Category Archives: London Buildings

The Minories – History and Architecture

I have been to the Minories in a previous post when I explored the lost Church of Saint Trinity, or Holy Trinity in the Minories, and when I went to find the pulpit from the church which is now at All Saints’ Church, East Meon in Hampshire.

I wanted to return to explore the street, the abbey after which the street is named, and one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in the city.

The following photo is from Aldgate High Street at the northern end of the Minories, looking down the street.

The above photo shows what looks like an ordinary London street. Lined by commercial buildings, fast food stores, and the obligatory towers rising in the distance; the Minories has a far more interesting history than the above view suggests.

The following ward map from 1755 shows the Minories running down from Whitechapel, just outside the City wall.

In the above map, the area of land between the city wall and the Minories was once part of the ditch that ran alongside part of the walls. Look across the map at the top of the Minories, and running to the top left is another reminder of the ditch, the street Houndsditch, the last part of the name can be seen.

Being outside the City walls, the area may have been the site of a Roman cemetery, and in 1853 a large Roman Sarcophagus with a lead coffin was found near Trinity Church, just to the right of the street.

In the map the street is called The Minories, however today “The” has been dropped and the street name signs now name the street just Minories (I am continuing to use “the” in the post as I suspect it helps the text to flow”.

The name derives from the sisterhood of the “Sorores Minores” of the Order of St. Clare. The sisters of the order were known as Minoresses and the book “A History of the Minories, London”, published in 1922 and written by Edward Murray Tomlinson, once Vicar of Holy Trinity Minories, provides some background as to the origins of the order:

“The Order of the Sorores Minores, to which the abbey of the Minores in London belonged, was founded by St Clara of Assisi in Italy, and claimed Palm Sunday, March 18th 1212, as the date of its origin”.

The Order’s arrival in London, and establishing an abbey outside of the City walls dates back to 1293. It appears that the first members of the Order in the Minories came from another of the Order’s establishments just outside Paris.

The land occupied by the 13th century Order can be seen in the following map, enclosed by the red lines to the right of the street (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

The land supported a Church, Refectory, Guest House, Friars Hall, and along the right hand wall, a Cemetary and Gardens.

The Order received a number of endowments, and rents on properties that had come into their possession, and by 1524 they were receiving £171 per annum.

The lists of rents received in 1524 provide an interesting view of the costs of renting in different parts of the city. The following table lists the rents received from Hosyer Lane (now Hosier Lane in West Smithfield).

The majority of documentation that survives from the Order are mainly those relating to endowments, rents received, legal and religious documents. There is very little that provides any information on day to day life in the Minories. The only time we have a view of the number of sisters who were part of the Order, is at the very end of the Order, when on November 30th 1538, the Abbey buildings and land in the Minories were surrendered to Henry VIII.

The Abbess of the Order probably realised what was happening to the religious establishments in the country, and that by surrendering to the King, the members of the Order would be able to receive a pension, and it is the pension list that provides the only view of the numbers within the Order.

In 1538 there was an Abbess (Elizabeth Salvage) who would receive a pension of £40, along with 24 sisters, ranging in age from 24 to 76, and each receiving a pension of between £1 6s 8d and £3 6s 8d.

There were six lay sisters who do not appear to have received a pension – the name of one of the lay sisters was Julyan Heron the Ideote, indicative of how even religious establishments treated people who probably had learning difficulties.

It appears that the King granted the land and buildings to the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and many of the original Abbey buildings were still standing in 1797, when a large fire destroyed many of the remaining buildings of the Abbey. The last religious building on the site was the church of Holy Trinity, which closed as a church at the end of the 19th century, but the church survived as a parish hall until the Second World War when the building suffered severe bomb damage. A wall did remain until final clearance of the area in the late 1950s.

The remaining abbey buildings of the Minories in 1796:

As well as the name of the street, Minories, a side street also recalls the order. The street in the following photo is St Clare Street, after the Order of St. Clare. It runs through the land of the old abbey, and at the end of the street was the church of Holy Trinity.

The pub on the corner of the Minories and St Clare Street is The Three Lords. The current pub building dates from around 1890, however a pub with the same name has been on the site for much longer. The earliest newspaper reference I could find to The Three Lords dates to the 11th January 1819 when the Evening Mail reported on the arrest of a man for robbery. He was formerly a respectable man with carriage and servants, one of whom in 1819 kept the Three Lords and a pot from the pub was found in the room of the alleged thief.

Walk along the Minories today, and apart from the street name, there is nothing to suggest that this was once the site of the Abbey. The street is mainly lined with buildings from the first half of the 20th century.

With a mix of different architectural styles and construction materials.

Towards the southern end of the Minories is one of the most architectually fascinating buildings in the city. This is Ibex House:

Ibex House was built between 1933 and 1937 and was designed as a “Modernistic” style office block by the architects Fuller, Hall and Foulsham.

it is Grade II listed and the Historic England listing provides the following description: “Continuous horizontal window bands, with metal glazing bars. Vertical emphasis in centre of each facade in form of curved glazing (in main block) and black faience strips”

“faience” was not a word I had heard before, and the best definition I could find seems to be as a glazed ceramic. Black faience is used for the ground floor and vertical bands, with buff faience used for the horizontal bands on the floors above ground.

The ground floor, facing onto the Minories consists of the main entrance, sandwich bar and a pub, the Peacock:

The Peacock is a good example of the way developers have integrated a business that was demolished to make way for a new building, in that new building.

A pub with the same name had been at the same location since at least the mid 18th century. It was demolished to make way for the Ibex building, and a new version was built as part of the development.

An 1823 sale advert for the Peacock provides a good view of the internal facilities of the original pub, from the Morning Advertiser on the 19th May 1823:

“That old-established Free Public House and Liquor Shop, the PEACOCK, the corner of Haydon-street, Minories, in the City of London, comprising five good sleeping rooms, club room, bar, tap, kitchen, and parlour, and good cellar, held on lease for 18 1/4 years, at the low rent of £45 per annum.”

Newspaper reports that mention the Peacock include the full range of incidents that would be found at any city pub over the last couple of hundred years – thefts, the landlord being fined for allowing drunkenness, betting, sports (boxing seems to have been popular at the Peacock, etc.) however one advert shows how pubs were used as contact points, and tells the story of one individual travelling through London in 1820. From the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 29th May 1820:

“WANTED, by a PERSON who is 30 years of age, and who has been upwards of three years in the West Indies, a SITUATION to go to any part Abroad, as CLERK in a Store or Warehouse, or in any way he may be able to make himself useful. Address (post paid) for A.B. to be left at the Peacock, in the Minories”.

It would be fascinating to know “A.B’s” story, did he get another job, and where he went to next.

On the southern corner of Ibex House is a rather splendid sandwich bar, all glass and chrome:

The main entrance to the building looks almost as if you are entering a cinema, rather than an office building:

During the first couple of decades, occupants of Ibex House illustrate the wide variety of different businesses that were based in a single London office block, including:

  • Shell Tankers Ltd – 1957
  • Johnston Brothers (agricultural contractors) – 1952
  • Associated Lead Manufacturers Ltd – 1950
  • Vermoutiers Ltd (producers of “Vamour”, sweet or dry Vermouth) – 1948
  • The Royal Alfred Aged Seamen’s Institution – 1948
  • Ashwood Timber Industries – 1947
  • The Air Ministry department which dealt with family allowances and RAF pay – 1940
  • Cookson’s – the Lead Paint People – 1939
  • Temple Publicity Services – 1938

The Associated Lead Manufacturers advertised “Uncle Toby’s Regiment of Lead” as their special lead alloy was used widely in the manufacture of toy soldiers. It would not be till 1966 that lead was banned as a material for the production of toys due to the damage that lead could cause to the health of a person.

The front of Ibex House is impressive, but we need to walk down the two side streets to see many of the impressive details of the building. Ibex House is designed in the shape of an H, with wide blocks facing to the Minories, and at the very rear of the building, with a slightly thinner block joining the two wider.

Walking along Haydon Street we can see the northern aspect of the building (Haydon Street was also the southern boundary of the Abbey of the Order of St Clare / the Minories).

The central glazed column contains small rooms on each floor level. There are few sharp corners on the building, mainly on the very upper floors, with curves being the predominant feature.

Looking back up towards the Minories:

The stepped and curved floors and railing on the upper floors give the impression of being on an ocean liner, rather than a city office block:

Curved walls feature across the building, including the corners of the ground floor which are tucked away at the end of the street:

Portsoken Street provides the southern boundary of the building:

Detail of the projecting canopy roof at the very top of the central, glazed column:

With a small room at each floor level:

The design detail includes curved windows in the glazed column that open on a central hinge:

Larger room at the top of the glazed column – a perfect location for an office with a view:

As well as the main entrance on the Minories, each side street also has an equally impressive central door into the building:

Ibex House is a very special building.

The view back up the Minories from near the southern end of the street:

The sisterhood of the “Sorores Minores” of the Order of St. Clare have left very little to tell us about life in their Abbey, and there are no physical remains of their buildings to be found, just the street names Minories and St Clare Street. Just one of the many religious establishments that were a major part of life in the city from the 12th century onwards.

So although we cannot see anything of the abbey, the Minories does give us the architectural splendor of Ibex House to admire as a brilliant example of 1930s design.

alondoninheritance.com

Winchester Palace and the Great Hall, Clink Street

Clink Street in Southwark is close to Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market, and the street is part of the busy walk along the south of the river. Converted warehouses line the river side of Clink Street, but on one part of the southern side of the street, a remarkable survivor, the Great Hall of Winchester Palace can be seen; the Southwark residence of the Bishops of Winchester.

Winchester Palace

The following map extract shows the location – the green rectangle towards the middle, top of the map is the part of the palace that can be seen alongside Clink Street (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Winchester Palace

The first evidence of a palace for the Bishops of Winchester dates back to the 12th century, with an eastern boundary wall, and some building of stone construction.

The 13th century saw the expansion of the palace estate with some major construction work. This work included a number of two storey blocks, a hall, chapel and courtyard. Work also included improvements to the wharf along the River Thames.

The 13th century also included the surfaced road that would become Clink Street, with the name Clink Street being in use by the start of the 17th century.

One of the earliest references to Winchester House (as it was also known) comes from the life of St. Thomas à Becket by William FitzStephen, who wrote that Archbishop Thomas received hospitality at the house of the Bishops of Winchester before making his final journey to Canterbury where he would meet his death.

The Bishops needed a London residence, not just for their religious duties. At the time there was not that much separation between religion and government, and the Bishops of Winchester also frequently held some of the great Offices of State.

The Palace was also frequently used for entertaining, and hosted events for the rich and powerful of the land. For example, in 1424 the wedding feast of James, King of Scotland, and Joan, daughter of the Earl of Somerset was held at the palace.

The palace appears to have been in possesion of the Bishops of Winchester through to the mid 17th century, when it was turned into a prison for Royalists during the Civil War. In 1649 it was sold for £4,380 to a Thomas Walker of Camberwell, but after the restoration of the monarchy, the palace estate was returned to the Bishops of Winchester.

It was during the 1640s that a parliamentary survey of the palace was carried out, and around 1647 the artist Wenceslaus Hollar completed a drawing of the Palace, or Winchester House, the words Palace and House are frequently used in reference to the Bishops of Winchester residence  (Prints in this post are ©Trustees of the British Museum):

Winchester Palace

Hollar’s drawing shows an extensive range of buildings alongside the river. The Great Hall is to the right, with the rest of the buildings housing accommodation blocks, storage, kitchens, a chapel and stables. There were also extensive grounds to the palace.

The text below the above print provides some detail about Winchester House: “Winchester House founded in the year 1107 by William Gifford Bishop of Winchester as a Town dwelling for himself and successors on a piece of ground rented of the Priors of Bermondsey and which was situated at a small distance from the fine convent of St Mary Overy on Bankside Southwark. It was much enlarged by Succeeding prelates particularly Bishop Gardiner, in the reign of Mary and covered with its gardens &c. three acres and a half of ground”.

The small drawing at the bottom of the print shows the Great Hall, and it is the remains of this building that we can see alongside Clink Street today.

Although the palace was restored to the Bishops of Winchester on the restoration of Charles II, it was not really used again as their London residence. They now also had a property in Chelsea, provided to them by a 1661 Act of Parliament. Perhaps the location of their palace was not as pleasant for the bishops due to the growing population, the location of industry, entertainments and markets that were not allowed in the City of London, displaced to the south side of the river, and around the bishops palace.

The buildings of the palace were now let out to a large number of tenants and sub-tenants.

The bishops cannot have been too morally fussy in previous centuries, as the local area of Southwark and Bankside had a history of prostitution long before the Bishops left their palace in the 17th century, and they had a role in the governance, and profited from the brothels or “stews” that were found in the area. These had been banned in the City of London, so their south bank location, close to London Bridge was an ideal place to relocate.

The bishops let out buildings to be used as brothels and were also responsible for managing the “Ordinances Touching the Government of the Stewholders in Southwark under the Direction of the Bishop of Winchester” set out in the 15th century.

These ordinances dictate 36 specific rules and the fines associated with breaking these rules, for example:

  • Number 6: Owners of a stew (stewholder) could not lend a sex worker more then 6s 8d (this was done to prevent a stewholder from having too much control over a sex worker)
  • Number 9: a sex worker who paid the rent of 14d must be allowed to come and go at will. The owner of the stew must not interfere
  • Number 15: a fine of 40s if a stewholder’s wife solicited at a stew

Perhaps the most serious was for any sex worker who established a relationship with their procurer or what we would now call a pimp. For this they would be fined, they would also suffer a dunking on the cucking stool, possible imprisonment, and would also be banished from the borough.

Stewholders were also banned from selling food, drink and fuel from their premises.

The Bishops of Winchester profited from the rents from the buildings occupied by the stews and from the fines generated by any transgression of the rules. They were also expected to ensure the rules were adhered to, and manage law and order in the area.

The association of the Southwark stews with the Bishops of Winchester was such that the sex-workers in the stews became known as Winchester Birds or Winchester Geese.

The Bishops of Winchester probably made a considerable sum from the rents and fines, and it would be interesting to know if as supposedly religious men, they had a moral conflict with making money from women involved in sex work.

If they did feel any moral responsibility, it did not extend to the treatment of these women after death who were buried in unhallowed burial grounds, many at the nearby Cross Bones burial ground, today on the corner of Redcross Way and Union Street.

The Southwark stews were closed in 1546 when Henry VIII banned them.

During the late 17th and 18th centuries, the land occupied by Winchester Palace was further broken up and sold. Warehouses and docks now occupied the area as trade along the river expanded, and walls that remained from some of the old palace buildings were included in the new structures that grew up along the river and Clink Street.

As was common in the 19th century, in 1814 a large fire destroyed a number of buildings in Clink Street, but whilst the fire appears to have destroyed later building, it did reveal part of the old Great Hall of Winchester Palace, and the following print from 1828 shows the remains of the Great Hall exposed after the fire, looking very much the same as they appear today.

Winchester Palace

The following photo shows again the west wall of the Great Hall and Clink Street alongside. The three openings that look to be windows were doors from the first floor of the Great Hall to the kitchens on the other side. The space below was occupied by an undercroft or cellar.

Winchester Palace

A small part of the southern wall of the Great Hall remains, up against the west wall. A ground floor door below with a first floor doorway above:

Winchester Palace

In the years after the 1814 fire, warehouse space along this part of river was in short supply, so it would not be long until a new warehouse was constructed over the site of the Great Hall, however, the approach of minimising costs by including any existing stone or brick structures into a new build continued, and the west wall and rose window of the Great Hall were included in the new warehouses.

There was some damage to warehouses in the area during the last war, however this does not appear to include the two warehouses that had been built either side of the west wall. In 1943 a Mr. Sidney Toy, of the Surrey Archaeological Society removed the brickwork on the seperating wall on the 3rd and 4th floor of the warehouses, and found the rose window, still showing blackened markings from the 1814 fire and with parts missing, and used in other parts of the structure.

There have been a number of early excavations of the palace, such as a 1962 excavation on the site where a new warehouse was planned. The major excavation of the site of Winchester Palace took place during 1983 and 1984. These excavations revealed a considerable amount of evidence of the original palace, including parts of the eastern range of the early 13th century building which were found under the current location of the Cafe Nero, on the corner of Palace House.

The following photo shows the other side of the west wall. The majority of the wall has been covered over by a glass frame that appears to be part of the new building to the right. The edge of a Pret coffee shop can be seen to the right.

Winchester Palace

In the above view we can again see the three doors that led through to the kitchens that would have occupied this space.

The following print from 1815 shows the same side of the wall as in the above photo. The print was a year after the 1814 fire.

Winchester Palace

Behind the wall we can see the tower of St Mary Overy (today Southwark Cathedral), and on the left is London Bridge. The text at the bottom of the print provides some details as to the size of the Great Hall:

  • Total length of the Hall from East to West within the Walls, 108 feet, 5 inches
  • Width of the Hall within, 30 feet 3 inches
  • Thickness of the Wall, 3 ft, 6 inches
  • Diameter of the Circular Window, 12 feet
  • Each side of the Triangular Compartments (of the window) 2 feet 8 inches

The following print is dated 1812, so before the fire of 1814.

Winchester Palace

The print shows the south view of the Palace of the Bishops of Winchester. It is not clear whether it is a view of the Great Hall, however it does show the state of the buildings just over 150 years after the Bishops of Winchester had left their palace, and the buildings had been sold and let to multiple new owners and tenants.

It is interesting to compare the above view, with the following view of the same building on the right of the above print. This print is dated 1800, so just 12 years before the above print.

Winchester Palace

Given the age of the west wall of the Great Hall, and the amount of rebuilding over the centuries, it is a remarkable survivor from the original Winchester Palace.

The following map extract is from a map of the Parish of St. Saviours Southwark by Richard Blome (late 17th century but published by John Stow in 1720). Clink Street is in the centre of the map, and the location of the Great Hall is under the word Street.

Winchester Palace

There is no mention of the palace that was once of considerable importance, so perhaps by the time of the above map, it was just another part of the buildings that lined the streets of the area. The white space in the centre of the block bordered by Clink Street and Stony Street is probably one of the old courtyards of the palace, possibly the space in front of the buildings in the above two prints from 1800 and 1812.

The palace occupied a far larger area than the remains of the Great Hall we see today. The Museum of London Archaeology Service published a richly detailed report in 2006 (Monograph 31) covering the history of the palace and focusing on the excavations of 1984 and 1985 and the finds discovered under the new and redeveloped buildings that occupy so much of this area.

The wall of the Great Hall has survived for so long because it was included in the structure of later buildings. This is how a number of other very old structures have survived in London, for example the Roman and Medieval bastions at Cripplegate and much of the Roman wall.

When we rebuild today, the approach seems to be a complete demolition of the previous building, including all the foundations and basements. It is interesting to consider how much 20th and early 21st century architecture will remain to be discovered in whatever form London takes in the future.

When the weather improves, and we can go out walking, sit outside the Pret with a tea and sandwich, in what was the kitchen of the Great Hall, and imagine the feasts that were prepared here and taken through the doors into the hall.

alondoninheritance.com

The National Theatre – Denys Lasdun’s theatre on the Southbank

In 1979 I photographed the recently opened National Theatre on the Southbank:

National Theatre

In 2020 I photographed the same building again:

National Theatre

Before getting into the history of the building, the two photos highlight an issue I have with the Southbank – trees.

The trees along the Southbank illustrate a really difficult problem with landscaping public space. When walking along the Southbank, the trees add considerably to the environment. Providing shade, colour, breaking up and adding texture to an open space, as well as their environmental benefits.

However from an architectural perspective, I am not sure they are in the right place.

The National Theatre building has always been a rather controversial design. In 1988 the Prince of Wales described the theatre as “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”, which is a rather good description.

Personally I really like the building. Close up, with the textured concrete, the external stairways and the diagonal columns that stretch out to support the lower cantilevered terrace. The building also looks good at night:

National Theatre

When the large glass windows to the lower floors, and the external stairways stand out well:

National Theatre

However it is only from a distance that the building can be really appreciated.

It was constructed on land next to the River Thames as part of the post war plan for cultural development of the Southbank, and it is from across the river that the overall design of the building can be fully seen.

Compare my two photos and standing on the north bank in 1979, we can see the complete façade of the building, the full width of the stacked terraces and the two rectangular concrete towers that rise above the building. In 2020 the trees obscure the majority of the tiered terraces.

The architect of the National Theatre building, Sir Denys Lasdun, probably designed the river facing façade expecting this view of the building to be seen from across the river, and the trees that have been planted along the Southbank obscure this view – as shown in my 2020 photo.

I am not against trees in a city environment. Far more are needed in London. They considerably improve the walking experience, they improve the environment, they cut down the wind tunnel effect produced by the clustering of tall buildings. I am just not sure that the trees along the Southbank are in the right place, in respect to the architecturally important buildings that line this part of the river.

We can see the same issue a short distance further west, where trees also obscure views of the Queen Elizabeth Hall complex to the left, and the Royal Festival Hall to the right.

National Theatre

The Royal Festival Hall also has a problem with the development around the Shell Centre tower, where the tower is the only remaining part of the original office complex. The earlier 9 storey office blocks surrounding the tower have been demolished, to be replaced by much taller blocks which dominate the view of the Royal Festival Hall from the east.

National Theatre

The National Theatre has a fascinating history.

Ideas for a National Theatre started in the mid 19th century, however first plans for a National Theatre would come fifty years later in 1903 when the actor and director Harvey Granville Barker published plans for a National Theatre.

Fund raising and campaigns continued through the first decades of the 20th century, however it would need the post war consensus that something good should come out of the war, along with the availability of space on a bomb damaged Southbank to turn almost one hundred years of ideas and campaigning into a physical building.

The 1943 County of London Plan proposed a radical development of the Southbank, with Government Offices, a Youth Centre, and in the centre, a Theatre.

National Theatre

The Festival of Britain went on to occupy the site and the Royal Festival Hall remained as the only permanent building from the festival. The Festival of Britain did not include a National Theatre.

In 1949 a National Theatre Bill committed £1M of central government funding towards the project, but the project would have to wait until 1961 when the London County Council committed to the rest of the funding for the theatre.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) appointed a panel of architectural experts to evaluate proposals for the building’s design, and after a shortened evaluation process, Denys Lasdun was appointed as the architect for the National Theatre.

Denys Lasdun’s career started in the 1930s, but was interrupted during the Second World War by a period in the Royal Engineers.

Restarting his career after the war, his early work included east London developments such as Sulkin House and Keeling House (see this detailed exploration of these two buildings on the Municipal Dreams site).

In the early 1960s his work included the Royal College of Physicians in Regent’s Park, and the University of East Anglia campus, which included rather novel pyramidal shaped student halls.

The initial plans for the National Theatre included not just the Theatre, but also an Opera House. Land was made available for these by the LCC, between County Hall and Hungerford Bridge. The land that had been occupied by the Dome of Discovery during the Festival of Britain.

Lasdun created a model of his proposed National Theatre and Opera House in the original location. I photographed a photo of the model from a magazine a number of years ago (hence the poor quality). In the model below, the National Theatre is on the right and the Opera House is on the left. The ghostly form of the Shell Centre tower hovers in the background. The site today is occupied by the Jubilee Gardens (see this post for the story of the gardens).

National Theatre

The two buildings almost mirror each other, and the designs are very similar to that of the National Theatre we see today, with terraces running along the length of the buildings and the large concrete towers above.

They almost look like two cruise ships in dock alongside the river.

Going back to my comments earlier on trees, Lasdun’s model includes trees along the river side of the buildings, so it must have been part of his original thinking, however I wonder if he considered the visual impact these would have after years of growth on the visibility of his design from across the river?

The designs for the two buildings were highly regarded, however late 1960s budgetary constraints scaled back the project to just the National Theatre, along with a location change to a site immediately to the east of Waterloo Bridge.

Construction began in 1969.

Work during the 1970s was relatively slow due to a number of strikes, shortage of workers and the 1973 oil crisis.  There were also funding problems, with the cost of the project going significantly over the initial budget. There had already been many design changes to address budgetary issues, for example, the terraces which run along the river facing side of the building were originally to have run around all sides of the buildings. Terraces on all but the river façade were dropped to save costs.

Additional funding was provided by the Arts Council and Government during the 1970s. In March 1975, Hugh Jenkins the Minister for the Arts made the following statement in Parliament in support of the National Theatre, in reply to a question “Our attitude to the arts has changed. We no longer take the view that only that which pays can and should be done. We now say that we must do it the best way it can be done. We must do it even if it is expensive because the theatre is as necessary to urban civilisation as an art gallery, a library, or a museum”.

As well as the National Theatre, the Government also had another costly project in view, the extension of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. With the planned move of the market to Nine Elms the Arts Council had already purchased the land, however Hugh Jenkins was not in a position to confirm any future plans or funding for the Royal Opera House.

Construction of the National Theatre was complicated not just with the building, but by the three theatres that were within the overall structure. These were planned to make use of the latest technological advances, which again caused delays and cost overruns.

The three theatres were:

  • The Olivier. Named after Laurence Olivier, the first artistic director of the theatre. Seating 1160 in two main stepped tiers, linked by intermediate tiers
  • The Lyttelton. Named after Oliver Lyttelton, the first chairman of the National Theatre. Seating 890 across two levels
  • The Cottesloe. Named after Lord Cottesloe, the Chaiman of the Southbank Theatre Board. Seating between 200 and 400, dependent on the layout of stage and seating. The name of this theatre has since changed to the Dorfman, after Lloyd Dorfman, who donated £10 million towards the National Theatre Future redevelopment.

Each theatre had its own machinery to move scenery and equipment across the theatre, elevators to raise up to the stage floor, lighting and lighting control systems, sound systems and stage management systems. The Olivier also had an 11.5 metre drum revolving stage as part of the theatre’s construction.

The aim was to make each theatre as flexible as possible so as to support a wide range of future productions.

Attention to detail was not limited to the technically advanced theatres. Although the concrete construction of the building could appear to be a simple and cheap construction method, in reality great care was taken with the shuttering into which the concrete was poured. The wood used was sawn Douglas Fir, with a six-inch module being used for most parts of the building. This gives the building the appearance of being constructed from the concrete equivalent of wooden planks.

The Queen officially opened the National Theatre on the 25th October 1976, and the three individual theatres gradually opened between 1976 and 1977 as they were completed.

In five years time, the National Theatre will be celebrating 50 years since being opened by the Queen. The theatre has been redeveloped and upgraded during the past decades and still continues to serve the purpose first proposed in the mid 19th century.

Sir Denys Lasdun was knighted in 1976. He would continue with his architectural practice, with projects including the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg. He died in 2001.

I will leave the last word on the National Theatre to the architect Denys Lasdun who, when the theatre opened in 1976, said “Nothing takes priority over the atmosphere and the dramatic space created by the building. Although we’ve opened the theatre, it’s not the end but the beginning of something, from my point of view. The nature and the quality of something won’t be known for a couple of years; it depends on the directors and what they create within the new space”.

The building does indeed create an atmospheric and dramatic space.

Before closing the post, going back to the original 1979 photo, there is a mystery structure which I just cannot remember anything about. To the left of the National Theatre, on space which is now occupied by the IBM building, there is a strange, apparently circular structure which appears to spiral into or out of the ground.

I have enlarged this feature in the photo below:

National Theatre

Any suggestions would be most welcome.

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Pickfords Wharf and the original Seven Dials Pillar

Pickfords Wharf and the original Seven Dials Pillar. A strange title for this week’s post about two subjects. The only relationship they have is one with London. The original Seven Dials pillar is a follow-up to my post on Seven Dials a couple of week’s ago, and Pickfords Wharf is the subject of the following photo that I took from London Bridge in 1979.

Pickfords Wharf

The same view of Pickfords Wharf from London Bridge, forty one years later, in 2020:

Pickfords Wharf

Much of the south bank of the river between London Bridge and Southwark Bridge is unrecognisable compared to the late 1970s. Some of the outer walls of some buildings have survived, but as can be seen with Pickfords Wharf, where they have, they have been subject to very substantial rebuild.

In my 1979 photo, there are two named buildings on the site. Pickfords Wharf and Cole & Carey.

Pickfords Wharf was originally Phoenix Wharf and comprised four warehouses that had been built and modified at different times over the life of the complex. The original riverside warehouse was built in 1864, however, as can be seen in the 1978 photo, the front of the building does have very different architectural styles, with the section to the right almost looking like an early example of facadism, where the ornate columns and facade have been retained on a modified building behind.

Some of the warehouses of Pickfords Wharf were on the other side of Clink Street to the rear of the building seen in the photo, and included parts of the walls of the original Winchester Palace.

Originally built by wharfingers (an owner or operator of a wharf) Fitch & Cozens, with the wharf being named Phoenix Wharf. The Pickfords name came in 1897 when Pickfords & Co purchased the site and renamed the wharf.

Although the wharf still carries the Pickfords name today, the company only owned the building for twenty four years as Hay’s Wharf Ltd. took over the site in 1921.

Pickfords Wharf was used for the storage of a wide variety of different products over the years. The 1954 edition of the Commercial Motor publication “London Wharves and Docks” has the following details for Pickfords Wharf:

  • Cargo dealt with: General canned goods, sugar
  • Cargo specially catered for: General
  • Maximum cranage: 60 cwt
  • Storage space: 400,000 cubic feet
  • Customs facilities: Sufferance and Warehousing privileges
  • Parking facilities: Yes
  • Nature of berth: Quay
  • Maximum length of ship accommodated: 150 feet
  • Depth at High Water: 17 feet

The building to the left of Pickfords Wharf with the Cole & Carey sign was St. Mary Overy’s Wharf. Originally built in 1882 for a George Doo, for use as a granary.

He would only use the building for eight years as in 1890, Cole & Carey, listed as general wharfingers would take over the building. It was purchased by the company behind Hay’s Wharf in 1948 to add to their adjacent Pickfords Wharf building.

Cole & Carey were still operating at the wharf when the 1954 edition of the Commercial Motor guide was published and the details for the wharf are recorded as:

  • Cargo dealt with: General canned goods, dried fruit
  • Cargo specially catered for: Canned goods
  • Maximum cranage: 25 cwt
  • Storage space: 380,000 cubic feet
  • Customs facilities: Sufferance and Warehousing privileges
  • Parking facilities: Yes
  • Nature of berth: Quay
  • Maximum length of ship accommodated: 60 feet
  • Depth at High Water: 17 feet

Cole & Carey had the benefit that their warehouse was alongside the river and also had a small inlet, St Mary Overy’s Dock alongside.

Both warehouses ceased to be used from the late 1960s, and they were left to slowly decay. There was a fire at the Cole & Carey building in 1979, not long before I took the photo, and the exposed metal frames of the roof, a result of the fire, can be seen.

The Cole & Carey building (St Mary Overy’s Wharf), and the core of Pickfords Wharf were demolished towards the end of 1983. Pickfords Wharf was substantially rebuilt to leave the building we see today, St Mary Overy’s Wharf was not rebuilt.

A wider view of the south bank of the river, east of Southwark Bridge, with Pickfords Wharf in the centre:

Pickfords Wharf

One of the 1950s editions of the Ordnance Survey map shows Pickfords Wharf with St Mary Overy’s Wharf alongside, with St Mary Overy’s Dock. Note the walkways constructed over Clink Street to the warehouses on the southern side of Clink Street which were part of the same warehouse complex (maps ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Pickfords Wharf

The 1894 edition of the Ordnance Survey Map shows the building with its original name of Phoenix Wharf. St Mary Overy’s Wharf is labelled as a Warehouse and is alongside, but is yet to be extended out, and to be integrated with the jetty running along the river facing side of both buildings.

Pickfords Wharf

In 1894, the inlet alongside the warehouse appears to have been named St Saviour’s Dock. I need to research further, however perhaps the name was changed to avoid confusion with the St Saviour’s Dock to the east of Tower Bridge in Bermondsey.

The inlet that was St Mary Overy’s Dock is still there, but is now semi-closed off from the river and the space is used as a dock for the Golden Hinde, the early 1970s replica of the ship that Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the world between 1577 and 1580.

The masts of the ship can just be seen in the following photo:

Pickfords Wharf

The replica Golden Hinde had a remarkable couple of decades sailing, including a circumnavigation of the world and a number of crossings of the Atlantic.

The following photo is of the bow of the Golden Hind, the eastern side of Pickfords Wharf, and some of the new buildings, built to resemble warehouses.

Pickfords Wharf

This is a fascinating area that needs a more detailed post. Winchester Palace could be found here, and the short distance between London and Southwark Bridges form a key part of Southwark’s history.

That will be for a future post, as for today’s post I also wanted to follow-up on my post of a couple of week’s ago on Seven Dials, as I went to find the:

Original Seven Dials Pillar

A couple of week’s ago I wrote about Seven Dials, and the pillar that now stands at the junction of the seven streets. The current pillar is a recent replica, as the original had been removed around 1773 as it had become the focal point for so called undesirables and the Paving Commissioners ordered the removal of the pillar to prevent this nuisance.

The remains of the demolished pillar were stored at the home of the architect James Paine, at Sayes Court, Addlestone.

In 1822, the demolished pillar was re-erected at Weybridge, Surrey, and last week I was in the area so a short diversion took me to the place where the original, 1694, Seven Dials pillar can still be seen today:

Pickfords Wharf

The pillar stands appropriately on Monument Green, alongside the street that leads to Thames Street, which leads down to as you have probably guessed, the River Thames.

Pickfords Wharf

An information panel provides some history of the original location of the pillar (note the map of Seven Dials), and the reason for its relocation to a green in Weybridge, which was to commemorate local resident “Her Royal Highness The Most Excellent and Illustrious Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina Duchess of York” who lived in the parish for upwards of thirty years, and died on the 6th of August 1820.

Pickfords Wharf

Panels added to the base of the pillar also explain why the pillar was erected in Weybridge:

Pickfords Wharf

The Duchess of York came to be living in Weybridge as her marriage to Prince Frederick, Duke of York was not a long term success and there were no children which as is often the case with royal marriages, having children appears to have been the main reason for the marriage. They separated towards the end of the 1790s, and the Duchess moved to Oatlands in Weybridge, a house owned by the Duke of York.

Pickfords Wharf

Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina, Duchess of York and Albany  by A. Gabrielli, after Edward Francis Cunningham (Calze) stipple engraving, published 1792 NPG D8581 © National Portrait Gallery, London

One of the panels at the base of the pillar implies that she must have been charitable to the poor of the parish as “Ye poor suppress the mournful sigh, her spirit is with Christ on high”.

Pickfords Wharf

When plans were being developed for the renovation of Seven Dials in the 1980s, which included the return of a pillar at the junction of the seven streets, attempts were made to move the original pillar back from Weybridge, however the local council were against the move and refused to allow the pillar to leave.

Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina Duchess Of York, a Prussian Princess who married a British Prince, is buried in St James Church, Weybridge, and still commemorated 200 years after her death by a pillar that was originally erected in the late 17th century development of Seven Dials by Thomas Neale.

Pickfords Wharf and the original Seven Dials pillar – two very different subjects for today’s post, but share some similarities in that they have both survived an amount of demolition, and they are now serving very different purposes to those which were intended at the time of their creation.

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St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell – A Brief Introduction

Walk the side streets of Clerkenwell between Smithfield and Clerkenwell Road, and you will come across a rather ornate gate, standing over a narrow walkway between St John’s Lane and St John’s Square. This is St John’s Gate:

St John's Gate

The reason for the Gate’s existence in Clerkenwell goes back to the founding of a hospital in Jerusalem around the year 1080.

Jerusalem has long been a pilgrimage destination, and in the 11th century a number of Benedictine monks founded the Order of St John and established a hospital to care for the sick of all faiths, and for pilgrims after the long and arduous journey. The work of the Order within a hospital led to them being called Hospitallers. Threats from Muslim forces to retake Jerusalem resulted in the Hospitallers taking on a military role, along with the continuing provision of a hospital and care for the sick.

The Hospitallers expanded across Europe, and their presence in England starts in the early decades of the 12th century with some small grants of land, leading to the foundation of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1144 when 10 acres of land was granted to Jordan de Bricet in Clerkenwell.

From the construction of a church between 1144 and 1160, the Priory grew to become powerful and wealthy. The ten acres of land was divided into an Inner and Outer Precinct with important buildings such as the Priory Church, the Prior’s Hall and the Great Hall within the Inner Precinct. The Outer Precinct included the houses of the knights of the Order, tenements for servants and workers, gardens along with the buildings needed to maintain an almost self sufficient operation.

The priory flourished until the 16th century, when Henry VIII’s efforts to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn led to the king declaring himself as the Supreme Head of the Church of England, followed by the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when the Crown took control of the buildings, lands and income of religious establishments across the country.

The Clerkenwell priory was taken by the Crown, some officials of the priory were allowed to retain their houses, others were sold or granted to favourites of the king, and the buildings and land of the priory began the process of being broken-up, sold, demolished and rebuilt, that has resulted in this area of Clerkenwell that we see today.

The outline of the priory site can still be seen in the pattern of streets bordering the area.

St John’s Street formed the eastern boundary, Turnmill Street the western boundary, with Cowcross Street in the south and Aylesbury Street / Clerkenwell Green forming the north boundary. I have marked these on the map extract below, including the division of the inner and outer precincts  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

St John's Gate

St John’s Lane formed the main approach to the inner precinct from the south, and the blue rectangle in the wall of the inner precinct is St John’s Gate.

There may have been some form of a gate at the southern entrance to St John’s Lane (shown by the lower blue rectangle). Research and excavations by the Museum of London Archaeology Service found mentions of tenements and possible evidence of a timber gatehouse (MoLAS Monograph 20 – Excavations at the priory of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem).

The River Fleet, roughly along the alignment of Farringdon Road was at the western boundary of the site, and St John’s Street which ran up to Islington and was one of the main northern routes out of the City of London formed the eastern boundary.

At the time of the founding of the priory, the area was still mainly countryside, marshy land, springs and streams. The priory almost certainly had its own water supply, with a small tributary of the River Fleet, the Little Torrent rising at the south west corner of the Inner Precinct and flowing through the Outer Precinct to the Fleet.

The original boundaries of the Priory stand out more in William Morgan’s 1682 Map of London which show the area before Clerkenwell Road cut through:

St John's Gate

St John’s Gate can be seen at the end of St John’s Lane, with the Inner Precinct of St John’s Priory above. This is the area that now forms St John’s Square. Just above the number 12 on the map, to the left of St John’s Lane can be seen one of the large houses and gardens that once lined the street leading up to the gate.

I wrote about Albion Place a few weeks ago. This street runs from St John’s Lane through what was the Outer Precinct.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries marked the end of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (apart from a very brief resurrection during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I between 1553 and 1558). The original Order continues to this day, headquartered in Rome.

From the 12th century, the original Order had been shifting through southern Europe as military success and loss forced a change. After the loss of Jerusalem, they moved to Acre, then through Cyprus, Rhodes, Malta and finally Rome.

The last prior of the Order in Clerkenwell was William Weston. He appears to have been in favour with Henry VIII for cooperating with the handover of the Clerkenwell priory and was awarded a significant pension of £1,000 a year, however apparently he died on the day that the priory was taken by the Crown.

Over the following centuries, the Gate was used for a number of different purposes.

After the dissolution, the Inner Precinct appears to have been occupied by the Crown’s Office of Tents and Revels, with the rooms of the Gate being occupied by Crown officers.

The building began an association with the printing trade in the 1670s when a printing press was established in the Gate. Matthew Poole wrote a significant commentary on the bible whilst living in the Gate in the late 1660s and 1670s.

Richard Hogarth, the father the artist, opened Hogarth’s Coffee House in the Gate at the start of the 18th century. His unique selling point for the coffee house was that it was a place for gentlemen to meet and converse in Latin. It continued as a coffee house through the 1720s, but under different ownership and later became part of a tavern – the Jerusalem Tavern.

By 1730, one Edward Cave was living at St John’s Gate and it was from here that he established the Gentleman’s Magazine.

The Gentleman’s Magazine used an image of the Gate on its title page, and Edward Cave went so far as to use the image of the gate on the side of his coach, rather than a coat of arms:

St John's Gate

Photograph by MichaelMaggs; original author “SYLVANUS URBAN, Gent”., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr Johnson had a small room in the Gate during the publication of the magazine to which he was a contributor whilst also working on one of the best known early editions of the English Dictionary.

Cave died in 1754 and the Gentleman’s Magazine ended publication from St John’s Gate in 1781.

Throughout the rest of the 18th and first half of the 19th century, the Gate went through a number of different uses including being used for storage and providing space for a parish watch house.

By the 1840s, St John’s Gate was in a serious state of repair, and was considered a dangerous structure, and the new Metropolitan Buildings Act enabled an order to be served on the owners of the gate that it had to be either repaired or demolished.

An appeal was made for funds to restore the Gate, but this met with limited success. The City Press of March 16th 1861 reported that: “In 1851 the gate was threatened with total ruin. Repairs were essential to keep it standing. Mr W. Petit-Griffith proposed a subscription for its restoration. This unfortunately he failed to effect; yet with the aid of a few lovers of antiquity, he was able to strengthen the defective portion of the structure, and avert the ruin which seemed inevitable”.

During the mid 19th century, the history of the Gate seems to have attracted a number of societies who would use the large room directly above the arch. The St John’s Gate Debating Society met regularly at the Gate, although in newspaper reports of their meetings there seems to have been more “toasting” than debating. The Gate was also used by the imaginatively named “Friday Knights” as a meeting place – it does seem to have attracted a number of Victorian societies attempting to recreate a link with the medieval foundations of the Order.

The main change to the recent history of St John’s Gate was during the later part of the 19th century when it became the home for a modern version of the Order of St John.

The Victorian workplace was a highly dangerous place and accidents were common, with limited protection for workers and only extremely basic healthcare.

William Montagu, the 7th Duke of Manchester, Sir John Furley and Sir Edmund Lechmere identified a need for an organisation that would provide medical support for workers. They formed the modern Order of St John, and it was granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria to become a Royal Order of Chivalry.

Edmund Lechmere purchased St John’s Gate to be used as the headquarters of the new order, and an extensive series of renovations were carried out.

In 1877, the Order formed the St John Ambulance Organisation, who provided training and first aid equipment. This led to the founding of the St John Ambulance Brigade as a volunteer organisation, trained and equipped to provide medical support.

As well as restoring the main gate, the late 19th century restorations included the construction of a new building, in a similar style and joined to the gate, along the eastern edge of St John’s Lane.

In the following photo, the Gate is to the left, and the new extension to the Gate is visible, with a large door at ground level, sized to take ambulances of the St John Ambulance Brigade.

St John's Gate

Returning to the Gate, and there are a number of shields above the arch:

St John's Gate

These are, from left to right:

  • the arms of Henry VII who was the King at the time the Gate was built
  • the arms of Edward VII, the 1st Grand Prior of the modern order
  • the arms of Queen Victoria, the 1st sovereign head of the modern order
  • the arms of Prince Albert, Duke of Clarence, Edward’s son
  • the arms of Thomas Docwra who was responsible for the rebuild / construction of the Gate in 1504

Walking through the arch in the Gate, and there is a plaque on the wall which gives some additional detail on the history of St John’s Gate:

St John's Gate

The plaque refers to the original gatehouse being burnt down by Wat Tyler during the Peasants Revolt. There is now some doubt as to whether there was much destruction at the Priory during the Peasants Revolt, however the Prior at the time did come to a sticky end.

The Prior was Sir Robert Hale (also written as Hales), known as Hob the Robber for his collection of the Poll Tax through his role as Lord High Treasurer. The unfairness of the Poll Tax, where the tax was the same for any individual regardless of their ability to pay, provoked the Peasants Revolt in 1381.

Looking for Hale, the rebels camped on nearby Clerkenwell Green and possibly ransacked part of the priory. Hale had taken refuge in the Tower of London along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury. They were found in the tower by the rebels, carried out to Tower Hill and beheaded.

Walking through the arch, up to Clerkenwell Road and we can view St John’s Gate from the north:

St John's Gate

The Gate would have once presented a more imposing appearance with a taller archway.

Over the centuries, the road has been heightened by around three feet. Evidence for this can be seen in two doors on either side of the northern side of the gate (in the side towers so not visible in the above photo).

The doorway on the eastern side appears to be much smaller or part buried in the ground:

St John's Gate

The doorway on the opposite side is full height:

St John's Gate

The full height doorway was rebuilt in 1866 with the door on the opposite side left in its half buried position.

Photos and prints of St John’s Gate show how the Gate and surroundings, have changed over the years. The following photo is from the late 19th century publication “The Queen’s London” and shows the southern face of the Gate from St John’s Lane.

St John's Gate

Another photo of the Gate, dated 1885, and looking through towards Clerkenwell Road.

St John's Gate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p5369514

Underneath the name sign W.C. Gay are the words Wines and Spirits, indicating the type of business that occupied the Gate during the 19th century.

The south face of the Gate in 1829 (©Trustees of the British Museum):

St John's Gate

All these photos and prints show the archway through the Gate being open for traffic. Today, bollards prevent any traffic passing through, with the route being for pedestrians only. The gate was closed for traffic due to the narrow width and low height of the arch sides, as well as the potential for damage to the Gate from the vibrations caused by traffic passing through.

The following drawing dates from 1720, and again shows the south side of the Gate, facing St John’s Lane (©Trustees of the British Museum):

St John's Gate

The 1504 rebuild of the Gate by Thomas Docwra had included crenellations, or battlements along the top of the gate, however as shown in the drawing above, by 1720 these had been removed and a more traditional sloping roof had been installed, presumably to provide the room at the top of the Gate with additional height and roof space.

The sign above the arch reads “Old Jerusalem Tavern – R. Comberbatch”, from the days when a tavern occupied the Gate.

The following print is one of the earliest views of St John’s Gate. After Wenceslaus Hollar, the print is from the mid 17th century, and shows how impressive the Gate must have been before the construction of the buildings of St John’s Lane and Square which would later crowd around the gate.

St John's Gate

Credit: Gate of the Hospital of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Clerkenwell, London, surrounded by thatched domestic buildings. Engraving after W. Hollar. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The following print, also after Hollar and from the mid 17th century, show some of the surviving buildings of the Priory:St John's Gate

Credit: Hospital of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Clerkenwell, London. Engraving after W. Hollar. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The views are looking from the south east of the Gate and as well as the gate, show the (top right) remains of the western front of the chapel of the House of Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, and (lower illustration), the main House of Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem.

The print gives a very good impression of how impressive the buildings of the Priory must have been.

As mentioned earlier in the post, one of the activities that took place within the Gate was a coffee house, with Richard Hogarth being the first proprietor of such an establishment, and the following print shows a coffee-room in St John’s Gate:

St John's Gate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PZ_FI_01_091

Although an early 16th century reconstruction, St John’s Gate is still a tangible link with the medieval priory that once occupied 10 acres of land in Clerkenwell. We can still follow the boundaries of the Priory in the streets of Clerkenwell and see where the inner and Outer Precincts were located.

St John’s Square is home to the Priory Church of the Order. A post war rebuild following wartime destruction of the earlier church, however below the church is a crypt with some evidence going back to the 12th century.

St John’s Gate is still home to the modern Order of St John, and the St John Ambulance Brigade which continue their work to this day, and, and during the current pandemic, the organisation has taken on its biggest mobilisation during peacetime.

There is a museum in St John’s Gate and tours are given of the building. Although closed at the moment, St John’s Gate is well worth a visit to discover an intriguing part of London’s history.

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Seven Dials and Monmouth Street

The following photo shows a brick terrace house, advertising a saddler and harness maker, but in a rather poor condition. We are in Monmouth Street in Seven Dials and the photo was taken by my father in 1984.

Seven Dials

Thirty six years later and the building is in a far better condition, with the advertising signage restored.

Seven Dials

I was going to try and be clever and title the post “Seven things about Seven Dials”, but as I dug into the history of the area there are far more than just seven things of interest.

The sign is advertising the business of B. Flegg, a Saddler and Harness Maker, established in 1847.

B. Flegg was a William Flegg and the building in Monmouth Street was not his only premises. I suspect this may have been his central London sales room, where he would sell everything needed for the thousands of horses that kept London moving in the 19th century.

William Flegg’s main location seems to have been on the Old Kent Road in south London where he occupied numbers 585, 586 and 592. Adverts in the South London Chronicle stated that he had “Stable utensils of every description. Whips and all kinds of horse clothing always on hand. A waggonette to let, to hold four or six persons”.

It could be that saddler and harness maker was a family trade and that the family were from south London. As well as William Flegg there was an H. Flegg, also a saddler and harness maker, who had premises at 7 Deptford Bridge, but had to move to 2 Church Street, Deptford in 1880 due to rebuilding of the bridge over the Deptford Creek.

Flegg is not that common a name so I suspect that H. and William Flegg were related.

The final references to the name Flegg as a saddler are in 1905, when a George Flegg, aged 40 and a saddler of 654 Woolwich Road, Charlton was found drunk in Woolwich Road and fined two shilling and six pence, or three days if he did not pay the fine.

Monmouth Street is the street leading off to the south from the central Seven Dials junction, just to the east of Charing Cross Road and south of Shaftesbury Avenue. The seven streets radiating out from the central junction form a distinctive pattern on the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Seven Dials

The layout of the streets around Seven Dials has not changed for a very long time. The 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the same distinctive layout (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’):

Seven Dials

Going back to a 1755 map of the Parish of St Giles’s in the Fields, and the same distinctive layout is in the lower left corner:

Seven Dials

Detail of Seven Dials from the above map:

Seven Dials

Comparison of the maps tells us a number of things about Seven Dials. Firstly the streets radiating out from the central junction have changed names over the years:

Seven Dials

In 1755 the street name stayed the same as the street crossed the central junction, however by 1895 the names had been changed slightly to give each branch a distinctive name, so St. Andrew’s Street became Little and Great St. Andrew Street.

By 2020, the 1755 approach of extending the same street name across the junction had been put back in place, and a new set of names given.

When William Flegg was in Monmouth Street, he would have known the street as Little St. Andrew Street.

The maps also tell us something about the pillar in the centre of the junction. The 1755 map shows the pillar, however by 1895 the pillar had gone, and there was a Urinal in the junction. By 2020 the pillar was back in place.

I will come on to this later, however for now, lets take a walk along the southern section of Monmouth Street.

The terrace of houses with William Flegg’s premises in the centre:

Seven Dials

Looking up Monmouth Street from the southern end of the street:

Seven Dials

Buildings along the western side of Monmouth Street:

Seven Dials

The rather magnificent Two Brewers pub, Monmouth Street:

Seven Dials

The streets around Seven Dials are now full of clothing and jewelry shops, restaurants and cafes. Mainly small, one off shops rather than the large chain shops that can be found across much of London.

We can also walk through the street in 1895 and look at the businesses that occupied the houses by using the 1895 Post Office Directory.

Seven Dials

We can see William Flegg occupying numbers 16, 17 and 18, so not just the single house with the sign on the wall. The numbers are different to today’s numbering as this was when this branch of Monmouth Street was Little St. Andrew Street.

The directory has a few abbreviations of which I have not yet found the meaning such as the “size ma” for George Oliver at number 11 and “rms” for John Thomas Blake at number 20.

This was a street of small manufacturers and traders, trading in everything from bread and meat to birds and fishing rods.

At the top of the southern branch of Monmouth Street is the Seven Dials junction, where the seven streets come together:

Seven Dials

The streets running around the central Seven Dials junction were built during the later part of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Thomas Neale obtained the lease for the land in 1693. Prior to this, the area was already built-up, but with Cock and Pye Fields occupying the space where part of Earlham and Monmouth Streets now run.

In the following extract from William Morgan’s 1682 map of the city of London, I have marked the location of the central Seven Dials junction with a red circle.

Seven Dials

There is only a single street that remains to this day. White Lion Street can be seen running through the red circle. This would stay White Lion Street when the central junction and seven streets where completed. Today White Lion Street is Mercer Street.

Note also that the street that would become Shaftesbury Avenue was Monmoth Street in 1682.

The central feature of the junction of the seven streets in Thomas Neale ‘s plans was a pillar.

The British Museum has a copy of the original drawing of the pillar designed by Edward Pierce (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Seven Dials

The text at the bottom of the drawing states “A Stone Pillar with Sun Dyals to which are directed 7 streets in St Giles’s Parish commonly called the Seven Dyals, formerly a Laystall”.

The word Laystall can refer to a place where rubbish or dung is deposited. It can also refer to a place where cattle are kept. This might be related to the location of the sun dial being at the entrance to Cock and Pye Fields in the 1682 Morgan map.

The 1895 Ordnanace Survey map shows the central junction without the pillar. It had been removed over 100 years earlier as it had become the focal point for so called undesirables and in 1773 the Paving Commissioners ordered the removal to prevent this nuisance.

The pillar eventually turned up in Weybridge, where the pillar, without sun dials, can be seen today at the junction of Monument Hill and Monument Green.

By the 1980s, the majority of Seven Dials was derelict, and there were plans for the demolition of the majority of buildings in the area. Restoration plans were proposed by the Seven Dials Monument Charity and fortunately this approach was supported, otherwise we would see a very different Seven Dials today.

There were efforts to bring the original pillar back from Weybridge, however the local council refused.

Architect A.D.Mason designed a new pillar based on the original design by Edward Pierce, which included making measurements of the original pillar in Weybridge. The new pillar and sun dials were unveiled on the 29th of June, 1989.

The new pillar would become the focal point for the restoration work of the streets surrounding the pillar, and the work has been a considerable success with the area packed with people in more normal times.

Looking down the southern branch of Monmouth Street from the central junction:

Seven Dials

The Crown pub facing the central junction, between the northern branch of Monmouth Street and Short’s Gardens.

Seven Dials

A plaque on the pub shows how the solar time shown by the pillar can be converted to Greenwich Mean Time:

Seven Dials

The new central pillar:

Seven Dials

The Cambridge Theatre (opened on the 4th September 1930), between Earlham and Mercer Streets:

Seven Dials

The Crown pub, then Short’s Gardens, then Earlham Street:

Seven Dials

During the first decades of the 1700s, the new area of Seven Dials quickly become a reference point for news reports and a sample of reports between the years 1723 and 1749 tells us much about life in these brand new streets:

21st March 1723: There is just finished by Mr John Noble, living near Seven Dials, an Organ, which by using bellows only, without the help of an Organist, sounds several Tunes to Perfection.

6th February 1725: One Murphy, a Centinel in the 2nd Regiment of Guards, was on Saturday last seized near the Seven Dials, on Suspicion of being concerned in the robbing of the Chester Mail. One of the Chester Bags (out of which letters were stolen) having been found near a hedge, was brought to the General Post-Office yesterday morning.

1st November 1729: Late last night one Welch, who buys and sells old Cloths, was set upon by two Street-Robbers at the Corner of St Andrew’s-Street, near the Seven Dials, who took from him in Cloths and Money to the value of seven pounds and upwards.

There was a pillory at the Seven Dials in the early decades of the 18th century, and the risks of being sentenced to the Pillory can be seen from the following newspaper report:

22nd June 1732: Last night, the Coroner’s Inquest upon the body of John Waller, who stood in the Pillory at the Seven Dials in the Parish of St. Giles’s in the Fields last Tuesday, and brought in the Verdict wilful murder with unlawful weapons.

Later in 1732, the person who had killed John Waller was included in a list of those sentenced to death, but the report does not provide any background as to why he was murdered:

14th September 1732: Richard Griffith, for being concerned in the Death of Waller who was killed in the Pillory at Seven Dials.

24th November 1733: Last Saturday Mr Rambert, a Coal Merchant in Tower Street, near the Seven Dials, received an Incendiary Letter threatening to set his House on Fire, and kill him, if he did not leave twelve Guinieas in a certain place mentioned in the letter, which was written in French. That night Mr Rambert left twelve Half-pence in the Place, and at about One in the morning, some Neighbours who watched to see the consequence, observed four fellows pass by, when one of them took up the half pence and walked off with the imaginary prize. We hear nothing however of their being pursued.

Strangely, 16 years later, there is a report of someone being arrested for writing incendiary letters:

24th November 1749: On Saturday night, one Franks, a shoemaker, was taken at a house near Seven Dials, on the Oaths of his Accomplices, for writing Incendiary Letters to several persons, in order to extort Money thereby.

People living in the streets leading off from the Seven Dials pillar could be very wealthy:

15th October 1741: On Saturday last died at his House in Earl-street, near the Seven Dials, Mr. Philips, a Distiller, said to have died worth 30,000 pounds, and on Thursday Morning his Corpse was carried out of Town, in order to be interred near his deceased relations, about three miles from Nottingham.

29th November 1744: The same day, Hannah Moses, otherwise Samuel, the Widow of one of the three Jews who were hanged about three sessions ago, was committed by the same Gentleman to New-prison, and her accomplice, Benjamin David Woolf, to Newgate, for stealing out of the shop of Mr John Barber, a Silversmith, at the Seven Dials, an Ingot of Silver.

19th May 1749: A few days since a Sailor went into a Chandler’s Shop in Earl-street, near the Seven Dials, to ask for a Lodging; but the man telling him there was none to let, he asked for a Halfpenny-worth of Tobacco, which as the Shop-keeper was serving, he drew his Hanger, cut him down behind the Counter, and made off; and yesterday the unfortunate man died of the wounds he received.

25th August 1749: Two Sawyers belonging to Mr Neale’s Yard in King’s-Street, Seven Dials, quarreled and fought, and one of them, by a fall, fractured his skull and died immediately, and the other being carried before a Magistrate, was by him committed o New-prison, Clerkenwell.

By the late 19th century, many of the streets around Seven Dials were crowded, with many poor occupants. Gustave Dore drew the entrance to Monmouth Street from Seven Dials. People crowd the street, shops and basements with shoes for sale line the side of the street and children play in street, blocking the path of a carriage (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Seven Dials

George Cruikshank had earlier produced a drawing around 1836 as an illustration to Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz. The drawing shows two women being urged to fight in front of a gin palace in Seven Dials (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Seven Dials

Despite the impression created by Gustave Dore, Charles Booth’s poverty map of London, between 1898 and 1899 shows most of the streets around Seven Dials as “Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings”, although the dark blue along Queen Street is classed as “Very poor, casual. Chronic want”.

Seven Dials

The following photo from the 1897 publication “The Queen’s London” shows a street leading up to the Seven Dials junction. The photo gives a different impression of the area to that of Gustave Dore’s drawing.

Seven Dials

By the 1970s, the area was very much in decline. The streets were all open to traffic, there was no central pillar and cars would pass across the central junction between streets. Some of the space in the streets was used for purposes that seem very strange when looking at the area today.

In 1974, a Texaco petrol station occupied the space between Earlham and Monmouth Streets. This is the space to the right of my earlier photo looking down the southern branch of Monmouth Street from the central junction,

Seven Dials

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_152_74_21025

There is much to discover in the streets that lead off from the central junction of Seven Dials. I have only covered the southern branch of Monmouth Street and a general history of area. It would take a very much longer post to cover the whole area.

There are a couple of houses in the southern section of Mercer Street that I want to show. They are a pair of late 17th century terrace houses that date from the original construction of Seven Dials. This is number 27 Mercer Street:

Seven Dials

And number 25. Both are Grade II listed.

Seven Dials

The view looking up Mercer Street towards the pillar from the junction with Shelton Street:

Seven Dials

During the summer and autumn period, many of the streets have been closed, providing more space for pedestrians and the cafes in the area.

Seven Dials is usually very busy. Tourists, visitors to London, those visiting the theatres and restaurants of the West End add to those who live and work in the area.

in the run-up to Christmas, the streets around Seven Dials are crowded, and a couple of years ago I photographed a Saturday evening around Seven Dials. Here are three examples.

Looking up Monmouth Street towards the central junction:

Seven Dials

Around the central pillar:

Seven Dials

Crowds and the Cambridge Theatre:

Seven Dials

Many of the buildings of Seven Dials have been redeveloped, and the original pillar is now to be found in Weybridge, but the general layout is still the same, and some of the original buildings survive.

I suspect that Thomas Neale would be rather pleased that his Seven Dials development is still here 300 years later.

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Millbank Estate and Millbank Penitentiary

I have a postcard with a photo dated 1906 of the recently completed London County Council, Millbank Estate. The view shows some of the new blocks of flats, wide streets, newly planted trees, and children – probably residents of the new estate.

Millbank Estate

The same view in September 2020:

Millbank Estate

The trees have grown and now obscure the view of the blocks of flats. The wide streets now have parked cars, and the children in the view went on to see and hopefully survive, two world wars.

Remove the cars, see through the trees and the two views are much the same.

Both photos were taken at the south western end of the estate, looking north east. The street in front of the camera is Cureton Street and Erasmus Street is on the left and Herrick Street on the right.

The Millbank Estate is a large estate, built at the start of the 20th century, to provide flats for the working class. The estate was designed to accommodate upwards of 4,430 people in a number of separate blocks.

A map of the estate is displayed on a number of panels across the estate:

Millbank Estate

The Millbank Estate is adjacent to the Tate Britain gallery which was opened a couple of years before work started on the Millbank Estate, and the artistic theme of the Tate was extended to the new housing estate as each of the blocks was named after an artist. The full list of names is shown on the lower right of the above panel.

The Millbank Estate was built between 1897 and 1902 by the London County Council and was one of their most significant estates in terms of size and design. It was designed within the LCC’s Architects Department under Owen Fleming and was influenced by the arts and crafts style of design.

The estate is stunning on a sunny day, when the colour of the brick brings a richness to the buildings. The trees – which I assume from their size were planted at the time of the estate’s construction – break up the sunlight and leave patterns on the walls of the blocks.

The trees are regularly pollarded, when their branches are cut back significantly leaving stumps pointing at the sky, but they always grow back and enhance the view.

The view along St Oswulf Street with Hogarth House at the end of the street:

Millbank Estate

The area occupied by the Millbank Estate has a fascinating history. On land to the west of the River Thames, between Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridges, it was a large area to be free for building at the end of the 19th century. In the map below, the red rectangle shows the approximate area occupied by the estate (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Millbank Estate

The area occupied by the Millbank estate, and indeed the Tate Gallery was available for new development because of the demolition of a large establishment that had previously the same space.

In the following extract from the 1847 edition of Reynolds’s New Map of London, there is a structure with a rather unusual design in the lower centre of the map. This was the Millbank Penitentiary or Prison.

Millbank Estate

Millbank Penitentiary opened in 1816 and was in use until 1886, and was demolished by 1890. The shape was unusual for the time, with six individual pentagons of cells radiating out from the central governor’s block.

The pentagon design enabled the whole of the prison to be viewed from the central governor’s block.

The prison was initially designed to hold 1,000 prisoners, however as always seems to be the way with prisons, the population was frequently much higher.

Each of the pentagons was home to different types of prisoner. Writing about the prisons of London in 1862, Henry Mayhew and John Binny identified pentagon one as being the reception wing. Number two being for prisoners to work at various trades in their cells. Pentagon three was for women prisoners. Pentagon four housed the infirmary, along with a mix of different prisoners. Number five had individual cells, but also had shared cells which prisoners often preferred for the company and conversation instead of the individual cells.

Mayhew and Binny do not list the functions of the sixth pentagon, but looking at the diagram of the prison in the book, the sixth pentagon was were you would find the surgeon and the chaplain, with a corn mill in the centre.

Birds-eye drawing of Millbank Penitentiary:

Millbank Estate

Millbank Penitentiary was often used as a holding prison before prisoners moved onto other establishments. This included a period where prisoners sentenced to transportation were held at Millbank before boarding ship.

Mayhew and Binny’s book states that in 1854, 2,461 male prisoners passed through Millbank.

Six hundred and ninety seven remained at the end of the year. During the year, prisoners had been moved to other prions. One thousand and ninety five prisoners had been moved to sites of “public works” projects across the country. Of the total number of prisoners passing through Millbank in 1854, only four were pardoned, had a conditional pardon, or were set free.

One hundred and ninety eight female prisoners were in Millbank at the start of 1854, but by the end of the year they had all been moved to Brixton Prison apart from nineteen who had been discharged and one who had died.

Conditions were harsh for the prisoners at Millbank. The location next to the River Thames must have meant the prison could be very cold and damp in winter. The prison also suffered a cholera outbreak. Prisoners would also be transported or held in irons, and the prison had a Chain Room where the implements to restrain prisoners were stored:

Millbank Estate

The following print shows the main entrance to the prison, with some of the prison wings behind the walls. This must have been drawn from the edge of the river, and shows the road running towards Westminster on the right, between prison and river.

Millbank Estate

I have mapped the location of Millbank Penitentiary on the map of the area today in the following map extract.

Millbank Estate

The Tate Gallery, Millbank Estate and a number of other buildings now occupy the site today, but does anything remain of the prison?

In the above map, I have added a red oval to the rear of the houses that face onto Ponsonby Place. This is the boarder with the south western edge of the Millbank Estate, and Wilkie House is the block that was built with the rear of the block facing the rear of the houses in Ponsonby Place.

There is a gap between the rear of Wilkie House and the houses to the west as shown in the following photo:

Millbank Estate

Look over the railings into the gap, and we can see the ditch and sloping wall of the original Millbank Penitentiary:

Millbank Estate

The City of Westminster Conservation Area Audit states about the ditch and wall:

“Of great importance is the octagonal shape of the former Millbank Penitentiary site, not only for its definition of the shape of the conservation area but also for the surviving sections of wall. This is an important historical and townscape characteristic of the area.”

The Millbank Penitentiary really deserves a dedicated post, so I will continue with my exploration of the Millbank Estate.

Families were a significant percentage of those living in the estate, so there was a need to provide schools for such a large estate and two were built at the same time as the housing blocks.

The two schools are both in Erasmus Street on the western side of the estate. The first one comes into view:

Millbank Estate

On the side of the first school is a rather ornate decoration stating Millbank Schools and the year of construction, 1901. In the centre are the initials LSB. These are not the initials of a person, rather the initials are of the London School Board who were responsible for the construction of the schools and it was their architects who produced the designs.

Millbank Estate

The fount of the first school facing onto Erasmus Street:

Millbank Estate

Further along is the infant school, also by the London School Board:

Millbank Estate

Plaque confirming  this building as the infants school:

Millbank Estate

There are entrances and playgrounds at each side of the school building. A stone arch with the word “infants” provides access:

Millbank Estate

The reason for the two schools becomes apparent as you walk around the estate and realise the size, number of flats and how many children must have lived across the estate.

Between the main blocks of flats there are large courtyards, providing a very child friendly play area:

Millbank Estate

The blocks are not a monolithic design, they have plenty of individual features which break up the brick. In this view, staggered windows provide light to internal stairs:

Millbank Estate

Despite the large scale of the estate, there are small features dotted across the blocks, such as this small corner window:

Millbank Estate

Following photo shows the view looking up the central part of Hogarth House, with a curving, triangular roof line, and long balcony:

Millbank EstateThe Millbank Estate is Grade II listed, however Hogarth House has a higher Grade II* listing. It was the first block to be started in 1899 and the design of Hogarth House by the architects Henry Spalding and Alfred Cross was the winning design in the competition run by the London County Council Architects Department for the design of the estate.

A living room in Hogarth House was photographed in 1909, not long after the building opened.

Millbank Estate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0832_70_1063

Being almost 120 years old, the Millbank Estate has been through a number of renovations. The condition of the flats had deteriorated by the late 1940s, and there were renovations throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The following photo shows a living room in Millais House in 1962.

Millbank Estate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0832_62_1623

The coal fire has by now been replaced with an electric fire, and the flats have moved into the television age.

The 1909 photo shows a well furnished Edwardian living room, and looking at the census data we can get an impression of the residents of the Millbank Estate (I was going to produce some detailed tables, but ran out of time).

Many or the residents were working / professional people, London County Council employees, Policemen, Workers from the nearby gas works (there were gas holders just to the west of the estate) and also at the Army and Navy Co-Operative Stores both on the Millbank river front, and at the end of the nearby Johnson Street – a street that has since been built over.

There were also residents who had come from the West End following the demolition of many of the slum housing in the area. LCC building was frequently to provide housing for those who had been moved following many of the late 19th century improvement schemes.

Despite this range of jobs, many of the newspaper reports of the opening of the estate still classed the new residents as poor. For example, this report from February 1906 was titled “The King And The Poor”:

“The King visited Millbank on Wednesday and inspected the model dwellings the London County Council had erected on a portion of the site of old Millbank Prison. The Queen accompanied his Majesty. The Royal party left Buckingham Palace at three o’clock in open landaus. The occasion was regarded as semi-private, but thousands of people collected near the point where the reception was to take place. The schools in the neighbourhood were given a half-holiday, and many of the children assembled to see the King.

As to the buildings, the King said they appeared light and comfortable, and these qualities were all the more striking in view of what he saw when visiting some of the lowest slum districts a few years ago. He sincerely hoped that the Council’s scheme would result in nothing but good to those whom it was sought to benefit.”

The Queen’s main concern appears to have been the lack of cupboards in the kitchen, and those who guided the Royal party around the estate promised they would look into the matter with urgency.

As well as the architectural features across the Millbank blocks, it is also worthwhile looking down at the ground, as across the estate are these LCC access covers, dated 1900, so from the original construction of the estate:

Millbank Estate

The inspiration of the arts and craft movement to the design of the estate is apparent in many of the features, such as the entrances to the blocks:

Millbank Estate

View between the blocks of Reynolds House, showing the distinctive chequer board patterns of the housing scheme in Vincent Street built for the Grosvenor Estate in the 1920s:

Millbank Estate

Another example of staggered windows:

Millbank Estate

The external condition of the Millbank Estate today is very good, and the estate has been through a number of renovations, however this has not always been the case. In 1947 the West London Press reported on a tenants’ protest and a Millbank Estate petition:

“A petition signed by 600 tenants of the Millbank Housing Estate, protesting about the conditions there, was handed by Mrs Lawler of 5 Morland Buildings to Communist L.C.C. member Jack Gaster when a crowded meeting of 200 Millbank Estate tenants was held at Millbank School recently.

Cllr. Gaster will hand the petition to the L.C.C. when their meeting takes place at County Hall next Tuesday.

The petition, which Mrs. Lawler said had met with great support throughout the estate, asks the L.C.C. to provide suitable storage facilities for the storage of coal, so that tenants can build up adequate supplies for the winter months. It also asks for the erection of pram-sheds in the yards to safeguard young mothers from undue strain in pulling prams up many flights of stairs.

The need for the L.C.C. to take immediate steps regarding essential repairs and decorations and to provide labour and materials for cleaning stairs and windows are also stressed in the petition, while a plea is made for railings to enclose the yards to keep children off the streets.”

The L.C.C. did agree that the work was needed, but did not expect the work to completed for a while due to post war shortages of materials and labour.

I suspect that the following photo shows that one of the requests from the tenants of 1947 was delivered, with the provision of pram sheds in the courtyards between the blocks:

Millbank Estate

Many of the internal courtyards have been decorated with plants and flowers which provide a lovely contrast to the brick of the blocks of flats.

Millbank Estate

Internal courtyard with plants and lamp post:

Millbank Estate

The Millbank Estate was built for the working class, and it is interesting how the influx of the new residents changed the demographic of the area. The Morning Post on the 11th January 1906 noted the impact the new estate could have on the General Election, and the re-election of the Conservative MP Mr. W. Burdett-Coutts who had held the Westminster seat for the past 20 years:

“The struggle is rendered the more interesting from the fact that the character of the constituency has greatly altered since the last election. The present electorate is 7,530, and the extensions of artisans’ dwellings on the Millbank Estate and the City of Westminster Council buildings in Regency-street has increased the working class vote to 5,000. This important fact, together with the general effect of the swinging of the political pendulum, and the prejudice raised against the late Government on education, fiscal and other questions, induce the Liberals to think they have a good opportunity of winning the borough in which the Houses of Parliament and so many other important buildings are included.”

Burdett-Coutts did not have to worry, as he won the 1906 election, and would go on to hold the Westminster seat until it was abolished in the 1918 election.

This is Maclise House with the Millbank Tower in the background:

Millbank Estate

Maclise House is one of the blocks on the Millbank Estate that has this wonderful doorway – it almost looks as if it is providing a portal into another world.

Millbank Estate

Note how above the entrance doorway, there is the stairway that juts out from the wall, ending at the top with a curved roof.

View back across the courtyard of Maclise House:

Millbank Estate

This is the view from the north-eastern end of the estate. I am standing by Marsham Street, which turns left in front of the camera. Herrick Street then on the left and Erasmus Street on the right.

Millbank Estate

There was relatively little bomb damage to the Millbank Estate. Where there was damage it was well repaired – this included the side of the building directly facing the camera in the above photo.

Those children in the 1906 photo at the top of the post could therefore step straight back into the estate and notice few differences – the main changes being almost 120 years of tree growth and parked cars now lining all the streets.

Externally, the housing blocks look impressive and in a well maintained condition. I talked with a few residents in the courtyards and they appeared very happy with their flats.

The London County Council’s Millbank Estate is a far better use of the land than the Millbank Penitentiary that previously occupied the site, however it is good that we can still find a physical reminder of the prison on the boundary of the estate, which shows how the shape of the prison influenced the space occupied by the estate, built by the London County Council for the working class of London.

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The Globe at Borough Market

In 1977 I was taking some photos around Southwark using my brand new Canon AE-1, purchased using hire purchase as at the time it was the only way I could afford such a camera, and I was desperate to replace the cheap Russian Zenit camera I had been using. The main feature of this camera seemed to be a sticking shutter which ruined far too many photos.

A couple of these photos were of the Globe at Borough Market. A very different market to the market of today.

Globe at Borough Market

The same view 43 years later in 2020:

Globe at Borough Market

The Globe was built in 1872 to a design by architect Henry Jarvis. A lovely brick pub, the paint on the external walls in my 1977 photo has since been removed to reveal the original brickwork.

When I took the original photo, Borough Market was a very different place. Selling all types of fruit, vegetables, potatoes etc. The market started very early in the morning mainly selling to businesses such as the shops and restaurants of south London.

The narrow aisles between the market stalls meant that vehicles could not easily enter the market so porters were employed to transfer goods from lorries parked in the streets, into the market.

One of the barrows used by a porter is outside the corner entrance to the pub. This was why I took the photo as the barrow and pub seemed to be a good combination that in many ways summed up a London market at the time. There is another barrow parked alongside the Globe at left.

There were a number of pubs surrounding Borough Market, catering to the needs of those who worked in the market, which included being open much earlier in the morning than a normal London pub. Reading the licence information above the door of the Globe gives an indication of days and times that the pub served the market, and the trades of those who were expected in the Globe:

“NOTICE PURSUANT TO THE LICENSING ACT 1964 – Intoxicating liquors are permitted to be sold and supplied in these premises between the hours of six-thirty and eight-thirty of the clock on the morning of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each week. Excepting Christmas Day, Good Friday and Bank Holidays for the accommodation of persons following their lawful trade of calling as Salesmen, Buyers, Carmen, Assistants or Porters and attending a Public Market at the Borough of Southwark”.

Another photo of the Globe in 1977:

Globe at Borough Market

And in 2020. The days of selling Double Diamond are long gone.

Globe at Borough Market

In the above photo, at the very top right corner, you can just see an edge of the Thameslink Viaduct that was built over Borough Market between 2009 and 2013.

The first floor of the Globe was the film location for Bridget Jones flat in the 2001 film Bridget Jones Diary.

Globe – the name of the pub in stone above the windows, seen in both the 1977 and 2020 photos:

Globe at Borough Market

If you go back to the photo at the top of the post, and look along the left side of the street, and in the distance is an arch with a sign above. The sign still remains although Lee Brothers Potato Merchants have long gone.

Globe at Borough Market

The origins of Borough Market are ancient, dating back for at least 1,000 years. Originally a market at the southern end of London Bridge, however by 1754 the City of London was fed up with the Southwark entrance to the bridge being congested by a market, and that the market was taking business away from the City markets. A bill was introduced to Parliament to stop the market trading in March 1756.

The local residents were not happy with the loss of their market and raised £6,000 to buy an area of land called The Triangle, and this became the new home of what is today Borough Market.

The market flourished, and the arrival of the railways with their local goods yards increased the volume of fruit, veg, etc. being sold at the market.

The end of the wholesale market started in the late 1970s and continued in the early 1980s. The City of London constructed New Covent Garden market in Nine Elms. This was a much larger market with considerably easier access and plenty of parking, unlike at Borough Market.

In parallel was the gradual replacement of the traditional corner shop and green grocer by much larger supermarkets who had their own supply chain and had no need to purchase fruit and veg from a local market such as Borough.

The market’s renaissance started in the late 1990s when specialist food suppliers started to move in, and food fairs were organised. Borough Market has since gone from strength to strength, and on most days (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) it would be crowded with tourists and shoppers.

When walking among the stalls, it almost looks as if you could buy a different cheese for every single day of the year.

Along with the market traders, a wide range of restaurants have opened surrounding the market, and the old pubs that once served the market porters at 6:30 in the morning, have a new lease of life and are serving a very different customer – no longer are barrows left outside the pub door.

One of the pubs surrounding the market is the appropriately named The Market Porter on the corner of Stoney Street and Park Street.

Globe at Borough Market

The Market Porter dates from 1890, however the site was previously occupied by a pub named the Harrow.

Further along Stoney Street is another pub that looks in a rather strange location, squashed by the railway bridge directly above the pub. This is the Wheatsheaf:

Globe at Borough Market

The current Wheatsheaf building dates from 1840, although a pub had been on the site since the 18th century. It originally had three floors and was part of a terrace. The pub lost the third floor when the pub closed in 2009 for the construction of the Thameslink Viaduct which now runs directly overhead. The Wheatsheaf reopened in 2014 in its new, cramped looking condition, however thankfully this historic pub survived such a dramatic change.

Construction of the Thameslink Viaduct was a significant engineering achievement, with building such a structure above a working market. The viaduct runs for 322 metres across the market, and during construction, work included the removal and replacement of the market’s historic roof.

The following photo shows the Wheatsheaf in 1943, in its original condition (the building on the right), along with the same style of barrow that I would photograph in 1977:

Globe at Borough Market

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_376_F1582

On the corner of Stoney Street and Southwark Street is the Southwark Tavern, a lovely Victorian corner pub dating from 1862:

Globe at Borough Market

However a more remarkable building is alongside the Southwark Tavern. This is the imposing Hop and Malt Exchange.

Globe at Borough Market

The Hop and Malt Exchange dates from 1867 and was designed by the architect R.H. Moore, and was the premises of the Hop Planters Association.

The frontage along Southwark Street is 340 feet and it covered more than an acre of land.

Although the building looks impressive today, it was originally a much taller building, however after a fire in 1920 which gutted much of the building, the top two floors were demolished. The original, larger facade just after the fire can be seen in the photo below:

Globe at Borough Market

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: C_PHL_01_375_574c_2

The Hop and Malt Exchange was built in Southwark, as it was close to the main railway stations and goods depots that served the hop growing counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey and provided a place were growers and buyers could meet in one place to conduct the sale of hops.

The main entrance to the Hop and Malt Exchange:

Globe at Borough Market

The pediment above the main entrance contains some wonderful decoration showing hop and malt production. Hops being grown and picked in the centre. Barley being grown on the right for the production of malt, with these products being carried in a sack on a barrow on the left.

Globe at Borough Market

Looking through the iron gates of the entrance (which are also beautifully decorated), we can glimpse the main Exchange Room:

Globe at Borough Market

The Exchange Room was the central point for trading activities. It was 80 feet long by 50 feet wide and 75 feet was the original height to the top floor. The roof was glass allowing plenty of natural light to shine on the floor below. There was a central lantern feature running along the length of the roof, and in the pre-fire building, this was 115 feet above the floor of the Exchange Room.

The Exchange Room was surrounded by four floors of offices and show rooms where growers could show off their products to potential buyers. First and second class refreshment rooms were also provided. Presumably you used the first class when trying to impress a buyer, and the second class for normal refreshment.

A view of the Exchange Room after opening:

Globe at Borough Market

Today, the Hop and Malt Exchange has been restored and is currently a location providing office, corporate hospitality and a live events space, so in some ways is still true to the original use of the building – although no longer trading in hops and malt.

Borough Market and the Hop and Malt Exchange highlight that this area was a significant place for trading agricultural products. What started off as a market on the southern end of London Bridge, grew considerably with the arrival of the railways. Road and rail access to the southern agricultural counties turned this part of Southwark into a key location where London’s shops, restaurants and breweries could negotiate and buy the key agricultural products they needed for their business.

My 1977 photo captured the very end of that long period, but Borough Market still remains serving a new, 21st century customer.

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Sadler’s Wells – How Water Shaped North Clerkenwell

London today is covered by streets, pavements and buildings. Apart from the larger parks, there are a limited number of small green spaces. So much of what shaped the surface has been long hidden, but we can still find signs as to why the built environment appears as it does, and how names recall features we cannot see.

Clerkenwell, up to the Angel has been shaped by water. The River Fleet created much of the western boundary. New River Head was built at a point which was almost at the same 100m contour that followed the river back to the springs in Hertfordshire, the fall in height to the City and Thames provided a distribution system using gravity.

We can see this by overlaying an elevation map on top of a street map. In the following extract, dark blues are lowest height, with the colours changing up to red as height increases (map from topographic-map.com)

Sadler's Wells

We can see the dark blues of the River Fleet valley. As elevation increases the map shades through green then orange and red as the height increases up to north Clerkenwell, Finsbury and the Angel at the top centre of the map.

Much of this area had numerous springs and wells, and as the land increased in height, it passed through bands of London Clay and gravel, and it is a band of gravel and a well that gave rise to the location of today’s post – Sadler’s Wells.

Sadler’s Wells is a world leading theatre and centre of dance, located at the northern end of Rosebery Avenue. There has been a theatre on the site for many centuries, the current building opened in 1998, photographed below looking north along Rosebery Avenue with Arlington Way on the left.

Sadler's Wells

William J. Pinks in the History of Clerkenwell (1865) describes the origins of Sadler’s Wells: “This popular place of amusement is the oldest theatre in London. Some time before the year 1683 a wooden building, called Sadler’s Music House, stood on the north side of the New River about this spot. Sadler, as well as being the proprietor of this establishment, was a surveyor of the highways. In the year last mentioned, his servants, while digging in the garden for gravel, discovered a well of mineral water, which shortly afterwards became very celebrated for its curative properties; so that it was visited by five or six hundred people every morning”.

The well that Edward Sadler’s workmen had discovered possibly dated from the 12th century or earlier when many of the wells in Clerkenwell were used by the Clerkenwell priory to persuade people that the virtue of the waters came from the strength of their prayers. (Books have different accounts of Sadler’s first name, with Richard or Dick being frequent references, however the Survey of London concludes Edward as being the almost certain name, based on a Chancery Court proceeding against him. Edward Sadler was a vintner, who in 1671 had taken a 35 year lease on the area that would become Sadler’s Wells).

The wells were closed at the reformation as they were claimed to support a superstitious believe in the power of the waters.

Pinks provides some additional description of the well found by the workmen: “When they had dug pretty deep, one of them found his pick axe handle strike upon something that was very hard, whereupon he endeavoured to break it, but could not,; whereupon, thinking within himself that it might, peradventure, be some treasure hid there, he uncovered it very carefully, and found it to be a broad flat stone, which having loosed and lifted up, he saw it was supported by four oaken posts, and under it a large well of stone arched over, and curiously carved”.

Sadler capitalised on the discovery of the well, and quickly promoted the health benefits of the waters, and as Pinks described, the wells were soon visited by several hundred people a day.  Sadler encouraged the regular drinking of the waters, and put on several forms of entertainment to encourage people to come, stay, and spend money. Treatment included recommendations to stay at the well for a whole day, drinking the waters at specified times, walking and resting around the surrounding gardens in between drinking sessions.

Sadler and the well that his workmen discovered would provide the name for the site, and most histories seem to put the discovery of the well as the starting point for the following centuries of the site as a place of entertainment, however Pinks provides a hint that it was probably providing such a function for many years prior to 1683:

“A petition from the proprietor of Sadler’s Wells to the House of Commons, stating that the site was a place of public entertainment in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. If this be correct, Sadler was certainly not its first possessor for musical purposes and water drinking”.

It appears that Sadler was not running the site for too many years after discovery of the well, and the popularity of the well would also quickly decline. In the 1690’s the well appears to have been closed, but by June 1697 the following advert would appear in the ‘Post Boy’:

“Sadler’s excellent Steel Waters, at Islington, having been obstructed for some years past, are now opened and current again, and the waters are found to be in their full vigour, strength and virtue, as ever they were, as is attested and assured by the physicians who have since fully tried them”.

By 1699 the building occupying the site was called Miles’s Music House, and entertainment, rather than the waters seems to have been the main focus.

The following photo was taken a little further south along Rosebery Avenue and shows how close Sadler’s Wells is to New River Head which is on the left, with the curved Laboratory Building on the left of the theatre.

Sadler's Wells

Today, Sadler’s Wells is in the heart of north Clerkenwell / Islington. A short distance south from the busy junction at the Angel, however the theatre has its origins when the area was still rural.

In the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map, I have circled the location of Sadler’s Wells.

Sadler's Wells

The rectangular shape in the upper part of the circle is presumably the theatre, surrounded by gardens. Note the New River coming in from top right down to the round pond of New River Head to the left of Sadler’s Wells. The New River would form a southern border for the site for many years. The River Fleet is on the left of the map, running between the lines that indicate sloping land forming the valley of the river – exactly as we can see today on the elevation map, and when walking the streets.

The map also shows that in 1746, over 60 years since the discovery of the well, Sadler’s Wells was still surrounded by fields.

At night, the area between Sadler’s Wells and the City was a notorious area for thieves, and those heading back often risked their lives, as the following report from the Newcastle Courant in 1716 makes clear:

“On Saturday Night, a Gentlewoman, one Madam Napp, and her Son, betwixt 10 and 11 coming from Sadler’s Wells at Islington, where they have been to see the Diversion of Dancing, to their House in Warwick Court in Holburn; were attacked by some Foot Padders, on this Side of Gray’s Inn Garden Wall. 

The Gentleman Collar’d one of them, and flung him down to the Ground, and whilst he was struggling with another, his Mother cryed out Murder; upon which the third Rogue fired a Pistol and shot her dead.

Some People at Bromley Street hearing the Pistol go off, ran to see what was the Matter, and the Roques scoured off, and had not Time to take any Thing from the Gentleman, but his Hat and Wigg. A Soldier, and two others, were seized on Suspicion of being the Rogues, and carried before Mr Plummer, a Justice of the Peace in Bedford Row, who committed them to Newgate”.

Not every attempted robbery ended with such fatal consequences, but judging by the number of newspaper reports, care needed to be taken when walking home at the end of an evening’s performance.

One hundred years later, and London had reached, and surrounded Sadler’s Wells as shown in the following extract from Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London of 1847:

Sadler's Wells

And for no other reason than I love maps, and will use any excuse to put one in a post, this is an extract from the large scale map of Clerkenwell in Pinks’ History of Clerkenwell, showing the location of Sadler’s Wells around 1860.

Sadler's Wells

From Sadler’s original Music House, the buildings of Sadler’s Wells have been through many iterations with rebuilds and additions as the popularity of the site changed, along with the type of entertainments put on by the theatre.

In 1731, 15 years before the Roque map, the following print shows Sadler’s Wells in a very rural location, the theatre surrounded by trees and a couple of out buildings.

Sadler's Wells

Sadler’s Wells also featured in a 1738 print by Hogarth from his Four Times of Day series. In “Evening”, we see the entrance to Sadler’s Wells on the left, with the inn, the Sir Hugh Myddelton on the right. In the scene, a Dyer and his family are strolling over a footbridge by the New River.

Sadler's Wells

The entertainments provided at Sadler’s Wells were many and varied. An advert from July 1740 stated that there would be “rope-dancing, tumbling, singing, and several new grand dances, both serious and comic. With a new entertainment called ‘The Birth of Venus’ or Harlequin Paris’. Concluding with ‘The Loves of Zephyrus and Flora’. The scenes, machines, dresses and music being entirely new”.

An advert from 1742, concluded with “Several extraordinary performances by M. Henderick Kerman, the famous ladder dancer”.

In the 1740s. Sadler’s Wells were described as a place of “great extravagance, luxury, idleness and ill fame”, and that there were frequently great numbers of loose, disorderly people.

Probably because of the perception of Sadler’s Wells, it was included in a number of satirical prints of the time, including the following print from 1784:

Sadler's Wells

The devil plays the violin whilst three dogs dance. Each dog has the head of a politician. The Whig politician Charles James Fox is on the left. Facing him is the Whig MP Edmund Burke, and on the right is Lord North, who had resigned as Prime Minister the previous year following a vote of no confidence after the loss of the American War of Independence.

Dancing dogs were indeed one of the 18th century forms of entertainment at Sadler’s Wells, and other forms of animal entertainment included a singing duck.

In the 18th century, theatres and plays needed to be licensed. The Licensing Act of 1737 theoretically prevented all theatres apart from the Royal Patent Theatres at Drury Lane, Covent Garden and Haymarket, from putting on drama without musical accompaniment. Many theatres did continue to put on productions, including Sadler’s Wells and the licence conditions do not seem to have been rigorously enforced. They were mainly meant to prevent anti-government propaganda, with plays having to be submitted for approval. Remarkably, this continued until 1968.

In 1790, Sadler’s Wells had a large sign on the side of the building indicating that the theatre was licensed.

Sadler's Wells

There was tragedy at Sadler’s Wells in 1807, when eighteen people lost their lives and many more were badly injured. From a newspaper report of the time:

“DREADFUL ACCIDENT AT SADLER’S WELLS. On Thursday night, as the curtain was letting down at Sadler’s Wells theatre, to prepare for the water scene, in the Wood Daemon, a quarrel commenced in the pit, and some people cried out ‘A Fight’. The exclamation was mistaken for a cry of ‘Fire’. It was a benefit night and the house was crowded. Every part was immediately terror and confusion; the people in the gallery, pit and boxes, all pressed eagerly forward to the doors, but could not obtain egress in time to answer their impatience. The pressure was dreadful; those next to the avenues were thrown down and run over by those immediately behind, without distinction of age or sex. Of those quite in the rear some became desperate; they threw themselves from the gallery into the pit, and from the boxes onto the stage. A horrible discord of screams, oaths and exclamations reigned throughout. On the exterior of the theatre, the scene was not less dreadful; at every door and avenue might be seen people dragging out those persons whose strength was exhausted, and who were unable to effect their escape, but had just strength to gain the passage, or had been forced forward by the crowd behind. Not less than 50 women were fainting at the same time, on the inside and outside of the house”.

Of the 18 dead, there were seven men, seven women, three boys and one girl. Two men suspected of causing the initial commotion were taken to Clerkenwell Bridewell and brought before a judge, however he directed the jury that they could not be found guilty of murder or manslaughter, and that the eighteen met their deaths “Casually, accidentally and by misfortune”.

On a happier note, the first couple of decades of the 19th century were when the actor, comedian and dancer, Joseph Grimaldi was one of the leading attractions of Sadler’s Wells, and also recognised as one of London theatres leading clowns.

Grimaldi appeared at Covent Garden, Drury Lane and Sadler’s Wells theatres, but appears to have been more successful at the Islington venue. In 1812 he earned £8 a week at Covent Garden and £12 a week at Sadler’s Wells.

It was common at the time to publish the songs from well known entertainers such as Grimaldi, along with a suitable drawing portraying the theme of the song. One of those sung by Joseph Grimaldi at Sadler’s Wells in 1807 was Poll of Horselydown:Sadler's Wells

Also in the early years of the 19th century, Sadler’s Wells made use of the theatres proximity to the New River. Pinks writes that “An immense tank was constructed under the stage, and extending beyond it, which was filled by a communication with the New River, and emptied again at pleasure. On this aquatic stage, the boards being removed, was given a mimic representation of the Siege of Gibraltar, in which real vessels of considerable size, bombarded the fortress, but were subdued by the garrison, and several of them in appearance burnt”.

The Aquatic Theatre as such performances were known added another novel element to the performances at Sadler’s Wells. The following ticket was for a box on Monday 22nd September 1817 to watch one of the aquatic performances.

Sadler's Wells

The view on the ticket presents Sadler’s Wells still in a rural setting. Trees in the gardens and the New River flowing alongside the boundary of the theatre.

As well as the Siege of Gibraltar, another performance that made use of the water tanks under the stage was the Battle of the Nile, performed with “Real Water”.

Sadler's Wells

We can get an impression of the interior of the theate during one of the aquatic performances from the following print. The boards on the stage have been removed and the performance is now taking place in a large tank of water.

Sadler's Wells

It was common for audience members to throw themselves into the water at the end of a performance – probably with the help of plenty of alcohol consumed during the evening.

Competition for London audiences was intense, and perhaps more difficult for Sadler’s Wells having a location outside the centre of London. The theatre was always on the look out for ever more dramatic and daring events.

in May 1833 Sadler’s Wells announced that there would be a stupendous representation of the Russian Mountains. This consisted of “sliding down at break-neck speeds in cars along a highly inclined plane of wood, previously laid over with blocks of ice united into a mass of water thrown purposely over them. The cars descended with great velocity from a considerable height at the extremity of the stage across the orchestra to the back of the pit”. No record of what must have been a number of injuries from this performance.

A colour print of the entrance to Sadler’s Wells with the New River running alongside:

Sadler's Wells

The following print from 1830, also shows Sadler’s Wells and the New River, but look at the background, just to the left of the theatre and there is a smoking chimney – the pump house at New River Head.

Sadler's Wells

From the 1840s onwards, the performances put on by Sadler’s Wells started to change. No more dancing dogs or representations of sea battles, rather more intellectual and improving performances. Samuel Phelps, the manager at this time planned to put on productions of all of Shakespeare’s plays. He succeeded with 30 plays, and under his management there were four thousand nights of Shakespeare’s plays with Hamlet being put on for 400 nights.

By this time, Sadler’s Wells was a substantial theatre. London had now grown out from the centre and surrounded the theatre, which had also lost most of the gardens and trees. The theatre in 1850:

Sadler's Wells

Although by the second half of the 19th century, Sadler’s Wells was putting on serious productions, some were not without controversy, such as when the American actress Adah Menken appeared in May 1868. The Era provides the following description of the performance:

“SADLER’S WELLS – Miss Menken has been giving her celebrated impersonation of Mazeppa at this house during the week. The audiences have been good, and the far famed actress has nightly been received with great applause. Though Mademoiselle causes a sensation by appearing very sparsely clad in the course of her performance, she is splendidly dressed at the commencement of it. Her page’s costume, which she wears as Casimer in the first act, is of the most costly and gorgeous nature. Whatever may be thought of the propriety of a lady making a public exhibition of her figure, with the outlines of it almost as distinct as those of a piece of undrapped sculpture, there can be no question that the beauty of the form displayed by Miss Menken is of remarkable character”.

In the latter decades of the 19th century, Sadler’s Wells went through a period of considerable change, and a variety of uses. During one period of four years, the theatre had eleven managers. Shows were put on, but they were not successful enough to attract the funding needed.

In 1875, 104 pounds of lead were stolen from the theatre’s roof. There were rumours that the building might be sold for a furniture warehouse, but by June 1876, the theatre had been converted and reopened as the New Spa Skating Rink and Winter Garden – however this use failed within a couple of months.

The building was used for boxing and wrestling matches, although these events were closed down by Police. In 1878 an application for a theatre licence was refused because the building still had wooden stairs which were considered a danger compared to stone stairs.

The theatre did manage to stagger on, putting on a range of different productions from variety to serious drama – all with variable success. For a short time at the start of World War I, the building was in use as a cinema.

Real change came in 1925. The Old Vic, south of the Thames was run by Lilian Baylis, and during the 1920s the plan to expand north of the river was considered. Baylis pursued the idea of purchasing Sadler’s Wells and engaged as many people in public life as possible to support the proposal, and to raise funds. On the 30th March 1925, a public appeal was launched:

“To purchase Sadler’s Wells (freehold), reconstruct the interior, and save it, with its historic traditions, for the Nation,

To establish it as a Foundation, not working for profit, under the Charity Commissioners, and by providing for its use by the Old Vic Shakespeare and Opera Companies, conjointly with their present Theatre in the Waterloo Road, to give an old Vic to North London”

The appeal was successful, and a new theatre was designed by F.G.M. Chancellor, opening on January 6th 1931, with a performance of Twelfth Night (suitable for the date), with John Gielgud.

The new theatre brought together Opera and Ballet, and included a School of Ballet.

The new theatre still retained the well, which was to be found at the back of the pit, concealed under a heavy iron plate. Here, a Miss Noble tests the depth of the well:

Sadler's Wells

The 1931 building is shown below, as it appeared in the early 1970s, looking from the same viewpoint as my 2020 photo at the top of the post:

Sadler's Wells

After the war, the ballet company of Ninette de Valois which had formed at Sadler’s Wells moved to Covent Garden to become the Royal Ballet.

The theatre continued the long tradition of dance and the D’Oyly Carte Opera performed seasons at Sadler’s Wells. The theatre hosted touring companies from across the world. However there were financial challenges, rumours that the site may be sold as part of development plans from the New River Company (which by then was a property company).

In the 1990s there was again significant change at Sadler’s Wells, with a campaign for a new, purpose built dance theatre. The campaign was successful, including a significant £36 million from the National Lottery.

The new theatre opened in October 1998, and continues the tradition of dance and entertainment on this site in north Clerkenwell / islington well into the 21st century.

I started the post talking about how this area of London has been shaped by water. If the location had not been the site of a well, the name would be very different, and perhaps also without the initial fame of the well, Sadler’s original gardens and music house may not have continued too much further than the 17th century.

Although the area is very different to the fields covering the area in the 17th century, the water is still there, deep below the surface. A borehole in the sub-basement of the theatre descends some 600 feet to the chalk basin that runs under London, from where water is taken for the sinks, toilets, heating and cooling of the theatre. The borehole supplies water at a rate of 12 litres a second and at a temperature that varies between 11 and 12 degrees Centigrade.

Walk down Arlington Way, to the west of the building and there is a door facing onto the street, to the right of the large grey door.

Sadler's Wells

On the door is a sign confirming the location as the site of the Sadler’s Wells Borehole pumping station, where Thames Water are also extracting water from far below the surface.

Sadler's Wells

Thames Water hold the licence to extract water from the borehole, however up until 2004, the Sadler’s Wells Trust held a licence to extract water for water bottling. I cannot find any reference after 2004, so I suspect that was the last time you could buy bottled water drawn from below the theatre.

Again, a weekly post only allows me to scratch the surface of the history of Sadler’s Wells.

The History of Clerkenwell by William J. Pinks provides a detailed history of the first couple of centuries of the theatre. The Story of Sadler’s Wells by Dennis Arundell provides a detailed history up until 1977, and the Survey of London, volume 47 provides the usual highly detailed history. All prints used in this post are  © The Trustees of the British Museum

Sadler’s Wells, a very successful theatre that owes its name and probable longevity to a patch of gravel and discovery of a well in the fields of Clerkenwell.

alondoninheritance.com

The Buildings of Smithfield Market

Over the years I have been trying to photograph London’s buildings as they change. An example is the area around Euston where buildings and streets have been demolished ready for HS2. Another area that will be changing considerably over the coming years is Smithfield Market.

The arrival of Crossrail, the transfer of the Museum of London from London Wall to part of the old Smithfield Market buildings, will have a significant impact and will drive change across the surrounding area.

I have been taking photos of the market for many years, but over the last few years have made it a focus to take more photos as change starts to accelerate.

For this week’s post, here is a sample of my latest photos showing the current state of the Smithfield Market buildings (or at least a few months ago).

Smithfield Market is comprised of a number of different buildings. There is the main Central Market facing onto West Smithfield, however there are many other market buildings all the way down to Farringdon Street, along with supporting buildings in the surrounding streets.

in the map below I have identified the main Smithfield Market buildings (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Smithfield Market

The buildings bounded by the red line are the London Central Market – the main meat market of Smithfield Market.

The building bounded by the green line is the Poultry Market.

Blue surrounds the old Smithfield General Market.

The purple line surrounds the old Fish Market and the Red House.

There is so much history and architecture to be found in the area bounded by Farringdon Street, Charterhouse Street, Lindsey Street and West Smithfield, that for today’s post I will concentrate mainly on the area between the Grand Avenue of the Central Market and Farringdon Street. Future posts will cover the rest of the area and explore more of the history of Smithfield Market.

I will start in Farringdon Street, and the following photo is looking at the western wall of the General Market, opened in 1883.

Smithfield Market

As with many of the buildings to the west of the main market, they are closed and boarded up. The pediment at the centre of the roof line has the arms of the City of London, confirming the ownership of the market, the buildings and land.

On the corner of Farringdon Street and Charterhouse Street, a later addition to the market buildings, forming one of the main entrances to this section of the market, along with market offices.

Smithfield Market

A number of business had taken up space on the ground floor of this building. Executive City Barbers were still in operation where Charterhouse Street meets Farringdon Street – not sure if they are still there.

Smithfield Market

Further along Charterhouse Street is Harts of Smithfield – the location of the Christmas Eve meat auction, with to the left, one of the main entrances to the General Market buildings.

Smithfield Market

If we walk back to Farringdon Street, we can walk along the other side of the General Market buildings. The following photo is to the right of the photo at the top of the post, and is on the corner of Farringdon Street and West Smithfield.

Smithfield Market

The view looking up West Smithfield with the General Market on the left and the old Fish Market on the right.

Smithfield Market

The buildings we see above ground are just part of the market, and there is considerable space below ground. The building below is on the left in the above photo and on the left is one of the access points for Crossrail construction, where a ramp slopes down to the basement levels.

Smithfield Market

On the opposite side of the ramp is this round corner building, showing the way use was made of every available space, and the unusual architecture that resulted.

Smithfield Market

Directly opposite, where Snow Hill branches off to the right is the old Fish Market.

Smithfield Market

If you look on the corner of the above building, towards street level there is a rectangular plaque. This records the opening of the market in 1888 by Sir Polydore de Keyser.

Smithfield Market

Polydore de Keyser was an interesting character. A Catholic immigrant from Belgium who became Lord Mayor of the City of London. I wrote a post about him, his hotel by Blackfriars Bridge and his time as Mayor.

A report at the time of the opening of the fish market records the reasons for having a fish market at Smithfield, as well as Billingsgate:

“Mr. Perkins, Chairman of the Markets Committee, briefly explained the circumstances which had induced the Corporation to construct the present market. The old fish market on the other side of the roadway, which was originally intended for the sale of fruit and vegetables, had proved a loss to the Corporation of about £10,000 a year. Hence the erection of the present market, Billingsgate having proved insufficient for the supply of fish for the Metropolis. Nearly every shop in the new market was let, and the old market would be used in future for fruit and vegetable. the Corporation hoped that it would be successful, and prove advantageous to the salesman.”

Based on the current plans for the new Museum of London at Smithfield, the old Fish Market buildings will become the location for “food and beverage and events”.

The old General Market buildings will become the site for “Displays, events and installations”, with a museum restaurant and bar towards Farringdon Street. The following photo is looking down West Smithfield at the General Market buildings. This will be an impressive location for the Museum of London.

Smithfield Market

There are numerous architectural features on the old market buildings which hopefully will be retained by the Museum of London. The following photo is of the apex of the roof where the overhead walkway in the above photo joins the market building.

Smithfield Market

The doors to the old general market building were open so I had a quick look in. Much of the space has been cleared, with just the frames that supported the old market stalls remaining in place. I assume these will go to open up the space for the museum.

Smithfield Market

The roof comprises angled glass panels to let in as much light as possible to illuminate the market below.

Smithfield Market

First floor rooms, showing the construction technique to build partitions between rooms.

Smithfield Market

Back outside, and at the junction of West Smithfield with Smithfield Street, and in the triangular space where the two streets converge is this small building, which I believe were once public toilets for the market.

Smithfield Market

The building shown in the above photo covered in scaffolding, and below as a facade is the Red House, built in 1898 as a cold store. I have not fully worked out the sequence of buildings around the Red House, and the reason for the facade, but there is a considerable amount below ground here, with vaults extending out under the streets for storage, freezer infrastructure and connecting corridors.

Smithfield Market

View of what I believe was the old toilet block from in front of the facade of the Red House.

Smithfield Market

Across West Smithfield to the above photo is West Poultry Avenue which separated the General Market (on the left) from the Poultry Market (on the right).

Smithfield Market

The following view looking down West Smithfield towards Farringdon Street. The Poultry Market is on the right.

Smithfield Market

The Poultry Market is relatively new compared to the rest of the Smithfield Market buildings. It was completed in 1963 to replace the original Poultry Market which had been destroyed by fire in 1958.

The photo below shows the remains of the old Poultry Market after the fire. Note that the infrastructure that carved the space up into individual market stalls is the same as in my internal photo of the General market.

Smithfield Market

The fire was very difficult to contain, and resulted in the deaths of two firemen. The Sphere reported on the fire:

“Two firemen died fighting what has been described as the worst subterranean fire London has ever known, when the cellars of Smithfield Poultry Market blazed last week. The outbreak was discovered at 2 a.m. on Thursday morning. As the day progressed it spread throughout a labyrinth of cellars and tunnels over an area of 2.5 acres. As flames began to break through the floor of the market, firemen abandoned attempts to drive the fire from one side of the Union Cold Storage Company’s basement to the other and concentrated on keeping the blaze from getting a hold on the surface buildings.

Station Officer Jack Fourt-Wells and Fireman Richard Stocking lost their lives, suffocated in the smoke-filled underground passages. Nearly forty firemen were injured and eight were taken to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke. In spite of thousands of gallons of water being pumped into the cellars the fire spread to the central poultry market buildings. The following day the market was a roofless gutted shell, and the fire was still burning. Two of the four ornamental towers on each corner of the building had collapsed and paving stones had been flung into the air. Two more firemen were injured during the day.”

The new poultry market was of a very different design to the original. Rather than ornate market buildings, the new market was made of reinforced concrete with brick cladding. The roof is a concrete shell that spans the central market space, only supported at the edges leaving a large area of free space. It was a radical design by T.P. Bennett and Son. The following model shows the new market building.

Smithfield Market

The walls facing onto West Smithfield and Charterhouse Street were of brick covering the reinforced concrete shell, with, as can be seen by my photo above, frequent sections of wall which included hexagonal glass blocks, with more normal windows above.

Smithfield Market

Designed to maximise the flow of light from outside the market into the interior.

The poultry market is one of the Smithfield Market buildings that will become part of the Museum of London. I hope that these wall sections of glass blocks are retained, which they should as the building is Grade II listed. They are a unique feature from early 1960’s architecture and when viewed along the full length of the wall, break up what could have been a long expanse of brick.

Returning to Charterhouse Street, and there are a number of buildings that whilst not part of the central market, formed part of the overall market infrastructure that occupied so much of Smithfield.

The following building, dating from 1914 and built for the Port of London Authority was a cold store. The five large entrances at the front show where deliveries and collections would have been made, with lorries backing up to transfer their cargo.

Smithfield Market

The Port of London Authority were not exactly retiring when it came to having their name spread across the front of the building. Along the very top of the building can be seen the PLA’s motto Floreat Imperii Portus, which seems to translate as “Let the Imperial Port Flourish”. Again, not a sign of a retiring organisation.

The building also illustrates how much there is below ground level across Smithfield. There are several floors below the building which were originally used for the storage of meat, however they have now been put to a unique use, as E.On / Citigen have built a power station in the space below ground.

Comprised of two natural gas fueled, combined heat and power generators, the building provides not just electricity for London, but also heat and cooling which is used for buildings such as the Guildhall and the Barbican Centre.

Adjacent to the PLA building is another cold store. This is the Central Cold Store, designed by C. Stanley Peach and built in 1899. The building is Grade II listed.

Smithfield Market

According to a number of planning applications, the building is also part of the E.On / Citigen power station, and houses the majority of the generating infrastructure.

The name and original function of the building is displayed in a rather ornate manner on the front.

Smithfield Market

Walking further along Charterhouse Street are the main buildings of the Central Market. These date from 1868 and were designed by Sir Horace Jones. They start at East Poultry Avenue, which is the street that runs between the Central Market and the Poultry Market. The name avenue is a strange name for this short stretch of roadway which is mainly used for access to the buildings on either side, and is covered for the whole stretch between Charterhouse Street and West Smithfield.

It does though provide some perfect opportunities to photograph these unique buildings.

Smithfield Market

Through the roof, we can see one of the ornamental towers that sit at each corner of the building. The original poultry market was of the same design, and had similar towers. The sight of flames spreading out from the towers indicated how serious the damage was in 1958.

Smithfield Market

The new market was part of the 19th century City improvements and was designed to replace the previous market where livestock was driven into Smithfield. The chaos that this created in the crowded 19th century City was considerable, and the City of London decided to transfer the livestock market to Copenhagen Fields in Islington, and in the last Christmas market at Smithfield in 1854, the number of animals at the market was 6,100.

The livestock market was therefore at Islington, which included associated infrastructure such as slaughter houses, with the meat market at Smithfield. A solution that allowed a meat market to continue in the City of London, but moved the less attractive elements away from the City.

The following print from 1855 shows a bull raging through Smithfield Market when livestock were brought directly into the City. The text offers best wishes to Copenhagen Fields and Islington.

Smithfield Market

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q607963x

The view looking along West Smithfield, with East Poultry Avenue on the left. The main market buildings disappearing into the distance.

Smithfield Market

Looking back along East Poultry Avenue, the street that separates the poultry market from the main meat market.

Smithfield Market

The main market buildings consist of two main blocks, the east and west market buildings, either side of the Grand Avenue, where West Smithfield becomes Long Lane. The photo below shows the impressive entrance to the Grand Avenue.

Smithfield Market

This has just been an introduction to some of the buildings of Smithfield Market. There is so much more to cover, including the main market buildings, the areas underground, the rail sidings and route under the market, more buildings along Charterhouse Street together with the long history of the market – all to be covered in future posts, when I dig out more photos of the area.

Work on Crossrail continues, the space within the General, Poultry and Fish Markets should become the new Museum of London.

The meat market continues to trade, however the City of London Corporation plans to move the meat market, along with the City’s other managed markets to a new site, with Barking Reach being the current preferred location.

In years to come, the area between Lindsey and Farringdon Streets will be very different.

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