In the nine years I have been writing the blog, I have not really touched south London. There have been visits to Greenwich, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey and lots of posts along the south bank of the river, but nothing further inland. This is a massive omission that hopefully I can start to correct this year, starting with a visit to Peckham, where in 1986, my father photographed Macs Pie and Mash shop:
Macs Pie and Mash was in Blenheim Grove, which leads west from Rye Lane, right next to Peckham Rye train station.
I cannot find the date when Macs Pie and Mash shop closed, however the building is still there, with the distinctive decoration of horizontal bars on the corner. The building is also undergoing some serious refurbishment.
Before the current works on the building, the location of Macs was occupied by a hair and beauty saloon, so the closure of Macs is not recent.
As well as the closing date of Macs Pie and Mash, I cannot find out when it opened, or anything else about the business, or whether Mac was the name of the owner.
The business occupied 8 – 10 Blenheim Grove. There was a barbers in number 10 in 1959 as the South London Observer carried a report of a break-in, with £60 pounds of razors and equipment being stolen – but that seems to be the only time that the building appeared in the local newspapers
Looking at the building from across Rye Lane, and a rather large, glass paneled extension has been built on the roof.
The planning application stated that the work will consist of “refurbishment and erection of a two storey extension to the building at 2-10 Blenheim Grove / 82 Rye Lane, to provide A1 (retail), A2 (financial and professional), A3 (restaurant / cafe), A5 (hot food takeaway), B1a (offices) and D1 (non-residential institution)”, so almost everything apart from residential, which makes sense as facing onto Rye Lane, if residential, the properties would be looking onto a 24 hour environment, with plenty of noise.
The railway and Peckham Rye station is behind the two buildings in the above photo, and between the two, there is an alley that leads to the station. After the two buildings in Blenheim Grove, we can get a view of the station, up on the top of a brick viaduct:
With many of the arches hosting the type of business that can found in railway arches across London:
The art deco building where Macs Pie and Mash shop was located, was built between 1935 and 1936, when a whole series of buildings around the station were constructed by Southern Railway.
Peckham Rye station was built in 1865, originally for trains of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, with trains of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway using the station from the following year.
The original station buildings were impressive. They were design by Charles Henry Driver, and were set back from Rye Lane allowing a large open space between the station entrance and Rye Lane, with the opportunity to view the whole facade of the station building, with three main floors and a large upper roof.
The station sat between two brick viaducts which carried the rail tracks and platforms either side of the station.
As well as the building in Blenheim Grove, between 1935 and 1936 Southern Railways also built on the open space between the station and Rye Lane, with a shop lined arcade providing access from Rye Lane to station. This work also included a building on the northern side of the station and rail tracks, so by the end of 1936, the old station was completely surrounded and could not really be seen from the local streets.
The station facade is therefore really difficult to photograph as there is only a small space in front of the building, with alleys running to left and right, and straight ahead through the acarde to Rye Lane.
To add to the complications of taking a photo of the station during my visit was that it was completely surrounded by scaffolding and plastic sheeting:
I found a photo of the station entrance taken before the scaffolding and sheeting appeared:
It really is a lovely building and a shame to be hidden away and invisible from Rye Lane, but hopefully that will change.
The following photo is looking from the very small station forecourt through to Rye Lane:
There seems to be a plan to demolish the buildings and arcade in front of the station and open up the space to Rye Lane, with the space being available for market stalls and other temporary events. There does not seem to be any evidence of work underway at the moment, however within the arcade leading to Rye Lane, there is a TSB Bank on one side (still open), and the shops / cafes on the other side appear to have been closed for some time:
There is a fruit and vegetable stall open at the end of the arcade:
The following photo shows the 1930s building at the end of the arcade. A similar style to the building in Blenheim Grove. According to the plan to open up Peckham Rye station, these buildings will be demolished leaving a large open space between Rye Lane and the station.
Two of the shops to the left of the arcade entrance:
The buildings between station and Rye Lane are in a very poor condition. They could be refurbished to the standard of the building in Blenheim Grove, but opening up the space to show the station as it was originally meant to be seen would be a far better alternative.
The following map shows the locations of Macs Pie and Mash shop, the station, and the buildings in front of the station shown in the above photos that are planned for demolition.
There is an image of what the open space and view to the station will look like when the project is complete on the Network Rail website here.
Back to Macs Pie and Mash shop. Perhaps better known as an east London establishment, in reality pie and mash shops were once common across much of London.
As can be seen in the windows of Macs Pie and Mash shop, as well as pie and mash, eels were also available.
Eels were once a common and cheap food source for Londoners. Readily available from the Thames and along the estuary, they were sold to be eaten on their own, or within a pie, although pies usually had some form of cheap meat filling and now mainly come with a minced beef filling. The “liquor” that comes with pie and mash is a form of parsley sauce with shops having their own version.
Pie and Mash shops were popular across the streets of London from the mid to late 19th century onwards.
There is still a pie and mash shop not far from the old location of Macs Pie and Mash shop. To find the shop, I walked north along Rye Lane to the junction with Peckham High Street and across the junction with Peckham Hill Street is the Eel and Pie House of M. Manze:
The M.Manze shop is named after Michele Manze, the Italian founder of what grew to be a chain of five shops bearing the M. Manze name (his brothers also opened shops with the Manze surname).
Today, only three M. Manze shops survive, the one at Peckham High Street and a shop on Tower bridge Road, along with a shop in Sutton, which opened in 1998.
The shop in Peckham was almost lost when it was burnt down in 1985 during the Peckham riots. After a long legal battle, the shop finally reopened in 1990, and is still serving pie and mash to the residents of Peckham.
On the strip of negatives that include Macs Pie and Mash shop, there was also the following photo before another Peckham photo, so I know it was taken somewhere in Peckham.
I had a walk around, trying to find the location, but without any luck.
The sign for Lou’s Cafe looks of a similar style to Macs shop, so I did hope they were close together. The car has a sticker for a radio station on 261 metres, which I think was where LBC was broadcasting at the time.
Peckham has a really distinctive character which I plan to explore more over the coming months, along with a number of other south London locations. The redevelopment around Peckham Rye station looks good, but there is always a concern that development results in a gradual loss of the people, shops and buildings that give a place its unique character.
And on the subject of redevelopment (and a completely different location) – approvals of the MSG Sphere in Stratford seem to be getting closer. The Sphere (see here for details of the Sphere) is planned to be covered in LED light panels, and the London Legacy Development Corporation have already granted permission for adverts to be shown across the building using the lighting system.
Although large, bright advertising has long been a feature of a number of London locations such as Piccadilly Circus, there seem to be more sites being built almost with advertising as the sole focus.
Although much smaller than the planned MSG Sphere, the recently opened Now Building is at the northern end of Charing Cross Road, facing one of the entrances to Tottenham Court Road underground station. The sides of the building are covered in really bright advertising:
Advertising which you just cannot miss and which bath the surrounding area in light:
The ground floor of the building includes some genuinely impressive light displays:
Which attracts a constant stream of visitors:
View looking up at the ceiling of the Now building:
Plans for the MSG Sphere are now with the Mayor of London for approval, and it remains to be seen whether he will approve a vast dome covered in LED panels and advertising.
The displays at the Now Building are technically impressive, however it is a concern as to how much of this impossible to miss, incredibly bright advertising proliferates across London.
Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws – two totally unconnected subjects, but there is a tentative connection to the Corn Laws not far from Mornington Crescent underground station which I will get to at the end of today’s post.
The name Mornington Crescent may bring little recognition, apart from a Camden station on the Northern Line, or the name may be instantly familiar from the BBC radio comedy “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” where it is the name of an invented game which requires the naming of a random set of locations to finally get to Mornington Crescent.
The entrance to Mornington Crescent station on Hampstead Road:
Mornington Crescent station was built as part of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, and opened on the 22nd of June 1907. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs with the exterior walls covered in red oxblood faience tiles. The station is now on the Northern Line.
The station takes its name from the nearby street of the same name, a street that was once prominent, but is now hidden away behind a rather glorious 1920s factory.
Mornington Crescent (the street, not the station) is the curved, crescent shaped street that starts to the left of the station, curves around a large grey block and then rejoins Hampstead Road. The following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows the area in the late 19th century, with Mornington Crescent then looking onto a garden, the larger part to the left of Hampstead Road and a small part to the right (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).:
The large grey block in the map of the area today, and which now occupies the area where the garden was located is the wonderful old Carreras cigarette factory, now offices:
The Carreras brand dates from the early 19th century when the Spanish nobleman Don José Carreras Ferrer started trading cigars in London. The business expanded into other forms of tobacco such as snuff and cigarettes, and became a significant business during the late 19th century.
What really drove the brand’s expansion, and the opening of the Mornington Crescent factory was the transformation of Carreras to a public company in 1903, when a Mr. W. J. Yapp (who had taken over the company from the Carreras family) and Bernhard Baron (of Jewish descent, who was born in what is now Belarus on the Russian border, who had moved to the United States and then to London), became directors of the company.
Whilst in New York, Bernhard Baron had invented a machine that could manufacture cigarettes at a faster rate than existing machines, and in London the Carreras company was the only one that took on the new machines, other tobacco companies preferring to stay with their existing means of production, or machines over which they held monopolies.
By the start of the 1920s, Baron was Chairman of the company and wanted to create a large, modern factory, which would enhance the brand’s reputation for the purity and quality of their cigarettes, and provide a good working environment for the company’s employees.
The result was the new factory on the old gardens between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road.
Designed by the architectural practice of Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins, along with Arthur George Porri who acted as a consultant, the design of the building was inspired by the archeological finds in Egypt during the 1920s, with the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun being discovered in 1922.
The building was one of the first (and I believe the largest at the time) building to use pre-stressed concrete, and also to be fitted with air conditioning and dust extraction equipment.
The innovative construction of the building, and the technologies used to maintain the internal environment were mentioned in all the major news reports that covered the opening of the building on the 3rd of November 1928:
“Carreras new factory at Camden Town, which was opened by Mr. Bernhard Baron, the chairman of the company, constitutes not only the largest reinforced concrete building under one roof in Great Britain, but also that rare thing – the realisation of one man’s dream.
Mr. Baron is a practical idealist. He set out to make cigarettes, he wanted them made in the best way, and in the best conditions. He wanted the people who made them to be happy in their work, it has all come true.
The opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design. Mr. Baron performed it himself, not so much as chairman of the company, but as the father of the three thousand employees who have helped him to achieve success. He said, at the luncheon, that he felt it a great honour to have opened the factory, and that he wanted his employees about him at that moment to share his pleasure. That was why he decided on a simple ceremony, a family celebration, as it were, of the culmination of one stage of his life’s work.
Carreras new building embodies all that is best in factory design. It is well lit, and well ventilated and as healthy as it is possible to make it.
Most important of all, it has been fitted with an air conditioning plant which is the only one of its kind in the British tobacco industry, and which ensures a consistently ideal atmosphere for the manufacture of the perfect cigarette. The air which enters the building is first washed clean with water. It is then adjusted to the required temperature and humidity. Outside, London may be shivering or sweltering, damp or dusty. Inside, every day is a fine day; all weather is fair weather. It is well known that the English climate is the best in the world for the manufacture of tobacco; it can now be said that Carreras climate is the best in England.
The façade of the building, which stretches five hundred and fifty feet along Hampstead Road, is something fresh in London architecture – a conventionalised copy of the Temple of Bubastis, the cat headed goddess of Ancient Egypt.”
I have read several modern references to the opening of the building which include that the Hampstead Road was covered in sand, there were chariot races and Verdi’s opera Aida was performed, however I cannot find these mentioned in any of the news reports from the time that covered the opening of the building. As seen in the above report, the “opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design“.
The opening of the factory was seen as an improvement to the area, although it had resulted in the loss of the open space between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road, as newspapers reported that “When the move to save the London squares was first begun, Mornington Crescent was cited as one of London’s losses. It had been acquired by Mr. Bernhard Baron as the site of his new factory. I doubt whether had it been saved we Londoners would have gained anything. Now when you come out of the Tube station, the eyesore of that dirty bit of green, backed by decaying Victorian basement houses is no more. Instead, there is the finest factory in London, an architectural triumph for Mr. Marcus Collins, the culmination of a life’s work for Mr. Baron and a model workplace for his 3,500 employees.”
The Mornington Crescent factory remained in operation until 1959 when Carreras merged with Rothmans, and cigarette production was moved to a factory in the new town of Basildon in Essex.
The building was sold and in 1961 it became office space, with the name of Greater London House, and all the Egyptian decoration was either removed or boxed in.
This would remain the fate of the building until the late 1990s when a new owner refurbished the building and restored the Egyptian decoration that we see today, as close as possible to the original design.
In the following photo of the main entrance to the building, two black cats can be seen on either side of the steps:
These are not the original cats as following the closure of the factory in 1959, one was transferred to the new factory in Basildon whilst the other was shipped to a Carreras factory in Jamaica.
After walking north along Hampstead Road, through the works for HS2, the restoration of the Carerras building has retained some wonderful 1920s architecture to this part of Camden, however it has almost completely hidden Mornington Crescent, and a walk along this street is my next destination, starting from the northern end, opposite the underground station, where the Lyttleton Arms now stands:
If you look closely at the top corner of the building, you will see the original name of the pub as the Southampton Arms. The pub was renamed the Lyttleton Arms in honour of the jazz musician and radio presenter, Humphrey Lyttleton, who was also the long running host of the radio panel game I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue from 1972 until his death in 2008, the show that included the game Mornington Crescent.
During the 1920s, the same decade that the Carerras factory was built, the Southampton Arms, as the pub was called, was one of the centres of conflicts between the gangs who tried to control race course betting, including the Clerkenwell Sabini Brothers and Camden’s George Sage.
The following report from the St. Pancras Gazette on the 6th of October 1922 illustrates one of the incidents:
“RACING MEN’S FEUDS – At Marylebone on Tuesday, Alfred White, Joseph Sabini, George West, Simon Nyberg, Paul Boffa, and Thomas Mack made their eighth appearance on the charges of shooting George Sage and Frederick Gilbert with intent to murder, at Mornington-crescent, Camden Town, on August 19, having loaded revolvers on their possession with intent to endanger life, and riotously assembling.
Helen Sage, wife of one of the prosecutors, said she was talking to her husband outside the Southampton Arms at Camden Town when several taxicabs drove up and a number of men alighted. She then heard a shot, but could not say who fired, as it was dark. The witness admitted that she told the police that West and White fired the shots, but now declared that this statement was untrue.”
Strange that Helen Sage, who was presumably the wife of the shot George Sage declared that her statement was untrue. Possibly some witness tampering or gangs not giving evidence against each other, preferring their own form of justice.
The first section of Mornington Crescent (from the north) is not part of the original, and this will become clear with the architectural style as we walk along the crescent. These later houses are smaller and less impressive than the original part of the crescent:
And after crossing the junction with Arlington Road, we can now see the original terrace of buildings from when Mornington Crescent was laid out:
In the middle of the above terrace there is a blue plaque, to Spencer Frederick Gore, the painter, who lived in the building between 1909 and 1912.
Gore painted the view from his house across the gardens and the view along Mornington Crescent. The Tate have one of his paintings of the gardens online here.
The following view is of the continuation of the terrace houses along Mornington Crescent, at the junction with Mornington Place:
Construction of Mornington Crescent started in the early 1820s and was not complete until the 1830s. It is named after Richard Colley Wellesley, the Earl of Mornington and Governor-General of India. He was also the eldest brother of the Duke of Wellington, so was from an influential family.
Mornington Place heads up to the rail tracks to and from Euston Station:
The street was built around the same time as Mornington Crescent and comprises smaller three storey terrace houses, although with some interesting architectural differences:
At the end of the street, we can look over the brick wall and see the rail tracks, with HS2 works continuing on the far side:
Looking back down Mornington Place towards the old Carreras factory – originally this view would have had the gardens at the end, through which Hampstead Road would have been seen:
Albert Street is a turning off Mornington Place, a terrace of new buildings occupies a space which on the 1894 OS map appears to have been an open space with a larger building set back from the road.
There is a smaller brick building between the modern terrace and the large brick terrace of houses. This is Tudor Lodge:
Tudor Lodge is Grade II listed. It was built between 1843 and 1844 for the painter Charles Lucy, and believed to be to his own design. The plaque on the building though is to George Macdonald, Story Teller, who lived in the building between 1860 and 1863. An interesting building in a street of mainly 19th century terrace houses.
Rather than walk along Albert Street, I returned to Mornington Crescent and the rear of the Carreras factory, where there is a chimney:
I have not been able to confirm whether or not the chimney is original, however rather than being the more common round chimney it seems to have the appearance of an obelisk, similar to Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment, so if original, the chimney continues the Egyptian design theme of the building.
Almost at the end of Mornington Crescent now, and the final row of terrace houses before reaching the Hampstead Road. The following photo gives an indication of the changes to the outlook of the houses when the Carreras factory was built. Rather than looking out on the gardens and across to Hampstead Road, they now had the view of the rear of the large factory.
By the time the factory was built, many of the houses were almost 100 years old, and their condition was not that good, many were subdivided into flats. Their condition would deteriorate further during the 20th century, there was some bomb damage along the terrace in the Second World War and it has only been in the last few decades that many of the houses have been restored.
In this final terrace of Mornington Crescent there is another blue plaque, to another artist, this to Walter Sickert, recorded as a painter and etcher:
Sickert was at the core of the Camden Town Group of artists, a short lived group of artists who gathered mainly between 1911 and 1913.
The building at the southern end of Mornington Crescent, which has a Hampstead Road address is of a much more impressive design, presumably as it was at a more prominent position. Just seen on the wall behind the tree is another plaque:
This plaque is to the artist George Cruikshank, who lived in the building from 1850 until his death in 1878.
On the opposite side of the street to the house in the above photo is a water trough for horses. I took a photo, but was not intending to include the photo in today’s post:
Until i found the following photo in the Imperial War Museum collection showing a horse and cart of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway pausing to drink at the trough, with Mornington Crescent in the background of the photo:
Pleased I found the photo, but rather frustrating as if I had found it before visiting I could have taken a similar view, however it does give a good impression of Mornington Crescent in 1943.
Returning to the space opposite the underground station, we can look south and get a view of the overall size of the Carreras factory, a building that occupied the site of the gardens between the crescent and Hampstead Road.
The space just to the north of Mornington Crescent underground station is the junction of Hampstead Road and Camden High Street, along with Crowndale Road and Eversholt Street.
To the east of the underground station at the road junction is the club / music venue Koko:
Originally the Camden Theatre when built in 1900, it then had a series of owners as both a theatre and a cinema, until 1945 when it was taken over by the BBC and used as a theatre to record radio programmes, including the Goon Show, with the very last Goon Show being recorded in the theatre on the 30th April 1972.
The BBC left in 1972, and from 1977 the building has been a live music venue, firstly as the Music Machine, then the Camden Palace and now Koko.
The building has hosted very many acts in its long history, including the Rolling Stones and the Faces, with my most recent visit to the Damned in February 2018 (and whilst researching the post I found a review of the Damned concert here).
The title of this post is Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws, and it is only now that I can get to the final part of that title. In the open space opposite the underground station is a statue:
The statue is of Richard Cobden and was erected in 1868. Cobden did not have any direct relationship with Camden, however it was an impressive location for a statue, and it was put up due to the residents of Camden’s appreciation of Cobden’s work in the repeal of the Corn Laws.
The Corn Laws were a set of laws implemented in 1815 by the Tory Prime Minister Lord Liverpool due to the difficult economic environment the country was in following the wars of the late 18th and early 19th century.
The Corn Laws imposed tariffs on imported grains and resulted in an increase in the price of grain, and products made using grain. These price increases made the Corn Laws very unpopular with the majority of the population, although large agricultural land owners were in favour as they made a higher profit from grain grown on their lands.
The Corn Laws were finally repealed by the Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel in 1846, and they reflect a tension between free trade and tariffs on imports that can still be seen in politics today.
Richard Cobden was born on the 3rd of June, 1804 in a farmhouse in Dinford, near Midhurst in Sussex. His only time in London appears to have been after his father died, when Cobden was still young, and his was taken under the guardianship of his uncle who was a warehouseman in London.
Not long after he became a Commercial Traveler, and then started his own business which was based in Manchester, which seems to have been his base for the rest of his commercial success.
During his time in Manchester Cobden was part of the Anti-Corn Law League and was known as one of the leagues most active promoters.
The Clerkenwell News and London Times on the 1st of July 1868 recorded the unveiling of the statue:
“The Cobden memorial statue which has just been erected at the entrance to Camden Town was inaugurated on Saturday. Although this recognition of the services of the great Free Trade leader may have been looked upon in some quarters as merely local, the gathering together of some eight to ten thousand people to do honour to his memory cannot be regarded in any other light than that of a national ovation.
The committee had arranged that the statue of the late Richard Cobden at the entrance to Camden Town – with the exception, perhaps, of Trafalgar Square, one of the finest sites in London – should be unveiled on Saturday, that day being understood to be the appropriate one of the anniversary of the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the event was so popular that the surrounding neighbourhood was gaily decorated with flags for the occasion. The windows and balconies of Millbrook House, the residence of Mr. Claremont, facing the statue, had been placed at the disposal of Mrs. Cobden and her friends, including her three daughters.
A special platform had been created in front of the pedestal, covered with crimson cloth, and in the enclosure in front the band of the North Middlesex Rifles were stationed, and performed whilst the company assembled.
The report then covers at some length, all the speeches made which told the story of Cobden’s life and his actions in the repeal of the Corn Laws. There were many thousands present to witness the event, and at the end; “after the vast assembly had dispersed Mrs. Cobden, accompanied by Mr. Claremont, the churchwardens, and other friends, walked round the statue and expressed her high gratification at the fidelity of the likeness.”
The statue was the work of the sculptors W. and T. Willis of Euston Road, and is now Grade II listed.
I suspect if you turn right out of the entrance to Mornington Crescent underground station, you will be surprised to know that the space in front of you was compared to Trafalgar Square as one of the finest sites in London.
It always fascinates me how much history there is at almost any place in London, and Mornington Crescent is no exception. Whether the arrival of the underground, the architecture of the Carreras factory, race course gangs at the pub, historic streets, entertainment venues and radio shows and the statue of a free trade advocate – all within a short walk of Mornington Crescent.
I will take any opportunity to view London from a high point, and just before last Christmas there was a tour of St Mary Islington, which included a climb up the tower to look at the view of London from the point where the tower meets the spire.
I could only make the late afternoon tour, however this provided a view of London after dark, which is always impressive. Hopefully I can return for a daytime tour, and if you are interested in the tour of this historic church, I have put a link at the end of the post to where I found out about these tours.
St Mary Islington is in Upper Street, and is a short walk from Angel underground station, continuing past Islington Green. As you walk along Upper Street, the spire of St Mary’s is a landmark on the right of the street:
Then the full front of the church comes into view, which is easier to see in winter when there are no leaves on the trees between church and street:
The church we see today dates from two distinct periods. The front façade of the church (except for the portico and columns), the tower and steeple date from the 18th century, however the body of church is from the mid 20th century.
The church was bombed in September 1940 when a bomb landed on the nave, which suffered substantial damage. The tower and steeple survived. The church was rebuilt in the early 1950s to a design by the architectural partnership of Seely & Paget.
The new nave of the church was built on the same outline as the original, and walls lined with tall windows to allow a large amount of natural light into the nave of the church. From the churchyard we can see the new nave and the original tower and steeple:
As with the majority of London churchyards, St Mary’s has been cleared of gravestones and has been converted to a garden. The churchyard was closed to new burials by the 1852 Burial Act which applied to churches in the metropolitan London area. As with so many London churches, St Mary’s had been taking very many burials over the centuries, and with Islington’s rapidly growing population, it was impractical to continue to use the churchyard, even without the 1852 Act.
Thirty acres of land was purchased in East Finchley for the use of St Pancras and Islington for burials.
The gardens at the rear of the church on a sunny December afternoon:
Looking back towards Upper Street, with the church on the right, and as with many London churchyards, when they were converted to gardens the gravestones were moved to the edge and form parallel rows along the external wall:
There is a named grave of a significant Islington resident next to the front of the church, just behind bus stop N on Upper Street. This is the grave of Richard Cloudesley:
Richard Cloudesley was born around 1470 and died in 1517. He was an Islington resident and landowner. In his will he left two “stony fields” covering an area of around 14 acres, and these became part of a charitable trust which is still in existence and today is simply known as the Cloudesley.
The fields were rented out and generated an income, however with the northwards expansion of London during the early 19th century, the land was becoming valuable for house building, so in the 1830s, the trust began selling leases to parts of the lands, and what would become the Cloudesley Estate began to be built.
Whilst much of the land and houses have been sold, the Cloudesley charitable trust still owns around 100 properties, and the income from these continues to support the aims of the trust, which includes the health needs of Islington residents, along with a grants programme which helps maintain and repair Church of England churches in Islington.
The grave in the above photo is not where Richard Cloudesley was originally buried. His body was taken from an unknown location in the churchyard, and reburied in the current position in 1812. The grave was originally more ornate than we see today, however being so close to the church it suffered from bomb damage in 1940, and in 2017 the Cloudesley charity provided funding to repair and restore the grave.
The tower of the church supports a spire – the most visible feature in the surrounding streets:
The spire has an interesting history, as in 1787, during repairs to the tower, it was decided to install a lightning conductor on the spire. Rather than construct scaffolding around the spire, the church contracted a basket maker by the name of Thomas Birch, who charged the church £20 to effectively build a wicker casing which fully enclosed the spire. Inside this wicker casing was a set of stairs that allowed workmen to reach the full height of the spire.
Although Thomas Birch was paid £20 by the church, he found another way of making more money and he advertised the spiral staircase as a means for the public to reach the top and see the view. Apparently charging for the climb and view raised a further £50.
What is not clear from the above print is where someone climbing the spire could have looked out through the wicker and see the view, whether they had to climb the full height and peer out over the top of the wicker, which would have been an experience not for those with a fear of heights.
The site of St Mary’s has been the site of a church for very many years.
It is in a key position. Upper Street has long been an important road from the City of London to the north, and the church is alongside this road.
There is very little evidence to confirm, however there may have been a church on the site in Anglo-Saxon times. Evidence for this seems to be mainly based on the parish of St Mary the Virgin being established in the year 628 by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
There was an 11th century church built on the site, and we were shown a stone with a zig-zag pattern in the crypt which apparently dates from the 12th century church.
The next church on the site was built in 1483, and this version of the church would last until the mid-18th century.
John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the church (circled in the following extract), at a time when Islington was still mainly rural with buildings extending along Upper Street and Lower Street (now Essex Road), gardens, and the wider countryside being fields.
The view is looking across Upper Street towards the church, and shows a cow and sheep being herded along the street. Islington at the time was known as a place where cows were kept with their milk being sold in the City, and Upper Street was also used as a route to Smithfield Market.
There appear to be two houses attached to the west front of the church, facing Upper Street. It is not clear when these were built , or there original purpose, however around 1710 rooms in these buildings were used to provide a school.
If the 1750 date is correct, then the church in the above print is the 1483 version of the church. By 1750 it has fallen into a poor state of repair, and an Act of Parliament was approved to demolish and rebuild the church.
Funds for the new church were gathered by a tax on local land and property owners.
The tower in the above print looks reasonably substantial and this appears to have caused a problem when attempts were made to demolish the church. The first attempt to take down the tower was by the use of gunpowder, which did not work, so a large fire was built in the foundations of the tower, which apparently worked.
A new church was built by a Lancelot Dowbiggin. He was a joiner, and may have been local as he was later buried in the churchyard. This latest version of the church did not include the portico and the colonnades, which can be seen in the second photo in the post, and when viewed from a distance do look a bit as if they have been stuck onto an earlier church. These additions were made in 1902.
It was Dowbiggin’s church that survived until the bombing in September 1940, and his tower remains to this day.
The mid 18th century rebuild of the church included a new set of bells which were cast in the 1770s. These are still in use in the church and were renovated and rehung in 2003. The walk up the tower passed the entrance to where the bells are hung, unfortunately being dark, they could not be seen.
Time to have a look inside the church, but before I walked in, I noticed the following poster adjacent to the entrance to the church:
A lovely bit of graphic design, but the reason it really caught my eye was the similarity to the design on the spine of a series of books produced from the late 1940s to the early 1950s.
This was the County Books series, a wonderful set of detailed, illustrated descriptions of English Counties published by Robert Hale Limited of Bedford Square. Each book was written by an author who knew the area.
I have the six books covering London, along with books for a couple of surrounding counties, and the following shows the spine of the book on the left and the main cover on the right. As can be seen “The County Books” graphic at the top of the spine is the same as in the poster outside St Mary’s:
I cannot find out who designed the covers for the Robert Hales County Books, but they all have an identical cover design, with only the name of the county, the author and the picture changing from book to book.
Walking into the church, and we can see that this is not an old design, and how the large windows of Seely & Paget’s design let in a large amount of natural light, even on a late December afternoon. The following photo is looking from the entrance towards the altar:
The following photo is from near the altar looking back towards the entrance:
Due to the degree of bomb damage, there are very few original features to be seen in the church.
As well as the portico and colonnades built on the front of the church in 1902, the work also provided a new font for the church, and the original 18th century font was moved to the crypt, and it was this that saved the font in September 1940.
The 1902 font was destroyed and as part of the 1950s rebuilt of the church, the 18th century font was moved from the crypt, back up to the main church:
And the Arms of George III, which had been hung in St. Mary’s in 1781 were recovered from the ruins of the church, restored and returned to the new church:
My first visit to the church was during the early afternoon, during daylight, as the tour was late afternoon and after dark, so I left the church for a couple of hours then returned for the tour which took in the main body of the church and the crypt, before heading up the tower, the top of which was reached by a very narrow set of steps.
The view on reaching the top of the tower was well worth the climb. This is the view looking to the City of London on the right, with the Isle of Dogs and the towers surrounding Canary Wharf on the left:
I had set-up the camera with hopefully the right settings to take photos at night, at the top of a tower with a narrow walkway and a light breeze, whilst avoiding any camera shake, and for most of the photos this seems to have worked.
A close-up view looking towards the City of London, with the Shard to the right:
And zooming into Canary Wharf and surrounding buildings, showing how large parts of the Isle of Dogs is now covered in tall towers, brightly lit at night:
Looking towards the south and west, the purple light of the London Eye can be seen on the left edge of the photo, and towards the right is the BT Tower. Upper Street is the road, and to the right of centre is the long roof of the old Agricultural Hall:
The following photo is looking north, with Upper Street running up towards Highbury Corner. Just to the right of the far end of the street are the blue lights of the Union Chapel. I believe the yellow lights on the horizon are those of the Emirates Stadium.
A final look over towards the City, with one of the stone decorations on the top of the tower in the foreground:
The photos hopefully provide an impression of the view from the tower, however looking at the view from a narrow walkway at the top of the tower, with the spire disappearing into the darkness above certainly adds to the experience.
I understand that there may well be more tours in the future. They are led by Clerkenwell and Islington Guides, and I found out about the walks from their newsletter which can be subscribed to from the home page of their website, here.
Roundabouts in cities are a problem. Whilst they are built to simplify traffic flow, they take up a large amount of space, and leave a central area for which it is difficult to find a purpose due to its isolated location.
One such roundabout is at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge, where York Road, Waterloo Road, Stamford Street and the approach to Waterloo Bridge all meet. I photographed the roundabout from the Shell Centre viewing gallery in 1980:
Beneath the roundabout were a large number of pedestrianised access routes to the surrounding streets and the central space provided access between these, so you could walk between any of the surrounding streets without having to cross a road.
It was always a rather bleak space. Concrete planters were scattered around the central space, and for a time in the 1980s the GLC organised what we would now call a pop-up market at lunchtimes, hoping to attract workers from the surrounding offices, although with traffic on the surrounding roundabout, it was not that pleasant and most people headed to the Jubilee Gardens or the walkway alongside the Thames.
A rather innovative use for the central space was found in the late 1990s when the British Film Institute opened an IMAX Theatre in the centre of the roundabout:
The IMAX is of circular design to fit the central space, and is surrounded by a glass wall which makes the building ideal for advertising and for displaying films that are being shown in the theatre. It is a very obvous landmark when approaching from any of the surrounding streets, and with the low sun of a December day, produces strange light reflections on the streets of the roundabout.
So, a very clever use of a difficult city space. One that has to overcome a number of obstacles, for example vibration and soundproofing from both the traffic on the roundabout, and the Waterloo and City line which runs just 4 metres below the theatre, which gives me an excuse to show a map of the route of the Waterloo and City line, with the location of the roundabout and IMAX marked by a red circle (Credit: The Engineer, July 26, 1895, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons):
The IMAX Theatre was opened in 1999 and designed by Bryan Avery Architects. I have walked past the IMAX countless times, but what got me thinking about the use of space and the problems of inner city planning and maintenance was when I was walking alongside the roundabout in late December.
Access to the IMAX is via the steps down from the surrounding streets that also provide access between the streets without having to cross at surface level.
The steps down in the following photo are on the side of the roundabout between York Road and Waterloo Road. It was the start of the Christmas school holidays and I noticed a mother and child going down the stairs, then coming up, looking around, walking to another set of stairs, then back to the one in the photo. They were going to the IMAX, but there is no obvious signage and the stairs down do not look the most inviting.
I walked down the stairs, and met the smell that is familiar to such spaces:
Tunnel under the roundabout leading to the central space and the IMAX:
Once in the central space of the roundabout, we can see the curving wall of the IMAX and the extensive planting that creates a rather unique space:
More than 2000 plants were originally planted, comprising of honeysuckle, jasmine, wisteria, clematis, ivy, Boston ivy and Japanese vine. An automated watering system was installed, which looks to have worked well as the plants now look very established and have grown up from the side walls, across supporting cables and up to the sides of the IMAX:
There is a very tenuous link between the current centre of the roundabout, and an earlier use of the space, when it was occupied by Cuper’s Gardens, one of the many gardens and places of entertainment that were found on the south bank of the river in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.
The following map is interesting as it shows the area in 1825, eight years after Waterloo Bridge was opened. It is titled “A Plan of Cuper’s Gardens with part of the Parish of Lambeth in the year 1746 showing also the site of the Waterloo Bridge Road and the new roads adjacent”.
The map helps define the exact location of Cuper’s Gardens as the church of St. John is also shown. The large roundabout (circled) now covers part of Cuper’s Gardens at the junction with Stamford Street:
The “gardens” around the IMAX are very different today, and the whole area is rather a surreal space. The outer wall has been painted light brown, possibly to resemble the earth through which the space descends. Large, twisted trunks (which look like roots) of the presumably now over 20 years growth extend up along the walls, and the outer wall is occasionally cut through with the access tunnels to the streets above:
The entrance to the IMAX Theatre:
Looking up between the planting and the curved glass wall of the IMAX dominates the view:
When the IMAX was opened, as well as the central space surrounding the theatre, the walkways and tunnels leading up to the streets were cleaned, restored and painted, with many of the walls being painted blue, and some lighting being set into the walls.
You can see the effect that this was intended to create. The central space with substantial overhead plant growth, the surrounding earth coloured walls, covered in the trunks of the plants, with the walls being cut through by the blue painted walkways to the surrounding streets.
It all creates an intriguing and surreal space, appropriate for walks to the IMAX.
Service access tunnel and pedestrian walkway leading to Belvedere Road:
View up through the plants with the new tower blocks that have taken much of the old Shell Centre site:
Walking up to the surrounding streets, and it is clear what was intended, and the problems that result in the walkways not being that much of an inviting route to the IMAX. The following photo shows the walkway up to the western side of Waterloo Bridge:
Many of the walls are covered in graffiti, including the main walkway, and the tunnels that connect the east and west walkways:
Many of these walkways and tunnels make really good subjects for photography. The blue walls, the grafitte, and the hidden destination of these tunnels adds to their mystery, however if you did not know the area, were taking children to the IMAX, and it was at night, they are not inviting, and there were very few people using them as I wandered around taking photos.
Global conspiracy theories meet South Bank direction signs:
Looking back down the walkway from the western side of Waterloo Bridge:
Whilst the view of the IMAX in the above photo provides an indication of the destination of the walkway and the tunnel, it does not encourage you to walk down, there should be signs above the tunnel and better lighting in the entrance to the tunnel.
One of the walkways that crosses between the west and east sides of Waterloo Bridges crosses the service tunnel:
Walkway up to the eastern side of Waterloo Bridge:
This is the view from the eastern side of Waterloo Bridge, with the IMAX in the centre of the roundabout, and the blue painted entrance to the walkway and tunnels that lead to the IMAX:
The direction post to the left of the pavement does have a direction to the IMAX with an arrow pointing straight up, the implication being to head down the tunnel rather than walk on the pavement to the right. As with the other entrances, the tunnel does not offer an inviting prospect. No signage above the point where the walkway enters the tunnel and poor lighting at the entrance to the tunnel so it looks very dark and forbidding.
The Waterloo IMAX Theatre is a brilliant use of a difficult space, as well as being a building that has some technically clever ways of avoiding sound and vibrations. For example, the first floor is mounted on oil-damped spring bearings, and the walls inside the glass outer wall are 750mm thick. During construction, pile foundations were installed around the tunnels of the Waterloo and City line. A thick concrete slab was then built on top of the pilings to support the weight of the building above.
The IMAX apparently has the largest screen of any cinema in the UK and has the equipment to support normal film format as well as IMAX Digital and 3D.
A shame that whilst the intention with the tunnels and walkways is clear, and they could have provided a creative and innovative space, what appears to have been limited maintenance and care over the years has resulted in a rather poor experience when walking to the theatre at the centre.
TfL did have plans back in 2017 to transform the area and remove the roundabout, creating a surface level pedestrianised space up to the IMAX, however these plans appear to have been paused due to “the pandemic and current funding restraints”.
Given TfL’s current funding constraints, I suspect the roundabout will be there for some years to come.
During recent years the news has been coming thick and fast. Covid, Ukraine, political turmoil in this country with three Prime Ministers in a single year, inflation and the resulting cost of living crisis. Can 2023 be any better?
Based on the experience of recent years, it would be rather foolish to try and predict what will happen during the coming year, so I thought that for the first post of 2023, I would go back 300 years and look at what would happen in London during 1723. What was life like for Londoners, what could we have expected to see on the streets, what were the key events?
Using newspapers published during 1723, I have compiled a month by month review of events in the city. We will find books with titles such as “The Fifteen Plagues of Coffee and Tea“, we will discover the “Atterbury Plot”, meet “a notorious Strumpet and Procuress about Town” and also “Swangy Peggy“, look at trade in the Port of London, disease, illnesses and medical treatment, crime and punishment, how you could be imprisoned for the wrong words, and the strange sights to be seen across the city’s streets.
King George I was the monarch, Robert Walpole was the Whig Prime Minister. The artist Sir Joshua Reynolds was born in 1723, as was the Scottish economist Adam Smith who would go on to write The Wealth of Nations.
Apart from actions against Pirates in the Caribbean, the country does not seem to have been at war.
The starting point for a review of 1723 – a London year, will be:
On January the 1st “was preached the Anniversary Sermon to the Societies for Reformation of Manners at the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow, by the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Gloucester; at which were present, the Lord Mayor, Sir Francis Forbes, Alderman, and also the Bishops of Sarum, Litchfield and Coventry, Carlisle, Peterborough and Bristol, with upwards of twenty of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the County of Middlesex and Liberty of Westminster, and a considerable number of Reverend Clergy.”
Executions were a theme of the year. They were frequent, with Tyburn being one of the main sites, as described here: “Edmund Neal and William Pincher, who were condemned last Sessions for Robbing on the Highway, were executed at Tyburn.”
Such was the number of executions, that when there was a sessions period with no convictions it was considered news: “Tis remarkable that since the last Sessions, no Person has been committed to Newgate for the Highway, or any other Capital Crime, except a Woman for the Murder of her Bastard Child.”
One person sentenced to execution even had bets placed on whether the sentence would be carried out. We will come across this person a number of times during the year: “Several considerable wagers are again laid concerning Mr. Layer, some affirming that he will have a farther Respite, others, that sentence will be executed in him the 19th instant.”
The zoo at the Tower of London claimed a victim in January: “An Apprentice to Mr. Ushall, a Taylor in Bridges Street, Covent Garden, lies ill of some wounds he received from one of the Lyons in the Tower.”
Caroline of Ansbach was the Princess of Wales as she was married to the King’s son, the future George II. They lived in Leicester House, which was on the northern edge of what is now Leicester Square, which was mentioned in this report: “Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales expecting to be brought to Bed about the latter end of this Month or the Beginning of the next, all the Servants appointed to attend her Royal Highness at that juncture, are taken into Leicester House.”
The Princess of Wales gave birth to a daughter, Mary, who would go on to marry Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. The marriage would not be a good one due to the abuse Mary suffered from Frederick. They would separate and Mary would continue to live in Germany, then Denmark.
1723 was not a good year to be heard criticising the King: “This Day, Mr. Ogden was tryed at Hicks Hall for Cursing the King, which was plainly proved, but some of the Evidence deposed that he had been very much in Drink, and that he was esteemed a Person very well affected to His Majesty, and often drank his Health. The Jury, after a short delay, brought him in guilty.”
In an article a week later it was recorded that Mr. Ogden has been “fined £50 and 3 months imprisonment”.
Another example of why it was not a good idea to say anything bad about the King and Queen, or mention the “Pretender” (James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, who claimed the throne for the Stuart line): “This Day, Mr. Cotton, was try’d at the King’s Bench for saying. ‘The Picture of the Pretender’s Wife, was the Picture of the Queen of England’; the Evidence against him was Mr. Pears, one of the King’s Messengers. The Jury brought in not Guilty.”
February 1723 saw the founding of one of the companies that would supply water to the growing city: “His Majesty has been please to order Letters Patents to be passed under the Great Seal of Great Britain, for incorporating the Governor and Company of Chelsea Water Works, pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed last Sessions, for supplying the City and Liberty of Westminster and Parts adjacent, with Water. And the said Undertakers are preparing Machines, and beginning to erect the said Works with all Diligence and Speed.”
A strange sight in one of London’s parks: “On Tuesday last a Soldier belonging to the Third regiment of Guards, was whipped in St. James’s Park and received 300 Lashes for acting as Assistant to a Bailiff, having his Regimental Clothes on. And on Friday he underwent the same Punishment again, and was afterwards drummed out of the Regiment.”
In 1723, convicts could be sentenced for transportation, and whilst Australia is normally assumed to be the destination, convicts could also be transported to the Americas, as this report demonstrates: “Yesterday Morning 40 Felons, convict were put on board a close Lighter at Black Fryers Stairs from Newgate, in order to be transported to Maryland.”
Sir Christopher Wren died in February 1723. Coverage of his death in newspapers at the time was rather brief: “Yesterday about Noon dy’d Sir Christopher Wren, aged about 92; he was formerly Surveyor General of the King’s Works; he built St. Paul’s Church, and all the Rest of the Churches since the great Conflagration.”
Newspaper’s in 1723 published lists of new books that had just been published, under the heading of “This Day is Published”. The list for one week in February 1723 has some rather strange titles and subjects:
The London Bawd, and the Character of a Common Whore; with her subtle and various intrigues to delude innocent youth into Hellish Snares. Written by one that hath been a Sufferer, and now makes this Publick for the Benefit of Youth that go up to London, or distant from their Friends, by way of Advice. Printed for the good of the Publick, and Sold by Booksellers of London and Westminster and by the Printers. Price Bound 8d.
The Ladies Golden Key: or a Companion for Men of Sense. Written by a Person of Quality. Price 3d.
The Parson and his Maid, a Tale. To which is added, Venus enraged, a Poem. Price two pence.
The Country’s Misfortune: Or the Cuckoldy Yeoman. With several delightful Poems to put away melancholy Thoughts of honest Men. Price Three Pence.
The Fifteen Plagues of Coffee and Tea, with a Female’s Satyr on Thin Bread and Butter. Written by a young Gentlewoman, who brought the Green Sickness upon her by Drinking those dull Liquors. Price Two Pence.”
Scientific and technical advances were being made, and put on display in London: “There is a new invention of a strange kind of Machine for Ploughing of Ground. The Work is performed by one Man, and without Horses; it is rekoned an extraordinary Piece of Ingenuity, and a great Number of Artists and Persons of Quality have been to see it. It is now at the Golden Ball at Hyde Park Corner.”
To start the month of March, a report on one of the many strange sights to be seen in London in 1723 – “Last Monday Morning, one Brittain, a Widow in Milford Lane, was married to a Brewer’s servant at the Church of St. Clement Danes, who being advised, went to the Church Door without any other Apparel on besides her bare Smock, to the great Surprise and Sport of a numerous Crowd of Spectators. It seems, by this means, she thinks herself exempted from paying any debts contracted by her former Husband. At the Church Door her intended Spouse took her in his Arms, and carrying her to an Apothecary’s House over against the said Church, new clothed her completely; after which the Nuptials were solemnized.”
There was a rather public spirited Will, where: “One Mr. Rice, a Solicitor of Furnival’s Inn, who latterly died, has bequeathed £500 toward paying the National Debts. He owes it but a Mite; but he does it to set a good example”.
There was also another example of the horrific sentences handed out: “Last Saturday Night, the Session ended at the Old Baily, when the three following Malefactors received sentence of Death, viz. William Sommerfield and Willim Bourk for the Highway, and one Frost for stealing a Horse from the Post Boy belonging to the Post Master of Sevenoak. Two were burnt in the Hand, viz one for Manslaughter, and one for Felony, and several others were ordered for Transportation.”
In the first months of 1723, there had been many newspaper reports regarding a Mr. Christopher Layer and Francis Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester. Both men were being held in the Tower of London following a plot in 1722 which aimed to restore the House of Stuart with “the Old Pretender” James Francis Edward Stuart, who was exiled in Rome as King.
The plot appears to have been the main political story of 1723.
The plot was exposed and Layer and the Bishop of Rochester were both held in the Tower and questioned as to their involvement and coconspirators. The plot was named the Atterbury Plot after the Bishop of Rochester, however although he seems to have played the leading role in the plot, it was Layer who suffered more.
“Layer, at his Examination before the Lords of the Council, confessed that being in Discourse with Lord Orrery, that Lord Orrery said that nothing would relieve the Nation, but a Restoration; and that he would be glad he could contribute to bring it about; that it must be done by Foreign Forces.
Lord Orrery told him, the Regent might be brought to wink at anything, but was too perfidious, that he was not to be trusted, and that the French had made a Tool of the Pretender.
Layer confirmed to the Committee upon his Examination in the Tower, that Lord Orrery declared himself constantly of Opinion, that nothing could be done to any Purpose in the Pretender’s Favour, without Foreign Forces.
The Council took under Consideration a Report, and revealed a destructive and horrid Conspiracy had been formed and carried on by Persons of Figure and Distinction, and their Agents in Conjunction with Traitors abroad, for Invading the Kingdom, with Foreign Forces and raising a Rebellion at Home; for seizing the Tower and the City of London; for laying violent Hands on his Sacred Majesty and the Prince in order to subvert our happy Establishment, by placing a Popish Pretender upon the Throne.”
The report states that in his examination, Layer tried to prevaricate and suppress the truth and conceal the conspiracy, however the examination of those involved in the Atterbury Plot did find other possible conspirators, including one John Plunket, and Parliament had the following rather ominous vote: “It was ordered in a Division, 289 against 130, that a Bill be brought in to inflict certain Pains and Penalties on the said John Plunket.“
We will find out what happened to Christopher Layer in a couple of months time.
Given that the sentence of highway robbery was usually death, there is a surprising number of these crimes reported, for example “Last night between 8 and 9 a-Clock, a Hackney Coach returning to Town from Maidenhead, having a gentleman and two gentlewomen in it, was set upon a little beyond Tyburn by two Highwaymen, who robbed them of a considerable Sum of Money, two Gold Watches, and one Silver Watch.”
As well as highway robbery, in 1723 London was a very dangerous place where fatal accidents were a common occurrence, such as this tragic example “A sad Accident happened in Gray’s Inn Lane, where a Cart passing along, was stopped by some Gentlemen, who endeavoured to kiss a Woman that was in it with a Child; but in the Struggle, the Woman’s Arm was broke, and the Child falling from the Cart was run over and killed.”
In April 1723 there was an interesting example of fire fighting techniques in use at the time: “On Monday Morning, early, a Chimney at Leicester House was observed to be on Fire, and the Wind being very high, the Flames spread and threatened farther Mischief; so that the Prince got out of Bed, and ordered some of the Soldiers on Guard to be admitted in, to fire their Pieces up the Chimney; which they did accordingly, and within ten or a dozen Discharges, removed all Apprehensions of Danger, and his Highness gave them five Guineas.”
By the standards of today, the sights to be seen in London 300 years ago were often just bizarre and awful, such as this example from Hyde Park: “Yesterday, pursuant to his Sentence, the Deserter who was condemned by a late Court Martial, was shot in Hyde Park. He was conducted from the Parade to the Place of Execution by his whole Regiment (the Second of the Guards) with the Earl of Albermarle at the Head of them, and was at once made an End of, twelve Soldiers firing upon him together.”
Rumours of trouble on the international stage has always caused problems for the London Stock Exchange, and in April 1723 there was an example, when: “Last Thursday there was a Letter from Malaga, with pretended Advices that the Marquis de Lede was marching along the Coasts with some Spanish Troops as though they had formed a Design against Gibraltar. This Stockjobbing News had the Effect that the public Stocks fell considerably.”
In May 1723, we find out what happened to Christopher Layer:
“Yesterday, about one a Clock, Christopher Layer was executed at Tyburn, pursuant to his sentence for High-treason. The Sheriffs having demanded him of the proper Officer of the Tower, he was delivered up accordingly; his Fetters being knocked off, he was carryed under a Guard of Warders and Soldiers through the little Guard-room, over the Draw-bridge to the wharf, from whence he walked to Iron Gate, near St Katherine’s, in the County of Middlesex, where he was received by the Sheriffs Officers, and carryed upon a Sledge drawn by 5 horses, to the place of Execution, where he was attended by the Rev. Mr. Hawkins and the Rev. Mr. Berryman, who assisted him in his Devotions.
The populace on this occasion was very numerous, many Scaffolds were erected in the Way, for the Advantage of the Spectators, some of which were broke down, by which Accident many were bruised. At the Place of Execution, he behaved himself with great Composure of Mind, and seemed very unshaken, frequently affecting a Smile, nor did he appear shock’d even in the Article of Death. He had in the Cart with him some Gentleman who were his friends, to one of whom he gave a paper, and another to the Under-Sheriff.
Silence being made among the People, in Expectation of his making some Speech to the Company, he in some measure disappointed them, only saying that he had left behind him in Writing, the true Principles of his Religion, that Religion in which he died and that he hoped no Body would publish any Thing injurious to his Fame, and Reputation after he was dead, and that the good people of England might expect, but expect in vain, to see happy and flourishing Days in Great-Britain, till the fortunate Hour was come, that they saw a certain Person was brought over into the Nation amongst us.
Afterwards his Head was severed from his body, and sent to Newgate to be prepared in order to be fixed up this day at Temple-Bar, but his quarters were delivered to his Friends, who put them in a Hearse, and brought them round about Kinsington to Mr. Purdy’s, an undertaker in Stanhope-street, Clare-Market, who had them sewed together, in order to be interred in Cambridgeshire. His whole Deportment, both in his Passage and at the Place of Execution, was manly and intrepid.”
In June 1723 “The Anniversary of the happy Restoration of King Charles II, and the Royal Family, was celebrated here with the usual Solemnity.”
In 1711 an Act of Parliament established the “Commission for Building Fify New Churches”. This was a response to the growing population of London, and how London was expanding to areas where there were no, or very few, churches to serve the population. The Commission never achieved the total number of fifty, but in 1723 progress was being made on a couple of the churches: “The Commissioners for Building the Fifty New Churches, met on Monday last at their Office in Palace Yard, and agreed to the Proposals from Plumbers, Joyners, &c. for finishing two more of them, viz. that of St. Mary Woolnoth in Lombard Street, and that in Hanover Square. And we hear that the £20,000 in the Treasury raised for building the said Churches is to be applied to finish these two, and the two others at Deptford and in the Strand”.
St. Mary Woolnoth was not really a new church, rather a rebuilding of an existing church. The church in Hanover Square is St. George’s. The church in Deptford is St. Paul’s and in the Strand is St. Mary-le-Strand.
Coffee seems to have been a popular drink in London in 1723, however: “Tis remarkable, that there is much more Coffee sold here in Town than the Quantity fairly imported.”
Also, in London in June 1723: “We hear that an Information has been given against one Larchin, a notorious Strumpet and Procuress about Town, for decoying several Servant Maids from their Masters, in order to become Prostitutes.”
Although Christopher Lavery was executed for treason for his part in the Atterbury Plot, Francis Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester was given a more lenient sentence as he was banished from the country, and in June: “There’s Advice that on Friday morning last, the late Bishop of Rochester landed at Calais, and will set out in a few days to the Austrian Netherlands. The Opinion of some People is so hard against the Gentleman, as to think when he is in Foreign parts, will change his Religion, although he mentions in his speech before the Lords, that he had wrote and preached, from his infancy in Defence of Martin Luther, and declares with the strongest Asseveration, that he will burn at the Stake, rather than depart from any one material Point of Protestant Religion, as professed in the Church of England.”
On June 15th, the Bishop of Rochester’s possessions were sold, raising almost £5,000, which appears to have be retained by the State.
Newspapers carried reports of the goods that were imported and exported through the London Docks. For the period of the 13th to the 25th of July, 56 ships arrived in the Port of London carry goods and the following tables lists the goods imported, and from where:
Interesting that the majority of London trade appears to have been with Europe, with Holland being a major source of imports into the country. I assume the ports to the west of the country such as Bristol and Liverpool dealt with trade to and from the Americas and the rest of the world.
I had intended to run through all these and list what many of these goods were, as some of the names are not obvious, however I ran out of time. Perhaps a subject for a future post to look at early 18th century imports and exports through the Port of London.
The “South Sea Bubble” was an event that took place in 1720 when the share price of the South Sea Company rocketed to very high levels before collapsing. This caused severe problems within London’s financial markets and caused a number of bankruptcies among the owners of shares in the company. An investigation into the collapse found that there was widespread fraud, and that many of the Directors of the company were involved in fraud. The Directors were sacked, and received heavy financial penalties, and in August 1723 it was reported that: “The several Appraisers employed by the Trustees of the Forfeited Estates of the late South-Sea-Directors, are now paid off; and we are assured that some of their Bills amounted to Five Hundred Pound each.”
However the South Sea Company was still trading, and would continue to do so for many years, as also in August 1723: “The South Sea Company’s Warehouses are at present full of our Woollen Manufacturers, to be sent on board their Assiento Ship, now fitting out at Blackwall.”
The mention of the South Sea Company’s warehouses being full of woollen products was not a one-off as woollen products were a considerable export from London. Tables in the papers of imports and exports also included a special table dedicated to woolen products, and between the 13th and 21st of August 1723, the following were exported from London:
Whilst some of these products have recognizable names, I have no idea what many of them are, for example a Perpet or a Minikin Bay in the first two lines of exports. What is clear though is that a considerable volume of woollen products were being exported through the London docks in 1723.
The statue of Charles I, which still stands in Trafalgar Square, was, in August 1723: “The Pedestal on which stands the statue of King Charles the First on Horseback at Charing Cross is repairing and beautifying at the Expense of the Government, and will be defended for the future by a Wall, breast high, with Iron Rails upon it.”
Fallout from the Atterbury Plot was causing concern within the City of London due to the impact it had on the freedom of the individual with the suspension of Habeas Corpus and the ability of the Government to imprison the individual at will: “The detestable Conspiracy which occasions the present Suspension, having been discovered and signified to the City of London, about Five months since, and diverse imprisoned for a considerable time past, we cannot conceive it to be highly unreasonable to suppose that the danger of this plot, in the hands of a Faithful and Diligent Ministry, will continue for a Year or more yet to come; and that in to high a degree, as to require suspension of the Liberty of the Subject (for so we take it to be) during all that Time.
His Majesty having not visited his Dominions Abroad these two last years, will very probably leave the Kingdon the next Spring to that End, in which case, this Great Power of Suspecting and Imprisoning the Subject at Will, and detaining them in Prison till the 24tgh of October 1723; and for as much longer time, till they can after that take the benefit of Habeas Corpus (if they can still do it at all).
London in 1723 was an unhealthy city. A considerable range of disease and illness stalked the densely populated streets, and death rates were high. The churchyards and crypts of the city’s churches were not pleasant places as they were frequently overcrowded with burials
Medical care was rudimentary at best, even for the wealthy, and for the poor was almost non-existent.
Childbirth was a dangerous time for women and babies, and the death rate for young children was very high.
The following table is the Bill of Mortality for the period from August 27th to September 10th, 1723 and shows the numbers and causes of death.
In the same period, there were the following casulties in addition to the above:
3 – Drowned in the River Thames at St. Paul at Shadwell
2 – Found dead at St. Margaret Westminster
1 – Murdered at St. Olave in Southwark
1 – Broken Leg
6 – Overlaid
In the same period there were 735 Christenings, 1466 Burials, and the increase in burials over the previous period was 29.
The military had a significant presence in London during 1723, probably due to the perceived threat of a Jacobite rebellion, and plots such as that by Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester. It must have been common to see soldiers on the streets, and there are many reports of soldiers getting into fights. There was a large military encampment in Hyde Park, as reported: “Yesterday the Right Honourable Earl Cadogan was present in Hyde Park and saw the Grenadiers perform an exercise of throwing Grenades. the Cavalry there decamp next Monday, but the Infantry are to hut, and the Artillery is to remain with them.”
As well as Hyde Park, temporary quarters were required across the city, and in October the following was issued, which cannot have been very popular: “On Tuesday, a Warrant was sent to the High Constable of the City and Liberty of Westminster, requiring him to order his Petty Constables to make a Return of all the Inn-keepers in the said Liberty, for the Horse Guards to quarter in their Inns.”
London seems to have been a rather tense place to be if you were not seen to be loyal to the King and Government, for example: “A gentleman of the Temple being under Apprehensions of a Visit from some of his Majesty’s Messengers, borrowed a horse of a friend for the day, under pretence of going out one Afternoon to take the Air, but has not thought fit to return since. A Brother of his, who had not to much presence of Mind, is seized with his papers.”
The various plots against the King, whether real or not, the crime of speaking out against the King and similar crimes led to a number of people being imprisoned in the Tower for Treason, and investigations would include their family, so: “We hear that the Lady of Counsellor Leare, now Prisoner for High Treason in the Tower has been seized coming from France, being ignorant of the Fate of her Husband, and having about her several Letters of great Consequence.”, and;
“On Thursday morning last, the Right Honourable Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery, one of her late Majesty’s Privy Council and Knight of the most ancient Order of the Thistle, being brought to Town in Custody, from his Seat at Brittel in Buckinghamshire, was the same Evening examined before a Committee of Lords at the Council at the Cock Pit, and ordered to be confined in his own house, with a Guard of 30 soldiers; and last Night, being examined again, his Lordship was, between 10 and 11 o’Clock, committed to the Tower, under a Guard of Centinels.”
The things you would see across the streets of London in 1723 are so very different to today, and there are plenty of examples in the newspapers of 1723, such as the following from November: “The Company of Surgeons having a Warrant for receiving the Body of one of the Malefactors that were executed on Wednesday last at Tyburn; the Mob happened to be appraised of it, and assembling together in a riotous manner, carried it off, and afterwards begged Money about the Streets, in order to give it, as they pretended, a decent Interment, but when they had finished their Collection, they flung the Body at Night over the Wall into the Savoy Church Yard. Next Day the Officers of the Parish sent to the Surgeons to know if they would have him, intending otherwise to bury him there.” This was one of three executions carried out at Tyburn on the same day.
In the early 18th century, travelers had problems with overcharging when they travelled along the river or the street, with Watermen and Coachmen using a number of tricks to overcharge. There were regulations to prevent this, and in November; “A Hackney Coachman was committed to Newgate by the Commissioners for Licensing Hackney Coaches and Chairs, till such time as he pays the Fine imposed on him for demanding more than his Fare.”
Medical care in 1723 was very basic, and many treatments were still in their infancy. Dropsy was the name given to the condition whereby excess fluid in the soft tissues of the body would cause swellings. The treatment in 1723 would be to “tap” the infected area where a metal tube was inserted into the body in an attempt to drain off the fluid. A process which could take several days, but was not that successful as shown by this report; “Last night died Sir Thomas Palmer, Bart. at his lodgings in Bow Street, Covent Garden, of the Dropsy, after he had been tapped the Day before for the same; he was member of Parliament for Rochester in Kent.”
Small Pox killed a large number of Londoners during the early 18th century, and prevention would have to wait until after 1796 when Edward Jenner discovered how to create and administer a Small Pox Vaccine. Prior to Jenner’s discovery, a method called “variolation” was used, where people who had not had the disease were exposed to material from smallpox sores from those infected. This method had limited success as this report tells: “We are informed, that the eldest son of Mr. A’Court, member of Parliament for Hatchbury, is dead of the inoculated Small Pox; but Miss Rolt, a young Lady of great Fortune, who was also inoculated is happily recovered, though with the utmost Hazard of her Life.”
Londoners were also frequently informed of the strange medical events taking place across the country. These reports probably had some grain of truth, but had been exaggerated many times, so for example, in November 1723, Londoners would read; “They write from Devizes in Wiltshire, that a Tradesman’s Wife of that place, after a Labour of 4 Days, was delivered of a Monster, which has one Body by two Breasts, an Head of an exorbitant size the Eyes distorted, two Teeth, a flat appearance of a Face in the Nape of a Neck four Arms, Hands, Legs and Feet, with 6 fingers and toes on each. But what is most remarkable is, that the side to which the Face pointed, was Male, the other Female; The Male had nails upon the fingers and Toes, which the Female had not.”
Londoners could also look up to the night sky in November 1723, and see “the Comet so much spoken of, was seen plainly on Monday Night last, notwithstanding it was the Opinion of the Persons skilled in Astronomy, it would have disappeared some Time ago.”
But be careful when looking up as you could fall victim to this type of crime; “A Woman of the Town who goes by the Name of Swangy Peggy, was last Tuesday Night committed to the Compter for picking a Gentleman’s Pocket of 50 Guineas.”
A consequence of the Port of London being a key part of the city’s commercial activities were the many reports in newspapers covering shipping bound for London, and the frequent loss of a ship, so in December 1723 we find examples such as “The Phoenix, Captain Olding, bound from Petersburg to London was latterly lost near Yarmouth.” and: “The Fyfield, Captain Swinsen, bound from South Carolina to London was drove ashore on Wednesday last near Margate, and lost. The men were all saved, but Captain Swinsen , stepping into the boat, unfortunately fell into the sea, and was drowned.”
There were a number of charitable institutions across the wider London area that took in elderly people, however they usually had strict criteria covering who could benefit, so in December 1723, the Trustees of Sir John Morden’s College in Blackheath were “about to increase the Number of Pensioners on that Foundation: None but decayed Merchants who are 50 year of age, and Communicants in the Church of England are capable of being admitted.”
The Catholic threat to the monarchy was in the background throughout 1723. There was an expectation that Catholics would swear an oath of loyalty to the King and the country, however there were many ways to get around this, as this report explained: “We are informed that divers Papists and others, who had resolutely determined not to take the Oaths, have been personated in several of the Courts, by their Agents, who have Sworn, in the Name of the said Papists, &c recorded, as though they actually complied with the Terms of the late Act of Parliament.”
As today, foreign ambassadors were based in London, where they could interact with the Royal Court, Parliament, the City, Merchants and Financial institutions. Newspapers frequently recorded their activities and visits, and in December: “The Morocco Ambassador went to the Tower, where he was well received by the Officers, and shown the Curiosities and Rarities there, with which his Excellency was well pleased and gratified the inferior Officers that attended him.”
London continued to be a place of almost casual accident and death, such as “On Monday last, several Porters in handling a Hogshead of Tobacco on Shipboard at Wapping, unfortunately let go their Hold, and the Hogshead rolled down the stairs at waterside, into a boat, in which was a little boy, who was dashed to pieces, as was likewise the boat.” These stories are simply reported as fact, without any criticism of the conditions that enabled such an accident to happen, or a call for safety improvements.
Trials of those who supported the Jacobite cause, or who raised any actions against the King continued through the year, including in December, when the trial of the leaders of a riot in Cripplegate in July, came to the Old Bailey: “The evidence for the King deposed that on the evening of the 23rd of July, a great Mob armed with Clubs, Staves and other unlawful weapons, assembled at Cripplegate, and broke the windows of Mr. Jones, an Apothecary, and afterwards attacked the Crown Tavern and Coffee House, demolishing the windows and wounding several Persons who endeavoured to defend themselves at the House. They likewise deposed that though the Proclamation was read three Times, the Mob did not disperse, but continued in a Tumultuous Manner, crying No King George, No Hanover Proclamation, Down with the House.”
And that ends a brief run down of what life in London was like during 1723. A very different city to the one we experience today, although there are some themes which we can recognise, and the names of city locations provide a familiarity across the 300 year gap.
Whatever 2023 brings, I wish you a very Happy New Year.