East London 1980s Shops – Cannon Street Road

Thirty five years is a relatively short time, however during that time so much of London has changed considerably. Back in 1986, a large part of east London was run down. The area was still home to some wonderful communities, people who had lived and worked there for decades, but an area that would soon change. I recently went back to Cannon Street Road to photograph the site of two shops last photographed in 1986.

This is Rogg’s at 137 Cannon Street Road:

Cannon Street Road

Number 137 is today the home of Ample, a property and finance company:

Cannon Street Road

Rogg’s was on the corner of Cannon Street Road and Burslem Street and had been open since the early 1940s. A typical 1980s corner shop with products piled high in the windows. Inside, there was a wide range of traditional Jewish food.

The shop was at the end of a terrace of mixed date and designs. I am not sure if the building of which Rogg’s was the ground floor shop, has had a rebuild as the bricks look too clean and the corners / sides of the building are a little too sharp and clean for a building of some age:

Cannon Street Road

As well as Rogg selling Jewish food, another building that supported the local Jewish population was a synagogue that occupied the space in the above photo, to the right of the white building with part of a blue sign just above the ground floor.

The Cannon Street Road synagogue opened in 1895, but closed in the early 1970s due to the declining local Jewish population.

There was a rather infamous murder in the street in 1974, when Alfie Cohen, who ran a small all-night cigarette kiosk in Cannon Street Road was murdered during a robbery on his kiosk. The robbers got away with what was in the till and a quantity of ciggarettes, however they missed a considerable fortune.

Alfie had worked 7 nights a week for almost 50 years, and rarely took a night off. Rather than bank the money he made, he kept it under the counter in the kiosk, and when police came to investigate the murder, they found a total of around £100,000 in bags hidden in the kiosk.

A tragic story, but indicative of the characters that could be found in the street, and also of the relatively high level of crime in the 1970s.

Continuing south along Cannon Street Road, and at numbers 125 and 127 was Saad Cash and Carry:

Cannon Street Road

The same building today, now home to Quality Food London Ltd:

Cannon Street Road

A wider view of the terrace with 125 and 127 occupying the ground floor of the largest houses:

Cannon Street Road

Cannon Street Road is a typuical east London street. Shops and businesses catering to a diverse range of local residents, and with an equally diverse range of architecture. The condition of the buildings are much better than they were in the 1980s.

Cannon Street Road runs between Commercial Road to the north, and the Highway to the south, cutting across Cable Street rouighly two thirds along the street.

Cannon Street Road is the yellow road running north – south in the centre of the following map  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Cannon Street Road

The lower section of Cannon Street Road is old. The stretch between The Highway and Cable Street is shown in Rocque’s map of 1746. The upper section was then all fields with only the area between Cable Street and the Thames having much development as London’s expansion followed the line of the river.

Rocque’s map shows the street name as simply Cannon Street. I cannot find exactly when, or why, the name changed to Cannon Street Road, however the first mention of the longer name I can find is a newspaper advert from the 24th January 1803, which called for subscribers to the Commercial Road development who could collect their interest from an office in Cannon Street Road.

The following extract from Rocque’s map shows the 1746 length of Cannon Street (red oval), with the red dashed line showing the extension of the street that we see today.

John Rocque map of London

What I did not realise is that the development of Commercial Road appears to have been paid for by subscribers. As well as the advert, there is the following statement in the same 1803 newspaper:

“COMMERCIAL ROAD SUBSCRIPTION – at a MEETING of the TRUSTEES under the Act of Parliament, passed in the 42nd year of the Reign of King George the Third, for making a New Road from the West India Docks in the Isle of Dogs to the City of London, held at the Cannon-street-road office this day; it was ordered, that a further Call or Installment of £25 per cent, on the several Subscriptions, should be paid into the hands of Messrs. Harrison’s, Prickett and Newman, Bankers, Mansion-house-street, on or before the 1st day of February next. Limeshouse, Jan. 18th, 1803. THOMAS BAKER”

Thomas Baker was the Clerk to the Trustees, and the office was somewhere in Cannon Street Road.

I suspect that it was down to the development of Commercial Road, that Cannon Street changed to Cannon Street Road.

As the street provided a route between Commecial Road, Cable Street and The Highway, it would be a busy street (as it is today), and perhaps “Road” was added to avoid confusion with Cannon Street in the City of London.

Just to the left of the Saad Cash & Carry / Quality Food shop is an historic building, with the ground floor converted into shops. This was Raine’s Boys School:

Raine's School for Boys

The history of Raine’s schools goes back to around 1719, when brewer Henry Raine opened a school for 50 boys and 50 girls. The original school was in what is now Raine Street in Wapping. The building is still there, although was in a poor state in the 1970s and at risk of demolition. I wrote about the building in this post.

As the London Docks were built, the original school found itself rather isolated from the parish that the school was intended to serve, so in 1875 the Boys element of the school moved to the Cannon Street Road building, photographed above.

The building did not serve as a school for too long, as by the first decade of the 20th century, the buildings used by the school were too small, and the school consolidated into a large building in Arbour Square, just north of the Commercial Road. The building still exists as the Tower Hamlets New City College.

Cannon Street Road had already been home to a form of school / childrens home some forty year earlier when within the street could be found the Merchant Seamens’ Orphan Asylum.

This institute was founded in 1827 to care for the children of men lost at sea.

In 1833, an advert appeared in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser stating that the orphan asylum was ready to receive applications for the February election. This seemed to be standard practice for many institutions of the time, where applications were made and these were voted on by a Board of Management (see my post on the General Lying In Hospital, where this approach was taken with Subscribers being able to propose pregnant women for admission to the hospital).

In 1833, the orphan asylum had 41 boys and 23 girls. The advert stated that subscriptions and forms of petition for admittance could be had at the school in Cannon Street Road.

We do not often get a glimpse inside the houses of streets such as Cannon Street Road, however another advert from the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 12th of September, 1833 reports on the sale of the leasehold residence and contents of number 2 Cannon Street Road, at the direction of the Executors of the late Mr. Richard Neale:

“Leasehold Residence, Cannon Street Road, with Immediate Possession. Household Furniture, Plate, three Watches, Linen, China and Effects – By W.S. FRANCIS on the Premises, No. 2, Cannon Street Road, St George’s East, on Tuesday September 17, at 11, by direction of the Executors of the late Mr. Richard Neale.

The Leasehold Residence, with immediate possession, held for a term of 17 years, at the trifling ground rent of £2. The furniture consists of fourpost and other bedsteads and furnitures, goose feather beds and bedding, mahogany double and single chests of drawers, mahogany nail-over chairs, sofa, secretary and bookcase, looking glasses, Brussels carpet, and various other articles”.

If the contents of number 2 are typical of the street, then the residents of Cannon Street Road seem to have been reasonably comfortable. The house was at the southern end of Cannon Street Road, close to the church of St George in the East.

The southern end of Cannon Street Road mainly consists of post war rebuilding. It was the southern end that received the most damage during the Second World War, the northern section of the street appears to have escaped relatively undamaged.

Much of the north of the street still appears to be 19th century terrace housing, however it can be difficult to confirm what is original and what is a later rebuild.

The following photo shows part of the street where I assume a single house within the terrace has gone, to be replaced with an entrance to a car tyre dealers. The houses either side needing some serious support as the terrace has been broken.

Old terrace houses in east London

Cannon Street Road is part of east London’s expansion north from the original ribbon development along the Thames, and although east London streets have changed considerably over the last few decades, they are still fascinating places to walk as although wartime bombing has resulted in much new building, there is still many of the original terrace houses along the street, along with an ever changing range of shops.

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Early 20th Century London in Photos

Firstly, thanks for the comments on last week’s post on the Greenwich foot tunnel. Some brilliant personal memories of the tunnel, and the important part it has played in the life of those on either side of the river.

Today is one of those Sunday’s where I ran out of time to research and complete the planned post, so the location in east London will have to wait, and for this week, a photographic tour of London in the first decades of the 20th century from the late 1920s book Wonderful London.

Always good to start with a tour of some pubs, and this is the Running Footman, on the corner of Charles Street and Hays Mews, near Berkeley Square.

The building in the view above would not last much longer. originally dating from 1749, the pub was rebuilt in the 1930s using the type of brick construction typical of many pubs of the 1920s and 30s.

Wonderful London described the source of the name as “named after that special kind of servant whose duty it was to run before the crawling family coach, help it out of ruts, warn toll-keepers, and clear the way generally. He wore a livery and usually carried a cane”.

The 1930s pub is still open, but with a shorter name of just The Footman.

Another pub is the Grenadier in Wilton Mews, near Upper Belgrave Street:

Wonderful London expects that “At any moment it would seem that an ostler with striped waistcoat and straw in mouth might kick open the door and walk out of the place. Just past the wooden gate by the little boy is a doorway in the wall leading to Philips Terrace”.

I took a very similar photo back around 1972. I had been given a birthday present of a book about haunted London and the Grenadier was described as one of the most haunted pubs so it was on the agenda for a family walk where I used my Kodak Instamatic 126 camera. I still have to find and scan the negative.

I did revisit the pub a couple of years ago when writing about Old Barrack Yard and the Chinese Collection. The Grenadier looks much the same, however the tree which had not yet been planted when the Wonderful London photo was taken, now obscures much of the the early 20th century view.

That’s two pubs which can still be found today, and to add a third, this is the Bull’s Head at Strand-on-the Green:

The Bull’s Head is in a wonderful location. Facing the River Thames (behind the photographer in the above photo) and next to Kew Railway Bridge. Wonderful London claims the following “An old river tavern, probably built in the 16th century. There is a tradition that Oliver Cromwell, while campaigning in the neighbourhood, held a council of war here. There is also a record that in 1708 a certain John Newall, presumably the landlord, was so unfortunate as to have his malt house burn down. But beyond these slender records the history of the Bull remains obscure”.

The building is Grade II listed, and the pub’s website also mentions the Oliver Cromwell story, along with the statement that the evidence for his stay is disputed. Whether Cromwell visited the Bull’s Head, or not, it is still a pub in a lovely location as Strand-on-the-Green is a brilliant place for a river walk.

The next pub is the Old Doctor Butler’s Head in Mason’s Avenue in the City of London:

I wrote about this pub last year when I walked round all the pubs in the City of London in July 2020. This is the photo of the pub from the post:

Off to Hampstead now to find the Bull and Bush:

My father photographed the Bull and Bush in 1949, when it faced directly on to the road, and you could pull up outside and nip in for a quick drink:

I photographed the pub for a blog post on the Bull and Bush, 70 years after my father had taken the above photo. The building is still much the same, although there is now a pathway and brick wall separating the pub from the road:

All the above pubs are still open, not a bad record considering the rate of closure in recent years, however they were well known pubs in the early 20th century, and 100 years later are still well known and therefore probably profitable.

One pub that did not survive is Jack Straw’s Castle, also in Hampstead:

My father photographed the pub in 1949 after bomb damage had left the building in a very sorry state:

The building was demolished and rebuilt in 1964 as a pub, to a rather striking design by Raymond Erith, however it is no longer a pub, having been converted into apartments and a gym. The building is Grade II listed which has helped to preserve key features of Erith’s design, despite developers trying to push the boundaries of how much they could change.

I wrote about Jack Straw’s Castle here, and this is the view of the 1964 building today:

Moving on from London pubs, and in the first years of the 20th century, this is Strand Lane which leads down from the rear of King’s College down to Temple Place.

The view gives the impression of being of the type of slum housing that would be demolished, however the house with the alley has been restored over the years, and still survives, including the ornate iron balcony on the first floor. The high wall on the left, and building on the right also remain, including the iron bars protecting the windows.

Just proving there are still places in London where you can imagine being back in the 19th century. Another place that has survived are the stairs leading down to the river at Wapping Old Stairs:

Even in the first decades of the 20th century, these stairs were seen as a historical location, as Wonderful London describes “the old riverside annex to the city of the days of the East Indiamen and Nelson’s Ships, has gone and there is little beside these old stairs – leading down to a muddy beach at low tide – left of this, once one of the liveliest spots in the country”.

Much the same description could apply to the stairs today. The following photo is from a post describing the story of these historic river stairs:

The following two photos are titled “Present-day scenes on historic Thames-side sites”

The description from Wonderful London that goes with the two photos is as follows “The upper photograph shows Ratcliffe Cross stairs, an ancient and much used landing place and point of departure of a ferry. There is a tradition that Sir Martin Frobisher took boat here for his ship when starting on his voyage to find the North-West Passage. Ratcliffe Cross is the old name for the thoroughfare leading to this landing stage, whence Butchers Row meets Broad Street, Shadwell and Narrow Street, Limehouse.

Shadwell (lower view) is next to Wapping, and its name is supposedly derived from (St) Chad’s Well. It was once famous for its rope-walks”.

Ratcliffe Cross stairs are sort of still there, as there is still river access where the stairs were located. They are today where Narrow Street curves to a dead end just before the Limehouse Link Tunnel. Ratcliffe Cross stairs are on the list for a future post, as these old river stairs have a really fascinating history.

The Sir Martin Frobisher mentioned as using Ratcliffe Cross Stairs was a 16th century sailor and privateer who made a number of attempts at discovering the north-west passage across the north of Canada from Atlantic to the Pacific. As well as allegedly using the stairs, another connection with London is that he was buried at the church of St Giles, Cripplegate, and is why Frobisher Crescent in the Barbican is so named.

The next photo is in the east of the City where “In Houndsditch, where bargains are driven for inexpensive clothes”:

Houndsditch was the location for shops and a market selling every conceivable item of clothing, both new and secondhand. The name came from the ditch that once surrounded the City wall, and was frequently used as a dump for everything, including dead dogs.

Houndsditch continued discount trading into the 1980s, and if you listened to either Capital Radio or LBC during the late 70s / early 80s there were frequent adverts for the Houndsditch Warehouse where “five floors of bargains can be found at our store”. The street is very different today.

Wonderful London included some night photos of London, including the nightly cleansing of the streets at the base of the Monument, where at “2 a.m. hoses are fitted to hydrants, and men in oilskin aprons wash the day’s filth into the gutter. The neighbourhood of Billingsgate is notoriously unsavoury, but these ministrations keep the fish like smell from becoming too ancient”.

Milk churns being unloaded at Clapham, ready for the city’s tea drinkers:

The following photo is titled “The coffee stall at Hyde Park Corner and some of its various patrons”;

Where “just before ten o’clock every night the coffee stall trundles up to its pitch opposite St George’s Hospital. There it remains till about eight o’clock the next morning, and during that time the men behind the little counter watch, as from a box at the theatre, the hundred different types who act in the nightly drama of London after dark. The medicals student from over the way, the tattered nondescript who hopes for a free coffee, a taxi-driver and his two fares, or perhaps a couple of revelers in fancy dress to whom the visit to the coffee stall is the epilogue to their night’s entertainment; all these types pass during the cold, still hours which the coffee stall serves”.

The following view from Wonderful London is of St Dunstan’s, Fleet Street:

What I like about these photos is not just the overall scene, or the people and vehicles in the streets, but small details like the telegraph poles mounted on the roofs of buildings with telephone cables slung across streets and buildings.

The church is the same today, as are the buildings on either side. I took the following photo for a post about the church a couple of years ago:

In Tower Wharf (the area between the Tower of London and the Thames), Wonderful London has photographed “one of London’s lunch-time gathering grounds”:

The caption to the photo illustrates the popularity and history of the place “Despite the tremendous number and variety of eating places, many hundreds of those who work in the City and its surroundings, prefer , in fine weather, to eat their lunch on a park-seat, or as here, seated on the slippery surface of an old cannon. Tower Wharf, whatever its merits as a restaurant is a fine place from which to view the Tower and also the shipping in the Upper Pool and the opening of Tower Bridge. The wharf was built by Henry III, who also made Traitors Gate. The wharf gave the fortress one more line of protection. On the very ground where the crowd is sitting another London crowd assembled day after day to scream for the trembling Judge Jeffries to be thrown out to them, in quittance for the Bloody Assize”.

Up until the start of the COVID pandemic, the area was usually crowded with tourists rather than City workers having their lunch, and many of the cannons have disappeared. My father photographed the cannons in 1947:

The same view a couple of years ago:

in the background of the Wonderful London photo, ships can be seen passing along the Thames, and the same view could be seen in 1947:

Rather than cargo ships, the view today would be off tourist boats and Thames Clippers.

This was the scene in Carmelite Street, which runs from Tudor Street to the Victoria Embankment. The street is a continuation of a street that runs down from Fleet Street, and was the home of newspapers and printing. The photo is outside Carmelite House and shows rolls of paper arriving and being lifted into the building ready for printing.

Today, the evening papers sold across the streets of London are transported by van, however in the early decades of the 20th century there was a very different method.

The following photo shows newsvendors gathering to collect newspapers. The newsvendor collects a quantity of papers along with a voucher for those papers. The publisher also retains a copy of the voucher.

The newsvendor then distributes the papers among his newsboys, who would then sell them on the streets.

At the end of the day, the newsvendor meets his newsboys, collects unsold copies and the money from sales. The next day he then has to pay the publisher the amount specified on the voucher when he collected the papers.

Some of those newspapers could have been transported abroad via the recently opened “Airport of London”, or more popularly known as Croydon Airport.

The following photos shows the arrival facilities for passengers with customs facilities and passport control, with the two doors on the right for “British” or “Non British”:

Back to London after dark, and the following photo is showing “An incident at the Yard”:

Apparently a plain clothes officer talking to a Constable at Scotland Yard. It is always difficult to know how many of these old photos were posed or were a real event when the photographer was on site.

The text with the photo does though claim that “The gate is open all night, and anyone in need of police will find ‘The Yard’ ready and waiting”.

Policing in London during smog conditions must have been rather difficult. Wonderful London describes such an event as “When the minute particles of dust which are always overhanging London become coated with moisture and the temperature falls below what is called the ‘dew-point’, that is, the temperature at which the moisture in the atmosphere condenses, fog blankets the streets”.

When this happened, a number of methods were used to help guide people and traffic around the city, one of which was lighting acetylene flares at key traffic locations as shown in the following photo:

Those who may have needed the help of an acetylene light to navigate the streets of London were those leaving Murray’s Club late at night in Beak Street, Soho:

The sewers of London have always been a fascination (at least for me). A parallel world beneath the city’s streets. The following photos show part of the sewer system at Hammersmith. This was the main sewer under Hammersmith Road. Known as the Counters Creek Sewer due to its proximity, and in parts, integration with Counters Creek, the old ditch / stream / sewer / canal that ran from Kensal Green cemetery down to the Thames near the old Lotts Road power station.

The book describes a sewer control system that is basically in use today. Sewers such as the Counters Creek Sewer run north – south, taking water down to interception sewers that run east – west and transport the water for treatment.

When there is too much water for the system to handle, an overflow is needed into the Thames. In the above photo, the overflow sewer is on the right. The device covering part of the sewer entrance is known as a “penstock”, and has been lifted to lower the water level for the photographer.

Normally, this would be lowered to divert water to the tunnel on the left which takes water to the intercepting sewer. When water rises to the top of the penstock, it overflows into the overflow tunnel which then flowed into the river at Chelsea.

The photo below is the other side of the penstock and shows the two tunnels. The penstock has been lowered, and the overflow channel on the left is dry, with water in the Counters Creek sewer on the right.

Over one hundred years later, the construction of the Tideway Tunnel or Super Sewer is intended to end discharges into the Thames by adding additional capacity on the east – west route

What makes Wonderful London so fascinating is the sheer variety of subjects. There are a couple of photos of the remains of the old Merton priory, but a strange photo is of when a workmen digging in allotments near the mill alongside the River Wandle at Merton discovered an 800 year old coffin underneath the cabbages:

No idea if there was any occupant, what happened to the coffin, or whether any further excavations were carried out. Just one of the random photos in the book that came with just a brief description.

The following photo is of Poplar Almshouse with presumably one of the occupants standing outside:

The almshouses were in Bow Lane (which has been renamed as Bazely Street, and runs south from East India Dock Road, and is to the east of All Saints Church).

The almshouses were founded around 1696 when Hester Hawes left six almhouses on the west side of the street for six poor widows, with a monthly allowance of 2s 6d for each widow.

The almshouses were demolished in 1953, so I suspect they were on the site of the flats, just south of the Greenwich Pensioner pub.

Back to the City, and these are members of the Langbourne Club for City Women relaxing on the roof of Fishmongers Hall, or one of the adjacent building, as part of the parapet of London Bridge can be seen in the gaps between the wall.

On the river was a Thames Barge:

The text with the photo comments on the apparent confusion of multiple ropes, chains, buckets, fenders and pieces of canvas. I suspect if you sailed these barges there was no confusion, and you knew exactly where everything was, and it was in the correct place.

To finish this rather random survey of early 20th century London, a visit to north London and Alexandra Palace:

The Grand Hall which ran back from the taller part of the central façade:

The Alexandra Palace photos are an example of why I love second hand books, as you never know what previous owners have left between the pages.

Alexandra Palace suffered a severe fire in 1980, and the previous owner of my copy of Wonderful London put a number of newspaper clippings next to the page with the original photos. These report on, and show the extent of the 1980 fire:

I love the understatement within the last paragraph, that whilst today’s jazz festival had been cancelled, a decision would be taken on the following day’s show.

The damage to the building was extensive:

The old Grand Hall was almost destroyed. Compare the following post fire photo with the photo of the hall from Wonderful London.

With the decline in newspaper readership as the Internet takes over, the habit of taking clippings from newspapers and putting them between the relavent pages of books will become a dying art.

A shame, as they provide an extra dimension to the life of a book. Whilst a book is a snapshot of the time it was published, additions by owners over time tell the story of the journey the book has taken to get to its current owner.

Wonderful London offers a brilliant snapshot of the city as it was in the early decades of the 20th century. Around 100 years later, many of the places featured, the way people lived and worked have changed considerably, however many of the views are much the same.

What the book does prove is how rich and diverse the city has always been, and how there is something of interest on almost any street corner, or in the case of Merton, even under the cabbages in an allotment.

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Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The hosting provider for the blog moved the blog to a new server infrastructure earlier last week. Apart from problems getting e-mail working again, everything seems to be working, however this will be the first post to be sent out via the e-mail subscription service, so I hope it is received. As well as the blog being moved, the weather last Wednesday was wonderful, so I did what seemed a good choice on a day of sunny weather, I headed to the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is at the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, to the western side of Island Gardens, one of the best places to stop and take in the view across the river to Greenwich:

View of Greenwich from Island Gardens

Island Gardens are relatively small, but a very welcome area of green, open space facing onto the river. View through the trees of the four chimneys of the old Greenwich power station across the Thames:

Island Gardens

It would have been easy to stop and watch the river for some time, however after a walk from Poplar Station on the DLR, I wanted to cross to the other side of the river before the sun set too low on a late autumn day.

There are almost identical entrances to the Greenwich foot tunnel on both sides of the river. This is the entrance in Island Gardens, with a low sun directly behind the entrance:

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

On the opposite side of the river, the translucent glass roof of the Greenwich entrance can be seen alongside the Cutty Sark:

View from Island Gardens

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel was one of a number of tunnels constructed under the River Thames in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those wanting to travel between the north and south sides of the river had long been restricted to a ferry, or long journey to the nearest bridge in central London.

A single tunnel Blackwall Tunnel had opened in 1897, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel in 1902, the Rotherhithe Tunnel in 1908 and the Woolwich Foot Tunnel in 1912.

A period of fifteen years that had opened up a range of new routes to travel between opposite sides of the River Thames, no doubt one of the benefits of having the London County Council responsible for major works across the city.

A foot tunnel for those who lived and worked on different sides of the river, or who had business that needed a crossing, had been identified as an urgent need for a number of decades in the second half of the 19th century, however it was not until the final five years of the century that the scheme would get underway.

On the 12th May 1896, newspapers were reporting that a Bill for the tunnel was to be put before Parliament:

“PROPOSED NEW THAMES TUNNEL. A LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL SCHEME – The Bridges Committee of the London County Council have prepared a report, to come before the Council today, recommending that application should be made to Parliament for power to construct a foot passenger tunnel to connect Greenwich and Millwall, at an estimated cost of £75,000, and that the Parliamentary Committee of the Council be instructed to prepare the necessary Bill, to be introduced in the Session of 1897.

The report states that, in addition to the above amount, which is the estimated cost of land and works for the proposed tunnel, a sum of not less than £25,000 as the law at present demands, would have to be paid as compensation to persons interested in a ferry which exists at the spot in question; but it is hoped that the Council will succeed in obtaining a clause by which ‘improvement of interest will be considered, thereby reducing this amount very considerably.’

The plan is to have a tunnel with a footway of eight feet, and a headway of rather more than nine feet in the centre, reduced to a minimum of seven feet and a half at the outsides. Electricity is to be used for lighting the tunnel, as also for working the ventilating and pumping machinery. The time required for the execution of the works is expected to be about twelve months, Calculations are given to show that the proposed tunnel would be a more economical provision than establishing a free ferry.”

The London County Council estimated a cost of £75,000 for the construction of the tunnel, and this was the value put forward in the Bill to Parliament, however as with almost every major civil engineering project since, the cost would turn out to be much higher.

The council invited tenders for the construction of the tunnel, and the winning tender was from Messrs. J. Cochrane with a price more than one third above the estimated cost. The Bridges Committee recommended that the council accept the bid, however the council were not happy and wanted the additional third of the estimated cost to come from “local or other sources”, however when put to the vote, the recommendation of the Bridges Committee was accepted and the work would soon commence.

The new tunnel was opened on the 4th of August 1902.

The route down to the tunnel is via several flights of stairs from the entrance in Island Gardens. The lifts are currently out of use.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Spiral stairs line the inner wall of the shaft, with the central space being used for the lift:

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

From the bottom of the Island Gardens shaft, the view along the tunnel towards Greenwich:

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

In the above photo, a cream coloured section can be seen a short distance along the tunnel.

The section is the temporary war time repairs following damage caused to the tunnel by the nearby explosion of a high explosive bomb. A closer view is seen in the photo below, and there is an information panel on the left:

Greenwich Foot Tunnel war damage

The damage to the tunnel happened on the evening of the 7th September 1940, when a bomb exploded on the foreshore, over the route of the tunnel.

Within the tunnel, the blast caused the outer tiles and inner concrete lining of the tunnel to collapse over the length of the tunnel now covered by the temporary repairs. The outer iron lining appears to have held, however this was now leaking and water was entering the tunnel to such an extent that a week after the bombing, the tunnel was full of water.

The tunnel was such a key part of the local infrastructure, providing workers living on the south of the river with easy access to the docks, ship yards and factories in the Isle of Dogs and east London, that a repair of the tunnel was essential.

It took around ten days to pump out the majority of the water, enough that work could start on repairs.

Being wartime, a temporary repair was put in place, consisting of a length of iron collars bolted together to line the damaged area, and effectively form a smaller tunnel within the larger tunnel. At the time, these repairs were considered sufficient to last the war, following which, more permanent repairs could be put in place, and the tunnel restored to its original size.

As well as infrastructure projects always running well over their initial budget estimates, temporary repairs also often become permanent, and so it is with the repairs in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, and the cream coloured iron rings, reducing the diameter of the tunnel, are still the result of the original 1940 repair work.

Walking through the temporary repairs and at the end we can see the tunnel continuing on down to the lowest point roughly under the center of the Thames.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Now we are roughly in the center of the tunnel, it is a good place to stop and consider the original construction.

I have a fascinating little booklet called “The Greenwich Footway Tunnel by William Giles Copperthwaite and Subaqueous Tunneling Through The Thames Gravel: Baker Street and Waterloo Railway by Arthur Harry Haigh”.

The booklet is an extract of the proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and was published in 1902, the year the Greenwich foot tunnel opened. It is a wonderful little booklet with details of tunneling below London and the impact of the geology through which the tunnels are constructed.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The first part of work to build the tunnel was the sinking of the shafts down to the point where the tunnel could start to be bored under the Thames.

The shafts were formed by sinking a caisson around the edge of the shaft, as the shaft was gradually excavated. A caisson is basically a hollow ring of iron or steel that forms a tube from top to bottom of the shaft and provides the strength to stop the sides of the shaft collapsing inwards, or the walls deforming.

The shafts, as with the whole of the tunnel, were constructed in an environment of compressed air. This method was used to control the ingress of ground water and to provide some support to the ground through which the tunnel is being bored. The use of compressed air did require some additional support for the workers, and faclities such as air locks to provide access to the work face.

The following diagram shows the method of sinking the caissons. The shaft was sunk through the water level which was found at a depth of 35 feet, from which point, construction continued using compressed air.

Method of sinking the caissons

The caissons, today the walls of the shaft, are made up of two steel rings. The outer diameter of the shaft is 43 feet, and the inner diameter is 35 feet. Allowing for the width of the two steel rings (one outer, one inner), there was a four foot gap between the two rings of the shaft. This was filled with a mix of 6 to 1 Portland cement concrete. The use of concrete as a filling between the two rings meant that accurate construction and fitting of the rings was essential as once the concrete was poured, there was no way to make any further adjustments.

This method of construction created a pair of incredibly strong shafts on either side of the river, and the weight of the caisson forming the wall of the Poplar shaft was a remarkable 2,560 tons.

Compressed air was put in place from the 2nd of May, and the following table records the depth below the surface achieved each day until completion of the Poplar shaft on the 31st May, 1900.

Digging the shaft

The table also shows the accuracy of the excavation by the very small amounts that the cutting edge was out of level. The increasing weight of the caisson can be seen by the load on the shaft.

The following drawing shows the route of the tunnel between the Poplar and Greenwich shafts. Note that just above the Greenwich shaft is the Ship Tavern. This pub was badly damaged during the war, demolished, and the Cutty Sark is now on the site of the pub.

Route of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The following drawing shows a cross section of the tunnel. As will be seen in my photos of the tunnel today, the tunnel descends from both shafts with a gradient of 1 in 15 feet, down to the central part of the tunnel where it passes under the deepest part of the Thames.

Cross section of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The diagram also shows the type of material that was being excavated through, and was a key consideration in the tunneling method used.

The drawing is a text book example of how to present lots of information in a single drawing. As well as the key lengths, gradients of the tunnel, high and low water level of the Thames, depth of water, dimensions of the shafts etc. the Progress of Tunneling at the bottom of the drawing shows how the tunnel was making its way under the river through 1900 and 1901 as it started from the Poplar shaft and headed to the Greenwich shaft.

Newspapers reported on reaching the half-way point:

“IT IS NOW HALF-WAY TOWARDS COMPLETION – A new tunnel between Poplar and Greenwich is another step in the piercings of the river bed which the London County Council splendidly inaugurated with the making of the Blackwall Tunnel.

The new tunnel will be opened to the public in about a year’s time, and, inasmuch as it is being made wholly in the interests of working men, it might be called the ‘Working Men’s Tunnel’. From shaft to shaft it will measure 1217 feet in length, and will cost about £109,500. The depth of the tunnel at the centre of the river is about 72 feet below the ground line, while the shafts have been sunk to an average depth of 63 feet.

At no part will the top of the tunnel be less than 13 feet below the river bed. No fewer than 1600 tons of cast iron tubing will be used in building the tunnel which will be lighted by electricity. You will approach the tunnel from the Greenwich side from the north end of Church Street, in the rear of the famous Ship Tavern; and on the Millwall side at the Western end of Island Gardens. Some such easy means of communication between one shore and another has long been needed, and many thousands of people will daily find it very handy once it is opened to the public.”

The lining of the tunnel was made up of cast-iron segments, of which eight segments and one key piece formed a complete ring around the tunnel. The lining was 12 feet, 9 inches in outer diameter and 11 feet 9 inches internal diameter.

The following drawing shows a cross section of the tunnel, including the lining, and ducts for services such as electrical wiring, ventilation pipes and cable conduits.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The interior of the tunnel was lined with white glazed tiling, which is still in place today.

The booklet includes some wonderful detail of sections of the tunnel lining:

Tunnel lining

The washers where the bolts secured the sections together were made using a short section of lead pipe. When the bolt was tightened, the lead would compress forming a water tight seal around the bolt.

Lead wire and iron filings were used to fill any spaces between sections, and the method of construction was so successful, that when air pressure was removed at the end of construction, only a dozen places had a small problem with water ingress and needed repair.

Tunnel lining

The tunnel was constructed using a shield of the type known as a trap or box shield, which the booklet describes as follows:

“The trap consisting of two diaphragms, the front one filling the upper half and the back one the lower half, of the circle enclosed by the cylindrical skin of the shield.

The bottom of the front diaphragm is a few inches lower than the top of the back one. In the event of an inrush of water from a ‘blow’ occurring at the face, the water must flow over the top diaphragm to get into the tunnel, and before it rises high enough to do this, the bottom of the top diaphragm is under water, and all escape of air through the shield is stopped. the water in fact becomes a seal to hold the air.”

The above description simplifies the design, construction and use of the shield, and cross sections through the shield as used at Greenwich are shown in the following drawings.

Tunnel shield

The central box formed a water tight chamber, and the shield consisted of thirteen rams for pushing the shield forward, and together exert a pressure of 1.5 tons per square inch, and a total thrust to push the shield forward of 750 tons.

The design of the shield was changed as it progressed on its route under the Thames, as improvements were identified and as different types of strata were encountered.

This included putting doors in the upper part of the shield, as well as the lower, giving workers an additional method of exit if there were problems at the face of the tunnel. It was noticed that after these additional doors were added, workers were more inclined to stay at the face of the shield after there had been a fall of material, as they had a higher route of exit than before.

As well as the safety of workers at the shield face, another consideration was the conditions of working in an environment where compressed air was used. As well as care of their workers, there was also probably a financial motivation as the Act of Parliament authorising the tunnel included compensation to those whose health had been damaged by working in compressed air. Compensation seemed rather limited though as a total of £20 had been awarded to three workers.

Two medical officers were appointed to oversee the construction of the tunnel. Those working in the tunnel were examined at least once a week and before anyone could commence work, they had to have a certificate of health from the medical officers.

Of those who applied to work on the tunnel, 13.9% were found to be unfit to work on initial examination, and of those who passed the medical, a further 5.7% were found to be affected by the increased air pressure, and forbidden to continue work in the tunnel.

Men worked an 8 hour shift with a rest period of 45 minutes, during which time they had to exit the tunnel.

Rooms were available with washing facilities at the construction site for the workers, and hot coffee was served as they left the tunnel.

A “medical lock” was available for treating those with “caisson-sickness”, probably similar to today where a diver has to decompress in a chamber. Only three workers needed to make use of this facility during the construction of the tunnel.

A concern with tunnel construction was the potential build up of carbon dioxide, and as the construction of the tunnel progressed, an experiment was approved whereby an apparatus was made and installed to removed carbon dioxide. This consisted of a series of wooden boxes bolted together. In each wooden box there was an amount of crushed pumice stone. Air was passed through the boxes, and it was found that deposits of carbonate of soda were found on the pumice stone, and that the experiment did result in the removal of some of the carbon dioxide in the air within the tunnel.

Construction of the tunnel was relatively straight forward given the technologies of the time, and construction methods were able to adapt to the changing sand, clay and ballast through which the tunnel was being bored. For a period between the 22nd February and the 1st May 1901, an impressive 10 feet per day was being achieved in driving the tunnel forward.

The tunnel met the Greenwich shaft without any problems, and minor precautions were made to stop any fall of sand or ballast from the area around the shaft as the tunnel was completed.

The Isle of Dogs and Greenwich were finally connected by a walking route.

In the following photo, the incline up to the Greenwich shaft from the centre of the tunnel can be seen:

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

I am not sure whether it was my imagination, however standing in the centre of the tunnel, it seemed possible to hear the sound of the occasional passing boat on the river above.

At the start of the incline where the tunnel rises by 1 foot in every 15 feet, up to Greenwich:

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Almost at the Greenwich end of the tunnel looking down the incline:

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Approaching the Greenwich end of the tunnel, and it looks as if we are approaching an entrance to some secret infrastructure below London – unfortunately it is only the closed entrance to the lift which should be operating.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The tunnel today is brightly lit and there is a frequent flow of walkers through the tunnel. It has not always been this way, and as the docks and industries closed on either side of the river the numbers walking through declined and there were times during the 1980s when you needed to be cautious when using the tunnel.

A final look down the Greenwich foot tunnel:

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The Greenwich shaft is slightly deeper than the Island Gardens shaft. I counted 87 steps down from Island Gardens, and was rather surprised to count a round number of exactly 100 steps up the Greenwich shaft:

Stairs

Whilst walking up the shaft, a look up shows the cantilevered steps of the spiral above:

Spiral staircase

At the top of the steps, one of the current landmarks of Greenwich confirms that you have arrived on the south bank of the River Thames:

View of Cutty Sark

But before leaving, another look up shows the wonderful construction of the glass dome that covers the entrance to each shaft:

Entrance to foot tunnel

As well as the bomb damage to the tunnel, the entrance buildings and shafts were also damaged by bombing, with an oil filled incendiary hitting the Island Gardens shaft, causing considerable damage to the lift control equipment. The Greenwich entrance was also hit by an incendiary bomb, but did not suffer as much damage as at the northern shaft.

Entrance to foot tunnel

Plaques above both entrances to the tunnel record the opening in August 1902, along with key figures in the London County Council responsible for the tunnel:

Plaque of foot tunnel entrance

A view of the Greenwich entrance to the tunnel, with the Island Gardens entrance across the river, just to the right:

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The original lifts were added in 1904, two years after the tunnel opened, these were attendant operated until the early 21st century. New lifts were installed in 2012, however there have been periods when the lifts were not that reliable, with significant problems with the glass doors closing reliably, and they are currently closed.

Greenwich tunnel lifts

A major problem with the lifts is that they are almost a custom design, having to fit inside the original lift space in the centre of the shaft, and also within such a historic structure.

Special parts for the lifts are sourced from Germany, and it is still expected that the lifts will be closed for some months.

Outside the tunnel entrance is an excellent view of the Cutty Sark:

Cutty Sark

And looking across the river is the ever expanding collection of towers that are growing across the Isle of Dogs:

View of the Isle of Dogs from Greenwich

View to the west, towards the City of London from close to the Greenwich entrance to the tunnel:

View of the Thames from Greenwich

Looking east from the entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel:

View of the Thames from Greenwich

The Greenwich foot tunnel was certainly a success, and a major improvement on the ferry which the tunnel replaced.

A ferry had been operating between the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich for hundreds of years, and such was the level of traffic, that from 1883 the Thames Steamboat Company operated a steamboat ferry, which did have problems operating in a very crowded section of the river (hard to believe when looking at the view today just how busy the river has been).

Despite this, the steam ferry was carrying around 1,300,000 passengers a year, which seems remarkably close to the 1.2 million a year that the Royal Borough of Greenwich state on their website as using the tunnel today.

The booklet states that the foot passenger ferry rights continued to exist after the opening of the tunnel and were owned by the Great Eastern Railway Company.

It would be interesting to know if these rights still exist and whether Network Rail could today run a passenger ferry across the Thames at Greenwich.

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Dr John Leake’s General Lying-In Hospital and Leake Street

On the South Bank, where York Road meets the large junction with Westminster Bridge Road, and just south of Waterloo Station, there is a building that today stands out among the surrounding new hotels. This is the General Lying-In Hospital, an institution founded in 1765 by Dr John Leake.

Dr John Leake

The building we see today was constructed in 1830, after the death of Dr John Leake, however it is here because he was instrumental in founding the first dedicated maternity hospital, which originally was a very short distance away on Westminster Bridge Road.

John Leake was born on the 8th June 1729 at Ainstable in Cumberland. There is not that much written evidence of his early life, however he went to Bishop Auckland Grammar School, and became a Doctor of Medicine at Rheims at the age of thirty four, and was admitted to the College of Physicians three year later.

In the mid 18th century, the requirements for entry to the medical profession were rather basic. The ideal candidate was a “cultured and highly educated gentleman”, who only needed an adequate knowledge of medicine. One could become a Doctor via an apprenticeship, and a physician would need only one year’s training in medicine, although up to 1812, the College of Physicians required only six months hospital practice.

There is no record as to how Dr John Leake became interested in child birth, but on Wednesday the 7th of August 1765, he was calling together a meeting of the sponsors of the new hospital at Appleby’s Tavern in Parliament Street.

The new hospital was to be called the Westminster New Lying-In Hospital, and at the meeting Leake reported that sufficient funds had been received to purchase a plot of land for the new hospital, on Westminster Bridge Road, probably today under the railway bridge leading into Waterloo Station.

Dr John Leake:

Dr John Leake

The new hospital was to be for “the Relief of those Child-bearing Women who are the wives of poor Industrious Tradesmen or distressed House-keepers, and who either from unavoidable Misfortunes of the Expenses of maintaining large Families are reduced to real Want. Also for the Reception and Immediate Relief of indigent Soldiers and Sailors Wives, the former in particular being very numerous in and about the City of Westminster”.

The first stone of the new hospital was laid on the 15th August 1765 during a Governors visit to the building site. A view of the hospital when complete:

Dr John Leake

The location of the original hospital is shown in the following extract from Smith’s New Plan of London from 1816:

Dr John Leake

In 1766, there were problems with cash flow and raising sufficient funds to complete the hospital. As well as subscriptions from individuals, events were planned, including a benefit play. The play appears to have taken place at Covent Garden on Boxing Day, 1766, when £114 was raised. There had also been an earlier benefit play at Drury Lane Theatre.

Dr John Leake must have been very busy during the 1760s. As well as the challenge of funding and building the new hospital, he was also a practicing doctor as well as training and lecturing. An advert in the papers of 1767 provides a view of how his lectures were carried out:

“On Monday the 5th October next, at seven in the Evening, will begin, A Course of Lectures on the THEORY and PRACTICE of MIDWIFERY, and the Diseases of Women and Children, in which the true principles of that Science will be distinctly laid down and the several Operations clearly demonstrated, by an artificial representation of each difficult Labour, upon Machines of a new Construction, exactly resembling Women and Children.

By John Leake M.D. Member of the Royal College of Physicians, London and Physician Man-Midwife to the Westminster New Lying-In Hospital. Where the Students for their more expeditious and effectual Improvement, will be admitted to attend as Pupils.”

The title “Physician Man-Midwife” for John Leake came into force on the 2nd June 1767 when he was unanimously elected to the position, as the first medical appointment for the new hospital.

Whilst the earlier statement about who would be admitted to the hospital implies quite an open policy, it did require an introduction from a subscriber and a standard letter had been prepared where a subscriber would request a named person to be admitted as a patient and was “an Object worthy of Charity”.

Governors would have to approve an introduction, and as in the mid 18th century anti-natal care was almost non-existent, Governors would only admit a patient in their last month of pregnancy.

Between the 20th April 1767 and 20th April 1769, the hospital had delivered 218 babies, three of which had been still born. The hospital had an infant death rate of 90 per 1,000 births, and a maternal mortality of 4.7 per 1,000 births. Very much higher than today, but believed to be considerably better than giving birth outside of such an institution.

The hospital would only allow women entry in the last month of their pregnancy. This resulted in over ten percent of women who had been approved to give birth in the hospital, not attending as they had delivered at home, prior to the last month. There is no record of the results of such home births.

An ongoing problem for the hospital came from the Parish in which the hospital was located. At the time, the Parish would become responsible for children where the mothers could not support them, and on the 6th December 1769, Lambeth Parish made a complaint to the hospital about ten children born in the hospital who had become chargeable to the parish.

It even appears that some mothers were claiming their babies had been born in the hospital to get the support from the parish, as the parish were checking names with the hospital to confirm they had been a patient.

Dr John Leake died in 1792, and newspapers on the 16th August carried a rather simple notice of his death: “Yesterday died, in Parliament Street, Dr John Leake, Physician to the Westminster Lying-In Hospital, of which he was the founder, and the author of several useful publications”.

It was a rather underwhelming tribute given his achievements, the main one being instrumental in setting up the hospital.

After John Leake’s death, there were a number of months when the hospital went through an unsettled period. People competed for positions within the Governors and for medical appointments in the hospital, and new management started to change some of the hospital’s processes, however by mid 1793, the hospital had settled down into a new phase of running without the key founder.

A critical issue for the hospital for the following few decades seems to have been having sufficient funds to maintain operations, with regular appeals for donations and subscribers.

A report at the start of 1827 provides an indication of the number of patients both within the hospital, and being seen as out-patients:

Dr John Leake

By the early 1820s, there was a need to find a new location for the hospital. The existing site had a complex set of leases with different owners, which each had to be renewed at different times. The old building was also becoming unsuitable given advances in midwifery and maintaining hygiene within a hospital environment.

After some searching, a site was found, that would become the site of the hospital we see today. To help with funding, more subscribers were needed, and the search for subscribers sheds some light on how they were involved with the selection of patients “That is future Subscribers of Twenty Guineas at one payment be allowed to recommend yearly two in-patients and two out-patients and one for advice”. Ten guinea subscribers could only recommend one patient for each of the categories.

The move to the new hospital seems to have taken place in 1828, however the hospital has the date 1830 on the far right of the façade in the photo below. This seems to be when the Common Seal was affixed to the lease for the land which had been given by the Archbishop of Canterbury. By this time, Westminster had also been dropped from the name of the hospital and it became simply the General Lying-In Hospital.

Dr John Leake

Care during pregnancy during the first half of the 19th century was almost non-existent. Recognition of complications during pregnancy was very limited unless such complications were catastrophic. Standards of hygiene were poor in many of the Lying-In Hospitals. Many of the approaches to complications were horrendous and carried out without anesthetic. The mortality rate for Caesarian section was dreadful. Of the fifty-two operations carried out in 1838, only thirteen women survived.

The General Lying-In Hospital published numbers of deliveries and maternal deaths for the years 1855 to 1875, as shown in the following table:

Dr John Leake

The figures recorded by the hospital do not state whether a delivery was a single child, or whether a delivery covered twins where these were born.

Assuming each delivery is a single child per mother, then the average death rate of mothers was fifteen per thousand. For comparison, I checked the World Bank statistics for Great Britain, and today the mortality figure is seven per 100,000 live births. A phenomenal improvement since the first half of the 19th century.

Many of the problems with child birth in the first half of the nineteenth century were not just through medical complications, but were caused by the level of poverty that was effecting so many of London residents at the time. Malnutrition and rickets resulted in a disproportionate size of fetal head and that of the pelvis. This resulted in many cases of difficult delivery.

The rates of child mortality were also high, and whilst the working population was most effected due to poor diet, housing conditions, poverty etc. child death also affected all levels of society and could influence history.

When King William IV died in 1837, he had no legitimate heirs. His wife, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen had suffered the death of five children. Three, including twin boys were stillborn and two died within six months of birth. Perhaps because of these deaths, Queen Adelaide was a sponsor of the General Lying-In Hospital, contributing £10 per annum to the charity.

As William therefore had no legitimate heirs, the crown would pass to Victoria, who would reign from 1837 to 1901 and stamp her name on two thirds of the 19th century, a significant period of the industrial revolution, and when the basics of the modern world were formed.

Above the main entrance to the hospital is an inscription – “Licensed for the public reception of pregnant women pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed in the thirteenth year of the reign of King George the Third”.

This act, passed in 1773, long before the new hospital building was constructed, attempted to address the problem with local parishes objecting to taking on the expense of illegitimate babies, by making the Governors of such hospitals apply for a licence to continue. The hospital could therefore claim that it was operating legally under an Act of Parliament.

Dr John Leake

The issue of unmarried mothers had long been troubling for the hospital and in 1774 the Governors decided to exclude unmarried mothers from the hospital, however to moderate this decision, the Governors retained the ability to admit unmarried mothers at their discretion.

The second half of the 19th century did see considerable improvement in the practice of midwifery, hygiene, and general medical practice, and at the start of the 20th century we can get a remarkable glimpse into the life of the hospital.

When researching this post, I found a series of photographs of staff at the hospital in 1908, held by the Wellcome Collection. Fortunately these can be used under a Creative Commons licence.

General Lying-In Hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: nurse sitting with baby in incubator. Photograph, 1908.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

The nurse in the above photo is shown in a second photo in a far more relaxed pose, holding one of the babies in her care. It is a wonderful photo from 1908:

General Lying-In Hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: nurse sitting holding baby. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

The General Lying-In Hospital had run training sessions, which included work at the hospital, since Dr John Leake had originally founded the hospital and the following photo from 1908 shows the Labour Ward Nursing Staff and Pupil Midwives:

General Lying-in hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: labour ward staff and students. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

A larger group of hospital staff:

General Lying-In Hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: hospital staff. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

As well as the hospital staff in the above photo, look at the central window in the rear of the photo, and there are a couple of faces looking at what is happening on their neighbouring building:

Dr John Leake

A smaller group photo:

Generl Lying-In Hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: group of nurses. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

In a similiar way to the faces in the window in the earlier photo, look to the right edge of the above photo and there is someone sneaking a look at what is going on.

Weighing a baby:

Dr John Leake

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: nurses weighing a baby. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

Another smaller group photo, this time of the senior staff of the hospital. The woman on the right of the photo is the same nurse / midwife as in the first two photos.

Dr John Leake

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: senior staff. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

Unfortunately there is only one photo that records the name of those in the photo. This is Nurse Woodyer (note the scissors tucked into the belt):

Dr John Leake

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: nurse Woodyer. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

By the time of the above photos, the treatment of patients had improved considerably. This included the use of anesthetic. There had been much clerical objection to the use of pain relief during labour – no doubt from those who did not have to suffer such pain, however the use of anesthetic during child birth gained popularity after Queen Victoria used chloroform for births in 1853 and 1857.

There were still challenges, for example in 1877, the hospital was suffering high mortality rates of 1 in 19. The cause was believed to be overcrowding, dirty linen and poor ventilation. Recommendations to address these problems included moving the toilets outside of the main building, replacing sacking which had been used on the base of bedsteads with iron battens, more space between patients and improved ventilation.

Despite the challenging issues in 1877, the 19th century saw gradual improvements in care, as the following table of the maternal death rate shows;

Dr John Leake

As had been the practice of the hospital since founding, there was a continual training programme and in 1907, the numbers trained covered 33 Midwives, 83 Maternity Nurses, and in the district for house calls, 16 Maternity Nurses had been trained.

The procedure whereby subscribers could recommend patients had been in force since the opening of the hospital and lasted a remarkably long time. It was only in 1922 that the Governing Committee decide to abolish the use of the procedure, however probably to keep subscribers financial support, they still had a route where they could apply to the Lady Almoner of the hospital if they had a patient they wanted to recommend.

The hospital did try to run an open access approach, however as seems to have been the problem since opening – funds were always tight and additional support was always wanted.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the General Lying-In Hospital had been expanding. There was a Post-Certificate School in Camberwell for advanced training, and the hospital had opened up a unit at St. Albans, and it was the St. Albans operation which grew in use from 1940 when 50 patients a month were being transferred from York Road to St. Albans due to the dangers of bombing.

The end of the General Lying-In Hospital in its charitable form came with the National Health Service Act of 1946, when the hospital became part of the NHS in July 1948. The hospital was no longer dependent on subscribers and charitable donations, and the Board of Governors was disbanded.

The Ministry of Health had arranged for the General Lying-In Hospital to come under the Board of Governors of St Thomas’s Hospital, and an indication of the future loss of independence came in 1949 when the hospital was informed that it would become part of the Obstetric and Gynecological Department of St Thomas’s Hospital.

St Thomas’s was also the site where all new high-tech diagnostic equipment would be housed, so the long term future of the General Lying-In Hospital was starting to look rather limited.

in the mid 1960s there were three local hospital’s with facilities for child birth. Lambeth and St Thomas’s as well as the General Lying-In Hospital. The late 1960s also saw a reduction in the number of births and the number of children born per mother was also decreasing. Changing social attitudes, increased use of contraception and the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1961, initially for married women, but generally available for all from 1967 resulted in the viability of three hospitals for child birth being questioned.

The end of the General Lying-In Hospital came in 1971 when the hospital closed, and services moved to St Thomas’s.

Today, the building is part of the adjacent Premier Inn, and although there is a Premier Inn sign on the side of the building, there is no plaque or sign commemorating the founder of the hospital – Dr John Leake.

To find Dr John Leake’s name we must walk a short distance from the General Lying-In Hospital.

I have circled the location of the hospital in the following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Leake Street

I have also marked the start and end points of York Street with two red arrows. Part of the street passes under the rail tracks leading into Waterloo Station.

By the time of the 1951 Ordnance Survey Map, the name had changed from York Street to Leake Street, again highlighted by the red arrows in the following map (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’:

Leake Street

The name change was due to early 20th century attempts to reduce the number of duplicate street names across the city, as reported on the 28th September 1920 in the Westminster Gazette: “There are five streets within a radius of 1.5 miles from Piccadilly Circus all named York-street. It has been decided to re-name York-street, Lambeth, Leake-street in honour of Dr John Leake, who was largely instrumental in founding the general lying-in hospital in the street”.

So Dr John Leake finally had his name close to the pioneering hospital that he founded back in 1765. The street can still be found today, although most of the street passes under the tracks of Waterloo Station as shown in the following map, with the red circle showing the location of the old hospital building (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Leake Street

I went to take a look at the street named after Dr John Leake, and this is where this is a post of two very different halves:

Leake Street

To find Leake Street walk past the hospital, and past the adjacent Premier Inn, then an office block until you find a street heading towards the arches beneath Waterloo Station. Unfortunately there are no street name signs to confirm that this is Leake Street, however this is the current view of the street from York Road:

Leake Street

The first part of the street has a somewhat derelict feel, and this is an indication of what is to come:

Leake Street

The entrance to Leake Street Arches where Leake Street runs underneath Waterloo Station. At least here we can find Leake’s name, although I doubt very much whether many of those who pass this way realise the association of the name and hospital.

Leake Street

Looking down Leake Street Arches:

Leake Street Arches

Almost every available space is covered in graffiti.

Leake Street Graffiti

This dates back to May 2008 when the artist Banksy, along with 29 other street artists decorated much of the tunnel with graffiti.

Up untill then, Leake Street had been a rather gloomy, disused road. The arches on either side were generally used for storage, including a rather unusual use as an oil company kept core samples retrieved during drilling in a couple of the arches.

The Leake Street Arches are today a bit of an institution, with bars occupying many of the arches that lead off from the main tunnel.

Leake Street Graffiti

As well as the side walls, the brick roof of the tunnel has been used as a canvas:

Leake Street Graffiti
Leake Street Graffiti
Leake Street Graffiti

A riot of colour:

Leake Street Graffiti
Leake Street Graffiti
Leake Street Arches

Graffiti is not static and is continually being refreshed. During my walk through the tunnel a couple of weeks ago, an area of wall had been prepared for a new work, and paint cans were ready on the floor:

Leake Street Arches

New works are not just painted in isolation, they frequently have a film crew ready to record the process.

Leake Street Arches

A glimpse inside one of the side arches that is not in use shows the size of the space and the wonderful brick work that makes up the arches and tunnel that support the station platforms and tracks above:

Leake Street Arches

Almost every surface has been painted:

Leake Street
Leake Street

Graffiti changes regularly and is actively encouraged throughout the tunnels of Leake Street.

Leake Street
Leake Street

Walls, ceiling and occasional parts of the floor are covered in graffiti:

Leake Street Arches

At the far end, there are steps up to Station Approach Road which runs alongside Waterloo Station, or follow the walkway on the left, under Station Approach to get to Lower Marsh. The road curves to the right as shown in the following photo to a fenced off dead end.

Leake Street Arches

Looking back along Leake Street Arches:

Leake Street Arches

Apart from the sign for Leake Street Arches at the entrance to the tunnel, there is no further mention of the name, and no reference as to the source of the name. The web site for the tunnel and arches. Leake Street Arches, makes no reference to the source of the name, focusing instead on the cultural, entertainment, food and drink venues within the tunnel.

I have no idea what Dr John Leake would have thought if he could see the only place on the South Bank where his name can be seen. What would be good is if Premier Inn could add a plague to the building.

As well as the tunnel and arches, I am sure Dr John Leake would be fascinated by how much the care of women during pregnancy and childbirth has developed, how the mortality rate for mothers and babies has reduced to levels perhaps unimaginable during the mid 18th century, and that care is now available to all via the NHS without any need for subscribers recommendations.

As well as old newspapers, I have used a fascinating book to research this post. In 1977 Professor Philip Rhodes published “Dr John Leake’s Hospital”. Just under 400 pages of detailed history of the hospital, Leake, social conditions across London and attitudes to pregnancy and child birth, as well as the development of this specialised area of care.

Professor Philip Rhodes was on the consultant obstetric staff at the General Lying-In Hospital, eventually becoming Dean of the Medical School and Governor of St Thomas’s Hospital.

His book is a fascinating history of an aspect of London life, and an institution where over 150,000 people where born from 1767 to 1971 – all thanks to Dr John Leake.

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Walking the New River – Ware to Cheshunt

I have written about New River Head in a previous post, as well as a number of posts about how water has been key in the development of Clerkenwell and parts of Islington.

New River Head was the point where water delivered by the New River was collected and treated, then sent on through an extensive pipe network to London consumers from the east end to Soho and the west end.

The New River was built in the early 17th century, opening in 1613. A very innovative and complex bit of civil engineering for the time as it transported water from springs near Ware in Hertfordshire all the way to New River Head. Helping to transform London’s water supplies, that had depended on water from the Thames along with small local wells and springs, to a constant, high volume supply of clean water.

What is remarkable is that this 400 year old artificial river is still in use, and for the same purpose. Today, the New River provides around 8%, or 220 million litres a day, of London’s water, so if you live in London, there is a good chance that you have drank or showered in water that has reached you via the New River.

The New River no longer runs to New River Head. It terminates at the east and west reservoirs around Woodberry Wetlands, just south of the Seven Sisters Road.

Starting in 1992, Thames Water created a New River Walk that follows the 28 miles from the source to New River Head. 25 miles follow the river from source to the reservoirs, and a further 3 miles makes up a heritage walk that follows the original route of the New River through to New River Head.

I have long wanted to walk the route from the source of the New River, and a few weekends ago, had the opportunity to spend a weekend walking the New River with a small group from Clerkenwell and Islington Guides and the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, who will be moving into the historic buildings at New River Head.

My post on New River Head and London’s Water Industry covers the history of the New River, so I will not focus on this aspect in this post, however before starting the walk, a quick look at why a former army officer from Bath, Edmund Colthurst, who had served in Ireland, in 1602 proposed a scheme to bring in water from Hertfordshire springs to a site to the north of the city.

The following map is a heat map (from the excellent topographic-map.com) showing the height of the land around the town of Ware. Blue the lowest, through green, red and to the highest land shown as white:

Walking the New River

I have circled the source of the New River. It is here where the New River draws water from the River Lee, and where the Chadwell Springs rise and feed the river. The Chadwell Springs were the original source, with the link to the River Lee added later when more water was required to support London’s growing population.

As can be seen in the map, the source is in a low lying area, there are multiple streams running through the area as well as the River Lee which follows the low lying land to the lower right of the map.

The surrounding land rises, and water collects in the area, providing a significant source for the river.

The Chadwell Spring is the original source of water for the New River. The spring is a large pool of water which is filled with water rising from below ground.

The geology of the area is interesting. Some of the water that rises at the spring comes from the Mimmshall Brook, which, ten miles to the west near Hatfield, drains into a sink hole.

The sink hole forms part of a large underground drainage network called a Karsitic network – an area where the underlying chalk has been dissolved by water forming sink holes and sub-surface drainage networks, which around Hertford and east to the Chadwell Springs covers an area of 32 square kilometers.

The geology of the area means that it was a perfect choice for Edmund Colthurst to propose for the source of the river in 1602.

I refer to the River Lee a number of times in the post. The name can be found with spellings of Lee and Lea. The River Lea is frequently used for the natural river and Lee Navigation for parts of the river where it has been turned into a navigable canal. For simplicity I will use River Lee to refer to any part of the Lee / Lea water system.

Now to start walking the route:

Day 1, Ware to Rye House

The first day’s walk was just under 8 miles in length, which included the walk to get to the source of the New River. The route is well served by the rail network, so starting from Ware station, it was a walk to the source following the dotted red line in the following map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Walking the New River

The blue circle in the above map marks the location of the Chadwell Spring.

The first day’s walk from the source to Rye House is shown by the red dotted line n the following map:

Walking the New River

After walking from Ware station, along the River Lee, the first sign of the New River comes with New Gauge House on the banks of the River Lee:

Walking the New River

At the side of New Gauge House are two signs, the one on the left is part of the original signage covering the path alongside the river, the sign on the right shows that this is still a working bit of water supply infrastructure, with appropriate safety precautions.

New River Gauge House

Looking west along the River Lee, with New Gauge House on the left, and on the right in the river is the infrastructure that allows water to be drawn off from the Lee into the New River.

River Lee

The following view shows New Gauge House, with the start of the New River coming from the arch below, where water from the River Lee starts its journey south to provide water for the population of London.

New River Gauge House

New Gauge House was built in 1856. The equipment that controls the flow from the Lee is in the ground floor of the building, and accommodation for a Gauge Keeper was in the floor above.

According to the Historic England listing, 22.5 million gallons is taken each day from the Lee into the New River.

Looking south along the start of the walk:

Walking the New River

Looking back along the New River to New Gauge House, slightly hidden by trees, with the higher ground, part of the higher ground that surrounds the area, seen in the background.

Walking the New River

As shown in the heat map at the start of the post, this is a low lying area, with large amounts of water lying across the surface of the land:

Chadwell Spring

Signposting from the creation of the New River Path:

New River Path

A straight stretch of the New River with the A10 road crossing:

Walking the New River

Underneath the A10:

Walking the New River

It is theoretically possible to get to the Chadwell Spring, however the area around the spring is very overgrown and wet, and required a detour from the main path. The Chadwell Spring rises into a circular pool.

This is the view looking in the direction of Chadwell Spring from the walk alongside the New River:

Chadwell Spring

This is the White House Sluice. The building originally contained the equipment to control water levels on the river:

White House Sluice

The most historic building here though is the Marble Gauge photographed below:

Marble Gauge

The Marble Gauge was built in 1770 to control the water taken from a former inlet to the River Lee. Today, the Marble Gauge does not have any function, and water flows through a couple of iron pipes to bypass the structure.

The Marble Gauge was designed by Robert Mylne, the architect and engineer to the New River Company. The structure, along with the railings shown to the left of the above photo are both Grade II listed.

“This Belongs To New River Company” – stone in the undergrowth to the side of the river:

New River Company

When completed in 1613, the Chadwell Spring was the furthest north of the sources feeding the New River. The connection to the River Lee would not come until Parliament approved a 1738 Statute that allowed the company to take up to 102 megalitres a day from the River Lee (a significant additional source compared to the original 10 megalitres a day from the Chadwell and Amwell Springs).

Whilst the River Lee provided a considerable additional supply of water for London, it did not please barge and mill owners who were concerned about the impact that such a loss of water would have on their use of the Lee.

The photo below shows the channel from the Chadwell Spring where it joins the New River:

Chadwell Spring

A significant additional source of water was added to the New River during each of the river’s first three centuries.

During the 17th century, the springs at Chadwell and Amwell provided the water. In the 18th century, water from the River Lee was added, and in the 19th century a number of pumping stations were built along the northernmost stretch of the New River. These pumping stations extracted water from bore holes to add to the river.

The first of these is the Broadmead Pumping Station, built in 1881:

Broadmead Pumping Station

Whilst many of the pumping stations are still in use, Broadmead seems to have been converted to offices, and is currently the offices of a car hire company. The building and adjacent chimney are Grade II listed.

The New River then passes through Ware, just to the south of the station, and continues on parallel to the A1170 London Road:

Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail

In the above photo, there is a concrete wall projecting out into the centre of the river. A small figure can be seen at the end of the wall:

Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail

The figure is part of the Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail, which consists of 31 small bronze sculptures made by a class of 7 and 8 year old children from St John the Baptist Primary School in Great Amwell.

The above sculpture is called “Murphy and his Dog”, by James. The leaflet detailing the trail can be found here.

The river soon moves away from the London Road, and we reach the village of Amwell, where the Amwell Spring adds water to the river. To mark the location, there is a small island in the river:

Walking the New River

The monument in the above view has the following inscription:

Amwell Spring

An appropriate inscription to think about whenever we turn on the tap.

Walking past the island, and at the opposite end is another monument, with a Latin inscription facing the path:

Walking the New River

And the following inscription on the other side of the monument:

Robert Mylne

A short distance along the New River is Amwell Marsh Pumping Station, a Grade II listed building, completed in 1883:

Amwell Marsh Pumping Station

The British Geological Survey have the bore hole record for the boreholes under the pumping station. The record dates from 1899 and details two boreholes 5.25 feet diameter at the top, reducing to 4 feet diameter at the bottom of the boreholes, which are 109 feet deep.

The combined boreholes had a total pumping capacity of just over 7 million gallons in 24 hours, and that when pumping stopped, water rises quickly within the boreholes.

A note in the record shows that the water pumped from below ground is part of a much larger underground water system as the record states “Pumping here affects Amwell springs, Amwell Hill Well and Chadwell spring”, so whilst water can be pumped from the boreholes, the total impact on the water system needs to be considered.

Amwell Marsh pumping station is still extracting water. The steam pumping engine has been replaced with electric, and looking into the New River we can see the turbulence created by water being pumped into the river:

Amwell Marsh Pumping Station

A Metropolitan Water Board sign warning that fishing is strictly prohibited, trespassers and persons throwing stones will be prosecuted, and that any person bathing, washing an animal, or otherwise fouling the water is liable to a penalty of five pounds:

Walking the New River

Not sure of the age of the sign. The Metropolitan Water Board was formed in 1903 when it took over the New River Company. The notice is signed by A.B. Pilling, Clerk of the Board. Pilling was authoring books about the new Chingford reservoir in 1913, so the sign must date from the early decades of the 20th century.

A quiet stretch of the New River:

Walking the New River

Rye Common Pumping Station, another Grade II listed building, constructed in 1882.

Rye Common Pumping Station

As with the other 19th century pumping station on the route, it was originally steam powered, but was converted to electricity in 1935. As can be seen from the water gushing from the pipe into the river, Rye Common is still contributing to the New River and London’s water supplies.

The New River, running alongside a housing estate:

Walking the New River

The New River is now approaching Rye House, with the three chimneys of Rye House Power Station in the distance.

Walking the New River

And at Rye House, the first day of walking the New River ended, with the conveniently located Rye House station a very short walk from the river.

Day 2, Rye House to Cheshunt

Day 2 of walking the New River, a stretch that will take us from where we finished yesterday at Rye House, along the route of the New River to Cheshunt – the route highlighted by red dashes in the following map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Walking the New River

An overcast and grey Saturday was followed by a sunny Sunday. Not long after leaving Rye House, the route reached Essex Road Pumping Station (difficult to photograph, just a very small part of the brick wall is on the right of the following photo), with new building on an old industrial site in the background.

Walking the New River

Two large pipes from Essex Road Pumping Station discharging water into the New River:

Essex Road Pumping Station

Essex Road Pumping Station draws water from a borehole beneath the building. The borehole consists of an upper shaft of depth 54 feet and average diameter of 7 feet, followed by a bore hole which extends to a depth of 403 feet below the surface.

The bore hole record demonstrates that there is a considerable volume of water not that far below ground. In 1920, water would rise to a level 2 feet below the surface, and without pumping, this standing water level does not vary.

The record stated that the bore hole would yield 2,160,000 gallons of water a day.

A short distance after Essex Road Pumping Station is a new road bridge that carries Essex Road over the New River:

Walking the New River

The walkway alongside the New River carries on under the bridge, with some appropriate artwork lining the under side of the bridge:

Walking the New River

After passing through some housing and industry around Rye House, the New River regains its rural setting, with views helped by the sunny weather after the previous day’s rather grey walk:

Walking the New River

It is rather hypnotic watching the flow of the water in the river. Leafs and twigs are carried along at the equivalent of a fast walk. The only turbulence at the occasional sluice and where pumping stations add water to the flow.

To the west of this stretch of the New River are some rather nice houses that make the most of having the New River passing the end of their gardens:

Walking the New River

Before returning to a tree lined river:

Walking the New River

We then come to the 1887, Grade II listed, Broxbourne Pumping Station:

Broxbourne Pumping Station

This is a pumping station that is still in use, extracting water from deep below the surface and adding to the New River. Some turbulance can be seen at the right edge of the photo where water is pouring into the river. There are two other pipes pointing onto the river which must have been used in the past, as this was a pumping station that produced a considerable quantity of water.

The bore hole records for the Broxbourne Pumping Station state that there is a shaft below the building to a depth of 197 feet. It is a large shaft of 14 feet diameter at the top down to 10 feet diamter at the bottom. The bore hole record implies that there are additional bores heading out from the shaft.

The 1909 record states that the standing level of water is only 8 feet below the surface, again indicating how high the water table is along the route of the New River. The 1909 record stated: “Great quantity of water, the temporary pumps being drowned in sinking when 2 to 3 million gallons a day were got out. The yield has been returned as 4,500,000 gallons a day”.

There was a chimney at the pumping station which has been demolished, as along with the other pumping stations along the New River, it was converted from steam to electric. There is though a considerable amount of infrastructure to the side of the building. No idea whether this is still in use, however (if you like that sort of thing, which I do), there are some wonderful green painted tanks to the side. The Historic England listing makes no mention of these, only referring to the building.

Broxbourne Pumping Station

It is not just the pumping stations that are listed along the route of the New River, also one of the train stations. This is the rather wonderful Grade II listed Broxbourne Station, built between 1959 and 1961 by the British Railways Eastern Region Architect’s Department:

Broxbourne Station

Broxbourne Station is next to the New River. In the above photo, the New River embankment is the grass seen at the lower left corner.

Whilst this is the closest station to the New River, stations are not that far away for the majority of the walk, and the rail line is here for the same reason as the New River.

The New River needed to follow a route that was almost flat, with a very shallow drop in height from the springs to New River Head. This would ensure a smooth flow of water without any need for pumps.

The valley created by the River Lee and associated water systems had created a relatively low and flat wide channel of land between higher ground on either side.

This enabled the New River to follow the 100 foot contour (height above sea level) almost from source to destination, and the height of the river dropped by only around 20 feet along the entire route. Given the surveying methods and equipment of the early 17th century, it was a remarkable achievement.

This relatively flat land was also ideal for the rail network, which avoided the need to construct tunnels or large embanked routes for the railway, so the New River and railway ended almost parallel to each other.

The following map from topographic-map.com shows the lower land as the blue in the centre, with Walthamstow towards the bottom of the map and Ware at the top. The New River follows the light blue along the left of the blue of the Lee Valley.

Walking the New River

Continuing along the New River into Broxbourne, and the river runs around the church of St Augustine’s.

Broxbourne St Augustine's Church

As the New River Path gets into more built up areas, there are now sections where it is not possible to walk alongside the river. Fortunately these are for short lengths, and a quick diversion is needed to get back to the river.

The following photo shows one such section where the river runs through private gardens, A 1926 road bridge crosses the river.

Walking the New River

In the following photo, the Mylne Viaduct (part of which is the low wall to the left) carries the New River over the Turnford Brook which runs below the New River, left to right.

Walking the New River

The New River has been straightened in places from the original early 17th century route. I have not yet had the time to compare the route today with the original, however I suspect the view in the above photo is of one of the later, straightened sections.

The river is carried on a high earth embankment, which may have been too difficult for the original entirely manual construction method, but easier with later mechanical earth moving.

The New River then passes under the A10. The walkway has a slight diversion through a pedestrian tunnel under the road.

Walking the New River

The New River then returns to a rather rural environment, with a large bush growing over half the river. Not sure how much maintenance of the New River is needed today, or is carried out by Thames Water to keep the course of the river open.

Walking the New River

Although the New River passes through a number of built areas on the way to Cheshunt, it continues with a rather rural appearance with trees lining the banks. Small foot bridges ensure crossing points as the river winds through communities.

Walking the New River

Sluice to manage water levels on the outskirts of Cheshunt:

Walking the New River

Passing alongside a new housing estate:

Walking the New River

The creation of the New River Path dates back to the early 1990s, and the path continues to be well sign posted with only a few places where some careful reference to the map is needed. This may well change as we get into the built areas of north London.

New River Path

At the end of Day 2 – an autumn scene in Cheshunt:

Walking the New River

From here it was a walk into Cheshunt to return home. The end of a brilliant weekend walking the New River.

Each day was just under 8 miles (which included getting to and from each day’s starting and end point). The early stages of the walk around Ware were wet and muddy in places, after Ware the path was mainly dry and easy to walk.

My thanks to those also on the walk for making it such an enjoyable weekend. We have a second weekend booked in a few weeks time, with an aim of walking from Cheshunt to where the New River currently terminates at the East and West Reservoirs, just south of the Seven Sisters Road.

The next stage will include the symbolic crossing of the M25, where rather surprisingly the New River crosses over, rather than under the M25.

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Carter and Goldfinger explain the County of London Plan

One of the strangest headings I have used for a post, however, this was the title of a wonderful booklet published in 1945, where Edward Julian Carter (Librarian of the Royal Institute of British Architects) and Erno Goldfinger, (the architect of buildings such as the Balfron Tower in Poplar), explained the London County Council, 1943 County of London Plan.

County of London Plan

The idea for a County of London Plan came from Lord Reith, the Minister of Works and Planning. In 1941 he asked the London County Council to prepare a plan “without paying overmuch respect to existing town planning law and all the other laws affecting building and industry but with a reasonable belief that if a good scheme was put forward it would provide reasons, the impulse and determination to bring about whatever changes in law are needed to carry the plan into effect”.

The County of London Plan was published in 1943, and provided a view of what the city could become after the devastation of wartime bombing.

As is always the way with long term plans, many of the recommendations were not implemented. Money was a considerable post war problem, many changes were long term, and in the decades following the 1940s, changes not foreseen by the plan, such as the exodus of industry from the city and the closure of the docks, would result in a new approach to city planning.

The impact of the County of London plan can though be seen across London today, with, for example, the South Bank being the combination of cultural (Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre etc.), gardens (Jubilee Gardens), office (IBM) and housing recommended by the plan.

The 1945 booklet by Carter and Goldfinger was an attempt to provide a concise view of the plan in a more readable format, and to get the buy in from Londoners to the future of their city as proposed by the plan.

Trying to get the support of Londoners for the plan did though display a bit of “central authority knows best”, as shown by the following two sentences from the introduction to the plan in the booklet:

“So when the L.C.C. plans for London it is not merely planning these things in an abstracted way for Londoners; it is London’s own people through their own democratic government planning themselves”, and;

“The Plan was generated by the people of London and created by architects and planners aware of what the people want. Now it is before the people for them to turn it into reality”.

There is no indication in the booklet how architects and planners were aware of what the people wanted, however the booklet does highlight many of the problems experienced by people living and working in the city.

The booklet was published by Penguin and cost 3 shillings and 6 pence. It would be interesting to know how many Londoners actually purchased and read the booklet.

As with the County of London Plan, the booklet makes some brilliant use of diagrams, what we would today call infographics, use of colour, and plenty of maps, including a wonderful fold out map at the end of the booklet.

The booklet starts by positioning London in Britain, including that London’s population was almost equal to the number of people living in the whole of the British countryside, as well as the significant percentage of imports and exports that went through the city’s docks.

County of London Plan

The booklet identifies a number of themes under “What is Wrong”, which includes traffic congestion, depressed housing, inadequacy and maldistribution of open space and a jumble of houses and industry. Another problem is the sprawl of London, with ribbon development along the roads leading to the counties surrounding London, an approach which would gradually leads to urbanising the countryside.

The report illustrates five of these problems. Slums and the Muddled use of land:

What is wrong with London

A lack of open space, traffic problems and architectural squalor:

What is wrong with London

Interesting that the book identifies the “absence of coherent architectural treatment in recent building”. A problem that still exists and demonstrated by the towers that are descending on Vauxhall at the moment.

The booklet reviews the growth of London, from 1660 when the city had a population of 450,000:

Growth of London

In 1862, population estimates now include the County of London area, as well as outside the County area to provide a view of the population of Greater London which was 3,222,720 in 1862 rising significantly to 8,203,942 by the time of the report:

Growth of London

The booklet shows some of the data that was used in the County of London Plan to develop the plan’s proposals. The following diagram shows Family Grouping in London, with the number of people in family groups for a sample size of 100 families.

Family size in London

The above diagram was based on the 1931 census, and shows that the highest numbers of families were in the size of three to five persons per family (which also included lodgers and dependents).

This was not so different to the late 19th century. When I looked at the 1881 census data for Bache’s Street (see this post), the average number of members of a family was 3.15, however this figure hid the real problem of houses of multiple occupancy where more than one family would occupy a single house.

Blocks of flats would be a key feature of post war housing development, the booklet goes some way to explaining why this approach was taken.

In the following diagram, the heights of blocks are shown, the height is used to determine the spacing between the blocks.

Housing and flat density

Whilst smaller, 2-storey houses can have their own garden, this arrangement does not give any land over for public gardens, and will require longer roads.

The justification for larger blocks of flats was the large amount of public open space that could be provided, along with uses such as allotments, with very little space wasted for roads.

Whilst the booklet does recognise the lack of private gardens, it does not really appreciate the impact of high rise living, and that large areas of public open space can become a bit of a windswept wasteland if not carefully managed.

The problem with London was the limited amount of space available for everything that could be expected to be included within the city. Homes, schools, factories, shops, public buildings, offices, roads, railways and services for visitors.

The definition of the County of London for the 1943 plan resulted in an area of 74,248 acres available for every use London was expected to support.

This resulted in some serious decisions on population densities, which again influenced the house / flats discussions.

The following diagram shows the different combinations and their resulting density of people per acre:

County of London Plan

However, even achieving these population densities would cause rehousing problems. Open space was also a consideration as many areas of London had very little public open space. The upper map shows the areas of London where housing is most crowded and there is a negligible amount of open space:

County of London Plan

The lower map shows the target population densities defined by the County of London Plan.

The central area would have the highest population density of 200 people per acre, however this figure was much below many areas of London which had densities up to 360 people per acre. This would require the challenge of rehousing and averaging out population densities if a reduction was to be achieved.

As well as housing, London at Work was a key consideration of the plan. At the time of the plan, an estimated 2,990,670 people was employed in Greater London.

The trade with the most people was the Distributive Trades with 563,540, followed by Engineering and Metal Trades at 443,380 and Building and Public Works Contracting at 280,440.

Interesting that the majority of people were involved in some form of manufacturing industry. We tend to think that the city had always been a centre for finance and the professional and service industries, however the report listed 55,360 people in Finance and Commerce, 71,080 in Professional Services and 184,170 in Hotels, Restaurants, Club Services etc. Today, I suspect the numbers for manufacturing and those for the finance, professional and hotel services have swapped.

The booklet includes a map showing the built area of London, with the division of industrial and built areas:

County of London Plan

What is interesting is how the growth of industry has followed the rivers of London. Not just the Thames, but the Lea in east London, and if you look in south London, the string of industry along the Ravensbourne and Wandle.

The following map shows the future locations of industry and commerce proposed by the plan. Red being industry and Yellow for Commerce.

County of London Plan

National Government focused on Westminster, Local Government on the South Bank (County Hall), Law to the west of the City, Bloomsbury being the centre for University education and Kensington being the location for museums.

The County of London Plan was concerned with the lack of public open space. During the 19th century London had grown exponentially, with industry surrounded by dense housing estates and very little land available for those living in the city. Whilst to the west there were the Royal Parks, the east of the city was very poorly served as illustrated by the following map, where the dark area indicates areas deficient of open space:

County of London Plan

The County of London Plan proposed a system of new parks, mainly in the east and south of the city as shown in the following map:

Open Space Plan

It would be interesting to compare how many of the sites marked in the above map are open space today (adds projects to ever increasing list of things to write about).

The growth in traffic was a key consideration of the County of London Plan. The post war growth in car and lorry traffic was a theme of the majority of post war city development plans. The City of London’s plans proposed dual carriageways through the City (of which the section of London Wall between Aldersgate Street and Moorgate was one of the very few sections to be built, along with underground car parks and raised pedestrian ways.

The County of London Plan offered a desperate view of what could become of the city if measures were not taken:

Traffic

Pre-war, many of the city’s streets were not designed to support the expected volumes of vehicle traffic, or the speed at which these vehicles were expected to travel – much faster than the horse drawn transport of previous centuries.

This was illustrated by the increasing numbers of cars in the country up to 1938 (blue) along with the increasing number of road traffic accidents (red):

cars and accidents

To address the problem, the County of London Plan proposed a series of arterial and ring roads that would help take traffic from the smaller surrounding roads, and speed this traffic to their destinations. The following map shows the proposed new roads on the south-east of London, marked in red:

County of London Plan

Note the intention for a new road to the west of the Isle of Dogs, that would cross under the river to the south of London. Many of these plans would not be built, or would be built along different routes.

The route through the Isle of Dogs was part of an inner arterial road that would ring the city. The following map shows this road, along with the arterial roads that would connect this ring road out to the rest of the country.

Road Plan

The black area in the centre is the City of London. The red dashed lines between the City and river represent the arterial road that would be created with the construction of the dual carriage ways along what is now Upper and Lower Thames Street. This, as shown in the map, would create a the main east – west route through the City.

The arterial roads stretching out from the city are roads such as the A1, A2, A13, A3, A4 etc. all of which have been rebuilt as major routes into and out of the city to the wider country.

Railways were also considered in the report. A major concern was the impact that railway viaducts had on the city. Viaducts cut through neighbourhoods, dividing areas, and as the booklet described “were signs of incredible squalor, with trains rumbling in front of bedroom windows, day and night”.

The booklet used an aerial photo of Southwark as an example of the impact of viaducts:

Southwark Viaducts

The booklet has a bit of a negative view of rail transport, which probably influenced the following decades of under investment in rail and investment in road transport.

For example, the following paragraph from the booklet covering the London Underground:

“In recent years the Underground Railways have contributed an additional problem for planners. Without thought for the total welfare of London they have pushed their lines out to the open country, encouraging uncontrolled speculative development. It was said at one time that London Transport needed a London of 12,000,000 inhabitants if it was to operate profitably. growth to such dimensions in the districts to the present railway network is the worst possible thing from the point of view of London as a whole.”

The plan makes a number of recommendations for London’s railways, including “increased electrification, better interchange between main lines, underground and suburban services; removal of viaducts; better receiving and distributing services for goods; and possibly the use of air-freight services”.

It is interesting comparing the 1943 plan, with today’s approach, where in 1943 air travel was being suggested as an alternative method for transporting freight, rather than the railways.

The booklet complained that whilst the County of London Plan “tackled the railway problem boldly”, the Central Government or Local Authorities did not have the powers to plan railway companies activities.

The plan suggested the use of underground loops to link stations, an inner and outer ring for goods traffic and the removal of viaducts. Some of the proposed new routes are shown in the following maps from the booklet:

London Railways

The plan used the South Bank as an example of what could be achieved. The area between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges had long been the target for improvements. In the late 19th century, newspapers moaned that the area was the first view of London that Americans arriving on the boat train from Southampton would see, and it was an industrialised area with dense, poor terrace housing.

Improvements along the South bank had started in the first couple of decades of the 20th century with the construction of the London County Council’s County Hall, and the plan proposed the South Bank up to Blackfriars Bridge should be transformed as a cultural centre, offices, improved housing, open space and a river walkway.

The plan’s vision for the South Bank was shown using the following model:

South Bank development

As well as the development of the South Bank, proposals included the removal of Hungerford Railway Bridge, and two new road bridges; a new Charing Cross road bridge and a new Temple Bridge. The car rather than the railway was seen as the post-war future of transport.

The booklet includes a section titled “Putting Theory Into Practice”, which deals with the challenges of implementing the complex and extensive plans proposed in the County of London Plan.

It makes a comparison with Russia, stating “We all know the great Russian Plans were actually named by the number of years work they involved – the Stalin Five Year Plans – so in due course the County Plan must be divided up into periods and, if we secure sufficient means and powers, we can get the planners a real confidence that each stage will be completed within a limited and stated time.”

To illustrate how this might happen, the booklet includes a series of maps showing how a area could be transformed, starting of with a “Survey of present conditions”:

County of London Plan

Followed by Housing as the first priority:

County of London Plan

Places of work would be key:

County of London Plan

With the need to re-plan the places of work so they move from being packed within areas of housing (above map), to dedicated industrial areas away from residential areas (following map):

County of London Plan

The following diagram shows an aerial view of the completed transformation. A planned and completely rebuilt area of London consisting of ordered residential areas with plenty of public open space. Industrial areas along the edges of the residential to provide local jobs, but not on top of where people lived.

County of London Plan

A map titled “Period Planning” identified the priorities for the first period of development, with the key arterial roads and the areas that needed the most attention. The areas outlined in red are those where the plan recommended that work should start immediately.

County of London Plan

The rear cover of the booklet has a diagram of the proposed road system, with the first indication of an outer ring road, a proposal that many years later would evolve into the M25, although further out from the city than shown in the diagram.

County of London Plan

On the inside rear cover of the booklet is a wonderful fold out map titled “London Today”. the map shows a high level view of the use of land within the County of London. What is interesting is that the map shows the boundary of the County of London, with east London places such as Canning Town, Stratford and West Ham being outside the boundary. These were originally within the County of Essex (click on the image to open a larger version).

County of London Plan

The booklet provides a really good summary of the 1943 County of London Plan, and it is interesting that the architect Erno Goldfinger was one of the two authors of the booklet. The planned developments of housing probably aligned with Goldfinger’s view of the possibilities of new residential buildings as can be seen with those he was responsible for, such as the Balfron Tower.

The County of London Plan and the booklet used some really creative graphics to illustrate the key themes of the plan.

Many of the developments proposed within the County of London Plan would not take place. Some would still be debated decades after the plan. If you go back to the map titled period Planning, you will see at the right edge of the map, there is a road in yellow routing under the Thames. This was the original East London crossing that caused major controversy in the early 1990s when the proposed route would take the road through the ancient Oxleas Wood.

That scheme was cancelled, but it is interesting that over 40 years later, there were still plans to implement some of the recommendations of the 1943 County of London Plan.

Planning for London has always been a challenge. Never enough money, changing politics and changing public attitudes.

The Mayor of London continues to produce a London Plan, the latest March 2021 plan can be found here.

The current strategic plan is a total of 526 pages and after wading through it, it would really help if an equivalent to Carter and Goldfinger could produce a booklet explaining the key points of the plan.

I do wonder how much of the current plan will be implemented. The word “should” is used a total of 1,540 times in the document to describe a recommendation or target, rather than words such as “will” or “must”.

There are some fascinating statements in the 2021 plan, for example at paragraph 10.8.6:

“The Mayor will therefore strongly oppose any expansion of Heathrow Airport that would result in additional environmental harm or negative public health impacts. Air quality gains secured by the Mayor or noise reductions resulting from new technology must be used to improve public health, not to support expansion. The Mayor also believes that expansion at Gatwick could deliver significant benefits to London and the UK more quickly, at less cost, and with significantly fewer adverse environmental impacts.”

I always wonder how much politics is involved in these decisions. Are there fewer voters for the London Mayor under Gatwick’s flight paths than under those of Heathrow?

The 2021 plan includes proposals for major transport projects such as the Bakerloo line extension and Crossrail 2. In the section on funding the plan, there is the statement that:

“There is a significant gap between the public-sector funding required to deliver and support London’s growth, and the amount currently committed to London. In many areas of the city, major development projects are not being progressed because of the uncertainty around funding.”

The Covid pandemic has really hit Transport for London’s finances, and a long term reduction in those working five days a week in London will further reduce fare revenue. The national Government also has a focus on the so called “leveling up” agenda which may focus funding on developments outside of London.

Long term planning for a city with the complexity of London is extremely difficult. Funding, politics, the impact of external and unforeseen events all contribute to the very high risk that plans will need to change, will not be implemented, or will be implemented in different ways.

What these plans do help with though, is an understanding of the city at the time the plan was developed, challenges facing the city, and how these challenges were expected to be addressed.

As such, booklets such as that by Carter and Goldfinger really help with understanding how London has developed.

They also include some wonderful graphics and maps.

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Old Barge House Stairs

For today’s post, I am returning to one of my favourite subjects, the old stairs that lined the river and provided such an important connection between the Thames and the streets of London on both the north and south banks of the river. The stairs for today’s post are Old Barge House Stairs:

Old Barge House Stairs

In the above photo, there are some modern steps descending from the river wall, just to the left of the large OXO sign. The remains of a wood and stone causeway can be seen to the left of the base of the steps towards the river.

The causeway is all that is left of Old Barge House Stairs. The following view shows the stairs from the opposite direction to the above photo:

Old Barge House Stairs

The stairs are located on the north western corner of the Oxo building on the south bank of the river, a short distance to the west of Blackfriars Bridge. I have ringed their location in the following map. The two piers on either side are the piers from where I took the above photos (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Old Barge House Stairs

The name Old Barge House Stairs comes from their proximity to the King’s Barge House, along with accommodation for the Royal Barge Master. It was here in the time of Henry VIII that the King’s Barge was stored.

The stairs appeared on maps as early as 1720, as shown in this extract from “A Plan of the City’s of London, Westminster and Borough of Southwark”, where Old Barge House Stairs are shown in the centre of the map:

Thames Watermen at river stairs

I do like the way that the map shows the boats that were probably used by the watermen associated with the stairs, clustered around the stairs.

If you visit Old Barge House Stairs when the tide is high, you will find just the top of a modern set of metal stairs that run down from the walkway in front of the north western corner of the Oxo building. Visit at low tide, and the causeway that would have once led from the original stairs is visible:

Old Barge House Stairs

I doubt that the causeway we see today dates back to the time of the above 1720 map. These stairs and their causeways were remade several times over the centuries due to continual erosion by the river, as well their changing importance relative to other river stairs.

Old Barge House Stairs

What I find so fascinating about these river stairs is that they provide a fixed point between two very different worlds – the land and the river. They are where people moved between the two, and they provided a fixed point of reference to understand what was happening in these two very different worlds.

On the land around the stairs, they would be used as a reference to events happening near-by. This would help people find a location, or the best way to travel. For example, the following advert from the Morning Chronicle on the 5th September 1806 is the equivalent of today using an underground station as a point of reference:

“Oak Scantlings, Mahogany Plank and Boards, and Two Thousand Deals &c. By Mr Farebrother at Mr Gresham’s Wharf (late Gales) near the Old Barge-house-stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth, on Monday next at 12.”

Newspapers mainly report bad news, and the River Thames has been the scene of so many tragic events over the centuries. A quick scan of old newspapers reveals an almost daily report of accidents and deaths on the river. It was a very dangerous place, as well as the scene of tragedies such as that reported in the Morning Chronicle on the 8th April 1831:

“On Tuesday evening, about five o’clock, a middle aged French lady, elegantly attired, hired a waterman, named Oxley, belonging to Waterloo-bridge stairs, to row her to the Old Barge House stairs. On the man being about to land her, she desired to return back and proceed to Westminster-bridge. He instantly pulled round, but previous to his arriving near the bridge, he asked the lady which stairs she would like to be landed at? To which she replied the lower one. When nearing them the lady placed her muff and purse in the boat and taking a portrait out of her bosom, and her bonnet off, she precipitated herself into the river before the waterman could prevent her. By great exertion, however, he succeeded in catching hold of her after she floated through the second arch, and by prompt assistance, she was rescued from the death she meditated. She was conveyed into the Swan tap, where every attention was paid her, but she would neither give any explanation of her rash conduct, nor her name or place of residence. her friends, however, by some means, became acquainted with the circumstance and they sent a coach for her, the coachman being desired to drive to Thornhaugh-street.”

And this very sad report from the Kentish Mercury on the 16th February 1847:

“On Wednesday an inquest was held by Mr. W. Carter at the Mitre, Broadwall, Blackfriars-road, relative to the death of a newly-born male child, found under very remarkable circumstances. Mark Marten, a lighterman, deposed that he was proceeding down the river on Friday morning last, and whilst passing Raymond’s-roads on the upper side of Blackfriars-bridge, he saw a market basket floating down with the tide.

He pulled it into his boat, and rowed ashore at Old Barge House Stairs, where he opened it, and found the body of a child wrapt in a piece of flannel, and covered with meadow hay. On the top of the basket was a label, to the following effect ‘to be opened with care, from an old friend’. Witness gave the body to the police, and inadvertently destroyed the label, which in a moment of excitement, threw into a fire. Mr. E. Doubleday, surgeon, said that he had examined the body, which was that of a male child, fully developed. There was sufficient evidence of the child having breathed, but he was unable to say to what extent. The deceased from the appearance of the body, had clearly received the necessary attention at his birth.

The coroner remarked that the fact of the paper being destroyed by the first witness was an unfortunate occurrence as all chance of tracing the guilty party was lost. He left the case in the hands of the jury, who returned an open verdict of Found Dead in the River Thames.”

The above two reports cover some of the more unusual events where the stairs were involved. There were also very many more tragedies at the river in the vicinity of each of the stairs, for example in August 1880 at old Barge House Stairs, 16 year old John Thomas Glue, who drowned after simply going for a swim during his dinner hour. Ten or eleven yards from the bank, he suddenly had cramp, was swept by the tide under a barge near the steps where he drowned.

What would not have been reported in the newspapers are the thousands of people who have used these stairs, using the services of the watermen who gathered around the stairs like taxis in a taxi rank, waiting to take their fare to their destination of choice.

Old Barge House Stairs

Today, Old Barge House Stairs are found between the Oxo building and Bernie Spain Gardens. The gardens are one of the few places of grassed, open space in the immediate area as this is a very built up area.

The old ITV Studios buildings, IBM Offices and the National Theatre are found to the west. Housing, offices and streets inland. In terms of London’s development, building around Old Barge House Stairs has been relatively recent, with the majority taking place during the 19th century.

For centuries the land around Old Barge House Stairs was part of Lambeth Marsh, an area of land roughly between Lambeth and Blackfriars Bridges and inland to St George’s Circus.

In the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map of London, Old Barge House Stairs is marked in the centre of the map:

Narrow Wall and Broad Wall

The map shows that by 1746, the land along the river had been built on, however inland it was mainly fields and agriculture. The Tenter Ground was an area used for the drying of newly manufactured cloth. Frames were set up across the field and the cloth was stretched across the frame to dry. If you look on the left side of the map, there is a building marked Dye House, so it is possible that cloth dyed in this building would be dried on the Tenter Ground.

The street running from the left is called Narrow Wall. This street ran from the current location of Westminster Bridge, running along the length of the south bank. The first written mentions of Narrow Wall date back to 1443, and it seems to have been a raised causeway or walkway with the sandy foreshore to the north. The name describes its original appearance as a Narrow Wall which would have helped prevent high tides coming too far inland.

Today, Narrow Wall is better known as Belevdere Road and Upper Ground. This later street name can be seen continuing to the right of the map, with the name again describing the physical characteristics of the street, when so much of the surrounding land was low lying, marshy, and would have been regularly threatened with flooding.

A long street called Broad Wall runs south from Old Barge House Stairs for the length of the map.

The name Broad Wall again defines how this street originally formed. It was also along the line of the western boundary of an area of land known as Paris Garden. The boundary was formed by one of the branches of the River Neckinger, which also seems to have gone by the name of Widefleet.

There was a syndicated article about Paris Garden in a number of newspapers in March 1890, which mention the boundary, and how the stream eventually became a sewer which entered the Thames at Old Barge House Stairs:

“Paris Garden, known as the King’s manor as appertaining to its lord and copyholders, formerly lay in St. Saviour’s Parish, and was famed for its mill, water-courses, pastures and wild plants. In 1670 nearly all of it was taken for the new parish of Christchurch, as constituted under the will of John Marshall, who had died 40 years before. Comprising the ancient hide of Wideflete, and covering nearly 100 acres, it had been given in 1113 by one Robert Marmion to the Cluniac Monastery of Bermondsey, whence, almost fifty years later, it passed to the Knights Templar, who set up a chapelry there, and from them to the Knights Hospitaler of St. John.

In the early years of the fifteenth century it became a sanctuary for offenders. Ultimately passing to Henry VIII, it was granted as dowry for Jane Seymour. Lord Hundens and others, who got the manor from Queen Elizabeth, conveyed the land and manor house to Thomas Cure, a benefactor to the parish. The manor house has been identified with the Holland’s Leaguer, or Nob’s Island, one of the many houses of ill-fame that formerly flourished on Bankside. The moated and castellated ‘Leaguer’ which was kept by one Susan Holland, in 1630, stood south-westwards of the present Falcon drawing dock. Latterly known as Beggars Hall, it was pulled down in making the southern approach to Blackfriars Bridge; yet some authorities question the survival of the original building to that time. The Widefleet was converted into a sewer, having its outlet by Barge House-stairs.”

The outline of streams can be seen in the 1746 map, however these can be more clearly seen in the Agas map which shows London in the mid 16th century. The map does not show Old Barge House Stairs, however the land of Paris Garden is shown as the built and cultivated area in the centre of the map, with Paris Garden stairs to the right of the line of buildings along the river. In the following extract of the Agas map, I have marked the location of Old Barge House Stairs (red circle):

Paris Garden

The map does illustrate the number of streams in this part of the south bank, and running south from the future location of the stairs is a street (Broad Wall), with a stream running along the west side of the street, one of the branches of the Neckinger, or the Widefleet, which drained into the Thames at the location of the stairs.

The Neckinger / Widefleet is not visible today and does not drain into the river next to the stairs. Presumably any running water from the stream is now part of the sewer system.

The river walls here are high, protecting the low lying land from the waters of the Thames:

Old Barge House Stairs

The causeway will gradually erode over the years as the daily tides cover and roll back from the structure. It would be interesting to know if the causeway extends further towards the river wall, under the sand of the foreshore.

Old Barge House Stairs

Thames stairs are so much more than the physical remains we see today. They are a reference point between the land and river, which help tell a story of the area, and the many thousands of people who have in some way come into contact with them.

The problem with researching these posts, is finding a reference to the subject of a post which raises a whole set of new questions, which I frequently do not have time to follow up. One example concerns a potential bridge across the River Thames which would have landed at Old Barge House Stairs.

In 1862 the London Gazette reported on the incorporation of a new compnay, for the making of new bridges over the River Thames. Application was being made by the new company for a new Act that the company was intending to bring before Parliament. The Act proposed a range of new bridges, including:

  • A bridge, to be called the Tower Bridge, for horses, animals, trucks and passengers across the River Thames. Works to commence at Irongate Stairs near the Tower of London, and to terminate at Horseleydown Old Stairs.
  • A bridge, to be called St Paul’s Bridge, for horses, animals, trucks and passengers across the River Thames, commencing from the foot of St Paul’s Steam-boat Pier and terminating at Mason’s Stairs, Bankside.
  • A bridge, to be called the Temple Bridge, for horses, animals, trucks and passengers across the River Thames, commencing on the north side at a point distant 100 yards or thereabouts in a south-easterly direction from the commencement of the Temple Steam-boat Pier near Essex Street, and terminating at certain Stairs called Old Barge-house Stairs at the end of Old Barge-house Alley

As well as the above, the Act also proposed the New Chelsea and Battersea Bridge and the Wandsworth Bridge.

Tower Bridge would be built, however construction was not started for a further 24 years after the above Act.

St Paul’s Bridge continued to be a proposed solution in the early decades of the 20th century, but was never built.

As well as the 1862 Act, a Temple Bridge was proposed in the 1943, Abercrombie County of London Plan, published by the London County Council, but would also not be built.

Today, there is a short stretch of Barge House Street from Upper Ground to behind the Oxo building, and there is a stretch of Broadwall from Upper Ground to Stamford Street, so some of these old street names, and reminders of the history of the area can still be found when walking today.

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National Service, Chepstow, 1947

A bit of a different post this week. Many of my posts have featured my father’s photography, mainly London, but also some of the places he visited whilst cycling across the country in the late 1940s and early 1950s. A number of years ago, one of his friends told me that he always had his camera with him. This included his time on National Service.

The photos in today’s post are from 1947 and were taken at the Military Hospital in Chepstow, South Wales where he was stationed with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

They are the equivalent of the millions of mobile phone photos we take today. Simple photos documenting our everyday lives. I must admit to preferring this type of photo to the more carefully constructed, artistic photo, or even worse, a posed photo.

This type of photo documents what everyday life was like.

I have very few notes to go with these photos. The majority had not been printed, so after scanning, this is the first time they have been seen in 74 years. I have met just one of the people in the photos. I do not know the names of the rest. Who they were, where they came from, and what happened to them in the following 74 years.

If still alive, they would now be in their early nineties, rather than the fresh faced late teenagers in military uniform:

National Service
National Service

There was a note to the following photo which read “troop of 18 and 19 year old National Service recruits leaving for a p*** up” :

Chepstow Military Hospital

As well as the Military Hospital in Chepstow, there was also a local Army Training Centre and Chepstow Racecourse had been used to hold German Prisoners of War.

I have not yet been able to find the location of the Military Hospital. The following photo was taken from the entrance, looking into the site:

Chepstow Military Hospital

Group photo:

National Service

Today, we take millions of photos on mobile phones. These get saved on the phone, stored in Apple or Google’s cloud storage service, or used on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I suspect an incredibly small percentage get printed.

I do wonder what will happen to all these photos in the years to come. Will someone in 74 years time be able to access your photos? Will Facebook, Instagram, and even Apple and Google still exist in 74 years time. Will descendants have access to the accounts of today’s users?

The fact that Facebook may not exist may seem fanciful, however, consider the technical, cultural and social changes between 1947 and 2021, as well as how many companies have lasted those 74 years.

All these photos have been scanned from 74 year old negatives. Recovering them is basically shining a light through them using a scanner. If the source material still exists there is nearly always a method of recovering the data, although this can be incredibly difficult given format changes (for example the BBC’s 1984-6 Doomsday project which created laserdiscs of material to produce a new “survey” of the country to mark the 900 year anniversary of the original Doomsday book. A significant amount of work was needed to access the data stored on these discs, following the end of production of laserdisc players, a technology, like Betamax that only lasted for a short time).

Football:

National Service Football
National Service Football
National Service Football

There seems to have been a reasonable amount of free time, as many of the photos show:

Chepstow Military Hospital
Chepstow Military Hospital

Cleaning and maintenance work appears to have been one of the duties at the hospital for National Service recruits:

Chepstow Military Hospital
National Service

Different uniforms for nursing staff:

Chepstow Military Hospital nurse
Chepstow Military Hospital nurse

Many of the photos are just messing around in uniform:

National Service

Including attention to a casualty:

National Service
National Service
National Service
National Service

The Military Hospital appears to have had a division between medical staff and those on National Service who were there in support roles. Guarding the hospital (although I doubt there were many problems at a hospital in south Wales after the war), driving military ambulances, general maintenance of the site and administration, which seems to have been one of the core tasks.

National Service
Chepstow Military Hospital

Thoughtful staring into the distance:

National Service

Ferry in the Bristol Channel:

Bristol Channel

Apparently, cleaning the pond was a penalty for some minor misdemeanor:

Cleaning the pond
National Service

The pipe – adding an element of seriousness to the photo:

National Service

Medical staff:

Nursing Staff
National Service

Group photo with the military ambulances behind:

National Service

Out and about – Chepstow Castle:

National Service
National Service
National Service

Looking to the future:

National Service

I do know that a number of those in the photos were from London, and for the majority, apart from short trips, National Service was their first time away from the city for a substantial period of time.

If still alive, the youngest would be in their early nineties, and they would have had a life time of experience since their time in Chepstow.

The photographer and his camera – how to take a selfie in 1947:

National Service

Whilst serving at Chepstow, there were a number of local trips and so far I have written about:

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow And The River Wye

The Newport Transporter Bridge

Tintern Abbey

As well as the original negatives, these photos are now in digital form.

For all my photos and scans, I keep multiple copies on different devices at home, and use a paid for offsite backup service as the ultimate backup of several terabytes of photos and scans going back 75 years.

I have no idea whether the digital versions will still be available and viewable in 74 years time, however I suspect the negatives, safe in their boxes, will still be able to reveal their everyday view of the mid 20th Century.

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St Anne’s Soho, New River Company and Shaftesbury Avenue

St Anne’s Soho, New River Company and Shaftesbury Avenue is a bit of a mix of very different subjects, however the following photo from one of the Wonderful London books provides the connection.

New River Company Elm Pipes

The caption to the photo reads: “Elm Trunks for Conduit Pipes dug up near St Anne’s, Soho. Wooden pipes like these were used to carry water from New River Head over the Holebourne for the citizens. Trunks used for conveying the fresh water supply were of elm which of all the timbers best withstands the exigencies of heat and cold. The New River Co. had a wharf at the bottom of Dorset Street where the elm trunks were landed and bored. Shaftesbury Avenue was opened February 26, 1887, and the excavations laid these old pipes bare.”

There is much to unpack in that single caption, far more than within the scope of a single post, but I will give it a go, starting with the elm trunk in the photo.

When the New River Company started to distribute water across the city from their pond at New River Head, the only method to carry water within pipes was to use bored tree trunks. Iron pipes would not become available for the New River Company to use for well over a hundred years from when the company started operations in 1613.

The photo shows how a tree trunk was converted into use as a pipe. A hole was bored through the centre of the pipe to carry water, and one end of the trunk was shaved down to a point around the hole so that it could be pushed into the next trunk in the series, trying to form as close a seal as possible to prevent the leakage of water.

The New River Company had their main pond or reservoir at New River Head in north Clerkenwell, and their offices eventually moved to the same location, however as the caption states, they had a wharf at the bottom of Dorset Street, and their original offices were at the same location. It was here that elm trunks were delivered via the River Thames, bored and shaped ready to be used within their network of pipes.

The caption states that the wharf was at the bottom of Dorset Street. The offices, yard and wharf are marked on Horwood’s 1799 map of London, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge, circled in the following extract:

New River Company

The location of the New River offices, yard and wharf are now separated from the river by the construction of the Victoria Embankment, however I have marked their location with the red arrow in the following photo, now covered by the brick building to the left of the old City of London School.

New River Company

The area served by the New River Company was extensive, for example one of their large industrial customers was the Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane to the east of the city, and as London expanded to the west, they buried their pipes along the streets to serve the new buildings.

Serving the new west London streets did however bring problems. New River Head was located at a height of 30 metres above sea level. The original customers in the City of London were at a height ranging from 15 metres in the north of the City down to 1 or 2 metres along the river. This worked well when gravity was being used to get the water from New River Head to the City.

The west of the city was a different matter, with the area around Shaftesbury Avenue and Soho being around 22 metres in height, only an 8 metre difference to New River Head and much higher than the City.

This led to supply problems along the new streets of Soho, with a good supply in the City, and poor supply due to low pressure in west London.

The New River Company was also facing competitive pressure from other water companies, and at the end of the 17th century, they brought in Christopher Wren to evaluate their water supply system, and make recommendations for improvements.

Wren’s view was that the system was an unplanned mess, that had grown without any planning or understanding of the areas being served and how water was affected by the length and size of pipes, and the difference in height across London.

Wren could not make any individual recommendations, he compared the system to a diseased body, with the New River Company looking only at one small part of the body to try and work out a cure. Wren recommended a system wide replanning that would take much of the following century to implement.

Wren’s recommendations were also supported by the ex-clergyman John Lowthorpe, also commissioned by the New River Company to examine the system. Lowthorpe also identified that the company had no audit or understanding of their pipe network, and that a single person should be responsible for the system’s design, the role of a Chief Surveyor.

The New River Company did build an upper pond at Claremont Square, and the additional height of this new pond did overcome some of the pressure problems, but it would not be until wooden pipes were replaced with iron pipes, and steam engines were used to pump pressurised water rather than use gravity, that the supply across London would become reliable.

I have written more about New River Head and the New River Company here.

The photo of the elm pipe was taken outside the Wardour Street entrance to the church of St Anne’s, Soho. This is the same view today:

St Anne's Soho

St Anne’s, Soho was built to serve the spiritual needs of those living in the expanding Soho streets. Plans for a new church were first being discussed in the 1670s, along with the search for a suitable location. The land on which the church would be built was owned by two speculators, brewer Joseph Girle and tiler and bricklayer Richard Frith (who would give his name to Frith Street).

There is no firm evidence of the architect of the church, there are references to both Christopher Wren, and one William Talman, but it is impossible at this distance in time, and loss of documentation over the years, to be clear of their individual role.

The new church was ready for use in 1685 and was consecrated by Bishop Henry Compton in either 1685 or 1686.

The church was very badly damaged during the blitz raids of September 1940. The body of the church was completely burnt out, the tower survived, but with considerable damage.

The church was partly restored in the decades after the war, before undergoing a full restoration between 1990 and 1991. The tower survives from the pre-war church, however the rest of the building is a modern rebuild.

The tower and church of St Anne’s, Soho:

St Anne's Soho

The church in 1810 (with the inclusion of Westminster in the name as it was within the parish):

St Anne's Soho

It is always easy to get distracted by the gravestones in the churchyard of an old London church, and St Anne’s is no exception. Although these are now separated from their original graves, they tell the story of some of the characters who were buried here:

St Anne's Soho

In the above photo, the stone on the upper right is to Theodore, King of Corsica:

Theodore king of Corsica

Theodore was born in Cologne, Germany in 1694, with the full name Theodor Stephan Freiherr von Neuhoff. He had a varied career, service with both the French and Swedish armies, negotiating on behalf of the Swedish king with England and Spain, and travelling widely.

It was whilst traveling in Italy that he became involved with rebels trying to free the island of Corsica from the rule of Genoa, one of the republics that made up Italy in the 18th century.

Theodore landed in Corsica in March 1736, and was made king of the island by the inhabitants. His rule did not last long. Disagreements within the rebels, and the Republic of Genoa putting a price on his head resulted in Theodore leaving the island in November of the same year.

He lived in the Netherlands for a while before moving to London, where he tried to get support for Corsica, and his role as king. He was not successful, had many money problems and ended up in the King’s Bench debtors prison.

Released in 1755 after declaring bankrupt, and registering his Kingdom of Corsica for the use of his creditors. He died the following year in 1756, and the gravestone includes the following text:

Another gravestone on the base of the tower is that of William Hazlitt, whose grave in the churchyard is marked by a recent memorial.

William Hazlitt

Hazlitt was one of the greatest English essayist’s of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, however he lived his last years in relative obscurity, partly in a flat in Frith Street which explains why he was buried in St Anne’s.

A report in The Atlas (A General Newspaper and Journal of Literature) on the 26th September 1830 finishes with a sentence that will probably ring true with the majority of authors:

“On Thursday last the body of William Hazlitt was borne beneath our windows; till that moment we were not aware that a man of genius, a popular writer – the author of no less that able a work than the life of Napoleon, which alas closed his literary labours – and an amiable man, had been our next door neighbour for months, enduring sickness and at length dying in indigence. We boast of our national generosity, glory on the flourishing state of our literature, and thunder forth the power of the press, the palladium of our liberties; in the meanwhile ‘the spirit of life’ is allowed to burn itself out in penury and privation. Publishers sport their carriages, or fail for a hundred thousand pounds; and those by whom they become publishers die for want of a dinner.”

So that covers a brief looks at the New River Company and their elm pipes, as well as St Anne’s, Soho. The caption to the photo has the following final sentence:

Shaftesbury Avenue was opened February 26, 1887, and the excavations laid these old pipes bare.”

Which implies that the elm pipes were uncovered during the work to create Shaftesbury Avenue, so the creation of this famous West End street is what I wanted to explore next.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue is a long street that runs from New Oxford Street in the north down to Piccadilly Circus in the south. The street crosses Charing Cross Road, and it is the lower half that is probably best known as this is where the majority of the street’s theatres are located. As the street sign above confirms, Shaftesbury Avenue is in the heart of London’s theatre land.

In the following map, I have marked the route of Shaftesbury Avenue with a a red dashed line (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue cut through a series of streets and buildings that had existed from the time of London’s expansion westwards. The following map is from William Morgan’s 1682 map of London, again the red dashed line marks the future route of Shaftesbury Avenue.

Shaftesbury Avenue

During the second half of the 19th century there were a number of building schemes that carved new roads through what been been dense networks of streets and buildings. I have already written about Roseberry Avenue which was built between 1887 and 1892, and Charing Cross Road which was officially opened on the Saturday 26th February 1887.

Shaftesbury Avenue was part of the same scheme that included Charing Cross Road.

Proposals for roads improvements along the lines of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue dated back to the 1830s, when a Select Committee of the House of Commons stated that “several plans for affording greater convenience of intercourse between the southern and northern divisions of the metropolis” were considered due to increasing traffic flow and the need to provide much more direct and convenient links between locations such as the eastern end of Oxford Street, Charing Cross and Piccadilly Circus.

Nothing would come of these early proposals, and by the 1870s the situation was becoming more critical, with traffic added to by the arrival of railway stations to the north of the city and those along the river such as Charing Cross.

The Metropolitan Board of Works applied to parliament for permission to improve the streets between Oxford Street, Charing Cross and Piccadilly, and they were granted the powers to construct these streets through the Metropolitan Street Improvements Act of 1877.

Details of these improvements, along with so many others throughout London were published by the London County Council in a wonderful book published in 1898 called “History of London Street Improvements, 1855 – 1897”.

The book includes some detail on the Shaftesbury Avenue development, including the following two maps which detail the route. I have added a yellow line to highlight the route. The first map covers from Piccadilly Circus at lower left to just to the north west of Seven Dials at top right.

Shaftesbury Avenue

The following map includes a short overlap and covers the north eastern section of the street from Greek Street (top left) to New Oxford Street at lower right.

Shaftesbury Avenue

The route of Shaftesbury Avenue would take over and widen a number of existing streets and would run through a number of housing blocks.

At the southern end of the route, Shaftesbury Avenue opens out onto Piccadilly Circus which is a major junction with Regent Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street St James, and Coventry Street.

Piccadilly Circus

The view along Shaftesbury Avenue from the junction with Piccadilly Circus:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The 1877 Act imposed some difficult conditions on the Metropolitan Board of Works. Previous acts had allowed development to take place with conditions for the rehousing of the “labouring classes” who would be displaced, however the new Act stated that the Metropolitan Board of Works was “forbidden to take, without the consent of the Secretary of State, 15 or more houses occupied wholly or partially by persons of the labouring classes, until the Board had proved to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that other accommodation in suitable dwellings had been provided”.

The new street would pass through some of the most densely populated parts of London, requiring the rehousing of hundreds of people, so this was a difficult condition for the Board.

The Metropolitan Board of Works tried through the following years to get the condition regarding 15 or more houses either removed or modified, however Parliament refused to change the original Act.

Whilst the Board had been trying to get the Act changed, it had also acquired the land of the old Newport Market and had been building large blocks of working class dwellings ready for those who would be displaced by the development of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

Newport Market was an area just to the south of the route of Shaftesbury Avenue. I have ringed the location in the following extract from Reynolds’s 1847 “Splendid New Map of London”:

Newport Market

The projects to build Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue would eventually displace a total of 3,044 people, described of being of the “labouring classes”.

Starting to walk north along Shaftesbury Avenue. This stretch of the new road ran through areas of dense housing:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The Metropolitan Board of Works purchased the land for the new street. They tried to keep their purchases to a minimum as the costs were taken from the Rates.

In an example of how the ownership of land always was, and in many ways, continues to be a source of profit, without many of the associated costs, it was complained at the time that whilst the cost of improvements were recovered through the Rates, these were generally paid by the tenants of properties, not by the owner, although in developments such as Shaftesbury Avenue, the owner of land close to the new street would benefit by the increase in the value of his land due to the improvements to the area such a development would bring.

Very similar in the way that Crossrail increases the value of land around new stations.

Land purchased for the new road, often included land running along side. The Board was expected to sell excess land alongside the road to recover part of the construction costs.

Completion of Shaftesbury Avenue would result in an explosion of building along the new route, which included many of the theatres that today line the street.

Shaftesbury Avenue

In the above photo, further from the camera on the right is the Lyric Theatre (1888) and with the “Jamie” advertising is the Apollo Theatre (1901).

At the junction with Wardour Street. The church of St Anne’s, Soho is just up the street to the right.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Remarkable that as the original buildings and streets were being cleared ready for the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue that the 17th century elm pipes were being removed from the ground, and that in the 1880s these were fortunately considered important enough to photograph.

The following photo is looking north from the junction with Wardour Street, and is the stretch of Shaftesbury Avenue which was a much widened earlier King Street:

Shaftesbury Avenue

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Gerrard Place, there is a modern fire station:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The site has been a fire station from the construction of the street. In 1886, the Metropolitan Board of Works leased the land to a private fire fighting organisation, the London Salvage Corps, with the first fire station being built the following year in 1887. In 1920 the site was acquired by the London County Council as a site for the London Fire Brigade.

Looking south from outside the fire station:

Shaftesbury Avenue

Turning north, and it is here that Shaftesbury Avenue crosses Charing Cross Road, which was also being developed at the same time:

Cambridge Circus

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road is the Palace Theatre:

Palace Theatre

The Palace Theatre is a large, red brick building with a capacity for 1,400 theatre goers.

The theatre was opened in 1891 (soon after the completion of the two new streets) for Richard D’Oyly Carte who intended the theatre to be the home of English opera and on opening the theatre was known as the Royal English Opera House. The first production was Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe, however when this closed there was no follow up production and the Royal English Opera House closed.

D’Oyly sold the building and in 1911 it opened as the Palace Theatre of Varieties, commencing a theme of musical productions which have run for most of the theatre’s time. With the emphasis on musicals rather than variety productions, the theatre dropped the last part of the name to become the Palace Theatre.

Today, the Palace Theatre is hosting probably one of the biggest productions in the West End for some years, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.

Continuing north along Shaftesbury Avenue and on the corner with Mercer Street is the Soho Baptist Chapel:

Soho Baptist Chapel

Built between 1887 and 1888 (the building work along the street in the few years after completion must have been considerable). The building is now the Chinese Church in London.

Further along is the Shaftesbury Avenue Odeon:

Odeon Shaftesbury Avenue

The facade is not what you would typically associate with a cinema and gives away the building’s original function. This building was originally the Saville Theatre.

The Saville Theatre opened in 1931 and according to an introduction to the theatre in one of the early theatre programmes was “built by Messrs Gee, Walker and Slater of 32, St. James’s Street, SW1 from plans of the Architects, Messrs T.P. Bennett and Son, of 41 Bedford Row, WC1 who were also responsible for the whole colour scheme, lighting, furnishing etc.”

The exterior of the building looks much the same today as when it first opened as the Saville Theatre, apart from the canopy over the entrance and the glass blocks that now replace the wrought iron windows in the enclosed area above the canopy.

I have written a post on the Saville Theatre and the freeze that runs along the side of the building here.

Further along Shaftesbury Avenue is what was the “Hospital et Dispensaire Francais”, or the French Hospital:

French Hospital

The French Hospital was originally at 10 Leicester Place where it had been opened in 1867 by Eugene Rimmel, for “the benefit of distressed foreigners of all nations requiring medical relief”.

The hospital quickly outgrew the original site, and the land adjacent to Shaftesbury Avenue was acquired from the Metropolitan Board of Works, with the new hospital building opening in 1890. A hospital would continue on the site until 1992.

Towards the junction with St Giles High Street and High Holborn, Shaftesbury Avenue has left behind the theatres of the southern part of the street, and we find different types of shops, including a decorating / hardware store:

Leyland

Forbidden Planet:

Forbidden Planet

And Ben’s Traditional Fish and Chips:

Fish and Chips

This was also the site of the now closed Arthur Beale, ships chandler.

Looking north across the junction with St Giles High Street on the left and High Holborn on the right with Shaftesbury Avenue continuing north:

St Giles High Street

Although the majority of the street’s theatres are in the section of street between Charing Cross Road and Piccadilly Circus, there is another theatre on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and High Holborn – the Shaftesbury Theatre:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The Shaftesbury Theatre occupies a prominent corner location. Opened in 1911 it was originally called The Princes Theatre. For over a century the Shaftesbury Theatre has hosted musicals, plays and comedies and in 1968 the run of the musical Hair commenced in September, made possible by the ending of theatre censorship laws on the 26th September 1968 when after 231 years of theatre censorship, the Lord Chamberlain had his powers to censor plays removed.

Hair ran for almost 2,000 performances before it was forced to close owing to structural problems in the building that required urgent restoration work. During closure, there were attempts to redevelop the building, however it was saved as a theatre and reopened in 1974.

We are now coming into the final part of the street, where it joins New Oxford Street, however, there is a change to the original route.

in the following map, the yellow line indicates the route of Shaftesbury Avenue to New Oxford Street on the right, with the text “Termination of Street” showing where the new street would end.

Shaftesbury Avenue

The above map shows the street cutting across a stretch of street labeled Bloomsbury Street, however today, both this small section of Bloomsbury Street and the new street are called Shaftesbury Avenue as shown on the building in the corner where the two sections of the street run to left and right:

Shaftesbury Avenue

Today, the original section of Shaftesbury Avenue is mainly paved, but with a short stretch of street running along one side:

Shaftesbury Avenue

This view is from New Oxford Street looking down where Shaftesbury Avenue originally joined New Oxford Street:

Shaftesbury Avenue

And this is the view down what was the short section of Bloomsbury Street that now forms the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue with New Oxford Street.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue was completed in January 1886, and provided a new direct route from New Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus, as well as driving a considerable explosion of building that has resulted in the street we see today, a street that is at the heart of the West End theatre industry.

The street was 3,350 feet long and 60 feet wide. A subway was constructed along the length of the street for gas, water and other assorted pipes.

The gross cost of constructing Shaftesbury Avenue was £1,136,456. The net cost was £758,887 after the sale of surplus land at £377,569.

The street was named after Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, who had died in 1885, the year before the new street was completed. The Shaftesbury name was also given to the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain (probably better known as Eros), in Piccadilly Circus.

Newspapers at the time of his death were full of the philanthropic work of the Earl of Shaftesbury, and his work in Parliament to try and improve working and living conditions. One of these was the so called “Ten Hours Bill”, which although not strictly living up to its name, did look to reduce the hours of work for children.

Considering that this was considered a great improvement, the changes that the bill looked to implement were still horrendous by today’s standards.

With the exception of silk and lace mills, children under the age of nine were not to be employed in factories, while the labour of those under thirteen was to be limited to 48 hours a week, and the employers of all children were required to provide them with not less than two hours schooling a week.

So, going back to the caption at the top of the post, unpacking everything in the photo from the New River Company’s elm pipe excavated when Shaftesbury Avenue was built, and the church of St Anne’s Soho reveals a fascinating history of a small part of the West End.

It would be brilliant to think that there are still some elm pipes buried below the city’s streets just waiting to be discovered.

If you have managed to get to the end of the post, you may be interested in one of my walks. All the Barbican walks have sold out, and there are just a few tickets remaining for the Southbank walk, which can be booked here.

Swanscombe Peninsula and the London Resort – Part 2

This post continues my walk exploring the Swanscombe Peninsula. The previous post covered the section marked in red in the following map, and this post covers the route in blue, alongside Botany Marsh.

Botany Marsh

The eastern and southern sides of the Swanscombe Peninsula are more industrialised than the western side, and the noise from these sites is starting to be heard above the breeze blowing through the thick fields of grasses and reeds.

The footpath follows the eastern edge of an area known as Botany Marsh, and the wet nature of the land is very obvious, despite September having slightly less rainfall than the average for the month.

Botany Marsh

Electricity pole in the marsh:

Botany Marsh

In the following photo we can see all the infrastructure needed to carry high voltage electricity across the River Thames. On the left is the pylon on the north bank of the Thames in Thurrock, with slightly to the right, the pylon on the peninsula. These two pylons carry the cables across the Thames. In the middle is the tower catching the descending cables and from this tower cables run off across north Kent.

Botany Marsh

View to the south west across Botany Marsh. More water and the chalk cliffs which are the boundary to the south western edge of the peninsula.

Botany Marsh

The Swanscombe Peninsula has long been the site for large industrial companies that needed access to the river for transport of raw materials, and space for large processing plants. One of these companies in operation today is the Cemex Northfleet Wharf and Concrete Plant:

Cemex

The concrete plant has a wharf on the eastern edge of the peninsula where the raw materials for the manufacturer of concrete, aggregates, asphalt and mortar are landed.

Looking in the opposite direction and the peninsula is still wild and wet. Fortunately I did not need to take this footpath.

Botany Marsh

The western side of the peninsula is more open, however walking along the eastern edge of Botany Marsh, and there are some lovely stretches of footpath, with banks and tall bushes on either side. It feels like walking in the depths of the countryside rather than a site with industry, a Greenhithe housing estate and the Thames all a short distance away.

Botany Marsh

However evidence of industry along the edge is not far away, and the noise of lorries running to and from the plant now compete with the breeze through the grasses.

Cemex

This adds to the wonderful contradictions of the peninsula. look one way to see industry, look the other to see the most wonderful landscapes, with Botany Marsh really living up to its name:

Botany Marsh

The road that provides access to the industrial areas also provides access to the peninsula, with some limited parking for cars. At one of these entrances is an information panel which tells how the peninsula is managed, and the wildlife that can be seen on Botany Marsh:

Botany Marsh

Botany Marsh is subject to land management to maintain the biodiversity of the place. Without management, the land would revert to scrub and woodland. Ditches were cleared and the footpath I have been walking along during this part of the walk was created.

The information panel also explains where much of the water comes from. A system to collect water from 20,000 square metres was installed which increased the water flow into the marshes by up to 10,000 cubic metres a year. The water is run through an oil interceptor to ensure the marsh is not polluted

The rear of the panel provides information on the species of animals that can be found across the marsh, many of which have seen a severe decline in numbers over the last couple of decades. Three of the six reptiles native to Britain are found on Botany Marsh (grass snake, slow worm and vivaparous lizard).

Botany Marsh

Campaigning to save the peninsula from development has included the need to designate the area as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The uniqueness of the place, diversity of animal species, the rarity of such a variety of habitats all support an SSSI designation.

In March 2021, an existing SSSI to the south (Bakers Hole – a back filled quarry that was the site of many finds of Stone Age occupation), was extended to include most of the Swanscombe Peninsula.

Consultation on the recommendation to extend the SSSI took place between March and July and a recommendation to the Board of Natural England will be made based on the results. The Board then have until the 10th of December 2021 to either confirm or withdraw the recommendation.

The London Resort are looking at ways that this recommendation can be withdrawn or accommodated within their plans, so the outcome for both the London Resort and the Swanscombe Peninsula is not yet clear.

Map and details of the proposed SSSI are on display at all the main entrances to the peninsula:

As well as the Cemex site, another industrial company on the eastern side of the peninsula is Britannia Refined Metals, a company owned by the multinational Glencore. The company specialises in lead, zinc and tin production.

Britannia Lead

Given the current shortage of HGV drivers, and the poor facilities provided for them, the above photo provides an example. To the right of the photo was a long layby off the road for lorry parking. The blue box behind the site safety sign appeared to be their only toilet facilities.

Britannia Refined Metals was originally formed around 1930 as the Britannia Lead Co. Ltd, and their original brick building is still onsite with the name above what was probably the original main entrance to the site.

Britannia Lead

After having a looking at the industrial side of the peninsula, I walked back to Botany Marsh to continue south along the footpath.

Botany Marsh

Old building on the northern edge of the southern industrial area gradually being overgrown:

Botany Marsh

Although there are some large industrial sites along the eastern side of the peninsula, they are not that visible, apart from the very tall chimney of the Cemex works. More reeds, grasses and water of Botany Marsh.

Botany Marsh

The path I was following south, then turned towards the west, to loop back inland. I suspect it ended up at the flooded footpath shown earlier in the post, so after a lengthy detour, I turned back to access the road at the site of the Britannia factory.

Following this road south took me through an industrial estate, very similar to those that have traditionally lined the River Thames, but I did not expect to find a number of London buses:

Routemaster

This is the site of London Bus and Truck Ltd – “For All Your Bus, Coach & Commercial Vehicle Requirements” and specialists in Routemaster buses which explains the small fleet of buses in their parking area:

Routemaster

A bit of protection for pedestrians from the many HGV’s passing along the road:

Swanscombe peninsula

At the end of the road running through the industrial estate, it meets the A226, or Galley Hill Road, and I followed this busy road to head for Swanscombe station. The road runs across the bridge seen in the distance in some of the photos in today’s posts. The height of the road provides a good view across the Swanscombe Peninsula, and also shows where HS1 enters the tunnel under the peninsula to cross underneath the River Thames:

HS1

HS1 is the high speed railway running for 108km between Paris and St Pancras Station. Regular services started on the route on the 14th November 2007. The entrance on the Swanscombe Peninsula is the start of a one and a half mile tunnel under the Thames.

There are industrial sites lining the southern end of the peninsula, on either side of HS1. These industrial sites are also included in the land required by the London Resort. As development has extended east along the Thames from central London, many of these industrial estates have been closed and built over with housing. They are though a much needed part of economic infrastructure.

HS1

The view from the bridge shows what appears to be grass and bushes over the northern part of the peninsula. It is not really possible to appreciate the natural diversity of the place from this viewpoint and a walk through the site is needed.

The London Resort describe one of the benefits of their proposals as the regeneration of what is largely a brownfield site. This is true, the peninsula has been the location of both industry, the infrastructure needed to support these industries and connect them to the river, along with the dumping of waste from these industries. However just describing Swanscombe Peninsula as a brownfield site does not fully appreciate the site today. A site which has been considerably reclaimed by nature, is home to many endangered species and also retains that sense of isolation that was so prevalent across much of the land along the river to the east of London.

I also like the industrial sites that are found on the east side of the peninsula. They are there because of the river, the river that has transported so many raw materials and finished products across the centuries.

The road bridge taking Galley Hill Road over HS1. This was the exception when there was no traffic. During my walk along the road there was an almost continuous line of cars and lorries.

HS1

The River Thames is always in the background around the peninsula, with shipping moored at, and travelling past Tilbury visible:

River Thames

From the bridge we can view the chalk cliffs that line part of the south western edge of the peninsula:

Swanscombe Skull

There are a number of chalk pits on the peninsula, and the wider Swanscombe area is one of Europe’s most important Paleolithic sites (500,000 BC to 125,000 BC). Finds in the area include hand axes, and what became known as the Swanscombe Skull, which was excavated in Barnfield Pit, a short distance south of the peninsula (part of the extended SSSI). The area also includes evidence from some of the temperate periods between periods of glaciation, or ice ages.

The skull was discovered in 1935 by Alvan T. Marston, one of the many archaeologists who had been working in Swanscombe. He described the discovery as follows:

“For nearly half a century, archaeologists have known the high terrace gravels at Swanscombe, Kent, and in that time have found hundreds of thousands of the early Stone Age hand axes belonging to the Chelles-Acheulean stage, but the constant hope that skeletal remains of the makers of those implements might be found did not become fact until June 1935, when I discovered a human occipital bone 24ft below the surface in the middle gravels of the Barnfield Pit. Nine months later a second bone of the same skull was found, the left parietal, in the same seam of gravel and at the same depth below the surface. The two bones were 8 yards apart, many tons of sand and gravel having to be excavated and examined to bring the second bone to light, and this work is still going on.

Swanscombe is not homo sapiens. It is, as its geological horizon shows, a pre-Neanderthal hominid.”

The Swanscombe Skull © Natural History Museum:

Swanscombe Skull

And with that diversion, I reached Swanscombe station, ready for the train back to Waterloo East:

Swanscombe Station

This is the first time I have been to Swanscombe Peninsula. No doubt the weather helped with first impressions, however it was a fascinating walk through such an interesting area.

This is a place that is incredibly unique. Fresh water marsh to the south and salt water marsh to the north has created different environments, with a wide variety of animal species populating the peninsula.

The peninsula is also very quite, I walked through on a Friday, so it is possibly busier at the weekend, however I saw five people at most, only one close up – a jogger on the eastern side of the peninsula.

Jobs are really important and are needed in north Kent, and it is always a difficult argument, however the planned resort / theme park does seem to be in the wrong place.

It does not occupy the whole of the peninsula, however it would have a dramatic impact on the remaining land. Construction work, drainage, impact on the water table, noise and light would all have an impact on the surrounding environment and animals. Many of these animals are threatened, with, for example, Swanscombe Peninsula being one of only two known places where the jumping spider Attulus distinguendus can be found.

The development would also disrupt the movement of animals between the peninsula and the wider environment.

The board of Natural England have until the 10th of December 2021 to make a decision on the SSSI extension to the peninsula. It will be interesting to see their decision and the impact this may have on plans for the London Resort and the future of Swanscombe Peninsula.

If you get a chance to visit, a walk through Swanscombe Peninsula is a really good day out.

More information on the London Resort (which includes their planning application), the Swanscombe Marshes, and those campaigning against the development can be found at the following links:

The London Resort site is here.

The Save Swanscombe Marshes site is here

And their map with their recommended walking route is here

The Kent Wildlife Trust page on the London Resort development is here.

The Bug Life page on the Swanscombe Marshes is here.

The RSPB page on the marshes is here.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs page with the SSSI documentation is here.

The Natural England page on Swanscombe is here.

A PDF of Natural England’s supporting documentation for the SSSI, including maps, can be found here.

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