Category Archives: London History

The First East Ham Fire Station and Fire Brigade

It is a long post this week, however I hope you find it interesting as it tells some of my family history, the story of the first East Ham fire station and the local fire brigade. But first, some advertising. After all my walks sold out this summer, I have added a final few for the year.

The dates and links for booking are as follows:

Wapping – A Seething Mass of Misery: Sunday, 25th September; Saturday,1st October; Sunday, 23rd October; Saturday, 29th October

The Lost Streets of the Barbican: Sunday, 2nd October

The South Bank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain: Sunday, 30th October

Bankside to Pickle Herring Street – History between the Bridges: Sunday, 9th October

I hope to see you on a walk. Now, to East Ham:

My Great Grandfather was born in 1854, and as a young man, he went to sea and travelled the world.

He became a fireman in 1881, joining the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) at Rotherhithe, south east London, later moving to West Ham in 1886 as a Fire Escape man, where he remained for ten and a half years. At the time the MFB recruited only ex seamen and naval personnel as the Brigade was run on Naval discipline with a requirement for familiarity of climbing rigging and working at heights.

In 1896 he became the Superintendent of the new East Ham Fire Station, and I recently completed one of the many tasks on my to-do list by visiting the site of the Fire Station in Wakefield Street, East Ham:

East Ham Fire Station

I cannot find the exact year when the fire station was demolished, it was at some point after 1917, and the location is now occupied by the flats shown in the above photo.

I have circled the location in the following map. East Ham station (District and Hammersmith & City lines) is at the top of the map (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

East Ham Fire Station

When the fire station was built, East Ham was growing over the fields that once covered this part of east London (although at the time it was part of Essex). In the following extract from the 1897 edition of the Ordnance Survey map, I have circled the fire station in a developing Wakefield Street. The upper part of the map showing that the whole area would soon be covered by terrace housing (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).

East Ham Fire Station

Growth of East Ham, and Pressure for a Fire Brigade

In 1861, the number of houses in East Ham had risen to 497 and the population to 2,858. Fire protection for the village would have been provided by a Fire Insurance Brigade, and there is some evidence that the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Company operated in the area. This was the time when insurance companies operated their own private fire fighting services.

The first meeting of the Board for the East Ham Local Government District was held on the 4th February 1879, at the Parochial Building, Wakefield Street.

The provision of fire fighting cover was exercising the minds of the Members of the Board at a very early stage. A letter was received from a Mr. Rowley asking the Board to pay for the attendance of two engines of the North West Fire Brigade from Walthamstow at a fire at Plashet. The sum of £6 was subsequently paid for this service.

Later on in the year a letter was sent to West Ham Local Board relative to the attendance of their Brigade at fires in East Ham. West Ham replied in the affirmative and it is recorded that they attended a fire at Beckton on the 13th January, 1880.

A letter was received from Mr. Angel of West Ham, regarding a fire in the East Ham Match Factory on the 10th February, 1880, and an account enclosed for the attendance of the Brigade. The Clerk to the Board was instructed to write to the insurance company for the payment of the amount paid to West Ham.

In December, 1880, the Board wrote to the famous Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, KCB, Chief Fire Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, asking for fire cover in the North Woolwich area. (See my post on the historic fire boat named after Massey Shaw). The Metropolitan Brigade had a small fire station in North Woolwich to protect the London County Council property in that area. Captain Shaw agreed to provide fire cover, and an agreement was signed the following month.

The population of East Ham had risen to 10,706 on 1881. it is interesting to note that the census was arrived at by counting the houses and estimating the number of people.

In 1882 the Clerk to the Board wrote to the Commissioners of Police asking for the establishment of a Police Station within the district. This was refused.

The first petroleum licence was issued to a Mr. Harding on the 14th of February, 1882.

The provision of fire hydrants exercised the minds of the Board members in 1884. The East London Water Works Company was asked to install a number of hydrants in North Woolwich and other places at a cost of £3 and 10 shillings each. The lack of pressure in the mains was the subject of much correspondence between the Board and the Water Company over the next few years.

A letter was received from the National Fire Escape Institution on the 12th of May, 1885, asking whether the Board would be prepared to accept a fire escape at a cost of £10 per annum. The Board refused to pay the price. The same year, North Metropolitan Tramway Company gave notice of their intention to commence the tramway in Romford Road. Reference is made to a Ratepayers Association who seemed determined to veto any proposal for improved fire cover, if the project was going to cost money.

An interesting entry appears on the 9th of February, 1886, from a Mr. Palmer, enclosing a list of fires attended by Mr. Clamp of the Royal Standard Hostelry in North Woolwich and claiming payment for these. The sum of £95 was paid for this service. In view of the agreement with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade to attend fires in North Woolwich, it is remarkable that payment should have been made to an individual in this case.

The Board turned down a request by the Liberal Club, Manor Park, for a fire engine to cover the district. The Board replied “No, not necessary”.

On the 21st of July 1891, a letter was received from a Mr. Drury enquiring whether the Board had anything to do with the South West Essex Fire Brigade. The Clerk replied that the Board had an arrangement with the West Ham Corporation to attend all fires in the district but have nothing to do with the private brigade mentioned. About this time many private brigades were in operation in the London area. One enterprising man, a Mr. Cook, wrote to the Board from Lewisham about this time offering to provide a fire engine and two men at a cost of £250 per annum. His offer was turned down.

By the end of 1892 the Ratepayers Association excelled themselves; they decided that a Fire Brigade was required for East Ham and asked the board to receive a deputation “to urge the necessity”.

The following year the Board purchased fire appliances from the Lewisham Fire Brigade at a cost of £140 and appointed Mr. Tom Willard as Superintendent. The Fire Station was located in Wakefield Street, opposite the Hartley Avenue School. The Brigade was what is today called a part-time retained unit with a total establishment of twenty firemen. The men who formed the Brigade consisted mainly of Council employees, such as the Town Hall Porter, the Parks’ Superintendent, the Foreman of Dustmen, and the Roads Foreman who lived in Bernards Avenue and drove the Council’s steam roller.

To call the firemen to attend a fire a man ran around the streets and lanes of the Borough shouting for members of the Brigade. Then it was touch and go whether the old horse drawn, manually operated pump reached the scene of the fire without mishap.

The names of only a few of these Auxiliary firemen are known, Ted Lukas, Parks’ Superintendent, Mr. Flowers, the Turncock, Charlie Hare, Jimmy Ward, Mr. Richards, Mr. Redmond, Edwin Roberts and George Cook who both joined the regular brigade and served for many years. The firemen received a payment of two shillings and six pence for each fire attended.

About this time, the Board were considering the installation of a fire alarm system to cover the district. This shows that electricity was becoming a commercial proposition.

One Sunday morning the Brigade were called to a fire at No. 2, High Street South. Owing to an oversight the regular coachman was not called, so one of the firemen drove the two horses to the fire. Unfortunately, the fireman was unused to such restive horses and, as he threw down the reins before getting out the hose to fight the fire, the horses bolted. They made their way to their home in North Woolwich and reached Manor Way when they capsized the engine into a ditch at a sharp bend by Beckton School. The Board reprimanded the Superintendent for not “properly calling the firemen”.

The poor Superintendent continued to be in hot water over many small incidents, so that on the 20th of October 1896, the Board resolved “Having regards to constant complaints, the Brigade Town Committee recommend that steps be taken at once putting an end to the present arrangements of the Fire Brigade pending the establishment of a permanent brigade”.

The following painting titled “Top Speed” by Savile Lumley shows horses pulling firefighters through the streets at speed:

East Ham Fire Station

A Full Time Fire Brigade for East Ham

The Committee wasted no time and immediately advertised for a Superintendent (Engineer Fireman) at £2 and 2 shillings a week, with free house, fire, light and uniform, and three firemen at £1 and 10 shillings a week.

Twenty one applications were received for the Superintendent’s post, and thirty one for the post of firemen. The interviews were held on the 17th of November 1896, and my Great Grandfather was appointed to be Superintendent. Three firemen were also appointed. A new Steam Fire Engine and Curricle (a two wheeled carriage drawn by two horses abreast) were purchased at a cost of £400.

My Great Grandfather’s First Annual report makes interesting reading:

“I have the honour to present my first Annual report of fires for the year commencing 1st January 1897 to 25th December 1897. Total number of calls received for fires during the year were 54, of these 14 were F.A. (false alarms), 3 chimney fires, 37 actual fires – 6 were serious in damage and 31 slight damage, 4 were beyond East Ham boundary, viz., West Ham.

In addition to ordinary fires, there have been 3 chimney fires requiring the attendance of firemen with hand pumps.

Of 37 fires, 17 were extinguished by means of steamers, hydrants and standpipes and firemen; 6 were by hand pumps and firemen; and 14 were by buckets and firemen.

The strength of the brigade is as follows: 1 Station; 1 Steamer; 1 Manual; 1 Curricle Fire Escape; 1 Telephone (2 more to be provided); 7 F.A. Points; 4 Bells leading to Firemen’s Houses; 1,800 feet of Canvas Hose – all in good condition; 4 Firemen (including Superintendent; 1 Coachman; 2 Horses.

The number of firemen employed on watch are 1 by day and 2 by night. The members of the brigade keep in a smart and proper condition. The men have been regularly drilled in their various duties and their conduct has been very satisfactory. Summary of how fires were reported to the F.B. for 1897:

Fire Alarm 17; Telephone 7; Police 1; Strangers 10

During the year there have been only 10 mischievous false alarms by fire alarms and 4 have been caused by wires in contact.

The brigade have pumped out 1 cellar (after a storm) with the steamer during the year.

Details of lives endangered:

  1. In this case which occurred at an oil shop on the 12th of April 1897. David Hollingsworth, a member of the brigade, was cut on hand by broken glass and had to be attended to by a doctor.
  2. In this case which occurred at a private house on the 13th of June 1897, Thomas West age 25 was burnt on left arm and hand and Mrs. L.N. West aged 18 years was severely burnt on face, neck, both arms and shoulder caused by the explosion of a mineral oil stove. Both have since recovered.
  3. In this case which occurred at a general shop on the 7th of December 1897, Mr. Robert Baker aged 54 was burnt on both hands caused by an explosion of a mineral oil lamp. He has since recovered.

In conclusion, I take this opportunity of thanking you for your valuable co-operation with me in all matters tending to the success of the brigade.”

The incident where David Hollingsworth was injured was reported in the Barking, East Ham & Ilford Advertiser:

“FIRE – At a few minutes before two o’clock on Monday afternoon a fire broke out at an oilshop, 101, Plashet-grove, occupied by Mr. C. Maitland Dods, and owned by Mr. W.A. Lee. Alarm was at once given at the East Ham Fire Station, and within a few minutes the Superintendent and his men were on the spot and vigorously combating the flames, which they managed to subdue after an-hour’s hard work. They were heartily congratulated by the crowd of bystanders who watched the operations. Fireman Hollingsworth was badly cut on the left hand. the shop was completely gutted, and the contents of nine rooms were severely damaged.

I found the following photo in a book published by West Ham County Borough Council in 1936 to celebrate fifty years as a Borough. It shows an early horse drawn steam engine.

Merryweather fire engine

Although it is from a book about West Ham, the sign on the side of the appliance shows the E of East Ham. I suspect it is a promotional photo by the Merryweather company who built fire engines in their factories in south London.

Unfortunately the firemen in the photo are not named, although they may be Merryweather staff rather than firemen from East Ham fire brigade, however it must have been a fire engine that my Great Grandfather would have used.

The main fire risk in the Borough was represented by the Royal Albert Dock, at the time the largest and finest dock in the world. The Beckton Gas Works was also one of, if not the largest in the world and represented another severe fire risk. Until closure both the Docks and the Gas Works continued to form the main fire risk covered by the brigade.

There was an agreement in 1897 between East and West Ham that border fires be attended without charge. A few years later a similar arrangement was agreed between East Ham and Barking.

On the 7th of June, 1898, it was reported to the Board that two firemen attended the launching of H.M. Battleship “Albion” (in company with four members of the late volunteer brigade) at Blackwall to form a guard of honour to the Duchess of York and a sad incident occurred by the collapse of a jetty which caused several deaths. The firemen were praised for their work of rescue. This really deserves a dedicated post. The following is a still from the launch of the Albion which you can watch on the BFI Player here.

HMS Albion

A serious fire on the 6th of July, 1898 on the S.S. Manitoba at shed 22, Royal Albert Dock, caused an explosion amongst cartridges which killed 5 persons and injured 6 others.

The cost of fodder for Fire Brigade horses is recorded as being 11 shillings per week. The animals must have been well fed because a fireman had to keep his wife and usually large family on 30 shillings a week.

The leave enjoyed by professional firemen in these early days was just 24 hours a month – if he could be spared.

In December 1898, the Council purchased the horses and contents of the stable of the Hand in Hand Insurance Company for £250.

Fireman Atkinson was appointed as Assistant Officer “to take charge in his (Superintendent’s) absence”, at a weekly rate of 35 shillings.

A severe fire occurred on the S.S. Magnetic involving heavy damage to engine room, store and cabins.

Fire alarms were being installed throughout the Borough by 1898 and many references are made to Malicious False Alarms.

Christmas Day, 1898 saw “Firemen acting disorderly at Wakefield Arms – Superintendent was there and found Fireman Dunn intoxicated. Told Dunn to go home whereupon assaulted; got him to station, assaulted once more. Dunn dismissed – approved by Committee.” Two other firemen were given a week’s notice.

On the 25th September 1899 there was a false alarm call. A small boy aged 12 years was detected pulling the alarm bell at the corner of St Stephen’s Road. The father was told that the next time he would be prosecuted. In September 1958, another small boy, the grandson of the original boy was found pulling the alarm bell again.

On the 11th of July 1900, a new sub-station was opened at Manor Park. The station was situated at the corner of Manor Park Road and Station Road and cost £118 to build. It contained a 50ft Bayley Escape – and was manned by two firemen, who had to drag it to the fires on its two wheeled cart. The cost of telephones to Wakefield Street from one fire alarm point and from the sub-station at Manor Park was £16, 5 shillings per annum.

The Waiting Room and Porters Room at East Ham Railway Station was severely damaged by fire on the 25th of April 1901.

An unusual accident occurred on the 16th of July 1901, whilst proceeding to a fire, when the wheel of the old manual engine caught in the tram lines and was wrenched off. The North Metropolitan Tramway paid £5 compensation. The fire engines and the trams seem to have been in conflict from time to time because it is reported that the new motor engine was in collision with a tram at Savage Gardens whilst returning from a fire at the docks. The lovely new machine finished up in a rhubarb field belonging to a Mr. Northfield the Farmer. It was ignominiously chained to the tram and towed home to the station.

The Superintendent asked for the authority to summon the assistance of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in case of an emergency at big Dock fires, but the Committee refused to recommend the Council to incur liability for charges for this purpose.

The annual report for 1900 shows the following equipment held by the Brigade – 1 Station; 1 Sub-Station; 1 Steamer; 1 Manual; 1 Hose Tender and 50ft Escape with sliding carriage. 1 Curricle Escape, 40ft; 6 scaling ladders; 2,500 feet of canvas hose; 5 leather branches, 5 metal branches’ 44ft of rubber suction hose; 3 jumping sheets; 4 horses.

The establishment now had – 1 Superintendent; 1 assistant Superintendent; 7 Firemen and 2 Coachmen.

It was also reported that Fireman J. Mandell fell from the first floor to ground at a fire and was subsequently retired due to his injuries. Fireman E.L. Roberts was badly injured when part of a roof fell in and smashed his helmet. Fireman H. Gear sustained a severely cut wrist from a falling slate and H. Chittock, Turncock, received a broken leg when he was thrown off the steamer.

East Ham Fire Station had increased by 1904 with the addition of two firemen. My Great Grandfather, the Superintendent, had his salary increased to £597 per annum. The salaries of other officials at this time make an interesting comparison:

Town Clerk £300; Assistant Town Clerk £200; Librarian £150; Medical Officer £200; General Clerk £120. A council steamroller driver was paid £2 a week and a foreman Bricklayer was paid £2 5 shillings a week. The Superintendent’s role appears to have been very well paid.

On the 20th of June, 1905, a surprise trial call was given to the fire brigade. The Committee members expressed their satisfaction that the time taken for the firemen to arrive at the Town Hall was only 3 minutes 20 seconds from the time of the call. Perhaps the firemen were not so surprised by the call as the Committee imagined.

In 1905 the brigade had 1 Steam Fire Engine; 1 Manual Fire Engine; 1 Hose Tender and 50 feet sliding carriage escape and two 40 feet Curricule Escapes.

An incident occurred on the 28th of February, 1906 involving 50 feet of electrical cable which fused under the pavement. Six persons were removed to hospital suffering from partial suffocation.

In July 1906, the Superintendent reported that the clothing contractor who supplied uniforms, had failed to carry out his work satisfactorily, and the contractor would go on to loose the brigade contract. In 1906, a new smoke helmet cost £2, 5 shillings.

About this time, Council Minutes appear relating to the totally inadequate surroundings and arrangements of the present fire station in Wakefield Street. The Committee were in favour of building a new station and instructed the Surveyor to prepare plans to incorporate the building into the area surrounding the new Town Hall.

A Mr. Kennersly made application to the Council to be allowed to explain his “patent for facilitating the life saving capacity of the Council’s fire escapes”. The apparatus consisted of a canvas chute attached to the head of the escape and down which persons were passed after rescue from upper floors. these chutes were in common use in the Metropolitan area from about 1850 onwards. There is no record that this method was adopted in East Ham.

In 1908 the Council looked into the question of hiring horses instead of keeping their own. An advertisement was placed in the Daily Telegraph inviting tenders from firms willing to hire horses. The offer from Messrs. C. Webster Ltd was accepted at a cost of £65 per horse, per annum and £150 for purchase of the brigade’s live stock.

Throughout the years of the development of the fire brigade, East Ham was also expanding, and Wakefield Street, the street with the fire station had been fully developed as a street lined with terrace houses. There were some exceptions. A large school almost opposite the fire station, and also a Salvation Army Hall:

Wakefield Street

The plaque on the hall dates the opening to 1908:

Salvation Army

Wakefield Street’s eastern end was at a junction with High Street North, however Ron Leighton Way (named after the MP for Newham North East. he won the seat in 1979) now slices through Wakefield Street as it nears High Street north. Where Wakefield Street now ends is this row of shops – essential additions to any London development of rows of terrace streets.

East Ham Fire Station

In earlier years, there would have been a number of pubs along the streets of developing East Ham. There were, and are, very few in the vicinity of Wakefield Street, and I suspect it was the late Victorian approach to alcohol for the masses, and that so many of the people who lived in the area, worked in the docks, where employers would not have wanted their employees under the influence of alcohol.

Back to the East Ham fire brigade, and there were some remarkable turn out times achieved by firemen in the days of horses. The record held by a London station being 11 seconds during a test turnout, but it is likely that much of the work for the callout had already been anticipated.

Under normal conditions, times of 30 seconds for a turn out were quiet common and this included attaching the horses to the shafts and securing the necessary harness.

Permission was given at regular intervals for the fire brigade to attend Carnivals in neighbouring Boroughs. The attendances of the brigade at such functions appeared to be an essential feature of the carnival. no doubt the fire engine with its brass work gleaming, drawn by proud horses and carrying its load of brass helmeted firemen would make a brave sight as it galloped round the park. From past records it is evident that the engines were “got to work” and demonstrated the skill of the men and the efficiencies of the pumps.

The Second East Ham Fire Station

Plans and estimates were submitted to the Council on the 21st of November 1911, for the building of a new fire station in High Street South. the cost of the project amounted to £8,628 including quarters for the Superintendent and 11 men. This was approved, along with approval to borrow the amount for a period of 30 years.

The new station was urgently required as the original in Wakefield Street was designed and built to accommodate horses, with the result that the doorways were only 8 ft., 10 inches wide. The appliance room was not deep enough to house the turntable ladders which were soon to be made available for the fire services.

On the 28th of May 1914, the new Fire Station was opened by Mayor, Alderman O.R. Anstead, and at the opening he said that “Great praise is due to the Borough Engineer and his Deputy for the way in which they have constructed the building which is one of the best anywhere around London”.

Little did he know that within three months the appliance room of the new fire station would be considered out of date for the latest fire fighting equipment. Little foresight was shown by the designers of the Station because many Fire Brigades in different parts of the country were at that time purchasing motor fire appliances and it should have been obvious that the day of the horse was numbered.

The opening of the new fire station, the transition from horse to motorised equipment was followed within three years by the death of my Great Grandfather. The West Ham and South Essex Mail included this obituary in April 1917, which included that:

“In early life he had been a petty officer in the mercantile marine. On leaving the sea he joined the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1861, and saw service in Norwood, Battersea, Rotherhithe and other districts, coming to West Ham in 1886 as fireman and steam man. He was for eleven years in West Ham where his good work was recognised by all grades of the service.

On leaving that centre when he received the appointment of the East Ham Fire Brigade he was presented by his colleagues with a clock, ornaments, tea service and a purse of gold. The excellence of his work in East Ham was also recognised both by the authorities and those who served under him. He had had a wide and varied experience and had attended some of the biggest fires in the London district.

Unfortunately, about two years ago he was in the somewhat serious motor accident which resulted in one of two members of the Brigade receiving injuries. Deceased himself was so badly shaken that he was never again quite the same, and had to relinquish his more arduous duties on a small pension, though he filled up his spare time as consulting engineer and inspector of hydrants. He had been ailing for some time before his death, and his illness took a turn for the worse about a week ago, He leaves a widow and three children.”

The fire station that took over from the one in Wakefield Street is still there, however now converted into flats. What is, as far as I know, the third version of East Ham Fire Station is at 210 High Street South, towards the Newham Way – equipped with fire fighting equipment that would have amazed my Great Grandfather.

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Elizabeth Fry, Charles Brooking, a Church and a Hall

Continuing my series of posts, tracking down all the City of London’s blue plaques, here are another selection of the wide range of people and places commemorated across the City, starting with:

Mrs. Elizabeth Fry – Prison Reformer

Where Poultry meets the Bank junction, there is a plaque on a side wall recording that Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, Prison Reformer, lived here between 1800 and 1809:

Elizabeth Gurney, as she was before marriage, was born in Norwich in 1780. Her parents were Quaker’s, which probably influenced her future work.

She came to London in 1800, the same year that she had married Joseph Fry, so the plaque commemorates her first London home.

Her prison reform campaigning started around 1813 following a visit to Newgate prison. This visit was described in the book Prison Discipline by Sir Thomas Powell Buxton, and it really must have been a shocking sight:

“She found the female side in a situation which no language can describe – nearly three hundred women, sent there for every graduation of crime, some untried, and some under sentence of death, were crowded together in the two yards and the two cells.

Here they saw their friends and kept their multitude of children, and they had no other place for cooking, washing, eating and sleeping. They slept on the floor, at times one hundred and twenty on one ward, without so much as a mat for bedding, and many of them were nearly naked.

She saw them openly drinking spirits, and her ears were offended by the most terrible imprecations. Every thing was filthy to excess, and the smell was quite disgusting. Every one, even the Governor was reluctant to go amongst them. He persuaded her to leave her watch in the office, telling her that his presence would not prevent its being torn from her.

She saw enough to convince her that everything bad was going on. In giving me this account, she repeatedly said ‘all I tell thee is a faint picture of the reality; the filth, the closeness of the rooms, the ferocious manners and expressions of the women towards each other, and the abandoned wickedness which everything bespoke, are quite indescribable’. Two women were observed in the act of stripping a dead child, for the purpose of clothing a living one.”

As a result of this visit, Elizabeth Fry started to campaign for improved conditions for women prisoners. She started bible lessons in Newgate and in 1817 formed the Association for Improving the Condition of Female Prisoners in Newgate”. It was initially assumed that the association was doomed to failure and that prisoners in Newgate could not be reformed, however the association pushed forward. As well as the women, their concern was the condition of the children who were imprisoned with their mothers. The Association opened a school dedicated to children within the prison.

The Association’s work gradually brought about change:

“The efforts of the committee to induce order soon began to produce visible effects. It even excited surprise to watch their rapid progress to an almost total change of scene. The demeanour of the prisoners is now quiet and orderly, their habits industrious, their persons clean, their very countenances changed and softened. The governesses of the schools for children, and for adults, are themselves prisoners, whose steadiness and good conduct procured their selection, and have justified the preference.”

As well as work within Newgate, Elizabeth Fry campaigned for change in how prisoners were managed and in 1823 prison reform legislation was introduced in Parliament.

Her work expanded. She would sit with those who were condemned for execution, she visited convicts in prison ships prior to their being transported to Australia, and provided items such as blankets to provide some comfort during the voyage. She visited many other prisons to inspect their conditions and campaign for change. This included prisons across England and Scotland as well as France.

She corresponded with those in power across Europe, including the King of Prussia and the Dowager Empress of Russia.

Many people went to visit Newgate to see the improved conditions, and watch the work of Elizabeth Fry. Prince Albert and the Duke of Wellington met with her.

She was also interested in causes outside of prison reform, for example she also sent bibles and reading material to isolated coastguard stations across the country. She also campaigned for improved conditions for working women, improved housing for the poor, and she established a number of soup kitchens.

From 1809 to 1829 Elizabeth Fry lived in East Ham at Plashet House, then moved to a house in West Ham, where she lived until 1844. She then possibly moved to Kent as a year later she died at Upton, Ramsgate in Kent.

She was buried in the Friends burying ground in Barking.

Portrait of Elizabeth Fry  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Elizabeth Fry apparently lived in St Mildred’s Court. I cannot find an exact location, however another blue plaque, a very short distance away indicates where the name of the court would have come from.

St. Mildred’s Church

Facing onto Poultry is another blue plaque:

Recalling the site of St Mildred’s church, demolished in 1872:

St Mildred’s church was one of the many City churches demolished during the second half of the 19th century. The City had been rapidly developing as a commercial centre. This reduced the number of residents and the size of church congregations. Space was also needed for road widening, additional office and commercial space, so many City churches, such as St Mildred’s were demolished.

An article in the Morning Post on the 18th of May 1872 provides some background to the church:

“The church of St. Mildred, Poultry, built by Sir Christopher Wren, is about to be sacrificed to the widening of the thoroughfare. It was erected in 1676 in the place of a decayed fabric which had dated from 1420, and which had superseded another of great antiquity that had fallen into dilapidation.

Previous to the first erection of the church, Thomas Morstead, surgeon to King Henry IV, V and VI, gave a piece of land adjoining the church, 45ft long and 35ft wide, for a burial ground.

Among persons of interest buried in the old church was Thomas Tusser, born in 1515, who wrote a book called ‘Points of Husbandrie’ which passed through 12 editions in 50 years. He is said to have led a wandering and unsettled life, being at one time a chorister, then a farmer, and afterwards a singing master. A quaint epitaph in verse commemorated his name and services. Previous to suppression of religious houses St Mildred’s belonged to the priory and canons of St. Mary Overy.

The length of the fabric now about to be taken down is 56ft, the width 42ft and the height 36ft. the tower is 75ft in height and is surmounted by a gilt ship in full sail.”

St. Mildred’s was shown on a 1754 map of Cheape Ward. I have circled the church in red in the following extract from the map:

In the above map, number 9 refers to St. Mildred’s church, and number 10 to Scalding Alley. I cannot find St Mildred’s Court on a map, so wonder if this was the alley by the side of the church.

When the church was demolished, the dead were relocated to the City of London cemetery at Ilford, Poultry was widened and new commercial buildings constructed on the site.

A short walk from Poultry, we find Tokenhouse Yard, a turnoff from Lothbury, where there is a plaque to:

Charles Brooking – Marine Painter

At the entrance to Tokenhouse Yard is a plaque to Charles Brooking who lived near the site of the plaque.

Not that much is known of the life of Charles Brooking. It is believed that he was born in Greenwich and he died at the relatively young age of 36. The plaque gives the years of his (assumed) birth (1723) and death (1759), not the years that he lived near the site of the plaque, and I cannot find when he did live near the site, or for how long.

The Illustrated London News provided some additional background on Charles Brooking at the time of an exhibition of his work at the Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art in 1966:

“A meticulous knowledge of shipping and a poetic lyricism in his observation of natural phenomena combine to make Charles Brooking the greatest of all marine painters. Born as he was in the 18th century his talents were perfectly fitted to satisfy the chauvinism engendered by Britain’s naval supremacy. What is remarkable is that Brooking’s painting avoids all forms of brashness and conceit which one almost expect. His high proficiency in technical detail and his emotional restraint are even alien to much of modern taste, which is a possible reason why Brooking has become a classic example of the great painter overlooked.

Brooking’s extraordinary technical ability in painting all kinds of naval gear make it reasonable to accept the inconclusive literary evidence that he came from Deptford and was trained in the dockyard there as the son of a master-craftsman at Greenwich Hospital. Seventeen twenty-three is an acceptable date for his birth, as he is known to have died in 1759 and was very probably 36 at the time.”

Most references to Charles Brooking put the brilliance of his work down to his early years being spent in and around Greenwich where he would have seen so much of the multitude of different types of ships in use during the early decades of the 18th century.

The following image shows one of Brooking’s works, dated from around 1755 and titled “Shipping in the English Channel”:

Source: Charles Brooking, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tokenhouse Yard is an interesting little street. Built during the reign of Charles I on the site of a house and garden owned by the Earl of Arundel. The name comes from a building in the vicinity where the tokens issued by small traders as a replacement for small value coins, could be exchanged for legal tender

At the far end of Tokenhouse Yard, a small alley leads through the buildings at the end of the street through to Telegraph Street / Copthall Buildings:

Tokenhouse Yard, and the surrounding streets deserve a dedicated post, however the plaque to Charles Brooking at the entrance to the street does provide a reminder of a brilliant marine artist, who captured naval scenes during a couple of decades at the first half of the 18th century.

Also in Lothbury, is the site of the next plaque, to:

Founder’s Hall

Where Founders Court joins Lothbury there is a plaque recording that Founder’s Hall stood in the Court between 1531 and 1845:

Founder’s Hall was the hall of the Worshipful Company of Founders, one of the old Company’s of the City of London, dating back to 1365, when “In 1365 the men of the mistery of founders presented a petition to the mayor and aldermen stating that some of the mistery made ‘works of false metal and false solder’ and requesting that ordinances be approved to regulate the trade”.

The company may have been in existence prior to 1365, but it is this date which seems to be the accepted date for when the company came into existence, as a company that had powers to regulate aspects of their members trade.

Founders worked in brass, alloys of brass and tin, and produced articles such as candle sticks, stirrups for horses, pots etc. The basic materials of everyday life.

Their hall was built in 1531 when members of the Company purchased a number of houses and a garden in Lothbury, and constructed their hall.

Lothbury seems to have been the location of many who worked in the founders trade. Stow goes so far as to say that the name Lothbury comes from the number of founders who worked along the street, with their noise being found loathsome to those walking on the street, with the street attracting the name of Lothberie.

A Dictionary of London does not place much faith in Stow’s explanation, and suggests that the name comes from “lode” (a cut or drain leading into a large stream), with Lothbury leading over the Walbrook, or more probable the name coming from a personal name of Lod, or Loda.

The area around Lothbury has long been part of London’s populated history, as a Roman tessellated pavement was found opposite Founder’s Court at a depth of 12ft, along with a Roman pavement. Copper bowls were also found nearby at a depth of 10 ft. in wet, boggy soil.

I cannot find much about why the Founder’s vacated Founders Court. I did find a couple of newspaper articles from 1847 which hint at why they moved “TELEGRAPHIC CENTRAL STATION – The whole of the extensive buildings, including Founders Hall and Chapel in Founders Court, Lothbury, fronting the Bank of England, are being demolished, the Electric Telegraph Company having purchased the property for the formation of their central metropolitan station”.

The Electric Telegraph Company had been founded in the previous year, 1846, and was the world’s first public telegraph company.

Prior to the founding of the Electric Telegraph Company, the telegraph as a technology had mainly been used by the railways with wires being strung along railway lines in order to send messages between stations.

The Electric Telegraph Company was formed to offer the technology to potential users across business and the public. The Electric Telegraph Company could be compared with the earliest Internet service providers such as Compuserve, AOL, DELPHI and Earthlink, who took a technology that was used by a limited research and scientific community and opened it up to the wider public.

Some of the earliest users of the Electric Telegraph Company were the newspapers who suddenly had a means of receiving news at almost the instant it was happening. Initial use of this service was reported with some care, for example in a report in 1848, newspapers were detailing news of rebellions in Ireland, and included:

“The Electric Telegraph Company vouched for its arrival in Liverpool. On the whole, therefore, we did not feel justified in refusing to publish it. we inserted it just as it reached us, giving the authority, and at the same time stating that we have received nothing of the sort from our own correspondents”.

This statement from the papers of 1848 is a fascinating foretaste of what was to come, when new technology would continue to grow exponentially, the ability for news to flow in, before any trusted authority had been able to verify the source and factual basis of the news.

The Electric Telegraph Company grew during the following years, and merged with similar companies, eventually becoming part of the Post Office, and today, British Telecom.

The Founder’s then seem to have moved around a bit. Their next hall was in St Swithin’s Lane, and the current hall, dating from 1987, is located in Cloth Fair, opposite the Hand and Shears pub.

The following print, dating from 1855 shows the new Founder’s Hall in St Swithin’s Lane  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Above the door is the coat of arms of the Founder’s, which consists of two taper candlesticks on either side of a laverpot (a container for filling a washing bowl) – both being examples of the Founder’s art.

Four more plaques which commemorate some of the people that have lived in the City and the buildings that have often been on the streets for centuries, but are now just recorded by a plaque on a wall.

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Campden Hill Water Tower, an Observatory and Sir James South

Before heading to Campden Hill, a quick reminder that if you are interested in discovering the history of the New River, New River Head, the Oak Room and Devil’s Conduit, there are a few tickets remaining for a walk by Islington Guides starting this coming week. I will be guiding on a couple of these walks and they can be booked at this link.

For this week’s post, I am in the area between Kensington Gardens and Holland Park, in Campden Hill Road, looking up the street towards the now demolished water tower as seen in this photo by my father, and dating from 1951:

Campden Hill Water Tower

The same view in August 2022:

Campden Hill Water Tower

The view nearest the camera has hardly changed. The buildings on either side of Campden Hill Road are the same. What has changed is the view in the distance where the water tower once stood is now a development of flats.

The Campden Hill water tower was built as part of the 19th century roll out of water supplies across an expanding London.

The Grand Junction Water Works Company purchased the land at the top of the road in 1843, and built a reservoir. This was followed by a pumping station and the water tower. (I have also read reports that the water works opened in the 1820s on land purchased from the Dowager Marchioness of Lansdowne, and that the water tower was built in 1847).

The water tower is unusual in that it did not hold a water tank. Instead, large pipes ran up the tower, and these would hold water, with the height of the pipes adding to the pressure of water supplied from the location.

I have shown the location of the water tower, and the associated water supply infrastructure, within the red rectangle in the following map:

Campden Hill

The map shows that the water tower was just over half way up Campden Hill Road, but we need to look at another type of map to understand why it was located at this point in Campden Hill Road.

The following map (from the excellent topographic-map.com) shows land height as different colours, with blue as the lowest height, up through green, orange, red and pink as the highest. I have placed a black star symbol at the location of the water tower, and as can be seen by the surrounding colours, this is the highest point in the area, and the natural height of the land would have given a pressure advantage to water from the site, to which the water tower would have added.

Campden Hill

The name of the road – Campden Hill Road – also highlights that the road runs both up and down a hill. Next to the original location of the water tower, we can see the road descending in both directions. Looking north:

Campden Hill Water Tower

And looking south:

Campden Hill Water Tower

There was a local myth that involved the height of the land where the water tower was located. Almost opposite the location of the water tower is a pub called the Windsor Castle, and the myth was that before the water tower was built, a keen eyed observer could see the real Windsor Castle from this high point, hence the name of the local pub.

This myth was certainly still going into the 1950s when a letter in the Kensington Post disputed that you could have seen the castle from this point, and it was even doubtful that you could see the castle from the top of the tower.

This source of the name is not mentioned on the pub’s website, which does though claim the 1820s as the age of the pub, so it does pre-date the water tower.

Windsor Castle pub

The water tower and associated infrastructure became part of the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904 when the MWB took over the assets of the many water companies operating in London, and brought these under the control of a single, London wide, water supplier.

The water tower was last used for the storage of water within it’s pipe in 1943, and was then redundant for a number of years. Plans to demolish the tower started in the early 1050s and in the 28th of March 1952 edition of the Kensington News and West London Times, there was an article with the headline “Goodbye to the Great Grey Tower”. The newspaper had asked local residents how they felt about the loss of the tower and reported that their general reply was that they would “Miss it dreadfully”.

The tower would though remain for many years, and during the 1960s it was leased to Associated Rediffusion who had equipment to relay television signals mounted on the tower.

There were a number of proposals for what would replace the tower throughout the 1960s, many reported in the Kensington Post, who also sent a photographer to take some photos of the view from the top of the tower.

It would finally be demolished in the first months of 1970, and the site of the water tower and associated works is now occupied by the housing seen in the following photo:

Campden Hill Water Tower

As well as being part of London’s water supply, and a local landmark, the Campden Hill water tower is also unique as it is (as far as I know) the only water tower to feature in, and on the cover of a work of literature:

G K Chesterton

The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesteron is a rather unusual book. Published in 1904, it tells of the story an alternative reality, where the country is ruled over by a randomly selected head of state, one Auberon Quinn who had been a clerk. Quinn decides to turn London into a form of medieval city. One man, Adam Wayne, takes this very seriously, and uses it as a means to support local pride. Wayne even went to the length of setting up a Notting Hill army to fight invaders from other neighbourhoods – hence the title of the Napoleon of Notting Hill.

Theoretically set in a London of the future, the book describes technology and the city as it was when the book was written.

The water tower features many times in the book, including in Chapter Three —The Great Army of South Kensington, where the various forces of different streets and local areas assemble and where battle takes place, for example:

“Morning winked a little wearily at me over the curt edge of Campden Hill and its houses with their sharp shadows. Under the abrupt black cardboard of the outline, it took some little time to detect colours; but at length I saw a brownish yellow shifting in the obscurity, and I knew that it was the guard of Swindon’s West Kensington army. They are being held as a reserve, and lining the whole ridge above the Bayswater Road. Their camp and their main force is under the great Waterworks Tower on Campden Hill.”

and:

“In the event of your surrendering your arms and dispersing under the superintendence of our forces, these local rights of yours shall be carefully observed. In the event of your not doing so, the Lord High Provost of Notting Hill desires to announce that he has just captured the Waterworks Tower, just above you, on Campden Hill, and that within ten minutes from now, that is, on the reception through me of your refusal, he will open the great reservoir and flood the whole valley where you stand in thirty feet of water. God save King Auberon!”

The reason why Chesterton set his book in the area, and uses the water tower as a key feature must be that he was born in Campden Hill on the 29th of May, 1874, so he knew the area very well, and the water tower would have been a very familiar feature.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a really strange book, but good to have the Campden Hill water tower recorded in a work of literature.

Walking south, down the hill from the location of the water tower is this terrace of large residential buildings:

Bill Brandt

One of which has a blue plaque recording that the photographer Bill Brandt lived here:

Bill Brandt

I felt rather guilty taking the photo of Bill Brandt’s plaque on a modern digital camera, when I should have been using my father’s old Leica film camera.

Brandt was a master of film photography. Born in Germany in 1904, he moved to London in 1933, and would spend the rest of his life in the city until his death in 1983.

I have no idea when, and for how long he lived in Campden Hill Road, however a number of his photographs were taken inside the building, many of which date around the 1940s, so he was there for some of that decade.

Brandt took a series of photos of London during the war, and his photos of the Underground being used as air raid shelters have become representative of that period in London’s history. Many of his wartime photos of London are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum:

Bill Brandt
AIR RAID DAMAGE (HU 672) Elephant & Castle Tube Station, 11 November 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205059368

Christ Church, Spitalfields: Man sleeping in a stone sarcophagus in Christ Church:

Bill Brandt
SHELTER PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN LONDON BY BILL BRANDT, NOVEMBER 1940 (D 1511) Christ Church, Spitalfields: Man sleeping in a stone sarcophagus in Christ Church. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194621

Continuing on down Campden Hill Road, and the area around the road is full of interesting architecture and plenty of history and interesting characters. I cannot cover everything I would like to in the space of a weekly post, so I will pick one small street which has plenty of interesting stories to tell.

In the map below, I have put a blue oval around Observatory Gardens, a small street that leads from Campden Hill Road to Hornton Street:

Observatory Gardens

I will come on to the origin of the name Observatory Gardens, however lets have a look at the buildings first.

Along the northern side of Observatory Gardens is a continuous terrace of brick houses with white painted detailing.

Observatory Gardens

By 1870, the land now occupied by Observatory Gardens had been purchased by Thomas Cawley, a local south Kensington builder. He subcontracted the construction of the street, however his subcontractors went bankrupt, so Cawley completed the work himself, and the street was finished in 1883.

The street suffered some severe damage during the last war when a German bomber crashed into Campden Hill Road, having taken off a large roof in Observatory Gardens, and the crater in the street causing additional damage. A report in the West London Observer on Friday the 18th of April 1941 tells the story:

“London experienced one of the heaviest raids of the War during Wednesday night and early Thursday morning and numerous heavy, high-explosive missiles as well as thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped. Damage was on a large scale and many people were killed.

The German radio yesterday (Thursday) declared that the raid was the heaviest ever on London and the biggest raid of the War, and that 100,000 fire bombs were showered down.

On Thursday morning thousand of Londoners made their way to work over hose-pipes and broken glass, while firemen, begrimed and exhausted, still dealt with the smoldering ruins. Many had to make extensive detours to reach their place of business and thousands found their offices and shops bombed out when they got there.

Altogether five Nazi planes were brought down, one of which crashed in Campden Hill Road, a turning off Kensington High street. Actually the plane hit the roof of a large house in Observatory Gardens before crashing into the roadway about 50-feet away. Bombs from the plane must have crashed into the road in front of this house as there is a very large crater.

The German plane finally came to rest by the side of a large Hostel, part of the University of London.

At the controls was a dead pilot. No traces of other members of the crew could be found, so it is assumed that they had jumped. Later the bodies of two Nazi airmen were discovered in the locality, badly mutilated.

Residents at Campden Hill Road heard the whistle of the approaching aircraft before it crashed. There was no engine noise. Wardens say that it was not on fire.

The bomber touched chimney pots and then disintegrated in small pieces. Its heavier parts, one of the engines and two propellers, landed on the top of a block of flats where some Maltese evacuees were billeted.

An oil tank burst at the same time, and two rooms of the top floors of the flats, which were being used for bedding and linen, caught fire.

During the day, thousands of people passed the spot to see the scattered remains of the bomber. By the afternoon there was little to see as army lorries had conveyed the debris to one of the various scrap bases set aside for this purpose.”

Observatory Gardens was left badly damaged by the crash of the bomber, and as with so many streets across London, the street would not recover for a couple of decades.

In the years after the war, Observatory Gardens became very run down, and it was not until the 1990s that the street we see today emerged. Whilst the exterior of the buildings were restored, much of the interior of the buildings appears to have been considerably rebuilt.

Before Thomas Cawley purchased the land and developed Observatory Gardens, the land was owned by Sir James South, a fascinating character who made astronomical discoveries and also appears to have spent a fair amount of time in the courts.

Sir James South purchased a house and land in 1827 from the Phillimore family, and set about building an astronomical observatory in the grounds.

He started a career as a surgeon in Southwark, and there established an observatory in Blackman Street. He worked with the astronomer John Herschel on the observation of double stars, but he was often difficult to work with, and was frequently drunk.

Despite this, he became President of the Astronomical Society in 1829, but after arguments with a number of Fellows, his involvement with what would become the Royal Astronomical Society faded.

He continued his observations from his house on the land that is now Observatory Gardens, and got involved in a number of disputes with the council who were proposing to extend Camden Hill Road. He believed that the vibrations from traffic on the extended road would impact his telescopes and his observations.

His legal disputes were not just about issues that threatened his observations, he would take legal action on many issues that he daily encountered. One was in 1855 when he took a conductor of a Paddington omnibus to court for deceiving him.

South had apparently hailed the omnibus near King’s Cross and had asked the conductor if it was the Royal Oak omnibus. The conductor confirmed that it was, so South boarded.

The bus continued to Chapel Street by when all the passengers had left the bus, with the exception of South. The conductor stated that the bus would not be going any further than the next stop, and South got into an argument with the conductor regarding the destination of the bus, and that the conductor had informed South that it would go to Royal Oak.

At court, the conductor denied that he had told South the omnibus was going to Royal Oak, stated that South had got on the bus without speaking. Despite this, the court sided with Sir James South and convicted the conductor with a penalty of 20 shillings plus costs.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the case of Sir James South and the conductor of an Omnibus shows that South would take an issue to court no matter how trivial it was, and with the unequal resources and reputation of an omnibus conductor and Sir James South.

Sir James South:

Sir James South

The Illustrated Times published an obituary for Sir James South on the 26th October, 1867:

“We have to announce the death of Sir James South, F.R.S. at an advanced age. He was the son of a dispensing druggist, who towards the close of the last century carried on in business in Blackman-street, Borough; but James South entered upon a higher branch of the medical profession, and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. For some years he practiced his profession in Southwark, and in the intervals in business pursued the study of astronomy, in connection with which he made some extremely valuable observations. In 1822 and 1823, in conjunction with Sir John Herschel, he compiled a catalogue of 380 double stars.

After this he removed to Campden-hill, Kensington, where he constructed an observatory, to which he devoted the closest attention during the remainder of his life, and which has achieved European fame. He was one of the founders of the Royal Astronomical Society, and was for a time its president. In 1830, on the recommendation of the Duke of Wellington, who was then prime Minister, he received the honour of knighthood, and for several years past he has enjoyed a pension of £300 a year on the Civil List for his contributions to astronomical science.

The account of Sir James South’s astronomical observations during his residence in Southwark is published in the Philosophical Transactions for 1825, and is accompanied by a description of the 5 foot and 7 foot equatorials with which they were made. one of these instruments is still mounted and in excellent condition at the Campden-hill Observatory. There are also in the observatory a 7 foot transit instrument, and a 4 foot transit circle. Sir James South was born in 1785.”

The street name Observatory Gardens is therefore named after Sir James South’s observatory that once occupied the land. The following photos shows the end of Observatory Gardens, where the street meets Hornton Street:

Observatory Gardens

One of the newspaper reports I read about the water tower is that the arrival of the Grand Junction Water Works Company, and the resulting reliable supply of water, was one of the reasons why the area developed rapidly during the first half of the 19th century, and that much of that development was of large, ornate, houses.

At the eastern end of Observatory Gardens is Hornton Street, and this is the view looking north – of many of those large, ornate, houses:

Camden Hill

And the view looking south, as the hill which gave the area its name continues to descend towards Kensington High Street. Lots more red brick and white decoration:

Campden Hill

One thing I realised as I get towards the end of the post is that I have not explained the origin of the name Campden Hill. The Hill element obviously comes from the hill on which the area is built, and that resulted in the water tower being built here. Campden came from Campden House, a large house that was built here by Baptist Hicks, 1st Viscount Campden in the 17th century. The Camden in his title came from Chipping Campden in the County of Gloucester.

In the 19th century and much of the 20th century, there was a considerable amount of infrastructure supporting the provision of water, gas and electricity across London. As with the Campden Hill water tower, so much of this has disappeared, as the technologies used to distribute these services has changed.

Campden Hill is a fascinating area to explore, and I hope this post has provided an indication of what can be discovered across some of the streets.

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Bills of Mortality – Death in early 18th Century London

Bills of Mortality – Death in early 18th Century London. A cheerful subject for a Sunday morning’s post, but a really interesting subject, and one that sheds light on living in London 300 years ago, in the early years of the 18th century.

What were Bills of Mortality? They were lists of deaths in the city, detailing the number that had died by individual cause of death. The majority of deaths were from some form of disease or illness, however the Bills of Mortality also included lists of Casualties – those who had died through some form of accident.

I took a random year in the early 18th century which had a good sample of weekly Bills of Mortality, the year 1721.

So what was happening in 1721?

George I was the monarch, with the country having survived the Jacobite rebellion of 1719 which aimed to restore James Stuart to the throne. Edmond Halley (after whom the comet would be named) was Astronomer Royal. Grinling Gibbons died – his remarkable wood carving can still be seen at a number of sites across London.

The collapse of the South Sea Company, known as the “South Sea Bubble” was in the previous year. One person who made a considerable amount of money from shares in the South Sea Company, and who sold before the collapse of the company was Thomas Guy. In 1721 he founded Guy’s Hospital

In 1721, Robert Walpole became the first Prime Minister.

London was expanding rapidly to the north and west, and by 1746, John Rocque’s map would show the new estates north of Oxford Street, and between Oxford Street and Piccadilly.

Executions were still taking place on the Thames foreshore in Wapping for any crimes that carried the death penalty and came under the authority of the Admiralty.

So, with that background, lets have a look at what might have killed you if you were living in London in 1721, starting with a compilation of all the weekly Bills of Mortality for the year:

Bills of Mortality

There is so much to follow-up in these records. Firstly, some of the strange causes of death.

Many of the causes are recognisable today, however some need an explanation, and a sample are listed below:

  • Bloody Flux – A horribly descriptive term for Dysentery, which I am surprised was as low as 10 for the year given the polluted state of drinking water in early 18th century London
  • Evil – This appears to have been a form of tuberculosis
  • French Pox – Syphilis
  • Head-mould-shot – An injury or disease of the bones of the skull
  • Mortification – Referred to death caused by Gangrene or similar diseases
  • Planet Struck – A really strange name. It seems to have been used for a sudden death that some believed had an astrological connection with the planets
  • Rising of the Lights – Lights seems to have been a Middle English word for the lungs and rising of the lights refers to some form of lung disease
  • St. Anthony’s Fire – This appears to have been horrible. It was caused by eating grains such as rye, that had been infected by a fungus with the name of Claviceps purpurea. Symptoms included a burning feeling in the extremities of the body (hence the use of the word Fire in the name), along with sores, hallucinations and convulsions. St. Anthony comes from monks dedicated to the saint who offered help to suffers.
  • Strangury – The symptom of this was painful urination, and the cause was some form of bladder disease
  • Teeth – Nothing to do with something being wrong with your teeth, this appears to have been how the death of a child was recorded when they were teething
  • Tissick – Death following a cough which must have been due to some form of lung disease

Many of the causes of death had names that described the symptoms or cause of death, and a number of names could all refer to the same cause of death. Some of the names make you wonder how much thought there was into the cause before recording the death.

For example, with some of the deaths with very low numbers, you can imagine the following conversation:

What did he die off?

Don’t know, but he had a pain in the head

That will do, record that as the cause

The total for the table shows that in 1721 there was a total of 26,139 deaths. It is difficult to get an accurate population count for London in 1721, however a number of sources and years either side (1700 and 1750) seem to converge around 650,000 as a good estimate for 1721. Based on this total population, then 4% of the population died in the year.

Comparing this with today, and the data.london.gov.uk site provides a mid year estimate of the population of London in 2020 as 9,002,500 and the annual number of deaths in that year was 58,800. Based on these figures, 0.65% of the population of London died during 2020.

Even with some errors in the above figures, they do show that the ratio of deaths to total population has decreased significantly in the intervening 300 years.

I sorted the table of deaths to show the causes that resulted in the greatest number of deaths, and the following table shows the top ten causes in 1721:

Bills of Mortality

Convulsion caused by far the highest number of deaths with 6871, double the second highest of 3331 Fever deaths.

Convulsion in the early 18th century was not what we would expect today. It was used to describe any general cause of death in infants. It had been replacing “chrisomes” as an archaic term for death in infants. Chrisomes had, and continued for a while, been used to describe the death of an infant under one month of age. The term came from the name of a white linen cloth that was used to cover a baby’s head when baptised, and was also used as a shroud for a dead baby.

There is a chance that some of the deaths recorded as a Convulsion could have been an adult, however if we assume they were all deaths of infants, then sorting the table on child deaths, we get a total of 9,138, or 35% of all deaths attributed to diseases, which just shows that even with a degree of incorrectly recorded deaths, surviving childhood was the greatest challenge of being born in early 18th century London.

The following table shows the causes of death for children:

Bills of Mortality

The risk to life during birth was also to the mother, and in 1721, 299 deaths were recorded as “Childbed”, the cause of which was an infection following birth also known as puerperal fever.

The record for 1761 listed the numbers christened and buried during the year:

  • Christened – 18,370
  • Buried – 26,142
  • Increase in burials this year – 688

These figures show that numbers buried were higher than numbers christened. This could be for a number of reasons:

  • Not all children were christened, however I suspect that given the religious and superstitious views of the time, a high percentage of births led to a christening
  • Presumably non Christian children were not recorded as being baptised, however the numbers of these was probably low
  • The population of London was not dependent on births within the city. There was a high level of immigration to the city from the rest of the country, and from abroad, so many of the deaths were of people who had moved to London
  • The fact that the number of burials increased over the previous year of 1720, and buried outnumbered christenings shows the rate at which London’s population was expanding

The high number of burials was also due to the very basic level of medical care during the early 18th century. Poor sanitation, sterile conditions to treat wounds and illnesses, poor diets and quality of food, lack of clean drinking water, cramped living conditions, etc. all contributed to the high rate of death.

People also still believed in many of the superstitions around illness and death, and also in many of the supposed cures that were available. One example of the type of cure widely reported in newspapers is the following from 1722:

“We hear that a few weeks ago, a Spring hath been discovered near a Town called Goring, within 12 Miles of Reading in Berkshire, which hath such virtues in it, that lame people who have made use of it by Bathing, have soon dropped their Crutches. Tis said the Clay there cures old sores and green wounds to admiration, and every one who hath made use of it hath found such relief, that they are constantly setting forth its virtues.”

The weekly Bills of Mortality also listed what were called “Casualties”, and included the cause of death. These casualty lists show the many bizarre causes of death across early 18th century London, and many still recognisable names are listed as the place of death. A sample covering four weeks in 1716:

15th to the 22nd January 1716

  • Burnt accidentally at St. Mary Aldermanbury – 1
  • Choked with a Horse Bean at St. James Dukeplace – 1
  • Hanged himself (being Lunatick) at St. Olaves Southwark – 1
  • Killed by the Wheel of a Cart at St. Andrews Holbourn – 1
  • Overlaid – 3

Overlaid appears to have been the death of an infant by smothering when a larger individual sleeps on top of them. There are Overlaid deaths almost every week in the Bills of Mortality and were probably caused by parents, or older children, sleeping with infants.

5th to the 12th March 1716

  • Bruised at St. Mary Rotherhithe – 1
  • Found dead in the Fields at St. Dunstan at Stepney – 1
  • Killed by a Blow with a Catstick at St. James Clerkenwell
  • Killed by a Sword at St. Martin’s in the Fields – 1
  • Overlaid – 1

12th to the 17th June 1716

  • Hanged himself (being Lunatick) at St. Peters in Cornhill – 1
  • Killed with a Musket Ball at Christ Church in London – 1
  • Killed by a Blow with a Stick at St. Mary in the Savoy – 1
  • Overlaid – 3

The use of the term “Lunatick” is very problematic. The term was often used for deaths of someone with a mental illness, and for those who had committed suicide when it was assumed that they must have been a “Lunatick” for going through with a self inflicted death.

Also in the above two weeks, there are deaths by a blow, by a sword and by a musket ball, presumably these were all some form of murder / manslaughter.

17th to the 24th July 1716

  • Cut his throat (being Lunatick) at St Matthew in Friday Street – 1
  • Drowned in a Tub of Water at St. Clement Danes – 1
  • Executed – 1
  • Hanged themselves (being Lunatick) at St. Stephen Coleman Street
  • Hanged themselves (being Lunatick) ay St. Katherine Creed Church

Some of these records cry out for more information. How did someone drown in a tub of water at St Clement Danes? How big was the tub, why could they not get out, were they drunk?

The above week’s record also lists one person as being Executed. Strange that this was recorded as a Casualty, however I suspect there was no other way of recording such a death as the weekly Bills of Mortality tried to capture all the deaths in the city.

London’s population and deaths were the subject of a fascinating little book published in 1676 and today a copy is held in the Wellcome Collection. “Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a following Index and made upon the Bills of Mortality” by Capt. John Gaunt, Fellow of the Royal Society.

John Gaunt writes that he was born and bred in the City of London, and complains that the Bills of Mortality were only used to see how burials had increased or decreased, and for the rare and extraordinary causes of death within the Casualties.

In the book he makes 106 observations on births, deaths, sickness, disease, how information in the Bills of Mortality was used, London’s population, comparison between the City and Countryside etc. The book is a fascinating window on the late 17th century, and explains much of what we see in the 1721 Bills of Mortality.

His observations are really interesting, and I have listed a few of them below:

  • The Occasion of keeping the account of Burials arose first from the Plaque, Anno 1592
  • That about one third of all that were ever quick die under five years old, and about thirty six per Centum under six (this aligns with the figures for the deaths of children in the 1721 statistics)
  • That not above one in four thousand are Starved (so food is generally available and affordable to the vast majority of London’s population, although very many probably only just had enough)
  • That not one in two thousand are Murdered in London (the statement appears to be written as a positive, however compared with today, and the figure for 2020 / 21 was 13.3 per million in London, which is considerably better than 1676)
  • That few of those, who die of the French-Pox are set down, but coloured under the Consumption (this implies that deaths from Syphilis were considerably under-reported. Perhaps the family of the person did not want it known that they had died of a sexually transmitted disease)
  • That since the differences in Religion, the Christenings have been neglected half in half (so there were religious differences resulting in the number of Christenings not being representative of the total number of births)
  • That (be the Plague great or small) the City is fully re-peopled within two years (so even after the worse years of the plaque there were enough people moving into the City to restore the population)
  • The Autumn is the most unhealthful season (something’s do not change)
  • That the people in the Country double by Procreation but in two hundred and eighty years, and in London in about seventy. Many of the Breeders leave the Country, and that the Breeders of London come from all parts of the Country, such persons breeding in the Country almost only were born there, but in London multitudes of others (Women of child bearing ages, and their partners moved in numbers from the Country to the City)
  • That in London are more impediments of Breeding than in the Country (interesting comparison with today with possibly wages, need to work, availability and cost of housing all playing a part)
  • Physicians have two Women Patients to one Man; and yet more Men die than Women (again, something’s do not change – men do not like going to the Doctor)
  • In the Country but about one of fifty dies yearly, but at London one of thirty (so London was not as healthy as the Country, and was getting worse as confirmed by:)
  • London not so healthful now as heretofore

John Gaunt published his findings 346 years ago, but it is interesting how many can still apply to London today.

Gaunt was a fascinating individual. He was a Haberdasher by trade, but had a considerable interest in how the collection of data, the use of mathematics and the statistical modelling of data could reveal what was happening to the health of those living in the city, and to population numbers.

He was one of the first demographers – the statistical study of populations.

As well as the investigations that led to the observations listed above, he also collected data to help understand life expectancy. The Bills of Mortality did not report age, just the numbers dying of specific causes, so Gaunt had to collect this data through further investigations. This work resulted in the following table:

Bills of Mortality

The middle column shows the proportion of London’s population that could be expected to die within the age interval in the first column, so out of 100 people between the ages of 0 and 6 years, 36 could be expected to die.

The column on the right is the proportion surving at the start of the interval, which is why the first entry is 1, as this represents the full popoulation at birth. It then shows the numbers surviving at the start of the interval, so at age 7, 64 out of the original 100 would be alive. At age 16, 40 out of the original 100 would still be alive, and so on through the age intervals.

The table really shows the young age of London in the years around 1676, as by the age of 27, only 25 out of an initial 100 people would still be alive, and at age 57, this would be down to 6 out of the original 100.

A morbid subject, but it does show that in the 17th century and early 18th, the data was available to start understanding disease and death in the City, and people like John Gaunt were beginning the process of understanding how to use and apply this data.

This would be a very long process, as even by 1854, Dr. John Snow was still facing challenges when he used data to demonstrate that a Cholera outbreak in Soho could be traced to a specific water pump.

What is also clear is that if you had made it into your 20s, you were very lucky as only 25% would make it to the age of 27. There were a large number of terrible diseases just waiting to pick you off, and just living in London would also put you at risk of becoming a casualty of any number of possible accidents.

However despite all these challenges, the population of London kept growing.

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Bull and Mouth Inn, Northumberland House, French Church and Aldersgate – City of London Blue Plaques

Today, I am starting in St Martin’s le Grand for the third post in my search for all the City of London Blue Plaques.

Three plaques can be seen on a building on the western side of the street, each arrowed in the following photo:

Bull and Mouth Inn

Starting from the left, and the blue arrow is pointing to:

Bull and Mouth Inn

Bull and Mouth Inn

The Bull and Mouth Inn was an old coaching inn located in a side road off St Martin’s-le-Grand / Aldersgate Street. This side road had the same name as the inn – Bull and Mouth Street.

The Bull and Mouth was an old inn, and can be found in William Morgan’s 1682 map of London. In the following extract from the map, the inn is numbered 407 (circled red), and the large courtyard can be seen, surrounded by the buildings of the inn, and with a narrow entrance on to Bull and Mouth Street.

Bull and Mouth Inn

The name is unusual, and appears not to have been the original name. An article about the inn in the London Mercury on the 15th April 1848 records that the 16th century historian and antiquarian John Stowe referred to the inn as of “great antiquity”, and that the current name was a corruption of the original name of Boulogne Mouth or harbour)

The Bull and Mouth was a very busy coaching inn, with regular coach services to the north of the country. The inn was mentioned in the 1909 book “Inns, Ales and Drinking Customs of Old England” by Frederick Hackwood:

“Where could have been found a finer or more typical specimen of the old coaching-house than the Bull and Mouth in Aldersgate Street?

The scene presented by a coach-yard in full activity was always an animated and interesting one. The coach, a handsome, well-built vehicle, in all the brilliancy of a highly varnished claret ground, or it may be of a bright yellow, when ready, would stand well in the middle of the drive. the four beautiful, spirited animals attached to it, with their glossy, velvety skins, covered with cloths till the moment of ‘putting to’, would be under the charge of two stablemen in corduroy breeches and heavy boots.

Then the coachman, mounted on the box, getting his whip and his ribbons adjusted exactly to his mind. He is well buttoned up to the throat in an enormous box-coat of whitish drab colour, fastened with immense mother of pearl buttons. There is a rakish brim to his hat, which goes well with the air of nonchalance he affects – for is he not the skipper as it were, not only in command of the gallant equipage, but controlling, for the time at least, the destiny of all his passengers.”

Probably a bit of a romantic description of a lost method of travel, however it must have been an impressive sight, a coach being readied for departure, and the travelers heading across the country from the yard of the Bull and Mouth.

And coaches from the Bull and Mouth really did travel some distance.

The first mention I could find of the Bull and Mouth, was from the Derby Mercury on the 27th December 1733 where George Paschall was advertising that his wagon made a regular journey between Derby and London, leaving the Red Lyon in Derby every Saturday, reaching the Bull and Mouth on the following Saturday, from where it would depart on the Monday, arriving on either the following Friday or Saturday.

The wagon was probably for carrying goods rather than people, and the journey time between Derby and London was around five / six days.

The Bull and Mouth must have been incredibly busy. The Bull and Mouth listed the coaches and wagons departing from the inn in the Public Ledger and Advertiser on the 27th April, 1824.

The following table shows the destinations of Royal Mail coaches departing every evening from the Bull and Mouth (these were the ultimate destinations, each of these was an individual route that had plenty of intermediate stops):

Bull and Mouth Inn

The same listing also included the destinations of coaches that were not part of the Royal Mail network, along with passenger carrying wagons, again, plenty of intermediate stops before these destinations were reached:

Bull and Mouth Inn

It must have been remarkable to watch the immense amount of activity at the Bull and Mouth with the number of coaches, wagons, passengers and goods for transport, arriving or departing from the inn.

Some of these journey’s must have been incredibly arduous if you were heading to the end point of the coach’s route. I mapped out the stops of the Bull and Mouth to Glasgow coach in the following map  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Bull and Mouth Inn

Starting at the Bull and Mouth Inn, the stops to Glasgow were then: Barnet, St. Neots, Buckden, Stilton, Grantham, Newark, Ollerton, Worksop, Doncaster, Ferrybridge, Wetherby, Boroughbridge, Leeming Lane, Catterick Bridge, Bowes, Brough, Appleby, Penrith, Carlisle, Longtown, Lockerby, Moffat, Hamilton, and finally arriving at the Pontine Inn, Glasgow.

The coach to Glasgow departed London in the evening, and arrived in Glasgow on the second morning after departure, so a total of around 36 hours, plus or minus, depending on the exact time of departure and arrival.

A long running project has been to list and map out the routes from London’s many coaching inns as they provided the city with a very comprehensive network of routes connecting London with the rest of the country. In many ways, the network of destinations and stops seems more comprehensive than the current rail network, although coach services were not as frequent, had far less capacity, and took far longer to complete than a journey by train.

A view of the inner yard of the Bull and Mouth inn dated 1810, showing the galleried interior of the inn with the rooms available for a stay, running around the galleries. A loaded wagon on the left, and barrels and boxes on the right, possibly ready for collection, or for their transport across the country (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bull and Mouth Inn

The following print, dated 1829, is titled “The Post Office, St Paul’s Cathedral and Bull and Mouth Inn”. The view must be along St Martin’s le Grand, so I assume there must have been an entrance to the inn from this street, as well as the street named after the inn. This entrance can be seen on the right where there is an archway entrance through the buildings, with some sculpture on the upper floors of the building (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Bull and Mouth Inn

A sign from the Bull and Mouth inn can be found in the garden of the Museum of London:

Bull and Mouth Inn

According to Henry Harben’s Dictionary of London, the Bull and Mouth Inn was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire, was rebuilt, and then rebuilt again in 1830 as the Queen’s Hotel.

The London Mercury confirms this change and in an issue dated the 15th of April, 1848 comments that: “The Bull and Mouth had been a coaching inn ever since coaches had an existence”, and that it was the “largest and most generally recognised inn in London”. The article also alludes to the demise of the Bull and Mouth, in that when the inn was rebuilt around 1830 the railways were not yet in existence, but beginning to be talked about, and if the railways had not spread quickly across the country “the magnificent Queen’s Hotel would not have arisen on the site of the old coach-house”.

It is difficult to know the date of the Bull and Mouth sign in the Museum of London garden. The very good condition of the sign probably indicates that it was from the 1830 rebuilding of the inn.

Bull and Mouth Inn

The core of the sign is a perfect visual representation of the name of the inn:

Bull and Mouth Inn

Leaving the Bull and Mouth, we now come to the middle of the three plaques, highlighted by the orange arrow, for:

Northumberland House

Northumberland House

There seems very little to be found about Northumberland House. The only reference I could find was in Henry Harben’s A Dictionary of London, which states:

“Northumberland House, on the west side of St Martin’s Lane, now St Martin le Grand, in the parish of St Anne and St Agnes, in Aldersgate Ward.

It is described as a messuage, shop and garden belonging to the Earl of Northumberland, granted to Queen Joanna by Henry IV, by name of the Hostel of the Earl of Northumberland.

Stow says it was called the Queen’s Wardrobe, but now a printing house.”

A messuage was the term used to describe the collection of a residential house, outbuildings and garden.

Queen Joanna was Joan of Navarre, whose second marriage was to Henry IV in February 1403.

The Northumberland House plaque typifies one of the problems with these plaques. As a plaque it is almost meaningless. There is no context, no dates or anything to suggest why Northumberland House should have a plaque.

Information on Northumberland House is hard to find, and for the casual walker of London’s streets the plaque would get a quick glance before being forgotten. A reference to Queen Joanna, and the fact that the house must have been 15th century would at least add some background as to why the plaque is there.

The final plaque on the wall of three is the one on the right with the green arrow, and is for the:

French Protestant Church

French Protestant Church

An article in the Illustrated London News in 1848 provides background information on the French Protestant Church, and a good description of St Martin’s le Grand at the time:

“Another new church for London! – just now finished, and about to be opened. The site chosen is one which has felt the full benefit of modern improvements. Not many years ago St Martin’s le Grand had little to recommend it to the eye – now it is surrounded by fine buildings, and forms one of the choicest openings in the tortuous monotony of London bricks and mortar.

We have here one of our best Grecian buildings, the Post-Office, next to the Hall of the rich Goldsmiths; then that most magnificent of caranserais with the most un-euphonious of titles – the Bull and Mouth; and last and least, the small, but picturesque chapel of the French protestants.

The French Protestants original church was in Threadneedle Street; their church being an old structure, with few architectural pretensions. This having been demolished, they have removed their place of worship to St Martin-le-Grand.

The architect, Mr. Owen, has succeeded in completing a very perfect, though small, pointed Gothic chapel. The interior, with its lancet windows, tall roof, and appropriate pulpit, is well managed, considering the confined space the artist had to work in. The cost has been £5,000 and the public will soon have the opportunity of judging how wisely it has been expended, as the church will shortly be opened for divine service.”

Although the church was demolished, we can still have the “opportunity of judging how wisely it has been expended“, by looking at the following photo of the French Protestant Church:

French Protestant Church

Source: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I cannot confirm the date of the above photo, however given the church was only about 40 years old when it was demolished, it does give the impression of being much older. Probably the Gothic design, along with the level of dirt on the building from the smoky atmosphere of London.

The church was demolished by 1888, and newspaper articles in June 1887 reported on the closure of the church “The last service has been held in the French Protestant Church in St Martin’s-le-Grand and the singularly beautiful and interesting little church is doomed to prompt destruction in order to make way for an extension of the General Post-office.”

The origins of the French Protestant Church date back to 1550, when Edward VI signed the charter granting freedom of worship to Protestants from France, Wallonia, and the Netherlands.

The majority of Protestant immigrants from continental Europe came after 1661, when the Edict of Nantes (which had protected the Protestant faith in France) was dismantled by Louis XIV. In the following years around 50,000 Huguenots fled to England, and a number of churches were set-up specifically for the new arrivals.

After the St Martin’s-le-Grand church was demolished, the church received £26,000 of compensation which enabled a site in Soho to be purchased (an area which had at the time the greatest concentration of French protestants), and the current French Protestant Church of London on Soho Square was built.

That’s a brief overview of the three plaques on the western side of the street. Directly opposite is another plaque, which can be seen on the side of the Lord Raglan pub:

Aldersgate

Aldersgate

The plaque records that one of the original gates in the City wall was on the site and was demolished in 1761:

Aldersgate

Aldersgate was one of the principal gates through the City wall, and can be seen in the same extract from Morgan’s map that I used for the Bull and Mouth inn (circled in red):

Aldersgate

The name appears to derive from the name of an individual, either Ealdred or Aldred, however the problem with being sure of the source of a name for something as old as the gate is that there have been many different variations, and no written records that confirm the original source.

Harben’s Dictionary of London lists a number of variants to the name, and states there were sixty-two variations of the name to be found in documents between 1274 and 1597.

A view of Aldersgate can be seen at bottom left in the follow print showing the gates of the City from William Maitland’s 1756 History of London (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Aldersgate

Harben lists some dates when there were changes to the gate:

  • 1335 – it was ordained that the gate should be covered with lead and a small house made under it for the gate-keeper
  • 1617 – The gate was taken down and rebuilt
  • 1670 – Repaired and beautified after the 1666 Great Fire
  • 1739 – Repaired again by the Lord Mayor
  • 1750 – The apartments over the gate were occupied by the Common Crier

The gate was finally demolished in 1761, with the materials sold for £91.

By the later years of the 18th century, the City gates were an obstruction for the traffic that moved through the gate. With the northwards expansion of the City, the gate had long lost its role as a protective gateway into the City, so it made sense to demolish and open up the road for the growing numbers of people and horse drawn traffic travelling along the City streets.

A final look down St Martin’s-le-Grand. Aldersgate would have been just in front of me. The Lord Raglan pub with the Aldersgate plaque is on the left, and the other three plaques are along the building on the right.

Aldersgate Street

The photo was taken from the point where St Martin’s-le-Grand (in the photo) changes into Aldersgate Street (behind me).

That is four more City of London plaques recording the diverse range of buildings and structures that have been lost from the City’s streets.

There will at some point, be an interactive map of the plaques, along with a spreadsheet to download listing all sites and details of each plaque.

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Lovells Wharf and Enderby House, Greenwich Peninsula

I recently scanned some negatives from 1986, and came across three photos taken in Greenwich, where the walk along the river heads past the power station and the Cutty Sark pub, and joins the Greenwich Peninsula. This is the first of the three:

Lovells Wharf

Very roughly the same view today – despite lots of walking around I could not get exactly the same view, as the area has been remodeled considerably since the mid-1980s.

Lovells Wharf

Along the wall in the 1986 photo there were painted white letters for C. Shaw & Sons Ltd and Lovell’s Wharf:

Lovells Wharf

The books by Mary Mills are my go to source for anything about the Greenwich Peninsula, and Mary has recently published “The Greenwich Riverside. Upper Watergate to Angerstein”:

Greenwich Peninsula

For a detailed history of the peninsula and the considerable industrial heritage of the area, the book is invaluable.

The book states that the company Shaw Lovell leased the site in the 1920s. A company with a Bristol heritage, their business was as a “Shipping and Forwarding Agent”.

The company handled non-ferrous metals, including in the 1920s, scrap from the Great War battlefields.

A view of the methods that the company used to transport material between shipping on the river and the land is shown in the following photo from a bit further along the Greenwich Peninsula:

Greenwich Peninsula

The same view today:

Greenwich Peninsula

I found the exact position for the above photo. The chimneys of the power station, and domes to the right help, but in the foreground there is the low concrete wall on the left, and behind the barges in the 1986 photo is where the shore wall extends out into the river. If I had timed my visit better, I could have got the tide in the same position.

The main differences between the two photos is the lack of shipping moored alongside the wharf, and the cranes being used to transport materials.

The cranes were significant local landmarks. They may have dated from around 1950 and were originally in use in Dublin. The cranes moved to Greenwich in the 1970s, and remained on site until 2000, when the owner of the land had them removed.

To put the locations of this week’s post in context, the following map shows where I will be covering. Starting at the red circle, with the above photos just north of this circle, and finishing at the end of the post at the blue circle  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Greenwich Peninsula

As can be seen by comparing the above then and now photos, the area has changed considerably. What was an area of considerable industry has been derelict for some years, and over recent years the northward expansion of apartment buildings has started along the western side of the peninsula, and will no doubt meet the southward run of buildings close to the O2 dome.

Greenwich Peninsula

Looking along the foreshore towards the dome at the northern tip, with new apartment buildings replacing the industries that once occupied the area:

Greenwich Peninsula

View across the river to the towers of the Isle of Dogs:

Greenwich Peninsula

Two colour apartment blocks:

Greenwich Peninsula

Of the many industries along this stretch of the river, one was a company that was key in the provision of a technology that enabled communications across the world. This was the manufacture of submarine communication cables which took place at Enderby Wharf and it is here that we can see the remains of some of this activity.

Here was manufactured the first cable to cross the Atlantic and up until the mid 1970s much of the world’s subsea communication cables had been manufactured here. The web site covering the history of the Atlantic Cable and Undersea Communications has a detailed history of Enderby Wharf.

The tower structure that can still be seen is part of the mechanism, along with the smaller wheel on the left, used for transferring cable from the factory on the right to cable ships moored in the Thames on the left. Cable would be run across the walkway to the top of the tower then to the round hold-back mechanism on the left then onto the ship:

Enderby House

It was here that I was really surprised to see a new pub – Enderby House:

Enderby House

Enderby House is a historically important building. Grade II listed, the Historic England listing provides more details about the building:

Enderby House belonged to the firm of Samuel Enderby, the largest whalers and sealers in Britain, and pioneers of Antarctic exploration. Hermann Melville describes their flagship and crew in “Moby Dick”. The decline of British whaling led to the Enderbys ceasing to have an interest in Enderby’s Wharf in 1854.  It was then taken on by Glass, Elliott and Company, a contractor for the first transatlantic telegraph cable (lost while being laid in 1857) then the second in 1858 which operated for a few weeks.  The business was reconstituted in 1864 as the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, who manufactured cable at Enderby’s Wharf to an improved design for another attempt in 1865, and a fourth in 1866, both times with the Great Eastern as the cable-laying ship, and by the end of 1866 had achieved the first successfully working transatlantic telecommunications cable connection. “

The last time I walked along this stretch of the peninsular in 2015, from Cutty Sark pub to O2 dome, Enderby House was looking in a very poor condition:

Enderby House

I walked around the outside of the pub, but could not see any references to the history of the site, or to the impact on communication technologies that the products manufactured here would bring, however the pub sign did appear to illustrate what I assume to be a representation of a telecommunications cable:

Enderby House

Opposite, within the fenced off wharf, was an example of a length of cable and the housing for the repeater equipment that would amplify the signal as it travelled for thousands of miles under the sea:

Enderby House

I get really conflicted when I see a building such as Enderby House. I am pleased that it is still there, and that it is a new pub (too many of these are closing), however it appears to be heavily altered, and does not appear to offer any information as to the importance of the site, apart from retaining the name and the pub sign.

Perhaps there is information inside and I am being unfair. I did not have time for a visit, having a meet arranged at the Cutty Sark pub on the walk back.

View of the northern side of Enderby House – if I was responsible for decorating the building I would have an artwork representing a trans-Atlantic cable running along the side of the building to break up the rather bland cream paintwork.

Enderby House

Fenced off access to the wharfs near Enderby House:

Tunnel Wharf

There is a flat wall of stone to be found among the apartment buildings and facing on to the walkway along the river:

Greenwich Peninsula

Rather than repeat what the information panel to the right of the wall states, I will summarise Mary Mills comments from her book.

There was a road that ran underneath the new apartment buildings between Lovell’s and Granite Wharf (which was to the north of Lovell’s).

Much of the boundary wall of Granite Wharf along this roadway was made up of an extraordinary range of what appeared to be random stone, and was thought to have been quarried in Dorset, shipped to Greenwich where it was stored until it was sold for use in a construction project. Some of this stone had been used to construct the wall.

This stone wall was important as it was a visual demonstration of the stone trade from along the English Channel.

When the wall, along with the rest of the site was being demolished, Mary Mills was instrumental in getting the importance of the stone recognised, however the wall created by the developer using the stone is very far from how it was originally used, and what had been rough stone had been tided up considerably and placed in what is now a smooth wall of stone. Again, good that it has been retained, but it could have been so much better.

Soon after walking past Enderby House, development has stopped and the river path changes from a new, wide path in front of apartment buildings, to a narrow path alongside the derelict sites that are probably scheduled for development:

Greenwich Peninsula

Where tour buses go to park:

Greenwich Peninsula

I really love this part of the walk along the peninsula. A narrow path along the river’s edge, quiet, and a chance to think about what was here:

Greenwich Peninsula

I still had my third 1986 photo to track down, and I suspect it was taken from the following pier:

Greenwich Peninsula

This was the view looking back towards central Greenwich in 1986:

Greenwich Peninsula

The following photo was the closest I could get to recreating the above. The landmarks of Greenwich all line up reasonably well. The barges moored alongside the pier in 1986 have all disappeared.

Greenwich Peninsula

To the side of the footpath, there are the remains of structures that once provided access to the long gone industrial premises that lined the river:

Greenwich Peninsula

A long closed gateway:

Greenwich Peninsula

Looking back along the footpath – this stretch of the river is so very different to that which has already been developed, and I assume that at some point in the future, this footpath will become the same wide pedestrianised area next to new apartment buildings, as found at the start of the post:

Greenwich Peninsula

A welcome sign:

Morden Wharf

The sign points to what looks like a temporary bar / pizza area built in front of Morden Wharf:

Morden Wharf

Morden Wharf was named after Morden College, the freeholder of much of the land in the vicinity of the wharf.

The last time I walked along the peninsular, Morden Wharf was fenced off from the footpath with high, wooden panels, these have now been removed with only their vertical metal supports remaining.

Having reached Morden Wharf, I turned back towards Greenwich.

The area that I have walked which has not yet been developed, is planned to undergo a significant transformation. The footpath winding its way between the river and the derelict industrial sites will disappear and large new towers will be built.

The developed is called Morden Wharf, and the website describing the development can be found here.

Scroll to the bottom of the page, on the Morden Wharf website, and the area I have walked can be seen to the right of the old brick Morden Wharf building, and the bar and pizza area will apparently become “The reinstated Sea Witch pub”, a very different recreation of a pub that was once close to the river, and that was badly damaged by a V1 flying bomb on the 12th of July 1944.

The 1986 photos captured some of the last years of some of the industry along this side of the Greenwich Peninsula. It would then remain derelict for some years, and is now undergoing a significant transformation. It is a good time to walk the western side of the peninsula before this happens.

My 2015 walk along the peninsular to the O2 dome can be found here and shows how the area is changing, and the final part of the walk.

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Westminster School Gateway

In 1949, my father photographed the Westminster School Gateway:

Westminster School Gateway

I am really grateful to the Archivist at Westminster School who provided access during the Spring half term, and told me about the history of the gateway and the surrounding area (although any errors are down to my memory).

The same photo of the Westminster School Gateway at the end of May 2022:

Westminster School Gateway

There has been very little change in the 73 years between the two photos. The main change being a couple of CCTV cameras to the left of the gateway.

The Westminster School Gateway is a historic feature of the school for two main reasons. The age and purpose of the gateway, and the inscriptions that cover almost all the stones of which the gateway has been built.

The day of my visit was one of those days where London weather changes from sunshine to pouring rain in a matter of minutes, and that is exactly what happened when I arrived. The sky clouded and the rain fell, resulting in an overcast view of the gateway in my photo, compared to my father’s photo taken in bright sunshine.

Due to the different lighting conditions, the inscriptions are far more visible in my father’s photo than mine. In the 1949 photo, the stones are generally dirtier due to the amount of pollution from coal fires and other industrial sources across London. This blackened the inscriptions in the 1949 photo which helps them to stand out.

The Westminster School Gateway is in Little Dean’s Yard, which is accessed from Dean’s Yard. I have circled the location of the gateway in the following map  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Westminster School Gateway

The view looking across Little Dean’s Yard towards the gateway, with the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster in the background:

Westminster School Gateway

The School Gateway was built in 1734 and was the main entrance to the school. Little Dean’s Yard was originally occupied by buildings, and a passageway led from Dean’s Yard (via Liddell’s Arch) through these buildings to reach the school gateway.

The gateway is believed to have been built by Lord Burlington. This was Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, who as well as the gateway, was responsible for the construction of a dormitory at the school between 1722 and 1730.

The school gateway is therefore also known as Burlington’s Arch.

The following print from 1880 shows the school gateway with the route of the passageway, although by the time of the print, the buildings surrounding the passageway had been demolished (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Westminster School Gateway

The view looking back towards Liddell’s Arch from near the school gateway:

Liddell’s Arch

On the right of the above photo is a sculpture of Queen Elizabeth I, who became the royal patron of the school in 1560 and is celebrated as the founder of the school, although the foundations of the school are much earlier, the school having its origins in a charity school run by the Benedictine monks of Westminster Abbey.

The following map is an extract from the 1950 edition of the Ordnance Survey (a year after my father’s photo). The school gateway is circled, and the map shows the area in detail as it was, and within the area of the school, as it is today (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).

Little Dean's Yard

To the south of Little Dean’s Yard are the two remaining buildings of an 18th century terrace of three. This is the Grade I listed numbers 2 and 3 Little Dean’s Yard:

Little Dean's Yard

The building on the right of the above terrace, which has broken up the symmetry of the original terrace is a rebuild of 1896, and is Grade II listed number 1 Little Dean’s Yard.

Listed buildings continue on the northern side of the yard, with the Grade II listed Turle’s House, dating from 1884 on the right. This building was built over fragments of an 11th century reredorter (a communal latrine), and part of the original monastery’s cloisters.

Little Dean's Yard

On the left of the above photo is the Grade I listed Ashburnham House, which includes parts of various structures that have occupied the site over the centuries.

The building includes the masonry structure and kitchen and hall walls from the 14th century Prior’s Lodging. The building became a substantial town house in the mid 17th century, when red brick was added to the 14th century rubble walls.

A west wing (furthest from the camera) was added in 1910, and this later wing can be seen in a slightly different colour brick, and the arched entrance on the ground floor of the earlier wing.

The following print shows the north east corner of Little Dean’s Yard in 1808, showing the school gateway, and to the left is what was described as Dr Bell’s House, along with an entrance to the cloisters. These buildings were replaced by Turle’s House in 1884 (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Little Dean's Yard

The school gateway in 1808 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

The entrance to Westminster School

Westminster School Gateway is a fascinating historical structure simply as a gateway, but what adds further interest are the names and dates carved onto the gateway on almost every available space:

Westminster School Gateway

Westminster School has created a dedicated website to the gateway, which includes a remarkable degree of research to provide an inventory of the names carved on and around the gateway, with background details to the names.

The website can be found here.

An example from the inventory, covering the name in the following photo:


LEGGE, GEORGE AUGUSTUS, eldest son of Hon. and Rev. Augustus George Legge FSA, Chancellor of Winchester, and Honora, eldest dau. of Walter Bagot 
Westminster School Gateway

The website also provides advice for those aspiring to leave their mark, and uses George August Legge’s carving as an example of why punctuation is important and that his name really needs a “.” between the initial and surname.

There are a couple of inscriptions in non English languages, as shown in the following photo with inscriptions in Hebrew and Devanagari (a North Indian script):

Westminster School Gateway

The Westminster School Gateway website has discovered the background to the above inscriptions, which can be found here.

Five brothers:

Westminster School Gateway

The quality of the carving on the gate is excellent, the reason being is that the majority of the inscriptions were carved by stonemasons from Westminster Abbey, paid by the pupil to carve their name.

This is obvious when looking at the five Ryde brothers in the above photo as each instance of Ryde is identical to the other four.

There are a number of names which have obviously been carved by the pupil, and the quality of these is very different from those by a trained stonemason as shown in the following photo:

Westminster School Gateway

As well as the main body of the gateway, the side walls running up the stairs behind the gateway also have plenty of names:

Westminster School Gateway

And they are also on the rear of the gateway:

Westminster School Gateway

The school gateway leads to a small flight of stairs, a left turn which then opens out into the main school room, which on my visit was set-up for exams:

Westminster School room

This room was originally part of the monks dormitory in the time of the Benedictine monastery and it was first used as a schoolroom in 1599.

The LCC Bomb Damage maps show damage to some of the buildings on the eastern side of Little Dean’s Yard, including the schoolroom. This resulted in the refurbishment of the space, including the installation of a new roof which can be seen in the above photo.

The following print shows the schoolroom in 1850. Desks and benches are set against the side walls (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Westminster School room

On the walls between the windows there appear to be lots of inscriptions, so I assume the approach of carving inscriptions on the school gateway extended also into the schoolroom.

I could not see these inscriptions in the schoolroom today, so I suspect they were covered up during restoration work following the wartime bomb damage.

I was really pleased to recreate my father’s photo, one of those rare places in London where the view is almost exactly the same.

My thanks to the Archivist for providing access and information.

I have kept the post relatively high level as the school’s website dedicated to the gateway is comprehensive and fascinating.

I really recommend a read of the dedicated site to the gateway: “The School Gateway – The story behind Burlington’s Arch”

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Christchurch Greyfriars

Before heading to Christchurch Greyfriars, if you are interested in a walk exploring the history of Bankside, I have had one ticket returned from someone who cannot now attend the walk on Sunday 5th of June, and a couple of tickets are available for the walks later in July. The walk can be booked here.

I took the following photo in 1973, taken from Cheapside, looking towards the church of Christchurch Greyfriars using my very first camera, a simple Kodak Instamatic:

Christchurch Greyfriars

Not a very good photo, the Kodak Instamatic was a very simple camera. All the film was contained within a large cartridge, which included the exposed film. Pre-set focus and the only setting for exposure and speed were a single switch which could be moved either to sunny or cloudy. A very child friendly camera.

Roughly the same view, around 50 years later, in 2022:

Christchurch Greyfriars

Christchurch Greyfriars is an interesting, and distinctive church. A very different history to many other City churches.

It is distinctive, as whilst the tower of the church is intact, the body of the church is now a garden, with only one main side wall standing, and a short stub of the other sidewall. The rear wall is completely missing.

Christchurch Greyfriars

The church was destroyed during the night of the 29th December 1940, when much of the area surrounding, and to the north and south of St Paul’s Cathedral, was engulfed by the fires started by incendiary bombs. This was the raid that destroyed the area that would later be rebuilt as the Golden Lane and Barbican estates.

Christchurch Greyfriars was in one of my father’s photos taken from St Paul’s Cathedral just after the war, and can be seen in the following extract from one of the photos (the full series can be seen in this post, and this post):

Christchurch Greyfriars

As can be seen in the above photo, the church still retained its four walls. The church was destroyed by fire which burnt the contents of the church along with the roof, but left the walls standing.

In my 2022 photo you can count 5 windows in the remaining side wall. In the above photo, there are 6 windows (part of the 6th window on the right can just be seen to the left of the end wall of the church). There is also a two storey building which runs south from the end wall of the church.

The reason for these differences, and for the loss of the rear and southern side wall were changes in 1973 to allow the widening of King Edward Street, and the construction of a spur from Newgate Street into King Edward Street.

Christchurch Greyfriars was Grade I listed in 1950, however this protection appears to have been insufficient to prevent the demolition of much of the surviving walls.

In the following map, Newgate Street runs from left to right, and the spur of King Edward Street can be seen cutting across where the two storey building was located. This, along with widening of King Edward Street, and the footpath along the street, resulted in the demolition of the end wall and shortening by one window of the north wall  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Christchurch Greyfriars

The church was included in the series of postcards “London under Fire”, issued during the war:

London Under Fire

The church was also included in a couple of works by the artist Roland Vivian Pitchforth for the War Artists Advisory Committee. Both show the burnt out church with the surviving tower and walls:

War Artists Advisory Committee
Post Office Buildings : the Telephone Exchange (Art.IWM ART LD 938) image: a view looking down on a cleared bomb site in between other burnt-out buildings in the City. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/21822

And both show the two storey building to the south of the church where the slip road from Newgate Street to King Edward Street now runs:

War Artists Advisory Committee
Post Office Buildings (Art.IWM ART LD 939) image: a bomb site in the foreground with steel girders sticking up out of the rubble. In the background buildings remain standing, however men can be seen at work securing the building on the right. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/21823

Note that in the Imperial War Museum commentary for the above two prints, the focus in on the Post Office Buildings, one of which was the large building to the right of the church.

The Post Office, or British Telecom has had a long association with King Edward / Newgate Street, but has now moved away. In my 2022 photo there is a large building covered in white sheeting. This was the 1980s head office of British Telecom. It is now being converted into a mixed use development, and is unusual in the City in that the new building will retain the structural framework of the original rather than the usual full scale demolition and complete rebuild.

What has no doubt helped this approach is the height limitation around St Paul’s Cathedral so the usual high glass and steel tower was not an option.

A sign close to the tower of the church confirms when and how Christchurch Greyfriars was destroyed (perhaps there should be a second plaque explaining how and why some of the walls disappeared).

Christchurch Greyfriars

The plaque also informs why there was no requirement to rebuild the church, as the old parish of the church was united with that of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate. The number of people living in the City had reached a point where there was an insufficient number of parishioners and regular church attendees to justify many of the old City churches.

A wooden font cover was rescued from the burning church on the 29th December 1940, and it can now be seen in the church of St Sepulchre.

To the west of the church is a small open space – the Christchurch Greyfriars churchyard:

Christchurch Greyfriars

This is not the traditional churchyard. William Morgan’s 1682 map of London provides a clue:

Christchurch Greyfriars

The church can be seen to the right of centre (although it is facing the wrong way), and to the left of the picture of the church, there is a rectangle labelled “Old Church”.

The original church was the church of a monastery established around 1228 on land to the north of the church by the Franciscan’s, or Greyfriars.

The first church on the site was built in the 13th century, demolished in 1306, and a new church built in 1325. This church was much larger than the church we see today, and as well as the space occupied by the current church ruins, also occupied the green space to the west of the church, hence the comment “Old Church” in the map extract.

The church attached to the monastery was of some size. According to “London Churches Before The Great Fire” (Wilberforce Jenkinson, 1917), the church was described as being “300 feet in length, in breadth 89 feet, and in height 64 feet”.

The book also states that “no other parish church contained the remains of so many of the great, there being there buried four queens, four duchesses, four countesses, one duke, two earls, eight barons, thirty-five knights, etc”.

The queens I can identify are:

  • Queen Margaret, the second wife of King Edward I
  • Queen Isabella, the wife of Edward II
  • Queen Eleanor of Provence (just her heart so not sure if this really counts)

Cannot find who the fourth queen was, some sources reference Queen Joan of Scotland, however most sources state that she was buried in Perth.

Whether it was two and a bit queens, three or four, the church appears to have been a large and important church, as was the Franciscan monastery, with only St Paul’s Cathedral being greater in size.

The monastery was taken by the Crown during the Dissolution when Henry VIII took the properties of religious establishments across the country in the mid 16th century, and after a short period when the building was used for storage, the church became a local, although rather impressive, parish church.

“London Churches Before The Great Fire” records that Sir Martin Bowes, mayor of the City, sold all the ornate alabaster and marble monuments from the church for £50 in 1545.

Ornate memorials did continue after the church became a parish church, and the same book also records a memorial to Venetia, the wife of Sir Kenelm Digby who was buried in the church:

“Her husband tried to preserve her beauty by cosmetics and after her death had her bust of copper-gilt set up in the church. The bust was injured in the fire and was afterwards seen in a broker’s stall. She was painted by Vandyke.”

Bit of a lesson there on fame and beauty, that no matter how good looking, or famous, eventually we may all end up on the equivalent of a broker’s stall.

van Dyke’s portrait of Venetia, Lady Digby:

Venetia, Lady Digby
Venetia, Lady Digby
by Sir Anthony van Dyck
oil on canvas, circa 1633-1634
NPG 5727
© National Portrait Gallery, London. Creative Commons Reproduction

View down the alley between the remaining side wall to the north, and what were the old Post Office buildings:

Christchurch Greyfriars

The church was one of those lost during the Great Fire of London in 1666.

It was rebuilt by Wren between 1687 and 1704 on the foundations of the chancel of the original church. There was no need for a parish church to be the same size as the pre-fire church, and it was also expensive to rebuild with even the smaller church being one of Wren’s most expensive at a cost of over eleven thousand pounds.

It is remarkable just how many churches there were in the City of London. Today it seems as if you only need to walk a short distance to find another church but there were many more in previous centuries.

When Christchurch Greyfriars was rebuilt after the Great Fire, the church absorbed two smaller parishes, the parish of the wonderfully named St Nicholas in the Shambles, and that of St Ewin or Ewine. The churches for these two smaller, adjacent parishes were not rebuilt.

The base of the tower has a number of monuments which were rescued from the war damaged church:

Christchurch Greyfriars

After the church and the monastic buildings of the Franciscans were taken by the Crown, the buildings continued to have a close relationship.

There was always a need to provide help for London’s poor. There were many children throughout the city who did not have a father, or were part of a family that was struggling to feed them. In 1552 King Edward VI responded to this need by working with the mayor of the City to form a charitable organisation to provide for some of these children.

The result being that the old buildings of the Franciscans were taken over, donations were received, a Board of Governors set-up and in November 1552, Christ’s Hospital opened with an initial 380 pupils.

There is a sculpture on the southern side of the church of some of the children of Christ’s Hospital in their traditional school uniform:

Christ's Hospital

Christchurch Greyfriars became the church for Christ’s Hospital.

The buildings of Christ’s Hospital were damaged during the Great Fire, rebuilt after, with a frontage designed by Wren.

The following print from 1724 shows the church to the right, along with the impressive buildings of Christ’s Hospital  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Christ's Hospital

The text below the print provides some background on the school in the early 18th century:

“This Hospital, formerly a House of Grey Friars was first founded by that pious Prince Edward the 6th and has since received many donations from other persons by which Charities poor Children to the number of about 820 boys and 80 girls are not only provided with Lodging, Diet, Clothing and Learning, but when discharged of the House are bound out Apprentices and some of the Boys who have made large advances in Learning are sent to University. The House is divided into handsome Wards, where the Children lodge and a particular Ward where the sick are removed. For their instruction, here are a Grammar School, a Mathematick School a Writing School, a School where Girls learn to Read, Sew and Mark, and of late years, Boys have been taught to Draw. This Hospital is under the care and patronage of the City and by prudent care taken therefor it has produced many famous for Wealth, Learning and Servicableness to the public.”

Christ’s Hospital school left the site in 1902 and moved to Horsham in West Sussex where the school continues to this day.

View from next to the tower into the old body of the church:

Christchurch Greyfriars

View looking south towards St Paul’s where only one window and surrounding part of the southern wall remains:

Christchurch Greyfriars

What was the interior of the church was laid out as a rose garden in 1989, with a major update to the gardens in 2011. The configuration of this garden is intended to reflect the Wren church with the position of pews marked by the box edges and wooden towers where the old stone columns were located:

Christchurch Greyfriars

The northern wall of the church from what was the interior of the church:

Christchurch Greyfriars

If you return to my father’s photo of the church, you can see at the top corners of the church walls, there were stone pineapples. The ones rescued from the demolished walls can be found on the ground in the garden, next to the tower:

Christchurch Greyfriars

View along the centre of the church, pews would have been on either side with the small box hedges marking the edge of the pews:

Christchurch Greyfriars

A view of the tower of the church and part of the garden earlier in the year:

Christchurch Greyfriars

Christchurch Greyfriars is a survivor. Originally dating from the 13th century, it has survived being part of a Franciscan monastery, a charitable hospital / school, the Great Fire, the London Blitz and post war road construction and extension.

During many of these events, the church has shrunk in size, leaving the view we see today.

There was a campaign a number of years ago to rebuild the missing walls of the church, and for the church to become a memorial “to honour all Londoners who have been the victims of bombings in wartime and peacetime during the modern era”, however nothing seems to have come of this.

On a sunny spring or summer’s day, the gardens are a wonderful place to sit and contemplate the history of the church, surrounded by plants, flowers and bees.

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The Champion Pub and Oxford Market

All my walking tours have sold out, with the exception of a few tickets on the Bankside to Pickle Herring Street tour. Details and booking here.

In 1980 I was wandering around London trying out a new zoom lens for my Canon AE-1 camera, taking some not very good photos. One of these was of the Champion Pub at the junction of Eastcastle Street and Wells Street, with the Post Office Tower in the background:

Champion pub

The photo was taken from the southern end of Wells Street towards Oxford Street, and a sign for Eastcastle Street can be seen on the right of the Champion pub. I think I was trying to contrast the old pub and the new telecoms tower.

A wider view of the same scene today, with the BT Tower as it is now known, starting to disappear behind the new floors being added to the building behind the Champion:

Champion pub

A closer view of the pub in 2022, 42 years after my original photo:

Champion pub

Given how many pubs have closed over the last few decades, it is really good that the Champion has survived, although it is a shame that the curved corner of the building has been painted, and it has lost the name which ran the full length of the corner of the pub.

The large ornamental cast iron lamp still decorates the corner of the building.

The curved corner to the upper floors was a key feature of many 19th century London pubs. They were meant to advertise the pub, the name could be seen from a distance on crowded streets, and the name would often give an identity to the junction of streets.

For an example of a pub which had a very colourful corner in the 1980s, and today displays the current name of the pub on the curved corner, see my post on the Perseverance or Sun Pub, Lamb’s Conduit Street.

The Champion is Grade II listed, and the Historic England listing details provide some background:

Corner public house. c.1860-70. Gault brick with stucco dressings, slate roof. Lively classical detailing. 4 storeys. 3 windows wide to each front and inset stuccoed quadrant corner. Ground floor has bar front with corner and side entrances and fronted bar windows framed by crude pilasters carrying entablature- fascia with richly decorated modillion cornice. Upper floors have segmental arched sash windows, those on 1st floor with keystones and marks. Heavy moulded crowning cornice and blocking stuccoed. Large ornamental cast iron lamp bracket to corner. Interior bar fittings original in part with screens etc, some renewal.

The “some renewal” statement refers to a few changes to the pub since it was built.

The first post-war renewal came in the 1950s. As with so many Victorian pubs across London, the Champion was in need of some refurbishment. Over 80 years of serving Wells Street, and open during the years of the second world war, resulted in the owners, the brewers  Barclay Perkins, engaging architect and designer John and Sylvia Reid.

The Reid’s were better known as interior, furniture and lighting designers rather than architecture, and their changes to the Champion were mainly of design.

The large Champion name down the curved corner of the pub was a result of their work. The lettering was in 30 inch Roman, and the letters were shaded to give the impression that they had been engraved rather than painted. The new name replaced a number of old wooden signs that were mounted on the corner. The corner of the pub was floodlit at night, which must have looked rather magnificent, and ensured the pub stood out if you looked down Wells Street when walking along Oxford Street.

The interior had been rather plain and was painted in what were described as drab colours.

The Reid’s divided what had been two bars to form three, added button leather seating around the edge of the bars, restored the bar and some of the original iron tables, and they added new glass windows consisting of clear glass for the upper half and frosted, acid cut glass for the lower half.

Features inside the pub included the use of mahogany panels, etched and decorated glass windows between bars, and textured paper on the ceiling. refurbishment also included the first floor dining room.

Their refresh of the Champion pub did get some criticism as there were views that it was returning to Victorian design themes. The early 1950s were a time when design and architecture were looking at more modern forms, typified in the themes and designs used for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

The early 1950s update to the pub included plain and frosted glass on the external windows, not the remarkable, stained glass windows that we see today. These are the work of Ann Sotheran, and were installed in 1989.

They feature a series of 19th century “champions”, with figures such as Florence Nightingale and the cricketer W.G. Grace.

On a sunny day, these windows are very impressive when seen from inside the bar:

Champion pub stained glass

The missionary and explorer David Livingstone:

Champion pub

Newspaper reports mentioning the Champion cover all the usual job adverts, reports of crime and theft etc., however I found one interesting article that hinted at what the inside of the pub may have been like in the 1870s.

In September 1874, the Patent Gas Economiser Company held their first annual general meeting, where they reported that they had installed 50 lights in the Champion. Seems a rather large number, but spread across three floors, entering the pub in the 1870s would have been entering a reasonably brightly lit pub, with the hiss of gas lamps and the associated smell of burning gas.

The same report also mentions that the company had installed 1000 lights at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in Regent Street, 600 lights in the German Gymnastic Society in St Pancras Road, and 50 lights in the Hotel Cavour in Leicester Square.

To the left of the Champion pub, along Wells Street, building work is transforming the building that was here, and is adding additional floors to the top, which partly obscures the view of the BT Tower from further south along the street:

Champion pub

There was one further site that I wanted to find, and this required a walk west, along Eastcastle Street.

Eastcastle Street was originally called Castle Street, a name taken from a pub that was in the street. The name change to Eastcastle Street happened in 1918. I cannot find the reason for the name change, but suspect it was one of the many name changes across London in the late 19th / early 20th centuries, to reduce the number of streets with the same name.

At 30 Eastcastle Street is this rather ornate building:

Eastcastle Street

Dating from 1889, this is the Grade II listed Welsh Baptist Chapel, the main church for Welsh Baptists in London.

Eastcastle Street is a mix of architectural styles. Narrow buildings that retain the original building plots, buildings with decoration that does not seem to make any sense, and rows of the type of businesses that frequent the streets north of Oxford Street.

Eastcastle Street

At the end of Eastcastle Street is the junction with Great Titchfield Street and Market Place:

Oxford Market

In the above photo, Great Titchfield Street runs left to right, and the larger open space opposite is part of Market Place.

The name comes from Oxford Market, a market that originally occupied much of the space around the above photo, with the market building on the site of the building to the left, and the open space in the photo being part of the open space around the market building.

in the following map, the Champion pub is circled to the upper right. On the left of the map, the blue square is where the market building of Oxford Market was located, the red rectangles show the open space around the market with the upper rectangle being where the open space can still be seen today (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Oxford Market

Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Oxford Market, just north of Oxford Street:

Oxford Market

Oxford Market had been completed by 1724, however the opening was delayed as Lord Craven, who owned land to the south of Oxford Street feared what the competition would do to his Carnaby Market, however Oxford Market was finally granted a Royal Grant to open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The market was built to encourage activity in the area, as the fields to the north of Oxford Street were gradually being transformed into streets and housing.

The market took its name, either from Oxford Street to the south, or more likely, Edward, Lord Harley, the Earl of Oxford who was the owner of the land on which the market was built as well as much of the surrounding land.

Harley had come into possession of the land through his wife, Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles, who was the only child of John Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, the original owner of the farmland around Oxford Street.

The original market buildings were of wood, and the market was rebuilt in a more substantial form in 1815. The following view of the second version of Oxford Market comes from Edward Walford’s Old and New London:

Oxford Market

We can get a view of what was for sale at Oxford Market from newspaper reports:

  • February 8th, 1826 – john Wollaston & Co were selling their Gin in quantities of no less than 2 gallons at a price of 15 shillings per gallon
  • January 20th, 1824 – A “Great Room” of 45 feet square in the interior of the market was being advertised as being suitable for upholsterers, warehousemen and flower gardeners. The room was fitted with an ornamental stone basin and fountain and was suited for a flower garden
  • April 25th, 1841 – The Oxford Market Loan Office was advertising loans of Ten Guineas, Ten and Fifteen Pounds, which could be had from their office at the market
  • May 18th, 1833 – Rippon’s Old Established Furnishing Ironmongery Warehouse was advertising Fire Irons, Coal Scuttles, Knives and Forks, Metal Teapots and Tea Urns for sale from their warehouse at the market
  • December 15th 1827 – The lease of a Pork Butcher and Cheesemonger store at the market was being advertised. The store had been taking in £3,800 per year
  • June 27th, 1801 – Several lumps of butter, deficient in weight, were seized by the Clerks of the Oxford Market and distributed to the poor

So traders in the Oxford Market were selling a wide range of products, butter, pork, teapots and coal scuttles, flowers and gin, and you could also take out a loan at the market.

Nothing to do with Oxford Market, however on the same page as the 1801 report of butter being seized, there was another report which tells some of the terrible stories of life in London:

“Wednesday were executed in the Old Bailey, pursuant to their sentences, J. McIntoth and J. Wooldridge, for forgery, and W. Cross, R. Nutts, J, Riley and J. Roberts, for highway robbery. The unfortunate convicts were all men of decent appearance, and their conduct on the scaffold was such as became their awful situation.

Some of the above prisoners attempted on Monday to make their escape from Newgate through the common sewer – they explored as far as Milk-street, Cheapside, when the intolerable stench and filth overpowered their senses; with great difficulty they found their way to the iron-grating and intreated by their cries to be liberated. assistance was immediately procured, when they were released without much difficulty.”

These two paragraphs say so much: that you could be hung for forgery, the statement that their conduct on the scaffold was “such as became their awful situation”, and their desperation in seeking an escape via the sewer. Milk Street is roughly 568 metres from the site of the Old Bailey so they had travelled a considerable distance in an early 19th century sewer.

Back to Oxford Market, and the following view is looking down Market Place towards Oxford Street which can be seen through the alley at the end of the street:

Oxford Market

In the above photo, the market building was on the left, and open space in front of the market occupied the space where the building is on the right, the corner of which is shown in the following photo. The block was all part of the open space in front of Oxford Market.

Oxford Market

Oxford Market was never really a financial success. For a London market it was relatively small which may have limited the number of suppliers and the range of goods available.

By the late 1830s, part of the market had been converted into offices from where out-pensioners of Chelsea Hospital were paid.

The market buildings was sold in 1876, demolished in 1881, and a block of flats built on the site.

Although Oxford Market is long gone, the street surrounding three sides of the old market building is still called Market Place, and the footprint of the building, and the surrounding open space can still be seen in the surrounding streets, and the wider open space and restaurants along the northern stretch of Market Place.

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New River Walk – Alexandra Palace to New River Head

I have finally completed the post covering the last stage of the New River Walk, which covers from Alexandra Palace to New River Head in north Clerkenwell.

At the end of the previous stage, we had reached Bowes Park, where the New River disappeared in a tunnel, and for today’s post, we rejoin the New River where it exits the tunnel, opposite Alexandra Palace station.

This stage of the walk will follow the New River from Alexandra Palace to the east and west reservoirs, just south of the Seven Sisters Road, where it ends as a river. Then, the walk follows a Heritage Walk that follows the original route of the river to New River Head before the river was truncated at the reservoirs.

The map of the final stage, with key locations covered in the post is shown below  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

New River Walk Alexandra Palace to New River Head

Point S on the map: Alexandra Palace station is at the north west tip of a patch of open, green space, and at the south east corner of this space, the New River exits the tunnel through which it has flowed from Bowes Park:

Alexandra Palace

There is nothing to see of the actual river between Bowes Park and Alexandra Palace, however there are a number of these New River Company pipe markers:

NRC Pipe

Point 1 on the map: Here, a rather over exposed Alexandra Palace can be seen on the high ground in the distance. Hornsey Water Treatment Works are behind the green metal fencing and the New River runs under the footbridge between the fencing:

Hornsey

The route through Hornsey is an example of where the New River has been straightened and does not follow the original early 17th century route.

The following map from 1861 shows the original early 17th century route (dark blue), along with the proposed new straightened route (light blue):

Hornsey

Hornsey Water Treatment Works are to the left, and the New River runs at the bottom of these works, and heads to Hornsey High Street which it crosses, before turning and crossing Middle Lane. It then heads towards the church and crosses the High Street again, heading up to the junction with Tottenham Lane.

Towards the top of the map, the Great Northern Railway runs from left to right, and below the railway can be seen the proposed new route of the New River, which is straight, and cuts of the large loop around Hornsey.

Roughly the same area as the above map, is shown in the following map of the area today, which includes the new route of the river just below the railway, and streets and buildings now covering the original route of the river around Hornsey  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Hornsey

There are a number of similar examples on the New River Walk where the route follows where the river has been straightened rather than the original route. It would be an interesting exercise to follow the early 17th century route, however I think I will put that walk on the long list of London walks.

Point 2 on the map: There were very few places on the entire route where it was not possible to follow the New River walk, however one place on this final stretch was also in Hornsey where the path had been closed off as Thames Water are carrying out some repair works on the river:

New River Walk

Following photo is looking along the closed section of the walk. This is another straightened section of the New River:

New River Walk

Point 3 on the map: The New River then runs through a housing estate which was built around the New River. The following map extract shows the river running between terrace housing and under streets. There is no path alongside this section of the river, and walking to where the river crosses each street, then back, would add a considerable distance to the walk, so the Thames Water New River path runs along Wightman Road to the left  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Wightman Road

The view looking down one of the streets from Wightman Road, the New River crosses the street half way down:

Wightman Road

In the above photo, the streets is dropping in height towards the point where the river crosses about half way down. This stretch of the New River demonstrates how the river follows the contours of the land, from the source in Ware to New River Head. A considerable distance which needed some careful planning, and is remarkable given the survey technologies available in the early 17th century.

The following map shows land height by colour, with blue being lower land, then increasing in height through green, yellow and red (from the excellent topographic-map.com):

New River height map

I have marked the route of the New River which is following the boundary between the higher land on the left (around Crouch Hill station), and the lower land on the right (south Tottenham and Seven Sisters station).

At one point in the map, an area of higher ground (yellow) juts out, and the New River has been tunneled under this, before emerging and running through the streets to the east of Wightman Road.

Point 4 on the map: After weaving through the streets of terrace housing, the New River emerges into the north east corner of Finsbury Park:

Finsbury Park

Where there is a plaque recording the origins and purpose of the river:

Finsbury Park

The New River stays in just the north east corner of Finsbury Park, before crossing under Green Lanes, and reaching:

Point 5 on the map: where the river runs along a narrow green space between an industrial area to the north, school and housing to the south:

New River

In the height map above, the New River is heading towards the reservoirs and is skirting around some higher land to the south, and this is visible as we walk alongside the river, with a downward slope from right to left requiring the river to be banked on the northern side:

New River

North of the M25, between Cheshunt and Ware, there were a number of points where water was being extracted from boreholes and pumped into the New River. There were no examples of this south of the M25, except for one point along this stretch of the walk where four pipes were pumping water into the river, although it was not clear from where this was being extracted.

New River

There is a brick building visible just to the left of where the water is pouring into the river. This is on Eade Road. It houses infrastructure of some sort, and has a 2003 plaque on the outside, but no indication of its function.

The British Geological Survey borehole map lists a borehole under this building, however it is marked as “Confidential” with no data available.

I assume the water running into the New River is from this borehole, however it is strange as to why the record is confidential.

This section of the walk was incredibly muddy, with some sections rather difficult to pass.

At the end, the path runs up to meet Seven Sisters Road, with an information panel covered in graffiti:

New River Walk

For a short distance, the New River Path has joined with another walking route, the Capital Ring:

Capital Ring

And one final loop through housing, with a rather muddy path:

New River Walk

Point 6 on the map: The New River now reaches the reservoirs, with what must have been a gauge house, some means of regulating or measuring the flow of the river, straddling the New River just before the reservoirs:

New River Walk

The New River was truncated at the reservoirs at Stoke Newington in 1946, and now feeds water into the reservoirs, as well as running to their north, through the Woodberry Wetlands, an area surrounding the reservoirs that is now managed as a wildlife haven:

New River Walk

Between the east and the west reservoirs is a building that was once part of the New River infrastructure and has now been refurbished as the Coal House Café. The area outside the café was full of families, so I will not include a photo online, however at the side of the building is a record of the creation of the reservoirs by the New River Company:

New River Company

Also on the side of the building is a wall tie with the initials of the Metropolitan Water Board, the organisation that took over the running of the New River Company’s assets:

New River Walk

View across the east reservoir:

New River Walk

View across the west reservoir:

New River Walk

And a short walk from the west reservoir, we reach the very end of the remaining route of the New River. The last point in the walk from Ware in Hertfordshire, where the river can be seen above ground. It ends in a rather sad dead end:

End of the New River

Just to the left of the above photo is the wonderful 19th century pumping station built by the New River Company:

Castle pumping station

The Metropolis Water Act of 1852 required that water companies supplying water to London, filter the water prior to distribution, and that any subsequent reservoirs after filtering be covered. The aim was to improve the quality of water and prevent much of the pollution from an industrial city from entering the water supply.

Prior to the act, the New River Company was supplying water directly from the reservoirs, however the act now required filter beds to be constructed, along with infrastructure such as a pumping station, and the building in the above photo was built between 1852 and 1856 by William Chadwell Mylne, the Surveyor for the New River Company.

The building housed steam engines and boilers until 1936 when these were replaced by diesel engines.

By 1971, the pumping station was rather dated and too small, and the design of the building did not support an upgrade, so the Metropolitan Water Board applied for permission to demolish the building.

There was considerable local support to retain the building as it was such a local landmark, resembling an industrial castle alongside Green Lanes.

This campaign resulted in the building being given a Grade II* listing in 1972, however it would continue to stay empty, and under threat.

The Historic England listing record provides a perfect description of the old pumping station, and why it is known as the Castle (Historic England source here):

Large building designed to resemble a mediaeval fortress with keep and bailey. 1854-6 by Chadwell Mylne. Stock brick with stone dressings. Battlements and large stepped buttresses all around. The “keep” is of 2 storeys with a tall basement plinth. 6 windows on main south-west front. At north-east and south-west corners round towers with square bartizans the former with a tall conical roof and both having battlements crow-stepped up towards them. Continuous quasi-entablature, with cable moulding, running right around towers. Taller octagonal chimney tower to east. 8 steps (the top one with bootscraper!) to entrance in forebuilding running along north wall and into “bailey” building, which is lower with segmental arcading and 2 slit windows in each bay. Important picturesque landmark.”

The building was empty until 1994 when it was converted into a climbing centre. The large internal spaces perfectly suited for such a use. If you walk past, it is worthwhile having a quick look inside, as the building is still the Castle Climbing Centre.

Leaving the pumping station, we are now following the heritage section of the New River Walk. This section of the route has not seen the New River as a stream of water for many years, as the river was buried in pipes during the 19th century, and since 1946, New River water has ended at the reservoirs.

Point 7 on the map: Here we turn off from Green Lanes and into Clissold Park.

The park retains a couple of stretches of the New River, however these are for decorative purposes only, and start and end within the park.

There is a bridge across one of these decorative runs of the river, which has the arms and motto of the New River Company on the side. “ET PLUI SUPER UNAM CIVITATEM” or “And I caused it to rain upon one city” indicated by the hand reaching down from a cloud, and showering rain drops on the city below.

Clissold Park

Part of the decorative New River feature running up to Clissold House:

Clissold House

Leaving Clissold Park, and walking along Stoke Newington Church Street, there is another reminder of the New River with the New River Café on the corner with Clissold Crescent:

New River cafe

Walk a short distance along Clissold Crescent, and there is a reminder of the New River:

Clissold Crescent

The plaque reads “The Park Lane bridge was demolished and the road widened June 1881”.

Park Lane was the original name of Clissold Crescent, and the bridge carried Park Lane over the New River.

A version of the Ordnance Survey map from the 1890s shows the Park Lane bridge and the New River, although by this time, the New River should have been carried underground in pipes, and as the plaque reads, the bridge was demolished in 1881 and the road widened, so I suspect the OS map was not updated at this point  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).

Clissold Crescent

In the above map, the New River heads south between houses, and the route has been preserved and now forms a series of allotments running along the old course of the river:

New River Walk

The path between the allotments ends at Green Lanes (again, almost a constant companion on the southern section of the walk). We cross over Green Lanes to reach;

Point 8 on the map: this is Petherton Road where the New River once ran down the centre of the street, and is now a walkway with trees and grass on either side:

Petherton Road

A rather nice ghost sign for Barnes Motors along Petherton Road:

Barnes Motors

At the end of Petherton Road, the green space gives way to a street which still follows the route of the New River, past Canonbury Station and cross over St Paul’s Road into another section of the New River route that has been transformed into a long green space, with a decorative water feature running the length of the space:

New River Walk

Towards the end of this green space is:

Point 9 on the map: where there is a round brick building alongside the original route of the New River:

New River Watch House

The building appears to be a late 18th century watch hut. To protect the New River, the New River Company had a watchman or linesman stationed at points along the route of the river to keep the river clear of debris and also to prevent fishing and swimming in the water, or anything that could pollute the supply.

The brick hut is an example of where such a person would have been stationed to keep watch over the river.

The final stretch of the ornamental water that follows the original route of the New River:

New River Walk

Where the above green space ends, we then walk south along Essex Road, and turn off just before reaching Islington Green, to find Colebrooke Row.

This is another street where the houses were built facing on to the New River, and the space occupied by the river is now a green space running the length of the street.

In the following photo, the houses on the right once looked onto the New River where the grass and trees now run, with the street being on the left:

Charles Lamb's House

The white house on the right in the above photo was occupied by the poet and essayist Charles Lamb in the 1820s. The following print shows the house as it was, with the New River running directly in front of the house:

Charles Lamb's House

I have written a detailed post about Colebrooke Row and Charles Lambs which can be found here.

Leaving Colebrooke Row, we cross over City Road and Goswell Road, and cut through to St John Street. Then down to Owen’s Row (which is on the alignment of the New River, I wrote about Owen’s Row within this post).

Crossing over St John Street into Rosebery Avenue, and this is the view along the old route of the New River, with Sadlers Wells on the right (a post on Sadlers Wells and the New River is here):

Sadlers Wells

At the end of Sadlers Wells, turn right into Arlington Way, then left into Myddelton Passage, where we come to the official end of the New River Walk, at the viewing platform looking over what was New River Head:

New River Head

The route is marked on the ground of the viewing platform:

New River Head

And that completed the New River Walk, over four days / two weekends, from Ware in Hertfordshire to New River Head, Clerkenwell.

It was a fascinating journey, and whilst the route has been straightened at a number of points and does not fully trace the original early 17th century route, it did leave me with considerable admiration for those in the early 17th century who surveyed and built the route, following the contours of the land so it would only fall by roughly 20 feet along the entire route ( 5.5m in total or 5 inches per mile). This enabled the water to flow naturally without the need for any pumping.

You can find my posts covering the first two stages of the walk at the following links:

I have also written about the history of New River Head and London’s Water Industry, which you can find at this link.

In the following panorama from the viewing platform at New River Head, I have labeled some of the key features. On the right are the engine and pump house which will soon become the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, a wonderful new use for these historic buildings.

Panorama of New River Head

David Fletcher creates remarkable 3D photogrammetry captures of heritage sites and has one for the historic buildings at New River Head. Hopefully this will work as I have embedded the model in the post (if you do not see this in the e-mail, click here for the post on the website).

You can walk through the site, both inside and out to see this remarkable, historic site in detail:

And finally, if you have not had enough about the New River, I purchased the following book, the Mercenary River by Nick Higham a few weeks ago.

The Mercenary River

It really is a fascinating history of London’s water supply, including, off course, the New River, and is highly recommended.

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