Centuries of Change in Farringdon Street

Today’s post was not on my list of posts to write. Last Sunday, I was in the City to explore a site for a future post. It was a grey, overcast morning, and at one point there was a fine, wind driven drizzle, so I decided to head back home (I should have stayed for the afternoon as the sun came out).

Walking towards the Holborn Viaduct Bridge over Farringdon Street, I noticed another new building site where the previous building had been demolished and construction of the concrete core of the future development was underway.

I walked down from Holborn Viaduct, down to Farringdon Street as I wanted to see if a bit of Victorian construction was visible.

The following photo is from Farringdon Street. Part of the bridge over Farringdon Street is on the left, then there is one of the four pavilions, one on each corner of the bridge, then an open space with the new concrete core of the new building on the right edge of the photo:

Farringdon Street is the route of the lost River Fleet, and the bridge carries the road over what was the river, hence the low level of Farringdown Street, and the slope of the streets on either side.

Walking along the road to cross the bridge, it is not really obvious that the bridge is not the only part of the overall construction of the road, as you are walking along a manmade viaduct of some length.

Holborn Bridge is part of Holborn Viaduct, the 427m long viaduct designed to provide a bridge over the valley of the Fleet River and a level road between Holborn Circus and Newgate Street.

The construction contract for Holborn Viaduct was awarded on the 7th May 1866 and on the 6th November 1869 it was opened by Queen Victoria.

The construction of this 427m viaduct is not that visible, unless buildings along the viaduct are demolished, and it was this that I wanted to see.

Looking across the cleared construction site, and the side of the viaduct was clearly visible:

This is a view of what remains of the 1860s construction of Holborn Viaduct, and how the long approach to the bridge was built up in height.

At the top, there is a distnct layer which makes up the made ground under the street.

We then come to the core of the viaduct, with the edge of brick walls, which presumably run the width of the viaduct across the street, and in the lower half of the viaduct there are clearly defined brick arches.

Much of the side of the viaduct appears to have been skimmed and filled with concrete. I assume the whole of the viaduct has been filled, but it would be interesting to know whether there is any open space within the arches of the viaduct.

I also assume that the concrete skim and possible fill is of later date, and the brick columns and arches are from the 1860s build of Holborn Viaduct.

It is not often that you can see the hidden details of Victorian design and construction techniques, and the outline of the brick arches that support Holborn Viaduct will probably be soon covered again by the new building that will be built on the site, but they show the considerable construction work either side of the bridge, and which you are walking over as you walk along Holborn Viaduct, towards the bridge over Farringdon Street.

There has been a considerable amount of construction in Farringdon Street in the small section between Holborn Viaduct and Ludgate Circus in the last few years, the above example being just the latest, and I wanted to see what was happening at another, where the Hoop & Grapes pub was located:

The Hoop & Grapes has been closed for the last couple of years, when the buildings on either side of the pub were demolished.

The new building on the right of the pub is making good progress, and there will soon be more construction on the left, and until this is complete the left hand wall of the pub is shored up.

The building is Grade II listed and is of some age. According to the listing details, the building was part of a terrace, with the house being built around 1720 for a vintner, and converted to a public house in 1832.

The listing also states that the “Basement has brick vaults thought to be part of 17th century warehousing vaults built in connection with the formation of the Fleet Canal. Built on part of the site of St. Bride’s Burial Ground.”

Rocque’s 1746 map still shows St. Bride’s burial ground (ringed in map extract below), although there is a space between the burial ground and Fleet Market, so the terrace which included the building that would become the Hoop & Grapes could have been within this small space, or perhaps to one side:

The Fleet Canal reference in the Historic England listing refers to when this stretch of the River Fleet was constrained within a channel, along which, and partly over, the Fleet Market developed.

Another view looking at the new developments and the old Hoop & Grapes pub, which has seen the area change beyond all recognition since the house was built:

I really struggle with some of these redevelopments.

London has always changed. Some of the terrace houses that survived to the 20th century along with the Hoop & Grapes were damaged during the war, and then demolished.

New officces were built surrounding the pub in the 1950s. These were in turn demolished in the 1990s, and it is these buildings which are being demolished for the new development.

Each iteration of development seems to get larger and more overpowering for buildings that survive, and based on the lifespan of the post-war developments on the site, the building currently being built, will be demolished in turn, in the 2060s / 2070s.

Again, it is good that buildings such as the pub survive, but they almost become a museum exhibit, stuck in a streetscape that they have no relationship with, and totally out of context.

I photographed the Hoop & Grapes in 2020, when I had a walk around all the City of London pubs:

I do not know whether the pub will reopen when redevelopment of the surrounding buildings has been completed.

The City of London Corporation seems to be making some efforts to retain City pubs, and they have announced that the Still and Star, Aldgate, St Brides Tavern, Blackfriars, the White Swan, Fetter Lane and the King’s Arms at 55 Old Broad Street / London Wall, will all be reopening in the coming years, however this often refers to the name being retained and the pub being relocated to a new structure within a new development.

There is no mention of the Hoop & Grapes.

A very short distance south along Farringdon Street, on the opposite side of the road is 5 Fleet Place, the cream coloured building that was completed in 2007:

In the above photo, you can just see a road sign with a white arrow on a blue background on the street at the corner of the building. Look through the square arch of the building to the left of the arrow sign, and there are three plaques. which tell of religious and political history:

Staring from the bottom is a stone that was laid on the 10th of May, 1872 at the new Congregational Memorial Hall and Library:

The stone states that the Memorial Hall was erected to commemorate “The Fidelity of Conscience shown by the Ejected Ministers of 1662”.

To understand what was being commemorated, we need to go back to the mid-16th century and the Act of Uniformity of 1558. This was passed in 1559 and established that the church should be unified around Anglicanism and worship should be according to the Book of Common Prayer.

This act was an attempt to address the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism that had been simmering since the break from the Church of Rome by Henry VIII.

The act lasted until 1650 when it was repealed by the Rump Parliament established during the first year of the new Commonwealth of England, set up immediately after the English Civil War.

It was repealed to provide greater religious freedom for Puritans and non-conformists.

There was a strong religious independent and Puritan element to Parliamentary forces in the Civil War, and is why many churches had their decoration and statues damaged and destroyed by Parliamentary soldiers as these were seen as being a residual influence of the Church of Rome.

When Charles II was returned to the throne, there was pressure from the Church of England to unify the church around Anglican principles and the Book of Common Prayer.

The Act was brought back into law, and Ministers were forced to swear an oath that they would give “unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed” in the Book of Common Prayer.

Many Puritan, Presbyterian and Independent ministers could not swear such an oath, and around 2,000 were forced out by the “Great Ejection” from the Church of England on St. Bartholomew’s Day, the 24th of August, 1662 – the event recorded by the stone.

Title page from the pamphlet “‘The Farewell Sermons of the Late London Ministers'” showing 12 of the ejected ministers:

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

Newspaper reports of the ceremony to lay the foundation stone included the following which gives some background as to how the memorial hall was funded and the facilities within the building:

“The Act of Uniformity passed in the year 1662, had the effect of ejecting from their charges more that two thousand ministers who could not conscientiously subscribe to it. At a meeting of the Congregational Union, held at Birmingham in 1861, it was resolved to commemorate the event.

A conference was convened and held, at which it was decided that a bicentenary memorial fund should be raised, among the objects specified being the erection of new chapels, the extinction of chapel debts, and especially the erection of a Congregational Memorial Hall. A committee was appointed to carry the scheme into full effect, and at the next annual meeting it was reported that the total amount paid and promised in connection with this commemoration was nearly £250,000.

A site was found in Farringdon-street, which had formed part of the old Fleet Prison, and the ground was purchased at a cost of £23,000. The architect’s designs comprise a hall to hold from 1,200 to 1,500 people, a library, a board-room, and other offices. The whole is erected at a cost of not less than £30,000.”

The Congregational Hall and Library as it appeared in the 1920s (the building with the large tower):

The library was a considerable resource of over 8,000 volumes and manuscripts covering dissenting religious history.

The library was moved to Manchester during the war, for safety, and also because the Government requisitioned the building between 1940 and 1950 for war purposes.

The library returned in 1957, however ten years later, the collection had to be moved out again as the site was being redeveloped, which brings us to the second plaque:

Around 100 years after completion, maintenance of a large Victorian building was difficult and expensive, so the Congregational Memorial Hall Trust decided to have the site redeveloped with a new office block on site, along with space for the library and for meetings.

The above foundation stone is from this new building – Caroone House.

The library though did not return to the new building. It had been moved to 14 Gordon Square in advance of the redevelopment, and was housed with and administered by Dr. Williams’s Library, another library of religious dissenting books and manuscripts.

The library had to move out of Gordon Square a couple of years ago due to the potential costs of the redevelopment of the site, and the library is now housed at Westminster College, Cambridge, a theological collection that brings together Congregational and Presbyterian college traditions.

And now for the third plaque. It is not often that one of my posts has a very topical subject, but for this week’s post, in 1900, the Congregational Memorial Hall was the site of the founding of the Labour Party:

Rather than a northern industrial town, the meeting that resulted in the founding of the Labour Party was held in the Congregational Memorial Hall, in Farringdon Street on the 27th of February, 1900.

The meeting was the inaugural meeting of the Labour Representation Committee and the purpose of the meeting, which had been arranged by the Trades Union Congress, was to agree on how the various strands of the Labour movement could be brought together into a single party.

Up until the 1900 meeting, the interests of labour had been represented by the Trades Union Congress, the Independent Labour Party and the Social Democratic Federation, who all attended the meeting in Farringdon Street.

The Cooperative Movement had been invited but did not attend as their aim was to maintain a politically neutral approach.

130 delegates met in the library of the Congregational Hall, and the following paragraph from the end of a report on the meeting in the London Daily News gives an indication of the approach of the new unified Labour Party:

“The speeches for the most part were couched in a spirit of broad toleration. Mr. Burns and Mr. Harnes, and Mr. Steadman and Mr. Tillett, all protested against the spirit of narrow sectarianism which has prevailed so largely hitherto.

And Mr. Hardie and Mr. Burgess, from the Independent Labour Party also took the same line, and strongly condemned a proposal that a Labour Party should be organised upon the basis of ‘recognising the existence of a class war’, which got defeated by the adoption of an amending resolution.”

Caroone House was demolished in 2004, so that the office block we see today could be built, and which was completed in 2007. The two foundation stones and the plaque recording the founding of Labour were reinstalled.

A very short walk along part of Farringdon Street, where we can see part of the viaduct constructed by the Victorians to create a wider and higher bridge over what was the route of the River Fleet, a 300 year old house that once looked onto the river and that once housed a pub, and hopefully will do so in the future, as it is surrounded by much larger steel and glass office blocks, and the site of a hall, built to commemorate a religious schism in the 17th century, and the founding of the Labour Party at the very start of the 20th century.

Another example of just how much diverse history can be found during a short walk along a City street.

The next time I write about Farringdon Street, I hope that the Hoop & Grapes will be open again as a traditional London pub, rather than what seems to happen to so many pubs where development takes place – a reimagined pub.

Despite the appearance of Farringdon Street today, it is a very historic street, and the Fleet Prison which was on the site of the Congregational Memorial Hall will be the subject of a future post.


King’s Cross and the Lighthouse

There are just three tickets left for my Southbank walk in July. The Barbican walk has now sold out. Click on the link for details and booking:

The following photo is of a rather strange feature on the top of a building looking towards King’s Cross Station. The photo is one of my father’s from 40 years ago in 1984:

I was in the King’s Cross area last week, it was a sunny day, and the sun was in the right position, so I took the following photo showing the same feature as it appears today, along with a view of the building below:

The shape of the building is down to the convergence of the roads on either side, with Pentonville Road on the left and Gray’s Inn Road on the right.

The building is now called the Lighthouse Building, after one of the possible uses of the structure on the roof. The building is Grade II listed, and the Historic England listing includes the following description:

“Above the 3rd floor windows a further cornice and blocking course, surmounted at the apex by a tall lead-sheathed tower, sometimes said to have been for spotting fires, with a cast-iron balcony at half-height, oculus and cornice capped by a small ribbed dome with weathervane finial.”

The listing suggests that the tower was used as a lookout for spotting fires.

Another frequently reported use for the tower was as a lighthouse, and was down to an oyster bar which occupied part of the ground floor of the building. This was “Netten’s Oyster Bar”, and the story goes that when fresh oysters were available in the shop, the light would go on in the “lighthouse”.

I have no idea whether this story is true, or whether the use of the tower for spotting fires is true, of whether it had a different purpose, or was just an ornamental folly.

I found plenty of adverts for Netten’s oyster bar, and the lighthouse was not mentioned in any of these. Netten’s would advertise in the local newspapers of towns where their local station provided a route into King’s Cross or St. Pancras Stations. For example, the following appeared in the Luton Reporter:

“Luton Travelers To London, Should Dine, Lunch, or take Supper at J. Netten’s Fish Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 297, Pentonville Road – King’s Cross.

Boiled or Fried Fish of all kinds in season, fresh cooked for each customer.

Native Oysters 1/- 1/6 & 2/- per dos. Tripe and Onions and Stewed Eels Always Ready”

Rather than native oysters, boiled or fried fish, the traveler arriving in London from Luton today, would find a Five Guys, burger and fries restaurant in the place of Netten’s Fish Restaurant & oyster Bar, so whilst the foods on offer have changed, the need for travelers to buy some food during their journey has not.

The building was completely refurbished in a project that completed around 2013, and this work included the tower on the roof. In previous years the interior had been derelict for some considerable time, and the tower had been a magnet for graffiti. It had been on Historic England’s Buildings at Risk Register, so the refurbishment possibly saved the building. It had been at risk from demolition in previous years from plans to extend the eastern entrances to King’s Cross underground station.

If you go back to my father’s 1980’s photo, you can see that some of the railings around the tower were missing.

In 2016, I was in the clock tower at St. Pancras Station and took the following photo of the area in front of King’s Cross Station (on the left) and the refurbished Lighthouse Building can be seen looking across to the station:

And this is the view from ground level today. A very busy place with plenty of travelers heading to and from the stations of King’s Cross and St. Pancras:

The metal tower, or lighthouse is not the first landmark structure that has been where Pentonville Road and Gray’s Inn Road meet. Before King’s Cross Station was built, there was a structure that would go on to give both the station, and the local area, the name King’s Cross:

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

On the 26th of June, 1830, King George IV died, and in the year before his death, a monument had been proposed, design and construction had started, to commemorate the reign of the king.

The site chosen was at the junction of what is now Gray’s inn Road, Euston Road, and Pentonville Road as from the late 18th century into the 19th century, this area was developing rapidly (even before the arrival of the railways), and the New Road (which would become Euston and Pentonville Roads) had been built as perhaps the first North Circular Road around London to divert traffic away from the centre, to provide a new east – west route, and to take traffic to and from the expanding docks to the east of London.

The print above shows an “Elevation of Kings Cross” as it was intended to appear when completed.

As recorded on the above print, money for the design and build of the monument was being sourced from public subscriptions, however even with building underway, there were not enough funds being received, as recorded in the following article from the London Star on the 2nd of July 1830:

“Whatever may tend towards the recollection of the revered departed monarch will doubtless be received with that degree of loyal feeling which is so characteristic of the true Englishmen.

The splendid National Monument of the King’s Cross (commenced in February last by a few loyal though humble individuals) to commemorate the reign of George the Fourth, approaches now rapidly to completion, and will be finished according to the design of Mr. Stephen Geary, architect. We hesitate not to say it will form one of the most splendid and ornamental objects that adorn the environs of the metropolis, combining not only simplicity of design, but chastity of Grecian architecture.

The Colossal Statue of his late Majesty, surrounded with the emblematical representatives of the Empire, vis. – St. George, St. Andrew, St. Patrick and St. David, will form additions to the various productions of that eminent artist and sculptor, R.W. Seivler, Esq. who is now busily employed upon them.

Although credibly informed, we can scarcely believe the amount of subscriptions received to this public monument are very far from meeting the amount already expended.

Surely a public appeal need only be made, and we doubt whether there is an Englishman, Irishman, Scotchman, or Welshman, who possesses a spark of British loyalty in his breast, who will not subscribe his mite towards handing down to posterity a public token of attachment towards the departed and beloved Monarch, George the Fourth.”

Financial troubles continued, and in 1832 the Kings Cross monument was put up for auction, with the outcome of the auction reported as follows:

“Thursday afternoon, at the Mart, was sold the ornamental, stone-built erection at the junction of the Pentonville, New, Gray’s Inn-lane and Hampstead Roads, partly built by subscription, and intended to receive on its summit an equestrian statue of George the Fourth.

The auction caused a numerous assemblage, and gave rise to much discussion, and it was objected that there was no title, and that the subscribers had a claim upon it, as well as the assignees of the party who had completed it and under whose direction it was being sold. It was further said it might be removed, being built in contravention of the local Paving Act.

The auctioneer admitted that the only title was the written consent of the Commissioners of Roads, and the approval of the Paris Vestry; but it was not liable to any objection as to the local Act, nor was it likely to be pulled down, as it was of great benefit to the public, protecting passengers in the day and serving as a beacon at night.

It was also a great ornament to the district, and had cost nearly £1,000. It was at present let to the Commissioners of Police at £25 a year. the biddings then commenced, and the King’s Cross was knocked down, and bona fide sold for 164 guineas only.”

The only value in the monument seems to have been the small building that formed the base which, as the above article records, was let to the Police, and was generating an income. in the following years it would also become a shop, and finally a pub / bar.

In the years after construction, there also seems to have been a campaign to downgrade the public perception of the quality of the monument, and the statue of King George IV. Newspaper reports tell of cabmen, watermen, and the general public complaining about the statue, and as traffic on the New Road (Euston and Pentonville Roads) increased, the monument was also becoming an obstruction.

In 1841 there was a letter to the editor of the Globe complaining of the dangers of the monument, and that it did not have any surrounding posts or rails to protect pedestrians, and was also unlit at night.

The days of the monument were numbered and in 1842 the statue of the King was removed, and soon after, the whole monument was demolished. Not exactly “handing down to posterity a public token of attachment towards the departed and beloved Monarch, George the Fourth” as suggested in the appeal for public funds a few years earlier.

The following print shows the demolition of the monument:

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

Above the entrance to the room at the base of the monument can be seen the words: “Richard Wirner Licensed To Sell Beer” – the monuments final use.

The text below states that “the dome-topped house in the distance will serve to identify the spot with our own times”, however this building would also soon be disappearing as the area would be part of the construction site for a major transport project. Not King’s Cross or St. Pancras Stations, but the Metropolitan Railway.

The following print shows the cut and cover construction of the Metropolitan Railway, which ran through the site of the George IV monument, and the building that was on the site of the Lighthouse building:

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

The building with the tower / lighthouse on the top was then built on the site in around 1875.

I cannot find a confirmed date for the tower / lighthouse, whether it was part of the original 1875 building, or whether it was added later.

A rather strange story, that a monument that could not raise enough public funds to complete the build, does not appear to have been appreciated by the public, and only lasted for just over 10 years before demolition, gave its name to the area, and to one of London’s major railway stations.

An almost throw away comment in the Lincolnshire Chronicle on the 14th of November, 1845, in an article where the paper reported on the introduction to Parliament of the London and York Railway Bill hints at what would become a nationally recognisable name: “And the said Bill proposes to enact, That the said Railway shall commence in the Parish of St. Pancras in the County of Middlesex at or near a certain place called King’s Cross”.

The tower / lighthouse that overlooks the site of the monument to George IV has lasted much longer, and after restoration, should be there for many more years to come.


Two Tree Island – The Last Landing Place on the Thames

There are a couple of tickets left for two new walk dates. Click on the links for details and booking:

Over the last couple of years, I have been writing about a number of the Thames stairs in central London, however for today’s post in my weird obsession with these places on the river, I am visiting Two Tree Island in Essex, to find the last landing place on the Thames.

I need to clarify the definition of last landing place. I am using the list of steps, stairs and landing places on the tidal Thames, as listed in the book on access to the river published by the Port of London Authority:

The book lists all the landing places, steps and stairs on the tidal river, which is the area of the PLA’s responsibility, so from Teddington in the west, to near Southend in the east.

The definition of the last landing place could be at either extreme of the tidal river, depending on which way along the river you were heading, however for the last landing place, I am using the location on the last page in the book, and furthest east on the maps within the book.

And using that definition, the last landing place on the River Thames is a causeway on Two Tree Island in Essex, the location of which is being pointed to by the arrow in the following map (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

A couple of weeks ago, we were going to a concert in Southend, so it was the perfect opportunity for a diversion to find Two Tree Island, and the causeway.

Two Tree Island is, as the name suggests, an island, and is located between Southend and Leigh-on-Sea, and Canvey Island.

The island nature of the place can be seen on the one road to the island, with the need to cross a bridge which takes you over the channel which runs to the north of Two Tree Island:

Looking west as you cross the bridge, and the nature of area becomes clear, low-lying, channels of water, and subject to the changing of the tide:

Looking over the eastern side of the bridge, there is a small marina on the left. This often dries out when the tide is low, but during my visit, the tide was coming in and the width of the channel was widening:

Having crossed the bridge, and we can look back and see the edge of one of the housing estates that surround Leigh-on-Sea, on the high land that centuries ago was the natural barrier to the Thames:

Two Tree Island has not always been land. It was reclaimed from the river in the 18th century and used as farmland. In 1910, a sewage works was built on the north east edge of the island, and for parts of the 20th century, it was also used for landfill.

Two Tree Island was flooded during the major flooding of the east coast and Thames estuary during 1953.

Once over the bridge, there is a sign welcoming you to Two Tree Island, and the sign indicates the current use of the land as it is managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust:

I can find no confirmed source for the name of the island. There are may trees on the island today, perhaps when the land was first reclaimed, when it was farmland, there may have been two distinctive trees. The first written reference to the name I can find is from 1967, when the site was included in a list of reserves set-up by the Essex Naturalists’ Trust.

The site was also called Leigh Marsh, and there are older references to this name, for example in 1836, when the the owner of the land had died, and their executor was selling the farm and farm land that the deceased had owned, which included: “Also 179 acres, 1 rood, 36 perches of valuable marshland, situate in the parishes of Leigh and Hadleigh, called Leigh Marsh, with a dwelling house and out-buildings, which is let until Lady-day next, £120 per annum.”

The land was valuable as it was good grazing land, and the mud flats and sea bed of the estuary off Two Tree Island was also used as shell fish beds, so the whole area was a valuable, agricultural site.

There has always been the threat of development in places along the river. In 1973, Maplin Airport, further east, off Foulness Island, was being considered as a new London Airport, and Southend Council put forward Two Tree Island, and the surrounding marshes, as a new nature reserve to compensate for the loss of land at Foulness and in the Thames Estuary.

The previous year, 1971, a “massive yacht marina” was proposed for Two Tree Island, however this was thrown out by Southend Council.

The majority of the island is now nature reserve, with plenty of tracks to walk, there is a small air strip for a model aircraft club, and a slowly decaying Pill Box as a reminder of the threat of invasion along the estuary in the last war.

The remains of the old sewage works are now providing a haven for birds, including nesting Egrets.

I have now reached the southern side of the island to find the causeway, where there is a Port of London information sign:

With the map showing the area in detail, and a helpful “You Are Here”:

And it is here that I find the causeway, the last landing place on the River Thames, within the area of responsibility of the Port of London Authority:

Not that impressive, compared to many of the stairs in central London, however this is a simple, functional place which is still in use. A concrete strip running out into the water from which boats can be launched and recovered.

The land in the distance in the above photo is Canvey Island, and as we look around, we can see other infrastructure that is only there because of the River Thames.

Looking to the east, directly over Canvey Island, are the container cranes of the London Gateway, the latest port on the river, having opened in 2013, and offering a deep water channel, and mooring along side, for the very large container ships that use the river today:

And looking to the south, the storage tanks for liquefied natural gas (LNG) are on the Isle of Grain on the southern side of the Thames. LNG is brought by ship from across the world to be stored in these tanks before being distributed to homes and industry across the country, or via undersea pipe to Europe:

The Thames Estuary has been the entry point for goods and commodities for centuries, and today this includes gas to power the country, and container ships full of all manner of products.

Looking east, and in the distance, we can see the City of Southend-on-Sea:

A look back along the causeway:

Although the causeway is a firm stretch of concrete, it is always good to remember just how far and how quickly the tide comes in along the Thames, and the tide was rising and washing over the causeway:

And within a few minutes, water was covering half of the causeway:

So that was the last place of access to the River Thames, according to the Port of London Authority listing – just a few hundred more to go along the river.

I have written a number of posts about this area of the river. You may be interested in:

As a postscript to the post, all my posts on Thames stairs have attempted to show how important the River Thames has been in the history and development of London, and how the river was once such a key part of the life of the so many Londoners.

We have tended to loose that connection with the river. The Thames is the reason why London is located where it is, and also why London has developed as much as it has.

There is not that much traffic on the river in central London, however towards the estuary, the docks at Tilbury and London Gateway are still busy.

The river is much cleaner than it was when industry lined the river and so much of London’s rubbish entered the river.

Although today, the river is a good way to travel on Thames Clippers, views along the river are good, and the river adds value to the properties built along side, it is also a river that is viewed as a potential risk from rising sea levels and flooding, it is used as a dumping ground for sewage from sewer overflows, and we have built into the river so it is channeled for much of its route through the city.

Whilst writing today’s post, I had BBC Radio 4 on for a change, and by chance there was a fascinating programme on the rights of natural features such as rivers, and how a number of rivers have been give the legal rights of personhood, which basically states that rivers have certain rights, such as the right to flow, the right not to be polluted etc.

It is a fascinating concept with a number of rivers in places such as New Zealand, India and Mexico having already been granted similar rights to that of a person.

In the UK, there is currently an initiative to develop a Rights of River motion for the River Ouse in Sussex.

It is a fascinating concept, and interesting to consider how this could apply to the River Thames, and how the river could be considered as an end to end entity, with rights, from source to estuary.

Some background on the River Ouse initiative can be found here

And the BBC programme Rivers and the Rights of Nature is here


London Maps in Books

I have two new walk dates available. Click on the links for details and booking:

If you have been reading the blog for a while, you will know that I am fascinated by London maps, and make use of a number of maps in many of my posts.

They can help us understand the development of London in many different ways. They are a snapshot of the city at the time they were made, showing the limits of development at a specific time. They record change, and they show features of the city, man-made and natural, that have long since disappeared under the built city we see today.

They can show different interpretations of the city, they can show how people at the time the map was made interpreted the city, what was important to them.

There are some brilliant online mapping sites, such as the National Library of Scotland and Layers of London, however nothing beats the feel of a paper map in your hands.

Many of these maps can be found in books. Large, fold out maps, or even better, a pocket at the end of the book stuffed with a number of maps. You do not find this with the majority of books published today, probably down to cost, however it was once a more common feature, and for today’s post, I have a small sample.

At the start of the 20th century, Sir Walter Besant published a series of books on the history of London, and a number of these included maps.

(You should be able to click on the maps to open a larger image)

In “London In The Time Of The Tudors” (1904) there is:

A Reproduction of the Map by Ralph Agas, Circa 1560

Although the map is known as the Agas map, it appears to be an incorrect attribution. Ralph Agas was a surveyor who lived between 1540 and 1621, however there is no firm evidence that he was the creator of the map, and the coat of arms at the top left of the map is not from the Tudor period, but is the Stuart coat of arms, and the version of the map that survives is believed to date from around 1633.

At the time the map was made, the population of the city was around 350,000, and was still mainly contained within the old City walls, although there were small areas of building outside the walls, for example the route from the City to Westminster can be seen with buildings either side of what is now Fleet Street and the Strand, and the Eleanor Cross can be seen at Charing Cross.

The following extract shows the City of London:

In the following extract, the River Fleet can be seen from the point where it enters the Thames, then heading north where the two crossing points at what is now Ludgate Circus and Holborn Viaduct can be seen, before the river starts wandering to the north:

In the next book in Besant’s series, “London In The Time Of The Stuarts”, we then have:

A Large And Accurate Map Of The City Of London (John Ogilby, 1670s)

John Ogilby was a printer and publisher, translator, Master of the Revels in Ireland, he had served in the Army, and in the period after the Great Fire of London, he created a detailed and carefully surveyed map of the City of London.

There are some significant changes to the City we see today, however there is much that is basically the same (although the buildings will be very different).

In the following extract, the Wool Church Market is where Mansion House is today, and to the right is Cornhill, with the Royal Exchange and the churches of St. Michael Cornhill and St. Peter Cornhill, and there are the same alleys between Cornhill and Lombard Street that we can walk today, although between 19th and 20th century buildings, rather than those Ogilby would have known:

The map still shows the River Fleet in the 1670s, as a channel running up from the Thames, with what looks to be walkways along both sides of the river, between the Thames and Holborn:

After publishing his map of the City of London, Ogilby published perhaps his best known work, “Britannia”, which was a map of the routes between the principal towns and cities of the country.

For Britannia, Ogilby used the innovative method of a strip map, where the route was shown running along a series of strips, with the main geographic features, towns and villages, houses, side roads etc. that could be found along the route.

The following map is the strip map for the route from the Standard in Cornhill (a water pump at the eastern end of Cornhill, and one of the places in London used as the base for measuring distances) to Portsmouth in Hampshire:

In the text in the box at the top, the distance is given as 73 miles and 2 furlongs, and John Ogilby is given the rather grand title of His Majesties Cosmographer, a title given to Ogilby by King Charles II.

We then come to the book “London in the Eighteenth Century”, and:

London in 1741-5 by John Rocque

Rocque’s map is one of the maps I use regularly in blog posts, as it provides a comprehensive view of the city, including the wider, as yet undeveloped part of the city.

The River Fleet can still be seen, but it is now starting to be built over, and where the Fleet runs into the Thames is now Blackfriars Bridge:

Looking to the west of Rocque’s map, and we can see Chelsea Water Works (roughly where Victoria Station, and the tracks leading out of the station are today). About 70 years after Rocque’s map, Chelsea Water Works would be closed and the space backfilled with the soil excavated for the new St. Katherine Docks.

We now come to “London in the Nineteenth Century”, and the city is expanding rapidly. The time when the city was enclosed within the old city wall as shown in the Agas map is long gone. This is:

Cruchley’s New Plan of London improved to 1835

London has expanded rapidly, however there were still fields to the east and west, land that would be built on during the rest of the 19th century and early 20th century.

Part of the city’s expansion has been to the east, as trade carried along the river has grown considerably, and the original wharves and docks in the heart of the City were no longer capable of supporting the volume of goods and the size of ships.

If we look to the Isle of Dogs, we can see the West India Docks which were built in the early 19th century, and below these docks, we can see the outline for some proposed new docks, each capable of supporting 200 ships:

One of the early roads that ran through the Isle of Dogs to the ferry at the southern tip can be seen running across the outline of the new docks.

The docks would not be built as shown in Cruchley’s map, the new docks would be the southern dock below the West India, and the Millwall Dock.

Another book with an impressive fold out map is Henry Chamberlain’s:

A New and Complete History and Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, the Borough of Southwark, and Parts Adjacent

The book dates from 1770, and has a large fold out map of the city in that year:

Again, there are plenty of little details which show the city at the time, and if we look at the top of the map, there is New River Head and Sadlers Wells:

New River Head was the large pond built at the end of the man-made New River that brought water in from springs around Ware in Hertfordshire, ready for onward distribution across London.

Sadlers Wells was named after a well and the first owner of the site and the entertainment venure he developed.

At the time, the land between Sadlers Wells and the city, was still open land, as the map shows, and was a risky place for those returning from a night at Sadlers Wells to their city homes, with many reports of theft across what would have been dark fields.

If we look at the area of Lambeth covered by the map, we can see at the time there were no other bridges between Blackfriars and Westminster Bridges, and we can see one of the pleasure gardens south of the river, Cuper Gardens, which is where the approach to Waterloo Bridge and the large roundabout at the end of the approach road are located today.

Narrow Wall can be seen on the map, one of the early attempts to stop the river from encroaching on the land and reclaiming Lambeth Marsh. Narrow Wall is today Belverdere Road and Upper Ground.

The next book is “A Dictionary of London” by Henry Harben (1918). This book has a pocket at the end, in which there are a selection of maps. The first being:

A Map of the Cities of London & Westminster and the Borough of Southwark together with the suburbs, 1708

Some of the maps in Harben’s book are based on several different maps to provide coverage and detail not seen within one individual map. The above map is based on “Hatton’s New View 1708, but it incorporates material supplied in Philip Lea’s map of 1673, John Ogilby’s of 1677 and Morden & Lea’s map of 1682. Further details come from Richard Blome’s ward maps published in Stryp’s edition of Stowe, 1720”.

The benefit of this composite approach is the level of detail in one map, and in the following extract we can see the stairs and houses along the river between the mouth of the Fleet and the horse ferry in Westminster:

Interesting that in St. James’s Park there is a feature labelled “Decoy”. This may have been a pond where ducks, or other waterfowl would be lured into and trapped. The benefit of such a place was that if they were to be served as meat for food, then not having been shot, they would not contain lead shot.

The next map in Harben’s book is the product of three maps, and is titled:

A Map of London about 1660. The Ground Plan is based on Hutton 1708. The details from Faithorne and Newcourt Circa 1658

Again, there are many small details. Wapping is mainly built along the river and along the Ratcliffe Highway, and the area of Rotherhithe is using the old name of Redriff.

There is one, small detail I really like. Take a look at Limehouse to the east, and next to the small indentation from the river (Limekiln Dock, see this post), there is a drawing of a lime kiln:

The lime kiln is shown in the correct location for the first lime kiln in the area, and is the structure that would give Limehouse its name. The accuracy of the image extends to the smoke issuing from the top of the kiln, from the burning of chalk brought up from Kent.

We then come to:

Map of London shows its size at the end of the 16th century. The ground plan is for convenience based on the plan in Hatton’s New View 1708. The main details are from Norden 1593 & Speed 1610

In this series of maps from Harben’s book, we have been going back in time, and this map shows the city at the end of the 16th century, overlaid on a plan of 1708.

It shows a much smaller city, and there are details which show just how undeveloped parts of London were at the time.

The area south of the river, where much of Lambeth is located today, is labelled Lambeth Marsh, and has the symbols for a marsh along with some lines of trees.

The area between Narrow Wall and the Thames are areas of agriculture, with inlets leading from the river up to Narrow Wall. This area between Narrow Wall and the river was used for agricultural purposes, such as growing reeds.

Some of the maps in Harben’s book show how you can add additional detail to a map, and these are the pre-Internet versions of the Layers of London site, for example:

Plan of London in the 16th, 17th & 18th Centuries Superimposed on the Present Ordnance Survey Plan

The above map is the Eastern Sheet and the map below is the Western Sheet:

A small detail from the map shows the outline of the pre-Great Fire St. Paul’s Cathedral overlaid on the outline of Wren’s cathedral which we see today, showing a slight change in orientation and size:

Another of Harben’s maps where has overlaid data on a street plan is a:

Plan of London showing the Levels of the Natural ground below the present Surface, the Line of the Roman Wall of the City, and the Sites of Discoveries of Roman remains etc.

Walking the city streets today, it is hard to appreciate just how much land levels have changed over the last couple of thousand years.

Centuries of dumping of building rubble, accumulations of rubbish, waste and soils, demolition rubble from events such as the Great Fire, leveling of the city, for example, the land running down to the Thames (when Queen Victoria Street was built, parts were raised to level out the street), covering of rivers such as the Fleet and the Walbrook etc. have all contributed to raising the ground level of the city.

The lowest levels where evidence of human occupation of the city are those from the Roman period, and in the map, Harden has located where remains have been found, and the level below the current surface, for example, as shown in this extract showing the area around Cripplegate and London Wall:

One of the best places where this raising of surface levels can be seen is the part of the Roman Wall shown in the above map, which is preserved in the underground car park below London Wall. Whilst there are many runs of the wall above ground in the area, these are all medieval, we have to look below the surface to get down to the Roman Wall, as can be seen in this post where I photographed the wall in the car park.

A small sample of some of the old maps of London that show how the city has developed over the centuries, and finding an old book with a large folding map, or even better, a pocket at the end of the book stuffed with maps is always a bonus.

Some of the other maps I have looked at in the blog are Reynolds’s Splendid New Map Of London , the 1944 report on the Reconstruction of the City of London, and the 1943 London County Council Plan for the redevelopment of London.


Sunderland Wharf and Ordnance Wharf, Rotherhithe

One of the pleasures of writing the blog is finding out more about an area I have already covered. Back in February I wrote a post about Horn Stairs, Cuckold’s Point and Horn Fair, and whilst at the stairs I had walk around Rotherhithe Street, and a block of flats seemed vaguely familiar.

Back home I looked through the photos of a boat trip my father had taken along the Thames in August 1948, and found the flats I walked past in Rotherhithe Street.

This is the August 1948 photo of Sunderland Wharf and Ordnance Wharf, Rotherhithe, with the block of flats in the background:

The same view, seventy six years later in 2024:

in the following image, I have mapped the 1948 photo to that of 2024. The flats are just about visible behind the new houses which line the river. I have also marked where the tall building and the chimney nearest the river were located in the area as seen today:

The area covered by today’s post, is highlighted within the red oval in the following map  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

There is a whole sequence of photos that my father had taken in August 1948 on a boat trip from Westminster to Greenwich. I have already featured a number in the blog, but there are a number where there are no easily identifiable features, such as a wharf name on a building, and the buildings along the banks of the river, particularly on the south side, have changed so much that identifiable features are rare.

Luckily, it was finding the block of flats that enabled the location in this photo to be identified.

The series of photos show a very different London to the east of Tower Bridge. Significant bomb damage and an area of warehouses and industry, often very dirty and polluting industry.

The following extract is from the 1949 revision of the Ornance Survey map, so only one year after my father’s photo, and the features in the photo can be seen in the map.

I have highlighted them as follows:

  • Dark blue arrow – the block of flats seen in the background
  • Red arrow – the remaining tall and narrow building
  • Green arrow – the chimney nearest the river to the right of the photo
  • Light blue arrow – possibly the second chimney in the photo. It appears further back in the map than in the photo. This may be down to the perspective of the photo, or possibly an error with the map

 (Map ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“)

The area in the 1948 photo consisted of a number of wharves, as can be seen in the above map.

The land between the flats and the river was Ordnance Wharf. I cannot find the use of the wharf immediately before the war and subsequent bomb damage, however the type of industry that occupied Ordnance Wharf can be seen in the following newspaper article from April 1883:

“DESTRUCTIVE FIRE IN ROTHERHITHE – At about midnight, a fire, which was attended with the most disastrous consequences, broke out in the extensive oil-cake mills at Ordnance Wharf, Rotherhithe, London, S.E. The premises, which consisted of six buildings, each of three floors were occupied by a French firm, Messrs Francoise and Joseph Badart Freres, who carry on a large business as oil-cake merchants in the south-east districts.

How the fire originated remains a mystery, but in a very few minutes it gained a complete mastery of the buildings, enveloping them in a mass of flame which made it quite impossible for even the firemen who were first on the spot to attempt to effect an entrance.”

The entire site was destroyed in a couple of hours, and the fire burnt until six in the evening, and a large number of men then had to be employed to keep the site damped down so fires would not restart.

Oil cake seems to have been the product made from the oil released from many different types of seeds.

The book London Wharves and Docks, published in 1953 by Commercial Motor does not have an entry for Ordnance Wharf, so I assume it remained derelict after the war.

The next Wharf is Sunderland Wharf, the area to the right of the tall, narrow buildings and up to the chimneys. In 1953, the occupier of the wharf was listed as Bermondsey Borough Council, and use of the wharf was listed as “Disposal of house and trade refuse by barge”.

The location of the chimneys, and the building to the right, most of which is not shown in the photo was Upper Ordnance Wharf. In 1953 this was still a working industrial site, and was occupied by H.J. Enthoven and Sons, Ltd, who processed non-ferrous metals, coal, coke and iron ore, and seem to have been mainly processing the metal lead.

An extract from part of my father’s 1948 photo shows some of the infrastructure at Upper Ordnance Wharf. These look as if they were used to funnel materials from the factory site down into barges on the foreshore:

A highly industrial site, along with a number of derelict areas after wartime damage.

it is very different today, as I found with a walk around the site.

This is Rotherhithe Street, with the blocks of flats on the left. The block in the 1948 photo is the one furthest on the left:

The block of flats seen in the 1948 photo, and which enable the location to be identified is shown in the photo below. The distinctive middle section, where brick rises up above the entrance to the flats, the full height up above the upper attic space, which gives the central section a top of a flat wall of brick:

The estate of which the above block is part is Acorn Walk. Built in the 1930s, the estate consists of a number of similar blocks of flats as shown in the following estate map. The block in the 1948 photo is the block at upper right:

The name Acorn Walk comes from Upper Acorn Yard, a flat space for storing timber on which part of the estate was built, and Acorn Pond, an expanse of water a short distance to the south which was also used for storing timber.

Walking up to the river’s edge, and this is the view along what was Ordnance Wharf. The tall narrow building in my father’s 1948 photo was where the taller section of the terrace of houses, the one with the structure on the roof with cupola and weather vane, can be seen:

At the end of the above terrace is the following view, where Sunderland Wharf and then Upper Ordnance Wharf. and the H.J. Enthoven industrial premises were located. The funnels in the extract from the photo that tipped material down into barges were were the furthest trees on the right can be seen:

I had walked along the river walkway earlier in the year for the post on Horn Stairs, not realising that this was the location of one of my father’s photo. The following photo is looking back towards the warehouses of Canada Wharf taken from the edge of the 1948 photo, so these warehouse would have been to the left or east of Ordnance Wharf:

Horn Stairs is at the base of the Canada Wharf warehouse, the bottom left corner of the building in the above photo, so I went to take a look at the stairs.

I remarked in my post back in February, on the poor condition of the stairs, and how the upper steps seemed to be deteriorating badly, and just under six months later, the top step has disappeared, leaving a gap between the concrete edge of the walkway and the stairs, and the next couple of steps do not look all that robust.

The tide had been coming in for a few hours when I visited, so the foreshore was covered, and the navigation marker at the end of the causeway leading out from the stairs was isolated in the waters of the river:

To show just how wide is the range of the tide along the river, compare the above photo with the following photo taken for my Horn Stairs post which shows the navigation marker at low tide, with the remains of the causeway fully exposed, and the above photo had not yet reached high tide, and it was not one of the occasional very high tides.

Rotherhithe is really fascinating, and I will be writing more blog posts about the area in the coming months. To get from the north side of the river where I had taken the comparison photos from across the river, to the Rotherhithe side, I used the Thames Clipper / Uber boat route RB4, which is a dedicated route between Canary Wharf and the Doubletree Hotel in Rotherhithe.

This is a brilliant route across the river, and lands at the Doubletree Hotel where as far I can tell, the route to the street is through the hotel lobby (or at least that is the route I have always taken).

The following photos cover the short section of street from the Doubletree Hotel to the site of the 1948 photo, starting with this view looking along Rotherhithe Street:

The first building is this rather ornate house, which dates from the mid 18th century, and is not the type of building you would expect to find with so much industry between the street and river:

This is Nelson House and the building is Grade II* listed, and was a shipbuilder’s house. It reflects a time when this part of the river was not end to end industrialisation, but was small industry associated with the river, such as timber yards and shipbuilders, along with their owners and workers homes, including those who made good money from their river businesses. Inland from Rotherhithe Street when the house was built, it was all still fields.

The house was included in the 1972 Architects’ Journal feature “New Deal for East London”, on the possible threats to many of the historic buildings of east London (both north and south of the river. See this post for more information on the 1972 article).

The following photo shows the house in the early 1970s, with the name of the last Thames focused business to occupy the building:

Next along Rotherhithe Street are the buildings of Mills & Knight at Nelson Dock:

Nelson Dock had long been a slipway into the river and there was also a dry dock where ships could be taken in from the river, the water drained out, allowing the hull to be worked on in the dry.

The 1953 London Wharves and Docks publication still lists the site as providing these services.

We then come to the Blacksmiths Arm:

There may have been a pub here in the late 18th century, but the first written reference to the Blacksmiths Arms that I can find is from the London Morning Advertiser on the 2nd of May, 1823, when particulars for an estate that was for sale could be had at the Blacksmiths Arms, Cuckolds Point.

Given that Cuckholds Point was the area of foreshore at the base of Horn Stairs, I suspect that this is the same pub.

The current building dates from the mid to late 19th century, and the interior and the mock Tudor frontage dates from the 1930s.

We then come to the part of Canada Wharf that faces onto Rotherhithe Street:

Along this stretch of Rotherhithe Street is an unusual reminder of one of the earlier attempts at providing a river boat service – a reminder of some London transport history:

The White Horse company ran a ferry along the river from Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe to the City, opening in June 1999. In 2000, they also ran the ferry service from Greenwich, by the Cutty Sark, to the Millennium Dome.

Both services closed in 2001, and the assets of the company were put up for sale, so the above sign represents a ferry service that ran for two short years.

I am pleased I found the location of the 1948 photo, one of those I thought might be a challenge, and a photo that highlights just how much Rotherhithe has changed.

Now for some extra content after a walk through the City last week:

A Transformation for All Hallows Staining

Back in 2018, I wrote a post based on my father’s photo of the tower of All Hallows Staining, all that remained of the original church:

Walking through the City last week and although I knew there was a major redevelopment planned, the sight of the church tower standing alone in the rubble of the demolished buildings that once surrounded the tower was rather stunning:

The construction site is surrounded by tall wooden hoardings that you cannot see over, however holding my camera above the wooden wall, and lots of random clicking revealed the following scene, where the area around the tower has been demolished down to ground level, revealing the basements of the demolished buildings:

I have written about the history of the church, and some of the surrounding alleys in my post All Hallows Staining and Star Alley, which you can read by clicking here, so I will not repeat the history of the area in this post.

The site was the home to the post-war version of Clothworkers Hall, and the Clothworkers’ Company have had a hall on the site since 1528. The Clothworkers’ Company also own the land and will have a new hall built as part of the overall redevelopment.

The documentation that goes with the development (called 50 Fenchurch Street) states that it sits on the “southern edge of the City’s eastern tower cluster”, and this can be seen in the following photo:

As well as a new hall for the Clothworkers’ Company, the development will consist of a 36 storey commercial tower, which will have a new public roof garden, which seems mandatory in recent City developments.

The tower will have “Innovative vertical urban greening to mitigate air and noise pollution, and improve biodiversity”, and there will be a new public realm at ground level, which will include access to the church tower and to the crypt of Lamb’s Chapel, which was originally at Monkwell Street, now under the Barbican Development (I wrote about Lamb’s Chapel in this post).

The view of the tower and building site from Mark Lane:

And from Fenchurch Street, where a lone pillar from one of the demolished buildings remains:

Whilst the buildings that were demolished were of no real architectural or historical interest, and the Clothworkers’ Company will remain on a site they have occupied for hundreds of years in the latest iteration of their hall, what is often ignored and lost is the historical layout of the streets and alleys.

In the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map of London, I have highlighted the church (red arrow), Clothworkers’ Hall (green arrow) and an alley by the name of Star Alley (red arrow):

Although surrounded by post-war buildings, Star Alley, as a physical alley that you could walk, existed all the way up to the recent demolition, in the same alignment as in the 1746 map.

It may survive in some form in the new development, either studs on the ground, different types of paving, or a name of a walkway through the new tower, but the alley will have been lost, and for me, it is the loss of this historic streetscape which is worse than the loss of the post-war buildings or the build of a new tower.

I finished off my 2018 post with the following paragraph:

“It is remarkable that the tower of All Hallows Staining has survived for so long without a functioning church. The tower, churchyard, Star Alley, Dunster Court and the Clothworkers’ Hall form a small City landscape that is the same as mapped in 1746 and may date back to around 1456 when the Shearmen (the predecessors of the Clothworkers’ Company) purchased the land in Mincing Lane.”

Little did I know that six years later, apart from the tower of All Hallows Staining, everything else would be gone.

The Clothworkers’ Company have a page on the development on their website which can be found by clicking here.

And for an online PowerPoint presentation on the development, with lots of images on the new development, click here.

Sunderland Wharf and Ordnance Wharf, and All Hallows Staining – just two examples of just how much London changes over time.


The Guinness Festival Clock, London Clock Makers and the Corn Laws

One ticket for my walk Limehouse – A Sink of Iniquity and Degradation for next Sunday has just become free. Click here for details and booking.

A mix of subjects for this week’s post, the first comes from my fascination with all things Festival of Britain, and where we can see aspects of the festival to this day.

Part of the Festival of Britain in 1951 was the Festival Pleasure Gardens at Battersea. I wrote a post about the pleasure gardens which can be found by clicking here.

The Pleasure Gardens were where people could have some fun. The other London exhibitions, such as the main festival site on the Southbank, and the Exhibition of Architecture in Poplar, were intended to be educational and informative. To tell a story of the history of the country and the people, industry, science, design, arts etc.

The Battersea Pleasure Gardens were also different to the rest of the festival sites, in that the Pleasure Gardens allowed commercial sponsorship, which covered not just advertising and sponsorship of places and events in the gardens, but also the provision of display items by commercial companies.

These had to go along with the general theme of the Pleasure Gardens – they had to provide some form of entertainment, fun, enjoyment, and one of the more prominent of these commercial displays was the Guinness Festival Clock:

I was recently in Ireland, which included a couple of days in Dublin, and a mandatory visit to the Guinness Storehouse, their rather impressive and very popular visitor centre in the city.

One of the floors in the centre is devoted to Guinness advertising over the years, and I was really pleased to find they had a large model of the Guinness Festival Clock:

The Guinness Festival Clock was one of the most popular attractions at the pleasure gardens. Every quarter of an hour it would burst into action with characters appearing and moving, the triangular vanes at the top opening and spinning and doors opening at the lower front to reveal the Guinness Toucan.

The Guinness Festival Clock was designed by the partnership of Lewitt-Him.

Lewitt-Him were two designers who had come to London in 1937 from Poland. Both were from Jewish families.

Jan LeWitt was born in Czestochowa in 1907. After three years travelling across Europe and the Middle East, he started work as a graphic artist and designer, and was also involved in practical activities such as machine building and in a distillery.

George Him (who had changed his name from Jerzy Himmelfarb) came from Lodz, where he was born in 1900. He had a more academic start in life, initially studying Roman Law, then obtaining a PhD in the comparative history of religions. He then began to study graphic art, and in 1933 met Jan LeWitt, and started collaborating on designs, where their style was described as being “surrealistic, cubist and with humour”.

Their move to London was possible as their work had been brought to the attention of Philip James at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Peter Gregory at the publishers Lund Humphries.

Their move to London was timely as two years later Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, and their Jewish background would have meant almost certain death.

The outbreak of war also created significant demand for their skills, with the need for graphic designers to work on numerous books, posters, pamphlets and maps, many of which were in support of the war effort.

After the war, they continued to work on a wide range of projects, from commercial advertising, illustrations for books and magazines, and exhibitions.

One of the first post-war exhibitions in which they were involved was the “Britain Can Make It” exhibition in 1947 at the Victoria and Albert Museum. As with the future Festival of Britain, the 1947 exhibition was intended to show the technical and manufacturing capabilities of the country, as there was a need to dramatically increase exports and a national demand for foreign currency due to the impact of the war on the country’s finances.

The “Britain Can Make It” exhibition became known as the “Britain Can’t Have It” exhibition, as the products on display were aimed at the export market, rather than being available for domestic customers.

Four years later, and the type of design that included Lewitt-Him’s approach to surrealism and humour could be found across the Festival of Britain, with the Guinness Festival Clock being a perfect example.

The festival clock at the Guinness Storehouse is a working replica, and the following short video shows the clock in action, along with a screen to the side of the clock, showing the original Guinness Festival Clock at Battersea (if you receive the post via email, you may need to go to the website by clicking here to see the video):

The popularity of the Guinness Festival Clock was such that Guinness commissioned eight full size travelling clocks, which then travelled across Ireland and the coastal resorts of Britain. Two of these clocks were also sent to the US, so Lewitt-Him’s work for the Festival of Britain ended up providing a very successful means of advertising for Guinness.

The Guinness advert from the Guide to the Festival Pleasure Gardens included a view of the clock, and a poem about the Walrus and the Carpenter’s visit to the Southbank festival site and the pleasure gardens in Battersea:

The Lewitt-Him partnership ended in 1955, as Jan LeWitt wanted to concentrate on more artistic projects, including the design of sets and costumes for ballets held at Sadlers Wells, whilst George Him continued as a commercial graphic designer with a large portfolio of customers for his advertising work.

They both continued to be based in London, until George Him’s death in 1981 and Jan Lewitt’s death in 1991.

Now back to London, but continuing with a clock based theme.

At the junction of Fleet Street and Whitefriars Street, next to the Tipperary pub, there are two rectangular blue plaques on the curved façade of the corner building:

The plaque on the Fleet Street side of the building records that two famous clockmakers, Thomas Tompion and George Graham both lived at the site:

I will start with Thomas Tompion as he was the elder of the two, and was more influential in the manufacture of watches and clocks, and could be described, as stated on the plaque, as the “The Father of English Clockmaking”.

The plaque states that he was born in 1638, but the majority of sources give his date of birth as 1639, in Northill, Bedfordshire (for example Bedford and Luton Archives and Records Service, and the Science Museum). Only one year, but an example of how it is difficult to be exactly sure of dates with the distance of time, and for those who were not born into a well known and documented family.

He arrived in London in 1671, and it was his meeting with Robert Hooke three years later that would help make his name as a clockmaker.

By 1674 Tompion appears to be living and working in Water Lane, the original name of Whitefriars Street, when it ran from Fleet Street all the way down to the Thames. Strype’s 1720 description of the lane is not that flattering:

“a good broad and straight street, which cometh out of Fleet Street and runneth down to the Thames, where there is one of the City Lay-stalls, for the Soil of the Street. This Lane is better built than inhabited, by reason of its being so pestered with Carts to the Laystall and Wharfs, for Wood, Coals &c, lying by the Water side at the bottom of this lane.”

The relationship with Hooke seems to have brought Tompion plenty of information about ways of making clocks and watches, and new developments in the profession, for example, one of the mentions of Tompion in Hooke’s diary is this, from the 2nd of May, 1674 (note that Hooke calls him Tomkin in his early diary entries, but then changes to the correct spelling):

“To Tomkin in Water Lane. Much discourse with him about watches. Told him the way of making an engine for finishing wheels and a way to make a dividing plate; about the form of an arch; another way of Teeth work, about pocket watches and many other things”

Tompion, along with Hooke met King Charles II on the 7th of April, 1675, when Hooke showed the King his new spring watch which was one of Hooke’s attempts at designing a watch that would enable the calculation of longitude at sea. This required very stable time keeping, compensating for the movement of a ship and changing weather.

Charles II requested that a watch be made for him, and Tompion built the watch to Hooke’s design, however this seems to have caused a breakdown in their relationship, as Hooke was frequently complaining to Tompion that he was taking too long to finish the project.

Things did not go well after completion, as after the watch was presented to the King, he complained to Hooke that “the weather had altered the watch”. Hooke’s deign had not yet factored in temperature compensation.

Thomas Tompion:

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

Despite any issues with the watch for the King (which appears to have been mainly Hooke’s design), Tompion’s reputation as a clock and watch maker grew rapidly. He experimented with a number of designs and manufacturing techniques to improve the reliability and accuracy of his clocks and watches, and these variations can be seen in a number of his clocks that survive.

The following watch is an example of Tompion’s work from the period 1700 to 1713:

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

The following side view provides an indication of the complexity of early 18th century watch manufacturing. For reference, the watch is just over 29 millimetres thick and the diameter of the dial is 41 millimetres:

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

From about 1685, Tompion started to number his clocks and watches, so it is possible to estimate how many he produced. Somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 watches and around 550 clocks.

Thomas Tompion died in 1713, and as the plaque informs, he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

His reputation as a watch and clock maker would continue for long after his death, as this advert from the Kentish Weekly Post on the 17th of June, 1732 illustrates:

“This is to give notice that all sorts of watches are made, mended and sold by Samuel Kissar, who is lately removed from St. Margaret’s-street to the Crown and Dial in Bargate-street, Canterbury.

N.B. He has a watch to sell made by Mr. Thomas Tompion, it being one of the best watches in Kent.”

An eight-day clock by Tompion from between 1695 and 1705:

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

As Thomas Tompion became successful, he needed help in his workshops, and this led to him taking on additional staff, which is where George Graham, the second name on the plaque comes in.

George Graham started working for Tompion in 1696 when he was employed at the age of 23 as a journeyman (a trained worker), as he had already completed an apprenticeship with another clock maker, Henry Aske.

A few years earlier in 1687, Tompion had taken on Edward Banger as an apprentice.

Both Graham and Banger married in to the wider Tompion family, as George Graham married Elizabeth, who was the daughter of Tompion’s younger brother James, and Edward Banger married Margaret, the daughter of Tompion’s sister, also Margaret.

The practice of senior workers and apprentices marrying into the owner’s family seems to have been reasonably common.

George Graham became a key member of Tompion’s business and he seems to have had the same attention to detail as Tompion, as well as an approach to improvement and invention with the increasing accuracy and performance of clocks and watches.

George Graham was also a well known astronomical instrument maker as these instruments shared many features with clocks and watches where metal working was needed, with instruments built with increasing accuracy (whether measuring time, or the position of a star in the sky).

As far as I can tell, Thomas Tampion died without having had any children who could take over the business. He left the business to George Graham, who announced this in the London Gazette in December 1713: “George Graham, nephew of the late Mr. Thomas Tompion, who lived with him upwards of seventeen years and managed his trade for several years past, whose name was joined with Mr. Tompion’s for some time before his death, and to whom he had left all his stock and work, finished and unfinished, continues to carry on the said trade at the late Dwelling House of the said Mr. Tompion, at the sign of the Dial & Three Crowns, at the corner of Water Lane, in Fleet Street, London, where all persons may be accommodated as formerly.”

Seven years later, George Graham moved a short distance, and announced in the London Gazette in March 1721: “George Graham, watchmaker is removed from the corner of Water Lane, in Fleet Street, to the Dial & One Crown on the other side of the way, a little nearer Fleet Bridge, a new house next door to the Globe and Duke of Marlborough’s Head Tavern”.

What is interesting with these announcements is the description of the place where George Graham was located. They are all graphical descriptions where the names that would have been on the signs at or next to Graham’s location are given.

The following image shows three of George Graham’s long case clocks, made between 1740 and 1750:

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

The pendulum can be seen in the clock on the right, and the type of pendulum was one of George Graham’s inventions – the mercurial compensated pendulum.

Using mercury at the base of a pendulum was a clever method to compensate for temperature variations.

With an all metal pendulum, when the temperature rises, the pendulum expands and gets longer, which impacts the accuracy of the clock.

When a glass vial is at the bottom of the pendulum, the pendulum rod still expands making it longer, however the mercury in the glass vial responds to the increase in temperature by rising up the glass vial, and because mercury is a heavy mass, the rise in the height of mercury against a lengthening pendulum, keeps the overall centre of gravity at the same place, so the clock continues to keep time as temperature changes.

In 1721 George Graham was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1722 he was elected as Master of the Clockmakers Company, and as well as clocks and watches, he continued to work on astronomical instruments, and other scientific instruments such as a micrometer.

George Graham died in 1751, and the following is a typical newspaper report of his death: “Last Saturday Night died, in the 78th Year of his Age, that great Mechanic Mr. George Graham F.R.S. Watchmaker in Fleet-street, who may be truly said to have been the Father of the Trade, not only with regard to the Perfection to which he brought Clocks and Watches, but for the great Encouragement of all Artificers employed under him, by keeping up the Spirit of Emulation among them.”

After his death, George Graham was buried in the same grave as Thomas Tompion in Westminster Abbey.

Although the plaque states that Thomas Tompion was the “Father of English Clockmaking”, the reports that followed the death of George Graham described him as the “Father of the Trade”.

I do not think there needs to be any competition, both Tompion and Graham seem to have been equals in their craft, and their ability to improve and invent clocks and watches.

There is a second plaque on the corner of the building, and the following photo shows the plaque on the Whitefriars Street side of the building:

The Corn Laws were a set of laws implemented in 1815 by the Tory Prime Minister Lord Liverpool due to the difficult economic environment the country was in following the wars of the late 18th and early 19th century.

The Corn Laws imposed tariffs on imported grains and resulted in an increase in the price of grain, and products made using grain. These price increases made the Corn Laws very unpopular with the majority of the population, although large agricultural land owners were in favour as they made a higher profit from grain grown on their lands.

The Corn Laws were finally repealed by the  Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel in 1846, and they reflect a tension between free trade, and tariffs on imports that can still be seen in politics today.

John Bright was born on the 16th of November, 1811 and was the son of a Quaker textile manufacturer in Rochdale. Having been born into a Quaker family, Bright became involved with the type of political causes favoured by nonconformists.

Bright met Richard Cobden in 1835 and in 1840 he became treasurer of the Rochdale branch of the Anti-Corn Law League. Bright was a gifted public speaker, and in the campaign to repeal the Corn Laws he would travel across the country speaking and campaigning for the cause.

He was an MP for Durham, then Manchester and finally Birmingham. After the repeal of the Corn Laws, Bright continued to campaign for free trade, including a commercial treaty with France, which resulted in the1860 Cobden-Chevalier Treaty which lowered customs duties between the two countries.

Richard Cobden was born on the 3rd of June, 1804 in a farmhouse in Dinford, near Midhurst in Sussex. His only time in London appears to have been after his father died, when Cobden was still young, and he was taken under the guardianship of his uncle who was a warehouseman in London.

Not long after he became a Commercial Traveler, and then started his own business which was based in Manchester, which seems to have been his base for the rest of his commercial success.

During his time in Manchester Cobden was part of the Anti-Corn Law League and was known as one of the leagues most active promoters.

The blue plaque on the corner of the building states that “On the site were situated the offices on the Anti-Corn-Law-League with which John Bright and Richard Cobden were so closely associated”.

What is not clear is how much time they spent in London, and in the offices of the anti-corn-law-league, so if anything, the plaque is recording a political campaign for free trade rather than the place of residence or work for two 19th campaigners.

Richard Cobden does have a statue in Camden, opposite Mornington Crescent underground station, but again this seems to championing free trade and Cobden’s role in the repeal of the corn laws:

The Clerkenwell News and London Times on the 1st of July 1868 recorded the unveiling of the statue:

“The Cobden memorial statue which has just been erected at the entrance to Camden Town was inaugurated on Saturday. Although this recognition of the services of the great Free Trade leader may have been looked upon in some quarters as merely local, the gathering together of some eight to ten thousand people to do honour to his memory cannot be regarded in any other light than that of a national ovation.

The committee had arranged that the statue of the late Richard Cobden at the entrance to Camden Town – with the exception, perhaps, of Trafalgar Square, one of the finest sites in London – should be unveiled on Saturday, that day being understood to be the appropriate one of the anniversary of the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the event was so popular that the surrounding neighbourhood was gaily decorated with flags for the occasion. The windows and balconies of Millbrook House, the residence of Mr. Claremont, facing the statue, had been placed at the disposal of Mrs. Cobden and her friends, including her three daughters.

A special platform had been created in front of the pedestal, covered with crimson cloth, and in the enclosure in front the band of the North Middlesex Rifles were stationed, and performed whilst the company assembled.

The report then covers at some length, all the speeches made which told the story of Cobden’s life and his actions in the repeal of the Corn Laws. There were many thousands present to witness the event, and at the end; “after the vast assembly had dispersed Mrs. Cobden, accompanied by Mr. Claremont, the churchwardens, and other friends, walked round the statue and expressed her high gratification at the fidelity of the likeness.”

Before I leave this small area of Fleet Street, there are a couple of major developments underway. In the following photo, the building with the two plaques on the corner is at the right side of the photo, one of the plaques can just be seen. Opposite is a very large building site:

This area is set to become a so called new Justice Quarter in the City, and the area will comprise:

1 – New City of London Law Courts

2 – New headquarter building for the City of London Police

3 – Public space covering an area slightly larger than the current Salisbury Square

4 – New commercial / office space with, you may have guessed, space for restaurants, bars or cafes on the ground floor

I photographed the area before the buildings that were on the site were demolished in a 2021 post on “Three Future Demolitions and Re-developments” which can be found by clicking here.

A bit further along Fleet Street, towards Ludgate Circus, the building next to the old Daily Express building has been demolished, leaving a view of the side of the Express building, and to the buildings at the rear – a temporary view that will soon disappear:

A mix of different subjects in this week’s post, but a very tenuous clock based link with the Guinness clock and two 17th / 18th century London watch and clock makers – all part of London’s deep history, and how you can find unexpected examples of that history in the most unexpected places, such as a brewery in Dublin.


Bedford Square

I have just put a couple of my Limehouse and Wapping walks on Eventbrite for the month of June. Click here for details and booking.

Bedford Square, Bloomsbury must be one of the best preserved, late 18th century squares in London, and in this part of London there is plenty of competition.

Bedford Square is just north of New Oxford Street, and has the British Museum to the east, and Tottenham Court Road a short distance to the west. The following map shows the location of the square in red:

Bedford Square

Bedford Square was planned and built between 1775 and 1780 as part of the development of the land owned by the Duke of Bedford (hence the name) within his Bloomsbury Estate.

This was a time when London was expanding northwards and the fields, streams, ponds and footpaths that comprised the Bloomsbury Estate would soon be part of the built city, however it would be a unique area due to the number of large squares which provided open, green space for the occupants of the new houses to enjoy.

The following extract shows the area as it was not long before the development of Bedford Square. This is from Rocque’s map of 1746 and I have marked the future location of Bedford Square with the red rectangle, and much of the approximately 112 acres of the Bloomsbury Estate then open space:

Bedford Square

The yellow rectangle is around Montague House, the future site of the British Museum.

Plots of land around Bedford Square were leased by the architect Thomas Leverton and builders, Robert Crews and William Scott.

it is believed that Thomas Leverton was responsible for the overall plan of the buildings lining the four sides of the square, although there is no firm evidence to support this.

Thomas Leverton was the son of the builder Lancelot Leverton who was based in Woodford, Essex.

He seems to have designed a number of country houses, and where there is firm evidence of his connection with Bedford Square is with number 13 where he worked on the interior of the building and lived in the house from 1796 until his death in 1824.

Each of the sides of the square has the same basic design, which was intended to emulate the appearance of a large country house, with the central building decorated with stucco, along with pilasters and pediments.

The “wings” of this central house are the row of brick terrace houses on either side of the central house and that run to the corners of the square:

Bedford Square

The above photo is of the northern side of the square and the photo below is of the eastern side. The overall design is the same however there are subtle differences, for example the central house on the north side has six bays, whilst that on the eastern side has five:

Bedford Square

This seems to be down to the fact that the square is not really a square, rather a rectangle with the north and south sides being 520 feet long whilst the east and west are 320 feet.

To show how little Bedford Square has changed, the following print from 1851 is of the same view as the above photo:

Bedford Square

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

The only things that have changed is the replacement of coach and horses by cars, wider paving and the amount of street furniture we see today.

The remarkable preservation of the houses in Bedford Square appears to be due to the way that the Bedford Estate has managed the square since its original construction.

Steen Eiler Rasmussen writing in “London: The Unique City” (1948 edition) gives a fascinating insight into how this worked.

The original land was leased as a number of lots where a house would be built, and for the first 99 year lease, the annual ground rent was £3 for each lot.

After 99 years, the Bedford Estate than became the owner of not only the ground, but also the house that had been built on the land, and it was then leased for an additional period for a new annual sum that reflected both the land and the house, so by the end of the 99 years of the first leasing period, houses were then leased at different values to reflect the type, design and condition of the house on the land.

After the first 99 years, as well as different financial values, the leases were also for different periods, between twenty and fifty years. This seems to have been based on the work that the new leaseholder was planning to put into the building, so a leaseholder making a considerable investment on repairs, rebuilding and improvements would have a longer lease period.

One of the benefits to the Bedford Estate of then having leases expire at different times was that it avoided the risk of the leases for all the houses surrounding the square being renewed, for example, during a period of financial depression and low demand, when lease values would have been reduced.

It also means that any plans for radical change across the square are difficult, as the leases all expire at different times, and so the leases that make up a large block of land would not all become available at the same time.

I have no idea whether the Bedford Estate still takes this approach, however it does help explain why the houses in Bedford Square have externally hardly changed since their original build.

Although the external appearance has hardly changed, the interior of the houses on Bedford Square may be very different, reflecting the changes that have taken place over the last few centuries. Different uses, different types of owner, all would have left their mark on the interior.

There are also subtle different to the external façade of the houses, for example, this end of terrace house has a metal veranda structure above the balcony that runs the full width of the house:

Bedford Square

From the street, these houses look relatively narrow, however clever design results in a sizeable interior.

The following plan from the book London: The Unique City shows the layout of a typical house in Bedford Square:

Bedford Square

Despite the narrow front facing onto the square, each house does extend a fair way back, with both the basement and the ground floors extending some distance, and storage areas which would have held consumables such as coal, extending underneath the pavement from the basement.

On the north east corner of Bedford Square, the house in the photo below has street signs indicating that it is at the corner of Gower Street and Montague Place:

Bedford Square

However below the signs for these two streets are these much older signs indicating a Bedford Square address:

Bedford Square

Much of the decoration around the doors of the houses is of Coade Stone, which was made in the factory owned by Eleanor Coade on the south bank of the river, just to the west of the Royal Festival Hall, and in the following photo Coade stone alternates with brick around the main entrances to the house:

Sir Harry Ricardo

As could probably be expected for a location such as Bedford Square, there are a large number of blue plaques on the houses. On the house in the above photo is an English Heritage plaque to Sir Harry Ricardo:

Sir Harry Ricardo

As stated on the plaque, Sir Harry Ricardo was a Mechanical Engineer, and much of his work was centred around the development of the internal combustion engine for both vehicles and aircraft, and his work contributed to the outcome of the First World War as he developed the engines that were used by the tanks on the battlefield.

And if you fill up a car with petrol, and check the octane rating of the petrol, that is also down to Sir Harry Ricardo as his work on the chemical composition of fuels resulted in the octane classification system

The company he founded is still going strong, and is still named Ricardo, and is based at Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex.

The large central houses on the north and south sides of the square have six window bays, and two large entrances:

Bedford Square

Whilst those in the centre of the other two sides, have five window bays, and a single entrance from the street:

Lord Eldon

To the right of the entrance to the building in the above photo, a London County Coucil blue plaque record that Lord Eldon (1751 – 1838), Lord Chancellor, lived in the house.

He does not appear to have been very popular in the role of Lord Chancellor as the following is typical of the obituaries that were published after his death;

“For five-and-twenty years Lord Eldon held possession of the woolsack. Here was a position and a power of doing good in the hands of any man honestly disposed towards his country. For a quarter of a century he had absolute authority over the very stronghold of legal corruption – over the crying grievance of the nation – over the engine which broke the happiness, destroyed the fortunes, and wore away even the lives, of no small portion of his fellow men.

What did Lord Eldon do? Did he make one effort to palliate the evil? Did he, in a single instance, exert his power to rescue its victims? Did he, by one gesture, encourage those who were labouring day and night to work out the reformation he could at once have accomplished?

No. Lord Eldon was their bitterest, their most determined foe. He exerted his mighty power, in his court, in the cabinet, and in the closet, to stifle all enquiry, to destroy all opposition, to render hopeless every effort for amendment. He threw his protection over every harpy which fattened upon the corruption of his court, and verily they flourished.”

He also does not appear to have been that popular with his daughter, as she eloped with G S Repton, who was the son of Humphry Repton, the designer of the gardens in nearby Bloomsbury and Russell Squares.

View along the western side of Bedford Square:

Bedford Square

The above photo shows that there are subtle differences to the apparent identical design of the houses in the terrace. Look at the decoration around the entrances, and the central two have solid white stone decoration, whilst the outer two have a mix of white Coade stone and the same brick as the rest of the house.

The central gardens are private, and are for the residents of the square.

As well as the majority of the surrounding houses being listed, these gardens are also Grade II* listed.

They have not changed that much since originally being set out. The shrubbery around the perimeter of the gardens appear to be a long standing feature. In the 19th century, paths across the grass were removed.

There was limited damage to the square during the last war, with a single house in the southern side of the square damaged, along with the houses in the south east corner.

The shrubbery limits the views across the gardens, but glimpses are available as shown in the following photo:

Bedford Square gardens

Another Bedford Square blue plaque on the house in the photo below:

Ram Mohun Roy

This plaque is a perfect example of the range and diversity of people who have passed through London over the centuries.

The plaque records that Ram Mohun Roy, Indian reformer and Scholar lived in the house.

Ram Mohun Roy was born in Radhanagar, Bengal, India, in 1772. Although a Hindu, Roy studied all the religions he could find in India. He wrote and campaigned against religious superstition, and the caste system.

He was the founder of two of India’s earliest newspapers, but after the British imposed censorship of the Calcutta press in the 1820s, he started to campaign for freedom of speech, and became more involved in social reform.

He had come into contact with the East India Company, working as a translator as well as an assistant to East India Company staff.

in 1830, Roy came to England. An ex-emperor of Delhi had made Roy his ambassador so that he could plead the emperor’s cause with the authorities of the East India Company.

He was well received in London society (no doubt a Bedford Square address helped), and addressed the Unitarians (a dissenting Christian approach, where members follow their own beliefs rather than the doctrine of the Church of England). The Unitarians are still based in Essex Street off the Strand, where their first meeting was held in 1774, so it was probably here that Roy made his address.

He did not return to India, but died in Bristol during a visit at the invitation of Unitarian friends, and is now buried at Arnos Vale cemetery in Bristol.

On an adjacent house is a green plaque:

Bedford College for Women

Recording that the Bedford College for Women, the University of London was founded in the house in 1849 by Elizabeth Jesser Reid.

There is a connection between Ram Mohun Roy and Elizabeth Jesser Reid, as she was the daughter of a wealthy Unitarian ironmonger and was born in 1789. She married Dr. John Reid, a nonconformist, and in 1849 she founded the Ladies College or College for Women, using her Unitarian and Bloomsbury connections to gather support, and to get teaching staff and professors to teach at the college.

The College was the first higher education establishment for women in the country.

It would stay in Bedford Square to 1874, when the lease came up for renewal. The Bedford Estate did not want to renew the lease with the college, so the college moved to larger premises near Baker Street.

Yet another blue plaque:

William Butterfield

This one to an architect, William Butterfield.

Born in London in 1814, Butterfield trained as an architect and established his own architectural practice in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, before moving to the Adelphi.

He was involved with the study of Gothic Architecture, and the Victorian revival of religious architecture. This resulted in a considerable amount of work on churches and their associated building both in London and across the country.

William Butterfield died in his house in Bedford Square on the 23rd of February, 1900.

That is just a sample of the plaques to be found in Bedford Square.

Today, Bedford Square is home to a number of cultural institutions, including Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Yale University Press, and the New College for Humanities.

Bedford Square is one of those rare places in London, where, if you took away all the cars, a resident from the late 18th century, just after the square was completed, could return today and externally, the square would be perfectly recognisable.

It is also interesting to consider that whilst there is so much change across London, and there have been multiple different buildings on sites across much of London, when we stand in Bedford Square, we are looking at the only houses that have been built here, since the land was fields.

It is a lovely example of architecture and street planning.


Hanover Stairs and The Ship – Rotherhithe

For this week’s post, I am continuing with one of my favourite London subjects – Thames Stairs, and I am in Rotherhithe to find Hanover Stairs, and also to check whether the stairs confirm my theory that nearly every Thames stair had an associated pub.

This was the view, early on a sunny morning, walking along the footpath beside the Thames, with Hanover Stairs signposted next to the steps down to the river:

Hanover Stairs

There is a gate at the top of the stairs, with a warning sign showing someone falling down the stairs, along with the danger warnings of Slippery Steps, Sudden Drop and Deep Water – all of which make sense for these stairs:

Hanover Stairs

A look down the stairs reveals that they are in very good condition and consist of brick steps leading down to a sandy foreshore:

Hanover Stairs

The Port of London Authority list of access points to the River Thames has very little information about these stairs. It just states that they were in use in 1977, consisted of concrete stairs and were in good condition.

Hanover Stairs are in Rotherhithe, and I have marked their location with the red arrow in the following map (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Hanover Stairs

Hanover Stairs are rather unusual in that there is a ship moored at the foot of the stairs. A scene that was probably rather common when the river was in use and ships would have moored in the river and along the foreshore.

Hanover Stairs

Presumably a house boat, and equipped for permanent occupation as there are a range of pipes plumping in services between the ship and the shore.

During my visit it was a low tide and I could walk out for a reasonable distance across the foreshore. In the following photo, I am looking back from the water’s edge to the shore line, and the photo shows how the shore here drops considerably away from the edge of the land:

Hanover Stairs

Looking east, with Shadwell and Limehouse visible across the river:

Rotherhithe Gas Works Pier

On the right of the photo, just along the foreshore from Hanover Stairs, is the jetty that once served Rotherhithe Gas Works, which I explored in this post.

Looking across to Wapping on the northern shore of the river, and we can see New Crane Wharf:

New Crane Wharf

There is a gap to the left of New Crane Wharf. This gap is to allow access for another set of Thames Stairs – New Crane Stairs, which I wrote about in this post.

The narrow gap for New Crane Stairs, between two large buildings, shows the importance and persistence of Thames Stairs.

The following photo is looking west along the river, and in this photo we can clearly see how steep is the drop in the foreshore from the edge of the river out towards the centre:

Hanover Stairs

I have marked the location of Hanover Stairs with a red arrow in the following extract from the 1894 edition of the Ordnance Survey map  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Hanover Stairs

Next to the stairs, where the house boat is today, there was a small pier. On the foreshore, there is the abbreviation M.P.s – This stands for mooring posts and shows that ships and boats would have been moored along the foreshore at Hanover Stairs.

Large buildings line the river, warehouses and industrial sites, with a small number of terrace streets leading back in land.

To the upper right of the above map, is the pier for the Rotherhithe Gas Works, and these works can be seen running back in land, where the circular feature of the gas storage tanks can be seen.

I have a theory that nearly all Thames Stairs in populated and industrial areas, had a pub located next to the stairs, and Hanover Stairs continues to confirm this theory.

In the above map, I have ringed the PH of Public House which was opposite the stairs, where an alley led between two adjacent large buildings, down to the stairs.

I found the name of the pub by doing a newspaper search for Hanover Stairs, and found the pub had a good Thames related name of the Ship.

A typical example of where the Ship was mentioned in relation to the stairs, and an advert which shows how these pub were important for more than just drinking is the following advert which appeared in the Kentish Independent on the 24th of January, 1852, where an auction was being advertised for the “Stock of Mr. Little, Timber Dealer, who is retiring from business”.

The auction of Mr. Little’s stock included a very large quantity of timber, a “capital nearly new Timber Cart”, and rather strangely “a Sow and Four Pigs”.

The advert then goes on to list where the catalogue for the auction could be had, and this is where I found the reference to the Ship:

“Catalogues had: the Lord Duncan and Dover Castle, Broadway; Bratt’s New Cross Inn: Shard’s Arms, Old Kent Road: The Ship, Hanover Stairs, Rotherhithe; Prince of Orange, Greenwich; Three Tuns, Blackheath: Tiger’s Head, Lee: Dartmouth Arms, Sydenham Common; of Mr. Little on the premises, and of Mr. Rogers, Auctioneer, Valuer, Estate and House Agent, Lewisham.”

Another advert which mentions the pub was from June 1825 shows the type of excursion you could have taken on a summer’s day, early in the 19th century:

“GRAND NOVEL EXCURSION. A. READ, Captain of the FAVOURITE, Steam Packet, begs to inform his Friends and the Public that he has engaged the above elegant and commodious Vessel for an EXCURSION round the ISLE of SHEPPY, passing the Nore, Whitstable, Queenborough, and his Majesty’s Fleet at Sheerness, on Thursday, the 29th Instant, and return the same evening. A grand Band of Music will be provided. refreshments may be had on board at the usual moderate charges.”

Tickets for this “Grand Novel Excursion” were 5 shillings and 6 pence each, and the Ship was one of the places where you could buy tickets, and in this advert, Mr. Rounce was mentioned as the landlord of the Ship. Tickets were for sale widely across London, from the Rose by the Old Bailey, pubs in east London, both north and south of the river, a grocer in Tower Street, and offices in Fenchurch Street.

Both of these adverts show the importance of these local pubs to other commercial activities. They were places where you could advertise to the local community and use as local distribution hubs.

The importance of the relationship between the Ship and Hanover Stairs is that in these two examples, and many other reference I found, although the pub is in the street opposite the stairs, the name of the street is not mentioned, just the name of the pub and the name of the stairs.

The Ship closed around 1960, and sadly I cannot find any photos of the pub.

The majority of the Thames Stairs have lost their associated pub. A few still exist in Wapping (Pelican Stairs next to the Prospect of Whitby and Wapping Old Stairs next to the Town of Ramsgate).

In Rotherhithe, a surviving example is the Mayflower, where to the left of the pub can be found Church Stairs:

The Mayflower, Rotherhithe

21st century detritus washing up on the foreshore at Hanover Stairs:

On the foreshore

The earliest written references I could find to Hanover Stairs dates from the 1790s, where for example, on the 11th of January, 1796, in a list of Dividends to be paid to Creditors, there was the following “Alexander Christall and James Church of Hanover Stairs, Rotherhithe, Surrey, Sail-makers”.

On the 28th of November, 1761, it was reported that “The John and Thomas, Blickenden, loaded with Corn, is sunk in the River near Hanover Stairs”.

Hanover Stairs can be seen in Rocque’s map of 1746 (underlined in red):

Hanover Stairs

The map shows that in the 1740s, whilst the river’s edge was developed, a short distance inland it was still orchards, farmland, fields, marsh and streams. The section of the road that is now Rotherhithe Street was then named Redriff.

One of the few streets that leads inland from Redriff is directly opposite Hanover Stairs, and is named Hanover Street. I suspect the street took the name from the stairs, as these were probably a much older feature than the street.

I cannot find the source of the name Hanover as used for the stairs. Possibly there may have been local merchants from Hanover in Germany, of it may have been after George I, who became the first British King from the German House of Hanover who was on the British throne between 1714 and 1727.

Hanover Street changed named to Heston Street, and in the rebuilding of the area over the last few decades, the street that was one of the first running inland from the river, was built over and is now one of the many lost streets of the area.

So the stairs along the foreshore have been here for at least 275 years, and features from the long industrial history of the area can still be seen along the foreshore, for example, large stretches of consolidated stone and concrete, much eroded by the river:

Hanover Stairs

Looking along the foreshore from Hanover Stairs to the pier that once supplied the Rotherhithe Gas Works with coal arriving along the river:

Rotherhithe Gas Works Pier

Looking back at the steps of the stairs, with in the foreground some of the chains and weights used to keep the house boat securely moored alongside the river wall:

Hanover Stairs

Cables and pipes carrying services to the house boat and tyres to protect the side of the boat:

Hanover Stairs

There are frequent mentions of Hanover Stairs in newspapers up to the 1930s, when the last two reports are about an 11 year old boy who drowned after falling into the river when he and his friends were playing on barges next to the stairs, and a thief who was caught in Rotherhithe Street with a sack full of Gin bottles, which had been stolen from a barge lying next to the stairs.

After the 1930s, there seems to have been very little happening at the stairs (or at least anything that was considered newsworthy). That may have been due to the level of bomb damage at the stairs and the surrounding streets, which was considerable.

After leaving the stairs, I walked along the river path to take a closer look at the former gas works pier:

Rotherhithe Gas Works Pier

The pier is in good condition, and is a suitable reminder of the connection between the river and the industries activities that once occupied so much of Rotherhithe:

Rotherhithe Gas Works Pier

I have often wondered what the metal structure is on the rivers edge at the centre of the pier, shown in the photos above and below. I assume it is part of the equipment which once carried coal from ships moored alongside the pier to the gas works, however now standing isolated of any other infrastructure, it almost looks like a work of art.

Seen from head on, the curves of the shaped metal on either side almost give the whole thing the appearance of a bird flying in from the river:

Rotherhithe Gas Works Pier

Another set of Thames Stairs ticked off the list, and one that continues the link between a local pub and stairs.

They were an important combination in the day to day life of the working river. The stairs provided access to the river and the barges and ships moored nearby, the watermen that would take you to your destination along the river, a place where those working or travelling on or along the river would have known well.

The stairs were also a landmark, referenced whenever you needed to refer to something happening on the river, on land, or to get to this part of Rotherhithe.

The pub was not just a place to buy alcohol, it was an important part of the local community, a place where other commercial activities could take place, such as selling tickets or distributing auction catalogues, where inquests to those who died on the river were held, where those working on the river probably went in for a drink after returning via the stairs, a local meeting point next to the stairs etc.

And that relationship is strengthened by the names frequently given to these pubs, which often referred to some aspect of river life, as with the Ship next to Hanover Stairs.


London from the Roof of Albion Mill

I have just put a couple of my Limehouse and Wapping walks on Eventbrite for the month of June. Click here for details and booking.

If you walk to the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge, on the eastern side of the bridge there is a small garden, and it is a perfect example of how places in London can tell multiple stories, and for the garden the story is of the engineer John Rennie, the Albion Mill, a unique view of London, as well as the price of grain and flour in London.

This is Rennie Garden alongside the path that runs up to, and along the eastern side of Blackfriars Bridge:

Rennie Garden

This is a very small garden and consists of a few trees and two blocks of planting:

Rennie Garden

Which really look good, and bring a splash of colour on a sunny May morning:

Rennie Garden

The gardens were created in 1862 by the Corporation of London and named the Rennie Garden after the engineer John Rennie.

Rennie Garden

The following extract from the 1894 edition of the Ordnance Survey map shows the gardens (ringed in red), as a very small patch of public gardens squashed between the railway and the road, both of which were running on to the bridges which crossed the Thames (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Rennie Garden

In the above map, some stairs can be seen running down to the foreshore from the north of the gardens. The stairs are still there today, however they now lead down to the walkway along the side of the river:

Rennie Garden

There are though stairs on the other side of the river wall which lead down to the foreshore. This is not a historic set of stairs and they seem to have been built around the same time as the bridge.

So why are the gardens named after John Rennie, and what is the connection with a mill, the price of flour and a view of London?

John Rennie was the architect of London Bridge (the version of the bridge that was later demolished and moved to Arizona in the US). After Rennie’s death in 1821, the bridge was built by his son, also named John, who continued his father’s practice as a civil engineer.

According to “A Biographical Dictionary of English Architects” by H.M. Colvin, (1954), John Rennie (1761 to 1821) “was the younger son of a Scottish farmer, and was born in Phantassie in East Lothian on June 7th, 1761. As a child he showed a remarkable aptitude for mechanical pursuits, and he afterwards found congenial employment with a millwright. His earnings enabled him to study at Edinburgh University for three years before establishing himself as a millwright and general engineer. In 1784 he went to Birmingham in order to assist Boulton and Watt in designing and executing the machinery for the Albion Flour Mill ay Southwark”.

And that is the connection between John Rennie and the gardens, as they are on part of the site of the Albion Flour Mill, the first steam powered flour mill in London and at the time of completion, the largest in the world.

The Albion Flour Mill, Blackfriars Bridge is shown in the following print, with the edge of the bridge (the version before the Blackfriars Bridge we see today) at the right edge of the print:

Albion Mill

Before the Albion Mill, there had been a number of much smaller mills scattered across London and the counties surrounding the city, using a range of power sources such as wind and water.

The introduction of steam power rendered all these other mills redundant as the Albion Mill could process large quantities of grain with a reduced level of manpower. Being next to the river enabled both coal and grain to be delivered directly to the mill.

Newspapers reported on the opening of the Albion Mill, and the following from the 10th of April 1786 is typical “A few days since the Albion Mill, on the Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge, commenced working. This mill, the largest in the world, has been erected by the proprietors for the beneficent and salutary purpose of supplying this great metropolis with flour, and of course reducing the price of bread, the greatest blessing the poor can experience on this earth. The machinery is worked by the operation of steam, and we are happy to say, there is every reason to expect it will amply fulfil the intent, and fully reward the ingenuity and public spirit of those gentlemen who have risked their money in this arduous and laudable undertaking”.

As well as being the first use of steam power in London to produce flour, the Albion Mill’s name was associated with a panoramic drawing made from the roof of the building “London from the roof of Albion Mills”.

The panorama as a form of painting and exhibition was invented by a Scottish painter, Robert Barker. One of the 19th century accounts of the history of the panorama claims that Barker had been imprisoned for debt in Edinburgh in 1785. “His cell was lighted by an air-hole in one of the corners, which left the lower part of the room in such darkness that he could not read the letters sent to him. He found, however, that when he placed them against the part of the wall lighted by the air hole the words became very distinct. the effect was most striking. It occurred to him that if a picture were placed in a similar position it would have a wonderful effect. Accordingly on his liberation he made a series of experiments which enabled him to improve his invention, and on June 19, 1787, he obtained a patent in London, which established his claim to be the inventor of the panorama”.

To display his new invention, Barker raised enough money to build “an entire new Contrivance or Apparatus for the Purpose of displaying Views of Nature at large by Oil-painting, Fresco or any other mode of painting and drawing”. This was to be found next to Leicester Square, with a small entrance from Cranbourn Street.

Barker gave his display the name “Panorama”, and once inside, spectators would stand on a raised circular platform in the centre of a round building. They were about 30ft away from the circular wall on which was painted the scene to be viewed, stretching for the full 360 degrees around the spectators.

After entering in the dark, light was then let in from the roof, and it was focused on the scene painted on the surrounding wall – the panorama.

The lighting and the quality of the painting on the wall gave the effect of standing in the middle of the real scene that was portrayed around the wall.

To keep paying spectators returning, Barker regularly changed the panoramas on display, and they were not limited to landscapes. One very popular panorama was of the Naval Grand Fleet lying at Spithead, with Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight in the background.

Robert Barker’s panoramas were very successful and always drew a crowd wherever they were on display. He opened panoramas in France, Holland and Germany, and the panoramas on display in Leicester Square would also go on tour around the country, as the following from Aris’s Birmingham Gazette on the 22nd of October, 1798 illustrates:

“By particular Desire of a Number of Families of Distinction in Birmingham and its Environs; the PANORAMA, Union-street, or perspective VIEW of the GRAND FLEET at Spithead, will continue open till Saturday next, the 27th instant, on which day it will positively and finally close, in order to embark for Hull, where it is engaged. That part of the public who have not yet had an opportunity of seeing the Grand Exhibition, will do well to take the present Opportunity of seeing the Wooden Walls of England before their Departure. Admittance One Shilling.”

After completion, the Albion Mill was the highest building between St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, so it was the ideal location from where to make another panorama, and to do this Barker sent his 16 year old son up to the roof of the mill in the winter of 1790 to 1791 to paint the view for the full 360 degrees – a vast panorama of London at the end of the 18th century.

The British Museum have a copy of the panorama from the roof of Abbey Mill in their collection, and it is available for use under a Creative Commons license, so although today I cannot get to the same height and specific location from where the panorama was made, below is a very rough comparison of the early 1790s with the view of London today.

All the prints in this post are  © The Trustees of the British Museum Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Looking to the east:

Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill
Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill
Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill

Looking to the north and we can see St. Paul’s Cathedral, spires of the City churches, and the Blackfriars Bridge on the left:

Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill
Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill

To the west:

Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill
Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill

To the south-west:

Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill

A very different view today:

Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill

To the south:

Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill

To mirror the above view, I would be looking straight at the Rennie Garden as in the photos earlier in the post.

As with Robert Barker’s other panoramas, the View from the Roof of Albion Mill also travelled across the country, and internationally, so for example, in 1796 it was on display in Philadelphia in the US, where you could walk in to see the view of London for half a dollar.

The panorama was also printed onto single sheets to give an idea of the view of London:

Panorama from the roof of Albion Mill

The Albion Mill did not last for long as in March 1791, a couple of months after the panorama was completed, the entire building burnt down.

The following report from newspapers of the time covers the fire, and also provides a possible cause:

“Yesterday morning, soon after six o’clock, a most dreadful fire broke out in the Albion Mills, on the Surrey Side of Blackfriars Bridge, which raged with such unbaiting fury, that in about half an hour the whole of that extensive edifice, together with an immense quantity of Flour and Grain, was reduced to ashes; the corner wing, occupied as the house and offices of the Superintendent, only escaping the sad calamity from the thickness of the party wall.

It was low water at the time the fire was discovered, and before the engines were collected, their assistance was ineffectual; for the flames burnt out in so many directions, with such incredible fury, and intolerable heat, that it was impossible to approach on any side till the roof and interior part of the building tumbling in completed the general conflagration in a column of fire, so awfully grand as to illuminate for a while the whole horizon.

The wind being easterly, the flames were blown across Albion place, the houses on the west side of which were considerably scorched, and the inhabitants greatly alarmed.

In the lane adjoining the Mills one house was burnt to the ground, and others considerably damaged. The Accident is supposed to have been occasioned by the Machinery having been overheated by Friction.

Another circumstance has been mentioned, that might operate either as an original or secondary cause in producing the above catastrophe:- A quantity of Grain that lay contiguous to the Machinery had been damaged by the late Floods, and was Yesterday Morning observed to have acquired such a degree of Heat, as made some of the Workmen conceive that it might be dangerous to put the Mills in motion. The Remark was not attended to, and the Consequence has been what we have related.”

So after 5 short years the Albion Mills had completely burnt down.

The following print shows the mill on fire, attempts to pump water from the river at low tide, into the fire, and watching crowds lining the side of Blackfriars Bridge:

Albion Mill

The total loss of the Albion Mill was estimated by the companies that had insured the mill at around £90,000. There were also concerns about the loss of a large quantity of grain, and what this would do to the price and availability of flour. The proprietors of the mill were able to assure concerned Londoners that whilst a large quantity had been lost at the Albion Mill, they still had large quantities at other grain stores.

There were many though, who celebrated the loss of the Albion Mill, and a number of satirical prints were published about the fire:

Albion Mill

In the above print, the dejected owners can be seen in the boat at lower left. In front of the building there are two barges on the river. The left barge is filled with sacks labelled Pot80 (potato), and the barge on the right with sacks of Indian Wheat. These sacks were implying that the flour produced at the mill had been adulterated. A number of demons can be seen rejoicing at the fire.

The opening of the Albion Mill had a very serious impact on all the millers in London and the counties surrounding the capital. The use of steam power had allowed the mill to produce flour quickly and efficiently, and the impact of this resulted in the closure of many other mills.

As an example of both the impact of the working Albion Mill, and the after effects of the fire, the following is from the Hampshire Chronicle on the 14th of March 1791:

“The Berkshire millers are sensibly affected by the late fire at the Albion mills, but not with grief. Many of them, who gave over working two years since, have again set their wheels in motion.

The flour-mills at Blackwall, Poplar, Limehouse, Rotherhithe, and many other places, which have stood still upwards of these three years, have also begun working again, owing to the Albion mills being burnt down.”

The price of flour had increased during the time of the mill’s operation. In the five years prior to opening, the average price of flour had been 44 shilling, 6 and a quarter pence. During the years the mill was in operation, the average price had increased to 45 shillings and 2 pence. A small increase, but still an increase.

It was argued that the increase in price was down to two bad harvests and that there had been a scarcity of wheat throughout all of Europe.

The following print also had a celebratory theme to the fire at Albion Mills, with a demon playing a fiddle on Blackfriars Bridge as the mill burns, whilst another demon fans the flames:

Albion Mill

The following print is titled “A New Dance, as it was performed with Universal Applause, at the Theatre Blackfriars March 2nd 1791” and shows a celebrating crowd on the bridge, and three men dancing in the foreground. The man on the right has a sheaf of papers over his shoulder on which is written “Success to the Mills of Albion but no Albion Mills”:

Albion Mill

One of the main complaints against the Albion Mill was that by being able to process so much grain and flour, and by forcing so many other mills to close, it was becoming a monopoly. These allegations may have had some truth, as soon after the fire, it was reported that:

“However well or ill informed the charge of monopoly against the Albion Mill Company may have been, the destruction of their mill has been followed by an almost immediate fall of three shillings per quarter in the price of wheat. This is proof that they were generally considered as having it in their power to keep up the price artificially.”

There were proposals to rebuild the mill in the years following the fire, however permission was not granted for the project, and houses were later built on the site of the Albion Mill.

I always find it surprising how you can take one very small spot in London, in this post, Rennie Garden at the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge, and find layers of history, and so many other connections. The story of John Rennie, a leading mechanical engineer in the later decades of the 18th century, the first steam driven mill in London, the story of the panorama and a unique and innovative view of London in the late 18th century, and the price of grain and flour.


British Empire Exhibition, Wembley, 1924

I am a couple of weeks late with this post, as it should have been towards the end of April to coincide with the opening on the 23rd of April, 1924, of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

A look at the exhibition is interesting as it shows how much has changed in the space of one hundred years. Physical change at a place where London was expanding in the 1920s, change in Britain’s place in the world, and a change in attitudes.

I have a copy of the plan of the exhibition site, and it is wonderful example of mid 1920s graphic design:

British Empire Exhibition

The plan was created by Stanley Kennedy North (a small box to lower left states “Done by Kennedy North 1923”).

Kennedy North was an interesting character who worked across a wide range of media including stained glass, maps and advertising posters.

The plan was created 10 years before Harry Beck’s innovative map of the London Underground, which still forms the basis of the map in use today, so Kennedy North portrayed the routes across London leading to Wembley Park in his own style, and across the lower part of the map are the routes and stations that will take the visitor to the stations in Wembley for the exhibition.

The text at the bottom left corner of the plan informs the visitor that “The Exhibition is 6 miles from Marble Arch by road. There are 120 stations in the London area from which it may be reached in an average time of 18 minutes, and from 120 it is possible to travel to the Exhibition without changing. Trains from Baker Street and Marylebone take 10 mins; Piccadilly Circus 15 mins; and Charing Cross 18 mins. Trams pass the South Entrance from Finchley, Hampstead, Paddington, Willesden, Hammersmith, Putney, Acton, Ealing. Omnibus services run to all the entrances”.

Wembley in the 1920s was an area transforming from a rural landscape to a built suburb of London, and many Londoners would probably not have known the area, or visited before, so the travel details in the plan with timings demonstrated how easy it was to reach the exhibition site.

The Wembley site was chosen in 1920, when the Government gave the go-ahead for the exhibition, and it would be built on the site of some pleasure gardens built in the 1890s Sir Edward Watkin.

The focus of the 1924 exhibition was the new stadium, which had been built for the exhibition, and would be the site for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as a wide range of events during the exhibition.

It was intended to demolish the stadium after the exhibition, however it was kept open afterwards and used for major football events, as well as hosting the 1948 Olympics.

The Britain from Above website has a number of photos showing the site, with the stadium to the south, built alongside the railway, and the Empire Exhibition site around the east, west and running north of the stadium:

British Empire Exhibition

Source: https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW010737

The idea that the stadium was intended as a temporary structure may seem remarkable given the size and construction effort, however a glimpse of the overall site as shown in the above photo gives an indication of how much building work was required to complete the exhibition site.

This was also a time when Wembley was transforming from a rural landscape of fields, hedges. trees etc. into a fully built part of the wider London.

The following photo of the exhibition, looking to the east shows that fields were still surrounding much of the overall exhibition site. The tracks of the railway which would facilitate much of the development of the land can be seen to the right of the stadium, and along the northern edge of the site, splitting off at Neasden which would be at top right:

British Empire Exhibition

Source; https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW010844

Britain from Above dates the following photo of the stadium to 1923, and again it shows how rural Wembley was, one hundred years ago:

Wembley Stadium

Source: https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW008545

This photo is looking north, with the very first stages of construction of the new stadium. The photo is dated 1922, and the trees in the photo appear to be in leaf, so if 1922 is correct, then the stadium would be built in less than a year which seems remarkable if the date is correct:

Wembley Stadium

Source: https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW007831

The aim of the 1924 Empire Exhibition was to demonstrate and celebrate Britain’s place in the world, along with the British Empire which was portrayed as “Co-operation Between Brothers”.

The exhibition was opened on the 23rd of April, 1924 by King George V. Some excerpts from his opening speech serve to show some of the thinking behind the exhibition:

“The Exhibition may be said to reveal to us the whole Empire in little, containing within its 220 acres of ground a vivid model of the architecture, art, and industry of all the races which come under the British Flag.

It represents to the world a graphic illustration of that spririt of free and tolerant co-operation which has inspired peoples of different races, creeds, institutions, and ways of thought to unite in a single commonwealth, and to contribute their varying national gifts to one great end.

This Exhibition will enable us to take stock of the resources, actual and potential, of the Empire as a whole; to consider where these exist and how that can be best developed and utilised; to take counsel together how the peoples can co-operate to supply one another’s needs and to promote national well-being.

It stands for a co-ordination of our scientific knowledge and a common effort to overcome disease and to better the difficult conditions which still surround life in many parts of the Empire.”

The speech demonstrated a very paternalistic view of the Empire, and that the focus of the Empire was on the common good, but the sentence that “of all the races which come under the British Flag”, and the comment that the exhibition will “enable us to take stock of the resources, actual and potential, of the Empire as a whole”, demonstrate why the Empire was considered important to the country, and Britain’s place in the world.

Built to the north, and around the stadium were a whole series of buildings and pavilions, as well as a lake.

The buildings and pavilions were each dedicated to a specific country or region in the Empire, as well as two large buildings, one each for Industry and Engineering, and a smaller building for Art.

The size of the country buildings perhaps illustrates the relative importance at the time of each, with large buildings for Australia, Canada and India, and smaller buildings for South Africa, East Africa, the Gold Coast etc. down to Malta which appears to have had the smallest building on the site.

Each of these buildings featured displays from the country, customs, resources, products and people, and many of the country buildings included indigenous people demonstrating some of their local crafts. Looking at some of the film from the exhibition and it is hard to see these indigenous people as being just part of the exhibits on show to the visitors to the exhibition.

If you were a visitor to the 1924 British Empire Exhibition then you may have wanted to return home with a souvenir, and some of the most popular were a range of postcard packs showing various scenes from the exhibition.

I have a couple of these, and they show what it would have been like to walk around the exhibition, and to appreciate the substantial scale of the exhibition which had been built on a green field site in a couple of years.

British Empire Exhibition

The first shows the approach to the Empire Stadium as it was named for the exhibition, with the twin towers on either side of the main entrance. Of the two buildings in the lower part of the photo, the Australian pavilion is on the right, and that of Canada on the left:

Wembley Stadium

The first game of football hosted by the Empire / Wembley Stadium was in the year before the exhibition, when the 1923 FA Cup Final was held between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham, and which Bolton went on to win 2 – 0. The stadium had only just been completed and there was some doubt whether it would be ready in time. The Football Association were though keen to stage the event in the new, large stadium.

The result was crowds of much higher numbers than the stadium could accommodate, and scenes of chaos before the match could be completed.

The stadium had been built for 127,000 people, however the numbers that crammed in to watch the final were anywhere between 200,000 and 300,000. There were too many to make an accurate count, and the higher number was the estimate by the Police.

Headlines from the following day given an indication of the problems at the stadium, for example, from The People (London, Sunday April 29th 1923):

“1,000 Casualties at the Cup Final, Mob Overruns the Ground, Barriers Stormed and Pitch Invaded, Unparalleled Scenes, 200,000 Crush into Space For 127,000, Mounted Police 40 Minutes Tussel, F.A, Disclaim Responsibility.

Scenes without parallel in the history of football occurred at Wembley Stadium yesterday when mob-law spoiled the match for the Cup between West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers, which the latter won by two clear goals.

Crowds swarmed onto the playing pitch and for some time perfect chaos reigned. It is estimated that about 1,000 people were treated for minor injuries. mounted police were sent for, and they had to be used to clear the ground, the players themselves doing their best to persuade the unruly spectators to give them sufficient space to play the game.

Eventually, after wild scenes, the teams managed to begin the match, but even then the crowd persisted in interrupting play, and at one period the game had to be suspended for 12 minutes while the pitch was again cleared.

Mr. F.J. Wall, Secretary of the F.A, made the following statement – The F.A. greatly regret the inconvenience caused to the spectators during the match, but can assure the public that the arrangements were not in their hands and that they cannot, therefore accept responsibility.”

The F.A, were indeed correct, as the responsibility for managing the stadium during the F.A. Cup Final had been transferred to the management of the British Empire Exhibition, who do not seem to have been prepared for such a large, public event being held at the site, much of which was still under construction.

The following photo is from the 1920’s books Wonderful London, and although it is not dated, it may show the 1923 FA Cup Final:

Wembley Stadium

The crowds and numbers on the pitch are similar to the newspaper reports, and there seems to be little building around the stadium, which would have been the situation in April 1923, one year before opening of the Empire Exhibition.

The postcards continue to show the site in detail. The following photo is looking to the north west, and the two large buildings in the upper right corner are the Industry Pavilion (top) and the Engineering Pavilion (below and to the right):

British Empire Exhibition

Industry and Engineering focused on Britain’s expertise and capabilities in these areas, and a statement from the Gas Industry explains why they wanted to be at the exhibition:

“As you are doubtless all aware, the British Empire Exhibition will be opened at Wembley in April, and the Gas Industry felt it should do something worthy of the Exhibition and of itself on this occasion. The industry is arranging a suitable exhibit, and this Company is contributing its share in providing money for this purpose.

The main object of the British Empire Gas Exhibit will be to show the public the domestic and industrial applications for gas and educate them in all the ways in which gas can serve in the house and in business. I hope that those of you who visit Wembley will not omit to visit the Gas Exhibit in the Palace of Industry.”

With the inclusion of major exhibitions of Industry and Engineering, the 1924 Empire Exhibition was very similar to the 1851 Great Exhibition and the 1951 Festival of Britain.

It is one of the strange trends of the last 50 or so years, how industry and engineering have gone from being an important part of the country’s core capabilities and national pride, to be something that only really gets mentioned now when a factory closes.

Industry and engineering feature on TV in programmes such as Gregg Wallace Inside the Factory and programmes on projects such as Crossrail which often seem to focus on the created tension of “will X activity be finished on time”.

I suspect that much of this was down to the closure of so much industry during the 1970s an 1980s along with the transfer to foreign ownership of so many British industrial and engineering companies.

For a fascinating, but depressing read about how this happened, “The Slow Death of British Industry: A Sixty-Year Suicide 1952-2012” by Nicholas Comfort is excellent.

Back to a walk around the Wembley exhibition site, and this is the Canadian building:

Canadian Pavilion

The photo shows the scale of some of the buildings at the exhibition, and also shows the boating lake that was set between the Canadian and Australian buildings and those of Industry and Engineering.

Part of the Australian building on the right (Australia had the largest building of all the countries represented at the exhibition), and the building of Malaya on the right:

Australian Pavilion

It was a common theme of 20th century exhibitions that they also had / needed an amusement park. For example, the 1951 Festival of Britain also had the Festival Gardens at Battersea.

The 1924 exhibition was no exception and the following photo shows the entrance to the amusement park:

British Empire Exhibition amusement park

What was in the amusement park was probably one of the final parts of the planning and build process, as the plan of the site, created the year before, shows the area covered in blue and white stripes, with a flag bearing the text “The unrivalled and entrancing mysteries and the miles of smiles in the amusement park will be disclosed when this fine dustsheet is removed on opening day”.

The Newfoundland (part of Canada) Pavilion:


The Burmese Pavilion:

Burmese Stadium

Many of the country buildings, were constructed in the style of traditional architecture from the country concerned, as with the Burmese (now Myanmar) Pavilion shown in the photo above.

Another view of the boating lake:

Boating lake

The Indian Pavilion, along with Australia and Canada was one of the largest pavilions, and was built in the style of grand buildings in India:

Indian Pavilion

The following postcard is labelled the Palace of Industry, however apart from what may be in the display cabinets, there does not seem to be much industry on display:

Palace of Industry

As well as exploring all the country pavilions, and then going to the amusement park, the stadium was the scene of major events throughout the time of the exhibition.

One such event that ran for a couple of weeks until the 1st of June, 1924 was titled “London Defended” and could be watched in the stadium every evening starting at 8:15pm.

London Defended consisted of: “Two hours of intense yet joyous excitement. Thrill follows thrill, with not one moment of dullness. deeds of daring that claim your admiration and hold you spellbound with the wonder of it, the skilful horsemanship of the Metropolitan Police, the dash and daring of the London Fire Brigade, the breathless exploits of the Royal Airforce, Massed Bands, counter marching to the flickering glow of 200 torches, London Scottish pipers and Highland Dancing; and then the Great Fire of London, giving a fitting finish to an amazing night of adventure”.

Who could resist that for 4 shillings for the best covered seat, down to 6 pence standing on the upper terraces or free on the lower terraces.

Another event featured “a spectacular chariot race”, with six Roman chariots racing abreast. The race was supported by “Hundreds of Performers, Troops of Wonderful Horses, Flocks of Clowns, Marvelous Acrobats, Daring Trick Riders, hers of Elephants, Performing Bears, High Wire Acts, Dare-Devil Raymond in 100 foot Land Dive, Roman Riding, etc. etc.”

In 1924, there was no public television service, the first public radio transmission had only started four years earlier in 1920, and films with sound were not widely available until 1927, also the majority of the population had not travelled outside the country, so this type of entertainment, and the pavilions at the exhibition, would have been a significant and exciting experience for the majority of people.

View along the lake:

British Empire Exhibition boating lake

The British Empire Exhibition was open between the hours of 10 am and 11 pm, with admission costing one shilling six pence for adults and nine pence for children.

The exhibition was the first major event in London where I have seen specific mention of the car as a means of transport to the event. Publicity material for the exhibition stated “Visitors are advised to park their cars in the B.E.E. Official Car Park ONLY. Accommodation for 2,000 vehicles at popular prices”.

The 1920s were the start of wider car ownership, which would explode after the 2nd World War, and would influence planning for the city over the 20th century.

The Sarawak (a Malaysian state) Pavilion:

Sarawk pavilion

The South African Pavilion, which featured along the front a colonial architectural style of a long covered terrace and a colonnade:

South African pavilion

The above photo also includes a rather strange means of transport that appears in a number of photos of the exhibition. Obviously motorised, with a driver in the front, and a row of covered seats behind.

And a reminder of British involvement in the middle east – the Palestine Pavilion:

Palastine Pavilion

The New Zealand Pavilion:

New Zealand Pavilion

The area between all the pavilions was landscaped, as shown in the following photo with the caption of Lake, Gardens and Indian Pavilion:

British Empire Exhibition

The Palace of Arts:

Palace of Arts

The Palace of Arts was divided into a number of rooms, including period rooms of 1750, 1815, 1852, 1888, and 1924, rooms covering the art of the theatre, watercolours, oil paintings, sculpture, modern oil paintings and art from India, Burma, Australia and Canada.

The guide to the Palace of Arts introduced the exhibition with “The British Empire Exhibition has for the first time made possible the assembling under one roof of the paintings of today, not only from the United Kingdom, but from every Dominion of the Crown. now first can be seen in one place how the Daughter Nations have developed their art from that English School which is represented so splendidly in the Retrospective Galleries.

All the Dominions were invited to send the best of their own choice, and if it be questioned that the space given to the painters of the past is small compared with the whole of the varied collection, the answer is that, in a living Empire, the art best worthy of study is the work of living men.”

The guide apologised for the lack of sculpture from the countries of the Empire, but explained that this was due to the difficulties and risk of transporting sculpture over such long distance.

A rather strange part of the exhibition was a recreation of Old London Bridge, as shown in the following three photos:

British Empire Exhibition

The sign on the right of the photo, by the ramp is indicating that the station for trains to Marylebone can be found across the bridge.

British Empire Exhibition

I do not know what was used as the source for recreating London bridge, but it does not look like the majority of prints and drawing of the bridge.

British Empire Exhibition

Although the plan of the exhibition shown at the start of the post stated it was the British Empire Exhibition 1924, it actually ran over two years, and was open from the 23rd of April to the 1st of November 1924 and then from the 9th of May to the 31st of October 1925. The second year of opening was not originally planned, however the success of the exhibition led to the second year of opening.

The final closing ceremony on the last day of October 1925 was held in a very full stadium and was attended by the Duke of York (the future George VI) who gave the closing speech.

The ceremony suffered some very typical British weather as it was held in pouring rain, however the papers of the time reported that “In spite of the mist and the fog which enveloped the British Empire Exhibition today, thousands of people travelled to Wembley to attend the final scenes”.

The Duke of York closed the exhibition with the words “Further, the Exhibition, in its pavilions and by its spectacles in the Stadium has presented a picture of Empire which has kindled our imagination and stirred our pride in the Union Jack. In declaring the British Empire Exhibition closed, I am confident that its results will endure for the benefit of the British Empire and of its peaceful mission in the world.”

The British Empire Exhibition was considered a major success.

As well as the photos above, a number of films were made of the exhibition, a sample of which are below:

The videos cannot be played in the version of the post sent out via email. Click here to go to the post on the blog where the videos can be played.

First, some remarkable colour film of London, building the site, the opening and the exhibition site (note that in the film it states that the closing ceremony was held 6 months later by the Prince of Wales. this was the closing ceremony for the first year, and a full ceremony was held as at the time it was not certain that the exhibition would open again in 1925. The decision to reopen would be taken in the following months):

A British Pathe film showing King George V and Queen Mary walking around the exhibition site:

The State Opening of the British Empire Exhibition, including a fly past by RAF byplanes:

Will It Be Ready In Time – film of the site during construction following concern about delays due to a strike by workers:

Film of one of the pageants held in the Empire / Wembley Stadium:

A variety of scenes from the exhibition:

I started the post with a comment that a look at the exhibition is interesting as it shows how much has changed in the space of one hundred years. Physical change at a place where London was expanding in the 1920s, change in Britain’s place in the world, and a change in attitudes, and I hope the above has shown how.

Wembley as a place is now so very different. A built up place, part of the wider London. The original Wembley Stadium, built for the 1924 exhibition was closed in 1999, demolished, and the stadium we see today opened in 2007.

The rest of the festival site is now full of apartment blocks, hotels, shops, and what is now the SSE Arena, was the Empire Pool Wembley, which was built over part of the artificial lake shown in some of the above photos, and completed in 1934.

Britain’s place in the world has changed dramatically. No longer an industrial and military power (of any size) and a lost empire.

And a change in attitudes from 1924, when you look at the paternalistic approach to the countries “under the British Flag” and the emphasis on resources, along with the sentence in the guide to the Palace of Art “how the Daughter Nations have developed their art from that English School“.

The 1924 exhibition did indicate some aspects of the future. it was the first major event which recognised the car as a significant means of personal transport, and it was the first time that the King’s voice had been heard via the radio, as the fledgling BBC had broadcast the opening ceremony.

The one thing that has not changed, as can be seen in the films, are the uniforms, carriages, and approach to Royalty.

The opening ceremony was probably one of the first big stadium opening events, and these continue, for example with the opening of the 2012 Olympics in Stratford.

I wonder how this will be looked at, one hundred years later in 2112.