Category Archives: London Streets

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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Old Barrack Yard and the Chinese Collection

Before heading to Old Barrack Yard for today’s post, a quick update to last week’s post on Seven St Martin’s Place.  Thank you for all the feedback, personal links with the site and thoughts on who could have created the reliefs on the front of the building.

Through Twitter, TheTaoOfOat sent me this link to a site which included some posts from the original sculptor’s daughter. Hubert Dalwood was the sculptor who was commissioned to create the reliefs for the Ionian Bank. The material is aluminium which probably makes them rather unique.

I have been in contact with Hubert’s daughter, Kathy Dalwood, who is also a sculptor, to discover more about the background to these reliefs, and she will be letting me have some more information when she returns from travel. I have also e-mailed the developer to ask whether the reliefs will remain with the new hotel development.

Thanks again for all the feedback, it is brilliant to be able to bring some recognition to these wonderful reliefs and I will update the blog post as I get more information.

Now to the subject of today’s post – Old Barrack Yard.

I was in Knightsbridge last Tuesday on a rather wet July day. Leaving the underground station at Hyde Park Corner, I headed west along Knightsbridge, and a short distance along, turned south into Old Barrack Yard. The part I was interested in was not the street that connects directly onto Knightsbridge (which is a building site at the moment), but a bit further along after where the street turns east, there is a southern branch heading down towards Wilton Row.

I have marked the location in the following map extract  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Old Barrack Yard

My father took a number of photos of Old Barrack Yard on a rather sunny day in 1949:

Old Barrack Yard

Seventy years later, I photographed the same scene on a very wet day:

Old Barrack Yard

Although the weather conditions are very different, and my use of colour photography also tends to suggest a difference in the two scenes (I often wonder whether I should switch to black & white for these comparison photos) – the scene is very much the same, apart from some minor cosmetic differences.

The paving stones do though appear to be different in the two photos.

The name – Old Barrack Yard – provides a clue as to the history of the area.

The following map extract is from Horwood’s map of London, created between 1792 and 1795. The large block in the centre of the map is Knightsbridge Barracks.

Old Barrack Yard

Stabling for the Grenadier Guards were in use here around 1762, and by 1780 barracks had been fitted out, with an entrance through to Knightsbridge, allowing direct access to Hyde Park.

Ornate gardens had been created to the south of the barracks and a large yard was to the right of the barracks – part of this yard and the gardens to the south are the location of Old Barrack Yard today.

The military released the barracks in the 1830s, and the following extract from Reynolds’s 1847 map of London shows how the area had developed:

Old Barrack Yard

The barrack block can still be seen, and on the western edge of the original gardens, just below the barracks, is the church of St. Paul’s, built in the early 1840s. The yard can still be seen to the right of the barracks, and a crescent of housing has been built up to the corner of the church – this is Wilton Row.

Note that to the right of the old barracks block is the abbreviation “Exh” – this refers to an exhibition that was established here in the 1840s using parts of the yard and the old barracks.

The Chinese Collection was an exhibition of Chinese artifacts collected by an American merchant, Nathan Dunn, who had spent 12 years in Canton. The exhibition had previously been on display in the United States, but brought to London at the encouragement of a number of learned societies and individuals. Interest in China was high at the time with the first Opium War about to be brought to a successful close with the signing of a peace treaty with the Chinese in Nanking.

The Illustrated London News reported on the Chinese Collection in August 1842:

“Upon the left-hand side of the inclined plan, extending from Hyde Park Corner to Knightsbridge, and towards the extremity of St. George’s-place, a grotesque erection has lately sprung up with all the rapidity which distinguishes the building operations of the present day.

As the work proceeded, many were the guesses at the purpose for which it was intended; and to feed the suspense of the many thousands who daily pass this thoroughfare, the work was covered with canvas until just completed. The structure in question is the entrance to an extensive apartment filled with ‘curiosities of China’. In the design this entrance is characteristically Chinese, and is taken from the model of a summer residence now in the collection. It is of two stories, the veranda roof of the lower one being supported by vermilion-coloured columns, with pure white capitals. and over the doorway is inscribed in Chinese characters ‘Ten Thousand Chinese Things’. Such summer-houses as the above are usual in the gardens of the wealthy in the southern provinces of China, often standing in the midst of a sheet of water, and approached by bridges, and sometimes they have mother-of-pearl windows.

Although the above building is raised from the pathway, whence it is approached by a flight of steps, it is somewhat squatly proportioned. But such is the character of Chinese buildings, so that when the Emperor Kesen-king saw a perspective of a street in Paris or London he observed, ‘that territory must be very small whose inhabitants were obliged to pile their houses to the clouds;’ and, in a poem on London, by a Chinese visitor it is stated – ‘The houses are so lofty that you may pluck the stars’.

The collection we are about cursorily to notice, has been formed by the American gentleman, Mr. Nathan Dunn, who resided in China for a period of twelve years, and experienced more courtesy from the Chinese than generally falls to the lot of foreigners.

The design at first was merely to collect a few rare specimens for a private cabinet; but the appetite grew with what it fed upon, and thus Mr. Dunn has assembled what may, without exaggeration, be termed the Chinese world in miniature; and, it is equally true, that by means of this collection, we may, in some sense, analyse the mental and moral qualities of the Chinese, and gather some knowledge of their idols, their temples, their pagodas, their bridges, their arts, their sciences, their manufactures, their trades , the fancies, their parlours, their drawing rooms, their cloths, their finery, their ornaments, their weapons of war, their vessels, their dwellings, and the thousands of et ceteras.”

The approving description of the Chinese Collection in the Illustrated London News continued for a few more hundreds words. The exhibition was a considerable success, and was the place to be seen in 1842.

A view of the interior of the Chinese Collection:

Old Barrack Yard

The Chinese Collection exhibition closed in 1846, and in 1847 the pagoda that had been built for the exhibition at the entrance to Old Barrack Yard was purchased by James Pennethorne and relocated to an island in the lake at Victoria Park, Hackney, where it could be found until 1956.

By 1895 the barrack’s had disappeared (partly demolished in the 1840s, with final demolition in the late 1850s), and the buildings that form the lower part of Old Barrack Yard, photographed by my father, can be seen in the following map extract.

Old Barrack Yard

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

The upper part of Old Barrack Yard was still there, however this area would be developed in the 20th century, leaving Old Barrack Yard as a street that runs from Knightsbridge, turns to the east, then south into the section focused on in today’s post.

The entrance to Old Barrack Yard from the north is through a building that separates off this southern section of the street. The view from the end of the entrance arch:Old Barrack Yard

The same view in 2019 on a very wet July day (although with the cloud cover, i did not have the contrast problems that my father had on a very sunny day):Old Barrack Yard

Walking through the arch and this is the view looking back:

Old Barrack Yard

The same view today;

Old Barrack Yard

There are a number of references, including in the latest Conservation Area Audit by Westminster City Council, that the buildings around the arched entrance, shown in the above photos are part of the original stables for the barracks. My only concern is that they do not appear in the maps prior to 1895, although being stable buildings they may have been considered as part of the yard and therefore not shown as separate structures.

The top section opens out with the potential stable buildings surrounding a wider section of Old Barrack Yard, so this part of the street does have the appearance of a stabling area. The final, southern section is composed of a narrow walkway, separated from the stables area by three bollards, which appeared in the 1949 photos and remain to this day.

Two and three storey, early 19th century buildings line this final section of Old Barrack Yard.

Old Barrack Yard

1949 above and 2019 below. the tall buildings directly behind the old stables detract from their appearance, but Old Barrack Yard remains much the same.

Old Barrack Yard

A landscape view of the same scene:

Old Barrack Yard

I really like small details that remain the same – the leaning lamp-post, the access covers on the ground, the bollards, the drainage channel.

Old Barrack Yard

Walking backup, this is a wider view of what could have been part of the original stables for the barracks. The appearance perfectly fits the function of a stables, with a wider space between the buildings than in the rest of the street, with large openings on the ground floor for stables, rather than brickwork.

Old Barrack Yard

At the southern end of Old Barrack Yard is the side of the Grenadier pub. There is a doorway at the end Old Barrack Yard which provides access to steps that lead down into Wilton Row.

Old Barrack Yard

Looking back up from the southern end of Old Barrack Yard:

Old Barrack Yard

Walking through the gate at the end of Old Barrack Yard and down the steps takes us into Wilton Row. This is the view looking back on the Grenadier pub. The gate to Old Barrack Yard is on the right.

Old Barrack Yard

Parts of the Grenadier building could date from 1720, when it may have been part of the officers mess for the barracks. Again, my only concern is that the pub is not shown as a separate building on any of the maps prior to 1895.

To try to trace the age of the pub, I have been searching newspapers for any references.

The very first reference dates from 1828, when on the 20th February 1828, the Morning Advertiser carried an advert, with a rather shocking exclusion:

“WANTED a thorough SERVANT for a Public-House. One with a good character may apply at the Grenadier, Knightsbridge Infantry Barracks – No Irish need apply”

That last sentence is still shocking to see in print. The address implies that the pub was part of the infantry barracks, which makes sense as the pre-1895 maps may not have gone into detail with the structures within the barracks and barrack yard.

I have also found a couple of references that for a short period the pub was called the Guardsman. I have been trying to find newspaper references to confirm, and have only found one. In the Morning Advertiser on the 16th October 1856 there is the following advert:

“BRICKS – FOR SALE. 150,000 Bricks, 10,000 Pantiles, 20,000 plain Tiles, at the Life Guardsman public-house, Knightsbridge, and six adjoining houses. Inquire on the Premises.”

I am not aware of any other pub in Knightsbridge with this name, although given the barracks in Knightsbridge, this may be a possibility, however the late 1850s are when the final remains of the old barrack buildings were demolished, so the sale at the pub may have been of the demolished remains of the old barrack block.

What is clear is that the Grenadier is an old pub, and has its origins in the infantry barracks that occupied the area  for many years.

The Grenadier in 1951:

Old Barrack Yard

Old Barrack Yard is part of the very extensive Grosvenor Estate land, and is also within the Belgravia Conservation Area, this last classification should help Old Barrack Yard, with its references back to the original infantry barracks in Knightsbridge, survive for many more years.

Any signs of the Chinese Collection have long since disappeared. After the exhibition closed, the collection toured the country and then returned to the United States. It did later return to London,  when it opened at Albert Gate in 1851, not far from the original location. The Chinese Collection was not as popular this second time round, and closed a year later, with items from the collection then being sold at auction.

Old Barrack Yard is one of those hidden locations where you can walk from a very busy street into a totally different place. Whilst I was there, very few people walked through the street. Most of the people I saw were workers from the neighbouring hotels and offices using the arch at the top of the yard to smoke or make phone calls whilst sheltering from the rain.

It is well worth a visit, with the Grenadier pub an added bonus.

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Fitzroy Square

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the J.Evans Dairy in Warren Street. After walking along Warren Street I headed south along Fitzroy Street to have a look at Fitzroy Square, one of the many squares and gardens built as London expanded north and west during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

It was the weekend, so was quiet during my visit, but it was strange walking from the traffic of the Euston Road, to a peaceful square and the sound of birdsong.

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square is south of Warren Street and Euston Road and to the west of Tottenham Court Road.

A large square with a central, circular garden. In the following map extract, Fitzroy Square can be seen in the centre (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square was developed by Charles Fitzroy, the 1st Baron Southampton in the 1790s, when the east and south sides of the square were built. The northern and western sides to the square were added between 1825 and 1835.

The amount of building in this part of London during the later half of the 18th century and early 19th century must have been considerable.

John Rocque’s map of 1746 still shows the area as rural, consisting of large fields, some roads and tracks across the fields.

The following extract from Rocque’s map shows the area. I have highlighted the approximate location of Fitzroy Square with the orange rectangle.

Fitzroy Square

Tottenham Court Road is the road towards the right side of the map, running from top to bottom. The cluster of buildings towards the top of Tottenham Court Road is where the future junction with Euston Road would be located.

The following photo is from where Fitzroy Street joins Fitzroy Square. The two built sides of the square (eastern on the left and southern in the distance), were the first parts of the square to be developed, both to designs by the Adams brothers however the southern side of the street was very badly damaged during the last war and has since been rebuilt.

Fitzroy Square

The London Metropolitan Archives, Collage collection has a very similar view of the square to my photo above. The print below is dated 1800 and shows the square looking much the same as it does today, with the exception of the trees and plants in the central garden which originally appeared to be empty space.

Fitzroy Square

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PZ_SP_02_122

Residents of city squares often wanted the central space kept free as there was concern about who could be hiding in the planting (worries about robbery and theft) , or that planting the central square would take away from the grandeur of the surrounding houses.

There is a newspaper report from October 1795 which states that “A new market for the sale of meat, vegetables &c. was on Saturday opened on Lord Southampton’s estate in the neighbourhood of Fitzroy Square”. Perhaps this is what the centre of the square was used for, however I would be surprised if such a market was allowed in the centre of the square as it would probably have had an impact on the perception of the square and the value of the properties.

Rather appropriately, the conservation body, the Georgian Group have their head office in one of the buildings along the eastern side of the square.

Horwood’s map of London from 1799 confirms that the southern and eastern sides of the square were developed first, with the northern and western sides developed later in the 19th century.

Fitzroy Square

Compare Horwood’s map of 1799 with Rocque’s map of 1746 and it shows how much building there had been in the 50 years between the two maps.

The street leading off Fitzroy Square from the south-east corner was Grafton Street, but is now Grafton Way, possibly renamed to avoid confusion with a Grafton Street that had already been built.

This is the northern side of Fitzroy Square, which was built between 1827 and 1828:

Fitzroy Square

There are a number of Blue Plaques across the square. On the building that houses the Mozambique High Commission, along the western side of the square, is a plaque recording that Robert Gascoyne Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury lived in the building. He was prime Minister for various periods between 1885 and 1902.

Fitzroy Square

Further along the western side of the square are two plaques on the same building that record George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf living in the building (although not at the same time).

Fitzroy Square

View across the square from the south-western corner. When the trees are in full leaf they will obscure the new towers that hover behind Fitzroy Square and it is possible to imagine the square as it would have looked soon after completion.

Fitzroy Square

The gardens in the centre of the square are privately owned, belonging to those who own the freehold of the buildings that surround the square. The gardens are occasionally open during the Open Garden Squares Weekend.

The sculpture in the gardens, to the right of the above photo is titled  ‘View’ and is by Naomi Blake. It was installed to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977

The southern edge of the square was badly damaged by wartime bombing and a high explosive bomb fell on the north-west corner.

As with many open spaces in London during the war, it was used for temporary water storage, to be used in the event of fires, as bombing frequently reduced the supply and pressure of water from the underground pipes. A strange and tragic death was recorded in the Daily Mirror on the 4th July 1942 highlighting the dangers of these water storage installations:

“Nap – It Led To His Death: Giving evidence at a St. Pancras inquest yesterday on Frank Edgar Husson, 51, of Stanhope-street, St. Pancras, who was drowned in an emergency water dam in Fitzroy-square, Dr. jean Mary White suggested that Husson might have fallen asleep while seated on a girder and slipped into the water.

It was stated that Husson, a builder’s labourer, walked across a girder, and as he had ten minutes before resuming work after lunch, he might have sat on a girder. No splash was heard. A verdict of accidental death was recorded.”

During the war, The Sunday Mirror had a regular feature where men in the services would write in regarding someone they briefly met, and wanted to meet again. The Sunday Mirror promised that “We print each letter in the hope that the girl will recognise herself and, if she cares to, will write. We have the full names and addresses of each man.”

Fitzroy Square featured in one letter on the 30th March 1941 from a Corporal R. Stephens of the Coldstream Guards:

“During a London blitz I was walking in Fitzroy-square when a bomb hit a nearby building, and my friend and I made for a rush for the wreckage where a number of girls were sheltering in a basement. By this time the A.R.P. men were well on the job, and all the girls, with the exception of two, were escorted to nearby houses for shelter.

The two left behind accompanied my friend and I to a public shelter, having to fling ourselves flat several times while bombs fell perilously close.

I admired those two girls for their bravery, and one in particular fascinated me so much that I felt that I did not want to leave her.

But I was obliged to leave, without even plucking up enough courage to make a date with her, as I had to be back in barracks at midnight.

I am hoping though, that she will recognise herself, and will write to me.”

It is this sort of human detail that I find fascinating – so many millions of individual stories of those who have been in London over the centuries. I wonder if Corporal R. Stephens ever did find the girl he met in Fitzroy Square?

The western terrace of houses, dating from 1832 to 1835:

Fitzroy Square

On the south side of the square are numbers 34 and 35. On the step in front of the identical door are the words “Swiss House”.

Fitzroy Square

The Swiss House was a “Home for Aged Swiss” opened in 1936 by the Swiss Benevolent Society. an organisation that dates back to 1703 and set-up to provide aid to Swiss residents of London. The society is still in operation today (but not in Fitzroy Square).

In the centre of the southern terrace are two red doors, with a plaque in the middle recording the architect of the southern and eastern sides – Robert Adam.

Fitzroy Square

At the weekend, Fitzroy Square is quiet. Walkers through the square generally seemed to be heading to another destination, however the view across to the north side of Fitzroy Square caught the attention of a number of people who decided to sit and admire the view:

Fitzroy Square

Looking across to the eastern side of the square:

Fitzroy Square

The eastern terrace, along with the southern terrace, the first to be developed in the 1790s:

Fitzroy Square

One of the entrance doors in the eastern terrace, with some lovely detail in the fanlight:

Fitzroy Square

The photo below shows the south side of the square:

Fitzroy Square

The buildings at either end of the southern terrace were for a time occupied by medical institutions.

In 1929, the London Foot Hospital and School of Podiatric Medicine moved into number 33 Fitzroy Square (the building on the right of the terrace in the above photo), and in 1959, number 40 (the building on the left of the terrace), which had been the London Skin Hospital, also became part of the London Foot Hospital, where the hospital would stay until closure in 2003.

There is an interesting statue on the side of the building that was the London Foot Hospital:

Fitzroy Square

This is Francisco de Miranda:

Fitzroy Square

Francisco de Miranda was an interesting character. Born in Caracas, Venezuela on the 9th June 1756, he was originally an officer in the Spanish colonial armies, but seems to have been involved in almost any American (north and south) or European war in the later part of the 18th century and early 19th century.

He fought with the French during the American Revolutionary War, various battles across Europe for the French including the taking of Antwerp and at the siege of Maestricht, but was really interested in the independence of Venezuela, and his involvement with European Governments (apart from the Spanish) was with trying to gain support for this cause.

The reason for this statue on the corner of Fitzroy Square is that he had a number of stays in London, living for a time at 58 Grafton Way, which also joins Fitzroy Square at this corner.

There is a plaque adjacent to the statue which claims he lived here from 1802 to 1810, however from various other references this was not a continuous stay, and I am not sure if the period stated is correct.

His first visit to London appears to have been in the late 1780s when he was in London meeting Prime Minister William Pitt and looking for support against the Spanish in the independence of Venezuela.

Up until 1803 he had been in the Netherlands, before returning to France from where Napoleon expelled him in 1804 when he returned to London.

Along with his travelling the world and fighting battles, it also appears he was a bit of a philanderer. Whilst in London Miranda married Sarah Andrews, a Yorkshire farmers daughter. Sarah lived in London, caring for their two children whilst Miranda was away, so perhaps the period 1802 to 1810 refers to the time Sarah Andrews was in residence with Miranda making occasional returns to London.

1810 appears to be the year he left London for good as he returned to Venezuela to fight with the revolutionary forces and was briefly ruler, until being arrested by the Spanish in 1812. He was imprisoned in Cadiz until his death in 1816.

The base of the statue:

Fitzroy Square

There is a plaque commemorating his wife, Sarah Andrews, but not in London. In 1981 the Venezuelan Ambassador unveiled a plaque in her home village of Market Weighton in East Yorkshire. It would be interesting to know how a Venezuelan freedom fighter met a Yorkshire farmer’s daughter.

London has always been a place where those fighting revolutionary wars and independence for their home countries would seek temporary refuge. I have written about a couple of other examples, Giuseppe Mazzini in Laystall Street, and Sun Yat-sen in Gray’s Inn Place, and there are many more similar stories to be found all across London.

A final look back from the southern stretch of Fitzroy Street into Fitzroy Square:

Fitzroy Square

There is one significant difference between all the above photos and my usual photos of London streets – there are no cars.

The western, southern and eastern sides of the square are pedestrianised, with only the northern stretch of the square continuing as a traffic route. When you come across an area without any traffic, without parked cars lining the streets, it is very noticeable how much this improves the experience of walking through the city. Although there were few people walking through the square at the weekend, many of those who did would stop and look at the view, or sit for a while on the seats at the southern side of the square.

Obviously not practicable to extend this approach across large areas of London, but a bit more pedestrianisation really does improve London’s streets.

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Sunday Morning in Thomas More Street

On a Sunday morning in June 1949, my father photographed a solitary man walking along the middle of Thomas More Street. This is a street in the middle of the London Docks, as can be seen by the surrounding warehouses.

Thomas More Street

Fortunately, this photo is one of those that my father labelled, as without that guidance I would not have been able to find the location as there are no features to identify the exact street.

The man is in uniform. I have looked at the original high definition scan of the negative, but cannot see any details that would indicate his job. He is walking towards the river, he may be about to start work, or possibly walking home after ending a night shift.

Thomas More Street

The badge on the hat would almost certainly indicate his role, but it is to indistinct on a 70 year old film negative.

Thomas More Street is to the immediate east of St Katherine Docks. The street runs from East Smithfield down to the junction with St Katherine’s Way and Wapping High Street.

The following map shows Thomas More Street running vertically down the map, just to the right of centre  (© OpenStreetMap contributors) :

Thomas More Street

The name Thomas More Street is a relatively recent change, made at some point between 1895 and 1940 (it had the current name in the 1940 Bartholomew London Atlas). The street is named after Sir Thomas More, who was executed nearby on Tower Hill on the 6 July 1535. The original name was Nightingale Lane, a rather rural sounding name for a street in this location.

I cannot find any reference as to why the street name changed.

The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map shows the street with the name Nightingale Lane:

Thomas More Street

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

The name might imply a reference to the bird of the same name being heard in the distant past in this part of east London, however there is possibly a very old source of the name. Henry Harben’s Dictionary of London states that the earliest mention is by Stow in 1598 as Nightingale Lane. The street formed the eastern boundary of Portsoken Ward. Harben also quotes a publication by the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society on the Anglo Saxon settlement around London, where there is a suggestion that the name may be a corrupted survival of Knightengild.

This source of the name is also mentioned in “The Streets of London” by Gertrude Burford Rawlings  which states: “Nightingale Lane E.1. A corruption of Cnihtena Guild or Knightenguild. This was an ancient London Guild established, as some think, in the time of King Edgar. In the reign of Henry I it was merged in the Priory of Holy Trinity, then newly founded at Aldgate. Its ‘soke’ is represented today by Portsoken ward.”

The 1895 map shows how the street ran between two large docks, St Katherine Docks to the west and London Docks to the east. The map also shows the street lined by warehouses serving the two docks, which is confirmed by my father’s photo as being much the same in 1949.

In John Rocque’s map from 1746, the street (just to the right of centre of the map below) is called Nightingal Lane. The ‘E’ on the end is missing. Assuming this is not just an error in the map, it does add credibility to the origin of the name referenced by Harben and Rawlings.

Thomas More Street

Rocque’s map shows how much this area would change with nearly everything in 1746 obliterated by the St Katherine and London Docks and their associated infrastructure, but Nightingal(e) Lane survives today at Thomas More Street.

I tried to find the location of my father’s photo, but whilst many of the old dock walls remain, the warehouses have long since disappeared, and I suspect entrances through the walls have changed to accommodate the recent building.

Starting at the junction of Thomas More Street with East Smithfield, this is the original entrance to the Western Dock of the London Docks. The 1895 OS map shows this well.

Thomas More Street

The view looking south along Thomas More Street from the junction. The high brick walls remain and give a good impression of how tall and solid these walls were. Theft from the docks and their warehouses was always a major problem and the dock owners built these walls to surround their docks to try to manage access through a limited number of controlled entrances.

Thomas More Street

A couple of lengths of Thomas More Street did have the S shaped curve shown in my father’s photo, but I could not match up the walls at any of the locations.

Thomas More Street

There has been considerable building over the area once occupied by the warehouses that lined Thomas More Street, alongside the London Docks.

Thomas More Street

The different brick colours in the walls around the entrance show some probable rebuilding, so it is not always clear whether the entrances we see today are original, or later changes to the wall.

The development alongside Thomas More Street is named Moretown – an example of a trend seen across many parts of London where new names are given to an area to try to build a new identity – or in developer speak ‘place making’.

The wall continues alongside Thomas More Street:

Thomas More Street

Another entrance:

Thomas More Street

Looking back up Thomas More Street, the curve is going in the wrong direction to my father’s photo.

Thomas More Street

The buildings between Thomas More Street and the site of the London Docks are of steel and glass, whilst those between the street and St Katherine Docks are of brick. A couple of gaps in the building on the western edge of the street show the docks behind.

Thomas More Street

A Waitrose now serves the residents of the area, showing how much the area has changed.

Thomas More Street

Looking back along Thomas More Street showing the height of the walls.

Thomas More Street

At the junction of Thomas More Street and Stockholm Way. Thomas More Street continues to the right, as do the walls, which once had the warehouses of the London Docks behind them.

Thomas More Street

When walking these streets, the continuation of Thomas More Street look strange, as the northern section ends at Stockholm Way, which looks as if it should continue on, however Thomas More Street than continues at a 90 degree bend to the northern section.

This makes sense when looking at the 1895 OS map as Stockholm Way did not exist when the area it now runs through was covered by the London Docks.

The following photo is looking back along Thomas More Street, at the southern end of the street at the junction with St Katherine Way. On the right is an entrance to Hermitage Basin shown on the 1895 OS map.

Thomas More Street

The final street sign:

Thomas More Street

If you look at the 1895 OS map, to the west of the southern end of Thomas More Street was the Red Lion Brewery.

This was owned by the brewers Hoare & Co. but had a very long history as a brewery, possibly dating back to the 15th century. Sir John Parson’s (who gave his name to Alderman’s stairs, see last week’s post) had a brew house here in 1746 as shown in the extract from John Rocque’s map.

The brewery was closed in 1934. The end of the business was widely reported as the end of an industry that had been in operation on the site for over 500 years.

The West London Observer reported on the 15th June 1934:

“The ‘King’s Brew House’ is about to be closed after being used continuously for brewing throughout the last 500 years. The brew house is part of the buildings which form part of the Red Lion brewery, the oldest, and probably the third largest brewery in London. The whole of these buildings will be closed on June 23rd.

The ‘King’s brew house’ is so called because it supplied the beer for the English and French courts in the 17th and 18th centuries, it is believed to be the only brew house in Britain to have had a monopoly on the beer supply to the old French courts. The privilege was obtained in a romantic way by Humphrey Parsons, an 18th century brewer, who was twice Lord Mayor of London, and the manufacturer of the liquor christened by Oliver Goldsmith ‘black champagne’.

Parsons was hunting near Paris with Louis XV, and being well-mounted outstripped the rest of the party and was first in at the death. This was contrary to Court etiquette, and when the King asked the name of the hard riding stranger, he was indignantly told that he was ‘un chavalier de malte’.

The King summoned Parsons and asked the price of his horse. He replied that the horse was beyond any price other than his Majesty’s acceptance.

The horse was delivered to the King and from that time, the ‘Chevalier’ Parsons had the exclusive right to supply the French court with beer.”

There is no sign of the brewery today, after being in operation for 500 years and supplying the English and French Courts with beer.

The St Katherine’s Estate was built on the location of the brewery, and the estate now occupies the land between Thomas More Street and St Katherine’s Way, across the road from Alderman Stairs.

The entrance to the St Katherine’s Estate from St Katherine’s Way:

Thomas More Street

The estate was one of the many built by the London County Council, and above the main entrance arch is a rather lovely reminder:

Thomas More Street

The old walls that defended the warehouses and docks are Grade II listed, so hopefully are protected to provide a reminder of the industry and business that operated in the area for so many years.

It was frustrating that I could not find the location in Thomas More Street of my father’s photo, however I do love the original photo, it is so evocative of another London which has disappeared for forever.

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A Mystery on Catherine Place and Wilfred Street

In 1986 my father photographed what I assume to be a statue of the Virgin Mary. In the photograph was a street name sign, Catherine Place, so I was able to identify the location and I went to take a look and see if it was still to be seen.

Catherine Place

Catherine Place is in the cluster of streets between Victoria Street, Buckingham Gate, Palace Street and Buckingham Palace. A short walk along Buckingham Gate, turn into Wilfred Street and at the junction with Catherine Place, the image remains.

Catherine Place

The overall view of the building on the corner of Wilfred Street and Catherine Place is shown in the photo below. The design of the building clearly tells that it was originally a pub. The rounded brick corner – designed for pub signage. The wooden facade on the ground floor, rather than the brick of a normal house. The large corner door. This was originally the Palace Arms.

Catherine Place

Knowing that this was originally a pub, and now converted to a residential building, did not give any clue as to why a religious symbol would be on the wall of the building. The name of the pub gave no clue, Palace Arms probably refers to either Palace Street or Buckingham Palace.

I can find no reference to the image in any of my usual reference books or research sources. The City of Westminster Conservation Area Audit includes the following reference to the building but does not include any mention of the statue:

“On the corner of Wilfred Street and Catherine Place is a redundant pub front. Although no longer in use, the frontage survives, with Corinthian pilasters marking each window opening and projecting console brackets to either side of the entablature that projects over the blocked entrance.”

The audit report includes a photo of the building which includes the statue, but there is no reference – either it has no historical significance, or perhaps the authors of the Conservation Area Audit also could not find any reference as to why it was there.

I checked the London Metropolitan Archives Collage image site. There are some photos of the area, including the following from 1974, but no images which show the building when the pub was open, or images of the building older than 1974. The photo does confirm that the statue of the Virgin Mary was there in 1974.

Catherine Place

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_454_74_19310

The statue of the Virgin Mary is obviously maintained. If you look at the 1986 and 2019 photos, it has been repainted and a forearm and hand has been added.

I then turned to the 1895 Ordnance Survey map to see if there were any clues. In 1895, Catherine Place was named Catherine Street. Look above the end of the word “Wilfred”, and the corner building labelled P.H. is the pub.

Catherine Place

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

There is a possible clue as to the source of the Virgin Mary statue. Look down along Wilfred Street to the junction with Palace Street, and on the corner is a building labelled as a Roman Catholic Chapel.

This is the Roman Catholic Chapel today:

Catherine Place

This was the chapel of St Peter and St Edward. Originally built in 1856 , with an upper floor added between 1857 and 1858, the lower section of the building was used as a school and the upper section as the chapel.

The chapel provided a special Mass for guardsmen from Wellington and Chelsea Barracks and was known as the Guards Catholic Chapel. It closed in 1975 and later converted to offices. The building is Grade II listed. Visitors to the chapel included in 1965, the former United States First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

The side view of the chapel in Wlifred Street shows the windows providing light into the central space of the chapel.

Catherine Place

The chapel closed in 1975. The statue of the Virgin Mary was on the side of the building in 1974 – I cannot find any reference to when it first appeared.

Is it possible that the statue was originally part of the chapel, and knowing that the chapel was to close, for some reason it had been moved to the side of the old pub building?

It cannot have been part of the original pub. There appears to have been no relationship between the pub and the chapel, and the name of the pub (Palace Arms) has no religious reference.

Why on the pub building? It is a prominent corner position, looking down Wilfred Street towards Buckingham Gate, but I can find no other reasons why it should be there.

I have also looked for any newspaper reports providing any reason for the statue, but again cannot find any reference. The only reports are of the usual events that you would expect from a London pub, for example from the Morning Post on the 14th November 1842:

“James Coffee, an Irish labourer, was charged with being drunk and disorderly at Wilfred Street, Westminster at 3.15 on Saturday. Police Constable Frazer proved that at the time in question he was called by the landlord of the Palace Arms to eject the prisoner, who was drunk, and annoying customers. He was got out of the house and in the streets said he would ‘smash the witness’s head with a stick’ and if he had a revolver ‘he’d shoot him as they did landlords in Ireland’. At length he was taken to the station-house. The prisoner said he had never been in trouble before, he had been five years from Ireland, and he was a hard working man. He had only threatened to hit the constable with a stick after he had knocked him down. 

He was fined 7s or seven days, and he was removed crying out that he had only 3s in the world.”

It remains a mystery and I cannot find any reference as to why the statue of what I assume to be the Virgin Mary is on the frount of the old Palace Arms.

The area around the old pub is a mix of architecture styles. 18th and 19th century survivals, early 20th century and some very recent building.

An example of recent building is shown in the following photo, opposite the old Palace Arms and on the site of the school shown on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map:

Catherine Place

The view along Catherine Place from Wilfred Street. The street is a mix of residential and offices.

Catherine Place

The opposite corner of Catherine Place to the old Palace Arms:

Catherine Place

The use of different coloured bricks for decoration of the above house indicates that whilst emulating many of the features, it is a later building than the Georgian survivals on the street.

The following photo shows a late Georgian terrace along Catherine Place. The brickwork is simple, the sash windows recessed, but note the different door styles.

Catherine Place

As well as looking up at the buildings, the pavement can also provide some fascinating survivors. Along Catherine Place is this cover from the Westminster Electric Supply Corporation Ltd.

Catherine Place

The Westminster Electric Supply Corporation was one of the many local electricity generation and distribution companies, formed in the late 19th century, that powered London. Each company served their own specific area and the Westminster Electric Supply Company had generating stations at Millbank, Eccleston Place and Davies Street.

In the first decades of the 20th century, many of these companies merged or were taken over. The Westminster Electric Supply Corporation lasted until 1938, when it was taken over (along with a couple of other companies) by the Charing Cross Electric Supply Company, to form the Central London Electricity Company Ltd.

There are not too many of these covers surviving.

The mix of architectural styles and building materials shows how the street has developed over the centuries. At number 53 is an interesting red brick 19th century building.

Catherine Place

Wilfred Street is also full of interesting buildings and has two pubs. The Cask and Glass is on the corner of Wilfred Street and Palace Street. A lovely pub, but very small and possibly one of the smallest pubs in central London.

Catherine Place

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map does not label this building with P.H. so it may not have been classed as a pub, rather as a “beer shop” – possibly due to its small size. The Cask and Glass is a relatively recent name, it was originally the Duke of Cambridge.

Some of the earliest houses on Wilfred Street are these early 19th century, single bay brick houses.

Catherine Place

The view along Wilfred Street, with Catherine Place a short distance along on the left.

Catherine Place

A short distance along Wilfred Street, half way between what was the Palace Arms and the Cask and Glass is another pub – the Colonies.

Catherine Place

Three pubs within a short distance along Wilfred Street – the original occupants of the street were well served.

The Colonies is marked as a Public House on the 1895 map, sandwiched between the school and the Roman Catholic Chapel.

As with the Cask and Glass, the Colonies is a relatively recent name, dating from 1976. The original name was the Pineapple, and the pub dates from the early 19th century.

Catherine Place and Wilfred Street were an interesting couple of streets for a bit of exploration. Streets that I suspect do not get that much attention, tucked away between Victoria and the area surrounding Buckingham Palace.

I still have no idea why the old Palace Arms pub has a statue of the Virgin Mary above what was the main entrance door – there is probably a very mundane reason, however it is good to still have some mysteries on the streets of London.

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Charing Cross Road, Sandringham Buildings and Newport Market

For this week’s post, I am in Charing Cross Road to track down a couple of photos I took in 1979, and a later “shop front” photo from 1986.

This was the view in 1979, looking north along Charing Cross Road, close to the junction with Great Newport Street.

Charing Cross Road

The same view in 2019:

Charing Cross Road

In 1979, there were two, almost identical buildings on either side of the street. Both of these were named Sandringham Buildings and were constructed when this length of Charing Cross Road was created. The building on the left in 1979 was replaced by the block we see today, running roughly the same length of the street and with a similar approach of shops on the ground floor and flats on the upper floors.

I took these photos specifically because of the impending demolition of the building – something I have always try to do when I see a building at risk. The following photo shows the corner of the block. The signs of the shops that once occupied the ground floor can just be seen behind the scaffolding.

Charing Cross Road

The other location I wanted to track down was this 1986 photo of a tobacconist at number 74 Charing Cross Road, one from a series of shop front photos in the area.

Charing Cross Road

The same location in 2019 – no longer a tobacconist.

Charing Cross Road

The shop is one of those along the ground floor of the remaining block of Sandringham Buildings, along the eastern side of Charing Cross Road. The history of Sandringham Buildings is integral to the reconstruction of the area that resulted from the development of Charing Cross Road.

To understand how Charing Cross Road has developed, we can start with John Rocque’s map of London from 1746. Charing Cross Road does not yet exist as a through route from the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, down to the future location of Trafalgar Square. Part of the road that would become Charing Cross Road can be seen in the centre of the map, but named Hog Lane.

Charing Cross Road

The name probably came from the location of a Pound at St. Giles (roughly around the junction today of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road), where animals were held as they were driven into London, as a stop before the final push into the City markets (I wrote more about Saint Giles Pound at this link).

Hog Lane ended just north of where Cambridge Circus is today.

Continuing south, there was no single street running the future route of Charing Cross Road. It was a maze of streets, alleys and courts. In the following extract from Rocque’s map, the future location of Cambridge Circus is in the middle of the top edge of the map, and the future location of Trafalgar Square is at The Royal Stables in the middle of the lower edge of the map.

Charing Cross Road

Charing Cross Road has long been known for bookshops. The most famous being Foyles at the northern end of the street, but with many other specialist, new and second hand bookshops lining the street as you walked south.

Many of these have closed over the years, but thankfully a few still remain, holding out against the wave of standardisation across London streets.

Charing Cross Road

Charing Cross Road

Other shops that fill the retail units along the ground floor of Sandringham Buildings.

Charing Cross Road

Charing Cross Road

The development of Charing Cross Road to a single street from Tottenham Court Road towards Trafalgar Square, and the development of Sandringham Buildings can be told through the story of Newport Market.

From the time of Rocque’s map, up to the mid 19th century, the area from what was Hog Lane, around what today is Cambridge Circus, and part of what is now Charing Cross Road to the south was a dense cluster of streets and buildings known as Newport Market.

In the following extract from Reynolds’s 1847 “Splendid New Map of London”, I have circled the area of Newport Market with a red oval. To the north is Crown Street, the new name for what was Hog Lane, and the street that will become the northern part of Charing Cross Road.

Charing Cross Road

Trafalgar Square has replaced the Royal Stables, but there is no single, direct street continuing from Crown Street down towards Trafalgar Square.

In 1654, Lord Newport purchased a block of land, which today covers the area from Little Newport Street up to the location of Cambridge Circus. He built a large house and gardens, which would remain until 1682 when the estate was sold and the house demolished. The land was then redeveloped by Dr. Nicholas Barbon who created Newport Market which consisted of a large central square and operated as one of London’s main meat markets.

By the mid 19th century, the area had degenerated considerably and was recorded as providing slum living conditions. An article in the London Evening Standard of the 26th August 1880 titled “Old Newport Market” records how the market had changed:

“Gone are the glories of Newport Market; gone the glory of its Butchers-row. Fashion has this many a year forsaken its uninviting neighbourhood. Beau and buck know no more of its unsavoury haunts. Filth and squalor reign supreme in its courts and passages. Poverty and vice find within its dingy precincts congenial shelter. The old Market, indeed, exists; its walls are still standing. But how changed, how utterly changed, out of all form and semblance. Its shops and sheds are stables and slaughter-houses, its stalls and stands bricked over and built upon. Its very identity is lost; merged, so to speak, in that of prince’s-row, the narrow lane – foul among the foul – that surrounds and gives access to it. Even the name has been taken from it and applied indiscriminately to the adjoining thoroughfare and the unwholesome butchers court that abuts the southern extremity.

The article then goes on to describe the remaining trades of the market:

“The semblance only, a shadow, as it were, of its former self. A score or so of stalls owned by good-natured Irish women, pipe-loving and rough-tongued. A few eager French women, basket-bearing and garrulous, bargaining for flabby lettuce, unhealthy looking endive and sun-stewed cress. The indescribably nasty row of butchers’; shops in the narrow alley on the right, these constitute the market of to-day, galvanised into fitful activity on Saturday and Saturday night.”

The need for a wide street, linking the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road with Charing Cross and the station of the same name that had opened in the 1860s, was part of the 19th century construction across London of direct, wide streets that would address congestion problems and sweep away what were seen to be dense, slum housing.

Plans for Charing Cross Road developed during the 1870s, but there were challenges with land ownership, how much land could be purchased for the new development and the impact on those who lived in the houses that would be demolished. Newport Market was in the middle of the area planned for the extension and widening of the new Charing Cross Road, and the surrounding development.

Finally in 1882, plans were in place, and purchases of property made along the streets that would be demolished. The Illustrated London News on the 19th August 1882 reported:

“Steps have at length been taken for making, at all events, a beginning of a long-needed public improvement, a new thoroughfare between Charing-cross and Oxford-street. The materials of about forty houses about Newport Market have lately been sold by Messrs. Eversfield and Horne, the structures themselves are in process of demolition, and in the course of another month a large portion of the following streets will have disappeared:- Newport-court, Little Newport-street, Market-row, Market-street, Prince’s-row, Lichfield-street, Hayes-court, and Grafton-street.”

The last mentioned Grafton Street appears in one of the prints made in the early 1880s of Newport Market. The following print titled “North side of Newport Market Soho, Grafton St on the right”. The print is dated 1882, the same year as Grafton Street would be demolished – possibly a 19th century example of recording buildings and streets before their demolition.

Charing Cross Road

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PZ_WE_01_0315

The above view shows a rather good looking location. Open space edged by some well constructed buildings with shops along the ground floor. What the area may have been like can be judged by some of the newspaper reports of the time, such as the following from the Illustrated London News on the 10th February 1872, regarding the remains of a statue of King George II in Leicester Square:

“When the statue was removed, having suffered too much ll-usage and some positive mutilation, the effigy of the horse remained, and became the target of frequent stone-throwing practised by the idle boys of Newport-market and its neighbourhood.

Returning to Sandringham Dwellings, the Metropolitan Board of Works were forced by the Government to construct dwellings for “2,000 people of the labouring classes”, in the area of Newport Market. Agreement to this allowed the Metropolitan Board of Works to commence demolition and the build of Charing Cross Road.

The dwellings for 2,000 people were comprised of the two blocks of Sandringham Dwellings that lined both sides of Charing Cross Road to the south of Cambridge Circus.

As was often the case with these new developments, it was probably not the displaced labouring classed that benefited from the new accommodation.

In the 5th September 1885 edition of the Illustrated London News, Police Superintendent J.H, Dunlap of St. James’s Division wrote “On the site of Newport Market, notorious for everything bad and disreputable, have been erected two splendid blocks of buildings for the accommodation of the working classes, one by private speculation and called Newport Dwellings, and the other by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company, called Sandringham-buildings, a suite of erections of handsome elevation, with no appearance whatever of model buildings, having large shops on the ground floor, with the upper portion allotted in suites of two, three and four rooms. There is every possible accommodation and sanitary appliance. In these buildings, the Superintendent adds, he has sixty-seven police families, occupying 193 rooms.”

The following view of the remaining block of Sandringham Buildings is from the north, looking south along Charing Cross Road.

Charing Cross Road

To show how identical the remaining block is with the demolished block opposite, compare the corner of the building with the corner photo I had taken in one of the photos at the start of the post.

The name plaque recording that the building was erected by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company can still be seen on the northern corner:

Charing Cross Road

Cambridge Circus is just under half way along Charing Cross Road from the north. It is at the point of intersection with Shaftesbury Avenue. it is named after the Duke of Cambridge who officially opened Charing Cross Road on Saturday 26th February 1887.

The Morning Post reported on the opening:

“The new line of thoroughfare formed by the Metropolitan Board of Works from Charing-cross to Tottenham-court-road, and designated Charing-cross-road, was on Saturday afternoon opened by the Duke of Cambridge. His Royal Highness was at one o’clock met opposite the church of St. Martin-in-the Fields by the members of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and thence drove along the new street to the circus forming the junction of the new thoroughfares.

Crowds had assembled on either side along the whole of the route, and at many points flags were flying from the windows of the houses. Upon reaching the circus the Duke of Cambridge alighted, and addressing those within hearing said – ‘I declare the new thoroughfare – Charing-cross-road – open for public use. I am happy to have the honour of assuring you and the other members of the board that all such improvements as these are of the greatest possible value (hear, hear). there is no question that the growth of this great metropolis has been such that the building of houses east and west through the town has gone on in a manner seriously injuring the public health, and anything the Metropolitan Board of Works or any other body can do to improve the locomotion in such a great city must be a benefit not only to the metropolis but to the country at large (cheers).”

The article also provides some statistics on the new road “The length of the new street is 966 yards, and its width generally 60ft. It widens to about 130ft at St. Martin’s-place but it is restricted at its entrance into Trafalgar Square to 45ft, between St. Martin’s Church and the National Gallery”.

The view across Cambridge Circus towards the Cambridge pub.

Charing Cross Road

The most impressive building facing onto Cambridge Circus is the Palace Theatre, opened in 1891 for Richard D’Oyly Carte who intended the theatre to be the home of English opera and on opening the theatre was known as the Royal English Opera House.

Charing Cross Road

As always, there is so much to see and explore, and I am only touching on a brief part of the history of the street.

The Porcupine pub on the southern corner of Great Newport Street, the building dating from around 1865.

Charing Cross Road

Look on the corner of the building, a boundary marker is partly hidden by the lighting and flowers.

Charing Cross Road

The old Tam O’ Shanter pub:

Charing Cross Road

There has been a pub here since the mid 18th century, originally named the Bulls Head. The new building was part of the realignment and widening of Charing Cross Road and the new building dates from 1896, when the pub changed name to the name that still appears at the top of the building today. The Tam O’ Shanter closed as a pub in 1960.

Charing Cross Road is one of the locations where rumours of a hidden street below the surface persist. In the middle of Charing Cross Road, at the junction with Old Compton Street, there is a large grill on an island in the middle of the road.

Charing Cross Road

Peer down through the grill and you can see a couple of signs for Little Compton Street on the brick wall lining the tunnel.

Charing Cross Road

Personally I am not at all convinced that the wall and street signs are all that remains of a street from before the redevelopment of the area, now hidden below the surface.

For a start, in the 1746 map, Compton Street approaches from the west, and terminates at Hog Lane. In the 1847 map. Compton Street still approaches from the west, then Little and New Compton Street cross over and continue eastwards from what is now Crown Street. The wall below the surface is running north south, in the same direction as Charing Cross Road, not east-west as would be expected if this was a relic of Little Compton Street.

I am also not convinced that street levels along this part of Charing Cross Road changed this significantly during redevelopment to leave a substantial part of a wall buried below ground level.

Finally, the article I quoted earlier from the Morning Post on the 28th February 1887 probably gives the real reason; “A subway has been formed under the whole length of this street to receive the gas, water, and other mains, telegraph wires, &c.; it is placed under the centre of the carriageway, and is 12ft wide and 7ft, 9in. in height, formed of a semi-circular arch of brickwork.”

I suspect the street names may have been painted on the wall, or recovered from Little Compton Street and attached to the brick wall of the subway so that those working below ground, installing or repairing utility services would know where they were, as they worked their way, below ground, along the centre of Charing Cross Road.

As usual, I have only scratched the surface of the history of the area I visit to track down the location of our old photos of London. In a post a few years ago I wrote about Foyles and the College for the Distributive Trades to the north of the street.

Newport Market has long disappeared beneath Charing Cross Road and the buildings that now line the street, but the name can still be found in Newport Place, Little Newport Street and Great Newport Street – all references to Lord Newport who purchased the land in 1654 and who also gave his name to the market.

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America Square

After finding the location of Holy Trinity for last week’s post, I walked to another location just off Minories which was my main reason for visiting the area. I wanted to find the location of the photo my father had taken of America Square in 1949.

America Square

The photo was taken at a bit of an angle and does not show the full view of America Square. The photo appears to be looking across to the far side of the square. There is an obelisk to the right, in front of a bridge, which carries the railway into Fenchurch Street Station which is to the right.

As could be expected, the area has changed significantly, and this is America Square in 2019:

America Square

The following photo shows where a street leading from America Square heads underneath the railway bridge. The obelisk would have been just in front of the bridge and to the right of the street.

America Square

America Square was built between 1768 and 1774 as part of a development which extended from America Square, south towards Tower Hill. The architect was George Dance the Younger who worked for the developer of the estate, Sir Benjamin Hammett.

The square consisted of 16 residential houses. The northern edge along what was John Street (now Cross Wall) was the only side of the square without any development.

The name America Square was a reference to American traders in the City of London, or possibly to attract these traders to purchase the houses.

The East London Observer on the 28th August 1915 provides some detail on the American association:

“America Square in John Street, Minories, in the middle of the last Century, wast the Rialto an open-air club of the officers of the beautiful sailing vessels from the States, which, for a time, outclassed the British commercial marine on the Atlantic, and filled the London and Liverpool Docks. The outbreak of the Secession Civil War brought many changes; the long blockade of the Southern Ports rid England for a full generation of a dangerous rival in international ocean trade. The ‘skimmers of the sea’ disappeared from the Atlantic or changed into armed blockade-runners and privateers; the dashing dandy Yankee and Charleston captains were improvised into Admirals of the improvised Navies of the North and the South, and found a seaman’s grave; the glory, bustle, gaiety and profusion of America Square departed.”

On an overcast Saturday morning in America Square, it was hard to imagine it as a place of ‘glory, bustle, gaiety and profusion’.

It is also hard to really appreciate how many people have walked the same streets over the centuries and the random events that connect London streets with the rest of the world. Newspapers from the last couple of centuries are full of the usual range of adverts, positions vacant, sales, passages on ships available, imported goods for sale, births, deaths and marriages etc. all with an address in America Square. On the basis that only bad news is salable news, there are also many stories of tragic and criminal events taking place.

The first reference to America Square in the newspapers is from the 16th February 1773 when John Stainbank, of America Square, Lead Merchant was included in the weekly list of bankrupts.

In the London Evening Standard of the 16th April 1863 there is a reference that a “Frederick Walker, a shrewd-looking young foreigner, was charged with robbing a hotel in America Square”.

One of the hotels in America Square was Kroll’s Hotel and an unfortunate resident was the main suspect in the Great Coram Street murder of Harriet Buswell at 12 Great Coram Street in December 1872.

Dr Henry James Bernard Gottfried Hessel was traveling from Germany to Brazil in the ship Wangerland when the vessel became stranded on the Goodwin Sands. The shipped was floated, but taken into Ramsgate for checks and repairs. Dr Hessel and his wife first stayed in a hotel in Ramsgate then traveled to Kroll’s Hotel in America Square.

In a case of mistaken identity, Dr Hessel was arrested and charged with the murder. The lack of any firm evidence, contradictory prosecution evidence and the support of those who knew Dr Hessel resulted in him being found not guilty, as the judge’s summing-up reported by the Morning Post on the 31st January 1873:

“This case has been most fully investigated here, and the witnesses on both sides have been subjected to a close and searching cross-examination, and I am satisfied that the witnesses who have spoken to the identity of Dr Hessel are entirely in error. But even supposing that their evidence had been stronger and free from discrepancies, i should have considered that the case on the part of the prosecution had been entirely destroyed by the evidence of the witnesses for the defence. It is therefore my duty, and a duty with which I discharge with great satisfaction to myself, to state that the prisoner is released, as far as I can see, and I can say that he leave this court without suspicion.”

Poor Dr Hessel – finding yourself stranded on a sandbank off the Kent cost resulting in an unexpected stay in a country which you did not expect to visit, then finding yourself on a charge of murder – a travelers nightmare.

The 1895 Ordnance Survey Map shows America Square, just above the railway shown running across the middle of the map.

America Square

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

America Square originally extended further south than its current boundary with the railway, however building of the railway in 1841 started the process of chopping bits of the square as the railway expanded.

The City Press on the 28th January 1860 reported that the London and Blackwall Railway Company had applied for an Act to enable them to provide additional station accommodation, along with other works on the northern side of the existing railway. The report stated that “The public ways proposed to the absorbed or partially interfered with by the scheme, are Gould-square, America-square, Hanover-court, the Minories. The railway is to be carried on arches through the City, and those arches which already span the public ways of Vine-street and the Minories will practically be widened by the addition of others at the side of them.”

The impact on America Square can be clearly seen in the 1895 Ordnance Survey map.

The London Metropolitan Archives, Collage collection has a number of drawings and photos that help tell the story of America Square.

The first is a drawing by Thomas Colman Dibden from around 1850, showing the square when it was still surrounded by the original 18th century houses. The obelisk features in the centre of the drawing, and supports a couple of lanterns hung on either side.America Square

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: v9010129

The following direction of view of the following photo is very similar to my father’s photo, however the scene is very different.

America Square

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: m0017453cl

The photo shows America Square in 1944, soon after being hit by a V1 flying bomb. The buildings on the eastern side of the square consisted of offices for the railway’s goods yards and a parcels office. Rubble was strewn across the square, but the obelisk has survived.

This explains the state of the buildings in my father’s photo, and possibly why he photographed the scene.

The following photo from 1957 shows the obelisk still in place, but looking in rather poor condition.

America Square

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: m0026573cl

I could not find exactly when the obelisk was removed, and I assume it was destroyed. I suspect it was during the 1980s when the buildings on either side of America Square were developed.

There were many pubs around America Square, but they have now all disappeared. The building of one remains, directly opposite America Square on the junction of Crosswall and Vine Street.

America Square

This was the Angel and is shown in the 1895 Ordnance Survey map. The pub closed in 2006 and it is now a bar / restaurant called the Missouri Angel – continuing the American links of the area.

After exploring America Square, I walked under the railway to explore another part of George Dance 18th century development.

I always find the tunnels under London’s railways oddly fascinating. Look to the upper right and at the top of the wall is a street lamp with the red cross from the coat of arms of the City of London.

America Square

The streets on either side of the railway are tarmac, however the part of the street under the railway is still cobbled.

America Square

There are some interesting alleys leading off from the streets south of America Square:

America Square

Looking back through the tunnel under the railway towards America Square:

America Square

A very short distance south of America Square is the next part of George Dance and Sir Benjamin Hammett’s development that I wanted to find. If you go back to the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, you will see just below the railway is a semi-circular development called The Crescent.

In an area that consists of steel and glass office buildings from the 1980s onward, The Crescent is a rather unique place, not on any direct walking route, reached through a small street that leads from the Minories and from America Square.

America Square

The original buildings were badly damaged by bombing during the last war. The damage started with total destruction on the right and progressively reducing along the buildings to the left.

Pevsner’s guide to the City of London explains that there were originally 11 houses, and only numbers 6 to 11 can be seen today. Numbers 6 and 7 (the two on the left of the terrace) retain their original doorcases. The facades were extensively restored in 1985-6 when replicas of numbers 8 to 11 (the houses to the right) were built.

Although only two originals survive (with much restoration), it is good to see that George Dance’s crescent design can still be seen, having avoided being replaced by yet another glass and steel block.

The London Metropolitan Archive, Collage site includes a photo of the Crescent in 1913:

America Square

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_008_79_4342

There is still more to explore here. There is a remarkable section of the Roman wall in the basement of One America Square. It was excavated in the late 1980s, but had been found much earlier. The reference to America Square in the 1927 edition of London by George H. Cunningham records that “In 1908 a large portion of Roman wall was discovered here”. A topic for a future post with a bit of Roman wall exploration.

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Warren Street and J.Evans, Dairy Farmer

Warren Street is probably better known by the underground station of the same name, at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road.

Warren Street runs parallel to Euston Road between Tottenham Court Road and Cleveland Street and my reason for being in Warren Street was to track down the location of one of my father’s 1980s corner shop photographs.

This is the corner shop of J. Evans, Dairy Farmer on the corner of Warren Street and Conway Street, photographed in 1986.

Warren Street

The same location, 33 years later in 2019, now occupied by The Old Dairy coffee shop.

Warren Street

The shop front and the railings are Grade II listed. The listing states that the building was constructed around 1793 with the shop front dating from 1916. I suspect that J. Evans was one of the Welsh dairy farmers who set up shop in London. The inside of these corner shops are very similar, shelves packed high with tinned and packet goods.

An enlargement of the view through the door shows a wonderful tiled picture of a field and cows, part of a set of scales can be seen to the right and the shop assistant is behind the counter.

Warren Street

This was only 33 years ago, but this type of local shopping is now dominated by the big supermarket brands, and a small store like this could probably not afford the rent or business rates.

The tiled picture of fields and cows could have been the scene where Warren Street is located back in 1746. At the time when John Rocque complied his map of London, the city had not yet reached as far as Warren Street and the area was still mainly fields, with some limited building just north of the future junction of Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road. In the following extract from Rocque’s map, Tottenham Court Road is on the right. I have marked the approximate location of Warren Street with red lines, running across the full width of a field.

Warren Street

One hundred years later, and all the fields of Rocque’s map would be buried under a significant northward expansion of the city. The following map extract from Reynolds’s 1847 map (now I have the map out the shoe-box for last week’s post, I will use it more) shows Warren Street just above the centre of the map, with building covering the entire area (apart from the corner of Regent’s Park shown top left).

Warren Street

Warren Street was built between 1790 and 1791. The street is named after the daughter of Sir Peter Warren, Anne Warren the wife of Charles Fitzroy, the 1st Baron Southampton who was the owner and developer of the land on which Warren Street was built.

Warren Street is relatively quiet, a mix of architecture, but retaining many original buildings.

The street runs parallel and a short distance to the south of the busy Euston Road. Standing in Conway Street and looking across Warren Street, Euston Road can be seen, along with the new office buildings of the Regent’s Place development.

Warren Street

Looking south down Conway Street from Warren Street and a mainly original street plan and buildings survive.

Warren Street

In the above photo, the J. Evans corner shop can be seen on the right. Note the lighter bricks on the second and third floors.  The difference in bricks is due to a mid 20th century re-build of the top two floors.

The London Metropolitan Archive, Collage site has a couple of photos of J. Evans shop. The following photo dates from 1978.

Warren Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_337_78_689.

A couple of large adverts are on the Warren Street facing wall. Also note that just along Warren Street were some other shops. Difficult to see exactly what they are selling, but they look to be typical of the shops serving the day to day needs of local residents that were once found all across London. Today, these shops have been converted to a couple of private clinics.

The buildings in which these other shops were located have what appears to be a secret entrance to a different place – this is the entrance to Warren Mews.

Warren Street

Warren Mews is a short street, even quieter than Warren Street, although I dread to think how much the houses that line the mews cost.

Warren Street

After having found the old shop frount, I walked back down Warren Street towards Tottenham Court Road, viewing an interesting series of buildings as I walked.

The Smugglers Tavern:

Warren Street

I do get depressed when walking the streets of London looking at the loss of one off shops, specialist shops and businesses, however in Warren Street I found a survivor. This is the London premises of Tiranti – a UK manufacturer and supplier of Sculptors equipment.

Warren Street

The business was founded in High Holborn by Giovanni Tiranti in 1895.  The business relocated to a number of different locations over the years, and whilst the main business is now located in Thatcham, Berkshire, Tiranti still retain a London premises.

The shop window of Tiranti in Warren Street:

Warren Street

Tiranti has a fascinating history. Their web site can be found here, and contains an “About” page with a history of the business and their moves across London.

Although Tiranti has survived, another specialist business in Warren Street recently closed.

At the junction of Warren Street and Fitzroy Street is a large corner store, currently occupied by the Loft furniture business as their London showroom.

Warren Street

Until early 2017, this was the building occupied by French’s Theatre Bookshop:

Warren Street

The French’s business was established in London around 1830. The bookshop occupied several locations across London and moved to the Warren Street / Fitzroy Street location in 1983, so whilst not a long term occupier of the site, it was good to find a specialist business serving the acting community of London and further afield.

After closure, French’s went fully online, but has now reopened a bookshop at the Royal Court Theatre.

A few years ago I photographed the original entrance sign for Samuel French. It is remarkable how quickly places change.

Warren Street

The LMA Collage site identifies the same corner shop, now occupied by Loft, previously by French’s Theatre Bookshop, was in 1972 occupied by a second-hand car business.

Warren Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_340_72_1023.

Used car dealing was a specialty of Warren Street for much of the first half of the 20th century with car dealers occupying many of the buildings and also second-hand cars for sale lining the street. The business on the corner with Fitzroy Street must have been one of the last in operation on the street.

The car dealing business in Warren Street attracted a number of dubious characters, one of whom was Stanley Setty, a car dealer who operated outside a cafe on the corner of Warren Street and Fitzroy Street (on the opposite  side to the above photo) . Setty dealt in cash only and was always in possession of large amounts of cash.

He had an associate in Brian Donald Hume who dealt in black market goods. In 1949, after an argument and a fight, Setty was murdered by Hume, who disposed of his body parts over the Essex Coast from a hired plane.

The Daily Herald on the 24th October 1949 included a graphical report of the murder (©British Newspaper Archive)

Warren Street

Hume was found not guilty of the murder, only the lesser offence of being an accessory to the murder by disposing of the body. After his release from prison he was happy to report to the press that he had carried out the murder – the defence of double-jeopardy protecting him from a new trial.

Warren Street is a very different street today.

On the Fitzroy Street side of the Loft / French’s Theatre Bookshop building is a blue plaque which has an interesting connection to recent excavations.

Warren Street

Captain Matthew Flinders was instrumental in identifying Australia as a continent, by being the first western explorer to circumnavigate the land, which he would also play a part in naming.

His name was all over the media earlier this year when his grave was discovered during the excavations of St James’s burial ground as part of the HS2 extension to Euston Station, a short distance along the Euston Road from Warren Street.

Captain Matthew Flinders (source here).

Warren Street

Warren Street has some interesting shop fronts:

Warren Street

Original terrace of houses, shops on the ground floor, offices and / or flats above. Work on the buildings over the years shown by the different brick colours.

Warren Street

At the junction of Warren Street and Tottenham Court Road is the underground station that bears the street’s name.Warren Street

The first underground station opened here in 1907, with the current building dating from 1934.

The station is on the Northern and Victoria lines, and is a very busy station during week days.

Large numbers of people use the station for the offices at Regent’s Place, University College Hospital, University College London, and the businesses that line Tottenham Court Road and the surrounding streets. It is a station I have used many times and during the early morning peak hours the automatic ticket gates are usually left open to speed passengers through from the escalators to the street.

Since being a field on the northern edge of John Rocque’s London, Warren Street has been home to some lovely late 18th century buildings, the discoverer of Australia as a continent, the arrival of the underground, used car dealers, and J. Evans – Dairy Farmer, the shop that was the reason for my walk along Warren Street.

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The Perseverance or Sun Pub, Lamb’s Conduit Street

Today’s post is not the one I intended, it has been a busy week so not enough time to complete research for the planned subject, however I was in the area of Lamb’s Conduit Street last Tuesday so made a visit to the pub on the corner of Lamb’s Conduit Street and Great Ormond Street. Today, the pub is named The Perseverance, but back in 1985 it was the Sun and had the most brilliant decoration on the rounded corner, so typical of the architecture of 19th century London pubs.

The Perseverance

This is the same view in March 2019, a change in name and rather more subdued signage on the corner of The Perseverance.

The Perseverance

Lamb’s Conduit Street has two main, historical, landowners. The Bedford Charity (which I wrote about here) owned and developed the southern part of the street, whilst the Rugby Charity owned and developed the northern section of Lamb’s Conduit Street.

The Rugby Charity still owns much of the original land, including The Perseverance with the income from the street being used to fund bursaries and scholarships to Rugby School. (There are still a number of Rugby boundary markers in place, so a future project is to walk the boundaries and look for all the remaining plaques that identified the estate).

The pub retained the name of the Sun from the early 19th century, to the 1990s when the name changed a couple of times, including being called Finnegans Wake prior to the final name change around 2005 / 2006 to The Perseverance.

I have always wondered why pubs change from names that have lasted well over 100 years. I can understand if the pub wants to completely separate from a previous existence, but when the pub continues to serve the same function to the same target market, I would have thought the marketing benefits of retaining a historical name far outweigh the benefits of a new name.

There are many other examples of name changes across London. I wrote about the Horn Tavern in Sermon Lane which only relatively recently changed name to The Centre Page.

The full view of The Perseverance on the corner of Lamb’s Conduit Street and Great Ormond Street.

The Perseverance

I did not take a similar view in 1985 – the photo at the top of the post was the last on the strip of negatives so this must have been the end of a roll of film. One of the benefits of digital photography is the almost endless capacity for taking photos.

The photo above shows a different style to the buildings immediately joined on to the pub. These buildings, along with the original corner building date from the early 18th century, however the pub was refronted in the early 19th century to the style we see today.

The building is Grade II listed.

The Perseverance retains the feel of a “local” and has a bar area on the ground floor and a dining area on the first floor. It was still rather empty when I stopped for a quick drink as shown in the photo below.

The Perseverance

The Grade II listing states that the pub retains an original cast-iron column, which I assume is the column on the left of the bar.

Back outside, I had a couple of minutes for a quick look around.

One side of the eastern branch of Great Ormond Street has a fantastic array of potted plants lining the pavement.

The Perseverance

Whilst the opposite side of the street has a terrace of brick built houses from the original development of the land, looking good in the sunshine.

The Perseverance

Along the western branch of Great Ormond Street, a short distance along from The Perseverance is this building with a Blue Plaque.

The Perseverance

The plaque records that “John Howard, 1726 to 1790, Prison Reformer Lived Here”.

John Howard was the prison reformer after who the Howard League for Penal Reform was named. Howard was born in Hackney, but spent much of his life in Bedford. He became the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire which came with the responsibility for the county gaol.

He was horrified by the conditions of the gaol and the way in which it was administered, with control basically being down to the way in which the appointed gaolers wished to manage the prison and make money out of those with the misfortune to be held.

His experience in Bedford resulted in many journeys throughout the country exploring and reporting on the conditions of numerous gaols – all of which suffered from the same problems.

His journeys between 1775 and 1790 were described in a book “The State of the Prisons In England and Wales” which provides a comprehensive review of conditions in 18th century goals. The first paragraph of Section 1 – General View of Distress in Prisons introduces the state of the country’s gaols:

“There are prisons, into which whoever looks will, at first sight of the people confined there, be convinced, that there is some great error in the management of them; the fallow meager countenances declare, without words, that they are very miserable; many who went in healthy, are in a few months changed to emaciated dejected objects. Some are seen pining under diseases, ‘sick and in prison’ expiring on the floors, in loathsome cells, of pestilential fevers, and the confluent small-pox; victims, I must not say to the cruelty, but I will say to the inattention of the sheriffs, and gentlemen in the commission of the peace.”

The book records the state of each prison that he visited and Howard’s records of Marshalsea Prison in Southwark are as follows:

The Perseverance

The Perseverance

The Perseverance

Howard’s book The State of the Prisons In England and Wales is available online at archive.org and provides a fascinating insight into 18th century prisons.

I did not have time to explore much further along Great Ormond Street, so I backtracked to The Perseverance to head back down along Lamb’s Conduit Street, which deserves a dedicated blog post, however one building just a short distance from the pub has some interesting decoration above the first floor windows.

The Perseverance

I could not photograph from directly opposite as the branches of a tree partially obscured the view. Detail of the first floor decoration is shown in the photo below which consists of a date along with a sheaf of wheat, tied with rope, with four hands pulling on the rope.

The Perseverance

The symbol is of the United Patriots National Benefit Society which was founded in 1843 with offices here in Lamb’s Conduit Street, as well as other offices and branches across London and the rest of the country.

The society was one of a number of benefit societies to which members contributed a regular subscription and were then able to call on financial support in times of hardship. The sheaf symbol was used extensively by the society on their buildings, certificates of membership, documentation and badges.

Like many 19th century societies, the United Patriots National Benefit Society appear to have enjoyed members meetings in pubs which seemed to have consisted of entertainment and toasts (and probably lots of beer). An account from the Islington Gazette on the 4th November 1884 reads:

“The members of the Caledonian-road branch of this society celebrated their fortieth anniversary by a supper, at the ‘Prince of Brunswick’ Tavern, Barnsbury-road on Thursday evening last. Subsequently, the members having disposed themselves for the evenings entertainment.

The Chairman (Mr. W.E. Beer), in a few prefatory remarks condemning the recent disquieting rumours in the press concerning the Navy, proposed the ‘loyal and patriotic toasts’ which were drunk enthusiastically.

Mr G. Coel (the branch secretary), in responding to the toast of the evening, said that, up to the end of last year, the members on the books numbered 95. the receipts for 1883 amounted to £116 14s 11d, and the disbursements £114 17s 7d leaving a balance of £1 17s 4d in their favour, he regretted not being able to lay before them a better statement of affairs, but owing to the unfortunate prevalence of sickness during that time, there has been an extra call upon the funds; but it was, at the same time, gratifying to know they have been more than able to meet the demands made, without applying for aid from the mother society. He concluded by thanking them all for their courtesy and kindness accorded to him during his connection with them, extending over seven years (Cheers).

The proceedings throughout were enlivened with songs by the company, which separated after cordially approving votes of thanks to the Chairman and the host (Mr. Wilson).

I suspect those who had been able to call upon the society during times of sickness were the fortunate ones, with those not able to be members having very little to fall back on.

I should not be surprised as I have been walking London for decades, however it is always brilliant how much history can be found within a very short distance from a specific point. I went to find the pub which had a very colourful decoration in the 1980s and also found one of the key early founders of prison reform and the home of one of London’s benefit’s societies. Digging deeper there is the history of the Rugby Charity which received the original donation of land and has owned, developed and managed much of the local area since, and before that one of the early water supplies to London and the land owner that gave the street its name.

Hopefully subjects for future posts.

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Simmonds Stores, Godfrey Street, Chelsea

Before getting into this week’s post, can I thank everyone who commented and e-mailed following last Sunday’s post on the 5th anniversary of the blog. Your feedback is really appreciated.

There are a number of then and now photos that I find sum up the changes to an area. A few years ago I wrote a post about the location of the Gun Tavern in Wapping. My father photographed the post war ruins of the old pub. Today, the same location is occupied by a Foxton’s estate agent.

For today’s post I have another pair of photos that sum up how an area has changed. This time I am in Chelsea, and this is Simmonds Stores, on the corner of Godfrey Street and Cale Street. The photograph was taken in 1986.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

The same view in February 2019:

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

The two photos typify how the area has changed. A corner shop that once sold household wares, piled high outside the shop to tempt passers-by, is now the Chelsea Green Valet. It is not just the shop that has changed, the building has been “restored”, although some of the changes attempt to replicate original features which were not part of the building’s design. An example being the new door on the left of the building which replaces an original window. The use of a door surround that attempts to give the door an original appearance was part of the work to bring the building to its current appearance.

The building of Godfrey Street dates from the 19th century. The first newspaper reference I have found to the street was from 1830 which implies the street was developed in the first decades of the 19th century. The name probably comes from Walter Godfrey who was a landowner in Chelsea during the 18th century. The corner store probably dates to the original construction of the street.

The 1891 Kelly’s Directory records that Albert Simmonds, Oilman was in residence, and it is this reference that provides a clue to the early function of the store and the large jars that are still mounted on the side of the building.

These represented Tuscan oil jars and indicated that oil was sold in the store. There is another example to be found in my post on Lower Marsh in Lambeth.

The 1891 census provides some additional information on Albert Simmonds. He was aged 30 and was born in Shipton, Oxfordshire. He lived in the building with his wife Mary (31) and children Mary Ann (7), Albert (6) and Frederick (1). Also in the house there was a servant Florence Hele, aged 17 and listed as a General Servant.

I do not know when the stores closed, or whether it was still in the Simmonds family when my father photographed the building in 1986, however it retained the Simmonds name for around 100 years.

The London Metropolitan Collage archives has a photo of the stores dated from 1971.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_067_71_2348.

In 1971 the shop had a rather nice lantern over the door which had disappeared by 1986, All the windows on both the ground and first floors looked stuffed with goods for sale.

A wider view of the location of Simmonds Stores.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

I have marked the location of the building in the following map extract to show Simmonds Stores on the north-west corner of Godfrey Street.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

Map  © OpenStreetMap contributors. 

As usual, I always use the opportunity of finding these locations to take a walk around the immediate area. The shop sits between Godfrey Street on the left and Danube Street on the right. Danube Street’s main function is to provide access to the rear of the buildings on the adjacent streets.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

Godfrey Street is interesting. A considerable mix of architecture with houses much altered since their original build. Many of the buildings have been painted in bright colours.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

The council’s conservation reports have concerns about this approach in a conservation area – “The buildings within the area were not intended to have painted masonry finishes. Today many houses have been painted. In some cases where the whole terrace was painted many years ago in a consistent scheme, this paint has become part of the street’s character. However, in other places, where individual houses have been painted in a brick terrace, they have harmed the uniformity of the terrace and the appearance of the conservation area”.

View from the southern end of Godfrey Street looking up towards Cale Street.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

It is fascinating to look up newspaper references to the locations I visit. They frequently provide an insight into the lives of those who have lived in these streets. One tragic report from one of the earliest mentions of Godfrey Street, documenting an example of domestic abuse was reported in the London Courier and Evening Gazette on the 20th November 1832:

“LOVE AND SUICIDE – It may be recollected, that a few weeks ago Mr. Hilde, a Hanoverian by birth, was charged at Queen-square Police Office by a Mrs. Arthur, a young widow of 19 Godfrey Street, Chelsea-common, with frequently assaulting her, and treating her in such a manner that she considered her life in danger from his violence. He was then ordered to enter into sureties to keep the peace towards her, but he would still continue to come to the house and annoy her, although he had moved her lodgings  to No 22, Pulteney-street, Golden-square. Mr Hilde, had been a lodger of Mrs. Arthur’s and during the time he was there she was arrested and confined in Whitecross-street prison. he paid the debt for her, and she was released, and they then cohabited together as man and wife, until they had frequent quarrels, and he was in the habit of beating her continually. The last time he was brought to Queen-square was about a month ago for attempting to get into her house, and he had then great trouble to procure bail, as his friends found it difficult to keep him from going to the house where Mrs. Arthur resided, so devotedly did he appear to be attached to her, not withstanding his ill-usage of her.

On Sunday afternoon he called upon Police Sergeant King, of the V division, No. 10 at Battersea, who had him in custody at the Police-office, and he dined and drank tea with him. They afterwards went out and took a walk, and he returned and had supper with him. During the whole of the day he appeared very much depressed in spirits, and frequently exclaimed, with tears in his eyes, in broken English ‘My God ! how I love that woman ! – nobody knows how I love her !’

About a quarter to ten o’clock in the evening, he left King’s house to go home, and in less than half an hour afterwards King was informed that a man was in the Thames. An alarm was instantly given, boats put off, and in about twenty minutes the body of the unhappy man was picked up by Abraham Graves, a waterman, quite dead. The body was taken to the Adam and Eve public-house, in Duke-street, Chelsea, and Mr. Fletcher, the surgeon, promptly attended, but every effort to restore life was ineffectual. the body now awaits the Coroner’s inquest”.

The article highlights what Mrs. Arthur had to suffer, however the sympathy of the article appears to be with Mr. Hilde despite the fact that he was the one inflicting violence on the young widow. Sadly what happened in Godfrey Street was suffered by woman all across the City with minimal impact on the male perpetrators.

At first glance, Godfrey Street ends in a dead-end with a house appearing to close the street, however the street does a 90 degree bend to the right, where it meets the narrow Danube Street (the southern section of which is also called Godfrey Street).

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

On the corner is a rather nice bollard.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

Turning the corner at the end of Godfrey Street and the house between the main street and the small side street is painted bright blue.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

Looking down Godfrey / Danube Street that runs at the rear of the houses. A narrow service alley that provides access to the rear of the buildings.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

Godfrey Street ends at the junction with Burnsall Street. I turned right into Burnsall Street to look at the buildings that are on the opposite side of the alley that runs at the back of Godfrey Street. These houses are very different. This is Astell Street which runs parallel to Godfrey Street, up to Cale Street.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

These buildings are very different to those in Godfrey Street. A look at the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows that this street was named Blenheim Street and was comprised of workman’s houses, very similar to those in Godfrey Street, however early 20th century redevelopment demolished the original terraces of two storey houses and replaced them with much larger, and more expensive houses.

These changes were happening across Chelsea, causing the Chelsea Society in 1937 to express concern about the social mix of the area changing as working class homes were being demolished and replaced with the type of building we can see in Astell Street.

At the junction of Astell Street and Britten Street is another rather nice original bollard, dating from 1844.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

Walking down Britten Street and by a lucky coincidence there is the type of place where I like to end a walk. This is the Builders Arms.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

The pub has the date c. 1820 at the very top of the building, however the written references I have found for the pub appear to date the building to around 1841. The reference to 1820 is a recent addition as this was not on the building in the 1970s.

The Builders Arms was located adjacent to the Anchor Brewery. The site of the Brewery has been considerably redeveloped, however an entrance gate can still be seen.

Godfrey Street, Chelsea

I am not sure if I remember correctly, however I believe the arch is a rebuild of the original arch, although I may be wrong.

Simmonds Stores typifies how Chelsea has changed over the last few decades, however as with the references to Astell Street, the gradual change from original working class housing to the multi-million pound housing we find today has been going on for very many years.

I have covered a number of these 1980s corner shops, and have very many more to find, however for the next series of posts, I will be returning to 1940s and 1950s London, and also discovering some other aspects of London.

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