Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Tower Hill Escapologist

These photographs were taken on Tower Hill in the early 1950s, no later than 1953 and show Johnny Eagle, the Tower Hill Escapologist and Strong Man who performed on Tower Hill for many years.

The Tower Hill Escapologist

The following photograph is taken from almost the same viewpoint. The new Visitor Centre, built in 2004 covers the area where my father took the original photo so I could not get exactly the same perspective.

Note how the level of the roadway and pavement up against the wall has been raised considerably. The building behind the KFC and Costa advertising is the original building from my father’s photo (this advertising is indicative of one of the big differences between the streets of London in the late 1940s and early 1950s and today, the amount of street clutter we now have, whether advertising, traffic signs, CCTV cameras etc.)

From The Same Viewpoint, 60 Years Later

Johnny Eagle, the Tower Hill Escapologist, performed at Tower Hill for almost 20 years and was also to be found at other city locations across the country, such as the Birmingham Bull Ring.

There is a British Pathe News film clip of a Buskers Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 which includes Johnny Eagle performing. It gives you an idea of what his performance on Tower Hill would have been like. Find it here:

He was born circa 1916 and died in 2001 and was buried in Witton Cemetery near Birmingham.

The white post at bottom right on the 2014 photo is a Tower of London Liberty Boundary Marker. As a royal palace and garrison, the Tower had a special administrative status for taxation and law enforcement from the middle ages to the late 19th Century. The markers ensured it was clear where the boundary between the authority of the City and the Tower was to be found.

This photo is looking back towards the Tower.Escapologist-2

The Paynes Tea van is from George Payne & Co, a Tea Merchant based near Tower Bridge. The Company was involved with the development of tea brands for Sainsbury’s, which included the Red, Blue and Green labels that were launched at the opening of the Ealing branch of Sainsbury’s in 1903. George Payne & Co evolved into Finlays who still produce Sainsbury’s Red Label tea, although now from near Doncaster rather than central London.

The following is looking back up Tower Hill towards the offices of the General Steam Navigation Company (GSN). The Company was founded in 1824 and ran steam ship services around the UK, near-Continental and to the Mediterranean. GSN ran the very popular London to Margate passenger service and for several years the annual number of passengers carried exceeded a million. Londoners escaping the city for the seaside! GSN continued through the 19th and 20th centuries running passenger and cargo services, but in 1971 the General Steam Navigation Company was fully purchased by P&O.


The Chair Repair

Within my father’s photo collection, there are many photos of people across London. Whether as part of an overall location, or frequently the focal point of the photo.

This week’s post is from the later category. I have no idea where this was taken or who he is. Checking the photos on the negative strip either side of these photos it is safe to assume they were taken in central London, however I can find no clues within the photos as to a possible location.


I am impressed by the good condition of his well polished shoes.

The close up nature of the photo shows that he did not have a problem with my father taking his photograph. These are not photos taken from a distance. He carries on with his work with an obvious high degree of concentration, and I am sure, pride in his work.


This type of scene would once have been very common on the streets of London, but was soon to be replaced by a throwaway consumer culture where everyday objects are cheaper to replace than to repair.

It would though, be good to know if that chair is still in use, somewhere in London.


The Monument, Lower Thames Street and Fish Street Hill

My next location is easy to find. One of the most well known landmarks in the City of London – the Monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The Great Fire has been a theme to some of my earlier posts as it was this event which resulted in the building of the Wren churches that feature as landmarks in many of my father’s photos of a bombed city. The impact it had on the City was such that a monument was needed to commemorate the Great Fire and celebrate the rebuilding of the City.

Out of Monument Underground Station, I walk past the Monument and down to Lower Thames Street to find the location where my father took the following photo.

My father's photo of the Monument from Lower Thames Street

My father’s photo of the Monument from Lower Thames Street

Lower Thames Street is much busier than when the above photo was taken and also much wider. In the above photo, the building on the extreme right with the street name was a Bank. This building was lost as part of the widening of Lower Thames Street into two, dual lane carriageways.

Thames Street (Upper and Lower) marks the waterfront of the ancient City of London and follows the line of the wall that defended the city on the riverside.

The sign on the left advertising “Best Large Mussels” is part of Billingsgate Market, located on the south side of Lower Thames Street.

The building on the right with the curved top to the windows still exists. It is the building covered by scaffolding in my 2014 photo shown below (as with Fore Street, why are the key buildings always under scaffolding?) In my father’s original photo it was the Billingsgate Christian Mission. The name can be seen just above the 1st floor windows in the original photo.

The Monument from Lower Thames Street in 2014

The Monument from Lower Thames Street in 2014

The Monument was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London. It is 202 feet high, which is the distance between the Monument and the point where the fire started in Pudding Lane.

Plaque commemorating the location of where the fire began

Plaque commemorating the location of where the fire began

The  site in which the Monument stands was formerly the churchyard of St. Margaret’s Church which was destroyed in the fire.

The Monument was often used by people throwing themselves from the top to commit suicide. Incredibly it was not until after the last suicide in 1842 that a cage was built around the top.

Possible Parish Boundary Marker

Possible Parish Boundary Marker

Walking around the base of the Monument, I found the metal plaque shown in the photo to the left. This is in a very sorry state and from the rubbish around the base is not treated well. I believe that this is a parish boundary marker. It was made by E&S Poynder of London in 1838. The inscription in the middle is St. M.N.F. which is the Parish of St. Margaret New Fish Street.

Fish Street Hill is the road that runs at the back of the Monument. This was the original thoroughfare down to Old London Bridge which was immediately south of Fish Street. The Black Prince had a palace here roughly opposite where the Monument now stands.

With the confidence that there continues to be a cage around the top viewing platform and with a six year old in tow who was sure she could make it, we decided to climb the 311 steps to the top. The Monument is managed by the City of London Corporation and climbing to the top (and getting down again) entitles you to a certificate from the Corporation.

Monument Cert 1Monument Cert 2

The view from the top is well worth the climb. I will leave you until next week with a selection of photos from the base and top of the Monument over a very sunny London.

Towards St. Pauls which looks as if is about to be attacked by cranes.

Towards St. Pauls which looks as if is about to be attacked by cranes.

The Shard

The Shard

The continuing skyward march of City buildings

The continuing skyward march of City buildings

A change to the opening times requires a wet paint sign!

A change to the opening times requires a wet paint sign!

The base of the Monument

The base of the Monument

Monument from Monument Street

Monument from Monument Street

St Zachary, St Alban and Blowbladder Street

Back in the City, my next stop was a short walk down Gresham Street to find another small garden in the centre of the city.

This photo is the garden on the former churchyard of St John Zachary taken by my father just after the war.

Site of the church and churchyard of St John Zachary

Site of the churchyard of St John Zachary

The church was partially destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and was not rebuilt and what remains is the site of the former churchyard. During the blitz the site was converted into a garden and the site won the Best Garden on a Blitzed Site award just after the war. It has remained a garden ever since.

The following photo is taken from roughly where I believe may father took the above photo.

Looking towards the garden at the site of the churchyard of St John Zachary

Looking towards the garden at the site of the churchyard of St John Zachary

The plaque on the wall in the original photo has moved to the right and although not visible is on the wall heading to the right of the above photo.

What looks like the original plaque, now slightly relocated.

What looks like the original plaque, now slightly relocated.

I am sure this is the angle the original photo was taken from, as checking the map, the church tower seen in the background of the original photo is St. Alban in Wood Street, Whilst this is now obscured by office blocks, it can clearly be seen in the following map in the correct position from where I took the later photo, from the cross roads, looking across the garden.

View Larger Map
I always like finding locations that appear in the background of photos, so I took a walk round to St Alban and what I found is either one of the most depressing views, or a wonder of survival. The following photo is looking down Wood Street from Gresham Street looking at the tower of St. Alban.

The tower is the only surviving part of the church and where once it had stood clear of the surrounding buildings, it is now surrounded on all sides by towering office blocks that are getting steadily higher and higher. It is no longer a church, the tower now houses the offices of a corporate finance advisory firm.

I am really pleased that the church tower has survived so we continue to have tangible evidence of the number of churches that once supported the population of the City of London and the Wren architecture of these churches that were generally rebuilt after the Great Fire, however I still find it very depressing that a building that once stood taller than its surroundings and held a special place in the daily lives of the population, is now dwarfed by the size and architectural style of the surrounding buildings. Almost being crowded out of a location that has functioned as a church for many hundreds of years.

The following engraving of St Alban from 1810 shows the church standing clear of its surroundings as it would have done from when it was rebuilt between 1682 and 1685 and the later half of the 20th century when the surrounding office blocks were constructed. The change that the tower has seen in the last 330 years is incredible.

A view of the Wren church of St. Alban Wood Street as it stood in the early nineteenth century (1810). Engraved by William Johnstone White from an original drawing (now in the British Museum) by William Pearson.

A view of the Wren church of St. Alban Wood Street as it stood in the early nineteenth century (1810). Engraved by William Johnstone White from an original drawing (now in the British Museum) by William Pearson.

Where once, standing on the top of the tower would have provided wonderful views over the city, with only the spires of the other city churches breaking above the roof level. Now, you would be staring straight into the floor of an office, with many other floors stretching above.

The streets in the surrounding area also tell a story of both continuity and change. The following map is of Aldersgate Ward from John Strype’s  ‘A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’ which was first published in 1598. (reproduced with the kind permission of Motco Enterprises Limited )

Map of Aldersgate Ward from John Strype's John Strype's ‘A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’

Map of Aldersgate Ward from John Strype’s  ‘A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’

The churchyard of St. John Zachary is labelled as number 5 in the bottom right of the map (just to the left of A in WARD).

Noble Street (which still exists) is clearly visible running vertically past the churchyard, however Gresham Street does not exist. Maiden Lane running past the churchyard where Gresham Street is now.

If you continue to the bottom of the map there is the wonderfully named Blowbladder Street. Aligning this with current mapping, this is now part of Cheapside.

Defoe gives an origin of the name Blowbladder Street in his “A Journal of the Plague Year” where he states: ” and which had its name from the butchers, who used to kill and dress their sheep there (and who it seems had a custom to blow up their meat with pipes to make it look thicker and fatter than it was, and were punished there for it by the Lord Mayor)”.

Time to move on, but next time you see a church tower standing clear above the surrounding buildings or landscape, please remember the tower of St. Alban fighting to retain a link with the past against the tide of encroaching office blocks.

The Thames From Hungerford Bridge And A London Bridge Across The Rhine

After leaving St Mary Aldermanbury, I found another location nearby from where one of my father’s photos had been taken, however I am still checking a couple of facts about this location, so lets head out of the City of London, along the Embankment and down to Hungerford Bridge and stand on the footbridge over the Thames looking east.

If we had stood here in 1950 the view from Hungerford Bridge would have looked like this:

View from Hungerford Foot Bridge looking east in 1950.

View from Hungerford Foot Bridge looking east in 1950.

The foot bridges alongside Hungerford Bridge (there is one on either side of the railway bridge and they are more formally known as the Golden Jubilee Bridges)  were opened in 2002 and replaced the original narrow footbridge from where this photo was taken. Looking towards the city we can see the Portland Stone of the newly constructed Waterloo Bridge gleaming in the sun. The bridge had been completed 5 years previously in 1945 and due to construction during the war, it was built mainly by women.

This is not the first Waterloo Bridge, the stone for the first was laid on the 11th October 1811 and the bridge opened on the 18th June 1817, the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. If it was not for this historical event, the original proposal for the bridge was for it to be named the Strand Bridge.

The first bridge was weakening in the early decades of the 20th century and in May 1924 the bridge had to be closed to vehicular traffic owing to the weakening of the main archway and sinking of part of the roadway.

A temporary bridge was constructed and repairs undertaken to the main bridge. The temporary bridge was taken down in November 1943 and stored for use in the war effort. After the capture of Antwerp, the temporary bridge was transported across the channel and after the Germans had destroyed the Rhine bridges, the temporary bridge, with some additional sections, was built across the Rhine at Remagen, and within weeks, tanks, guns, lorries and troops were streaming over the bridge that had originally carried Londoners from the south of the river to the north.

St. Paul’s stands clear above the city, to the right we can see the OXO tower, built in the late 1920’s by the owners of the OXO brand. If we had turned further to the right we would see the Royal Festival Hall under construction as part of the Festival of Britain development. I will cover this in a future post.

Although the footbridge I am standing on is new, I try to find the position from where this photo was taken. It is an unusually sunny February afternoon, without the dramatic cloudscapes of my father’s photo. I find the position, not far from the north bank, and take the following photo:

Looking east along the Thames - 2014

Looking east along the Thames – 2014

Despite 65 years of building, and thanks to some intelligent city planning, St. Paul’s Cathedral still stands clear of its immediate surroundings, however to the right the march of steel and glass is clearly visible.  The angled shape of the Cheesegrater (or 122 Leadenhall Street to use its official name) and further to the right the Walkie Talkie building (or 20 Fenchurch Street) now dwarfs the OXO Tower.

Whilst there has been very little change along the north bank of the Thames, the south bank has changed dramatically. In the original photo, the chimney is a sign of the industrial activity that ran along the south bank of the river. Wharfs, factories, warehouses have now been transformed into theatres, offices, television studios, shops, restaurants and residential flats.

Comparing the south bank in the old and new photos, it is just possible to see how the Thames is now far more constrained than in the past. Originally along the Thames there were many inlets, wharfs etc. (and centuries ago much of the south bank was marshland), but now the Thames runs through the city constrained by stone and concrete walls.

Time to leave Hungerford Bridge and the Thames and a quick walk back past St. Pauls and to find a location which has changed beyond all recognition.