Tag Archives: Highgate

Saint Giles Pound

The problem I find with this blog is that there is so much to discover and learn, each post really needs much more investigation than I currently have the time to do. This week’s post is an example.

My father took the following photo of a milestone in Highgate in 1948. It is just south of the Flask pub along Highgate West Hill. (For a view of the Flask and Highgate in 1948 see my post here.)

Saint Giles Pound 1

The milestone is still there. See my following photo of the milestone today. Nothing special you might think, but compare the mileage, five in 1948 and four today and the destination is a location that does not now exist in London, Saint Giles Pound.

Saint Giles Pound 2

So where and what was Saint Giles Pound?

Saint Giles refers to the parish of St. Giles in the Fields, the parish that took in the area around the church of the same name, just a short distance south-east from the junction of Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road.

In my usual London reference books I have found a number of references to the Saint Giles Pound which was a fenced area to hold sheep and cattle etc.

From “The History of the United Parishes of St. Giles in the Fields” by Rowland Dobie, published in 1829:

“The Pound and Cage originally adjoined each other, and stood in the middle of the High Street, from whence Parton informs us it was removed in 1656, to make way for the almshouses which were afterwards built there.

‘The Pound’ he adds, probably existed from a very early period, as a necessary appendage to the parish while a village, and abounding in pasture lands, though it is unnoticed in the books of the parish, till Lord Southampton’s grant of the ground on which it stood for the almshouses, where it is described as occupying a space of 30-feet, which was to the dimensions of the new Pound, therein directed to be removed to the end of Tottenham Court Road. The exact site of the Pound was the broad space where St. Giles High Street, Tottenham Court Road, and Oxford Street meet, where it stood till within memory. Noticed for the profligacy of its inhabitants, the vicinity of this spot became proverbial: witness the couplet of an old song.

‘At Newgate steps Jack Chance was found,

And bred up near St. Giles Pound’

it was finally removed about the year 1765, since when the neighbourhood has experienced many improvements, particularly by the erection of the great Brewery of Messrs. Meux and Co.

The Cage appears to have been used as a prison, not merely of a temporary kind, but judging from the parish records, with little lenity.”

Charles Knight in the Milestones section of his book, London, published in 1841 states:

“Again, St. Giles Pound, a real pound for cattle, which is marked upon the old plans, was a prominent object, standing in the village of St. Giles at the intersection of the roads from Hampstead and from Oxford. This also was something like the beginning of London: but Hicks’s Hall and St. Giles Pound have long since vanished; and the milestones which record their glory ought also to be swept away.”

The milestone therefore is alongside one of the old routes that was used to bring animals in from the north, through Highgate and down into London, and thankfully it has not been “swept away”.

The two photos of the milestones also have different distances, five in 1948 and four in 2016. The only reference I can find to this change is that it was made by a local resident of Highgate who was frustrated with the error. So is four miles correct? Although I have walked the route, I have not measured, so a quick check on Google maps, from Highgate West Hill at roughly the position of the milestone, to a point on New Oxford Street a very short distance past the end of Tottenham Court Road to allow for the possible siting of the Pound more towards St. Giles High Street. The following map confirms the distance as being exactly four miles (the blue dots). Even with some longer alternative routes, the distance does not reach five miles.

Saint Giles Pound 6

It would be interesting to know if the error in distance was from when the milestone was originally installed, or perhaps when the figures may have been re-cut as they do look very sharp in the 1948 photo with very little deterioration to the edge of the lettering. The key point is that today, the distance is correct.

A wider view of the milestone alongside Highgate West Hill.

Saint Giles Pound 3

Intriguingly, the Pound may be marked on a map. The following is an extract from John Rocque’s map of London from 1746. This is 19 years before the Pound was removed. Look in the lower right of the map, at the junction of Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and the High Street of St. Giles. There is a rectangular feature in the open area of the junction – could this be the Pound? The location fits perfectly the description given by Rowland Dobie in his book, quoted earlier.

Saint Giles Pound 4

Strange to think that this very busy junction, with the new Crossrail station being built, was once the location of a Pound, holding animals being brought down from the north.

The map extract is from the very lower right hand corner of the page. At the very bottom right corner is a street with only the word “Street” showing. This is Denmark Street featured in my post of a couple of weeks ago.

The map has some other references that point to the original use of this area. In the above map, the road running south from the junction is Hog Lane. The alley leading off from the top right of Hog Lane is Farmers Alley.

Hog Lane is now the northern section of Charing Cross Road. From “London” by George H. Cunnigham (1927):

“In Hogarth’s time this portion of the street was known as Hog Lane, later Crown Street, under which name it was widened and made part of Charing Cross Road.”

So after the Pound had disappeared, there was no longer an association with animals so the name changed, with finally as so often happens in London, the street being integrated in the lengthening and widening of a main street.

Returning to my opening comment at the start of today’s post, just finding this single milestone opens up so many questions.

Is there more information on the Pound, and is the original location marked on any maps? (the Rocque map shows the location after the move from St. Giles High Street). Are there any more of the milestones? I have not found any, however Knight’s book refers to another milestone in Camden at the two-mile point. What was the purpose of the Pound? Was it used as a stopping off point before heading into the City or did it serve the local area?

More questions for my ever-growing list of things to learn about London.

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London Ghosts

I read this week that sales of printed books are rising and that their demise at the hands of the eBook reader is hopefully not going to turn out to be true.

I love printed books. Not just to read, but also as a living record of information added by those who have owned the book. Many of the London books in my collection have annotations along with cuttings from newspapers and magazines over the last 70 years that add to the original text contained within the pages of the book.

The 1975 edition of Dan Cruickshank’s “London: The Art Of Georgian Building” has newspaper articles inserted detailing the destruction and development planned for London’s Georgian buildings during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The 1923 edition of Historic Streets of London by Lilian and Ashmore Russan has the comment “Rot !!! confused with Battle Bridge N.W.1”  against the entry for Battle Bridge Lane in Bermondsey which states that it “Marks the place where the Romans defeated the Iceni, under Queen Boadicea, in the year AD61”

Rather than a one off read, books can therefore be a repository for new information as well as something to challenge and correct.

One such book is “Unbidden Guests – A Book of Real Ghosts” by William Oliver Stevens published in 1949. As well as the contents of the book, my copy is also stuffed full of newspaper and magazine articles recounting ghost stories from the last 60 years, and for this week’s post, as we approach the shortest day of the year when darkness falls over London from the late afternoon, here are a few of those articles, a sample from a series printed by the London Evening News in the run up to the Christmas of 1957.

These were written by Leslie Thomas who would later find fame following publication of his book The Virgin Soldiers in 1966. At the time of these articles, he was a feature writer for the London Evening News. He worked for the paper from 1955 to 1966 when the success of The Virgin Soldiers convinced him that he could make a career as an author.

These stories of London Ghosts are written in a suitably dramatic form and most have an illustration of the haunting to draw in the reader. I like to imagine Londoners reading these articles as they make their way home in the evening on a cold, dark and foggy December night when anything would seem possible.

The first story is from 1926 when a Mr Gibson, a night watchman guarding roadwork’s in Church Hill Road, Barnet saw the ghost of Sir Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex as a skeleton clad in a metal breast plate and black cape coming up the road towards him.

There were two Sir Geoffrey’s in the 12th century, the elder inheriting lands in Essex, Middlesex and Hertfordshire. His political scheming resulted in him being accused of being a traitor. Sir Geoffrey and his followers carried out guerrilla warfare, travelling on roads to London through Enfield Chase and Barnet. On his eventual death his body lay in Old Temple, Holborn for 20 years without burial. The second Sir Geoffrey had a fortress at Barnet and apparently fell from a tree and drowned in his own moat.

An old house in East Barnet called the Grange was allegedly built on the de Mandeville’s old fortress and when excavations disturbed the foundations of the old building the haunting started, including the stamping of footsteps and clanking of spurs, along with sightings as witnessed by the poor night-watchman.

The Evening News story concludes with a party of local people including a councillor spending the night at the night-watchman’s hut in Church Hill Road. Although nothing was seen, just after midnight the party heard a rumbling like that of many hoof beats and the ground shook.

A chilling tale from Barnet and I doubt the night watchman ever returned if the illustration is an accurate portrayal of his night on Church Hill Road.

London Ghosts 1a

London Ghosts 1b

The next tale is from Pond Square, Highgate and starts with the experience of Aircraftman Terence Long in December 1943. Walking through Pond Square he heard the sudden pulling up of a carriage and then a frightening shriek.  Moonlight revealed the sight of a ghostly chicken – “It was a frightened, squawking fowl, dashing about in frenzied circles, half running, half flying, and shivering.”

The unlikely story of the chicken goes back to the 17th century when Francis Bacon was riding through the snow covered streets of Highgate. Pondering scientific questions, he suddenly asked his coachman to stop and fetch a chicken. The chicken was killed, and Bacon promptly stuffed it with snow and then put it in a bag filled with more snow. This experiment was following Bacon’s observation that the grass underneath snow always appeared fresh and he wondered whether snow and the cold could help with the preservation of food.

Whilst working on this experiment in the cold Highgate night, Bacon collapsed and was taken to the home of Lord Arundel in Pond Square where he died a few days later.

The chicken has since been seen many times in Pond Square, although why the chicken continues to haunt rather than Francis Bacon is a bit of a mystery.

London Ghosts 4

London Ghosts 4a

The next story moves into central London, to Covent Garden underground station and tells the story of the ghost of the Victorian actor, William Terriss.

On November 24th 1955, the foreman ticket collector Jack Hayden was in the staff mess room which was divided in two with a partition which included a door when, “This door was open and in the other section of the room there appeared the figure of a tall man, grey of face and wearing white gloves.” Jack Hayden and a colleague who had also seen the ghost were shown a photo of Terriss and immediately recognised him. William Terriss had been murdered at the nearby Adelphi Theatre.

Along with the ghost story, this cutting from the Evening News includes a fascinating advert for “Trips by Trains” and includes:

– Football excursions to see Sheffield United play Leyton Orient from St. Pancras. Grimsby Town play Charlton from King’s Cross and Colchester United play Brentford from Liverpool Street.

– There is a train leaving Paddington to see the Passing-Out Parade of Naval Apprentices at H.M.S Fishguard, Torpoint

– A Sunday timetable of trains, mainly with buffet cars from the main London stations

– weekday trains to the “Hants & Dorset Resorts”

This was when a train ticket from Waterloo to Bournemouth would have cost 15 shillings.

London Ghosts 3

The next story is from south London and starts with the terrifying headline “It came to Battersea and terrorised a family until they did what it wanted.”

The haunting at the house in Eland Road, Battersea owned by the Robinson family, started on the 27th November, 1927 with breaking glass in the Conservatory, which was followed by flying coal, pennies and soda, loud noises and bangs, furniture falling in all directions, broken windows and door panels.

Mr Robinson called in the Police who were also subjected to flying coal, but could not do anything to help, so “the Robinsons spent the most miserable Christmas of their lives in a house that was full of flying coal, pennies and soda.”

Despite a steady stream of people trying to help, police, clergymen and spirit investigators, nothing could be done. There were also newspaper reporters and crowds of “open-mouthed sightseers.”

Members of the family tried to stay in the house, but were gradually driven out. The last to stay, a Mrs Perkins, was hit by a large lump of flying soda – “She ran from the kitchen followed by a tumult of banging’s and a shower of heavy pieces of coal. By this time, almost in tears she cried ‘Alright I’m going’ immediately the noise and the flying coal stopped.”

With the family who lived in the house now gone the spirit was satisfied and peace descended on the house in Eland Road.

London Ghosts 2

Leslie Thomas went on to publish 30 novels until his death in 2014. These articles highlight some of his earliest writings for the Evening News, nine years before publication of The Virgin Soldiers.

They also tell of some of the many possible ghostly encounters you may experience walking the streets of London after dark.

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Highgate – Pubs, History And Architecture

Highgate has been high on my list to visit as some of my father’s photos from 1948 are of the pubs and buildings around the centre of Highgate and with the recent good weather, a destination with a pub seemed perfect.

Highgate is probably better known for the cemetery of the same name, however the village at the top of the hill is well worth a visit to view some of the architecture and stop at some of the many pubs.

Coming out of London, up Highgate West Hill, after a long climb up to the heights of Highgate we reach the Flask. This is how the Flask looked in 1948:

Highgate 2

And my April 2015 photo shows the pub looking very much the same:

Highgate 1

It is really good that in the intervening 67 years there has not been too much change to the pub. The main difference being the courtyard area in front which is now a seating area, although in the 1948 photo you can just see some tables and chairs to the right and left of the courtyard so perhaps even this has not changed that significantly.

Internally, the pub has avoided the conversion to a large open space, the fate of so many other pubs. The Flask still has many small bar areas and rooms at different levels and is probably much the same as when my father visited in 1948.

The name of the pub is apparently from the flasks that were sold from the pub to collect water from the local springs.

Hogarth allegedly drank at the Flask. From Old and New London:

“During his apprenticeship he made an excursion to this favourite spot with three of his companions. The weather being sultry, they went into a public-house on the Green, where they had not been long, before a quarrel arose between two persons in the same room, when, one of the disputants having struck his opponent with a quart pot he had in his hand, and cut him  very much, causing him to make a most hideous grin, the humourist could not refrain from taking out his pencil and sketching one of the most ludicrous scenes imaginable, and what rendered it the more valuable was that it exhibited the exact likeness of all present.”

Fortunately the Flask was very peaceful during my visit, and it was the perfect location to enjoy the spring sunshine.

Another view of the Flask from the side, passing along Highgate West Hill in 1948:

Highgate 4

And today in April 2015:

Highgate 3

The Flask is now a Fuller’s pub. In 1948 as can be seen from the sign above the entrance it sold Taylor Walker’s Prize Beers.  Taylor Walker was founded in Stepney, East London in 1739 and originally brewed beer in Limehouse. It has been through a number of changes in ownership and is now a brand owned by Spirit Pub Company. At some point since 1948, it was acquired by Fullers who still brew beer in Chiswick, West London.

Part of the Green referred to in the Hogarth reference is still in front of the Flask and gives the impression of being in a country village rather than north London:

Highgate 14

The direction sign gives the very stark choice of either entering Highgate Village or going to the North. Highgate obviously has a very low opinion of the value of visiting anywhere else in the local area.

Highgate 15

Leaving the Flask and completing the walk up the hill, we find another pub, the Gatehouse. Highgate does seem well provided with pubs. In 1826, Old and New London records that there were nineteen licensed taverns. The pubs of Highgate practiced a custom whereby strangers visiting a pub had to swear an oath on a set of animal horns (each pub having their own). Byron referred to the ceremony in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

“Some o’er thy Thamis row the ribboned fair,
Others along the safer turnpike fly;
Some Richmond Hill ascend, some scud to Ware,
And many to the steep of Highgate hie.
Ask ye, Boeotian shades, the reason why?
‘Tis to the worship of the solemn Horn,
Grasped in the holy hand of Mystery,
In whose dread name both men and maids are sworn,
And consecrate the oath with draught and dance till morn.”

The custom died out in the 19th century.

I did not count how many are there today, but there does still seem to be a good number.

This is my father’s photo of the Gatehouse from 1948:

Highgate 6

And from the same location in 2015:

Highgate 5

In 67 years it is remarkable how little change there has been, apart from the style of cars, it is mainly cosmetic.

The Gatehouse may look relatively new, however this is one of the key locations in Highgate and the Gatehouse has a long history.

The name Highgate was first recorded in the 14th century, and refers to one of the Gates that provided access to the park, owned by the Bishop of London that stretched from Highgate, to the Spaniards pub in Hampstead and to East Finchley. There is also a view that the name has an earlier source and is based on “haeg”, the Saxon word for a hedge, where a hedge would also have been used to fence around a park.

At some point early in the 14th century, the Bishops of London had allowed a route through their parkland which due to the height of the land around Highgate, provided a more passable route in winter than the main route north through Crouch End and up to Muswell Hill.

The Gate here, or Gatehouse was to collect tolls from travellers along this route and is on the site of the earliest recorded building in Highgate.

The Gatehouse in 1820:

Highgate 11

The Gatehouse also stood in two different parishes as evident from the parish boundary markers still found on the wall of the building:

Highgate 12

The Gatehouse was split between the Parish of Hornsey and St. Pancras Parish. Being split between two parishes caused problems during some of the functions performed within the building. When used as a court, a rope had to be strung across the floor to divide into the two parishes and ensure that the prisoner did not escape into the other parish.

Boundary changes in 1994 took the whole of the building into the London Borough of Camden.

The gates that gave the Gatehouse its name were removed in 1892 with tolls having finished a few years earlier in 1876.

The location of Highgate, on hills to the north of London made it a popular location to live, close to London, but just far enough away to avoid the dense population, pollution, smoke, smells etc. of the city. There was much development of Highgate in the 18th and 19th centuries and many of these buildings remain today.

Close to the Gatehouse is Pond Square. My father took this photo in 1948:

Highgate 9

And in 2015, remove the scaffolding and the building is much the same.

Highgate 10

The name Pond Square comes from the ponds that were originally in the centre area of the square. The ponds were created by the digging of gravel for maintenance of the roads, however the ponds were filled in during the mid 19th century due to the poor state of the ponds and the associated risks to health (being also used as cesspools).

Looking across Pond Square today, there is no evidence of the ponds, although there is still evidence of what Ian Nairn described in Nairn’s London as:

“Ruined by traffic and a weary flow of municipal improvements – asphalt and crazy walling – which is at its worst in Pond Square. The place could be transformed without altering anything but the surface of the floor.”

Highgate 13

Walking round Highgate I was really pleased to find the location of the following photo. This is one of the many that I was not sure if I would find the location. There is no information, street names, recognisable buildings etc. to identify the location of the photo. It was on a strip of negatives that had one Highgate photo but also had photos of central London.

Highgate 8

This is Southwood Lane looking up into Highgate, and in 2015 it is remarkably much the same:

Highgate 7

Highgate is a fascinating location to visit and as shown by the photos my father took in 1948 and my 2015 photos has changed very little.

As usual, in the space of a weekly blog I have only been able to scratch the surface of the history of Highgate, but it is a location I will certainly be back to explore again.

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