Monthly Archives: September 2021

On the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street

For this week’s post, I am in Cheapside in 1986, looking across to the shop of Shirt Makers L&R Wooderson, on the corner of Wood Street:

Wooderson

Thirty five years later and the building is still there, however L&R Wooderson have now been replaced by a card shop, Cards Galore:

Wooderson

A wider view, showing Wood Street leading off Cheapside to the right:

Wooderson

The location is shown in the map below, by the red circle. For reference, part of St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen to the left  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Cheapside

There is much to discover in this small, corner plot of land, part of which has a large tree which towers over the top of the shop, and can just be seen in the above photos.

The tree has been a significant landmark on Cheapside for very many years, and it was mentioned frequently in newspapers throughout the 19th century, for example in the following from the London Sun, when on the 1st April 1846 the paper reported:

“A ROOKERY IN CHEAPSIDE AND A CHERRY TREE ON LONDON BRIDGE – It is a singular fact that at the present times there are two crows’ nests on a lofty tree at the corner of Wood street, Cheapside; the birds are mated. One day last week, a furious fight took place between the four of them, which ended in the partial demolition of one of the nests. The damage has been since repaired. On the City end of London bridge a cherry tree, growing from one of the chinks in the granite, is now putting forth leaves. It is almost three years old.”

The tree appears to have been under threat in 1881, when multiple newspapers carried the following report:

THE CHEAPSIDE TREE – A flagrant act of arboricide is about to be perpetuated of malice aforethought and in open day. If there is one tree in London the position of which, apart from all personal charms and apart from the rest due to venerable age, deserves to be saved from the innovating axe, it is ‘the Cheapside tree’. For generations its pretty group of foliage has peeped out as a surprise and contrast to the surrounding masses of stone and brick. It has been a standing emblem to thousands of fagged and dust-stained city clerks of their annual fortnight holiday. It is blessed amongst trees. A tree of the street is infinitely more precious than ‘a tree of the field’. But it is doomed, and bad luck to the ruthless contractor or avaricious land-jobber by whose instigation the Cheapside tree is to be laid low.”

The tree did survive, no doubt helped by the number of references to the possible destruction of the tree in newspapers using such graphical descriptions as in the above report.

The tree was also used in adverts and references to shops and businesses in the immediate vicinity of the tree, adding the tree to their location to help potential customers find their business. L&R Wooderson were also using the tree as a reference in the 1986 photo, as shown by the following extract from the photo of the shop door:

Wooderson

The term “Under the Tree” was used by a number of businesses operating in the terrace of buildings of which L&R Wooderson is part, for example:

  • Illustrated London News: 13th August 1853 – Rowe’s 25,000 Cab-Fares to and from all the Railways, Public Buildings, &c in London. Samuel Row, Under the Tree, Cheapside
  • Kentish Mercury: 31st January 1890 – The Express Dairy Company’s new branch at 130, Wood Street, Under the Tree, Cheapside is now Open for Business
  • The Bystander: 2nd August 1905 – For Gentlemen, the H.W. Velvet Grip Boston Garter. The Acme of Comfort, the Height of Perfection. L&R Wooderson, Under the Tree, 122/4, Cheapside, E.C.

It is difficult to determine the age of the tree. It is a London Plane tree, and the Woodland Trust define the tree as a cross between the Oriental plane and the American sycamore. They also state that the tree was first noticed in London in the mid 17th century, and that planting across London started in the late 18th century, so the tree probably dates from at least the late 1700s and must be around 250 years old.

A view of the tree from Wood Street, looking back towards Cheapside shows the impressive height and spread of the tree:

Wood Street

The tree also featured in the following photo from the book Wonderful London by St John Adcock, from the first decades of the 20th century:

Wooderson

The shop of L&R Wooderson is also in the above photo, looking much the same as it would many years later in 1986. Friday Street, and the plaque on the right of the above photo will be the subject of a future post.

The first written reference I can find to L&R Wooderson is an advert in the Daily Telegraph and Courier on the 27th September 1899 for:

“HOSIERS – Improver WANTED – apply personally or by letter, L.R. Wooderson, 45, Eastcheap, E.C.”

However whilst the name is correct, in 1899 their address was at the eastern end of Eastcheap, towards Great Tower Street. The 1895 Post Office Directory confirms their original Eastcheap address and gives their full names as Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson.

This is where researching these posts always leads me down different routes, as having their full names, I wanted to know a bit more about them.

Searching the census records resulted in a bit of a mystery. The 1881 census records Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson living at 47 Lester Square, St Anne Soho (the parish).

I am not aware that there was a Lester Square, or that Leicester Square was originally called Lester Square, and could not believe there was an error in the census data. Reading through the census entries for 1881 there is also a St John’s Hospital at 45 Lester Square. There was indeed a St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin at number 45 Leicester Square from 1865 to 1867, which confirmed that the spelling of the square was wrong in the 1881 census.

In 1881, Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson were part of a large family at number 47 Leicester Square, which consisted of:

Cheapside

Llewellyn and Robert were aged 8 and 6 in 1881, and whilst the rest of the children were born in London, Robert is recorded as being born in Canada.

Their father, Henry Wooderson is listed as a Fruit Salesman, as is the eldest of the sons, also a Henry, however although son Henry has the same first name as his listed father, he cannot have been his biological father.

There is a 12 year age difference between Henry (28) and his wife Sarah (40), and if Henry had fathered the younger Henry, he would have been 11 at the time, so possibly Henry, George and Edwin are the sons of a previous marriage of Sarah’s with Llewellyn and Robert possibly being Henry’s biological sons.

The two Henry’s worked in Covent Garden market as a Henry Wooderson & Sons is listed in the 1913 book “Covent Garden, Its Romance and History” by Reginald Jacobs. The younger son George may well have gone into the same business as a George Wooderson is listed as having a shop in the north row of shops at Covent Garden.

By the 1891 census, the father Henry could possibly have died as there is no mention of him in the census. The eldest son Henry was now married to Harriet and they were living in Tavistock Street. Llewellyn who was now 18 and Robert, 16, were living with them. By 1891 they had started in the profession that would result in their shop in Cheapside as their were both listed as Hosiers Assistant, and not long after they would open their first shop in Eastcheap.

By 1901, Llewellyn had joined the commuting class having moved out to Somerset Road in Reigate, to a terrace house which is still there. Married to Alice, and with two sons Llewellyn (2) and Malcolm (0). The business must have been doing reasonably well as also living in the house was a domestic servant

In the 1911 census, Robert Wooderson was married to Nellie Geraldine and had two sons. In the 1881 census, Robert was listed as being born in Canada, however the 1911 census adds the city of Toronto. It would be fascinating to understand why, of all the family members, only Robert was born in Canada, and what his mother was doing in the country at the time.

Also in 1911, Robert was listed as a Gentlemens Hosier, and he was living along with his family in Lessar Avenue, Clapham. His house is still in the street.

By the 1939 Register, Robert had moved to Atkins Road, Wandsworth, and his son Thomas was aged 40, single and listed as a Master Hosier so had probably joined the family business in Cheapside. Robert would die in 1957.

I cannot find any reference to Llewellyn’s later life.

They also seem to have had the two shops, the original on Eastcheap, and the shop featured in the photos at the start of the post on the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street. It would have been fascinating to try and find out more about their life, however I am always constrained by time within the scope of a weekly post.

Behind the old L&R Wooderson shop, and where the tree is located is a small patch of open ground facing Wood Street:

Cheapside

This was the churchyard of the church of St Peter West Cheape. The churchyard can be seen in the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map, on the left, above the “C” of Cheapside:

Cheapside

In the above map of 1746, a row of buildings is shown between the churchyard and Cheapside, following the line of buildings that we see today, however in the earlier 1682 map by William Morgan, the churchyard (above the E and A of Cheap) is an open space up to the edge of Cheapside:

Cheapside

The appearance of the buildings, of which L&R Wooderson was a part, gives the impression of being of some age, however there is no (that I can find) confirmed dating of the terrace, however they do follow the alignment shown in the 1746 map, so they do follow the property boundaries of the post Great Fire rebuild.

The church that once occupied the space, along with its churchyard, was one of the churches lost in the 1666 Great Fire, and not rebuilt.

In the book “London Churches Before The Great Fire” by Wilberforce Jenkins (1917), the old church was described:

“The ‘Church of St Peter, West Chepe, stood on the corner of Wood Street, Cheapside, and was not rebuilt after the Fire. The well-known tree in Cheapside marks the spot, and a small piece of the churchyard remains. It was sometimes called St Peter-at-Cross, being opposite the famous Cross which stood in the middle of the street, and was at one time an object of pride and veneration, and at a later period the object of execration and many riots, until pulled down and burnt by the mob. The date of the ancient church is uncertain, but there would appear to be a reference to it in 1231. In the ‘Liber Albus’, one Geoffrey Russel is mentioned as having been present when a certain Ralph Wryvefuntaines was stabbed in the churchyard of St Paul’s and being afraid of being accused, fled for sanctuary to the Church of St Peter.

Thomas Wood, goldsmith and sheriff, is credited with having, in 1491, restored or rebuilt the roof of the middle aisle, the structure being supported by figures of woodmen. Hence, so tradition says, came the name of the street, Wood Street.”

The “famous Cross” mentioned in the above extract was one the crosses erected by Edward I in 1290 on the corner of Wood Street, to mark the resting places of Queen Eleanor’s coffin on its way from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey.

The cross was a large structure and was decorated with religious iconography including images of the Pope and the Virgin. From the mid 16th century onwards, the cross was the subject of attack by puritans who objected to the religious symbols on the cross.

On the 2nd of May, 1643, the cross was demolished, which was illustrated in the following print produced by Wenceslaus Hollar in the same year (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cheapside

The illustration at the bottom of the print shows the “Booke of Sportes upon the Lords Day” being burnt on the site of the cross.

The Book of Sports was a book first published in 1617 during the reign of James I to define what sports were allowed on a Sunday. Initially only covering Lancashire to try and resolve a dispute between Puritans and mainly Catholic gentry, the guidance within the book was applied across the whole country in the following year.

Republished by Charles I, the book was a constant problem for Puritans who considered any playing of sport on a Sunday against their religious principles. As the influence of Puritanism grew in the lead up to the English Civil War, Parliament ordered that the book be publically burnt, one of the burnings was on the site of the cross, on the 10th May 1643.

The old churchyard of St Peter, West Chepe is now a small open space with a small number of gravestones. In the following photo, the brick rear of the building on Cheapside, including the old shop of L&R Wooderson is shown on the left:

Cheapside

Some of the graves are from the early 19th century showing that while the church was not rebuilt after the Great Fire, the churchyard continued in use.

Side gate between the buildings facing Cheapside and the graveyard:

Cheapside

On the railings facing onto Wood Street is an image of St Peter, along with the cross keys frequently shown with St Peter as the “keys to heaven”.

Cheapside

And on the rear of the image of St Peter, is the date 1712 and the names of the churchwardens, which appears to date the railing to 1712:

Cheapside

I would have liked to have had the time to find out more about the Wooderson family. For how long the family was involved with the shop and when it finally closed. Cards Galore who currently occupy the shop seem to have been expanding during the 1990s, however I cannot find their Cheapside shop listed during this decade, so perhaps it was in the 2000’s that L&R Wooderson finally closed.

This has been an incredibly interesting corner of Cheapside, tracing the family of the shop, a church destroyed during the Great Fire and the Cheapside Cross destroyed in the years leading up to the English Civil war, however as usual, I am just scratching the surface.

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Bagnigge Wells, House and Gardens

Although today there is very little of it to see, water has shaped much of London. The alignment of streets, property boundaries, rise and fall of the land have all been shaped by water. Whilst these are all subtle indicators of the historic presence of water there are still a number of more visible signs that hint at an areas history, and one of these is on a building on the western side of King’s Cross Road.

Bagnigge Wells

The sign reads “This is Bagnigge House Neare the Pinder A Wakefeilde 1680”.

The Pinder of Wakefield was a pub that dated back to the early 16th century in Gray’s Inn Road. A pub with the same name was on the same site until 1986, when the building was purchased by the “The Grand Order of Water Rats” charity, renamed the Water Rats, and is now a performance venue.

Bagnigge House and the Wells that were found in the gardens of the house are the subject of today’s post.

The house in King’s Cross Road with the Bagnigge House sign:

Bagnigge Wells

The location of the Bagnigge House stone, along King’s Cross Road is shown by the red circle in the following map  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Bagnigge Wells

The red rectangle highlights the area covered in the post.

If you look to the left side of the red box, you will see Cubitt Street, a street which unlike the rest of the streets in the area, does not follow a straight line and is curved around an area of land between Cubitt Street and King’s Cross Road.

To the left of Cubitt Street, the map shows the light blue line of the old River Fleet. I have double checked with my go to reference for London’s old rivers; “The Lost Rivers of London” by Nicholas Barton and Stephen Myers, and the routing of the Fleet shown in the above map is roughly right.

Before the streets and buildings of London had extended this far north, this was an area of fields and agriculture. The River Fleet ran through the fields, the area was low lying and rather wet, especially after heavy rains when the Fleet would have flooded.

Rocque’s map of 1746 provides a view of the area in the middle of the 18th century. Fields cover the majority of the area, but in the upper centre of the map there are buildings and formal gardens bounded by the River Fleet and a street named Black Mary’s Hole.

Bagnigge Wells

The street to the left labelled “Road to Hampstead and Highgate” is today, Grays Inn Road.

Black Mary’s Hole is now King’s Cross Road. There are various interpretations of the name, but the majority of sources refer to a black woman called Mary, who sold water in the vicinity from a well or fountain.

As well as the Fleet, the Rocque map extract also shows the irregular shape of a number of ponds, confirming that this was an area where there was plenty of water.

By 1816, streets and buildings had started to reach the area, and the following extract from the 1816 edition of Smith’s New Plan of London shows the area between the Fleet and King’s Cross Road (in the centre of the map) now labelled Bagnigge Wells.

Bagnigge Wells

To the right of the map is New River Head and on the edge of the map, Sadler’s Wells, further illustrating how water has shaped the area.

Turning off King’s Cross Road into the side streets, and we can get a view of the drop in height down to King’s Cross Road and the rise in height on the opposite side. An indication of the river valley of the Fleet.

The following view is looking down Great Percy Street from Percy Circus, with the rise of Acton Street across the junction. The River Fleet would have run from right to left along the lowest part of the view.

River Fleet

The area of land shown in the Roque map between the Fleet and Black Mary’s Hole appears to have been enclosed at some point in the second half of the 17th century. The land was to the east of a field called Action Field that occupied the area west to what is now Gray’s Inn Road. The name of the field is preserved in the present day Acton Street.

When a Thomas Hughes purchased the land in 1757, he had the waters from a well that was already in use, tested by a Doctor John Bevis, who reported that the water from the well had chalybeate properties (in the context of water, the name chalybeate means that the water contains iron, see also my post on the Chalybeate Well in Hampstead).

To capitalise on these findings, Thomas Hughes opened the gardens and the well to the public in 1759. This was the period when there were many pleasure gardens opening up around the City. Outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, in places such as along the south bank of the Thames, in Islington, and in Bagnigge Wells.

They provided a pleasant place to visit, away from the smoke, dirt and noise of the City. St. Chad’s Well was another well a short distance away from Bagnigge Wells that had gardens and a pump house where customers could drink the water. I have written about St. Chad’s Well here.

The gardens around the well were attractively laid out, entertainment, food and drink was also provided to customers, both to attract customers to the gardens as well as for profit.

Bagnigge Wells seems to have been a success as some of the land on the opposite side of the River Fleet was purchased to expand the gardens.

A print from 1843 appears to show the stone that is now in King’s Cross Road above the garden entrance (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Bagnigge Wells

The inscription on the stone in my photo at the top of the post has the date 1680. In the print above it could be 1689, so either an error, or a later updating of the inscription over the years has changed the original date on the stone.

The date does pre-date the time when the gardens and well were part of the pleasure gardens so the house referred to must have been one of the earliest houses on the land.

Although the caption to the following print does state “The Original Garden Entrance To Bagnigge Wells, Established in 1680”, the gardens and wells were not a public gardens at that time (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

River Fleet

Presumably, the view is looking north with the garden entrance on the left and Bagnigge House behind the trees on the right.

The river running along the middle of the print must therefore be the River Fleet, which looks rather serene and calm, however it was not always so, and heavy rains around the source of the river in Hampstead could quickly result in the river flooding as the following article from the Derby Mercury on the 9th September 1768 reports:

“And about One o’clock yesterday morning the water came down in such torrents from Hampstead that the road and flat fields about Bagnigge Wells were overflown; the water rose eight feet perpendicular above the usual height of the drain, and was nearly four feet above the foot bridge at that house; the Pleasure-garden, cellars, and Out-houses belonging thereto were overflown, and several of the Pales broke down by the Violence of the stream. Great damage was done to Mr Harrison’s Tile-kiln near the said Wells, where three young men were sleeping in an Out house and were surprised by the Flood, and two of them drowned. The house of Dr. Sharpe, near Bagnigge Wells, was four feet deep in water, and a man and woman behind the House narrowly escaped being drowned.”

The article mentions Mr. Harrison’s Tile-kiln and if you refer back to the extract from Smith’s New Plan of London, you can see the tile-kilns just to the north east of Bagnigge Wells.

The rain was probably caused by the brief, very heavy showers we have also seen in London recently which cause a flash flood. Today, this volume of water falling in north London would now be carried by the same sewer in which the old River Fleet in now buried.

The following print is from 1777, eleven years after the floods in the above article and shows the buildings at Bagnigge Wells, with the entrance to the gardens on the left (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

Today, roughly where the River Fleet once ran, is Cubitt Street (originally Arthur Street). This is the street that curves slightly to the west of King’s Cross Road and is where the River Fleet formed the original western boundary to Bagnigge Wells as shown in Rocque’s map of 1746,

The view south along Cubitt Street:

Cubitt Street

And the view north along Cubitt Street:

Cubitt Street

In the above view, the River Fleet would have run roughly along the line of the street. Bagngge Wells was originally to the right, and following the commercial success of the gardens, expanded to include the left of the photo, with wooden bridges providing access between the two sections of the gardens.

Seats were arranged along the River Fleet for those who wanted to smoke or drink ale or cider. Tea, cake and hot buttered rolls were served, and concerts were held in the main room of the house. A small temple shaped building was created to house the wells from which water was taken and sold.

London’s pleasure gardens and their visitors were often the subject of satirical prints. The following print from 1781 shows “Mr. Deputy Dumpling and Family enjoying a Summer Afternoon” at the entrance to the gardens at Bagnigge Wells (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

18th century pleasure gardens were intended to be peaceful places in London’s countryside, away from the noise and dirt of the City. Where people could spend an afternoon or evening, being entertained, or just drinking and eating and seeing and being seen by others at the gardens, however they were not always places of peace.

in May, 1784, Bagnigge Wells was the scene of some violence between two opposing political groupings, as documented in the following newspaper report:

“Yesterday evening the gardens at Bagnigge Wells exhibited a strange scene of riot and confusion. How the affair began is not easy to be determined, but, at the same moment, several hundreds of Stentorian lungs vociferated the cry of ‘Hood and Wray’ and these were answered by the exclamation of ‘Fox for ever’. Intoxicated with liquor and politics those who were for Hood and Wray boxed with the friends of the Coalition and Fox, and many on both sides were knocked down with the canes and sticks of their adversaries. So sudden a disarrangement of the tea-table apparatus was perhaps never before seen and innumerable fragments of china shone on every walk, and served to give issues to the inflamed blood of the fallen and sprawling heroes. Those peace officers were sent for, the tumult was not appeased for near two hours and a half. Three men, who had been active in fomenting the disturbance, were taken into custody and were soon rescued”.

The same newspaper also reported on a “violent fracas” between the same two opposing groups in the Piazzas, Covent Garden.

Wray was Sir Cecil Wray who was a member of Parliament but was highly critical of proposals to raise taxes by a “receipts tax” which he claimed would fall “on the middling ranks of people and very partially and unequally laid”. Wray preferred a land tax, which in his view had always been too low in the country, but was opposed by the land owning classes (some things do not change).

He also presented a petition that had been drawn up by the Quakers calling for the abolition of slavery, which he called “an infamous traffic that disgraced humanity”.

The MP Charles James Fox put forward the East India bill which proposed nationalising the troubled East India Company, and Wray was strongly opposed to such an action.

At the general election Wray and Lord Hood stood against Fox with Wray standing as an Administrative candidate in Fox’s Westminster constituency. It was a violent election period as indicated by the trouble at Bagnigge Wells, however Fox won and Wray then appears to have abandoned any plans to try and get back into Parliament. He was described as being “one of the most upright, one of the most virtuous, one of the most honourable and independent men” in Parliament.

Up until the end of the 18th century, Bagnigge Wells continued to be a fashionable place to visit, however its days were numbered as the buildings and streets of London started to surround the gardens.

Less desirable and the “lower class of tradesmen” were now to be found in the gardens, and there was petty crime and prostitution, as illustrated by the following print from 1799 titled “The Road To Ruin”, where a young man, possibly an apprentice, in poor fitting clothes, stands between two prostitutes who appear to be berating him (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

In 1813, the manager of the gardens went bankrupt, they reopened somewhat reduced the following year and attempts to rejuvenate the place by building a concert hall in 1831 led to nothing as the customers of the concert hall were described as being of the “disreputable sorts”. The concert hall closed in 1841 and what was left of Bagnigge Wells was built on.

With the River Fleet now buried in a sewer, there are today no signs above the surface of the waters that once made this area an attractive place to visit, away from the noise and dirt of central London.

I have photographed the plaque before, however there was a bus stop directly in front which made the plaque rather difficult to photograph. The following photo is from about 18 months ago and shows the bus stop in its original position.

Bagnigge Wells

If you refer back to the second photo from the top of this post you can see that the bus stop has now been moved to the right. No idea why this has been done, but it does make the plaque easier to see, which is to the good, as it is the only reminder of Bagnigge House, the Well and Gardens now to be found in the area.

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