Category Archives: London Streets

St Saviour’s Dock

Before heading to St Saviour’s Dock, a quick thank you for ordering tickets for this year’s walks. At the time of writing, the Barbican walks and Wapping walks are sold out. Many of the Bankside dates have sold out, but there are some tickets remaining on later dates, and there are a few on the Southbank walks.

St Saviour’s Dock is an inlet from the Thames in Bermondsey, just to the east of Tower Bridge on the south bank of the river. We can look across the river near Hermitage Moorings on the north bank, and see St Saviour’s Dock just to the left of Butlers Wharf.

St Saviour's Dock

I have circled the location of St Saviour’s Dock in the following map (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

St Saviour's Dock

Cross over to the south bank of the river, and on approaching the dock, there is a walkway spanning the entrance:

St Saviour's Dock

View from the footbridge across to the north bank of the river, at low tide, with thick mud across the foreshore:

St Saviour's Dock

Looking along St Saviour’s Dock – a carpet of mud:

St Saviour's Dock

St Saviour’s Dock is a very old feature of this section of the river. Originally the mouth of the River Neckinger, although it is very hard to pin down exactly where the Neckinger ran with any certainty, and how much of the water course was a natural river.

There were many streams and ditches in this area of Bermondsey and much of the land was low lying marsh. Some of the ditches which may have once been part of the Neckinger can be seen on 18th century maps, which I will come to later in the post.

Looking south along St Saviour’s Dock, the bends in the dock give the impression of a natural feature. Early maps show the sides of the dock as relatively straight, so the curves we see today may have been the result of extending some of the warehouses that line the dock as an attempt to maximise warehouse space.

At the far end of the dock, it comes to an abrupt halt at “Dock Head” at the junction of Jamaica Road and Tooley Street.

St Saviour's Dock

It is impossible to know for sure as to the origins of St Saviour’s Dock. It appears to have been part of the lands of Bermondsey Abbey, and what was then a natural watercourse, had banks created on either side, and a mill built on one side of the dock by the abbey at some point around the 13th century.

Just to the east of St Saviour’s Dock is Mill Street, apparently named after a mill stream which ran along the route of the street and which powered the mill, which was used to grind corn for the abbey. Mill Street is on the other side of the warehouses that line the eastern side of the dock, so is very close and complicates the mapping of waterways in the area.

The land around St Savoiur’s Dock was fully developed between the 16th and start of the 19th centuries, as maps from the 17th and 18th centuries confirm.

The following is an extract from William Morgan’s map of London from 1682. St Saviour’s Dock is located just to the lower right of centre of the map:

St Saviour's Dock

Note that the name of the dock in the map is Savory’s Dock. This may be a simple corruption of the name, or it could have been a rather sarcastic description of the dock given that there was much pollution from the surrounding buildings, and Bermondsey’s growing industry, that ended up in the dock.

I like the depiction of a small boat in the dock. It looks too wide to be a waterman’s boat, and could have been a lighter that transported goods between boats moored in the river and the warehouses lining the dock.

By the time of Morgan’s map in the late 17th century, it appears that buildings were lining the majority of the dock, and streets had been built to the east.

If you click on the above map to enlarge, you can see that to the right of St Saviour’s Dock were a number of water channels, and that to the lower centre edge of the map, there are what appear to be two water channels either side of a road, with a name of “The Neckincher” along the street. presumably this name applies to the water channels, and is a version of the name Neckinger.

This is the problem with being sure as to the route of the Neckinger, and how much of the route was a natural feature, and how much were artificial channels and ditches used to perhaps provide water to the industries in the area, or to drain what was low lying, marshy land.

Seventy three years after Morgan’s map, a 1755 map has St Saviour’s Dock on the edge of the map, with the surrounding area looking much the same as in 1682:

St Saviour's Dock

It is interesting that the name Savory Dock was again used on this later map. This name does not appear to be used when reporting anything about the dock in newspapers. For example on the 10th of January 1730, the Kentish Weekly Post used the name Saviour in a report that “Last Sunday, a Man, well dressed, was found drowned in St Saviour’s Dock”.

I can find no newspaper reference to the Savory spelling of the dock’s name.

Newspaper’s do give us an idea of the type of businesses and properties that surrounded the dock in the years around the publication of the above map. For example, on the 11th of January 1762 there was a report of a fire in one of the buildings along the dock:

“Thursday morning a fire broke out in a granary belonging to Mess. Hemmock and Co. Corn Lightermen, at St. Saviour’s Dock, near Dock Head, which was consumed, together with 8 dwelling houses, and a great many warehouses, and other out-buildings; three other dwelling houses were greatly damaged. Mr Allport, a biscuit maker, and his family, ran into the street almost naked, not having time to save anything. It being low-water, it was with difficulty a whole tier of ships was preserved, as they lay upon the mud close to the Dock, and nothing parted them from the flames but a crane house, which took fire several times, but by the activity of the firemen was prevented from getting to a head. We hear no lives were lost.”

So in 1762, St Saviour’s Dock was surrounded by a granary, dwelling houses, and a great many warehouses, which does align with the view presented in the above maps. As well as the granary, there are also mentions of a “Mr John Robinson’s Rope Warehouse” in the dock in the mid 18th century.

The following map is dated 1813 and includes the names of the wharfs along the dock. Only two also have the names of products stored, with a granary at lower left of the dock and a lime yard at upper right.

St Saviour's Dock

What is interesting about the above map is the area to the left (east) of St Saviour’s Dock.

On this map there are a number of streams / ditches shown, along with bridges over these. I have highlighted the waterways with arrows.

The area between the waterway on the left and St Saviour’s Dock is the area that would become known as Jacob’s Island (after Jacob Street running through the centre). It was Charles Dickens who would bring some notoriety to this small patch of Bermondsey when he apparently located Fagins den and Bill Sykes death in Jacob’s Island in his novel, Oliver Twist.

In the lower left of the map, I have included the photo of Bridge House, a house that was built over one of the bridges (arrowed). I have researched and written about the location of Bridge House in my post “A Return To Bermondsey Wall – Bevington Street, George Row And Bridge House”.

The above map does confirm that the area was still a place of ditches and streams in the early 19th century, all possibly once part of the Neckinger, but would disappear during the rest of the 19th century as new warehouses and roads were built. The ditches do not appear to have any connection to St Saviour’s Dock or the River Thames, so must have just held stagnant water.

The following print shows a view of St Saviour’s Dock around 1840 – but the print is not quite what it seems (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Saviour's Dock

Underneath the name St Saviour’s Dock is the name “Southwark” rather than Bermondsey. The above print is really of the dock just to the north west of Southwark Cathedral, where the replica of the Golden Hind is now located.

Southwark Cathedral was originally the church of St Mary Overie. The church was renamed St Saviour’s at some point around the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, and this name would remain in place until 1905 when it became Southwark Cathedral.

The small dock just to the north west of Southwark Cathedral was originaly Mary Overie Dock, but with the renaming of the cathedral, the dock took on the name of St Saviour’s Dock and is shown with this name in Rocque’s map of London from 1746, and in this 1811 print which shows the church of St Saviour (Southwark Cathedral) at lower centre, and St Saviour’s Dock to upper left.

St Saviour's Dock

The 1895 OS map continues to show the Southwark dock as St Saviour’s Dock.

So there were two St Saviour’s Docks, and we need to be careful with references to the name. Today the Southwark dock is the location of the Golden Hind replica, and the address on the Golden Hinde’s website is back to the original name of St Mary Overie Dock.

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map of the Bermondsey St Saviour’s Dock shows that the dock was lined with warehouses, wharfs and factories, including a flour mill, coal wharf, packing case factory and lime wharf – the typical mix of industries that you would find along any stretch of the industrial Thames in the 19th century.

As with so much of the London docks, St Saviour’s Dock went into decline after the war. Warehouses located down a narrow inlet just were not suitable for the size and type of ships, and containerisation would kill off any hope of using warehouses such as those found in the dock.

St Saviour’s Dock remained as an open inlet to the Thames, but the buildings along the edge of the dock started a path to dereliction.

St Saviour’s Dock has been used in a number of films. One of these in the years before the buildings were transformed is Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee.

Jarman lived for a time in Butler’s Wharf, between the dock and Tower Bridge, and the film, which is still available as a DVD, whilst a typical Jarman film and very much of its time, is good to watch for one interpretation of punk and the late 1970s, but also for some London location spotting.

In the following clip, the characters Bod, Mad and Chaos are about to throw a body over the side of St Saviour’s Wharf, to the mud below, with the empty warehouses in the background:

St Saviour's Dock

From the 1980s onwards, the majority of the wharfs lining St Saviour’s Dock would be converted to apartments and offices. A walk along the side streets that follow the dock to the east and west reveals how many have survived.

Starting in Mill Street which runs along the eastern side of the dock, and to the north east corner is New Concordia Wharf:

New Concordia Wharf St Saviour's Dock

New Concordia Wharf was originally built in 1882 as St. Saviour’s Flour Mill, however after one of the fires that seemed to be a frequent risk to the wharfs along the river, it was rebuilt between 1894 and 1898.

St. Saviour’s Flour Mill / New Concordia Wharf included a flour / corn mill, continuing a tradition of milling flour that goes back to the original mill built on the banks of the dock by Bermondsey Abbey in the 13th century.

Rather than being powered by water, the mill was steam powered, and the water tank and chimney remain, although the water tank has been somewhat hidden by changes to the roof of the building.

The chimney was truncated in 1979, and now looks rather ungainly with what appears to be a concrete slab on the top of the chimney, but is still an unusual sight on the end of a warehouse.

New Concordia Wharf St Saviour's Dock

Conversion of New Concordia Wharf to apartments was carried out between 1982 and 1983 and was one of the first examples of the warehouse conversions that would become the standard for the type of building along the Thames.

We then come to Grade II listed St. Saviour’s Wharf:

St Saviour's Wharf

St. Saviour’s Wharf was built in 1868, and was for sale by auction in 1870. The advert for the auction provides some details of this 1868 building:

“Saint Saviour’s Sufferance Wharf, together with the modern pile of warehouses in Mill Street erected in 1868 in the most substantial manner under the superintendence of an eminent architect and so arranged as to fulfil all the requirements of the Metropolitan Buildings Act and of the Fire Insurance Companies. The premises comprise three double warehouses each with five floors and basement, having a frontage of 117 feet next Mill-street.

The various floors are carried on columns from basement to roof, and are strongly timbered. The ground floor is asphalted. The party walls are 2 feet 3 thick, and there is no communication between the three warehouses, except on the basement.

There are two staircases to each warehouse, and loophole doors and windows on each floor fronting the land and waterside.

The floors of two of the warehouses are divided by brick walls 2 feet 3 thick, communicating by chambers, enclosed by wrought iron folding double doors.”

The details of the construction of the buildings were important for potential buyers. Not just to show the strength of the building, but also that the building was designed to limit the spread of fire.

Fires in warehouses were a continual risk. Buildings on top of each other, all crammed with highly combustible goods resulted in frequent fires, and the newspapers almost always had reports of fires in warehouses along the Thames (for example, see my post on the “The Great Fire at London Bridge”).

No idea what the purchaser of St Saviour’s Wharf paid for the buildings, however today, a 2 bedroom apartment is for sale at £1.2 million.

The view along the southern end of Mill Street, with more wharfs and warehouses. Unity Wharf nearest.

Mill Street St Saviour's Dock

Unity Wharf is Grade II listed and is now mainly office / commercial space. In the 1953 publications “London Wharves and Docks”, Unity Wharf is listed holding Canned and Cased Goods, Bagged produce and General.

To the side of Unity Wharf is the entrance shown in the following photo:

Unity Wharf St Saviour's Dock

It was gated half way along on my visit, but appears to be one off, if not the only passage through the wharfs to the side of St Saviour’s Dock.

In the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map, the passage is shown, and marked as “Free Landing Way”, which I assume meant that it could be used by anyone to land something by boat in St Saviour’s Dock, and the passage provided a route between water and Mill Street. I would have loved to have got to the end of the passage and looked over the edge into the dock.

At the end of Mill Street, we reach the junction of Jamaica Road and Tooley Street. In the following photo, the steps to the left of the red bins lead up to the wall at the very end of St Saviour’s Dock – the point labeled Dock Head in the 17th and 18th century maps earlier in the post.

Dock Head St Saviour's Dock

Climb the steps, look over the wall, and we can look down on St Saviour’s Wharf:

St Saviour's Dock

Towards the northern end of the dock where it meets the River Thames and is spanned by the footbridge:

St Saviour's Dock

We can now walk along Shad Thames, the street that runs along the wharfs on the western edge of the dock.

Shad Thames St Saviour's Dock

The buildings have a couple of footbridges between the wharfs on the right and additional warehouse space on the left. These were used to transport goods between buildings without having to travel up and down floors and across the street, although looking closely at one of the bridges, I doubt these are original, they look either very good restorations or new copies of what would have spanned the street.

St Andrew's Wharf St Saviour's Dock

The following photo shows the “B” warehouse of St Andrew’s Wharf:

St Andrew's Wharf St Saviour's Dock

This building dates from 1850 and is Grade II listed, but as can be seen by the changes in brickwork, it has been partially rebuilt a number of times, most recently when it was converted for residential use.

We then come to the point in Shad Thames where it leaves the wharfs that line St Saviour’s Dock, and turns west to head towards Tower Bridge.

At this corner point is the much rebuilt and restored Butler’s Wharf:

Butler's Wharf St Saviour's Dock

And that brings me to the end of a look at St Saviour’s Dock, and the wharfs and warehouses that line this ancient inlet from the River Thames.

Although the buildings have been converted to residential and commercial, they do still provide a really good impression of what the dock would have looked like from the late 19th century onwards.

The thing that is missing is noise and activity. Walking the area today and it is quiet. No lighters in the dock, no goods being loaded and unloaded and very few people walking the streets.

The dock itself is always thick with mud, and I have never seen anyone searching the dock or foreshore. A good thing as it looks highly dangerous, but intriguing to imagine what is buried beneath the mud given the centuries of use of St Saviour’s Dock.

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Soho Square

Soho Square can be found near the junction of Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street. A busy square, with lots of traffic, parking and occasionally it is used as a film set.

The centre of Soho Square is a large open space, and the square is surrounded by a considerable mix of architectural styles, reflecting the number of times that buildings have been demolished and rebuilt since the square was originally laid out, and the range of individuals. organisations and companies that have made the square their home.

Soho Square is the rectangular green space in the centre of the following map (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Soho Square

Soho Square was part of London’s northwards expansion and the first houses on the square were originally built around 1670.

The following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map of London shows Soho Square, with Oxford Street to the north, but still much open space further north, which would be developed during the second half of the 18th century.

Soho Square

Soho Square, as well as many of the surrounding streets, was built on open space known as Kemp’s Field or Soho Fields.

The site of the square was leased to a bricklayer by the name of Richard Frith, who started construction of the first houses, with the first leases of these houses dating to the 1670s and 1680s.

The square was originally called King’s Square, presumably after Charles II, who was on the throne during the early years of the square’s construction. It would keep this name until the first decades of the 18th century, when it would gradually become known as Soho Square, with formal recognition of the new name of the square on maps such as Rocque’s in 1746.

Today, only a couple of the original houses remain, although in a much modified state.

Soho Square has seen continual waves of development, and a walk around the square today reveals a large range of building size and architectural type. Some buildings are on the original narrow plot, larger buildings have incorporated several adjoining plots of land.

On a weekday, the square is a hive of activity. There is a considerable amount of traffic through the square, parking along both sides of the road around the square, and on the day of my visit, filming had taken over one side of the square.

The open space in the centre of the square was separate from all this activity, and provided a space to look at the buildings surrounding the square before being blocked by leaf growth on the trees.

The following photo is looking to the east, with the tower block of Centre Point in the background.

Soho Square

The brick tower in the background is part of St Patrick’s Catholic Church. During the first years of the square, there were a number of large houses leading back from the square, one of these was Carlisle House, which was built by the Earl of Carlisle around 1690.

Carlisle House was leased by Father Arthur O’Leary, a Franciscan Friar, who managed to raise sufficient financial support from a number of wealthy Catholic families.

The house was converted so that it could be used as a place of worship, and was consecrated on the 29th of September 1792. It was one of the first Catholic places of worship opened after the Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791, which removed many of the restrictions placed on the Catholic faith during the reformation.

The current church was built on the site of Carlisle House between 1891 and 1893.

In the centre of the square is a small wooden building:

Soho Square

The wooden building is Grade II listed, and is described by English Heritage as a “Garden arbour/tool shed”. It was built around 1925 for the Charing Cross Electricity Company to provide access to an electricity sub-station below ground. It did not serve this purpose for too long as the underground space would become an air raid shelter during the Second World War.

The electricity substation was not the first utility to be built in Soho Square.

When the first houses in the square were built, there was competition from the water companies that served London to provide water. One of these companies was the New River Company who supplied water from their reservoirs at north Clerkenwell.

Whilst the supply worked to the City, Soho was on higher ground, and this small difference in height between the reservoir and Soho Square, along with the haphazard way in which the water distribution system had grown, resulted in a poor, low pressure supply to the new houses of Soho Square.

Sir Christopher Wren was asked to help with understanding the problems of distributing water to Soho Square and the developing area of the West End, however Wren looked at the whole system and recommended that the problems could only be addressed by effectively replacing the entire system with a new, integrated design.

The New River Company also commissioned John Lowthorp (a clergyman, who was also a member of the Royal Society) to look at the distribution problems,

Lowthorpe established that it was not water supply problems to New River Head (indeed the New River supplied enough water for the whole of London), as with Wren, Lowthorpe identified the distribution network and the organisation of the company.

This would only be fixed over a number of years, one of the short term fixes was the construction of a cistern in Soho Square to store water from the New River Company’s reservoirs for onward distribution.

The north east corner of the square:

Soho Square

The north west corner of the square:

Soho Square

The above two photos show the range of different buildings around the square, and the changes in building height and roof line.

This is very different to when the square was built, as this print from around 1725 shows, with terrace housing lining three sides of the square  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Soho Square

The view is looking north, and shows that in the first decades of the 18th century, Soho Square was really on the northern edge of the built city. The name of the square at the top of the print uses the original name of King’s Square, as well as the future name of Soho Square.

The hills in the distance are those of Hampstead and Highgate, and the street running north from the square crosses Tiburn Road.

This would later be renamed Oxford Street, and was named Tiburn Road as it led to the Tiburn or Tyburn tree or gallows at the western end of Oxford Street, at the junction of Oxford Street with Edgware Road and Bayswater Road.

The above map uses the spelling of Tiburn, rather than the more common Tyburn. Rocque also uses the Tiburn spelling for the street and the gallows.

By the time of the above print, the centre of the square had been laid out as formal gardens.

A statue can just be seen in the centre of the above print. I have enlarged this below:

Charles II

The statue is of Charles II, above a fountain with a small surrounding pond.

Old and New London included a description of the statue and fountain:

“In the centre was a fountain with four streams. In the middle of the basin was the statue of Charles II, in armour, on a pedestal, enriched with fruit and flowers; on the four sides of the base were figures representing the four chief rivers of the kingdom—Thames, Severn, Tyne, and Humber; on the south side were figures of an old man and a young virgin, with a stream ascending; on the west lay the figure of a naked virgin (only nets wrapped about her) reposing on a fish, out of whose mouth flowed a stream of water; on the north, an old man recumbent on a coal-bed, and an urn in his hand whence issues a stream of water; on the east rested a very aged man, with water running from a vase, and his right hand laid upon a shell.”

Old and New London also comments that “the statue is now so mutilated and disfigured, and the inscription quite effaced”. There is also a comment that the statue could be the Duke of Monmouth (who we will come to later), rather than Charles II, however the consensus seems to be that it is the king rather than duke.

The statue was removed around the time that Old and New London was published. An article in the Illustrated London News on the 26th February 1938, records what happened to the statue, and its eventual restoration to the square:

“The statue of Charles II, by Caius Gabriel Cibber, the father of Colley Cibber, Poet Laureate, actor and dramatist, has been restored to Soho Square after an absence of sixty-two years. It was placed in the Square, then called King’s Square, during Charles II’s reign and surrounded a fountain bearing the emblematical figures of the Thames, Severn, Tyne and Humber.

In 1876 it was in such a bad condition that it was taken down and removed to Mr Goodall’s residence at Grims Dyke, Harrow Weald. There it was re-erected in the middle of a large pond, where it remained during the subsequent tenure of Sir. W.S. Gilbert. When Lady Gilbert died in 1936 she bequeathed the statue to the Soho Square Gardens Committee, who had it skilfully restored and have placed it on the north side of the Gardens.”

So although Charles II is no longer on his high pedestal, and the fountain and pond have long gone, he is back in Soho Square:

Charles II

There is a small plaque near the northern entrance to the central garden that records an event in recent history.

Two trees can be seen in the following photo, with a small concrete block between them:

Great Storm of 1987

The plaque records that one of the trees (I assume the one on the right) was planted to replace a tree lost during the Great Storm over the night of the 16th to 17th October 1987:

Great Storm of 1987

On the north west side of the square, the French Protestant church glows red and orange in the low sun of an early spring day. The church was built in 1891 on the land released when two of the original houses on the square were demolished.

Soho Square

The following photo shows the rather wonderful, number 3 Soho Square:

Soho Square

The building is very narrow compared to many of the other buildings on the street, and although it is the third building on the site, the width of the building is because it is on the same plot of land as the original house when the square was first built.

The first house was built in 1684, it was rebuilt in 1735, which in turn was demolished for the current building which dates from 1902. The mix of the concave upper floors with the large bay windows on floors one and two, along with subtle decoration make number 3 one of the more interesting of the 20th century buildings on Soho Square.

To the right of number 3, is a single building that now occupies the space of numbers 4 to 6, the corner brick building shown in the following photo:

Soho Bazaar

The building was originally constructed as a warehouse in 1804 by John Trotter, a contractor for army supplies.

With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, just eleven years after the warehouse was completed, John Trotter converted the warehouse into the Soho Bazaar.

The Soho Bazaar was a market place for a wide range of goods, and the bazaar would last for much of the 19th century. A newspaper report from the later years of the bazaar provides a good description of what could be found inside, and also why the bazaar was under pressure from the shops opening on nearby Oxford Street, and across the city. Published on the 17th of October, 1885:

“It is a long time since I walked round the Soho Bazaar, for the pretty stalls there have been greatly superseded by the many fancy shops that are now everywhere in London. but the old place, though somewhat changed in character, is the depot for many specialties which of themselves would not pay if a whole shop had to be hired for their sale.

All sorts and kinds of fancy work, of contrivances for the comfort of invalids, and such like inventions are to be seen, and, moreover, there is a large register office for domestic servants and convenience for interviews with them, in connection with the bazaar, and one great recommendation of it to me is that all the stall holders are women, not flighty girls, and they are attentive and pleasant to inquirers or purchasers of their own sex, and not on the look out for a possible flirtation, which is the great drawback to most bazaars.

I went there the other day to see myself the ladies work stall, and its appearance is most encouraging, for the work I saw was well executed, attractive, and useful. Every lady who desires to sell her work there is expected to pay a fee of a guinea a year for expenses.”

The stalls in the bazaar seem to have sold all manner of homemade products, and there was also a kindergarten, where babies were given special rugs to play / crawl on. The rugs had cutout animals and other figures to attract attention.

The following print shows the Soho Bazaar in 1819, soon after opening  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Soho Bazaar

Compare the above print with my 2022 photo of the building, and although the ground floor has been significantly remodeled, the upper floors are the same, after 200 years.

On the south side of the square is the Hospital for Women, which combined / rebuilt houses already on the site:

Soho Square

At the very top of the left building of the hospital, is the date “Founded 1842”. This refers to when the hospital was originally founded in Red Lion Square as the Hospital for the Diseases of Women, before moving to Soho Square in 1852.

Records in the National Archives state that “The Hospital was closed in 1939 on the outbreak of war, and a First Aid Post was opened in the Outpatients Department by Westminster City Council”, and that in 1948, the hospital “was amalgamated with St. Mary’s Hospital and The Hospital for Women became part of The Middlesex Hospital Group”.

The first building on the site of the Hospital for Women, was one of the earliest buildings to face onto Soho Square.

Monmouth House was built for the Duke of Monmouth, however he seems to have spent very little time there.

After Charles II’s death, Monmouth led a rebellion with the aim of taking the throne. He was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor on the 6th of July 1685. After capture, Monmouth was executed on Tower Hill on the 15th of July 1685.

Monmouth House  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Monmouth House

The house was sold after Monmouth’s death, converted to auction rooms in 1717, and demolished in 1773.

The house on the south east corner of Soho Square, at the junction with Greek Street, is the House of Charity / House of St Barnabas.

On the day of my visit, it was being used as a film set:

House of St Barnabas

Despite appearances, the building is not one of the original houses on the square. The house we see today was completed in 1747 after the original house on the site was demolished.

The building was used by one of the organisations that would eventually become the GLC. In 1811, the Westminster Commissioners of Sewers occupied the building, then the Metropolitan Board of Works who stayed on Soho Square until their move to Spring Gardens, before moving to County Hall on the South Bank as the London County Council.

When the Metropolitan Board of Works moved out, it was sold to the House of Charity, which had been established in 1846 for the relief of the destitute and the homeless poor in London.

Now the House of St Barnabas, which works to get people into secure, paid employment, through training and support. The interior of the building still has many of the original features, and is why the building is attractive as a film set.

To the west of the square, Sutton Row provides a route to Charing Cross Road, and St Patrick’s Catholic Church is on the right:

Sutton Row

On the left is Grade II listed, number 21 Soho Square, an 1838 / 1840 rebuild of the original house on the site, which, during the late 18th century had, as Old and New London tactfully described, been a “place of fashionable dissipation to which only the titled and wealthy classes had the privilege of admission”, basically a high-class brothel.

After being rebuilt, the building was taken on by Crosse & Blackwell, and numerous 19th century adverts give Soho Square as the address for Crosse & Blackwell – manufacturers of Pickles, Sauces & Jams etc.

There are three interesting buildings in the north-east corner of Soho Square. The building on the right in the photo below is one of the original houses on the square. Although considerably modified, it does give an indication on what the terrace houses would have looked like as the square was completed.

Mary Seacole

The centre house has a blue plaque, recording that Mary Seacole lived in the house:

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole was a Jamaican nurse who learnt many of the local techniques for practicing medicine. She traveled widely, and was involved with the treatment of people suffering from cholera outbreaks in Jamaica and Panama.

In 1853 she was responsible for nursing services for the British Army in Jamaica, however she had heard about the suffering of soldiers in the Crimean War, and asked that she be sent to the Crimea to work as an army nurse.

This request was not approved, so she funded her own trip to Crimea where she set up the “British Hotel” to provide a place of rest and treatment for injured and sick soldiers. This was the same war where Florence Nightingale was also working, but Mary’s British Hotel was closer to the front.

After the end of the Crimean War she returned to Britain, however she had very little money left, having funded the trip to the Crimea, and in 1856 she was declared bankrupt, as the Globe on the 7th November 1856 reported:

“The bankrupts, Mrs Mary Seacole and Thomas Day the younger, are described as of Tavistock-street, Covent-garden, and Ratcliff-terrace, provision merchants, and formerly of Balaklava and Spring Hill, front of Sebastopol. Mrs. Seacole is a lady of colour, and has been honoured with four government medals for her kindness to British soldiery. She was present in person, and attracted much attention, the gaily coloured decorations on her breast being in perfect harmony with the rest of her attire.”

Whilst in London, she wrote and published her biography, and a review sums up how she was viewed:

“The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands has just been published by Mr James Blackwood of Paternoster Row. Of Mrs Seacole, Dr. Russell says in a brief preface ‘If singleness of heart, true charity and Christian works; if trials and sufferings, dangers and perils, encountered boldly by a helpless woman on her errand of mercy in the camp and battlefield, can excite sympathy and move curiosity, Mary Seacole will have many friends and many readers’. Mrs Seacole’s autobiography is interesting, includes many strange episodes, and, we doubt not, will obtain numerous readers.

Proceeds from the book, along with a fund raised by the Prince of Wales provided Mary with sufficient funding to live in comfort for the rest of her life. She died in London in 1881, and newspaper announcements of her death started with the headline “DEATH OF A DISTINQUISHED NURSE”.

Over the following decades, her name disappeared, with Florence Nightingale being more associated with the Crimean War.

A group of nurses from the Caribbean visited Mary’s grave at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green, and started to campaign for greater recognition for her. This was supported by the local MP to Kensal Green and in 2016, a statue was unveiled in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital on the south bank of the Thames just to the west of Westminster Bridge.

Mary Seacole

The large disk behind the statue of Mary is an impression taken from the ground in the Crimea where Mary Seacole worked to help soldiers during the Crimean War.

I cannot find out exactly when Mary Seacole lived in Soho Square. Newspaper reports of her life after she returned from the war mention a number of different addresses in London so she seems to have moved around.

Very little of the original Soho Square remains, the statue of Charles II, and a couple of the houses, although all have been repaired and modified, but the square does show how London streets have changed and adapted to different uses over hundreds of years, and how much there is to find in a London square.

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Prestons Road – Welcome to the Isle of Dogs

In 1986, my father photographed some graffiti on a wall in Prestons Road which runs from Poplar to the Isle of Dogs.

Prestons Road

The 1980s were a traumatic time for the residents of the Isle of Dogs. The docks had closed and the developments that would lead to the office complex around Canary Wharf, as well as many new housing developments, were underway.

Much of this new development would not directly benefit local residents. Thousands of office jobs for those living outside of the Isle of Dogs, and new homes being built which were typically much more expensive than traditional homes in the area. Very little of the money being poured into new developments would find its way to the original residents.

The graffiti on the wall in Prestons Road reflects some of the anger and frustration felt as a result of the developments. Barratts the builders are mentioned on the right of the wall, along with Asda.

Whilst the build of a new Asda store could have been seen as a positive for residents, in reality it was one of the many cultural changes imposed, where centralised shopping would badly impact the trade of multiple small, often family owned shops.

The graffiti was on a wall in Prestons Road. This road runs from a junction with Poplar High Street down to the so called Blue Bridge, which crosses the east entrance to West India South Dock from the Thames.

I have marked the two end points of Prestons Road in the following map. The road runs between these two points  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Prestons Road

My father took the photo at the top of the post, and did not leave a record of the location. I do vaguely remember walking past the wall in the mid-1980s and that it was somewhere near the Poplar High Street end of Prestons Road, somewhere around the location highlighted by the red oval on the following map  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Prestons Road

I think I found the location when I went for a walk along Prestons Road, and I will explain later in the post, however before walking the road, some background to a road that has changed significantly in the last decades.

The most significant change to Prestons Road is in the northern part, up to the junction with Poplar High Street. Between the northern and southern sections of the road, it has been divided by a large roundabout and the dual carriageways of the A1261, or the Aspen Way, which is carried over the roundabout, as can be seen in the above map.

The A1261 provides a route between the A13 at the start of the East India Dock Road in the west, through to the Lower Lea Crossing in the east.

Construction of this road had significant impact on the area, and in some ways, reinforced the division between the Isle of Dogs and the rest of Poplar. The A1261 was built as part of the transformation of transport infrastructure surrounding development of the Docklands, which included other major projects such as the Limehouse Link Tunnel.

To illustrate the impact of this road, and the roundabout, the following map is from the 1950 edition of the Ordnance Survey, which covers roughly the same area as in the above map. The location of the roundabout is shown by the red circle (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Prestons Road

By comparing the two maps, it can be seen that the northern part of Prestons Road, up to Poplar High Street has changed to enable the entry and exit carriageways to the roundabout. Where Prestons Road once had a straight section down from Poplar High Street, it is now more angled to accommodate the roundabout. This will be relevant when searching for the location of the graffiti.

Taking a wider view of the area, we can see the Aspen Way running left to right at the very north of the Isle of Dogs. Just to the south, Billingsgate Market, and the office blocks around North Quay and the northern section of Canary Wharf reinforce the boundary created by the Aspen Way, leaving two main routes to the Isle of Dogs on the east and west of the peninsula – the eastern route being Prestons Road  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Map of the Isle of Dogs

This boundary between the Isle of Dogs and Poplar has been long in the making. The following extract from Smith’s New Plan of London, dated 1816, shows that the construction of the West India Docks had created a barrier across the centre, leaving only the two roads either side of the peninsula:

Prestons Road

In the above map, I have circled the location of Prestons Road, and whilst the southern section across the dock entrances was in place, the northern section had not been built. Instead, a turn to the right entered Brunswick Street.

I believe that the northern section of Prestons Road was built at the same time as the Poplar Docks which were located on the left of the section of the street just to the south of the roundabout.

We must go back to the 18th century, to see the area before any of the docks were built to understand how the docks, and then Canary Wharf and the Aspen Way have created an apparent northern boundary to the Isle of Dogs.

In the following map from 1703, we can see that the whole area was part of Poplar, with Poplar High Street already lined with buildings. To follow on from last week’s post, I have also circled a reference to Penny Fields to the left.

Map of the Isle of Dogs

Brunswick Street is to the right, however rather than just east and west routes, up until the construction of the docks, there were to roads running down from Poplar High Street, including the central road which ran down to the ferry across the Thames to Greenwich, at the southern tip of the peninsula.

So today, when crossing under the Aspen Way, it feels like a boundary has been crossed, and we are entering the Isle of Dogs. Time to take a walk along Prestons Road:

Prestons Road

The above photo was taken at the junction of Prestons Road with Poplar High Street.

For this post, I am using the spelling of the street as seen on the street name signs in 1986 and today. Many references to the street also refer to Preston’s, however to stay with the name signs, I will leave out the apostrophe.

The following photo is looking south from the junction in the above photo. The upper part of Prestons Road was angled slightly to the left when the roundabout was built. If I remember rightly, the wall with the graffiti was somewhere along the right side of the street.

Prestons Road

A short distance down the street is a turn off to the right with Poplar Business Park at the end:

Poplar Business Park

In the background of the 1986 photo, the frame of a building under construction can be seen. The majority of buildings to the south of Poplar High Street are relatively recent, and do not date back to the 1980s, however I wondered if the Poplar Business Park could be the building which was under construction when my father took the photo.

It is certainly in the right place, if my memory is correct that the wall was around here.

I looked for references to the Poplar Business Park to try and date the building, and found an advert from 1988 for “Moat Security Doors, Poplar Business Park, Prestons Road, Isle of Dogs, E14”, who sold iron gates to add security in front of a door, or as they advertised “Never be afraid to open your front door again”.

So the Poplar Business Park was in operation in 1988, so possibly safe to assume it was the building photographed under construction two years earlier. Interesting that whilst in the Poplar Business Park, they used Isle of Dogs in the address, despite being at the northern end of Prestons Road, very close to Poplar High Street.

If I am correct, the wall would have been to the left of the above photo, or perhaps to the left of the photo below which is looking up Prestons Road, with the side road to the Poplar Business Park being the street where the grey car is about to exit:

Prestons Road

A very short distance to the south is where Prestons Road crosses under the A1261, the Aspen Way, a very significant set of new road infrastructure:

Prestons Road

From the south, looking north, and the slip road to the east, up to the Aspen Way towards the City of London and one of the new road access points to Canary Wharf:

Prestons Road

From the edge of the roundabout we can see some of the new residential towers that are becoming so common across this part of east London:

Prestons Road

A full view of the routes that can be accessed via the roundabout that obliterated part of Prestons Road:

Prestons Road

This is the view looking south along Prestons Road into the Isle of Dogs. I do not live there, so I am not really one to judge, but when walking the area, it is only along here that I feel I am entering the Isle of Dogs:

Prestons Road

In the above photo, there is a tall brick wall, in shadow, on the right. This is the wall between the street and Poplar Docks, the construction of which I believe, resulted in the construction of this section of Prestons Road, as a road would have been needed along the boundary to serve entrances to the docks.

The following photo is of Poplar Dock today, looking west with two cranes remaining from when the dock was operational:

Poplar Dock

The site is now Poplar Dock Marina and is full with narrow boats and an assorted range of other smaller craft. Poplar Dock opened in 1851, however the site had originally been used from 1827 as a reservoir to balance water levels in the main West India Dock just to the west. In the 1840s the area was used as a timber pond before conversion to a dock.

Poplar Docks served a specific purpose, being known as a railway dock as the docks were almost fully ringed by railway tracks and depots of the railway companies.

Walking south along the street, and the area between the street and the river is full of new buildings, however there is a rather strange, flying saucer shaped building to be seen:

Blackwall Tunnel

The building is one of the air vents and access points to the Blackwall Tunnel, which runs parallel (but deeper) to the northern section of Prestons Road.

Looking north towards the roundabout, and we can see the tall brick wall that once separated Poplar Dock from Prestons Road:

Prestons Road

We now come to one of the crossings over the channels from the docks to the Thames:

West India Docks

This is the channel that ran from the Thames to Blackwall Basin, and then led into the West India Docks (see the extract from Smith’s New Plan of London, dated 1816 earlier in the post).

This is the view looking east along the channel towards the Blackwall Basin. The Canary Wharf complex has been built over much of the old West India Docks.

West India Docks

To the right of the above photo, behind the trees is the old Dockmaster’s House:

West India Docks

The Dockmaster’s House is named Bridge House and was built between 1819 and 1820 for the West India Dock Company’s Principal Dockmaster. The entrance to the house faces to the channel running between docks and river, however if you look on the right of the building, you will see large bay windows facing out towards the river. This was a deliberate part of the design by John Rennie as these windows, along with the house being on raised ground would provide a perfect view towards the river and the shipping about to enter or leave the docks.

A short distance further on and Prestons Road crosses another channel between docks and river. This is the channel between the West India South Dock and the Thames, and the view west provides a stunning view of some of the recent developments:

West India Docks

With the Docklands Light Railway crossing the old dock in the distance:

West India Docks

Original cranes remaining from when this was a working dock:

West India Docks

It is fascinating when standing here to imagine the many thousands of ships that have entered or exited through this channel, and where they had been coming from or going to.

Looking east where the channel meets the river.

Blue Bridge

The bridge that spans the channel in the above photos is the bridge that has taken on the name of the Blue Bridge.

Blue Bridge

Built during the late 1960s, the bridge is just the latest of a number that have spanned the channel.

I have never seen the bridge lift, but I was lucky enough to go under the bridge during a trip along the Thames on the Massey Shaw fireboat back in 2015:

Blue Bridge

The bridge marks the end of Prestons Road, continuing south, the road changes name to Manchester Road, all the way to the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, where the road again changes name to Westferry Road, which then continues along the western side of the Isle of Dogs, all the way up to the West India Dock Road, which it joins opposite Pennyfields, explored in last week’s post.

The view heading south from the bridge:

Manchester Road

On the right of the above photo, there is a row of terrace houses that run along a street slightly offset from what is now Manchester Road. This terrace marks the original route of Manchester Road up to an earlier incarnation of the bridge.

Having come to the end of my walk along Prestons Road, there was one last place I wanted to find.

Asda was part of the graffiti on the 1980s wall, so I wanted to find the store that would change the approach to shopping on the Isle of Dogs.

I have marked the location of the Asda store, with its surrounding car park on the following map  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Isle of Dogs Asda

I walked along Manchester Road, then cut through Mudchute Park:

Mudchute

As usual, there is far too much for a weekly post, and I will return to the Isle of Dogs and places like Mudchute in future posts, however it was an area of land created by dumping the spoil when constructing and dredging Millwall Dock.

Now a large area of parkland, a city farm, and with a restored anti-aircraft gun, commemorating the Second World War when a number of these guns were based in the area, and the terrible suffering from bombing of those living on the Isle of Dogs:

Mudchute

An exit from Mudchute runs directly into the Asda car park, with the many new developments gradually taking over the Isle of Dogs in the background:

Isle of Dogs Asda

This was the change in shopping in the 1980s when many of the major stores opened up large “superstores” with car parks where you could drive and do a complete weekly shop without having to go to a number of separate shops.

Perhaps more convenient, but an approach that would result in the closure of so many individual, often family run shops.

The view across the car park to the Asda store:

Isle of Dogs Asda

The store gives away its 1980s heritage by the lack of lots of glass, which is typical of the majority of recent stores of this type.

Isle of Dogs Asda

The coming of Asda marked the early years of the developments that would dramatically change the Isle of Dogs, change that is continuing as the glass and steel towers continue to grow.

It would be great to know if I have the correct location for the wall with the graffiti.

If any past or current resident of the Isle of Dogs can confirm, or advise the correct location, I would be very grateful.

I assume the wall was just demolished as part of the development of the area, and the changes as a result of the new roundabout and the Aspen Way. A real shame that the wall was not kept, as part of the historical records of the changes to this fascinating part of London.

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Pennyfields, Poplar

The three volumes of “Wonderful London”, published in the 1920s contain a fascinating photographic record of the city at the start of the 20th century. Many of the scenes are recognisable today, however many have also changed beyond all recognition, and offer a glimpse of a way of life before being swept away during post-war redevelopment. One of these photos is of Pennyfields, Poplar.

The photo is titled “Gloom and Grime in the East End: Chinatown”, and has the following description: “A view of Pennyfields, which runs from West India Dock Road to Poplar High Street. There is a Chinese restaurant on the corner. A few Chinese and European clothes are all that are to be seen in the daytime”:

Pennyfields

The same view today (March 2022):

Pennyfields

The only surviving feature between the two photos which are around 100 years apart (although Wonderful London was published in 1926/7, the individual photos are not dated), is the street, Pennyfields, which runs from West India Dock Road (where I am standing), to Poplar High Street.

There are a number of features in the Wonderful London photo, two pubs on the left of the street, and the Chinese restaurant on the right, and the following graphic shows the position of these on the street today:

Pennyfields

Pennyfields still runs between West India Dock Road and Poplar High Street, and I have circled the street in the map below  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Pennyfields

Pennyfields, and the surrounding area, changed dramatically during the 19th century. At the start of the century, there was still a considerable amount of open space, however the arrival of the West India and East India Docks would drive the development of the area, and by the end of the 19th century, the land around Pennyfields was covered in dense terrace housing along with the infrastructure needed to serve the docks.

The following map is from Smiths New Plan of London, dated 1816. Pennyfields is not named, and appears to be a westward continuation of Poplar High Street:

Pennyfields

And by the time of the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, Pennyfields is named, and the whole area is built up (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Pennyfields

I have marked a number of features in the above map. H. Doe. Foon is the Chinese restaurant on the corner. Note that the shape of the building in the above map is the same as the building in the photo. The restaurant also has the number 57. This was 57 West India Dock Road, not Pennyfields.

As with any east London street of the late 20th century, there are a number of pubs.

The pub that can just be seen on the left of the Wonderful London photo was the Commercial Tavern. Not seen in the photo, but to the upper left on the West India Dock Road was the Oporto Tavern.

In the Wonderful London photo, there is what appears to be a pub, with a large lantern outside. This is not marked as a Public House on the Ordnance Survey map, but I believe from checking street directories, that this was the premises of John Simpson, Beer Retailer, and would later become the Rose and Crown.

There are two more pubs along Pennyfields, not seen in the photo, the Three Tuns and the Silver Lion are marked on the map.

I will start a walk through the area just north of Pennyfields, at the Westferry Arms in West India Dock Road. In the 1895 OS map, I have marked the pub just north west of Pennyfields as the Oporto Tavern, and today it is the Westferry Arms:

Westferry Arms

The pub was originally the Oporto Tavern and changed name to the Westferry Arms around the year 2012, presumably named after Westferry Road which starts almost opposite the pub, along with Westferry DLR station.

The first reference I can find to the pub is from 1864, when the pub was advertising in the Morning Advertiser for a potman, so I suspect the pub was opened around 1860.

The pub was just a short distance north of one of the main entrances to the West India Docks, and was popular with those who worked at the docks as well as those who arrived by ship.

Bill Neal, who had been landlord of the Oporto Tavern for thirty one years when he died in 1951 and was such an institution that his death resulted in an article in the national Daily Mirror, an article which describes a way of life that would soon change for ever:

“The Juke Box is silent now in the pub where the sailors go – Before dawn came to London’s Covent Garden yesterday they were seeking out the most fragrant, whitest lilac and later, down in the West India Dock-road, Chinese were searching for black-edged handkerchiefs of mourning.

For Bill Neal is dead. Bill who for thirty-one years stood behind the bar of the Oporto Tavern in the West India Dock-road, only a few yards from the gates of the docks that lead seafarers to faraway places.

Bill was the seamen’s first port of call. He cared for the money of the wise ones who were determined to blot out their cares in drink. He was a soft touch for a free meal. Legend has it that he once even gave away his boots. But he could throw out the noisy drunkard quicker than any other landlord.

A man walked sadly into the saloon bar yesterday and stuck a slip of paper over the slot of the juke-box.

For the rest of the week, visiting seamen will not hear the music they love – for Bill Neal is dead.

And in the bar where Bill reigned for so many years – above the song song of the Chinese barbers and laundrymen, and the voices of the Limehouse Cockney, one voice was clear this morning.

It was that of the Rev. H. Evans, vicar of St Matthias, poplar, who stood where he had so often stood to have a chat with Bill. He was the ideal Christian, Mr. Evans said, he thought of other people and never of himself. Other people say he was foolishly generous.

In the decades after Bill Neal’s death, the docks would close and the seamen would disappear, and today the tower blocks of flats that are typical of new building on the Isle of Dogs have reached to the opposite side of the West India Dock Road:

Westferry Arms

The Westferry Arms closed in 2016 after a number of years when the pub attracted the drugs trade and also many complaints of noise, which is rather strange given how close the pub was to the (also now closed) Limehouse Police Station, which was a very short distance further north.

In 2015 there was an application to review the premises licence for the Westferry Arms, and reading through it is almost comical, where “whilst in the yard of the Limehouse Police Station, Police Officers smelt a strong smell of cannabis in the air coming from the direction of the Westferry Arms Public House.”

The request to remove the pubs licence was turned down, however this was on the basis that the pub would implement a number of new measures to address the sale and use of drugs and to restrict noise and outside drinking. The request was also turned down at the licensing sub-committee as members “were very concerned about the lack of action taken by the Police despite the premises being just meters away from the Limehouse Police Station”.

Today, the Westferry Arms is closed, with metal grills protecting the ground floor doors and windows:

Westferry Arms

In 2020 a planning application was approved to demolish the Westferry Arms, and build a new nine storey tower, with the basement and ground floor being available as a pub, and the upper 8 floors consisting of a mix of one, two and three bedroom flats.

Westferry Arms

No indication of when demolition will start, and while the Westferry Arms / Oporto Tavern waits, it reflects that even if the ground floor of the new development opens as a pub, it will never see the likes of Bill Neal, Dockers or seamen from around the world again.

Westferry Arms

Just to the right of the pub is Birchfield Street. I noticed one of the wonderful London County Council plaques on the side of Birchfield House:

Birchfield House

Birchfield House was the result of the only LCC slum clearance project in Poplar in the 1920s, and became part of the much larger Birchfield Estate during post war slum clearances, and redevelopment of bomb damaged buildings.

The following photo is looking back at the terrace of shops and flats where Pennyfields meets the West India Dock Road. The Commercial Tavern which can just be seen in the Wonderful London photo was at the far end of the terrace, where the blue / green shops are located.

Commercial Tavern

The terrace of shops appears to date from the 1970s and were built following the clearance of buildings along this stretch of the street, which included demolition of the Commercial Tavern.

The closed and shuttered Pennyfield Launderette:

Launderette

The next pub in the street is a bit of a mystery. In the Wonderful London photo, there appears to be a pub further down the street. It has large signs on the façade and a large hanging lantern over the street. It is a narrow building with only two horizontal window bays.

The 1895 OS map does not mark the building with the PH letters for a public house, however reading through street directories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the occupation of the owner is listed as “beer seller”.

Checking for newspaper references and there are a number at the end of the 19th century to the “Rose and Crown beerhouse”. It is not identified as a public house.

The difference is down to the 1830 Beer Act, which defined a beer house as a premises which was only licenced to sell beer, and could not sell wine, spirits etc. So a public house could sell the full range of alcoholic drinks, and the beerhouse, only beer.

A later incarnation of the Rose and Crown can be found on Pennyfields today.

The original building lasted until the 1950s. Whilst the rest of the street was being purchased by the LCC for redevelopment, the Rose and Crown was rebuilt, and the 1950s version of the Rose and Crown pub can be seen on the street today:

Rose and Crown

Probably the most famous owners of the Rose and Crown were Queenie and Slim Watts. Born locally on the Isle of Dogs, Queenie was also a jazz singer. They ran two pubs, the Rose and Crown on Pennyfields and the Iron Bridge Tavern, at 447 East India Dock Road.

I cannot find the exact dates when Queenie Watts ran the Rose and Crown, various Internet posts about her refer to both the 1960s and 1970s, so it may have been across both decades.

Most newspaper reports about her and one of the pubs are from the 1960s, where, for example, the Stage on the 5th of November 1964 refer to “Queenie Watts of the Iron Bridge as the East Ends first lady”.

There are a number of videos of her singing and perhaps one of the best to give an impression of her pubs in the 1960s is this video, which looks a real rather than a staged event, by the way people look at the camera.

The Rose and Crown closed in the year 2000 and for a while was converted into a private house. Today, the ground floor is home to a Chinese restaurant.

The following photo is looking along Pennyfields, towards Poplar High Street. The south side of the street is on the right and in the late 19th century was described as the poorest side of the street, with cheap and crowded lodging houses, houses occupied by poor manual labourers, and brothels.

Pennyfields

The reason why a photo of Pennyfields was included in the Wonderful London book was down to the reputation of Pennyfields and Limehouse Causeway as being the east London home of hundreds of Chinese seafarers and their families.

This was only for a relatively short period of time from the 1st World War to the 1930s, with the peak of the area’s reputation being in the 1920s – the same time as Wonderful London was published.

Pennyfields had always been multicultral, and checking census data and street directories, Jewish, Irish, Scandinavian and German names can be found.

In the 1910 street directory there was a Scandinavian Reading Room, and there were only two names which appear to be of Chinese origin: Wan Tsang, a Tobacconist at number 6, and Chang Ahon, an Interpreter at number 42.

The number would grow rapidly, with 182 Chinese men living in Pennyfields in 1918, and in the 1930s, around 5,000 were recorded as living in Pennyfields, Limehouse Causeway and the surrounding streets.

Moving into the area around Pennyfields was mainly down to the very close proximity of the docks (many were seamen), the availability of shops, restaurants etc. serving a Chinese customer base, and living in the same area as those of a similar origin – themes which have always influenced waves of east London immigration. Hostility from British sailors also prompted a clustering together by the Chinese seafaring community.

Pennyfields and Limehouse Causeway entered the public imagination as a place of mystery, opium dens, crime, brothels etc. In the 1920s, people from the wealthier parts of London would visit the area on a tour to see the mysterious Chinatown. East London opium dens have long featured in literature, film and TV series.

In reality, Pennyfields was much like any other east London street. It had a large Chinese population, but there were also many other nationalities as well as British working class.

The street was poor, housing and lodgings were crowded and in poor condition (again, much like many other east London streets). The street served a local economy, so to make money from the nearby docks there were pubs, brothels and lodging houses. The street had a mobile population as seamen from the docks arrived and departed.

Signage in the street added to its reputation, with Chinese names and written characters appearing on buildings – as seen on the resturant of H. Doe. Foon, but again much of this was short lived.

H. Doe Foon was on the corner of Pennyfields and West India Dock Road, and had a West India Dock address, being at number 57.

In the 1910 Post Office Directory, 57 West India Dock Road is listed a being occupied by Hutton and Co. Ship Chandlers. In the East London Observer, on the 10th of May 1930, 57 West India Dock Road was advertised as having the freehold for sale of a prominent corner shop and rooms. H. Doe Foon is listed in the 1920 street directory, so I suspect that it was the H. Doe Foon restaurant for nearly all of the 1920s.

But by being photographed and published in Wonderful London, H. Doe Foon has added to the street’s reputation.

The text with the photo in Wonderful London describes that within the street are “a score of shops selling chop suey, dried fish and vegetables, monster medicinal pills, tea, weird sweetmeats, and white preparation of palm”.

The text also describes crowded rooms with Chinamen playing “fan tan”, gambling, and the availability of drugs with a chalk cross on a door indicating that opium is available, and two crosses that cocaine can be purchased (perhaps like the Westferry Arms, Wonderful London also mentions that “it is virtually impossible for the police to obtain sufficient evidence to convict”).

The 19th century buildings of Pennyfields lasted until the 1950s and 1960s, when they were finally demolished to make way for new LCC / GLC flats and housing. The following extract from the 1950 OS map shows that many buildings did survive wartime bombing, although they were in a very poor condition by this time (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Pennyfields map

In the above map, the Rose and Crown is shown, so no longer a beer house, and to the right, at number 39, is the Three Tuns, one of the oldest pubs on the street. The first reference I can find to the pub is from 1826, when the name of the pub was used in a fraud where cheques were presented at various London breweries in an attempt to get the fake cheque cashed. Over £400 had been made this way before the person running the fraud was caught.

As with the rest of the street, the Three Tuns was demolished for post war redevelopment, which included Rosefield Gardens (a new street running north from Pennyfields) and the surrounding housing:

Rosefield Gardens

Much of the north eastern side of Pennyfields is now a park – Pennyfields Park, which again was created during the redevelopment of the area, the following photo shows one of the entrances to the park. the Three Tuns pub would have been just to the right, behind the recycling signage.

Pennyfields Park

That a Pennyfields Park was created in the post war redevelopment of the area may be an accidental pointer to the origins of the name.

The meaning of the name is lost, however on Rocque’s 1746 map of London there is a reference to a Penny Fields, which seems to have been a 16 acre block of mainly undeveloped land (underlined in red in the following extract):

Pennyfields

As well as being on Rocque’s 1746 map, there are mentions of the 16 acres of Penny Fields in 17th century land transactions, so the name does go back to at least the 1600s.

In the above map extract, Poplar High Street is on the right, and the street that will take the name Pennyfields is the straight street that connects Poplar High Street to Limehouse Causeway.

There is one final pub to track down, and this may well be the oldest on the street. To the right of the OS map of Pennyfields is a pub called the Silver Lion.

The first mention of the Silver Lion is from an advert for a property for sale, which gives us a description of the area before the dense housing that would come during the rest of the 19th century.

On the 21st of February 1815, the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser was advertising “the Leasehold premises, known as Ebenezer House, near the Silver Lion, Penny Fields, Poplar, comprising a substantial brick built dwelling house most commandingly situate at the end of Penny Fields, in the most preferable part of Poplar High Street , with a large plot of garden ground in the front, enclosed with a dwarf wall and palisade railings. The house contains four good bedrooms, two parlours, entrance passage, kitchen, pantry, wine cellars, and other conveniences”.

If you look at the Rocque map extract, there is a Robins Rope Walk, this appears to have been within the 16 acres of Penny Fields as in the same newspaper as the above advert, there is also for sale “a Leasehold estate, adjoining Mr. Burchfield’s rope-ground, Penny-Fields, Poplar”.

So Pennyfields started off as a 16 acres plot of land to the south of the street, and included a rope-ground where lengths of rope for ships was made.

The name then was used for a street connecting Poplar High Street and Limehouse Causeway.

Originally with a few larger houses with gardens, the street was densely built during the 19th century with houses and premises that catered to the nearby West India Docks.

At the end of the 19th century, and in the early decades of the 20th century, Pennyfields was at the centre of the Chinese population in east London.

The post-war decline of the docks, bomb damage, and the gradually decaying state of the housing within Pennyfields led to redevelopment by the LCC and then the GLC which demolished all the 19th century buildings, rebuilt the Rose and Crown, and lined the street with new flats.

And that is how we see the street today, however although the name dates back to at least the 17th century, I suspect Pennyfields will always be known for the Chinese influence on the street for a few decades in the early 20th century.

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East London 1980s Shops – Fordham Street

Thanks for the feedback to last week’s post. The pub at the top of the stairs leading down to the Thames, next to Westminster Bridge Road was identified as the Coronet, and there is a good drawing of the pub and the stairs on the Closed Pubs site. It was good that I did not get any comments or e-mails that the bronze box beneath the foundation stone of County Hall has been removed, so hopefully it is still there for archaeologists in the distant future to dig up.

For this week’s post, I am in East London, looking for the location of a shop in Fordham Street, photographed here in 1986:

Fordham Street

The same location today. The old general stores type of shop has been replaced by the Algiers Barber and Café:

Fordham Street

The 1986 photo is typical of the type of shop. Goods piled high in the window, bread, bottles of Fairy Liquid and Woodbines advertising running along the top of the window.

No idea whether that is a customer entering the shop, or the owner locking or unlocking.

Fordham Street is in the heart of east London, roughly half way between Whitechapel and Commercial Roads. The street leads from New Road which is a main street leading between Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road, and is part of a residential area that has long housed the changing populations of east London.

In the following map I have circled the location of the shop photographed at the top of the post:

Fordham Street

A view of the corner location of the shop, at the end of a short terrace of houses:

Fordham Street

Although a relatively short street, as was typical in east London of old, the street had two pubs, both now long closed. On the corner opposite the shop is the building that housed one of the pubs:

Bricklayers Arms pub

The pub was the Bricklayers Arms. I can find very little information about the pub, and there are only a couple of newspaper reports that mention the Bricklayers Arms. The first is when a 19 year old labourer, Frederick Perrie was sentenced to six months hard labour after trying to use a counterfeit florin in the pub in 1893.

Throughout the first decade of the 20th century, Friday evenings seem to have been the time when the East London (Jewish) branch of the London Central Council met in the pub. Regular adverts about the event featured in newspapers. The licensee at this time appears to have been Isaac Ernest Marks.

The last reference to the pub is in 1911 when Isaac Ernest Marks had his license renewed. It does not appear to have stayed open long after 1911 as Closed Pubs suspects the pub was closed by the 1920s, and there are no newspaper reports mentioning the pub after 1911.

Pubs such as the Bricklayers Arms would have served those living in the densely populated terrace housing that lined the streets around Fordham Street. Whilst many of these have been demolished, some remain, although the following photo shows the challenges of taking photos with a low winter sun on a bright day:

Fordham Street

Many of the corner shops in Fordham Street have survived, and have changed over the 20th century to serve the changing population of east London:

Fordham Street

The second pub in the street was the Duke of York. The Bangla Super Store on the corner of Fordham Street and Myrdle Street now occupies the building that was once the pub:

Duke of York pub

The Bangla Super Store maintains the tradition of a corner shop stacked high with a wide range of goods for the local community.

Rather strangely, I cannot find any newspaper report mentioning the Duke of York, and cannot find any record as to when the pub opened or closed. It is marked as a Public House on the 1894 Ordnance Survey map of the area, and the building has the large, flat corner on the upper floors, so typical of 19th century pubs where their large pub name / advertising signs were located.

Myrdle Street runs across Fordham Street, and the straight lines of this network of streets indicate that they were laid out as part of a significant development of the area, however the street plan that we see today appears to be the second since the fields that once covered the area were built on.

In 1746, John Rocque’s map was showing the area now occupied by Fordham Street as a field, surrounded by other fields, ponds and cultivated land (the red line indicates the future location of Fordham Street):

Fordham Street

The following is an extract from the 1816 edition of Smith’s New Plan of London. I have ringed the area now occupied by Fordham Street and surrounding streets:

Fordham Street

Comparing with the map of the area today (see below), and the streets, along with their street names are very different. To confirm the location, Whitechapel Road runs along the top of both maps, the start of the Commercial Road development runs along the lower part of the 1816 map, and one of the few consistent street names is Fieldgate Street which runs just south of Whitechapel Road in both maps.

New Road can be seen in both maps, new as this was a major new road built as part of the development of the area.

I cannot find exactly when Fordham Street was initially developed. It is shown in the 1894 OS map. The first newspaper reports which mention the street date to the 1880s, including one from 1886 which advertises a building plot available to be leased in Fordham Street.

Charles Booth’s poverty maps include Fordham Street, with the occupants of the street falling within the classification “Mixed. Some comfortable, some poor”. There was one area described as “Very poor, casual. Chronic want” on part of the land now occupied by Fieldgate Mansions (see further in the post). The street may then date to the early 1880s, however this does seem rather late.

I like that the Footpath to Stepney in the 1816 map is now the Stepney Way, to the upper right of the following map.

Fordham Street

So the streets we see today are not those from the original development of the area, and were built in the decades following the 1816 map. Interestingly, in 1816 there was a York Street roughly where Myrdle Street is today, where the Duke of York pub was located on the corner with Fordham Street, so this lost pub may have been named after the name of the original street.

Myrdle Street was a long run of terrace houses, but one side of the street has been replaced by Fieldgate Mansions:

Fieldgate Mansions

Fieldgate Mansions is a large complex of tenement dwellings that extend along Myrdle Street and further back towards New Road. They were built between 1903 and 1907 to replace the much smaller terrace houses that ran the length of the street. They take their name from Fieldgate Street which runs at the northern end of Myrdle Street.

The original tenants were mainly Jewish immigrants, which probably explains why meetings of the East London (Jewish) branch of the London Central Council were held in the pub at the end of Fordham Street.

Post war, the blocks were neglected by their landlords, some had suffered bomb damage, and by the early 1960s prostitution was a considerable problem in the area.

Many of the apartments in the blocks were empty by the late 1960s and 1970s, and were occupied by squatters campaigning for the restoration and use of derelict property.

They were redeveloped during the 1980s and it is the restored Fieldgate Mansions that we see today:

Fieldgate Mansions

Unlike the Duke of York pub, there are plenty of references to Fieldgate Mansions in the press, that tell of everyday life, and the challenges of those who lived here.

On the 4th of December 1942, the East London Observer has a Naturalization Notice, where “Notice is hereby given that H. LEVY of 48, Fieldgate Mansions, Myrdle Street, E.1. is applying to the Home Secretary for naturalization, and that any person who knows any reason why naturalization should not be granted should send a written and signed statement of the facts to the Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, S.W.1.”

On the 5th December 1941, Fieldgate Mansions were advertising for “two fire watchers, good references essential”. An important role where fire watchers would look out for fires started by incendiary bombs and then do their best to extinguish fires before they took hold. This was a role my grandfather had in his flats.

A strange case reported on the 31st March 1944 was when Morris Lakin, 32, a traveler of Fieldgate Mansions was in court accused of receiving stolen goods, described as property of the Canadian Army. A strange combination of “five revolvers, 83 rounds of ammunition and 63 pairs of woollen socks”. He was also charged, along with two others of receiving a “quantity of cosmetics, a wireless set and an Eastman cutting machine”.

The tenants of so many east London apartment blocks were subject to rent rises, and there were frequent strikes where tenants refused to pay their rent. On the 4th of July 1939, one rent strike ended and another began “Sixty-four tenants of Fieldgate Mansions, who have withheld their rents for 20 weeks, have reached agreement with their landlord. Rent reductions are to be made from May 1st, some amounting to 3s a week. At Linden Buildings, Brick-lane, Bethnal Green, 68 tenants started a rent strike yesterday”.

Just five years where within Fieldgate Mansions we have rent strikes, protecting the community by fire-watching, stolen goods, and H. Levy’s application for naturalization.

Myrdle Street crosses Fordham Street and on the south-western corner of the junction is another business housed in what was an original corner shop. The wooden decoration just visible around the top and to the right of the current shop signs demonstrates that this has long been a corner shop.

Fordham Street

The following photo shows the view west, along Fordham Street at the junction with Myrdle Street. The towers of the City can be seen in the distance.

Fordham Street

Fordham Street is a very ordinary east London street, but it can tell so much about how the area has developed from the field of the 18th century to the network of streets we see today.

The demise of east London pubs, changing populations, and snapshots of the lives of people who have made this part of the city home for a brief few years.

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Pickle Herring Street Revisited

It is remarkable how some places in London have changed beyond all recognition within living memory, and this week’s photo is a prime example. It was taken by my father in 1947 in Pickle Herring Street, a lost street that ran behind the warehouses on the south bank of the Thames, west from Tower Bridge.

I last wrote about Pickle Herring Street six years ago, when I featured a photo taken from underneath the arch on the approach road to Tower Bridge. This photo was on the same strip of negatives, but I was not sure of the location, whether west of Tower Bridge, or east along Shad Thames, so I put the photo aside to look at later.

I recently spent some time checking maps, and aligning some of the features between map and photo and can now confirm that the following 1947 photo shows an additional section of Pickle Herring Street, not seen in my original 2015 post.

Pickle Herring Street

It is difficult to be precise with the exact location of the photo given the total redevelopment of the area, however as best as I can estimate, my father was standing somewhere on the grass between where I am standing to take the photo, and the tree, looking towards City Hall:

Pickle Herring Street

The building behind the tree is City Hall, the current home of the Mayor of London, which will soon be moving to an existing building called the “Crystal” at the Royal Docks in Newham. (Strangely on the Mayor of London website, the pages describing City Hall have text that refer to the existing building, but with a photo of the new building at the Royal Docks).

To find the location of the photo, I checked the features in the scene against the 1950 revision of the Ordnance Survey map, published three years after the photo had been taken.

In the following graphic, I have aligned features in the photo with those on the map  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Pickle Herring Street

The red dot and arrow show where my father was standing to take the photo and the arrow is the direction of view.

The first two arrows point to the overhead walkways connecting warehouses on either side of Pickle Herring Street.

A patch of light can then be seen on the street, this is coming from the street Potters Fields which runs to the left of the photo.

The street than narrows with a building seen blocking part of the street, and a narrow section to the right, where in the distance, a larger overhead structure can be seen spanning the street. This is the greyed in block in the map with an X which shows this is an upper floor which runs over a street.

The southern approach to Tower Bridge can be seen on the right of the map.

So having located this 1947 photo, I can add to the photo from my 2015 post to give a fuller view of Pickle Herring Street. This was the view from under the approach to Tower Bridge:

Pickle Herring Street

If you refer to the 1950 map, you can see the point in the street where the building on the right juts out into Pickle Herring Street, and it was there that my father was standing to take the photo at the top of today’s post.

The following photo is my 2015 version of the above, from underneath the approach to Tower Bridge:

Pickle Herring Street

Pickle Herring Street is an old street, and is shown in Rocque’s 1746 map of London. The following extract shows the western extent of the street, the part in my father’s photo was in the join on my printed copy of the map so did not photograph well.

John Rocque map of Southwark

The map does show that there was also a Pickle Herring Stairs to the western end of the street. I do not know what came first, the stairs or the street, but I suspect the stairs as the river stairs are some of the oldest features along the river’s edge.

There are also multiple theories as to the source of the name of the street and stairs. I cannot find any confirmed written reference to the source, but it is probably safe to assume it has some reference to the fish herring that may have been landed at the stairs, but it is impossible to be sure.

The first written references to activities within the street date to the start of the 19th century, and a newspaper advert from the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 14th of February, 1805 refers to the street, and also an interesting way of buying access to a property at the time:

“WHARF, DWELLING-HOUSE and WAREHOUSE, PICKLE HERRING STREET, Southwark, at Garraway’s Coffee-House, Cornhill. The Life Interest of Two Persons, aged 45 and 44, in the above estate, is now to be sold, and the purchaser will be entitled to the property for the life of the longest liver; both are insurable at a very trifling premium, but as there are now two lives, no insurance is necessary”.

Interesting way of buying access to a set of buildings, where the length of time you have access is entirely dependent on the remaining length of life of two people. Presumably they still held the freehold, which at the death of the last, would then pass to whoever was named in their will, and the person who had purchased the property would either have to leave, or negotiate with the new owner.

There is an earlier written reference to Pickle Herring Stairs, which dates from the 16th October 1727, when a newspaper reported that a Waterman’s Boy had fallen in the Thames at the stairs and drowned.

It is safe to assume that Pickle Herring Street has been in existence for centuries, and served the warehouses and wharves that lined the river.

That would all end not long after my father took the above photos. The 1953 edition of London Wharves and Docks, published by Commercial Motor lists the two wharves that were still in operation.

Mark Brown’s Wharf and Cold Stores are the buildings in the first photo at the top of the post. These were owned by the Hay’s Wharf Company and dealt with “provisions, dried fruit, spices, canned goods and refrigerated produce”.

As seen in the 1950 map, there was a long jetty in the river to serve the wharf, with travelling cranes. The jetty could accommodate and fully unload ships up to 420 feet in length.

The buildings seen from underneath the approach to Tower Bridge in the second photo were part of Tower Bridge Wharf, which dealt with “hides, skins, wool and leather”.

The buildings were empty and derelict for much of the 1960s and 70s, were demolished, and for some years the space became a temporary car and lorry park before the building of the area as we see it today.

The grass in the photo is part of Potters Fields green space, an area that runs from close to Tower Bridge, round the back of City Hall and up to Tooley Street.

The space where City Hall is located occupies the western end of Pickle Herring Street, at the far end of the photo at the start of the post.

It is interesting how streets dissapear, and the space occupied by these streets become part of private developments.

Large parts of London have long been owned by individuals. In the past these tended to be members of the aristocracy, who owned the land, then built and developed as the city expanded, and ended up owning large areas of streets and buildings. Many of these are still in existence, however they have reduced from their peak.

Property companies have built significant collections of buildings, and a change over the last few decades has been the rise of the foreigh property owner.

The area from City Hall, almost to Hays Galleria and up to Tooley Street now goes under the name of More London.

The area is owned by St Martins Property, which is the UK investment vehicle of the sovereign wealth fund of Kuwait.

So the space occupied by Pickle Herring Street is now under private ownership, and in common with many of these spaces, is patrolled by private security.

The name Potters Fields referred to the street that ran from Tooley Street to Pickle Herring Street and was the street that allowed light to fall on the street in the distance in my father’s photo. It can still be found as a small stub of the street remains off Tooley Street, and in the name of the green space.

Originally, Potters Fields was the name given to the space to the west of the approach to Tower Bridge, and today occupied by City hall. Part of this space was occupied by a pottery, set up by the Dutchman Christian Wilhelm in around 1618, and which went by the name of Pickle Herring Pottery.

I suspect the name of the pottery came from the street or stairs as it is a rather strange name to give to a pottery.

The pottery operated on the site for around 100 years, before moving to Horsley Down to the east of Tower Bridge, early in the 18th century.

The British Museum has a collection of what is attributed as Pickle Herring Pottery, including the following dish dating from 1668 and showing Charles II crowned and in armour (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Potters Field pottery

Much of the early output of the Pickle Herring Pottery appears to have had a delftware influence, which was probably down to the Dutch founder of the pottery.

Sad that the centuries old name Pickle Herring which referred to both the street and river stairs can no longer be found in the area, however I am pleased to have confirmed the location of another of my father’s photos and at least these two photos help to remember this lost London street.

My original 2015 post on the street can be found here.

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East London 1980s Shops – Cannon Street Road

Thirty five years is a relatively short time, however during that time so much of London has changed considerably. Back in 1986, a large part of east London was run down. The area was still home to some wonderful communities, people who had lived and worked there for decades, but an area that would soon change. I recently went back to Cannon Street Road to photograph the site of two shops last photographed in 1986.

This is Rogg’s at 137 Cannon Street Road:

Cannon Street Road

Number 137 is today the home of Ample, a property and finance company:

Cannon Street Road

Rogg’s was on the corner of Cannon Street Road and Burslem Street and had been open since the early 1940s. A typical 1980s corner shop with products piled high in the windows. Inside, there was a wide range of traditional Jewish food.

The shop was at the end of a terrace of mixed date and designs. I am not sure if the building of which Rogg’s was the ground floor shop, has had a rebuild as the bricks look too clean and the corners / sides of the building are a little too sharp and clean for a building of some age:

Cannon Street Road

As well as Rogg selling Jewish food, another building that supported the local Jewish population was a synagogue that occupied the space in the above photo, to the right of the white building with part of a blue sign just above the ground floor.

The Cannon Street Road synagogue opened in 1895, but closed in the early 1970s due to the declining local Jewish population.

There was a rather infamous murder in the street in 1974, when Alfie Cohen, who ran a small all-night cigarette kiosk in Cannon Street Road was murdered during a robbery on his kiosk. The robbers got away with what was in the till and a quantity of ciggarettes, however they missed a considerable fortune.

Alfie had worked 7 nights a week for almost 50 years, and rarely took a night off. Rather than bank the money he made, he kept it under the counter in the kiosk, and when police came to investigate the murder, they found a total of around £100,000 in bags hidden in the kiosk.

A tragic story, but indicative of the characters that could be found in the street, and also of the relatively high level of crime in the 1970s.

Continuing south along Cannon Street Road, and at numbers 125 and 127 was Saad Cash and Carry:

Cannon Street Road

The same building today, now home to Quality Food London Ltd:

Cannon Street Road

A wider view of the terrace with 125 and 127 occupying the ground floor of the largest houses:

Cannon Street Road

Cannon Street Road is a typuical east London street. Shops and businesses catering to a diverse range of local residents, and with an equally diverse range of architecture. The condition of the buildings are much better than they were in the 1980s.

Cannon Street Road runs between Commercial Road to the north, and the Highway to the south, cutting across Cable Street rouighly two thirds along the street.

Cannon Street Road is the yellow road running north – south in the centre of the following map  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Cannon Street Road

The lower section of Cannon Street Road is old. The stretch between The Highway and Cable Street is shown in Rocque’s map of 1746. The upper section was then all fields with only the area between Cable Street and the Thames having much development as London’s expansion followed the line of the river.

Rocque’s map shows the street name as simply Cannon Street. I cannot find exactly when, or why, the name changed to Cannon Street Road, however the first mention of the longer name I can find is a newspaper advert from the 24th January 1803, which called for subscribers to the Commercial Road development who could collect their interest from an office in Cannon Street Road.

The following extract from Rocque’s map shows the 1746 length of Cannon Street (red oval), with the red dashed line showing the extension of the street that we see today.

John Rocque map of London

What I did not realise is that the development of Commercial Road appears to have been paid for by subscribers. As well as the advert, there is the following statement in the same 1803 newspaper:

“COMMERCIAL ROAD SUBSCRIPTION – at a MEETING of the TRUSTEES under the Act of Parliament, passed in the 42nd year of the Reign of King George the Third, for making a New Road from the West India Docks in the Isle of Dogs to the City of London, held at the Cannon-street-road office this day; it was ordered, that a further Call or Installment of £25 per cent, on the several Subscriptions, should be paid into the hands of Messrs. Harrison’s, Prickett and Newman, Bankers, Mansion-house-street, on or before the 1st day of February next. Limeshouse, Jan. 18th, 1803. THOMAS BAKER”

Thomas Baker was the Clerk to the Trustees, and the office was somewhere in Cannon Street Road.

I suspect that it was down to the development of Commercial Road, that Cannon Street changed to Cannon Street Road.

As the street provided a route between Commecial Road, Cable Street and The Highway, it would be a busy street (as it is today), and perhaps “Road” was added to avoid confusion with Cannon Street in the City of London.

Just to the left of the Saad Cash & Carry / Quality Food shop is an historic building, with the ground floor converted into shops. This was Raine’s Boys School:

Raine's School for Boys

The history of Raine’s schools goes back to around 1719, when brewer Henry Raine opened a school for 50 boys and 50 girls. The original school was in what is now Raine Street in Wapping. The building is still there, although was in a poor state in the 1970s and at risk of demolition. I wrote about the building in this post.

As the London Docks were built, the original school found itself rather isolated from the parish that the school was intended to serve, so in 1875 the Boys element of the school moved to the Cannon Street Road building, photographed above.

The building did not serve as a school for too long, as by the first decade of the 20th century, the buildings used by the school were too small, and the school consolidated into a large building in Arbour Square, just north of the Commercial Road. The building still exists as the Tower Hamlets New City College.

Cannon Street Road had already been home to a form of school / childrens home some forty year earlier when within the street could be found the Merchant Seamens’ Orphan Asylum.

This institute was founded in 1827 to care for the children of men lost at sea.

In 1833, an advert appeared in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser stating that the orphan asylum was ready to receive applications for the February election. This seemed to be standard practice for many institutions of the time, where applications were made and these were voted on by a Board of Management (see my post on the General Lying In Hospital, where this approach was taken with Subscribers being able to propose pregnant women for admission to the hospital).

In 1833, the orphan asylum had 41 boys and 23 girls. The advert stated that subscriptions and forms of petition for admittance could be had at the school in Cannon Street Road.

We do not often get a glimpse inside the houses of streets such as Cannon Street Road, however another advert from the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 12th of September, 1833 reports on the sale of the leasehold residence and contents of number 2 Cannon Street Road, at the direction of the Executors of the late Mr. Richard Neale:

“Leasehold Residence, Cannon Street Road, with Immediate Possession. Household Furniture, Plate, three Watches, Linen, China and Effects – By W.S. FRANCIS on the Premises, No. 2, Cannon Street Road, St George’s East, on Tuesday September 17, at 11, by direction of the Executors of the late Mr. Richard Neale.

The Leasehold Residence, with immediate possession, held for a term of 17 years, at the trifling ground rent of £2. The furniture consists of fourpost and other bedsteads and furnitures, goose feather beds and bedding, mahogany double and single chests of drawers, mahogany nail-over chairs, sofa, secretary and bookcase, looking glasses, Brussels carpet, and various other articles”.

If the contents of number 2 are typical of the street, then the residents of Cannon Street Road seem to have been reasonably comfortable. The house was at the southern end of Cannon Street Road, close to the church of St George in the East.

The southern end of Cannon Street Road mainly consists of post war rebuilding. It was the southern end that received the most damage during the Second World War, the northern section of the street appears to have escaped relatively undamaged.

Much of the north of the street still appears to be 19th century terrace housing, however it can be difficult to confirm what is original and what is a later rebuild.

The following photo shows part of the street where I assume a single house within the terrace has gone, to be replaced with an entrance to a car tyre dealers. The houses either side needing some serious support as the terrace has been broken.

Old terrace houses in east London

Cannon Street Road is part of east London’s expansion north from the original ribbon development along the Thames, and although east London streets have changed considerably over the last few decades, they are still fascinating places to walk as although wartime bombing has resulted in much new building, there is still many of the original terrace houses along the street, along with an ever changing range of shops.

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Dr John Leake’s General Lying-In Hospital and Leake Street

On the South Bank, where York Road meets the large junction with Westminster Bridge Road, and just south of Waterloo Station, there is a building that today stands out among the surrounding new hotels. This is the General Lying-In Hospital, an institution founded in 1765 by Dr John Leake.

Dr John Leake

The building we see today was constructed in 1830, after the death of Dr John Leake, however it is here because he was instrumental in founding the first dedicated maternity hospital, which originally was a very short distance away on Westminster Bridge Road.

John Leake was born on the 8th June 1729 at Ainstable in Cumberland. There is not that much written evidence of his early life, however he went to Bishop Auckland Grammar School, and became a Doctor of Medicine at Rheims at the age of thirty four, and was admitted to the College of Physicians three year later.

In the mid 18th century, the requirements for entry to the medical profession were rather basic. The ideal candidate was a “cultured and highly educated gentleman”, who only needed an adequate knowledge of medicine. One could become a Doctor via an apprenticeship, and a physician would need only one year’s training in medicine, although up to 1812, the College of Physicians required only six months hospital practice.

There is no record as to how Dr John Leake became interested in child birth, but on Wednesday the 7th of August 1765, he was calling together a meeting of the sponsors of the new hospital at Appleby’s Tavern in Parliament Street.

The new hospital was to be called the Westminster New Lying-In Hospital, and at the meeting Leake reported that sufficient funds had been received to purchase a plot of land for the new hospital, on Westminster Bridge Road, probably today under the railway bridge leading into Waterloo Station.

Dr John Leake:

Dr John Leake

The new hospital was to be for “the Relief of those Child-bearing Women who are the wives of poor Industrious Tradesmen or distressed House-keepers, and who either from unavoidable Misfortunes of the Expenses of maintaining large Families are reduced to real Want. Also for the Reception and Immediate Relief of indigent Soldiers and Sailors Wives, the former in particular being very numerous in and about the City of Westminster”.

The first stone of the new hospital was laid on the 15th August 1765 during a Governors visit to the building site. A view of the hospital when complete:

Dr John Leake

The location of the original hospital is shown in the following extract from Smith’s New Plan of London from 1816:

Dr John Leake

In 1766, there were problems with cash flow and raising sufficient funds to complete the hospital. As well as subscriptions from individuals, events were planned, including a benefit play. The play appears to have taken place at Covent Garden on Boxing Day, 1766, when £114 was raised. There had also been an earlier benefit play at Drury Lane Theatre.

Dr John Leake must have been very busy during the 1760s. As well as the challenge of funding and building the new hospital, he was also a practicing doctor as well as training and lecturing. An advert in the papers of 1767 provides a view of how his lectures were carried out:

“On Monday the 5th October next, at seven in the Evening, will begin, A Course of Lectures on the THEORY and PRACTICE of MIDWIFERY, and the Diseases of Women and Children, in which the true principles of that Science will be distinctly laid down and the several Operations clearly demonstrated, by an artificial representation of each difficult Labour, upon Machines of a new Construction, exactly resembling Women and Children.

By John Leake M.D. Member of the Royal College of Physicians, London and Physician Man-Midwife to the Westminster New Lying-In Hospital. Where the Students for their more expeditious and effectual Improvement, will be admitted to attend as Pupils.”

The title “Physician Man-Midwife” for John Leake came into force on the 2nd June 1767 when he was unanimously elected to the position, as the first medical appointment for the new hospital.

Whilst the earlier statement about who would be admitted to the hospital implies quite an open policy, it did require an introduction from a subscriber and a standard letter had been prepared where a subscriber would request a named person to be admitted as a patient and was “an Object worthy of Charity”.

Governors would have to approve an introduction, and as in the mid 18th century anti-natal care was almost non-existent, Governors would only admit a patient in their last month of pregnancy.

Between the 20th April 1767 and 20th April 1769, the hospital had delivered 218 babies, three of which had been still born. The hospital had an infant death rate of 90 per 1,000 births, and a maternal mortality of 4.7 per 1,000 births. Very much higher than today, but believed to be considerably better than giving birth outside of such an institution.

The hospital would only allow women entry in the last month of their pregnancy. This resulted in over ten percent of women who had been approved to give birth in the hospital, not attending as they had delivered at home, prior to the last month. There is no record of the results of such home births.

An ongoing problem for the hospital came from the Parish in which the hospital was located. At the time, the Parish would become responsible for children where the mothers could not support them, and on the 6th December 1769, Lambeth Parish made a complaint to the hospital about ten children born in the hospital who had become chargeable to the parish.

It even appears that some mothers were claiming their babies had been born in the hospital to get the support from the parish, as the parish were checking names with the hospital to confirm they had been a patient.

Dr John Leake died in 1792, and newspapers on the 16th August carried a rather simple notice of his death: “Yesterday died, in Parliament Street, Dr John Leake, Physician to the Westminster Lying-In Hospital, of which he was the founder, and the author of several useful publications”.

It was a rather underwhelming tribute given his achievements, the main one being instrumental in setting up the hospital.

After John Leake’s death, there were a number of months when the hospital went through an unsettled period. People competed for positions within the Governors and for medical appointments in the hospital, and new management started to change some of the hospital’s processes, however by mid 1793, the hospital had settled down into a new phase of running without the key founder.

A critical issue for the hospital for the following few decades seems to have been having sufficient funds to maintain operations, with regular appeals for donations and subscribers.

A report at the start of 1827 provides an indication of the number of patients both within the hospital, and being seen as out-patients:

Dr John Leake

By the early 1820s, there was a need to find a new location for the hospital. The existing site had a complex set of leases with different owners, which each had to be renewed at different times. The old building was also becoming unsuitable given advances in midwifery and maintaining hygiene within a hospital environment.

After some searching, a site was found, that would become the site of the hospital we see today. To help with funding, more subscribers were needed, and the search for subscribers sheds some light on how they were involved with the selection of patients “That is future Subscribers of Twenty Guineas at one payment be allowed to recommend yearly two in-patients and two out-patients and one for advice”. Ten guinea subscribers could only recommend one patient for each of the categories.

The move to the new hospital seems to have taken place in 1828, however the hospital has the date 1830 on the far right of the façade in the photo below. This seems to be when the Common Seal was affixed to the lease for the land which had been given by the Archbishop of Canterbury. By this time, Westminster had also been dropped from the name of the hospital and it became simply the General Lying-In Hospital.

Dr John Leake

Care during pregnancy during the first half of the 19th century was almost non-existent. Recognition of complications during pregnancy was very limited unless such complications were catastrophic. Standards of hygiene were poor in many of the Lying-In Hospitals. Many of the approaches to complications were horrendous and carried out without anesthetic. The mortality rate for Caesarian section was dreadful. Of the fifty-two operations carried out in 1838, only thirteen women survived.

The General Lying-In Hospital published numbers of deliveries and maternal deaths for the years 1855 to 1875, as shown in the following table:

Dr John Leake

The figures recorded by the hospital do not state whether a delivery was a single child, or whether a delivery covered twins where these were born.

Assuming each delivery is a single child per mother, then the average death rate of mothers was fifteen per thousand. For comparison, I checked the World Bank statistics for Great Britain, and today the mortality figure is seven per 100,000 live births. A phenomenal improvement since the first half of the 19th century.

Many of the problems with child birth in the first half of the nineteenth century were not just through medical complications, but were caused by the level of poverty that was effecting so many of London residents at the time. Malnutrition and rickets resulted in a disproportionate size of fetal head and that of the pelvis. This resulted in many cases of difficult delivery.

The rates of child mortality were also high, and whilst the working population was most effected due to poor diet, housing conditions, poverty etc. child death also affected all levels of society and could influence history.

When King William IV died in 1837, he had no legitimate heirs. His wife, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen had suffered the death of five children. Three, including twin boys were stillborn and two died within six months of birth. Perhaps because of these deaths, Queen Adelaide was a sponsor of the General Lying-In Hospital, contributing £10 per annum to the charity.

As William therefore had no legitimate heirs, the crown would pass to Victoria, who would reign from 1837 to 1901 and stamp her name on two thirds of the 19th century, a significant period of the industrial revolution, and when the basics of the modern world were formed.

Above the main entrance to the hospital is an inscription – “Licensed for the public reception of pregnant women pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed in the thirteenth year of the reign of King George the Third”.

This act, passed in 1773, long before the new hospital building was constructed, attempted to address the problem with local parishes objecting to taking on the expense of illegitimate babies, by making the Governors of such hospitals apply for a licence to continue. The hospital could therefore claim that it was operating legally under an Act of Parliament.

Dr John Leake

The issue of unmarried mothers had long been troubling for the hospital and in 1774 the Governors decided to exclude unmarried mothers from the hospital, however to moderate this decision, the Governors retained the ability to admit unmarried mothers at their discretion.

The second half of the 19th century did see considerable improvement in the practice of midwifery, hygiene, and general medical practice, and at the start of the 20th century we can get a remarkable glimpse into the life of the hospital.

When researching this post, I found a series of photographs of staff at the hospital in 1908, held by the Wellcome Collection. Fortunately these can be used under a Creative Commons licence.

General Lying-In Hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: nurse sitting with baby in incubator. Photograph, 1908.. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

The nurse in the above photo is shown in a second photo in a far more relaxed pose, holding one of the babies in her care. It is a wonderful photo from 1908:

General Lying-In Hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: nurse sitting holding baby. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

The General Lying-In Hospital had run training sessions, which included work at the hospital, since Dr John Leake had originally founded the hospital and the following photo from 1908 shows the Labour Ward Nursing Staff and Pupil Midwives:

General Lying-in hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: labour ward staff and students. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

A larger group of hospital staff:

General Lying-In Hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: hospital staff. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

As well as the hospital staff in the above photo, look at the central window in the rear of the photo, and there are a couple of faces looking at what is happening on their neighbouring building:

Dr John Leake

A smaller group photo:

Generl Lying-In Hospital Nurses

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: group of nurses. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

In a similiar way to the faces in the window in the earlier photo, look to the right edge of the above photo and there is someone sneaking a look at what is going on.

Weighing a baby:

Dr John Leake

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: nurses weighing a baby. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

Another smaller group photo, this time of the senior staff of the hospital. The woman on the right of the photo is the same nurse / midwife as in the first two photos.

Dr John Leake

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: senior staff. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

Unfortunately there is only one photo that records the name of those in the photo. This is Nurse Woodyer (note the scissors tucked into the belt):

Dr John Leake

General Lying In Hospital, York Road, Lambeth: nurse Woodyer. Photograph, 1908.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionPublic Domain Mark

By the time of the above photos, the treatment of patients had improved considerably. This included the use of anesthetic. There had been much clerical objection to the use of pain relief during labour – no doubt from those who did not have to suffer such pain, however the use of anesthetic during child birth gained popularity after Queen Victoria used chloroform for births in 1853 and 1857.

There were still challenges, for example in 1877, the hospital was suffering high mortality rates of 1 in 19. The cause was believed to be overcrowding, dirty linen and poor ventilation. Recommendations to address these problems included moving the toilets outside of the main building, replacing sacking which had been used on the base of bedsteads with iron battens, more space between patients and improved ventilation.

Despite the challenging issues in 1877, the 19th century saw gradual improvements in care, as the following table of the maternal death rate shows;

Dr John Leake

As had been the practice of the hospital since founding, there was a continual training programme and in 1907, the numbers trained covered 33 Midwives, 83 Maternity Nurses, and in the district for house calls, 16 Maternity Nurses had been trained.

The procedure whereby subscribers could recommend patients had been in force since the opening of the hospital and lasted a remarkably long time. It was only in 1922 that the Governing Committee decide to abolish the use of the procedure, however probably to keep subscribers financial support, they still had a route where they could apply to the Lady Almoner of the hospital if they had a patient they wanted to recommend.

The hospital did try to run an open access approach, however as seems to have been the problem since opening – funds were always tight and additional support was always wanted.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the General Lying-In Hospital had been expanding. There was a Post-Certificate School in Camberwell for advanced training, and the hospital had opened up a unit at St. Albans, and it was the St. Albans operation which grew in use from 1940 when 50 patients a month were being transferred from York Road to St. Albans due to the dangers of bombing.

The end of the General Lying-In Hospital in its charitable form came with the National Health Service Act of 1946, when the hospital became part of the NHS in July 1948. The hospital was no longer dependent on subscribers and charitable donations, and the Board of Governors was disbanded.

The Ministry of Health had arranged for the General Lying-In Hospital to come under the Board of Governors of St Thomas’s Hospital, and an indication of the future loss of independence came in 1949 when the hospital was informed that it would become part of the Obstetric and Gynecological Department of St Thomas’s Hospital.

St Thomas’s was also the site where all new high-tech diagnostic equipment would be housed, so the long term future of the General Lying-In Hospital was starting to look rather limited.

in the mid 1960s there were three local hospital’s with facilities for child birth. Lambeth and St Thomas’s as well as the General Lying-In Hospital. The late 1960s also saw a reduction in the number of births and the number of children born per mother was also decreasing. Changing social attitudes, increased use of contraception and the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1961, initially for married women, but generally available for all from 1967 resulted in the viability of three hospitals for child birth being questioned.

The end of the General Lying-In Hospital came in 1971 when the hospital closed, and services moved to St Thomas’s.

Today, the building is part of the adjacent Premier Inn, and although there is a Premier Inn sign on the side of the building, there is no plaque or sign commemorating the founder of the hospital – Dr John Leake.

To find Dr John Leake’s name we must walk a short distance from the General Lying-In Hospital.

I have circled the location of the hospital in the following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Leake Street

I have also marked the start and end points of York Street with two red arrows. Part of the street passes under the rail tracks leading into Waterloo Station.

By the time of the 1951 Ordnance Survey Map, the name had changed from York Street to Leake Street, again highlighted by the red arrows in the following map (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’:

Leake Street

The name change was due to early 20th century attempts to reduce the number of duplicate street names across the city, as reported on the 28th September 1920 in the Westminster Gazette: “There are five streets within a radius of 1.5 miles from Piccadilly Circus all named York-street. It has been decided to re-name York-street, Lambeth, Leake-street in honour of Dr John Leake, who was largely instrumental in founding the general lying-in hospital in the street”.

So Dr John Leake finally had his name close to the pioneering hospital that he founded back in 1765. The street can still be found today, although most of the street passes under the tracks of Waterloo Station as shown in the following map, with the red circle showing the location of the old hospital building (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Leake Street

I went to take a look at the street named after Dr John Leake, and this is where this is a post of two very different halves:

Leake Street

To find Leake Street walk past the hospital, and past the adjacent Premier Inn, then an office block until you find a street heading towards the arches beneath Waterloo Station. Unfortunately there are no street name signs to confirm that this is Leake Street, however this is the current view of the street from York Road:

Leake Street

The first part of the street has a somewhat derelict feel, and this is an indication of what is to come:

Leake Street

The entrance to Leake Street Arches where Leake Street runs underneath Waterloo Station. At least here we can find Leake’s name, although I doubt very much whether many of those who pass this way realise the association of the name and hospital.

Leake Street

Looking down Leake Street Arches:

Leake Street Arches

Almost every available space is covered in graffiti.

Leake Street Graffiti

This dates back to May 2008 when the artist Banksy, along with 29 other street artists decorated much of the tunnel with graffiti.

Up untill then, Leake Street had been a rather gloomy, disused road. The arches on either side were generally used for storage, including a rather unusual use as an oil company kept core samples retrieved during drilling in a couple of the arches.

The Leake Street Arches are today a bit of an institution, with bars occupying many of the arches that lead off from the main tunnel.

Leake Street Graffiti

As well as the side walls, the brick roof of the tunnel has been used as a canvas:

Leake Street Graffiti
Leake Street Graffiti
Leake Street Graffiti

A riot of colour:

Leake Street Graffiti
Leake Street Graffiti
Leake Street Arches

Graffiti is not static and is continually being refreshed. During my walk through the tunnel a couple of weeks ago, an area of wall had been prepared for a new work, and paint cans were ready on the floor:

Leake Street Arches

New works are not just painted in isolation, they frequently have a film crew ready to record the process.

Leake Street Arches

A glimpse inside one of the side arches that is not in use shows the size of the space and the wonderful brick work that makes up the arches and tunnel that support the station platforms and tracks above:

Leake Street Arches

Almost every surface has been painted:

Leake Street
Leake Street

Graffiti changes regularly and is actively encouraged throughout the tunnels of Leake Street.

Leake Street
Leake Street

Walls, ceiling and occasional parts of the floor are covered in graffiti:

Leake Street Arches

At the far end, there are steps up to Station Approach Road which runs alongside Waterloo Station, or follow the walkway on the left, under Station Approach to get to Lower Marsh. The road curves to the right as shown in the following photo to a fenced off dead end.

Leake Street Arches

Looking back along Leake Street Arches:

Leake Street Arches

Apart from the sign for Leake Street Arches at the entrance to the tunnel, there is no further mention of the name, and no reference as to the source of the name. The web site for the tunnel and arches. Leake Street Arches, makes no reference to the source of the name, focusing instead on the cultural, entertainment, food and drink venues within the tunnel.

I have no idea what Dr John Leake would have thought if he could see the only place on the South Bank where his name can be seen. What would be good is if Premier Inn could add a plague to the building.

As well as the tunnel and arches, I am sure Dr John Leake would be fascinated by how much the care of women during pregnancy and childbirth has developed, how the mortality rate for mothers and babies has reduced to levels perhaps unimaginable during the mid 18th century, and that care is now available to all via the NHS without any need for subscribers recommendations.

As well as old newspapers, I have used a fascinating book to research this post. In 1977 Professor Philip Rhodes published “Dr John Leake’s Hospital”. Just under 400 pages of detailed history of the hospital, Leake, social conditions across London and attitudes to pregnancy and child birth, as well as the development of this specialised area of care.

Professor Philip Rhodes was on the consultant obstetric staff at the General Lying-In Hospital, eventually becoming Dean of the Medical School and Governor of St Thomas’s Hospital.

His book is a fascinating history of an aspect of London life, and an institution where over 150,000 people where born from 1767 to 1971 – all thanks to Dr John Leake.

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St Anne’s Soho, New River Company and Shaftesbury Avenue

St Anne’s Soho, New River Company and Shaftesbury Avenue is a bit of a mix of very different subjects, however the following photo from one of the Wonderful London books provides the connection.

New River Company Elm Pipes

The caption to the photo reads: “Elm Trunks for Conduit Pipes dug up near St Anne’s, Soho. Wooden pipes like these were used to carry water from New River Head over the Holebourne for the citizens. Trunks used for conveying the fresh water supply were of elm which of all the timbers best withstands the exigencies of heat and cold. The New River Co. had a wharf at the bottom of Dorset Street where the elm trunks were landed and bored. Shaftesbury Avenue was opened February 26, 1887, and the excavations laid these old pipes bare.”

There is much to unpack in that single caption, far more than within the scope of a single post, but I will give it a go, starting with the elm trunk in the photo.

When the New River Company started to distribute water across the city from their pond at New River Head, the only method to carry water within pipes was to use bored tree trunks. Iron pipes would not become available for the New River Company to use for well over a hundred years from when the company started operations in 1613.

The photo shows how a tree trunk was converted into use as a pipe. A hole was bored through the centre of the pipe to carry water, and one end of the trunk was shaved down to a point around the hole so that it could be pushed into the next trunk in the series, trying to form as close a seal as possible to prevent the leakage of water.

The New River Company had their main pond or reservoir at New River Head in north Clerkenwell, and their offices eventually moved to the same location, however as the caption states, they had a wharf at the bottom of Dorset Street, and their original offices were at the same location. It was here that elm trunks were delivered via the River Thames, bored and shaped ready to be used within their network of pipes.

The caption states that the wharf was at the bottom of Dorset Street. The offices, yard and wharf are marked on Horwood’s 1799 map of London, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge, circled in the following extract:

New River Company

The location of the New River offices, yard and wharf are now separated from the river by the construction of the Victoria Embankment, however I have marked their location with the red arrow in the following photo, now covered by the brick building to the left of the old City of London School.

New River Company

The area served by the New River Company was extensive, for example one of their large industrial customers was the Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane to the east of the city, and as London expanded to the west, they buried their pipes along the streets to serve the new buildings.

Serving the new west London streets did however bring problems. New River Head was located at a height of 30 metres above sea level. The original customers in the City of London were at a height ranging from 15 metres in the north of the City down to 1 or 2 metres along the river. This worked well when gravity was being used to get the water from New River Head to the City.

The west of the city was a different matter, with the area around Shaftesbury Avenue and Soho being around 22 metres in height, only an 8 metre difference to New River Head and much higher than the City.

This led to supply problems along the new streets of Soho, with a good supply in the City, and poor supply due to low pressure in west London.

The New River Company was also facing competitive pressure from other water companies, and at the end of the 17th century, they brought in Christopher Wren to evaluate their water supply system, and make recommendations for improvements.

Wren’s view was that the system was an unplanned mess, that had grown without any planning or understanding of the areas being served and how water was affected by the length and size of pipes, and the difference in height across London.

Wren could not make any individual recommendations, he compared the system to a diseased body, with the New River Company looking only at one small part of the body to try and work out a cure. Wren recommended a system wide replanning that would take much of the following century to implement.

Wren’s recommendations were also supported by the ex-clergyman John Lowthorpe, also commissioned by the New River Company to examine the system. Lowthorpe also identified that the company had no audit or understanding of their pipe network, and that a single person should be responsible for the system’s design, the role of a Chief Surveyor.

The New River Company did build an upper pond at Claremont Square, and the additional height of this new pond did overcome some of the pressure problems, but it would not be until wooden pipes were replaced with iron pipes, and steam engines were used to pump pressurised water rather than use gravity, that the supply across London would become reliable.

I have written more about New River Head and the New River Company here.

The photo of the elm pipe was taken outside the Wardour Street entrance to the church of St Anne’s, Soho. This is the same view today:

St Anne's Soho

St Anne’s, Soho was built to serve the spiritual needs of those living in the expanding Soho streets. Plans for a new church were first being discussed in the 1670s, along with the search for a suitable location. The land on which the church would be built was owned by two speculators, brewer Joseph Girle and tiler and bricklayer Richard Frith (who would give his name to Frith Street).

There is no firm evidence of the architect of the church, there are references to both Christopher Wren, and one William Talman, but it is impossible at this distance in time, and loss of documentation over the years, to be clear of their individual role.

The new church was ready for use in 1685 and was consecrated by Bishop Henry Compton in either 1685 or 1686.

The church was very badly damaged during the blitz raids of September 1940. The body of the church was completely burnt out, the tower survived, but with considerable damage.

The church was partly restored in the decades after the war, before undergoing a full restoration between 1990 and 1991. The tower survives from the pre-war church, however the rest of the building is a modern rebuild.

The tower and church of St Anne’s, Soho:

St Anne's Soho

The church in 1810 (with the inclusion of Westminster in the name as it was within the parish):

St Anne's Soho

It is always easy to get distracted by the gravestones in the churchyard of an old London church, and St Anne’s is no exception. Although these are now separated from their original graves, they tell the story of some of the characters who were buried here:

St Anne's Soho

In the above photo, the stone on the upper right is to Theodore, King of Corsica:

Theodore king of Corsica

Theodore was born in Cologne, Germany in 1694, with the full name Theodor Stephan Freiherr von Neuhoff. He had a varied career, service with both the French and Swedish armies, negotiating on behalf of the Swedish king with England and Spain, and travelling widely.

It was whilst traveling in Italy that he became involved with rebels trying to free the island of Corsica from the rule of Genoa, one of the republics that made up Italy in the 18th century.

Theodore landed in Corsica in March 1736, and was made king of the island by the inhabitants. His rule did not last long. Disagreements within the rebels, and the Republic of Genoa putting a price on his head resulted in Theodore leaving the island in November of the same year.

He lived in the Netherlands for a while before moving to London, where he tried to get support for Corsica, and his role as king. He was not successful, had many money problems and ended up in the King’s Bench debtors prison.

Released in 1755 after declaring bankrupt, and registering his Kingdom of Corsica for the use of his creditors. He died the following year in 1756, and the gravestone includes the following text:

Another gravestone on the base of the tower is that of William Hazlitt, whose grave in the churchyard is marked by a recent memorial.

William Hazlitt

Hazlitt was one of the greatest English essayist’s of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, however he lived his last years in relative obscurity, partly in a flat in Frith Street which explains why he was buried in St Anne’s.

A report in The Atlas (A General Newspaper and Journal of Literature) on the 26th September 1830 finishes with a sentence that will probably ring true with the majority of authors:

“On Thursday last the body of William Hazlitt was borne beneath our windows; till that moment we were not aware that a man of genius, a popular writer – the author of no less that able a work than the life of Napoleon, which alas closed his literary labours – and an amiable man, had been our next door neighbour for months, enduring sickness and at length dying in indigence. We boast of our national generosity, glory on the flourishing state of our literature, and thunder forth the power of the press, the palladium of our liberties; in the meanwhile ‘the spirit of life’ is allowed to burn itself out in penury and privation. Publishers sport their carriages, or fail for a hundred thousand pounds; and those by whom they become publishers die for want of a dinner.”

So that covers a brief looks at the New River Company and their elm pipes, as well as St Anne’s, Soho. The caption to the photo has the following final sentence:

Shaftesbury Avenue was opened February 26, 1887, and the excavations laid these old pipes bare.”

Which implies that the elm pipes were uncovered during the work to create Shaftesbury Avenue, so the creation of this famous West End street is what I wanted to explore next.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue is a long street that runs from New Oxford Street in the north down to Piccadilly Circus in the south. The street crosses Charing Cross Road, and it is the lower half that is probably best known as this is where the majority of the street’s theatres are located. As the street sign above confirms, Shaftesbury Avenue is in the heart of London’s theatre land.

In the following map, I have marked the route of Shaftesbury Avenue with a a red dashed line (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue cut through a series of streets and buildings that had existed from the time of London’s expansion westwards. The following map is from William Morgan’s 1682 map of London, again the red dashed line marks the future route of Shaftesbury Avenue.

Shaftesbury Avenue

During the second half of the 19th century there were a number of building schemes that carved new roads through what been been dense networks of streets and buildings. I have already written about Roseberry Avenue which was built between 1887 and 1892, and Charing Cross Road which was officially opened on the Saturday 26th February 1887.

Shaftesbury Avenue was part of the same scheme that included Charing Cross Road.

Proposals for roads improvements along the lines of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue dated back to the 1830s, when a Select Committee of the House of Commons stated that “several plans for affording greater convenience of intercourse between the southern and northern divisions of the metropolis” were considered due to increasing traffic flow and the need to provide much more direct and convenient links between locations such as the eastern end of Oxford Street, Charing Cross and Piccadilly Circus.

Nothing would come of these early proposals, and by the 1870s the situation was becoming more critical, with traffic added to by the arrival of railway stations to the north of the city and those along the river such as Charing Cross.

The Metropolitan Board of Works applied to parliament for permission to improve the streets between Oxford Street, Charing Cross and Piccadilly, and they were granted the powers to construct these streets through the Metropolitan Street Improvements Act of 1877.

Details of these improvements, along with so many others throughout London were published by the London County Council in a wonderful book published in 1898 called “History of London Street Improvements, 1855 – 1897”.

The book includes some detail on the Shaftesbury Avenue development, including the following two maps which detail the route. I have added a yellow line to highlight the route. The first map covers from Piccadilly Circus at lower left to just to the north west of Seven Dials at top right.

Shaftesbury Avenue

The following map includes a short overlap and covers the north eastern section of the street from Greek Street (top left) to New Oxford Street at lower right.

Shaftesbury Avenue

The route of Shaftesbury Avenue would take over and widen a number of existing streets and would run through a number of housing blocks.

At the southern end of the route, Shaftesbury Avenue opens out onto Piccadilly Circus which is a major junction with Regent Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street St James, and Coventry Street.

Piccadilly Circus

The view along Shaftesbury Avenue from the junction with Piccadilly Circus:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The 1877 Act imposed some difficult conditions on the Metropolitan Board of Works. Previous acts had allowed development to take place with conditions for the rehousing of the “labouring classes” who would be displaced, however the new Act stated that the Metropolitan Board of Works was “forbidden to take, without the consent of the Secretary of State, 15 or more houses occupied wholly or partially by persons of the labouring classes, until the Board had proved to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that other accommodation in suitable dwellings had been provided”.

The new street would pass through some of the most densely populated parts of London, requiring the rehousing of hundreds of people, so this was a difficult condition for the Board.

The Metropolitan Board of Works tried through the following years to get the condition regarding 15 or more houses either removed or modified, however Parliament refused to change the original Act.

Whilst the Board had been trying to get the Act changed, it had also acquired the land of the old Newport Market and had been building large blocks of working class dwellings ready for those who would be displaced by the development of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

Newport Market was an area just to the south of the route of Shaftesbury Avenue. I have ringed the location in the following extract from Reynolds’s 1847 “Splendid New Map of London”:

Newport Market

The projects to build Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue would eventually displace a total of 3,044 people, described of being of the “labouring classes”.

Starting to walk north along Shaftesbury Avenue. This stretch of the new road ran through areas of dense housing:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The Metropolitan Board of Works purchased the land for the new street. They tried to keep their purchases to a minimum as the costs were taken from the Rates.

In an example of how the ownership of land always was, and in many ways, continues to be a source of profit, without many of the associated costs, it was complained at the time that whilst the cost of improvements were recovered through the Rates, these were generally paid by the tenants of properties, not by the owner, although in developments such as Shaftesbury Avenue, the owner of land close to the new street would benefit by the increase in the value of his land due to the improvements to the area such a development would bring.

Very similar in the way that Crossrail increases the value of land around new stations.

Land purchased for the new road, often included land running along side. The Board was expected to sell excess land alongside the road to recover part of the construction costs.

Completion of Shaftesbury Avenue would result in an explosion of building along the new route, which included many of the theatres that today line the street.

Shaftesbury Avenue

In the above photo, further from the camera on the right is the Lyric Theatre (1888) and with the “Jamie” advertising is the Apollo Theatre (1901).

At the junction with Wardour Street. The church of St Anne’s, Soho is just up the street to the right.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Remarkable that as the original buildings and streets were being cleared ready for the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue that the 17th century elm pipes were being removed from the ground, and that in the 1880s these were fortunately considered important enough to photograph.

The following photo is looking north from the junction with Wardour Street, and is the stretch of Shaftesbury Avenue which was a much widened earlier King Street:

Shaftesbury Avenue

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Gerrard Place, there is a modern fire station:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The site has been a fire station from the construction of the street. In 1886, the Metropolitan Board of Works leased the land to a private fire fighting organisation, the London Salvage Corps, with the first fire station being built the following year in 1887. In 1920 the site was acquired by the London County Council as a site for the London Fire Brigade.

Looking south from outside the fire station:

Shaftesbury Avenue

Turning north, and it is here that Shaftesbury Avenue crosses Charing Cross Road, which was also being developed at the same time:

Cambridge Circus

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road is the Palace Theatre:

Palace Theatre

The Palace Theatre is a large, red brick building with a capacity for 1,400 theatre goers.

The theatre was opened in 1891 (soon after the completion of the two new streets) for Richard D’Oyly Carte who intended the theatre to be the home of English opera and on opening the theatre was known as the Royal English Opera House. The first production was Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe, however when this closed there was no follow up production and the Royal English Opera House closed.

D’Oyly sold the building and in 1911 it opened as the Palace Theatre of Varieties, commencing a theme of musical productions which have run for most of the theatre’s time. With the emphasis on musicals rather than variety productions, the theatre dropped the last part of the name to become the Palace Theatre.

Today, the Palace Theatre is hosting probably one of the biggest productions in the West End for some years, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.

Continuing north along Shaftesbury Avenue and on the corner with Mercer Street is the Soho Baptist Chapel:

Soho Baptist Chapel

Built between 1887 and 1888 (the building work along the street in the few years after completion must have been considerable). The building is now the Chinese Church in London.

Further along is the Shaftesbury Avenue Odeon:

Odeon Shaftesbury Avenue

The facade is not what you would typically associate with a cinema and gives away the building’s original function. This building was originally the Saville Theatre.

The Saville Theatre opened in 1931 and according to an introduction to the theatre in one of the early theatre programmes was “built by Messrs Gee, Walker and Slater of 32, St. James’s Street, SW1 from plans of the Architects, Messrs T.P. Bennett and Son, of 41 Bedford Row, WC1 who were also responsible for the whole colour scheme, lighting, furnishing etc.”

The exterior of the building looks much the same today as when it first opened as the Saville Theatre, apart from the canopy over the entrance and the glass blocks that now replace the wrought iron windows in the enclosed area above the canopy.

I have written a post on the Saville Theatre and the freeze that runs along the side of the building here.

Further along Shaftesbury Avenue is what was the “Hospital et Dispensaire Francais”, or the French Hospital:

French Hospital

The French Hospital was originally at 10 Leicester Place where it had been opened in 1867 by Eugene Rimmel, for “the benefit of distressed foreigners of all nations requiring medical relief”.

The hospital quickly outgrew the original site, and the land adjacent to Shaftesbury Avenue was acquired from the Metropolitan Board of Works, with the new hospital building opening in 1890. A hospital would continue on the site until 1992.

Towards the junction with St Giles High Street and High Holborn, Shaftesbury Avenue has left behind the theatres of the southern part of the street, and we find different types of shops, including a decorating / hardware store:

Leyland

Forbidden Planet:

Forbidden Planet

And Ben’s Traditional Fish and Chips:

Fish and Chips

This was also the site of the now closed Arthur Beale, ships chandler.

Looking north across the junction with St Giles High Street on the left and High Holborn on the right with Shaftesbury Avenue continuing north:

St Giles High Street

Although the majority of the street’s theatres are in the section of street between Charing Cross Road and Piccadilly Circus, there is another theatre on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and High Holborn – the Shaftesbury Theatre:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The Shaftesbury Theatre occupies a prominent corner location. Opened in 1911 it was originally called The Princes Theatre. For over a century the Shaftesbury Theatre has hosted musicals, plays and comedies and in 1968 the run of the musical Hair commenced in September, made possible by the ending of theatre censorship laws on the 26th September 1968 when after 231 years of theatre censorship, the Lord Chamberlain had his powers to censor plays removed.

Hair ran for almost 2,000 performances before it was forced to close owing to structural problems in the building that required urgent restoration work. During closure, there were attempts to redevelop the building, however it was saved as a theatre and reopened in 1974.

We are now coming into the final part of the street, where it joins New Oxford Street, however, there is a change to the original route.

in the following map, the yellow line indicates the route of Shaftesbury Avenue to New Oxford Street on the right, with the text “Termination of Street” showing where the new street would end.

Shaftesbury Avenue

The above map shows the street cutting across a stretch of street labeled Bloomsbury Street, however today, both this small section of Bloomsbury Street and the new street are called Shaftesbury Avenue as shown on the building in the corner where the two sections of the street run to left and right:

Shaftesbury Avenue

Today, the original section of Shaftesbury Avenue is mainly paved, but with a short stretch of street running along one side:

Shaftesbury Avenue

This view is from New Oxford Street looking down where Shaftesbury Avenue originally joined New Oxford Street:

Shaftesbury Avenue

And this is the view down what was the short section of Bloomsbury Street that now forms the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue with New Oxford Street.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue was completed in January 1886, and provided a new direct route from New Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus, as well as driving a considerable explosion of building that has resulted in the street we see today, a street that is at the heart of the West End theatre industry.

The street was 3,350 feet long and 60 feet wide. A subway was constructed along the length of the street for gas, water and other assorted pipes.

The gross cost of constructing Shaftesbury Avenue was £1,136,456. The net cost was £758,887 after the sale of surplus land at £377,569.

The street was named after Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, who had died in 1885, the year before the new street was completed. The Shaftesbury name was also given to the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain (probably better known as Eros), in Piccadilly Circus.

Newspapers at the time of his death were full of the philanthropic work of the Earl of Shaftesbury, and his work in Parliament to try and improve working and living conditions. One of these was the so called “Ten Hours Bill”, which although not strictly living up to its name, did look to reduce the hours of work for children.

Considering that this was considered a great improvement, the changes that the bill looked to implement were still horrendous by today’s standards.

With the exception of silk and lace mills, children under the age of nine were not to be employed in factories, while the labour of those under thirteen was to be limited to 48 hours a week, and the employers of all children were required to provide them with not less than two hours schooling a week.

So, going back to the caption at the top of the post, unpacking everything in the photo from the New River Company’s elm pipe excavated when Shaftesbury Avenue was built, and the church of St Anne’s Soho reveals a fascinating history of a small part of the West End.

It would be brilliant to think that there are still some elm pipes buried below the city’s streets just waiting to be discovered.

If you have managed to get to the end of the post, you may be interested in one of my walks. All the Barbican walks have sold out, and there are just a few tickets remaining for the Southbank walk, which can be booked here.

Whitecross Street – Sunday 31st May, 1953

Please excuse a bit of advertising before heading to Whitecross Street.

Over the summer, I organised a number of guided walks, covering the Southbank and the area around the Barbican. Walks that were based on places I have written about in posts over the last seven years. These walks all sold out very quickly, and I really enjoyed telling the story of a place, based on my father’s photos, and the research for posts.

Over the rest of the year, and the start of next year, I will be researching and planning more walks covering Wapping, Bermondsey, Bankside, Rotherhithe and Clerkenwell ready for late spring and summer, however, until then, I have one final batch of my Southbank and Barbican walks available. Dates and links for booking are as following:

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

The Lost Streets of the Barbican

Now, to Whitecross Street.

Whitecross Street runs between Old Street and Beech / Chiswell Streets, just north of the Barbican.

Many of my father’s photos were taken on bike rides around the city, early on a Saturday or Sunday. This worked due to periods away on National Service, work during the week, and other commitments. Early on Sunday, 31st May 1953 he was at the northern end of Whitecross Street and took the following photo looking south along the street:

Whitecross Street

One lunch time a couple of weeks ago I was in the area, and the following photo shows the same view as the above, sixty eight years later:

Whitecross Street

My father’s photo was one of a number he took on the same day in the area of Whitecross Street and also in Hoxton. The 1953 photo was taken a couple of days before the Coronation of Elizabeth II, on Tuesday, 2nd June 1953, and this explains the flags and bunting across the street.

A second photo, a short distance further into Whitecross Street. I suspect he was waiting for the woman to walk further up the street to add a focal point to the photo:

Whitecross Street

The terrace of buildings on the right of the photo have changed in the years between the two photos. The one building that confirms the two views are of the same street is the building with the pediment (the triangular shaped top to the wall) about two thirds of the way down on the right of the street.

Comaprison of the photos also shows that you cannot always trust the age of buildings at first sight. In the above 1953 photos, if we walk towards the camera from the pediment building, there is a narrow, three storey building with a single window at each floor. There is then a terrace of three houses / shops of two storeys, with a shop at ground level and single window / storey above each shop.

in the 2021 photo, this terrace has had an additional floor added to create a three storey terrace along the western side of Whitecross Street.

I have marked how the terrace has changed in the following photo, with the red line indicating the 1953 height of the buildings.

Whitecross Street

In 1953, the shops were the type of local shop serving the daily needs of those who lived in the area. The following is an extract from the second photo. Note the rack of milk bottles standing outside the dairy:

Whitecross Street

Today, there is a more diverse range of shops, and what was obvious during my walk along Whitecross Street was that the food market running down the centre of the street now serves the local working population, as the street was crowded with those out to buy their lunch.

Whitecross Street can be found just north of the Barbican, linking Beech / Chiswell Streets at the southern end with Old Street to the north. In the following map, Whitecross Street is the street running vertically, in the centre of the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Whitecross Street

Whitecross Street was originally much longer than it is now, and it’s southern end was in the heart of Cripplegate. Considerable damage during the last war, and the construction of the Barbican estate has erased roughly one third of the original street.

In the following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey Map, I have highlighted the street we can walk today by the red arrow (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Whitecross Street

The green arrow identifies the missing third of Whitecross Street. Today, a short section is now Silk Street before it terminates at the Barbican.

In the red circled area in the above map, there is the PH symbol for a pub on the corner of the lower section of Whitecross Street. The pub, the Jugged Hare, is still there today as shown in the following photo. Originally, Whitecross Street continued to the right, however this has now been renamed Silk Street as it curves to the north of the Barbican to Moor Lane.

Whitecross Street

As can be seen in the 1894 map, Whitecross Street originally joined Fore Street at the north east corner of St Giles, Cripplegate.

In the following photo, this would have been just behind and to the left of the car, and Whitecross Street would have run in front of / underneath the Barbican apartment block Gilbert House, the large block on the left of the photo.

Whitecross Street

Whitecross Street dates back to at least the 13th century, with the first written records of the street as Wytecroychestrate.

The name of the street seems to derive from a white cross located in the street, which seems to be connected to the Abbot of Ramsey who had a house between Whitecross and Redcross Streets (Redcross Street is another old street that was just to the west of Whitecross Street and took its name from another cross in the street. Redcross Street was lost during the construction of the Barbican).

Strype, writing in 1720 includes the following reference to the street: “In this street was a white cross and near it was built an arch of stone under which ran a course of water down to the Moor which is now called Moorfields. Which being too narrow for the free course of water, and so an annoyance to the inhabitants, the twelve men presented it to an inquisition of the Kings Justices, and they presented the Abbot of Ramsey and the Prior of St Trinity, whose predecessors six years past has built a certain stone arch at Whyte Croyse, which arch the aforesaid Abbot and Prior, and their successors ought to maintain and repair.”

Writing in 1756, William Maitland described Whitecross Street as “a place well built and inhabited. It begins in Fore Street and runs northward into Old Street, which is of a great length. But the part within the Ward goes but a little beyond Beech Lane, where the City posts are set up, as they are in Grub Street and in Golden Lane, being the circuits of the Freedom. The street is inhabited by considerable traders and dealers in various branches.”

The Ward that Maitland refers to is Cripplegate Ward and the City posts were the boundary markers showing the extent of the City. The section of the street that was in Cripplegate is now that renamed Silk Street, along with the section under the Barbican.

The City boundary can be seen in the following extract from Smith’s 1816 New Plan of London, where the boundary is the dotted line and pink highlighting. The boundary can be seen cutting across Whitecross Street at the junction of Chiswell and Beech Streets.

Today, there are still “considerable traders and dealers” in Whitecross Street, and the street is also a centre for public art that can be found covering many of the walls along the street. The entrance to Whitecross Street from Old Street:

Whitecross Street

The blue plaque was put up by English Hedonists, and is to Priss Fotheringham, who “Lived here and was ranked the second best whore in the city”.

Priss was mentioned in the collection of pamphlets under the name of “The Wandering Whore” by John Garfield, published between 1660 and 1661, where, in a contrived conversation between two sex workers (probably invented by the author), the activity which seems to have brought Priss fame and some wealth is described “Priss stood upon her head with naked breech and belly whilst four Cully-Rumpers chuck’t in sixteen Half-crowns into her Comodity”.

Whitecross Street is mentioned a number of times in the pamphlets, including the lists of “Common Whores, Night-walkers, Pick-pockets, Wanders and Shop-Lifters and Whippers”, where for example “Mrs Smith, a Bricklayers wife in Whitecross” is mentioned, along with “Mrs Savage in Whitecross-street, who broke her husband’s head with a marrow-bone, and had liked to have kill’d him with it”.

The street was much improved by 1800, when it was described as “A good street, and has among the buildings, the Peacock brew house, the Green Yard, where strayed cattle are pounded, and where the Lord Mayor’s state coach is kept.”

Walking down the street, and this is the building that helped with identification of my father’s photo:

Whitecross Street

The following building appears further down the street in my father’s photos, so although not an 18th or 19th century brick terrace, the building is pre-war. I obviously read too many archaeology websites and books, as every time I see the café on the corner, Museum of London Archeology is the first thing I think of.

Whitecross Street

The Whitecross Tap:

Whitecross Street

The Whitecross Tap is a relatively recent name, dating from 2018, however a pub has been on the site since the 18th century.

Looking south along Whitecross Street at the junction with Banner Street:

Whitecross Street

The street has a very diverse mix of architectural styles, which make the street interesting. Different heights, materials, windows and function all jostle for prominence.

Whitecross Street

Street art is visible along much of the street:

Public Art

The art along the street is the result of the Whitecross Street Party and the Rise of the Nonconformists exhibition, an annual event that has been taking place for the last 11 or 12 years, taking place over a weekend when there are multiple events in the street, and street artists can be watched as they create new works.

Public Art

A pub that has been converted to a coffee shop. This was the Green Man pub:

Whitecross Street

More art on the side of the Peabody Estate between Whitecross Street and Cahill Street. Most of the estate was built in the 1880s.

Public Art

Whitecross Street has had a market for very many years. It was once a street market that sold the everyday needs of those living in the area; a typical London street market, however like the majority of other London street markets, today it mainly caters for the lunchtime needs of those who work in the area.

Whitecross Street Market

It was a very different place not that many years ago, and the change to the food market we see today has been relatively recent. A newspaper report from February 1871 provides a graphic description of the market as it was;

“Out-dinning the din of the Whitecross-street Sunday morning market, the roar of leather lunged costermongers and barrowmen, the deafening eloquence of the clashing knives and steel of opposition butchers, the shrill cries of women who have potherbs, and children’s toys and second-hand shoes and boots on sale. The wrathful high pitched voice of the street preacher at this corner of an alley, unable to make himself heard amid the laughter created by a quack dealer in sarsaparilla at the other corner, over all these conflicting noises the sound of a bell was heard distinctly – not the measured chiming of a church bell, nor the preemptory clatter of a factory bell, but a fitful and uncertain ringing, now loud and heavy like a fire bell. A gentlemen in the baked potato interest, however, to whom I applied for information on the subject, ruthlessly stripped the bell of everything in the shape of romance. it is the Costers Mission Bell, said he.”

The market seems to have started around 1830. In the Clerkenwell News dated the 2nd November 1865, there is a report of a Vestry meeting, where the work of a recently appointed “street keeper” who was responsible for the upkeep and cleanliness of Whitecross Street and the adjacent alleys, courts and streets was discussed. The concern was the work was too much, as “Amongst other things he was required to be in attendance during the day in Whitecross-street as a market”.

There was consideration given to removing the market, however the Vestry Clerk stated “As to the market in Whitecross-street, stalls had been allowed to be there for upwards of thirty years, and could not very easily be removed now”.

No idea if there is a similar role as a “street keeper” today, however the market is very busy each lunch time.

Whitecross Street Market

With almost any combination of street food you could want:

Whitecross Street Market

With queues forming at many of the stalls:

Whitecross Street Market

There is a plaque on the corner of Whitecross Street and Dufferin Street:

Whitecross Street Prison

The plaque is a long way from the actual location of the prison, which was at the southern end of Whitecross Street, between Whitecross, Redcross and Fore Streets. The following extract from the 1847 edition of Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London shows the location of the prison, circled in red.

Whitecross Street Prison

Today, the site of the prison is underneath the Barbican. In the following photo, I am looking across to the Barbican Centre from near the tower of St Giles. Gilbert House is on the right. The Whitecross Street prison was on the site of the building with white panels on the lower floors. Redcross Street ran to the left of the photo. Whitecross Street ran under / in front of Gilbert House.

Whitecross Street Prison

The prison was a debtors prison. Prior to Whitecross, if you were in debt and could not pay these off, then you could find yourself in a prison along with those being tried or convicted of a criminal offences ranging from petty crimes to murder.

In the early years of the 19th century there was a campaign to separate debtors from criminals, and the Whitecross Street prison was the result, being built between 1813 and 1815.

Although a prison full of debtors could be just as difficult to manage as a normal prison, as this article from the London Commercial Chronicle on the 17th September, 1816 reports:

“RIOT IN WHITECROSS-STREET PRISON. On Saturday evening another riot broke out in this prison among the confined debtors. it appears that a prisoner had committed some offence, for which the other prisoners thought proper to pump him. Mr. Kirby, the keeper, being informed of the transaction, found out two of the principals, and insisted upon locking them up, which was accordingly done. The rest of the prisoners resisted, and at length broke out into open rebellion, refusing to be locked up in their wards. Finding them continue refractory, a reinforcement of officers was sent for; and the City Marshal, accompanied by a posse of constables, speedily arrived, when the rioters submitted, and tranquility was restored.”

However, by 1834, the prison seems to have established a community feel. The Monthly Magazine reported the views “From an Inmate of Whitecross prison”:

“I have been a wanderer over a large portion of the globe during the last fifteen years, and have had various opportunities of seeing and studying men of many nations. In earlier life I saw much of France and Frenchmen; from them I have received the greatest kindness – and great hospitality. I have dwelt with Germans and Dutchmen, and the most agreeable recollections are connected with my sojourn among them. After years in official life, thousands of miles from ‘fair England’ circumstances threw me into the midst of Swedes, Danes and Spaniards, all of whom have given me opportunities of lending their kindness and generosity; but I have never in my life saw so perfect a display of the best feelings of our nature, as are in daily action and continual exercise under this roof. The society here appears one large brotherhood.

Association in sorrow softens and ameliorates the heart; selfishness is, perhaps, less known in this place than in any other ‘haunt of society’. The poorest captive shares with real pleasure his meagre meal with his less fortunate neighbour; kindness of heart shines in brightest splendour”.

Whitecross Street prison closed in 1870. The number of debtors had been declining, and an Act of Parliament had come into force abolishing imprisonment for debt. A report from the 8th January 1870 illustrates the unusual scenes when the prison was closed:

“SCENE AT WHITECROSS STREET PRISON: Release of the Prisoners – On Saturday, just after twelve, being the 1st of January, the day on which the new act to abolish imprisonment for debt came into force, Mr. Constable, the keeper of Whitecross-street Prison, gave as many as 94 prisoners leave to go out of prison. Of that number 63 prisoners availed themselves of the offer, and 31 asked to remain in the place for another day. Only 41 remain in custody on county court commitments, penalties, and orders for payment by magistrates. About eleven o’clock, a person named Barnacles, who had been twenty-seven years a prisoner, on an order from the Court of Admiralty, was told by Mr. Constable to leave the place, and he went out staring about him after his long imprisonment. Mr. Constable has acted in a humane manner, instead of prolonging the imprisonment of the parties until applications were made to a judge at chambers.”

One can only imagine Barnacles confusion as he left prison. He had been in the Whitecross prison for half of the prison’s existence.

Whitecross Street Prison for Debtors as it appeared in 1850 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Whitecross Street Prison

The Two Brewers pub on the corner of Whitecross Street and Fortune Street. A pub has been here since the mid 18th century.

Whitecross Street

More street art:

Public Art

The market occupies the northern section of Whitecross Street, leaving the southern section free. The Barbican can be seen at the end of the view, which now covers the lower section of the original Whitecross Street.

Whitecross Street

Much of Whitecross Street suffered severe damage during the bombing of the early 1940s. Whilst a number of the original brick terrace houses did survive, others have been significantly repaired and some have been rebuilt to look similar to the original building.

At other places along the street, completely new blocks have been constructed over bomb damaged areas, including this large block on the south-eastern side of the street, which includes a Waitrose on the ground floor behind the covered market area.

Whitecross Street

However the pleasure of Whitecross Street is that there are many of the buildings and small shops remaining, similar to those photographed by my father in 1953.

Whitecross Street

Whitecross Street is today much shorter than the pre-war street. As with so many streets in the area between Old Street and London Wall, post war development of the Barbican and Golden Lane estates have obliterated so many historic streets.

The side streets also have much to tell of the history of the area, and it is a fascinating area to explore. Although best not to follow Barnacles example of a long period of imprisonment, his approach on leaving Whitecross Street prison of “staring about” is a good approach when wandering the area.

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