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Ely Cathedral and Oliver Cromwell

As well as London, my father took lots of photos around the country during the late 1940s / early 1950s whilst youth hosteling with friends from National Service. Long term readers of the blog will know that I am also visiting the locations of these photos with occasional trips out of London, and for this week’s post I am returning to the City of Ely in Cambridgeshire, to visit Ely Cathedral, and a historic house.

This was last August, but it seems a very long time ago now.

My father’s photos were taken on the 23rd July 1952, my photos 67 years later on the 12th August 2019.

Ely is a fascinating city, both from a historical aspect, but also the location of the city. Built on the highest point (around 20 metres) where an area of Kimmeridge Clay provides elevation above the surrounding Fens, which through their marshy and waterlogged landscape, turned Ely almost into an island.

The marsh has been drained, however the magnificent Ely Cathedral still rises over the surrounding landscape, giving the building the name of the Ship of the Fens.

Approaching the cathedral from the west provides a view of the magnificent west tower, standing 215 feet tall. The lower two thirds of the tower date from the 12th century, with the upper section being added in the 14th century. The view in 1952:

Ely Cathedral

The same view today:

Ely Cathedral

In the foreground in both photos is a cannon. This is a Russian cannon captured during the Crimean war and was presented to Ely in 1860 by Queen Victoria to mark the creation of the Ely Volunteer Rifles.

The walls of an old building can just be seen to the right of the above photos. This is the Old Bishop’s Palace building:

Ely Cathedral

1952 above and 2019 below. I suspect that is the same tree to the left of the photo showing 67 years growth.

Ely Cathedral

The Old Bishop’s Palace dates from 1486 when it was built by John Alcock. It was the home of the Bishop’s of Ely from 1486 to 1941, when it was taken over by the British Red Cross. The building is now part of King’s Ely public school.

Ely has seen its fair share or religious persecution over the centuries. During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, her attempts to reverse the English reformation and restore the Catholic church resulted in two Protestant martyrs being burnt to death on the green outside the cathedral and Old Bishops Palace.

William Wolsey and Robert Pygot were both from the local town of Wisbech. Wolsey was accused of not attending Mass and also of possessing and reading a smuggled New Testament in English. Pygot was accused of not attending church. They were both burnt at the stake on the 16th October 1555.

Wolsey was almost looking forward to his fate. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records that in the days preceding his execution “that being wonderful sore tormented in the prison with the toothache, he feared nothing more than that he should depart before the day of execution (which he called his glad day) were come.”

During their execution, copies of the English New Testament were also burnt, and Foxe records that “With that cometh one to the fire with a great sheet knit full of books to burn, like as they had been New Testaments. ‘Oh,’ said Wolsey, ‘give me one of them;’ and Pygot desired another; both of them clapping them close to their breasts, saying Psalm cvi., desiring all the people to say Amen; and so received the fire most thankfully.”

Elizabeth I followed Queen Mary and the country returned on the reformation path of Protestantism. It was now the turn of Catholics to be prosecuted and between 1577 and 1597 the Old Bishops Palace was used as a prison for “Catholic Recusants”  – those who remained loyal to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Thirty two recusants were held in the Palace buildings between the years 1588 and 1597 during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Fortunately Ely is a far more peaceful place today.

The street that runs in front of the main entrance to the cathedral has the unusual name of “The Gallery”. I will visit the cathedral later, but to find the location of more of my father’s photos, I turned right along The Gallery, and walked alongside the buildings that are currently the home of the Bishop of Ely.

This was the view looking back towards the cathedral in 1952:

Ely Cathedral

The same view in 2019:

Ely Cathedral

Further back along The Gallery, and here to the right we can see the external structure of the Octagon, one of the magnificent internal features of Ely Cathedral.

Ely Cathedral

The same view in 2019:

Ely Cathedral

Along the cathedral side of the street, The Gallery has the Bishop’s residence, the external wall of a walled garden, and at the end of The Gallery is the gatehouse shown in the photo below. At the end of The Gallery, the street joins Back Hill which then descends to the River Great Ouse. The downwards slope of the street away from the cathedral down towards the river helps demonstrate that the cathedral was built on higher ground in a low lying region.

Ely Cathedral

The Gatehouse today:

Ely Cathedral

The Gatehouse leads into Cherry Hill Park, an open space which includes Ely Castle Mound, the site of a long demolished castle. The park also provides a walkway down to the river, with superb views of the southern facing side of the cathedral.

There is another historic building in Ely which my father photographed in 1952. Oliver Cromwell, who led Parliament’s forces to victory during the Civil War and led the country as Lord Protector during the period of the Commonwealth, lived in Ely between 1636 and 1646.

This was Oliver Cromwell’s house in 1952:

Ely Cathedral

The same house in 2019:

Ely Cathedral

Cromwell inherited the house along with a number of other properties in Ely from his uncle. He was firstly the MP for Huntingdon, then from 1640 the MP for Cambridge, and raising troops to defend Cambridge was one of his first actions at the start of the civil War, including a number of soldiers from Ely.

The building today has a Tourist Information Office and also has a Civil War Exhibition. The building also hosts Murder Mystery evenings and an Escape Room – all the commercial things that historic buildings without large numbers of visitors need to do to survive.

Ely Cathedral

I could not find the location of the following photo:Ely Cathedral

We walked around all the buildings that look as if they would have such a window, but could not find the location. I suspect it is within the King’s Ely school.

The inscription tells that the house was erected by the piety and charity of Mrs Catherine Needham, Widow of New Alresford in Hampshire, but originally of Ely. She left certain estates in the town and neighbourhood of nearly eighty pounds per annum, to be used for poor boys born in the City of Ely of poor parents. For their school clothing and putting them out as apprentices.

Having had a walk around the town, the next stop was to visit the inside of Ely cathedral.

Ely Cathedral occupies a site with a long religious history – from a time when the area occupied by the town was surrounded by marsh and water.

Originally, a monastery founded by Etheldreda, an Anglo-Saxon queen in 673, was built on the site of Ely Cathedral. The site was probably the location of an earlier religious building.

Etheldreda reached Ely after fleeing from her husband, the King of Northumberland. The Isle of Ely was part of her wedding dowry.

The monastery was a mixed community of both monks and nuns.

Etheldreda would be viewed as one of the more important English saints, compared with St Cuthbert, and Thomas Becket. Bede portrayed her as an English version of the Virgin Mary.

After her death, she was buried in the monastery, and her body was believed to be incorruptible.

In the 10th century, Ethelwold, the Bishop of Winchester converted Ely into a Benedictine Monastery, and the Isle of Ely was defined by King Edgar as a Liberty and therefore free of royal interference.

The next name from history to pass through Ely was Hereward the Wake, an Anglo Saxon noblemen and one of the rebels against the Norman Conquest who assembled in Ely in 1071. William the Conqueror sent a force which surrounded Ely. There are various legends as to how Ely was taken, that the Norman’s built a causeway over the marshy land, that they bribed a monk to show them a safe route into the town or that the majority of the would be rebels negotiated. However Ely was taken, Hereward the Wake apparently disappeared into the marshes, and again become a figure of legend, possibly being pardoned by William, hiding in Scotland or being ambushed and killed by Norman knights.

Building of a new Norman cathedral that would replace the Anglo-Saxon monastery could now commence, and this was started in 1082 by Simeon who was the brother of the Bishop of Winchester. Work on the new cathedral was slow and gradual, with the style changing over the years as new Bishop’s took over and new design approaches were tried.

Bishop Ridel was appointed in 1169 and completed work on the Gothic west front.  The church had a Norman central tower, however in the early 14th century this would collapse leading to one of the most beautiful features of the cathedral we see today, being constructed in its place.

This was the central Octagon which required far more substantial foundations than those that supported the Norman tower, so parts of the central church were demolished to create a large space for the Octagon supporting structure to be built, and foundations were dug down to a depth of 3m. At the very top of the Octagon is a magnificent lantern.

The view of the nave after entering Ely Cathedral:

Ely Cathedral

The painted roof was part of the Victorian restorations of the cathedral, and is the work of two artists, Henry Styleman Le Strange and Thomas Gambier Parry, who painted the final six of the panels – you can see the change of style halfway along the roof.

Ely Cathedral

Underneath the Octagon – a magnificent example of medieval architecture and construction.

Ely Cathedral

Occupying the space of the collapsed central Norman Tower, the pillars were moved further out to enlarge the central space, and were built on much firmer foundations.

The Octagon is topped by a central Lantern and is built of wood covered in lead to reduce weight, as a stone lantern would have been too heavy for the pillars to support.

The height of the Octagon is 142 feet, and was the work of Alan of Walsingham. John of Burwell carved the central image of Christ and in total, the Octagon took 18 years to complete.

Close-up view of the lantern:

Ely Cathedral

The space directly underneath the Octagon is occupied by an octagonal altar:

Ely Cathedral

The Octagon and Nave viewed from the Choir:

View towards the north transept and the choir:

Ely Cathedral

Mid fifteenth century hammer beam roof with flying angels of the south transept:

Ely Cathedral

There is a remarkable amount of graffiti across the cathedral. If this happened today we would condemn such an activity, but graffiti from the past is often preserved and studied. Does make you wonder who IN was and what he was doing in Ely Cathedral in 1628 (assuming they are the initials of a person).

Ely Cathedral

The remains of the canopy of a stone tomb. An information panel states that these have been mistaken as part of the Shrine of St Etheldreda. The Shrine was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII.

Ely Cathedral

A plaque set into the floor marks the spot where the Shrine of St Etherdreda was located:

Ely Cathedral

The Lady Chapel includes unusual additions to the windows. The names of companies that have contributed to the cathedral.

Ely Cathedral

There is the base of a wayside Saxon cross in the Cathedral, oldest of all the monuments. It was found in the nearby village of Haddenham and the Latin inscription on the base reads “Give, O God, to Ovin your light and rest”. Ovin was apparently a common Saxon name.

Ely Cathedral

I have only just scratched the surface of the history, architecture and story of this wonderful city. The Cathedral is stunning. As you approach Ely, the cathedral rises up above the surrounding landscape, and must have been even more dominant during the medieval period.

Walking the side streets reveals many more historic buildings. The River Great Ouse has played a part in Ely’s history and the drainage of the surrounding marshland which has transformed Ely from the Isle of Ely, to the city we see today. I doubt Hereward the Wake would recongise the landscape if he could return.

After a long walk around the city, we returned home. After his visit in July 1952, my father headed to Ely Youth Hostel, which I suspect by today’s Youth Hostel standards, was rather basic. A long bike ride from London.

Ely Cathedral

Ely Youth Hostel Dining Room.

Ely Cathedral

Ely is on my list of places to return – which at the moment is getting longer every day.

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Shadwell Dock Stairs

Six week’s ago, I walked along the north bank of the Thames from Tower Bridge to the Isle of Dogs, hunting some of the stairs down to the river. I am trying to trace all those that have been lost, and visit all those that remain. I have already covered a number of these fascinating places, and for this post I am at one of the probably lesser known stairs, Shadwell Dock Stairs.

The red circle in the following map extract shows the location of the stairs, between King Edward Memorial Park and the entrance to Shadwell Basin  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs are shown on the 1894 Ordnance Survey map, but in a rather unusual location as they are almost hard up against the entrance to the Shadwell New Basin. This was the eastern entrance to the London Docks, so must have been a busy place with ships entering and departing from the London Dock complex.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

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

The reason they are there is explained by looking at an earlier map, the 1746 Rocque map of London which shows the stairs in place, long before the build of the Shadwell Basin. They are highlighted by the red oval in the following map.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The above map also explains the source of the name. If you look to the left of the stairs, there is a narrow channel leading a short distance inland to the street Lower Shadwell. This channel of water is named Shadwell Dock. There is a Timber Yard across the street, so perhaps Shadwell Dock was the route by which timber was landed to be moved to and from the Timber Yard.

So, I suspect it is safe to assume that Shadwell Dock Stairs are earlier than 1746, and were named after the nearby dock.

The Faithorne and Newcourt map of 1658 shows a continuous line of buildings along the river at this point, without the stairs or Shadwell Dock, so they must have been built in the years between 1658 and 1746.

UPDATE: Reader David Crowther highlighted in the comments a key point regarding the location of the stairs which I completely missed. In the 1746 map, Shadwell Dock Stairs are to the west of Labour In Vain Street, however in the 1894 map the stairs are just to the east of the same street. To check that this was not a mapping error in the 1746 map, I checked Horwood’s map of 1799 and that also shows the stairs to the west of Labour In Vain Street, the same position as the 1746 map. 

The Shadwell Basin entrance was constructed in the 19th century, and aligning Horwood’s map with the position of the basin entrance shows that the original position of the stairs was where the new entrance would be constructed, so the stairs were re-built just to the east of the basin entrance, to the new position shown in the 1894 map.

This perhaps demonstrates the importance of the stairs, in that they were not simply lost when the Shadwell Basin was constructed, but were rebuilt just to the east of the new basin entrance.

The following maps (1746 on left and 1894 on right) clearly show the change in location between Labour in Vain Street (red oval) and Shadwell Dock Stairs (yellow circle).

My thanks to David for finding this.

Shadwell Dock Stairs today are fenced off and show evidence of an alternative use of providing access to the river. They are located on the pathway that leads from Glamis Road to the southern end of the King Edward Memorial Park, where the northern ventilation  / old pedestrian access building for the Rotherhithe Tunnel is located.

This is the view looking towards the top of the stairs. The walkway is behind the fence at the top of the photo.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The LMA Collage archive has a similar view of the stairs from 1978, when much of the land behind was still derelict.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0639_78_120_100_2

The clue as to the most recent use of the Shadwell Dock Stairs is found in the space between the stairs and the entrance to Shadwell Basin. This space is now occupied by Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre which provides water sport activities, and the Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.

The steps provided a launching route into the river for the adjacent organisations, however there now appears to be a much larger slipway built directly into the entrance to Shadwell Basin so I assume the stairs are now redundant, hence the current condition.

Boats would have been run down and up the metals runners which have been installed over the steps.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs feature in numerous newspaper reports over the years. All the usual accidents, drowned bodies being found, crime, ships for sale etc. There are three reports that I want to cover, as they reveal some of the more unusual aspects of life on the river, centred around these river stairs.

From the Morning Chronicle on the 16th January 1841, a report which shows that it was not just the Thames around the area of the City that froze in winter:

“NARROW ESCAPE OF THREE WATERMEN ON THE RIVER – On Thursday night, at about six o’clock, three Greenwich watermen, who had been into the London Dock with a vessel they had brought up the river, were returning from the upper entrance at Wapping, when their progress was stopped by a large field of ice, which nearly broke their boat in two, and drove them towards Shadwell Dock-stairs. Here they were completely hemmed in among the ice, which extended from one side of the river to the other, and completely blocked up the navigation.

The boatmen endeavoured in vain to extricate themselves, and were at length driven nearly into the middle of the river. Here they remained stationary for some time, exposed to the sleet and snow.

Soon afterwards the ebb tide drove the ice a little further down the river, and again the poor watermen tried to get out, but with no better success than before, and the field of ice was again stopped by the barges and shipping.

The watermen continually hailed the people ashore to render them some assistance, but none could be afforded, and the masses of ice were not sufficiently consolidated together for any one to venture in safety.

The men at last began to complain of the wet and cold, and said they could not hold out much longer. They had been four hours among the ice and their situation became very critical.

Some watermen and lightermen ashore threw lines towards them, but they fell very far short of the boat.  At ten o’clock, when they appeared quite exhausted, Judge, an Inspector of Thames police, and three river constables came to the spot at Shadwell and determined to make some effort to save them.

They borrowed two hurdles and some ropes. Constable Jones ventured as far upon the ice as was consistent with safety, and threw a line towards the boat, but the men were unable to catch it. The Thames Police, finding no time to be lost, and that the men were benumbed with cold, and incapable of any exertion, resolved upon a bolder attempt to save them.

A rope was fastened around Jones, the youngest and most expert of the party, and he placed one of the hurdles across the blocks of ice in advance of the one he was standing on. 

After much difficulty, Jones got back with a second line he had made fast to the boat. On reaching the shore, the Thames police, with the assistance of five other men, pulled the boat right over the ice, with the three men in it, and brought it close alongside one of Mr Charrington’s coal barges.

The watermen were taken out and were conveyed to the nearest public house.

Their exposure to the snow storm had affected them so much that it was some time before they recovered; and had not the greatest attention been paid them one or more would have perished.”

Very descriptive, and looking across the river at this point, it is hard to imagine that it could have frozen, being much wider than in the City, but in reality the sheer number of moored ships and barges would have provided plenty of spaces where ice could aggregate, and tides would have broken free large sheets of ice which would have drifted around the river as described in the report.

There are a number or reports which mention a ferry running from Shadwell Dock Stairs, but so far I have not been able to find any detail of the type of ferry, the destination and for how long it operated. There was consideration of starting a large steam powered ferry service from Shadwell, similar to the Woolwich ferry, and in Lloyd’s List on the 15th February 1893, there is a report that the London County Council is proposing a ferry between Rotherhithe and Shadwell.

The article reports on the considerable differences in opinion of the effect on navigation of a two ferry-boat service running across the river at intervals of every 15 minutes throughout the day. The proximity to the entrance to the London Docks was identified as a risk, with a ferry being a serious danger to ships entering or leaving the docks.

The Rotherhithe to Shadwell ferry was part of a bill put before Parliamentary Committee, but the ferry proposals did not make any progress, the proposal for a road tunnel underneath the Thames was a much better option, able to move far greater volumes of traffic and with no impact on river traffic. The Rotherhithe Tunnel opened in 1908, and now runs underneath the river, very close to Shadwell Dock Stairs.

I have often wondered whether these Thames stairs were administered or overseen in any way, or whether they provided open access to the river. In the days when there was so much traffic on the river, with people and goods of all types being stored on ships and barges. Given the right tide, the river was probably the fastest method of moving across London. The Thames stairs were important gateways between the river and land.

An article in the London Sun on the 10th March 1868 mentions a Watchbox at Shadwell Dock Stairs.

The article reports on the trial of Thomas Deacon, a 19 year old lighterman who was charged with violently assaulting Edward Dove, a Waterman at Shadwell Dock Stairs. The report states that:

“The complainant said that the prisoner was a perfect nuisance at the place and was in the watchbox at Shadwell Dock-stairs last night with another man. They had no right there, and were requested to turn out, which they refused to do, and the prisoner, who is a strong and powerful fellow, struck the complainant a tremondous blow on the mouth with his clenched fist, and completely wounding the upper lip.”

Thomas Deacon was sentenced to two months of hard labour for the assault.

Watermen were higher in the river hierarchy than lightermen, and watermen had a range of rights covering their work on the river, and perhaps were involved in some form of policing, or watching over the river and stairs.

The Watchbox at Shadwell Dock Stairs possibly being part of this approach – a problem with writing this blog, researching any topic always opens up lots of additional subjects to investigate.

Looking down Shadwell Dock Stairs and the following photo provides a better view of the stones forming the causeway leading out into the river.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The LMA Collage archive has a better photo of this part of the stairs at low tide in 1971. Interesting in comparing the above and below photos, the 1971 photo did not have what looks to be some form of concrete / stone platform either side of the causeway. This must have helped with preserving the state of the causeway. The concrete appears to have replaced the wooden posts that once held the side of the causeway in place.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0639_71_35_513_23

Looking west along the river with Shadwell Dock Stairs in the lower left corner. To the right, between the marker post and the opposite river wall is the entrance to the Shadwell Basin, showing how close the entrance is to the stairs.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs are Grade II listed, and they were included in the impact assessments for the construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel and close by is one of the construction sites for the tunnel, where part of the river facing walkway has been closed off. The following view is from the location of the Shadwell Dock Stairs, looking east, with the old Rotherhithe Tunnel pedestrian entrance, now ventilation point on the left, and the construction site on the right.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

A small part of King Edward Memorial Park is now part of the construction site, but the major part of this park is unaffected. It is a park with a fascinating story, including competition for Billingsgate Fish Market. I wrote about the history of the park here.

Large, black, storage tanks form an interesting view along the southern edge of the park:

Shadwell Dock Stairs

A longer view of the Tideway Tunnel construction site. Shadwell Dock Stairs can just been on the left edge of the photo.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Shadwell Dock Stairs were in existence before the London Docks, and the construction of the entrance to Shadwell Basin must have demolished the Shadwell Dock seen in the 1746 map, that the stairs must have been named after.

Shadwell Basin is the only remaining expanse of water from the London Docks, with the entrance to the basin being adjacent to the stairs.

A large lifting bridge remains over the entrance to the basin, carrying Glamis Road from Wapping Wall up to The Highway.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

The section of the basin entrance between bridge and river is now occupied by the Outdoor Activity Centre.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

Looking from the bridge in the opposite direction with the basin entrance leading into the larger Shadwell Basin. The towers of the City in the distance.

Shadwell Dock Stairs

At the risk of sounding repetitive as I have mentioned this in my previous posts on Thames Stairs, I do find them fascinating. Shadwell Dock Stairs today is fenced off, but as with all the stairs I have looked at, they are a focal point for discovering the human history of the river and shore.

Standing by the stairs, we can imagine the thousands of people who have used the stairs to get to and from the river. The coming of the Shadwell Basin must have had a huge impact on the stairs. The times when ice from the frozen river broke up against the stairs, and the watchbox that must have been a scary place to sit on a dark winter’s night – all part of London’s centuries old relationship with the River Thames.

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The Royal Aquarium, Cock Inn and Westminster Hospital

Many of London’s buildings seem so substantial that they almost appear permanent, however looking back there have been so many buildings of all types that at the time must have seemed destined for a long future, but in reality would only grace the city streets for a limited number of years.

There are so many trends that influence the buildings that spring up across the city. Changing work and living patterns, the economy, financial incentives, industrial changes, government policy, transport etc. and it is interesting to speculate how this might continue as the city we see today is only ever a snapshot of a point in time.

In 30 years time will there be campaigns to preserve the Walkie Talkie building, threatened with demolition as with technology changes there is a significantly reduced need for office space in the City and the City of London is now approving hotel and apartment building? Demand for office space across London may be reduced in the next few years as more companies recognise the economic benefits of staff working from home?

What got me thinking about this was looking at a map, and seeing a large building that was only in existence for a few decades.

Last summer, a reader generously gave me a number of maps, including large-scale Ordnance Survey maps from the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. One of these covered Westminster, and just opposite Westminster Abbey, there was a large building with bold lettering naming the building as the Royal Aquarium.

Royal Aquarium

The Royal Aquarium was a rather magnificent building, as illustrated by this view of the building from the book The Queen’s London. the view is from the yard outside Westminster Abbey. Tothill Street is running to the left of the Royal Aquarium.

Royal Aquarium

The Royal Aquarium had a relatively short life. Opened in April 1876, it was demolished in 1903, to make way for the building that we find on part of the site today – the part facing Westminster Abbey – the Methodist Central Hall.

Royal Aquarium

The Royal Aquarium was built by the Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Garden Society, a limited company which had been set-up with an initial £200,000 of capital through the sale of shares of £5 each.

An aquarium had recently been built in Brighton and was financially very successful with the shares at a 30% premium to their original sale price, and the Society argued that the same success could be achieved in London, although I would have thought that a sea-side town like Brighton was a much more suitable location for an aquarium than central London.

Despite the name, the Royal Aquarium would cover far more than the display of marine life, and it was intended to deliver, in the Victorian approach of such institutions, cultural and educational entertainments. These would include “vocal and instrumental performance of the most brilliant manner, supported by a splendid orchestra and best known artists of the day”. The Royal Aquarium would also feature Reading Rooms, a Library and Picture Gallery.

The Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Garden Society was soon renamed the Royal Westminster Aquarium Company. Opening commenced in January 1876 with a formal opening of the main building by the Duke of Edinburgh. The rest of the building’s facilities opened during the following months with the theatre opening in April.

The Royal Aquarium was a really big building, and some idea of the scale can be had from the following description from The Era on the 3rd of October 1875:

“The Royal Aquarium promises soon to be an accomplished fact, for already the building is so far advanced that on Tuesday, in response to the invitation of the Managing Director, a number of gentlemen inspected the works. 

There is still, of course, a great deal of scaffolding to interrupt the view of the building. Still enough can be seen to form some idea of the size, grace and elegance of design of this new addition to the pleasure resorts of the Metropolis.

The large tanks for fish on each side of the great central avenue have sills of polished granite, and are lighted both from above and at the back; the plate glass in front being one inch in thickness. the whole of the flooring of encaustic tiles on concrete cement is now being laid down. The promenade, or winter and summer garden, is about 400 feet long by 160 feet wide, and is approached by two bold entrances from the Tothill-street frontage, surmounted by pediments; with representations of Neptune and the sea-horse, above which rises a figure of Britannia, twelve feet in height. 

The height of the gallery from the floor of the promenade is sixteen feet and from this level to the springing of the vaulted roof is about sixteen feet. The whole height from the floor level to the top of the roof is seventy-two feet. The galleries round the building are forty feet in width, a large portion being set apart for refreshments. On the north side in the centre is the large orchestra, sixty feet by forty feet. The concert room at the west end is a noble and lofty apartment, and is capable of being converted into a large and handsome Theatre. It is 106 feet long by sixty-six feet in width. the stage is thirty feet in width to the sides of the proscenium, and forty-three feet in depth.

There are also two galleries, which, together with the ground-floor space, will accommodate an audience of 2,500 persons. About 800 tons of iron have been used in the construction of the building.”

The name Royal Aquarium does not really cover the multiple functions that the building could serve, as from the description, with the galleries, large promenade, concert room / theatre, this really was a multipurpose space, capable of being converted to host a range of different functions.

The Royal Aquarium photographed in 1902 from Victoria Street:

Royal Aquarium

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_536_78_7349

There was some criticism soon after opening regarding the lack of marine life, for example: “It was said that the Aquarium does not deserve its title because there were no fish, but great efforts have been made of late to stock the tanks, and some drawback in their construction and arrangement having been removed, the public will have the opportunity of judging the Institution fairly.”

The Royal Aquarium was eventually well stocked with a variety of marine live, however the methods used to transport animals to the Aquarium were very basic and often resulted in a tragic outcome.

In 1877 a whale was being delivered to the Royal Aquarium from Labrador, Canada, however on arrival it was found to be suffering from what appeared to be a bad cold, with mucus coming from the whale’s blow hole. It arrived on a Wednesday but died the following Saturday. The lungs of the dead whale were found to be very badly congested and the cause was identified as the method used to transport the whale.

It had been on an exposed open deck during the trip across the Atlantic, and had been covered in sea water every five minutes, however water evaporated quickly between the regular soaking, which resulted in extreme cold, and the subsequent impact on the whale’s lungs.

A very barbaric treatment of the whale for the sole purpose of entertainment.

Some idea of the scale, the volume of iron used, and the way an iron framework was used to construct the building can be seen from the following photo that was taken during demolition of the Royal Aquarium (note the twin towers of Westminster Abbey in the background):

Royal Aquarium

The following drawing shows the interior of the Royal Aquarium:

Royal Aquarium

Picture credit: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

From the above view it can be seen that the design was very similar to that of the Great Exhibition, with a long central space covered by a glass arched roof. Side galleries also ran the length of the building.

Entertainment at the Royal Aquarium was what would be expected of late Victorian mass entertainment, consisting of Music Hall style acts along with people who were considered very different to the norm. One being Chang the Great Chinese Giant:

Royal Aquarium

Credit: Poster: Royal Aquarium : Chang, the great Chinese giant : admission one shilling. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Chang, according to his obituary, was born in China in 1842. He came to England in 1868 and toured extensively across the UK and Europe, including displays at the Royal Aquarium. It was claimed he was 8 foot tall.

He settled in England and married a woman from Liverpool, but settled on the south coast at Bournemouth, where he was listed as a resident under the name of Mr Chang Woo Gow. He was known for his readiness to help and get involved in local matters, he sold Chinese objects at charitable bazaars and exhibited at local art exhibitions.

He died in 1893 at the age of 51 and was buried in a local Bournemouth cemetery in the same grave as his wife. His coffin was reported as being 8ft 6in long. Chang and his wife had two sons who were still alive at the funeral of their father.

Other entertainments were similar to those put on at a Music Hall, but on a much larger scale. The following is the Autumn Season in 1886, where you could see the Mysterious Disappearance of a Lady, in full view of the audience, or Professor Beckwith and Family’s New Swimming Entertainment.

Royal Aquarium

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_GL_ENT_125b

One of the events hosted in the Royal Aquarium was when the management “scored a great success with their first ping-pong or table tennis tournament”.

The drawing below shows the final in the ladies section between Mrs Thomas and Miss V. Eames, when “each lady scored one game and twenty-five points, upon which it was decided to play for five consecutive points, Miss Eames ultimately scoring, and winning the ladies championship.”

Royal Aquarium

A very different appearance at the Royal Aquarium, was that by James Gordon, a street-porter from Dundee, in December 1886.

He was 47 years old, and originally apprenticed as an engineer, however he had his right hand smashed at work and lost his thumb and three fingers. He then tried work as a baker, as a painter, before finally working as a light porter in Dundee. He had twelve children. four had died and one had emigrated to New Zealand. Finding work was difficult and some weeks he would only earn four shillings.

With his disability, there was very little hope of finding any better work, so he decided to push a wheel barrow from Dundee to London and back – a distance of roughly 1,000 miles.

On reaching London, he rested for three days and appeared at the Royal Aquarium, where many visitors came to see him. He had a collecting box in his wheel barrow and people put in money during his journey, and at each town he stopped at, he would pay in the money at the Post Office, to be sent back to his wife at Dundee.

Mr James Gordon pulling his wheel barrow and setting of at the start of his return journey from London to Dundee.

Royal Aquarium

By the early years of the 20th century, the Royal Aquarium was in decline. It had grown a slightly dubious reputation as the newspapers of the time reported on the “single women” who would walk the galleries of the building.

So after a short 27 years in existence, the main building closed in January 1903. At the closing performance, the president and managing director of the aquarium company referred to some of the successful entertainments put on at the Aquarium, including Ladies’ Cycle Races, a Boxing Kangaroo, and that the public had paid one shilling a seat to watch a man in a trance awake (an experience that was compared to simply watching a sleeping man wake up !!). The theatre would continue on until 1907 when it too would be closed and demolished.

The site would soon be handed over to the Wesleyan Methodists, who would build their new Central Hall which would be open by 1912. The Central Hall today, from along side the Queen Elizabeth II Centre:

Royal Aquarium

Although the Methodist Central Hall has a very different purpose to the Royal Aquarium, the building is now the location for the BBC’s New Years Eve concert before and after the fireworks, so there is a small entertainment link remaining with the popular culture of the Royal Aquarium.

The Ordnance Survey large-scale maps are fascinating, there is so much detail to discover. In addition to the Royal Aquarium, I have circled three other sites:

Royal Aquarium

The red circle is around some text stating The Cock Inn (site off).

The Cock Inn was one of London’s very old inns:

Royal Aquarium

Image dated 1845 © The Trustees of the British Museum

According to Stow, the original Cock, or Cock and Tabard existed as far back as the reign of Edward III (1327 to 1377), and workmen were paid at the Inn during the building of Westminster Abbey. This original Inn may at some point have been demolished, and a new Inn, the Cock, was built on the opposite, north side of the street, which would be the location marked on the map.

Timber was reused from the original Inn to build the new, and there is a story in Old and New London which was also reported in the London Evening Standard on the 9th January 1854:

“DISCOVERY OF ANCIENT GOLD AND SILVER COINS – On Saturday morning, while some workmen were taking down some outhouses belonging to the well-known Old Cock and Tabard Inn, Tothill-street, Westminster, in the occupation of Mr Flixton, they came in contact with a large oak beam, which was hollow in the centre, when to their great surprise, they discovered a very large quantity of gold and silver coins, besides other antiquities of the reign of Henry V and Henry VII. The men, not knowing the real value of these coins, which are in a state of very good preservation, sold several to parties in the neighbourhood for a few pots of beer. Fortunately Messrs. J.C. Wood and Co., the eminent brewers, of Victoria-street, Westminster, hearing of the discovery, got possession of the remainder; and it is supposed by antiquaries and others competent of judging that they must have remained in the place where they were found for 500 or 600 years.”

The newspaper report uses the old name for the Inn, and there does seem some confusion regarding whether the inn on the northern side of Tothill-street was the original inn, or whether it was a rebuild of an inn that had existed on the opposite of the street, Old and New London states that the large oak beams were from the original inn, and it was common to reuse building materials.

The Cock Inn was demolished in 1873 to make way for the development of the Royal Aquarium – a sad fate of an inn that was probably around 500 years old.

The yellow oval is around another building that had a longer life than the Royal Aquarium, but has since been demolished and replaced by a very different building.

This is the Westminster Hospital:

Royal Aquarium

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0579_5846C

The above photo is dated 1913 and shows the Westminster Hospital facing onto the yard at the entrance to Westminster Abbey. The front of the Methodist Central Hall can just been seen on the left of the photo.

The site of the Westminster Hospital is today occupied by the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, and the grass space in frount.

Royal Aquarium

The origins of the Westminster Hospital date back to 1716. The founders (Henry Hoare from the Hoare banking family, William Wogan, a religious author, a wine merchant, Robert Witham and the Reverand Patrick Coburn) were concerned about the very unhealthy conditions along the north bank of the Thames in Westminster. The area was subject to frequent flooding and the land was marshy.

In 1719, the Westminster Infirmary opened in a small house in Petty France, as a voluntary hospital, dependent on donations for all running costs.

The Westminster Hospital opposite the Royal Aquarium was the fourth version of the hospital, as it expanded and moved around Westminster as property became available.

Built in 1834 with an initial capacity of 106 in-patients, the hospital expanded over the years, with the additional of nurses accommodation and a medical school.

The first operation under general anesthetic was performed at the Westminster Hospital in 1847. One of the Doctors at Westminster Hospital was Dr. John Snow, who was responsible for tracking down the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho in 1854.

Within 10 days there were a large number of fatal cases of cholera within a small radius of the junction of Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) and Cambridge Street (now Lexington Street).

John Snow worked meticulously on tracking down all those who became infected to discover any common link between infections, and he gradually came to the conclusion that the common source was a water pump close to the junction of Broad and Cambridge Street’s. To confirm that this was the source, he also tracked locals who were not infected to find out where they sourced their water and in all cases it was a different source to the water pump.

He had some trouble trying to convince officials that the pump was the source, but after the pump handle was removed, cases stopped appearing.  In his report to the Medical Times and Gazette, he wrote:

“I had an interview with the Board of Guardians of St. James’s parish, on the evening of the 7th, and represented the circumstances to them. In consequence of what I said, the handle of the pump was removed on the following day. The number of attacks of cholera had been diminished before this measure was adopted, but whether they had diminished in a greater proportion than might be accounted for by the flight of the great bulk of the population I am unable to say. In two or three days after the use of the water was discontinued the number of fresh attacks became very few.

The pump-well in Broad-street is from 28 to 30 feet in depth and the sewer which passes a few yards away from it is 22 feet below the surface. the sewer proceeds from Marshall-street, where some cases of cholera had occurred before the great outbreak. 

I am of the opinion that the contamination of the water of the pump-wells of large towns is a matter of vital importance. Most of the pumps in this neighbourhood yield water that is very impure; and I believe that it is merely to the accident of cholera evacuations not having passed along the sewers nearest to the wells that many localities in London near a favourite pump have escaped a catastrophe similar to that which occurred in this parish. ” 

An early example of the importance of track and trace, and of listening to experts.

A pub called John Snow is now on the corner of Broadwick and Lexington Street, close to the original location of the contaminated pump.

Back to the Westminster Hospital, and the buildings opposite Westminster Abbey remained open until 1939, when a new and enlarged hospital building was completed at St. Johns Gardens.

Westminster Hospital remained at St Johns Gardens until 1993, when the buildings of the 5th version of the hospital closed, and reopened as the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on Fulham Road.

The hospital buildings opposite Westminster Abbey remained for a number of years, and there were plans to build a new Colonial Office on the site. The following is an illustration of what the Colonial Building could have looked like.

Royal Aquarium

There were plans for the site to become an open space, or alternative government offices, however it was not until 1975 that the plan for a conference centre was approved, and construction of the current building that occupies the site started in 1981 with the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre opening in 1986.

There is one final site marked on the map by the blue circle. This is the location of Cockpit Steps, which I wrote about here.

I started this post with the theme of how London’s buildings change continuously, and the Royal Aquarium, Westminster Hospital building and a 500 year old pub are now just historical footnotes. But they all hold a wealth of history, whether the story of James Gordon pulling his wheelbarrow from Dundee to feed his family, hidden treasure in centuries old beams, or a pioneering doctor who found the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho.

The same will apply to nearly every building across London today, at some point they will also become a historical footnote as the city responds to continuous change, and reinvention.

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Battersea Easter Parade 1979

Forty one years ago (where did the time go) in 1979, I went to photograph the Battersea Easter Parade. I was using my new Canon AE-1 camera, recently bought on Hire Purchase which was the only way I could afford the camera, being on an apprentice wage.

The weather was somewhat like this weekend, warm and sunny. We got to Battersea Park a bit late as we had been out the night before, and walked around where the parade was assembling, but by the time we got to the route of the parade, I could only find a place to the back of the crowds lining the route.

For this Sunday’s post, whilst we are on lock down, and the thought of standing in large crowds of people now seems surreal, let’s take a trip back to the London of 1979, and the Battersea Easter Parade.

Battersea Easter Parade

Disney characters get everywhere:

Battersea Easter Parade

I have tried to adjust the colour of the photos, but they do have a heavy blue tinge. I had not scanned the negatives until earlier this year, so it may be down to a degree of deterioration.

Battersea Easter Parade

1979 marked the 150th anniversary of the first horse-drawn bus in London, and there were a number of buses on the parade, starting with horse-drawn, through to the latest bus on London’s streets. A couple can be seen in the background of the following photo.

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

Fire Engines:

Battersea Easter Parade

The Battersea Easter Parade was the latest incarnation of the Van and Cart Horse Parades traditionally held at Easter. My father photographed the parade at Regent’s Park in 1949. Although the Battersea Easter Parade by the 1970s featured many other different types of floats, horse and carts continued to participate.

Battersea Easter Parade

More Disney:

Battersea Easter Parade

Young & Co, when they still had a brewery in Wandsworth:

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

When the parade started, we could only find places towards the back of the crowd, so some poor photos of the parade in progress.

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

The Capital Radio bus:

Battersea Easter Parade

This was when Capital Radio was a local London station, with creative broadcasters such as Kenny Everett rather than the national station it is today.

The 194 reference is to the Medium Wave frequency, which at the time served the majority of listeners with VHF FM gradually growing in use.

The 194 signal was broadcast from Saffron Green, next to the A1 and just south of the South Mimms junction with the M25. Capital’s original Medium Wave transmitter used a wire strung between the chimneys of Lotts Road power station in Chelsea.

What would Capital Radio have been playing that week? I checked the music charts for the Easter week, and this was the top 30:

Battersea Easter Parade

Squeeze, Sex Pistols, Dire Straits, Kate Bush, Jam, Sham 69, Siouxsie, Generation X and Elvis Costello – those were the days when brilliant, creative music occupied the charts (or perhaps it is just that I am getting old).

A rather more traditional form of music:

Battersea Easter Parade

Steam haulage:

Battersea Easter Parade

I suspect the theme of the following float was 101 Dalmatians:

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

Post Office Telecommunications – my employer at the time. “London Telephones link the world”

Battersea Easter Parade

There were a number of Carnival Clubs who participated in the Battersea Easter Parade. The following float was by the Wick Carnival Club from Glastonbury – probably not a theme you would expect to see today.

Battersea Easter Parade

Fire engines:

Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

Well it is in London:Battersea Easter Parade

Battersea Easter Parade

Continuing the theme of the old Van and Cart Horse Parade:

Battersea Easter Parade

There was one photo left on the film, I took this as we walked away from Battersea Park, on the north bank of the Thames looking towards Chelsea Bridge and Battersea Power Station. A view that has changed considerably today with the development of the old power station, and east along the river.

Battersea Easter Parade

Forty one years is not that long ago, but in many ways it feels like a different time.

As well as differences in fashion and haircuts, whenever I look back at my earlier photos the big difference is not a single mobile phone.

Associated Press have a newsreel style film of the event which can be accessed here.

The weather will be much the same this weekend as it was in 1979, but Battersea Park will be very different.

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Dr Barton’s Airship

Staying at home has provided the opportunity for more research into a number of London related subjects, and in this post I would like to introduce you to one of the early pioneers of flight, who built his machine at Alexandra Palace, and flew from Alexandra Palace to just outside of Romford, Essex. This is the story of Dr Barton’s Airship.

At the end of the 19th century and during the first years of the 20th century there was considerable competition to demonstrate powered flight. The concepts were clear, but the design and build of a machine were challenging with the technology and materials available at the time.

The Wright brothers in the US were working on a machine that led to the first powered, heavier than air and manned flight in 1903. The Wright brothers machine was very rudimentary, but was something that today we would recognise as an aeroplane. Other inventors were taking a different approach.

One was Francis Alexander Barton, a medical doctor from Beckenham in Kent. Born in 1861, Barton had always been interested in mechanical invention and was an early user of the motor car. He had also been experimenting with balloons and by the end of the 19th century was President of the Aeronautical Institute.

Dr Barton looking suitably late Victorian / Edwardian:

Dr Barton's Airship

He had been working on a design for a powered airship that used some of the principles that would be adopted into the design of aircraft – the use of aeroplanes, or small wing-shaped structures, that would allow the airship to be navigated without the use of ballast or the release of gas, constraints that limited the time an airship could spend in the air.

Barton saw his airship as a stepping stone to a future aircraft design where the balloon of an airship could be removed and the craft would be held aloft and navigated by the use of aeroplanes, or wings as we would call them today.

Dr Barton proposed an airship design to the War Office, who in 1901 gave him an order for a machine.  He hired Frederick Rawson as a consulting engineer for the project and in 1902 they started work on the machine in space that had been provided to him at Alexandra Palace in north London.

A model of the proposed airship used to support the proposal to the War Office is shown below:

Dr Barton's Airship

A hydrogen filled balloon provided the lift for the machine. Below this was a bamboo structure with a platform for those who would operate the airship. At the rear was a large rudder to steer the craft left and right, and along the platform are the “aeroplanes” which would help provide up and down navigational control to remove the need to release gas, or use ballast.

Diesel motors also supported on the platform were connected to propellers which would push the airship through the air.

The crew of the airship would also sit on the platform, surrounded by the bamboo structure and a hydrogen filled balloon just above.

Dr Barton had some competition and the Brazilian Santos-Dumont was also using a similar design. The following view of his machine shows how exposed crew were below the balloon:

Dr Barton's Airship

Dr Barton’s airship was gradually taking shape at Alexandra Palace. Building the machine was relatively standard engineering, however the real risk was with the generation of sufficient hydrogen gas to fill the airship balloon. Hydrogen is an exceedingly flammable gas and early 20th century, amateur airship builders were perhaps limited in their approach to safety when dealing with hydrogen.

A report in the Daily News on the 5th July 1904 covered an explosion at Alexandra Palace where Dr Barton was very lucky to survive:

“DR BARTON’S AIRSHIP – EXPLOSION OF GAS – INVENTOR BADLY INJURED. The work of constructing Dr. Barton’s airship at Alexandra Palace has been attended by numerous incidents, none of which, however, have occasioned personal injuries to those engaged in the undertaking. Yesterday, what might have been a much more serious affair, attended by the gravest results to the balloon and its inventor, occurred in the early hours of the morning.

The airship itself is rapidly approaching completion. The gas necessary for the inflation of the balloon is manufactured in a miniature works just outside the shed which contains the airship. Here iron shavings are thrown into a very strong solution of sulphuric acid, which is contained in specially constructed lead-lined generators.

About two o’clock yesterday morning, Dr. Barton fancied the generator was not working as quickly as it should; so, standing on the platform which is fixed about halfway up the generators, he removed the plate and threw in another pailful of iron shavings.

A tremendous explosion ensued, the force of which may be gathered from the fact that it woke the manager of the works, who was asleep in his house a mile and a quarter away, and blew the pail which Dr Barton had been using to the boundary of Alexandra Park.

The labourers engaged immediately ran to the assistance of Dr. Barton, who was found lying on the platform, the railing of which had prevented his being blown to the ground. He was at once carried into the airship shed, and medical aid was sent for.

In the meantime the injured man became unconscious. Two doctors arrived about three o’clock, and he was carried to his home some distance away on the ambulance stretcher attached to the Palace. There it was found that the patient had received serious burns about the face, and his hair and moustache were partially burnt away.

The worst injury, however was to the eyes, a number of fine particles of iron having been blown rather deeply into both. By the aid of a powerful magnet these were all removed, and Dr. Bremner, who with Dr. Maler performed the operation, believe that in the absence of complications Dr. Barton will be quite restored within a week.”

Despite this set back, Dr. Barton was made of strong stuff and was soon back at work.

Dr. Barton standing in the bamboo frame of his airship:

Dr Barton's Airship

Dr. Barton, and the Alexandra Park Trustees were also in trouble with the council in 1904 as the borough surveyor had found out that waste from the gas-producing plant was being dumped in the Council’s sewers. The surveyor was told to monitor the situation.

The first trial of the airship was in July 1905, when:

“A preliminary trial of Dr Barton’s airship took place at the Alexandra Palace, and it claimed that at a height of 40ft, she obeyed her helm well and readily forged ahead against the wind, which was blowing at an estimated rate of between 15 and 20 miles an hour. The airship was not allowed to make an unfettered trip. The balloon, which it will be remembered, was originally designed for the War Office, is 180ft long, 60ft high, and 40ft wide. The aeroplanes and motors, the propellers and rudders, all worked smoothly, and the balloon had a lifting capacity of several tons.”

By 1905, construction and flight of the airship had taken so long that the War Office had cancelled the contract, and Dr. Barton was now funding the airship from his own funds.

Soon after the trial, also in July 1905, the airship would make its first, and only flight. The Essex Newsman reported on the 29th July 1905:

“Immense interest was taken in the ascent of Dr. Barton’s airship at the Alexandra Palace on Saturday afternoon. The airship rose gracefully at 4.45, and it was universally agreed that the ascent was a magnificent one. Dr. Barton was in charge, and he was accompanied by Mr. E. Rawson, Mr. Spencer, and Mr. Gauderon. 

In the upper air the ship was cleverly maneuvered, but a wind was blowing, in the teeth of which it was found impossible to steer the ship. After some clever tacking, therefore, Dr. Barton gave up the idea of steering the airship back to the Palace grounds. After over an hour’s sail he descended at Havering. The airship was well seen from various parts of Essex, and the ease with which the tacking operations seemed to be done evoked great admiration.

After the descent, alas the ship was wrecked. At Heaton Grange, Havering, at the house of Sir Montagu Turner, a garden party was in progress, and the descent of an airship close by was not the least interesting item of the day’s proceedings. Two farm labourers ran after the trail rope and hung onto it. 

At that moment the keel touched the turf and she bounded about 50ft in the air, throwing the men head over heels. In the rebound, the ship cleared a hedge which divides the field from a few acres of potatoes on the other side, and the anchor catching in the obstruction, the ship pulled up and sank gracefully to the earth, which she touched without a tremor.

Then came an exciting time. As the ship lay there, on a perfectly even keel, Mr Gaudron and Mr Rawson, in a moment of forgetfulness, joined Dr. Barton in the bow, where the latter was receiving the congratulations of the garden party. This sudden shifting of the weight upset the equilibrium and the stern of the airship rapidly rose in the air. 

With presence of mind, Mr. Harry Spencer, who had remained in the stern, grasped the ‘ripping gear’ with which the ship was fitted and tore open the balloon from end to end. Once the rip started, the imprisoned gas did the rest, and with a noise comparable to that of a dozen rockets being fired at once, what remained of 200,000 feet of pure hydrogen was liberated and the vessel sank back to earth.”

The flight had been a success, flying a straight line distance of over 14 miles, and landing perfectly. The airship was destroyed through the excitement of those who had made the flight, rushing to meet those who had come to see them.

It must have been quite a sight – the following view is of Dr Barton’s airship before take off at Alexandra Palace.

Dr Barton's Airship

The route of the airship (Maps © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Dr Barton's Airship

The landing-place on today’s map, just north-west of the Gallows Corner roundabout on the A12:

Dr Barton's Airship

Dr. Barton had put a considerable part of his life and money into the project. The final paragraph of the Essex Newsman article provides a rather poignant summary of the day’s flight:

“In the potato patch as the aeronauts passed home there stood a solitary policeman, engaged in a nocturnal vigil over all that remained of the labours of twenty years and the expenditure of more than £4,000.”

Dr. Barton would not construct another airship. The future was flight without hydrogen balloons, and Dr. Barton did have an attempt at a float plane which he built at the Isle of Wight. This was also constructed of bamboo as it was a strong and importantly cheap material. There was no engine of sufficient light weight for the plane, so Dr Barton conducted some tow tests, but the float plane was wrecked on one of these tests.

He did briefly look at another airship design just before the first world war, however he was unable to get enough support for the project, and he returned to medicine.

Dr. Francis Alexander Barton died in April 1939 – a turn of the century amateur inventor and pioneer of flight, and probably one of the few people to have flown from Alexandra Palace to Havering, near Romford in Essex.

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New Crane Stairs and the Anchor and Hope Pub

In the week before the lock down was implemented, I walked from London Bridge to the isle of Dogs. One of my favourite walks as the views of the river are wonderful in the gaps between old warehouse buildings. I am gradually working through as many Thames Stairs as I can find, and for this week’s post, let me take you to New Crane Stairs and a lost pub.

New Crane Stairs can be found at the corner where Wapping High Street turns away from the river towards Garnet Street. the entrance is tucked away between the old New Crane Wharf building and a recent new apartment building, with the entrance to the River View Chinese restaurant at the entrance to the stairs.

New Crane Stairs

The view along the passageway leading to the stairs:

New Crane Stairs

At the end of the passageway, New Crane Stairs lead down to the river foreshore:

New Crane Stairs

Despite the name, New Crane Stairs are an old set of stairs down to the river. They appear in Morgan’s 1682 map of the whole of London. The word “New” at the start of the name is interesting as it implies there may have been an earlier set of stairs with the Crane name. There are other examples of this, for example Horselydown Old and New Stairs on the south bank of the river, east of Tower Bridge.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets Wapping Wall Conservation Area document states that: “Great Jubilee Wharf and New Crane Wharf (following the post medieval river wall line) form a continuous ‘wall’ of buildings between the street and the Thames.” Intriguing to wonder if New Crane Stairs could possibly date back to a route over the medieval river wall to the river.

The following photo shows the view of New Crane Wharf from the river, with the stairs to the left:

New Crane Stairs

I cannot find a source for the name, whether there was an earlier set of stairs with the Crane name, or whether the name was in reference to the nearby installation of a “new crane” which perhaps in the 17th century or even earlier would have been worthy of note.

Rocque’s 1746 map clearly shows New Crane Stairs at the point where the road turns north, in the centre of the following map:

New Crane Stairs

The first written reference I can find to the stairs, in addition to the above maps is a rather touching newspaper report from the 4th August 1758:

“Thursday, the Wife of John Newcomb, a Waterman, belonging to New Crane Stairs, Wapping, was delivered of three fine boys, and all are like to do well.”

That this was newsworthy probably indicates how rare it was in the mid 18th century for three babies to be born, presumably without any complication – although typical for the time, the wife’s name is not given, or her health following the birth.

Five years later, in July 1763 there was one of the disastrous events that were relatively common in the wooden, close built houses and warehouses crammed with combustible materials:

“Sunday morning, about One o’Clock, a most dreadful Fire broke out at the New Crane Stairs, Wapping, which burnt with great Fury for 4 Hours before it could be stopped, and consumed all the Houses from New Crane Stairs to King James’s Stairs, and from the River-side back to the Garden Ground which includes both sides of the Street called Wapping Wall, and Part of Gravel Lane; it ended in consuming Mr Wilson’s large and fine Cooperage: The Number of Houses burnt are computed around 170, besides Shops, Warehouses and Docks, &c. and it is reckoned 1500 Persons, Housekeepers, Lodgers, &c. are burnt out. The loss is immensely great.

In the Dock by New Crane Stairs was the Mary Gally, captain Clarke, a fine Ship in the West-India Trade, almost ready to come out, which was entirely consumed to the keel, with all materials about the Dock. 

It is said the Fire broke out in a Small-Beer Brewery, which immediately communicated itself to the Ship Alehouse; and the Wind blowing strong from the South carried the Flames to the Dock-Yard and other Houses adjoining; and the street being narrow, greatly impeded the working of the Engines. Two men are said to be buried in the Ruins and a Fireman had his skull fractured by the falling of a Wall.”

The damage caused by the fire can be judged by Sun Fire Office alone paying out £40,000 to those who had suffered losses in the fire.

It was a sunny and peaceful day when I walked down New Crane Stairs. The following photo is looking back up the stairs, the green algae demonstrating the height of high water on the stairs and surrounding buildings.

New Crane Stairs

Part of the foreshore at the base of the stairs is covered in large concrete blocks, possibly the remains bombed buildings, river wall of structures that once ran into the river.

The foreshore at the base of many of the Thames stairs are remarkable places. I very rarely see anyone else, they are very peaceful, but have the full view of the river and adjoining buildings.

New Crane Stairs

To the east (the above photo), the foreshore is almost beach like with a fine silt covering much of the surface. To the west as shown in the photo below there are more of the large concrete blocks:

New Crane Stairs

The foreshore is covered with the tide worn remains of bricks and the chalk blocks that were used to provide flat and firm bases on the foreshore for barges and lighters.

New Crane Stairs

When the tide is low it is possible walk some distance along the foreshore, but not today – and always with care to watch the tide and access to and from the river.

New Crane Stairs

A rather tragic event at New Crane Stairs in 1911 demonstrated the lack of care for people really struggling and probably with mental health problems. The following article was titled “A Lucky Escape”:

“James Rick, 48, a meat porter of Angle-street, Walworth, was charged with attempting to commit suicide by jumping into the River Thames at New Crane Stairs, Wapping.

Police-Sargent Anderson, stated that early on Saturday morning he saw the accused struggling in the water. He rowed to his assistance, and succeeded in getting him into the boat. When questioned at the station, the accused replied ‘I have lost my wife, and everything has gone wrong. Everything seems to have gone wrong with me’.

Prisoner was remanded for a week.”

That someone who had attempted suicide, and had been driven to that fate by who knows what tragedy had been treated as a criminal seems incredible, but was a standard approach at the time.

A different example, but which also shows how people were treated comes from 1832 when Hugh Elliot of the coal ship Flora from Sunderland was charged with assaulting John Morrison, a boy belonging to another collier.

The boy had been assaulted at midnight at New Crane Stairs where he was waiting for his master, when the prisoner and several other ‘north country seamen’ came down and asked the boy to row them to their ships. He refused as he was waiting for his Captain, and Hugh Elliot assaulted him with several blows about the face and body.

This was bad enough, but the boy had been waiting since 10 pm and was “almost perished with cold”. It was apparently common practice for the masters of colliers to get their apprentices to row them to shore, then wait in the cold whilst they got drunk in the pubs. The report adds that a few winters ago, two lads were found by their officers frozen to death while waiting for their captains.

New Crane Wharf, to the east of the stairs is one of the pre-war warehouses, however the building to the west of the stairs is a new apartment building replacing a smaller building seen on the left of the following photo of New Crane Stairs in 1971:

New Crane Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0639_71_35_518_11

We can get an idea of the industry in the immediate vicinity of New Crane Stairs by looking at maps of the area. The following extract from the 1894 Ordinance Survey Map shows New Crane Stairs in the centre of the map, with a causeway extending out into the river.

New Crane Stairs

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

There is a jetty extending into the river, and to the upper left of New Crane Stairs are a “Commercial Gas Company’s Works”. More detail can be seen in the 1948 Ordnance Survey Map below, where New Crane Stairs is shown with a “Hard” extending into the river, the pier is still there with a conveyor which I suspect was used for taking coal to the Gas Works, which by 1948 are now shown as disused.

New Crane Stairs

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

There is a 1929 Britain from Above photo which shows the area covered by the above two maps. Ignore the large white ship, rather look to the right and there is a smaller ship with two square holds which I suspect carried coal which would then be transported via conveyor to the Gas Works, the area to the right of the gas holders.

New Crane Stairs

New Crane Stairs are to the upper right of the smaller ship, between the large warehouse (New Crane Wharf) and the smaller building.

Coal for the Gas Works was at continual risk of theft. An article in the East London Observer on the 29th May 1920 reported on two boys, John Vincent and John Bullman, both of Whitehorn-place, Wapping who were charged with the theft of 84lbs of coal, the property of the Commercial Gas Company. They had been seen by Constable 393 H who was on duty at New Crane Stairs coming from the barge Spaniard with a large sack.

They were up before the magistrate at Old Street Police Court and were given some “good advice” and bound over to be of good behaviour for twelve months.

I suspect the large amount of broken concrete blocks on the foreshore to the west of New Crane Stairs could be the remains of the jetty, or other infrastructure which was part of transporting coal from moored ships to the gas works.

The two maps also show a causeway or hard extending from the stairs into the river. There was no sign of that on the day of my visit, however on a visit a couple of years ago when the tide was lower, remains of this feature were visible existing out from the silt of the foreshore into the river, as shown in the following photo:

New Crane Stairs

The following drawing from the LMA Collage archive, dated c1870, shows the New Crane Stairs on the far right, along with the smaller warehouse building shown in the maps, Britain from Above photo and the 1971 photo.

New Crane Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p540958x

In the centre of the drawing is a pub. This is the Anchor and Hope public house, the building labeled P.H. just to the west of the stairs in the 1894 Ordnance Survey map.

I cannot find any photos of the pub, or much written about the pub, although there are plenty of newspaper references to the pub, either as a reference point for some event, or to activities using the pub. These references are always useful in understanding more about life in London as they record the day to day events that were important at time.

The unhealthy state of the River Thames is clear from an article in The Sportsman on the 14th January 1889 when the capture of a fish justifies an article:

” Perhaps the most startling incident in the world of sport during the last few days is the catch of a large carp in the Thames at Wapping. On Tuesday afternoon, opposite Mr Bat Murphy’s well-known hostelry, the Anchor and Hope, Wapping, a lighterman caught a very fine specimen of an English carp in the river, weighing more than 7lb. Mr Murphy has given instructions that this ‘below-bridge novelty’ should be stuffed and placed in a glass case.”

So perhaps the carp in its glass case was on display in the Anchor and Hope. The article goes on to mention a previous capture of a carp in the Thames, which was cooked for a special dinner to commemorate the capture of such a fish in the river, however after one bite, the taste was so bad that the diners had to reach for the brandy – a possible indicator of how bad the pollution of the river was in the 19th century.

Pigeon racing was a popular sport in East London and in August 1883, Mr Murphy, representing the Anchor and Hope came 3rd and won £3 in a race that started from the Derby Arms, Charlton.

In August 1880, the City of London, Tower Hamlets, Middlesex, Shadwell, Wapping and Ratcliffe Annual Regatta took place and all watermen and lightermen’s apprentices of the River Thames from Teddington to Gravesend were invited to enter their names at the Anchor and Hope, New Crane, Wapping for their annual coat and silver badge, and freedoms of the Watermen’s and Lightermen’s Company.

Pubs were used as a meeting point, both for activities at the pub and also as a reference point for unrelated activities. An event in 1806 is a reminder of how General Elections were very restricted and the appointment of MPs controlled by the MPs, who often held seats for very long periods of time.

In the November 1806 General Election, George Byng was returned to Parliament for Middlesex. He had already been an MP since 1790 and would remain an MP for Middlesex until his death in 1847.

Voting was limited to Freeholders, and one way to get Freeholders to vote was to arrange their transport, and George Byng was advertising in newspapers that on election day:

“the Friends of Mr Byng are respectively informed that Carriages are provided for the conveyance of Freeholders in that Gentleman’s interest, and stationed at the following places, viz. Near the Anchor and Hope, New Crane, Wapping.”

As well as the Anchor and Hope, the advert then lists an additional 8 locations across East London and the City where coaches would be provided to transport his supporters to the election at Brentford.

I can identify exactly how and when the Anchor and Hope pub closed. The following is from an article titled “Exciting Scenes At Wapping” in the Daily News on the 5th July 1904:

“The East-end was the scene of an exciting fire in the early hours of yesterday morning, at which two persons were injured and three had very narrow escapes.

Shortly before two o’clock a fierce fire burst out in the spirit stores on the first floor of the Anchor and Hope public-house, Wapping High-street. In a short time the entire floor was blazing.

When the Shadwell firemen arrived they were informed that there were people in the burning building. Dashing up the staircase, and beating back the flames with a hydrant as they went, the crew of the escape brought down a man and a woman – the latter, Mrs Margaret Allen, 68, being in a condition of semi-unconsciousness. Meanwhile a third person had leaped out of the second floor window to the foreshore of the Thames. Her name is Ann Donovan, 43, and when she was picked up and removed to hospital it was found that she had broken her leg in two places, and was otherwise injured.

The fire was not extinguished until the public-house and it contents had been practically destroyed.”

It may be that fires were at the start and end of the Anchor and Hope, probably built after the destruction of the 1763 fire, and destroyed in the 1904 fire. After the 1904 fire, the area once occupied by the pub seems to have been included in the space occupied between river and gas works, probably used for the movement of coal from river to gas works.

I continue to be fascinated by Thames Stairs. They are some of the oldest features to be found along the river and almost certainly date back many hundreds of years.

Most times when I walk down stairs and on to the foreshore, even on a glorious sunny day, they are quiet. It is not often I find someone else on the foreshore.

A perfect place to watch the river and consider the considerable human history centred around these places that form the boundary between land and river.

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Hidden London – Moorgate

Moorgate Station has a complex mix of different transport lines. The Northern, Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City underground lines and Great Northern National Rail line.

The station both above and below ground has also had a complex history, as lines were built and extended, use of lines changed, intended extensions came to nothing, and the surface station disappeared under a wave of post-war building.

Change is continuing as Moorgate Station will be at the western end of the Liverpool Street Station on the Elizabeth Line.

The London Transport Museum included Moorgate as a new tour in their Hidden London series of station tours and back in February on a chilly Saturday afternoon, I arrived at Moorgate looking forward to walking through the hidden tunnels of another London underground station.

The following photo shows one of the entrances to Moorgate Station (the brick building to the right) along with the construction area for Crossrail / Elizabeth Line to the left.

Moorgate

Moorgate started life as a surface station when the Metropolitan Line was extended east in 1865. The station’s appearance was much like any other surface station with open tracks and platforms, and the following Ordnance Survey extract from 1894 shows the station in the centre of the map with lines leading off to the north-west.

Moorgate

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

The area was heavily bombed during the last war and Moorgate Station did not escape. The following photo from 1949 shows Moorgate Station at the bottom centre of the map with the rail tracks running north through the space now occupied by the Barbican development.

Moorgate

1940 view of a badly damaged station and burnt out train at Moorgate.

Moorgate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0019308CL

The above view is looking to the east, the burnt out buildings face onto Moorgate, and behind them you can see the domed top of 84 Moorgate, or Electra House, that I used as a landmark to locate the position of one of my father’s photos in my post on London Wall a couple of weeks ago.

Post-war rebuilding of the area around London Wall, the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates led to the re-route of part of the above ground rail tracks into Moorgate, and the station disappearing below a series of office blocks.

Part of the old above ground Moorgate platforms as they appear today.

Moorgate

The deep level underground arrived at Moorgate Station in 1900 in the form of the City & South London Railway extension from Borough to Moorgate. This route would be later extended onto Old Street, Angel, King’s Cross and become the eastern leg of the Northern Line, meeting the western leg at Kennington in the south and Camden Town in the north.

When the original City & South London station was built, lifts were used rather than escalators, so underneath Moorgate today are old lift shafts and access tunnels to these lift shafts, and it was some of these that formed part of the tour.

Moorgate

One thing that fascinates me in these tours of disused stations and tunnels is how they can be read very much like an archaeological excavation, although rather than horizontal layers of history, in these tunnels layers are multi-dimensional as new walls are added, utilities installed, old signs and adverts part covered, graffiti added etc.

Moorgate

No Smoking and Way Out To The Lifts (although the final word is now lost):

Moorgate

When the City & South London Railway arrived at Moorgate in 1900, the moving staircase, or escalator was still 11 years away (first introduced at Earl’s Court station in 1911) so deep level stations were dependent on lifts to transport passengers between ticket halls and platforms.

Escalators have now replaced lifts across the majority of London Underground stations, so on the early deeper level routes there are redundant lift shafts to be found, including at Moorgate, where the following photo (with a bit of camera shake due to a slightly long exposure) shows the view up to the top of one of the redundant shafts.

Moorgate

Many of these disused tunnels are now used for storage.

Moorgate

Although you could argue that once you have seen one disused underground tunnel, you have seen the lot, it is the commentary by the Hidden London guides that make these tours so interesting, with their in-depth knowledge of the development of the station, and London’s transport network. However, there is one unique feature at Moorgate which is not found at any of the other station tours.

The Great Northern & City Railway was a line originally from Finsbury Park to Moorgate, built with the intention of allowing trains of the Great Northern Railway to run on from Finsbury Park into the City. The tunnels for these trains were larger, at 16 feet diameter to allow Great Northern trains to run into the City.

Whilst the line from Moorgate to Finsbury Park was under construction in 1901, a bill was put before Parliament to allow the extension of the line further into the City with a terminus at Lothbury rather than Moorgate.

The plan being for a sub-surface station on the corner of Lothbury, Gresham Street, Moorgate and Princes Street, just north of the Bank station.

The line from Finsbury Park to Moorgate opened in 1904, but despite having Parliamentary approval, the extension to Lothbury was stopped soon after commencement of work, and despite a couple of attempts to continue, lack of funding resulted in the project stalling, and the Greathead Tunneling Shield used for the extension being left in place at the end of a short stub of tunnel, a long way short of Lothbury.

The Greathead Tunneling Shield is the unique feature of Moorgate:

Moorgate

The Greathead Tunneling Shield was the invention of James Henry Greathead, who developed Brunel’s shield design, from rectangular, with individual moveable frames, to a single, circular shield. Screw jacks around the perimeter of the shield allowed the shield to be moved forward as the tunnel was excavated in front of the shield, with cast iron tunnel segments installed around the excavated tunnel immediately behind the shield.

Greathead’s first use of his shield was on the Tower Subway.

He died in 1896, before the Lothbury extension at Moorgate, however his shield design was so successful that it became the standard design for shields used to excavate much of the deep level underground system.

The Illustrated London News in 1896 recorded the following about Greathead:

“Hamlet thought that a man must build churches if he would have his memory outlive his lifetime, but Mr James Henry Greathead, the well-known engineer, who died on Oct. 21, has left a name which seems likely to survive him for some time by the less picturesque work of making subterranean tunnels.

He developed to its highest pitch the system of tunneling which had been introduced by Brunel, who constructed the tunnel under the Thames at Wapping by means of a shield. Mr Greathead improved this shield and drove it forward by hydraulic rams, while he made such subaqueous work easier by the use of compressed air. The greatest feat in subaqueous boring that has ever been undertaken is the new tunnel under the Thames at Blackwall. It is a curious fact that the great engineer just lived to see the Blackwall tunnel brought to a successful completion and then died.

One of his best known projects was the City and South London Railway, which has been successfully at work for five years; and the new Central London Railway and the similar enterprise on the Surrey side now in progress owe much to the ingenuity of his innovations.”

James Henry Greathead:

Moorgate

The Illustrated London News wrote in that 1896 article that his name seemed likely to survive for some time, but I wonder if they would have expected this to be into the 21st century, and a shield of Greathead’s design still being visible in the tunnels under Moorgate.

Moorgate

The tour takes in many of the tunnels of the original station when the lifts were in operation, these tunnels, other side tunnels, changes in level, all contribute to the sense of a maze of tunnels under the streets of Moorgate.

Moorgate

Old advertising on tunnel walls:

Moorgate

Dark tunnel walls and ventilation pipes:

Moorgate

The tour concludes with a view of the next stage of Moorgate’s development, with the entrance from Moorgate Station to what will be the Liverpool Street Station on the Elizabeth Line.

Moorgate

Moorgate has been in continuous development since the very first station in 1865. Connectivity has grown over the years, the surface station disappeared below the post-war development of the area.

The station was the location of the worst peacetime accident on the London Underground, when on the 28th February 1975, 43 people were killed when a train failed to stop and hit the wall at the end of the tunnel at a speed of 35 miles per hour.

In 2009 as part of the Thameslink project some of the widened lines and platforms into Moorgate were closed and are planned to become sidings for the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City and Circle Lines by the end of the year.

The Elizabeth Line will connect Moorgate with Liverpool Street Station via a 238 metre long shared platform, running 34 metres below the surface.

Hidden London Tours are currently on hold, but when resumed, the tour of Moorgate provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about this complex station, and the chance to see one of the engineering innovations that helped build London’s underground transport network.

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A Very Different London

Last Monday afternoon, I had to take a relative to Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital at London Bridge (fortunately nothing to do with the Coronavirus). The hospital had advised not to take public transport, so the only other option was to drive.

Although this was before the formal lock down and the direction to stay at home, I had already stopped walking around London and was missing the experience of walking the city, particularly as the weather was so good.

To take advantage of a drive up to London Bridge, I mounted a GoPro camera on the dash of the car and left it filming the journey there and back.

It was a London I had not seen before on a Monday afternoon, more like an early Sunday morning. Very few people on the streets and not much traffic. I cannot remember driving in central London on a weekday without any queues. The only time I needed to stop was at traffic lights.

A frightening reminder of the impact of the virus.

The weather was sunny and bright and perhaps due to the lack of traffic on the roads and therefore reduced pollution, the air seemed clearer and the views of distant objects more sharp than usual.

The following are a sample of views from my journey. The GoPro was set in Wide mode, hence the format of the photos, clicking on any photo will show the view full screen.

Starting on the Cromwell Road, passing the Natural History Museum. Normally the pavement would be full, with queues up to the main door of the museum. On a Monday afternoon, the pavements were clear and the museum closed.

A very different London

Further along the Victoria and Albert Museum, again closed and facing onto empty streets.

A very different London

Driving along a quiet Brompton Road alongside Harrods. Hardly anyone to be seen, and a single optimistic taxi waiting outside the closed store.

A very different London

Knightsbridge and one of the entrances to Knightsbridge underground station on the left. The Mandarin Oriental hotel is on the left after the station entrance. Normally the street outside the hotel is full of chauffeur driven cars, but now the street was empty.

A very different London

Up to Hyde Park Corner with the Wellington Arch in the centre and Apsley House on the left after the entrance to Hyde Park. Normally continuous traffic on this busy junction and lots of people crossing the road, but today very quiet.

A very different London

Along Broad Sanctuary with the entrance to Westminster Abbey on the right and the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on the left. Normally a tourist hotspot for the abbey.

A very different London

Parliament Square at the junction with Parliament Street.

A very different London

Crossing Westminster Bridge with only a couple of walkers across the length of the bridge.

A very different London

End of the bridge with the Park Plaza hotel.

A very different London

York Road with the new entrance to Waterloo Underground Station on the left. Waterloo Station is behind the office block on the right. Normally busy streets with lots of people crossing the road from station to the South Bank and Hungerford Bridge.

A very different London

Stamford Street empty of people and traffic. The South Bank Tower (formerly Kings Reach Tower) is the tower on the left and the One Blackfriars tower on the right.

A very different London

At the junction of Marshalsea Road and Borough High Street, with the stunning church of St George the Martyr opposite.

A very different London

The journey to London Bridge took me along the south side of the river from Westminster Bridge. On the return journey, I crossed Tower Bridge and headed north of the river.

Crossing Tower Bridge and there was very little traffic and even fewer people.

A very different London

Along Tower Hill and there was no one to be seen. As we passed, i had a look down the space where the Tower ticket offices and entrance are located and the place was empty.

A very different London

A very quiet Embankment.

A very different London

At the junction of Northumberland Avenue and Trafalgar Square.

A very different London

Piccadilly Circus. Just a couple of people sitting on the steps of the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain.

A very different London

Piccadilly, approaching the Ritz, again, empty.

A very different London

This was a very different London, a London that I never thought I would see, and never wanted to see, but it was good to see that so many people had heeded advice and were staying away from the streets. The only places where we saw work ongoing was at a number of the building sites across the city.

The NHS staff at Guy’s and St Thomas were as usual so considerate and caring, and doing a superb job under pressure.

I will certainly never take the freedom to walk the streets for granted again.

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The House They Left Behind

The following photo is from 1986, and shows the side of a building where the adjacent buildings have obviously been demolished. The building has “The House They Left Behind” painted in bold black letters on a white background, with below the original build date and a restoration date of the year before the photo was taken.

House They Left Behind

The same view today:

House They Left Behind

The House They Left Behind is still there, although the side of the building has been painted over. New homes have been built on the vacant space to the left.

Going back to the original photo, the sign on the street lamp on the left should give a clue as to the function of the building, the house they left behind was a pub, originally the Black Horse, but renamed as The House They Left Behind after all the adjacent buildings were demolished, mainly due to bomb damage from the war.

The building is in Ropemaker’s Fields, a short stub of a road that turns off Narrow Street in Limehouse, East London.

Unfortunately, my father did not take a photo of the front of the pub, only the signs at the side, however this is the front of the building on a sunny March morning.

House They Left Behind

I am not sure exactly when the pub closed, but it was auctioned off as a closed pub, and with planning permission for conversion to a home in 2009. The house was up for sale last year for £3.25 million.

In the 1986 photo, the sign on the side of the pub dates the build to 1857, however licensing records date a pub at the address to 1807, so the current building is a mid 19th century rebuild of the Black Horse.

It was adjacent to the Barley Mow Brewery, which was also located on a much longer Ropemaker’s Fields, which ran all the way to Three Colt Street. The 1894 edition of the Ordnance Survey map shows the location of the pub (red oval), Ropemaker’s Fields and the Barley Mow Brewery, which occupied a large area to the east. I have also marked another well-known Limehouse pub with a blue oval – the is the Grapes.

House They Left Behind

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

Today, Ropemaker’s Fields ends immediately to the east of the pub, and the green space with the same name, along with the housing estate alongside Barleycorn Way now occupy the area of the brewery, and the rest of Ropemaker’s Fields.

The name Ropemaker’s Fields give an indication of what the space here in Limehouse was used for. The following map is an extract from John Rocque’s 1746 map of London. The location of “The House They Left behind” is highlighted by the red oval. The street was named Ropemakers Fields in 1746, so this is an old street name.

House They Left Behind

If you look to the left and slightly higher from the red oval, there is a space called The Rope Walk.

A rope walk was a long space where lengths of rope would be made by twisting together the individual strands of material. The Rope Walk and Ropemaker’s Field indicate that this activity was carried out here in Limehouse, with a ready market for rope nearby from the ships docking along the river.

The 1746 map also shows that Narrow Street ended at the junction with Ropemaker’s Fields. The Fore Street was the road that continued on, however today Narrow Street now continues all the way to Three Colt Street and The Fore Street name has disappeared.

The following photo is a slightly wider view and shows where Ropemaker’s Fields would have once continued.

House They Left Behind

The 1746 map also shows an open space at the junction of Narrow Street and Ropemaker’s Fields. That open space remains today and at the corner, facing west is a large sculpture of a Herring Gull.

House They Left Behind

This was commissioned by the London Dockland Development Corporation in 1994 and created by the artist Jane Ackroyd.

The old pub is the only building that remains from the old Ropemaker’s Fields street. There is a single photo in the London Metropolitan Archives, Collage collection showing Ropemaker’s Fields. The following photo shows numbers 89 to 91.

House They Left Behind

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_397_1505

It is possible to precisely locate the above photo. The street name on the wall on the far left of the photo states Nightingale Lane. This lane ran north from the junction of Narrow Street and Ropemaker’s Fields, and if we look back at the 1894 Ordnance Survey map, we can see the bow-window of the first building, and the building that juts out a bit further into the street. I have circled these buildings in the map extract below. The pub would have been a short distance further along the street in the above photo.

House They Left Behind

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

Side view of The House They Left Behind, showing that whilst the building looks small from the street, it extends a long way back.

House They Left Behind

There are numerous mentions of the original pub name, the Black Horse, in newspapers. Mostly all the usual adverts for staff, use of the pub as an address for sales and auctions or meetings and inquests. In 1842 there was an inquest held in the pub on the sudden death of the landlady, from the Morning Post on Wednesday 11th May 1842:

“SUDDEN DEATHS – Three inquests were held last evening, by Mr Baker, on the bodies of persons who had died suddenly. The first took place at the Black Horse, Ropemaker’s-fields, Limehouse, on the body of Mrs Elizabeth Barton, aged 63, the landlady of the above house. Sophia Forest said that the deceased went out for a walk on Monday evening last, and returned home in good health and spirits at about half-past six o’clock. At about seven o’clock witness found her sitting in a chair in her parlour and quite insensible. She died at nine o’clock. Verdict, Natural death.”

Reading through old newspapers, competitive rowing on the Thames seems to have been a thing in the 19th century, with pubs often used in some form for the organisation of a race. Again, the Black Horse is mentioned a number of times in this context, and on the 2nd May 1858, Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle reported on once such challenge:

“CANNON AND WADE – In answer to Cannon’s challenge, Wade will give him two boat lengths start, and row him for £30 or £50 a side. Money ready on Thursday next at Mr Harass’s Black Horse, Ropemaker’s-fields, Limehouse. Since the above was in type Cannon called at our office, and expressed his willingness to proceed with the match; he deposited £2 10s in our hands, and will be at Mr Jones’s Ship, Church-street, Rotherhithe on Thursday next, prepared to sign articles and make it into £5 a side.”

With these competitions, there seems to often have been taunting of one party by the other, often seen as in the above competition by one person offering the other a head start, and a large amount of money. Presumably implying a low opinion of the other’s abilities.

A licence application in 1908 to the Clerk of the Licensing Justices of the Tower Division shows how the name of the pub and the pub sign was a real identifier of the pub, perhaps from a time when many people could not read, and signs were the visual identification of a place. The application finishes off “…. and which premises I intend to keep as an Inn, Ale-house or Victualing House under the sign of the Black Horse”.

The most recent mention of the pub is from 1998 when Christopher Dunhill, the heir to the Dunhill tobacco business was stabbed in the pub, with the landlord also being wounded. Dunhill had been living above the pub and was reported to be in a serious but stable condition at the time.

The Daily Mail reported that:

“The House They Left Behind is a stump of a pub that stands on a corner in
Limehouse, East London, isolated by Hitler’s Luftwaffe and subsequent
redevelopment. By closing time on Monday night there were only eight people in
the bar. Six left. Police are now asking them to come forward.

The two who remained were landlord Tony Fran, 32, and Mr Dunhill, 43, who
appears to have been lodging above the premises while running an oyster stall
on the small plaza outside. At around 11.30, three men carrying at least one
knife entered. Their intention was to murder both Mr Fran and Mr Dunhill.
They left in a dark-coloured car having failed, but only just.

Mr Dunhill had been stabbed 12 times in the head, neck and stomach. Last
night he was ‘stable’ in the Royal London Hospital. ‘He’s definitely on the
mend and should be out soon,’ said his brother Jonathan. But why would someone
want to kill Christopher? ‘I am not prepared to comment on that.’ Mr Fran
received wounds to his arms and buttocks and was discharged next day. He claims
to remember little of the attack.”

To the east of the pub is the green space, Ropemakers Field. This is looking along the space from the southern end, up towards the Limehouse Cut. The street, Ropemaker’s Fields once ran left to right where the shelter now stands.

House They Left Behind

On the opposite side of Ropemaker’s Fields to the pub is a triangular open space, then we find Narrow Street, with on the river side of the street, this historic Georgian terrace, which mirrors the scale of earlier 18th century development on the river.

House They Left Behind

At the western end of the terrace is the Grapes pub, the plaque on the pub claiming a 1583 date for a pub being at this location.

House They Left Behind

Further along the terrace are a mix of architectural styles representing the changing development of the buildings along the river’s edge:

House They Left Behind

The buildings provided the housing, workshops and warehouses that were needed to support the trade and industry on the river, just at the rear of these buildings.

House They Left Behind

Although the pub has gone, it is good that there is a single reminder of the buildings that once ran along Ropemaker’s Fields, so the name The House They Left Behind is still just as relevant.

The name of this short stub of a street also recalls one of the ship building and maintenance related industries that took place in the fields to the north.

Wapping Trivia

To finish off this post – a bit of Wapping trivia. The area to the east of London, both north and south of the river, was used as the backdrop for a number of films and music videos during the late 1970s and 1980s. I know films used east London in the preceding decades, but these were the years when I started taking an interest in these and their London locations.

I have been tracing and photographing the location of many of these for a future post, from  Derek Jarman’s 1978 take on Punk in the film Jubilee through to music videos such as Katrina & The Waves and Walking On Sunshine from 1985, and it was locations from this later video that I was looking for when walking to Ropemaker’s Fields last Monday.

One of the locations has changed very little. This is a still from the video (available on YouTube), filmed in St John’s Churchyard next to Wapping High Street.

House They Left Behind

The same scene today:

House They Left Behind

Hardly changed in the last 25 years, although many other locations used in the video are very different now, or have been lost. More from this video, others and films in a future post.

To finish off, and show how wonderful London looks on a sunny spring morning, a view across St John’s Churchyard towards the church:

House They Left Behind

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Trinity Hospital and Power Station, Greenwich

Trinity Hospital Greenwich can be found facing the River Thames, roughly half way between two pubs, the Trafalgar Tavern and the Cutty Sark. In 1951 my father took the following photo of the river facing entrance and clock tower of the hospital, with the chimneys of the adjacent power station behind.

Trinity Hospital

I suspect his thinking in composing the above photo was to show the contrast between what was at the time the almost 350 year old hospital and the relatively recent power station that then dominated the area. The photo also shows two buildings with very different form and function. One enormous building generating electricity from coal for the tram network of London, the other much smaller building providing accommodation for the poor of Greenwich.

On a fine day last Autumn, i was on my way to the Cutty Sark pub, remembered that my father had taken a photo of the hospital and power station chimneys, but did not have a copy of the original photo with me, so took a couple of comparison photos in landscape rather than portrait, but hopefully they show what has changed, and what has not in the past 70 years.

The entrance gates, entrance and clock tower, with the power station in the background.

Trinity Hospital

A slightly wider view showing all four chimneys.

Trinity HospitalThe main difference between the two photos is the build of the chimneys. The power station has four chimneys. The two chimneys in my fathers photo, and to the left in the above photo date from the first stage of the power station which was opened in 1906. The two chimneys of the second stage, shown to the right of the above photo were originally constructed to the same design, but were soon shortened due to complaints by the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

The construction of the power station used some leading edge technology for the beginning of the 20th century, and an article in the 20th October 1906 edition of the Kentish Independent described the power station:

“THE HEAVENLY TWINS – GREENWICH ELECTRIC POWER STATION: Very much the reverse of beautiful though they are, the two great chimneys which stand side by side, gaunt and forbidding, near the Thames at Greenwich, represent power, importance, and engineering skill. They are the outward and visible sign of the inward wonders of the London County Council’s new power station. One of the largest in the world it will be when completed. 

‘The Heavenly Twins’ Greenwich people have christened the towers, but it is the interior which is to supply the vitality and volatility which will be the better reminder of Angelica and Diavolo. 

Along the side wall of the vast chamber, where the plant is to be stored, runs a series of vertical girders, writes a correspondent who has paid the generating station a visit. On these a travelling iron bridge moves from end to end carrying a crane which lifts any weight up to 50 tons. Heavy objects are taken up at the front door and gingerly carried to any part of the hall. Below us the furnaces, consuming 600 tons a day, occupy the great basement. The dynamos are on the ground floor, in the side gallery a giant switchboard will strike the visitor with awe and fear at its death dealing potentialities.

It will come as a surprise to many homely people to find that here the ‘coal cellars’ are on top of the house. These bunkers comprise 24 square iron chambers, holding in all 16,000 tons of coal. The bottom of each is shaped, in cement and metal, like an inverted cone, the depressed point being an open funnel or shoot, down which the coal falls directly into the furnace openings as the stoker directs.”

The following photo from Britain from Above shows the power station in 1924 with the two “Heavenly Twins”, chimneys from the first phase of the power station nearest to the river and the shortened chimneys of the second phase to the right.

Trinity Hospital

Trinity Hospital is to the left of the power station. The hospital buildings and clock tower facing the river, with the hospital gardens stretching back, parallel to the power station.

The power station supplied electricity to the London tram system, and later to the London Underground, along with Lotts Road in Chelsea. The power station was built on an earlier tramway depot. The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the hospital in the centre of the map, with the tramway depot to the right.

Trinity Hospital

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

Power stations in the first decades of the 20th century operated independently, with no backup and breakdowns would have an immediate impact to users of electricity, and this was very visible on the London transport system.

A letter to the East London Observer on the 17th October 1908 by the president of the Associated Municipal Electrical Engineers raised two recent failures of the Greenwich Power Station, and the power station at Lotts Road, Chelsea which supplied the London Underground:

“The Greenwich Power Station of the London County Council and the Chelsea Power Station of the Underground Railways, both these stations have recently broken down, with the result that in the former case about 600 to 800 trams were brought to a standstill, and in the latter case all trains and lifts on the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Hampstead Tube Railways and the District Railways were stopped and the stations and lifts plunged into utter darkness, as well as causing a stoppage on the Wimbledon and Surbiton sections of the London United Tramways systems.”

The author then goes on to propose that these sort of power outages can only be fixed if electricity generating stations are interconnected so there is no single point of failure, and other stations are available to take on the load of a failed power station. An idea that would eventually be implemented across the country in the form of the National Grid, which today provides electricity to the Underground network, with the Greenwich Power Station being available as a back-up generator having been converted to gas operation.

Trinity Hospital is also shown on the 1895 map, and by the time of the map, it was already almost 300 years old. The book “The Endowed Charities of the City of London” (published in 1829) describes the founding of the hospital as:

“By letters patent, King James I, dated 5th June, in the 13th year of his reign (1615) reciting that Henry, late Earl of Northampton, did, in his lifetime, begin to erect a certain edifice at East Greenwich, for the habitation and support of poor men”

Accommodation was provided for 20 poor men, who would live in the hospital along with a Warden. Residents were expected to comply with a set of standards which included not being allowed to go to Taverns or Ale-houses.

A 19th century report of a dinner provides a glimpse of life at Trinity Hospital and for the increased number of residents (now 25). From the 11th September 1841;

“Trinity Hospital, Greenwich – A most gratifying scene was presented at this hospital on Wednesday last, on the occasion of a dinner being given to the inmates, nurses &c, by the Rev. William Jurin Totton, rector of Debden, Essex, and old member of the Mercer’s Company, who are the governors and trustees of the charity. It was pleasing to those who saw the old members, 25 in number, and whose ages amounted to 1680 years, assembled in the sub-hall at a dinner of true old English fare of roast beef, plum-pudding, and other substantial refreshments. The dinner was served soon after noon according to primitive custom; and, afterwards various appropriate toasts were given by Mr Tatham, the warden. ‘God save the Queen’ being sung after that of the ‘ Queen and Royal Family’, by as many of the old men as were able, aided by the young men of Greenwich, whose musical services were kindly volunteered for the occasion.

The crowning point of the evening was the presentation by the liberal donor of the feast, of twenty-five valuable books, consisting of sermons and works of edification and amusement, thus forming the foundation of a library for the use of the poor men in their leisure hours. The Earl of Northampton’s banner was hoisted on the turret of the building, in honour of this innocent festivity, and at night-fall each inmate retired to his chamber with his heart filled with gratitude towards the Rev. Mr Totton, whose health was drank in the ancient silver loving-cup, with three times three.”

The report states that there were 25 residents with a combined age of 1680 years, therefore the average age of the residents was just over 67 years.

Note the reference to the Reverend being an old member of the Mercer’s Company. Trinity Hospital was one of the charities managed by the Mercer’s Company, and this relationship continues to this day with Trinity Hospital being one of the Mercer’s Almshouses. On their website, the conditions for admittance as a resident are:

  • being in reduced financial circumstances
  • reasonable good health and able to look after daily needs
  • resident of Greenwich for at least 4 years

So Trinity Hospital has retained its relationship with the Mercer’s and providing accommodation for local Greenwich residents for almost 400 years.

The London Metropolitan Collage Archive has a photo of Trinity Hospital looking in the opposite direction to the power station, dated 1937:

Trinity Hospital

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0151_50_738_C

Interestingly, Collage also has a photo very similar to my father’s photo. Taken in 1960 it was obviously a favorite photographic subject, showing the contrast between two very different chimneys.

Trinity Hospital

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0151_62_722

Trinity Hospital is sometimes open during the Open House London weekend and it has been on my list of places to visit, but not yet had the time. Hopefully this year.

As usual, there is so much to find in the immediate local area. Directly opposite Trinity Hospital is the river wall, heightened over the years to prevent flooding. With plaques on the wall detailing the heights and dates of previous high tides.

Trinity Hospital

The plaque on the right records an extraordinary high tide on the 7th January 1928 when 75 feet of the wall were demolished, this must have flooded the hospital.

The river is always making its presence felt along the river walkway. A tell-tale flow of water from underneath this metal gate:

Trinity Hospital

Sticking my camera over the top of the gate reveals a narrow gap between two buildings, with the river surging in.

Trinity Hospital

Passing above the riverside walkway and extending out into the river is the old power station coal jetty.

Trinity Hospital

As can be seen in the Britain from Above photo, the jetty once included two cranes which were used for moving coal from the river to the power station, and for transferring ash from the power station to barges on the river for disposal.

Along the riverside walkway, the power station is surrounded by a high brick wall, I suspect not just to keep people out, but also to keep water out in the event of a high tide.

Trinity Hospital

The wall is covered in a mysterious set of ceramic works that tell the story of a young boy taking his dog for a walk along the Thames foreshore, and finding a strange creature that led the boy into the murky depths of the river. The work was created by Amanda Hinge.

Trinity Hospital

I have featured the Cutty Sark pub before, which is to the east of Trinity Hospital, if you are walking along the river from the ship, the Cutty Sark, the first pub you come to is the Trafalgar Tavern. Built in 1837, the pub stands on the site of an earlier pub, the Old George Tavern.

Trinity Hospital

Facing directly onto the river provides a superb view from the pub, however the high tides get close to the windows.

The power station is still providing a standby capability for the London Underground. Now gas-powered, the station is cabled to a number of points on the underground network, enabling Greenwich to provide electricity should there be problems with the main supply from the grid.

Unfortunately, the chimneys are today much reduced and the original pair do not justify the 1906 title of the Heavenly Twins.

Trinity Hospital continues to provide homes for the elderly of Greenwich, so this strange pairing of buildings look set to continue living next to each other for years to come.

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