Monthly Archives: February 2019

New Deal For East London – Bromley By Bow to Poplar

Two years ago I started a project to revisit all the locations listed as at risk in an issue of the Architects Journal. dated 19th January 1972. This issue had a lengthy, special feature titled “New Deal For East London”. The full background to the article is covered in my first post on the subject here.

I have almost completed the task of visiting all 85 locations, there are just a few more to complete. I had a day off work last Monday, the weather was perfect, so I took a walk from Bromley by Bow to the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs to track down another set of locations featured in the 1972 article, and also to explore an area, the first part of which, is not usually high up on the list for a London walk.

There was so much of interest on this walk, that I have divided into two posts. Bromley by Bow to Poplar today, and Poplar to the tip of the Isle of Dogs, hopefully mid-week.

I had five sites to visit, which are shown in the following map from the 1972 article, starting at location number 29, passing by sites 56, 28 and 27 before finishing at site 26.

To get to the start of my planned route, I took the Hammersmith & City line out to Bromley by Bow station. There have been some considerable changes to the area in the years since the 1972 article, changes which are still ongoing. The following map shows the area today with the five locations marked. One obvious difference between the 1972 and 2019 maps are the major roads that have been cut through the original streets, and it is by one of these new roads that I would start the walk.

Map  © OpenStreetMap contributors. 

The entrance to Bromley by Bow underground station has been a building site for the last few years, although with not too much evidence of building work underway. The exterior of the station entrance is clad in hoardings and scaffolding.

Bromley by Bow

The underground station entrance opens out onto a busy road. Three lanes of traffic either side of a central barrier. This is the A12 which leads from the Bow Flyover junction with the A11 and takes traffic down to the junction with the A13 and the Blackwall Tunnel under the River Thames.

Directly opposite the station is a derelict building. This, along with surrounding land has been acquired by a development company ready for the construction of a whole new, mainly residential area, including a 26 storey tower block.

Bromley by Bow

In the photo above, i am looking across the 6 lanes and central barrier of the A12. The construction of this road in the 1970s had a major impact on the area. It was once a network of smaller streets, terrace housing and industry, much of which was due to the location adjacent to the River Lea. The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London shows a very different area. Bromley Station (now Bromley by Bow) is towards the top of the map with St. Leonard’s Street passing the station, leading down to Brunswick Road. Parts of these streets remain, however as the north to south route they have been replaced by the six lane A12. Many of the side streets have also disappeared or been shortened.

Bromley by Bow

There are still many traces that can be found of the original streets and the buildings that the local population would have frequented. This photo is of the old Queen Victoria pub at 179 St Leonard’s Street.

Bromley by Bow

The pub is surrounded by the new buildings of Bow School, however originally to the side of the pub and at the back were large terraces of flats which presumably provided a large part of the customers for the Queen Victoria. The pub closed in 2001 and is presumably now residential.

Walking further along the road, the road crosses the Limehouse Cut, built during the late 1760s and early 1770s to provide a direct route between the River Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs loop and the River Lea.

Bromley by Bow

New build and converted residential buildings have been gradually working their way along the Limehouse Cut, however there are a few survivors from the light industrial use of the area, including this building where the Limehouse Cut passes underneath the A12.

Bromley by Bow

A short distance along is another old London County Council Fire Brigade Station for my collection. This was built in 1910, but has since been converted into flats.

Bromley by Bow

The building is Grade II listed, with the Historic England listing stating that the building “is listed as one of London’s top rank early-C20 fire stations“. The building originally faced directly onto Brunwsick Road and was known as Brunswick Road Fire Station, however with the A12 cutting through the area, the small loop of the original Brunswick Road that separates the fire station from the A12 has been renamed Gillender Street.

The short distance on from the fire station is the first of the Architects Journal sites on my list:

Site 29 – Bromley Hall

The view approaching Bromley Hall:

Bromley by Bow

For an area that has been through so much pre and post war development, the original industrialisation of the area and wartime bombing, it is remarkable that Bromley Hall has survived.

Although having been through many changes, the building can trace its origins back to the end of the 15th century when it was built as a Manor House, later becoming a Tudor Royal Hunting Lodge. The site is much older as it was originally occupied by the late 12th century Lower Brambeley Hall, and parts of this earlier building have been exposed and are on display through a glass floor in the building.

Bromley by Bow

The London Metropolitan Archives, Collage site has a few photos of Bromley Hall. The first dates from 1968 and shows the hall, apparently in good condition, but surrounded by the industry that grew up along the River Lea.

Bromley by Bow

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01 288 68 5683

The photo highlights the impact that the A12 has had in the area. The above photo was taken from Venue Street, a street that still remains, but in a much shorter form. Everything in the above photo, in front of Bromley Hall, is now occupied by the six lane A12.

An earlier photo from 1943 showing Bromley Hall. The windows have been bricked up, I assume either because of loss of glass due to bombing, or as protection for the building.

Bromley by Bow

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_288_F1262

Bromley Hall is Grade II listed and has been open during Open House London weekends and is well worth a visit.

Further along is another example that this area, now isolated across the A12 was once a thriving community. This imposing facade is of Bromley Library, built between 1904 and 1906.

Bromley by BowBromley Library was one of four libraries in Poplar. The others being Poplar Library in the High Street, Cubitt Town Library in Strattondale Street and Bow Library in Roman Road. These libraries were open from 9 in the morning till 9:30 in the evening, and in 1926 almost half a million books were issued across the four libraries.

The Bromley Library building is now Grade II listed. It closed in 1981 and after standing empty for many years, the old library building has been converted into small business units.

I walked on a bit further, then took a photo looking back up the A12 to show the width of the road.

Bromley by Bow

Bromley Hall is the building with the white side wall to camera, and the library is just to the left of the new, taller building.

There is a constant stream of traffic along this busy road, when I took this photo it was during one of the occasional gaps in traffic when a pedestrian crossing just behind me was at red. There are not too many points to cross the road, with crossings consisting of occasional pedestrian traffic lights and also a couple of pedestrian underpass.

Much of this lower part of the A12 widening between the Limehouse Cut and East India Dock Road was originally Brunswick Street. The following Collage photo from 1963 shows Brunswick Street before all this would be swept away in the 1970s for the road between the Bow Flyover and the Blackwall Tunnel.

Bromley by Bow

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_288_AV63_989

Before the road meets the East India Dock Road, there are additional lanes to take traffic under the A12 and across to Abbott Road to the east.

Bromley by Bow

Close to the junction between the A12 and the East India Dock Road is the Balfron Tower.

A whole post could be written about Balfron Tower, the flats design by Erno Goldfinger and built in 1967. Balfron Tower tends to generate either love it or loathe it views of the building. dependent on your appreciation of high-rise accommodation and concrete construction.

The recent past has also been controversial in the history of the building. Like many estates from the 1960s, Balfron Tower suffered from lack of maintenance, failing lifts, problems with plumping and anti-social behavior.

In 2007 the building was transferred from Tower Hamlets Council to the housing association Poplar HARCA. The transfer included a commitment for refurbishment of the building which required considerable work and cost.

Tenants were initially given the option to remain whilst refurbishment was carried out, or move to a new local property. Whilst a number of residents took up the option to move, a number of residents remained.

The remaining residents were moved out in 2010, the reason given being the difficulty of managing a significant refurbishment project along with health and safety issues whilst there are residents in the building. Initially there was an indication that the residents may have a right of return, however this option disappeared as work progressed, and the costs of building works grew.

The redevelopment work is being undertaken by a joint venture including Poplar HARCA, LondonNewcastle and Telford Homes. There will not be any social housing in the refurbished building and all flats will be sold at market rates.

A long hoarding separates the building from the A12 with artist impressions of the new Balfron Tower and the address of the website where you can register your general interest, or as a potential purchaser of one of the flats.

Bromley by Bow

Balfron Tower photographed in February 2019, clad for building work.

Bromley by Bow

A couple of years ago, I climbed the clock tower at Chrisp Street Market and photographed Balfron Tower:

Bromley by Bow

This is a development that will continue to be controversial due to the lack of any social housing and the sale of the flats at market rates. Another example of the gradual demographic change of east London.

To reach my next destination on the Architects’ Journal list, I turn into East India Dock Road. A terrace of 19th century buildings with ground floor shops runs along the north of the street and above Charlie’s Barbers there is an interesting sign:

Bromley by Bow

Interesting to have this reference to a north London club in east London. I put this photo on Twitter with a question as to the meaning and one possible reference is the boring way Arsenal use to play and results would only ever be one nil. I would have asked Charlie, if he still owns the barbers, however they were shut during my visit.

Bromley by Bow

A short distance from Charlies Barbers and across the East India Dock Road was my next location.

Site 56 – Early 19th Century All Saints, Poplar, With Contemporary Rectory And Terraces

Buildings seem to have a habit of surrounding themselves in scaffolding whenever I visit and All Saints, Poplar was certainly doing its best to hide, however it still looks a magnificent church on a sunny February morning.

Bromley by Bow

Poplar was originally a small hamlet, however the growth of the docks generated a rapid growth in population. The East India Dock Road was built between 1806 and 1812 to provide a transport route between the City and the newly built East India Docks.

Alongside the East India Dock Road, All Saints was constructed in the 1820s by the builder Thomas Morris who was awarded the contract in 1821.

The church survived the bombing of the docks during the last war until March 1945 when a V2 rocket landed in Bazely Street alongside the eastern boundary of the churchyard, causing considerable damage to the east of the church.

The church was designed to be seen as a local landmark along the East India Dock Road and across the local docks. The spire of the church is 190 feet high and the white Portland stone facing would have impressed those passing along the major route between City and Docks.

Burials in the churchyard ended in the 19th century and the gravestones have been moved to the edge, lining the metal fencing along the boundary of the church.

Bromley by Bow

The area around the church was developed during the same years as construction of the church. A couple of streets around the church now form a conservation area. These were not houses built for dock workers. Their location in the streets facing onto the church would be for those with a substantial regular income, rather than those working day-to-day in the docks.

This is Montague Place where there are eight surviving terrace houses from the 1820s.

Bromley by Bow

At the eastern end of Montague Place there is another terrace of four houses in Bazely Street. These date from 1845 and are in remarkably good condition.

Bromley by Bow

The church and two terraces of houses form a listed group and are part of a single conservation area.

A short distance further down Bazely Street is one of my favourite pubs in the area – the Greenwich Pensioner. The pub closed for a few years recently but has fortunately reopened.

Bromley by Bow

One of the problems of walking in the morning – the pubs are still closed.

I continued along Bazely Street to Poplar High Street, then turned south to the large roundabout where Cotton Street (the A1206) meets the multi-lane Aspen Way. This is not really a pedestrian friendly area, however I needed to cross under the Aspen Way to continue heading south for my next destination.

This photo looking towards the east, is from the roundabout underneath the flyover that takes the Aspen Way on its way to the Lower Lea Crossing.

Bromley by Bow

As with the A12 along Bromley by Bow, this area has been cut through with some major new multi-lane roads as part of the redevelopment of the docks.

A poster seen underneath the flyover alongside the roundabout.

Bromley by Bow

A poster that is relevant to a specific point in time. I was not sure who would see the poster as it is facing inwards, away from the traffic on the roundabout, and I doubt that many pedestrians take this route.

Emerging from underneath the flyover and the developments on the northern edge of the Isle of Dogs can be seen.

Bromley by Bow

Crossing over Trafalgar Way, and one of the old docks can be found. This is Poplar Dock looking west with two cranes remaining from when the dock was operational.

Bromley by Bow

The site is now Poplar Dock Marina and is full with narrow boats and an assorted range of other smaller craft. Poplar Dock opened in 1851, however the site had originally been used from 1827 as a reservoir to balance water levels in the main West India Dock just to the west. In the 1840s the area was used as a timber pond before conversion to a dock.

Poplar Docks served a specific purpose, being known as a railway dock. The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows Poplar Docks almost fully ringed by railway tracks and depots of the railway companies.

Bromley by Bow

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Again, the docks deserve far more attention than I can give in this post, so for now, I will leave Poplar Docks at their southern end and walk along Preston’s Road to get to my next location on the Architects’ Journal list.

Site 28 – Early 19th Century Dockmaster’s House, Now Empty

Those last two words must have been the reason for inclusion in the list. An empty building in the docklands in the 1970s would have been at risk, however fortunately the building has survived and this is the view when approaching the location along Preston’s Road.

Bromley by Bow

The Dockmaster’s House goes by the name of Bridge House and is now occupied by apartments available for short term rent.

The house is alongside the Blackwall entrance to the docks, a channel that connects the River Thames to the Blackwall Basin so would have seen all the shipping entering from the river, heading via the basin to and from the West India Dock.

Evidence of the historic function of the place can be found hidden in the gardens between the house and the channel.

Bromley by Bow

Bridge House was built between 1819 and 1820 for the West India Dock Company’s Principal Dockmaster. The entrance to the house faces to the channel running between docks and river, however if you look at the first photo of Bridge House taken from Preston’s Road you will see large bay windows facing out towards the river. This was a deliberate part of the design by John Rennie as these windows, along with the house being on raised ground would provide a perfect view towards the river and the shipping about to enter or leave the docks.

The Architects’ Journal in January 1972 were right to be worried about the future of Bridge House. Later that same year a fire destroyed the roof. The rest of the house survived and a flat roof was put in place.

The house was converted to flats in 1987 and a new roof to the same design as the original replaced the flat roof. The luxury flats did not sell, and Bridge House has hosted a number of temporary office roles before apparently now providing a short term let for flats which have been constructed inside the building.

The view from in front of the house. This side of the house is facing down to the channel that leads from the Thames to the Blackwall Basin.

Bromley by Bow

A view from the bridge over the channel showing the house in its raised position, overlooking the channel and to the right, the River Thames (although that view is now obstructed by buildings).

Bromley by Bow

Before continuing on down through the Isle of Dogs in my next post, I will pause here on the bridge over the channel between docks and river to enjoy the view.

This is looking west towards the original Blackwall Basin:

Bromley by Bow

This is looking east, the opposite direction towards the river with the Millennium Dome partly visible across the river.

Bromley by Bow

I really enjoyed this part of the walk, what could be considered an unattractive route, walking down from Bromley by Bow station is completely wrong. It is an area going through considerable change but there is so much history and so much to explore.

In my next post I will continue walking south towards the far end of the Isle of Dogs to find the remaining two locations from the 1972 issue of the Architects’ Journal.

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A Corner Shop In Old Ford Road

Last Sunday, I took advantage of some glorious winter sunshine and headed out to Bethnal Green and Old Ford Road to find the location of a corner shop my father had photographed in 1986, when small, family owned corner shops still catered for the day to day needs of many Londoners.

This was Fowlers Stores at 33 Old Ford Road:

Old Ford Road

The same shop today in February 2019:

Old Ford Road

The 1986 photo shows a typical London corner shop. Shelves up against the window stocked with items such as Mothers Pride bread, a rather random assortment of household goods in the window on the left, always plenty of cigarette advertising, milk bottles in crates left outside for collection, and in Fowlers Store, an advert for Tudor Colour Films at the top of the door – a film brand I tried once as it was cheap before returning to Kodak.

What can be seen of the outside of the shop today looks in very poor condition, although I am surprised that the 33 Old Ford Rd sign is still there – 33 years after the original photo.

I would love to look behind the shutters and see how much of the original shop survives.

I am not sure when the shop closed, on the occasions I have walked along Old Ford Road in recent years it has always been closed with the shutters down.

There is a National Lottery Instants sign just above the door in my 2019 photo. I believe these were distributed when the National Lottery started scratchcard games in 1995, so the shop was open in the middle of the 1990s.

I checked the historic view feature in Google Streetview and the shop was closed in all images back to the first in July 2008, so the Fowlers Stores must have closed between the mid 1990s and 2000s.

33 Old Ford Road is located at the Cambridge Heath Road end of Old Ford Road, on the corner with Peel Grove, a street that is now a short dead end after the grounds of a school took over the central section of Peel Grove.

The shop is at the end of a terrace of 19th century houses / shops.

Old Ford Road

The buildings do not date from before 1850 as an 1844 map shows a limited amount of buildings here, along with some subtle road changes as Old Ford Road originally terminated further to the right of the above photo and this stretch appears to have been a combination of North Street and Gretton Street. The North East London Cemetery was located just to the north where the school adjacent to Peel Grove is now located.

I suspect it has been a shop for most of the life of the building.  In the 1891 Kelly’s London Post Office Directory, 33 Old Ford Road is listed as being occupied by William Stone – Grocer.

Given that the shop has probably been closed for at least 10 years, I am surprised it has not been converted for some other use.

The map below shows the location of the shop marked by a red circle.

Old Ford Road

Maps  © OpenStreetMap contributors. 

As usual, I use visiting a specific location as a reason for exploring the local area and after finding 33 Old Ford Road, I went for a brief walk.

I have already explored part of the area when I was tracking down sites listed as at risk in the Architects Journal focus on East London in 1973, but there were a couple of other streets I wanted to visit.

Turning off Cambridge Heath Road into Old Ford Road, before I had reached number 33, is the magnificent York Hall.

Old Ford Road

This magnificent building, opened in 1929, was at risk a few years ago, but fortunately has been saved and is owned by Tower Hamlets Council.

The building has housed Turkish Baths in the basement and all manner of functions in the large hall. Boxing matches were a regular feature and in the early days of the hall, political functions attracted the attention of the political groups trying to create trouble across East London. A newspaper article from the 17th February 1939 reports:

“LIVELY TIME FOR LIBERAL LEADER – FASCISTS HURL TOMATOES AND LIGHT BULBS: Tomatoes and electric light bulbs were thrown at the platform, when Sir Archibald Sinclair, Leader of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, was subjected to noisy interruptions while addressing a Liberal meeting in York Hall, Bethnal Green, London last night.

Three hundred Fascists had got into the hall with tickets which, it was alleged, they had printed themselves. It was not until the police had ejected a large number of people that Sir Archibald Sinclair was able to make himself heard. He was continually interrupted, and there was an uproar as a man was ejected.

When Sir Archibald rose the Fascists sang their marching song “We Want Mosley”.

There were attempts to drown his voice by singing. ‘Some people want to hear Mosley’ Sir Archibald shouted into the microphone, ‘but he isn’t here to be heard. The reason they are anxious to stop me speaking is that they know the words I speak will express the opinion of the great majority of people in Bethnal Green. I could not do so much for the Liberal cause as these people are doing’.

When the crowd again began to chant ‘We want Mosley’ the chairman said, ‘We will telegraph to Mr. Hitler and say that his hirelings have been playing his game’. 

In his speech Sir Archibald said: ‘The question which the Liberal party asks is how we are to defend democracy, to uphold the values of liberty, justice and international good faith – to expand the bounds of freedom, to raise the material and spiritual standards of our civilisation, to give every man and woman in these islands the opportunity of living a fuller, richer and more useful life in a peaceful and orderly world.”

York Hall hosted other, rather more peaceful events, for example, a couple of years earlier the hall was hosting an exhibition by the Bethnal Green Chamber of Commerce, where there was a miniature brewery on display, demonstrating the complete process of brewing and bottling.

Old Ford Road is an interesting road. It reaches almost to the River Lea having crossed the Regent’s Canal. The name is a reference to an old crossing point through the River Lea. I will save that walk for another time, as last Sunday, just after number 33 Old Ford Road, I turned right into Globe Road.

The name Globe Road is a reference to the pub, the Old Globe on the corner of Mile End Road and Globe Road.  The street has been through several name changes, the northern end through which I am walking was originally named Back Lane.

Globe Road is another long road that reaches down to Mile End Road, but for this post I only walked the length of the road to Roman Road (see the above map).

Most of the development of this stretch of Globe Road is down to the East End Dwellings Company who built large blocks of flats, as well as a rather nice terrace of houses.

The following photo comprises Gretton Houses in the distance and Merceron Houses nearer the camera.

Old Ford Road

The name Gretton is the same as the original name given to the short stretch of Old Ford Road roughly where number 33 now stands. I have not yet found the origin of this name.

The East End Dwellings Company was formed in the early 1880s by the vicar of St. Jude’s, Whitechapel, the Reverend Samuel Augustus Barnett. The intention of the Company was to provide housing for the poor, including those who other philanthropic housing companies often avoided, such as casual day labourers.

Gretton Houses were built in 1901 and designed by Ernest Emmanuel.

Old Ford RoadMerceron Houses were built in the same year, also to a design by Ernest Emmanuel.

Old Ford Road

The name Merceron is from one of the east London families who had control over large parts of Bethnal Green. The excellent book The Boss of Bethnal Green by Julian Woodford details the story of the family and their impact on Bethnal Green.

The buildings of Gretton and Merceron Houses that we see today are only part of the original construction as two blocks of these houses were demolished in 1982.

Directly opposite Merceron Houses is a wonderful terrace of houses, also by the East End Dwellings Company. the central pair of houses has a plaque naming the company as the builders of the terrace and that they were constructed in 1906.

Old Ford Road

The terrace of houses were designed by Henry Davis and built on the site of a row of weavers cottages.

Old Ford Road

Further down Globe Road is another large block of flats by the East End Dwellings Company.

Old Ford Road

This is Mendip Houses:

Old Ford Road

Mendip Houses running along Kirkwall Place from Globe Road:

Old Ford Road

This short stretch of Globe Road is rather unusual for east London as two pubs remain open in the street.

The first is The Camel:

Old Ford Road

The second is the Florist Arms:

Old Ford Road

Both pubs have the same owners so hopefully an indication that their safety is assured for some time.

This short stretch of Globe Road soon arrives at Roman Road. It continues across Roman Road and the next stretch of Globe Road is a story of lost railway stations and demolished pubs which I will save for another day, but on the corner of Globe Road and Roman Road is one of the magnificent, 19th century London fire stations.

This is the Grade II listed Bethnal Green Fire Station:

Old Ford Road

The building ceased operation as a fire station in 1968 and was empty for 10 years until it was taken over by the London Buddhist Centre who retain the building to this day.

Although the building looks really good today, the brickwork glowing in the winter sunshine, it was even more impressive after it was first built in 1888. the following photo from 1906 shows a very impressive tower on the right side of the fire station. I assume this may have been for hanging and drying hoses.

Old Ford Road

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0474_3601

Unfortunately the tower was considerably truncated at some point. The following photo from 1973 shows the closed fire station with the main doors boarded up.

Old Ford Road

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0474_3601

Considering the length of time that the fire station was empty it is remarkable that it has survived. Grade II listing in 1973 must have helped save the building, 5 years after the London Fire Brigade stopped using the building and with still no use planned.

The restored plaque on the side of the fire station in Bessy Street dating the construction of the building:

Old Ford Road

There is an interesting street sign here in Bessy Street:

Old Ford Road

To the left of the street name is the name and symbol of Globe Town:

Old Ford Road

I suspect the street sign dates from around 1986. Globe Town is a much older name, however after the GLC was abolished in 1986, responsibility for the area transferred to Tower Hamlets Council who created seven neighbourhoods, one of which was Globe Town.

The name Globe Town can be traced back to the start of the 19th century. Estate building to the east of Bethnal Green started in the closing years of the 18th century and by the early 19th century, the name Globe Town was being used for this new area.

The following map extract from 1844 shows the location of Globe Town.

Old Ford Road

As there have been a number of changes since this map was created, I have marked the key locations from today’s post. The red dotted line indicates the route I have walked – a very short distance.

I wonder how long the remains of the shop at 33 Old Ford Road will be there? With the speed of redevelopment across London I am really surprised that if indeed it has been closed since at least 2008, it has not already been converted into flats.

After finding the East End Dwellings Company buildings in Globe Road, I am also a good way through a side project to track down all their remaining buildings across London.

Finding one location also always identifies new areas to walk, so the rest of Old Ford Road, Globe Road and indeed Globe Town have been added to an ever increasing list. Returning will enable me to keep track of the old shop at 33 Old Ford Road.

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The GLC Birthday Cake And Other Views Of London

I have a couple of shoe boxes stuffed with London postcards collected over the years. They serve as reminders of events and places and provide views of London back to the time when cheap photographic printing and postal rates kicked off a new form of communication.

With Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp etc. killing off postcards as a means of communication, here is a rather random selection of postcards showing the diverse way in which London has been photographed and posted across the world.

My first postcard dates from 1984 when the GLC created an exhibition on the Southbank, celebrating 95 years of the London County Council / Greater London Council working for London. The rather novel form for the exhibition was within a giant birthday cake.

views of London

I had completely forgotten about this until I looked at the postcard again. I was working on the Southbank at the time and have some of my own photos of the exhibition on some unscanned negatives I need to find.

The exhibition ran from the 9th August to the 31st October 1984 and was held at a time of political friction between the Conservative Government and the Labour majority GLC. This would lead to the GLC being disbanded two years later.

The birthday cake was even mentioned in Parliament during a question from Tony Banks (Labour MP for Newham North West) and William Waldegrave (Conservative Minister of State). The questioning was regarding the abolition of the GLC (who had put considerable sums of money into the development of the Southbank) and what would happen to the area after the GLC was abolished and the Southbank came under the proposed South Bank Board. The birthday cake is referenced in one of William Waldegrave’s replies:

“I can understand why the hon. Gentleman is worried. He and his colleagues at county hall must be wondering where to put their great pink birthday cake. This was another triumph for the GLC! It was forecast in a committee paper last March that 1 million visitors would see this object and unfortunately 950,000 of them have not turned up. Only 50,000 had come by the end of September. If we assume, charitably, a last-minute rush of another 25,000 in the remaining weeks that the cake is open, that still works out at a cost of £3.30 per visitor. I am sure that hon. Members, and perhaps even the hon. Gentleman, would agree that the £250,000 could have been spent in much better ways to help the arts.”

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the later years of the GLC, the previous 95 years were worth celebrating as the London County Council and Greater London Council had achieved much in raising standards across London and bringing a much needed central coordination and investment to the city’s infrastructure.

An example of one of these investments is illustrated on the following card, titled “Opening of the L.C.C Steamboat Service by H.R.H The Prince of Wales”

views of London

The photo shows the steamboat service being opened in June 1905. The LCC had acquired and built piers along the river along with a fleet of 30 paddle steamers. There were expectations that the new service would provide an efficient and fast method for transporting passengers to locations along the river, however it quickly became apparent that the service would not be economic.

Although the steamboat service was not intended to generate profits, it was expected to cover costs, however passenger numbers were not as expected and the service rapidly went into debt, finally closing only two years later in 1907.

There may also have been issues with the frequency of steamboats as this letter to the Globe on the 29th June 1905 illustrates. Mr Arthur Tuff of Barnsbury writes:

“Sir,-I purchased a penny ticket to London bridge on the Temple Pier at 3:50 pm today. I waited there till 4:30 pm. No boat going down the river called there during the 40 minutes, nor was there one in sight, although one can see nearly as far as Westminster. Several others, like myself, were compelled to leave the pier in consequence of this delay. This seems to be very bad management, and if not remedied, must mean a great loss to the ratepayers.”

The steamboats were sold at considerable loss and the press was highly critical of the service and the loss of money to the London ratepayer. The Illustrated London News included a full page cartoon titled “Posers for Posterity : Strange Finds 500 Years hence”:

views of London

The caption to the cartoon reads: “Unearthing The Popular L.C.C. Steamboat – While a party of scientists were burrowing about in the Thames Valley last week, they found a structure that has been identified as belonging to an early form of soup kitchen. The evidence suggests it has been run more as an amusement than as a paying concern, although we should imagine that large profits were earned by it, especially in the winter months, when it would be so greatly in demand among the poorer classes.”

The River Thames features in another postcard from May 1954, titled “The Royal Homecoming – Britannia Enters The Upper Pool Of London”.

views of London

This was the return of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh following a world tour. Tower Pier is on the left of the photo.

It must have been a dramatic arrival as it was accompanied by a large flypast. The following newspaper report explains:

“As the Britannia approached Woolwich, along Gallions Reach, 180 jet fighters and bombers roared overhead in the R.A.F. and Canadian Air Force ‘Welcome Home’ fly-past.

Leading were four tight arrowhead formations of Meteors flying at about 1,000 feet, followed by two formations of 24 Sabres each. Then, half a minute later, and flying just above the low scurrying clouds through which they were seen at intervals, came four echelon formations of nine Canberra bombers each.

With a tremendous roar flying at 350 miles an hour, the jets swept over the Britannia’s bow in a majestic and graceful salute. The sirens of tugs and small boats added to the tumult.”

A much more peaceful view, especially compared to the same view today is this postcard showing Parliament Square and looking across to St. Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey.

views of London

Whilst the view today is much the same, there are a number of significant differences. The road appears empty of traffic, but today is an almost constant stream to traffic – no chance for a casual wander across the street today.

The area is also a tourist hot spot and on almost every day of the year the streets are full, although I suspect that the current state of the Elizabeth Tower, surrounded in scaffolding, must be a serious disappointment if you have traveled halfway across the world.

One area that fascinates me is the Barbican. My father took a number of photos of the area in 1947 / 1948 showing the remains of the bombed buildings, St. Giles Cripplegate, Redcross Street Fire Station and what was left of once densely built streets.

I have not yet posted these photos as I want to map out the area, align the photos, gather more detail and show the area before bombing. There do not appear to be that many pre-war photos of the ordinary streets of the Barbican, however I have found a number, one of which was a postcard of Tranter’s Hotel, Bridgewater Square, Baribican:

views of London

The square was badly damaged during the war and completely rebuilt as part of the overall Barbican development. The square looks completely different today and will feature in my future set of posts on the Barbican, however for now, this link to Google Maps shows the location of the square today.

The following postcard was sent from a visitor to London to an address in Folkestone, Kent. It includes a photo of St. Paul’s Churchyard as “The Shopping Quarter” – a function we would not associate with the area today.

views of London

St. Paul’s Churchyard was a popular pre-war shopping destination with a range of different shops including clothes, materials and book shops. The large white building in the centre of the photo is that of Hitchcock, Williams & Co. I wrote about their business in a post at the end of last year. All the buildings in this photo would be destroyed in December 1940.

The following postcard is from the Widow’s Son pub, best known for the custom on Good Friday which the postcard explains.

views of London

The Widow’s Son is one of the reasons why I seem to have developed a fascination with London’s history. It was the early 1970s and I was listening to BBC Radio London (dreadful choice of music for my young age at the time, but interesting as a London local radio station – this was just before Capital Radio started). It was Good Friday and they had a reporter live at the Widow’s Son. For some reason that event stuck in my mind and helped with the realisation that there was a world of interesting history out there to be discovered.

Postcards have always been used for advertising, and London’s hotels made good use of the format. The Hotel Metropole looks rather impressive in this card.

views of London

The Hotel Metropole was located on the corner of Northumberland Avenue and Whitehall Place, and opened in 1885. The building is still there and is now the Corinthia Hotel.

Another hotel that used a postcard format for advertising was the Imperial Hotel, Russell Square.

views of London

This is a far more interesting use of the format, compared to the Metropole Hotel as it has a map.

The map shows the location of the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square, as well as the eight other hotels that belonged to the group. All the main London stations are numbered, and the red lines show the “Electric Railways”, or the Underground train network, which is shown as a rough geographic layout of the network, rather than in the traditional underground map format.

This card was used for advertising rather than as a card you would post to a friend as rather than a space for writing on the reverse, this card has a list of all the other hotels in the group along with the room rate.

views of London

The Imperial Hotel still operates in Russell Square (although a later incarnation of the building). This was the hotel when the above card was in use:

views of London

And this is the hotel today, where rooms start at £101 for an overnight stay, compared to roughly 39p when the card was issued. The Imperial Hotel today:

views of London

There are a variety of cards that provide a rather surreal view of London. This card is titled “If London were Venice – Fleet Street”:

views of London

The card was printed in the days before global warming and the risks of rising sea levels were understood, and was probably seen as a rather fanciful view. However with predictions of the impact of long term increases in sea level and the impact of storm surges, this may not be so far away from some longer term future flood (but without the Venetian poles and boats)..

Full colour, photographic postcards, with their glorious, brilliant colours, started in the 1950s and presented a different view of London to a global audience. I find them interesting as they show how London has changed in the last half of the 20th century.

The first postcard is a view across the River Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral from Bankside.

views of London

This shows the old warehouses along the north bank of the river as well as a working wharf at Bankside with cargo being loaded / unloaded from a barge. A view that has changed significantly since this photo was taken.

Another view that shows an activity no longer practiced by those visiting Trafalgar Square is this postcard showing pigeon feeding.

views of London

The photo shows a rather relaxed view of pigeon feeding, however it did get out of control and the thousands of pigeons that would flock to Trafalgar Square created a significant nuisance and mess.

Pigeon feeding in Trafalgar Square was banned in 2003 and a new by-law introduced that included the potential for a £50 fine for anyone caught feeding pigeons.

The Post Office / BT Tower was a remarkable structure when first built. This postcard was posted from Kew to Newmarket, Suffolk in December 1969.

views of London

I find it amusing when the urban myths about the towers secrecy are mentioned. There was no way that the tower could be kept secret and the text on the rear of the postcard makes clear the tower’s role: “619 feet high, this tower is the centre of a new communications system which supplies long distance telephone services and additional television channels. Two lifts convey the public to the top where there is an observation platform, a cocktail bar, and a revolving restaurant”.

The postcard emphasises the height of the tower and the generally low rise construction of buildings across London at the time.

Development in London is continuous, and is often seen to be negative, however there have been times when development considerably improved an area. This postcard dating from 1978 is looking towards Westminster from the west. Millbank Tower is on the right, adjacent to the Thames, where we can see first Lambeth Bridge, then moving up the river, Westminster Bridge, Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges.

views of London

To the left of the photo there are three identical, tall office blocks. These were government buildings along Horseferry Road and Marsham Street.

Their height was such that they were in the background of the view when looking across the river towards the Palace of Westminster / Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Fortunately they were demolished and replaced by lower rise buildings which do not have the same visual impact.

A favourite location for postcard photographs is Piccadilly Circus. Night photos bring out the lights, which looking back over the years provide a snapshot of how brands and their branding have evolved.

views of London

Piccadilly Circus also features during the day.

views of London

The text for both postcards emphasises the global nature of the city – “There’s an old saying that if you stand in Piccadilly Circus for long enough, you’ll see the whole world pass before you. If you stand there for 10 minutes you’ll soon understand what it is that makes London famous throughout the world, At night, theatre land awakes, heralded by many thousand of bright lights”.

This postcard takes me back to visits when I was a child. This is the London Planetarium.

views of London

The London Planetarium was a magical experience. You would walk into a large circular auditorium under the dome. Seats were arranged in circular rows and in the centre there was a large, strangely shaped projector.

The lights would go down and the night sky would light up on the interior of the dome.

Unfortunately, educational attractions such as the planetarium are not commercially attractive, and the London Planetarium closed in 2006. It is part of the adjacent Madame Tussaud’s and now shows a Marvel Superheroes 4D attraction.

There is still a planetarium in London, at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, which is well worth a visit.

My final three postcards are all from the same area, and show different aspects of the River Thames around Tower Bridge. These are all from a time when this part of the river was still a working port.

The first photo is from the walkway alongside the Tower of London, looking across to Tower Bridge and the southern bank of the river. The tower of the old Anchor Brewery building can be seen on the right and cranes lining the river bank can be seen along the river past Horselydown Old Stairs.

views of London

The following postcard shows an aerial view looking up river towards London Bridge. The river bank on the left is lined with cranes between Tower and London Bridges. This is where City Hall and HMS Belfast are now located. In the years after this photo was taken, the majority of the buildings lining the river, along with the cranes, would disappear.

views of London

Another view of the same area, probably taken from London Bridge, again shows the cranes that lined the south of the river between the two bridges.

views of London

These views of London were sent across the UK and the world and set expectations for future visitors. Many postcards featured red buses and phone boxes and I have a theory that these only became associated with London in the way they have, once colour postcards emphasised their distinctive colour.

They are a means of communication, art form and historical record that I suspect will soon disappear. They are still to be found for sale, but it is sometime since I have seen anyone buy one. No point in posting a card with days or weeks delay, when with a couple of taps on the phone, a photo and message can be sent anywhere within seconds.

I also doubt I will ever again see a giant birthday cake on the South Bank.

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