborn until the 1980s when the company relocated to Peterborough. The old building not being suitable for a financial company transferring over to computerised operations.

252 High Holborn is now the Rosewood Hotel.

The building of 262 High Holborn is a bit of a mystery. I have seen references on the Internet to it being of 1950s construction. The website of the architectural practice T.P. Bennet refers to a period between 1967 and 1979 when the company opened a number of new offices  “as well as the main office at 262 High Holborn, designed by the firm for Pearl Assurance”.

The style of the relief does look more of this later period. I suspect that despite being adjacent to their head office, Pearl Assurance did not occupy the building. They were investors in property and 262 High Holborn was probably one of their investments. The book “Pearl Assurance – An Illustrated History” seems to confirm this as the book, which covers in detail the growth of the company, buildings occupied, staff facilities etc., makes no reference to 262 High Holborn.

The book is a fascinating history of Pearl Assurance from 1864 to 1989. From their East London origins, the company grew globally with offices across India, Africa, Australia and America. Pearl Assurance was typical of large companies in the 20th century in building a company culture and providing facilities for staff that embedded them within that culture. There are photos of the Sports Ground and Clubhouse at New Malden (now the Kings College London Sports Ground). There was the annual cricket match between teams from field and head offices, football tournaments, and a photo of the Policy Department Thames river outing in 1926:

262 High Holborn

1989, the year of publication, was a crucial year for Pearl Assurance as in that year the company was purchased by the Australian Mutual Provident Society. At the time of purchase, AMP’s managing director stated that “We aim to build upon its (Pearl) strengths, and continue the impressive process of change currently underway. This will involve retaining the Pearl name and identity whilst also expanding the business.”

It was not to be. This Guardian article from 2004 details the demise of the company. It was later spun off and amalgamated with other assurance companies and funds and the Pearl Assurance name disappeared.

The company had a significant amount of archives and there was a Company Archivist. The archives included not only documents and photos covering the history of Pearl Assurance, but also artifacts such as clay pipes from the 17th century found during excavations at 252 High Holborn. I believe that the National Archives now hold a significant part of the Pearl Assurance archives.

Today, the relief on 262 High Holborn is the only visible sign in London that I am aware of, of a company that operated in London and was a major employer for well over 100 years – I am pleased that I now understand the meaning behind the details of the relief.

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Keats House, Hampstead

Keats House in Hampstead was the home of the poet John Keats for part of his short life. Saved from demolition when there were plans to replace the house with a row of flats in 1920, the house became a museum in 1925, a role which continues to this day. Keats House is now the responsibility of the City of London Corporation.

My father photographed Keats House in 1951:

Keats House

Sixty six years later I made a return visit to photograph Keats House on a warm and sunny April day:

Keats House

The house has hardly changed apart from the foliage around the door and some restoration work, the latest of which was a Heritage Lottery Funded redevelopment in 2009 and Arts Council supported work in 2015.

I love finding small details in these photos. In the lower right corner of the 1951 photo is a push lawnmower. I remember these from childhood as about the only way of cutting the lawn in a normal garden.

Keats House is a short walk from Hampstead underground station. Walk down Hampstead High Street and continue where the high street becomes Rosslyn Hill until a turning on the left  with the name of Downshire Hill, past the Keats Group Practice (the association with Keats is very popular here) till the junction with Keats Grove where there is a handy pointer to the museum.

Keats House

A short distance along Keats Grove we find Keats House standing in the middle of a large garden, looking wonderful on a spring afternoon.

Keats House

The house was built between 1815 and 1816 and at the time was called Wentworth Place. Although it has the appearance of a single house, at the time of Keats occupation it was divided into two homes.

The large building on the right was completed in 1931 over the original stables and kitchen garden. It was built as a branch library of Hampstead Library and also to house a collection of Keats books and letters donated by Sir Charles Dilke.

View of Keats House from the rear. The flat-roofed building on the left in the photo above and right in the photo below was built about 20 years after Keats left Hampstead. When he was in residence this would have been part of the garden.

Keats House

The plaque above the main entrance door at the front of the building, also to be seen in the 1951 photo. It was installed in 1895.

Keats House

John Keats had a tragically short life and his work did not achieve the level of recognition it has today until long after his death.

He was born on the 31st October 1795 at the Swan and Hoop Livery Stables in Moorfields. He was the eldest of four children, with two younger brothers (George and Tom) and a sister Frances Mary, or Fanny.

His father died in 1804 which resulted in a period of change as the children were moved around, first to Enfield then after the death of his grandfather, to Edmonton.

His mother died in 1810 of tuberculosis, a disease that would come to haunt Keats.

In 1810 Keats whilst still in Edmonton, was apprenticed to the surgeon Thomas Hammond and in 1816 he passed his exams at the Apothecaries’ Hall which enabled him to practice in the medical professions, however whilst working as an apprentice he had also been writing poetry. The same year he was introduced to the writer and poet Leigh Hunt who the following year introduced him to Shelley.

With the encouragement of the writers and poets in his circle of friends, he made the decision to concentrate on poetry and give up the medical profession. He moved to Hampstead in 1817, and the following year he moved into Wentworth Place – or Keats House as it is now.

In 1818 his brother Tom died of tuberculosis.

Whilst staying in Wentworth Place he met Fanny Brawne, who with her mother would also move into the other half of Wentworth Place in 1819. Keats and Fanny Brawne fell in love and became engaged but were unable to marry due to Keats lack of money.

During his time in Hampstead, Keats was also travelling extensively, including Chichester, Bedhampton, the Isle of Wight, Winchester and also taking temporary lodgings in Westminster.

In January 1820 his brother George returned from America for a short visit to sort out issues with their inheritance. John Keats traveled with him to Liverpool to see him off on his return to America. On Keats return to Hampstead from London, he fell very ill having traveled on the outside of the coach as this was the cheaper option.

His friend Charles Brown found him stumbling and feverish.

Keats was spitting blood and recognised the signs of tuberculosis which had killed both his mother and brother. In July 1820 his Doctor recommended that Keats travel to Italy in the hope that the warmer weather would help his condition.

Keats found it hard to leave Fanny, he wrote to her “I feel it almost impossible to go to Italy, the fact is I cannot leave you”. Just before leaving, Keats and Fanny exchanged gifts, a diary, a ring, books and a lock of hair.

He left Gravesend on the 18th September 1820, but the journey to Italy was beset with problems. Bad weather required a stop at Portsmouth, there was a further stop in Dorset and the ship did not reach Naples until the 21st October where it was then held in quarantine for 10 days, not ideal in autumn weather on board a ship for a person suffering from tuberculosis.

Keats finally reached Rome on the 15th November. A time of year when the hoped for warm weather had finished. Keats had a relapse on the 10th December and died on the 23rd February 1821 at the age of 25. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

John Keats by William Hilton, oil on canvas, © National Portrait Gallery, London:

Keats House

Keats published three books of poems – “Poems” in 1817, “Endymon” in 1818 and “Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and other Poems” in 1820. During his lifetime his work did not achieve any recognition and he was branded by critics as a “cockney poet”, probably due to his origins in Moorfields. It was after his death and throughout the rest of the 19th century that his work gained a wider readership and his reputation grew to the point that he is now considered as one of the greatest of the romantic poets in the English language.

He lived a very short time in Wentworth Place, Hampstead, but it was here that he met Fanny Brawne and where they lived together in separate parts of what at the time was a divided house.

Following Keats death, the house went through many changes in ownership. The division was removed making it into a single house, the flat-roofed extension was built on the left of the house and the large library building built to the right.

The visitor entry to the house is at the rear of the building and there are three floors to explore, basement, ground and first floors. Whilst none of the furniture or decoration is from the time that Keats occupied the house, it does set the scene and there are many Keats related artifacts throughout the house.

Starting on the ground floor is Charles Brown’s Parlour. It was Charles Brown who occupied part of the house and rented out a parlour and bedroom to Keats from December 1818 to September 1820.

Keats House

The largest room on the ground floor is the Chester Room, named after the actress Eliza Jane Chester who built the room 20 years after Keats death so in his time this was part of the garden.

Keats House

John Keats’s Parlour – it was during his time at Wentworth Place that Keats wrote much of the poetry that would be considered his greatest work. The surroundings, Fanny Brawne and Hampstead Heath all providing inspiration.

Keats House

There are a number of quotes from Keats work around the house including the following written on the 28th August 1819 in a letter to his sister Fanny – 200 years later and it would still be hard to beat this combination..

Keats House

In the basement one room shows a film about Keats whilst the other two rooms are configured as the kitchen and servants quarters they would have been at the time, although part of this area would also have been a coal store.

Keats House

Charles Brown who rented rooms to Keats had an affair with Abigail O’Donaghue, one of the servants in the house. This caused a stir and they may have later married. Abigail had a child in 1820. Brown later moved to Italy with the child and they later emigrated to New Zealand, apparently without Abigail and there is no record of what became of her.

Keats House

Coal store:

Keats House

One of the paintings on show in the house – Keats listening to a Nightingale on Hampstead Heath by Joseph Severn:

Keats House

Painted by Joseph Severn in 1849, he was a friend of Keats and had traveled with him to Rome and had been with him in his final days. Severn would complete a number of paintings of Keats, including some which referenced his work, including the above alluding to Keats poem “Ode to a Nightingale”.

Fanny Brawne’s room.

Keats House

Fanny lived in this half of the house with her widowed mother and younger sister and brother. She was 18 when she first met Keats.

Charles Brown’s bedroom:

Keats House

John Keats’s bedroom:

Keats House

It was in this bedroom where Keats was in bed after returning from London in February 1820 when he started coughing up blood. Through his medical training he knew that this was arterial blood – a clear indicator of consumption, or tuberculosis, which he had also seen in his mother and brother.

On the landing is an example of Regency plumbing that may have been here in Keats time. A small lead sink which held rainwater collected from the roof.

Keats House

Keats House is a wonderful museum. He spent a very short time at the house but it was where some of his best work was completed and where he met the woman who had such an impact on him. His death, along with that of his mother and brother all from tuberculosis is a reminder of how harsh life was in the 19th century.

I was surprised to learn that the house had to be rescued from demolition in the 1920s. It is not just recently that it seems that anywhere in London is at risk of being converted into luxury apartments.

I visited Keats House after Fenton House. There is a Waterstones bookshop on Hampstead High Street, a secondhand bookshop in Flask Walk, some excellent pubs and restaurants and the weather was fantastic so I was able to follow Keats recommendation to:

“Give me Books, fruit, french wine and fine weather”

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