Category Archives: London Streets

Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws

Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws – two totally unconnected subjects, but there is a tentative connection to the Corn Laws not far from Mornington Crescent underground station which I will get to at the end of today’s post.

The name Mornington Crescent may bring little recognition, apart from a Camden station on the Northern Line, or the name may be instantly familiar from the BBC radio comedy “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” where it is the name of an invented game which requires the naming of a random set of locations to finally get to Mornington Crescent.

The entrance to Mornington Crescent station on Hampstead Road:

Mornington Crescent Station

Mornington Crescent station was built as part of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, and opened on the 22nd of June 1907. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs with the exterior walls covered in red oxblood faience tiles. The station is now on the Northern Line.

The station takes its name from the nearby street of the same name, a street that was once prominent, but is now hidden away behind a rather glorious 1920s factory.

The location of the station is shown by the blue circle in the following map, and the larger red circle shows the area covered in this week’s blog (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Map of Mornington Crescent

Mornington Crescent (the street, not the station) is the curved, crescent shaped street that starts to the left of the station, curves around a large grey block and then rejoins Hampstead Road. The following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows the area in the late 19th century, with Mornington Crescent then looking onto a garden, the larger part to the left of Hampstead Road and a small part to the right (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).:

Map of Mornington Crescent

The large grey block in the map of the area today, and which now occupies the area where the garden was located is the wonderful old Carreras cigarette factory, now offices:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

The Carreras brand dates from the early 19th century when the Spanish nobleman Don José Carreras Ferrer started trading cigars in London. The business expanded into other forms of tobacco such as snuff and cigarettes, and became a significant business during the late 19th century.

What really drove the brand’s expansion, and the opening of the Mornington Crescent factory was the transformation of Carreras to a public company in 1903, when a Mr. W. J. Yapp (who had taken over the company from the Carreras family) and Bernhard Baron (of Jewish descent, who was born in what is now Belarus on the Russian border, who had moved to the United States and then to London), became directors of the company.

Whilst in New York, Bernhard Baron had invented a machine that could manufacture cigarettes at a faster rate than existing machines, and in London the Carreras company was the only one that took on the new machines, other tobacco companies preferring to stay with their existing means of production, or machines over which they held monopolies.

By the start of the 1920s, Baron was Chairman of the company and wanted to create a large, modern factory, which would enhance the brand’s reputation for the purity and quality of their cigarettes, and provide a good working environment for the company’s employees.

The result was the new factory on the old gardens between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road.

Designed by the architectural practice of Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins, along with Arthur George Porri who acted as a consultant, the design of the building was inspired by the archeological finds in Egypt during the 1920s, with the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun being discovered in 1922.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

The building was one of the first (and I believe the largest at the time) building to use pre-stressed concrete, and also to be fitted with air conditioning and dust extraction equipment.

The innovative construction of the building, and the technologies used to maintain the internal environment were mentioned in all the major news reports that covered the opening of the building on the 3rd of November 1928:

“Carreras new factory at Camden Town, which was opened by Mr. Bernhard Baron, the chairman of the company, constitutes not only the largest reinforced concrete building under one roof in Great Britain, but also that rare thing – the realisation of one man’s dream.

Mr. Baron is a practical idealist. He set out to make cigarettes, he wanted them made in the best way, and in the best conditions. He wanted the people who made them to be happy in their work, it has all come true.

The opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design. Mr. Baron performed it himself, not so much as chairman of the company, but as the father of the three thousand employees who have helped him to achieve success. He said, at the luncheon, that he felt it a great honour to have opened the factory, and that he wanted his employees about him at that moment to share his pleasure. That was why he decided on a simple ceremony, a family celebration, as it were, of the culmination of one stage of his life’s work.

Carreras new building embodies all that is best in factory design. It is well lit, and well ventilated and as healthy as it is possible to make it.

Most important of all, it has been fitted with an air conditioning plant which is the only one of its kind in the British tobacco industry, and which ensures a consistently ideal atmosphere for the manufacture of the perfect cigarette. The air which enters the building is first washed clean with water. It is then adjusted to the required temperature and humidity. Outside, London may be shivering or sweltering, damp or dusty. Inside, every day is a fine day; all weather is fair weather. It is well known that the English climate is the best in the world for the manufacture of tobacco; it can now be said that Carreras climate is the best in England.

The façade of the building, which stretches five hundred and fifty feet along Hampstead Road, is something fresh in London architecture – a conventionalised copy of the Temple of Bubastis, the cat headed goddess of Ancient Egypt.”

I have read several modern references to the opening of the building which include that the Hampstead Road was covered in sand, there were chariot races and Verdi’s opera Aida was performed, however I cannot find these mentioned in any of the news reports from the time that covered the opening of the building. As seen in the above report, the “opening ceremony was as impressive in its simplicity as the new building is in its efficiency and design“.

The opening of the factory was seen as an improvement to the area, although it had resulted in the loss of the open space between Mornington Crescent and Hampstead Road, as newspapers reported that “When the move to save the London squares was first begun, Mornington Crescent was cited as one of London’s losses. It had been acquired by Mr. Bernhard Baron as the site of his new factory. I doubt whether had it been saved we Londoners would have gained anything. Now when you come out of the Tube station, the eyesore of that dirty bit of green, backed by decaying Victorian basement houses is no more. Instead, there is the finest factory in London, an architectural triumph for Mr. Marcus Collins, the culmination of a life’s work for Mr. Baron and a model workplace for his 3,500 employees.”

The Mornington Crescent factory remained in operation until 1959 when Carreras merged with Rothmans, and cigarette production was moved to a factory in the new town of Basildon in Essex.

The building was sold and in 1961 it became office space, with the name of Greater London House, and all the Egyptian decoration was either removed or boxed in.

This would remain the fate of the building until the late 1990s when a new owner refurbished the building and restored the Egyptian decoration that we see today, as close as possible to the original design.

In the following photo of the main entrance to the building, two black cats can be seen on either side of the steps:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

These are not the original cats as following the closure of the factory in 1959, one was transferred to the new factory in Basildon whilst the other was shipped to a Carreras factory in Jamaica.

After walking north along Hampstead Road, through the works for HS2, the restoration of the Carerras building has retained some wonderful 1920s architecture to this part of Camden, however it has almost completely hidden Mornington Crescent, and a walk along this street is my next destination, starting from the northern end, opposite the underground station, where the Lyttleton Arms now stands:

Lyttleton Arms Camden

If you look closely at the top corner of the building, you will see the original name of the pub as the Southampton Arms. The pub was renamed the Lyttleton Arms in honour of the jazz musician and radio presenter, Humphrey Lyttleton, who was also the long running host of the radio panel game I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue from 1972 until his death in 2008, the show that included the game Mornington Crescent.

During the 1920s, the same decade that the Carerras factory was built, the Southampton Arms, as the pub was called, was one of the centres of conflicts between the gangs who tried to control race course betting, including the Clerkenwell Sabini Brothers and Camden’s George Sage.

The following report from the St. Pancras Gazette on the 6th of October 1922 illustrates one of the incidents:

“RACING MEN’S FEUDS – At Marylebone on Tuesday, Alfred White, Joseph Sabini, George West, Simon Nyberg, Paul Boffa, and Thomas Mack made their eighth appearance on the charges of shooting George Sage and Frederick Gilbert with intent to murder, at Mornington-crescent, Camden Town, on August 19, having loaded revolvers on their possession with intent to endanger life, and riotously assembling.

Helen Sage, wife of one of the prosecutors, said she was talking to her husband outside the Southampton Arms at Camden Town when several taxicabs drove up and a number of men alighted. She then heard a shot, but could not say who fired, as it was dark. The witness admitted that she told the police that West and White fired the shots, but now declared that this statement was untrue.”

Strange that Helen Sage, who was presumably the wife of the shot George Sage declared that her statement was untrue. Possibly some witness tampering or gangs not giving evidence against each other, preferring their own form of justice.

The first section of Mornington Crescent (from the north) is not part of the original, and this will become clear with the architectural style as we walk along the crescent. These later houses are smaller and less impressive than the original part of the crescent:

Mornington Crescent

And after crossing the junction with Arlington Road, we can now see the original terrace of buildings from when Mornington Crescent was laid out:

Mornington Crescent

In the middle of the above terrace there is a blue plaque, to Spencer Frederick Gore, the painter, who lived in the building between 1909 and 1912.

Mornington Crescent

Gore painted the view from his house across the gardens and the view along Mornington Crescent. The Tate have one of his paintings of the gardens online here.

The following view is of the continuation of the terrace houses along Mornington Crescent, at the junction with Mornington Place:

Mornington Crescent

Construction of Mornington Crescent started in the early 1820s and was not complete until the 1830s. It is named after Richard Colley Wellesley, the Earl of Mornington and Governor-General of India. He was also the eldest brother of the Duke of Wellington, so was from an influential family.

Mornington Place heads up to the rail tracks to and from Euston Station:

Mornington Place

The street was built around the same time as Mornington Crescent and comprises smaller three storey terrace houses, although with some interesting architectural differences:

Mornington Place

At the end of the street, we can look over the brick wall and see the rail tracks, with HS2 works continuing on the far side:

Euston railway tracks

Looking back down Mornington Place towards the old Carreras factory – originally this view would have had the gardens at the end, through which Hampstead Road would have been seen:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

Albert Street is a turning off Mornington Place, a terrace of new buildings occupies a space which on the 1894 OS map appears to have been an open space with a larger building set back from the road.

Albert Street Camden

There is a smaller brick building between the modern terrace and the large brick terrace of houses. This is Tudor Lodge:

Tudor Lodge Camden

Tudor Lodge is Grade II listed. It was built between 1843 and 1844 for the painter Charles Lucy, and believed to be to his own design. The plaque on the building though is to George Macdonald, Story Teller, who lived in the building between 1860 and 1863. An interesting building in a street of mainly 19th century terrace houses.

Rather than walk along Albert Street, I returned to Mornington Crescent and the rear of the Carreras factory, where there is a chimney:

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

I have not been able to confirm whether or not the chimney is original, however rather than being the more common round chimney it seems to have the appearance of an obelisk, similar to Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment, so if original, the chimney continues the Egyptian design theme of the building.

Almost at the end of Mornington Crescent now, and the final row of terrace houses before reaching the Hampstead Road. The following photo gives an indication of the changes to the outlook of the houses when the Carreras factory was built. Rather than looking out on the gardens and across to Hampstead Road, they now had the view of the rear of the large factory.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

By the time the factory was built, many of the houses were almost 100 years old, and their condition was not that good, many were subdivided into flats. Their condition would deteriorate further during the 20th century, there was some bomb damage along the terrace in the Second World War and it has only been in the last few decades that many of the houses have been restored.

In this final terrace of Mornington Crescent there is another blue plaque, to another artist, this to Walter Sickert, recorded as a painter and etcher:

Mornington Crescent

Sickert was at the core of the Camden Town Group of artists, a short lived group of artists who gathered mainly between 1911 and 1913.

The building at the southern end of Mornington Crescent, which has a Hampstead Road address is of a much more impressive design, presumably as it was at a more prominent position. Just seen on the wall behind the tree is another plaque:

Mornington Crescent

This plaque is to the artist George Cruikshank, who lived in the building from 1850 until his death in 1878.

On the opposite side of the street to the house in the above photo is a water trough for horses. I took a photo, but was not intending to include the photo in today’s post:

Drinking Trough Mornington Crescent

Until i found the following photo in the Imperial War Museum collection showing a horse and cart of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway pausing to drink at the trough, with Mornington Crescent in the background of the photo:

Horse and cart at Mornington Crescent
VAN GIRL: HORSE AND CART DELIVERIES FOR THE LONDON, MIDLAND AND SCOTTISH RAILWAY, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1943 (D 16833) After collecting another load from the depot, Lilian Carpenter (left) and Vera Perkins pause in Mornington Crescent to allow Snowball the horse to drink from a trough. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205200501

Pleased I found the photo, but rather frustrating as if I had found it before visiting I could have taken a similar view, however it does give a good impression of Mornington Crescent in 1943.

Returning to the space opposite the underground station, we can look south and get a view of the overall size of the Carreras factory, a building that occupied the site of the gardens between the crescent and Hampstead Road.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Camden

The space just to the north of Mornington Crescent underground station is the junction of Hampstead Road and Camden High Street, along with Crowndale Road and Eversholt Street.

To the east of the underground station at the road junction is the club / music venue Koko:

KoKo Camden

Originally the Camden Theatre when built in 1900, it then had a series of owners as both a theatre and a cinema, until 1945 when it was taken over by the BBC and used as a theatre to record radio programmes, including the Goon Show, with the very last Goon Show being recorded in the theatre on the 30th April 1972.

The BBC left in 1972, and from 1977 the building has been a live music venue, firstly as the Music Machine, then the Camden Palace and now Koko.

The building has hosted very many acts in its long history, including the Rolling Stones and the Faces, with my most recent visit to the Damned in February 2018 (and whilst researching the post I found a review of the Damned concert here).

The title of this post is Mornington Crescent and the Corn Laws, and it is only now that I can get to the final part of that title. In the open space opposite the underground station is a statue:

Richard Cobden statue

The statue is of Richard Cobden and was erected in 1868. Cobden did not have any direct relationship with Camden, however it was an impressive location for a statue, and it was put up due to the residents of Camden’s appreciation of Cobden’s work in the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Richard Cobden Statue

The Corn Laws were a set of laws implemented in 1815 by the Tory Prime Minister Lord Liverpool due to the difficult economic environment the country was in following the wars of the late 18th and early 19th century.

The Corn Laws imposed tariffs on imported grains and resulted in an increase in the price of grain, and products made using grain. These price increases made the Corn Laws very unpopular with the majority of the population, although large agricultural land owners were in favour as they made a higher profit from grain grown on their lands.

The Corn Laws were finally repealed by the  Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel in 1846, and they reflect a tension between free trade and tariffs on imports that can still be seen in politics today.

Richard Cobden was born on the 3rd of June, 1804 in a farmhouse in Dinford, near Midhurst in Sussex. His only time in London appears to have been after his father died, when Cobden was still young, and his was taken under the guardianship of his uncle who was a warehouseman in London.

Not long after he became a Commercial Traveler, and then started his own business which was based in Manchester, which seems to have been his base for the rest of his commercial success.

During his time in Manchester Cobden was part of the Anti-Corn Law League and was known as one of the leagues most active promoters.

The Clerkenwell News and London Times on the 1st of July 1868 recorded the unveiling of the statue:

“The Cobden memorial statue which has just been erected at the entrance to Camden Town was inaugurated on Saturday. Although this recognition of the services of the great Free Trade leader may have been looked upon in some quarters as merely local, the gathering together of some eight to ten thousand people to do honour to his memory cannot be regarded in any other light than that of a national ovation.

The committee had arranged that the statue of the late Richard Cobden at the entrance to Camden Town – with the exception, perhaps, of Trafalgar Square, one of the finest sites in London – should be unveiled on Saturday, that day being understood to be the appropriate one of the anniversary of the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the event was so popular that the surrounding neighbourhood was gaily decorated with flags for the occasion. The windows and balconies of Millbrook House, the residence of Mr. Claremont, facing the statue, had been placed at the disposal of Mrs. Cobden and her friends, including her three daughters.

A special platform had been created in front of the pedestal, covered with crimson cloth, and in the enclosure in front the band of the North Middlesex Rifles were stationed, and performed whilst the company assembled.

The report then covers at some length, all the speeches made which told the story of Cobden’s life and his actions in the repeal of the Corn Laws. There were many thousands present to witness the event, and at the end; “after the vast assembly had dispersed Mrs. Cobden, accompanied by Mr. Claremont, the churchwardens, and other friends, walked round the statue and expressed her high gratification at the fidelity of the likeness.”

The statue was the work of the sculptors W. and T. Willis of Euston Road, and is now Grade II listed.

I suspect if you turn right out of the entrance to Mornington Crescent underground station, you will be surprised to know that the space in front of you was compared to Trafalgar Square as one of the finest sites in London.

It always fascinates me how much history there is at almost any place in London, and Mornington Crescent is no exception. Whether the arrival of the underground, the architecture of the Carreras factory, race course gangs at the pub, historic streets, entertainment venues and radio shows and the statue of a free trade advocate – all within a short walk of Mornington Crescent.

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The IMAX Roundabout at the end of Waterloo Bridge

Roundabouts in cities are a problem. Whilst they are built to simplify traffic flow, they take up a large amount of space, and leave a central area for which it is difficult to find a purpose due to its isolated location.

One such roundabout is at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge, where York Road, Waterloo Road, Stamford Street and the approach to Waterloo Bridge all meet. I photographed the roundabout from the Shell Centre viewing gallery in 1980:

Roundabout at the end of Waterloo Bridge

Beneath the roundabout were a large number of pedestrianised access routes to the surrounding streets and the central space provided access between these, so you could walk between any of the surrounding streets without having to cross a road.

It was always a rather bleak space. Concrete planters were scattered around the central space, and for a time in the 1980s the GLC organised what we would now call a pop-up market at lunchtimes, hoping to attract workers from the surrounding offices, although with traffic on the surrounding roundabout, it was not that pleasant and most people headed to the Jubilee Gardens or the walkway alongside the Thames.

A rather innovative use for the central space was found in the late 1990s when the British Film Institute opened an IMAX Theatre in the centre of the roundabout:

IMAX Theatre at end of Waterloo Bridge

The IMAX is of circular design to fit the central space, and is surrounded by a glass wall which makes the building ideal for advertising and for displaying films that are being shown in the theatre. It is a very obvous landmark when approaching from any of the surrounding streets, and with the low sun of a December day, produces strange light reflections on the streets of the roundabout.

So, a very clever use of a difficult city space. One that has to overcome a number of obstacles, for example vibration and soundproofing from both the traffic on the roundabout, and the Waterloo and City line which runs just 4 metres below the theatre, which gives me an excuse to show a map of the route of the Waterloo and City line, with the location of the roundabout and IMAX marked by a red circle (Credit: The Engineer, July 26, 1895, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons):

Old map of the Waterloo and City line

The IMAX Theatre was opened in 1999 and designed by Bryan Avery Architects. I have walked past the IMAX countless times, but what got me thinking about the use of space and the problems of inner city planning and maintenance was when I was walking alongside the roundabout in late December.

Access to the IMAX is via the steps down from the surrounding streets that also provide access between the streets without having to cross at surface level.

The steps down in the following photo are on the side of the roundabout between York Road and Waterloo Road. It was the start of the Christmas school holidays and I noticed a mother and child going down the stairs, then coming up, looking around, walking to another set of stairs, then back to the one in the photo. They were going to the IMAX, but there is no obvious signage and the stairs down do not look the most inviting.

Tunnel to IMAX Theatre from Waterloo

I walked down the stairs, and met the smell that is familiar to such spaces:

Tunnel under roundabout

Tunnel under the roundabout leading to the central space and the IMAX:

Tunnel under roundabout

Once in the central space of the roundabout, we can see the curving wall of the IMAX and the extensive planting that creates a rather unique space:

Area around the IMAX Theatre

More than 2000 plants were originally planted, comprising of honeysuckle, jasmine, wisteria, clematis, ivy, Boston ivy and Japanese vine. An automated watering system was installed, which looks to have worked well as the plants now look very established and have grown up from the side walls, across supporting cables and up to the sides of the IMAX:

Area around the IMAX Theatre

There is a very tenuous link between the current centre of the roundabout, and an earlier use of the space, when it was occupied by Cuper’s Gardens, one of the many gardens and places of entertainment that were found on the south bank of the river in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.

The following map is interesting as it shows the area in 1825, eight years after Waterloo Bridge was opened. It is titled “A Plan of Cuper’s Gardens with part of the Parish of Lambeth in the year 1746 showing also the site of the Waterloo Bridge Road and the new roads adjacent”.

The map helps define the exact location of Cuper’s Gardens as the church of St. John is also shown. The large roundabout (circled) now covers part of Cuper’s Gardens at the junction with Stamford Street:

Old map of Cuper's Gardens and Waterloo Bridge

The “gardens” around the IMAX are very different today, and the whole area is rather a surreal space. The outer wall has been painted light brown, possibly to resemble the earth through which the space descends. Large, twisted trunks (which look like roots) of the presumably now over 20 years growth extend up along the walls, and the outer wall is occasionally cut through with the access tunnels to the streets above:

Tunnel leading up to Waterloo Bridge

The entrance to the IMAX Theatre:

IMAX Theatre

Looking up between the planting and the curved glass wall of the IMAX dominates the view:

IMAX Theatre

When the IMAX was opened, as well as the central space surrounding the theatre, the walkways and tunnels leading up to the streets were cleaned, restored and painted, with many of the walls being painted blue, and some lighting being set into the walls.

IMAX Theatre

You can see the effect that this was intended to create. The central space with substantial overhead plant growth, the surrounding earth coloured walls, covered in the trunks of the plants, with the walls being cut through by the blue painted walkways to the surrounding streets.

It all creates an intriguing and surreal space, appropriate for walks to the IMAX.

Service access tunnel and pedestrian walkway leading to Belvedere Road:

Tunnels under Waterloo Bridge

View up through the plants with the new tower blocks that have taken much of the old Shell Centre site:

View from IMAX Theatre

Walking up to the surrounding streets, and it is clear what was intended, and the problems that result in the walkways not being that much of an inviting route to the IMAX. The following photo shows the walkway up to the western side of Waterloo Bridge:

Access tunnel from IMAX to Waterloo Bridge

Many of the walls are covered in graffiti, including the main walkway, and the tunnels that connect the east and west walkways:

Under Waterloo Bridge

Many of these walkways and tunnels make really good subjects for photography. The blue walls, the grafitte, and the hidden destination of these tunnels adds to their mystery, however if you did not know the area, were taking children to the IMAX, and it was at night, they are not inviting, and there were very few people using them as I wandered around taking photos.

Under Waterloo bridge

Global conspiracy theories meet South Bank direction signs:

Under Waterloo Bridge

Looking back down the walkway from the western side of Waterloo Bridge:

Underground tunnel leading up to Waterloo bridge with IMAX in background

Whilst the view of the IMAX in the above photo provides an indication of the destination of the walkway and the tunnel, it does not encourage you to walk down, there should be signs above the tunnel and better lighting in the entrance to the tunnel.

One of the walkways that crosses between the west and east sides of Waterloo Bridges crosses the service tunnel:

Under Waterloo Bridge

Walkway up to the eastern side of Waterloo Bridge:

Underground tunnel leading up to Waterloo Bridge

This is the view from the eastern side of Waterloo Bridge, with the IMAX in the centre of the roundabout, and the blue painted entrance to the walkway and tunnels that lead to the IMAX:

IMAX Theatre from Waterloo Bridge

The direction post to the left of the pavement does have a direction to the IMAX with an arrow pointing straight up, the implication being to head down the tunnel rather than walk on the pavement to the right. As with the other entrances, the tunnel does not offer an inviting prospect. No signage above the point where the walkway enters the tunnel and poor lighting at the entrance to the tunnel so it looks very dark and forbidding.

The Waterloo IMAX Theatre is a brilliant use of a difficult space, as well as being a building that has some technically clever ways of avoiding sound and vibrations. For example, the first floor is mounted on oil-damped spring bearings, and the walls inside the glass outer wall are 750mm thick. During construction, pile foundations were installed around the tunnels of the Waterloo and City line. A thick concrete slab was then built on top of the pilings to support the weight of the building above.

The IMAX apparently has the largest screen of any cinema in the UK and has the equipment to support normal film format as well as IMAX Digital and 3D.

A shame that whilst the intention with the tunnels and walkways is clear, and they could have provided a creative and innovative space, what appears to have been limited maintenance and care over the years has resulted in a rather poor experience when walking to the theatre at the centre.

TfL did have plans back in 2017 to transform the area and remove the roundabout, creating a surface level pedestrianised space up to the IMAX, however these plans appear to have been paused due to “the pandemic and current funding restraints”.

Given TfL’s current funding constraints, I suspect the roundabout will be there for some years to come.

More 1980 photos from the viewing gallery of Shell Centre are in this post.

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Euston Station and HS2 – A 2022 Update

For the past five years, I have written an annual post on the work around Euston to create the extension to the station for HS2, recording the area from before work started to some point in the future, when the new station will be operational.

My first post was back in 2017 and covered St James Gardens, just before they were closed for excavation.

My second post in 2018 walked around the streets to the west of the station, as buildings began to close, and the extent of the works could be seen.

I then went back in 2019 as demolition started.

In 2020, demolition was well underway and St James Gardens had disappeared, and the associated archaeological excavation had finished

And in June 2021 I went back for another walk around the edge of the construction site.

It has been on my list to revisit for a 2022 update, but it always seemed a lower priority to other places, and with the end of the year approaching, I really wanted to walk the edge of the site again. After a morning in Fitzrovia in early December, the afternoon left time to visit Euston.

It was a lovely sunny, but cold, December day. Whilst the clear sky was welcome, the resulting low sun produced deep shadows which do not work very well with photographing scenes in a built area, but it was my last chance for 2022.

The size of the construction site is remarkable. In front off, and to the west of Euston Station, along Hampstead Road, up to the point where the rail tracks from Euston cross under Hampstead Road. The construction site then extends west alongside the rail tracks.

There continues to be background rumblings about the cost of HS2 and that it should be cancelled. Walking around the Euston site demonstrates what has been put into the site so far, and the sheer size. If it was cancelled what would happen to the space – another place of random towers as with Vauxhall?

The name HS2 I suspect is part of the project’s problem. Whilst it will offer a faster journey, the main benefit seems to be the extra capacity released on the existing lines by moving fast trains to the HS2 route. This extra capacity allowing services to improve to the places along the route – assuming there is the money and political will to do so.

Whilst the scale of the project at Euston is remarkable, this is only the London terminus of the route. There is a considerable amount of work along the whole of the route, and if you have driven along the M25, just north of the M40 junction, the massive work site can be glimpsed where tunneling starts on the 10 mile tunnel under the Chilterns.

Back to Euston, and the following map shows the area where work is underway, which I have outlined in red. There are two circled places which I will come to later in the post(Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Euston HS2 construction site

This year, I started in Euston Station:

Euston Station

Then headed outside to see the front of the station, here the western side:

Euston Station

And the eastern side of the station:

Euston Station

In the forecourt of the station, is a statue to one of those buried in the cemetery at St James Gardens. An area where the graves have been excavated and the gardens now part of the overall construction site. See the 2017 post for a walk through St James Gardens. The statue is of Matthew Flinders:

Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders was born in Lincolnshire on the 16th of March 1774. He joined the Royal Navy and in the early years of the 19th century he mapped much of the coast of Australia, and was the first to demonstrate that Australia was one single continent.

His chart of Australia, or Terra Australis, was published in 1814. Although the name Australia had been in use, Flinders use of the name for his chart, was the first to apply the name to the overall land mass of the country. 

He had a lengthy return to London, however after his return his health deteriorated rapidly, His life at sea had taken a considerable toll on him, and he died at the age of 40 on the 19th of July 1814.

A brief announcement of his death in the London Evening Mail gives a hint of the challenges he had faced: “On Tuesday last, Captain Matthew Flinders, of the Royal Navy, greatly lamented by his family and friends. This Gentleman’s fate has been as hard as it has been eventful. Under the direction of the Admiralty, he sailed in 1801, on a voyage of discovery to Terra Australis; where, after successfully prosecuting the purposes of his voyage, he had the misfortune to run upon a coral rock and lose his ship: out of the wreck he constructed a small vessel that carried him to Mauritius, where, shocking to relate, instead of being received with kindness, as is the practice of a civilised nation to nautical discoverers, he was put in prison by the Governor and confined for six years and a half, which brought upon him maladies that have hastened his death. Fortunately for mankind and his own name, he survived a few days for finishing of the printing of the account of his voyage.”

His account of the voyage was published on the 5th of December 1814 as two volumes and “one very large volume, folio of Charts, Headlands and Botanical subjects”.

He died in a street roughly where the BT Tower is today and was buried in the burial ground for the parish of St. James Piccadilly, which was in use between 1790 and 1853, and which became St James Gardens until becoming part of the Euston HS2 construction site.

Matthew Flinders grave was discovered during the excavations to recover the bodies buried in the gardens, and his remains are due to be reburied at St Mary and the Holy Rood church in Donington, the village of his birth.

The statue, by sculptor Mark Richards, was initially unveiled at Australia House in 2014, before being moved to the forecourt of Euston Station.

Office block at the eastern edge of the forecourt: 

Euston Station

Directly in front of Euston Station is an open space, where the Flinders statue is located. There is then a row of office blocks, under which is a bus station:

Doric Arch pub

And a pub, the Doric Arch, part of which can just be seen in the above photo, and the following photo is one I took a while ago, after dark;

Doric Arch pub

The entrance to the pub, and toilets, occupy the ground floor, with the main pub on the first floor, which is surprisingly good, given its location and modern construction in the base of an office block. Despite the appearance in the above photo, it can also get very busy.

The Doric Arch was originally called the Head of Steam, but changed name to the arch that once stood in front of Euston Station when the pub was taken over by Fullers around 2008.

The Doric Arch is still run by Fullers, and according to the pub’s website, one of the stones from the original Euston Arch after which the pub is named, is on display behind the bar. I have no idea how I have missed this, but it is a good excuse for a return visit.

The pub sign is now an image of the Euston arch:

Doric Arch pub

Buses queue to leave their stops, underneath the office block in front of Euston Station:

Euston Station bus station

In front of the office block is the London and North Western Railway War Memorial. Designed by the railways’ architect, Reginald Wynn Owen, to commemorate the railway company’s workers who died in the first world war:

Euston Station war memorial

The following photo shows the memorial in the same position, prior to the demolition of the original Euston Station and hotel:

Euston Station war memorial

Entrance to Euston Station, after removal of Doric Arch cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Ben Brooksbank – geograph.org.uk/p/2991077

On the right of the above photo is one of the gatehouses that are still on either side of the entrance to Euston Station. The gatehouse can still be seen today, although the gardens that were behind the gatehouse, running alongside Euston Road, are now fenced off and are part of the considerable area of works surrounding the station.

Euston Station

Walking to the west of the station, and this is the view along Melton Street, which is now closed off, apart from being a construction site access gate:

Melton Street

To the right of the above photo is the taxi drop off and pick up point for Euston Station:

Euston Station taxi rank

There is still a walking route to the west of the station, along Melton Street, however this is lined by hoardings on either side:

Euston Station

The western walking route into the station:

Euston Station

Continuing on along Melton Street, with the station on the right:

Euston Station

Another construction access gate:

Euston underground station

Where on the corner of what was Melton Street and Drummond Street is the original Euston station of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs, and whilst all the buildings surrounding the station have been demolished, it still survives, probably due to all the infrastructure within and below the station (I visited the tunnels below in this post):

Euston underground station

From alongside the station, we can look down what was Cardington Street. It was along here on the left that St James Gardens were located:

Cardington Street

To exit the overall Euston site, the walker heads west through a corridor lined with hoardings (a theme of the entire site), towards Drummond Street:

Drummond Street

Looking back, and the route is signposted to Euston Station:

Euston Station

A glimpse between the hoardings shows the size of the construction site running north from Euston Station:

HS2 construction site

This is the view to what was the corner of Cobourg Street and Euston Street. The Bree Louise pub was just on the left of the photo:

Cobourg Street

Looking north along Cobourg Street which is now fenced off, apart from the footpath to the left:

Cobourg Street

At the end of Cobourg Street is another gate to the main construction site:

HS2 construction site

And on the corner of Cobourg Street and Starcross Street, the Exmouth Arms is still there, and still open (small circle in the map at the start of the post):

Exmouth Arms

Just behind, and to the west of the Exmouth Arms is a new building:

HS2 construction site

At the end of Starcross Street are these school buildings (large circle in the map at the start of the post):

 Maria Fidelis School

The buildings were home to the Maria Fidelis School.

To free up the school site, HS2 have built a new school between Drummond Crescent and Phoenix Road, and the site in Starcross Street is now closed.

HS2’s plans for the school, also reveal the use of the new building between the school and the Exmouth Arms. From the HS2 website, the school and new building will “include welfare accommodation for HS2 site and management staff, and a Construction Skills Centre, including training rooms, workshops and interview rooms”.

The following view is the best I could get of the front of the old Maria Fidelis School, which shows a typical early 20th century brick school, with central curved section, and the playground area on the roof which is surrounded by metal fencing:

 Maria Fidelis School

We have now reached the Hampstead Road, and the following view is looking north. Hoardings continue to screen off the construction site, and as well as the standard information panels, they are covered in site and health and safety information:

Hampstead Road

Looking down what was the northern end of Cardington Street, where it joined Hampstead Road:

HS2 construction site

Where to the right of the above photo there is a large temporary office complex:

HS2 construction site

Looking north from the old junction with Cardington Street, and construction works continue on both sides of the street. To give an idea of how far these works run, Mornington Crescent underground station is not that far after the tower blocks in the photo:

Hampstead Road

This is looking across Hampstead Road to where construction continues heading west, parallel to the existing railway tracks that run into and out off Euston Station.

Hampstead Road

Where there is another access gate:

Hampstead Road

The photo above and the photo below give an indication of the scale of HS2 construction works around Euston. In the above photo, work s continue for some distance from Hampstead Road west, parallel to the existing rail tracks.

At some point, a new bridge will be needed to take Hampstead Road across the extra railway tracks into Euston Station.

The works heading west of Hampstead Road in the above photos lead to the wonderfully named “Euston Cavern”, which is described in the HS2 Euston Approaches FAQ as “a very large, underground structure at the Parkway end of the worksite, to enable one tunnel to split into two, so that trains can access the tunnels from the necessary range of platforms at Euston”. This tunnel takes the tracks away from Euston and heads towards a new station at Old Oak Common.

In the photo below, I am looking south along Hampstead Road, with the hoardings fencing off the construction site disappearing into the distance. Although it cannot be seen, Euston Station is to the left, some considerable distance across the construction site.

Hampstead Road

The HS2 construction works around Euston are considerable, and construction on the line is continuing all the way to Birmingham.

My last walk round the site was in June 2021, eighteen months ago. From alongside the construction site, not too much appears to have changed. The fenced off area has expanded slightly, but looking in from the outside, it is still a massive ground level construction site.

According to the HS2 website, phase one of the route from Euston to Birmingham is scheduled to open between 2029 and 2033 – it will be fascinating to have watched the site evolve from the original streets, gardens and pubs to the latest iteration of Euston Station.

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Boundary Markers in the City of London

I have written a few posts about the blue plaques that can be found across the City of London, and for today’s post I would like to illustrate another feature that can be found across the City’s streets.

Wards are still a part of the way the City of London is organised, and in previous centuries, the division of the City into Parishes was also a key feature, and the City Livery Company’s also owned various properties, as they still do.

There was a need to mark these boundaries and ownership of property. Boundaries also needed to be regularly reaffirmed to maintain the boundary, and this needed to be done in a way that was obvious to those who walked and lived in London’s streets, with a clear record, before the ready availability of detailed maps.

The way to do this was by physical markers on a building or street, to show a boundary, to show in what part of the City’s parishes or Wards buildings belonged, or who owned the building.

There must have been hundreds of these within the City, and even today there are very many to be found, with almost every City street having a marker of some type.

In this post, I would like to highlight a selection of the boundary and ownership markers that can still be seen across the City’s streets.

The first is on the City of London Magistrates Court on the corner of Queen Victoria Street and Walbrook. I have arrowed the marker which is low down on the building:

Walbrook Ward

Where there is a simple marker dated 1892 for the north-western boundary of Walbrook Ward:

Walbrook Ward

Many boundary markers have survived multiple rebuilding’s of a site, and can still be found on relatively recent buildings, such as the location arrowed in Cheapside:

Cheapside

On the left is a parish boundary marker from 1817 for St. M. M. This is for St Mary Magdalene which could be found on Milk Street. This was one of the many City churches destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but the parish boundary still survived.

Parish boundary markers

The boundary marker on the right is for the parish of All Hallows Bread Street, another church that is long gone, not in the Great Fire, but during the late 19th century when the City lost a number of churches due to declining numbers of parishioners.

There are another couple of plaques, the left plaque again for All Hallows, and the plaque on the right for St Mary-le-Bow (look closely to see how the right vertical of the letter M has been combined with the L):

Parish boundary markers

There are a number of boundary markers along King Street, including the pair shown in the following photo:

King Street

On the left is the marker for St Martin Pomeroy, which was in Ironmonger Lane, again another church lost during the Great Fire and not rebuilt:

Parish boundary markers

On the right is St Mary Colechurch, again lost during the Great Fire, but stood on the corner of Cheapside and Old Jewry. This is one of the older parish boundary markers in the City, dating from 1789.

Below are two boundary markers. On the left is St Mary-le-Bow and on the right, St Lawrence Jewry in Guildhall Yard. Both of these plaques date from the 20th century showing that they were still relevant, and being updated.

Parish boundary markers

Parishes had multiple boundary markers to show their boundaries with adjacent parishes, so another marker for St Martin Pomeroy:

Parish boundary markers

There are also markers recording the ownership of property, as on the side of the building in the following photo:

Grocers Company

Where on the left are the armorial bearings of the Grocers’ Company, and on the right those of the Goldsmiths:

Grocers Company

On the corner of Old Jewry and Frederick’s Place:

Old Jewry

There is a plaque with two dates, 1680 and 1775. I think this may be a parish boundary marker for St. Olave Jewry, a church that was demolished in 1888:

Parish boundary markers

I am not sure why there are two dates, and whether the plaque originally dates from 1680, and the 1775 date was added when the boundary of the parish was reviewed and confirmed.

In Princes Street, on the wall of the Bank of England:

Princes Street

There are multiple plaques, with top left, St Margaret Lothbury. Top right is St C.P. a plaque for the church of St Christopher which was on the site of the current day Bank of England. Bottom left is a second plaque for St Margaret Lothbury, 43 years after the plaque above.

Parish boundary markers

The plaques for St Margaret Lothbury are on the left as that was their side of the parish boundary, and the two dates show the years when the boundary was confirmed.

Plaques such as these now in the middle of a wall of a building show where the parish boundary would have been when the area was more subdivided into smaller streets and plots of land. Indeed Roque’s 1746 map of London shows Princes Street turning east at this point, into where the Bank now stands, and where the parish boundary would have run, as illustrated in the following map:

Parish boundary markers

In Lombard Street is another cluster of markers:

Lombard Street

Shown in detail below, on the left is a plaque of the Fishmongers Company, then is All Hallows, Lombard Street which was demolished in 1939, although the tower was moved to Twickenham, where it can still be seen (subject for a future blog post). Then there is a plaque of the Haberdashers Company, which must have been there to show property ownership of adjoining properties by the Fishmongers and Haberdashers. The plaque at lower right is showing the boundary of St Edmund, King and Martyr, a church which is still on Lombard Street:

Parish boundary markers

On the Marks and Spencer, at the entrance to Cannon Street station, are two plaques:

Cannon Street Station

On the left is the boundary marker of St Swithin, London Stone, a church that was badly damaged in 1949, and demolished in 1962. On the right is the boundary marker of another church lost during the Great Fire, the church of St Mary Bothaw, that stood on the site of Cannon Street station.

Parish boundary markers

Opposite Cannon Street Station is a plaque to St John the Baptist. Destroyed during the Great Fire, a church that originally stood on the banks of the Walbrook:

Parish boundary markers

Back on Cheapside, there is a small plaque on the first floor of a building:

Cheapside

The plaque has the arms of the Skinners Company:

Skinners Company

Markers showing ownership of property are often on the edge of a building, to show where the boundary is with the adjacent property, as shown in the photos above, and the photo below:

Haberdashers Company

Where there is a plaque showing the arms of the Haberdashers Company:

Haberdashers Company

On a wall in Great Trinity Lane are three plaques:

Great Trinity Lane

The plaque on the left includes the full name of the church, details the distance from the wall to where the boundary extends, and includes the names of the churchwardens in 1889.

Parish boundary markers

In the middle is St James, Garlickhythe. I cannot find the meaning of the H.T. plaque on the right. It does not have the “St.” prefix of a church, but not sure what else it could be.

In Carter Lane, on a building at the junction with St Andrews Hill:

St Andrews Hill

On the right is a plaque identifying the boundary of Farringdon Ward Within:

Parish boundary markers

And an FP plate on the left, which stands for Fire Plug. Apparently in the early days of the fire service, and when many underground water pipes were made out of wood, firemen would dig down to the water main and bore a small, circular hole in the pipe to obtain a supply of water to fight the fire.

When finished, they would put a wooden plug into the hole, and leave an FP plate on a nearby wall to alert future firefighters that a water main with a plug already existed.

That is just a small sample of the very many boundary markers and markers identifying property ownership, that can be found across the City of London. Considering how many must have been lost over the years, there must have been a considerable number, probably lasting to the early 20th century, identifying Ward boundaries, Parish boundaries and where the City Livery Company’s owned properties.

Of course, it is not just the City where these can be found, there are markers all over London.

As an example, the following view is looking towards Horse Guards, from Horse Guards Parade:

Horse Guards Parade

There is a central arch through the Horse Guards building, a route that has featured in recent royal events where processions will frequently pass through the arch, and a roof mounted camera follows processions through, however look to the roof of the arch as you walk through, and there are two parish boundary markers:

Parish boundary markers

On the right is St Margaret, Westminster, with the suffix of No. 6 which presumably means that this was the 6th marker in a series that marked the parish boundary.

I suspect the marker on the left refers to St Martin in the Fields, adjacent to Trafalgar Square.

These boundary markers are a fascinating reminder of the importance of the parishes and wards in the City of London, even how churches that were lost during the Great Fire in 1666, and not rebuilt, still have their parish boundaries marked on the streets.

Historic property ownership by the livery companies of the City can also be traced by the plaque on the walls of City buildings.

Once you notice them, you will find them on walls all across the City.

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The Changing Face of Leicester Square

Leicester Square, along with Piccadilly Circus, are probably the best known locations in London’s west end. A hub of entertainment, hotels and the shops of global brands. Both major destinations for tourists, they are busy places during the day, and late into the night, however Leicester Square started off as a very different place. Part of London’s westward expansion, large houses, terrace houses and ornamental squares.

In the 16th century, this part of west London was all fields. Development of the square, and the source of its name, would come between 1632 and 1636 with the construction of Leicester House, on the northern side of where the square is located today, but at the time the house was built, it was surrounded by fields.

The house was built by Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, so as with so many parts of London’s expansion over the last centuries, the square has taken its name from the original aristocratic owner of part of the land, and initial developer.

Formation of the square, and building of houses along the sides of the square came in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and by 1755 the square was developed as shown in the following map, where the square was then known as Leicester Fields, a name from when Leicester House was the only building in the area.

Leicester Fields

In the above map, Leicester House can be seen on the northern side of the square, with a large courtyard to the front of the house, and gardens to the rear. The fields surrounding Leicester House have been buried under the building of the early 18th century.

The following print from around 1720 shows the appearance of Leicester Square (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Leicester Square

Leicester House can be seen set back from the street on the northern side of the square, and the sides of the square have been developed with the standard terrace housing of early 18th century London.

The central square has been laid out with formal gardens of grass and trees, with paths, and a tree in the centre of the square. This would be replaced with a statue of George I in 1747.

A close-up look at Leicester House shows a horse and coach at the front of the house, along with small groups of people who appear to be holding poles of some type, or perhaps rifles. Large gates protect the house from the street, and there are gardens, stables and outbuildings to the rear:

Leicester House

Leicester House went through a number of different residents, and perhaps the most important was the Prince of Wales who would later become George ll. He had been thrown out of the royal apartments at St. James’s Palace following an argument with his father, King George I, and moved in at the end of 1717.

George I died on the 11th of June, 1727. The Prince of Wales was away from London, but returned quickly to his home at Leicester House, and he was proclaimed King at the gates to his house – the only time that a new King or Queen has been proclaimed in what is now Leicester Square.

The King stayed in Leicester House until the end of 1727, whilst St. James Palace was being prepared for him.

Leicester Square’s first experience as a place of exhibitions and entertainment seems to have been in 1774, when the naturalist Ashton Lever took over Leicester House and turned it into a museum, to house and display his large collection of natural history objects.

The collection remained at Leicester House until Lever’s death in 1788, when it was then moved to the Rotunda in Blackfriars Road.

Thomas Waring, who had worked for Ashton Lever remained at the house until 1791, and it is Waring that offers a clue as to what the people were doing in the early print of the house, where there are people holding what appear to be poles in the courtyard.

Waring was a founder member of the Toxophilite (Archery) Society, and meetings were held at Leicester House, so perhaps those standing in the courtyard were archers with their bows.

Leicester House was demolished around 1791 and 1792.

Following the demolition of Leicester House, the square would rapidly become a destination for entertainments. One major building specifically for this purpose was Wyld’s Great Globe, open between 1851 and 1862.

Constructed in the square by the mapmaker and former Member of Parliament. James Wyld, the purpose of the Great Globe was to show visitors the wonders that could be found across the world, with models, maps and lectures.

A view of the Great Globe, before galleries were constructed at ground level, linking the main entrances, is shown in the following print (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Wyld's Great Globe

Wyld’s Great Globe was very popular and had very many paying customers. An impression of the educational approach of the Great Globe can be had from the following article in the London Sun on the 6th of June, 1854:

“WYLD’S GREAT GLOBE – Throughout the whole of yesterday, Mr. Wyld’s intelligent lecturer was unceasingly engaged in enlightening such of the public as sought here rather instruction than amusement, upon geographical features of the ‘Great Globe’, devoting, of course, as everybody now does, his chief attention to those parts which are rendered peculiarly interesting by the war with Russia. A brief summary of the Ottoman empire was very appropriately introduced, and served to place in a very clear light the momentous question which is now at issue,

The late discoveries in the Artic Regions likewise came in for a good share of notice; and the dry study of the globe itself, and of the various maps on the subject, was relieved by an inspection of a small, but valuable, collection of dresses, boats, and implements of war, of inhabitants of those unhospitable climes, and of birds and beasts which are found there. These articles are contained in a small anteroom which by clever illusion, is made to resemble a tent with the faint light which is only seen at the North Pole. The juvenile part of the visitors seemed to take an especial delight in examining the different objects in this little chamber.”

Although initially very successful, Wyld’s Great Globe suffered from local competition, and had to look at other forms of entertainment, and started to put on variety shows alongside the educational exhibitions and lectures.

One of the local competitors of Wyld’s was Burford’s Panorama which was located just north of the square, between Leicester Square and Lisle Street.

An idea of the panoramas available can be had from the following advert in the Illustrated London News on the 7th of June, 1851:

“BURFORD’S HOLY CITY of JERUSALEM and FALLS of NIAGARA – Now open at BURFORD’S PANORAMA ROYAL. Leicester Square. the above astounding and interesting views, admission 1s to both views, in order to meet the present unprecedented season. The views of the LAKES of KILLARNEY and of LUCERNE are also now open. Admission, 1s to each circle, or 2s 6d to the three circles. Schools half price. Open from 10 till dusk.”

The following section view shows the interior of Burford’s Panorama, with the views being exhibited on the walls of the circular building (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Burford's Panorama

Remarkably, the outline of Burford’s Panorama can still be seen today. On the 25th of March 1865, Father Charles Faure puchased the building that housed Burford’s Panorama. and the French architect, Louis Auguste Boileau transformed the building into a new church within an iron structure.

The new church opened in 1868 as Notre Dame de France, a French speaking church in London. The church has an entrance on Leicester Place, but it is only from above that we can see the circular form of the church, on the site of Burford’s Panorama.

Click this link to go to an aerial Google view where the outline of the Panorama can clearly be seen.

Another competitor to the Wylde’s Great Globe and Burford’s Panorama was the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art, also built in Leicester Square (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Royal Panoptican of Science and Art

The Royal Panopticon of Science and Art opened on the 17th of March 1854, and held scientific and artistic displays and lectures. The Royal Panopticon was popular, often attracting up to 1,000 vistors a day, but did have problems from the day of opening. In their report after the opening, the owners wrote that:

“Since the opening of the institution, everything that had taken place out of doors militated against its success. First of all there was the war; next, the attractive novelty of Crystal Palace, and finally the cholera – all tending to keep the public from visiting the Panopticon, which, under all such disadvantages had nevertheless been successful to a degree greater than could have been anticipated by the council.”

I suspect the owners were being a bit optimistic in their report, as the Royal Panopticon only lasted two years, closing in 1856, when the building became the Alhambra Theatre of Variety, which can be seen in the following photo from 1896 as the large building with domes on the roof. This version of the Alhambra was of a slightly more simple design, having been a rebuild of the original building which was destroyed by fire in 1882.The brick building to the right is Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School, highlighting the different types of institution that have made Leicester Square their home.

Leicester Square

The Alhambra Theatre of Variety seems to have offered a wide variety of entertainments. The following rather cryptic advert from the Westminster Gazette provides details of what was on offer during the evening of the 3rd of October, 1893:

“Alhambra Theatre of Varieties – Open 7:30 – At 8:40 the Grand Ballet, FIDELIA. And at 10.30 CHICAGO, Grais’s Marvelous Baboon and Donkey (first appearance in England), Thora, the Poluskis, R.H. Douglas, The Three Castles, the Agoust Family, and the TILLEY SISTERS &c.”

The Poluskis were the Poluski Brothers, Will and Sam who were born in Limehouse and Shadwell. There is a recording of their act in 1911 online here.

The Agoust family were a family of jugglers and there is a video of their act here.

The type of variety acts that the Alhambra specialised in started to decline in popularity after the First World War. During the 1920s, the cinema began to capture the imagination of those looking for a night out in London, and in 1936 the Alhambra was demolished, to be replaced with the Odeon Cinema, which can still be found on Leicester Square.

Another current cinema which followed a similar path is the Empire Cinema on the northern side of Leicester Square. Originally built as a variety theatre in 1884, the theatre started showing film in 1896, and over the following years started to offer a mix of live performance along with short films.

As with the Alhambra, variety theatre dropped in popularity during the 1920s, and in 1927 the majority of the Empire Theatre was demolished, and rebuilt as the Empire Cinema. The cinema has had a number of major upgrades over the years and it is still open as a cinema today.

The following photo from the 1920s shows the Empire on the left, on a damp night in Leicester Square.

Leicester Square at night

A view across the central square to the northern side of Leicester Square in the early years of the 20th century:

Leicester Square

That was a very quick run through of the history of Leicester Square. From the site of an aristicratic house surrounded by fields, to a typical London 18th century square surrounded by fine houses, which then became the site of 19th century entertainments, which have continued into the 20th and 21st centuries, with only really technology changes that have resulted in film replacing panoramas and variety theatre as the popular source of entertainment.

Time for a walk around the square. The view from the north-east corner:

Leicester Square

On the north-east corner of Leicester Square is Burger King, housed in a rather impressive building.

Burger King

The building was originally the Samuel Whitbread pub, opened in December 1958, and was Whitbread’s attempt at reviving London’s post war pub trade. Designed by architects TP Bennett & Son, with four distinct interior spaces by designers Richard Lonsdale-Hands Associates.

The pub was very much a 1950s design, and during the 1960s it started to seem dated, and did not have the benefit of being a traditional London pub to help.

Whitbread sold it to Forte in 1970, who renamed it as the Inncenta, however by the late 1970s, the pub, along with much of Leicester Square was becoming rather squalid, and suffered from lack of investment.

The building may change again, as the owners, Soho Estates are looking to redevelop the building to make it more of a “destination” site in Leicester Square.

View of the north-east corner of Leicester Square:

Leicester Square

The Empire Cinema on the north side of the square, showing how buildings on the square have continued to adapt, as the site now has an IMAX cinema as well as a casino.

Empire Leicester Square

The above photo was taken within the central square, and the following photo is looking towards the central statue.

Leicester Square

The gardens of Leicester Square are today rather basic. Surrounding trees with grass on the outer sides of the square. The square has been used for a number of commercial activities that take over the square. for example, in pre-Covid days, there was a Christmas Market across the square in the weeks before Christmas.

The square though does have a secret, as below the square is a key part of the West Ends electricity distribution infrastructure.

Leicester Square

Below the square is a large, multiple level, electricity substation. The substation basically takes high voltage feeds from the main distribution network, and “transforms” this high voltage down to the 240 volts that ends up in the sockets of local homes, businesses and shops.

Large devices called transformers perform this function, and earlier this year the third of three new transformers arrived at Leicester Square as part of an upgrade of the substation in order to support the increasing demand for electricity in the West End. The southern part of the square is still fenced off as part of this upgrade.

In the centre of square today, is a statue of William Shakespeare, with below an inscription that records that the square was purchased, laid out and decorated as a garden by Albert Grant, and conveyed by him to the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1874:

Shakespear statue Leicester Square

The Graphic on the 4th of July 1874 provides some more details on how and why this happened, after the demolition of Wyld’s Great Globe:

“Bit by bit the rusty iron railings were filched away, while the statue of King George II on horseback became a butt of practical jokers. On one occasion (and at considerable expense) some systematic wags bedaubed it with whitewash, and finally the horse and rider parted company, the latter lying prone in the mud. The old proverb that when matters come to their worst they must perforce mend. Leicester Square had attained its nadir when Sir George Jessel decreed that the freeholders were bound to restore the Square to its original state of respectability.

The freeholders were preparing to appeal this decision, the Board of Works were about to apply to Parliament for powers to purchase the site, when Mr. Albert Grant, MP for Kidderminster, appeared on the scene, and has since acquired the freeholder property. Mr. Grant resolved to make a most generous and patriotic use of his purchase, by laying out this hitherto desolate area as an open ornamental place, provided with walks, lawns and parterres of flowers. The whole of the works have been designed and completed under the superintendence of Mr. Knowles, the well-known architect; and on Thursday last Mr. Grant handed over this munificent present to the Metropolitan Board of Works, as trustees for the people of London.”

The statue of William Shakespeare dates from the 1874 restoration of the square by Albert Grant. It was sculpted in marble by Giovanni Fontana, and is modeled on Peter Scheemaker’s monument in Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey.

Shakespeare is pointing to the phrase, “there is no darkness but ignorance” which comes from the play “Twelfth Night” 

View from the square towards the Odeon Cinema:

Odeon Leicester Square

Leicester Square today is a major tourist destination, and therefore attracts major international brands. One such being Lego, who have a queuing system outside their store. This helps manage the numbers inside, but also enhances the image if you can show large queues wanting to get inside your store.

Lego Leicester Square

The view towards Piccadilly, with the Swiss glockenspiel, which was originally on the Swiss Centre, which was demolished in 2008. I have some photos of that which I still need to find and scan.

Swiss Centre

A hotel, and large store for M&Ms was built on the site of the Swiss Centre:

M&Ms Leicester Square

A recent addition to Leicester Square is a Greggs. Not a global brand, and I do find the thought of a Greggs in Leicester Square, alongside the flagship stores of Lego and M&Ms, rather amusing.

Greegs Leicester Square

Around the square are various works of art that represent characters from films, including Gene Kelly in a scene from Singing in the Rain:

Leicester Square

The west side of the square with an All-Bar-One and a McDonalds. Just visible is a plaque between the two buildings.

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Which records that the portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds lived and died in a house on the site, as well as where numerous members of the aristocracy and society sat for Reynolds to have their portrait painted.

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Reynolds was not the only artist who lived in Leicester Square. William Hogarth had his main home in the south-eastern corner of the square. This was his central London base, and his house in Chiswick was his country retreat.

The southern side of Leicester Square:

Odeon cinema

For many years there has been a theatre ticket centre on the southern side of the square, selling tickets for shows that evening, or the coming days.

Leicester Square ticket office

The hoardings on the right in the above photo are screening off the work site where upgrades are being made to the electricity substation below the square.

The eastern side of the square:

Capital Radio

The building on the right is the offices of Global Radio, the company that owns radio stations such as Capital Radio and LBC – the two original London commercial stations that have since morphed into national brands.

The TGI Fridays on the ground floor was once the Capital Radio Cafe, which, and speaking from experience, was a perfect venue for early teenage children’s birthday parties.

Between TGI Fridays and the Odeon cinema, is Leicester Square’s only pub, Wetherspoons The Moon Under Water:

Moon under Water pub

The pub dates from around 1992. Number 28 was one of the original Leicester Square houses that was demolished towards the end of the 19th century, and, following the mid 19th century approach to have exhibitions for entertainment, housed the Museum National of Mechanical Arts.

In the 1930s, number 28 was the site of the “400 Club” which was known as the club for the upper classes and aristocracy, with Princess Margaret becoming a regular client of the club in the 1950s. The Tatler would often have reports of who was to be seen at the 400 Club, and would include photos of men in Dinner Jackets and women in expensive jewelry.

That was a very quick tour of the history of Leicester Square. A square that started off as one of London’s typical residential squares, with fine houses and a central square, although with the unusual feature of Leicester House to the north.

A square that has quickly evolved into one of London’s centres of entertainment, starting with panoramas and scientific displays and lectures, which then became a home for variety theatre and then London’s hub for cinema, and which is where the majority of major films have their UK premier.

In the coming week, The Last Heist premiers at the Vue cinema in Leicester Square on Wednesday the 2nd of November, followed by Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at Cineworld on Thursday the 3rd.

However popular entertainment evolves in the future, I am sure that Leicester Square will play some part in being London’s West End hub.

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The Great Fire in Cripplegate

Fires have been a risk within London for centuries. Streets full of houses, side by side with warehouses full of inflammable goods, industrial premises, and until recently, a lack of comprehensive measures to prevent fire. The 1666 Great Fire of London is the most famous, however there were many others. I have written about the 1861 Great Fire at London Bridge, and today I want to feature another fire, the 1897 Great Fire in Cripplegate.

I have touched on the fire in previous blogs in an area I have covered a number of times as my father took many post-war photos of the area where the Barbican and Golden Lane estates are located, and it is fascinating being able to peel back the many layers of history of a specific area.

For today’s post, I am really grateful to a reader, who came on one of my walks and then sent me a number of newspapers and special editions, printed at the time of the fire to provide a record.

The cover of the City Press “Record of the Great Fire in Cripplegate”:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The cover of the booklet includes a map of the area affected, showing the buildings damaged by the fire in black. The map shows an area of busy streets with lots of housing, warehouses and industrial premises. This is so very different to the area today, which is now covered by the Barbican estate.

I have marked out the area of the Great Fire in Cripplegate within the dark blue lines in the following map. The church of St Giles Cripplegate (also shown in the above map) is within the red rectangle  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Map of the Great Fire in Cripplegate

The fire started in the premises of Waller and Brown at numbers 30 and 31 Hamsell Street, just before one in the afternoon. They were described as mantle manufactures, so presumably manufactured parts of, if not all of the components used in a gas lamp.

The report of the start of the fire states that most of the factory hands were out in the streets as it was lunch time, so perhaps someone had left a naked flame near some inflammable material as they went for lunch.

The fire spread quickly, with the buildings on either side of Waller and Brown’s building, soon being alight.

The report of the Great Fire in Cripplegate, and the photos which follow, mention lots of streets affected by the fire. Streets that had stood for centuries, but were lost under the Barbican development. I have plotted these streets in the following map, and marked the location of Waller and Brown’s building, the start of the fire, with a dark blue circle  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Map of the Great Fire in Cripplegate

The fire brigade were quickly onsite, with the nearest station being in Whitecross Street (which was just to the right of Redcross Street in the above map).

The fire spread very quickly as most of the buildings were warehouses full of highly inflammable goods, and the account of the fire describes warehouses being burnt to the ground very quickly.

The following photo shows the view from the top of the ruins in Jewin Crescent, looking towards the tower of St Giles Cripplegate:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The following two photos are part of a two page spread which shows the devastated area between Hamsell Street and Well Street, looking south. Well Street to the left:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

And Hamsell Street to the right:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

Redcross Street seems to have formed a natural fire break. This was a major street in the area and one of the wider streets in Cripplegate unlike the rest of the streets that would be devastated by the fire.

The following photo was taken from the walkway underneath Gilbert House in the Barbican. Redcross Street ran left to right, from the corner of the building on the left (City of London School for Girls), across the water feature, and continuing underneath the buildings on the right. The fire started a short distance along the City of London School for Girls.

View of the Barbican from Gilbert House

The following two photos show the destruction along Jewin Crescent.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

Jewin Crescent started at where the City of London School for Girls in now located, ran along what is now the Thomas Moore Residents Garden, and rejoined Jewin Street under what is now Thomas Moore House (see map earlier in the post).

The following photo is looking across the residents garden, where Jewin Crescent occupied much of the space.

View of Thomas Moore Residents Gardens

As the fire occurred during the early afternoon of a working day, there were very many people in the area and large crowds soon gathered which were a problem for the firemen attempting to get to the streets on fire and at risk.

Police and firemen tried to keep the crowd in order, but with difficulties. The report states that this was much easier in Redcross Street due to the large number of showers of burning embers that would blow across the streets. There were several cases of people in the crowd being badly burned by these, and that “many had damaged headgear”.

By the end of the day, police were being brought in from all across the City, and by the evening there were estimated to be a combined force of 500 firemen and police officers both fighting the fire and managing the crowds.

There were complaints about delays in getting sufficient fire appliances to the scene, however the first two appliances arrived just after one in the afternoon, only minutes after the alarm had been raised, four more arrived eight minutes later and within 30 minutes there were 19 steamers (steam driven pumps) at the scene of the fire.

The following photo on the left is looking down Well Street from Jewin Street . A bit hard to see, but on the left edge of the photo there is a sign for “Cup of Tea 2d”. This was the site of the Cripplegate Restaurant at number 12 Well Street. The building on the right of the left hand photo is that of the Bespoke Tailoring Company.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The above photo on the right shows the corner of Well Street and was occupied by London Hanover Stationers, as well as the Bespoke Tailoring Company – again, all buildings which would have had large quantities of inflammable materials.

The photo on the left in the following pair was taken from the western end of Jewin Crescent looking east. This was the edge of the devastated area. The building on the right of the left hand photo was that of Mr. M. Jacob, importer of straw goods. the building suffered considerable damage and again highlights that the area was one in which a small fire could spread very quickly due to the large amount of flammable materials.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The photo on the right was taken on the Sunday after the fire and shows firemen continuing to damp down the ruins, with clouds of smoke and steam still rising.

The report into the fire mentions that the astonishing rate at which the fire spread was due to “the nature of the buildings, the stock they contained, the distribution of enclosed courts, numerous communications in party walls and the narrowness and relative positions of the thoroughfares”.

So although many of the buildings appear separate, with a wall between the neighbouring building, many walls between buildings had been knocked through, allowing the fire to spread without the firebreak of brick walls between buildings. There were also holes in the floors between floors, these were called well holes, and allowed the movement of materials between floors,

The following two photos are looking along Jewin Street. The photo on the left looking towards Aldersgate Street, and on the right, looking east from Aldersgate Street.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

In the photo on the left, the ruins of the Grapes Tavern can be seen on the left, and on the right of the left-hand photo are the premises of A. Bromet & Co, wholesale jewelers and C.W. Faulkner & Co. Publishers and Colour Printers.

The buildings in the right-hand photo were occupied by agents, who specialised in the import and export of goods, provision of raw materials to the businesses in the area, along with the sale of finished goods.

The following photo is the view across Well Street to Jewin Street, and looks similar to many of the photos of wartime damage in the same area. The photo was taken shortly after the fire, when many of the buildings had been demolished due to the dangerous state in which the fire left them.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The following photo is looking west from near the tower of St Giles church. Jewin Street ran from the left, then under Thomas Moore House which is the building on the left. Well Street ran right to left, from Jewin Street, roughly at the end of the paved floor in the lower part of the photo:

View of the Barbican

The following photo shows the corner of Hamsell and Jewin Streets and shows a closer view of the Grapes Tavern on the ground floor of the corner building.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The Grapes Tavern seems to have dated from the early 19th century. The first mention of the pub I can find dates from 1818 when it was called the Bunch of Grapes. It appears to have been rebuilt after the fire, and was finally lost when the area was bombed at the end of 1940.

The following photo from the report was titled “The Ruins of Hamsell Street”, and mentions that the remains of the lamp-post on the right was opposite the warehouse of Beardsworth and Cryer, manufacturers, which was totally burnt out, again a photo that looks as if it was of the bombed City.

Great Fire in Cripplegate

In the right hand photo of the following pair, the name Soley refers to Mr. George Soley who was a fancy box manufacturer:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The photo on the left of the above pair was taken from St Giles Churchyard and is looking west. on the left is the medieval bastion that can still be seen today.

In the following photo, the bastion can be seen on the left. St Giles Church is on the right, and the old churchyard once surrounded the church, went beyond the bastion then ran onwards to the left.

View of Barbican bastion

The following two photos make up a two page spread, showing the area of Hamsell and Well Streets, with St Giles in the centre of the photo (split across the two pages).

In the first photo, Hamsell Street is the street in the foreground. On the right of the photo is a lower building compared to the ruins of the others in the view. This was the rectory of St Giles Cripplegate, and stood on what is today the paved area to the west of the church tower (see photo of that view today, above).

Great Fire in Cripplegate

The second part of the two page spread looking to the right of the church:

Great Fire in Cripplegate

Remarkably, there were few casualties and no deaths from the Great Fire in Cripplegate.

Some workers had narrow escapes, including having to scramble over roofs to reach buildings that were not yet on fire. A few firemen were injured, included a burn from falling cinders, and being cut by glass.

The Times newspaper started an appeal for funds to help workers who had lost their jobs as a result of the fire. The paper commented that “the most grievous feature of the calamity will depend upon the numbers of industrious people who will be deprived of work at the commencement of the winter season, and many of whom, as being skilled in a special industry which for a time will be almost entirely suspended, will find it difficult or impossible to find work elsewhere.”

The “Star’s” reporting on Saturday 20th November 1897 was very typical of newspaper reports of the fire – The Greatest Fire of Modern Times, Damage Estimated By Millions:

The Great Fire in the City

The fire was of such significance that an inquest was held in the following weeks. The inquest was opened on the morning of Monday the 6th of December 1897 in the Old Council Chamber of the Guildhall.

A jury was assembled from the wards of Aldersgate, Farringdon Within and Cripplegate. The following photo shows the assembled jury, looking very much a late 19th century jury that you would expect.

Great Fire in Cripplegate Jury

The jury was asked to provide their view on 11 specific questions relating to the fire, and in order to help them make their decisions, a large number of people were called to provide evidence. This included the owner of the business in which the fire started, a number of members of staff working within the building, the architects of the building, the District Surveyor of the northern district of the City, Professor Boverton Redwood, an analytical and consulting chemist to the Corporation of London, and members of the Fire brigade and of the New River Company.

I have written about the New River Company in a number of previous posts, and it was their water supply through the streets of Cripplegate that was essential in being able to fight the fire. It was estimated that 15 million gallons of water was drawn from the mains of the New River Company by the Fire Brigade during the battle to control the fire.

The questions asked of the jury, and their verdicts are as follows:

  1. Where did the fire originate? – The fire originated on the first floor of No. 13 Well Street E.C. in the occupation of Messrs. Waller and Brown.
  2. At what time? – At from a quarter to one to ten minutes to one on Friday November 19th
  3. What was the cause of the fire? – The ignition of a stack of goods near the well-hole on the first floor (a well hole was a hole in the structure of the building between floors)
  4. Was it from spontaneous combustion? – No
  5. Was it from a gas explosion? – No
  6. Was it accidently fire? – No
  7. Was it wilfully fired, and if so, by whom? – Yes, by some person or persons unknown (This was decided by sixteen to six of the Jurymen)
  8. Was there any delay on the part of the Brigade in arriving at the scene of the disaster? – There was no delay after reception of the call
  9. Were the appliances and steamers and the coal and water supply sufficient? – With regard to the appliances at the fire, yes; as regards steamers at the fire, yes; as regards the coal, no; as regards the water, yes
  10. What was the cause of the rapid spread and development of the fire? – The style and construction of the buildings, the narrowness of the streets, the late call and the further delay of fourteen minutes from the time of receiving the call to the first steamer to work
  11. Have you any general suggestion or recommendation to make as to the reconstruction of the buildings destroyed? – We recommend that this area should be so reconstructed as to have greater regard to the safety of the adjacent property, and that all new buildings of the warehouse class, match-board lining should be prohibited for walls and ceilings and that all ceilings should be plastered and covered with fire-resisting materials

So the jury found that the fire had been started on purpose, but could not identify who had started the fire, although this was not the unanimous conclusion of the jury.

The report included a number of recommendations for how the area should be rebuilt after the devastation of the fire:

Rebuilding Cripplegate

Recommendations included widening existing streets and building wider new streets. One recommendation included widening and extending Jewin Street all the way to Smithfield.

Rebuilding Cripplegate

However in late 19th century London, the commercial imperative was key, and the area was rebuilt to the existing street plan, and again lined with warehouses and other commercial premises.

In a similar commercial vein, the City Press publication included several pages of adverts where advertisers made use of the fire to show the benefits of their products and services.

Dawney’s Fireproof Floors apparently withstood the tremendous fire and proved to be absolutely indestructible in a six storied druggist’s warehouse:

Advert

John Tann’s “Anchor-Reliance” Safes were again triumphant during the fire, and their advert included a couple of photos with their safes shown in the ruins of the buildings in which they were once housed.

Advert

If they are related, the Tann family seem to have had two seperate companies selling safes, with Robert Tann’s “Defiance” safes collecting some testimonials from the Great Fire.

Advert

The advert on the right in the above pair, and the following advert show the growing use of steel and expanded metal in the construction of buildings. There were no claims as to their products use in Clerkenwell, so these adverts were showing how buildings could be built to have prevent the spread of fire. The following Expanded metal Company also advertised the use of expanded metal as a tension bond in concrete.

Steel would become the dominant structural material in buildings over the coming decades and is used in all new City buildings today.

Advert

Another two companies looking to capitalise on the fire were the National Safe Deposit Company, who included a letter from Frederick Newton & Co who had lost their building in the fire, but were relieved that all their key documents were held by the National Safe Deposit Company, along with the Union Assurance Society who provided insurance for Fire and Life:

Advert

Another safe company – Ratner Safe Co. Ltd, who included a letter from Holyman & Co who had two Ratner Safes, which preserved all their papers during the fire. Mason & Co who had their “Steam Joinery Works” in Myddleton Street, Clerkenwell, were advertising “High-class joinery for the trade” and were ready for “every description of repair”.

Advert

More successful safes, a bucket fire-extinquisher, office fitters and a Fire Surveyor and Assessor Claims:

Advert

Another advert for the use of metal in construction, with fireproof flooring, the use of steel joists and “metal lathing” which was advertised for use in floors, ceiling and partitions:

Advert

The area of the Great Fire in Cripplegate was rebuilt quickly, with the new buildings continuing the commercial and industrial use at the time of the fire.

A new fire station was built soon after the Great Fire, in Redcross Street.

The justification for the new fire station in Redcross Street can be seen in this article from Lloyds Weekly Newspaper on the 4th of December 1898, which shows that the warehouses were full of the same type of materials as during the 1897 fire:

“Hitherto Watling-street has been the chief City fire station, and the proposed change would be of great advantage, as the warehouses in the vicinity of Wood-street are filled, as a rule, with the most combustible materials. On the northern side the station would be of very great utility to the over-crowded districts of St. Luke’s and Shoreditch, where most houses are old and the danger of fire considerable.”

In a little over 40 years after the Great Fire in Cripplegate, the area would be devastated again during one of the most damaging raids of the Second World War, when on the night of the 29th December 1940, fires created by incendiary bombs caused fires that would again lay waste to the warehouses and commercial buildings of Cripplegate.

The Barbican would be the post-war answer to “executive” housing in the City of London, and would erase the streets and street names of centuries.

I have written a number of posts, which include my father’s post war photos, covering the streets mentioned in this post, and the land occupied by the Barbican Estate. A selection of these posts:

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G. J. Chapman, Penton Street and Chapel Market

My Wapping walk next Saturday is sold out. There are some places remaining on walks in Wapping, the Barbican, Southbank and Bankside later in October. Click here for details and booking for my final walks of 2022.

Many of London’s streets have lost much of their local character over the last few decades. Many long term trends have contributed to this. The spread of global brands, online shopping, local population change, quick profits through a conversion of a building to flats, architectural styles etc.

An example can be found in Penton Street, a turn off from Pentonville Road, just to the west of the Angel, where, in 1985, at number 10 Penton Street could be found the shop of G.J. Chapman:

Penton Street

The same view, 37 years later, in September 2022:

Penton Street

Chapman’s was a very different shop. Whilst there were plenty of general hardware stores, also shops that stocked gardening supplies, they did not usually have so much stock on display outside the shop. I cannot find exactly when Chapman’s closed, I do remember it was still open in the mid 1990s, but after that it became one of the ongoing changes that are so easily missed.

I assume that the building has become flats, with two front doors, mirroring the doors in the original shop. The white paint has been cleaned from the brickwork, and it is not clear how much of the original wooden surround to the shop front remains.

The space behind the BA Concorde advert on the left in 1985 is now occupied by a new block of flats.

Penton Street was one of the first streets built as part of the Pentonville development. The name comes from the owner of the estate on which the development was built, Henry Penton, the MP for Winchester. The addition of the French “ville” to Penton’s name may have been to give an upmarket feel to the estate, which was helped by the rural setting at the time of the original development, with much of the land to the north still consisting of fields.

Penton Street seems roughly aligned with a lane that ran through fields along what is now Amwell Street to the south, then up to Copenhagen Fields, although only a small part of the original lane, along Penton Street retains the original route.

The first terraces along Penton Street were built in the 1770s, and the area between Penton Street and the Angel was fully developed by the end of the 18th century.

The southern end of Penton Street joins Pentonville Road, opened in 1756 as the continuation of the New Road, an 18th century north circular around the north of the city, providing access to the docks, and for drovers driving sheep and cattle to market in Smithfield, whilst avoiding the crowded City streets.

The northern end of the street joins Barnsbury Road which continues north. It is a relatively short street and can be walked in a matter of minutes.

On the corner of Penton Street and Pentonville Road is the Lexington. A pub on the ground floor and music venue on the first floor. It was originally built in 1875 and was named the Belvedere, replacing an earlier pub on the site, with the same name, and dating from the development of Penton Street.

The Lexington today:

Penton Street

Penton Street seems to have been developed as a residential street, with terrace housing, however commercial premises and shops gradually took over parts of the houses, and there has been considerable redevelopment so even when the façade facing onto the street looks original, a glance behind will show a later rebuild, as can be seen in the example in the following photo where later brickwork forms the side wall to an earlier front wall:

Penton Street

Further along Penton Street is another large pub, the Chapel Bar. Again, another pub that has had a recent name change. It was originally the Queen’s Arms, and seems to date from around 1848 which is the year of the first newspaper mention that I can find:

Penton Street

The clown, Joseph Grimaldi, lived in Penton Street at what is now number 44 between 1799 and 1800, although I could not find any plaque on the building. There is a plaque on number 28 recording that the building was the London headquarters of the African National Congress between 1978 and 1994:

Penton Street

Although G.J. Chapman’s shop has gone, if we turn off Penton Street into Chapel Market, we find a street market, and a shop with a similar stock to Chapman’s, but without the impressive display of goods for sale on the street. Chapel Market Building & D.I.Y:

Chapel Market

Originally Chapel Street, the street was developed soon after Penton Street and was lined with terrace houses by the 1790s. The street would stay residential for the first half of the 19th century, but would take on a much more commercial character from the 1850s onwards. This was probably down to the rapidly growing local population, and the commercial opportunities that such a population offered.

The ground floors of the large terrace houses were converted into shops which were extended over an original small front yard to bring the shop up to the edge of the street.

As well as shops, the street became the hub for a street market. The market may predate the arrival of shops in the 1850s, but again it was from 1850 onwards that the street became the venue for a large street market.

The mid 19th century also saw the large terrace houses turn into multi-occupancy houses and there were contemporary reports of much poverty and squalor in the street.

Over the years, the street has also seen many of the original terrace houses demolished and replaced with office blocks and large shops.

The following photo sums up the changes to Chapel Market, with stalls of the street market in the foreground, terrace houses to the right, with ground floor shops extended over the original yard to the street, and much later buildings on the left which replaced the original terrace houses:

Chapel Market

Both the market and the shops now offer a very wide mix of goods and services from fast food, to fruit and veg, fishmongers, supermarkets, cafes, pharmacies, opticians, florists etc. with the stalls in the market changing during the week.

Chapel Market

The name change from Chapel Street to Chapel Market came in 1936 to recognise the size and importance of the market.

The name chapel does not refer to any local chapel. There appears to have been an intention around 1770 to build a chapel of ease around Chapel Market and Penton Street, however a chapel was built much further to the west along Pentonville Road, but the name stuck with the intended original location near Chapel Street, now Chapel Market.

Chapel Market

The market was open all day and all evening during the second half of the 19th century. An article in the Clerkenwell News in September 1870 reports on the raging of a “fever” in the area and the precautions that the local Parish Vestry were trying to implement. This included more frequent removal of refuse from Chapel Market and the application of disinfect along the gullies of the street.

The problem was that the market was seldom closed before midnight, so the best that the Vestry could do was to ensure that the street was swept and refuse removed by seven of the following morning, ready for the market to open again.

Chapel Market

Chapel Market was the site of the first branch of Sainsbury’s in 1882 following on from their original shop in Drury Lane. The Sainsbury’s archive has a number of photos of the original shop, and Chapel Market in the late 19th century, and can be viewed here.

Marks and Spencer would also arrive in 1930. They now have a Food Hall on the street, and Sainsbury’s have moved to a much larger store, close by in Liverpool Road.

Today, the market sells things that in the 19th century would have been considered science fiction:

Chapel Market

The entrance to Chapel Market from Liverpool Road:

Chapel Market

So although G.J. Chapman’s shop has gone, and been replaced by a rather bland façade onto Penton Street, there is still a thriving local cluster of shops around the market in Chapel Market, which will hopefully continue to serve the local population for many years to come.

The 1985 photo of G.J. Chapman’s was taken by my father, and when I scanned the strip of negatives with this photo, there were a couple more which brought back the challenges of using film. There were two other photos of the shop, but in each photo a vehicle had just intruded into the photo:

G.J. Chapman

Penton Street has always been a relatively busy road, and framing a photo, then trying to avoid any passing traffic is still a challenge.

G.J. Chapman

I was using a digital camera where the number of photos is limited by the size of memory card, and each photo is basically free. This was not the case with film, and I well remember the challenges of trying to get the wanted photo in a busy environment with a 36 exposure film in the camera. Luckily, my father finally got a vehicle free photo of G.J. Chapman.

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Cloak Lane, St John the Baptist, the Walbrook and the Circle Line

One of the pleasures of wandering around London streets are the random memorials and objects that have survived from previous centuries, and how they can lead to a fascinating story of an aspect of the City’s history. Perhaps one of the strangest can be found in Cloak Lane, to the west of Cannon Street Station, between Dowgate Hill and Queen Street.

The ground floor of one of the buildings on the northern side of Cloak Lane has a number of arches with metal railings, and a large memorial occupying one of the arches:

Cloak Lane

A closer view, and the railings have signs that imply that there is perhaps more to discover:

Cloak Lane

The monument provides some information:

Cloak Lane

The contrast between letters and stone is not that high in the above photo, so I have reproduced the text on the monument below:

Cloak Lane

There is much to unpack from the inscription on the monument, and it does not tell the full story.

The church of St John the Baptist upon Walbrook was one of the City churches that was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666, and not rebuilt, so after the fire, only the churchyard remained.

I have circled the location of the surviving churchyard, at the junction of Cloak Lane and Dowgate Hill in the following extract from William Morgan’s, 1682 map of London:

St John the Baptist upon Walbrook

According to “London Churches Before The Great Fire” (Wilberforce Jenkinson, 1917), St John the Baptist upon Walbrook was “Founded before 1291, and enlarged in 1412, and ‘new-builded’ around 1598. The west end of the church was on the bank of the Walbrook, hence the title.”

The Walbrook is one of London’s lost rivers, and in the following map I have marked the location of church and churchyard along with the Walbrook which made its way down to Upper Thames Street which was the early location of the Thames shoreline (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Walbrook and Dowgate Hill

The book states that the west end of the church was on the bank of the Walbrook. This is possibly an error as the eastern end of the church would have been on the Walbrook, or it should have read that the church was on the west bank of the river.

It is possible that the Walbrook ran further to the west than shown in the above diagram, however all the references I can find are to the river running roughly on and alongside Dowgate Hill.

The text on the monument mentions the District Railway, and the title for the blog is about the Circle Line. I will explain why I have used the Circle Line later in the post, however stand next to the railings alongside the monument, and a grill can be seen in the floor. Wait a few minutes and the sounds of an underground train can be heard coming up through the grill.

Cloak Lane

After the 1666 Great Fire, the church was not rebuilt, the churchyard remained, and would do so for the next 200 years. Buildings alongside did encroach on the churchyard, however it was still there in 1880. In the next few years there was some major construction work in Cloak Lane which would result in the loss of the churchyard.

This construction work was for an underground railway that in the newspapers of the time was referred to as the Inner Circle Railway. The following article from the East London Observer on the 31st May 1883 provides some background:

THE INNER CIRCLE RAILWAY. With much less outward demonstration than might have been expected, considering the importance and magnitude of the works, there is now being contracted in the City of London an underground railway which, by uniting the Metropolitan and District systems, will complete the long looked for Inner Circle Railway, and be of immense service to the travelling public and the metropolis.

The Acts of Parliament under which these works are being carried out were obtained in the names of the joint companies – that is to say, the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District. They authorised the construction of a railway to commence by a junction with the District line at Mansion House Station, and to run under some houses south of the thoroughfare known as Great St Thomas Apostle, crossing Queen Street, then going along the south side of Cloak Lane, across Dowgate Hill, to the forecourt of the South-Eastern Cannon Street Station. Here is to be made a station.

The line is then to pass under the centre of Cannon Street, crossing King William Street, and is then to swerve slightly south. Between this point and Pudding lane is to be a second station, which will serve the busy district around it, including Gracechurch Street, Lombard Street and Billingsgate. By arrangement with the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board of Works, the narrow thoroughfares of East Cheap and Little Tower Street are to be widened on the south side, and Great Tower Street on the north side. The railway is to pass under the centre of the roadway, and will be constructed simultaneously with the new street. the line will then branch slightly to the north, and between Seething Lane and Tower Hill, another large station is to be built.

The line is then to pass by Trinity Square Gardens, joining the piece of railway already constructed.”

So by joining existing lines at Mansion House and Tower Hill, the new line would form what we know today as the route of the Circle and District lines between Mansion House and Tower Hill.

The Railway News (which also called the line the Inner Circle line) on the 18th of August 1883, provided additional technical information on the new line:

“From the Mansion House station to Tower Hill, there is no part of the line on a curve of less than 10 chains radius; the length from Cannon Street to King William Street is straight. The successive gradients are from the level at the Mansion House to a descent by a gradient of 1 on 100, followed by a rise of 1 in 355, then 1 in 100, next to 1 in 321, for 334 yards and then a fall of 1 in 280 for the remainder.”

I never fail to be impressed by the accuracy achieved in measuring and building these early lines, without the surveying equipment that we have available today.

Look through the grills and some of the monuments from the old churchyard have been mounted on the wall behind:

Cloak Lane

The new railway was just below the surface and was partially built using the cut and cover technique where the ground would be excavated to build the railway, which would then be covered over, with roads or buildings then completed on top.

Where cut and cover was not used, the railway would be tunneled underneath buildings, undercutting the foundations, bit by bit, with arches being built as the tunneling progressed to support the building above.

Railway News provides some detail:

“Near the western end of the line 200 feet of girder-covered way has been built between Queen Street and College Hill, and a large portion of the side wall has been advanced to Dowgate Hill. In this vicinity an important work, viz, a diversion of the main outfall sewer, has been successfully completed. It was lowered about 14 feet, and the length of this work from north to south being about 600 feet. The north side wall for the Cannon Street station, is also built, and rapid progress is being made with the excavations.”

The total distance of the new line between Mansion House and Tower Hill was 1,266 yards.

Behind the grills – an 1892 Walbrook Ward boundary marker:

Cloak Lane

The above extract refers to a diversion of the main outfall sewer in the vicinity of Dowgate Hill, which possibly was the sewer running down Dowgate Hill that carried what was left of the Walbrook river.

During excavation work for the new railway, there were a number of finds, which add to the question of the original route of the Walbrook.

In the book “London – The City” by Sir Walter Besant, he quotes from the notes of the resident engineer of the works, Mr. E.P. Seaton: “At the west end of the churchyard was found a subway running north and south. The arch was formed of stone blocks (Kentish rag) placed 3 feet apart, the space between filled up with brickwork. The flat bottom varied from 2 to 4 feet in thickness and was formed of rubble masonry.

A portion of the arch had been broken in and was filled with human bones. the other parts of the subway or sewer were filled with hand-packed stones. this is supposed to be the centre of the ancient Walbrook (this supposition is quite correct) and made earth was found to a distance of 35 feet from the surface. Clay of a light grey colour was then found impregnated with the decayed roots of water plants.

The foundations (it is a matter of regret that no plan of the foundations was taken; the opportunity is now lost forever) of the old church of St John the Baptist were discovered about 10 to 12 feet from the surface and composed of chalk and Kentish ragstones. They ran about north-north-east to south-south-west. Piles of oak were found which seem to denote that the church was built on the edge of the brook, which must have been filled up during Roman occupation, as numerous pieces of Roman pottery were found.

The bottom of the Walbrook valley was reached at 32 feet below the present street level, and is now 11 feet below the level of the lines in the station. During the excavations the piles and sill of the Horseshoe bridge which crossed the Walbrook hereabouts were also found near the churchyard, together with the remains of an ancient boat. These were unfortunately too rotten to preserve, but a block of Roman herring-bone pavement, formerly constituting part of a causeway of landing-place on the brook, is now at the Guildhall Museum. It was found beneath the churchyard 21 feet below the present level of the street.”

Besant can at times be unreliable, however as he is quoting from notes by the resident engineer, and the works were not long before the book was published, they should be an accurate record of finds during the work.

The finds imply that the Walbrook did run to the west of the church, so was further west of the route shown in the earlier diagram and was slightly further west of Dowgate Hill, or perhaps it was a separate channel or ditch.

There is another reference to the Walbrook, and its route in a report on the construction of the railway in the Standard on the 21st April, 1884, which refers to the sewer along Dowgate Hill that ran along the route of the Walbrook, needing to be lowered to make space of the railway. After completion, the sewer and Walbrook ran under the new rail tracks. The report describes the Walbrook as “flowing into the sewer down a flight of steps”.

These layers of history and archeology below the current surface of the City are really fascinating. We really do walk on London’s buried history when we walk the streets, and Besant’s description hints at what has been lost over the centuries, particularly during significant construction works of the later 19th and early 20th centuries, when these sites did not have an archeological excavation before construction commenced, and before the preservation techniques were available, that would have been needed to preserve the boat and wooden piles that were found.

Another of the memorials behind the metal grill – I wonder what John (died in 1804) and Uriah (died in 1806) Wilkinson would have thought if they knew their memorial would be hidden behind a metal grill, and above an underground railway?

Cloak Lane

The extract from Besant’s book mentions the “Horseshoe bridge which crossed the Walbrook hereabouts were also found near the churchyard”. The bridge also has a connection with Cloak Lane.

According to Henry Harben’s Dictionary of London (1918), the name Cloak Lane is of relatively recent origin, with the first mention being in 1677. Prior to this, the street was named Horshew Bridge Street after the bridge over the Walbrook.

A possible origin of the name Cloak Lane is from the word “cloaca” which is a reference to a sewer that once ran along the street down to the Walbrook, however as the name of the street is much later than the sewer and when the word “cloaca” would have been used, it is almost certainly not the source, which remains a mystery.

The first mention of this bridge dates back to 1277 when it was called “Horssobregge”, and was a bridge over the Walbrook close to the church of St John upon Walbrook.

During the medieval period, property owners in the neighbourhood of the bridge were responsible for keeping it in good repair. Around 1462, the Common Council ordained that land owners on either side of the Walbrook (which was then described as a ditch) should pave and vault the ditch, and if a landowner failed to comply, their land would be given to someone who would take on this responsibility.

Following the paving over of the Walbrook, the bridge became redundant, fell into disrepair and was eventually taken apart.

The following photo is looking down Cloak Lane towards Cannon Street Station, the entrance to the Underground station can be seen at the far end of the street, across Dowgate Hill.

I have arrowed two locations in the photo. The orange arrow is pointing at the location of the memorial, and was the location of the church and graveyard.

Cloak Lane

The second arrow is pointing to the site of another building that was demolished to make way for the works to construct the new railway – Cutlers Hall:

Cutlers Hall

Cutlers Hall was the home of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, one of the City’s ancient companies. When the Cutlers were organised into a Company, the trade consisted of the manufacture of swords, daggers and knives. As an example of how specialised a City workman was at the time, there were seperate trades for hafters, who made the handles, along with blacksmiths and sheathers (who made the sheath in which a sword or knife would be stored).

The first mention of the Cutlers dates back to 1328 when seven cutlers were elected to govern the trade, and in December 1416, a Royal Charter was granted to the company.

Hafters, sheathers and blacksmiths were gradually incorporated into the Cutlers Company.

The hall of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers was in Cloak Lane from the earliest days of the company, until the arrival of the Inner Circle Line, when the hall was demolished in 1883, having been the subject of a compulsory purchase order.

The Cutlers purchased a new plot of land in Warwick Lane, had their new hall designed by the Company’s Surveyor, Mr. T. Tayler Smith, and the new hall came into use in March 1888. The Cutlers have remained at the Warwick Lane site ever since.

The following print shows Cutlers Hall in Cloak Lane as it appeared in 1854 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cutlers Hall

There were many newspaper reports on the construction of the new railway, and the methods used to minimise disruption to the City above.

Cannon Street Station originally had a forecourt between the station entrance and Cannon Street. The tunnel needed to be built under the forecourt, and the method used to avoid disruption to the station was that the contractor:

“Provided 250 men for the occasion and 50 more as a reserve, the intended work was commenced after the dispatch of the Paris night mail, and then the busy hands plied their busiest. The paving slabs were removed; the twelve inch timbers were laid on the bare ground, three-inch planking put across them, and again three-inch planking over these. And in the morning when Londoners came to their duties in the City they were astonished to see the fore-court paved with wood, and an alteration completely effected, of which there was not a symptom or indication when they went home from their duties the evening before. Having thus laid their roof on the surface the contractor could carry on burrowing to his heart’s content. Beneath the wood platform a heading was soon driven through the soil; and the contractors went on their way below, whilst the cabs and the passengers were going on above”.

The following photo shows the Cannon Street Station Hotel and entrance to the station behind. The forecourt under which the Inner Circle Line was dug can be seen in front of the hotel.

The monument in Cloak Lane is a perfect example of what fascinates me above London’s history. There is so much to find in one very small section of street, and that London is not just what we see on the surface, there is so much below the streets, lost rivers, centuries of history, remarkable examples of construction methods used to build the start of the underground system in the 19th century, and so much more.

If you take a train on the Circle or District line to or from Cannon Street Station, on the western side of the station, recall the Walbrook and the church and cemetery.

I have also added trying to find out about the fate of the finds from the construction of the railway, given to the Guildhall Museum, and which are now hopefully at the Museum of London. And if anyone from TfL reads this post – if you could let me have a look behind the metal grills in Cloak Street – it would be much appreciated !

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Bathurst Mews – A Pub and Stables

Before exploring Bathurst Mews, a quick advert for a walk. Last year, I was involved in some walks exploring New River Head along with some colleagues from Clerkenwell and Islington Guides. For a one off in early September, we are running a series of walks that continue this theme, and for this year include a visit to see the 17th century Oak Room in the old offices of the Metropolitan Water Board, along with an external view of the Grade II listed White or Devil’s Conduit, believed to date in part back to the 14th century and originally sited in Queen’s Square, Bloomsbury.

The link for booking is here:

Bathurst Mews are located between Paddington Station and Hyde Park. One of west London’s stunning mews, but what took me back there was a couple of 1980s photos. The first of the Archery Tavern on Bathurst Street, next to the entrance to the mews:

Archery Tavern

The Archery Tavern is now the Stablehand, a bar and restaurant, which on their website is described as a gastro pub. The return to use as a pub is only in the last couple of years as following the closure of the Archery Tavern in 2006, it was a French restaurant.

Archery Tavern

The Archery Tavern was a pub for some 166 years, having opened when Bathurst Street was built around 1840. The first reference I can find to the pub was an advert placed in the Morning Advertiser on the 25th August 1841 for a “Strong, active servant of all work. One who is used to plain cooking and can make herself generally useful, with a good character, may hear of a situation by applying to Mrs. Oakes, Archery Tavern, Bathurst Street”.

One newspaper reference to the Archery Tavern, a reference that I have not seen before with other pubs, was from the Marylebone Mercury on the 24th of September 1976, and is a reminder that history almost always seems to repeat. The report was about a meeting held in the pub of the Hyde Park Ward, Young Conservatives, where Shadow Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe was the key speaker. His theme was that Great Britain was overspent and overtaxed, and that “Our strongest point ought to be that Conservative governments cut taxes”.

The name Archery Tavern appears to have been a reference to the land on which the pub was built being used for archery during the 1830s by the Royal Toxophilite Society. I doubt that this was a long lasting or formal use of the land as it is not mentioned on the society’s web site, who record that during the 1830s they used sites at “Canonbury House, Highbury Barn, The Honourable Artillery Company and, on two occasions, on Mr. Lords Cricket Ground”.

It is a shame that the pub name has changed from the 166 year old Archery Tavern, however the new name does continue a tradition of naming a pub after a local feature. The Stablehand refers to what we will find in Bathurst Mews.

Time for a walk along Bathurst Mews to find the second 1980s photo. This is the entrance to the mews from Bathurst Street:

Bathurst Mews

Signs on either side of the entrance provide an indication of what makes Bathurst Mews different:

Bathurst Mews Stables

Bathurst Mews have two stables. They hire out horses for riding in Hyde Park, provide riding lessons, and are a reminder of what mews would have been like when they were used for the horses and carriages of the large houses that surrounded the mews.

The first is Hyde Park Stables:

Hyde Park Stables

Hyde Park Stables are immediately on the right after passing through the entrance, into the mews, and bring the unusual sight of horses, bales of straw and hay, and riders heading off to Hyde Park.

Hyde Park Stables

Inside the stables:

Hyde Park Stables

Bathurst Mews has apparently the last two remaining stables around Hyde Park, and just around the corner from the Hyde Park Stables are the Ross Nye Stables, here photographed in 1985:

Ross Nye Stables

The stables are still there, and look much the same, although the walls have been whitewashed:

Ross Nye Stables

The stables are named after Ross Nye, who grew up in Queensland, Australia. After arriving in London, he purchased an existing stables in Bathurst Mews and they became the Ross Nye Stables, and have continued following his death in 2020.

The row of stable buildings:

Ross Nye Stables

Looking along the full length of Bathurst Mews with the Ross Nye Stables on the left:

Bathurst Mews

Bathurst Mews are just north of Hyde Park. The following map shows their location with the red arrow pointing to the site of the pub, and just above the tip of the arrow is the Hyde Park Stables. The blue arrow points to the Ross Nye Stables  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Map of Bathurst Mews

Bathurst Mews and the surrounding streets were built in the late 1830s / 1840s. The name of the mews and Bathurst Street comes via Robert Thistlethwaite who inherited land in Paddington leased from the Bishops of London. His wife Selina was the daughter of Elizabeth Bathurst.

A report on the construction of sewers in the London Sun on the 19th of November 1840 includes Bathurst Mews on the list, so by this time, the route of the mews had been laid out, allocated a name and construction was underway.

Land owned by the Bishops of London was transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the area developed as the Hyde Park Estate, which covers 90 acres and is bordered by Sussex Gardens, Edgware Road and Bayswater Road.

The Hyde Park Estate continues to be owned by the church, now in the form of the Church Commissioners.

The estate was built between the 1830s and 1850, so in London terms is relatively recent. Prior to development, the area was all fields, as the following extract from Rocque’s map of 1746 shows. I have marked the route of Bathurst Mews by a red line:

John Rocque 1746 map of Hyde Park and Paddington

The map shows that by 1746, Hyde Park was already a fully defined park, with the Serpentine running through the park (note to the left of the location of Bathurst Mews, we can see the route of the River Westbourne which was one of the main sources of water for the Serpentine).

To the north is the village of Paddington, still surrounded by fields in the mid 18th century.

The following photo is looking along Bathurst Mews towards the entrance into Sussex Place:

Bathurst Mews

We can get an idea of the first residents in the mews by looking at two who were recorded as living in the mews in the 1840s:

  • Edward Munn – farmer and corn dealer
  • Henry King – livery stable keeper

A very small sample, but it does confirm the original purpose of the mews as the provision of stabling for the large houses behind.

Looking back along Bathurst Mews gives a good view of the much larger size of the houses that surround the mews, which give the impression of the mews being located in a fully enclosed valley:

Bathurst Mews

Whilst many of the buildings in the mews would have been stables, then garages as transport in London changed from horse to vehicle, today, with the exception of the stables, they are almost all residential.

They have also functioned as small workshops and business premises.

In 1868, T. Longman occupied one of the buildings and was operating as a Bell-Hanger, Gas-Fitter and Locksmith.

In 1926, Mrs. Ann Cleave was running the Tyburn Kennels from a house in the mews.

In 1927, a Mr. Gold was advertising driving lessons and car repairs in the mews.

In 1968 a chauffeur agency was operating from the mews.

Today, they sell for well over a million pounds, and sale records show the crazy rate at which the prices of these building have risen over recent years. A three bedroom terrace house in the mews (not the house in the following photo) sold for £297,500 in 2004, and at the start of this year, was sold for £1,750,000.

Bathurst Mews

As with many of London’s mews, residents line the outside of their houses with plenty of planting:

Bathurst Mews

Whilst the majority of houses along the mews appear to be standard two storey, with the old stables / garage on the ground floor and living area above, there are a couple of different buildings, such as the building on the left of the following photo which looks to have been some form of warehouse. Again, now converted into residential.

Bathurst Mews

Looking up towards the north-eastern end of Bathurst Mews, showing the entrance through to Sussex Place:

Bathurst Mews

The above photo again shows the difference in size between the large houses surrounding Bathurst Mews, which were constructed as residential in the 1840s, compared to the mews houses where their horses and carriages, and later cars were stored, along with some very limited living accommodation.

The entrance to Bathurst Mews from Sussex Place:

Bathurst Mews

The two stables offer a glimpse of what Bathurst Mews would have looked like when built. They are a unique set of mews in London, as far as I can tell they are the only mews which have operating stables.

They were an important part of living in London for the wealthy who occupied the new, large houses of the area. Even in 1922, they were being advertised as part of a nearby house sale, as this example shows:

“The important Town residence, 26, Sussex Square, Enjoying an enviable situation, actually a few yards from Hyde Park. 10 bed and drawing rooms, 4 bath and 4 or 5 reception rooms. Complete domestic offices.

Together with the Excellent garage and stabling premises of 4 Bathurst Mews, conveniently situated close to the House. 3 stalls, loose box, garage for 2 cars, living rooms over.”

Hopefully the two stables will remain for many years to come, to recall the original use of places such as Bathurst Mews.

My other mews visits include;

Kynance Mews – Kensington

Belgrave Mews West, and;

Groom Place, Belgravia

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The Champion Pub and Oxford Market

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

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

Champion pub

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

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

Champion pub

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

Champion pub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champion pub stained glass

The missionary and explorer David Livingstone:

Champion pub

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

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

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

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

Champion pub

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

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

At 30 Eastcastle Street is this rather ornate building:

Eastcastle Street

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

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

Eastcastle Street

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

Oxford Market

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

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

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

Oxford Market

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

Oxford Market

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

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

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

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

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

Oxford Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxford Market

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

Oxford Market

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

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

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

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

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