Monthly Archives: February 2018

A Year Of London Books

When I started this blog, four years ago, I thought I knew London reasonably well – the last four years have taught me how little I really know.

As well as walking in London, over the last four years I have been reading a lot more London books. It is a wide field, books have been written about London for centuries, as well as what seems like a continuous flow of new books. There are also books about almost every aspect of London that you could imagine.

I find books through a number of routes, browsing both new and second hand bookshops and online, finding books as a direct result of something I have found on a walk, and through recommendations I have received as a result of some of my posts.

For this last post of the weekend, here are the London books that I have read over the past year, books that have taught me so much about the city.

I will start off with:

This – Is London

This book came from a second hand book shop in Alton, Hampshire. Browsing the shelves, I came across a book with the word London in the title. It looked interesting, was £4 so I took a chance and purchased.

This – Is London is by Stuart Hibberd who was a BBC Announcer in the early days of the BBC, when an announcer was the person who introduced all the programmes, read the news, looked after guests, and generally appears to have done almost everything (apart from the technical work) needed to get BBC programmes on air.

The book takes the form of a narrative diary, starting in 1924 through to 1949, a period which included so many events of historical importance, as well as the development of the BBC from the very early days through to the post war status of an established national and international broadcaster.

The book is very much of its time – written by a BBC announcer, when a Vice-Admiral was a BBC Controller. It feels that to read the book you need to be dressed in a dinner jacket, pipe in one hand and glass of whisky on the side table, however it is written by someone who was there at the time and includes some fascinating insights into how radio programmes were put on air (I did not know that the BBC had a studio in a warehouse on the Southbank in the 1930s) and some interesting stories of working in London.

The following is an example, and will be familiar to anyone who has experienced a last minute platform change at one of London’s stations, however I bet Southern Railways would not do this for you now, even if you did work for the BBC:

“On Saturday, 9th November 1935, after a long day at Broadcasting House, ending at midnight, with the help of a waiting taxi I managed to get to Charing Cross station about a minute before my train was due to leave at 12:10 a.m.; and I walked past the barrier on to Platform 4, above which was displayed on a board marked ‘Orpington and Chislehurst’. The train was not standing at the platform, but, as it was Saturday night, when trains are sometimes a little late, I thought nothing of that. When at 12.13 I went up to the ticket-collector and asked him what had happened to the Chislehurst train, he answered with surprise, ‘It has left from No. 2 platform on time’. This rather shook me, as of course I knew it to be the last train, and I also knew that the Orpington and Chislehurst board had been over the entrance to Platform 4 when I passed the barrier. There were five or six other passengers there bound for Orpington, who now came up and, in no uncertain tone, corroborated what I had said. As they raised their voices, along came an inspector. They were furious with him, saying, ‘How are we to get home?’, ‘We’ve all been fooled’, ‘I’ll report you’. and that sort of thing.

Realising that this would get us nowhere, and knowing that there was a train from London Bridge to Bromley at 12.45, and that I could if necessary walk the three and a half miles from there, I got into a train then leaving for London Bridge.

While in this train I did some quick thinking, and remembered that London Bridge was the Divisional Headquarters of the railway. Arriving there I went straight to the Inspector’s office, and told him what had happened, beginning in a rather causal tone of voice, ‘Nice game at Charing Cross tonight Inspector. Your men put up the Orpington train-board on No. 4, and then ran the train out of No. 2; and as it was the last train, I look like being stranded, unless I walk home from Bromley.’ He was incredulous, and said, ‘You must have made a mistake.’ No I assured him, I had made no mistake, and what is more, I warned him that he had better be prepared for the other angry passengers dropping in at any minute, who would not relish the walk from Bromley to Orpington at one o’clock in the morning. At this he opened his eyes and began to look worried, but was obviously reluctant to take any action to put things right. I paused for a moment or two; then decided to play my trump card. ‘It isn’t as if I had been out enjoying myself at the theatre or something,’ I said. ‘I’m B.B.C., and have been broadcasting on and off all afternoon and evening, and am pretty tired.’ The three magic letters, B.B.C. did the trick, and he at once decided to ring up the night controller on duty. At that moment, as I had warned him, a bunch of angry passengers from Charing Cross burst in to demand retribution. I explained that I had forestalled them, and that the Inspector was now talking to the night controller about it. We had to wait ten minutes or so while he checked up, then he sanctioned a special train, which drew into London Bridge station, just after one o’clock”.

You would not get a special train arranged for you today!

Stuart Hibberd signing autographs at a BBC exhibition – these were the days when a radio announcer was considered a true celebrity.

Again, the book is very much of its time, however as a first hand account of the early days of the BBC in London, This – Is London makes a fascinating read.

The White Rabbit

Last August I wrote a post about Queen Square, it was the location of one of my father’s photos as he had taken a photo of the water pump that can be found in the square. At the northern end of the square is Queen Court, a rather nice brick apartment building that has an entrance on Queen Square and Guilford Street. In the photo below is the Guiford Street entrance (see how money was saved in construction – the cheap bricks in the middle and the expensive bricks where the main facades face onto Queen Square and Guilford Street.)

To the right of the door is a blue plaque, to Wing Commander F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas:

Forest Frederic Edward Yeo-Thomas was born in London on the 17th June 1902. At a young age his family moved to France where he became fluent in French as well as English. He served in the First World War, and between the first and second world wars, he worked as a Director of the French fashion house Molyneux.

He returned to Englad at the outbreak of the Scond World War and joined the RAF and transferred into the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1942. His knowledge of France and the French lanquage, as well as his desire to help with the liberation of France made him a natural candidate for becoming a secret agent, working in occupied France,

The connection with Queen Court is as the location of the flat he would share with Barbara Dean after she acquired the flat in 1941. It was from Queen Court that he would leave when he was to be dropped into occupied France to make contact with the resistance, arrange supplies and organisation and report back to the SOE.

I walk past so many blue plaques, but this one demanded more research. I had heard of his code name ‘White Rabbit”, but did not know the full story of his work.

After 10 minutes online I had ordered the following paperback, published in 1954 by Pan Books with the rather dramatic cover illustration:

Although not written by Yeo-Thomas, it was written by his friend Bruce Marshall who had also lived in France and had worked in the Intelligence Services during the war.

Yeo-Thomas had already been dropped twice into occupied France, however in February 1944 he left Queen Court for his final drop into France, one that was to be the most challenging, and one that he was very lucky to eventually return from.

He was captured by the Gestapo during this third trip, interrogated and tourtured and eventually sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp along with 36 other prisoners from the allied forces.

The book is a raw account of the inhumanity of a totalitarian regime and should be required reading in order to understand the depths a once civilised society can sink to when others are regarded as sub-human.

The following paragraphs are from the description of Yeo-Thomas’ first days in Buchenwald:

“Guignard also corroborated what Perkins had already told them, adding dismal details of his own. They were, he told them, in the worst camp in Germany. Their chances of survival were practically nil: and if they did not starve to death, they would be worked to death; and if they were not worked to death they would be executed. Every single day more than three hundred prisoners died from starvation or from being beaten by the guards while working in Kommandos. Each Kommando consisted of hundreds of prisoners quarrying stone, dragging logs or clearing out latrines under the supervision of Kapos and Vorarbeiter. But the SS guards were also there and so were their Alsatian hounds, and when enough amusement couldn’t be derived from bludgeoning a man’s brains out there was always the alternative of setting the dogs upon him to tear out his throat.

They soon saw for themselves that these reports were not exaggerated. Walking up and down in the sunlight behind the barbed wire and conversing in makeshift esperanto with the other inmates of the Block, they saw groups of SS men wandering about the camp. They noticed too, that prisoners tried to avoid them and that when they couldn’t they politely removed their forage caps. But this salute did not prevent the guards beating up any prisoner whose appearance attracted their displeasure; and their new companions informed the thirty-seven that anyone attempting to resist this attention was punished either by shooting or strangulation or, if he were lucky, by twenty-five strokes on the small of the back with the handle of a pick axe.

A squat black chimney just beyond the Block was pointed out to them. ‘That’s the crematorium,’ they were told. ‘It’s the surest of all escape routes; most of us will only get out of this camp by coming through that chimney as smoke.”

After Buchenwald, Yeo-Thomas was transerred to other camps as the German lines collasped before he finaly escaped and made his way through to the Americal lines, returning home to Queen Square in 1945.

Afte the war he would help bring several Nazi war criminals to trial, he returned to work in Paris and from 1950 was the French representative of the Federation of British Industries. He died in 1964.

Yeo-Thomas was awarded the George Cross and Military Cross.  From France he received the Croix de Guerre and was made a commander of the Legion d’honneur.

The White Rabbit is a remarkable story of a remarkable man, one I only discovered after walking past a blue plaque.

The First Blitz

The next book is also a result of my Queen Square post. In the central square, there is a plaque on the ground recording the night when a Zeppelin bombed the square:

Again, this is a subject I knew a little about, but not in any great detail. In the comments and messages I received after the post, there was one from the author of a book on the Zeppelin attacks on London during the First World War – the long suffering credit card came out and I ordered the book.

The First Blitz by Ian Castle is a very detailed account of the bombing of London during the First World War, covering the background to the raids, the technology used by the attackers and defenders, a detailed account of each raid, richly illustrated with photos and maps showing the route taken by Zeppelins over London and showing the location of where each of their bombs landed across the city.

The book starts when Zeppelin airships were the method for attacking the city and ends with the Whitsun raid on Sunday 19th May 1918 when 38 Gotha aircraft took off to attack London with 19 reaching London. 48 people were killed and 172 injured in this final raid – an indicator of the type of mass attack from the air that would arrive 22 years later.

This Is London

When walking the streets of London, travelling on the Underground or the bus, do you ever wonder about the people around you? Who they are, what are their stories.

London is such a multi-layered construct and there are people all around the city who live and work in their very own confined view of London.

This Is London by Ben Judah is subtitled The Stories You Never Hear. The People You Never See.

The book starts at Victoria Coach Station at 6am in the morning where new arrivals to the city stumble of coaches and buses, and then takes the reader along a journey through London meeting the type of person who are there in the background of the city – office cleaners, builders, beggars, gangs and drug dealers, Filipina maids, the Arab daughters of incredibly rich fathers, witch doctors. The book is a relentless journey through so many of the different sub cultures and people that call London home for just a couple of months or for a lifetime.

In many ways I found the book a concerning read, the poverty, the almost slave like conditions, the lack of opportunity and the almost total isolation of many communities does not give much cause for hope, however it is an important book, a book that will make you look at the people you pass in the city in a new light.

Big Capital

Big Capital by Anna Minton, whilst tacking a very different subject to This Is London, raises a similar set of questions – who is London for, what is London becoming and who owns London.

Big Capital is about housing in London and those who struggle to find a place to live. Big Capital examines how housing has become a financial investment rather than a basic right.

As with This Is London it can be a concerning read, however it is also an important read to understand why there is a housing crisis in London, even though there is a never ending conversion of existing buildings into flats and new tower blocks of flats are constantly rising above the city.

The following extract from Big Capital summarises how housing is moving further into expensive, private renting and (also a theme in This Is London), the poor, slum housing that is growing at the bottom end of the market:

“For the last generation Britain’s economy and culture have been predicated on the ideal of home ownership, fueled by the Conservative vision of a property-owning democracy. But despite the mythology, Britain exceeded the European average of 70 per cent home ownership only in the early noughties. It has now fallen to 64 per cent, the lowest level in thirty years; the last time home ownership was this low was in 1986, when Right to Buy and the deregulation of the mortgage market were sending home ownership upwards. As home ownership falls and social housing is eradicated, expensive private renting is becoming the only option; in 2017 private renting overtook mortgaged home ownership in London. This is a middle class issue now, that people want to talk about, Betsy Dilner, director of Generation Rent, the campaign group for better private renting, told me, although she added: ‘People think we represent this middle-class professional group, but if you can find a way of making the private rented sector work for the most vulnerable people in society then it will work for everyone.’ Today, 11 million people in Britain rent privately in an overlapping series of submarkets ranging from the poor conditions and slum housing at the bottom end to student accommodation, micro ‘pocket living’ flats. apartments for professionals and luxury housing at the top.”

As you walk around London and see the endless building, the advertising hoardings outside new apartment blocks and the new towers rising above the city, Big Capital helps explain how we have reached this point and provides another view of London – it is an important book.

The Boss Of Bethnal Green

The Boss of Bethnal Green by Julian Woodford is genuinely a book that is hard to stop reading once started. It tells the story of Joseph Merceron who grew wealthy through his control of the vestry, the funds destined for the poor, funds that were destined for infrastructure improvements such as the Commission of Sewers, and much else.

The church of St. Matthew’s plays a central role in the story. The church is one that featured in the Architects’ Journal list of sites at risk in 1973 and I visited the church last year. I just wish I had read the book before my visit as walking around the site, knowing more of the remarkable events that happened, makes a site visit so much more interesting.

Joseph Merceron was also buried at the church and his grave is one of the very few remaining, and as Julian Woodford points out, his grave (and that of one of his key partners Peter Renvoize) survived both a late 19th century graveyard clearance and Second World War bombing.

I accidentally included Merceron’s grave in one of my photos of the church – in front of the corner of the church to the right.

The book also covers the politics of the time and how Merceron was able to flourish with a degree of state support, the prison system, the vestry system that was responsible for local governance, magistrates, bankers and all within the context of an ongoing battle between Merceron and a few, determined, opponents.

Whilst Merceron’s story is 200 years old, it is still relevant in providing a warning of how corruption can flourish in local governance without sufficient transparency or external, independent monitoring and audit – a fascinating book.

The Blackest Streets

Although the Old Nichol, an area of slums in Bethnal Green in the latter decades of the 19th century is at the core of The Blackest Streets by Sarah Wise, the books covers a much wider scope.

There are a number of recurring themes in this, and the other books. As with The Boss of Bethnal Green, the failure of the vestry system of local governance is still an issue in the later years of the 19th century, the problems with private renting, subletting and knowing who is really the owner of a property – themes also found in This Is London and Big Capital – indeed it is interesting when reading books about London of the past one to two hundred years, how many issues are much the same today.

The Blackest Streets also brings alive the reminiscences of Arthur Harding, born in 1886 and grew up in the Old Nichol. These were recorded between 1973 and 1979 and provide a first hand record of live in a London slum.

The book covers so much – communists and anarchists, street regulation, Charles Booth, domestic violence and street violence, ownership of property, fear of the workhouse – indeed the breadth and depth of The Darkest Streets provides not just a view of the Old Nichol, but of so much of London life during the last decades of the 19th century.

The Old Nichol would be swept away through one of the Metropolitan Board of Works / London County Council slum clearance initiatives and replaced by the Boundary Estate (I did not know that the central garden, Arnold Circus was named after Arthur Arnold, the head of new LCC Main Drainage Committee).

To say that I learnt a lot from The Blackest Streets is an understatement.

How Greater London Is Governed

Yes, I admit, this is probably taking London reading too far, however I found How Greater London Is Governed by Herbert Morrison in a second hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye.

Herbert Morrison was a Labour politician and leader of the London County Council (LCC) from 1934 to 1940. The book is an overview of how the LCC governed London and the services that the LCC provides. It is an interesting contrast with the issues of governance in London highlighted in the previous two books, how significant was the improvement by the 1930s.

The book is full of pride in what the LCC has achieved and also the formality required to govern a city of the size and complexity of London.

The book includes a wide range of statistics to illustrate the services provided by the LCC:

  • maintenance of 400 miles of sewers
  • the provision of 63,600 dwellings with accommodation for 290,000 people (part of an ongoing slum clearance scheme)
  • maintains 32 general hospitals, 11 hospitals for the chronic sick and 30 special hospitals
  • maintains the London Ambulance Service, answering in 1932, 40,000 calls and conveying 300,000 patients
  • maintains 1,150 public elementary schools in which about 600,000 boys and girls are taught
  • has spent £17.5 million pounds on street widening
  • maintains 97 parks with an area of nine square miles
  • maintains the London Fire Brigade with 65 stations and 200 fire appliances
  • manages the safety of the public at 800 public buildings
  • the Council’s Supplies Department was responsible for the purchase of significant volumes of consumables including an annual purchase of 10,000,000 eggs, 15,000,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000,000 pints of milk and 19,000,000 million envelopes

There are also maps to show the complexity of managing a city where there are so many different authorities with different boundaries for their scope of responsibility:

Along with tables on the population, birth and death rates. number unemployed etc.

How London Is Governed provides a snapshot of the city and shows how the governance of such a complex city had evolved from the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Quarter Sessions, and many of the issues of the 19th century as illustrated in the previous two books.

Everything You Know About London Is Wrong

Everything You Know About London Is Wrong by Matt Brown is a wide ranging review of the myths, urban legends and stories that take on the illusion of fact.

Covering topics such as Landmark Lies, Famous Londoners, Popular Culture and Plaques That Got It Wrong, for me reading the book generates the same worry I get when writing every weekly post, that something I thought I knew is just a myth, and that everyone else really knows the true facts.

I am not going to admit which ones i got wrong (mercifully few), but reading Everything You Know About London Is Wrong was fascinating, not just for correcting or confirming my knowledge of the city, but also for the additional background information the book provides for each of the “facts” and stories covered.


This is the book I have just finished reading, Docklands – Cultures in Conflict, Worlds in Collision by Janet Foster.

This was another second hand purchase. The book, published in 1999 looks to have been originally owned by a student as there are pencil underlining, highlights and comments to key sections throughout. Although the book is an academic text (at the time, Janet Foster was a lecturer at the Institute of Criminology in Cambridge) it is very readable and tells the story of the Docklands regeneration programme, starting with a history of the area, through to the final, chapter “Making Sense Of It All” – an extensive summary of the development programme so far and what the future may hold for the Docklands.

The book makes extensive use of interviews, covering those involved with the development and residents of the area. The book also includes many photos and statistics to illustrate original Docklands and throughout the regeneration programme.

As a detailed, factual record of a key period in Docklands history, I have yet to find a better book.

My pile of London books to read seems to be growing at a rather worrying rate, however thanks to these and many other authors, I am filling in the considerable gaps in my knowledge of this endlessly fascinating city.

A Child’s View Of London

My first experiences of walking London were back in the late 1960s when our parents took my brother and I for walks around the city. I cannot remember too much about them, but something must have sunk in as it is still something I enjoy doing today.

Hoping to pass on an interest in the city, we have taken our granddaughter on a number of walks including one last year which started at the London Eye and ended up at St. Katherine Dock and the Tower of London. I gave her my camera and let her take photos of what she found interesting, so for today’s post, here is a child’s view of London.


My name is Keira and this is my first blog as a guest. I have been invited to write a blog for the fourth anniversary of  ‘A London Inheritance’. I have a blog coming soon and it will be about book reviews, days out, information and much more. It will also be more for kids. I will try to make it entertaining and interesting.

Lovely London

We started off by going on the London Eye and got some amazing views of the Houses of Parliament, the busy London roads and the tall buildings.

Random, Funny and Amazing

London is an amazing place with people making sculpture, singing, dancing and showing their outstanding talents. It is also a place where lots of random and funny things are made. These pictures show why London is such an excellent place.

The Old Bridge

These are the piers of an old bridge, which was taken down, however, they left the piers there.

The Walkie Talkie and the Cheese Grater

This is a picture of The Walkie Talkie and the Cheese Grater. They are both magnificent buildings and I would definitely like to get some pictures from that high. I’m certain it is amazing.

It started raining so we found shelter. While we were waiting for the rain to stop I got some lovely pictures.

Lovely London Shopping Time And Others

We went shopping and found some random things on the way

Harry Potter Bridge

This is the bridge used in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Pizza Time

Finally, we stopped at Zizzi where we had some delicious pizza. On the way there, we went past the Queen’s barge! It looks beautiful.

I had an absolutely lovely time in London and would love to come again. Even after it rained I got some good pictures:

So, overall I had the best time in London and I’m very proud of the pictures I took. I have loved being a special guest especially for the fourth anniversary of this amazing blog. I might be able to do this type of thing on my blog (when I get it) but for now,


The Streets Under The HS2 Platforms And Concourse

This weekend is the fourth anniversary of the blog – a point I did not expect to reach when starting out.

I would really like to thank every reader and subscriber, for your comments and e-mails, and just for knowing that there is someone out there reading my weekly exploration of London.

For this anniversary, I hope you will permit me three self-indulgent posts, today, Saturday and Sunday.

The post today is a return to the site of my most read post from the last year. Back in August I wrote about the closure of St. James Gardens as part of the preparations for the HS2 developments at Euston Station.

I have been trying to find the time to get back to the area and see what has happened since August, and finally had some spare time a couple of Saturdays ago.

The day of my visit was unfortunately wet and gloomy however this was rather suitable for the subject.

I started my walk around the area in Melton Street, along the western edge of Euston Station, where there is an information stand with a map of the area.

HS2 Demolitions

I have put a red rectangle around the streets that I will walk today. The map still shows the area before the closure of St. James Gardens which can be seen at the top of the red rectangle.

HS2 platforms and concourse will occupy this space as the station extends to the west to accommodate the extra rail tracks.

HS2 Demolitions

Starting off in Melton Street, this is the view towards Cardington Street (which runs past St. James Gardens), and is now closed off. White wooden hoardings now block any further access along the street.

HS2 Demolitions

There is a small window in the hoarding blocking off Cardington Street. The transparent plastic of the window did not help with a clear view, however this is looking down Cardington Street.

An Ibis Hotel occupied the building on the left, and just past the hotel is St. James Gardens.

HS2 Demolitions

I took some photos of Cardington Street last August just after St. James Gardens were closed. The following photo shows the corner of the Ibis Hotel with the trees of the gardens in the background:

The following photo was looking down Cardington Street towards the Ibis Hotel and Euston Road. It appears that all the trees in the gardens have now been removed.

Even relatively recent buildings will suffer the same fate as their older neighbours. This new building is on the corner of Melton Street and Euston Street. Further along is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive underground station designs. This was the entrance for one of the Hidden London tours I wrote about in this post on the lost tunnels of Euston Underground Station.

HS2 Demolitions

This is the view looking up Euston Street.

HS2 Demolitions

The opposite side of Euston Street. Buildings on both sides are now closed with hoardings protecting their ground floors.

HS2 Demolitions

At the junction of Euston Street and Cobourg Street is the pub, the Bree Louise.

HS2 Demolitions

The pub dates from the early 19th century and was the Jolly Gardeners until being renamed by the most recent landlord as the Bree Louise, the name of the landlord’s daughter who died soon after birth.

The Bree Louise was a basic, but superb local pub and it is sad to see how quickly after closing at the end of January, the pub has taken on such air of being abandoned.

HS2 Demolitions

The pub sign is still in place:

HS2 Demolitions

As are adverts of when the Bree Louise was North London’s Camra pub of the year in 2016:

HS2 Demolitions

This is the view in Cobourg Street looking back towards the Bree Louise. There is a row of houses, which although not yet closed off, and some still looking occupied, will also be under HS2’s platforms.

HS2 Demolitions

On the corner of Cobourg Street and Drummond Street is the old Calumet photographic shop:

HS2 Demolitions

Cobourg Street continues after crossing Drummond Street and it is along here that the rear of the old Ibis Hotel can be seen, again closed.

HS2 Demolitions

There are now a number of information posters along the old hotel. One example covering the history of Euston Station:

HS2 Demolitions

And another covering the St. James’s burial ground:

HS2 Demolitions

Looking down Cobourg Street towards the junction with Starcross Street. All these buildings will be demolished.

HS2 Demolitions

Back to the point where Cobourg Street crosses Euston Street, looking down towards Euston Station:

HS2 Demolitions

The old underground station at the junction of Euston Street and Melton Street:

HS2 Demolitions

A wider view with rain drops on the camera lens:

HS2 Demolitions

Walking back along Melton Street and some of the trees have colourful cloths wrapped around their trunks. This was the result of a “yarn bombing” where hand knitted scarves are wrapped around the trunks of trees to draw attention to their fate.

HS2 Demolitions

The opposite corner, on the junction of Euston Street and Melton Street, also with hoarding around the building.

HS2 Demolitions

A partly visible sign carved into the stone around the entrance records that this was once the home of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association.

HS2 Demolitions

The impact of HS2 will not just be felt to the west of the station. major developments will take place all around the station and the gardens between the station and Euston Road are already being fenced off.

HS2 Demolitions

The weather added to the rather sombre mood that covers the area around Cobourg Street. The closure of Cardington Street seems to have added to the traffic in the area. Both sides of Euston Street and Drummond Street were occupied by parked cars, many of which appeared to be Ubers waiting for their next passenger. A single line of cars were trying to squeeze between.

I was pleased to finally get to photograph these streets and buildings before they disappear, however still more to visit when I get time and hopefully with better weather.

London Docklands – A 1976 Strategic Plan

There have been numerous studies over the years looking into how London should develop and that detail a vision and proposals for the future that are frequently very different to the past. Many of these proposals get no further than the written page, however it is fascinating to see how London could have developed into a very different city if some of these proposals had been implemented.

In the early 1970s, East London and the London Docklands were suffering from the closure of the docks, loss of industry and employment and the gradual exodus of people. The area had also never fully recovered from the significant damage of wartime bombing.

My posts on the 1973 Architects Journal issue covering East London have explored some of the original issues, and these can also be found in a strategic plan published in 1976 by the Docklands Joint Committee.

I found the 1976 publication documenting the strategic plan in a second-hand bookshop, having been originally from the Planning Resources Centre of Oxford Brookes University.

The front cover provides an indication of the type of change proposed for the London Docklands, from derelict docks and industrial buildings to housing and schools more likely to be found in the suburbs, rather than East London.

London Docklands

The 1970s were a decade of confusion in the development of the London Docklands.

Dock closure had started in 1967 and continued through to 1970 with the closure of the East India, St. Katherine’s, Surrey and London Docks. Although the West India and Millwall Docks would not close until the end of the decade, the future of these historic docks was clear due to their inability to support the rapidly increasing containerisation of goods passing through the docks. Development of docks at Tilbury, Southampton and Felixstowe were the future.

The area covered by the docks, the industries clustered around the docks, and the housing of those who lived and worked in East London was significant, running from Tower Bridge to Beckton where the River Roding entered the Thames.

The Conservative Secretary of State, Peter Walker was clear in his views that the task of development was outside the scope of local government, and as a result a firm of consultants, Travers Morgan were hired to investigate the possibilities for a comprehensive redevelopment of the area.

The proposals put forward by Travers Morgan in their 1973 report proposed a number of possible development scenarios which included office development, housing and even a water park, however their proposals had minimal input from those who still lived and worked in the London Docklands. The Travers Morgan report was opposed by the Trades Unions and local Labour authorities and the Joint Docklands Action Group was setup to coordinate opposition.

Labour took control of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1973, and in the 1974 General Election, Labour formed a minority government. The Travers Morgan proposals were abandoned.

The Secretary of State for the Environment established the Docklands Joint Committee in January 1974. The objectives of the committee are summarised in the opening paragraph of their report:

“The overall objective of the strategy is: To use the opportunity provided by large areas of London’s Dockland becoming available for development to redress the housing, social, environmental, employment/economic and communications deficiencies of the Docklands area and the parent boroughs and thereby to provide the freedom for similar improvements throughout East and Inner London.”

The committee was comprised of representatives from the GLC and the London boroughs both north and south of the river that came within the overall boundaries of the docks (Newham, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Greenwich and Lewisham). The Government also appointed representatives to the committee and community organisations were represented through the Docklands Forum who had two members on the committee.

The proposals produced by the Docklands Joint Committee were very different to those of the earlier Travers Morgan study. Travers Morgan had identified a future need for office space, along with housing and retail, however the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee focused on what the existing inhabitants required and how their skills could best be used and therefore developed a future based on manufacturing and industry.

Another difference to the earlier Travis Morgan study was in the way that the Docklands Joint Committee aimed to involve and consult the local population of the docklands. Public meetings were arranged, a mobile exhibition of the proposals toured the area, and in the words of the preface to the proposals “every effort will be made to ensure that everyone affected has the chance to know what is being proposed, and why, and to make his or her views known.”

The Strategic Plan as a draft for public consultation was published in March 1976 with a request that comments should be sent by the 30th June 1976.

The plan was very comprehensive including the routing of roads, public transport, industry and housing. Four maps within the plan provided a summary of the Docklands Joint Committee’s recommendations for how land use across the docklands would transform over the coming years.

Docklands Development Phase 1 – Up To 1982

London Docklands

The first phase of docklands development would start to expand established district centres and new housing would be built in Wapping, around the Surrey Docks/Deptford area (expanding the existing Redriff estate) and new housing in the south-east quarter of the Isle of Dogs.

The development of large industrial zones would commence, centred on the Greenwich Peninsula and along the river to Woolwich, the areas around the River Lea and Beckton.

The targets of the district centres were:

  • Wapping could have about 20,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred round a supermarket, together with a health centre, although this might be in temporary accommodation;
  • On the Isle of Dogs the southern centre could have a shopping centre of about 60,000 sq.ft together with a health centre;
  • Surrey Docks could also have roughly 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred around a large supermarket together with a health centre;
  • The East Beckton centre could be the furthest developed, with around 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, a secondary school. health centre, and community centre

For transport, short-term improvements would be made to the North Woolwich and East London line along with improvements to bus services and existing roads.

Docklands Development Phase 2 – Up To 1986

The second phase of docklands development continues the work of the first phase with expansion of housing in Wapping and the Isle of Dogs, with substantial new housing in Beckton. The plan proposed that by the end of phase 2 development across the Surrey Docks would be complete.

The plan was rather vague on new transport projects, however by the end of phase 2, the intention that a new underground line from Fenchurch Street Station would have been extended to Custom House. The strategy document described this new underground line as:

“New tube line (River line) – The Docklands Joint Committee have endorsed the proposed route from Fenchurch Street to Custom House but there are two alternative routes from Custom House to Thamesmead, shown dotted, which are to be further examined.”

In the map below, the River line is shown as a line of wide and narrow dashes out to just north of the Royal Victoria Dock. Other diagrams in the report show the two options for extending the route on to Thamesmead, one via Beckton and the other option via Woolwich Arsenal.

London Docklands

Docklands Development Phase 3 – Up To 1990

Phase 3 up to 1990 is where the major changes were implemented and would have resulted in a very different docklands to the area we see today.

Phase 3 included the filling in of the majority of the old docks, with the exception of the Royal Albert and King George V docks. The report does acknowledge that the ability to make these changes is very dependent on the future operations of the Port of London Authority on the Isle of Dogs and the Victoria Dock in Newham. This highlighted one of the key challenges for the Docklands Joint Committee in that they did not own any of the land across the docklands so the implementation of their proposals would be very dependent on large owners such as the Port of London Authority and the availability of significant funding.

Phase 3 aimed to address the lack of open space available to the residents of the Isle of Dogs and Poplar. In the north of the Isle of Dogs there is a new large area of green which the plan proposed as:

“The open space area not only provides space for playing fields for a secondary school associated with the district centre, but will also help relieve the deficiency of playing fields and open space in Poplar.”

Phase 3 would see the work in Beckton complete with new housing east of the district centre. In Silvertown and North Woolwich the release of land around the Victoria Dock would allow the extension of the Poplar and Silvertown industrial zones to the east.

For transport, phase 3 identified the possible route of a new road, the southern relief route (shown by the line of circles in the diagram below). The route shown would have involved two river crossings, complication by the need for opening bridges. The benefit of the route across the Isle of Dogs was, although dependent on the future of the Millwall Dock, it would pass mostly through vacant land. A disadvantage of the route was identified as the significant additional traffic the new road would feed into Tooley Street and the resulting addition to the congestion on the approach to Tower Bridge.

London Docklands

Docklands Development Phase 4 – Up To 1997

Phase 4 completed the development across the docklands, however still with options for train and road routes.

In the Isle of Dogs, there would be further additional housing, however the main feature is continuous open space from the north, through the centre of the peninsula, to link up with Mudchute in the south.

In the Silvertown and North Woolwich area, there would be additional housing and open space to occupy the area once covered by the Royal Victoria Dock.

The map shows the route reserved for the proposed road, and the two options for extension of the proposed River line on to Thamesmead.

London Docklands

The map for phase 4 shows how different the docklands would have been if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee had been implemented.

By completion, the allocation of the 5,500 acres within the Docklands area would have been:

  • 1,600 acres for industry
  • 1,600 for housing
  • 600 acres of public open space and playing fields
  • 600 acres for community services and transport

The remaining 1,100 acres was assumed to be still held by the Port of London Authority (the Royal Albert and King George Docks), the Gas Corporation at Greenwich and Beckton and the Thames Water Authority, also at Beckton.

Although the report documented the considerable redevelopment of the whole Docklands area, the report also identified as a priority the need to retain many of the older buildings that could still be found across the area.

An appendix of the report listed 101 buildings that were a priority for retention. An extract from the appendix is shown below with one of the maps, and following a list of the buildings in the Poplar and Isle of Dogs area.

London Docklands

London Docklands

The number in the third column is the floor space, not a financial value.

The need in the report to list buildings that should be retained is similar to the 1973 Architects’ Journal on East London which also listed buildings across East London that were at risk. There was considerable concern that wholesale development of such a large area of land would include the destruction of many of the historic buildings that could be found across East London. Many of these had lost their original function which placed them at further risk.

Following publication, a number of problems were quickly identified with the proposals.

The emphasis on industrial and manufacturing space rather than office space did not align with the wider environment across the country with the gradual decline in manufacturing and the potential growth in financial services and wider service industries that was taking hold in London.

The Docklands Joint Committee had no real powers and no direct access to finance for the purchase of land and the implementation of the proposals. This was further complicated by the lack of local authority finance due to the economic conditions of the mid to late 1970s.

The Docklands Joint Committee was also intended to coordinate the response of the individual local authorities that covered the docklands, however all too often these local authorities acted in their own interest. Examples being the work of Tower Hamlets to relocate Billingsgate Market and to bring the News International print works to Wapping in the early 1980s.

The Docklands Joint Committee did try to bring in private finance late in the process, however this was opposed by some of the local action groups who did not agree to the use of private finance in the development of the area.

In the meantime, the people of the Docklands were getting more and more frustrated with the lack of action, endless studies and consultations, but no significant development. Jobs and people continued to leave the Docklands. When the Docklands Joint Committee report was published in 1976 the population of the Docklands was round 55,000 and by 1981 this had reduced to 39,000.

The House of Commons expenditure committee examined the work of the Docklands Joint Committee in 1979  and came to the conclusion that since the committee had been formed, very little had been done.

As well as coming in front of the House of Commons Expenditure Committee, 1979 was also the year of another event that would seal the fate of both the Docklands Joint Committee and their proposals when a Conservative Government was elected.

Michael Heseltine as the Secretary of State for the Environment created Urban Development Corporations, one of which would focus on the London Docklands as the London Docklands Development Corporation.

The objective of an Urban Development Corporation was stated in the  Local Government, Planning and Land Act:

“Shall be to secure the regeneration of its area by bringing land and buildings into effective use, encouraging the development of existing and new industry and commerce, creating an attractive environment and ensuring that housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area.”

The Conservative ideology was also that private rather than public money would fund and drive much of the development of the Docklands.

Financial deregulation would also drive the demand for a new type of office space consisting of large open floor trading areas with the space to install the complex IT systems and their associated cabling that was a challenge in the more traditional buildings of the City of London.

The Docklands would change beyond recognition over the following years. The London Docklands Development Corporation published a glossy summary of their work in 1995 titled “London Docklands Today”. To emphasise the degree of change, the publication included a few before and after photos, including these of Nelson Dry Dock, Rotherhithe:

London Docklands

London Docklands

And these of the West India Docks in 1982 and 1993:

London Docklands

London Docklands

The Docklands area today continues to develop. The Isle of Dogs seems to be a continual building site, however it could have all been very different if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee were not now just an interesting footnote in the development of London.

The Horn Tavern, Sermon Lane And Knightrider Court

One of my father’s photos of the Horn Tavern has been in the blog header since I started the blog, and today I finally get round to covering the location.

He took two photos of the rather ornate light on the corner of the Horn Tavern which was at the junction of Sermon Lane and Knightrider Street, just to the south of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Horn Tavern

Horn Tavern

This is the same view today, the frame of the light is still there, however there have been some changes to the pub and the surrounding streets have changed significantly.

Horn Tavern

The differences in the photos highlight what has happened to the pub since my father took the original photo. The pub had a long history as the Horn Tavern, with references to the pub going back to the 17th century (although it is sometimes difficult to confirm that whilst the name may be the same, it may not be the pub at this location).

The pub changed its name to the Centre Page in 2002. I have no idea why the name changed, or the meaning behind the current name. I would have thought that a name as old as the Horn Tavern would have been preferable, especially given the location on the walk up from the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s with the attraction of an old name to the passing tourist trade.

I will continue referring to the pub as the Horn Tavern as I much prefer the original name.

The frame of the light in my father’s photo looks to be the same as the light in place today, however the wonderful glass with the pub name has been replaced with rather bland clear glass.

The original light must have looked brilliant and very inviting when lit on a dark London night.

There have been many changes in the immediate vicinity of the Horn Tavern. In my father’s photo, the name plate for Sermon Lane can be seen. Sermon Lane still exists but only really in name rather than as a lane.

To set the location and changes in context, the following map shows the area today. Peter’s Hill is a wide walkway from Saint Paul’s Church Yard down to Queen Victoria Street.

Just over half way down on the left can be seen Knightrider Street. Where this meets Peter’s Hill, the Horn Tavern is on the upper corner of the junction. There is a truncated street running up and down from this junction and within Peter’s Hill can be seen the words Sermon Lane.

Horn Tavern

Peter’s Hill is one of the major changes to the area. The area between the cathedral and the river was once densely packed with office buildings, warehouses etc. Peter’s Hill carved through these buildings and streets to provide a wide pedestrian walkway from river to cathedral and opened up the view of the cathedral from the river and Bankside.

The following map is from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London. In the middle of the map can be seen Sermon Lane, when it was a street with buildings on either side. To the right of Sermon Lane is Knightrider Court – this has had a strange move which I will cover later in this post.

Horn Tavern

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the area in more detail. The Horn Tavern is the P.H. on the corner of Sermon Lane and Knightrider Street.

Horn Tavern

Going back further to Rocque’s 1746 map, we can still see Sermon Lane, however to the right, Knightrider Court was then called Doolittle Alley (the second ‘o’ is missing from the map).

Horn Tavern

Doolittle Alley was the Doolittle Lane mentioned in Ben Jonson’s plays, for example from “The Magnetic Lady”, licensed for performance in 1632 and first performed by the King’s Men at the Blackfriars Theatre in the same year:

“She dwelt in Doolittle Lane, atop o’the hill there, I’the round cage was after Sir Chime Squirrel’s. She would eat naught but almonds, I assure you.” 

I had assumed the origin of the name Sermon Lane was religious given the proximity to the cathedral, however the London Encyclopedia states “perhaps named after Adam Sermoneinarius, a 13th century property owner, or since it was once known as Sheremongers Lane, its name may have come from the sheremongers, who sheared or cut, and rounded the silver plates used in the minting of coins”.

There appears to be a common explanation leading back to John Stow’s Survey of London for the name Knightrider Street and Court. In the Streets of London, Gertrude Rawlings states that “Stow says it was supposed that the name refers to knights riding this way from Tower Royal to the tournaments at Smithfield. It has also been stated that a “knightrider” meant originally a King’s messenger, but no such word is known in our dictionaries”.

Photos of the area today show the changes to these streets. In the following photo, the Horn Tavern is on the corner and the paved area edged by the trees, leading up towards the cathedral is Sermon Lane, however this is all open space and the steps on the right form the only boundary with Peter’s Hill.

Horn Tavern

A large sign on the corner of the pub documents a link with Dickens and also states that the pub was formerly known as the Horn Tavern – again why change, there is even a Dickens reference to the original name.

Horn Tavern

View of the entrance to the Centre Page in Knightrider Street – again with the reference to the former name.

Horn Tavern

The current Horn Tavern building dates from the 19th century. Remarkably with the level of destruction around St. Paul’s Cathedral, the building survived the blitz.

The Horn Tavern appears in newspapers over the years for all the usual reasons – the meeting place for clubs, adverts for staff and rooms, people staying in the tavern being involved in local events etc. In October 1874 there was a rather intellectual contest held between teams from north and south of the river when twelve of the best players from the City of London Chess Club, played against twelve of the best players from the Bermondsey Chess Club. Unfortunately I cannot find any results to confirm whether the north or south of the river came out on top.

This is the view looking down what was Sermon Lane from the end near the cathedral. This space still retains the name Sermon Lane, however it is only a line of trees and steps that separate Sermon Lane from the main part of Peter’s Hill.

Horn Tavern

Looking down from the centre of Peter’s Hill, Sermon Lane is on the right.

Horn Tavern

In the above photo, Knightrider Court once ran through the buildings on the left, as can be seen on the 1940 and earlier maps, and Sermon Lane terminated directly on Knightrider Street, however fast forward to today, and Knightrider Court has moved.

The name is now used for the small section of street from just before the pub, and includes a small space after the junction with Knightrider Street.

In the following photo, One Knightrider Court can be seen above the entrance to the building to the right of the Horn Tavern (although today it is separate, this entrance and the building above was part of the Horn Tavern).

Horn Tavern

From the above viewpoint, turning slightly to the left and looking straight down there is this small length of street which also has the name Knightrider Court.

Horn Tavern

So although the original Knightrider Court has been lost, the name has transferred to take over the end of Sermon Lane and an additional small length of land in front of the opposite building.

I like the fact that names are retained, however it is deceiving that the name looks to be in the right place (it is a court shaped stub of land off Knightrider Street) but in reality it is in the wrong place.

This is the view looking down Knightrider Street.

Horn Tavern

As can be seen in the maps at the start of this post, Knightrider Street once continued on towards Friday Street, however Peter’s Hill now terminates the street. I explored the extension of Knightrider Street, past the church of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey in an earlier post: Distaff Lane – How London Streets Have Changed Over The Centuries, which also covers how the streets have changed in the area to the south of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

I would be really interested to know why the Horn Tavern’s name was changed to the Centre Page. I would have thought that retaining such a historic name would have been a good commercial decision. It would also be great to see the light with the name of the pub once again etched into whitened glass and shining on a cold London night.

Simpson’s Tavern, Ball Court

The area between Cornhill and Lombard Street has largely avoided much of the Victorian street widening and development, and more recent post war construction. Within this area can still be found alleys and courtyards that have retained their street plan for many centuries.

One such place is Ball Court, the home of this week’s location, Simpson’s Tavern – the oldest chophouse in London.

This is the photograph my father took in 1947 of Simpson’s Tavern:

I walked down Ball Court during a walk through the City between Christmas and New Year, and took the following photo of Simpson’s Tavern today:

My father took his photo during the day, however the shade of the surrounding buildings gives the impression of this being a twilight photo. There have been cosmetic changes to the front of the building, however the building that houses Simpson’s Tavern is basically the same. In 1947 it looks as if wooden planks had been put in front of the window on the left of the door.

The main entrance still has two circular windows on each door and there is a single light above the tavern.

I suspect the circular windows may have been relatively recent in 1947, however the 1947 view probably also looked much the same in the previous century.

Simpson’s Tavern in the Ball Court location opened in 1757 by Thomas Simpson following an earlier restaurant opened in 1723 in Bell Alley, Billingsgate and then the Queen’s Arms, Bird in Hand Court, Cheapside.

Simpson’s Tavern is a busy daytime restaurant and bar serving traditional food – the breakfasts are rather good after an early start.

The building is Grade II listed, and the listing states that the buildings are of late 17th or early 18th century construction.

The entrance to the alley that leads down to Simpson’s Tavern is shown in the photo below. A narrow, covered alley leading off from Cornhill.

Ball Court is not often named on maps. I have ringed Ball Court in the following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map.

The large X in the grey area where the alley leads off from Cornhill indicates that there is a building above the alley. The small court is shown with the P.H. letters for two pubs on either side, the one on the left being Simpsons Tavern. There is a further building over the alley leading out from the court in the opposite corner.The map also illustrates the number of little alleys and courts in this part of the City.

The alley and court can also be seen in John Rocque’s map of 1746 (just below the first L of Cornhill), however in 1746 the court looks to have been a slightly different shape. This was eleven years before Simpson’s Tavern would open.

The entrance to Ball Court from Cornhill:

I stood in Ball Court for 15 minutes and did not see another person. It was quiet and it felt almost like being in one of the recreated streets you can often find in museums.

The interior of the restaurant retains a much earlier layout with wood paneled booths seating diners. Looking through a window into the tavern:

Opposite the entrance from Cornhill, another alley leads off to Castle Court:

The entrance to Ball Court from Castle Court:

To walk along Ball Court and visit Simpson’s Tavern is to walk through a much older City when narrow alleys, courts in almost perpetual shade and hidden taverns could be found in between the main streets, It is also good to find a place in the centre of the City almost unchanged since my father took his photo in 1947.