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The Great Fire in Cripplegate

Fires have been a risk within London for centuries. Streets full of houses, side by side with warehouses full of inflammable goods, industrial premises, and until recently, a lack of comprehensive measures to prevent fire. The 1666 Great Fire of London is the most famous, however there were many others. I have written about the 1861 Great Fire at London Bridge, and today I want to feature another fire, the 1897 Great Fire in Cripplegate.

I have touched on the fire in previous blogs in an area I have covered a number of times as my father took many post-war photos of the area where the Barbican and Golden Lane estates are located, and it is fascinating being able to peel back the many layers of history of a specific area.

For today’s post, I am really grateful to a reader, who came on one of my walks and then sent me a number of newspapers and special editions, printed at the time of the fire to provide a record.

The cover of the City Press “Record of the Great Fire in Cripplegate”:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The cover of the booklet includes a map of the area affected, showing the buildings damaged by the fire in black. The map shows an area of busy streets with lots of housing, warehouses and industrial premises. This is so very different to the area today, which is now covered by the Barbican estate.

I have marked out the area of the Great Fire in Cripplegate within the dark blue lines in the following map. The church of St Giles Cripplegate (also shown in the above map) is within the red rectangle  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Map of the Great Fire in Cripplegate

The fire started in the premises of Waller and Brown at numbers 30 and 31 Hamsell Street, just before one in the afternoon. They were described as mantle manufactures, so presumably manufactured parts of, if not all of the components used in a gas lamp.

The report of the start of the fire states that most of the factory hands were out in the streets as it was lunch time, so perhaps someone had left a naked flame near some inflammable material as they went for lunch.

The fire spread quickly, with the buildings on either side of Waller and Brown’s building, soon being alight.

The report of the Great Fire in Cripplegate, and the photos which follow, mention lots of streets affected by the fire. Streets that had stood for centuries, but were lost under the Barbican development. I have plotted these streets in the following map, and marked the location of Waller and Brown’s building, the start of the fire, with a dark blue circle  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Map of the Great Fire in Cripplegate

The fire brigade were quickly onsite, with the nearest station being in Whitecross Street (which was just to the right of Redcross Street in the above map).

The fire spread very quickly as most of the buildings were warehouses full of highly inflammable goods, and the account of the fire describes warehouses being burnt to the ground very quickly.

The following photo shows the view from the top of the ruins in Jewin Crescent, looking towards the tower of St Giles Cripplegate:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The following two photos are part of a two page spread which shows the devastated area between Hamsell Street and Well Street, looking south. Well Street to the left:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

And Hamsell Street to the right:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

Redcross Street seems to have formed a natural fire break. This was a major street in the area and one of the wider streets in Cripplegate unlike the rest of the streets that would be devastated by the fire.

The following photo was taken from the walkway underneath Gilbert House in the Barbican. Redcross Street ran left to right, from the corner of the building on the left (City of London School for Girls), across the water feature, and continuing underneath the buildings on the right. The fire started a short distance along the City of London School for Girls.

View of the Barbican from Gilbert House

The following two photos show the destruction along Jewin Crescent.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

Jewin Crescent started at where the City of London School for Girls in now located, ran along what is now the Thomas Moore Residents Garden, and rejoined Jewin Street under what is now Thomas Moore House (see map earlier in the post).

The following photo is looking across the residents garden, where Jewin Crescent occupied much of the space.

View of Thomas Moore Residents Gardens

As the fire occurred during the early afternoon of a working day, there were very many people in the area and large crowds soon gathered which were a problem for the firemen attempting to get to the streets on fire and at risk.

Police and firemen tried to keep the crowd in order, but with difficulties. The report states that this was much easier in Redcross Street due to the large number of showers of burning embers that would blow across the streets. There were several cases of people in the crowd being badly burned by these, and that “many had damaged headgear”.

By the end of the day, police were being brought in from all across the City, and by the evening there were estimated to be a combined force of 500 firemen and police officers both fighting the fire and managing the crowds.

There were complaints about delays in getting sufficient fire appliances to the scene, however the first two appliances arrived just after one in the afternoon, only minutes after the alarm had been raised, four more arrived eight minutes later and within 30 minutes there were 19 steamers (steam driven pumps) at the scene of the fire.

The following photo on the left is looking down Well Street from Jewin Street . A bit hard to see, but on the left edge of the photo there is a sign for “Cup of Tea 2d”. This was the site of the Cripplegate Restaurant at number 12 Well Street. The building on the right of the left hand photo is that of the Bespoke Tailoring Company.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The above photo on the right shows the corner of Well Street and was occupied by London Hanover Stationers, as well as the Bespoke Tailoring Company – again, all buildings which would have had large quantities of inflammable materials.

The photo on the left in the following pair was taken from the western end of Jewin Crescent looking east. This was the edge of the devastated area. The building on the right of the left hand photo was that of Mr. M. Jacob, importer of straw goods. the building suffered considerable damage and again highlights that the area was one in which a small fire could spread very quickly due to the large amount of flammable materials.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The photo on the right was taken on the Sunday after the fire and shows firemen continuing to damp down the ruins, with clouds of smoke and steam still rising.

The report into the fire mentions that the astonishing rate at which the fire spread was due to “the nature of the buildings, the stock they contained, the distribution of enclosed courts, numerous communications in party walls and the narrowness and relative positions of the thoroughfares”.

So although many of the buildings appear separate, with a wall between the neighbouring building, many walls between buildings had been knocked through, allowing the fire to spread without the firebreak of brick walls between buildings. There were also holes in the floors between floors, these were called well holes, and allowed the movement of materials between floors,

The following two photos are looking along Jewin Street. The photo on the left looking towards Aldersgate Street, and on the right, looking east from Aldersgate Street.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

In the photo on the left, the ruins of the Grapes Tavern can be seen on the left, and on the right of the left-hand photo are the premises of A. Bromet & Co, wholesale jewelers and C.W. Faulkner & Co. Publishers and Colour Printers.

The buildings in the right-hand photo were occupied by agents, who specialised in the import and export of goods, provision of raw materials to the businesses in the area, along with the sale of finished goods.

The following photo is the view across Well Street to Jewin Street, and looks similar to many of the photos of wartime damage in the same area. The photo was taken shortly after the fire, when many of the buildings had been demolished due to the dangerous state in which the fire left them.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The following photo is looking west from near the tower of St Giles church. Jewin Street ran from the left, then under Thomas Moore House which is the building on the left. Well Street ran right to left, from Jewin Street, roughly at the end of the paved floor in the lower part of the photo:

View of the Barbican

The following photo shows the corner of Hamsell and Jewin Streets and shows a closer view of the Grapes Tavern on the ground floor of the corner building.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The Grapes Tavern seems to have dated from the early 19th century. The first mention of the pub I can find dates from 1818 when it was called the Bunch of Grapes. It appears to have been rebuilt after the fire, and was finally lost when the area was bombed at the end of 1940.

The following photo from the report was titled “The Ruins of Hamsell Street”, and mentions that the remains of the lamp-post on the right was opposite the warehouse of Beardsworth and Cryer, manufacturers, which was totally burnt out, again a photo that looks as if it was of the bombed City.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

In the right hand photo of the following pair, the name Soley refers to Mr. George Soley who was a fancy box manufacturer:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The photo on the left of the above pair was taken from St Giles Churchyard and is looking west. on the left is the medieval bastion that can still be seen today.

In the following photo, the bastion can be seen on the left. St Giles Church is on the right, and the old churchyard once surrounded the church, went beyond the bastion then ran onwards to the left.

View of Barbican bastion

The following two photos make up a two page spread, showing the area of Hamsell and Well Streets, with St Giles in the centre of the photo (split across the two pages).

In the first photo, Hamsell Street is the street in the foreground. On the right of the photo is a lower building compared to the ruins of the others in the view. This was the rectory of St Giles Cripplegate, and stood on what is today the paved area to the west of the church tower (see photo of that view today, above).

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The second part of the two page spread looking to the right of the church:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

Remarkably, there were few casualties and no deaths from the Great Fire in Cripplegate.

Some workers had narrow escapes, including having to scramble over roofs to reach buildings that were not yet on fire. A few firemen were injured, included a burn from falling cinders, and being cut by glass.

The Times newspaper started an appeal for funds to help workers who had lost their jobs as a result of the fire. The paper commented that “the most grievous feature of the calamity will depend upon the numbers of industrious people who will be deprived of work at the commencement of the winter season, and many of whom, as being skilled in a special industry which for a time will be almost entirely suspended, will find it difficult or impossible to find work elsewhere.”

The “Star’s” reporting on Saturday 20th November 1897 was very typical of newspaper reports of the fire – The Greatest Fire of Modern Times, Damage Estimated By Millions:

The Great Fire in the City

The fire was of such significance that an inquest was held in the following weeks. The inquest was opened on the morning of Monday the 6th of December 1897 in the Old Council Chamber of the Guildhall.

A jury was assembled from the wards of Aldersgate, Farringdon Within and Cripplegate. The following photo shows the assembled jury, looking very much a late 19th century jury that you would expect.

Great Fire in Cripplegate Jury

The jury was asked to provide their view on 11 specific questions relating to the fire, and in order to help them make their decisions, a large number of people were called to provide evidence. This included the owner of the business in which the fire started, a number of members of staff working within the building, the architects of the building, the District Surveyor of the northern district of the City, Professor Boverton Redwood, an analytical and consulting chemist to the Corporation of London, and members of the Fire brigade and of the New River Company.

I have written about the New River Company in a number of previous posts, and it was their water supply through the streets of Cripplegate that was essential in being able to fight the fire. It was estimated that 15 million gallons of water was drawn from the mains of the New River Company by the Fire Brigade during the battle to control the fire.

The questions asked of the jury, and their verdicts are as follows:

  1. Where did the fire originate? – The fire originated on the first floor of No. 13 Well Street E.C. in the occupation of Messrs. Waller and Brown.
  2. At what time? – At from a quarter to one to ten minutes to one on Friday November 19th
  3. What was the cause of the fire? – The ignition of a stack of goods near the well-hole on the first floor (a well hole was a hole in the structure of the building between floors)
  4. Was it from spontaneous combustion? – No
  5. Was it from a gas explosion? – No
  6. Was it accidently fire? – No
  7. Was it wilfully fired, and if so, by whom? – Yes, by some person or persons unknown (This was decided by sixteen to six of the Jurymen)
  8. Was there any delay on the part of the Brigade in arriving at the scene of the disaster? – There was no delay after reception of the call
  9. Were the appliances and steamers and the coal and water supply sufficient? – With regard to the appliances at the fire, yes; as regards steamers at the fire, yes; as regards the coal, no; as regards the water, yes
  10. What was the cause of the rapid spread and development of the fire? – The style and construction of the buildings, the narrowness of the streets, the late call and the further delay of fourteen minutes from the time of receiving the call to the first steamer to work
  11. Have you any general suggestion or recommendation to make as to the reconstruction of the buildings destroyed? – We recommend that this area should be so reconstructed as to have greater regard to the safety of the adjacent property, and that all new buildings of the warehouse class, match-board lining should be prohibited for walls and ceilings and that all ceilings should be plastered and covered with fire-resisting materials

So the jury found that the fire had been started on purpose, but could not identify who had started the fire, although this was not the unanimous conclusion of the jury.

The report included a number of recommendations for how the area should be rebuilt after the devastation of the fire:

Rebuilding Cripplegate

Recommendations included widening existing streets and building wider new streets. One recommendation included widening and extending Jewin Street all the way to Smithfield.

Rebuilding Cripplegate

However in late 19th century London, the commercial imperative was key, and the area was rebuilt to the existing street plan, and again lined with warehouses and other commercial premises.

In a similar commercial vein, the City Press publication included several pages of adverts where advertisers made use of the fire to show the benefits of their products and services.

Dawney’s Fireproof Floors apparently withstood the tremendous fire and proved to be absolutely indestructible in a six storied druggist’s warehouse:

Advert

John Tann’s “Anchor-Reliance” Safes were again triumphant during the fire, and their advert included a couple of photos with their safes shown in the ruins of the buildings in which they were once housed.

Advert

If they are related, the Tann family seem to have had two seperate companies selling safes, with Robert Tann’s “Defiance” safes collecting some testimonials from the Great Fire.

Advert

The advert on the right in the above pair, and the following advert show the growing use of steel and expanded metal in the construction of buildings. There were no claims as to their products use in Clerkenwell, so these adverts were showing how buildings could be built to have prevent the spread of fire. The following Expanded metal Company also advertised the use of expanded metal as a tension bond in concrete.

Steel would become the dominant structural material in buildings over the coming decades and is used in all new City buildings today.

Advert

Another two companies looking to capitalise on the fire were the National Safe Deposit Company, who included a letter from Frederick Newton & Co who had lost their building in the fire, but were relieved that all their key documents were held by the National Safe Deposit Company, along with the Union Assurance Society who provided insurance for Fire and Life:

Advert

Another safe company – Ratner Safe Co. Ltd, who included a letter from Holyman & Co who had two Ratner Safes, which preserved all their papers during the fire. Mason & Co who had their “Steam Joinery Works” in Myddleton Street, Clerkenwell, were advertising “High-class joinery for the trade” and were ready for “every description of repair”.

Advert

More successful safes, a bucket fire-extinquisher, office fitters and a Fire Surveyor and Assessor Claims:

Advert

Another advert for the use of metal in construction, with fireproof flooring, the use of steel joists and “metal lathing” which was advertised for use in floors, ceiling and partitions:

Advert

The area of the Great Fire in Cripplegate was rebuilt quickly, with the new buildings continuing the commercial and industrial use at the time of the fire.

A new fire station was built soon after the Great Fire, in Redcross Street.

The justification for the new fire station in Redcross Street can be seen in this article from Lloyds Weekly Newspaper on the 4th of December 1898, which shows that the warehouses were full of the same type of materials as during the 1897 fire:

“Hitherto Watling-street has been the chief City fire station, and the proposed change would be of great advantage, as the warehouses in the vicinity of Wood-street are filled, as a rule, with the most combustible materials. On the northern side the station would be of very great utility to the over-crowded districts of St. Luke’s and Shoreditch, where most houses are old and the danger of fire considerable.”

In a little over 40 years after the Great Fire in Cripplegate, the area would be devastated again during one of the most damaging raids of the Second World War, when on the night of the 29th December 1940, fires created by incendiary bombs caused fires that would again lay waste to the warehouses and commercial buildings of Cripplegate.

The Barbican would be the post-war answer to “executive” housing in the City of London, and would erase the streets and street names of centuries.

I have written a number of posts, which include my father’s post war photos, covering the streets mentioned in this post, and the land occupied by the Barbican Estate. A selection of these posts:

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The View from Pratt Street, Camden

Pratt Street is a short walk from Camden Town underground station. It was one of the first streets in this area of Camden when development started in the late 18th century with construction of Pratt Street starting in 1791.

The street was named after Charles Pratt, the 1st Earl of Camden (also the source of the name Camden as he was the owner and developer of the land that we now know as Camden).

Charles Pratt’s use of the name Camden came from his ownership of Camden Place in Chislehurst, Kent. The building is still there, however is now part of a golf course.

Pratt Street still has some original terrace houses, but there has also been considerable redevelopment over the 200 years of the street’s existence.

My visit to the street was not really about the history of the street, but to find one key building at the junction of Pratt Street and Royal College Street. The following map shows Camden Town Station (dark blue circle) and the location of the subject of today’s post, along Pratt Street, in the red circle.

Pratt Street, Camden

After National Service, my father worked as a Draughtsman for the St. Pancras Borough Council Electricity and Public Lighting Department. The part of the council that had responsibility for the generation and distribution of electricity to the borough, along with installation and maintenance of street lighting.

This role would transfer into the London Electricity Board (LEB), which was part of the nationalisation of the electricity industry by the Electricity Act of 1947, which created 15 area electricity boards across the country. These boards were under the control of the British Electricity Authority, which also had responsibility for electricity generation, a role that would later become the Central Electricity Generating Board.

The building my father worked in during the late 1940s and early 1950s was at the junction of Pratt Street and Royal College Street, and is still there today:

Pratt Street, Camden

In 1951 he took some photos from the roof of the building. I have emailed the present owner of the building a couple of times over the last few years (one of the privatised electricity utilities), to see if they would give me access to the roof, but have not received a reply – probably one of those weird requests that is easier to ignore.

So I cannot do “now and then” photos for this week’s post, however the following photos give an idea of what the north west London skyline looked like in 1951, the local street corner, and those who worked in the office.

The first photo is looking west:

Pratt Street, Camden

The tower is that of the Greek Orthodox Church of All Saints. I suspect my father took this photo in portrait format to include the aircraft trails in the sky. These were reminiscent of the type of circling, multiple trails that he recorded seeing in the sky as a child during the war.

The Greek Orthodox Church of All Saints is on the junction of Pratt Street and Camden Street and the tower looks the same today:

Pratt Street, Camden

The church is Grade I listed, and opened as a Greek Orthodox Church in 1948 to serve the large Greek Cypriot community then based around Camden. It had originally opened as the Camden Chapel in 1824 as part of the Camden family’s development of the area. It would later become dedicated to St. Stephen, then becoming All Saints, a dedication which the Greek community preserved when taking over the church.

The next view is looking roughly to the south:

Pratt Street, Camden

And a second photo taken a little further to the east:

Pratt Street, Camden

I have marked up some of the key feature seen in the above view, in the following photo:

Pratt Street, Camden

St Paul’s Cathedral can be seen in the distance. To the right is the curved outline of the end of the roof of the St Pancras Station train shed (is that the correct term?), with to the right St Pancras Station (click on the photos to bring up larger views).

In the foreground of the photo, Royal College Street is on the left and the back yards of the houses between Royal College Street and College Place (off the photo to the right) run between the terrace houses that line these streets.

A close up look to show these yards and occupants must have been taking advantage of some good weather as a number have their washing out:

Pratt Street, Camden

In the following map, the building in Pratt Street is at top left, marked by the red dot. The long red arrow points to St Paul’s Cathedral, showing that it just grazes the edge of St Pancras Station (green arrow), to confirm that the train shed is that of St Pancras.

Pratt Street, Camden

To the left of the photo, I have marked a number of Gas Holders.

Between the tracks leading into St Pancras and Kings Cross Stations there was, at the time of the photo, a London, Midland and Scottish Railway Coal Depot, and also a large gas works. The location of the gas holders of the gas works are shown in the following extract from the 1940 edition of the Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London:

St Pancras gas holders

These gas holders featured on some other photos taken by my father.  These are some of the earliest photos and the negatives are not in the best condition and were probably from the winter of 1946/47. I wrote a post about them back in 2016 titled “St. Pancras Old Church, Purchese Street, Gas And Coal Works”, and the post can be found here.

The following photo is from the 2016 post and shows the gas holders across a rather bleak, bomb damaged view:

St Pancras gas holders

Back to Pratt Street, and this is the view looking north towards the hills of Hampstead and Highgate:

Pratt Street, Camden

Behind the building in which my father worked was a yard used for storage of electrical cables:

Pratt Street, Camden

The houses on the right in the above photo appear to have suffered wartime bomb damage, and a quick check with the London County Council bomb damage maps show that these buildings were indeed damaged during the war.

The bomb damage map also shows there was a terrace of bomb damaged houses on the site of the building my father worked in, so this confirms the building still there today in Pratt Street was built in the late 1940s, or 1950.

There is still a yard behind the building, although there appears to have been considerable additional building on the site, as it continues to be part of London’s electrical distribution network.

Pratt Street, Camden

As well as the view across the city, my father took a couple of photos looking down at the junction of Pratt Street and Royal College Street. The first shows a horse and cart turning into Pratt Street (the white lines are damage to the original negative):

Pratt Street, Camden

The second shows a traffic collision where the driver of a trader’s vehicle had obviously turned out of Pratt Street without seeing the car that was already travelling along Royal College Street:

Pratt Street, Camden

At the top of both photos, Pratt Street continues onward after crossing Royal College Street, and on the corner is a pub. To the right of the pub is open space, and the London Bomb Damage Maps confirm that the houses on the site, next to the pub, had been damaged beyond repair.

The pub is still on the corner, and is still called the Golden Lion, a name it has retained since opening around 1850:

Golden Lion, Camden

Strangely, the location of the pub looks similar in 2022 as it did in 1951, as in 1951 there was a bomb site to the right, and in 2022 the space is again empty as the ATS tyres, brakes and batteries garage that was on the site has been demolished.

Take a look at the home page of the pub for an indication of what the energy crisis is doing to their business.

Another look at the building in Pratt Street:

Pratt Street, Camden

The building has large glass windows, and there was a reason for this. My father worked as a draughtsman in the drawing office. His role was to create the plans and drawings for the electrical infrastructure that supplied power across the City.

This included cable runs along the streets, electrical substations etc. He was one of a number of people with the same role. This was long before drawings and plans could be created and edited on a computer. In 1951, they were all drawn by hand.

He also took some photos of his colleagues at work in the office on Pratt Street. These were part of an earlier post in 2014 on a march by the  Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsman – the Trade Union that represented these workers.

Draughtsman

The photos show the benefit of the large, almost south facing windows. They let in a large amount of natural light, which was needed for the level of detail that was being created in the drawings.

Draughtsman

Today, the windows all have blinds drawn, so if the same type of work is being carried out, those responsible will be sitting in front of large computer screens with no need for natural light.

Draughtsman

Before the availability of electronic calculators, the slide rule was used for calculations:

Draughtsman

Either resting eyes after a period of intense concentration, or after a lunchtime visit to the Golden Lion:

Draughtsman

Tea break:

Draughtsman

Where today, those who need to map the streets are probably carrying around an iPad or similar device, back in the early 1950s it was a pen, pencil and notebook, and I have a couple of my father’s old notebooks which he used out on the streets before transferring to drawings when back in the office.

electrical norebook

He covered much of London, and in the above example, the left page covers Belgrave Square whilst the right shows the area around Grosvenor Gardens with Victoria Street, Buckingham Palace (B.P.) Road and Ebury Street. The markings are for the position of electric street lamps. The red line across the plan indicates that the transfer to a working plan had been completed.

It would have been good to have taken photos from the roof of the building in Pratt Street. I am sure that the view is rather different now, and on the off chance that someone reads this who works for the company now occupying the building – my email is always open for an opportunity to visit.

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G. J. Chapman, Penton Street and Chapel Market

My Wapping walk next Saturday is sold out. There are some places remaining on walks in Wapping, the Barbican, Southbank and Bankside later in October. Click here for details and booking for my final walks of 2022.

Many of London’s streets have lost much of their local character over the last few decades. Many long term trends have contributed to this. The spread of global brands, online shopping, local population change, quick profits through a conversion of a building to flats, architectural styles etc.

An example can be found in Penton Street, a turn off from Pentonville Road, just to the west of the Angel, where, in 1985, at number 10 Penton Street could be found the shop of G.J. Chapman:

Penton Street

The same view, 37 years later, in September 2022:

Penton Street

Chapman’s was a very different shop. Whilst there were plenty of general hardware stores, also shops that stocked gardening supplies, they did not usually have so much stock on display outside the shop. I cannot find exactly when Chapman’s closed, I do remember it was still open in the mid 1990s, but after that it became one of the ongoing changes that are so easily missed.

I assume that the building has become flats, with two front doors, mirroring the doors in the original shop. The white paint has been cleaned from the brickwork, and it is not clear how much of the original wooden surround to the shop front remains.

The space behind the BA Concorde advert on the left in 1985 is now occupied by a new block of flats.

Penton Street was one of the first streets built as part of the Pentonville development. The name comes from the owner of the estate on which the development was built, Henry Penton, the MP for Winchester. The addition of the French “ville” to Penton’s name may have been to give an upmarket feel to the estate, which was helped by the rural setting at the time of the original development, with much of the land to the north still consisting of fields.

Penton Street seems roughly aligned with a lane that ran through fields along what is now Amwell Street to the south, then up to Copenhagen Fields, although only a small part of the original lane, along Penton Street retains the original route.

The first terraces along Penton Street were built in the 1770s, and the area between Penton Street and the Angel was fully developed by the end of the 18th century.

The southern end of Penton Street joins Pentonville Road, opened in 1756 as the continuation of the New Road, an 18th century north circular around the north of the city, providing access to the docks, and for drovers driving sheep and cattle to market in Smithfield, whilst avoiding the crowded City streets.

The northern end of the street joins Barnsbury Road which continues north. It is a relatively short street and can be walked in a matter of minutes.

On the corner of Penton Street and Pentonville Road is the Lexington. A pub on the ground floor and music venue on the first floor. It was originally built in 1875 and was named the Belvedere, replacing an earlier pub on the site, with the same name, and dating from the development of Penton Street.

The Lexington today:

Penton Street

Penton Street seems to have been developed as a residential street, with terrace housing, however commercial premises and shops gradually took over parts of the houses, and there has been considerable redevelopment so even when the façade facing onto the street looks original, a glance behind will show a later rebuild, as can be seen in the example in the following photo where later brickwork forms the side wall to an earlier front wall:

Penton Street

Further along Penton Street is another large pub, the Chapel Bar. Again, another pub that has had a recent name change. It was originally the Queen’s Arms, and seems to date from around 1848 which is the year of the first newspaper mention that I can find:

Penton Street

The clown, Joseph Grimaldi, lived in Penton Street at what is now number 44 between 1799 and 1800, although I could not find any plaque on the building. There is a plaque on number 28 recording that the building was the London headquarters of the African National Congress between 1978 and 1994:

Penton Street

Although G.J. Chapman’s shop has gone, if we turn off Penton Street into Chapel Market, we find a street market, and a shop with a similar stock to Chapman’s, but without the impressive display of goods for sale on the street. Chapel Market Building & D.I.Y:

Chapel Market

Originally Chapel Street, the street was developed soon after Penton Street and was lined with terrace houses by the 1790s. The street would stay residential for the first half of the 19th century, but would take on a much more commercial character from the 1850s onwards. This was probably down to the rapidly growing local population, and the commercial opportunities that such a population offered.

The ground floors of the large terrace houses were converted into shops which were extended over an original small front yard to bring the shop up to the edge of the street.

As well as shops, the street became the hub for a street market. The market may predate the arrival of shops in the 1850s, but again it was from 1850 onwards that the street became the venue for a large street market.

The mid 19th century also saw the large terrace houses turn into multi-occupancy houses and there were contemporary reports of much poverty and squalor in the street.

Over the years, the street has also seen many of the original terrace houses demolished and replaced with office blocks and large shops.

The following photo sums up the changes to Chapel Market, with stalls of the street market in the foreground, terrace houses to the right, with ground floor shops extended over the original yard to the street, and much later buildings on the left which replaced the original terrace houses:

Chapel Market

Both the market and the shops now offer a very wide mix of goods and services from fast food, to fruit and veg, fishmongers, supermarkets, cafes, pharmacies, opticians, florists etc. with the stalls in the market changing during the week.

Chapel Market

The name change from Chapel Street to Chapel Market came in 1936 to recognise the size and importance of the market.

The name chapel does not refer to any local chapel. There appears to have been an intention around 1770 to build a chapel of ease around Chapel Market and Penton Street, however a chapel was built much further to the west along Pentonville Road, but the name stuck with the intended original location near Chapel Street, now Chapel Market.

Chapel Market

The market was open all day and all evening during the second half of the 19th century. An article in the Clerkenwell News in September 1870 reports on the raging of a “fever” in the area and the precautions that the local Parish Vestry were trying to implement. This included more frequent removal of refuse from Chapel Market and the application of disinfect along the gullies of the street.

The problem was that the market was seldom closed before midnight, so the best that the Vestry could do was to ensure that the street was swept and refuse removed by seven of the following morning, ready for the market to open again.

Chapel Market

Chapel Market was the site of the first branch of Sainsbury’s in 1882 following on from their original shop in Drury Lane. The Sainsbury’s archive has a number of photos of the original shop, and Chapel Market in the late 19th century, and can be viewed here.

Marks and Spencer would also arrive in 1930. They now have a Food Hall on the street, and Sainsbury’s have moved to a much larger store, close by in Liverpool Road.

Today, the market sells things that in the 19th century would have been considered science fiction:

Chapel Market

The entrance to Chapel Market from Liverpool Road:

Chapel Market

So although G.J. Chapman’s shop has gone, and been replaced by a rather bland façade onto Penton Street, there is still a thriving local cluster of shops around the market in Chapel Market, which will hopefully continue to serve the local population for many years to come.

The 1985 photo of G.J. Chapman’s was taken by my father, and when I scanned the strip of negatives with this photo, there were a couple more which brought back the challenges of using film. There were two other photos of the shop, but in each photo a vehicle had just intruded into the photo:

G.J. Chapman

Penton Street has always been a relatively busy road, and framing a photo, then trying to avoid any passing traffic is still a challenge.

G.J. Chapman

I was using a digital camera where the number of photos is limited by the size of memory card, and each photo is basically free. This was not the case with film, and I well remember the challenges of trying to get the wanted photo in a busy environment with a 36 exposure film in the camera. Luckily, my father finally got a vehicle free photo of G.J. Chapman.

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The First East Ham Fire Station and Fire Brigade

It is a long post this week, however I hope you find it interesting as it tells some of my family history, the story of the first East Ham fire station and the local fire brigade. But first, some advertising. After all my walks sold out this summer, I have added a final few for the year.

The dates and links for booking are as follows:

Wapping – A Seething Mass of Misery: Sunday, 25th September; Saturday,1st October; Sunday, 23rd October; Saturday, 29th October

The Lost Streets of the Barbican: Sunday, 2nd October

The South Bank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain: Sunday, 30th October

Bankside to Pickle Herring Street – History between the Bridges: Sunday, 9th October

I hope to see you on a walk. Now, to East Ham:

My Great Grandfather was born in 1854, and as a young man, he went to sea and travelled the world.

He became a fireman in 1881, joining the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) at Rotherhithe, south east London, later moving to West Ham in 1886 as a Fire Escape man, where he remained for ten and a half years. At the time the MFB recruited only ex seamen and naval personnel as the Brigade was run on Naval discipline with a requirement for familiarity of climbing rigging and working at heights.

In 1896 he became the Superintendent of the new East Ham Fire Station, and I recently completed one of the many tasks on my to-do list by visiting the site of the Fire Station in Wakefield Street, East Ham:

East Ham Fire Station

I cannot find the exact year when the fire station was demolished, it was at some point after 1917, and the location is now occupied by the flats shown in the above photo.

I have circled the location in the following map. East Ham station (District and Hammersmith & City lines) is at the top of the map (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

East Ham Fire Station

When the fire station was built, East Ham was growing over the fields that once covered this part of east London (although at the time it was part of Essex). In the following extract from the 1897 edition of the Ordnance Survey map, I have circled the fire station in a developing Wakefield Street. The upper part of the map showing that the whole area would soon be covered by terrace housing (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).

East Ham Fire Station

Growth of East Ham, and Pressure for a Fire Brigade

In 1861, the number of houses in East Ham had risen to 497 and the population to 2,858. Fire protection for the village would have been provided by a Fire Insurance Brigade, and there is some evidence that the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Company operated in the area. This was the time when insurance companies operated their own private fire fighting services.

The first meeting of the Board for the East Ham Local Government District was held on the 4th February 1879, at the Parochial Building, Wakefield Street.

The provision of fire fighting cover was exercising the minds of the Members of the Board at a very early stage. A letter was received from a Mr. Rowley asking the Board to pay for the attendance of two engines of the North West Fire Brigade from Walthamstow at a fire at Plashet. The sum of £6 was subsequently paid for this service.

Later on in the year a letter was sent to West Ham Local Board relative to the attendance of their Brigade at fires in East Ham. West Ham replied in the affirmative and it is recorded that they attended a fire at Beckton on the 13th January, 1880.

A letter was received from Mr. Angel of West Ham, regarding a fire in the East Ham Match Factory on the 10th February, 1880, and an account enclosed for the attendance of the Brigade. The Clerk to the Board was instructed to write to the insurance company for the payment of the amount paid to West Ham.

In December, 1880, the Board wrote to the famous Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, KCB, Chief Fire Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, asking for fire cover in the North Woolwich area. (See my post on the historic fire boat named after Massey Shaw). The Metropolitan Brigade had a small fire station in North Woolwich to protect the London County Council property in that area. Captain Shaw agreed to provide fire cover, and an agreement was signed the following month.

The population of East Ham had risen to 10,706 on 1881. it is interesting to note that the census was arrived at by counting the houses and estimating the number of people.

In 1882 the Clerk to the Board wrote to the Commissioners of Police asking for the establishment of a Police Station within the district. This was refused.

The first petroleum licence was issued to a Mr. Harding on the 14th of February, 1882.

The provision of fire hydrants exercised the minds of the Board members in 1884. The East London Water Works Company was asked to install a number of hydrants in North Woolwich and other places at a cost of £3 and 10 shillings each. The lack of pressure in the mains was the subject of much correspondence between the Board and the Water Company over the next few years.

A letter was received from the National Fire Escape Institution on the 12th of May, 1885, asking whether the Board would be prepared to accept a fire escape at a cost of £10 per annum. The Board refused to pay the price. The same year, North Metropolitan Tramway Company gave notice of their intention to commence the tramway in Romford Road. Reference is made to a Ratepayers Association who seemed determined to veto any proposal for improved fire cover, if the project was going to cost money.

An interesting entry appears on the 9th of February, 1886, from a Mr. Palmer, enclosing a list of fires attended by Mr. Clamp of the Royal Standard Hostelry in North Woolwich and claiming payment for these. The sum of £95 was paid for this service. In view of the agreement with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade to attend fires in North Woolwich, it is remarkable that payment should have been made to an individual in this case.

The Board turned down a request by the Liberal Club, Manor Park, for a fire engine to cover the district. The Board replied “No, not necessary”.

On the 21st of July 1891, a letter was received from a Mr. Drury enquiring whether the Board had anything to do with the South West Essex Fire Brigade. The Clerk replied that the Board had an arrangement with the West Ham Corporation to attend all fires in the district but have nothing to do with the private brigade mentioned. About this time many private brigades were in operation in the London area. One enterprising man, a Mr. Cook, wrote to the Board from Lewisham about this time offering to provide a fire engine and two men at a cost of £250 per annum. His offer was turned down.

By the end of 1892 the Ratepayers Association excelled themselves; they decided that a Fire Brigade was required for East Ham and asked the board to receive a deputation “to urge the necessity”.

The following year the Board purchased fire appliances from the Lewisham Fire Brigade at a cost of £140 and appointed Mr. Tom Willard as Superintendent. The Fire Station was located in Wakefield Street, opposite the Hartley Avenue School. The Brigade was what is today called a part-time retained unit with a total establishment of twenty firemen. The men who formed the Brigade consisted mainly of Council employees, such as the Town Hall Porter, the Parks’ Superintendent, the Foreman of Dustmen, and the Roads Foreman who lived in Bernards Avenue and drove the Council’s steam roller.

To call the firemen to attend a fire a man ran around the streets and lanes of the Borough shouting for members of the Brigade. Then it was touch and go whether the old horse drawn, manually operated pump reached the scene of the fire without mishap.

The names of only a few of these Auxiliary firemen are known, Ted Lukas, Parks’ Superintendent, Mr. Flowers, the Turncock, Charlie Hare, Jimmy Ward, Mr. Richards, Mr. Redmond, Edwin Roberts and George Cook who both joined the regular brigade and served for many years. The firemen received a payment of two shillings and six pence for each fire attended.

About this time, the Board were considering the installation of a fire alarm system to cover the district. This shows that electricity was becoming a commercial proposition.

One Sunday morning the Brigade were called to a fire at No. 2, High Street South. Owing to an oversight the regular coachman was not called, so one of the firemen drove the two horses to the fire. Unfortunately, the fireman was unused to such restive horses and, as he threw down the reins before getting out the hose to fight the fire, the horses bolted. They made their way to their home in North Woolwich and reached Manor Way when they capsized the engine into a ditch at a sharp bend by Beckton School. The Board reprimanded the Superintendent for not “properly calling the firemen”.

The poor Superintendent continued to be in hot water over many small incidents, so that on the 20th of October 1896, the Board resolved “Having regards to constant complaints, the Brigade Town Committee recommend that steps be taken at once putting an end to the present arrangements of the Fire Brigade pending the establishment of a permanent brigade”.

The following painting titled “Top Speed” by Savile Lumley shows horses pulling firefighters through the streets at speed:

East Ham Fire Station

A Full Time Fire Brigade for East Ham

The Committee wasted no time and immediately advertised for a Superintendent (Engineer Fireman) at £2 and 2 shillings a week, with free house, fire, light and uniform, and three firemen at £1 and 10 shillings a week.

Twenty one applications were received for the Superintendent’s post, and thirty one for the post of firemen. The interviews were held on the 17th of November 1896, and my Great Grandfather was appointed to be Superintendent. Three firemen were also appointed. A new Steam Fire Engine and Curricle (a two wheeled carriage drawn by two horses abreast) were purchased at a cost of £400.

My Great Grandfather’s First Annual report makes interesting reading:

“I have the honour to present my first Annual report of fires for the year commencing 1st January 1897 to 25th December 1897. Total number of calls received for fires during the year were 54, of these 14 were F.A. (false alarms), 3 chimney fires, 37 actual fires – 6 were serious in damage and 31 slight damage, 4 were beyond East Ham boundary, viz., West Ham.

In addition to ordinary fires, there have been 3 chimney fires requiring the attendance of firemen with hand pumps.

Of 37 fires, 17 were extinguished by means of steamers, hydrants and standpipes and firemen; 6 were by hand pumps and firemen; and 14 were by buckets and firemen.

The strength of the brigade is as follows: 1 Station; 1 Steamer; 1 Manual; 1 Curricle Fire Escape; 1 Telephone (2 more to be provided); 7 F.A. Points; 4 Bells leading to Firemen’s Houses; 1,800 feet of Canvas Hose – all in good condition; 4 Firemen (including Superintendent; 1 Coachman; 2 Horses.

The number of firemen employed on watch are 1 by day and 2 by night. The members of the brigade keep in a smart and proper condition. The men have been regularly drilled in their various duties and their conduct has been very satisfactory. Summary of how fires were reported to the F.B. for 1897:

Fire Alarm 17; Telephone 7; Police 1; Strangers 10

During the year there have been only 10 mischievous false alarms by fire alarms and 4 have been caused by wires in contact.

The brigade have pumped out 1 cellar (after a storm) with the steamer during the year.

Details of lives endangered:

  1. In this case which occurred at an oil shop on the 12th of April 1897. David Hollingsworth, a member of the brigade, was cut on hand by broken glass and had to be attended to by a doctor.
  2. In this case which occurred at a private house on the 13th of June 1897, Thomas West age 25 was burnt on left arm and hand and Mrs. L.N. West aged 18 years was severely burnt on face, neck, both arms and shoulder caused by the explosion of a mineral oil stove. Both have since recovered.
  3. In this case which occurred at a general shop on the 7th of December 1897, Mr. Robert Baker aged 54 was burnt on both hands caused by an explosion of a mineral oil lamp. He has since recovered.

In conclusion, I take this opportunity of thanking you for your valuable co-operation with me in all matters tending to the success of the brigade.”

The incident where David Hollingsworth was injured was reported in the Barking, East Ham & Ilford Advertiser:

“FIRE – At a few minutes before two o’clock on Monday afternoon a fire broke out at an oilshop, 101, Plashet-grove, occupied by Mr. C. Maitland Dods, and owned by Mr. W.A. Lee. Alarm was at once given at the East Ham Fire Station, and within a few minutes the Superintendent and his men were on the spot and vigorously combating the flames, which they managed to subdue after an-hour’s hard work. They were heartily congratulated by the crowd of bystanders who watched the operations. Fireman Hollingsworth was badly cut on the left hand. the shop was completely gutted, and the contents of nine rooms were severely damaged.

I found the following photo in a book published by West Ham County Borough Council in 1936 to celebrate fifty years as a Borough. It shows an early horse drawn steam engine.

Merryweather fire engine

Although it is from a book about West Ham, the sign on the side of the appliance shows the E of East Ham. I suspect it is a promotional photo by the Merryweather company who built fire engines in their factories in south London.

Unfortunately the firemen in the photo are not named, although they may be Merryweather staff rather than firemen from East Ham fire brigade, however it must have been a fire engine that my Great Grandfather would have used.

The main fire risk in the Borough was represented by the Royal Albert Dock, at the time the largest and finest dock in the world. The Beckton Gas Works was also one of, if not the largest in the world and represented another severe fire risk. Until closure both the Docks and the Gas Works continued to form the main fire risk covered by the brigade.

There was an agreement in 1897 between East and West Ham that border fires be attended without charge. A few years later a similar arrangement was agreed between East Ham and Barking.

On the 7th of June, 1898, it was reported to the Board that two firemen attended the launching of H.M. Battleship “Albion” (in company with four members of the late volunteer brigade) at Blackwall to form a guard of honour to the Duchess of York and a sad incident occurred by the collapse of a jetty which caused several deaths. The firemen were praised for their work of rescue. This really deserves a dedicated post. The following is a still from the launch of the Albion which you can watch on the BFI Player here.

HMS Albion

A serious fire on the 6th of July, 1898 on the S.S. Manitoba at shed 22, Royal Albert Dock, caused an explosion amongst cartridges which killed 5 persons and injured 6 others.

The cost of fodder for Fire Brigade horses is recorded as being 11 shillings per week. The animals must have been well fed because a fireman had to keep his wife and usually large family on 30 shillings a week.

The leave enjoyed by professional firemen in these early days was just 24 hours a month – if he could be spared.

In December 1898, the Council purchased the horses and contents of the stable of the Hand in Hand Insurance Company for £250.

Fireman Atkinson was appointed as Assistant Officer “to take charge in his (Superintendent’s) absence”, at a weekly rate of 35 shillings.

A severe fire occurred on the S.S. Magnetic involving heavy damage to engine room, store and cabins.

Fire alarms were being installed throughout the Borough by 1898 and many references are made to Malicious False Alarms.

Christmas Day, 1898 saw “Firemen acting disorderly at Wakefield Arms – Superintendent was there and found Fireman Dunn intoxicated. Told Dunn to go home whereupon assaulted; got him to station, assaulted once more. Dunn dismissed – approved by Committee.” Two other firemen were given a week’s notice.

On the 25th September 1899 there was a false alarm call. A small boy aged 12 years was detected pulling the alarm bell at the corner of St Stephen’s Road. The father was told that the next time he would be prosecuted. In September 1958, another small boy, the grandson of the original boy was found pulling the alarm bell again.

On the 11th of July 1900, a new sub-station was opened at Manor Park. The station was situated at the corner of Manor Park Road and Station Road and cost £118 to build. It contained a 50ft Bayley Escape – and was manned by two firemen, who had to drag it to the fires on its two wheeled cart. The cost of telephones to Wakefield Street from one fire alarm point and from the sub-station at Manor Park was £16, 5 shillings per annum.

The Waiting Room and Porters Room at East Ham Railway Station was severely damaged by fire on the 25th of April 1901.

An unusual accident occurred on the 16th of July 1901, whilst proceeding to a fire, when the wheel of the old manual engine caught in the tram lines and was wrenched off. The North Metropolitan Tramway paid £5 compensation. The fire engines and the trams seem to have been in conflict from time to time because it is reported that the new motor engine was in collision with a tram at Savage Gardens whilst returning from a fire at the docks. The lovely new machine finished up in a rhubarb field belonging to a Mr. Northfield the Farmer. It was ignominiously chained to the tram and towed home to the station.

The Superintendent asked for the authority to summon the assistance of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in case of an emergency at big Dock fires, but the Committee refused to recommend the Council to incur liability for charges for this purpose.

The annual report for 1900 shows the following equipment held by the Brigade – 1 Station; 1 Sub-Station; 1 Steamer; 1 Manual; 1 Hose Tender and 50ft Escape with sliding carriage. 1 Curricle Escape, 40ft; 6 scaling ladders; 2,500 feet of canvas hose; 5 leather branches, 5 metal branches’ 44ft of rubber suction hose; 3 jumping sheets; 4 horses.

The establishment now had – 1 Superintendent; 1 assistant Superintendent; 7 Firemen and 2 Coachmen.

It was also reported that Fireman J. Mandell fell from the first floor to ground at a fire and was subsequently retired due to his injuries. Fireman E.L. Roberts was badly injured when part of a roof fell in and smashed his helmet. Fireman H. Gear sustained a severely cut wrist from a falling slate and H. Chittock, Turncock, received a broken leg when he was thrown off the steamer.

East Ham Fire Station had increased by 1904 with the addition of two firemen. My Great Grandfather, the Superintendent, had his salary increased to £597 per annum. The salaries of other officials at this time make an interesting comparison:

Town Clerk £300; Assistant Town Clerk £200; Librarian £150; Medical Officer £200; General Clerk £120. A council steamroller driver was paid £2 a week and a foreman Bricklayer was paid £2 5 shillings a week. The Superintendent’s role appears to have been very well paid.

On the 20th of June, 1905, a surprise trial call was given to the fire brigade. The Committee members expressed their satisfaction that the time taken for the firemen to arrive at the Town Hall was only 3 minutes 20 seconds from the time of the call. Perhaps the firemen were not so surprised by the call as the Committee imagined.

In 1905 the brigade had 1 Steam Fire Engine; 1 Manual Fire Engine; 1 Hose Tender and 50 feet sliding carriage escape and two 40 feet Curricule Escapes.

An incident occurred on the 28th of February, 1906 involving 50 feet of electrical cable which fused under the pavement. Six persons were removed to hospital suffering from partial suffocation.

In July 1906, the Superintendent reported that the clothing contractor who supplied uniforms, had failed to carry out his work satisfactorily, and the contractor would go on to loose the brigade contract. In 1906, a new smoke helmet cost £2, 5 shillings.

About this time, Council Minutes appear relating to the totally inadequate surroundings and arrangements of the present fire station in Wakefield Street. The Committee were in favour of building a new station and instructed the Surveyor to prepare plans to incorporate the building into the area surrounding the new Town Hall.

A Mr. Kennersly made application to the Council to be allowed to explain his “patent for facilitating the life saving capacity of the Council’s fire escapes”. The apparatus consisted of a canvas chute attached to the head of the escape and down which persons were passed after rescue from upper floors. these chutes were in common use in the Metropolitan area from about 1850 onwards. There is no record that this method was adopted in East Ham.

In 1908 the Council looked into the question of hiring horses instead of keeping their own. An advertisement was placed in the Daily Telegraph inviting tenders from firms willing to hire horses. The offer from Messrs. C. Webster Ltd was accepted at a cost of £65 per horse, per annum and £150 for purchase of the brigade’s live stock.

Throughout the years of the development of the fire brigade, East Ham was also expanding, and Wakefield Street, the street with the fire station had been fully developed as a street lined with terrace houses. There were some exceptions. A large school almost opposite the fire station, and also a Salvation Army Hall:

Wakefield Street

The plaque on the hall dates the opening to 1908:

Salvation Army

Wakefield Street’s eastern end was at a junction with High Street North, however Ron Leighton Way (named after the MP for Newham North East. he won the seat in 1979) now slices through Wakefield Street as it nears High Street north. Where Wakefield Street now ends is this row of shops – essential additions to any London development of rows of terrace streets.

East Ham Fire Station

In earlier years, there would have been a number of pubs along the streets of developing East Ham. There were, and are, very few in the vicinity of Wakefield Street, and I suspect it was the late Victorian approach to alcohol for the masses, and that so many of the people who lived in the area, worked in the docks, where employers would not have wanted their employees under the influence of alcohol.

Back to the East Ham fire brigade, and there were some remarkable turn out times achieved by firemen in the days of horses. The record held by a London station being 11 seconds during a test turnout, but it is likely that much of the work for the callout had already been anticipated.

Under normal conditions, times of 30 seconds for a turn out were quiet common and this included attaching the horses to the shafts and securing the necessary harness.

Permission was given at regular intervals for the fire brigade to attend Carnivals in neighbouring Boroughs. The attendances of the brigade at such functions appeared to be an essential feature of the carnival. no doubt the fire engine with its brass work gleaming, drawn by proud horses and carrying its load of brass helmeted firemen would make a brave sight as it galloped round the park. From past records it is evident that the engines were “got to work” and demonstrated the skill of the men and the efficiencies of the pumps.

The Second East Ham Fire Station

Plans and estimates were submitted to the Council on the 21st of November 1911, for the building of a new fire station in High Street South. the cost of the project amounted to £8,628 including quarters for the Superintendent and 11 men. This was approved, along with approval to borrow the amount for a period of 30 years.

The new station was urgently required as the original in Wakefield Street was designed and built to accommodate horses, with the result that the doorways were only 8 ft., 10 inches wide. The appliance room was not deep enough to house the turntable ladders which were soon to be made available for the fire services.

On the 28th of May 1914, the new Fire Station was opened by Mayor, Alderman O.R. Anstead, and at the opening he said that “Great praise is due to the Borough Engineer and his Deputy for the way in which they have constructed the building which is one of the best anywhere around London”.

Little did he know that within three months the appliance room of the new fire station would be considered out of date for the latest fire fighting equipment. Little foresight was shown by the designers of the Station because many Fire Brigades in different parts of the country were at that time purchasing motor fire appliances and it should have been obvious that the day of the horse was numbered.

The opening of the new fire station, the transition from horse to motorised equipment was followed within three years by the death of my Great Grandfather. The West Ham and South Essex Mail included this obituary in April 1917, which included that:

“In early life he had been a petty officer in the mercantile marine. On leaving the sea he joined the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1861, and saw service in Norwood, Battersea, Rotherhithe and other districts, coming to West Ham in 1886 as fireman and steam man. He was for eleven years in West Ham where his good work was recognised by all grades of the service.

On leaving that centre when he received the appointment of the East Ham Fire Brigade he was presented by his colleagues with a clock, ornaments, tea service and a purse of gold. The excellence of his work in East Ham was also recognised both by the authorities and those who served under him. He had had a wide and varied experience and had attended some of the biggest fires in the London district.

Unfortunately, about two years ago he was in the somewhat serious motor accident which resulted in one of two members of the Brigade receiving injuries. Deceased himself was so badly shaken that he was never again quite the same, and had to relinquish his more arduous duties on a small pension, though he filled up his spare time as consulting engineer and inspector of hydrants. He had been ailing for some time before his death, and his illness took a turn for the worse about a week ago, He leaves a widow and three children.”

The fire station that took over from the one in Wakefield Street is still there, however now converted into flats. What is, as far as I know, the third version of East Ham Fire Station is at 210 High Street South, towards the Newham Way – equipped with fire fighting equipment that would have amazed my Great Grandfather.

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Elizabeth Fry, Charles Brooking, a Church and a Hall

Continuing my series of posts, tracking down all the City of London’s blue plaques, here are another selection of the wide range of people and places commemorated across the City, starting with:

Mrs. Elizabeth Fry – Prison Reformer

Where Poultry meets the Bank junction, there is a plaque on a side wall recording that Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, Prison Reformer, lived here between 1800 and 1809:

Elizabeth Gurney, as she was before marriage, was born in Norwich in 1780. Her parents were Quaker’s, which probably influenced her future work.

She came to London in 1800, the same year that she had married Joseph Fry, so the plaque commemorates her first London home.

Her prison reform campaigning started around 1813 following a visit to Newgate prison. This visit was described in the book Prison Discipline by Sir Thomas Powell Buxton, and it really must have been a shocking sight:

“She found the female side in a situation which no language can describe – nearly three hundred women, sent there for every graduation of crime, some untried, and some under sentence of death, were crowded together in the two yards and the two cells.

Here they saw their friends and kept their multitude of children, and they had no other place for cooking, washing, eating and sleeping. They slept on the floor, at times one hundred and twenty on one ward, without so much as a mat for bedding, and many of them were nearly naked.

She saw them openly drinking spirits, and her ears were offended by the most terrible imprecations. Every thing was filthy to excess, and the smell was quite disgusting. Every one, even the Governor was reluctant to go amongst them. He persuaded her to leave her watch in the office, telling her that his presence would not prevent its being torn from her.

She saw enough to convince her that everything bad was going on. In giving me this account, she repeatedly said ‘all I tell thee is a faint picture of the reality; the filth, the closeness of the rooms, the ferocious manners and expressions of the women towards each other, and the abandoned wickedness which everything bespoke, are quite indescribable’. Two women were observed in the act of stripping a dead child, for the purpose of clothing a living one.”

As a result of this visit, Elizabeth Fry started to campaign for improved conditions for women prisoners. She started bible lessons in Newgate and in 1817 formed the Association for Improving the Condition of Female Prisoners in Newgate”. It was initially assumed that the association was doomed to failure and that prisoners in Newgate could not be reformed, however the association pushed forward. As well as the women, their concern was the condition of the children who were imprisoned with their mothers. The Association opened a school dedicated to children within the prison.

The Association’s work gradually brought about change:

“The efforts of the committee to induce order soon began to produce visible effects. It even excited surprise to watch their rapid progress to an almost total change of scene. The demeanour of the prisoners is now quiet and orderly, their habits industrious, their persons clean, their very countenances changed and softened. The governesses of the schools for children, and for adults, are themselves prisoners, whose steadiness and good conduct procured their selection, and have justified the preference.”

As well as work within Newgate, Elizabeth Fry campaigned for change in how prisoners were managed and in 1823 prison reform legislation was introduced in Parliament.

Her work expanded. She would sit with those who were condemned for execution, she visited convicts in prison ships prior to their being transported to Australia, and provided items such as blankets to provide some comfort during the voyage. She visited many other prisons to inspect their conditions and campaign for change. This included prisons across England and Scotland as well as France.

She corresponded with those in power across Europe, including the King of Prussia and the Dowager Empress of Russia.

Many people went to visit Newgate to see the improved conditions, and watch the work of Elizabeth Fry. Prince Albert and the Duke of Wellington met with her.

She was also interested in causes outside of prison reform, for example she also sent bibles and reading material to isolated coastguard stations across the country. She also campaigned for improved conditions for working women, improved housing for the poor, and she established a number of soup kitchens.

From 1809 to 1829 Elizabeth Fry lived in East Ham at Plashet House, then moved to a house in West Ham, where she lived until 1844. She then possibly moved to Kent as a year later she died at Upton, Ramsgate in Kent.

She was buried in the Friends burying ground in Barking.

Portrait of Elizabeth Fry  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Elizabeth Fry apparently lived in St Mildred’s Court. I cannot find an exact location, however another blue plaque, a very short distance away indicates where the name of the court would have come from.

St. Mildred’s Church

Facing onto Poultry is another blue plaque:

Recalling the site of St Mildred’s church, demolished in 1872:

St Mildred’s church was one of the many City churches demolished during the second half of the 19th century. The City had been rapidly developing as a commercial centre. This reduced the number of residents and the size of church congregations. Space was also needed for road widening, additional office and commercial space, so many City churches, such as St Mildred’s were demolished.

An article in the Morning Post on the 18th of May 1872 provides some background to the church:

“The church of St. Mildred, Poultry, built by Sir Christopher Wren, is about to be sacrificed to the widening of the thoroughfare. It was erected in 1676 in the place of a decayed fabric which had dated from 1420, and which had superseded another of great antiquity that had fallen into dilapidation.

Previous to the first erection of the church, Thomas Morstead, surgeon to King Henry IV, V and VI, gave a piece of land adjoining the church, 45ft long and 35ft wide, for a burial ground.

Among persons of interest buried in the old church was Thomas Tusser, born in 1515, who wrote a book called ‘Points of Husbandrie’ which passed through 12 editions in 50 years. He is said to have led a wandering and unsettled life, being at one time a chorister, then a farmer, and afterwards a singing master. A quaint epitaph in verse commemorated his name and services. Previous to suppression of religious houses St Mildred’s belonged to the priory and canons of St. Mary Overy.

The length of the fabric now about to be taken down is 56ft, the width 42ft and the height 36ft. the tower is 75ft in height and is surmounted by a gilt ship in full sail.”

St. Mildred’s was shown on a 1754 map of Cheape Ward. I have circled the church in red in the following extract from the map:

In the above map, number 9 refers to St. Mildred’s church, and number 10 to Scalding Alley. I cannot find St Mildred’s Court on a map, so wonder if this was the alley by the side of the church.

When the church was demolished, the dead were relocated to the City of London cemetery at Ilford, Poultry was widened and new commercial buildings constructed on the site.

A short walk from Poultry, we find Tokenhouse Yard, a turnoff from Lothbury, where there is a plaque to:

Charles Brooking – Marine Painter

At the entrance to Tokenhouse Yard is a plaque to Charles Brooking who lived near the site of the plaque.

Not that much is known of the life of Charles Brooking. It is believed that he was born in Greenwich and he died at the relatively young age of 36. The plaque gives the years of his (assumed) birth (1723) and death (1759), not the years that he lived near the site of the plaque, and I cannot find when he did live near the site, or for how long.

The Illustrated London News provided some additional background on Charles Brooking at the time of an exhibition of his work at the Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art in 1966:

“A meticulous knowledge of shipping and a poetic lyricism in his observation of natural phenomena combine to make Charles Brooking the greatest of all marine painters. Born as he was in the 18th century his talents were perfectly fitted to satisfy the chauvinism engendered by Britain’s naval supremacy. What is remarkable is that Brooking’s painting avoids all forms of brashness and conceit which one almost expect. His high proficiency in technical detail and his emotional restraint are even alien to much of modern taste, which is a possible reason why Brooking has become a classic example of the great painter overlooked.

Brooking’s extraordinary technical ability in painting all kinds of naval gear make it reasonable to accept the inconclusive literary evidence that he came from Deptford and was trained in the dockyard there as the son of a master-craftsman at Greenwich Hospital. Seventeen twenty-three is an acceptable date for his birth, as he is known to have died in 1759 and was very probably 36 at the time.”

Most references to Charles Brooking put the brilliance of his work down to his early years being spent in and around Greenwich where he would have seen so much of the multitude of different types of ships in use during the early decades of the 18th century.

The following image shows one of Brooking’s works, dated from around 1755 and titled “Shipping in the English Channel”:

Source: Charles Brooking, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tokenhouse Yard is an interesting little street. Built during the reign of Charles I on the site of a house and garden owned by the Earl of Arundel. The name comes from a building in the vicinity where the tokens issued by small traders as a replacement for small value coins, could be exchanged for legal tender

At the far end of Tokenhouse Yard, a small alley leads through the buildings at the end of the street through to Telegraph Street / Copthall Buildings:

Tokenhouse Yard, and the surrounding streets deserve a dedicated post, however the plaque to Charles Brooking at the entrance to the street does provide a reminder of a brilliant marine artist, who captured naval scenes during a couple of decades at the first half of the 18th century.

Also in Lothbury, is the site of the next plaque, to:

Founder’s Hall

Where Founders Court joins Lothbury there is a plaque recording that Founder’s Hall stood in the Court between 1531 and 1845:

Founder’s Hall was the hall of the Worshipful Company of Founders, one of the old Company’s of the City of London, dating back to 1365, when “In 1365 the men of the mistery of founders presented a petition to the mayor and aldermen stating that some of the mistery made ‘works of false metal and false solder’ and requesting that ordinances be approved to regulate the trade”.

The company may have been in existence prior to 1365, but it is this date which seems to be the accepted date for when the company came into existence, as a company that had powers to regulate aspects of their members trade.

Founders worked in brass, alloys of brass and tin, and produced articles such as candle sticks, stirrups for horses, pots etc. The basic materials of everyday life.

Their hall was built in 1531 when members of the Company purchased a number of houses and a garden in Lothbury, and constructed their hall.

Lothbury seems to have been the location of many who worked in the founders trade. Stow goes so far as to say that the name Lothbury comes from the number of founders who worked along the street, with their noise being found loathsome to those walking on the street, with the street attracting the name of Lothberie.

A Dictionary of London does not place much faith in Stow’s explanation, and suggests that the name comes from “lode” (a cut or drain leading into a large stream), with Lothbury leading over the Walbrook, or more probable the name coming from a personal name of Lod, or Loda.

The area around Lothbury has long been part of London’s populated history, as a Roman tessellated pavement was found opposite Founder’s Court at a depth of 12ft, along with a Roman pavement. Copper bowls were also found nearby at a depth of 10 ft. in wet, boggy soil.

I cannot find much about why the Founder’s vacated Founders Court. I did find a couple of newspaper articles from 1847 which hint at why they moved “TELEGRAPHIC CENTRAL STATION – The whole of the extensive buildings, including Founders Hall and Chapel in Founders Court, Lothbury, fronting the Bank of England, are being demolished, the Electric Telegraph Company having purchased the property for the formation of their central metropolitan station”.

The Electric Telegraph Company had been founded in the previous year, 1846, and was the world’s first public telegraph company.

Prior to the founding of the Electric Telegraph Company, the telegraph as a technology had mainly been used by the railways with wires being strung along railway lines in order to send messages between stations.

The Electric Telegraph Company was formed to offer the technology to potential users across business and the public. The Electric Telegraph Company could be compared with the earliest Internet service providers such as Compuserve, AOL, DELPHI and Earthlink, who took a technology that was used by a limited research and scientific community and opened it up to the wider public.

Some of the earliest users of the Electric Telegraph Company were the newspapers who suddenly had a means of receiving news at almost the instant it was happening. Initial use of this service was reported with some care, for example in a report in 1848, newspapers were detailing news of rebellions in Ireland, and included:

“The Electric Telegraph Company vouched for its arrival in Liverpool. On the whole, therefore, we did not feel justified in refusing to publish it. we inserted it just as it reached us, giving the authority, and at the same time stating that we have received nothing of the sort from our own correspondents”.

This statement from the papers of 1848 is a fascinating foretaste of what was to come, when new technology would continue to grow exponentially, the ability for news to flow in, before any trusted authority had been able to verify the source and factual basis of the news.

The Electric Telegraph Company grew during the following years, and merged with similar companies, eventually becoming part of the Post Office, and today, British Telecom.

The Founder’s then seem to have moved around a bit. Their next hall was in St Swithin’s Lane, and the current hall, dating from 1987, is located in Cloth Fair, opposite the Hand and Shears pub.

The following print, dating from 1855 shows the new Founder’s Hall in St Swithin’s Lane  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Above the door is the coat of arms of the Founder’s, which consists of two taper candlesticks on either side of a laverpot (a container for filling a washing bowl) – both being examples of the Founder’s art.

Four more plaques which commemorate some of the people that have lived in the City and the buildings that have often been on the streets for centuries, but are now just recorded by a plaque on a wall.

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Campden Hill Water Tower, an Observatory and Sir James South

Before heading to Campden Hill, a quick reminder that if you are interested in discovering the history of the New River, New River Head, the Oak Room and Devil’s Conduit, there are a few tickets remaining for a walk by Islington Guides starting this coming week. I will be guiding on a couple of these walks and they can be booked at this link.

For this week’s post, I am in the area between Kensington Gardens and Holland Park, in Campden Hill Road, looking up the street towards the now demolished water tower as seen in this photo by my father, and dating from 1951:

Campden Hill Water Tower

The same view in August 2022:

Campden Hill Water Tower

The view nearest the camera has hardly changed. The buildings on either side of Campden Hill Road are the same. What has changed is the view in the distance where the water tower once stood is now a development of flats.

The Campden Hill water tower was built as part of the 19th century roll out of water supplies across an expanding London.

The Grand Junction Water Works Company purchased the land at the top of the road in 1843, and built a reservoir. This was followed by a pumping station and the water tower. (I have also read reports that the water works opened in the 1820s on land purchased from the Dowager Marchioness of Lansdowne, and that the water tower was built in 1847).

The water tower is unusual in that it did not hold a water tank. Instead, large pipes ran up the tower, and these would hold water, with the height of the pipes adding to the pressure of water supplied from the location.

I have shown the location of the water tower, and the associated water supply infrastructure, within the red rectangle in the following map:

Campden Hill

The map shows that the water tower was just over half way up Campden Hill Road, but we need to look at another type of map to understand why it was located at this point in Campden Hill Road.

The following map (from the excellent topographic-map.com) shows land height as different colours, with blue as the lowest height, up through green, orange, red and pink as the highest. I have placed a black star symbol at the location of the water tower, and as can be seen by the surrounding colours, this is the highest point in the area, and the natural height of the land would have given a pressure advantage to water from the site, to which the water tower would have added.

Campden Hill

The name of the road – Campden Hill Road – also highlights that the road runs both up and down a hill. Next to the original location of the water tower, we can see the road descending in both directions. Looking north:

Campden Hill Water Tower

And looking south:

Campden Hill Water Tower

There was a local myth that involved the height of the land where the water tower was located. Almost opposite the location of the water tower is a pub called the Windsor Castle, and the myth was that before the water tower was built, a keen eyed observer could see the real Windsor Castle from this high point, hence the name of the local pub.

This myth was certainly still going into the 1950s when a letter in the Kensington Post disputed that you could have seen the castle from this point, and it was even doubtful that you could see the castle from the top of the tower.

This source of the name is not mentioned on the pub’s website, which does though claim the 1820s as the age of the pub, so it does pre-date the water tower.

Windsor Castle pub

The water tower and associated infrastructure became part of the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904 when the MWB took over the assets of the many water companies operating in London, and brought these under the control of a single, London wide, water supplier.

The water tower was last used for the storage of water within it’s pipe in 1943, and was then redundant for a number of years. Plans to demolish the tower started in the early 1050s and in the 28th of March 1952 edition of the Kensington News and West London Times, there was an article with the headline “Goodbye to the Great Grey Tower”. The newspaper had asked local residents how they felt about the loss of the tower and reported that their general reply was that they would “Miss it dreadfully”.

The tower would though remain for many years, and during the 1960s it was leased to Associated Rediffusion who had equipment to relay television signals mounted on the tower.

There were a number of proposals for what would replace the tower throughout the 1960s, many reported in the Kensington Post, who also sent a photographer to take some photos of the view from the top of the tower.

It would finally be demolished in the first months of 1970, and the site of the water tower and associated works is now occupied by the housing seen in the following photo:

Campden Hill Water Tower

As well as being part of London’s water supply, and a local landmark, the Campden Hill water tower is also unique as it is (as far as I know) the only water tower to feature in, and on the cover of a work of literature:

G K Chesterton

The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesteron is a rather unusual book. Published in 1904, it tells of the story an alternative reality, where the country is ruled over by a randomly selected head of state, one Auberon Quinn who had been a clerk. Quinn decides to turn London into a form of medieval city. One man, Adam Wayne, takes this very seriously, and uses it as a means to support local pride. Wayne even went to the length of setting up a Notting Hill army to fight invaders from other neighbourhoods – hence the title of the Napoleon of Notting Hill.

Theoretically set in a London of the future, the book describes technology and the city as it was when the book was written.

The water tower features many times in the book, including in Chapter Three —The Great Army of South Kensington, where the various forces of different streets and local areas assemble and where battle takes place, for example:

“Morning winked a little wearily at me over the curt edge of Campden Hill and its houses with their sharp shadows. Under the abrupt black cardboard of the outline, it took some little time to detect colours; but at length I saw a brownish yellow shifting in the obscurity, and I knew that it was the guard of Swindon’s West Kensington army. They are being held as a reserve, and lining the whole ridge above the Bayswater Road. Their camp and their main force is under the great Waterworks Tower on Campden Hill.”

and:

“In the event of your surrendering your arms and dispersing under the superintendence of our forces, these local rights of yours shall be carefully observed. In the event of your not doing so, the Lord High Provost of Notting Hill desires to announce that he has just captured the Waterworks Tower, just above you, on Campden Hill, and that within ten minutes from now, that is, on the reception through me of your refusal, he will open the great reservoir and flood the whole valley where you stand in thirty feet of water. God save King Auberon!”

The reason why Chesterton set his book in the area, and uses the water tower as a key feature must be that he was born in Campden Hill on the 29th of May, 1874, so he knew the area very well, and the water tower would have been a very familiar feature.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a really strange book, but good to have the Campden Hill water tower recorded in a work of literature.

Walking south, down the hill from the location of the water tower is this terrace of large residential buildings:

Bill Brandt

One of which has a blue plaque recording that the photographer Bill Brandt lived here:

Bill Brandt

I felt rather guilty taking the photo of Bill Brandt’s plaque on a modern digital camera, when I should have been using my father’s old Leica film camera.

Brandt was a master of film photography. Born in Germany in 1904, he moved to London in 1933, and would spend the rest of his life in the city until his death in 1983.

I have no idea when, and for how long he lived in Campden Hill Road, however a number of his photographs were taken inside the building, many of which date around the 1940s, so he was there for some of that decade.

Brandt took a series of photos of London during the war, and his photos of the Underground being used as air raid shelters have become representative of that period in London’s history. Many of his wartime photos of London are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum:

Bill Brandt
AIR RAID DAMAGE (HU 672) Elephant & Castle Tube Station, 11 November 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205059368

Christ Church, Spitalfields: Man sleeping in a stone sarcophagus in Christ Church:

Bill Brandt
SHELTER PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN LONDON BY BILL BRANDT, NOVEMBER 1940 (D 1511) Christ Church, Spitalfields: Man sleeping in a stone sarcophagus in Christ Church. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194621

Continuing on down Campden Hill Road, and the area around the road is full of interesting architecture and plenty of history and interesting characters. I cannot cover everything I would like to in the space of a weekly post, so I will pick one small street which has plenty of interesting stories to tell.

In the map below, I have put a blue oval around Observatory Gardens, a small street that leads from Campden Hill Road to Hornton Street:

Observatory Gardens

I will come on to the origin of the name Observatory Gardens, however lets have a look at the buildings first.

Along the northern side of Observatory Gardens is a continuous terrace of brick houses with white painted detailing.

Observatory Gardens

By 1870, the land now occupied by Observatory Gardens had been purchased by Thomas Cawley, a local south Kensington builder. He subcontracted the construction of the street, however his subcontractors went bankrupt, so Cawley completed the work himself, and the street was finished in 1883.

The street suffered some severe damage during the last war when a German bomber crashed into Campden Hill Road, having taken off a large roof in Observatory Gardens, and the crater in the street causing additional damage. A report in the West London Observer on Friday the 18th of April 1941 tells the story:

“London experienced one of the heaviest raids of the War during Wednesday night and early Thursday morning and numerous heavy, high-explosive missiles as well as thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped. Damage was on a large scale and many people were killed.

The German radio yesterday (Thursday) declared that the raid was the heaviest ever on London and the biggest raid of the War, and that 100,000 fire bombs were showered down.

On Thursday morning thousand of Londoners made their way to work over hose-pipes and broken glass, while firemen, begrimed and exhausted, still dealt with the smoldering ruins. Many had to make extensive detours to reach their place of business and thousands found their offices and shops bombed out when they got there.

Altogether five Nazi planes were brought down, one of which crashed in Campden Hill Road, a turning off Kensington High street. Actually the plane hit the roof of a large house in Observatory Gardens before crashing into the roadway about 50-feet away. Bombs from the plane must have crashed into the road in front of this house as there is a very large crater.

The German plane finally came to rest by the side of a large Hostel, part of the University of London.

At the controls was a dead pilot. No traces of other members of the crew could be found, so it is assumed that they had jumped. Later the bodies of two Nazi airmen were discovered in the locality, badly mutilated.

Residents at Campden Hill Road heard the whistle of the approaching aircraft before it crashed. There was no engine noise. Wardens say that it was not on fire.

The bomber touched chimney pots and then disintegrated in small pieces. Its heavier parts, one of the engines and two propellers, landed on the top of a block of flats where some Maltese evacuees were billeted.

An oil tank burst at the same time, and two rooms of the top floors of the flats, which were being used for bedding and linen, caught fire.

During the day, thousands of people passed the spot to see the scattered remains of the bomber. By the afternoon there was little to see as army lorries had conveyed the debris to one of the various scrap bases set aside for this purpose.”

Observatory Gardens was left badly damaged by the crash of the bomber, and as with so many streets across London, the street would not recover for a couple of decades.

In the years after the war, Observatory Gardens became very run down, and it was not until the 1990s that the street we see today emerged. Whilst the exterior of the buildings were restored, much of the interior of the buildings appears to have been considerably rebuilt.

Before Thomas Cawley purchased the land and developed Observatory Gardens, the land was owned by Sir James South, a fascinating character who made astronomical discoveries and also appears to have spent a fair amount of time in the courts.

Sir James South purchased a house and land in 1827 from the Phillimore family, and set about building an astronomical observatory in the grounds.

He started a career as a surgeon in Southwark, and there established an observatory in Blackman Street. He worked with the astronomer John Herschel on the observation of double stars, but he was often difficult to work with, and was frequently drunk.

Despite this, he became President of the Astronomical Society in 1829, but after arguments with a number of Fellows, his involvement with what would become the Royal Astronomical Society faded.

He continued his observations from his house on the land that is now Observatory Gardens, and got involved in a number of disputes with the council who were proposing to extend Camden Hill Road. He believed that the vibrations from traffic on the extended road would impact his telescopes and his observations.

His legal disputes were not just about issues that threatened his observations, he would take legal action on many issues that he daily encountered. One was in 1855 when he took a conductor of a Paddington omnibus to court for deceiving him.

South had apparently hailed the omnibus near King’s Cross and had asked the conductor if it was the Royal Oak omnibus. The conductor confirmed that it was, so South boarded.

The bus continued to Chapel Street by when all the passengers had left the bus, with the exception of South. The conductor stated that the bus would not be going any further than the next stop, and South got into an argument with the conductor regarding the destination of the bus, and that the conductor had informed South that it would go to Royal Oak.

At court, the conductor denied that he had told South the omnibus was going to Royal Oak, stated that South had got on the bus without speaking. Despite this, the court sided with Sir James South and convicted the conductor with a penalty of 20 shillings plus costs.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the case of Sir James South and the conductor of an Omnibus shows that South would take an issue to court no matter how trivial it was, and with the unequal resources and reputation of an omnibus conductor and Sir James South.

Sir James South:

Sir James South

The Illustrated Times published an obituary for Sir James South on the 26th October, 1867:

“We have to announce the death of Sir James South, F.R.S. at an advanced age. He was the son of a dispensing druggist, who towards the close of the last century carried on in business in Blackman-street, Borough; but James South entered upon a higher branch of the medical profession, and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. For some years he practiced his profession in Southwark, and in the intervals in business pursued the study of astronomy, in connection with which he made some extremely valuable observations. In 1822 and 1823, in conjunction with Sir John Herschel, he compiled a catalogue of 380 double stars.

After this he removed to Campden-hill, Kensington, where he constructed an observatory, to which he devoted the closest attention during the remainder of his life, and which has achieved European fame. He was one of the founders of the Royal Astronomical Society, and was for a time its president. In 1830, on the recommendation of the Duke of Wellington, who was then prime Minister, he received the honour of knighthood, and for several years past he has enjoyed a pension of £300 a year on the Civil List for his contributions to astronomical science.

The account of Sir James South’s astronomical observations during his residence in Southwark is published in the Philosophical Transactions for 1825, and is accompanied by a description of the 5 foot and 7 foot equatorials with which they were made. one of these instruments is still mounted and in excellent condition at the Campden-hill Observatory. There are also in the observatory a 7 foot transit instrument, and a 4 foot transit circle. Sir James South was born in 1785.”

The street name Observatory Gardens is therefore named after Sir James South’s observatory that once occupied the land. The following photos shows the end of Observatory Gardens, where the street meets Hornton Street:

Observatory Gardens

One of the newspaper reports I read about the water tower is that the arrival of the Grand Junction Water Works Company, and the resulting reliable supply of water, was one of the reasons why the area developed rapidly during the first half of the 19th century, and that much of that development was of large, ornate, houses.

At the eastern end of Observatory Gardens is Hornton Street, and this is the view looking north – of many of those large, ornate, houses:

Camden Hill

And the view looking south, as the hill which gave the area its name continues to descend towards Kensington High Street. Lots more red brick and white decoration:

Campden Hill

One thing I realised as I get towards the end of the post is that I have not explained the origin of the name Campden Hill. The Hill element obviously comes from the hill on which the area is built, and that resulted in the water tower being built here. Campden came from Campden House, a large house that was built here by Baptist Hicks, 1st Viscount Campden in the 17th century. The Camden in his title came from Chipping Campden in the County of Gloucester.

In the 19th century and much of the 20th century, there was a considerable amount of infrastructure supporting the provision of water, gas and electricity across London. As with the Campden Hill water tower, so much of this has disappeared, as the technologies used to distribute these services has changed.

Campden Hill is a fascinating area to explore, and I hope this post has provided an indication of what can be discovered across some of the streets.

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Two Cornhill Churches – St Peter and St Michael

A church that was not rebuilt after the 1666 Great Fire along with the churchyard lost in the late 19th century was the subject of last week’s post. For today, I want to take a look at two churches that have survived, both very old churches, and at the eastern end of Cornhill in the City.

In the following extract from John Rocque’s 1746 map of London I have circled St Peter-upon-Cornhill (red) and St Michael Cornhill (orange):

Map of Cornhill

Both churches are partly hidden behind other buildings that face onto Cornhill, and have the appearance of churches from an earlier period of London’s history, when the built space was very crowded, and every available plot of land was utilised for building.

This is the view of St Peter, from Cornhill, with a lunchtime queue at the food shop that is on the small wedge of land between the body of the church and the street:

St Peter Cornhill

Only the main entrance to St Peter is on Cornhill, and when the doors are open, the entrance appears to offer a rather mysterious portal between the food shops to an older London:

St Peter Cornhill

St Peter-upon-Cornhill is in an interesting location, as it is at roughly the highest point in the City of London. Whether this has anything to do with the church’s location is doubtful, however it has been a religious site for very many centuries with Stow claiming the second century as the date for the founding of a church on the site.

The website of the church is even more specific as it states ” 179AD when Lucius, the first Christian King of Britain”, and that St Peter was the first church in the City of London. It was built on the site of the Roman Basilica.

Stow refers to a tablet in the church which had an inscription about the original founding of the church, and this reference also appears in other accounts of the church, however it seems this tablet dated to the 14th century, so a considerable gap of many centuries with the alleged second century date of the original founding of the church.

The earliest written records for the church date to 1127, however a church was probably on the site for many centuries before the 12th century, but whether back to the 2nd century is impossible to confirm.

The church has had a number of rebuilds and additions over the years. In the 15th century there was a school attached to the church.

In common with many other City churches, it was very badly damaged during the 1666 Great Fire. It was rebuilt by Wren between 1677 and 1684, and this is the church we see today as it survived the blitz without any damage – although there have been a number of restorations since the 17th century.

It was the post fire rebuild that shortened the church. Ten feet of the eastern section of the pre-fire church was demolished to make way for a widened Gracechurch Street.

I found one reference to the church of a type that I have not seen before. It goes back to the 25th of January 1783 and is a newspaper report about a fire in Fenchurch Street, and states that:

“There was a great scarcity of water for some time, but the reservoir belonging to St Peter’s Cornhill, being opened, a good supply was obtained, which was the means of its being got under.”

I have not seen a reference to a City church having a water reservoir. Whether this was an open body of water, or a large tank or conduit, it is impossible to tell. It could perhaps have been a service that the church provided to the parish.

Walking through the dark portal of the church from Cornhill reveals a surprisingly light church interior:

St Peter Cornhill

The last major restoration of the church was in 1872, and although everything above ground is Wren and later, below ground there are much earlier remains as during an excavation in 1990 it was found that Wren had used the medieval pier foundations of an earlier version of the church which probably dated to around the mid 15th century.

The most recent additions to the church are some stained glass. These were created by the stained glass artist, Hugh Ray Easton, and date from 1960.

The military significance of the windows is that the church was Regimental Church of the Royal Tank Regiment, between 1954 and 2007.

stained glass artist, Hugh Ray Easton

They are a strange mix of war and religious imagery, with in the following window, a group of soldiers are standing on a tank and are witnessing either the Ascension or the Resurrection:

stained glass artist, Hugh Ray Easton

As can frequently be found in City churches, there are a number of historical relics, including the following dating from 1710 which was probably carried in a procession by representatives of Cornhill and Lime Street Wards:

St Peter Cornhill

What also adds to the view of an earlier London is the building to the right of the entrance to the church. This is numbers 54 – 55 Cornhill:

54 - 55 Cornhill

The building has a food outlet on the ground floor, but look at the terracotta upper floors, and there are details that you would not expect to find on a commercial building in the City:

54 - 55 Cornhill

Some very grotesque creatures peer down at those walking along Cornhill.

This strange building was designed by Ernest Augustus Runtz, and dates from 1893. Apparently (although I can find no contemporary confirmation), Runtz’s original plans for the building strayed onto land owned by St Peter. The vicar objected, Runtz had to rework his plans, and added the figures as an insult to the vicar.

 Ernest Augustus Runtz

The Vicar may have had the last laugh though as Runtz was declared bankrupt in 1912 following financial problems and the failure of his business.

He has though left a most unusual building on Cornhill.

The second church, St Michael Cornhill, is a very brief walk from St Peter, and demonstrates how densely populated the City once was with churches, and again shows how buildings once surrounded City churches, as with St Michael, only the tower is visible from Cornhill, with the main entrance to the church being through an ornate entrance in the base of the tower:

St Michael Cornhill

St Michael is again an old church, however there are no firm records of just how old. The usual references where “tradition points to a church in Saxon times”, however the first written reference, according to “London Churches Before The Great Fire” by Wilberforce Jenkinson (1917) is from 1133 when the church was in the possession of the Abbott of Evesham, and the “living granted by him to Sparling the Priest”.

The tower of the church seems to feature in the majority of references to, and illustrations of St Michael.

There are no illustrations of the original church, however a copy of an illustration of the fourteenth century tower, which was destroyed in 1421, has survived and shows the “Symilitude of the old Steeple 1421”:

St Michael Cornhill

The church was badly damaged during the 1666 Great Fire, but was rebuilt between 1670 and 1671 by Wren, who included the surviving tower into the reconstruction. The tower was weakened by the fire and survived for a further fifty years and was then taken down “as wanting in stability”.

Pevesner states that the new tower was probably designed by “William Dickenson who was in charge of winding down Wren’s City Church Office”, although other references state that it was to Wren’s original design.

The following print illustrates the appearance of the tower in 1850, again with only the tower being visible from Cornhill. The body of the church is behind the buildings on the left  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Michael Cornhill

The tower in the above print is the same tower that we see today, however it was missing one vital feature, the ornate entrance to the church at the base of the tower.

This ornate, Gothic entrance would be built between 1857 and 1860 when the church was the first in the City to be remodeled to high Victorian taste by Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The following print has a penciled note dating it to 1857. It may actually be a couple of years later, however it does show the new porch soon after it had been added to the church, and although today the stone is blackened with dirt (another feature of older City churches), it does look much the same today  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Michael Cornhill

The interior of the church is mainly from the 17th century, post Great Fire rebuild with mid 19th century and later restorations:

St Michael Cornhill

Pevsner states that the organ has been “much rebuilt”, so it is probably not that old, although there may be some surviving parts from the original Renatus Harris 17th century organ. It still looks very impressive with gleaming, gold, organ pipes occupying a corner of the church:

St Michael Cornhill

Looking back towards the base of the tower:

St Michael Cornhill

The majority of City churches have plenty of old monuments, pulpits, sword rests etc. and St Michael Cornhill is no exception. In St Peter I wanted to highlight the stained glass windows as a different feature, and in St Michael there are coats of arms on the sides of the pews. The majority appear to be City Livery Companies, however there are some I cannot identify. The following photos show a sample.

The Merchant Taylors:

Merchant Taylors coat of arms

The Drapers:

Drapers coat of arms

This one is rather strange. I cannot find a similar set of arms being used by a Company. The crossed swords may indicate the Cutlers who usually have three sets of crossed swords on their arms, however I cannot confirm that they use the images on the right of the shield:

Coat of arms

The Clothworkers:

Clothworkers coat of arms

Another I cannot identify, or find anything similiar:

Coat of Arms

I thought I had a reasonably good understanding of the arms used by City companies, and have also been through the book “The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London”, but the following is a mystery as well:

Coat of Arms

The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom – apparently this were placed on the pew at the front of the church in anticipation of a visit by Queen Victoria. Unfortunately she failed to visited the church.

Royal coat of Arms

The arms of the City of London:

City of London

When researching many of my posts, I am struck by the number of times there is a reference to a serious fire at or near the subject of the post. It is incredible just how many fires there were in 18th and 19th century London. Even after the building regulations put in place after the 1666 Great Fire, serious fires still continued.

When searching for stories about St Michael, I found the following print which shows a serious fire in Cornhill on the 25th March, 1748, with the tower of St Michael in the background  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cornhill fire

The print is fascinating for the detail it portrays. There is presumably a property owner on the right, apparently rescuing something from the burning building.

There is a very early fire fighting pump on the left, sending a jet of water at the building.

The print references the engine as “invented by my late Uncle, Richard Newsham”, an inventor who held two patents for fire engines, taken out in 1721 and 1725. Newsham appears to have dominated the mid 18th century market for fire fighting equipment.

The following photo shows the earliest known fire engine by Newsham purchased in 1728, and photographed at St Giles Church in Great Wishford, Wiltshire. The photo is almost identical to the one in the 1748 print:

fire engine by Newsham

Source: Trish Steel, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A quick visit to two Cornhill churches. They are an interesting pair of churches to visit as they demonstrate what City churches must have looked like in previous centuries. Surrounded by buildings on the main street, a small churchyard behind, but only an entrance to the street.

That they are also a very short distance apart is a reminder of how densely populated the City was with churches, before the loss of churches caused by the Great Fire, 19th century church closures, and bombed churches not being rebuilt after the last war.

You can read another of my posts about Cornhill, the Cornhill Water Pump, here.

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Cloak Lane, St John the Baptist, the Walbrook and the Circle Line

One of the pleasures of wandering around London streets are the random memorials and objects that have survived from previous centuries, and how they can lead to a fascinating story of an aspect of the City’s history. Perhaps one of the strangest can be found in Cloak Lane, to the west of Cannon Street Station, between Dowgate Hill and Queen Street.

The ground floor of one of the buildings on the northern side of Cloak Lane has a number of arches with metal railings, and a large memorial occupying one of the arches:

Cloak Lane

A closer view, and the railings have signs that imply that there is perhaps more to discover:

Cloak Lane

The monument provides some information:

Cloak Lane

The contrast between letters and stone is not that high in the above photo, so I have reproduced the text on the monument below:

Cloak Lane

There is much to unpack from the inscription on the monument, and it does not tell the full story.

The church of St John the Baptist upon Walbrook was one of the City churches that was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666, and not rebuilt, so after the fire, only the churchyard remained.

I have circled the location of the surviving churchyard, at the junction of Cloak Lane and Dowgate Hill in the following extract from William Morgan’s, 1682 map of London:

St John the Baptist upon Walbrook

According to “London Churches Before The Great Fire” (Wilberforce Jenkinson, 1917), St John the Baptist upon Walbrook was “Founded before 1291, and enlarged in 1412, and ‘new-builded’ around 1598. The west end of the church was on the bank of the Walbrook, hence the title.”

The Walbrook is one of London’s lost rivers, and in the following map I have marked the location of church and churchyard along with the Walbrook which made its way down to Upper Thames Street which was the early location of the Thames shoreline (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Walbrook and Dowgate Hill

The book states that the west end of the church was on the bank of the Walbrook. This is possibly an error as the eastern end of the church would have been on the Walbrook, or it should have read that the church was on the west bank of the river.

It is possible that the Walbrook ran further to the west than shown in the above diagram, however all the references I can find are to the river running roughly on and alongside Dowgate Hill.

The text on the monument mentions the District Railway, and the title for the blog is about the Circle Line. I will explain why I have used the Circle Line later in the post, however stand next to the railings alongside the monument, and a grill can be seen in the floor. Wait a few minutes and the sounds of an underground train can be heard coming up through the grill.

Cloak Lane

After the 1666 Great Fire, the church was not rebuilt, the churchyard remained, and would do so for the next 200 years. Buildings alongside did encroach on the churchyard, however it was still there in 1880. In the next few years there was some major construction work in Cloak Lane which would result in the loss of the churchyard.

This construction work was for an underground railway that in the newspapers of the time was referred to as the Inner Circle Railway. The following article from the East London Observer on the 31st May 1883 provides some background:

THE INNER CIRCLE RAILWAY. With much less outward demonstration than might have been expected, considering the importance and magnitude of the works, there is now being contracted in the City of London an underground railway which, by uniting the Metropolitan and District systems, will complete the long looked for Inner Circle Railway, and be of immense service to the travelling public and the metropolis.

The Acts of Parliament under which these works are being carried out were obtained in the names of the joint companies – that is to say, the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District. They authorised the construction of a railway to commence by a junction with the District line at Mansion House Station, and to run under some houses south of the thoroughfare known as Great St Thomas Apostle, crossing Queen Street, then going along the south side of Cloak Lane, across Dowgate Hill, to the forecourt of the South-Eastern Cannon Street Station. Here is to be made a station.

The line is then to pass under the centre of Cannon Street, crossing King William Street, and is then to swerve slightly south. Between this point and Pudding lane is to be a second station, which will serve the busy district around it, including Gracechurch Street, Lombard Street and Billingsgate. By arrangement with the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board of Works, the narrow thoroughfares of East Cheap and Little Tower Street are to be widened on the south side, and Great Tower Street on the north side. The railway is to pass under the centre of the roadway, and will be constructed simultaneously with the new street. the line will then branch slightly to the north, and between Seething Lane and Tower Hill, another large station is to be built.

The line is then to pass by Trinity Square Gardens, joining the piece of railway already constructed.”

So by joining existing lines at Mansion House and Tower Hill, the new line would form what we know today as the route of the Circle and District lines between Mansion House and Tower Hill.

The Railway News (which also called the line the Inner Circle line) on the 18th of August 1883, provided additional technical information on the new line:

“From the Mansion House station to Tower Hill, there is no part of the line on a curve of less than 10 chains radius; the length from Cannon Street to King William Street is straight. The successive gradients are from the level at the Mansion House to a descent by a gradient of 1 on 100, followed by a rise of 1 in 355, then 1 in 100, next to 1 in 321, for 334 yards and then a fall of 1 in 280 for the remainder.”

I never fail to be impressed by the accuracy achieved in measuring and building these early lines, without the surveying equipment that we have available today.

Look through the grills and some of the monuments from the old churchyard have been mounted on the wall behind:

Cloak Lane

The new railway was just below the surface and was partially built using the cut and cover technique where the ground would be excavated to build the railway, which would then be covered over, with roads or buildings then completed on top.

Where cut and cover was not used, the railway would be tunneled underneath buildings, undercutting the foundations, bit by bit, with arches being built as the tunneling progressed to support the building above.

Railway News provides some detail:

“Near the western end of the line 200 feet of girder-covered way has been built between Queen Street and College Hill, and a large portion of the side wall has been advanced to Dowgate Hill. In this vicinity an important work, viz, a diversion of the main outfall sewer, has been successfully completed. It was lowered about 14 feet, and the length of this work from north to south being about 600 feet. The north side wall for the Cannon Street station, is also built, and rapid progress is being made with the excavations.”

The total distance of the new line between Mansion House and Tower Hill was 1,266 yards.

Behind the grills – an 1892 Walbrook Ward boundary marker:

Cloak Lane

The above extract refers to a diversion of the main outfall sewer in the vicinity of Dowgate Hill, which possibly was the sewer running down Dowgate Hill that carried what was left of the Walbrook river.

During excavation work for the new railway, there were a number of finds, which add to the question of the original route of the Walbrook.

In the book “London – The City” by Sir Walter Besant, he quotes from the notes of the resident engineer of the works, Mr. E.P. Seaton: “At the west end of the churchyard was found a subway running north and south. The arch was formed of stone blocks (Kentish rag) placed 3 feet apart, the space between filled up with brickwork. The flat bottom varied from 2 to 4 feet in thickness and was formed of rubble masonry.

A portion of the arch had been broken in and was filled with human bones. the other parts of the subway or sewer were filled with hand-packed stones. this is supposed to be the centre of the ancient Walbrook (this supposition is quite correct) and made earth was found to a distance of 35 feet from the surface. Clay of a light grey colour was then found impregnated with the decayed roots of water plants.

The foundations (it is a matter of regret that no plan of the foundations was taken; the opportunity is now lost forever) of the old church of St John the Baptist were discovered about 10 to 12 feet from the surface and composed of chalk and Kentish ragstones. They ran about north-north-east to south-south-west. Piles of oak were found which seem to denote that the church was built on the edge of the brook, which must have been filled up during Roman occupation, as numerous pieces of Roman pottery were found.

The bottom of the Walbrook valley was reached at 32 feet below the present street level, and is now 11 feet below the level of the lines in the station. During the excavations the piles and sill of the Horseshoe bridge which crossed the Walbrook hereabouts were also found near the churchyard, together with the remains of an ancient boat. These were unfortunately too rotten to preserve, but a block of Roman herring-bone pavement, formerly constituting part of a causeway of landing-place on the brook, is now at the Guildhall Museum. It was found beneath the churchyard 21 feet below the present level of the street.”

Besant can at times be unreliable, however as he is quoting from notes by the resident engineer, and the works were not long before the book was published, they should be an accurate record of finds during the work.

The finds imply that the Walbrook did run to the west of the church, so was further west of the route shown in the earlier diagram and was slightly further west of Dowgate Hill, or perhaps it was a separate channel or ditch.

There is another reference to the Walbrook, and its route in a report on the construction of the railway in the Standard on the 21st April, 1884, which refers to the sewer along Dowgate Hill that ran along the route of the Walbrook, needing to be lowered to make space of the railway. After completion, the sewer and Walbrook ran under the new rail tracks. The report describes the Walbrook as “flowing into the sewer down a flight of steps”.

These layers of history and archeology below the current surface of the City are really fascinating. We really do walk on London’s buried history when we walk the streets, and Besant’s description hints at what has been lost over the centuries, particularly during significant construction works of the later 19th and early 20th centuries, when these sites did not have an archeological excavation before construction commenced, and before the preservation techniques were available, that would have been needed to preserve the boat and wooden piles that were found.

Another of the memorials behind the metal grill – I wonder what John (died in 1804) and Uriah (died in 1806) Wilkinson would have thought if they knew their memorial would be hidden behind a metal grill, and above an underground railway?

Cloak Lane

The extract from Besant’s book mentions the “Horseshoe bridge which crossed the Walbrook hereabouts were also found near the churchyard”. The bridge also has a connection with Cloak Lane.

According to Henry Harben’s Dictionary of London (1918), the name Cloak Lane is of relatively recent origin, with the first mention being in 1677. Prior to this, the street was named Horshew Bridge Street after the bridge over the Walbrook.

A possible origin of the name Cloak Lane is from the word “cloaca” which is a reference to a sewer that once ran along the street down to the Walbrook, however as the name of the street is much later than the sewer and when the word “cloaca” would have been used, it is almost certainly not the source, which remains a mystery.

The first mention of this bridge dates back to 1277 when it was called “Horssobregge”, and was a bridge over the Walbrook close to the church of St John upon Walbrook.

During the medieval period, property owners in the neighbourhood of the bridge were responsible for keeping it in good repair. Around 1462, the Common Council ordained that land owners on either side of the Walbrook (which was then described as a ditch) should pave and vault the ditch, and if a landowner failed to comply, their land would be given to someone who would take on this responsibility.

Following the paving over of the Walbrook, the bridge became redundant, fell into disrepair and was eventually taken apart.

The following photo is looking down Cloak Lane towards Cannon Street Station, the entrance to the Underground station can be seen at the far end of the street, across Dowgate Hill.

I have arrowed two locations in the photo. The orange arrow is pointing at the location of the memorial, and was the location of the church and graveyard.

Cloak Lane

The second arrow is pointing to the site of another building that was demolished to make way for the works to construct the new railway – Cutlers Hall:

Cutlers Hall

Cutlers Hall was the home of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, one of the City’s ancient companies. When the Cutlers were organised into a Company, the trade consisted of the manufacture of swords, daggers and knives. As an example of how specialised a City workman was at the time, there were seperate trades for hafters, who made the handles, along with blacksmiths and sheathers (who made the sheath in which a sword or knife would be stored).

The first mention of the Cutlers dates back to 1328 when seven cutlers were elected to govern the trade, and in December 1416, a Royal Charter was granted to the company.

Hafters, sheathers and blacksmiths were gradually incorporated into the Cutlers Company.

The hall of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers was in Cloak Lane from the earliest days of the company, until the arrival of the Inner Circle Line, when the hall was demolished in 1883, having been the subject of a compulsory purchase order.

The Cutlers purchased a new plot of land in Warwick Lane, had their new hall designed by the Company’s Surveyor, Mr. T. Tayler Smith, and the new hall came into use in March 1888. The Cutlers have remained at the Warwick Lane site ever since.

The following print shows Cutlers Hall in Cloak Lane as it appeared in 1854 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cutlers Hall

There were many newspaper reports on the construction of the new railway, and the methods used to minimise disruption to the City above.

Cannon Street Station originally had a forecourt between the station entrance and Cannon Street. The tunnel needed to be built under the forecourt, and the method used to avoid disruption to the station was that the contractor:

“Provided 250 men for the occasion and 50 more as a reserve, the intended work was commenced after the dispatch of the Paris night mail, and then the busy hands plied their busiest. The paving slabs were removed; the twelve inch timbers were laid on the bare ground, three-inch planking put across them, and again three-inch planking over these. And in the morning when Londoners came to their duties in the City they were astonished to see the fore-court paved with wood, and an alteration completely effected, of which there was not a symptom or indication when they went home from their duties the evening before. Having thus laid their roof on the surface the contractor could carry on burrowing to his heart’s content. Beneath the wood platform a heading was soon driven through the soil; and the contractors went on their way below, whilst the cabs and the passengers were going on above”.

The following photo shows the Cannon Street Station Hotel and entrance to the station behind. The forecourt under which the Inner Circle Line was dug can be seen in front of the hotel.

The monument in Cloak Lane is a perfect example of what fascinates me above London’s history. There is so much to find in one very small section of street, and that London is not just what we see on the surface, there is so much below the streets, lost rivers, centuries of history, remarkable examples of construction methods used to build the start of the underground system in the 19th century, and so much more.

If you take a train on the Circle or District line to or from Cannon Street Station, on the western side of the station, recall the Walbrook and the church and cemetery.

I have also added trying to find out about the fate of the finds from the construction of the railway, given to the Guildhall Museum, and which are now hopefully at the Museum of London. And if anyone from TfL reads this post – if you could let me have a look behind the metal grills in Cloak Street – it would be much appreciated !

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Bathurst Mews – A Pub and Stables

Before exploring Bathurst Mews, a quick advert for a walk. Last year, I was involved in some walks exploring New River Head along with some colleagues from Clerkenwell and Islington Guides. For a one off in early September, we are running a series of walks that continue this theme, and for this year include a visit to see the 17th century Oak Room in the old offices of the Metropolitan Water Board, along with an external view of the Grade II listed White or Devil’s Conduit, believed to date in part back to the 14th century and originally sited in Queen’s Square, Bloomsbury.

The link for booking is here:

Bathurst Mews are located between Paddington Station and Hyde Park. One of west London’s stunning mews, but what took me back there was a couple of 1980s photos. The first of the Archery Tavern on Bathurst Street, next to the entrance to the mews:

Archery Tavern

The Archery Tavern is now the Stablehand, a bar and restaurant, which on their website is described as a gastro pub. The return to use as a pub is only in the last couple of years as following the closure of the Archery Tavern in 2006, it was a French restaurant.

Archery Tavern

The Archery Tavern was a pub for some 166 years, having opened when Bathurst Street was built around 1840. The first reference I can find to the pub was an advert placed in the Morning Advertiser on the 25th August 1841 for a “Strong, active servant of all work. One who is used to plain cooking and can make herself generally useful, with a good character, may hear of a situation by applying to Mrs. Oakes, Archery Tavern, Bathurst Street”.

One newspaper reference to the Archery Tavern, a reference that I have not seen before with other pubs, was from the Marylebone Mercury on the 24th of September 1976, and is a reminder that history almost always seems to repeat. The report was about a meeting held in the pub of the Hyde Park Ward, Young Conservatives, where Shadow Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe was the key speaker. His theme was that Great Britain was overspent and overtaxed, and that “Our strongest point ought to be that Conservative governments cut taxes”.

The name Archery Tavern appears to have been a reference to the land on which the pub was built being used for archery during the 1830s by the Royal Toxophilite Society. I doubt that this was a long lasting or formal use of the land as it is not mentioned on the society’s web site, who record that during the 1830s they used sites at “Canonbury House, Highbury Barn, The Honourable Artillery Company and, on two occasions, on Mr. Lords Cricket Ground”.

It is a shame that the pub name has changed from the 166 year old Archery Tavern, however the new name does continue a tradition of naming a pub after a local feature. The Stablehand refers to what we will find in Bathurst Mews.

Time for a walk along Bathurst Mews to find the second 1980s photo. This is the entrance to the mews from Bathurst Street:

Bathurst Mews

Signs on either side of the entrance provide an indication of what makes Bathurst Mews different:

Bathurst Mews Stables

Bathurst Mews have two stables. They hire out horses for riding in Hyde Park, provide riding lessons, and are a reminder of what mews would have been like when they were used for the horses and carriages of the large houses that surrounded the mews.

The first is Hyde Park Stables:

Hyde Park Stables

Hyde Park Stables are immediately on the right after passing through the entrance, into the mews, and bring the unusual sight of horses, bales of straw and hay, and riders heading off to Hyde Park.

Hyde Park Stables

Inside the stables:

Hyde Park Stables

Bathurst Mews has apparently the last two remaining stables around Hyde Park, and just around the corner from the Hyde Park Stables are the Ross Nye Stables, here photographed in 1985:

Ross Nye Stables

The stables are still there, and look much the same, although the walls have been whitewashed:

Ross Nye Stables

The stables are named after Ross Nye, who grew up in Queensland, Australia. After arriving in London, he purchased an existing stables in Bathurst Mews and they became the Ross Nye Stables, and have continued following his death in 2020.

The row of stable buildings:

Ross Nye Stables

Looking along the full length of Bathurst Mews with the Ross Nye Stables on the left:

Bathurst Mews

Bathurst Mews are just north of Hyde Park. The following map shows their location with the red arrow pointing to the site of the pub, and just above the tip of the arrow is the Hyde Park Stables. The blue arrow points to the Ross Nye Stables  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Map of Bathurst Mews

Bathurst Mews and the surrounding streets were built in the late 1830s / 1840s. The name of the mews and Bathurst Street comes via Robert Thistlethwaite who inherited land in Paddington leased from the Bishops of London. His wife Selina was the daughter of Elizabeth Bathurst.

A report on the construction of sewers in the London Sun on the 19th of November 1840 includes Bathurst Mews on the list, so by this time, the route of the mews had been laid out, allocated a name and construction was underway.

Land owned by the Bishops of London was transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the area developed as the Hyde Park Estate, which covers 90 acres and is bordered by Sussex Gardens, Edgware Road and Bayswater Road.

The Hyde Park Estate continues to be owned by the church, now in the form of the Church Commissioners.

The estate was built between the 1830s and 1850, so in London terms is relatively recent. Prior to development, the area was all fields, as the following extract from Rocque’s map of 1746 shows. I have marked the route of Bathurst Mews by a red line:

John Rocque 1746 map of Hyde Park and Paddington

The map shows that by 1746, Hyde Park was already a fully defined park, with the Serpentine running through the park (note to the left of the location of Bathurst Mews, we can see the route of the River Westbourne which was one of the main sources of water for the Serpentine).

To the north is the village of Paddington, still surrounded by fields in the mid 18th century.

The following photo is looking along Bathurst Mews towards the entrance into Sussex Place:

Bathurst Mews

We can get an idea of the first residents in the mews by looking at two who were recorded as living in the mews in the 1840s:

  • Edward Munn – farmer and corn dealer
  • Henry King – livery stable keeper

A very small sample, but it does confirm the original purpose of the mews as the provision of stabling for the large houses behind.

Looking back along Bathurst Mews gives a good view of the much larger size of the houses that surround the mews, which give the impression of the mews being located in a fully enclosed valley:

Bathurst Mews

Whilst many of the buildings in the mews would have been stables, then garages as transport in London changed from horse to vehicle, today, with the exception of the stables, they are almost all residential.

They have also functioned as small workshops and business premises.

In 1868, T. Longman occupied one of the buildings and was operating as a Bell-Hanger, Gas-Fitter and Locksmith.

In 1926, Mrs. Ann Cleave was running the Tyburn Kennels from a house in the mews.

In 1927, a Mr. Gold was advertising driving lessons and car repairs in the mews.

In 1968 a chauffeur agency was operating from the mews.

Today, they sell for well over a million pounds, and sale records show the crazy rate at which the prices of these building have risen over recent years. A three bedroom terrace house in the mews (not the house in the following photo) sold for £297,500 in 2004, and at the start of this year, was sold for £1,750,000.

Bathurst Mews

As with many of London’s mews, residents line the outside of their houses with plenty of planting:

Bathurst Mews

Whilst the majority of houses along the mews appear to be standard two storey, with the old stables / garage on the ground floor and living area above, there are a couple of different buildings, such as the building on the left of the following photo which looks to have been some form of warehouse. Again, now converted into residential.

Bathurst Mews

Looking up towards the north-eastern end of Bathurst Mews, showing the entrance through to Sussex Place:

Bathurst Mews

The above photo again shows the difference in size between the large houses surrounding Bathurst Mews, which were constructed as residential in the 1840s, compared to the mews houses where their horses and carriages, and later cars were stored, along with some very limited living accommodation.

The entrance to Bathurst Mews from Sussex Place:

Bathurst Mews

The two stables offer a glimpse of what Bathurst Mews would have looked like when built. They are a unique set of mews in London, as far as I can tell they are the only mews which have operating stables.

They were an important part of living in London for the wealthy who occupied the new, large houses of the area. Even in 1922, they were being advertised as part of a nearby house sale, as this example shows:

“The important Town residence, 26, Sussex Square, Enjoying an enviable situation, actually a few yards from Hyde Park. 10 bed and drawing rooms, 4 bath and 4 or 5 reception rooms. Complete domestic offices.

Together with the Excellent garage and stabling premises of 4 Bathurst Mews, conveniently situated close to the House. 3 stalls, loose box, garage for 2 cars, living rooms over.”

Hopefully the two stables will remain for many years to come, to recall the original use of places such as Bathurst Mews.

My other mews visits include;

Kynance Mews – Kensington

Belgrave Mews West, and;

Groom Place, Belgravia

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St Dunstan in the East

The photo for today’s post is one of my father’s, taken in 1948 in Lower Thames Street, looking up towards the tower of the church of St Dunstan in the East:

St Dunstan in the East

Today, the same view is totally obscured by the office buildings that now line the northern side of Lower Thames Street. The following photo is the closest I could get to reproducing the view, and was taken a short distance down Cross Lane:

St Dunstan in the East

Cross Lane turns into Harp Lane and continues down to Lower Thames Street, and it was around here from where my father took the original photo. Lower Thames Street can be seen on the left and the office blocks that obscure the view on the right:

View along Lower Thames Street

The very distinctive tower of St Dunstan in the East dates from the Christopher Wren rebuild of the church after the Great Fire. The walls of the church had been rebuilt using Portland stone before the fire so did survive, however the church needed a new tower.

The church has long possessed a distinctive tower and spire. In the following extract from the Civitas Londini map of around 1600, the spire of St Dunstan in the East is one of the few labelled, and can be seen rising much higher than surrounding churches  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Civitas Londoni map

The book “London Churches Before the Great Fire” (Wilberforce Jenkinson, 1917) provides some background:

“The church was built not later than the thirteenth century; possibly earlier. The first rector, so far as any records go, was John de Pretelwelle, who vacated in 1310, The church is one of those termed ‘Peculiar’. It was destroyed in the Great Fire, and rebuilt by Wren, with a spire somewhat notable but not so lofty as that of the old church, which in Visscher’s map appears to be the loftiest in the City, St Paul’s only excepted.”

The term ‘Peculiar’ was given to churches that were exempt from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London and were under the Archbishop of Canterbury. There were thirteen City of London churches in this category: All Hallows, Bread Street; All Hallows’ Lombard Street; St Dionys, Backchurch; St Dunstan in the East; St John Evangelist; St Leonard Eastcheap; St Mary, Aldermanbury; St Mary-le-Bow; St Mary Bothaw; St Mary, Crooked Lane; St Michael Royal; St Pancras, Soper Lane; St Vedast.

Saint Dunstan was a Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, so it may be this dedication that brings the church under the Archbishop of Canterbury rather than the Bishop of London.

Wilberforce Jenkinson’s book tells the story of a 17th century rector of the church, and the penalty at the time for blasphemy:

“Dr Childerley, rector of this church, exhibited his prowess as an athlete in rather an eccentric manner. it seems that one Hackett, an imposter who claimed to be a sort of Messias, and who boasted that he was invulnerable and that anyone might kill him if he could, was arrested and imprisoned in Bridewell.

Dr Childerley repaired unto him and proffered to gripe hands with him and try the wrists, which Hackett unwillingly submitted to do. The Doctor fairly twisted his wrists almost to the breaking thereof, but not to the bowing of him to any confession or remorse.

Hackett was subsequently hanged at the cross in Cheapside, blaspheming to the last breath.”

The view looking up towards the church from St Dunstan’s Hill:

St Dunstan in the East

In my father’s photo, a clock can just be seen half way up the tower. The following closer view of the tower shows the clock today:

St Dunstan in the East

A closer view of the clock, which has the year of 1953 in numbers at the four corners of the clock:

St Dunstan in the East

1953 is the year when restoration of the tower was finished. The tower does not look in too bad a condition in my father’s 1948 photo, however it did need some significant work to make it safe.

Newspaper reports from June 1950 covered the start of restoration work:

A start has been made on the restoration of another of the City’s bomb-shattered churches, that of St Dunstan in the East. As one of Wren’s masterpieces, this church is fortunate because it has been scheduled as a national monument (it was Grade I listed in 1950) and all the difficulties of obtaining a building licence have been swept away. For some time scaffolding has surrounded the steeple, the dismantling of which is expected to take about six months.

Each stone is being numbered in order that it can readily be fitted into its old place when rebuilding begins. Meanwhile the bells which fell when the church was bombed in 1941, have been brought out from the vestry where they had been stored, and in about a year’s time will ring out again. There has been a church on this site for a thousand years.”

As usual with any City church, this was not the first restoration. I have already mentioned the Wren rebuild after the Great Fire, however in 1817 the body of the church needed a rebuild, as the walls which had survived the Great Fire, had been pushed out of the vertical by 7 inches due to the pressure of the roof.

The Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 27th November 1817 reported on the start of the restoration;

“His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury laid the first stone yesterday, with a bottle containing the coins of the realm, and a brass plate, with an inscription commemorative of the event, for the restoration of the Parish Church of St Dunstan East, assisted by the Rev. Rob Hesketh, Rector; John Howe and William Ruston, Wardens, and the Gentlemen of the Church and Rebuilding Committees. Mr. Laing is the architect, who produced a south view of the intended building, which is to be of Portland stone, entirely Gothic, and made to correspond as nearly as possible with the universally admired structure of the Steeple, built by Sir Christopher Wren.”

The main entrance to the church is in Idol Lane, where in the following photo the base of the tower and entrance can be seen on the right:

Idol Lane

Idol Lane has an interesting history. The earliest mention dates from 1666 when it was called Idle Lane. A reference to the street in 1708 refers to the street being called Idol Lane as in old records there were “makers of idols or images living there”, however there is no evidence to support this.

The following extract from a 1754 map of Tower Street Ward shows St Dunstan’s, with Idle Lane to the west. The map also provides an impression of the scale and view of the church before the 19th century rebuild  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Tower Street Ward

From Idol Lane we can walk into the ruins of the church.

Whilst the tower was restored in the early 1950s, the walls were left as they were following the damage caused by bombing, so we can walk around the shell of the old church.

The shell of the church and immediate surroundings were turned into gardens in 1971, and they now form one of the many remarkable sights in the City. The following photo is a view alongside the north wall of the church, with one of the old pinnacles that once stood on top of the church:

St Dunstan in the East

The south side of the church has a small fountain in the centre of the gardens which in the summer are a haven for City workers:

St Dunstan in the East

Doorway into the east entrance to the church:

St Dunstan in the East

View along the southern wall of St Dunstan in the East:

St Dunstan in the East

The 1817 rebuild by Mr. Laing, resulted in a design that at the time was quoted as being “entirely Gothic“. I doubt that Mr. Laing could have realised quite how gothic the church would appear, 200 years later:

St Dunstan in the East

The interior of the church:

St Dunstan in the East

From St Dunstan’s Hill, we can see the eastern entrance to the church, and the top of the tower. Wren’s design is wonderful. Pinnacles are placed at each corner of the tower, and behind the pinnacles, a flying buttress supports the central lantern and spire:

St Dunstan in the East

St Dunstan in the East is a short distance from the old Billingsgate Market, and workers at the market use to donate fish, geese etc. to the harvest festival at the church.

Looking back to my father’s photo, and to the right of the photo, facing onto Lower Thames Street is what I suspect was a café. The board in the window states that it is open from 5.45 am to 4 pm. I suspect the early start was to provide breakfast to the workers at the market. The photo is just one of many where I wish my father had enough film, turned to the right and took another photo.

Cafe in Lower Thames Stteer

The left of the photo shows the level of bomb damage along Lower Thames Street.

The preservation of St Dunstan in the East is rather wonderful. The tower and spire show one of Wren’s best designs across the post fire City churches, and the gardens surrounding the walls of the church are a brilliant place to sit on a summer’s day.

The church is also good to walk past on a quiet, winter’s moonlit night, when Laing’s Gothic design really comes alive.

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