Category Archives: London Buildings

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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Fenton House, Hampstead

On the hottest day of the year so far, when temperatures on an April day reached 25 degrees in central London, I headed out to Hampstead to visit Fenton House, a wonderful 17th century house with a glorious garden and views over London.

The reason for this visit was to see if the photo of the entrance to the house has changed much since my father took the following photo in 1951.

Fenton House

Sixty six years later and the same view today.

Fenton House

The scene is almost identical apart from some cosmetic changes, including the lamp and metalwork arch over the entrance gate.

Fenton House is now owned by the National Trust, hence the signs around the entrance and the house and gardens are open including the balcony that offers a superb view over central London.

Fenton House is a short walk north from Hampstead underground station, along Holly Hill, Holly Bush Hill then into Hampstead Grove. There are two entrances into Fenton House, the first from Holly Bush Hill that leads through an ornate gateway and garden to the front of the house, and the second entrance which is the view in the above two photos in Hampstead Grove.

The photo below shows the full view of the house from Hampstead Grove.

Fenton House

Fenton House was built around 1686 by William Eades. At the time, the land around Hampstead was being developed with individual large houses being built for the aspiring professional classes who wanted a house close to London but away from the congestion and pollution of central London.

The following extract from John Rocque’s map from 1746 shows the village of Hampstead and the enclosed gardens of large houses can be seen spreading to the north, west and east of Hampstead. One of these is Fenton House although I have tried to identify which one, also comparing with later maps, but I cannot work out which one is Fenton.

Fenton House

In Old and New London, Edward Walford described the house: “Hard by the house of Joanna Baillie is an old mansion named Fenton House, but generally known as ‘The Clock House’ from a clock which adorned its front, now superseded by a sundial; the house is chiefly remarkable for its heavy high-pitched roof, not unlike that of many a château in Normandy. It now belongs to a member of Lord Mansfield’s family.”

The position of the old clock and later the sundial is still marked by the circular plaque above the entrance, as still visible in the photos above. A 1780 view of the house from Old and New London is shown below:

Fenton House

From the late 17th century, the house went through a series of owners. Mary Martin brought the house around 1756 and it was during her time at the house that the clock was added. The house was purchased by Philip Fenton in 1793 and remained with the Fenton family until 1834. The Fenton family gave the house its current name – I am not sure why the Fenton family name has survived when the house has been through multiple owners since 1686. I assume the Clock House name was not relevant after the removal of the clock, the Fenton’s named the house after their family name, and future owners did not want to change the name, or were not in residence through multiple generations.

Philip Fenton was a Yorkshire man who became a Baltic Merchant exporting to England. Prior to his purchase of the Clock House as it was, he was based in Riga (now the capital of Latvia but then part of Russia) along with his nephew James who married in Riga and had seven children. After Philip purchased Fenton House, he was later joined by James and his family, and James inherited the house after Philip’s death. It was James who added the colonnaded porch above the entrance from Hampstead Grove shown in the photos at the start of this post, the only substantial change to the house since the 17th century.

James Fenton was involved in the protests against further development of Hampstead Heath. In 1829 the Lord of the Manor, Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson tried to get an act of parliament passed against the restrictions preventing building on the heath. This was a battle that ran for many years, continuing after James’ death as the Heath only passed into public ownership in 1871 when the heir of Sir Thomas sold his manorial rights.

After James Fenton, the house continued through a succession of owners, all apparent;ly making little if any changes to the fabric and appearance of the building. The last owner of the building was Katherine, Lady Binning who purchased the house in 1936. Lady Binning was a widow, her husband the heir to the Earl of Haddington had died in 1917. The family had a number of houses in the Scottish Borders and in London at 49 Berkeley Square and she appears to have spent very little time at Fenton House and after purchasing allowed Robert Broussons to stay in the house (he had leased the house from the previous owner) and in 1937 she let the house to a Dr. Abercrombie.

Lady Binning had an extensive collection of porcelain, furniture and needlework and before the second world war had entertained the idea of leaving the house to the National Trust as a museum to display the collections. This was formalised after the war and on Lady Binning’s death in 1952, Fenton House passed to the National Trust. It was opened to the public in 1953.

My father’s photo of the entrance is from 1951, so the last full year of Lady Binning’s ownership.

The house today continues to display Lady Binning’s collection and the National Trust have added the George Benton Fletcher collection of early keyboard instruments and the Peter Barkworth art collection.

Time for a walk around Fenton House. The Dining Room with a Shudi and Broadwood harpsichord dating from 1770:

Fenton House

Part of the porcelain collection:

Fenton House

A Johannes Ruckers harpsichord from 1612:

Fenton House

The Drawing Room:

Fenton House

Two large display cabinets in the Drawing Room display more of Lady Binning’s porcelain collection:

Fenton House

Lady Binning – the last owner of Fenton House, and thanks to her donation of the house to the National Trust, the house and gardens are now fully open to visit and explore.

Fenton House

Landing between rooms:

Fenton House

On the east side of the house, above the entrance from Hampstead Grove there are two balustraded flat roofs and one of these is open to provide spectacular views across Hampstead to the City of London. Fenton House is built on one of the highest points in Hampstead, roughly 124 meters above sea level, with the land rising by an additional 10 meters further north on the heath. To the south the land falls away to provide the following view which greets you as you step out.

Fenton House

Close up of the view across to the City. St. Paul’s Cathedral to the right of centre along with the Shard. To the left are the towers of the City with the unmistakable shapes of the Walkie Talkie and the Gherkin. The total height of St. Paul’s Cathedral is about 111 meters and the ground height is 11 meters giving a total of 122 meters so standing on this balcony we are a few meters higher than the very top of the cathedral.

Fenton House

Roughly half way between the dome of St. Paul’s and the Walkie Talkie and slightly lower down can be seen the clock tower at St. Pancras Station. The chimney of the old Bankside Power Station is on the far right.

In the brickwork behind the balcony a number of initials and dates have been carved, including the following from 1693, a couple of years after the completion of Fenton House:

Fenton House

Then in the 18th century:

Fenton House

And finally in the 19th century:

Fenton House

The carvings show how long this has been a place to look out over Hampstead and London. I also find it strange to be pleased to find these old dates and initials carved into the fabric of old buildings, when if someone did this today it would be considered an act of vandalism.

Fascinating though to think of the changes since those 1693 initials as London has gradually expanded to take in the village of Hampstead, the long years of St. Paul’s Cathedral dominating the city skyline followed by the recent rush of tower blocks.

I wonder what the same view will look like in 100 and 200 years time?

A panorama from the balcony (click on the photo for a larger version):Fenton House

As well as the house and the view, Fenton House also has some superb gardens. The view from the balcony:

Fenton House

Walking back down from the balcony, an indicator board manufactured in Clapham Junction:

Fenton House

The gardens are divided into two main sections – a formal part of grass and hedges and an adjacent kitchen garden. Spring is a perfect time for walking through a garden, but the weather on this April day made this extra special as the garden was full of life and the bright sunshine made the natural colours of spring all the more vivid.

The Kitchen Garden:

Fenton House

Path through the Kitchen Garden:

Fenton House

Pathways, hedges and a brick wall:

Fenton House

The formal garden – view from the far end looking back towards Fenton House:

Fenton House

The lawn on a sunny April day:Fenton House

I left Fenton House by the Hollybush Hill entrance. I suspect that this is the entrance by which the majority of visitors would have entered the house. Facing onto the street leading up from the main Hampstead roads, an impressive entrance gateway with a long path leading up to the house.

Fenton House

A visit to Fenton House is highly recommended. The house and gardens provide a good example of the developments that took place across this part of the heath from the mid 17th century.

Standing on the balcony with three centuries of initials on the brickwork behind and the view of London in front, makes you think of all those who have also lived in or visited Fenton House and also looked over the changing city – and how the city will continue changing.

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New Deal For East London – Whitechapel To Limehouse

A couple of weeks ago I started exploring East London using the map published in the Architects’ Journal from the 19th January 1972. The map was part of a feature article titled “New Deal for East London” and covered the considerable changes expected to take place across East London and the fate of a number of sites that the Architects’ Journal considered essential for preservation.

Sites across the map were categorised by how they were part of East London’s development. In the past two posts I covered Category A – Areas that were developed as overflow from the City of London.

In today’s post I start on Category B – Linear development along the Rivers Thames and Lea due to riverside trades.

The map below is an extract from the larger map published in the 1972 article and covers the next set of locations, those marked from 17 to 25, running from the southern edge of Whitechapel to Limehouse along the Thames. The sites along the River Lea will be the subject of a later post

The following map shows the same area today with the same locations marked.

The Architects’ Journal introduces this area as follows:

“And now the route east from the City can be followed by tracing the riverside developments. While land east of the City still consisted of fields dotted with small, independent villages, the riverside was already lined with a continuous strip of workshops, wharves and houses. As England’s trade and empire increased in the 16th and 17th centuries, riverside villages grew in size, not inland, but along the river, and eventually became an almost independent naval town stretching from the Tower to Limehouse. This independence from the rest of London astonished even 18th century Londoners. John Fielding wrote in 1776; ‘When one goes to Rotherhithe or Wapping, which places are chiefly inhabited by sailors, but that somewhat of the same language is spoken, a man would be apt to suspect himself in another country.’ And Boswell was recommended by Johnson to explore Wapping to see ‘ wonderful extent and variety of London.’ When Boswell did go to Wapping, almost 10 years later, he was disappointed and supposed that standardisation in building had destroyed its character. “

There is so much to be written about this area, however my posts are often getting rather long, so today I will concentrate on finding the sites, and write more about the history of this fascinating area in some future posts.

I always enjoy a walk in East London and when I walked this route the weather was perfect, although bright sun can cause problems with the contrasts between sunlight and shadow in some of the narrow East London streets. Starting off, I walked to the first point:

Site 17 – All that remains of Wellclose Square and 1850 GLC owned Wilton’s Music Hall in Grace’s Alley

I started off walking along Royal Mint Street, then Cable Street before turning off down Ensign Street where the entrance to Graces Alley can be found. It is here that Wilton’s Music Hall can be found.

The buildings that now house Wilton’s have a long history. Originally individual houses from the late 17th Century they have since been through many alterations and changes, a 19th century Music Hall, a Methodist Mission and a warehouse for rag sorting.

During the 1960s the London County Council planned to demolish the whole area including the nearby Swedenborg and Wellclose Squares along with the buildings that housed Wilton’s Music Hall. Whilst the other areas under threat of demolition did not survive, the buildings along the northern edge of Grace’s Alley, including Wilton’s Music Hall were spared, but fell into dereliction. Campaigns during the last few decades raised the funding to restore Wilton’s and it is the restored building that we find today. There is a full history of the building and the restoration on the Wilton’s web site which can be found here.

Wellclose Square is a different matter. The square is found at the end of Grace’s Alley:

In the 1972 article, the Architects’ Journal describes Wellclose and the adjacent Swedenborg Square’s:

“Off Cable Street were two early 18th Century squares – Swedenborg and Wellclose Squares – neither of which descended into the slum that Cable Street had become. Both escaped serious war damage but, although unique, were not spared by wholesale demolition that occurred in the last decade. Swedenborg Gardens now stand on the site of the square, no trace of which has remained. Wellclose Square (where Dr. Johnson’s friend Dr. Mayo lived – and which at that time was the residential centre for Scandinavian timber merchants and boasted a Danish Church) has not even been rebuilt, but lies as the demolition men left it. Sites of original houses are used as car parks. The East End as an area could not afford to lose these houses; their demolition destroyed vital community memory and identity.”

The last sentence in the above paragraph is a consistent message throughout the 1972 article. It is not just the buildings that are being lost, but also the loss of a community that had long considered East London as home.

I was not sure what I would find in Wellclose Square. The Architects’ Journal listing states “all that remains” which is not very specific. The article also includes the following photo of some of the houses in Wellclose Square but does not make clear whether there were still remaining in 1972.

The buildings on the right of the above photo with the panels above the ground floor windows were originally the Danish Embassy.

A quick walk around Wellclose Square confirmed that all the buildings of the original square have been demolished, with new building from the later decades of the 20th century now running along the sides of what remains of the square.

The only buildings of any age that are now within Wellclose Square are those that form part of the central square (the original location of the Danish church). One of which is this building:

It appears to be within the grounds of the school that occupies the central part of the square so I hope that the windows and door facing the road are covered in this way to prevent access from the road rather than that the building has been abandoned.

The plaques on the wall provide some background to the building. The plaque on the left reads “St. Paul’s Mission Room” and that on the right “St. Paul’s Church for Seamen Infant Nursery”.

The building was constructed in 1874 and is currently Grade II listed.  As this was a mid-Victorian building I suspect it was not what the Architects’ Journal was referring to and that all the buildings were demolished.

To get to my next location, I needed to retrace my steps to Cable Street and at the junction with Royal Mint Street turn left down Dock Street:

Site 18 – Late 18th Century Houses in Dock Street

The Architects’ Journal map shows three locations in Dock Street. One a short distance down on the left, one further on the right then one at the junction with The Highway, and it here that I will start.

The following photo shows the house in the location marked on the map, so what appears to be a fine survivor, although I am not sure whether the full house survives. If you look at the new building to the left, it appears to carry on into the original building and checking an aerial view it looks that the new building on the left extends across the rear of the older building and that whilst the front and part side facade looks to have survived this may well be a case of the body of a building being gutted and rebuilt as part of a new, larger construction.

Although nothing could prepare me for what I would find next. This is the building on the site marked on the left of Dock Street.

This has to be the worst reconstruction of a pretend 18th Century house that I have ever seen. The building also has a distinctly industrial feel with the metal door, air vents and pipework down the side. Openstreetmap has this building labeled as a mobile phone company so I suspect it houses equipment for their network, but why build the front facade to possibly resemble the 18th Century house that once stood here in such a superficial manner?

Walking back up Dock Street towards Cable Street there was some considerable building work underway. Here all the buildings to the right of the Sir Sydney Smith pub have been demolished.

The full site is in the photo below. This building site will soon become the Ordnance Building where “no expense has been spared in curating a collection of residences that live up to the development’s prime location”. The Ordnance Building will also feature a “Quintessentially (online) concierge service” whatever that is.

It seems that almost anything these days is “curated”. You can read more about the Ordnance Building here.

The final location in Dock Street appears to have survived intact. A fine three floor house. Note the way that the size of the windows reduce from ground to top floor.

From Dock Street it was then a walk down towards the River Thames, to the next location:

Site 19 – Wapping conservation area enlarged to take in early 19th century pair on river to east

Site 19 covered a number of buildings around and to the east of the Wapping basin entrance to the London Docks. The docks are long since closed, however the buildings remain, some much restored and rebuilt, however the area does retain the character of when the docks were in operation.

I have already written about this area in my post on The Gun Tavern, so as this is a rather lengthy post I will not repeat here.

At the time of the 1972 article, the restored buildings along Pier Head shown in the photos above and below were for sale with prices of:

Houses: £22,500 to £37,500

Flats: £13,500 to £42,500

A quick check for recently sold prices, found that in 2012 a terrace house at Pier Head sold for £2,550,000 and in 2011 a flat sold for £1,300,000. That is quite some investment in 40 years.

Looking across to the old St. John’s Church and the Charity School next door.

The next stop on the Architects’ Journal map was reached after walking along Wapping High Street, up Wapping Lane then turning into Raine Street to find:

Site 20 – 1719 School in Raine Street

Apart from the nearby church of St. Peter’s London Docks, the old school building, or Raine House as it is now named is the only survivor among an area of redeveloped 20th century housing.

The building was originally a charity school founded by Henry Raine, owner of a Wapping brewery with the traditional blue coated school children standing in alcoves on the front of the building, very similar to the charity school in the Wapping Conservation Area.

The plaque above the door confirms the date of 1719 and states “Come In & Learn Your Duty To God & Man”.

In 1972 the old school building looked to be at considerable risk. The Architects’ Journal states: “The 1719 school in Raine Street, owned by the GLC, this school is for sale – a sale that had better be quick if it is to survive attacks from the local children”. The article includes the photo below to demonstrate the poor condition of the building. Note also that the two statues are missing, hopefully moved to preserve them. The article then goes on to state “Since this picture was taken all first floor windows have been broken. What will become of this building if action is not taken soon?”

The last sentence sums up the concern that is a theme throughout the article. There were a whole range of important 18th century buildings across East London being left to decay, helped in that decay by vandalism. If the authorities did not apparently see the importance in these buildings no wonder the local children could see no reason why they could not use these decaying buildings for stone throwing and other general damage.

Fortunately the school buildings have survived and now rather suitably are home to the Pollyanna Training Theatre and Studios, rather than expensive flats.

From Raine Street, it was then a walk up Wapping Lane to The Highway to reach the next location:

Site 21 – Early 19th Century Rectory and Church of St. Paul’s Shadwell

The Highway is a really busy road and it took a while to get a suitable break in the traffic to take the photo below showing the Rectory on the right and the church on the left.

The current church is the third that has occupied the site. The original church was built in 1656 as a Chapel of Ease. This was rebuilt in 1669 as the Parish Church of Shadwell.

The 1669 church (the middle picture in the top row in the print below) was demolished to make way for the current church which was built in 1820.

St. Paul’s Shadwell has been traditionally associated with Sea Captains and Captain James Cook was an active parishioner at the church.

An information panel at the entrance to the church also records that John Wesley preached at the church and there were a number of notable baptisms including Jane Randolph, the mother of the US President Thomas Jefferson, and James Cook, the eldest son of Captain Cook.

If you look back at the maps at the start of this post, the church is just north of the Shadwell Basin and when this easterly part of the London Docks was constructed, part of the church yard of St. Paul’s was lost to make way for the new docks.

From here, I continued along The Highway, almost to the entrance to the Limehouse Link Tunnel, before turning left into Butcher Row to find:

Site 22 – late 18th Century Rectory in Butcher Row

Butcher Row is a really busy road. It links Commercial Road, Cable Street and The Highway and is at the point where The Highway disappears below ground as the Limehouse Link. The late 18th century Rectory was easy to find, but I had to wait sometime before I could get a photo not obstructed by traffic.

This is a lovely building, built between 1795 and 1796, not originally as a Rectory, but for Matthew Whiting, a sugar refiner and director of the Phoenix Assurance Company.

There was originally a church behind the Rectory building. St. James, Ratcliffe was the first church built by the Bishop Blomfield Metropolitan Churches Fund and consecrated in 1833. It was badly damaged during the war and demolished in the 1950s.

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London shows the pre-war area with the church in the centre of the map with Butcher Row just to the left. The map also highlights the changes in the area. Today, Butcher Row is a much wider road and has taken over the part of Cable Street where it runs up to Commercial Road.

The Rectory and the area once occupied by the church is now the home of the Royal Foundation of St. Katherine.

On the front of the rectory is a blue plaque to the Reverend St. John Groser, an East End Priest during the first half of the 20th Century who took part in the General Strike and was injured in the Battle of Cable Street. There is a fascinating history of St. John Groser to be found here.

Hard to believe that this house is facing one of the busiest sets of roads in East London.

Leaving the traffic of Butcher Row, it was time to head to the next location:

Site 23 – Early 18th Century Group in Narrow Street

This group of buildings are still looking in fine condition and include The Grapes pub.

the Architects’ Journal provides a view from 1972 of how this type of house could survive and the social changes that this involved:

“In Narrow Street a few much restored early 18th century houses give foretaste of the social pattern that might soon develop along the whole riverside. the fronts are well painted, but generally anonymous, the backs, have picture frame windows and motor boats. Their original inhabitants have been moved into council flats behind. 

Significantly these houses survive only because they have been bought by people able to restore and maintain them. Tower Hamlets had planned to demolish them for open space, but relented when it was agreed that they would be restored privately.”

After a quick stop in the Grapes, it was on to the next location:

Site 24 – 18th Century Terrace in Newell Street

This terrace of houses is a surprise. It is reached from Narrow Lane by turning into Three Colt Street, then turning left into Newell Street. (Newell Street was originally Church Row, but changed name, I believe, in the late 1930s) Both these streets have housing blocks from the later half of the 20th century, however as soon as you pass under the bridge carrying the Docklands Light Railway over Newell Street you find yourself in a street lined with these 18th century houses.

At the end of the terrace is St. Anne’s Passage which provides access to the church of St. Anne, Limehouse. The following photo is taken by the passage which is running to the left and shows the full length of the terrace. In the photo of the site in the Architects’ Journal, the building with the curved facade is only two storey so the top storey looks to be a later addition which the different type of brick confirms.

If you look down St. Anne’s Passage you find the final destination for the walk:

Site 25 – St. Anne’s, Limehouse

St. Anne’s Limehouse is a wonderful church and visiting on a sunny February day was perfect. Although you can enter the churchyard from the Commercial Road, the best way to approach the church is through St. Anne’s Passage which provides this view of the church:

The article in the Architects’ Journal included the following photo from the same position. Note how the house on the right was originally two storeys.

The building on the other corner was the office for a building company in 1972 however it was originally a pub which is still reasonably clear from the building today, which does not look as if it has changed much since 1972.

The pub was the Coopers Arms and occupies a good location at the entrance to the passage to the church. I wonder how may participants of a Sunday morning service walked the short distance to the pub at the end of the service?

There are so many closed pubs across East London and looking at these buildings now it is easy to forget that they were once the hub for so much of the life of the community. Most East London pubs also had sports teams and ran sports events, and despite its relatively small size the Coopers Arms was no exception.

19th Century issues of the Sporting Life tell of the events held at the Coopers Arms.

From the issue of the 22nd February 1890:

“Cooper’s Arms, Church Row, Limehouse: There was a good muster present at this establishment on Tuesday evening to witness the opening bouts of the 9st competition for a silver cup, promoted by W. Turner, the well known boxer of Limehouse. Details:

Bout 1: W. Brown beat T. Tabbits – The latter retired at the end of the first round.

Bout 2: A. Smith beat W. Potts – There was little to choose between these men, Smith receiving the verdict.

Bout 3: J. Bennett beat H. Cooper – This was a grand affair for two rounds when Cooper retired.

Bout 4: D. Hudson sparred a bye with G. Painter

Exhibition boxing by the following also took place: Willits v. Perkins, Paver v. Pointon, Walmer v. Daultry, Hall v. Barnes, brothers Campbell. Wind-up, Bill Turner v. Buffer Causer

The judges were H. Watson and H. Perry, referee T. Baldwin, timekeeper, Sporting Life representative, M.C.  The finals take place on Tuesday next.”

The Cooper’s Arms also had a very active Quoits team with the Sporting Life referring to the team as “those well known East-End quoiters.”

Remove the yellow lines on the street, the street lamp and the blue sign on the gates and you could be walking to church in the 19th Century.

If you look just to the left of the blue plaque in the photo above, there is a much older stone plaque in the narrow gap:

If I have read this correctly, the plaque from 1757 gives the dimensions of the passage and confirms that the passage is the property of St. Anne’s Church.

St. Anne’s Limehouse is a magnificent church. It was one of the 12 churches built following the 1711 Act of Parliament to build additional churches across London to cater for the expanding population of the city.

Built between 1714-1727, the church was rebuilt after a serious fire in 1850 and there was further restoration work in the 1980s and 90s.

St. Anne’s, Limehouse was permitted by Queen Anne to fly the White Ensign of the Royal Naval Service, a tradition which continues to this day. The proximity of the church to the River Thames also meant that the church was a Trinity House navigation mark for those travelling on the river.

In the churchyard is a strange pyramid structure. It was originally planned that this would be installed on the roof of the church, however this did not happen so the pyramid continues to sit in the churchyard looking up at the church roof where it should have been located.

This was a fascinating walk, rounded off by finishing in the churchyard of St. Anne’s on a sunny February afternoon with the church yard full of crocuses.

On this third walk to visit the sites of concern in the 1972 Architects; Journal, I was pleased that the majority have survived well, the main exception being the rather strange modern mock Georgian fascia of the building in Dock Street.

The next stage will be the route from Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs up along the River Lea to finish of the category B locations. That is a walk for another day.

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Atlantic House, Holborn Viaduct

In the late 1940s and early 1950s reconstruction started on many of the sites that had been destroyed by wartime bombing. One of the buildings completed in 1951 was Atlantic House, Holborn Viaduct.

This was an easy location to find, but in discovering more about the building I found how in London some things remain the same, and how some buildings are not what they seem.

My father took the following photo of Atlantic House in 1951 shortly after completion of the building. The photo was taken on Holborn Viaduct looking towards Holborn Bridge over Farringdon Street.

The photo below is an enlargement of part of the above photo and shows the bridge over Farringdon Street to the right of the lamp post with the remains of a building just behind the bridge with the outline of stairs on the adjoining wall. I will come on to the relevance of this building later.

This area of London suffered badly during the war as can be seen from the Aerofilms photo below taken in 1951. The photo also demonstrates how random was the impact of bombing with some blocks of buildings completely destroyed whilst others remain untouched.

In the photo Atlantic House was still under construction. The building is in the lower left corner. The length along Holborn Viaduct appears complete whilst that along Farringdon Street is still just the steel framework.

Atlantic House was design by T.P. Bennett & Son, an architectural practice that is still in existence today.

Atlantic House was built under the government’s “lessor scheme”. This was a scheme to try and get post war building underway as there was a considerable shortage of office space across the city.

Under the “lessor scheme” office buildings would be leased back to the government for a fixed rate of interest. This provided a cost effective way for the government to get office space built whilst providing a modest return for the construction company.

The aim of the “lessor scheme” was to develop office space quickly and cost effectively so there was little incentive for good architecture.

Atlantic House was built of steel frame (as seen in the Aerofilms photo) with the frame being clad in brick. The building had symmetrical frontages on both Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street with a curved corner facing onto the bridge over Farringdon Street.

The architecture was very much of a 1930s style with long lines of windows along the otherwise plain long facades. It was criticised for its architectural blandness when completed, although I rather like the curved corner of the building.

The photo below is from the LMA Collage collection and shows the two long facades and the curved corner facing the bridge.

(Photo used with permission from London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Catalogue reference SC/PHL/01/013/57/3007)

Atlantic House lasted almost 50 years and was demolished in 2000 and 2001, to be replaced by:

Another Atlantic House, but of a very different architectural style and built of very different materials.

Whilst Atlantic House is very different the building on the corner is also new as it does not appear in the photos of the post war Atlantic House. Originally, Holborn Bridge had four pavilions, one on each corner of the bridge. During the war, the two northern pavilions were destroyed by bombing, only the two southern pavilions remained.

Go back to the enlargement of my father’s photo and the remains of the north eastern pavilion is the structure seen at the end of the bridge.

When the 1951 Atlantic House was built, the remains of the original pavilion were demolished and a concrete stairway built at bridge level to provide access to Farringdon Street below. The original pavilion was not rebuilt.

The pavilion that we see on the north west corner today was built after Atlantic House was demolished in 2001. Built to replicate the original, it looks old but is relatively recent.

Given that the name Atlantic House is on the building that now occupies the site of the post war Atlantic House, I checked whether there was a pre-war Atlantic House on the same site, and sure enough there was, and I was able to find records of the building dating back to 1901, so there have been three different incarnations of Atlantic House going back for at least 116 years.

The current Atlantic House is occupied by a legal services company. The post war version was the home of Her Majesty’s Stationary Office and the pre- war building appears to have been home to a number of companies including Armour & Co. Ltd, famed for their tinned meats including Armour’s Corned Beef, Armour’s Boned Chicken and Armour’s Ox Tonque which could all be purchased from Harrod’s as well as stores across the country.

Another occupant of the pre-war Atlantic House was the Berthon Boat Company, a manufacturer of collapsible boats.

Percy K. Langdale, the secretary of the Berthon Boat Company wrote to the Pall Mall Gazette on the 25th April 1912, one of a number of letters concerning the sinking of the Titanic.

The Berthon Boat Company manufactured collapsible boats which were used as back up to wooden life boats. Langdale wrote that:

“Unfortunately, in shipping disasters, collapsible boats, being supplementary or auxiliary, are only resorted to after every wooden boat has been launched, and when the vessel is generally going down, so are seldom brought into use. In the case of the Titanic disaster, however, two and a half hours elapsed from the time of collision to the sinking, so there was ample time to have got out sufficient collapsible craft for all on board of the vessel had she been equipped with a sufficient number of them.”

I have no idea how good the Berthon collapsible boats were, but it does make you wonder how many lifes would have been saved if their boats had been on board the Titanic.

On the north east corner of Holborn Bridge, Bath House was built on the site in the 1970s and in 2014, following demolition of Bath House and as part of the redevlopment which included a new Bath House, the final missing pavilion building was constructed. Whilst in the style of the original pavilions, the clean stonework gives away that this is a building only three years of age.

The round plaque on the lower left of the pavilion is a City Heritage Award from 2014. The reconstructed pavilions on the north side of Holborn Bridge are rather good replicas of the originals. The photo below shows one of the original pavilions, still standing on the south east corner of Holborn Bridge.

As can be seen in the photos above, on each of the pavilions there is a niche containing a statue of a London Mayor. The four mayors are shown below and are:

South east pavilion – Sir Thomas Gresham

North easrt pavilion – Sir Hugh Myddelton

North west pavilion – Sir William Walworth

South west pavilion – Henry Fitz Eylwin (the first Lord Mayor of London)

Holborn Bridge is part of Holborn Viaduct, the 427m long viaduct designed to provide a bridge over the valley of the Fleet River and a level road between Holborn Circus and Newgate Street.

The construction contract for Holborn Viaduct was awarded on the 7th May 1866 and on the 6th November 1869 it was opened by Queen Victoria.

Whilst Holborn Bridge is the most obvious part of the Viaduct, there are other places where it can be seen, including the height of the viaduct above the land where it once sloped down, either side of the Fleet River.

One such place is the smaller bridge over Shoe Lane.

The small bridge over Shoe Lane can also be seen in my father’s photo below, taken from a slightly different angle than the first photo and showing the Shoe Lane Bridge at the lower edge of Atlantic House.

The height of the viaduct can also be seen looking out from Holborn Bridge, south along Farringdon Street down towards the River Thames.

As well as the four statues of London Mayors on the pavilion buildings, the bridge also has four statues to Agriculture, Commerce, Fine Art and Science.

Each of the pavilions provides a means of getting between Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street with a staircase in each pavilion. This was probably their original design purpose, providing access between the two levels via an ornate set of symmetrical buildings at each corner of the bridge.

Although the post war Atlantic House did not include rebuilding the pavilion, it did provide a staircase between Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street as well as the three windows which look out from the first floor, however it is a very utilitarian concrete structure.

(Photo used with permission from London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Catalogue reference SC/PHL/01/010/75/360)

In the photo above, the ground floor was occupied by W.B. Poultry & Meats Ltd, one of the many businesses in this area connected with Smithfield Market.

Atlantic House and Holborn Viaduct and Bridge show that despite frequent rebuilding there is some continuity in the names of buildings with Atlantic House being the name for the building on the north west corner of the bridge for over 116 years.

They also demonstrate that some things are not quite what they seem with the pavilions on the north side of Holborn Bridge missing for several decades and now being replicas of the originals.

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New Deal For East London – Spitalfields

Before continuing on from last week’s post, it is interesting to understand why so much of East London had reached the state described by the Architects’ Journal in 1972. Such changes do not usually just happen, there is some underlying influence at work to cause so much gradual dereliction over such a large area.

The following extract titled “Planned Depression” from the 1972 article goes someway to describing how this had come about:

“Perhaps the most cheering factor in the situation is that it has now been recognised by Greater London’s planners that the economic depression existing throughout east London is the result not of thoughtless neglect, but of national planning policy. This was explained convincingly by Dr. David Eversley, now chief strategic planner to the GLC, when he spoke to the conference of municipal treasurers last year. As that important speech was not widely publicised (municipal treasurers not being regarded as newsworthy by the national press), this seems a good opportunity to present his argument in some detail.

First perhaps, one may recall that, whereas in the ‘hungry 30s’ when Ramsey MacDonald was prime minister of a national government, everybody burst into despairing laughter when he promised that progress was going ‘on and on and on, and up and up and up’, since 1945 this has in fact been the assumption of most of our economic advisers – at least until recently.

Founded on that assumption, it was a major goal of post-war planning policy to prevent London from going on and on and on (though it has certainly gone up and up and up) by inducing people to leave the capital and go to new towns. This was done by bribing industry, to establish itself in these towns by the system of industrial development certificates accompanied by various financial encouragements to leave overcrowded London, and other over-developed industrial centres and go to the new towns. As Dr. Eversley pointed out, the characteristic of the British approach has been for at least 30 years, ever since the intra-urban approach to the city’s problems concentrates largely on large-scale redevelopments; slum clearance followed normally by high-density, high-rise rebuilding; above all ambitious city centre schemes, designed to preserve the local and regional dominance of the older centres at a time of changing settlement habits….and into the age of private motor transport.

The distinguishing characteristic of British planning for urban problems in the last two decades, Dr. Eversley pointed out, has been that compared with most other countries, it has been extraordinarily successful… that the stated aims of national planning have by and large been implemented. Cities have held on to their Green Belts, the seven conurbations all had lower populations and London will by 1981 have fewer than 7,000,000 inhabitants – that is, about 2.5 million less than there would have been but for planned and voluntary out-migration.”

Although there was rebuilding across East London (but much of the high-density and high-rise housing as mentioned by Dr. Eversley), the inducements for both industry and people to move out to the new towns, (with the Essex new towns of Harlow and Basildon being the new homes for significant numbers of east Londoners), contributed to a lack of employment opportunities and a reducing population across east London.

Following last week’s walk around Whitechapel, my next stop following the Architects’ Journal 1972 map is Spitalfields. The last of the category A sites on the map which the Architects’ Journal classified as “Areas that were developed as overflow from the City of London”.

I must admit to feeling somewhat nervous in writing about this area of London which continues to be described in such detail by the excellent Spitalfields Life blog and in the books by Dan Cruickshank who was so instrumental in the years following the Architects’ Journal report in saving so much of this area. (Dan Cruikshank’s latest book “Spitalfields: Two Thousand Years of English History in One Neighbourhood” is sitting on my shelves waiting to be read)

The following map is an extract from the large map in the 1972 Architects’ Journal covering the eight locations around Spitalfields.

I have marked the locations on the following extract from OpenStreetMap to show the area as it is today. Comparison of the maps show the loss of Broadstreet Station, adjacent to Liverpool Street Station in the lower left corner. The Goods Yard at the top centre of the map, and the market in the middle of the map when it still the original fruit and vegetable market in 1972.

The first stop is site 9 on the above two maps. To follow the locations numerically, Widegate Street is reached by turning off Bishopsgate into Middlesex Street where a short distance along we reach the turn into:

Site 9 – Late 17th Century Widegate Street

On walking into Widegate Street we enter a series of narrow streets that retain their original layout and give a glimpse of what this part of London would have looked like from the time they were built until post war development.

As you walk down Widegate Street, the buildings on one side are recent all the way down to the building just before the Kings Stores pub with the buildings on the opposite side being a mix but appear to be mainly from the 19th century.

The following view is from the junction of Widegate Street (on the left) Sandy’s Row (on the right) and Artillery Passage. The corner building displays a construction date of 1895.

Looking down Widegate Street from the Middlesex Street end. Most of the buildings appear of 19th century vintage. The Architects’ Journal title for this location is “Late 17th century Widegate Street” and the black location mark on the map is on the left side of the street near the junction with Middlesex Street which may refer to the white-painted building on the left. This is a different style to the rest of the street and therefore may be a late 17th century building, but I would not apply this description to the whole of Widegate Street.

I assume that the buildings that once lined the opposite side of Widegate Street were of similar style to those that remain on the left.

The next stop is at the end of Widegate Street where we enter Artillery Passage.

Site 10 – Artillery Passage and Artillery Lane

Artillery Passage is a narrow foot passage that leads down from Widegate Street to a curve in Artillery Lane.

In the photo below I am standing in Artillery Lane looking down Artillery Passage. Just behind me are numbers 56 and 58 Artillery Lane which are from around 1720, with replacement Georgian facades from the 1750s. Number 56 retains its Georgian shop front.

When I was taking these photos there were two large white lorries parked in front of these buildings. I returned later and another set of large delivery vans were parked immediately in front. This corner of Artillery Lane seems to be the parking place of choice for lorries making their deliveries to the shops and restaurants here, and in Artillery Passage. I shall have to return on a Sunday when hopefully the area is free of deliveries.

Despite trying to read the faded sign on the first floor of the corner building from many different angles, I could not decode the faded lettering. I have found sites on the internet that state it reads “Fresh Milk Daily from The Shed”. Perhaps it would be clearer in better lighting than on a December day.

In the photo above, Artillery Lane is the road curving round to the right where it heads to Bishopsgate. Today, Artillery Lane continues behind where I was standing up to the junction with Crispin Street and Bell Lane. Up until 1895, this short stretch of road was known as Raven Row. Just to the northeast of this point was the five acres of land that until the end of the 17th century was used for longbow, crossbow and gun practice and was known as the Old Artillery Ground. Interesting to speculate whether Ravens also frequented this open area and gave this short street the name Raven Row.

Artillery Passage remains a narrow passage between what appear to be mainly 18th century buildings. It gives a good idea of what this small area of London would have looked like, despite the shops and restaurants now being rather upmarket.

Coming out of Artillery Lane turn right then immediately left into the next location.

Site 11 – Single 1720 house in White’s Row

White’s Row is a narrow lane running from Artillery Lane to Commercial Street. The Architects’ Journal map has location 11 roughly half way along White’s Row and described as a single 1720 house.

White’s Row is narrow, made worse at the moment as part of the pavement on one side is boarded off due to the large building site between White’s Row and Brushfield Street, meaning that as you walk towards Commercial Street there is nothing on the left. Most of White’s Row one remaining side appears to be either 19th or 20th century. There is one building in roughly the position shown on the Architects; Journal map that answers the description of a single house, however I have some problems with confirming this as a 1720 house.

My photo of the building is shown below. Whilst there are some elements of 18th century design, the building just looks too new. The window casements are also flush with the brickwork. Buildings of the period typically had recessed casements.

My assumption is that design elements of the original 1720 house have been retained, however the majority of this building must be of recent construction.

Leaving White’s Row, I walked up Commercial Street towards Christ Church and this is the view on the left of Commercial Street. The rear of the facade of the old Fruit and Wool Exchange building in Brushfield Street are all that remain, whilst a completely new building rises to the rear of the facade.

To the right of the above photo is the Fruit and Vegetable Market building, with the frontage onto Commercial Street shown in the photo below. The low winter light bringing out the colour of the brick walls – one of my favourite building materials.

Site 12 – Network of early 18th century streets around Hawksmoor’s Christ Church

Site 12 in the Architects’ Journal map covers the network of streets north of Hawksmoor’s magnificent Christ Church including Fournier Street, Princelet Street, Hanbury Street and Wilkes Street.

The first building on the right in Fournier Street is Hawksmoor’s 1726 Rectory. This is a very substantial building, emphasised by the windows being set back a full 9 inches from the facade of the building. The 1709 Building Act required windows to be set back by 4 inches, but Hawksmoor went back a further 5, perhaps to show the depth of the walls.

Opposite the Rectory, Fournier Street is lined with 18th century houses. Note also the deeply recessed sash windows. The 1709 Build Act justified this on the basis that is would be harder for fire to propagate along a street if wooden window frames were recessed and not flush with the facade. It also set the style for how sash windows would develop. A later 1774 Building Act took this further by requiring the sash box (the wooden part of the window surrounding the glass framed panels) also to be recessed into the fabric of the building to reduce further the exposure to fire.

Here is 33A Fournier Street. The boarded up entrance between the two doors is the entrance to a yard behind these houses.

I can find no record of S. Schwartz or the age of the sign, however there are photos from the 1950s showing this as the entrance to the Express Dairy including the following from the Collage collection:

The Architects’ Journal details some of the challenges facing the restoration of Fournier Street: “Built in the 1720s it was one of the most fashionable and solidly constructed streets in the area and shows the obvious mark of the Huguenots. They established Spitalfields’ silk weaving industry and in their houses, to brighten their workrooms, they built large attic windows. The GLC is adamant that this street should be preserved, yet so far has done little to maintain it. Tower Hamlets will pay no money for restoration as the houses, due to their wooden construction, could be inhabited only as single units (quarter-inch wainscot partitions do not correspond to fire precautions and noise insulation specified for flats). If they cannot be restored to council flats, they can be saved only by individuals restoring them to their original purpose as private houses. Any rehabilitation of these houses would demand much greater social change than was necessary in other areas.”

View looking down Fournier Street.

Corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane.

Leaving Fournier Street, I walked a short distance along Brick Lane, and although Brick Lane is not included in the list of sites in the Architects’ Journal, there are many fascinating buildings, including the following building which was the Laurel Tree pub, built in 1901. The name of the pub is on the middle plaque, the year on the right, and on the left plaque are the initials THB for Truman Hanbury Buxton. A very similar set of decorations can be found on the old Three Suns pub on Wapping Wall (see my post here). Perhaps a project to track the remaining pub buildings that have this type of decoration could go on my list?

Along Brick Lane we now come to Wilkes Street, the next street marked within site 12 of the Architects’ Journal map. The junction of Wilkes Street and Hanbury Street.

Much of the area I am walking across for site 12 was land originally owned by two lawyers from Lincoln’s Inn, a Mr Charles Wood and a Mr Simon Michell. A large area of land between Commercial Street and Brick Lane was purchased by the pair around 1717 and the streets were laid out between 1718 and 1728.

Difficult to see in the following photo due to the deep shadow. The terrace of identical houses running to the left of the modern building on the right were built by the speculative builder Marmaduke Smith in 1723.

Half way along Wilkes Street is the junction with Princelet Street. The Blue Plaque on the left is to Anna Maria Garthwaite (born in 1688 and died in 1763). Anna Maria was a designer of Spitalfields silks and lived and worked in this building on the corner of Princelet Street.

Anna Maria was originally from Lincolnshire but moved to Spitalfields to be with her widowed sister. She became a celebrated designer of fashionable silk fabrics and specialised in botanical designs. Many of her original designs are now held in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The following (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London) is an example of one of Anna Maria Garthwaite’s designs from when she was living and working in the house on the corner of Princelet Street.

Houses in Princelet Street.

With interesting window decoration.

As well as recessed windows, the photo above also shows one of the other identifying features for the age of Georgian building – the narrow mortar course between the bricks.

House in Princelet Street showing signage from the previous use of many of the buildings in this area.

The final street within site 12 is Hanbury Street with buildings marked on the southern edge of the street at the junction with Brick Lane:

Fortunately there are many buildings that have survived in the area covered by site 12 and the above photos are just a sample. Many houses were not so lucky to have survived and the Architects’ Journal records how developers worked around the risks of preservation orders in Folgate Street along which we will be walking to reach the next site:

“Around the corner, two houses in Folgate Street and most houses on the unrestored Elder Street are owned by a private developer. On the site in Folgate Street he wants to build offices, which the GLC oppose.

The day before a preservation order was to have been served on them, one was gutted by fire, and one Sunday soon after, they were demolished. There is a feeling that he will not restore his side of Elder Street to residential use, unless he is given permission to build offices on the now vacant site in Folgate Street.”

Site 13 – Much restored 17th century house in Spital Yard and the last 18th century house in Spital Square

To reach site 13, I left Hanbury Street, crossed over Commercial Street, walked down Folgate Street then turned into Spital Square.

The map locates the house almost adjacent to the entrance to Spital Yard and if I have located the correct building it is the one on the right in the photo below.

The above photo also demonstrates the impact that the ever growing glass and steel office blocks that are surrounding these 18th century streets in Spitalfields have on the views of the buildings.

Just along from the above buildings is the entrance to Spital Yard.

The house at the end of the yard fits the description of being “much restored” and the blue sign reads “In this house, Susanna Annesley mother of John Wesley was born January 20th 1669” which also fits with the 17th century description, although I am also fascinated by the adjacent building which is the head office of the Architectural Heritage Fund as this also looks to be of some age.

Site 14 – 1724 group in Folgate Street

Folgate Street between Bishopsgate and Commercial Street has a fine mix of buildings. The 1724 group are marked on the map as nearer the Bishopsgate end of the street and I believe are the houses shown in the photos below.

Including the wonderful Dennis Severs’ House, with the doorway dressed for Christmas as I walked passed in December.

Site 15 – Groups in Folgate Street and Elder Street

Elder Street can be found roughly half way down Folgate Street.

In the Architects’ Journal it is described in 1972 as “depopulated and isolated between the market area and a busy main road”. In the extract above about the fire at the house in Folgate Street there is the implied threat by the developer that he would not restore his side of Elder Street. Elder Street was in a bad way in 1972, however today the street is lined by restored buildings.

When restored the developer was selling the houses in Elder Street for £20,000 apparently with no lack of buyers. I could not find any houses for sale in Elder Street today, but estate agent estimates value houses at between £1.5 and £2.5 million – a considerable return on £20,000 in 45 years.

The mix of different styles and architectural features indicates the individual construction of each of these buildings rather than an identical terrace which can be found in a number of other streets such as Wilkes Street.

Note the building on the left with the bricked windows in the photo below. These are dummy window features added to break up what would have been a continuous slab of brick. The internal layout of the houses does not allow a window at these locations, as can be clearly seen on the first floor with the window across the two doors on both sides of the two houses.

Site 16 – Truman’s Brewery, 1740 – 1800

The final location in the group across Spitalfields is the Truman’s Brewery complex which can be found along Brick Lane.

Whilst the Architects’ Journal identified Truman’s buildings as worth preserving, they also identified the brewery company as a potential threat “It is not just small private developers exploiting this environment for personal gain – big businesses are expanding – Truman’s Brewery removed one side of early 18th century Hanbury Street and replaced it with a brick wall. The houses were in need of restoration, but no cosmetics could make a brick wall do anything but detract from a community.”

Reaching site 16 completes my walk around the category A sites in the Architects’ Journal map from 1972. It is good to see how many of the buildings of Spitalfields have survived since 1972, however as the article in 1972 predicted with comments about how Fournier Street could be restored, whilst the majority of the buildings have survived the area is socially completely different.

I have only just scratched the surface of these two areas, Whitechapel and Spitalfields, and I look forward to exploring them in more detail in the future.

In the coming months I will work on category B from the Architects’ Journal – Linear development along the Thames and Lea rivers due to riverside trades.

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New Deal For East London – Whitechapel

I read in the week that the bookshop Waterstones reported an increase in sales of physical books after years of decline due to competition from electronic alternatives.

I have always preferred physical books as they can become so much more than the original contents. Second hand books that have the original owners name and date of purchase recorded, notes written in the margins and additional pages of information inserted in the book all help a book tell a much more comprehensive story than when it was originally published.

One of my father’s books, London’s Georgian Houses by Andrew Byrne, published in 1986 is stuffed full of pages and cuttings from professional journals such as the Architects’ Journal, newspapers and magazines such as Period Home from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. These provide so much more additional information, updated over past and future time from the original contents of the book.

Included in these was a complete copy of an Architects’ Journal from forty five years ago, dated the 19th January 1972. This issue has a lengthy, special feature titled “New Deal For East London”.

The feature reported on the challenges facing the whole area to the east of London, which by the 1970s had been in continuous decline since the end of the last war, along with the future impact of some of the very early plans for major developments across the whole area to the east of London.

The article identifies a range of these challenges and developments, including:

  • The impact on the London Docks of the large cargo ships now coming into service
  • The lack of any strategic planning for the area and the speculative building work taking place, mainly along the edge of the Thames
  • The location of a possible Thames Barrage
  • The impact of the proposed new London airport off the coast of Essex at Foulness
  • The need to maintain a mixed community and not to destroy the established communities across the area

For this last point. the article provides an example of what happens when small pockets of more prosperous families move into an area: “some well-to-do families moved into a small terrace of new houses by the river, and were approached by the small boys of the neighbourhood with offers of ‘Guard your car, sir?’ for some trifling weekly sum. The car-owners brushed these knowing offers aside, but soon found their cars, if left in the street, being persistently vandalised, scratched and mucked about by those they had casually frozen out.”

The title page for the article shows the view from south of the river of the new tower blocks being built across east London.

East London Header 1

The text underneath the title highlights the challenges facing London in the early 1970s:

“London, for centuries the goal of the ambitious young from all parts of Britain, has been quietly losing her appeal, and is now losing more of the ambitious young than she gains from the rest of the country. This may well have advantages for the rest of the country, but what is wrong with London? And can it be put right? We dare not allow any large part of our capital to become in any sense a distressed area.”

Very different to today when London is often seen as sucking in jobs, resources and talent from the rest of the country.

The article paints a very depressing picture of East London at the start of the 1970s:

“This is the poorest part of the capital, with the greatest need for all the social services provided (or permitted to be provided) by the local authorities, and – not surprisingly  – with the highest rates. Today this is a going downhill area in which neither the growing tourist industry, nor the entertainment industry, nor the new light industries show any interest. Such industries prefer to expand near the prosperous West End or in some part of the country, such as the new towns, where they will be eligible for an industrial development certificate and all the financial assistance that implies.

The rag trade may still flourish in the east, but its best products will be sold in the boutiques and department stores of West London, none of which consider the East End area worth opening up in. Even the great chain stores seldom open up a new branch in this area, while there are obviously more profitable sites to be found to the west. The entertainment industry, too, takes little interest and one reason for this may well be the very poor public transport system in those parts, which must inevitably limit both the catchment area and the enjoyment of an evening out.

There is no comparison between the provision of public transport in the west and the east. The Underground provides a fast network of frequent trains, north, south, east and west – on the west of the City of London. No such network serves the East End, and even the newly proposed Fleet Line only touches north-east London at Fenchurch Street.”

A key focus of the article is 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 map was split across two pages and is shown below. The locations were divided into five categories, identified by their historical origins:

A – Areas that were developed as overflow from the City of London

B – Linear development along Thames and Lea due to riverside trades

C – Medieval village centres

D – Early 19th century ribbon developments

E – Medieval village centres along southern river bank and around London Bridge

East London Full Map 1

The second page of the map included a list of the buildings.

East London Full Map 2

When I see an old map with locations marked across the map I always wonder what is there now (although 45 years is not that old, but London was a very different place in the early 1970s).

There was only one thing to do, and start a project to visit all these locations and see if the buildings identified in 1972 as worthy of preservation have survived the considerable development of East London over the last 45 years.

I had some time off at the end of December and so started with category A – Areas that were developed as overflow from the City of London and in today’s post I will visit the sites clustered around Whitechapel and in next week’s post conclude category A with those clustered around Spitalfields. I intend to visit all the sites on the map across the coming months.

Sites 1 to 8 – Whitechapel

East London Map A

I have marked these on an up to date OpenStreetMap of the same area. Note that the Architects’ Journal appears to have the location of site 8 wrong on the above map, I will come to this later.

East London Map B1

Comparison of the two maps also shows how the road layout has changed. In the 1972 map, Commercial Road coming from the upper right side of the map ran straight to the large junction with Whitechapel High Street, Leman Street and Commercial Street. In the map of the area today, Commercial Road makes a sharp right turn and has its own junction with Whitechapel High Street.

Also see the rail tracks turn off the main line into Fenchurch Street and heading north a short distance into an area marked as Goods Shed. Both the Goods Shed and the length of rail track have been removed and the area labelled Goodmans Fields now covers part of this area. Although the name includes the word Fields, this area is mainly covered with new housing developments.

So, to start finding these sites, it is time to walk to:

Site 1 – Early 18th Century Pair

Turning off Aldgate High Street, I walked down Mansell Street to where site A should be according to the Architects’ Journal map, on Mansell Street at the junction with Little Somerset Street. There was nothing to be found that resembled an early 18th century pair of buildings on this side of the road, and if the location on the map is correct, the site of these buildings is now occupied by the office block shown in the photo below.

Not a very good start with the very first location lost at some point since 1972.

East London A1

Site 2 – 18th Century Pair

The next location was further down Mansell Street, on the opposite side of the road and at the location marked on the map I found the following pair of well preserved buildings.

East London A2

These are from the 1720s, with some possible Victorian updates to the facade. The entrance doorways would originally have been symmetrical. The doorway on the right has lost the pedimented Doric doorcase and the cornice above the door.

The photo below from the Architects’ Journal shows the state of the buildings in 1972 and they continued to crumble into the 1980s when the ground floor housed an Indian take-away.

East London A2B

I am not sure when they were restored, however after a worrying start, it was good to see the second location in fine condition.

Site 3 – 18th Century Group

To reach site three, I walked to the end of Mansell Street and turned left into Prescot Street. Here I was looking for a group of 18th century buildings on the south side of the western end of the street. Looking along the street I could only see one building of an appropriate architectural style and age, squashed between a Premier Inn and an office building.

East London A3

The Architects’ Journal described this location as a “group” so I assume that originally there were similar buildings on either side of this one survivor, possible of terrace of identical buildings.

Strange to see this building sandwiched between two very different and much more recent buildings.

East London A3B

Although not mentioned in the Architects’ Journal, there are a couple of interesting buildings further along Prescot Street. The building to the right is the old Whitechapel County and Police Courts, completed in 1859 and on the left is the Victorian pub the Princess of Prussia, built in the 1880s.

East London A3C

Site 4 – Single Large 1760 House

Now to site number four. At the end of Prescot Street I turned left into Leman Street and walked along the street to roughly where the map showed the location of a single large 1760 house.

In the expected location I found this cluster of three buildings. I assume that the single large 1760 house is the building on the right.

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I am now heading to Alie Street, but before I look for the next location, some information on the area I have been walking around.

If you look at the map at the top of this post, Mansell Street, Prescot Street, Leman Street and Alie Street form a square around another square of streets, North, East, South and West Tenter Street.

According to the Architects’ Journal article, Alie Street was laid out by Sir William Leman in 1710.

Checking in the book “The Streets of London” by Gertrude Burford Rawlings:

“Mansel Leman, towards the end of the 17th century, married Lucy Alie of St. Dunstan’s in the East. hence Leman Street, Great and Little Alie Street and Mansel Street”.

One refers to William Leman and the other to Mansel Leman. On checking the wonderfully named “Synopsis of the Extinct Baronetage of England” from 1885, Sir William Leman was the son of Mansel Leman.

In the middle aisle of St. Dunstan’s in the East, there was an inscription to Alice Alie and Lucy Alie dated 1678 which is presumably the date of death. Mansel Leman died in 1687 (the name Mansel is the maiden name of his mother, Mary Mansel).

So, given that the streets were laid out in 1710, Sir William Leman must have named the streets after the first and last names of his father and the maiden name of his mother.

An earlier member of the Leman family, Sir John Leman (1544 to 1632) was Lord Major of London in 1616 and was a member of the Fishmongers Company.

Within this square of streets is another square of Tenter Streets. The origin of this name is from the Tenter Ground that was enclosed by these streets. A Tenter Ground was an area of land where wooden frames called tenters were placed. These were used to stretch woven cloth so that it would dry.

Before the Tenter Ground, the area was part of Goodman’s Fields.

Site 5 – House Over Half Moon Passage

Continue along Leman Street and turn left into Alie Street. Walk along Alie Street to location number 5 where we find the house over Half Moon Passage.

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The building and passage are still here. I have found a couple of references to the origin of the name Half Moon Passage. One that refers to the graphic representation of an unpaid sixpence on a person’s tally used in pubs and ale houses in the 17th and 18th centuries, the other was that a tenement building that stood here in Tudor times was called the Half Moon.

The photo below from the Architects’ Journal shows Half Moon Passage and the building around the passage in 1972. The buildings on the left have been replaced by a later office block. The pub on the right, the White Swan is still there, although impossible to get a pint of Double Diamond there today.

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View through Half Moon Passage:

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The name of the passage gives you some hope that it would open out into a hidden square of 18th century buildings, however at the end is a small car park and office entrance all thrown into shadow by the tall surrounding buildings.East London A5C

Site 6 – 1710 Terrace In Alie Street

Opposite the White Swan is the start of the next set of buildings, a terrace that runs along Alie Street on either side of St. Mark Street.

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A pair of symmetrical, four storey buildings stand on each side of the junction with Mark Street.

The terrace continues along Alie Street towards the junction with Leman Street. Changes to the ground floor, including extensions to the edge of the pavement obscure the lower floor, however the upper floors of this original terrace are still visible.

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At the junction of Alie Street and Leman Street. The design along Alie Street appears to have been four storey buildings on the corners of road junctions with a terrace of three storey buildings between these four storey corner buildings.

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Site 7 – 1760 Seamen’s Chapel

Just past the junction with Leman Street, still on Alie Street is the German Lutheran Church of St. George dating from 1762, or in the original German from the front of the church “Deutsche Lutherische St. Georgs Kirche”

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The church of St. George is the oldest German Church in the country and dates from a time when the area around Aldgate and Whitechapel was home to a large population of German immigrants, which grew to such numbers that during the 19th century the area was home to the largest number of German speaking people outside of Germany.

The church would have looked more impressive prior to 1934 when standing above the centre of the church was a large bell tower capped by a weather vane. These were taken down in 1934 owing to the poor and unsafe condition of the structure with the plain roof we see now put in place.

As with much of the surrounding area, the church was falling into a state of considerable disrepair during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Such was the state that when the church was acquired by the Historic Chapels Trust, almost £1m was needed to repair the fabric and structure of the building.

The church was closed during my walk, however the interior contains many original features from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Site 8 – 17th Century Hoop And Grapes Pub

The final site in the Architects’ Journal cluster of buildings in Whitechapel is the Hoop and Grapes pub. This is the building that is incorrectly marked in the Architects’ Journal map which shows the building at the junction of Whitechapel High Street and Leman Street where it is actually at the junction of Aldgate High Street and Mansell Street.

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The Hoop and Grapes has foundations going back to the 13th century. There are various dates for the main building with both the 16th and 17th Centuries being claimed. The Architects’ Journal states that the building is from the mid 17th century and Pevsner moves this to the late 17th century.

I suspect that this was due to the the way buildings evolved rather than being built as a new single construction, parts of the building could well date to the 16th century with additions to the facade being added to meet the 17th century dates of both the Architects’ Journal and Pevsner. If you look at the construction sites across the City today, buildings are completely cleared away allowing a new building to be constructed without any of the earlier foundations, reuse of materials etc. The only exception being the hideous practice of removing all parts of a building with the exception of the facade (although whilst i deplore this practice it does at least retain the original street appearance despite a completely new building behind).

The photo below from the Architects’ Journal show the Hoop and Grapes in 1972 with a more industrial set of buildings in the background. The photo also had the statement that the pub is marooned by the road system around Aldgate and is grotesquely situated, but gives a glimpse of what the City was like before the great Victorian and later rebuildings.

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This is still somewhat true with the pub being at the very busy junction of Whitechapel and Aldgate High Streets, Mansell Street and Middlesex Street, with the surrounding ever rising office blocks.

The rather crooked entrance to the Hoop and Grapes. An ideal place to stop after a walk around Whitechapel on a cold December day.

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Forty five years after the original Architects’ Journal article, I was pleased to find that seven out of the original eight buildings, or clusters of buildings that the article proposed should be considered for preservation have been restored and survive into the 21st century.

In my next post I will be visiting the final set of buildings in category A – the cluster around Spitalfields.

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