Cripplegate Institute and Jewin Crescent

For this week’s post I am back in the Barbican, exploring Cripplegate with another of my father’s photos showing the area in 1947.

The church of St Giles provided a very clear landmark in last week’s photo, but when I first scanned the photo for this week’s post, there were no obvious landmarks or points of reference to help with identification.

Cripplegate

I always look for any building that may still be there today. In the above photo, all the buildings in the foreground have been demolished, apart from one, which looks badly damaged and will also probably be demolished.

There is the paved surface of a street just above where my father was standing.

Many of the buildings in the background do appear damaged, although there are a couple that appear to have minimal if any damage, so could possibly remain today if they were not demolished for the Barbican development.

One building had a rather distinctive design, and also looked in good condition. I have marked this building in the photo below:

Cripplegate

An enlargement from the original photo showing the distinctive features of this building:

Cripplegate

After much checking on Google StreetView, followed up by walking the area, I found the same building. It now has a roof extension, but the external features are identical to those in the 1947 photo. This is the building of the old Cripplegate Institute on the corner of Cripplegate Street and Golden Lane.

Cripplegate

I now needed to track down where my father was standing, and the location of the building in the cleared area. As ever, the Ordnance Survey maps held by the National Library of Scotland provided further evidence.

The following extract is from a post war Ordnance Survey map.

Cripplegate

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

St Giles church is shown to the bottom right. The Cripplegate Institute is marked as a Library (it served multiple purposes which I will explain later in the post) towards the top of the map.

In the centre of the map, there is an empty area, with hashed lines for streets. This is the area demolished after the fires and bombing of the war.

There is one building still marked, a rectangle on what was Jewin Crescent, just above the ‘F’ of Fire Station. Could this be the large building in my father’s photo?

Between where my father was standing and the derelict building, there appears to be two streets. The first is easy to see, the second is a little distance back. This second street cannot be Jewin Crescent as it is not up against the derelict building. I therefore suspect that my father was standing at roughly the point marked where my red lines converge in the map extract.

This street, next to where my father was standing, was Edmund Place.

The alignment of the derelict building and the Cripplegate Institute / Library look right (centre arrow) and the arrows at the side show the approximate field of view in the 1947 photo.

I found some more evidence to confirm from the London Metropolitan Archive, Collage collection. In the following photo we can see the same derelict building that appears in my father’s photo, however now we can clearly see the crescent shaped street, and the location of the building at a street junction, exactly as shown in the map extract.

Cripplegate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0020321CL

It is hard to imagine just how densely built these streets were prior to the destruction of 1940. My father’s photos show large areas of empty space, occupied only by cellars, low walls and the remains of paved streets.

Jewin Crescent was a relatively narrow street with tall buildings on either side. It was originally named simply “The Crescent”, but took on the name jewin Crescent in 1878.

The destruction of 1940 was not the first time that fire had damaged a large area of Cripplegate. On the 19th November 1897, another large fire destroyed much of Cripplegate. The following text is from the start of an article from the London Daily News on the 22nd November 1897 titled “The Terrible Fire – Acres of Ruins – Plans To Relief Sufferers – Four Thousand Persons Out Of Work – Narrow Escape of Firemen”  which gives some idea of the scale of the fire:

“Yesterday crowds of persons from all parts of London  visited the scene of the disastrous fire in the City to view all that remained of the warehouses and factories which were burned out on Friday. The police, who were again on duty in strong force, had the greatest difficulty in keeping the people back from the approaches to the ruined district, and all traffic in Aldersgate Street had to be suspended. It now appears that the thoroughfares affected more or less by the fire are seventeen in number, as follows: Hamsell-street, Well-street, Jewin-street, Jewin-crescent, Redcross-street, Monkwell-street, Edmund=place, Bradford-avenue, Australian-avenue, Nicholl-square, maidenhead-court, Fore-street, Paul’s Alley, Wood-street-square, Falcon-square, Hart-street and Peel-street.

It was on Saturday definitely discovered that the fire broke out at 15, Well-street, in the occupation of Messrs. Lewis and Company, ostrich feather dealers, and not at 30 and 31 Hamsell-street, as at first reported. This mistake is, however, explained by the fact that the rears of these two premises occupied by Messrs. Waller, Brown and Co., mantle manufacturers, and Messrs. Lewis, the former firm carrying on business in the top portions of the two houses. The fire, which it has now been ascertained was undoubtedly caused by an explosion of gas, broke through the premises of the firms in Hamsell-street, and it was in consequence of this that the flames spread with such rapidity along the two streets.

Of course, in some of the above mentioned street only a few of the houses have been touched but Jewin-crescent, Hamsell-street, Well-street, and the greater part of Jewin-street have been wholly destroyed.”

The City Press published a special supplement on the fire, showing the level of destruction across the street. One photo shows Jewin Crescent.

Cripplegate

(reproduced from Grace’s Guide under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike Licence)

If you look in the above photo, there is a building on the right of the street that looks very similar to the building in my father’s 1947 photo, however counting the windows in the 1897 photo, it is not exactly the same, although it appears to be in the right position on Jewin Crescent.

I suspect that it was this building, but rebuilt and modified after the 1897 fire, as I did find a later view of the building, and it is identical to that in my father’s photo.

Cripplegate

Jewin Crescent, London EC1 (Art.IWM ART LD 1202)

The above drawing is by Roland Vivian Pitchforth, one of his works for the War Artists Advisory Committee and is looking west along Jewin Crescent. At the end of the view, on the right of the street is a building that looks identical to that in my father’s 1947 photo.

Both the 1897 photo and wartime print provide a good impression of Jewin Crescent. A narrow, curving street, lined on both sides by tall shops, factories and warehouses. I suspect the building in the 1897 photo was modified or demolished after the fire, and a new building of similar style constructed on the same plot of land, but with changes to the floor layout and windows.

The area where Jewin Crescent and the 1947 building were located is so very different today.

I have marked on the following map extract the approximate locations of Jewin Crescent (red line), Jewin Street (blue line), and the building on Jewin Crescent seen in my father’s photo (orange rectangle), in what are now Thomas More Gardens. The Cripplegate Institute is the orangae circle (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

The following photo shows Thomas More Gardens today. The left part of the 1947 building would have been in the middle of the photo, leading off to the right.

Cripplegate

The same location could hardly be more different. Instead of a densely built, narrow street, which must have been busy with workers and the movement of goods on a work day, Jewin Crescent is now covered by grass, and is a peaceful place surrounded by the buildings of the Barbican estate.

As an aside, a lower level view from around the gardens, provides some interesting perspectives of the Barbican’s architecture. In the following photo, it is clear to see how Gilbert House traverses the lake, held high above the water by a series of (at this distance) surprisingly slender pillars.

Cripplegate

Returning to the building that initially helped me to identify the location, the Cripplegate Institute building is hard to photograph from the south as there is a raised walkway and buildings of the Barbican estate which obscure a full view of the south facing side.

The main part of the building faces onto Golden Lane. The following photo shows the part visible in the 1947 photo, with the main facade on the right.

Cripplegate

The Cripplegate Institute provided a of range educational and cultural services to the residents and workers of the area. A good description of the scope of services offered by the institute, and the very high level of usage of these services is well described in an article from the Shoreditch Observer, dated the 7th November 1908:

“CRIPPLEGATE INSTITUTE – Cripplegate demonstrated its warm interest in its foundation institute on Wednesday night by attending the 12th anniversary conversaxione in strong force. Close upon 400 guests accepted invitations, and they were received in the handsome gold-and-white theatre hall by Mr. B.T. Swinstead, the chairman of the Governors and a member of the Corporation, many of whose members greatly assist the work. The prizes won in the various classes were presented by Deputy and Sheriff Baddeley, and the chairman, in referring to the work of the Institute, said that in the lending part of the library, in which there were 52,000 volumes, some 1,500 books were issued daily, while the average attendance in the newsroom was 5,000 per day.

A special feature was made of the St. John Ambulance and Nursing classes for men and women, and it was hoped to make the Institute the centre for first aid and nursing work in the City. The penny dinner-hour concerts had been attended by 13,284 persons during the year, and over forty societies and clubs had their headquarters in the building. An excellent musical and dramatic entertainment followed.

Owing to the tremendous pressure on the various departments of the Institute, the governors are considering the question of adding another storey to the building, to accommodate the physical drill and other sections of the educational and recreative work.”

The last paragraph explains how the building came to look as it does today. The original building was smaller and of plainer design. The majority of the features we see on the building today, are from the addition of an extra storey.

Some of the figures quoted in the article are remarkable – 1,500 books issued daily, and 5,000 people using the newsroom a day. The institute must have provided much needed services for those living and working in the area.

The Cripplegate Institute opened in 1896, however the foundation stone was laid by the Duke of York two years earlier in 1894:

Cripplegate

The laying of the foundation stone was a typically ceremonial event, with an honour guard from the Honourable Artillery Company, and a band from the same regiment providing the music.

The speeches included very clear references to why such an institution was needed and to the literary importance of Cripplegate:

“The great increase in English literature which had taken place during recent years rendered it most necessary that every effort should be made to place some of that knowledge within the reach of those who were unable to provide themselves with books, either for recreation or instruction, and it was a very natural feeling that the ward of Cripplegate, where Milton and Defoe and other noted authors lived and worked should endeavour to place our literature at the disposal of even the very poorest of our fellow citizens by means of free libraries such as that institute could afford.”

The Duke of York was presented with an inscribed trowel – given the amount of foundation stones laid over the years, I imagine that in some Royal collection somewhere, there must be thousands of trowels, collected from a couple of centuries of foundation stone ceremonies.

The Cripplegate Institute was largely funded by the Cripplegate Foundation, a charity formed in 1891 by the London Parochial Charities Act based on the charitable assets of St. Giles Without Cripplegate, with original gifts dating back to 1500.

The Cripplegate Institute closed in 1973, and the building reopened soon after as the Golden Lane Theatre. The theatre presented a number of professional productions, but was also a focal point for amateur, educational, theatre and dance groups to put on productions.

The Golden Lane Theatre closed around 1988 and the interior has since been converted into office space, and is currently occupied by the Swiss bank UBS.

Cripplegate

I suspect it disappeared during the office conversations, but the facilities of the Cripplegate Institute included a rifle range, and in 1940, when the possibility of a German invasion seemed very real, workers were encouraged to sign up for rifle training. 400 workers from the City of London trained at the Cripplegate Institute. Hopefully for the photographer, their guns were not loaded.

Cripplegate

View of the old Cripplegate Institute building from slightly further along Golden Lane, at the junction with Brackley Street.

Cripplegate

When I first scanned the 1947 photo, I was really not sure that I would be able to track down the location, but starting with the Cripplegate Institute I now know the buildings and street in the photo and roughly where my father was standing when he took the photo.

The development of the Barbican means that it is impossible to take a view of the same scene today, but it is brilliant when walking around the Barbican Estate to think about what was here before, and the fascinating history of this area.

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St Giles Cripplegate and Red Cross Street Fire Station

This coming Saturday, the 14th September, I will be at Barbican@50, which is taking place from 12 to 6pm at the church of St Giles Cripplegate, Fore Street, Barbican EC2Y 8DA

The Barbican@50 fair is organised by local residents to celebrate the Estate’s 50th birthday.

I will be featuring photographs taken by my father in 1947 across what is now the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates, and how they relate to the locations today, as seen in my latest photographs.

You will also be able to pick up a historical adventure map from Tales of Cripplegate, and learn more about events in the area’s past and those who lived and worked there, with a history exhibition by Rebecca Walker of Ancestreemakers and free local history tours led by Peter Clarke, also of Ancestreemakers.

The tours start from the main door at St Giles’ Church at 1.30, 2.30 and 4pm.  Each tour lasts around 30 minutes and follows an accessible route.

There is more at the fair – exhibitions by local artists, book-signings, and refreshments.

One of the photos I will have on display is the subject of this week’s post, taken in 1947, and is looking across a rather devastated landscape to the church of St Giles Cripplegate.

St Giles Cripplegate

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

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

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

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

The following map extract is from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map. The fire station was yet to be built, and part of the site was occupied by a girls school, so I have marked the location of the fire station with a red rectangle. St Giles Cripplegate is just below, on the opposite side of Fore Street.

St Giles Cripplegate

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Locating the fire station and church on the map allows the streets to be identified, and if you look at my father’s photo, he was standing to the left of a street. the buildings have disappeared, but the paved surface of the old street remains.

This was Jewin Street which ran from Aldersgate Street to Red Cross Street, where the junction was directly opposite the fire station.

If you also look at the 1947 photo, in front, and to the left of the fire station is what looks to be a door frame, surrounded by a pile of rubble. This was all that remained of one of the first houses on Jewin Crescent, or The Crescent as it was labelled in the 1895 map.

The development of the Barbican obliterated all the original streets, and the only points of reference that remain to this day are the church and Roman bastion.

In the following map extract showing the Barbican today, I have marked the location of the old Red Cross Street fire station with a red rectangle  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

St Giles Cripplegate

There does not seem to be a consistent usage of the street name Red Cross Street, as Redcross Street is also used. The London Encyclopedia attributes the naming of the street to a red cross which probably stood outside a house belonging to the Abbot of Ramsay, with a first mention in the 13th century.

In A Dictionary of London by Henry Harben (1918) the first mention of the street is as Redecrochestrete in 1274. The entry for the street also mentions a Redcrosse tavern. The Dictionary also provides a similar source of the name as the London Encyclopedia “the names of the street and of Whitecross Street were derived from the armourial bearings of the Abbey of Ramsey and of the Priory of the Holy Trinity respectively, who both possessed houses in these street. But it seems more probable that the name was derived from the Red Cross standing at the north end of this street, whether a house bearing this sign or an actual wayside Cross, it is not easy to determine.”

Stow, writing in his Survey of London in 1603, described Red Cross Street – “In Red crosse street on the west side from saint Giles Churchyard be many fayre houses builded outward with divers Alleyes turning into a large plt of grounde, of olde time called the Jewes Garden, as being the only place appoynted them in England, wherein to bury their deade, till the year 1177”

The burial ground for the Jews is the source of the name Jewin Street.

The building of the Barbican means it is impossible to take any form of meaningful equivalent photo of the same scene today. The nearest I could get (shown in the photo below), was from alongside Thomas More House, however to get the angle correct, I should have probably been standing in the tennis courts to the south of Thomas More House, however there is no view of St Giles Cripplegate from that location today.

St Giles Cripplegate

The majority of the destruction of the area now occupied by the Barbican and Gold Lane estates occurred on the night of the 29th December 1940, with the fires created by incendiary bombs causing much of the devastation.

I wrote about this night attack in my blog post on “The Second Great Fire Of London” and in that post included part of an account of the night by Commander Firebrace of the London fire Brigade detailing his experiences at Red Cross Street fire station:

“In the control room a conference is being held by senior London Fire Brigade (LFB) officers. How black – or, more realistically, how red – is the situation, only those who have recently been in the open realise.

One by one the telephone lines fail; the heat from the fires penetrates to the control room and the atmosphere is stifling. earlier in the evening, after a bomb falls near, the station lights fail – a few shaded electric hand lamps now supply bright pin-point lights in sharp contrast  to a few oil lamps and some perspiring candles.

The firewomen on duty show no sign of alarm, though they must know, from the messages passing, as well as from the anxious tones of the officers, that the situation is approaching the desperate.

A women fire officer arrives; she had been forced to evacuate the sub-station to which she was attached, the heat having caused its asphalt yard to burst into flames. It is quite obvious that it cannot be long before Redcross Street Fire Station, nearly surrounded by fire will have to be abandoned.

A few minutes later L.F.B. officers wisely evacuate Redcross Street Fire Station, and now the only way of escape for the staff and for the few pump crews remaining in the area lies through Whitecross Street”.

The high wind which accompanies conflagrations is now stronger than ever, and the air is filled with a fierce driving rain of red-hot sparks and burning brands. The clouds overhead are a rose-pink from the reflected glow of the fires, and fortunately it is bright enough to pick our way eastward down Fore Street. Here fires are blazing on both sides of the road; burnt-out and abandoned fire appliances lie smouldering in the roadway, their rubber tyres completely melted. the rubble from collapsed buildings lying three and four feet deep makes progress difficult in the extreme. Scrambling and jumping, we use the bigger bits of masonry as stepping stones, and eventually reach the outskirts of the stricken area.

The fire station did survive the war, and bomb damaged was repaired, but the remains of the buildings around Redcross Street, Jewin Street and Jewin Crescent had already been demolished during the war to make the area safe, leaving the exposed cellars, foundations, paved streets and piles of rubble shown in the 1947 photo.

I did get a surprise when researching this post, when looking through newspaper references to Redcross Street fire station as I found a report dating from April 1938 of the death of a distant relative – “A fireman who received a violent electric shock when he cut a cable while fighting a fire in Camomile-street E.C. on Tuesday, died in St. Batholomew’s Hospital. He was a 31 years old member of the Redcross-street Station. The fire, which started in the upper floor of a warehouse, was confined to the building.”

After the destruction of 1940, the firemen of Red Cross Street started a large vegetable plot on the land directly opposite the fire station alongside Jewin Street. The following photo from 1944 shows the firemen at work. The Roman bastion is visible behind the small trees, directly below the dome of St Paul’s.

St Giles Cripplegate

Growing apple trees in the vegetable plot:

St Giles Cripplegate

The Roman bastion shown to the right of the 1947 photo, survived the bomb damage and the development of the Barbican. It had been at the corner of the churchyard of St Giles Cripplegate, and before the war was surrounded outside of the churchyard by office buildings and warehouses. The following pre-war postcard shows the Roman bastion at the corner of the church yard.

St Giles Cripplegate

This rather rural looking print from 1800 shows the bastion and the “Venerable Remains of London-Wall in the church yard of St Giles Cripplegate”  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

St Giles Cripplegate

Today, the church yard has disappeared and the Roman bastion is separated from the church by a stretch of water, which gives the appearance of a moat separating these two survivors.

St Giles Cripplegate

A year after my father took the photo at the beginning of this post, the following  report appeared in the London Letter section of the Scotsman newspaper on the 30th August 1948:

Heart of the City – Even in the sun to-day the ruined area around St Paul’s presented a melancholy sight. Few of the millions who travel to and from the City each day can be aware of the ruins through which it is possible to walk for half and hour without coming to an intact building. There is little sign of new building. The only structure – a giant marquee used for the Honourable Artillery Company’s Ball by Finsbury Pavement – is now being dismantled.

By the shell of St Giles’s Cripplegate, office workers stop each day to inspect the excavations where shards of pottery, pieces of bone, and splinters of horn are daily coming to light. Nearby, where office buildings once stood, message boys now play cricket, their pitches fast becoming a riot of coltsfoot, cornflowers, rosebay and hollyhocks.

In St Giles’s Churchyard, this growth has been halted by firemen from the Red Cross Street fire station, who have been growing peas and potatoes by shattered tombstones.

The ruins extend to Smithfield, where a shabby board announces this was the site of the Old Red Cow.”

The years immediately after the war were a time for excavations around Cripplegate and the Roman bastion and remains of the Roman wall were excavated by the Roman and Medieval Excavation Council, under the direction of W.F. Grimes, Keeper of the London Museum.

As has probably been the problem with all archaeological excavations, the full funding needed for the work (estimated at £3,000) was not available, and the sum of £1,500 was allocated. It seems to have been a rather blunt approach to excavation as reports of the dig talk about modern building tools being used, with the roar of pneumatic drills rising from the trenches all day long.

The area around St Giles Cripplegate probably very rarely hears the sounds of pneumatic drills these days, but the church has lost its churchyard, is separated by water from the Roman bastion, the surrounding street network has long disappeared, and the church is dwarfed by the surrounding buildings.

St Giles Cripplegate

It was so very different in 1830, the date of the following print, when the church was surrounded by a traditional grave yard  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

St Giles Cripplegate

Many of the gravestones can still be found in the area around the church, as shown in the following photo where a sample are embedded in the wall that separates the water from the higher ground where the church is located.

St Giles Cripplegate

The following photo shows the wartime damage to the buildings south of the church, in the space now occupied by the Wallside building, and facing onto Wood Street Square and Hart Street. The square and street are now under the Wallside building.

St Giles Cripplegate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0019965CL

Whilst the tower and walls of St Giles Cripplegate survived, the interior and roof was completely destroyed, demonstrating that the destruction around the Barbican was the result of fires rather than high explosive bombs (many did fall on the area, but the majority of the damage was caused by fire).

The following photo taken in the days following the raid on the 29th December 1940, show the damage to the interior of the church.

St Giles Cripplegate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: m0017971cl

It is hard to imagine this level of damage when standing in the church today:

St Giles Cripplegate

The full name of the church is St Giles without Cripplegate, referring to the fact that the church was outside the original City walls – confirmed by the nearby location of the Roman wall showing that the church is indeed north of the wall.

There may have been a church here in Saxon times, and the first stone church dates from 1090.

The church has been through a number of rebuilds over the centuries. The distinctive tower with a stone lower section and brick upper section dates from 1682, when the upper section of the original stone tower was removed, and 15 feet of brick tower added.

The church was severely damaged by fires in 1545 and 1897, but escaped the Great Fire in 1666.

St Giles Cripplegate claims to be the burial-place of the poet Milton and a life-size statue of Milton watches over visitors to the church:

St Giles Cripplegate

The Milton statue dates from 1904 when it was unveiled by Lady Alice Egerton as part of the reconstruction work after the 1897 fire.

The statue had a rather close shave on the 29th December 1940:

St Giles Cripplegate

Newspaper reports of the unveiling of the Milton statue also included a rather gruesome story about Milton’s body dating from 1790, when:

“There are probably many who will be surprised to hear that the body of Milton was once on view at the charge of threepence a head within a few yards from the site chosen for this splendid tribute to his memory. It was in 1790 after a little carousal, that two overseers and a carpenter entered the Church of St Giles Cripplegate, where Milton lay buried, and, having discovered the leaden coffin which contained his body, cut open its top with a mallet and chisel. When they disturbed the shroud, the ribs fell. Mr Fountain confessed that he pulled hard at the teeth, which resisted until someone hit them with a stone. Fountain secured all the fine teeth in the upper jaw, and generously gave one to one of his accomplices. Altogether the scoundrels stole a rib-bone, ten teeth, and several handfuls of hair; and to crown the diabolical business, the female gravedigger afterwards exhibited the body to anyone willing to pay threepence for the spectacle.”

St Giles Cripplegate is also the burial-place of the late 16th / early 17th century map maker John Speed.

St Giles Cripplegate

John Speed was a member of the Merchant Taylors Company, and it was this company that restored Speed’s memorial after being badly damaged in 1940.

Whilst Milton and Speed have some rather impressive memorials, there is one in the church that is much more modest.

St Giles Cripplegate

“That is all” sums up the memorial to the life of Thomas Stagg who was vestry clerk of the parish from 1731 to 1772. There are many other historical names who have an association with the church, including Oliver Cromwell who was married in St Giles Cripplegate in 1620.

The view along the southern aisle of the church, Milton’s statue on the left:

St Giles Cripplegate

This has been a brief description of a very historic area. I will be exploring more of the streets and buildings covered by the Barbican and Golden Lane estates, and the streets that have disappeared, during the coming weeks, and showing many more of my father’s photos of the area at the Barbican@50 event on the 14th September at St Giles Cripplegate.

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Crow Stone, London Stone and an Estuary Airport

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

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

These stone markers are still to be found, so I set out to visit both stones, and to explore the history of the City of London’s jurisdiction over the river, up to the estuary.

The following map shows the location of the stones and the imaginary line across the River Thames. Map extract (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

London Stone

The City of London’s claim to the river this far out to the estuary, appears to date from around the late 12th century when the City of London purchased the right from Richard 1st in 1197.

This gave the City of London the ability to charge tolls, control activities such as fishing on the river and exercise other legal powers over river use, including navigation of the river. This control extended from the line between Southend and the Isle of Grain in the east, to Staines in the west. The City of London also tried to control part of the River Medway from where the southern end of Yantlet Creek reached the Medway, to Upnor on the boundary with Rochester.

The exact powers of the City and their ability to apply them to the River Thames and Medway were frequently in dispute, but the City continued till the 19th century to claim control, including renewing the stone markers as evidence of their rights.

My first visit was to the stone on the north bank of the River Thames.

The Crow Stone

The Crow Stone is easy to visit. To the west of Southend, on the boundary with Leigh on Sea and where the road that runs along the sea front turns inland at Chalkwell Avenue.

Walk over the embankment that forms the sea wall between beach and road, and providing you have timed the tide correctly, the Crow Stone can be seen a short distance out from the beach, and an easy walk over stones and gravel.

London Stone

A short walk out to the stone, over a very firm layer of stone and gravel, with small pools of water the only indicators that this area was not long before, covered by the river.

The green algal growth on the Crow Stone shows the tidal range of the river.

London Stone

It is very doubtful whether there were stone markers here dating back to the original purchase of the right by the City of London. The earliest tangible evidence is of a stone dating from 1755, although there may have been an earlier stone that had disappeared, prior to the mid 18th century replacement.

The current stone dates from the mid 1830s. The date on the stone is 1836, but a plaque on the stone erected by the Port of London Authority states 1837.

The view back towards land, showing the gradual rise in height as the shoreline reaches up to the land.

London Stone

Carved on the Crow Stone are the names of the Lord Mayor, Alderman and Sheriff, although this adds further confusion as to the date the stone was erected, as the Lord Mayor named on the stone, William Taylor Copeland, was Lord Mayor in 1835.

London Stone

The City of London, via the Lord Mayor and Alderman, would demonstrate their control of the river by visits to inspect the condition of the stones. These visits were major events, and the Illustrated London News describes a visit to the Crow Stone in 1849:

“CONSERVANCY OF THE RIVERS THAMES AND MEDWAY – The assertion of the Conservancy jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor over the River of Thames, and the Waters of Medway, or the View as it is technically termed, is a septennial custom attended with some interesting customs and celebrations, which falling due this year, has just contributed to the convivial memorabilia of the present Mayoralty.

This, by the way, is termed the Eastern Boundary of the jurisdiction, whilst the view from Kew to Staines is the western.

The jurisdiction appears to have been immemorially exercised over both the fisheries and navigation of a large portion of the Thames by the Mayor and Corporation of London; and we find an order dated 1405, issued from Sir John Woodcock, then Lord Mayor, enjoining the destruction of weirs and nets from Staines to the Medway, in consequence of the injury they did do the fishery and their obstruction to the navigation.

The portion of the river over which the jurisdiction of the River extended seems to have always been much the same. The offices of Meter and Conservator are asserted from Staines to the mouth of the Thames, by the formerly navigable creek of Yantlet, separating the Isle of Grain from the mainland of Kent, and on the north shore by the village of Leigh, in Essex, placed directly opposite and close to the lower extremity of Canvey island.”

These visits by the Mayor and Alderman seem to have been a good excuse for a party. The Illustrated London News goes on to describe the visit to the Crow Stone:

“THURSDAY, JULY 12, The company assembled on board the Meteor steamer, engaged for the occasion, moored off Brunswick Wharf, Blackwall. There were present the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress and a large party.

The steamer left Blackwall at about half-past eleven o’clock, and having received on board the Royal Marines band at Woolwich, the Meteor proceeded on her passage to Southend, the civic party being liberally welcomed with salutes and other respectful demonstrations.

At about three o’clock the Meteor arrived at Southend Pier, where the Lord Mayor, lady mayoress, and a large portion of the company landed. The Lord Mayor, attended by the Aldermen, the Town Clerk and Clerk of the Chamber, and some of the civic authorities, proceeded in carriages towards Leigh, nearly opposite to which the boundary stone is situated.

Here, by direction of his Lordship, the City colours and state sword were placed upon the stone, and after asserting his rights as Conservator of the River Thames, on behalf of the City of London, by prescription and usage from time immemorial, the Lord Mayor directed the Water Bailiff, as sub-conservator, to cause his name and the date of his visit to be inscribed on the boundary stone. The Lord Mayor then drank ‘God preserve the City of London’, the inscription on the ancient stone, and after distributing coin and wine to the spectators, the civic party returned to the steamer.

The stone itself was in the water, so that it had to be reached in boats. the scramble for the money was a rumbustious affair.”

The Lord Mayor’s order to the Water Bailiff to have his name and date of visit inscribed on the stone was carried out and the name of Sir James Duke (Lord Mayor between 1848 and 1849) can still be seen on the Crow Stone, along with the name of previous and following visits.

London Stone

An illustration of the 1849 visit to the Crow Stone – it must have been quite a sight:

London Stone

Note that in the above illustration, the man carrying what I assume to be the colours of the City of London is standing on a smaller pillar, adjacent to the Crow Stone, and it was this stone that I wanted to find next.

The earliest known boundary marker stone on the north bank of the Thames at Southend dates from 1755. It was removed from its original position next to the 1836 stone in 1950, when it was relocated to Priory Park in Southend, so that is where I headed to next.

The original Crow Stone:

London Stone

This stone really does look like it has spent 200 years standing in the Thames Estuary, being battered by the wind and waves, and the daily movement of the tides.

The plaque on the current Crow Stone states this older version was erected on the 25th August 1755 by the Lord Mayor. The earliest written reference to the stone that I can find is from the Chelmsford Chronicle, dated the 18th July 1788, which carries a report of a body, sewn in a blanket, being found near the Crow Stone, washed up on the tide. It was assumed that the body was that of someone who had died on a ship and was buried at sea.

This report does confirm that the name Crow Stone was being used in the 18th century.

The stone in Priory Park has words carved into the stone, but these are very hard to read due to over 250 years of weathering, although as shown in the above photo, the cross from the coat of arms of the City of London is still clear, at the top of the stone.

London Stone

Wording is carved onto multiple sides of the stone, and at the base of the stone is either evidence of repair work, or possibly the original fittings that held the stone onto a base.

London Stone

So, Southend has two stones, one dating back to 1755, that mark the limit of the City of London’s jurisdiction over the River Thames. I next wanted to see the stone on the opposite side of the river.

The London Stone, Yantlet Creek

Marking the southern end of the line across the Thames from the Crow Stone is the London Stone by Yantlet Creek on the Isle of Grain.

The Isle of Grain is the eastern most section of the Hoo Peninsula in north Kent. The Isle was originally an island, with Yantlet Creek forming the western boundary. Parts of the creek have now silted up, so whilst difficult to get to (apart from the road on the southern edge of the peninsula), the Isle of Grain is not strictly an island.

The London Stone is not easy to get to. There are no footpaths to the stone, to the east of the stone is a large danger area as the land was once a military firing range. The south of the island has the remains of old power stations and new gas storage terminals.

The only route that I could see that worked was from the west, then across Yantlet Creek at low tide. The following map shows the Hoo peninsula on the left, the Isle of Grain to the right, the red dot marks the location of the London Stone, and just to the left of the London Stone is Yantlet Creek. Map extract (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

London Stone

Free time and tide times do not conspire to make life easy, so a couple of weeks ago I was on the edge of Yantlet Creek at 6:15 in the morning, ready to get across to the London Stone, and back again before the tide came in too far. The low tide was just before 7, so hopefully I had plenty of time to get across, look around the London Stone, and return before the water started to rise along Yantlet Creek.

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

London Stone

As can be seen in the map at the start of the post, the Hoo Peninsula and the isle of Grain are very undeveloped, apart of the south of the isle where large gas storage holders can now be seen, and where coal fired power stations once operated.

The Yantlet Creek has long been a key point of reference on the River Thames, and there are numerous newspaper reports using Yantlet Creek as a reference for an event on the river, and the change in regulations that apply when crossing the line between Yantlet Creek and Southend.

For example, in April 1880, the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette had a report on the option for ships to change their navigation lights as they passed Yantlet Creek “Masters will not, probably, take advantage of the permission, when inward-bound, on reaching Yantlet Creek, at which point the river regulations come into force, of taking in their sea lanterns and exhibiting others”. The emphasis of the article was that whilst legally ships could switch to using lights with less visibility when passing Yantlet Creek, they would probably prefer to keep their sea lights on, which provided visibility of up to two miles – probably a wise move on a congested river at night.

Yantlet Creek was once a more significant feature than today, when it provided a navigable route between Thames and Medway, and turned the Isle of Grain into a true island.

The following map extract is from John Norden’s 1610 map of Essex. The map does show part of the northern coast of Kent along the Thames, and the Hoo Peninsula be seen, with Yantlet Creek running between Thames and Medway, cutting of the Grane Island from the rest of Kent.

London Stone

The 1610 map also shows Alhalows, and it was from here that my walk to the London Stone commenced.

From the end of Avery Way there is a bridleway that runs up to the sea wall.

London Stone

The bridleway runs over an area of flat pasture, with a herd of cows who look as if they are surprised to see someone at this time of the morning.

London Stone

At the end of the bridleway, the land rises up to a footpath which runs along the top of the sea wall.

London Stone

Although again, the cows do not seem happy to let me through.

London Stone

Whilst the majority of the land is pasture, just before reaching the sea wall, there is a wide, water filled ditch with reeds that runs parallel to the sea wall.

London Stone

Up on the sea wall, looking out to the estuary.

London Stone

The Hoo peninsula and Isle of Grain are important habitats for birds. The RSPB has a reserve on the west of the peninsula at Cliffe Pools, and as I walked along the footpath, numerous birds flew up from the surrounding grassland, and there was the constant sound of birds on the mud flats of the estuary.

My first sight of the London Stone, to the left of the navigational marker at the entrance to Yantlet Creek.

London Stone

Looking back over the Isle of Grain to large gas holders:

London Stone

A better view of the London Stone as I get towards Yantlet Creek.

London Stone

I like the above photo as it shows four ways in which the Thames Estuary has been used over the years. Closest is the navigational marker for the entrance to Yantlet Creek, further back is the London Stone.

Look between the London Stone and the navigation marker and you can just see the Shivering Sands, World War 2 sea fort. To the right of the navigational marker are the wind turbines of the Thanet wind farm. The photo also highlights the isolation of the London Stone.

As I walked around to the edge of the Yantlet Creek, it was starting to look worryingly wide.

London Stone

In the grass adjacent to the creek is a stone with a rectangle where a plaque may once have been fixed.

London Stone

I only found one reference to this in the wonderful Nature Girl blog, where there is a reference to this being a memorial to a young boy who drowned in the bay, and there having been a copper plaque on the stone.

A reminder that no matter how calm the estuary appears, this is always a dangerous place to venture.

The point where Yantlet Creek narrows and heads inland between the isle of Grain and the Hoo Peninsula:

London Stone

It was here that I was able to find a way down the embankment, which was muddy, covered in seaweed and rather slippery, but I was able to cross over to the opposite shore.

It was still a short time to go before low tide and water was running out from Yantlet Creek towards the estuary. The above view also shows how deep the water will become when the tide comes in, and the flat nature of the mud flats mean that the tide can come in very rapidly and without too much warning.

The shore opposite was sand and stone, and provided a firm walking route to the London Stone, without having to leave the shore. The shore line curved round to what looked like a low peninsula with my destination at the tip.

London Stone

The London Stone is a short distance out from the beach along which I had been walking. It had been built on a raised platform of stones, with a raised level of stones providing an easy walk out to the London Stone without having to venture into the surrounding mud.

London Stone

Walking up to the London Stone. The obelisk is mounted on a square stone, which in turn sits on a plinth.

London Stone

The view above is looking out over the Thames Estuary with the coast and buildings of Southend in the distance. It is just over 4 miles from here to Southend.

Most of the references I have read about the London Stone assume it is dated to 1856, and there is a very eroded date on the obelisk that looks like it could be 1856. There may also have been a previous stone marking the location. An article in the City Press from September 1858 provides some more background:

“THE NEW CONSERVANCY BOARD OF THE RIVER THAMES – During the past week, the Conservators of the River Thames visited the eastern limits of the Thames Conservancy and limits of the Port of London. The jurisdiction of the Conservancy extends to the eastward as far as the line drawn from Yantlet Creek , on the Kent shore, to Crow Stone, near Southend on the Essex shore, and the Port of London extends eastward as far as a line from near the North Foreland, on the Kentish shore, to the Naze of Harwich, on the Essex shore.

The ancient boundary stone near Yantlet Creek was found completely embedded in sand and shell. The Crow Stone on the Essex side, having been comparatively recently placed there, is a prominent object, and is discernible at a great distance. 

It is the intention of the Conservators, we understand, to place a new stone on the site of the ancient stone at Yantlet.”

This article mentions the Thames Conservancy – this was the body who took over responsibility for the Thames from Staines to the Southend – Yantlet line from the City of London in 1857 under the Thames Conservancy Act. The article also mentions the Port of London, who have a far wider remit, extending much further out into the Thames Estuary – a responsibility carried out to this day by the Port of London Authority.

The article also mentions the ancient boundary stone being found embedded in sand and shell.  I did wonder if it is still there, buried under the stones that support the London Stone we see today.

As with the Crow Stone, the London Stone has carved text, however erosion makes it almost impossible to read, however I suspect that it is a list of names from the City of London responsible for the erection of the new stone.

London Stone

Supporting the obelisk, there is a square block of stone, with one side being carved with names. Despite at times being below the waterline, this block is easier to read, and contains a list of names of City Aldermen and Deputies. At the top of the list is the name of the Lord Mayor, Warren Stormes Hale, who was Lord Mayor of the City between 1864 / 1865.

London Stone

The name of a Lord Mayor from 1864 / 5 adds further confusion to dating the London Stone, as we now have:

  • References to the year 1856 as the date for the stone (for example English Heritage Research Report Series no. 16-2014)
  • A newspaper article from 1858 stating that the ancient stone is covered and that a new stone is needed
  • The name of a Lord Mayor from 1864/5 carved onto the base of the stone

So I am still not sure exactly when the London Stone was erected within a time range of 1856 to 1865.

Only the original Crow Stone at priory Park is Grade II listed. It appears the later Crow Stone and the London Stone are not protected, so over time they will gradually erode from the effects of weather and estuary water.

It really was a wonderful experience standing at the London Stone as the sun rose over the Thames Estuary, but it could have all been so very different.

Inner Thames Estuary Airport

The expansion of London’s airports has been rumbling on for decades, with an additional runway at Heathrow seeming to be the industry preferred selection, but one that was politically unacceptable.

The Thames Estuary has always been looked on as a potential site for a new airport. The estuary being just close enough to serve London, but remote enough to take away the noise of flights from over the city and suburbs, along with providing large areas of land for expansion.

One of the earliest was the 1970s proposal for an airport on Maplin Sands off the coast of Essex.

During his time as Mayor of London, Boris Johnson proposed and strongly supported the concept of an inner Thames Estuary Airport covering much of the isle of Grain, parts of the Hoo Peninsula, and the waters off the peninsula.

Plans were developed by the architect Sir Norman Foster, which proposed a massive airport in the estuary consisting of multiple runways, airport buildings and transport links to London and the rest of the national transport infrastructure. See illustrations of the airport here.

The illustrations show the airport, but the land on the rest of the peninsula appears untouched and ignore the amount of other infrastructure that would be required to serve the airport, and which would have obliterated the rest of the Hoo Peninsula.

I have added the outline of the airport to the following map. The red dot is the position of the London Stone, so where I was standing would have been in the middle of aircraft stands and gates, with multiple runways on either side. Map extract (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

London Stone

Thankfully, the inner Thames Estuary Airport option was excluded from a shortlist of options by the 2014 Airports Commission report, chaired by Sir Howard Davies.

One of the reasons for excluding the airport given in the report was the rather pointed:

  • There will be those who argue that the commission lacks ambition and imagination. We are ambitious for the right solution. The need for additional capacity is urgent. We need to focus on solutions which are deliverable, affordable, and set the right balance for the future of aviation in the UK

However given current politics, i would not be surprised if the proposal for an airport on the Isle of Grain and Hoo Peninsula gets resurrected.

Standing by the London Stone, as the sun rose, the distant sounds of the estuary, birds calling over land and water, it becomes very clear that an airport here would be a disaster.

I hope the following video provides an impression of this unique site.

The Crow Stone and London Stone are reminders of the City of London’s historical reach outside of the city, which as well as the Southend – Yantlet line also reaches out to Staines in the west, and included part of the River Medway. This post has been rather long, so I will cover the other stones at Upnor (River Medway) and Staines in future posts.

If you decide to visit the London Stone, then do so at your own risk and do not use this post as a guide – the estuary is a dangerous place.

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Southend on Sea – A London Bank Holiday

To really understand London and the lives of Londoners, we need to look outside the city to see how London has influenced the development of so many other places, one prime example being Southend on Sea.

Southend on Sea is on the Thames Estuary, not quite the open sea, and very different to the river that passes through London.

The first settlement around Southend was to the north of the town at Prittlewell, probably dating from the 6th or 7th centuries.

There was gradual development over the centuries, but from the late 18th century development dramatically increased and Southend on Sea became a major seaside resort of the 19th and earlier 20th centuries.

Passenger ships from the heart of the City would ferry day visitors to Southend, and with the opening of two rail lines (Fenchurch Street to Southend Central in 1856 and Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria in 1889), large numbers of Londoners would make their way to experience a day on the coast and to walk along the pier.

Southend is only Southend because of London.

As this is a Bank Holiday weekend, it seemed appropriate to join the thousands of Londoners who have made the same journey over the years and take a trip out to Southend on Sea.

Southend

The above photo shows crowds streaming up Pier Hill. This leads from the pier and the parade along the sea front, up to the high street and the stations. It was probably taken towards the end of the day when day trippers were heading back to the stations for their journey back into London.

The Southend Standard from August 1910 provides a wonderful description of Southend on an August Bank Holiday:

“HOW SOUTHEND SPENT BANK HOLIDAY – Last year Bank Holiday was cold and wet, and holiday makers had a good deal of their enjoyment marred by cold winds and frequent showers. This year however, the Clerk of Weather changed his mind for once, and was in his most genial mood.

The sun shone from early morn to dewy eve; his somewhat warm attentions being tempered by a cool and steady breeze. Very early in the morning the incoming excursion trains began to unload their human cargoes; the railway stations, like gigantic hearts, beat at regular intervals and sent the human tides flowing outwards, to disperse themselves along the various arteries and veins of the town.

Such crowds there were too; everyone in their holiday rig; artisans and their wives, the poorer class of clerks, ‘Arry in fearsome ties, the latest cut of trousers, and bowler or straw hat stuck jauntily on one side; ‘Arriet in all the glory of purple velveteen, brown boots and large hat with sweeping ostrich feather; everybody and his uncle as the saying goes, was in the crowd that ceaselessly passed down the high street and spread itself along the front. By midday, the Parade was a sight worth seeing; right away from Westcliffe to Luna Park, the great mass of holiday making humanity moved to and fro and back again, like the tides of the estuary, merry laughter, jokes and greetings were everywhere. But it was down along the east front, in the afternoon that the holiday crowd was seen at its best, there the genus tripper was present in every variety.

The stalls which purveyed fearsome and wonderfully made American drinks did a roaring trade. Every fruit shop was the centre of a knot of customers and even the establishment whose claim to attention lay in the handing out of frizzling hot sausages and steaming mashed potatoes did a brisk trade.

From the shops at the commencement of the Parade to the gasworks every place did a roaring trade, they might have been huge magnets and the coins in the pockets of those outside made of steel, so quickly did the later pass over the counters, and from hand to hand.

The spaces of beach and sand which were left vacant were filled with hundreds of children and grown-ups, who sat about and enjoyed themselves to the full.  In the pools left by the residing tide the youngsters had great sport, and with pail and spade and tucked-up clothes, splashed and dug to their hearts contents.

‘Arries and ‘Arriets, regardless of the dust and the heat, danced round piano organs in the East End style, which is only born and cannot be taught.

By six o’clock in the evening the human tides begin to return to the railway stations and crowd the trains again. Much singing and dancing was there, not quite so clear and steady as in the morning, but nevertheless all good humoured.”

The train companies would arrange special excursion trains from London to Southend for Bank Holiday weekends, and newspapers in advance of the weekend would carry advertisements detailing the times and prices for those wanting to leave the city for a day by the sea. Very different to today, where the Bank Holiday is often a time for closures and engineering works, rather than special trains heading to the coast.

Southend Pier has long been a central feature of a day by the sea. The original pier opened in 1830, and the iron pier that we can walk along today followed in 1889. The end of the pier was extended several times with the Prince George Extension opened in 1929 bringing the length of the pier to 1.34 miles.

The pier railway was opened in 1890, reaching the end of the pier in 1891.

In the following years, Southend Pier has been hit by ships and suffered a number of fires. At times it seemed that the pier would not be restored and might even be closed, but somehow it has continued to stay open, a train still runs the length of the pier, and the buildings at the pier-head have been restored.

Time for a Bank Holiday walk along the pier:

Southend

Once you start walking along the pier, the beauty of the estuary sky becomes apparent. The land on either side of the estuary almost blends with the water, and the wide open sky stretches from horizon to horizon.

Distance markers tell you how far along the pier you have walked – and how far you still have to go.

Southend

The Southend Pier Railway still runs the length of the pier.

Southend

The first 1830 version of the pier included a horse-drawn tramway, however this was replaced by an electric tramway in 1890 soon after completion of the iron pier.

There have been a number of different versions of the pier train over the years – this is the first version I remember, with the bowling alley in the background which once was the main building over the start of the pier.

Southend

Conditions on a warm August day are very different to the wind and rain the pier has to endure, sticking over a mile out into a flat estuary  with no protection from everything that the weather can throw at the pier.

The pier therefore needs constant maintenance. Replacement of the wooden boards lining the walkway, painting of the railings, replacement and restoration of the iron supports of the pier.

Southend

Looking back along the pier from alongside the station at the pier-head.

Southend

End of the pier station and estuary sky.

Southend

Colour at the end of the pier.

Southend

The pier did comprise upper and lower decks at the pier-head. The lower decks are now closed off.

Southend

Pier head:

Southend

Looking back at the pier head:

Southend

The following photo from the Britain from Above archive is titled “The Royal Eagle Paddle Steamer alongside Southend Pier, Southend-on-Sea, from the south-east, 1939”

Southend

Note the two decks along the pier head, and the crowds of people on the pier and the ship.

The Royal Eagle ran regular day trips from the centre of London out to Southend, Margate and Ramsgate.

A typical advert for the service from May 1933 read:

“London’s Luxury Liners – Commencing 3rd June Daily (Fridays excepted) Royal Eagle for Southend, Margate & Ramsgate from Tower Pier at 9.20 a.m. Greenwich 9.50, North Woolwich 10.20.”

Day return fares during the week to Southend were 4 shillings and 5 shillings on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.

If you wanted a slightly longer day at Southend, the Crested Eagle left Tower Pier at 9 a.m.

The mid section of the pier head as it was pre-war. Note also the end of the pier station, with two covered platforms for trains.

Southend

The very end of the pier:

Southend

The view back along the pier towards Southend from the end of the pier:

Southend

From our 2019 viewpoint, it is probably hard to understand just how much a day out at Southend meant to someone living in East London. The ability to escape from the daily pressures of trying to earn enough to feed and house your family must have been essential to make life worth living. Whilst researching through newspapers, I came across the following tragic example from 1921. Hopefully a very rare case, but it does highlight what a day out at Southend meant to an east Londoner:

“TRAGEDY OF BOY’S SUIT IN PAWN – LOSS OF HOLIDAY CAUSES MOTHER’S SUICIDE.

Worried because she could not raise the money necessary to get her boy’s Sunday suit out of pawn so that he could go to Southend on Bank Holiday, Ellen Woolf (44) of Mile End, committed suicide by swallowing carbolic acid.

It was said at the inquest that the woman had had 14 children, of whom eight were living, and the clothes had been pawned during the week in order to get food.

She had also had additional worries over a sick child and debt. The husband served in France during the war, and was badly wounded. Before and since, for over 20 years, he had sold newspapers in Leadenhall-street for a living.

Suicide while of unsound mind was the verdict.”

The verdict should really have drawn attention to the pressures she must have been under, as these must have been the root cause of her state of mind – I will never take a trip to Southend for granted again.

Southend has had to change and adapt to continue to attract visitors who want more that just a walk along the pier or the Parade. As the 1910 report stated, in 2019 it is still about money, and attracting the coin out of the visitors pocket.

On either side of the pier, along the sea front is Adventure Island – a dense cluster of rides and amusements.

Southend

The following photo from the Britain from Above archive shows the sunken gardens in 1928, this is the same space as shown in the above photo.

Southend

The old Marine Parade, or Golden Mile runs along the sea front to the east of the pier.

Southend

This was one of the places to go in the late 1970s with my first car on a Saturday night. Clubs such as Talk of the South (ToTS) were in the buildings on the left and customised cars would spend their time driving up and down the Golden Mile. Southend on a Saturday night was exciting when you are 17.

It was a very different scene in the early years of the 20th century:

Southend

Large amusement arcades now line the street:

Southend

There have been proposals over the years to demolish and rebuild large parts of the Golden Mile, but they never seem to move beyond the conceptual stage, so Southend’s brightly coloured and gloriously tacky eastern seafront continues into the 21st century.

Southend

At the end of the street is the Kursal, now a shadow of its former self.

Southend

Opened in 1894 with the main entrance buildings opening in 1901, the Kursal consisted of dining halls, billiard rooms, bars etc. in the main building, with a large fairground covering the land behind.

The Kursal has been through many changes in use and ownership. In 1910 it was renamed the Luna Park, as referenced in the newspaper article at the start of the post. It has been used for greyhound racing and in the 1970s, the main ballroom was a rather good live music venue.

Leaving the seafront and walking up Pier Hill we find this strategically placed souvenir shop:

Southend

The shop has been here for as long as I can remember, and it is on the route back to the High Street and train stations from the pier and sea front. Just the place to stop off and buy your last minute souvenir before returning on the train to London.

Southend is not all garish seaside buildings, there is some wonderful historic architecture. At the top of Pier Hill, turning to the west along the cliff top is the Royal Terrace.

At the far end, on the corner with the High Street, is the Royal Hotel and a line of late 18th century houses run along the street with superb views over the pier and estuary.

Southend

The terrace was built between 1791 and 1793. The “Royal” name of the terrace was given after the 1803 visit of Princess Caroline (the wife of the Prince Regent), who occupied numbers 7,8 and 9 – the houses in the centre of the photo below.

Southend

At the end of the Royal Terrace is the Cliff Lift, providing pedestrians with a route between the sea front and the top of the cliff if they want to avoid the walk.

Southend

In 1901, a moving walkway was installed on the site, replaced by the lift which was constructed in 1912.

The lift has undergone several refurbishments and updates since, the most recent being a £3 million upgrade in 2010.

For 50p you can be carried smoothly up to the Royal Terrace:

Southend

One final view across the estuary, where sand blends into mud, then water then sky, with a thin sliver of land across in Kent. Hard to believe that this is the the river that flows through central London, now over 4 miles wide between Southend and the Kent coasts.

Southend

Southend is only the Southend we see today because of London. A long heritage of being one of the main destinations for Summer weekends and Bank Holidays for those who lived in London.

Easy transport provided by passenger ships on the river and the opening of two railway lines to central London helped bring crowds out of London to spend their money in Southend. In the late 1920s and 1930 a new main road (now the A127) was opened between the Eastern Avenue at Romford and Southend, adding a dual carriageway from east London directly to Southend as visitors started the move from ship and train to car – a trend that would be accelerated in the post war years.

Tastes will continue to change and what people want from a day at the seaside will evolve, but I suspect that Southend will respond as it has done for two hundred years, and develop new ways to, as the 1910 article stated, remove the coin from the pocket of the visitor, but for me it will always be a place to get lost in the wonderful estuary sky.

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Ironmonger Lane – Two Thousand Years of History

A couple of week’s ago I was in ironmonger Lane in the City of London, a narrow lane running between Cheapside and Gresham Street.

The buildings in the lane are relatively recent, and difficult to photograph due to the width of the lane, however Ironmonger Lane has a fascinating history, so for this week’s post, let me take you on a journey through time starting with the earliest traces of habitation in ironmonger Lane.

As with many City streets, ironmonger Lane suffered bomb damage in the last war, hence the relatively young age of the buildings that line the lane today.

The bomb damaged remains of number 11 Ironmonger Lane were being demolished after the war and the Guildhall Museum led an excavation of the site.

Number 11 is in the centre of the photo below:

Ironmonger Lane

Adrian Oswald, working on behalf of the Guildhall Museum excavated the site, and 16 feet below street level the remains of a Roman house and Roman mosaic were found.

Ironmonger Lane

The excavation was notable at the time as this was the first Roman mosaic that had been found since excavations at the Bank of England.

The mosaic and house were dated to around the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

It is intriguing to imagine that Ironmonger Lane was a street in Roman times, and this was the earliest traces of the buildings and people living in this part of the City.

Ironmonger Lane

The next traces of occupation in Ironmonger Lane are possible 9th to 11th century foundations found in the churchyard of St. Olave during an excavation in 1985 / 86. The churchyard is in the centre of the lane, and Roman bricks were also found during the excavations, providing further evidence of Roman building.

Early in the 12th century, Thomas Becket, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury and murdered at Canterbury Cathedral at the apparent command of King Henry II, was born in a house on the corner of Ironmonger Lane and Cheapside, a plaque marks the site today:

Ironmonger Lane

The Becket family owned part of the land at the southern end of Ironmonger Lane and alongside Cheapside.

Also in the 12th century, we see the first references to the church of St Olave (roughly half way along the lane), although certainly much older, and also to the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon (dedicated to Thomas a Becket), when hospitals were mainly religious establishments.

The Hospital of St Thomas of Acon was founded in 1227 on land at the southern end of Ironmonger Lane, between ironmonger Lane and Old Jewry, facing onto Cheapside.

The hospital would be important for how we see the southern end of Ironmonger Lane today.

Now for my first map. This is John Rocque’s map of 1746, although I have not yet reached the 18th century, the map is helpful in showing the location of some of these 12th century establishments.

Ironmonger Lane

Ironmonger Lane is in the centre of the map. Cheapside at the southern end, and Cateaton Street (which would later become Gresham Street) at the northern end.

Look to the southern end, and to the right of Ironmonger Lane is a block of building and the abbreviation “Cha” for Chapel – this is the area where Thomas a Becket was born and also the site of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon.

The hospital was built on land purchased from the Becket family. The name Acon is the anglicised version of Acre (now part of Israel), and dates from the Third Crusade between 1189 and 1191, and possibly originates from an order of monks / knights formed during the Crusade and the siege of Acre.

In Rocque’s map, you can see that the Mercers Hall is also shown where the hospital was located.

The Mercers Company represented the interest of merchants who traded in materials such as wool, linens and silks and it was the Mercers who became patrons of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon, and used the hospital’s chapel as a ceremonial meeting site from when the chapel was built in the 13th century in 1248.

Also in the 13th century, the second church in Ironmonger Lane is first mentioned. This is the church of St Martin Pomary which was located between the church of St Olave and Ironmonger Lane – two churches adjacent to each other. To see how close these churches were, look at Roqcue’s map above, to the left of St Olave, you will see the text “St Martin’s Church Yard”.

I have not yet mentioned anything about the name – Ironmongers Lane.

The name relates to the trade of Iron Mongers as in the medieval City, trades generally clustered around specific streets. The first mention of the name is from the 13th century, and there were many variants of the name, starting with Ysmongeres Lane, with other variations between the 13th and 14th centuries. The Agas map of 1561 records the street as Iremongers Lane.

The ironmongers would not stay too long in the area as it appears they have moved to the Fenchurch Street area in the 15th century – so the name is a remarkable survival of a medieval trade with a specific area.

In the 15th century, the Mercers were continuing their long association with the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon as in 1407 the Mercers purchased their own chapel in the Hospital’s church.

Moving a century later, and the 16th century was a time of dramatic change in ironmonger Lane.

In 1524, the Mercers built their first Hall on land purchased from the Hospital.

In 1538, the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon was taken over by the Crown during the dissolution. The Mercers negotiated the purchase of the land, and subsequently purchased all the hospital’s properties, and the company built the Mercers School on part of the land. I suspect they were a company never to pass by a good commercial opportunity.

The Agas map of 1561 shows Ironmonger Lane densely built, with the church on the east side of the street and the Mercers Hall facing onto Cheapside.

Now travel forward to the 17th century and in 1665, as with the rest of London, the occupants of Ironmonger Lane lived in dread of the plague, and as a preventative measure, the Mercers closed their school.

The following year, 1666, the Great Fire took hold of the area and burnt down the churches of St Martin Pomary and St Olave, along with the Mercers Hall.

Wren rebuilt the church of St Olave in the 1670s, but St Martin Pomary was not rebuilt, the parish was amalgamated with that of St Olave.

The Mercers second Hall and Chapel on the site were also rebuilt, opening in 1676 to continue the Mercers long association with ironmonger Lane. The fire had also destroyed all remaining evidence of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon.

In the 19th century, Ironmonger Lane was a busy commercial street in the heart of the City.

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows St Olave and Mercers Hall, along with a Police Station and a Public House at number 11 – this was Mullen’s Hotel.

Ironmonger Lane

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Census reports provide an insight into Ironmonger Lane, and the City of London in general. In the 1861 census, it was recorded that there were 23 people living in the Mullens Hotel at number 11:

  • 5 family members and the owner of the hotel
  • 8 workers, all female and listed as servants
  • 10 visitors to the hotel including;
    • Drapers from Ireland
    • Drapers from Cornwall (one with two sons)
    • A Commercial Traveler from Norwich

As ever, London was a temporary home for travelers who had business in the City.

In 1892, the church of St Olave was demolished, apart from the tower of the church. The demolition was under legislation brought in to reduce the number of City churches. The tower was converted into a rectory for St Margaret Lothbury.

The tower is difficult to photograph from street level when the trees are in leaf, but it is there.

Ironmonger Lane

View of St Olave as it appeared in 1830, before demolition of the body of the church and with the tower visible from ironmonger Lane.

Ironmonger Lane

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q8051273

The gates that lead from the street into the old churchyard of St Martin Pomary with the tower of St Olave behind.

Ironmonger Lane

So into the 20th century, and Ironmonger Lane suffered badly from bombing during the Second World War.

The Mercers Hall, built after the Great Fire, was destroyed during the night of the 10th / 11th May 1941, and it was bomb damage that opened up number 11 to the excavation work that revealed the Roman house and mosaic.

Walking the street today, and we can still see the tower of St Olave, the old church of St Martin Pomary would have been just to the right and in front of the tower.

A number of parish boundary markers can be seen on the walls of buildings along the street, including that of St Martin Pomary:

Ironmonger Lane

The third Mercers Hall is at the southern end of the street, rebuilt after the Second World War. If you look on the corner of the hall, and along the hall and buildings along the south eastern side of Ironmonger Lane, you will see several carvings of the head and shoulders of a woman with a crown.

Ironmonger Lane

The figure is part of the armourial bearings of the Mercers Company, known as a Mercers Maiden, the figure is probably that of the Virgin Mary, although there is no written evidence to confirm this.

Ironmonger Lane

Ironmonger Lane

The Mercers have long been associated with the charitable building of houses across London, and there would have been a carving, or statue of a Mercers Maiden on the outside of the building. I have photographed a number of these including a very fine example alongside the church of St Dunstan and All Saints Stepney, and also along Hardinge Street.

The Ironmongers Lane entrance to Mercers Hall:

Ironmonger Lane

The following photo shows the view along Cheapside. The entrance to Ironmonger Lane is just to the left of the red circled street signs..

Ironmonger Lane

The large building running along Cheapside in the centre of the photo occupies the land between Ironmongers Lane and Old Jewry originally the location of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon.

The following drawing shows the Mercers Hall occupying the same site in 1881. Ironmonger Lane is at the left.

Ironmonger Lane

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q7707062

The above view shows the post Great Fire version of the hall after considerable refurbishment. It was this version of the hall that was destroyed in May 1941.

The photo of the building from Cheapside shows more memorials to Thomas a Becket on the building corner at the junction of Ironmonger Lane and Cheapside..

Ironmonger Lane

It was the original association of the Mercers Company with the Becket family dating back to the 12th century, and their patronage of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon, that almost 900 years later has the Mercers Hall still on the same site.

Looking up Ironmongers Lane from Cheapside, the open space on the right is at the entrance to the Mercers Hall, the narrow width of the lane can be seen continuing north.

Ironmonger Lane

There are a couple of passages leading off from ironmongers Lane.

The wonderfully named Prudent Passage leads to King Street. originally this was Sun Alley, and this original name was in use in the 18th century, with the first mention of Prudent Passage being in 1875.

Ironmonger Lane

St Olave’s Court runs to Old Jewry, alongside the location of the church of St Olave, and probably over the site of St Martin Pomary.

Ironmonger Lane

The view looking north towards the junction with Gresham Street:

Ironmonger Lane

The view south along Ironmonger Lane from Gresham Street showing the narrow width of the lane.

Ironmonger Lane

Number 11 Ironmonger Lane is just along the lane on the left. No longer a hotel, a new building was constructed on the site following the 1949 excavations, and refurbished a number of times since, and it is here that the Roman house and mosaics were found, which brings us full circle on almost 2,000 years of history of Ironmonger Lane.

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HMS President and the Oxo Tower

In 1947 my father was standing on the north bank of the River Thames, slightly west of Blackfriars Bridge, and took this photo looking across the river to the Oxo tower on the south bank and a sign on the river for HMS President.

HMS President

72 years later, I took a photo of the same view:

HMS President

The Oxo tower is still there as a significant south bank landmark, although the rest of the south bank view in the original photo has changed considerably.

All trace of HMS President has disappeared.

HMS President is the name given to the location of the Royal Naval Reserve in London. The current location of HMS President is shore based, occupying a riverside building and river access along St Katharine’s Way, just to the east of Tower Bridge. The onshore move was made in 1988 when the base on the river was sold, and it is this incarnation of HMS President that had made a brief departure when my father took the photo in 1947.

Up until the 1988 move to a shore location, HMS President was the name given to the ship used as a base for the Royal Naval Reserve, with the first ship taking the name being used as a Royal Navy Drill Ship (before the formation of the Volunteer Reserve as it was known in 1903), being based in the West India Docks.

The ship that was temporarily away when my father took the 1947 photo, was originally HMS Saxifrage, built in Renfrew, Scotland in 1918. She was from a class of ships called Q Ships. These were ships designed as ordinary merchant ships, but heavily armed and with the aim of luring submarines into making a surface attack (believing that the ship was not armed), and therefore being able to attack the submarine on the surface, rather than the almost random dropping of depth charges.

The following photo is off HMS Saxifrage alongside a jetty, just after completion:

HMS President

HMS SAXIFRAGE (FL 4510) Alongside a jetty on completion. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120412

Being completed at the end of the First World War, HMS Saxifrage only saw active service in the final months of the war, including some engagements with U boats, one of which was sunk with depth charges after an exchange of gun fire. In 1922 she took on the role of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve ship and was moored at Blackfriars with a name change to HMS President.

Despite the Royal Naval Reserve moving onshore in 1988, the ship continued to be moored at Blackfriars as it had been sold, and was then used as a location for private events.

The ship only moved from Blackfriars a couple of years ago to make way for the building site that has taken over the location as this is now one of the construction sites for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, part of which can be seen in my 2019 photo.

Turning to look to the east from where I took the 2019 photo, this is the original entry to HMS President from the Embankment, now just a set of closed off steps leading to a drop into the river.

HMS President

This is the view of the Thames Tideway Tunnel construction site, which was occupied by HMS President.

HMS President

I looked back through my photo collection, and the last photo I had taken of HMS President before the ship moved, was in 2014 when the ship was decorated as a “dazzle ship”.

HMS President

Dazzle ship camouflage was intended to optically distort the view of the ship at sea and make the ship harder to locate and attack. This method of camouflage started to be used in the First World War and the 2014 painting of the ship in this style was by the artist Tobia Rehberger as part of the 14-18 Now World War 1 centenary art commissions.

HMS President in 2014 looks very much like a ship, however this was not the appearance when the ship left Blackfriars in 1947. When HMS Saxifrage was converted to become the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve ship, the ship was not intended to sail at sea, or indeed on the river. The ship needed to provide accommodation space for training, a drill hall and act as a recruiting centre. The hull of the ship was retained, but a series of, what can almost be described as sheds, were built along the top of the hull.

This gave HMS President a rather strange appearance, and the view of the ship on the Embankment was often criticised for its rather cobbled together construction.

The recruiting function of HMS President is clear from the sign in the 1947 photo which reads “Recruiting every Wednesday 18:30 to 19:30. Annual bounty and training allowance paid. Training with the fleet.”

Removing the ship from Blackfriars, and transporting to Chatham Dockyard where the ship would undergo a full refit and replacement of all the buildings on top of the hull, was a difficult exercise.

This photo shows HMS President being moved away from the Blackfriars mooring. The series of sheds on the top of the ship can be clearly seen.

HMS President

The photo below is of the ship being towed towards Blackfriars Bridge. What is interesting in the photos above and below is the difference in the views of the north and south banks of the Thames. The view of the north bank is much the same as seen today, however the industrialised south bank seen in the photo below has changed completely. Note the Shot Tower at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge.

HMS President

Getting HMS President under Blackfriars Bridge was a rather tight squeeze.

HMS President

The time had to be carefully planned, as the tide had to be low enough to get the ship under the bridge, but there needed to be sufficient depth of water to ensure the ship could be floated.

When HMS President returned a few years later, the ship was restored to what would be the expected appearance of a ship, including the all important funnel, but there was still space for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to carry out their training and drill activities.

The building across the river in the 1947 photo is the Oxo building with the Oxo tower.

HMS President

The site was originally occupied by Old Barge House Wharf, Old Barge House Corn Wharf and Iron Wharf. On the western edge of the site was Old Barge House Stairs, and these can still be found today leading down from the corner of the Oxo building. These are old stairs as they are shown on Rocque’s 1746 map of London.

The wharves were demolished in the late 19th century to make way for a power station for the Royal Mail. The site was then acquired by the Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company, manufacturer of Oxo meat extracts and Oxo stock cubes. and the new building, constructed as a cold store was completed by 1929. The original facade of the power station was retained, with the rest of the building demolished to create the new cold store.

The story associated with the letters being part of the window design is that permission was not given for an illuminated brand name to be part of the original building design, so the letters became part of the window design.

I have no idea whether this is true, however in the 1947 photo you can also see the name Oxo in large letters across the top of the facade of the building.

By the 1970s, the site was empty and was in a bad state of repair. There were plans to demolish the building, along with a redevelopment of the surrounding space, however the GLC purchased the building and then sold it to Coin Street Community Builders at a substantial discount.

I suspect this would never happen today – the building would be sold at the highest price and converted to either a hotel or expensive riverside apartments.

A major refurbishment of the building took place, which included a rebuild of most of the building behind the facade and the Oxo Tower Wharf building reopened in 1996, hosting a range of specialist shops, galleries and restaurants.

Returning to the site once occupied by HMS President, I walked over Blackfriars Bridge to look back at the Thames Tideway construction site,

HMS President

The Thames Tideway Tunnel, or super sewer as it is also known, is a major construction project, building a new intercept sewer that follows the Thames until Limehouse, where it cuts in land before reaching the Beckton treatment works. The aim of the new sewer is to intercept the sewers as they fall towards the Thames and prevent overflows into the river at times of high rainfall.

The route of the Thames Tideway Tunnel:

HMS President

There are a number of river construction sites where a shaft is being sunk down to the sewer tunnel. The area covered by these construction sites will be turned into an extension of the Embankment, so when construction is finished, the site in the photo below will be new public space.

HMS President

I photographed the view from Blackfriars Bridge in 2014, before HMS President moved. In this photo below, HMS President is the first ship on the right. The old Blackfriars pier is at the extreme right of the photo.

HMS President

This is the same view, five years later in 2019.

HMS President

The Tideway Tunnel construction site is on the right. When construction finishes, this will be the site of the new extension of the Embankment into the river, so the view will not return to that of 2014.

Note on the left side of the photo how the Oxo Tower is not now an isolated tower on the south bank when seen from Blackfriars Bridge. The new towers around the Shell Centre buildings in the background have changed this view.

HMS President is now in Chatham docks. The name of the ship has been changed back to HMS Saxifrage and restoration work in underway.

The name Saxifrage refers to the Saxifrage genus of plants which includes the variety London Pride – so a tenuous London connection between the original name of the ship, and the city where she would spend so many years.

HMS President was not the only naval training ship on the river along this section of the Embankment. HMS Chrysanthemum (which provided additional space for the naval reserve), was moored a short distance further west, and opposite Temple underground station was a ship used by the Sea Scouts.

To finish this week’s post, here is an extract from my father’s write up of his wartime diaries from the year 1942, where he talks about being a Sea Scout on a Thames training ship and their activities along the river:

“Opposite Temple Station lay the S.S. Discovery, the ship in which Captain Scott had sailed to the ant-arctic. The ship was used by the Sea Scouts which I had joined, and permanently manned by a small crew of teenage orphans, presided over by a grizzled old salt whose party piece was to accurately spit into the Galley Stove. My group, the Saint Pancras Sea Scouts, based at Tufnell Park, and very proud to be allotted Captain Scott’s cabin, would meet there every Sunday, to be taught seamanship and river craft. Part of our ‘job’ on the river was to sail a Whaler, several of us on either side of the boat, one oar each, the Skipper in the stern, a lookout in the bow, as far as Tower Bridge in one direction and Pimlico in the other, dependent on fog which could be hairy with a steamer bearing down on us. 

Sea Scouts were an unpaid adjunct to the River Police so as we journeyed along the Thames, barges and lighters would be boarded to check that all was secure, and anything suspicious investigated. 

A crowd would always be gazing at us from the Embankment, and if any pretty young girls were to the fore we would show off by performing dangerous climbs on the rigging, and I would eat my sandwiches suspended hammock like on the cables underneath the bowsprit.

However, my greatest claim to fame and humiliation was to loose my footing on the slippery gangway and fall into the cold and filthy river. the whole of Sunday afternoon was spent below decks trying to dry my sodden clothes over the stove.” 

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Old Barrack Yard and the Chinese Collection

Before heading to Old Barrack Yard for today’s post, a quick update to last week’s post on Seven St Martin’s Place.  Thank you for all the feedback, personal links with the site and thoughts on who could have created the reliefs on the front of the building.

Through Twitter, TheTaoOfOat sent me this link to a site which included some posts from the original sculptor’s daughter. Hubert Dalwood was the sculptor who was commissioned to create the reliefs for the Ionian Bank. The material is aluminium which probably makes them rather unique.

I have been in contact with Hubert’s daughter, Kathy Dalwood, who is also a sculptor, to discover more about the background to these reliefs, and she will be letting me have some more information when she returns from travel. I have also e-mailed the developer to ask whether the reliefs will remain with the new hotel development.

Thanks again for all the feedback, it is brilliant to be able to bring some recognition to these wonderful reliefs and I will update the blog post as I get more information.

Now to the subject of today’s post – Old Barrack Yard.

I was in Knightsbridge last Tuesday on a rather wet July day. Leaving the underground station at Hyde Park Corner, I headed west along Knightsbridge, and a short distance along, turned south into Old Barrack Yard. The part I was interested in was not the street that connects directly onto Knightsbridge (which is a building site at the moment), but a bit further along after where the street turns east, there is a southern branch heading down towards Wilton Row.

I have marked the location in the following map extract  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Old Barrack Yard

My father took a number of photos of Old Barrack Yard on a rather sunny day in 1949:

Old Barrack Yard

Seventy years later, I photographed the same scene on a very wet day:

Old Barrack Yard

Although the weather conditions are very different, and my use of colour photography also tends to suggest a difference in the two scenes (I often wonder whether I should switch to black & white for these comparison photos) – the scene is very much the same, apart from some minor cosmetic differences.

The paving stones do though appear to be different in the two photos.

The name – Old Barrack Yard – provides a clue as to the history of the area.

The following map extract is from Horwood’s map of London, created between 1792 and 1795. The large block in the centre of the map is Knightsbridge Barracks.

Old Barrack Yard

Stabling for the Grenadier Guards were in use here around 1762, and by 1780 barracks had been fitted out, with an entrance through to Knightsbridge, allowing direct access to Hyde Park.

Ornate gardens had been created to the south of the barracks and a large yard was to the right of the barracks – part of this yard and the gardens to the south are the location of Old Barrack Yard today.

The military released the barracks in the 1830s, and the following extract from Reynolds’s 1847 map of London shows how the area had developed:

Old Barrack Yard

The barrack block can still be seen, and on the western edge of the original gardens, just below the barracks, is the church of St. Paul’s, built in the early 1840s. The yard can still be seen to the right of the barracks, and a crescent of housing has been built up to the corner of the church – this is Wilton Row.

Note that to the right of the old barracks block is the abbreviation “Exh” – this refers to an exhibition that was established here in the 1840s using parts of the yard and the old barracks.

The Chinese Collection was an exhibition of Chinese artifacts collected by an American merchant, Nathan Dunn, who had spent 12 years in Canton. The exhibition had previously been on display in the United States, but brought to London at the encouragement of a number of learned societies and individuals. Interest in China was high at the time with the first Opium War about to be brought to a successful close with the signing of a peace treaty with the Chinese in Nanking.

The Illustrated London News reported on the Chinese Collection in August 1842:

“Upon the left-hand side of the inclined plan, extending from Hyde Park Corner to Knightsbridge, and towards the extremity of St. George’s-place, a grotesque erection has lately sprung up with all the rapidity which distinguishes the building operations of the present day.

As the work proceeded, many were the guesses at the purpose for which it was intended; and to feed the suspense of the many thousands who daily pass this thoroughfare, the work was covered with canvas until just completed. The structure in question is the entrance to an extensive apartment filled with ‘curiosities of China’. In the design this entrance is characteristically Chinese, and is taken from the model of a summer residence now in the collection. It is of two stories, the veranda roof of the lower one being supported by vermilion-coloured columns, with pure white capitals. and over the doorway is inscribed in Chinese characters ‘Ten Thousand Chinese Things’. Such summer-houses as the above are usual in the gardens of the wealthy in the southern provinces of China, often standing in the midst of a sheet of water, and approached by bridges, and sometimes they have mother-of-pearl windows.

Although the above building is raised from the pathway, whence it is approached by a flight of steps, it is somewhat squatly proportioned. But such is the character of Chinese buildings, so that when the Emperor Kesen-king saw a perspective of a street in Paris or London he observed, ‘that territory must be very small whose inhabitants were obliged to pile their houses to the clouds;’ and, in a poem on London, by a Chinese visitor it is stated – ‘The houses are so lofty that you may pluck the stars’.

The collection we are about cursorily to notice, has been formed by the American gentleman, Mr. Nathan Dunn, who resided in China for a period of twelve years, and experienced more courtesy from the Chinese than generally falls to the lot of foreigners.

The design at first was merely to collect a few rare specimens for a private cabinet; but the appetite grew with what it fed upon, and thus Mr. Dunn has assembled what may, without exaggeration, be termed the Chinese world in miniature; and, it is equally true, that by means of this collection, we may, in some sense, analyse the mental and moral qualities of the Chinese, and gather some knowledge of their idols, their temples, their pagodas, their bridges, their arts, their sciences, their manufactures, their trades , the fancies, their parlours, their drawing rooms, their cloths, their finery, their ornaments, their weapons of war, their vessels, their dwellings, and the thousands of et ceteras.”

The approving description of the Chinese Collection in the Illustrated London News continued for a few more hundreds words. The exhibition was a considerable success, and was the place to be seen in 1842.

A view of the interior of the Chinese Collection:

Old Barrack Yard

The Chinese Collection exhibition closed in 1846, and in 1847 the pagoda that had been built for the exhibition at the entrance to Old Barrack Yard was purchased by James Pennethorne and relocated to an island in the lake at Victoria Park, Hackney, where it could be found until 1956.

By 1895 the barrack’s had disappeared (partly demolished in the 1840s, with final demolition in the late 1850s), and the buildings that form the lower part of Old Barrack Yard, photographed by my father, can be seen in the following map extract.

Old Barrack Yard

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The upper part of Old Barrack Yard was still there, however this area would be developed in the 20th century, leaving Old Barrack Yard as a street that runs from Knightsbridge, turns to the east, then south into the section focused on in today’s post.

The entrance to Old Barrack Yard from the north is through a building that separates off this southern section of the street. The view from the end of the entrance arch:Old Barrack Yard

The same view in 2019 on a very wet July day (although with the cloud cover, i did not have the contrast problems that my father had on a very sunny day):Old Barrack Yard

Walking through the arch and this is the view looking back:

Old Barrack Yard

The same view today;

Old Barrack Yard

There are a number of references, including in the latest Conservation Area Audit by Westminster City Council, that the buildings around the arched entrance, shown in the above photos are part of the original stables for the barracks. My only concern is that they do not appear in the maps prior to 1895, although being stable buildings they may have been considered as part of the yard and therefore not shown as separate structures.

The top section opens out with the potential stable buildings surrounding a wider section of Old Barrack Yard, so this part of the street does have the appearance of a stabling area. The final, southern section is composed of a narrow walkway, separated from the stables area by three bollards, which appeared in the 1949 photos and remain to this day.

Two and three storey, early 19th century buildings line this final section of Old Barrack Yard.

Old Barrack Yard

1949 above and 2019 below. the tall buildings directly behind the old stables detract from their appearance, but Old Barrack Yard remains much the same.

Old Barrack Yard

A landscape view of the same scene:

Old Barrack Yard

I really like small details that remain the same – the leaning lamp-post, the access covers on the ground, the bollards, the drainage channel.

Old Barrack Yard

Walking backup, this is a wider view of what could have been part of the original stables for the barracks. The appearance perfectly fits the function of a stables, with a wider space between the buildings than in the rest of the street, with large openings on the ground floor for stables, rather than brickwork.

Old Barrack Yard

At the southern end of Old Barrack Yard is the side of the Grenadier pub. There is a doorway at the end Old Barrack Yard which provides access to steps that lead down into Wilton Row.

Old Barrack Yard

Looking back up from the southern end of Old Barrack Yard:

Old Barrack Yard

Walking through the gate at the end of Old Barrack Yard and down the steps takes us into Wilton Row. This is the view looking back on the Grenadier pub. The gate to Old Barrack Yard is on the right.

Old Barrack Yard

Parts of the Grenadier building could date from 1720, when it may have been part of the officers mess for the barracks. Again, my only concern is that the pub is not shown as a separate building on any of the maps prior to 1895.

To try to trace the age of the pub, I have been searching newspapers for any references.

The very first reference dates from 1828, when on the 20th February 1828, the Morning Advertiser carried an advert, with a rather shocking exclusion:

“WANTED a thorough SERVANT for a Public-House. One with a good character may apply at the Grenadier, Knightsbridge Infantry Barracks – No Irish need apply”

That last sentence is still shocking to see in print. The address implies that the pub was part of the infantry barracks, which makes sense as the pre-1895 maps may not have gone into detail with the structures within the barracks and barrack yard.

I have also found a couple of references that for a short period the pub was called the Guardsman. I have been trying to find newspaper references to confirm, and have only found one. In the Morning Advertiser on the 16th October 1856 there is the following advert:

“BRICKS – FOR SALE. 150,000 Bricks, 10,000 Pantiles, 20,000 plain Tiles, at the Life Guardsman public-house, Knightsbridge, and six adjoining houses. Inquire on the Premises.”

I am not aware of any other pub in Knightsbridge with this name, although given the barracks in Knightsbridge, this may be a possibility, however the late 1850s are when the final remains of the old barrack buildings were demolished, so the sale at the pub may have been of the demolished remains of the old barrack block.

What is clear is that the Grenadier is an old pub, and has its origins in the infantry barracks that occupied the area  for many years.

The Grenadier in 1951:

Old Barrack Yard

Old Barrack Yard is part of the very extensive Grosvenor Estate land, and is also within the Belgravia Conservation Area, this last classification should help Old Barrack Yard, with its references back to the original infantry barracks in Knightsbridge, survive for many more years.

Any signs of the Chinese Collection have long since disappeared. After the exhibition closed, the collection toured the country and then returned to the United States. It did later return to London,  when it opened at Albert Gate in 1851, not far from the original location. The Chinese Collection was not as popular this second time round, and closed a year later, with items from the collection then being sold at auction.

Old Barrack Yard is one of those hidden locations where you can walk from a very busy street into a totally different place. Whilst I was there, very few people walked through the street. Most of the people I saw were workers from the neighbouring hotels and offices using the arch at the top of the yard to smoke or make phone calls whilst sheltering from the rain.

It is well worth a visit, with the Grenadier pub an added bonus.

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Seven St Martin’s Place and London Hotel Growth

London changes at such a rate that it seems every time you walk down a street, there is new building work underway. I was recently walking down Charing Cross Road towards Trafalgar Square and saw scaffolding and sheeting around this building – Seven St Martin’s Place.

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin’s Place is between the church of St Martin in the Fields and William IV Street and faces the Edith Cavell Memorial.

There is nothing very special about the building. It is a late 1950s office block with retail space along the ground floor. The company I worked for in the early 1980s had a couple of floors in the building.

What the building does have is a rather good location. Opposite the National Gallery, less than a minute’s walk from Trafalgar Square, at the southern end of Charing Cross Road and close to the Strand – a prime west London location.

The location of the building is shown by the red rectangle in the following map extract  (© OpenStreetMap contributors) .

Seven St Martin's Place

The reason for the building work at Seven St Martin’s Place is that the building is being converted to a hotel.

The City of Westminster planning decision approves a change of use for the first to fourth floors from offices to hotel accommodation along with extensions at the fifth floor roof level to create a new rooftop restaurant and bar with external terrace,

The existing ground floor retail units will be reconfigured and new retail space created, both at ground and basement levels.

The hotel will consist of 136 bedrooms and be operated by the Butterfly Hotel Group, a Hong Kong based hotel company.

The redevelopment of Seven St Martin’s Place mirrors so much other development across London, where almost any property that becomes available, or can be purchased, is converted to either apartments or hotels. Not in itself a bad thing, providing that residential apartments are affordable, which is rare, or that the diversity of use found across London streets is not restricted.

The planning decision states that whilst “Policy S20 of the City Plan July 2016” resists the loss of offices to residential use, there is no policy that resists the loss of office space to hotel use. Apparently because it is also another use that generates employment, so providing the proposal meets regulations such as noise control, light, appearance, access etc. there is no reason to turn down the application, although an additional Policy S23 does state that existing hotels must be protected and that there are no adverse effects on residential amenity.

I suspect that with the demand for hotel rooms in London, very few applications are turned down.

Building name above the original entrance to the building:

Seven St Martin's Place

The conversion of Seven St Martin’s Place did get me wondering about how many hotels there are in London and the level of growth as there does seem to be new hotels opening all the time, and at what point is saturation reached?

There are a number of reports available, and a report by London & Partners (the Mayor of London’s official promotional agency) titled “London Hotel Development Monitor – The Investment Hotspot” provides an overview.

The function of the agency is to promote London and the report is very much focused on promoting the city as a tourist destination and the opportunities for hotel development that tourism brings.

The report states that:

  • In July 2018 there were 140,000 hotel rooms in London
  • An additional 11,600 rooms were expected to be built by 2020
  • Room occupancy is significantly high. In 2018, 79.6% of rooms were occupied, slightly behind Dublin (82%), but higher than Dubai (76.4%), Paris (77.1%), Berlin (74.7%) and Rome (70.1%)

An earlier report stated that the City of Westminster had the most hotels, with 433, with Kensington and Chelsea being second at 189. The City of London had 68 hotels.

The report highlights the impact of the 2012 Olympics on the number of hotel rooms opened across London:

  • 2012: 8,133 new hotel rooms
  • 2013: 1,833 new hotel rooms
  • 2014: 5.442 new hotel rooms
  • 2015: 3,117 new hotel rooms

The money involved is significant with the report claiming hotel investment in 2015 was £3.9 billion.

This level of growth and investment is expected to continue. A working paper “Projections of demand and supply for visitor accommodation in London to 2050” (Greater London Authority – April 2017) provides a projection of visitor numbers to London over the coming decades, with International visitor growth expected to be:

  • 2015 – 18.581 million
  • 2020 – 19.992 million
  • 2025 – 21.215 million
  • 2030 – 22.439 million
  • 2036 – 23.907 million
  • 2041 – 25.130 million
  • 2050 – 27.332 million

Domestic visitors to London, staying overnight will also be growing significantly in the same period;

  • 2015 – 12.938 million
  • 2020 – 13.964 million
  • 2025 – 15.451 million
  • 2030 – 16.938 million
  • 2036 – 18.598 million
  • 2041 – 19.928 million
  • 2050 – 22.413 million

Projections are notoriously difficult to get right, but I suspect it is safe to assume that the number of hotels required in London will continue to grow significantly, and there will be many more redevelopments of existing buildings over the coming decades.

The closed Post Office on the ground floor of Seven St Martin’s Place – will this type of business ever return to the retail space of redeveloped buildings, with probably increased rents? The planning decision does confirm that space will be available for the Post Office should the company choose to return.

Seven St Martin's Place

The growth in hotels across London has been considerable, but to understand the impact on local communities, pricing pressure on the cost of housing, apartments and flats, costs for renting, we must also look at the growth of Airbnb in London, which has been dramatic over the last few years.

The Inside Airbnb site has some fascinating detail on the number and type of accommodation listed, cost, occupancy etc. The overview for London at the time of writing this post shows that for London there are:

  • A total of 77, 096 listings, of which;
  • 42,758 are entire homes or apartments
  • 33,594 are private rooms
  • 744 are shared rooms

The supporting data is downloadable. I was creating a graphic showing the number of Airbnb’s for each London borough, but ran out of time (I will add when complete), but for now, along with the new hotel being built, there are 9,411 Airbnb listings in Westminster.

The relative ease and low cost of global travel is driving the rise in tourism, and therefore the demand for accommodation in cities across the world. Other cities such as Venice and Barcelona are taking steps to control tourism, and the growth in Airbnb. These cities also have to manage the rise in tourists arriving by cruise ship – an issue which currently has minimal impact on London, apart from the occasional cruise ship moored by HMS Belfast or at Greenwich. Whilst these methods of travel do not require accommodation in the city, they do drive a high number of visitors who spend little in the host city.

Amsterdam is another city trying to manage ever increasing visitor numbers with a number of steps being taken including the Netherlands Tourist Board no longer actively promoting the country as a tourist destination.

The demand for land and buildings for hotel development is one of the many drivers behind the price of property across London.

In 2010, Seven St Martin’s Place was sold for £41 million and four years later in 2014 it was sold again, with the prospect of change of use to a hotel, for £65 million – a profit of £24 million in four years.

The facade of the building is relatively bland, however there is some interesting decoration on the side of the building facing the Edith Cavell monument. There are two vertical sets of, I am not sure what – artwork, carvings – one panel between each window, creating vertical columns of panels spaced between windows. See the photo at the top of the post for the location of these panels.

Close-up photos of these panels reveal some intriguing designs:

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

I have no idea as to the origin of these panels, or what they are intended to represent.

The building is not listed, and strangely the planning decision document which details the conditions of planning approval does not make any mention of these panels.

The drawings in the planning document appear to include these panels, so hopefully they will remain.

I have really tried to make out what these panels mean, but cannot find any reference, or looking at them, see any recognisable form or pattern.

I did wonder if put together they would make a map. I have written about the building at 111 Strand, where a map of the area has been carved into the Portland Stone across the 1st to 5th floor of the building.

To see if they made a map, or if there was any other meaning when the panels are combined, I put them together in the same order as they appear on the building:

Seven St Martin's Place

It does look as if the panels are meant to be combined. There are features that run from one panel to the adjacent. There looks to be a boarder around combined panels. On the far right of the panels, there are vertical wavy lines running down all four panels – could this be the River Thames?

Despite looking at these panels for ages, rotating the photos, trying different combinations, I cannot see any meaning – perhaps there is none. If anyone knows what they mean and who created them, I would be really interested to know.

Although the focus of this week’s post was on the building, and what another hotel conversion means for London, I wanted to have a quick look at the history of the site.

The area demands a full post, so this is a brief look. The 1895 Ordnance Survey Map shows the area as it was around 125 years ago:

Seven St Martin's Place

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The street plan is much the same as today, but the block of land that is now occupied by Seven St Martin’s Place was St Martin’s Mews. The Vicarage remains to this day

What is interesting is that the location now occupied by the monument to Edith Cavell, also had a statue in 1895, however it must have been different as the Edith Cavell monument was unveiled in 1920.

On July 18th 1902 a rather impressive statue to General Gordon, mounted on a camel was unveiled in the same position:

Seven St Martin's Place

But this was seven years after the Ordnance Survey map – I could not find any reference to an earlier statue, but my research time was limited.

The London Metropolitan Archives Collage collection, as usual provided some views of the site prior to the construction of the building we see today.

This is the view of the building that occupied the site, note the entrance to the Mews. The photo is dated 1930 and I suspect are the same buildings that are shown on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map.

Seven St Martin's Place

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_523_A7058

In the above photo, the darker section on the right of the block is the vicarage. This part of the block remains to this day and it is the lighter section on the left that was demolished to be replaced by Seven St Martin’s Place.

The following photo is a 1958 view of the building. As the 1895 map indicates, it was a collection of different buildings with a central mews.

Seven St Martin's Place

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_523_58_2190

As the above photo is dated 1958, it was either demolished soon after, or the references to the current building on the site being a late 1950s office block are wrong, and it is perhaps early 1960s.

The view of the building from William IV Street today, shrouded in sheeting as part of the building work.

Seven St Martin's Place

Changes to London are gradual, and normally it is only the historically or culturally significant buildings that get publicity when their use is changed, or they are threatened, but there are also so many changes involving rather ordinary buildings from the last half of the 20th century.

Hotels and expensive residential buildings appear to be the main drivers of development, however there still appears to be an expectation for plenty of office space. The 2017 London Office Policy Review for the Greater London Authority projects that office employment across the greater London area will rise from 1.982 million in 2016 to 2.861 million in 2050, so office space will continue to be required in larger volumes to accommodate this workforce.

So with the 2050 projections for both office space and tourism numbers – London is set for a considerable amount of development over the coming decades, and we will continue to see change whilst walking the streets of London, although I am not sure how much trust I would put in future projections.

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Fitzroy Square

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the J.Evans Dairy in Warren Street. After walking along Warren Street I headed south along Fitzroy Street to have a look at Fitzroy Square, one of the many squares and gardens built as London expanded north and west during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

It was the weekend, so was quiet during my visit, but it was strange walking from the traffic of the Euston Road, to a peaceful square and the sound of birdsong.

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square is south of Warren Street and Euston Road and to the west of Tottenham Court Road.

A large square with a central, circular garden. In the following map extract, Fitzroy Square can be seen in the centre (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square was developed by Charles Fitzroy, the 1st Baron Southampton in the 1790s, when the east and south sides of the square were built. The northern and western sides to the square were added between 1825 and 1835.

The amount of building in this part of London during the later half of the 18th century and early 19th century must have been considerable.

John Rocque’s map of 1746 still shows the area as rural, consisting of large fields, some roads and tracks across the fields.

The following extract from Rocque’s map shows the area. I have highlighted the approximate location of Fitzroy Square with the orange rectangle.

Fitzroy Square

Tottenham Court Road is the road towards the right side of the map, running from top to bottom. The cluster of buildings towards the top of Tottenham Court Road is where the future junction with Euston Road would be located.

The following photo is from where Fitzroy Street joins Fitzroy Square. The two built sides of the square (eastern on the left and southern in the distance), were the first parts of the square to be developed, both to designs by the Adams brothers however the southern side of the street was very badly damaged during the last war and has since been rebuilt.

Fitzroy Square

The London Metropolitan Archives, Collage collection has a very similar view of the square to my photo above. The print below is dated 1800 and shows the square looking much the same as it does today, with the exception of the trees and plants in the central garden which originally appeared to be empty space.

Fitzroy Square

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PZ_SP_02_122

Residents of city squares often wanted the central space kept free as there was concern about who could be hiding in the planting (worries about robbery and theft) , or that planting the central square would take away from the grandeur of the surrounding houses.

There is a newspaper report from October 1795 which states that “A new market for the sale of meat, vegetables &c. was on Saturday opened on Lord Southampton’s estate in the neighbourhood of Fitzroy Square”. Perhaps this is what the centre of the square was used for, however I would be surprised if such a market was allowed in the centre of the square as it would probably have had an impact on the perception of the square and the value of the properties.

Rather appropriately, the conservation body, the Georgian Group have their head office in one of the buildings along the eastern side of the square.

Horwood’s map of London from 1799 confirms that the southern and eastern sides of the square were developed first, with the northern and western sides developed later in the 19th century.

Fitzroy Square

Compare Horwood’s map of 1799 with Rocque’s map of 1746 and it shows how much building there had been in the 50 years between the two maps.

The street leading off Fitzroy Square from the south-east corner was Grafton Street, but is now Grafton Way, possibly renamed to avoid confusion with a Grafton Street that had already been built.

This is the northern side of Fitzroy Square, which was built between 1827 and 1828:

Fitzroy Square

There are a number of Blue Plaques across the square. On the building that houses the Mozambique High Commission, along the western side of the square, is a plaque recording that Robert Gascoyne Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury lived in the building. He was prime Minister for various periods between 1885 and 1902.

Fitzroy Square

Further along the western side of the square are two plaques on the same building that record George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf living in the building (although not at the same time).

Fitzroy Square

View across the square from the south-western corner. When the trees are in full leaf they will obscure the new towers that hover behind Fitzroy Square and it is possible to imagine the square as it would have looked soon after completion.

Fitzroy Square

The gardens in the centre of the square are privately owned, belonging to those who own the freehold of the buildings that surround the square. The gardens are occasionally open during the Open Garden Squares Weekend.

The sculpture in the gardens, to the right of the above photo is titled  ‘View’ and is by Naomi Blake. It was installed to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977

The southern edge of the square was badly damaged by wartime bombing and a high explosive bomb fell on the north-west corner.

As with many open spaces in London during the war, it was used for temporary water storage, to be used in the event of fires, as bombing frequently reduced the supply and pressure of water from the underground pipes. A strange and tragic death was recorded in the Daily Mirror on the 4th July 1942 highlighting the dangers of these water storage installations:

“Nap – It Led To His Death: Giving evidence at a St. Pancras inquest yesterday on Frank Edgar Husson, 51, of Stanhope-street, St. Pancras, who was drowned in an emergency water dam in Fitzroy-square, Dr. jean Mary White suggested that Husson might have fallen asleep while seated on a girder and slipped into the water.

It was stated that Husson, a builder’s labourer, walked across a girder, and as he had ten minutes before resuming work after lunch, he might have sat on a girder. No splash was heard. A verdict of accidental death was recorded.”

During the war, The Sunday Mirror had a regular feature where men in the services would write in regarding someone they briefly met, and wanted to meet again. The Sunday Mirror promised that “We print each letter in the hope that the girl will recognise herself and, if she cares to, will write. We have the full names and addresses of each man.”

Fitzroy Square featured in one letter on the 30th March 1941 from a Corporal R. Stephens of the Coldstream Guards:

“During a London blitz I was walking in Fitzroy-square when a bomb hit a nearby building, and my friend and I made for a rush for the wreckage where a number of girls were sheltering in a basement. By this time the A.R.P. men were well on the job, and all the girls, with the exception of two, were escorted to nearby houses for shelter.

The two left behind accompanied my friend and I to a public shelter, having to fling ourselves flat several times while bombs fell perilously close.

I admired those two girls for their bravery, and one in particular fascinated me so much that I felt that I did not want to leave her.

But I was obliged to leave, without even plucking up enough courage to make a date with her, as I had to be back in barracks at midnight.

I am hoping though, that she will recognise herself, and will write to me.”

It is this sort of human detail that I find fascinating – so many millions of individual stories of those who have been in London over the centuries. I wonder if Corporal R. Stephens ever did find the girl he met in Fitzroy Square?

The western terrace of houses, dating from 1832 to 1835:

Fitzroy Square

On the south side of the square are numbers 34 and 35. On the step in front of the identical door are the words “Swiss House”.

Fitzroy Square

The Swiss House was a “Home for Aged Swiss” opened in 1936 by the Swiss Benevolent Society. an organisation that dates back to 1703 and set-up to provide aid to Swiss residents of London. The society is still in operation today (but not in Fitzroy Square).

In the centre of the southern terrace are two red doors, with a plaque in the middle recording the architect of the southern and eastern sides – Robert Adam.

Fitzroy Square

At the weekend, Fitzroy Square is quiet. Walkers through the square generally seemed to be heading to another destination, however the view across to the north side of Fitzroy Square caught the attention of a number of people who decided to sit and admire the view:

Fitzroy Square

Looking across to the eastern side of the square:

Fitzroy Square

The eastern terrace, along with the southern terrace, the first to be developed in the 1790s:

Fitzroy Square

One of the entrance doors in the eastern terrace, with some lovely detail in the fanlight:

Fitzroy Square

The photo below shows the south side of the square:

Fitzroy Square

The buildings at either end of the southern terrace were for a time occupied by medical institutions.

In 1929, the London Foot Hospital and School of Podiatric Medicine moved into number 33 Fitzroy Square (the building on the right of the terrace in the above photo), and in 1959, number 40 (the building on the left of the terrace), which had been the London Skin Hospital, also became part of the London Foot Hospital, where the hospital would stay until closure in 2003.

There is an interesting statue on the side of the building that was the London Foot Hospital:

Fitzroy Square

This is Francisco de Miranda:

Fitzroy Square

Francisco de Miranda was an interesting character. Born in Caracas, Venezuela on the 9th June 1756, he was originally an officer in the Spanish colonial armies, but seems to have been involved in almost any American (north and south) or European war in the later part of the 18th century and early 19th century.

He fought with the French during the American Revolutionary War, various battles across Europe for the French including the taking of Antwerp and at the siege of Maestricht, but was really interested in the independence of Venezuela, and his involvement with European Governments (apart from the Spanish) was with trying to gain support for this cause.

The reason for this statue on the corner of Fitzroy Square is that he had a number of stays in London, living for a time at 58 Grafton Way, which also joins Fitzroy Square at this corner.

There is a plaque adjacent to the statue which claims he lived here from 1802 to 1810, however from various other references this was not a continuous stay, and I am not sure if the period stated is correct.

His first visit to London appears to have been in the late 1780s when he was in London meeting Prime Minister William Pitt and looking for support against the Spanish in the independence of Venezuela.

Up until 1803 he had been in the Netherlands, before returning to France from where Napoleon expelled him in 1804 when he returned to London.

Along with his travelling the world and fighting battles, it also appears he was a bit of a philanderer. Whilst in London Miranda married Sarah Andrews, a Yorkshire farmers daughter. Sarah lived in London, caring for their two children whilst Miranda was away, so perhaps the period 1802 to 1810 refers to the time Sarah Andrews was in residence with Miranda making occasional returns to London.

1810 appears to be the year he left London for good as he returned to Venezuela to fight with the revolutionary forces and was briefly ruler, until being arrested by the Spanish in 1812. He was imprisoned in Cadiz until his death in 1816.

The base of the statue:

Fitzroy Square

There is a plaque commemorating his wife, Sarah Andrews, but not in London. In 1981 the Venezuelan Ambassador unveiled a plaque in her home village of Market Weighton in East Yorkshire. It would be interesting to know how a Venezuelan freedom fighter met a Yorkshire farmer’s daughter.

London has always been a place where those fighting revolutionary wars and independence for their home countries would seek temporary refuge. I have written about a couple of other examples, Giuseppe Mazzini in Laystall Street, and Sun Yat-sen in Gray’s Inn Place, and there are many more similar stories to be found all across London.

A final look back from the southern stretch of Fitzroy Street into Fitzroy Square:

Fitzroy Square

There is one significant difference between all the above photos and my usual photos of London streets – there are no cars.

The western, southern and eastern sides of the square are pedestrianised, with only the northern stretch of the square continuing as a traffic route. When you come across an area without any traffic, without parked cars lining the streets, it is very noticeable how much this improves the experience of walking through the city. Although there were few people walking through the square at the weekend, many of those who did would stop and look at the view, or sit for a while on the seats at the southern side of the square.

Obviously not practicable to extend this approach across large areas of London, but a bit more pedestrianisation really does improve London’s streets.

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St Stephen Walbrook

I was in the City earlier this month and had a couple of free hours in the afternoon, so I headed to the church of St Stephen Walbrook, a church I have not been inside for a number of years.

The church is located just south of the Bank junction of Poultry, Princess Street, Threadneedle Street, Cornhill and King William Street. Located just behind the Mansion House, the church includes the name of one of the City’s lost rivers, and faces onto a street with the same name, Walbrook.

Walking down from the Bank junction, this is the view of the tower of St Stephen Walbrook:

St Stephen Walbrook

St Stephen Walbrook has a long history, however the church is not on its original site.

The River Walbrook originally ran slightly to the west of the street, and it was on the western side of the River Walbrook that the first church was established. Foundations of the original church were found during excavation of the site that today is occupied by the offices of Bloomberg, also the original location of the Roman Temple to Mithras.

According to Walter Thornbury writing in Old and New London, “Eudo, Steward of the Household to King Henry I (1100- 1135) gave the church of St Stephen, which stood on the west side of Walbrook, to the Monastery of St John at Colchester.”

The church probably dates from around the 11th century, but is probably older.

There is very little written evidence of this first church, however in the History of the Ward of Walbrook of the City of London (1904), J.G. White states:

“It possessed a Steeple with Bells and Belfry, as, from an inventory made, it appears that at the time of building the new Church, three bells, with their wheels, &c., were removed from the old building, and fixed in the new Steeple; also that it contained a belfry is evident from the fact that there is in the Coroner’s Roll for 1278 an entry, that on the 1st May in that year information was given that on the previous Sunday, about mid-day, William Clarke ascended the belfry to look for a pigeon’s nest, and in climbing from beam to beam he missed his hold and fell, dying as soon as he came to the ground. There was also a Chancel, there being in the year 1300 an Inquisition taken to enquire who was liable to repair the watercourse of the Walbrook over against the Chancel Wall of the Church.”

Around 1428, this original location of the church, and its associated graveyard was considered too small to support the parish, so a new location was required.

A plot of land was given by Robert Chicheley, a member of The Worshipful Company of Grocers, on the opposite side of Walbrook street, roughly 20 metres to the east of the original location, and the new church was built between 1429 and 1439.

This church would last just under 240 years as the church of St Stephen Walbrook would be one of those destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Rebuilding commenced in December 1672, with Wren as the architect. St Stephen Walbrook was probably his local church as at the time he was living in Walbrook.

It was a difficult location for the new church as houses were built up against the church, including the area around where the tower would be built.

The area north of the church, now the site of the Mansion House was originally occupied by a market in fish and flesh know as the Stocks Market. Part of the original design for completion of St Stephen Walbrook was a colonnaded replacement for the pre-fire Stocks Market, which would have extended north from the church, This did not get built.

The church was ready to use in 1679, although the tower appears to have been completed later.

The following print from Old and New London shows the church soon after completion. The print also highlights the houses that clustered immediately around the tower.

St Stephen Walbrook

The above drawing from Old and New London is dated 1700, however I suspect this is wrong. The drawing shows the spire on top of the tower, however the spire was not added until 1713-1715.

Remove the houses in front of the church, and as the following photo demonstrates, the appearance of the church is much the same today. It was not possible to replicate the above drawing as the Mansion House presses in to the left of the church, occupying the space that was the Stocks Market.

St Stephen Walbrook

The following extract from a 1720 Ward map shows the church of St Stephen Walbrook, with the Stocks Market occupying the land to the north.

St Stephen Walbrook

Time for a look inside the church. A set of steps rise up from street level to the interior of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

The interior of St Stephen Walbrook from the entrance:

St Stephen Walbrook

The interior has an unusual layout for a City church. The wooden reredos is at the far end of the church where the altar would traditionally have been located, however following restoration work carried out between 1978 and 1987, the traditional altar was replaced by a central circular altar carved from Travertine by Henry Moore.

St Stephen Walbrook

The new altar and additional restoration work throughout the church was commissioned and supported by the fund-raising efforts of Lord Peter Palumbo who was Churchwarden from 1953 to 2003.

Restoration work at the time was essential as the church was suffering from subsidence, possibly due to the long-term impact of the River Walbrook.

The location of the altar does prevent an ideal photograph of one of the main features of Wren’s designs – the large dome located above the central square of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

Multiple references refer to the dome as being Wren’s practice for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, however whilst the overall shape is similar, a dome with lantern on top, the size and construction method is very different.

Whilst the dome of St Paul’s has the inner false dome, with the layer of supports between inner and outer dome to transfer the load of the large stone lantern through to the body of the cathedral, the dome of St Stephen is a much more straightforward construction, however that does not detract anything from the beauty of a magnificent dome, designed in the 17th century on a City parish church.

The following drawing from 1770 shows a view of the interior of the church, with below a cut away diagram of the dome’s construction and a floor plan of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

The interior of the church also shows another of Wren’s innovations. Rather than the weight of the dome being carried on a large pier at each corner, there are three slender columns at each corner. These have the effect of opening out the corners, rather than these spaces being occupied by a large load bearing pillar.

Note in the floor plan above that the tower is missing. The tower was added after the church had opened, and perhaps Wren’s idea was to have a rectangular church with no tower, where the dome rising above the church would have been the dominating feature.

When the exterior of the church is viewed today, the dome of the church is somewhat hidden to the rear with the tower dominating – perhaps not Wren’s original intention.

Whilst many writers praised St Stephen Walbrook as one of Wren’s best City churches, there were other views, for example in Curiosities of London (1867), John Timbs writes:

“This church, unquestionably elegant, has been overpraised. The rich dome is considered by John Carter to be Wren’s attempt to ‘set up a dome, a comparative imitation (though on a diminutive scale) of the Pantheon at Rome, and which, no doubt, was a kind of probationary trial previous to his gigantic operation of fixing one on his octangular superstructure in the centre of the new St Paul’s’. Mr J. Gwilt says of St Stephen’s ‘Compared with any other church of nearly the same magnitude, Italy cannot exhibit its equal, elsewhere its rival is not to be found. Of those worthy notice, the Zitelle at Venice (by Palladio), is the present approximation in regard to size, but it ranks far below our church in point of composition, and still lower in point of effect.’

Again, had its materials and volume been as durable and as extensive as those of St Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren had consummated (in St Stephen’s) a much more efficient monument to his well-earned fame than this fabric affords.”

The church suffered significant damage during the war. the following photo shows the interior of the church with parts of the dome collapsed onto the floor of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0019488CL

A view of the damage to the dome can be seen in the following drawing by Dennis Flanders in June 1941.

St Stephen Walbrook

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/9354

Dennis Flanders was a freelance artists who recorded bomb damage to London. He sold some of his work to the War Artists Advisory Committee, including the drawing of St Stephen’s.

Another drawing purchased by the War Artists Advisory Committee was the following by Ian Strang, dated 1945.

St Stephen Walbrook

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/25791

Note the temporary wooden cover in the place of the dome.

In the foreground are the foundations of the bombed buildings that occupied the space now occupied by the Bloomberg building. Excavation in the space during 1954 would reveal the Roman Temple of Mithras.

There is a wonderful model of the church to be seen inside the church:

St Stephen Walbrook

The model allows the overall design of the church to be appreciated, not easy when viewed from outside.

Looking at the model, the tower and buildings along the front of the church do look separate to the main body of the church (the smaller building to the right of the row on the front is a Starbucks).

Remove the tower and the buildings along the front and the church would be of rectangular design with a magnificent dome dominating the view of the church – perhaps Wren’s original intention.

The spire on top of the church is very similar to two other City churches, St Michael Paternoster Royal and St James Garlickhithe, which is shown in the following photo taken by my father in 1953.

St Stephen Walbrook

The spire was added to St Stephen Walbrook between 1713 and 1715, and the spires to the other two churches were added in the same period. They are possibly to a design by Hawksmoor.

Looking back towards the entrance to the church with a rather magnificent organ case above the door. This dates from 1765.

St Stephen Walbrook

There are a number of monuments on the walls of the church, including the following to Samuel Moyer dated 1716:

St Stephen Walbrook

Many of these tablets provide an insight into the dreadful child mortality rates of earlier centuries, even for those who were affluent.

The tablet states that Samuel Moyer was a Baronet. He must have had money as the tablet states the family spent the summer at their home at Pitsey Hall in Essex and the winters in the parish of St Stephen Walbrook.

A Baronet, who could afford homes in Essex and London still suffered numerous child deaths, Of their eleven children, eight died in their minority, with only three daughters surviving to “lament with their sorrowful mother, the great loss of so indulgent a father”.

It was not just the high rates of child mortality, but also what this level of child-birth did to women. The risks to women during childbirth were very high, and for Rebeckah Jollife, Moyer’s wife, surviving eleven must have been traumatic.

Also, with eleven births, for a significant period of her life, Rebeckah must have been in a state of almost continuous pregnancy.

St Stephen Walbrook also has a rather nice sword rest dating from 1710. This apparently came from the church of St Ethelburga.

St Stephen Walbrook

Back outside the church and this is the view of St Stephen Walbrook from the south.

St Stephen Walbrook

Today, a Starbuck’s occupies the corner space between tower and body of the church.

The dome of the church and lantern is just visible from the street.

The side view of the church shows the rough building materials used in the construction of the church – probably because other buildings were up against the side of the church so there was no need for expensive stone dressing to the side walls.
St Stephen Walbrook

Close up view of the dome and lantern:

St Stephen Walbrook

A longer view looking along Walbrook from the south. The Bloomberg building is on the left:

St Stephen Walbrook

This is such a fascinating area. In the above photo, the River Walbrook once ran roughly from where I am standing to take the photo, up and parallel to the existing street. The original church was on the left, prior to moving across the street and the river. The Roman Temple of Mithras is under the Bloomberg building on my left.

St Stephen Walbrook still dominates the northern part of the street, however if you walk along the street, look behind the tower and admire Wren’s dome.

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