The Strange Story of the Biddenden Maids

I ran out of time this week to complete the research and writing of the London post I had planned, so as it is summer, how about a trip to Kent, to visit the village of Biddenden, and discover the strange story of the Biddenden Maids.

This is not a random choice. As long term readers of the blog will know, as well as London, my father took lots of photos whilst cycling around the country and staying in youth hostels. This was with friends from London, and from his period of National Service.

I am also trying to visit the location of as many of these photos as possible, and take an updated photo to mirror the original.

One trip in 1948 included a route through the county of Kent. I have already written about the visit to Canterbury, however they also passed through the small village of Biddenden, and this was the view of the village green on a summer’s day in 1948:

Biddenden Maids

This was the same view in July 2021:

Biddenden Maids

Although there is 73 years between the two photos, the area around the central village green of Biddenden still looks much the same. For a change, I even managed to take the “now” photo with similar weather to the original, although this was more through luck than clever planning.

The main difference is the number of cars parked, and the more organised road markings and boundaries.

The central green area has also lost the original iron railings, and the village name sign has also been moved back further into the green.

Biddenden is one of the many very picturesque villages in the Weald of Kent, the area of once forested land that stretched across the south of the county.

I have marked the location of Biddenden in the following map . The town of Ashford is the grey built area to the right of the map, with Maidstone to top left of the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Biddenden Maids

The Ordnance Survey map from around the time of my father’s visit shows a small village surrounded by fields  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Biddenden Maids

The village green in the above photos is located at the road junction to the right of the street with buildings lining both sides. There has been some development, mainly to the north of the village, and west of the church, however Biddenden is still very much a village surrounded by fields.

Many villages in this area of Kent have rather ornate name signs, which frequently include a historic fact about the village, however few illustrate a story as strange as that of Biddenden.

Biddenden Maids

Looking closer at the name sign, it shows two women standing beside each other (1948 above and 2021 below):

Biddenden Maids

They are the so called Biddenden Maids, or the conjoined twins Eliza and Mary Culkhurst.

A newspaper article from the 15th May 1885 provides some background to the Biddenden Maids:

Among the various charities in the parish of Biddenden, in Kent, is one which has acquired some celebrity. On the afternoon of Easter Sunday a quantity of small flat cakes, made only of flour and water and impressed with the figures of two women, united at the sides after the fashion of conjoined twins, are distributed in the church porch to all comers. Bread and cheese, to a considerable amount, are given at the same time to the poorer parishioners. This, says tradition, was the legacy of the twin sisters, called the Biddenden Maids, who lived for many years united in their bodies after the manner represented in the cakes, and then died within a few hours of each other. There is also given to the recipients of the cakes a printed paper bearing upon it a representation of the impression on the cakes, and purporting to contain ‘a short and concise account of the lives of Elisa and Mary Culkhurst, who were born joined by the hips and shoulders, in the year of our Lord 1100, and in the county of Kent, commonly called the ‘Biddenden Maids’ .

It then proceeds- ‘The reader will observe by the plate of them that they lived together in the above state thirty-four years, at the expiration of which time one of them was taken ill and in a short time died. The surviving one was advised to be separated from the body of her deceased sister by dissection, but she absolutely refused the separation by saying these words ‘As we came together we will also go together’ and in the space of about six hours after her sister’s decease she was taken ill and died also.

By their will they bequeathed to the churchwarden of the parish of Biddenden, and his successors, churchwardens, for ever, certain pieces or parcels of land in the parish of Biddenden, containing twenty acres, more or less, which now let at 40 guineas per annum.

There is usually made in commemoration of these wonderful phenomena of nature about 1000 rolls, with their impressions printed on them, and given away to all strangers on Easter Sunday after Divine service in the afternoon; also about 500 quartern loves and cheese in proportion, to all the poor inhabitants of the said parish”.

At a distance of 900 years, it is hard to know the truth of this story.

Edward Hasted, writing in the “The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent” referenced the story as follows:

“There is a vulgar tradition in these parts, that the figures on the cakes represent the donors of this gift, being two women, twins, who were joined together in their bodies, and lived together so till they were between twenty and thirty years of age. But this seems without foundation. The truth seems to be, that it was the gift of two maidens, of the name of Preston; and that the print of the women on the cakes has taken place only within these fifty years, and was made to represent two poor widows, as the general objects of a charitable benefaction.”

Hasted did not seem convinced about the original story of the Biddenden Maids, however he does not give any further details or sources for his suggestion as to the truth of the story.

The money for the cakes and loaves came from the rents received from twenty acres of land known as Bread and Cheese land. If you look back at the Ordnance Survey map of Biddenden earlier in the post, two large fields to the upper left of the village were still called Bread and Cheese Land.

The first newspaper reference I can find to the Biddenden Maids is an article in the London Evening Standard in 1829. There are then numerous articles, mainly reporting on the Easter Sunday charity distribution, and the large number of visitors to the village who came to see and participate in the distribution of the cakes.

Popularising the Biddenden Maids would have helped the economy of the village.

According to Biddenden’s web site, the charity distribution still takes place:

“Once a year Bread and Cheese are given to local widows and pensioners at the Old Workhouse. Biddenden Biscuits, baked from flour and water, are distributed among the spectators as souvenirs. They bear an effigy of two female figures whose bodies are joined together at the hips and shoulders.”

A close up of the village sign in 1948:

Biddenden Maids

In 1948, the wording between the two women was “IN KENT” – a continuation of the village name above to show the county of the village, however by 2021, the names of the two women, Mary and Eliza had replaced the county name.

Biddenden Maids

The origin of the sign dates back one hundred years. In 1920, the King discussed the revival of village signs during a speech at the Royal Academy.

The Daily Mail then organised a village signs competition and exhibition with a fund of £2,200 being available in prizes. Of the ten awards made, the design for the sign at Biddenden received a special prize of £50.

There are a number of subtle differences between the signs of 1948 and 2021. This is probably down to the complete refurbishment of the sign in 1993.

This may have included the changes, such as, moving the sign back further into the green. replacing the county of Kent, with the names of the twins, and replacing the pole as the original square pole is now round, with some gold spiral decoration.

The photos of the village in 1948 and 2019 tell a story of how villages change, and stay the same. If you go back to the 1948 photo at the top of the post, there is a sign on the very first building on the left. The sign is for a bank, and looking at the high resolution scan from the scanner it seems to be a Lloyds Bank. Remarkable at a time when bank branches are disappearing by the day that in 1948 a small village of the size of Biddenden would have their own bank branch.

The building that was once the bank is shown in the photo below:

Biddenden

Not visible in the 1948 photo, but there is a terrace of rather special houses continuing on from the bank. These were Flemish Weavers cottages, dating from the 17th century:

Biddenden

Directly opposite the above terrace, there is a pub and café:

Biddenden

As we had travelled by car, the pub was out of bounds (Biddenden did have a railway station, however this branch of the Kent and East Sussex Railway closed in 1954), so we went into the Bakehouse Café, which was excellent, and which had the following inscription on one of the windows overlooking the street:

Biddenden

The main street through Biddenden village:

Biddenden

Behind me, in the above photo is the entrance to Biddenden’s church which stands at the western end of the village:

Biddenden Church

Parts of the church date from the 13th century, however there has been much later rebuilding. Unfortunately it was locked on the day of our visit so no opportunity to take a look inside.

Biddenden Church

At a distance of 900 years, it is almost impossible to be sure of the origins of the story of the Biddenden Maids, however the story is still central to the village, and it has been the driving force behind a charity distribution which has taken place for hundreds of years, and in a world where places get more and more standardised and similar, it is good for a place to retain its own unique identity.

For next Sunday, I will be back in London.

Southbank Walks

A couple of tickets have become free on two of my Southbank walks. If you are interested in exploring the history of the Southbank and the Festival of Britain, there is:

All other walks have sold out.

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Carter Lane – 17th Century Houses, Hairdressers and Alleys

One ticket has just become available on my walk next Wednesday, 4th August on The South Bank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain. This ticket can be booked here.

As with my Roupell Street post a couple of weeks ago, for this week’s post, a mid 1980s hairdressers is the reason why I am revisiting Carter Lane in the City of London. Initially to find the location of the Gentlemen’s Hairdressing Salon and Nichola’s Hair Designs of St Paul’s, but then to explore a very historic street, alleys, and two houses that have their origins back in the 17th century.

But first, here is the hairdressers on the corner of Carter Lane and St Andrews Hill, photographed in 1986:

Carter Lane

The same place in July 2021:

Carter Lane

The hairdressers are no more, and the latest occupier of the site, L’Express City, part of the L’Express chain of restaurants / coffee shops, has since closed. Possibly one of the casualties of the lack of customers in the City since the start of the pandemic.

The above two photos are on the corner of Carter Lane and St Andrews Hill. Carter Lane is an old street, but today is much longer than in previous centuries.

In the following map, St Paul’s Cathedral is the large building in the upper centre. Saint Paul’s Church Yard is the street immediately to the south of the cathedral. Keep going south, and the next street you will come to is Carter Lane  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Carter Lane

As can be seen in the above map, Carter Lane is a relatively long street. It has a central section in white, and the two outer sections are in grey. As we walk along the street, the relevance of the different colouring of the street will become clear.

In the above map, the eastern section to the right has green space between Carter Lane and the cathedral. This space is today the location of the City of London Visitor Centre, and an expanse of gardens, however this was once a densely built area.

The following map is from the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London.

Carter Lane

Here we can see Carter Lane running from Blackfriars Lane in the west, to Old Change in the east. The area above the right section of the street, above the word “Lane”, now the site of gardens and visitor centre was then built up, with Black Swan Court running between Carter Lane and St Paul’s Church Yard.

There are a couple of key buildings highlighted in dark red in the above map, which I will come to later in the post.

The Carter Lane of the above two maps, was not the original Carter Lane. To see the original Carter Lane, and many of the side streets and alleys that we can still find today, we need to look at Rocque’s map of 1746:

Carter Lane

In the above map, running where Carter Lane is today, we find three named streets. From left to right: Shoe Makers Row, Great Carter Lane (underneath the circled number 15), and Little Carter Lane.

Harben’s “Dictionary of London” gives the first mention of the street as Carterstrete in 1295, with Great and Little Carter Lane’s appearing prior to 1677.

Great and Little Carter Lane, along with Shoe Makers Row were abolished in 1866 when the whole street became simply Carter Lane.

Many references on the Internet refer to the name of the lane being associated with carts, however Harben attributes the name: “the early forms of the name suggest that it was intended to commemorate a former owner of property there”. Many streets were named after either owners of the land, property on the street, or an original builder, so whilst is is impossible to be sure of the source of a centuries old name, Harben’s does sound the most probable.

Time for a walk along Carter Lane. In the following photo, I am standing at the junction of Carter Lane and Godliman Street, looking east.

Carter Lane

This is the section that was Little Carter Lane in Rocque’s map.

Today, only one side is built, and the lane is a pedestrian walkway with gardens to the north. The area was badly damaged by fire during bombing on the night of the 29th December 1940 and the northern side of Carter Lane was not rebuilt after the war. It is now gardens, with the building on left being the City of London Visitor Centre.

Looking in the opposite direction, and the following photo shows the section that was Great Carter Lane in Rocque’s map of 1746:

Carter Lane

Walking along the street, and the building on the right is the old home of the St Paul’s Cathedral (Choir) School.

Carter Lane

Purpose built for the school in 1874, the school moved to a new building in New Change during the 1960s, when Carter Lane was threatened with a road widening scheme which thankfully was not carried out. The building is now one of the hostels of the Youth Hostels Association.

There is some rather ornate decoration on the walls of the old St Paul’s Cathedral School:

Carter Lane

To the left of where I was standing to take the above photo, there is a modern building. Look carefully on the pillar to the right and there is a plaque:

Carter Lane

The plaque records that the Bell originally stood on the site, and it was in the Bell that Richard Quiney wrote to William Shakespeare, and his letter is the only letter addressed to Shakespeare known to remain.

The Bell tavern

A photo of the letter can be seen on the site of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust here.

The Bell was a very old pub. The earliest written reference I could find to the pub dates from a report in the Kentish Gazette on the 12th October 1776, when it was reported that on the previous Sunday, Mr Milward, master of the Bell inn, Carter-lane, Doctors Commons had died.

The address of the Bell inn in the above report included “Doctors Commons”. Doctors Commons was the general name used for an area between Carter Lane and what is now Queen Victoria Street that included the College of Advocates and Doctors of Law, along with Ecclesiastical and Admiralty Courts.

The buildings were demolished in 1867 after the functions of the College and Courts had been consolidated into other roles, or been abolished.

In David Copperfield, Charles Dickens had Steerforth describing Doctors Commons as:

“It’s a little out of the way place, where they administer what is called ecclesiastical law, and play all kinds of tricks with obsolete old monsters of acts of Parliament, which three-fourths of the world know nothing about, and the other fourth supposes to have been dug up, in a fossil state, in the days of the Edwards. It’s a place that has an ancient monopoly in suits about people’s wills and people’s marriages, and disputes among ships and boats”.

The Bell was demolished at the end of the 19th century to make way for the Post Office Savings Bank building referenced in the plaque by the mention of the Post Master General. Prior to demolition, the Bell seems to have been a thriving establishment, as can be seen from this advert in the Morning Advertiser on the 24th February 1869 when the Bell was for sale due to the ill-health of the current proprietor:

BELL TAVERN AND WINE-VAULTS occupying a most commanding corner position in one of the busiest and most improving parts of the City of London, close to St. Paul’s in a much frequented thoroughfare, and surrounded by many vast mercantile Establishments, affording an almost unlimited variety of sources of the best class of trade. The billiard-tables alone realise sufficient to pay the rent, and the extremely profitable nature of the business generally in the City is universally admitted”.

A shame that after the above sale, this centuries old pub would have less than thirty years left.

The Bell inn was on the corner of Carter Lane and Bell Yard which can be seen in the Rocque map. Bell Yard sort of still exists as New Bell Yard, an alley between two modern buildings:

New Bell Yard

As we walk further along Carter Lane, we come to the part that survived the fires that surrounded St Paul’s Cathedral during the 1940s. Epic Pies on the corner of Carter Lane and Addle Hill:

Carter Lane

Addle Hill is worth a quick walk down, to see a survival from the late 19th century Post Office building, which can be seen half way down the building on the left:

Addle Hill

Go back to the 1940 map, and on the block occupied by the building on the left of the above photo was a building called Faraday Building. This was part of the complex of Post Office buildings in the area that formed one of the London hubs of the growing telephone network.

The original late 19th century door surround to the Post Office building has been retained:

Faraday Building

The plaque records that this was the “Former site of Faraday Building North, City, Central, Long Distance and International Telephone Exchanges, 1902 to 1982”.

For much of the life of the Faraday Building, long distance and international telephone calls would need to be connected by an operator, and hundreds of operators worked in the building, sitting at desks labelled with the country that was connected to their desk. the operator would manually plug in patch cables to connect a caller to the destination’s telephone network.

An example of a small part of the operator positions in the Faraday Building is shown in the following photo (with Addle Hill labelled as the emergency exit above the Montreal position – from the booklet “The Post Office Went To War“):

Telephone Operators Faraday Building

Continuing down Carter Lane, and we can see the building that was the hairdresser in the photo at the top of the post, along with the Rising Sun pub:

Carter Lane

But before we come to the home of the hairdressers, we pass the entrance to Wardrobe Place.

Wardrobe Place

Wardrobe Place was so named as up until the Great Fire of 1666, it was the site of the King’s Wardrobe (the storage, administration and expenditure office for the King). The Wardrobe was moved here from the Tower in the 1360s into the mansion owned by Sir John Beauchampe. From Stow’s Survey of London:

“Then is the kings greate Wardrobe, Sir John Beauchampe, knight of the Garter, Constable of Dover, Warden of the Sinke Portes builded this house, was lodged there, deceased in the yeare 1359.  His Executors sold the house to King Edware the third”.

We then come to the site of the 1980s hairdressers at number 59a Carter Lane. which was on the corner of Carter Lane and St Andrew’s Hill:

Carter Lane

In between the hairdressers and becoming a food / coffee take-away and cafe, the site was home to KK Newsagents in the 1990s.

Although the café / takeaway has now closed, there are still a number of these in Carter Lane. We perhaps think that the vast number of such establishments on London’s streets is a recent phenomena, however there has always been a need to provide food and drink for those who lived and worked in the City.

In the 1895 Post Office directory, there were five listed:

  • Number 29: Florence Jones-Albrt, Dining Rooms
  • Number 55; Miss Sarah Ann Ash, Coffee Rooms
  • Number 66; Miss Eliza Louise Catchpole, St Ann’s Coffee House
  • Number 75; William Clemenace, Dining Rooms
  • Number 79; Charles Batchelor, Dining Rooms

I suspect the number of such establishments can be used as a measure of the number of people working in the City, and similar to number 59a, many of these have closed over the last year.

St Andrew’s Hill leads down to Queen Victoria Street, opposite where Puddle Dock was originally located and according to George Cunningham in his 1927 Survey of London, was originally called Puddledock Hill (although I have been unable to find any other reference that confirms this, however it could well have been an earlier or alternative name as the street leads up from both Puddle Dock and the church of St. Andrew’s by the Wardrobe.)

One of the Bollards outside number 59a. This is different to the 1980s photo, and I am not sure of the age of either the bollard, or the City of London name panel which appears to slot over the bollard.

City of London

On the St Andrews Hill side of number 59a is a boundary marker on the right:

At Andrews Hill

And an FP plate on the left. According to a document on the Essex Fire Brigade web site, FP 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.

When wooden pipes were replaced by cast iron pipes in the 19th century, workmen would often bore a small hole in the pipe and fit with a wooden plug when they saw an FP plate.

This would later be replaced with the Fire Hydrant method, which would be identified by a large H.

Just after number 59a, we come to the part of Carter Lane, that on Rocque’s map was in 1746 called Shoe Makers Row:

Carter Lane

It is still a distinctive section of the overall street, as at the end of what was Great Carter Lane, the street narrows considerably into Shoe Makers Row.

However, before continuing further, there are a number of interesting buildings and streets at this junction of streets.

The building in the middle of the following photo once had a ground floor with symmetrical doors on either side, and possibly a much grander entrance or windows in the centre. It has now been modified somewhat by an entrance cut into the face, possibly as access to a goods loading bay or car parking. It is often how buildings survive over time in the City if not completely demolished, by being modified for different use.

Carter Lane

On the corner of Carter Lane and Burgon Street is the Rising Sun, a Grade II listed, early / mid 19th century building, the Rising Sun is a typical City pub.

Rising Sun pub

And to the right of the above photo, leading north from Carter Lane, is Creed Lane, another old City street that is currently blocked off as part of a building site:

Creed Lane

Continuing on down Carter Lane, and although the previous section of the street was not that wide, the section that was Shoe Makers Row is a much narrower street. There are very few written references to the street, and I suspect that the original name of the street refers to the trade that was carried out here.

Carter Lane

This section of the street feels older than the rest of Carter Lane, and leading off from the street are a number of alleys.

In the following photo is Cobb’s Court:

Cobb's Court

According to Harben, Cobb’s Court was first mentioned in 1677, and the name originally referred to a central court, with the passage leading down to Carter Lane (the section shown in the above photo) called Postboy Passage. We can see this original name in the extract from Rocque’s 1746 map at the start of the post.

Standing in Cobb’s Court, we can look across Carter Lane to another alley, this time leading south:

Cobb's Court

This alley has the rather unusual name of Church Entry:

Church Entry

Harben records that the name was first mentioned in 1677, and in 1559 was called Church Lane.

A short distance along Church Entry, there is a raised garden:

Church Entry

A plaque mounted on the railings providing some background as to the name of the alley, the garden, and the location being part of the church of the Dominican priory at Blackfriars.

Church Entry

After the dissolution, the land and buildings were sold, and it appears that Church Entry may have been formed when new, or perhaps a division of the existing buildings, allowed the alley to be formed.

The earlier religious nature of the area changed considerably over the following years, and we can get an impression of the street in the middle of the 18th century from the following report from Pope’s Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette on the 9th June 1763:

“Yesterday morning, about Three o’Clock, two young men, one a Peruke-maker, the other a Watch-maker, went into a House of ill Fame in Church Entry, Black-friars, when a Dispute arose about paying the Reckoning; on which the old Bawd gave the Barber a violent blow on the Head with a Poker, and called a soldier, who was then in the House, to her Assistance, who fell upon them with the aforesaid Weapon; the Watch-maker, in his Defence, drew a Knife and cut the Soldier cross the Belly, who was carried to St Batholomew’s Hospital, where he lies dangerously ill. The Barber has received a most dreadful Blow on his Head, several inches in length, quite to his Brain; and, with the Mistress of the House and one of the prostitutes, is committed to Clerkenwell Bridewell; and the Watch-maker, who is charged with wounding the Soldier, is committed to New Prison, Clerkenwell”.

It is fascinating to think about these events when standing in the alley, and the amount of individual stories that could be told about every London street and alley is one of the overwhelming things about researching the city.

There is one rather unqiue building remaining in Church Entry:

Church Entry

This is the Vestry Hall of St Ann’s Church.

Although the church of St Ann’s was not rebuilt after the Great Fire in 1666, the vestry hall seems to have continued. The building we see now is much later than the original church, having been built in 1905 and is now Grade II listed.

St Ann’s Vestry Hall is now home to the Ancient Monuments Society and the Friends of Friendless Churches.

Walking back up to Carter Lane, and a little further along are two rather special buildings. Both of these buildings, although considerably changed over the years, date back to the late 17th century. On the left is 79 Carter Lane, and part of number 81 is on the right.

17th Century houses

They are both Grade II listed, and the Historic England listing for number 79 reads:

“Possibly late C17, stuccoed in C19. 3 storeys plus continuous dormer. 2 windows. Shop. Corniced 1st floor windows. Crowning cornice and parapet.”

And for number 81:

“Late C17, stuccoed and altered. 3 storeys plus continuous dormer in roof. 3 windows. Shop and passageway. Storey-bands. Parapet.”

Remarkable to think that there could be buildings that at their core date back to the late 17th century in the heart of the City.

I started the post with a hairdresser / barber, and I am almost finishing the post with another one, as at ground level at number 79 is the closed Carter Lane Barbershop.

Carter Court

Under number 81, and between numbers 79 and 81 is another alley, Carter Court:

Carter Court

Referring back to the Rocque map, and in 1746, Carter Court was called Flower de Lis Court. I double checked this with Richard Horwood’s map of 1799, and the same name appears to cover the court.

There were a number of alleys and courts in London with variations on the Flower de Lis name, and no clear source for the name, with a number of possible origins including the name of a wharf, a tenement, or a tavern.

Walking down what is now Carter Court, and looking at the wall of number 81 we can get a sense of the age of the building and the construction methods and materials used as the building has been repaired and modified over the centuries. It is extremely rare to see this exposed form of construction.

17th century houses

Further down the court, there is more evidence of the early date of construction, and at the end, a small window opening into the court.

17th century houses

I have now reached the end of Carter Lane, the point where the street meets Ludgate Broadway and Black Friars Lane. Looking back up the street, to what was Shoe Makers Row, with the oldest buildings on the street, numbers 79 and 81, on the right.

Carter Lane

With the exception of the part of the street that was Little Carter Lane, and the western end of Great Carter Lane, the rest of the street was not destroyed by wartime bombing. Victorian building along the street was relatively modest, and much of this 19th century and early 20th century building occupied the original plots of land.

Carter Lane is today part of the St. Paul’s Cathedral Conservation Area which should give the street some protection.

A street that is well worth a walk, and where a sense of the historic City of London can still be found.

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Living in Stepney

Build Back Better has been a slogan much in evidence over the last year, however without a clear understanding of the problems that need to be fixed, or a plan for how to fix them, slogans often end up as meaningless statements.

In the 1940s there were a number of studies and plans published, recommending how London should rebuild after the devastation of the war. How this was an opportunity, to use the current slogan, to “Build Back Better”.

I have covered a number of these plans in previous posts such as the 1943 County of London Plan, 1944 Post War Reconstruction of the City of London, and the report of the 1944 Railway (London Plan) Committee.

London’s boroughs also wanted to improve the living conditions of their residents, and to fix many of the problems that had built up over decades of unrestricted growth that had resulted in some boroughs having the most over crowded, densely built housing in the country.

One such borough was Stepney, and the independent Stepney Reconstruction Group, Toynbee Hall published their report in 1945, detailing the past and present in Stepney with proposals for the future.

The report was titled “Living in Stepney”:

Living in Stepney

The Stepney Reconstruction Group was an unofficial group, led by Dr. J.J. Mallon, the Warden of Toynbee Hall. The group had been working through the early years of the 1940s, studying the causes of bad living conditions in the borough and the impact of various London wide plans that were being developed. In 1943 the group held an exhibition titled “Stepney Today and Tomorrow” at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

The 1945 written report, Living in Stepney, was the group’s attempt to summarise the past, present and possible future of the borough, and to encourage those who lived in Stepney to engage with their elected representatives to ensure that their views were taken into account.

The first chapter of the report gives an indication of the themes that the report would address – Crowding, Congestion and Chaos.

The borough of Stepney was formed in 1900 through the consolidation of a number of east London parishes. It would last as an indepent borough through to 1965 when it was in turn consolidated into the larger London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

The key driver to the growth of Stepney was the Thames, along with the docks that would take over the southern part of the borough along the river. Docks, industry and the need to house thousands of workers created uncontrolled growth that would lead to dense housing with many people to a house. Lack of green space, health problems, poverty and misery would characterise much of the area.

Living in Stepney provides a comparison with the City of Plymouth. Before the war, Stepney had a population almost as large as Plymouth, but occupied less than a fifth of the area of Plymouth.

Proximity to the docks resulted in much damage through wartime bombing. The report highlights the democratic test for the future of the borough “Here came the blitz, where many had died before through poverty and slums, and little was done. Here the sincerity of democracy will be tested”.

The central area in the following map dated from 1833 shows the area that would become the Borough of Stepney.

Living in Stepney

Building had initially extended along the river from the City to the left, and then continued in land to where the original village of Stepney was located, around the church of St. Dunstan And All Saints. In 1833, the area from Bow Common onwards was still mainly open land, but this would change during the rest of the 19th century as London continued its eastward expansion.

The report identifies four phases in the growth of the borough:

  • 1000 to 1800: The Riverside Village
  • 1800 to 1870: Unplanned Growth
  • 1870 to 1914: No More Room
  • 1919 to 1939: Half-Planned Social Services

The period from the end of the First to the start of the Second World Wars were characterised by Borough Council and London County Council attempts to improve housing conditions as these were the only organisations undertaking any new building, apart from some limited building by housing associations and larger private owners. Almost no rebuilding was undertaken by private estate owners and very few houses were reconditioned to modern standards and repairs to the housing stock were frequently neglected.

In the late 19th century, where rebuilding did take place, it was often at the expense of those living in the buildings to be demolished. The following photo from Living in Stepney is titled “Tenants evicted from slums for the new model blocks to be built”.

Living in Stepney

Also illustrated are some of the dense housing and limited outside space of many of the buildings in Stepney, including Paragon Mansions, Stepney Green:

Living in Stepney

Pre-war housing development by the London County Council, also had the effect of reducing the population of Stepney by relocating people as the slums were cleared. The following map shows the distribution of 3,478 Stepney families as they were moved out of the borough to new LCC estates during slum clearances between 1932 and 1938.

Living in Stepney

Whilst these clearances started to reduce overcrowding in the borough, the impact of these relocations was the break-up of established communities. The report states that whilst the new estates to which people were moved were more healthy locations, they “did not have the social amenities of Stepney. There were not enough pubs, or shops, and far too few clubs or social centres”.

Living in Stepney illustrates the pre-war choice offered to those being moved, from: “A crowded flat”:

Living in Stepney

“With work on top of you”:

Living in Stepney

To a “modern house with a garden in the suburbs (in Dagenham)”:

Living in Stepney

“But with a long journey to work”:

Living in Stepney

This was the challenge with pre-war housing strategy. The London County Council was making considerable improvements in housing standards, however these often meant relocation and the break up of communities which would take time to reestablish, along with the failure to provide social facilities in the new estate.

The impact to these communities was very clear to me when I went to find one of my father’s photos from east London in 1949. I wrote about Hardinge Street, Johnson Street And Ratcliffe Gas Works, with Hardinge Street being a street just off Cable Street, a third of a mile east of Shadwell Station. The was the view of the street in 1949:

Hardinge Street

And following post war redevelopment, all the streets, shops and pubs in the above photos were demolished and the population dispersed. This was exactly the same view a couple of years ago:

Hardinge Street

The arch of the railway bridge being the only part of the 1949 view that remains.

Living in Stepney has a section on “community”, and includes a description of the old parishes that consolidated into the Borough of Stepney. These parishes still had their own characteristics which the report describes:

Wapping is an island which lives to itself. Access is not easy, as no buses pass that way, and there is only the underground line from Whitechapel. The nearest market is Watney Street, and there is no cinema nearby. The population is largely Irish in origin and is strongly attached to the area.

The areas adjoining the City are crowded with factories and warehouses. Spitalfields is a largely Jewish area, where old eighteenth century weavers’ houses, factories workshops, and old fashioned tenements jostle with a large number of common lodging houses. There are few open spaces.

Whitechapel is not so crowded, but presents similar problems. It is in these areas that industry has taken over space from housing, and there has been the largest fall in population.

Mile End and Bow Common were laid out at a later date. Around Burdett Road, once lived a wealthy class who kept carriages. The houses are larger, with gardens, and there are trees in the streets. There is not the same congestion as in the other areas in the West of the Borough.

Limehouse is still a place of ships and seamen and many work to provide their needs. It suffers from being cut up by the canal and railways, and from too much industry, but the old centre remains.

St George’s is one of the most crowded areas of Stepney. In the west live foreign seamen, and a coloured population. There are many Jewish people, but they do not extend much east of Cannon Street Road.

Towards Shadwell are to be found some of the most typical East End streets. Shadwell and Ratcliffe merge into St George’s and Limehouse, but across Commercial Road, Stepney is different. Here are better houses and squares and some well laid out streets, and the houses are old. But around the Commercial Road Gas Works, there was, before the blitz, an area of bad houses”

Living in Stepney illustrated a section titled “What is Wrong With Stepney”:

“Old Damp Houses, mostly 100 years old, with no bathrooms, usually only one tap and the lavatory outside and often shared”

Terrace housing

Crowded Houses, with no space for a garden or proper yard, block out light and air. Dull monotonous streets waste space”

Living in Stepney

“Overcrowding, which is intense, mainly hits large families with children. Stepney had more overcrowding than any London borough. 60 per cent of all families share houses”

Living in Stepney

“Small workshops crowd the ground, using valuable space, and creating unhealthy working conditions. This court was partly cleared in 1937, but there are many like it”

Living in Stepney

“Clubs and Social Centres have not proper buildings. Voluntary bodies have done wonders, but all needs have not been met. Some areas are badly served”

Living in Stepney

“Open Spaces hardly exist in Stepney – 45 acres for 200,000 people in 1938. Children have to play in the street, the great playground and meeting place”

Living in Stepney

“Commercial Road – typical combined main road and commercial centre, causing accidents and traffic congestion. With control of advertisements and buildings it could be a fine street”

Living in Stepney

Living in Stepney includes the following graphics which highlight the impact of overcrowding and compares Stepney with the more affluent and less crowded Lewisham:

Living in Stepney

The lower part of the page identifies the causes of crowding, although in 1945, and just before the start of the war, the population of Stepney had been in decline since the start of the 20th century. The report provides the following summary of Stepney’s population:

Stepney population

Along with some facts on the 1938 population:

Housing space

The themes identified in the above graphics from the 1945 report can still be seen today. In 1945 there were a higher number of deaths per thousand in Stepney than Lewisham, and a considerably greater infant mortality.

The same issues can be seen today, both nationally and within London. The following table comes from the Office for National Statistics latest release “Life expectancy for local areas of the UK: between 2001 to 2003 and 2017 to 2019 and shows that for males within Westminster and Tower Hamlets (of which Stepney is now part), the life expectancy in Westminster is currently 4.53 years longer than that in Tower Hamlets:

Life expectancy

The above graphic also identifies land prices as one of the problems with rebuilding at lower densities and with the provision of open space, with land in 1945 being worth between £10,000 and £30,000 per acre.

The situation is probably even worse today, with land prices explaining why most residential building today appears to be high density apartment blocks. According to the Economic Evidence Base published in 2016 by the Mayor of London, residential land prices in East London were £7.3 million per hectare. (A hectare is 2.47 acres, so the equivalent in 1945 would have been £74,100 to today’s £7.3M).

Living in Stepney also includes a graphic which identifies the cause of high land prices, with the landowner benefiting whilst the tenant pays in rent, rates and the cost of goods.

if landlords do not rebuild, the local authority has to house as many people on a site, so opts for higher density housing, and with more rents coming in for both private landlords and local authorities, the value of land increases – a vicious circle.

Land costs

Many of these themes still drive land prices today, and is one of the reasons why London’s skyline is growing taller, and why Vauxhall in now growing a collection of densely built apartment towers.

On the left of the above graphic is Industry, and in 1938 there was a considerable range of industry in Stepney. In addition to the Docks, there were metal working firms, paint and oil seed crushing firms, printing works, drug, soap and other chemical works, wood, furniture and building firms, and the gas and electricity works. The clothing industry was the largest employer as illustrated in the following summary of how the 140,000 workers were employed in the borough (although slightly more were employed in the general business of buying, selling and distribution):

Stepney jobs

Living in Stepney notes that although the Clothing industry was the largest employer, work was carried out in few large factories, with the majority of workers employed in small, unhealthy workshops in houses and backyards.

The 7% unemployed may give the impression that compared to some impressions of employment in east London, the percentage in Stepney was relatively low, however 7% masks the highly variable nature of employment in the Docks and the Clothing trades, as for many work was precarious, and the unemployment figure could rise or fall considerably within a short period of time.

In asking “Who Governs Stepney”, the report illustrated how the rates were spent, by the two authorities responsible for different aspects of Stepney’s governance – the London County Council and the Borough Council.

Firstly, the responsibilities of the London County Council, and the money spent from the rates on each of their responsibilities:

Stepney council rates

The Borough Council was responsible for many local services, such as street lighting, libraries, public bathes, roads and sewers:

Stepney council rates

Living in Stepney makes a number of recommendations for how Stepney should be transformed. Housing was a big concern, for many of the reasons already stated. Over 90% of families in Stepney did not have a bathroom. Two thirds of families lived in a shared house, and whilst this was less than other parts of London, in Stepney, the high number of small terrace houses meant that where they shared, families lived in much smaller and more crowded conditions.

Many houses dated back to the 18th and 19th centuries, and the borough’s character of streets of terrace houses was seen as a positive rather than a borough of streamlined flats which was considered “entirely contrary to the spirit of the East End”. It was the decayed condition of the housing stock, lack of modern facilities and overcrowding that were the problems, not the concept of terrace housing.

Living in Stepney recommended that housing the population should move from this:

Living in Stepney

To this:

Living in Stepney

Where modern terrace housing replaced the old.

it is interesting to compare the photo of the old terrace housing that the report recommended replacing with one of my photos from last week’s post on Roupell Street.

Terrace Housing

Ignore the roof line, and the design of the terrace is basically the same, even the curved top of the doorway. The key issues in Stepney were overcrowding and the lack of maintenance and upgrading the housing stock. Fix these issues and the original terrace housing would probably today be worth a fortune.

The plan also included recommendations for transport through the borough. During the 1940s, the future of personal transport was seen to be the car, and in the majority of planning for post war reconstruction, major road routes were planned through and around London to support the expected growth in car numbers.

This would also impact Stepney, and plans had already been put forward in the 1943 County of London plan. This included new arterial roads. A sub arterial road to the west of Stepney crossing below the river in a new tunnel, along with an arterial road through the eastern side of the river to what was described as a “doubled Rotherhithe tunnel”.

New routes would also traverse the borough from east to west, however all these new arterial routes were mainly for through traffic with few access points recommended within the borough.

These arterial routes are shown in the following map.

Stepney Road Plan

These routes can also be seen in the road plan from the earlier 1943 County of London Plan. I have ringed the route to the left of the above map in red. It is this route that included a new tunnel under the river just to the east of the Tower of London. This would would act as an inner ring road.

County of London road plan

Open space was a critical issue in the report. At the time of the report, Stepney had a total of 45 acres of open space. The County of London Plan recommended 4 acres for every 1,000 people, which would mean 376 acres for Stepney instead of 45, however the London County Council reduced the ratio down to 2.5 acres per 1,000.

The report recommended making use of the river front and stated that the river is the greatest advantage that Stepney has. At the time, there were three miles of river front within Stepney, but of this, only 700 yards were open to the public.

An example of how this could be achieved was provided by the following illustration where a riverside park stretching from St Katherine’s Dock to Shadwell Park would provide nearly one and a half miles of river front open to the public.

Stepney open space

The Port of London Authority were not happy with this approach, stating that the wharves which occupy the space are particularly suited for the trades which use them, and that the approach would provide less employment in Stepney.

The County of London Plan included proposals that the Living In Stepney report did not agree with. The following table compares a number of key statistics for Stepney as they were in 1938 and as proposed in the County of London plan:

Stepney statistics

The County of London plan proposed a significant reduction of people living in the borough. This figure had already been gradually reducing during the early decades of the 20th century, however the plan proposed a significant further reduction (some of which had already been achieved by bomb damage to the housing stock).

Stepney Borough Council wanted the population target to be 130,000 rather than the much lower figure proposed by the County of London plan. The Council also wanted the majority (60 percent) to be in houses, rather than flats, which the council did not regard as the ideal location for families, older residents, or for the development of a community. The County of London plan had a much higher target of 67 per cent living in flats.

The County of London plan also targeted a density of 136 people to the acre, where the Council wanted this to be 100 people or less per acre.

Living in Stepney also recommended that where industries have been bombed, they should not be allowed to rebuild and start up again, unless it was of vital national interest that they remain in Stepney.

Although the council wanted a higher population than the County of London plan proposed, Living in Stepney was not encouraging a large scale return of those who had moved out of the borough during the war – only those who for personal or work reasons needed to live in Stepney.

Mid 1940s ideas for New Towns was part of the thinking for how Stepney would evolve.

New Towns were seen as the logical destination for industry, along with the workers that industry would need.

The report mentions a number of the possible locations for New Towns, with a focus on Essex – the county that has long been the destination for much east London migration.

New Towns were proposed at Chipping Ongar, Harlow and Margaretting, along with expansion around Brentwood, East Tilbury and Romford.

Harlow did become a new town, I was aware of the Chipping Ongar proposals, but not that Margaretting in Essex was a possible location for a new town. Margaretting is a small village on the old A12 to Chelmsford with a church that dates back to the 12th century – it would have looked very different today if it had become a new town.

Living in Stepney finished with a plea to residents to make sure they told their elected officials how they wanted their borough to develop. The report was concerned that very few people voted in local elections, or take an interest in their local councils. At the time, Stepney had 3 members of Parliament, 6 Members of the London County Council, and 60 Members of the Borough Council.

The local population was encouraged to make sure their representatives knew what they wanted.

It was interesting reading the report to see how many of the issues raised are still valid. The price of land, the root cause of land prices and the type of building that this price dictates.

The best type of housing and whether flats or houses are preferred. Maintenance and modernisation of housing and the impact of landlords. Access to open space, and access to the river, and the inner city location of industry.

The build of the new towns would see continued migration to the Essex new towns of Harlow and Basildon as well as many south Essex towns.

Stepney would change considerably in the following decades, much of which was down to issues outside the control of any local planner. Containerisation and the move of cargo ships to much larger ports resulted in the closure of all the docks within Stepney.

Reports such as Living In Stepney tell us much more about life and thinking at the time, rather than how the future would develop, which is almost always influenced by events that at the time seemed impossible to consider.

alondoninheritance.com

Roupell Street and Aquinas Street – Two Streets on Lambeth Marsh

A short distance from Waterloo Station, there are some wonderful streets. Lined with terrace housing that date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. A couple of weeks ago, I went for a walk along these streets, starting at Roupell Street and ending at Aquinas Street.

The reason for the visit was to revisit the site of a 1986 photo of a men’s hairdresser on the corner of Roupell Street and Cornwall Road:

Roupell Street

The same view 35 years later in June 2021:

Roupell Street

What was then, simply a “mens hairdresser” is now “First Barber”. Really good to see that the same type of business is in operation thirty five years later.

Getting your hair cut is a service which cannot be provided over the Internet, so hairdressers / barbers are the type of shops that will hopefully be on the streets for many years to come.

It did though get me thinking about name changes. In the 1980s I went to a hairdressers, or a hair stylist (see my post on the Hairdressers of 1980s London for lots more examples). When did the shop for a men’s hair cut change from a hairdresser to a barber? One of those gradual changes that you do not really notice until you compare street scenes.

Another 1986 photo shows the rear of the houses in Roupell Street. A jumble of chimneys and TV aerials:

Brad Street

I walked down Brad Street, which runs behind the southern side of Roupell Street, trying to find the same chimney combination as in the 1986 photo, but there seem to have been many subtle changes. The following photo is the nearest I could get:

Brad Street

The centre tower in the 1986 photo was Kings Reach Tower, the home of IPC Media, publisher of a vast range of titles from Country Life to NME. It was sold some years ago, had additional floors added to the top (hence the difference in height between the two photos) and is now apartments.

The location of the hairdressers / barbers is shown in the following map (red circle) (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Roupell Street

Roupell Street runs to the right of the red circle, and Waterloo East station is below.

Part of a roundabout can be seen on the left edge of the map. This is the large roundabout at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge, and Waterloo Station is just off the map to the left.

Development of the area is relatively recent. It was long part of the area known as Lambeth Marsh. An area of low lying land, with many streams and ditches, and marshy ground. During the 17th century, much of the area was being converted to different forms of agricultural use, and in 1746, Roqcues map shows some streets, limited building, and a network of fields (red oval is future location of Roupell Street and green oval future location of Aquinas Street, which I will be coming to later in the post).

By 1816, Smith’s New Map of London was showing increased building in the area, however the area around what will become Roupell Street (red oval) was still open land, with what may have been large plots extending back from the houses on Broad Wall.

Roupell Street

The yellow oval is around the first stretch of Stamford Street. This is the road that runs to the north of the area I am walking, and is a busy road connecting Blackfriars Road and Waterloo Road.

Note the Strand Bridge. This was the recently built first bridge on the site of what is now Waterloo Bridge. Also, running south from Strand Bridge is the outline of a street labelled “Intended New Road”. This is the future Waterloo Road.

In the above map, there is a track called Curtis’s Halfpenny Hatch where the future Roupell Street would be located.

This was named after a William Curtis who was the founder of a Botanic Gardens in the area. It was a suitable location for aquatic and bog plants as the area was low lying. The Halfpenny element of the name was the cost to use the route when it was previously a short cut through the agricultural land on either side.

The 19th century would bring considerable change and development to the area with the arrival of Waterloo Station, however this had not yet been built by the time of the 1847 edition of Reynolds’s Splendid New Map Of London. Roupel Street had arrived, but apparently not yet fully built, along with the streets that would fill in the area to the north (more on this later in the post).

Roupell Street

Between the 1816 and 1847 maps, Stamford Street was completed linking Blackfriars and the now completed Waterloo Road.

To explore the area, I went for a walk from Roupell Street to Aquinas Street, shown by the dotted red line in the following map, starting at the red circled location of the hairdressers (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Roupell Street

This is the full view of the corner building with the barbers at street level:

Roupell Street

On the opposite corner is an identical building, even with the same bricked windows:

Roupell Street

With a bakers shop now occupying the corner position.

Looking down the full length of Roupell Street:

Roupell Street

The name of the street comes from John Roupell, who purchased the land and built the estate in the early 19th century.

John Roupell had a Bankside metal works, and seems to have inherited the wealth needed to pay £8,000 for the land through his wife’s family.

The street was laid out and construction started around 1824. when John Roupell was 64. The houses in the street seem to have been occupied from the early 1830s as from 1835 onwards, references to those living in the street, or local events, start appearing in the press. One strange mention concerns a murder in a pub garden in Broad Wall, at the eastern end of Roupell Street, when during the inquest, one witness stated:

“John Bingley deposed he is a private watchman. On Sunday morning, about twenty minutes after two, witness was in Roupell-street; he heard a voice – apparently that of a women – exclaim ‘Here’s a villain! – he has got me down and is trying to kill me’.

By the Coroner – Did you hear any other words?

Witness – Yes, i heard the same voice say ‘Come to me’ and then in a fainter tone, ‘Have mercy on me’.

Apparently John Bingley thought it was a drunken row, and took no notice of the matter, he did not see any person answering the description of the deceased either alone, or accompanied by any other person – he does not sound perhaps the most pro-active watchman that you would want to employ on London’s streets.

Roupell built two storey terrace housing. Brick built, directly onto the street with no front garden or a small area protected by railings. Open the front door and you are directly on the street.

Roupell Street

The first time that Roupell Street features in London’s newspapers is when the London Evening Standard reported, on the 1st June 1829, the impact of Roupell’s builders working extra hours:

“On Saturday evening a fire broke out in Roupell-street in one of the new houses belonging to Mr Roupell. On the first alarm, the engines of the Palladium and West of England fire-offices promptly attended, and by the aid of a plentiful supply of water the flames were prevented from spreading, and eventually subdued in about an hour, but not before one of the houses, nearly in a finished state, was totally destroyed and the adjoining one considerably damaged.

The fire originated under these circumstances:- Mr Roupell had bound himself by contract to have both houses finished by a given time, and the period fast approaching, men were employed to work beyond the usual hours.

Some of them were in the act of pitching some gutters, when the pot boiled over and set fire to the shavings and wood with such rapidity that it was with some difficulty all the workmen succeeded in effecting their escape.

Of course none of the houses were insured, as they were in an unfinished state.”

The street was quickly finished after the fire. By the time of the 1841 census, Roupell Street seems to have had a good population, with 250 people recorded in the census as living in the street.

Roupell had built the street for what were described as “artisan workers” and the 1841 census provides a view of the professions of what must have been some of the first people living in the street. This included; painters, labourers, clerks, printers, bakers, carpenters, bricklayers, compositors, paper hanger, hatter, an excise officer, lighterman, warehouseman – all the typical jobs that you expect to find in such a street in 1840s London.

Roupell Street

This Citroen has been parked on the street for many years, and provides one of the most photographed views of the street.

Roupell Street

Walking further down Roupell Street, and a pedestrian walkway that was once a street cuts across. This is Windmill Walk.

On either side of the northern entrance to Windmill Walk are two buildings that have what appears to be shop fronts, along with what could be a very faded painted advertising sign on the wall.

Roupell Street

The 1910 Post Office Directory confirms that these were shops, and the businesses that operated in them at the start of the 20th century.

At number 61 (nearest the camera) was john Bowen Walters – Dairyman and at number 62 was Arthur Edward Cowdery – Baker.

The 2007 Conservation Area Statement records that the shop fronts are replacement / reproductions of the originals.

Directly across the street from the above old shops, is the Kings Arms, a brilliant local pub:

Kings Arms

The Kings Arms was part of the original build of the street and has retained the same name since opening in the 1830s.

The first reference to the pub in the press provides a fascinating view of the agricultural nature of the area. An advert from the Morning Advertiser on the 22nd March 1836:

“Broadwall, Blackfriars-road – to Timber-merchants, Hard Wood-turners, Veneer-sawyers and Others, By Mr. C. COULTON on the Premises, a field opposite the King’s Arms, Roupell-street, Broadwall, on THURSDAY, March 24, at Twelve.

COMPRISING two hundred Yew Trees – to be paid for on the fall of the hammer. may be viewed till the sale, and Catalogues had of the Auctioneer, No 32, Union-street, Borough”.

The advert shows that in the 1830s, reminders of the old agricultural nature of this part of Lambeth could still be found. Two hundred yew trees sounds like a reasonable number so this was not a small field. I do not believe they like water logged conditions, so the typical wet conditions of the Lambeth Marsh were also disappearing.

The trees were almost certainly being sold to release the field for building, as in the late 1830s and 1840s, the remaining open space was being built on.

The majority of Roupell Street has a uniform appearance, however walking further east along the street and there is a three storey pair of houses.

Roupell Street

These houses were not part of the original construction of the street as within the triangular pediment at the top of the building there is the date 1891 which is presumably the date of construction.

The two houses retain the same width as those along the rest of the street and the doors and windows are also much the same, so it may be that in 1891 only the top floor and pediment was added to two existing terrace houses. Perhaps some late 19th century home improvements.

John Roupell died on the 23rd December 1835, when the St James’s Chronicle reported that he had died in his 75th year at his own residence in Roupell Street. Along with Roupell Street, he had a substantial portfolio of land and property in south London, part of which gets mentioned in a news report when his son Richard Palmer Roupell was a witness to a possible murder in his grounds at Norwood. At the inquest, Richard Palmer Roupell was described as a lead merchant of Cross-street, Blackfriars who has a country residence at Brixton Hill.

It may have been Richard Palmer Roupell who developed Theed Street which runs north from Roupell Street:

Theed Street

Theed Street still consists of a terrace of two storey houses, however there is a very different treatment at the top of the buildings where instead of the rise and fall of the triangular wall in Roupell Street, Theed Street has a top wall blanking off the roof at the rear, giving the impression of a more substantial row of houses.

According to Reynolds’s Splendid New Map Of London published in 1847, Theed Street had not yet been built. See the annotated map below:

Theed Street

I am not sure whether the 1847 map is correct. Greenwood’s map from 1828 shows what would become Theed Street as an unnamed street running between two fields. It could be that in 1847 it was still unnamed and running between fields and therefore not considered worth recording – one of the challenges of trying to interpret maps of different scales and over the years as London changes.

Greenwood’s map does show that Roupell Street was originally called Navarino Street (after a naval sea battle fought by the British and allies against the Ottoman and Egyptian forces in the Greek War of Independence in 1827). This was in 1828, and Roupell seems to have quickly changed the name of the street.

Branching off Theed Street is Whittlesey Street which continues the same architectural style of Theed Street:

Whittlesey Streeet

Looking back up Theed Street towards Roupell Street – not a parked car in sight which adds considerably to the view:

Theed Street

In the above photo, the house on the right is to the same design as those in Theed Street, and the way that the top line of brick hides the rear slopping roof can be seen.

Not what you expect to see running across the street of such a densely built area:

Whittlesey Street

Where Windmill Walk crosses Whittlesey Street:

Windmill Walk

The towers in the distance of the above photo are the new blocks recently built around the Shell Centre site on the Southbank.

Reaching the end of Whittlesey Street, where the street meets Cornwall Road, the following photo is looking south with the railway bridge over the street and above that, the pedestrian walkways that take travelers down to the platforms of Waterloo East.

Cornwall Road

On the corner of Whittlesey Street and Cornwall Road is another pub – the White Hart:

Roupell Street

Another pub that has been here since the development of the area and that has retained the same name. The first record I can find of the pub dates from the 25th January 1849 when they placed an advert in the Morning Advertiser for a Barman or Under-Barman. In the advert the pub was described as “a respectable Tavern”.

From here, I am going to take a short walk from the area of Roupell’s developments as there is another street with some fantastic architecture.

Following the route in the map shown earlier in the post, I walked north along Cornwall Road to turn right onto Stamford Street, then south down Coin Street to find Aquinas Street:

Aquinas Street

Aquinas Street is early 20th century, so later than Roupell, Theed and Whittlesey Streets, but like these early 19th century streets, Aquinas Street is lined by rows of terrace houses of a continuous and unique design.

This is the south side of the street:

Aquinas Street

The south side of the street dates from 1911, and in the conservation area statement are described as Neo-Georgian, with their original doors, sash windows and railings. The terrace is Grade II listed.

The northern side of the street has a continuous terrace of houses, but of a very different style:

Aquinas Street

Substantial three storeys, each with a full height bay. They are not what you expect to find in this part of Lambeth and represent a rare example of a surviving, continuous terrace of houses dating from the early decades of the 20th century.

Aquinas Street

Aquinas Street is a perfect example of some of the wonderful streets that can be found by turning off the main streets of the city.

Aquinas Street

I started the post with the hairdressers / barbers on the corner of Roupell Street, so I will conclude the post by returning to the Roupell family.

John Roupell, the original developer of the estate, died in 1835. He died a wealthy man.

His son Richard Palmer Roupell had four children, however it appears that John Roupell was unaware of his grandchildren as Richard had the children with Sarah Crane who was recorded as the daughter of a carpenter. John Roupell would apparently have disapproved of this match, so Richard hid the relationship from him.

One of the four sons of Richard Roupell was William Roupell. He discovered that his father left his estate to his brother Richard, who was the only son born after Richard and Sarah had married (after John Roupell had died).

Richard forged his father’s will to leave his estate to his mother with Richard as executor. He was able to borrow against the estate. He also became an MP for Lambeth.

He had substantial debts and when those who had lent him money called for the debts to be repaid, he fled to Spain. He was persuaded to return, and then tried at the Old Bailey in 1862.

The trial gained considerable publicity, because of the level of forgeries, and because Roupell had been an MP.

An account of the trial was published, published in 1862 and described as “From the shorthand notes of Mr. G. Blagrave Snell – Shorthand writer to the Court of Bankruptcy”. The introduction to the account provides an indication of the sensational nature of the trial:

“The following pages contain the whole of the startling details of one of the most extraordinary series of forgeries that was ever disclosed in a court of justice in this country. No work of fiction, it may safely be said, ever was conceived, in which all the incidents that go to make up a tale of thrilling interest, can be more striking than is this bare, unvarnished tale of truth.

The principal party concerned in it was but the other day a member of Parliament, and a man of whom many prophesised that it would be no long time ere he would rise to distinction in the senate; but who by embarking on a career of reckless profligacy, has brought down absolute ruin upon himself, and upon his family an amount of calamity wholly undeserved, which would have been far greater had he not surrendered to justice by placing himself in the felon’s dock.

It was but recently that the pubic were surprised at the resignation of the Member for Lambeth. They little knew the tale that lay behind that resignation. They little knew that forgery and fraud had been the common paths and beaten ways of William Roupell for seven long years; that he had wasted the patrimony of his family, and had reduced them to comparative poverty even before his father’s death.

At length the fatal truth came out, and he was obliged either to face his father’s executors or fly the country. The family property had been fraudulently sold, and it was only when overwhelmed with difficulties, pecuniary and otherwise, that he resolved to confess the whole truth, even at the bar of the court of justice”.

A dramatic end to a once wealthy family, however we still have John Roupell’s original development as a memorial to his achievements, rather than his fraudulent grandson.

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Carlton House Terrace

For today’s post, I am in Carlton House Terrace. It is one of my favourite types of post as I am looking for a place that has been demolished, the site has changed significantly, however I can still find part of a building that helps to confirm the location.

The following photo was taken by my father in 1949, and shows a house in some form of courtyard, with some steps to a street on the right.

Carlton House Terrace

The location should be easy to find as the house has the address 22A Carlton House Terrace next to the door. The photo appears to have been taken from underneath some form of archway.

As well as finding the location of the above photo, I took a walk through the area to the north of Carlton House Terrace to explore the stairs and streets which few people seem to walk.

The following map shows my route, starting at S, where Carlton House Terrace meets Waterloo Place, and ending at E, on Pall Mall. Also on the map, the arrow shows the location of the photo (start of the arrow) pointing in the direction of the stairs through to the wall seen in the background of the stairs in the 1949 photo. Although there is a very different building on the site today, I will explain how I found the location in the rest of the post  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Carlton House Terrace

This is the view along Carlton House Terrace from the junction with Waterloo Place. The street is a dead end with no exit for vehicles.

Carlton House Terrace

On the right of the above photo are the houses that were originally part of the plan by the architect John Nash to enhance the background to St James’s Park as the other side of the houses face onto The Mall, with the park on the other side.

Although part of the plans developed by Nash, much of the terrace seems to have been heavily influenced by architect Decimus Burton. The terrace was constructed in 1831.

Carlton House Terrace consists of a run of terrace houses, divided by the stairs that lead down from the end of Waterloo Place down to The Mall. The houses provide an impressive background to the northern edge of The Mall, however it is in Carlton House Terrace that we find the front of the buildings with their entrances and forecourts, and facades whilst not as impressive as on The Mall, still with considerable grandeur.

Carlton House Terrace

The round plaque in the above photo records that William Gladstone, the Liberal politician and Prime Minister lived in the house.

The view along the southern edge of Carlton House Terrace. The rear of these buildings face onto The Mall:

Carlton House Terrace

On the opposite side of the street is a relatively modern development. The number on the first building – 24 Carlton House Terrace – shows that the building is close to the 22A in my father’s photo.

Carlton House Terrace

A wider view of the northern side of Carlton House Terrace.

Carlton House Terrace

The large building on the left dates from the 1970s and is the former head office of the mining company Anglo American. It is this building that is on the site of my father’s photo.

To identify the location, I turned to the 1951 revision of the Ordnance Survey map as this was only two years after my father’s photo.

In the following photo I have marked the position from where the photo was taken with the red dot (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Carlton House Terrace

The red dot is under a feature which has an X arcros the dark grey for a building. The use of X is to show a building which has a walk / roadway through at ground level, and the buildings continue above. This explains the dark walls of such a feature on either side and above the immediate location of the 1949 photo.

Following the arrow across the open courtyard, and on the left of number 22A is the symbol for a set of stairs, exactly as seen in my father’s photo.

As usual, there is so much to discover in these maps. To the right of the above map is a building labelled “Old County Hall”. If we go back further to the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, we can see the same building labelled London County Council Office (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Carlton House Terrace

This was the first offices of the London County Coucil after it was formed in 1889, and prior to the move to County Hall on the Southbank in 1922. Prior to the London County Council, the building was occupied by the Metropolitan Board of Works, which the London County Council replaced.

The above 1895 map also shows the same features as the 1951 map, providing confirmation of the same features in my father’s photo.

if you look at the above two maps, the arrow in the first map is pointing to the houses on the south side of Carlton House Terrace, and there is a curving feature to the edge of the forecourt in the centre of the terrace.

The same feature can be found today, with the railings curving from street to building:

Carlton House Terrace

My father’s photo is looking towards some stairs which lead up to Carlton House Terrace, and through the gap above the stairs we can see part of the wall of a building.

To the left of the hut in the above photo is a drain pipe, and this can also be seen above the stairs. In the following photo, I have outlined the area of wall in red and included an extract from the 1951 photo to show the same area of wall.

Carlton House Terrace

The following photo is from the south side of Carlton House Terrace, in front of the building in the above photo, looking across to the location of the stairs in my father’s photo. If I have worked out the exact location correctly, the stairs were just behind the car in the middle of the photo.

Carlton House Terrace

The above building was built during the 1970s. I cannot find when the buildings, courtyard and stairs in my father’s photo were demolished, however I suspect they were part of the demolitions to free up space for the building which now covers much of the northern side of this stretch of Carlton House Terrace, and occupy a large area of space back to Warwick House Street.

The following photo is from the eastern end of Carlton House Terrace, looking back to the junction with Waterloo Place and the stairs down to The Mall. The Duke of York’s Column (dating from 1834) which marks the stairs to the Mall and the split between the two sections of the terrace can be seen in the distance.

Carlton House Terrace

The street and terrace are named after Carlton House, which occupied much of the space now occupied by Waterloo Place. Carlton House had a considerable area of gardens which covered the space where today we can find the two sections of the terrace, on either side of the Duke of York’s Column.

I will save the story of the house and the rest of the terrace for another post, as my walk explored a couple of the streets to the north, between the terrace and Cockspur Street / Pall Mall (see map at start of the post).

Although Carlton House Terrace is a dead end for traffic, there is an exit for pedestrians, with some stairs at the far north eastern corner of the terrace.

Carlton House Terrace

Looking back up the stairs, and there is an artwork by the sculptor David John Kent titled “States of Mind” at the top of the stairs:

Carlton House Terrace

Close up view of “States of Mind”:

Carlton House Terrace

The stairs take us into a short street called Cockspur Court that leads from Spring Gardens. Cockspur Court is a dead end, and its only function seems to be to provide a service access to the surrounding buildings.

In the centre of Cockspur Court appears to be the loneliest tree in London. No other trees within view, and a tree that must spend much of its time in shade due to the height of the surrounding buildings.

Cockspur Court

Looking across the court, and a building on the far side has the words “Grand Trunk Railway” displayed.

Cockspur Court

The following photo was taken towards the end of Cockspur Court, looking back towards Spring Gardens, again showing the lonely tree. The stairs down from Carlton House Terrace are behind the tree, and the large building behind the tree, and also running over Cockspur Court is the British Council Building, much of which occupies the space where the first London County Council building was located.

Cockspur Court

Although a dead end for vehicles, at the end of Cockspur Court, there is another set of steps:

Cockspur Court

Walking up these steps, and between two buildings:

Warwick House Street

Which leads into Warwick House Street:

Warwick House Street

Despite appearing to be just a service road for the buildings on either side, Warwick House Street is actually a very old street, which predates Carlton House Terrace, and survives from the time of Car;ton House and the extensive gardens just to the south.

In the following extract from Rocque’s map of London from 1746, I have ringed Warwick Street, now Warwick House Street:

Warwick House Street

Referring back to the maps earlier in the post, it can be seen that the street follows the same route as the much earlier Warwick Street, apart from a slight change at the final junction with Cockspur Street.

In the 1747 map above, large gardens can be seen to the south. Carlton House Terrace now occupies this space.

Warwick House Street consists of the backs of buildings that face onto other streets. To the north is Cockspur Street and Pall Mall, and there are a number of interesting buildings that have their backs on Warwick House Street, for example, this interesting mix of materials and shapes:

Warwick House Street

And on the same building that had “Grand Trunk Railway” displayed at the top, has “The Grand Trunk Railways of Canada” inscribed above the ground floor of the rear of the building:

Warwick House Street

Looking back along the street towards Cockspur Street and Trafalgar Square along a street that was here in 1746:

Warwick House Street

To take a look at the front of these buildings, I walked round to Cockspur Street.

The Brazilian Embassy occupies the buildings which has the ground floor with a mix of materials and shapes:

Brazilian Embassy

And the building with the railway references also has one on the front with the “Canadian National Railway Company”, the company that the “Trunk Railways” became part of. It is now the London Visitor Centre, and if I remember rightly, in the 1980s was the US Visitor Centre.

Canadian National Railway Company

Confirming the building’s Canadian heritage, between the windows of the upper floors are the coats of arms of the provinces and territories of Canada:

Canadian National Railway Company

I am pleased I found the location of the photo at the top of the post. Buildings and a view that have long been lost, however it is always good to find the exact location, and some remaining part of the view.

The sides streets are very close to Trafalgar Square, but are very quiet, mainly as they are basically service roads to the buildings on either side, but finding one that has been here since at least 1746 shows that whilst major houses and gardens come and go, and spaces are significantly reconfigured, in London, it is always possible to find traces of the past.

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Euston Station and HS2 – A 2021 Update

For the past four 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 at 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

One year on, and in 2021, the majority of the buildings in the surrounding streets have now been demolished, and work has extended to the west of Hampstead Road, along with the grounds between Euston Station and Euston Road. Walking the area now provides an indication of just how large an area is being developed for HS2’s London terminus at Euston station.

So for 2021’s update, in today’s post are some of the photos from a walk through the area that will become Euston’s new HS2 station, following the route shown in the following map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Euston Station and HS2

This is the view looking west from point S in the above map, at the south western corner of the station.

Euston Station and HS2

The road in the foreground is what was Melton Street, which now provides one of the access routes into the works.

From this point, there are a couple of pedestrian walkways that have been created through the site:

Euston Station and HS2

I turned right to head towards Drummond Street. The following photo is looking along the closed Melton Street. The old Euston Underground station of Leslie Green’s distinctive design is the one remaining building on the corner of Melton Street and Drummond Street.

Euston Station and HS2

View across Melton Street to the left of the above photo:

Euston Station and HS2

Here is the turning which takes you across Melton Street to Drummond Street:

Euston Station and HS2

The old underground station:

Euston Station and HS2

This was the station back in 2016, on the day I went on a Hidden London tour to visit the closed tunnels below the station. You can read my post of the visit here.

Euston Underground Station

Into Cobourg Street and the Exmouth Arms is still open, on the edge of the construction site.

Exmouth Arms

Another access gate at the end of Cobourg Street:

Euston Station and HS2

From where we can look out over what was St James Gardens, which is now a large hole:

Euston Station and HS2

View back along Cobourg Street showing on the left the large and continuous hoardings that have been erected along the edge of the construction site:

Euston Station and HS2

I cut through to the Hampstead Road and started walking north. This is the junction of Cardington Street with Hampstead Road:

Euston Station and HS2

Walking further north along Hampstead Road and the area to the left of the street, south of the rail lines out of Euston are now another major construction site:

Euston Station and HS2

Work had not started here back in February 2020, and now demonstrates how large an area is being covered by the work to create the new Euston Station and HS2. The entrance to the new work area:

Euston Station and HS2

Obligatory camera over the wall shot to see the existing tracks running into Euston:

Euston Station

Walking back south along Hampstead Road, and it is not just the geographic size of the construction work, but the related infrastructure, with a number of large, temporary buildings constructed for those working on the site:

Euston Station and HS2

Back into Drummond Street and this is looking from the part of the street that has not been touched, through to the demolished section which now forms the pedestrian walking route to Euston station:

Euston Station and HS2

Although the western section of many of the surrounding streets are not being demolished, there are several works taking place along their length:

Euston Station and HS2

The following photo is from the junction of Euiston Street (which once went straght on) and Cobourg Street on the left:

Bree Louise

The above photo was the location of the Bree Louise pub, here photographed just after the pub closed in 2018:

Bree Louise

With hoardings in place in 2019:

Bree Louise

Work blocking off Regnart Buildings:

Euston Station and HS2

View along Cobourg Street from the end of Euston Street:

Euston Station and HS2

The whole construction site is very secure, with very few points to look in and see the work underway. Tall hoardings with information about local businesses and institutes, what there is to find in the area, the history of Euston station, the future HS2 etc. line the entire site, with well protected work access points the only means of access:

Euston Station and HS2

Work access point at the entrance to what was the eastern section of Drummond Street:

Euston Station and HS2

Walking back to Euston Road, and this is the Melton Street access point:

Euston Road

There is now only a short length of Melton Street in use, providing access for taxis and drop offs at the station to the immediate right. The traffic lights providing access to Euston Road only seem to change to green for a couple of vehicles, resulting in a number of rather irate drivers.

Further along Euston Road, and this view is looking across the bus access road to the station, to what was green space in front of the station:

Euston Road

This green space is where demonstrators occupied the trees and dug tunnels a few months ago. Fencing around the site now seems to resemble some form of high secure establishment rather than a constructiion site.

Two layers of fencing, with an outer green mesh metal fence, and inner hoardings:

Euston Road

Indeed the whole Euston Station and HS2 construction site is the most secure of this type of construction site that I have seen. As well as the metal fencing and continuous hoardings through the site, there are plenty of orange high-vis security staff guarding entrances and walking the boundaries.

North east corner of the green space in front of the station. Closed Euston Square leading up to Euston Road on the left resulting in buses coming out of the station having to divert around Grafton Place adding to the congestion in the area:

Euston Road

The corner of Euston Square and Euston Road:

Euston Station and HS2

From the walkways and streets available to the public, there is really not much to see. The construction phase has reached what appears to be the end of demolition, there are plenty of big holes in the ground and temporary structures, but nothing yet of the new station.

According to the HS2 web site, “Phase One will open between 2029 and 2033”, so a minimum of eight more annual posts walking around Euston Station and HS2, more probably around twelve. By 2033 this area will look very different.

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Embankment Gardens Art Exhibition and the Adelphi

The Victoria Embankment Gardens has often been the location for an open air art exhibition, and a couple of the photos in my father’s collection show the 1952 exhibition:

Embankment Gardens Open Air Art Exhibition

This could have been a difficult photo to locate, however the feature in the background made it easy to find the exact place. This is the same scene on a very sunny June day in 2021:

Embankment Gardens

The first exhibition appears to have been in 1948, as an article in the Sphere on the 23rd May 1953 describes that year’s exhibition as the sixth annual open air exhibition of contemporary art. The article also states that the exhibitions were sponsored by the London County Council, and that “On all days except the final day the pictures are for sale”, which seems rather strange, not also to sell them on the final day of the exhibition.

Exhibitions also seem to have been during part of the month of May, which would explain the coats worn by those in the photo, although that could really be any summer’s day given typical British weather.

The little girl in the photo looks to be around five or six. She would now be around 75 and the only one from the photo still alive.

The Illustrated London News on the 12th May 1962 describes that year’s exhibition as opening on the 30th April and running to the 12th May, with 700 paintings on display from both amateur and professional artists.

There is some British Pathe film of the 1949 exhibition which can be seen here, where “Our Roving Camera Reports”.

The monument behind the exhibition which enabled the location to be found, is to Henry Fawcett, the rather remarkable blind MP who championed the cause of women’s suffrage. His interests in the cause led him to meet Elizabeth Garrett who rejected his proposal of marriage in order to concentrate on becoming a doctor. He went on to marry Elizabeth’s younger sister, Millicent Garrett.

A statue of Millicent Garret Fawcett was unveiled in Parliament Square in 2018 with the words from one of her speeches “Courage calls to courage everywhere”.

The wall behind the monument is part of one of the air vents to the cut and cover underground Circle and District lines, a short distance below the surface.

The monument to Henry Fawcett:

Embankment Gardens

A wider view of Embankment Gardens, with the monument on the left.

Embankment Gardens

The gardens are looking very green with plenty of plants and trees, which would cause a problem trying to recreate the following photo of the art exhibition:

Embankment Gardens Art exhibition

My father took the above picture from the Adelphi Terrace, overlooking the gardens. The art exhibition is running along the pathway through the gardens, and shows how far to the right the exhibition ran, as the edge of the Fawcett monument can just be seen on the very left edge of the photo. The Thames and Waterloo Bridge can be seen in the background.

Adelphi Terrace, from where the above photo was taken is shown in the following photo:

Adelphi Terrace

I walked up and down the terrace looking over the wall to the gardens below, trying to recreate my father’s photo, however the trees and bushes have grown considerably since 1952, and the best I could get was the following photo:

Embankment Gardens

There is a small bit of wall visible in the gardens in the centre of the photo. This is not the monument or wall in the 1952 photo, rather a nearby fish pond, a short distance from where the art exhibition was held, and the nearest I could get to recreating the photo.

The Adelphi Terrace is in front of the Adelphi building, and raises the street around the Adelphi up above Savoy Place which runs at ground level between the Adelphi building and Embankment Gardens.

The following photo was taken from Savoy Place looking up at the terrace and the rather magnificent Adelphi building, and shows the height of the terrace:

Adelphi

The main entrance to the Adelphi building is on John Adam Street, and the building consists of two outer wings which extend over the terrace as shown in the above photo, with the core of the building between and behind the two wings, up to John Adam Street.

The Adelphi building is in the centre of the following map, which also shows the Victoria Embankment Gardens and the Henry Fawcett memorial to the right of the gardens (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Adelphi

I thought I had a photo of the Adelphi from across the river, but I cannot find it. I did find a photo I took a few years ago which shows the three wings of the Adelphi as the building on the left of the photo.

Adelphi

From this distance the building does not look that impressive. It is only when you walk around the building that its unique decorative features can be seen.

The Adelphi was built between 1936 and 1938, by architect Stanley Hamp of the partnership Colcutt and Hamp.

Of standard steel frame and reinforced concrete construction, what makes the building rather special is the large amount of architectural decoration and design that follow the art deco approach.

In the photo of the building from Savoy Place, two large allegorical relief figures can be seen on the two wings that extend over the terrace. There are four of these (the other two are on the other corners of the wings). These represent Dawn, Contemplation, Inspiration and Night, with Contemplation and Night being seen in the above photo.

The following photo shows a detailed view of “Night” by the sculptor Donald Gilbert.

Adelphi

The following photo shows “Dawn” by Bainbridge Copnall, with architectural decoration extending above the sculpture to fill in part of the curved corner of one of the wings.

Adelphi

There is detail across the building. The following photo shows a side entrance on Robert Street. Note also that where the building faces towards the river, Portland stone is used, with brick used for the other facades, but retaining Portland stone for the ground floor and architectural detailing.

Adelphi

The sides of the building have small decorative panels between the brick pillars:

Adelphi

And carved coats of arms of UK cities between the ground and first floors. Three of these can be seen in the above photo, and in close up, the arms of Sheffield, Derby and Birmingham can be seen below:

Adelphi

Another view of Adelphi Terrace, which was constructed in part due to the 1930s expectation of the rise of the car as a means transport within the city, as well as replicating the original terrace:

Adelphi Terrace

Construction of the Adelphi in the 1930s required the demolition of an historic estate.

The original Adelphi estate was the work of Robert Adams and his three brothers, John, James and William. The name Adelphi comes from the Greek word adelphós, meaning brothers.

In the mid 18th century, the area now occupied by the Adelphi had been a rather run down area called Durham Yard, which had been the location of Durham House. At the time, the Embankment Gardens had not been built, so the space now occupied by the Adelphi was then facing on to the foreshore to the Thames. The damp conditions and flooding at high tide meant that this was not a good area to build the type of quality houses intended by Adams.

The plan developed, mainly by Robert Adams, was to build the houses and streets on a series of arches, which increased in height as the land descended from the Strand down to the river.

This was how the terrace came into being as the end of the estate overlooking what was then the edge of the River Thames. The following print from 1795 shows the terrace as it appeared soon after construction  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Adelphi Terrace

However the Adelphi Terrace in the above print is not in the same position as the Adelphi Terrace we can walk along today. In the above print, the block of buildings on the right were demolished to make way for the Adelphi building (not the building at the far end as we shall see).

In preparation for the construction of the Adelphi building, the whole of the block of houses that occupied the area, included the arches and space underneath the houses, was demolished all the way back to John Adam Street. As part of the build of the Adelphi, construction was pushed forward up to Savoy Place, so the terrace is now forward of the terrace in the above print.

The following photo from just before demolition in 1936 shows the Adelphi Terrace on the left, with the block of houses which would also soon be demolished. In the background is the recently completed Shell Mex House (1932) with Savoy Place running to the lower right of Shell Mex House.

Adelphi Terrace

With the construction of the new Adelphi building and terrace, the terrace was pushed forward to also run up against Savoy Place, in line with Shell Mex House, so the area in the lower right of the above photo is now under the terrace.

Another view of Adelphi terrace around 1897 before the construction of Shell Mex House:

Adelphi Terrace

If you look to the left of the second lamp post in the above photo, you can just see a round plaque. This was a medallion of the Royal Society of Arts recording the fact that the actor David Garrick had lived in the house. It was in one of the back rooms of the house that the actor died in 1779.

The large building on the right on part of the site now occupied by Shell Mex House was the Hotel Cecil.

And if you had been living in one of the houses in the terrace, this would have been your view as you looked along the river to the east, with the corner of Hotel Cecil on the left, and the first Waterloo Bridge crossing the river.

View from Adelphi Terrace

At the time of the above photo, the Adelphi was described as “one of the finest places to live in all London, as well as for pleasantness of situation as for convenience. The noise of the Embankment is sufficiently far away, and the hooters and sirens on the river suggest that sense of freedom and open space which goes with ports and their kinship with the sea. All too uncommon in London, late at night, the loudest noise is often the wind in the trees which move the lights of silent shipping“. Not from an early 20th century Estate Agents description, the quote is from the book Wonderful London.

Continuing a walk around the Adelphi building, and more door surround decoration:

Adelphi

Looking back between the wings of the building, we can see bow windows extending outward, with metallic decoration:

Adelphi

More decorative carvings:

Adelphi

Balconies:

Adelphi

The main entrance to the Adelphi on John Adam Street:

Adelphi

What is confusing is if you look above the doors, is the address John Street, however if you look to the lower right, is the full name John Adam Street.

John Street seems to have been the original name, as it is used on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, and by the time of the 1951 revision, the current full name John Adam Street is used. I suspect the name change was when the Adelphi was built in the 1930s.

Having had a walk around the Adelphi building, time for a look at what remains of Robert Adam’s original estate. This is the view along Robert Street, with a fine terrace of buildings lining the side of the street. The end of the building on the left would have originally faced onto the original terrace, and is the same building at the far end of the terrace as in the 1795 print.

Robert Street

The scheme proposed by the Adams was highly ambitious. The land was sloping down to the river, and indeed consisted of part of the foreshore. The area would often flood at times of high tide.

Rather than building houses down along a sloping plot of land towards the river, with the resulting problems of damp and flooding, the plan consisted of building brick arches with the houses building on the platform created above.

The space within the arches would be sold or leased, and this approach would create a considerable improvement to the embankment of the Thames.

The following print from 1784 shows the completed estate with houses built above the arches which provided storage space easily accessible from the river  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Adelphi

The plan and construction was ambitious, and the financial side of the project was rather risky, as a lease on the land was only signed a year after construction had begun in 1768, and parliamentary approval to build the new embankment along the river was not granted until 1771.

Costs for the project were so high that the money had run out by 1773 when much of the estate had yet to be completed. To raise additional finance, a method common in the 18th century was used whereby a lottery with 4,370 tickets selling for £50 each raised enough to complete the estate. Prizes for lottery winners included some of the houses on the estate as well as storage space in the arches below.

The following plaque on the terrace in Robert Street identifies some of those who have lived in the houses:

Robert Street

View of the terrace in Robert Street from the junction with John Adam Street:

Robert Street

Strange that with street renaming, John Street changed to John Adam Street, however Robert Street kept the original name without a rename to the full Robert Adam.

The houses were highly decorated including Adam fireplaces. Many of the first floor ceilings were also painted by either the Swiss artist Angelica Kauffman or Giovanni Battista Cipriani from Florence.

Walking to the north of the Adelphi, along John Adam Street, and we find this building which was clearly not built as one of the terrace houses:

Royal Society

A plaque on the front identifies the building as the home of the Royal Society for the encouragement of arts, manufactures and commerce, which was founded in a coffee house in Covent Garden, and then moved to this building by Robert and James Adam in 1774. The building is still their home.

Royal Society

During the 1930s demolition ready for the construction of the Adelphi, demolition reached to the southern side of John Adam Street, so the street and home of the Royal Society are part of the original build, and the basement of the Royal Society building retains some of the brick arches built to raise the area above the sloping land.

In the 19th century, the arches and vaults below the houses had become somewhat different to what had been intended. The Sketch in 1903 includes the following description “The houses were built on deep arches that rivalled the Catacombs of Paris and these, at one time, were a great thieves kitchen, a tramps paradise, or doss house, that defied Watchmen and Bow Street Runners, and their successors the modern Peelers”.

There is probably some journalistic exaggeration in the above quote, however the following print from the mid 19th century does show a rather dark and gloomy place, underneath the Adam’s terrace houses  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Adelphi vaults

Looking along John Adam Street to the junction with Adam Street and we can see how the Adam’s plan included focal point houses at the end of the streets, and the type of decoration used.

The building in the background is Shell Mex House. When researching this post and after taking the above photo, I found the following print which shows the Royal Society building on the left, and the same building as in the photo, at the end of the street  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

John Adam Street

I should have found the above print before visiting the site as I would then have taken the photo slightly further back to include the Royal Society building. If you stand in the street today, ignore the new Adelphi to the right, and Shell Mex House, the view does look much the same as in 1795.

The following photo is looking up Adam Street. The junction with the Strand is further along the street to the left, with an original house at the end of the terrace with a curved extension to the smaller width of the street. Adam Street was cut through to the Strand as part of Adam’s construction of the Adelphi.

Adam Street

The house behind the white car has a GLC Blue Plaque stating that the 18th century industrialist and inventor Sir Richard Arkwright lived in the house, with English Heritage’s background to the plaque stating that Arwright lived some of the final years of his life here in Adam Street before his death in 1792.

Looking above the houses in the above photo, there is an unusual sight hidden within the dense building of this area south of the Strand. A brick chimney with some robust steelwork providing support from Shell Mex House.

Chimney by Shell Mex House

The type of brick chimney seen in the above photo was once relatively common across London, but now is an unusual sight. No idea of the chimney’s purpose, whether it was or maybe still is, part of the Shell Mex House heating system.

That was rather a detour from my father’s original photo of the open air art exhibition in the Victoria Embankment Gardens, but that is why I started the blog, as a means of getting out to find the location of a photo and discovering a wider area.

There is more to the story of the Adam’s brothers and the surrounding area, including the creation of the Embankment Gardens, Shell Mex House, and Lower Robert Street which still routes under part of the estate. The old river stairs that would have entered the river roughly along where Savoy Place is today, and some of the lost streets down to the river – hopefully all subjects for future posts.

And returning to the original photo, I wonder if the little girl in the photo can today remember walking in the gardens and alongside the art exhibition?

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St Paul’s Cathedral – 1977 and 2021

I was looking through some of my old negative scans and found four photos of St Paul’s Cathedral dating from 1977. Nothing special about the photos, and the cathedral is one of the buildings in the City that has not changed, however they did highlight how much dirt the cathedral had accumulated, and in comparison, how clean it looks today.

The following photo shows the view of the cathedral from the junction of Cannon Street and New Change in 1977:

St Paul's Cathedral

The following photo shows the same view, forty four years later in 2021::

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral has had a number of extensive cleaning and restoration projects over the years, however the state of the cathedral in 1977 was probably not what those who worked on the mid 1960s cleaning project would have expected.

At the end of the 1960s cleaning, it was expected that with recent clean air legislation, and the City of London being designated a smokeless zone the cathedral would remain clean and there was a possibility that in “250 years time, St Paul’s Cathedral will look as Sir Christopher Wren would have liked to have seen it”.

The above quote and the following still is from a fascinating BBC programme from 1965, when “Tonight” had a lengthy feature on the cleaning of St Paul’s Cathedral. The full programme can be watched here, and also highlights the 1960s approach to health and safety (as illustrated in the still below) as well as the rather basic method of cleaning employed. At times the wind lifted the sheets preventing cleaning water from falling to the streets, resulting in some very annoyed City Police Officers who threatened those cleaning the cathedral with a summons if they did not stop work as water was blowing as far as Cannon Street.

Cleaning St Paul's Cathedral

There is also a 1962 British Pathe film of the 1960s cleaning project here, which shows how jets of water and wire brushes were used to scrub the soot from the surface of the building, which in some areas was in layers over one inch thick.

Only 11 years after completion of the mid 1960s clean, the cathedral was again looking rather dirty.

St Paul's Cathedral

The above photo is the south facing side of the cathedral in 1977 and the photo below is the same view in 2021:

St Paul's Cathedral

In my 1977 photos, the cathedral appears cleaner towards the top, and dirtier towards the bottom of the building. Although central London was a much cleaner place than it had been for many centuries, vehicles were emitting far more pollutants than they do now, and pollution would still be blowing in from the surrounding area.

It is hard to appreciate just how dirty London was up until the late 1960s. Coal burning in homes, offices and factories along with electricity power stations, and industries producing gas from coal all contributed to a significant smog of pollution and dirt.

The 1960s cleaning of the cathedral had to deal with dirt that was over an inch thick in places, and we can get an idea of the impact of this amount of dirt from a Parliamentary question asked on the 06 April 1955 by Mr. George Isaacs, MP for Southwark, when he states that based on measuring equipment installed next to Bankside Power Station, and at the Town Hall in Walworth Road, they found that over a year, the “deposit recorded at that time was the equivalent to 235 tons to the square mile on Bankside and a mile away in Walworth Road the deposit was 60 tons to the square mile”.

In the written question, he states that it is necessary to live in the area to really know what the impact of this level of pollution to everyday life means, which he describes as: “Our people have grit in their eyes and grit in their food; there is grit underfoot and grit in the laundry on washing day. I know that what I say has happened. There are the large blocks of the Peabody Buildings less than 150 yards from the station. The only place there for women to dry their laundry is on the roof. They put their laundry on the roof, and the grit comes down. Father comes home to tea, and mother goes upstairs to take in the washing, and when she comes down father knows all about it because she is not in a good humour if she finds that she has to do her laundry all over again. I can say with some justification that this is a nuisance not only physically but in the way it upsets amenities and family life in the area”.

The following graph shows how the level of pollution in London, measured by Suspended Particulate Matter (measured in micrograms per cubic metre), has changed over time (source: What the history of London’s air pollution can tell us about the future of today’s growing megacities by Hannah Ritchie, using data from Foquet (2011) –  Creative Commons BY license):

St Paul's Cathedral

Whether these figures could have been accurately measured going back to 1700 is an interesting question, however the key point of the graph is the overall shape, and the rapid decrease in the second half of the twentieth century, confirming that the air is London is now much cleaner than it has been for many centuries.

The cathedral featured in classroom material produced by the National Society for Clean Air. A chart was produced which included a before and after the recent cleaning view of St Paul’s Cathedral. The chart also included a picture of a boy and girl in clean country air, as well as devices such as smokeless domestic heating equipment. Rather scarily, the chart also included drawings of the sections of the lungs of those living in the city and in the countryside, showing the damage that was being done to the lungs of city dwellers.

School education continues, with the Mayor of London now producing toolkits for schools focusing on air pollution and the dangers of high levels of Nitrogen Dioxide, which particularly affects children, and those with breathing difficulties.

Whilst the clogging grit and smoke that quickly blackened London’s buildings may no longer be a problem, invisible gases such as Nitrogen Dioxide, and very small particulate matter are now the main problem.

Another view of the south facing side of the cathedral in 1977:

St Paul's Cathedral

The same view today of a much cleaner building:

St Paul's Cathedral

The most recent full clean of St Paul’s Cathedral completed in 2011 ready for the 300th anniversary of the cathedral.

This had been a 14 year project which cleaned both the interior and exterior of the building. There were some controversial methods used to clean the cathedral, including a latex paste that was applied to the interior stone, which absorbed the layer of dirt and allowed this to be pulled away with the latex layer.

New methods have frequently been used for cleaning the building. In 1903, an American method of stone cleaning where a blast of pitsand was blown at the cathedral walls through a tube at a pressure of 30lb to the square inch, to try and remove the soot and dirt that was ingrained on the Portland stone of the building.

The main west facing entrance to the cathedral in 1977, photographed from Ludgate Hill.

St Paul's Cathedral

The same view today:

St Paul's Cathedral

My early memories of walking through the City are of a grey and dirty place, although it is also difficult to be sure how real some of these memories are. What is certain is that the buildings of the City are now much cleaner. The air in many places is better, but there are still many places where pollution levels are too high, generally close to busy roads as London today does not have the same polluting industries as it did.

Hopefully George Isaacs, MP for Southwark would be happy with the change, as well as Sir Christopher Wren who would now recognise the cathedral as it was when it was built.

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Kynance Mews – Kensington

One of the pleasures of walking in London is turning off a very busy road and finding a very different place. The Cromwell Road in west London carries four lanes of traffic in and out of London, with the road being the main road route from Heathrow Airport to central London. It is the A4 that leads to the start of the M4 motorway. Lined with hotels, including the world’s largest Holiday Inn hotel. The road also passes the Natural History and V&A museum.

However, turn off the Cromwell Road opposite the Holiday Inn and after a four minute walk you will find one of the most picturesque of London’s mews.

This is Kynance Mews, which my father photographed in 1986:

Kynance Mews

The same view thirty five years later:

Kynance Mews

The mews are a favourite of “travel and lifestyle” bloggers as well as on Instagram. I resisted the temptation to take any selfies whilst posing in front of the many picturesque locations along the mews.

I have marked the location of Kynance Mews with the red oval in the following map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Kynance Mews

Cromwell Road is the large road running across the bottom of the map.

As well as finding the location of my father’s photo, I took a short walk to have a look at a couple of the streets in the area. I have marked the route on the following map, with the location of the two photos at the top of the post marked by the red circle (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Kynance Mews

Kynance Mews starts on the Gloucester Road, where an arch can be found leading into the mews. The road on the immediate right of the entrance to the mews is called Kynance Place.

Kynance Mews

Looking through the arch and we can see Kynance Mews disappearing into the distance.

Kynance Mews

Kynance Mews is a few feet lower than Kynance Place and separated by a high brick wall.

Kynance Mews

Kynance Mews date from the 1860s, and owes its existance to the estate that was built to the south. The name is also not the original name for the mews.

The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the area thirty years after completion. In the centre of the map is the centre of the development – Cornwall Gardens, and behind the large houses on the north of the gardens is Cornwall Mews  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Kynance Mews

The central area from Gloucester Road on the right and the edge of the map on the left was owned by Thomas Broadwood from 1803. By the 1850s, the area surrounding Broadwood’s land was being developed, and in 1862, Thomas Broadwood’s son (also called Thomas) decided to develop their own estate on the land.

After laying sewers in 1862, construction started on the houses and this work would continue until the mid 1870s. Work included the construction of Cornwall Mews which were built to provide stables to the large houses that the mews backed on to, the houses which formed the northern side of Cornwall Gardens.

The name Cornwall Gardens was chosen as the year when construction started (1862) was also the 21st birthday of the Prince of Wales, who also had the title of the Duke of Cornwall (the future King Edward VII).

The mews seem to have changed name from Cornwall to Kynance Mews around 1924. Kynance retains the Cornish connection with Kynance Cove on the Lizard, near Helson in Cornwall.

The entrance to Kynance Mews from Gloucester Road, with Kynance Place on the right of the mews entrance is one of the many strange street and building configurations on the estate. Kynance Mews is truncated in length and does not run the full length of Cornwall Gardens. Building lengths vary, and there are some rather odd alignments with the houses of neighbouring streets.

The reason comes down to Thomas Broadwood’s original land holding, with these early boundaries dictating the street and house plans we still see today.

In the following map, I have outlined Thomas Broadwood’s land holding, and the boundaries of the Cornwall Gardens development in red. Cornwall / Kynance Mews runs along the top right of the boundary, but stops short as the end of the mews hit another land boundary, with the length of the houses at this point decreasing to align with the boundary  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Kynance Mews

The red line of Broadwood’s boundary reveal some very strange street and building configurations. As we walk into Kymamce Mews, one of these can be seen with the first building in the mews that borders Kynance Place (then St Georges Place).

In the following photo the end of the boundary wall is on the right, followed by the first building, which starts of narrow and then does widen out slightly as Kynance Mews and Kynance Place diverge (see the above map).

Kynance Mews

The first section of Kynance Mews is relatively short, with Launceston Place cutting across (another Cornish connection with the Cornish town of the same name).

At the end of the first section, and start of the second section are two more arches that frame the entrance to Kynance Mews:

Kynance Mews

All three arches are Grade II listed, with their Historic England listing describing them as “Archway. Circa 1860. Simple stucco arch with rusticated piers and vermiculated architrave, cornice over”.

Crossing Launceston Place, and we can look back at the shorter section of Kynance Mews:

Kynance Mews

I visited the mews in April, before the plants and trees along the mews had come into leaf or flower. The two arches in Launceston Place should by now be topped with hanging green branches – part of what makes the mews popular with the Instagram and Lifestyle / Travel communities.

Walking through the arch and there is a sign on the right of the arch that points to a Right of Way and some hidden steps that provide a walking route out of the mews.

Kynance Mews

Walking further along Kynance Mews and we can see the two storey buildings that back onto the houses in Cornwall Gardens. A number of these retain the large doors that once would have been part of the stables.

Kynance Mews

The census of 1911 provides a view of the employment of those who lived in the mews:

  • Groom Domestic
  • Caretaker
  • Coachman Domestic
  • Farrier
  • Carman
  • Chauffer Domestic
  • Horse Keeper

The majority of those living in the mews had jobs that seem to have involved some aspect of providing the transport for those who lived in the large houses in Cornwall Gardens, there were also a number of trades people who were probably employed in local building and maintenance works.

The transition from horse to motor transport can be seen in newspaper reports from the 1910 onwards, including one from the 14th July 1928 when Lady Grace Indja Thomson of Bell Cottage, Kynance Mews was fined 10 shillings for driving without a licence.

Lady Grace Indja Thomson was the wife of Sir Basil Home Thomson, who was typical of many of the residents of the Cornwall Gardens estate, having passed through Eton and Oxford then working in the Colonial Service where he was posted as a Colonial Administrator in Fiji and Tonga. After resigning from the Colonial Service and returning home, he took up appointments first with the Prison Service, then the Metropolitan Police.

I suspect that the original occupiers would have been stunned by the prices the houses in Kynance Mews now sell for, and the rate at which they are increasing. A typical terrace house in the mews sold for £975,000 in 2001 and was sold again in 2020 for £2,175,000.

Despite these prices, and being in a mews, the houses still suffer with road works. This is the reason why my 2021 photo is slightly different to my father’s, which, as far I could work out, was taken in the middle of the road works.

Kynance Mews

The western end of Kynance Mews terminates in a dead end, with houses on another estate, not part of Thomas Broadwood’s original land holding and Cornwall Gardens development on the other side of the wall.

Kynance Mews

There are some rather ornate chimneys lining the roofs of some of the houses in Kynance Mews:

Kynance Mews

To the north of Keynance Mews, on the other side of the boundary wall is Christ Church, Kensington:

Christ Church Kensington

In my father’s 1986 photo, there is a sign projecting from the wall on the left. The sign directs the walker to a set of stairs leading up to Victoria Road, on the eastern boundary of the church. The stairs form part of the pedestrian right of way seen on the sign on the arch leading to this section of the mews.

Kynance Mews

There are a number of stubs of roads in this part of Kensington which reflect the original estate boundaries. Victoria Road has a short stub that passes the church and ends at the boundary wall with Kynance Mews, and this stub of road provides access to the stairs which can just be seen behind the motorbike and adjacent to the lamp post.

Kynance Mews

The above photo also helps to demonstrate the difference between the size of the mews houses in the foreground, and the much larger houses to the rear which faced onto Cornwall Gardens, and that the mews buildings were built to serve.

For the rest of the post, I will take a walk in the streets to the north of Kynance Mews, as the stairs were part of the original 1986 photo and the mews and land to the north show how original owners and land boundaries influenced the current layout of streets and buildings in this part of Kensington.

The land to the north of Kynance Mews was known as the Vallotton estate, as it was developed by the Vallotton family.

John James Vallotton purchased the first parcel of land in the area in 1794. His son Howell Leny Vallotton continued with land purchases to form a significant block of land amounting to around 20 acres.

Development of Victoria Road seems to have started around 1829, and development of the area would continue through the 1830s to 1850s.

The Vallotton estate has a varied mix of architectural styles and construction materials. On the corner of Eldon Road and Victoria Road is number 52 Victoria Road:

Eldon Road

Built between 1851 and 1853 for the painter Alfred Hitchen Corbould, the building has a square blue plaque recording his residence here, and that he was Art Tutor to the children of Queen Victoria.

Opposite the above house, and on the corner of Eldon and Victoria Street is Christ Church Kensington, the church that backs onto Kynance Mews.

Christ Church Kensington

The church was built to a design by Benjamin Ferrey between 1850 and 1851 to serve the growing population of Vallotton’s estate. Vallotton had donated the land, and subscriptions were raised to fund the £3,540 bid for the work from builder George Myers of Lambeth.

Very few changes have been made to the church in the 170 years since completion and the church still looks as it was designed and completed.

Christ Church Kensington also serves the Cornwall Gardens estate, and is possibly one of the reasons why there is a public right of way between Kynance Mews and Victoria Road, to provide easy walking access to the church from the mews and Cornwall Gardens.

A church had been planned on the western end of Cornwall Gardens, however whilst the estate was being developed, the Metropolitan and District Railway was also being built and used land through the western end of the gardens where the church had intended to be placed.

The railway used the cut and cover method of construction and therefore prevented any work on the western end of the estate whilst it was being built, and complicated any construction on the land above when the railway was completed.

From the church, I continued to walk north along Victoria Road, the street that was the first part of the development of the Vallotton estate.

Victoria Road originally consisted of semi-detached pairs of villas, surrounded by substantial gardens. There has been a fair amount of ongoing development of the houses resulting in few being exactly as built.

Despite changes since their original construction, the houses still look magnificent. The street is quiet as the design of the estate and boundaries with other estates mean that it is not a through road.

The flowers and spring blossom on the trees add to the photogenic appearance of the estate.

Victoria Road
Victoria Road
Victoria Road

Victoria Road is a long street that runs all the way north to Kensington Road, and I do not intend to walk that far, rather head back to the start of Kynance Mews, so at the road junction with St Albans Grove, I turn right.

It is here that I cross into another of the original estates that developed this part of Kensington.

In the following map, I have marked the three estates that I am walking through. The Cornwall Gardens estate is marked by the red line. The Vallotton estate is bounded by the dark blue line and can be seen as the larger of the estates as it continues to head north.

At St Albans Grove, I am turning into the third estate, the boundary marked by the green line of the Inderwick Estate (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Inderwick Estate

The land comprising the Inderwick estate was purchased by John Inderwick in 1836 from Samuel Hutchins, who in turn had purchased the land from the manor of Kensington.

John Inderwick was an importer of pipes and snuff boxes who lived in Wardour Street. His pipe business was still in operation until as recently as 2000 when the business was finally closed. It had operated in Carnaby Street since the 1960s.

The relatively small size of the Inderwick estate probably explains the speed of construction, with work starting in 1837 and completed by 1846, with Launceston Place being the last street to be developed.

In the above map you can also see where the railway cut through the western end of Cornwall Gardens using the cut and cover method of construction. This was where the Cornwall Gardens church was intended to be built.

Launceston Place was the street that took me back down to Kynance Mews. The houses in Launceston Place are slightly smaller than Victoria Road, but are still lovely semi-detached villas.

Launceston Place

With some interesting designs at some of the end of terrace pairs:

Launceston Place

Where the gardens at the rear of the houses in Launceston Place meet the gardens at the rear of the houses in Victoria Road, there was an old footpath before the estates were built, that went by the name of Love Lane, which would also have been the original boundary of the Vallotton and Inderwick estates.

I find it fascinating when walking London’s streets that the route of 500 year old footpaths, and ancient land holdings can still be traced today.

Until 1883, Launceston Place was called Sussex Place. the name change seems to have been to extend the Cornish connection across the area.

Before Launceston Place cuts across Kynance Mews, I turn into Kynance Place, a short street that to the south has the narrow buildings and brick dividing wall with Kynance Mews, maintaining the division between the Inderwick and Cornwall Gardens estates.

The northern side of Kynance Place has a line of small shops:

Kynance Place

The early history of Kynance Place illustrates the problems that the early developers of these estates had with infrastructure.

Whilst Inderwick could complete the sewers across his estate, he would have needed a larger sewer to connect with to drain away from the estate. When he started to build the estate, no such sewers were available. There were plans to build a large sewer along Gloucester Road, however Inderwick would have had to pay the full costs of such a project.

Until there was a connecting sewer available, Inderwick was forced to construct a large open cesspool where Kynance Place now stands. Although Inderwick improved his own infrastructure, the estate had to wait until the 1860s when the Gloucester Road sewer was finally completed.

And at the end of Kynance Place, I am back to where I started the walk through Kynance Mews.

Kynance Mews probably looks even better now as the greenery will probably be out, and it is well worth a visit for a fascinating walk through an area where the boundaries of the three original estates that formed the area can still be found.

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The Thames from Cherry Garden Stairs

Before heading to Cherry Garden Stairs, can I thank you for the response to last week’s post. All eleven walks sold out within the first day, which I really did not expect.

I have added an additional five walks as follows:

The Lost Streets of the Barbican:

The Southbank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain

All the above walks have now sold out. I will be adding more in the coming months and listing on the blog. A really big thank you to everyone who has booked and supported my walks, very much appreciated.

The subject of this week’s post is one of the earliest of my father’s photos as it dates from 1946. The negative is 75 years old and is not in that good a condition. The scanned image needed some processing to get it to the state you see below, and it is still rather grey with poor contrast.

The photo is from Cherry Garden Stairs, Bermondsey, looking along the river towards the City, with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral visible through Tower Bridge.

Cherry Garden Stairs

The same view today, with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in exactly the same place, however a very different river scene (the perspective looks different due to the very different camera and lens combinations used).

Cherry Garden Stairs

The location of Cherry Garden Stairs is shown in the following map, with the stairs located within the red circle at lower right. The 1946 photo looks along the southbank of the river towards Tower Bridge  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Cherry Garden Stairs

The two photos show a very different scene.

In 1946, the river bank was lined by warehouses, wharves and docks, with cranes along the river. A large number of lighters and barges are moored in the river, and directly in front of the camera, which would have been on the foreshore of the river.

In the 2021 photo the towers of the City are visible to the right, along with the Shard on the left. There are no more working warehouses, wharves or docks, and traffic on the river is today very different.

The river is though still used to transport construction equipment to a major construction site. In the 2021 there is a large shed on the left bank of the river, with the metal work of a travelling crane extending from the shed to over the river.

This is Chambers Wharf, one of the main construction sites for the Thames Tideway Tunnel. Chambers Wharf is one of the project’s main drive sites, with boring machines transported to the site via the river, and lowered by crane down to the point where the machines drive out, creating the tunnel.

Chambers Wharf was one of the many wharves between Tower Bridge and Cherry Garden Stairs. The following map is from the 1953 edition of London Wharves and Docks, and the left of the river covers the area from Tower Bridge to Cherry Garden Stairs seen in my father’s photo.

Thames Wharves

The type of goods that these wharves dealt with are (from the top of the left bank of the river):

  • Coles Upper Wharf: Bulk grain, flour, cereals
  • Butler’s Wharf: Tea, rubber, colonial produce, bulk grain, fresh fruit
  • Upper Odessa Wharf: Cereals, non-hazardous chemicals, bagged goods
  • Adlards Wharf: General and bagged goods, timber
  • Sterling Wharf: General, strawboards and wood pulp boards
  • Chambers Wharf and Cold Storage: All types of food including highly perishable refrigerated dairy produce and quick frozen goods
  • Fountain Dock: Grabable rough goods, coal, granite, ballast and sand
  • Fountain Stairs Wharf: General, flour, cased goods
  • Powells Wharf: Foodstuffs
  • Farrands and Cherry Garden Wharf: General goods in bags, cases and casks, flour and corn starch

Also in the above map is St Saviour’s Dock, which I will save for a future post.

The list of wharfs does show the considerable range of goods that were being handled in the stretch of the south bank of the river shown in the 1946 photo.

The following extract from the 1949 edition of the Ordnance Survey map shows Cherry Garden Street in the centre of the map, running up to Cherry Garden Stairs, which are at the lower left of Cherry Garden Pier  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Cherry Garden Pier

A pier at the site seems to date from the later half of the 19th century, and Cherry Garden Pier is still there today, although used by a private company with no public access.

One interesting point in the above map, is to the right of the map is the Millpond Estate, a 1930s housing development which can still be seen today. The location of the estate had been the site of a flour mill, mill pond and terrace housing. The mill pond was once part of an extensive irrigation system that ran inland to much larger ponds – lots more to discover around this part of Bermondsey.

Cherry Garden Stairs are one of the many old stairs that provided access to the river. The earliest newspaper reference I can find to the stairs dates from the 25th May 1738 when “Yesterday morning an eminent Shoemaker at Cherry Garden Stairs, Rotherhith, was found drowned in the River Thames”.

The stairs are probably much older than the 1738 reference. Leading back from the location of the stairs (see above map) is a street called Cherry Garden Street. The street is named after a pleasure garden that was here called Cherry Garden.

In volume four of the 1912 edition of the History of the County of Surrey in the Victoria County History series, there is reference to a Jacobean style house called Jamaica House which could still be found in Cherry Garden Street until 1860.

This house appears to have been part of the gardens as in the same volume, there is a quote from Pepys which reads “To Jamaica House, where I never was before, together with my wife, and the Mercers and our two maids, and there the girls did run wagers upon the bowling green: a pleasant day and spent but little”.

Jamaica House or Tavern in 1858 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Jamaica House

Pepys visit is referenced in an article in the Westminster Gazette on the 7th October 1910, which also recalls an inn that was located by the stairs: “Cherry Garden-street, the scene of yesterday’s big riverside fire, occupies the site and preserves the name of the old Bermondsey ‘Cherry Garden’, once a well-known place of public resort. The Cherry Garden was favourably known to Pepys, who recorded his visit there in his famous diary. At Cherry Garden Stairs there was formerly a celebrated inn known as the Lion and Castle, a name supposed to have been derived from the marriage which took place between the Royal House of Stuart and that of Spain. Close by was the even more famous Jamaica, traditionally supposed to have been the residence of Cromwell”.

Edward Walford in Old and New London (1878) doubts the Lion and Castle name originating from a Stuart / Spanish name and prefers the source to be “the brand of Spanish arms on the sherry casks, and have been put up by the landlord to indicate the sale of genuine Spanish wines, such as sack, canary and mountain”.

The Lion and Castle pub seems to have been at Cherry Garden Stairs from the late 18th century to some point around the 1860s. It was not shown on the 1895 OS map.

It may have been that the stairs were used for river access to the pleasure gardens and that was why they took the name of the gardens. Rocque’s map of London in 1746 shows Cherry Garden Stairs (right on the corner edge of my copy of the map):

Cherry Garden Stairs

Thames stairs were so very important for centuries in the life of the river, and for all those who had some connection with the activities carried out on, or alongside the Thames.

As well as providing access to and from the river, Thames stairs were a key landmark. There are hundreds of newspaper references to Cherry Garden Stairs during the 18th and 19th centuries. The majority of these are adverts of ships for sale, for lease, or that were about to set out and were advertising for cargo or passengers.

For example, the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 8th May 1818 has the following advert: “Has only room for a few Tons of Goods, and will be dispatched immediately. For Gibraltar direct. The fine, fast-sailing Brig PRINCE REGENT, Henry Stammers, Commander. lying at Cherry Garden Stairs. burthen 118 tons. For Freight or Passage”.

Other reports concern accidents, collisions, drowning and bodies pulled from the river near the stairs. Such an incident is recorded in the last newspaper reference to the stairs that I can find, when on the 29th November 1936, Reynold’s Newspaper recorded that a ten year old Bermondsey boy had fallen into the Thames from Cherry Garden Stairs and had drowned.

Thames stairs and pubs also seem to be a magnet for crime. For example, there are reports of passengers being rowed across the Thames and then robbed in, or close by the pubs that were often located near the landside of the stairs.

The tide was in when I arrived at Cherry Garden Stairs to taken the comparison photo. Access to the foreshore is now via a modern set of metal stairs that run over the embankment wall that was built as part of the walkway / tree lined open space that runs along the river. Difficult to photograph without being on the foreshore, but the stairs can be seen at the end of the wall in the following photo:

Cherry Garden Stairs

The walkway to the pier can be seen in the background.

I am sure that my father took the original photo from the 1946 version of the stairs, as it was by standing on the stairs that I could get the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in exactly the same position. At this distance from Tower Bridge and the cathedral, even a small change in position changed the orientation of bridge and dome.

There is much more to discover in this part of Bermondsey, so it is an area I will be returning to again.

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