Category Archives: London History

Living in Stepney

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

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

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

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

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

The report was titled “Living in Stepney”:

Living in Stepney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living in Stepney

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

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

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

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

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

Living in Stepney

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

Living in Stepney

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

Living in Stepney

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

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

Living in Stepney

“With work on top of you”:

Living in Stepney

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

Living in Stepney

“But with a long journey to work”:

Living in Stepney

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

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

Hardinge Street

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

Hardinge Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrace housing

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

Living in Stepney

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

Living in Stepney

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

Living in Stepney

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

Living in Stepney

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

Living in Stepney

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

Living in Stepney

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

Living in Stepney

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

Stepney population

Along with some facts on the 1938 population:

Housing space

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

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

Life expectancy

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

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

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

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

Land costs

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

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

Stepney jobs

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

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

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

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

Stepney council rates

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

Stepney council rates

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

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

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

Living in Stepney

To this:

Living in Stepney

Where modern terrace housing replaced the old.

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

Terrace Housing

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

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

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

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

These arterial routes are shown in the following map.

Stepney Road Plan

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

County of London road plan

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

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

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

Stepney open space

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

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

Stepney statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

A London Inheritance Walks

I hope that for this week’s post, you will excuse a bit of self advertising.

I have walked London for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are being taken for weekend walks around the city in the late 1960s – not sure it was always what I wanted to do, but those walks left an impression that has lasted.

I started scanning my father’s negatives in the late 1990s. It took many years as there were thousands of photos to scan, with family and work commitments being a priority. There were some notes to identify the locations and I did have a few years where he could identify the locations of scanned photos for me, however a large number still needed tracing.

The blog was started in 2014 to give me the incentive of going out and finding the locations of these photos dating back to 1946. It was also a means of discovering and learning more of London as a weekly post could cover my father’s photos or other areas of London that I wanted to walk and explore.

Looking back through my posts, they tend to focus on a single early photo or place. There are many individual posts that should combine to tell the story of how an area of London has changed, how the history of a place has influenced what we see today, along with the story of those who have lived and worked there.

A chance meeting with one of the tutors of the Islington and Clerkenwell Guiding Course at St Giles Clerkenwell during one of the Barbican at 50 events resulted in the idea of using a guided walk as a means of bringing together the story of a place. Stories that I have told in multiple blog posts, and using some of my father’s photos at the sites they were taken from.

I passed the course last year, however Covid restrictions delayed any further activity, but did allow the time to develop two guided walks (with more in the pipeline).

With restrictions easing, I am really pleased to announce the availability of my first two guided walks. Walks that will focus on a specific area of London. They will discover the history of the area, people who have lived and worked there, how the area has changed and how these changes have resulted in the place we see today.

Each walk will have small groups with a maximum of ten people, and will take around 2 hours with between 10 and 12 stops.

I will also be using some of my father’s photos, as close as possible to the spot from where they were taken, to illustrate 70 years of change.

I look forward to showing you around.

The first is:

The South Bank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain

In the 70th anniversary year of the Festival of Britain, come and discover the story of the Festival, the main South Bank site, and how a festival which was meant to deliver a post war “tonic for the nation” created a futuristic view of a united country, and how the people of the country were rooted in the land and seas.

We will also discover the history of the South Bank of the Thames, from Westminster to Blackfriars Bridges, today one of London’s major tourist destinations, and with the Royal Festival Hall and National Theatre, also a significant cultural centre.

Along the South Bank we will discover a story of the tidal river, marsh, a Roman boat, pleasure gardens, industry, housing and crime. The South Bank has been the centre of governance for London, and the area is an example of how wartime plans for the redevelopment of London transformed what was a derelict and neglected place.

Lasting around 2 hours, the walk will start by Waterloo Station and end a short distance from Blackfriars Bridge.

At the end of the walk, we will have covered almost 2,000 years of history, and walked from a causeway running alongside a tidal marsh, to the South Bank we see today.

Dates and links for booking are:

Extra dates added:

The second walk is:

The Lost Streets of the Barbican

On the evening of the 29th December 1940, one of the most devastating raids on London created fires that destroyed much of the area north of St Paul’s Cathedral and between London Wall, almost to Old Street.

The raid destroyed a network of streets that had covered this area of Cripplegate for centuries. Lives, workplaces, homes and buildings were lost. Well-known names such as Shakespeare and Cromwell and their connection with the Barbican and Cripplegate will be discovered, as well as those lost to history such as the woman who sold milk from a half house, and that artisan dining is not a recent invention.

Out of wartime destruction, a new London Wall emerged, along with the Barbican and Golden Lane estates that would dominate post-war reconstruction. Destruction of buildings would also reveal structures that had been hidden for many years.

On this walk, we will start at London Wall, and walk through the Barbican and Golden Lane estates, discovering the streets, buildings and people that have been lost and what can still be found. We will explore post-war reconstruction, and look at the significant estates that now dominate the area.

Lasting just under two hours, by the end of the walk, we will have walked through almost 2,000 years of this unique area of London, the streets of today, and the streets lost to history.

Dates and links for booking are:

Extra dates added:

I have written a number of post over the last 7 years about the South Bank and surroundings of the Barbican. They are both places I find fascinating, and I really look forward to sharing the story of these historic parts of London with you.

I will be adding additional dates and more walks covering new areas in the coming weeks and months.

Normal service will be resumed with next week’s post.

alondoninheritance.com

Three Hundred Years of Hay’s Wharf

Seventy years ago, this coming Friday, at 5.30 p.m. on the 30th April 1951, Mr. L. Elliott Esq. arrived at No. 1, London Bridge to celebrate three hundred years of Hay’s Wharf. The Lord Mayor would also be attending and there were cocktails and music.

Hay's Wharf

The invitation card pictured above opened out to reveal pictures from 1651 and 1951. The following picture shows Hay’s Wharf (with London Bridge on the right) in 1651:

Hay's Wharf

The second photo shows the wharfs occupied by the Hay’s Wharf company in 1951, running from London Bridge at top right, along the left side of the river down to Tower Bridge.

Hay's Wharf

The edge of the river in 1951 appears to be a hive of activity with numerous barges, lighters and ships moored alongside the wharfs, and working in the river.

This was the Hay’s Wharf that the event on the 20th April 1951 was intended to celebrate.

Hay’s Wharf has a rather complicated history, with different owners of land, building and rebuilding of wharfs and warehouses, the Hay’s family, partners in the business and how Hay’s took over most of the river frontage between London and Tower Bridges.

Today’s post is an attempt to provide an overview of the 300 years of Hay’s Wharf and the Hay’s Wharf company.

The year 1651 as the founding of Hay’s Wharf seems to be year when Alexander Hay took over the lease of a brew-house from Robert Houghton, on the site of the current Hay’s Wharf buildings, alongside a small inlet from the river.

Running a brew-house may have meant that Hay realised the importance of clean water supplies. Water was being delivered to London by companies such as the New River Company, and by the London Bridge Waterworks, and these companies needed pipes through which to distribute their water.

Before a method of joining iron pipes was developed in 1785, water pipes were made from hollowed out tree trunks, and Hay set up a business to bore tree trunks and supply wooden pipes to companies such as the New River Company.

This was carried out at the small inlet at Hay’s Wharf, with buildings alongside constructed for the operation of the business.

Pipe boring must have been of such a scale that the Bridge House records, record Pipe Borers Wharf as the official name for Hay’s Wharf

There is one curious story of Hay’s Wharf during the early years of the 18th century. In 1709, the overall lease for the wharfs and properties close to London Bridge were taken over by Charles Cox who had been the MP for Southwark since 1695. It was from Charles Cox that Hay had an individual lease of the properties that formed Hay’s Wharf.

In 1697 the Treaty of Ryswick resulted in the persecution of Lutheran Protestants in parts of what is now Germany. Many of these fled to England as refugees and were granted an allowance of one shilling a day. Following early arrivals from Germany, numbers soon increased as news of the welcome they received in England spread. Numbers became such that there was a public outcry against the number arriving and the grant of a shilling a day. As a result, this grant was soon stopped.

Charles Cox announced that he would give asylum to all who arrived and would cover the cost. His approach to housing new arrivals was to crowd them into buildings at Hay’s Wharf and nearby Bridge House. Conditions grew very insanitary, and the local population were angered by the number of arrivals, and their living conditions so close to the existing residents.

Despite Charles Cox stating that he would fund the costs, the local Poor Rate had to be increased to £700.

Hundreds continued to arrive from Germany, and in desperation Charles Cox sent many to Southern Ireland, where they were not welcomed, and had to return to London.

Eventually, arrangements were made to ship the refugees to America, where they were settled in Carolina. It is interesting to wonder how many of those living in America today are descendants of those who travelled to America via the buildings at Hay’s Wharf and Bridge House.

Warehousing as a major business started from 1714 when the Customs Authorities allowed goods such as tobacco to be stored in warehouses on payment of a small percentage of the import duty.

If the product was then exported, the import duty would be repaid, allowing imported goods meant for export to be stored in warehouses tax free. Previous warehouses had been for the temporary storage of goods and the convenience of merchants, however tax free import followed by export significantly grew warehousing as a business.

By 1789, Hay’s Wharf was just one of a number of sufferance wharfs along the south bank of the river. A sufferance wharf is one where goods can be stored until any tax or duty is paid.

The following map shows the sufferance wharfs lining the south bank of the river in 1789.

Hay's Wharf

Hay’s Wharf was just one of a number that lined the river. From lower left are Chamberlain’s Wharf, Cotton’s Wharf, Hay’s Wharf, Beal’s Wharf, Griffin’s Wharf, Symon’s Wharf, Stanton’s Wharf, Davis Butt & Co Wharf, Hartley’s Wharf, Pearson’s Wharf and Holland’s Wharf.

Hay’s Wharf was used as a place where ships would dock and receive goods and passengers for transport across the country, and abroad. A Hay’s Wharf sailing bill from 1798 provides an indication of how this trade was carried out.

Hay's Wharf

The “Sally” would be sailing from Hay’s Wharf to Plymouth and Plymouth Dock, and the ship would be available for twelve working days at Hay’s Wharf to take goods for transport to Plymouth, from where they could then be forwarded to a range of locations in the West Country. As well as taking goods, the Sally would also carry passengers for Plymouth.

Throughout the 18th century, the Hay’s Wharf business had passed through the Hay’s family. Francis Theodore Hay would be the last of the family connected with the business.

Francis had been apprenticed as a Waterman before taking over the business. He would become Master of the Waterman’s Company and King’s Waterman to George III and George IV.

In the early 19th century, Hay’s business was seeing considerable competition. In earlier years the Customs Authority had granted sufferance, or the right to store goods without paying tax, to a limited number of wharf owners, however they now granted sufferance to any owner of land with a frontage on the river. Competition was also coming from the new docks which were being built east of the Tower of London.

Possibly because of this competition, Francis set up his son in a lighter building business, with a property on the river in Rotherhithe. Lighters were smaller, flat bottomed barges which allowed goods to be transferred from a ship, right up to the wharfs lining the river.

Francis Theodore Hay died in 1838, and was the last of the Hay’s connected with the wharf business. His son carried on running the lighter building business.

Francis Theodore Hay:

Hay's Wharf

Francis Hay’s interest in the business seems to have been mainly financial, and Alderman John Humphrey (who already had a long association with Hay’s), now became the owner of the business. He would bring in two partners who were influential in the future success of Hay’s Wharf.

Hugh Colin Smith was a member of a family long connected with the City’s banking and commercial world. Arthur Magniac’s family was part of the Jardine, Matheson Company, one of the oldest Merchant Adventurers in China, and it was through Magniac that the tea trade was brought to Hay’s Wharf, with tea clippers from China bringing a high percentage of the tea consumed in London to Hay’s.

The trade with China was so successful that Jardine, Matheson referred to Hay’s Wharf as “our wharf in London”.

Humphrey, Smith and Magniac entered a fomal partnership in 1861 known as the “Proprietors of Hay’s Wharf”, although Humphrey would only live for another 18 months, however his sons took over their father’s interest in the partnership and Hay’s Wharf entered a period of considerable expansion and progress.

For the rest of the 19th century, and the early 20th century, Hay’s Wharf introduced mechanisation, purchased land and wharfs along the river between London and Tower Bridges, invested in new buildings and technologies such as a Cold Store. They also purchased the Pickford’s transport business.

It was during the early part of the 20th century that the Hay’s Wharf business was at the peak of its expansion and success.

The following painting by Gordon Ellis shows the tea clipper Flying Spur about to enter the dock at Hay’s Wharf on the 29th of September 1862. The ship is bringing the new season’s tea back from Foochow, China.

Hay's Wharf

The site of the original Hay’s Wharf is now the Hay’s Galleria. Seen from across the Thames, two old warehouse buildings surround an open space covered by a glass and metal frame.

Hay's Wharf

The central open space was once fully occupied by water, the remains of an old inlet from the river that had been turned into a dock so that ships could moor adjacent to the buildings that would store their cargo.

I cannot confirm the exact date of the current buildings. There are references to construction in 1856, however the 1861 fire, named in the press as the “Great Fire in Tooley Street” caused considerable damage to these buildings. The Morning Post of the 24th June 1861 describes the fire catching in the roof of Hay’s Wharf, tall columns of flame, the top floor blazing and the fire descending to the floor below, with the rest of the floors following.

The article described that this was supposed to be a fire proof building, and although it appears to have been considerably damaged by the fire, the fire did take longer to move from floor to floor than in the other warehouses.

Hay’s Wharf was repaired / rebuilt soon after, suffered bomb damage in the last war, and considerable restoration and modification at the end of the 20th century, which included the infill of the old central dock.

The following photo is looking along the interior of Hay’s Wharf, out towards the River Thames.

Hay's Wharf

The following photo shows the interior when it was in use as a dock, with water running up to a narrow walkway alongside the building on either side (the walkway was a later addition to the warehouse buildings. When first built the dock ran directly up to the side of the building and to get between the different arches you would have had to walk through the interior).

Hay's Wharf

The photo dates from 1921 and the ship in the photo is the Quest, the ship that the explorer Earnest Shackleton used for his final expedition to the Antarctic. Shackleton would suffer a fatal heart attack on the 5th of January 1922 whilst at South Georgia, where he would be buried.

The view back along the old dock from the river end of Hay’s Wharf:

Hay's Wharf

The old entrance to the river can still be seen with the indent on the river wall and walkway:

Hay's Wharf

In the late 1920s, the Hay’s Wharf Company decided to build a new head office. This would occupy the site of St Olave’s Church, between Tooley Street and the Thames.

To continue a link with the 11th century saint after who the church was dedicated, the new head office would be called St Olaf House. The photo below shows the view of the building from Tooley Street:

St Olaf House

St Olave’s church just survived the disastrous fire at Tooley Street in 1843. It was rebuilt the following year, however over the coming decades the size of the congregation declined, and in 1908 is was recorded that at one of the rare services at the church there were only five in the congregation.

The body of the church was eventually demolished with only the tower and graveyard remaining. In 1928, Bermondsey Borough Council proposed selling the church to the Hay’s Wharf Company in order to save public money. A bill was presented in Parliament to enable the sale, which requested permission:

“to sell to Hay’s Wharf the site of the Church of St Olave’s and the churchyard, comprising St Olave’s Garden between Tooley Street and the River, together with the right of demolition of the tower and the right to use the ground as a waiting place for vehicles, with loading bays, and to erect buildings upon it.

The sale of the churchyard and the tower (a local landmark) was a contentious issue, but finally went ahead. The flagstaff from the tower was given to St George’s Church, Borough High Street and three bells from the tower were given to the Church of St Olave which was then being built in Mitcham.

The octagonal Portland stone turret, formerly capping the tower of the church was moved to the Tanner Street, Bermondsey park and children’s playground to form a drinking fountain. The playground was funded with some of the proceeds from the sale of the land.

The new head office was designed by H.S. Goodhart-Rendel and opened in 1931.

The Tooley Street entrance to the building is recessed under the building, with parking space and vehicle access between the entrance and Tooley Street.

The main entrance has the arms of the Smith, Humphrey and Magniac families above the door, along with the opening date of 1931. These three families were the partners in the company, and responsible for the considerable development and expansion of the company after 1862.

St Olaf House

A black and gold mosaic of St Olave on the corner of the building:

St Olaf House

On another corner of the building is recorded that it occupies the site of the church and the legend of St Olave:

St Olaf House

Along with an award for the offices from the British Council:

St Olaf House

View of the new Head Office from London Bridge:

St Olaf house

The same view from London Bridge in 1951:

St Olaf house

The focal point of the river facing side of the building is a large set of reliefs framing six of the windows:

St Olaf House

The reliefs were the work of the sculptor Frank Dobson and completed using gilded faience (second time in the last few weeks I have come across this material. Faience is glazed pottery, see also post on Ibex House in the Minories).

The three large panels at the top represent Capital, Labour and Commerce, and the 36 vertical panels represent “The Chain of Distribution”.

Another example of Frank Dobson’s work can be found on the south bank of the river with “London Pride”, designed for the Festival of Britain, now outside the National Theatre.

Another 1951 view from London Bridge showing the head office, and the adjacent wharf (now the London Bridge Hospital). Note the cranes built on a pontoon in the river:

Hay's Wharf

As well as the name of the building, the name of the saint and church continues with the name of the alley from Tooley Street to the river to the west of the building – St Olaf Stairs:

St Olaf Stairs

There are two interesting buildings just to the east of St Olaf House on Tooley Street. The photo below shows Emblem House, now part of London Bridge Hospital.

Bennet Steamship Company

Emblem House was built in 1903 to a design by Charles Stanley Peach. Originally called Colonial House, the building was part of the change from wharfs and warehouses to commercial buildings along this stretch of Tooley Street.

In the photo above, there is a thin, brick built building to the left of Emblem House. This is Denmark House.

Built in 1908 to a design by S.D. Adshead, for the Bennet Steamship Company.

On the side of the building facing St Olaf House, at the very top of the building, there is a stone model of a steamship, with what looks like a funnel, two lifeboats and cranes at front and rear – possibly one of Bennet’s steamships.

Bennet Steamship Company

After the war, some of the wharfs and warehouses lining the Thames between London and Tower Bridges were empty. Wartime damage and the transfer of trade to the docks east of the river had an impact, however there were still ships being loaded and unloaded at the wharfs owned by Hay’s Wharf. My father took the following photo in 1947 from in front of the Tower of London, looking across to the warehouses on the south bank of the river:

Hay's Wharf

A ship is heading towards Tower Bridge, and a second ship is moored up against one of the warehouses, and cranes line the southern bank of the river.

This would not last for too much longer, and from the 1950s the business continued to decline.

By 1970, the Hay’s Wharf company was seen more as an owner of valuable property than a business running wharfs and warehouses. Following the release of the financial results for the company in 1970, newspaper reports commented that the results were “the London group owning 25 acres of prime Thames dockland, is almost as interesting as the takeover rumours surrounding the company”.

The Hay’s Wharf Company had announced a profit of £1.2 million, which “do not take into account the terminal costs on the closure of the Tooley Street wharves and expenditure on properties awaiting development”. The wharf and warehouse business had effectively closed by 1970.

There were various schemes proposed for redevelopment of the area between Tooley Street and the river during the 1970s and early 1980s. A 1981 scheme for a massive office development was the subject of a public enquiry, and in 1983 the Government gave approval for a scheme proposed by the London Docklands Development Corporation, which included a number of new office blocks, along with retention of a couple of the old warehouses, including Hay’s Wharf.

Hay’s Wharf reopened as Hay’s Galleria in 1987, with the old dock filled in.

View from the north bank of the Thames with Hay’s Wharf on the left, running up to London Bridge on the right.

Hay's Wharf

The following photo shows Hay’s Wharf to the right, and the buildings running up to Tower Bridge on the left.

Hay's Wharf

The majority of the above two photos was once part of the Hay’s Wharf Company. Today, the area is known as London Bridge City and is ultimately owned by the Kuwaiti Sovereign Wealth Fund.

I wonder what Mr. L. Elliott would have thought of what the area would become in the next seventy years, as he clutched his invitation and joined the celebrations of three hundred years of Hay’s Wharf.

To research this post, one of the key books I read is a book published to go with the 300 year celebration: “Three Hundred Years on London River – the Hay’s Wharf Story” by Aytoun Ellis. The book is a fascinating account of Hay’s Wharf, the development of this part of the south bank of the river, the families involved, and the commercial and political environment of London during those 300 years.

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William Maitland’s History and Survey of London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on any of the pages for a larger view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up is Baynards Castle Ward and Farringdon Ward Within.

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

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

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

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

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

We next come to Billingsgate Ward and Bridge Ward Within.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next map covers Coleman Street and Bassishaw Wards:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next comes Farringdon Ward Without:

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

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

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

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

History and Survey of London
History and Survey of London

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

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

History and Survey of London

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

Portsoken Ward was outside the City walls.

History and Survey of London

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

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

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

History and Survey of London

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

History and Survey of London

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

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

History and Survey of London

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

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

History and Survey of London

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

History and Survey of London

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

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

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

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

History and Survey of London

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

History and Survey of London

Map showing the City of Westminster and Duchy of Lancaster:

History and Survey of London

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

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

History and Survey of London

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

History and Survey of London

The Parish church of St Paul’s at Shadwell:

History and Survey of London

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

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

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

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St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell – A Brief Introduction

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

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

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St John's Gate

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

St John's Gate

These are, from left to right:

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

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

St John's Gate

The doorway on the opposite side is full height:

St John's Gate

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

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

St John's Gate

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

St John's Gate

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

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

St John's Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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A Roman Wall in a Car Park and a Pottery Kiln in Kensington

Part of the fun of exploring London is finding things in the most unexpected places. Objects that have survived for many years, long after they finished serving their original purpose, and where modern London has been built around them. I have two examples in today’s post, a Roman Wall in a car park and a Pottery Kiln in Kensington.

The Roman Wall in a Car Park

When the street London Wall was rebuilt after the war from Aldersgate Street to Moorgate, it was widened and built along a new alignment. At the time, the car was seen as the future of transport in London, hence the four lane London Wall, and to accommodate the cars that would need to be parked in the City, the opportunity was taken to build a new underground car park that now runs almost the entire length of the new alignment of London Wall.

When London Wall and the car park was being built in 1957 a length of 64m of Roman wall was discovered. Much of the wall was demolished, but a section was retained and occupies a couple of parking bays within the car park.

The part demolished appears to have been mainly medieval rebuilds of the wall, but there must have been Roman within this wall, and the foundations, so a sad loss.

Access to the London Wall car park is either through the main entrance near the Museum of London, or down one of the pedestrian entrances along London Wall. If you enter through the main entrance, it will be a longer walk, as the wall is towards the end of the car park, near Moorgate.

As you walk along the car park, the wall emerges between pillars 51 and 52:

Roman wall in a car park

In the following map extract, the red rectangle shows the location of the wall. The car park extends to the left along the full length of the section of London Wall shown in the map  (Maps © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Roman wall in a car park

Looking from the side, the wall is at an angle to the wall of the car park:

Roman wall in a car park

The alignment of the Roman wall in the car park seems to align with the remains of the Roman wall that can still be found in St Alphage Gardens. In the following map, the rough alignment of the wall in the car park is the solid line in the rectangle, the blue dashed line runs up to the wall remnants in St Alphage Gardens (the grey solid line):

Roman wall in a car park

The side of the wall facing into the car park is the side that would have faced into the Roman City. The side is well preserved and consists of Kentish ragstone with triple tile courses at the base and the next course up, with a double tile course towards the top of the wall.

Roman wall in a car park

The following photo shows the construction of the wall, with on the right, the Kentish ragstone with the layers of tiles, the first along the base of the wall, then the second and third layers further up the wall. To the left is what is left of the core of the wall which had a rubble fill.

Roman wall in a car park

This section of wall is important, as it is the only surviving section of Roman wall in this part of the city that does not have lots of Mediaeval and later additions.

Roman wall in a car park

View to show the location of the wall and the length of London Wall car park. The car park seems to be under the entire length of the newly built four lanes of London Wall, and also runs the full width of the street – a cut and cover car park.

Roman wall in a car park

View of the rear of the wall in the following photo. The external facing facade of the wall has been robbed, demolished or lost at some point over the previous 1500 years. The view does show how substantial the wall must have been.

Roman wall in a car park

The wall in the car park must have been typical of much of the wall surrounding the City. W.F. Grimes in “The Excavations of Roman and Mediaeval London” compares the wall as follows: “A fragment of wall seen and partly preserved beneath the new London Wall is identical in general character with lengths exposed on the eastern side of the city at the Tower of London”.

It is rather strange to be standing in the car park, with the traffic of London Wall overhead, looking at a well preserved section of the Roman Wall. Another out of place structure to be found in London is:

A Pottery Kiln in Kensington

Walk along Walmer Road, towards the south end of the street and the junction with Hippodrome Place, roughly half way been Holland Park and Latimer Road stations, and a rather strange shaped brick structure will appear, jutting out in a gap between two rows of modern terrace houses.

Roman wall in a car park

This brick kiln is all that remains of a pottery industry that existed in this area from the mid 18th century, to the 19th century. The shape of the kiln is known as a bottle kiln and is mainly a chimney to the kiln which would have been at the base of the structure.

The shape of the structure is to create an even airflow and remove smoke through the relatively small hole at the top, retain heat within the kiln, and to protect the interior of the kiln from external weather conditions.

Roman wall in a car park

The kiln in Walmer Road was in use in the mid 19th century, and was part of a factory making products such as flower pots and drain pipes.

Today the kiln sits alongside Walmer Road, in a gap between two rows of recent terrace houses (sorry for the poor photos – I was using my small compact camera and something seems to have gone wrong with the way it handles back lighting).

Roman wall in a car park

The plaque on the base of the kiln provides some background information:

Roman wall in a car park

The Hippodrome Race Course occupied much of the surrounding area for five short years between 1837 and 1842. The race course was not a success for a number of reasons, including one that justified the existence of potteries in the area.

The ground consisted of heavy clay, which was good for making pottery, but not for horse racing. Much of the area was also very poor, with slum housing and the inhabitants were not those that the owners of a race course wanted to have attending or around the race course.

Clay had been dug up within the area for many years with a record dating back to 1781 of a “brickfield of yellow clay covering some 17 acres”.

Charles Dickens refers to the area in an edition of Household Words, where he described the conditions and also referred to the area as being called the Potteries:

“In a neighbourhood studded thickly with elegant villas and mansions, viz., Bayswater and Notting Hill, in the parish of Kensington, is a plague-spot, scarcely equaled for its insalubrity by any other in London; it is called the Potteries. It comprises some seven or eight acres, with about two hundred and sixty houses (if the term can be applied to such hovels), and a population of nine hundred or one thousand.  The occupation of the inhabitants is principally pig-fattening. Many hundreds of pigs, ducks, and fowls, are kept in an incredible state of filth. Dogs abound, for the purpose of guarding the swine. The atmosphere is still further polluted by the process of fat-boiling. In these hovels, discontent, dirt, filth, and misery are unsurpassed by anything known even in Ireland. Water is supplied to only a small number of the houses. There are foul ditches, open sewers, and defective drains, smelling most offensively, and generating large quantities of poisonous gases; stagnant water is found at every turn; not a drop of clean water can be obtained; all is charged to saturation with putrescent matter. Wells have been sunk on some of the premises, but they have become in many instances useless, from organic matter soaking into them”.

Some local street names recall the history of the area. Hippodrome Mews is on the other side of the kiln. Hippodrome Place is at the southern end of Walmer Road, and a short distance further south is Pottery Lane.

A painting by Henry Alken (Junior), titled “The last grand steeplechase at the Hippodrome racecourse, Kensington” shows a smoking kiln in the background:

Roman wall in a car park

The size of the kiln is an impressive 7.5m high and 6m in diameter at the base. The kiln is Grade II listed. Similar kilns would have been scattered across many other areas of London. Wherever suitable clay existed, and there was a need for fired clay products, kilns would have been built.

Roman wall in a car park

The Roman wall in a car park, and the pottery kiln are two very different structures in very different places, but both help tell the story of London’s long history, and both are examples of what you can find in the most unexpected places.

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Queen Victoria Street – A 19th Century City Improvement

Queen Victoria Street is probably one of those London streets that you only walk along if you are going to one of the buildings that line the street, or using it as a short cut between Blackfriars, Mansion House and Bank.

The majority of people who come into contact with the street, probably cross the street when walking between the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral.

I have written previous posts about some of the sites alongside Queen Victoria Street, however a couple of my photos from 1982 prompted a walk along the full length of the street, and an attempt to get a better understanding of how the street was built, as one of the 19th century’s major attempts to relieve congestion in the City and provide faster east – west travel.

This was the view in 1982, looking up along Queen Victoria Street, with the decorative gates of the College of Arms on the left.

Queen Victoria Street

The same view in 2019 (although with some lighting difficulties due to the bright sun from the south).

Queen Victoria Street

In the 1982 photo, post war office blocks line the right side of the street, including the Salvation Army building closest to the camera. In the 2019 view, these buildings have been replaced with new buildings which show the change in architectural style that has predominated all recent City development, where a stone facade with windows has changed to a facade mainly of glass.

In the distance in 1982 is the office block that would later be replaced by 20 Fenchurch Street, the Walkie Talkie building seen in the 2019 photo.

The pavements on each site of the street have been widened and the letter box moved out further.

Looking down along Queen Victoria Street from roughly the same position, towards Blackfriars in 1982:

Queen Victoria Street

The same view in 2019 – not that much change really.

Queen Victoria Street

Opposite is the church of St Benet’s:

Queen Victoria Street

I explored this church a few years ago in my post on “The Lost Wharfs of Upper Thames Street and St. Benet’s Welsh Church”  and also the excavations of Baynard’s Castle and Roman foundations just south of the church.

The church today:

Queen Victoria Street

Queen Victoria Street was built to provide a wide and direct route from the major junction at the Bank and Mansion House directly down to Blackfriars Bridge and the Embankment.

In the following map extract, Queen Victoria Street is the street running from the junction at upper right, down towards Blackfriars Station and Bridge at lower left (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Queen Victoria Street

The construction of Queen Victoria Street resulted in the demolition of numerous buildings and streets. The book “A Dictionary of London” by Henry Harben (1918) provides a good description of the impact of the street:

“Construction recommended 1861 and provided for in Metropolitan Improvement Act, 1863. Opened 1871. Nearly two-thirds of a mile long.

Numerous courts and alleys, as well as streets of a larger extent, were swept away for its formation. Amongst those which had occupied the site previously were Five Foot Lane, Dove Court, Old Fish Street Hill, Lambeth Hill (part), Bennet’s Hill (part), St Peter’s Hill (part), Earl Street, Bristol Street, White Bear Alley, White Horse Court.

Considerable difficulties were experienced in the formation of the street owing to the steep gradients from Upper Thames Street to Cheapside. In some cases the existing streets had to be diverted in order to give additional length over which to distribute the differences in level. The net cost was over £1,000,000. Subways for gas and water were constructed under the street and house drains and sewers below these.”

There is no doubt that the new street was needed to support the ever-growing volume of traffic across the City, but all those lost names, although the remains of some can still be found. For example, Harben mentions Five Foot Lane. This is a name that in various spellings dates back to at least the fourteenth century with the first record of a Fynamoureslane. Later spellings included Finimore Lane, Fine Foote Lane, Fyve Foote Lane, Fyford Lane and Fye Foot Lane.

It is with this latter spelling that the lane can still be found – a narrow alley between new office blocks that leads from Queen Victoria Street down to Upper Thames Street.

The following extract from the 1847 Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London shows the area where Queen Victoria Street would later slice through the middle.

Queen Victoria Street

I have tried to show the approximate route of Queen Victoria Street by the red line in the following map:

Queen Victoria Street

The name of the new street, after Queen Victoria, was agreed in December 1869 when a meeting of the Metropolitan Board of Works were presented with a report recommending the name.

The Illustrated London News described the opening of Queen Victoria Street in November 1871:

“The ceremony of formally opening this new street, from Blackfriars Bridge to the Mansion House, was performed at half past three o’clock on Saturday afternoon. There was a procession of the officers and some members of the Metropolitan Board of Works and of the Corporation of the City headed by Colonel Hogg, Chairman of the Metropolitan Board, with the Lord Mayor, walking arm-in-arm, the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, and several of the Parliamentary representatives of the metropolitan boroughs. These walked from Blackfriars, along the newly made roadway from New Earl-street to Bennet’s-hill, which has not hitherto been passable, and thence along the first-made portion of the new street to the Mansion House.

Having arrived at the hustings erected on the triangular space at the side of the Mansion House, Colonel Hogg and the Lord Mayor briefly addressed the persons there assembled, reminding them of the various City and Metropolitan improvements which had been accomplished during the last ten or fifteen years – the Thames Embankment, the Holborn Viaduct, the rebuilding of Blackfriars Bridge and Westminster Bridge, the opening of Southwark Bridge, the Metropolitan Meat Market, Southwark-street, Garrick-street, Burdett-street, Commercial-road, the removal of Middle-row Holborn, The opening of Hamilton-place, Park-lane, the laying out of Finsbury Park and Southwark Park.”

The above text highlights that Queen Victoria Street had been built and opened in sections, with the lower part down to Blackfriars being the final section (that shown in my photo above looking down towards Blackfriars)

The final paragraph also shows how much change there was in London during the later decades of the 19th century. It was the work during these decades which has shaped so much of the city we see today.

The opening ceremony next to the Mansion House:

Queen Victoria Street

It was a brilliant sunny day when I walked Queen Victoria Street – the type of day when even a Victorian street built as a major through route looks fantastic. There are also some fascinating buildings along the street, although only a few buildings date from before the creation of the street.

This building is the Faraday building, once one of the major hubs for international and national telephone circuits and operator services.

Queen Victoria Street

The Faraday building is interesting as it is the only building (as far as I am aware), that has components of the first, fully automatic, electromagnetic telephone exchange, carved onto the facade of the building. See my post on the Faraday building for views of these.

South of the Faraday building is this lovely building, currently occupied by the Church of Scientology.

Queen Victoria Street

The building at 146 Queen Victoria Street dates from 1866, so was probably built as part of the development of the new street, possibly one of the first new buildings alongside Queen Victoria Street.

The building was by the London architect Edward I’Anson in the classical, Italian style for the British and Foreign Bible Society. The building is grade II listed.  I’Anson’s other London works included the Royal Exchange Buildings.

The next building south is one from well before the construction of the street. This is the church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe:

Queen Victoria Street

The church is at a higher level to the street. The extract from Harben mentioned one of the difficulties with construction of the streets being the steep gradient down to the river, and it is at places such as the church where this is still visible. The surrounding land could be leveled off towards the street, but this was obviously not possible with the church.

This end of Queen Victoria Street has always been a centre for Post Office / British Telecom infrastructure. The Faraday building being one of the first examples, and across the road is Baynard House, the 1970s brutalist offices and equipment building, built for British Telecom.

Queen Victoria Street

Baynard House is built on part of the site of Baynard Castle, hence the name.

Looking up along the facade of Baynard House:

Queen Victoria Street

The design of Baynard House included the post war concept of raised pedestrian walkways, separating pedestrians from streets and traffic. There is a rather underused walkway through Baynard House into Blackfriars Station.

In all the times I have used this route, I have not seen anyone walk to and from the station. It mainly seems to be used by smokers and those taking a break from the surrounding building.

Part of the walkway includes a large open space, with the rather intriguing state of the Seven Ages of Man, by Richard Kindersley from 1980.

Queen Victoria Street

The sculpture is based on the Shakespeare monologue from As You Like It, which begins with “All the world’s a stage” and then goes on to chart the stages of life from an infant to the point at the end of life where a person is “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Along the walkway there are views to Queen Victoria Street and down to the River Thames. The following photo is from the walkway looking along Castle Baynard Street.

Queen Victoria Street

The empty corridor leading up to Blackfriars Station:

Queen Victoria Street

The benefit of a raised walkway is that there are some different views than would be possible at street level. This photo looking across the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Puddle Dock, to St Andrew by the Wardrobe and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Queen Victoria Street

By chance, I found the following photo of the construction of Queen Victoria Street taken from a similar position. I should have been a bit further south, but there were no viewpoints, so the above photo is as close I could get.

Queen Victoria Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PZ_CT_02_1067

From the photo it looks as if a narrow section of street was open (this may have been the original Earl Street), whilst the main part of Queen Victoria Street was constructed.

In front of the church tower are some of the original buildings at the lower end of St Andrew’s Hill. These would later be replaced by the brick building facing onto the new street shown in my photo from the walkway.

There have been some major changes in the southern end of Queen Victoria Street since the original construction. The following photo is one of my father’s photos which I featured in one of my early posts.

Queen Victoria Street

The photo shows the original southern end of Queen Victoria Street, with Upper Thames Street merging from the rights.

The following photo from the 2014 post shows the same scene.

Queen Victoria Street

The pedestrian walkway ends up in Blackfriars station, but I had lots more to see in Queen Victoria Street, so it was down the stairs and back out onto the street, but not before admiring the destination panels from the original station.

Queen Victoria Street

These stone panels date from 1886, and were replaced in their current position after development work at the station.

The panels show continental destinations that were accessible from the station via a channel ferry. I love how very different destinations are next to each other: Herne Bay and Florence, Sheerness and Vienna, Westgate on Sea and St Petersburg.

Back out of the station and opposite the southern end of Queen Victoria Street.

Queen Victoria Street

Marked by one of my favourite central London pubs – the Black Friar:

Queen Victoria Street

The Black Friar was built around 1875, so not long after Queen Victoria Street opened. The pub was Grade II listed in 1972, which probably explains how the pub has survived the development of the area. The triangular shape of the building is down to an original street and the new street.

To the left of the pub is a short stub of a street leading to a dead-end. On maps this is currently named as Blackfriars Court, but was originally Water Lane. The plot of land originally extended further south to make a more rectangular plot, however Queen Victoria Street sliced through the lower part of this plot and created a triangular plot on which the Black Friar was built.

The Black Friar was not open yet, and I still had the northern part of Queen Victoria Street to walk, so I headed back to the location of my 1982 photos.

The edge of the College of Arms building appeared in my 1982, today much of the building was covered in sheeting to protect some restoration / building work.

Queen Victoria Street

The College of Arms was also impacted by the construction of Queen Victoria Street. Initial proposals for the route of the street called for the demolition of the whole building, however protests by the College Heralds resulted in the route of the new street moving a bit further south.

However even with the new route, parts of the two wings of the College of Arms were demolished, and the building was remodeled as a three-sided building, with shorter wings down to the new Queen Victoria Street.

The College of Arms building dates from after the Great Fire of London when the original building was destroyed.

The following print from 1768 shows the building before the late 19th century changes.

Queen Victoria Street

A short distance to the north is the place where St Peter’s Hill crosses Queen Victoria Street. During the day this is a rather busy crossing being on the direct tourist and walking route from the Millennium footbridge across the Thames up to St Paul’s Cathedral.

The view looking north:

Queen Victoria Street

And the view looking south with the chimney of Tate Modern / Bankside Power Station just visible.

Queen Victoria Street

At the point where the southern approach of St Peter’s Hill reaches Queen Victoria Street, there are a pair of steel gates.

I had not realised this before, but there is a name carved into the lower section of the gates which identify them as the HSBC Gates – presumably after the company that paid for them.

Queen Victoria Street

They were designed by the artist Sir Anthony Caro and installed as part of the development of the walkway at the time of the build of the Millennium Bridge,

A 2012 report by the City of London, Streets and Walkways Sub-Committee identified a number of problems with the walkway between the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s, and with maintaining the gates:

“Not originally designed and set out to deal with the numbers of people now using it,
this area has suffered a noticeable decline in the local environment since the
Millennium Bridge opened. The HSBC gates are often used for graffiti and urination
and require frequent cleaning and sticker removal.”

The point where St Peter’s Hill crosses Queen Victoria Street is probably the busiest point on the street.

Queen Victoria Street

Further north along the street is the church of St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey.

Queen Victoria Street

A church has been on the site since at least the 12th century. The church was badly damaged during 1940, along with much of the area south of St Paul’s Cathedral.

My father took the following photo in 1947 looking across Queen Victoria Street with the shell of the church (from my post on St Nicholas, Cole Abbey):Queen Victoria Street

Across the road from the church are Cleary Garden’s:

Queen Victoria Street

The gardens are not built on the site of a lost church or churchyard, as so many other City gardens. They are built on the site of houses destroyed during the Blitz. The garden was created by a shoemaker called Joe Brandis who started the garden in the rubble of destroyed buildings.

The name comes from Fred Cleary who was Chairman of The Corporation of the City of London’s Trees, Gardens and Open Spaces Committee for three decades prior to his death in 1984.

Fred Cleary’s involvement with the City of London Corporation resulted in many of the gardens that we see across the City today. He was a firm supporter of the need to create and maintain green spaces across the City, and as with the garden’s that carry his name, made good use of the many bomb sites, some of which had already the foundation of a garden, such as that created by Joe Brandis.

I have now reached the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Cannon Street. The tower is that of the church St Mary Aldermary.

Queen Victoria Street

Street name sign and boundary markers. the one on the left is unusual in that it has the names of the church wardens engraved presumably from the date of the marker in 1886.

Queen Victoria Street

Crossing the road junction and looking back along Queen Victoria Street, and on the right, between the street and Cannon Street is the distinctive form of 30 Cannon Street.

Queen Victoria Street

30 Cannon Street dates from 1977 and was by the architectural partnership of Whinney, Son and Austen Hall.

The building fits into a triangular plot of land – probably that shape after the creation of Queen Victoria Street cut through the lower triangular section of what had been a rectangular plot of land.

The shape of the windows, the rows of windows leading to the curved section facing onto the street junction, and the brilliant white of the material all help make this a stunning post war building.

The panels surrounding the windows are made from glass fibre reinforced cement – the first building to use this material.

If you also look along the sides of the building, it appears to bow out towards the street. which is down to the 5 degree outward lean of each window section.

Floors 1 to 4 have the window arches at the top of each window, but look at the top floor and the arch is upside down with the side legs of the arch around each window facing upwards.

The building is Grade II listed, the justification being the design, usie of innovative materials and the way in which the building integrates with the remaining Victorian buildings around the junction – a justification with which I fully agree.

I have now reached the northern end of Queen Victoria Street, where the street runs up to the major junction by the Mansion House and Bank of England.

The building in the photo below is the City of London Magistrates Court with the address of 1 Queen Victoria Street, so the street starts here.

Queen Victoria Street

This was the location of the opening ceremony shown in the print earlier on in this post. In both photo and print, a corner of the Mansion House can just be seen.

And in the photo below I am at the very end of Queen Victoria Street, looking towards the heart of the City, and the major junction where Lombard Street, Cornhill, Threadneedle Street , Princes Street and Poultry all meet.

Queen Victoria Street

Standing here, the need for the construction of Queen Victoria Street becomes clear. The street provides a direct route from the heart of the City to the station at Blackfriars, and for traffic it also offers a quick route across the river via Blackfriars Bridge, and to the west along that other Victorian engineering marvel, the Embankment.

However it is also a sad loss of all the small streets and alleys that once covered this section of the City, and were swept away by Victorian improvements. Also the archaeological remains that may have been lost as I suspect the Victorians were more interested in getting the street completed, than investigating what lay below the ground.

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Ironmonger Lane – Two Thousand Years of History

A couple of week’s ago I was in ironmonger Lane in the City of London, a narrow lane running between Cheapside and Gresham Street.

The buildings in the lane are relatively recent, and difficult to photograph due to the width of the lane, however Ironmonger Lane has a fascinating history, so for this week’s post, let me take you on a journey through time starting with the earliest traces of habitation in ironmonger Lane.

As with many City streets, ironmonger Lane suffered bomb damage in the last war, hence the relatively young age of the buildings that line the lane today.

The bomb damaged remains of number 11 Ironmonger Lane were being demolished after the war and the Guildhall Museum led an excavation of the site.

Number 11 is in the centre of the photo below:

Ironmonger Lane

Adrian Oswald, working on behalf of the Guildhall Museum excavated the site, and 16 feet below street level the remains of a Roman house and Roman mosaic were found.

Ironmonger Lane

The excavation was notable at the time as this was the first Roman mosaic that had been found since excavations at the Bank of England.

The mosaic and house were dated to around the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

It is intriguing to imagine that Ironmonger Lane was a street in Roman times, and this was the earliest traces of the buildings and people living in this part of the City.

Ironmonger Lane

The next traces of occupation in Ironmonger Lane are possible 9th to 11th century foundations found in the churchyard of St. Olave during an excavation in 1985 / 86. The churchyard is in the centre of the lane, and Roman bricks were also found during the excavations, providing further evidence of Roman building.

Early in the 12th century, Thomas Becket, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury and murdered at Canterbury Cathedral at the apparent command of King Henry II, was born in a house on the corner of Ironmonger Lane and Cheapside, a plaque marks the site today:

Ironmonger Lane

The Becket family owned part of the land at the southern end of Ironmonger Lane and alongside Cheapside.

Also in the 12th century, we see the first references to the church of St Olave (roughly half way along the lane), although certainly much older, and also to the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon (dedicated to Thomas a Becket), when hospitals were mainly religious establishments.

The Hospital of St Thomas of Acon was founded in 1227 on land at the southern end of Ironmonger Lane, between ironmonger Lane and Old Jewry, facing onto Cheapside.

The hospital would be important for how we see the southern end of Ironmonger Lane today.

Now for my first map. This is John Rocque’s map of 1746, although I have not yet reached the 18th century, the map is helpful in showing the location of some of these 12th century establishments.

Ironmonger Lane

Ironmonger Lane is in the centre of the map. Cheapside at the southern end, and Cateaton Street (which would later become Gresham Street) at the northern end.

Look to the southern end, and to the right of Ironmonger Lane is a block of building and the abbreviation “Cha” for Chapel – this is the area where Thomas a Becket was born and also the site of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon.

The hospital was built on land purchased from the Becket family. The name Acon is the anglicised version of Acre (now part of Israel), and dates from the Third Crusade between 1189 and 1191, and possibly originates from an order of monks / knights formed during the Crusade and the siege of Acre.

In Rocque’s map, you can see that the Mercers Hall is also shown where the hospital was located.

The Mercers Company represented the interest of merchants who traded in materials such as wool, linens and silks and it was the Mercers who became patrons of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon, and used the hospital’s chapel as a ceremonial meeting site from when the chapel was built in the 13th century in 1248.

Also in the 13th century, the second church in Ironmonger Lane is first mentioned. This is the church of St Martin Pomary which was located between the church of St Olave and Ironmonger Lane – two churches adjacent to each other. To see how close these churches were, look at Roqcue’s map above, to the left of St Olave, you will see the text “St Martin’s Church Yard”.

I have not yet mentioned anything about the name – Ironmongers Lane.

The name relates to the trade of Iron Mongers as in the medieval City, trades generally clustered around specific streets. The first mention of the name is from the 13th century, and there were many variants of the name, starting with Ysmongeres Lane, with other variations between the 13th and 14th centuries. The Agas map of 1561 records the street as Iremongers Lane.

The ironmongers would not stay too long in the area as it appears they have moved to the Fenchurch Street area in the 15th century – so the name is a remarkable survival of a medieval trade with a specific area.

In the 15th century, the Mercers were continuing their long association with the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon as in 1407 the Mercers purchased their own chapel in the Hospital’s church.

Moving a century later, and the 16th century was a time of dramatic change in ironmonger Lane.

In 1524, the Mercers built their first Hall on land purchased from the Hospital.

In 1538, the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon was taken over by the Crown during the dissolution. The Mercers negotiated the purchase of the land, and subsequently purchased all the hospital’s properties, and the company built the Mercers School on part of the land. I suspect they were a company never to pass by a good commercial opportunity.

The Agas map of 1561 shows Ironmonger Lane densely built, with the church on the east side of the street and the Mercers Hall facing onto Cheapside.

Now travel forward to the 17th century and in 1665, as with the rest of London, the occupants of Ironmonger Lane lived in dread of the plague, and as a preventative measure, the Mercers closed their school.

The following year, 1666, the Great Fire took hold of the area and burnt down the churches of St Martin Pomary and St Olave, along with the Mercers Hall.

Wren rebuilt the church of St Olave in the 1670s, but St Martin Pomary was not rebuilt, the parish was amalgamated with that of St Olave.

The Mercers second Hall and Chapel on the site were also rebuilt, opening in 1676 to continue the Mercers long association with ironmonger Lane. The fire had also destroyed all remaining evidence of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon.

In the 19th century, Ironmonger Lane was a busy commercial street in the heart of the City.

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows St Olave and Mercers Hall, along with a Police Station and a Public House at number 11 – this was Mullen’s Hotel.

Ironmonger Lane

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Census reports provide an insight into Ironmonger Lane, and the City of London in general. In the 1861 census, it was recorded that there were 23 people living in the Mullens Hotel at number 11:

  • 5 family members and the owner of the hotel
  • 8 workers, all female and listed as servants
  • 10 visitors to the hotel including;
    • Drapers from Ireland
    • Drapers from Cornwall (one with two sons)
    • A Commercial Traveler from Norwich

As ever, London was a temporary home for travelers who had business in the City.

In 1892, the church of St Olave was demolished, apart from the tower of the church. The demolition was under legislation brought in to reduce the number of City churches. The tower was converted into a rectory for St Margaret Lothbury.

The tower is difficult to photograph from street level when the trees are in leaf, but it is there.

Ironmonger Lane

View of St Olave as it appeared in 1830, before demolition of the body of the church and with the tower visible from ironmonger Lane.

Ironmonger Lane

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q8051273

The gates that lead from the street into the old churchyard of St Martin Pomary with the tower of St Olave behind.

Ironmonger Lane

So into the 20th century, and Ironmonger Lane suffered badly from bombing during the Second World War.

The Mercers Hall, built after the Great Fire, was destroyed during the night of the 10th / 11th May 1941, and it was bomb damage that opened up number 11 to the excavation work that revealed the Roman house and mosaic.

Walking the street today, and we can still see the tower of St Olave, the old church of St Martin Pomary would have been just to the right and in front of the tower.

A number of parish boundary markers can be seen on the walls of buildings along the street, including that of St Martin Pomary:

Ironmonger Lane

The third Mercers Hall is at the southern end of the street, rebuilt after the Second World War. If you look on the corner of the hall, and along the hall and buildings along the south eastern side of Ironmonger Lane, you will see several carvings of the head and shoulders of a woman with a crown.

Ironmonger Lane

The figure is part of the armourial bearings of the Mercers Company, known as a Mercers Maiden, the figure is probably that of the Virgin Mary, although there is no written evidence to confirm this.

Ironmonger Lane

Ironmonger Lane

The Mercers have long been associated with the charitable building of houses across London, and there would have been a carving, or statue of a Mercers Maiden on the outside of the building. I have photographed a number of these including a very fine example alongside the church of St Dunstan and All Saints Stepney, and also along Hardinge Street.

The Ironmongers Lane entrance to Mercers Hall:

Ironmonger Lane

The following photo shows the view along Cheapside. The entrance to Ironmonger Lane is just to the left of the red circled street signs..

Ironmonger Lane

The large building running along Cheapside in the centre of the photo occupies the land between Ironmongers Lane and Old Jewry originally the location of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon.

The following drawing shows the Mercers Hall occupying the same site in 1881. Ironmonger Lane is at the left.

Ironmonger Lane

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q7707062

The above view shows the post Great Fire version of the hall after considerable refurbishment. It was this version of the hall that was destroyed in May 1941.

The photo of the building from Cheapside shows more memorials to Thomas a Becket on the building corner at the junction of Ironmonger Lane and Cheapside..

Ironmonger Lane

It was the original association of the Mercers Company with the Becket family dating back to the 12th century, and their patronage of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon, that almost 900 years later has the Mercers Hall still on the same site.

Looking up Ironmongers Lane from Cheapside, the open space on the right is at the entrance to the Mercers Hall, the narrow width of the lane can be seen continuing north.

Ironmonger Lane

There are a couple of passages leading off from ironmongers Lane.

The wonderfully named Prudent Passage leads to King Street. originally this was Sun Alley, and this original name was in use in the 18th century, with the first mention of Prudent Passage being in 1875.

Ironmonger Lane

St Olave’s Court runs to Old Jewry, alongside the location of the church of St Olave, and probably over the site of St Martin Pomary.

Ironmonger Lane

The view looking north towards the junction with Gresham Street:

Ironmonger Lane

The view south along Ironmonger Lane from Gresham Street showing the narrow width of the lane.

Ironmonger Lane

Number 11 Ironmonger Lane is just along the lane on the left. No longer a hotel, a new building was constructed on the site following the 1949 excavations, and refurbished a number of times since, and it is here that the Roman house and mosaics were found, which brings us full circle on almost 2,000 years of history of Ironmonger Lane.

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Life and Death at Alderman Stairs

Before exploring Alderman Stairs, a quick thanks for all the feedback to last week’s post regarding the statue in Catherine Place – I will be updating the post with some of the additional information and possibilities as to the meaning of the statue.

I was recently walking along St. Katherine’s Way, heading towards Thomas More Street to find the location of one of my father’s photo. I walked by Alderman Stairs, and as the tide was out, as I have many times before, I walked down to the foreshore.

I find the river stairs that remain fascinating. They provide a connection between the land and the river, and are a reminder of when the river was a bustling place of trade and passenger transport.

Today, they are frequently quiet. I very rarely see anyone else on the foreshore at Alderman Stairs.

It is interesting to imagine everything that has happened over the centuries, centered around these stairs – all the people who have arrived or departed, everything that has happened in the Thames adjacent to the stairs.

I thought it would be interesting to research back through newspaper articles for references to Alderman Stairs, and use these to tell the story of Life and Death at Alderman Stairs.

Alderman Stairs

Alderman Stairs are along St. Katherine’s Way, just east of what were St. Katherine Docks. I have marked the location of the stairs with a red oval in the following map  (© OpenStreetMap contributors) :

Alderman Stairs

The stairs are old. Henry Harben in A Dictionary of London states that the first mention of the stairs was by John Rocque in 1746. The stairs had a number of names, including Alderman Stairs, Alderman Parsons Stairs and Lady Parson’s Stairs.

The name possibly derives from a former owner, Sir John Parsons who was an Alderman of Portsoken Ward in 1687. There are also references to Humphrey Parsons, Alderman between 1721 and 1741, and Sir John Parsons, Fishmonger described as the son of Parsons of St. Katherine’s.

Although I have seen references to Alderman Parsons Stairs in newspaper reports, the majority of references are just to Alderman Stairs, so over time the name was probably abbreviated down to the form we see today.

John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Alderman Parsons’s Stairs leading down into the river from what looks to be Catherine Street, with Parsons’s Brew House across the street.

Alderman Stairs

Catherine Street is today St. Katherine’s Way, but between these two names it was also called Lower East Smithfield (see the 1895 OS extract later in the post).

Walking between the two high buildings on either side, through to Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

Alderman Stairs is just a single place in the whole of London, and based on my visits, the stairs and foreshore do not receive many other visitors, however exploring what happened here can tell us so much about life in London and life on the River Thames.

So here is a sample of Life and Death at Alderman Stairs.

The river has always been a dangerous place, but the sheer number of deaths in and along the river and the apparent casual acceptance in the way these are reported is remarkable from a 21st century viewpoint.

The Illustrated London News on the 7th June 1851 reports on one single day on the River Thames, including Alderman Stairs:

“FATAL RIVER ACCIDENTS – On Tuesday, Captain Artus, of the brig Melbourne, lying in Bugsby’s Hole, in attempting to ascend the side, missed his hold, fell into the water, and was drowned. Almost at the same time, (twelve o’clock), Captain Downie, of the ship mentor, lying off Stone-stairs, Wapping, fell overboard and perished. About 3 o’clock, P.M. a boat, containing two men and a woman, was swamped near Alderman Stairs; the men were saved, but the female, Mrs Coghlan, residing in Old Gravel-lane, was drowned.”

That is three deaths in one single day.

On the 5th November 1842:

“FATAL ACCIDENT – Tuesday night, a few minutes before twelve, John Dunlevy, cook on board the steam-packet City of Limerick, lying off the Alderman’s-stairs, Lower East Smithfield, while proceeding on board the steamer, and having just effected a landing on the accommodation ladder, fell into the river, and was carried away by the strong flood tide at the time, and was drowned. He was partially intoxicated. the body has not been found.”

On the 10th September 1842:

“On Saturday morning a large sailing barge, navigated by two men and a boy, while coming up the river, was sunk by the heavy swell caused by several vessels going down the river at full speed. She went down nearly opposite the St. Katherine Dock entrance. The people in her were saved by the watermen, who rowed from Alderman’s Stairs to their assistance. The barge was laden with 70 tons of coal. The damage sustained is estimated at £300.”

A report in the Illustrated Police News dated the 10th October 1903 highlights the risks that waterman working from Alderman Stairs endured when crossing the river:

“NEARLY DROWNED – AN EXCITING SCENE ON THE THAMES. At the Southwark County Court his Honour Judge Addison and a jury heard an action in which Henry George Wilson, an aged waterman, sought to recover damages from Arthur Gamman, of Holborn Wharf, Chatham, for personal injuries sustained.

Plaintiff said that on April 17 he was rowing his boat across from Alderman Stairs to Mills Stairs, Bermondsey, when he saw a steam hoy nearly on top of him. Without a word of warning from those on board she came on, and catching his boat amidships, smashed her to pieces, going right over the wreckage. He went under her and was much scratched and bruised. On rising to the surface almost exhausted he heard a cry of ‘Strike out Harry, there’s a boat coming’. Being a cold day he was heavily clad and sinking when somebody clutched him, and he eventually found himself being brought round on a ship.

Mr Thompson said it was only fair to the captain of the hoy to say that when he saw what had happened he very gallantly jumped overboard in his full rig and secured Wilson just as he was going down. 

Charles Wady, the captain, said he signaled to Wilson to stop rowing. He did so, but started again, and witness could not stop in time to avoid the boat. When he saw Wilson go under the hoy he stopped the screw, which was reversing, fearing that he would be cut up. 

His Honour warmly complimented Wady on his plucky behaviour.

The jury found in favour of the plaintiff, awarding him £25, for which amount and costs judgement was entered.”

I took the following photo from the top of Alderman Stairs, looking down to the river. Fortunately the tide was out.

Alderman Stairs

In the introduction to the post, I mentioned that the stairs were also called Lady Parsons’s Stairs. The use of the Parsons name in the name of the stairs is mainly concentrated in the first half of the 19th century and earlier. A typical example is from this report in the Morning Chronicle of the 12th February 1818:

“Yesterday morning the body of a young woman, apparently about 21 years of age, was found by a waterman, who was rowing near Lady Parsons stairs, in the river Thames, lying in the mud near the stairs.”

Another reference to Parsons’s Stairs records one of the very many tragic stories of those found in the river. From the London Courier and Evening Gazette on the 1st August 1801:

“Thursday night, about eight o’clock, was found floating in the Thames, at Parsons’s stairs, the body of a young woman, and brought to Aldgate Workhouse, Nightingale-lane. She was decently dressed in a cotton gown, brown ground, with white running sprig and leaf, modern pattern; a cambric sprig-netted shawl; had only one pocket on, in which there was nothing but one glove and tie, and a white pocket handkerchief. She appears to have been drowned upwards of a week, and appears to be about 20 or 30 years of age.”

The Parsons name also comes up in a reference to a possible bridge across the Thames before Tower Bridge was built. The Morning Advertiser of the 30th March 1824 listed petitions being presented at the House of Commons. One of these was:

“Mr T. Wilson presented Petitions from Watermen of St. Katherine’s Stairs, Old Parson’s Stairs, and the Tower Stairs, against the St. Katherine’s Suspension Bridge Bill.”

The St. Katherine’s Suspension bridge was a proposal for a bridge to improve access between St Katherine’s Dock and the proposed South London Docks. There were many objections to the bridge, including from the City of London. The bridge was not built.

There has always been immigration into London and on the 24th April 1847, the Illustrated London News reported on arrivals at Alderman Stairs:

” IRISH IMMIGRATION INTO LONDON – The importation of Irish paupers, so much complained of in Liverpool and Glasgow, begins to wear a threatening aspect in London. On Sunday, the Prussian Eagle, from Cork, and the Limerick, from Dublin, landed 1200 Irish Paupers at Alderman’s Stairs, Lower East Smithfield. The new comers, who were in the most wretched state of distress, were forthwith distributed over the eastern part of the metropolis. The same vessels landed 1200 Irish paupers on Sunday week.”

After walking down the stairs, I crossed over onto the foreshore. The following photo is looking to the west. The stones of the stairs running into the Thames.

Alderman Stairs

The pier of HMS President the Royal Naval Reserve unit associated with London is adjacent to Alderman Stairs.

If you look at old maps of east London, along the River Thames, adjacent to many of the river stairs was a public house. Probably this should not be a surprise as being next to where people were boarding or arriving on ships, was a good place to attract trade.

Sailors or passengers arriving after a long journey would probably welcome a quick stay in a pub after arriving onshore.

Adjacent to Alderman Stairs was the Cock and Lion public house, The pub had been next to the stairs from the 18th century to some point in the 1920s when it was demolished.

It is shown in the following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, just to the right of Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The pub is mentioned in a number of articles, including  the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, dated the 1st September 1832, where a sailor, his shipmate and two women landed at Alderman Stairs from the Amity passage vessel and went straight into the Cock and Lion public house.

It was when he was in the pub that the sailor found his pocket book was missing, and accused the two women of stealing it.

One of the women asked a waterman to then row them across to the Europa Tavern at Rotherhithe, where one of the women asked the landlord to change a £5 note. Suspecting that this had been stolen from the sailor, the waterman snatched the £5 note, and both women were taken into custody.

This report, along with so many others highlight a way in which we see the north and south banks of the river has changed.

Today, the north and south banks are considered part of north and south London and therefore different. Reading books and newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries, this separation was not that apparent – north and south banks were seen as part of the river environment rather than as different parts of London.

Numerous reports of events at Alderman Stairs, include casual crossings of the river, as in the example above, where it was probably thought very normal to cross the river from a pub on the north, to a pub on the south bank – all part of the same river ecosystem.

The river was full, not only with passenger and cargo ships, but also with waterman, the river based taxi services of the time, offering quick transport across and along the river.

Not so easy today, however a couple of Saturday’s ago I was in the Gun on the Isle of Dogs for late afternoon, followed by the Angel at Rotherhithe for the evening. Rather than a waterman, the Jubilee Line provided cross river transport between the two.

The following photo shows the view looking east. The pier extending into the river is where the Thames pathway returns to the water edge.

Alderman Stairs

The boats in the river are at Hermitage Moorings.

Alderman Stairs were a reference point for the ships mooring in the river, and there are many records of the arrivals by the stairs.

From the Illustrated London News on the 23rd December 1843:

“CHRISTMAS FARE – On Sunday night the Dublin Steam Navigation Company’s steam-packet Royal William, Captain Swainson, arrived at her moorings off the Alderman-stairs, Lower East Smithfield from Dublin, Falmouth and Plymouth. She brought a miscellaneous cargo, part of which consisted of a large quantity of geese, turkeys, and other Christmas fare, for the metropolitan markets. In the course of Saturday and Sunday a number of steam-packets arrived in the river with large quantities of geese, turkeys, and other kinds of poultry, for Christmas cheer. Last week, several vessels arrived at Fresh-wharf, London-bridge with cargoes of varied fruits. Most of the stage-coaches which arrived in the metropolis on Tuesday and during the week brought very large quantities of geese, turkeys, hares, &c.”

The following photo shows the view looking back from the bottom of Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

The stairs consist of the steps up to street level and a paved stretch along the foreshore that runs into the river. This paved stretched raises the stairs above the foreshore to provide a flat walkway and without the mud, sand and random debris that litters the foreshore.

Alderman Stairs were also a departure point for regular shipping routes for both passengers and parcels. Departures and routes were regularly advertised in the newspapers, for example, in the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette on the 18th April 1838, the St. George Steam Packet Company were advertising that:

“Vessels sail regularly from off Alderman-stairs, below the Tower for:

PLYMOUTH, FALMOUTH and CORK, and taking goods and passengers for Liverpool, every Saturday morning at 8 o’clock.

EXETER, calling off Deal, Ryde and Cowes (weather permitting), every Wednesday morning, at 8 o’clock.

BOSTON – The SCOTIA, on Tuesday morning, the 10th April , at 4 o’clock, and every succeeding Tuesday at the same hour.

STOCKTON (at reduced fares), calling off Scarborough and Whitby, weather permitting – The EMERALD ISLE, every Saturday night at 12 o’clock, returning every Wednesday.

Goods to be sent to the St. George Steam-wharf, Lower East Smithfield.”

Passengers arriving off Alderman Stairs ran the risk of being overcharged for their transport between ship and shore, as this article from the Morning Post on the 29th September 1847 reports:

“MONSTROUS OVERCHARGE BY A WATERMAN – Yesterday, John Thomas Jones, a waterman, appeared before Mr Yardley, to answer the complaint of Mr. Edward Sole Munico, wine merchant of Trinity-square, for making the following grievous overcharge.

On Sunday the 29th of August, Mr Munico, a lady, and a gentleman, were passengers in the AJAX, a Cork steamer, which arrived that day off the Alderman’s Stairs, Lower East Smithfield. After the vessel was moored, the defendant, who was in his boat alongside, came on board, and was engaged by Mr. Munico to convey him and his friends and luggage which consisted of seven packages not exceeding five cwt, to the Alderman’s Stairs exactly opposite. The party was no sooner afloat that the defendant, who had a partner with him, said he could not land his fare at the Alderman’s Stairs, but would row to the Tower Stairs, or any other place. Mr. Munico then directed him to row to the Dublin Wharf, adjoining the Alderman’s Stairs, where the complainant wished to deposit some of his luggage, intended to be shipped to India. No landing could be effected at Dublin Wharf because it was a Sunday, and the boat was rowed into Alderman’s Stairs, where the defendant demanded 12s 6d as his fare, and would not allow Mr. Munico and his friends to land till it was paid. Mr. Munico expostulated with him for some time, but with little effect; at last he reduced his claim to 8s 6d, which was paid to him and the passengers and luggage were landed. the utmost that the defendant was entitled to claim was 3d per each passenger only, and they were entitled to carry 56lbs weight of luggage each. Beyond that the quantity the waterman was entitled to charge 1s per cwt, which would make the total amount of his fare only 4s 3d.”

The report then states that the waterman had no right to ply on a Sabbath between the steamer and Alderman’s Stairs, as that privilege belonged to the Sunday ferrymen, who rented it off the Watermen’s Company. The defendant was fined 20s, however Mr. Munico interceded on behalf of the waterman, on which the penalty was reduced to 10s and costs.

A lesson which also applies today, to agree a fare before getting into a river boat, or a taxi.

A report in the Evening Chronicle on the 30th October 1840 also highlights the risk to travelers arriving in London by Alderman Stairs.

The report was about another waterman, a certain William Vallance, who was a member of the ‘Jacob-street gang of steam boat rangers’. In the reported case, Vallance had been directed to meet the Dublin steam-ships when they arrived off Alderman Stairs, however the members of the Jacobs Street gang would persuade their passengers to be taken to another landing point where they could be charged significantly more. The Jacob Street gang would also “on arrival of a steam ship the Jacob-street gang managed to board the vessel while the crew were busily engaged in mooring the vessel, and seized any luggage they could lay their hands on, which they lowered into a boat, generally having a fellow of very questionable character ready to receive it and stow it away”.

Theft of goods from the ships moored on the Thames and from the warehouses that lined the river was a continuous problem, and had led to the formation of the Thames River Police,

The Thames river Police would frequently question people carrying goods along the river, on land, or at the river stairs. If they could not give a satisfactory explanation for why they were in possession of the goods, they would be arrested for theft. Newspapers often carried long lists of those arrested, and the goods they were found with. On the 3rd September 1821, the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser included a “E. Bateman who was found with 1lb of sugar at Alderman Stairs” without being able to give any satisfactory explanation of why he was in possession of the sugar.

The remains of old piers can still be seen:

Alderman Stairs

Ships moored off Alderman Stairs could also be purchased. On the 12th of January 1809, you could have bought the “good Brig LITTLE WILLIAM, square stern, foreign built, and free; burthen 84 tons per register, is abundantly found in good stores, and can be sent to sea at a very trifling expense; is well adapted for the Mediterranean or any other Trade her burthen may suit. Now lying off Alderman’s-stairs, John Gofton, Master.”

The view looking west, under the decked area in frount of the converted warehouse to the west of Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

Reports involving Alderman Stairs also highlighted the dangers of passenger shipping, for example this article from the Evening Chronicle on the 17th October 1838:

“DREADFUL STEAM-PACKET COLLISION – The non-arrival of the Dublin Steam Packet Company’s vessel Shannon, Captain Pym, at her mooring of the St. Katherine’s Dock, on Sunday, or yesterday morning from Dublin, Falmouth and Plymouth, excited considerable apprehensions for her safety,and that of the passengers and crew.

These fears were still more heightened, owing to the recent heavy gales which she must have encountered at sea; and in consequence of information having been received at the company’s office, St. John’s-street, Minories, by yesterday morning’s mail, from Portsmouth, that the steam-ship Thames, Captain Williams, belonging to the same company, which sailed from the river for Dublin on Saturday morning last, with a great number of passengers, had put into that port (Portsmouth) early on Sunday morning, with extensive damage, having been in violent contact with a large steam-vessel off Brighton, about twelve o-clock on Saturday night. When the collision took place both vessels were proceeding at full speed, although the night was dark and stormy.

As might be expected, the consternation among the passengers most of whom were in their berths, was frightful in the extreme – doubtless rendered the more so on account of the recent dreadful loss of the Forfarshire, and other steam packet disasters. The steam-ship with which the Thames was in collision was believed to be the Shannon, from Dublin for London, although this could not be correctly ascertained, the steamer having proceeded on her voyage, and not again seen. 

These particulars were received in the city by the Portsmouth mail yesterday morning, and soon spread through the metropolis to the distress of those who expected relatives or friends to be on board, the Shannon not having at that time arrived; and the belief in consequence being entertained that after the collision with the Thames she had gone down with all on board.

Yesterday, soon after noon, these evil forebodings were happily dispelled; the Shannon having arrived at her moorings off the Alderman-stairs, Lower East Smithfield.”

A final look back up the stairs:

Alderman Stairs

These stairs are so quiet today. There are no waterman rowing their passengers across the river. Sea going passenger and cargo ships no longer travel this far up the river (apart from the cruise ships berthing alongside HMS Belfast), but stand on the Thames foreshore, look up the stairs, and imagine the countless thousands of people who have used Alderman Stairs as their gateway to the river.

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London In Pictures – A London County Council 1937 Guide

The London County Council (LCC) along with the metropolitan boroughs, transformed London.

The LCC was responsible for the coordination and provision of a wide range of services across London, for example the growth of council provided housing, education, provision of medical services, parks and gardens, infrastructure and consumer services. The LCC, along with authorities such as the Metropolitan Water Board, the London Passenger Transport Board, the London Fire Brigade and the Metropolitan Borough Councils transformed London from the 19th century city to the city we recognise today.

The London County Council produced a considerable number of publications on almost any aspect of the running and organisation of a major city that you could imagine. Within these publications there is a common theme – a considerable pride in the city and the services that the LCC provided to Londoners.

Much of this can look strange from a 21st century viewpoint – too intrusive, too organising, too much “authority knows best”. However with austerity, drastic reductions in council services, library closures, funding challenges for the NHS, Police and Education, the past can look deceptively attractive, but dig deeper and comparisons are never simple.

I have collected a wide range of LCC publications over the years, they provide considerable insight into the development of the city from the formation of the LCC in 1889 until the transfer to the Greater London Council in 1965.

For this week’s post, I would like to feature a publication which provides an overview of all the services provided by the LCC and other London authorities. A snapshot in one specific year – 1937.

This is London In Pictures – Municipal London Illustrated.

London County Council

London in Pictures is a guide-book, but a guide-book with a difference as the foreward to the book describes:

“Many London guide books are published every year and many picture books illustrating the external beauties of London streets and street scenes and buildings of architectural and historic interest. None of these publications, however, devotes adequate attention, even if any notice at all be given, to the municipal interests of London”

The guide-book was targeted at visitors to, and those on holiday in London, and the foreward goes on to explain that if the visitor can understand the government of the city and how London is delivering municipal activities, they can take back this knowledge to help solve problems in their own town or city. Possibly a very limited readership, but again, this demonstrates the LCC’s pride in the way that London was administered and the services provided to the city’s inhabitants.

The book is divided into sections focusing on a specific aspect of the LCCs services, so lets start with – Block Dwellings built by the Council.

In 1937 the LCC owned around 25,000 flats across London. These were typically in estates with blocks of flats to a common design, however many designs were unique and still look good today.

One of these was the Oaklands Estate in Clapham. This estate occupied around 3 acres and provided 185 dwellings with a total of 582 rooms. The estate was built between 1935 and 1936 and the following photo is of Eastman House on the Oaklands Estate.

London County Council

The Clapham Park Estate is of the more traditional London County Council design. This is a view of Lycett and Cotton Houses on the estate which was built between 1930 and 1936, with the overall estate comprising 759 dwellings.

London County Council

The LCC also developed Council Cottage Estates. These estates consisted of houses and smaller flats, providing a low-rise appearance and reduced housing density. This is the Old Oak Estate – the estate which is located between Westway (the A40 road) and Wormwood Scrubs.

London County Council

In 1937 the Old Oak Estate consisted of 1,055 houses and flats.

Occupying around 202 acres of land across Chislehurst and Sidcup districts was the Mottingham Estate. In 1937 the estate consisted of 2,356 houses and flats with further growth planned by the reservation of space for a cinema, shops, schools and a church and 25.5 acres of open space.

London County Council

Londoners also needed education and the London County Council designed new school buildings with large windows for natural lighting, assembly halls, gymnasium, libraries and rooms designed for specific subjects such as science and art. The book highlights that LCC schools were provided with hot water facilities (with the implication that earlier schools lacked this feature).

This is the King’s Park School in Eltham. The senior school in the two storey block with the single storey infant school to the right.

London County Council

As well as education, health care was important, and in 1937 the NHS was still a distant dream. In 1930 the LCC took over responsibility for hospitals controlled by Boards of Guardians and the Metropolitan Asylums Board. This allowed the council to start a programme of modernisation and standardisation of health services across the city and in 1937 there were 43 general hospitals and 31 special hospitals controlled by the LCC.

This is the Operating Theatre and X-Ray Unit completed in 1936 at St. Mary Abbots Hospital, Kensington.

London County CouncilAs with new schools, LCC designed hospitals also featured large windows to maximise natural lighting and a belief in the importance of fresh air to aid recovery. This is the Sun Balcony at St. Olave’s Hospital:London County Council

One of the departments within the London County Council was the rather 1984 Orwellian named “Public Control Department”.

This department had a wide range of services which today would be included within the scope of departments such as Trading Standards.

The Public Control Department was responsible for services such as for weights and measures, testing of gas meters, control and storage of petrol, licensing employment agencies and massage establishments, administration of the Shops Act, diseases of animals, sale of fertilizers and animal feed stuffs and the registration of theatrical employees.

The following three photos from the book show the type of activities carried out by the Public Control Department. The first is testing a weighbridge:

London County Council

Measuring the weight of a sack of coal to ensure that the contents met the specified and charged for weight:

London County Council

Checking the weights and measures in a shop:

London County Council

The London County Council became the local education authority for London in 1904, and was responsible for:

  • To co-ordinate the activities of its predecessors, the School Board for London and the Technical Education Board,
  • To place those elementary schools provided by voluntary bodies on the same basis as regards maintenance as those provided by the Council itself,
  • To establish a system of secondary schools linked to the elementary schools by a scholarship scheme,
  • To reorganise the former ‘night schools’ into a comprehensive system of continuative education,
  • To expand technical, commercial and art education,
  • To build up a system of school medical inspection and treatment, and of special schools for children with physical and mental defects.

In 1937 the LCC was responsible for nearly 800,000 pupils. 512,000 under the age of 14, with 125,000 between 14 and 18 and a further 163,000 in adult education.

An annual nativity play by junior boys and girls:

London County Council

Mid-morning milk at a junior school:

London County Council

Practical work – Domestic Subjects:

London County Council

Residential schools in camp:

London County Council

The scope of education covered by the London County Council included training colleges which focused on specific subjects and skill sets. These colleges included teacher training colleges and in the photo below, poultry farming:

London County Council

A teacher training college:

London County Council

The London County Council was also responsible of the main drainage services for London, which in 1937 meant servicing the needs of 5.5 million people.

The main treatment works were at Beckton, which dealt with 280 million gallons of sewage a day, with effluent being discharged into the river, and 2 million tons a year of solid matter being dumped at sea by a fleet of four, wonderfully named “sludge vessels”.

This view is of part of the 7.5 miles of aeration channels at Beckton:London County Council

An example of the tunnels that transported sewage for treatment – 10 foot and 11.5 foot diameter sewers:

London County Council

Included within the wide range of infrastructure services for which the LCC was responsible were ferries, tunnels and piers, including the Rotherhithe Tunnel:

London County Council

Greenwich Pier:

London County Council

And the Woolwich Ferry, which in 1937 carried 4,000 vehicles and 7,000 pedestrians daily between the weekday hours of 6 a.m. and midnight.

London County Council

Originally, fire brigade services had been built up across London by private enterprises such as insurance companies, however by the 1860s, the costs of providing the service were escalating and the insurance companies requested that the Government took over the service.

This was achieved by the 1865 Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act which consolidated the individual services into a single, London fire service.

In 1889 the London County Council took over the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and in 1904 the name was changed to the London Fire Brigade.

In 1937 the new headquarters building and fire station for the London Fire Brigade on the Albert Embankment had only just been completed. The fire services moved from this building a few years ago, and it is currently being redeveloped, however it will retain a link with the fire service as the London Fire Brigade museum is planned to return to a new and upgraded facility within the building.

In 1937, the London Fire Brigade were equipped with a range of leading edge appliances, including a Hose Lorry:

London County Council

And a Breakdown Lorry:

London County Council

The London Docks were a high fire risk, due to the dense storage of large amounts of inflammable materials, with probably a lack of attention to fire prevention measures. The following photo from the book shows a typical fire that the London Fire Brigade had to deal with, a large fire in July 1935 at Iceland Wharf, Old Ford.

London County Council

The Municipal Hospitals of London were the responsibility of the London County Council, with 74 hospitals taken over from the Boards of Guardians and Metropolitan Asylums Board.

In 1937, these hospitals contained at total of 38,500 beds. This was before the establishment of the NHS, so treatment was not free for all. The book explains that “Admission may usually be secured on the certificate of a private doctor, without any suggestion of poor law ‘taint’, and except in certain circumstances, patients are required to contribute according to their means.”

The Children’s Ward at a LCC hospital:

London County Council

A London County Council hospital operating theatre:

London County Council

The London County Council also ran medical inspections and treatment of school children. Children would be ‘inspected’ at the ages of 7, 11 and between the ages of 13 and 14. This included dental inspections with the possibility of follow-up treatment at 74 medical and dental treatment centres across London.

Probably a nightmare for most children – school dental treatment:

London County Council

A minor ailment centre:

London County Council

The London County Council set-up the London Ambulance Service in 1915, initially to focus on street accidents. There was a separate ambulance service run by the Metropolitan Asylums Board, which was used for the transfer of patients with infectious diseases, and another service run by the Boards of Guardians. All these services came under the central control of the LLC in 1930 under the Local Government Act of 1929.

The interior of a 1930s ambulance:

London County Council

Control of ambulances was from County Hall and an ambulance could be summoned by calling WATerloo 3311.

in 1937 there were 153 ambulances covering London. These were based at 6 large ambulance stations and 16 smaller stations. By comparison in the financial year 2017/18 the London Ambulance Service consisted of over 1,100 vehicles based at 70 ambulance stations and support offices across London. In the same year the service dealt with 1.9 million 999 calls – a truly extraordinary number.

If you needed an ambulance in 1937, this is the vehicle that would arrive:

London County Council

Parks and Open Space were also the responsibility of the London County Council, with a total of 6,647 acres of space managed by a staff of 1,500.

The LCC provided and managed parks such as Battersea Park, as well building and managing facilities within parks, such as the open-air swimming pool at Victoria Park:

London County Council

One of the responsibilities of the LCC, in the terms used in the 1937 book was the “Care of the Mentally Afflicted”. The LCC had started to change how mental health was treated with a move from the custodial approach to proper nursing care, however it was a very institutionalised approach with 20 hospitals and institutions providing treatment for 33,600 patients from a staff of 9,000.

This is Forest House, the admission and convalescent villa in Claybury Hospital:

London County Council

In the same hospital, the Needleroom where “many patients can still do useful work”.

London County Council

The guide-book also included the other governance authorities within London, including the City of London Corporation. This included the City markets, with this superb aerial view of the London Central Markets at Smithfield:

London County Council

And a very quiet Spitalfields Market:

London County Council

The other key element of London governance were the Metropolitan Borough Councils. These were formed by the 1899 London Government Act and were responsible for a number of local services such as the collection of refuse and the maintenance of streets.

In 1937, 16 out of a total of 28 borough councils were still electricity supply authorities, having their own local generation and distribution capabilities. These services would not consolidate further until after the war with the creation of the Central Electricity Generation Board and the regional distribution boards, such as the London Electricity Board.

The establishment of the Metropolitan Borough Councils resulted in the building of impressive Town Halls across London. The book includes a night view of St. Marylebone Town Hall:

London County Council

Municipal Borough Councils also provided local facilities, for example, local parks and playgrounds, libraries and swimming pools.

One impressive example in 1937 was the Poplar Swimming Bath and the books show how the same building could support very different uses:

London County Council

In 1937. the London docks were still major centres of trade. Containerisation and the shift of ports from inland rivers to coastal centres such as Southampton and Felixtowe was still decades in the future.

The Port of London Authority was responsible for the management of the ports and river. In 1937 the Port of London dealt with more shipping than any other UK port and over a third of UK overseas trade passed through London. In 1937, approximately 43 million tons of goods were managed through the London docks.

A ship entering the King George V Dock:

London County Council

The Wine Gauging Grounds operated by the Port of London Authority:

London County Council

London County Council publications are always fascinating and London in Pictures provides a really good overview of the governance of London and the breadth and depth of the services provided by the LCC.

Two years after the guide was published, the Second World War would bring devastation to the city, but would also mark one of those break points in history with, for example, the coming NHS taking over the provision and considerable expansion of health services.

The London Docks would soon start their gradual decline which would end in the closure of all central London docks. The population of London would also reverse the centuries long expansion and would go into a decline that would only start to recover in the 1980s.

Council house provision would reduce to almost nothing and “right to buy” would transfer council owned accommodation into private ownership.

The 1937 guide therefore provides a snapshot of LCC services at the end of an era.

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