Category Archives: London Parks and Gardens

King Edward VII Memorial Park, Shadwell Fish Market, Explorers And Pubs

When I started this post, it was going to be a brief mid-week post about a bowling green in the King Edward VII Memorial Park, Shadwell, East London, sandwiched between the River Thames and the very busy road that is now called The Highway. Instead, it has turned into a much longer post as I discovered more about the area, and what was here before.

One of my favourite walks is from the Isle of Dogs to central London. There are so many different routes, all through interesting and historic places. A couple of routes are along the Thames path, or along the Highway. Both routes take you past the King Edward VII Memorial Park and it was here that I found a scene, more expected within a leafy suburb than in Shadwell.

Last November I walked through the park and found the rather impressive bowling green. I am not sure if it is still in use, the grass, although still very flat and green, does not look perfect.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The pavilion at the far end:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It appears to be used as a store room:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The site was used by the Shadwell Bowls Club. The last reference I can find to the club is in the Tower Hamlets King Edward Memorial Park Management Plan January 2008, when the club was listed as active. In the 2016 Masterplan for the park, the site of the bowling green is shown as tennis courts, so the green may not be here for much longer.

Looking back over the green, with the well-kept hedge running around the edge and the wooden boarding around the side of the green, it is not hard to imagine a game of bowls in this most unlikely of places:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The following map shows the location of the King Edward VII Memorial Park. Just to the north east of the Shadwell Basin and between the Highway and the River Thames. The map shows a road crossing the park, however this is the Rotherhithe Tunnel, so instead of running across the surface of the park, it is some 50 feet below.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

After the death of King Edward VII in May 1910, a memorial committee was formed to identify suitable memorials to the king. One of the proposals put forward was the creation of a public park in east London, on land partly owned by the City Corporation.

Terms were agreed for the transfer of the land to the council, funding was put in place and on the 23rd December 1911, the East London Observer recorded that the plan for the King Edward VII Memorial Park was approved by the City Corporation, the London County Council and the Memorial Committee, and that “unless anything unforeseen occurs, it will become an accomplished fact in a very short time”.

Unfortunately, there was an unforeseen event, the First War which delayed completion of the park until 1922 when it was finally opened by King George V on the 26th June.

The park is a good example of Edwardian design. A terrace runs the full length of the park along the Highway. In the centre of the terrace is a monument to King Edward VII, with steps leading down to the large open area which runs down to the river walkway.

There were clear benefits of the park to the residents of east London at the time of planning. It would provide the only large area of public riverside access between Tower Bridge and the Isle of Dogs and it was the only public park in Stepney.

Over the years, the park has included glasshouses, a bandstand and children’s playground.

The following photo shows the pathway through the centre of the park from the river up to the monument on the terrace. There was a bronze medallion depicting King Edward VII on the centre of the monument, however this was apparently stolen some years ago.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

On the wall at the rear of the monument, between the terrace and the Highway is the following plaque:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It reads:

“The King Edward, Memorial London Committee, of which Colonel the Right Honourable Sir Vezey Strong KCVO, Lord Mayor 1910 – 1911 was chairman acquired the freehold of this site for the purpose of a public park out of funds voluntarily subscribed. The Corporation of the City of London who were the owners generously cooperated with the subscribers in thus perpetuating the memory of King Edward VII”

The view along the terrace to the east:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The view along the terrace to the west. The church steeple is that of St. Paul’s Shadwell.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The view down from behind the monument towards the river. When the park was opened, the view of the river was open. It must have been a fantastic place to watch the shipping on the river.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

At the river end of the central walkway is one of the four shafts down to the Rotherhithe tunnel. Originally this provided pedestrian access to the tunnel as well as ventilation, so it was possible to walk along the river, down the shaft and under the Thames and emerge on the opposite side of the river.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

There is some lovely London County Council design detail in the building surrounding the shaft. The open windows have metal grills and within the centre of each grill are the letters LCC.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

It was possible to walk along the river without entering the park, however this is one of the construction sites for the Thames Tideway project to build a new sewer and provide the capacity to take the overflow which currently runs into the Thames. The site at the King Edward VII Memorial Park will be used to intercept the existing local combined sewer overflow, and when complete will provide an extension to the park out into the river, which will cover the construction site.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

There are many accounts of the popularity of the park after it opened. Newspaper reports call the park a “green lung” in east London and during the summer the park was full with children of all ages.

During the hot August of 1933, access to the river from the park was very popular:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The following photo dated 1946 from Britain from Above shows the park at lower left. Note the round access shaft to the Rotherhithe tunnel. In the photo the shaft has no roof. The original glass roof was removed in the 1930s to improve ventilation. The current roof was installed in 2007.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The King Edward VII Memorial Park is interesting enough, however I wanted to find out more about the site before the park was built.

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map provides a detailed view of the site, and I have marked the boundaries of the park by the red lines to show exactly the area covered.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

There were some fascinating features. In the lower right section of the park, was the Shadwell Fish Market – I will come onto this location later in the post along with the adjacent refrigeration works.

Above the fish market is Garth Street. The public house (PH) shown in Garth Street was the King of Prussia. I cannot find too much about the pub apart from the usual newspaper reports of auctions and inquests being held at the pub, however there were a number of reports of a disastrous fire which destroyed the pub on the 14th November 1890. Two small children, Agnes Pass aged seven and Elizabeth Pass aged two died in the fire which started in the bar and spread rapidly through the pub. The location of the pub today is just in front of the eastern terrace, about half way along.

Interesting that in the map, there are urinals shown directly in front of the pub – a very convenient location.

To the left of centre of the park can be found a large building identified as an Oil Works. The left hand part of this building is covering part of the bowling green.

One of the streets in the lower right is called Labour In Vain Street, an interesting street name which could also be found in a couple of other London locations.

In 1895 the Rotherhithe Tunnel had not yet been built (it was constructed between the years 1904 and 1908), so the access shaft does not feature in the map. It would be built over the riverside half of the Kent and Essex Wharf building.

The main feature in the map is the Shadwell Fish Market. This was a short-lived alternative to Billingsgate Fish Market.

In the 19th century there were a number of proposals to relocate Billingsgate Fish Market. It had a relatively short frontage to the river and was located in a very crowded part of London with limited space to expand.

Shadwell was put forward as an alternative location. In September 1868, the Tower Hamlets and East End Local Advertiser reported on the petition put forward by the Board of Works for the Limehouse District to campaign for the Shadwell Fish Market. The petition put forward a number of reasons why Shadwell was the right place to relocate Billingsgate:

  1. That it is the nearest site to the city of London, abutting upon the river for the purposes of a fish market;
  2. That an area of land upwards of seven acres in extent could be obtained upon very reasonable terms;
  3. That by means of a short branch of railway to be constructed, communications can be made with every railway from London north and south of the Thames.
  4. That by means of the Commercial-road and Back-road (recently renamed Cable-street) and other thoroughfares, convenient approaches exist to the proposed site of the market from all parts of London;
  5. That in consequence of the bend in the river at Shadwell, which forms a bay, ample accommodation exists for the mooring of vessels engaged in the fishing trade, without interfering with the navigation of the river;
  6. That easy communication can be made with the south side of the Thames by means of a steam ferry, which would also be available for ordinary traffic, and which to a large extent would prevent the overcrowding of the traffic in the City, especially over London-bridge;
  7. That there is no other site on the River Thames which presents so many advantages as that proposed at Shadwell;
  8. That the establishment of a fish market at Shadwell would be a great boon to the whole of the East-end of London;
  9. That should Billingsgate-market be removed, the fish salesmen are in favour of the market being established at Shadwell.

A very compelling case, however there were a number of vested interests in the continuation of the fish market at Billingsgate and no progress was made with approval for a fish market at Shadwell.

However the issue never went away, and in 1884 a company was formed to “give effect to the London Riverside Fish Market Act of 1882”.  The company had “on its Board of Directors, three of the best known and most popular men in the East of London – men who taken a considerable interest in the welfare of the people of the district, and have embarked in this enterprise, feeling assured not only of its value to the public, but with confidence that it will prove a commercial success.”

The Directors of the company were Mr. E.R. Cook, Mr. Spencer Charrington, Mr. T.H. Bryant, Mr. E. Hart and Mr. Robert Hewett.

Robert Hewett was a member of the Hewett family who owned the Short Blue Fishing Fleet and was keen to leave Billingsgate due to the lack of space. He would transfer his fleet of ships from Billingsgate to Shadwell.

Work progressed on the construction of the market and at a ceremony to mark the pile driving, the local MP, Mr Samuel Morley, “confidently communicated to the assembled company the burning desire of the Home Secretary to find remunerative labour for the unemployed in East London. Mr Morley is now in a position to inform that the fish market at Shadwell will afford employment to many working men”.

Shares in the fish market company were advertised in the East London Local Advertiser and “those of the East London public who have not yet practically interested themselves in a scheme which promises so well, the opportunity once more offers itself. Applications for shares should, however, be made without delay.”

The new market opened at the end of 1885 and whilst it appeared to start well, the challenges of attracting business from Billigsgate were already very apparent. The London Daily News reported on the 1st March 1886:

“The new fish market at Shadwell has been going now for about three months, and the fact that a hundred tons of fish can be readily disposed of here every morning indicates pretty satisfactorily that already buyers have begun to find out that the market has at least some advantages over Billingsgate. As regards the supply of this new market, so far as it goes it cannot very well be better. Messrs. Hewett and Co., who are at present practically the only smack owners having to do with it, have 150 vessels out in the North Sea, and a service of steamers plying to and fro between the fleet and the market.”

Interesting how fish were brought in from the north sea fishing boats by a fleet of steamers – a rather efficient method for bringing fish quickly ashore and keeping the fishing boats fishing.

The article indicates the problem that would result in the eventual failure of the Shadwell Fish Market, It was only the Hewett Company that relocated from Billingsgate. None of the other traders could be convinced to move, and there was an extension of the Billingsgate Market which addressed many of the issues with lack of space.

The market continued in business, but Billingsgate continued as the main fish market for London. The Shadwell market was sold to the City of London Corporation in 1904, and in less than a decade later the market closed in preparation for the construction of the King Edward VII Memorial Park.

In total the Shadwell Fish Market had lasted for less than twenty years.

The building adjacent to the fish market was the Linde British Refrigeration Works. A company formed to use the refrigeration technology developed by the German academic Carl von Linde. The Shadwell works were capable of producing 150 tons of ice a day.

Before taking a look at the area just before demolition ready for the new park, we can look back a bit earlier to Rocque’s map of 1746.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The road labelled Upper Shadwell is the Highway. Just below the two LLs of Shadwell can be seen Dean Street, this was the original Garth Street. Shadwell Dock Stairs can be seen under the W of Lower Shadwell and to the right is Coal Stairs which was lost with the development of the fish market.

To the right of Coal Stairs is Lower Stone Stairs. By 1895 these had changed name to Bell Wharf Stairs.

The map illustrates how in 1746 the area between the Highway and the river was already densely populated.

To see if there are any photos of the area, I check on the London Metropolitan Archives, Collage site and found a number of photos of the streets prior to, and during demolition. These are shown below and I have marked the location from where the photos were taken on the 1895 map.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Site 1: Looking up towards the High Street (the Highway) along Broad Bridge. The building on the left is the Oil Works and residential houses are on the right. Note the steps leading up to the High Street, confirming that the high difference between the Highway and the main body of the park has always been a feature of the area, and is visible today with the terrace and steps leading down to the main body of the park.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_381_A361.

Site 2: This photo was taken to the south of Leading Street and is looking across to the steps leading up to Glamis Road, a road that is still there today. The church of St. Paul’s Shadwell is in the background.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_392_82_1222

Site 3: This photo was taken from the High Street (Highway) hence the height difference. It is looking down towards the river with the shaft of the Rotherhithe Tunnel one of the few remaining buildings – and the only building still to be found in the area. The remains of the metal framework of the fish market sheds can be seen to the left of the access shaft.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_392_A713

Site 4: This photo was taken in the street Middle Shadwell (the buildings being already demolished) looking down towards a terrace of houses remaining on Pope’s Hill. the buildings in the background are Number 56 and 57 Warehouse of the Shadwell New Basin on the opposite side of Glamis Road.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_396_A495

Site 5: This photo is taken looking up Bell Wharf Stairs from the Thames foreshore. The sheds of the Shadwell Fish Market are on the left. The building on the right is the remains of the pub the Coal Meters Arms.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0638_A363

A possible source for the name Coal Meters Arms may be found in the following strange story from John Bull dated the 3rd April 1843:

“Jeremiah John Kelly, the man who entered the lobby of the House of Commons on Friday evening, in a half-mad, half-drunken state, and who was taken into custody by the police, with a carving-knife in his possession, is a person of wayward character and habits., who has given much trouble to the Thames Police Magistrates, and there can be little doubt that he intended to commit an assault on Lord J. Russell, and perpetuate an outrage on that Nobleman. Kelly has made no secret of his intention of attacking Lord John Russell for some time past, and fancies he has some claims on his Lordship for services performed during the last election for the city of London. A few years since Kelly was in business as a licensed victualler, and kept the Coal Meters Arms , in Lower Shadwell, where he also carried on the business of a coal merchant, and an agent for the delivery of colliers in the Pool.”

So perhaps an element of Kelly’s trade was used for the name of the pub.

Site 6: Is at the top of Pope’s Hill where it meets the Highway and is looking back at the remaining terrace houses on the southern side of Middle Shadwell.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_393_A364

There is one final story to be found in the King Edward VII Memorial Park. Next to the Rotherhithe Tunnel entrance shaft is the following plaque:

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The plaque was put in place in the year that the park was opened, and records among others, Sir Hugh Willoughby, a 16th century adventurer and explorer. He died in 1554 whilst trying to find a route around the north of Norway to trade with Russia.

The title page to The English Pilot published in 1671 includes a picture of Willoughby in the top panel of the page, standing to the right of centre.

King Edward VII Memorial Park

The lower half of the page shows the Pool of London, the original London Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Below this are two figures pouring water into the river, one representing the Thames and the other representing the Medway.

This title page fascinates me. It highlights the connections between London, the River Thames, shipping, navigation and the high seas – a connection that is not so relevant to London today, but was so key in the development of London over the centuries.

And on the subject of connections, this post demonstrates why I love exploring London, in that one small area can have the most fascinating connections with the past and how London has developed over the centuries, and it all started with finding a bowling green in Shadwell.

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St. James Gardens – A Casualty Of HS2

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

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

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

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

St. James Gardens

The Camden Council welcome sign:

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

View across the gardens:

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

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

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

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

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. James Gardens

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

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

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

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

St. James Gardens

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

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

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

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

Cardington Street on the left:

St. James Gardens

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

St. James Gardens

View across Cardington Street to the entrance:

St. James Gardens

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

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

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Russell Square And Librairie Internationale

For this week’s post, I am in Russell Square in Bloomsbury, just north of Holborn Station. At 73 Russell Square was the Librairie Internationale and my father took three photos of this location in 1953. I suspect this may have been to capture people walking past and entering the shop. The three photos are shown below:

Russell Square

Russell Square

Russell Square

The location is easy to find and is on the corner of Russell Square and Guildford Street. A new building is on the site and rather than the Librairie Internationale, the site is now occupied by a Pret. The buildings on the left in Guildford Street remain unchanged.

Russell Square

It has been a challenge to find out more about the Librairie Internationale and any information would be greatly appreciated.

From what references I can find, the Librairie Internationale appears to have been somewhat of a Communist / Anarchist bookshop perhaps associated with the anarchist bookshops of the same name in France in the 19th Century (again, this is very sketchy information, so any corrections or further information would be appreciated).

I have found references to the Librairie Internationale selling copies of Karl Marx publications in the 1920s and in the 1930s as one of the bookshops in London where you could purchase pamphlets such as those produced by the London Freedom Group, whose paper “Freedom – A Journal of Libertarian Thought, Work And Literature” included the address of the Librairie Internationale in Russell Square as one of the London bookshops and newsagents where Freedom could be purchased.

Freedom makes interesting reading. It was published by the London Freedom Group and had an editorial address at 163 Jubilee Street, Mile End.

Despite being something of an anarchist publication, Freedom has a very polite tone. The issue of January 1931 contains an obituary of a Mrs Dryhurst and reads:

“Mrs N.F. Dryhurst’s smiling, charming face was, since the late 80’s, noticeable at all meetings of the Anarchist cause, speaking, debating, handing out bills, or going round with the collection plate; nothing was too much or too little for her to do.

In ‘Freedom’ she occupied a most important position: often editing while Mrs. Wilson was away; writing up notes and comments on contemporary events; corresponding with comrades all over the country; getting them to send up reports of propaganda; putting ship-shape all their notices and reports.

With her command of foreign languages she was able to render great service to ‘Freedom’ in translating and reviewing works; while her inborn Irish humour added charm to all her writing.

I cannot but recall with feelings of deep gratitude how Mrs. Dryhurst, during those years, would in spite of her middle-class education and upbringing, cordially interest herself in and render help to every comrade of the most down-trodden class who was fortunate enough to come in contact with her.”

In the correspondence section there is a letter from the Polish Anarchist Committee which reads:

“The Committee of Polish Anarchists abroad wish to inform all those comrades who desire to get into contact with us that our new address for correspondence and money is Madam Andree Peche, 15 Rue du Faubourg, Saint-Denis, Paris.”

I have ready many books and documents in researching articles for my blog and I am often struck by words that have been written many decades ago which you could also find being written today.

Take the following paragraphs from an article in Freedom of January 1931, 86 years ago this month.

“It has been pointed out that just as the old individualist capitalist is passing away, becoming, in the face of International Capitalism, merely a kind of rudimentary organ in a newer and world-wide industrial system, so national governments become more and more helpless to remedy unemployment. They belong to a passing era.

Still, in spite of the impotence of governments, the present slump, like previous ones, will liquidate itself largely  at the expense of the workers, and be followed by a boom period, in which the lessons of the present will be largely forgotten unless we are able to increase our propaganda and keep them alive. As soon as the boom appears, financial operations in industry – now passing more and more into the hands of the big banks and international financiers – will be busy transforming industrial undertakings wherever they are ripe for it, into international concerns.”

Echoes today of the way that international concerns treat taxation and the inability of individual governments to exercise control.

Probably unfair to base a view of the Librairie Internationale on the contents of one publication that could be purchased at the shop in 1931 – however I have been able to find very little information about this book shop.

When my father took these photos in 1953, global politics were entering a very new era compared to the 1930s and I wonder if the Librairie Internationale was still selling the types of publication available pre-war. Looking at the detail in my father’s photos it looks very much like a normal bookshop / newsagent.

Around the door are copies of American magazines including Life and Colliers Magazine and in the shop there are large maps on display along with signs advertising Easter Cards, Book Tokens and a sign to “Scatter Sunshine With Greeting Cards”, along with pictures of Queen Elizabeth II.

librairie-internationale-22

In the entrance to the shop, it is just possible to make out lettering on the pavement.

librairie-internationale-21

The same sign (or perhaps a later reproduction) remains to this day at the entrance to Pret. The Turkish Baths that the sign is pointing to were a short distance away from the Librairie Internationale, in the original Imperial Hotel.

Russell Square

There is still an Imperial Hotel in Russell Square, although the existing building replaces the original which was demolished in 1966 and was the home of the Turkish Baths Arcade. View of the current Imperial Hotel from opposite Pret.

Russell Square

The full view of the Imperial Hotel.

Russell Square

The original Imperial Hotel was design by Charles Fitzroy Doll and built between 1905 and 1911. View of the Imperial Hotel in the 1960s before demolition:

librairie-internationale-23

Hermione Hobhouse in her book Lost London from 1971 writes the following about the Imperial Hotel:

“The Imperial Hotel was demolished in 1966, partly because of its lack of bathrooms, and partly because, in the words of the G.L.C., ‘the whole frame….was so structurally unsound that there was no possibility of saving it if a preservation order had been placed on the building.’ It may have been a victim, too, of the time-lag in official taste – it is interesting to see that in 1970-1 the owners of the Russell Hotel, a similar but less extravagant terracotta building designed by Doll in 1898, now on the statutory list of historic buildings, are spending £1 million on restoration, rather than just demolishing and rebuilding.”

The Russell Hotel (now called The Principal London) is still on Russell Square but when I visited the Square the majority of the building was covered in scaffolding and plastic sheeting so very little of the building was visible.

Having found the location of the Librairie Internationale I took a walk around Russell Square in the gradually fading light of a sunny December afternoon.

The Square, and Bloomsbury in general, needs a far more detailed description of this fascinating area, however here is an introduction.

Russell Square is the large square in the upper section of the map below, and Bloomsbury Square is in the lower right. Originally Bedford House looked onto Bloomsbury Square and the house and gardens covered the area now occupied by the land in between Russell and Bloomsbury Square and part of Russell Square.

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Bedford House was the London home of the Dukes of Bedford and in 1800, the 5th Duke, Sir Francis Russell ordered the demolition of Bedord House and arranged for the land of northern Bloomsbury to be developed with the architect James Burton responsible for much of the design. Russell Square was the centre piece of this development and the garden was designed by the landscape gardener Humphrey Repton.

Repton published Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening in 1803 which covered both his ideas on landscape gardening, but also how landscape and architecture should be seamlessly integrated. The book is fascinating and shows the level of detail that went into designing gardens in the 8th and 19th Centuries. The following illustration from the book shows how spectators at different points in a landscape would see a different view:

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John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Bedford House and gardens north of Bloomsbury Square. The exact location of Russell Square can be identified by comparing with the location of Bloomsbury Square and, on the right, Queen’s Square.

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The following print (©Trustees of the British Museum) was published in 1822 (from an original drawing purchased at the sale in Bedford House) and shows Bedford House. the text reads:

“This Mansion which for more than a Century was the Town residence of the noble Family of Russel Earls and Dukes of BEDFORD: was built under the direction of the celebrated  Architect Inigo Jones on the site of an ancient Mansion called Southampton House belonging in 1667 to Lady Rachel Vaughan, who married Wm. Lord Russell and by this Union conveyed the Estate, including the ground on which Montague House, now the British Museum was built to the Russell Family. In the year 1800 Bedford House was taken down, and upon the site of the Mansion House and Gardens a number of large Houses called Bedford Place and Montague Street were erected by Francis the late Duke of Bedford.”

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Walking up Bedford Place from Bloomsbury Square (which takes you through where the house and gardens once stood) you arrive at Russell Square with the statue of Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, standing at the edge of the gardens looking down to where his house once stood.

Russell Square

The following print (©Trustees of the British Museum) from 1830 shows the statue of the Duke of Bedford in Russell Square with a group of people gathered to watch a puppet show on the road in front of the statue.

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The gardens were restored in 2002 to Repton’s original design.

Russell Square

Russell Square House on the northern side of the square.Russell Square

This building is on the site of a terrace of houses in one of which lived Sir George Williams, founder for the YMCA which is now recorded by a blue plaque on the front of the building.

Russell Square

Terrace of buildings on the northwest corner of Russell Square. I like the symmetry of the terrace above the ground floor (with the exception of one window on the roof). Not sure why this symmetry did not extend to the ground floor.

Russell Square

On the far right of the above terrace there is the plaque shown in the photo below commemorating Sir Samuel Romilly as a one time resident. Romilly had a distinguished career in the legal profession and was also the MP for Queensborough, but was mainly known for his reforming work by abolishing many of the penalties which were still considered a capital offence.

Russell Square

On the north-western side of the square is a run of relatively modern buildings in a neo-Georgian style.  These are on the site of a terrace of Georgian buildings built soon after 1800 and designed by James Burton. The new buildings were built in this style after so much of Georgian Bloomsbury had been destroyed by the University of London.

Russell Square

The Senate House building of London University seen between a gap in the buildings along the western edge of Russell Square.

Russell Square

Original Georgian Terrace on the south-west corner of Russell Square:

Russell Square

Terrace on the south-west corner adjacent to the junction with Montague Street:

Russell Square

At the corner of Bedford Place with Russell Square is this relatively modern building.

Russell Square

Above the entrance to this building is a plaque which was on the original house on the site from the time of the development of Russell Square, recording that Lord Denman, the Lord Chief Justice of England lived in the original house on the site between 1816 and 1834. The plaque on the left records that the original house had stood on the site from 1800 to 1962.

Russell Square

By the time I had walked around the square, the sun was getting very low and casting the whole of the square into a late winters afternoon shadow, however the sun was now picking out details at roof level which included a number of superb chimney pots including the ones in the following photo.

Russell Square

I am pleased I have found the location of the Librairie Internationale, although I am still unsure of the history of the shop and I have been unable to find any reference to when it opened or closed.  Any information on the Librairie Internationale would be really appreciated.

It was fascinating researching Russell Square as it illustrates the problem I have with writing a weekly post. One photo opened up anarchist organisations in London, the development of Bloomsbury and landscape gardening, a rather interesting mix in just one of London’s many squares.

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Autumn In The City

Whilst the majority of my father’s photos came to me as negatives, a number were printed, and of these some had the location written on the back. As well as the location, a few are also specific about the time of year as the photo reflects how London appears as the seasons change.

For this week’s post, I bring you two photos on which my father had written the simple title “Autumn in Finsbury Circus”.

Both were taken early in the morning and show autumnal light shining through the trees, with the first autumn leaves on the path. There are two photos, one showing a woman pushing what looks like a pram, whilst the second shows a man starting to sweep the fallen leaves.

City in Autumn 2

I suspect that he had taken these photos either for exhibition or competition at the St. Brides Institute Photographic Society as they have a more composed quality rather than the straight forward recording of London’s buildings and streets.

City in Autumn 1

To try and find the location of these photos, a day off from work last Friday provided the opportunity for an autumn walk around London.

Finsbury Circus is much the same today, with one significant exception being that it is a major construction site for Crossrail with the centre of the gardens in the middle of the square being used for access to Crossrail and sections of the path that runs round the perimeter of the gardens also being closed.

If I correctly located the buildings in the background, they were behind part of the closed off path, however parts that remain open provided the opportunity to show that not too much has changed (if you ignore the major construction site to your left).

City in Autumn 3

The layout of Finsbury Circus was established in the early 19th Century, with the office buildings we see today being built over the following century, with some redevelopment continuing today.

As one of the few areas of green space, the gardens were very popular with city workers, with a bandstand and bowling green occupying part of the centre of the gardens. A small, temporary bandstand remains today. The gardens at the centre of Finsbury Circus will be restored after the Crossrail works are complete.

The main entrance to the Crossrail construction site which currently occupies much of the gardens in the centre of Finsbury Circus.

City in Autumn 4

Walking in central London, there are very few indicators of the season of the year. Apart from temperature and the times of the rising and setting of the sun, it could be any time of year. The natural indicators of whether it is spring, summer, autumn or winter are few and far between.

Taking inspiration from the title of my father’s photos, I thought it would be interesting to take a walk through the City and look for any other examples of where autumn can be found in amongst such a built environment.

The weather last Friday at least was very autumnal with strong winds and alternating between heavy showers of rain and clear blue sky (although in fairness that could be English weather at any time of year).

There are very few green spaces left in the City, the majority that remain are usually associated with a church, either still remaining or one that was lost in the last war, and it was to one of these that I headed to after Finsbury Circus.

This is the garden that occupies the site of St. Mary Aldermanbury. a church that was heavily damaged in the last war, not rebuilt and the remains shipped to America (see my first post here). Just south of London Wall at the corner of Aldermanbury and Love Lane.

A heavy rain shower as I stood in the garden, and a strong wind blowing the fallen leaves up against the far wall.

City in Autumn 5

The next stop was the garden that occupies the graveyard of the church of St. Anne and St. Agnes at the corner of Noble Street and Gresham Street.

This garden occupies a relatively small space, however some mature trees reach up to the sky in amongst the surrounding buildings, with the leaves starting to turn to their autumn colours.

City in Autumn 6

Walking to the end of Gresham Street, then turning up St. Martin’s Le Grand I came to Postman’s Park. At this time of year, the sun does not reach above the buildings to the south in order to shine on Postman’s Park, so the park spends much of this time of year in shade that appears to be made darker by the sunlight on the surrounding buildings. Many of the trees here had already lost the majority of their leaves.

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Walking out from Postman’s Park into King Edward Street and I was back in the sunshine of an autumn day.

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Heading south from Postman’s Park to one of the larger areas of green open space remaining in the City, the churchyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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Here plenty of mature trees can be found around the eastern half of the cathedral and their autumn colours looking spectacular against both the stone of St. Paul’s and the sky.

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From St. Paul’s, it was then a walk down Cannon Street, Eastcheap and Great Tower Street to Trinity Square Gardens. (I did miss out the garden at St. Dunstan in the East as the sky to the east was getting very dark and I wanted to get to Trinity Square before another heavy shower of rain).

This large (for the City) open space also benefits from a lack of tall buildings to the south so the rare combination of a City garden that also gets the sun at this time of year.

The pavements showing the signs of recent rain. Overhung by mature trees, the pavements will soon be covered by leaves.

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The old Port of London Authority building in the background with the new memorial to Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Merchant Seamen who lost their lives in the Falklands Campaign. The mature trees around the edge of the gardens just starting to change to their autumn colours.

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My final visit was to the churchyard of St. Olave in Seething Lane. A small churchyard just catching the last glimpse of an autumn sun, with leaves on the trees starting to fall.

City in Autumn 12

It was a fascinating walk through the city on a typical autumn day with extremes of weather from heavy rain showers to clear blue sky. Even with the amount of building there are still places were it is possible to observe the changing of the seasons and retain contact with the natural cycle through the year.

I fear though that with the ever increasing height of buildings in the City, these valuable survivors of the natural world will be spending more and more of their days in the shadow of their surroundings.

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Caledonian Park – History, Murals And A Fire

Caledonian Park in north London in the Borough of Islington is today a green space in a busy part of London, with few reminders of the areas rich history.

I have much to write about Caledonian Park so I will cover in two posts this weekend. Today some historical background to the area, some lost murals and finding the location of one of my father’s photos. Tomorrow, climbing the Victorian Clock Tower at the heart of the park to see some of the most stunning views of London.

Caledonian Park is a relatively recent name. Taking its name from the nearby Caledonian Road which in turn was named after the Caledonian Asylum which was established nearby in 1815 for the “children of Scottish parents”.

Prior to the considerable expansion of London in the 19th century, the whole area consisted of open fields and went by the name of Copenhagen Fields. There was also a Copenhagen House located within the area of the current park.

The origin of the Copenhagen name is probably down to the use of the house (or possibly the construction of the house) by the Danish Ambassador for use as a rural retreat from the City of London during the Great Plague of 1665.

Copenhagen House became an Inn during the early part of the 18th century and the fields were used for sport, recreation and occasionally as an assembly point for demonstrations, or as Edward Walford described in Old and New London, the fields were “the resort of Cockney lovers, Cockney sportsmen and Cockney agitators”

The following print shows Copenhagen House from the south east in 1783, still a very rural location.

1125319001 ©Trustees of the British Museum

During the last part of the 18th century, Copenhagen Fields was often used as a meeting point for many of the anti-government demonstrations of the time. Old and New London by Walter Thornbury has a description of these meetings:

“In the early days of the French Revolution, when the Tories trembled with fear and rage, the fields near Copenhagen House were the scene of those meetings of the London Corresponding Society, which so alarmed the Government. The most threatening of these was held on October 26, 1795, when Thelwall, and other sympathisers with France and liberty, addressed 40,000, and threw out hints that the mob should surround Westminster on the 29th, when the King would go to the House. The hint was attended to, and on that day the King was shot at, but escaped unhurt.”

The meetings and threats from groups such as the Corresponding Societies led to the Combination Acts of 1799 which legislated against the gathering of men for a common purpose. It was this repression that also contributed to the Cato Street Conspiracy covered in my post which can be found here.

The following is a satirical print from 1795 by James Gillray of a meeting on Copenhagen Fields “summoned by the London Corresponding Society” which was “attended by more than a hundred thousand persons”.

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©Trustees of the British Museum

Copenhagen Fields continued to be used for gatherings. In April 1834 there was a meeting in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who had been sentenced to transportation to Australia for forming a trade union. Walter Thornbury provides the following description: “an immense number of persons of the trades’ unions assembled in the Fields, to form part of a procession of 40,000 men to Whitehall to present an address to his Majesty, signed by 260,000 unionists on behalf of their colleagues who had been convicted at Dorchester for administering illegal oaths”.

The final large meeting to be held in Copenhagen Fields was in 1851 in support of an exiled Hungarian revolutionary leader. The role of this rural location was about to change very dramatically.

Smithfield in the city was originally London’s main cattle market however during the first half of the 19th century the volume of animals passing through the market and the associated activities such as the slaughter houses were getting unmanageable in such a densely populated part of central London.

The City of London Corporation settled on Copenhagen Fields as the appropriate location for London’s main cattle market and purchased Copenhagen House and the surrounding fields in 1852. The site was ideal as it was still mainly open space, close enough to London, and near to a number of the new railway routes into north London.

Copenhagen House was demolished and the construction of the new market, designed by the Corporation of London Architect, James Bunstone Bunning was swiftly underway, opening on the 13th June 1855.

A ground penetrating radar survey of the area commissioned by Islington Council in 2014 identified the location of Copenhagen House as (when viewed from the park to the south of the Clock Tower) just in front and to the left of the Clock Tower.

The sheer scale of the new market was impressive. In total covering seventy five acres and built at a cost of £500,000. There were 13,000 feet of railings to which the larger animals could be tied and 1,800 pens for up to 35,000 sheep.

Market days were Mondays and Thursdays for cattle, sheep and pigs, and Fridays for horses, donkeys and goats. The largest market of the year was held just before Christmas. In the last Christmas market at Smithfield in 1854, the number of animals at the market was 6,100. At the first Christmas market at the new location, numbers had grown to 7,000 and by 1863 had reached 10,300.

The following Aerofilms photo from 1931 shows the scale of the market. The clock tower at the centre of the market is also at the centre of the photo with the central market square along with peripheral buildings in the surrounding streets.

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The 1930 edition of Bartholomew’s Handy Reference Atlas of London shows the location and size of the market:

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As well as the cattle market, the construction included essential infrastructure to support those working and visiting the market. Four large public houses were built, one on each of the corners of the central square. The following Aerofilms photo from 1928, shows three of the pubs at corners of the main square. The two large buildings to the left of the photo are hotels, also constructed as part of the market facilities

The clock tower is located in the middle, at the base of the clock tower are the branch offices of several banks, railway companies, telegraph companies along with a number of shops.

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A 19th century drawing shows the clock tower and the long sheds that covered much of the market:

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By the time of the First World War, the cattle market had started to decline and was finally closed in 1939 at the start of the Second World War, with the site then being used by the army.

After the war, the slaughter houses around the market continued to be used up until 1964, when the London County Council and the Borough of Islington purchased the site ready for redevelopment. The Market Housing Estate was built on much of the site, although by the 1980s the physical condition of the estate had started to decline significantly, and the estate had a growing problem with drugs and prostitution. Housing blocks were built up close to the clock tower and there was limited green space with many concrete paved areas surrounding the housing blocks and the clock tower.

A second redevelopment of the area was planned and planning permission granted in 2005. The last of the Market Estate housing blocks was demolished in 2010 and it this latest development which occupies much of the area today.

In 1982 a number of murals illustrating the history of the market were painted on the ground floor exterior of the main Clock Tower building of the original Market Estate. In 1986 my father took some photos of the murals during a walk round Islington. As far as I know, these murals were lost during the later redevelopment of the area.

The introductory mural providing some history of the market:

Cattle Market Murals 1

A scene showing the opening of the market by Prince Albert in 1855. A lavishly decorated marquee hosted a thousand invited guests to mark the opening of the market.

Cattle Market Murals 2

The central clock tower painted on the Clock Tower building of the housing estate:

Cattle Market Murals 3

Other scenes from around the market:

Cattle Market Murals 4

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As well as the photos of the murals, almost 40 years earlier in 1948 my father had taken a photo of the aftermath of a fire. I was unsure where this was and I published the photo below a few weeks ago in my post on mystery locations.

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One of the messages I had in response to this post (my thanks to Tom Miler), was that the building at the back of the photo looked like one of the pubs at the Caledonian Market.

I took a walk around the periphery of the site trying to work out which of the streets and pubs could be the location of my father’s photo and found the following:

Pub Road 1

This, I am sure, is the location of my father’s photo. The street is Shearling Way running along the eastern edge of Caledonian Park. I probably should have been a bit further back to take the photo, however the rest of the road was closed and full of cars unloading students into the student accommodation that now occupies the southern end of Shearling Way – an indication of how much the area has changed.

The pub is hidden behind the tree, although it is in the same position and the chimneys are clearly the same and in the right position. The old yards and sheds that had burnt down on the right of the original photo have been replaced by housing.

I was really pleased to find the location of this photo, it is one I thought I would not be able to place in modern day London.

This Aerofilms photo from 1948 shows the pub from the above photo at the top left of the main market square with the road running up to the right. Above the road is the area that was the scene of the fire.

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This is another photo of the scene of the fire and the housing in the background can also be seen in the above Aerofilms photo, further confirming the location.

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Walking down the street I took the following photo of the pub, the front of the pub has the same features as on the 1948 photo.

Pub 1

The pub was The Lamb, unfortunately, as with the other pubs on the corners of the old cattle market, it is now closed.

To the left of the first half of the street, adjacent to the park, the original market railings are still in place:

Market Railings 1

A short time after the opening of the Cattle Market, a general or flea market had become established alongside. This market grew considerably and was generally known as the Cally Market, a place where almost anything could be found for sale. By the start of the 20th century, the size of the Cally Market had outgrown the original Cattle Market.

The journalist and author H.V. Morton visited the market for his newspaper articles on London and later consolidated in his book “London” (published in 1925) and wrote the following:

“When I walked into this remarkable once a week junk fair I was deeply touched to think that any living person could need many of the things displayed for sale. For all round me, lying on sacking, were the driftwood and wreckage of a thousand lives: door knobs, perambulators in extremis, bicycle wheels, bell wire, bed knobs, old clothes, awful pictures, broken mirrors, unromantic china goods, gaping false teeth, screws, nuts, bolts and vague pieces of rusty iron, whose mission in life, or whose part and portion of a whole, Time had obliterated.”

The Cally Market was also used during both the first and second world wars for major fund raising events. This poster from the first world war:

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 © IWM (Art.IWM PST 10955)

Along with the murals, my father took a photo of the Clock Tower in 1986. The original housing blocks that reached up to the clock tower can be seen on either side. The clock tower is surrounded by concrete paving.

Old Tower View 1

This is the same scene in 2015 from roughly the same point (although I should have been more to the left). The old housing blocks have been demolished and the clock tower is now surrounded by green space.

New Tower View 1

Looking at the above photo, the wooden steps that provide the route up inside the Clock Tower can be seen through the two windows.

Join me for tomorrow’s post as I climb the tower to the viewing gallery at the top for some of the best views across London.

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The Chelsea Physic Garden

Last weekend I was walking in Chelsea, hunting down some of the locations of my father’s photos when I walked past one of the places I have always meant to visit.

If you walk or drive along the Chelsea Embankment, in-between the rows of apartment buildings that face onto the embankment you will see a low brick wall with a slightly ornate entrance gate, with what appears to be gardens behind.

This is the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Chelsea Physic Garden

The main entrance to the Chelsea Physic Garden is on Swan Walk, which when facing the Gardens from the river forms the eastern boundary. A plaque in the brick wall adjacent to the entrance provides an indication of the function and the age of the Gardens:

Chelsea Physic Garden

The main entrance is a relatively small gate in Swan Walk:

Chelsea Physic Garden

Once through the gate and having paid the entrance fee, the Gardens open up. Hard to believe that this is Chelsea and that the traffic on the Chelsea Embankment and the River Thames is just beyond the trees at the far end of the following photo:

Chelsea Physic Garden

The Chelsea Physic Garden was established in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries when the land was leased from Charles Cheyne, the Lord of the Manor of Chelsea. It has continued to occupy the same location adjacent to the River Thames, whilst the rest of Chelsea has been developed around the gardens.

The Apothecaries needed an area where medicinal herbs could be grown and apprentices to the Society could be trained in their use. The Society had acquired a Medical Garden at Westminster prior to Chelsea and it was the contents of this garden that were moved to Chelsea.

The location chosen in Chelsea was ideal. It was south-facing, fertile and directly adjacent to the river (the Chelsea Embankment had not yet been built) as the river provided easy and safe access to central London rather than cross the dangerous fields and marshes that extended east at this time.

In London Old and New, Edward Walford writes:

“The Physic Garden to which we now come, was originated by Sir Hans Sloane, the celebrated physician, and was handed over in 1721 by him, by deed of gift, to the Apothecaries Company, who still own and maintain it. The garden, which bears the name of the Royal Botanic, was presented to the above company on condition that it should at all times be continued as a physic-garden, for the manifestation of the power and wisdom, and goodness of God, in creation; and that the apprentices might learn to distinguish good and useful plants from hurtful ones. Various additions have been made to the Physic Garden at different periods in the way of greenhouses and hot-houses; and in the centre of the principal walk was erected a statue of Sir Hans Sloane, by Michael Rysbraeck.”

Walford gives the impression that Sir Hans Sloane created the Chelsea Physic Garden, however it was already in existence and Sloane had been an apprentice at the Garden. After Sloane had made his fortune (more on this in a later post on Chelsea), he purchased the Manor of Chelsea from Cheyne and granted a perpetual rent of the Garden to the Apothecaries for a peppercorn rent of £5 a year.

Chelsea Physic Garden

The Chelsea Physic Garden has not always looked as good as it does now. From “London Exhibited in 1851”:

“At the time the garden was formed, it must have stood entirely lying in the country, and had every chance of the plants in it maintaining a healthy state. Now, however, it is completely in the town, and but for its being on the side of the river and lying open on that quarter, it would be altogether surrounded with common streets and houses. As it is, the appearance of the walls, grass, plants and houses is very much that of most London gardens – dingy, smokey, and as regards the plants, impoverished and starved. It is however, interesting for its age, for the few old specimens it contains, for the medical plants, and especially because the houses are being gradually renovated and collections of ornamental plants, as well as those which are useful in medicine, formed and cultivated on the best principles, under the Curatorship of Mr Thomas Moore, one of the editors of the Gardeners Magazine of Botany. In spite of the disadvantages of its situation, here are still grown very many of the drugs which figure in the London Pharmacopoeia.”

From inside the garden we can see the gates that face onto the Chelsea Embankment. These gates and the upgraded enclosure of the gardens was completed in 1877 when Mr Thomas Moore, mentioned in the above quote, was the Curator.  (As evidence of the scientific principles underlying the gardens, the Curator is effectively the Head Gardener, but with the responsibly to curate the collection of plants held by the garden.)

Chelsea Physic Garden

A the top of the gates is the badge of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in London:

Chelsea Physic Garden

The following engraving from London Old And New shows the gardens in 1790 with the original wall and gates directly onto the River Thames before the construction of the Thames Embankment.

Chelsea Physic Garden

The following map extract from the early 1830s shows the Botanic Gardens between Coal Wharf and the Swan Brewery facing directly onto the river, as did Cheyne Walk prior to the construction of the Chelsea Embankment.

Chelsea Physic Garden

The statue to Sir Hans Sloane has pride of place in the centre of the gardens. This in not the original 1733 Michael Rysbrack statue, the original was damaged by pollution and is now in the British Museum. The current statue is a replica of the original.

Chelsea Physic Garden

Visiting the garden now provides an excellent learning experience. The plants are very well labelled with several themed areas to focus on specific geographical sources of plants. There is also currently an art installation by Nici Ruggiero which uses jars in the style of those used by early Apothecaries to explain how different plants were and are used in medicine.

Jars are placed on stakes in the gardens:

Chelsea Physic Garden

As well as a rack of jars against one of the boundary walls:

Chelsea Physic Garden

If you did not know that Lungwort is for diseases of the lungs and for coughs, weezings and the shortness of breath, which it cures both in man and in beast, or that Golden Rod cures conditions of jaundice and provokes urine in abundance, then this is the place to learn.

The Chelsea Physic Garden was also one of the first in Europe to have a glass / hot house, and in 1685 the diarist John Evelyn described a visit to the garden where he met Mr Watts, keeper of the Garden and saw the heated glass house. He wrote in his diary: “what was very ingenious was the subterraneous heat, conveyed by a stove under the conservatory, all vaulted with brick, so as he has the doores and windowes open in the hardest frosts, secluding only the snow.”

The gardens to this day have a number of heated glass houses that support plants from tropical locations that would not otherwise thrive in a London climate:

Chelsea Physic Garden

And they work well in promoting abundant growth:

Chelsea Physic Garden

At the Chelsea Embankment edge of the gardens, it is still possible to find hidden on the side walls, stones fixed to mark the original division walls:

Chelsea Physic Garden

The gardens experienced mixed fortunes in the later half of the 19th century. The numbers of visiting medical students rose significantly in 1877 from a couple of hundred to 3,500 due mainly to the Society of Apothecaries finally allowing women to the study of medicine, but by the end of the 19th century the study of plants had been dropped from the medical syllabus and the Society of Apothecaries decided that there was no real need to continue with the garden.

The gardens also suffered from the construction of the Chelsea Embankment in 1876, cutting of what had been a riverside garden from the river.

The gardens were taken on by the City Parochial Foundation. From the history of the Foundation by Victor Belcher:

“The first additional long term obligation taken on by the Foundation was the maintenance of the Chelsea Physic Garden. By the 1890s the Company had decided that it could no longer afford the upkeep of the garden and recommended that the site should be sold and the proceeds used to endow scientific research and teaching. Widespread concern was voiced and a departmental committee was appointed by the Treasury to look into the situation. In 1898, W. H. Fisher (later Lord Downham), a trustee who also happened to be a Junior Lord of the Treasury in Lord Salisbury’s government, introduced a motion before the Central Governing Body urging the trustees to take over the garden from the Apothecaries Company. he stressed its importance as an open space and as a source of botanical study for students at the Battersea and South-Western polytechnics. The trustees were convinced and asked the Charity Commissioners to draw up a scheme. This was published in 1899 and required the Foundation to give an annual grant of £800 to the garden. the government provided a small supplementary grant, but from this time the Chelsea Physic Garden was essentially the Foundation’s responsibility, a state of affairs which was reflected in the composition of the garden’s managing committee, over half of whose members were to be appointed by the Foundation.”

(The City Parochial Foundation is one of the many bodies that have had an impact on the development of London. Formed in 1891 by bringing together a range of endowments so as to be under the control of a single corporate body, the Foundation was charged with helping the poor of London mainly through creating and supporting technical education in the form of the polytechnic movement)

It was good fortune that the Chelsea Physic Garden was saved otherwise it would now be just more Chelsea streets and buildings.

Chelsea Physic Garden

The City Parochial Foundation continued to support and provide grants to the gardens. By the early 1920s the original £800 per annum grant had grown to £2000.

The grant was reduced during the 2nd World War as the gardens were placed on a care and maintenance status, with several plants being moved to Kew due to damage by bombing. After the war the Foundation was responsible for repairs and redecoration to the gardens and buildings.

The end of the association between the City Parochial Foundation and the Chelsea Physic Garden started in the 1970s, again from the history of the Foundation:

“By the mid-1970s the trustees were becoming concerned about both the rising cost of repairs and the amount of grant now needed. There was also a nagging doubt, once the connections with the polytechnics had been severed, whether the Physic Garden could be said to serve the purposes of the Foundation any longer, if indeed it ever had done. The sub-committee which was appointed to prepare a policy for the quinquennium 1977-81 was asked to include the future of the Garden in its deliberations. It recommended that  funds should be made available for the modernisation of the Garden, but that the Charity Commissioners should be informed that the Foundation wished to withdraw further financial support. In the meantime the trustees would actively seek another sponsor.

Finally, in 1981 a new and independent body of trustees agreed to take over the Garden, and in return were promised grants totalling £200,000 to meet the estimated running costs over the next four years. A new scheme was published, and the formal transfer took place on 1 April 1983 when the Foundation’s scheme grant came to an end.” 

Along with the new status of the Chelsea Physic Garden, it was also formally opened to the public, and this continues to be the status of the gardens today with a small, independent charity responsible for the running of the gardens, and the associated educational work carried out to this day.

Chelsea Physic Garden

During their development, the gardens benefited from a constant stream of new discoveries from across the world. the 18th and 19th centuries were a time of botanical discoveries with expeditions being sent to all corners of the world to bring back specimens.

Among those who contributed to the garden was Joseph Banks, who had already made expeditions to Newfoundland and Labrador and was part of Captain Cook’s voyage to South America, the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand. It was through his role as President of the Royal Society that Banks supported expeditions around the world to bring back specimens for the Chelsea Physic Garden. Banks was elected as President in 1778 and held the post for 41 years

Curators were also major plant hunters. One such being Robert Fortune who was curator from 1846 to 1848. He was a prominent plant hunter who brought back many samples from Asia.

Chelsea Physic Garden

Insect houses up against the boundary wall with the Chelsea Embankment.

Chelsea Physic Garden

It has not really been possible to do justice to the history of the Chelsea Physic Garden in the space of a weekly blog post, however I hope this provides some background and an incentive to visit another example of the history of this fascinating city.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Face of London by Harold P. Clunn published in 1951
  • Old And New London by Edward Walford published in 1878
  • The City Parochial Foundation 1891 – 1991 by Victor Belcher published in 1991
  • London: The Western Reaches by Godfrey James published in 1950
  • The history of the gardens on the Chelsea Physic Garden web site which can be found here

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