Monthly Archives: June 2019

Life and Death at Alderman Stairs

Before exploring Alderman Stairs, a quick thanks for all the feedback to last week’s post regarding the statue in Catherine Place – I will be updating the post with some of the additional information and possibilities as to the meaning of the statue.

I was recently walking along St. Katherine’s Way, heading towards Thomas More Street to find the location of one of my father’s photo. I walked by Alderman Stairs, and as the tide was out, as I have many times before, I walked down to the foreshore.

I find the river stairs that remain fascinating. They provide a connection between the land and the river, and are a reminder of when the river was a bustling place of trade and passenger transport.

Today, they are frequently quiet. I very rarely see anyone else on the foreshore at Alderman Stairs.

It is interesting to imagine everything that has happened over the centuries, centered around these stairs – all the people who have arrived or departed, everything that has happened in the Thames adjacent to the stairs.

I thought it would be interesting to research back through newspaper articles for references to Alderman Stairs, and use these to tell the story of Life and Death at Alderman Stairs.

Alderman Stairs

Alderman Stairs are along St. Katherine’s Way, just east of what were St. Katherine Docks. I have marked the location of the stairs with a red oval in the following map  (© OpenStreetMap contributors) :

Alderman Stairs

The stairs are old. Henry Harben in A Dictionary of London states that the first mention of the stairs was by John Rocque in 1746. The stairs had a number of names, including Alderman Stairs, Alderman Parsons Stairs and Lady Parson’s Stairs.

The name possibly derives from a former owner, Sir John Parsons who was an Alderman of Portsoken Ward in 1687. There are also references to Humphrey Parsons, Alderman between 1721 and 1741, and Sir John Parsons, Fishmonger described as the son of Parsons of St. Katherine’s.

Although I have seen references to Alderman Parsons Stairs in newspaper reports, the majority of references are just to Alderman Stairs, so over time the name was probably abbreviated down to the form we see today.

John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Alderman Parsons’s Stairs leading down into the river from what looks to be Catherine Street, with Parsons’s Brew House across the street.

Alderman Stairs

Catherine Street is today St. Katherine’s Way, but between these two names it was also called Lower East Smithfield (see the 1895 OS extract later in the post).

Walking between the two high buildings on either side, through to Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

Alderman Stairs is just a single place in the whole of London, and based on my visits, the stairs and foreshore do not receive many other visitors, however exploring what happened here can tell us so much about life in London and life on the River Thames.

So here is a sample of Life and Death at Alderman Stairs.

The river has always been a dangerous place, but the sheer number of deaths in and along the river and the apparent casual acceptance in the way these are reported is remarkable from a 21st century viewpoint.

The Illustrated London News on the 7th June 1851 reports on one single day on the River Thames, including Alderman Stairs:

“FATAL RIVER ACCIDENTS – On Tuesday, Captain Artus, of the brig Melbourne, lying in Bugsby’s Hole, in attempting to ascend the side, missed his hold, fell into the water, and was drowned. Almost at the same time, (twelve o’clock), Captain Downie, of the ship mentor, lying off Stone-stairs, Wapping, fell overboard and perished. About 3 o’clock, P.M. a boat, containing two men and a woman, was swamped near Alderman Stairs; the men were saved, but the female, Mrs Coghlan, residing in Old Gravel-lane, was drowned.”

That is three deaths in one single day.

On the 5th November 1842:

“FATAL ACCIDENT – Tuesday night, a few minutes before twelve, John Dunlevy, cook on board the steam-packet City of Limerick, lying off the Alderman’s-stairs, Lower East Smithfield, while proceeding on board the steamer, and having just effected a landing on the accommodation ladder, fell into the river, and was carried away by the strong flood tide at the time, and was drowned. He was partially intoxicated. the body has not been found.”

On the 10th September 1842:

“On Saturday morning a large sailing barge, navigated by two men and a boy, while coming up the river, was sunk by the heavy swell caused by several vessels going down the river at full speed. She went down nearly opposite the St. Katherine Dock entrance. The people in her were saved by the watermen, who rowed from Alderman’s Stairs to their assistance. The barge was laden with 70 tons of coal. The damage sustained is estimated at £300.”

A report in the Illustrated Police News dated the 10th October 1903 highlights the risks that waterman working from Alderman Stairs endured when crossing the river:

“NEARLY DROWNED – AN EXCITING SCENE ON THE THAMES. At the Southwark County Court his Honour Judge Addison and a jury heard an action in which Henry George Wilson, an aged waterman, sought to recover damages from Arthur Gamman, of Holborn Wharf, Chatham, for personal injuries sustained.

Plaintiff said that on April 17 he was rowing his boat across from Alderman Stairs to Mills Stairs, Bermondsey, when he saw a steam hoy nearly on top of him. Without a word of warning from those on board she came on, and catching his boat amidships, smashed her to pieces, going right over the wreckage. He went under her and was much scratched and bruised. On rising to the surface almost exhausted he heard a cry of ‘Strike out Harry, there’s a boat coming’. Being a cold day he was heavily clad and sinking when somebody clutched him, and he eventually found himself being brought round on a ship.

Mr Thompson said it was only fair to the captain of the hoy to say that when he saw what had happened he very gallantly jumped overboard in his full rig and secured Wilson just as he was going down. 

Charles Wady, the captain, said he signaled to Wilson to stop rowing. He did so, but started again, and witness could not stop in time to avoid the boat. When he saw Wilson go under the hoy he stopped the screw, which was reversing, fearing that he would be cut up. 

His Honour warmly complimented Wady on his plucky behaviour.

The jury found in favour of the plaintiff, awarding him £25, for which amount and costs judgement was entered.”

I took the following photo from the top of Alderman Stairs, looking down to the river. Fortunately the tide was out.

Alderman Stairs

In the introduction to the post, I mentioned that the stairs were also called Lady Parsons’s Stairs. The use of the Parsons name in the name of the stairs is mainly concentrated in the first half of the 19th century and earlier. A typical example is from this report in the Morning Chronicle of the 12th February 1818:

“Yesterday morning the body of a young woman, apparently about 21 years of age, was found by a waterman, who was rowing near Lady Parsons stairs, in the river Thames, lying in the mud near the stairs.”

Another reference to Parsons’s Stairs records one of the very many tragic stories of those found in the river. From the London Courier and Evening Gazette on the 1st August 1801:

“Thursday night, about eight o’clock, was found floating in the Thames, at Parsons’s stairs, the body of a young woman, and brought to Aldgate Workhouse, Nightingale-lane. She was decently dressed in a cotton gown, brown ground, with white running sprig and leaf, modern pattern; a cambric sprig-netted shawl; had only one pocket on, in which there was nothing but one glove and tie, and a white pocket handkerchief. She appears to have been drowned upwards of a week, and appears to be about 20 or 30 years of age.”

The Parsons name also comes up in a reference to a possible bridge across the Thames before Tower Bridge was built. The Morning Advertiser of the 30th March 1824 listed petitions being presented at the House of Commons. One of these was:

“Mr T. Wilson presented Petitions from Watermen of St. Katherine’s Stairs, Old Parson’s Stairs, and the Tower Stairs, against the St. Katherine’s Suspension Bridge Bill.”

The St. Katherine’s Suspension bridge was a proposal for a bridge to improve access between St Katherine’s Dock and the proposed South London Docks. There were many objections to the bridge, including from the City of London. The bridge was not built.

There has always been immigration into London and on the 24th April 1847, the Illustrated London News reported on arrivals at Alderman Stairs:

” IRISH IMMIGRATION INTO LONDON – The importation of Irish paupers, so much complained of in Liverpool and Glasgow, begins to wear a threatening aspect in London. On Sunday, the Prussian Eagle, from Cork, and the Limerick, from Dublin, landed 1200 Irish Paupers at Alderman’s Stairs, Lower East Smithfield. The new comers, who were in the most wretched state of distress, were forthwith distributed over the eastern part of the metropolis. The same vessels landed 1200 Irish paupers on Sunday week.”

After walking down the stairs, I crossed over onto the foreshore. The following photo is looking to the west. The stones of the stairs running into the Thames.

Alderman Stairs

The pier of HMS President the Royal Naval Reserve unit associated with London is adjacent to Alderman Stairs.

If you look at old maps of east London, along the River Thames, adjacent to many of the river stairs was a public house. Probably this should not be a surprise as being next to where people were boarding or arriving on ships, was a good place to attract trade.

Sailors or passengers arriving after a long journey would probably welcome a quick stay in a pub after arriving onshore.

Adjacent to Alderman Stairs was the Cock and Lion public house, The pub had been next to the stairs from the 18th century to some point in the 1920s when it was demolished.

It is shown in the following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, just to the right of Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

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

The pub is mentioned in a number of articles, including  the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, dated the 1st September 1832, where a sailor, his shipmate and two women landed at Alderman Stairs from the Amity passage vessel and went straight into the Cock and Lion public house.

It was when he was in the pub that the sailor found his pocket book was missing, and accused the two women of stealing it.

One of the women asked a waterman to then row them across to the Europa Tavern at Rotherhithe, where one of the women asked the landlord to change a £5 note. Suspecting that this had been stolen from the sailor, the waterman snatched the £5 note, and both women were taken into custody.

This report, along with so many others highlight a way in which we see the north and south banks of the river has changed.

Today, the north and south banks are considered part of north and south London and therefore different. Reading books and newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries, this separation was not that apparent – north and south banks were seen as part of the river environment rather than as different parts of London.

Numerous reports of events at Alderman Stairs, include casual crossings of the river, as in the example above, where it was probably thought very normal to cross the river from a pub on the north, to a pub on the south bank – all part of the same river ecosystem.

The river was full, not only with passenger and cargo ships, but also with waterman, the river based taxi services of the time, offering quick transport across and along the river.

Not so easy today, however a couple of Saturday’s ago I was in the Gun on the Isle of Dogs for late afternoon, followed by the Angel at Rotherhithe for the evening. Rather than a waterman, the Jubilee Line provided cross river transport between the two.

The following photo shows the view looking east. The pier extending into the river is where the Thames pathway returns to the water edge.

Alderman Stairs

The boats in the river are at Hermitage Moorings.

Alderman Stairs were a reference point for the ships mooring in the river, and there are many records of the arrivals by the stairs.

From the Illustrated London News on the 23rd December 1843:

“CHRISTMAS FARE – On Sunday night the Dublin Steam Navigation Company’s steam-packet Royal William, Captain Swainson, arrived at her moorings off the Alderman-stairs, Lower East Smithfield from Dublin, Falmouth and Plymouth. She brought a miscellaneous cargo, part of which consisted of a large quantity of geese, turkeys, and other Christmas fare, for the metropolitan markets. In the course of Saturday and Sunday a number of steam-packets arrived in the river with large quantities of geese, turkeys, and other kinds of poultry, for Christmas cheer. Last week, several vessels arrived at Fresh-wharf, London-bridge with cargoes of varied fruits. Most of the stage-coaches which arrived in the metropolis on Tuesday and during the week brought very large quantities of geese, turkeys, hares, &c.”

The following photo shows the view looking back from the bottom of Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

The stairs consist of the steps up to street level and a paved stretch along the foreshore that runs into the river. This paved stretched raises the stairs above the foreshore to provide a flat walkway and without the mud, sand and random debris that litters the foreshore.

Alderman Stairs were also a departure point for regular shipping routes for both passengers and parcels. Departures and routes were regularly advertised in the newspapers, for example, in the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette on the 18th April 1838, the St. George Steam Packet Company were advertising that:

“Vessels sail regularly from off Alderman-stairs, below the Tower for:

PLYMOUTH, FALMOUTH and CORK, and taking goods and passengers for Liverpool, every Saturday morning at 8 o’clock.

EXETER, calling off Deal, Ryde and Cowes (weather permitting), every Wednesday morning, at 8 o’clock.

BOSTON – The SCOTIA, on Tuesday morning, the 10th April , at 4 o’clock, and every succeeding Tuesday at the same hour.

STOCKTON (at reduced fares), calling off Scarborough and Whitby, weather permitting – The EMERALD ISLE, every Saturday night at 12 o’clock, returning every Wednesday.

Goods to be sent to the St. George Steam-wharf, Lower East Smithfield.”

Passengers arriving off Alderman Stairs ran the risk of being overcharged for their transport between ship and shore, as this article from the Morning Post on the 29th September 1847 reports:

“MONSTROUS OVERCHARGE BY A WATERMAN – Yesterday, John Thomas Jones, a waterman, appeared before Mr Yardley, to answer the complaint of Mr. Edward Sole Munico, wine merchant of Trinity-square, for making the following grievous overcharge.

On Sunday the 29th of August, Mr Munico, a lady, and a gentleman, were passengers in the AJAX, a Cork steamer, which arrived that day off the Alderman’s Stairs, Lower East Smithfield. After the vessel was moored, the defendant, who was in his boat alongside, came on board, and was engaged by Mr. Munico to convey him and his friends and luggage which consisted of seven packages not exceeding five cwt, to the Alderman’s Stairs exactly opposite. The party was no sooner afloat that the defendant, who had a partner with him, said he could not land his fare at the Alderman’s Stairs, but would row to the Tower Stairs, or any other place. Mr. Munico then directed him to row to the Dublin Wharf, adjoining the Alderman’s Stairs, where the complainant wished to deposit some of his luggage, intended to be shipped to India. No landing could be effected at Dublin Wharf because it was a Sunday, and the boat was rowed into Alderman’s Stairs, where the defendant demanded 12s 6d as his fare, and would not allow Mr. Munico and his friends to land till it was paid. Mr. Munico expostulated with him for some time, but with little effect; at last he reduced his claim to 8s 6d, which was paid to him and the passengers and luggage were landed. the utmost that the defendant was entitled to claim was 3d per each passenger only, and they were entitled to carry 56lbs weight of luggage each. Beyond that the quantity the waterman was entitled to charge 1s per cwt, which would make the total amount of his fare only 4s 3d.”

The report then states that the waterman had no right to ply on a Sabbath between the steamer and Alderman’s Stairs, as that privilege belonged to the Sunday ferrymen, who rented it off the Watermen’s Company. The defendant was fined 20s, however Mr. Munico interceded on behalf of the waterman, on which the penalty was reduced to 10s and costs.

A lesson which also applies today, to agree a fare before getting into a river boat, or a taxi.

A report in the Evening Chronicle on the 30th October 1840 also highlights the risk to travelers arriving in London by Alderman Stairs.

The report was about another waterman, a certain William Vallance, who was a member of the ‘Jacob-street gang of steam boat rangers’. In the reported case, Vallance had been directed to meet the Dublin steam-ships when they arrived off Alderman Stairs, however the members of the Jacobs Street gang would persuade their passengers to be taken to another landing point where they could be charged significantly more. The Jacob Street gang would also “on arrival of a steam ship the Jacob-street gang managed to board the vessel while the crew were busily engaged in mooring the vessel, and seized any luggage they could lay their hands on, which they lowered into a boat, generally having a fellow of very questionable character ready to receive it and stow it away”.

Theft of goods from the ships moored on the Thames and from the warehouses that lined the river was a continuous problem, and had led to the formation of the Thames River Police,

The Thames river Police would frequently question people carrying goods along the river, on land, or at the river stairs. If they could not give a satisfactory explanation for why they were in possession of the goods, they would be arrested for theft. Newspapers often carried long lists of those arrested, and the goods they were found with. On the 3rd September 1821, the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser included a “E. Bateman who was found with 1lb of sugar at Alderman Stairs” without being able to give any satisfactory explanation of why he was in possession of the sugar.

The remains of old piers can still be seen:

Alderman Stairs

Ships moored off Alderman Stairs could also be purchased. On the 12th of January 1809, you could have bought the “good Brig LITTLE WILLIAM, square stern, foreign built, and free; burthen 84 tons per register, is abundantly found in good stores, and can be sent to sea at a very trifling expense; is well adapted for the Mediterranean or any other Trade her burthen may suit. Now lying off Alderman’s-stairs, John Gofton, Master.”

The view looking west, under the decked area in frount of the converted warehouse to the west of Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

Reports involving Alderman Stairs also highlighted the dangers of passenger shipping, for example this article from the Evening Chronicle on the 17th October 1838:

“DREADFUL STEAM-PACKET COLLISION – The non-arrival of the Dublin Steam Packet Company’s vessel Shannon, Captain Pym, at her mooring of the St. Katherine’s Dock, on Sunday, or yesterday morning from Dublin, Falmouth and Plymouth, excited considerable apprehensions for her safety,and that of the passengers and crew.

These fears were still more heightened, owing to the recent heavy gales which she must have encountered at sea; and in consequence of information having been received at the company’s office, St. John’s-street, Minories, by yesterday morning’s mail, from Portsmouth, that the steam-ship Thames, Captain Williams, belonging to the same company, which sailed from the river for Dublin on Saturday morning last, with a great number of passengers, had put into that port (Portsmouth) early on Sunday morning, with extensive damage, having been in violent contact with a large steam-vessel off Brighton, about twelve o-clock on Saturday night. When the collision took place both vessels were proceeding at full speed, although the night was dark and stormy.

As might be expected, the consternation among the passengers most of whom were in their berths, was frightful in the extreme – doubtless rendered the more so on account of the recent dreadful loss of the Forfarshire, and other steam packet disasters. The steam-ship with which the Thames was in collision was believed to be the Shannon, from Dublin for London, although this could not be correctly ascertained, the steamer having proceeded on her voyage, and not again seen. 

These particulars were received in the city by the Portsmouth mail yesterday morning, and soon spread through the metropolis to the distress of those who expected relatives or friends to be on board, the Shannon not having at that time arrived; and the belief in consequence being entertained that after the collision with the Thames she had gone down with all on board.

Yesterday, soon after noon, these evil forebodings were happily dispelled; the Shannon having arrived at her moorings off the Alderman-stairs, Lower East Smithfield.”

A final look back up the stairs:

Alderman Stairs

These stairs are so quiet today. There are no waterman rowing their passengers across the river. Sea going passenger and cargo ships no longer travel this far up the river (apart from the cruise ships berthing alongside HMS Belfast), but stand on the Thames foreshore, look up the stairs, and imagine the countless thousands of people who have used Alderman Stairs as their gateway to the river.

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A Mystery on Catherine Place and Wilfred Street

In 1986 my father photographed what I assume to be a statue of the Virgin Mary. In the photograph was a street name sign, Catherine Place, so I was able to identify the location and I went to take a look and see if it was still to be seen.

Catherine Place

Catherine Place is in the cluster of streets between Victoria Street, Buckingham Gate, Palace Street and Buckingham Palace. A short walk along Buckingham Gate, turn into Wilfred Street and at the junction with Catherine Place, the image remains.

Catherine Place

The overall view of the building on the corner of Wilfred Street and Catherine Place is shown in the photo below. The design of the building clearly tells that it was originally a pub. The rounded brick corner – designed for pub signage. The wooden facade on the ground floor, rather than the brick of a normal house. The large corner door. This was originally the Palace Arms.

Catherine Place

Knowing that this was originally a pub, and now converted to a residential building, did not give any clue as to why a religious symbol would be on the wall of the building. The name of the pub gave no clue, Palace Arms probably refers to either Palace Street or Buckingham Palace.

I can find no reference to the image in any of my usual reference books or research sources. The City of Westminster Conservation Area Audit includes the following reference to the building but does not include any mention of the statue:

“On the corner of Wilfred Street and Catherine Place is a redundant pub front. Although no longer in use, the frontage survives, with Corinthian pilasters marking each window opening and projecting console brackets to either side of the entablature that projects over the blocked entrance.”

The audit report includes a photo of the building which includes the statue, but there is no reference – either it has no historical significance, or perhaps the authors of the Conservation Area Audit also could not find any reference as to why it was there.

I checked the London Metropolitan Archives Collage image site. There are some photos of the area, including the following from 1974, but no images which show the building when the pub was open, or images of the building older than 1974. The photo does confirm that the statue of the Virgin Mary was there in 1974.

Catherine Place

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_454_74_19310

The statue of the Virgin Mary is obviously maintained. If you look at the 1986 and 2019 photos, it has been repainted and a forearm and hand has been added.

I then turned to the 1895 Ordnance Survey map to see if there were any clues. In 1895, Catherine Place was named Catherine Street. Look above the end of the word “Wilfred”, and the corner building labelled P.H. is the pub.

Catherine Place

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

There is a possible clue as to the source of the Virgin Mary statue. Look down along Wilfred Street to the junction with Palace Street, and on the corner is a building labelled as a Roman Catholic Chapel.

This is the Roman Catholic Chapel today:

Catherine Place

This was the chapel of St Peter and St Edward. Originally built in 1856 , with an upper floor added between 1857 and 1858, the lower section of the building was used as a school and the upper section as the chapel.

The chapel provided a special Mass for guardsmen from Wellington and Chelsea Barracks and was known as the Guards Catholic Chapel. It closed in 1975 and later converted to offices. The building is Grade II listed. Visitors to the chapel included in 1965, the former United States First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

The side view of the chapel in Wlifred Street shows the windows providing light into the central space of the chapel.

Catherine Place

The chapel closed in 1975. The statue of the Virgin Mary was on the side of the building in 1974 – I cannot find any reference to when it first appeared.

Is it possible that the statue was originally part of the chapel, and knowing that the chapel was to close, for some reason it had been moved to the side of the old pub building?

It cannot have been part of the original pub. There appears to have been no relationship between the pub and the chapel, and the name of the pub (Palace Arms) has no religious reference.

Why on the pub building? It is a prominent corner position, looking down Wilfred Street towards Buckingham Gate, but I can find no other reasons why it should be there.

I have also looked for any newspaper reports providing any reason for the statue, but again cannot find any reference. The only reports are of the usual events that you would expect from a London pub, for example from the Morning Post on the 14th November 1842:

“James Coffee, an Irish labourer, was charged with being drunk and disorderly at Wilfred Street, Westminster at 3.15 on Saturday. Police Constable Frazer proved that at the time in question he was called by the landlord of the Palace Arms to eject the prisoner, who was drunk, and annoying customers. He was got out of the house and in the streets said he would ‘smash the witness’s head with a stick’ and if he had a revolver ‘he’d shoot him as they did landlords in Ireland’. At length he was taken to the station-house. The prisoner said he had never been in trouble before, he had been five years from Ireland, and he was a hard working man. He had only threatened to hit the constable with a stick after he had knocked him down. 

He was fined 7s or seven days, and he was removed crying out that he had only 3s in the world.”

It remains a mystery and I cannot find any reference as to why the statue of what I assume to be the Virgin Mary is on the frount of the old Palace Arms.

The area around the old pub is a mix of architecture styles. 18th and 19th century survivals, early 20th century and some very recent building.

An example of recent building is shown in the following photo, opposite the old Palace Arms and on the site of the school shown on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map:

Catherine Place

The view along Catherine Place from Wilfred Street. The street is a mix of residential and offices.

Catherine Place

The opposite corner of Catherine Place to the old Palace Arms:

Catherine Place

The use of different coloured bricks for decoration of the above house indicates that whilst emulating many of the features, it is a later building than the Georgian survivals on the street.

The following photo shows a late Georgian terrace along Catherine Place. The brickwork is simple, the sash windows recessed, but note the different door styles.

Catherine Place

As well as looking up at the buildings, the pavement can also provide some fascinating survivors. Along Catherine Place is this cover from the Westminster Electric Supply Corporation Ltd.

Catherine Place

The Westminster Electric Supply Corporation was one of the many local electricity generation and distribution companies, formed in the late 19th century, that powered London. Each company served their own specific area and the Westminster Electric Supply Company had generating stations at Millbank, Eccleston Place and Davies Street.

In the first decades of the 20th century, many of these companies merged or were taken over. The Westminster Electric Supply Corporation lasted until 1938, when it was taken over (along with a couple of other companies) by the Charing Cross Electric Supply Company, to form the Central London Electricity Company Ltd.

There are not too many of these covers surviving.

The mix of architectural styles and building materials shows how the street has developed over the centuries. At number 53 is an interesting red brick 19th century building.

Catherine Place

Wilfred Street is also full of interesting buildings and has two pubs. The Cask and Glass is on the corner of Wilfred Street and Palace Street. A lovely pub, but very small and possibly one of the smallest pubs in central London.

Catherine Place

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map does not label this building with P.H. so it may not have been classed as a pub, rather as a “beer shop” – possibly due to its small size. The Cask and Glass is a relatively recent name, it was originally the Duke of Cambridge.

Some of the earliest houses on Wilfred Street are these early 19th century, single bay brick houses.

Catherine Place

The view along Wilfred Street, with Catherine Place a short distance along on the left.

Catherine Place

A short distance along Wilfred Street, half way between what was the Palace Arms and the Cask and Glass is another pub – the Colonies.

Catherine Place

Three pubs within a short distance along Wilfred Street – the original occupants of the street were well served.

The Colonies is marked as a Public House on the 1895 map, sandwiched between the school and the Roman Catholic Chapel.

As with the Cask and Glass, the Colonies is a relatively recent name, dating from 1976. The original name was the Pineapple, and the pub dates from the early 19th century.

Catherine Place and Wilfred Street were an interesting couple of streets for a bit of exploration. Streets that I suspect do not get that much attention, tucked away between Victoria and the area surrounding Buckingham Palace.

I still have no idea why the old Palace Arms pub has a statue of the Virgin Mary above what was the main entrance door – there is probably a very mundane reason, however it is good to still have some mysteries on the streets of London.

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The 6th June 1944, D-Day in Maps

Firstly, an apology. This post in nothing to do with London, however on the 75th anniversary of D-day, I wanted to write a post that brings together my interests in history, books and maps to commemorate such an important event, and the sacrifice of so many in what was one of the defining days of World War 2.

In 1946 the British Field-Marshal Montgomery published his personal account of the campaign to liberate Europe, from the landings at Normandy on D-day to the eventual defeat of Germany. The book is a detailed account of the operations, the battles, the logistics of the campaign to open and fight a second front from the west.

Reading the book, the logistics of D-day are staggering. The volume of men and equipment that had to be landed, the secrecy to ensure the landing sites were a surprise to the defenders, the bravery that ensured a bridgehead had been established by the end of D-day, and the challenges of then extending that bridgehead and fighting from Normandy to Germany.

Normandy to the Baltic consists of 222 pages of text, but what makes this book rather special are the two pockets to the front and rear of the book which contain a total of 47 coloured maps and 3 diagrams. The maps detail the campaign from D-day through to the closure of the war.

The front of the book’s dust wrapper – lovely bold colours and very evocative of the time.

D-Day

The book was published when paper for publishing was still in short supply, and the book notes that “this book is produced in complete conformity with the authorised economy standards“.

The first map highlights the invasion coast – the area from Dunkirk in the north to Cherbourg in the west that was considered as possible landing sites for the invasion. Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne were the obvious locations as these were only a short distance across the channel and would therefore make the crossing easier, however this was a very heavily defended stretch of coast.

D-Day

The logistics of managing such a large invasion force are remarkable. The army groups and all their equipment were marshaled across the south of the country, stretching from Wales through to East Anglia, and to the west of Cornwall. The following map shows the areas occupied by individual Corps and Divisions. They all had to be then transported to coastal embarkation points for transport across the channel on D-day and during the following weeks.

D-Day

This map of German forces in France and Belgium shows the heavy concentration of forces along the French and Belgium coast where the distance across the channel was shortest.

D-Day

To avoid the heavy concentration of forces across the shortest stretch of channel, the plan for the assault was to land in Normandy, which would involve a lengthy sea crossing, but hopefully maintain an element of surprise and allow the Allied forces to establish a bridgehead before the defending forces could be reinforced.

D-Day

The organisation was incredible. The following diagram shows the assault technique and covers the various different types of specialised craft that had to be moved from the south coast of England to Normandy, arranged in the right order and to perform their role at the right time.

D-Day

Although in reality, conditions such as the weather on the morning of D-day meant that the assault was not as precisely choreographed as the above diagram suggests. Landing craft often did not arrive at the right place, and in some instances, troops left landing craft when still in deep water, and many drowned as they were loaded with heavy equipment.

At the front were Landing Craft Support (LCS), craft that provided fire support to troops as they landed on the beaches. Behind them was a line of D.D. Tanks, or Duplex Drive amphibious tanks. These would be launched some distance from the shore and would make their way under their own power and flotation to the beach.

Behind then was a line of Landing Craft Tank (LCT), landing craft that carried tanks and other mechanised equipment for transport to the shore. Further back was a line of Landing Craft Assault (LCA), landing craft that carried the assault troops. As well at the LCTs, this line included Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE), landing craft carrying specialised equipment such as tanks fitted with flails to clear a path through mines, bridging equipment etc.

The assault was supported by Landing Craft Gun (LCG) artillery ships and destroyers tasked with bombarding the enemy positions before the landing, and providing supporting fire once the assault troops had landed.

Landing Craft Flak (LCF) were anti-aircraft variations of the landing craft, fitted out with anti-aircraft guns to defend against enemy aircraft.

After landing and establishing a bridgehead, the plan was to quickly strike in land, with the US Third Army moving south and the US First Army, British Second Army and Canadian First Army moving east and north towards northern France, Belgium and Paris.

D-Day

The distribution of German forces on the 6th June 1944, showing how every section of the coast was defended, with reinforcements inland.

D-Day

Bombing on and after D-day aimed to frustrate the move of German reinforcements to the front by destroying railways, bridges and attacking columns of transport.

The following map again highlights the challenge of attacking Normandy. A lengthy sea crossing and the coordination of forces from across the south coast, including follow-up forces from Cornwall , the Thames estuary and Felixstowe.

D-Day

The US assault on the 6th June included airborne drops of parachute forces in the early hours. They suffered heavy casualties during the landing on the town of Sainte-Mère-Église as many buildings across the town had been set on fire which illuminated the descending paratroops.

D-Day

By the end of the 6th June 1944, a bridgehead had been established and the push inland had started. 156,000 troops had landed on the first day, and an estimated 4,400 had died.

The following map shows the situation at the end of D-day.

D-Day

In the book, Montgomery described the situation at the end of the 6th June as follows:

“As a result of our D-Day operations we had gained a foothold on the Continent of Europe.

We had achieved surprise, the troops had fought magnificently, and our losses had been much lower than had ever seemed possible. We had breached the Atlantic Wall along the whole Neptune frontage, and all assaulting divisions were ashore. In spite of the bad weather the sea passage across the Channel had been successfully accomplished, and following this the Allied Naval Forces had given valuable support by fire from warships and craft; the Allied Air Forces had laid the foundation of success by winning the air battle before the invasion was launched, and by applying their whole collective striking power, with magnificent results, to assist the landings.

In spite of the enemy’s intentions to defeat us on the beaches, we found no surprises awaiting us in Normandy. Our measures designed to overcome the defences proved successful. But not all the D-day objectives had been achieved and, in particular, the situation on Omaha beach was far from secure; in fact we had only hung on there as a result of the dogged fighting of the American infantry and its associated naval forces. Gaps remained between Second British Army and V United States Corps and also between V and VII United States Corps; in all the beachhead areas pockets of enemy resistance remained and a very considerable amount of mopping up remained to be done. In particular, a strong and dangerous enemy salient remained with its apex at Douvres.

It was early to appreciate the exact shape of the German reaction to our landings. The only armoured intervention on D-Day was by 21 Panzer Division astride the Orne, north of Caen. Air reconnaissance, however showed that columns of the 12 SS Division were moving west.

To sum up, the results of D-Day were extremely encouraging, although the weather remained a great anxiety. I ordered the armies to proceed with the plan; First United States Army was to complete the capture of its D-day objectives, secure Carentan and Isigny so as to link up its beachheads, and then thrust across the base of the peninsula to isolate Cherbourg as prelude to its reduction, Second British Army  was to continue the battle for Caen, develop the bridgehead southwards across the Bayeux-Caen road and link up with the V United States Corps at Port-en-Bessin.”

Montgomery’s comments on the fighting at Omaha beach demonstrate how parts of the invasion were a close run thing.

That the bridgeheads had been achieved by the end of the 6th June was down to the considerable bravery of those involved in the assault, and the logistical achievement of transporting thousands of troops and tons equipment.

The 6th of June was just the start of a long campaign that would take British, American and Canadian armies all the way into Germany.

The breakout from the bridgehead would still take some weeks.

The following map shows the situation during the week following D-day with the start of the push inland from the beaches.

D-Day

The advance after D-day was slow going. The nature of the countryside (wooded, hollow lanes, hedging lining the lanes) and growing enemy reinforcements meant that after establishing the landing, the push inland would be very challenging with considerably more killed and injured than during the initial landings.

The initial development of the bridgehead during the second week after D-day:

D-Day

By the end of June, the Allied forces had made limited progress and were now up against an enemy force that was more coordinated than on D-day and with further arriving reinforcements. The following map shows the situation at the end of June, just over three weeks after D-day.

D-Day

But progress was being made – the push up the peninsula by the American forces to capture Cherbourg:

D-Day

The British and Canadian forces start to push inland and to move towards the city of Caen:

D-Day

The US Army operations during the two weeks after D-day:

D-Day

The capture of Caen:

D-Day

Operations of the Second British and Canadian Armies in July:

D-Day

Moving south after the capture of Caen in the third week of July:

D-Day

When the break out happened from the initial bridgehead, it was rapid and resulted in a breakdown in enemy resistance which resulted in the liberation of Paris when the German forces in the city surrendered on the 25th August 1944.

The following map shows the break out by the First United States Army between the 25th July and 4th August.

D-Day

After the August breakout, progress would then be relatively rapid, however the overstretched supply lines and regrouping of German forces would cause delays and set backs, for example with the failure of Operation Market Garden in September 1944 to reach Arnhem, cross the Rhine and turn into Germany.

Montgomery’s book is a fascinating account of the campaign, which started on the 6th June 1944, and would end on VE Day, the 8th May 1945. The rest of the maps in the book follow the course of the campaign between these two dates.

That D-day was a success was down to a phenomenal achievement in logistics and planning, long before the days of instant communications, computers and spreadsheets, allied with the incredible bravery and sacrifice of those who took part.

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London In Pictures – A London County Council 1937 Guide

The London County Council (LCC) along with the metropolitan boroughs, transformed London.

The LCC was responsible for the coordination and provision of a wide range of services across London, for example the growth of council provided housing, education, provision of medical services, parks and gardens, infrastructure and consumer services. The LCC, along with authorities such as the Metropolitan Water Board, the London Passenger Transport Board, the London Fire Brigade and the Metropolitan Borough Councils transformed London from the 19th century city to the city we recognise today.

The London County Council produced a considerable number of publications on almost any aspect of the running and organisation of a major city that you could imagine. Within these publications there is a common theme – a considerable pride in the city and the services that the LCC provided to Londoners.

Much of this can look strange from a 21st century viewpoint – too intrusive, too organising, too much “authority knows best”. However with austerity, drastic reductions in council services, library closures, funding challenges for the NHS, Police and Education, the past can look deceptively attractive, but dig deeper and comparisons are never simple.

I have collected a wide range of LCC publications over the years, they provide considerable insight into the development of the city from the formation of the LCC in 1889 until the transfer to the Greater London Council in 1965.

For this week’s post, I would like to feature a publication which provides an overview of all the services provided by the LCC and other London authorities. A snapshot in one specific year – 1937.

This is London In Pictures – Municipal London Illustrated.

London County Council

London in Pictures is a guide-book, but a guide-book with a difference as the foreward to the book describes:

“Many London guide books are published every year and many picture books illustrating the external beauties of London streets and street scenes and buildings of architectural and historic interest. None of these publications, however, devotes adequate attention, even if any notice at all be given, to the municipal interests of London”

The guide-book was targeted at visitors to, and those on holiday in London, and the foreward goes on to explain that if the visitor can understand the government of the city and how London is delivering municipal activities, they can take back this knowledge to help solve problems in their own town or city. Possibly a very limited readership, but again, this demonstrates the LCC’s pride in the way that London was administered and the services provided to the city’s inhabitants.

The book is divided into sections focusing on a specific aspect of the LCCs services, so lets start with – Block Dwellings built by the Council.

In 1937 the LCC owned around 25,000 flats across London. These were typically in estates with blocks of flats to a common design, however many designs were unique and still look good today.

One of these was the Oaklands Estate in Clapham. This estate occupied around 3 acres and provided 185 dwellings with a total of 582 rooms. The estate was built between 1935 and 1936 and the following photo is of Eastman House on the Oaklands Estate.

London County Council

The Clapham Park Estate is of the more traditional London County Council design. This is a view of Lycett and Cotton Houses on the estate which was built between 1930 and 1936, with the overall estate comprising 759 dwellings.

London County Council

The LCC also developed Council Cottage Estates. These estates consisted of houses and smaller flats, providing a low-rise appearance and reduced housing density. This is the Old Oak Estate – the estate which is located between Westway (the A40 road) and Wormwood Scrubs.

London County Council

In 1937 the Old Oak Estate consisted of 1,055 houses and flats.

Occupying around 202 acres of land across Chislehurst and Sidcup districts was the Mottingham Estate. In 1937 the estate consisted of 2,356 houses and flats with further growth planned by the reservation of space for a cinema, shops, schools and a church and 25.5 acres of open space.

London County Council

Londoners also needed education and the London County Council designed new school buildings with large windows for natural lighting, assembly halls, gymnasium, libraries and rooms designed for specific subjects such as science and art. The book highlights that LCC schools were provided with hot water facilities (with the implication that earlier schools lacked this feature).

This is the King’s Park School in Eltham. The senior school in the two storey block with the single storey infant school to the right.

London County Council

As well as education, health care was important, and in 1937 the NHS was still a distant dream. In 1930 the LCC took over responsibility for hospitals controlled by Boards of Guardians and the Metropolitan Asylums Board. This allowed the council to start a programme of modernisation and standardisation of health services across the city and in 1937 there were 43 general hospitals and 31 special hospitals controlled by the LCC.

This is the Operating Theatre and X-Ray Unit completed in 1936 at St. Mary Abbots Hospital, Kensington.

London County CouncilAs with new schools, LCC designed hospitals also featured large windows to maximise natural lighting and a belief in the importance of fresh air to aid recovery. This is the Sun Balcony at St. Olave’s Hospital:London County Council

One of the departments within the London County Council was the rather 1984 Orwellian named “Public Control Department”.

This department had a wide range of services which today would be included within the scope of departments such as Trading Standards.

The Public Control Department was responsible for services such as for weights and measures, testing of gas meters, control and storage of petrol, licensing employment agencies and massage establishments, administration of the Shops Act, diseases of animals, sale of fertilizers and animal feed stuffs and the registration of theatrical employees.

The following three photos from the book show the type of activities carried out by the Public Control Department. The first is testing a weighbridge:

London County Council

Measuring the weight of a sack of coal to ensure that the contents met the specified and charged for weight:

London County Council

Checking the weights and measures in a shop:

London County Council

The London County Council became the local education authority for London in 1904, and was responsible for:

  • To co-ordinate the activities of its predecessors, the School Board for London and the Technical Education Board,
  • To place those elementary schools provided by voluntary bodies on the same basis as regards maintenance as those provided by the Council itself,
  • To establish a system of secondary schools linked to the elementary schools by a scholarship scheme,
  • To reorganise the former ‘night schools’ into a comprehensive system of continuative education,
  • To expand technical, commercial and art education,
  • To build up a system of school medical inspection and treatment, and of special schools for children with physical and mental defects.

In 1937 the LCC was responsible for nearly 800,000 pupils. 512,000 under the age of 14, with 125,000 between 14 and 18 and a further 163,000 in adult education.

An annual nativity play by junior boys and girls:

London County Council

Mid-morning milk at a junior school:

London County Council

Practical work – Domestic Subjects:

London County Council

Residential schools in camp:

London County Council

The scope of education covered by the London County Council included training colleges which focused on specific subjects and skill sets. These colleges included teacher training colleges and in the photo below, poultry farming:

London County Council

A teacher training college:

London County Council

The London County Council was also responsible of the main drainage services for London, which in 1937 meant servicing the needs of 5.5 million people.

The main treatment works were at Beckton, which dealt with 280 million gallons of sewage a day, with effluent being discharged into the river, and 2 million tons a year of solid matter being dumped at sea by a fleet of four, wonderfully named “sludge vessels”.

This view is of part of the 7.5 miles of aeration channels at Beckton:London County Council

An example of the tunnels that transported sewage for treatment – 10 foot and 11.5 foot diameter sewers:

London County Council

Included within the wide range of infrastructure services for which the LCC was responsible were ferries, tunnels and piers, including the Rotherhithe Tunnel:

London County Council

Greenwich Pier:

London County Council

And the Woolwich Ferry, which in 1937 carried 4,000 vehicles and 7,000 pedestrians daily between the weekday hours of 6 a.m. and midnight.

London County Council

Originally, fire brigade services had been built up across London by private enterprises such as insurance companies, however by the 1860s, the costs of providing the service were escalating and the insurance companies requested that the Government took over the service.

This was achieved by the 1865 Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act which consolidated the individual services into a single, London fire service.

In 1889 the London County Council took over the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and in 1904 the name was changed to the London Fire Brigade.

In 1937 the new headquarters building and fire station for the London Fire Brigade on the Albert Embankment had only just been completed. The fire services moved from this building a few years ago, and it is currently being redeveloped, however it will retain a link with the fire service as the London Fire Brigade museum is planned to return to a new and upgraded facility within the building.

In 1937, the London Fire Brigade were equipped with a range of leading edge appliances, including a Hose Lorry:

London County Council

And a Breakdown Lorry:

London County Council

The London Docks were a high fire risk, due to the dense storage of large amounts of inflammable materials, with probably a lack of attention to fire prevention measures. The following photo from the book shows a typical fire that the London Fire Brigade had to deal with, a large fire in July 1935 at Iceland Wharf, Old Ford.

London County Council

The Municipal Hospitals of London were the responsibility of the London County Council, with 74 hospitals taken over from the Boards of Guardians and Metropolitan Asylums Board.

In 1937, these hospitals contained at total of 38,500 beds. This was before the establishment of the NHS, so treatment was not free for all. The book explains that “Admission may usually be secured on the certificate of a private doctor, without any suggestion of poor law ‘taint’, and except in certain circumstances, patients are required to contribute according to their means.”

The Children’s Ward at a LCC hospital:

London County Council

A London County Council hospital operating theatre:

London County Council

The London County Council also ran medical inspections and treatment of school children. Children would be ‘inspected’ at the ages of 7, 11 and between the ages of 13 and 14. This included dental inspections with the possibility of follow-up treatment at 74 medical and dental treatment centres across London.

Probably a nightmare for most children – school dental treatment:

London County Council

A minor ailment centre:

London County Council

The London County Council set-up the London Ambulance Service in 1915, initially to focus on street accidents. There was a separate ambulance service run by the Metropolitan Asylums Board, which was used for the transfer of patients with infectious diseases, and another service run by the Boards of Guardians. All these services came under the central control of the LLC in 1930 under the Local Government Act of 1929.

The interior of a 1930s ambulance:

London County Council

Control of ambulances was from County Hall and an ambulance could be summoned by calling WATerloo 3311.

in 1937 there were 153 ambulances covering London. These were based at 6 large ambulance stations and 16 smaller stations. By comparison in the financial year 2017/18 the London Ambulance Service consisted of over 1,100 vehicles based at 70 ambulance stations and support offices across London. In the same year the service dealt with 1.9 million 999 calls – a truly extraordinary number.

If you needed an ambulance in 1937, this is the vehicle that would arrive:

London County Council

Parks and Open Space were also the responsibility of the London County Council, with a total of 6,647 acres of space managed by a staff of 1,500.

The LCC provided and managed parks such as Battersea Park, as well building and managing facilities within parks, such as the open-air swimming pool at Victoria Park:

London County Council

One of the responsibilities of the LCC, in the terms used in the 1937 book was the “Care of the Mentally Afflicted”. The LCC had started to change how mental health was treated with a move from the custodial approach to proper nursing care, however it was a very institutionalised approach with 20 hospitals and institutions providing treatment for 33,600 patients from a staff of 9,000.

This is Forest House, the admission and convalescent villa in Claybury Hospital:

London County Council

In the same hospital, the Needleroom where “many patients can still do useful work”.

London County Council

The guide-book also included the other governance authorities within London, including the City of London Corporation. This included the City markets, with this superb aerial view of the London Central Markets at Smithfield:

London County Council

And a very quiet Spitalfields Market:

London County Council

The other key element of London governance were the Metropolitan Borough Councils. These were formed by the 1899 London Government Act and were responsible for a number of local services such as the collection of refuse and the maintenance of streets.

In 1937, 16 out of a total of 28 borough councils were still electricity supply authorities, having their own local generation and distribution capabilities. These services would not consolidate further until after the war with the creation of the Central Electricity Generation Board and the regional distribution boards, such as the London Electricity Board.

The establishment of the Metropolitan Borough Councils resulted in the building of impressive Town Halls across London. The book includes a night view of St. Marylebone Town Hall:

London County Council

Municipal Borough Councils also provided local facilities, for example, local parks and playgrounds, libraries and swimming pools.

One impressive example in 1937 was the Poplar Swimming Bath and the books show how the same building could support very different uses:

London County Council

In 1937. the London docks were still major centres of trade. Containerisation and the shift of ports from inland rivers to coastal centres such as Southampton and Felixtowe was still decades in the future.

The Port of London Authority was responsible for the management of the ports and river. In 1937 the Port of London dealt with more shipping than any other UK port and over a third of UK overseas trade passed through London. In 1937, approximately 43 million tons of goods were managed through the London docks.

A ship entering the King George V Dock:

London County Council

The Wine Gauging Grounds operated by the Port of London Authority:

London County Council

London County Council publications are always fascinating and London in Pictures provides a really good overview of the governance of London and the breadth and depth of the services provided by the LCC.

Two years after the guide was published, the Second World War would bring devastation to the city, but would also mark one of those break points in history with, for example, the coming NHS taking over the provision and considerable expansion of health services.

The London Docks would soon start their gradual decline which would end in the closure of all central London docks. The population of London would also reverse the centuries long expansion and would go into a decline that would only start to recover in the 1980s.

Council house provision would reduce to almost nothing and “right to buy” would transfer council owned accommodation into private ownership.

The 1937 guide therefore provides a snapshot of LCC services at the end of an era.

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