Monthly Archives: March 2017

Trafalgar Square – Coronations, British Housewives And Christmas Trees

Trafalgar Square, one of the most well known locations in London. Visited by thousands of tourists every day, a rallying point for demonstrations, where the 2012 Olympic medals were revealed, and where commemorations and vigils are held, the most recent being after the dreadful terrorist attack at Westminster.

The location of Trafalgar Square is important. It is a key junction, with the Strand leading to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the City, Whitehall leading to the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey and The Mall leading to Buckingham Palace. It is this junction of streets that has resulted in Trafalgar Square being on the route for so many of the processional events the city has witnessed over the last couple of centuries.

Trafalgar Square is also home to Nelson’s Column – the column and the name of the square commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar. On the northern edge is the National Gallery, the church of St. Martin in the Fields is on the north eastern edge and as reminders of the days of Empire the square is fringed by South Africa House, Uganda House and Canada House.

My father took a couple of photos looking across Trafalgar Square 70 years ago in 1947. They show either the preparation for, or dismantling after an event. I do not have a record of the date within 1947 and there are no photos of the event. In 1947 my father was on National Service so I suspect these photos were taken during one of the brief periods back in London on leave.

View across Trafalgar Square looking towards Charing Cross in 1947:

Trafalgar Square

And the same view in 2017:

Trafalgar Square

The following photo is looking towards Whitehall. There is a man working on what appears to be lights in the top of the fountain and more around the base of the fountain. You can see part of a stage on the left, in front of the base of Nelson’s Column.

Trafalgar Square

The same view today – very little has changed in the past 70 years.

Trafalgar Square

Without a date I have not been able to identify the event that required these preparations, and there were no clues in the photos. There were a number of events in and around Trafalgar Square in 1947:

  • The wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten took place on the 20th November 1947 and passed the square. Both the square and the surrounding roads were full to capacity with spectators. Police had to form a “crush barrier” with their horses to control the enormous crowds in the square.
  • There were a number of demonstrations in the square during 1947. One of which was the “We Work and Want” protest organised by the British Housewives’ League in June 1947. The Aberdeen Press and Journal reported that “More than 100 motor coaches from Scotland and the North of England are expected to carry women to London for Friday’s rally of housewives at the Royal Albert Hall. Seven thousand angry women will attend the meeting, organised by the British Housewives’ League, at which speakers will denounce the Government’s powers of regimentation and food rationing. On Saturday, 30,000 housewives wearing red, white and blue rosettes will march through the West-End of London after a protest meeting in Trafalgar Square.”
  • 1947 was also the year of the first gift of a Christmas Tree from Norway. A newspaper report from the time reported that “Trafalgar Square is changed as never before. A 48ft Christmas Tree has sprung up on the west side of Nelson’s column. It arrived last week in the Thames, brought from Norway in the S.S. Borgholm. The tree is a Christmas gift to England’s capital from Oslo, Norway’s capital, and tomorrow the Norwegian Ambassador, Mr. Prebensen, will hand it over to our Minister of Works, Mr. Key. This charming gift, to be lit and decorated with artificial snow, is the outcome of a happy thought of Mr. Pieter Prag, manager of the Norway Travel Association. In Oslo every Christmas a giant fir is set up in University Square, where the children flock to see it. Now, in London’s best-known square, British Children will have a similar treat”

I cannot confirm that my father’s photos were connected with any of the above events. I also found newspaper reports of work in the square in 1947 to repair the electrical cabling and lighting, and to remove the hoardings erected around the base of the column during the war, so it could be this work that my father photographed.

As an aside, whilst reading through newspaper articles and letters on Trafalgar Square, I came across the following letter written to the Kent & Sussex Courier regarding the British Housewives’ League which may be one of the earliest “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” letters:

Sir – I recently attended a British Housewives’ League meeting at Christ Church Hall, Tunbridge Wells. the speaker was Dorothy Crisp, chairman of the League.

I was thoroughly disgusted that a woman would use her talent as a speaker to create strife, ill-feeling and unrest, in this Britain of ours. Her whole attitude took me back to the days when Mosley and his gang held meetings.

She stated that she had already booked Scotland Yard for protection at her mass Rally to be held at Trafalgar Square on June 7. Why the secrecy over the name of the other Party who are joining at Trafalgar Square? Are they Fascists, Communists or Conservatives?

I should like to know the real organisation who are paying to cause this unrest and to fool housewives and use them as camouflage to hide sinister intentions that are obviously in mind.”

As far as I can tell, the British Housewives’ League was a right wing organisation that campaigned for women to stay at home and look after the family, christian values and opposition to state intervention and control. Post war austerity and the Welfare State were claimed not to be in the interests of a free and happy home life. There is a fascinating BBC radio programe on the British Housewives’ League. “The League of Extraordinary Housewives” can still be found on iPlayer Radio here. It is well worth a listen

Another of my father’s photos of Trafalgar Square in 1947:

Trafalgar Square

In these 1947 photos there were a number of illuminated advertising signs on the buildings along the southern side of the square, almost like the start of a mini Piccadilly Circus. Luckily this is one area of London where advertising did not subsequently take over.

The area now occupied by Trafalgar Square was originally part of the Royal Mews, where horses were stabled and carriages stored along with a reasonably dense area of buildings. The following extract from John Rocque’s map from 1746 shows the area now occupied by Trafalgar Square. The church of St. Martin in the Fields in the upper right is a good reference point to see that all the land to the left and above Charing Cross is now occupied by the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square

In the lower right of the map is Northumberland House. The following photo shows Northumberland House prior to its demolition in 1874. It was the last remaining of the “Strand Palaces” and had been built in 1605. The lion on top of Northumberland House is now at Syon House.

Trafalgar Square

The preperations for the construction of Trafalgar Square were in the Charing Cross Act of 1826. This enabled the land to be used for an open square and the National Gallery.

Work on the National Gallery commenced in 1832 with the Gallery being completed in 1838 to a design by William Wilkins. Trafalgar Square was constructed over a couple of decades. The core design was by Charles Barry, although his design did not include the fountains and he opposed Nelson’s Column being part of the square, arguing that it would dwarf the National Gallery.  The fountains were completed in 1845 and the layout of the square in 1850.

Work on Nelson’s Column began in 1839 with the statue of Nelson being raised into position in November 1843. The bronze lions were added in 1867.

There were a number of alternative proposals for the design of the naval monument, as Nelson’s Column was originally called during the planning stages, including the following by John Goldicutt from 1833 (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square today, continues as a central hub towards the west of London and is always busy. The terrace area in front of the National Gallery is from where my father took his photos looking across the square. Today, it is mainly selfies in front of the National Gallery and with the square in the background, and also the home to that essential visitor attraction – the floating Yoda, of which there are far too many both here and across London.

Trafalgar Square

Although the more traditional form of street artist still survives:

Trafalgar Square

One of the major attractions for children at Trafalgar Square was feeding the once significant number of pigeons. Vendors would sell seed in the square and I remember doing this as a child in the 1960s. Feeding the pigeons was made illegal in 2003 which has resulted in a much improved environment – although probably rather boring for small children. Today there are still signs stating that pigeon feeding is banned.

Trafalgar Square

On the south east corner of the square is the very small building that was used as a police lookout during major events in the square.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square’s location puts it on the route for any procession between the City, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Place of Westminster and Westminster Abbey. Crowds have long used Trafalgar Square as a location to watch these events and in recent decades it provides a good location for the media to assemble.

My father also took a number of photos on the morning of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on the 2nd June 1953. The full post with these photos can be found here, and I have included two from Trafalgar Square below. The first photo is looking north from the southern edge of the square and shows crowds around one of the lions.

Trafalgar Square

The same view today:

Trafalgar Square

I wonder how many people have sat in front of the lion over the years. Whilst I was there, numerous children were being lifted to sit for photos between the paws of the lion.

Another of my father’s photos from 1953:

Trafalgar Square

And again in 2017:

Trafalgar Square

And it is not just in this century that Trafalgar Square has featured in such events. This drawing from 1838 shows the procession of Queen Victoria to her coronation passing the square, with the National Gallery in the background and the church on St. Martin in the Fields on the right (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Trafalgar Square

The notable feature absent from the above drawing is Nelson’s Column. Work on the column would begin the following year.

As well as being a bystander to events, the square has also been the subject of major ceremonies, for example on the Centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st October 1905. The square was crowded and Nelson’s Column decorated for the special event as shown in the postcard below:

Trafalgar Square

It was not just the centenary event that attracted crowds. The Pall Mall Gazette reports on the 11th October 1905 “Steeplejacks in Trafalgar Square – Preparations for the decoration of the Nelson Monument in Trafalgar Square in connection with the forthcoming anniversary have already been commenced. This morning the operations of three steeplejacks, who were engaged in girding the column with stout ropes from ladders strapped to the structure, were watched with great interest by a large crowd.”

Ladders strapped to the side must have been a rather risky exercise given the lack of health and safety at the start of the 20th century.

Another view of the square in the early 20th century. The traffic and complexity of the road layout remains to this day and is a result of the square being at the point where so many major streets meet.

Trafalgar Square

Although I have not checked, I suspect Trafalgar Square has featured in the majority of Coronations. The following postcard shows the procession during the coronation of King George V passing Trafalgar Square on the 22nd June 1911.

Trafalgar Square

I have been working out of the country for much of the past week, and as with most of my posts, I feel I have only just scratched the surface of the history of this area. There is so much more on the area prior to the construction of Trafalgar Square, the work on building the square and column, the fountains and their water supply, the many other events that have taken place in and around Trafalgar Square (for example whilst researching 1947 I also found the story of an alleged terrorist bomb blast at the Colonial Welfare Club in St. Martin’s Place off Trafalgar Square which injured six airmen). You can though read about one of the tunnels under Trafalgar Square here.

But at least if you are ever in a London trivia quiz and you need to know who was responsible for the first Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree, it was Mr. Pieter Prag, Manager of the Norway Travel Association.

Bankside West From Southwark Bridge

The south bank of the River Thames between Westminster and Tower Bridges has seen many changes. Once mainly an industrial area lined with factories, warehouses and wharves, these have been replaced by offices, restaurants, Tate Modern, the reproduction Globe Theatre etc.

Any day of the year, the walkway along the south bank will be crowded with tourists, those who work along the south bank and as a straightforward route to walk between east and west London.

The south bank was not always like this. This was the view in 1953, photographed by my father, looking along Bankside, west from the base of Southwark Bridge. The photo was taken from the area of the steps leading up to the bridge.

Bankside West From Southwark Bridge

The same view in 2017.

Bankside West From Southwark Bridge

The scene is so very different, how do I know it is the same view? There are a couple of well defined points of reference.

If you look to the left of the crane, there is part of a large building, with a further building just a bit further to the left with a distinctive spire on the roof.

If you look in the same position in my 2017 photo, the large building is Unilever House, now fully visible as the crane is not obscuring, and the building with the spire is the old City of London school. The spire is clearly visible in both photos.

You will also notice that the street (1953) and walkway (2017) curves to the left in the distance.

The original photo was taken during a weekend, the shadows indicating this was late afternoon. My photo was also at the weekend, although early afternoon. The solitary cyclist has been replaced by the crowds who daily walk along the south bank.

In the 1953 photo, you can see part of a name at the top of one of the buildings. The full name is Beck & Pollitzer, a successful engineering company that is still in existence today, although not on Bankside.

Beck and Pollitzer was formed in 1863 by two immigrants from central Europe, John Beck and Sigimund Pollitzer.  The company started as an importer and distributor of goods from across Europe and therefore needed warehouse space. In the late 19th century the company moved into warehouses on Bankside and eventually owned several on either side of Southwark Bridge.

The company evolved into a specialist engineering and support services provider and moved from Bankside to Dartford in Kent.

Beck & Pollitzer retain a link with London as they provide the transport and installation services for the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree.

In my father’s photo, Bankside is the street that runs along the edge of the River Thames. Although today it is primarily a walkway, it is an old street. The following extract from a map of the Parish of St. Saviours Southwark by Richard Blome (late 17th century but published by John Stow in 1720) shows the area long before Southwark Bridge, with Banck Side (one of the spellings used in the 18th century) running along the edge of the River Thames.

Bankside West From Southwark Bridge

The first Southwark Bridge opened in 1819, 100 years after the map was printed. If you look in the centre of the map you will see Bear Alley. To the right is Rose Alley. There is a small street to the right of Rose Alley, which continues south to the bottom of the map. This is the location of Southwark Bridge.

Bear Alley and Rose Alley are still there today, although Rose Alley is now blocked off from Bankside. You can see that at the southern end of Bear Alley there is an open space marked as Bear Garden – one of the locations around Southwark that hosted the types of “entertainment” for which the area was well known.

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London shows Southwark Bridge with Bear Alley now called Bear Gardens. Note also that in both the 1720 and 1940 maps, Bankside was two words, Bank Side more accurately refers to the origin of the name. Today it is generally found as one word.

Bankside West From Southwark Bridge

Bear Gardens today is a narrow street running south from Bankside. Bear Gardens is always rather empty when compared to the crowd who seem fixed on walking the length of the south bank without exploring slightly inland.

Bankside West From Southwark Bridge

The construction of Southwark Bridge stopped Bankside from running alongside the river, it had to turn inland very slightly to run under the arches leading up to the bridge, before turning back towards the river.

Just to the left of where the top photos were taken is where the street runs inland and it is here that, despite the incredible amount of change in this small area, the view today is remarkably similar to that of 64 years ago.

My father took the following photo from under the warehouses that ran straight up to Southwark Bridge. Bankside turns to the right at the point where the photo is taken to run underneath the bridge.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is behind the warehouses on the north bank of the river and Queenhithe is to the right of centre.

Bankside West From Southwark Bridge

The same view today.

Bankside West From Southwark Bridge

Although the warehouses along Bankside have long since been demolished, the new buildings follow the same layout, with a remarkably similar view across to St. Paul’s Cathedral. You can also see identical notches between the stone panels on the dark arch on the right of both photos, one of the arches that supports the run up to Southwark Bridge.

I suspect that the solitary man cycling along Bankside in 1953 could never have imagined how this area would change over the following decades.

Rambling From Whitechapel To Limehouse

In my last post I wrote about the sites between Whitechapel and Limehouse in the 1972 Architects’ Journal article. Whilst walking to these locations, I took a number of detours from the direct route between the article locations to explore more of the history of Whitechapel and Limehouse.

Whilst walking the streets there is so much to see of the history of an area and how London is changing. This is a follow-up post to explore some of the other fascinating aspects of rambling around London.

To get from Wellclose Square down to Wapping High Street, I crossed over East Smithfield and walked down Vaughan Way. As with so much of London, Vaughan Way is being occupied with almost identical blocks of apartments. Across London you will find these, frequently with an artist impressions of the aspirational life style that those living in these apartments will enjoy.

If you have every looked at these pictures, they always have a number of common features. It is nearly always summer and the sun is shining, the age group of those pictured in the scene generally appears to be below 40, there are always people relaxing in the sun and often some form of coffee / food shop.

The artists’ impression of the London Dock development in Vaughan Way fits the standard model and appears to have a particularly well stocked fruit shop / florist on the corner.

I have been taking photos of these pictures for some time for a mini project to come back and compare whether the places as built meet the artists’ impressions (strange, I know but that what happens when you walk). I somehow suspect that in reality they will be rather different.

After walking around the buildings in Wapping, I walked up Wapping Lane and there is a small collection of shops including a butchers, wine merchants and a launderette, all housed in buildings from the first decades of the 20th Century and built by the London County Council. The following building, Columbus House, still has the LCC coat of arms mounted proudly on the centre of the 2nd floor of the building.

Whilst walking around East London you will find so many closed pubs. Changes in employment, culture and demographics have resulted in an area where you would have once been unable to walk for a couple of minutes without finding another pub, now having hardly any. In Wapping Lane, you will find one of the few remaining in this part of East London, the White Swan and Cuckoo.

What amused me with this pub, was the pub’s ginger cat walking up and down outside, waiting to be let in. In the above photo he is sitting outside the corner entrance.

One of the pubs that closed a number of years ago was The Old Rose on the corner of The Highway and Chigwell Hill. I walked up Wapping lane to the Highway to see whether there was any change in the derelict state of this pub.

The only survivor in this stretch of the Highway between a McDonald’s and Petrol Station on one side and a potential building site on the other. If you look just above the door, there is the following plaque:

Which if it is the original from 1678 would have been on the building here prior to the current Rose pub. What is strange though is that the plaque on the pub states Chigwell Streat. Today, the road to the side of the pub is called Chigwell Hill and checking John Rocque’s map from 1746, as can be seen below it was also called Chigwell Hill (to the left of centre), so if it was originally a Street, the name change must have been prior to 1746.

The open land at the end of Chigwell Hill in 1746 would become part of the London Docks in a little over 60 years.

The Old Rose appears in newspaper records from the early 19th Century, although prior to 1810 it appears to have been called the Old White Rose. There are newspaper reports of all the usual East London pub events – inquests into deaths in the nearby Docks and from the river, sales of good and property, sports meetings and strangely, the meeting place of Lodge No. 2 of the Ancient Order of Druids.

Today, The highway runs all the way to the junction with Butcher Row and the Limehouse Link Tunnel. This was not always so. For example, in the 1832 map of London, “drawn and engraved for Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary” , the Ratcliff Highway as it was then called only ran just under half its current length, before turning into a series of different streets called High Street of Upper Shadwell, Cock Hill and Broad Street.

Most of the area was devoted to trades related to the River Thames and the shipping that used the river. For example, just north of what was the High Street of Upper Shadwell were the Sun Tavern Fields which included some very long rope walks, where the rope used on ships could be manufactured in long lengths.

Along the Highway is this building with a blue plaque installed by the Stepney Historical Trust on the side which reads “Captain James Cook, the ablest and most renowned Navigator this or any country hath produced, lived in a house a few yards from this spot, 126 Upper Shadwell, 1763 – 1765“.

But what intrigued me was that on the front corner of the building are these initials and series of years. I have no idea what they mean.

At the end of the Highway, a short distance up Butcher Row at the junction with Cable Street is this building, Thames House. A mix of different structures from Victorian to the 1960s, it has had rather a number of problems with the way that some of the units within the building were sub-let. A planning application was expected to be made to Tower Hamlets Council towards the end of 2016 for a rejuvenation of this building, however I am not aware of the current status or plans.

But there is some rather philosophical graffiti on the side of the building – another good subject to collect and photograph whilst walking around London. (see this post for some photos of 1980s East London graffiti from my collection).

Walking along Wapping High Street, Wapping Wall and Narrow Street, it is easy to forget that the River Thames is close by, just the other side of the large former warehouses that line the southern side of the streets. Occasionally the river reveals itself, with a view of the full sweep of the river. One such place is along Narrow Street where the street crosses the entrance to Limehouse Basin.

A swing bridge carries Narrow Street across the entrance to the basin which is now a Marina. Formerly the Regent’s Canal Dock, the basin provides access to the Regent’s Canal, allowing cargo to be carried from the Thames, along the Regent’s Canal to the north of London.  The basin also provides access to the Limehouse Cut which runs up to the River Lea, and therefore by the River Lea and the Regent’s Canal, the basin provided access between the Thames and the inland waterways of England.

Along Narrow Street is Dunbar Wharf, still looking much as it must have done when a working wharf owned by the Dunbar family in the 19th century.

The Dunbar family wealth was initially from a Limehouse brewery established by Duncan Dunbar. It was his son, also called Duncan, who used the money he inherited from his father to build the shipping business that was based at Dunbar Wharf.

Dunbar’s ships carried passengers and goods across the world as well as convicts to Australia. Whilst very successful, this was not without the occasional disaster, as described in this article from the Western Times on the 7th November 1865:

“The Wreck Of The Duncan Dunbar – The passengers and crew of the Duncan Dunbar reached Southampton on Saturday morning on board the Brazil mail steamer Oneida. It seems that the vessel struck on the reef Las Rocas at about half past eight in the evening of the 7th of October, and an awful night was passed on board. On the following morning they were all, 117 in number, landed on a little island or bank of sand, which was covered with birds. They remained in this situation, with the exception of the captain, one of the passengers and six seamen, who started in a lifeboat to Pernambuco for aid, till the 17th, when they were fetched off by the Oneida. Though the sufferings, mental and bodily were indescribable, not a life was lost or a limb broken.”

Duncan Dunbar died in 1862. The report of the funeral, published on the 17th March 1862 provides a view of the standing of Duncan Dunbar in London and the wider shipping community:

“Funeral Of The Late Mr Duncan Dunbar, the Shipowner – The funeral of the late Mr Duncan Dunbar, the eminent shipowner, took place on Friday at Highgate cemetery. The mournful cortege, which comprised ten mourning coaches and several private carriages, left the deceased gentlemen’s residence, Portchester Terrace, Bayswater, at 12 o’clock, and reached the cemetery shortly after 1 o’clock. the mourners comprised a number of gentlemen of high standing in the commercial world. At Poplar and Limehouse much respect was shown. Nearly all the shipping in the East and West India Docks had their colours hoisted half mast high, as also the flags on the pier head entrances of the docks, the lofty mast house at Blackwall and Limehouse Church, the bells of which tolled during the hours appointed for the mournful ceremony.”

Duncan Dunbar did not have any children so his wealth was divided across his wider family members, although no one in the wider family wanted to continue the shipping business. The ships and warehouses were sold, however Dunbar Wharf remains to this day as a reminder of a once highly successful shipping business.

A few other wharf buildings remain with their facade much as they would have been when operating as a working wharf.

I continued along Narrow Street to the junction with Three Colt Street where I found another example of a closed East London pub. This was the Kings Head, a late 18th Century / early 19th Century pub, that although it is still clear that this was once a pub, closed a long time ago, around the early 1930s after which it became the office of a banana importing business.

The following photo shows the old Kings Head building in 1964 when used as the office for a banana importer and distributor.

(Photo used with permission from London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Catalogue reference SC/PHL/01/400/64/6692)

And this fascinating photo from 1902 looking down Three Colt Street towards the junction with Narrow Street shows the building when it was a pub in the distance on the right hand side.

(Photo used with permission from London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Catalogue reference SC/PHL/01/400/1507)

Across the junction from the old Kings Head pub are these buildings:

They were originally named Potter Dwellings after Alderman Henry Potter, also Mayor of Stepney.

There are plenty of records of Alderman Potter – opening events, chairing meetings, presenting prizes etc. but I could find no record of him opening these buildings or involved in their planning. Post war, they were renamed Saunders Close. I have seen references to the new name being after a Mr Saunders, a caretaker of Potter Dwellings during the war, and that the buildings were named after him following an act of bravery, but again, I can find no evidence in support.

It is good though, to see these survivors of very early 20th century East London housing which have survived both wartime bombing and post war development.

The one permanent feature across East London is continuous change and there are still so many buildings that I suspect will be demolished or transformed in the coming years. On the opposite side of Commercial Road from the church of St. Anne’s, Limehouse are these derelict buildings.

Once the home of that standard business which occupies all such sites across East London, the building will probably not be standing in a couple of years.

Further along Commercial Road is the Star of the East.

Another East London pub from the first half of the 19th century, the pub has been through a series of recent reopening and closures and is currently closed. The building has some ornate carving and decoration, very different from many other East London pubs and was probably due to its prominent position on the Commercial Road at the junction with the East and West India Dock roads, rather than being a local corner pub.

I had not intended this to be another long post, however I find that just rambling round the streets of London is an endlessly fascinating exercise. There is so much to see and learn of how the city has evolved and how this process is the one consistent feature of London’s long history.

New Deal For East London – Whitechapel To Limehouse

A couple of weeks ago I started exploring East London using the map published in the Architects’ Journal from the 19th January 1972. The map was part of a feature article titled “New Deal for East London” and covered the considerable changes expected to take place across East London and the fate of a number of sites that the Architects’ Journal considered essential for preservation.

Sites across the map were categorised by how they were part of East London’s development. In the past two posts I covered Category A – Areas that were developed as overflow from the City of London.

In today’s post I start on Category B – Linear development along the Rivers Thames and Lea due to riverside trades.

The map below is an extract from the larger map published in the 1972 article and covers the next set of locations, those marked from 17 to 25, running from the southern edge of Whitechapel to Limehouse along the Thames. The sites along the River Lea will be the subject of a later post

The following map shows the same area today with the same locations marked.

The Architects’ Journal introduces this area as follows:

“And now the route east from the City can be followed by tracing the riverside developments. While land east of the City still consisted of fields dotted with small, independent villages, the riverside was already lined with a continuous strip of workshops, wharves and houses. As England’s trade and empire increased in the 16th and 17th centuries, riverside villages grew in size, not inland, but along the river, and eventually became an almost independent naval town stretching from the Tower to Limehouse. This independence from the rest of London astonished even 18th century Londoners. John Fielding wrote in 1776; ‘When one goes to Rotherhithe or Wapping, which places are chiefly inhabited by sailors, but that somewhat of the same language is spoken, a man would be apt to suspect himself in another country.’ And Boswell was recommended by Johnson to explore Wapping to see ‘ wonderful extent and variety of London.’ When Boswell did go to Wapping, almost 10 years later, he was disappointed and supposed that standardisation in building had destroyed its character. “

There is so much to be written about this area, however my posts are often getting rather long, so today I will concentrate on finding the sites, and write more about the history of this fascinating area in some future posts.

I always enjoy a walk in East London and when I walked this route the weather was perfect, although bright sun can cause problems with the contrasts between sunlight and shadow in some of the narrow East London streets. Starting off, I walked to the first point:

Site 17 – All that remains of Wellclose Square and 1850 GLC owned Wilton’s Music Hall in Grace’s Alley

I started off walking along Royal Mint Street, then Cable Street before turning off down Ensign Street where the entrance to Graces Alley can be found. It is here that Wilton’s Music Hall can be found.

The buildings that now house Wilton’s have a long history. Originally individual houses from the late 17th Century they have since been through many alterations and changes, a 19th century Music Hall, a Methodist Mission and a warehouse for rag sorting.

During the 1960s the London County Council planned to demolish the whole area including the nearby Swedenborg and Wellclose Squares along with the buildings that housed Wilton’s Music Hall. Whilst the other areas under threat of demolition did not survive, the buildings along the northern edge of Grace’s Alley, including Wilton’s Music Hall were spared, but fell into dereliction. Campaigns during the last few decades raised the funding to restore Wilton’s and it is the restored building that we find today. There is a full history of the building and the restoration on the Wilton’s web site which can be found here.

Wellclose Square is a different matter. The square is found at the end of Grace’s Alley:

In the 1972 article, the Architects’ Journal describes Wellclose and the adjacent Swedenborg Square’s:

“Off Cable Street were two early 18th Century squares – Swedenborg and Wellclose Squares – neither of which descended into the slum that Cable Street had become. Both escaped serious war damage but, although unique, were not spared by wholesale demolition that occurred in the last decade. Swedenborg Gardens now stand on the site of the square, no trace of which has remained. Wellclose Square (where Dr. Johnson’s friend Dr. Mayo lived – and which at that time was the residential centre for Scandinavian timber merchants and boasted a Danish Church) has not even been rebuilt, but lies as the demolition men left it. Sites of original houses are used as car parks. The East End as an area could not afford to lose these houses; their demolition destroyed vital community memory and identity.”

The last sentence in the above paragraph is a consistent message throughout the 1972 article. It is not just the buildings that are being lost, but also the loss of a community that had long considered East London as home.

I was not sure what I would find in Wellclose Square. The Architects’ Journal listing states “all that remains” which is not very specific. The article also includes the following photo of some of the houses in Wellclose Square but does not make clear whether there were still remaining in 1972.

The buildings on the right of the above photo with the panels above the ground floor windows were originally the Danish Embassy.

A quick walk around Wellclose Square confirmed that all the buildings of the original square have been demolished, with new building from the later decades of the 20th century now running along the sides of what remains of the square.

The only buildings of any age that are now within Wellclose Square are those that form part of the central square (the original location of the Danish church). One of which is this building:

It appears to be within the grounds of the school that occupies the central part of the square so I hope that the windows and door facing the road are covered in this way to prevent access from the road rather than that the building has been abandoned.

The plaques on the wall provide some background to the building. The plaque on the left reads “St. Paul’s Mission Room” and that on the right “St. Paul’s Church for Seamen Infant Nursery”.

The building was constructed in 1874 and is currently Grade II listed.  As this was a mid-Victorian building I suspect it was not what the Architects’ Journal was referring to and that all the buildings were demolished.

To get to my next location, I needed to retrace my steps to Cable Street and at the junction with Royal Mint Street turn left down Dock Street:

Site 18 – Late 18th Century Houses in Dock Street

The Architects’ Journal map shows three locations in Dock Street. One a short distance down on the left, one further on the right then one at the junction with The Highway, and it here that I will start.

The following photo shows the house in the location marked on the map, so what appears to be a fine survivor, although I am not sure whether the full house survives. If you look at the new building to the left, it appears to carry on into the original building and checking an aerial view it looks that the new building on the left extends across the rear of the older building and that whilst the front and part side facade looks to have survived this may well be a case of the body of a building being gutted and rebuilt as part of a new, larger construction.

Although nothing could prepare me for what I would find next. This is the building on the site marked on the left of Dock Street.

This has to be the worst reconstruction of a pretend 18th Century house that I have ever seen. The building also has a distinctly industrial feel with the metal door, air vents and pipework down the side. Openstreetmap has this building labeled as a mobile phone company so I suspect it houses equipment for their network, but why build the front facade to possibly resemble the 18th Century house that once stood here in such a superficial manner?

Walking back up Dock Street towards Cable Street there was some considerable building work underway. Here all the buildings to the right of the Sir Sydney Smith pub have been demolished.

The full site is in the photo below. This building site will soon become the Ordnance Building where “no expense has been spared in curating a collection of residences that live up to the development’s prime location”. The Ordnance Building will also feature a “Quintessentially (online) concierge service” whatever that is.

It seems that almost anything these days is “curated”. You can read more about the Ordnance Building here.

The final location in Dock Street appears to have survived intact. A fine three floor house. Note the way that the size of the windows reduce from ground to top floor.

From Dock Street it was then a walk down towards the River Thames, to the next location:

Site 19 – Wapping conservation area enlarged to take in early 19th century pair on river to east

Site 19 covered a number of buildings around and to the east of the Wapping basin entrance to the London Docks. The docks are long since closed, however the buildings remain, some much restored and rebuilt, however the area does retain the character of when the docks were in operation.

I have already written about this area in my post on The Gun Tavern, so as this is a rather lengthy post I will not repeat here.

At the time of the 1972 article, the restored buildings along Pier Head shown in the photos above and below were for sale with prices of:

Houses: £22,500 to £37,500

Flats: £13,500 to £42,500

A quick check for recently sold prices, found that in 2012 a terrace house at Pier Head sold for £2,550,000 and in 2011 a flat sold for £1,300,000. That is quite some investment in 40 years.

Looking across to the old St. John’s Church and the Charity School next door.

The next stop on the Architects’ Journal map was reached after walking along Wapping High Street, up Wapping Lane then turning into Raine Street to find:

Site 20 – 1719 School in Raine Street

Apart from the nearby church of St. Peter’s London Docks, the old school building, or Raine House as it is now named is the only survivor among an area of redeveloped 20th century housing.

The building was originally a charity school founded by Henry Raine, owner of a Wapping brewery with the traditional blue coated school children standing in alcoves on the front of the building, very similar to the charity school in the Wapping Conservation Area.

The plaque above the door confirms the date of 1719 and states “Come In & Learn Your Duty To God & Man”.

In 1972 the old school building looked to be at considerable risk. The Architects’ Journal states: “The 1719 school in Raine Street, owned by the GLC, this school is for sale – a sale that had better be quick if it is to survive attacks from the local children”. The article includes the photo below to demonstrate the poor condition of the building. Note also that the two statues are missing, hopefully moved to preserve them. The article then goes on to state “Since this picture was taken all first floor windows have been broken. What will become of this building if action is not taken soon?”

The last sentence sums up the concern that is a theme throughout the article. There were a whole range of important 18th century buildings across East London being left to decay, helped in that decay by vandalism. If the authorities did not apparently see the importance in these buildings no wonder the local children could see no reason why they could not use these decaying buildings for stone throwing and other general damage.

Fortunately the school buildings have survived and now rather suitably are home to the Pollyanna Training Theatre and Studios, rather than expensive flats.

From Raine Street, it was then a walk up Wapping Lane to The Highway to reach the next location:

Site 21 – Early 19th Century Rectory and Church of St. Paul’s Shadwell

The Highway is a really busy road and it took a while to get a suitable break in the traffic to take the photo below showing the Rectory on the right and the church on the left.

The current church is the third that has occupied the site. The original church was built in 1656 as a Chapel of Ease. This was rebuilt in 1669 as the Parish Church of Shadwell.

The 1669 church (the middle picture in the top row in the print below) was demolished to make way for the current church which was built in 1820.

St. Paul’s Shadwell has been traditionally associated with Sea Captains and Captain James Cook was an active parishioner at the church.

An information panel at the entrance to the church also records that John Wesley preached at the church and there were a number of notable baptisms including Jane Randolph, the mother of the US President Thomas Jefferson, and James Cook, the eldest son of Captain Cook.

If you look back at the maps at the start of this post, the church is just north of the Shadwell Basin and when this easterly part of the London Docks was constructed, part of the church yard of St. Paul’s was lost to make way for the new docks.

From here, I continued along The Highway, almost to the entrance to the Limehouse Link Tunnel, before turning left into Butcher Row to find:

Site 22 – late 18th Century Rectory in Butcher Row

Butcher Row is a really busy road. It links Commercial Road, Cable Street and The Highway and is at the point where The Highway disappears below ground as the Limehouse Link. The late 18th century Rectory was easy to find, but I had to wait sometime before I could get a photo not obstructed by traffic.

This is a lovely building, built between 1795 and 1796, not originally as a Rectory, but for Matthew Whiting, a sugar refiner and director of the Phoenix Assurance Company.

There was originally a church behind the Rectory building. St. James, Ratcliffe was the first church built by the Bishop Blomfield Metropolitan Churches Fund and consecrated in 1833. It was badly damaged during the war and demolished in the 1950s.

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London shows the pre-war area with the church in the centre of the map with Butcher Row just to the left. The map also highlights the changes in the area. Today, Butcher Row is a much wider road and has taken over the part of Cable Street where it runs up to Commercial Road.

The Rectory and the area once occupied by the church is now the home of the Royal Foundation of St. Katherine.

On the front of the rectory is a blue plaque to the Reverend St. John Groser, an East End Priest during the first half of the 20th Century who took part in the General Strike and was injured in the Battle of Cable Street. There is a fascinating history of St. John Groser to be found here.

Hard to believe that this house is facing one of the busiest sets of roads in East London.

Leaving the traffic of Butcher Row, it was time to head to the next location:

Site 23 – Early 18th Century Group in Narrow Street

This group of buildings are still looking in fine condition and include The Grapes pub.

the Architects’ Journal provides a view from 1972 of how this type of house could survive and the social changes that this involved:

“In Narrow Street a few much restored early 18th century houses give foretaste of the social pattern that might soon develop along the whole riverside. the fronts are well painted, but generally anonymous, the backs, have picture frame windows and motor boats. Their original inhabitants have been moved into council flats behind. 

Significantly these houses survive only because they have been bought by people able to restore and maintain them. Tower Hamlets had planned to demolish them for open space, but relented when it was agreed that they would be restored privately.”

After a quick stop in the Grapes, it was on to the next location:

Site 24 – 18th Century Terrace in Newell Street

This terrace of houses is a surprise. It is reached from Narrow Lane by turning into Three Colt Street, then turning left into Newell Street. (Newell Street was originally Church Row, but changed name, I believe, in the late 1930s) Both these streets have housing blocks from the later half of the 20th century, however as soon as you pass under the bridge carrying the Docklands Light Railway over Newell Street you find yourself in a street lined with these 18th century houses.

At the end of the terrace is St. Anne’s Passage which provides access to the church of St. Anne, Limehouse. The following photo is taken by the passage which is running to the left and shows the full length of the terrace. In the photo of the site in the Architects’ Journal, the building with the curved facade is only two storey so the top storey looks to be a later addition which the different type of brick confirms.

If you look down St. Anne’s Passage you find the final destination for the walk:

Site 25 – St. Anne’s, Limehouse

St. Anne’s Limehouse is a wonderful church and visiting on a sunny February day was perfect. Although you can enter the churchyard from the Commercial Road, the best way to approach the church is through St. Anne’s Passage which provides this view of the church:

The article in the Architects’ Journal included the following photo from the same position. Note how the house on the right was originally two storeys.

The building on the other corner was the office for a building company in 1972 however it was originally a pub which is still reasonably clear from the building today, which does not look as if it has changed much since 1972.

The pub was the Coopers Arms and occupies a good location at the entrance to the passage to the church. I wonder how may participants of a Sunday morning service walked the short distance to the pub at the end of the service?

There are so many closed pubs across East London and looking at these buildings now it is easy to forget that they were once the hub for so much of the life of the community. Most East London pubs also had sports teams and ran sports events, and despite its relatively small size the Coopers Arms was no exception.

19th Century issues of the Sporting Life tell of the events held at the Coopers Arms.

From the issue of the 22nd February 1890:

“Cooper’s Arms, Church Row, Limehouse: There was a good muster present at this establishment on Tuesday evening to witness the opening bouts of the 9st competition for a silver cup, promoted by W. Turner, the well known boxer of Limehouse. Details:

Bout 1: W. Brown beat T. Tabbits – The latter retired at the end of the first round.

Bout 2: A. Smith beat W. Potts – There was little to choose between these men, Smith receiving the verdict.

Bout 3: J. Bennett beat H. Cooper – This was a grand affair for two rounds when Cooper retired.

Bout 4: D. Hudson sparred a bye with G. Painter

Exhibition boxing by the following also took place: Willits v. Perkins, Paver v. Pointon, Walmer v. Daultry, Hall v. Barnes, brothers Campbell. Wind-up, Bill Turner v. Buffer Causer

The judges were H. Watson and H. Perry, referee T. Baldwin, timekeeper, Sporting Life representative, M.C.  The finals take place on Tuesday next.”

The Cooper’s Arms also had a very active Quoits team with the Sporting Life referring to the team as “those well known East-End quoiters.”

Remove the yellow lines on the street, the street lamp and the blue sign on the gates and you could be walking to church in the 19th Century.

If you look just to the left of the blue plaque in the photo above, there is a much older stone plaque in the narrow gap:

If I have read this correctly, the plaque from 1757 gives the dimensions of the passage and confirms that the passage is the property of St. Anne’s Church.

St. Anne’s Limehouse is a magnificent church. It was one of the 12 churches built following the 1711 Act of Parliament to build additional churches across London to cater for the expanding population of the city.

Built between 1714-1727, the church was rebuilt after a serious fire in 1850 and there was further restoration work in the 1980s and 90s.

St. Anne’s, Limehouse was permitted by Queen Anne to fly the White Ensign of the Royal Naval Service, a tradition which continues to this day. The proximity of the church to the River Thames also meant that the church was a Trinity House navigation mark for those travelling on the river.

In the churchyard is a strange pyramid structure. It was originally planned that this would be installed on the roof of the church, however this did not happen so the pyramid continues to sit in the churchyard looking up at the church roof where it should have been located.

This was a fascinating walk, rounded off by finishing in the churchyard of St. Anne’s on a sunny February afternoon with the church yard full of crocuses.

On this third walk to visit the sites of concern in the 1972 Architects; Journal, I was pleased that the majority have survived well, the main exception being the rather strange modern mock Georgian fascia of the building in Dock Street.

The next stage will be the route from Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs up along the River Lea to finish of the category B locations. That is a walk for another day.

Atlantic House, Holborn Viaduct

In the late 1940s and early 1950s reconstruction started on many of the sites that had been destroyed by wartime bombing. One of the buildings completed in 1951 was Atlantic House, Holborn Viaduct.

This was an easy location to find, but in discovering more about the building I found how in London some things remain the same, and how some buildings are not what they seem.

My father took the following photo of Atlantic House in 1951 shortly after completion of the building. The photo was taken on Holborn Viaduct looking towards Holborn Bridge over Farringdon Street.

The photo below is an enlargement of part of the above photo and shows the bridge over Farringdon Street to the right of the lamp post with the remains of a building just behind the bridge with the outline of stairs on the adjoining wall. I will come on to the relevance of this building later.

This area of London suffered badly during the war as can be seen from the Aerofilms photo below taken in 1951. The photo also demonstrates how random was the impact of bombing with some blocks of buildings completely destroyed whilst others remain untouched.

In the photo Atlantic House was still under construction. The building is in the lower left corner. The length along Holborn Viaduct appears complete whilst that along Farringdon Street is still just the steel framework.

Atlantic House was design by T.P. Bennett & Son, an architectural practice that is still in existence today.

Atlantic House was built under the government’s “lessor scheme”. This was a scheme to try and get post war building underway as there was a considerable shortage of office space across the city.

Under the “lessor scheme” office buildings would be leased back to the government for a fixed rate of interest. This provided a cost effective way for the government to get office space built whilst providing a modest return for the construction company.

The aim of the “lessor scheme” was to develop office space quickly and cost effectively so there was little incentive for good architecture.

Atlantic House was built of steel frame (as seen in the Aerofilms photo) with the frame being clad in brick. The building had symmetrical frontages on both Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street with a curved corner facing onto the bridge over Farringdon Street.

The architecture was very much of a 1930s style with long lines of windows along the otherwise plain long facades. It was criticised for its architectural blandness when completed, although I rather like the curved corner of the building.

The photo below is from the LMA Collage collection and shows the two long facades and the curved corner facing the bridge.

(Photo used with permission from London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Catalogue reference SC/PHL/01/013/57/3007)

Atlantic House lasted almost 50 years and was demolished in 2000 and 2001, to be replaced by:

Another Atlantic House, but of a very different architectural style and built of very different materials.

Whilst Atlantic House is very different the building on the corner is also new as it does not appear in the photos of the post war Atlantic House. Originally, Holborn Bridge had four pavilions, one on each corner of the bridge. During the war, the two northern pavilions were destroyed by bombing, only the two southern pavilions remained.

Go back to the enlargement of my father’s photo and the remains of the north eastern pavilion is the structure seen at the end of the bridge.

When the 1951 Atlantic House was built, the remains of the original pavilion were demolished and a concrete stairway built at bridge level to provide access to Farringdon Street below. The original pavilion was not rebuilt.

The pavilion that we see on the north west corner today was built after Atlantic House was demolished in 2001. Built to replicate the original, it looks old but is relatively recent.

Given that the name Atlantic House is on the building that now occupies the site of the post war Atlantic House, I checked whether there was a pre-war Atlantic House on the same site, and sure enough there was, and I was able to find records of the building dating back to 1901, so there have been three different incarnations of Atlantic House going back for at least 116 years.

The current Atlantic House is occupied by a legal services company. The post war version was the home of Her Majesty’s Stationary Office and the pre- war building appears to have been home to a number of companies including Armour & Co. Ltd, famed for their tinned meats including Armour’s Corned Beef, Armour’s Boned Chicken and Armour’s Ox Tonque which could all be purchased from Harrod’s as well as stores across the country.

Another occupant of the pre-war Atlantic House was the Berthon Boat Company, a manufacturer of collapsible boats.

Percy K. Langdale, the secretary of the Berthon Boat Company wrote to the Pall Mall Gazette on the 25th April 1912, one of a number of letters concerning the sinking of the Titanic.

The Berthon Boat Company manufactured collapsible boats which were used as back up to wooden life boats. Langdale wrote that:

“Unfortunately, in shipping disasters, collapsible boats, being supplementary or auxiliary, are only resorted to after every wooden boat has been launched, and when the vessel is generally going down, so are seldom brought into use. In the case of the Titanic disaster, however, two and a half hours elapsed from the time of collision to the sinking, so there was ample time to have got out sufficient collapsible craft for all on board of the vessel had she been equipped with a sufficient number of them.”

I have no idea how good the Berthon collapsible boats were, but it does make you wonder how many lifes would have been saved if their boats had been on board the Titanic.

On the north east corner of Holborn Bridge, Bath House was built on the site in the 1970s and in 2014, following demolition of Bath House and as part of the redevlopment which included a new Bath House, the final missing pavilion building was constructed. Whilst in the style of the original pavilions, the clean stonework gives away that this is a building only three years of age.

The round plaque on the lower left of the pavilion is a City Heritage Award from 2014. The reconstructed pavilions on the north side of Holborn Bridge are rather good replicas of the originals. The photo below shows one of the original pavilions, still standing on the south east corner of Holborn Bridge.

As can be seen in the photos above, on each of the pavilions there is a niche containing a statue of a London Mayor. The four mayors are shown below and are:

South east pavilion – Sir Thomas Gresham

North easrt pavilion – Sir Hugh Myddelton

North west pavilion – Sir William Walworth

South west pavilion – Henry Fitz Eylwin (the first Lord Mayor of London)

Holborn Bridge is part of Holborn Viaduct, the 427m long viaduct designed to provide a bridge over the valley of the Fleet River and a level road between Holborn Circus and Newgate Street.

The construction contract for Holborn Viaduct was awarded on the 7th May 1866 and on the 6th November 1869 it was opened by Queen Victoria.

Whilst Holborn Bridge is the most obvious part of the Viaduct, there are other places where it can be seen, including the height of the viaduct above the land where it once sloped down, either side of the Fleet River.

One such place is the smaller bridge over Shoe Lane.

The small bridge over Shoe Lane can also be seen in my father’s photo below, taken from a slightly different angle than the first photo and showing the Shoe Lane Bridge at the lower edge of Atlantic House.

The height of the viaduct can also be seen looking out from Holborn Bridge, south along Farringdon Street down towards the River Thames.

As well as the four statues of London Mayors on the pavilion buildings, the bridge also has four statues to Agriculture, Commerce, Fine Art and Science.

Each of the pavilions provides a means of getting between Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street with a staircase in each pavilion. This was probably their original design purpose, providing access between the two levels via an ornate set of symmetrical buildings at each corner of the bridge.

Although the post war Atlantic House did not include rebuilding the pavilion, it did provide a staircase between Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Street as well as the three windows which look out from the first floor, however it is a very utilitarian concrete structure.

(Photo used with permission from London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Catalogue reference SC/PHL/01/010/75/360)

In the photo above, the ground floor was occupied by W.B. Poultry & Meats Ltd, one of the many businesses in this area connected with Smithfield Market.

Atlantic House and Holborn Viaduct and Bridge show that despite frequent rebuilding there is some continuity in the names of buildings with Atlantic House being the name for the building on the north west corner of the bridge for over 116 years.

They also demonstrate that some things are not quite what they seem with the pavilions on the north side of Holborn Bridge missing for several decades and now being replicas of the originals.

The Ankerwycke Yew

There is plenty of history surrounding London and it is possible to take a short train journey from the city and reach a place which could not be more different.

This is the first of a very occasional mid-week series of posts highlighting some of these places. For this first post the subject is the possibly 2,500 year old Ankerwycke Yew tree near the village of Wraysbury, close to the River Thames and possibly the location for the meetings between King John and the Barons which resulted in the Magna Carta.

Not only is the age of the Ankerwycke Yew remarkable, but also the location where it can be found.

The following extract from OpenStreetMap shows the location of the Ankerwycke Yew (red circle lower left of the map) with Heathrow Airport to the upper right, the M25 running vertically down the centre of the map, the large reservoirs that supply water to London and the lakes where once sand and gravel was extracted to build much of the infrastructure to the west of London are also to be found close by.

There is an excellent walk to the Ankerwycke Yew which starts at Wraysbury station (45 minutes from Waterloo station). The station is the yellow circle on the black railway line on the left side of the map. The guide to the walk can be found here.

The first part of the walk passes the Wraysbury Reservoir, one of the large reservoirs in this area that supply London. Continuing the water theme, the walk now passes some of the lakes that formed following sand and gravel extraction. The geology of the area is a product of the River Thames, as over the centuries it has changed route and flooded and as a result has left beds of sand and gravel. These have been dug out over the centuries, with major industrial extraction commencing in the 1920s when there was an influx of companies into the area around Wraysbury.

After a short walk along the Staines Road, then following a track by another lake, the walk reaches the River Thames, although a very different river to the channeled river that runs through the centre of London.

Turning from the banks of the Thames, a short distance further are the ruins of a Benedictine Priory. Dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, this was a small priory with only six or seven nuns and a Prioress at the start of the 16th Century with an annual income of £20. The Priory was founded here at Ankerwycke around 1160 and closed during the dissolution in 1536. Today only a small part of the old Priory buildings survive.

Close to the Priory is the Ankerwycke Yew. There are various dates for the age of the tree ranging from 1,500 to over 2,500 years dependent on the measurement method, assumptions etc. with most estimates ranging between 2,000 and 2,500 years. Whatever the actual age it is very old.

The Ankerwycke Yew is close to Runneymede which is on the opposite side of the Thames and there is some claim that the Magna Carta was signed at, or close by the Ankerwycke Yew. In the 13th Century, the landscape would have been different as the area was probably rather marshy as it was within the flood plain of the Thames. The Ankerwycke Yew is on a slightly raised area of land (therefore dry) and with the proximity of the Priory perhaps both lend some credibility to this claim.

Richard Montfichet, Lord of the Manor of Wraysbury was also one of the 25 Barons appointed to monitor King John’s future conduct after signing the Magna Carta. It was Richard’s ancestor Gilbert Montfichet, Knight and Lord of Wraysbury who founded the Priory.

The size of the trunk provides an appreciation of the age of the Ankerwycke Yew. A circumference of 8 metres confirms that this is a tree of some age.

Standing next to the Ankerwycke Yew, a living tree possibly well over two thousand years old it is hard to imagine that the M25 and Heathrow are so close and that it is just a short walk and train journey from central London. The sound of aircraft on their approach into Heathrow was the only distraction. The Ankerwycke Yew could well have been a few hundred years old when Roman London was founded.

The National Trust have set up a semi-circle of benches around the tree, however even on a sunny winter weekend, there were no other visitors to the Ankerwycke Yew.

From the Ankerwycke Yew, it was then a short walk into the village of Wraysbury, a stop at a pub then back to the station having just met a very remarkable tree.