Old Barge House Stairs

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

Old Barge House Stairs

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

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

Old Barge House Stairs

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

Old Barge House Stairs

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

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

Thames Watermen at river stairs

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

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

Old Barge House Stairs

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

Old Barge House Stairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Barge House Stairs

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

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

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

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

Narrow Wall and Broad Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris Garden

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

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

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

Old Barge House Stairs

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

Old Barge House Stairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Service, Chepstow, 1947

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

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

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

This type of photo documents what everyday life was like.

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

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

National Service
National Service

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

Chepstow Military Hospital

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

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

Chepstow Military Hospital

Group photo:

National Service

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

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

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

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

Football:

National Service Football
National Service Football
National Service Football

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

Chepstow Military Hospital
Chepstow Military Hospital

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

Chepstow Military Hospital
National Service

Different uniforms for nursing staff:

Chepstow Military Hospital nurse
Chepstow Military Hospital nurse

Many of the photos are just messing around in uniform:

National Service

Including attention to a casualty:

National Service
National Service
National Service
National Service

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

National Service
Chepstow Military Hospital

Thoughtful staring into the distance:

National Service

Ferry in the Bristol Channel:

Bristol Channel

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

Cleaning the pond
National Service

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

National Service

Medical staff:

Nursing Staff
National Service

Group photo with the military ambulances behind:

National Service

Out and about – Chepstow Castle:

National Service
National Service
National Service

Looking to the future:

National Service

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

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

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

National Service

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

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow And The River Wye

The Newport Transporter Bridge

Tintern Abbey

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

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

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

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

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

New River Company Elm Pipes

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

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

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

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

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

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

New River Company

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

New River Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Anne's Soho

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Anne's Soho

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

St Anne's Soho

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

St Anne's Soho

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

Theodore king of Corsica

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Hazlitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

Piccadilly Circus

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

Newport Market

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

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

Looking south from outside the fire station:

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

Cambridge Circus

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

Palace Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

Soho Baptist Chapel

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

Further along is the Shaftesbury Avenue Odeon:

Odeon Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

French Hospital

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

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

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

Leyland

Forbidden Planet:

Forbidden Planet

And Ben’s Traditional Fish and Chips:

Fish and Chips

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

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

St Giles High Street

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

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

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

Shaftesbury Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swanscombe Peninsula and the London Resort – Part 2

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

Botany Marsh

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

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

Botany Marsh

Electricity pole in the marsh:

Botany Marsh

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

Botany Marsh

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

Botany Marsh

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

Cemex

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

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

Botany Marsh

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

Botany Marsh

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

Cemex

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

Botany Marsh

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

Botany Marsh

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

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

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

Botany Marsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Britannia Lead

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

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

Britannia Lead

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

Botany Marsh

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

Botany Marsh

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

Botany Marsh

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

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

Routemaster

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

Routemaster

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

Swanscombe peninsula

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

HS1

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

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

HS1

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

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

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

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

HS1

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

River Thames

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

Swanscombe Skull

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

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

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

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

The Swanscombe Skull © Natural History Museum:

Swanscombe Skull

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

Swanscombe Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The London Resort site is here.

The Save Swanscombe Marshes site is here

And their map with their recommended walking route is here

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

The Bug Life page on the Swanscombe Marshes is here.

The RSPB page on the marshes is here.

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

The Natural England page on Swanscombe is here.

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

alondoninheritance.com

Swanscombe Peninsula and the London Resort – Part 1

Before heading to the Swanscombe Peninsula, if you would like to explore the Southbank or the Barbican, there are still a few tickets left for my final walks for the year. I have also added a limited number of tickets as many walks have already sold out. Click here for details.

If you have been reading the blog for a while, you will probably be aware of my interest in the River Thames. Not just the part through the city, but the whole of the river, out to the estuary. The Thames is the reason why London is located where it is, and has been the route for the trade that made the city so successful.

Just over a week ago, on probably the last, hot and sunny day of a late summer, I went to the Swanscombe Peninsula. A place that is currently threatened with some significant development.

The Swanscombe Peninsula is a large area of land, pushing out into the river, well to the east of the city. According to the Kent Past website, the name comes from the Old English “camp” meaning a “field, an enclosed piece of land”, along with the Danish name of Swaine, so Swanscombe could have originated as describing “Swaine’s enclosure’’.

The area of the peninsula is 205 Hectares, or 506 Acres. In the following map, I have circled Swanscombe Peninsula in red (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors)..

Swanscombe Peninsula

The western part of the peninsula has long been seen as a development opportunity, and in the Strategic Planning Guidance for the River Thames (1997), the area was identified as a “riverside opportunity for an urban village”. Current plans are for a very different use as a considerable part of the Swanscombe Peninsula is currently planned to be developed as the London Resort, described on the project’s website as a “world-class, sustainable, next generation entertainment resort known as the ‘London Resort’, on the banks of the River Thames”.

The London Resort will also be the “first European development of its kind to be built from scratch since the opening of Disneyland Paris in 1992”.

Development of the London Resort will bring considerable investment into the area and many, much needed jobs.

The London Resort has been planned for many years, in 2008 it was designated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, however there have been a number of delays, and major supporters of the project have withdrawn and also rejoined over the years.

Plans for development now seem to be making progress, and the London Resort’s website claims a start date of 2022, with the first part of the resort opening in 2024, and the site being complete by 2029.

If I have understood the planning documents correctly, the core of the London Resort is shown outlined in red in the following map:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The red rectangle covers pier developments as numbers of people travelling to the resort are expected to come via the river, and land on the opposite side of the river in Tilbury is being being included in this scheme.

Whilst the map shows the core of the resort, there will be considerable additional surrounding development, bath in support of the resort, and as the large number of visitors and supporting businesses draw in additional development.

The Swanscombe Peninsula is not a pristine, natural environment. It has long been surrounded by the type of dirty industrial complexes that were to be found to the east of London. Paper Milling, Cement Production and Lead Refining were some of the industries that could be found here, and their impact extended over the peninsula, for example rail tracks extending to river piers.

The site has also been used for waste disposal, gas works, a sewage works, and in recent decades provides the infrastructure for a high-voltage electricity crossing of the river, and where the HS1 railway linking St Pancras with the Channel Tunnel dives under the Thames.

The following extract from a mid 1950s Ordnance Survey map shows the peninsula, with industry covering the southern boundary. Note also the split between the Broadness Salt Marsh and Swanscombe Marshes where a drain was constructed to recover the southern parts of the peninsula (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Swanscombe Peninsula

To visit the site, I took the train from Waterloo East to Greenhithe. I planned to follow the recommended route on the Save Swanscombe Marshes website, which can be found here.

Starting at Greenhithe Station, an almost circular walk would take me to Swanscombe Station to catch the train back to Waterloo East. I ended up walking almost six miles, by taking some detours and also on the eastern side of the peninsula, I carried on along a footpath rather than turn onto the road, the footpath almost took me back around the peninsula.

There is so much to be found in the area. I got distracted in Greenhithe, found where the Cutty Sark was moored, saw some wonderful electrical infrastructure, and was just stunned by the beauty of the place, and whilst much could be described as a brownfield site, it shows how nature can recover and reestablish.

I have split today’s post about the Swanscombe Peninsula into two separate posts. One at the usual time this morning, and a second post later this evening. I will also include a number of links for further information at the end of the second post.

So, for the first post, I am starting at Greenhithe Station (blue circle to left) and covering the route marked by the blue line.

Swanscombe Peninsula

To reach the western end of the peninsula, I walked through Greenhithe to get close to the river. Greenhithe is a historic, small town, where the streets alongside the river reflect the towns early relationship with the river.

The name has similarities to Queenhithe in the City, with “hithe” meaning a wharf or landing place. It seems that Green just refers to the town as being a green landing place.

There were wharves, ships were built and maintained, goods and people transferred between ships and land.

In Greenhithe High Street is the Sir John Franklin pub, named after the commander of the expedition that sailed from Greenhithe on the 19th of May 1845, in the Erebus and Terror, to try and find a north west passage across the top of Canada, between the Atlantic and Pacific. Greenhithe was the last place that the crew would set foot in England. After a final sighting on the 26th July 1845, the two ships and their crew, including Sir John Franklin, were not seen again.

Sir John Franklin

A newspaper report on the 20th May 1845 describes their departure along the Thames;

“The Erebus, Captain Sir John Franklin, and the Terror, Captain Crozier, left Woolwich on Monday, towed by the African and Myrtle steamers, for Greenhithe. The Terror having previously tried her screw-propeller, on this occasion resolved on trying it again, and made such excellent progress, that she cast off her towing steamer and proceeded down the river without any additional assistance whatever. The crews of the Erebus and Terror were paid in advance today and tomorrow (Saturday) sail for their destination, accompanied by the Monkey and Rattler steam-vessels, ordered to tow them to the Orkney islands. The Baretto Junior transport with live stores and various descriptions of preserved meats and other articles, most liberally supplied for the use of the officers and men of the discovery vessels, will be sent at the same time, and accompany them to the borders of the ice. The compasses of the vessels have been adjusted by Captain Johnson, and the most perfect arrangements made for the peculiar service in which the vessels of the Artic expedition are to be engaged.”

I have written more about the expedition, and the search for the crew in a post on the The Bellot Memorial at Greenwich.

At the back of the Sir John Franklin pub is one of the old wharfs, now a rectangular inlet, with new housing on one side and an old, decaying boat below.

Greenhithe

As well as the name of the pub, Greenhithe High Street retains other links with the previous life of the town (assuming the sign is genuine, and not a modern creation).

Greenhithe

There are some wonderful old houses in the High Street, and it is a lovely place to walk on a sunny, September day, however in the 18th century, this would not be a very safe place to be when the press gangs were roaming as this report from a number of newspapers on the 24th May 1740 indicates: “On Tuesday there was a smart Pres on the River below Bridge, that from the little Town of Greenhithe they have taken no less than 17 Men for the King’s Service”.

Greenhithe

Before the High Street takes a sharp right to turn in-land, there is another pub, this is the Pier Hotel:

Greenhithe

In the first half of the 19th century there was an attempt to turn Greenhithe into a tourist destination, perhaps trying to attract the boats passing on the river that were starting to take Londoners out of the city for a day trip to Southend or Margate.

This included the construction of a short pier, shown in the following drawing by Henry Cole, dated 1836:

Greenhithe Pier

To get back to the river, and continue on to the peninsula, I walked past the Pier Hotel, and took a quick look down to the river, where there is a rather hidden red telephone box, before taking a cut through to the river walk.

Greenhithe

From where there is a superb view of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, part of the M25 Dartford crossing:

Queen Elizabeth II bridge

And looking in the opposite direction, I could see my destination, the peninsula curving out into the river, with the electricity pylon a clear landmark of where I was heading.

Swanscombe Peninsula

This stretch of the river has a walkway with superb views across the river. In the following photo I am looking back towards Greenhithe. This stretch of the river has had a considerable amount of building over the last few decades, with a large housing estate on the left, facing onto the river:

Thames Walkway

View in the opposite direction, towards my destination:

Thames Walkway

Part of the land on which the housing in the above two photos was built, originally formed part of the Ingress Estate, an ancient manor that once belonged to the Priory of Dartford.

in 1833, an Elizabethan style house was built on the site and named Ingress Abbey, allegedly using stones from London Bridge which had been demolished in 1831. The house was surrounded by land, including land sloping down to the river. When researching the site, I found the following photo from the Britain from Above archive:

Cutty Sark

The photo is dated 1939. Ingress Abbey can be seen looking down to the river, where two ships are moored. The larger ship is HMS Worcester which at the time operated as the Thames Nautical Training College. The smaller ship is the Cutty Sark which at the time was also part of the training college, operating as an auxiliary cadet training ship. The Cutty Sark would continue in this role, before being moved to Greenwich.

Walking further towards Swanscombe Peninsula, and the walkway changes, now with a high concrete wall protecting the housing from the river.

Thames Walkway

Not sure what these rails in the base of the walkway are, possibly left over from the site’s industrial activity:

Thames Walkway

As well as the land of Ingress Abbey, the housing in the second above photo was built on a large industrial site, the Empire Paper Mills. I have highlighted the paper mills within the red oval in the following extract from the 1966 Ordnance Survey map:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The paper mills included a large jetty projecting into the Thames. This was used to receive raw materials from cargo ships, that were then transported to the mill for processing. Completed products were then sent via the rail network, and a rail line can just be seen leaving the lower left of the mills, heading to the mainline at Greenhithe.

The following photo from Britain from Above shows the scale of the paper mills in 1927. The Swanscombe Peninsula can be seen in the background:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The paper mills continued into the early 1990s, but were struggling to operate and make money. They finally closed in 1992, and in the decades that followed the site was cleared and is now occupied by housing.

The following photo, also from 1927, is looking west, with the paper mills, the grounds of Ingress Abbey and at the top right of the photo, the town of Greenhithe:

Swanscombe Peninsula

In the above photo, part of Swanscombe Peninsula can be seen in the lower left half of the photo. Part of the space is occupied by Cricket and Sports grounds, showing how there has long been a degree of human influence on the peninsula.

Also in the above photo, there is a triangular inlet from the river where the paper mills meets the peninsula. This inlet is still there today, and is where the river walkway ends with steps up to Swanscombe Peninsula.

Swanscombe Peninsula

Walking up the steps, and I was finally on Swanscombe Peninsula:

Swanscombe Peninsula

A raised bank protects this part of the western side of the peninsula from the river. One of the old piers from the area’s industrial past juts out into the river:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Along this stretch there are two raised banks, with a low lying ditch between:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Windswept bushes line the river:

Swanscombe Peninsula

A good view of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. It is only from viewpoints such as this that you can appreciate the length of the central section and the two slender towers that provide support.

Queen Elizabeth II bridge

Below the bridge, to the lower right can be seen the red and white of the Stoneness Lighthouse, a working lighthouse on a piece of land jutting out into the river. This model of the lighthouse will soon be replaced. The Port of London Authority have issued a Notice to Mariners that from the 29th September, work will begin to replace the lighthouse, and that it will be out of operation until the 9th of October.

Inter-tidal mud and grasses:

River Thames

The above photo highlights how important an area with low lying marsh is along the river, and will be in the future with expected rises in the level of the Thames on the eastern side of the Thames Barrier where water levels will rise, as the barrier protects the city.

Looking inland, and this part of the peninsula is covered with dense, tall grasses and reeds:

Industrial Archeaology

There are two, rusting towers visible in the above photo. To the south of the peninsula was a large cement works, and the towers were part of an aerial cableway that stretched from a wharf and pier on the river to the cement works and was used to transport materials between ships in the Thames and the factory. The cable operated alongside a railway between wharf and factory.

I have highlighted the route of the cableway which is marked on the following extract from the 1966 Ordnance Survey map:

Industrial Archeaology

Closer view of one of the towers, showing one of the cables that once ran along the route carrying materials to and from the cement factory:

Industrial Archeaology

As well as the factory to the south of the peninsula, and the transport system across the peninsula, the production of cement was also responsible for the legal dumping of cement kiln dust, which has raised the height of the land in some western parts of the peninsula.

Looking to the right of the above view, and there is a dense area of grass growth up to a distant tree and bush line:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Along the inland base of the second bank is a road which runs up to the location of the old wharf and pier:

Swanscombe Peninsula

An open barrier still stands as the land around is reclaimed by nature:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Track leading to the location of the old wharf and pier:

River Thames

Which unfortunately appears to have a double row of fencing restricting access:

River Thames

Getting closer to the electricity pylon:

Swanscombe Peninsula

There are a number of tracks which make it clear that parts of the peninsula are private land and that these tracks are not public footpaths:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Exploring tracks on a warm September day:

Swanscombe Peninsula

In the following photo, I am looking inland. There are a number of large areas of water, and in the distance on the left is the bridge that carries the A226, London Road, and on the right, the white chalk cliffs can be seen, highlighting that the site has been subject to extensive chalk quarrying:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Strange to come across some Network Rail infrastructure in a small, fenced compound. The reason for this will be come clear in the second post on Swanscombe Peninsula.

Network Rail

Although much of this part of the peninsula is covered with dense grasses, reeds and low bushes and trees, these can be deceiving as the area is also very wet, with water appearing in clear pools which emerge from the grass:

Swanscombe Peninsula

As well as walking, the peninsula is a place to just stop and enjoy what is a very special place. There is plenty of insect life both within and away from the water. My insect identification skills are almost non-existent, however I hope I am right in claiming the following photo is of a dragonfly, one of many that were around me in the above photo.

Dragonfly

The main landmark on the peninsula is the electricity pylon:

Electricity Pylon

The pylon is one of a pair that support cables spanning the Thames. The other pylon is on the north bank of the river, and they carry several 400,000 Volt (400kV) electricity circuits, transporting power across the country.

They were built in 1965, and are 623 feet (190 metres) in height, apparently the tallest in the country. The height was needed to ensure sufficient clearance for the cables above the River Thames so the river is clear for shipping. Not just the height of the ship, but also to provide enough distance between cable and ship, so the high voltages carried by the cables would not arc between cable and ship.

The cables running over the Thames, connect to the grid network north of the Thames that transports electricity into London. From Swanscombe, the cables run towards east Kent where there were former coal fired power stations, which have been replaced by gas, as well as undersea interconnector cables to the Netherlands and Belgium which land on the Isle of Grain and near Richborough in Kent.

The height of the tower, along with the two platforms on the tower has resulted in the tower being popular with base jumpers – people who jump with a parachute from a high structure. In March 2006, one base jumper died at Swanscombe when it appears his parachute failed to open.

That is a sport I could not imagine ever attempting, however I really do like these structures.

Following photo shows the platform at the very top of the 623 feet tower, along with some of the insulators that carry the cables. These are of some length as they need to separate the 400kV running through the cables from the metal of the tower.

Electricity Pylon

The cables from the top of the tower then run down to a smaller tower that separates and routes them off to more traditional electrical pylons.

Electricity Pylon

A sideways view of the above tower shows a work of industrial art:

Electricity Pylon

I have now reached the end of the blue line in my map of the route through the Swanscombe Peninsula. The post covering part two of my walk through this very special place, the industry on the eastern edge, HS1, the wildlife of the peninsula, the status of a Site of Special Scientific Interest along with links to further sources of information will be sent out this evening.

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Whitecross Street – Sunday 31st May, 1953

Please excuse a bit of advertising before heading to Whitecross Street.

Over the summer, I organised a number of guided walks, covering the Southbank and the area around the Barbican. Walks that were based on places I have written about in posts over the last seven years. These walks all sold out very quickly, and I really enjoyed telling the story of a place, based on my father’s photos, and the research for posts.

Over the rest of the year, and the start of next year, I will be researching and planning more walks covering Wapping, Bermondsey, Bankside, Rotherhithe and Clerkenwell ready for late spring and summer, however, until then, I have one final batch of my Southbank and Barbican walks available. Dates and links for booking are as following:

The South Bank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain

The Lost Streets of the Barbican

Now, to Whitecross Street.

Whitecross Street runs between Old Street and Beech / Chiswell Streets, just north of the Barbican.

Many of my father’s photos were taken on bike rides around the city, early on a Saturday or Sunday. This worked due to periods away on National Service, work during the week, and other commitments. Early on Sunday, 31st May 1953 he was at the northern end of Whitecross Street and took the following photo looking south along the street:

Whitecross Street

One lunch time a couple of weeks ago I was in the area, and the following photo shows the same view as the above, sixty eight years later:

Whitecross Street

My father’s photo was one of a number he took on the same day in the area of Whitecross Street and also in Hoxton. The 1953 photo was taken a couple of days before the Coronation of Elizabeth II, on Tuesday, 2nd June 1953, and this explains the flags and bunting across the street.

A second photo, a short distance further into Whitecross Street. I suspect he was waiting for the woman to walk further up the street to add a focal point to the photo:

Whitecross Street

The terrace of buildings on the right of the photo have changed in the years between the two photos. The one building that confirms the two views are of the same street is the building with the pediment (the triangular shaped top to the wall) about two thirds of the way down on the right of the street.

Comaprison of the photos also shows that you cannot always trust the age of buildings at first sight. In the above 1953 photos, if we walk towards the camera from the pediment building, there is a narrow, three storey building with a single window at each floor. There is then a terrace of three houses / shops of two storeys, with a shop at ground level and single window / storey above each shop.

in the 2021 photo, this terrace has had an additional floor added to create a three storey terrace along the western side of Whitecross Street.

I have marked how the terrace has changed in the following photo, with the red line indicating the 1953 height of the buildings.

Whitecross Street

In 1953, the shops were the type of local shop serving the daily needs of those who lived in the area. The following is an extract from the second photo. Note the rack of milk bottles standing outside the dairy:

Whitecross Street

Today, there is a more diverse range of shops, and what was obvious during my walk along Whitecross Street was that the food market running down the centre of the street now serves the local working population, as the street was crowded with those out to buy their lunch.

Whitecross Street can be found just north of the Barbican, linking Beech / Chiswell Streets at the southern end with Old Street to the north. In the following map, Whitecross Street is the street running vertically, in the centre of the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Whitecross Street

Whitecross Street was originally much longer than it is now, and it’s southern end was in the heart of Cripplegate. Considerable damage during the last war, and the construction of the Barbican estate has erased roughly one third of the original street.

In the following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey Map, I have highlighted the street we can walk today by the red arrow (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Whitecross Street

The green arrow identifies the missing third of Whitecross Street. Today, a short section is now Silk Street before it terminates at the Barbican.

In the red circled area in the above map, there is the PH symbol for a pub on the corner of the lower section of Whitecross Street. The pub, the Jugged Hare, is still there today as shown in the following photo. Originally, Whitecross Street continued to the right, however this has now been renamed Silk Street as it curves to the north of the Barbican to Moor Lane.

Whitecross Street

As can be seen in the 1894 map, Whitecross Street originally joined Fore Street at the north east corner of St Giles, Cripplegate.

In the following photo, this would have been just behind and to the left of the car, and Whitecross Street would have run in front of / underneath the Barbican apartment block Gilbert House, the large block on the left of the photo.

Whitecross Street

Whitecross Street dates back to at least the 13th century, with the first written records of the street as Wytecroychestrate.

The name of the street seems to derive from a white cross located in the street, which seems to be connected to the Abbot of Ramsey who had a house between Whitecross and Redcross Streets (Redcross Street is another old street that was just to the west of Whitecross Street and took its name from another cross in the street. Redcross Street was lost during the construction of the Barbican).

Strype, writing in 1720 includes the following reference to the street: “In this street was a white cross and near it was built an arch of stone under which ran a course of water down to the Moor which is now called Moorfields. Which being too narrow for the free course of water, and so an annoyance to the inhabitants, the twelve men presented it to an inquisition of the Kings Justices, and they presented the Abbot of Ramsey and the Prior of St Trinity, whose predecessors six years past has built a certain stone arch at Whyte Croyse, which arch the aforesaid Abbot and Prior, and their successors ought to maintain and repair.”

Writing in 1756, William Maitland described Whitecross Street as “a place well built and inhabited. It begins in Fore Street and runs northward into Old Street, which is of a great length. But the part within the Ward goes but a little beyond Beech Lane, where the City posts are set up, as they are in Grub Street and in Golden Lane, being the circuits of the Freedom. The street is inhabited by considerable traders and dealers in various branches.”

The Ward that Maitland refers to is Cripplegate Ward and the City posts were the boundary markers showing the extent of the City. The section of the street that was in Cripplegate is now that renamed Silk Street, along with the section under the Barbican.

The City boundary can be seen in the following extract from Smith’s 1816 New Plan of London, where the boundary is the dotted line and pink highlighting. The boundary can be seen cutting across Whitecross Street at the junction of Chiswell and Beech Streets.

Today, there are still “considerable traders and dealers” in Whitecross Street, and the street is also a centre for public art that can be found covering many of the walls along the street. The entrance to Whitecross Street from Old Street:

Whitecross Street

The blue plaque was put up by English Hedonists, and is to Priss Fotheringham, who “Lived here and was ranked the second best whore in the city”.

Priss was mentioned in the collection of pamphlets under the name of “The Wandering Whore” by John Garfield, published between 1660 and 1661, where, in a contrived conversation between two sex workers (probably invented by the author), the activity which seems to have brought Priss fame and some wealth is described “Priss stood upon her head with naked breech and belly whilst four Cully-Rumpers chuck’t in sixteen Half-crowns into her Comodity”.

Whitecross Street is mentioned a number of times in the pamphlets, including the lists of “Common Whores, Night-walkers, Pick-pockets, Wanders and Shop-Lifters and Whippers”, where for example “Mrs Smith, a Bricklayers wife in Whitecross” is mentioned, along with “Mrs Savage in Whitecross-street, who broke her husband’s head with a marrow-bone, and had liked to have kill’d him with it”.

The street was much improved by 1800, when it was described as “A good street, and has among the buildings, the Peacock brew house, the Green Yard, where strayed cattle are pounded, and where the Lord Mayor’s state coach is kept.”

Walking down the street, and this is the building that helped with identification of my father’s photo:

Whitecross Street

The following building appears further down the street in my father’s photos, so although not an 18th or 19th century brick terrace, the building is pre-war. I obviously read too many archaeology websites and books, as every time I see the café on the corner, Museum of London Archeology is the first thing I think of.

Whitecross Street

The Whitecross Tap:

Whitecross Street

The Whitecross Tap is a relatively recent name, dating from 2018, however a pub has been on the site since the 18th century.

Looking south along Whitecross Street at the junction with Banner Street:

Whitecross Street

The street has a very diverse mix of architectural styles, which make the street interesting. Different heights, materials, windows and function all jostle for prominence.

Whitecross Street

Street art is visible along much of the street:

Public Art

The art along the street is the result of the Whitecross Street Party and the Rise of the Nonconformists exhibition, an annual event that has been taking place for the last 11 or 12 years, taking place over a weekend when there are multiple events in the street, and street artists can be watched as they create new works.

Public Art

A pub that has been converted to a coffee shop. This was the Green Man pub:

Whitecross Street

More art on the side of the Peabody Estate between Whitecross Street and Cahill Street. Most of the estate was built in the 1880s.

Public Art

Whitecross Street has had a market for very many years. It was once a street market that sold the everyday needs of those living in the area; a typical London street market, however like the majority of other London street markets, today it mainly caters for the lunchtime needs of those who work in the area.

Whitecross Street Market

It was a very different place not that many years ago, and the change to the food market we see today has been relatively recent. A newspaper report from February 1871 provides a graphic description of the market as it was;

“Out-dinning the din of the Whitecross-street Sunday morning market, the roar of leather lunged costermongers and barrowmen, the deafening eloquence of the clashing knives and steel of opposition butchers, the shrill cries of women who have potherbs, and children’s toys and second-hand shoes and boots on sale. The wrathful high pitched voice of the street preacher at this corner of an alley, unable to make himself heard amid the laughter created by a quack dealer in sarsaparilla at the other corner, over all these conflicting noises the sound of a bell was heard distinctly – not the measured chiming of a church bell, nor the preemptory clatter of a factory bell, but a fitful and uncertain ringing, now loud and heavy like a fire bell. A gentlemen in the baked potato interest, however, to whom I applied for information on the subject, ruthlessly stripped the bell of everything in the shape of romance. it is the Costers Mission Bell, said he.”

The market seems to have started around 1830. In the Clerkenwell News dated the 2nd November 1865, there is a report of a Vestry meeting, where the work of a recently appointed “street keeper” who was responsible for the upkeep and cleanliness of Whitecross Street and the adjacent alleys, courts and streets was discussed. The concern was the work was too much, as “Amongst other things he was required to be in attendance during the day in Whitecross-street as a market”.

There was consideration given to removing the market, however the Vestry Clerk stated “As to the market in Whitecross-street, stalls had been allowed to be there for upwards of thirty years, and could not very easily be removed now”.

No idea if there is a similar role as a “street keeper” today, however the market is very busy each lunch time.

Whitecross Street Market

With almost any combination of street food you could want:

Whitecross Street Market

With queues forming at many of the stalls:

Whitecross Street Market

There is a plaque on the corner of Whitecross Street and Dufferin Street:

Whitecross Street Prison

The plaque is a long way from the actual location of the prison, which was at the southern end of Whitecross Street, between Whitecross, Redcross and Fore Streets. The following extract from the 1847 edition of Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London shows the location of the prison, circled in red.

Whitecross Street Prison

Today, the site of the prison is underneath the Barbican. In the following photo, I am looking across to the Barbican Centre from near the tower of St Giles. Gilbert House is on the right. The Whitecross Street prison was on the site of the building with white panels on the lower floors. Redcross Street ran to the left of the photo. Whitecross Street ran under / in front of Gilbert House.

Whitecross Street Prison

The prison was a debtors prison. Prior to Whitecross, if you were in debt and could not pay these off, then you could find yourself in a prison along with those being tried or convicted of a criminal offences ranging from petty crimes to murder.

In the early years of the 19th century there was a campaign to separate debtors from criminals, and the Whitecross Street prison was the result, being built between 1813 and 1815.

Although a prison full of debtors could be just as difficult to manage as a normal prison, as this article from the London Commercial Chronicle on the 17th September, 1816 reports:

“RIOT IN WHITECROSS-STREET PRISON. On Saturday evening another riot broke out in this prison among the confined debtors. it appears that a prisoner had committed some offence, for which the other prisoners thought proper to pump him. Mr. Kirby, the keeper, being informed of the transaction, found out two of the principals, and insisted upon locking them up, which was accordingly done. The rest of the prisoners resisted, and at length broke out into open rebellion, refusing to be locked up in their wards. Finding them continue refractory, a reinforcement of officers was sent for; and the City Marshal, accompanied by a posse of constables, speedily arrived, when the rioters submitted, and tranquility was restored.”

However, by 1834, the prison seems to have established a community feel. The Monthly Magazine reported the views “From an Inmate of Whitecross prison”:

“I have been a wanderer over a large portion of the globe during the last fifteen years, and have had various opportunities of seeing and studying men of many nations. In earlier life I saw much of France and Frenchmen; from them I have received the greatest kindness – and great hospitality. I have dwelt with Germans and Dutchmen, and the most agreeable recollections are connected with my sojourn among them. After years in official life, thousands of miles from ‘fair England’ circumstances threw me into the midst of Swedes, Danes and Spaniards, all of whom have given me opportunities of lending their kindness and generosity; but I have never in my life saw so perfect a display of the best feelings of our nature, as are in daily action and continual exercise under this roof. The society here appears one large brotherhood.

Association in sorrow softens and ameliorates the heart; selfishness is, perhaps, less known in this place than in any other ‘haunt of society’. The poorest captive shares with real pleasure his meagre meal with his less fortunate neighbour; kindness of heart shines in brightest splendour”.

Whitecross Street prison closed in 1870. The number of debtors had been declining, and an Act of Parliament had come into force abolishing imprisonment for debt. A report from the 8th January 1870 illustrates the unusual scenes when the prison was closed:

“SCENE AT WHITECROSS STREET PRISON: Release of the Prisoners – On Saturday, just after twelve, being the 1st of January, the day on which the new act to abolish imprisonment for debt came into force, Mr. Constable, the keeper of Whitecross-street Prison, gave as many as 94 prisoners leave to go out of prison. Of that number 63 prisoners availed themselves of the offer, and 31 asked to remain in the place for another day. Only 41 remain in custody on county court commitments, penalties, and orders for payment by magistrates. About eleven o’clock, a person named Barnacles, who had been twenty-seven years a prisoner, on an order from the Court of Admiralty, was told by Mr. Constable to leave the place, and he went out staring about him after his long imprisonment. Mr. Constable has acted in a humane manner, instead of prolonging the imprisonment of the parties until applications were made to a judge at chambers.”

One can only imagine Barnacles confusion as he left prison. He had been in the Whitecross prison for half of the prison’s existence.

Whitecross Street Prison for Debtors as it appeared in 1850 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Whitecross Street Prison

The Two Brewers pub on the corner of Whitecross Street and Fortune Street. A pub has been here since the mid 18th century.

Whitecross Street

More street art:

Public Art

The market occupies the northern section of Whitecross Street, leaving the southern section free. The Barbican can be seen at the end of the view, which now covers the lower section of the original Whitecross Street.

Whitecross Street

Much of Whitecross Street suffered severe damage during the bombing of the early 1940s. Whilst a number of the original brick terrace houses did survive, others have been significantly repaired and some have been rebuilt to look similar to the original building.

At other places along the street, completely new blocks have been constructed over bomb damaged areas, including this large block on the south-eastern side of the street, which includes a Waitrose on the ground floor behind the covered market area.

Whitecross Street

However the pleasure of Whitecross Street is that there are many of the buildings and small shops remaining, similar to those photographed by my father in 1953.

Whitecross Street

Whitecross Street is today much shorter than the pre-war street. As with so many streets in the area between Old Street and London Wall, post war development of the Barbican and Golden Lane estates have obliterated so many historic streets.

The side streets also have much to tell of the history of the area, and it is a fascinating area to explore. Although best not to follow Barnacles example of a long period of imprisonment, his approach on leaving Whitecross Street prison of “staring about” is a good approach when wandering the area.

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Middlesex Guildhall, City of London School and White Swan Pub

One of the brilliant things with writing the blog posts is the feedback from readers in the comments section. Readers frequently provide additional information, or clarify questions that I had not been able to answer, and last week’s post was no exception.

The reason I could not find any further UK census information or references to the later life of Llewellyn Wooderson is that it appears that he emigrated to New Zealand. The answer to the age difference between Henry Wooderson and his wife Sarah in the 1881 census appears to be an error in Henry’s year of birth, in addition to the spelling of Leicester Square as Lester Square – you cannot always believe everything in census data and need to double check with multiple sources where possible. There was also some feedback on the Toronto, Canada birth of their son.

I had taken the 2021 photo of the old shop not that long ago, and Cards Galore, the shop that now occupies that of L&R Wooderson is reported to have closed. If so, a sad casualty of the lack of office workers in the City.

My thanks for the feedback to last week’s post, and indeed, feedback to all posts.

Now to the subject of this week’s post. Two rather lovely London buildings, and an update on another city pub at risk.

Middlesex Guildhall

The Royal Aquarium was the subject of one of last year’s posts, and to illustrate the location of the building, I included the following map. To the right was another building, marked as “Guildhall”, circled in red in the map below:

Middlesex Guildhall

Middlesex Guildhall is a rather impressive building, facing onto Parliament Square. Once the home of Middlesex County Council and Quarter Sessions, the building is now home to the Supreme Court.

The inclusion of Middlesex in the name refers to the old County of Middlesex that once included much of London, dating from a time when the country was split into counties, rather than many of the City and Metropolitan Boroughs and administrative divisions that we have today, for example Greater London, which took over much of the County of Middlesex following the London Government Act 1963, although London had already been chipping away at the boundaries of counties such as Middlesex and Essex for some time.

The site of the Middlesex Guildhall was the site of Westminster Abbey’s Sanctuary Tower and Old Belfry. The name sanctuary refers to the expectation that fugitives could claim sanctuary from pursuers if they could make it into the building. The name can still be found today as I will show later in the post.

An old court house had existed on the site during the 19th century, however in 1889 this was replaced by the first Middlesex Guildhall, however this was too small for both the administrative and legal functions carried out in the building, and the building that we see today was built between 1906 and 1913. This was the building in the early 1920s:

Middlesex Guildhall

And 100 years later the building remains exactly the same, although now cleaned, and the trees in the foreground have grown:

Middlesex Guildhall

The architect was James Gibson, who designed a late Gothic style building, faced with Portland Stone, although with a steel frame which helped take on much of the load bearing functions and supported features such as the tower which rises from the centre of the façade facing onto Parliament Square.

Gibson’s other work in London included West Ham Technical College, completed in 1895.

Some of the very distinctive features of the building are the sculpture by Henry Charles Fehr, which can be found across the building. Fehr was also responsible for some of the carving on the wood seating and panels in the Court Rooms. The Middlesex Guildhall would be considered the peak of his career.

The following photo shows the cluster of sculpture above the main entrance to the building:

Middlesex Guildhall

This shows Henry III (on the left), granting a charter to the Abbey of Westminster. Above are the arms of the County of Middlesex (the three Seaxes, or swords, with the crown above), and below is what looks to be a view of Westminster Hall:

Middlesex Guildhall

There is more on either side of the main entrance, including Lady Jane Grey being offered the crown by her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland:

Middlesex Guildhall

And King John with the Barons at Runnymede:

Middlesex Guildhall

Fehr’s work is finely carved and very detailed:

Middlesex Guildhall

The building was designed with courts of law for the administration of justice, and this role has continued to this day as the building is now home to the Supreme Court. Figures holding the symbols of Justice:

Middlesex Guildhall

The courtrooms within the Middlesex Guildhall have seen many trials over the years. Some of the more unusual were possibly the court martial of spies during the First World War. For example from the Evening Telegraph on the 14th July 1915:

“TWO GERMANS ARRESTED ON CHARGE OF BEING SPIES, On His Majesty’s Fleet – The authorities announce the arrest of two alleged German spies. Their trial will take place by Court Martial on Friday next at Middlesex Guildhall. The whole proceedings will be held in camera.

They will be charged with collecting and attempting to communicate with the enemy, information about His Majesty’s Fleet.”

The above trial followed an earlier trial of the alleged spy Robert Rosenthal which was the subject of some publicity at the time as the London Daily News reported on the 7th July 1915:

“TRIAL OF ROSENTHAL. Proceedings in Camera at Middlesex Guildhall – The trial of the alleged spy, Robert Rosenthal, began before a general court martial at Middlesex Guildhall yesterday. He is accused of coming to this country for the purpose of obtaining information both of a naval and military character.

Originally it was announced that part of the evidence would be taken in public, but at the last moment it was decided that the whole trial should take place in camera.

Prisoner was defended by Mr. Frampton. A large crowd assembled outside Middlesex Guildhall to witness the arrival of the members of the court. None of the public was allowed in the building. The entrance to the court where the trial was conducted was guarded by soldiers, and inside Rosenthal was placed between soldiers with fixed bayonets.”

Robert Rosenthal was a German, born in Magdeburg in 1892. At the age of around 16, he went to sea, and spent time in America where he presumably learnt, or improved his American accent as in 1914 he was in England using the assumed name of Harry Berger and travelling as an American.

He travelled between England and the continent a couple of times without any problems, but on his final trip in May 1915 he was arrested as he tried to board a ship.

His arrest was down to a strange error in the direction of post. He would travel back to Copenhagen as travel to Germany was not possible, and when in Copenhagen he had posted a letter to Germany, detailing his plans. This letter was accidently put into a mail bag heading to England, which was opened on arrival by the postal censorship authorities, revealing his identity and travel plans.

The court martial at Middlesex Guildhall found Rosenthal guilty and he was sentenced to death as a spy. Rather than the typical execution by firing squad, Rosenthal was hanged at Wandsworth prison just 8 days after the trial, on the 15th July 1925.

Whilst the Middlesex Guildhall today does not see any court martials, as the home of the Supreme Court, the building will now often see the ultimate determination of justice. Probably the most high profile recent cases have been the challenges to the Brexit vote and the process of leaving the European Union a few years ago.

As well as the historic and legal sculpture, there are also a number of cultural references, including the following reclining figure with an artist’s palette and brushes.

Middlesex Guildhall

A walk to the rear of the Middlesex Guildhall will be rewarding. The name of the street, Little Sanctuary, recalls what was here when Westminster Abbey allowed privilege of sanctuary to law-breakers who took refuge in its north west precincts.

Middlesex Guildhall

More of Henry Charles Fehr’s ornate sculpture can be found:

Middlesex Guildhall

And then there is a rather different entrance:

Middlesex Guildhall

The stone gateway surround is all that remains of Bridewell or Tothill Fields prison which originally stood roughly where Westminster Cathedral is today, set back from Victoria Street.

The plaque above the door reads:

“Here are ….. Sorts of Work for the Poor of this Parish of St Margaret’s Westminster. As also the County according to Law and for Such as will Beg and Live Idle in this City and Liberty of Westminster. Anno 1665.”

A sign adjacent to the door explains how the gateway arrived at the Middlesex Guildhall:

Middlesex Guildhall

The Middlesex Guildhall is Grade II* listed, however this did not stop some significant internal change when the building was reconfigured to be ready to function as the Supreme Court.

The three Court Rooms, with the main court room originally being the Council Chamber for Middlesex Council, were planned to have much of their wooded seating, paneling and decoration removed and many of the internal rooms reconfigured for their new purpose.

Save Britain’s Heritage campaigned for the changes to be abandoned, however although they had the support of many in the arts and architecture communities, judges and MPs, Westminster Council approved the plans, and on appeal it was decided that it was in the national interest to have a Supreme Court and for the court to be located in Middlesex Guildhall, and that these national interests over-rode listed buildings law.

The original plans had included the removal of the arms of Middlesex from above the main entrance doors, however, as the photograph shows earlier in the post, the arms remain as a reminder of the original function of the building.

The second building for this week’s post is the:

Old City of London School

Viewed from across the River Thames, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge, and between the cranes of the works for the Thames Tideway Tunnel is the building that was home to the City of London School.

City of London School

The origins of the school date back to around 1442, when John Carpenter, a former Town Clerk of the City left a property for the education of four choristers at the Guildhall Chapel.

In the early 19th century, the City of London decided to review the provision of education in the City, including that provided to the Guildhall Choristers, and in 1883 decided to found a school for the “religious and virtuous education of boys, and for instructing them in the higher branches of literature and in all other useful learning”.

The result was the first City of London School which was built on the site of Honey Lane Market, north of Cheapside. This market was not far from the site of last week’s post on the corner of Wood Lane and Cheapside, see the same map from the post showing the location of Honey Lane Market:

City of London School

The Honey Lane Market school opened in 1837, however by 1878 the school was becoming far too crowded, and the decision was taken that a new site and larger school was needed. The school was described as “affording educational facilities, to, on an average, upwards of 600 boys at one time. The sons of people residing in, and within a few miles of the City of London, and engaged in commercial, professional or trading pursuits, at moderate cost, and without removing them from the care or control of their parents”.

The original school on the site of Honey Lane Market:

City of London School

Source: Wikimedia Commons – Engraving by J. Woods of the City of London School in Milk Street. Original steel engraving drawn by Hablot Browne (1815-1882) after a sketch by Robert Garland (1808-1863). This was published in The History of London Illustrated by Views in London and Westminster (1838)

By coincidence, Henry Charles Fehr, who was responsible for the sculpture on the Middlesex Guildhall, had been a pupil at the City of London School on the Honey Lane Market site.

A site alongside the recently constructed Victoria Embankment was chosen, and in December 1882, the new school was opened by the Prince of Wales.

The new school would support up to 700 children and was intended to provide a level of education that would “lead to Universities for those who seek it”.

The new school photographed at the end of the 19th century, about 15 years after opening:

City of London School

To the rear of the building facing the Victoria Embankment were a number of additional school buildings along with a large playground and gym. Below ground there was a rifle range.

In 1937 for the centenary of the school, a biology lab was opened along with “one of the finest swimming pools in London”. In 1956 a Junior School was added to the site and two years later new Science rooms were added.

View of the school from Blackfriars Bridge, partly hidden by the Thames Tideway Tunnel works where a new intercept junction is being built, so that flow from the city sewer system can be intercepted and fed into the new tunnel. A new public space will be created when the work has completed.

City of London School

In the above photo, it looks as if the new river wall to the new space is being installed. Taking a closer look at this I was fascinated to see that the words “Bazalgette Embankment, Tunnel 48m Below”. Brilliant to see that the creator of the Embankment is being remembered, along with the latest engineering project at the site, with the depth of the tunnel far below.

Detail on the new river wall:

City of London School

A side view of the old City of London School shows the different materials used, with stone facing to the front of the building and much cheaper brick to the sides:

City of London School

The school on the Embankment would continue in use until 1986, when a new school was built, a short distance along the river, on a large site between Queen Victoria Street and the river. Part being constructed over Upper Thames Street.

The front of the building from the Victoria Embankment:

City of London School

If you look at the above photo, just below the parapet that lines the base of the roof, you will see four statues which reflect the educational focus of the school in literature, poetry and science with Shakespeare, Bacon, Milton and Newton being represented, however one of these has a strange spelling:

City of London School

Look at the statue to the left, and the spelling of the name on the plinth is Shakspeare, missing out the “e” between the k and s, as in the normal spelling of Shakespeare.

I know there have been alternative spellings of Shakespeare’s name, however the version with the “e” seems to have been the standard for many years.

Was it a simple spelling mistake? Did one letter need to be dropped so the longer name would fit across the plinth? or is there some other reason? I would love to know.

Following the move of the school in 1986, the building was refurbished and is currently occupied by the asset management company J.P. Morgan.

The Middlesex Guildhall and the City of London School have found new uses, and appear safe for the time being from any further redevelopment, however for my final building of this week’s post, there is a pub that may be at risk:

The White Swan – Fetter Lane

I photographed and wrote about the Swan in Fetter Lane last July when I went on a walk to find all the pubs of the City of London.

White Swan

Plans have recently been approved for the redevelopment of 100-108 Fetter Lane, however these plans include two options for the pub:

Option A is for a new office building, but with the White Swan Pub relocated and “reimagined in an enhanced manner”.

Option B is for flexible office space, a pedestrian route, gardens and the White Swan retained as part of an extension of new commercial space.

Source: Buildington

Option A, where the pub appears to be demolished, and a new pub built in the dreaded words of “reimagined in an enhanced manner” sound rather ominous.

White Swan

Just three buildings out of the thousands that can be found across London, and representative of the change that always has, and will continue to take place across the city’s streets. I do hope though, that the White Swan survives. A fine example of a 1950’s brick built, London pub.

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On the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street

For this week’s post, I am in Cheapside in 1986, looking across to the shop of Shirt Makers L&R Wooderson, on the corner of Wood Street:

Wooderson

Thirty five years later and the building is still there, however L&R Wooderson have now been replaced by a card shop, Cards Galore:

Wooderson

A wider view, showing Wood Street leading off Cheapside to the right:

Wooderson

The location is shown in the map below, by the red circle. For reference, part of St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen to the left  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Cheapside

There is much to discover in this small, corner plot of land, part of which has a large tree which towers over the top of the shop, and can just be seen in the above photos.

The tree has been a significant landmark on Cheapside for very many years, and it was mentioned frequently in newspapers throughout the 19th century, for example in the following from the London Sun, when on the 1st April 1846 the paper reported:

“A ROOKERY IN CHEAPSIDE AND A CHERRY TREE ON LONDON BRIDGE – It is a singular fact that at the present times there are two crows’ nests on a lofty tree at the corner of Wood street, Cheapside; the birds are mated. One day last week, a furious fight took place between the four of them, which ended in the partial demolition of one of the nests. The damage has been since repaired. On the City end of London bridge a cherry tree, growing from one of the chinks in the granite, is now putting forth leaves. It is almost three years old.”

The tree appears to have been under threat in 1881, when multiple newspapers carried the following report:

THE CHEAPSIDE TREE – A flagrant act of arboricide is about to be perpetuated of malice aforethought and in open day. If there is one tree in London the position of which, apart from all personal charms and apart from the rest due to venerable age, deserves to be saved from the innovating axe, it is ‘the Cheapside tree’. For generations its pretty group of foliage has peeped out as a surprise and contrast to the surrounding masses of stone and brick. It has been a standing emblem to thousands of fagged and dust-stained city clerks of their annual fortnight holiday. It is blessed amongst trees. A tree of the street is infinitely more precious than ‘a tree of the field’. But it is doomed, and bad luck to the ruthless contractor or avaricious land-jobber by whose instigation the Cheapside tree is to be laid low.”

The tree did survive, no doubt helped by the number of references to the possible destruction of the tree in newspapers using such graphical descriptions as in the above report.

The tree was also used in adverts and references to shops and businesses in the immediate vicinity of the tree, adding the tree to their location to help potential customers find their business. L&R Wooderson were also using the tree as a reference in the 1986 photo, as shown by the following extract from the photo of the shop door:

Wooderson

The term “Under the Tree” was used by a number of businesses operating in the terrace of buildings of which L&R Wooderson is part, for example:

  • Illustrated London News: 13th August 1853 – Rowe’s 25,000 Cab-Fares to and from all the Railways, Public Buildings, &c in London. Samuel Row, Under the Tree, Cheapside
  • Kentish Mercury: 31st January 1890 – The Express Dairy Company’s new branch at 130, Wood Street, Under the Tree, Cheapside is now Open for Business
  • The Bystander: 2nd August 1905 – For Gentlemen, the H.W. Velvet Grip Boston Garter. The Acme of Comfort, the Height of Perfection. L&R Wooderson, Under the Tree, 122/4, Cheapside, E.C.

It is difficult to determine the age of the tree. It is a London Plane tree, and the Woodland Trust define the tree as a cross between the Oriental plane and the American sycamore. They also state that the tree was first noticed in London in the mid 17th century, and that planting across London started in the late 18th century, so the tree probably dates from at least the late 1700s and must be around 250 years old.

A view of the tree from Wood Street, looking back towards Cheapside shows the impressive height and spread of the tree:

Wood Street

The tree also featured in the following photo from the book Wonderful London by St John Adcock, from the first decades of the 20th century:

Wooderson

The shop of L&R Wooderson is also in the above photo, looking much the same as it would many years later in 1986. Friday Street, and the plaque on the right of the above photo will be the subject of a future post.

The first written reference I can find to L&R Wooderson is an advert in the Daily Telegraph and Courier on the 27th September 1899 for:

“HOSIERS – Improver WANTED – apply personally or by letter, L.R. Wooderson, 45, Eastcheap, E.C.”

However whilst the name is correct, in 1899 their address was at the eastern end of Eastcheap, towards Great Tower Street. The 1895 Post Office Directory confirms their original Eastcheap address and gives their full names as Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson.

This is where researching these posts always leads me down different routes, as having their full names, I wanted to know a bit more about them.

Searching the census records resulted in a bit of a mystery. The 1881 census records Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson living at 47 Lester Square, St Anne Soho (the parish).

I am not aware that there was a Lester Square, or that Leicester Square was originally called Lester Square, and could not believe there was an error in the census data. Reading through the census entries for 1881 there is also a St John’s Hospital at 45 Lester Square. There was indeed a St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin at number 45 Leicester Square from 1865 to 1867, which confirmed that the spelling of the square was wrong in the 1881 census.

In 1881, Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson were part of a large family at number 47 Leicester Square, which consisted of:

Cheapside

Llewellyn and Robert were aged 8 and 6 in 1881, and whilst the rest of the children were born in London, Robert is recorded as being born in Canada.

Their father, Henry Wooderson is listed as a Fruit Salesman, as is the eldest of the sons, also a Henry, however although son Henry has the same first name as his listed father, he cannot have been his biological father.

There is a 12 year age difference between Henry (28) and his wife Sarah (40), and if Henry had fathered the younger Henry, he would have been 11 at the time, so possibly Henry, George and Edwin are the sons of a previous marriage of Sarah’s with Llewellyn and Robert possibly being Henry’s biological sons.

The two Henry’s worked in Covent Garden market as a Henry Wooderson & Sons is listed in the 1913 book “Covent Garden, Its Romance and History” by Reginald Jacobs. The younger son George may well have gone into the same business as a George Wooderson is listed as having a shop in the north row of shops at Covent Garden.

By the 1891 census, the father Henry could possibly have died as there is no mention of him in the census. The eldest son Henry was now married to Harriet and they were living in Tavistock Street. Llewellyn who was now 18 and Robert, 16, were living with them. By 1891 they had started in the profession that would result in their shop in Cheapside as their were both listed as Hosiers Assistant, and not long after they would open their first shop in Eastcheap.

By 1901, Llewellyn had joined the commuting class having moved out to Somerset Road in Reigate, to a terrace house which is still there. Married to Alice, and with two sons Llewellyn (2) and Malcolm (0). The business must have been doing reasonably well as also living in the house was a domestic servant

In the 1911 census, Robert Wooderson was married to Nellie Geraldine and had two sons. In the 1881 census, Robert was listed as being born in Canada, however the 1911 census adds the city of Toronto. It would be fascinating to understand why, of all the family members, only Robert was born in Canada, and what his mother was doing in the country at the time.

Also in 1911, Robert was listed as a Gentlemens Hosier, and he was living along with his family in Lessar Avenue, Clapham. His house is still in the street.

By the 1939 Register, Robert had moved to Atkins Road, Wandsworth, and his son Thomas was aged 40, single and listed as a Master Hosier so had probably joined the family business in Cheapside. Robert would die in 1957.

I cannot find any reference to Llewellyn’s later life.

They also seem to have had the two shops, the original on Eastcheap, and the shop featured in the photos at the start of the post on the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street. It would have been fascinating to try and find out more about their life, however I am always constrained by time within the scope of a weekly post.

Behind the old L&R Wooderson shop, and where the tree is located is a small patch of open ground facing Wood Street:

Cheapside

This was the churchyard of the church of St Peter West Cheape. The churchyard can be seen in the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map, on the left, above the “C” of Cheapside:

Cheapside

In the above map of 1746, a row of buildings is shown between the churchyard and Cheapside, following the line of buildings that we see today, however in the earlier 1682 map by William Morgan, the churchyard (above the E and A of Cheap) is an open space up to the edge of Cheapside:

Cheapside

The appearance of the buildings, of which L&R Wooderson was a part, gives the impression of being of some age, however there is no (that I can find) confirmed dating of the terrace, however they do follow the alignment shown in the 1746 map, so they do follow the property boundaries of the post Great Fire rebuild.

The church that once occupied the space, along with its churchyard, was one of the churches lost in the 1666 Great Fire, and not rebuilt.

In the book “London Churches Before The Great Fire” by Wilberforce Jenkins (1917), the old church was described:

“The ‘Church of St Peter, West Chepe, stood on the corner of Wood Street, Cheapside, and was not rebuilt after the Fire. The well-known tree in Cheapside marks the spot, and a small piece of the churchyard remains. It was sometimes called St Peter-at-Cross, being opposite the famous Cross which stood in the middle of the street, and was at one time an object of pride and veneration, and at a later period the object of execration and many riots, until pulled down and burnt by the mob. The date of the ancient church is uncertain, but there would appear to be a reference to it in 1231. In the ‘Liber Albus’, one Geoffrey Russel is mentioned as having been present when a certain Ralph Wryvefuntaines was stabbed in the churchyard of St Paul’s and being afraid of being accused, fled for sanctuary to the Church of St Peter.

Thomas Wood, goldsmith and sheriff, is credited with having, in 1491, restored or rebuilt the roof of the middle aisle, the structure being supported by figures of woodmen. Hence, so tradition says, came the name of the street, Wood Street.”

The “famous Cross” mentioned in the above extract was one the crosses erected by Edward I in 1290 on the corner of Wood Street, to mark the resting places of Queen Eleanor’s coffin on its way from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey.

The cross was a large structure and was decorated with religious iconography including images of the Pope and the Virgin. From the mid 16th century onwards, the cross was the subject of attack by puritans who objected to the religious symbols on the cross.

On the 2nd of May, 1643, the cross was demolished, which was illustrated in the following print produced by Wenceslaus Hollar in the same year (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cheapside

The illustration at the bottom of the print shows the “Booke of Sportes upon the Lords Day” being burnt on the site of the cross.

The Book of Sports was a book first published in 1617 during the reign of James I to define what sports were allowed on a Sunday. Initially only covering Lancashire to try and resolve a dispute between Puritans and mainly Catholic gentry, the guidance within the book was applied across the whole country in the following year.

Republished by Charles I, the book was a constant problem for Puritans who considered any playing of sport on a Sunday against their religious principles. As the influence of Puritanism grew in the lead up to the English Civil War, Parliament ordered that the book be publically burnt, one of the burnings was on the site of the cross, on the 10th May 1643.

The old churchyard of St Peter, West Chepe is now a small open space with a small number of gravestones. In the following photo, the brick rear of the building on Cheapside, including the old shop of L&R Wooderson is shown on the left:

Cheapside

Some of the graves are from the early 19th century showing that while the church was not rebuilt after the Great Fire, the churchyard continued in use.

Side gate between the buildings facing Cheapside and the graveyard:

Cheapside

On the railings facing onto Wood Street is an image of St Peter, along with the cross keys frequently shown with St Peter as the “keys to heaven”.

Cheapside

And on the rear of the image of St Peter, is the date 1712 and the names of the churchwardens, which appears to date the railing to 1712:

Cheapside

I would have liked to have had the time to find out more about the Wooderson family. For how long the family was involved with the shop and when it finally closed. Cards Galore who currently occupy the shop seem to have been expanding during the 1990s, however I cannot find their Cheapside shop listed during this decade, so perhaps it was in the 2000’s that L&R Wooderson finally closed.

This has been an incredibly interesting corner of Cheapside, tracing the family of the shop, a church destroyed during the Great Fire and the Cheapside Cross destroyed in the years leading up to the English Civil war, however as usual, I am just scratching the surface.

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Bagnigge Wells, House and Gardens

Although today there is very little of it to see, water has shaped much of London. The alignment of streets, property boundaries, rise and fall of the land have all been shaped by water. Whilst these are all subtle indicators of the historic presence of water there are still a number of more visible signs that hint at an areas history, and one of these is on a building on the western side of King’s Cross Road.

Bagnigge Wells

The sign reads “This is Bagnigge House Neare the Pinder A Wakefeilde 1680”.

The Pinder of Wakefield was a pub that dated back to the early 16th century in Gray’s Inn Road. A pub with the same name was on the same site until 1986, when the building was purchased by the “The Grand Order of Water Rats” charity, renamed the Water Rats, and is now a performance venue.

Bagnigge House and the Wells that were found in the gardens of the house are the subject of today’s post.

The house in King’s Cross Road with the Bagnigge House sign:

Bagnigge Wells

The location of the Bagnigge House stone, along King’s Cross Road is shown by the red circle in the following map  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Bagnigge Wells

The red rectangle highlights the area covered in the post.

If you look to the left side of the red box, you will see Cubitt Street, a street which unlike the rest of the streets in the area, does not follow a straight line and is curved around an area of land between Cubitt Street and King’s Cross Road.

To the left of Cubitt Street, the map shows the light blue line of the old River Fleet. I have double checked with my go to reference for London’s old rivers; “The Lost Rivers of London” by Nicholas Barton and Stephen Myers, and the routing of the Fleet shown in the above map is roughly right.

Before the streets and buildings of London had extended this far north, this was an area of fields and agriculture. The River Fleet ran through the fields, the area was low lying and rather wet, especially after heavy rains when the Fleet would have flooded.

Rocque’s map of 1746 provides a view of the area in the middle of the 18th century. Fields cover the majority of the area, but in the upper centre of the map there are buildings and formal gardens bounded by the River Fleet and a street named Black Mary’s Hole.

Bagnigge Wells

The street to the left labelled “Road to Hampstead and Highgate” is today, Grays Inn Road.

Black Mary’s Hole is now King’s Cross Road. There are various interpretations of the name, but the majority of sources refer to a black woman called Mary, who sold water in the vicinity from a well or fountain.

As well as the Fleet, the Rocque map extract also shows the irregular shape of a number of ponds, confirming that this was an area where there was plenty of water.

By 1816, streets and buildings had started to reach the area, and the following extract from the 1816 edition of Smith’s New Plan of London shows the area between the Fleet and King’s Cross Road (in the centre of the map) now labelled Bagnigge Wells.

Bagnigge Wells

To the right of the map is New River Head and on the edge of the map, Sadler’s Wells, further illustrating how water has shaped the area.

Turning off King’s Cross Road into the side streets, and we can get a view of the drop in height down to King’s Cross Road and the rise in height on the opposite side. An indication of the river valley of the Fleet.

The following view is looking down Great Percy Street from Percy Circus, with the rise of Acton Street across the junction. The River Fleet would have run from right to left along the lowest part of the view.

River Fleet

The area of land shown in the Roque map between the Fleet and Black Mary’s Hole appears to have been enclosed at some point in the second half of the 17th century. The land was to the east of a field called Action Field that occupied the area west to what is now Gray’s Inn Road. The name of the field is preserved in the present day Acton Street.

When a Thomas Hughes purchased the land in 1757, he had the waters from a well that was already in use, tested by a Doctor John Bevis, who reported that the water from the well had chalybeate properties (in the context of water, the name chalybeate means that the water contains iron, see also my post on the Chalybeate Well in Hampstead).

To capitalise on these findings, Thomas Hughes opened the gardens and the well to the public in 1759. This was the period when there were many pleasure gardens opening up around the City. Outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, in places such as along the south bank of the Thames, in Islington, and in Bagnigge Wells.

They provided a pleasant place to visit, away from the smoke, dirt and noise of the City. St. Chad’s Well was another well a short distance away from Bagnigge Wells that had gardens and a pump house where customers could drink the water. I have written about St. Chad’s Well here.

The gardens around the well were attractively laid out, entertainment, food and drink was also provided to customers, both to attract customers to the gardens as well as for profit.

Bagnigge Wells seems to have been a success as some of the land on the opposite side of the River Fleet was purchased to expand the gardens.

A print from 1843 appears to show the stone that is now in King’s Cross Road above the garden entrance (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Bagnigge Wells

The inscription on the stone in my photo at the top of the post has the date 1680. In the print above it could be 1689, so either an error, or a later updating of the inscription over the years has changed the original date on the stone.

The date does pre-date the time when the gardens and well were part of the pleasure gardens so the house referred to must have been one of the earliest houses on the land.

Although the caption to the following print does state “The Original Garden Entrance To Bagnigge Wells, Established in 1680”, the gardens and wells were not a public gardens at that time (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

River Fleet

Presumably, the view is looking north with the garden entrance on the left and Bagnigge House behind the trees on the right.

The river running along the middle of the print must therefore be the River Fleet, which looks rather serene and calm, however it was not always so, and heavy rains around the source of the river in Hampstead could quickly result in the river flooding as the following article from the Derby Mercury on the 9th September 1768 reports:

“And about One o’clock yesterday morning the water came down in such torrents from Hampstead that the road and flat fields about Bagnigge Wells were overflown; the water rose eight feet perpendicular above the usual height of the drain, and was nearly four feet above the foot bridge at that house; the Pleasure-garden, cellars, and Out-houses belonging thereto were overflown, and several of the Pales broke down by the Violence of the stream. Great damage was done to Mr Harrison’s Tile-kiln near the said Wells, where three young men were sleeping in an Out house and were surprised by the Flood, and two of them drowned. The house of Dr. Sharpe, near Bagnigge Wells, was four feet deep in water, and a man and woman behind the House narrowly escaped being drowned.”

The article mentions Mr. Harrison’s Tile-kiln and if you refer back to the extract from Smith’s New Plan of London, you can see the tile-kilns just to the north east of Bagnigge Wells.

The rain was probably caused by the brief, very heavy showers we have also seen in London recently which cause a flash flood. Today, this volume of water falling in north London would now be carried by the same sewer in which the old River Fleet in now buried.

The following print is from 1777, eleven years after the floods in the above article and shows the buildings at Bagnigge Wells, with the entrance to the gardens on the left (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

Today, roughly where the River Fleet once ran, is Cubitt Street (originally Arthur Street). This is the street that curves slightly to the west of King’s Cross Road and is where the River Fleet formed the original western boundary to Bagnigge Wells as shown in Rocque’s map of 1746,

The view south along Cubitt Street:

Cubitt Street

And the view north along Cubitt Street:

Cubitt Street

In the above view, the River Fleet would have run roughly along the line of the street. Bagngge Wells was originally to the right, and following the commercial success of the gardens, expanded to include the left of the photo, with wooden bridges providing access between the two sections of the gardens.

Seats were arranged along the River Fleet for those who wanted to smoke or drink ale or cider. Tea, cake and hot buttered rolls were served, and concerts were held in the main room of the house. A small temple shaped building was created to house the wells from which water was taken and sold.

London’s pleasure gardens and their visitors were often the subject of satirical prints. The following print from 1781 shows “Mr. Deputy Dumpling and Family enjoying a Summer Afternoon” at the entrance to the gardens at Bagnigge Wells (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

18th century pleasure gardens were intended to be peaceful places in London’s countryside, away from the noise and dirt of the City. Where people could spend an afternoon or evening, being entertained, or just drinking and eating and seeing and being seen by others at the gardens, however they were not always places of peace.

in May, 1784, Bagnigge Wells was the scene of some violence between two opposing political groupings, as documented in the following newspaper report:

“Yesterday evening the gardens at Bagnigge Wells exhibited a strange scene of riot and confusion. How the affair began is not easy to be determined, but, at the same moment, several hundreds of Stentorian lungs vociferated the cry of ‘Hood and Wray’ and these were answered by the exclamation of ‘Fox for ever’. Intoxicated with liquor and politics those who were for Hood and Wray boxed with the friends of the Coalition and Fox, and many on both sides were knocked down with the canes and sticks of their adversaries. So sudden a disarrangement of the tea-table apparatus was perhaps never before seen and innumerable fragments of china shone on every walk, and served to give issues to the inflamed blood of the fallen and sprawling heroes. Those peace officers were sent for, the tumult was not appeased for near two hours and a half. Three men, who had been active in fomenting the disturbance, were taken into custody and were soon rescued”.

The same newspaper also reported on a “violent fracas” between the same two opposing groups in the Piazzas, Covent Garden.

Wray was Sir Cecil Wray who was a member of Parliament but was highly critical of proposals to raise taxes by a “receipts tax” which he claimed would fall “on the middling ranks of people and very partially and unequally laid”. Wray preferred a land tax, which in his view had always been too low in the country, but was opposed by the land owning classes (some things do not change).

He also presented a petition that had been drawn up by the Quakers calling for the abolition of slavery, which he called “an infamous traffic that disgraced humanity”.

The MP Charles James Fox put forward the East India bill which proposed nationalising the troubled East India Company, and Wray was strongly opposed to such an action.

At the general election Wray and Lord Hood stood against Fox with Wray standing as an Administrative candidate in Fox’s Westminster constituency. It was a violent election period as indicated by the trouble at Bagnigge Wells, however Fox won and Wray then appears to have abandoned any plans to try and get back into Parliament. He was described as being “one of the most upright, one of the most virtuous, one of the most honourable and independent men” in Parliament.

Up until the end of the 18th century, Bagnigge Wells continued to be a fashionable place to visit, however its days were numbered as the buildings and streets of London started to surround the gardens.

Less desirable and the “lower class of tradesmen” were now to be found in the gardens, and there was petty crime and prostitution, as illustrated by the following print from 1799 titled “The Road To Ruin”, where a young man, possibly an apprentice, in poor fitting clothes, stands between two prostitutes who appear to be berating him (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

In 1813, the manager of the gardens went bankrupt, they reopened somewhat reduced the following year and attempts to rejuvenate the place by building a concert hall in 1831 led to nothing as the customers of the concert hall were described as being of the “disreputable sorts”. The concert hall closed in 1841 and what was left of Bagnigge Wells was built on.

With the River Fleet now buried in a sewer, there are today no signs above the surface of the waters that once made this area an attractive place to visit, away from the noise and dirt of central London.

I have photographed the plaque before, however there was a bus stop directly in front which made the plaque rather difficult to photograph. The following photo is from about 18 months ago and shows the bus stop in its original position.

Bagnigge Wells

If you refer back to the second photo from the top of this post you can see that the bus stop has now been moved to the right. No idea why this has been done, but it does make the plaque easier to see, which is to the good, as it is the only reminder of Bagnigge House, the Well and Gardens now to be found in the area.

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The Death of the London Telephone Box

Before exploring the London Telephone Box, an update on the walk exploring Islington’s place in the history of London’s water supply and some of the original buildings at New River Head, that I wrote about in a post a couple of week’s ago. I will be guiding on some of these walks and whilst most of walks have now sold out, the only walk that has tickets remaining is on Friday 10th September (PM). They can be booked here.

I cannot remember the last time I used a telephone box, or when I last saw anyone else using one. The mobile phone has effectively killed off the need to find a telephone box, yet they are still to be found across the city.

I have a number of photographic themes when walking London’s streets and for the last couple of years, London’s telephone boxes has been added to my theme list. So long a key part of the city’s street infrastructure, I wonder for how long they will survive.

The majority do not work, many have had their phone equipment removed, and many are not in a state that you would wish to stand in and make a call, even if they did work.

Some have found new uses. The most common being advertising as they are often in prime street locations, with full length advertising covering their windows.

The original red telephone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a design he entered into a Post Office competition in 1924. The model K2 telephone box was the result, which first appeared on the streets of London in 1926. He would then update the design to the K6 which first appeared in 1934 and is the traditional red telephone box we see across the streets of the city.

There have been many modifications, and significant redesigns, the majority of these coming after the Post Office / British Telecom was privatised in the 1980s.

The technology in the phone box has changed over the years. I can just remember the manual method of paying for a call when you had to Press Button A to put coins into the phone to make a call, then if the call was not answered, Press Button B to return the coins.

Having the right change for a phone call was always a problem, and hearing the dreaded pips when the money was running out and you had no more change was a challenge for calls of more than a few minutes.

There are some 2,390 telephone boxes which have been listed by Historic England. The majority are Grade II, but some Grade II*. Historic England have a spreadsheet available for download here, which details the location of all listed telephone boxes.

I have to admit to finding telephone boxes rather scary. I know exactly why. As a young teenager I watched the short 1972 Spanish horror film La Cabina, or the telephone box on TV. It is why whenever I used a telephone box I would always keep my foot in the door, to keep it slightly open. The film is on Reddit, here.

So, still never letting a door shut me in a phone box, here are a selection of photos of London telephone boxes, starting with Charterhouse Square:

Telephone Box

Grade II listed (the larger K6 models) telephone boxes at Smithfield Market:

Smithfield Market

One of the modern versions of the telephone box, also showing how so many of these are now used for advertising. This one is in Aldersgate Street:

Aldersgate Street

Advertising is a potentially profitable business for the reuse of telephone boxes. They are in locations where they are easy to be seen, and where there is a high footfall, so they originally could be found when you wanted to make a call. These original reasons for locating a phone box also apply to sites where advertising works best, and as advertised on the phone box in the photo below, at the junction of London Wall and Moorgate, there is a company (Redphonebox Advertising) that specialises in this new use.

Telephone Box

Perhaps the most photographed telephone box in London is this one in Great George Street / Parliament Square:

Parliament Square

Before Covid, there would frequently be queues of tourists waiting to get their photo taken in a London red phone box with the Elizabeth Tower, or more probably Big Ben to those taking photos, in the background.

With the lack of tourists this phone box is now much quieter, and looking inside, even in such a prominent position, the telephone does not work, with the front panel being pulled away from the rear.

Telephone Box

The following telephone boxes in Parliament Street are also a frequent destination for those wanting a photo with a phone box.

Parliament Street

The following phone box is by the side of Grosvenor Road:

Telephone Box

Internally, whilst the phone still has power, and the display reads BT Payphones, there is no chance of talking to anyone with the vandalised handset:

Telephone Box

This view of the telephone box shows changing street furniture. The old, unused telephone box alongside a TfL cycle dock:

Telephone Box

The above telephone box was made by Walter Macfarlane & Co, at their Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. It seems the company took on the manufacture of phone boxes in the late 1940s after their traditional markets started to disappear. The foundry closed, and the site demolished in 1967, however the company has left their mark on multiple telephone boxes across London:

Telephone Box

Outside Pimlico Station:

Pimlico Station

Duncannon Street, looking towards Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery:

Telephone Box

St Martins Lane, opposite the Duke of York’s theatre:

Telephone Box

Great Newport Street:

Telephone Box

The large blue plaque in the above photo records that the artist Joshua Reynolds lived there between 1753 and 1761.

Charing Cross Road, looking up towards the junction with Shaftsbury Avenue:

Charing Cross Road

The telephone box in the following photo is in St Giles High Street with the church of St Giles in the Fields in the background. The door was left open, and at the time, it was not a phone box you would want to make a call from, even if it was working.

St Giles high Street

Shaftesbury Avenue:

Telephone Box

Bloomsbury Street, opposite the Bloomsbury Street Hotel:

Telephone Box

As with many telephone boxes across London, despite being in Bloomsbury Street, the phone box is used as a litter bin. The telephone equipment has been removed.

Telephone Box

Outside the British Museum:

British Museum

Telephone boxes have been converted to other uses. In Russell Square, two have been converted to a take away coffee shop:

Italian Tiranisu and Coffee Shop

Known as the Italian Tiramisu and Coffee Shop:

Russell Square Gardens

Walking further around Russell Square Gardens and there are another three, which according to the Historic England spreadsheet are Grade II listed:

Russell Square Gardens

At the entrance to Regent Square Gardens on Regent Square:

Regent Square

Looking inside the Regent Square Garden’s telephone box:

Regent Square

At the junction of Euston Road and North Gower Street:

Euston Road

Upper Street, Islington:

Upper Street

Across the road from the above phone box is the following:

Islington

Waterloo Place, looking up towards Piccadilly Circus:

Waterloo Place

The Strand, close to Charing Cross Station:

Charing Cross Station

Opposite Charing Cross Station are these four telephone boxes:

Charing Cross station

They are usually more obvious, however the black hoardings to their right are slightly obscuring them.

Hard to imagine seeing a row of four, empty telephone boxes, however they were sited together in an area of frequent use. In a high footfall area, between the Strand, Charing Cross Station, Trafalgar Square and the theatres of the West End, they would have attracted a considerable number of users.

When I commuted into and out of London during the 1980s, train distruption would always lead to long queues at the phone boxes as the only means of communicating with those at home, or who you were to meet, that you would be late.

Later conversions of telephone boxes have tried to keep them relevant, however Internet access on a mobile phone renders WiFi from a phone box a failed model for their continued use.

Telephone Box

These two telephone boxes are Grade II listed, so even if there are no customers who have an urgent need to make a telephone call from in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, they will probably be here long into the future:

St Paul's cathedral

In the triangle of land where St Martin’s le Grand meets Cheapside:

Telephone Box

Telephone boxes advertising the time when cards as well as coins could be used to pay for a call:

Telephone Box

Euston Road:

Euston Road

Outside St Pancras Station, with the sex work adverts that were once common across central London telephone boxes:

St Pancras

I titled this post the Death of the London Telephone Box, however that is not quite true. Many of them are listed so presumably will be around for years to come, and they are valuable assets as an advertising platform, however what they will not be used for is their original purpose of making telephone calls.

What is clear is that many are not maintained or cleaned. I have found very few that actually work. Many have had their equipment removed, others have been vandalised and many of the remainder are just dead.

I suspect the majority of people under the age of thirty have never used a telephone box, and find the concept of a fixed, wired phone rather antiquated.

They are a left over from a time when the only way to make a call when out on the streets was from a telephone box. When you needed to call for a lift home late at night, meet with friends, change an appointment, check on a place to meet, or just simply calling someone for a chat, the red telephone box was an essential part of street infrastructure.

One of my other photographic themes is information panels, intended to show the passerby what can be seen in the area. I walked by this one a couple of weeks ago, close to the Bank junction:

Bank junction

The plaque was unveiled by the Queen in October 2002, and shows the City’s skyline as it was, just 19 years ago,

Thr highlighted buildings include the London Stock Exchange, Tower 42 (the old NatWest Tower), 30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin) and the Lloyds of London building.

it is a strange location as none of these buildings can be seen from the location of the plaque. I cannot remember if it has been moved from a different location. The “You Are Here” label on the map implies it is in its original location.

Bank junction

Walking further into the Bank junction and only Tower 42 remains visible, although now partly obscured.

Bank junction

London’s streets will continuously change, as technologies change as do the buildings lining the streets.

As with the transition from telephone boxes to mobile phones, there seems to be another transition gradually underway with the introduction of low traffic neighbourhoods, closure of many city streets to vehicles, cycle lanes etc.

It will be interesting to see how this impacts the city’s recovery from the pandemic, Does it enhance the city, or restrict its viability as a place to work.

In future, will the car in a city be seen the same as a telephone box today, an essential in the past, irrelevant in the future?

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