Category Archives: London Buildings

Stepney Power Station, Limehouse

The banks of the Thames was not just full of docks and warehouses, but was also a place of industry, attracted by the easy transport of raw materials and goods along the river. Many of these industries were very dirty, polluting the local area and blighting the lives of those who lived nearby.

One of these was Stepney Power Station, a coal fired electricity generator, that can be seen in the following photo taken by my father in August 1948 on a boat trip from Westminster to Greenwich:

Stepney Power Station

The same view in January 2024:

Stepney Power Station

I have outlined the location of Stepney Power Station in red, in the following map of the area today (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Stepney Power Station

As can be seen, the power station is next to Limehouse Dock (originally Regent’s Canal Dock), and the name Stepney Power Station comes from the power station being in, and originally built, by the Borough of Stepney. It was occasionally referred to as Limehouse Power Station, which more accurately referred to its geographic location.

At the start of the electrification of London, lots of small electricity generating stations sprung up across the city, funded and built by a mix of private and public bodies.

These would supply their local area, with limited, if any, connection to other power generators.

London’s Boroughs were under pressure to develop and build electricity services to provide this new power source to homes, industry, the lighting of streets etc. and there were a large number of power stations built at the end of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century.

My grandfather worked in two power stations in Camden (see this post for one of these), and my father worked for the St. Pancras Borough Council Electricity and Public Lighting Department which then became part of the London Electricity Board.

Stepney Power Station formerly opened on the 27th of October, 1909, as recorded by a report in the Morning Leader on the following day;

“An extension of the Stepney electricity undertaking was opened yesterday by the Mayor and Mayoress (the Hon. H.L.W. and Mrs. Lawson).

The new generating station is situated at Blyth’s Wharf on the river, which gives the advantages of cheap sea-borne coal and an ample supply of condensing water.

Councilor Kay mentioned yesterday that the whole station had been erected by the council’s officials, so that it was in every respect a municipal undertaking.”

The 1909 power station was relatively small, but in the following years it would rapidly grow as demand for electricity increased and the cables needed to carry electricity across Stepney were installed and spread out across the Borough.

The version of the power station in my father’s 1948 photo shows the power station at its maximum size, with the tall chimney, which was added in 1937. There would be further upgrades in the following years, but from the river, this is how the station would have looked.

To help identify the location of the power station, features of the power station, and a comparison with the same view today, I have marked up the following two photos, starting with the view in August 1948:

Stepney Power Station

And January 2024:

Stepney Power Station

The following extract from the OS map shows the location of Stepney Power Station, labelled as “electricity works”. The conveyor transporting coal from the coaling pier to the power station can be seen, and between the coaling pier and Narrow Street, there is an open space. In the 1909 report of the opening, there is a reference that the “new generating station is situated at Blyth’s Wharf on the river”, and this open space was Blyth’s Wharf  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Stepney Power Station

Being right next to the river was a perfect location for the power station. It enabled supplies of coal to come from the north east of the country, via sea then along the Thames. The river also provided ample supplies of cooling water and water for steam generation in the boilers.

As the generation capacity increased, and therefore the demand for coal, the coaling jetty was built in 1923 to simplify the transport of coal from ship to where it would be burnt.

Newspapers in the 1920s were full of adverts by Stepney Borough Council advertising that their supply of electricity was the cheapest in London due to the prime location of their power station.

Whilst good for the price of electricity, the location was not good for those who lived, worked, and went to school near Stepney Power Station. There were many complaints about the dirt and pollution from the power station, and if you look at the above map, just to the top right of the power station, there are two buildings marked “school”. These are mentioned in the following newspaper article.

From the East End News and London Shipping Chronicle on the 2nd of December, 1949:

“COAL DUST COMPLAINT – Stepney Council is joining the L.C.C. in ‘strong representations’ to the British Electricity authority about nuisances caused by the Stepney power station.

It is said that coal dust dispersed by the movement of coal at the power station can penetrate into class rooms at the Cyril Jackson school even when the windows are closed and the schoolkeeper’s house – about six yards away from the station – cannot be occupied.

Another nuisance is caused by grit from the chimney of the station, the council was told last week. The council point out that when they were in control of the chimney as electrical supply undertakers in 1935 they improved conditions there.”

As the article highlights, it was not just pollution from the chimney, it was also the dust created by the use of coal.

Coal had to be unloaded from ships, transported across Narrow Street, stored, and then pulverised reading for burning. All these activities would have created coal dust, much of which would have contaminated the local area.

Another example can be found in the East End News and London Shipping Chronicle on the 6th of April 1950:

“GRIT AND COAL DUST, COMPLAINT ABOUT STEPNEY POWER STATION – The public health committee reported to the last meeting of Stepney boro council:

Representations have been made to the Minister of Fuel and Power and the British Electric Authority with a view to securing an abatement of the nuisance caused by the emission of grit from the chimney of the Stepney power station and by coal dust distributed as the result of the movement of coal.

The representations have been duly acknowledged by the Ministry and British Electric Authority, in a communication to the Minister dated January 24, 1950, deprecates the suggestion that the condition has worsened since this station vested in the Authority; state that the Authority is fully alive to the responsibility for ensuring that only the minimum interference is caused in the vicinity; and suggest that the chief engineering inspector of the Ministry should visit the site for the purpose of determining whether any further remedial measures are practicable.

We are fully alive to the fact that the operation of a generating station in a highly congested district must, to some extent, detract from the amenities of the persons residing therein but we are seriously concerned that the health of the children attending the Cyril Jackson school, which adjoins the station, may be prejudiced by the emission of grit and coal dust. We understand the extent of the coal dust nuisance varies with the climatic conditions and, it appears to us that since pulverised fuel is being used the coal storage bunkers should be effectively covered in. before making further representation, however, we have directed that inquiry be made of the Minister of Fuel and Power as to whether the Ministry’s chief inspector has visited the site, if so, what further remedial measures are considered necessary.”

I can only imagine what the long term impact on the health of the children attending the Cyril Jackson school would have been. The mention in the above article to the “British Electric Authority” is to the post-war nationalisation of the country’s electricity generating and distribution industries, which brought together all the private and public generating stations, and their distribution networks, into single bodies.

The British Electricity Generating Authority would late become the Central Electricity Generating Board, which would build the national transmission network (the pylons, or towers as they should be known), which allowed the small power stations in London to be closed, and electricity transported from much larger stations across the rest of the country.

When Stepney Power Station was first built, each of the boilers had it’s own chimney. This was standard construction in the first decades of the 20th century (see this post which includes a photo of the first Bankside power station with its rows of chimneys).

In this 1928 photo, we can see the power station as the white building, with a number of chimneys rising from the roof. Note that the chimneys are relatively low in height:

Stepney Power Station

Photo from Britain from Above at this link.

The low height of the chimneys did not help with the dispersion of smoke, gases and grit from the chimney so by 1937 a much taller chimney had been built, which can be seen in the following 1949 photo and is the chimney seen in my father’s photo:

Stepney Power Station

Photo from Britain from Above at this link.

There was a rather glowing report about the new chimney in the Evening Telegraph and Post on the 2nd of August 1937:;

“An Almost Invisible Chimney – There is nothing mars a city more than unsightly chimneys sprouting from factories and power stations. London’s East End must have hundreds of these chimneys, which are, of course, necessary to carry away dangerous smoke and fumes.

There is, however, one chimney in London, its 354 feet making it one of the highest in Britain, which cannot be called unsightly, for it cnnot be seen a mile away. It is situated in Limehouse, and is part of the Stepney Power Station.

The reason for its invisibility is that it is constructed of square bricks, some brown, some a light creamy colour. At close quarters it looks spotty, but from the distance it seems to have no real colour of its own, and is just a faint shadow on the sky.”

I know for certain that it could be seen from more than a mile away, as the chimney appears in other photos taken by my father, and the “light creamy colour” would have turned dark in a short time due to the level of pollution in the air in the industrial West End of London.

For example, this is my father’s photo of the view from the east of King Edward VII Memorial Park in Shadwell, and clearly shows a very visible chimney rising above Stepney Power Station:

Stepney Power Station would continue in operation until 1972 when it was decommissioned.

During the 1950s and 1960s large new coal and oil fired power stations had been build along the Thames, and a distribution network connected London up with the rest of the country, so there was no need for small power stations in congested areas of London.

All that remains today of Stepney Power Station is the coaling pier. The buildings and chimney were all demolished years ago, and the building that now occupies the majority of the site is the Watergarden complex of apartments.

This is the view of the Watergarden apartments facing onto Narrow Street:

Narrow Street

Stepney Power Station was instrumental in providing electricity to the factories, warehouses, docks and homes of the borough, and in 1917, Stepney had entered into an agreement with Bethnal Green Council, under the London Electricity Supply Act of 1908, to help develop and supply electricity in Bethnal Green.

The growing dependence on electricity can be seen by the impact that failures in supply had on the local area.

On the 8th of May, 1926 it was reported that:

“LIGHT CUT OFF, London Hospitals Have To Stop X-Ray Work: Three important London hospitals are still without electric current owing to the Stepney power station cutting off the supply. They are the London Hospital, the Whitechapel Infirmary, and the Whitechapel Dispensary for the Prevention of Consumption.

The work of these hospitals becomes more and more hampered by the loss of electrical power, and all X-ray has had to be stopped.”

And on the 27th if July, 1955, the Daily Herald reported that:

“POWER FAULT BLACKS OUT HOSPITALS: Three East London hospitals and the whole borough of Stepney were blacked out last night by a four-hour power failure.

It was the third in a week, and the third time cinema audiences get their money back. Police were sent in vans to all major crossings because traffic lights failed.

And while engineers sweated at Stepney power station, hospitals, homes and public houses switched to candles.

At the London Jewish Hospital the water supply failed too. It is kept up to pressure by electric pumps.”

From the London Daily Chronicle on the 22nd of August, 1922:

STEPNEY IN DARKNESS – Two Men Injured at the Electricity Works: Two workmen named as Tindall and Armstroong were injured last evening in a mishap at Stepney Borough Council’s electricity generating station in Narrow-street, Limehouse.

The switchboard burst into flames, and the two men sustained burns in trying to put out the fire. Their injuries, however, were not serious, and after treatment at Poplar Hospital they were allowed to go home.

For a time part of the district was deprived of Light and Power.”

The view today, looking into the Watergarden complex from Narrow Street, into what was the core of the power station:

Narrow Street

The view from the west – no coal dust, dirt, smoke or grit covering Limehouse today:

Narrow Street

To the west of the power station site was Shoulder of Mutton Alley, which can still be found today, as can be seen in the following photo where the power station would have been on the right, and a paperboard mill on the left, with the power station chimney being at the far end of the street:

Stepney Power Station

Walking along Narrow Street today, it is hard to imagine just how much industry there was along these now quiet streets, along with the noise and dirt which these industries generated. In just the above photo there was the power station and a paper mill on opposite sides of the street.

Stepney Power Station does help tell the story of how electricity came to London, and became an essential part in the ability of the city to operate in the modern world.

The Cyril Jackson school is still in Limehouse, however it has moved slightly east to a site along Limehouse Causeway, where today the children breath much cleaner air than their predecessors.

alondoninheritance.com

Watney Market and Watney Street, Shadwell.

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

For this week’s post, I am in Watney Market and Watney Street in Shadwell. A street that runs between Cable Street and Commercial Road.

It is a rather long post, however the post does what I really love about writing the blog. It takes one of my father’s photos and with some digging discovers so much about life in the area of a single street.

East London poverty, the relationship with the River Thames, a market that has traded for many years, a lost pub, Blackshirts, post-war Germany and post-war redevelopment which erased a long familiar street.

This is the photo, taken by my father in 1952:

Watney Market

As c;lose as I could get to the same view today:

Watney Street

My father’s photo was taken from the bombed space once occupied by a church, and it was looking southwest towards a pub, the Masons Arms, which faced onto Watney Street and Watney Market.

The following extract from the 1952 photo shows on the left, the large sign or perhaps a lantern on the front of the pub and two of the remaining shops which seem to have part survived the bombing which destroyed the area around them.

I have marked the spot with the red circle in the following map of the area today ( © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Watney Market

Commercial Road is the road running left to right at the top of the map. The train tracks at the bottom of the map is the Docklands Light Railway. Watney Street is running from the junction with Commercial Road at the top centre of the map, down to the DLR where it heads under the railway, down to Cable Street which is just below the bottom of the map

The following map is from the 1948 revision of the OS map, and shows the area much as it was when my father took the photo, from the location of the red dot (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).:

Map of Watney Street

I have mapped some of the key features in the photo onto the map below.

  • The red line and arrow points from the Masons Arms pub in the photo to the pub in the map
  • The blue line and arrow points from the two remaining shops in this section of Watney Street to their location on the map
  • The yellow oval is around one of the pillars that originally stood either side of the main entrance into the open space in front of the church
Mason's Arms Watney Street

In the above maps, you will see that my father was standing in front of the outline of Christ Church.

These were the ruins of a church that had been very badly damaged by bombing in 1941, and had then been demolished. It was not rebuilt, and the land was integrated into the post war redevelopment.

The church was not that old. The foundation stone was laid on the 11th of March, 1840, with the land being the site of three former houses on land owned by the Mercers Company, who conveyed the land to the church.

The site of the church, and the surrounding housing, before wartime bombing and post war redevelopment obliterated the area is shown in the following extract from the 1914 revision of the OS map (again the red circle indicates where my father was standing to take the photo) (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).:

Map of Watney Street

In my father’s photo, the slogan “No arms for Nazis” is painted on the wall running alongside the pub. This slogan represented a concern about the level of Nazi sympathies still remaining in Germany, rearming Germany, and the need to integrate Germany into the wider European community.

In 1953, British security services had made several arrests, and the US had undertaken a survey which revealed that the undercurrents of Nazi-ism in Germany should be taken seriously. It was claimed that the growth of “nationalistic discontent among young men is ominous”.

There was unemployment in Germany and economic grievances were being intensified by the numbers of refuges from the Eastern Zone.

At the time, Germany was not considered an equal partner with other countries in western Europe, and, to quote papers of the time “And the vagueness of British policy, the passive attitude of the Tories towards European co-operation – which they encouraged with words when not in power – has done nothing to speed things up”.

This had already been going on for some years, and when the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer was in London in December 1951, he was met by a demonstration when he arrived in Downing Street for a lunch with Churchill.

He was met with cries of “Adenauer go home”, “Sieg heil” and “Heil Hitler”.

Adenaur had been an opponent of the Nazis and had only just survived the war as he had lost all his property, money and position in the 1930s.

He was strongly anti-communist, wanted cooperation within Europe and the US, wanted to start the rearming of Germany, and he had earlier ended the de-Nazification process.

He was part of the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris in 1951, which established the European Coal and Steel Community (the predecessor of the European Union), not a popular move in Germany as it was seen to give France too much influence over German industry.

Adenaur also ensured that West Germany joined NATO in May 1955, and secured agreement for Germany to rearm (although agreeing that Germany would not have nuclear weapons).

When Adenaur visited Downing Street in 1951, leaflets were handed out to the crowd with the words “No arms for Nazis”. These leaflets, and the slogan were part of a campaign by the London Peace Council, based at New Compton Street, W.C.2.

The slogan appeared at many sites across London, and also across the country, for example an article in the East Kent Times reported that in Ramsgate “Motorists and residents were startled to see on the parapet of the viaduct, high above the main Margate Road, the words ‘No arms for Nazis’ painted in large white capitals.”

The use of white paint and capital letters seems to have been standard for where the slogan was found.

The slogan was on the wall that ran alongside the Masons Arms pub. The pub seems to date from the mid 19th century and features in numerous newspaper reports. All the usual issues of crime, drunkenness, change in licensee, meetings etc.

There were a couple of reports which gave an insight into life in 19th century London and the River Thames.

From the Kentish Gazette on the 17th of May, 1859:

“ENROLMENT OF NAVAL WOLUNTEERS – The recruiting officers of the Royal Navy had quite a field-day on the river of Tuesday. A steam boat, profusely decorated with union jacks, ensigns and other national colours, and manned by a dashing crew of blue jackets, with a powerful band on board, left the London-bridge-wharf shortly after eleven o’clock for a cruise down the river. The steamer on her paddle-box bore the words ‘Queen’s bounty’ and on her sides fore and aft, ‘£10 able seamen, £5 ordinary seamen’.

On leaving the band struck up ‘Hearts of Oak’. The sailors gave a most deafening cheer, which was taken up by the vast multitude which lined London-bridge and crowded the water side. The trip was continued to Gravesend, where the blue jackets landed and paraded through the principle thoroughfares, and the proclamation being frequently read. A vast crowd followed the recruiting party, and during their stay the town was kept in a most lively state of excitement. many volunteers were received and numbers promised to present themselves at the rendezvous on Tower-hill. Owing, however to the long prevalence of easterly winds there were not so many first class seamen in port, a large fleet of homeward-bounders being detained in the Channel.

As far as it has gone, however this new popular mode of beating up naval recruits has answered admirably; and the Masons Arms, Watney Street, Commercial Road (situated in a locality crowded with sailors), has been opened as a rendezvous. A change in wind must bring in large numbers of first-class men, who will doubtless avail themselves of the £10 bounty.”

There is so much in the above article. It tells us that in the mid 19th century:

  • Large numbers of sailors lived around Watney Street
  • Ships still being mainly powered by the wind could be stuck in the channel with an easterly wind as they could not round the eastern edge of Kent to access the Thames Estuary
  • That the Thames and the London Docks were a very important part in the life of London

As with most other East London pubs, inquests into unexpected and accidental deaths would be held in the Masons Arms. A newspaper report from October 1841 tells the story of 34 year old James Holland who worked as a coal-whipper (a coal-whipper brought up the coal from below decks using baskets attached to a pulley system).

He was working on the “Three Sons”, a collier from Sunderland which was moored in the river off Rotherhithe and whilst filling a basket with coal, he collapsed with blood pouring from his mouth and nose, and died almost immediately.

At the inquest in the Masons Arms, the verdict was “Died by a visitation of God”. No reference to his working conditions, long exposure to coal dust etc.

Time to have a look at Watney Street. The street has almost completely been rebuilt, with only a couple of pre-war buildings remaining at the very southern part of the street.

The alignment of the northern half of the street changed, and it has been rebuilt with new tiered housing on either side of a central raised section where the market is now located.

Walking along Commercial Road, this is the first view of Watney Street and Market:

Clock Tower

To the east of the entrance to the market is a clock tower:

Clock tower

Which has a plaque mounted on the side:

Plaque to industrial accident

The plaque recalls a dreadful tragedy when three workers died on the 22nd of September, 1990. At the time, they were investigating a blockage in a drain. There were four workers involved. One of them had descended into the drain which was at the bottom of a 9ft shaft. He was overcome by fumes, and in an attempt to rescue him, two other descended the shaft, but were in turn overcome by fumes.

The Fire Brigade was called, and firemen wearing breathing apparatus descended the shaft and pulled the three men out. The man who remained at the top of the shaft was also affected by fumes from the sewer.

It turned out they they have been overcome by hydrogen sulphide gas, and the three who descended all died.

They were not provided with any safety equipment, gas monitoring or breathing equipment, ropes and harnesses etc. and had received no training to undertake such work. It was the type of accident that would have happened in 1890 rather than 1990.

The three who died were trainee electrician Paul Richardson (aged 17), his brother trainee plumber David Richardson (aged 19) and electrician Steven Hammond (aged 32).

Their employer was fined £50,000 which even at the time seemed a ridiculously low amount for the loss of three lives in such avoidable circumstances.

A dreadfully sad loss of life which so easily could have been prevented if they had been provided with the correct equipment and training.

This is the view looking down into Watney Market from Commercial Road:

Watney Market

The London Overground between Shadwell and Whitechapel runs beneath Watney Market. If you go back to the 1952 OS map of the area, to the upper left of the original routing of Watney Street, just below Commercial Road, there is a circle with the words “Air Shaft”.

This was a ventilation shaft for the railway which runs just below the surface. In the rebuilt market, the above ground infrastructure of the airshaft can be seen, which is also used to advertise Watney Market:

Air vent to London overground below the street

View looking through the market back up to Commercial Road:

Watney Market

There was an article in the East London Advertiser on Saturday the 21st of August, 1886 about Watney Market. It was a rather long article, however it does provide a really good view of the market, those who shopped there, and the conditions of many of those who lived in the area. The core of the article follows:

“WATNEY STREET MARKET – How, when, or by whom this market was commenced no one seems to know. It has no charter, nor any legal status but that of usage, and like Topsy, it seems to have ‘growed’. Nevertheless it has become an important market, and to the poor inhabitants of St. George’s and Shadwell it is a most useful institution.

At first the market seems to have been confined mostly to the Cable-street end of Watney-street, the busiest being in the neighbourhood of the railway arch; but now, on some days, and particularly on Saturdays, it extends the whole length of the curved street, from Cable-street to Commercial-road and in it can be purchased almost everything needed in a household, from a pennyworth of pins to a suite of furniture, with bedding, bolsters, curtain lace, baby-linen, suits of clothing. washing machines, pianos and perambulators; whilst in the edible department it is always well stocked.

There is fish in every variety, from the lordly salmon down to a fresh herring, whilst the butchers cater for all classes, and in a manner suitable to the means of their numerous customers. Thus, on a Saturday, from morning till late at night, and particularly in the latter portion of the day, this market is crowded. in addition to the shops on both sides of the street, which are numerous, stalls are erected on and outside the footpath, leaving only a sufficient space for a limited amount of vehicular traffic.

A very large proportion of the purchasers in this market are women, and these mostly of the very poorest class, whose families live from hand to mouth. They can afford little at once, but they want that little every day when they can find the money to buy it; and hence the individual amounts spent at any one time are small, whilst their aggregate for a year must represent a very large sum. here the ‘ladies’ saunter about the market in dozens, in the most careless of deshabille, with hair unkempt, faces unwashed, and a general appearance of not having been dressed or undressed for a very considerable period. Each of them is accompanied by two, three or four children, equally elegantly attired. Whilst the mothers are looking out the cheapest bargains, these youngsters dive in, under and around the stalls, picking up rotten fruit, and anything else from the stalls on which the vendor does not keep a sharp eye.

And yet, notwithstanding all this squalor in dress and cleanliness, there is a general air of cheerfulness, frequently arising to hilarity, amongst the habitués of the market, and the general tone is one of careless happiness, especially when the weather is fine, when the women seem in no hurry about their business, but enjoy a thorough good gossip in the market place. Very few bags or baskets are brought by the buyers, they are not needed. A pound of bits of meat for about four pence, a couple of pounds of potatoes for two pence, and a cabbage for a penny, with perhaps a pennyworth of onions, and there is a dinner which has frequently to be eked out, with the aid of bread, for a family of six. An apron or the skirt of a dress will hold much more than this, and so the ladies who attend here will not encumber themselves with a basket, even if they have one, which in most cases is doubtful.

The women who purchase on Saturdays, are for the most part, wives of working men who are paid their wages on Friday; but there is a large class of men who are not paid until Saturday, and sometimes late even on that day. The bulk of these do not go straight home when they have received their wages, but remain about in public houses, where they are joined by their wives in very many instances, until it is too late, or they are too much overcome, to go shopping. What becomes of the children in the interval nobody knows and nobody seems to care. They play out on the street until they are all thoroughly tired out, and then made their way supperless and unwashed to such beds as they have, whilst their parents, with drunken recklessness, are wasting the food supplies on that which makes them utterly oblivious of the morrow and its responsibilities.”

The London Poverty Maps created by Charles Booth date from around the same time as the above report. Watney Street is in the centre of the following extract, and the streets around the street appear to have almost every category from Middle Class, Well-to-do (along Commercial Road), down to Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal (area in black).

Charles Booth poverty map

There has been a constant battle regarding space in Watney Market which has been going on for over 100 years, both in the original market, and the post-war rebuild.

The market stalls operate in the central space, with shops in the ground floors of the buildings on either side. These shop owners have long complained about the market stalls hiding their shops. They have complained about the size of the market stalls, the volume of product on display, how close the stalls are to their shops, the amount of traders products also displayed on the floor, and all the problems which the shop owners believe prevent shoppers from seeing, and getting to their shops.

This has been a recurring issue in newspaper reports back to the mid 19th century, and the market today remains a busy place, with market traders using as much space as is possible for the stalls, and to display their goods.

There is only a narrow walkway through the centre of the market, and the shops that line the ground floors of the buildings on either side are quite hard to see:

Watney Market

The southern end of Watney Street is at Cable Street, a street that is well known as the scene of the “Battle of Cable Street”, when on the 4th of October 1936, there were clashes between the Police, ant-fascist demonstrators, and the British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, who were attempting to march through the area.

Whilst Cable Street is remembered as the scene of the attempted march, and anti-march demonstrators, in the 1930s, this area of east London was the scene pf regular provocation of the mainly Jewish community who lived in the area, by members of fascist organistions.

Watney Street and Watney Market frequently appeared in newspaper reports of these events. For example, on the 30th of May 1936, the City and East London Observer carried a report titled “Fascists in Watney Street”:

“There was great excitement among the many shoppers and stallholders in Watney Street on Sunday morning when about a dozen Blackshirts paraded up and down the market selling Fascist newspapers amid cries of ‘More Stalls for Englishmen’, ‘Foreigners Last and Nowhere’, while from another section of the crowd there were cries of ‘Blackshirt Thugs’, ‘Rats’, etc.

A great crowd gathered, and a Jewish girl, going up to one of the Blackshirts, bought a paper, tore it to pieces and stamped on the fragments. After this the police took a hand but they found it very difficult to keep the crowd on the move owing to the barrows in the market. Somebody picked up a cucumber from one of the stalls, but was prevented from throwing it at a Blackshirt.

A surprising number of the people present appeared to be in sympathy with the Blackshirts. The Blackshirts are, it is believed, about to open a branch in Stepney.”

A few months later in July 1936 is was reported that the market place in Watney Street “seems to be the chief hunting ground for Blackshirts selling their propaganda, who, according to reports, do their best to encourage hatred of the Jewish community.”

Many of the traders in the market were concerned about the lack of action from the authorities, and “rightly or wrongly, are of the opinion that the police are pro-Fascist”.

The traders were concerned that the Blackshirts were having a negative impact on their trade. Their actions and language put off many of the customers of the market, and when they arrived many of the traders packed up and left.

This all came to a head with the Battle of Cable Street, which greatly diminished the impact of the Blackshirts in Watney Street.

Another air vent, half way along the market. Possibly another air vent to the railway below:

Air shaft and air vent

Post war redevelopment of Watney Street and surroundings took some time. It was being planned in the 1950s, however nothing happened on the ground until the 1960s when the market was relocated in 1965, the surviving buildings demolished and the area flattened.

Tiered sets of new flats were built on either side of the new routing of Watney Street and a raised area along the new alignment was created for the market.

This took a long time to complete, with work not being substantially finished until 1977.

The flats were not popular with the original inhabitants of the street. Flats had been planned in the last days of the war, and in 1944 there were protests against the plan for flats, with residents of the Watney Street area telling the Borough Council that “Working people with families must have decent houses in which they can rear them properly”.

The wholesale demolition of many streets of terrace housing across east London, and the construction of flats is one of the themes of post war redevelopment of the area.

Whilst the demolished houses were in very poor condition, often badly maintained by uninterested landlords, lacking basic facilities, and suffering from general war damage and lack of attention, very many could have been refurbished, and would have provided housing, at street level, suitable for a wide range of occupants.

The following photo is looking through the market showing the tiered flats on either side:

Watney Market

The whole scheme, including the tiered flats was designed by the Architect’s Department of the Greater London Council.

The redevelopment work took over ten years, and in 1977 graffiti was appearing in the area complaining that the market has been murdered.

Redevelopment and relocation resulted in a reduction of trade for those running stalls, and the number of market stalls was gradually declining so by the end of the 1970s there were only about 19 market stalls remaining.

It would take the 1980s and most of the 1990s for the market to recover, and to make use of the full space provided by the redevelopment work.

As well as the central market stalls, a large number and range of shops have occupied the buildings along the side. The supermarket Sainsbury’s was a long time resident of Watney Street, opening their first store in the street in 1881, expanding into a second building 13 years later.

Sainsbury’s were in Watney Street for over 100 years, finally moving to Whitechapel in 1994. Iceland then took over the store and are still in Watney Street, at the north-eastern corner, just behind the clock tower.

A couple of the shops are unoccupied, and the space directly in front is quickly occupied by the Watney Market traders:

Watney Market

As can be seen in the 1949 OS map earlier in the post, Watney Street had a rather strange routing. A short distance north along the street, it angled to the east before resuming a northerly route up to Commercial Road.

The point where this swerve to the east happened was at the junction with Tarling Street.

In the photo below, Watney Street is to the right, and where the road does a sharp turn to the right, that is Tarling Street. At this point, Watney Street angled to the right, under where the flats have been built, and continued north, under the flats.

Watney Street

It would seem that when the area was first developed in the early decades of the 19th century, Tarling Street ran left to right across the above photo, and the southern section of what is now Watney Street between Cable Street and Tarling Street was originally Charles Street.

After the junction with Tarling Street, Charles Street changed to Watney Street and was reached through a narrow street or alley, around a larger building to the main section of Watney Street.

This larger building was demolished at some point, replaced by terrace houses, which were also later demolished, and the angle to the right then went through where these buildings was located.

I suspect the name Watney Street displaced Charles Street as the market grew in size and popularity.

I cannot find a firm source for the origin of the name. The general consensus seems to be it comes from the Watney Brewery in Whitechapel, although this was a little distance to the north west so there is no obvious connection.

Watney Market and Watney Street. A working market for well over 150 years. A place once occupied by those working on the river and by the poor of east London, a large Jewish community, and an area targeted by the Blackshirts of the 1930s. Badly bombed during the 1940s then with a lengthy redevelopment that would not see the market busy again until the 1990s.

A fascinating place of east London history.

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Cloak Lane Police Station

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

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

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

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

Cloak Lane police station

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

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

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

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

Cloak Lane police station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloak Lane police station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London policeman

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

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

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

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

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

Cloak Lane police station

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

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

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

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

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

And so ended 80 years of policing from Cloak Lane.

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

Wood Street police station

Wood Street Police Station has in turn been closed.

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

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

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

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

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Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

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

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

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

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

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

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

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

Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers

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

Bethnal Green

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

Bethnal Green

Braithwaite Street, E1:

Cold War Steve

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

Cold War Steve

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

Cold War Steve

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

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

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Paternoster Square – Destruction and Development

The area to the north of St. Paul’s Cathedral was destroyed during the war, mainly due to the use of incendiary bombs on the night of the 29th of December 1940. The destruction covered ancient streets such as Paternoster Row and Paternoster Square, and the shells of buildings were demolished and removed leaving a wide open space ready for new development.

The site was redeveloped during the 1960s, with the pre-war streets and original architectural styles being ignored, with an office complex built which followed a number of post war City planning themes which I will come on to later in the post.

The 1960s development was not popular, obstructed key views of the cathedral and tended to separate the cathedral from the area to the north. The buildings were not that well maintained and by the late 1980s the area was not an attractive place to work, or walk through, and did nothing to enhance the cathedral just to the south.

In the early 1990s, a proposed Masterplan was published by “Masterplanners” Terry Farrell, Thomas Beeby and John Simpson & Partners, and Design Architects Robert Adam, Paul Gibson, Allan Greenberg, Demetri Porphyrious and Quinlan Terry.

I have a copy of the Masterplan and it is fascinating to compare the original proposals with the site we see today. Not quite so architecturally ornate as the Masterplan, but very similar to what was originally proposed, and (in my view) a significant improvement on the 1960s development.

The following image is from the Masterplan and shows a “View of Paternoster Square looking south-east to the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral”. The image is by Edwin Venn.

Paternoster Square

As with City developments such as the Barbican and Golden Lane estates, the damage inflicted on the City during the last war created the large area of space which could take a major, transforming development, rather than the simple rebuild of individual buildings.

The following photo is one of my father’s, taken from the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral:

View of bombed Chapter House

The shell of a building at the bottom left is the Chapter House of the Cathedral.

The circular features between what was Paternoster Square and the remains of the Chapter House are the outline of water tanks that were placed on site during the war to provide supplies of water for firefighting.

The following extract from Bartholomew’s 1940 Reference Atlas of Greater London shows the area to the north of the cathedral. In the map, a Paternoster Square can be seen. In the above photo, this is the rectangular feature at top left, with roads on all sides, but not a building in sight.

Map of pre-war St Paul's and Paternoster Row

As well as Paternoster Square, the map shows a network of streets such as Ivy Lane, Three Tuns Passage, Lovells Court and Queens Head Passage.

Running across the area was Paternoster Row, and the following photo from the book, the Queen’s London, published in 1896, shows the view along Paternoster Row, a narrow street but with substantial 19th century City office buildings on either side.

Paternoster Row

In the following photo, the dense network of streets and buildings to the north of the cathedral can be seen:

St Paul's before the war

Another of my father’s views from the Stone Gallery, looking slightly above the earlier photo, with a bus running along Newgate Street. The Paternoster Square developments would occupy the area to the south of Newgate Street.

View from St Paul's of bombed landscape

The same view today, showing the buildings of the Paternoster Square development:

Paternoster Square

The area, and street names are of some considerable age. The first written records of the streets date from the 14th century, with Paternosterstrete in 1312 and Paternosterrowe in 1349.

From the early 19th century onwards, the area was home to many publishers, stationers and book sellers. Much of the stock held by these businesses contributed to the fires started on the 29th of December 1940.

Harben’s Dictionary of London references a Richard Russell dwelling there in 1374 and described as a “paternosterer”, and that paternosterers were turners of beads, and gave the street its name.

Harben also states that “A stone wall was found under this street at a depth of 18 feet running towards the centre of St. Paul’s. A few yards from this wall in the direction of St. Martin’s-le-Grand wooden piles were found covered with planks at a depth of 20 feet”, and that under Paternoster Square, “Remains of Roman pavements and tiles were found in 1884”.

W.F. Grimes’ book, about his post war excavations across the City, “The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London” records his limited excavations across the area in 1961 to 1962, and that much of the Paternoster area “was not available for examination because the cellars had retained their bomb rubble and the sites around Paternoster Square had become a garage and car parks.”

In the limited excavations that did take place, Grimes found evidence of ditches and post holes, possibly where the wooden piles were found in the 19th century. He concludes that the area was probably occupied by timber framed buildings rather than stone.

The main discovery on the site was a hoard of about 530 coins, “mainly barbarous copies of coins of the Gallic Empire of the late third century A.D.”

The limited excavation took place prior to the 1960s development of the site. This create a dense cluster of office blocks between the cathedral and Newgate Street, which can be seen in the following photo, to the right of the cathedral:

1960s Lord Holford development

The 1960s development of the site was based on the plans by architect and planner Lord Holford who was commissioned by the City Corporation to advise them on architectural policy, and the development of buildings within the “orbit of the dome of St. Paul’s”.

Lord Holford’s plan for the site followed post-war thinking about the City’s redevelopment. This included the separation of traffic and pedestrians, with vehicles having priority at ground level, and pedestrians moved to elevated walkways.

The original street plans were rejected in favour of a rigid matrix of building blocks, which resulted in a horizontal slab of blocks with the 18-storey office tower Sudbury House being the highest.

Lord Holford’s explanation of his approach to the design of the site was that “there is more to be gained by contrast in design, than from attempts at harmony of scale or character of spacing” (I think this is the design approach used for the current developments between Vauxhall and Battersea Power Station).

Not all of Holford’s ideas were implemented, and many of the buildings were by other architects, so the new development ended up as a rather uninspiring addition to the land north of the cathedral.

The following photo shows the 1960s office block immediately to the right of the old St. Paul’s Chapter House:

1960s Lord Holford development

In the following photo, the Chapter House is the older building in dark brick behind the tree, and the new lighter red brick building to the right occupied the site of the 1960s office block seen in the above photo:

St Paul's Chapter House

The following photo shows one of the access ramps that took pedestrians up to the pedestrian area. To the right is the lower vehicle route, with access to car parking:

1960s Lord Holford development

I may be completely wrong, but I vaguely remember there being a pub on the upper pedestrian area, which had an outside area with a view over the surrounding streets.

The 1960s development took no regard of the views of the cathedral just to the south.

This is the view to the northern entrance to the cathedral, with only a small part visible through a tunnel that takes a pedestrian walkway through an office block:

1960s Lord Holford development

In the Masterplan, the proposed redevelopment delivers this alternative view of the same part of the cathedral:

Paternoster Square

And whilst the buildings are less ornate than originally proposed, the view today is much the same as in the Masterplan, also with a café, on the site of the walkway:

Paternoster Square

The caption to the following illustration reads “St. Paul’s Church Yard will be re-aligned and the Cathedral gardens re-laid and enclosed”:

St Paul's Churchyard

The gardens were re-laid and enclosed, and new office blocks occupied the space to the north, and whilst these were very different to the 1960s versions, they were not quite as ornate as the Masterplan envisaged:

St Paul's Churchyard

The objectives of the Masterplan were to:

  • Restore views of St. Paul’s Cathedral from Paternoster Square at ground level and on the skyline, respecting St. Paul’s Heights and Strategic Views
  • To create buildings that are in harmony with St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • To restore the traditional alignment of St. Paul’s Church Yard and the Cathedral Gardens creating an enhanced public space
  • To re-establish a traditional street pattern and return pedestrian routes into the site to ground level
  • To create a new, traffic-free, public open space allowing ease of access, especially for the disabled
  • To follow the City tradition of classical architecture, using traditional materials such as stone, brick, tile, slate and copper
  • To be flexible enough for key corners, outside the Planning Application site to be integrated at a later date
  • To create a thriving new business community in the best traditions of City life
  • To create a much-needed, new shopping area in the heart of the City, with a variety of shops, restaurants and entertainment, linked into St. Paul’s Underground Station
  • To create new open public spaces for relaxation and enjoyment by office workers, visitors and shoppers alike

It is interesting to compare the development today with these objectives.

There was an intention to follow the City tradition of classical architecture, and this could be seen in the illustrations of the planned buildings, such as the following example showing “the frontage of the new buildings on Newgate Street”:

Paternoster Square

The frontage along Newgate Street today is comprised of standard office block design, without the classical architecture proposed in the Masterplan.

The title of the following illustration is “A Meeting Place – Paternoster Square will provide a social focus for the City, a place to meet friends and colleagues, to browse or to use the health club”:

St Paul's Cathedral

This approach can be seen across the Paternoster Square development, but in less ornate settings. Whilst the buildings do not have the same classical architectural styling, they do make use of stone, and there is a considerable amount of brick throughout the site which is a pleasant change from the glass and steel of many other recent City developments:

St Paul's Cathedral

Whereas today, Paternoster Square is at a single level, in the Masterplan it was intended that there would be steps leading down to a Lower Court, so whilst the plan did away with the upper pedestrian and lower vehicle levels of the 1960s development, it did retain different levels, but for pedestrians. The Lower Court:

Paternoster Square

The plan was that Paternoster Row would become almost a continuation of Cheapside.

Cheapside was, and to an extent still is, the main shopping space of the City, and the One New Change development has enhanced this, but in the Masterplan, shopping would continue from Cheapside, across the road into Paternoster Row, and the underground station, which today is reached via a separate access point to the edge of the development, would have been integrated into the plan, as shown in the following illustration:

St Paul's Underground Station

The St. Paul’s Chapter House was reduced to a shell of a building, as shown in my father’s photo, however it was restored and survived the 1960s redevelopment, and was included in the Masterplan, where it can be seen in the centre of the following illustration.

St Paul's Chapter House

To the left of the Chapter House is a rather ornate three storey gateway into Paternoster Square, which today has been replaced by Temple Bar.

Temple Bar was included as an option in the Masterplan, which is described as “currently in a state of decay in a Hertfordshire Park”.

As mentioned earlier, the central Paternoster Square was intended to be multi-level, and in the following illustration, there is a rather impressive Loggia (an outdoor corridor with a covered roof and open sides), that would have provided a lift down to the Lower Court, would provide shelter, and would mark the access point to the Lower Court:

Loggia

A key aim of the Masterplan was to bring life back to the area, and one of the ways to do this was via retail, and the plan stated that “Paternoster Square will be established as one of the foremost shopping areas in central London. There will be more than 80 shops, including a quality food hall or department store”.

The approach to retail included a Shopping Avenue, which was a covered route between the Lower Court and St. Paul’s Underground Station:

Shopping Avenue

Shops would also line the new Paternoster Row:

Paternoster Square

And along the route of the old Ivy Lane, there would be Ivy Lane Arcade “designed in the tradition of famous London arcades. It will attract specialty shops such as jewelers and galleries”:

Paternoster Square

And shopping around Paternoster Square and Lower Court:

Paternoster Square

The Paternoster Square estate does have some shopping, but far less than was intended in the original Masterplan. There is no lower court and no covered shopping avenues.

Most of the shops are either restaurants, bars or take away food and coffee shops, aimed at local office workers and at the number of visitors who pass through as part of a visit to the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral.

There are also many other differences. Whilst the overall concept appears the same, the classical building style is now very limited as is the overall decoration across the buildings and ground level pedestrian spaces.

In 1995, the owners of the land commissioned Whitfield Partners to deliver a Masterplan for redevelopment, and it is the outcome of this plan that we see today. Similar in concept, but different in implementation.

The Paternoster Square development today has a large central space, is pedestrianised, and some of the pedestrian walkways do roughly align with some of the original pre-war streets.

The objective of bringing life back to the area has been achieved, and during the day it is generally busy with local workers, visitors and tourists, and on a summer’s afternoon, the bars and restaurants are particularly busy.

The central square features a 23.3 metre tall column, which conceals air vents to the parking space below the square:

Paternoster Square

The Masterplan by Farrell, Beeby and Simpson included a Loggia which would have provided a lift down to the Lower Court, and mark the access point to the Lower Court.

Whilst the Loggia and Lower Court were not part of the implemented Masterplan, there is a covered way along the northern edge of the square which has similarities to the original Loggia:

Paternoster Square

In the above photo, two groups of tourists with guides can be seen to the right. Between them is the artwork “The Sheep and Shepherd” by Elisabeth Frink. This came from the earlier Paternoster Square development as it was installed on the north side of the estate in 1975 when it was unveiled by Yehudi Menhuin.

It was moved to the high walk outside the Museum of London in 1997 prior to demolition of the 1960s estate, then returned to Paternoster Square in 2003.

The Sheep and Shepherd stands where Paternoster Square joins to Paternoster Row (which, as far as I can tell is very slightly north of the street’s original alignment).

The Sheep and Shepherd

Looking through the Loggia that was built as part of the new development:

Paternoster Square

Rather than lots of classical decoration to the buildings, there is a “Noon Mark” on one of the buildings to the north of the square. In strong sunlight, at midday, the shadow indicates roughly the day of the year:

Noon mark solar clock

A key point with the development is the height of the buildings. In the 1960s development, there were office blocks that ran both parallel and at right angles to the cathedral and views of the cathedral were limited.

With the new development, building heights are lower and allow views of the cathedral. As can be seen in the following photo from the north west corner of Paternoster Square, the new buildings are just slightly higher than the original Chapter House (the older, dark brick building to the right of the column):

St Paul's Cathedral

Whilst a number of the walkways do roughly align with the original streets, Paternoster Square is in a different place to the original square, which would have been to the northwest of the current square, to the right of the building in the following photo, which does retain some classical styling at ground level, but is a modern building above:

Paternoster Square

This is the view from the western end of Paternoster Lane towards the central square. This stretch of walkway is almost exactly on the original route of Paternoster Row:

Paternoster Lane

Sometimes it seems as if all the large sculpture across London’s streets is there to hide an air vent. This is the purpose of the column in the central square and also the purpose of a work of art on the corner where Paternoster Lane meets Ave Maria Lane:

Thomas Heatherwick

This is a 2002 work by Thomas Heatherwick, and consists of sixty three identical isosceles triangles of stainless steel sheet welded together.

Round to the front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and to the north of the large open space in front of the cathedral is an office block with shops at ground level which follows the alignment of the old street St. Paul’s Churchyard:

St Paul's Churchyard

The following photo is taken from Cheapside looking towards the cathedral and Paternoster Square development, and may offer a clue as to why the implemented Masterplan is different to the Masterplan of Farrell, Beeby and Simpson:

St Paul's Underground Station

To the right of the above photo are two sides of an octagonal building. It can be seen in the following extract of the photo of the 1960s estate:

St Paul's Underground Station

One of the entrances to St. Paul’s Underground Station is just to the right of the building in the photo, and the building is either part above, or extremely close to, the underground station.

I have no evidence to confirm this, however it may be that the estate we see today was down to cost.

Whilst the initial planning permission did not include the octagonal building, the Masterplan did. It would have been demolished and the entrance to St. Paul’s Underground Station would be integrated into one of the new buildings as can be seen in one of the earlier pictures. The proposed lower shopping arcade would also have led into the underground station.

I imagine that anything involving changes to an underground station incur significant extra planning time and costs.

The overall Paternoster estate, whilst aligning with the original Masterplan, does not have the level of classical architecture proposed in the plan, or the split level with the lower court.

All this extra work would have incurred cost, and in so much of the built environment, decisions often come down to cost.

Having said that, compared to the 1960s development, Paternoster Square is a very considerable improvement.

It integrates well with the cathedral to the south, recreates alignments close to some of the original streets, certainly has brought life back into the area from what I recall of the previous development, and is a generally pleasant space to walk through.

Reading the Masterplan though, it is interesting to speculate what might have been, if this plan had been adopted.

You may be interested in the following posts about the area around St. Paul’s:

Post War London from the Stone Gallery, St. Paul’s – The North and West

Post War London from the Stone Gallery, St. Paul’s – The South and East

Operation Textiles – A City Warehouse In Wartime

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Prudential Building and Furnival’s Inn

A quick advert – if you would like to explore Wapping or the Barbican, there are only a few places left on my upcoming walks:

All other walks have sold out.

Walk along Holborn and one of the most impressive buildings you will see is the old head office of Prudential Assurance:

Prudential building Holborn

The Prudential moved into their new office in 1879, which was quite an achievement given that the company had only been founded 31 years earlier in 1848.

The building exudes Victorian commercial power and was a statement building for the company that was at the time the country’s largest assurance company.

The lower part of the building uses polished granite, with red brick and red terracotta across all upper floors. If you stare at the building long enough the use of polished granite gives the impression that there has been a large flood along Holborn, which has left a tide mark on the building after washing out the red colour from the lower floors.

The building is Grade II* listed and was designed by Alfred Waterhouse with help from his son Paul. After Prudential initially moved into the building, constriction continued as could be expected on a building of this size which extends back from Holborn for some distance. The front range facing onto Holborn was completed between 1897 and 1901.

In the centre of the façade is a tower, with a large arch leading through into inner courtyards around which are further wings of the building:

Prudential building Holborn

Alfred Waterhouse was born in 1830 in Liverpool. His father was involved in the cotton trade, working as a cotton broker. The family had quite an influence on the future, with one of his brothers founding an accountancy firm that would eventually become PriceWaterhouse, and a second brother, Theodore, starting a legal company that became Field Fisher Waterhouse (the company has since dropped the Waterhouse name).

After attending a Quaker school in Tottenham, Alfred Waterhouse started work in Manchester where he worked on a number of private residences and public buildings, however he first major commission came when he won a competition for the Assize Courts in Manchester in 1858.

The Assize Courts were badly damaged by wartime bombing, and were condemned by the post-war decision not to rebuild. The Gothic style of Waterhouse’s work was not in fashion with architectural styles of the 1950s and 60s.

The following photo of the Manchester Assize Courts shows what an impressive building it was, and the similarities with the Prudential Building (Attribution: Old stereoscope card, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons):

Manchester assize courts

His other work in Manchester included Strangeways Prison (now just HM Prison Manchester), and Manchester Town Hall, which did survive wartime bombing of the city, and still looks glorious today. Again, the same Gothic style and parallels with the Prudential building can be seen:

Manchester town hall

Waterhouse moved his architectural practice from Manchester to London in 1865.

He lost out on a competition to design the Law Courts in the Strand, but did win the competition for the Natural History Museum in Kensington, which again follows a similar style to his previous works, although with the museum, at the centre of the wide façade is the main entrance, which has two smaller towers on either side of the central block.

The Natural History Museum also displays a move from Gothic to Romanesque as an architectural style.

The design of the new building was considered such a success by Prudential that they commissioned Alfred Waterhouse and his son Paul to design a further 21 office buildings for the company in cities across the country. Some of these, such as in Southampton, can still be seen.

Waterhouse died in 1905, just a few years after Queen Victoria, and his Gothic designs with large buildings often including central towers have come to be symbolic of a style of Victorian architecture, that ended at the very start of the 20th century.

The Prudential adopted the figure of Prudence in 1848 as the symbol for the company. Prudence was said to have the qualities of memory, intelligence and foresight, enabling a prudent act to consider the past, present and future.

The figure of Prudence can be seen in a niche above the main entrance into the building and was the work of the sculptor Frederick William Pomeroy:

Prudential building Holborn

The Prudential Mutual Assurance Investment and Loan Association was founded in 1848 in Hatton Garden, and their target market was the sale of life assurance and the provision of loans to the emerging Victorian middle and industrious classes.

The company advertised the sale of shares in January 1849 to raise capital, and their advert gives an idea of the financial products that were starting to become widely available in the middle of the 19th century:

“The following important new features and advantages in Life Assurance, now introduced by this Association, are earnestly impressed on the attention of the public, particularly of the industrial classes, viz :-

  1. To enable members subscribing for £20 shares, payable by small monthly or quarterly instalments, to securely invest their savings and participate in the whole amount of profits, or in the case of death their representatives to receive the amount of each share in cash.
  2. To enable Members to purchase real or other property, by advances from the Association on such property.
  3. To grant members loans on real or other security.
  4. To create by periodical subscriptions an Accumulating Fund, the profits arising from which to be from time to time divided amongst its members.
  5. To afford an opportunity to a borrower of securing his surety from future payments in case of his (the borrower’s) death.
  6. Life Assurance in a reduced scale for the whole life or term of years, on lives, joint lives, or on survivorship.

The comment “payable by small monthly or quarterly instalments” is reminder of the method used by the company to collect payments, with the “Man from the Pru” becoming the term for an insurance salesman who calls door to door to collect regular payment for Prudential’s products.

The Man from the Pru was also the title of a 1990 film which was based on the true story of a Prudential employee who was convicted of the murder of his wife.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death, however employees of the Prudential raised several hundred pounds and the case went to appeal and he was found not guilty, mainly due to very flimsy evidence being presented.

Immediatly after being acqutted, he continued his employment with the Prudential.

The “Man from the Pru” operated across the country, and was supported by company offices in multiple towns and cities.

There is a frieze along the façade of the Prudential building, which includes coats of arms of many of the places where the company had an office:

Prudential building Holborn

I have been able to identify a few of these arms. In the above photo, the arms of Belfast is at the left, then could be Norwich, although the castle should be above the lion, on the right is Bristol.

In the photo below, Leeds is second from left, then Coventry:

Prudential building Holborn

Look up when walking in through the main entrance, and admire the incredible brickwork:

Prudential building Holborn

When built, the Prudential building was very advanced for its time. There was hot and cold running water, electric lighting, and to speed the delivery of paperwork across the site, a pnematic tube system was installed, where documents were put into canisters, which were then blown through the tube system to their destination.

Ladies were provided with their own restaurant and library, and had a separate entrance, and were also allowed to leave 15 minutes early to “avoid consorting with men”.

The façade onto Holborn is just part of the Prudential complex as it extends some considerable way back from the street. The size of the building was not just because of the number of workers, but was also to enable storage of the sheer volume of paperwork resulting from insuring almost one third of the UK population at the peek of the Prudential’s size.

Walking through the main entrance and there is a small open space, where we can see a connecting bridge between wings of the complex, with ornate windows above a large arch:

Prudential building Holborn

There is a plaque on the wall, recording that Charles Dickens lived here. He lived here between 1833 and 1836 when the site was occupied by Furnival’s Inn, more of which later in the post:

Prudential building Holborn

More stunning brickwork in the arch over the entrance to the courtyard at the back of the complex:

Prudential building Holborn

The overall Prudential site was expanded and remodeled during the years of their occupation.

Being an information intensive business, their building needed to adjust to changing technology, and methods of recording and storing data.

In the 1930s the interior of the original blocks were rebuilt with large open plan floors in the art deco style in order to accommodate punch card machinery.

There was another major refurbishment in the 1980s which completed by 1993, but by then the Prudential’s days in their Holborn office complex were numbered. Departments had been moving out of central London for a number of years, for example their Industrial Branch administration had moved to Reading in 1965.

In 1999, the Prudential’s Group Head Office relocated to Laurence Pountney Hill.

Since 2019, the Prudential has been focused on Asia and the Far East. The UK businesses were transferred to M&G which today is a completely separate company to the Prudential, although Prudential still retain a head office in London and are quoted on the London Stock Exchange.

The following photo shows the rear courtyard of the complex, now named Waterhouse Square after the original architect of the buildings. The dome in the centre provides natural light to the space below:

Prudential building Holborn

But what was on the site before the Prudential building? To discover that, we need to look at the Corporation of London blue plaque to the right of the main entrance from Holborn:

Furnival's Inn

The plaque records that the Prudential building is on the site of Furnival’s Inn, which was demolished in 1897 to make way for the Prudential building.

The name comes from William de Furnival who, around the year 1388, leased part of his lands in Holborn to the Clerks of Chancery, who prepared writs for the King’s Court, assisted by apprentices who received the first stages of their legal training at the Inn.

By the 15th century, the Inns of Chancery had become a type of preparatory school for students, and by 1422, Furnival’s Inn was attached to Lincoln’s Inn, who later in 1548 took on a long term lease.

Furnival’s Inn was described as the equivalent of Eton with Lincoln’s Inn being King’s College at Cambridge. At the end of each year, Lincoln’s Inn would receive students from Furnival’s who had received their training, and reached the standard required to move up, and receive the next stage of their training, along with the greater freedoms that an Inn of Court could offer.

The scale of Funival’s Inn can be seen in the following extract from William Morgan’s 1682 map of London, where the inn can be seen in the centre of the map:

Furnival's Inn

Furnival’s Inn occupied much of the space currently occupied by the old Prudential buiding. The map also includes some of the many legal institutions based in this part of Holborn. Part of Grays Inn can be seen to the left, and below and to the left of Furnival’s Inn is another Inn of Chancery, Staple Inn.

To the right of the map is Ely House which I wrote about in a post a couple of weeks ago.

As with the Prudential building, Furnival’s Inn had a very impressive front onto Holborn. This is from the early 19th century (the following prints are © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Furnival's Inn

This drawing from around 1720 shows the scale of Furnival’s Inn:

Furnival's Inn

As with the Prudential building, Furnival’s Inn had a central entrance from Holborn. Once through this entrance, there is an inner courtyard surrounded by buildings, and behind this courtyard is a garden, again surrounded by buildings.

The following print is from 1804 and shows part of the inner court:

Furnival's Inn

By the 17th century, the Inns of Chancery had begun to turn into societies for the legal profession, and Furnival’s Inn became residential, offices and dining clubs.

Their use as places of training and education for students before they transferred to the Inns of Court had been reducing over time and by the 19th century, Furnival’s Inn had ceased to exist for its original purpose, with only what were classed as “6 ancients and 16 juniors”.

It was dissolved in 1817, and when Lincoln’s Inn did not renew their lease a year later, some of the buildings were sold off and demolished, with apartments and a hotel occupying part of the site.

Parts of the old Furnival’s buildings were still used by those in the legal profession, and there were a number of adverts and articles in the press from solicitors based in the buildings, for example in 1880 a solicitor J.C. Asprey who had an address of 6 Furnival’s Inn was advertising for any claimants to the estate of a deceased resident of Hackney.

Final clearance of the site ready for the Prudential removed the last of the Furnival buildings and name from the site, however the Prudential building retained a similar layout with a large façade along Holborn, with inner courtyards surrounded by buildings.

Whilst the architecture and brickwork of the Prudential building is impressive, the drawings of the interior of Furnival’s Inn show a place which had evolved over time, with buildings that were probably put up at different times and for different purposes, which must have been an interesting place to explore.

The following print is dated 1820, just after the Inn had ceased to function as an inn of Chancery. On the range of buildings to the left, an open arch can be seen which leads through to Holborn, and at the far end on the right is a building which looks as if it could have been a central hall, with a large bay window looking out onto the courtyard.

Furnival's Inn

After the Prudential left the building, work was done to extend at the rear and refresh / build new, along part of the western side of the building. The streets, part of which are pedestrianised, surrounding three sides of the complex are called Waterhouse Square.

The building is now used by multiple companies as office space, but I understand is still owned by the Prudential.

Fascinating to think that, whilst the buildings have changed across the centuries, this part of Holborn has been occupied by the buildings of only two institutions across almost 700 years – Furnival’s Inn and the Prudential.

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Admiral’s House, Plaques and Cholera in Hampstead

In last Sunday’s post, I complained about the lack of sunlight when I was taking photos of Peckham. The day that post was published was a glorious February day, bright sunlight and clear blue sky, so I took the opportunity for a walk around Hampstead, starting with Admiral’s House, the location of one of my father’s photos from 1951.

Admiral's House

The same view in February 2023:

Admiral's House

The view of Admiral’s House is much the same, however if you look to the right of my father’s photo, there is a brick wall and a rather nice lamp. These are not visible in my photo.

The reason being that both photos were taken a few feet along a walkway that follows the brick wall on the right. In the 72 years between the two photos, a large amount of small trees and bushes have grown up alongside the wall, so I could not get into the exact same position as my father when he took the 1951 photo:

Admiral's House

The lamp on the end of the wall is still there, it looks the same design, so I assume it is the same lamp, however there are some shiny washers and bolts now holding the mount to the wall, so these have been replaced:

Admiral's House

Admiral’s House is a short walk from Hampstead Underground Station. North along Hampstead Grove, then turn left into Admiral’s Walk, where there is a large sign on the corner, helpfully pointing to Admiral’s House:

Admiral's House

The house appears to date from the early 18th century, when it was built for a Mr. Charles Keys. At that time, the building was known as the Golden Spike, after the Masonic Lodge that met in the building between 1730 and 1745.

Admiral’s House can be seen in Rocque’s 1746 map, shown circled in red in the following extract, where, for reference, I have also circled Fenton House in blue, with the distinctive squared shape of its garden between Fenton and Admiral’s Houses.

Admiral's House

From 1775 to 1810 the house was occupied by Fountain North, apparently a former naval captain. North changed the name of the house to ‘The Grove’.

Fountain North is a rather unusual name, and I did find some basic information about him. He died on the 21st of Spetember, 1810 in Hastings. The brief line recording his death in newspapers at the time states that he was of Rougham Hall in Norfolk. There is no mention of Hampstead. I could only connect this record with the Fountain North who lived in Hampstead, when I found the report of the death of his wife, Arabella North, who died in Weymouth in 1832, and the record states that she was “the widow of Fountain North, of Rougham Norfolk, and Hampstead, Middlesex”.

It was Fountain North who constructed the quarter deck on the roof of the house, and it was from here that he apparently fired a cannon to celebrate naval victories, however I cannot find any references to this from the time, so difficult to say whether or not it is true.

This is where there has been confusion with an Admiral Barton, a genuine Admiral who lived between 1715 and 1795, who has been alleged to have built Admiral’s House, but in reality had nothing to do with the house in Hampstead.

Even publications such at the Tatler recorded Admiral Barton as being responsible for the house, for example, in an article on the 14th July, 1940 on Pamela Lady Glenconner, who was then living in the house with her family, the Tatler reported that “Admiral’s House was built in the eighteenth century by Admiral Barton who, after an adventurous career which included shipwreck on the Barbary Coast, being sold into slavery, rescue and court martial, ended his days firing guns to celebrate victories in the Napoleonic wars”.

Barton did have an adventurous career, but he did not live in Admiral’s House.

Admiral’s House is Grade II listed, and I have used the Historic England history of the house in the listing record as hopefully the most accurate record for the history of the house.

Admiral Barton certainly did not build the house, and whether cannons were ever fired from the roof must be questionable.

Pamela Lyndon Travers (born Helen Lyndon Goff in Queensland, Australia on the 9th of August, 1899) was the author of Mary Poppins which features Admiral Boom, who fired a cannon from his roof. Travers was working on Mary Poppins during the 1920s (it was published in 1934).

Admiral’s House is referenced as Travers inspiration for Admiral Boom’s house. There is no record that she ever lived in Hampstead, or whether she saw the house when she was writing Mary Poppins, however as shown with the Tatler article in 1940, the story of the Admiral and cannon was in circulation in the early decades of the 20th century.

Admiral’s House as seen whilst walking along Admiral’s Walk:

Admiral's House

Admiral’s House has been modified many times over the years. The entrance from Admiral’s Walk, along with the conservatory on the first floor which can be seen in the above photo, were both 19th century additions.

The large garage which can be seen to the right of the house is a recent replacement of an earlier structure, and the house has also had a kitchen extension and underground swimming pool added.

To the side of Admiral’s House is another building, Grove Lodge. It is not clear what the original relationship was between the two buildings, and whether there was any dependency, however they do appear to have been in separate ownership for most of their existence.

Recent building work on Grove Lodge made the national newspapers, when construction of a basement at Grove Lodge, allegedly caused damage to Admiral’s House, as reported in the Daily Mail.

If you look at the following photo, there is a brown plaque on Admiral’s House, and a blue plaque on Grove Lodge:

Admiral's House

The brown plaque on Admiral’s House was also in my father’s 1951 photo, and is a London County Council plaque, recording that the architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott lived in the house.

He was the architect for the Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station, the Albert memorial, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as large number of other public buildings, restorations of churches and cathedrals, and domestic houses.

Prior to Hampstead, he was living in St. John’s Wood, however the continued expansion of London resulted in a move in 1856 to Admiral’s House. He would not stay there for too long, as his wife Caroline found the place rather cold and the location isolated which restricted their social life (Hampstead Underground Station would open years later in 1907).

The blue plaque on Grove Lodge, to the left, is to record that the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy lived in the house between 1918 and 1933. Galsworthy’s best known work was the Forsyte Saga, and he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1932.

The house in Hampstead was his London home, and it was here that Galsworthy died in 1933.

After a look at Admiral’s House, and ticking off another of my father’s photos, the weather was so good that we went for a wander around Hampstead.

The following map shows the route covered in the rest of the post with red circles indicating a place I will write about. Admiral’s House is at the start of the route on the left of the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

And from here, a short walk brings us to the following house in Hampstead Grove:

George du Maurier

Which has a plaque recording that cartoonist and author George du Maurier lived in the house:

George du Maurier

The du Maurier name has many associations with Hampstead, and I wrote about finding his grave at St John, Hampstead. in this post.

We then headed east, crossed over Heath Street and walked along Elm Row, where there is this house:

Henry Cole

With a plaque recording that Sir Henry Cole, who “originated the custom of sending Christmas Cards” lived in the house:

Henry Cole

Sir Henry Cole seems to have been a far more complex and busy man than the plaque suggests. He appears to have been a workaholic, and also did not suffer fools gladly (or those that disagreed with him). His obituary, published after his death in 1882, records that “It is now fifty-five years since he commenced his career of working himself and making everybody else within the sphere of his influence work also”, and that he entered public service under the Record Commission when he “allowed little time to pass before making his presence felt”.

He found the Records Commission was in a terrible state and set about reorganising the way records were kept, in such a way that brought him into conflict with a number of powerful people.

The Record Commissioners dismissed him following a feud within the organisation, however when he was proved to be right, and had gathered his own support, the Record Commissioners had to take him back, and promote him to the office of Assistance Keeper of Records.

The reference to Christmas Cards probably relates to the following entry in his obituary “He took an important part in the development of the penny-postage plan of Sir Rowland Hill, occupied the responsible post of Secretary to the Mercantile Committee on Postage, and gained one of the £100 prizes offered by the Treasury for ‘suggestions'”.

He also had concerns about standards of architecture, fashion and the design of everyday objects, stating that “In 1840 England had not yet recovered from the fearful degradation of taste under Farmer George” (the nickname given to George III), and he preached for the alliance of art and manufacture.

This is only a small snapshot of his life and his obituary ran to a full column and a quarter of news print. I suspect it was a clever marketing idea to introduce the custom of sending Christmas Cards when he was involved with the penny-postage plan.

Following Elm Row, then turning into Hampstead Square and there are two large, brick buildings. The one on the left has a brown plaque on the side:

Newman Hall

The brown plaque reads “In memoriam – Newman Hall, D.D. Homes for the aged given by his widow”.

Newman Hall was described as “one of the oldest residents in Hampstead” when he died in 1902 aged 85. He was a Reverend and Preacher, author and artist. The titles of his book included “Songs of Heaven and Earth” and “Come to Jesus”.

The plaque refers to numbers 7, 8 and 9 Hampstead Square, which were bequeathed by the Will of Newman Hall’s wife, Harriet Mary Margaret Hall as almshouses for pensioners in 1922.

The charity, the Newman Hall Home for Pensioners exists to this day, continuing to maintain the properties in their use as almshouses.

Now continuing along Cannon Place, and the view along Christchurch Hill shows the height of Hampstead, compared to the city to the south, which was one of its attractions when development started during the early 18th century.

View from Hampstead

Opposite the junction with Christchurch Hill is another blue plaque. This one to Sir Flinders Petrie, 1853 to 1942, Egyptologist:

Flinders Petrie

Flinders Petrie was a prolific archaeologist of Egyptian history. He began archaeological training began in 1872, when he surveyed Stonehenge, and his first visit to Egypt in 1880 resulted in his first dig in the country in 1884 and which started a lifetime of work exploring Egyptian history.

He gathered a very large collection of Egyptian antiquities, and ensured that during excavations, everything was recorded, no matter how small.

University College London now has the Petrie Museum. This was formed around the department and museum created in 1892 through the bequest of Amelia Edwards. a collection of Egyptian antiquities.

Amelia Edwards, who for a while lived in Wharton Street on the Lloyd Baker Estate (see this post) was a 19th century novelist and author of travel books which she would also illustrate. After a visit to Egypt she became fascinated by the ancient history of the country and the threats to the archaeology and monuments that could be found across the country.

She wrote about her travels in Egypt and in 1882 also helped set-up the Egypt Exploration Fund to explore, research and preserve Egypt’s history. The fund is still going today as the Egypt Exploration Society, continuing to be based in London at Doughty Mews.

Flinders Petrie was the first Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at University College London. The Flinders collection of Egyptian antiquities is also now in the museum that bears his name.

At the end of Cannon Place, at the junction with Squire’s Mount is Cannon Hall:

Cannon Hall

Cannon Hall dates from around 1729 and is a Grade II* listed building.

The house is another Hampstead connection with the du Maurier family, as Gerald du Maurier purchased the house in 1916 and lived there until his death in 1934.

Gerald was the son of George du Maurier who we met earlier in Hampstead Grove.

Gerald was an actor-manager and his most famous parts were probably when he played significant roles in premieres of two J.M. Barrie plays, including the dual role of George Darling and Captain Hook on the 27th of December, 1904 at the Duke of York’s Theatre.

He lived in Canon Hall with his wife Muriel Beaumont and their three daughters, Daphne du Maurier (future author and who we will meet again in Hampstead, Angela (who would also become an author), and the future artist, Jeanne du Maurier.

Canon Hall had a number of other notable, previous residents, including in 1780, Sir Noah Thomas who was physician to King George III, and from 1838, Sir James Cosmo Melville of the East India Company, who when he purchased the house was chief secretary of the company.

It seems that from around the time of Meville’s ownership, the cannons that gave the name to the place were installed along the street.

Walk past Cannon Hall, and turn down Squire’s Mount (named after Joshua Squire who purchased some land here in 1714), follow the wall alongside Cannon Hall, to find a strange door and pair of windows:

Hampstead parish lock-up

The plaque on the wall states that this was the parish lock-up, built into the garden wall of Cannon Hall around 1730. The hall was the site of a magistrates court, and prisoners would be kept in the single room cell, until more suitable arrangements could be found.

The Hampstead News on the 2nd of June 1949 stated that from old title deeds, the names of former magistrates appear to have lived in Cannon Hall. The article also stated that the lock-up later housed the manual fire engine belonging to the parish, however I doubt it would have fit through the door, unless alterations have been made to the entrance.

The lock-up lasted 100 years, as its use ended in 1832, when the temporary holding of prisoners was moved to the Watch House in Holly Walk.

Hampstead parish lock-up

The lock-up is Grade II listed, and the listing states that inside there is a vaulted brick single cell. The London Borough of Camden’s Conservation Statement for Hampstead records that on the other side of the wall, modern houses have been built in part of the garden of Cannon Hall, and the old lock-up is now the entrance to one of these houses.

Back in 2015 there was a planning application for a three storey house to be built replacing the single storey building behind the wall. I assume this did not go ahead as no evidence of such a house can be seen above the wall.

Squire’s Mount turns into Cannon Lane, at the end of which is another of the wonderful street name signs that can be found across Hampstead. Nothing like a pointing finger to indicate the direction.

Squire's Mount

At the end of Cannon Lane, we turned west into Well Lane, and soon found another mention of the du Maurier’s presence in Hampstead:

Daphne du Maurier

The plaque states that the novelist Daphne du Maurier lived in the house behind the wall, between 1932 and 1934. Probably best known for the books Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek, her last book, Rule Britannia, published in 1972, was a interesting and prophetic account of the country leaving the European Union.

Finally, towards the end of Well Road is another plaque on the walk alongside the house and buildings in the following photo:

Mark Gertler

This plaque records that the artist Mark Gertler lived in the building. He was born in Spitalfields and there is a house in Elder Street that also records his time in the area. He was a painter of figure subjects, portraits and still-life, and one of many artists that have made Hampstead their home.

At the end of Well Road, at the junction with New End is a tall, brick building, with a stone plaque on the narrow end of the building:

Cholera in Hampstead

The lettering along the top of the plaque is somewhat worn, but appears to read: “These buildings were erected by voluntary contributions for a dispensary and soup kitchen. It was intended as a thank offering to almighty God for his special mercy in sparing this parish during the visitation of cholera in the year 1849. The site was purchased in 1850 and the building completed in 1852. He shall deliver thee from the noisome pestilence. Thomas Ainger M.A.”

Cholera in Hampstead

The building, that was constructed as a dispensary and soup kitchen is now a fee paying, independent school.

The visitation of cholera in the year 1849 was one of the many cholera outbreaks in the mid 19th century (see my post on John Snow and the Soho Cholera Outbreak of 1854). John Snow’s suspicion about the source of a cholera outbreak was further confirmed when a local resident of Golden Square moved to Hampstead, but still sent for a bottle of the “sparkling Broad Street water” every day. She was the only person in Hampstead to be diagnosed with cholera.

The cholera outbreak of 1849 was serious across the whole of London, although south London suffered more than north London. The Lady’s Newspaper on the 29th of September 1849 carried an account of the outbreak during the first part of the year and reported that 35 out of 10,000 inhabitants of north London died, compared to 104 out of 10,000 inhabitants of south London.

The following table from the Weekly Dispatch provides a list of deaths from Cholera and Diarrhea reported on the 31st of August 1849:

Cholera in Hampstead

The table shows that for the reporting on that one day, Hampstead had one of the lowest levels of death across London.

That was a short walk, starting at Admiral’s House, which still looks much as it did when compared with my father’s 1951 photo.

The rest of the walk demonstrated just how much there is to explore in Hampstead. Other posts I have written about the area include:

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Macs Pie and Mash, Peckham

In the nine years I have been writing the blog, I have not really touched south London. There have been visits to Greenwich, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey and lots of posts along the south bank of the river, but nothing further inland. This is a massive omission that hopefully I can start to correct this year, starting with a visit to Peckham, where in 1986, my father photographed Macs Pie and Mash shop:

Macs Pie and Mash shop

Macs Pie and Mash was in Blenheim Grove, which leads west from Rye Lane, right next to Peckham Rye train station.

I cannot find the date when Macs Pie and Mash shop closed, however the building is still there, with the distinctive decoration of horizontal bars on the corner. The building is also undergoing some serious refurbishment.

Macs Pie and Mash shop

Before the current works on the building, the location of Macs was occupied by a hair and beauty saloon, so the closure of Macs is not recent.

As well as the closing date of Macs Pie and Mash, I cannot find out when it opened, or anything else about the business, or whether Mac was the name of the owner.

The business occupied 8 – 10 Blenheim Grove. There was a barbers in number 10 in 1959 as the South London Observer carried a report of a break-in, with £60 pounds of razors and equipment being stolen – but that seems to be the only time that the building appeared in the local newspapers

Looking at the building from across Rye Lane, and a rather large, glass paneled extension has been built on the roof.

Macs Pie and Mash shop

The planning application stated that the work will consist of “refurbishment and erection of a two storey extension to the building at 2-10 Blenheim Grove / 82 Rye Lane, to provide A1 (retail), A2 (financial and professional), A3 (restaurant / cafe), A5 (hot food takeaway), B1a (offices) and D1 (non-residential institution)”, so almost everything apart from residential, which makes sense as facing onto Rye Lane, if residential, the properties would be looking onto a 24 hour environment, with plenty of noise.

The railway and Peckham Rye station is behind the two buildings in the above photo, and between the two, there is an alley that leads to the station. After the two buildings in Blenheim Grove, we can get a view of the station, up on the top of a brick viaduct:

Peckham Rye station

With many of the arches hosting the type of business that can found in railway arches across London:

Peckham Rye station

The art deco building where Macs Pie and Mash shop was located, was built between 1935 and 1936, when a whole series of buildings around the station were constructed by Southern Railway.

Peckham Rye station was built in 1865, originally for trains of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, with trains of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway using the station from the following year.

The original station buildings were impressive. They were design by Charles Henry Driver, and were set back from Rye Lane allowing a large open space between the station entrance and Rye Lane, with the opportunity to view the whole facade of the station building, with three main floors and a large upper roof.

The station sat between two brick viaducts which carried the rail tracks and platforms either side of the station.

As well as the building in Blenheim Grove, between 1935 and 1936 Southern Railways also built on the open space between the station and Rye Lane, with a shop lined arcade providing access from Rye Lane to station. This work also included a building on the northern side of the station and rail tracks, so by the end of 1936, the old station was completely surrounded and could not really be seen from the local streets.

The station facade is therefore really difficult to photograph as there is only a small space in front of the building, with alleys running to left and right, and straight ahead through the acarde to Rye Lane.

To add to the complications of taking a photo of the station during my visit was that it was completely surrounded by scaffolding and plastic sheeting:

Peckham Rye Station

I found a photo of the station entrance taken before the scaffolding and sheeting appeared:

Peckham Rye station
Attribution: Sunil060902, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It really is a lovely building and a shame to be hidden away and invisible from Rye Lane, but hopefully that will change.

The following photo is looking from the very small station forecourt through to Rye Lane:

Macs Pie and Mash shop

There seems to be a plan to demolish the buildings and arcade in front of the station and open up the space to Rye Lane, with the space being available for market stalls and other temporary events. There does not seem to be any evidence of work underway at the moment, however within the arcade leading to Rye Lane, there is a TSB Bank on one side (still open), and the shops / cafes on the other side appear to have been closed for some time:

Macs Pie and Mash shop

There is a fruit and vegetable stall open at the end of the arcade:

Macs Pie and Mash Shop

The following photo shows the 1930s building at the end of the arcade. A similar style to the building in Blenheim Grove. According to the plan to open up Peckham Rye station, these buildings will be demolished leaving a large open space between Rye Lane and the station.

Peckham Rye Station

Two of the shops to the left of the arcade entrance:

Peckham Rye Station

The buildings between station and Rye Lane are in a very poor condition. They could be refurbished to the standard of the building in Blenheim Grove, but opening up the space to show the station as it was originally meant to be seen would be a far better alternative.

The following map shows the locations of Macs Pie and Mash shop, the station, and the buildings in front of the station shown in the above photos that are planned for demolition.

Peckham Rye Station

There is an image of what the open space and view to the station will look like when the project is complete on the Network Rail website here.

Back to Macs Pie and Mash shop. Perhaps better known as an east London establishment, in reality pie and mash shops were once common across much of London.

As can be seen in the windows of Macs Pie and Mash shop, as well as pie and mash, eels were also available.

Eels were once a common and cheap food source for Londoners. Readily available from the Thames and along the estuary, they were sold to be eaten on their own, or within a pie, although pies usually had some form of cheap meat filling and now mainly come with a minced beef filling. The “liquor” that comes with pie and mash is a form of parsley sauce with shops having their own version.

Pie and Mash shops were popular across the streets of London from the mid to late 19th century onwards.

There is still a pie and mash shop not far from the old location of Macs Pie and Mash shop. To find the shop, I walked north along Rye Lane to the junction with Peckham High Street and across the junction with Peckham Hill Street is the Eel and Pie House of M. Manze:

M. Manze Pie and Mash shop

The M.Manze shop is named after Michele Manze, the Italian founder of what grew to be a chain of five shops bearing the M. Manze name (his brothers also opened shops with the Manze surname).

Today, only three M. Manze shops survive, the one at Peckham High Street and a shop on Tower bridge Road, along with a shop in Sutton, which opened in 1998.

The shop in Peckham was almost lost when it was burnt down in 1985 during the Peckham riots. After a long legal battle, the shop finally reopened in 1990, and is still serving pie and mash to the residents of Peckham.

On the strip of negatives that include Macs Pie and Mash shop, there was also the following photo before another Peckham photo, so I know it was taken somewhere in Peckham.

Lou's Cafe Peckham

I had a walk around, trying to find the location, but without any luck.

The sign for Lou’s Cafe looks of a similar style to Macs shop, so I did hope they were close together. The car has a sticker for a radio station on 261 metres, which I think was where LBC was broadcasting at the time.

Peckham has a really distinctive character which I plan to explore more over the coming months, along with a number of other south London locations. The redevelopment around Peckham Rye station looks good, but there is always a concern that development results in a gradual loss of the people, shops and buildings that give a place its unique character.

And on the subject of redevelopment (and a completely different location) – approvals of the MSG Sphere in Stratford seem to be getting closer. The Sphere (see here for details of the Sphere) is planned to be covered in LED light panels, and the London Legacy Development Corporation have already granted permission for adverts to be shown across the building using the lighting system.

Although large, bright advertising has long been a feature of a number of London locations such as Piccadilly Circus, there seem to be more sites being built almost with advertising as the sole focus.

Although much smaller than the planned MSG Sphere, the recently opened Now Building is at the northern end of Charing Cross Road, facing one of the entrances to Tottenham Court Road underground station. The sides of the building are covered in really bright advertising:

Now Building

Advertising which you just cannot miss and which bath the surrounding area in light:

Now Building

The ground floor of the building includes some genuinely impressive light displays:

Now Building

Which attracts a constant stream of visitors:

Now Building

View looking up at the ceiling of the Now building:

Now Building

Plans for the MSG Sphere are now with the Mayor of London for approval, and it remains to be seen whether he will approve a vast dome covered in LED panels and advertising.

The displays at the Now Building are technically impressive, however it is a concern as to how much of this impossible to miss, incredibly bright advertising proliferates across London.

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Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws

Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws – two totally unconnected subjects, but there is a tentative connection to the Corn Laws not far from Mornington Crescent underground station which I will get to at the end of today’s post.

The name Mornington Crescent may bring little recognition, apart from a Camden station on the Northern Line, or the name may be instantly familiar from the BBC radio comedy “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” where it is the name of an invented game which requires the naming of a random set of locations to finally get to Mornington Crescent.

The entrance to Mornington Crescent station on Hampstead Road:

Mornington Crescent Station

Mornington Crescent station was built as part of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, and opened on the 22nd of June 1907. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs with the exterior walls covered in red oxblood faience tiles. The station is now on the Northern Line.

The station takes its name from the nearby street of the same name, a street that was once prominent, but is now hidden away behind a rather glorious 1920s factory.

The location of the station is shown by the blue circle in the following map, and the larger red circle shows the area covered in this week’s blog (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Map of Mornington Crescent

Mornington Crescent (the street, not the station) is the curved, crescent shaped street that starts to the left of the station, curves around a large grey block and then rejoins Hampstead Road. The following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows the area in the late 19th century, with Mornington Crescent then looking onto a garden, the larger part to the left of Hampstead Road and a small part to the right (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).:

Map of Mornington Crescent

The large grey block in the map of the area today, and which now occupies the area where the garden was located is the wonderful old Carreras cigarette factory, now offices:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

The Carreras brand dates from the early 19th century when the Spanish nobleman Don José Carreras Ferrer started trading cigars in London. The business expanded into other forms of tobacco such as snuff and cigarettes, and became a significant business during the late 19th century.

What really drove the brand’s expansion, and the opening of the Mornington Crescent factory was the transformation of Carreras to a public company in 1903, when a Mr. W. J. Yapp (who had taken over the company from the Carreras family) and Bernhard Baron (of Jewish descent, who was born in what is now Belarus on the Russian border, who had moved to the United States and then to London), became directors of the company.

Whilst in New York, Bernhard Baron had invented a machine that could manufacture cigarettes at a faster rate than existing machines, and in London the Carreras company was the only one that took on the new machines, other tobacco companies preferring to stay with their existing means of production, or machines over which they held monopolies.

By the start of the 1920s, Baron was Chairman of the company and wanted to create a large, modern factory, which would enhance the brand’s reputation for the purity and quality of their cigarettes, and provide a good working environment for the company’s employees.

The result was the new factory on the old gardens between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road.

Designed by the architectural practice of Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins, along with Arthur George Porri who acted as a consultant, the design of the building was inspired by the archeological finds in Egypt during the 1920s, with the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun being discovered in 1922.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

The building was one of the first (and I believe the largest at the time) building to use pre-stressed concrete, and also to be fitted with air conditioning and dust extraction equipment.

The innovative construction of the building, and the technologies used to maintain the internal environment were mentioned in all the major news reports that covered the opening of the building on the 3rd of November 1928:

“Carreras new factory at Camden Town, which was opened by Mr. Bernhard Baron, the chairman of the company, constitutes not only the largest reinforced concrete building under one roof in Great Britain, but also that rare thing – the realisation of one man’s dream.

Mr. Baron is a practical idealist. He set out to make cigarettes, he wanted them made in the best way, and in the best conditions. He wanted the people who made them to be happy in their work, it has all come true.

The opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design. Mr. Baron performed it himself, not so much as chairman of the company, but as the father of the three thousand employees who have helped him to achieve success. He said, at the luncheon, that he felt it a great honour to have opened the factory, and that he wanted his employees about him at that moment to share his pleasure. That was why he decided on a simple ceremony, a family celebration, as it were, of the culmination of one stage of his life’s work.

Carreras new building embodies all that is best in factory design. It is well lit, and well ventilated and as healthy as it is possible to make it.

Most important of all, it has been fitted with an air conditioning plant which is the only one of its kind in the British tobacco industry, and which ensures a consistently ideal atmosphere for the manufacture of the perfect cigarette. The air which enters the building is first washed clean with water. It is then adjusted to the required temperature and humidity. Outside, London may be shivering or sweltering, damp or dusty. Inside, every day is a fine day; all weather is fair weather. It is well known that the English climate is the best in the world for the manufacture of tobacco; it can now be said that Carreras climate is the best in England.

The façade of the building, which stretches five hundred and fifty feet along Hampstead Road, is something fresh in London architecture – a conventionalised copy of the Temple of Bubastis, the cat headed goddess of Ancient Egypt.”

I have read several modern references to the opening of the building which include that the Hampstead Road was covered in sand, there were chariot races and Verdi’s opera Aida was performed, however I cannot find these mentioned in any of the news reports from the time that covered the opening of the building. As seen in the above report, the “opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design“.

The opening of the factory was seen as an improvement to the area, although it had resulted in the loss of the open space between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road, as newspapers reported that “When the move to save the London squares was first begun, Mornington Crescent was cited as one of London’s losses. It had been acquired by Mr. Bernhard Baron as the site of his new factory. I doubt whether had it been saved we Londoners would have gained anything. Now when you come out of the Tube station, the eyesore of that dirty bit of green, backed by decaying Victorian basement houses is no more. Instead, there is the finest factory in London, an architectural triumph for Mr. Marcus Collins, the culmination of a life’s work for Mr. Baron and a model workplace for his 3,500 employees.”

The Mornington Crescent factory remained in operation until 1959 when Carreras merged with Rothmans, and cigarette production was moved to a factory in the new town of Basildon in Essex.

The building was sold and in 1961 it became office space, with the name of Greater London House, and all the Egyptian decoration was either removed or boxed in.

This would remain the fate of the building until the late 1990s when a new owner refurbished the building and restored the Egyptian decoration that we see today, as close as possible to the original design.

In the following photo of the main entrance to the building, two black cats can be seen on either side of the steps:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

These are not the original cats as following the closure of the factory in 1959, one was transferred to the new factory in Basildon whilst the other was shipped to a Carreras factory in Jamaica.

After walking north along Hampstead Road, through the works for HS2, the restoration of the Carerras building has retained some wonderful 1920s architecture to this part of Camden, however it has almost completely hidden Mornington Crescent, and a walk along this street is my next destination, starting from the northern end, opposite the underground station, where the Lyttleton Arms now stands:

Lyttleton Arms Camden

If you look closely at the top corner of the building, you will see the original name of the pub as the Southampton Arms. The pub was renamed the Lyttleton Arms in honour of the jazz musician and radio presenter, Humphrey Lyttleton, who was also the long running host of the radio panel game I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue from 1972 until his death in 2008, the show that included the game Mornington Crescent.

During the 1920s, the same decade that the Carerras factory was built, the Southampton Arms, as the pub was called, was one of the centres of conflicts between the gangs who tried to control race course betting, including the Clerkenwell Sabini Brothers and Camden’s George Sage.

The following report from the St. Pancras Gazette on the 6th of October 1922 illustrates one of the incidents:

“RACING MEN’S FEUDS – At Marylebone on Tuesday, Alfred White, Joseph Sabini, George West, Simon Nyberg, Paul Boffa, and Thomas Mack made their eighth appearance on the charges of shooting George Sage and Frederick Gilbert with intent to murder, at Mornington-crescent, Camden Town, on August 19, having loaded revolvers on their possession with intent to endanger life, and riotously assembling.

Helen Sage, wife of one of the prosecutors, said she was talking to her husband outside the Southampton Arms at Camden Town when several taxicabs drove up and a number of men alighted. She then heard a shot, but could not say who fired, as it was dark. The witness admitted that she told the police that West and White fired the shots, but now declared that this statement was untrue.”

Strange that Helen Sage, who was presumably the wife of the shot George Sage declared that her statement was untrue. Possibly some witness tampering or gangs not giving evidence against each other, preferring their own form of justice.

The first section of Mornington Crescent (from the north) is not part of the original, and this will become clear with the architectural style as we walk along the crescent. These later houses are smaller and less impressive than the original part of the crescent:

Mornington Crescent

And after crossing the junction with Arlington Road, we can now see the original terrace of buildings from when Mornington Crescent was laid out:

Mornington Crescent

In the middle of the above terrace there is a blue plaque, to Spencer Frederick Gore, the painter, who lived in the building between 1909 and 1912.

Mornington Crescent

Gore painted the view from his house across the gardens and the view along Mornington Crescent. The Tate have one of his paintings of the gardens online here.

The following view is of the continuation of the terrace houses along Mornington Crescent, at the junction with Mornington Place:

Mornington Crescent

Construction of Mornington Crescent started in the early 1820s and was not complete until the 1830s. It is named after Richard Colley Wellesley, the Earl of Mornington and Governor-General of India. He was also the eldest brother of the Duke of Wellington, so was from an influential family.

Mornington Place heads up to the rail tracks to and from Euston Station:

Mornington Place

The street was built around the same time as Mornington Crescent and comprises smaller three storey terrace houses, although with some interesting architectural differences:

Mornington Place

At the end of the street, we can look over the brick wall and see the rail tracks, with HS2 works continuing on the far side:

Euston railway tracks

Looking back down Mornington Place towards the old Carreras factory – originally this view would have had the gardens at the end, through which Hampstead Road would have been seen:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

Albert Street is a turning off Mornington Place, a terrace of new buildings occupies a space which on the 1894 OS map appears to have been an open space with a larger building set back from the road.

Albert Street Camden

There is a smaller brick building between the modern terrace and the large brick terrace of houses. This is Tudor Lodge:

Tudor Lodge Camden

Tudor Lodge is Grade II listed. It was built between 1843 and 1844 for the painter Charles Lucy, and believed to be to his own design. The plaque on the building though is to George Macdonald, Story Teller, who lived in the building between 1860 and 1863. An interesting building in a street of mainly 19th century terrace houses.

Rather than walk along Albert Street, I returned to Mornington Crescent and the rear of the Carreras factory, where there is a chimney:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

I have not been able to confirm whether or not the chimney is original, however rather than being the more common round chimney it seems to have the appearance of an obelisk, similar to Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment, so if original, the chimney continues the Egyptian design theme of the building.

Almost at the end of Mornington Crescent now, and the final row of terrace houses before reaching the Hampstead Road. The following photo gives an indication of the changes to the outlook of the houses when the Carreras factory was built. Rather than looking out on the gardens and across to Hampstead Road, they now had the view of the rear of the large factory.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

By the time the factory was built, many of the houses were almost 100 years old, and their condition was not that good, many were subdivided into flats. Their condition would deteriorate further during the 20th century, there was some bomb damage along the terrace in the Second World War and it has only been in the last few decades that many of the houses have been restored.

In this final terrace of Mornington Crescent there is another blue plaque, to another artist, this to Walter Sickert, recorded as a painter and etcher:

Mornington Crescent

Sickert was at the core of the Camden Town Group of artists, a short lived group of artists who gathered mainly between 1911 and 1913.

The building at the southern end of Mornington Crescent, which has a Hampstead Road address is of a much more impressive design, presumably as it was at a more prominent position. Just seen on the wall behind the tree is another plaque:

Mornington Crescent

This plaque is to the artist George Cruikshank, who lived in the building from 1850 until his death in 1878.

On the opposite side of the street to the house in the above photo is a water trough for horses. I took a photo, but was not intending to include the photo in today’s post:

Drinking Trough Mornington Crescent

Until i found the following photo in the Imperial War Museum collection showing a horse and cart of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway pausing to drink at the trough, with Mornington Crescent in the background of the photo:

Horse and cart at Mornington Crescent
VAN GIRL: HORSE AND CART DELIVERIES FOR THE LONDON, MIDLAND AND SCOTTISH RAILWAY, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1943 (D 16833) After collecting another load from the depot, Lilian Carpenter (left) and Vera Perkins pause in Mornington Crescent to allow Snowball the horse to drink from a trough. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205200501

Pleased I found the photo, but rather frustrating as if I had found it before visiting I could have taken a similar view, however it does give a good impression of Mornington Crescent in 1943.

Returning to the space opposite the underground station, we can look south and get a view of the overall size of the Carreras factory, a building that occupied the site of the gardens between the crescent and Hampstead Road.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

The space just to the north of Mornington Crescent underground station is the junction of Hampstead Road and Camden High Street, along with Crowndale Road and Eversholt Street.

To the east of the underground station at the road junction is the club / music venue Koko:

KoKo Camden

Originally the Camden Theatre when built in 1900, it then had a series of owners as both a theatre and a cinema, until 1945 when it was taken over by the BBC and used as a theatre to record radio programmes, including the Goon Show, with the very last Goon Show being recorded in the theatre on the 30th April 1972.

The BBC left in 1972, and from 1977 the building has been a live music venue, firstly as the Music Machine, then the Camden Palace and now Koko.

The building has hosted very many acts in its long history, including the Rolling Stones and the Faces, with my most recent visit to the Damned in February 2018 (and whilst researching the post I found a review of the Damned concert here).

The title of this post is Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws, and it is only now that I can get to the final part of that title. In the open space opposite the underground station is a statue:

Richard Cobden statue

The statue is of Richard Cobden and was erected in 1868. Cobden did not have any direct relationship with Camden, however it was an impressive location for a statue, and it was put up due to the residents of Camden’s appreciation of Cobden’s work in the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Richard Cobden Statue

The Corn Laws were a set of laws implemented in 1815 by the Tory Prime Minister Lord Liverpool due to the difficult economic environment the country was in following the wars of the late 18th and early 19th century.

The Corn Laws imposed tariffs on imported grains and resulted in an increase in the price of grain, and products made using grain. These price increases made the Corn Laws very unpopular with the majority of the population, although large agricultural land owners were in favour as they made a higher profit from grain grown on their lands.

The Corn Laws were finally repealed by the  Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel in 1846, and they reflect a tension between free trade and tariffs on imports that can still be seen in politics today.

Richard Cobden was born on the 3rd of June, 1804 in a farmhouse in Dinford, near Midhurst in Sussex. His only time in London appears to have been after his father died, when Cobden was still young, and his was taken under the guardianship of his uncle who was a warehouseman in London.

Not long after he became a Commercial Traveler, and then started his own business which was based in Manchester, which seems to have been his base for the rest of his commercial success.

During his time in Manchester Cobden was part of the Anti-Corn Law League and was known as one of the leagues most active promoters.

The Clerkenwell News and London Times on the 1st of July 1868 recorded the unveiling of the statue:

“The Cobden memorial statue which has just been erected at the entrance to Camden Town was inaugurated on Saturday. Although this recognition of the services of the great Free Trade leader may have been looked upon in some quarters as merely local, the gathering together of some eight to ten thousand people to do honour to his memory cannot be regarded in any other light than that of a national ovation.

The committee had arranged that the statue of the late Richard Cobden at the entrance to Camden Town – with the exception, perhaps, of Trafalgar Square, one of the finest sites in London – should be unveiled on Saturday, that day being understood to be the appropriate one of the anniversary of the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the event was so popular that the surrounding neighbourhood was gaily decorated with flags for the occasion. The windows and balconies of Millbrook House, the residence of Mr. Claremont, facing the statue, had been placed at the disposal of Mrs. Cobden and her friends, including her three daughters.

A special platform had been created in front of the pedestal, covered with crimson cloth, and in the enclosure in front the band of the North Middlesex Rifles were stationed, and performed whilst the company assembled.

The report then covers at some length, all the speeches made which told the story of Cobden’s life and his actions in the repeal of the Corn Laws. There were many thousands present to witness the event, and at the end; “after the vast assembly had dispersed Mrs. Cobden, accompanied by Mr. Claremont, the churchwardens, and other friends, walked round the statue and expressed her high gratification at the fidelity of the likeness.”

The statue was the work of the sculptors W. and T. Willis of Euston Road, and is now Grade II listed.

I suspect if you turn right out of the entrance to Mornington Crescent underground station, you will be surprised to know that the space in front of you was compared to Trafalgar Square as one of the finest sites in London.

It always fascinates me how much history there is at almost any place in London, and Mornington Crescent is no exception. Whether the arrival of the underground, the architecture of the Carreras factory, race course gangs at the pub, historic streets, entertainment venues and radio shows and the statue of a free trade advocate – all within a short walk of Mornington Crescent.

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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.

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