Monthly Archives: February 2021

Topping’s Wharf and the Wharves between London and Tower Bridges

In August 1948, my father was on a boat sailing from Westminster to Greenwich, taking photos along the route. The following photo is after having just passed under London Bridge, looking down towards Tower Bridge, with the cranes and warehouses of the wharves that line the river opposite the City of London.

Topping's Wharf

The Southwark side of the river between London Bridge and Tower Bridge was very different to the City side of the river. The Southwark side was full of wharves, warehouses, cranes and moored ships and barges.

The City had Billingsgate Market, the Customs House, New Fresh Wharf and the Tower of London. The difference between the two sides of the river can be seen in the following map from Commercial Motor’s 1953 edition of London Wharves and Docks:

Topping's Wharf

This fascinating book lists all the wharves and docks between Teddington and Tilbury, and provides details of the trade that they handled and their facilities. The following tables cover the Southwark wharves between London and Tower Bridges:

Topping's Wharf

Topping's Wharf

There was a remarkable 20,250,000 cubic feet of storage space within the warehouses along this relatively short stretch of the river, and there was a wide range of goods being stored. Chances are that if in 1953 you were drinking your morning cup of coffee, it would have been imported through one of these wharves.

By 1953, all except the Tower Bridge Wharf were owned by Hay’s Wharf Ltd, a business that had been expanding rapidly, and a name that can still be found in this transformed stretch of the river.

Many of these wharves had been in existence for hundreds of years, and they would have had individual owners with the name often reflecting the original owner / builder of the wharf.

There is so much history associated with each wharf, and they can demonstrate how trade was conducted, and what life was like in this part of London. Close to London Bridge in the above map is Topping’s Wharf, and I have taken this single wharf to see what can be found of its history.

The first reference I could find of Topping’s Wharf was an advert in the Newcastle Courant on the 17th December 1774 where the new owners are setting up a cargo route between London and Newcastle and advertising Topping’s Wharf as a safe and insured site for goods to be stored:

“To the MERCHANTS, TRADERS and SHIPPERS of GOODS to and from London and Newcastle. We take this opportunity of acquainting you, that having lately taken a new, commodious, and convenient Wharf, situate in Tooley-street, Southwark, and adjoining to London bridge, known by the name of Topping’s Wharf, where there are exceeding good warehouses for lodging and securing goods from damage by weather, and where vessels of 300 tons burthen or upwards may load by cranes, which will be a considerable saving of expense and risk, incurred by the present method of shipping, by lighters from above bridge. The goods will be lodged in warehouses, upon which an insurance of £4000 from fire will be made till shipped and the policy deposited at the Bank of Newcastle. A set of good accustomed vessels are engaged, one of which will sail every week. We therefore solicit your favours, and assure you, that the greatest care will be taken to ship your goods with regularity and dispatch, by Your humble servants, CHINERY, RUDD and JOHNSON, London, December 9th 1774”.

These newspaper adverts and reports are interesting because they shed some light on how trade was conducted in the 18th century. They also mention fire insurance as a key feature of Topping’s Wharf, and from later events we can see why.

Warehouses held large volumes of highly flammable materials, and fires in London’s warehouses were very frequent, with often significant destruction of buildings, the goods stored in the warehouse and ships moored alongside.

I have already written about one fire in the area, called at the time the “Great Fire at London Bridge” in 1861. There had already been another major fire eighteen years earlier in 1843. This fire had destroyed Topping’s Wharf, as reported in the Globe on Saturday, August 19th, 1843:

“TERRIFIC FIRE THIS MORNING – Never since the too well remembered fire at the Royal Exchange in 1838, has it fallen to our lot to record a more terrific one than that which took place this morning at an early hour, at the premises known as Topping’s Wharf, situate on the east side of London bridge, near Fenning’s Wharf, which it will be recollected was destroyed by a similar calamity in 1836.

In magnitude it exceeded the above-named disaster, or any other that has occurred on the banks of the River Thames for many years past; for, in addition, we regret to say that Watson’s Telegraph, formerly a shot tower, the large turpentine and oil stores of Messrs. Ward and Co, in Tooley-street, and St Olave’s Church, all fell a sacrifice to the devouring element, besides doing extensive damage to a tier of shipping moored alongside Topping’s Wharf”.

The fire had started just before two in the morning and was spotted by a Police Constable. The Fire Brigade was soon on the scene, led by the superintendent of the brigade, Mr. James Braidwood (who would be killed in the fire in Tooley Street eighteen years later).

By four in the morning, St Olave’s Church, just behind Topping’s Wharf was on fire and the Globe reported that “there appeared very little chance of any of that ancient building being saved”.

The following print shows the 1843 fire at Topping’s Wharf  (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Topping's Wharf

The report in the Globe newspaper mentioned Watson’s Telegraph, and in the above print, just to the right of the church tower you can see the word Watson. I knew about Watson’s Telegraph, but did not know that the central London telegraph was based by St Olave’s Church and Topping’s Wharf, just to the east of the southern end of London Bridge.

The British Museum has a print of Watson’s Telegraph before the fire, with St Olave’s Church to the right, and Topping’s Wharf to the lower left  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Topping's Wharf

Watson’s Telegraph was the creation of a Mr. Watson of Cornhill. The purpose of the system was to rapidly pass messages to and from the coast and key ports. It was important to traders and ship owners in the City to know when their ship and cargo were getting close, or events such as a tragedy at sea.

Watson’s Telegraph system comprised of a number of towers with a semaphore signaling system on top. These were located at strategic points to allow a message to be passed along a chain of stations to the required destination. Each telegraph station needed to be able to see the telegraph stations on either side in the chain.  For example, to pass a message between the City and Deal in Kent, the telegraph chain consisted of: “London-bridge; the second at Forest-hill; the third at Knockholt; and others at Wrotham-hill, Bluebell-hill, and three or four elevated spots between there and Deal”.

An article in the Illustrated London News provided the above list of locations, and I love the introduction to the article which paints a futuristic view of communications:

“In this miraculous age of improvements and discoveries when ‘the annihilation of time and space’ is no longer regarded as an idle chimera of the brain, it might hardly be considered necessary to occupy our space with a detail of the various schemes that have been adopted and put in operation to facilitate this most paramount and prevailing desire. So many of our readers must be naturally unconversant with those experiments in arts and science which the ‘great metropolis’ is continually eliciting, that we feel it a duty which we owe to our friends and supporters at a distance, to place before them those objects of interest and real usefulness in which the metropolis abounds, and which are only known to them by name”.

As well as the telegraph stations, a key part of the system was a Telegraphic Dictionary which was kept at each station and contained “several thousand words, names, phrases and directions, such as are likely to be most useful and required, and names of vessels, places, and certain nautical terms which have been selected with great care, as may best suit the object in view”.

The message entries in the dictionary have an associated unique number and the positions of the arms on the semaphore corresponded to different numbers, thereby allowing the position of the arms to send a message from the telegraphic dictionary.

The system was created in 1842. It is remarkable to think that 179 years later, on the evening before writing this post, I was watching a live stream over the Internet from the US of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars, with photos of the surface coming minutes after landing. How communications technology has changed in less than 200 years. I suspect the readers of the Illustrated London News in 1842, could not have imagined this new ‘the annihilation of time and space’.

It is difficult to track the ownership of Topping’s Wharf over the centuries of its existence. It seems to have been owned by Magdalen College, Oxford for some time, as in the Globe on the 28th October 1907, there is a record that: “the leasehold of Topping’s Wharf, Tooley-street, London-bridge, which Messrs. Jones, Lang, and Co. are to offer by the instructions of Magdalen College, Oxford”.  There was also a description of Topping’s Wharf:

“The premises, which comprise ground floor, basement, and three large upper warehouse floors are supplied with loopholes to each floor, with hydraulic lifts, and cranes, back and front, and have recently been fitted with a London County Council staircase”.

I cannot find who took the lease in the 1907 auction, but in 1912 Topping’s Wharf was let to Nestle and the Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Company.  Hay’s Wharf Ltd seem to have taken on Topping’s Wharf in the 1920s.

Back to the view of the river between London and Tower Bridges, and another view of the wharves along the river, and the ships that used these wharves is shown in the following photo which my father took from the open space outside the Tower of London.

Topping's Wharf

When my father took the above photo and the photo at the top of the post, the wharves along this part of the river were really busy. Cranes lined the river and ships loaded and unloaded their cargo at this stretch of wharves which were then nearly all owned by Hay’s Wharf Ltd.

The introduction to the 1953 edition of Commercial Motor’s London Wharves and Docks gives an impression of how trade on the river was increasing:

“Commercial activity on the River Thames has increased considerably in the post-war years, due in large part to British Industry’s successful efforts to expand its export trade with world markets. Arising out of this intensified traffic in the industrial reaches of the Thames has come the need for an up to date, comprehensive guide to the many wharves and docks which line the banks of the River from Teddington to Gravesend”.

Despite the post-war increase in trade on the river, the wharves between London and Tower Bridges would not have too many years left. The increasing size of cargo ships and containerisation meant that inner London docks quickly became unsuitable for the type of shipping and new methods of moving cargo.

To show how quickly river trade changed, 26 years after the above description of increased activity on the river, I took the following photo in 1979, looking along the river from London Bridge:

Topping's Wharf

The cranes lining the river have gone, some of the warehouses were still being used for storage, but the majority were derelict. The space where the cranes once moved cargo between ship and warehouse was then used for parking space.

Another photo from 1979 looking down the river. A few of the remaining cranes can be seen just to the right of HMS Belfast. These would have been on Mark Brown’s and Tower Bridge Wharves.

Topping's Wharf

I took a couple of “now” photos in August 2020 to mirror my 1979 photos, and the following photo shows the redevelopment of the Southwark side of the river. Part of Hay’s Wharf remains, but the rest of the area has been transformed.

Topping's Wharf

A riverside walk now runs where cranes once transferred goods between ship and warehouse, and where cars parked in 1979.

The following photo is an August 2020 view of my second 1979 photo and shows the redevelopment at the Southwark end of Tower Bridge, with the Mayor of London’s City Hall.

Topping's Wharf

So what occupies the location of Topping’s Wharf today? The whole Southwark stretch of the river between London and Tower Bridges was marked for development in the 1980s, and by 1986 “Number 1 London” had been constructed. A two part building complex with a 13 storey tower adjacent to London Bridge and a smaller 10 storey section on the site of Topping’s Wharf.

In the following photo, taken from the top of the Shard, London Bridge is on the left. The two buildings of Number 1 London are of similar design and materials and can be seen to the right of the bridge, directly on the river. The smaller of the two buildings is where Topping’s Wharf was located.

Topping's Wharf

A view of the location from the river. Topping’s Wharf was located where part of the glass canopy and the building to the left of the canopy now stand.

Topping's Wharf

In my father’s 1948 photo at the top of the post there are a line of identical cranes between the warehouses and river. These are the 240 cwt. or hundredweight (approximately 12,192 kg) cranes listed in the Commercial Motor specifications for each wharf.

The most newsworthy appearance of the cranes was during the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965. His coffin was carried along this stretch of the Thames, and the cranes bowed in turn as the boat carrying his coffin passed. This can be seen in a British Pathé film of the funeral, which can be found here – the cranes can be seen starting at 9 minutes.

If you want to see part of the street that ran behind the warehouses at the Tower Bridge end of the river, then see my post on the Lost Warehouses of Pickle Herring Street.

There is far more to discover along this stretch of the river. The 300 year history of Hay’s Wharf and the lost church of St. Olave are just two examples. These will have to wait for future posts.

alondoninheritance.com

Fleet Street in 32 Exposures

Before taking a walk along Fleet Street, a quick update on last week’s post.

Thanks for all the feedback via comments, e-mail and Twitter, which demonstrated that you cannot believe everything that you read in the papers, even back in 1915. Readers identified the following statues as earlier than that of Florence Nightingale, so my list of the first statues of women (not royalty) in London is now as follows:

  1. Sarah Siddons, unveiled at Paddington Green in 1897. Sarah was an actor, also known as the most “famous tragedienne of the 18th century”
  2. Boudicca, unveiled at the western end of Westminster Bridge in 1902. Some discussion about Boudicca as she could be classed as “royal” which the 1915 papers excluded, however I will keep her on the list
  3. Margaret MacDonald,  unveiled at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1914. Margaret was a social reformer, feminist and member of organisations such as the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies
  4. Florence Nightingale, unveiled at Waterloo Place in 1915

So that would put Florence Nightingale’s statue as the 4th public statue of a women unveiled in London (excluding royalty, or perhaps 3rd if Boudicca is classed as royalty).

Leave a comment if you know of any others.

The other point of discussion was the initials on the 1861 lamp post next to the Guards’ memorial. The combination of letters appeared to be SGFCG. Possibilities included the names of Guards Regiments, or a royal link with Saxe-Coburg Gotha (the Prince Consort as Colonel of the Guards was at the unveiling).

I e-mailed the Guards’ Museum and their feedback was that they had not seen the initials of the three Foot Guards Regiments combined in such a way elsewhere, however the initials do appear to fit the Regiments as they were known in 1861 – Grenadier, Coldstream and Scots Fusilier Guards.

Thanks again for all the feedback – there is always so much to learn about the city’s history.

On to todays post. Last summer I took my father’s old Leica camera out for walk. The first time this 70 year old camera had been used in 40 years. To test the camera I had purchased a pack of Ilford black and white film, and as there were some spare, I decided to take my old film camera out, a Canon AE-1 which was my main camera for around 25 years, but last used in 2003.

The Canon AE-1 was a significant camera when it came out in 1976. I purchased mine in 1977 from a discount shop in Houndsditch in the City on Hire Purchase, spreading the cost over a year. It replaced a cheap Russian made Zenit camera which had a randomly sticking shutter as a feature.

The Canon AE-1 was a revolution at the time. The first camera to include a microprocessor, it included a light meter and once the desired speed had been set on the ring on the top of the camera, the aperture (how much light is let in through the lens) would be set automatically. It was also possible to set both speed and aperture manually.

Focus was still manual, via a focusing ring on the front of the included 50mm lens.

My Canon AE-1:

Fleet Street

The camera was powered by a battery in the compartment to the left of the lens in the above photo. Having not used the camera for almost twenty years, my main concern was that on opening the compartment, I would be met by a corroded mess, however the battery, although flat, was in good condition, and after replacing with a new battery, the camera came back to life.

Inserting a new film was much easier than the Leica as the film did not need to be trimmed, simply pushing the end of the film into the take up spool and winding on until the rewind knob moved.

I took the camera for a walk along Fleet Street, hence the title of the post – Fleet Street in 32 Exposures. I was using a 36 exposure film, so lost some in initial testing to make sure the film was winding on correctly.

Fleet Street seemed a good choice, as the street is lined with fascinating buildings. Substantial buildings from when newspapers occupied much of the street, to tall, thin buildings which are evidence of the narrow plots of land that were once typical along this important street. Many of the buildings are also ornately decorated.

This will be a photographic look at the buildings rather than a historical walk. Fleet Street has so much history that it would take a few posts to cover.

So to start a black and white walk along Fleet Street. I started at the point where the Strand becomes Fleet Street and the Temple Bar memorial:

Fleet Street

The Temple Bar memorial dates from 1880 and was designed by Sir Horace Jones. It marks the location of Wren’s Temple Bar which marked the ceremonial entrance to the City of London. The original Temple Bar now stands at the entrance to Paternoster Square from St Paul’s Churchyard.

Statues of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales are on either side of the monument, which is also heavily decorated and shows the Victorian fascination with the arts and sciences, with representations of these lining either side of the alcoves with the statues.

Fleet Street

The Grade I listed Middle Temple Gatehouse which leads from Fleet Street into Middle Temple Lane. The building originally dates from 1684:

Fleet Street

The Grade II* listed Inner Temple Gatehouse between Fleet Street and the Inner Temple location of Temple Church:

Fleet Street

Cliffords Inn Passage and the entrance gate to Cliffords Inn:

Fleet Street

The church of St Dunstan in the West:

Fleet Street

The head office building of the private bank of C. Hoare & Co. Founded by Richard Hoare in 1672, the bank has been based here in Fleet Street since 1690:

Fleet Street

Offices of publishing company DC Thomson, who still publish the Sunday Post and People’s Friend as well as the Beano. This is their London office, with their head offices being in Dundee (hence the Dundee Courier):

Fleet Street

Mitre House, with the entrance to Mitre Court:

Fleet Street

The original home of the London News Agency, also known as the Fleet Street News Agency. The business was here in Fleet Street from 1893 until 1972 when the business moved to Clerkenwell, where it was based until the agency closed in 1996.

Fleet Street

The entrance to 49 and 50 Fleet Street, a Grade II listed building that dates from 1911. Originally Barristers’ Chambers, in 2018 the building was converted into an extension to the Apex Temple Court Hotel.

Fleet Street

The following photo is of 53 Fleet Street and is a good example of where black and white is the wrong film to capture the features of a building. The upper floors are decorated with dark red bricks with green bricks forming diamond patterns, which can just be seen in the photo. It looks much better in colour.

Fleet Street

The following building is the Grade II listed former office of the Glasgow Herald built in 1927. The building is relatively thin and tall and the challenges with photographing the building using a fixed 50mm lens are apparent as I could not get in the top of the building without the front being at too oblique an angle.

Fleet Street

The 1920’s Bouverie House, with entrance to St Dunstans Court at lower left:

Fleet Street

Almost opposite Bouverie House, Whitefriars Street leads off from Fleet Street. A plaque on the wall records that this was the location of the office of the Anti-Corn-Law League between 1844 and 1846.

Fleet Street

A wider view of the building on the corner of Whitefriars Street and Fleet Street. The above plaque can be seen on the wall to the left of the corner entrance. The pub just to the right of the corner building is the Tipperary at 66 Fleet Street.

Fleet Street

The following photo shows a view along the northern side of Fleet Street and highlights the mix of different building ages, materials and architectural styles that make this street so interesting. One of the oldest building on the street is in the centre of the view. The Cheshire Cheese pub dates from 1538 with the current building dating to 1667.

Fleet Street

Next to the Cheshire Cheese is this rather ornate building which is currently home to a Pret on the ground floor. This is the Grade II listed, 143 and 144 Fleet Street. The statue in the centre of the first floor is of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Fleet Street

The building in the above photo was constructed in 1905 for Sir John Tollemache Sinclair, a Scottish MP, and designed by the architect  R.M. Roe.  Whilst researching for the reason why the statue is on the building (Sinclair was a fan of Mary Queen of Scots), I found the following newspaper report from The Sphere on the 17th August 1946 which provides a description of the use of the building:

“Although at first glance, this life-size statue of Mary, Queen of Scots appears to be in an ecclesiastical setting, it is, in fact, situated above a chemist’s shop and a restaurant in one of the older and grimier buildings of Fleet Street. No. 143-144 Fleet Street, known as Mary, Queen of Scots House, contains a typical selection of Fleet Street tenants – newspaper offices, advertising agents and artists agents”

Next to the above building is a lost pub, the building in the following photo was once the Kings and Keys pub.

Fleet Street

The name of the pub can still be seen carved in the decoration between the first and second floors.

Fleet Street

The Kings and Keys closed in 2007, and in the days when Fleet Street newspapers had their local pub, this was the pub for the Daily Telegraph. Although the building dates from the late 19th century, a pub with the name Kings and Keys had long been on the site. A newspaper report from 1804 highlights the dangers for those travelling through London and stopping at a pub:

“Last week a young midshipman, from Dover, going to Oxford on a visit to his relations, stopped at the King and Keys, in Fleet-street, for refreshment, when a fellow-traveler, whom he had supported on the road, attempted to rob him of his box, containing his money and clothes, which was prevented by the waiter; the ungrateful villain unfortunately made his escape”.

Across the road is a closed and boarded Sainsbury’s Local. One of the casualties of the lack of people travelling to work in Fleet Street during the lock-downs.

Fleet Street

On the front of the above building is a plaque recording that it was the site of Bradbury and Evans, Printer and Publisher of Dickens and Thackeray between 1847 and 1900.

Fleet Street

And to the left of the building is a memorial to T.P. O’Connor, Journalist and Parliamentarian 1848 to 1929 – “His pen could lay bare the bones of a book or the soul of a statesman in a few vivid lines”.

Fleet Street

Next to the old Kings and Keys building is the old offices of the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Built for the newspaper in 1928 and now Grade II listed.

Fleet Street

The building is a good example of the power and authority that the newspapers wanted to project when they were still the main source of news, before radio and television had become a mass market source of news.

Next to the Telegraph building is Mersey House, built between 1904 and 1906:

Fleet Street

Mersey House is yet another Grade II listed building, and was the London home of the Liverpool Daily Post (which is probably the source of the Mersey name after the River Mersey). The newspaper cannot have been using all the space in the building as in 1941 they were advertising:

“Do you want a London Office with a Central and Appropriate Address? Accommodation can be had in Mersey House, Fleet Street, E.C. 4 – Apply the Daily Post and Echo, Victoria Street, Liverpool”.

There are substantial stone clad buildings on many of the corners of Fleet Street. This is 130 Fleet Street on the corner with Shoe Lane:

Fleet Street

And a typical bank building on the corner with Salisbury Court. The plaque to the right of the door records that “The Fleet Conduit Stood In This Street Providing Free Water 1388 to 1666”.

Fleet Street

The majority of buildings that line Fleet Street are of stone, however there is one spectacular building of a very different design and using very different materials. The following photo shows the lower floors of the Grade II* listed Daily Express building dating from 1932.

Fleet Street

The above photo shows the limitations of using a fixed lens. impossible to get the whole building in a single photo. These are the upper floors:

Fleet Street

The art deco building was designed by architects H. O. Ellis & Clarke with engineer Sir Owen Williams. The materials used for the building could not be more different than the rest of Fleet Street.

Vitrolite (pigmented, structural glass) along with glass and chromium strips formed the façade of the building, to give the building a very modern, clean and functional appearance at the start of the 1930s.

Four years after completion, the building was used as an example in an article on “Architecture – the way we are going” in Reynolds’s Newspaper to demonstrate the battle of architectural ideas, and the type of design and materials that will be the future of office and industrial buildings

The building can really be appreciated when seen as a complete building, and the following postcard issued as construction was finishing, shows the building in all its glory:

Fleet Street

On the opposite side of the street is the old building of the Reuters news agency, one of the last of the news agencies to leave Fleet Street in 2005. The following photo shows the main entrance to the building and according to Pevsner is recognisable as the work of the architect Sir Edward Lutyens by “the wide, deep entrance niche on the narrower Fleet Street front”. Above the door, in the round window is the bronze figure of Fame.

Fleet Street

View looking down Fleet Street, with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance:

Fleet Street

The following photo is looking back up Fleet Street. in the centre of the road is one of the old police sentry boxes introduced during the early 1990s in response to the IRA bombing campaign in the City of London.

Fleet Street

I have now come to Ludgate Circus, where Fleet Street meets Farringdon Street, and where the old river that gave the street its name once ran.

The clock on Ludgate House:

Fleet Street

That is Fleet Street in 32 exposures, and it proved that my 44 year old camera is still working.

The Canon AE-1 was a joy to use. Taking photographs with a film camera does feel very satisfying. After each photo, the act of pulling the lever to wind the film feels like you have done something a bit more substantial than just the shutter click of a digital camera.

There is a story that Apple used the sound of the shutter on the Canon AE-1 as the sound when taking a photo on an iPhone – it does sound very similar, but I am not convinced.

Black and White photography is good for certain types of photo. It does bring out the texture in building materials, but I still have much to learn to use this type of film for the right type of photo (when using the Canon I mainly used colour film).

The fixed 50mm lens was also a problem with trying to photograph larger buildings in a confined space. In my early years of using the camera I could not afford any additional Canon lens, but did buy compatible Vivitar 28mm and 135mm lens which I need to find.

Fleet Street has such a rich collection of architectural styles, and the legacy that the newspapers have left on the street is still very clear. It is a fascinating street to walk.

alondoninheritance.com

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

I find it fascinating the random bits of information you discover when researching London’s history. Last year I had taken some photos of the cluster of memorials in the centre of Waterloo Place, just north of Pall Mall. They perhaps give the impression of a cluster erected at the same time, commemorating aspects of the Crimean War, however they are from different centuries, parts were very controversial at the time, and in 1915 newspaper reports of an addition to the cluster reported that it included “The First Public Statue of a Woman in London” – other than those of Royalty, such as Queen Ann or Victoria.

It is an interesting statement from 1915. Firstly that even with the Victorian love of statues, there had not been a statue of a woman (apart from the many statues of Queen Victoria), and secondly, that it was an event that newspapers recorded, perhaps an early indication of changing attitudes, however reports were just a statement of fact and there was no further discussion.

Statues often seem to generate polarising views, the latest example being the sculpture by artist Maggi Hambling for Mary Wollstonecraft at Newington Green which was unveiled last year, and those in Waterloo Place were equally controversial at the time. They also signify events and people who were considered important at the time, and views change over time.

The following photo shows the cluster of statues in Waterloo Place, viewed from across Pall Mall, from the southern section of Waterloo Place.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The cluster is facing to the south east, so the best view is after walking up the steps from The Mall and through the lower part of Waterloo Place. Regent Street St James’s is directly behind the group, leading up from the north western side of Waterloo Place towards Piccadilly.

A closer view of the cluster of statues on their island location:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Although the cluster of statues may give the appearance that there were part of a single installation, there were fifty four years between the central monument (1861) and the two statues at the front of the cluster (1915).

The “First Public Statue of a Woman in London” is one of the statues installed in 1915, and I will come to these later in the post.

The central monument is the Guards’ Memorial and was erected in 1861 as a memorial to the 2,162 soldiers of the Brigade of Guards who had lost their lives in the Crimean War. It was the work of the sculptor John Bell, who was also responsible for the 1856 marble Crimean memorial in Woolwich and the “America” group on the base of the Albert memorial.

The current location of the memorial was the third option, after sites in Hyde Park and St James’s Park had been considered.

At the top of the monument is the figure of Honour, standing with outstretched arms.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Below the figure of Honour are three soldiers dressed in full marching uniform representing the Grenadier, Coldstream and Fusilier Guards.

The figures were cast at the Elkington and Co. foundry in Birmingham and they were made from guns taken from Sebastopol in the Crimea. The old guns were broken up at Woolwich, then sent to Birmingham.

One hundred tons of granite was used for the pedestal and surrounds of the monument. The granite came from the Cheesewring quarries in Cornwall.

The Illustrated London News on the 13th April 1861 was very scathing about the new monument:

“The Guards’ memorial as it now stands before us, must be confessed to be an eyesore, and an obstruction of the public view of one of the most agreeable outlooks which our crowded thoroughfares afforded; and suggests the absolute necessity of some provision being made in this ‘testimonial’ age to prevent our streets and squares being blocked up in all directions with unsightly effigies to departed worth, however honourable the sentiments which may lead to their construction.

As a work of art this memorial is almost beneath criticism. It may be said of it with perfect truth that it is unique; nothing like it has ever been seen – nothing else like it, we trust, ever will be seen. It is neither sculpturesque nor architectural, nor jointly both. A heavy, irregular structure of granite is the principal object, filling up a considerable area in the roadway. 

Independently of the hideousness of the granite pile, the arrangement of the figures outrages all accepted rules of artistic treatment, That of ‘Honour’ is the only one which can be seen from all sides, but from her attitude it is obvious that it is only intended to be viewed from the front; its character and vocation being problematical from all other parts, sometimes suggesting the idea to the irreverent multitude of a street acrobat throwing his four rings. The guardsmen can be seen only from the front – not the front facing the public thoroughfare, but that facing the vacant space between the Athenaeum and United Service Clubs, where nobody goes, except on purpose”.

The Illustrated London News article continues in a similar vein for several more paragraphs – they really did not like the new monument. These views were common across many other newspaper reviews of the Guards’ Memorial, for example, from the Illustrated Times on the 4th May 1861:

“Our monuments are unfortunate. In the vacant space between the Athenaeum and the United Service Clubs in Waterloo-place, stands the ‘Guards’ memorial’ and it may be doubted whether anything more incongruous in design can be discovered in the metropolitan streets. The principal figure – if the figure of ‘Honour’ which surmounts the pedestal may be called the principal when the others consist of three massy Guards in their great coats and bearskins – although it may be well proportioned, stands at an attitude at once ungraceful and dubious, while the wreaths which adorn the hands and wrists are held out as though they were a species of circular dumb-bell of considerable weight, and requiring some muscular exertion to extend at the requisite angle.

It is painfully evident, too, that the whole monument is only intended to be seen directly from the front – a fatal mistake in street sculpture, and one which utterly disfigures one thoroughfare for the sake of another,

With respect to the pedestal, it is like nothing in the world, and the palpable ill-combination of sculpture and building (not architecture) has an effect absolutely painful”.

Criticism of the monument was not just limited to the sculpture, plinth and setting, but also how the inscriptions were written. From The Atlas on the 24th November 1860:

“Unfortunately, as though to convince the world how necessary are competitive examinations, the military committee have drawn up inscriptions, in which the laws and maxims of the English language are violated and by which a great scandal has been proclaimed against the heroes of the Crimea. ‘To those who fell by their companions.’ In aiming at the epigrammatic, the author has descended in nebulas infernas. Would it have been too much trouble to have added ‘by the side of’, and thus saved the honour of those to the memory of whose glorious achievements this monument forms a cruel though unintentional charge?”

There were even questions in the House of Commons regarding the text on the memorial:

“Mr JAMES asked the First Commissioner of Works what was the meaning of the figures inscribed on the Guards’ memorial in Pall-mall, which seemed to mix together the masculine and neuter gender.

Mr COWPER sad the inscriptions were temporary, and could be removed. Perhaps the remarks of the hon. gentleman would be useful to the gentleman who had charge of that monument”.

Those responsible for all aspects of the Guards’ memorial must have been thoroughly depressed after reading all the newspaper reviews which seem to have been highly critical of all aspects of the new memorial – design, architecture, construction, location and inscriptions.

Many of the criticisms regarding the location of the monument were about the direction that the main figures of the monument were facing. The longer approach to Waterloo Place is along Regent Street St James from Piccadilly, and this approach road offers a view down to the location of the monument, however it is the rear of the monument we see from this approach.

The following photo is a view of the rear of the monument. Colours look a bit weird as the sun behind the monument caused the detail to be too dark so some extreme processing was needed.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The plaque on the rear of the monument  states “To the memory of 2162 Officers, Non-Com Officers and Privates of the Brigade of Guards who fell during the war with Russia in 1854, 5, 6. Erected by their comrades”.

The side panels on the monument are shields recording the names of battles at Alma, Inkerman and Sebastopol.

Plaque recording how the monument was funded (which strangely states that it was erected in 1867 despite all newspaper reports of the Guards’ memorial being in 1861):

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

This is the view from alongside the monument, looking up along Regent Street St James towards Piccadilly, and illustrates why those writing when the monument was completed in 1861 claimed that it was facing the wrong way as when travelling down this street, you would see the rear of the monument.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Base of lamp post, installed at the same time as the Guards’ memorial.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

After unveiling in 1861, the Guards’ memorial stood in Waterloo Place alongside Pall Mall, exactly as designed by John Bell, however changes were to come and in 1914, the Guards’ memorial was pulled down and re-erected 30 feet north of its original position, to allow the installation of two new statues.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The change in position can be clearly seen in these before and after Ordnance Survey maps (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Which means that we can finally come to one of the two new statues that was described in the newspapers of 1915 as the “First Public Statue of a Woman in London” – the statue of Florence Nightingale:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Florence Nightingale came to public prominence with her work in the Crimea and at the military hospital at Scutari. The conditions for wounded soldiers taken to military hospitals were appalling and more died of disease than on the battlefield.

Her work, along with the rest of her team of nurses in the Crimea would greatly improve conditions for wounded soldiers, and she is credited with turning nursing into a profession, and following her return from the Crimea published “Notes on Nursing” in 1859, and was instrumental in promoting the training of nurses and the better design of hospitals for the rest of her life.

The proposal for a statue of Florence Nightingale was made at a public meeting in the Mansion House in March 1911. At the same meeting it was also proposed to create a fund that would give annuities to trained nurses who had been unable to provide for old age or infirmity. A total of £4,000 was provided for the creation of a Trained Nurses Fund and six nurses were immediately identified as needing help.

The funds were mainly raised by many small donations from nurses, soldiers and sailors.

The panel on the front of the pedestal shows Florence Nightingale standing at the doorway to a hospital as wounded soldiers arrive.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The new statues were unveiled with very little ceremony. On a chilly February morning in 1915, two workmen put a ladder up against the statue to pull of the covers:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Newspaper reports of the Florence Nightingale statue were much more appreciative than those of the original Guards’ memorial. A typical syndicated newspaper report from the 24th February 1915 read:

“A NATION’S GRATITUDE – BRITAIN PAYS HONOUR TO FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE. Without ceremony the statue raised to the memory of Florence Nightingale will today be privately unveiled. The event is of special interest at a time when the sailors and soldiers, fighting for the country’s very existence, are reaping the fruit of the great work set on foot by Florence Nightingale. The statue has been erected in Waterloo Place, London, by the side of Foley’s statue of Sidney Herbert, with the Crimean Guards’ memorial a few yards in the rear, the whole forming an interesting and imposing group.

It was the suggestion of Lord Knutsford that Florence Nightingale’s statue should be placed alongside that of the man through whose instrumentality she undertook her great Crimean mission and by whom she was supported, and that two figures prominently associated with the Crimean War should be brought into close proximity to the Guards’ memorial”

There were however some negative comments about the low-key way in which the statue was revealed. A typical letter is from a Mary E. Pendered in the paper “Common Cause” (a weekly paper that supported the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies):

“MADAM – I was truly astonished to see your acquiescence in the insult to Florence Nightingale, for it was surely an insult to that great woman to let her statue be unveiled at 7.30 a.m. by a workman; and not only to her, but to all the nursing profession which she founded, if not to womanhood in general. There could have been no better time to raise as demonstration of the national homage to one who served her country so splendidly than the present, when our nurses are so valiantly doing their duty at the front, and are acknowledged by all the world as a valuable part of the army’s organisation. It is amazing and it is enraging to find that such an opportunity as this should have been missed”.

Inspecting the new statues in April 1915, a couple of months after they were unveiled:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The second statue unveiled early the same morning in February 1915 was the one on the right in the above photo, a statue of Sidney Herbert:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Sidney Herbert, or 1st Baron Herbert of Lea was the Secretary of State for War during the Crimean War.

He had known Florence Nightingale when along with his wife Elizabeth, they had met in 1848 whilst travelling in Italy. Elizabeth Herbert was one of the governors of the Establishment for Gentlewomen During Illness where Florence Nightingale had her first professional nursing job.

Following growing public anger at the conditions of military hospitals in the Crimea, Sidney Herbert commissioned Florence Nightingale to go out to the Crimea and lead nursing efforts.

Herbert’s statue was originally installed in front of the War Office in Pall Mall, however following the demolition of the building, it was relocated to stand adjacent to that of Florence Nightingale within the overall Crimea memorial cluster.

The plaque on the plinth of Sidney Herbert’s statue again shows an image of Florence Nightingale standing in the door of a hospital watching over wounded soldiers.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The claim that this was the first public statue of a woman in London was made in numerous newspaper reports in 1915 (apart from Royalty), the reports were not syndicated (an early version of cut and paste the same report into different newspapers), so many different papers made the same statement in their own words.

After this post was published, I received a comment from Joanna Moncrieff of Westminster Walks that the first was actually a statue to Sarah Siddons at Paddington Green, and that her statue was unveiled in 1897, which would put it 18 years earlier than Florence Nightingales statue.

No idea why the 1915 papers made the claim regarding Florence Nightingale’s statue. Perhaps they were unaware of the Siddons statue, or perhaps they considered Paddington Green as outside central London, the City to Westminster area.

One hundred and three years later, it is still unfortunately a headline when a similar event occurs and in 2018 a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett was unveiled as the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square.

I photographed the statue with the continuous flow of people wanting to see and photograph the statue soon after unveiling.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

In a link between Florence Nightingale and Millicent Fawcett, the statue of Florence Nightingale was a focal point for the suffragist movement. In May 1915, the suffragist newspaper Votes for Women included the following article:

“Wednesday in this week being the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday, an interesting little ceremony, arranged by the Women’s Freedom League, will take place that afternoon after we go to press. Some ten or twelve Suffrage Societies are sending representatives, including Mrs Ayton Gould from the United Suffragists, to lay wreaths on the newly-unveiled Florence Nightingale statue in Waterloo Place.

Owing to the somewhat incomprehensible opposition of the authorities to any demonstration in memory of a woman whose name should be revered in every British family just now (which led to the secret unveiling of her statue by a workman at 6 a.m. on a wet winter’s morning), no speeches or procession will be allowed.

But perhaps this silent tribute to her memory will not be out of keeping with what we know of this great woman’s hatred of publicity; and the speeches will be made afterwards in the Essex Hall at 8 p.m. where a meeting will be held, also under the auspices of the W.F.L, who are to be congratulated on having arranged this commemoration as so appropriate a moment in our history”.

If you are ever in Waterloo Place, take a look at the Crimea memorial complex, and consider the difficulties in designing a monument and getting the location right, along with the sacrifices of those who died in the Crimean War.

Also appreciate that after Sarah Siddons, you are looking at what should have been reported in the papers of 1915 as the “Second Public Statue of a Woman in London” – unless you know any others?

alondoninheritance.com