In 1986, Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers had a shop at 244 Bethnal Green Road in east London:
In 2023, they are still in business, and have expanded to take in the ground floor of the building to the right:
It is unusual for the same business to be operating in the same place after almost 40 years, and Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers have been at the same site for much longer having first opened here in 1892.
Apart from the ups and downs of the economy, the business seems to have had a reasonably quiet 131 years of trading, apart that is from the risk that any business with high value goods has to run, such as reported in the Eastern Post and City Chronicle on the 23rd of October, 1920:
“RAID ON A JEWELLERS: A daring attempt was made on Tuesday night by several men attempting to obtain possession of some valuable jewellery on the premises of Messrs. Attenborough Jewellers and pawnbrokers of 244, Bethnal Green Road. The weapon used was a hammer, and the thick plate glass window was smashed. The thieves were disturbed by a passer by and made off without obtaining any booty.
An unemployment meeting was being held at the time at the corner of Bethnal Green Road.”
The last sentence of the above article is rather strange, and seems to try and link an unemployment meeting with the robbery.
The Attenborough website only mentions the business in Bethnal Green Road, however there have been a few other businesses with the same name and business description across London, so I do not know if they were once all part of the same business, or the naming is just a coincidence.
Attenborough Jewellers and Pawnbrokers appears to have had a branch on Oxford Street in 1940, as in the following article dated the 5th of February, 1940, it is the same name, and the same description of “jewellers and pawn brokers”:
“STANLEY HILTON THURSTON, the prisoner who escaped from Lewes Gaol on August 9 last year was recaptured dramatically in London to-day.
The man, for whom the police have been searching for almost six months, walked into a jeweller’s shop in Oxford-street and was endeavouring to make a transaction when suspicions were aroused, and the police were called.
When the police questioned Thurston, he vaulted the counter and ran into the street. He was chased by the young assistant at the shop, who leaped on his back and brought him crashing to the pavement. Four police officers held him down while a taxi was called to take him to the police station.
The manager of the shop – Messrs. Attenborough, jewellers and pawnbrokers, described Thurston as ‘a real tough guy’. Thurston, a native of Manchester was serving sentences of five years penal servitude for a jewel robbery and five years preventative detention as an habitual criminal when, with a companion, he made his daring escape.
They were mistaken for harriers when seen wearing singlets in Lewes High-street. Thurston posed as a runner when he escaped Liverpool Gaol in 1930.”
Other newspaper articles include a reference to another Attenborough’s shop, also a “jewellers and pawn brokers” at 193 Fleet Street. and also one in Brompton Road
As with the businesses with the same name across London, the Attenborough’s in Bethnal Green Road was both a jeweller and a pawnbroker, and the business still has the three gold balls of the pawnbroker on the front of the building:
The use of three gold balls as the symbol for a pawnbroker dates from the time when most people could not read, and a symbol was needed to show the location of a particular business.
The three balls seems to have a number of possible origins.
One origin is a story that Saint Nicholas gave three bags of gold to the three daughters of a poor man, providing them with the means to get married.
Another possible origin is that the sign was used by Lombard lenders, who were money lenders and early bankers who came from central and northern Italy. The name Lombard is associated in the City of London with Lombard Street, where Lombard merchants settled in the 12th century.
The association between Lombards and pawnbrokers is such that in a number of European countries variations of the name are used for a pawnbroker, for example Lommerd in the Netherlands.
Whatever the origins of the symbol, the practice of pawnbroking goes back many centuries, where you would handover something you owned for a cash sum, with the ability to retrieve the object following payment of the original sum of money, plus interest.
The pawnbroker was often the last resort for the poor, including those who worked and did not have enough money to last to their next pay day.
For the last few hundred years, pawnbroking has been a regulated activity. The Pawnbroker Act of 1785 brought in the licensing of pawnbrokers, with those operating in London having to pay a fee of £10, and those in the rest of the country £5 for their licence. The act limited the rate of interest they could charge to 0.5% with loans being limited to one year.
An interest rate of 0.5% did not go down well with those in the trade, and 15 years later in 1800, another Pawnbroker Act raised the maximum interest rate to 1.5%.
Various acts continued to modify the way the trade was conducted, with conditions being placed on the trade to protect the individual, for example that a pawnbroker could be fined if he traded with a person who was drunk.
Pawnbrokers have had something of a renaissance in recent years, and many have also tried to move their image upmarket, for example, with a trade in luxury watches.
Probably helped by the current cost of living, one major chain of pawnbrokers recently increased their profits by around 30%, and highlighted that “as continued momentum in our core pawnbroking business provides a robust revenue and profit foundation for the remainder of the financial year.”
I searched Google for the number of pawnbrokers in London and Yelp came up with a total of 203 (their page link on Google was “The Best 10 Pawn Shops in London” – written in the way that Google likes, but a rather strange name for a list of pawn brokers.)
Hopefully Attenborough’s will be in business at 244 Bethnal Green Road for a good many years to come.
The expansion of the Attenborough business between the 1986 and 2023 photos shows the occupation of the ground floor of the building on the right of the 1986 photo.
This is very typical of streets such as Bethnal Green Road, where buildings, many of which were probably once fully residential, have had their ground floors converted into shops, and these businesses expand and contract across neighbouring buildings over time:
There are also reminders of the once thriving pubs that catered for the inhabitants of Bethnal Green:
There are some lovely side street off Bethnal Green Road, such as where these small 19th century brick workshops can be found in Gibraltar Walk:
This area of east London is a magnate for murals, street art and graffiti, and there was much to be seen as I headed towards Liverpool Street Station:
Turville Street – this has covered up an area that was used for paste up advertising:
Braithwaite Street, E1:
On the corner of Braithwaite Street and Quaker Street there was a car wash business for several years. Today, there is a three piece artwork created by Cold War Steve:
Who continues the tradition of using art and satire to comment on the politics of the day:
It is always fascinating to explore the streets of Bethnal Green, and to find that Attenborough’s has expanded and continued in business since photographed in 1986.
The trade of a pawn broker has existed for very many centuries, and I suspect will continue to do so for a long time to come.
The area to the north of St. Paul’s Cathedral was destroyed during the war, mainly due to the use of incendiary bombs on the night of the 29th of December 1940. The destruction covered ancient streets such as Paternoster Row and Paternoster Square, and the shells of buildings were demolished and removed leaving a wide open space ready for new development.
The site was redeveloped during the 1960s, with the pre-war streets and original architectural styles being ignored, with an office complex built which followed a number of post war City planning themes which I will come on to later in the post.
The 1960s development was not popular, obstructed key views of the cathedral and tended to separate the cathedral from the area to the north. The buildings were not that well maintained and by the late 1980s the area was not an attractive place to work, or walk through, and did nothing to enhance the cathedral just to the south.
In the early 1990s, a proposed Masterplan was published by “Masterplanners” Terry Farrell, Thomas Beeby and John Simpson & Partners, and Design Architects Robert Adam, Paul Gibson, Allan Greenberg, Demetri Porphyrious and Quinlan Terry.
I have a copy of the Masterplan and it is fascinating to compare the original proposals with the site we see today. Not quite so architecturally ornate as the Masterplan, but very similar to what was originally proposed, and (in my view) a significant improvement on the 1960s development.
The following image is from the Masterplan and shows a “View of Paternoster Square looking south-east to the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral”. The image is by Edwin Venn.
As with City developments such as the Barbican and Golden Lane estates, the damage inflicted on the City during the last war created the large area of space which could take a major, transforming development, rather than the simple rebuild of individual buildings.
The following photo is one of my father’s, taken from the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral:
The shell of a building at the bottom left is the Chapter House of the Cathedral.
The circular features between what was Paternoster Square and the remains of the Chapter House are the outline of water tanks that were placed on site during the war to provide supplies of water for firefighting.
The following extract from Bartholomew’s 1940 Reference Atlas of Greater London shows the area to the north of the cathedral. In the map, a Paternoster Square can be seen. In the above photo, this is the rectangular feature at top left, with roads on all sides, but not a building in sight.
As well as Paternoster Square, the map shows a network of streets such as Ivy Lane, Three Tuns Passage, Lovells Court and Queens Head Passage.
Running across the area was Paternoster Row, and the following photo from the book, the Queen’s London, published in 1896, shows the view along Paternoster Row, a narrow street but with substantial 19th century City office buildings on either side.
In the following photo, the dense network of streets and buildings to the north of the cathedral can be seen:
Another of my father’s views from the Stone Gallery, looking slightly above the earlier photo, with a bus running along Newgate Street. The Paternoster Square developments would occupy the area to the south of Newgate Street.
The same view today, showing the buildings of the Paternoster Square development:
The area, and street names are of some considerable age. The first written records of the streets date from the 14th century, with Paternosterstrete in 1312 and Paternosterrowe in 1349.
From the early 19th century onwards, the area was home to many publishers, stationers and book sellers. Much of the stock held by these businesses contributed to the fires started on the 29th of December 1940.
Harben’s Dictionary of London references a Richard Russell dwelling there in 1374 and described as a “paternosterer”, and that paternosterers were turners of beads, and gave the street its name.
Harben also states that “A stone wall was found under this street at a depth of 18 feet running towards the centre of St. Paul’s. A few yards from this wall in the direction of St. Martin’s-le-Grand wooden piles were found covered with planks at a depth of 20 feet”, and that under Paternoster Square, “Remains of Roman pavements and tiles were found in 1884”.
W.F. Grimes’ book, about his post war excavations across the City, “The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London” records his limited excavations across the area in 1961 to 1962, and that much of the Paternoster area “was not available for examination because the cellars had retained their bomb rubble and the sites around Paternoster Square had become a garage and car parks.”
In the limited excavations that did take place, Grimes found evidence of ditches and post holes, possibly where the wooden piles were found in the 19th century. He concludes that the area was probably occupied by timber framed buildings rather than stone.
The main discovery on the site was a hoard of about 530 coins, “mainly barbarous copies of coins of the Gallic Empire of the late third century A.D.”
The limited excavation took place prior to the 1960s development of the site. This create a dense cluster of office blocks between the cathedral and Newgate Street, which can be seen in the following photo, to the right of the cathedral:
The 1960s development of the site was based on the plans by architect and planner Lord Holford who was commissioned by the City Corporation to advise them on architectural policy, and the development of buildings within the “orbit of the dome of St. Paul’s”.
Lord Holford’s plan for the site followed post-war thinking about the City’s redevelopment. This included the separation of traffic and pedestrians, with vehicles having priority at ground level, and pedestrians moved to elevated walkways.
The original street plans were rejected in favour of a rigid matrix of building blocks, which resulted in a horizontal slab of blocks with the 18-storey office tower Sudbury House being the highest.
Lord Holford’s explanation of his approach to the design of the site was that “there is more to be gained by contrast in design, than from attempts at harmony of scale or character of spacing” (I think this is the design approach used for the current developments between Vauxhall and Battersea Power Station).
Not all of Holford’s ideas were implemented, and many of the buildings were by other architects, so the new development ended up as a rather uninspiring addition to the land north of the cathedral.
The following photo shows the 1960s office block immediately to the right of the old St. Paul’s Chapter House:
In the following photo, the Chapter House is the older building in dark brick behind the tree, and the new lighter red brick building to the right occupied the site of the 1960s office block seen in the above photo:
The following photo shows one of the access ramps that took pedestrians up to the pedestrian area. To the right is the lower vehicle route, with access to car parking:
I may be completely wrong, but I vaguely remember there being a pub on the upper pedestrian area, which had an outside area with a view over the surrounding streets.
The 1960s development took no regard of the views of the cathedral just to the south.
This is the view to the northern entrance to the cathedral, with only a small part visible through a tunnel that takes a pedestrian walkway through an office block:
In the Masterplan, the proposed redevelopment delivers this alternative view of the same part of the cathedral:
And whilst the buildings are less ornate than originally proposed, the view today is much the same as in the Masterplan, also with a café, on the site of the walkway:
The caption to the following illustration reads “St. Paul’s Church Yard will be re-aligned and the Cathedral gardens re-laid and enclosed”:
The gardens were re-laid and enclosed, and new office blocks occupied the space to the north, and whilst these were very different to the 1960s versions, they were not quite as ornate as the Masterplan envisaged:
The objectives of the Masterplan were to:
Restore views of St. Paul’s Cathedral from Paternoster Square at ground level and on the skyline, respecting St. Paul’s Heights and Strategic Views
To create buildings that are in harmony with St. Paul’s Cathedral
To restore the traditional alignment of St. Paul’s Church Yard and the Cathedral Gardens creating an enhanced public space
To re-establish a traditional street pattern and return pedestrian routes into the site to ground level
To create a new, traffic-free, public open space allowing ease of access, especially for the disabled
To follow the City tradition of classical architecture, using traditional materials such as stone, brick, tile, slate and copper
To be flexible enough for key corners, outside the Planning Application site to be integrated at a later date
To create a thriving new business community in the best traditions of City life
To create a much-needed, new shopping area in the heart of the City, with a variety of shops, restaurants and entertainment, linked into St. Paul’s Underground Station
To create new open public spaces for relaxation and enjoyment by office workers, visitors and shoppers alike
It is interesting to compare the development today with these objectives.
There was an intention to follow the City tradition of classical architecture, and this could be seen in the illustrations of the planned buildings, such as the following example showing “the frontage of the new buildings on Newgate Street”:
The frontage along Newgate Street today is comprised of standard office block design, without the classical architecture proposed in the Masterplan.
The title of the following illustration is “A Meeting Place – Paternoster Square will provide a social focus for the City, a place to meet friends and colleagues, to browse or to use the health club”:
This approach can be seen across the Paternoster Square development, but in less ornate settings. Whilst the buildings do not have the same classical architectural styling, they do make use of stone, and there is a considerable amount of brick throughout the site which is a pleasant change from the glass and steel of many other recent City developments:
Whereas today, Paternoster Square is at a single level, in the Masterplan it was intended that there would be steps leading down to a Lower Court, so whilst the plan did away with the upper pedestrian and lower vehicle levels of the 1960s development, it did retain different levels, but for pedestrians. The Lower Court:
The plan was that Paternoster Row would become almost a continuation of Cheapside.
Cheapside was, and to an extent still is, the main shopping space of the City, and the One New Change development has enhanced this, but in the Masterplan, shopping would continue from Cheapside, across the road into Paternoster Row, and the underground station, which today is reached via a separate access point to the edge of the development, would have been integrated into the plan, as shown in the following illustration:
The St. Paul’s Chapter House was reduced to a shell of a building, as shown in my father’s photo, however it was restored and survived the 1960s redevelopment, and was included in the Masterplan, where it can be seen in the centre of the following illustration.
To the left of the Chapter House is a rather ornate three storey gateway into Paternoster Square, which today has been replaced by Temple Bar.
Temple Bar was included as an option in the Masterplan, which is described as “currently in a state of decay in a Hertfordshire Park”.
As mentioned earlier, the central Paternoster Square was intended to be multi-level, and in the following illustration, there is a rather impressive Loggia (an outdoor corridor with a covered roof and open sides), that would have provided a lift down to the Lower Court, would provide shelter, and would mark the access point to the Lower Court:
A key aim of the Masterplan was to bring life back to the area, and one of the ways to do this was via retail, and the plan stated that “Paternoster Square will be established as one of the foremost shopping areas in central London. There will be more than 80 shops, including a quality food hall or department store”.
The approach to retail included a Shopping Avenue, which was a covered route between the Lower Court and St. Paul’s Underground Station:
Shops would also line the new Paternoster Row:
And along the route of the old Ivy Lane, there would be Ivy Lane Arcade “designed in the tradition of famous London arcades. It will attract specialty shops such as jewelers and galleries”:
And shopping around Paternoster Square and Lower Court:
The Paternoster Square estate does have some shopping, but far less than was intended in the original Masterplan. There is no lower court and no covered shopping avenues.
Most of the shops are either restaurants, bars or take away food and coffee shops, aimed at local office workers and at the number of visitors who pass through as part of a visit to the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral.
There are also many other differences. Whilst the overall concept appears the same, the classical building style is now very limited as is the overall decoration across the buildings and ground level pedestrian spaces.
In 1995, the owners of the land commissioned Whitfield Partners to deliver a Masterplan for redevelopment, and it is the outcome of this plan that we see today. Similar in concept, but different in implementation.
The Paternoster Square development today has a large central space, is pedestrianised, and some of the pedestrian walkways do roughly align with some of the original pre-war streets.
The objective of bringing life back to the area has been achieved, and during the day it is generally busy with local workers, visitors and tourists, and on a summer’s afternoon, the bars and restaurants are particularly busy.
The central square features a 23.3 metre tall column, which conceals air vents to the parking space below the square:
The Masterplan by Farrell, Beeby and Simpson included a Loggia which would have provided a lift down to the Lower Court, and mark the access point to the Lower Court.
Whilst the Loggia and Lower Court were not part of the implemented Masterplan, there is a covered way along the northern edge of the square which has similarities to the original Loggia:
In the above photo, two groups of tourists with guides can be seen to the right. Between them is the artwork “The Sheep and Shepherd” by Elisabeth Frink. This came from the earlier Paternoster Square development as it was installed on the north side of the estate in 1975 when it was unveiled by Yehudi Menhuin.
It was moved to the high walk outside the Museum of London in 1997 prior to demolition of the 1960s estate, then returned to Paternoster Square in 2003.
The Sheep and Shepherd stands where Paternoster Square joins to Paternoster Row (which, as far as I can tell is very slightly north of the street’s original alignment).
Looking through the Loggia that was built as part of the new development:
Rather than lots of classical decoration to the buildings, there is a “Noon Mark” on one of the buildings to the north of the square. In strong sunlight, at midday, the shadow indicates roughly the day of the year:
A key point with the development is the height of the buildings. In the 1960s development, there were office blocks that ran both parallel and at right angles to the cathedral and views of the cathedral were limited.
With the new development, building heights are lower and allow views of the cathedral. As can be seen in the following photo from the north west corner of Paternoster Square, the new buildings are just slightly higher than the original Chapter House (the older, dark brick building to the right of the column):
Whilst a number of the walkways do roughly align with the original streets, Paternoster Square is in a different place to the original square, which would have been to the northwest of the current square, to the right of the building in the following photo, which does retain some classical styling at ground level, but is a modern building above:
This is the view from the western end of Paternoster Lane towards the central square. This stretch of walkway is almost exactly on the original route of Paternoster Row:
Sometimes it seems as if all the large sculpture across London’s streets is there to hide an air vent. This is the purpose of the column in the central square and also the purpose of a work of art on the corner where Paternoster Lane meets Ave Maria Lane:
This is a 2002 work by Thomas Heatherwick, and consists of sixty three identical isosceles triangles of stainless steel sheet welded together.
Round to the front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and to the north of the large open space in front of the cathedral is an office block with shops at ground level which follows the alignment of the old street St. Paul’s Churchyard:
The following photo is taken from Cheapside looking towards the cathedral and Paternoster Square development, and may offer a clue as to why the implemented Masterplan is different to the Masterplan of Farrell, Beeby and Simpson:
To the right of the above photo are two sides of an octagonal building. It can be seen in the following extract of the photo of the 1960s estate:
One of the entrances to St. Paul’s Underground Station is just to the right of the building in the photo, and the building is either part above, or extremely close to, the underground station.
I have no evidence to confirm this, however it may be that the estate we see today was down to cost.
Whilst the initial planning permission did not include the octagonal building, the Masterplan did. It would have been demolished and the entrance to St. Paul’s Underground Station would be integrated into one of the new buildings as can be seen in one of the earlier pictures. The proposed lower shopping arcade would also have led into the underground station.
I imagine that anything involving changes to an underground station incur significant extra planning time and costs.
The overall Paternoster estate, whilst aligning with the original Masterplan, does not have the level of classical architecture proposed in the plan, or the split level with the lower court.
All this extra work would have incurred cost, and in so much of the built environment, decisions often come down to cost.
Having said that, compared to the 1960s development, Paternoster Square is a very considerable improvement.
It integrates well with the cathedral to the south, recreates alignments close to some of the original streets, certainly has brought life back into the area from what I recall of the previous development, and is a generally pleasant space to walk through.
Reading the Masterplan though, it is interesting to speculate what might have been, if this plan had been adopted.
You may be interested in the following posts about the area around St. Paul’s:
Walk along Holborn and one of the most impressive buildings you will see is the old head office of Prudential Assurance:
The Prudential moved into their new office in 1879, which was quite an achievement given that the company had only been founded 31 years earlier in 1848.
The building exudes Victorian commercial power and was a statement building for the company that was at the time the country’s largest assurance company.
The lower part of the building uses polished granite, with red brick and red terracotta across all upper floors. If you stare at the building long enough the use of polished granite gives the impression that there has been a large flood along Holborn, which has left a tide mark on the building after washing out the red colour from the lower floors.
The building is Grade II* listed and was designed by Alfred Waterhouse with help from his son Paul. After Prudential initially moved into the building, constriction continued as could be expected on a building of this size which extends back from Holborn for some distance. The front range facing onto Holborn was completed between 1897 and 1901.
In the centre of the façade is a tower, with a large arch leading through into inner courtyards around which are further wings of the building:
Alfred Waterhouse was born in 1830 in Liverpool. His father was involved in the cotton trade, working as a cotton broker. The family had quite an influence on the future, with one of his brothers founding an accountancy firm that would eventually become PriceWaterhouse, and a second brother, Theodore, starting a legal company that became Field Fisher Waterhouse (the company has since dropped the Waterhouse name).
After attending a Quaker school in Tottenham, Alfred Waterhouse started work in Manchester where he worked on a number of private residences and public buildings, however he first major commission came when he won a competition for the Assize Courts in Manchester in 1858.
The Assize Courts were badly damaged by wartime bombing, and were condemned by the post-war decision not to rebuild. The Gothic style of Waterhouse’s work was not in fashion with architectural styles of the 1950s and 60s.
His other work in Manchester included Strangeways Prison (now just HM Prison Manchester), and Manchester Town Hall, which did survive wartime bombing of the city, and still looks glorious today. Again, the same Gothic style and parallels with the Prudential building can be seen:
Waterhouse moved his architectural practice from Manchester to London in 1865.
He lost out on a competition to design the Law Courts in the Strand, but did win the competition for the Natural History Museum in Kensington, which again follows a similar style to his previous works, although with the museum, at the centre of the wide façade is the main entrance, which has two smaller towers on either side of the central block.
The Natural History Museum also displays a move from Gothic to Romanesque as an architectural style.
The design of the new building was considered such a success by Prudential that they commissioned Alfred Waterhouse and his son Paul to design a further 21 office buildings for the company in cities across the country. Some of these, such as in Southampton, can still be seen.
Waterhouse died in 1905, just a few years after Queen Victoria, and his Gothic designs with large buildings often including central towers have come to be symbolic of a style of Victorian architecture, that ended at the very start of the 20th century.
The Prudential adopted the figure of Prudence in 1848 as the symbol for the company. Prudence was said to have the qualities of memory, intelligence and foresight, enabling a prudent act to consider the past, present and future.
The figure of Prudence can be seen in a niche above the main entrance into the building and was the work of the sculptor Frederick William Pomeroy:
The Prudential Mutual Assurance Investment and Loan Association was founded in 1848 in Hatton Garden, and their target market was the sale of life assurance and the provision of loans to the emerging Victorian middle and industrious classes.
The company advertised the sale of shares in January 1849 to raise capital, and their advert gives an idea of the financial products that were starting to become widely available in the middle of the 19th century:
“The following important new features and advantages in Life Assurance, now introduced by this Association, are earnestly impressed on the attention of the public, particularly of the industrial classes, viz :-
To enable members subscribing for £20 shares, payable by small monthly or quarterly instalments, to securely invest their savings and participate in the whole amount of profits, or in the case of death their representatives to receive the amount of each share in cash.
To enable Members to purchase real or other property, by advances from the Association on such property.
To grant members loans on real or other security.
To create by periodical subscriptions an Accumulating Fund, the profits arising from which to be from time to time divided amongst its members.
To afford an opportunity to a borrower of securing his surety from future payments in case of his (the borrower’s) death.
Life Assurance in a reduced scale for the whole life or term of years, on lives, joint lives, or on survivorship.”
The comment “payable by small monthly or quarterly instalments” is reminder of the method used by the company to collect payments, with the “Man from the Pru” becoming the term for an insurance salesman who calls door to door to collect regular payment for Prudential’s products.
He was found guilty and sentenced to death, however employees of the Prudential raised several hundred pounds and the case went to appeal and he was found not guilty, mainly due to very flimsy evidence being presented.
Immediatly after being acqutted, he continued his employment with the Prudential.
The “Man from the Pru” operated across the country, and was supported by company offices in multiple towns and cities.
There is a frieze along the façade of the Prudential building, which includes coats of arms of many of the places where the company had an office:
I have been able to identify a few of these arms. In the above photo, the arms of Belfast is at the left, then could be Norwich, although the castle should be above the lion, on the right is Bristol.
In the photo below, Leeds is second from left, then Coventry:
Look up when walking in through the main entrance, and admire the incredible brickwork:
When built, the Prudential building was very advanced for its time. There was hot and cold running water, electric lighting, and to speed the delivery of paperwork across the site, a pnematic tube system was installed, where documents were put into canisters, which were then blown through the tube system to their destination.
Ladies were provided with their own restaurant and library, and had a separate entrance, and were also allowed to leave 15 minutes early to “avoid consorting with men”.
The façade onto Holborn is just part of the Prudential complex as it extends some considerable way back from the street. The size of the building was not just because of the number of workers, but was also to enable storage of the sheer volume of paperwork resulting from insuring almost one third of the UK population at the peek of the Prudential’s size.
Walking through the main entrance and there is a small open space, where we can see a connecting bridge between wings of the complex, with ornate windows above a large arch:
There is a plaque on the wall, recording that Charles Dickens lived here. He lived here between 1833 and 1836 when the site was occupied by Furnival’s Inn, more of which later in the post:
More stunning brickwork in the arch over the entrance to the courtyard at the back of the complex:
The overall Prudential site was expanded and remodeled during the years of their occupation.
Being an information intensive business, their building needed to adjust to changing technology, and methods of recording and storing data.
In the 1930s the interior of the original blocks were rebuilt with large open plan floors in the art deco style in order to accommodate punch card machinery.
There was another major refurbishment in the 1980s which completed by 1993, but by then the Prudential’s days in their Holborn office complex were numbered. Departments had been moving out of central London for a number of years, for example their Industrial Branch administration had moved to Reading in 1965.
In 1999, the Prudential’s Group Head Office relocated to Laurence Pountney Hill.
Since 2019, the Prudential has been focused on Asia and the Far East. The UK businesses were transferred to M&G which today is a completely separate company to the Prudential, although Prudential still retain a head office in London and are quoted on the London Stock Exchange.
The following photo shows the rear courtyard of the complex, now named Waterhouse Square after the original architect of the buildings. The dome in the centre provides natural light to the space below:
But what was on the site before the Prudential building? To discover that, we need to look at the Corporation of London blue plaque to the right of the main entrance from Holborn:
The plaque records that the Prudential building is on the site of Furnival’s Inn, which was demolished in 1897 to make way for the Prudential building.
The name comes from William de Furnival who, around the year 1388, leased part of his lands in Holborn to the Clerks of Chancery, who prepared writs for the King’s Court, assisted by apprentices who received the first stages of their legal training at the Inn.
By the 15th century, the Inns of Chancery had become a type of preparatory school for students, and by 1422, Furnival’s Inn was attached to Lincoln’s Inn, who later in 1548 took on a long term lease.
Furnival’s Inn was described as the equivalent of Eton with Lincoln’s Inn being King’s College at Cambridge. At the end of each year, Lincoln’s Inn would receive students from Furnival’s who had received their training, and reached the standard required to move up, and receive the next stage of their training, along with the greater freedoms that an Inn of Court could offer.
The scale of Funival’s Inn can be seen in the following extract from William Morgan’s 1682 map of London, where the inn can be seen in the centre of the map:
Furnival’s Inn occupied much of the space currently occupied by the old Prudential buiding. The map also includes some of the many legal institutions based in this part of Holborn. Part of Grays Inn can be seen to the left, and below and to the left of Furnival’s Inn is another Inn of Chancery, Staple Inn.
This drawing from around 1720 shows the scale of Furnival’s Inn:
As with the Prudential building, Furnival’s Inn had a central entrance from Holborn. Once through this entrance, there is an inner courtyard surrounded by buildings, and behind this courtyard is a garden, again surrounded by buildings.
The following print is from 1804 and shows part of the inner court:
By the 17th century, the Inns of Chancery had begun to turn into societies for the legal profession, and Furnival’s Inn became residential, offices and dining clubs.
Their use as places of training and education for students before they transferred to the Inns of Court had been reducing over time and by the 19th century, Furnival’s Inn had ceased to exist for its original purpose, with only what were classed as “6 ancients and 16 juniors”.
It was dissolved in 1817, and when Lincoln’s Inn did not renew their lease a year later, some of the buildings were sold off and demolished, with apartments and a hotel occupying part of the site.
Parts of the old Furnival’s buildings were still used by those in the legal profession, and there were a number of adverts and articles in the press from solicitors based in the buildings, for example in 1880 a solicitor J.C. Asprey who had an address of 6 Furnival’s Inn was advertising for any claimants to the estate of a deceased resident of Hackney.
Final clearance of the site ready for the Prudential removed the last of the Furnival buildings and name from the site, however the Prudential building retained a similar layout with a large façade along Holborn, with inner courtyards surrounded by buildings.
Whilst the architecture and brickwork of the Prudential building is impressive, the drawings of the interior of Furnival’s Inn show a place which had evolved over time, with buildings that were probably put up at different times and for different purposes, which must have been an interesting place to explore.
The following print is dated 1820, just after the Inn had ceased to function as an inn of Chancery. On the range of buildings to the left, an open arch can be seen which leads through to Holborn, and at the far end on the right is a building which looks as if it could have been a central hall, with a large bay window looking out onto the courtyard.
After the Prudential left the building, work was done to extend at the rear and refresh / build new, along part of the western side of the building. The streets, part of which are pedestrianised, surrounding three sides of the complex are called Waterhouse Square.
The building is now used by multiple companies as office space, but I understand is still owned by the Prudential.
Fascinating to think that, whilst the buildings have changed across the centuries, this part of Holborn has been occupied by the buildings of only two institutions across almost 700 years – Furnival’s Inn and the Prudential.
In last Sunday’s post, I complained about the lack of sunlight when I was taking photos of Peckham. The day that post was published was a glorious February day, bright sunlight and clear blue sky, so I took the opportunity for a walk around Hampstead, starting with Admiral’s House, the location of one of my father’s photos from 1951.
The same view in February 2023:
The view of Admiral’s House is much the same, however if you look to the right of my father’s photo, there is a brick wall and a rather nice lamp. These are not visible in my photo.
The reason being that both photos were taken a few feet along a walkway that follows the brick wall on the right. In the 72 years between the two photos, a large amount of small trees and bushes have grown up alongside the wall, so I could not get into the exact same position as my father when he took the 1951 photo:
The lamp on the end of the wall is still there, it looks the same design, so I assume it is the same lamp, however there are some shiny washers and bolts now holding the mount to the wall, so these have been replaced:
Admiral’s House is a short walk from Hampstead Underground Station. North along Hampstead Grove, then turn left into Admiral’s Walk, where there is a large sign on the corner, helpfully pointing to Admiral’s House:
The house appears to date from the early 18th century, when it was built for a Mr. Charles Keys. At that time, the building was known as the Golden Spike, after the Masonic Lodge that met in the building between 1730 and 1745.
Admiral’s House can be seen in Rocque’s 1746 map, shown circled in red in the following extract, where, for reference, I have also circled Fenton House in blue, with the distinctive squared shape of its garden between Fenton and Admiral’s Houses.
From 1775 to 1810 the house was occupied by Fountain North, apparently a former naval captain. North changed the name of the house to ‘The Grove’.
Fountain North is a rather unusual name, and I did find some basic information about him. He died on the 21st of Spetember, 1810 in Hastings. The brief line recording his death in newspapers at the time states that he was of Rougham Hall in Norfolk. There is no mention of Hampstead. I could only connect this record with the Fountain North who lived in Hampstead, when I found the report of the death of his wife, Arabella North, who died in Weymouth in 1832, and the record states that she was “the widow of Fountain North, of Rougham Norfolk, and Hampstead, Middlesex”.
It was Fountain North who constructed the quarter deck on the roof of the house, and it was from here that he apparently fired a cannon to celebrate naval victories, however I cannot find any references to this from the time, so difficult to say whether or not it is true.
This is where there has been confusion with an Admiral Barton, a genuine Admiral who lived between 1715 and 1795, who has been alleged to have built Admiral’s House, but in reality had nothing to do with the house in Hampstead.
Even publications such at the Tatler recorded Admiral Barton as being responsible for the house, for example, in an article on the 14th July, 1940 on Pamela Lady Glenconner, who was then living in the house with her family, the Tatler reported that “Admiral’s House was built in the eighteenth century by Admiral Barton who, after an adventurous career which included shipwreck on the Barbary Coast, being sold into slavery, rescue and court martial, ended his days firing guns to celebrate victories in the Napoleonic wars”.
Barton did have an adventurous career, but he did not live in Admiral’s House.
Admiral’s House is Grade II listed, and I have used the Historic England history of the house in the listing record as hopefully the most accurate record for the history of the house.
Admiral Barton certainly did not build the house, and whether cannons were ever fired from the roof must be questionable.
Pamela Lyndon Travers (born Helen Lyndon Goff in Queensland, Australia on the 9th of August, 1899) was the author of Mary Poppins which features Admiral Boom, who fired a cannon from his roof. Travers was working on Mary Poppins during the 1920s (it was published in 1934).
Admiral’s House is referenced as Travers inspiration for Admiral Boom’s house. There is no record that she ever lived in Hampstead, or whether she saw the house when she was writing Mary Poppins, however as shown with the Tatler article in 1940, the story of the Admiral and cannon was in circulation in the early decades of the 20th century.
Admiral’s House as seen whilst walking along Admiral’s Walk:
Admiral’s House has been modified many times over the years. The entrance from Admiral’s Walk, along with the conservatory on the first floor which can be seen in the above photo, were both 19th century additions.
The large garage which can be seen to the right of the house is a recent replacement of an earlier structure, and the house has also had a kitchen extension and underground swimming pool added.
To the side of Admiral’s House is another building, Grove Lodge. It is not clear what the original relationship was between the two buildings, and whether there was any dependency, however they do appear to have been in separate ownership for most of their existence.
Recent building work on Grove Lodge made the national newspapers, when construction of a basement at Grove Lodge, allegedly caused damage to Admiral’s House, as reported in the Daily Mail.
If you look at the following photo, there is a brown plaque on Admiral’s House, and a blue plaque on Grove Lodge:
The brown plaque on Admiral’s House was also in my father’s 1951 photo, and is a London County Council plaque, recording that the architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott lived in the house.
He was the architect for the Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station, the Albert memorial, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as large number of other public buildings, restorations of churches and cathedrals, and domestic houses.
Prior to Hampstead, he was living in St. John’s Wood, however the continued expansion of London resulted in a move in 1856 to Admiral’s House. He would not stay there for too long, as his wife Caroline found the place rather cold and the location isolated which restricted their social life (Hampstead Underground Station would open years later in 1907).
The blue plaque on Grove Lodge, to the left, is to record that the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy lived in the house between 1918 and 1933. Galsworthy’s best known work was the Forsyte Saga, and he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1932.
The house in Hampstead was his London home, and it was here that Galsworthy died in 1933.
After a look at Admiral’s House, and ticking off another of my father’s photos, the weather was so good that we went for a wander around Hampstead.
We then headed east, crossed over Heath Street and walked along Elm Row, where there is this house:
With a plaque recording that Sir Henry Cole, who “originated the custom of sending Christmas Cards” lived in the house:
Sir Henry Cole seems to have been a far more complex and busy man than the plaque suggests. He appears to have been a workaholic, and also did not suffer fools gladly (or those that disagreed with him). His obituary, published after his death in 1882, records that “It is now fifty-five years since he commenced his career of working himself and making everybody else within the sphere of his influence work also”, and that he entered public service under the Record Commission when he “allowed little time to pass before making his presence felt”.
He found the Records Commission was in a terrible state and set about reorganising the way records were kept, in such a way that brought him into conflict with a number of powerful people.
The Record Commissioners dismissed him following a feud within the organisation, however when he was proved to be right, and had gathered his own support, the Record Commissioners had to take him back, and promote him to the office of Assistance Keeper of Records.
The reference to Christmas Cards probably relates to the following entry in his obituary “He took an important part in the development of the penny-postage plan of Sir Rowland Hill, occupied the responsible post of Secretary to the Mercantile Committee on Postage, and gained one of the £100 prizes offered by the Treasury for ‘suggestions'”.
He also had concerns about standards of architecture, fashion and the design of everyday objects, stating that “In 1840 England had not yet recovered from the fearful degradation of taste under Farmer George” (the nickname given to George III), and he preached for the alliance of art and manufacture.
This is only a small snapshot of his life and his obituary ran to a full column and a quarter of news print. I suspect it was a clever marketing idea to introduce the custom of sending Christmas Cards when he was involved with the penny-postage plan.
Following Elm Row, then turning into Hampstead Square and there are two large, brick buildings. The one on the left has a brown plaque on the side:
The brown plaque reads “In memoriam – Newman Hall, D.D. Homes for the aged given by his widow”.
Newman Hall was described as “one of the oldest residents in Hampstead” when he died in 1902 aged 85. He was a Reverend and Preacher, author and artist. The titles of his book included “Songs of Heaven and Earth” and “Come to Jesus”.
The plaque refers to numbers 7, 8 and 9 Hampstead Square, which were bequeathed by the Will of Newman Hall’s wife, Harriet Mary Margaret Hall as almshouses for pensioners in 1922.
The charity, the Newman Hall Home for Pensioners exists to this day, continuing to maintain the properties in their use as almshouses.
Now continuing along Cannon Place, and the view along Christchurch Hill shows the height of Hampstead, compared to the city to the south, which was one of its attractions when development started during the early 18th century.
Opposite the junction with Christchurch Hill is another blue plaque. This one to Sir Flinders Petrie, 1853 to 1942, Egyptologist:
Flinders Petrie was a prolific archaeologist of Egyptian history. He began archaeological training began in 1872, when he surveyed Stonehenge, and his first visit to Egypt in 1880 resulted in his first dig in the country in 1884 and which started a lifetime of work exploring Egyptian history.
He gathered a very large collection of Egyptian antiquities, and ensured that during excavations, everything was recorded, no matter how small.
University College London now has the Petrie Museum. This was formed around the department and museum created in 1892 through the bequest of Amelia Edwards. a collection of Egyptian antiquities.
Amelia Edwards, who for a while lived in Wharton Street on the Lloyd Baker Estate (see this post) was a 19th century novelist and author of travel books which she would also illustrate. After a visit to Egypt she became fascinated by the ancient history of the country and the threats to the archaeology and monuments that could be found across the country.
She wrote about her travels in Egypt and in 1882 also helped set-up the Egypt Exploration Fund to explore, research and preserve Egypt’s history. The fund is still going today as the Egypt Exploration Society, continuing to be based in London at Doughty Mews.
Flinders Petrie was the first Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at University College London. The Flinders collection of Egyptian antiquities is also now in the museum that bears his name.
At the end of Cannon Place, at the junction with Squire’s Mount is Cannon Hall:
Cannon Hall dates from around 1729 and is a Grade II* listed building.
The house is another Hampstead connection with the du Maurier family, as Gerald du Maurier purchased the house in 1916 and lived there until his death in 1934.
Gerald was the son of George du Maurier who we met earlier in Hampstead Grove.
Gerald was an actor-manager and his most famous parts were probably when he played significant roles in premieres of two J.M. Barrie plays, including the dual role of George Darling and Captain Hook on the 27th of December, 1904 at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
He lived in Canon Hall with his wife Muriel Beaumont and their three daughters, Daphne du Maurier (future author and who we will meet again in Hampstead, Angela (who would also become an author), and the future artist, Jeanne du Maurier.
Canon Hall had a number of other notable, previous residents, including in 1780, Sir Noah Thomas who was physician to King George III, and from 1838, Sir James Cosmo Melville of the East India Company, who when he purchased the house was chief secretary of the company.
It seems that from around the time of Meville’s ownership, the cannons that gave the name to the place were installed along the street.
Walk past Cannon Hall, and turn down Squire’s Mount (named after Joshua Squire who purchased some land here in 1714), follow the wall alongside Cannon Hall, to find a strange door and pair of windows:
The plaque on the wall states that this was the parish lock-up, built into the garden wall of Cannon Hall around 1730. The hall was the site of a magistrates court, and prisoners would be kept in the single room cell, until more suitable arrangements could be found.
The Hampstead News on the 2nd of June 1949 stated that from old title deeds, the names of former magistrates appear to have lived in Cannon Hall. The article also stated that the lock-up later housed the manual fire engine belonging to the parish, however I doubt it would have fit through the door, unless alterations have been made to the entrance.
The lock-up lasted 100 years, as its use ended in 1832, when the temporary holding of prisoners was moved to the Watch House in Holly Walk.
The lock-up is Grade II listed, and the listing states that inside there is a vaulted brick single cell. The London Borough of Camden’s Conservation Statement for Hampstead records that on the other side of the wall, modern houses have been built in part of the garden of Cannon Hall, and the old lock-up is now the entrance to one of these houses.
Back in 2015 there was a planning application for a three storey house to be built replacing the single storey building behind the wall. I assume this did not go ahead as no evidence of such a house can be seen above the wall.
Squire’s Mount turns into Cannon Lane, at the end of which is another of the wonderful street name signs that can be found across Hampstead. Nothing like a pointing finger to indicate the direction.
At the end of Cannon Lane, we turned west into Well Lane, and soon found another mention of the du Maurier’s presence in Hampstead:
The plaque states that the novelist Daphne du Maurier lived in the house behind the wall, between 1932 and 1934. Probably best known for the books Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek, her last book, Rule Britannia, published in 1972, was a interesting and prophetic account of the country leaving the European Union.
Finally, towards the end of Well Road is another plaque on the walk alongside the house and buildings in the following photo:
This plaque records that the artist Mark Gertler lived in the building. He was born in Spitalfields and there is a house in Elder Street that also records his time in the area. He was a painter of figure subjects, portraits and still-life, and one of many artists that have made Hampstead their home.
At the end of Well Road, at the junction with New End is a tall, brick building, with a stone plaque on the narrow end of the building:
The lettering along the top of the plaque is somewhat worn, but appears to read: “These buildings were erected by voluntary contributions for a dispensary and soup kitchen. It was intended as a thank offering to almighty God for his special mercy in sparing this parish during the visitation of cholera in the year 1849. The site was purchased in 1850 and the building completed in 1852. He shall deliver thee from the noisome pestilence. Thomas Ainger M.A.”
The building, that was constructed as a dispensary and soup kitchen is now a fee paying, independent school.
The visitation of cholera in the year 1849 was one of the many cholera outbreaks in the mid 19th century (see my post on John Snow and the Soho Cholera Outbreak of 1854). John Snow’s suspicion about the source of a cholera outbreak was further confirmed when a local resident of Golden Square moved to Hampstead, but still sent for a bottle of the “sparkling Broad Street water” every day. She was the only person in Hampstead to be diagnosed with cholera.
The cholera outbreak of 1849 was serious across the whole of London, although south London suffered more than north London. The Lady’s Newspaper on the 29th of September 1849 carried an account of the outbreak during the first part of the year and reported that 35 out of 10,000 inhabitants of north London died, compared to 104 out of 10,000 inhabitants of south London.
The following table from the Weekly Dispatch provides a list of deaths from Cholera and Diarrhea reported on the 31st of August 1849:
The table shows that for the reporting on that one day, Hampstead had one of the lowest levels of death across London.
That was a short walk, starting at Admiral’s House, which still looks much as it did when compared with my father’s 1951 photo.
The rest of the walk demonstrated just how much there is to explore in Hampstead. Other posts I have written about the area include:
In the nine years I have been writing the blog, I have not really touched south London. There have been visits to Greenwich, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey and lots of posts along the south bank of the river, but nothing further inland. This is a massive omission that hopefully I can start to correct this year, starting with a visit to Peckham, where in 1986, my father photographed Macs Pie and Mash shop:
Macs Pie and Mash was in Blenheim Grove, which leads west from Rye Lane, right next to Peckham Rye train station.
I cannot find the date when Macs Pie and Mash shop closed, however the building is still there, with the distinctive decoration of horizontal bars on the corner. The building is also undergoing some serious refurbishment.
Before the current works on the building, the location of Macs was occupied by a hair and beauty saloon, so the closure of Macs is not recent.
As well as the closing date of Macs Pie and Mash, I cannot find out when it opened, or anything else about the business, or whether Mac was the name of the owner.
The business occupied 8 – 10 Blenheim Grove. There was a barbers in number 10 in 1959 as the South London Observer carried a report of a break-in, with £60 pounds of razors and equipment being stolen – but that seems to be the only time that the building appeared in the local newspapers
Looking at the building from across Rye Lane, and a rather large, glass paneled extension has been built on the roof.
The planning application stated that the work will consist of “refurbishment and erection of a two storey extension to the building at 2-10 Blenheim Grove / 82 Rye Lane, to provide A1 (retail), A2 (financial and professional), A3 (restaurant / cafe), A5 (hot food takeaway), B1a (offices) and D1 (non-residential institution)”, so almost everything apart from residential, which makes sense as facing onto Rye Lane, if residential, the properties would be looking onto a 24 hour environment, with plenty of noise.
The railway and Peckham Rye station is behind the two buildings in the above photo, and between the two, there is an alley that leads to the station. After the two buildings in Blenheim Grove, we can get a view of the station, up on the top of a brick viaduct:
With many of the arches hosting the type of business that can found in railway arches across London:
The art deco building where Macs Pie and Mash shop was located, was built between 1935 and 1936, when a whole series of buildings around the station were constructed by Southern Railway.
Peckham Rye station was built in 1865, originally for trains of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, with trains of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway using the station from the following year.
The original station buildings were impressive. They were design by Charles Henry Driver, and were set back from Rye Lane allowing a large open space between the station entrance and Rye Lane, with the opportunity to view the whole facade of the station building, with three main floors and a large upper roof.
The station sat between two brick viaducts which carried the rail tracks and platforms either side of the station.
As well as the building in Blenheim Grove, between 1935 and 1936 Southern Railways also built on the open space between the station and Rye Lane, with a shop lined arcade providing access from Rye Lane to station. This work also included a building on the northern side of the station and rail tracks, so by the end of 1936, the old station was completely surrounded and could not really be seen from the local streets.
The station facade is therefore really difficult to photograph as there is only a small space in front of the building, with alleys running to left and right, and straight ahead through the acarde to Rye Lane.
To add to the complications of taking a photo of the station during my visit was that it was completely surrounded by scaffolding and plastic sheeting:
I found a photo of the station entrance taken before the scaffolding and sheeting appeared:
It really is a lovely building and a shame to be hidden away and invisible from Rye Lane, but hopefully that will change.
The following photo is looking from the very small station forecourt through to Rye Lane:
There seems to be a plan to demolish the buildings and arcade in front of the station and open up the space to Rye Lane, with the space being available for market stalls and other temporary events. There does not seem to be any evidence of work underway at the moment, however within the arcade leading to Rye Lane, there is a TSB Bank on one side (still open), and the shops / cafes on the other side appear to have been closed for some time:
There is a fruit and vegetable stall open at the end of the arcade:
The following photo shows the 1930s building at the end of the arcade. A similar style to the building in Blenheim Grove. According to the plan to open up Peckham Rye station, these buildings will be demolished leaving a large open space between Rye Lane and the station.
Two of the shops to the left of the arcade entrance:
The buildings between station and Rye Lane are in a very poor condition. They could be refurbished to the standard of the building in Blenheim Grove, but opening up the space to show the station as it was originally meant to be seen would be a far better alternative.
The following map shows the locations of Macs Pie and Mash shop, the station, and the buildings in front of the station shown in the above photos that are planned for demolition.
There is an image of what the open space and view to the station will look like when the project is complete on the Network Rail website here.
Back to Macs Pie and Mash shop. Perhaps better known as an east London establishment, in reality pie and mash shops were once common across much of London.
As can be seen in the windows of Macs Pie and Mash shop, as well as pie and mash, eels were also available.
Eels were once a common and cheap food source for Londoners. Readily available from the Thames and along the estuary, they were sold to be eaten on their own, or within a pie, although pies usually had some form of cheap meat filling and now mainly come with a minced beef filling. The “liquor” that comes with pie and mash is a form of parsley sauce with shops having their own version.
Pie and Mash shops were popular across the streets of London from the mid to late 19th century onwards.
There is still a pie and mash shop not far from the old location of Macs Pie and Mash shop. To find the shop, I walked north along Rye Lane to the junction with Peckham High Street and across the junction with Peckham Hill Street is the Eel and Pie House of M. Manze:
The M.Manze shop is named after Michele Manze, the Italian founder of what grew to be a chain of five shops bearing the M. Manze name (his brothers also opened shops with the Manze surname).
Today, only three M. Manze shops survive, the one at Peckham High Street and a shop on Tower bridge Road, along with a shop in Sutton, which opened in 1998.
The shop in Peckham was almost lost when it was burnt down in 1985 during the Peckham riots. After a long legal battle, the shop finally reopened in 1990, and is still serving pie and mash to the residents of Peckham.
On the strip of negatives that include Macs Pie and Mash shop, there was also the following photo before another Peckham photo, so I know it was taken somewhere in Peckham.
I had a walk around, trying to find the location, but without any luck.
The sign for Lou’s Cafe looks of a similar style to Macs shop, so I did hope they were close together. The car has a sticker for a radio station on 261 metres, which I think was where LBC was broadcasting at the time.
Peckham has a really distinctive character which I plan to explore more over the coming months, along with a number of other south London locations. The redevelopment around Peckham Rye station looks good, but there is always a concern that development results in a gradual loss of the people, shops and buildings that give a place its unique character.
And on the subject of redevelopment (and a completely different location) – approvals of the MSG Sphere in Stratford seem to be getting closer. The Sphere (see here for details of the Sphere) is planned to be covered in LED light panels, and the London Legacy Development Corporation have already granted permission for adverts to be shown across the building using the lighting system.
Although large, bright advertising has long been a feature of a number of London locations such as Piccadilly Circus, there seem to be more sites being built almost with advertising as the sole focus.
Although much smaller than the planned MSG Sphere, the recently opened Now Building is at the northern end of Charing Cross Road, facing one of the entrances to Tottenham Court Road underground station. The sides of the building are covered in really bright advertising:
Advertising which you just cannot miss and which bath the surrounding area in light:
The ground floor of the building includes some genuinely impressive light displays:
Which attracts a constant stream of visitors:
View looking up at the ceiling of the Now building:
Plans for the MSG Sphere are now with the Mayor of London for approval, and it remains to be seen whether he will approve a vast dome covered in LED panels and advertising.
The displays at the Now Building are technically impressive, however it is a concern as to how much of this impossible to miss, incredibly bright advertising proliferates across London.
Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws – two totally unconnected subjects, but there is a tentative connection to the Corn Laws not far from Mornington Crescent underground station which I will get to at the end of today’s post.
The name Mornington Crescent may bring little recognition, apart from a Camden station on the Northern Line, or the name may be instantly familiar from the BBC radio comedy “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” where it is the name of an invented game which requires the naming of a random set of locations to finally get to Mornington Crescent.
The entrance to Mornington Crescent station on Hampstead Road:
Mornington Crescent station was built as part of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, and opened on the 22nd of June 1907. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs with the exterior walls covered in red oxblood faience tiles. The station is now on the Northern Line.
The station takes its name from the nearby street of the same name, a street that was once prominent, but is now hidden away behind a rather glorious 1920s factory.
Mornington Crescent (the street, not the station) is the curved, crescent shaped street that starts to the left of the station, curves around a large grey block and then rejoins Hampstead Road. The following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows the area in the late 19th century, with Mornington Crescent then looking onto a garden, the larger part to the left of Hampstead Road and a small part to the right (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).:
The large grey block in the map of the area today, and which now occupies the area where the garden was located is the wonderful old Carreras cigarette factory, now offices:
The Carreras brand dates from the early 19th century when the Spanish nobleman Don José Carreras Ferrer started trading cigars in London. The business expanded into other forms of tobacco such as snuff and cigarettes, and became a significant business during the late 19th century.
What really drove the brand’s expansion, and the opening of the Mornington Crescent factory was the transformation of Carreras to a public company in 1903, when a Mr. W. J. Yapp (who had taken over the company from the Carreras family) and Bernhard Baron (of Jewish descent, who was born in what is now Belarus on the Russian border, who had moved to the United States and then to London), became directors of the company.
Whilst in New York, Bernhard Baron had invented a machine that could manufacture cigarettes at a faster rate than existing machines, and in London the Carreras company was the only one that took on the new machines, other tobacco companies preferring to stay with their existing means of production, or machines over which they held monopolies.
By the start of the 1920s, Baron was Chairman of the company and wanted to create a large, modern factory, which would enhance the brand’s reputation for the purity and quality of their cigarettes, and provide a good working environment for the company’s employees.
The result was the new factory on the old gardens between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road.
Designed by the architectural practice of Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins, along with Arthur George Porri who acted as a consultant, the design of the building was inspired by the archeological finds in Egypt during the 1920s, with the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun being discovered in 1922.
The building was one of the first (and I believe the largest at the time) building to use pre-stressed concrete, and also to be fitted with air conditioning and dust extraction equipment.
The innovative construction of the building, and the technologies used to maintain the internal environment were mentioned in all the major news reports that covered the opening of the building on the 3rd of November 1928:
“Carreras new factory at Camden Town, which was opened by Mr. Bernhard Baron, the chairman of the company, constitutes not only the largest reinforced concrete building under one roof in Great Britain, but also that rare thing – the realisation of one man’s dream.
Mr. Baron is a practical idealist. He set out to make cigarettes, he wanted them made in the best way, and in the best conditions. He wanted the people who made them to be happy in their work, it has all come true.
The opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design. Mr. Baron performed it himself, not so much as chairman of the company, but as the father of the three thousand employees who have helped him to achieve success. He said, at the luncheon, that he felt it a great honour to have opened the factory, and that he wanted his employees about him at that moment to share his pleasure. That was why he decided on a simple ceremony, a family celebration, as it were, of the culmination of one stage of his life’s work.
Carreras new building embodies all that is best in factory design. It is well lit, and well ventilated and as healthy as it is possible to make it.
Most important of all, it has been fitted with an air conditioning plant which is the only one of its kind in the British tobacco industry, and which ensures a consistently ideal atmosphere for the manufacture of the perfect cigarette. The air which enters the building is first washed clean with water. It is then adjusted to the required temperature and humidity. Outside, London may be shivering or sweltering, damp or dusty. Inside, every day is a fine day; all weather is fair weather. It is well known that the English climate is the best in the world for the manufacture of tobacco; it can now be said that Carreras climate is the best in England.
The façade of the building, which stretches five hundred and fifty feet along Hampstead Road, is something fresh in London architecture – a conventionalised copy of the Temple of Bubastis, the cat headed goddess of Ancient Egypt.”
I have read several modern references to the opening of the building which include that the Hampstead Road was covered in sand, there were chariot races and Verdi’s opera Aida was performed, however I cannot find these mentioned in any of the news reports from the time that covered the opening of the building. As seen in the above report, the “opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design“.
The opening of the factory was seen as an improvement to the area, although it had resulted in the loss of the open space between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road, as newspapers reported that “When the move to save the London squares was first begun, Mornington Crescent was cited as one of London’s losses. It had been acquired by Mr. Bernhard Baron as the site of his new factory. I doubt whether had it been saved we Londoners would have gained anything. Now when you come out of the Tube station, the eyesore of that dirty bit of green, backed by decaying Victorian basement houses is no more. Instead, there is the finest factory in London, an architectural triumph for Mr. Marcus Collins, the culmination of a life’s work for Mr. Baron and a model workplace for his 3,500 employees.”
The Mornington Crescent factory remained in operation until 1959 when Carreras merged with Rothmans, and cigarette production was moved to a factory in the new town of Basildon in Essex.
The building was sold and in 1961 it became office space, with the name of Greater London House, and all the Egyptian decoration was either removed or boxed in.
This would remain the fate of the building until the late 1990s when a new owner refurbished the building and restored the Egyptian decoration that we see today, as close as possible to the original design.
In the following photo of the main entrance to the building, two black cats can be seen on either side of the steps:
These are not the original cats as following the closure of the factory in 1959, one was transferred to the new factory in Basildon whilst the other was shipped to a Carreras factory in Jamaica.
After walking north along Hampstead Road, through the works for HS2, the restoration of the Carerras building has retained some wonderful 1920s architecture to this part of Camden, however it has almost completely hidden Mornington Crescent, and a walk along this street is my next destination, starting from the northern end, opposite the underground station, where the Lyttleton Arms now stands:
If you look closely at the top corner of the building, you will see the original name of the pub as the Southampton Arms. The pub was renamed the Lyttleton Arms in honour of the jazz musician and radio presenter, Humphrey Lyttleton, who was also the long running host of the radio panel game I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue from 1972 until his death in 2008, the show that included the game Mornington Crescent.
During the 1920s, the same decade that the Carerras factory was built, the Southampton Arms, as the pub was called, was one of the centres of conflicts between the gangs who tried to control race course betting, including the Clerkenwell Sabini Brothers and Camden’s George Sage.
The following report from the St. Pancras Gazette on the 6th of October 1922 illustrates one of the incidents:
“RACING MEN’S FEUDS – At Marylebone on Tuesday, Alfred White, Joseph Sabini, George West, Simon Nyberg, Paul Boffa, and Thomas Mack made their eighth appearance on the charges of shooting George Sage and Frederick Gilbert with intent to murder, at Mornington-crescent, Camden Town, on August 19, having loaded revolvers on their possession with intent to endanger life, and riotously assembling.
Helen Sage, wife of one of the prosecutors, said she was talking to her husband outside the Southampton Arms at Camden Town when several taxicabs drove up and a number of men alighted. She then heard a shot, but could not say who fired, as it was dark. The witness admitted that she told the police that West and White fired the shots, but now declared that this statement was untrue.”
Strange that Helen Sage, who was presumably the wife of the shot George Sage declared that her statement was untrue. Possibly some witness tampering or gangs not giving evidence against each other, preferring their own form of justice.
The first section of Mornington Crescent (from the north) is not part of the original, and this will become clear with the architectural style as we walk along the crescent. These later houses are smaller and less impressive than the original part of the crescent:
And after crossing the junction with Arlington Road, we can now see the original terrace of buildings from when Mornington Crescent was laid out:
In the middle of the above terrace there is a blue plaque, to Spencer Frederick Gore, the painter, who lived in the building between 1909 and 1912.
Gore painted the view from his house across the gardens and the view along Mornington Crescent. The Tate have one of his paintings of the gardens online here.
The following view is of the continuation of the terrace houses along Mornington Crescent, at the junction with Mornington Place:
Construction of Mornington Crescent started in the early 1820s and was not complete until the 1830s. It is named after Richard Colley Wellesley, the Earl of Mornington and Governor-General of India. He was also the eldest brother of the Duke of Wellington, so was from an influential family.
Mornington Place heads up to the rail tracks to and from Euston Station:
The street was built around the same time as Mornington Crescent and comprises smaller three storey terrace houses, although with some interesting architectural differences:
At the end of the street, we can look over the brick wall and see the rail tracks, with HS2 works continuing on the far side:
Looking back down Mornington Place towards the old Carreras factory – originally this view would have had the gardens at the end, through which Hampstead Road would have been seen:
Albert Street is a turning off Mornington Place, a terrace of new buildings occupies a space which on the 1894 OS map appears to have been an open space with a larger building set back from the road.
There is a smaller brick building between the modern terrace and the large brick terrace of houses. This is Tudor Lodge:
Tudor Lodge is Grade II listed. It was built between 1843 and 1844 for the painter Charles Lucy, and believed to be to his own design. The plaque on the building though is to George Macdonald, Story Teller, who lived in the building between 1860 and 1863. An interesting building in a street of mainly 19th century terrace houses.
Rather than walk along Albert Street, I returned to Mornington Crescent and the rear of the Carreras factory, where there is a chimney:
I have not been able to confirm whether or not the chimney is original, however rather than being the more common round chimney it seems to have the appearance of an obelisk, similar to Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment, so if original, the chimney continues the Egyptian design theme of the building.
Almost at the end of Mornington Crescent now, and the final row of terrace houses before reaching the Hampstead Road. The following photo gives an indication of the changes to the outlook of the houses when the Carreras factory was built. Rather than looking out on the gardens and across to Hampstead Road, they now had the view of the rear of the large factory.
By the time the factory was built, many of the houses were almost 100 years old, and their condition was not that good, many were subdivided into flats. Their condition would deteriorate further during the 20th century, there was some bomb damage along the terrace in the Second World War and it has only been in the last few decades that many of the houses have been restored.
In this final terrace of Mornington Crescent there is another blue plaque, to another artist, this to Walter Sickert, recorded as a painter and etcher:
Sickert was at the core of the Camden Town Group of artists, a short lived group of artists who gathered mainly between 1911 and 1913.
The building at the southern end of Mornington Crescent, which has a Hampstead Road address is of a much more impressive design, presumably as it was at a more prominent position. Just seen on the wall behind the tree is another plaque:
This plaque is to the artist George Cruikshank, who lived in the building from 1850 until his death in 1878.
On the opposite side of the street to the house in the above photo is a water trough for horses. I took a photo, but was not intending to include the photo in today’s post:
Until i found the following photo in the Imperial War Museum collection showing a horse and cart of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway pausing to drink at the trough, with Mornington Crescent in the background of the photo:
Pleased I found the photo, but rather frustrating as if I had found it before visiting I could have taken a similar view, however it does give a good impression of Mornington Crescent in 1943.
Returning to the space opposite the underground station, we can look south and get a view of the overall size of the Carreras factory, a building that occupied the site of the gardens between the crescent and Hampstead Road.
The space just to the north of Mornington Crescent underground station is the junction of Hampstead Road and Camden High Street, along with Crowndale Road and Eversholt Street.
To the east of the underground station at the road junction is the club / music venue Koko:
Originally the Camden Theatre when built in 1900, it then had a series of owners as both a theatre and a cinema, until 1945 when it was taken over by the BBC and used as a theatre to record radio programmes, including the Goon Show, with the very last Goon Show being recorded in the theatre on the 30th April 1972.
The BBC left in 1972, and from 1977 the building has been a live music venue, firstly as the Music Machine, then the Camden Palace and now Koko.
The building has hosted very many acts in its long history, including the Rolling Stones and the Faces, with my most recent visit to the Damned in February 2018 (and whilst researching the post I found a review of the Damned concert here).
The title of this post is Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws, and it is only now that I can get to the final part of that title. In the open space opposite the underground station is a statue:
The statue is of Richard Cobden and was erected in 1868. Cobden did not have any direct relationship with Camden, however it was an impressive location for a statue, and it was put up due to the residents of Camden’s appreciation of Cobden’s work in the repeal of the Corn Laws.
The Corn Laws were a set of laws implemented in 1815 by the Tory Prime Minister Lord Liverpool due to the difficult economic environment the country was in following the wars of the late 18th and early 19th century.
The Corn Laws imposed tariffs on imported grains and resulted in an increase in the price of grain, and products made using grain. These price increases made the Corn Laws very unpopular with the majority of the population, although large agricultural land owners were in favour as they made a higher profit from grain grown on their lands.
The Corn Laws were finally repealed by the Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel in 1846, and they reflect a tension between free trade and tariffs on imports that can still be seen in politics today.
Richard Cobden was born on the 3rd of June, 1804 in a farmhouse in Dinford, near Midhurst in Sussex. His only time in London appears to have been after his father died, when Cobden was still young, and his was taken under the guardianship of his uncle who was a warehouseman in London.
Not long after he became a Commercial Traveler, and then started his own business which was based in Manchester, which seems to have been his base for the rest of his commercial success.
During his time in Manchester Cobden was part of the Anti-Corn Law League and was known as one of the leagues most active promoters.
The Clerkenwell News and London Times on the 1st of July 1868 recorded the unveiling of the statue:
“The Cobden memorial statue which has just been erected at the entrance to Camden Town was inaugurated on Saturday. Although this recognition of the services of the great Free Trade leader may have been looked upon in some quarters as merely local, the gathering together of some eight to ten thousand people to do honour to his memory cannot be regarded in any other light than that of a national ovation.
The committee had arranged that the statue of the late Richard Cobden at the entrance to Camden Town – with the exception, perhaps, of Trafalgar Square, one of the finest sites in London – should be unveiled on Saturday, that day being understood to be the appropriate one of the anniversary of the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the event was so popular that the surrounding neighbourhood was gaily decorated with flags for the occasion. The windows and balconies of Millbrook House, the residence of Mr. Claremont, facing the statue, had been placed at the disposal of Mrs. Cobden and her friends, including her three daughters.
A special platform had been created in front of the pedestal, covered with crimson cloth, and in the enclosure in front the band of the North Middlesex Rifles were stationed, and performed whilst the company assembled.
The report then covers at some length, all the speeches made which told the story of Cobden’s life and his actions in the repeal of the Corn Laws. There were many thousands present to witness the event, and at the end; “after the vast assembly had dispersed Mrs. Cobden, accompanied by Mr. Claremont, the churchwardens, and other friends, walked round the statue and expressed her high gratification at the fidelity of the likeness.”
The statue was the work of the sculptors W. and T. Willis of Euston Road, and is now Grade II listed.
I suspect if you turn right out of the entrance to Mornington Crescent underground station, you will be surprised to know that the space in front of you was compared to Trafalgar Square as one of the finest sites in London.
It always fascinates me how much history there is at almost any place in London, and Mornington Crescent is no exception. Whether the arrival of the underground, the architecture of the Carreras factory, race course gangs at the pub, historic streets, entertainment venues and radio shows and the statue of a free trade advocate – all within a short walk of Mornington Crescent.
This year, the BBC is celebrating 100 years of broadcasting, having started in 1922 with a limited programme of music, drama and talks. There is another BBC anniversary this year, as it is 90 years since Broadcasting House on Langham Street / Portland Place opened as the first building in the country, purpose built for the new medium of broadcasting.
I have a copy of the book the BBC published in 1932 to celebrate the opening of the new building, so I thought I would take a look at the building and some of the many photos from the original book, which show leading edge broadcasting design and technology from 1932.
Walk north along Regent Street from Oxford Circus, into Langham Place, and this is the first view of Broadcasting House, just behind the distinctive tower and spire of All Souls:
When the BBC first started broadcasting, the BBC’s premises were at Savoy Hill, however with the rapidly growing popularity of broadcasting along with equally fast technical development, it was soon clear that a new building was needed, ideally a building custom designed for broadcasting.
The site of Broadcasting House was initially to be developed as what were described as “high-class residential flats”, however the location was perfect for the BBC. It offered a central London location, close to multiple transport links, and with just enough space to construct a new building.
The owners of the site agreed to build the BBC’s new centre and offered a long lease, however the BBC purchased the site before the building opened.
The site was of some size, but was strangely shaped, with a long curved section along Portland Place. The building was limited in height as there were a couple of nearby buildings that had their right to light protected under the custom of “ancient lights”.
The architect of the building was Lieut-Col G. Val-Myer FRIBA, who was supported by the BBC’s Civil Engineer, M.T. Tutsbery.
Broadcasting and the functions of the BBC dictated some challenging requirements. Despite being called Broadcasting House, the building would house a considerable number of people working on the administrative functions of the BBC. These would all require naturally lit space.
A wide range of studios were also needed, of very different size and function, from small studios for one or two people, up to concert hall size. These studios needed to be sound proofed both from the noise of the street, and internally generated noise.
A creative design solution met these competing requirements. Broadcasting House was constructed as a building within a building. A central core was constructed of brick, avoiding as much as possible the use of steel girders and stanchions which would have transmitted sound. The studios were located within this central core, and they were separated where possible by quiet rooms such as the library.
The outer core of the building housed office space, so these rooms had natural light and acted as an additional level of sound proofing between street and studios, with the inner brick core providing internal sound proofing.
The external design of the building had some distinctive features. Looking above the main entrance, and one of the aerial masts stands above a clock:
The main entrance at bottom left:
Eric Gill was responsible for the sculpture decorating the building. The BBC requested that the works would feature Shakespeare’s Ariel as the BBC considered this would represent the “invisible spirit of the air, the personification of broadcasting”.
The sculpture above the entrance shows Prospero, Ariel’s master, sending him out into the world. Gill created the work in situ during the winter of 1931 / 1932. Before being uncovered and revealed to the public, the Governors of the BBC inspected the work and considered that, Ariel’s “appendage” was too large for public decency and a reduction of a couple of inches was made.
To the right of the above photo is the considerable extension that has been added to the original Broadcasting House.
Walking along Portland Place, and we see the curved façade of the buildings, with the rows of windows providing natural light to the offices behind:
To the lower right of the above photo is Eric Gill’s “Ariel hearing Celestial Music”:
Much of the building is faced with plain stone, with identical, regularly space windows, however there are some key features along the centre of the façade:
At the top are the Coat of Arms of the BBC. The circle in the centre represents the world, to show the breadth of the BBC’s coverage. Running along the bottom of the sculpture is the BBC’s motto “Nation shall speak peace unto nation”:
Below the arms is a long balcony decorated with birds of the air:
And below the balcony are “wave” symbols:
On the northern end of the façade is another work by Eric Gill, representing Ariel between Wisdom and Gaiety:
Looking back towards Langham Place with Broadcasting House on the left:
A large extension has been added to Broadcasting House. This was done to help consolidate many of the different BBC London activities into a single building, with the move of BBC World Service from Bush House into the new extension, along with many of the functions that were in Television Centre such as News, when the BBC left Television Centre.
Looking to the east of Broadcasting House, and we can see the original building to the left, with the new building to the right and at the far end:
The BBC’s 1932 book celebrating the opening of the building is full of photos of the new building, internally and externally, and shows what was considered leading edge design for the new medium of broadcasting in 1932.
At the start of the book is a map showing the location of Broadcasting House, with an emphasis on the closeness of the building to a range of travel options. This was important not just for those who worked full time in the building, but for the many people who would visit the building for a short time to participate in one of the many concerts, talks and plays that were broadcast.
An aerial photo shows Broadcasting House, just completed, and gleaming white among the surrounding dirty buildings of the city:
The book includes a rather unusual photo, looking north from the roof towards Hampstead. The photo was taken using an infra-red camera, which at the time improved the level of detail at a distance, and had the effect of showing green objects such as trees as dazzling-white:
The clock and mast which are still visible today. On the balcony, to the left of the clock is a loud speaker which was used to broadcast the sound of Big Ben, imitating the natural strength of the bell.
The following diagram shows the internal core of the building with the outer offices removed. The diagram shows how much had been crammed into the space available, as well as the positioning of quiet rooms between the studios:
The book covered all aspects of the new building, including the technical infrastructure that enabled broadcasting. The following photo is the Control Room and apparatus is described as being “battleship grey with stainless steel fittings”:
Two of the amplifier bays, one with a cover removed showing the valves that were critical to this type of equipment, long before transistors had been invented:
One of the issues with being in London was the polluted air with still plenty of smoke in the atmosphere. Broadcasting House featured state of the art air conditioning equipment, which included outside air being passed through a spray of water to remove particles in the air, as shown in the following photo:
The book also includes plans of each floor, the following plan of the seventh floor being an example, with the studios located in the central core:
The BBC provided tours for journalists in May 1932, and papers of the time were full of glowing articles about the new building. The following is from the London Correspondent of the Dundee Courier, who wrote an article titled “The Palace of Broadcast – A peep into new home of the BBC”:
“When the British Broadcasting Corporation decided to build themselves a new home they did the job thoroughly.
After a tour of Broadcasting House in Portland Place my mind was in a whirl of gigantic boilers, pictures of the most modern studios, miles of corridors, hundreds of lights, and a thousand and one other things.
The tour reflected the BBC’s thoroughness and started in the basement, which is three floors below street level, and finished eight floors above.
The people who matter in broadcasting said ‘we must have no noise from the outside in our studios’ therefore, each studio, which has no communication with the outside world apart from the door, has its own exclusive current of air for ventilation and heat so that no sound is carried through from one room to another.
The experts have taken sound well in hand, and controlled its unruly antics. The studio for ‘talks’ has been made so dead that there are no reverberations at all. If you speak in the studio your voice sounds like a voice heard in a dream. It is most eerie.
The furnishing is definitely 1932, and about this studio for discussions there is a make-yourself-at-home atmosphere.
Soft beige carpets cover the floors. The walls and the ceilings are delicate shades of beige, with a touch of orange and cream stripes around the walls. Below a mirror which stretches across one side of the room there is a jade green vase containing huge flowers.
The chapel studio is of great beauty. The cream walls are lit by pillars of light. Two tall columns painted green reach the ceiling, which is of blue with silver stars and signs of the Zodiac.
Next to each studio, of which there are 22, there is a little listening room. There is a window through which the performers can be seen. Here an announcer can make announcements without the artists being able to hear him, and he can check the quality of the transmissions.
The ‘effects’ room is above. here it is all very scientific. In the centre is a large table that swivels round. It is divided into sections, each of which is covered in a different substance to give different sounds when it is rapped or hard objects dropped upon it.
The equipment of this room also includes a pall full of lumps of bricks and a tank of water, and to mention a humble sheet of iron for thunder.
Then there are a series of records for crowd noises, angry, and jolly, English or foreign. Others give cries of babies and every form of animal.
All those cheery messages about depressions of Iceland and anticyclones together with news, emanate from a very chic little studio of which the walls are matted silver. Light is thrown upon the subject from a large globe at the end of a long telescope-like stand.
Such is the ‘Radio Village’. There are dressing rooms, waiting rooms, artists’ foyers, refreshment lounge, libraries and, to complete it all, a small black cat who wanders about at will, and not at all impressed with the dignity of the surroundings.”
Photos from the book show the “make-yourself-at-home atmosphere” described in the article, for example Studio 8B used for Debates and Discussions:
Studio 6E – Gramophone Effects, with plenty of turn-tables to play records of effects:
The Music Library, which the book claimed to be the largest in the world, with every kind of music from manuscript parts of Bach cantatas to the latest comic songs:
The Office of the Director of Programmes:
One of the interesting aspects of studio design in the early 1930s is that the studios were made to replicate the place where the production would take place. Studio 3E for Religious Services had the appearance of a religious building, however this could be changed for secular broadcasts when the vase of flowers (as shown in the photo) were used to replace the cross used for religious broadcasts:
Studio 3B for Talks looks like a domestic setting. There were no windows behind those curtains.
The interior design of Broadcasting House was led by Raymond McGrath, an Australian born architect who led a team of young designers. They were given a degree of freedom with their designs, which resulted in a curious mix of homely and modernist features.
The studios are very different today, and in the past 90 years the function of broadcasting has taken over from the designs of 1932.
The Chairman’s Office:
Broadcasting House opened when the autocratic Sir John Reith was Director General. It was Reith who defined the BBC’s purpose as being to “inform, educate, entertain”. It was probably with some fear that employees would be summoned to the Director-General’s Office:
The majority of the photos in the book show empty studios and equipment rooms. Very new, and no people to be seen. The only photos with people are of some of the offices of Broadcasting House, such as the following photo of the Accounts Office.
Note in the photo the windows facing out. To the left would have been a corridor, then the brick wall of the inner core with the studios to avoid sound transmission from outside or from the internal offices.
The entrance hall from Portland Place, with staff lifts to the right and the Artists’ Foyer behind the pillar at the far end:
The Latin inscription on the right reads “This Temple of Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest, that all things hostile to peace or purity may be banished from this house, and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and uprightness.”
The Council Chamber:
The Lower Ground floor provided access to the concert hall, from where concerts with a live audience would be broadcast. View towards the platform:
View towards the rear of the Concert Hall:
The Concert Hall is now known as the BBC Radio Theatre.
All the studios, along with other rooms involved with the broadcast process, were in the central core of the building, so they did not have windows and there was no natural light. The designs for these rooms attempted to address this with decoration, and in the following photo is Listening Hall 1, where a seascape had been added on the wall at which those listening would have been facing:
And in Listening Hall 2, gold and silver foil had been put on the walls to simulate the effect of sunlight:
Broadcasting House was built long before the days of electronically created sound effects. These were usually prerecorded on records as seen in one of the earlier photos, or involved making noises with physical objects.
Some sound effects needed a different approach such as the creation of an echo, or the impression that the sound was created in a large space rather than a small, sound proofed studion.
To provide echo effects, Broadcasting House had the Echo Room, where sound from a studio were played in the room which had reflective, resonant walls to bounce the sound, which was picked up by a microphone at the end of the room:
Broadcasting House was a leading edge facility at the time of construction for the new medium of broadcasting. It was however designed to meet John Reith’s view of the BBC, and the studios were designed for talks and discussions (nearly always by men), and for broadcasts of plays and concerts.
In the previous building at Savoy Hill it was common for those arriving to give a broadcast talk to be offered cigars, brandy and whisky before broadcasting – operating almost like a Gentleman’s Club.
News would become an increasing feature of the BBC, with the use of external agencies to provide news before the BBC developed their own internal news gathering capability.
As well as broadcasting to the country, broadcasting to the world would become an integral part of the BBC’s mandate, beginning with what was called the Empire Service, then the World Service.
The first broadcast specifically to the “Empire” was made from Broadcasting House on the 19th of December 1932, with John Reith speaking an introduction to the broadcast.
The BBC’s Centenary celebrations seem to have a different focus to 1972 when they celebrated 50 years.
In 2022 the focus seems to be more of the present day relevance of the BBC, with the breadth and depth of services provided. I suspect this is down to perceived threats to the BBC’s charter and the licence fee.
In 1972, the focus was more on the historical, showing the BBC almost as the official recorder of the great events of the previous 50 years.
The BBC produced a double album in 1972 containing excerpts from key broadcasts of the Corporation’s first 50 years. I was given a copy at the time, a strange present given the age I was in 1972, but one I appreciate now for the historical context.
The double album opened up and inside there is a listing of all the broadcasts on the records.
Side 1 covers from 1922 to 1932, so pre Broadcasting House. Included are music from the Savoy Orpheans and the Savoy Havana Band, a recording of the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb, a news item from the 1926 General Strike, and the first Royal Christmas Message broadcast on Christmas Day in 1932.
Side 2 covers the six years from 1933 to 1939, when many of the recordings would have come from Broadcasting House. Along with recordings of musical items, the slow build up to war can be seen, from a 1934 speech by the Nazi Joseph Goebbels to Prime Minister Chamberlain’s announcement of the outbreak of war on the 3rd of September 1939.
Side 3 covers the Second World War, from the fall of France in 1940 to the final surrender of Japan in 1945.
Side 4 covers the period from 1946 to 1972 and includes an FA Cup Final, Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race, a Royal Wedding, Coronation and Funeral, shows such as the Archers, Goons and Twenty Questions. The First Man in Space, assasination of President Kennedy and England’s 1966 World Cup victory.
The final track on side 4 is appropriately the funeral of Lord Reith in 1971, who was instrumental in building up the BBC and was Director-General when Broadcasting House was planned and built.
Broadcasting House comes from a simpler time, when the BBC was virtually the only form of mass electronic media, with only newspapers for competition.
Today, the broadcaster has no end of competition, from multiple broadcasters, online services and streaming providers. Shifts from linear broadcasting to time shifting and on demand programming.
The BBC suffers accusations of bias from almost every part of the political spectrum. It seems to tie itself in knots in trying to tread carefully and appear impartial around contentious subjects.
The licence fee is indeed an anachronistic way to fund the organisation, but a fair alternative that provides sufficient funding for the organisation has yet to be proposed.
The BBC has made some huge mistakes over the years, but still has a global reputation for independence, and is a prime example of the country’s soft power.
After 90 years, it is brilliant that Broadcasting House is still part of the country’s broadcasting fabric, and with the BBC it must be an example of where the phrase “you never know what you’ve got, till its gone” strongly applies.
I am fascinated by the journey that books take over the years. I have a copy of a book titled “Cripplegate Ward” by Sir John James Baddeley, published in 1921.
Baddeley was the Lord Mayor of London between 1921 and 1922, and on the inside cover of the book is pasted a square of paper detailing Baddeley’s presentation of this copy of the book to his sister Emma Louisa Baddeley:
As it is roughly 100 years since Baddeley gave the book to his sister, I thought it would be a good time to revisit Cripplegate Ward, using the book as a guide.
Baddeley describes Cripplegate as the second largest ward in the City (Farringdon Without being the larger), covering an area of 63 acres, nearly a tenth of the whole City. In the last census (1911) before Badderley’s book was printed, the ward had a population of 36,793, the majority of whom were employed in the various warehouses and factories that could be found across the ward.
Cripplegate was / is divided into Cripplegate Within and Without to describe those parts of the ward that were in the City side of the old Roman wall, and the area on the outside of the wall. That demarcation makes very little difference today, but would have been important when the wall was still a feature of the landscape.
Whilst I have written about Cripplegate in a number of previous posts, what I also find fascinating is gradually peeling back the layers of the history of a place, and finding more detail than I have already covered, so for today’s post I want to explore two places within Cripplegate ward that I have not written about before. The first is:
Lady Eleanor Holles School
There is an elevated walkway underneath Gilbert House within the Barbican estate. The walkway is lined by a number of round, concrete pillars that support the building above, and on one of these pillars is the following plaque:
The plaque records the foundation in 1711 of the Lady Eleanor Holles School near the site of the plaque. The plaque is on the pillar arrowed in the following photo, which shows the location and view out to the central area of water in the Barbican:
Cripplegate Ward by Baddeley, along with an article on the history of the school in the City Press on the 24th of July 1869 both provide some background into the Lady Eleanor Holles School.
Lady Eleanor Holles died in 1708, and in her will asked that her executor, a Mrs Anne Watson, dispose of her estate “to such pious purposes as her executor might think best”. Her estate consisted of land and a number of properties which produced an income of £62 and 3 shillings a year.
There was already a boys school in Redcross Street, Cripplegate, and Mrs Anne Watson arranged that the properties from Eleanor Holles will were committed to a body of trustees, and the funds used for the creation of a girls school, consisting of “a schoolmistress and the education of fifty poor girls”, and to be known as “the Lady Holles’ Charity School”.
There is no record as to why Anne Watson chose the poor of Cripplegate to be the beneficiary of the Eleanor Hollis will, however Anne Watson appears to have been deeply interested in promoting education for the poor as in her own will she left £500 for a charity school.
Around the start of the 18th century, there were concerns regarding the lack of education for children of the poor, and what this meant for the promotion of “Christian principles”.
According to the City Press, the school “undoubtedly owes its origin to that general movement in favour of the religious education of the poor in the principles of Protestantism which took place in the latter stages of the seventeenth century”. Baddeley also adds that a document in possession of the treasurer of the school and written in 1709 states that “It is evident to common observation that the growth of vice and debauchery is greatly owing to the gross ignorance of the principles of the Christian religion, and Christian virtues can grow from no other root than Christian principles”.
The original school used rooms leased from the boys school, which was located towards the northern end of Redcross Street. In 1831 the enlargement of the school was proposed, and a new school for the girls was built at the southern end of Redcross Street.
The plaque photographed earlier in the post is on the walkway under Gilbert House (arrowed in the map above), and the red rectangle shows the location of the school which would have been facing onto Redcross Street, which ran from just above the left of the church, past the school and into what are now the buildings of the Barbican.
The school went through a number of enlargements during the 19th century, and the final build of the early 1860s created a school with a capacity for 300 girls and 100 infants, residence for the school mistresses and a board room for the governors.
In the mid 19th century, the school seems to have been doing financially rather well, as in an 1868 survey of the “Thirty Three City of London Endowed Schools for Primary Instruction for Boys and Girls”, Lady Eleanor Holles school was identified as having the largest endowment, with an annual income of £1,377.
As with many charity schools throughout London, the Lady Eleanor Holles School had the sculptured figure of one of the scholars mounted on the front of the building. The following image of the figure, showing the collar, cap and clothes that would have been worn by the girls comes from Baddeley’s book on Cripplegate Ward:
The girls were instructed in the practice of the Christian religion. They were taught to spell, read and sew.
Although the school could support a large number of girls and infants, towards the end of the 19th century the majority of pupils were coming from outside the parish of St Giles, Cripplegate. This was down to the reduction in the number of dwelling houses in the area as more factories and warehouses were constructed.
The school was also in competition with the new schools created by the London Schools Board, which were being funded through the rates and parliamentary grants, rather than through charity donations and fees.
The future of the school was decided by the London County County who were looking for a site to construct a large, new fire station.
The LCC offered the trustees of the Lady Eleanor Holles School a sum of £30,000 for the land and buildings. The school trustees accepted, and moved to a new location in Mare Street, Hackney.
The reason for a new fire station in Redcross Street can be seen in this article from Lloyds Weekly Newspaper on the 4th of December 1898:
“Hitherto Watling-street has been the chief City fire station, and the proposed change would be of great advantage, as the warehouses in the vicinity of Wood-street are filled, as a rule, with the most combustible materials. On the northern side the station would be of very great utility to the over-crowded districts of St. Luke’s and Shoreditch, where most houses are old and the danger of fire considerable.”
What I did not have time to cover in the earlier post was the history of the school, so in the following photo, St Giles is the church which is still a central feature in the Barbican. Redcross Street fire station is the large building on the left, and the rest of the area shows the devastation of bombing, mainly on the night of the 29th December, 1940.
So, part of the area now occupied by the central water feature in the Barbican was once the site of the Redcross Street fire station, and before that, was the site of the Lady Eleanor Holles School for Girls.
The school, and fire station were once located in the centre of the lake in the following photo, just behind the tall grasses on the left. The walkway with the pillar and the plaque is in the background, underneath Gilbert House:
The above photo also shows how Gilbert House is supported by a relatively few number of slender pillars.
The Lady Eleanor Holles school remained at Mare Street, Hackney until the mid 1930s, when for similar reasons to the challenges of the late 19th century (industrialisation of the area, competition with many other local schools), the school decided to relocate out of central London and moved to a temporary location in Teddington, whilst a new school building was constructed at Hanworth Road, Hampton.
The Lady Eleanor Holles school continues to be based in Hampton and is rated as one of the leading independent girls schools in the country.
A very different location, but maintains the name of Lady Eleanor Holles, who left sufficient money through her property, to establish the original girls school in Redcross Street in 1711.
My second location for this week’s post on Cripplegate Ward is the feature that would give the ward its name:
Wood Street runs from Gresham Street, across London Wall, finishing with a short stretch where it turns into Fore Street. Just before the junction with Fore Street, Roman House can be found on the right, and on the side of this building is the following plaque:
Cripplegate was the original northern gate to the Roman fort which occupied the north west corner of the old Roman City. The fort was discovered during post war excavations by Professor W.F. Grimes, and the location and size of the fort is shown by the blue rectangle in the following map of the wall from one of the plaques showing the route of the wall. The location of the gate is shown by the red arrow.
The plaque is on the right of the following photo of the northern section of Wood Street, the gate would have been across the street, to the left of the plaque.
The gate is shown in the modified 1633 version of the early Agas map of London, the red circle in the following map surrounds the gate. The orange circle surrounds St Giles, Cripplegate, and Redcross Street, the site of the school and fire station is on the left and Whitecross Street on the right:
The name of the gate has long been the subject of speculation. A news article from 1904 reads:
“The origin of the name of Cripplegate, in which stands the church of St Giles, has long puzzled the minds of antiquaries. Ben Johnson averred that the street took its name from a crippled philanthropist, but Stow says the name was derived from the thronging of cripples which frequented it for begging purposes. It seems however, now to be decided that the name comes from ‘Crepel-gate’ a covered way in the fortifications. There is still a strong belief prevailing, however, that when the body of St. Edmund was brought from Bury to save it from the Danes, crippled persons by the wayside were cured of their afflictions as the body passed, and that the church of St Giles, the patron saint of cripples, was erected in commemoration of the miracle.”
Baddeley, in his book on Cripplegate Ward provides more:
“The etymology must be sought elsewhere. Cripple-gate was a postern gate leading to the Barbican, while this watch-tower in advance of the City walls was fortified. The road between the postern and the burghkenning (Barbican) ran necessarily between two low walls – most likely of earth – which formed what in fortification would be described as a covered way. The name in Anglo-Saxon would be ‘Crepel’, ‘Cryfele’ or ‘Crypele’, a den or passage under ground, a barrow, and geat, a gate, street or way.”
The book “The Ward of Cripplegate in the City of London”, (1985) by Caroline Gordon and Wilfred Dewhirst also refers to the Anglo-Saxon Crepel, or covered way as the source of the name taken on by the gate, and that Crepel was still used in written references to the gate in the late 20th century. The authors do though dismiss the story of St Edmund as a story that can “hardly be taken seriously”.
Baddeley provides some excerpts from City records to illustrate the history of the gate. In 1297 is was ordered that “Crepelgate should be kept by the Wards of Crepelgate, Chepe and Bassieshawe”, and “At the Gate of Crepelgate, there were to be found at night, from the same Ward Within eight men, well armed; and from the Ward of Bassieshaw six men, well armed; and from the Ward of Colmannestrete, six men, well armed and Robert Cook and John le Little were chosen to keep the keys of the gate aforesaid.”
The gate required regular repair, and in “1490, Sir Edward Shaa, who had been Alderman of the Ward from 1473 to 1485 bequeathed five hundred marks for the purpose of repairing the Gate”.
The gate was well kept and guarded during the Wars of the Roses during the second half of the 15th century. This was the last time that the City wall was strengthened, and the brick work that was added to the City Wall can be still be seen in the stretch of wall by St Alphage, a very short distance to the east of the old location of the Cripplegate.
As with other City gates, it was used as a processional route, with Elizabeth I apparently using the gate as her access to the City on her journey from Hatfield to London after the death of her sister, Mary I on the 17th November 1558.
The gate was also used to display the bodies of those who had been executed as a warning to those passing through the gate.
Cripplegate as it appeared in 1760 looking north from the City side of the gate, within Wood Street:
The above print from Baddeley’s book is dated 1760, although it may have been a view of the gate some years earlier, as by 1760 the gate was being described as in a poor condition. The carriageway through the gate was relatively narrow, and London had been expanding considerably to the north of the old gates and Roman wall which by the mid 18th century were no longer effective or needed as a defensive structure to protect the City of London.
Tolls were taken at the gate, but these were insufficient to keep up with the costs of repair, so in early 1760, the decision was taken to demolish the gate.
The City Lands Committee advertised for tenders to demolish and remove a number of the old gates, including Cripplegate, Aldersgate and Moorgate.
A Mr. Benjamin Blackden bought Cripplegate for £91 – buying the gate ensured demolition, and allowed the person buying the gate to keep a considerable quantity of building material.
The same Benjamin Blackden also paid £91 for Aldersgate and £166 for Moorgate.
On the 2nd of September 1760 newspapers were reporting that “Tuesday, the workmen began to erect scaffold at Cripplegate for pulling down that Gate.”
By the 31st of December, 1760, the Kentish Weekly Post was reporting that “Aldgate is quite pulled down, and Cripplegate is about two thirds down; and Moorgate, Aldersgate and Bishopsgate are to be pulled down forthwith.”
Demolition of the gate was completed in early 1761, and Wood Street then provided open access from the City to the northward expansion of London.
Lady Eleanor Holles School and Cripplegate are two lost features of Cripplegate Ward. Both very different, and in different periods of the Ward’s long history.
They have both left their mark in that the school is still functioning today, although in west London rather than the centre of the city, and Cripplegate, one of the City’s gates within the Roman Walls, that appears to have been named after an Anglo-Saxon word for a defensive, covered way, has left its name to one of the City’s most interesting wards.
I have written a number of posts about the South Bank, and the transformation of the area from industrial and terrace housing, via the Festival of Britain, to the place we see today with the Jubilee Gardens and Royal Festival Hall. The majority of my father’s photos of the area were taken in the streets of the South Bank, however there is one that was taken from across the river featuring the Shot Tower, and part of the Thames foreshore between Waterloo Bridge and the site of the Festival Hall.
The above photo was taken on Saturday 23rd August 1947, and shows the Shot Tower, and the buildings along the river. The approach to Waterloo Bridge can just be seen on the left of the photo, and on the right would today be part of the Royal Festival Hall.
The same view in 2022 (although a bit too much of the Royal Festival Hall):
The Shot Tower was just behind and to the left of the yellow stairs seen in the centre of the above photo.
The South Bank today, and the Shot Tower would have been just to the right and further back from the yellow concrete stairs, and the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Hall:
The purpose of the Shot Tower, and the process which gave its name to the tower, was the manufacture of lead shot for shotguns.
The Shot Tower was built in 1826 for Thomas Maltby & Company, and in 1839 was taken over by Walker, Parker & Company, who would continue to operate at the site until closure in 1949.
The Shot Tower was designed by David Riddal Roper and stands 163 feet from ground level to the top gallery. A spiral staircase within the tower provided access to two galleries, one half way up from where molten lead was dropped to produce small lead shot, and a gallery at the top of the tower which was used for large lead shot.
It was a considerable brick construction, with 3 foot thick walls at the base of the tower, tapering to 18 inches at the top.
There were a number of shot towers across London, including one on the other side of Waterloo Bridge which I will show later in the post. There was also one in Edmonton and a film was made using the Edmonton tower to show how lead shot was made within the tower.
The Shot Tower survived the demolition of all the other buildings on the South Bank as part of the clearance for the Festival of Britain, and was included as part of the festival.
It was finally demolished in 1962, clearing the site for the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. A real shame that it was not preserved and space made for it in the design of the new hall. It would have been a fitting reminder of the industrial history of the South Bank.
The Shot Tower survived and was included in the Festival of Britain as it was considered a well known landmark, and as with the lion on the top of the Lion Brewery, there was public concern that such a landmark would be demolished.
The festival organising committee wanted vertical features on the South Bank to draw attention to the site (the Skylon was the primary feature, designed specifically for the festival) and they also wanted the festival to demonstrate Britain’s scientific and technical achievements and advanced British manufacturing, as the country faced the economically difficult post war years and was in desperate need of foreign trade and currency.
The answer was to save the tower, and include it as part of the displays. The very top of the tower was removed and a new structure installed that consisted of a large lamp, emulating a light house, and a large radio dish antenna mounted on an anti-aircraft gun carriage.
The following photo shows the Shot Tower with the additions to the top of the tower for the Festival of Britain:
The intention with the radio dish at the top of the tower was described in the Festival of Britain Guide Book, as: “The radio beacon is above the lighthouse optic. The most obvious part of it is a large reflector which beams a signal to the moon. This is part of the radio telescope and is connected with the display in the Dome of Discovery by underground cable. In the Dome visitors can transmit signals to the moon and actually see them reflected back to the earth after about two and a half seconds”.
The display was in the Outer Space section of the Dome of Discovery, and the use of an anti-aircraft gun carriage at the top of the tower on which the radio dish was mounted, was to enable the dish to move to follow the moon in the sky.
The above description of the intended use of the radio dish is from the official festival guide, and the majority of books on the Festival of Britain repeat this planned use, however it seems that a different use for the dish had to be found after the technically advanced parts for such as radio transmitter / receiver were not available in time.
The Illustrated London News on the 21st April 1951 (not long before the opening of the festival on the 3rd of May 1951) records the new use of the radio dish: “There is to be no moon radar telescope on the top of the 200-ft shot tower on the South Bank: instead , visitors will see radio ‘noises’ or atmospherics from outer space on a television screen.” I assume the guide book had already been printed when the change was made.
The display on a TV of radio noise from sources such as the sun was probably far less visibly dramatic than the radio dish on the top of the old Shot Tower, but it did follow one of the Festival’s aims of showing scientific and technical advancements, just not in such a dramatic way as bouncing a radio signal off the moon.
Mounting an anti-aircraft gun carriage at the top of the tower was not without its dangers as this report from the Evening Telegraph on the 26th of October 1950 describes: “GUN CRASHES INSIDE SHOT TOWER – The gun mounting of a 3.7 A.A. gun being hoisted to the top of the Shot Tower at the Festival of Britain site fell 120 feet inside the tower to-day.
A 20-year-old soldier, Edward Bradley, was taken to St Thomas’s Hospital with slight bruises.
The mounting which weighs about five tons was being placed at the top of the Shot Tower. The gun is to carry a radar set which will send pulsations to the moon during the Festival.
Mr. Morrison told the Commons yesterday the equipment would cost £25,000 and would help in the development of radar astronomy.
Gunner Bradley was half-way up the staircase inside the tower, guiding the load, when he was struck by a falling plank. The gun mounting landed squarely in the centre of the tower and broke through the concrete floor to a depth of a foot.
Also inside the tower at the time were Captain Elliott, in charge of the operation, and a sergeant. The sergeant said ‘We heard a noise as if there was something amiss and we baled out of the tower as quickly as possible'”.
Underneath the radio dish was the “lighthouse” which was in operation from dusk until the evening closure of the festival. It was an electrically operated light (described as “of the most modern all-electric design”) with a lamp of three thousand watts, with a second lamp available should the main fail. The glass of the lighthouse optics which focused the light was made by Chance Brothers, the company that had made the glass for the original Crystal Palace in 1851.
The beam from the lighthouse could be seen up to 45 miles away from the South Bank site.
The following postcard showed the Shot Tower at Night. The lighthouse is the lit section at the very top of the tower, not the beam of light shining down from the tower.
There were discussions on how to decorate the brick tower. Aluminum was suggested (the material was used for the Dome of Discovery and the Skylon), but was deemed too expensive. Cellophane was also suggested but considered a very poor choice. In the end, it was left as the original brick
The two vertical features of the South Bank, Festival of Britain – the Shot Tower, and much taller (300 feet from ground to tip) Skylon:
As well as the Shot Tower, a brick building at the base of the tower was retained and used for a small exhibit showing the development of the South Bank site, as well as some control equipment for the radio system at the top of the tower.
A walkway from this building led into the Shot Tower where visitors could look up and see the top of tower, and below a kaleidoscope of changing London scenes was shown.
The following page from the Festival of Britain, South Bank Guide Book shows the Shot Tower and the recommended route:
The Guide Book also included a rather good colour advert from the construction engineers who had completed the work to extend the steelwork at the top of the Shot Tower for the lantern and for supporting the anti-aircraft gun and radio dish:
The following postcard shows the base of the Shot Tower and the adjacent brick building which provided the access route to the tower during the festival:
My father took the following photo at the base of the Shot Tower:
Time to return to my father’s original photo and look at the other buildings facing onto the river:
From left to right:
On the far left edge of the photo is the approach road to Waterloo Bridge. Behind the red arrow pointing to the approach road is one of only two buildings that have survived from the photo, the building is now part of King’s College, London.
To the right is a travelling crane and Canterbury Dock that were part of Grellier’s Wharf.
The name Grellier’s Wharf came from Peter Paul Grellier, who opened a stone and marble business at the site between Belvedere Road and the Thames. Auctions were held at the site of imported stone and marble, for example, on the 20th July 1843, there was an auction of “a very large importation of very fine marble, consisting of statuary, black, black and gold, vein, dove and bardilla. This importation is recommended to the attention of the trade, as being of a very superior description”.
Canterbury Dock was a small inlet of the river into the site. The name Canterbury came from the Archbishop of Canterbury who was a major landowner in the area (and is also why many of the streets with housing developed in the area between Belvedere Road and Waterloo Station in the 19th century were named after Archbishops of Canterbury).
Slightly to the right, in the background can be seen a small part of the main entrance to Waterloo Station, the second building that remains from the 1947 photo.
The buildings of the lead works are next with the Shot Tower behind.
To the right of the Shot Tower, along the buildings facing the river, there is one with the name “Embankment Fellowship Centre” along the top of the building. An enlargement from the original photo is below:
The Embankment Fellowship Centre was a charitable organisation with an aim of helping unemployed ex-servicemen who had fallen into poverty. Established in 1932 by Mrs. Gwen Huggins the wife of the Adjutant of Chelsea Hospital. She decided to do something to help the ex-servicemen she saw sleeping rough in London, and along the Thames Embankment.
Originally known as H10, and changing name to Embankment Fellowship Centre in 1933, the following article from The Sketch on the 30th of August, 1939 provides a good summary of the organisation’s approach and what took place on the south bank:
“The EMBANKMENT FELLOWSHIP CENTRE provides a constructive solution to the unemployment problem where it affects its most difficult victim, the middle-aged ex-Service man from the Navy, Army, R.A.F., or Mercantile Marine. The Centre does not cater for the vagrant, the work-shy, or the waster, but can claim that every man helped has been reduced by sheer misfortune and no fault of his own to the lowest ebb of poverty.
Painters, doctors, miners, schoolmasters, chauffer’s, stockbrokers, plasterers, mechanics and clerks are all among those who have been assisted. The credentials of all applicants who must be over forty-five, are carefully examined before admission to the Centre, where they are housed, fed and re-clothed and maintained for a period averaging 47 days per case. When a man reaches the Centre he has usually been through a bad period of stress, so the first task is to ‘recondition’ him. To that end he is surrounded by an atmousphere of cheerfulness, comfort and companionship. In the daytime he has occupational work, and every evening he has something to look forward to – a lecture, a show by an amateur dramatic society, a game of darts or billiards, or a film.
Meanwhile officials endeavour to find suitable employment for him; and since many applicants belong to overcrowded or depressed trades, the Fellowship Centre undertakes free training in its own workshops for employment in which middle-age is only a slight handicap, such as valeting, housework, cookery, carpentry, boot and shoe repairs, and so on.
Last year employment was found for 549 men, at an average age of 53 years. The total could have been larger had the premises been capable of accommodating more men. During the past four years some 2000 men have been found employment at an average age exceeding 50 years. Included in the Centre is the Ward of Hope, where a period of free convalescence is provided, following discharge from hospital for homeless and friendless men.
The Council are trying to solve the problem of expansion. They are also trying to raise capital for maintaining a country home, to be modelled on Chelsea Hospital, where veterans of good record with no pension and past the working age can be housed.
Subscriptions to this excellent cause to be sent to Major R.M. Lloyd, Appeal Director, the Embankment Fellowship Centre, 59 Belvedere Road, S.E.1.”
The Embankment Fellowship Centre made a film in 1939 telling the story of a middle aged man named Smith, who lost his job, and could not get another because of his age. Things went downhill quickly with the family possessions being repossessed until he was recommended to the centre. With the centre’s help, he found a new job, and the last scene of the film is Smith and his wife agreeing to donate his recent pay rise to the Embankment Fellowship Centre.
The centre on the South Bank was closed not long after my father took the photo, and Hansard records a question in Parliament about the closure, when on the 23rd September 1948, Commander Noble “asked the Minister of Health why the Embankment Fellowship Centre, Lambeth, which provides accommodation for ex-Service men, has just been given notice to quit by 1st December”
Mr. Bevan answered “I understand that this and other notices are occasioned by a London County Council scheme for the redevelopment of the area of the South Bank in which this centre lies.”
The redevelopment of the South Bank would lead to the Royal Festival Hall and the Festival of Britain.
The Embankment Fellowship Centre relocated, and in 2007 changed name to ‘Veterans Aid’, and is still in operation.
Veterans Aid have their main London centre at ” New Belvedere House”, which is rather nice as hopefully the intention was to name the building after the original location at 59 Belvedere Road on the South Bank.
On the right edge of the 1947 photo is part of the Lion brewery. It would be demolished to make way for the Royal Festival Hall which would be built on the land to the right of the Shot Tower.
The South Bank Shot Tower was not the only shot tower along the south bank of the river. The following postcard is a view from the top of the Shot Tower, looking towards the City of London:
Between the two chimneys is a much wider tower, with a dome shaped top. This was also a shot tower, and was older than the one on the South Bank.
Built around 1789, it was described as “a new structure, which cost near six thousand pounds, but cannot be considered as an object ornamental to the River Thames”. It was 150 feet high, and in 1826 the top part was destroyed by fire, which was not surprising given the activity carried out within the tower.
The lead works which included this second shot tower were also owned for a period by Walker, Parker & Company, the same company that owned the South Bank Shot Tower. They left the works in 1845 to concentrate on their South Bank site. The site was advertised in the Morning Chronicle on the 9th October 1845 as: “EXTENSIVE LEAD WORKS, Shot Tower, Wharf, Dwelling-house, and Buildings, Commercial-road, Waterloo-bridge. To be LET on LEASE for twenty one years, from Michaelmas next, when possession will be given in one or two lettings, all those capital and spacious PREMISES, with Wharf, extending about 120 feet next the river Thames, with the lead works, shot tower, and buildings lately occupied by Messrs.’ Walker and Co. Also a counting house, extensive stabling and premises, lately occupied by Mr. Sherwood”.
By the time of the above photo, the large advertising sign on the side of the shot tower was advertising that the works were “Lane, Sons & Co Limited. Lead and Shot Works”.
The street name in the advert is given as Commercial Road. This was a short lived name for the street which is now Upper Ground.
The shot tower was demolished in 1937 after having been out of use for several years. Today, the IBM offices (in the photo below) occupy the site of this second shot tower and lead works:
It is such a shame that the South Bank Shot Tower could not have been included in revised plans for the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and could today be seen between the Queen Elizabeth and Royal Festival Halls.
A reminder of the industrial history of the area, and adding some historical complexity to the buildings we see today, lining the side of the river.
Today, the River Thames runs between embankments on the north and south sides of the river, embankments built over the last 160 years, and were still being completed in the 1980s. For centuries the river had an extended foreshore which would shift with the tides, and particularly on the south bank, large areas of wet, marshy land.
One stretch of the embankment, built during the first decades of the 20th century, is the stretch in front of County Hall, the purpose built home of the London County Council, then the Greater London Council, and now home to hotels and tourist attractions.
County Hall photographed from Westminster Bridge:
The London County Council was formed in 1889 to replace the Metropolitan Board of Works and to gradually take on powers covering Education, Health Services, Drainage and Sanitation, Regulation and Licensing of a whole range of activities, dangerous materials, weights and measures, street Improvements – there was hardly an aspect of living in London that would not be touched by the LCC.
The problem with having all this responsibility was that the LCC also needed the space for all the elected officials and the hundreds of staff who would deliver the services.
The LCC initially had an office at Spring Gardens, near Trafalgar Square, the old home of the Metropolitan Board of Works, but quickly started looking for a new location as staff began to be scattered across the city.
A wide range of locations were suggested, but they were either too small, too expensive or too close to the Palace of Westminster – the London County Council wanted to be seen as a completely separate authority to the national government, but still wanted a prominent location, suitable for the governance of London.
The LCC already had a Works Department which occupied a small part of a site on the South Bank, to the side of Westminster Bridge.
The new St Thomas’ Hospital on the other side of Westminster Bridge had already started the improvement of the Lambeth side of the river, which included the creation of a large formal embankment.
The land across Westminster Bridge Road from the hospital provided a sufficient area for the LCC with space to grow. It was in a prominent position, directly facing onto the river, and importantly was on the opposite side of the river to the Palace of Westminster so was close to, but separate from the national government.
As the site was being acquired, attention turned to the design of the new building, and a competition was organised to invite designs for the new home of the LCC.
There were some incredibly fancy and ornate designs submitted, however the winning design was one of relative simplicity by the 29 year old architect Ralph Knott.
Construction of County Hall began in January 1909 with the construction of a coffer dam in the river, which allowed the new river wall to be built, reclaiming an area of land from the river. Work then began on excavation of the ground, ready for laying a concrete raft on which County Hall would be built.
Work was sufficiently advanced, that by 1912 the laying of the foundation stone could take place, and to commemorate the event, a booklet was published, providing some history of the construction of County Hall up to 1912, along with some plans and photographs of the original river frontage, and an important find during digging ready for the construction of the concrete raft.
County Hall would be built on a 6.5 acre site, and to achieve this area, a significant part of the foreshore and river needed to be reclaimed. In total two and a half acres of the river were reclaimed and a new river wall constructed to hold back the Thames.
A new river wall had been part of the construction of St Thomas’ Hospital, and the alignment of this wall would be continued with the construction of County Hall.
588 feet of new river wall was constructed. the most difficult part being where the wall would come up against Westminster Bridge. The piers of Westminster Bridge had been built on timber piles, and the foundations of the river wall would go a further 6 feet deeper than those of the bridge, so careful construction was needed to avoid damage to the bridge. This included steel piles driven around the foundations of the bridge to provide some protection from the excavations of the river wall.
Construction of the wall started in January 1909 and was completed in September 1910 at a total cost of £58,000.
The booklet includes the following diagram which shows the outline of County Hall, the alignment of the new river wall, and within the outline of County Hall, the original buildings on the site and the alignment of the old river wall, showing just how much was reclaimed from the river.
The site was occupied by businesses such as Cross and Blackwell with a jam and pickle factory, and the engineering firm of Peter Brotherhood who had their radial engine factory on the site. Their radial engine was an innovative machine used to power the Royal Navy’s torpedoes, as well as being a source of power for other machines including fans, and dynamos for the generation of electricity.
The booklet also includes the following photo of the site from Westminster Bridge. I suspect the embankment wall now runs roughly where the photographer was standing.
If you look at the edge of the photo on the right, there are a large flight of stairs leading down to the river, and at the top of the stairs can just be seen part of a pub. The pub had one side facing onto Westminster Bridge Road, and the other facing a small square and the river stairs. With limited research time, I have been unable to find the name of the pub, and it is not mentioned in the County Hall booklet.
This is the view of County Hall today, the photographer for the above photo was probably standing a bit closer to the river wall than I am, but everything in the following photo was built on reclaimed land.
The new river wall and embankment was a significant construction, and before work on this could start, a timber dam had to be built to hold back the Thames from the construction site. The dam consisted of a wall of tongue and groove timber piles, which had to be driven through four feet of mud, then eleven feet of ballast (sand, gravel etc.) before reaching London Clay, then driven further into the clay to provide a firm fixing.
This was needed as the dam would have to hold back a significant wall of water, as the tidal range could be over 20 feet, so the dam had to hold back sometimes no water (at very low tides) and at very high tides, a wall of over 20 feet of water pressing on the dam.
The embankment wall was a very substantial construction, reaching down over 35 feet below the original Trinity high water mark. Between the river wall and County Hall, a new public walkway was constructed, and under the walkway there were large vaults within the open space between the walkway and the concrete raft at the base.
The following drawing shows the construction of the wall and embankment:
Behind the wall, a large area was excavated. Due to the marshy, damp nature of the ground a concrete raft was needed across the whole area on which County Hall would be built. It was during the excavation to build that raft that a significant discovery was made of the remains of a Roman boat, seen in the following photo as discovered:
The booklet provides a description of how the boat was found:
“The discovery was primarily due to Mr. F.L. Dove, the present chairman of the Establishment Committee. While inspecting in January 1910, with Mr. R.C. Norman, the then Chairman of the Committee, the excavation for the concrete raft, he noticed a dark curved line in the face of the excavation immediately above the virgin soil, and some distance beneath the silt and the Thames mud. The workmen engaged suggested that it was a sunken barge, but Mr. Dove realised from its position that it must be of considerable antiquity, and accordingly requested the Council’s official architect to have the soil carefully removed from above.”
Mr. Dove was right about the considerable antiquity of the find. When excavated, it was found to be a Roman boat, constructed out of carved oak. It was lying 19 feet, 6 inches below high water, and 21 feet 6 inches below the nearby Belvedere Road.
The size of the boat was about 38 feet in length, and 18 feet across.
Within the boat were found four bronze coins, in date ranging from A.D. 268 to 296, portions of leather footwear studded with iron nails, and a quantity of pottery. There were signs that the boat had been damaged as several rounded stones were found, one of which was embedded in the wood, and there was indication that some of the upper parts of the boat had been burnt.
After excavation, the boat was offered to the Trustees of the London Museum, who accepted, and the boat was removed from site, with the following photo showing the transport of the boat from the excavation site. It is within a wooden frame to provide some protection.
The boat was put on display in Stafford House, then the home of the London Museum. (Stafford House is now Lancaster House, in St. James, a short walk from Green Park station).
The following photo shows the boat on display:
I contacted the Museum of London to see if parts of the boat were available to view, and was told a sorry story of the limitations of preservation techniques for much of the 20th century.
The boat was found beneath the silt and Thames mud in an area of damp ground. This created an oxygen free environment which preserved the boat’s timber.
As soon as the boat was exposed, it started to dry out, and over the year the timbers cracked and disintegrated. Museum of London staff tried to patch up with fillers, but this was long before the chemical means of conservation that we have today were available.
When the Museum of London moved to its current site on London Wall, only a small section was displayed, and this was removed from display when the gallery was refurbished in the mid-1990s.
Some key features of the boat such as joints and main timbers have been preserved as well as they can be after so many years, and are stored in the Museum of London’s remote storage facility, so not available for public display.
The Museum of London did donate some of the fragments to the Shipwreck Museum in Hasting, so I got in contact with them to find out what remained.
I had a reply from the former City of London archaeologist, Peter Marsden, who advised that much of what was preserved at Lancaster House was modern plaster of paris painted black. He also confirmed that only some ribs and a few bits of the planks survive, and are no longer on display.
Peter Marsden has written some fascinating books on Ships of the Port of London. They are very hard to find, however the English Heritage Archaeology Data Service has the book “Ships of the Port of London, First to eleventh centuries AD”available to download as a PDF from here. It is a fascinating read which includes many more discoveries in the Port of London as well as the County Hall Roman boat.
The age of the boat seems to be around 300 AD which is confirmed by the coins discovered in the boat all being earlier, and Peter Marsden managed to get a tree ring date of around 300 AD from one of the planks.
It is difficult to confirm exactly why the boat was lost on the future site of County Hall. There was much speculation at the time, including in the County Hall booklet, that the boat had been lost during battles in AD 297. The burning on parts of the wood written about in the booklet has not been confirmed, and the stones could have been ballast.
It seems more likely that the boat may have been damaged, or simply lost on what was the marshy Thames foreshore and land of the south bank. Away from the City of London, the boat was left to rot, gradually being covered by the preserving mud and silt of the river until discovery in 1910.
There is another feature on the plan of the new County Hall that suggests the boat could have been on the edge of the Thames foreshore.
On the opposite side of County Hall to the river is a street called Belvedere Road. This was originally called Narrow Wall. The first written references to the name Narrow Wall date back to the fifteenth century, and it could be much older. The name refers to a form of earthen wall or walkway, possibly built to prevent the river coming too far in land, and as a means of walking along the edge of the river.
In the following extract from John Rocque’s 1746 map of London, Westminster Bridge is at the lower left corner, and slightly further to the right, Narrow Wall can be seen running north.
Although straightened out and widened, Belvedere Road follows the approximate route of Narrow Wall.
If Narrow Wall was built along a line that formed a boundary between river and the land, then the Roman boat was close to this and would have been in the shallow part of the reed beds that probably formed the foreshore.
I have annotated the original plan from the booklet with some of the key features, including the location of the Roman boat:
The following view is looking along Belvedere Road / Narrow Wall, with County Hall to the left:
The following photo is a view of the entrance to County Hall from Belvedere Road. The Roman boat was found just behind the doors to the left:
There is a curious link between the finding of the Roman boat and the laying of the foundation stone commemorated by the booklet.
The foundation stone was laid on Saturday the 9th of March 1912 by King George V. Underneath the foundation station was a bronze box, the purpose of which was described in newspaper reports of the ceremony:
“Depositing a ‘find’ for some archaeologist of the future, the King and Queen watching the foundation stone of the new London County Hall being lowered into position. Before the stone was lowered into position and declared by the King to be well and truly laid, his Majesty closed a bronze box containing certain current coins and documents recording the proceeding, and caused it to be placed in a receptacle in the stone. Perhaps at some dim future day, when London ‘is one with Nineveh and Tyre’ this box and its contents will come to light beneath the spade of an excavator, burrowing amid the ruins of a forgotten civilisation.”
So having been the site of excavation of a Roman boat, the hope was that the bronze box would form an archeological discovery in some distant future.
I assume the bronze box is still there, below the foundation stone, in the north-east lobby adjacent to the old Council Chamber.
Construction of County Hall continued slowly. It was a large building requiring large numbers of workmen and materials.
The coal and dock strikes of 1912 and building workers strike of 1914 delayed construction. Work continued during the First World War, however war demands such as on the rail network caused problems with the transport of granite from Cornwall to London.
As parts of the building became useable, they were taken over by rapidly growing Government departments such as the Ministry of Munitions and Ministry of Food, who were able to prioritorise their needs over the LCC due to the demands of war.
By the end of September 1919, the LCC were able to retake possession of the building, and work on completion continued quickly, with over one thousand men working on the site by March 1921.
The building was soon substantially complete, was gradually being taken over by an ever expanding LCC staff, and was officially opened in July 1922.
The London County Council continued until the 1st April 1965. The London Government Act of 1963 restructured how London was governed, and this led to the Greater London Council (GLC) which took over from the LCC.
The GLC lasted to the 31st of March, 1986 when it was abolished by the 1985 Local Government Act, primarily down to conflict between the Labour held GLC and the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher across the river.
The building was sold to the Shirayama Shokusan Corporation, a private Japanese company, for £60 million. and in the following years it would be converted to a hotel and the ground floor facing the embankment walkway hosts tourist destinations such as Shrek’s World of Adventure, a Sealife Centre and the ticket offices for the London Eye.
County Hall is Grade II listed, and the original Council Chamber of the LCC has been preserved, and is now available to hire and is used as a theatre.
The architect Ralph Knott worked on County Hall for most of his career. He had been called up into the Royal Air Force during the First World War where he was responsible for the design of airfield buildings, but he still kept in touch with County Hall construction. He returned to the County Hall project after the war to see the main building through to completion.
He was still working on plans for extension of the building late in his career, which were not finished at the time of his death at the young age of 50 on the 25th of January 1929.
County Hall is a fitting tribute to Ralph Knott. A relatively simple, but grand and imposing building facing onto the river, suitable for an institution that was to have so much impact on the 20th century development of London. A building of contrasting design to the Palace of Westminster on the opposite bank of the river.
Sad that the Roman boat has been substantially lost. Preservation of organic remains that have been in waterlogged soil for centuries is difficult, but thankfully now much better, as seen for example, with the preservation of the Mary Rose in Portsmouth.
I hope that no readers comment that the bronze box beneath the foundation stone has been removed. It would be great that it is still there for archaeologists in the distant future to dig up.