In Search Of Peckham Pubs

For today’s post, I am back in Peckham, in search of some Peckham pubs. There was a problem with the emailing out to subscribers last Sunday, so sorry if you did not receive the post on Macs Pie and Mash in Peckham. If you want to catch up, the post can be found here.

I am really grateful to some of the feedback to the post which included references to Macs Pie and Mash in a Museum of London book titled ‘Eels, Pie & Mash’, which includes the following reference to Macs: “This shop was previously a launderette until Mary and Roy Brannan took it over in 1976 and called it Simple Simon’s after the children’s nursery rhyme.”

As well as the pie and mash shop, there were a number of other photos of Peckham taken by my father in 1986, which I have not been able to identify, although one photo was easy:

Peckham Pubs, the Greyhound

This is on the Greyhound pub on Peckham High Street. The Greyhound is a corner pub and has one of the visual decorations, representative of the name of the pub, on the roof line at the corner.

There were, and still are, a number of this type of pub decorations across London. I have photographed many of them ready for a blog post, but still have a few more to visit.

After finding the location of the pie and mash shop, I walked north along Rye Lane in the direction of Peckham High Street to find the Greyhound. It was a sunny day when my father took the Peckham photos, however with the demands of a weekly blog I have to visit places when I can, and when the weather is not so good, so I was in Peckham on a grey, January day, however some of the shops in Rye Lane do a good job of adding colour to a grey, flat light:

Rye Lane

Peckham, in common with most other places in London, once had a very large number of pubs. Many of these were still hanging on in the 1980s and 1990s, but the first couple of decades of the 21st century have seen their number decline dramatically.

Local demographic changes, competition from a considerably increased range of eating and drinking places, cost pressures, etc. have all contributed to the closure of so many pubs.

When a pub closes, they are often demolished, or converted to alternative uses. Where the building remains, it leaves a reminder of the social and cultural history of these local institutions, and I found a number of these in Peckham, starting with:

The Hope, Rye Lane

Peckham Pubs, the Hope

The Hope has now been replaced by a Paddy Power betting shop. The name of the pub can still be seen at the top of the façade, along with some of the original decoration below the first floor windows.

The name of the pub, and vertical decoration between the windows of the first floor were originally the same golden colour as the decoration below the windows.

The Hope closed around 2010, when Paddy Power took over the ground floor.

I cannot find exactly how old the pub was, however I did find an intriguing reference in the Morning Advertiser on the 1st of June 1848 which may indicate the age and origins of the pub and the pub name:

“To be LET, TWO good BEER and ALE HOUSES situated on the outskirts of London, doing 20 barrels per month, besides a good rub in tea, coffee, cooked meat, &c – rents all let off, and both free – price £100, or at valuation. Satisfactory reason will be given by applying at 2, Church Lane, Whitechapel; or Mr. Hope, Greengrocer, Rye-lane, Peckham.”

Unfortunately there is no address given for the two good beer and ale houses on the outskirts of London, however the contact details are for a Mr. Hope in Rye Lane.

There is no way I can confirm this given limited research time, and perhaps I am clutching at straws, however perhaps the beer and ale houses were owned by Mr. Hope of Rye Lane, and perhaps he gave his name to one of them.

The South London Observer provided a good source of all the usual reports of happenings in a 19th and 20th century pub, and an interesting theme was the creative advertising for the Hope when a Mr. George Crump was the landlord from around 1916 to the late 1920s. Some examples:

9th December 1916: “PECKHAM’S NOTED BEER AND WINE HOUSE, THE HOPE, 66, RYE LANE. Mr. George Crump begs to inform the residents of Peckham and elsewhere that he is still supplying the best of everything in Wines, Ales etc.”

2nd of June, 1917: “IMPORTANT NOTICE – The restricted output of beer in no way effects the supply at THE HOPE, RYE LANE, PECKHAM, where Mr. George Crump is still providing the finest Mild Ale and Porter at 4d per half-pint for consumption on the premises only. Cellars always well stocked. Noted house for wines.”

George Crump also seems to have been a bit of a composer:

13th March 1926: “GET THAT SUNSHINE FEELING AND VISIT ‘THE HOPE’ RYE LANE, PECKHAM, where you can see an excellent portrait of GEORGE W. CRUMP by that talented artist Lydia Dreams of ‘Popularity’ fame. GET THAT SUNSHINE FEELING, by George Crump and Joe Archer, sung with immense success by Miss Kitty Collier.”

Lydia Dreams was an artist who had a male persona of Walter H Lambert for some of her paintings, one of which, as the above report confirms, was called “Popularity”. This was a remarkable portrait of many of the music hall artists of the early 20th century, where they are shown, crowded together at Lower Marsh and Waterloo Road.

The painting is apparently held by the Museum of London, however the site dedicated to Arthur Lloyd has a copy online here. No idea what happened to the portrait of Mr. George Crump.

His creative advertising for the Hope pub continues:

18th December 1926: “Prepare for the Festive Season. If you want a Really Merry Christmas you must not fail to have your stock of wines. Mr. Geo. Crump of THE HOPE, RYE LANE, is now offering 5,000 bottles of fine DRURO PORT from 2/9 a bottle.”

22nd December 1928: “THE HOPE, RYE LANE, PECKHAM. Truman, Hanbury and Buxton’s Sparkling Ales. Guinness and Bass always in fine condition. Wines from the Wood and in bottle, of the finest quality.

Specialty Douro port from 3/6 per bottle. Cockburn’s. Sandeman’s, Dow’s etc.”

The above advert concluded with the following wonderful rhyme:

“If you’re feeling alone and there’s no one at home, Don’t get the blues or be snappy, But stroll down the Lane in sunshine or rain, Call in The Hope and be happy.”

George Crump seems to have been the landlord of the Hope for around 18 years, as I found a report on the death of Mrs. S. Crump, who must have been his wife:

16th September 1954: “Mrs. S. Crump. A woman who had served the Peckham public house behind the bar of the Hope, Rye-lane for 18 years, died at the Beer and Wine Trade Benevolent Society Homes. Nunhead, aged 82.

Mrs. Susanna Crump, born at Bethnal Green, had spent 40 years in the district. She was very fond of cats and had pictures and ornaments of them all round her little rooms.”

“Chief mourners at Forest Hill included Mr. and Mrs. G.C. Crump of the Bricklayers Arms , Kender Street, New Cross.”

I suspect that one of the chief mourners, Mr. G.C. Crump was George and Susanna Crump’s son as he had the same first initial as the father. He is noted as being of the Bricklayers Arms in New Cross. I have found multiple family generations in the profession of landlord was common in many London pubs.

A short distance along Rye Lane is Rye Lane Chapel. Obviously not a pub, but an institution catering to the more spiritual needs of the local population:

Rye Lane Chapel

The current building dates from 1863 when it replaced the original chapel which had been demolished to make way for Rye Lane Station. The memorial stone of the original 1819 chapel was retained and is now below the pillar on the left of the entrance. The chapel was very badly damaged by bombing in 1943, but was rebuilt and reopened five years later.

Back to Peckham pubs, and at the northern end of Rye Lane, is the junction with Peckham High Street. Directly opposite is an open pub:

The Kentish Drovers

Peckham Pubs, the Kenitish Drovers

The Kentish Drovers is an old pub, but not the one in the above photo. The current location of the Kentish Drovers was originally a bank, and the pub is now a Wetherspoon’s. It was originally on the opposite side of Peckham High Street, in an area which unfortunately was covered by a very large advertising hoarding so I have no idea if any of the original pub building remains.

The earliest reference I found to the Kentish Drovers was from the Morning Chronicle on the 4th of November, 1805, when the leasehold of a cottage was being offered for sale at an auction at “Mr. Mills’s, the Kentish Drovers, Peckham.”

The description of the cottage is an interesting snapshot of Peckham at the start of the 19th century as it was a “small cottage, with garden and forecourt, pleasantly situated in the orchard.”

Peckham was still very rural at the time of the sale of the cottage, and although this was just over 50 years earlier, Rocque’s map shows that Peckham was very rural at the time:

1746 Rocque map of Peckham

I have marked Rye Lane, as in 1746 it was called South Street, presumably as it led south from the large junction at the northern end of the street, where there is an open space at the junction with Peckham High Street and Peckham Hill Street.

There were a large number of pubs around this road junction, and I have marked the location of the Greyhound, on the corner of Peckham High Street and Peckham Hill Street:

The Greyhound

Peckham Pubs, the Greyhound

it is good to see that the Greyhound still has the decoration at the top corner of the building, although today it is a rather plain black and white, unlike the colourful decoration in the 1986 photo.

I was hoping the Greyhound would be open as apparently the four bay Victorian bar back fitting remains, which includes a painting of a greyhound, and the name of the pub in gold mosaic.

I cannot find exactly how old the Greyhound is, the earliest mention being a series of adverts in 1821 for an auction, where catalogues could be collected from the Greyhound, Peckham. The pub today looks to be of later 19th century construction, and given the location of the pub at a major cross roads, I suspect there was a pub here for some years before the current building.

Pubs tend to be associated with beer drinking, but in many pubs the emphasis seems to have been on spirits.

When Mr. R. Phillips took over the Greyhound in 1904 he placed an advert in the South London Observer, where he advertised that he was a “Wine and Spirit Merchant”, and that at the pub, the residents of Peckham could purchase “Special blends of Scotch and Irish Whiskies”, and that he was an “Importer and Bonder of Foreign Wines and Liqueur Brandies”.

On the opposite side of Peckham High Street, is another pub;

The Bun House

Peckham Pubs, the Bun House

The Bun House has a large sign between the second floor windows with the name of the pub, the date, circa 1898, and the brewery name Courage.

As with the Hope pub, it is now closed (January 2012), with the ground floor being occupied by a betting shop.

The date on the building is 1898, which I assume refers to the current building. I suspect that given the location of the pub, there was an earlier version of the Bun House on the same site. Multiple references to the pub call it Ye Olde Bun House, implying that it was of some age, although perhaps this was just a bit of clever marketing.

I cannot find a source for the name. An earlier landlord for the pub was also a sweet seller, so perhaps it was down to the multiple trades that early pubs were often involved with, selling sweets, buns and alcohol, but again this is pure speculation.

As with the Hope, the Bun House had a long connection with one family, as this report from the South London Observer explains:

30th June 1960: “No more a Deveson behind the bar at Ye Olde Bun House – For 46 years, Ye Olde Bun House, Peckham High Street, has had a Deveson in charge. Next Tuesday, the family connection will be severed when the present licensee, Harry, retires from the trade. Harry, now 50, has been licensee at the Bun House, a wine and spirits house since 1930. The inn was established 62 years ago, rebuilt in 1900, and modernised just before World War II.

Mr Deveson took over in 1930 when his father retired, after being the licensee there from 1914. The Devesons have been gradually leaving the public house business – they once had four premises in South London.

Said Sam Lamb, barman at the Bun House since 1944; ‘I don’t know what I shall do when Mr. Deveson leaves. He has been a good friend’.

What will Mr. Deveson do when he leaves? First of all I’ll have a long rest’ he said ‘I am going to live in Kent so I’ll have plenty of fresh air. I shall miss the company at the Bun House.”

I think I found the report on the death of the original Deveson who retired in 1930:

8th September 1944: “The cremation took place yesterday at Honor Oak of Mr. George Ernest Deveson of East Dulwich, a former licensee of Ye Olde Bun House, Peckham High Street, for 30 years, who died on Saturday. He leaves a widow and six children.

One son, Mr. William E. Deveson is the licensee of The Hope, Rye Lane, Peckham and the Princess of Wales, Elephant and Castle, and another son, Mr. F.H. Deveson is now the landlord of Ye Olde Bun House and also of the Foresters Arms, Nunhead.”

Again, an example of both the landlord trade passing through generations, and the wider family running multiple south London pubs, including the Hope in nearby Rye Lane.

One of the first references I could find to the pub was the following report, showing typical pub entertainment in late 19th century Peckham:

24th November 1894: “HODGES’ HARMONIC SOCIETY. A concert under the auspices of Hodges’ Harmonic Society was held on Thursday evening week, at the Old Bun House, High Street, Peckham, when a good company assembled to participate in the excellent programme which has been provided.”

A short distance east along Peckham High Street was:

The Red Bull

Peckham Pubs, the Red Bull

Despite having the name Red Bull, the pub now seems to be known as Barefoot Joe’s Bar, selling cocktails and craft beers. The original Red Bull closed down some years ago and had a number of uses, including retail before opening as a bar in December 2020.

Again, I suspect the Red Bull is much earlier than the current building indicates, as a Red Bull was in Peckham High Street in 1807 when it was mentioned in an advert for a property sale as a place where details of the sale could be collected. The advert shows how at the start of the 19th century, the gardens and orchards of Peckham are starting to be built on:

“A very eligible FREEHOLD ESTATE situate on the north side of the high road from Camberwell, and nearly opposite to the Old Adam and Eve, at the entrance to Peckham; consisting of four pieces of Garden Ground, principally inclosed with brick-walls, and stocked with many standard and wall-fruit trees, a most eligible spot for building upon, having a frontage next the road of 325 feet.”

The Adam and Eve pub mentioned in the advert was to the west of the pubs covered in this post, at 14 Peckham High Street. The building is still there, although the pub has closed.

As the first decades of the 19th century passed, London would cover the fields and integrate what was the village of Peckham into the continuous built environment of south London.

One final pub in this little cluster of pubs around the junction in Peckham High Street:

The Crown

The Crown

The final pub in my initial exploration of Peckham pubs is the Crown, almost opposite the Red Bull, and the Greyhound is a very short distance to the left of the above photo, so with the Bun House and the Kentish Drovers, there were five pubs clustered around this road junction in Peckham High Street.

The size of the pubs also gives some indication that these were expected to be financially successful businesses.

Whilst the building that the Crown once occupied looks to be of the later part of the 19th century, there was a much older pub here, and a reference to the Crown dating to 1774 is the earliest of any of the references to Peckham pubs.

In September 1774, a Mr. Pittit of the Crown in Peckham wrote a letter to a number of newspapers telling of the benefits of a new elixir.

I suspect that the majority, if not all of the pubs covered in this post are much older than the buildings that remain. This was a significant junction of roads in the early village of Peckham, and would have been the obvious place for pubs, not just to serve local residents, but also for those travelling through the village.

The Crown has some interesting newspaper references, including one where the owner was fined for breaching a key wartime law:

6th December 1940: “Black-out fine at Lambeth on Saturday: Miss Rose Miller, the Crown, Peckham High Street, 15s.

As was common practice when a new landlord took over a pub, they would advertise in the local papers, always with an emphasis on the quality of their stock:

3rd August 1895: “HENRY S. ROCKE, (Late of the PRINCE ALFRED, 267, Walworth Road). Wine and Spirit Merchant, Importer and Bonder, has purchased THE CROWN, HIGH STREET PECKHAM. Only the best Articles kept on the Premises.”

And perhaps one of Henry Rocke’s business initiatives was to sell Christmas hampers, which he advertised soon after taking over the pub:

2nd October 1895: “Christmas Half-Guinea Hamper, containing bottles of Fine Brandy or Whisky, Best Gin, Jamaica Rum, Old Port, Pale Sherry, and a packet of Best Tea.”

That is six Peckham pubs. The Greyhound looks to be still open. The Kentish Drovers has moved to the opposite side of the road, the rest are closed.

There are many more pubs in Peckham, some open, many closed, but I will save them for another post later in the year. I am pleased to have found the Greyhound and to confirm that the relief at the top of the building is still there, although not so colourful.

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Macs Pie and Mash, Peckham

In the nine years I have been writing the blog, I have not really touched south London. There have been visits to Greenwich, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey and lots of posts along the south bank of the river, but nothing further inland. This is a massive omission that hopefully I can start to correct this year, starting with a visit to Peckham, where in 1986, my father photographed Macs Pie and Mash shop:

Macs Pie and Mash shop

Macs Pie and Mash was in Blenheim Grove, which leads west from Rye Lane, right next to Peckham Rye train station.

I cannot find the date when Macs Pie and Mash shop closed, however the building is still there, with the distinctive decoration of horizontal bars on the corner. The building is also undergoing some serious refurbishment.

Macs Pie and Mash shop

Before the current works on the building, the location of Macs was occupied by a hair and beauty saloon, so the closure of Macs is not recent.

As well as the closing date of Macs Pie and Mash, I cannot find out when it opened, or anything else about the business, or whether Mac was the name of the owner.

The business occupied 8 – 10 Blenheim Grove. There was a barbers in number 10 in 1959 as the South London Observer carried a report of a break-in, with £60 pounds of razors and equipment being stolen – but that seems to be the only time that the building appeared in the local newspapers

Looking at the building from across Rye Lane, and a rather large, glass paneled extension has been built on the roof.

Macs Pie and Mash shop

The planning application stated that the work will consist of “refurbishment and erection of a two storey extension to the building at 2-10 Blenheim Grove / 82 Rye Lane, to provide A1 (retail), A2 (financial and professional), A3 (restaurant / cafe), A5 (hot food takeaway), B1a (offices) and D1 (non-residential institution)”, so almost everything apart from residential, which makes sense as facing onto Rye Lane, if residential, the properties would be looking onto a 24 hour environment, with plenty of noise.

The railway and Peckham Rye station is behind the two buildings in the above photo, and between the two, there is an alley that leads to the station. After the two buildings in Blenheim Grove, we can get a view of the station, up on the top of a brick viaduct:

Peckham Rye station

With many of the arches hosting the type of business that can found in railway arches across London:

Peckham Rye station

The art deco building where Macs Pie and Mash shop was located, was built between 1935 and 1936, when a whole series of buildings around the station were constructed by Southern Railway.

Peckham Rye station was built in 1865, originally for trains of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, with trains of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway using the station from the following year.

The original station buildings were impressive. They were design by Charles Henry Driver, and were set back from Rye Lane allowing a large open space between the station entrance and Rye Lane, with the opportunity to view the whole facade of the station building, with three main floors and a large upper roof.

The station sat between two brick viaducts which carried the rail tracks and platforms either side of the station.

As well as the building in Blenheim Grove, between 1935 and 1936 Southern Railways also built on the open space between the station and Rye Lane, with a shop lined arcade providing access from Rye Lane to station. This work also included a building on the northern side of the station and rail tracks, so by the end of 1936, the old station was completely surrounded and could not really be seen from the local streets.

The station facade is therefore really difficult to photograph as there is only a small space in front of the building, with alleys running to left and right, and straight ahead through the acarde to Rye Lane.

To add to the complications of taking a photo of the station during my visit was that it was completely surrounded by scaffolding and plastic sheeting:

Peckham Rye Station

I found a photo of the station entrance taken before the scaffolding and sheeting appeared:

Peckham Rye station
Attribution: Sunil060902, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It really is a lovely building and a shame to be hidden away and invisible from Rye Lane, but hopefully that will change.

The following photo is looking from the very small station forecourt through to Rye Lane:

Macs Pie and Mash shop

There seems to be a plan to demolish the buildings and arcade in front of the station and open up the space to Rye Lane, with the space being available for market stalls and other temporary events. There does not seem to be any evidence of work underway at the moment, however within the arcade leading to Rye Lane, there is a TSB Bank on one side (still open), and the shops / cafes on the other side appear to have been closed for some time:

Macs Pie and Mash shop

There is a fruit and vegetable stall open at the end of the arcade:

Macs Pie and Mash Shop

The following photo shows the 1930s building at the end of the arcade. A similar style to the building in Blenheim Grove. According to the plan to open up Peckham Rye station, these buildings will be demolished leaving a large open space between Rye Lane and the station.

Peckham Rye Station

Two of the shops to the left of the arcade entrance:

Peckham Rye Station

The buildings between station and Rye Lane are in a very poor condition. They could be refurbished to the standard of the building in Blenheim Grove, but opening up the space to show the station as it was originally meant to be seen would be a far better alternative.

The following map shows the locations of Macs Pie and Mash shop, the station, and the buildings in front of the station shown in the above photos that are planned for demolition.

Peckham Rye Station

There is an image of what the open space and view to the station will look like when the project is complete on the Network Rail website here.

Back to Macs Pie and Mash shop. Perhaps better known as an east London establishment, in reality pie and mash shops were once common across much of London.

As can be seen in the windows of Macs Pie and Mash shop, as well as pie and mash, eels were also available.

Eels were once a common and cheap food source for Londoners. Readily available from the Thames and along the estuary, they were sold to be eaten on their own, or within a pie, although pies usually had some form of cheap meat filling and now mainly come with a minced beef filling. The “liquor” that comes with pie and mash is a form of parsley sauce with shops having their own version.

Pie and Mash shops were popular across the streets of London from the mid to late 19th century onwards.

There is still a pie and mash shop not far from the old location of Macs Pie and Mash shop. To find the shop, I walked north along Rye Lane to the junction with Peckham High Street and across the junction with Peckham Hill Street is the Eel and Pie House of M. Manze:

M. Manze Pie and Mash shop

The M.Manze shop is named after Michele Manze, the Italian founder of what grew to be a chain of five shops bearing the M. Manze name (his brothers also opened shops with the Manze surname).

Today, only three M. Manze shops survive, the one at Peckham High Street and a shop on Tower bridge Road, along with a shop in Sutton, which opened in 1998.

The shop in Peckham was almost lost when it was burnt down in 1985 during the Peckham riots. After a long legal battle, the shop finally reopened in 1990, and is still serving pie and mash to the residents of Peckham.

On the strip of negatives that include Macs Pie and Mash shop, there was also the following photo before another Peckham photo, so I know it was taken somewhere in Peckham.

Lou's Cafe Peckham

I had a walk around, trying to find the location, but without any luck.

The sign for Lou’s Cafe looks of a similar style to Macs shop, so I did hope they were close together. The car has a sticker for a radio station on 261 metres, which I think was where LBC was broadcasting at the time.

Peckham has a really distinctive character which I plan to explore more over the coming months, along with a number of other south London locations. The redevelopment around Peckham Rye station looks good, but there is always a concern that development results in a gradual loss of the people, shops and buildings that give a place its unique character.

And on the subject of redevelopment (and a completely different location) – approvals of the MSG Sphere in Stratford seem to be getting closer. The Sphere (see here for details of the Sphere) is planned to be covered in LED light panels, and the London Legacy Development Corporation have already granted permission for adverts to be shown across the building using the lighting system.

Although large, bright advertising has long been a feature of a number of London locations such as Piccadilly Circus, there seem to be more sites being built almost with advertising as the sole focus.

Although much smaller than the planned MSG Sphere, the recently opened Now Building is at the northern end of Charing Cross Road, facing one of the entrances to Tottenham Court Road underground station. The sides of the building are covered in really bright advertising:

Now Building

Advertising which you just cannot miss and which bath the surrounding area in light:

Now Building

The ground floor of the building includes some genuinely impressive light displays:

Now Building

Which attracts a constant stream of visitors:

Now Building

View looking up at the ceiling of the Now building:

Now Building

Plans for the MSG Sphere are now with the Mayor of London for approval, and it remains to be seen whether he will approve a vast dome covered in LED panels and advertising.

The displays at the Now Building are technically impressive, however it is a concern as to how much of this impossible to miss, incredibly bright advertising proliferates across London.

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Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws

Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws – two totally unconnected subjects, but there is a tentative connection to the Corn Laws not far from Mornington Crescent underground station which I will get to at the end of today’s post.

The name Mornington Crescent may bring little recognition, apart from a Camden station on the Northern Line, or the name may be instantly familiar from the BBC radio comedy “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” where it is the name of an invented game which requires the naming of a random set of locations to finally get to Mornington Crescent.

The entrance to Mornington Crescent station on Hampstead Road:

Mornington Crescent Station

Mornington Crescent station was built as part of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, and opened on the 22nd of June 1907. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs with the exterior walls covered in red oxblood faience tiles. The station is now on the Northern Line.

The station takes its name from the nearby street of the same name, a street that was once prominent, but is now hidden away behind a rather glorious 1920s factory.

The location of the station is shown by the blue circle in the following map, and the larger red circle shows the area covered in this week’s blog (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Map of Mornington Crescent

Mornington Crescent (the street, not the station) is the curved, crescent shaped street that starts to the left of the station, curves around a large grey block and then rejoins Hampstead Road. The following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows the area in the late 19th century, with Mornington Crescent then looking onto a garden, the larger part to the left of Hampstead Road and a small part to the right (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).:

Map of Mornington Crescent

The large grey block in the map of the area today, and which now occupies the area where the garden was located is the wonderful old Carreras cigarette factory, now offices:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

The Carreras brand dates from the early 19th century when the Spanish nobleman Don José Carreras Ferrer started trading cigars in London. The business expanded into other forms of tobacco such as snuff and cigarettes, and became a significant business during the late 19th century.

What really drove the brand’s expansion, and the opening of the Mornington Crescent factory was the transformation of Carreras to a public company in 1903, when a Mr. W. J. Yapp (who had taken over the company from the Carreras family) and Bernhard Baron (of Jewish descent, who was born in what is now Belarus on the Russian border, who had moved to the United States and then to London), became directors of the company.

Whilst in New York, Bernhard Baron had invented a machine that could manufacture cigarettes at a faster rate than existing machines, and in London the Carreras company was the only one that took on the new machines, other tobacco companies preferring to stay with their existing means of production, or machines over which they held monopolies.

By the start of the 1920s, Baron was Chairman of the company and wanted to create a large, modern factory, which would enhance the brand’s reputation for the purity and quality of their cigarettes, and provide a good working environment for the company’s employees.

The result was the new factory on the old gardens between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road.

Designed by the architectural practice of Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins, along with Arthur George Porri who acted as a consultant, the design of the building was inspired by the archeological finds in Egypt during the 1920s, with the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun being discovered in 1922.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

The building was one of the first (and I believe the largest at the time) building to use pre-stressed concrete, and also to be fitted with air conditioning and dust extraction equipment.

The innovative construction of the building, and the technologies used to maintain the internal environment were mentioned in all the major news reports that covered the opening of the building on the 3rd of November 1928:

“Carreras new factory at Camden Town, which was opened by Mr. Bernhard Baron, the chairman of the company, constitutes not only the largest reinforced concrete building under one roof in Great Britain, but also that rare thing – the realisation of one man’s dream.

Mr. Baron is a practical idealist. He set out to make cigarettes, he wanted them made in the best way, and in the best conditions. He wanted the people who made them to be happy in their work, it has all come true.

The opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design. Mr. Baron performed it himself, not so much as chairman of the company, but as the father of the three thousand employees who have helped him to achieve success. He said, at the luncheon, that he felt it a great honour to have opened the factory, and that he wanted his employees about him at that moment to share his pleasure. That was why he decided on a simple ceremony, a family celebration, as it were, of the culmination of one stage of his life’s work.

Carreras new building embodies all that is best in factory design. It is well lit, and well ventilated and as healthy as it is possible to make it.

Most important of all, it has been fitted with an air conditioning plant which is the only one of its kind in the British tobacco industry, and which ensures a consistently ideal atmosphere for the manufacture of the perfect cigarette. The air which enters the building is first washed clean with water. It is then adjusted to the required temperature and humidity. Outside, London may be shivering or sweltering, damp or dusty. Inside, every day is a fine day; all weather is fair weather. It is well known that the English climate is the best in the world for the manufacture of tobacco; it can now be said that Carreras climate is the best in England.

The façade of the building, which stretches five hundred and fifty feet along Hampstead Road, is something fresh in London architecture – a conventionalised copy of the Temple of Bubastis, the cat headed goddess of Ancient Egypt.”

I have read several modern references to the opening of the building which include that the Hampstead Road was covered in sand, there were chariot races and Verdi’s opera Aida was performed, however I cannot find these mentioned in any of the news reports from the time that covered the opening of the building. As seen in the above report, the “opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design“.

The opening of the factory was seen as an improvement to the area, although it had resulted in the loss of the open space between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road, as newspapers reported that “When the move to save the London squares was first begun, Mornington Crescent was cited as one of London’s losses. It had been acquired by Mr. Bernhard Baron as the site of his new factory. I doubt whether had it been saved we Londoners would have gained anything. Now when you come out of the Tube station, the eyesore of that dirty bit of green, backed by decaying Victorian basement houses is no more. Instead, there is the finest factory in London, an architectural triumph for Mr. Marcus Collins, the culmination of a life’s work for Mr. Baron and a model workplace for his 3,500 employees.”

The Mornington Crescent factory remained in operation until 1959 when Carreras merged with Rothmans, and cigarette production was moved to a factory in the new town of Basildon in Essex.

The building was sold and in 1961 it became office space, with the name of Greater London House, and all the Egyptian decoration was either removed or boxed in.

This would remain the fate of the building until the late 1990s when a new owner refurbished the building and restored the Egyptian decoration that we see today, as close as possible to the original design.

In the following photo of the main entrance to the building, two black cats can be seen on either side of the steps:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

These are not the original cats as following the closure of the factory in 1959, one was transferred to the new factory in Basildon whilst the other was shipped to a Carreras factory in Jamaica.

After walking north along Hampstead Road, through the works for HS2, the restoration of the Carerras building has retained some wonderful 1920s architecture to this part of Camden, however it has almost completely hidden Mornington Crescent, and a walk along this street is my next destination, starting from the northern end, opposite the underground station, where the Lyttleton Arms now stands:

Lyttleton Arms Camden

If you look closely at the top corner of the building, you will see the original name of the pub as the Southampton Arms. The pub was renamed the Lyttleton Arms in honour of the jazz musician and radio presenter, Humphrey Lyttleton, who was also the long running host of the radio panel game I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue from 1972 until his death in 2008, the show that included the game Mornington Crescent.

During the 1920s, the same decade that the Carerras factory was built, the Southampton Arms, as the pub was called, was one of the centres of conflicts between the gangs who tried to control race course betting, including the Clerkenwell Sabini Brothers and Camden’s George Sage.

The following report from the St. Pancras Gazette on the 6th of October 1922 illustrates one of the incidents:

“RACING MEN’S FEUDS – At Marylebone on Tuesday, Alfred White, Joseph Sabini, George West, Simon Nyberg, Paul Boffa, and Thomas Mack made their eighth appearance on the charges of shooting George Sage and Frederick Gilbert with intent to murder, at Mornington-crescent, Camden Town, on August 19, having loaded revolvers on their possession with intent to endanger life, and riotously assembling.

Helen Sage, wife of one of the prosecutors, said she was talking to her husband outside the Southampton Arms at Camden Town when several taxicabs drove up and a number of men alighted. She then heard a shot, but could not say who fired, as it was dark. The witness admitted that she told the police that West and White fired the shots, but now declared that this statement was untrue.”

Strange that Helen Sage, who was presumably the wife of the shot George Sage declared that her statement was untrue. Possibly some witness tampering or gangs not giving evidence against each other, preferring their own form of justice.

The first section of Mornington Crescent (from the north) is not part of the original, and this will become clear with the architectural style as we walk along the crescent. These later houses are smaller and less impressive than the original part of the crescent:

Mornington Crescent

And after crossing the junction with Arlington Road, we can now see the original terrace of buildings from when Mornington Crescent was laid out:

Mornington Crescent

In the middle of the above terrace there is a blue plaque, to Spencer Frederick Gore, the painter, who lived in the building between 1909 and 1912.

Mornington Crescent

Gore painted the view from his house across the gardens and the view along Mornington Crescent. The Tate have one of his paintings of the gardens online here.

The following view is of the continuation of the terrace houses along Mornington Crescent, at the junction with Mornington Place:

Mornington Crescent

Construction of Mornington Crescent started in the early 1820s and was not complete until the 1830s. It is named after Richard Colley Wellesley, the Earl of Mornington and Governor-General of India. He was also the eldest brother of the Duke of Wellington, so was from an influential family.

Mornington Place heads up to the rail tracks to and from Euston Station:

Mornington Place

The street was built around the same time as Mornington Crescent and comprises smaller three storey terrace houses, although with some interesting architectural differences:

Mornington Place

At the end of the street, we can look over the brick wall and see the rail tracks, with HS2 works continuing on the far side:

Euston railway tracks

Looking back down Mornington Place towards the old Carreras factory – originally this view would have had the gardens at the end, through which Hampstead Road would have been seen:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

Albert Street is a turning off Mornington Place, a terrace of new buildings occupies a space which on the 1894 OS map appears to have been an open space with a larger building set back from the road.

Albert Street Camden

There is a smaller brick building between the modern terrace and the large brick terrace of houses. This is Tudor Lodge:

Tudor Lodge Camden

Tudor Lodge is Grade II listed. It was built between 1843 and 1844 for the painter Charles Lucy, and believed to be to his own design. The plaque on the building though is to George Macdonald, Story Teller, who lived in the building between 1860 and 1863. An interesting building in a street of mainly 19th century terrace houses.

Rather than walk along Albert Street, I returned to Mornington Crescent and the rear of the Carreras factory, where there is a chimney:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

I have not been able to confirm whether or not the chimney is original, however rather than being the more common round chimney it seems to have the appearance of an obelisk, similar to Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment, so if original, the chimney continues the Egyptian design theme of the building.

Almost at the end of Mornington Crescent now, and the final row of terrace houses before reaching the Hampstead Road. The following photo gives an indication of the changes to the outlook of the houses when the Carreras factory was built. Rather than looking out on the gardens and across to Hampstead Road, they now had the view of the rear of the large factory.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

By the time the factory was built, many of the houses were almost 100 years old, and their condition was not that good, many were subdivided into flats. Their condition would deteriorate further during the 20th century, there was some bomb damage along the terrace in the Second World War and it has only been in the last few decades that many of the houses have been restored.

In this final terrace of Mornington Crescent there is another blue plaque, to another artist, this to Walter Sickert, recorded as a painter and etcher:

Mornington Crescent

Sickert was at the core of the Camden Town Group of artists, a short lived group of artists who gathered mainly between 1911 and 1913.

The building at the southern end of Mornington Crescent, which has a Hampstead Road address is of a much more impressive design, presumably as it was at a more prominent position. Just seen on the wall behind the tree is another plaque:

Mornington Crescent

This plaque is to the artist George Cruikshank, who lived in the building from 1850 until his death in 1878.

On the opposite side of the street to the house in the above photo is a water trough for horses. I took a photo, but was not intending to include the photo in today’s post:

Drinking Trough Mornington Crescent

Until i found the following photo in the Imperial War Museum collection showing a horse and cart of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway pausing to drink at the trough, with Mornington Crescent in the background of the photo:

Horse and cart at Mornington Crescent
VAN GIRL: HORSE AND CART DELIVERIES FOR THE LONDON, MIDLAND AND SCOTTISH RAILWAY, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1943 (D 16833) After collecting another load from the depot, Lilian Carpenter (left) and Vera Perkins pause in Mornington Crescent to allow Snowball the horse to drink from a trough. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205200501

Pleased I found the photo, but rather frustrating as if I had found it before visiting I could have taken a similar view, however it does give a good impression of Mornington Crescent in 1943.

Returning to the space opposite the underground station, we can look south and get a view of the overall size of the Carreras factory, a building that occupied the site of the gardens between the crescent and Hampstead Road.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

The space just to the north of Mornington Crescent underground station is the junction of Hampstead Road and Camden High Street, along with Crowndale Road and Eversholt Street.

To the east of the underground station at the road junction is the club / music venue Koko:

KoKo Camden

Originally the Camden Theatre when built in 1900, it then had a series of owners as both a theatre and a cinema, until 1945 when it was taken over by the BBC and used as a theatre to record radio programmes, including the Goon Show, with the very last Goon Show being recorded in the theatre on the 30th April 1972.

The BBC left in 1972, and from 1977 the building has been a live music venue, firstly as the Music Machine, then the Camden Palace and now Koko.

The building has hosted very many acts in its long history, including the Rolling Stones and the Faces, with my most recent visit to the Damned in February 2018 (and whilst researching the post I found a review of the Damned concert here).

The title of this post is Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws, and it is only now that I can get to the final part of that title. In the open space opposite the underground station is a statue:

Richard Cobden statue

The statue is of Richard Cobden and was erected in 1868. Cobden did not have any direct relationship with Camden, however it was an impressive location for a statue, and it was put up due to the residents of Camden’s appreciation of Cobden’s work in the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Richard Cobden Statue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The statue was the work of the sculptors W. and T. Willis of Euston Road, and is now Grade II listed.

I suspect if you turn right out of the entrance to Mornington Crescent underground station, you will be surprised to know that the space in front of you was compared to Trafalgar Square as one of the finest sites in London.

It always fascinates me how much history there is at almost any place in London, and Mornington Crescent is no exception. Whether the arrival of the underground, the architecture of the Carreras factory, race course gangs at the pub, historic streets, entertainment venues and radio shows and the statue of a free trade advocate – all within a short walk of Mornington Crescent.

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St Mary Islington – A Tower with a View

I will take any opportunity to view London from a high point, and just before last Christmas there was a tour of St Mary Islington, which included a climb up the tower to look at the view of London from the point where the tower meets the spire.

I could only make the late afternoon tour, however this provided a view of London after dark, which is always impressive. Hopefully I can return for a daytime tour, and if you are interested in the tour of this historic church, I have put a link at the end of the post to where I found out about these tours.

St Mary Islington is in Upper Street, and is a short walk from Angel underground station, continuing past Islington Green. As you walk along Upper Street, the spire of St Mary’s is a landmark on the right of the street:

St Mary Islington

Then the full front of the church comes into view, which is easier to see in winter when there are no leaves on the trees between church and street:

St Mary Islington

The church we see today dates from two distinct periods. The front façade of the church (except for the portico and columns), the tower and steeple date from the 18th century, however the body of church is from the mid 20th century.

The church was bombed in September 1940 when a bomb landed on the nave, which suffered substantial damage. The tower and steeple survived. The church was rebuilt in the early 1950s to a design by the architectural partnership of Seely & Paget.

The new nave of the church was built on the same outline as the original, and walls lined with tall windows to allow a large amount of natural light into the nave of the church. From the churchyard we can see the new nave and the original tower and steeple:

St Mary Islington

As with the majority of London churchyards, St Mary’s has been cleared of gravestones and has been converted to a garden. The churchyard was closed to new burials by the 1852 Burial Act which applied to churches in the metropolitan London area. As with so many London churches, St Mary’s had been taking very many burials over the centuries, and with Islington’s rapidly growing population, it was impractical to continue to use the churchyard, even without the 1852 Act.

Thirty acres of land was purchased in East Finchley for the use of St Pancras and Islington for burials.

The gardens at the rear of the church on a sunny December afternoon:

Graveyard of St Mary Islington

Looking back towards Upper Street, with the church on the right, and as with many London churchyards, when they were converted to gardens the gravestones were moved to the edge and form parallel rows along the external wall:

Graveyard of St Mary Islington

There is a named grave of a significant Islington resident next to the front of the church, just behind bus stop N on Upper Street. This is the grave of Richard Cloudesley:

Grave of Richard Cloudsley

Richard Cloudesley was born around 1470 and died in 1517. He was an Islington resident and landowner. In his will he left two “stony fields” covering an area of around 14 acres, and these became part of a charitable trust which is still in existence and today is simply known as the Cloudesley.

The fields were rented out and generated an income, however with the northwards expansion of London during the early 19th century, the land was becoming valuable for house building, so in the 1830s, the trust began selling leases to parts of the lands, and what would become the Cloudesley Estate began to be built.

Whilst much of the land and houses have been sold, the Cloudesley charitable trust still owns around 100 properties, and the income from these continues to support the aims of the trust, which includes the health needs of Islington residents, along with a grants programme which helps maintain and repair Church of England churches in Islington.

The grave in the above photo is not where Richard Cloudesley was originally buried. His body was taken from an unknown location in the churchyard, and reburied in the current position in 1812. The grave was originally more ornate than we see today, however being so close to the church it suffered from bomb damage in 1940, and in 2017 the Cloudesley charity provided funding to repair and restore the grave.

The tower of the church supports a spire – the most visible feature in the surrounding streets:

Spire of St Mary Islington

The spire has an interesting history, as in 1787, during repairs to the tower, it was decided to install a lightning conductor on the spire. Rather than construct scaffolding around the spire, the church contracted a basket maker by the name of Thomas Birch, who charged the church £20 to effectively build a wicker casing which fully enclosed the spire. Inside this wicker casing was a set of stairs that allowed workmen to reach the full height of the spire.

The spire, surrounded by its wicker case is shown in the following print from 1787 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Wicker spire of St Mary Islington

Although Thomas Birch was paid £20 by the church, he found another way of making more money and he advertised the spiral staircase as a means for the public to reach the top and see the view. Apparently charging for the climb and view raised a further £50.

What is not clear from the above print is where someone climbing the spire could have looked out through the wicker and see the view, whether they had to climb the full height and peer out over the top of the wicker, which would have been an experience not for those with a fear of heights.

The site of St Mary’s has been the site of a church for very many years.

It is in a key position. Upper Street has long been an important road from the City of London to the north, and the church is alongside this road.

There is very little evidence to confirm, however there may have been a church on the site in Anglo-Saxon times. Evidence for this seems to be mainly based on the parish of St Mary the Virgin being established in the year 628 by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

There was an 11th century church built on the site, and we were shown a stone with a zig-zag pattern in the crypt which apparently dates from the 12th century church.

The next church on the site was built in 1483, and this version of the church would last until the mid-18th century.

John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the church (circled in the following extract), at a time when Islington was still mainly rural with buildings extending along Upper Street and Lower Street (now Essex Road), gardens, and the wider countryside being fields.

Map of Islington

As well as Rocque’s map, the following print shows what the view of the church would have been at roughly the same time as Rocque’s map (although the print shows a date of 1775, the British Museum record states c. 1750) (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Mary Islington

The view is looking across Upper Street towards the church, and shows a cow and sheep being herded along the street. Islington at the time was known as a place where cows were kept with their milk being sold in the City, and Upper Street was also used as a route to Smithfield Market.

There appear to be two houses attached to the west front of the church, facing Upper Street. It is not clear when these were built , or there original purpose, however around 1710 rooms in these buildings were used to provide a school.

If the 1750 date is correct, then the church in the above print is the 1483 version of the church. By 1750 it has fallen into a poor state of repair, and an Act of Parliament was approved to demolish and rebuild the church.

Funds for the new church were gathered by a tax on local land and property owners.

The tower in the above print looks reasonably substantial and this appears to have caused a problem when attempts were made to demolish the church. The first attempt to take down the tower was by the use of gunpowder, which did not work, so a large fire was built in the foundations of the tower, which apparently worked.

A new church was built by a Lancelot Dowbiggin. He was a joiner, and may have been local as he was later buried in the churchyard. This latest version of the church did not include the portico and the colonnades, which can be seen in the second photo in the post, and when viewed from a distance do look a bit as if they have been stuck onto an earlier church. These additions were made in 1902.

It was Dowbiggin’s church that survived until the bombing in September 1940, and his tower remains to this day.

The mid 18th century rebuild of the church included a new set of bells which were cast in the 1770s. These are still in use in the church and were renovated and rehung in 2003. The walk up the tower passed the entrance to where the bells are hung, unfortunately being dark, they could not be seen.

Time to have a look inside the church, but before I walked in, I noticed the following poster adjacent to the entrance to the church:

Christmas advertising

A lovely bit of graphic design, but the reason it really caught my eye was the similarity to the design on the spine of a series of books produced from the late 1940s to the early 1950s.

This was the County Books series, a wonderful set of detailed, illustrated descriptions of English Counties published by Robert Hale Limited of Bedford Square. Each book was written by an author who knew the area.

I have the six books covering London, along with books for a couple of surrounding counties, and the following shows the spine of the book on the left and the main cover on the right. As can be seen “The County Books” graphic at the top of the spine is the same as in the poster outside St Mary’s:

The County Books

I cannot find out who designed the covers for the Robert Hales County Books, but they all have an identical cover design, with only the name of the county, the author and the picture changing from book to book.

Walking into the church, and we can see that this is not an old design, and how the large windows of Seely & Paget’s design let in a large amount of natural light, even on a late December afternoon. The following photo is looking from the entrance towards the altar:

St Mary Islington

The following photo is from near the altar looking back towards the entrance:

St Mary Islington

Due to the degree of bomb damage, there are very few original features to be seen in the church.

As well as the portico and colonnades built on the front of the church in 1902, the work also provided a new font for the church, and the original 18th century font was moved to the crypt, and it was this that saved the font in September 1940.

The 1902 font was destroyed and as part of the 1950s rebuilt of the church, the 18th century font was moved from the crypt, back up to the main church:

Marble Font

And the Arms of George III, which had been hung in St. Mary’s in 1781 were recovered from the ruins of the church, restored and returned to the new church:

Arms of George III

My first visit to the church was during the early afternoon, during daylight, as the tour was late afternoon and after dark, so I left the church for a couple of hours then returned for the tour which took in the main body of the church and the crypt, before heading up the tower, the top of which was reached by a very narrow set of steps.

The view on reaching the top of the tower was well worth the climb. This is the view looking to the City of London on the right, with the Isle of Dogs and the towers surrounding Canary Wharf on the left:

City of London and Canary Wharf

I had set-up the camera with hopefully the right settings to take photos at night, at the top of a tower with a narrow walkway and a light breeze, whilst avoiding any camera shake, and for most of the photos this seems to have worked.

A close-up view looking towards the City of London, with the Shard to the right:

City of London

And zooming into Canary Wharf and surrounding buildings, showing how large parts of the Isle of Dogs is now covered in tall towers, brightly lit at night:

Canary Wharf

Looking towards the south and west, the purple light of the London Eye can be seen on the left edge of the photo, and towards the right is the BT Tower. Upper Street is the road, and to the right of centre is the long roof of the old Agricultural Hall:

Upper Street

The following photo is looking north, with Upper Street running up towards Highbury Corner. Just to the right of the far end of the street are the blue lights of the Union Chapel. I believe the yellow lights on the horizon are those of the Emirates Stadium.

Emirates Stadium

A final look over towards the City, with one of the stone decorations on the top of the tower in the foreground:

City of London

The photos hopefully provide an impression of the view from the tower, however looking at the view from a narrow walkway at the top of the tower, with the spire disappearing into the darkness above certainly adds to the experience.

I understand that there may well be more tours in the future. They are led by Clerkenwell and Islington Guides, and I found out about the walks from their newsletter which can be subscribed to from the home page of their website, here.

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The IMAX Roundabout at the end of Waterloo Bridge

Roundabouts in cities are a problem. Whilst they are built to simplify traffic flow, they take up a large amount of space, and leave a central area for which it is difficult to find a purpose due to its isolated location.

One such roundabout is at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge, where York Road, Waterloo Road, Stamford Street and the approach to Waterloo Bridge all meet. I photographed the roundabout from the Shell Centre viewing gallery in 1980:

Roundabout at the end of Waterloo Bridge

Beneath the roundabout were a large number of pedestrianised access routes to the surrounding streets and the central space provided access between these, so you could walk between any of the surrounding streets without having to cross a road.

It was always a rather bleak space. Concrete planters were scattered around the central space, and for a time in the 1980s the GLC organised what we would now call a pop-up market at lunchtimes, hoping to attract workers from the surrounding offices, although with traffic on the surrounding roundabout, it was not that pleasant and most people headed to the Jubilee Gardens or the walkway alongside the Thames.

A rather innovative use for the central space was found in the late 1990s when the British Film Institute opened an IMAX Theatre in the centre of the roundabout:

IMAX Theatre at end of Waterloo Bridge

The IMAX is of circular design to fit the central space, and is surrounded by a glass wall which makes the building ideal for advertising and for displaying films that are being shown in the theatre. It is a very obvous landmark when approaching from any of the surrounding streets, and with the low sun of a December day, produces strange light reflections on the streets of the roundabout.

So, a very clever use of a difficult city space. One that has to overcome a number of obstacles, for example vibration and soundproofing from both the traffic on the roundabout, and the Waterloo and City line which runs just 4 metres below the theatre, which gives me an excuse to show a map of the route of the Waterloo and City line, with the location of the roundabout and IMAX marked by a red circle (Credit: The Engineer, July 26, 1895, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons):

Old map of the Waterloo and City line

The IMAX Theatre was opened in 1999 and designed by Bryan Avery Architects. I have walked past the IMAX countless times, but what got me thinking about the use of space and the problems of inner city planning and maintenance was when I was walking alongside the roundabout in late December.

Access to the IMAX is via the steps down from the surrounding streets that also provide access between the streets without having to cross at surface level.

The steps down in the following photo are on the side of the roundabout between York Road and Waterloo Road. It was the start of the Christmas school holidays and I noticed a mother and child going down the stairs, then coming up, looking around, walking to another set of stairs, then back to the one in the photo. They were going to the IMAX, but there is no obvious signage and the stairs down do not look the most inviting.

Tunnel to IMAX Theatre from Waterloo

I walked down the stairs, and met the smell that is familiar to such spaces:

Tunnel under roundabout

Tunnel under the roundabout leading to the central space and the IMAX:

Tunnel under roundabout

Once in the central space of the roundabout, we can see the curving wall of the IMAX and the extensive planting that creates a rather unique space:

Area around the IMAX Theatre

More than 2000 plants were originally planted, comprising of honeysuckle, jasmine, wisteria, clematis, ivy, Boston ivy and Japanese vine. An automated watering system was installed, which looks to have worked well as the plants now look very established and have grown up from the side walls, across supporting cables and up to the sides of the IMAX:

Area around the IMAX Theatre

There is a very tenuous link between the current centre of the roundabout, and an earlier use of the space, when it was occupied by Cuper’s Gardens, one of the many gardens and places of entertainment that were found on the south bank of the river in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.

The following map is interesting as it shows the area in 1825, eight years after Waterloo Bridge was opened. It is titled “A Plan of Cuper’s Gardens with part of the Parish of Lambeth in the year 1746 showing also the site of the Waterloo Bridge Road and the new roads adjacent”.

The map helps define the exact location of Cuper’s Gardens as the church of St. John is also shown. The large roundabout (circled) now covers part of Cuper’s Gardens at the junction with Stamford Street:

Old map of Cuper's Gardens and Waterloo Bridge

The “gardens” around the IMAX are very different today, and the whole area is rather a surreal space. The outer wall has been painted light brown, possibly to resemble the earth through which the space descends. Large, twisted trunks (which look like roots) of the presumably now over 20 years growth extend up along the walls, and the outer wall is occasionally cut through with the access tunnels to the streets above:

Tunnel leading up to Waterloo Bridge

The entrance to the IMAX Theatre:

IMAX Theatre

Looking up between the planting and the curved glass wall of the IMAX dominates the view:

IMAX Theatre

When the IMAX was opened, as well as the central space surrounding the theatre, the walkways and tunnels leading up to the streets were cleaned, restored and painted, with many of the walls being painted blue, and some lighting being set into the walls.

IMAX Theatre

You can see the effect that this was intended to create. The central space with substantial overhead plant growth, the surrounding earth coloured walls, covered in the trunks of the plants, with the walls being cut through by the blue painted walkways to the surrounding streets.

It all creates an intriguing and surreal space, appropriate for walks to the IMAX.

Service access tunnel and pedestrian walkway leading to Belvedere Road:

Tunnels under Waterloo Bridge

View up through the plants with the new tower blocks that have taken much of the old Shell Centre site:

View from IMAX Theatre

Walking up to the surrounding streets, and it is clear what was intended, and the problems that result in the walkways not being that much of an inviting route to the IMAX. The following photo shows the walkway up to the western side of Waterloo Bridge:

Access tunnel from IMAX to Waterloo Bridge

Many of the walls are covered in graffiti, including the main walkway, and the tunnels that connect the east and west walkways:

Under Waterloo Bridge

Many of these walkways and tunnels make really good subjects for photography. The blue walls, the grafitte, and the hidden destination of these tunnels adds to their mystery, however if you did not know the area, were taking children to the IMAX, and it was at night, they are not inviting, and there were very few people using them as I wandered around taking photos.

Under Waterloo bridge

Global conspiracy theories meet South Bank direction signs:

Under Waterloo Bridge

Looking back down the walkway from the western side of Waterloo Bridge:

Underground tunnel leading up to Waterloo bridge with IMAX in background

Whilst the view of the IMAX in the above photo provides an indication of the destination of the walkway and the tunnel, it does not encourage you to walk down, there should be signs above the tunnel and better lighting in the entrance to the tunnel.

One of the walkways that crosses between the west and east sides of Waterloo Bridges crosses the service tunnel:

Under Waterloo Bridge

Walkway up to the eastern side of Waterloo Bridge:

Underground tunnel leading up to Waterloo Bridge

This is the view from the eastern side of Waterloo Bridge, with the IMAX in the centre of the roundabout, and the blue painted entrance to the walkway and tunnels that lead to the IMAX:

IMAX Theatre from Waterloo Bridge

The direction post to the left of the pavement does have a direction to the IMAX with an arrow pointing straight up, the implication being to head down the tunnel rather than walk on the pavement to the right. As with the other entrances, the tunnel does not offer an inviting prospect. No signage above the point where the walkway enters the tunnel and poor lighting at the entrance to the tunnel so it looks very dark and forbidding.

The Waterloo IMAX Theatre is a brilliant use of a difficult space, as well as being a building that has some technically clever ways of avoiding sound and vibrations. For example, the first floor is mounted on oil-damped spring bearings, and the walls inside the glass outer wall are 750mm thick. During construction, pile foundations were installed around the tunnels of the Waterloo and City line. A thick concrete slab was then built on top of the pilings to support the weight of the building above.

The IMAX apparently has the largest screen of any cinema in the UK and has the equipment to support normal film format as well as IMAX Digital and 3D.

A shame that whilst the intention with the tunnels and walkways is clear, and they could have provided a creative and innovative space, what appears to have been limited maintenance and care over the years has resulted in a rather poor experience when walking to the theatre at the centre.

TfL did have plans back in 2017 to transform the area and remove the roundabout, creating a surface level pedestrianised space up to the IMAX, however these plans appear to have been paused due to “the pandemic and current funding restraints”.

Given TfL’s current funding constraints, I suspect the roundabout will be there for some years to come.

More 1980 photos from the viewing gallery of Shell Centre are in this post.

alondoninheritance.com

1723 – A London Year

During recent years the news has been coming thick and fast. Covid, Ukraine, political turmoil in this country with three Prime Ministers in a single year, inflation and the resulting cost of living crisis. Can 2023 be any better?

Based on the experience of recent years, it would be rather foolish to try and predict what will happen during the coming year, so I thought that for the first post of 2023, I would go back 300 years and look at what would happen in London during 1723. What was life like for Londoners, what could we have expected to see on the streets, what were the key events?

Using newspapers published during 1723, I have compiled a month by month review of events in the city. We will find books with titles such as “The Fifteen Plagues of Coffee and Tea“, we will discover the “Atterbury Plot”, meet “a notorious Strumpet and Procuress about Town” and also “Swangy Peggy“, look at trade in the Port of London, disease, illnesses and medical treatment, crime and punishment, how you could be imprisoned for the wrong words, and the strange sights to be seen across the city’s streets.

King George I was the monarch, Robert Walpole was the Whig Prime Minister. The artist Sir Joshua Reynolds was born in 1723, as was the Scottish economist Adam Smith who would go on to write The Wealth of Nations.

Apart from actions against Pirates in the Caribbean, the country does not seem to have been at war.

The starting point for a review of 1723 – a London year, will be:

January 1723

On January the 1st “was preached the Anniversary Sermon to the Societies for Reformation of Manners at the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow, by the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Gloucester; at which were present, the Lord Mayor, Sir Francis Forbes, Alderman, and also the Bishops of Sarum, Litchfield and Coventry, Carlisle, Peterborough and Bristol, with upwards of twenty of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the County of Middlesex and Liberty of Westminster, and a considerable number of Reverend Clergy.”

Executions were a theme of the year. They were frequent, with Tyburn being one of the main sites, as described here: “Edmund Neal and William Pincher, who were condemned last Sessions for Robbing on the Highway, were executed at Tyburn.”

Such was the number of executions, that when there was a sessions period with no convictions it was considered news: “Tis remarkable that since the last Sessions, no Person has been committed to Newgate for the Highway, or any other Capital Crime, except a Woman for the Murder of her Bastard Child.”

One person sentenced to execution even had bets placed on whether the sentence would be carried out. We will come across this person a number of times during the year: “Several considerable wagers are again laid concerning Mr. Layer, some affirming that he will have a farther Respite, others, that sentence will be executed in him the 19th instant.”

The zoo at the Tower of London claimed a victim in January: “An Apprentice to Mr. Ushall, a Taylor in Bridges Street, Covent Garden, lies ill of some wounds he received from one of the Lyons in the Tower.”

Caroline of Ansbach was the Princess of Wales as she was married to the King’s son, the future George II. They lived in Leicester House, which was on the northern edge of what is now Leicester Square, which was mentioned in this report: “Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales expecting to be brought to Bed about the latter end of this Month or the Beginning of the next, all the Servants appointed to attend her Royal Highness at that juncture, are taken into Leicester House.”

The Princess of Wales gave birth to a daughter, Mary, who would go on to marry Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. The marriage would not be a good one due to the abuse Mary suffered from Frederick. They would separate and Mary would continue to live in Germany, then Denmark.

1723 was not a good year to be heard criticising the King: “This Day, Mr. Ogden was tryed at Hicks Hall for Cursing the King, which was plainly proved, but some of the Evidence deposed that he had been very much in Drink, and that he was esteemed a Person very well affected to His Majesty, and often drank his Health. The Jury, after a short delay, brought him in guilty.”

In an article a week later it was recorded that Mr. Ogden has been “fined £50 and 3 months imprisonment”.

February 1723

Another example of why it was not a good idea to say anything bad about the King and Queen, or mention the “Pretender” (James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, who claimed the throne for the Stuart line): “This Day, Mr. Cotton, was try’d at the King’s Bench for saying. ‘The Picture of the Pretender’s Wife, was the Picture of the Queen of England’; the Evidence against him was Mr. Pears, one of the King’s Messengers. The Jury brought in not Guilty.”

February 1723 saw the founding of one of the companies that would supply water to the growing city: “His Majesty has been please to order Letters Patents to be passed under the Great Seal of Great Britain, for incorporating the Governor and Company of Chelsea Water Works, pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed last Sessions, for supplying the City and Liberty of Westminster and Parts adjacent, with Water. And the said Undertakers are preparing Machines, and beginning to erect the said Works with all Diligence and Speed.”

A strange sight in one of London’s parks: “On Tuesday last a Soldier belonging to the Third regiment of Guards, was whipped in St. James’s Park and received 300 Lashes for acting as Assistant to a Bailiff, having his Regimental Clothes on. And on Friday he underwent the same Punishment again, and was afterwards drummed out of the Regiment.”

In 1723, convicts could be sentenced for transportation, and whilst Australia is normally assumed to be the destination, convicts could also be transported to the Americas, as this report demonstrates: “Yesterday Morning 40 Felons, convict were put on board a close Lighter at Black Fryers Stairs from Newgate, in order to be transported to Maryland.”

Sir Christopher Wren died in February 1723. Coverage of his death in newspapers at the time was rather brief: “Yesterday about Noon dy’d Sir Christopher Wren, aged about 92; he was formerly Surveyor General of the King’s Works; he built St. Paul’s Church, and all the Rest of the Churches since the great Conflagration.”

Newspaper’s in 1723 published lists of new books that had just been published, under the heading of “This Day is Published”. The list for one week in February 1723 has some rather strange titles and subjects:

The London Bawd, and the Character of a Common Whore; with her subtle and various intrigues to delude innocent youth into Hellish Snares. Written by one that hath been a Sufferer, and now makes this Publick for the Benefit of Youth that go up to London, or distant from their Friends, by way of Advice. Printed for the good of the Publick, and Sold by Booksellers of London and Westminster and by the Printers. Price Bound 8d.

The Ladies Golden Key: or a Companion for Men of Sense. Written by a Person of Quality. Price 3d.

The Parson and his Maid, a Tale. To which is added, Venus enraged, a Poem. Price two pence.

The Country’s Misfortune: Or the Cuckoldy Yeoman. With several delightful Poems to put away melancholy Thoughts of honest Men. Price Three Pence.

The Fifteen Plagues of Coffee and Tea, with a Female’s Satyr on Thin Bread and Butter. Written by a young Gentlewoman, who brought the Green Sickness upon her by Drinking those dull Liquors. Price Two Pence.”

Scientific and technical advances were being made, and put on display in London: “There is a new invention of a strange kind of Machine for Ploughing of Ground. The Work is performed by one Man, and without Horses; it is rekoned an extraordinary Piece of Ingenuity, and a great Number of Artists and Persons of Quality have been to see it. It is now at the Golden Ball at Hyde Park Corner.”

March 1723

To start the month of March, a report on one of the many strange sights to be seen in London in 1723 – “Last Monday Morning, one Brittain, a Widow in Milford Lane, was married to a Brewer’s servant at the Church of St. Clement Danes, who being advised, went to the Church Door without any other Apparel on besides her bare Smock, to the great Surprise and Sport of a numerous Crowd of Spectators. It seems, by this means, she thinks herself exempted from paying any debts contracted by her former Husband. At the Church Door her intended Spouse took her in his Arms, and carrying her to an Apothecary’s House over against the said Church, new clothed her completely; after which the Nuptials were solemnized.”

There was a rather public spirited Will, where: “One Mr. Rice, a Solicitor of Furnival’s Inn, who latterly died, has bequeathed £500 toward paying the National Debts. He owes it but a Mite; but he does it to set a good example”.

There was also another example of the horrific sentences handed out: “Last Saturday Night, the Session ended at the Old Baily, when the three following Malefactors received sentence of Death, viz. William Sommerfield and Willim Bourk for the Highway, and one Frost for stealing a Horse from the Post Boy belonging to the Post Master of Sevenoak. Two were burnt in the Hand, viz one for Manslaughter, and one for Felony, and several others were ordered for Transportation.”

The Justice Hall in the Old Baily as it would have appeared in 1723 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Old Bailey in 1723

In the first months of 1723, there had been many newspaper reports regarding a Mr. Christopher Layer and Francis Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester. Both men were being held in the Tower of London following a plot in 1722 which aimed to restore the House of Stuart with “the Old Pretender” James Francis Edward Stuart, who was exiled in Rome as King.

The plot appears to have been the main political story of 1723.

The plot was exposed and Layer and the Bishop of Rochester were both held in the Tower and questioned as to their involvement and coconspirators. The plot was named the Atterbury Plot after the Bishop of Rochester, however although he seems to have played the leading role in the plot, it was Layer who suffered more.

“Layer, at his Examination before the Lords of the Council, confessed that being in Discourse with Lord Orrery, that Lord Orrery said that nothing would relieve the Nation, but a Restoration; and that he would be glad he could contribute to bring it about; that it must be done by Foreign Forces.

Lord Orrery told him, the Regent might be brought to wink at anything, but was too perfidious, that he was not to be trusted, and that the French had made a Tool of the Pretender.

Layer confirmed to the Committee upon his Examination in the Tower, that Lord Orrery declared himself constantly of Opinion, that nothing could be done to any Purpose in the Pretender’s Favour, without Foreign Forces.

The Council took under Consideration a Report, and revealed a destructive and horrid Conspiracy had been formed and carried on by Persons of Figure and Distinction, and their Agents in Conjunction with Traitors abroad, for Invading the Kingdom, with Foreign Forces and raising a Rebellion at Home; for seizing the Tower and the City of London; for laying violent Hands on his Sacred Majesty and the Prince in order to subvert our happy Establishment, by placing a Popish Pretender upon the Throne.”

The report states that in his examination, Layer tried to prevaricate and suppress the truth and conceal the conspiracy, however the examination of those involved in the Atterbury Plot did find other possible conspirators, including one John Plunket, and Parliament had the following rather ominous vote: “It was ordered in a Division, 289 against 130, that a Bill be brought in to inflict certain Pains and Penalties on the said John Plunket.

We will find out what happened to Christopher Layer in a couple of months time.

April 1723

Given that the sentence of highway robbery was usually death, there is a surprising number of these crimes reported, for example “Last night between 8 and 9 a-Clock, a Hackney Coach returning to Town from Maidenhead, having a gentleman and two gentlewomen in it, was set upon a little beyond Tyburn by two Highwaymen, who robbed them of a considerable Sum of Money, two Gold Watches, and one Silver Watch.”

As well as highway robbery, in 1723 London was a very dangerous place where fatal accidents were a common occurrence, such as this tragic example “A sad Accident happened in Gray’s Inn Lane, where a Cart passing along, was stopped by some Gentlemen, who endeavoured to kiss a Woman that was in it with a Child; but in the Struggle, the Woman’s Arm was broke, and the Child falling from the Cart was run over and killed.”

In April 1723 there was an interesting example of fire fighting techniques in use at the time: “On Monday Morning, early, a Chimney at Leicester House was observed to be on Fire, and the Wind being very high, the Flames spread and threatened farther Mischief; so that the Prince got out of Bed, and ordered some of the Soldiers on Guard to be admitted in, to fire their Pieces up the Chimney; which they did accordingly, and within ten or a dozen Discharges, removed all Apprehensions of Danger, and his Highness gave them five Guineas.”

By the standards of today, the sights to be seen in London 300 years ago were often just bizarre and awful, such as this example from Hyde Park: “Yesterday, pursuant to his Sentence, the Deserter who was condemned by a late Court Martial, was shot in Hyde Park. He was conducted from the Parade to the Place of Execution by his whole Regiment (the Second of the Guards) with the Earl of Albermarle at the Head of them, and was at once made an End of, twelve Soldiers firing upon him together.”

Rumours of trouble on the international stage has always caused problems for the London Stock Exchange, and in April 1723 there was an example, when: “Last Thursday there was a Letter from Malaga, with pretended Advices that the Marquis de Lede was marching along the Coasts with some Spanish Troops as though they had formed a Design against Gibraltar. This Stockjobbing News had the Effect that the public Stocks fell considerably.”

May 1723

In May 1723, we find out what happened to Christopher Layer:

“Yesterday, about one a Clock, Christopher Layer was executed at Tyburn, pursuant to his sentence for High-treason. The Sheriffs having demanded him of the proper Officer of the Tower, he was delivered up accordingly; his Fetters being knocked off, he was carryed under a Guard of Warders and Soldiers through the little Guard-room, over the Draw-bridge to the wharf, from whence he walked to Iron Gate, near St Katherine’s, in the County of Middlesex, where he was received by the Sheriffs Officers, and carryed upon a Sledge drawn by 5 horses, to the place of Execution, where he was attended by the Rev. Mr. Hawkins and the Rev. Mr. Berryman, who assisted him in his Devotions.

The populace on this occasion was very numerous, many Scaffolds were erected in the Way, for the Advantage of the Spectators, some of which were broke down, by which Accident many were bruised. At the Place of Execution, he behaved himself with great Composure of Mind, and seemed very unshaken, frequently affecting a Smile, nor did he appear shock’d even in the Article of Death. He had in the Cart with him some Gentleman who were his friends, to one of whom he gave a paper, and another to the Under-Sheriff.

Silence being made among the People, in Expectation of his making some Speech to the Company, he in some measure disappointed them, only saying that he had left behind him in Writing, the true Principles of his Religion, that Religion in which he died and that he hoped no Body would publish any Thing injurious to his Fame, and Reputation after he was dead, and that the good people of England might expect, but expect in vain, to see happy and flourishing Days in Great-Britain, till the fortunate Hour was come, that they saw a certain Person was brought over into the Nation amongst us.

Afterwards his Head was severed from his body, and sent to Newgate to be prepared in order to be fixed up this day at Temple-Bar, but his quarters were delivered to his Friends, who put them in a Hearse, and brought them round about Kinsington to Mr. Purdy’s, an undertaker in Stanhope-street, Clare-Market, who had them sewed together, in order to be interred in Cambridgeshire. His whole Deportment, both in his Passage and at the Place of Execution, was manly and intrepid.”

A broadsheet from 1723 showing Christopher Layer and recording his life and character (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Christopher Layer

June 1723

In June 1723 “The Anniversary of the happy Restoration of King Charles II, and the Royal Family, was celebrated here with the usual Solemnity.”

In 1711 an Act of Parliament established the “Commission for Building Fify New Churches”. This was a response to the growing population of London, and how London was expanding to areas where there were no, or very few, churches to serve the population. The Commission never achieved the total number of fifty, but in 1723 progress was being made on a couple of the churches: “The Commissioners for Building the Fifty New Churches, met on Monday last at their Office in Palace Yard, and agreed to the Proposals from Plumbers, Joyners, &c. for finishing two more of them, viz. that of St. Mary Woolnoth in Lombard Street, and that in Hanover Square. And we hear that the £20,000 in the Treasury raised for building the said Churches is to be applied to finish these two, and the two others at Deptford and in the Strand”.

St. Mary Woolnoth was not really a new church, rather a rebuilding of an existing church. The church in Hanover Square is St. George’s. The church in Deptford is St. Paul’s and in the Strand is St. Mary-le-Strand.

Coffee seems to have been a popular drink in London in 1723, however: “Tis remarkable, that there is much more Coffee sold here in Town than the Quantity fairly imported.”

Also, in London in June 1723: “We hear that an Information has been given against one Larchin, a notorious Strumpet and Procuress about Town, for decoying several Servant Maids from their Masters, in order to become Prostitutes.”

Although Christopher Lavery was executed for treason for his part in the Atterbury Plot, Francis Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester was given a more lenient sentence as he was banished from the country, and in June: “There’s Advice that on Friday morning last, the late Bishop of Rochester landed at Calais, and will set out in a few days to the Austrian Netherlands. The Opinion of some People is so hard against the Gentleman, as to think when he is in Foreign parts, will change his Religion, although he mentions in his speech before the Lords, that he had wrote and preached, from his infancy in Defence of Martin Luther, and declares with the strongest Asseveration, that he will burn at the Stake, rather than depart from any one material Point of Protestant Religion, as professed in the Church of England.”

On June 15th, the Bishop of Rochester’s possessions were sold, raising almost £5,000, which appears to have be retained by the State.

July 1723

Newspapers carried reports of the goods that were imported and exported through the London Docks. For the period of the 13th to the 25th of July, 56 ships arrived in the Port of London carry goods and the following tables lists the goods imported, and from where:

Goods imported into London in 1723

Interesting that the majority of London trade appears to have been with Europe, with Holland being a major source of imports into the country. I assume the ports to the west of the country such as Bristol and Liverpool dealt with trade to and from the Americas and the rest of the world.

I had intended to run through all these and list what many of these goods were, as some of the names are not obvious, however I ran out of time. Perhaps a subject for a future post to look at early 18th century imports and exports through the Port of London.

The Custom House in the City would have played a key part in ensuring the appropriate customs were paid on imported goods (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

The Custom House in 1723

August 1723

The “South Sea Bubble” was an event that took place in 1720 when the share price of the South Sea Company rocketed to very high levels before collapsing. This caused severe problems within London’s financial markets and caused a number of bankruptcies among the owners of shares in the company. An investigation into the collapse found that there was widespread fraud, and that many of the Directors of the company were involved in fraud. The Directors were sacked, and received heavy financial penalties, and in August 1723 it was reported that: “The several Appraisers employed by the Trustees of the Forfeited Estates of the late South-Sea-Directors, are now paid off; and we are assured that some of their Bills amounted to Five Hundred Pound each.”

However the South Sea Company was still trading, and would continue to do so for many years, as also in August 1723: “The South Sea Company’s Warehouses are at present full of our Woollen Manufacturers, to be sent on board their Assiento Ship, now fitting out at Blackwall.”

The mention of the South Sea Company’s warehouses being full of woollen products was not a one-off as woollen products were a considerable export from London. Tables in the papers of imports and exports also included a special table dedicated to woolen products, and between the 13th and 21st of August 1723, the following were exported from London:

Exported woolen goods

Whilst some of these products have recognizable names, I have no idea what many of them are, for example a Perpet or a Minikin Bay in the first two lines of exports. What is clear though is that a considerable volume of woollen products were being exported through the London docks in 1723.

The statue of Charles I, which still stands in Trafalgar Square, was, in August 1723: “The Pedestal on which stands the statue of King Charles the First on Horseback at Charing Cross is repairing and beautifying at the Expense of the Government, and will be defended for the future by a Wall, breast high, with Iron Rails upon it.”

Fallout from the Atterbury Plot was causing concern within the City of London due to the impact it had on the freedom of the individual with the suspension of Habeas Corpus and the ability of the Government to imprison the individual at will: “The detestable Conspiracy which occasions the present Suspension, having been discovered and signified to the City of London, about Five months since, and diverse imprisoned for a considerable time past, we cannot conceive it to be highly unreasonable to suppose that the danger of this plot, in the hands of a Faithful and Diligent Ministry, will continue for a Year or more yet to come; and that in to high a degree, as to require suspension of the Liberty of the Subject (for so we take it to be) during all that Time.

His Majesty having not visited his Dominions Abroad these two last years, will very probably leave the Kingdon the next Spring to that End, in which case, this Great Power of Suspecting and Imprisoning the Subject at Will, and detaining them in Prison till the 24tgh of October 1723; and for as much longer time, till they can after that take the benefit of Habeas Corpus (if they can still do it at all).

September 1723

London in 1723 was an unhealthy city. A considerable range of disease and illness stalked the densely populated streets, and death rates were high. The churchyards and crypts of the city’s churches were not pleasant places as they were frequently overcrowded with burials

Medical care was rudimentary at best, even for the wealthy, and for the poor was almost non-existent.

Childbirth was a dangerous time for women and babies, and the death rate for young children was very high.

The following table is the Bill of Mortality for the period from August 27th to September 10th, 1723 and shows the numbers and causes of death.

Bills of Mortality

Many of the causes of death are recognisable today, however there are many strange causes. I wrote a post examining Bills of Mortality and the meaning of many of these names in this post.

In the same period, there were the following casulties in addition to the above:

  • 3 – Drowned in the River Thames at St. Paul at Shadwell
  • 2 – Found dead at St. Margaret Westminster
  • 1 – Murdered at St. Olave in Southwark
  • 1 – Broken Leg
  • 6 – Overlaid

In the same period there were 735 Christenings, 1466 Burials, and the increase in burials over the previous period was 29.

October 1723

The military had a significant presence in London during 1723, probably due to the perceived threat of a Jacobite rebellion, and plots such as that by Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester. It must have been common to see soldiers on the streets, and there are many reports of soldiers getting into fights. There was a large military encampment in Hyde Park, as reported: “Yesterday the Right Honourable Earl Cadogan was present in Hyde Park and saw the Grenadiers perform an exercise of throwing Grenades. the Cavalry there decamp next Monday, but the Infantry are to hut, and the Artillery is to remain with them.”

As well as Hyde Park, temporary quarters were required across the city, and in October the following was issued, which cannot have been very popular: “On Tuesday, a Warrant was sent to the High Constable of the City and Liberty of Westminster, requiring him to order his Petty Constables to make a Return of all the Inn-keepers in the said Liberty, for the Horse Guards to quarter in their Inns.”

London seems to have been a rather tense place to be if you were not seen to be loyal to the King and Government, for example: “A gentleman of the Temple being under Apprehensions of a Visit from some of his Majesty’s Messengers, borrowed a horse of a friend for the day, under pretence of going out one Afternoon to take the Air, but has not thought fit to return since. A Brother of his, who had not to much presence of Mind, is seized with his papers.”

The various plots against the King, whether real or not, the crime of speaking out against the King and similar crimes led to a number of people being imprisoned in the Tower for Treason, and investigations would include their family, so: “We hear that the Lady of Counsellor Leare, now Prisoner for High Treason in the Tower has been seized coming from France, being ignorant of the Fate of her Husband, and having about her several Letters of great Consequence.”, and;

“On Thursday morning last, the Right Honourable Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery, one of her late Majesty’s Privy Council and Knight of the most ancient Order of the Thistle, being brought to Town in Custody, from his Seat at Brittel in Buckinghamshire, was the same Evening examined before a Committee of Lords at the Council at the Cock Pit, and ordered to be confined in his own house, with a Guard of 30 soldiers; and last Night, being examined again, his Lordship was, between 10 and 11 o’Clock, committed to the Tower, under a Guard of Centinels.”

The Tower of London as it would have appeared in 1723 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

The Tower of London in 1723

November 1723

The things you would see across the streets of London in 1723 are so very different to today, and there are plenty of examples in the newspapers of 1723, such as the following from November: “The Company of Surgeons having a Warrant for receiving the Body of one of the Malefactors that were executed on Wednesday last at Tyburn; the Mob happened to be appraised of it, and assembling together in a riotous manner, carried it off, and afterwards begged Money about the Streets, in order to give it, as they pretended, a decent Interment, but when they had finished their Collection, they flung the Body at Night over the Wall into the Savoy Church Yard. Next Day the Officers of the Parish sent to the Surgeons to know if they would have him, intending otherwise to bury him there.” This was one of three executions carried out at Tyburn on the same day.

In the early 18th century, travelers had problems with overcharging when they travelled along the river or the street, with Watermen and Coachmen using a number of tricks to overcharge. There were regulations to prevent this, and in November; “A Hackney Coachman was committed to Newgate by the Commissioners for Licensing Hackney Coaches and Chairs, till such time as he pays the Fine imposed on him for demanding more than his Fare.”

Medical care in 1723 was very basic, and many treatments were still in their infancy. Dropsy was the name given to the condition whereby excess fluid in the soft tissues of the body would cause swellings. The treatment in 1723 would be to “tap” the infected area where a metal tube was inserted into the body in an attempt to drain off the fluid. A process which could take several days, but was not that successful as shown by this report; “Last night died Sir Thomas Palmer, Bart. at his lodgings in Bow Street, Covent Garden, of the Dropsy, after he had been tapped the Day before for the same; he was member of Parliament for Rochester in Kent.”

Small Pox killed a large number of Londoners during the early 18th century, and prevention would have to wait until after 1796 when Edward Jenner discovered how to create and administer a Small Pox Vaccine. Prior to Jenner’s discovery, a method called “variolation” was used, where people who had not had the disease were exposed to material from smallpox sores from those infected. This method had limited success as this report tells: “We are informed, that the eldest son of Mr. A’Court, member of Parliament for Hatchbury, is dead of the inoculated Small Pox; but Miss Rolt, a young Lady of great Fortune, who was also inoculated is happily recovered, though with the utmost Hazard of her Life.”

Londoners were also frequently informed of the strange medical events taking place across the country. These reports probably had some grain of truth, but had been exaggerated many times, so for example, in November 1723, Londoners would read; “They write from Devizes in Wiltshire, that a Tradesman’s Wife of that place, after a Labour of 4 Days, was delivered of a Monster, which has one Body by two Breasts, an Head of an exorbitant size the Eyes distorted, two Teeth, a flat appearance of a Face in the Nape of a Neck four Arms, Hands, Legs and Feet, with 6 fingers and toes on each. But what is most remarkable is, that the side to which the Face pointed, was Male, the other Female; The Male had nails upon the fingers and Toes, which the Female had not.”

Londoners could also look up to the night sky in November 1723, and see “the Comet so much spoken of, was seen plainly on Monday Night last, notwithstanding it was the Opinion of the Persons skilled in Astronomy, it would have disappeared some Time ago.”

But be careful when looking up as you could fall victim to this type of crime; “A Woman of the Town who goes by the Name of Swangy Peggy, was last Tuesday Night committed to the Compter for picking a Gentleman’s Pocket of 50 Guineas.”

December 1723

A consequence of the Port of London being a key part of the city’s commercial activities were the many reports in newspapers covering shipping bound for London, and the frequent loss of a ship, so in December 1723 we find examples such as “The Phoenix, Captain Olding, bound from Petersburg to London was latterly lost near Yarmouth.” and: “The Fyfield, Captain Swinsen, bound from South Carolina to London was drove ashore on Wednesday last near Margate, and lost. The men were all saved, but Captain Swinsen , stepping into the boat, unfortunately fell into the sea, and was drowned.”

There were a number of charitable institutions across the wider London area that took in elderly people, however they usually had strict criteria covering who could benefit, so in December 1723, the Trustees of Sir John Morden’s College in Blackheath were “about to increase the Number of Pensioners on that Foundation: None but decayed Merchants who are 50 year of age, and Communicants in the Church of England are capable of being admitted.”

The Catholic threat to the monarchy was in the background throughout 1723. There was an expectation that Catholics would swear an oath of loyalty to the King and the country, however there were many ways to get around this, as this report explained: “We are informed that divers Papists and others, who had resolutely determined not to take the Oaths, have been personated in several of the Courts, by their Agents, who have Sworn, in the Name of the said Papists, &c recorded, as though they actually complied with the Terms of the late Act of Parliament.”

As today, foreign ambassadors were based in London, where they could interact with the Royal Court, Parliament, the City, Merchants and Financial institutions. Newspapers frequently recorded their activities and visits, and in December: “The Morocco Ambassador went to the Tower, where he was well received by the Officers, and shown the Curiosities and Rarities there, with which his Excellency was well pleased and gratified the inferior Officers that attended him.”

London continued to be a place of almost casual accident and death, such as “On Monday last, several Porters in handling a Hogshead of Tobacco on Shipboard at Wapping, unfortunately let go their Hold, and the Hogshead rolled down the stairs at waterside, into a boat, in which was a little boy, who was dashed to pieces, as was likewise the boat.” These stories are simply reported as fact, without any criticism of the conditions that enabled such an accident to happen, or a call for safety improvements.

Trials of those who supported the Jacobite cause, or who raised any actions against the King continued through the year, including in December, when the trial of the leaders of a riot in Cripplegate in July, came to the Old Bailey: “The evidence for the King deposed that on the evening of the 23rd of July, a great Mob armed with Clubs, Staves and other unlawful weapons, assembled at Cripplegate, and broke the windows of Mr. Jones, an Apothecary, and afterwards attacked the Crown Tavern and Coffee House, demolishing the windows and wounding several Persons who endeavoured to defend themselves at the House. They likewise deposed that though the Proclamation was read three Times, the Mob did not disperse, but continued in a Tumultuous Manner, crying No King George, No Hanover Proclamation, Down with the House.”

And that ends a brief run down of what life in London was like during 1723. A very different city to the one we experience today, although there are some themes which we can recognise, and the names of city locations provide a familiarity across the 300 year gap.

Whatever 2023 brings, I wish you a very Happy New Year.

alondoninheritance.com

M.R. James and a Ghost Story for Christmas

A Christmas custom for me, growing up in the 1970s, was to watch the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas. An almost annual event which usually featured one of the stories written by M.R. James.

Many of these stories followed some general themes. The main character was frequently a reserved antiquarian scholar, the plot often involved the discovery of something which would result in the arrival of a malevolent spirit, stories would often be set in the counties of Norfolk or Suffolk, a cathedral, abbey or university.

Many of these themes came from M.R. James own background.

He knew the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk very well. He was a medieval scholar, and was Provost of King’s College, Cambridge and then Eton. The term Provost is often used for the role of head of a university college or a private school.

His ghost stories appear to have originated from a custom where he would write, then read his ghost stories to friends on Christmas Eve. The first collection of his stories were published in book form in 1904 with the title “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary“.

M.R. James, or Montague Rhodes James, to give him his full name, was born on the 1st of August 1862, in the county of Kent and died on the 12th of June 1936 whilst he was Provost of Eton College.

He was buried in a small cemetery on the outskirts of Eton, so a recent trip to Windsor provided the opportunity to visit his grave, which seemed a suitable Jamesian thing to do in the weeks before Christmas.

M.R. James was buried in the grounds of the Eton Wick Chapel, a short walk from the centre of Eton.

The easiest way to get to Eton is from Windsor where there are car parks and train stations, and it is from Windsor that we started the walk.

The old road bridge between Windsor and Eton is now pedestrianised and crosses the River Thames:

Ghost Story for Christmas

View from the bridge over the River Thames, with Windsor on the south bank of the river, and Eton on the north:

River Thames at Eton

View looking back towards Windsor, with the castle towering above the town:

Eton Bridge

Eton High Street:

Eton High Street

The pedestrianised bridge from Windsor over the Thames runs into Eton High Street. This bridge and street was once an important road as it was one of the main routes for access to Windsor Castle. Follow Eton High Street northwards and it ran up to the Bath Road in Slough, the Bath Road being one of the main routes from London to the west.

Running across the High Street is a small watercourse called Barnes Pool. This flows from the Thames, through Eton, then back to the Thames, and originally turned the southern section of Eton into a small island.

The earliest recorded bridge over the stream dates from 1274, and it has been rebuilt a number of times since, including 1592 when a new bridge was commissioned by Elizabeth I who was concerned about being cut-off in Windsor in the event of a Catholic revolt.

The Barnes Bridge today:

Barnes Bridge

The stream is open water on either side of the bridge, however towards where the stream originates and then renters the Thames, the stream is contained within a culvert which gradually became silted up, and for many years there was no flow in the stream.

In the last few years there has been a campaign to open up the stream. The culvert has been cleared of silt, and Barnes Pool is now flowing through Eton between two points on the Thames:

Barnes Pool

Whilst Barnes Pool looks a very small stream of water today, before the culverts silted up, the stream could flood during periods of high rainfall, and on the brick wall next to the stream is a marker recording the heights of previous floods, with the highest recorded in 1774 when the flood almost reached the top of the wall (which obviously was not there at the time).

Barnes Bridge

St Mary’s Chapel, Eton:

Eton Chapel

M.R. James became Provost of Eton in 1918, and in the announcements of his new role, there is no mention of his ghost stories, the first of which were published in book form in 1904. He appears to have been the logical candidate for the role of Provost, as this report from the “The Mail” on Wednesday, 31st of July 1918 explains:

“Dr. Montagu James Appointed – Our Cambridge correspondent is officially informed that Dr. Montagu Rhodes James has accepted the appointment of Provost of Eton as from next Michaelmas Day. Dr. James has been Provost of King’s since 1905, and was Vice-Chancellor in 1913 and 1914.

The appointment of Dr. James has always been regarded as inevitable at Eton, where it will be universally popular. A devoted Old Etonian, and head for the past dozen years of the sister college at Cambridge, he has already been a member of the Governing Body of Eton during that period, and has latterly sometimes presided over it. The selection by the Crown of a layman marks a breach with recent practice, though it is not unprecedented. Dr. James, however, takes high rank as a theologian no less than as a brilliant scholar. Moreover, he has been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge; so that he will bring to Eton not only a tradition of sound learning, but a great experience of academic administration.”

He was installed as Provost of Eton in October 1918, with the King’s representative present (the Dean of Windsor), and the Headmaster of Eton, with speeches and addresses to the new Provost being read in Latin.

Opposite the chapel is Keates Lane, and this was the route out of Eton to find M.R. James grave:

Ghost Story for Christmas

View from Keates Lane back to the chapel, with buildings of the college on either side of the street:

Ghost Story for Christmas

Keates Lane, then bends right and becomes Eton Wick Road, and after a short walk, I came to the chapel and graveyard:

Ghost Story for Christmas

I have circled the chapel and graveyard in the following map. Windsor is to the south of the Thames, with Eton High Street running north, from the bridge over the Thames up to the centre of the town, where a left turn into Keates Lane takes you to Eton Wick Road, and then the chapel (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Eton Wick

Visiting churches, abbeys, monasteries and historic locations in general, as well as the towns and countryside of Suffolk and Norfolk appear to have been passions of M.R. James, and clearly influenced his ghost stories.

I have copies of two guide books that he wrote and which were based on his own travel and research.

The first, “Abbeys” was published in 1925, rather strangely by the Great Western Railway, Paddington Station, and although the title of the book is simply Abbeys, the focus is on the west of the country, so presumably fitted well with the Great Western Railway network.

The book includes a large map of the Great Western Railway, showing Cathedrals, Castles and Abbeys, so the book really acts as a guide for all the places you could visit by taking a train from Paddington Station.

M.R. James Great Western Railway map of abbeys

M.R. James second guide book was of Suffolk and Norfolk, and described as a “Perambulation of the two counties with notices of their history and their ancient builds”. This book was published in 1930 by J.M. Dent and Sons, so was not a guide book for a railway company.

Reading the two books it is clear where much of James inspiration for his ghost stories comes from. His descriptions of Norfolk and Suffolk align with many of his stories, for example, his story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” was set on the Suffolk coast, where a Cambridge Professor on a golfing holiday finds an old whistle while exploring the ruins of an ancient Templar building.

He then sees the outline of a person running after him on the beach, and also standing on the beach looking at his hotel room. After cleaning the whistle and blowing on it, he is troubled with bad dreams, sounds in his bedroom and the sheets on the second bed in his room being crumpled as if someone had slept in the bed.

The climax of the story comes on the second night when a figure rises in the room, and the Professor is backing towards a window, only to be saved when another guest bursts into the room.

Although I was too young to see it when first broadcast, the BBC’s 1968 version of the story with Michael Horden playing the Professor is really good and brings across the wild and open landscape of the coast, and the growing tension of the story.

Horden brilliantly portrays a probably rather reclusive, scholarly, professor. A man who is completely confident in his rational view of the world – a view that is completely shaken by the end of the story.

The 1968 version of “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” can be found on YouTube.

The book also includes drawings of a number of bench end carvings. These are the carved depictions of animals, human figures etc. which can often be found on the end of benches and pews in churches.

These featured in the story “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral”, where they appear to come alive and haunt a cleric who has murdered an aged Archdeacon at the cathedral

The 1971 BBC production of the Stalls of Barchester Cathedral as their ghost story for Christmas can be found on YouTube here.

The gate leading from the road into the graveyard and chapel:

Ghost Story for Christmas

The graveyard:

Ghost Story for Christmas

Looking back at the gate into the graveyard:

Ghost Story for Christmas

M.R. James grave is at the back of the graveyard, and similar to what could be expected in an M.R. James ghost story. It is in a rather overgrown part of the graveyard. Being December, much of the vegetation had died down, but I still had to walk through Ivy and the thorn covered stems of dead bramble growth.

In the following photo, the gravestone is the small, white stone on the right:

M.R. James grave

The gravestone of Montague Rhodes James:

M.R. James grave

The grave is surprisingly simple. The gravestone records the dates of his birth and death, the dates of his time as Provost in Cambridge and Eton, along with the following inscription:

“No longer a sojourner, but a fellow citizen with the saints, and of the household of god.”

The area around the grave is overgrown, however the gravestone is clean and in good condition, which I believe is down to a campaign some years ago to clear the grave, although nature has now reclaimed much of the space.

Fortunately I did not find a whistle sticking out from between the leaves of the ivy.

A number of newspapers carried news of the death of M.R. James, and a brief obituary:

“DEATH OF PROVOST OF ETON – Mediaeval Authority and Prolific Author. The provost of Eton, Dr. Montague Rhodes James, died at his house, The Lodge, Eton, yesterday. he was 73.

Dr. James had been in ill-health since January of this year, and in April his condition became serious, but he made a satisfactory recovery.

As recently as last Thursday, at the Fourth of June celebrations, he was wheeled round the college playing fields, where he talked to a number of old Etonians.

Immediately he died the Eton flag, bearing the arms of Henry the Sixth, founder of the College, was lowered to half-mast over Upper School.

Dr. James was one of the most erudite antiquaries and one of the most prolific authors of his age. The list of his literary works fills nearly a page of ‘Who’s Who”.

He was an authority on ancient Christian manuscripts, and no surprise was evoked when in 1930 the Order of Merit was conferred upon him in recognition of his scholarship and of his eminent contributions to mediaeval history.

Ghost Stories – These serious studies, however, did not represent the sum total of his literary activity. He found time to write ghost stories – stories which would have won him wider fans but for the great reputation which he had earned in other spheres.

It was at Eton that Dr. James was educated, proceeding afterwards to King’s College, Cambridge, where he had a distinguished career, gaining the Caius Prize in 1882, and becoming Bell Scholar in 1883, and Craven Scholar the following year.

He was Provost of King’s from 1905 to 1918, and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University from 1913 to 1915.

Among other offices he held was that of a Trustee of the British Museum. His human quality was shown by his influence on youth.

‘The best things in life are not cars, wireless, flying, dirt track, or any other racing, league matches, or the pursuit of wealth’ he once said.

‘The best things are presented by the Bible, Shakespeare, Handel and Dickens, the Elgin Marbles and Salisbury Cathedral, the open country, the sea and the stars; the knowledge that all these may be made to disclose; honest games which are played and not merely looked at.’

His recreations were patience and piequet.”

Many aspects of his life can clearly be seen in his ghost stories. His love of Norfolk and Suffolk, religious buildings, mediaeval history, the academic life and institutions such as Cambridge and Eton.

What is not clear is how similar to the rationale scholar (the lead in Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You) he was, or whether he had some belief in the supernatural, however I suspect the sentence “the knowledge that all these may be made to disclose” from his obituary hints more towards the rationale scholar.

For me, I have to thank M.R. James for some of the best programmes of Christmas TV as I was growing up, as well the published versions of his ghost stories which I have read and reread several times.

The British Film Institute have a brilliant collection of these programmes on DVD, they can be found here. They are well worth a watch during the dark winter’s evenings.

As well as M.R. James, the 1970s were a golden period for TV ghost stories, such as Charles Dickens story the Signalman with Denholm Elliot.

There were also other programmes, some of which had a bit of a moral story to them. Many of these have been on YouTube although several have now been removed due to copyright claims by the BBC.

One that is still (currently) online is The Exorcism, part of the BBC’s Dead of Night series. Broadcast in 1972 it tells the story of a couple who have moved from London and restored a derelict cottage in the Kent countryside – “still within easy distance of London”.

Another couple arrive and during the course of a dinner party, the cottage starts to take on a malevolent character, and the end of the story reflects the story of some previous occupants.

I do not beleive this is on DVD yet, but would be well worth a purchase. As well as the clothes and attitudes of the early 1970s, it also offers a view on those with money who were starting to move out of London and buying up and restoring properties in the surrounding counties. The programme can currently be found here.

Another was “The Stone Tape” which told the story of what we would now call a technology startup, who were establishing a research base in a country house, part of which included some ancient walls.

The Stone Tape has Jane Asher in the lead role, and who had a mysterious fate at the end of the programme. It was written by Nigel Kneal and in many ways builds on his earlier story for Quatermass and the Pit, where ancient memories are still retained in their surroundings and can continue to influence the present. The Stone Tape is available online as a DVD, and is currently on YouTube here.

The Ghost Story for Christmas format has been revived over recent years, with Mark Gatiss recreating a number of M.R. James stories as well as some originals.

As for me, I am on the sceptical side, although I do know a number of people who claim they have seen ghosts.

One of the most convincing, and my own Ghost Story for Christmas was when I was driving down a country lane at night. There were stories about the lane, but the person in the car with me was unaware of them. As we drove up the lane she asked me if I had seen the person in the hooded yellow anorak walking along the side of the road. I had seen nothing even though the car lights were on full and it was a narrow lane, and there was nothing to be seen in the red glow of the rear lights.

And with that, and for my last post of 2022, can I wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas, however you are celebrating (or not), and wherever you are, and thanks for reading my posts over the year.

alondoninheritance.com

Euston Station and HS2 – A 2022 Update

For the past five years, I have written an annual post on the work around Euston to create the extension to the station for HS2, recording the area from before work started to some point in the future, when the new station will be operational.

My first post was back in 2017 and covered St James Gardens, just before they were closed for excavation.

My second post in 2018 walked around the streets to the west of the station, as buildings began to close, and the extent of the works could be seen.

I then went back in 2019 as demolition started.

In 2020, demolition was well underway and St James Gardens had disappeared, and the associated archaeological excavation had finished

And in June 2021 I went back for another walk around the edge of the construction site.

It has been on my list to revisit for a 2022 update, but it always seemed a lower priority to other places, and with the end of the year approaching, I really wanted to walk the edge of the site again. After a morning in Fitzrovia in early December, the afternoon left time to visit Euston.

It was a lovely sunny, but cold, December day. Whilst the clear sky was welcome, the resulting low sun produced deep shadows which do not work very well with photographing scenes in a built area, but it was my last chance for 2022.

The size of the construction site is remarkable. In front off, and to the west of Euston Station, along Hampstead Road, up to the point where the rail tracks from Euston cross under Hampstead Road. The construction site then extends west alongside the rail tracks.

There continues to be background rumblings about the cost of HS2 and that it should be cancelled. Walking around the Euston site demonstrates what has been put into the site so far, and the sheer size. If it was cancelled what would happen to the space – another place of random towers as with Vauxhall?

The name HS2 I suspect is part of the project’s problem. Whilst it will offer a faster journey, the main benefit seems to be the extra capacity released on the existing lines by moving fast trains to the HS2 route. This extra capacity allowing services to improve to the places along the route – assuming there is the money and political will to do so.

Whilst the scale of the project at Euston is remarkable, this is only the London terminus of the route. There is a considerable amount of work along the whole of the route, and if you have driven along the M25, just north of the M40 junction, the massive work site can be glimpsed where tunneling starts on the 10 mile tunnel under the Chilterns.

Back to Euston, and the following map shows the area where work is underway, which I have outlined in red. There are two circled places which I will come to later in the post(Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Euston HS2 construction site

This year, I started in Euston Station:

Euston Station

Then headed outside to see the front of the station, here the western side:

Euston Station

And the eastern side of the station:

Euston Station

In the forecourt of the station, is a statue to one of those buried in the cemetery at St James Gardens. An area where the graves have been excavated and the gardens now part of the overall construction site. See the 2017 post for a walk through St James Gardens. The statue is of Matthew Flinders:

Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders was born in Lincolnshire on the 16th of March 1774. He joined the Royal Navy and in the early years of the 19th century he mapped much of the coast of Australia, and was the first to demonstrate that Australia was one single continent.

His chart of Australia, or Terra Australis, was published in 1814. Although the name Australia had been in use, Flinders use of the name for his chart, was the first to apply the name to the overall land mass of the country. 

He had a lengthy return to London, however after his return his health deteriorated rapidly, His life at sea had taken a considerable toll on him, and he died at the age of 40 on the 19th of July 1814.

A brief announcement of his death in the London Evening Mail gives a hint of the challenges he had faced: “On Tuesday last, Captain Matthew Flinders, of the Royal Navy, greatly lamented by his family and friends. This Gentleman’s fate has been as hard as it has been eventful. Under the direction of the Admiralty, he sailed in 1801, on a voyage of discovery to Terra Australis; where, after successfully prosecuting the purposes of his voyage, he had the misfortune to run upon a coral rock and lose his ship: out of the wreck he constructed a small vessel that carried him to Mauritius, where, shocking to relate, instead of being received with kindness, as is the practice of a civilised nation to nautical discoverers, he was put in prison by the Governor and confined for six years and a half, which brought upon him maladies that have hastened his death. Fortunately for mankind and his own name, he survived a few days for finishing of the printing of the account of his voyage.”

His account of the voyage was published on the 5th of December 1814 as two volumes and “one very large volume, folio of Charts, Headlands and Botanical subjects”.

He died in a street roughly where the BT Tower is today and was buried in the burial ground for the parish of St. James Piccadilly, which was in use between 1790 and 1853, and which became St James Gardens until becoming part of the Euston HS2 construction site.

Matthew Flinders grave was discovered during the excavations to recover the bodies buried in the gardens, and his remains are due to be reburied at St Mary and the Holy Rood church in Donington, the village of his birth.

The statue, by sculptor Mark Richards, was initially unveiled at Australia House in 2014, before being moved to the forecourt of Euston Station.

Office block at the eastern edge of the forecourt: 

Euston Station

Directly in front of Euston Station is an open space, where the Flinders statue is located. There is then a row of office blocks, under which is a bus station:

Doric Arch pub

And a pub, the Doric Arch, part of which can just be seen in the above photo, and the following photo is one I took a while ago, after dark;

Doric Arch pub

The entrance to the pub, and toilets, occupy the ground floor, with the main pub on the first floor, which is surprisingly good, given its location and modern construction in the base of an office block. Despite the appearance in the above photo, it can also get very busy.

The Doric Arch was originally called the Head of Steam, but changed name to the arch that once stood in front of Euston Station when the pub was taken over by Fullers around 2008.

The Doric Arch is still run by Fullers, and according to the pub’s website, one of the stones from the original Euston Arch after which the pub is named, is on display behind the bar. I have no idea how I have missed this, but it is a good excuse for a return visit.

The pub sign is now an image of the Euston arch:

Doric Arch pub

Buses queue to leave their stops, underneath the office block in front of Euston Station:

Euston Station bus station

In front of the office block is the London and North Western Railway War Memorial. Designed by the railways’ architect, Reginald Wynn Owen, to commemorate the railway company’s workers who died in the first world war:

Euston Station war memorial

The following photo shows the memorial in the same position, prior to the demolition of the original Euston Station and hotel:

Euston Station war memorial

Entrance to Euston Station, after removal of Doric Arch cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Ben Brooksbank – geograph.org.uk/p/2991077

On the right of the above photo is one of the gatehouses that are still on either side of the entrance to Euston Station. The gatehouse can still be seen today, although the gardens that were behind the gatehouse, running alongside Euston Road, are now fenced off and are part of the considerable area of works surrounding the station.

Euston Station

Walking to the west of the station, and this is the view along Melton Street, which is now closed off, apart from being a construction site access gate:

Melton Street

To the right of the above photo is the taxi drop off and pick up point for Euston Station:

Euston Station taxi rank

There is still a walking route to the west of the station, along Melton Street, however this is lined by hoardings on either side:

Euston Station

The western walking route into the station:

Euston Station

Continuing on along Melton Street, with the station on the right:

Euston Station

Another construction access gate:

Euston underground station

Where on the corner of what was Melton Street and Drummond Street is the original Euston station of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs, and whilst all the buildings surrounding the station have been demolished, it still survives, probably due to all the infrastructure within and below the station (I visited the tunnels below in this post):

Euston underground station

From alongside the station, we can look down what was Cardington Street. It was along here on the left that St James Gardens were located:

Cardington Street

To exit the overall Euston site, the walker heads west through a corridor lined with hoardings (a theme of the entire site), towards Drummond Street:

Drummond Street

Looking back, and the route is signposted to Euston Station:

Euston Station

A glimpse between the hoardings shows the size of the construction site running north from Euston Station:

HS2 construction site

This is the view to what was the corner of Cobourg Street and Euston Street. The Bree Louise pub was just on the left of the photo:

Cobourg Street

Looking north along Cobourg Street which is now fenced off, apart from the footpath to the left:

Cobourg Street

At the end of Cobourg Street is another gate to the main construction site:

HS2 construction site

And on the corner of Cobourg Street and Starcross Street, the Exmouth Arms is still there, and still open (small circle in the map at the start of the post):

Exmouth Arms

Just behind, and to the west of the Exmouth Arms is a new building:

HS2 construction site

At the end of Starcross Street are these school buildings (large circle in the map at the start of the post):

 Maria Fidelis School

The buildings were home to the Maria Fidelis School.

To free up the school site, HS2 have built a new school between Drummond Crescent and Phoenix Road, and the site in Starcross Street is now closed.

HS2’s plans for the school, also reveal the use of the new building between the school and the Exmouth Arms. From the HS2 website, the school and new building will “include welfare accommodation for HS2 site and management staff, and a Construction Skills Centre, including training rooms, workshops and interview rooms”.

The following view is the best I could get of the front of the old Maria Fidelis School, which shows a typical early 20th century brick school, with central curved section, and the playground area on the roof which is surrounded by metal fencing:

 Maria Fidelis School

We have now reached the Hampstead Road, and the following view is looking north. Hoardings continue to screen off the construction site, and as well as the standard information panels, they are covered in site and health and safety information:

Hampstead Road

Looking down what was the northern end of Cardington Street, where it joined Hampstead Road:

HS2 construction site

Where to the right of the above photo there is a large temporary office complex:

HS2 construction site

Looking north from the old junction with Cardington Street, and construction works continue on both sides of the street. To give an idea of how far these works run, Mornington Crescent underground station is not that far after the tower blocks in the photo:

Hampstead Road

This is looking across Hampstead Road to where construction continues heading west, parallel to the existing railway tracks that run into and out off Euston Station.

Hampstead Road

Where there is another access gate:

Hampstead Road

The photo above and the photo below give an indication of the scale of HS2 construction works around Euston. In the above photo, work s continue for some distance from Hampstead Road west, parallel to the existing rail tracks.

At some point, a new bridge will be needed to take Hampstead Road across the extra railway tracks into Euston Station.

The works heading west of Hampstead Road in the above photos lead to the wonderfully named “Euston Cavern”, which is described in the HS2 Euston Approaches FAQ as “a very large, underground structure at the Parkway end of the worksite, to enable one tunnel to split into two, so that trains can access the tunnels from the necessary range of platforms at Euston”. This tunnel takes the tracks away from Euston and heads towards a new station at Old Oak Common.

In the photo below, I am looking south along Hampstead Road, with the hoardings fencing off the construction site disappearing into the distance. Although it cannot be seen, Euston Station is to the left, some considerable distance across the construction site.

Hampstead Road

The HS2 construction works around Euston are considerable, and construction on the line is continuing all the way to Birmingham.

My last walk round the site was in June 2021, eighteen months ago. From alongside the construction site, not too much appears to have changed. The fenced off area has expanded slightly, but looking in from the outside, it is still a massive ground level construction site.

According to the HS2 website, phase one of the route from Euston to Birmingham is scheduled to open between 2029 and 2033 – it will be fascinating to have watched the site evolve from the original streets, gardens and pubs to the latest iteration of Euston Station.

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Boundary Markers in the City of London

I have written a few posts about the blue plaques that can be found across the City of London, and for today’s post I would like to illustrate another feature that can be found across the City’s streets.

Wards are still a part of the way the City of London is organised, and in previous centuries, the division of the City into Parishes was also a key feature, and the City Livery Company’s also owned various properties, as they still do.

There was a need to mark these boundaries and ownership of property. Boundaries also needed to be regularly reaffirmed to maintain the boundary, and this needed to be done in a way that was obvious to those who walked and lived in London’s streets, with a clear record, before the ready availability of detailed maps.

The way to do this was by physical markers on a building or street, to show a boundary, to show in what part of the City’s parishes or Wards buildings belonged, or who owned the building.

There must have been hundreds of these within the City, and even today there are very many to be found, with almost every City street having a marker of some type.

In this post, I would like to highlight a selection of the boundary and ownership markers that can still be seen across the City’s streets.

The first is on the City of London Magistrates Court on the corner of Queen Victoria Street and Walbrook. I have arrowed the marker which is low down on the building:

Walbrook Ward

Where there is a simple marker dated 1892 for the north-western boundary of Walbrook Ward:

Walbrook Ward

Many boundary markers have survived multiple rebuilding’s of a site, and can still be found on relatively recent buildings, such as the location arrowed in Cheapside:

Cheapside

On the left is a parish boundary marker from 1817 for St. M. M. This is for St Mary Magdalene which could be found on Milk Street. This was one of the many City churches destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but the parish boundary still survived.

Parish boundary markers

The boundary marker on the right is for the parish of All Hallows Bread Street, another church that is long gone, not in the Great Fire, but during the late 19th century when the City lost a number of churches due to declining numbers of parishioners.

There are another couple of plaques, the left plaque again for All Hallows, and the plaque on the right for St Mary-le-Bow (look closely to see how the right vertical of the letter M has been combined with the L):

Parish boundary markers

There are a number of boundary markers along King Street, including the pair shown in the following photo:

King Street

On the left is the marker for St Martin Pomeroy, which was in Ironmonger Lane, again another church lost during the Great Fire and not rebuilt:

Parish boundary markers

On the right is St Mary Colechurch, again lost during the Great Fire, but stood on the corner of Cheapside and Old Jewry. This is one of the older parish boundary markers in the City, dating from 1789.

Below are two boundary markers. On the left is St Mary-le-Bow and on the right, St Lawrence Jewry in Guildhall Yard. Both of these plaques date from the 20th century showing that they were still relevant, and being updated.

Parish boundary markers

Parishes had multiple boundary markers to show their boundaries with adjacent parishes, so another marker for St Martin Pomeroy:

Parish boundary markers

There are also markers recording the ownership of property, as on the side of the building in the following photo:

Grocers Company

Where on the left are the armorial bearings of the Grocers’ Company, and on the right those of the Goldsmiths:

Grocers Company

On the corner of Old Jewry and Frederick’s Place:

Old Jewry

There is a plaque with two dates, 1680 and 1775. I think this may be a parish boundary marker for St. Olave Jewry, a church that was demolished in 1888:

Parish boundary markers

I am not sure why there are two dates, and whether the plaque originally dates from 1680, and the 1775 date was added when the boundary of the parish was reviewed and confirmed.

In Princes Street, on the wall of the Bank of England:

Princes Street

There are multiple plaques, with top left, St Margaret Lothbury. Top right is St C.P. a plaque for the church of St Christopher which was on the site of the current day Bank of England. Bottom left is a second plaque for St Margaret Lothbury, 43 years after the plaque above.

Parish boundary markers

The plaques for St Margaret Lothbury are on the left as that was their side of the parish boundary, and the two dates show the years when the boundary was confirmed.

Plaques such as these now in the middle of a wall of a building show where the parish boundary would have been when the area was more subdivided into smaller streets and plots of land. Indeed Roque’s 1746 map of London shows Princes Street turning east at this point, into where the Bank now stands, and where the parish boundary would have run, as illustrated in the following map:

Parish boundary markers

In Lombard Street is another cluster of markers:

Lombard Street

Shown in detail below, on the left is a plaque of the Fishmongers Company, then is All Hallows, Lombard Street which was demolished in 1939, although the tower was moved to Twickenham, where it can still be seen (subject for a future blog post). Then there is a plaque of the Haberdashers Company, which must have been there to show property ownership of adjoining properties by the Fishmongers and Haberdashers. The plaque at lower right is showing the boundary of St Edmund, King and Martyr, a church which is still on Lombard Street:

Parish boundary markers

On the Marks and Spencer, at the entrance to Cannon Street station, are two plaques:

Cannon Street Station

On the left is the boundary marker of St Swithin, London Stone, a church that was badly damaged in 1949, and demolished in 1962. On the right is the boundary marker of another church lost during the Great Fire, the church of St Mary Bothaw, that stood on the site of Cannon Street station.

Parish boundary markers

Opposite Cannon Street Station is a plaque to St John the Baptist. Destroyed during the Great Fire, a church that originally stood on the banks of the Walbrook:

Parish boundary markers

Back on Cheapside, there is a small plaque on the first floor of a building:

Cheapside

The plaque has the arms of the Skinners Company:

Skinners Company

Markers showing ownership of property are often on the edge of a building, to show where the boundary is with the adjacent property, as shown in the photos above, and the photo below:

Haberdashers Company

Where there is a plaque showing the arms of the Haberdashers Company:

Haberdashers Company

On a wall in Great Trinity Lane are three plaques:

Great Trinity Lane

The plaque on the left includes the full name of the church, details the distance from the wall to where the boundary extends, and includes the names of the churchwardens in 1889.

Parish boundary markers

In the middle is St James, Garlickhythe. I cannot find the meaning of the H.T. plaque on the right. It does not have the “St.” prefix of a church, but not sure what else it could be.

In Carter Lane, on a building at the junction with St Andrews Hill:

St Andrews Hill

On the right is a plaque identifying the boundary of Farringdon Ward Within:

Parish boundary markers

And an FP plate on the left, which stands for Fire Plug. Apparently in the early days of the fire service, and when many underground water pipes were made out of wood, firemen would dig down to the water main and bore a small, circular hole in the pipe to obtain a supply of water to fight the fire.

When finished, they would put a wooden plug into the hole, and leave an FP plate on a nearby wall to alert future firefighters that a water main with a plug already existed.

That is just a small sample of the very many boundary markers and markers identifying property ownership, that can be found across the City of London. Considering how many must have been lost over the years, there must have been a considerable number, probably lasting to the early 20th century, identifying Ward boundaries, Parish boundaries and where the City Livery Company’s owned properties.

Of course, it is not just the City where these can be found, there are markers all over London.

As an example, the following view is looking towards Horse Guards, from Horse Guards Parade:

Horse Guards Parade

There is a central arch through the Horse Guards building, a route that has featured in recent royal events where processions will frequently pass through the arch, and a roof mounted camera follows processions through, however look to the roof of the arch as you walk through, and there are two parish boundary markers:

Parish boundary markers

On the right is St Margaret, Westminster, with the suffix of No. 6 which presumably means that this was the 6th marker in a series that marked the parish boundary.

I suspect the marker on the left refers to St Martin in the Fields, adjacent to Trafalgar Square.

These boundary markers are a fascinating reminder of the importance of the parishes and wards in the City of London, even how churches that were lost during the Great Fire in 1666, and not rebuilt, still have their parish boundaries marked on the streets.

Historic property ownership by the livery companies of the City can also be traced by the plaque on the walls of City buildings.

Once you notice them, you will find them on walls all across the City.

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London to Portsmouth Semaphore – Chatley Heath

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the route that the body of Eleanor of Castile took to reach London, and the crosses that were built to mark the route. For today’s post I am tracing another of the historic routes that link London with the rest of the country.

Back in the 18th century, the speed of communication was mainly dependent on how long it took a horse and rider to travel between the source and destination of a message. Routine mail would be carried by stage coach and urgent messages would travel via a horse and rider who could travel much faster, but would still be limited by the speed of the horse, conditions of the roads, weather need to change and rest horses etc.

In 1770, the average time taken between London and Portsmouth was around 17 hours, but with improvements to road surfaces and coach building, by around 1820 this had improved to 9 hours for the fastest coaches.

The very best horse and rider could cover the route in just under 5 hours.

It seems remarkable when today we can make an instantaneous mobile phone call from almost anywhere in the country to the other side of the world, that just two hundred years ago it would take a day to get a message and answer between London and Portsmouth.

Portsmouth was important as it was the site of a major naval dockyard, and with the frequent wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was need to devise a system which could rapidly send messages between the Admiralty in London, and the naval dockyards.

The Napoleonic Wars of the later 18th century resulted in the Admiralty building a telegraph system that copied a system already set up by the French. This used a method where signaling stations were based at high points along the route between London and Portsmouth. At each station, there was a wooden shed with a shutter frame built above. The frame held six shutters in two columns, and each shutter could be opened or closed to send a message to the next station along the route.

It was claimed that a message could be sent between London and Portsmouth in just under 8 minutes.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the system was dismantled, with Napoleon being held on the Isle of Elba.

Not long after, Napoleon escaped and returned to France, and the state of war between England and France resumed. The Admiralty needed another, and more permanent line of communication between London and Portsmouth, rather than the temporary wooden sheds set up for the shutter system.

The Admiralty created a new signaling line comprised of stations using a semaphore system, where the positions of two moveable arms would signify a message to be sent along the chain.

The following print shows the Admiralty building in Whitehall. On the roof at the rear of the building, a tall post can be seen with two arms. This was the London end of the chain of stations between London and Portsmouth  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

The Admiralty semaphore tower

Signaling stations were needed at high points on the route between London and Portsmouth. Each station was equipped with a post and signaling arms, and had an observer with a telescope to keep an eye on the adjacent stations in the chain for any message that needed to be sent onwards.

The following map shows the chain of stations from the Admiralty at top right down to the dockyard in Portsmouth at lower left  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

London to Portsmouth semaphore route

The system was opened two hundred years ago, in 1822, and an article in Bell’s Weekly Messenger in September 1822 listed the stations as;

The Admiralty, Chelsea, Putney Heath, Kingston Hill, Cooper’s Hill, Chatley Hill, Pewley Hill, Bannicle Hill, Haste Hill, Holner Hill, Beacon Hill, Compton Down, Portsdown, Lumps Fort (Southsea) and Portsmouth naval dockyard.

In 1822 it was claimed that a message could be conveyed between the Admiralty in London to Portsmouth in one minute and a few seconds. This seems remarkable and must have been in ideal conditions, perfect visibility, and the staff at the stations were ready for the receipt and forwarding of a very short message. Reports of normal transmission times state that around 15 minutes was the time taken to send a message from one end of the chain to the other – still a remarkably short time.

There is one remaining, complete, semaphore tower on the line between London and Portsmouth, at Chatley Heath in Surrey. Indeed it is the only remaining complete semaphore tower in the country. It has recently been restored by the Landmark Trust who held an open day in the summer. so I went along to see this remaining example of two hundred year old communications technology that linked London with the south coast.

In the above map of the whole chain of stations, I have marked Chatley Heath with a red circle around the red dot.

The following map shows the exact location of the Chatley Heath semaphore tower, a very short distance from the M25 and slightly to the east of the A3  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

Chatley Heath is part of a wider area of 800 acres of commons and rare heathland that is managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. There are paths across the heath, some of which are signposted to show the route to the semaphore tower:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

The open day was on one of the hot days of summer, where the land was so dry following weeks with no rain, a big contrast as I type this, as it is cold, cloudy and there has been much rain over the last few weeks.

Following the path to the semaphore tower:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

The following photo shows the first glimpse of the semaphore arms at the very top of the tower, just showing above the tree line in the distance in the centre of the photo:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

Finally reaching the Chatley Heath semaphore tower. The one remaining, fully restored tower, and the tallest on the line between the Admiralty in London, and Portsmouth.

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

Each semaphore station was manned by a retired navy lieutenant and an observer, usually a retired sailor of the lieutenants choosing. The lieutenant would be in charge of the station, and the observer was responsible for using a telescope to keep an eye on adjacent stations to check for messages to be forwarded.

The very first officer at the Chatley Heath tower when it opened in 1822 was Lieutenant Edward Harris.

The Chatley Heath tower included accommodation with a small house built onto the base of the tower. The blocked up windows in the tower were probably done to save the cost of building and installing windows. The navy was exempt from window tax, so this would not have been the reason. The shape of the tower was also more cost effective than the complexity of building a circular tower.

The semaphore system used a code devised by Rear Admiral Sir Home Riggs Popham.

It was Popham who created the code using flags, allowing messages to be sent between ships at sea, and it was his code that sent the message from Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar that “England expects that every man will do his duty”. He was involved in a number of naval actions, and assaults on enemy land forces across the world, but must have spent some time at home as his wife had at least ten children.

Popham’s semaphore code used two arms on a wooden post. Each arm could assume any position on either side of the post, so could be either horizontal, vertical, or at an angle of 45 degrees, pointing up or down the post.

This arrangement created enough positions using the two arms that every letter of the alphabet, along with the numbers 0 to 9, could all be transmitted.

The two arms and vertical post:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

From 1963 until 1988 the tower was left empty. It was vandalised and had suffered a major fire. It was restored in 1988 by Surrey County Council and then passed to the Surrey Wildlife Trust.

The age and very exposed position of the tower resulted in further, gradual deterioration, with water being a problem, getting into the tower around the base of the post, and around the windows.

The Landmark Trust then took on the tower and commenced a full restoration project in 2020. The Landmark Trust has restored and runs some remarkable buildings across the country, and following a restoration, they rent out the buildings for short stays, and this is now the future of the Chatley Heath semaphore tower.

The restoration including fitting out the tower so that it would include accommodation, so today, walking up the tower to the roof includes a walk through a number of rooms, which include a lounge:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

Kitchen:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

And bedroom:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

There is a second bedroom (the tower now sleeps 4) and a bathroom.

In the kitchen, the restored mechanism used to control the position of the arms can be seen:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

Once on the roof, it is easy to see why this was the chosen location for the station. It is one of the highest points in the local area at 59 meters above sea level, with the land dropping by 10 to 20 meters in the area surrounding the station.

This is the view looking towards London:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

Zooming in from the roof of the tower, we can see the towers of London in the far distance, the Shard to the right is just over 31km from the Chatley Heath semaphore tower.

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

The semaphore post and arms seen from the top of the tower:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

Operating the semaphore was not without its dangers. The Hampshire and Southampton County Newspaper reported on the 15th of August 1825 that: “During the thunder storm on Wednesday last, E. Oke, the signal man belonging to the semaphore in Portsmouth, was knocked down and remained insensible for several minutes. The semaphore was at work at the time, and the man had his hand on the wheel, which turns the arms to communicate intelligence to the next station. The whole apparatus is composed of metal, which, of course, attracted the lightning. The Lieutenant, who was standing close by, did not experience the slightest inconvenience, neither was any serious injury sustained by the man or the buildings”.

View looking towards the south, the next station at Pewley Hill was somewhere in the distance:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

Chatley Heath was to be the branching point for another chain of semaphore stations, which would have run all the way to Plymouth, however this chain was only completed a short distance after Winchester.

The London to Portsmouth semaphore system ran from 1822 until 1847 when it was made redundant by the coming of the railways and the electric telegraph. The London & South Western Railway connected London to the south coast at Southampton, Gosport and Portsmouth and the new electric telegraph was laid alongside the railway. This provided a far more reliable and cost effective means of sending messages between the Admiralty and the naval dockyard at Portsmouth.

The semaphore line was closed at the end of 1847, and the staff made redundant, which must have been a blow to them as the staff were usually at the end of their naval careers and other opportunities for employment would have been limited.

The views from the tops of the semaphore tower show what a high location this is relative to the surrounding land. As well as the towers of the city shown in an earlier photo, from the top of the tower we can just about see the arch over the Wembley stadium in the distance:

Chatley Heath semaphore tower

The location of the semaphore stations can often be found in local naming, with Telegraph Hill being used at a couple of the old station locations. there is a Telegraph pub in Putney named after the original shutter telegraph on Putney Heath. There are a number of Telegraph Roads and Telegraph Houses along the route.

The London to Portsmouth semaphore / telegraph route was one of many that were built during the early decades of the 19th century. The admiralty built a number of chains to enable communication with key dockyards.

There were also commercial telegraph chains set-up. One, by a Lieutenant Watson was created between Holyhead and Liverpool and reported the names of ships passing Holyhead on their way to the docks at Liverpool. This would enable ship owners to have advance information of when their ships would be arriving in port.

Lieutenant Watson devised his own code for the telegraph system. He may have also been responsible for creating another system from London to the coast. The following print shows Watson’s Telegraph, near Tooley Street  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Watsons Telegraph

This has a similar arrangement to the semaphore route between London and Portsmouth, however it uses two rather than one post, and it appears that one of the posts had two arms at the top. Presumably this arrangement was to allow more complex messages to be sent at a faster rate.

The Chatley Heath semaphore tower is a wonderful reminder of a time, only 200 years ago, when it took hours to send a message the distance from London to Portsmouth, and the technological change that started to speed up communication.

If you fancy a stay in an early 19th century semaphore tower, the page on the Landmark Trust site with information and booking is here.

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