I will take any opportunity to view London from a high point, and just before last Christmas there was a tour of St Mary Islington, which included a climb up the tower to look at the view of London from the point where the tower meets the spire.
I could only make the late afternoon tour, however this provided a view of London after dark, which is always impressive. Hopefully I can return for a daytime tour, and if you are interested in the tour of this historic church, I have put a link at the end of the post to where I found out about these tours.
St Mary Islington is in Upper Street, and is a short walk from Angel underground station, continuing past Islington Green. As you walk along Upper Street, the spire of St Mary’s is a landmark on the right of the street:
Then the full front of the church comes into view, which is easier to see in winter when there are no leaves on the trees between church and street:
The church we see today dates from two distinct periods. The front façade of the church (except for the portico and columns), the tower and steeple date from the 18th century, however the body of church is from the mid 20th century.
The church was bombed in September 1940 when a bomb landed on the nave, which suffered substantial damage. The tower and steeple survived. The church was rebuilt in the early 1950s to a design by the architectural partnership of Seely & Paget.
The new nave of the church was built on the same outline as the original, and walls lined with tall windows to allow a large amount of natural light into the nave of the church. From the churchyard we can see the new nave and the original tower and steeple:
As with the majority of London churchyards, St Mary’s has been cleared of gravestones and has been converted to a garden. The churchyard was closed to new burials by the 1852 Burial Act which applied to churches in the metropolitan London area. As with so many London churches, St Mary’s had been taking very many burials over the centuries, and with Islington’s rapidly growing population, it was impractical to continue to use the churchyard, even without the 1852 Act.
Thirty acres of land was purchased in East Finchley for the use of St Pancras and Islington for burials.
The gardens at the rear of the church on a sunny December afternoon:
Looking back towards Upper Street, with the church on the right, and as with many London churchyards, when they were converted to gardens the gravestones were moved to the edge and form parallel rows along the external wall:
There is a named grave of a significant Islington resident next to the front of the church, just behind bus stop N on Upper Street. This is the grave of Richard Cloudesley:
Richard Cloudesley was born around 1470 and died in 1517. He was an Islington resident and landowner. In his will he left two “stony fields” covering an area of around 14 acres, and these became part of a charitable trust which is still in existence and today is simply known as the Cloudesley.
The fields were rented out and generated an income, however with the northwards expansion of London during the early 19th century, the land was becoming valuable for house building, so in the 1830s, the trust began selling leases to parts of the lands, and what would become the Cloudesley Estate began to be built.
Whilst much of the land and houses have been sold, the Cloudesley charitable trust still owns around 100 properties, and the income from these continues to support the aims of the trust, which includes the health needs of Islington residents, along with a grants programme which helps maintain and repair Church of England churches in Islington.
The grave in the above photo is not where Richard Cloudesley was originally buried. His body was taken from an unknown location in the churchyard, and reburied in the current position in 1812. The grave was originally more ornate than we see today, however being so close to the church it suffered from bomb damage in 1940, and in 2017 the Cloudesley charity provided funding to repair and restore the grave.
The tower of the church supports a spire – the most visible feature in the surrounding streets:
The spire has an interesting history, as in 1787, during repairs to the tower, it was decided to install a lightning conductor on the spire. Rather than construct scaffolding around the spire, the church contracted a basket maker by the name of Thomas Birch, who charged the church £20 to effectively build a wicker casing which fully enclosed the spire. Inside this wicker casing was a set of stairs that allowed workmen to reach the full height of the spire.
Although Thomas Birch was paid £20 by the church, he found another way of making more money and he advertised the spiral staircase as a means for the public to reach the top and see the view. Apparently charging for the climb and view raised a further £50.
What is not clear from the above print is where someone climbing the spire could have looked out through the wicker and see the view, whether they had to climb the full height and peer out over the top of the wicker, which would have been an experience not for those with a fear of heights.
The site of St Mary’s has been the site of a church for very many years.
It is in a key position. Upper Street has long been an important road from the City of London to the north, and the church is alongside this road.
There is very little evidence to confirm, however there may have been a church on the site in Anglo-Saxon times. Evidence for this seems to be mainly based on the parish of St Mary the Virgin being established in the year 628 by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
There was an 11th century church built on the site, and we were shown a stone with a zig-zag pattern in the crypt which apparently dates from the 12th century church.
The next church on the site was built in 1483, and this version of the church would last until the mid-18th century.
John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the church (circled in the following extract), at a time when Islington was still mainly rural with buildings extending along Upper Street and Lower Street (now Essex Road), gardens, and the wider countryside being fields.
The view is looking across Upper Street towards the church, and shows a cow and sheep being herded along the street. Islington at the time was known as a place where cows were kept with their milk being sold in the City, and Upper Street was also used as a route to Smithfield Market.
There appear to be two houses attached to the west front of the church, facing Upper Street. It is not clear when these were built , or there original purpose, however around 1710 rooms in these buildings were used to provide a school.
If the 1750 date is correct, then the church in the above print is the 1483 version of the church. By 1750 it has fallen into a poor state of repair, and an Act of Parliament was approved to demolish and rebuild the church.
Funds for the new church were gathered by a tax on local land and property owners.
The tower in the above print looks reasonably substantial and this appears to have caused a problem when attempts were made to demolish the church. The first attempt to take down the tower was by the use of gunpowder, which did not work, so a large fire was built in the foundations of the tower, which apparently worked.
A new church was built by a Lancelot Dowbiggin. He was a joiner, and may have been local as he was later buried in the churchyard. This latest version of the church did not include the portico and the colonnades, which can be seen in the second photo in the post, and when viewed from a distance do look a bit as if they have been stuck onto an earlier church. These additions were made in 1902.
It was Dowbiggin’s church that survived until the bombing in September 1940, and his tower remains to this day.
The mid 18th century rebuild of the church included a new set of bells which were cast in the 1770s. These are still in use in the church and were renovated and rehung in 2003. The walk up the tower passed the entrance to where the bells are hung, unfortunately being dark, they could not be seen.
Time to have a look inside the church, but before I walked in, I noticed the following poster adjacent to the entrance to the church:
A lovely bit of graphic design, but the reason it really caught my eye was the similarity to the design on the spine of a series of books produced from the late 1940s to the early 1950s.
This was the County Books series, a wonderful set of detailed, illustrated descriptions of English Counties published by Robert Hale Limited of Bedford Square. Each book was written by an author who knew the area.
I have the six books covering London, along with books for a couple of surrounding counties, and the following shows the spine of the book on the left and the main cover on the right. As can be seen “The County Books” graphic at the top of the spine is the same as in the poster outside St Mary’s:
I cannot find out who designed the covers for the Robert Hales County Books, but they all have an identical cover design, with only the name of the county, the author and the picture changing from book to book.
Walking into the church, and we can see that this is not an old design, and how the large windows of Seely & Paget’s design let in a large amount of natural light, even on a late December afternoon. The following photo is looking from the entrance towards the altar:
The following photo is from near the altar looking back towards the entrance:
Due to the degree of bomb damage, there are very few original features to be seen in the church.
As well as the portico and colonnades built on the front of the church in 1902, the work also provided a new font for the church, and the original 18th century font was moved to the crypt, and it was this that saved the font in September 1940.
The 1902 font was destroyed and as part of the 1950s rebuilt of the church, the 18th century font was moved from the crypt, back up to the main church:
And the Arms of George III, which had been hung in St. Mary’s in 1781 were recovered from the ruins of the church, restored and returned to the new church:
My first visit to the church was during the early afternoon, during daylight, as the tour was late afternoon and after dark, so I left the church for a couple of hours then returned for the tour which took in the main body of the church and the crypt, before heading up the tower, the top of which was reached by a very narrow set of steps.
The view on reaching the top of the tower was well worth the climb. This is the view looking to the City of London on the right, with the Isle of Dogs and the towers surrounding Canary Wharf on the left:
I had set-up the camera with hopefully the right settings to take photos at night, at the top of a tower with a narrow walkway and a light breeze, whilst avoiding any camera shake, and for most of the photos this seems to have worked.
A close-up view looking towards the City of London, with the Shard to the right:
And zooming into Canary Wharf and surrounding buildings, showing how large parts of the Isle of Dogs is now covered in tall towers, brightly lit at night:
Looking towards the south and west, the purple light of the London Eye can be seen on the left edge of the photo, and towards the right is the BT Tower. Upper Street is the road, and to the right of centre is the long roof of the old Agricultural Hall:
The following photo is looking north, with Upper Street running up towards Highbury Corner. Just to the right of the far end of the street are the blue lights of the Union Chapel. I believe the yellow lights on the horizon are those of the Emirates Stadium.
A final look over towards the City, with one of the stone decorations on the top of the tower in the foreground:
The photos hopefully provide an impression of the view from the tower, however looking at the view from a narrow walkway at the top of the tower, with the spire disappearing into the darkness above certainly adds to the experience.
I understand that there may well be more tours in the future. They are led by Clerkenwell and Islington Guides, and I found out about the walks from their newsletter which can be subscribed to from the home page of their website, here.
Roundabouts in cities are a problem. Whilst they are built to simplify traffic flow, they take up a large amount of space, and leave a central area for which it is difficult to find a purpose due to its isolated location.
One such roundabout is at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge, where York Road, Waterloo Road, Stamford Street and the approach to Waterloo Bridge all meet. I photographed the roundabout from the Shell Centre viewing gallery in 1980:
Beneath the roundabout were a large number of pedestrianised access routes to the surrounding streets and the central space provided access between these, so you could walk between any of the surrounding streets without having to cross a road.
It was always a rather bleak space. Concrete planters were scattered around the central space, and for a time in the 1980s the GLC organised what we would now call a pop-up market at lunchtimes, hoping to attract workers from the surrounding offices, although with traffic on the surrounding roundabout, it was not that pleasant and most people headed to the Jubilee Gardens or the walkway alongside the Thames.
A rather innovative use for the central space was found in the late 1990s when the British Film Institute opened an IMAX Theatre in the centre of the roundabout:
The IMAX is of circular design to fit the central space, and is surrounded by a glass wall which makes the building ideal for advertising and for displaying films that are being shown in the theatre. It is a very obvous landmark when approaching from any of the surrounding streets, and with the low sun of a December day, produces strange light reflections on the streets of the roundabout.
So, a very clever use of a difficult city space. One that has to overcome a number of obstacles, for example vibration and soundproofing from both the traffic on the roundabout, and the Waterloo and City line which runs just 4 metres below the theatre, which gives me an excuse to show a map of the route of the Waterloo and City line, with the location of the roundabout and IMAX marked by a red circle (Credit: The Engineer, July 26, 1895, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons):
The IMAX Theatre was opened in 1999 and designed by Bryan Avery Architects. I have walked past the IMAX countless times, but what got me thinking about the use of space and the problems of inner city planning and maintenance was when I was walking alongside the roundabout in late December.
Access to the IMAX is via the steps down from the surrounding streets that also provide access between the streets without having to cross at surface level.
The steps down in the following photo are on the side of the roundabout between York Road and Waterloo Road. It was the start of the Christmas school holidays and I noticed a mother and child going down the stairs, then coming up, looking around, walking to another set of stairs, then back to the one in the photo. They were going to the IMAX, but there is no obvious signage and the stairs down do not look the most inviting.
I walked down the stairs, and met the smell that is familiar to such spaces:
Tunnel under the roundabout leading to the central space and the IMAX:
Once in the central space of the roundabout, we can see the curving wall of the IMAX and the extensive planting that creates a rather unique space:
More than 2000 plants were originally planted, comprising of honeysuckle, jasmine, wisteria, clematis, ivy, Boston ivy and Japanese vine. An automated watering system was installed, which looks to have worked well as the plants now look very established and have grown up from the side walls, across supporting cables and up to the sides of the IMAX:
There is a very tenuous link between the current centre of the roundabout, and an earlier use of the space, when it was occupied by Cuper’s Gardens, one of the many gardens and places of entertainment that were found on the south bank of the river in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.
The following map is interesting as it shows the area in 1825, eight years after Waterloo Bridge was opened. It is titled “A Plan of Cuper’s Gardens with part of the Parish of Lambeth in the year 1746 showing also the site of the Waterloo Bridge Road and the new roads adjacent”.
The map helps define the exact location of Cuper’s Gardens as the church of St. John is also shown. The large roundabout (circled) now covers part of Cuper’s Gardens at the junction with Stamford Street:
The “gardens” around the IMAX are very different today, and the whole area is rather a surreal space. The outer wall has been painted light brown, possibly to resemble the earth through which the space descends. Large, twisted trunks (which look like roots) of the presumably now over 20 years growth extend up along the walls, and the outer wall is occasionally cut through with the access tunnels to the streets above:
The entrance to the IMAX Theatre:
Looking up between the planting and the curved glass wall of the IMAX dominates the view:
When the IMAX was opened, as well as the central space surrounding the theatre, the walkways and tunnels leading up to the streets were cleaned, restored and painted, with many of the walls being painted blue, and some lighting being set into the walls.
You can see the effect that this was intended to create. The central space with substantial overhead plant growth, the surrounding earth coloured walls, covered in the trunks of the plants, with the walls being cut through by the blue painted walkways to the surrounding streets.
It all creates an intriguing and surreal space, appropriate for walks to the IMAX.
Service access tunnel and pedestrian walkway leading to Belvedere Road:
View up through the plants with the new tower blocks that have taken much of the old Shell Centre site:
Walking up to the surrounding streets, and it is clear what was intended, and the problems that result in the walkways not being that much of an inviting route to the IMAX. The following photo shows the walkway up to the western side of Waterloo Bridge:
Many of the walls are covered in graffiti, including the main walkway, and the tunnels that connect the east and west walkways:
Many of these walkways and tunnels make really good subjects for photography. The blue walls, the grafitte, and the hidden destination of these tunnels adds to their mystery, however if you did not know the area, were taking children to the IMAX, and it was at night, they are not inviting, and there were very few people using them as I wandered around taking photos.
Global conspiracy theories meet South Bank direction signs:
Looking back down the walkway from the western side of Waterloo Bridge:
Whilst the view of the IMAX in the above photo provides an indication of the destination of the walkway and the tunnel, it does not encourage you to walk down, there should be signs above the tunnel and better lighting in the entrance to the tunnel.
One of the walkways that crosses between the west and east sides of Waterloo Bridges crosses the service tunnel:
Walkway up to the eastern side of Waterloo Bridge:
This is the view from the eastern side of Waterloo Bridge, with the IMAX in the centre of the roundabout, and the blue painted entrance to the walkway and tunnels that lead to the IMAX:
The direction post to the left of the pavement does have a direction to the IMAX with an arrow pointing straight up, the implication being to head down the tunnel rather than walk on the pavement to the right. As with the other entrances, the tunnel does not offer an inviting prospect. No signage above the point where the walkway enters the tunnel and poor lighting at the entrance to the tunnel so it looks very dark and forbidding.
The Waterloo IMAX Theatre is a brilliant use of a difficult space, as well as being a building that has some technically clever ways of avoiding sound and vibrations. For example, the first floor is mounted on oil-damped spring bearings, and the walls inside the glass outer wall are 750mm thick. During construction, pile foundations were installed around the tunnels of the Waterloo and City line. A thick concrete slab was then built on top of the pilings to support the weight of the building above.
The IMAX apparently has the largest screen of any cinema in the UK and has the equipment to support normal film format as well as IMAX Digital and 3D.
A shame that whilst the intention with the tunnels and walkways is clear, and they could have provided a creative and innovative space, what appears to have been limited maintenance and care over the years has resulted in a rather poor experience when walking to the theatre at the centre.
TfL did have plans back in 2017 to transform the area and remove the roundabout, creating a surface level pedestrianised space up to the IMAX, however these plans appear to have been paused due to “the pandemic and current funding restraints”.
Given TfL’s current funding constraints, I suspect the roundabout will be there for some years to come.
During recent years the news has been coming thick and fast. Covid, Ukraine, political turmoil in this country with three Prime Ministers in a single year, inflation and the resulting cost of living crisis. Can 2023 be any better?
Based on the experience of recent years, it would be rather foolish to try and predict what will happen during the coming year, so I thought that for the first post of 2023, I would go back 300 years and look at what would happen in London during 1723. What was life like for Londoners, what could we have expected to see on the streets, what were the key events?
Using newspapers published during 1723, I have compiled a month by month review of events in the city. We will find books with titles such as “The Fifteen Plagues of Coffee and Tea“, we will discover the “Atterbury Plot”, meet “a notorious Strumpet and Procuress about Town” and also “Swangy Peggy“, look at trade in the Port of London, disease, illnesses and medical treatment, crime and punishment, how you could be imprisoned for the wrong words, and the strange sights to be seen across the city’s streets.
King George I was the monarch, Robert Walpole was the Whig Prime Minister. The artist Sir Joshua Reynolds was born in 1723, as was the Scottish economist Adam Smith who would go on to write The Wealth of Nations.
Apart from actions against Pirates in the Caribbean, the country does not seem to have been at war.
The starting point for a review of 1723 – a London year, will be:
On January the 1st “was preached the Anniversary Sermon to the Societies for Reformation of Manners at the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow, by the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Gloucester; at which were present, the Lord Mayor, Sir Francis Forbes, Alderman, and also the Bishops of Sarum, Litchfield and Coventry, Carlisle, Peterborough and Bristol, with upwards of twenty of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the County of Middlesex and Liberty of Westminster, and a considerable number of Reverend Clergy.”
Executions were a theme of the year. They were frequent, with Tyburn being one of the main sites, as described here: “Edmund Neal and William Pincher, who were condemned last Sessions for Robbing on the Highway, were executed at Tyburn.”
Such was the number of executions, that when there was a sessions period with no convictions it was considered news: “Tis remarkable that since the last Sessions, no Person has been committed to Newgate for the Highway, or any other Capital Crime, except a Woman for the Murder of her Bastard Child.”
One person sentenced to execution even had bets placed on whether the sentence would be carried out. We will come across this person a number of times during the year: “Several considerable wagers are again laid concerning Mr. Layer, some affirming that he will have a farther Respite, others, that sentence will be executed in him the 19th instant.”
The zoo at the Tower of London claimed a victim in January: “An Apprentice to Mr. Ushall, a Taylor in Bridges Street, Covent Garden, lies ill of some wounds he received from one of the Lyons in the Tower.”
Caroline of Ansbach was the Princess of Wales as she was married to the King’s son, the future George II. They lived in Leicester House, which was on the northern edge of what is now Leicester Square, which was mentioned in this report: “Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales expecting to be brought to Bed about the latter end of this Month or the Beginning of the next, all the Servants appointed to attend her Royal Highness at that juncture, are taken into Leicester House.”
The Princess of Wales gave birth to a daughter, Mary, who would go on to marry Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. The marriage would not be a good one due to the abuse Mary suffered from Frederick. They would separate and Mary would continue to live in Germany, then Denmark.
1723 was not a good year to be heard criticising the King: “This Day, Mr. Ogden was tryed at Hicks Hall for Cursing the King, which was plainly proved, but some of the Evidence deposed that he had been very much in Drink, and that he was esteemed a Person very well affected to His Majesty, and often drank his Health. The Jury, after a short delay, brought him in guilty.”
In an article a week later it was recorded that Mr. Ogden has been “fined £50 and 3 months imprisonment”.
Another example of why it was not a good idea to say anything bad about the King and Queen, or mention the “Pretender” (James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, who claimed the throne for the Stuart line): “This Day, Mr. Cotton, was try’d at the King’s Bench for saying. ‘The Picture of the Pretender’s Wife, was the Picture of the Queen of England’; the Evidence against him was Mr. Pears, one of the King’s Messengers. The Jury brought in not Guilty.”
February 1723 saw the founding of one of the companies that would supply water to the growing city: “His Majesty has been please to order Letters Patents to be passed under the Great Seal of Great Britain, for incorporating the Governor and Company of Chelsea Water Works, pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed last Sessions, for supplying the City and Liberty of Westminster and Parts adjacent, with Water. And the said Undertakers are preparing Machines, and beginning to erect the said Works with all Diligence and Speed.”
A strange sight in one of London’s parks: “On Tuesday last a Soldier belonging to the Third regiment of Guards, was whipped in St. James’s Park and received 300 Lashes for acting as Assistant to a Bailiff, having his Regimental Clothes on. And on Friday he underwent the same Punishment again, and was afterwards drummed out of the Regiment.”
In 1723, convicts could be sentenced for transportation, and whilst Australia is normally assumed to be the destination, convicts could also be transported to the Americas, as this report demonstrates: “Yesterday Morning 40 Felons, convict were put on board a close Lighter at Black Fryers Stairs from Newgate, in order to be transported to Maryland.”
Sir Christopher Wren died in February 1723. Coverage of his death in newspapers at the time was rather brief: “Yesterday about Noon dy’d Sir Christopher Wren, aged about 92; he was formerly Surveyor General of the King’s Works; he built St. Paul’s Church, and all the Rest of the Churches since the great Conflagration.”
Newspaper’s in 1723 published lists of new books that had just been published, under the heading of “This Day is Published”. The list for one week in February 1723 has some rather strange titles and subjects:
The London Bawd, and the Character of a Common Whore; with her subtle and various intrigues to delude innocent youth into Hellish Snares. Written by one that hath been a Sufferer, and now makes this Publick for the Benefit of Youth that go up to London, or distant from their Friends, by way of Advice. Printed for the good of the Publick, and Sold by Booksellers of London and Westminster and by the Printers. Price Bound 8d.
The Ladies Golden Key: or a Companion for Men of Sense. Written by a Person of Quality. Price 3d.
The Parson and his Maid, a Tale. To which is added, Venus enraged, a Poem. Price two pence.
The Country’s Misfortune: Or the Cuckoldy Yeoman. With several delightful Poems to put away melancholy Thoughts of honest Men. Price Three Pence.
The Fifteen Plagues of Coffee and Tea, with a Female’s Satyr on Thin Bread and Butter. Written by a young Gentlewoman, who brought the Green Sickness upon her by Drinking those dull Liquors. Price Two Pence.”
Scientific and technical advances were being made, and put on display in London: “There is a new invention of a strange kind of Machine for Ploughing of Ground. The Work is performed by one Man, and without Horses; it is rekoned an extraordinary Piece of Ingenuity, and a great Number of Artists and Persons of Quality have been to see it. It is now at the Golden Ball at Hyde Park Corner.”
To start the month of March, a report on one of the many strange sights to be seen in London in 1723 – “Last Monday Morning, one Brittain, a Widow in Milford Lane, was married to a Brewer’s servant at the Church of St. Clement Danes, who being advised, went to the Church Door without any other Apparel on besides her bare Smock, to the great Surprise and Sport of a numerous Crowd of Spectators. It seems, by this means, she thinks herself exempted from paying any debts contracted by her former Husband. At the Church Door her intended Spouse took her in his Arms, and carrying her to an Apothecary’s House over against the said Church, new clothed her completely; after which the Nuptials were solemnized.”
There was a rather public spirited Will, where: “One Mr. Rice, a Solicitor of Furnival’s Inn, who latterly died, has bequeathed £500 toward paying the National Debts. He owes it but a Mite; but he does it to set a good example”.
There was also another example of the horrific sentences handed out: “Last Saturday Night, the Session ended at the Old Baily, when the three following Malefactors received sentence of Death, viz. William Sommerfield and Willim Bourk for the Highway, and one Frost for stealing a Horse from the Post Boy belonging to the Post Master of Sevenoak. Two were burnt in the Hand, viz one for Manslaughter, and one for Felony, and several others were ordered for Transportation.”
In the first months of 1723, there had been many newspaper reports regarding a Mr. Christopher Layer and Francis Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester. Both men were being held in the Tower of London following a plot in 1722 which aimed to restore the House of Stuart with “the Old Pretender” James Francis Edward Stuart, who was exiled in Rome as King.
The plot appears to have been the main political story of 1723.
The plot was exposed and Layer and the Bishop of Rochester were both held in the Tower and questioned as to their involvement and coconspirators. The plot was named the Atterbury Plot after the Bishop of Rochester, however although he seems to have played the leading role in the plot, it was Layer who suffered more.
“Layer, at his Examination before the Lords of the Council, confessed that being in Discourse with Lord Orrery, that Lord Orrery said that nothing would relieve the Nation, but a Restoration; and that he would be glad he could contribute to bring it about; that it must be done by Foreign Forces.
Lord Orrery told him, the Regent might be brought to wink at anything, but was too perfidious, that he was not to be trusted, and that the French had made a Tool of the Pretender.
Layer confirmed to the Committee upon his Examination in the Tower, that Lord Orrery declared himself constantly of Opinion, that nothing could be done to any Purpose in the Pretender’s Favour, without Foreign Forces.
The Council took under Consideration a Report, and revealed a destructive and horrid Conspiracy had been formed and carried on by Persons of Figure and Distinction, and their Agents in Conjunction with Traitors abroad, for Invading the Kingdom, with Foreign Forces and raising a Rebellion at Home; for seizing the Tower and the City of London; for laying violent Hands on his Sacred Majesty and the Prince in order to subvert our happy Establishment, by placing a Popish Pretender upon the Throne.”
The report states that in his examination, Layer tried to prevaricate and suppress the truth and conceal the conspiracy, however the examination of those involved in the Atterbury Plot did find other possible conspirators, including one John Plunket, and Parliament had the following rather ominous vote: “It was ordered in a Division, 289 against 130, that a Bill be brought in to inflict certain Pains and Penalties on the said John Plunket.“
We will find out what happened to Christopher Layer in a couple of months time.
Given that the sentence of highway robbery was usually death, there is a surprising number of these crimes reported, for example “Last night between 8 and 9 a-Clock, a Hackney Coach returning to Town from Maidenhead, having a gentleman and two gentlewomen in it, was set upon a little beyond Tyburn by two Highwaymen, who robbed them of a considerable Sum of Money, two Gold Watches, and one Silver Watch.”
As well as highway robbery, in 1723 London was a very dangerous place where fatal accidents were a common occurrence, such as this tragic example “A sad Accident happened in Gray’s Inn Lane, where a Cart passing along, was stopped by some Gentlemen, who endeavoured to kiss a Woman that was in it with a Child; but in the Struggle, the Woman’s Arm was broke, and the Child falling from the Cart was run over and killed.”
In April 1723 there was an interesting example of fire fighting techniques in use at the time: “On Monday Morning, early, a Chimney at Leicester House was observed to be on Fire, and the Wind being very high, the Flames spread and threatened farther Mischief; so that the Prince got out of Bed, and ordered some of the Soldiers on Guard to be admitted in, to fire their Pieces up the Chimney; which they did accordingly, and within ten or a dozen Discharges, removed all Apprehensions of Danger, and his Highness gave them five Guineas.”
By the standards of today, the sights to be seen in London 300 years ago were often just bizarre and awful, such as this example from Hyde Park: “Yesterday, pursuant to his Sentence, the Deserter who was condemned by a late Court Martial, was shot in Hyde Park. He was conducted from the Parade to the Place of Execution by his whole Regiment (the Second of the Guards) with the Earl of Albermarle at the Head of them, and was at once made an End of, twelve Soldiers firing upon him together.”
Rumours of trouble on the international stage has always caused problems for the London Stock Exchange, and in April 1723 there was an example, when: “Last Thursday there was a Letter from Malaga, with pretended Advices that the Marquis de Lede was marching along the Coasts with some Spanish Troops as though they had formed a Design against Gibraltar. This Stockjobbing News had the Effect that the public Stocks fell considerably.”
In May 1723, we find out what happened to Christopher Layer:
“Yesterday, about one a Clock, Christopher Layer was executed at Tyburn, pursuant to his sentence for High-treason. The Sheriffs having demanded him of the proper Officer of the Tower, he was delivered up accordingly; his Fetters being knocked off, he was carryed under a Guard of Warders and Soldiers through the little Guard-room, over the Draw-bridge to the wharf, from whence he walked to Iron Gate, near St Katherine’s, in the County of Middlesex, where he was received by the Sheriffs Officers, and carryed upon a Sledge drawn by 5 horses, to the place of Execution, where he was attended by the Rev. Mr. Hawkins and the Rev. Mr. Berryman, who assisted him in his Devotions.
The populace on this occasion was very numerous, many Scaffolds were erected in the Way, for the Advantage of the Spectators, some of which were broke down, by which Accident many were bruised. At the Place of Execution, he behaved himself with great Composure of Mind, and seemed very unshaken, frequently affecting a Smile, nor did he appear shock’d even in the Article of Death. He had in the Cart with him some Gentleman who were his friends, to one of whom he gave a paper, and another to the Under-Sheriff.
Silence being made among the People, in Expectation of his making some Speech to the Company, he in some measure disappointed them, only saying that he had left behind him in Writing, the true Principles of his Religion, that Religion in which he died and that he hoped no Body would publish any Thing injurious to his Fame, and Reputation after he was dead, and that the good people of England might expect, but expect in vain, to see happy and flourishing Days in Great-Britain, till the fortunate Hour was come, that they saw a certain Person was brought over into the Nation amongst us.
Afterwards his Head was severed from his body, and sent to Newgate to be prepared in order to be fixed up this day at Temple-Bar, but his quarters were delivered to his Friends, who put them in a Hearse, and brought them round about Kinsington to Mr. Purdy’s, an undertaker in Stanhope-street, Clare-Market, who had them sewed together, in order to be interred in Cambridgeshire. His whole Deportment, both in his Passage and at the Place of Execution, was manly and intrepid.”
In June 1723 “The Anniversary of the happy Restoration of King Charles II, and the Royal Family, was celebrated here with the usual Solemnity.”
In 1711 an Act of Parliament established the “Commission for Building Fify New Churches”. This was a response to the growing population of London, and how London was expanding to areas where there were no, or very few, churches to serve the population. The Commission never achieved the total number of fifty, but in 1723 progress was being made on a couple of the churches: “The Commissioners for Building the Fifty New Churches, met on Monday last at their Office in Palace Yard, and agreed to the Proposals from Plumbers, Joyners, &c. for finishing two more of them, viz. that of St. Mary Woolnoth in Lombard Street, and that in Hanover Square. And we hear that the £20,000 in the Treasury raised for building the said Churches is to be applied to finish these two, and the two others at Deptford and in the Strand”.
St. Mary Woolnoth was not really a new church, rather a rebuilding of an existing church. The church in Hanover Square is St. George’s. The church in Deptford is St. Paul’s and in the Strand is St. Mary-le-Strand.
Coffee seems to have been a popular drink in London in 1723, however: “Tis remarkable, that there is much more Coffee sold here in Town than the Quantity fairly imported.”
Also, in London in June 1723: “We hear that an Information has been given against one Larchin, a notorious Strumpet and Procuress about Town, for decoying several Servant Maids from their Masters, in order to become Prostitutes.”
Although Christopher Lavery was executed for treason for his part in the Atterbury Plot, Francis Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester was given a more lenient sentence as he was banished from the country, and in June: “There’s Advice that on Friday morning last, the late Bishop of Rochester landed at Calais, and will set out in a few days to the Austrian Netherlands. The Opinion of some People is so hard against the Gentleman, as to think when he is in Foreign parts, will change his Religion, although he mentions in his speech before the Lords, that he had wrote and preached, from his infancy in Defence of Martin Luther, and declares with the strongest Asseveration, that he will burn at the Stake, rather than depart from any one material Point of Protestant Religion, as professed in the Church of England.”
On June 15th, the Bishop of Rochester’s possessions were sold, raising almost £5,000, which appears to have be retained by the State.
Newspapers carried reports of the goods that were imported and exported through the London Docks. For the period of the 13th to the 25th of July, 56 ships arrived in the Port of London carry goods and the following tables lists the goods imported, and from where:
Interesting that the majority of London trade appears to have been with Europe, with Holland being a major source of imports into the country. I assume the ports to the west of the country such as Bristol and Liverpool dealt with trade to and from the Americas and the rest of the world.
I had intended to run through all these and list what many of these goods were, as some of the names are not obvious, however I ran out of time. Perhaps a subject for a future post to look at early 18th century imports and exports through the Port of London.
The “South Sea Bubble” was an event that took place in 1720 when the share price of the South Sea Company rocketed to very high levels before collapsing. This caused severe problems within London’s financial markets and caused a number of bankruptcies among the owners of shares in the company. An investigation into the collapse found that there was widespread fraud, and that many of the Directors of the company were involved in fraud. The Directors were sacked, and received heavy financial penalties, and in August 1723 it was reported that: “The several Appraisers employed by the Trustees of the Forfeited Estates of the late South-Sea-Directors, are now paid off; and we are assured that some of their Bills amounted to Five Hundred Pound each.”
However the South Sea Company was still trading, and would continue to do so for many years, as also in August 1723: “The South Sea Company’s Warehouses are at present full of our Woollen Manufacturers, to be sent on board their Assiento Ship, now fitting out at Blackwall.”
The mention of the South Sea Company’s warehouses being full of woollen products was not a one-off as woollen products were a considerable export from London. Tables in the papers of imports and exports also included a special table dedicated to woolen products, and between the 13th and 21st of August 1723, the following were exported from London:
Whilst some of these products have recognizable names, I have no idea what many of them are, for example a Perpet or a Minikin Bay in the first two lines of exports. What is clear though is that a considerable volume of woollen products were being exported through the London docks in 1723.
The statue of Charles I, which still stands in Trafalgar Square, was, in August 1723: “The Pedestal on which stands the statue of King Charles the First on Horseback at Charing Cross is repairing and beautifying at the Expense of the Government, and will be defended for the future by a Wall, breast high, with Iron Rails upon it.”
Fallout from the Atterbury Plot was causing concern within the City of London due to the impact it had on the freedom of the individual with the suspension of Habeas Corpus and the ability of the Government to imprison the individual at will: “The detestable Conspiracy which occasions the present Suspension, having been discovered and signified to the City of London, about Five months since, and diverse imprisoned for a considerable time past, we cannot conceive it to be highly unreasonable to suppose that the danger of this plot, in the hands of a Faithful and Diligent Ministry, will continue for a Year or more yet to come; and that in to high a degree, as to require suspension of the Liberty of the Subject (for so we take it to be) during all that Time.
His Majesty having not visited his Dominions Abroad these two last years, will very probably leave the Kingdon the next Spring to that End, in which case, this Great Power of Suspecting and Imprisoning the Subject at Will, and detaining them in Prison till the 24tgh of October 1723; and for as much longer time, till they can after that take the benefit of Habeas Corpus (if they can still do it at all).
London in 1723 was an unhealthy city. A considerable range of disease and illness stalked the densely populated streets, and death rates were high. The churchyards and crypts of the city’s churches were not pleasant places as they were frequently overcrowded with burials
Medical care was rudimentary at best, even for the wealthy, and for the poor was almost non-existent.
Childbirth was a dangerous time for women and babies, and the death rate for young children was very high.
The following table is the Bill of Mortality for the period from August 27th to September 10th, 1723 and shows the numbers and causes of death.
In the same period, there were the following casulties in addition to the above:
3 – Drowned in the River Thames at St. Paul at Shadwell
2 – Found dead at St. Margaret Westminster
1 – Murdered at St. Olave in Southwark
1 – Broken Leg
6 – Overlaid
In the same period there were 735 Christenings, 1466 Burials, and the increase in burials over the previous period was 29.
The military had a significant presence in London during 1723, probably due to the perceived threat of a Jacobite rebellion, and plots such as that by Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester. It must have been common to see soldiers on the streets, and there are many reports of soldiers getting into fights. There was a large military encampment in Hyde Park, as reported: “Yesterday the Right Honourable Earl Cadogan was present in Hyde Park and saw the Grenadiers perform an exercise of throwing Grenades. the Cavalry there decamp next Monday, but the Infantry are to hut, and the Artillery is to remain with them.”
As well as Hyde Park, temporary quarters were required across the city, and in October the following was issued, which cannot have been very popular: “On Tuesday, a Warrant was sent to the High Constable of the City and Liberty of Westminster, requiring him to order his Petty Constables to make a Return of all the Inn-keepers in the said Liberty, for the Horse Guards to quarter in their Inns.”
London seems to have been a rather tense place to be if you were not seen to be loyal to the King and Government, for example: “A gentleman of the Temple being under Apprehensions of a Visit from some of his Majesty’s Messengers, borrowed a horse of a friend for the day, under pretence of going out one Afternoon to take the Air, but has not thought fit to return since. A Brother of his, who had not to much presence of Mind, is seized with his papers.”
The various plots against the King, whether real or not, the crime of speaking out against the King and similar crimes led to a number of people being imprisoned in the Tower for Treason, and investigations would include their family, so: “We hear that the Lady of Counsellor Leare, now Prisoner for High Treason in the Tower has been seized coming from France, being ignorant of the Fate of her Husband, and having about her several Letters of great Consequence.”, and;
“On Thursday morning last, the Right Honourable Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery, one of her late Majesty’s Privy Council and Knight of the most ancient Order of the Thistle, being brought to Town in Custody, from his Seat at Brittel in Buckinghamshire, was the same Evening examined before a Committee of Lords at the Council at the Cock Pit, and ordered to be confined in his own house, with a Guard of 30 soldiers; and last Night, being examined again, his Lordship was, between 10 and 11 o’Clock, committed to the Tower, under a Guard of Centinels.”
The things you would see across the streets of London in 1723 are so very different to today, and there are plenty of examples in the newspapers of 1723, such as the following from November: “The Company of Surgeons having a Warrant for receiving the Body of one of the Malefactors that were executed on Wednesday last at Tyburn; the Mob happened to be appraised of it, and assembling together in a riotous manner, carried it off, and afterwards begged Money about the Streets, in order to give it, as they pretended, a decent Interment, but when they had finished their Collection, they flung the Body at Night over the Wall into the Savoy Church Yard. Next Day the Officers of the Parish sent to the Surgeons to know if they would have him, intending otherwise to bury him there.” This was one of three executions carried out at Tyburn on the same day.
In the early 18th century, travelers had problems with overcharging when they travelled along the river or the street, with Watermen and Coachmen using a number of tricks to overcharge. There were regulations to prevent this, and in November; “A Hackney Coachman was committed to Newgate by the Commissioners for Licensing Hackney Coaches and Chairs, till such time as he pays the Fine imposed on him for demanding more than his Fare.”
Medical care in 1723 was very basic, and many treatments were still in their infancy. Dropsy was the name given to the condition whereby excess fluid in the soft tissues of the body would cause swellings. The treatment in 1723 would be to “tap” the infected area where a metal tube was inserted into the body in an attempt to drain off the fluid. A process which could take several days, but was not that successful as shown by this report; “Last night died Sir Thomas Palmer, Bart. at his lodgings in Bow Street, Covent Garden, of the Dropsy, after he had been tapped the Day before for the same; he was member of Parliament for Rochester in Kent.”
Small Pox killed a large number of Londoners during the early 18th century, and prevention would have to wait until after 1796 when Edward Jenner discovered how to create and administer a Small Pox Vaccine. Prior to Jenner’s discovery, a method called “variolation” was used, where people who had not had the disease were exposed to material from smallpox sores from those infected. This method had limited success as this report tells: “We are informed, that the eldest son of Mr. A’Court, member of Parliament for Hatchbury, is dead of the inoculated Small Pox; but Miss Rolt, a young Lady of great Fortune, who was also inoculated is happily recovered, though with the utmost Hazard of her Life.”
Londoners were also frequently informed of the strange medical events taking place across the country. These reports probably had some grain of truth, but had been exaggerated many times, so for example, in November 1723, Londoners would read; “They write from Devizes in Wiltshire, that a Tradesman’s Wife of that place, after a Labour of 4 Days, was delivered of a Monster, which has one Body by two Breasts, an Head of an exorbitant size the Eyes distorted, two Teeth, a flat appearance of a Face in the Nape of a Neck four Arms, Hands, Legs and Feet, with 6 fingers and toes on each. But what is most remarkable is, that the side to which the Face pointed, was Male, the other Female; The Male had nails upon the fingers and Toes, which the Female had not.”
Londoners could also look up to the night sky in November 1723, and see “the Comet so much spoken of, was seen plainly on Monday Night last, notwithstanding it was the Opinion of the Persons skilled in Astronomy, it would have disappeared some Time ago.”
But be careful when looking up as you could fall victim to this type of crime; “A Woman of the Town who goes by the Name of Swangy Peggy, was last Tuesday Night committed to the Compter for picking a Gentleman’s Pocket of 50 Guineas.”
A consequence of the Port of London being a key part of the city’s commercial activities were the many reports in newspapers covering shipping bound for London, and the frequent loss of a ship, so in December 1723 we find examples such as “The Phoenix, Captain Olding, bound from Petersburg to London was latterly lost near Yarmouth.” and: “The Fyfield, Captain Swinsen, bound from South Carolina to London was drove ashore on Wednesday last near Margate, and lost. The men were all saved, but Captain Swinsen , stepping into the boat, unfortunately fell into the sea, and was drowned.”
There were a number of charitable institutions across the wider London area that took in elderly people, however they usually had strict criteria covering who could benefit, so in December 1723, the Trustees of Sir John Morden’s College in Blackheath were “about to increase the Number of Pensioners on that Foundation: None but decayed Merchants who are 50 year of age, and Communicants in the Church of England are capable of being admitted.”
The Catholic threat to the monarchy was in the background throughout 1723. There was an expectation that Catholics would swear an oath of loyalty to the King and the country, however there were many ways to get around this, as this report explained: “We are informed that divers Papists and others, who had resolutely determined not to take the Oaths, have been personated in several of the Courts, by their Agents, who have Sworn, in the Name of the said Papists, &c recorded, as though they actually complied with the Terms of the late Act of Parliament.”
As today, foreign ambassadors were based in London, where they could interact with the Royal Court, Parliament, the City, Merchants and Financial institutions. Newspapers frequently recorded their activities and visits, and in December: “The Morocco Ambassador went to the Tower, where he was well received by the Officers, and shown the Curiosities and Rarities there, with which his Excellency was well pleased and gratified the inferior Officers that attended him.”
London continued to be a place of almost casual accident and death, such as “On Monday last, several Porters in handling a Hogshead of Tobacco on Shipboard at Wapping, unfortunately let go their Hold, and the Hogshead rolled down the stairs at waterside, into a boat, in which was a little boy, who was dashed to pieces, as was likewise the boat.” These stories are simply reported as fact, without any criticism of the conditions that enabled such an accident to happen, or a call for safety improvements.
Trials of those who supported the Jacobite cause, or who raised any actions against the King continued through the year, including in December, when the trial of the leaders of a riot in Cripplegate in July, came to the Old Bailey: “The evidence for the King deposed that on the evening of the 23rd of July, a great Mob armed with Clubs, Staves and other unlawful weapons, assembled at Cripplegate, and broke the windows of Mr. Jones, an Apothecary, and afterwards attacked the Crown Tavern and Coffee House, demolishing the windows and wounding several Persons who endeavoured to defend themselves at the House. They likewise deposed that though the Proclamation was read three Times, the Mob did not disperse, but continued in a Tumultuous Manner, crying No King George, No Hanover Proclamation, Down with the House.”
And that ends a brief run down of what life in London was like during 1723. A very different city to the one we experience today, although there are some themes which we can recognise, and the names of city locations provide a familiarity across the 300 year gap.
Whatever 2023 brings, I wish you a very Happy New Year.
A Christmas custom for me, growing up in the 1970s, was to watch the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas. An almost annual event which usually featured one of the stories written by M.R. James.
Many of these stories followed some general themes. The main character was frequently a reserved antiquarian scholar, the plot often involved the discovery of something which would result in the arrival of a malevolent spirit, stories would often be set in the counties of Norfolk or Suffolk, a cathedral, abbey or university.
Many of these themes came from M.R. James own background.
He knew the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk very well. He was a medieval scholar, and was Provost of King’s College, Cambridge and then Eton. The term Provost is often used for the role of head of a university college or a private school.
His ghost stories appear to have originated from a custom where he would write, then read his ghost stories to friends on Christmas Eve. The first collection of his stories were published in book form in 1904 with the title “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary“.
M.R. James, or Montague Rhodes James, to give him his full name, was born on the 1st of August 1862, in the county of Kent and died on the 12th of June 1936 whilst he was Provost of Eton College.
He was buried in a small cemetery on the outskirts of Eton, so a recent trip to Windsor provided the opportunity to visit his grave, which seemed a suitable Jamesian thing to do in the weeks before Christmas.
M.R. James was buried in the grounds of the Eton Wick Chapel, a short walk from the centre of Eton.
The easiest way to get to Eton is from Windsor where there are car parks and train stations, and it is from Windsor that we started the walk.
The old road bridge between Windsor and Eton is now pedestrianised and crosses the River Thames:
View from the bridge over the River Thames, with Windsor on the south bank of the river, and Eton on the north:
View looking back towards Windsor, with the castle towering above the town:
Eton High Street:
The pedestrianised bridge from Windsor over the Thames runs into Eton High Street. This bridge and street was once an important road as it was one of the main routes for access to Windsor Castle. Follow Eton High Street northwards and it ran up to the Bath Road in Slough, the Bath Road being one of the main routes from London to the west.
Running across the High Street is a small watercourse called Barnes Pool. This flows from the Thames, through Eton, then back to the Thames, and originally turned the southern section of Eton into a small island.
The earliest recorded bridge over the stream dates from 1274, and it has been rebuilt a number of times since, including 1592 when a new bridge was commissioned by Elizabeth I who was concerned about being cut-off in Windsor in the event of a Catholic revolt.
The Barnes Bridge today:
The stream is open water on either side of the bridge, however towards where the stream originates and then renters the Thames, the stream is contained within a culvert which gradually became silted up, and for many years there was no flow in the stream.
In the last few years there has been a campaign to open up the stream. The culvert has been cleared of silt, and Barnes Pool is now flowing through Eton between two points on the Thames:
Whilst Barnes Pool looks a very small stream of water today, before the culverts silted up, the stream could flood during periods of high rainfall, and on the brick wall next to the stream is a marker recording the heights of previous floods, with the highest recorded in 1774 when the flood almost reached the top of the wall (which obviously was not there at the time).
St Mary’s Chapel, Eton:
M.R. James became Provost of Eton in 1918, and in the announcements of his new role, there is no mention of his ghost stories, the first of which were published in book form in 1904. He appears to have been the logical candidate for the role of Provost, as this report from the “The Mail” on Wednesday, 31st of July 1918 explains:
“Dr. Montagu James Appointed – Our Cambridge correspondent is officially informed that Dr. Montagu Rhodes James has accepted the appointment of Provost of Eton as from next Michaelmas Day. Dr. James has been Provost of King’s since 1905, and was Vice-Chancellor in 1913 and 1914.
The appointment of Dr. James has always been regarded as inevitable at Eton, where it will be universally popular. A devoted Old Etonian, and head for the past dozen years of the sister college at Cambridge, he has already been a member of the Governing Body of Eton during that period, and has latterly sometimes presided over it. The selection by the Crown of a layman marks a breach with recent practice, though it is not unprecedented. Dr. James, however, takes high rank as a theologian no less than as a brilliant scholar. Moreover, he has been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge; so that he will bring to Eton not only a tradition of sound learning, but a great experience of academic administration.”
He was installed as Provost of Eton in October 1918, with the King’s representative present (the Dean of Windsor), and the Headmaster of Eton, with speeches and addresses to the new Provost being read in Latin.
Opposite the chapel is Keates Lane, and this was the route out of Eton to find M.R. James grave:
View from Keates Lane back to the chapel, with buildings of the college on either side of the street:
Keates Lane, then bends right and becomes Eton Wick Road, and after a short walk, I came to the chapel and graveyard:
Visiting churches, abbeys, monasteries and historic locations in general, as well as the towns and countryside of Suffolk and Norfolk appear to have been passions of M.R. James, and clearly influenced his ghost stories.
I have copies of two guide books that he wrote and which were based on his own travel and research.
The first, “Abbeys” was published in 1925, rather strangely by the Great Western Railway, Paddington Station, and although the title of the book is simply Abbeys, the focus is on the west of the country, so presumably fitted well with the Great Western Railway network.
The book includes a large map of the Great Western Railway, showing Cathedrals, Castles and Abbeys, so the book really acts as a guide for all the places you could visit by taking a train from Paddington Station.
M.R. James second guide book was of Suffolk and Norfolk, and described as a “Perambulation of the two counties with notices of their history and their ancient builds”. This book was published in 1930 by J.M. Dent and Sons, so was not a guide book for a railway company.
Reading the two books it is clear where much of James inspiration for his ghost stories comes from. His descriptions of Norfolk and Suffolk align with many of his stories, for example, his story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” was set on the Suffolk coast, where a Cambridge Professor on a golfing holiday finds an old whistle while exploring the ruins of an ancient Templar building.
He then sees the outline of a person running after him on the beach, and also standing on the beach looking at his hotel room. After cleaning the whistle and blowing on it, he is troubled with bad dreams, sounds in his bedroom and the sheets on the second bed in his room being crumpled as if someone had slept in the bed.
The climax of the story comes on the second night when a figure rises in the room, and the Professor is backing towards a window, only to be saved when another guest bursts into the room.
Although I was too young to see it when first broadcast, the BBC’s 1968 version of the story with Michael Horden playing the Professor is really good and brings across the wild and open landscape of the coast, and the growing tension of the story.
Horden brilliantly portrays a probably rather reclusive, scholarly, professor. A man who is completely confident in his rational view of the world – a view that is completely shaken by the end of the story.
The gate leading from the road into the graveyard and chapel:
Looking back at the gate into the graveyard:
M.R. James grave is at the back of the graveyard, and similar to what could be expected in an M.R. James ghost story. It is in a rather overgrown part of the graveyard. Being December, much of the vegetation had died down, but I still had to walk through Ivy and the thorn covered stems of dead bramble growth.
In the following photo, the gravestone is the small, white stone on the right:
The gravestone of Montague Rhodes James:
The grave is surprisingly simple. The gravestone records the dates of his birth and death, the dates of his time as Provost in Cambridge and Eton, along with the following inscription:
“No longer a sojourner, but a fellow citizen with the saints, and of the household of god.”
The area around the grave is overgrown, however the gravestone is clean and in good condition, which I believe is down to a campaign some years ago to clear the grave, although nature has now reclaimed much of the space.
Fortunately I did not find a whistle sticking out from between the leaves of the ivy.
A number of newspapers carried news of the death of M.R. James, and a brief obituary:
“DEATH OF PROVOST OF ETON – Mediaeval Authority and Prolific Author. The provost of Eton, Dr. Montague Rhodes James, died at his house, The Lodge, Eton, yesterday. he was 73.
Dr. James had been in ill-health since January of this year, and in April his condition became serious, but he made a satisfactory recovery.
As recently as last Thursday, at the Fourth of June celebrations, he was wheeled round the college playing fields, where he talked to a number of old Etonians.
Immediately he died the Eton flag, bearing the arms of Henry the Sixth, founder of the College, was lowered to half-mast over Upper School.
Dr. James was one of the most erudite antiquaries and one of the most prolific authors of his age. The list of his literary works fills nearly a page of ‘Who’s Who”.
He was an authority on ancient Christian manuscripts, and no surprise was evoked when in 1930 the Order of Merit was conferred upon him in recognition of his scholarship and of his eminent contributions to mediaeval history.
Ghost Stories – These serious studies, however, did not represent the sum total of his literary activity. He found time to write ghost stories – stories which would have won him wider fans but for the great reputation which he had earned in other spheres.
It was at Eton that Dr. James was educated, proceeding afterwards to King’s College, Cambridge, where he had a distinguished career, gaining the Caius Prize in 1882, and becoming Bell Scholar in 1883, and Craven Scholar the following year.
He was Provost of King’s from 1905 to 1918, and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University from 1913 to 1915.
Among other offices he held was that of a Trustee of the British Museum. His human quality was shown by his influence on youth.
‘The best things in life are not cars, wireless, flying, dirt track, or any other racing, league matches, or the pursuit of wealth’ he once said.
‘The best things are presented by the Bible, Shakespeare, Handel and Dickens, the Elgin Marbles and Salisbury Cathedral, the open country, the sea and the stars; the knowledge that all these may be made to disclose; honest games which are played and not merely looked at.’
His recreations were patience and piequet.”
Many aspects of his life can clearly be seen in his ghost stories. His love of Norfolk and Suffolk, religious buildings, mediaeval history, the academic life and institutions such as Cambridge and Eton.
What is not clear is how similar to the rationale scholar (the lead in Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You) he was, or whether he had some belief in the supernatural, however I suspect the sentence “the knowledge that all these may be made to disclose” from his obituary hints more towards the rationale scholar.
For me, I have to thank M.R. James for some of the best programmes of Christmas TV as I was growing up, as well the published versions of his ghost stories which I have read and reread several times.
As well as M.R. James, the 1970s were a golden period for TV ghost stories, such as Charles Dickens story the Signalman with Denholm Elliot.
There were also other programmes, some of which had a bit of a moral story to them. Many of these have been on YouTube although several have now been removed due to copyright claims by the BBC.
One that is still (currently) online is The Exorcism, part of the BBC’s Dead of Night series. Broadcast in 1972 it tells the story of a couple who have moved from London and restored a derelict cottage in the Kent countryside – “still within easy distance of London”.
Another couple arrive and during the course of a dinner party, the cottage starts to take on a malevolent character, and the end of the story reflects the story of some previous occupants.
I do not beleive this is on DVD yet, but would be well worth a purchase. As well as the clothes and attitudes of the early 1970s, it also offers a view on those with money who were starting to move out of London and buying up and restoring properties in the surrounding counties. The programme can currently be found here.
Another was “The Stone Tape” which told the story of what we would now call a technology startup, who were establishing a research base in a country house, part of which included some ancient walls.
The Stone Tape has Jane Asher in the lead role, and who had a mysterious fate at the end of the programme. It was written by Nigel Kneal and in many ways builds on his earlier story for Quatermass and the Pit, where ancient memories are still retained in their surroundings and can continue to influence the present. The Stone Tape is available online as a DVD, and is currently on YouTube here.
The Ghost Story for Christmas format has been revived over recent years, with Mark Gatiss recreating a number of M.R. James stories as well as some originals.
As for me, I am on the sceptical side, although I do know a number of people who claim they have seen ghosts.
One of the most convincing, and my own Ghost Story for Christmas was when I was driving down a country lane at night. There were stories about the lane, but the person in the car with me was unaware of them. As we drove up the lane she asked me if I had seen the person in the hooded yellow anorak walking along the side of the road. I had seen nothing even though the car lights were on full and it was a narrow lane, and there was nothing to be seen in the red glow of the rear lights.
And with that, and for my last post of 2022, can I wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas, however you are celebrating (or not), and wherever you are, and thanks for reading my posts over the year.
For the past five years, I have written an annual post on the work around Euston to create the extension to the station for HS2, recording the area from before work started to some point in the future, when the new station will be operational.
It has been on my list to revisit for a 2022 update, but it always seemed a lower priority to other places, and with the end of the year approaching, I really wanted to walk the edge of the site again. After a morning in Fitzrovia in early December, the afternoon left time to visit Euston.
It was a lovely sunny, but cold, December day. Whilst the clear sky was welcome, the resulting low sun produced deep shadows which do not work very well with photographing scenes in a built area, but it was my last chance for 2022.
The size of the construction site is remarkable. In front off, and to the west of Euston Station, along Hampstead Road, up to the point where the rail tracks from Euston cross under Hampstead Road. The construction site then extends west alongside the rail tracks.
There continues to be background rumblings about the cost of HS2 and that it should be cancelled. Walking around the Euston site demonstrates what has been put into the site so far, and the sheer size. If it was cancelled what would happen to the space – another place of random towers as with Vauxhall?
The name HS2 I suspect is part of the project’s problem. Whilst it will offer a faster journey, the main benefit seems to be the extra capacity released on the existing lines by moving fast trains to the HS2 route. This extra capacity allowing services to improve to the places along the route – assuming there is the money and political will to do so.
Whilst the scale of the project at Euston is remarkable, this is only the London terminus of the route. There is a considerable amount of work along the whole of the route, and if you have driven along the M25, just north of the M40 junction, the massive work site can be glimpsed where tunneling starts on the 10 mile tunnel under the Chilterns.
Then headed outside to see the front of the station, here the western side:
And the eastern side of the station:
In the forecourt of the station, is a statue to one of those buried in the cemetery at St James Gardens. An area where the graves have been excavated and the gardens now part of the overall construction site. See the 2017 post for a walk through St James Gardens. The statue is of Matthew Flinders:
Matthew Flinders was born in Lincolnshire on the 16th of March 1774. He joined the Royal Navy and in the early years of the 19th century he mapped much of the coast of Australia, and was the first to demonstrate that Australia was one single continent.
His chart of Australia, or Terra Australis, was published in 1814. Although the name Australia had been in use, Flinders use of the name for his chart, was the first to apply the name to the overall land mass of the country.
He had a lengthy return to London, however after his return his health deteriorated rapidly, His life at sea had taken a considerable toll on him, and he died at the age of 40 on the 19th of July 1814.
A brief announcement of his death in the London Evening Mail gives a hint of the challenges he had faced: “On Tuesday last, Captain Matthew Flinders, of the Royal Navy, greatly lamented by his family and friends. This Gentleman’s fate has been as hard as it has been eventful. Under the direction of the Admiralty, he sailed in 1801, on a voyage of discovery to Terra Australis; where, after successfully prosecuting the purposes of his voyage, he had the misfortune to run upon a coral rock and lose his ship: out of the wreck he constructed a small vessel that carried him to Mauritius, where, shocking to relate, instead of being received with kindness, as is the practice of a civilised nation to nautical discoverers, he was put in prison by the Governor and confined for six years and a half, which brought upon him maladies that have hastened his death. Fortunately for mankind and his own name, he survived a few days for finishing of the printing of the account of his voyage.”
His account of the voyage was published on the 5th of December 1814 as two volumes and “one very large volume, folio of Charts, Headlands and Botanical subjects”.
He died in a street roughly where the BT Tower is today and was buried in the burial ground for the parish of St. James Piccadilly, which was in use between 1790 and 1853, and which became St James Gardens until becoming part of the Euston HS2 construction site.
Matthew Flinders grave was discovered during the excavations to recover the bodies buried in the gardens, and his remains are due to be reburied atSt Mary and the Holy Rood church in Donington, the village of his birth.
The statue, by sculptor Mark Richards, was initially unveiled at Australia House in 2014, before being moved to the forecourt of Euston Station.
Office block at the eastern edge of the forecourt:
Directly in front of Euston Station is an open space, where the Flinders statue is located. There is then a row of office blocks, under which is a bus station:
And a pub, the Doric Arch, part of which can just be seen in the above photo, and the following photo is one I took a while ago, after dark;
The entrance to the pub, and toilets, occupy the ground floor, with the main pub on the first floor, which is surprisingly good, given its location and modern construction in the base of an office block. Despite the appearance in the above photo, it can also get very busy.
The Doric Arch was originally called the Head of Steam, but changed name to the arch that once stood in front of Euston Station when the pub was taken over by Fullers around 2008.
The Doric Arch is still run by Fullers, and according to the pub’s website, one of the stones from the original Euston Arch after which the pub is named, is on display behind the bar. I have no idea how I have missed this, but it is a good excuse for a return visit.
The pub sign is now an image of the Euston arch:
Buses queue to leave their stops, underneath the office block in front of Euston Station:
In front of the office block is the London and North Western Railway War Memorial. Designed by the railways’ architect, Reginald Wynn Owen, to commemorate the railway company’s workers who died in the first world war:
The following photo shows the memorial in the same position, prior to the demolition of the original Euston Station and hotel:
On the right of the above photo is one of the gatehouses that are still on either side of the entrance to Euston Station. The gatehouse can still be seen today, although the gardens that were behind the gatehouse, running alongside Euston Road, are now fenced off and are part of the considerable area of works surrounding the station.
Walking to the west of the station, and this is the view along Melton Street, which is now closed off, apart from being a construction site access gate:
To the right of the above photo is the taxi drop off and pick up point for Euston Station:
There is still a walking route to the west of the station, along Melton Street, however this is lined by hoardings on either side:
The western walking route into the station:
Continuing on along Melton Street, with the station on the right:
Another construction access gate:
Where on the corner of what was Melton Street and Drummond Street is the original Euston station of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs, and whilst all the buildings surrounding the station have been demolished, it still survives, probably due to all the infrastructure within and below the station (I visited the tunnels below in this post):
From alongside the station, we can look down what was Cardington Street. It was along here on the left that St James Gardens were located:
To exit the overall Euston site, the walker heads west through a corridor lined with hoardings (a theme of the entire site), towards Drummond Street:
Looking back, and the route is signposted to Euston Station:
A glimpse between the hoardings shows the size of the construction site running north from Euston Station:
This is the view to what was the corner of Cobourg Street and Euston Street. The Bree Louise pub was just on the left of the photo:
Looking north along Cobourg Street which is now fenced off, apart from the footpath to the left:
At the end of Cobourg Street is another gate to the main construction site:
And on the corner of Cobourg Street and Starcross Street, the Exmouth Arms is still there, and still open (small circle in the map at the start of the post):
Just behind, and to the west of the Exmouth Arms is a new building:
At the end of Starcross Street are these school buildings (large circle in the map at the start of the post):
The buildings were home to the Maria Fidelis School.
To free up the school site, HS2 have built a new school between Drummond Crescent and Phoenix Road, and the site in Starcross Street is now closed.
The following view is the best I could get of the front of the old Maria Fidelis School, which shows a typical early 20th century brick school, with central curved section, and the playground area on the roof which is surrounded by metal fencing:
We have now reached the Hampstead Road, and the following view is looking north. Hoardings continue to screen off the construction site, and as well as the standard information panels, they are covered in site and health and safety information:
Looking down what was the northern end of Cardington Street, where it joined Hampstead Road:
Where to the right of the above photo there is a large temporary office complex:
Looking north from the old junction with Cardington Street, and construction works continue on both sides of the street. To give an idea of how far these works run, Mornington Crescent underground station is not that far after the tower blocks in the photo:
This is looking across Hampstead Road to where construction continues heading west, parallel to the existing railway tracks that run into and out off Euston Station.
Where there is another access gate:
The photo above and the photo below give an indication of the scale of HS2 construction works around Euston. In the above photo, work s continue for some distance from Hampstead Road west, parallel to the existing rail tracks.
At some point, a new bridge will be needed to take Hampstead Road across the extra railway tracks into Euston Station.
The works heading west of Hampstead Road in the above photos lead to the wonderfully named “Euston Cavern”, which is described in the HS2 Euston Approaches FAQ as “a very large, underground structure at the Parkway end of the worksite, to enable one tunnel to split into two, so that trains can access the tunnels from the necessary range of platforms at Euston”. This tunnel takes the tracks away from Euston and heads towards a new station at Old Oak Common.
In the photo below, I am looking south along Hampstead Road, with the hoardings fencing off the construction site disappearing into the distance. Although it cannot be seen, Euston Station is to the left, some considerable distance across the construction site.
The HS2 construction works around Euston are considerable, and construction on the line is continuing all the way to Birmingham.
My last walk round the site was in June 2021, eighteen months ago. From alongside the construction site, not too much appears to have changed. The fenced off area has expanded slightly, but looking in from the outside, it is still a massive ground level construction site.
According to the HS2 website, phase one of the route from Euston to Birmingham is scheduled to open between 2029 and 2033 – it will be fascinating to have watched the site evolve from the original streets, gardens and pubs to the latest iteration of Euston Station.
I have written a few posts about the blue plaques that can be found across the City of London, and for today’s post I would like to illustrate another feature that can be found across the City’s streets.
Wards are still a part of the way the City of London is organised, and in previous centuries, the division of the City into Parishes was also a key feature, and the City Livery Company’s also owned various properties, as they still do.
There was a need to mark these boundaries and ownership of property. Boundaries also needed to be regularly reaffirmed to maintain the boundary, and this needed to be done in a way that was obvious to those who walked and lived in London’s streets, with a clear record, before the ready availability of detailed maps.
The way to do this was by physical markers on a building or street, to show a boundary, to show in what part of the City’s parishes or Wards buildings belonged, or who owned the building.
There must have been hundreds of these within the City, and even today there are very many to be found, with almost every City street having a marker of some type.
In this post, I would like to highlight a selection of the boundary and ownership markers that can still be seen across the City’s streets.
The first is on the City of London Magistrates Court on the corner of Queen Victoria Street and Walbrook. I have arrowed the marker which is low down on the building:
Where there is a simple marker dated 1892 for the north-western boundary of Walbrook Ward:
Many boundary markers have survived multiple rebuilding’s of a site, and can still be found on relatively recent buildings, such as the location arrowed in Cheapside:
On the left is a parish boundary marker from 1817 for St. M. M. This is for St Mary Magdalene which could be found on Milk Street. This was one of the many City churches destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but the parish boundary still survived.
The boundary marker on the right is for the parish of All Hallows Bread Street, another church that is long gone, not in the Great Fire, but during the late 19th century when the City lost a number of churches due to declining numbers of parishioners.
There are another couple of plaques, the left plaque again for All Hallows, and the plaque on the right for St Mary-le-Bow (look closely to see how the right vertical of the letter M has been combined with the L):
There are a number of boundary markers along King Street, including the pair shown in the following photo:
On the left is the marker for St Martin Pomeroy, which was in Ironmonger Lane, again another church lost during the Great Fire and not rebuilt:
On the right is St Mary Colechurch, again lost during the Great Fire, but stood on the corner of Cheapside and Old Jewry. This is one of the older parish boundary markers in the City, dating from 1789.
Below are two boundary markers. On the left is St Mary-le-Bow and on the right, St Lawrence Jewry in Guildhall Yard. Both of these plaques date from the 20th century showing that they were still relevant, and being updated.
Parishes had multiple boundary markers to show their boundaries with adjacent parishes, so another marker for St Martin Pomeroy:
There are also markers recording the ownership of property, as on the side of the building in the following photo:
Where on the left are the armorial bearings of the Grocers’ Company, and on the right those of the Goldsmiths:
On the corner of Old Jewry and Frederick’s Place:
There is a plaque with two dates, 1680 and 1775. I think this may be a parish boundary marker for St. Olave Jewry, a church that was demolished in 1888:
I am not sure why there are two dates, and whether the plaque originally dates from 1680, and the 1775 date was added when the boundary of the parish was reviewed and confirmed.
In Princes Street, on the wall of the Bank of England:
There are multiple plaques, with top left, St Margaret Lothbury. Top right is St C.P. a plaque for the church of St Christopher which was on the site of the current day Bank of England. Bottom left is a second plaque for St Margaret Lothbury, 43 years after the plaque above.
The plaques for St Margaret Lothbury are on the left as that was their side of the parish boundary, and the two dates show the years when the boundary was confirmed.
Plaques such as these now in the middle of a wall of a building show where the parish boundary would have been when the area was more subdivided into smaller streets and plots of land. Indeed Roque’s 1746 map of London shows Princes Street turning east at this point, into where the Bank now stands, and where the parish boundary would have run, as illustrated in the following map:
In Lombard Street is another cluster of markers:
Shown in detail below, on the left is a plaque of the Fishmongers Company, then is All Hallows, Lombard Street which was demolished in 1939, although the tower was moved to Twickenham, where it can still be seen (subject for a future blog post). Then there is a plaque of the Haberdashers Company, which must have been there to show property ownership of adjoining properties by the Fishmongers and Haberdashers. The plaque at lower right is showing the boundary of St Edmund, King and Martyr, a church which is still on Lombard Street:
On the Marks and Spencer, at the entrance to Cannon Street station, are two plaques:
On the left is the boundary marker of St Swithin, London Stone, a church that was badly damaged in 1949, and demolished in 1962. On the right is the boundary marker of another church lost during the Great Fire, the church of St Mary Bothaw, that stood on the site of Cannon Street station.
Opposite Cannon Street Station is a plaque to St John the Baptist. Destroyed during the Great Fire, a church that originally stood on the banks of the Walbrook:
Back on Cheapside, there is a small plaque on the first floor of a building:
The plaque has the arms of the Skinners Company:
Markers showing ownership of property are often on the edge of a building, to show where the boundary is with the adjacent property, as shown in the photos above, and the photo below:
Where there is a plaque showing the arms of the Haberdashers Company:
On a wall in Great Trinity Lane are three plaques:
The plaque on the left includes the full name of the church, details the distance from the wall to where the boundary extends, and includes the names of the churchwardens in 1889.
In the middle is St James, Garlickhythe. I cannot find the meaning of the H.T. plaque on the right. It does not have the “St.” prefix of a church, but not sure what else it could be.
In Carter Lane, on a building at the junction with St Andrews Hill:
On the right is a plaque identifying the boundary of Farringdon Ward Within:
And an FP plate on the left, which stands for Fire Plug. Apparently in the early days of the fire service, and when many underground water pipes were made out of wood, firemen would dig down to the water main and bore a small, circular hole in the pipe to obtain a supply of water to fight the fire.
When finished, they would put a wooden plug into the hole, and leave an FP plate on a nearby wall to alert future firefighters that a water main with a plug already existed.
That is just a small sample of the very many boundary markers and markers identifying property ownership, that can be found across the City of London. Considering how many must have been lost over the years, there must have been a considerable number, probably lasting to the early 20th century, identifying Ward boundaries, Parish boundaries and where the City Livery Company’s owned properties.
Of course, it is not just the City where these can be found, there are markers all over London.
As an example, the following view is looking towards Horse Guards, from Horse Guards Parade:
There is a central arch through the Horse Guards building, a route that has featured in recent royal events where processions will frequently pass through the arch, and a roof mounted camera follows processions through, however look to the roof of the arch as you walk through, and there are two parish boundary markers:
On the right is St Margaret, Westminster, with the suffix of No. 6 which presumably means that this was the 6th marker in a series that marked the parish boundary.
I suspect the marker on the left refers to St Martin in the Fields, adjacent to Trafalgar Square.
These boundary markers are a fascinating reminder of the importance of the parishes and wards in the City of London, even how churches that were lost during the Great Fire in 1666, and not rebuilt, still have their parish boundaries marked on the streets.
Historic property ownership by the livery companies of the City can also be traced by the plaque on the walls of City buildings.
Once you notice them, you will find them on walls all across the City.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the route that the body of Eleanor of Castile took to reach London, and the crosses that were built to mark the route. For today’s post I am tracing another of the historic routes that link London with the rest of the country.
Back in the 18th century, the speed of communication was mainly dependent on how long it took a horse and rider to travel between the source and destination of a message. Routine mail would be carried by stage coach and urgent messages would travel via a horse and rider who could travel much faster, but would still be limited by the speed of the horse, conditions of the roads, weather need to change and rest horses etc.
In 1770, the average time taken between London and Portsmouth was around 17 hours, but with improvements to road surfaces and coach building, by around 1820 this had improved to 9 hours for the fastest coaches.
The very best horse and rider could cover the route in just under 5 hours.
It seems remarkable when today we can make an instantaneous mobile phone call from almost anywhere in the country to the other side of the world, that just two hundred years ago it would take a day to get a message and answer between London and Portsmouth.
Portsmouth was important as it was the site of a major naval dockyard, and with the frequent wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was need to devise a system which could rapidly send messages between the Admiralty in London, and the naval dockyards.
The Napoleonic Wars of the later 18th century resulted in the Admiralty building a telegraph system that copied a system already set up by the French. This used a method where signaling stations were based at high points along the route between London and Portsmouth. At each station, there was a wooden shed with a shutter frame built above. The frame held six shutters in two columns, and each shutter could be opened or closed to send a message to the next station along the route.
It was claimed that a message could be sent between London and Portsmouth in just under 8 minutes.
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the system was dismantled, with Napoleon being held on the Isle of Elba.
Not long after, Napoleon escaped and returned to France, and the state of war between England and France resumed. The Admiralty needed another, and more permanent line of communication between London and Portsmouth, rather than the temporary wooden sheds set up for the shutter system.
The Admiralty created a new signaling line comprised of stations using a semaphore system, where the positions of two moveable arms would signify a message to be sent along the chain.
Signaling stations were needed at high points on the route between London and Portsmouth. Each station was equipped with a post and signaling arms, and had an observer with a telescope to keep an eye on the adjacent stations in the chain for any message that needed to be sent onwards.
The system was opened two hundred years ago, in 1822, and an article in Bell’s Weekly Messenger in September 1822 listed the stations as;
The Admiralty, Chelsea, Putney Heath, Kingston Hill, Cooper’s Hill, Chatley Hill, Pewley Hill, Bannicle Hill, Haste Hill, Holner Hill, Beacon Hill, Compton Down, Portsdown, Lumps Fort (Southsea) and Portsmouth naval dockyard.
In 1822 it was claimed that a message could be conveyed between the Admiralty in London to Portsmouth in one minute and a few seconds. This seems remarkable and must have been in ideal conditions, perfect visibility, and the staff at the stations were ready for the receipt and forwarding of a very short message. Reports of normal transmission times state that around 15 minutes was the time taken to send a message from one end of the chain to the other – still a remarkably short time.
There is one remaining, complete, semaphore tower on the line between London and Portsmouth, at Chatley Heath in Surrey. Indeed it is the only remaining complete semaphore tower in the country. It has recently been restored by the Landmark Trust who held an open day in the summer. so I went along to see this remaining example of two hundred year old communications technology that linked London with the south coast.
In the above map of the whole chain of stations, I have marked Chatley Heath with a red circle around the red dot.
Chatley Heath is part of a wider area of 800 acres of commons and rare heathland that is managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. There are paths across the heath, some of which are signposted to show the route to the semaphore tower:
The open day was on one of the hot days of summer, where the land was so dry following weeks with no rain, a big contrast as I type this, as it is cold, cloudy and there has been much rain over the last few weeks.
Following the path to the semaphore tower:
The following photo shows the first glimpse of the semaphore arms at the very top of the tower, just showing above the tree line in the distance in the centre of the photo:
Finally reaching the Chatley Heath semaphore tower. The one remaining, fully restored tower, and the tallest on the line between the Admiralty in London, and Portsmouth.
Each semaphore station was manned by a retired navy lieutenant and an observer, usually a retired sailor of the lieutenants choosing. The lieutenant would be in charge of the station, and the observer was responsible for using a telescope to keep an eye on adjacent stations to check for messages to be forwarded.
The very first officer at the Chatley Heath tower when it opened in 1822 was Lieutenant Edward Harris.
The Chatley Heath tower included accommodation with a small house built onto the base of the tower. The blocked up windows in the tower were probably done to save the cost of building and installing windows. The navy was exempt from window tax, so this would not have been the reason. The shape of the tower was also more cost effective than the complexity of building a circular tower.
The semaphore system used a code devised by Rear Admiral Sir Home Riggs Popham.
It was Popham who created the code using flags, allowing messages to be sent between ships at sea, and it was his code that sent the message from Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar that “England expects that every man will do his duty”. He was involved in a number of naval actions, and assaults on enemy land forces across the world, but must have spent some time at home as his wife had at least ten children.
Popham’s semaphore code used two arms on a wooden post. Each arm could assume any position on either side of the post, so could be either horizontal, vertical, or at an angle of 45 degrees, pointing up or down the post.
This arrangement created enough positions using the two arms that every letter of the alphabet, along with the numbers 0 to 9, could all be transmitted.
The two arms and vertical post:
From 1963 until 1988 the tower was left empty. It was vandalised and had suffered a major fire. It was restored in 1988 by Surrey County Council and then passed to the Surrey Wildlife Trust.
The age and very exposed position of the tower resulted in further, gradual deterioration, with water being a problem, getting into the tower around the base of the post, and around the windows.
The Landmark Trust then took on the tower and commenced a full restoration project in 2020. The Landmark Trust has restored and runs some remarkable buildings across the country, and following a restoration, they rent out the buildings for short stays, and this is now the future of the Chatley Heath semaphore tower.
The restoration including fitting out the tower so that it would include accommodation, so today, walking up the tower to the roof includes a walk through a number of rooms, which include a lounge:
There is a second bedroom (the tower now sleeps 4) and a bathroom.
In the kitchen, the restored mechanism used to control the position of the arms can be seen:
Once on the roof, it is easy to see why this was the chosen location for the station. It is one of the highest points in the local area at 59 meters above sea level, with the land dropping by 10 to 20 meters in the area surrounding the station.
This is the view looking towards London:
Zooming in from the roof of the tower, we can see the towers of London in the far distance, the Shard to the right is just over 31km from the Chatley Heath semaphore tower.
The semaphore post and arms seen from the top of the tower:
Operating the semaphore was not without its dangers. The Hampshire and Southampton County Newspaper reported on the 15th of August 1825 that: “During the thunder storm on Wednesday last, E. Oke, the signal man belonging to the semaphore in Portsmouth, was knocked down and remained insensible for several minutes. The semaphore was at work at the time, and the man had his hand on the wheel, which turns the arms to communicate intelligence to the next station. The whole apparatus is composed of metal, which, of course, attracted the lightning. The Lieutenant, who was standing close by, did not experience the slightest inconvenience, neither was any serious injury sustained by the man or the buildings”.
View looking towards the south, the next station at Pewley Hill was somewhere in the distance:
Chatley Heath was to be the branching point for another chain of semaphore stations, which would have run all the way to Plymouth, however this chain was only completed a short distance after Winchester.
The London to Portsmouth semaphore system ran from 1822 until 1847 when it was made redundant by the coming of the railways and the electric telegraph. The London & South Western Railway connected London to the south coast at Southampton, Gosport and Portsmouth and the new electric telegraph was laid alongside the railway. This provided a far more reliable and cost effective means of sending messages between the Admiralty and the naval dockyard at Portsmouth.
The semaphore line was closed at the end of 1847, and the staff made redundant, which must have been a blow to them as the staff were usually at the end of their naval careers and other opportunities for employment would have been limited.
The views from the tops of the semaphore tower show what a high location this is relative to the surrounding land. As well as the towers of the city shown in an earlier photo, from the top of the tower we can just about see the arch over the Wembley stadium in the distance:
The location of the semaphore stations can often be found in local naming, with Telegraph Hill being used at a couple of the old station locations. there is a Telegraph pub in Putney named after the original shutter telegraph on Putney Heath. There are a number of Telegraph Roads and Telegraph Houses along the route.
The London to Portsmouth semaphore / telegraph route was one of many that were built during the early decades of the 19th century. The admiralty built a number of chains to enable communication with key dockyards.
There were also commercial telegraph chains set-up. One, by a Lieutenant Watson was created between Holyhead and Liverpool and reported the names of ships passing Holyhead on their way to the docks at Liverpool. This would enable ship owners to have advance information of when their ships would be arriving in port.
This has a similar arrangement to the semaphore route between London and Portsmouth, however it uses two rather than one post, and it appears that one of the posts had two arms at the top. Presumably this arrangement was to allow more complex messages to be sent at a faster rate.
The Chatley Heath semaphore tower is a wonderful reminder of a time, only 200 years ago, when it took hours to send a message the distance from London to Portsmouth, and the technological change that started to speed up communication.
I have written a number of posts about the City of London blue plaques that can be seen along the street of the City, however there are also many more interesting plaques that tell an aspect of the City’s history, so starting with this post, I am expanding the scope of this occasional series.
I have also created a map which shows all the City plaques that I have so far covered, with links to the relevant post. The map can be found here.
City of London Police District – Princes Street
I am starting with what appears to be a remarkable survivor that can be seen just above the entrance to the Bank Underground Station on Princes Street:
The plaque states that the street is deemed to be within the special limits of the Metropolitan Streets Act of 1867:
The Special Limits were powers granted by the act to Police Commissioners, allowing them to set or amend regulations on vehicle traffic along the street, as well as what could be loaded and unloaded along the street, and which could have blocked footpaths. These regulations usually applied for the majority of the working day, and presumably were intended to avoid too much traffic or activities that could have slowed down both traffic and pedestrians.
For Special Limits to apply, the Police had to advertise the fact at the street, ten days before they came into force, so presumably the sign is one of these advertisements that the Special Limits of the Act would apply to Princes Street.
The Act dates from 1867, but I was interested in the date of the plaque.
For Special Limits to apply, the City of London Police would have needed the approval of a Secretary of State, and at the bottom of the plaque is the name of A. Akers Douglas, stating that he approved the request and that he was a Secretary of State.
This was Aretas Akers-Douglas, 1st Viscount Chilston, who was Home Secretary between 1902 and 1905.
To confirm this date, there is the name of Bower at the bottom of the plaque, and although this line of text is damaged, he is listed as a Commissioner of the City of London.
Bower refers to William Nott-Bower who was Commissioner of the City of London police from 1902 to 1925, so his first years in this role align with the time that Akers-Douglas was Home Secretary, so the plaque dates from between 1902 and 1905.
It is remarkable what this plaque has seen. The Imperial War Museum archive includes a photo of bomb damage at the Bank road junction on the 11th of January 1941 when a bomb crashed through the road and exploded in the booking hall of the underground station.
Look to the left edge of the photo, and on the wall of the Bank there appears to be a couple of signs, one at the correct place and size to be the sign we see today.
It is a remarkable survivor.
Captain Ralph Douglas Binney – Birchin Lane
The next plaque is in Birchin Lane, part of the network of narrow streets and alleys between Cornhill and Lombard Street. Roughly half way along the lane, close to the entrance to Bengal Court, there is a plaque on a side wall, to the right of the following photo:
The plaque was given by the Royal Navy in memory of Captain Ralph Douglas Binney who died on the 8th of December 1944 from injuries received, when bravely and alone he confronted violent men raiding a jeweller’s shop in the lane:
The event made the national newspapers, and the following is from the Daily Mirror on the 9th of December 1944:
“Captain Dragged To Death By Bandits’ Car: Horrified crowds saw an act of gangster callousness in the streets of London yesterday, as cold-blooded as anything known in the wild days of Chicago under prohibition.
They saw a 56 year old naval officer who had flung himself at a smash and grab bandits’ car dragged along to drop dying in the roadway half a mile further along.
They saw the car speed ruthlessly on as the officer, Captain Ralph Binney, caught in the chassis of the car, cried out for help. Captain Binney, chief staff officer to Admiral Naismith, leapt on to the running board of the car as it swept away at high speed from the shop of a jewellers in Birchin-lane, EC4.
The Captain called to the bandits to stop, but £3,500 of jewellery, looted from the shop window, and their own freedom was worth more than a human life to the robbers.
Driving on to King William-street, carrying the captain with them, the bandits disappeared towards London bridge.
Three hours later, in a quiet ward in Guy’s Hospital, the heroic captain murmured a dying farewell to his wife and his brother, Colonel Binney. His chief, Admiral Naismith hurried into the ward twenty minutes too late.
Last night the car was found abandoned in Tooley-street, SE. Police are anxious to contact anyone who, during the last few days, sold a new woodman’s axe, the weapon believed to have been used to smash the jewellers’ window.
Captain Binney had served thirty six years in the Navy. After six years in retirement hewas put in charge of harbour defences at Gallipoli. On his return home in 1942 he was awarded the C.B.E.
Captain Binney leaves behind a widow and a daughter who is training as a nurse. His sub-lieutenant son was killed aboard H.M.S. Tyndale a year ago.”
There was a huge police hunt for those who had carried out the raid, and on the 12th of January, 1945 newspapers were reporting that “At Mansion House, London, today, Thomas James Jenkins (34), welder, of Rotherhithe, and Ronald Hedley, (26) labourer, were charged, with two men not in custody, with the murder of Capt. Binney, who, said counsel, was killed while doing his duty as a brave citizen.”
Ronald Hedley was convicted of the murder of Captain Binney and was sentenced to death, however this was later reprieved and he served 9 years in jail. Thomas Jenkins was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to 8 years in prison.
It appears that there were three others involved in the raid, but I cannot find any reference to their being identified, caught or sentenced.
Following Binney’s death, his naval colleagues formed a trust that would award a medal to a recipient who had shown bravery in the support of law and order in the areas controlled by the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police.
The Binney award / medal appears to be an award that is still given, and is administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers, now covering the whole country, rather than the Metropolitan and City of London Police forces.
The next plaque is in Change Alley, which runs off from Birchin Lane:
Marine Society – Change Alley
Change Alley is a strange alley as there are multiple branches of the alley, including two separate branches between Cornhill and Lombard Street. In the core of this network of alleys is a blue plaque on the corner of a building:
The plaque records that it is on the site of the King’s Arms Tavern, where the first meeting of the Marine Society was held on the 25th of June, 1756:
1756 was the year of the start of the Seven Years’ War, which ran between 1756 and 1763, and could be called the first world war, as it involved England, Spain and France, Prussia, Austria, Russia and Sweden. With conflict taking place in North America, across the Oceans and in the colonies occupied by the countries involved.
England was at war with the French, and the Marine Society was formed to provide additional naval resources to support the conflict. A newspaper report from the 2nd of July, 1756 reports on the founding purpose of the society:
“We hear the Marine Society lately formed by some eminent Merchants of this City, intend to open with the following noble Scheme. They purpose to fit out a Number of fine sailing Ships of War, and to send them to invest the Island of Minorca quite round, in order to prevent the French from sending to their Army any Reinforcements of Supplies; and at the same time to distress their Commerce in the Mediterranean. We wish there may be Time for the Execution of such a public spirited project.”
The primary aim of the Marine Society was to recruit boys and young men for the Navy. They would be recruited from the poor, orphans, the homeless. They would be clothed and fed, then sent from London to join ships at one of the Navy dockyards.
The following year, in 1757, the Marine Society were sending recruits to the Navy. The following newspaper report is a typical example of mid-18th century journalism, and describes the process and ceremony when the recruits left London:
“Last Wednesday 75 friendless Boys and 40 stout young Men, all Volunteers, were completely clothed by the Marine Society to go on board the Fleet, and at One o’clock the same Day they were drawn up on Constitution Hill, in order to express their Gratitude to his Majesty with three Cheers for his late Royal Bounty.
His Majesty’s Coach went very slow all along the Bank, and a Smile expressive of paternal Delight overspread his Royal Countenance; from thence they marched to the Admiralty whoexpressed great Pleasure at the Sight; from thence the Boys went to Lord Blakeney’s Head in Bow-street, Covent Garden, to dine on Roast Beef and Plumb Pudding; and Members of the Marine Society to the Crown and Anchor Tavern to Dinner, which consisted of one Course made up of Dishes truly English, namely, Roast Beef, Hams and Haunches of Mutton; after Dinner his Majesty’s Health, the Prince of Wales’s, &c. were drank, attended by the proper Salutes of Cannon; in the Evening they marched with the Men and Boys at their Head, to the Theatre Royal in Drury-Lane, where the Comedy of the Suspicious Husband was performed for the Benefit of the Marine Society, to a most brilliant Audience.
The Men and Boys were on Thursday reviewed by the Marine Society, at the Royal Exchange, and marched off to Portsmouth.”
The term “friendless boys” refers to orphans. With the relatively high mortality rate among the poor of the City, it was not unusual for a child to loose both parents and be left on the streets. These children were one of the target recruiting areas for the Marine Society. How much they knew of what they were getting into, and whether they really were volunteers is questionable.
After the recruiting exercise covered in the above report, the King gave £1,000 “to be paid for the use of the Marine Society”.
The number of conflicts the country was involved in during the late 18th century required a continual supply of manpower for the Navy, and in 1790, the Marine Society “since the appearance of a Spanish war, have already clothed and fitted out for sea, 1672 men and boys, most of them poor wretches, a burden to the community”.
The last sentence again highlights the target area for recruits, and that they were considered a burden to the community. Their transfer to the Navy relieved that burden and put them into a role that society at the time considered worthwhile.
The Marine Society would evolve over the late 18th and 19th centuries. It was recognised that sending recruits to the Navy who had a degree of training was of more benefit, so the society started training, and in 1786 the Marine Society became the first organization in the world to have a dedicated training ship, moored in the Thames at Deptford, where recruits would be trained before being sent to the Navy and the Merchant fleet.
Training became a growing element of the Marine Society’s role. The Navy would grow their own recruiting and training operation, so the Marine Society expanded their brief to the Merchant Navy and seafarers in general.
Based in a rather nice red brick building in Lambeth, next to the railway into Waterloo, the Marine Society is still in operation today. In recent years it has merged with the Sea Cadets and is now a major training organisation for seafarers and the maritime community – all from that meeting in a tavern in Change Alley in 1756.
Change Alley is an interesting set of alleys to explore. Many of the buildings that face onto the alley are the backs of the buildings that face onto the main streets of the area, so they present a very different view. Of much cheaper construction, no ornamentation, and with exposed utilities, such as the following building with multiple pipes leading up to the sky:
Despite many of these buildings being hidden in the alley, some do have a degree of decoration relating to the company that occupied the building:
My next plaque was in the same alley:
Jonathan’s Coffee House – Change Alley
The following photo is in one of the legs of Change Alley, and to the right of the middle small tree, there is a blue plaque, down almost at ground level:
The plaque states that on the site stood Jonathan’s Coffee House between 1680 and 1778, the principal meeting place of the City’s stockbrokers:
Funds raised by the Crown and by Government had been in the form of arbitrary taxes and by the selling of the right to operate a monopoly, along with the raising of debts which were often not repaid.
As commercial activity expanded, and trade increased a more formal system was needed which ensured that the state could raise funds, and those lending these funds were assured that they would be repaid, with interest.
This led to the creation of “English Funds” which were basically the government debt which could be bought and sold. These funds would have a repayment date, and paid the owner of the funds interest. They therefore had a value.
Trading of these funds started in the Royal Exchange, and in 1698, many of those involved in the trading of these funds and securities started operating in Jonathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley. The move was down to laws that were enacted to limit the numbers of brokers and to more regulate the market, as so many people had been tempted into the market based on “false rumours and reports were propagated to raise or depreciate the value of stocks. Mines of wealth were promised, stratagems of every kind were rife; some made fortunes, others were ruined”.
Many of the roles and terminology in play at Jonathan’s Coffee House are still in use today, although many did disappear as recently as the 1980s with the deregulation of the Stock Market during the “Big Bang”.
An 1828 description of Jonathan’s Coffee House also describes the meaning of many of the terms associated with stocks and share trading:
“In Change-alley was formerly a rendezvous of dealingin the funds, and the term Alley is still a cant phrase for the Stock Exchange, and hence a petty speculator in the funds is styled ‘a dabbler in the alley’. A stock-broker is one who buys and sells stocks for another; his commission is one-eighth per cent. A stock-jobber is one who buys and sells on his own account, buys in when low and endeavours to sell out at a profit.
A gambler in the funds is one who speculates to buy or sell at a future time for a present price, who may lose or gain according as the prices then fall or rise; this being illegal, no action for recovery of loss can be maintained. The buyers are styled ‘bears’ as they endeavour to trample down the prices; the sellers are named bulls, for a like reason as they attempt to toss them as high as possible. One who becomes bankrupt is termed a lame duck, and he is said to ‘waddle out of the alley’. Those who have thus waddled are not again admitted to the Stock Exchange”.
Jonathan’s Coffee House was destroyed in a fire that started on the 30th of March 1748 in Change Alley, in the premises of Mr Eldrige’s, a Peruke-maker (the long wigs worn by upper class men). Much of Change Alley, and some houses on Cornhill were destroyed, however Jonathan’s Coffee House was soon rebuilt, and trading continued.
Those engaged in trading at Jonathan’s Coffee House moved to a new location in Threadneedle Street in 1773, and papers on the 17th of July 1773 were reporting that at the new location: “Yesterday the brokers and others at New Jonathan’s came to a resolution, that instead of it being called New Jonathan’s, it should be named The Stock Exchange, which is to be wrote over the door. The brokers then collected sixpence each, and christened the House with punch.”
The Stock Exchange as it was now called began trading on more formal lines, and traders had to pay a fee to enter the trading room.
The Stock Exchange would continue trading within a physical place until the 1980s, when the deregulation of London’s financial markets resulted in the transition to screen based trading. The Stock Exchange moved from their Threadneedle Street location to offices in Paternoster Square in 2004 as a trading location was not needed, only offices for the administration, regulation and management of the Stock Exchange.
Following the change of debt being raised by the country, rather than the Crown imposing taxes or borrowing money, the national debt has always been a cause for concern.
In 1783, the National Debt stood at around £250 million. It had risen throughout the 18th century due to the many wars that the country was involved with. and which required considerable funding. Pitt the Younger who became Prime Minister in December 1783 put in place a number of changes to both clamp down on tax evasion (such as smuggling), and increasing taxes which resulted in the debt coming under control and confidence in the Pound being restored.
By comparison, the Office for National Statistics reports that the UK debt was £2,436.7 billion at the end of Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2022. Taxes are increasing and there was recently a brief loss of confidence in the Pound – something’s never really change. The “English Balloon” just gets much larger.
My final location is in Lombard Street, to the south of Change Alley, however my last comment on the alley is the origin of the name. It was originally called Exchange Alley as it was opposite the Royal Exchange. The name simply became abbreviated to Change Alley. Now leaving the alley to the south to find:
Lloyd’s Coffee House – Lombard Street
To the right of the main entrance to Sainsbury’s in the following photo is a blue plaque:
Marking the site of Lloyd’s Coffee House:
Very much like Jonathan’s Coffee House, Lloyd’s Coffee House was the original site for a City institution that is still running today.
Lloyd’s Coffee House was opened by an Edward Lloyd in February 1688. Initially in Tower Street, the Coffee House moved to the Lombard Street location indicated by the plaque in 1691.
Lloyd’s Coffee House became a meeting place for those involved in shipping and marine insurance.
The coffee house started publishing its own newspaper using the information gathered from customers, and the paper became an essential resource for those working in shipping related industries of the City.
An article / advertisement published on the 12th of June, 1758 explained why the paper had so much early information:
“This day is published number 140 of Lloyd’s Evening Post and British Chronicle. A paper of Military, Naval, Commercial and Literary Intelligence published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening at Seven O’clock.
Lloyd’s Coffee House is known to be the centre of intelligence, from the most considerable trading parts of the world, and accounts of naval transactions are frequently received there even before they arrive at the First Offices of State. Many articles of intelligence have therefore appeared in this paper, the authenticity of which has been questioned by news writers in the common posts, who, unable to fathom how they were attainable at first have, after exploding them, adopted and inferred them in their Papers as new, many days after they appeared in this.
It is no wonder therefore that this paper has met with uncommon opposition, the most notorious falsehoods have been propagated to prejudice it, its connection with Lloyd’s Coffee House has been publicly denied, and the facts inferred in it have been efficiently discredited. Notwithstanding which the paper thrives. Truth, which will always manifest itself, has dispersed the clouds of falsehood, and the merit of the paper has rendered all detraction and opposition ineffectual.
Advertisements are taken in at Lloyd’s Coffee House in Lombard Street.”
I love that the colourful language of the article, defending its position as an early source of news, ends with a simple statement about where advertisements should be sent.
Edward Lloyd died on the 15th of February 1713, and his son-in-law William Newton took over. Newton had married Lloyd’s daughter Handy, who died in 1720.
After 1763, the reputation of the coffee house started to decline. It became a place of gambling and also stock jobbing (as took place at Jonathan’s Coffee House), and a New Lloyd’s Coffee House opened at 5 Pope’s Head Alley in 1769, although the Lombard Street coffee house continued in business, still a meeting place for those in the shipping and maritime insurance trades.
The Society for the Registry of Shipping was founded at Lloyd’s Coffee House in 1760, and in 1786 the society moved to new premised at number 4 Sun Court, Cornhill.
So from Lloyd’s Coffee House, two City institutions evolved:
what would become the Lloyds of London Insurance market were the activities that moved from Lloyd’s Coffee House to 5 Pope’s Head Alley and;
what would become Lloyd’s Register which is now in Fenchurch Street were the activities that moved from Lloyd’s Coffee House to 4 Sun Court.
Five very different plaques which highlight the varied history of the City of London, and which have had significant influence on the city we see today.
Thanks for all the feedback to last week’s series of posts on Eleanor of Castile – very much appreciated. A very different post today, as I am visiting the site of one of my father’s photos, and this is of the Spaniards Inn in Hampstead, photographed in 1948:
I had to be in Hampstead last week, so used the opportunity to cross this one off my list of my father’s photos to visit, however it was a misty, autumn day. I waited for much longer than the weather forecast predicted it would take for the mist to disappear, and finally had to take a misty comparison photo before I had to leave, so this is the same view today, a misty Spaniards Inn in 2022:
Different weather, different perspective due to very different cameras, and colour vs. black and white, however, look past that and the two views are almost identical across 74 years.
Even the small triangular pavement between the two car park entrances is still the same. The cars approaching along the road from behind the pub are though very different.
The Spaniards is a very old pub, believed to date back to the 16th century.
As with any pub of such age, there are plenty of stories about the pub, many of which have been repeated in newspapers and books for at least the last 150 years, so may well have a grain of truth.
Regarding the name, I have read two different accounts, firstly that there may have been two Spanish owners of the pub, who killed each other in a duel, secondly, that the pub was named after the Spanish Ambassador to James II.
There are stories that the highwayman Dick Turpin used the pub, and kept his horse in one of the buildings.
What does seem to be true is that the pub played a role in the Gordon Riots. This was in June 1780 when there were violent anti-Catholic riots in London. At the time, Kenwood House, not far from the Spaniards, was the home of the Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice. He was rumoured to have pro-Catholic sympathies, so the rioters set out from central London with the intention of burning down Mansfield’s Kenwood House.
The rioters stopped in the large gardens of the Spaniards Inn, and the landlord, along with the Earl of Mansfield’s steward gave the rioters large amount of drink, which gave them time to summon soldiers, and by the time they arrived, the rioters were in no fit state to resist.
The Spaniards Inn also features in Dickens’ book, Pickwick papers where Mrs. Bardell and her friends take the Hampstead Stage to the Spaniards Tea Gardens. The Inn is also mentioned in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where the vampire hunter Van Helsing, after having supper in Jack Straws Castle, then: “By good chance we got a cab near the “Spaniards,” and drove to town.”
Many of the literary and artistic inhabitants of, and visitors to Hampstead are believed to have visited the Spaniards Inn, including Keats, Shelley, Byron, Hogarth and Constable.
I walked to the Spaniards Inn from Hampstead, firstly walking up to Spaniards Road, where there is one of type of street signs that can be found across Hampstead, which also has a pointing hand symbol indicating the direction to Highgate.
The road between Hampstead and Highgate runs along the north and north-western borders of the heath, and the Spaniards Inn can be found at roughly the half way point along the heath’s border. Spaniards Road runs up to the inn, and soon after the road changes name to Hampstead Lane – one of the indicators that the inn has long formed a boundary between Hampstead and Highgate.
My father’s photo shows the corner of the Spaniards Inn directly on the road, with a car just coming from behind the pub. To discover why the inn is at such a historic location, we need to zoom out to a wider view of the road that runs to the side of the inn:
As the road passes the Spaniards Inn, it narrows and bends around the corner of the inn. On the opposite side of the road is a small square building.
This point in the road was the location of a toll gate, and travelers had to pay a toll when passing along the road in the direction of Highgate, as the land to the west of the tollgate was owned by the Bishops of London.
The square building on the opposite side of the road was the 18th century toll gate house.
The Spaniards Inn and the toll gate feature in John Rocque’s 1746 map of London.
In the following extract, I have circled the location of the inn and the gate:
I love the detail that can be found in Rocque’s maps. In the map below, I have zoomed in on the location of the inn and the toll gate. Where the toll gate is located, there is a dotted line across the street (see red arrow), which I assume is a representation of the gate that would have barred the street to allow collection of tolls.
The name Spaniards Gate can be seen above, implying that the gate took the name from the inn. one interesting feature is the way the road is represented on either side of the toll gate. To the right of the toll gate is the Bishop of London’s land. The road looks wider and more defined. To the left of the gate, the road is narrow and seems more like a track.
The toll was collected when you travelled into the Bishops of London land, moving left to right in the above map, and when you passed through the gate, you also started to travel on better roads. Even today, the road widens soon after passing the toll gate heading to the east.
As the road between Hampstead and Highgate passes the Spaniards Inn, traffic has to slow as there is not really enough space for two cars to pass through the gap.
The road is a busy road with an almost continuous stream of traffic. It took a while to get some reasonably traffic free photos.
it is remarkable that the toll gate house, and the narrow width of the road has remained as traffic has increased. There have been a number of attempts to remove the toll gate house, and widen the road, for example, one hundred years ago, the Hampstead and St John’s Wood Advertiser on the 14th of December 1922 reported that:
“The proposal to widen the road where it forms a sort of bottle-neck by the Spaniards Inn at the Highgate end of Hampstead Heath, if carried out, would probably mean a destruction of the famous old tavern, and the little brick building that stands opposite to it, on the Kenwood side of the road. In spite of the great volume of traffic on the Spaniards-road itself, on high days and holidays, it is not really a main thoroughfare to anywhere.”
The 1922 proposal to widen the road did not make any progress, and almost 40 years later, in 1961 there was another attempt, as reported in the Hampstead News, Golders Green Gazette and Journal on the 27th of January 1961:
“Tollhouse: Council Must Act – The L.C.C.’s proposed demolition of the Tollhouse at the Spaniards Inn, Hampstead Heath, for road improvements was brought to a head at a meeting of the Hampstead Borough Council at the town hall last night.
Cllr. Richard Butterfield asked the council to approve a motionopposing the demolition because of the historical association and usefulness in helping the traffic problem. He asked that copies of the resolution be sent to the L.C.C., other local authorities involved, local Members of Parliament, and to the Minister of Transport.”
The future of the toll gate even reached the House of Lords when a question was put to the Government on the 2nd of February 1966. Lord Colwyn obviously wanted the toll gate demolished and asked the following question:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will arrange for the removal of the obstruction at the Spaniard’s Inn, Hampstead Lane.”
Lord Lindgren, the Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Power replied – “My Lords, I presume that the noble Lord is referring to the old toll gate opposite the Spaniard’s Inn. Her Majesty’s Government have no powers to arrange for its removal. This is a problem essentially for the Greater London Council and the London Boroughs of Barnet and Camden, as the local authorities concerned, and I understand that they will be discussing it soon.”
Lord Colwyn wanted some action, as he replied – “My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for his Answer. May I ask whether he would get in touch with the Camden Council and the Barnet Council with a view to moving this obstruction backwards, putting it on Hampstead Heath, or putting up traffic lights? At the moment it causes a terrific traffic block.”
Lord Colwyn was Mr. Frederick Smith. He died not long after asking the above question, and the only reason I can find for appearing to want the demolition of the toll gate was that reports of his death included that he lived in St John’s Wood to the south of Hampstead, so perhaps he travelled along Spaniards Road and felt having the narrow bend in the road was an inconvenience.
The toll gate survived both the plans of the L.C.C. and the attentions of Lord Colwyn, however it would have to wait until 1974 when it would finally be listed as a Grade II building, under the ownership and care of Camden Council.
The following photo shows the toll gate house as seen from the Hampstead side. The oval plaque on the side of the building was put up by the Heath and Hampstead Society to record the function of the building.
In the above photo, a black and white bollard can be seen at the corner of the building. This was installed in 2008 to provide some protection from the traffic that passes so close to the building.
It is Grade II listed, and the Historic England listing states that the building is inspected regularly and is in good condition.
Just behind the Spaniards Inn is one of the many large buildings that can be found across Hampstead. It is a challenge to walk any distance in Hampstead and not find a blue plaque, and my walk to the Spaniards was no exception.
The building has a blue plaque at the entrance, recording that Dame Henrietta Barnett and Cannon Samuel Barnett lived in the house and that Henrietta was founder of the Hampstead Garden Suburb.
The Barnett’s were a married couple that had a significant impact on Hampstead, and on London. On her death in 1936, the Hampstead News dedicated a full page to her life, and the following is an introduction:
“Born 85 years ago, she dedicated herself at an early age to a life of social service. When she was 21 she married Canon S.A. Barnett, who had just been become Vicar of St. Jude’s Whitechapel. This was a very poor district affording ample scope for her unusual abilities and unbounded energy, and she at one threw herself into parish work. In 1875 she was appointed manager of the Forest Gate District School, holding this position until 1897, and from 1876 to 1898 she was honorary secretary of the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Students. During this period she found time to engage in promoting homes for workhouse and feeble-minded girls.
It was Mrs. Barnett who started the Children’s Country Holiday Fund, and in 1884 she founded the London Pupil Teachers Association, of which she was President from 1891 to 1907. She also put in much hard work as a member of the committee which formed the Whitechapel Art Gallery.
In 1883 a number of undergraduates from Oxford and Cambridge came, at the suggestion of Mrs. Barnett to live in Whitechapel during the vacations. From this Toynbee Hall developed, and Mrs. Barnett helped her husband enthusiastically in this new field. She later introduced the settlement system in America with great success.
It is, however, as the founder of the Hampstead Garden Suburb that she will be best remembered, at any rate in North West London. Her aim was to establish a healthy community in beautiful surroundings, coupled with architecture and town planning on artistic lines, in a way which did not limit these advantages to the wealthier classes. She formed the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust, and building was commenced in 1907. All who live in north-west London know what the ‘suburb’ is today.”
Three buildings with some fascinating history. The Barnett’s house, the Spaniards Inn and the toll gate house, all at this historic crossing point between Hampstead and Highgate, and the original western boundary of the Bishops of London land. A boundary that can still be seen on the street today.
Hopefully, both the Spaniards Inn and the toll gate house will still mark the boundary for very many years to come.
The procession carrying Eleanor’s body now commenced the final part of the journey, which would take Eleanor’s coffin through the City of London, then west towards Westminster Abbey where she would be buried.
The map also shows the distance covered by the procession taking Eleanor’s body from the site of her death in the small village of Harby at the very top all the way to London. Each of the red circles indicates one of the overnight stopping points which I have covered in previous posts.
The procession left Waltham Abbey on Thursday the 14th of December 1290, headed to the location of the future Waltham Cross, where it turned south towards London.
The aim of the easterly diversion to Waltham Abbey may have been due to the importance of the Abbey, and it may also have been to allow an entry into the City from the east, as the procession entered the City of London through the gate at Bishopsgate.
Eleanor’s coffin rested in Holy Trinity Priory overnight, and the procession set off again the following day to head west. Passing along Cheapside, one of the main streets of the City, the procession headed to the Franciscan friary of Grey Friars, which I have touched on in this post.
After Grey Friars, Eleanor’s coffin was taken to the old St Paul’s Cathedral, where it probably stayed overnight as it would not head to Westminster until the following day.
An Eleanor Cross was built in Cheapside, possibly confirming that Eleanor stayed overnight in St Paul’s, also because the procession had passed along Cheapside, and also because Cheapside was a major City street, and it has been clear from finding the sites of the previous crosses that they were placed in prominent positions. Edward I wanted Eleanor remembered, so putting a cross in a prominent place would ensure that Eleanor was kept in the public memory for centuries to come.
There are no remains of the Cheapside cross today, however we do have a record of its location.
The so called Agas map of around 1561 (probably wrongly attributed to the surveyor Ralph Agas), shows the cross in Cheapside, circled in the following extract:
The cross was located just to the west of where Wood Street joins Cheapside, as can be seen in the followed detailed extract from the Agas map:
The Eleanor Cross is to the left, and Wood Street can be seen heading north from Cheapside. There appears to be another, much smaller cross just to the east, and Bow Church can be seen in the lower right of the map.
In the following photo, I am standing in the middle of Cheapside, looking west. The tree on the right is in Wood Street, so the Eleanor Cross would have stood in the middle of the road, just behind and to the right of where the person is crossing the road.
Just in Wood Street, and to the right of where the tree is located, was the church of St Peter, West Chepe, and in the book “London Churches Before The Great Fire” by Wilberforce Jenkins (1917), the old church was described:
“The ‘Church of St Peter, West Chepe, stood on the corner of Wood Street, Cheapside, and was not rebuilt after the Fire. The well-known tree in Cheapside marks the spot, and a small piece of the churchyard remains. It was sometimes called St Peter-at-Cross, being opposite the famous Cross which stood in the middle of the street, and was at one time an object of pride and veneration, and at a later period the object of execration and many riots, until pulled down and burnt by the mob. The date of the ancient church is uncertain, but there would appear to be a reference to it in 1231. In the ‘Liber Albus’, one Geoffrey Russel is mentioned as having been present when a certain Ralph Wryvefuntaines was stabbed in the churchyard of St Paul’s and being afraid of being accused, fled for sanctuary to the Church of St Peter.
Thomas Wood, goldsmith and sheriff, is credited with having, in 1491, restored or rebuilt the roof of the middle aisle, the structure being supported by figures of woodmen. Hence, so tradition says, came the name of the street, Wood Street.”
The “famous Cross” mentioned in the above extract in bold text, was the Cheapside Eleanor Cross.
The cross was a large structure and had been rebuilt in the late 15th century when it was decorated with religious iconography including images of the Pope and the Virgin. From the mid 16th century onwards, the cross was the subject of attack by puritans who objected to the religious symbols on the cross.
1643 was one of the early years of the English Civil War, and was a time when many of the Eleanor Crosses were destroyed. They were seen as being religiously symbolic and it was also the royal references which led to damage and destruction of the crosses.
The Cheapside Cross had been rebuilt and by the end of the 15th century appears to have been more a religious monument than the original design dedicated to Eleanor, The text that goes with the above print states that “Leaden Popes burnt in the place where it stood”, which must have been lead statues of the Pope which had been placed on the cross.
The lower part of the print shows the “Boocke of Sportes” being burnt where the cross stood on the 10th of May.
The Book of Sports was a controversial book originally published by James I in 1618. This was in response to the growing Puritan influence on the church, which tried to ban sports and pastimes on Sundays. Not a popular action given that Sunday was the only day off for much of the population. The Book of Sports was a declaration confirming the right of all persons to engage in ‘lawful recreation’ on Sundays after they had attended a church service.
The book was reissued by Charles I in 1633, and he ordered the document to be read in churches to make clear that people could continue with their normal recreations after service.
The growing Puritan influence brought about by the Civil War enabled the restrictions on Sunday recreations to be imposed, and the Book of Sports was often burnt as shown in the print.
On the assumption that Eleanor’s coffin stayed in St Paul’s Cathedral overnight, if not, it must have been a nearby religious establishment, the procession left on Saturday the 16th of December 1290, and headed to the Dominican Priory at Blackfriars, where a mass was held.
If you remember back to the first post in this series, Eleanor’s heart had been one of her organs removed in Lincoln, and the box containing the heart had travelled separately to London, where it was held at Blackfriars. We shall return here at the very end of the post.
Leaving Blackfriars, the procession then continued west to Westminster Abbey, passing through the village of Charing, the name of which appears to have come from the old English word for a bend in a river.
Charing was the site for the last of the Eleanor Crosses, built by the King’s Mason Richard Crundale between 1291 and 1293. Richard was helped by his son, and here is another example of how difficult it is to be sure of names and facts. The English Heritage references to the cross refer to his son Robert, however The London Encyclopedia by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, refers to his son as Roger. A minor detail, but I do find that unless you can find an original, primary resource, it is very difficult to be absolutely sure of facts.
The Charing Cross was apparently the most impressive of all the crosses, which would have made sense given the location of the cross.
It was taken down on the orders of Parliament in 1647, and the stones were allegedly used in various building works in Whitehall.
The site of the cross was where the statue of King Charles I stands today, on the edge of Trafalgar Square, seen slightly to the right of the following photo:
The Agas map also shows the Charing Cross, and as can be seen in the following extract, it stood in a very prominent position. Much of the area was still undeveloped, however it stood in the centre of the junction of a major road to the north, east to the City and west to Westminster. Again so that Eleanor’s memory would be kept in the public memory for many centuries to come.
Following the restoration of Charles II, one of the Regicides (those who had signed the death warrant of Charles I), was executed on the site of the Eleanor Cross. This was Colonel Thomas Harrison who was hung, drawn and quartered on the site of the cross.
A closer view of the statue of Charles I where the Eleanor Cross once stood:
Just behind the statue is a plaque set into the ground which records that the site of the statue was the site of the Eleanor Cross.
The plaque also states that mileages from London are traditionally measured from the site of the original Eleanor Cross, so another example of how the influence of Eleanor’s death can be found today.
As well as adding the word “Cross” to the original village name of “Charing”, Eleanor’s influence can also be seen outside the station of Charing Cross where a Victorian reproduction cross stands in front of the old station hotel:
This reproduction Eleanor Cross was designed by Edward Barry and finished in 1865.
Edward Barry was building on a mid 19th century trend for crosses based on the surviving Eleanor Crosses. This trend was started by the architect George Gilbert Scott. He was working in Northampton in the 1830s and therefore may well have seen the Hardingstone cross.
He would go on to design a number of similar crosses, including the Martyrs Memorial in Oxford, which looks very much like an Eleanor Cross.
The lower part of the cross displays the arms of England, Ponthieu and of Eleanor of Castile. Above are statues of Eleanor looking out from the cross:
Reminders of the Eleanor Cross extend below as well as above ground at Charing Cross. If you use the Northern Line at the station, you will be greeted by murals running the length of the station platform:
These were created in 1979 by David Gentleman. He researched in detail how a mason would have built the crosses, and the murals run the length of the platform telling the story of the crosses from quarrying the stone, through to completion:
The man on the left is holding a pair of dividers which were used for measurement. In the middle, a stone mason is working on a statue of Eleanor:
Pulling a statue of Eleanor towards a cross, not sure what the two people are doing who appear to be fighting:
A statue of Eleanor arrives at the cross, ready to be installed:
Passing the future location of the cross at Charing, the procession with Eleanor’s body continued on to Westminster Abbey where it stayed overnight.
The funeral was held on Sunday the 17th of December 1290. The service was conducted by the Benedictine monks of the abbey, and Eleanor was buried in a temporary coffin in the abbey as with the suddenness and early age of her death, a fitting tomb for a Queen of England had not yet been prepared.
Westminster Abbey, much modified since Eleanor’s funeral in 1290:
The history of Westminster Abbey deserves several blogs, so for today’s post, the main aim of my visit is to find Eleanor’s tomb rather than explore the history of the abbey.
The interior of the abbey:
Eleanor’s tomb was built in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey. I contacted the abbey to see if it was possible to take a photo of the tomb with the bronze effigy of Eleanor, however they do not allow photography within the chapel as it is the spiritual heart of the abbey.
You can see the tomb from outside the chapel, as the tombs in the chapel are arranged around the edge, so after following the route of Eleanor’s body from the small village of Harby where she died, through all the towns and villages where Edward I ordered a cross to be built in memory of Eleanor, I finally stood alongside the tomb where her body was placed:
The tomb was built by Richard Crundale, who was also responsible for the Eleanor Cross at Charing. On the top of the tomb, the gilt bronze effigy of Eleanor, cast by goldsmith William Torel in 1291, is just visible.
On the side of the tomb are the arms which have also been found all along the journey from Harby. The arms of England, of Ponthieu (Eleanor’s mother and which Eleanor also inherited) and of Eleanor of Castile.
Nearby is the tomb of Eleanor’s husband, Edward I, who died almost 17 years later in July 1307:
There is so much to discover at Westminster Abbey, but for now, a couple of highlights, including a door that is believed to date from 1050, so would have been from the time of Edward the Confessor:
The interior of the Chapter House, believed to have been built by Edward’s father, Henry III:
Decorated seating for the monks around the outer wall of the Chapter House:
The floor of the Chapter House is one of the finest medieval tile pavements in England, and contains the arms of Edward’s father, Henry III:
Eleanor and Edward could well have walked on this tiled floor.
Nearby is the Pyx Chamber, one of the oldest parts of the abbey, dating from around 1070:
The funeral of Eleanor at Westminster Abbey was not however the final act in the long funeral of Eleanor of Castile, there was one last act for Edward I to attend to, and that was the burial of Eleanor’s heart at the Dominican Priory at Blackfriars on Tuesday the 19th of December, 1290.
The priory at Blackfriars was well known to Edward and Eleanor as they had refounded the friary in the 1270s. The heart of their son Alfonso who had died in 1284 at the age of 10 had already been buried at Blackfriars, so Eleanor probably had been planning for her heart to be buried with that of her son.
Apart from the name, there is not much left of Blackfriars today. I did visit a place where the ceremony during the burial of her heart may have taken place, in a previous post on Carter Lane.
An alley by the name of Church Entry turns off from Carter Lane:
There is a small garden on the western side of the alley:
With a plaque that states that this plot of land is where the preaching nave of the church of the Great Dominican Priory of Blackfriars once stood, so standing in the garden you are in the general area of where the last acts in the funeral of Eleanor of Castile played out in 1290.
Standing at Blackfriars marked the end of my journey from the village of Harby, all the way to London. A fascinating story of a fascinating woman.
There are two main books I have read to research the life of Eleanor of Castile. The first is Eleanor of Castile – The Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill:
Eleanor of Castile – the Shadow Queen is a thoroughly researched and comprehensive book on the life of Eleanor, highly recommended.
Another book is The Eleanor Crosses by Decca Warrington:
This book is more focused on the life of the crosses, but also contains sections on the life of Eleanor. Recommended as a shorter introduction to Eleanor and the story of the crosses.
For Edward I, the book “A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain” by Marc Morris is an excellent read, and for a more academic study of Edward I, the book “Edward I” by Michael Prestwich and published by Yale University Press is an in depth read.
To research the journey and the posts, I also used some of the Victoria County History volumes for the appropriate counties (these can be found online), as well as various publications on the churches and abbeys on the route.
Edward I did remarry after Eleanor’s death. Nine years later in 1299 he married the 20 year old Margaret of France. Edward was 60.
Margaret and Edward had three children (Edward therefore had 19 children in total). The first two were boys. The third was a daughter born on the 4th of May 1306. This daughter was named Eleanor, and whilst this was a common name for women in royal families at the time, she must have been named Eleanor after Edward’s first wife who had died almost 16 years before.
Unfortunately, Eleanor did not live for too long, dying in 1311.
Edward I died in 1307 at the age of 68. Margaret of France was 26 when widowed, but never remarried. Edward I was followed by Eleanor’s eldest son, Edward II, who had a troubled reign, was forced to abdicate, and had a mysterious death in 1327.
Eleanor of Castile was a fascinating woman – one of those from history who would have been brilliant to meet.
Born into a Spanish royal family, highly educated, and with older brothers who were involved in military campaigns when Eleanor was growing up, and whilst her father was reclaiming much of Spain.
Edward was educated, although the English court did not tend to educate their children to the same level as Castile. Much of Edward’s childhood was also spent in Windsor Castle, and he was not so involved with military activity, beyond the basic training needed by a future king.
Edward was though successful when it came to military campaigns. His conquest of Wales led to the building of the string of Welsh castles such as Caernarfon and Harlech castles.
Edward was also brutal in his campaigns in Scotland, focusing brutally on those he thought were disloyal, to such an extent that he acquired the nickname of Hammer of the Scots.
How much of Edward’s success was due to Eleanor would be interesting to discover.
As usual, there is so much I have had to leave out from the format of a blog post (the books mentioned above are well worth a read), but thank you for accompanying me on this journey, alongside Eleanor of Castile.