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The Dome at Islington Green

Last weekend I was in Islington Green for the first time in a few years. It was a perfect opportunity to photograph a rather unusual building, last photographed in 1985:

Islington Green

The same building in February 2020:

Islington Green

Before getting into the history of the building, there are two key differences between the views in 1985 and 2020 which typify what has happened across all London streets, not just Islington.

The first is the loss of many one-off shops, many of which were traditional to a specific area. There were a number of antique shops around Islington Green, today they remain clustered around Camden Passage. All too often chain shops have taken over from so many one offs.

The second is the CCTV camera. Initially I was frustrated with having the pole, CCTV camera and equipment boxes in front of the building, however they do provide a perfect demonstration of the growth of CCTV monitoring across the city, and the amount of street furniture. These are all too often installed without any apparent consideration of the impact on the surrounding street scene and buildings, as the 2020 photo illustrates.

The building has an interesting history. It was purpose built as the Electric Theatre and opened in February 1909. The domed section was originally open at the sides and formed the entrance vestibule to the cinema. Passing through the vestibule was the foyer which was built into the ground floor of the three storey building we can see from the street, and behind that was the single storey auditorium.

The Bioscope on the 11th February 1909 recorded that “The new Electric Theatre at 75, Upper Street, Islington, opened on Saturday last, is a very handsome and artistically decorated hall, both inside and out. Everything for the comfort of its patrons has been studied, and as it is owned by Electric Theatres (1908) Limited it will no doubt prove as successful as the other well-known theatres run by that company.”

The Electric Theatre company was one of the first to open a chain of cinemas across London. The interior of vestibule leading into the Electric Theatre is shown in the following photo. The decorated interior of the dome can be seen. Imagine this view if you walk in today for a coffee.

Islington Green

There is an interesting statue on top of the dome. The following photos show the 1985 statue (left) and 2020 version (right).

Islington Green

The figure on top of the dome, in 1985, was painted and holding a lighted torch above the figure’s head. By 2020, the coloured paint had been removed and the lighted torch appears to be missing.

The Electric Theatre in Islington did not last too long, closing in 1916. It is good to see this unusual building still facing onto Islington Green, and being Grade II listed, the building is protected.

Islington Green is a reasonably small, triangular green space to the east of Upper Street (the main A1 road). The street to the east of the green space is called Islington Green. The following map extract shows Islington Green as the triangular green space in the centre (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Islington Green

The area is very built up today, and was part of the late 18th, early 19th century expansion northwards of London, however the twin roads and road junction that forms the triangular space where Islington Green can be found has long been a feature.

The following extract from John Rocque’s 1746 map of London shows the familiar shape of Islington Green where the two roads come together. There was ribbon development along the roads and some streets just to the north, but the rest of area is still fields. Note the New River running through the area between Hertfordshire and New River Head, just to the south.

Islington Green

One hundred years later in 1847, Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London shows the area has transformed from fields to streets. Islington Green is still a feature where Upper and Lower Streets meet towards the top centre of the map.

Islington Green

This is the green space of Islington Green looking north. There was a council event occupying the wider northern width of the space at the time.

Islington Green

If you look to the top right corner of the green and you can just see a row of terrace houses.

I wanted to find this terrace as it provides a good illustration of Islington before it transformed to the area of expensive housing it is today, and how you can never really trust the age of a building by looking at the exterior.

Walking to the north-east corner of Islington Green and this is the view of the terrace across the road. The view shows what looks to be a complete row of late 18th, early 19th century terrace houses.

Islington Green

This was the same view in 1979:

Islington Green

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_188_79_1227

To confirm that this is the same view, look at the building on the far left of both photos, just across the side road where the terrace stops and it is the same building, although the terrace looks very different and the fourth house from the left is missing.

Although many of the 18th / 19th century buildings in Islington were in a poor state in the 1970s, the reason for the condition of this terrace is a bomb in the last war. The London County Council bomb damage maps have the terrace marked as “general blast damage”. The bomb that caused the damage probably landed behind the terrace as the building behind is marked as “damaged beyond repair”. The house on the far left of the terrace still looks as it probably did after the war with smoke marks and missing top floor window frames.

The fourth house in the terrace from the left is completely missing – metalwork can be seen supporting the walls of the houses on either side of the missing house.

But look at the terrace today, and it looks original. The missing house has been replaced with a house identical to the others, and just looking at the terrace you would assume a complete survivor from the time of the original build.

The open space to the right of the 1979 photo was a Gulf petrol station – today the space is occupied by a Tesco store.

The following print of Islington Green from 1750, just a few years after the 1746 map shown above, shows what appears to be the same terrace to the right of the green. The view is looking north, with the church of St Mary in the background.

Islington Green

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p5379292

90 years later, and more substantial building lines the northern edge of the green.

Islington Green

The structure on the green in the above print, is probably the one mentioned in the following extract from a report in the Islington Gazette on the 12th of March 1859, which also provides an indication of the state of the green, prior to Victorian improvements:

“A short time since the police gave up possession of their old quarters, the Watch-house on Islington Green, which was built in 1779, and this elegant structure now belongs to the parish. The best use it can be put to is to sell it as old building materials, and this will immediately be done. The Green will then pass into perhaps its final condition.

This open space, for which so strenuous a battle was lately fought and won, was formerly a piece of waste ground, uninclosed, and was granted to Trustees for the use of the parish by the lord of the manor in 1777.

For a long time, however, it was made the common laystall for a great part of the dirt and filth of the parish.

A watch-house, together with a cage, engine-house, and a pair of stocks, stood in the middle of the Green until the present watch-house was built. Upon its site, the Vestry have now determined to place a drinking fountain and a better situation could certainly not be found for it. it will be erected at the apex of the Green which divides the Upper from the Lower street.”

The word “laystall” refers to a place where  “waste and dung” is deposited, so this gives a good idea of how Islington Green would have been used for prior to the mid 1700s.

In the 1860s Islington Green was “improved”. The green was grassed, trees and shrubs were planted, and Islington Green was transformed to the Victorian view of an improved city green space.

The next time that Islington Green would be transformed was in 1938 when in preparation for the expected war with Germany, and the use of air power to bomb cities, air raid trenches, along with more substantial shelters were being dug across the green.

The following photo from 1938 shows “labourers engaged in the construction of trenches in one of the smaller open spaces of north London”.

Islington Green

Whilst the following photo from 1939 shows the conversion of one of the trenches from an open trench to a more secure, enclosed shelter made of concrete and steel. The photo shows Sir John Anderson, Lord Privy Seal inspecting the new shelters.

Islington Green

It would be interesting to know if there are any remains of the shelters still under Islington Green.

Time for a walk around the green. The following photo is looking north along Upper Street with the dome of what was the Electric Theatre on the left.

Islington Green

As well as the location of the Electric Theatre, the above photo shows the location of a second, early 20th century cinema on Islington Green. To the right of the photo is “The Screen on the Green” cinema, the wonderful facade of the cinema is shown in the photo below.

Islington Green

The cinema opened four years after the Electric Theatre, in 1913 and named the Empress Electric Theatre. In the early years of the 20th century, cinemas still used the name theatre, and the word “electric” was often included, as in Islington, to accentuate the modernity of the form, and the use of electricity in the display of film.

Not long after opening, the “Electric” was dropped and the name changed to Empress Picture Theatre, which was retained to 1951 when the name changed to the Rex Cinema, followed by Screen of the Green after the Rex closed in 1970.

Watching a film at the Screen on the Green is a very difference experience to the typical multi-screen cinema.

In addition to the two cinemas, another building facing onto Islington Green was an entertainment centre, although this was music hall rather than film.

Facing the northern side of the green is the facade of the building that was Collins Music Hall.

Islington Green

The building is now a Waterstones bookshop, but it is still possible to imagine the building as it appeared when it was entertaining the people of Islington:

Islington Green

A pub, the Lansdowne Arms originally occupied the site, and in 1862, Sam Vagg, a chimney sweep who had built a stage career as Sam Collins  turned the pub into a music hall. Three years after opening, Sam Vagg died at the age of 39, however the music hall would continue and retained the name of Collins in honour of the founder.

The entertainment on offer can be appreciated by taking a random edition of the Islington Gazette and checking what was on the bill. The 15th September 1887 edition details the following “Varied Star Programme”:

“The Five Jees, in the Musical Smithy, Sisters Bilton, the enchanting duettists; Dan Leno, the champion comic of all comics; Ethel Victor, the dashing serio-comic; Florrie West, the charming serio-comic; Brothers Passmore, variety artists; Arthur West, extempore vocalist; Sisters Dagmar, the pleasing duettists; Charles Murray, comic; Jessie Hart, the sprightly serio-comic; Fred Carloss, the ‘Sloper’ comedian, Professor Wingfield, with his educated dogs; Swiss Mountaineers, the vocal trio.”

How was that for a night out in Islington – who could not be tempted by Professor Wingfield, with his educated dogs.

The music hall was rebuilt in 1897, this date is still visible on the front of the building.

In the following decades, Collins would continue to put on variety shows in the music hall tradition, and names such as Norma Wisdom, Benny Hill and Tommy Copper performed at Collins in the early years of their careers.

Collins Music Hall was very badly damaged by fire in 1958. Only the front and side walls survived, and the core of the music hall was lost, and the remains of the building (apart from the front wall) was demolished in 1963.

Collins Music Hall was also used for other purposes, which also give an indication of the poverty that existed in Islington. On the 24th December 1912, the islington Gazette carried a report titled “Christmas Dinners – Distribution Today at Collins Music Hall – Over 8,500 Dinners”:

“Through the medium of the Daily Gazette fund between 8,500 and 9,000 persons, or one in every 40 of the population of Islington, will participate in these Christmas gifts. the dinner parcels consist of meat, tea, milk, sugar, cake, rice and sweets, and will represent something like 10 tons of food.”

Up to 9,000 people sounds an enormous number, however this appears to have been only a proportion of those who applied. At the end of the article, the following appears in large, bold text:

“The Editor regrets exceedingly that he is unable to reply to the large numbers of letters received from poor and needy people in the four divisions of Islington, asking to participate in the distribution of dinners to-day at Collins’ Music hall.

Having regard to the enormous population of Islington, and the wide-spread poverty existing in the borough, it naturally follows that large numbers of applicants cannot be administered to.

The Editor hopes that the applicants who have been turned empty away will accept this explanation. Had the fund been half as large again as it is, most of the cases which unfortunately have been rejected could have been dealt with. Some of these, it is hoped, will be relieved from other charities.”

A clear reminder of the poverty that existed across London on a considerable scale.

The following photo shows the Fox on the Green. A pub at the north-west corner of the green.

Islington Green

Originally called just the “Fox”, reference to the pub dates back to the start of the 19th century, however I am not sure if the current building is the original. There are a number of newspaper references to the widening of the road north from Islington Green, starting from the Fox, and also one reference specifically referring to the Fox when describing how the Metropolitan Board of Works would preserve a licence to sell alcohol when they had demolished a pub, and before the replacement had been completed.

Apparently the Metropolitan Board of Works would install a temporary “shanty” on the site which would sell a minimum of a single drink a day. This would allow the licence to be preserved.

One newspaper report from 1881 which covered many of the improvement schemes in the area stated that St Mary, Islington was the “most populous in the metropolis”. An indication of how the area had developed from the fields of the 1746 map.

I need to research more to check the date of the current Fox, however whether this building, or a previous version, there are very many references to a large number of inquests held in the pub, adverts for staff, a suicide from one of the upper floor windows, theft and fatal accidents outside the pub – it was a busy place.

A view along Upper Street, to the west of the green showing a mix of architectural styles.

Islington Green

The larger brick building in the centre has a blue plaque stating that the singer and entertainer Gracie Fields lived here.

More mixed architecture and colour schemes.

Islington Green

At the southern end of Islington Green is a statue of Sir Hugh Myddelton, the wealthy City Goldsmith, who took up the scheme for the New River, and saw construction through to completion. He is facing towards New River Head, a short distance further south where the New River terminated, and water was distributed onward to consumers across London.

Islington Green

The statue was erected in 1862, with the statue being funded by Sir Samuel Morton, and the pedestal and fountains on either side of the pedestal, by voluntary subscriptions and aided by a grant from the Vestry of Islington.

The following drawing from the year the statue was unveiled shows the fountains in operation. It also shows the words “New River” on the plan Myddelton is holding in his left hand – not sure this is still visible today.

Islington Green

Walking back to the Angel underground station, and this is the view looking back up to Islington Green with Upper Street to the left, the street with the name Islington Green to the right, and the green in the centre, with Hugh Myddleton looking back towards New River Head.

Islington Green

Although it is only a small bit of grassed open space, Islington Green is a very old feature. Formed where the road from the City split into two, the green was there when the rest of what is now Islington was still covered in fields and open space.

It has been used as a dumping ground, improved by the Victorians, seen a tremendous growth of traffic on the surrounding roads, along with building on all sides.

The green has seen the changing forms of entertainment, from pubs, to the Electric Theatre, the Music Hall, and now retaining one of London’s unique small cinemas.

Bombed at the north-east corner, and dug up for air raid shelters, Islington Green continues watching the changes in one of London’s northern villages.

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Hidden London – Piccadilly Circus

I had intended to publish a different post, however work and other commitments have slowed down research, so for today, a brief post on one of the design and construction wonders of London. For a number of years, the London Transport Museum under their Hidden London brand have run a fascinating series of tours of those parts of the underground network that you do not usually see.

Last year, a new station was added to the list of tours – Piccadilly Circus – and as usual, it is fascinating to get a glimpse of some of the infrastructure and tunnels hidden behind the tunnels now in general use. These tunnels show how stations have developed over time, and this was the focus of the Piccadilly Circus tour, not a long tour in terms of the area covered, but a tour packed full of information.

Leaving the public areas of Piccadilly Circus, and a new set of tunnels appear, dating from the first incarnation of the station:

Piccadilly Circus

The original Piccadilly Circus station opened in 1906, however due to the station’s central West End location, the volume of people using the station grew rapidly. In 1907, 1.5 million passengers were using the station annually, and by 1922 this had risen to 18 million, and passenger numbers were expected to continue growing.

Piccadilly Circus

The original station was too small, and making small changes to the station would not support the growing numbers of people using the station. Lifts were a distance from the platforms and lifts really needed to be replaced by escalators, larger entrances were required along with a larger ticket hall.

There was considerable development in the area, including the redevelopment of many of the buildings along Regent Street where existing buildings would be replaced by six storey buildings. The need for a larger station was urgent.

The original plan was for a new domed ticket hall below Eros / the Shaftesbury Memorial, however the final scheme went for a new flat roofed ticket hall surrounded by an oval shaped passage which provided access to the stairs leading up to the street entrances. The station would broadly follow the dimensions of Piccadilly Circus above ground.

New banks of escalators would be installed between the ticket hall and an intermediate landing, with further escalators leading down to the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines. It would be a major engineering and construction project.

Piccadilly Circus

To facilitate the work, the statue of Eros and the Shaftesbury Memorial were moved to the Victoria Embankment Gardens, and a construction shaft was sunk.

One of the major problems with such a large construction site in the centre of the West End was the amount of services that were buried below the surface, in the way of the new station. These had to be diverted away from the site, or transferred into a 12ft diameter pipe that had been installed around the circumference of the new station.

Piccadilly Circus

The new station was opened on the 10th December 1928, by the Mayor of Westminster, with the first public users of the station being given access later that afternoon.

The original station was closed on the 21st July 1929 and Eros / the Shaftesbury Memorial was returned to sit above the new station, on the 27th December 1931.

The considerably enlarged ticket hall and the new Otis escalators provided a Piccadilly Circus station that was ready to support the numbers of passengers using the station as London entered the 1930s, and for many years to come.

Piccadilly Circus

Escalators had replaced the original lifts, however walking the tunnels today, we can still see the direction signs and the original lift shafts.

Piccadilly Circus

Looking up one of the original lift shafts:

Piccadilly Circus

To the trains signs still point to where early 20th century passengers would have walked to get down to the platforms.

Piccadilly Circus

In a disused underground tunnel it is always intriguing to wonder just what is after that curve in the tunnel:

Piccadilly Circus

Although the new tunnels and escalators provide access from the ticket hall down to the platforms, the old tunnels still provide a very useful purpose. In an environment where space is at a premium, having areas available to store equipment is valuable.

Piccadilly Circus

The tunnels explored in the tour provide a reminder of how London’s underground system has grown, and the major construction works needed to continually support the growth in passenger numbers.

The tunnels are a step back to the original Edwardian Station, but perhaps the best place to admire Piccadilly Circus station is in the passageway surrounding the ticket hall. Piccadilly Circus was seen as the “hub of Emprire”, and as such needed a design, and quality building and decorative materials to match.

Charles Holden was responsible for the design of the station, and his distinctive style can be seen across the station. The passageway surrounding the ticket hall and the central concourse are clad in cream travertine marble. Decorative pillars and lights are roughly equally spaced around the oval passageway. Their relatively narrow form ensures maximum space is available for passengers walking between surface and the escalators through the ticket hall.

Piccadilly Circus

The ticket hall was restored in 1989, and in 2016, on the 75th anniversary of his death, a commemoration of Frank Pick was installed. Frank Pick was the Managing Director of London Underground in the 1920s, and was responsible for commissioning architects and designers such as Charles Holden.

Piccadilly Circus

The design of the memorial by Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell used words from one of Frank Pick’s lectures which highlighted his approach to design, and that good design contributes significantly to the quality of life in the city.

A very unusual feature in Piccadilly Circus station that dates back to the reconstruction of the station is a world map. The central dark band scrolls across the map to show the local time in the different time zones across the world. The location of the map here in Piccadilly Circus emphasised the view of the station at the time as the “hub of Empire”.

Piccadilly Circus

Too often we rush through London’s underground stations, trying to get as quickly as possible between the train and the street, and not taking the time to appreciate the design, engineering and construction wonders that we pass through.

The Hidden London tours provide the perfect opportunity to step back, explore the old tunnels and appreciate the effort that has gone into building a transport system we probably take too much for granted.

alondoninheritance.com

St Martin Ludgate and a Hidden Name

City churches are interesting, not just the history of the church, but also for the artifacts that London’s churches seem to accumulate. St Martin Ludgate, or to give the full name St Martin Within Ludgate is a church I have not visited for a while, so on a rather grey day I went for another look inside the church.

St Martin Ludgate is on the northern side of Ludgate Hill. I suspect that the church suffers from the fact that St Paul’s Cathedral is at the top of Ludgate Hill and the cathedral tends to attract the gaze, rather than the historic church along the side of the street.

The view looking down Ludgate Hill with the church and spire of St Martin Ludgate on the right:

St Martin Ludgate

St Martin is an old City church, with written evidence dating the church to the 12th century, however Geoffrey of Monmouth writing in the 12th century claims that the church was founded by the Welsh King Cadwallader in the 7th century. Given that this was 500 years before Geoffrey of Monmouth, I doubt very much whether this was based on any truth or factual record.

The claim was embellished in the text with the following print from 1814 which shows the tower and steeple of St Martin Ludgate standing clear from the surrounding houses. The author adds that Cadwallo was buried here. The text included evidence that the site was ancient as “several antiquities were discovered to prove it being a Roman burial-place”.

St Martin Ludgate

The location was certainly interesting, being adjacent to Lud Gate and the Roman Wall. Travelers from the west would have approached the City along what is now the Strand. Crossing over the River Fleet, then a short distance up the hill to the Lud Gate, with the location of St Martins just inside the wall on the left.

The current church dates from between 1677 and 1686 when it was rebuilt by Wren following the destruction of the previous church in the Great Fire of London, although there is a possibility that rather than Wren, it was Robert Hooke who was responsible for the church.

The original church was slightly clear of the Roman Wall, however the new church was moved slightly to the west and included the Roman Wall in the foundations of the church. Ludgate Hill was also widened at this time, so the new church was also set slightly further back

The spire of the church was designed to be a counterpoint to the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Through the entrance to the church and there is a wide corridor running the width of the building before entering the church proper. This was an attempt to sound proof the church from the noise on Ludgate Hill which must have been one of the busier and noisier streets in the City.

Entering the church and we can see a typical Wren designed City church of the 17th century.

St Martin Ludgate

The organ loft above the font:

St Martin Ludgate

The font dates from 1673 and was a gift to the rebuilt church from one Thomas Morley.

Behind and to the right of the font is an information panel that confirms that this wall of the church was the original western limit of the Roman City, and below the floor and wall are the foundations of the original Roman Wall, along with remains of the later Medieval Wall.

The full name of the church St Martin within Ludgate indicates that the church was within the City walls.

There is an interesting plaque in the church, which holds a hidden message in the text. A brass plaque, now in St Martin’s was originally in St Mary Magdalene’s on Old Fish Street. A serious fire severely damaged much of St Mary in 1886, and as a number of City churches were closing and being demolished under the Union of Benefices Act (an Act to reduce the number of City churches as the population of the City had decreased), the decision was taken not to rebuild St Mary and a number of artifacts were moved to St Martin Ludgate.

The plaque is shown in the following photo and dates from 1586.

St Martin Ludgate

The plaque records a charity set up by Elizabethan fish monger Thomas Berry, or Beri. He is seen on the left of the plaque, and to the right are ten lines of text, followed by two lines which describe the charity:

“XII Penie loaves, to XI poor foulkes. Gave every Sabbath Day for aye”

The plaque is dated 1586, and the charity was set up in his will of 1601 which left his property in Edward Street, Southwark to St Mary Magdalen, with the instruction that the rent should be used to fund the loaves. The recipients of the charity were not in London, but were in Walton-on-the-Hill (now a suburb of Liverpool), a village that Berry seems to have had some connection with. The charity included an additional sum of 50s a year to fund a dinner for all the married people and householders of the town of Bootle.

The interesting lines of text are above those which describe the charity. Thomas seems to have spelled his last name either Berry or Beri and these ten lines of anti-papist verse include his concealed name.

The ten lines are shown below (thankfully “If Stones Could Speak” by F. St Aubyn-Brisbane (1929) have the transcribed text as it was hard to read from the plaque):

St Martin Ludgate

If you take the first letter from each sentence and read from the last sentence, you get the name Tomas Beri.

St Martin Ludgate

The parish church in Walton-on-the-Hill had a similar brass plaque, however it was badly damaged when the church was destroyed in the Liverpool Blitz in May 1941. The Walton church was rebuilt after the war, and a replica plaque can now be seen.

Unlike the Walton church, St Martin Ludgate suffered the least damage of any City church during the last war, with only a single incendiary bomb damaging the roof.

A closer view of the font. The wall behind the font marks the limit of the original Roman City, and remains of the Roman Wall are below the wall of the church.

St Martin Ludgate

City churches tend to accumulate objects, not just from other City churches, but from across the world. For some reason, St Martin Ludgate has a large chandelier from the 18th century which was originally in St Vincent’s Cathedral in the West Indies.

St Martin Ludgate

The chandelier is unusual as the majority of objects in the church appear to have come from St Mary Magdalen, including these bread shelves:

St Martin Ludgate

On display within the church is one of the bells from the post Great Fire rebuild. The bell dates from 1683 and was a “Gift of William Warne, Scrivener to the Parish of St Martin’s Ludgate”:

St Martin Ludgate

In a side room of the church is an interesting 17th century carved pelican:

St Martin Ludgate

The symbol of the pelican feeding its young is a very early Christian representation of Jesus. It comes from a pre-Christian legend that in times of famine, a mother pelican would pierce her breast, allowing her young to feed on her blood, thereby avoiding starvation.

Apart from the slender spire, there is nothing remarkable about the building of St Martin Ludgate, and the church is over shadowed by the much larger cathedral a bit further up Ludgate Hill.

The key though with City churches is that despite the ever-changing City, they are stable reference points, providing the same function for over 900 years.

St Martin Ludgate has the added bonus that the west wall of the church marks the western boundary of the original Roman city, and the Roman wall.

And whilst pondering the Roman city, we can also wonder why Thomas Beri decided to conceal his name in the plaque, or what game he was playing with the future back in 1586.

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The Waterman’s Arms – Isle of Dogs

For this week’s post, it is 1986, and I am standing outside the Cutty Sark pub in Greenwich, looking across the River Thames to the south eastern tip of the Isle of Dogs. The photo below shows the view which includes the spire of Christ Church, on the corner of Manchester Road and Glenaffric Avenue, the Newcastle Draw Dock leading down into the river, and to the left, a pub, the Waterman’s Arms.

Waterman's Arms

The same view today:

Waterman's Arms

Although the weather was the same for the “now” photo, the tide state was different which does change the views, however the Newcastle Draw Dock is still there today, just below the water.

Apart from the spire, Christ Church is still hidden by trees. Housing on the right is the same, however a large new build of apartments has been built on the left of the dry dock which completely obscures the Waterman’s Arms and the towers of the City, which in 1986 consisted only of the Nat West Tower.

The Waterman’s Arms was originally the Newcastle Arms, built as part of the Cubitt Town development. It seems to have opened in 1853, and that year is the first that I can find any written references to the pub, with two contrasting newspaper mentions.

In the Morning Advertiser on the 30th April 1853 there was an advert for a Servant, Potman and Waiter – possibly the first staff for the newly opened pub. In October 1853, the Kentish Mercury had a very different report on the pub, where George Henry Wood, the step son of Mr Harris, the landlord of the Newcastle Arms, was charged with stealing a horse, the property of Mr Brooker, a grazier of Poplar.

Apart from these mentions, there seems to have been very little reported about the Newcastle Arms, apart from the occasional advert for staff, and reference to the adjoining dry dock. most often related to criminal activity.

The most significant period in the pub’s history were a couple of years in the 1960s when the pub changed name to the Waterman’s Arms and became an East London centre for pub entertainment, attracting many national and internationally famous celebrities. I will cover this phase later in the post.

In 2011 the pub changed name to the Great Eastern and became a pub on the ground floor and backpackers hostel on the upper floors, and it was this version of the pub that I photographed when I was in the area last year.

Waterman's Arms

The adjacent Newcastle Draw Dock, photographed at low tide and looking across the river to the Cutty Sark pub.

Waterman's Arms

The reason why the Waterman’s Arms has a rather unusual history compared to other Isle of Dogs pubs is down to a brief period between 1962 and 1964 when the pub was run by Daniel Farson.

Daniel Farson was an interesting character. Born in 1927, he was the son of Negley Farson, an author and American foreign correspondent. After National Service in the American Army Air Corps (he had dual US / UK citizanship – he would later renounce US citizanship), he went to Cambridge University, then took a post as photographer with the Picture Post.

He had a variety of jobs in journalism and also the Merchant Navy, before joining Associated Rediffusion, one of the early independent television companies.

During his time at Associated Rediffusion, Farson proposed a TV programme on the boom in pub entertainment. This he saw as a continuation of the Music Hall tradition which was one of his interests. The proposed programme was to be called “Time Gentlemen Please!” and to help with research he visited a number of East London pubs. It was during this research that he found the Newcastle Arms. The pub was described as being “down on the floor” and the “pub with no beer”. The pub attracted very little trade and the brewery refused any credit for the purchase of beer.

Farson was also interested in the area of East London along the river, and had been living at 92 Narrow Street in Limehouse so was relatively close to the Newcastle Arms, although he admits to knowing very little about the Isle of Dogs, and his view of the location of the Newcastle Arms would have been very different if he had approached the pub from inland, rather than from the river.

Despite all the warning signs, he purchased the pub in 1962 using money left to him by his parents, and set about converting the pub to accommodate space for an enlarged stage area. He would use this to put on pub entertainment, based on Musical Hall traditions and building on the entertainment to be found in many East London pubs, although he attracted stars that would not normally be found in a pub at the tip of the Isle of Dogs, or a usual East End crowd.

Farson also changed the name of the pub from the Newcastle Arms to the Waterman’s Arms, a name he felt better suited the pub’s riverside location.

Farson’s proposed programme “Time, Gentlemen Please!” was shown at 9:45 on the evening of the 5th December 1962, and part was filmed in the Waterman’s Arms. The Daily Mirror description of the programme was:

“ITV commentator Dan Farson, who recently became landlord of a pub in London’s East End. takes a look at pub-land entertainment in tonight’s ‘Time, Gentlemen Please!’. 

Says Farson: ‘If the spirit of music-hall lives anywhere today, you’ll find it in the East End pubs.’ Many pub owners say that entertainment is a good boost for business.

So Farson and director Rollo Gamble visited four public-houses to film some of the professional and semi-professional acts that appear there.

One of the pubs was Farson’s own, the Waterman’s Arms, near the docks at the Isle of Dogs.

Most of the pub entertainers are singers, who present modern pub tunes along with the old music hall hits. One artist is 80 year-old Ida Barr, a star of the Edwardian music hall.

Others in the programme rejoice in such names as Tommy Pudding, Sulky Gowers, Welsh George, Queenie Watts and Tex, who wears a cowboy hat.

Says Gamble; ‘Though some of the performers are unknowns, there’s a lot of talent there. Some of these people live by touring the pubs, others entertain in the evening after a hard day’s work.”

Ida Barr, one of the original stars of the Edwardian music hall was a popular performer at the Waterman’s Arms, and she was still very active, including performing at London’s last remaining music hall, the Metropolitan Theatre in Edgware Road. She sang at the last performance at “The Met” on the 14th April 1963 before its demolition later that year as part of the road widening scheme for the Edgware Road.

As well as the Waterman’s Arms, the other pubs that featured in the programme were the Lansdown Arms, part of the old Collins Music Hall at Islington Green, the Rising Sun in Bethnal Green, and the King’s Arms in the Old Kent Road.

The entertainment put on by Farson in the Waterman’s Arm consisted of both local amateur and professional acts, old-time music hall stars, as well as those that you would not expect to see in a Victorian pub on the Isle of Dogs such as Shirley Bassey.

The audience at the Waterman’s Arms attracted not just the locals, but also those from the West End, and a global set of celebrities from the early 1960s. Names such as Lord Delfont, George Melly, Groucho Marx, Lionel Bart, Trevor Howard, Tony Bennett, Mary Quant, Norman Hartnell, Judy Garland and Clint Eastwood (who wrote the word ‘rowdy’ in the guest book).

Daniel Farson also discovered local talent who went on the perform at the Waterman’s Arms. One of these was Kim Cordell who Farson saw performing at the Rising Sun in Mile End Road and who was described in The Stage as: “In the booming world of pub entertainment, one personality is causing more and more comment. This is Kim Cordell, first seen in Dan Farson’s TV pub show Time, Gentlemen Please! and now the compere/singer of his pub on the Isle of Dogs, the Waterman’s Arms. Kim herself says: ‘Without a doubt, this has been the best year of my life. I seem to have found a real incentive for the first time’. Apart from her success at The Waterman’s, the year has included appearances on TV; two films, one called ‘Songs of London’ for the British Tourist and Travel Association, the other ‘London After Dark’, not yet released; and the lion’s share in a forthcoming L.P. ‘A Night At The Waterman’s'”.

Kim Cordell performing at the Waterman’s Arms:

Waterman's Arms

The Waterman’s Arms was a success in terms of the number of people arriving to watch the entertainment, the number of stars attracted to perform, and those who came to the Waterman’s Arms to be in the crowd, but it could not last.

In 1964 Farson received a call from his bank manager to tell him that he was £3,000 overdrawn.

The financial challenges were down to how much was being sold to fund the costs of running the pub. People would not arrive until 8pm, from then on the bar was crowded. Crowding meant that people could not easily get to the bar, so drink sales were limited.  For many there was more interest in the entertainment rather than a long evening’s drinking. They would watch the entertainment than move on. The costs of putting on entertainment were also high, particularly for the more famous acts.

He could not go on, and after a battle with the brewery, a new tenant was found, Daniel Farson sold up and left the Waterman’s Arms and Narrow Street and moved down to north Devon to start a career as an author.

One of the books that came out of this move was Limehouse Days. A record of his time in Limehouse and at the Waterman’s Arms. The front cover of the book shows Daniel Farson behind the bar at the Waterman’s Arms, talking to customers.

Waterman's Arms

The book does have some strange diversions, such as a chapter where Farson claims to identify Jack the Ripper, however the book, and the photos taken by Farson provide an intriguing view of life in East London in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Daniel Farson was also part of Soho in the 1950s and early 1960s (and continued to visit after his move to Devon). He photographed and wrote about Soho in another book Soho in the Fifties, although due to his level of drinking there was always some doubt as to the details of the stories Farson would recall and tell.

His obituary by Philip Hoare in the Independent started with the paragraph “Mythomaniacal, egotistical, and often unable to tell the truth or the difference between it and fiction, the character of Daniel Farson – photographer, writer, and drunk – is redeemed by at least one grace: that of self-awareness: “One of the more bizarre aspects of my life is the way it has veered from triumph to disaster without my seeming to notice the change.”

He was also frequently mentioned in the obituaries and memoirs of others who found the pubs, bars and clubs of Soho as a second home. For example the following is from the obituary of the journalist and author Sandy Fawkes: “One close friend for 30 years was Daniel Farson, the television journalist, chronicler of Soho and spectacular drunk. He would suddenly turn from an intelligent conversationalist into a growling monster. “I loathe you,” he would shout suddenly between fat, quivering cheeks. Sandy Fawkes would go to stay with him in Devon, where he enjoyed comparative calm, though barred from local pubs.”

It was also in Soho that Farson met people such as the artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, who would also go on to visit the Waterman’s Arms.

The Waterman’s Arms and Daniel Farson tell of a very different time. Soho has since lost so much of its character, and East London pubs have been disappearing rapidly over the last few decades.

The Waterman’s Arms is part of a listed group around the Newcastle Draw Dock, which also includes Glenaffric Avenue, Christ Church and Christ Church Vicarage, Manchester Road.

The future of the pub as the Great Eastern looked in doubt, running as a pub on the ground floor and backpacker hostel on the upper floors. The pub has a good location, close to the river and the Newcastle Draw Dock, so could easily have fallen to the fate of so many other London pubs, and been converted into apartments. The good news is that a very recent story in the Docklands and East London Advertiser reports that starting this month, the pub will get a £600,000 refurbishment,. The name of the pub will also be changed from the Great Eastern back to the Waterman’s Arms.

So although not visible from Greenwich as it was in 1986, hopefully the Waterman’s Arms will have a good future.

For a glimpse of the Waterman’s Arms when owned by Daniel Farson, the 1964 film London in the Raw by Arnold Louis Miller includes a sequence filmed in the Waterman’s Arms. The film is available from the British Film Institute.

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A Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The photos from Hungerford Bridge for last Sunday’s post were part of a walk over the New Year from Tower Bridge to Westminster. I sometimes think that at this time of the year, London looks better after dark than during the short, grey days when a low sun and cloud cover conspire to subdue the city. Having said that, a sunny winter’s day brings out all that is best in the city.

I also take plenty of photos, because the city keeps changing, and because I just find all aspects of the city fascinating. For a mid-week post, here is a selection showing just how good the city looks when the grey sky is hidden by the dark of night, and the lights are on across London.

I started on the south bank of the river, looking back at Tower Bridge:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

And across to the Tower of London:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The ever growing number of office towers in the City:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

London seems to have hit peak Christmas Market, and now wooden sheds selling vaguely Christmas related products can be found anywhere across the city where high footfall and  tourists are likely to congregate. Along the south bank, they start near Tower Bridge and can then be found dotted along the route to the London Eye.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Hay’s Galleria, the old Hay’s Wharf with more Christmas market themed shops.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Themed sculpture trails have been a trend of the last few years, and this year London Bridge City (another trend whereby areas of the City are given brand names to promote a sense of identity, usually by the corporations who own large areas of the city) are hosting a sculpture trail where twelve of Raymond Briggs Snowman characters have been individually decorated to represent the twelve days of Christmas.

The is “A Partridge in a Pear Tree” by Jodie Silverman:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Crossing London Bridge, it was down into Borough Market. Very quiet at this time of the evening, with the majority of stalls packing up, although hot mulled wine was still available.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Brightly lit interiors contrast with the dark of the exterior arches.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Borough Market:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Taking a photo of someone else taking a photo – Monmouth Coffee in Stoney Street by Borough Market:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Pubs always look very welcoming at this time of year – the Market Porter on the corner of Stoney Street and Park Street:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The Anchor, Bankside:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Many of London’s bridges are now part of the Illuminated River project where the intention is to light up each bridge with a unique lighting scheme from the Albert Bridge to Tower Bridge. Many of the inner City bridges have been completed and the aim is to complete the rest during 2020.

This is Southwark Bridge:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

A good place to view the project is where multiple bridges can be seen at the same time. The following photo is looking back at Southwark Bridge, Cannon Street Railway Bridge and London Bridge.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The Illuminated River project will be in place for 10 years, after which the lighting and associated running and maintenance costs will be transferred to the bridge owners.

The changing light schemes across multiple bridges does focus the attention on the river rather than the surrounding buildings which is good.

A short distance along are the buildings that are part of the Globe Theatre complex on the corner of Bankside and New Globe Walk. Very different to the Emerson Wharf building that once stood on the site.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Entrance to Blackfriars Station on the south bank of the river:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Passing Blackfriars Bridge and this is the view looking over to the north bank of the river:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The three cranes are part of the construction site for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which will also be one of the intercept points between the existing sewage system and the new tunnel.

On the right is the Unilever Building. The illuminated building in the centre is the old City of London School.

Further along we come to the South Bank complex, and here is a good point to look back towards the lights of the City, framed by the Oxo Tower on the right and St Paul’s Cathedral on the left.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Fast food on the South Bank:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

South Bank walking:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The night and lighting softens the architecture of the buildings along the South Bank. This is the National Theatre:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Evening book browsing and selling under Waterloo Bridge:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The South Bank has many restaurants, and during the Christmas period, these dining pods are a colourful addition:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Opposite is the under croft of the Queen Elizabeth hall which from 1973 has been used for skateboarding:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Threatened with closure in 2013 / 2014, the space has been saved and refurbished and continues to offer a long term space for skateboarding on the South Bank.

Possibly a bit optimistic for mid -winter is this ice cream van:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Illuminations between the Royal Festival Hall and the river:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

From here, I crossed over the river to take the photos from the Golden Jubilee Bridge for last week’s post, then continued up to just north of Trafalgar Square, where the London Coliseum looks impressive after dark:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Seven St Martin’s Place is between the church of St Martin in the Fields and William IV Street and faces the Edith Cavell Memorial. Back in July i wrote a post about the building which at the  time was undergoing conversion to a hotel.

That conversion now appears to be complete and the hotel open.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

One of the reasons for my interest in the building was the future of the sculptured panels on the facade of the building facing St Martin’s Place. These panels were the work of Hubert Dalwood, a sculptor in the Modern British movement.

The conversion looks complete and I am really pleased that the panels are in their original position, and look to continue to decorate the building in its new function.

Whilst much of the West End was relatively quiet, Leicester Square was busy, with the central square being occupied with another Christmas Market (further confirming that London must by now have reached peak Christmas market).

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Brightly lit market stall in Leicester Square:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The surroundings of Leicester Square were full, and the area continues as a centre for the brands that attract the tourist trade.

In the following photo, a reminder of the old Swiss Centre is in the centre, with the M&M store on the right.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Directly opposite is the Lego Store, and whilst walking between the two stores you can still get your portrait drawn.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Trying to avoid the crowds, I headed down Waterloo Place, across the Mall, then into Horse Guards Road, and there was not a person in sight.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Apart from a single walker, I did not see anyone whilst walking the full length of Horse Guards Road between the Mall and Birdcage Walk.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

An empty Horse Guards Road:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Westminster was the destination of the walk from Tower Bridge and here Westminster Abbey was looking impressive against a dark sky. Again, the area was deserted apart from a couple of people looking in the window of the closed visitor centre.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

And then it was back to Westminster Underground Station. Although this was a walk along what could be described as the tourist focused areas of the city, it is always a pleasure to walk alongside the river, and it is fascinating to see how London is evolving.

Also, London does look really good after dark.

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The View from Hungerford Bridge – 1985 and 2020

I usually try to get in a couple of evening walks in that quiet period just after Christmas and before the main return to work at the start of January. This year, part of one of these walks crossed the River Thames using the Golden Jubilee walkways alongside Hungerford Bridge. I wanted to photograph the same scenes as 35 years ago in 1985, and to have a look at what has changed. Although the formal name of the crossing is the Golden Jubilee Bridge, I have called the post the view from Hungerford Bridge, as this was the original 1985 walkway and seems to be the most used name for the crossing.

This was the view in 1985, looking south across the river towards the Royal Festival Hall.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The same view 35 years later:

View from Hungerford Bridge

The viewpoint is slightly different, as seen by the different location of the tall office block on the left, however the area around the Royal Festival Hall is still an illuminated focal point on the South Bank.

The 1985 photo does include a feature that was a focal point of the South Bank. To the left of the Royal Festival Hall was a tall, illuminated lattice structure. The coloured lights were continuously changing.

I was working on the South Bank for much of the 1980s, and these ever changing lights were always in the background when working or walking in the area after dark. I moved abroad for a few years at the end of the decade, and cannot remember when these lights disappeared. It is these subtle changes that are so easy to miss.

The following photo shows a detailed section from the original 1985 photo, which includes the lights, and also another unique feature from the 1980s.

View from Hungerford Bridge

In a previous post on London postcards, I included one of a large birthday cake created by the Greater London Council on the South Bank as an exhibition and celebration of 95 years of the London County Council / Greater London Council. I had visited the exhibition within the cake, and taken photos, but had not yet scanned the negatives. In scanning negatives I finally found some which included the GLC cake.

This can be seen in the 1985 photo above, and also in the extract, which does give an indication of the size of the cake, and how incongruous a traditionally decorated birthday cake looked against the concrete architecture of the South Bank.

The following photo is from the original postcard which shows the cake close up.

View from Hungerford Bridge

There was also some event advertising along the front of the Royal Festival Hall. The following is an extract from the 1985 photo which shows this advertising along the front of the building.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The red banner requests “Keep GLC Working for the Arts in London”. The mid 1980s was a time of conflict between the Thatcher led Conservative Government and the Labour majority Greater London Council led by Ken Livingstone.

This resulted in the 1985 Local Government Act which dissolved the GLC in 1986. Campaigns by the GLC could not influence the majority of the Conservative Government, and at the time there were serious concerns about future funding of South Bank complex. Probably one of the reasons why now the majority of the exterior ground level of the Royal Festival Hall is occupied by commercial businesses.

In the centre of the hall, there is a banner advertising that “EROS: Back in Town at the Royal Festival Hall”. I had completely forgotten about this, but in the 1980s the statue on the top of the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus (so I assume technically correct to state Eros, which is frequently applied to the whole fountain), had been removed for restoration.

Prior to the return of the statue to Piccadilly Circus in 1985, it was displayed for a short period in the Royal Festival Hall.

The banner on the right advertises the “Mars London Marathon Exhibition” in advance of the marathon which took place in April of that year. Perhaps strange now that a health focused event would be sponsored by a brand such as Mars, but at the time (and for many years previously), the energy giving benefits of glucose were a major advertising feature of Mars bars.

The following 1985 photo again shows the GLC cake, and also the Festival Pier.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The same view from a slightly different angle, as to the right, the Kings Reach Tower office block now appears from behind the square office block of what was London Weekend Television.

View from Hungerford Bridge

A similar view in 2020 is shown in the photo below. The Kings Reach Tower building is now much taller having had several floors added during conversion of the block from offices to apartments.  The future of the old London Weekend Television building (known after the closure of London Weekend Television as the London Studios and operated by ITV) is not clear. ITV moved out of the complex a few years ago, originally intending to return to refurbished studios, but they now uses studios at the redeveloped BBC Television Centre site in White City. I am sure that this high value location on the South Bank will become yet more expensive apartments.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The following 1985 photo is looking along the river towards Waterloo Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London.

View from Hungerford Bridge

In the above photo, the cathedral stands clear, as does the old Nat West Tower to the right. This building, now called Tower 42, was the tallest building in the City.

The same view today is shown in the following photo. The Nat West Tower is now dwarfed and almost lost by the City developments of the last few decades.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The following 1985 view is of the north bank of the river from the Hungerford Bridge walkway. The brightly lit building is the wonderful 1931, Grade II listed, Shell-Mex House, occupied at the time by Shell UK.  The building is now known as 80 Strand. To the left is the Adelphi building, and the Savoy on the right.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The same view today, although a bit later in the evening so a somewhat darker sky. The front of the Shell-Mex building is covered in sheeting as part of an ongoing refurbishment.

View from Hungerford Bridge

Walking along the walkway towards the north bank, and this was the 1985 view from Hungerford Bridge looking towards the Embankment.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The same view in 2020:

View from Hungerford Bridge

The Embankment is much the same, however the main change is the scale of the Embankment Pier. This is a relatively small feature in the 1985 photo, which has since been replaced by a much larger pier by the 2020 photo. This is indicative of the considerable growth in passenger transport along the Thames in the 35 years since 1985, when river piers were mainly used for tourist focused cruises of the river. The opening of the Thames Clipper Service in 1999 has contributed significantly to passenger traffic on the river, with the resulting upgrades and additions of river piers to support this traffic.

The main change between 1985 and 2020 has been the bridge across the river from which the photos were taken.

In 1985 there was only a single walkway on the side of the bridge looking towards the City. It was a narrow walkway, frequently covered in large puddles of water, and from experience, not somewhere that you would really want to walk across late at night.

The following photo shows the original walkway:

View from Hungerford Bridge

Today, there is a walkway on either side of Hungerford Bridge. Officially named the Golden Jubilee Bridge, these new walkways were completed in 2002 and provide a considerably improved walking route between the north and south banks of the River Thames.

With the growth of attractions and events along the South Bank, the number of people walking across the bridges has grown considerably. According to the website of the architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, who with engineering company WSP, won the competition for the bridges, they are the busiest walking routes across the river in London, with 8.4 million pedestrians in 2014.

The following photo is the view south along the walkway, towards the Royal Festival Hall.

View from Hungerford Bridge

A view during the day of the Golden Jubilee bridge:

View from Hungerford Bridge

The architects state that the bridges “are slung from inclined pylons that pay homage to similar structures created for the 1951 Festival of Britain, held on the adjoining South Bank”.

As evidence of this, the following photo was taken by my father from the southern end of Hungerford bridge, just after the Festival of Britain had closed, and shows the structures referenced by the architects.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The view looking north along the walkway towards the illuminated buildings above Charing Cross Station.

View from Hungerford Bridge

One final photo before I headed off north of the river – the Embankment from the walkway looking unusually quiet:

View from Hungerford Bridge

The Golden Jubilee Bridge is a considerable improvement over the previous walkway and provides a wonderful location to look at a spectacular view of the river, north and south banks, and the City, whether by day or night. The second walkway on the other side of Hungerford Bridge provides superb views towards Westminster.

The opening up of a walking route from the South Bank through Bankside and to Tower Bridge and beyond, along with attractions such as the London Eye and growth in the numbers of bars and restaurants has significantly increased walking across the river, along with the always present use of the bridge as a route between the north bank of the river and Waterloo Station.

Use of the river has grown since 1985 as evidenced by the considerably enlarged Embankment Pier.

In another 35 years time, the Royal Festival Hall will be just over 100 years old – it will be interesting to see how the area changes in the coming decades. One change I suspect will happen is the growth of tower blocks on the south bank beyond Waterloo Bridge and across the City. The area around the old London Weekend Television tower block and the London Studios will certainly look very different.

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Wapping Old Stairs

I have touched very briefly on Wapping Old Stairs in a previous post, when I went for a walk along Wapping High Street and Wapping Wall. I am returning to the stairs as when working through the photos my father had taken on a boat trip along the Thames in August 1948, I found one of Wapping Old Stairs and the adjacent Oliver’s Wharf.

Wapping Old Stairs

I tried to take a photo of the same view when out on the river a couple of months ago, but failed completely to get as good a photo as the one above.

The following photo is the area today. Oliver’s Wharf is the building on the right, the stairs are to the left of Oliver’s Wharf.Wapping Old Stairs

What I love about these photos is that they frequently show people, often children, on the stairs (for example, see the post on Emerson Stairs), and this includes the photo of Wapping Old Stairs, see the following enlargement from the original which shows two children at the bottom of the stairs.

Wapping Old Stairs

Wapping Old Stairs are – old. There is the possibility that stairs at this location date back to the 16th century or earlier. The first newspaper reference I can find is from the 12th August 1736 when “The Body of a young Man well dressed, with a Watch and a Sum of Money in his Pockets, was taken up floating at Wapping Old Stairs: Upon fetching him he appeared to be an Apprentice belonging to Mr. Stilton, a Currier in Bermondsey-street; but by what Means he came drowned is very uncertain.”

This report confirms that in 1736 they were called the “Old” stairs. This part of the name was used to separate these stairs from another set of stairs built slightly to the east along the river, which were called Wapping New Stairs (these can also be found today).

The following extract from the 1896 Ordnance Survey Map shows Oliver’s Wharf and Wapping New Stairs to the left of the map, just before the Wapping Entrance to Wapping Basin of the London Docks. Towards the right of the map are Wapping New Stairs, just by Old Aberdeen Wharf.

Wapping Old Stairs

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

So presumably Wapping Old Stairs were the original stairs, and Wapping New Stairs came latter, with the old and new being added to uniquely identify the stairs. This method of identifying stairs can be found in the names of a number of Thames stairs, for example I have already written about Horselydown Old and New Stairs.

Despite being called “New”, Wapping New Stairs are also old, and I found a newspaper reference to them a couple of years before that for Wapping Old Stairs, when, from the 28th December 1728:

“On Monday, between one and two in the Morning, a Fire was discovered at the Waterman’s Arms Ale-House near Wapping New Stairs, and by timely assistance was quenched, having only burnt some Apparel and a Chest, on which the Servant Maid of the House had stuck a Candle, but had fallen asleep and left it burning.”

The number of fires in the timber buildings along the river was considerable, and a regular occurrence. In the same newspaper was another report of a fire at the nearby Gun Dock:

“Yesterday Morning early, a Fire broke out at a Hatter’s near Gun Dock in Wapping, which in a short space consumed the same, and three other Houses adjoining to it: In one of the Houses a Man and three Women went upstairs to save some Goods, but were prevented by the Flames from getting down again: one was saved by escaping over the Tops of some Houses, and the three Women flung themselves out of a Window into the street but one of them (a Servant Maid) pitched on her Head and died on the Spot.”

Both stairs therefore date from at least the early 18th century, with Wapping Old Stairs almost certainly being of a much earlier date.

Both stairs also feature on the 1746 Rocque map. The following extract shows Wapping Old Stairs to the right of the map (the new stairs are also on the map, but on a separate page in my copy of Roque’s maps).

Wapping Old Stairs

Thames stairs provide a useful geographic reference point to events on the river, and newspapers from the early 18th century onward are full of reports of bodies being found, arrivals and departures, crime, lost goods, arriving and departing ships etc.

One report from the 28th October 1738 gives an idea of the types of exotic goods that were arriving at Wapping in the 18th century:

“On Saturday Mess. Wills and Fleming, two Tide Surveyors, found 200 lb of Venice Glass at Wapping Old Stairs, which were sunk in the River in three Bags, fix’d to two Boat-Hooks very artfully. ‘Tis a rich Capture.”

I suspect that 200 lbs of Venice Glass would indeed be a rich capture. What the report does not help with is why they were in the river – lost while transferring from river to land, or perhaps hidden in the river by a thief, ready for later recovery.

Thames river stairs are rich sources of history for that part of London that forms the boundary between river and land (see my post on Life and Death at Alderman Stairs, where I explored in more detail the history of one set of Thames stairs).

Wapping Old Stairs also probably has more cultural references than the majority of other river stairs.

Wapping Old Stairs was the title of a Comic Opera at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1894:

Wapping Old Stairs

The St. James’s Gazette review of the play, which had a rather serious subject for a comic opera:

“The author and composer of ‘Wapping Old Stairs’, the new opera or operetta produced at the Vaudeville on Saturday night, may be congratulated on having achieved a genuine musical and dramatic success. There is but little of the spectacular element in the piece; the same set scene does duty throughout, and almost the only dresses are those of sailors and of their constant associates, ‘the merry maids of Wapping’. The eminent musician in using for his score the old melody of ‘Wapping old Stairs’ , which might have been treated with dramatic effect. 

Mr Stuart Robertson’s book, with but little dramatic basis is ingeniously constructed, and his lyrics are written with grace and point. It appears that in the last century, or even earlier, two sailors of Wapping fell in love with the same girl; on which the most unscrupulous of the young woman’s admirers committed a murder, and so arranged matters that his rival was looked upon as the assassin and, to save his life, fled to foreign parts. But after the lapse of many years the truth came out; when the good man returned to the land of his birth and the girl of his heart, while the bad man was executed, and after ‘ suspension by the neck’ hung ignominiously in chains.

This story is, no doubt a little tragic for a comic opera, and the librettist, whilst softening its harsher features, has introduced in abundance the element of mirth.”

The Vaudeville Theatre is probably the nearest that most West End theatre goers would get to the realities of life in 19th century Wapping. The review of the play also comments on the execution by hanging, which refers to the practice of hanging criminals along the river and a number of places, including Wapping Old Stairs have been referenced as “Execution Dock”. I suspect no single site was used and a number of locations along the Wapping riverbank would have been used.

The Tatler in 1903 produced the following print to go with a song written by Charles Dibdin which referenced the stairs:

“Your London girls with all their airs

Must strike to Poll of Wapping Stairs

No tighter lass is going

From Iron Gate to Limehouse Hole

You’ll never meet a kinder soul

Not while the Thames is flowing”

Wapping Old Stairs

Wapping Old Stairs is reached today, as it has been for many years, by turning off Wapping High Street and walking alongside a pub, which possibly dates back to the 15th Century as the location for a pub. Known from 1533 as The Red Cow, then the Ramsgate Old Town and finally from 1811 as the Town of Ramsgate. This may also date the origins of Wapping Old Stairs as a pub alongside stairs would be ideal for those arriving or departing on the river.

Wapping Old Stairs

The narrow alley leading to the stairs:

Wapping Old Stairs

View of the stairs at low tide:

Wapping Old Stairs

The liquefied mud covering the stairs at low tide does make the stairs a rather risky route down to the foreshore, but once at the bottom, the reward is a superb view along the river. The photo below is the view looking west towards the City. The entrance to what was the London Docks can be seen where the river wall appears to break.

Wapping Old Stairs

The foreshore is littered with London’s history. Rounded nodules of chalk, once used to provide a flattened base on the foreshore for mooring barges and lighters. The bricks that once built the City and Docks, now broken and worn by a thousand tides.

The distinctive two sets of stairs. I suspect the stairs on the right are the original Wapping Old Stairs, and those on the left were added to provide private access for the buildings on the left, built alongside the entrance to the London Docks.

Wapping Old Stairs

It was at the base of these stairs that the children were sitting in the 1948 photo. Interesting to speculate on the countless thousand who have arrived or departed along these stairs, transported cargo to and from the river, or just sat here and watched the river.

The small dock space to the right of the stairs is much the same as in 1948.

Wapping Old Stairs

In the centre of the dock wall, at the point between light and shadow in the above photo is a large round pipe that looks to have been filled, above is a manufacturer’s name:

Wapping Old Stairs

J. Burton Sons & Waller were Gas, Hydraulic and Sanitary Engineers  of John’s Place, Holland Street, Blackfriars, Southwark.

As usual, a brief exploration of part of London’s history, and writing these posts always generates a long list for further research. When were Wapping Old Stairs first used and named, and what part did the stairs play in the development of Wapping. Confirmation of the reason for the double sets of stairs. What did J. Burton Sons & Waller install at Wapping Old Stairs.

For me, the Thames Stairs are where I feel closest to London’s long history in that unique area between the river and the land, and there are many more stairs to explore.

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Fitzrovia Chapel or the Middlesex Hospital Chapel

A brief post for this Sunday, with a visit to a stunning building that is almost all that remains of one of London’s early hospitals. This is the chapel of the old Middlesex Hospital, now known as the Fitzrovia Chapel.

Turn off Tottenham Court Road into Goodge Street, then cross over to where it becomes Mortimer Street, and a short distance along is this rather bland entrance to a recent development – Fitzroy Place.

Fitzrovia Chapel

This is the site of the old Middlesex Hospital, now occupied by a development of apartments, restaurants and office space. There is one main survivor of the hospital, located at the core of the new development that is well worth a visit. This is the chapel of the Middlesex Hospital, now known as the Fitzrovia Chapel. Located in a central square, partly behind a row of trees is the brick built chapel, looking very different from the buildings that now surround.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The exterior of the Fitzrovia Chapel is relatively plain, constructed mainly of red brick with very little in the way of exterior decoration, but step inside the building and a very different experience awaits.

Looking along the nave of the chapel towards the altar (behind the TV screen), and the chancel.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Looking up at the decoration of the chapel.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The interior decoration of the chapel is the complete opposite to the exterior. Colour and decoration cover almost every surface.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The Fitzrovia Chapel is of relatively recent construction. Dating from 1891, with the interior decoration completed by 1929, although the origins of the Middlesex Hospital of which the chapel was part, date back to the 1740s.

The chapel was commissioned by the governors of the hospital in the 1880s as a memorial to Major Alexander Henry Ross, MP who had been Chairman of the Board of hospital governors for 21 years. The architect was John Loughborough Pearson who used a background in Gothic religious architecture to his design for the Middlesex Hospital Chapel.  He would not live to see the chapel completed as he died in 1897, however work on the chapel was continued by his son, Frank Loughborough Pearson, and the chapel was finally completed in 1929.

One of the reasons for the length of time it took to complete the chapel was that a commitment was made that no money meant for patient care would be used for the chapel, so as well as the time needed for building and the complex decoration, it was also the time needed to collect sufficient donations to finish such as beautiful building.

The vaulted roof of the chapel is decorated with stars against a stunning gold background with bands of decoration meeting at the centre.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Another view of the roof.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Stained glass windows add to the impression of a religious building, which indeed it is, however the chapel was not consecrated (there was no legal Deed of Consecration), but was dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in February 1939, who described the building as “without question one of the most beautiful hospital chapels in the realm”.

Fitzrovia Chapel

A weekly service held in the chapel was relayed across the hospital to patients.

The chapel was used for many different purposes over the years. Services, concerts by touring choirs, funerals, however one of the more unusual was probably after the death of Rudyard Kipling at the Middlesex Hospital in January 1936. Kipling, who was described in newspaper reports of the time as the “poet of the British Empire”, was taken to the chapel, where his coffin, draped in a Union Jack, was placed before the altar. A bunch of violets were placed on the coffin. These had been sent by Mrs Baldwin, the wife of the Prime Minister. His body was later cremated and his ashes interred in Westminster Abbey.

Since the original establishment of the Middlesex Hospital, the hospital buildings have been through a number of waves of extension and rebuilding, and the last major rebuild was at the time when the chapel was completed, when virtually the whole of the hospital was rebuilt during the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Either side of the entrance to the nave of the chapel is an apse. The south-west apse is decorated in rich blue and golds.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Which provides space for a font, built from a solid block of deep green marble.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The north-west apse includes a roundel of Saint Barnabas just below the vaulted roof.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The organ gallery above the main entrance to the nave.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The vestibule between the entrance to the chapel and the nave is lined with plaques recording the names of those who donated towards the costs of the chapel, eminent hospital staff, as well as hospital staff who died on duty, including nurses such Dorothy Adams, Maudie Mason, and Grace Briscoe who died from influenza and scarlet fever in 1919.

Fitzrovia Chapel

There are also plaques commemorating John and Frank Loughborough Pearson, the architects of the chapel.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The central square of Fitzroy Place, in which the chapel is located, is called Pearson Square, after the architect(s) of the chapel.

From the 1980s onward, the functions of the Middlesex Hospital were gradually relocated to other London hospitals, with final closure of the site in 2005 when the remaining services were moved to University College Hospital.

The site was sold off for private development, and with the exception of the chapel which was Grade II listed, the entire hospital was demolished in 2008, leaving a large expanse of land with the chapel at the centre. The financial crash of 2008 delayed redevelopment of the site, which was finally commenced in 2011.

As with any large development in London during the last few decades, development included going down as well as up, and the space for four floors of car parking and other facilities was excavated around the chapel, which was underpinned and supported on piers to protect the structure of the chapel.

A condition of Westminster City Council’s planning permission for the overall site was that the developers would fund the restoration of the chapel, which had deteriorated as the hospital gradually contracted and closed. Following restoration, the chapel opened in 2015, having also been transferred to an independent charitable foundation, the Fitzrovia Chapel Foundation to maintain, preserve and run the chapel. It is now open for public viewing on  Wednesday’s, as well as being available for hire for secular wedding ceremonies (I assume because the chapel was dedicated rather than consecrated), exhibition space, private functions etc.

At the time of redevelopment of the site and restoration of the chapel, there was a campaign to retain the name of the Middlesex Hospital Chapel, however this original name probably did not fit with the developer’s intentions for the branding of the new development. The Middlesex Hospital Chapel became the Fitzrovia Chapel to reflect the wider area of Fitzrovia, rather than the old hospital.

I am no expert, but it does seem a trend of the last few decades where public institutions are gradually dispersed allowing a central site to be closed and sold off. Middlesex Hospital had been in operation for over two hundred years and had built up a long tradition of expertise, team work and institutional memory – things which take many years to develop, but are quickly lost and almost impossible to replace.

The Fitzrovia Chapel is all that is left to recall the hospital that once occupied the wider site for over two hundred years. Although it has a new name, hopefully, it will always be the Middlesex Hospital Chapel.

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Tintern Abbey – Summer 1947 and 2019

As long-term readers of the blog will know, as well as photographing London, my father also took many photos across the country, on National Service and whilst cycling the country and staying at Youth Hostels. For this week’s post, I am visiting a site photographed in 1947. Tintern Abbey in South Wales. I returned in August of this year on a hot sunny day, when a clear blue sky emphasised the beauty of this part of the country, that runs along the valley of the River Wye.

It seemed the right time for the post, on the weekend with the shortest day of the year and the winter solstice, to remember and look forward again to long, sunny summer days.

This was the 1947 view, approaching Tintern Abbey on the road from Chepstow:

Tintern Abbey

A closer view of the abbey:

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey is alongside the River Wye which forms the border between England and Wales, so the abbey sits just inside the Welsh border. The River Wye runs through a valley carved through the hills that run along both sides of the river. The majority of the hills are covered in trees, indeed there seems to be more tree cover in 2019 than there was in 1947.

The following map shows the location of Tintern Abbey (circled). The River Severn is the large area of water to the right. the new Severn Crossing is at the bottom of the map and the River Wye curves and loops up from the Severn to create the most wonderful landscape, and to pass alongside Tintern Abbey  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Tintern Abbey

Within the grounds of the abbey. The surrounding hills provide a tree covered background to the ruins.

Tintern Abbey

The origins of Tintern Abbey date back to 1131 when Walter Fitz Richard of Clare, the Anglo-Norman Lord of Chepstow founded the abbey for Cistercian monks who established a basic abbey consisting of timber buildings, alongside the River Wye. Stone buildings soon followed, but it would not be until 1269 when construction would start on the abbey we see today.

The borders between England and Wales were a frequently contested area and Marcher Lords, appointed by the Crown, held land in both Wales and England on either side of the border. It was the patronage of one of the Marcher Lords, Earl Roger Bigod, Lord of Chepstow, who contributed significantly to the funding of the abbey built from 1269. The Bigod family were also responsible for much of the construction of nearby Chepstow Castle.

Work continued through to the early years of the 14th century, when the stunning Gothic church was completed, surrounded by the building and infrastructure of an important Cistercian Abbey of the 14th century.

The abbey would last for a further 200 years, until King Henry VIII’s Reformation when Tintern Abbey was taken by the Crown in 1536.

There then followed centuries of decay. The lead roof was melted down, the arches supporting the roof of the magnificent nave would collapse, the surrounding buildings would be demolished, mainly down to foundation level and much of the stone of the abbey would be robbed and reused for other construction in the area.

The following photo shows the view in 1947, looking along the south transept. The group of men in Army uniform in the foreground were probably with my father, as from other photos he was also in uniform, as part of his National Service was in nearby Chepstow.

Tintern Abbey

After centuries of neglect, Tintern Abbey was rediscovered in the 18th century. The ruins were covered in ivy, small trees and plant growth. The remains of parts of the roof and stone work from the walls covered the abbey grounds.

This “Romantic” view of the British countryside, and antiquities from the past, were the fashion of the time, and became the focus of early forms of tourism.

The romantic view of Tintern Abbey was fed by authors such as Reverend William Gilpin, the poet William Wordsworth, and by the artist JMW Turner, who in 1794 completed the following painting of the east window of Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D00374 Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

By 1947, tree and plant growth had been removed, rubble and stone covering the floor of the abbey had been cleared, but the east window still looked exactly the same as when Turner visited the site at the end of the 18th century.

Tintern Abbey

And the east window in the summer of 2019:

Tintern Abbey

The central church of Tintern Abbey looks glorious on a sunny summer’s day. Although the roof has been lost, there is enough of the medieval architecture and craftsmanship remaining to understand what a significant building this must have been.

What is not obvious today, is that many of the standing piers of the abbey ruins have a steel core. After the abbey was handed to the Crown, many of the walls were found to be in such a state that temporary piers were built below the arches. This allowed the original piers to be dismantled, with steel stanchions then being installed, with the original facing stones then being replaced around the new steel core.

The following photo looks along the nave towards the west window.

Tintern Abbey

Although the nave is clear today, when Tintern Abbey was in use, the nave would have been split into separate areas with partition walls, and passages running along the length of the side walls.

The view looking towards the south transept.

Tintern Abbey

Substantial columns, arches and walls, again demonstrate the scale of the original church.

Tintern Abbey

The eastern view of the central church, with the east window:

Tintern Abbey

The view from the north is shown in the following photograph. To the north of the central church, there are the foundations and many of the remaining walls of the buildings that once supported the many functions associated with the abbey – living spaces, store rooms, kitchens etc.

Tintern Abbey

The location contributes so much to the history of Tintern Abbey. The following photo, taken slightly further north, shows the River Wye, the surrounding hills and to the right, the tops of the walls of Tintern Abbey can be seen.

Tintern Abbey

This helps understand why Tintern Abbey was built in such a location.

It was probably a suitable area of flat ground, but being next to the River Wye provided easy access to the River Severn, and therefore out to sea. The River Wye also provides access inland with the town of Monmouth being further north along the river. Transport along the river would have been so much easier than along medieval roads, and probably much safer. The river also must have provided a supply of fish to supplement the monk’s diet. The surrounding hills provided a large supply of timber and wood for burning.

As well as the painting by Turner, Tintern Abbey was the subject of a large number of paintings and drawings that focused on the Gothic / Romantic nature of the ruins.

Tintern Abbey

A south view of Tintern Abbey after S.C. Jones and dated to 1825:

Tintern Abbey

An 1805 hand coloured print of Tintern Abbey:

Tintern Abbey

From the late 18th century onward, Tintern Abbey has attracted significant numbers of visitors. Although the abbey today is not the overgrown, romantic vision which attracted early tourists to the site, it is still remarkably impressive, not just the abbey ruins, but the location which seems to complement the abbey perfectly. The 12th century monks could not have picked a better location.

Tintern Abbey was sold to the Crown in 1901 and is now the responsibility of Cadw, (the Welsh Government’s historic environment service).

Although much of the surroundings of the abbey, not occupied by the church, walls and foundations, are grass lawns, there is a large oak tree that dates from 1911, and the plaque demonstrates that the abbey grounds were seen as the appropriate place to commemorate national events.

Tintern Abbey

The abbey is named after the village of Tintern, which is strung out along the road that passes the abbey, and in the surrounding hills. Evidence of occupation in the Bronze Age can be found in the surrounding hills. In the 6th century, the West Saxons had started to expand into South Wales and in 765 a small church is recorded at Tintern Parva (little Tintern, at the northern end of the village).

According to the Penguin Dictionary of British Place Names, the name is of Celtic origin. The Welsh form of the name is Tyndyrn and means “king’s fortress”.

According to legend, Tewdric, the King of Gwent won a battle against the Saxons near Tintern. In 1849 a sculpture of the event was exhibited in the Sculpture Room of the Royal Academy. The work by J.E. Thomas shows the wounded King Tewdric urging on the pursuit of the fleeing Saxons, attended by his only daughter, Marchell and an aged Welsh bard.

Works such as this, as well as the many prints and paintings of the abbey added to the historical and romantic interest in visiting the area.

From the mid 16th century, a number of iron works were established in the surrounding hills and brass was produced for cannons. Iron works and wire production continued to the late 19th century.

Construction of the Chepstow to Monmouth road in 1829 improved access to the abbey and village, which was further enhanced in 1876 with the opening of the Wye Valley Railway. This must have been one of the most picturesque railways in the country, however it seems to have permanently run at a loss and passenger services closed in 1959, with the line continue to carry limited volumes of production from quarries close to the route, however this trade also finished in 1990 when the railway closed.

To the west of the abbey is a large, relatively flat field:

Tintern Abbey

Goal posts on the field give a clue that this is a community resource. The field also backs onto a pub and cafes between the field and Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey

My father also took a number of photos in this field during his visit to Tintern Abbey in 1947:

Tintern Abbey

I have no idea what was happening, whether this was some village event, or perhaps part of the facilities put on for tourists visiting the abbey on a sunny, summer’s day – I suspect the later.

Tintern Abbey

Today, the road leading to the abbey, to the side of the field, is lined with a couple of cafes, gift shop, pub and car parks. The location is popular not just for the abbey, but for walking along the River Wye and the surrounding hills. In 2019 though, there were no horse rides available.

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

Whether for the history, architecture, the River Wye or the surrounding landscape, Tintern Abbey is a fascinating place to visit. And revisiting on the weekend of the shortest day of the year, after weeks of rain and overcast skies, it is a reminder for me that the days will now get longer and the sun will start to rise higher in the sky.

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The Albert Memorial – A 19th Century World View

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Garden’s is far more than just a memorial to Prince Albert. It is also an embodiment in stone of the Victorian world view. The gleaming gold statue at the centre provides the focal point, but look around the memorial and we can catch a glimpse of how the Victorians saw the world.

The memorial was photographed by my father using Black & White film on a gloriously sunny winter’s day in 1948:

Albert Memorial

The same view on a rather overcast late summer day, 71 years later in 2019:

Albert Memorial

A landscape photo to get a wider view of the base of the memorial:

Albert Memorial

And the same view in 2019:

Albert Memorial

As could be expected, the view is almost the same across 71 years. The Albert Memorial, and the immediate surroundings are the same, as are the majority of the trees in the background.

With London’s ever changing built environment, it is good that there are some places where you can look at a view which has not changed for many years.

The only difference to the memorial is the lack of a cross at the top in the 1948 photo. This was part of the original build, and is part of the memorial today, but was missing in 1948. Bomb damage had knocked off the cross in 1940, and caused damage to the overall memorial. The cross had been replaced by 1955, along with repairs to the overall structure. The following photo shows the Albert Memorial covered in scaffolding in 1954 during post war restoration work:

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial as it appeared soon after completion in 1876, with the gold cross at the top of the monument (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

Albert Memorial

Prince Albert died on the 14th of December 1861 at the age of 42. There had been plans for a statue of Prince Albert in Hyde Park following the 1851 Great Exhibition, however these had not progressed and the prince had made it known that he was not in favour of statues of himself.

After his death, there were many memorials planned and implemented across the country, but the one that attracted the majority of attention, was for a memorial in London. Hyde Park seemed the obvious location as this would build on the original plan for a statue following the 1851 Great Exhibition, however the location would be moved to Kensington Gardens, opposite the Albert Hall which was completed in 1871, a few years prior to the Albert Memorial.

In 1862 a committee was formed to raise funds for a memorial, and proposals were submitted for a memorial from a range of sculptors and architects. Many of the initial designs featured an obelisk. The following is one such early design for the Albert Memorial (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London):

Albert Memorial

The obelisk idea would be dropped in favour of designs that featured a central statue of Prince Albert, surrounded by ornamental statues. Options included the central statue being both covered and open.

Proposals for the memorial took on more of an architectural influence, and one of the submissions was by George Gilbert Scott, who commissioned a model of his proposed design from Farmer and Brindley of Westminster Bridge Road. The model in the following photo shows a Gothic inspired canopy, with spire and cross enclosing a gilded statue of Prince Albert (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London):

Albert Memorial

Scott’s plans were included in plans submitted to Queen Victoria for approval, and in 1863 Scott’s plans for the Albert Memorial were approved and given the go-ahead, including a sum of £50,000 voted by Parliament to add to the sums already raised by subscriptions.

Construction of the overall Albert Memorial was divided across a number of builders and sculptors.

The builder John Kelk was responsible for the central memorial. The initial sculptor of the central statue of Prince Albert was Baron Carlo Marochetti, however Marochetti died before the work was complete, and the sculptor J. H. Foley was chosen to complete the statue of Prince Albert.

Albert Memorial

The gilding of Albert’s statue was rather controversial after being unveiled. The Globe on Thursday, March 9th 1876 reported:

“The statue of the Prince Consort, facing the Albert Hall, appeared uncovered this morning, glittering in all the splendour of gold. It is most difficult to judge of the artistic value of the work, from the fact that it is very dazzling to the eye, but this result of the work, so long waited for, does not upon a first glance leave a very favourable impression.”

In addition to Prince Albert, there are eight statues to the practical arts and sciences on the pillars and niches of the canopy. There are also eight works surrounding the central canopy.

Four, mounted at each corner on plinths extending from the base of the central canopy represent the “industrial Arts”. These are Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce and Engineering.

The four outer works, at the corners of the railings that separate the memorial from the granite steps leading down to the street, represent the four corners of the globe – Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

All of these works were created by a different sculptor, but in overall form and size had to conform with Scott’s overall design for the memorial.

These eight surrounding works were to represent the interests to which Prince Albert devoted his life, along with the global view of the British Empire, and the memorial was to be viewed as a whole, not just the central statue of Prince Albert.

Construction of the memorial was over a number of years, with the gilded statue completing the memorial in 1876.  As well as the newspaper report on the controversial gilding of the statue, completion finally allowed the memorial to be viewed as a whole, as this report from the Globe on the 10th March 1876 describes:

“The Albert Memorial has at last been completed, and was yesterday dedicated to the public, the statue of the Prince having been uncovered without any attending ceremony.

It is scarcely possible as yet to fairly criticise the effect which the final addition to the monument produces. The colossal statue of the Prince dazzles the eye from the brilliancy of the fresh gilding, and makes the rest of the structure appear rather to disadvantage in point of contrast. An English climate and a city atmousphere will, however, soon correct these defects. Even as it is, the merits of the statue are apparent. hitherto, the memorial had a straggling and incomplete appearance. the several groups which composed it, admirable in point of detail and as separate pieces, wanted concentration and unity. The superb designs representing the four quarters of the world had no structural identity with the architectural part of the monument, and seemed isolated and disconnected. the public can now judge how happy was the idea of giving to the central figure a gilded surface. This mass of glowing lustre attracts the eye at once, and by its importance reduces all the rest of the sculpture to its true subsidiary position.

The gilding of the figure connects the gilding of the roof and shrine above with the gilding of the railwork that forms the extreme limit beneath, and thus makes the whole harmonious. It is necessary, perhaps to insist a little on this advantage, for other points have necessarily been sacrificed to attain it.

A gilded statue can neither be as satisfactory in resemblance, taken by itself, as bronze or as marble. But the true view of the memorial is to regard it as an example of decorative art. Its perfection consists in its entirety. The shrine is as valuable as the treasure which it encloses. We are not to treat the memorial which “Queen Victoria and her people have erected for posterity as a tribute of their gratitude” simply as a statue of the Prince Consort, with suitable surroundings. That would be to miss the whole scheme and design of its originator.

The monument of the Prince happily illustrates those arts and sciences which the devotion of his life nobly fostered in the midst of a not too enlightened people.

The whole structure is as much a memorial of Prince Albert as the statue which recalls his well-known presence.

We see it at last completed after a lapse of ten years, and welcome it as an answer to that piece of flippant generalisation which proclaims that nothing in this country which attempts to be artistic can be successful.”

Around the base of the central canopy and out to the railings that surround the memorial are eight groups of sculpture. The inner four represent the “Industrial Arts” and the outer four represent the four corners of the globe. Each work was by a different sculptor.

Three of my father’s photos were of these works. Photographed on a sunny day, with the sun in the right position, and in black & white film, which after looking at my colour photos, I am of the view that black & white is one of the best ways to photograph this type of work.

Europe:

Albert Memorial

Another view of the Europe sculpture grouping with the central canopy in the background:

Albert Memorial

Africa:

Albert Memorial

On a rather dull, late summer’s day, I photographed all the sculpture groupings, starting with the outer works of four corners of the globe.

This is Asia by John Henry Foley:

Albert Memorial

Europe by Patrick Macdowell:

Albert Memorial

The figures in each of these works were symbolic of the countries they represented, so in the Europe grouping above, the central figure as viewed from this perspective is that of France – a military power, holding a sword in the figure’s right hand, and a laurel wreath in the left hand.

America by John Bell:

Albert Memorial

Africa by William Theed:

Albert Memorial

Now come the inner groupings, the industrial arts, starting with Agriculture by Calder Marshall:

Albert Memorial

Manufacturers by Henry Weekes:

Albert Memorial

Engineering by John Lawlor:

Albert Memorial

Commerce by Thomas Thornycroft:

Albert Memorial

There are further works, around the base of the podium with a continuous frieze of reliefs which represent poets, musicians, painters, architects and sculptors. The frieze was split between two sculptors, J.B. Philips was responsible for architects and sculptors and H.H. Armstead for the rest of the works.

Albert Memorial

Detail of part of the musicians section of the frieze:

Albert Memorial

Each individual is named either above or below the figure.

Detail from the musicians frieze:

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial is a complex object, and was both loved and criticised when revealed as a completed work.

The gilding of the statue of Prince Albert, the arrangement of the surrounding sculptures, the sculptural work and interpretation of the theme of each work. The Gothic canopy. The whole memorial needs to be considered as a single piece of work, and was intended to reflect the interests of Prince Albert. The choice of characters and their interpretation reflects the mid Victorian outlook on the world, and the central frieze acts as an encyclopedia of those considered important in their respective cultural fields.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the Albert Memorial was in a critical state.

The statue of Prince Albert had been blackened during the First World War, to prevent it being a target during Zeppelin raids. The surrounding sculptures were damaged, and the whole memorial was in need of cleaning and repair.

A decade long restoration of the memorial was completed in 1998, which included Prince Albert being re-gilded. He now shines in the sun, as intended, as he looks out over south Kensington.

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