There are three photos in my father’s collection that I have not been able to identify. They were labelled “Sans Walk area”. Sans Walk is in Clerkenwell, and the first photo shows what appears to be an empty shell of a building, probably damaged during the war.
The second photo shows a corner house, in good condition and still occupied, with a lovely street lamp on the corner of the building:
The third and final photo shows part of a terrace of houses, with a streetlamp and bollards in the foreground.
No street names, or any other identifiable features to help locate the photos.
I thought if I walked the area around Sans Walk, I should be able to identify some of the locations. I had no idea whether the houses in the photos had been restored or demolished, but armed with printed copies of the photos I set off to walk the area on an early Autumn day.
Although I could not find the locations of the photos, what I did discover was an area packed full of history, and that once formed the edge of London as the city gradually expanded to the north.
The following map shows the places covered in the rest of the post (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):
Sans Walk is the nearly horizontal street in the centre of the map. I did walk the rest of the streets around Sans Walk, but this post was getting rather long with just the stops shown.
I started in Clerkenwell Close, opposite the Horse Shoe pub, a very traditional pub that probably dates back to the 18th century. The earliest written records I could find date to 1824 when a newspaper report referred to an inquest into a suicide which was held in the Horse Shoe.
This area of Clerkenwell is full of narrow streets. Some new buildings intrude, but many 18th and 19th century buildings survive, along with warehouses and factories from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Looking east along Clerkenwell Close:
Clerkenwell Close is a strange street as it consists of a number of branches. Starting at Clerkenwell Green, it runs north-west, up to Pear Tree Court and the Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate, with the branch I am walking along turning off and running up to Bowling Green Lane and Corporation Row. At one point the street runs parallel to a pedestrian alley, both called Clerkenwell Close, and indicative of how the area has developed as large warehouses replaced earlier streets, alley and buildings.
New buildings had been added, but they are generally at the same height as the existing buildings, so despite the architectural and material changes, they blend in. Providing they are in keeping with the scale of the area, and there is a justification to replace rather than restore the original building, it is good to have new buildings. The streets in the area have buildings from the last few centuries and 21st century additions are part of the continuous development of London.
The above building was built on the corner of the playground of a Victorian school. The curving wall at street level retains a plaque recording the gift of Sir Robert Wood to the parish in 1844. I suspect this refers to the land:
We are still in Clerkenwell Close, and the following building tells of the late 19th century expansion of London schools and the London School Board.
The London School Board was responsible for the development of many of the large, brick, late 19th century schools that can still be found across London. As well as their construction, the London School Board was also responsible for their operation, and the supply of all the goods and materials needed to fit out, and keep a school running.
The Board consolidated the process of standardisation and supply, and one of the methods used was large central warehouses. The buildings in Clerkenwell Close were built between 1895 and 1897 as warehouses for school furniture, stationery and needlework supplies.
The growth in the volume of space needed grew in the early 20th century, and in 1920 an extra floor was added to the top of the Stationery and Needlework warehouse on the right of the above photo, and this addition is still visible in the change of brick colour from red/orange to a brown brick for the 20th century addition of the top floor.
In the above photo, the furniture store was on the left, and the Stationery and Needlework departments were on the right, and these functions are still recorded in stone, above the doors.
The initials at the top are those of the London School Board.
One of the schools that the warehouse would have supplied is directly opposite:
The school was the Hugh Myddelton School, built by the London School Board in 1893 and with the distinction of being the only London School Board school opened by a member of the Royal family after it was opened by the Prince of Wales in December 1893.
Such was the importance of the visit of the Prince of Wales that the London School Board allocated £100 towards preparations for the visit, which caused some consternation as the money was thought better spent on education.
In his opening speech, the Prince of Wales said that the London School Board had contributed to a “marked advance in education, diminution in crime and an undoubted increase in general intelligence”.
Lesson in the Hugh Myddleton School in 1906:
Drill in the open area outside the school, also 1906:
When opened, the school was the largest and most expensive built by the London School Board. The school had a number of special departments, including the Hugh Myddleton School for the Deaf. The site on which the school stands has an unusual history.
From 1845, the space occupied by the school had been the site of the Middlesex House of Detention, built as a short stay prison due to overcrowding in other prisons, the Middlesex House of Detention was demolished in 1886.
Some of the reception cells of the prison were in the basement, and these survived the demolition of the main building and were incorporated in the basement of the Hugh Myddelton School, and are presumably still there.
The school closed in 1971, was a Further Education College for the next couple of decades before being sold for development into flats and offices in 1999.
The site of the school, when occupied by the Middlesex House of Detention was the site of a bomb explosion in December 1867 reported extensively as the Fenian Outrage in the newspapers of the time.
This took place at the perimeter wall of the prison which ran along the northern edge of the site, in Corporation Street:
The Fenians was another name for the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an organisation formed in the 1850s to fight for an independent, democratic Ireland.
The bomb was an attempt to free Ricard O’Sullivan Burke and Joseph Casey who had been arrested earlier regarding Burke’s attempts to purchase arms and ammunition in Birmingham, and a previous attempt to free a prisoner in transit, when a guard had been killed.
The view along Corporation Row in the immediate aftermath of the explosion:
The Illustrated London News carried the following report of the explosion:
“The whole neighbourhood of Clerkenwell was startled at a quarter to four on Friday afternoon by an explosion, which resembled an earthquake. The houses were shaken violently, the windows in many cases were broken, and in some instances persons were thrown to the ground by the violence of the concussion. The scene of the explosion proved to be the wall of the House of Detention, opposite Corporation-row, some sixty feet of which were knocked down, and it was not long before the discovery was made that numerous persons were seriously, and some fatally injured, and that the calamity had been wilfully caused. It was at once attributed to the Fenians, the motive alleged being a desire to rescue Burke and Casey, who are confined in the prison, and facts which have since come to light show that this theory is the correct one.
The clearest account of what actually took place is given by a boy about thirteen years of age, named John Abbott, who is now in St Batholomew’s Hospital, happily not very much hurt.
This youth who lived in Corporation-row, says that at about a quarter to four o’clock he was standing at Mr Young’s door, No 5, when he saw a large barrel close to the wall of the prison, and a man leave the barrel and cross the road.
Shortly afterwards the man returned with a long squib in each hand. One of these he gave to some boys who were playing in the street, and the other he thrust into the barrel. One of the boys was smoking and he handed the man a light, which the man applied to the squib. The man stayed a short time until he saw the squib began to burn, and then he ran away. A policeman ran after him, and when the policeman arrived opposite No 5, the thing went off.
The boy saw no more after that, as he himself was covered in bricks and mortar. The man, he says, was dressed something like a gentleman. He had on a brown overcoat and black hat, and had light hair and whiskers. He should know him again if he saw him.
There was a white cloth over the barrel, which was black, and when the man returned with the squib he partly uncovered the barrel, but did not wholly remove the cloth. There were several men and women in the street at the time, and children playing. Three little boys were standing near the barrel at the time. Some of the people ran after the man who lighted the squib.
The effects of the explosion were soon visible in all directions. The windows of the prison itself, of coarse glass more than a quarter of an inch thick, were to a large extent broken, and the side of the building immediately facing the outer wall in which the breach was made, and about 150 feet from it, bears the marks of the bricks which were hurled against it by the explosion. The wall surrounding the prison is about 25 feet high, 2 feet 3 inches thick at the bottom, and about 14 inches thick at the top.
As to the number of persons injured it was impossible for some hours to learn anything satisfactory. It was found, however, that something like fifty at least had been hurt, and that two or three were killed. Thirty six of the sufferers were removed to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where three died in the course of the evening, and six to the Royal Free Hospital in Gray’s Inn Road. Of the wounded some were mere infants, and the husband of a women, who has since died of injuries she sustained, lies in St Bartholomew’s; shockingly bruised and prostrated. Others are missing”.
In the following days, 12 were confirmed to have died in the explosion, with very many injuries.
A number of Fenian sympathisers were arrested, but after trial only one, Michael Barrett, was found guilty, and was sentenced to death. Barrett was the last person to be publically hung outside Newgate Prison.
The scene in Corporation Row after the explosion. A temporary wall has been erected to plug the gap caused by the explosion, and the walls of the opposite houses are being held up with timber supports.
On a quiet autumn day in 2020 it is hard to imagine the explosion and devastation in Corporation Row.
As well as the Hugh Myddleton School built on the site of the prison, there is another closed school near by. Parts of the wall surrounding the playground and one of the entrances for infants can be seen in front of the recent building that now occupies part of the playground space.
This is Bowling Green Lane School, built in 1874:
Another London Board School, part of the site was originally a parish cemetery, along with housing and a tavern.
When the Hugh Myddleton School opened, Bowling Green Lane School became the junior school for the Hugh Myddleton.
Having built and run many schools in the later part of the 19th century, the London School Board would become part of the London County Council when the authority took over responsibilities for education across London.
A rather nice London County Council coat of arms can still be seen on the side of the school facing the street.
Bowling Green Lane school closed in 1970, but continued to provide additional space for Islington Green Secondary School until 1982 when it was converted into a range of business spaces, and today, a sign adjacent to the Girls and Infants entrance confirms that Zaha Hadid Architects now occupy the old school.
The name of the school is after Bowling Green Lane, the street that runs in front of the school. This is both an old street and name and is named after the Bowling Greens that once occupied the land to the north of the street as shown in this extract from Ogilby and Morgan’s map of London published in 1677:
For many years, Bowling Green Lane and Corporation Row were the northern edge of this part of London, with open space on the northern side of the streets.
The following map extract is from a map produced in 1755 for Stowe’s survey of London. The orientation is rather strange as north is to the left, east is at the top of the map.
The built areas of Clerkenwell are to the right (south) and open space to the left (north) until we come to the New River Head.
Hugh Myddleton was the driving force behind the construction of the New River and round pond at New River Head, and the large new London School Board school was named after him.
Sadler’s Wells were just north of New River Head and the open space between Sadler’s Wells and Clerkenwell was often a dangerous place for those returning in the dark from entertainments – see my post on Sadler’s Wells.
I now reached Sans Walk, the street that was apparently the centre for the three photos.
Sans Walk appears to have been in existence at the time of the Middlesex House of Detention, but seems to have gone by the name of Short’s Buildings – the name of a terrace of buildings on the southern edge of the street.
The name Sans Walk seems to have come into use by 1893 and the name comes from Edward Sans, the oldest member of the parish vestry at the time.
In the western side of Sans Walk, there are new buildings on the southern edge and the old Hugh Myddleton School on the northern edge of the street:
Ornate, carved name of the school, high up on the wall to the left of the building.
The initials of the London School Board are also prominently displayed on the right of the school building:
The eastern stretch of Sans Walk – I could not match any of the buildings in the street with those shown in my father’s photos.
On the side wall of the house at the eastern end of Sans Walk is this plaque making clear that the entire wall is the property of the County of Middlesex. No idea if that applies to the rest of the house behind the wall, or just the wall.
Looking down Sans Walk from the east.
The building on the left does look like a restored version of one of the terrace of houses in the first photo, however the location is completely wrong. the house above is only a single house on the end of a very different terrace, and there is a road passing immediately in front of the house, with Sans Walk on the right.
At the end of Sans Walk is Woodbridge Street. I could not find any houses that matched the photos.
Running along the opposite side of the houses to Woodbridge Street is Sekforde Street, lined with early terrace houses, but again nothing that matched my father’s photos.
Half way along the street is an interesting building. painted white, that stands out from the terrace of houses on either side.
This is the former head office of the Finsbury Bank for Savings.
The Finsbury Bank for Savings opened in August 1816 at St. John’s Square, Clerkenwell Green. Formed to provide a service for small traders, labourers etc.
The bank moved premises to the building in Sekforde Street shown in the photo above in April 1841 after being built for the bank during the previous year.
Although the bank was intended for customers with limited savings, it was used by many more affluent customers, including the author Charles Dickens.
The Finsbury Bank for Savings went through a series of mergers, eventually becoming part of TSB, which in turn was taken over by Lloyds Bank.
I failed in the aim of the walk, to find the locations of my father’s photos around Sans Walk, although one of the aims of searching for these locations is to explore the surrounding area, and there was plenty to be found around Sans Walk.
The schools and warehouses of the London School Board, a 19th century bomb planted by the Fenians, the northward limit of Clerkenwell in the 18th century and streets that record lost bowling greens and one of London’s early saving banks – all within a short walk.
London is always best explored on foot and almost every street tells a story.