Category Archives: London History

10 Years of A London Inheritance

The last weekend in February marks the annual anniversary of the blog, and this year, 2024, it is ten years since my first post on A London Inheritance.

The blog started as a way to find and document the locations of the photos my father started taking in 1946, along with just generally exploring the city, and I hope it has kept true to this approach.

I have learnt so much about the city in the ten years, discovering the story of places that I have walked past for years, with the blog now providing the incentive to stop, explore and discover the history of places that I once took for granted.

I have also learnt so much from the comments to the posts, so thank you to everyone who has left a comment on a post – they are all read with interest.

And my thanks to you for reading the blog, to the thousands who subscribe to the Sunday morning post. I try to keep them below 4,000 words (which is probably too long), so sorry for some of the longer posts.

Readership has and still does, continually increase, and the blog is now getting well over 500,000 views a year – a figure that I could never have expected when I started back in 2014.

Thank You.

Walks

I started doing guided walks based on the blog a couple of years ago for a number of reasons.

There are blog posts about individual stories or an area scattered across the ten years of posts. They do not come together to tell a comprehensive story of a specific area, such as Wapping, Limehouse, or the Southbank and Barbican, and the walks enable me to do this.

It is also brilliant to meet readers, and to show some of my father’s photos from the place where they were taken.

And again, I learn much from those who are on the walk.

I will be continuing walks this year, and hope to start a new walk in the coming months which explores an area of the City which could well be significantly redeveloped in the coming years, and is a place with a long and complex history, going back 2,000 years.

Walks will be advertised on the blog, but for early notification of new walks, you can follow on my Eventbrite page here.

A Look Back from 2014 to 2024

To record the fact that the blog has reached ten years of continuous Sunday morning posts, I thought I would take a look back through a sample of posts over the years.

It is a random sample, apart from the post for 2014, which has to be the post that started A London Inheritance (click on the headings to visit the post):

2014 – The First Bomb and a Church Shipped to America

My very first post started with a photo of a plaque put up by the Corporation of London recording the first bomb to fall on the City of London. It seemed an appropriate photo to start the blog, as so many of my father’s photos show the impact of the war on the city.

He grew up in London during the war. He was evacuated for a couple of weeks, however his parents wanted him to return home, and he left a written record of both the terror and excitement of growing up in London in wartime, and started taking photos in 1946.

After this first attack on the 25th August 1940, heavy bombing started on Saturday September 7th and continued for the next 57 nights. London then endured many more months of bombing including the night of the 29th December 1940 when the fires that raged were equal to those of the Great Fire of 1666. Hundreds of people were killed or injured, damage to property was enormous and 13 Wren churches were destroyed. Or the night of the 10th May 1941 when over 500 German bombers attacked London. The alert sound at 11pm and for the next seven hours incendiary and high explosive bombs fell continuously across the city.

Behind the sign is a devastated landscape, not a single undamaged building stands, to the right of the photo, the shell of a church tower is visible. All this, the result of months of high explosive and incendiary bombing.

2015 – From the City to the Sea 

The Thames is the reason why London is located where we find it, and why it has developed into the city we see today, however with the closure of the docks and the industries that depended on the river, we seem to have lost that connection.

I had my first trip along the river from the City out to the sea in 1978, and since then it has been fascinating to watch how the river has changed. I also have a series of photos that my father took on a similar journey in the late 1940s. I am working to trace the exact locations and will publish these in a future post.

In 2015 I took the opportunity for another trip down the river aboard the Paddle Steamer Waverley, from Tower Pier out to the Maunsell Forts.

The Paddle Steamer Waverley is the last sea going paddle steamer in the world, built on the Clyde in 1947 to replace the ship of the same name sunk off Dunkirk in 1940. 

Five posts covered the journey from Tower Pier, out to the Maunsell Forts in the Estuary.

The following photo is from the return journey in the evening, with the ship about to pass through the Thames Barrier. Green direction arrows clearly point to the channel that should be used to navigate through the barrier. The office blocks on the Isle of Dogs can be seen in the distance:

It really was an interesting journey, and the Waverly appears to be making a return visit to London later this year.

2015 – Swan Upping

In 2015, I went Goring lock, to see one of the stops in that year’s Swan Upping route.

This is my father’s photo of Mr. Richard Turk who was the Vintners Swan Marker and Barge Master. He held this position from 1904 to 1960. A remarkable period of time to hold the role and the changes he must have seen along the Thames as Swan Upping was performed each year must have been fascinating.

Swan Upping is an event which takes place in the third week of July each year. Dating back many centuries, the event has roots in the Crown’s ownership of all Mute Swans (which dates back to the 12th century), ownership which is shared with two of London’s livery companies, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers who were granted rights of ownership in the 15th century.

Swan Upping is the annual search of the Thames for all Mute Swans, originally to ensure their ownership is marked, but today more for conservation purposes (counting the number of swans and cygnets, checking their health, taking measurements etc.), although the year’s new cygnets are still marked.

2016 – A Walk Round The Festival Of Britain

Throughout the last ten years, I have written a number of posts about the Festival of Britain, and in 2016 wrote several posts covering the Southbank festival site, the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture in Poplar, the Pleasure Gardens in Battersea etc.

This was my father’s photo taken from the base of the Skylon, looking up at the structure:

The design for the Skylon was the result of a competition for a “vertical feature” for the festival site. Of 157 entries, the design by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya along with the engineer Felix Samuely was chosen.

The main body of the Skylon was 250 feet in height, add in the suspension off the ground and the total height was 300 feet. Three sets of cables held the Skylon in a cradle at the lowest point, and half way up at the thickest point a set of guy wires held the Skylon in a vertical position.

Aluminium louvered panels were installed on the outer edge of the Skylon and lights were installed inside, so during the day, the Skylon would sparkle in sunshine and at night it would be lit from the inside.

The name for the Skylon was also chosen in a competition. The winning entry was from a Mrs. Sheppard Fidler and the name was a combination of Sky and the end of Nylon (the latest modern invention), which when combined gave the futuristic sounding name of Skylon.

2016 – Building the Royal Festival Hall

Another of my 2016 Festival of Britain posts was on the construction of the Royal Festival Hall, the only building that remains on the Southbank from the Festival. My father had taken a number of photos both before the site was cleared and during the building’s construction, including a series showing the foundations being prepared:

Work on the foundations started in May 1949 with bulk excavation of the whole area – as clearly seen in the photos above that my father took of the area. Bulk excavation was used as the easiest way to clear the area needed for the foundations. The centuries of previous construction on the site included the remains of the old water works along with the brewery which was built on a 6 foot thick mass concrete raft.

There was a large amount of work to prepare, which included sinking well points and then pumping out water which started on the 17th June 1949, when, within four days the ground water level was reduced to 13ft below the ordnance datum. A huge volume of water was extracted, with at the start of pumping 150,000 gallons of water per hour were being pumped out, and even after the site had been “de-watered”, pumping was still needed of 80,000 gallons per hour to keep the area of the foundations dry.

A total of 63,000 cubic yards of materials were removed for the foundations.

2017 – Flying Over London

I will take any opportunity to see London from a high point, including flying above the city, and in 1979 and 1983, I took a couple of flights in a vintage de Havilland Dragon Rapide, and I have published a number of posts with some of the photos from these flights, including this example:

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

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

2017 – St. James Gardens – A Casualty Of HS2

In 2017, I started an annual post, recording the construction of the new HS2 station at Euston, starting with St. James Gardens, which would close soon after I had taken the photos in this blog post.

Before construction could start, the gardens, which had been a cemetery, needed to be excavated to remove the many thousands of bodies that were still buried beneath the grass, footpaths and gardens.

2017 – Clifton Suspension Bridge

As well as London, my father also took very many photos of places visited during Youth Hostel / cycling trips in the late 1940a / early 1950s with friends from National Service.

I have also been trying to visit all these locations.

One of the sites he photographed was the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and in 2017 I had the opportunity to look inside the hidden vaults beneath one of the abutments supporting the bridge, and I posted some of these photos, along with my father’s 1952 photos of this bridge.

Although the bridge is in Bristol, there is still a significant London connection, as recorded in this report on the bridge from 1864:

Mr. Brunel, as it happened, had been the engineer of Hungerford Bridge; and when, therefore, its chains had to be pulled down and to give place to the bridge of the Charing-cross Railway, it occurred to Mr. Hawkshaw to have them applied to the completion of one of Mr Brunel’s bridge designs. For such a purpose the money was soon forthcoming. A new company, under a new Act and presided over by Mr. Huish was started, with a capital of £35,000. The chains of Hungerford Bridge were purchased for £5,000; the stone towers built by Mr Brunel for the old company, for £2000. Two years ago the work of slinging these chains began and the bridge is now finished.

Hungerford Bridge was the bridge built across the Thames to the old Hungerford Market, on the site of Charing Cross Station, before the current railway bridge was built.

2018 – The Streets Under The HS2 Platforms And Concourse

In 2018 I walked the streets to the west of Euston that would soon be demolished as part of the HS2 project. The following photo shows the Bree Louise pub, at the junction of Euston Street and Cobourg Street, which had closed not long before the photo:

The pub dates from the early 19th century and was the Jolly Gardeners until being renamed by the most recent landlord as the Bree Louise, the name of the landlord’s daughter who died soon after birth.

The Bree Louise was a basic, but superb local pub and it was sad to see how quickly after closing at the end of January, the pub has taken on such air of being abandoned.

Everything in the above photo has now been demolished and is part of the HS2 construction site.

2018 – A Forty Year Return Visit To A Secret Nuclear Bunker

2018 included a rather somber post, describing a return to a location I was last at forty years earlier.

In the late 1970s, after leaving school, I started an apprenticeship with British Telecom (or Post Office Telecommunications as it was then). It was a brilliant three year scheme which involved both college and practical experience moving through many of BT’s divisions and locations. For a couple of months I was based at the telephone exchange at Brentwood, Essex. A typical day would involve maintenance and fault fixing on the telephone exchange equipment, however at the start of a day that would be rather different, the Technical Officer in charge was giving out jobs, and one job involved fixing a fault at a rather unique location – a secret nuclear bunker.

These were the years when a nuclear war was still a possibility, when the Government issued the Protect and Survive booklet, and in 1984 the BBC drama Threads appeared on TV – one of the most unsettlingly programmes I think I have ever watched.

2019 – St Giles Cripplegate and Red Cross Street Fire Station

The subject of this post, was a photo taken in 1947, looking across a rather devastated landscape to the church of St Giles Cripplegate:

There are three main features in the photo, two of which survive to this day, although the area is now completely different following the development of the Barbican.

The church of St Giles Cripplegate is in the centre, the church looks relatively unscathed, however it suffered very badly and lost the main roof and contents of the church.

To the right of the church is a pile of rubble, and to the right of this, is the round shape of a Roman bastion, which can still be seen.

The large building on the left was the Red Cross Street Fire Station, demolished as part of the final land clearance in preparation for the build of the Barbican.

2019 – Crow Stone, London Stone and an Estuary Airport

In this post, I finally managed to get to a place I had been wanting to visit for years. It took a bit of planning, but took me to a location that still has evidence of the City of London’s original jurisdiction over the River Thames.

To the west of Southend, on the borders with Leigh, and by Yantlet Creek on the Isle of Grain, there is a line across the River Thames which marked the limits of the City of London’s power. Where this line touched the shore, stone obelisks were set up to act as a physical marker.

The above photo shows the London Stone at Yantlet Creek. The early 4 am start to get there was well worth it – standing at the London Stone at 6:45 as the sun rose over the Thames Estuary, in such an isolated location, was rather magical.

2020 – The House They Left Behind

One of 2020’s posts included a trip to Limehouse, to find the site of the following photo from1986, which shows the side of a building where the adjacent buildings have obviously been demolished. The building has “The House They Left Behind” painted in bold black letters on a white background, with below, the original build date and a restoration date of the year before the photo was taken.

The pub was originally called the Black Horse, and was one of four in a small area of Narrow Street and Ropemakers Fields. Today, the only pub remaining is the Grapes.

The name change from Black Horse was to describe the position of the pub after demolition of every other building on Ropemakers Fields, and the Barley Mow Brewery, when the pub became “The House They Left Behind”. It is now residential.

2020 – A Very Different London

2020 was the start of COVID, with the first lockdown starting in March. London became a very differenet place, and the city is still reacting to the impact of the virus and lockdown.

The following photo was taken along a very quiet Cromwell Road,  with the Victoria and Albert Museum on the left:

On the Monday afternoon before the first lockdown, I had to take a relative to Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital at London Bridge (fortunately nothing to do with the Coronavirus). The hospital had advised not to take public transport, so the only other option was to drive.

Although this was before the formal lock down and the direction to stay at home, I had already stopped walking around London and was missing the experience of walking the city, particularly as the weather was so good.

To take advantage of a drive up to London Bridge, I mounted a GoPro camera on the dash of the car and left it filming the journey there and back.

It was a London I had not seen before on a Monday afternoon, more like a very early Sunday morning. Very few people on the streets and not much traffic. I cannot remember driving in central London on a weekday without any queues. The only time I needed to stop was at traffic lights.

A frightening reminder of the impact of the virus.

2020 – Hidden London – Moorgate

The London Transport Museum have run a brilliant series of tours of the hidden side of London’s transport infrastructure, and in February 2020, on a chilly Saturday afternoon, I arrived at Moorgate looking forward to walking through the hidden tunnels of another London underground station.

The above photo shows the remains of a Greathead Tunneling Shield at Moorgate. This was the invention of James Henry Greathead, who developed Brunel’s shield design, from rectangular, with individual moveable frames, to a single, circular shield. Screw jacks around the perimeter of the shield allowed the shield to be moved forward as the tunnel was excavated in front of the shield, with cast iron tunnel segments installed around the excavated tunnel immediately behind the shield.

Greathead’s first use of his shield was on the Tower Subway.

He died in 1896, before the Lothbury extension at Moorgate, however his shield design was so successful that it became the standard design for shields used to excavate much of the deep level underground system.

2021 – 74 Miles from London

This post started with an 18th century milestone to be found in Southampton, indicating that it is 74 Miles from London:

I have always been interested in London’s relationship with the rest of the country. Frequently, this is seen as a negative. The north / south divide, London getting the majority of available infrastructure investment, higher wages in the city etc.

London’s central role in the country started many hundreds of years ago with the founding of the Roman City of London, located on a crossing point on the Thames, and where the new city was accessible from the sea.

Roads spread out from London, and the city became a cross roads for long distance travel. This was accentuated with the city becoming the centre for Royal and Political power, the Law and also a centre for trade and finance.

Look at a map of the country today, and the major roads that run the length and breadth of the country still start in London (A1 – London to Edinburgh, A2 – London to Dover, A3 – London to Portsmouth, A4 – London to Bath and Bristol, A5 – London to Holyhead).

Many of these major roads have been upgraded and follow new diversions, but their general routes have been the same for many hundreds of years, and a milestone is an indication of the age and importance of the route.

2021 – The Thames from Cherry Garden Stairs

The old stairs leading down to the River Thames have been a long running theme to the blog. These stairs mark a place that has been important for centuries, where access between the land and river was available.

My father took the following photo from Cherry Garden Stairs, Bermondsey, looking along the river towards the City, with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral visible through Tower Bridge.

When the photo was taken, in 1946, the river bank was lined by warehouses, wharves and docks, with cranes along the river. A large number of lighters and barges are moored on the river, and directly in front of the camera, which would have been on the foreshore.

These stairs are very quiet today, however countless thousands of people have used these stairs to get to and from work, to take a Waterman’s boat, to leave London, to arrive in London, or to flee from the consequences of a criminal act, or to escape persecution.

2022 – Tunnelling the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

The route of the Baker Street and Waterloo railway ran beneath the Baker Street Station of the Metropolitan District Railway, by Regent’s Park and Crescent Gardens into Portland Place, through Langham Place to Oxford Circus (where the tunnels pass over those of the Central Line with a clearance of only 6 inches at one point), down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus, along Haymarket and Cockspur Street to Charing Cross, along Northumberland Avenue, then under the Thames to College Street, Vine Street and Waterloo Station.

The majority of the tunnel went through London Clay and was a relatively easy construction project, however there was a challenge where the tunnel went underneath the Thames.

The above diagram shows the route under the Thames of the Baker Street and Waterloo railway, a depression in the London Clay and short distance of gravel through which the tunnel would need to run.

The tunnel passes under the river as seen in the following photo, and the blog post tells a story of the challenges of digging the tunnel in very difficult conditions.

2022 – The First East Ham Fire Station and Fire Brigade

My Great Grandfather was born in 1854, and as a young man, he went to sea and travelled the world.

He became a fireman in 1881, joining the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) at Rotherhithe, south east London, later moving to West Ham in 1886 as a Fire Escape man, where he remained for ten and a half years. At the time the MFB recruited only ex seamen and naval personnel as the Brigade was run on Naval discipline with a requirement for familiarity of climbing rigging and working at heights.

In 1896 he became the Superintendent of the new East Ham Fire Station, and in 2022, I completed one of the many tasks on my to-do list by visiting the site of the Fire Station in Wakefield Street, East Ham:

I cannot find the exact year when the fire station was demolished, it was at some point after 1917, and the location is now occupied by the flats shown in the above photo, but I did find lots of references to the fire station, and the work of the crews based there. which I wrote about in the post.

2022 – Eleanor Crosses – Grantham, Stamford and Geddington

One of the many historical journeys across the country that ended in London was that taken by the funeral procession of Queen Eleanor of Castile, a remarkable 13th century woman.

The procession started from the site of her death, in Harby, Nottinghamshire. On the journey to London a cross was built at each of the places where the procession stopped overnight, and in 2022 I followed the route through Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingstone, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St. Albans, Waltham and then into Central London at Cheapside, Charing Cross and finally Westminster Abbey, where her body was buried.

Geddington has the best preserved of all the remaining Eleanor crosses, which is located in an open space at the centre of the village:

The procession arrived at Geddington on the 6th of December 1290. Geddington is a small village, and the reason for choosing the village as a stop is that a royal hunting lodge was close by, just north of the church. The lodge had been built in 1129 and was used by royal hunting parties in the local forests, indeed Edward and Eleanor had stayed at the lodge in September of 1290.

2023 – The Cyprus Street, Bethnal Green, War Memorial

One of my father’s 1980s photos was of the war memorial in Cyprus Street, Bethnal Green:

Forty years later, I went back to take a new photograph, and explore the story of the memorial and the names recorded.

The reference on the memorial to the Duke of Wellington’s Discharged And Demobilised Soldiers And Sailors Benevolent Club refers to the Duke of Wellington pub in Cyprus Street. The pub was built around 1850 as part of the development of Cyprus Street and surrounding streets.

The pub closed in 2005 and is now residential, but today still very clearly retains the features of a pub, including a pub sign.

The Most Read Post In 10 Years – London Streets In The 1980s

Variations of the search term “London in the 1980s” resulted in this post being the most read post on the blog in the last ten years, with people using search terms about London in the 1980s being regularly directed to the post from Google.

One of the photos featured in the post was this tribute to West Ham:

London has changed considerably since the 1980s, and will continue to change, it is the one constant throughout the whole of the city’s long history and it is fascinating to see how London has responded to so many internal and external factors over the centuries.

Thank you for reading the blog, and I hope the coming years continue to be of interest.

alondoninheritance.com

Churches at the City Boundaries – St Andrew, Holborn

This is the church of St. Andrew, Holborn, photographed in the low sun of a bright winter’s afternoon:

St Andrew Holborn

I will be exploring the church later in the post, but to start, let’s look at the location of St. Andrew, because I suspect the church is here due to its proximity to the River Fleet, and it is one of a number of London’s churches that are located at key boundaries, crossings and entry and exit points, of a much earlier City of London.

In the following photo, I am looking along Holborn Viaduct, towards the bridge over Farringdon Street, the old route of the River Fleet. Part of St. Andrew is on the right of the photo (the ornate tower is part of the City Temple Church, a much later Nonconformist church which is currently undergoing significant rebuilding works):

Holborn Viaduct

If we stand in what remains of the churchyard around St. Andrew, we can see that Holborn Viaduct is much higher than the churchyard, which marks the original surface level of the area. Today there are steps up from the churchyard to Holborn Viaduct:

St Andrew Holborn

And because of the height of Holborn Viaduct, a bridge is needed to take the street over Shoe Lane, which runs alongside the eastern boundary of the church, a view which again shows how surface levels have changed around the church:

St Andrew Holborn

A short walk east from the church, and we can look over the bridge down to Farringdon Street, a view which shows the height difference between the upper road, and the original route of the River Fleet (which would have been lower than the current road surface due to building over the original water course):

Holborn Viaduct

The bridge over Farringdon Street 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. One of the many 19th century “improvements” to the City, designed to address growing congestion along the streets, and to build a City that mirrored London’s global position.

Before the construction of the viaduct, there had been a hill which ran down from Holborn, down to the original route of the Fleet.

To get the level street surface of Holborn Viaduct, with sufficient clearance for the bridge over Farringdon Street, the level of the street needed to be raised, and is why the street is now higher than the churchyard around St. Andrew’s.

The church also lost part of the churchyard, as the new Holborn Viaduct was much wider than the street running down the hill, that it had replaced.

Whilst Holborn Viaduct now carries the street over a large road below, there has long been a bridge here, earlier versions of stone and wood, that carried the road from Holborn towards the City, and we can get an idea of how this looked in the following extract from William Morgan’s map of London from 1682:

St Andrew Holborn

I have underlined the location of St. Andrew’s with a red line, and you can see it had a large churchyard up to what was then called Holborn Hill, indicating that this was a hill from the higher ground of Holborn, down to the lower lying River Fleet.

The river can be seen to the right of the church, with Holborn Bridge spanning the river. In the late 17th century, the wide channel of the Fleet down to the Thames became a smaller river running north, although by this time, and with all the surrounding building, it was more an open sewer than a river.

We can get an idea of the gradient of Holborn Hill from the following two prints.

In the first, from the early 1800s, we can see the church and the surrounding churchyard, was originally higher than the street, and you can see the slope of the street outside the church as it heads down towards where the Fleet was once located:

Holborn Hill

 © The Trustees of the British Museum Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

In the second print (from 1831), we are looking across Holborn Bridge (which was roughly at the level of Farringdon Street today), up Holborn Hill, with the tower of St. Andrew on the left:

Holborn Hill

 © The Trustees of the British Museum Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The above two prints show just how significant the impact of the 19th century Holborn Viaduct was on the area, and in the above print, we can imagine the River Fleet flowing in the foreground, marshy land on either side, then a hill rising up to the church – it would have been in a very prominent position.

St. Andrew occupies a place that has been the site of a religious building for very many centuries. The church we see today is just the latest version of the church.

The first written records of a church on the site date back to the year 959, when a charter of Westminster Abbey refers to an “old wooden church”’ on the hill above the River Fleet.

There was probably a church on the site for some years before the first written record, and we can imagine the scene with a small wooden church sitting on the high ground at the top of a hill from where the land runs steeply down to the River Fleet. A river that would have been wider prior to the buildings shown in the 1682 map, and with marshy banks.

So if you were heading towards the City, St. Andrew’s would have been just before the road descended down a hill to the Fleet, and if you were leaving the City, as you walked up the hill from the Fleet, you would come to St. Andrew’s.

Perhaps if you were entering or leaving the City, crossing the boundary of the Fleet, you would have wanted to pray, perhaps to ask for protection on the next stage of your journey.

Despite the amount of building across London over very many centuries, we can still see churches at what were major boundaries between the original City of London, and the rest of the city and the wider country. Churches are one of the few fixed points in the City’s landscape that have not moved for often over one thousand years.

We can use Morgan’s 1682 map for a quick tour of these boundaries. Just to the south of St. Andrew is another crossing over the River Fleet, where Fleet Street crossed the river up to Ludgate Hill, and just to the west of the Fleet, the same distance from the river as St. Andrew, we find what was St. Bridget, now St. Bride’s, which does have Roman and early mediaeval features in the Crypt, hinting at the age of the site :

St Brides

Headimg back north, and just to the west of the entrance to the City through Newgate, we find St. Sepulcher:

St Sepulcher

We then come to Aldersgate, and just outside the gate we find St. Botolphs (there are three St. Botolphs outside the gates of the City of London. The relevance of the dedication will become clear later in the post):

St Botolphs

Following the route of the wall, and next to Cripplegate, we find St. Giles:

St Giles

On the approach to Bishopsgate, we find St. Botolph, which claims to have been built on the site of an earlier Saxon church:

St Botolph

St. Botolph is the patron saint of travelers, so a church dedicated to the saint would often be found where there are boundaries, or city gates, and another church dedicated to St. Botolph can be found just outside Aldgate, so three with the same dedication, to be found by gates in the old City wall:

St Botolph

Churches located at major boundaries, crossings, entry and exit points can be found south of the river, and in the 1682 map, close to the southern end of London Bridge, we find two churches, St. Olave’s on the right, and St. Savior’s, now Southwark Cathedral on the left:

London Bridge

There is no church just outside the old Moorgate. I suspect that this may have been due to the marshy nature of the fields outside this gate in early centuries, a moor which gave its name to the area we know today, and which was only drained in the 16th century.

So a church close to a gate into the City of London, or where you would have had to have crossed either the Thames or the Fleet is a feature we can still see today, although the gates or crossing points they marked (with the exception of the Thames) are long gone.

Now let’s walk back to the church, and to get an idea what the hill was like up from the River Fleet in the 18th century, this report from the 11th of February, 1743 gives an indication:

“It is hoped proper Care will be immediately taken to destroy this Gang of Thieves; who to the Number of 20 and upwards assemble every Night, and plant themselves on each Side of the Way, from St. Andrew’s Church to Holborn Bridge, commit all kind of Villainies, and make that Passage the most dangerous of any in the Town”.

You probably would have wanted to nip into St. Andrew for a quick prayer before risking the “Gang of Thieves” waiting for you as you walked down Holborn Hill.

No such dangers today, and as we walk towards the entrance to the church, there are two figures on either side:

St Andrew Holborn

The figures are not in their original location, they came from St Andrew’s Parochial School for children of the poor dating from the 1720s. The school was based in a Chapel of Ease built in Hatton Garden in the 1670s. The building is still there today, and I will return to it in a future post.

The interior of the church has white upper walls with gold decoration, and wood paneling around the columns and side walls on the ground floor, which lead up to a gallery with tiered seating on either side:

St Andrew Holborn

The interior of the church looks very new, and was the result of a rebuild by the architects Seely and Paget between 1960 and 1961 to repair the very considerable wartime damage to the church.

The church featured in one of a series of postcards called London under Fire, showing damage to the city. In the postcard, the church can be seen on the left. the roof gone and the interior gutted. The side walls and tower surviving. The result of an incendiary bomb falling on the church:

St Andrew Holborn

The full series of London under Fire can be found in this post.

The church we see today, and the walls and tower in the above photo are from Christopher Wren’s rebuild of the church between 1684 and 1690. The previous church escaped any damage from the Great Fire, however it was a 15th century rebuild of an earlier medieval church, and was in need of significant repair.

Looking up to one of the galleries that run either side of the church:

St Andrew Holborn

Today, St. Andrew is a non-parochial Guild Church, meaning that the church serves the local working population rather than any resident population, so you will not find a Sunday service held at the church.

The pulpit:

St Andrew Holborn

The interior of the church looking back towards the main entrance and the organ:

St Andrew Holborn

There are very few memorials in the church, perhaps because of the destruction of the interior during the last war. There are a few on the wall, on either side of the main entrance, including one that dates from 1722:

St Andrew Holborn

St. Andrew, Holborn does have a wide range of associations with people and events over the years.

In 1799, Marc Brunel, the father of Isambard Kingdom, was married in the church, and in 1817 Benjamin Disraeli, a future Prime Minister, was christened in the church at the age of 12.

Another story connects the church with the founding of the Royal Free Hospital. The story concerns a local surgeon, William Marsden, who found a young girl dying from exposure in the churchyard on a winter’s night in 1827.

Marsden tried to get the girl into a hospital, however none would accept her, and she went on to die. Hospitals at the time usually required a letter of recommendation from a subscriber to the hospital

Marsden was so appalled by the attitude of these hospitals, and the lack of any care for those who had no ability to pay, that he decided to open a new hospital for those who could not pay or provide a letter of recommendation..

Marsden had the support of the Cordwainers Company, and in April 1828 he opened the Royal Free Hospital in a small house in Greville Street, Hatton Garden (originally just the Free Hospital, with Royal added not long after through the patronage of the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria).

I could not find any reference from the time to the founding story of the discovery of the girl in the churchyard, however reports of annual general meetings of the hospital do confirm the aims of providing free care for those who could not afford to pay, and who could not get a letter of recommendation from a subscriber. For example, from the record of the 1837 anniversary dinner:

This institution has been established to afford immediate assistance to all applicants, but more particularly to meet the wants of the poor and diseased, whose wretched situation and circumstances render them, in most instances, unable to procure the recommendations required to obtain admission or assistance from the hospitals and dispensaries of the metropolis, and from which this institution differs in these important facts – that its doors are always open to the poor and afflicted, without any passport save their own infirmities.

No ticket or recommendation from a subscriber is necessary; poverty and disease are alone the wretched qualifications which entitle them to the benefit the charity is capable of affording.”

The Royal Free Hospital is now in Pond Street, Hampstead, and William Marsden would also found, in 1851, the Brompton Cancer Hospital, which would become the Royal Marsden Hospital.

St. Andrew’s has another connection with someone who would try and help the poor of the city.

Just inside the main entrance to the church is the tomb of Thomas Coram, the founder of the Foundling Hospital, which started out in a temporary building in Hatton Garden in 1741.

Foundlings were abandoned very young children, or the young children of single mothers or poor parents, who could not afford to bring up their child.

The Foundling Hospital deserves a full post, but in the entrance to St. Andrew’s, we can see Coram’s tomb. He was originally buried on the site of the original Foundling Hospital, but in 1955 his tomb was moved to St. Andrew’s when the hospital buildings in Berkhampsted (the location of the Foundling Hospital after moving from where Coram Fields is today) were demolished:

Thomas Coram

The font and pulpit from the Foundling Hospital chapel were also moved to St. Andrew’s.

Another survivor from another place at St. Andrew’s is a resurrection stone, showing Christ standing over the dead, as they rise from their coffins preparing for the final day of judgment:

St Andrew Holborn

The resurrection stone came from the entrance to a cemetery used by St. Andrew’s for burying the poor, located a short distance from the church with an entrance from Shoe Lane, ringed in the following extract from Morgan’s 1682 map:

St Andrew Holborn

Another survivor, very different, but no less interesting, is the war memorial from the stores of A.W. Gamage and Benetfink & Co:

Gamages

Not exactly what you would expect to find hidden in a City churchyard. Gamages was a large department store in Holborn and Benetfink were a Cheapside based ironmongers, taken over by A.W. Gamage in 1907.

Gamages closed in March 1972, and the war memorial was moved to St. Andrew’s churchyard.

I have no idea why it is in the churchyard rather than inside the church, however it is good that it remains in Holborn, and is the last trace of the Gamages company and department store to be found in Holborn.

As usual, a quick run through some fascinating history, and St. Andrew, Holborn is an interesting example of how churches were located at important boundary points, boundaries that are not (with the exception of the Thames) visible today.

We cannot get into the minds of mediaeval inhabitants of London, so it is difficult to fully understand the importance of a church at such a location, but given the number of churches through the City, it does show how important religion was, including at places where you were crossing a boundary, entering or leaving the City, crossing the Fleet or the Thames.

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From Bread Street to Australia – More London Plaques

For this week’s post, I am returning to the plaques that can be found around the City of London. I originally started this series of posts with just the City Blue Plaques, however there are so many interesting stories to be found in other types of monuments and plaques around the City of London, that I have since broadened the scope of these posts.

Today’s post starts with a monument to Admiral Arthur Phillip, who provides the connection that is the title of the post – From Bread Street to Australia.

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London

If you walk to the western end of Watling Street in the City of London, towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, you will come to an open space, with gardens on the left and the shops of One New Change on the right.

Tucked in the southern part of the space, up against the gardens is a small monument:

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London

The monument is to Admiral Arthur Phillip, Royal Navy, and it is a bronze bust of Phillip that sits at the top of the monument. The bust was rescued from the church of St. Mildred, Bread Street, after the church had been destroyed by bombing in 1941.

A plaque below the bust provides some background:

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London

As the plaque states, Admiral Arthur Phillip was born in the ward of Bread Street on the 11th of October 1738. He went to the Royal Hospital School at Greenwich, and joined the Royal Navy in 1755.

In his time in the Navy, he was involved in the Battle of Menorca and the Battle of Havana, but after these battles he was left without a ship, and as was the custom at the time, naval officers had to find other sources of employment and Arthur Phillip took up farming in Hampshire.

In 1769, he rejoined the Royal Navy, and in the following years was involved in a number of battles around the world.

Although his time in the Navy appears to have been successful, if he had not been appointed the first Governor of Port Jackson, which he also named Sydney, after his friend Lord Sydney, his name would probably have been very little known today, and not commemorated in the City of London.

The following portrait shows Captain Arthur Phillip, as he was in 1786. The portrait is by Francis Wheatley:

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London
Source: State Library of New South Wales. Out of Copyright

I found a newspaper report from 1936 regarding a commemoration service to be held in St. Mildred’s, Bread Street for Admiral Arthur Phillip, and the article provides some additional information on his expedition to Australia, and the founding of the settlement at Port Jackson, which would later become part of the city of Sydney.

“Admiral Arthur Phillip, for whom a commemoration service will be held at St. Mildred’s Church, Bread Street, London on Tuesday, commanded the Sirius on an expedition to New South Wales some years after it had been discovered in 1770 by Captain Cook.

The expedition, which first arrived at Botany Bay, consisted of an armed trader, three store ships, and six transports. The persons on board the fleet included 40 women, 202 marines of various ranks, five doctors, a few mechanics, and 756 convicts. The live stock included cows, a bull, a stallion, three mares, some sheep, goats, pigs, and a large number of fowl. Seeds of all descriptions were provided for planting in the strange land, but Botany Bay was found unsuitable for settling upon. The expedition finally ended at Port Jackson, near the present site of Sydney.

Later on, other convict ships arrived, and in 1793 came the first free settlers, who were presented with grants of land.

The memorial service in London to the admiral will be attended by the Lord and Lady Mayoress of London, Lord Wakefield of Hythe, and the Sheriffs of the City, while Sir Archibald Weigall, Governor of South Australia from 1920 to 1922, will give the address”.

As the plaque states, St. Mildred’s, Bread Street, was destroyed during the Second World War, and was not rebuilt.

Although the original church has been lost, the memorial service continues to this day, and is currently held annually in St. Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside.

Arthur Phillip was in charge of the first fleet of convicts that had sailed from England to start the first colony in Australia.

The first fleet was the result of ideas that had been put forward for how Australia should be colonised, and what to do with the numbers of convicts which were seen to be a cost to the state, and how they could be usefully employed.

The following newspaper extract is from the 5th of November 1784:

“A plan has been presented to the minister, and is now before the cabinet, for instituting a new colony in New Holland. In this vast tract of land, which is so extensive as to participate of all the different temperaments or climates which affect the globe, every sort of produce and improvement, of which the various soils of the earth are capable, may be expected.

It is therefore proposed to send out the convicts to this place, under such regulations as may tend to the establishment of a new colony.

The only inhabitants which are thought to possess New Holland, are a few tribes of harmless uncultivated people, who loiter on the shore, and are only to be found in some creeks which seem convenient at once for shelter and provision, so that from there the European can have but little to fear, especially as it may be supposed no settlement will be attempted without sufficient force, at least in the first instance, to protect it from every species of surprise or depredation.”

It is horrendous to read, 240 years later, the lack of any interest in the history and culture of the indigenous population, and to understand what their fate would be over the years after the first fleet’s arrival.

The name New Holland in the above article is the first European name given to the continent of Australia in 1644 by the Dutch explorer Able Tasman who was employed by the Dutch East India Company, and after whom the island of Tasmania would be named.

There are a couple of reliefs on the monument, one on each side. The following shows “The discovery and fixing of the site of Sydney on Wednesday 23rd January 1783. Reading from left to right, Surg. J, White, R.N. Capt. Arthur Phillip, R.N. Founder, Leut. George Johnston, Marines, A.D.C. Capt. John Hunter, R.N. and Capt. David Collins, Marines”.

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London

The second relief shows “The founding of Australia at Sydney on Saturday, 26th January 1788. Figures in rowing boat leaving H.M.S. Supply are Capt. Arthur Phillip, R.N. Lieut. P. Gidley King, R.N. and Lieut. George Johnston, Marines A.D.C.”:

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London

Whilst the reliefs show a heroic view of the arrival at Port Jackson / Sydney, the reality of living at the settlement in the years after was rather challenging.

The following letter is from the Kentish Gazette on the 2nd of June, 1789. It provides a very honest view of the terrible conditions of the first settlers, and also their interaction with the indigenous population, who are described as “savages”.

“The following from Port Jackson, is written by a female pen; and as from a particular circumstance it seems an upright picture of the place, we lay it before our readers.”

The letter was written in Port Jackson on the 14th of November, 1789, and the author of the letter is not named.

I take the first opportunity that has been given us, to acquaint you with our disconsolate situation in the solitary waste of the creation. Our passage, you may have heard by the first ships, was tolerably favourable; but the inconveniences since have suffered for want of shelter, bedding &c. are not to be imagined by any stranger. However, we have now two streets, if four rows of the most miserable huts you can possibly conceive, deserve the name; windows they have none, as from the Governor’s house, &c. now nearly finished, no glass could be spared; so that lattices of twigs are made by our people to supply their places.

At the extremity of the lines, where, since our arrival, the dead are buried, there is a place called The Church Yard; but we hear as soon as a sufficient quantity of bricks can be made, a church is to be built, and named, St. Philip’s after the Governor’s namesake. Notwithstanding all out presents, the savages still continue to do us all the injury they can, which makes the soldiers duty very hard, and much dissatisfaction among the officers. I know not how many people have been killed. As for the distress of the women, they are past description, as they are deprived of tea and other things they were indulged in, in the voyage by the seamen; and as they are all totally unprovided with clothes, those with young children are quite wretched. Besides this, though a number of marriages have taken place, several women who became pregnant on the voyage, and are since left by their partners, who are returned to England, are not likely, even here, to form any fresh connections.

We are comforted with the hopes of a supply of tea from China, and flattered with getting riches when the settlement is complete, and the hemp the place produces is brought to perfection. Our Kangaroo cats are like mutton, but is much leaner; and here is a king of chickweed so much in taste like our spinach, that no difference can be discerned. Something like ground ivy is used for tea; but a scarcity of salt and sugar makes our best meals insipid. The separation of several of us to an uninhabited island was like a second transportation. In short, every one is so taken up with their own misfortunes that they have no pity to bestow on others. All our letters are examined by an officer; but a friend takes this for me privately. The ships sail tonight.”

The following map is from 1789, the same year as the above letter, and shows how small the settlement at Sydney Cove Port Jackson was, and features from the letter can be seen in the map. Arthur Phillip’s ship, the Sirius, is shown in the bay. The ships are numbered and identified at top left.

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London

Map source: State Library of New South Wales

The description to the map is “Sketch & description of the settlement at Sydney Cove Port Jackson in the County of Cumberland taken by a transported convict on the 16th of April, 1788, which was not quite 3 months after Commodore Phillips’s landing there”.

When looking at the above map, it is remarkable that this small settlement developed into what is now the city of Sydney.

The following print shows H.M.S. Sirius and Supply, the ships of the First Fleet to arrive at Jackson’s Bay © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London

The majority of people arriving in the new settlement in the years at the end of the 18th century were convicts, and these featured in many prints of the time.

The following print shows “Black-Eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth, taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany Bay” © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London

In the print, the jailer is shown urging the two convicts to get on the ship which will take them to Australia, and perhaps to remind them of what they have escaped, there is a gallows on a hill in the background.

After a challenging start for the colony at Port Jackson, the rest of Australia would gradually be colonised, and the original site of Port Jackson would grow into the city of Sydney that we see today.

The following map shows the size of the city of Sydney, and I have marked the location of the original colony in the area around Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Bridge (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Admiral Arthur Phillip, R.N. Citizen of London

In just under two weeks time, on January the 26th it will be Australia Day, which commemorates the landing of the First Fleet, and the day on which Arthur Phillip from Bread Street in the City of London raised the Union flag at the first colony.

St. John the Evangelist, Friday Street

Next to the monument to Arthur Phillip is one of the City of London blue plaques, recording that it was the site of the church of St. John the Evangelist on Friday Street, and that the church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666:

There is not much to be found about the history of the church. In “London Churches Before The Great Fire” by Wilberforce Jenkinson (1917), there is the following paragraph about the church:

“At the end of Friday Street, at the corner of Watling Street, stood the church of St. john the Evangelist, one of those known as a ‘Peculiar’. In 1361 a chantry was founded by William de Augre. The first rector was Joh. Hanvile, who retired in 1354. The income of the benefice was returned in 1636 as £76, 10 shillings. After the Fire the parish was annexed to that of All Hallows, Bread Street. A small portion of the churchyard at the corner of Watling Street may still be seen.”

The church was known as a ‘Peculiar’, and the book gives the following definition:

“Peculiars were exempt from ordinary jurisdiction. The name of Peculiar was given to thirteen churches, of which Bow Church was the chief, and signified that they were exempt from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London and were under the Archbishop of Canterbury”.

The plaque can be seen in the following photo on the wall on the right. One New Change is the building in the background, and the monument to Arthur Phillip is on the left, behind the greenery.

The church stood in Friday Street, and according to “London Past and Present” by Henry Wheatley (1891), the origin of the name is:

“So called, says Stow of fish mongers dwelling there, and serving Friday’s market.”

The location of the church was still marked in this 1772 Ward map of Breadstreet and Cordwainer’s Wards:

In the lower right corner of the above map is a view of St. Mildred’s, Bread Street. This was the church that was bombed during the last war, and from where the bust of Arthur Phillip was recovered from the ruins.

St. Paul’s School, Founded by Dean Colet

A very short walk to the west from the site of the above monument and plaque is the street New Change, and on the western side of this street is the following plaque, recording that St. Paul’s School, stood near the site of the plaque, from 1512 to 1884:

St. Paul's School, Founded by Dean Colet

Although the plaque states 1512, there has been a school associated with the cathedral for many centuries before the 16th century.

Some form of school where those who sung in the cathedral were taught was probably in existance at some point after the cathedral’s founding in the early 7th century.

In the early 12th century, a Choir School was established where boy choristers were taught. The boys were typically those in need, and as well as being taught, the Choir School provided them with food and a place to live. The boys in the Choir School would have sung in the Cathedral.

As the school developed, two forms of education emerged. There was the Choir School and a Grammar School, the later concentrating less on the teaching of singing.

This is where Dean Collet comes in, and where the plaque may need a bit more detail for those casually looking at it.

Dean was not a first name. The plaque refers to John Colet who was Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. John Colet was the son of Sir Henry Colet, who had been the Lord Mayor of London for two terms.

On Sir Henry Colet’s death, John inherited a substantial fortune, and with part of this inheritance, endowed and refounded the Grammar School at St Paul’s.

Dean Collet’s refounding of the church is interesting as he seems to have taken a very “renaissance” approach to education and governance of the school.

As would have been expected, education was based on Christian principles, but also employed a humanist approach. He also started a separation of the school from the Cathedral, as he chose members from “the most honest and faithful fellowship of the mercers of London” as school governors, rather than clergy from St. Pauls.

The choir and grammar schools continued to diverge and have separate premises, and today, the school founded by Dean Collect has been based in Barnes, West London since 1968.

The location of the plaque is shown in the following photo:

St. Paul's School, Founded by Dean Colet

Although St. Paul’s School has moved to Barnes, the building where the plaque can be found is still as school, as the St. Paul’s Cathedral School, which is the school that the original Choir School has evolved into.

St. Paul’s School in 1807 is shown in the following print, looking across St. Paul’s Churchyard (part of the cathedral is on the right):

St. Paul's School, Founded by Dean Colet

I believe that the school shown in the above photo is that founded by Dean Colet, as the following invitation to an event involving the school shows the same buildings, and the final part of the event is to “Dine at Mercers Hall in Cheapside”, and it was Dean Colet who employed members of the Mercers Company as Governors of the school © The Trustees of the British Museum):

St. Paul's School, Founded by Dean Colet

Although Dean Colet’s school has moved to west London, the survival of a school on the site, associated with the Cathedral, is one of the places of centuries long continuity that can be found across the City.

Water Fountain by the Company of Gardeners of London

If you walk from the location of the plaque to Dean Colet’s school, you will find to the south east of St. Paul’s Cathedral a grassed area, with fountains, surrounded by paving and seats:

Water Fountain by the Company of Gardeners of London

Set into the surrounding wall is a plaque that records that the wall fountain was the gift of the “Master Wardens, Assistants and Commonality of the Company of Gardeners of London – 1951”.

Water Fountain by the Company of Gardeners of London

The year of 1951 should offer a clue as to why the gardens are here. They were part of efforts to improve the post-war environment of the City, and their completion was timed to coordinate with the Festival of Britain, which is why they are called Festival Gardens.

The following photo shows the gardens soon after opening in 1951:

Water Fountain by the Company of Gardeners of London

The street at the top of the above photo that runs to the right was St. Paul’s Churchyard, and this street, along with the circular feature at the very top of the photo, have since disappeared in the creation of gardens running along the south side of the cathedral.

Another street that has been lost is also recorded:

Site of Old Change – A City Street Dating From 1293

At the western end of the gardens is a wall, with fountains facing onto the grassed area. At the back of this wall there is a plaque on the northern corner of the wall:

Old Change

The plaque records that this was the site of Old Change, a city street dating from 1293, and as you walk along the paved area to the side of the wall and plaque, in the lower right of the above photo, you are walking along part of the original route of Old Change:

Old Change

“London Past and Present” Henry Wheatley (1891), provides some historical background to the street, along with its original name, and the source of the name:

“Old Change, Cheapside to Knightrider Street, properly Old Exchange, but known by its present name since the early part of the 17th century.

Old Exchange, a street so called of the King’s Exchange there kept, which was for the receipt of bullion to be coined. Stow, p.129.

The celebrated Lord Herbert of Cherbury lived in the reign of James I, in a ‘house among the gardens near the Old Exchange’. At the beginning of the last century the place was chiefly inhabited by Armenian merchants. At present (1890) it is principally occupied by silk, woolen and Manchester warehousemen. On the west side were formerly St. Paul’s School and the church of St. Mary Magdalen, on the east is the church of St. Augustin.”

As I have mentioned before on the blog, it is always difficult to know what is really true. The above extract states that the name Old Change applied from the early part of the 17th century, however the reference to the street in “A Dictionary of London” by Henry Harben (1918) states that “First mention ‘Old Change’ 1292-4”, however Harben’s book does confirm the name Old Exchange also applied, and that the name came from the Kings Exchange, which was “situated in the middle of the street”.

I have marked the location of Old Change in this ward map from 1755.

Old Change

The uppermost red arrow shows the section from Watling Street to Cheapside, and the lower arrow shows the section from Watling Street down to the junction of Old Fish Street and Knightrider Street.

The map shows how built up the area immediately surrounding the cathedral was, and which lasted until the post-war development, which opened up some of the surroundings of the cathedral.

I have marked the location of Old Change in the following photo which is from my father’s series of post-war photos from the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral:

Old Change

The wall at the back of the fountain on which the plaque is mounted is along the side of the street at the position of the arrow head in the above photo.

The plaques and monuments to be found across the City of London tell some remarkable stories of the City’s history, and of those who were born and have lived in the City.

Well worth more than a quick glance when walking the City’s streets.

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The 1954 London Year Book

The Evening News published two London Year Books, one for 1953 and the other for 1954. I cannot find year books for any other years, so I assume it was for just these two.

I wrote about the 1953 edition in this post, and for today’s post, on the eve of 2024, a review of the 1954 edition, taking a look at what London was like 70 years ago, key events of the previous year, and expectations for the coming year.

In very many ways, London has changed significantly in the past 70 years, but much else remains the same. In 1954, the city was still recovering from the ravages of the Second World War, a process that would take the following two decades. The Docks were still a major source of trade and employment with the Thames still a busy transport route.

The City of London was a major financial centre, and in 1954 there was no indication at all that the Isle of Dogs would become a rival financial centre (although in 2023, some companies are planning to move back to the City).

The population of London was very slowly recovering from the low levels seen as a result of migrations out during and immediately after the war.

The cover of the Evening News Year Book for 1954:

The year book is a densely packed little book about the city, claiming to have 10,000 facts about London within its 192 pages.

The 1954 edition starts with a review of 1953, with the heading “A Glorious London Year”, with, as in 2023, the main event of the year being a Coronation, which the book introduces with:

“‘What fun they had in 1953’. So, I feel, will your grandchildren exclaim when they turn over the pictures you have pasted in the big book, or listen to play-backs of newsreels and the famous films. But we know that it was more than fun. it was a flame that warmed and lit the island in that wet spring and summer.”

Although the Coronation was a highlight, there had been a number of tragic events in the previous couple of years, including in 1952, a major train accident at Harrow and Wealdstone Station:

This happened on the 8th of October, when “the Perth to Euston express smashed into a local train standing at Harrow and Wealdstone Station. Seconds later, the Euston to Liverpool Express ploughed into the wreckage. Altogether 111 people died.”

The accident apparently remains the worst peacetime accident on the British rail network. The following British Movietone newsreel provides a view of just how bad the crash was:

The other significant tragedy of 1953 was the flooding of January 1953, when “On the night of 31st January, nature dealt a savage blow along the East Coast – and London, too suffered. Here are the occupants of houses in Mary Street, West Ham, salvaging their property after flooding”.

The following newsreel provides an overview of the level of devastation caused by the floods across England, the Netherlands and Belgium:

The Year Book included a section on “Excavating Ancient London”. The 1950s were a time of significant archaeological discoveries across London, with so many areas opened up for excavation following wartime bombing.

Many of these digs were led by Professor W.F. Grimes, who was Director of the Museum of London, and it was Grimes who wrote the pages in the Year Book on excavating London, starting with:

Almost every year adds to the quota of new discoveries to the store of raw materials upon which the early history of London must be built. Many of these are chance finds, due to accidents of one sort or another; but interesting as they may be, they do not tell the expert anything like as much as finds which have been the outcome of carefully-controlled scientific excavations.”

Grimes features two significant sites excavated during 1953. The first was the discovery of Roman mosaic floors in what would have been large houses along the banks of the Walbrook river. The second was at St. Bride’s, Fleet Street, where “discoveries have shed light upon the Roman period, the Anglo-Saxon period and the Middle Ages”.

The following photo shows “the excavations at St. Bride’s, Fleet Street, there can be seen in the distance, at right angles to the outside of the east wall, the first trace of the foundation of a Roman building. During excavations inside the church isolated pieces of tessellated pavement were found from time to time”:

And “the Roman stone foundation which was discovered running underneath the east end of St. Bride’s church”:

Grimes finished his section in the Year Book with “It is gratifying to record the enlightened intention of the Vicar and Churchwardens to undertake the expensive task of preserving these features in their rebuilt church for the benefit of future generations of Londoner’s”.

They truly did do a magnificent job with both preserving and displaying these historic features, as I discovered in this post on the church of St. Bride’s.

Another section in the 1954 Year Book looked at the Airports of London.

In the early 1950s, air traffic was gradually increasing, and London was served by seven airports, and the following table shows the 1952 traffic volumes at these airports (at the time, Heathrow had not taken on the name by which it is currently known, and was then called simply London Airport):

Remarkable when you compare the passengers handled figures that Gatwick and Stansted are now the second and third major airports serving London.

The London Airport / Heathrow was starting to become the major airport that it is today. The Year Book recorded that in the past three years, traffic at the London Airport had more than doubled.

The infrastructure of the airport was also developing with the new access tunnel having been recently completed:

The Year Book reported that the access tunnel was part of a development scheme which was due for completion in 1960 and would cost around £6,700,000 and that by completion of this work, the airport would handle 3,250,000 passengers a year.

That expectation of 3.25 million compares to a pre-pandemic high figure of 80.9 million passengers in 2019.

Whilst the London Airport was developing as a place of international trade and transport, the River Thames was still London’s major route for trade, and the Year Book recorded that the following docks were busy, and administered by the Port of London Authority:

London Docks, St. Katherine Docks, East India Dock, West India Docks, South-West India Dock, Millwall Docks, Royal Victoria Dock, Royal Albert Dock, king George V. Dock, Tilbury Docks, Surrey Commercial Docks.

The Year Book introduced the Port of London, by: “The Port of London comprises 69 miles of the River Thames from the estuary to the landward limit of its tidal waters at Teddington, and five great dock systems which are situated within 26 miles of the tideway between Tilbury, some 24 miles inland from the sea, and Tower Bridge”.

In the early 1950s, the total volume of trade through the London dock system was still higher than pre-war figures, as illustrated by the following figures:

  • 1939: Total Tons – 41,662,063
  • 1952: Total Tons – 49,193,517
  • 1953: Total Tons – 48,284,513

The size and complexity of the London dock system was remarkable. The following photo shows the bascule bridge at the King George V Dock which opens to allow a ship to enter the dock. The view is taken from the entrance lock, showing the dock in the background:

In 1954, the Inland Waterways were still an important part of the transport of goods to and from London, and then to the wider world. A section on the inland waterways shows just how interconnected the system was:

“The Inland Waterways controlled by the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive within the Greater London Area are the former Grand Union Canal and the Lee and Stort Navigation.

These waterways commence amidst London’s dockland and are, therefore, conveniently situated in relation to the Port’s world shipping activities. The principal routes are; London to the Midlands (Grand Union Canal); London to Hertford and Bishop’s Stortford (Rivers Lee and Stort). The route from London to the Midlands has two important junctions with the River Thames, one at Regent’s Canal Dock and the other at Brentford.

Regent’s Canal Dock, situated on the north side of the river at Limehouse, and approached by a sea lock 60ft wide, can accommodate ships of 300ft length. It has a waterway area of about 11 acres and is well equipped for dealing with coal and general merchandise.

From Regent’s Canal Dock goods are shipped by through-water route from London to the interior of Belgium, Holland, France, Switzerland, Canada, America, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, thus linking England’s waterways with the other great canal systems of the world.”

Although the inland waterways network had been competing with the railways for the best part of a century, in the 1950s it was still carrying a significant amount of trade, with 3,068,000 tones carried in 1952 across the network of the Regent’s Canal, River Lee and the Grand Union Canal.

I doubt whether those working across this network and in the London docks could have foreseen the coming widespread use of the Container as a means of shipping goods, along with the rapid increase in the size of ships that would soon render the London Docks redundant

In the following 30 years after the 1954 Year Book, all the docks, with the exception of Tilbury, would close, resulting in a fundamental change in the relationship between London and the Thames.

The Year Book includes no indication that this would be the future of the docks, rather it gives impressive descriptions of the dock systems and the volume of trade through the Port of London:

Tucked away in a corner of a page in the section on the Thames, there is a reference to a new infrastructure project that would become part of the most dominant transport method across the country, with the “Proposed Thames Tunnel”, which would become the first tunnel of what is now the twin tunnels and the bridge of the Dartford Crossing:

Although the proposed Thames tunnel would be a future method of crossing the river, other methods were in use, which are still in use today, such as the Woolwich Free Ferry:

The Woolwich Free Ferry had opened in 1889, and in 1954 was operated by four vessels of the type shown in the above photo, named, John Benn, John Squires, Gordon Crooks and Will Crooks. The vessel shown in the above photo is the Will Crooks.

Whilst the Thames supported the majority of London’s trade and industry, it was also a threat to the City, as the 1953 floods had so tragically demonstrated.

Although the 1953 flood was exceptional, London had suffered many minor flooding events, and newspapers hold very many records of these over the previous couple of hundred years.

Water would often break the embankment defences, as shown in the following photo, with the caption: “Firemen dragging kerb-stones to buttress the Embankment wall as water comes up at Lambeth Bridge during a Thames flood”:

The 1953 flood, along with the many minor floods, would lead to the construction of the Thames Barrier with the Thames Barrier and Flood Protection Act 1972 enabling the construction of the barrier which became operational in 1982.

Between the sections on the Thames, and a brief section on new arrivals at London Zoo, the Year Book included a London Diary, detailing the dates of major events in the city during 1954:

There may not have been too much interest in the 1954 Association Football Cup Final (now known as the FA Cup), as there were no London clubs involved. In the 1954 final, West Bromwich Albion beat Preston North End 3-2.

The Year Book includes a table titled “The Londoner At Work”, which includes a list of the types of work and professions, along with an estimate of the numbers employed in each:

Again, the table shows how London has changed in the last 70 years, with the types of job, and the numbers employed, very different today. At the time of the Year Book, the third highest number of employees, worked in Engineering, Shipbuilding and Electrical Goods. I do not know the equivalent number today, but it must be a very small number when compared to 1954.

Then and Now photos have always been popular, and the 1954 Year Book included a number, showing how London has changed over the years.

The first is of Regent Street, where the caption to these two photos reads “Apart from the traffic, Regent Street has apparently changed but little – but look again. The buildings are different, and the street at the end seen in the upper picture taken in the 1890s is now gone”:

Followed by “The top picture shows the Strand, only 43 years ago. Bush House was not yet built, but a space has been cleared. Posters on the island site inform us that ‘Sweet Nell of Old Drury’ would be running at the New Theatre. Today, only the building on the left, and St. Mary’s church remain”:

And finally “Selling off, premises coming down, says the notice on the shop in Camberwell in 1889. And down came the building, to make way for a theatre. Here, at the Triangle, Camberwell, was built the Empire Theatre in 1894. Today, that too has gone, and a modern cinema takes its place”:

The Odeon Cinema shown in the above photo was opened in 1939, however it closed as a cinema in 1975, with periods of temporary alternative use, along with being empty, until it was finally demolished in 1993. The site is now occupied by a Nando’s and flats. London keeps changing.

The Year Book included a “Know Your London” section, with a picture quiz of buildings and objects from across the city. Answers will be at the end of the post.

Although the Year Book contains a very large amount of data about London, some of it is partial and does not show a complete picture.

The Year Book includes the following table about passenger numbers at the main London railway termini. The numbers are of Originating Passengers, passengers who began their journey at the station, so does not show the overall number of passengers.

Presumably, to get an estimate of the total number of passengers I could double the figures in the table, as those who depart from the station may well return, and this would certainly apply to the large number of commuters, which I assume is what the Season Tickets figure covers.

Despite the gaps in the above figures, it does show that Waterloo was the busiest station by originating passengers in 1951, a position it would hold in overall passenger numbers for the following decades.

Any guide to London would need to include a map of the Underground network, and the 1954 Year Book included such a map:

The Victoria and Jubilee lines had yet to be built, and the Embankment Station is shown as Charing Cross, with Charing Cross Station shown as Trafalgar Square.

The Year Book has a vast amount of individual facts and figures, and it is interesting to compare with the same figures of today, however where comparisons are made, I have not had time to confirm the method of measurement is the same, but these figures do give an indication of change and of overall numbers, for example:

  • London had a total of 80,683 hospital beds (compared to 20,746 today)
  • The London Fire Brigade attended to 20,328 calls (I cannot find equivalent data, but in 2022 the LFB responded to 125,392 incidents, comprising 19,298 fires, 46,479 special services and 59,415 false alarms)
  • The London Electricity Board was still changing over customer supplies from legacy DC and non-standard AC supplies to get all consumers on to the standard 230volt supply we use today
  • In 1952, 8,307,345 telegrams had been sent
  • There were 1,845,078 telephones in London
  • 15,209 telephonists connected calls where automatic calls could not be made
  • In 1952, 2,684,248,580 letters and packets had been posted, of which 99,294,832 had been sent at Christmas
  • The City of London Police had 633 officers at the end of 1952, compared to 1,007 today
  • The Metropolitan Police had 16,399 officers at the end of 1952, whilst today there are 34,184 officers (excluding community support and special officers)
  • There were 121,411 registered aliens across London in 1952, the largest population coming from Germany which numbered 10,721
  • There were 1,121 missing persons reported in 1952 with 35 cases outstanding at the end of the year
  • During 1952, 15,684 stray dogs came into the hands of the Police and were sent to Dog’s Homes
  • 570 people had been killed on London’s roads in 1952
  • There were 4,020 taxi-drivers licensed by the Metropolitan Police
  • The daily average of water supplied to consumers across London was 325,090,000 gallons, and the average consumption per head was 49.44 gallons, compared to 144.4 litres (31.76 gallons) per head in 2021/22 (I assume the higher number in the early 1950s was down to the amount of industry in London, which the city does not have today)

As with the 1953 edition, the London Year Book for 1954 is a fascinating snapshot of the city.

As far as I know, these books were only published for 1953 and 1954. I would love to be wrong, and find other editions.

Much equivalent information is made available online today, however whilst today there is the ability to provide much more detailed and granular levels of data, frequently a headline figure is obscured by the amount of detail available.

Information is also often scattered across various organisations as responsibilities for services has been devolved across both the public and private sectors.

A annual Year Book would be a brilliant summary of the state of London.

And with that review of 1954, can I wish you a very happy 2024, and close with the answers to the picture quiz from seventy years ago:

  • A. St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell
  • B. Grasshopper on top of the Royal Exchange
  • C. Senate House, London University
  • D. Calendar Clock, Hampton Court
  • E. Middle Temple Lane, leading up to Fleet Street
  • F. London Stone, in the wall of St. Swithin’s church opposite Cannon Street Station
  • G. Kenwood House
  • H. Guldhall, City of London
  • I. Figure of Britannia on top of Somerset House
  • J. St. Ethelburga’s Church, Bishopsgate
  • K. Southwark Cathedral
  • L. One-man police station in Trafalgar Square. the lamp is from H.M.S. Victory
  • M. The tower of Middle Temple Hall, surmounted by the Agnus Dei of the Temple

Regarding the one-man police station in Trafalgar Square and the lamp coming from H.M.S. Victory, I have never found any firm evidence for this, so whilst it may be true, it may also be one of those myths that gets retold about the city.

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The Vulgar Tongue and Provincial Words

An extra post this weekend, following up on the post a couple of weeks ago on Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue which was first published in 1785; a fascinating little book that really bring to life the language that would have been heard on the streets of London in the 18th century.

This week I am covering words starting with the letters N to Z, and as with the first post covering A to M, there is the same focus on crime and punishment, and the challenges of everyday life.

There are words and phrases that are still in use today, many others have been redundant for a very long time.

There are also early examples of how we communicate today, with “gentlemen’s visiting cards” showing an early use of the type of text abbreviation used today with text and Whatsapp messaging (see P.P.C and D.I.O).

It was not just the vulgar tongue of London that Grose collected, he also published “A Glossary of Provincial and Local Words used in England” – a collection of words used across the country and show a very different focus than the vulgar tongue with an emphasis on agriculture, the weather and rural life, my favourite being AQUABOB which I will be using should we get any really cold weather this winter.

So, starting with the letter N from Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, we find some people that you would not want to meet on the streets of London:

NATTY LADS – Young thieves or pickpockets.

NAVY OFFICE – The Fleet prison. Commander of the Fleet; the warden of the Fleet prison.

Confined in the Fleet Prison, from “A Rake’s Progress” by Hogarth © The Trustees of the British Museum):

NECK STAMPER – The boy who collects the pots belonging to an alehouse, sent out with beer to private houses.

NEW DROP – The scaffold used at Newgate for hanging criminals; which dropping down, leaves them suspended. By this improvement, the use of that vulgar vehicle, a cart, is entirely left off.

NICKNACKS – Toys, baubles or curiosities.

NIGHTMAN – One whose business is to empty the necessary houses in London, which is always done in the night.

NYP SHOP – The Peacock in Gray’s Inn Lane, where Burton ale is sold in nyps.

NIPPER – A cut-purse; so called by one Wotton who in the year 1585 kept an academy for the education and perfection of pickpockets and cut-purses; his second school was near Billingsgate, London. As in the dress of ancient times many people wore their purses at their girdles, cutting them was a branch of the light fingered art, which is now lost, though the name remains.

OAR – To put in one’s oar; to intermeddle, or give an opinion unasked; as, to be sure, you must put in your oar.

OLD HAND – Knowing or expert in any business.

OLD HARRY – A composition used by the vintners to adulterate their wines, also the nick name for the devil.

OLD NICK – The Devil.

ORGAN – A pipe. Will you cock your organ? will you smoke your pipe?

OTTOMISED – To be ottomised; to be dissected. You’ll be scragged, ottomised, and grin in a glass case; you’ll be hanged, anatomised, and your skeleton kept in a glass case at Surgeons Hall.

OVERSEER – A man standing in the pillory, is, from his elevated situation, said to be made an overseer.

OWL – To catch the; a trick practiced upon ignorant country boobies, who are decoyed into a barn under pretence of catching an owl, where, after divers preliminaries, the joke ends in their having a pail of water poured upon their heads.

OWL IN AN IVY BUSH – He looks like an owl in an ivy bush; frequently said of a person with a large frizzled wig, or a woman whose hair is dressed a-la-blowse.

OWLERS – Those who smuggle wool over to France.

P.P.C. – An inscription on the visiting cards of our modern fine gentleman, signifying that they have called pour prendre conge, i.e. ‘to take leave’. This has of late been ridiculed by cards inscribed D.I.O. i.e.’ Damme, I’m off’.

PADDINGTON FAIR DAY – An execution day, Tyburn being in the parish of Paddington. To dance the Paddington frisk; to be hanged.

PALL – A companion. One who generally accompanies another, or who commit robberies together.

PANNIER MAN – A servant belonging to the Temple and Gray’s Inn, whose office is to announce dinner. This in the Temple is done by blowing a horn, and in Gray’s Inn proclaiming the word Manger, Manger, Manger, in each of the three courts.

PARSON – A guide post, hand or finger post by the road for directing travelers: compared to a parson, because like him, it sets people in the right way.

I discovered the Guide Post shown in the photo below, which dates from 1686 and includes a pointing hand at Wroxton, from my post On The Road To Stratford-Upon-Avon

PECKISH – Hungry

PETER GUNNERE – will kill all the birds that died last summer. A piece of wit commonly thrown out at a person walking through a street or village near London, with a gun in his hand.

PETTICOAT HOLD – One who has an estate during his wife’s life, called the apron-string hold.

PETTICOAT PENSIONER – One kept by a woman for secret services.

PIGEONS – Sharpers, who, during the drawing of the lottery, wait ready mounted near Guildhall, and, as soon as the first two or three numbers are drawn, which they receive from a confederate on a card, ride with them full speed to some distant insurance office, where there is another of the gang, commonly a decent looking woman, who takes care to be at the office before the hour of drawing; to her he secretly gives the numbers, which she insures for a considerable sum.

PIMP – A male procurer, or cock bawd; also a small fagot used about London for lighting fires, named from introducing the fire to the coals.

The following print from 1771 is a satire on gullible youths and dishonest prostitutes. The women on the left is picking the man’s pockets, and behind the curtain is the pimp. To emphasize the story being told, the picture on the wall behind the three at the table is of a sheep being fleeced © The Trustees of the British Museum).

PISS POT HALL – near Hackney, built by a potter chiefly out of the profits of chamber pots.

PISS-PROUD – Having a false erection. That old fellow thought he had an erection, but his _______ was only piss-proud; said of any old fellow who marries a young wife.

PITT’S PICTURE – A window stopt up on the inside, to save the tax imposed in that gentleman’s administration.

PURL – Ale in which wormwood has been infused, or ale and bitters drunk warm.

QUEEN STREET – A man governed by his wife, is said to live in Queen Street, or at the sign of the Queen’s Head.

QUEER BIRDS – Rogues relieved from prison, and returned to their old trade.

QUEER PLUNGERS – Cheats who throw themselves into the water, in order that they may be taken up by their accomplices, who carry them to one of the houses appointed by the Humane Society for the recovery of drowned persons; and the supposed drowned persons, pretending he was driven to that great extremity by great necessity, is also frequently sent away with a contribution in his pocket.

QUICK AND NIMBLE – More like a bear than a squirrel. Jeeringly said to any one moving sluggishly on a business errand that requires dispatch.

RABBIT CATCHER – A midwife.

RAINY DAY – To lay up something for a rainy day; to provide against a time of necessity of distress.

RANTALLION – One whose scrotum is so relaxed as to be longer than his penis, i.e. whose shot pouch is longer than the barrel of his piece.

RAREE SHEW MEN – Poor Savoyards, who subsist by showing the magic lantern and marmots about London.

RIDING ST. GEORGE – The woman uppermost in the amorous congress, that is, the dragon upon St. George. This is said the way to get a bishop.

RIGMAROLE – Roundabout, nonsensical. He told a long rigmarole story.

RING – Money procured by begging; beggars so called it from its ringing when thrown to them. Also a circle formed for boxers, wrestlers, and cudgel-players, by a man styled Vinegar; who, with his hat before his eyes, goes round the circle, striking at random with his whip to prevent the populace from crowding in.

ROMEVILLE – London

ROUGH – To lie rough; to lie all night in one’s clothes; called also roughing it. Likewise to sleep on the bare deck of a ship, when the person is commonly advised to choose the softest plank.

ROUND ABOUT – An instrument used in house-breaking. This instrument has not been long in use. It will cut a round piece about five inches in diameter out of a shutter or door.

RUFFLERS – The first rank of criminals; also notorious rogues pretending to be maimed soldiers or sailors.

RUNNING STATIONERS – Hawker of newspapers, trials and dying speeches.

RUSSIAN COFFEE HOUSE – The Brown Bear in Bow-street, Covent Garden, a house of call for thief-takers and runners of the Bow street justices.

SANDWICH – Ham, dried tongue, or some other salted meat cut thin and put between two slices of bread and butter; said to be a favourite morsel with the Earl of Sandwich.

SCAMP – A highwayman. Royal Scamp; a highwayman who robs civilly. Royal foot scamp; a footpad who behaves in like manner.

A Scamp in action © The Trustees of the British Museum):

1894 06 11 79 Maclain the Highwayman robbing Lord Eglington Anon P&D

SCOURERS – Riotous bucks, who amuse themselves with breaking windows, beating the watch, and assaulting every person they meet; called scouring the streets.

SHARK – A sharper; perhaps from his preying upon anyone he can lay hold of. Also a custom-house officer, or tide-waiter. Sharks; the first order of pickpockets. Bow-street term, 1785.

SHOOT THE CAT – To vomit from excess of liquor; called also catting.

SHOPLIFTER – One that steals whilst pretending to purchase goods in a shop.

SHY COCK – One who keeps within doors for fear of bailiffs.

SILVER LACED – Replete with lice. The cove’s kickseys are silver laced; the fellow’s breeches are covered with lice.

SIMPLES – Physical herbs; also follies. He must go to Battersea, to be cut for the simples – Battersea is a place famous for its garden grounds

SNAP DRAGON – A Christmas gambol; raisins and almonds being put into a bowl of brandy, and the candles extinguished, the spirit is set on fire, and the company scrambles for the raisins.

STARVE’EM, ROB’EM AND CHEAT’EM – Stroud, Rochester and Chatham; so called by sailors, and not without good reason.

SUGAR SOPS – Toasted bread, soaked in ale, sweetened with sugar, and grated nutmeg; it is eaten with cheese.

SUNNY BANK – A good fire in winter.

SURVEYOR OF THE HIGHWAYS – One reeling drunk

THIEF TAKER – Fellows who associate with all kinds of villains, in order to betray them, when they have committed any of those crimes which entitle the persons taking them to a handsome reward, called blood money. It is the business of these thief takers to furnish subjects for a handsome execution, at the end of every sessions.

The thief-taker Stephen Macdaniel, 1756 © The Trustees of the British Museum):

THIMBLE – A watch. the swell flashes a rum thimble; the gentleman sports a fine watch.

THREE-PENNY UPRIGHT – A retailer of love, who, for the sum mentioned, dispenses her favours standing against a wall.

THREE THREADS – Half common ale, mixed with stale and double beer.

TILBURY – Sixpence; so called from its formerly being the fare for crossing from Gravesend to Tilbury fort.

TWITTER – All in a twitter; in a fright. Twittering is also the note of some small birds such as the robin &c.

TWO TO ONE SHOP – A pawnbroker’s; alluding to the three blue balls, the sign of that trade; or perhaps to its being two to one that the goods pledged are never redeemed.

The three balls of a pawnbroker’s can be seen in this Hogarth print “Beer Street” from 1751. The drawing shows the collapsing house of “N Pinch Pawn Broker”, and looking at the people shown in the view, one can imagine how the phrases listed in Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue were part of normal street language.

UPPING BLOCK – Steps for mounting a horse. he sits like a toad on a jossing block; said of one who sits ungracefully on horseback

UPSTARTS – Persons lately raised to honours and riches from mean stations.

VAULTING SCHOOL – A bawdy-house; also an academy where vaulting and other manly exercises are taught.

WAITS – Musicians of the lower order, who in most towns play under the windows of the chief inhabitants at midnight, a short time before Christmas, for which they collect a Christmas-box from house to house. They are said to derive their name of waits from being always in waiting to celebrate weddings and other joyous events happening in the district.

WATER SNEAKSMAN – A man who steals from ships or craft on the river.

WATERPAD – One that robs ships on the River Thames

WESTMINSTER WEDDING – A match between a whore and a rogue.

WHETSTONE PARK – A lane between Holborn and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, formerly famed for being the resort of women of the town.

WIBLING’S WITCH – The four of clubs: from one James Wibling, who in the reign of King James I, grew rich by private gaming and was commonly observed to have that card, and never to lose a game but when he had it not.

WINDOW PEEPER – A collector of the window tax.

XANTIPPE – The name of Socrates’s wife; now used to signify a shrew or scolding wife.

YARMOUTH PYE – A pye made of herrings highly spiced, which the city of Norwich is by charter bound to present annually to the King.

ZNEES – Frost or Frozen, Zueesy weather; frosty weather.

A Glossary of Provincial and Local Words used in England

Francis Grose also published “A Glossary of Provincial and Local Words used in England”, and the words and phrases in this publication are very different to those in his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Whilst those in the Vulgar Tongue have a number of common themes such as crime and punishment, prostitution, sexual relations, and general street life, those in Provincial and Local Words have mainly agricultural and rural meanings.

It is though impossible to know whether there was any bias in Grose’s collection of words and phrases. Was he looking for words that confirmed the worst of city life for his dictionary of the vulgar tongue, whilst looking for words that confirmed the rural nature of the countryside?

The two books do show the split between City and Country life which was still very marked in the 18th century, and would change significantly during the 19th century with the rapid expansion of industry and migration to the city by very large numbers of those who had lived in the countryside.

Examples from “A Glossary of Provincial and Local Words used in England”, include:

AQUABOB – An icicle

BARSON – A horse’s collar

BERRY – to berry, to thresh out corn

CANDLING – a supper given in some parts by landlords of ale houses to their customers on the Eve of Candlemas-day; part of it is a pie, thence called a CANDLING-PIE

CUSHETS – Wild pigeons

DALLOP – A patch of ground among corn that has escaped the plough; also tufts of corn where dung-heaps have long laid

ERRISH – A stubble field

FEATHERING – Binding a hedge

FLIGGURS – Young birds, just fledged.

GIBBET – A great cudgel, such as are thrown at trees, to beat down fruit.

HOPPER-CAKE – a seed cake with plums in it, with which the farmers treat their servants when seed-time is finished.

IMP – to rob, or disposes a person.

JACK – half a pint.

KING HARRY – A goldfinch

LEASTY WEATHER – dull, wet, dirty.

MAWKIN – a bunch of rags used for cleansing the oven.

NEB or NIB – the nose, also the beak of a bird.

NOON-SCAPE – the time when labourers rest after dinner.

OLD LAND – ground that had laid long untilled, and just ploughed up.

PINGSWILL – a boil

QUAKLED – almost choked, or suffocated.

RANDLE BAWK – an iron gibbet in a chimney, to hang the pot-hooks on.

SEEING-GLASS – a mirror, or looking glass.

TWITTER – to tremble. This is a word of general use. My heart twitters; I am all of a twitter. To TWITTER thread or yarn, is to spin it uneven; generally used also in this sense.

URCHIN – a hedgehog

VELLING – ploughing up the turf, or upper surface of the ground, to lay in heaps to burn.

WARPING – turning a river on land to obtain the mud for manure when it recedes.

YEAVELING – evening.

ZINNILA – a son-in-law

Francis Grose left a wonderful collection of words and phrases in use in the city and country during the late 18th century. The importance of these words is that they provide an insight into life at the time,

I did wonder how many of these terms were invented by those providing them to Grose, however I have found very many of them in newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries, confirming their use in the way described by Grose.

For example, the first reference I could find of the term SNAP DRAGON dated from 1738, and in the Bristol Mercury dated the 30th of December 1889, there is a feature on Christmas customs, and the following is included:

“SNAP DRAGON – With regards to Christmas fare, snap dragon is a very ancient favourite, although I think it is dying out. A number of raisins are deposited in a shallow disk or bowl, and brandy is poured over them and ignited. The fun is to snatch a raisin through the flames. To this there is such a song as:

Here he comes with flaming bowl, Don’t he mean to take his toll; Snip snap dragon,

Take care you don’t take too much, Be not greedy in your clutch, Snip snap dragon.

Although Grose collected all these words and phrases in the second part of the 18th century, many of them must have had some considerable age, particularly those of the Provincial and Local words as I suspect words in use in the city changed more frequently than those in the countryside..

Both of Grose’s publications help to bring to life the everyday experience of the late 18th century, and provide a very valuable record.

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Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

In my last couple of posts, I have used an example from Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. This is a book I have had for a while, but only just looked through it again in the last month to find some quotes relevant to the subjects of the last couple of weeks.

The book is a fascinating record of street language of the 18th and early 19th centuries, and was collected by Grose during night walks across London, to drinking dens, along the docks, meeting with the crews of ships arriving in the Thames, from criminals and by listening to the conversations he heard across the London streets.

His book was published in 1785, and it was later republished in an expanded form in 1811 as a Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Witt and Pickpocket Eloquence.

Captain Francis Grose was born in 1731 to a father who had arrived from Switzerland and had set up a jewelry business in London. His mother was from London. He served in the army, from where the title Captain came, and also studied art, however his real interest seems to have been the history of the country in its many forms.

In retirement from the Army, he became a serious antiquarian, and published a six volume set of Antiquities of England and Wales between 1773 and 1787. Two years later he followed up with a two volume set of the Antiquities of Scotland.

Captain Francis Grose © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Captain Francis Grose the antiquarian

His Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was put together based on the phrases he heard on the streets, in pubs, the docks, on ships, and from anywhere where those who were not members of so called “polite society” would congregate.

In 1755, a few decades before the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was published, Samuel Johnson had published his Dictionary of the English Language. This was an important and groundbreaking work, and Captain Grose’s dictionary is in many ways equally important, capturing the “vulgar” language and phrases that would not appear in Johnson’s dictionary.

The phrases in the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue tell us of the life of those who were poor, who practiced criminality, in tough professions such as the naval and on crews on merchant ships.

Certain themes run through the phrases in the dictionary. Crime and execution being one, prostitution and sexual relations between men and women being another main theme.

Grose, the Antiquarian © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Captain Francis Grose the antiquarian

Many of the phrases recorded in the dictionary are incredibly crude, and it would be interesting to know if all the phrases are genuine, or whether some of those who provided phrases for Grose, made some up to see what they could get away with, and whether they could fool the antiquarian who had come looking for the vulgar language of the working and criminal classes.

There is a wonderful scene in the TV series Blackadder, the episode featuring Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, when Johnson claims his dictionary is a complete record of the English language, Blackadder starts making up random, meaningless words. You can watch the extract from the programme by clicking here. I can imagine the same scene when Grose was recording entries for his dictionary.

Whilst the majority of the phrases in the dictionary are no longer heard, many still are, for example HUSH MONEY and MUD LARK, although Mud Lark now applies to those who search the foreshore for interest rather than necessity, to try and make some money, as was the case in the 18th century.

Some words described in the dictionary are still in use today, but with a wider meaning. The word HEDGE was in the dictionary, and today is still in use mainly in the financial markets as a risk management approach to avoid losses. The 18th century description by Grose explains in a couple of sentences how this complex financial method works.

Some phrases in Grose’s dictionary come up in surprising places today. The Bruce Willis film Die Hard seems now to be a Christmas film (and yes, it is on Channel 4 on Saturday 23rd December at 9pm). DIE HARD was not a term made up for the name of the film, it was in use in the 18th century, and although slightly different, you can see why the term was chosen for the name of the film.

You had to be careful how you used some phrases as those such as GOOD MAN had a very different meaning depending on where you were in London when you used it. Descriptions such as BUG-HUNTER and MITE provide an idea of living conditions in 18th century London.

So thanks to Captain Grose, here are a selection of the words and phrases from his dictionary, between the letters A to M.

They tell of life on the London streets, who you might meet, the tricks used by the criminal classes, punishments, places across the city, societies, and general day to day life.

I have left out the most vulgar, but you should get an idea from the following, starting with:

AFFIDAVIT MEN – Knights of the post, or false witnesses, said to attend Westminster Hall, and other courts of justice, ready to swear any thing for hire.

ANGLERS FOR FARTHINGS – Begging out of a prison window with a cap, or box, let down at the end of a long string.

ARK RUFFIANS – Rogues who, in conjunction with watermen, robbed, and sometimes murdered, on the water, by picking a quarrel with the passengers in a boat, boarding it, plundering, stripping, and throwing them overboard.

BARBER’S CHAIR – She is as common as a barber’s chair, in which a whole parish sit to be trimmed; said of a prostitute.

BARREL FEVER – He died of the barrel fever; he killed himself by drinking.

BEARD SPLITTER – A man much given to wenching.

BEGGAR MAKER – A publican, or ale-house keeper.

BERMUDAS – A cant name for certain places in London, privileged against arrest, like the Mint in Southwark.

BETWATTLED – Surprised, confounded, out of one’s senses.

BILLINGSGATE LANQUAGE – Foul language, or abuse. Billingsgate is the market where the fish women assemble to purchase fish; and where, in the dealings and disputes, they are somewhat apt to leave decency and good manners a little on the left hand.

BOARDING SCHOOL – Bridewell, Newgate, or any other prison, or house of correction

BOW-WOW SHOP – A salesman’s shop in Monmouth Street; so called because the servant barks. and the master bites.

BUG-HUNTER – An upholsterer.

BULK AND FILE – Two pickpockets; the bulk jostles the party to be robbed, and the file does the business.

BUM BOAT – A boat attending ships to retail greens, drams, &c. commonly rowed by a woman; a kind of floating chandler’s shop.

BURN CRUST – A jocular name for a baker.

CATERWAULING – Going out in the night in search of intrigues, like a cat in the gutters.

CHEAPSIDE – He came at it by way of Cheapside; he gave little or nothing for it, he bought it cheap.

CHELSEA – A village near London, famous for the military hospital. To get Chelsea; to obtain the benefit of that hospital. Dear Chelsea, by God! an exclamation uttered by a grenadier at Fontenoy, on having his leg carried away by a cannon-ball.

CHURCHYARD COUGH – A cough that is likely to terminate in death.

CIT – A citizen of London

CITY COLLEGE – Newgate.

CLINK – A place in the Borough of Southwark, formerly privileged from arrests; and inhabited by lawless vagabonds of every denomination, called, from the place of their residence, clinkers. Also a gaol, from the clinking of the prisoners’ chains or fetters; he is gone to clink.

COLLEGE – Newgate, or any other prison. New College; the Royal Exchange. King’s College; the King’s Bench prison. He has been educated at the steel and took his last degree at college; he has received his education at the house of correction, and was hanged at Newgate.

CONTRA DANCE – A dance where the dancers of the different sexes stand opposite each other, instead of side by side, as in the minuet, rigadoon, lourve, &c. and now corruptly called a country dance.

COVENIENT – A mistress.

COVENT, or CONVENT GARDEN, vulgarly called COMMON GARDEN. Anciently, the garden belonging to a dissolved monastery; now famous for being the chief market in London for fruit, flowers, and herbs. The theatres are situated near it. In its environs are many brothels, and not long ago, the lodgings of the second order of ladies of easy virtue were either there, or in the purlieus of Drury Lane.

COVENT GARDEN ABESS – A bawd.

COVENT GARDEN AGUE – The venereal disease. He broke his shins against Covent Garden rails; he caught the venereal disorder.

COVENT GARDEN NUN – A prostitute.

DINING ROOM POST – A mode of stealing in houses that let lodgings, by rogues pretending to be postmen, who send up sham letters to the lodgers, and whilst waiting in the entry for the postage, go into the first room they see open, and rob it.

DIP – to dip for a wig. Formerly in Middle Row, Holborn, wigs of different sorts were, it is said, put into a close-stool box, into which, for three-pence, any one might dip, or thrust in his hand, and take out the first wig he laid hold of; if he was dissatisfied with his prize, he might, on paying threepence, return it and dip again.

DONE UP – Ruined by gaming and extravagence.

DUCK – A lame duck; an Exchange Alley phrase for a stock-jobber, who either cannot or will not pay his losses, or differences, in which case he is said to ‘waddle out of the alley’, as he cannot appear there again till his debts are settled and paid; should he attempt it, he would be hustled out by the fraternity.

DUFFERS – Cheats who ply in different parts of the town, particularly about Water Lane, opposite St. Clement’s church in the Strand, and pretend to deal in smuggled goods, stopping all country people, or such as they think they can impose on, which they frequently do, by selling them Spitalfields goods at double their current price.

DUTCH FEAST – Where the entertainer gets drunk before his guest.

DIE HARD – To die hard, is to show no signs of fear or contrition at the gallows; not to whiddle or squeak. This advice is frequently given to felons going to suffer the law, by their old comrades, anxious for the honour of the gang.

ESSEX LION – A calf; Essex being famous for calves, and chiefly supplying the London markets.

ESSEX STILE – A ditch; a great part of Essex is low marshy ground, in which there are more ditches than stiles.

FAGGER – A little boy put in at a window to rob the house.

FANCY MAN – A man kept by a lady for secret services.

FINISH – The finish; a small coffee-house in Covent Garden market, opposite Russell Street, open very early in the morning, and therefore resorted to by debauchees shut out of every other house. It is also called Carpenter’s coffee house.

FLY-BY-NIGHT – You old fly-by-night; an ancient term of reproach to an old woman, signifying that she was a witch and alluding to the nocturnal excursion, who were supposed to fly abroad to meetings, mounted on brooms.

FOUNDLING – A child dropped in the streets, and found, and educated at the parish expense.

Image of the Foundling Hospital established in 1739 by Thomas Coram to provide a home for foundlings © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

FOUSIL – The name of a public house, where the Eccentrics assemble in May’s Buildings, St. Martin’s Lane.

FREE AND EASY JOHNS – A society which meet at the Hole in the Wall, Fleet Street, to tipple porter, and sing bawdry.

GALIMAUFREY – A hodgepodge made up of the remnants and scraps of the larder.

GILE’S or ST. GILE’S BREED – Fat, ragged, and saucy; Newton and Dyot Streets, the grand headquarters of most of the thieves and pickpockets about London, are in St. Giles’s.

Part of the Rookery, St Giles by John Wykeham Archer © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

GO SHOP – The Queen’s Head in Duke’s Court, Bow Street, Covent Garden; frequented by the under players; where gin and water was sold in three-halfpenny bowls, called Goes; the gin was called Arrack.

GOLD FINDER – One whose employment is to empty necessary houses; called also a tom-turd-man, and night-man; the latter, from that business being always performed in the night.

GOOD MAN – A word of various imports, according to the place where it is spoken: in the city it means a rich man; at Hockley in the Hole, or St. Giles’s, an expert boxer, at a bagmo in Covent Garden, a vigorous fornicator; at an alehouse of tavern, one who loves his pot or bottle; and sometimes, though but rarely, a virtuous man.

GREENWICH BARBERS – Retailers of sand from the pits at and about Greenwich in Kent; perhaps they are styled barbers, from their constant shaving the sand banks.

GREENWICH GOOSE – A pensioner of Greenwich Hospital.

GRUB STREET – A street near Moorfields, formerly the supposed habitation of many persons who wrote for the book sellers; hence a Grub-street writer means a hackney author, who manufactures books for the booksellers.

HEDGE – To make a hedge; to secure a bet, or wager, laid on one side, by taking the odds on the other, so that, let what will happen, a certain gain is secured, or hedged in, by the person who takes this precaution, who is then said to be on velvet.

HELL – A taylor’s repository for his stolen goods, called cabbage. little Hell; a small dark covered passage, leading from London Wall to Bell Alley.

HIGHGATE – Sworn at Highgate; a ridiculous custom formerly prevailed at the public houses in Highgate, to administer a ludicrous oath to all travelers of the middling rank who stopped there. The party was sworn in a pair of horns, fastened on a stick, the substance of the oath was never to kiss the maid when he could kiss the mistress, never to drink small beer when he could get strong, with many other injunctions of the like kind; to all which was added the saving grace of ‘unless you like it best’. the person administering the oath was always to be called father by the juror; and he, in return, was to style him son, under the penalty of a bottle.

Swearing on the horns at Highgate © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

HOLBORN HILL – To ride backwards up Holborn Hill; to go to the gallows; the way to Tyburn, the place of execution for criminals condemned in London, was up that hill. Criminals going to suffer always ride backwards, as some conceive to increase the ignominy, but more probably to prevent them from being shocked with a distant view of the gallows; as in amputations, surgeons conceal the instruments with which they are going to operate. The last execution at Tyburn, and consequently of this procession, was in the year 1784, since when criminals have been executed near Newgate.

Being taken along Holborn Hill to Tyburn © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

HOOF – To beat the hoof; to travel on foot. he hoofed it or beat the hoof every step of the way from Chester to London.

HUSH MONEY – Money given to hush up or conceal a robbery, theft, or any other offence, or to take off the evidence from appearing against a criminal.

IMPOST TAKERS – Usurers who attend the gaming-tables, and lend money at great premiums.

IRON – Money in general. To polish the king’s irons with one’s eyebrows – to look out of grated or prison windows.

ISLAND – He drank out of the bottle till he saw the island; the island is the rising bottom of the wine bottle, which appears like an island in the centre, before the bottle is quite empty.

JACK ADAMS – A fool. Jack Adam’s parish; Clerkenwell

JARVIS – A Hackney coachman

JOSKIN – A countryman. The dropcove maced the Joskin of twenty quid means The ring dropper cheated the countryman of twenty guineas.

TO KEEP IT UP – To prolong a debauch. We kept it up finely last night; metaphor drawn from the game of shuttlecock.

KEEPING CULLY – One who keeps a mistress, as he supposes, for his own use, but really for that of the public.

KICKS – Breeches. A high kick; the top of the fashion. It is all in the kick; it is the present mode. Tip us your kicks, we’ll have them as well as your lour; pull of your breeches, for we must have them as well as your money.

KIDNAPPER – Originally one who stole or decoyed children or apprentices from their parents or masters, to send them to the colonies; also called spiriting, but now used for all recruiting crimps for the king’s troops, or those of the East India company; and agents for indenting servants for the plantations, &c.

KNIGHT OF THE ROAD – A highwayman.

KNIGHT OF THE WHIP – A coachman.

KNOCK ME DOWN – Strong ale or beer.

KNOT – A crew, gang, or fraternity. He has tied a knot with his tongue, that he cannot untie with his teeth; i.e. he is married.

LACED MUTTON – A prostitute.

LADYBIRDS – Light or lewd women.

LAG FEVER – A term of ridicule applied to men who being under sentence of transportation, pretend illness, to avoid being sent from gaol to the hulks.

LAVENDER – Laid up in lavender; pawned.

LAWFUL BLANKET – A wife.

LAYSTALL – A dunghill about London, one which the soil brought from the necessary houses is emptied, or, in more technical terms, where the old gold collected at weddings by the Tom turd man is stored.

LIKENESS – A phrase used by thieves when the officers or turnkeys are examining their countenance. As the traps are taking our likeness; the officers are attentively observing us.

LITTLE BARBARY – Wapping

LITTLE EASE – A small dark cell in Guildhall, London, where disorderly apprentices are confined by the city chamberlain: it is called Little Ease from its being so low that a lad cannot stand upright in it.

LUMPERS – Persons who contract to unload ships; also thieves who lurk about wharfs to pilfer goods from shops, lighters &c.

LUSH – Strong beer.

MACCARONI – An Italian pasta made of flour and eggs. Also a fop; which name arose from a club called the Maccaroni Club, instituted by some of the most dressy travelled gentlemen about town, who led the fashions; whence a man foppishly dressed, was supposed a member of that club, and by contraction styled a Maccaroni.

MAN OF THE TOWN – A rake, a debauchee.

MEN OF KENT – Men born east of the river Medway, who are said to have met the Conqueror in a body, each carrying a green bough in his hand, the whole appearing like a moving wood; and thereby obtaining a confirmation of their ancient privileges. the inhabitants of Kent are divided into Kentish men and men of Kent. Also a society held at the Fountain Tavern, Bartholomew Lane, A.D. 1743.

MINOR CLERGY – Young chimney sweepers.

MISCHIEF – A man loaded with mischief, i.e. a man with his wife on his back.

MITE – A nick name for a cheesemonger; from the small insect of that name found in cheese.

MOBILITY – The mob; a sort of opposite to nobility.

MONEY DROPPERS – Cheats who drop money, which they pretend to find just before some country lad; and by way of giving him a share of their good luck, entice him into a public house, where they and their confederates cheat or rob him of what money he has about him.

MOON CURSER – A link-boy; link-boys are said to curse the moon, because it renders their assistance unnecessary; these gentry, frequently, under colour of lighting passengers over kennels, or through dark passages, assist in robbing them.

MUD LARK – A fellow who goes about the water side picking up coals, nails, or other articles in the mud.

MUNSTER PLUMS – Potatoes

I hope that gives you an idea of the contents of Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, and the colourful language that was once heard across the streets of London.

I will explore letters N to Z in a future post.

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St Bride’s Tavern, Bridewell Place, Prison and Palace

In 2020 I wrote a couple of posts on City of London pubs. It was in the middle of the Covid pandemic, and between a couple of lock downs I walked a very quiet City of London, photographing all the old pubs. A project based on what I have learnt from exploring all my father’s photos – it is the ordinary that changes so quickly, and we seldom notice trends or significant changes until they have happened.

Since that post, just three years ago, three pubs have closed. The White Swan in Fetter Lane has been demolished, the Tipperary in Fleet Street has been closed for some time and it is doubtful if it will reopen, and the latest pub to close is the St. Bride’s Tavern in Bridewell Place, which I photographed a couple of weeks ago:

St. Bride's Tavern

It was not down to a post pandemic lack of trade, or any financial problems with the pub, it was that the owner of the property would not let the pub renew the lease in January 2023, so the pub closed on Friday the 23rd of December 2022.

The owner of the land plans to strip back the office block to the right of the pub in the above photo, demolish the pub, and rebuild the building on the right with a new extension where the St. Bride’s Tavern is now located. to create a much large office block.

There was a well supported application to the City of London Environment Department to nominate the St. Bride’s Tavern as an Asset of Community Value, however this did not work, and closure went ahead.

With the trend of recent years for greater working from home, and a general decline in the need for office space, I really do wonder why establishments such as the St. Bride’s Tavern need to be demolished to create new office space.

The City of London was also planning to pivot more towards heritage, culture, arts and tourism as a response to post pandemic working, and retaining pubs would align with this strategy, however the City is being reasonably successful in tempting businesses to move back to the City from Canary Wharf as companies such as HSBC let go of large office space in the Isle of Dogs, in favour of smaller offices in the City.

An image of the new development can be seen on the website of the company that secured planning approval for the development. Click here to see the news item.

The image at top left shows the smaller extension of the new development to the rear of the main building on New Bridge Street, and the details of the development include the statement that there will be a “re-provided public house at ground-floor and part-basement level”, however a pub as part of the ground floor and basement of a modern office block just does not have the character and attraction of a dedicated building.

The building in which the St. Bride’s Tavern was located is not particularly attractive. A post-war development, which does have a rather unusual central bay of windows that runs up to include the second floor. This always looked good in the evening when the bay windows were lit.

The following photo shows St. Bride’s Tavern when it was open back in 2020:

St. Bride's Tavern

Decoration at the top of the bay windows:

St. Bride's Tavern

The pub sign has been removed, however I did photograph the sign back in 2020, which showed the tower of the church after which the pub was named:

St. Bride's Tavern

The pub is a post war building as the pre-war buildings on the site had been damaged during the war.

I am not sure that the site of the pub today is the original site of the pub as in the 1894 Ordnance Survey map it was not marked as a Public House and the building on the site appears to have been occupied by a Police Station of the 3rd Division.

Searching through old newspaper reports about the pub and a St. Bride’s Tavern appears to have been in the street behind the current pub – Bride Lane, for example in the Daily News on Saturday October the 19th, 1901, the pub was up for sale: “Freehold ground rent of £100 per annum, exceptionally well secured upon those fully-licensed premises, licensed as the White Boar, but also known as the St. Bride’s Tavern, Bride-lane, Fleet-street”.

Also, in the East London Observer on the 8th of December, 1900, there was a report on the marriage of Charles Seaward who was the Licensed Victualler of the Drum and Monkey pub in Whitecross-street and Miss Clara C. Wilkins, the manageress of the St. Bride’s Tavern, Bride-lane, Ludgate Circus. The wedding took place at St. Bride’s Church and the wedding breakfast was held in the St. Bride’s Tavern, from where the newly married couple would leave, later in the day, for a honeymoon in Brighton.

In the following extract from the 1894 OS map, I have ringed the current site of the St. Bride’s Tavern in red (and not labelled as a public house), and the pub that I believe was the original White Boar / St. Bride’s Tavern in yellow, and in the 1951 revision of the OS map, the pub in Bride Lane is still marked, with the space of the current pub an empty space (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

St. Bride's Tavern

The current St. Bride’s Tavern building does extend all the way between Bridewell Place and Bride Lane, so I suspect that the original pub may have wanted a larger site, and had available the land almost directly opposite, with the new pub still retaining an aspect (although the rear) onto Bride Lane.

If the site of the current pub was also the site of the original, it would have faced onto Bride Lane so could have had that address, but it was not marked as a public house in the OS map.

I have marked the site today of the pub with a red circle in the following map (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

St. Bride's Tavern

The St. Bride’s Tavern is named after the nearby church, as the image on the pub sign confirms, however the pub is in Bridewell Place, which is a very historic name and location.

The name Bridewell originally came from a well between Fleet Street and the Thames, which was dedicated to St. Bride. The name Bridewell was also given to what was described as a “stately and beautiful house” built by Henry VIII in 1522.

London Past and Present, by Henry B. Wheatley (1891) provides the following information: “Built by Henry VIII in the year 1522 for the reception of Charles V of Spain. Charles himself was lodged at Blackfriars, but his nobles in this new built Bridewell, ‘a gallery being made out of the house over the water (the Fleet) and through the wall of the City into the Emperor’s lodgings at the Blackfriars”

The Agas map includes an image of Bridewell, alongside the Fleet and part of which looked onto the Thames. In the 16th century the bank of the river was further in land than the river is today:

Bridewell

The following print from 1818 shows Bridewell Palace as it appeared in 1660 © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Bridewell

We can see what was by the 17th century, the narrow entrance to the Fleet, Bridewell on the left bank and part of Blackfriars on the right.

The print provides the following background: “Bridewell in its original state , was a building of considerable magnitude, as well as grandeur, extending from the banks of the Thames southward, as far north as the present Bride Lane, and having a noble castellated front towards the river, the interior was divided into different squares or courts with cloisters, gardens &c. as represented in the vignette. King Henry VIII built this Palace for the entertainment of the Emperor Charles V, but it retained the dignity of a Royal residence only during the former, being converted into an Hospital by Edward VI who gave it to the City for the maintenance and employment of vagrants and Idle Persons and of Poor Boys uniting it in one cooperation with Bethlem Hospital. A very small part of the original structure now remains.”

So if Henry VIII’s Bridewell extended as far north as Bride Lane, then the St. Bride’s Tavern of today is located inside the very northern edge of the old palace.

London Past and Present, by Henry B. Wheatley (1891) provides the following regarding the change in use of the building: “Bridewell, a manor or house, so called – presented to the City of London by King Edward VI, after an appeal through Mr. Secretary Cecil and a sermon by Bishop Ridley, who begged it of the King as a workhouse for the Poor, and a house of Correction ‘for the strumpet and idle person, for the rioter that consumeth all, and for the vagabond that will abide in no place”.

The problem for the new institution was that the availability of food and lodgings in the workhouse attracted people from across London, and it was “found to be a serious inconvenience. Idle and abandoned people from the outskirts of London and parts adjacent, under colour of seeking an asylum in the new institution, settled in London in great numbers, to the great annoyance of the graver residents.”

A number of children that were housed at Bridewell ended up being transported to the United States following a petition in 1618 from the Virginia Company for 100 children of the streets, who have no homes or anyone to support or provide for them. These children became part of the new colony at Jamestown. 

In response to complaints about the numbers attracted to the institution, the City changed parts of the buildings of the Bridewell into a granary, however in 1666 the original house and precincts were destroyed in the Great Fire.

A new house was built in a “more magnificent and convenient manner than formerly”, and these new buildings, based around two central courtyards, can be seen in the centre of the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map:

Bridewell

In the early 18th century, Bridewell was a place where are “maintained and brought up in the diverse arts and mysteries a considerable number of apprentices”, however “vagrants and strumpets” were still being committed into Bridewell with an average of 421 per year, with a peak of 673 in 1752.

Bridewell took on the role of a prison, and as well as holding a City Magistrates Court, the buildings also had seventy cells for male offenders and thirty for female.

Taking one year, 1743, we can get a view of some of the reasons why Londoners were being taken to Bridewell;

  • Margaret Skylight (a Fortune Teller) was committed to Bridewell for stealing a pair of diamond ear rings
  • On Saturday last a Man was committed to the Bridewell of this City for retailing Spirituous Liquors without a licence
  • Last Wednesday Francis Karver, alias Blind Fanny was committed to Old Bridewell for hawking newspapers, not being duty stamped, contrary to Act of Parliament
  • On Sunday Night last, a Parcel of Link-Men, who generally ply about Temple-Bar, made a sham Quarrel near that place, and got a great number of people together, several of whom had their pockets pick’d, by another Gang of Roques, who mingled with the Crowd, as has been very often practiced. We hear four Rogues have been since committed to Bridewell
  • Yesterday James Williamson was committed to Bridewell by Mr. Alderman Arnold, for attempting to pick the Pocket of one William Burris, last Saturday Night of his Handkerchief; while he was carrying him to the Constable, one of the Gang picked his Pocket of his Watch.

I hope I have the location of all the above correct, as by the early 18th century, the name Bridewell had become a common term for a prison, or place where someone was remanded before being put up before a judge.

In London there was a Bridewell in Clerkenwell and one at Tothill Fields, Westminster, and there were several so called Bridewell’s across the country, including one at Oxford and another at Colchester.

In newspaper reports, the name was often given as Clerkenwell Bridewell or Oxford Bridewell, whereas the original establishment seems to have been referred to as simply Bridewell or Old Bridewell.

The large numbers of apprentices at Bridewell also seem to have caused much trouble in the surrounding area. They were called Bridewell Boys, and also in 1743: “On Thursday Night last about Nine o’clock, as some Bridewell Boys were coming through Shoe-lane, they attacked two women, who ran for refuge into the Salutation Tavern near Field Lane End, the Boys followed them, and to get at them, broke the glasses of the Bar, on which one of them was seized, whereupon the others retired, but soon returned in greater numbers, armed with broomsticks, &c. and demanded their Companion; which being refused, they broke all the Windows, Lamps, and whatever else they could get at; however at length, several of them were secured, and it is hoped will meet with a Punishment due to their Crime.”

Bridewell also makes an appearance in Captain Grose’s “Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence”, or the “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue”, with the term Flogging Cove, which was used to describe the beadle, or whipper, in Bridewell.

This print dating from 1822 shows part of the quadrangle at Bridewell, with the male prison, part of the female, and the Great Hall. Note the bars over the windows in the central block, and small windows in the block to the left © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Bridewell

The end of Bridewell as a prison came in the 1860s when the City Prison at Holloway was built in 1863, following which, the materials of Bridewell were sold at auction and cleared away by the following year, with the chapel being demolished in 1871.

Bridewell featured in one of the prints by Hogarth in his 1732 series “A Harlot’s Progress”, and in this print we see Moll, the women featured through the series, still in her finery, as she is beating hemp, along with other inmates, under the watchful eye of a warden © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Bridewell

Although Bridewell prison has long gone, the 1805 former offices of the Bridewell Prison / Hospital and entrance from New Bridge Street survives.

I have taken a photo of the building and its associated plaque several times, but cannot find them (if you knows of a cheap and efficient application for sorting and indexing thousands of digital photos, I would be really grateful), however the wonderful Geograph site came to the rescue, and the Grade II* listed building can be seen here, between the traffic lights:

Bridewell

Looking south down New Bridge Street cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Basher Eyre – geograph.org.uk/p/923440

The St. Bride’s Tavern will soon be similar to Bridewell – just a memory on the ever changing streets of London.

The development proposals apparently include a pub within the ground floor and basement of the new office block, but this will not be the same as the dedicated pub that currently stands on the site.

Three City of London pubs have now closed since my walk in 2020. How many more over the coming years will suffer the same fate?

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Queenhithe – The Original London Dock

The following photo was taken by my father from the south bank of the river, looking across to the north bank, it is where the walkway along the river turns slightly inland to pass under Southwark Bridge:

Queenhithe and the north bank of the River thames

The same view today:

View to the north bank of the River Thames from Bankside

The layout of the place is the same today, with the pillars (although today much more substantial) supporting the building overhead, being in the same place. The building on the left is now a Zizi Italian restaurant, replacing the warehouses and industrial buildings that once lined this stretch of the river.

The view is across to the north bank of the river, where a number of warehouses can be seen. Of these, there is only one building that remains today. That is the large warehouse directly underneath the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The subject of today’s post, is a feature on the north bank, that is just visible in the above photo.

Whilst the warehouses form an almost continuous line along the river, there is one place where the river cuts slightly in land to form a small dock. This can just be seen to the right of the following enlargement from the above photo and is Queenhithe Dock:

North bank of the River Thames

The view across the river today. Queenhithe can just be seen as the indention in the river wall, just to the right of centre. The tall brick building to the left is the warehouse seen below the dome of the cathedral in the above photos:

North bank of the River Thames

A closer view showing Queenhithe Dock. The building at the back of the dock is a recently completed hotel:

Queenhithe

Queenhithe’s importance comes from the fact that it is a surviving dock space dating back to the Saxon and Medieval period.

The dock is believed to have been established by King Alfred after he reoccupied the area within the City walls in 886. At that time, it was called Ethelredshythe after King Alfred’s son in law, when it was a place where boats were pulled up on the foreshore with goods being sold from the boats.

The name Queenhithe comes from Queen Matilda, the wife of Henry I, who was granted the taxes generated by trade at the dock. Hithe means a small landing place for ships and boats.

Matilda also had built London’s first public lavatory at the dock, which was available for the “common use of the citizens” of London, and was no doubt built at the dock so the output of the lavatory could flow directly into the river – some things do not change.

Queenhithe is shown in the Agas map (from around the mid 16th century to the early 17th century), with one boat with a sail, and a smaller boat being within the dock:

Agas Map

The map appears to show some open space between the end of the dock and the houses lining Thames Street, and this space was presumably used for holding cargos being moved between the ships on the river and the land, and for conducting sales.

Writing in London Past and Present (1891), Henry Wheatley describes Queenhithe as:

“It was long the rival of Billingsgate and would have retained the monopoly of the wharfage of London had it been below instead of above bridge. In the 13th century it was the usual landing place for wine, wool, hides, corn, firewood, fish and indeed all kinds of commodities then brought by sea to London.”

The dock today is a much smaller part of what was the original dock and trading area. Excavations beneath some of the buildings surrounding the dock have found remains of a Roman quay along with the 9th century shore where trading took place, along with a series of medieval waterfronts, showing how during the medieval period the river wall was gradually being pushed further into the river.

The edge of the dock as it enters the Thames:

Queenhithe

Queenhithe is classed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and is one of the areas along the river where any form of mudlarking or disturbance of the dock or foreshore is prohibited.

The Historic England description of the reason for designating Queenhithe as a Scheduled Ancient Monument provides a good explanation of the importance of the place:

“Quays are structures designed to provide sheltered landing places with sufficient depth of water alongside to accommodate vessels over part of the tidal circle. The features and complexity of quays vary enormously depending partly on their date but also on their situation and exposure, the nature of the underlying geology and alluvium, and the volume and types of trade they need to handle. By their nature, quays also tend to occur in proximity to centres of trade and administrative authority, usually in locations already sheltered to some extent by natural features. Basic elements of quays may include platforms built up and out along a part of the coast or riverside that is naturally deep or artificially dredged, or along an artificial cut forming a small dock on a riverside or coast.

Urban waterfront structures and their associated deposits provide important information on the trade and communication links of particular periods and on the constructional techniques and organisation involved in the development of waterfronts. Artefacts recovered through excavation and the deposits behind revetments will retain evidence for the commodities which were traded at such sites.

Major redevelopment schemes along the Thames in the past have meant that the site at Queenhithe Dock is a rare survival of a sequence of waterfront constructions dating from the Roman period. The timber quays, revetments and the occupation levels are well preserved as buried features. It will provide evidence for the riverside development of London including archaeological and environmental remains and deposits. These deposits will provide information about the river and riverside environment and, by extension, about the people who lived alongside and have used it. The site is of particular significance as one of the few early medieval docks recorded in London.”

At low water, the full extent of the foreshore within Queenhithe can be seen:

Queenhithe

Queenhithe featured in a range of newspaper reports which help to give an idea of what life was like at the dock, and in London. Some examples:

3rd December 1741: “On Friday a wealthy Baker near Bishopsgate Street, was by two Money-Droppers, deluded into a Public House by Queenhithe, and there at Cards tricked out of above £100. Tis strange this stale Cheat should still prevail.”

According to the rather wonderful “The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by Francis Grose, a Money Dropper was a cheat who would drop some money, and then pretend to find it in front of someone, who he would then entice into a pub to share in his good luck at apparently finding the money.

Once in the pub, the Money Dropper would then cheat or rob the person he had enticed into the pub out of any money they had on them, and with the Baker, it was £100, a considerable sum of money in 1741.

Interesting that in 1741 it was thought that the was a “stale” cheat, so must have been a method employed by cheats for many years before.

The Lord Mayor’s procession (now the Lord Mayor’s show), when the new mayor took office was once a very riotous affair across the City. Crowds, fighting, fatal accidents – all very different to today. A long account of the November 1774 procession included the following reference to Queenhithe: “A man was run over by a coach at Queenhithe, and killed. A boat was overset near Queenhithe Stairs by the Watermen attempting to row passengers nigh enough to see the Lord-Mayor take water, and, it is said, six people were drowned”.

A reference to Queenhithe in 1799 adverts headed “Important Inland Communication” highlights how, in the days before the railways, goods arriving or departing from the river around Queenhithe could transfer goods across the rest of the country.

The advert stated that “The Public are respectfully informed, that Goods are regularly conveyed from Queenhithe, London, to Newbury, and from thence o Andover and Salisbury, and also down the Andover Canal to Southampton, and vice versa”.

It cost 11d (old pence) to send a hundredweight (about 112 pounds or 50kg) to Newbury, 2shillings and 6d to Salisbury and 2shillings to Southampton.

The advert shows how in 1799 there was an integrated transport system to transfer goods between London and surrounding counties and towns, as it also states the company “affords a regular communication with the following market and borough towns, and their respective neighbourhoods: Amesbury, Blandford, Cranborne, Christchurch, Dorchester, Downton, Fordingbridge, Fareham, Gosport, Havant, Kingscleare, Lymington, Mere, Newport, Poole, Portsmouth, Ringwood, Romsey, Shaftesbury, Whitchurch, Wilton, Wimborne and Yarmouth”.

It is often overlooked that the success of London as a trading port and as a commercial centre was only possible because of an interdependent relationship with a complex transport network between London and the rest of the country.

It was no good if people or goods arriving in London could not travel to destinations across the country with reliability and with a reliable timetable and cost.

One of my many unfinished projects is mapping out all the 18th century coach routes out of London. It was a very extensive network, equal in its day to the train network we have today.

As well as a reliable transport network, another important factor in the success of trade along the river was transparency in the pricing of key goods, so a market could develop based on pricing transparency. Here again, Queenhithe featured in many newspaper reports on the previous day’s prices:

“The Price of Flour for Bread at Queenhithe, from 4s, 9d per Bushel, Second Sort from 4s 4d to 4s 8d per Bushel. Windsor Beans £8, 2s per Quarter. Common Ditto £2 per Quarter.”

Sometimes the flour brought up for sale did not always sell as in 1757: “Last week several Mealmen at Queenhithe loaded their barges with the Flour that they had brought up for Sale, and sent it back”.

A “Mealman” was the name given to those who traded in grains and flour.

In the following photo, I am looking across the Thames from the north east corner of the dock:

Queenhithe

There was a very similar view in the book Wonderful London, published in the 1920s, which shows lighters moored at the entrance, and inside the dock:

Queenhithe

The description that goes with the above photo reads “Old Queenhithe, Once The Principal Dock Of London Port – All that is left of Queenhithe is an indentation in the line of wharves backing onto Upper Thames Street. But this, with Billingsgate, once formed the Port of London. It was called by its present name in the reign of Henry II, but as a dock it is centuries older, for we first hear of it in 899 during Alfred’s reign. To encourage its prosperity taxes were levied on foreign vessels discharging cargo elsewhere in the city. By Stow’s time it had fallen into disuse. It is now used for floating lighters to the surrounding warehouses”.

Queenhythe as a trading dock gradually lost its usefulness as the size of ships increased and the docks grew along the river, both within the City of London, and along the rest of the Thames.

As shown by the Wonderful London photo above, it did continue to be a place where lighters could be moored, with the relatively flat bottom of the dock allowing a lighter to be settled at low water, rather than being moored in the river. Space along the foreshore would have been at a premium during the 18th and 19th centuries, and partly into the 20th.

The Wonderful London photo shows the bed of Queenhithe appearing to be a level layer of mud. Today. the bed of the dock is mainly stone, broken bricks and the other detritus that gets carried along the river.

I suspect that the mud has gone as there is no activity in the dock today, and the lack of moored lighters and shipping along the river has increased the flow of the river, which has led to erosion of the mud.

If you look at the dock today, it gives the appearance that the mud has been cleared, and the incoming tide has pushed some of the old dock surface, and rubbish from the river, up to a pile at the back of the dock. Even an old scooter looks as if it is now becoming part of the buried history along the river:

Rubbish on the foreshore

Along the eastern wall of the dock is the Queenhithe Mosaic, which provides “A timeline displaying the remarkable layers of history from Roman times to Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee”:

Queenhithe Mosaic

The mosaic was design by Tessa Hunkin and Southbank Mosaics created the installation in 2014, and next to the river, it starts with the first Roman invasion:

Queenhithe Mosaic

Then we see the first reference to Queen Matilda and Queenhithe:

Queenhithe Mosaic

And that Queenhithe was London’s Grain Dock, a role it still had in the 18th century:

Queenhithe Mosaic

Other key London events are included such as when St. Paul’s Cathedral was first built in stone, and when London became a Saxon town:

Queenhithe Mosaic

There is then the 19th century “Big Stink” and World War 2 and the Blitz, which damaged so much of the area surrounding Queenhithe:

Queenhithe Mosaic

And finally the Millennium Bridge and the Jubilee. The mosaic is mainly a timeline, although the Thames flows along the length of the mosaic and at the end. as well as covering events in 2012, we also see the river opening out into the estuary, and four turbines from the wind farms that have covered parts of the wider estuary:

Queenhithe Mosaic

Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Queenhithe Dock with a small area of open space at the top of the dock, labelled Queen Hith (earlier references to the dock often spelt the Hith part without an e):

1746 map of Thames Stairs

There are a number of boats which look as if they could be either sailing into, or away from the dock. There are also two sets of stairs. On the right are Queen Hith Stairs, and on the left are Queen Hith Little Stairs.

I can find a number of references to Queenhithe Stairs over the last few centuries. I quoted one earlier in the post with the story of the “boat was overset near Queenhithe Stairs“, when a Waterman was taking people out into the river to see the new Lord Mayor take to the river.

The Port of London Authority listing of all the steps, stairs and landing places on the tidal Thames does not have any reference to these stairs, however, they are still there. Not the nice set of stone steps leading down to a causeway on the foreshore, rather Queenhithe Stairs now consist of a vertical metal set of steps right up against the river wall, with a short set of steps providing access over the river wall as can be seen in the following photo, in exactly the same place as in the 1746 map:

Queenhithe Stairs

Looking over the edge of the river wall, and we can see the vertical steps heading down to the foreshore:

Queenhithe Stairs

There is a high river wall around Queenhithe, an essential bit of infrastructure to keep the surrounding land dry during times of very high tide, and building embankments along the river has been a continuous project in keeping the City of London dry.

I found a mention of Queenhithe Stairs in a reference to building an embankment wall, when in 1856 the London Weekly Chronicle had an article on an Act of Parliament to progress a whole series of infrastructure projects across London, including;

“An embankment along the Middlesex side of the River Thames, which said embankment will commence at or near certain stairs called Queenhithe Stairs, in the parish of St. Michael, Queenhithe, in the city of London, and from thence run in a westerly direction along and in front of the north bank of the river, and terminate on the river bank at or about a point in the parish of Saint Margaret in the City of Westminster, in the county of Middlesex.”

Other parts of the Act included building a railway within the embankment, so this was one of the enabling acts for both creating a new wall along the river and building what has now become the Circle and District underground railway lines along the Embankment.

The embankment as actually built ended at Blackfriars and did not extend to Queenhithe Stairs. The warehouses along the river, with their need for easy access directly onto the river prevented the new embankment being built as far as Queenhithe, but it is one of those “what ifs” with the development of London over the centuries.

From the walkway along the side of the river, there is nothing to be seen of Queenhithe Little Stairs, and I cannot find any written reference to the stairs, however looking across from the south bank of the river, we can see a set of steps vertically up against the river wall in the place shown in Roqcue’s 1746 map:

Thames Stairs

Interesting how there is a rise in the height of the foreshore around the bottom of the steps, and how these stairs survive despite having very little practical use these days, although I suspect that with the height of the river wall, having stairs along the foreshore is a sensible precaution for anyone stranded on the foreshore as the tide comes in, or having fallen in the river, although with the tides in the river, getting to the stairs would be a challenge.

Queenhithe is an interesting survivor, as what survives is the space, rather than any physical structure such as a building, wall, paving, etc. Whilst there are remains of the use of the dock below the surface, Queenhithe’s importance is as a reminder of how the City and the Thames developed and for so many centuries, were interdependent.

Given the level of 19th century rebuilding of the City, I am surprised that Queenhithe survived, and was not replaced by new warehouses, however the dock had already given its name to a Ward, so the importance of the place must have long been clear, and removing the place that was the source of the Ward’s name was probably too much, even for Victorian commercial redevelopment of the City of London.

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The Temple of Mithras and Vine Street Roman Wall

The City of London has been occupied in one form or another for around 2,000 years, and those centuries of occupation have left their mark, whether it is in the pattern of the streets, pushing the embankment wall into the river and reclaiming parts of the foreshore, churches, rising ground levels, and the buried remains of buildings along with the accumulated rubbish, lost possessions, burials and industrial waste of the centuries.

In today’s post, I am visiting two places where the remains of Roman occupation are on display. two very different structures and methods of display, but each telling a story of London’s long history, and how these remains have survived, and their discovery, starting with:

The Temple of Mithras

The Temple of Mithras was one of the major post-war discoveries in the City of London as archaeologists rushed to excavate sites, although they had very limited funds and time.

The Temple of Mithras tells an interesting story of Roman occupation of the City, post-war archaeology, and how we value such discoveries.

The Temple of Mithras is now on display at the London Mithraeum, built as part of the construction of Bloomberg’s new European headquarters.

The remains of the temple have been displayed in a really imaginative way. Subtle lighting, a recreation of the sounds of activity in the temple during the Roman period and an image of the god Mithras overlooking the temple from the location of the apse and the block where the final altar in the temple was located.

The view on entering the Temple of Mithras:

Temple of Mithras

The Temple of Mithras was discovered in 1954 by the archaeologist W.F. Grimes.

The post-war bomb sites across the City of London offered a one off opportunity to excavate and explore for remains of occupation of the City from previous centuries, and in 1946 the Society of Antiquaries of London sponsored a short trial session, and then established the Roman and Mediaeval London Excavation Council in order to more formally establish a long term series of excavations.

These continued through to December 1962, with the majority being led by W.F. Grimes.

There were two main challenges to this work, both of which almost resulted in the failure to discover the Temple of Mithras – money and time.

The Excavation Council was able to raise funds from private donors, and in 1968 Grimes published “The Excavation of Roman and Medieval London”, a brilliant book providing an initial record of the work between 1947 and 1962. In the back of the book is a list of donors, which included the Government Ministry of Works (£26,300) and the Bank of England (£2,750) as the top two donors, down to two pages of donors who contributed £1. There were also a large number of donors who gave less than a £1, but were not recorded in the book.

By 1954, donor funds were growing short, and in the many newspaper reports of the discovery, it was reported that “Mr. Grimes had only found the temple because, after private subscriptions fell off, a grant from the Ministry of £2,000 a year had kept him going”.

There was also the challenge of time, and the walls of the temple were found towards the very end of the period agreed with the developer to excavate the site. Such was the importance of the find, that the developers allowed an extra two weeks for excavation.

At the temple today, there are two walkways along the sides of the temple, and at the end of these, we can look back at the interior of the temple:

Temple of Mithras

From the location of the apse, and where the altar was located:

Temple of Mithras

The area that was being excavated, and where the Temple of Mithras was found, was a large almost triangular plot bounded by Queen Victoria Street in the north, Budge Row to the south and Walbrook to the east. Budge Row sort of exists, but is now a covered walkway between two sections of the Bloomberg building, and appears to be called the Bloomberg Arcade.

The importance of the site was that it was part of the valley of the old Walbrook stream, and at the time, very little was known of the extent and nature of the stream and the surrounding valley.

Prior to the temple being found, work had focused on identifying the location of the stream, and sectional cuts were taken across the site which found that the Walbrook was in a shallow basin of around 290 to 300 feet across, and that the stream was around 14 feet wide and relatively shallow.

Excavations also found that the process of raising the land surface had started at a very early date, with dumping of material in the basin of the stream, mainly on the western edge of stream.

A number of timber deposits were found, mainly floors, and also contraptions such as guttering, all to deal with the wet conditions of the land surrounding the Walbrook stream.

There were very few stone structures, and apart from the temple, only one other stone building was found on the site, so although the site was in the centre of Roman London, it was very different to what could have been expected, with no concentration of stone buildings, and probably an area which had a stream running through, and was wet and marshy.

The main body of the temple was found to be rectangular and around 58.5 feet long and 26 feet wide, and consisted of a semi-circular apse at the western end.

In Grimes book, he mentions that the eastern end of the building consisted of a narthex or vestibule, which projected beyond the side walls of the building, and that part of this vestibule lay, and in 1954 at the end of excavation, remained under the street Walbrook. I need to find out if that is still the case, or whether it has since been excavated.

Photo from the book “The Excavation of Roman and Medieval London” by W.F. Grimes showing the Temple of Mithras as finally excavated. The photo was taken from the north east, so would have been next to the street Walbrook:

Temple of Mithras

The photo below is a view of the apse, which was at the western end of the temple, the upper right of the temple in the photo above:

Temple of Mithras

The excavated temple was opened to the public for a short period between excavation and the removal of the stones, and very long queues formed to get a glimpse of this Roman survivor:

Temple of Mithras

However, you can forget all the stories of polite British queuing, as the News Chronicle reported on Wednesday the 22nd of September 1954: “Sightseers Storm the Cordon. When darkness came, hundreds were still queuing. They got angry and dozens stormed through police barriers to see the Temple of Mithras.

Instead of the 50 to 500 people expected at the half acre bomb site near Mansion House, where last week a marble head of the god was unearthed, there were 10,000.

Police reinforcements were called as they milled around. At 6:30 when the site was due to close, thousands were still queuing. Then the contractors – who are to build London’s tallest office block on the site – decided to keep it open till seven.

There was an angry scene when the police announced half an hour later that no more people could be allowed. By then, darkness was falling and hundreds were still queuing. The disappointed crowd shouted ‘We’ve been waiting more than an hour’.”

Looking back at the apse:

Temple of Mithras

There were a number of finds at the site of the temple, including, Mercury, a messenger god, seated on a ram:

Temple of Mithras

Mable head representing the godess Minerva:

Temple of Mithras

And then there was the head and neck of Mithras. This was found by one of the excavators on the site, Mrs. Audrey Williams, and I found a photo of her, holding the head of Mithras, in the book “Buried London” by William Thomson Hill (1955):

Temple of Mithras

Audrey Williams was a highly experienced archeaologist, but was, and still is, rather unrecognised.

She was mentioned in some newspaper reports about the temple, a typical report being “Excavators were about to put aside their trowels when Mrs. Audrey Williams, second-in-command to Mr. W.F. Grimes, director of the London Museum in charge of the excavations, scraped the side of a marble cheek”.

There is a biography of Audrey Williams on the excellent Trowel Blazers site, which also records that it was Audrey who was on site every day, and her work makes up much of the archive as Grimes was also working on another site.

Mithras was one of many Roman gods, and the cult of Mithras started in Rome and eventually spread across the Roman empire. It seems to have attracted those who were administrators, merchants and soldiers within the empire, and meetings were held in temples, often below ground. Dark, windowless places, which the presentation at the London Mithraeum demonstrates well.

The location of the temple, on the banks of the Walbrook stream would have added an extra dimension to the place.

At the end of the time available for the excavation, there was concern about the future of the temple, and whether the cost of preserving or moving the temple would be supported by the Government. A solution was found thanks to the owners of Bucklersbury House, the building that would be constructed on the site, as reported in the Courier and Advertiser on the 2nd of October, 1954:

“The Temple of Mithras, recently uncovered in the City of London, is to be moved, brick by brick, and re-erected on a site 80 yards away.

A Ministry of Works statement yesterday said – It has been decided that the cost of preserving the remains of the Temple of Mithras in its present position, estimated at more that £500,000 cannot be met from public funds. Happily, however, Mr. A.V. Bridgland, and the owners of the site of Bucklersbury House, have made a most generous proposal, which the Government believe will be widely welcomed.

The temple is to be moved from its present low level and put up again in an open courtyard on the Queen Victoria Street front of Bucklersbury House site.

Estimated cost of the removal is £10,000 which is to be borne by the owner of the site.”

Photo from the book “Buried London” by William Thomson Hill (1955), showing the Temple of Mithras being rebuilt in its temporary location in October 1954 before being moved to Temple Court in Queen Victoria Street where it was put on open air, public display in the early 1960s:

Temple of Mithras

It is interesting to speculate just how original many of these early buildings remain.

Grimes, in his book states that the individual stones of the temple were not numbered, rather the walls were photographed and the rebuild of the temple was based on these photos.

The reconstruction in the London Mithraeum also used new mortar between the stones, but using a formula which would have been used at the time..

The Temple of Mithras remained in the open until the Bloomberg building was constructed on a large site, which included the location of the post-war Bucklersbury House.

The Temple of Mithras is not in exactly the same position as when discovered as it is a small distance to the west, but it is close enough, and at the level below ground to its original location.

There is also an exhibition of many of the finds from the site, including a steelyard balance and weights, used for measuring the weight of goods which would have been suspended from the hook on the right:

Temple of Mithras

And rings:

Temple of Mithras

The Temple of Mithras is well worth a visit. As well as the physical remains of the temple and finds from the site, the presentation as part of the London Mithraeum provides a good impression of how the temple may have been used, when it was sitting on the banks of the Walbrook, some 1800 years ago.

Details can be found at the site of the London Mithraeum, here.

There is a British Pathe film of the discovery here.

There is an absolutely fascinating lecture by Sadie Watson on the Return of the Temple of Mithras in London, part of the Gresham College series of lectures. It can be found here.

The Vine Street Roman Wall

The City Wall at Vine Street is the name of a new exhibition of part of the Roman London wall in the basement area of a new building complex that seems to consist of student accommodation and offices.

Although the name of the exhibition includes Vine Street, the entrance is at 12 Jewry Street. The overall building complex sits between Jewry Street and Vine Street.

After entering at ground level, a walk down to the lower level reveals the section of London wall:

Vine Street Roman Wall

The face of the wall in the above photo is the side that was on the inside of the City of London.

The presentation of the wall is really very good, because it shows not just the Roman wall, but also tells the story of how it has survived for so long.

Today, in preparation for a new building, the existing building on the site is usually fully demolished, down to a big hole in the ground. The new building is then constructed without any use of parts of the structure of the previous building.

This is starting to change, for example the old BT building on Newgate Street is being completely remodeled, and the building’s structural frame will be mainly retained in a building that will look completely different from the outside.

In the past, where there were existing walls, it was often very cost effective to incorporate these into a new building. I have written about a couple of examples in previous posts such as St. Alphage on London Wall, the Bastions and Wall between London Wall and St. Giles, Cripplegate, and the Roman Wall on Tower Hill, and it was only by being included in much later buildings that these earlier structures have survived.

The Roman Wall did continue in use during the medieval period, when medieval brick and stone work extended the height of the wall as the ground level in many parts of London was gradually rising, but it was becoming redundant.

The City was expanding outside the wall, so although parts were demolished and stones often reused as building material, other parts of the wall were built against, and included in new structures, and the section on display became part of a number of buildings on the site.

In the construction of a new building on the site in 1905, the wall was exposed, and thankfully it was preserved in the basement.

In the above photo, the black piers supporting the wall are from the 1905 construction, and underneath are jacks installed as part of the build of the current building on the site.

And to the left of the Roman wall in the above photo, and more clearly in the photo below, can be seen the walls of the last building on the site, and how they butted up to the Roman wall:

Vine Street Roman Wall

Walking to the other side of the wall and we are now presented with the wall that would have faced outside of the City:

Vine Street Roman Wall

And we can also see the remains of a bastion, a small building on the side of the wall, usually with a semi-circular end, that was used for defensive purposes:

Vine Street Roman Wall

As with the London Mithraeum, there is a large display of the many finds from the site and surrounding area:

Vine Street Roman Wall

The finds represent the whole period that the wall has stood on the site. As the level of the ground increased in height, centuries of London’s rubbish, broken pottery and china, accidently lost personal items, animal bones and the waste from industrial activities have all accumulated:

Vine Street Roman Wall

One of the finds is a bit of a mystery. It was found further to the south in 1957, during construction work in Crosswall. It appears to be a stele (an upright stone slab bearing a relief and / or an inscription, and often used as a gravestone):

Vine Street Roman Wall

It is believed to have come from the eastern Mediterranean and dating from around 200 BC, with the inscription perhaps being added a couple of centuries later.

It is unclear how the stone came to be in the City of London, and one of the theories put forward was that the stone was brought to London many centuries later during a Grand Tour, when those rich enough and still relatively young, would embark on a tour through the major cultural and historical centers of Europe and bring back artifacts from their travels.

The Vine Street Roman wall is also very well worth a visit. A different form of presentation to the Temple of Mithras, but it shows how the wall survived by becoming part of much later buildings.

Details can be found at the website of the Vine Street Roman Wall, here.

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College Hill – The Street With Four Plaques

A walk along College Hill in today’s post, but first, if you would like to come on one of my walks, a couple of places have just become free on two of my final walks until late next spring next year. Details and links are:

2 places available on the walk Bankside to Pickle Herring Street – History between the Bridges on Sunday the 5th of November

1 place available on the walk Limehouse – A Sink of Iniquity and Degradation on Sunday the 12th of November

College Hill is a short street that runs from Cloak Lane to College Street, to the west of Cannon Street Station in the City of London.

It is only 238 feet in length, but within that distance there is a considerable amount of history and four City of London plaques commemorating people and places within the street. I cannot yet confirm, but I suspect this is the highest number of plaques in such a short street.

This post will explore the street based on the stories that the plaques tell, and also hopefully show some of the difficulties in being able to be certain of the truth, and that whilst the sources on the Internet require a degree of scepticism, this also applies to many written books on the history of London.

I will also find a plaque that appears to commemorate someone’s burial before he was actually dead.

So, turning into College Hill from Cloak Lane in the north, the first plaque is to:

Turners’ Hall

The first plaque along is on the left of a very ornate doorway on the east side of College Hill:

Turners Hall

Recording that “On or near this site stood the second Turners’ Hall. 1736 to 1766”:

Turners Hall

Turners’ Hall was the home for only 30 years of the Worshipful Company of Turners.

Members of the Tuners’ were those who specialised in wood turning on a lathe, and whilst this would have included the manufacture of furniture, a key product of the Turners’ appears to have been wooden measuring vessels, a device that would hold a set quantity of liquids such as wine or ale, and therefore able to show that an expected quantity (such as a pint or a quart) was being provided.

The trade of a Turner seems to date back many hundreds of years. According to “The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London” by John Bromley (1960):

“In 1310 six turners were sworn before the mayor not to make any other measures than gallons, pottles and quarts, and were enjoined to seize any false measures found in the hands of others whether free of the City or not.”

The problem with false measures was still a problem a couple of hundred years later, when in 1547 Turners were again summoned before the mayor and ordered to make only measures which conformed to the standard.

The mayor is still indirectly responsible for measures in the City of London, although rather than being hauled up before the Mayor, today it is the City of London Corporation Trading Standards team that manage this, and the sale of ale is still on their agenda as they have a web page dedicated to the Pub trade within the City of London and “Was your pint a short measure?”.

In 1604, King James the 1st granted the Turners’ their first Royal Charter.

The first Turners’ Hall was in Philpot Lane, off Eastcheap, where the company leased a mansion in 1591.

The Turners’ occupied this hall until 1736 when they had o leave their Philpot Lane location due to the landlord and the legal representative of the landlord’s estate both going bankrupt, apparently as a result of the South Sea Bubble.

The hall in College Hill was basically a merchants house. It was small, so did not have room for large, formal dinners, and at the same time the trade of the Turners’ was in decline, so in 1756 the building was let, and the Turners’ finally sold the building in 1766.

Today, the Turners’ do not have their own hall and now use halls of other City companies for their formal functions.

The Arms of the Turners’ are shown below:

Turners

The hatchet at the bottom and the columns on either side represent tools of the Turners’ craft, however the wheel in the centre has a much more gruesome origin.

It is a torture or execution wheel, also known as an execution wheel. It was used to break the bones and execute those convicted of crimes such as murder, and was also the device intended for the execution of St. Catherine of Alexandria in the early 4th century, by the Roman emperor Maxentius for converting people to Christianity.

Allegedly, when Catherine touched the wheel intended for her execution, it broke into many pieces, although rather than being set free, she was then beheaded.

“The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London” provides the following regarding the link between the Turners’ and St. Catherine:

“Because of her eloquence and learning St. Catherine is generally regarded as the patroness of students and philosophers, but she has also, as a result of her emblem, been adopted as the tutelary saint of wheelwrights and mechanics. Whether the emblem was used by the Turners’ on account of its traditional use by other similar crafts, or whether the Company was originally founded as a fraternity with vows to St. Catherine has not been determined.”

Catherine appears at the top of the Turners’ arms.

St. Catherine also gave her name to the firework known as a Catherine Wheel, so if you see one of these spinning round on November the 5th, recall that the origins of the name go back to an instrument of torture and execution and a 3rd century saint.

The plaque is on the far left of the following rather intriguing building:

College Hill

Two massive entrances lead to courtyards behind. The doorways have impressive sculpture above.

This is number 22 College Hill and the building is Grade II* listed. The Historic England listing details are:

“Circa 1680 probably by Nicholas Barbon. Double gatehouse with inexplicably grand stone front now painted. 2 principal storeys. 2 round arched entrances with double gates and wooden tympanum. Bolection moulded surrounds and segmental pediments on carved brackets with richly carved ornament above each arch. Circular windows above with carved surrounds. Small shop inserted in centre with square and round arched windows over. Plain parapet. Rear of red brick (partly rendered) with wooden eaves cornice to tiled roof. Dormers. Central part set forward but whole much altered.”

I like the comment “inexplicably grand stone front” in the listing. The shop mentioned in the listing in the centre is now a restaurant, the India, and photos on their website show the restaurant is within a long, brick arched room, rather like the arch under a railway viaduct, which looks very unexpected when compared to the front of the building.

The entrances on either side of the building lead through to a courtyard and offices at the rear:

College Hill

The following print dating from 1837 shows one of the entrances to the building, along with the building next along the street, which has a sign above the first floor windows stating that it is the Mercers School © The Trustees of the British Museum):

College Hill

The Mercers School dates from 1542, and was in College Hill from around 1805 until the school moved to High Holborn in 1894.

There is another print which shows the building, but adds some confusion, The following print is dated to between 1829 and 1831 and is titled “Whittington’s College, College Hill”  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

College Hill

The text on the British Museum collection website for the photo reads “View of Mercers’ School, founded by Whittington, c.1419, rebuilt c.1668; a cart laden with barrels stands outside the grand arched entrances to the college, a tower rises in the background.”

The text states that it is a view of the Mercers’ School, however the previous print shows the school in what is the empty plot of the above photo, so I wonder if the school originally moved into the building with the ornate entrances before a purpose built building was completed next door.

The text also states that Mercers’ School was founded by (Richard) Whittington c1419, however according to the Mercers’ School History, the school was started in 1542, over one hundred years after Whittington’s death.

There was though a Whittington College in College Hill, however it was dissolved in 1547 during Henry VIII’s dissolution of religious establishments. It was revived after his death by Mary, but finally wound up during the reign of Elizabeth I, so long before the building was constructed in 1680.

So the British Museum text appears to have errors, and whoever published the print of the building appears to have wrongly assumed that it was Whittington College, when by the time of the print the Mercers’ School was in College Hill.

The House of Richard Whittington

At numbers 19 to 20 College Hill is another Grade II listed building, dating from the mid 19th century:

Richard Whittington

On the left of the building is a plaque which states that “The House of Richard Whittington Mayor of London Stood on this Site in 1423”:

Richard Whittington

There has been much written about Richard Whittington, and many of these stories are myths. There was no cat (this was added centuries later), he was not poor, and whether he turned again as he was leaving the City to the north is probably unlikely.

Where he did have a challenge is that he was the younger son of Sir William Whittington, from Pauntley in Gloucestershire, and being a younger son, he would not have inherited his father’s wealth and lands.

On his arrival in London, he was apprenticed to a mercer, and gradually grew a reputation as a successful trader and also sold to the King. Between 1392 and 1394 Richard II purchased around £3,475 worth of goods from Whittington. He exported wool and also lent money to the King, all activities which built his wealth and reputation within the royal court.

His future reputation would be sealed when he became Mayor of London. It was his money lending, friendship and loyalty to the King, Richard II which enabled this, as in 1397 the City of London was being badly governed.

The King confiscated much of the City’s land, and selected Richard Whittington to be Mayor of the City, a choice which was confirmed by a vote of those eligible to vote within the City of London.

He appears to have been liked by the people of London, he carried out a number of improvements to the City, which apparently included rebuilding parts of the Guildhall, and according to the Museum of London, he built a communal ‘longhouse’, a communal privy which would have overhung the Walbrook river. He also ensured that the City was able to buy back the land that the King had confiscated.

Although he did own property, he did not own large estates, including a large estate outside of London, as would have been normal at the time for a person of his position and wealth.

He was Mayor of the City of London in 1397, 1406 and 1419, and he was also an MP, as well as being a member of the Mercers Company.

He wife Alice died in 1410, and Whittington died in 1423, and as they had no surviving children, much of Whittington’s wealth was left for charitable purposes.

The date on the plaque is 1423 for Richard Whittington’s house being on the site. This is the year that he died, and it highlights one of the problems with these plaques, in that they do not explain the relevance of the date.

Whilst it was the year he died, was he living in the house at the time, how long had he owned or lived in the house, why is 1423 important as regards the house?

But there is a much stranger date on the next plaque.

Richard Whittington Founded and was Buried in this Church 1422

The plaque can just be seen on the corner of the church, highlighted by the red arrow:

College Hill

So, there is an immediate problem with this plaque, according to nearly all the sources I have read, Richard Whittington died in 1423, not 1422, so at the time of the date on this plaque, claiming burial in the church, he seems to have been very much alive.

Richard Whittington

I may be wrong that the date on the plaque refers to his year of death, it may be something to do with the church. According to records in the London Metropolitan Archives, Whittington paid for the rebuild of the church in 1409, so did it take thirteen years to complete, and was being reconsecrated / reopened in 1422?

This is one of the problems with some of the plaques in the City of London, they do not provide any context to some of the dates listed.

The sources stating his death was in March 1423 include:

Along with many others books and websites. An example of a book which could perhaps be expected to have the correct date is Old and New London by Walter Thornbury, where in a comprehensive listing of Lord Mayor’s of the City, Whittington is stated as having died in 1627, four years after what appears to have been his correct year of death.

An early 17th century “true” portrait of Richard Whittington  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Richard Whittington

Two hundred years after his death, the story of the cat seems to have been established as he is shown stroking a small cat in the above print, which also lists his good works:

“Thrice Mayor of London, a virtuous and godly man full of good works and those famous he builded the Gate of London called Newgate which before was a miserable dungeon. He builded Whittington College and made it an almshouse for poor people. Also he builded a great part of the hospital of St. Bartholomews in West Smithfield in London. He also builded the great Library at Grey Friers in London called Christes Hospital. Also he builded the Guilde Halle Chapel and increased a great part of the east side of the said hall, beside many other good works.”

The plaque is on the corner of the church of St. Michael Paternoster Royal, and there are a number of stories regarding the founding and age of the church.

The plaque claims that the church was founded by Richard Whittington, but that is not quiet true.

The first reference to a church on the site dates from 1219. The name of the church comes from the sellers of paternosters or rosaries who were based in College Hill, which was then called Paternoster Lane. The Royal element of the name comes from a now lost nearby street called Le Ryole, which was a corruption of the name of a town in Bordeaux called La Reole. The street was apparently home to wine sellers, which presumably explains the Bordeaux connection.

Richard Whittington’s involvement with the church dates from 1409 when he paid for the rebuilding of the church, and the extension of the church by the purchase of a plot of land in the street Le Ryole.

Although he was not responsible for the founding of the original church, Whittington did found a College within the extended church for the training of priests, the College of St Spirit and St Mary. The association of the church with the college enabled St Michael’s to become a collegiate church, so perhaps this is what the plaque is referring to.

The college is also the reason why the street is called College Hill.

The church was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire, and rebuilt by Wren, with Nicholas Hawksmoor adding the steeple between 1713 and 1717.

The church was badly damaged during the last war, and there was a proposal to demolish all of the church except for the tower, however this was opposed by the Corporation of the City of London, and the church was finally rebuilt and restored in the late 1960s, the last City church to be rebuilt after the damage of the early 1940s.

The tower and steeple of St. Michael Paternoster Royal:

St. Michael Paternoster Royal

St. Michael Paternoster Royal as it appeared in 1812  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

St. Michael Paternoster Royal

And by 1859, houses and a pub appear to have been built on the open space to the south of the church, down to Upper Thames Street, with a pub, the White Swan on the corner  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

College Hill

The main door to the church:

St. Michael Paternoster Royal

Every time I have walked past the church, it has been closed. I hope at some point I will be able to get in and write a more comprehensive post on the church.

Although there is nothing left of Richard Whittington’s tomb, there is apparently a marked stone on the floor near the altar recording the location of his burial place.

The view looking up College Hill is shown in the following photo. The hill is an indication that the street is sloping down towards the Thames.

College Hill

The following history of the street name is from one of the books on London that does seem accurate and well researched, Harben’s “A Dictionary of London” (1918):

“The earliest name Paternosterchurch Street (1232) commemorated the church, then in all probability its distinguishing feature.

The subsequent name ‘La Reole’ recalls the memory of the foreign merchants assembled there for purposes of their trade of whom a great number are said to have imported wine from the town of ‘La Reole’ near Bordeaux and to have named the street in which they resided after their native town. The name appears to have been given in the first instance to one principal messuage or tenement, and only later applied to the whole street.

The present name commemorates the great foundation of Whittington College in the church of St. Michael Paternoster Royal.”

There is one more plaque to find in College Hill, and this is on the left / west side of the street, so I walked back up the street to find the site of:

The Duke of Buckingham’s House

As you walk back up College Hill, on the left, on a large brick building, next to an entrance to a courtyard, is another plaque, arrowed in the following photo:

College Hill

The plaque states that this is the site of the Duke of Buckingham’s House, 1672:

Duke of Buckingham's House

The information on this plaque does not really explain which Duke of Buckingham, and the relevance of the date. Was 1672 when the house was built, when it was demolished, or when the Duke of Buckingham lived in the house, and if it was only for a single year, why does it need a plaque?

Firstly, who was the Duke of Buckingham?

The Duke of Buckingham in the 17th century refers to two generations of the Villiers family.

George Villiers purchased a number of large estates in the early 17th century, He was a favourite of King James I, and one history of the county of Rutland (where Villiers primary country estate was located) states that “It was his elegant legs that first brought George Villiers to the adoring attention of James I”.

George Villiers was made the first Duke of Buckingham in 1623.

James I died in 1625 and Charles I then took the throne and George Villiers continued to have royal favour, although it appears he was not a popular man, and was often used as a scapegoat for poor decisions.

Villiers end came about due to failed naval battles. He had the position of Lord Admiral, and led a naval force to attempt the relief of La Rochelle. The attempt was a failure and there were around 5,000 casualties in the forces led by Villiers.

A second expedition also failed, and following these two naval disasters sailors and soldiers were left unpaid, fed up with Villiers command and willing to mutiny. In the naval town of Porrsmouth, sailors rioted even though Villiers promised to provide their pay from his own funds.

Such was the feeling among the sailors of the navy, that one of their number, John Felton assassinated Villiers on the 23rd of August 1628, and that was the end of the first Duke of Buckingham.

Seven months prior to his death, his first son George was born, and it was to this infant that the title of the second Duke of Buckingham passed.

George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham grew to follow in his father’s footsteps and continue to support the king, Charles I. He fought on the Royalist side during the Civil War and escaped to Europe with the future Charles II he was later captured and prisoned in Jersey, Windsor and the Tower of London.

After Cromwell’s death in 1658, Buckingham was released from the Tower in 1659, and with Charles II restored to the throne, Buckingham had his estates restored and became a rich man, and was also at the centre of the royal court.

Buckingham did though have very expensive and extravagent tastes, and also racked up large gambling debts.

George Villiers, the Second Duke of Buckingham died in 1687, and his estates were sold to pay off his debts.

He had no legitimate heir, so the 17th century father and son, both George Villiers and the first and second Dukes of Buckingham ended in 1687, so the plaque refers to one or both of these two men.

I have read in some well respected blogs that the house belonged to George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, with no mention of the second Duke. The first Duke died almost 50 years before the date on the plaque.

The book “A Handbook for London, Past and Present” by Peter Cunningham (1849) states that Buckingham House was “A spacious mansion on the east side of College Hill, for some time the city residence of the second, and last Duke of Buckingham“.

There is an error in this statement, as if the plaque is in the right position, Buckingham House was on the west side of College Hill, not the east.

The City of London Queen Street Conservation Area document states that “The Dukes of Buckingham owned a substantial property accessed from the west side of College Hill until its redevelopment in 1672”.

Strype, writing in 1720, stated “Buckingham house, so called as being bought by the late Duke of Buckingham and where he some time resided upon a particular humour: It is a very large and graceful Building, late the Seat of Sir John Lethulier an eminent Merchant; some time Sheriff and Alderman of London, deceased“.

Buckingham House was shown on Ogilby and Morgan’s 1676 map of London. The yellow arrow in the following extract points to the house which was a substantial building for the area, between College Hill and New Queen Street:

College Hill

The building appears to have been accessed through an alleyway from College Hill which the red arrow points to, and as far as I can tell by aligning maps, an alley still exists in the same place today (the Buckingham House plaque is on the left of the entrance to the alley):

Duke of Buckingham's House

At the end of the alley is the small space of Newcastle Court, surrounded by offices, but occupying a small part of the space that was once in front of Buckingham House.

So after reading many different sources, there is still no final answer as to which Duke of Buckingham owned Buckingham House, or whether it was both of them. And no firm answer as to the relevance of the date 1672.

In writing these posts, I try and avoid stating what may appear to be simple statements of truth, when in reality there are many different versions, and I suspect it would only be after some considerable effort in various archives, that the correct story could be revealed, if documents covering the period, the two Dukes of Buckingham, and the house on College Hill still remain.

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