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Cloak Lane Police Station

All my walks have sold out, however I have had a request to run the “South Bank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain” walk on a weekday, so have added a walk on Thursday, the 9th of November, which can be booked here.

I have now been writing the blog for nine and a half years, and it has changed the way I look at things when walking the streets of the city. I now take far more notice of all the little indicators to the history of an area, a street or a building.

Whether it is the way that streets dip and rise, and the sound of running water rising from below a drain cover, both hinting at a lost river, the way the shape of a building hints at an early street pattern before a Victorian road improvement, or the numerous plaques and architectural features telling of a building’s former use.

A typical example of this was when I walked along Cloak Lane in the City a couple of weeks ago. Although I have walked through the street numerous times over the years, I had not noticed this foundation stone on a building on the corner of Cloak Lane and College Hill:

Cloak Lane police station

What caught my attention with this foundation stone is that it was laid by a Deputy Chairman of the Police Committee.

The building does not seem to have any current connection with the Police service and is now an office block, and appears to be on sale for offers in excess of £14.7 million.

The building looks as if it was once home to an institution of some form. Plainly decorated and mainly brick with stone cladding on the ground floor, the building still projects a strong, functional image onto Cloak Lane.

The foundation stone on the building is now the only reminder that this was built for the City of London Police and opened as Cloak Lane Police Station:

Cloak Lane police station

As the foundation stone records, Cloak Lane Police Station dates from 1885.

At the time, Cloak Lane was one of six police divisions across the City. They were centered on police stations at Cloak Lane, Minories, Bishopsgate, Bridewell Place, Snow Hill and Moor Lane.

The City of London Police came into being in 1839 when the City of London Police Act was passed on the 17th of August 1839. Before this act, policing in the City was built around a Day Patrol of Constables, and a Night Patrol which started with elected Ward Constables and Watchmen, with Watch Houses that later became the first Police Stations located across the City.

The 1839 Act provided statutory approval of the City of London Police, appointed a Commissioner of Police who was selected by the City’s Court of Common Council, and probably of more importance to the City of London, the Act ensured that the City’s police would be kept separate and not merged with the Metropolitan Police. A separation which continues to this day.

The City of London Police seems to have been funded by the Corporation of London, and funded by a police rate paid by the businesses and residents of the City.

There appears to have been some concern about the extra costs of the new building as in the City Press in 1885 there was the following: “There is every probability of an increase in the city rating, which is already exceedingly heavy. A new police-station is about to be erected in Cloak Lane which will involve an additional penny in the police rate, unless the cost of the building is spread over several years”.

I cannot find the exact date when the new station opened, however it appears to have been built quickly as by 1886 newspapers were starting to carry reports about events involving the station, including what must have been a most unusual use for the new police station:

“AN ADDER CAUGHT IN A LONDON STREET. There is now to be seen at the Police Station, Cloak Lane, City, an adder, about 15 inches long, which was seen in Cannon Street a morning or two ago basking in the sun on the foot pavement, although large numbers of persons were passing to and fro at the time.

A constable’s attention was drawn to the strange sight, and he managed to get it into a box and take it to the station. It is conjectured that it must have been inadvertently conveyed to town in some bale or other package of goods. The creature, which is pronounced to be a fine specimen, has been visited by large numbers of persons.”

I could not find any record of what happened to the adder after its appearance at Cloak Lane police station.

Cloak Lane is to the south of Cannon Street, and runs a short distance west from Cannon Street Station.

The building did suffer bomb damage during the war (although it is not marked on the LCC Bomb Damage Maps). A high explosive bomb did penetrate the roof and caused considerable internal damage. There are a number of photos of the damage in the London Picture Archive, including the photo at this link.

As a result of this damage, there may have been some repairs and rebuilding of the structure, and it is hard to be sure how much of the building is the original 1886 station.

The longest axis of the building is on Cloak Street, with the shortest axis running down College Hill as the building is on the corner of these two streets.

What is strange is that the main entrance to the building is on Cloak Lane, and the building was known as Cloak Lane police station, however as can be seen to the left of the door in the following photo, it has an address of 1 College Hill:

Cloak Lane police station

The arms of the City of London can be seen in the pediment above the door. I am not sure who the figure on the keystone is meant to represent, however it could be Neptune / Old Father Thames, as Cloak Lane police station covered the area along the river not far to the south of the building.

I find it fascinating to use these fixed points in London as a reference to finding out about life in the City over the years, and Cloak Lane police station tells us much about crime in the City of London.

Financial crime seem to be a feature of many of those of who found themselves in Cloak Lane police station. Probably to be expected given the businesses within the City. Two examples:

In September 1952, Colin Vernon Ley was awaiting trial, charged with “while being a Director of Capital Investments Ltd. he unlawfully and fraudulently applied £3,000 belonging to that body to his own use”.

The report of his arrest reads as you would perhaps expect of an arrest in the 1950s:

“At 6.45 p.m. yesterday, said the Inspector, I was with Detective Sergeant Reginald Plumb in Bruton Street, Mayfair, when I saw the prisoner outside the Coach and Horses public house.

I said to him ‘You know who we are, and I hold a warrant for your arrest issued at the Mansion House today.

I cautioned him, and he said ‘I suppose I have to come with you now’. At Cloak Lane Police Station, the warrant was read to him, and he said ‘You were in a position to prove it, no doubt before you got the warrant’. I was present when he was charged and he made no reply.”

On the 10th of October 1959, papers were reporting on the arrest of a solicitor for one of the largest, in value, financial frauds. Friedrich Grunwald, described as a 35 year old Mayfair solicitor was arrested and charged under the Larceny Act with the fraudulent conversion of £3,250,000 entrusted to him by the State Building Society to secure mortgages on properties owned by 161 companies. His arrest was described that:

“At a nod from a colleague, a bowler-hatted Detective-Superintendent Francis Lee, head of the City Fraud Squad, intercepted him on the Embankment near Temple Underground Station and escorted him to a car which drove to Cloak Lane police station”

In January of the following year, Herbert Murray, secretary and managing director of the State Building Society was also arrested and taken to Cloak Lane and would later appear in court with Grunwald.

The problem with using old newspapers for research is that there are so many random interesting articles to be found on the same page. If you have ever wondered why and when the Guards at Buckingham Palace moved into the secure area behind the railings, then on the same page as the above article there was:

“PALACE GUARD TO RETREAT BEHIND RAILINGS – Sentries at Buckingham Palace are to retreat behind the railings. They are making their tactical withdrawal to prepared positions to avoid clashes with sight-seers.

It will stop fashion photographers posing scantily dressed models under the men’s noses. It will stop those pictures of kindly small boys tie sentries undone bootlaces. Too often the boys tied the laces of both boots together.”

The River Thames features in a number of events that involved Cloak Lane police station. These normally involved some form of tragedy, due to the nature of police work, and the dangers of the river, such as in April 1924:

“POLICEMAN VANISHES – BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN BLOWN INTO THE THAMES. Police Constable Albert Condery is believed to have met with a tragic death by being blown into the Thames during a storm last night.

It is learned that Condery, who has been in the City Police Force for 20 years, left Cloak Lane Police Station last night to go on duty at Billingsgate Market. He was seen there by the sergeant, but later he was missed, and his helmet was found floating on the Thames near the market. The body has not been recovered.”

The above report was from a time when lone police officers patrolled the city’s streets. Although the following photo was taken by my father in Bankside, not the area covered by Cloak Lane, it does show the traditional image of a policeman patrolling their beat:

London policeman

There were many strange events across the City in which Cloak Lane was involved. In November 1902, papers had the headline “EXTRAORDINARY AFFAIR AT BANK OF ENGLAND – ATTEMPT TO SHOOT THE SECRETARY. A sensation was caused in the Bank of England yesterday by the firing of a revolver by a young man who had entered the library. As he seemed about to continue his firing indiscriminately the officials overpowered and disarmed him. The police were called in, and he was removed to the Cloak Lane Police Station.”

He was unknown by anyone in the Bank of England and whilst at Cloak Lane, he was examined by a Doctor, who came up with the diagnosis that “the man’s mind had given way at the time”.

In August 1891, there were reports of a “Raid on a Cheapside Club”, which officers from Cloak Lane had been watching for some time, with a couple of Detectives having infiltrated the club. Finally there was a raid, when: “A party of 14 plain-clothes officers made a descent upon the premises. At first, admission was refused, and the officers proceeded to smash the glass paneling in the upper portion of the door. Resistance being of course in vain, the door was thrown open, and the detectives rushing in, arrested everyone found in the establishment. twelve persons were taken into custody, and removed to Cloak Lane Police Station.”

The report does not mention why the club was illegal, however reports in later papers when those arrested were in court reveal that it was an illegal betting club, known locally as the United Exchange Club, held in the basement in Cheapside that had been home to the City Billiard Club.

Another view of the old Cloak Lane Police Station. College Hill is the street leading down at the left of the photo. Cloak Lane is where the longest length of the building can be seen, but strangely the address on the main entrance is 1 College Hill:

Cloak Lane police station

In 1914, two of the original six divisions were closed, and the City of London police force was reorganised into four Divisions. These were changed from numbered divisions 1 to 6 to lettered divisions A to D, with Cloak Lane becoming D Division.

In last week’s post on the London Stone, I included a photo from the 1920s publication Wonderful London where a policeman was standing guard over the London Stone.

City of London police had their individual number, followed by a letter for their division on their collar, and looking at the collar number of the policeman shows he was from D Division based at Cloak Lane, which makes sense as Cloak Lane covered Cannon Street.

Cloak Lane Police Station survived until 1965, when it closed and Wood Street became the D Division police station.

The very last report mentioning Cloak Lane Police Station was from December 1965 when an article titled “Foolish Driver in The City” reported on a driver who was seen driving down Friday Street and only just stopping at the junction with Cannon Street. He was arrested on suspicion of being drunk and taken to Cloak Lane Police Station, where he “had to be supported by two officers because he was unsteady on his feet”.

And so ended 80 years of policing from Cloak Lane.

Wood Street (designed by McMorran and Whitby, and built between 1963 and 1966), and which took over from Cloak Lane is shown in the photo below:

Wood Street police station

Wood Street Police Station has in turn been closed.

In the announcement from the Corporation of the City of London, it is stated: “The Grade II* Listed building has been sold to Wood Street Hotel Ltd (wholly owned by Magnificent Hotels) after it was declared surplus to operational requirements by the City of London Police. The developers have purchased the property on a 151-year lease and will turn it into a boutique 5-star hotel, subject to planning permission.”

The architects plans for the building can be seen at this link.

The only indication that the building on the corner of Cloak Lane and College Hill was a police station is the foundation stone laid by the deputy chairman of the police committee.

It now has a very difference use, and those who enter the building are now presumably doing so voluntarily, unlike very many of those who entered the building between 1886 and 1965.

Myths and Legends of the London Stone

Before taking a look at the long history of the London Stone, a quick advert as I have arranged some dates for my very last tours of the year, and the last ones until probably May of next year. I have included all my different tours, and it would be great to show you many of the stories and photos from the blog over the last nine years, at the actual sites.

Dates and links for booking as follows:

It would be wonderful to see you on a walk – now to the London Stone.

In its ability to attract myths and legends, the London Stone is far more powerful than its physical size suggests. A long time resident of the area around what is now Cannon Street Station, but with the distance of time, it is impossible to know the truth about the block of stone, which can now be found in a new housing with a glass front:

London Stone

The new housing for the London Stone was completed in 2018, along with the building of which the stone is part of the ground floor frontage onto Cannon Street:

London Stone

The plaque to the left records some of the key stories about the London Stone:

  • It may be Roman and related to Roman buildings to the south
  • It was already known as the London Stone by the 12th century
  • Jack Cade, the leader of a rebellion against the government of Henry VI in 1450 struck the stone with his sword and claimed to be Lord of London

The plaque on the right tells the story in braille which is rather good.

The previous building on the site was an early 1960s office building, which was demolished 2016, when the London Stone was moved to the Museum of London where is was put on temporary display, before being moved to its new home.

A view of the London Stone through the window at the front of the housing:

London Stone

The site was originally occupied by St. Swithin’s Church, however the church was destroyed by bombing in 1940. The stone walls of the church, with the London Stone, survived, and continued to stand on the site until being demolished for the 1960s office building.

Wonderful London has a photo of the London Stone in its housing on the front of St. Swithin’s Church, I doubt that the stone usually had a police guard:

London Stone

The Wonderful London description below the above photo reads: “Set in a stone casing in the wall of St. Swithin’s, Cannon Street, is this block of oolite, guarded by a grille. It was placed there in 1798, having been transferred from the other side of the road. Camden, the historian, 1551 – 1623, held that it was the milliarium, or milestone, from which distances were calculated on the main roads in days when London was Londinium Augusta. There was a similar stone in the Forum at Rome. If Camden is right, Roman lictors may have stood, like this policeman, in front of the stone 1,600 years ago”.

The text mentions that the stone is a block of oolite, which is a form of limestone, and was used in Roman London for building and sculpture, but may also have arrived in the City in the Saxon and early medieval period.

There was a large Roman building where Cannon Street Station now stands, so it may have formed some part of this building, or some of the decorative sculpture or statues that would have been part of the building.

There is no way to be sure.

The Roman milliarium or milestone story is repeated in multiple accounts of the stone. Sir Walter Besant in his 1910 book on the City of London includes the milestone story, but goes further by saying that some have supposed the stone to be the remains of a British druidical circle or religious monument. He quotes Strype as saying that Owen of Shrewsbury gave rise to the assertion that “the Druids had pillars of stone in veneration, which custom they borrowed from the Greeks”.

Besant also records that “Sir Christopher Wren was of opinion that ‘by reason of its large foundation, it was rather some more considerable monument in the Forum; for, in the adjoining ground to the south, upon digging for cellars after the Great Fire, were discovered some tessellated pavements, and other extensive, and other remains of Roman workmanship and buildings.”

The problem with all these stories about the original Roman use of the London Stone is that there is no firm evidence that it was a milliarium or milestone, when it arrived in the City, whether it was Roman, or the original use of the stone.

What seems to be certain is that the stone has long been in this part of Cannon Street. It was originally on the south side of the street and was also in the street, where it was an obstruction to the traffic flowing along the street.

The Wonderful London quote references that the stone was moved to St. Swithin’s Church, and guarded by a grill in 1798. This was urgently needed to protect the stone, as it appears to have been frequently under attack by those who used the street, as this report from several papers on the 2nd of July 1741 records:

“Thursday a Carman and a Drayman contending for the Way in Cannon-street, made a shift between them to throw down the little Building that covers London Stone (as ’tis call’d) and then pull the said Stone out of the Earth. this being presently known, great Numbers of People flocked to see it, and many curious Observations, Conjectures, and Prognosticks were believed by the Wiseacres present, on so extraordinary an Accident.”

The 16th century historian John Snow, who first published his Survey of London in 1598 included the following reference to the London Stone which explains how it was fixed in position, and why it was a significant obstruction for those who used Cannon Street:

“On the south side of this high street, near unto the channel is pitched upright a great stone called London stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so strongly set, that if Carts do run against it through negligence, the wheels be broken, and the stone it self unshaken.”

The London Stone seems to have been a well known feature of Cannon Street, as it was often used as part of an address, such as in the following from an advert in the Kentish Gazette on Friday, November the 6th, 1795, where a contact was given as “Mr. Sergeant, Number 86, London Stone, Cannon Street”.

And on the 26th of February 1788 there was an announcement in the Kentish Gazette of the marriage at “St. Swithin’s, London Stone, of W.T. Reynolds’s Esq. of Great St. Helen’s to Miss Sands of St. Dunstan’s Hill”

The following print from 1791 shows the London Stone in a casing up against St. Swithin’s church, as although Wonderful London mentioned 1798 for the positioning of the stone against the church, it had been moved to this safe location some years earlier, and in 1798 the church went through a major set of repairs, which included proposals for the stone to be removed as a nuisance, however there were many objections and the stone was kept up against the front of the church © The Trustees of the British Museum):

London Stone

The above print repeats the milliarium story and provides sources from a number of historians, who, to an extent are repeating the same story, but not providing any firm evidence.

The print also includes a reference to Shakespeare’s Henry Vi, Act 4, Scene 6, and it is from this scene that Shakespeare amplified the story of Jack Cade’s association with the London Stone.

Jack Cade led a rebellion in 1450, from the south east of the country against the corruption, poor administration and the abuse of power by the King’s local representatives.

He led a large group of men from the south-east who headed into London in an attempt to raise their grievances, remove from power those they held responsible for corruption and abuse of power, and to reform governance.

Once within the City, the rebellion turned into looting, and the residents of the City turned on the rebels

The rebels were offered a pardon to return home peaceably. Cade as the leader was captured in a fight and died of his injuries as he was being returned to London for trial.

The connection between Jack Cade and the London Stone comes from the rebellion’s entry into the City of London. Cade pretended to use the name of Mortimer, (the family name of ancestors of one of Henry VI’s main rivals), and on reaching the London Stone, he struck his sword on the stone and according to Holinshed (a 16th century English chronicler), he exclaimed “Now is Mortimer Lord of this City”.

Describing the London Stone in Old and New London, Walter Thornbury embellished the story of Jack Cade by adding that “Jack Cade struck with his bloody sword when he had stormed London Bridge”.

This drawing from the late 18th century shows Cade in the act of striking the stone © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Jack Cade

There is no reason why Cade would have used the London Stone in such a way. It was not a tradition for Kings or Lord Mayors of the City to strike the stone for any form of recognition.

Accounts imply that Cade did do this, but it was Shakespeare who really amplified and spread the story, including Cade using the stone as a sort of throne from where he issued proclamations and judgments. All part of the myths surrounding the London Stone.

The above print of Cade does show the stone in the street, not against the church, which appears to have been its location until the 18th century.

The following early 19th century print shows St. Swithin’s Church with the London Stone in the centre of the church, at ground level, facing onto Cannon Street © The Trustees of the British Museum):

London Stone

Another view from the early 19th century which appears to show the housing of the London Stone in a rather poor state © The Trustees of the British Museum):

London Stone

The Illustrated London News on the 13th of March 1937, reported that the London Stone was to be moved to a worthier setting, that it would be moved into an arched recess higher up the church, and flood lit at night.

Unfortunently, these plans were not carried out due to the start of war in 1939.

The Illustrated London News did repeat one of the apparent myths concerning the London Stone, that it “is believed to have originally been a tall prehistoric menhir, and later a Roman milliarium or milestone”, so not just tracing the stone back to Roman origins, but attributing a very much earlier origin as a prehistoric standing stone.

As well as prehistoric origins of the London Stone, there are also a number of myths about spiritual associations with the stone, the position of the stone at a centre of the City, and that if anything ever happens to the London Stone, the City will fall.

The following saying which is alleged to date from the medieval period has been repeated in a number of books about London:

So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe

So long will London flourish

John Clark in Folklore, Vol. 121, No. 1 found that this saying only existed from 1862.

A Brutus Stone seems to have been found in a number of places, for example in the Dartmouth and South Hams Chronicle on the 4th of March 1898: “Mr. Page rather made fun of the Brutus Stone set in the pavement of the High-street in Totnes, and of the claim that it was the stone on which Brutus of Troy landed when he came to Britain.”

Kipling used the name London Stone for a poem published in the Times on the 10th of November 1923. The poem was an elegy on grieving for the dead, however the poem referred to the Cenotaph, rather than the stone in Cannon Street (although the name of the poem was changed in different publications, as explored by the Kipling Society).

Many of the stories associated with the stone are just that, myths and stories, and there is very little to confirm the history of the stone prior to the medieval period.

Wherever stones are found, from the complexity of Stonehenge to a single prehistoric standing stone in a field, they always attract myths and legends.

I used a reference from Sir Walter Besant’s 1910 book on the City of London earlier in the post, and opposite the page on the London Stone was this view looking west along Cannon Street towards St. Paul’s. Part of St. Swithin’s church is on the right, with the London Stone just out of shot:

Cannon Street

One hundred and thirteen years later the street is just as busy. Apart from St. Paul’s there is only one building that is in both views. In the photo below, on the immediate right is a building with distinctive arches over the windows. In the above photo, you can see the same building on the right, a little further down the street.

Cannon Street

The first written reference to the London Stone appears to be from the late 11th century, so the stone is old, but as to its origins and purpose, we can only make educated guesses, and whilst it has moved slightly around its current location in Cannon Street over the centuries, it has looked out on an ever changing street scene.

The Impact of the M25

The Impact of the M25 was the title of a 1982 report from the Standing Conference on London and South East Regional Planning.

I am sure that drivers have long had a love / hate relationship with the M25. When it is flowing well, it is a fast and efficient way around London, to reach different entry points to the city, or main roads and motorways spreading away from the city. At other times, it can be a car park, with a lane closure or accident quickly leading to miles of slow moving and stationary traffic.

The M25 is the latest in a series of attempts at moving traffic around the city. From plans in the 1940s by the City of London to circle the City with dual carriageways that became Upper and Lower Thames Street and London Wall, to the north and south circular, to the M25.

There is also a perception that London begins at the M25, and indeed with the recent expansion of the ULEZ zone, in some places such as near Waltham Abbey to the north, the ULEZ zone is up against the M25, as it is in the east, where to the east of Upminster the zone crosses the M25 to cover a small area of land around North Ockenden.

The M25 is closer to the centre of London in the north and extends further away around the southern stretch of the motorway. The following map shows the M25 as a complete ring around London ( © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Impact of the M25

The M25 is only there because of London. It was built to provide a route around the city without having to travel through built up and congested areas, and to offer a way for lorries and cars traveling from, for example, the midlands to the channel port at Dover, a fast route between the motorways that spread out from London.

However the M25, as indeed with any new road, has an impact far beyond the original intentions of improving traffic flow.

It will result in developments that aim to take advantage of the new road, it will open up areas for regeneration, it will generate new levels of traffic, and it will have an impact on the natural environment of the places through which the road is built.

Investigating the potential impact of the M25 was the aim of the 1982 report, to see what impact on the south-east this major new infrastructure project would have in the years ahead.

At the time of the report, the M25 was under construction, and the following map shows the expected completion dates of individual sections of the motorway from 1982 to 1986:

Impact of the M25

For nearly all post-war planning, the car and lorry were central to transport planning. This had started in the 1930s, and planning for post-war reconstruction in the 1940s expected a significant increase in personal car ownership and use for both work and pleasure purposes.

The cost of car travel would also gradually reduce compared to other forms of transport, and the report included the following graph, which shows that between 1971 and 1981, the costs of London Transport bus fares (1) and underground fares (2) had risen far more than both average earnings (5) and motoring costs (6):

Travel costs and wages

The report identified five major development implications that the M25 would result in:

  1. warehousing serving national and regional markets, for which the areas around Dagenham, Dartford, Grays and Redbridge are likely to be attractive;
  2. high-technology growth industries; which are likely to be attracted to towns just beyond the Green belt;
  3. offices which do not require a central London location. Increased demand in Romford, Croydon, Orpington, Hounslow, Uxbridge and Barnet is envisaged;
  4. hypermarket and superstore developments for which locations close to M25 junctions would be most attractive, but would also conflict with Green Belt policy;
  5. discount shopping stores, for which locations on major cross London routes such as the North Circular Road are likely to be attractive.

Much of the route of the M25 was through Green Belt, and the use of land close to the new motorway, would result in planning problems, and increase the value of land where development was permitted.

The route of the M25 through the Green Belt is shown in the following map:

Impact of the M25

Although there were a few very small exceptions, the M25 did not pass through Grade 1 and 2 agricultural land, although the report identified large areas of the highest quality land in east Hertfordshire, Essex, and north-west Kent, as shown in the following map:

Impact of the M25

Being close to the M25 could result in development pressures to these areas of high grade agricultural land, and these, along with the Green Belt were considered landscape constraints on where additional development could take place, and where proposals for development would threaten the natural environment and the production of food.

As well as agricultural land, a trip around the M25 provides an insight into the underlying geology of the land surrounding London. From the heathlands as you exit the M25 onto the M3, the flat, open lands of Essex as you exit onto the A13 and A127, and the chalk hills around the south of the M25.

Green Belt and agricultural land added to the policy constraints for land development around the M25, with Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Special Landscape Areas also needing to be considered. The scope of these are shown in the following map from the report:

Impact of the M25

As well as natural and agricultural areas that were protected, there were also what the report classified as “Damaged Landscapes” which was land that had, or was being used as mineral workings, refuse tips, sewage works, electricity transmission installations and industrial development.

The report identified that some of these damaged landscapes, such as gravel working could be used for other purpose, such as recreational uses, but cautioned that areas used for refuse tips, mineral workings and sewage works would require very expensive restoration works.

The report also included “landscape under threat” which included deteriorating agricultural and woodland, as well as under-used open land close to urban areas (it is interesting that land always needs to be “used” and cannot just be left).

The areas of land included in these two categories are shown in the following map:

Impact of the M25

I well remember some of these “damaged landscapes”. As a child, an outing to Kent required a drive through the Dartford Tunnel, (which was built before the M25). On the approach to the tunnel from Essex, there were chalk quarries and cement factories on either side of the road.

These places were always coated in a thick grey dust, and I found a couple of photos on the excellent Geograph site showing the cement industry in West Thurrock:

West Thurrock cement industry
West Thurrock Cement Industry, 1974
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Pierre Terre –
West Thurrock cement industry
West Thurrock Cement Industry, 1974
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Pierre Terre –

The nearby Dartford Tunnels (now the Dartford Crossing with the addition of the bridge), is a major part of the M25, although not being officially part of it as the crossing still carries the designation of A282.

The first Dartford Tunnel was planned in the 1930s, and construction work did start, but was soon halted by the outbreak of the Second World War.

Work recommenced in 1959, and the first tunnel opened four years later in 1963. This was a single tunnel with two carriageways to carry traffic in both directions under the river. Crossing through the tunnel required the payment of a toll.

Traffic through the tunnel increased significantly and a second tunnel was planned, a key upgrade given that the M25 was also bang planned.

Money to fund the project was in short supply in the early 1970s, however funding was granted from the European Economic Community, allowing construction of the second tunnel to start in 1974, opening to traffic in 1980, with one tunnel being used for traffic from north to south, and the other tunnel used for south to north traffic.

Entrance to one of the Dartford Tunnels:

Dartford tunnel

Even the two tunnels were insufficient for the increasing volumes of traffic once the M25 had opened, and starting in the late 1980s, construction started on the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, which opened in 1991.

The bridge now takes traffic running from north to south, with the two tunnels carrying traffic from south to north.

View of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge from near the Swanscombe Peninsula:

Queen Elizabeth II river crossing

A journey across the Dartford Crossing, whether through the tunnels or across the bridge has always attracted a toll, which was originally used to cover the costs of construction. Toll booths once collected payment, however there have now been replaced by automatic number plate recognition, and online payment.

I found some figures for the tolls dating from the financial year 2016 – 2017, when the crossing generated almost £205 million, with £92 million coming from fines for unpaid fees, with a further £42 million of unpaid fines being written off as being unenforceable.

The latest traffic figures from National Highways shows that the Dartford Crossing carries more than 180,000 on its busiest days, with the highest amount recorded of 206,713 vehicles, on the 20th of February 2018.

The report tried to identify areas where there were a major development commitment. This data was dependent on local authorities, who provided data from different time periods and different classifications of development, but the plan attempted to identify the main sites and types of proposed developments:

Impact of the M25

Taking one area as an example, to the east, around the river crossing, large circles are shown to north and south of the river for industry and warehousing, with no identification of any planned shopping developments (shown as a small triangle in the above map).

This would change very quickly, with the Lakeside Shopping Centre being built in an old chalk quarry in the second half of the 1980s, in West Thurrock on the north side of the river, and the Bluewater Shopping Centre being built in the second half of the 1990s, again in a former chalk quarry, on the south side of the river.

The M25 provided a wide catchment area for these two shopping centres.

The area around the Dartford Crossing continues to be developed. The old oil and coal fired Littlebrook Power Station complex on the south side of the river next to the Dartford Cross has been demolished in recent years, and the area is now subject to major redevelopment with large numbers of warehouses which take advantage of easy access to the M25.

The M25 has also helped with the expansion of passenger numbers to London’s main airports, with both the M25, and motorways radiating out such as the M23 and M1 opening up large catchment areas for Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton airports.

Whilst the M25 has helped these airports attract passengers, the M25 has caused problems with any possible expansion of Heathrow, with the motorway being in the way of a number of possible options for an additional runway.

At the time of the report, there was an inquiry into the proposal to site London’s third airport at Stansted, and the report was sure that the M25 would have a positive impact on the development of Stansted, but would lead to greater pressures for development in the surrounding areas.

The report identified that the impact of the M25 would be major development pressures on many areas bordering the M25, whether retail, such as at Lakeside and Bluewater, warehousing and offices and residential developments.

As well as providing a simplified route around London, and between the major routes heading out of, and into London, the report highlighted the expected significant time savings.

The diagram below shows expected time savings based on a 1980 GLC Department of Planning and Transportation paper:

Impact of the M25

As an example, the diagram shows an expected time saving of 25 minutes between Brentwood in Essex and Heathrow, making flights from the airport a much easier option for those living in Essex. It would be interesting to see if these time savings were still achievable.

The extent of the impact of the M25 is shown in the following map, The M25 is the dark line circling the city. The inner and outer lines show the area within 10 minutes of the M25:

Impact of the M25

The report mentions that 10 minutes was an arbitrary figure, but was chosen to illustrate just how much of the wider area surrounding London was within a very short time of travel to and from the motorway.

The overall view on Development Pressures and Opportunities was summarised in the following diagram:

Impact of the M25

The diagram highlighted that the impact of the M25 would result in development pressures to places such as Chelmsford in Essex, as well as places much closer to the M25.

These pressures were despite limited development opportunities in many areas, with the Greater London Development Plan identifying that there were “no preferred industrial locations” in outer north-west London.

There was one area where development was encouraged, and it was expected that the M25 would help with opening up the area and attracting developers. This was the area to the east of the City, starting in the Docklands and spanning both sides of the river out to Basildon on the north and Medway on the south side of the river, as shown in the following diagram:

Impact of the M25

It was hoped that this area to the east of the City would ease the development pressures in the area from Watford in the north, down to near Gatwick, with the arrows on either side of the motorway in the diagram both pointing away from the area in the west, to the Docklands / Basildon / Medway area in the east.

Following completion of the M25, use of the motorway has expanded rapidly.

The Department for Transport has a number of automatic traffic counters located around the M25, and on many other major routes.

I took one of the counters which is located just east of the Holmsdale Tunnel on the M25, just by Waltham Cross as an example, and on an average day in the year 2000, there were 108,038 vehicles of all types travelling on both sides of the M25.

In 2022, this had grown to 142,242, over a 31% increase in traffic, and the 2022 average was still slightly below the pre-pandemic 2019 average of 146,475.

The 2022 number consisted of 298 two wheeled motor vehicles, 54 buses and coaches, 86,334 cars and taxis, 35,561 light goods vehicles and 19,995 heavy goods vehicles.

Whether this rate of increase continues remains to be seen. If it does, the M25 will resemble a car park with long queues more frequently than it does now.

The M25 is the busiest motorway in the country, and carries a large percentage of the country’s road traffic. The Department for Transport also provide traffic volumes for the five busiest road sections in the UK motorway network. Four of these are on the M25:

M25 traffic volumes

The table shows that the section between the M3 and the M40, which includes the sections running west of Heathrow, is the busiest part of the M25, and has four out of the five most heavily used sections of motorway in the country.

The fourth most congested section in the country is a section of the M60, to the south west of Manchester.

The 1982 report identified many of the development pressures that the M25 would bring to the areas surrounding the new motorway. Almost 40 years after completion, the M25 is a key part of south east England’s transport infrastructure, and the volume of traffic using the motorway continues to increase.

The M25 did reduce traffic volumes on London’s roads, and roads of the surrounding towns and villages, as traffic now had a more direct route to travel around, into or out of the city, however I suspect that with the general increase in traffic volumes, any initial reduction has probably been replaced by an increase.

Whether this continues to increase, whether the transition to electric vehicles will result in a change to traffic volumes, whether changing working patterns will have an impact, and how the M25 will continue to impact the surrounding areas remains to be seen.

What is certain is that the M25 is another example of how London impacts a much wider area than the central city.

And for another example of the impact of London, if you travel south on the M25, look to the left a short distance along from Junction 17 (providing you are not driving), and you will see the large construction site for HS2, at the point where the tunnels start as the railway heads north under the Chilterns.

It will be interesting to see how HS2 is viewed in 40 years time – and whether it has finally reached Euston.

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

In 1986, Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers had a shop at 244 Bethnal Green Road in east London:

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

In 2023, they are still in business, and have expanded to take in the ground floor of the building to the right:

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

It is unusual for the same business to be operating in the same place after almost 40 years, and Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers have been at the same site for much longer having first opened here in 1892.

Apart from the ups and downs of the economy, the business seems to have had a reasonably quiet 131 years of trading, apart that is from the risk that any business with high value goods has to run, such as reported in the Eastern Post and City Chronicle on the 23rd of October, 1920:

“RAID ON A JEWELLERS: A daring attempt was made on Tuesday night by several men attempting to obtain possession of some valuable jewellery on the premises of Messrs. Attenborough Jewellers and pawnbrokers of 244, Bethnal Green Road. The weapon used was a hammer, and the thick plate glass window was smashed. The thieves were disturbed by a passer by and made off without obtaining any booty.

An unemployment meeting was being held at the time at the corner of Bethnal Green Road.”

The last sentence of the above article is rather strange, and seems to try and link an unemployment meeting with the robbery.

The Attenborough website only mentions the business in Bethnal Green Road, however there have been a few other businesses with the same name and business description across London, so I do not know if they were once all part of the same business, or the naming is just a coincidence.

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers appears to have had a branch on Oxford Street in 1940, as in the following article dated the 5th of February, 1940, it is the same name, and the same description of “jewellers and pawn brokers”:

“STANLEY HILTON THURSTON, the prisoner who escaped from Lewes Gaol on August 9 last year was recaptured dramatically in London to-day.

The man, for whom the police have been searching for almost six months, walked into a jeweller’s shop in Oxford-street and was endeavouring to make a transaction when suspicions were aroused, and the police were called.

When the police questioned Thurston, he vaulted the counter and ran into the street. He was chased by the young assistant at the shop, who leaped on his back and brought him crashing to the pavement. Four police officers held him down while a taxi was called to take him to the police station.

The manager of the shop – Messrs. Attenborough, jewellers and pawnbrokers, described Thurston as ‘a real tough guy’. Thurston, a native of Manchester was serving sentences of five years penal servitude for a jewel robbery and five years preventative detention as an habitual criminal when, with a companion, he made his daring escape.

They were mistaken for harriers when seen wearing singlets in Lewes High-street. Thurston posed as a runner when he escaped Liverpool Gaol in 1930.”

Other newspaper articles include a reference to another Attenborough’s shop, also a “jewellers and pawn brokers” at 193 Fleet Street. and also one in Brompton Road

As with the businesses with the same name across London, the Attenborough’s in Bethnal Green Road was both a jeweller and a pawnbroker, and the business still has the three gold balls of the pawnbroker on the front of the building:

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

The use of three gold balls as the symbol for a pawnbroker dates from the time when most people could not read, and a symbol was needed to show the location of a particular business.

The three balls seems to have a number of possible origins.

One origin is a story that Saint Nicholas gave three bags of gold to the three daughters of a poor man, providing them with the means to get married.

Another possible origin is that the sign was used by Lombard lenders, who were money lenders and early bankers who came from central and northern Italy. The name Lombard is associated in the City of London with Lombard Street, where Lombard merchants settled in the 12th century.

The association between Lombards and pawnbrokers is such that in a number of European countries variations of the name are used for a pawnbroker, for example Lommerd in the Netherlands.

Whatever the origins of the symbol, the practice of pawnbroking goes back many centuries, where you would handover something you owned for a cash sum, with the ability to retrieve the object following payment of the original sum of money, plus interest.

The pawnbroker was often the last resort for the poor, including those who worked and did not have enough money to last to their next pay day.

For the last few hundred years, pawnbroking has been a regulated activity. The Pawnbroker Act of 1785 brought in the licensing of pawnbrokers, with those operating in London having to pay a fee of £10, and those in the rest of the country £5 for their licence. The act limited the rate of interest they could charge to 0.5% with loans being limited to one year.

An interest rate of 0.5% did not go down well with those in the trade, and 15 years later in 1800, another Pawnbroker Act raised the maximum interest rate to 1.5%.

Various acts continued to modify the way the trade was conducted, with conditions being placed on the trade to protect the individual, for example that a pawnbroker could be fined if he traded with a person who was drunk.

Pawnbrokers have had something of a renaissance in recent years, and many have also tried to move their image upmarket, for example, with a trade in luxury watches.

Probably helped by the current cost of living, one major chain of pawnbrokers recently increased their profits by around 30%, and highlighted that “as continued momentum in our core pawnbroking business provides a robust revenue and profit foundation for the remainder of the financial year.”

I searched Google for the number of pawnbrokers in London and Yelp came up with a total of 203 (their page link on Google was “The Best 10 Pawn Shops in London” – written in the way that Google likes, but a rather strange name for a list of pawn brokers.)

Hopefully Attenborough’s will be in business at 244 Bethnal Green Road for a good many years to come.

The expansion of the Attenborough business between the 1986 and 2023 photos shows the occupation of the ground floor of the building on the right of the 1986 photo.

This is very typical of streets such as Bethnal Green Road, where buildings, many of which were probably once fully residential, have had their ground floors converted into shops, and these businesses expand and contract across neighbouring buildings over time:

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

There are also reminders of the once thriving pubs that catered for the inhabitants of Bethnal Green:

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

There are some lovely side street off Bethnal Green Road, such as where these small 19th century brick workshops can be found in Gibraltar Walk:

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

This area of east London is a magnate for murals, street art and graffiti, and there was much to be seen as I headed towards Liverpool Street Station:

Bethnal Green

Turville Street – this has covered up an area that was used for paste up advertising:

Bethnal Green

Braithwaite Street, E1:

Cold War Steve

On the corner of Braithwaite Street and Quaker Street there was a car wash business for several years. Today, there is a three piece artwork created by Cold War Steve:

Cold War Steve

Who continues the tradition of using art and satire to comment on the politics of the day:

Cold War Steve

It is always fascinating to explore the streets of Bethnal Green, and to find that Attenborough’s has expanded and continued in business since photographed in 1986.

The trade of a pawn broker has existed for very many centuries, and I suspect will continue to do so for a long time to come.

The Festival of Britain and the Atomic Bomb

The Festival of Britain and the Atomic Bomb – two very different subjects, but with a connection, and which also both show different expectations of the future in the early 1950s. The Festival of Britain put forward a vision of hope for the future, a country with strong industrial and cultural traditions, based on the history of the British people and the land they inhabited. The atomic bomb put forward a terrifying vision of destruction as the world descended into the Cold War.

I hope all will become clear by the end of the post.

Festival Ship Campania

I have written a number of posts about the Festival of Britain (there is a list of links at the end of the post). The festival presented a view of the country based on the people and the land. History, industry, science and creativity all featured, as well as what the organisors portrayed as Britain’s contribution to civilisation and the rest of the world.

The main Festival of Britain exhibition site was in London, on the South Bank, and this, along with the Pleasure Gardens at Battersea are probably the most well known festival locations, however the intention with the festival was to get as many people across the country involved as possible. There were fixed exhibitions in Glasgow and Belfast, a travelling land exhibition, and also an exhibition within a ship that sailed around the coast of the country, and brought the festival to several major port cities.

The exhibition was in the Festival Ship Campania:

Festival of Britain ship Campania and the Atomic Bomb

The Campania had been a “ferry carrier” during the war. The role of a ferry carrier was to transport aircraft between locations. Whilst aircraft could land and take off from the ferry carrier, this was more for delivery of aircraft than for combat, although planes from the ship were involved in a number of combat operations.

The Campania had been used on artic convoys, delivering aircraft to Russia to support the eastern front and the Russian campaign against the Nazi’s..

As with all other Festival of Britain exhibitions, there was an official guide book published for the Festival Ship Campania, and the following from the guide book provides more detail about the ship:

“This is the first time that an exhibition of this size has been presented in a ship. Clearly the primary requirement in an Exhibition Ship is adequate display space, and for this reason Campania was chosen; for she has a hanger deck 300 feet long, and high enough for galleries to be built to increase the Exhibition area.

H.M.S. Campania was laid down as a merchant vessel at the yard of Messrs. Harland & Wolff. She was taken over during the last war by the Admiralty while still on the stocks, and converted into a ferry carrier. In this role she had a distinguished career. She has been lent by the Admiralty as a Naval contribution to the Festival of Britain. Her conversion to a Festival Ship has been planned by the Director of Naval Construction, Sir Charles Lillicrap, in conjunction with Mr. James Holland, the Exhibitions Chief Designer. It was carried our by Messrs. Cammell Laird of Birkenhead.

During her time as a Festival Ship, Campania is flying the Red Ensign. She is manned by a Merchant Navy crew and managed on behalf of the Festival of Britain by Messrs. Furness, Withy & Co.

F.S. Campania is a motor ship with two diesel engines, 13,000 h.p. and has a speed of 18 knots. Her principal dimensions are: overall length 540 feet, beam 70 feet, draught 23 feet, gross tonnage 16,408.”

The guide book for the Festival Ship Campania has the same design features of all the festival guides, with the front covering featuring the symbol of the festival, designed by Abram Games. As with all other guides, the book is “A Guide To The Story It Tells”, and was written by Ian Cox, the Festival’s Director of Science and Technology, who was from the Ministry of Information:

Festival of Britain ship Campania and the Atomic Bomb

The displays on the Campania were a mini version of the South Bank site, with main exhibition themes of The Land of Britain, Discovery and The People at Home.

The exhibits and displays were spread over three decks of the ship, and the benefit of the Campania was that it had a large hanger deck and flight deck which were used for displays.

The guide book included a diagram of the ship showing the three decks, the subjects of each display area, and a recommended way around the exhibition:

Festival Ship Campania

As with the other exhibition locations, the Campania was fitted out with a restaurant, bar and café to enhance the overall visitor experience.

The side of the ship was decorated with the Abram Games festival sumbol and the words Festival of Britain. Coloured flags decorated the flight deck, as shown in this illustration from the guide book:

Festival Ship Campania and the Atomic Bomb

The Campania toured the coast of the country for the same period of time as the main festival on the South Bank, starting at Southampton in early May and ending at Glasgow in the first week of October, soon after the South Bank site closed. The following table from the guide shows the ports of call, and the duration of each visit:

Festival Ship Campania itinerary

There were very many school trips to the ship, some of which included the organisation of special trains, as for example, from the New Milton Advertiser on the 19th of May 1951:

“Between 600 and 700 Brockenhurst County High School pupils went to Southampton by special train on Friday in last week to visit the Festival Ship Campania. A section of the party also cruised round Southampton Docks in a specially chartered vessel.”

The Liverpool Echo reported on the visit of the ship to the city, and included some highlights of what could be seen onboard, including models of an “Underground railway junction and London Airport as it will be when completed, a jet engine and a seaside pub, several full-size boats and working models of busy shipping ports”.

The article ended by stating that “This is Birkenhead’s Great Festival Show – the one you mustn’t miss”.

During the visit of the Campania to Belfast, the officers and many of the organisors and administrative staff on the ship were treated to a reception by the Northern Ireland Government, and the Belfast Newsletter reported that on the day of the reception there had been a total of 4,909 visitors to the Campania.

The popularity of the exhibition on the Campania seems to have had an impact on the experience for those on board. A visit to the ship by children of the Holy Trinity Secondary Modern School in Bradford-on-Avon, was reported in the Wiltshire Times as “The visit was somewhat marred by the terribly overcrowded conditions on the ship”.

The visit of the Campania seems to have been a great success at all the ports of call, with newspapers reporting high numbers of visitors to the exhibition, although I suspect that as well as the Festival of Britain exhibition, the opportunity to look around a large ship that had seen service in the war just six years before, must have been a major incentive.

As with all the Festival of Britain Guide Books, the book for the Festival Ship Campania had a number of adverts, many colour, and for the Campania, many of these adverts had a maritime theme, such as the advert of the Marconi company:


One of the key themes for the festival was Britain’s industrial and scientific strengths, and how these would contribute to the future of the country.

I doubt anyone in 1951 could foresee the industrial decline of the country over the next 50 years when almost every company featured in the adverts across all the festival guides would disappear, with the majority being taken over by foreign competitors.

The Marconi company featured in the above advert went through several changes of ownership, and became part of GEC, which sold some of the business to BAE. GEC renamed itself as Marconi during the so-called dot com bubble, buying a number of US networking companies at very high prices.

Losses became significant, parts of the firm were sold, shares were suspended and Marconi as a business folded in 2006. A small part of the once sprawling empire remains as Telent.

British Thomson-Houston was part of the gradual consolidation of British industry, eventually being owned by GEC:

Atomic Bomb

The South American Saint Line was a Cardiff base shipping company that operated cargo routes between Dover and European ports, and Cardiff and South American ports, for example taking coal to Argentina and returning with a cargo of grain. The business was closed in the early 1960s, with routes and ships being sold to other shipping companies.

South American Saint Line

Even if a company had no maritime connections, they tried to include an appropriate reference in their advert:

Atomic Bomb

British Aluminum was taken over by US and Canadian companies, and all UK based operations seem to have closed in the early 2000’s:

British Aluminium

The discovery referenced in the following advert for the British Oxygen Company was made by two French brothers, Arthur and Leon Brin who founded Brin’s Oxygen Company, soon after renamed as the British Oxygen Company, which was taken over by the German company Linde in 2006:

British Oxygen

And finally, I doubt that the companies behind the Shipbuilding Conference who issued the following advert, could have expected the British ship building industry to be at such as reduced state some 70 years later:

British Shipbuilding

The Festival of Britain tried to mix industrial strength, leading edge science and design, with a rather romantic view of the country’s culture, history and relationship between the people and the land.

One of the Theme Conveners for the exhibitions on the Campania was Jacquetta Hawkes, a British archeologist and writer. who in the same year as the festival, published probably her best known book “A Land”. A really difficult book to classify, it has been described as a deep time dream of the country’s archaeology. There is a good review of the book here. It is a fascinating read, and although we cannot visit the Festival of Britain today, it is a sort of published form of the “Land” parts of the festival.

Back to the Campania, and during the Second World War, the ship was used to ferry aircraft and many other supplies and equipment to Russia, who were fighting the German’s in the east. Aircraft on the ship were also used to defend the convoys, with a U-Boat being sunk in 1944.

View of the Campania at sea:

HMS Campania

The route taken by these convoys was around the northern edge of Norway and Finland to reach Arkhangelsk in Russia. Conditions were appalling. There was the constant threat of attack from German aircraft, ships and submarines as well as dreadful weather conditions, as shown in the following two photos of the Campania during a convoy:

HMS Campania Artic Convoy

When decks would be covered in thick snow and ice – very different to the open air café on the deck during the festival:

HMS Campania Artic Convoy

After the end of the Second World War, the Campania was decommissioned. Many ships which had served a temporary purpose during the war were sold or scrapped, however the Campania was put on the reserve list, and was therefore available for the Festival of Britain.

After the festival, the ship returned to the navy, which brings us to the second part of the title of the post:

Operation Hurricane and the Atomic Bomb

During the Second World War, Britain had a nuclear weapons project underway, as did the Americans. The cost, complexity and need for a rapid solution in the development of such a weapon resulted in the US, UK and Canada working together on what became known as the Manhattan Project, with the partnership being formalised by the Quebec agreement of 1943.

Under this agreement, British scientists worked with the Americans in the development of the atomic bomb, and shared the UK’s work up to that point.

After the war, the US ceased all cooperation with the British, and did not share any of the development work that led to the bomb produced by the Manhattan Project.

This was mainly down to the perceived risk of sharing such knowledge, and that the Quebec agreement gave the British a veto in the use of atomic weapons.

In 1949 the Russians tested their first atomic bomb, and in 1950 the German physicist Klaus Fuchs, who had fled from the Nazi’s, and was part of Britain’s early research into the atomic bomb, and then the Manhattan project, was found to have shared secrets with the Russians.

He was sentenced in a British court and imprisoned, however the US viewed this as a further risk of working with the British and ended any remaining cooperation, including the use of US test sites.

So the US and Russia had the atomic bomb, and in the late 1940s, the UK still believed that it had a “Great Power” status, and having atomic weapons was essential in maintaining that status.

In 1947, the Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, approved the creation of the High Explosive Research Project, which would be responsible for the development of a British designed and built atomic bomb.

As well as developing the bomb, a site was needed to test. The US had refused access to their testing grounds, so a search was underway for a suitable site, which finally settled on the remote Montebello Islands off the west cost of Australia. The location of the islands is shown by the red circle in the following map ( © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Atomic Bomb Montebello Islands

Operation Hurricane was the name given to the first test of Britain’s atomic bomb, and when it had been built, a fleet was assembled with Campania given the role of Flag Ship, sailing from Portsmouth where the ship had been equipped for the role, to the western Australian test site..

The 25 kiloton bomb was to be exploded on board a redundant British frigate called HMS Plym. It was placed in the hold, below the water line as one of the intentions was not just to test the performance of the bomb, but also the impact of an atomic bomb being smuggled onboard a ship into a British harbour.

The location of the Plym, and the bomb’s detonation within the Montebello Islands group is shown by the red dot in the following map ( © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Atomic Bomb Montebello Islands

The bomb was exploded just before eight in the morning (local time), on the 3rd of October, 1952. Exactly a year before, the Campania was moored at Glasgow in the last few days of its role as the Festival Ship.

There is far too much on the story of Operation Hurricane than I can include in a weekly post. For lots more detail, the Ministry of Supply produced a film showing the full story from the development of the bomb, through to the test and explosion. This film is on the Imperial Museum website, and is in three parts.

The first part covers the development of the bomb, and also includes the departure of the Campania from Portsmouth. The second part covers preparations, and the third and final part covers the final preparation of the bomb, the explosion and the testing carried out after the explosion.

All three parts to the film can be found at this link.

The film shows not just the devastating impact of an atomic bomb, but also the very rudimentary safety precautions – if you could call them that – for those who participated in the test.

HMS Plym, the ship on which the bomb had exploded had been vapourised, with only a few small fragments of radioactive metal to be found. A large crater was left on the seabed below where the ship had been located.

A wide range of samples were taken from sea water and the land of the islands. Structures had been built on the islands to see how these would have withstood the blast from an atomic bomb, and the impact on these was measured and photographed.

Churchill, who by the time of the test had been re-elected, declared in the House of Commons that the test had been a success and lived up to expectations.

Those who had been involved in the test and witnessed the explosion were sworn to secrecy, as this newspaper report from the 16th of December 1952, when the Campania returned back to Portsmouth explains:

Atom sailors home with censored story – Five hundred and seventy officers and men of Britain’s atom ship, H.M.S. Campania, back in Portsmouth yesterday from the Pacific, have been put on their honour. And it means that for once Jack Tar cannot talk about his sea travels.

For he knows what happened when Britain’s atom bomb exploded off the Monte Bello Islands; he knows what effect it had on vegetation and test shelters, and some of his colleagues from the vaporised ship, H.M.S. Plym, know what it looks like. He must not say a word.

Before the first of the Campania’s crew went ashore last night they were reminded: ‘Tell them your impressions of the explosion and nothing more. keep to what Dr. Penney said on the B.B.C. and Mr. Churchill in the House. Your are on your honour’.

To make sure these security instructions were fully understood the ship’s company were lectured on board by Rear Admiral A.D. Torlesse, in charge of Operation Hurricane, officials of the Supply Ministry and Dr. William Penny.

Copies of the Admiral’s Speech and Mr. Churchill’s statement in Parliament, were posted on the ship’s notice boards and each man was given a copy.”

In the final part of the Ministry of Supply film on the IWM website, there are some scenes showing a helicopter taking samples of water, and dropping them into a box on the ship.

This was also reported in the press with the rather dramatic headline of “They Got Half Pint Of Death Water“:

“The two men with the most dangerous job of the atom test – they flew a helicopter over the danger spot to get a sample of deadly radioactive water – were Lt. Comdr. Denis Stanley of Thruxton, Hampshire, and Commissioned Observer H.J. Lambert of Carnoustie.

To them it was ‘just another flight’ but that routine flight meant going to within 30 feet of radio-active water only two hours after the explosion.

While Stanley piloted the plane, Lambert was checking the Geiger counter and other instruments. He was watching for a danger point when the flickering dials would indicate that they would have to turn back.

Beneath the aircraft was a canister, like a half-pint milk bottle, said Lambert, suspended 20 feet below by a piece of string. We flew slowly, said Stanley, so as not to spill any of the water. The canister was supposed to be unspillable, but we took no chances.

Said Lambert: We had practised for six weeks lowering a small canister into a box. What happened to the water? we never saw it again. The boffins took it, I suppose.”

After the success of the test, the bomb was developed into the Blue Danube bomb that was Britain’s first operational atomic weapon and for which the V-bomber aircraft were designed and built.

The bomb tested in 1951 had a yield slightly higher than the bombs dropped on Japan at the end of the Second World War.

Not long after the British tests, the US tested a Hydrogen bomb, which had a yield of some hundreds of time greater than the British design, so in many ways, the British bomb was redundant soon after the test.

The wider impact on those who participated in Operation Hurricane are outside the scope of today’s post, however there is a really good summary in a Daily Mirror investigation, which you can find here.

The Montebello Islands are now part of a Marine Conservation Reserve, and radiation levels have reduced to a point where the islands are now open to visitors.

So that is the connection between the Festival of Britain, and the test of Britain’s first atomic bomb. The Festival Ship Campania, carried an exhibition around the ports of the country, showing the history of the country, British contribution to science and technology, British industry, design and culture.

A year later, the same ship was a witness to the atomic bomb, a threat that would come to define much of the final half of the 20th century during the Cold War, and which rather frighteningly seems to have returned with current world politics and wars.

HMS Campania was decommissioned in December 1952 after returning from Australia. Three years later in 1955 the ship was sold and scrapped.

You may also wish to read:

And my posts on the Festival of Britain:

Bethlehem Hospital, Life Assurance, a Botanist, Church and City Inn

This Sunday, I am continuing with my search for all the plaques commemorating events, people and places in the City of London. The plaques that have been the subject of previous posts can be found on the map at this link.

A mix of very different subjects this week, starting with:

Bethlehem Hospital

On the wall of the old Great Eastern Hotel on Liverpool Street, where the station is also located, is the following plaque marking the site of the first Bethlehem Hospital:

The Bethlehem Hospital (also know as Bethlem or Bedlam) was founded in 1247 when a Sheriff of London, Simon FitzMary donated a parcel of land to the Bishop of Bethlehem.

On this land was founded the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem. As well as being a religious establishment, the priory also cared for the poor who were sick.

The hospital occupied a space of around 2 acres where Liverpool Street Station now stands. The Historic England record for the hospital states that it was “centred around a courtyard with a chapel in the middle, it had approximately 12 ‘cells’ for patients, a kitchen, staff accommodation and an exercise yard.”

The hospital was taken over by the City of London in 1346, and later in the 14th century and early 15th century, it seems to have gradually changed from being a hospital for the poor, to a hospital that treated “lunatics” – not that any realistic treatment was available.

The term lunatic was a catchall for anyone who had any form of mental illness, and the term would continue to be in use for centuries to come. As an example, in a previous post where I looked at 18th century Bills of Mortality, there were frequent deaths due to “lunatic”, and you were automatically assumed to have this condition if you committed suicide, for example with the following record from January 1716 “Hanged himself (being Lunatick) at St. Olaves Southwark”.

Conditions were harsh at Bethlehem Hospital, and it seems to have been more a place to keep people off the streets rather then to provide treatment, with those in the hospital frequently being restrained and chained.

By the middle of the 17th century, the site was considered too small, run down, and in a very crowded area, so in 1676 the Bethlehem Hospital moved to Moorfields.

The following image uses embedded code, not sure if it will display in the emails. If not, go to the home page of the website.

The image shows “Construction work in the extension to Liverpool Street Station by the Great Eastern Railway, 1894 on the foundations of the first Bethlem Hospital. © Historic England BL12561B”:

The following photo shows the plaque on the side of the building with the street Liverpool Street on the left:

The plaque is a reminder of the harsh treatment of people with conditions of which there was no understanding at the time.

Parsonage of St. Nicholas Acons

In Nicholas Lane in the City of London is a plaque recording that Scientific Life Assurance began at the site in 1762.

Assurance is cover for something that will happen, whilst insurance is for something that may happen, and with life assurance, a payout is inevitable, as along with taxes, the only other certainty in life is death.

However the problem with life assurance is being able to calculate the profile of death in the population being covered. Basically, for how long will people be paying their premiums and when will payout be expected after their death.

Unless this could be fully understood, those offering life assurance ran the risk of making it so expensive that no one would buy the cover, or too cheap and the business running at a loss.

The first company to use a statistical approach to calculating life assurance premiums and payouts was the Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships, which was established in the parsonage of St. Nicholas Acons in 1762.

Work on a statistical approach to mortality had been underway before 1762, with Edmund Halley (after whom the comet is named), having created mortality tables in 1693. A mortality table is basically a table of ages, and for each age a probability is given of death before the next birthday, so for someone aged 45, it would show the probability that they would die before their 46th birthday.

The mathematician James Dodson took Halley’s work further, and although he had died before the founding of the Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships, the society took his work as the basis for their calculations of premiums and payments.

Edward Rowe Mores was instrumental in the use of Dodson’s work, and he was one of the group that founded the company. Mores was a typical 18th century scholar, as his interests ranged from mathematics, typography, history and statistics.

In establishing the company it was Mores who first used the term “actuary” for the person responsible for making the calculations of mortality, premiums and payouts.

The plaque can be seen on the wall in Nicholas Lane, near to Nicholas Passage:

The Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships was known for trying to be fair to its customers, and allocated some of their financial surplus back to their policy holders. The following from the London Evening Standard on the 6th of December, 1851 illustrates their approach:

“Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships, New Bridge-Street, Blackfriars. Instituted 1762.

At the end of every ten years two-thirds of the Surplus Funds of the Society are appropriated to the oldest 5000 Policies, and one-third is reserved as an accumulating fund.

At the last investigation – on the 31st December, 1849 – the Capital of the Society exceeded Eight Millions Sterling, invested in Three per Cents and on Mortgages.

The surplus amounted to £3,215,000, of which £2,113,000 were appropriated to the oldest 5000 Policies, and the remaining £1,102,000 were added to the reserves.”

The Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships eventually became Equitable Life, and the plaque records where the use of statistics were used in financial services, and where the profession of actuary was formalised.

I wrote about Bills of Mortality, and an earlier work by John Gaunt, published in 1676, who took an earlier statistical approach to mortality in my post Bills of Mortality – Death in early 18th Century London.

William Curtis, Botanist. Gracechurch Street

In Gracechurch Street there is a plaque recording that the botanist William Curtis lived in a house at the site of the plaque:

It is low down on the wall of a building at the southern end of Gracechurch Street, as can be seen at the bottom left of the following photo:

William Curtis was a Quaker, who was born in the town of Alton in Hampshire in 1746. He appears to have had an interest in the study of plants and insects from an early age, and after arriving in London he had a position as a Demonstrator of Botany at the Chelsea Physic Garden (see this post for my visit to the Chelsea garden).

Such was his success that he opened his own garden, the London Botanic Garden in Lambeth, where he is reported to have grown and exhibited in the order of 6,000 plants.

The 18th century was a time when plant collectors were bringing back specimens from across the world. Collectors such as Joseph Banks, who would become President of the Royal Society encouraged the activity.

This influx of foreign specimens did concern William Curtis though, who was worried that they would take over from indigenous species. This led him to publish a set of books that would make his name.

The six volume set was called Flora Londinensis, which had the following full title:

“Flora Londinensis, or, Plates and descriptions of such plants as grow wild in the environs of London : with their places of growth, and times of flowering, their several names according to Linnæus and other authors : with a particular description of each plant in Latin and English : to which are added, their several uses in medicine, agriculture, rural œconomy and other arts.”

The six volumes, published during the last quarter of the 18th century aimed to record all the plants to found within an area of roughly ten miles around London. Each plant was described and illustrated, such as the following example:

The above image is from the Biodiversity heritage Library, where the books are available for download and marked as “not in copyright”.

After publishing Flora Londinensis, William Curtis went on to publish The Botanical Magazine, which contained illustrations and descriptions of various plant species along with other botanical articles.

The magazine continued after his death in 1799 and is still published today by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, as Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, and it is believed to be the oldest botanical magazine in the world, still in publication.

William Curtis:

His magazine made him very financially successful, and along with Flora Londinensis, and his work in London’s gardens, his place was secured in 18th century botanical history, and he is now remembered by the plaque in Gracechurch Street.

St. Dionis Backchurch

In Lime Street, there is a plaque recording the site of St. Dionis Backchurch:

St Dionis was Dionysus the Areopagite, who was a judge in Athens during the first century AD. He converted to Christianity and was said to have been a follower of St. Paul.

He is the patron saint of France, where he is also known as St. Denis, as a result of having converted the French to Christianity.

In the 1870s there were proposals for the demolition of a number of City churches. The local population was insufficient to justify so many churches, and the aim was to consolidate parishes and congregations.

Newspapers had lengthy articles about some of the churches, and the City Press on Saturday the 16th of September, 1871 had a full column on the history of St. Dionis Backchurch. The following is from the beginning of the article and provides an overview of its history:

“This parish is first mentioned in the records of the Corporation, Letter-book H, folio 105. John Fromond, in 1379, being charged before John Philpot, Lord Mayor, for stealing the dagger or knife called a ‘baselard’ from his girdle, for which charge, it being proven, he, the said John Fromond was adjudged the punishment of the pillory, and then to be banished from the City.

The foundation of the church is of great antiquity; Reginald de Standen was rector in 1283; he was succeeded by Richard Grimston in 1350. The church was newly built early in the reign of Henry VI., 1427-30, John Derby, Alderman, added a fair isle or chapel on the north side, in which he was buried in 1466. Lady Wych, widow of Sir Hugh Wych, who was Mayor of London in 1461, gave some other benefactions; John Bugg also contributed to the new work of restoration. The structure falling into decay, it was partially rebuilt in 1628 – 32, the middle isle of the same being laid in 1628 and a new turret and steeple were added in 1630, and in 1632 new frames were made for the bells. The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

It was rebuilt, all but the tower, from the designs of Sir Chistopher Wren, and was finished in 1674; and about ten years afterwards it was found necessary to rebuild the tower, which was done under the direction of the great architect. The building consists of a nave and two aisles formed by Ionic columns, which support the entablature; and arched ceiling in which, under groined openings, small circular lights are introduced on either side. the length of the church is 66 feet, and the breadth about 70 feet; the tower is 90 feet high. At the west end is situated the organ gallery.”

The later half of the 19th century was a time of great change in the City of London. The City was growing rapidly in terms of global influence, trade and finance. Victorian architects wanted to build a City that reflected this, and in 1877 the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was founded by William Morris to try and preserve many of the buildings at risk, including the church of St. Dionis Backchurch, however in their second annual meeting in 1878, they reported that:

“Amongst the objects the Committee had taken in hand was the preservation of the City churches, and in this respect they were able, to a certain extent, to report favourably, for, although St, Dionis Backchurch had been demolished, the interesting church of St. Mary-at-Hill, Eastcheap, has been saved, in spite of strenuous opposition.”

I wrote about the church of St. Mary-at-Hill in this post. Incredible to think that the church could have been demolished.

The following print of the church, dating from 1813, provides some detail as to the origin of “Backchurch” in the name as “given to distinguish this church as standing behind a row of houses from that of St. Gabriel’s, which previous to the fire of London, stood in the middle of Fenchurch Street” ( © The Trustees of the British Museum):

I wrote about the church of St. Gabriel Fenchurch, in this post. The description of the origins of the name again illustrates how many City churches they were, and how close together.

The plaque can be seen on the wall on the left, in Lime Street, a short distance north of the junction with Fenchurch Street:

As well as the plaque, in the above photo you can see one of the Lime hire bikes across the walkway. This was not how the bike was originally left, and it is interesting how much anger these seem to generate.

I have seen them left in some ridiculous places, blocking pavements, in the middle of the road etc. however whilst I was photographing the plaque, a cyclist arrived at the cycle stand. Saw the Lime bike in the rack, threw it angrily (along with some choice language) out onto the pavement (narrowly missing a pedestrian), putting his own bike in its place, and walking off.

All rather strange.

Crosskey’s Inn

In Gracechurch Street, at the entrance to Bell Inn Yard, is a plaque recording the location of the Crosskeys Inn:

In the 16th century City of London, there were four main locations where plays were performed. These were the Bell Savage off Ludgate Hill, the Bell at Bell Inn Yard (the location of the above plaque), the Bull off Bishopsgate Street, and the Crosskeys Inn.

Inn’s were perfect locations for the performance of plays. They frequently had a large yard which was normally used for the arrival and departure of coaches and wagons, but could also provide the space for actors and an audience.

They were places were people could congregate, and the Inns benefited from the sale of food and drink before, during and after a performance.

There has been some research that suggests that the Crosskeys were one of the few locations that put on plays inside rather than in the yard, however this is difficult to confirm.

Actors of the time were frequently grouped in a company that was financed by a wealthy sponsor, and the company took on the name of sponsor.

At the Crosskeys Inn, Lord Strange’s Men performed in 1589, when William Shakespeare may have been with the company. Lord Strange was Ferdinando Stanley, the 5th Earl of Derby, and after Stanley’s father died, and he became the Earl of Derby, they became known as the Earl of Derby’s Men.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are also believed to have played at the Crosskeys Inn in 1594.

The use of these inns for performances seems to have ended around 1593 and 1594, when they were banned following an appeal by the Lord Mayor to the Privy Council. This is believed to have been due to an increase in the plaque, and they moved out of the City to the Theatre in Shoreditch and the Globe on the south bank of the river. 

It may also have been due to the rowdy behaviour that sometimes accompanied a play, which the City may well not have appreciated within their boundaries.

The Crosskeys Inn continued in use during the 17th century, until it was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666.

What is confusing is why the plaque to the Crosskeys Inn is at the entrance to Bell Inn Yard.

Morgan’s map of London from 1682 shows the location of the inn (the inn was rebuilt after the fire).

In the following map, the red circle is around the location of the Crosskeys Inn and the yellow circle around Bell Yard:

The key to Morgan’s map includes the number and location:

I have checked a number of maps, and tried to accurately align them along Gracechurch Street, and as far as I can tell, the Crosskeys Inn was located along the current Bell Inn Yard, and Bell Yard was just a bit further north and has been lost under the larger buildings that now line the west of the street.

The Crosskeys Inn was rebuilt after the Great Fire, and continued as one of the City’s busy coaching Inns. The name appears on Rocque’s map of 1746, and there are numerous newspaper reports referencing the inn.

It appears to have closed in 1850 and been demolished soon after. There is a newspaper report in the Illustrated London news on the 24th of May 1851, which referring to Gracechurch Street states:

“On the west side of that thoroughfare, and on the site of the old Cross Keys, an Inn from which the licence was withdrawn some twelve months ago”.

The newspaper report was about the collapse of a building which was under construction and covered a wide area along Gracechurch Street, including the site of the Crosskeys Inn.

The building using a frame of iron girders, collapsed when one of the girders snapped. There were around 80 workmen on the building, with many injured and 3 deaths.

So the plaque refers to the version of the Crosskeys that was part used for putting on plays in the later part of the 16th century. The inn was rebuilt and continued in use as a coaching inn to the mid 19th century.

The name Crosskeys comes from the arms of the papacy, where the crossed keys are St. Peter’s keys, and the keys to heaven.

Attribution: Coat of arms of the Holy See, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

And there is now a Wetherspoons on this part of Gracechurch Street called the Crosse Keys. It is in the former premises of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation, which was designed by W. Campbell Jones and dates from 1913.

It has a rather splendid interior and is well worth a look.

That is about 25 of the roughly 170 plaques within the City of London covered, so still a number to go.

Redchurch Street and the Dolphin Pub

If you would like to come on my Limehouse walk, I have just had a couple of tickets come available. Two tickets on Saturday 19th of August, and one ticket on Sunday 20th of August. All other walks are fully booked.

I was unsure about using this 1980s photo as the subject of a blog post, as there did not seem anything of specific interest in the view. The photo was taken at the junction of Bethnal Green Road (not visible, but to the left) and Redchurch Street, the street on the right:

Redchurch Street

I assume the two old columns were the reason my father took the photos. Rather than lighting columns, I believe these are ventilation columns for the toilets below ground:

Redchurch Street

The following photo is looking over to the location of the toilets, some forty years later in 2023. The toilets have gone, one of the columns remains, and a rather strange building now stands over the site of the toilets.

Redchurch Street

The column appears to be the one that was at the rear of the original photos, and has been relocated to the corner of the junction.

Bethnal Green Road is to the left and Redchurch Street is to the right.

Taking a look inside the building over the site of the toilets, and if you look at the far end to the right, it is hard to see, but there is a descent down to below ground level, a handrail on the left and a sloping ceiling. This was presumably the stairs down to the toilet area below.

Redchurch Street

And to the side of the building are the glass tiles which cover much of the area in the 1980s photos, and originally provided light to the space below, which I assume they still do.

Redchurch Street

The toilets in the 1980s photo were typical of the underground toilets found at many locations across London. They were built around the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries and were part of the late Victorian drive to improve the city.

They have now nearly all closed. The demands on local authority budgets have meant that facilities such as these, which are not part of their legal responsibilities to provide, were among the first to go.

The one exception is the City of London, and although they have closed their old toilets, they have at least installed new facilities, or included them as a requirement of planning permission for new developments.

Many of these you have to pay to use, however the City does have a number of free to use toilets tucked away in places such as their car parks under London Wall, or at the Minories.

I have been photographing the above ground remnants of these rather enlightened improvements to the City, so perhaps a subject for a future post.

And that was as far as I thought I could go with the two 1980s photos, but as usual with any London scene, there is always something else to discover and learn, and so it is with these photos.

If you look along the street on the right in the first photo at the top of the post, there is a pub sign, with the ground floor of the pub just visible. This was the Dolphin pub, and I have enlarged the section showing the pub sign below:

Dolphin Pub

The Dolphin closed in 2002, and the ground floor is now occupied by a Labour And Wait store, with the floors above presumably being used as residential.

The old pub as it appears in 2023:

Dolphin Pub

There is not that much to discover about the Dolphin. It did not feature in many news reports, or place any adverts as to the excellence of their beers which was typical practice for most London pubs.

The one newsworthy event seems to have been a robbery in 1929, when a Henry Bently, 39, of Scalater Street in Bethnal Green, leant over the bar to take four £1 notes from the till. He was pursued by the landlord, he escaped, but later came forward as he appears to have been a regular at the pub, and therefore well known.

The interesting thing about the 1929 article was that the address was given as Church Street, rather than Redchurch Street as the street is now know, so I started to look at some maps.

Firstly, the map of the area today, and in the following extract, the dark blue circle is around the space where the toilets were located, and you can see the main road of Bethnal Green Road heading south west, at this junction, with Redchurch Street turning off from Bethnal Green Road. The old Dolphin pub is marked by the red circle ( © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Redchurch Street

Looking at some older maps, starting with Smith’s New Plan of London from 1816, and I have again marked the location of the toilets with a blue circle, and Redchurch Street, then called Church Street is surrounded by the red oval:

Church Street

Look to the north of Church Street and you will see a dense area of streets and buildings, which looks different to the streets in the wider area.

Some of the street names should provide a clue as to the name and reputation of the area as this was the Old Nichol, a notorious area of densely populated streets and courts which was inhabited by some of the poorest people in east london.

The streets and buildings of the old Nichol were demolished in the 1890s and the Boundary Estate, which was built on the site, was opened in 1900. Newspaper reports of the opening described the old and new estates as follows:

“One most interesting feature of the Boundary Street Estate is that it has been built on the site of one of the most notorious slum districts in London. This was known as the ‘Old Nichol’, and is described minutely under the title of ‘The Jago’ by Mr. Arthur Morrison’s story ‘A Child of the Jago’.

A population of 6,004 persons were displaced under the Council’s scheme, and the slum clearance revealed a pitiful state of things. In two common lodging houses, 163 people were found to be living. 2,118 people were living in 752 single rooms, and 2,265 in 506 two-roomed tenements. The inhabitants consisted of the poorest classes of unskilled labourers, and in addition to large numbers of button makers, box-makers, charwomen, worker-women and so-called ‘dealers’, included some of the vilest characters in London.

In one small street alone there lived no fewer than twenty ticket-of-leave men. (see below for explanation) These people were transferred to other districts. Of the inhabitants of the ‘Old Nichol’, those who are new tenants on the Boundary Street Estate can be numbered on the fingers of one hand. The present occupants of the dwellings are mainly of the better classes, policemen, postmen, commissionaires, together with a few clergymen, schoolmasters, and Church workers”.

A ticket-of-leave man was a person who had been released from prison on parole, and the ticket-of-leave was the document handed to the person, documenting their status on parole.

The Boundary Estate was opened by the Prince of Wales in March 1900, and we can jump forward to the 1948 revision of the OS map to see the new estate, with the central circular feature of Arnold Circus, with new streets radiating out from the circus (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).

Boundary Estate

In the above map, I have again marked the location of the toilets by the blue circle, and the Dolphin pub by the red circle.

So far, so good, I then went to the 1898 revision of the OS map, which resulted in a bit of a mystery (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).

Old Nichol

In the above map, I have marked the location of the toilets with the blue circle, however to the left, the entire area north of Redchurch Street is shown as blank space, presumably the area demolished ready for the construction of the Boundary Estate.

The strange thing is that the Boundary Estate does not reach all the way down to Redchurch Street, and the Dolphin on the north side of the street had been built a few decades before the above map, and was still in use during the 1890s.

I checked the 1895 edition of the Post Office Directory, and it lists the Dolphin at number 85, along with a full range of businesses along the northern side of the street, including James Julier Fried Fish Shop at number 19, William Padley’s Dining Rooms at number 29, Nathan Bloom, Cabinet Maker at number 53 and Joseph Barker, Undertaker at number 71.

So the northern side of Church Street in 1895 had a full range of businesses, however in the OS map of three years later, the northern side of the street has disappeared, and is the lower boundary of the Old Nichol, that was in the process of being rebuilt as the Boundary Estate.

There were three years between the Post Office Directory and the OS map, and the streets on the northern side could have been demolished in those three years, however the Dolphin demonstrates this probably did not happen, and looking at the 1948 revision of the map shown above, the northern side of Church Street has the same layout of buildings as could be expected from the 1895 directory. It is very clearly not part of the Boundary Estate.

There is another PH for public house on the 1898 map on the north side of Church Street. This was the Black Dog pub, which although long closed, the original building can still be seen.

Whether the OS map shows a more extended area originally planned for rebuild, which was reduced during the development stage, or whether it was simply an error of mapping, it is unusual to find such a significant error in OS maps.

Redchurch Street / Church Street is a very old street. It is the core of the Redchurch Street Conservation Area as defined by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Their conservation area document also helps confirm that the northern side of the street was not demolished as part of the Boundary Street Estate.

To illustrate the age of the street, the following is an extract from Rocque’s 1746 map of London:

Bethnal Green Road

The future Bethnal Green Road is to the right. Church Street is within the red oval, however this part of the street is now part of Bethnal Green Road, which today turns a little south, below New Cock Lane and Cock Lane (within the yellow oval), which today is Redchurch Street.

When the extension to Bethnal Green was built, New Cock Lane seems to have changed name to Church Street, and the junction in the 1980s photo is where Bethnal Green Road and the old New Cock Lane diverged.

The change of name from Church Street to Redchurch Street took place at some point in the first half of the 20th century.

It was still Church Street in 1911, where in the census, James Cooper is listed as the Licensed Victuallier of the Dolphin pub, along with his wife Mary, and his sister-in-law Emma Bass who was listed as a General Help.

In the 1921 census, the street is still Church Street, and Cornelia John Alfred was the landlord, living in the Dolphin with his wife Leah.

So the name change seems to have taken place between 1921 and the 1948 OS map.

According to the Tower Hamlets Conservation Statement, the name Redchurch Street comes from the church of St. James the Great which is strange as the church is a reasonable distance east along Bethnal Green Road. The church was the first red brick church in the area when built around 1840, and seems to have given the description of the church to the name of the street. the church closed in the 1980s and is now housing.

The story of the Old Nichol and the Boundary Estate to the north of Redchurch Street is fascinating, and has been on my very long list of subjects for a blog post, however if you would like to read more about the Old Nichol, I can thoroughly recommend “The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum” by Sarah Wise.

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

For this week’s post, I am returning to my exploration of the ancient stairs that line the River Thames. In the 1920s books Wonderful London there is the following photo of Ratcliffe Cross Stairs, described as “an ancient and much used landing place and point of departure of a ferry. There is a tradition that Sir Martin Frobisher took boat here for his ship when starting on his voyage to find the North-West Passage. Ratcliffe Cross is the old name for the thoroughfare leading to this landing stage, whence Butchers’ Row meets Broad Street, Shadwell, and Narrow Street, Limehouse”:

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

I do not know if that is the ferry mentioned in the Wonderful London text, but it does illustrate perfectly how these stairs, and the causeway that ran from the bottom of the stairs, was used to take a boat either along the river to another set of stairs, or to a ship on the river.

The following map shows the location of Ratcliffe Cross Stairs, with the red arrow pointing to where the stairs meet the river  ( © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

Limehouse Basin is the area of water to the right of the map, and the dark pink road above is the Highway leading into the Limehouse Link Tunnel, with the dark pink line of Butcher Row running north.

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs leads from Narrow Street at the point where it does a sharp bend to head north to a dead end at the Highway.

In the following photo, the dark blue gates are the entrance to Ratcliffe Cross Stairs:

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs are in what was the old hamlet of Ratcliffe. The name came from Redcliff as the high ground along the route of the main street that ran from the City to the east of London, parallel to the river had red sandstone exposed in the slight cliff that descended down to the marshy land along the river.

The road that ran along this higher land became known at the Ratcliffe Highway (now just the Highway), as it followed the river from the City to the hamlet.

Although now not as well known as the stairs in Wapping, Ratcliffe Cross Stairs were important and well used river stairs, and to understand why, we need to look at maps that show the area at a time when development was limited, and much of east London was still fields.

The following extract is from “A New and Correct Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster”, published by Haines and Son in 1796. Firstly, a close-up of the location of Ratcliffe Cross Stairs (underlined in red), shows the stairs were at the end of a road (Butcher Street) which led directly down to the stairs  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

Now using the same map, we can zoom out, and we can see the wider context of the location of the stairs (red oval):

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

If we follow the route of the road that runs down to the stairs, then after running through some fields, and limited development along the road, we reach Stepney. Follow the main road through Stepney as it turns to the left, and we reach Mile End Old Town, so the road that runs directly to the stairs is the direct route from Stepney and Mile End.

Also, if we look to the left, we can see two main roads that run from the east of the City of London, which also run to Butcher Street, then down to Ratcliffe Cross Stairs.

So whilst today, the stairs are at a quiet location, where Narrow Street turns to a dead end, it was once at a key location, at the end of the main road that would have made the stairs the most direct route to the river from a wide area of east London.

Rocque’s 1746 map of London does not name the stairs, but the street leading back from the stairs is called Ratcliff Cross (centre of the map, along the Thames):

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

The above map also shows Butcher Row leading down into Ratcliff Cross, and there is a Watch House shown at the junction between Butcher Row and where the road to Stepney is off to the right, and the road to the City on the left.

A Watch House also confirms that this was an important route between Mile End, the City and the river.

The stairs appear to have been in use in the 16th century, and were probably much older. Although I cannot find an early, verified reference to this, Ratcliffe Cross Stairs were alleged to have been used by explorers and adventurers of the later half of the 16th century, such as Sir Hugh Willoughby and Sir Martin Frobisher.

Sir Hugh Willoughby was a soldier, who took command of an expedition funded by the Muscovy Company, to find a north east passage along the northern coast of Russia, to the Far East. Willoughby, along with his crew would die in the attempt.

Sir Martin Frobisher was a sailor who made three attempts to find the north west passage to China. He survived all three expeditions, but failed to find a way through from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

I have found references to Ratcliffe Cross being used by 16th century adventurers such as Willoughby and Frobisher in a number of books on London and in a series of newspaper articles on the history of east London in the East London Observer in 1912.

There is also a plaque in the King Edward VII Memorial Park in Shadwell, next to the air vent / old pedestrian access to the Rotherhithe Tunnel:

Sir Hugh Willoughby

Just a note on spelling – the hamlet and the stairs seem to be referred to by both Ratcliff and Ratcliffe. I am using the version with an “e” at the end as this was the spelling used for the Wonderful London photo.

There are a couple of points here regarding the reference to famous adventurers leaving the stairs. They were just the boarding point where they would have got onto a smaller boat to be rowed to their ship which was either moored on the Thames, or at Deptford.

Locations along the Thames were also not the last place in the country that they would have set foot, as these expeditions frequently stopped at places such as Plymouth to take on any final provisions and to pick up and leave final messages.

There is also a question as to whether any reference to Ratcliffe Cross refers to the stairs, or to a cross.

There are multiple references to there being some form of cross near the stairs which was used as a place to receive a blessing before departing, to make proclamations, and as a place from where news could be spread.

The cross appears to have been just north of the stairs, and at some point along Butcher Row.

Again, referring back to the maps above, this would have been a good location for a cross given the convergence of roads, and the road running from Mile End, through Stepney and straight down to the stairs.

The following photo is looking north along the short stub of Narrow Street (that was Butcher Row) up to where the Highway joins the Limehouse Link Tunnel. Butcher Row continues north across the Highway.:

Narrow Street

The cross was in place in the 18th century as the poet and playwright John Dryden has one of his characters mention having heard a ballad about the Protector Somerset being sung at Ratcliffe Cross.

There are also references to the cross being lost or demolished in the 18th century, and in the early 20th century there were attempts at setting up some form of commemoration of the cross, for example from the Shoreditch Observer on the 26th of July, 1913:

“The Borough Council in January last resolved to request the London County Council to consider the question of the commemoration of the site of ‘Ratcliffe Cross’ on the ground that the spot witnessed the departure of mariners in the time of Elizabeth.”

And from the East London Observer:

“The Council are aware that the question of a suitable perpetuation of the historic ‘Ratcliffe Cross’ has been recently referred to, and in this connection we beg to report that we have under consideration a communication from Mr. C. McNaught, dated 7th, December 1912, urging that some sign, signification, or memorial thereof should be placed on the pillars of the Ratcliffe entrance to the Ratcliffe and Rotherhithe Tunnel. We think that the suggestion embodied in the forgoing communication is one which should be supported, and therefore, we recommend that the London County Council be requested to give effect to what Mr. McNaught suggests in this matter, and that Mr. McNaught be informed of the actions taken.

Councilor Maynard could not see why a memorial of Ratcliffe Cross should be put on the most modern structure of Rotherhithe Tunnel. He did not think the London County Council would agree to it.

Councilor Brennan was in favour of the memorial, pointing out that the tunnel was the nearest spot to the site of the Cross.”

The above text is interesting, as it shows the conflict between commemorating old London on the latest infrastructure, and it also implies that the cross was not right by the stairs, rather towards where the Highway junction with Butcher Row is now located, as this is close to the entrance to the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

The Mr. McNaught mentioned in the above article was Charles McNaught. He appears to have been a local historian, and wrote a series of articles in the East London Observer titled “Roundabout Old East London”.

He seems to have been rather cynical about some of the well known historians who had published books about London. In one article, he writes that “When Sir Walter Besant and his lieutenants came down to Ratcliffe a little more than a dozen years ago, they found at first that the hamlet offered little to interest or instruct.”

He also wrote that “When Sir Walter Besant ‘discovered’ this part of London”

He implies that authors such as Besant (who wrote a number of books about the history of London) came to places such as Ratcliffe, with his “lieutenants”, they did not put the effort in to discover the real history of the place, and eventually found out what the locals already knew, whilst claiming to “discover” the place.

So we have stairs that were at an important location, at the end of a direct route from Mile End, that had an important cross close by which had some symbolic meaning for departing sailors, and was used to make announcements (the East London Observer reported that the cross was used to make a proclamation about Queen Victoria becoming queen), dates from at least the 16th century, and was known as a departing point for 16th century adventurers.

Time to take a look at the stairs:

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

The above photo is an earlier photo to my latest visit, just to show how far the water of the Thames comes in at high water. The above photo was taken when the tide had already been receding.

The photo below is when the tide was out, and shows a set of steps down to the foreshore:

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

The foreshore nearest to the steps seems to be comprised of a very fine sand. There was a strong breeze during my visit, and walking through this section risked fine sand being blown in the eyes.

The following map is a 1914 revision and shows Ratcliffe Cross Stairs (just above the EY of Stepney) (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

Just to the left of where the stairs meet Narrow Street, where the street heads north, there is the PH symbol for a Public House.

In researching Thames stairs, the majority appear to have had a pub located next to the stairs. This would have been a place to wait for your boat to arrive, a place for a first drink after you have arrive back, or just simply had some business next to the stairs.

The pub was the Ship Tavern, and in 1939 “East London’s oldest woman licensee, Mrs. Rose Hannah M. Jenkins (aged 69), who for 40 years was in charge of the Ship Tavern, Narrow Street, Stepney, has died. The Ship was formerly the resort of men from the sailing ships who used to land at Ratcliffe Cross Stairs.”

In the above map extract, the stairs do seem to have a causeway extending across the foreshore, and the 1920s photo shows this causeway. Ratcliffe Cross Stairs does have a Historic England listing, with the “Old stone slipway to River Thames” being Grade II listed.

The causeway has today completely disappeared. Whether it was demolished, gradually eroded, or perhaps is covered by the debris deposited on the foreshore by the river, I do not know. It would be good if it was the later.

The view from the foreshore looking towards the Isle of Dogs:

Thames forshore

View of the river frontage of the buildings that face onto Narrow Street:

Thames foreshore

Foreshore looking towards the east:

View towards King Edward VII Memorial Park

A short distance along the foreshore showing the construction site for the Thames Tideway Tunnel:

View towards King Edward VII Memorial Park

Looking back from the foreshore towards the stairs. The causeway would have run down from the stairs to where I am standing.

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

The above photo shows a couple of things. Firstly the size of the tidal range on the Thames. I was standing close to the water to take the above photo and at high tide I would be completely underwater by several feet. The green algae on the walls shows the height of the tide.

Also, a bit hard to see, but the height of the foreshore drops off on either side of the stairs. The foreshore is covered in stones, the remains of bricks, bits of wood and concrete, and I do wonder if parts of the causeway remain below the surface.

I checked in my copy of the Port of London Authority book: “Access to the River Thames. A Port of London Authority Guide, Steps, Stairs and Landing Places on the Tidal Thames” (published around 1995), and the following table shows the entry for Ratcliffe Cross Stairs:

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

Interesting that it referred to the stairs as a landing place in 1977 (so still in use), and that the paving had been renewed. The implication was that in 1995 the stairs and causeway were in good condition.

After the post on Wapping Dock Stairs a few weeks ago, I did email the Port of London Authority with a question as to who is responsible for the Thames stairs, however so far I have not received a reply.

There is also the remains of the industrial use of the Thames. In the photo below there is a large layer of concrete, which may have been a slipway of some sort. The scaffolding is there to support maintenance work on the building above.

Old pipes on the Thames foreshore

However behind the scaffolding is this large pipe which contains four smaller pipes. There were water draining from the two middle pipes, but I have no idea what they were used for, are they still used, and how far back they go.

Old pipes on the Thames foreshore

There is a cobbled slipway on the foreshore, close by the stairs, and I did wonder if this was the site of the Wonderful London photo, however the slipway uses different stones, and is wider than the one in the photo:

Old Thames slipway

The following extract is from the 1949 revision of the OS map. Ratcliffe Cross Stairs are in the centre of the map, and to the right I have highlighted a feature identified as a “jetty”:

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

Parts of this jetty are still visible:

Remains of a Thames jetty

Wood and concrete on the foreshore:

Old wood on the Thames foreshore

And the remains of an old shoe:

old shoe on the Thames foreshore

I do have a PLA Thames Foreshore Permit, but very rarely get the time for any serious searching. I have always wanted to find a complete clay pipe, but no luck. This would be a wonderful connection with those who once lived and worked on the river.

What I did find at Ratcliffe Cross Stairs was this stone bird:

Mudlarking Find

It seems to have been made out of a lump of flint as the stone is exposed where part has broken off, however the overall shape of a bird and some of the decoration and colour can be clearly seen.

Mudlarking Find

I have reported and sent photos to the Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer at the Museum of London, so await an update as to whether it has any age.

The River Police are still a very visible presence on the Thames, and in 1937, Police Constable Earnest Butters of the Thames Police received £5 “in recognition of his courage in rescuing a five year old boy who had fallen into the river at Ratcliffe Cross Stairs on July 2nd”.

Thames River Police

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs deserve more recognition, and more research. There are no plaques or information boards at the stairs to provide any information as to the historic importance of the location (as with all the Thames stairs).

The Ratcliffe Cross, after which the stairs are named is a fascinating bit of lost east London history, and has been added to my very long list of things to try and find out more about.

That is another set of Thames stairs explored, and all the stairs I have covered in previous blog posts can be found in the map at this link.

The Cyprus Street, Bethnal Green, War Memorial

One of my father’s 1980s photos was of the war memorial in Cyprus Street, Bethnal Green:

Cyprus Street War Memorial

Forty years later, I went back to take a 2023 photograph:

Cyprus Street War Memorial

There are a couple of interesting changes to the overall memorial. The small memorial below the main First World War memorial is for the Second World War, presumably also for those from the street who died during that war. In my 2023 photo, this plaque has had a name added since the 1980s.

Below that there is a new plaque which has been added:

Kohima memorial

And below the above plaque is one of the ceramic poppies from the 2014 display in the moat of the Tower of London to commemorate the start of the First World War.

The memorial in Cyprus Street:

Cyprus Street war memorial

The memorial is not in its original location. I have read a number of slightly different stories online about the fate of the original memorial, and move to the current location. I will use the following quote from the publication “Not forgotten, A review of London’s War Memorials”, published by the Planning and Housing Committee of the London Assembly in 2009:

“The memorial was originally on the wall between numbers 45 and 47
but in the 1960s, when one end of the street was redeveloped for a
new housing estate, the main memorial was broken while it was being
removed. The community rescued the plaques and for a while the
fragments lay around the local pub, the Duke of Wellington. After a
number of years the community took the opportunity to use the
refurbishment of their street to make a collection to pay for a replica
of the original memorial to be made at a local stonemasons and got
permission from the housing association to relocate it to where it now

The London Assembly document states that the current memorial is a replica of the original. I have read other accounts that state it was repaired, however if that is true, then it must have been a very good repair.

The problem with determining which sources are correct is difficult as even in the London Assembly document there is an error. It states that “The original Cyprus Street memorial was erected at the end of 1918 to commemorate the residents of the street who died in the First World War”, however I have found a number of reports from newspapers of the time which state that the memorial was unveiled in 1920, perhaps there was a two year delay between erecting the memorial and unveiling, however I doubt it.

It is always difficult to be 100% confident in many statements that are recorded as facts.

What ever the truth of the memorial, nothing can detract from what it represents – the impact of war on one small London street.

The plaque was unveiled on Saturday the 5th of June, 1920, and the East London Observer had a report of the unveiling in the following Saturday’s issue:

“A BETHNAL GREEN WAR MEMORIAL – In Memory of Cyprus Street Men. A touching ceremony took place last Saturday afternoon at Cyprus Street, Bethnal Green, where there was unveiled and dedicated a War Memorial Tablet to the men of the street, which is in the parish of St. James-the-Less, Bethnal Green, who had fallen in the Great War. The memorial was raised by the members of the Duke of Wellington’s Discharged and Demobilised Solders’ Benefits Club, of which Mr. Keymer is the Chairman.

The St. James Brass Band opened the service and after hymns, prayers and lessons, the Rev. J.P.R. Rees-Jones, Vicar of the parish, unveiled and dedicated the memorial tablet.

The tablet is of white marble with imperishable lead lettering, with a beautiful scroll, the work being executed by Messrs. B. Levy and Sons, ltd. monumental masons, Brady Street, Whitechapel, a firm which has gained much notoriety by virtue of the excellence of workmanship and design, and the tablet was greatly admired by all who attended the interesting ceremony.

The Vicar gave a short but inspiring address, and after an anthem, “What are these arrayed in white robes”, given by the St. James’s choir, and the hymn “Lead Kindly Light”, the blessing was pronounced, followed by the “Last Post”, the “Dead March” and “Reveille”. There was a large assembly, and for once in a way Bethnal Greeners stopped to think of something else than their every day cares.”

The names on the memorial joined the names on thousands of other war memorial that were erected after the First World War, and the problem with war memorial is that the sheer number of names hides that fact that these were all individuals, and I have tried to find out about some of those listed.

In the 1911 census (the nearest I can get to the First World War for a full list of those living in Cyprus Street), there were 827 people recorded as living in the street.

Given that 26 people are listed as having died during the First World War, assuming roughly the same number of people were living in the street as in 1911, then 3% of the street’s residents would die in the war.

Whilst this may initially seem a relatively low number, many families at the time would have large numbers of children, so as a percentage of adults in the street, it was much higher than 3%.

When comparing the names on the memorial, I was surprised that a relatively high number were not listed in the 1911 census, implying that they were not then living in the street, I did wonder if those commemorated were from surrounding streets, however the memorial clearly states that they are the men of Cyprus Street.

I did find a number listed in 1911, and the census records provide a more rounded view of the names on the monument, for example:

  • A. Gadd – The Gadd family lived at number 51 Cyprus Street. There were two Alfred Gadd’s in the family. The father who was 45 in 1911 and the eldest son who was 18. The father was a Cabinet Maker, and the son was Linen Collar Sorter. I suspect that it was the son who died in the war, as the father would have been approaching 50 by 1914. As well as the father and oldest son, there was the wife Elizabeth (44), daughters Rosalie (20, a Brush Hair Sorter) and Elizabeth (16, a Dressmaker)
  • J. Goodwin – The Goodwin family lived at number 91 Cyprus Street. There were two John Goodwin’s in the family, however the eldest son John was only 6 in 1911, so it is the father, who was aged 27 and listed as a Butcher who died in the war. As well as the father and oldest son, there was the wife Elisa (26) and children Robert (5), Charles (4), daughter Grace (2) and youngest son Sidney (0, born in 1911)
  • T. Hamblin – The Hamblin family lived at number 59 Cyprus Street. T. Hamblin refers to Thomas Hamblin who was 32 in 1911 and listed as a Dock Labourer. He lived in the house with his wife Elizabeth (30 and a Tailoress). No children are recorded.
  • W. J. Gardner – There was no W. J. listed in the 1911 census, but there was a William Gardner at number 64, so I assume he may have left his middle name out of the census. William Gardner was 27 and a Builders Labourer. He lived in number 64 with his wife Florence (25 and a Skirt Machinist) and daughter Florence who was 4.

Just four out of the twenty-six who are listed on the memorial, but it reminds us that these were individuals with jobs and families, who would have impacted by their loss for very many years to come. The youngest child, Sydney Goodwin would hardly have known his father and Sydney could have lived to the end of the twentieth century.

It is also interesting to compare the number of names on the memorials for the First and the Second World Wars, with far less from the street who died in the Second World War.

This comparison shows the absolutely appalling death rates from the trench warfare of the First World War.

The reference on the memorial to the Duke of Wellington’s Discharged And Demobilised Soldiers And Sailors Benevolent Club refers to the Duke of Wellington pub in Cyprus Street. The pub was built around 1850 as part of the development of Cyprus Street and surrounding streets. The pub closed in 2005, but today still very clearly retains the features of a pub, including a pub sign:

Duke of Wellington pub

The Duke of Wellington, like many other pubs in the working class areas of London, had a tradition of hosting benefit and loan societies.

In 1911 there was a large advert for the Duke of Wellington in the Eastern Argus and Borough of Hackney Times headed “Important Notice”. It was one of the very many adverts that publicans would place in the local newspapers when they took over a pub. The advert would tell potential customers that all classes would receive a warm welcome, that only the very best beers and spirits would be served, and the advert of the Duke of Wellington also included that:

“The United Brothers Benefit Society meets here every alternate Tuesday evening and the Duke of Wellington Loan and Investment Society (which has been established for over 20 years) every Saturday evening. New members to both societies respectfully invited and heartily welcomed.”

It was hosting societies such as these, as well as the very many clubs and societies involved with sports and games that put these 19th century pubs at the heart of the communities that developed around them.

The pub, as well as much of the original Cyprus Street terrace houses are Grade II listed.

A chunk of the western part of Cyprus Street was badly damaged during the Second World War and the Cyprus Street Estate was built across the area that was damaged. This has effectively separated two parts of the original street.

In the following map, the red oval shows where Cyprus Street has been separated by the new estate, with a short stub of the street to the left, and the main section of the street to the right ( © OpenStreetMap contributors ):

Bethnal Green map

The new estate can be seen just to the west of the old pub:

Cyprus Street

Cyprus Street is fascinating, not just for the war memorial, and architecture of the terraces, but also the way they are decorated, with many of the houses having a brightly painted front door and window shutters:

Cyprus Street

View along the main surviving section of the street:

Cyprus Street

Cyprus Street is identical to many other mid 19th century streets that appeared as Bethnal Green was developed, what has made it special is the war memorial and the retention of the majority of the original terrace houses.

As indicated by the Duke of Wellington’s Benevolent Club that erected the memorial, the pub must have played an important part in the community that lived along the street.

There were so many pubs in Bethnal Green (as there was across much of London), and in Bethnal Green the majority have closed, with many being demolished or converted into flats.

As I was walking to Cyprus Street, along Bonner Street, I saw another old pub just after the junction with Cyprus Street.

This is the Bishop Bonner, on the corner of Bonner Street and Royston Street:

Bishop Bonner, Bonner Street

Another 19th century pub, which finally closed in 1997. The first floor appears to be flats, however the ground floor looks rather derelict. It would be interesting to look in and see if any of the remaining bar furniture survives.

Name sign on the corner of the pub:

Bishop Bonner, Bonner Street

Always interesting to think of the thousands who have walked through these doors, when the pub was the hub of the local community for well over 100 years:

Bishop Bonner, Bonner Street

Whilst so many of London’s pubs disappear or are converted, the memorial in Cyprus Street remembers not just the residents of the street who died in the First and Second World Wars, but also remembers the community that was in the street at the time, that enabled the memorial to be created and maintained during the following decades.

St. Paul’s Covent Garden, the Actors Church

The tickets for all the walks of my new Limehouse walk sold out by Monday morning, so a very big thank you. The proceeds from these walks go towards the hosting, maintenance and research of the blog, so it is very much appreciated. I have had a number of requests for new dates, so have added two more, on the 31st of August and 10th September, which can be booked by clicking on the dates.

In 1951, my father took a couple of photos of the main entrance into St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

He was far better at timing the position of the sun and weather conditions than I am, however the view is much the same today, some 72 years later:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

A view of the main entrance to the church from the opposite side of the churchyard:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

And the same view in 2023:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

The church of St. Paul’s was one of the first buildings to be constructed as part of the development of the Covent Garden Piazza by Francis Russell, the 4th Earl of Bedford.

The Russell family were significant land owners, and within London this included the area around Covent Garden, along with significant holdings across Bloomsbury. The land at Covent Garden came into their position in 1552 when the first Earl was granted the land by the Crown.

Development of the Covent Garden Piazza and St. Paul’s Church commenced around 1630 when Inigo Jones designed the overall layout of the square. Construction of the church began in 1631 and it appears to have been completed and furnished by 1635, but was not consecrated until 1638 due to a dispute with the vicar of St. Martins-in-the Fields, mainly about the physical boundaries and the degree of independence of the new church. The Earl of Bedford had a family pew in St. Martin’s, but released this in 1635 when his new church in Covent Garden was ready.

The main entrance to the church is in Bedford Street, where the brick façade of the church can be seen between two pillars with ornate railings on either side, and providing a gate between the pillars:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

Through the gates and we are into the churchyard:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

The churchyard was closed to burials in 1853 and in the following couple of years all the tombstones were either removed or laid flat. The churchyard was renovated between 1878 and 1882, when the ground was also lowered and flattened.

Today, the churchyard has a wide path leading up to the entrance of the church, with seating along both sides of the path. To either side of the path are gardens and grassed spaces.

As can be seen in the above photo, the main body of the church and the churchyard are surrounded by tall terrace buildings along either side, and the church has long had a complex relationship with these buildings.

On both sides of the churchyard, there is a space between the wall of the churchyard and the adjacent buildings:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

The plaque reads: “This lightwell is part of the burial ground of St. Paul’s Church. Written consent must be obtained before any use is made of this lightwell.”

Originally, the churchyard ran up to the walls of the buildings, and doors and windows in these buildings which provided access to the churchyard were long a cause of concern for the church, as there was an issue with people getting into the churchyard and causing a nuisance, as well as the general issue about security where all the surrounding buildings provided access.

In 1685, any door in these buildings onto the churchyard was ordered to be blocked up, unless it had been given permission by the church, who also then sold licences for the making of windows that looked out onto the churchyard.

During the later half of the 18th century, the churchwardens also had concerns regarding the rising levels of the churchyard due to the many people being buried, which seems to have included large numbers of non-parishioners as well as “with the remains of multitudes of Paupers”.

In the 1870s, the lightwell shown in the above photo was built, with lightwells on the north, west and south sides of the church. These lightwells served a number of purposes. They provided light into the lowest floors of the surrounding buildings, they provide a degree of security for the churchyard to prevent the churchyard being used for “various and improper purposes”, and as a benefit for the houses, they prevented “soakage” from the graves into the houses.

London churchyards must have been appalling places in the 18th and 19th centuries, and no wonder that burials were stopped in the mid 19th century. The vast majority seem to have been overflowing with the bodies of the dead, and the rising levels of churchyards gave an indication of the many thousands that had been buried in such a small space.

If we walk around the church into the old piazza and market area of Covent Garden, we get a very different view of the church:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

This would have been the very visible side of the church on the new piazza that the Earl of Bedford was having built, and despite Bedford’s apparent request for a cheap church that would be “not much better than a barn”, Jones designed a grand Tuscan portico.

Whilst the portico is to the original designs, only the columns are probably original as the church was gutted by a fire in 1795, which required a significant rebuild.

The side of the church facing onto Covent Garden looks as if it should be the main entrance. When the church was built, Jones intended that it should have been the main entrance, with the altar being at the western end of the church.

This approach did not accord with the usual placement of the altar at the eastern end of Christian churches, so the entrance facing onto the Covent Garden Piazza was blocked up, and the altar is now behind this eastern wall.

The portico does though provide an excellent place to photograph the performers in Covent Garden and the large crowds that gather to watch:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

The white building above the columns is the Punch and Judy pub, and Punch has an important link with Covent Garden as indicated by this plaque on the church:

Punch's Puppet Show Covent Garden

In the years after the restoration of Charles II, a number of Italian entertainers came to England, including the puppet showman Pietro Gimonde who came from the city of Bologna.

It was Gimonde who Pepys saw in Covent Garden. At the time a Punch puppet show used the form of a marionette, where strings tied to a figure were manipulated by rods above the figure’s head.

Pepys must have been impressed by the show as two weeks later he returned to show his wife, and Gimonde must have made an impression on London society as in October 1662, he was part of a Royal Command Performance for Charles II.

Punch and St. Paul’s, Covent Garden featured in the first book of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, when the main character, Peter Grant meets the ghost of murdered actor Henry Pyke, who also takes on the personae of Mr. Punch, in the churchyard.

Whilst the Rivers of London series is fictional, some strange, violent and sad events have happened in St. Paul’s churchyard.

The London Bills of Mortality for the week of the 22nd to the 29th of January 1716 recorded that a person was “killed by a sword at St Paul’s Covent Garden”. Bills of Mortality also recorded a number of people who were simply found dead in the churchyard – possibly those who were sick, too poor, unable to find housing or food, or perhaps just found the pressures of life in 18th century London too hard to bear.

Time to take a look inside the church, away from the crowds around Covent Garden, and this is the view when entering through the main door from the churchyard:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

As with any building of such age, it has been through very many repairs and restorations that have changed the church from its original form.

In the years after completion, the roof seems to have been a recurring cause for concern, with repairs having to be frequently undertaken, with the gradual loss of the decoration and painting across the ceiling.

By the 1780s, the church was in such a state that extensive repairs were needed. The architect Thomas Hardwick was chosen from the three that put in bids for the work. The church was closed and then followed a major programme of works that expanded as more problems were found.

From an initial budget of £6,000, the final cost when the church reopened in 1789 was £11,723.

This could have been money very well spent, however just six years later in 1795, some plumbers were carrying out work in a bell turret. They left the church for a midday break and left an unguarded fire still burning.

The fire escaped to the surrounding fabric, and soon spread to rapidly to gut the majority of the church.

The church apparently looked like one of the City church’s after the bombing of the 1940s, with only the exterior walls standing, the roof collapsed and the interior gutted.

You can probably imagine the feelings of the churchwardens when they viewed the gutted church just a few years after the period of closure and expense of a major rebuild, and they were now faced with a much larger challenge, and the difficulty of trying to raise yet more large sums of money, not long after having sought funds for the 1780s restoration.

Thomas Hardwick was again appointed for the rebuild, and money to fund the project was raised by the levy of a rate of one shilling in the Pound, and by selling annuities based on the security of the local rates.

The church was rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1798.

The pulpit (on the left of the following photo) is possibly by Grinling Gibbons, or by one of his pupils. Above the altar, is a copy of the Madonna and Child by the artist Botticelli:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

There seems to have been an almost continuous programme of repair work to the church, along with occasional significant restorations, including one in the early 1870s by William Butterfield, which focused on the interior of the church, with an aim of making the interior a brighter and more pleasant place to worship. Butterfield’s work included the removal of the majority of the monuments on the internal walls.

Henry Clutton, who was architect to the Duke of Bedford made a number of proposals for restoring and improving the church in the late 1870s. Clutton’s view was that Inigo Jones had almost gone along with the original Earl’s requirement for a barn-like church, with a simple brick body to the church and with only the stone portico embellishing a simple brick barn.

Some of Clutton’s proposals were taken on by the architect A. J. Pilkington in the late 1880s. The major change to the church at this time was the replacement of the ashlar exterior (square cut stones used as a facing on a wall), by the red bricks we see today.

Following Pilkington’s work, the church has stayed much the same apart from repair and decoration work. There was some bomb damage to buildings around the church, but St. Paul’s survived the war without any damage.

The font in St. Paul’s church:

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

St. Paul’s Church is known as the Actors Church. The area around Covent Garden has long had an association with the acting profession. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane which was built by Thomas Killigrew in 1663, just thirty years after the church is nearby. Killigrew had received a Royal Charter from King Charles II allowing the theatre to be built.

In 1723, the Covent Garden Theatre was built. This is now the Royal Opera House.

The association with the acting profession can be seen in a number of ways. Performances are put on within the church and in the churchyard, and St. Paul’s has the Iris Theatre, its own professional theatre company.

Walking around the interior of the church and there are very many memorials to actors and those associated with the profession, including Gracie Fields:

Gracie Fields memorial

Dame Anna Neagle-Wilcox. Usually better known as just Anna Neagle, but on the memorial including the surname of her husband, Herbert Wilcox, and below is Flora McKenzie Robson who had a long career in film, theatre and the stage:

Anna Neagle memorial

Dame Diana Rigg, again another actress with a long and wide ranging career, and who was still working right up to the year when she was “Called to rehearsal”:

Diana Rigg memorial

Nicholas Parsons, again another long career, and probably best known for Sale of the Century on TV in the 1970s and the BBC long running comedy show Just a Minute:

Nicholas Parsons memorial

Three “Sirs” of the theatrical and film world who all died within 4 years of each other, Sir Terence Rattigan, Sir Noel Coward and Sir Charles Chaplin:

Charles Chaplin memorial

Memorial for Dame Barbara Windsor, with her well known line from the BBC soap EastEnders:

Barbara Windsor memorial Get out of my pub

In what is a brilliant bit of placement, which cannot be a coincidence, the memorial for Barbara Windsor is located behind the small bar in the church:

Barbara Windsor memorial

Memorials to actors Roy Dotrice, Edward Woodward, Sir Ian Holm, Geoffrey Palmer and John Tydeman, a former BBC Head of Radio Drama:

Edward Woordward memorial

There are very few early plaques remaining in the church, as mentioned earlier in the post, William Butterfield’s work on the church in the 1870s removed many of the monuments that lined the walls of the church. A few remain including that of Thomas Arne, who wrote the music for a large number of stage works between the years 1733 and 1776, including works performed at Drury Lane and the Covent Garden Theatre.

Thomas Arne also put the words of a poem by James Thomson to music, to create the song Rule Britannia, as is recorded on his memorial, which also records that he was baptized in the church and buried in the churchyard:

Thomas Arne memorial Rule Britannia

There are very few memorials to those outside of the entertainment industries. One though records the dreadful death rate of children. On the right is recorded John Bellamy Plowman, the father who died aged 67, however on the left is what must have been his oldest son, also called John Bellamy Plowman who died aged 17 and was buried in the vault under the vestry, along with six other children who all died in their infancy:

John Bellamy Plowman

View of the rear of the church, with organ and gallery.

St Paul's Covent Garden the Actors Church

There were once galleries down either side of the church which provided additional seating at an upper level. These must have made the church seem very crowded when full, and they were removed during an early restoration.

St. Paul’s Covent Garden will soon be 400 years old. Although it was rebuilt significantly after the fire in 1795, and restored and repaired many times over the centuries, it still is an Inigo Jones church, and goes back to the time before the market, and when the Piazza was first established.

It is also a church that connects to the profession that is still so important in this part of London.