Category Archives: London Streets

Goodwin’s Court

A couple of months ago, I wrote about XX Place in Stepney. It was a location I found in the little book Curious London by Hugh Pearman, published in 1951.

Pearman divided the city up into ‘towns’ and identified six locations of interest in each of these towns.

The book is fascinating as it provides a whole range of different locations to visit, places I may not normally visit, to see if the items of interest in each of the areas Pearman defined as a town are still there, and to learn a bit more about London.

I was recently in Westminster and checked the book for any interesting detours, and found a reference to Goodwin’s Court, with the following text:

“This unique row of delightful bow-fronted cottages forms one side of Goodwins Court, an old-world thoroughfare off S. Martin’s Lane. In one of the cottages lived Nell Gwynn the orange seller at the nearby Drury Lane Theatre, who became the sweetheart of the ‘Merry Monarch’ and the darling of the populace. The narrow windows are still iron-barred, although the dungeon like cells have been empty for many, many years.”

The book included the following rather grainy photograph of Goodwin’s Court showing a dark alley, with the bow-fronted cottages on the left.

Goodwin's Court

Goodwin’s Court is a narrow alley running between St. Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury, a busy area in the West End, just north of Trafalgar Square. The entrance from Bedfordbury is through an alley in two of the houses which look to be contemporary with the buildings in the court and have the same style of bow fronted windows.

Goodwin's Court

A plaque along Goodwin’s Court dates the houses to 1690:

Goodwin's Court

The view along Goodwin’s Court from the Bedfordbury end. The original 17th century terrace is along the southern side of the Court. Each has a bow fronted window on the ground floor with two additional floors above.

Goodwin's Court

Compare this photo with the 1951 photo at the top of the post and it can be seen that the court has hardly changed.

If the houses were built in 1690, they would have been over 50 years old when John Rocque printed his map of London in 1746.

The following map extract shows Goodwin’s Court as one of a number of narrow streets or alleys between St. Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury (which looks as if it may have been two separate words in 1746). Goodwin’s Court is at the top, just below New Street.

Goodwin's Court

As well as Goodwin’s Court, some of these other alleys can still be found, including Hop Gardens and May’s Court, although in 1746 the name was May’s Buildings.

One point I cannot reconcile between the age of the houses and Rocque’s map is that the map shows a much wider open space on the left of the alley and another open square space on the right with only a short straight section between. The map does not mirror the straight line of terrace houses along the majority of the southern side of the court, if they were indeed built around 1690.

All the sources dating the houses to 1690 seem to refer to the same rate book reference as appears on the plaque in the Court, so perhaps an error in Rocque’s map or perhaps the terrace of houses was built later.

The view from half way along the court looking towards St. Martin’s Lane.

Goodwin's Court

As can be seen, the houses run all the way to the covered alley which leads under the buildings along the side of St. Martin’s Lane. The alley does indent to the left here so perhaps the surveyors of Rocque’s map just made an error, or did not investigate the court in detail.

For the whole time I was in Goodwin’s Court there were no other pedestrians using the route as a short cut between St. Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury, despite the surrounding streets being busy. It really was like walking into a hidden court as no one else followed, the only exception being two tour groups. Both groups seemed to focus on a Harry Potter reference for the street.

One of the groups was in English and the tour leader was describing the alley as the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films, and that the location could not be used for filming as the alley was too narrow for the required equipment.

The second tour group was Spanish, but the words Diagon Alley and Harry Potter were mentioned several times so I assume the theme of the visit to Goodwin’s Court was the same for both tour groups.

I have no idea whether there is any truth in these references, however there are numerous Internet references to Goodwin’s Court being Diagon Alley, but also many Internet sites that claim Cecil Court to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley with Harry Potter fans apparently split between the two options.

I much prefer the fact that there is a terrace of houses along Goodwin’s Court that are probably over 300 years old.

Goodwin's Court

In curious London, Pearman stated that “In one of the cottages lived Nell Gwynn the orange seller at the nearby Drury Lane Theatre”. Given that Nell Gwynn died in 1687 it would not have been in one of the existing houses in Goodwin’s Court and I can find no reference to confirm that she ever did live in Goodwin’s Court, however I did find an Internet reference to one of the houses having a plaque above the door stating an association with Nell Gywnn – I did not notice this on my visit.

Goodwin's Court

What ever the truth behind the inspiration for Diagon Alley, or Nell Gwynn, Goodwin’s Court is a perfect example of the many alleys that could once be found in this part of London.

Lawrence Street And Chelsea China

The streets north of Cheyne Walk in Chelsea were a centre for the manufacture and decoration of china during the 18th and 19th centuries. I wrote about one factory in my post on Cheyne Row, and in today’s post I come across another, earlier factory where Chelsea china and porcelain were manufactured in the 18th century.

I am in Lawrence Street, to find the location of one of my father’s photos from 1949:

Chelsea China

This is the same scene today:

Chelsea China

I was standing on the steps up to one of the houses to try to recreate the same view, with the railing shown to the lower left of both photos. The plant was growing up from the small garden space in frount of the house, I thought it best not to try to bend or break to remove from the view.

The view is much the same (although whilst I was sure I was standing in the same place, the perspective is slightly different between the two photos, possibly due to camera and lens being very different).

The major difference is the number of cars which now seem to line almost every street in Chelsea, making is really difficult to get good, full length photos of the buildings. The single car in 1949 has now multiplied many times.

Lawrence Street can be found in the following map, running north from Cheyne Walk in the centre of the map:

Chelsea China

The street name comes from the Lawrence family who lived in the manor house that was on the land to the north of Lawrence Street and Upper Cheyne Row.

The first Lawrence to arrive in Chelsea was Thomas Lawrence, a London goldsmith who arrived in the sixteenth century, the manor remained in the hands of the Lawrence family until 1725. Thomas was originally from Shropshire, but moved to London where he married Martha Sage. They would go on to have eleven children, with only five surviving.

The Lawrence Chapel in the nearby Chelsea Old Church is named after Thomas and includes a memorial to him

The manor house was replaced by Monmouth House (after the Duchess of Monmouth who occupied the house on the site from 1714).

As you walk up Lawrence Street from Cheyne Walk, the age of the houses gets older as you approach the top of the street. The size of the houses also reduces, starting with the four storey house shown below:

Chelsea China

To these smaller, terrace houses at the top of the street:

Chelsea China

It may have been one of these houses that was the subject of an advert in the Morning Advertiser on the 13th January 1818:

“To be LET a small modern genteel HOUSE, at 26 guineas per ann, well laid out for saving of window lights, box window to the parlour, and French sashes, and balcony to the drawing room. This house contains six good rooms, two kitchens, with dry wine and coal vaults, is in a very healthy situation, being in Lawrence-street, Chelsea, from whence a Stage goes six times a day to town – Enquire of Mr Lewer, 30, Eaton-street, Pimlico.”

At the top of Lawrence Street is the junction with Upper Cheyne Row.

From here we can look back on the houses on the western side of the top of the street.

Chelsea China

There is a London County Council blue plaque on the end house:

Chelsea China

Tobias Smollett was a Scottish poet and novelist who originally had a career in medicine, including as a naval surgeon which provided the opportunity to travel widely.

Before Chelsea he was living in central London with his wife and daughter, however with his only daughter suffering from tuberculosis, the family moved to Chelsea with the hope that the air would benefit his daughter. Living in Chelsea did not have the desired effect, and his daughter died aged 15, after which Smollett left Chelsea, and with his wife, went travelling in France “overwhelmed by the sense of domestic calamity, which it was not in the power of fortune to repay.”

The plaque also makes reference to the manufacture of Chelsea China at the north end of Lawrence Street.

It is not clear when the production of china started in Chelsea, however the first recorded owner of the Chelsea china works was Charles Gouyn who arrived at the works in 1745. In 1749, the works were managed by Nicholas Sprimont who had arrived in London from Belgium. Originally a silversmith he changed his trade to working with clay. His influence changed the design of Chelsea china, with his experience of the design of silver products being mirrored in the designs of Chelsea china and porcelain.

The range and output of the Chelsea China Works increased steadily during the 1750s and received Royal patronage from George II. Royal support continued with George III who purchased a dinner service for the considerable sum of £1,200 as a gift for the Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Nicholas Sprimont retired a wealthy man in 1769 and the Chelsea China Works was taken over by William Duesbury who had apparently arrived from Derby. Duesbury ran the Chelsea works for a further ten years, however in 1779 the lease on the factory premises expired, and within five years the Chelsea China Works closed.

William Duesbury returned to Derby, taking many of the moulds with him, and the buildings of the china works were demolished.

Fragments of china were found in 1970 in the garden of number 15 Lawrence Street (the house to the left of the house with the blue plaque) which helped to confirm the location of the Chelsea China Works.

The British Museum has a number of examples of the output from the Chelsea China Works, starting off with one of the earliest examples from 1745 – a “goat and bee” jug made from soft paste porcelain. Goats are on either side of the base and a bee is climbing up to the lip of the jug.

Chelsea China

The two sides of a porcelain vase, dating from 1750:

Chelsea China

A rather ornate porcelain clock case dating from between 1752 and 1758:

Chelsea China

The following pair of figures are known as the “Tyrolean Dancers” and date from the years 1755 to 1757:

Chelsea China

A porcelain dish dating from between 1750 and 1752:

Chelsea China

For a brief period, Chelsea was manufacturing china and porcelain probably as good as anywhere else in the country, however after the closure of the Chelsea works, it was the factories around Derby and Stoke-on-Trent, where companies such as that run by Josiah Wedgwood would further develop the technical skills and scale of manufacturing to continue in business for the following centuries.

Lawrence Street would continue as a quiet, residential street.

The Streets Under The HS2 Platforms And Concourse

This weekend is the fourth anniversary of the blog – a point I did not expect to reach when starting out.

I would really like to thank every reader and subscriber, for your comments and e-mails, and just for knowing that there is someone out there reading my weekly exploration of London.

For this anniversary, I hope you will permit me three self-indulgent posts, today, Saturday and Sunday.

The post today is a return to the site of my most read post from the last year. Back in August I wrote about the closure of St. James Gardens as part of the preparations for the HS2 developments at Euston Station.

I have been trying to find the time to get back to the area and see what has happened since August, and finally had some spare time a couple of Saturdays ago.

The day of my visit was unfortunately wet and gloomy however this was rather suitable for the subject.

I started my walk around the area in Melton Street, along the western edge of Euston Station, where there is an information stand with a map of the area.

HS2 Demolitions

I have put a red rectangle around the streets that I will walk today. The map still shows the area before the closure of St. James Gardens which can be seen at the top of the red rectangle.

HS2 platforms and concourse will occupy this space as the station extends to the west to accommodate the extra rail tracks.

HS2 Demolitions

Starting off in Melton Street, this is the view towards Cardington Street (which runs past St. James Gardens), and is now closed off. White wooden hoardings now block any further access along the street.

HS2 Demolitions

There is a small window in the hoarding blocking off Cardington Street. The transparent plastic of the window did not help with a clear view, however this is looking down Cardington Street.

An Ibis Hotel occupied the building on the left, and just past the hotel is St. James Gardens.

HS2 Demolitions

I took some photos of Cardington Street last August just after St. James Gardens were closed. The following photo shows the corner of the Ibis Hotel with the trees of the gardens in the background:

The following photo was looking down Cardington Street towards the Ibis Hotel and Euston Road. It appears that all the trees in the gardens have now been removed.

Even relatively recent buildings will suffer the same fate as their older neighbours. This new building is on the corner of Melton Street and Euston Street. Further along is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive underground station designs. This was the entrance for one of the Hidden London tours I wrote about in this post on the lost tunnels of Euston Underground Station.

HS2 Demolitions

This is the view looking up Euston Street.

HS2 Demolitions

The opposite side of Euston Street. Buildings on both sides are now closed with hoardings protecting their ground floors.

HS2 Demolitions

At the junction of Euston Street and Cobourg Street is the pub, the Bree Louise.

HS2 Demolitions

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 is sad to see how quickly after closing at the end of January, the pub has taken on such air of being abandoned.

HS2 Demolitions

The pub sign is still in place:

HS2 Demolitions

As are adverts of when the Bree Louise was North London’s Camra pub of the year in 2016:

HS2 Demolitions

This is the view in Cobourg Street looking back towards the Bree Louise. There is a row of houses, which although not yet closed off, and some still looking occupied, will also be under HS2’s platforms.

HS2 Demolitions

On the corner of Cobourg Street and Drummond Street is the old Calumet photographic shop:

HS2 Demolitions

Cobourg Street continues after crossing Drummond Street and it is along here that the rear of the old Ibis Hotel can be seen, again closed.

HS2 Demolitions

There are now a number of information posters along the old hotel. One example covering the history of Euston Station:

HS2 Demolitions

And another covering the St. James’s burial ground:

HS2 Demolitions

Looking down Cobourg Street towards the junction with Starcross Street. All these buildings will be demolished.

HS2 Demolitions

Back to the point where Cobourg Street crosses Euston Street, looking down towards Euston Station:

HS2 Demolitions

The old underground station at the junction of Euston Street and Melton Street:

HS2 Demolitions

A wider view with rain drops on the camera lens:

HS2 Demolitions

Walking back along Melton Street and some of the trees have 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.

HS2 Demolitions

The opposite corner, on the junction of Euston Street and Melton Street, also with hoarding around the building.

HS2 Demolitions

A partly visible sign carved into the stone around the entrance records that this was once the home of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association.

HS2 Demolitions

The impact of HS2 will not just be felt to the west of the station. major developments will take place all around the station and the gardens between the station and Euston Road are already being fenced off.

HS2 Demolitions

The weather added to the rather sombre mood that covers the area around Cobourg Street. The closure of Cardington Street seems to have added to the traffic in the area. Both sides of Euston Street and Drummond Street were occupied by parked cars, many of which appeared to be Ubers waiting for their next passenger. A single line of cars were trying to squeeze between.

I was pleased to finally get to photograph these streets and buildings before they disappear, however still more to visit when I get time and hopefully with better weather.

The Horn Tavern, Sermon Lane And Knightrider Court

One of my father’s photos of the Horn Tavern has been in the blog header since I started the blog, and today I finally get round to covering the location.

He took two photos of the rather ornate light on the corner of the Horn Tavern which was at the junction of Sermon Lane and Knightrider Street, just to the south of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Horn Tavern

Horn Tavern

This is the same view today, the frame of the light is still there, however there have been some changes to the pub and the surrounding streets have changed significantly.

Horn Tavern

The differences in the photos highlight what has happened to the pub since my father took the original photo. The pub had a long history as the Horn Tavern, with references to the pub going back to the 17th century (although it is sometimes difficult to confirm that whilst the name may be the same, it may not be the pub at this location).

The pub changed its name to the Centre Page in 2002. I have no idea why the name changed, or the meaning behind the current name. I would have thought that a name as old as the Horn Tavern would have been preferable, especially given the location on the walk up from the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s with the attraction of an old name to the passing tourist trade.

I will continue referring to the pub as the Horn Tavern as I much prefer the original name.

The frame of the light in my father’s photo looks to be the same as the light in place today, however the wonderful glass with the pub name has been replaced with rather bland clear glass.

The original light must have looked brilliant and very inviting when lit on a dark London night.

There have been many changes in the immediate vicinity of the Horn Tavern. In my father’s photo, the name plate for Sermon Lane can be seen. Sermon Lane still exists but only really in name rather than as a lane.

To set the location and changes in context, the following map shows the area today. Peter’s Hill is a wide walkway from Saint Paul’s Church Yard down to Queen Victoria Street.

Just over half way down on the left can be seen Knightrider Street. Where this meets Peter’s Hill, the Horn Tavern is on the upper corner of the junction. There is a truncated street running up and down from this junction and within Peter’s Hill can be seen the words Sermon Lane.

Horn Tavern

Peter’s Hill is one of the major changes to the area. The area between the cathedral and the river was once densely packed with office buildings, warehouses etc. Peter’s Hill carved through these buildings and streets to provide a wide pedestrian walkway from river to cathedral and opened up the view of the cathedral from the river and Bankside.

The following map is from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London. In the middle of the map can be seen Sermon Lane, when it was a street with buildings on either side. To the right of Sermon Lane is Knightrider Court – this has had a strange move which I will cover later in this post.

Horn Tavern

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the area in more detail. The Horn Tavern is the P.H. on the corner of Sermon Lane and Knightrider Street.

Horn Tavern

Going back further to Rocque’s 1746 map, we can still see Sermon Lane, however to the right, Knightrider Court was then called Doolittle Alley (the second ‘o’ is missing from the map).

Horn Tavern

Doolittle Alley was the Doolittle Lane mentioned in Ben Jonson’s plays, for example from “The Magnetic Lady”, licensed for performance in 1632 and first performed by the King’s Men at the Blackfriars Theatre in the same year:

“She dwelt in Doolittle Lane, atop o’the hill there, I’the round cage was after Sir Chime Squirrel’s. She would eat naught but almonds, I assure you.” 

I had assumed the origin of the name Sermon Lane was religious given the proximity to the cathedral, however the London Encyclopedia states “perhaps named after Adam Sermoneinarius, a 13th century property owner, or since it was once known as Sheremongers Lane, its name may have come from the sheremongers, who sheared or cut, and rounded the silver plates used in the minting of coins”.

There appears to be a common explanation leading back to John Stow’s Survey of London for the name Knightrider Street and Court. In the Streets of London, Gertrude Rawlings states that “Stow says it was supposed that the name refers to knights riding this way from Tower Royal to the tournaments at Smithfield. It has also been stated that a “knightrider” meant originally a King’s messenger, but no such word is known in our dictionaries”.

Photos of the area today show the changes to these streets. In the following photo, the Horn Tavern is on the corner and the paved area edged by the trees, leading up towards the cathedral is Sermon Lane, however this is all open space and the steps on the right form the only boundary with Peter’s Hill.

Horn Tavern

A large sign on the corner of the pub documents a link with Dickens and also states that the pub was formerly known as the Horn Tavern – again why change, there is even a Dickens reference to the original name.

Horn Tavern

View of the entrance to the Centre Page in Knightrider Street – again with the reference to the former name.

Horn Tavern

The current Horn Tavern building dates from the 19th century. Remarkably with the level of destruction around St. Paul’s Cathedral, the building survived the blitz.

The Horn Tavern appears in newspapers over the years for all the usual reasons – the meeting place for clubs, adverts for staff and rooms, people staying in the tavern being involved in local events etc. In October 1874 there was a rather intellectual contest held between teams from north and south of the river when twelve of the best players from the City of London Chess Club, played against twelve of the best players from the Bermondsey Chess Club. Unfortunately I cannot find any results to confirm whether the north or south of the river came out on top.

This is the view looking down what was Sermon Lane from the end near the cathedral. This space still retains the name Sermon Lane, however it is only a line of trees and steps that separate Sermon Lane from the main part of Peter’s Hill.

Horn Tavern

Looking down from the centre of Peter’s Hill, Sermon Lane is on the right.

Horn Tavern

In the above photo, Knightrider Court once ran through the buildings on the left, as can be seen on the 1940 and earlier maps, and Sermon Lane terminated directly on Knightrider Street, however fast forward to today, and Knightrider Court has moved.

The name is now used for the small section of street from just before the pub, and includes a small space after the junction with Knightrider Street.

In the following photo, One Knightrider Court can be seen above the entrance to the building to the right of the Horn Tavern (although today it is separate, this entrance and the building above was part of the Horn Tavern).

Horn Tavern

From the above viewpoint, turning slightly to the left and looking straight down there is this small length of street which also has the name Knightrider Court.

Horn Tavern

So although the original Knightrider Court has been lost, the name has transferred to take over the end of Sermon Lane and an additional small length of land in front of the opposite building.

I like the fact that names are retained, however it is deceiving that the name looks to be in the right place (it is a court shaped stub of land off Knightrider Street) but in reality it is in the wrong place.

This is the view looking down Knightrider Street.

Horn Tavern

As can be seen in the maps at the start of this post, Knightrider Street once continued on towards Friday Street, however Peter’s Hill now terminates the street. I explored the extension of Knightrider Street, past the church of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey in an earlier post: Distaff Lane – How London Streets Have Changed Over The Centuries, which also covers how the streets have changed in the area to the south of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

I would be really interested to know why the Horn Tavern’s name was changed to the Centre Page. I would have thought that retaining such a historic name would have been a good commercial decision. It would also be great to see the light with the name of the pub once again etched into whitened glass and shining on a cold London night.

Crewe House – Curzon Street

For today’s post (and the next few weeks), I am returning to the core purpose of the blog, to track down the location of my father’s photos. I am in Curzon Street which leads off from the lower part of Park Lane, opposite Hyde Park.

This is Crewe House, Curzon Street in 1953.

Crewe House

And the same building today:Crewe House

Crewe House is an interesting survivor from the time when large houses would be surrounded by their own grounds. The original building was constructed in the early 18th century, however it has been considerably modified over time.

Today, the building is part of the Saudi Arabian Embassy, and this is the reason why my photo is from a different perspective to my father’s photo. When I reached the building, hoping to take a photo from the same viewpoint, I found a group of rather heavily armed police guarding the front of the building roughly where the cart is in the original photo. Suspecting they would not appreciate being photographed, or being asked to move, I walk a short distance further and took today’s photo.

The facade of the building looks much the same, although I suspect internally it has been significantly modified. In 1953 it would have been possible to step over the wall into the garden. Today (in addition to the armed police) railings, gates and CCTV protect the building from Curzon Street.

The presence of armed police highlighted another aspect of how London has changed. It is only in recent years that it has become almost normal to see armed police walking the street of London. In the 1970s’ 80s and 90s this would have been the exception. If I remember rightly the first time I saw armed police walking openly it was at Heathrow Terminal 4 soon after it opened in 1986. It was a novelty to see this at an airport and would have been highly unusual on the streets. Weapons were obviously available to the police – they were just not so openly visible.

Today, whether guarding embassies, high-profile buildings, or just walking in busy parts of London, this is now a common site.

A sad comment on the times we live in that police have to be armed in this way.

The building was renamed Crewe House in 1899 when it was purchased by the Marquis of Crewe. Before the name Crewe House, it had been owned for a couple of generations of Lord Wharncliffe’s who also gave the house their name when it was named Wharncliffe House – it has this name on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map.

One of the Lord Wharncliffe’s (the Right Hon. James Archibald Stuart-Wortley Mackenzie), died in the house aged 69 in 1846 of suppressed gout which I believe was a catch-all for many possible causes which could not have been diagnosed at the time.

Curzon Street has a fascinating history and I had been planning to write about the street in today’s post, however a very busy work week has not given me the time for this, so I will save for a future post, however I cannot finish off a post without a map, and the following extract from John Rocque’s survey of London from 1746 shows the area around Crewe House.

Crewe House

Curzon Street runs along the lower part of the map. Chesterfield House was the large and ornate London home and gardens for Lord Chesterfield. The house was demolished in 1937, although the gardens had been built on in the years before.

To the right of Chesterfield House is a rectangle with gardens at the top, the dark hatching for a building and white, open space in front. This is Crewe House, and whilst the house has been modified significantly over the years, the layout of a house with large, enclosed gardens to the front, is the same as today. With the loss of Chesterfield House, it is remarkable that the house and gardens of Crewe House have survived for well over 250 years.

Above Crewe House are several enclosed areas, but are shown as blank spaces, apart from one which has a row of buildings along one side. These must have been unbuilt areas of land, marked out ready for development, although the street plan shown in 1746 does not match the street plan of today

I will return to Curzon Street, however for the next couple of weeks I have visits to a London pub and a City restaurant planned.

XX Place – London’s Strangest Street Name?

I came across XX Place in the book “Curious London” purchased by my father in 1951. The book was written by Hugh Pearman, a London taxi-driver who described the book as:

“This little book is the result of the accumulated knowledge gathered during the years that I have been a London taxi-driver and it is my earnest hope that my readers will enjoy this guide to Curious London as much as I have enjoyed compiling it. It deals not with the London that most tourists visit, but with, as its name implies the unusual, the quaint and the curious.”

XX Place

The book takes each of the (at the time) twenty nine boroughs and cities that made up the county of London and identifies six curious features of each.

I was browsing through the book and a small photo of a street sign with the unusual name of XX Place, E1 stood out on the page covering Stepney. The description in the book reads:

“Half hidden in Globe Road is a little turning with the oddest of all odd names, XX Place, so called, it is believed, because it was built to house their workers, by the owners of the huge brewery in whose shadow it stands. lending colour to that belief are the two little beer barrels, carved in stone, high up in the wall of one of the cottages”.

It was such an unusual name that I thought it would be interesting to see what I could find of XX Place, a search that took me via the Tower Hamlets Archives to standing in Globe Road opposite the entrance to the street that was demolished in the 1950s.

The book stated that XX Place was a turning off Globe Road in Stepney, it was therefore easy to find on the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map.

In the extract below, Mile End Road is running along the lower part of the map. Globe Road is the street that runs from above the word “Tramway” in Mile End Road, northwards.

Follow Globe Road and on the left, running back down towards Mile End Road is clearly marked XX Place.

XX Place

To try and find some history on XX Place I carried out an online search on the Tower Hamlets Archives, and armed with a couple of reference numbers visited the archives on a Saturday morning. (The Tower Hamlets Archives are a wonderful resource, and the staff very knowledgeable and helpful).

My first source at the archives was a small booklet published in 2001 by Ron Osborne titled XX Place. The booklet provided a description of XX Place.

It was built in 1842 for locally employed workers. It was only a short street of 10 small terrace houses running along one side of the street. It was about 10 feet wide and the majority of those living in the street were employed at the nearby Charringtons Brewery.

The local name for the street was either 2X Place, or, as known by older locals, Double X Place,

On the side of the street opposite to the terrace houses was a Stepney Borough Council paving depot where cobble and kerb stones were stored.

The houses were small – two rooms upstairs and a living room and kitchen downstairs. The front door opened directly into the living room, there was no passage between the front door and the rooms of the house.

Each house had a very small backyard.

Along with the booklet, the archives also had some other single page references to XX Place. One of these was composed of notes that confirmed the above and also included the recollection of a local to XX Place, that a friend who was one of eight children lived with their parents in one of the houses, so a family of ten lived in one of these small houses – a common situation across much of east London.

There was a corner shop at the junction of XX Place and Globe Road. In the 1920s this was classed as a “rag shop”, then a Doctor had it as a surgery before moving to the corner of Alderney Road, it then became a baby dress shop and finally a radio shop where people would take their wireless batteries to be charged.

The following photo shows XX Place, with the photo matching the description of the street. Note the street name plaque at the upper right.

XX Place

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London, catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_406_F8775 

Tower Hamlets Archives also had a book which described a visit to XX Place, and unfortunately not being able to resist collecting London books I found a copy of the book on Abebooks. The book is A Londoner’s Own London by Charles G. Harper and published in 1927.

Charles G. Harper was a typical travel writer of the time. People who could enhance his visits and stories always seemed to be there at the right time, and the writing displays a somewhat condescending attitude to many of the people he meets. However if you cut through this, Harper does provide some accurate descriptions, and his record of a visit to XX Place is as follows:

“Among the streets of London is ‘XX Place’. It is in a sense an unknown quantity because the London Post Office Directory has no mention of it, although the Post Office Guide notes its existence. A policeman at Aldgate knew it; ‘It’s not worth going to look at’ he said.

But I prefer to see for myself; so I got on a tramcar.

Put me off at Globe Road, I said; I want to find XX Place. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of it.

Oh ! yes, I have, said the conductor to my surprise. I used to be an insurance agent, and I got some proposals from the people living there, and when I sent the papers in to the office, they wrote and told me there wasn’t any such place…..Thought I was having ’em on, I suppose, as you might say….So I took the Superintendent there, and showed him.

I can explain it, said I; the Post Office Directory ignores XX Place; and of course, when the insurance people looked for and didn’t find it, they naturally thought there was not and could not be, a street with a name like that.

It was a summer’s evening when I happened upon XX Place. Oh ! yes, there is such a street; I have not imagined it.

XX Place is a little by-way out of Globe Road which turns out of Mile End Road at Stepney Green railway-station. There is a public house, the Globe at the other corner. There would probably be another pub at the first named corner, except that the station is there. indeed, it is likely that one was disestablished to make way for the station.

But however that may be, there is a public house on the farther side of Stepney Green Station. It is the ‘Black Boy’. There were two policemen at the corner of XX Place at the time of my advent. The westering sun shone in my eyes, as I looked about me and could not read the name plate on the corner house.

Where is XX Place, I asked.

You’re looking at it, said one of the constables.

i looked at little more, and perceived a, well, cul-de-sac if you like; a short street with little four roomed houses on the right, the dead wall of one of the Stepney Borough Council’s yards on the left, and at the end another dead wall.

What sort of people live there?, I asked one of the constables.

I don’t know. he answered, rather loftily, I never speak to them.

I will, I made reply, caustically; do you think it’s safe? If you hear me presently call for help, come to the rescue. The constable turned away daunted. Such is the effect of a sub-acid humour.

So I made the acquaintance of the people of XX Place myself. Approaching one, who was drinking, he poured some of it out of a jug into a glass and offered it to me. With my customary bonhomie, I accepted, and found it to be ale; the product, probably of either the neighbouring brewery of Charrington, or of the equally neighbouring Mann, Crossman and Co.

The natives of XX Place are not less urbane than those of Grosvenor Place; and perhaps a little more human. They are likeable folk. It is, you may be surprised to learn, as much de riguer in XX Place to wear a collar (and not merely a neckcloth) as it is in the West End.

They are rather proud of the implied distinction conferred upon them in living there, but they have their conventions. You must, if you please, style it ‘Double X Place’; or they will not be pleased.

Amiably they do the honours, pointing out the tablet set in the front on the middle house, which displays the semblance of the projecting half of a barrel, surmounting the inscription ‘1823. I.S., J.S.’ It appears that those initials stand for members of the Stayner family, who built it. There is a considerable Stayner estate in the neighbourhood, and the inhabitants render their rents to a firm of solicitors. The little houses were formerly let at five shillings weekly; but now at ten shillings.

Nothing seems to have survived to account for the naming of XX Place; but the evidence of the barrel on the tablet hints obviously at some connection with a brewery which produces ale of that double X quality. 

The sole grievance of the denizens of XX Place appears to be that the former right of way through to the ‘Black Boy’ inn has been abolished. I advised them to bear up against this adversity; and pointed out that the ‘Globe’ in the other direction was no greater distance. But you have to cross the road to reach that. Nothing, therefore, short of the reopening of the former footpath, will appease them; and as that appears to be unlikely, I am afraid the grievance of XX Place will not merely go unredressed, but will remain a sorrow until the memory of its sometime existence is forgotten.”

Harper included his own drawings in the book. The following drawing shows the entrance to XX Place from Glove Road with the shop on the corner:

XX Place

The following drawing by Harper shows the tablet mentioned in his text with the barrel. The 2001 booklet by Ron Osborne mentions that the tablet is still to be found, although in a very sorry state. I walked the area that was once XX Place but could not find any hint of the tablet, so not sure if it has been removed since 2001, or if I was looking in the wrong place. I would be interested in any information as to the location or fate of the tablet.

XX Place

Harper’s text mentions the Black Boy pub. If you go back to the 1895 map and follow XX Place down, there is a long building that runs down to Mile End Road and is labelled PH. This is the Black Boy pub and it was obviously an easy walk for the inhabitants of XX Place down to their local pub.

The right of way to the Black Boy was closed up at the beginning of the 20th century. There is a letter in the East London Observer on the 28th November 1903 referring to the closing up of XX Place. This was probably down to the redevelopment of this corner of Mile End Road and Globe Road associated with the coming of the railway. The 1895 map does not show Stepney Green station which is on the left hand corner of Mile End Road and Globe Road. The station was opened in 1902 by the Whitechapel and Bow railway.

The main reason that XX Place appeared in newspapers seems to be not for any newsworthy event in the street, rather the strangeness of the name. A typical example is an article in the London Daily News on the 6th August 1904 titled “Stepney’s Nature Study”. The article traces a number of street names in Stepney that have an animal as part of the name, and then goes on to say:

“In addition, some curious names are to be found, for there is an Elbow Lane, a Frying Pan Alley, and Shoulder of Mutton Alley, but none of these are so curious as XX Place in Mile End.”

XX Place was also mentioned in the Shoreditch Observer on the 3rd June 1899 as the most curiously named street in London. It also names a couple of other street names which would have been contenders if the names had not been changed: “Hocum Pocum Lane in Hither Green and Kicking Boy Alley have been altered”.

XX Place was demolished around 1957/58 as part of the London County Council slum clearance programme. The site was then occupied by a council run laundry, including a later self-service launderette which closed in 1975. There then followed a period of temporary use until the area was cleared in 1989 to make way for the Stocks Court student accommodation block which now occupies much of the length of Globe Road which included the entrance to XX Place.

After visiting the Tower Hamlets Archive I walked along Mile End Road to Globe Road. This is Stocks Court. The junction of XX Place and Globe Road was to the left of the bus stop, roughly where the tree is located.

XX Place

I walked around the back of Stocks Court trying to find the tablet which Ron Osborne had mentioned was still to be found in 2001, but could not find any evidence of the tablet’s survival.

This is the view looking back towards the rear of Stocks Court. XX Place would have run roughly down the centre of the photo. To the right would have been the rear entrance to the Black Boy pub. I suspect there would have been many late night, drunken walks from pub back to house in the area covered by this photo, and probably explains why the residents objected to the blocking up of XX Place as they lost a short and safe route between house and pub and now had to risk crossing a road.

XX Place

Returning to Mile End Road, this is the building that was once the Black Boy pub, until closure in 1996. The original pub on this site dates back to the 18th century, however the current building was a 1904 rebuild of the pub during the redevelopment of the area when Stepney Green station arrived (which is just to the right of the photo).

XX Place

Stepney Green station on the corner of Mile End Road and Globe Road:

XX Place

I walked around the area once occupied by XX Place, and the surrounding streets in the hope of finding the tablet with the barrel that was once to be found in the terrace in XX Place and recorded as still being seen, although in a poor state in 2001 by Ron Osborne.

Although I was unable to find the tablet, I did find a rather nice London County Council “Stop” sign at the entrance to the car park for Withy House, an LCC built housing block on Globe Road.

XX Place

I am not sure if XX Place is London’s strangest street name, however it is one of the more unusual.

Although the street was demolished in the 1950s, the name can still be found locally with the XX Place Health Centre on the Mile End hospital site in Bancroft Road. As mentioned earlier in this post, a Doctor had a surgery on the corner of XX Place before moving to the corner of Alderney Road.

Alderney Road was almost directly opposite XX Place and leads through to Bancroft Road opposite the Mile End Hospital site. Perhaps the current health centre can trace its root back to the doctor’s surgery at XX Place, hence the retention of the name.

I would be really interested if anyone knows the location of, or what happened to the XX Place tablet. It would be the last physical link with this unusual Stepney street.

Gresham Street And St. Lawrence Jewry

I did not immediately recognise the location of this week’s post. I knew it was in the City of London, but I could not place the curve of the street or the church tower. It was finally the buildings on the right and the church tower that resulted in  me standing in Gresham Street, by the junction with Foster Lane.

Gresham Street

And this is the same view on a late autumn afternoon in 2017:

Gresham Street

The two photos help illustrate the many subtle changes that have taken place in the City, and what buildings did, and did not survive post war reconstruction.

The building that initially helped me to identify the location is the large building on the right of both photos. This is the hall of the Goldsmiths’ Company. The building is the third Goldsmiths’ Hall on the same site. The Goldsmiths’ Company moved to this location in 1339 and the current hall dates from 1835. The hall avoided the complete wartime destruction of many of the surrounding buildings, however the south west corner of the building was damaged by a direct hit.

The building next to Goldsmiths’ Hall is the Wax Chandlers Hall. As can be seen this was completely destroyed during the war apart from the granite ground floor outer walls. Rebuilding of the hall was completed in 1958 with the granite frontage being retained and brick used for the new upper floors. As with the Goldsmiths’ Hall, this is a historic location for the Wax Chandlers as they have occupied the site since 1501.

The church tower is that of St. Lawrence Jewry. The church was almost completely destroyed in December 1940, apart from the tower and the outer walls. The church had lost its steeple, which is one of the reasons I did not immediately identify the church.

Gresham Street has also undergone some subtle changes. Today, standing outside Goldsmiths’ Hall we can look directly down to St. Lawrence Jewry. This was not the case when my father took the original photo as there were some curves in the street and a building in front of the church tower.

Gresham Street has been through post war widening and straightening. The following map shows the area today. There is only a slight curve in the street by the junction with Aldermanbury.

Gresham Street

If we go back and look at John Rocque’s map of 1746 we can see that the street had a more pronounced curve at the junction with Aldermanybury and it is here that post war straightening has slightly changed the street. Gresham Street also had different names.

Gresham Street

During the 19th century, many of the City’s streets were widened, straightened and what were smaller individual streets were joined into single, longer streets.

Gresham Street was one of these, created in 1845 from Cateaton Street and Lad Lane. The new street was named after Sir Thomas Gresham who was the founder of the Royal Exchange and Gresham College, which started in Bishopsgate Street in 1597 before moving to Gresham Street in 1843 – it has been at Barnard’s Inn Hall near Chancery Lane since 1991.

It is interesting that the street alignment and the buildings blocking the front of St. Lawrence Jewry were much the same in my father’s post war photo as they were in 1746.

This is the full view of Goldsmiths’ Hall on Gresham Street. The main entrance is along Foster Lane. This is the only building to survive intact from before the last war along this stretch of Gresham Street up to the church of St. Lawrence Jewry,

Gresham Street

The front of the Wax Chandlers Hall is in the photo below. The granite frontage is the only part that survives from the original pre-war building. The hall dated from the 1845 creation of Gresham Street as the earlier hall occupied land to the north of the existing hall, which was used in the extension of Gresham Street.

Gresham Street

The following print from 1855 shows the Wax Chandlers hall in 1855, not long after it was built. The ground floor is the same as in the building today, however the upper floors are very different as a result of the post war rebuild of the bombed building.

Gresham Street

Walking down Gresham Street I came up to the church of St. Lawrence Jewry, the church tower in the distance in my father’s photo.

Gresham Street

In the original photo, the church had lost the spire on top of the tower, indeed only the tower and surrounding walls had survived the bombing and resulting fires.

The first church on the site was around the 12th century. The dedication is to St. Lawrence, a 3rd century martyr who was burnt to death on a gridiron in Rome. The reference to Jewry is that the church was originally in the part of the City occupied by the Jewish community.

The symbol of the gridiron on which St. Lawrence was killed is used on the weather vane of St. Lawrence Jewry:

Gresham StreetThe church was one of many destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and a new church was built by Wren in 1671 to 1677. The new church cost £11,870 and was the most expensive of the City churches built after the Great Fire.

The rear of the church from the junction of Gresham Street and King Street:

Gresham Street

This 18th century view of the church from King Street shows that the post war rebuild of the exterior was faithful to Wren’s original design:

Gresham Street

This print from 1811 is interesting, it includes the small church yard in what is now the large open space in front of the Guildhall, and the text also mentions the church being in Cateaton Street.

Gresham Street

The interior of the church:

Gresham Street

Looking towards the organ at the rear of the church:

Gresham Street

The roof:

Gresham Street

The interior of the church today is very different from the pre-war church. City churches tended to be very ornate with lots of wood panelling. The following print shows the organ case of the pre-war St. Lawrence Jewry:

Gresham Street

This is the vestry of the pre-war St. Lawrence Jewry – the ceiling was painted by Isaac Fuller II and carved plaster and dark wood paneling produced a very ornate room:

Gresham Street

As mentioned earlier, the interior of the church was completely destroyed by the fires caused by incendiary bombs during the raids on the 29th December 1940.

My father’s photo only shows the tower from a distance with the loss of the spire being the only visible damage, however the following photo shows the interior of the church – open to the sky, the interior completely destroyed and a single monument surviving on the wall.

Gresham Street

Within the church is a small display showing some of the artifacts rescued from the bombed church. This includes the cups shown in the photo below to show the damage that was caused by the intensity of the heat.

Gresham Street

A plaque on the wall of the church commemorates the post war reconstruction:

Gresham Street

The destruction of the interior required new furniture which was donated by the City Livery Companies. Items for the church also came from other churches. Many of the pews came from Holy Trinity Marylebone and the font which dates from 1620 was a post war relocation from Holy Trinity Minories.

Gresham Street

The church in late afternoon autumn light:

Gresham Street

Gresham Street

The church has lost its churchyard and bombing destroyed the majority of the interior monuments, however a few monuments and gravestones are preserved, including this 18th century monument to several members of the Heylyn family.

Gresham Street

St. Lawrence Jewry once had a small churchyard as shown in Rocque’s map and one of the 18th century prints shown above. The area between the church and the Guildhall was also built up with only a street running from Gresham Street up to the main entrance of the Guildhall.

This area is now a large open space, as shown in the following photo. I am standing at the edge of the church in what was once the churchyard.

Gresham Street

The Guildhall also suffered extensive damage during the same raids that destroyed St. Lawrence Jewry – that is another story for the future. The following postcard shows the buildings on the left between the church and the entrance to the Guildhall.

Gresham Street

On the north east corner of the church is an old, hardly readable wooden sign that reads “Church entrance in Gresham Street”. It looks very old, but I cannot believe it is pre-war as being wood I doubt it would have survived the fires.

Gresham Street

Gresham Street and St. Lawrence Jewry were my last locations to visit after a walk from Canary Wharf, through Shadwell and Wapping to the City, to visit sites for a couple of my posts over the last month, and a few more for future posts. Very different start and end points, but both with so much to tell of London’s history, however at this point, the main thing on my mind was finding a local pub.

Curzon Square, Curzon Place And Seamore Place

For this week’s post I am on the edge of Park Lane, in Pitt’s Head Mews between Green Park and Hyde Park, at the bottom of the steps leading up to Curzon Square, or what in 1951 was called Curzon Place:

Curzon Square

Despite redevelopment of the buildings on either side of the steps, they are still there, although now with a slight curve in the steps as they lead up to Curzon Square, and with new stone steps, replacing the originals which had probably seen over a century of use:

Curzon Square

Pitt’s Head Mews was once full of stables, however today the part of the street that runs up to Park Lane has been completely redeveloped. On the left is the London Hilton Hotel which was built in 1963 on an extensive area between Pitt’s Head Mews and Hertford Street that was destroyed during the blitz.

The stairs are not that visible, tucked away between the two buildings on the right in this view standing in Pitt’s Head Mews looking up to Park Lane

Curzon Square

Today, the steps lead up to Curzon Square, however as can be seen in the sign on the left of the 1951 photo, the area at the top of the steps was then called Curzon Place. This is not the only name change.

The following drawing from the book London – Alleys, Byways and Courts by Alan Stapleton, published in 1924 includes this drawing of the steps, looking much as they did when my father took the 1951 photo, however note the caption to the drawing and the sign in the drawing to the top left of the steps – when this was drawn in the 1920s, the area at the top of the steps was called Seamore Place:

Curzon Square

Curzon Street originally ran straight into Park Lane. The following map extract from 1832 shows Curzon Street along the middle of the map. Curzon Place is the small area of open space just above the letter ‘M’ in Mews.

Curzon Square

By 1895 the area had been redeveloped and Curzon Street was now blocked off from Park Lane. At the end of the street, it turned left into Seamore Place. You can just see the steps leading into Pitt’s Head Mews at the lower right corner of Seamore Place in the following map. At the time this was the shortest route into Curzon Street from the south.

Curzon Square

The buildings at the end of Curzon Street were demolished in 1937 which returned the direct access to Park Lane that Curzon Street had in the 1832 map. Seamore Place appears to have been renamed Curzon Place around the 1937 changes.

At the top of the steps, we are greeted with this view of Curzon Square:

Curzon Square

There does not appear to be much written about Curzon Square / Seamore Place, however whilst reading the book by Alan Stapleton which included the drawing shown above, I did find the following:

“Seamore Place consists of old-fashioned mansions, but No. 8 was the home of the ‘gorgeous’ Lady Blessington, with whom live here, her daughter and son-in-law, Count d’Orsay. Here nightly, met all the fashion, celebrities of all nations, and travellers from all countries.

Haydon said, ‘Everyone goes to Lady Blessington’s. She has the first news of everything and everybody seems delighted to tell her. She is the centre of more talent and gaiety than any other woman of fashion in London.

She began to edit her ‘Book of Beauty’ here. Willis described her as ‘a woman of remarkable beauty’ and ‘one of the most lovely and fascinating women he had ever seen.”

The Wallace Collection includes the following painting of Lady Blessington, by Thomas Lawrence in 1822 – an early 19th century celebrity:

Curzon Square

Edward Walford writing in Old and New London also includes the following description of Seamore Place;

“Seamore Place is the name of a row of handsome but old fashioned mansions, which occupy a sort of cul de sac at the western end of Curzon Street. They are only nine in number, and their chief fronts look westward over Hyde Park. in one of them, Lady Blessington with her daughter and her son-in-law Count D’Orsay, resided during a part of her widowhood, from about 1836 to 1840, surrounded by all the fashionable butterflies of the world whose admiration she so much courted.”

The last time that Curzon Square became well known was in the 1970s. The building shown below is part of 9 Curzon Place. It may look to be a Georgian building of blackened London brick, however the interior of the house was completely gutted just after the last war. The building was converted into 12 apartments and major changes were made including putting a lift shaft up through the central staircase.

Curzon Square

The American singer Harry Nilsson owned one of the flats on the top floor, and it was in this flat that firstly Mama Cass Elliot of the band the Mamas and Papas died in 1974 of a heart attack.

This was followed in 1978 by the death in the same flat of Keith Moon, the drummer with The Who, who died of an overdose of Heminevrin which he was taking to help with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

9 Curzon Place was part of a redevelopment of Curzon Square that ended in 2002 and saw the square pedestrianised, along with an underground car park. I believe it was at the time of this redevelopment that the name changed from Curzon Place to Curzon Square.

The entrance to 9 Curzon Square:

Curzon Square

The view from Curzon Street looking past 9 Curzon Square. At the far end the steps down to Pitt;s Head Mews can be seen:

Curzon Square

Curzon Square today appears to be much quieter than when Keith Moon and Lady Blessington called this part of London home.

I am pleased though, that despite development of the square, the steps – although of recent materials – are still in the same place as when my father photographed them, and Curzon Square is another location I can tick off in the search for all his London photos.

Hardinge Street, Johnson Street And Ratcliffe Gas Works

For this week’s post, it was a short walk after leaving last week’s location at Westferry Road, to find what remains of a street my father photographed in 1949. When sorting through his photos this was one location I was doubtful I would find. I did not recognise the scene and there were no clues to place the photo, apart from being taken from within what looks like a railway arch. I published the photo in one of my mystery location posts in 2015 and was really pleased when it was identified as Hardinge Street, just off Cable Street, a third of a mile east of Shadwell Station.

Hardinge Street

And this is the view from the same location today:

Hardinge Street

Hard to believe that this is the same place, however there are a number of clues. In addition to the obvious railway arch, in both photos the left hand section of the arch is fenced off, it was probably some form of workshop or storage area in 1949. There is access from the street to the fenced off area in both photos, and just past this there is another street leading off to the left.

There are also the sort of small details I love finding. On the pavement and kerb edge of the street, just before the street on the left there is a manhole cover on the pavement and a drain cover next to the kerb in the street. These are in the same locations in both photos – when the street above changes, often the utilities below the streets follow the same routes for decades.

Hardinge Street is one of the many streets that ran between Cable Street and Commercial Road. The following extract from the 1895 OS map shows Cable Street along the bottom, Commercial Road along the top and in the centre of the map, Hardinge Street running between the two.

Hardinge Street

The railway, built in the late 1830s that runs into Fenchurch Street can be seen cutting Hardinge Street in two.

The streets are densely packed with houses, as can be seen in my father’s photo. The street on the left is named as Poonah Street in the map. The streets running off to the right can be seen in both map and photo.

Perhaps surprising is that the street looks intact after the heavy bombing east London suffered during the war. I checked the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps and the houses in my father’s photo are coloured yellow – “Blast damage, minor in nature”. the only exception is on the right side of the photo, the building on the corner of the street leading off to the right, there appears to damage and scaffolding. This building is coloured orange for “General blast damage, not structural”. A bomb must have fallen in the street leading off to the right as in the map there is a row of houses on both sides of the street coloured purple for “Damaged beyond repair” and black for “Total destruction”. It is the blast from this bomb that must have caused the blast damage to Hardinge Street.

The fate of Hardinge Street is very different either side of the railway.  To the north, the view in my father’s photo, all the buildings, Hardinge Street and most of the side streets have all been demolished and replaced with the Bishop Challoner School. The map extract of the area today shows roughly the same area as the 1895 map and highlights how significantly the area has changed.

Hardinge Street

It is fascinating to trace the history of the area. Hardinge is an unusual name. I could not find any reference to why the street was given this name, however Poonah Street gave me a clue.

Poona was the name given by the British to the Indian city of Pune during the 19th century – I suspect the ‘h’ at the end was added as the pronunciation of the word probably ended with ..ah.

Following the Indian connection, Henry Hardinge, 1st Viscount Hardinge was Governor General of India between 1844 and 1848, so I suspect that when the street was redeveloped at some point between the 1850s and the 1895 OS map, it took the name of a Governor General of India.

Why do I say redeveloped? This is an extract from an 1844 map of the same area.

Hardinge Street

The name Cable Street had not extended for the full length of the street covered today – in 1844 this section was called New Road. What would become Hardinge Street is again in the centre of the map, but in 1844 was called Vinegar Lane. The railway is in the same position and comparing the map with later maps, Devonport Street on the right is the only street that has survived with the same name from 1844 to 2017. John Street on the left is now Johnson Street and next left, Lucas Street is now Lukin Street (and today follows a different route south of the railway).

To the left of Vinegar Street can be seen the Ratcliffe Gas Works along with the round symbols of gas holders. By 1895, the gas works had been demolished, Vinegar Street became Hardinge Street and the area was full of densely packed housing, corner shops and pubs.

Time for a walk around the area. The following photo is looking south, through the arches to the southern end of Hardinge Street. The location of my father’s photo and my later photo is just inside the arch to the right, up against the metal fencing.

Hardinge Street

This is looking at the corner of Poonah Street and Hardinge Street. In the 1949 photo this was the location of the corner shop.

Hardinge Street

A footpath can be seen to the right of the above photo. Although Hardinge Street as a road has now been cut off from Commercial Road, a footpath runs along the side of the school up to Steel’s Lane (another survivor from the 1895 map) and then to Commercial Road. The footpath is called Hardinge Lane, retaining the name, but Lane reflecting the loss of the through street.

Walking back under the rail bridge, south towards Cable Street, on the western side of Hardinge Street are Coburg Dwellings. The building dates from 1904 and was constructed by the Mercers Company. The name comes from the region of Germany where Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert was born.

Hardinge Street

In the above photo, there are a number of white plaques between the first and second floors of Coburg Dwellings. These are Mercers’ maiden property marks to show that the land and buildings belonged to the Mercers Company. A Mercers’ maiden in close up:

Hardinge Street

The Mercers Company is one of the oldest of the City’s Companies. The earliest mention of the Mercers is the appointment of the fraternity in 1190 as patrons of the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon, On the 13th January 1394 the “men of the Mistery of Mercery of the City of London” were incorporated by royal charter.

The Virgin is part of the Armorial Bearing of the Mercers Company and was used for the Maiden property marks on Mercers’ buildings. Many of these can still be found across London.

The Armorial Bearings of the Mercers Company:

Hardinge Street

One of the entrances to Coburg Dwellings:

Hardinge Street

Another Maiden mark is on the building to the left of Coburg Dwellings, built as a Convent for the Sisters of Mercy:

Hardinge Street

Looking up towards the railway arches. As I explored the area there were frequent DLR and mainline trains passing over Hardinge Street:

Hardinge Street

On the corner of Hardinge Street and Cable Street is the building that was once the Ship pub:

Hardinge Street

The pub closed in 2003 and has since been converted into flats with an additional floor added to the top of the building. Fortunately a boundary marker from 1823 (which probably dates the construction of the pub) remains on the Hardinge Street side of the pub, between the ground and first floors:

Hardinge Street

Newspapers during the 19th and early 20th century included the usual adverts for staff at the Ship and also using the pub as a contact address for sales, however in 1893 there is a report which would have made the landlord very unpopular with the residents of Hardinge and Cable Streets:

“At the Thames Police court, London, on Wednesday, William Williams of the ‘Ship’ public-house, Cable-street, St. George’s was summoned at the instance of the Excise Commissioners, for diluting beer. and for not entertaining his permits in the spirit stock-books, and for not cancelling said permits, whereby he had rendered himself liable to penalties amounting to £200. The defendant pleaded guilty. Mr Mead fined him £35 for the dilution and £5 each for the other two summonses.”

His fines seem light compared to what the maximum penalty could have been, however I can imagine the reception he received back at the pub after having been convicted of diluting the beer.

The church seen next to the pub is St. Mary, Cable Street. A relatively recent church having been consecrated on the 22 May 1850 to serve the growing population as the district developed.

After the church, I turned into Johnson Street. This street runs back up to Poonah Street to take me back to the location of the original photo. This is the view looking down Johnson Street:

Hardinge Street

The 1844 map had the location of the Ratcliffe Gas Works on the right of Johnson Street, filling in the area between Johnson Street and Hardinge Street, although there does look as if there was a narrow line of buildings along Hardinge Street.

When the use of gas for lighting and power started, the small scale of production and lack of large distribution systems meant that gas works would be built to serve a local area, very much within the centre of the area they were serving, even if that meant building a gas works in the middle of housing, or either side of a railway viaduct.

Gas works were dirty and dangerous places and would also produce fumes and smells that would blanket the local area. The following extract from the Essex Standard on the 31st October 1834 reports on an explosion at the Ratcliffe Gas Works:

EXPLOSION OF THE RATCLIFFE GAS-WORKS. On Tuesday morning, about five o’clock, a terrific explosion was heard to proceed from the Ratfcliffe Gas Works, which caused the greatest consternation and alarm in the neighbourhood. The inhabitants rose from their beds in all directions, and on proceeding to the spot, it was discovered that one of the large gasometers had burst at the back of the factory, adjoining Johnson Street and had carried away the outside case or vat in which the gasometer was placed, besides forcing down a brick wall, several feet in thickness, the materials of which were thrown in every direction. 

It appears that the gasometer contained at the time of the accident not less than 16,000 feet of gas, and owing to the chive hoop, which binds the bottom of the tank giving way, the pressure became so great on the other parts of the gasometer, that it gave way, and sank with a tremendous crash on one side, forcing the gas out at the top, and splitting the massive timbers which composed the case, and the large upright beams which supported the whole fabric. Heavy pieces of timber were reduced to splinters and others forced to a considerable distance. A ponderous wheel, by which the gasometer was suspended, was hurled into the yard, a distance of 50 feet, and fell by the side of a man employed on the premises, who narrowly escaped destruction. 

A stable by the side of the gasometer was blown in and reduced to ruins, the corn-bin, rack and everything were displaced, but singularly enough a horse within escaped unhurt.

After the explosion the place presented one mass of ruins – bricks, iron and wood lying about Johnson-street and the factory-yard in every direction. The damage is estimated at upwards of £20,000, but it is gratifying to add that no lives were lost, nor was any person injured; but if the explosion had taken place a few hours later, there is no doubt that a great many would have been killed, as Johnson Street is a very populous and much frequented thoroughfare, and several labourers were generally kept employed about the tank which burst.

Another gasometer only five feet from the other remained uninjured, which is accounted for by the great strength of the outer casing, which is formed of wrought iron, braced by large girders. A gas light in a lamp close to the tank was blown out; a circumstance which prevented the contents of the gasometer from being ignited, and probably saved property to a large amount from destruction.”

There are many other reports in the papers during the 19th century of the terrible fumes and smells that would come from the gas works, and of injuries to workers including the death of a worker during the construction of a new gasometer.

These were not good places to have in built up areas and the proximity to a busy rail viaduct cannot have helped. As can be seen in the 1895 OS map, the gasworks had been closed as part of the redevelopment of the area.

At the top of Johnson Street is this row of houses that have survived from the 19th century redevelopment of the area:

Hardinge Street

Again with a Mercers’ Maiden to show ownership. I assume that the Mercers owned the block of land that formed a rectangle between Hardinge Street, Cable Street, Johnson Street.

Hardinge Street

At the top of Johnson Street at the corner with Poonah Street:

Hardinge Street

The photo below is looking along Poonah Street towards the junction with Hardinge Street. In the above and below photos, the metal fencing that formed a boundary in the Hardinge Street arch can also be seen running along Poonah Street and to the arch in Johnson Street.

The Mercers Company owned the land before the railway was built and I suspect that the fencing shows the boundaries of the Mercers land as it is aligned with the buildings in Johnson and Hardinge Streets. This would explain why part of the area under the arch in Hardinge Street is fenced off – a reminder of land ownership from long before the railway was built, and that continues to this day.

Hardinge Street

To finish of this week’s post, here are a couple of extracts from my original high-resolution scan of the negative. I find the detail in these photos fascinating and as a reminder that it is not just the buildings that have long since disappeared, but also the people who made this area their home.

The following extract shows the left side of Hardinge Street. A woman with a shopping bag has possibly just been shopping in the shop on the corner of Poonah Street and Hardinge Street.

There is a large pram parked outside the terrace of houses and further along what could be two women, a small child between them and a pushchair.

Hardinge Street

And on the right of Hardinge Street, there is a pub on the corner, people walking along the pavement and what looks to be a couple of children underneath the scaffolding on the corner of the house.

Hardinge Street

Hardinge Street along with Emmett Street and Westferry Road in last week’s post have changed dramatically over the past seventy years. The people in the original photos, outside the newsagent in Westferry Road and those in Hardinge Street could probably never have imagined how much their streets would change.

I wonder what the next seventy years will bring? 

The Westferry Road, Emmett Street Newsagent

Gala Day London by Izis was published in 1953 and brings together the photography of Izis Bidermanas with the words of writers. artists and poets of the day. The aim of the book was to have:

“Twenty-two amongst the most representative of our writers, poets and artists have contributed original texts relating to the photographs. Together their work forms a unique anthology both of the creative impulse which is alive in Britain today and of how London appears to our generation.”

The book is a wonderful collection of full page black and white photographs of London and Londoners, providing a snapshot of the city in 1953.

Westferry Road

Izis Bidermanas was born in Lithuania in 1911, but moved to Paris in 1930 to pursue his interest and career in photography. Being Jewish, he had to leave Paris during the war and escaped to Ambazac in south central France, part of Vichy France. It was here that he changed his first name from Israëlis to Izis to try to disguise his origin, but he was still arrested and tortured by the Nazis. He was freed by the French Resistance, who he then joined and took a series of portraits of resistance fighters which were published after the war to great acclaim.

After the war he returned to Paris to continue his photographic career and also started publishing books which portrayed his subjects in a humanistic, affectionate and nostalgic style.

Izis published a couple of books of London photography in 1953, The Queen’s People and Gala Day London – both full of wonderful photos that capture London at a specific point in time.

So why am I featuring Gala Day London for this week’s post?

It was one of my father’s large collection of London books and I was browsing through the book a few months ago and found one of his photos between two of the pages. Written on the back of the photo was “Newsagent – Emmett Street / Westferry Road, 5th September 1986”.

The photo was inserted alongside the page that had the following Izis photo:

Westferry Road

And this is the photo I found inserted in the book, my father’s photo taken on the 5th September 1986:

Westferry Road

Remarkably the photo is of the same location. Under the white washed walls, the bricked up windows, the loss of all the signage and the bollards on the pavement the building is the same.

The Emmett Street sign appears to be the same, but has been moved lower down the wall and painted over so is not immediately obvious. The larger wall of the building behind can also be seen in both photos.

It is incredibly sad to compare the two photos. What had in 1953 been a typical East London newsagent was now derelict and waiting for demolition as part of the redevelopment of the area around Canary Wharf.

My father’s notes on the back of the photo gave me the location – Emmett Street and Westferry Road so I had to find the location today.

The map below is an extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London. I have put a red circle around the junction of Emmett Street and Westferry Road where I believe the newsagent was located.

Westferry Road

I then checked the 1895 Ordnance Survey map as this is far more detailed and at the same junction there is a building on the corner of the junction with the same angled corner of the building where the entrance was located. I knew the building was on this side of the street as in my father’s photo the pole in front of the wall is casting a shadow, so the wall is facing south.

Westferry Road

The Ordnance Survey map is on the wonderful National Library of Scotland web site and the site has the ability to overlay a modern map on the 1895 map with adjustable transparency, so with a modern overlay and transparency the map looks like this:

Westferry Road

The link to the NLS site for the map is here.

The map gave me the exact location for the newsagent – underneath Westferry Road where it runs up to Westferry Circus.

A note on Westferry Road. In the 1895 OS map, the road is named as Bridge Road. At the time Westferry Road only ran as far north as the entrance to the South Dock, from there onwards it was named Bridge Road, presumably as this part of the road crossed the entrances to the South Dock and the Limehouse Basin.

By the 1940 map, Bridge Road had been renamed West Ferry Road.

Today, it is still the same name, however in the 1895 and 1940 maps it is West Ferry, today on maps and signs the two words have been combined to Westferry Road.

A couple of weeks ago I had a day off from work and for a change the weather was brilliant so I headed out on the DLR to Canary Wharf and took the short walk to Westferry Circus.

Emmett Street today has been lost beneath all the development of recent decades. Hotels, apartment buildings and one of the entrances to the Limehouse Link Tunnel have all erased this street. Emmett Street developed during the early 19th century to provide a link from Three Colt Street to Bridge Road along the back of the buildings constructed along the river front.

Westferry Circus was partly built over the old Limehouse Basin and the Limehouse entrance from the river. It is an elevated structure built higher than the original level of the land so Westferry Road slopes upward to meet Westferry Circus.

This is the view of Westferry Road as it slopes up to Westferry Circus. I tried to accurately locate the old newsagent building by referencing its position on the National Library of Scotland map, using the buildings alongside, the black lights along the edge of the road which appear visible as black dots on the overlay map, and the position of Ontario Way.

I have marked the location of the newsagent building using red lines in the photo below:

Westferry Road

It depends how the land levels have changed with all the building work, but the top of the upper floor of the newsagent would probably have been above the current level of the road.

There are also roads running either side of the elevated approach road to Westferry Circus. This is the view from the side, again I have marked where the old newsagents was located:

Westferry Road

This is the view looking up towards Westferry Circus. The newsagent was on the elevated road, to the left of the direction sign. I doubt if the three men sitting outside the newsagent could have imagined that their view would be changing to this over the coming decades – I wonder what they would have thought?

Westferry Road

As the weather was so good, here are a couple more photos, this one looking across Westferry Circus:

Westferry Road

And this one looking from the edge of Westferry Circus along the Thames to the City. It was here that the Limehouse entrance from the river ran across the open space at the bottom of the steps to a set of locks roughly where I am standing.

Westferry Road

It was fascinating to find my father’s photo in among the pages of Gala Day London. It was one of a number he took in the 1980s around the Isle of Dogs and East London.

The layout of the book consists of an Izis photo on the right hand page and a poem or descriptive text on the left. A wide range of authors and poets contributed to the book including John Betjeman, Laurie Lee and T.S. Lewis.

Opposite the Emmett Street photo was a poem written by Clifford Dyment, a poet, literary critic, editor and journalist, who lived from 1914 to 1971. His contribution appropriately is to the wonderful variety of the corner shop:

Westferry Road

The lines “it may be sherbet suckers, dabs, straps of liquorice” perfectly describe my memories of corner shops as a boy.

I do not know why Izis singled out this newsagent out of all the newsagents and cornershops there were across London at the time, or if the photo was natural or had been set up. The majority of his work in the two London books look natural. The following from the introduction to Gala Day London provides some clues of how he selected his subjects:

“Izis Bidermanas is both a foreigner and a poet who uses a camera. When we look at his photographs we recognise that the obvious subjects have been avoided and that ‘there is a poetry of cities which has nothing to do with things that receive three stars in the guide books. Perhaps it has been specially by way of Londoners rather than by stone and stucco that he has grown to know London. His pictures are above all an evocation of daily life. He has had a capricious sitter and has not attempted to bend her to his will but has preferred to attend upon her whim. This attitude has probably been responsible for the sense of humanity which arises from the pictures.”

It is always strange to stand at places such as Westferry Circus and look down on the view today knowing what was once here – it was then time to move on and make the most of the weather as I had a few more East London locations to track down and photograph.