Category Archives: London Books

BBC Broadcasting House

This year, the BBC is celebrating 100 years of broadcasting, having started in 1922 with a limited programme of music, drama and talks. There is another BBC anniversary this year, as it is 90 years since Broadcasting House on Langham Street / Portland Place opened as the first building in the country, purpose built for the new medium of broadcasting.

I have a copy of the book the BBC published in 1932 to celebrate the opening of the new building, so I thought I would take a look at the building and some of the many photos from the original book, which show leading edge broadcasting design and technology from 1932.

Walk north along Regent Street from Oxford Circus, into Langham Place, and this is the first view of Broadcasting House, just behind the distinctive tower and spire of All Souls:

Broadcasting House

When the BBC first started broadcasting, the BBC’s premises were at Savoy Hill, however with the rapidly growing popularity of broadcasting along with equally fast technical development, it was soon clear that a new building was needed, ideally a building custom designed for broadcasting.

The site of Broadcasting House was initially to be developed as what were described as “high-class residential flats”, however the location was perfect for the BBC. It offered a central London location, close to multiple transport links, and with just enough space to construct a new building.

The owners of the site agreed to build the BBC’s new centre and offered a long lease, however the BBC purchased the site before the building opened.

The site was of some size, but was strangely shaped, with a long curved section along Portland Place. The building was limited in height as there were a couple of nearby buildings that had their right to light protected under the custom of “ancient lights”.

The architect of the building was Lieut-Col G. Val-Myer FRIBA, who was supported by the BBC’s Civil Engineer, M.T. Tutsbery.

Broadcasting and the functions of the BBC dictated some challenging requirements. Despite being called Broadcasting House, the building would house a considerable number of people working on the administrative functions of the BBC. These would all require naturally lit space.

A wide range of studios were also needed, of very different size and function, from small studios for one or two people, up to concert hall size. These studios needed to be sound proofed both from the noise of the street, and internally generated noise.

A creative design solution met these competing requirements. Broadcasting House was constructed as a building within a building. A central core was constructed of brick, avoiding as much as possible the use of steel girders and stanchions which would have transmitted sound. The studios were located within this central core, and they were separated where possible by quiet rooms such as the library.

The outer core of the building housed office space, so these rooms had natural light and acted as an additional level of sound proofing between street and studios, with the inner brick core providing internal sound proofing.

The external design of the building had some distinctive features. Looking above the main entrance, and one of the aerial masts stands above a clock:

Broadcasting House

The main entrance at bottom left:

Broadcasting House

Eric Gill was responsible for the sculpture decorating the building. The BBC requested that the works would feature Shakespeare’s Ariel as the BBC considered this would represent the “invisible spirit of the air, the personification of broadcasting”.

The sculpture above the entrance shows Prospero, Ariel’s master, sending him out into the world. Gill created the work in situ during the winter of 1931 / 1932. Before being uncovered and revealed to the public, the Governors of the BBC inspected the work and considered that, Ariel’s “appendage” was too large for public decency and a reduction of a couple of inches was made.

Eric Gill was also responsible for some of the sculpture on 55 Broadway – London Underground’s Head Office.

To the right of the above photo is the considerable extension that has been added to the original Broadcasting House.

Walking along Portland Place, and we see the curved façade of the buildings, with the rows of windows providing natural light to the offices behind:

Broadcasting House

To the lower right of the above photo is Eric Gill’s “Ariel hearing Celestial Music”:

Broadcasting House

Much of the building is faced with plain stone, with identical, regularly space windows, however there are some key features along the centre of the façade:

Broadcasting House

At the top are the Coat of Arms of the BBC. The circle in the centre represents the world, to show the breadth of the BBC’s coverage. Running along the bottom of the sculpture is the BBC’s motto “Nation shall speak peace unto nation”:

Broadcasting House

Below the arms is a long balcony decorated with birds of the air:

Broadcasting House

And below the balcony are “wave” symbols:

Broadcasting House

On the northern end of the façade is another work by Eric Gill, representing Ariel between Wisdom and Gaiety:

Broadcasting House

Looking back towards Langham Place with Broadcasting House on the left:

Broadcasting House

A large extension has been added to Broadcasting House. This was done to help consolidate many of the different BBC London activities into a single building, with the move of BBC World Service from Bush House into the new extension, along with many of the functions that were in Television Centre such as News, when the BBC left Television Centre.

Looking to the east of Broadcasting House, and we can see the original building to the left, with the new building to the right and at the far end:

Broadcasting House

The BBC’s 1932 book celebrating the opening of the building is full of photos of the new building, internally and externally, and shows what was considered leading edge design for the new medium of broadcasting in 1932.

At the start of the book is a map showing the location of Broadcasting House, with an emphasis on the closeness of the building to a range of travel options. This was important not just for those who worked full time in the building, but for the many people who would visit the building for a short time to participate in one of the many concerts, talks and plays that were broadcast.

Broadcasting House

An aerial photo shows Broadcasting House, just completed, and gleaming white among the surrounding dirty buildings of the city:

Broadcasting House

The book includes a rather unusual photo, looking north from the roof towards Hampstead. The photo was taken using an infra-red camera, which at the time improved the level of detail at a distance, and had the effect of showing green objects such as trees as dazzling-white:

Broadcasting House

The clock and mast which are still visible today. On the balcony, to the left of the clock is a loud speaker which was used to broadcast the sound of Big Ben, imitating the natural strength of the bell.

Broadcasting House

The following diagram shows the internal core of the building with the outer offices removed. The diagram shows how much had been crammed into the space available, as well as the positioning of quiet rooms between the studios:

Broadcasting House

The book covered all aspects of the new building, including the technical infrastructure that enabled broadcasting. The following photo is the Control Room and apparatus is described as being “battleship grey with stainless steel fittings”:

Broadcasting House

Two of the amplifier bays, one with a cover removed showing the valves that were critical to this type of equipment, long before transistors had been invented:

Broadcasting House

One of the issues with being in London was the polluted air with still plenty of smoke in the atmosphere. Broadcasting House featured state of the art air conditioning equipment, which included outside air being passed through a spray of water to remove particles in the air, as shown in the following photo:

Broadcasting House

The book also includes plans of each floor, the following plan of the seventh floor being an example, with the studios located in the central core:

Broadcasting House

The BBC provided tours for journalists in May 1932, and papers of the time were full of glowing articles about the new building. The following is from the London Correspondent of the Dundee Courier, who wrote an article titled “The Palace of Broadcast – A peep into new home of the BBC”:

“When the British Broadcasting Corporation decided to build themselves a new home they did the job thoroughly.

After a tour of Broadcasting House in Portland Place my mind was in a whirl of gigantic boilers, pictures of the most modern studios, miles of corridors, hundreds of lights, and a thousand and one other things.

The tour reflected the BBC’s thoroughness and started in the basement, which is three floors below street level, and finished eight floors above.

The people who matter in broadcasting said ‘we must have no noise from the outside in our studios’ therefore, each studio, which has no communication with the outside world apart from the door, has its own exclusive current of air for ventilation and heat so that no sound is carried through from one room to another.

The experts have taken sound well in hand, and controlled its unruly antics. The studio for ‘talks’ has been made so dead that there are no reverberations at all. If you speak in the studio your voice sounds like a voice heard in a dream. It is most eerie.

The furnishing is definitely 1932, and about this studio for discussions there is a make-yourself-at-home atmosphere.

Soft beige carpets cover the floors. The walls and the ceilings are delicate shades of beige, with a touch of orange and cream stripes around the walls. Below a mirror which stretches across one side of the room there is a jade green vase containing huge flowers.

The chapel studio is of great beauty. The cream walls are lit by pillars of light. Two tall columns painted green reach the ceiling, which is of blue with silver stars and signs of the Zodiac.

Next to each studio, of which there are 22, there is a little listening room. There is a window through which the performers can be seen. Here an announcer can make announcements without the artists being able to hear him, and he can check the quality of the transmissions.

The ‘effects’ room is above. here it is all very scientific. In the centre is a large table that swivels round. It is divided into sections, each of which is covered in a different substance to give different sounds when it is rapped or hard objects dropped upon it.

The equipment of this room also includes a pall full of lumps of bricks and a tank of water, and to mention a humble sheet of iron for thunder.

Then there are a series of records for crowd noises, angry, and jolly, English or foreign. Others give cries of babies and every form of animal.

All those cheery messages about depressions of Iceland and anticyclones together with news, emanate from a very chic little studio of which the walls are matted silver. Light is thrown upon the subject from a large globe at the end of a long telescope-like stand.

Such is the ‘Radio Village’. There are dressing rooms, waiting rooms, artists’ foyers, refreshment lounge, libraries and, to complete it all, a small black cat who wanders about at will, and not at all impressed with the dignity of the surroundings.”

Photos from the book show the “make-yourself-at-home atmosphere” described in the article, for example Studio 8B used for Debates and Discussions:

Broadcasting House

Studio 6E – Gramophone Effects, with plenty of turn-tables to play records of effects:

Broadcasting House

The Music Library, which the book claimed to be the largest in the world, with every kind of music from manuscript parts of Bach cantatas to the latest comic songs:

Broadcasting House

The Office of the Director of Programmes:

Broadcasting House

One of the interesting aspects of studio design in the early 1930s is that the studios were made to replicate the place where the production would take place. Studio 3E for Religious Services had the appearance of a religious building, however this could be changed for secular broadcasts when the vase of flowers (as shown in the photo) were used to replace the cross used for religious broadcasts:

Broadcasting House

Studio 3B for Talks looks like a domestic setting. There were no windows behind those curtains.

Broadcasting House

The interior design of Broadcasting House was led by Raymond McGrath, an Australian born architect who led a team of young designers. They were given a degree of freedom with their designs, which resulted in a curious mix of homely and modernist features.

The studios are very different today, and in the past 90 years the function of broadcasting has taken over from the designs of 1932.

The Chairman’s Office:

Broadcasting House

Broadcasting House opened when the autocratic Sir John Reith was Director General. It was Reith who defined the BBC’s purpose as being to “inform, educate, entertain”. It was probably with some fear that employees would be summoned to the Director-General’s Office:

Broadcasting House

The majority of the photos in the book show empty studios and equipment rooms. Very new, and no people to be seen. The only photos with people are of some of the offices of Broadcasting House, such as the following photo of the Accounts Office.

Broadcasting House

Note in the photo the windows facing out. To the left would have been a corridor, then the brick wall of the inner core with the studios to avoid sound transmission from outside or from the internal offices.

The entrance hall from Portland Place, with staff lifts to the right and the Artists’ Foyer behind the pillar at the far end:

Broadcasting House

The Latin inscription on the right reads “This Temple of Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest, that all things hostile to peace or purity may be banished from this house, and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and uprightness.”

The Council Chamber:

Broadcasting House

The Lower Ground floor provided access to the concert hall, from where concerts with a live audience would be broadcast. View towards the platform:

Broadcasting House

View towards the rear of the Concert Hall:

Broadcasting House

The Concert Hall is now known as the BBC Radio Theatre.

All the studios, along with other rooms involved with the broadcast process, were in the central core of the building, so they did not have windows and there was no natural light. The designs for these rooms attempted to address this with decoration, and in the following photo is Listening Hall 1, where a seascape had been added on the wall at which those listening would have been facing:

Broadcasting House

And in Listening Hall 2, gold and silver foil had been put on the walls to simulate the effect of sunlight:

Broadcasting House

Broadcasting House was built long before the days of electronically created sound effects. These were usually prerecorded on records as seen in one of the earlier photos, or involved making noises with physical objects.

Some sound effects needed a different approach such as the creation of an echo, or the impression that the sound was created in a large space rather than a small, sound proofed studion.

To provide echo effects, Broadcasting House had the Echo Room, where sound from a studio were played in the room which had reflective, resonant walls to bounce the sound, which was picked up by a microphone at the end of the room:

Broadcasting House

Broadcasting House was a leading edge facility at the time of construction for the new medium of broadcasting. It was however designed to meet John Reith’s view of the BBC, and the studios were designed for talks and discussions (nearly always by men), and for broadcasts of plays and concerts.

In the previous building at Savoy Hill it was common for those arriving to give a broadcast talk to be offered cigars, brandy and whisky before broadcasting – operating almost like a Gentleman’s Club.

News would become an increasing feature of the BBC, with the use of external agencies to provide news before the BBC developed their own internal news gathering capability.

As well as broadcasting to the country, broadcasting to the world would become an integral part of the BBC’s mandate, beginning with what was called the Empire Service, then the World Service.

The first broadcast specifically to the “Empire” was made from Broadcasting House on the 19th of December 1932, with John Reith speaking an introduction to the broadcast.

The BBC’s Centenary celebrations seem to have a different focus to 1972 when they celebrated 50 years.

In 2022 the focus seems to be more of the present day relevance of the BBC, with the breadth and depth of services provided. I suspect this is down to perceived threats to the BBC’s charter and the licence fee.

In 1972, the focus was more on the historical, showing the BBC almost as the official recorder of the great events of the previous 50 years.

The BBC produced a double album in 1972 containing excerpts from key broadcasts of the Corporation’s first 50 years. I was given a copy at the time, a strange present given the age I was in 1972, but one I appreciate now for the historical context.

Broadcasting House

The double album opened up and inside there is a listing of all the broadcasts on the records.

Side 1 covers from 1922 to 1932, so pre Broadcasting House. Included are music from the Savoy Orpheans and the Savoy Havana Band, a recording of the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb, a news item from the 1926 General Strike, and the first Royal Christmas Message broadcast on Christmas Day in 1932.

Side 2 covers the six years from 1933 to 1939, when many of the recordings would have come from Broadcasting House. Along with recordings of musical items, the slow build up to war can be seen, from a 1934 speech by the Nazi Joseph Goebbels to Prime Minister Chamberlain’s announcement of the outbreak of war on the 3rd of September 1939.

Broadcasting House

Side 3 covers the Second World War, from the fall of France in 1940 to the final surrender of Japan in 1945.

Side 4 covers the period from 1946 to 1972 and includes an FA Cup Final, Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race, a Royal Wedding, Coronation and Funeral, shows such as the Archers, Goons and Twenty Questions. The First Man in Space, assasination of President Kennedy and England’s 1966 World Cup victory.

The final track on side 4 is appropriately the funeral of Lord Reith in 1971, who was instrumental in building up the BBC and was Director-General when Broadcasting House was planned and built.

Broadcasting House

The BBC does have some pages on their website on the 100 years, which can be found here.

Broadcasting House comes from a simpler time, when the BBC was virtually the only form of mass electronic media, with only newspapers for competition.

Today, the broadcaster has no end of competition, from multiple broadcasters, online services and streaming providers. Shifts from linear broadcasting to time shifting and on demand programming.

The BBC suffers accusations of bias from almost every part of the political spectrum. It seems to tie itself in knots in trying to tread carefully and appear impartial around contentious subjects.

The licence fee is indeed an anachronistic way to fund the organisation, but a fair alternative that provides sufficient funding for the organisation has yet to be proposed.

The BBC has made some huge mistakes over the years, but still has a global reputation for independence, and is a prime example of the country’s soft power.

After 90 years, it is brilliant that Broadcasting House is still part of the country’s broadcasting fabric, and with the BBC it must be an example of where the phrase “you never know what you’ve got, till its gone” strongly applies.

alondoninheritance.com

Fred Cleary and the Flowering City

The City of London has always been a busy and congested place. For centuries, gardens and green space were only to be found around the halls of the Livery Companies and the gardens of some of the larger houses owned by rich City merchants and well connected residents.

As trade, manufacturing and finance expanded within the City during the 19th century, open space was not treated with the some level of priority as buildings that served the commercial purposes of the City.

Significant destruction of buildings and damage to large areas of land during the war resulted in new thinking as to how reconstruction should take place. I have written about a couple of plans for the City such as the 1944 report on Post War Reconstruction of the City, and the 1951 publication, The City of London – A Record Of Destruction And Survival.

More green space, places for people to sit, and the planting of flowers was one of the initiatives pushed forward by Fred Cleary, and in 1969 he published a book about the new gardens in the City titled “The Flowering City”:

Fred Cleary

Fred Cleary was a Chartered Surveyor who worked for a City mortgage and investment company. He was also a longtime member of the City’s Court of Common Council, and according to the author information in the book was Chairman of the Trees, Gardens, and City Open Space Committee, and the Chairman of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association.

The aim of the book was to “record something of the considerable efforts made by the City Corporation who, supported by many business interests and voluntary bodies, have endeavoured to make the City of London one of the most colourful and attractive business centres in the world.”

Through his interests and his membership of a number of key City committees, Fred Cleary had a leading role in the post war development of many of the gardens across the City, and the book includes a map of some of these gardens, many of which feature in the book:

Fred Cleary

The book is full of photos of the first gardens to be created as the City reconstructed after the war. Many of these gardens still remain, although they have changed significantly over the years.

Originally, they had a rather formal layout with basic planting. Today, many City gardens are far more natural with lots of planting and almost a wild feel to some of the best.

What I think is the very latest City garden almost looks straight from the Chelsea flower show and has an incredible central water feature. I will come to this garden later in the post, but the first garden on a brief walk to some of the City gardens, was the one named after Fred Cleary.

Looking south, across Queen Victoria Street, and we can see the start of Cleary Gardens:

Fred Cleary

One of the entrances to Cleary Gardens from Queen Victoria Street:

Fred Cleary

A long brick pergola facing onto Queen Victoria Street with seating between each of the brick columns:

Fred Cleary

Many of the new post-war gardens were built on bomb sites, and Cleary Gardens occupies such a site. The land drops away to the south of Queen Victoria Street towards the Thames, so the gardens are tiered. Walk down to the middle tier and there is a small enclosed space:

Fred Cleary

At the end of the above space, there is a blue City plaque on the wall, commemorating Fred Cleary who was “Tireless in his wish to increase open space in the City”.

Fred Cleary

The remaining walls from the buildings that once occupied the site have been included in the structure and tiers of the gardens:

Fred Cleary

Cleary Garden was initially planted by a City worker in the 1940s and on the evening of the 26th July 1949, the garden was visited by the Queen (mother of the current Queen) who was on a tour of City and East London gardens.

The gardens were significantly remodeled in the 1980s and it was following this work that they were named after Fred Cleary who had died in 1984.

The lower tier of the gardens:

Fred Cleary

Huggin Hill forms the eastern border of the gardens. Excavations at the gardens, under Huggin Hill and under the building on the left have found the remains of a Roman bathhouse.

Fred Cleary

Fred Cleary argued not just for open gardens and green space, but also for more planting of flowers across the City, and an example of what he would have appreciated can also be found in Queen Victoria Street, outside Senator House, where the office block is set back from the street, and raised beds full of flowers have been built between building and street:

Fred Cleary

Almost all of the City gardens featured in Cleary’s book have been remodeled several times since their original construction, and those in the book look very different to the gardens we see today.

Hard to keep track with change in the City, but I think the very latest example of how gardens change are the recently reopened gardens on the corner of Cannon Street and New Change.

There have been gardens on the corner of these two City streets for many years. The gardens were last redesigned in 2000 based on a design by Elizabeth Banks Associates, however they recently reopened following another major redesign.

These gardens are in front of 25 Cannon Street, and Pembroke, the developers of the building included a transformation of the gardens by the landscape and garden design practice of Tom Stuart-Smith.

I must admit to being rather cynical of many new developments which are aligned to an office project. Too often they are a low cost bolt on, designed to make the planning process easier, however these new gardens are really rather good.

The key new feature at the centre of the gardens is a large reflection pool:

Fred Cleary

The pool was the work of water feature specialist Andrew Ewing. The water in this pool is very still (although it does appear to be flowing over the internal edge), and is positioned to provide some brilliant reflections of St Paul’s Cathedral:

Fred Cleary

The outer wall of the pool provides seating, and the surrounding gardens are planted to such an extent that the traffic on the surrounding streets is effectively hidden.

Although good for taking photos, I was surprised that on a warm and sunny June day, very few people walked through the garden or used the seating. Not easy to see the central pool from outside the garden, but it is very much worth a visit.

View across the central pool to the buildings of One New Change – the mature trees from the previous development have been retained, and the central layout and smaller planting is new:

Fred Cleary

Possibly one of the reasons why the above gardens were so quiet is the large amount of open space and gardens across the road around the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral.

These gardens were all part of the late 1940s / early 1950s development of new green / garden space, but have become more planted since.

The garden’s in the 1960s were rather basic green space, as shown in the following photo from The Flowering City:

Fred Cleary

The office blocks in the above photo have long been replaced, and the only recognisable feature in the photo is the church of St Nicholas Cole Abbey in the background.

The garden consisted of mainly grass with some planting in the centre and around the edge.

Today. the gardens are very different with plenty of planting and some works of art:

Fred Cleary

Plants, hedges and walkways:

Fred Cleary

Looking towards the City of London Information Centre:

Fred Cleary

City gardens tend to be very well maintained and the gardens to the south of St Paul’s were being worked on during my visit:

Fred Cleary

Across the road from the above photos to the immediate south east of St Paul’s Cathedral, there is another large area of green space:

Festival Gardens

These gardens have changed the area considerably, and have been through a series of post war development.

The following photo is one of my father’s photos from the Stone Gallery of the cathedral. The church in the photo (minus the spire), is the same church as seen in the above photo.

Festival Gardens

The space occupied by the gardens to the south east of the cathedral were once a dense network of streets and buildings as can be seen by their remains in the above photo.

My comparison photo to my father’s is shown below – a very different view:

Festival Gardens

The gardens in the above photo were the first to be constructed in 1951 to tie in with the Festival of Britain, and go by the name of Festival Gardens. The book Flowering City shows the gardens as they were originally built:

Festival Gardens

The gardens seen in the above photo remain, however the gardens have been extended all the way back to cover the road and circular feature at the top of the photo and the road to the right.

These original gardens and the three fountains are very much the same today, as can be seen in the following photo:

Festival Gardens

View back from the top of walkway behind the fountains:

Festival Gardens

This original part of the gardens were timed to open for the Festival of Britain (hence their name), and were decorated with flags during the festival as shown by my father’s photo below:

Festival Gardens

Plaque on the wall commemorates the year of opening:

Festival Gardens

And another plaque on the wall behind the fountains records one of the ancient streets that were lost during the construction of the gardens:

Old Change

As well as large, formal gardens, Fred Cleary was keen to encourage the use of flowers in as many settings as possible, and devoted four pages to photos of City buildings with window boxes.

I found a number of these adding colour to City streets:

window boxes

Many of the window boxes across the City in the 1960s were the result of a campaign, as described in the book:

“In 1963 the Worshipful Company of Gardeners in conjunction with the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association and supported financially by the City Corporation launched a ‘Flowers in the City’ campaign under the patronage of the Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor and in recent years there has been considerable response from the business houses and firms by providing more and more flowers giving a very colourful effect to many parts of the City.”

As well as windows boxes, the book encourages the planting of flowers across the streets and includes a section titled “Pavement Treatment” which shows how plants can be distributed across the streets in pots, wooden boxes and within raised concrete walled beds. The aim was to add flowers and colour to as many points across the City as possible.

An example of the type of planting featured in the section on “Pavement Treatment”, can be seen today at the junction of Cheapside and New Change:

Pavement flowers

At the start of the book, it mentions that originally gardens in the City were mainly part of Livery Company sites, or surrounding some of the more expensive houses in the City.

There are still a number of gardens on land owned by Livery Companies. One of these is at the junction of Copthall Avenue and Throgmorton Avenue and is on land owned by the Drapers Company who have their hall in Throgmorton Avenue.

The gates to the garden are locked, however peering through the gates delivers this colourful view:

Drapers Gardens

The book also shows just how much areas of the City have changed. In the following photo, the wall to the left is the medieval wall that sits on top of the original Roman wall, just to the north of London Wall, close to the Barbican development:

London Wall

When the area around the wall went through its first post-war phase of development, it was surrounded by new office blocks and the high level pedestrian ways that followed the wartime proposals for City redevelopment which included below ground car parking, wide streets for car, and raised walkways to move pedestrians away from traffic.

The photo below shows the wall surrounded by the first phase of post-war development. Note the shops and pedestrian ways to the right.

London Wall

What looks like the original route of London Wall is in the lower right corner of the photo. This is now a walkway with the route for traffic moved slightly south as the dual carriageway routing of London Wall.

A small section of gardens is between the wall and street.

The medieval wall is the only feature that remains today from the above photo.

The area today is landscaped with gardens where the steps and building in the background of the above photo were located, and the medieval walls of St Mary Elsing have been fully exposed:

St Mary Elsing

The City of London has benefited considerably from the work of Fred Cleary, and the book shows just how much was achieved to green the City during immediate post-war redevelopment, and the very many photos in the book shows how much the City has changed since it was published.

Fred Cleary was awarded an MBE in 1951 and a CBE in 1979 for his environmental and philanthropic work. He was also active in building conservation.

The Cleary Foundation was a charity established in his name, and today continues to provide grants to fund projects in the areas of Education, the Arts, Conservation, and the Natural Environment.

The majority of the gardens in The Flowering City remain, and many have developed from a formal simplistic style, to more heavily planted, and attempt to isolate the garden experience from the surrounding streets.

Fred Cleary dedicated the book “To all who live and work in the City of London”, and there can be no doubt that the gardens across the City enhance the experience of living and working in this historic place.

alondoninheritance.com

Carter and Goldfinger explain the County of London Plan

One of the strangest headings I have used for a post, however, this was the title of a wonderful booklet published in 1945, where Edward Julian Carter (Librarian of the Royal Institute of British Architects) and Erno Goldfinger, (the architect of buildings such as the Balfron Tower in Poplar), explained the London County Council, 1943 County of London Plan.

County of London Plan

The idea for a County of London Plan came from Lord Reith, the Minister of Works and Planning. In 1941 he asked the London County Council to prepare a plan “without paying overmuch respect to existing town planning law and all the other laws affecting building and industry but with a reasonable belief that if a good scheme was put forward it would provide reasons, the impulse and determination to bring about whatever changes in law are needed to carry the plan into effect”.

The County of London Plan was published in 1943, and provided a view of what the city could become after the devastation of wartime bombing.

As is always the way with long term plans, many of the recommendations were not implemented. Money was a considerable post war problem, many changes were long term, and in the decades following the 1940s, changes not foreseen by the plan, such as the exodus of industry from the city and the closure of the docks, would result in a new approach to city planning.

The impact of the County of London plan can though be seen across London today, with, for example, the South Bank being the combination of cultural (Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre etc.), gardens (Jubilee Gardens), office (IBM) and housing recommended by the plan.

The 1945 booklet by Carter and Goldfinger was an attempt to provide a concise view of the plan in a more readable format, and to get the buy in from Londoners to the future of their city as proposed by the plan.

Trying to get the support of Londoners for the plan did though display a bit of “central authority knows best”, as shown by the following two sentences from the introduction to the plan in the booklet:

“So when the L.C.C. plans for London it is not merely planning these things in an abstracted way for Londoners; it is London’s own people through their own democratic government planning themselves”, and;

“The Plan was generated by the people of London and created by architects and planners aware of what the people want. Now it is before the people for them to turn it into reality”.

There is no indication in the booklet how architects and planners were aware of what the people wanted, however the booklet does highlight many of the problems experienced by people living and working in the city.

The booklet was published by Penguin and cost 3 shillings and 6 pence. It would be interesting to know how many Londoners actually purchased and read the booklet.

As with the County of London Plan, the booklet makes some brilliant use of diagrams, what we would today call infographics, use of colour, and plenty of maps, including a wonderful fold out map at the end of the booklet.

The booklet starts by positioning London in Britain, including that London’s population was almost equal to the number of people living in the whole of the British countryside, as well as the significant percentage of imports and exports that went through the city’s docks.

County of London Plan

The booklet identifies a number of themes under “What is Wrong”, which includes traffic congestion, depressed housing, inadequacy and maldistribution of open space and a jumble of houses and industry. Another problem is the sprawl of London, with ribbon development along the roads leading to the counties surrounding London, an approach which would gradually leads to urbanising the countryside.

The report illustrates five of these problems. Slums and the Muddled use of land:

What is wrong with London

A lack of open space, traffic problems and architectural squalor:

What is wrong with London

Interesting that the book identifies the “absence of coherent architectural treatment in recent building”. A problem that still exists and demonstrated by the towers that are descending on Vauxhall at the moment.

The booklet reviews the growth of London, from 1660 when the city had a population of 450,000:

Growth of London

In 1862, population estimates now include the County of London area, as well as outside the County area to provide a view of the population of Greater London which was 3,222,720 in 1862 rising significantly to 8,203,942 by the time of the report:

Growth of London

The booklet shows some of the data that was used in the County of London Plan to develop the plan’s proposals. The following diagram shows Family Grouping in London, with the number of people in family groups for a sample size of 100 families.

Family size in London

The above diagram was based on the 1931 census, and shows that the highest numbers of families were in the size of three to five persons per family (which also included lodgers and dependents).

This was not so different to the late 19th century. When I looked at the 1881 census data for Bache’s Street (see this post), the average number of members of a family was 3.15, however this figure hid the real problem of houses of multiple occupancy where more than one family would occupy a single house.

Blocks of flats would be a key feature of post war housing development, the booklet goes some way to explaining why this approach was taken.

In the following diagram, the heights of blocks are shown, the height is used to determine the spacing between the blocks.

Housing and flat density

Whilst smaller, 2-storey houses can have their own garden, this arrangement does not give any land over for public gardens, and will require longer roads.

The justification for larger blocks of flats was the large amount of public open space that could be provided, along with uses such as allotments, with very little space wasted for roads.

Whilst the booklet does recognise the lack of private gardens, it does not really appreciate the impact of high rise living, and that large areas of public open space can become a bit of a windswept wasteland if not carefully managed.

The problem with London was the limited amount of space available for everything that could be expected to be included within the city. Homes, schools, factories, shops, public buildings, offices, roads, railways and services for visitors.

The definition of the County of London for the 1943 plan resulted in an area of 74,248 acres available for every use London was expected to support.

This resulted in some serious decisions on population densities, which again influenced the house / flats discussions.

The following diagram shows the different combinations and their resulting density of people per acre:

County of London Plan

However, even achieving these population densities would cause rehousing problems. Open space was also a consideration as many areas of London had very little public open space. The upper map shows the areas of London where housing is most crowded and there is a negligible amount of open space:

County of London Plan

The lower map shows the target population densities defined by the County of London Plan.

The central area would have the highest population density of 200 people per acre, however this figure was much below many areas of London which had densities up to 360 people per acre. This would require the challenge of rehousing and averaging out population densities if a reduction was to be achieved.

As well as housing, London at Work was a key consideration of the plan. At the time of the plan, an estimated 2,990,670 people was employed in Greater London.

The trade with the most people was the Distributive Trades with 563,540, followed by Engineering and Metal Trades at 443,380 and Building and Public Works Contracting at 280,440.

Interesting that the majority of people were involved in some form of manufacturing industry. We tend to think that the city had always been a centre for finance and the professional and service industries, however the report listed 55,360 people in Finance and Commerce, 71,080 in Professional Services and 184,170 in Hotels, Restaurants, Club Services etc. Today, I suspect the numbers for manufacturing and those for the finance, professional and hotel services have swapped.

The booklet includes a map showing the built area of London, with the division of industrial and built areas:

County of London Plan

What is interesting is how the growth of industry has followed the rivers of London. Not just the Thames, but the Lea in east London, and if you look in south London, the string of industry along the Ravensbourne and Wandle.

The following map shows the future locations of industry and commerce proposed by the plan. Red being industry and Yellow for Commerce.

County of London Plan

National Government focused on Westminster, Local Government on the South Bank (County Hall), Law to the west of the City, Bloomsbury being the centre for University education and Kensington being the location for museums.

The County of London Plan was concerned with the lack of public open space. During the 19th century London had grown exponentially, with industry surrounded by dense housing estates and very little land available for those living in the city. Whilst to the west there were the Royal Parks, the east of the city was very poorly served as illustrated by the following map, where the dark area indicates areas deficient of open space:

County of London Plan

The County of London Plan proposed a system of new parks, mainly in the east and south of the city as shown in the following map:

Open Space Plan

It would be interesting to compare how many of the sites marked in the above map are open space today (adds projects to ever increasing list of things to write about).

The growth in traffic was a key consideration of the County of London Plan. The post war growth in car and lorry traffic was a theme of the majority of post war city development plans. The City of London’s plans proposed dual carriageways through the City (of which the section of London Wall between Aldersgate Street and Moorgate was one of the very few sections to be built, along with underground car parks and raised pedestrian ways.

The County of London Plan offered a desperate view of what could become of the city if measures were not taken:

Traffic

Pre-war, many of the city’s streets were not designed to support the expected volumes of vehicle traffic, or the speed at which these vehicles were expected to travel – much faster than the horse drawn transport of previous centuries.

This was illustrated by the increasing numbers of cars in the country up to 1938 (blue) along with the increasing number of road traffic accidents (red):

cars and accidents

To address the problem, the County of London Plan proposed a series of arterial and ring roads that would help take traffic from the smaller surrounding roads, and speed this traffic to their destinations. The following map shows the proposed new roads on the south-east of London, marked in red:

County of London Plan

Note the intention for a new road to the west of the Isle of Dogs, that would cross under the river to the south of London. Many of these plans would not be built, or would be built along different routes.

The route through the Isle of Dogs was part of an inner arterial road that would ring the city. The following map shows this road, along with the arterial roads that would connect this ring road out to the rest of the country.

Road Plan

The black area in the centre is the City of London. The red dashed lines between the City and river represent the arterial road that would be created with the construction of the dual carriage ways along what is now Upper and Lower Thames Street. This, as shown in the map, would create a the main east – west route through the City.

The arterial roads stretching out from the city are roads such as the A1, A2, A13, A3, A4 etc. all of which have been rebuilt as major routes into and out of the city to the wider country.

Railways were also considered in the report. A major concern was the impact that railway viaducts had on the city. Viaducts cut through neighbourhoods, dividing areas, and as the booklet described “were signs of incredible squalor, with trains rumbling in front of bedroom windows, day and night”.

The booklet used an aerial photo of Southwark as an example of the impact of viaducts:

Southwark Viaducts

The booklet has a bit of a negative view of rail transport, which probably influenced the following decades of under investment in rail and investment in road transport.

For example, the following paragraph from the booklet covering the London Underground:

“In recent years the Underground Railways have contributed an additional problem for planners. Without thought for the total welfare of London they have pushed their lines out to the open country, encouraging uncontrolled speculative development. It was said at one time that London Transport needed a London of 12,000,000 inhabitants if it was to operate profitably. growth to such dimensions in the districts to the present railway network is the worst possible thing from the point of view of London as a whole.”

The plan makes a number of recommendations for London’s railways, including “increased electrification, better interchange between main lines, underground and suburban services; removal of viaducts; better receiving and distributing services for goods; and possibly the use of air-freight services”.

It is interesting comparing the 1943 plan, with today’s approach, where in 1943 air travel was being suggested as an alternative method for transporting freight, rather than the railways.

The booklet complained that whilst the County of London Plan “tackled the railway problem boldly”, the Central Government or Local Authorities did not have the powers to plan railway companies activities.

The plan suggested the use of underground loops to link stations, an inner and outer ring for goods traffic and the removal of viaducts. Some of the proposed new routes are shown in the following maps from the booklet:

London Railways

The plan used the South Bank as an example of what could be achieved. The area between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges had long been the target for improvements. In the late 19th century, newspapers moaned that the area was the first view of London that Americans arriving on the boat train from Southampton would see, and it was an industrialised area with dense, poor terrace housing.

Improvements along the South bank had started in the first couple of decades of the 20th century with the construction of the London County Council’s County Hall, and the plan proposed the South Bank up to Blackfriars Bridge should be transformed as a cultural centre, offices, improved housing, open space and a river walkway.

The plan’s vision for the South Bank was shown using the following model:

South Bank development

As well as the development of the South Bank, proposals included the removal of Hungerford Railway Bridge, and two new road bridges; a new Charing Cross road bridge and a new Temple Bridge. The car rather than the railway was seen as the post-war future of transport.

The booklet includes a section titled “Putting Theory Into Practice”, which deals with the challenges of implementing the complex and extensive plans proposed in the County of London Plan.

It makes a comparison with Russia, stating “We all know the great Russian Plans were actually named by the number of years work they involved – the Stalin Five Year Plans – so in due course the County Plan must be divided up into periods and, if we secure sufficient means and powers, we can get the planners a real confidence that each stage will be completed within a limited and stated time.”

To illustrate how this might happen, the booklet includes a series of maps showing how a area could be transformed, starting of with a “Survey of present conditions”:

County of London Plan

Followed by Housing as the first priority:

County of London Plan

Places of work would be key:

County of London Plan

With the need to re-plan the places of work so they move from being packed within areas of housing (above map), to dedicated industrial areas away from residential areas (following map):

County of London Plan

The following diagram shows an aerial view of the completed transformation. A planned and completely rebuilt area of London consisting of ordered residential areas with plenty of public open space. Industrial areas along the edges of the residential to provide local jobs, but not on top of where people lived.

County of London Plan

A map titled “Period Planning” identified the priorities for the first period of development, with the key arterial roads and the areas that needed the most attention. The areas outlined in red are those where the plan recommended that work should start immediately.

County of London Plan

The rear cover of the booklet has a diagram of the proposed road system, with the first indication of an outer ring road, a proposal that many years later would evolve into the M25, although further out from the city than shown in the diagram.

County of London Plan

On the inside rear cover of the booklet is a wonderful fold out map titled “London Today”. the map shows a high level view of the use of land within the County of London. What is interesting is that the map shows the boundary of the County of London, with east London places such as Canning Town, Stratford and West Ham being outside the boundary. These were originally within the County of Essex (click on the image to open a larger version).

County of London Plan

The booklet provides a really good summary of the 1943 County of London Plan, and it is interesting that the architect Erno Goldfinger was one of the two authors of the booklet. The planned developments of housing probably aligned with Goldfinger’s view of the possibilities of new residential buildings as can be seen with those he was responsible for, such as the Balfron Tower.

The County of London Plan and the booklet used some really creative graphics to illustrate the key themes of the plan.

Many of the developments proposed within the County of London Plan would not take place. Some would still be debated decades after the plan. If you go back to the map titled period Planning, you will see at the right edge of the map, there is a road in yellow routing under the Thames. This was the original East London crossing that caused major controversy in the early 1990s when the proposed route would take the road through the ancient Oxleas Wood.

That scheme was cancelled, but it is interesting that over 40 years later, there were still plans to implement some of the recommendations of the 1943 County of London Plan.

Planning for London has always been a challenge. Never enough money, changing politics and changing public attitudes.

The Mayor of London continues to produce a London Plan, the latest March 2021 plan can be found here.

The current strategic plan is a total of 526 pages and after wading through it, it would really help if an equivalent to Carter and Goldfinger could produce a booklet explaining the key points of the plan.

I do wonder how much of the current plan will be implemented. The word “should” is used a total of 1,540 times in the document to describe a recommendation or target, rather than words such as “will” or “must”.

There are some fascinating statements in the 2021 plan, for example at paragraph 10.8.6:

“The Mayor will therefore strongly oppose any expansion of Heathrow Airport that would result in additional environmental harm or negative public health impacts. Air quality gains secured by the Mayor or noise reductions resulting from new technology must be used to improve public health, not to support expansion. The Mayor also believes that expansion at Gatwick could deliver significant benefits to London and the UK more quickly, at less cost, and with significantly fewer adverse environmental impacts.”

I always wonder how much politics is involved in these decisions. Are there fewer voters for the London Mayor under Gatwick’s flight paths than under those of Heathrow?

The 2021 plan includes proposals for major transport projects such as the Bakerloo line extension and Crossrail 2. In the section on funding the plan, there is the statement that:

“There is a significant gap between the public-sector funding required to deliver and support London’s growth, and the amount currently committed to London. In many areas of the city, major development projects are not being progressed because of the uncertainty around funding.”

The Covid pandemic has really hit Transport for London’s finances, and a long term reduction in those working five days a week in London will further reduce fare revenue. The national Government also has a focus on the so called “leveling up” agenda which may focus funding on developments outside of London.

Long term planning for a city with the complexity of London is extremely difficult. Funding, politics, the impact of external and unforeseen events all contribute to the very high risk that plans will need to change, will not be implemented, or will be implemented in different ways.

What these plans do help with though, is an understanding of the city at the time the plan was developed, challenges facing the city, and how these challenges were expected to be addressed.

As such, booklets such as that by Carter and Goldfinger really help with understanding how London has developed.

They also include some wonderful graphics and maps.

alondoninheritance.com

Living in Stepney

Build Back Better has been a slogan much in evidence over the last year, however without a clear understanding of the problems that need to be fixed, or a plan for how to fix them, slogans often end up as meaningless statements.

In the 1940s there were a number of studies and plans published, recommending how London should rebuild after the devastation of the war. How this was an opportunity, to use the current slogan, to “Build Back Better”.

I have covered a number of these plans in previous posts such as the 1943 County of London Plan, 1944 Post War Reconstruction of the City of London, and the report of the 1944 Railway (London Plan) Committee.

London’s boroughs also wanted to improve the living conditions of their residents, and to fix many of the problems that had built up over decades of unrestricted growth that had resulted in some boroughs having the most over crowded, densely built housing in the country.

One such borough was Stepney, and the independent Stepney Reconstruction Group, Toynbee Hall published their report in 1945, detailing the past and present in Stepney with proposals for the future.

The report was titled “Living in Stepney”:

Living in Stepney

The Stepney Reconstruction Group was an unofficial group, led by Dr. J.J. Mallon, the Warden of Toynbee Hall. The group had been working through the early years of the 1940s, studying the causes of bad living conditions in the borough and the impact of various London wide plans that were being developed. In 1943 the group held an exhibition titled “Stepney Today and Tomorrow” at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

The 1945 written report, Living in Stepney, was the group’s attempt to summarise the past, present and possible future of the borough, and to encourage those who lived in Stepney to engage with their elected representatives to ensure that their views were taken into account.

The first chapter of the report gives an indication of the themes that the report would address – Crowding, Congestion and Chaos.

The borough of Stepney was formed in 1900 through the consolidation of a number of east London parishes. It would last as an indepent borough through to 1965 when it was in turn consolidated into the larger London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

The key driver to the growth of Stepney was the Thames, along with the docks that would take over the southern part of the borough along the river. Docks, industry and the need to house thousands of workers created uncontrolled growth that would lead to dense housing with many people to a house. Lack of green space, health problems, poverty and misery would characterise much of the area.

Living in Stepney provides a comparison with the City of Plymouth. Before the war, Stepney had a population almost as large as Plymouth, but occupied less than a fifth of the area of Plymouth.

Proximity to the docks resulted in much damage through wartime bombing. The report highlights the democratic test for the future of the borough “Here came the blitz, where many had died before through poverty and slums, and little was done. Here the sincerity of democracy will be tested”.

The central area in the following map dated from 1833 shows the area that would become the Borough of Stepney.

Living in Stepney

Building had initially extended along the river from the City to the left, and then continued in land to where the original village of Stepney was located, around the church of St. Dunstan And All Saints. In 1833, the area from Bow Common onwards was still mainly open land, but this would change during the rest of the 19th century as London continued its eastward expansion.

The report identifies four phases in the growth of the borough:

  • 1000 to 1800: The Riverside Village
  • 1800 to 1870: Unplanned Growth
  • 1870 to 1914: No More Room
  • 1919 to 1939: Half-Planned Social Services

The period from the end of the First to the start of the Second World Wars were characterised by Borough Council and London County Council attempts to improve housing conditions as these were the only organisations undertaking any new building, apart from some limited building by housing associations and larger private owners. Almost no rebuilding was undertaken by private estate owners and very few houses were reconditioned to modern standards and repairs to the housing stock were frequently neglected.

In the late 19th century, where rebuilding did take place, it was often at the expense of those living in the buildings to be demolished. The following photo from Living in Stepney is titled “Tenants evicted from slums for the new model blocks to be built”.

Living in Stepney

Also illustrated are some of the dense housing and limited outside space of many of the buildings in Stepney, including Paragon Mansions, Stepney Green:

Living in Stepney

Pre-war housing development by the London County Council, also had the effect of reducing the population of Stepney by relocating people as the slums were cleared. The following map shows the distribution of 3,478 Stepney families as they were moved out of the borough to new LCC estates during slum clearances between 1932 and 1938.

Living in Stepney

Whilst these clearances started to reduce overcrowding in the borough, the impact of these relocations was the break-up of established communities. The report states that whilst the new estates to which people were moved were more healthy locations, they “did not have the social amenities of Stepney. There were not enough pubs, or shops, and far too few clubs or social centres”.

Living in Stepney illustrates the pre-war choice offered to those being moved, from: “A crowded flat”:

Living in Stepney

“With work on top of you”:

Living in Stepney

To a “modern house with a garden in the suburbs (in Dagenham)”:

Living in Stepney

“But with a long journey to work”:

Living in Stepney

This was the challenge with pre-war housing strategy. The London County Council was making considerable improvements in housing standards, however these often meant relocation and the break up of communities which would take time to reestablish, along with the failure to provide social facilities in the new estate.

The impact to these communities was very clear to me when I went to find one of my father’s photos from east London in 1949. I wrote about Hardinge Street, Johnson Street And Ratcliffe Gas Works, with Hardinge Street being a street just off Cable Street, a third of a mile east of Shadwell Station. The was the view of the street in 1949:

Hardinge Street

And following post war redevelopment, all the streets, shops and pubs in the above photos were demolished and the population dispersed. This was exactly the same view a couple of years ago:

Hardinge Street

The arch of the railway bridge being the only part of the 1949 view that remains.

Living in Stepney has a section on “community”, and includes a description of the old parishes that consolidated into the Borough of Stepney. These parishes still had their own characteristics which the report describes:

Wapping is an island which lives to itself. Access is not easy, as no buses pass that way, and there is only the underground line from Whitechapel. The nearest market is Watney Street, and there is no cinema nearby. The population is largely Irish in origin and is strongly attached to the area.

The areas adjoining the City are crowded with factories and warehouses. Spitalfields is a largely Jewish area, where old eighteenth century weavers’ houses, factories workshops, and old fashioned tenements jostle with a large number of common lodging houses. There are few open spaces.

Whitechapel is not so crowded, but presents similar problems. It is in these areas that industry has taken over space from housing, and there has been the largest fall in population.

Mile End and Bow Common were laid out at a later date. Around Burdett Road, once lived a wealthy class who kept carriages. The houses are larger, with gardens, and there are trees in the streets. There is not the same congestion as in the other areas in the West of the Borough.

Limehouse is still a place of ships and seamen and many work to provide their needs. It suffers from being cut up by the canal and railways, and from too much industry, but the old centre remains.

St George’s is one of the most crowded areas of Stepney. In the west live foreign seamen, and a coloured population. There are many Jewish people, but they do not extend much east of Cannon Street Road.

Towards Shadwell are to be found some of the most typical East End streets. Shadwell and Ratcliffe merge into St George’s and Limehouse, but across Commercial Road, Stepney is different. Here are better houses and squares and some well laid out streets, and the houses are old. But around the Commercial Road Gas Works, there was, before the blitz, an area of bad houses”

Living in Stepney illustrated a section titled “What is Wrong With Stepney”:

“Old Damp Houses, mostly 100 years old, with no bathrooms, usually only one tap and the lavatory outside and often shared”

Terrace housing

Crowded Houses, with no space for a garden or proper yard, block out light and air. Dull monotonous streets waste space”

Living in Stepney

“Overcrowding, which is intense, mainly hits large families with children. Stepney had more overcrowding than any London borough. 60 per cent of all families share houses”

Living in Stepney

“Small workshops crowd the ground, using valuable space, and creating unhealthy working conditions. This court was partly cleared in 1937, but there are many like it”

Living in Stepney

“Clubs and Social Centres have not proper buildings. Voluntary bodies have done wonders, but all needs have not been met. Some areas are badly served”

Living in Stepney

“Open Spaces hardly exist in Stepney – 45 acres for 200,000 people in 1938. Children have to play in the street, the great playground and meeting place”

Living in Stepney

“Commercial Road – typical combined main road and commercial centre, causing accidents and traffic congestion. With control of advertisements and buildings it could be a fine street”

Living in Stepney

Living in Stepney includes the following graphics which highlight the impact of overcrowding and compares Stepney with the more affluent and less crowded Lewisham:

Living in Stepney

The lower part of the page identifies the causes of crowding, although in 1945, and just before the start of the war, the population of Stepney had been in decline since the start of the 20th century. The report provides the following summary of Stepney’s population:

Stepney population

Along with some facts on the 1938 population:

Housing space

The themes identified in the above graphics from the 1945 report can still be seen today. In 1945 there were a higher number of deaths per thousand in Stepney than Lewisham, and a considerably greater infant mortality.

The same issues can be seen today, both nationally and within London. The following table comes from the Office for National Statistics latest release “Life expectancy for local areas of the UK: between 2001 to 2003 and 2017 to 2019 and shows that for males within Westminster and Tower Hamlets (of which Stepney is now part), the life expectancy in Westminster is currently 4.53 years longer than that in Tower Hamlets:

Life expectancy

The above graphic also identifies land prices as one of the problems with rebuilding at lower densities and with the provision of open space, with land in 1945 being worth between £10,000 and £30,000 per acre.

The situation is probably even worse today, with land prices explaining why most residential building today appears to be high density apartment blocks. According to the Economic Evidence Base published in 2016 by the Mayor of London, residential land prices in East London were £7.3 million per hectare. (A hectare is 2.47 acres, so the equivalent in 1945 would have been £74,100 to today’s £7.3M).

Living in Stepney also includes a graphic which identifies the cause of high land prices, with the landowner benefiting whilst the tenant pays in rent, rates and the cost of goods.

if landlords do not rebuild, the local authority has to house as many people on a site, so opts for higher density housing, and with more rents coming in for both private landlords and local authorities, the value of land increases – a vicious circle.

Land costs

Many of these themes still drive land prices today, and is one of the reasons why London’s skyline is growing taller, and why Vauxhall in now growing a collection of densely built apartment towers.

On the left of the above graphic is Industry, and in 1938 there was a considerable range of industry in Stepney. In addition to the Docks, there were metal working firms, paint and oil seed crushing firms, printing works, drug, soap and other chemical works, wood, furniture and building firms, and the gas and electricity works. The clothing industry was the largest employer as illustrated in the following summary of how the 140,000 workers were employed in the borough (although slightly more were employed in the general business of buying, selling and distribution):

Stepney jobs

Living in Stepney notes that although the Clothing industry was the largest employer, work was carried out in few large factories, with the majority of workers employed in small, unhealthy workshops in houses and backyards.

The 7% unemployed may give the impression that compared to some impressions of employment in east London, the percentage in Stepney was relatively low, however 7% masks the highly variable nature of employment in the Docks and the Clothing trades, as for many work was precarious, and the unemployment figure could rise or fall considerably within a short period of time.

In asking “Who Governs Stepney”, the report illustrated how the rates were spent, by the two authorities responsible for different aspects of Stepney’s governance – the London County Council and the Borough Council.

Firstly, the responsibilities of the London County Council, and the money spent from the rates on each of their responsibilities:

Stepney council rates

The Borough Council was responsible for many local services, such as street lighting, libraries, public bathes, roads and sewers:

Stepney council rates

Living in Stepney makes a number of recommendations for how Stepney should be transformed. Housing was a big concern, for many of the reasons already stated. Over 90% of families in Stepney did not have a bathroom. Two thirds of families lived in a shared house, and whilst this was less than other parts of London, in Stepney, the high number of small terrace houses meant that where they shared, families lived in much smaller and more crowded conditions.

Many houses dated back to the 18th and 19th centuries, and the borough’s character of streets of terrace houses was seen as a positive rather than a borough of streamlined flats which was considered “entirely contrary to the spirit of the East End”. It was the decayed condition of the housing stock, lack of modern facilities and overcrowding that were the problems, not the concept of terrace housing.

Living in Stepney recommended that housing the population should move from this:

Living in Stepney

To this:

Living in Stepney

Where modern terrace housing replaced the old.

it is interesting to compare the photo of the old terrace housing that the report recommended replacing with one of my photos from last week’s post on Roupell Street.

Terrace Housing

Ignore the roof line, and the design of the terrace is basically the same, even the curved top of the doorway. The key issues in Stepney were overcrowding and the lack of maintenance and upgrading the housing stock. Fix these issues and the original terrace housing would probably today be worth a fortune.

The plan also included recommendations for transport through the borough. During the 1940s, the future of personal transport was seen to be the car, and in the majority of planning for post war reconstruction, major road routes were planned through and around London to support the expected growth in car numbers.

This would also impact Stepney, and plans had already been put forward in the 1943 County of London plan. This included new arterial roads. A sub arterial road to the west of Stepney crossing below the river in a new tunnel, along with an arterial road through the eastern side of the river to what was described as a “doubled Rotherhithe tunnel”.

New routes would also traverse the borough from east to west, however all these new arterial routes were mainly for through traffic with few access points recommended within the borough.

These arterial routes are shown in the following map.

Stepney Road Plan

These routes can also be seen in the road plan from the earlier 1943 County of London Plan. I have ringed the route to the left of the above map in red. It is this route that included a new tunnel under the river just to the east of the Tower of London. This would would act as an inner ring road.

County of London road plan

Open space was a critical issue in the report. At the time of the report, Stepney had a total of 45 acres of open space. The County of London Plan recommended 4 acres for every 1,000 people, which would mean 376 acres for Stepney instead of 45, however the London County Council reduced the ratio down to 2.5 acres per 1,000.

The report recommended making use of the river front and stated that the river is the greatest advantage that Stepney has. At the time, there were three miles of river front within Stepney, but of this, only 700 yards were open to the public.

An example of how this could be achieved was provided by the following illustration where a riverside park stretching from St Katherine’s Dock to Shadwell Park would provide nearly one and a half miles of river front open to the public.

Stepney open space

The Port of London Authority were not happy with this approach, stating that the wharves which occupy the space are particularly suited for the trades which use them, and that the approach would provide less employment in Stepney.

The County of London Plan included proposals that the Living In Stepney report did not agree with. The following table compares a number of key statistics for Stepney as they were in 1938 and as proposed in the County of London plan:

Stepney statistics

The County of London plan proposed a significant reduction of people living in the borough. This figure had already been gradually reducing during the early decades of the 20th century, however the plan proposed a significant further reduction (some of which had already been achieved by bomb damage to the housing stock).

Stepney Borough Council wanted the population target to be 130,000 rather than the much lower figure proposed by the County of London plan. The Council also wanted the majority (60 percent) to be in houses, rather than flats, which the council did not regard as the ideal location for families, older residents, or for the development of a community. The County of London plan had a much higher target of 67 per cent living in flats.

The County of London plan also targeted a density of 136 people to the acre, where the Council wanted this to be 100 people or less per acre.

Living in Stepney also recommended that where industries have been bombed, they should not be allowed to rebuild and start up again, unless it was of vital national interest that they remain in Stepney.

Although the council wanted a higher population than the County of London plan proposed, Living in Stepney was not encouraging a large scale return of those who had moved out of the borough during the war – only those who for personal or work reasons needed to live in Stepney.

Mid 1940s ideas for New Towns was part of the thinking for how Stepney would evolve.

New Towns were seen as the logical destination for industry, along with the workers that industry would need.

The report mentions a number of the possible locations for New Towns, with a focus on Essex – the county that has long been the destination for much east London migration.

New Towns were proposed at Chipping Ongar, Harlow and Margaretting, along with expansion around Brentwood, East Tilbury and Romford.

Harlow did become a new town, I was aware of the Chipping Ongar proposals, but not that Margaretting in Essex was a possible location for a new town. Margaretting is a small village on the old A12 to Chelmsford with a church that dates back to the 12th century – it would have looked very different today if it had become a new town.

Living in Stepney finished with a plea to residents to make sure they told their elected officials how they wanted their borough to develop. The report was concerned that very few people voted in local elections, or take an interest in their local councils. At the time, Stepney had 3 members of Parliament, 6 Members of the London County Council, and 60 Members of the Borough Council.

The local population was encouraged to make sure their representatives knew what they wanted.

It was interesting reading the report to see how many of the issues raised are still valid. The price of land, the root cause of land prices and the type of building that this price dictates.

The best type of housing and whether flats or houses are preferred. Maintenance and modernisation of housing and the impact of landlords. Access to open space, and access to the river, and the inner city location of industry.

The build of the new towns would see continued migration to the Essex new towns of Harlow and Basildon as well as many south Essex towns.

Stepney would change considerably in the following decades, much of which was down to issues outside the control of any local planner. Containerisation and the move of cargo ships to much larger ports resulted in the closure of all the docks within Stepney.

Reports such as Living In Stepney tell us much more about life and thinking at the time, rather than how the future would develop, which is almost always influenced by events that at the time seemed impossible to consider.

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William Maitland’s History and Survey of London

“To the Right Honourable Slingsby Bethell, Lord-Mayor. The Right Worshipful the Court of Aldermen and Sheriffs, and the Worshipful the Court of Common-Council of the City of London.

The Proprietors of this voluminous and useful work, undertaken with a pure intention to preserve those monuments of antiquity, which convey a just idea of the wisdom, good governance, loyalty, religion, industry, hospitality and charity of your predecessors in the Magistracy of this City, and to perpetuate down to the latest posterity the present flourishing and prosperous State of this Metropolis, to which is arrived by your Zeal for the Public Good, steady attachment to the true Interest of your fellow Citizens, and unwearied Application in the Support of Trade, National Credit, and Works of Charity; and by Duty and Gratitude, as well as Affection, induced to make this Public Acknowledgment of the many Obligations they owe for your kind Assistance which has enabled them to finish so extensive and chargeable a Plan, and to seek your Patronage and future Recommendation”.

So reads the dedication at the start of William Maitland’s “History and Survey of London From Its Foundation to the Present Time”.

The History and Survey was first published in 1739, with an expanded version in two volumes in 1756. Maitland was a Scottish merchant and antiquary, born around 1693 and died in 1757. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, but not too much appears to be known about his life.

An obituary after his death in 1757 reads “At Montrose, in an advanced age, William Maitland Esq. F.R.S. author of the histories of London and Edinburgh, and one of the history and antiquities of Scotland, lately published. He was born at Brechin, and had lately returned home to spend the remainder of his days with his relations; who, it is said, have got by his death above £10,000”.

As well as Scotland, he appears to have lived in London for some years, including when he was working on the History and Survey of London.

I cannot find any reference as to how he created the work, however he references previous historians of London, and if his work on Scotland offers a comparison, he would send out letters to vicars, societies, organizations, etc. asking for their respective history and details, which he would compile.

The History and Survey of London provides a very readable history of the city, and a wealth of information about so many aspects of the city in the first half of the 18th century.

I was able to get hold of a copy of Maitland’s History and Survey of London some years ago. Two large volumes comprising 1392 pages of text and tables and numerous drawings and maps, so for today’s post, let me take you through one of the volumes of the History and Survey of London and explore London in the early 18th century through a fraction of the information Maitland offers.

The page photos are directly from the book. Due to the age of the book, the tight binding and condition of the pages, I have not straightened or flattened them out, so some of the photos may look a bit distorted.

Click on any of the pages for a larger view.

The first Ward map is of Aldersgate Ward, which “takes its name from that north gate of the City, and consists of Diverse Streets and Lanes, lying as well within the Gate and Wall, as without”.

The map shows Aldersgate Street as the central street with the “diverse streets and lanes” of the ward radiating out either side.

Interesting that north of the junction with Long Lane and Barbican (now Beech Street), Aldersgate Street was called Pickax Street.

To the right of the map is the wonderfully named Blowbladder Street, and just above is Foster Lane, the home of the Goldsmiths Hall:

Also in Aldersgate Street was the City of London, Lying-In Hospital for Married Women, which had been “instituted on March 30th 1750”.

The description of the hospital provides a clear view of the attitudes of the time, and who was deserving of charity. The name of the hospital indicates that it was only for Married Women, and the text further includes terms such as “the industrious poor” and that it had been set-up for the “Wives of Poor Tradesmen or others labouring under the Terrors, Pains and Hazards of Childbirth”.

We next come to Aldgate Ward, which “takes its name from the East gate of the City, called Aldgate, or anciently Ealdgate”.

The map includes the Ironmongers Hall, the Bricklayers Hall, the synagogues off Beavis Marks and in Magpye Alley, and to the south centre of the map, the East India Warehouse.

Within the dense text of the books, there are numerous tables providing statistics of life in London in the first half of the 18th century. The table below shows the number of people buried between 1704 and 1733, including where they were buried, split by male / female and those who had been christened.

As would be expected, the number of deaths changes year to year, however there is a gradually increasing trend in the total number of deaths per year which probably reflects the growing population of the city, rather than an increased rate of deaths for a given population count.

There are a wealth of statistics in the book, all begging to be entered into an Excel spreadsheet followed by a bit of graphing – perhaps one day.

Next up is Baynards Castle Ward and Farringdon Ward Within.

The map shows the location of Barnards Castle on the river to the south of the map. Farringdon Ward is Within, as it is within the old City walls as shown by the thick line to the left of the streets, along with the Fleet River, or the New Canal.

At the centre of the map is St Paul’s Cathedral, at the end of Ludgate Street (note that the present day street was divided into Ludgate Hill and Street at the location of the city gate). The book includes a print showing the west end of St Paul’s, facing onto Ludgate Street:

Very few drawings seem to get the dome of the cathedral right, and the above drawing seems to have a slightly flattened dome.

The book includes the dimensions of the cathedral, which was still relatively new at the time the book was published:

As well as the dimensions of the cathedral, there is a comparison with St Peter’s Church in Rome, where St Peter’s was apparently still measured in Roman Palm, so the table includes a conversion from Roman Palm to English Feet. The table shows that in all measurements, St Peter’s is larger than St Paul’s.

We next come to Billingsgate Ward and Bridge Ward Within.

The map shows Thames Street running the length of the ward, with the street being described as “a place of very considerable trade on account of its convenient situation near the water, the Custom House, Billingsgate and several Wharfs and Keys for the lading and unlading of Merchants Goods, and is very well built for that purpose”.

The map shows the original location of London Bridge, when Fish Street Hill and Grace Church Street were the main streets leading down from the centre of the City to the river crossing.

The text lists twenty one Keys, Wharfs and Docks that line the river between Dowgate and Tower Wards showing just how busy was this short stretch of the river.

Next up is Bishops Gate Ward Within and Without, showing that the ward covered the area both within and without the old city walls.

Bishops Gate Ward was another ward that took its name from one of the City gates.

The text for each ward describes the streets and buildings of the ward, as well as administrative details covering how the ward was run. For example, for Bishops Gate Ward “There are to watch at Bishopsgate, and the several stands in the Ward, every Night, a Constable, the Beadle, and eighty watchmen, both within and without”.

The ward also had “An Alderman, two deputies, one without the Gate, another within, six Common-Council men, seven Constables, seven Scavengers, thirteen for the Wardmote Inquest, and a Beadle. it is taxed at thirteen Pounds”.

Many of these adminstrative arrangements had not changed for many centuries.

Bread Street Ward and Cordwainers Ward were two relatively small wards in the centre of the City:

Bread Street Ward “takes its name from the principal street therein, called Bread Street, which, in old Time, was the Bread-market”,

Cordwainers Ward takes its name from “the occupation of the principal inhabitants, who were Cordwainers, or Shoemakers, Curriers and other Workers of Leather”.

A large fold out map covers Broad Street and Cornhill Wards:

The text gives the source of the Broad Street name as being a reference to the street before the Great Fire as “there being few before the Fire of London of such a Breadth within the Walls” Cornhill Ward derives its name from Cornhill Street which took its name from the corn market which was “kept there in ancient times”.

In the lower part of the map, above Corn Hill we can see the Royal Exchange, and to the upper left of the Royal Exchange is the Bank of England, then a relatively small building. To the left of the Bank is St Christopher’s Church. This old church would be demolished in 1781 to make way for the extension of the Bank of England along Threadneedle Street as the bank expands to take up the large site it occupies today.

The map of Cheap Ward, includes in the corners, four of the important buildings within the ward – the Guildhall Chapel, the Grocers Hall, the Blackwell Hall and the church of St Mildred in the Poultry.

The text explains that the name Cheap comes from the Saxon word Chepe, meaning a market which was held in this area of the City. Markets and shops selling provisions have long occupied this area of the City, and on the left boundary of the ward, just above Cheap is shown Honey Lane Market. This market is described “as well served every Week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with provisions. The Place being taken up by this Market is spacious, being in length, from East to West 193 feet, and from North to South, 97 feet. In the middle is a large and square Market-house standing on pillars with rooms over it, and a Bell Tower in the middle. There are in the Market 135 standing stalls for Butchers, with Racks to shelter them from the injury of the weather, and also several stalls for Fruiterers”.

Running vertically along the map is Queen Street, then King’s Street, which run up to the Guild Hall. The book includes a print of the Guild Hall as it appeared in the middle of the 18th century:

The next map covers Coleman Street and Bassishaw Wards:

The map shows the streets of Coleman Street Ward to the south of London Wall, and on the other side of the wall we see “The lower quarters of Moor Fields” and the Bethlehem Hospital.

The Moor gate leads into Fore Street and also to the intriguingly named “Road to Doghouse Barr”.

To the left of the above map is Cripplegate Ward, and it is to Cripplegate Ward and Cripplegate Parish without the Freedom that we come to next:

The map shows the ward within the well defined old City wall, with the street London Wall following its original alignment before post war reconstruction diverted the street south and removed the relationship between street and wall.

The bastions we can still see today are along the west of the ward, and outside the ward to the north is the church of St Giles Cripplegate and with further north, the streets that today are buried under the Barbican and Golden Lane estates.

Churches are a feature of all the ward maps, and the book include long lists of all the religious establishments in London in the middle of the 18th century. The shortest list is that covering the location of Quaker meeting places, there being a total number of 12 within London at the time.

The maps also show the main Halls of the most important Guilds and Company’s of the City, the Barbers Hall is shown up against the wall to the left of the Cripplegate map. The text of the book provides details of all the Guilds, Company’s and Fellowships of the City and their order of precedence. There are a number of interesting institutions lower down in the order of precedence.

In last week’s post on St John’s Lane, the role of Carman was listed as the profession of a number of those living in the street. In the book, and at number 89, is the Fellowship of Carmen, constituted as a Fellowship of the City in the reign of Henry VIII.

The text includes all the rules and regulations for each company, and one of the key roles was in regulating how many could practice the trade for which the company was responsible. This effectively established a monopoly for each trade and restricted competition by limiting the number within each trade.

For the Carmen, no more than four hundred and twenty Cars or Carts would “be allowed to work within the City of London, and the Liberties thereof”, with a forty shilling fine for exceeding this limit.

There were some very small Companies, including at number 82, the Longbow String Makers:

The Longbow String Makers were a “Company by prescription, and not by Charter; therefore may be deemed an adulterine Guild”.

An adulterine Guild was a set of traders or a profession that acted as a Guild, but without a Charter, and had to pay an annual fine for the privilege of acting as a Guild.

And in at number 91 were the Watermen (sounds more like a music chart). This profession has featured many times in my posts on the Thames and the River Stairs.

The Watermen were charged with overseeing the watermen’s trade between Gravesend and Windsor, and that those who worked as watermen followed a strict set of rules.

One of the rules was a Table of Rates, listing what a Waterman could charge between specific places on the river. This was important for customers as when you wanted a Waterman to transport you along the river, you would have wanted the assurance of knowing the cost, and that any of the Watermen trading at a specific boarding point should be charging the same rate.

Next comes Farringdon Ward Without:

This is a large ward, and runs up to Temple Bar to the west (an image of which is in the top right corner). We have also moved into legal London with Lincoln’s Inn to upper left. In the centre of the map is the River Fleet, although now the Fleet Ditch below Fleet Street and covered by the Fleet Market between Fleet Street and Holbourn Bridge.

To the upper right of the map is Smithfield, and just to the right of Smithfield are “The Sheep Penns”.

The book includes details from the Smithfield Clerk of the Market’s Account for the Year 1725 which shows the high numbers of animals sold at the market each day.

The tables are too large to include in this post, however a couple of extracts provide a sense of the numbers passing through the market in 1725:

History and Survey of London
History and Survey of London

The numbers in the bottom row of the above table show the total number of Sheep and Lambs sold during 104 market days at Smithfield Market in 1725. A considerable number, when you also consider that these animals had been driven from their farm or fields, and had come through the streets north of Smithfield to arrive at the market, which, as the upper table illustrates was also selling Bulls, Oxen and Cows.

Limestreet Ward was a small ward, taking its name from Lime Street, which referred to “a Place in ancient Times where Lime was either made or sold in Public Market”.

History and Survey of London

Limestreet Ward is the location of the area now known as Leadenhall Market. The early 18th century version of the market can be seen by the references to Flesh, Fish and Herb Markets to the right of Leaden Hall Street, with the original Leaden Hall being seen to the south of the street.

Portsoken Ward was outside the City walls.

History and Survey of London

A feature of all the ward maps is that at the bottom of the map is a dedication to an alderman of the ward. For Portsoken “this plan is most humbly inscribed to Sr. William Calvert Kt. an Alderman of Portsoken Ward in 1755”.

The description of the ward also mentions Whitechapel as the principle street to the City from the east, which was “a spacious street for entrance into the City Eastward. It is a great thorough-fare, being the Essex Road, and well resorted to, which occasions it to be well inhabited, and accommodated with good inns for the Reception of Travelers, Horses, Coaches and Wagons. Here on the south side of the street is a Hay Market three times a week”.

In the mid 18th century, the affluence of the City was growing based on the trade that was brought to the City along the River Thames. The river today is quiet and it is hard to imagine that the river was the hub of London business for so many centuries, and was extremely busy. The following print shows the Customs House on the river:

History and Survey of London

To get an idea of the scale of trade on the river, the book includes several pages of a list of “the ships that belonged to the City of London in the Year 1732”. The following is the first page of the table:

History and Survey of London

In total, in 1732, there were 1,417 ships, with a total of 178,557 tons, crewed by 21,797 men recorded as belonging to the City of London. It was these ships that transported the trade on which the City grew rich.

Many of those ships could have unloaded their cargo at one of the wharfs that line the river in the second of the wards in the following map of Walbrook and Dowgate Wards.

History and Survey of London

In the description of Dowgate Ward, Thames Street is described as “a great thoroughfare for carts to several wharfs, which renders it a place of considerable trade, and to be well inhabited”.

Much of that trade was run by various trading companies headquartered in the City of London. The book details all these companies, one of which was the Russia Company:

History and Survey of London

And perhaps the most well known of the trading companies – the East India Company:

History and Survey of London

The description of the East india Company provides an indication of the value of these trading companies and the wealth they created.

In 1698 the East India Company was worth Three Million, Three Hundred Thousand Pounds – a considerable sum of money at the end of the 17th century, and in the early years of the 18th century, was generating a dividend of 10%, falling to 8% for investors.

Another source of funds, part of which contributed to the City, including the costs of rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire was the Coal Duty.

A Coal-meters Office was based in Church Alley, St Dunstan’s Hill, and in the office the records of all ships entering the Port of London with coals were recorded:

History and Survey of London

Maitland’s Survey of London included areas on the edge of, or were part of the wider London. the following print is of the Charter House Hospital as it appeared in the early 18th century:

History and Survey of London

Map showing the City of Westminster and Duchy of Lancaster:

History and Survey of London

To the left of the map, Tottenham Court Road still ran through fields, Chelsea Water Works are to the right of the map, and along the river are the names of many of the Thames Stairs, all now lost under the 19th century Embankment.

The view of the first Westminster Bridge, with the two towers of Westminster Abbey on the right edge of the print:

History and Survey of London

And to the east of the city, the Parish Church of St John’s at Wapping:

History and Survey of London

The Parish church of St Paul’s at Shadwell:

History and Survey of London

William Maitland provides a very readable history and survey of London. The book really brings to life how the city was administered and operated. The wealth of the city and the trade that generated this wealth. All manner of statistics and lists cover those living in the city, key buildings and organisations.

As written in the dedication at the start of the book, it really does describe “to the latest posterity the present flourishing and prosperous State of this Metropolis

The History and Survey of London is also available online and can be found at here.

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Blogs, Books and Population Statistics

After a strange and tragic year, a year in which so many have suffered loss of loved ones, financial loss and the day to day stress of living through a pandemic, I thought I would end 2020 with a rather different post. One that looks back on the blogs and books I have been reading during the past ten months, and looks at how previous population trends across London may change in the future.

Three very different subjects, but hopefully suited for the period between Christmas and the New Year, when the days lack their normal structure and blend into each other, made even worse with the restrictions of Tier 4, and when the change to a new year brings thoughts of the past and the future.

Blogs

I started writing the blog back in 2014 after attending a blog writing course run by the Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life. I had been trying to summon the motivation, and a purpose for a project I had been thinking about for years, to track down the location of the sites my father had been photographing from 1946.

It seemed the structure and routine of a blog would provide the right motivation and purpose, although I did not expect to be still writing almost seven years later.

One of the blogs I have been reading for years is Diamond Geezer, who has been writing since 2002 and publishes daily. One of the topics Diamond Geezer occasionally touches on is the loss of many long form blogs, and whether this form of writing is a gradually disappearing format.

I hope not given that I probably started rather late using blogging as a medium, so I thought I would celebrate the diversity of blogs with a sample of those that I read regularly. I will also be adding what WordPress terms a Blogroll to the side bar of the blogs main page.

So starting with the blog that started me writing:

Spitalfields Life – A blog that probably needs no introduction from me. Written by the Gentle Author, a daily exploration of the people and places of east London, and indeed London as a whole. Spitalfields Life has become a campaigning blog, addressing some of the proposals that seem to want to change London without considering the history or future of the city, probably apart from a quick commercial return.

Diamond Geezer –  Another blog that posts daily, with the added benefit that you are never sure what the topic will be. Covering London, as well as visits to the rest of the country, analysis of data published about London’s transport network, anniversaries, street names etc.

What I envy about the Diamond Geezer blog is the ability of the author to craft a wonderful 50 words on a topic, where I would waffle through 500 words trying to say the same thing.

Bug Woman – Adventures in London – Mainly focused on the flora and fauna of London, Bug Woman shows another side of the city. The animals, plants, trees that are around us, but need that extra bit of attention to see and understand.

Bug Woman started with a weekly post, but for the last few months has been posting daily and provides a fascinating alternative view of the city.

Flickering Lamps – Although posts from this blog are not frequent, what the blog lacks in quantity is easily covered by the quality of the posts. A historical blog which brings to life some unique stories with in depth research and some wonderful writing and photography. A blog which demonstrates how much there is to be discovered across the streets of London, and further afield exploring the churches, graves and ruins to be found across the country.

Nature Girl, or “nature writing from a country warden” – I found this blog when I was researching a visit to the London Stone by Yantlet Creek on the Isle of Grain. The author is an Environmental Consultant in that wonderful area of Kent along the River Thames and inland to the River Medway. Although the blog is not about London, the proximity and influence of the Thames on north Kent has always fascinated me, and London looms as a potential threat to the area from expansion of the city, schemes such as the estuary airport, housing development, energy projects etc.

Nature Girl writes about the natural beauty of the area, and the importance of looking after such a special area of the country, not that far out from London.

Historic Southampton – Southampton is a city that like London was badly bombed in the last war, grew significantly because of the city’s access to the sea, and has a long and continuing history as a major port. The Historic Southampton blog explores the history of this fascinating city, and through some unique research and presentation of data, has mapped the location of Titanic crew members who lived or lodged in the city, and really brings home the impact of the disaster on the families in just one city.

The above is just a sample, there is so much creativity and research to be found across the blogging world, and hopefully the format will continue to gain an audience for many years to come.

London 2020 Reading

I have probably read more during 2020 than in any previous year. I have also tried to expand my London reading to explore recent history, and the London that I have experienced from the mid 1970s. The following books are a sample of my 2020 London reading (over the years, I have been offered books to review, I never except these. All books have been chosen and purchased by me, usually in a bricks and mortar book shop. It is very important to me to keep the blog free of any external, commercial or hidden influence):

London Made Us – Robert Elms

Robert Elms is a broadcaster on BBC Radio London, a writer and once a journalist with the New Musical Express (NME). The title London Made Us very much describes the contents of the book – a family history of London, growing up in London and how London has changed.

I will use the word evocative a number of times in the rest of the blog, and for London Made Us, the book is brilliantly evocative of London in the 1970s and 80s.

Elms supports Queens Park Rangers, who play at Loftus Road. I have a very different experience of Loftus Road, it was where I saw my first major stadium concert in 1975 when Yes were headlining – a memorable day which still seems as if it was only yesterday.

Blogs

Alpha City – Rowland Atkinson

One of the reasons that London has such a global presence is the attraction of the city to the super-rich of the world.

The attraction of London as an asset rich city, a place where wealth can be accumulated and preserved has an impact on all those who live and work in the city. This has influenced the buildings we see grow across the city, the ownership of the city’s land and buildings, on the type and price of housing across the city.

Alpha City helps explain why London is the London we see today, and what the impact of these trends will be on the future of London and in-equality in the city, and goes some way to explaining why the population density of Kensington & Chelsea has reduced so significantly (see later in this post).

Blogs

Soho. A Guide to Soho’s History, Architecture and People – Dan Cruickshank

This is a wonderful book on a unique area of London. The first half provides historical background, the initial development of the estates that would come to form Soho and some social history of the area.

The second half is titled The Walk and presents a detailed walk through Soho, street by street and frequently house by house. I read the first half at home, then took the book out and followed the walk.

Soho is at risk of the type of development that will gradually erase what makes Soho a defined area in the city with its own unique character. Books like Cruickshank’s will help prevent this, or will help provide a record of a unique place for the future.

Blogs

On The Marshes – Carol Donaldson

Carol Donaldson is the author of the Nature Girl blog mentioned above, and I purchased the book after reading the blog.

On The Marshes is a record of a journey across north Kent from Gravesend to Whistable whilst coming to terms with the break-up of a long-term relationship.

On the Marshes provides a wonderfully evocative view of the north Kent marshes and rivers, and covers aspects such as the plotland developments – plots purchased by individuals, frequently those escaping London, who built their own home and lived based on what they could find around them.

A good read to really understand this area, and then get out for some walking.

Blogs

Excellent Essex – Gillian Darley

Again, not a London book, but a book which tells the story of a county that borders, and has been influenced by London. A county that has lost many of its original south western towns, villages and lands into Greater London.

The Essex coast has been a holiday destination for Londoners (Southend and Clacton), where many Londoners moved after the war, to new towns such as Basildon, and a county that has a long relationship with the River Thames and North Sea.

The book’s sub-title is “In Praise Of England’s Most Misunderstood County” which is a good summary. Essex has long been the focus of jokes about Essex Girls, Brentwood was a lovely country town on the main A12 into London before TOWIE gave the town a different reputation.

Basildon was one of the key constituencies that signaled the swing to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives in 1979, and became known for “Mondeo Man”.

Although these are the aspects of Essex that are frequently in the media, there is far more to Essex. Travel to the north of the county and it is a very different place to the south and Excellent Essex takes the reader through the whole history and geography of the county of Essex.

Blogs

Some Fantastic Place – Chris Difford

Chris Difford was, along with Glenn Tilbrook, one of the original founders of the band Squeeze, and has been responsible for the majority of their lyrics.

Squeeze has long been one of my favourite bands and whenever I hear the opening of Take Me I’m Yours, I am transported back to driving around in my first car with their music playing on an Amstrad car cassette player.

Chris Difford grew up in Greenwich and his dad worked at the gas works on the Greenwich Peninsula. The book is an evocative story of growing up in Greenwich, and starting a band in Greenwich, Blackheath and Deptford. The book also touches on the London music industry, Bryan Ferry and Elvis Costello.

A brilliant read about growing up in south London, and a life in the music industry.

Blogs

Defying Gravity, Jordan’s Story

The book is about Pamela Rooke, or Jordan as she was known as the face of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop SEX at 430 King’s Road. later known as Seditionaries.

Jordan was there at the start of Punk in London, and if what punk was intended to be could be summarised by one single person, then it was probably Jordan.

Jordan played the part of Amyl Nitrate in Derek jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee, a film that portrayed Jarman’s view of punk, and England in the years around the 1977 Royal Jubilee, when Queen Elizabeth I is transported to London to see the decline of the country in the late 1970s. The film is great for a bit of location spotting as it was filmed at many locations around London, including Shad Thames, where Jarman had a studio at Butler’s Wharf.

The book is a brilliant read and brings to life not only Jordan’s story, but also that unique time when punk, music and fashion converged, against the backdrop of a London about to go through a period of considerable change.

Blogs

Changes in London’s Population

This year there have been many stories in the media about people moving out of London. The growth in working from home enabled by the ability to work from anywhere with an Internet connection, with many companies seeming to accept that a high degree of home working will become normal in the future.

This has been a rapid acceleration of an existing trend and it will be interesting to see what impact it has on the need for office space, London housing and London’s population in the coming years.

Up until the start of the year, London gave all the impressions of a very busy city. Streets full of people, crowded underground trains where frequently standing was the only option, the West End teeming with people in the evenings, busy cafes, restaurants and pubs.

Lock downs have had a catastrophic impact on so many London businesses in the entertainment and service industries. Add to this the collapse of tourism, and London feels a very different place to this time last year.

Although up until the start of the year, London felt very crowded, in reality London’s population was only catching up to levels last seen at the start of the 1960s.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publish some fascinating data, and I was recently browsing through some London population data (to pinch the words of Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder – the long winter nights must just fly by), and converting the data to graphs as I find it much easier to see trends using graphical presentation.

The following graph shows population numbers for inner (blue line) and outer (red line) London from 1961 to 2015.

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The graph shows that for inner London there was a fall in population of almost 1 million from 1961 (3.481 million) to 1983 (2.517 million), a fall of around 27%.

The fall across outer London was less dramatic, declining from 4.496 million to 4.202 million in 1988.

A number of factors contributed to such a significant decline across inner London, including:

  • slow rebuild of housing lost during the war
  • closure of industry, and the move of industry outside of inner London
  • slow down in trade on the Thames, containerisation and eventual closure of the inner docks
  • migration to new towns such as Harlow and Basildon

We can see the areas included in the ONS definition of inner London, as well as their individual population movements by graphing each individual area over time as shown in the following graph.

Inner London Population – 1961 to 2015

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The City of London should be at the bottom of each column, however the population of the City is so low compared to the rest of inner London that it is does not show based on the vertical population scale. The population of the City changed from 5,000 in 1961 to 8,760 in 2015, with a low of 4,000 for most of the 1960s.

Whilst many areas of inner London returned to a similar population in 2015 that they had in 1961, there are some variations.

The populations of Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea are still below their 1961 levels. Tower Hamlets and Newham are both above their 1961 levels.

One of the reasons that the population of the City is so low, as well as the City being mainly a business area, it is also the smallest of the areas classed as inner London. The following graph shows the area in square kilometers for each area of inner London.

Inner London – Size of each Borough in 2016

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By comparing the population with the area, we can see the population density of each area of inner London, as shown in the following graph which illustrates the number of people per square kilometer.

Inner London – Population Density in 2015

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In inner London in 2015, Islington was the most densely populated area, with Tower Hamlets not far behind.

Inner London – Changes in Population Density between 1961 and 2015

What is really interesting is to compare the change in population density for each area of inner London between 1961 and 2015, as shown in the following graph where the blue column represents people per square kilometer in 1961 and the brown column represents 2015.

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Islington, whilst being the most densely populated borough in 2015, was more densely populated in 1961.

The highest reduction is in Kensington & Chelsea, which in 1961 was the most densely populated borough, but this had reduced considerably by 2015. Possibly a result of housing policy in the borough, changes in multiple occupancy, housing treated as an investment rather than a home and often left empty etc.

The borough which has increased population density the most is Tower Hamlets. Possibly due to reconstruction after the war, land once occupied by industry and docks now occupied by housing, and that east London has long been the traditional initial destination for immigration into London.

Whilst the population of outer London reduced after 1961, it did to a much smaller degree than inner London, reflecting the different industrial and commercial mix in inner than outer London, as well as a gradual move of population from inner to outer London.

What is marked is the increase in the population of outer London, so that whilst inner London had recovered to 1961 levels by 2015, outer London has seen an increase of over 700,000.

The following graph shows the population changes in outer London from 1961 to 2015.

Outer London Population – 1961 to 2015

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As with inner London, the geographic size of the outer London boroughs varies considerably with Bromley being by far the largest. This does not mean that population size follows geographic size as Bromley has a similar population to the much smaller Ealing.

The following graph compare the size of each outer London borough (in square kilometers):

Outer London – Size of each Borough in 2016

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We can compare population density in the following graph, which charts the number of people per square kilometer for each borough.

Outer London – Population Density in 2015

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Compare the above two graphs. Bromley is by far the largest in land area, but the smaller when defined by population density. Brent has the highest population density with almost 7,500 people per square kilometer.

The following graph compares population density of the outer London boroughs in 1961 (blue column) with 2015 (brown column).

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Where a number of inner London boroughs population density has reduced from 1961 to 2015, all outer London boroughs have increased their population density, reflecting a migration of people from inner to outer London, and perhaps those moving to London preferring to live in the outer rather than the inner London boroughs.

The cost of housing will also drive this change with housing costing slightly less the further from the centre of the city (although still very expensive).

All the above ONS data is from 2015. Numbers have almost certainly increased since then, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming years.

Will changes to working patterns influence where people want to live, and will the loss of jobs in the entertainment and service industries result in a long term contraction, or will coffee shops, restaurants, bars and shops return to their former numbers.

Will Brexit have any impact on the businesses that make London their base?

The themes of today’s post may be very different, but they are really about the same thing – exploring and recording how London changes, and the individual experiences of those who come into contact with the city. Whether that is through a long life in the city, having been part of a key period of London’s cultural life, or being part of the counties surrounding London. Individual experiences recorded in a blog or book, or the experience of large populations recorded in the ONS data.

Can I wish all readers a very happy New Year, and hopefully 2021 will turn out to be much better than 2020 and London returns to being the busy, dynamic and diverse city that makes it in my totally unbiased view, the best city in the world.

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The Queen’s London

The Queen’s London was published in 1896 and described as “A pictorial and descriptive record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis in the Fifty-Ninth Year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria”.

The book is a fascinating snapshot of London at the end of the 19th century and the last years of Victoria’s reign. It was a century that had seen considerable change across the city. Railways, Underground Trains, Sewers, new streets such as Queen Victoria Street, new cultural institutions, dramatic growth of the London Docks, industry, the emergence of a middle class.

It was these themes that the book portrayed, the Great Metropolis at the heart of an Empire on which the sun never set.

What the book did not show was the poverty, the impact of industrialisation, crowded and insanitary housing which was still to be found across large areas of the city.

The photos can look rather strange, almost a combination of photography and drawing. Some of the people in some of the photos look as if they have been added. This may all be down to the photographic and printing processes of the time.

The photos in the book change between photos that are instantly recognisable today (take away the horse and carts and replace by cars and the scene is almost the same). to photos of places which have changed beyond all recognition.

I was planning to do a then and now sequence of photos, but the current lock down has stopped that, although I have included a couple of examples. Hopefully something to revisit.

The photos and their supporting text also help understand how well known locations have developed, one such example is:

The Scottish Gathering at Stamford Bridge (1895)

Queen's London

The text with the photo states “Stamford Bridge, on the Fulham Road is the best known athletic ground in the Metropolis, being the headquarters of the London Athletic Club and the scene of the amateur championship competitions whenever they take place in London. The annual Scottish Gathering is one of the most popular fixtures held here”.

This is the same Stamford Bridge that 10 years later in 1905 would become the home for the newly formed Chelsea Football Club. Additional land was purchased around the ground, but the home of the London Athletic Club since 1877 would become the core of Chelsea’s ground. Another London ground featured in the book was:

Football At The Crystal Palace

Queen's London

The text states “Football has become so popular with all classes of the community that the Crystal Palace authorities were well advised in laying out a part of the fine gardens at Sydenham as a football ground. The lake was filled in for this purpose; and from the spectators point of view, there is no finer ground in the country. Our picture shows in progress the final tie for the Football Association Cup in the 1894-5 season. This match, the most exciting of the year under Association rules, was won by Aston Villa, who defeated West Bromwich Albion by a goal to nothing”.

Although Crystal Palace would not become a professional club for another 10 years (in 1905), Crystal Palace as an amateur team had been formed a couple of decades earlier to enable the cricketers of the Crystal Palace Company to play sport during the winter.

What I cannot work out with the photo is why the people in the immediate foreground appear to be standing on some form of terraced stand, so far back, with a grass space between them and the pitch.

St. Pancras Station: The Exterior

Queen's London

The railways, one of the great 19th century changes to London, here show by St. Pancras described as “this splendid Gothic pile, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, is ornate to a degree seldom seen in such structures, and is of a rich red, well calculated to defy the begriming effects of London’s atmosphere. The front, facing the Euston Road, constitutes the Hotel. The clock tower is the finest feature of the facade. On the right of the picture is shown the entrance to King’s Cross railway station, the terminus of the Great Northern Railway, with part of the station hotel”.

The interior was also featured:

St. Pancras Station: The Interior

Queen's London

“Without question, the London terminus of the Midland Railway Company can challenge favourable comparison with any other station in the world. The station itself is not so extensive as the Great Eastern terminus, in Liverpool Street, but it is said to have the largest roof, supported by a single pillar, in existence. This triumph of construction was designed by Mr. Barlow”.

It was not just railway stations that had wonderful 19th century arched roofs. Another was at the Agricultural Hall, Islington:

The Cattle Show, 1895

Queen's London

“Many Londoners never realise that Christmas is at hand until the Smithfield Club’s annual show of fat beasts is opened at the Agricultural Hall, Islington. Our view was taken after judging was completed, and on the notices above the exhibits are recorded the awards won, the weights, and the names of the butchers who had purchased the beasts for Christmas beef”.

Whilst the photo of the Agricultural Hall is clearly a photo, with the following example, it is not clear whether elements of the overall scene may have been drawn, or somehow added to the photo.

St. Clement Danes

Queen's London

Whilst the church is obviously a photo, I am not sure about the people. Look close and they just do not look right. Possibly the way the photo was printed, real people may have been enhanced in the process, or they may have been added.

The text states that “St. Clement Danes’ occupies a commanding position near the eastern end of the Strand. It was built in 1682, under the superintendence of Wren, the tower, however, being added in 1719; and it was restored in 1839. The tower is 115 feet high”.

Fleet Street, Looking East

Queen's London

“Our view shows this narrow, though main, thoroughfare, the headquarters of London journalism, in a characteristic state of bustle. On the left is the resplendent office of the Daily Telegraph, marked by an electric lamp, on the other side is the advertisement office of the Daily Chronicle. The figure of Atlas a little further on calls attention to the office of the World, and in the same court, which leads to St. Bride’s church, Mr Punch is at home”.

St. Saviour’s, Southwark

Queen's London

St. Saviour’s, Southwark became Southwark Cathedral in 1905, up till then the church had been known as St. Saviour’s, and much earlier, before the reformation, as the Priory Church of St Mary Overy.

I have no idea what the strange wooden contraption  is at the front right of the photo. It may have been part of restoration work on the building, which happened a number of times during the 19th century. In 1840 when the nave was rebuilt, with a later rebuild of the same nave as the earlier had been to such a poor standard.

The Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street

Queen's London

The Memorial Hall (the building in the centre of the photo with the tower), was built by the Congregationalists “in memory of the two thousand clergymen who, for their non-subscription to the Act of Uniformity, were deprived of their livings in 1662″.

The Act of Uniformity restored the Anglican Church and the two thousand clergymen refers to those with a Puritan leaning who could not support the restored church.

The building contained a hall capable of holding 1,500 people, a library and offices. The building occupied the site of the Fleet Prison and was demolished in 1968.

Another lost building is:

Columbia Market

Queen's London

“In the belief that one of the crying needs of London was ampler market provision, the philanthropic Baroness Burdett-Coutts had Columbia Market built in Bethnal Green, in the Columbia Road, off the Hackney Road, near Shoreditch Church”.

It was intended that the market would sell meat, fish and vegetables, however the market was never really a success. The central market was enclosed by residential buildings, originally named the Georgina Gardens, but were more often referred to as the Baroness Burdett-Coutts Buildings. The building was later taken over the by City of London and demolished in the 1950s.

Sloane Square

Queen's London

“Sloane Square, as well as other places in the neighbourhood, owes its name to Sir Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum who purchased the Manor of Chelsea early in the last century”.

Hampstead Heath: The Flagstaff With Approach To “Jack Straw’s Castle”

Queen's London

“That part of ever-attractive Hampstead Heath marked by the Flagstaff is one of the highest and breeziest points. Our view embraces part of the pond dear to dogs and horses; and ever attractive to children, and in winter to skaters of all ages”.

The view of the Flagstaff is one of the photos where people in the scene are obviously photographed, rather than added or enhanced as in a number of photos. Fascinating to see these late 19th century Londoners on the streets of the city.

Ostrich Feathers At Cutler Street Warehouses

Queen's London

The Cutler Street Warehouses in Houndsditch were owned by the London and St. Katherine’s Dock Company. Covering four acres and with a floor space of 630,000 feet, they provided a vast amount of storage space for goods of all kinds.

Ostrich feathers were classed as of “great value” and are shown in the photo being stored in the warehouses. The caption to the photo adds that “Such feathers such as those shown above may well have a fascination for all womankind, from a duchess to a coster’s sweetheart”.

Wentworth Street On Sunday Morning

Queen's London

“Wentworth Street is off Middlesex Street, once known as Petticoat Lone – and appropriately so, for it was the headquarters of the old cloth trade – not far from Aldgate Railway Station. In Wentworth Street, any Sunday morning, may be seen such a spectacle as is portrayed in our picture”.

Newgate Prison

Queen's London

“At the corner of Newgate Street and of the Old Bailey is the gloomy granite building which was once the chief prison in London, but is now only used for prisoners awaiting trial at the Central Criminal Court, and for those condemned to death”.

Although Newgate Prison was demolished many years ago, the pub on the corner, the Viaduct Tavern, is still there and looking over a very changed view.

Olympia

Queen's London

The Victorians made good use of the materials and ability to construct large spaces, covered by an arched roof. Railway stations, the Agricultural Hall in islington, and in the above photo, Olympia, providing, until Earl’s Court was built, the largest stage in London.

Olympia could seat ten thousand spectators and hosted shows such as Barnum’s Show, the Paris Hippodrome, the Spectacle of Nero, Venice in London, the Sporting and Military Show.

The text adds that an innovation at Olympia was the ability to reserve seats in all parts of the building.

The Strand, With St. Mary’s Church, Looking East

Queen's London

St Mary-le-Strand was designed by James Gibbs, the first of the so called fifty churches planned during the reign of Queen Anne. It was substantially completed in 1717. Today, the church sits on an island with the Strand passing on both sides. When the photo was taken, the Strand ran to the right, and the narrow street to the left of the street was Holywell Street, which would later be demolished to allow for widening of the Strand.

Old Weavers’ Houses At Bethnal Green

Queen's London

The photo is of Florida Street, Bethnal Green, a street that still exists but looks very different with all the old weavers houses demolished. Just think how much they would be worth now if they had survived.

View From St. Paul’s Looking South-West

Queen's London

The view of an industrial city, where chimneys competed with church towers. The shed of  Blackfriars station of the London, Chatham and Dover railway, with the railway bridge on the left long with Blackfriars Bridge. Waterloo Bridge in the distance.

I took a photo of the same scene a couple of years ago. The station is now hidden, and apart from the bridges, the only features which remain are the Houses of Parliament in the distance and in the foreground, the tower of St Andrew by the Wardrobe.

Queen's London

View from St. Paul’s Looking North-West

Queen's London

Paternoster Row is in the foreground of the above photo, an area that would be obliterated just under 50 years later. The tower of the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street (earlier photo in the post) is the large building on the left. The church tower to upper right of centre is that of St. Andrew’s Holborn.

The same view today. The tower of St. Andrew’s Holborn is just visible in the upper centre of the photo.

Queen's London

The Old Bailey appears in the “now” photo and not in the 1896 photo, as work on this latest incarnation of the Old Bailey would not be started until 1902, opening in 1907. Even in the first years of the 20th century, the skyline of the city could change very quickly.

View From St. Paul’s Looking North-East

Queen's London

Again, an area that would see heavy damage almost 50 years later. In the centre of the photo is the distinctive tower of St Giles Cripplegate. In 120 years St Giles Cripplegate would just about remain visible in the same view.

Queen's London

In the above photo, apart from the church, there is just one other building that has remained. On the lower left of the above photo is a building on a street corner – this building can also be seen in the 1896 photo.

I wonder what the Victorian readers of The Queen’s London would have thought if they could have known what London would look like around 120 years later. Comparison photos like this always make me wonder what the same view will look like in another 120 years.

Cannon Street, Looking West

Queen's London

“This view of ever-busy Cannon Street is taken from the rising ground just east of the railway station of the South-Eastern and Metropolitan Companies. The church on the extreme right of the picture is St. Swithin’s with the exterior wall of which is incorporated an old stone, believed to be that from which distances on the British roads were measured during the Roman occupation”.

St. Swithin’s church is one of those lost during the last war. Badly damaged, the church was not rebuilt. The old stone referred to in the text is the London Stone, which can still be seen in Cannon Street, now located in a new housing.

Interior Of Charing Cross Station

Queen's London

Another of the iron and glass covered buildings of the 19th century, Charing Cross Station was the terminus of the South-Eastern Railway. The station included a Customs House where passengers arriving from the Continent were “examined”.

A London County Council Band In Battersea Park

Queen's London

The London County Council was responsible for many of the “improving” initiatives across London during the later decades of the 19th century. This included the organisation of a number of Council bands, funded by the council. The Queen’s London commented that “The Council’s bands, it must be said, are capitally organised, and no ratepayer with any music in his soul can feel that he does not get his money’s worth”.

The Lord Mayor’s Procession (1895) From Punch Office In Fleet Street

Queen's London

The 9th November 1895, and the new Lord Mayor, Sir Walter Wilkin is on his way to the Law Courts to be sworn in to his new role.

Covent Garden Market

Queen's London

“Covent Garden is, as all the world knows, the chief fruit, vegetable and flower market in London. it stands in a district abounding with the most interesting historic memories, but the present market buildings were only erected in 1831: and although they have been enlarged since then, they are quite inadequate for their purpose. Since the middle of the sixteenth century, Covent Garden has been the extremely profitable property of the Dukes of Bedford”.

The Dukes of Bedford ended their ownership of Covent Garden in 1913 when they sold the building and land. The estate is now owned by the listed company Capital & Counties Properties PLC.

Holborn Viaduct, From Farringdon Street

Queen's London

Holborn Viaduct was opened just 27 years before The Queen’s London was published. Before then, travelers had to pass along the descent of Holborn Hill. The text with the photo gives an indication of the importance of infrastructure within the city during the 19th century as the text remarked that a great deal of the engineering skill of the bridge, was in carrying the gas and water pipes across, without being visible.

The Monument

Queen's London

A photo from the time when the Monument still rose above the surrounding buildings. There is an indication of new services being rolled out across the city, with on the roof of the building to the left of the Monument, a telegraph pole, carrying the wires of the early telegraph / telephone system across the city.

Leicester Square

Queen's London

Leicester Square looking very different to today. The Alhambra Theatre of Varieties is the large building with domes on the roof. The brick building to the right is Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School.

Euston Station

Queen's London

In the Queen’s London, Euston Station was described as having a “less lofty roof than any other London termini of the great railway lines; but it is the oldest of them all”. The book states that seventy trains go in and out of Euston daily; and that there are three hundred leavers in the station’s signal box.

In an indication of the expected readership of The Queen’s London, the text states that “the station presents a remarkably crowded appearance in August during the two or three days prior to the beginning of the shooting season in Scotland”.

The Palace Theatre

Queen's London

“It is generally admitted the the Palace Theatre is the most beautiful playhouse in London. Regardless of expense it was built for Mr R. D’Oyly Carte by Mr. T.T. Colcutt, the architect of the Imperial Institute, who was fortunate in obtaining such a splendid site as Cambridge Circus. The Royal English Opera House was opened with a great flourish of trumpets, and with the highest hopes on January 31st 1891, Sir Arthur Sullivan’s grand opera Ivanhoe being for the first time produced. But Mr. Carte’s operatic scheme did not gain the support it deserved, and in July of the following year, the name of he house was changed to the Palace Theatre”.

The Palace Theatre a couple of years ago, looking identical to 1896.

Queen's London

St. Batholomew’s Hospital: The West Entrance

Queen's London

The western edge of the hospital is similar today, but a very different hospital can be found behind. The church behind the gate is St. Bartholomew the Less, founded at the same time as the hospital.

In almost all of these photos, there are little details that add to an understanding of how London functioned at the time. There are some horse and carts in the centre of the above photo. Enlarging these we can read the text on the side.

Queen's London

These were the “white vans” of the time – the delivery vehicles of the Great Eastern railway. The one on the right being number 224 from the Bricklayers Arms Station, Old Kent Road. These, along with carts from the other railway companies, would be seen all across London, collecting and delivering goods for transport on the railways.

Drury Lane, Theatre Royal

Queen's London

Drury Lane Theatre was founded in 1663. The building shown in the photo was built between 1811 and 1812. The Queen’s London refers to the theatre being famous for its Christmas pantomimes.

The Mile End Road

Queen's London

The view is looking east along the Mile End Road from the junction with Cambridge Heath Road.

On the left of the photo is the Vine Tavern, a pub possibly dating back to 1625, but demolished not long after the photo was taken, in 1903. If the photographer had looked to the left, we would see the pub on the corner of Mile End Road and Cambridge Heath Road – the White Heart – a pub which is still there today.

The Victoria Embankment, From Westminster Bridge

Queen's London

The photo is from Westminster Bridge, with one of the “floating steam boat piers” shown to lower left. Two of the steamboats that carried passengers between piers along the river are seen. The lower boat is now on its way to London Bridge, whist the second boat is arriving at Westminster Bridge, before departing for Chelsea – a 19th century version of the Thames Clippers that transport passengers along the river today.

The Queen’s London provides a snapshot of London at the very end of the 19th century. The city had changed much over the previous century, and would change again during the following 100 years. Considerable damage during the Second World War, the loss of industry and the docks, and the growth in height of many of the new buildings of the later decades of the 20th century.

The Queen’s London also provided a very positive view of London, from a particular perspective. The nearest the book gets to showing working class homes are the Weavers Houses of Florida Street. There are no photos of the crowded and poor condition housing that remained.

Given how much has changed, many of the scenes are still very similar, and if a reader from 1896 was standing on Westminster Bridge today, the view would still be very familiar.

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The City of London – A Record Of Destruction And Survival

Towards the end of the last war, a whole series of reports were commissioned into the rebuilding and development of the City of London. These reports used the opportunity for major reconstruction to propose significant change and to address the needs that the City would be expected to support in the future.

I have already written about a number of these reports, including the 1944 report on Post War Construction in the City of London, the 1943 County of London Plan and the 1944 Railway (London Plan) Committee report. For this week’s post I would like to cover another report, covered in a book that documented proposed redevelopment of the City of London.

This was published in 1951 by the Architectural press, on behalf of the Corporation of London as the City of London – a record of Destruction and Survival, with a report on reconstruction by the planning consultants C.H. Holden and W.G. Holford.

The preface to the book provides some background “In April 1947 the joint consultants on Reconstruction in the City of London, Dr. C.H. Holden and Professor W.G. Holford, presented their final report to the Improvements and Town Planning Committee of the Corporation. The proposals contained in that report were subsequently accepted in principle by the Court of Common Council, and the Court approved the publication of a book to describe and illustrate the proposals for rebuilding more fully than had been possible up to that time. In the preparation of such a volume the opportunity has also been taken to record the damage suffered by the City from aerial attack during the war of 1939-45.”

The 1951 book is far more comprehensive than the earlier reports. It includes a detailed historical background to the City of London, including a chronological table and describes in detail the war damaged areas. There are numerous statistical details and plenty of maps overlaid with detail on the pre-war City and future plans for the City.

Reading the book in 2019 also demonstrates the difficulty in making long term plans. Unforeseen events frequently resulted in an expected future trend becoming obsolete.

The book includes many proposals that we can see around the City today, some looking remarkably modern for their time. Other proposals, thankfully, did not get implemented as they would have left a significant architectural and visual scar on the City.

One of the first maps aims to provide a view of the main functions of the City and how these are grouped into specific geographical areas. The following map is titled “Distribution Of Trades And Activities, 1938” (if you click on the maps you should be able to open up a larger version)

Development of the City of London

Yellow is General Commercial and takes up large parts of the City. The area along the river is still dominated by Wharfs and the Billingsgate Fish Market. Textiles take up the area from around St. Paul’s Cathedral and up to the north of the City. The Press and Printing surrounds Fleet Street. There are smaller concentrations of specialist trades – Chemists Supplies, Books, Wines & Spirits. Railway Warehouses and Clothing Warehouses occupy the east of the City.

The book tries to look at how these trades should be distributed in the future City. The following map is titled “Proposed Distribution of Trades and Activities”

Development of the City of London

At first glance the map is much the same as pre-war, however there are some subtle differences. Wharfs still occupy the river bank, but the fish market has moved. Chemist Supplies has disappeared from the City. In the north of the City a much larger area has now been allocated to Commercial and Light Industrial, reducing the area for Textiles, Furs & Skins – the expectation was that new Light Industrial businesses would start to replace some of the traditional City trades.

Apart from these relatively small changes, the immediate post war planning expected the trades that would occupy the City would continue to be much the same. Cargo ships and Lighters would still moor along the wharfs, textiles would occupy a large part of the City as would the Press and Printing. The following 30 to 40 years would transform the trades and activities of the City far beyond the expectations of 1951.

Another map looked at the Inventory of Accommodation within the City.

Development of the City of London

The map details the total floor space in 1939 for each area along with the percentage of floor space destroyed during the war. These figures are shown in the following table:

Development of the City of London

By comparison, the latest City of London Housing Stock Report (December 2018), does not report on the amount of accommodation floor space, rather the number of residential units in the City of London (7,240) along with the split of these residential units by the number of habitable rooms.

The map also highlights the considerable amount of damage caused by the early raids of 1940 / 41 when incendiaries caused significant fire damage in the areas around and to the north of St. Paul’s Cathedral as shown by the high percentage figures for blocks 2,7 and 9.

A key focus of the report was the support of pedestrian and vehicle traffic throughout the City. New boundary routes were proposed to the north and south of the City to support traffic passing through the City to get between east and west London and across the river. Plans also included widening of streets, new streets driving across existing street and buildings and elevated sections for roads.

High and low level separation of pedestrians and vehicles was seen as the way forward for the City. Two main areas where this would apply would be the northern boundary route along Holborn to Aldersgate and the south route along Thames Street.

The following map shows where improvements or changes would be made, marked by the streets in red.

Development of the City of London

The book includes many artist impressions of what the proposed developments would look like. The following drawing show the proposed high level road in Lower Thames Street, with ground level occupied with a service road and pedestrian area.

Development of the City of London

The proposal for Lower Thames Street is very different to what was finally implemented, with a multi-lane road built at ground level by widening the original street. The level of traffic does not lead to a pleasant experience walking along the street today, and the artist impression above does look good, but the impact of a high level road would have destroyed the whole view of the street and I suspect would not have been wide enough to support the growth in the level of City traffic.

The book also goes into detail on the public utility services needed to support a city and aspects of street furniture which were all considered as part of the overall designs needed for improving the City’s streets for pedestrians and drivers.

In describing how these utility services and street furniture would be implemented, the book includes the historical context, and as an example, the following illustration from the book shows the development of lamp standards from 1827 to 1946.Development of the City of London

Continuing on the theme of pedestrianised areas, the book describes a number of options, supported by artist impressions for how traffic and pedestrians would be separated and large areas opened up for pedestrian circulation.

The following drawing is of the proposed low level concourse at London Bridgehead, just to the west of the Monument.

Development of the City of London

Although from a book published in 1950, I find these impressions of a redeveloped London curiously modern. Change the name on the glass fronted Tea Rooms on the right to a Starbucks or Pret, change the Sherry sign on the left to Gin and update the clothes the people are wearing and this could be a proposal for today.

The following impression, also of the proposed London Bridgehead is again (apart from the clothes) rather modern.

Development of the City of London

In many of these artist impressions there are cafes and restaurants shown lining the edge of the pedestrian areas. The proposals within the book see these as meeting a key need for City workers as “The City is chronically short of places to have lunch”. I suspect the authors would be rather pleased with the number of establishments in the City today to provide a worker’s lunch.

There are other ways in which the 1951 artists impressions are surprisingly modern. The following artist impression is described as “A view of the base of the Monument and the proposed new Underground entrance as they would be seen from Monument Street, if the two level proposal were carried out.”

The high level separation of traffic can be seen as part of the large circulatory road system on the northern end of London Bridge.

Development of the City of London

To the right is a glass sided entrance to the Monument Underground Station with the London Transport roundel on the side. This would have replaced the entrance on Fish Street Hill which today is an entrance directly on the ground floor of an office building rather than this rather nice, glass sided descent by escalator.

This type of entrance has been used at a number of Underground stations, one of the latest being a couple of entrances to the Tottenham Court Road Underground station. I was passing in the week and took the following photo – perhaps not so elegant as the 1951 plans, but such is the way of all artist impressions.

Development of the City of London

Proposals for developments along the river’s edge included terraced walkways along the river, with entrances between the warehouses opening up views to the river. The following drawing illustrates the proposals, but also shows how the proposals were not aware of the future changes to the use of the river, with shipping and cranes still expected to line the river.

Development of the City of London

I love the artistic addition of the two men in some form of naval officers uniform.

The book describes these river side developments “The first buildings to be rebuilt near Upper Thames Street are likely to adjoin the high level road, and where stairs lead down to the low level some look-out points might be arranged from which the river can be seen between the warehouses below. Another possibility is the building of restaurants or public houses right on the river front.”

Another drawing shows that “the Consultants propose a riverside walk along the river front below Upper Thames Street. The drawing shows how a maritime atmosphere might be introduced here.”

Development of the City of London

The proposals were very enthusiastic about the opportunities of opening up the river front, an area that for centuries had been hidden behind the warehouses, wharfs and fish market that traditionally lined the river. The book describes “Another possible form for new buildings on the river front is that they should be warehouses below and offices above, the offices set back to provide a pedestrian walk overlooking the river – perhaps one with a distinctly maritime atmosphere. A riverside pedestrian walk from Blackfriars to St. Paul’s Steps or even to Southwark Bridge would be one of the sights of London; and one of the best viewpoints in London, as it would command the river from Whitehall to the Pool – not forgetting the new South Bank. A walk over the top of warehouses that handle riverborne goods would be difficult to design. Pedestrians might damage goods in lighters below and a carelessly handled crane might damage pedestrians. Yet these and many other difficulties – real though they are – seem small in comparison with the possibilities of such a walk planned along the now largely outworn strip of buildings from Blackfriars to Southwark bridge. It is a wonderful site.”

It is indeed a wonderful site and a riverside walk has been realised for parts of the route, although at a single riverside level rather than the multi-layer possibilities of the 1951 proposals. No longer any risk that a “carelessly handled crane might damage pedestrians.”

The comments about the riverborne goods, issues with cranes etc. also show the difficulties with long term planning as those working on the 1951 plan were unaware of the changes that would take place to river traffic in the next few decades with not only the loss of all goods traffic, cranes and warehouses in the Pool of London, but also further down the river at the much larger docks. Who would be a city planner ?

In improving the experience for pedestrians, the proposals including opening up views to the river as mentioned above. Another key view was that of St. Paul’s Cathedral to and from the river.

The following drawing is titled “An impression of a possible treatment of the proposed new approach to St. Paul’s from the river.”

Development of the City of London

The development of this area has resulted in a view that is broadly similar to that proposed in the 1951 plan, although the buildings along the side are different and I suspect the width of the pedestrian walkway is today wider than the impression given in the drawing.

The proposals so far, would have had a positive impact on the City, however other proposals, whilst for very good reasons would have been very negative and I am thankful that they were never built.

Post war, continuation of pre-war growth in vehicle traffic was expected and proposals were included in the 1951 book to manage an increasing growth in motor traffic.

New through routes were planned for the south of the City along Lower and Upper Thames Street and a northern boundary route was proposed, cutting through numerous streets north of Smithfield and Finsbury Circus (see the map above with the red street highlighting).

The book included artist impressions of what these developments could look like and they are frankly horrendous.

The following drawing is titled “The raised Northern Boundary Route proposed by the consultants, would have two decks of car parking space under it.”

Development of the City of London

Thankfully this was never built along the northern edge of the City and as its name implies, the Northern Boundary Route, would have indeed formed a solid boundary between the City and the land to the north.

It was not just the boundary routes where major changes were proposed to accommodate traffic, the central City also had some horrendous schemes.

The following drawing is titled “An impression of the suggested Cheapside Underpass, a proposal which, has been postponed on grounds of cost.”

Development of the City of London

Yes, that is the church of St. Mary-le-Bow to the right, with Cheapside dug out to form a lower level for traffic. Thankfully it was postponed on grounds of cost and never resurrected.

If the proposals had been fully implemented, there would have been considerable infrastructure across the City to support the car. The following map shows proposed Car Parks and Garages.

Development of the City of London

Solid black shows where multi-level car parks were proposed. The run of car parks at top left were those shown in the drawing of the northern boundary route above. Note also that multi-level car parks would have run along Upper and Lower Thames Street.

The tick vertical lines represent underground car parking. Horizontal lines represent additional possible car parking whilst the limited number of cross hatch markings represent possible lorry parks.

The star symbols represent locations for commercial multi-storey garages.

There would not have been a problem parking in the City of London if all this lot had been built.

Although there was considerable emphasis on the car and other forms of motor traffic, public transport was also a consideration. The following diagram shows Bus Traffic in 1947.

Development of the City of London

The table that accompanies the above diagram is shown below. This details the traffic density during the peak hour for the bus routes through the City and includes bus service number, frequency, density of buses per peak hour, and density in either direction. As a reminder that buses were not the only form of ground level public transport at the time, similar data is also provided for trolleybus and trams.

Development of the City of London

Given the time, I would love to create similar tables for bus traffic today as a comparison.

The title of the book includes the sub-title “A Record Of Destruction And Survival”. The book has a large section documenting the destruction of parts of the City during the war. This part of the book includes a large number of photos. It was fascinating to find that a number of these photos were of similar scenes to the photos taken by my father.

The following is my father’s photo of the tower of All Hallows Staining taken from Mark Lane.

Development of the City of London

This photo from the book also shows the tower of All Hallows Staining, but from the opposite side, looking back towards Fenchurch Street Station, the facade of which can be seen in the rear of the photo.

Development of the City of London

Another of my father’s photos showed a very large pile of rubble following the demolition of bombed buildings in Aldersgate.

Development of the City of London

The book also includes a similar photo with the title “A mountain of rubble from bombed buildings piled up on a derelict site off Aldersgate Street.”

Development of the City of London

The City of London – a record of Destruction and Survival is a fascinating book. Although primarily a means of publishing the 1947 proposals, in its 340 pages the book contains a wealth of information on the history of the City, the damage to the City during the war, the workings of the City, the start of redevelopment of the City and what the City could look like should the proposals be fully implemented. The text and photos are supported with lots of data and statistics.

And for me, a book with fold out maps is always a thing of beauty.

The immediate post war period created many proposals that if fully implemented would have transformed the City of London. Thankfully the multi-level traffic routes did not get built, Cheapside did not get an underpass and the north and south of the City are not bounded by multi-storey car parks.

The ideas about creating space for pedestrians are good, as are the proposals for opening up the views of the river and walkways along the river. Many of these ideas have been implemented, but perhaps not as dramatically as proposed in 1951.

The separation of pedestrians and traffic can still be seen in the remaining lengths of the pedestrian ways (pedways).

When reading these books, I always wonder what the authors of these proposals would think of the City if they could take a look today, 70 years later. Would they be pleased with the result, would they wonder about the lost opportunities, and perhaps be thankful that some of their proposals were not implemented.

Planning the development of a City for the long term is very difficult, there is no way of knowing what external or internal changes may suddenly move the City in a new direction. It is intriguing to wonder what the City of London will look like in another 70 years.

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Operation Textiles – A City Warehouse In Wartime

Yesterday evening, the 29th December, was the anniversary of one of the most intensive bombing attacks on London, when on the 29th December 1940 a mix of high explosive and large numbers of incendiary bombs created significant destruction across the City. It was during this raid that the image of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, rising above the smoke and flames of the surrounding destruction was symbolic of both the suffering of the City and the will to survive.

I have written about the raid in a couple of previous posts including The Second Great Fire of London and the St. Paul’s Watch, and for this week’s post I would like to bring you another perspective from the same night.

Of the many buildings that surrounded the Cathedral to the north along St. Paul’s Churchyard and Paternoster Row were the offices, factory and warehouses of Hitchcock, Williams & Co. I am not sure how best to describe the company, but at the time they were a form of Fashion House and drapery, manufacturing and selling a wide range of clothes, hats, fabrics, ribbons etc.

The firm was established in 1835 by George Hitchcock and a Mr Rogers, who would leave in 1843.  George Williams who originally joined the company as an apprentice, became a Director with Hitchcock in 1853 when the partnership Hitchcock, Williams & Co was formed. Always based in St. Paul’s Churchyard, firstly at number 1, then at number 72, with the firm expanding to take in many of the surrounding buildings.

George Williams originally joined the business as an apprentice, and as well as becoming a partner with Hitchcock, received a knighthood from Queen Victoria for services, which included the inauguration of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)  which was founded in a room of the company’s premises in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

The buildings of Hitchcock, Williams & Co. were destroyed during the raids of the 29th December 1940. A paragraph in the newspaper reports of the raid included a mention of the company:

“The historic room in which the Young Men’s Christian Association was started was among the places destroyed on Sunday night. With seven other buildings, the George Williams Room – named after the founder, the late Sir George Williams – was burned to ashes. It was situated in the premises of Messrs. Hitchcock, Williams and Co, manufacturers, warehousemen and shippers, of St. Paul’s Churchyard, and was originally one of the bedrooms used by the 140 assistants employed in the Hitchcock drapery business.”

Just after the war, a small book was published by the Company, titled “Operation Textiles – A City Warehouse in War-time”, written by H.A. Walden, an employee of the company.

It is a fascinating book and provides not just a detailed account of an individual business in the City of London, but also as being written at the time, by an employee, provides a view of how a typical City company operated.

The book includes a number of photos which show daily life in the company before the war, during preparations for war and the results of the raid of the 29th December.

The following photo is titled “A Pre-Blitz View of our Blouse Department”:

29th December 1940

“Staff Quoit Competition” – This photo helps show exactly where the Hitchcock, Williams building was located with the main entrance to St. Paul’s Cathedral, facing Ludgate Hill, seen in the background.

29th December 1940

In fact St. Paul’s Cathedral features in the background of many of the photos in the book. The following photo taken in 1940 is titled “Our Firefighting And First Aid Units”:

29th December 1940

In the following view of St. Paul’s Churchyard today, the buildings of Hitchcock Williams & Co occupied the majority of the space now occupied by the buildings, starting with the brick faced building on the right, where the old Temple Bar now stands and the majority of the space occupied by the taller building curving from right to left.

29th December 1940

In the early stages of the war, building owners were encouraged to form their own fire fighting teams, and many City buildings were manned by employees of the company to help defend the building from what was expected to be attacks from explosive and incendiary bombs, although they were mainly equipped with buckets of sand and stirrup pumps, which were to prove of limited use on the night of the 29th December.

Preparations for war included not just the formation of fire fighting and first aid teams, but also protecting the building with sandbags as this photo titled “Sand Shifting Volunteers” demonstrates:

29th December 1940

This photo titled “Stand Easy” shows part of a roof apparently lined with sandbags.

29th December 1940

Hitchcock Williams & Co, as practiced by other large City companies, had a number of residential employees and during the war preparations included converting rooms to overnight shelters for residential staff and those assigned to fire watching shifts. This photo titled “Squeezin Hotel Bedroom” shows one of the converted rooms.

29th December 1940

Judging by the preparations and planning detailed in the book, Hitchcock Williams & Co. was probably as well prepared as any City company at the start of the war, however such was the intensity of the raid on the 29th December 1940 that even with incredibly dedicated staff and detailed planning and preparations, they were insufficient to save the buildings in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Rather than precis the events described in the chapter of the book that covers the 29th December, the following are the words written by H,A. Walden who was there on the night. The chapter has the perhaps rather understated title:

“The Great City Fire Blitz And How It Affected Our Personnel And Premises”

“It has been said, and written, that not since the Great Fire of 1666 has there been such a conflagration in the City of London as occurred on Sunday night, December 29th, 1940, the result of Nazi incendiary bombs. In this ‘blitzkrieg’ whole areas of the City became smoking ruins within a few hours. Narrow thoroughfares, old familiar places and historic landmarks, were obliterated. To write adequately of the scenes of destruction seems beyond the limit of one’s descriptive powers.

It was an awe-inspiring sight for those of us who witnessed it. St. Paul’s Cathedral, ringed by raging fires and falling masonry, its great dome superimposed and reddened all night by the reflected flames, seemed to take upon itself an even greater dignity, as it stood in the midst of this example of ‘Man’s inhumanity to man.’

Approaching the City from the South, I saw by the lurid sky that the fires must be near the Cathedral, and felt apprehension about our own premises. The journey on foot along Cannon Street, deserted but for firemen, was of a nightmare variety. Several big fires were in progress, particularly a large Queen Victoria Street block, the smoke and sparks of which filled the air. the sound of hostile planes roaring overhead and the hiss of great numbers of falling incendiary bombs, seemed more menacing than usual. Taking cover in various doorways en route, and reaching the Cathedral, I found that our near neighbours, Debenham and Company’s premises were almost gutted and Pawsons and Leaf’s roof alight in several places. The roadway was a mass of fallen masonry, and hose-pipes interlaced towards the brow of Ludgate Hill, where other fires were taking hold. Various buildings in Paternoster Row, Ivy Lane, Warwick Avenue and London House Yard were burning furious, and I shall not forget seeing the faces of some of our fire fighters in the glare, with every detail defined at a considerable distance. It should have been possible to read clearly by the light of the many fires.

Passing into the Warehouse, I learned that hundreds of firebombs had fallen in the near vicinity, some even on the Cathedral. Those which fell on our roof were effectively dealt with by our own squads, some of whom went out into the street to extinguish other incendiaries.

Here it must be recorded that many fires might have been avoided if other Warehouses and buildings nearby had had organised watchers and fire fighting staffs, such as our own. Perhaps, indeed, our premises would have been spared, for there appears to be little doubt that we became the eventual victims of other negligence, or lack of precaution.

In addition to our own fire fighters and first aid men on duty, there were about 80 other occupants of our basement shelters, comprising assistants of both sexes and domestic staff, most of whom were unaware of the close proximity of the fires or the danger outside. Soon word was received that our premises must be evacuated at once, and Mr. Lester instructed me to conduct the women members of the staff immediately to the Crypt of St. Paul’s , where arrangements had been made to receive them. They quietly collected their necessities and blankets, and with one or two excusable exceptions, the calm manner of their journey despite the sight of flames and sparks which greeted them upon coming out of doors at ground level, is worthy of very special mention. The men followed shortly afterwards. All were most kindly received by Canon and Mrs’ Cockin and other clergymen and helpers. We were given cocoa and made as comfortable as possible on pews and forms. The quiet atmosphere of the Crypt made it seem miles away from the outside world. It was the first visit for some of the staff, and one clergyman was soon answering questions from a young lady regarding the Duke of Wellington’s huge funeral carriage standing nearby. By this time, Wren’s Chapter House adjacent to our own premises, was ablaze, and our old building, 69/70 St. Paul’s Churchyard, despite the firemen’s efforts, had caught fire.

It was a hopeless fight from the start. memories of this old part of the House, with its Victorian outline, came crowding in. How it had witnessed so many of the Cathedral ceremonies! How, in happier days, over many years, it had been made colourful and bedecked with flags and bunting to welcome Royalty and others visiting the City and St. Paul’s, the personalities who had worked there and long since passed on – old friends who used to visit its departments – the present staff which manned them, and their reactions when on the morrow they would come and find the old place a ruin of twisted steel! The quiet, philosophic bearing of Mr. Hugh Williams and the Manager as they stood and watched the burning warehouse were an example to us all.

To define in praise the work of our fire fighters would be to limit the extent of their great service. Three times the Police instructed them to leave as the building was becoming dangerous; but they refused to go, and eventually Mr. Lester had personally to order and almost drag them away. Even then they asked to stay and continue the unequal struggle. Stirrup-pumps were futile weapons to deal with such a fire. many of our men were utterly exhausted when finally they withdrew.

As we feared, there was worse to follow. The flames of burning buildings in narrow Paternoster Row fanned by a strong wind contributed to the succumbing of the newer blocks of our premises, the rear portion of which was soon doomed – steel and concrete have their limitations. The task of the squads of regular and auxiliary firemen was hopeless and overwhelming. Water was at a low pressure because of its universal demand over a wide area. Many of us could neither rest nor remain in the Crypt, but came out at intervals to stand and stare, fascinated – and dejected – at the scene confronting us but a few yards away; we were even warmed by the heat of the blaze. It was eerie to see the hoses lit up by the flames. They resembled giant snakes sprawling across the roadways and pavements. Most of the staff had by now put down their blankets on the stone floor of the Crypt and endeavoured to obtain some sleep. My own blanket covered a flat gravestone, the inscription of which recorded the death in 1787 of Elias Jenkins, a former verger of the Cathedral. It was surprising that so many actually slept, particularly those who were shouldering the great responsibilities and anxieties of the future.

The following photo is titled “Our Old Building, December 29th, 1940”:

29th December 1940

On the 29th December 2018 I took the book with me to St. Paul’s Churchyard to track down the location of a couple of the photos. The following photo is of the same view as the above. Part of the Chapter House can be seen on the right of both photos. This is the only building that was rebuilt after the war and remains to this day.

29th December 1940

In the grey light of a chaotic dawn, with buildings still ablaze, breakfast was where one could find it. There was very little water, and it was a strange sight to see people walking about with kettles in their hands trying to obtain it. Most of the staff who had been there all night were now sent home. The Headquarters of the Firm were made temporarily at Messrs. Evans’ Restaurants (next to our own premises), which had, apart from water damage, escaped the fire. We record our grateful thanks and admiration of Miss Richards and Miss Sheer, of their staff, who literally took us in and fed us. They made tea and cooked under the most irksome conditions, and were indefatigable in their cheerful assistance. They had slept in our basements for many weeks previously.

Our staff assembled here on Monday morning, seeking advice and instruction. The addresses of all were registered, and, with a few exceptions they were told to return home and await orders. This went on for two or three days, and about a dozen of us occupied the Crypt for a second night. Parts of our building were still burning, and it was late on this second occasion that some of us had the unusual sight of the Dean of St. Paul’s in his shirtsleeves, surveying our premises from the Crypt door. With a smile he remarked, ‘It takes Hitchcock, Williams an awfully long time to burn’.

The Firm had by now sought and found temporary offices at Textile Exchange, in the Churchyard, overlooking our still smoldering premises. The main room of these offices became a meeting place for everyone seeking information or giving it. A small Counting House and Entering Room staff were occupied acknowledging all mail and dealing with inquiries and urgent affairs. Mr Lillycrop had, fortunately, before leaving our stricken building, removed some books containing our customers’ names and addresses, thus enabling us to inform some thousands of them by January 7th of the calamity which had befallen our premises. A great number of replies were received expressing sympathy and offering help in some form or another. These greatly heartened and encouraged the Firm and staff in their determination to carry on. One letter concluded with, ‘Heil Hitchcock’s! Damn Hitler’.

The following photo is titled “Our Paternoster Row Frontage (after December 29th, 1940)”:

29th December 1940

The following photo is of roughly the same scene today. The above photo extends further to the right than the photo from today, however that part of the view is obscured by the building on the right.

29th December 1940

The following photo is titled “One Of Our Departments After The Fire”:

29th December 1940

The following photo is titled “Main Roof Damage”:

29th December 1940

The following photo is titled “Our Warehouse After Hitler Passed”:

29th December 1940

Many problems were now being dealt with, to give but a few – Where should we find premises to house our Departments? In what state were the hundreds of ledgers and account books in the strong room which had now been submerged in debris and 14 feet of water? Where to obtain new stocks with the ‘Limitation of Supplies Act’ in operation? The claims of many members of staff who had lost their personal possessions in the fire? Where to accommodate the previously ‘living in’ staff, of whom there were approximately 150, when they returned to business? Immediately on seeing the staff on Monday morning, Mr. Hugh Williams, the Manager and some of the buyers went to inspect various places with a view to securing the premises and were able to obtain possession of four warehouses in the West End, and two showrooms in Cannon Street. By January 13th all these premises were in occupation by the various Departments which began establishing stocks and dispatching goods, though handicapped by a complete lack of counter fixtures etc.

The floor space in those early days was but a shadow of our former capacity, and indeed still is.

In addition to the complete loss of our main premises, there were also completely destroyed our four factories and workrooms, maintenance workshops at Warwick Lane and resident quarters at Crown Court, with everything they contained. Only Soft Furnishing and Piece Goods Departments were re-established in the City, at Scott House, Cannon Street, but on May 10th 1941, this building was also totally destroyed by enemy action. These departments were eventually transferred to the rehabilitated first floor of what remained of our 72 St. Paul’s premises.

The problem of the flooded basements containing our strong room and in it all our books and records was a serious one. Pumps were installed and operated for several days before the water was cleared, and debris removed, to allow an examination to be made of the contents. The strong room was found to have been badly flooded, and the removal of sodden books and documents and the process of hand drying every page by our already augmented staff will not soon be forgotten. The drying and de-ciphering continued for many months, in many cases figures became obliterated by mildew setting in. The practical help given by our customers who, when remitting, forwarded copies of their own ledgers was of great assistance to us. Many were themselves in a similar case and the difficulties of reconciliation of indebtedness can be appreciated. One customer at Hull had his premises destroyed on three occasions. Our bankers placed their special drying rooms at our disposal for some important documents and books – even a laundry gave assistance through the medium of its special apparatus.

Many of our ‘living in’ assistants and fire fighters had lost most of their clothes and personal belongings and for a few days the Guildhall (also badly damaged) was besieged by claimants for compensation. Each was interviewed by the Relieving Officer, and, in most cases, a cash payment on account was made for immediate necessities. A comprehensive form, setting out personal losses had to be completed and returned within 30 days. The administration at the Guildhall was sympathetic and businesslike. There must have been thousands of claims made as a result of the night of December 29th, 1940.

For some time, members of the staff worked among the debris and basements, clearing and salvaging whatever possible. The builders erected scaffolding at certain points with a view to rendering first aid to that part of our remaining building which might be made habitable for business. Meanwhile in Paternoster Row the Royal Engineers and Pioneers were in full possession continuing their work of demolition of unsafe buildings and walls. What remained of the older portion of our building was finally demolished by explosive charges on February 7th, 1941. Despite great damage, it fell only after great reluctance. Paternoster Row and London House Yard remained closed thoroughfares for the rest of the war.

This scene of desolation in the area at the rear of our buildings was terrible. It could be likened to the result of an earthquake. Publishers, publicans, booksellers, scent makers, cafes, solicitors – in fact, all branches of the professions and industry suffered. Notices and papers strung along railings and ropes indicating location of new or temporary addresses could be compared with washing hanging on a line.

The salvaging, drying and storing of a quantity of packing paper and string provided extremely useful, as these commodities became scarcer in supply. Our artesian well which pumped water from a depth of 500 feet in sufficient quantity to supply all our needs, was rendered useless. The reserve tank, for three days’ supply had a capacity of 18,000 gallons and weighed 90 tons. This provided useful salvage and ‘tank-busters’ was no misnomer for the men who were eventually employed to dismantle it.

Finally, we were indeed thankful that no lives were lost, nor serious injury received by any of our staff. Despite the great material losses the Firm sustained they set an example to all in their determination to rise again, Phoenix like, from the flames. Meanwhile over the front entrance door, the sculptured stone figure of ‘Industry’, undamaged, still smiles serenely down on our undertaking.

What further symbol is needed for this great century old business?”

The following photo is titled “Our Block, December 1940”:

29th December 1940

In the above photo, the white lines shows the boundary of the premises of Hitchcock Williams & Co and demonstrate the size and scale of their operation around St. Paul’s Churchyard and Paternoster Row. In the lower right corner, part of the shell of a building can be seen with a rather distinctive chimney with lighter colour lower section and darker upper section. This building is the Chapter House of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

My father took a series of photos from the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s just after the war (I covered these in two posts here and here).

He did not take a photo that exactly covers the area of the Hitchcock Williams building, however he did take the following photo showing the Chapter House with the same distinctive chimney.

29th December 1940

In the above photo, the area occupied by the buildings of Hitchcock Williams are to the left and have now been cleared. The round circles are the marks left from the siting of large water tanks that were built after the raid of the 29th December on cleared land. This was to address the problem of water availability and low water pressure as described in the account of the raid.

To help locate where Hitchcock Williams stood in the area around St. Paul’s today, this is a photo I took a couple of years ago when the Chapter House was being restored showing the same view as in my father’s photo above. The premises of Hitchcock Williams were to the left of the Chapter House.

29th December 1940

Operation Textiles – A City Warehouse in War-time is a fascinating little book, not just for the account of the 29th December 1940, but also for the background as to how a company operated in the City of London covered in the rest of the book. It is amazing how the company tried to operate as normal in the first months of war, including sending sales representatives with samples to the Channel Islands – they just escaped on the last boat as the islands were being invaded.

The company also appears to have had a very paternalistic approach and was very male dominated as were the majority, if not all of City companies of the time. A photo in the book taken on the roof shows the buyers meeting. Of the 25 staff of buyers, only two were female.

29th December 1940

Hitchcock Williams & Co rebuilt their operations during and after the war and continued trading, however changing tastes, foreign competition and the economic recession of the early 1980s all took their toll and Hitchcock Williams closed in 1984. The company had been trading for 149 years and when it closed a fifth generation Williams was a Director of the company.

The area around St. Paul’s Churchyard and Paternoster Row are very different today, having been rebuilt twice since the destruction of the 1940s. Nothing remains of the buildings of Hitchcock Williams, however it is intriguing to wonder if the remains of their 500 foot deep artesian well can still be found somewhere deep under the current incarnation of buildings – something for future archaeologists to wonder about.

To close, here is a poem from the book which describes what must have been the feelings of those who looked over the bombsites of buildings that had been a significant part of their lives:

City Street, 1942

Desolate and gaunt the ruined buildings brood,

And gargoyles from a long dead sculptor’s mood

Still peer, unseeing, grinning in the dust,

Athwart with twisted girders etched with rust,

Who looks unmoved upon these rubbled mounds

Which once knew friends, and heard familiar sounds?

Has compensating Nature spread its gown

Far from the Country to the heart of Town?

Where basements newly greet the sun and showers,

And nourished rockeries grow Summer flowers

My thoughts rebuild the place I used to know

And sadness comes unbid; my voice is low.

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Curious Battersea

Curious London was the title of a small book published in 1951 by Hugh Pearman. The author was a London Taxi Driver and in the book there are two pages for each of the “twenty-nine boroughs and cities that make up the county of London”. I have already hunted down the Southwark sites from the book, and for this week’s post I went on a walk to find the six locations Pearman covered in the book for Curious Battersea.

I have shown the locations on the map below. They are numbered differently to the order in which they appear in the book. I started at Clapham Junction and walked to Battersea Power Station and changed the site ordering to better fit my walk.

Curious Battersea

Map  © OpenStreetMap contributors. 

The first location was a problem before I set out on the walk. At the time little did I know it was not so far from Clapham Junction Station.

Site 1 – “Down by the railway tracks, hemmed in by streets of little houses, is this caravan encampment. Some of the dwellers in the old vans claim to be of pure Romany stock. Their ancestors came, so they say, year after year in the long ago when all around was Surrey countryside”.

This was Pearman’s caption to the photo below:

Curious Battersea

I failed to find the possible location of Pearman’s photo before walking the area. There are no clues in Pearman’s book. I have subsequently found a possible location as Sheepcote Lane which I have marked as point 1 on the map.

One side of Sheepcote Lane is of terrace housing and on the other side of the street is a grassed area between the road and the railway tracks, so as Pearman describes as being “down by the railway tracks” this could be the location.

I found the reference to Sheepcote Lane in a presentation by Dr. David M Smith of the University of Greenwich titled Gypsies and Travelers in Housing: adaptation, resistance and the reformulation of communities., which refers to Sheepcote Lane being occupied in the 50s, which is the same time period as Pearman’s book.

I will need to return to photograph the street and update this post.

The first location that I could identify in Curious Battersea was a walk from Clapham Junction station down to Battersea High Street to find:

Site 2 – “In the High Street is this 17th century bow-windowed inn, the ‘castle’, a picturesque reminder of coaching days.”

Curious Battersea

A pub has been on the site since the very early 17th century. Pearman’s text claims that the building in his photo is the 17th century Inn, however I am not sure that all the features are from the original pub. Features such as the bow window may have been retained, but the facade does look of later construction.

There is what appears to be a large crest on the front of the pub, facing the camera. The small photo in the book does not provide any detail on the crest.

The pub did not last for too many years after Pearman’s book. It was demolished in the 1960s along with the buildings to the left and right of the pub. New flats were built to the left and a new pub (retaining the Castle name) was constructed on part of the site of the original Castle and slightly to the right.

This 1960’s Castle pub was demolished in 2013 and the site is now occupied by flats:

Curious Battersea

Checking the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, the Castle as photographed by Pearman was mainly on the site of the new flats, but also on part of the 1960s flats to the left in the photo below.

Curious Battersea

I was not aware that it was there, but found after walking the area, that the 1965 plaque from the 1960s pub is on the wall of the new flats – the wall that faces onto the open space on the ground floor on the 1960s flats to the left. The plaque records that the original Castle was built circa 1600 and rebuilt in 1965. The plaque also records that in 1600, mild ale was 4 shillings a barrel (equivalent to 1/4 d (old pence) a pint) and in 1965 was 1 shilling and 5 pence a pint.

Another reason to return to Battersea and photograph the plaque.

The London Metropolitan Archives, Collage site has a photo of the Castle in 1961, just a few years before demolition.

Curious Battersea

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0965_62_255

Although I missed the 1965 Castle plaque, I did find some other interesting features in Battersea High Street.

This three storey building is occupied by the Katherine Low Settlement.

Curious Battersea

The plaque on the first floor records the Cedars Club, founded in 1882 and rebuilt in 1905, whilst the blue plaque to lower left records Katherine Mackay Low, 1855 to 1923, a philanthropist in whose memory the settlement was founded on the 17th May 1924.

Katherine Mackay Low was born in Georgia in the USA to British parents. When her mother died in 1863 her father returned with his family back to UK, and when he died, Katherine settled in London. Her father was a merchant and banker so her inheritance was probably the source of her independence and philanthropy.

The land occupied by the Katherine Low Settlement was originally part of the grounds of the vicarage of the Vicar of Battersea (the large building, part of which can just be seen to the left of the above photo). The railway cut through the grounds of the vicarage in 1860 and due to this disruption the vicar moved out of the house.

In 1872 the old vicarage building was occupied by a settlement established by two Cambridge colleges. The purpose of the settlement was the support of the poor in the area, which was much needed in this area of Battersea in the latter decades of the 19th century.

The Cambridge colleges settlement established the Cedars as a boys club and mission and in 1905 the three storey building was constructed between the old vicarage and Orville Road.

Katherine Mackay Low died in 1923 and funds were raised to create a legacy in her name. The Cedars building was purchased and the Katherine Low Settlement was established.

The Settlement continues to this day, in the same building as a local community charity.

Whilst researching these posts, I stumble on events of which I was completely unaware. Searching newspapers for the Katherine Low Settlement, there was one date when many newspapers mentioned the settlement, but it was through a disaster rather then the works of the settlement. The first in-flight fire of a passenger flight. From multiple newspapers on the 4th October 1926:

“One of the worst disasters in the history of the Paris-London air lines occurred on Saturday afternoon near Tonbridge, Kent. A big French four-engine Bleriot plane from Le Bourget aerodrome was seen to be in difficulties, and flames were observed coming from the rear. Slowly the great machine turned turtle, and then fell like a stone into a field. Farm workers ran to render help, but so fierce was the heat that no one could approach it, and every soul on board perished.

Mr. J.H. Webb, a butler at an adjoining house, the first man on the scene, said ‘I was in the pantry when I heard the noise of an aeroplane passing overhead. As I looked through the window I saw the machine suddenly burst into flames and nose-dive to the ground. I shouted for assistance and, with some of my fellow-servants, rushed to the spot. Through the roaring flames I saw the terrified features of a woman passenger. We made an attempt to get to the woman’s assistance, but before we could approach her she was totally obscured by flames and smoke. The moment I saw my chance, however, i did succeed in dragging out a lady wearing a silk dress, but I was too late. She was very badly burned and quite dead.'”

The Settlement and Battersea connection comes when the article lists the casualties of the crash, one of whom was Miss Gertrude P. Hall, aged 43 of The Katherine Low Settlement, High-street, Battersea who was described as “a lady of independent means who devoted herself to philanthropic work.” 

Gertrude Hall must have been one of those who contributed to the founding of the Katherine Low Settlement just a few years earlier.

I walked further along Battersea High Street and although the Castle has been lost, there is still a pub in the street. This is the rather excellent, mid 19th century pub, The Woodman.

Curious Battersea

Further along Battersea High Street is the building constructed for the Sir Walter St. John’s School:

Curious Battersea

Sir Walter St. John of Battersea founded a charity in 1700 for the education of poor boys of the parish. The school expanded over the years with increasing number of boys and the inclusion of girls.

The enlarged school was constructed in 1859 and the school underwent various rebuilds, modifications and upgrades over the following years.

The school became a grammar school after the war, however in the following years the school went through various changes where pupils were integrated with other schools, classes moved and eventually, with a falling local birthrate, the school was closed in 1986.

The buildings were purchased in 1990 by Thomas’s London Day School, one of a group of Thomas’s independent schools within London.

I do not know whether it was due to the growth in numbers, or the desire to separate boys and girls, however in the 1850s the girls from the school were moved to Mrs Champion’s School, and the buildings of this school can still be found in nearby Vicarage Crescent:

Curious Battersea

A plaque on the building:

Curious Battersea

The plaque reads (hopefully read correctly, rather difficult as part of the inscription was hidden by vegetation):

“National School for Girls and Infants. These buildings were erected by Miss Champion on land granted by Earl Spencer and opened April 10th 1855 for the education of the children of the poor on scriptural principles. This tablet is placed by order of the parishioners in the Vestry assembled in grateful remembrance of her munificent charities to the Parish of Battersea.”

To find this school building I had doubled back along Battersea High Street to Vicarage Crescent, but I was still on the correct route as my next location in Curious Battersea was a short distance further along the street.

Site 3 – A different sort of dwelling is this one in Vicarage Crescent that also seems strangely out of place in present-day Battersea. It was designed by Wren and has carvings by Grinling Gibbons. Although the home of a private family, this house, one of the finest in South London, is at certain times open to the public and is well worth a visit.

Curious Battersea

This is Grade II listed Old Battersea House. The house is set behind a high wall and faces the River Thames across Vicarage Crescent and the grassed area directly in front of the river.

I photographed the house from beside the river, looking across Vicarage Crescent.

Curious Battersea

Pearman’s photo appears to be taken from the side, probably as with my photo it is not an easy house to photograph from the front. The original photo also appears to show a building on the side of Old Battersea House, between the house and the small side road that leads to the estate at the rear.

This extension is not there today, with just what I assume to be the original Old Battersea House as shown in the photo below (with a bright sun shining directly into the camera).

Curious Battersea

The house was originally called Terrace House. It became derelict in the late 1960s and restored in the 1970s – it was perhaps then when the extension photographed by Pearman was removed.

If you have a spare £10 million, the house is currently for sale.

Between Vicarage Crescent and the River Thames opposite Old Battersea House, there is a small grassed area, where this lovely sign can be found.

Curious Battersea

I do not know when these signs date from, but there are still a few to be found. I like the depiction of the river at the bottom of the sign with the Thames sailing barge on the right – signs should be more like this, graphical and including a symbol of their subject.

To get to the next location in Curious Battersea, I continued east along Vicarage Crescent, along Battersea Church Road to:

Site 4 – By the river is this parish church of St. Mary’s, a church full of memories. Here are a few of the famous names with which it is connected :- William Blake, poet, artist and mystic, here married his wife Katherine: from the upper vestry window Turner painted his glorious sunsets. The great Wilberforce, whose house was in the parish boundaries was a frequent visitor to the church. Buried in the crypt are the remains of that infamous “turncoat” General Benedict Arnold who tried to betray his comrade-in-arms, George Washington to the British.

Curious Battersea

St. Mary’s is a lovely church, facing at a slight angle onto the river, the church has always struck me as being perfectly in proportion to its surroundings. The lighting was perfect as I walked towards the church along Battersea Church Road, where the church suddenly comes into view after a bend in the road.

Curious Battersea

At the church gates. The church sits on a slightly raise plateau of land as can be seen in the following view.

Curious Battersea

The current St. Mary’s Battersea was built between 1775 and 1777 to a design by the architect Joseph Dixon. As with so many other London churches, the location had already been the site for a church, possibly as far back as the 9th century.

Although the church today dates from the 18th century, it was repaired and reconstructed in 1878 and 1938 with later additional repairs.

The church is deservedly Grade I listed.

I had planned to look inside the church, however on the day of my visit there appeared to be a function in the church with a number of cars parked in front – another in the growing number of reasons to re-visit Battersea.

The front of the church with the encroaching towers of flats expanding along the Thames in the rear.

Curious Battersea

The next location was in Battersea Park which was the perfect excuse for a walk along the river.

The view from the southern side of the river, the shell of the old Lotts Road Power Station stands out, one of the original Chelsea Wharf buildings on the right and yet another glass tower dwarfing its surroundings on the left.

Curious Battersea

The light was perfect for the Albert Bridge:

Curious Battersea

On reaching Battersea Park, I walked to the next destination in Curious Battersea:

Site 5 – In the days when this borough still had a countrified air, this old wooden hut was the pavilion of the town cricket club. It is in Battersea Park near where it is said the “Iron Duke” fought a duel with Lord Winchelsea.

Curious Battersea

It is still possible to feel a “countrified air” in parts of Battersea Park today, as this carefully framed view of the pavilion today demonstrates.

Curious Battersea

I have no idea if the current cricket pavilion is in the same position as the one in Pearman’s photo, however the pavilion has been considerably upgraded since 1951.

Pearman mentions a duel between the Iron Duke and Lord Winchelsea. The Iron Duke was the Duke of Wellington who at the time of the duel (March 1829) was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland.

The cause of the duel appears to have been the Catholic Relief Bill passed by Wellington’s government. The aim of the bill was to provide greater Catholic emancipation and the possibility of Catholics becoming members of Parliament.

Although Wellington was not a Catholic, fears of rebellion in the country appears to have influenced his decision to support the bill, however he was fiercely opposed by the staunch Protestant, the Earl of Winchelsea. In his opposition to the bill the Earl of Winchelsea appears to have accused the Duke of Wellington of allowing Popery to become part of the State.

Wellington challenged Winchelsea to a duel, which then took place at Battersea.

The duel appears to have been rather a strange affair, more about maintaining gentlemanly honour rather then attempting to kill or wound. Newspaper reports on the 27th March 1829 carried lengthy reports of the build up to, and the actual dual:

“Lord Winchilsea, it appeared, was aware that he had treated the Duke unfairly, and that an apology was due from him, but he considered that as a man of honour, it was ungentlemanly to do an act of injustice, until he had compelled his Grace to adopt a measure which might cause the death of Lord Winchilsea, to be produced by an act of the Duke’s. However monstrous the system may appear in theory, it is considered the very perfection of honour, and the Duke of Wellington was forced to discharge his pistol at Lord Winchilsea. The ball fortunately did no mischief, and then his Lordship tendered such an explanation as was deemed satisfactory, and which was prepared to be presented , in case the affair had terminated fatally to Lord Winchilsea. The latter nobleman was conscious that he had injured the Duke, and had determined therefore, not to return his fire.”

Both parties maintained their honour, and no one was wounded or injured. I suspect that both parties were also concerned that if the Duke had been killed, political chaos would have ensued and if Winchilsea had been killed he would have become a martyr to the Protestant cause.

There does not appear to be any monument or plaque to the duel in Battersea Park, however on the Cricket Pavilion there is a plaque recording another 19th century event:

Curious Battersea

Prior to 1864 the game of football did not have a consistent set of rules to manage the game. There was pressure to develop rules that would apply to all games and in October 1863 the Football Association was formed, who then went on to draw up the 13 rules of Association Football.

To demonstrate the new rules a game was organised on the 9th January 1864 in Battersea Park between two teams led by the FA President and the FA Secretary. The President’s team won 2-0.

Leaving Battersea Park, I then headed to the final location of Curious Battersea:

Site 6 – Not all of interest in Battersea is of the past, as witness this huge ‘Wellsian’ river-side power station. It is one of the largest in the world, and at night, when it is flood lit, has an unearthly sort of beauty.

Curious Battersea

When Hugh Pearman wrote Curious London in 1951, Battersea Power Station was becoming the largest provider of power to London. Half of the station (the A station) had been completed in the 1930s and construction of the B station started after the war, with the station coming on stream between 1953 and 1955.

In Pearman’s Curious Battersea, the power station was therefore the peak of modernity. Powering London into the future and “at night, when it is flood-lit, has an unearthly sort of beauty”.

Change is continuous and what had at the time been the most thermally efficient power station in the country eventually lost that efficiency. Generation was moving more towards gas and nuclear rather than coal and power stations were moving out of central London down towards the Thames estuary.

Battersea Power Station ceased operation in 1983, and since has been reduced to the outer walls, through many different schemes and ownership and is now finally being rebuilt.

The turbine halls will consist of shops, restaurants, cafes and cinemas and offices will occupy the boiler house.

Pearman’s photo was from across the river, however I wanted to take a look close up.

After walking under the rail tracks that run across the river into Victoria Station, the first of the new apartment blocks that will almost enclose the old power station is on the right. This follows the standard design seen all across London of apartments above and restaurants, bars and cafes on the ground floor.

The old power station with its rebuilt chimneys is still a major construction site with cranes rising above the building.

Curious Battersea

I am not sure what Hugh Pearman would think of what is happening to Battersea Power Station today. In 1951 it was supporting the growth in post-war electricity consumption across the city. Today the site is mirroring so many other developments across London and whether the old power station retains any historical significance among the glass and steel apartment towers and the commercialisation of semi-public space remains to be seen.

As usual, I feel I am just scratching the surface of the history of the streets I have walked, but again I am grateful to Hugh Pearman for providing another fascinating route through London to discover more about Curious Battersea.

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