Centuries of Change in Farringdon Street

Today’s post was not on my list of posts to write. Last Sunday, I was in the City to explore a site for a future post. It was a grey, overcast morning, and at one point there was a fine, wind driven drizzle, so I decided to head back home (I should have stayed for the afternoon as the sun came out).

Walking towards the Holborn Viaduct Bridge over Farringdon Street, I noticed another new building site where the previous building had been demolished and construction of the concrete core of the future development was underway.

I walked down from Holborn Viaduct, down to Farringdon Street as I wanted to see if a bit of Victorian construction was visible.

The following photo is from Farringdon Street. Part of the bridge over Farringdon Street is on the left, then there is one of the four pavilions, one on each corner of the bridge, then an open space with the new concrete core of the new building on the right edge of the photo:

Farringdon Street is the route of the lost River Fleet, and the bridge carries the road over what was the river, hence the low level of Farringdown Street, and the slope of the streets on either side.

Walking along the road to cross the bridge, it is not really obvious that the bridge is not the only part of the overall construction of the road, as you are walking along a manmade viaduct of some length.

Holborn Bridge is part of Holborn Viaduct, the 427m long viaduct designed to provide a bridge over the valley of the Fleet River and a level road between Holborn Circus and Newgate Street.

The construction contract for Holborn Viaduct was awarded on the 7th May 1866 and on the 6th November 1869 it was opened by Queen Victoria.

The construction of this 427m viaduct is not that visible, unless buildings along the viaduct are demolished, and it was this that I wanted to see.

Looking across the cleared construction site, and the side of the viaduct was clearly visible:

This is a view of what remains of the 1860s construction of Holborn Viaduct, and how the long approach to the bridge was built up in height.

At the top, there is a distnct layer which makes up the made ground under the street.

We then come to the core of the viaduct, with the edge of brick walls, which presumably run the width of the viaduct across the street, and in the lower half of the viaduct there are clearly defined brick arches.

Much of the side of the viaduct appears to have been skimmed and filled with concrete. I assume the whole of the viaduct has been filled, but it would be interesting to know whether there is any open space within the arches of the viaduct.

I also assume that the concrete skim and possible fill is of later date, and the brick columns and arches are from the 1860s build of Holborn Viaduct.

It is not often that you can see the hidden details of Victorian design and construction techniques, and the outline of the brick arches that support Holborn Viaduct will probably be soon covered again by the new building that will be built on the site, but they show the considerable construction work either side of the bridge, and which you are walking over as you walk along Holborn Viaduct, towards the bridge over Farringdon Street.

There has been a considerable amount of construction in Farringdon Street in the small section between Holborn Viaduct and Ludgate Circus in the last few years, the above example being just the latest, and I wanted to see what was happening at another, where the Hoop & Grapes pub was located:

The Hoop & Grapes has been closed for the last couple of years, when the buildings on either side of the pub were demolished.

The new building on the right of the pub is making good progress, and there will soon be more construction on the left, and until this is complete the left hand wall of the pub is shored up.

The building is Grade II listed and is of some age. According to the listing details, the building was part of a terrace, with the house being built around 1720 for a vintner, and converted to a public house in 1832.

The listing also states that the “Basement has brick vaults thought to be part of 17th century warehousing vaults built in connection with the formation of the Fleet Canal. Built on part of the site of St. Bride’s Burial Ground.”

Rocque’s 1746 map still shows St. Bride’s burial ground (ringed in map extract below), although there is a space between the burial ground and Fleet Market, so the terrace which included the building that would become the Hoop & Grapes could have been within this small space, or perhaps to one side:

The Fleet Canal reference in the Historic England listing refers to when this stretch of the River Fleet was constrained within a channel, along which, and partly over, the Fleet Market developed.

Another view looking at the new developments and the old Hoop & Grapes pub, which has seen the area change beyond all recognition since the house was built:

I really struggle with some of these redevelopments.

London has always changed. Some of the terrace houses that survived to the 20th century along with the Hoop & Grapes were damaged during the war, and then demolished.

New officces were built surrounding the pub in the 1950s. These were in turn demolished in the 1990s, and it is these buildings which are being demolished for the new development.

Each iteration of development seems to get larger and more overpowering for buildings that survive, and based on the lifespan of the post-war developments on the site, the building currently being built, will be demolished in turn, in the 2060s / 2070s.

Again, it is good that buildings such as the pub survive, but they almost become a museum exhibit, stuck in a streetscape that they have no relationship with, and totally out of context.

I photographed the Hoop & Grapes in 2020, when I had a walk around all the City of London pubs:

I do not know whether the pub will reopen when redevelopment of the surrounding buildings has been completed.

The City of London Corporation seems to be making some efforts to retain City pubs, and they have announced that the Still and Star, Aldgate, St Brides Tavern, Blackfriars, the White Swan, Fetter Lane and the King’s Arms at 55 Old Broad Street / London Wall, will all be reopening in the coming years, however this often refers to the name being retained and the pub being relocated to a new structure within a new development.

There is no mention of the Hoop & Grapes.

A very short distance south along Farringdon Street, on the opposite side of the road is 5 Fleet Place, the cream coloured building that was completed in 2007:

In the above photo, you can just see a road sign with a white arrow on a blue background on the street at the corner of the building. Look through the square arch of the building to the left of the arrow sign, and there are three plaques. which tell of religious and political history:

Staring from the bottom is a stone that was laid on the 10th of May, 1872 at the new Congregational Memorial Hall and Library:

The stone states that the Memorial Hall was erected to commemorate “The Fidelity of Conscience shown by the Ejected Ministers of 1662”.

To understand what was being commemorated, we need to go back to the mid-16th century and the Act of Uniformity of 1558. This was passed in 1559 and established that the church should be unified around Anglicanism and worship should be according to the Book of Common Prayer.

This act was an attempt to address the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism that had been simmering since the break from the Church of Rome by Henry VIII.

The act lasted until 1650 when it was repealed by the Rump Parliament established during the first year of the new Commonwealth of England, set up immediately after the English Civil War.

It was repealed to provide greater religious freedom for Puritans and non-conformists.

There was a strong religious independent and Puritan element to Parliamentary forces in the Civil War, and is why many churches had their decoration and statues damaged and destroyed by Parliamentary soldiers as these were seen as being a residual influence of the Church of Rome.

When Charles II was returned to the throne, there was pressure from the Church of England to unify the church around Anglican principles and the Book of Common Prayer.

The Act was brought back into law, and Ministers were forced to swear an oath that they would give “unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed” in the Book of Common Prayer.

Many Puritan, Presbyterian and Independent ministers could not swear such an oath, and around 2,000 were forced out by the “Great Ejection” from the Church of England on St. Bartholomew’s Day, the 24th of August, 1662 – the event recorded by the stone.

Title page from the pamphlet “‘The Farewell Sermons of the Late London Ministers'” showing 12 of the ejected ministers:

© The Trustees of the British Museum Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Newspaper reports of the ceremony to lay the foundation stone included the following which gives some background as to how the memorial hall was funded and the facilities within the building:

“The Act of Uniformity passed in the year 1662, had the effect of ejecting from their charges more that two thousand ministers who could not conscientiously subscribe to it. At a meeting of the Congregational Union, held at Birmingham in 1861, it was resolved to commemorate the event.

A conference was convened and held, at which it was decided that a bicentenary memorial fund should be raised, among the objects specified being the erection of new chapels, the extinction of chapel debts, and especially the erection of a Congregational Memorial Hall. A committee was appointed to carry the scheme into full effect, and at the next annual meeting it was reported that the total amount paid and promised in connection with this commemoration was nearly £250,000.

A site was found in Farringdon-street, which had formed part of the old Fleet Prison, and the ground was purchased at a cost of £23,000. The architect’s designs comprise a hall to hold from 1,200 to 1,500 people, a library, a board-room, and other offices. The whole is erected at a cost of not less than £30,000.”

The Congregational Hall and Library as it appeared in the 1920s (the building with the large tower):

The library was a considerable resource of over 8,000 volumes and manuscripts covering dissenting religious history.

The library was moved to Manchester during the war, for safety, and also because the Government requisitioned the building between 1940 and 1950 for war purposes.

The library returned in 1957, however ten years later, the collection had to be moved out again as the site was being redeveloped, which brings us to the second plaque:

Around 100 years after completion, maintenance of a large Victorian building was difficult and expensive, so the Congregational Memorial Hall Trust decided to have the site redeveloped with a new office block on site, along with space for the library and for meetings.

The above foundation stone is from this new building – Caroone House.

The library though did not return to the new building. It had been moved to 14 Gordon Square in advance of the redevelopment, and was housed with and administered by Dr. Williams’s Library, another library of religious dissenting books and manuscripts.

The library had to move out of Gordon Square a couple of years ago due to the potential costs of the redevelopment of the site, and the library is now housed at Westminster College, Cambridge, a theological collection that brings together Congregational and Presbyterian college traditions.

And now for the third plaque. It is not often that one of my posts has a very topical subject, but for this week’s post, in 1900, the Congregational Memorial Hall was the site of the founding of the Labour Party:

Rather than a northern industrial town, the meeting that resulted in the founding of the Labour Party was held in the Congregational Memorial Hall, in Farringdon Street on the 27th of February, 1900.

The meeting was the inaugural meeting of the Labour Representation Committee and the purpose of the meeting, which had been arranged by the Trades Union Congress, was to agree on how the various strands of the Labour movement could be brought together into a single party.

Up until the 1900 meeting, the interests of labour had been represented by the Trades Union Congress, the Independent Labour Party and the Social Democratic Federation, who all attended the meeting in Farringdon Street.

The Cooperative Movement had been invited but did not attend as their aim was to maintain a politically neutral approach.

130 delegates met in the library of the Congregational Hall, and the following paragraph from the end of a report on the meeting in the London Daily News gives an indication of the approach of the new unified Labour Party:

“The speeches for the most part were couched in a spirit of broad toleration. Mr. Burns and Mr. Harnes, and Mr. Steadman and Mr. Tillett, all protested against the spirit of narrow sectarianism which has prevailed so largely hitherto.

And Mr. Hardie and Mr. Burgess, from the Independent Labour Party also took the same line, and strongly condemned a proposal that a Labour Party should be organised upon the basis of ‘recognising the existence of a class war’, which got defeated by the adoption of an amending resolution.”

Caroone House was demolished in 2004, so that the office block we see today could be built, and which was completed in 2007. The two foundation stones and the plaque recording the founding of Labour were reinstalled.

A very short walk along part of Farringdon Street, where we can see part of the viaduct constructed by the Victorians to create a wider and higher bridge over what was the route of the River Fleet, a 300 year old house that once looked onto the river and that once housed a pub, and hopefully will do so in the future, as it is surrounded by much larger steel and glass office blocks, and the site of a hall, built to commemorate a religious schism in the 17th century, and the founding of the Labour Party at the very start of the 20th century.

Another example of just how much diverse history can be found during a short walk along a City street.

The next time I write about Farringdon Street, I hope that the Hoop & Grapes will be open again as a traditional London pub, rather than what seems to happen to so many pubs where development takes place – a reimagined pub.

Despite the appearance of Farringdon Street today, it is a very historic street, and the Fleet Prison which was on the site of the Congregational Memorial Hall will be the subject of a future post.


23 thoughts on “Centuries of Change in Farringdon Street

  1. Thomas Alexander Victor Sutcliffe

    Interesting stuff, but you missed a major part of Farringdon Street’s significance – it was home to one of the two termini of the very first section of London Underground, which opened ion 1863 as The Metropolitan Railway, although that section of route (Paddington-Farringdon) is now part of the Hammersmith & City line, with today’s Metropolitan line only joining the route at Great Portland Street (the Met uses platforms 1-4 at Baker Street, the H&C and Circle lines platforms 5&6, with those Metropolitan trains that go through to Aldgate joining this route just beyond Baker Street.

  2. David Williams

    Fascinating research again, leaving me with two thoughts; do we really still need all this new (often out of scale with local architecture) offices. And how on earth does the original Victorian viaduct cope with all the weight of those new towers!

    1. Mike Kay

      I agree – it does seem economically odd that these relatively modern buildings need to be replaced. The building demolished on the south side of the Hoop and Grapes was actually not unattractive for a modern building, and its scale was not over-intimidating.

  3. Frank F

    In the 80s/90s there were numerous BT-occupied buildings (mainly offices, plus an operational exchange) along this stretch of Farringdon Road – including one on the site of the in-progress build next to the viaduct, one that incorporated The White Swan pub, and also Caroone House itself. I can’t recall the names of most, but the multi storey exchange on the western side was unimaginatively named Fleet Building, and Caxton House and Cardinal House were north of the viaduct toward the station.

    1. Scott Franklin

      There were many BT buildings in the area as you say. I worked for the Post Office and then BT when it was taken over I think in the early 80s.
      I worked in Electea House which was off Fleet Street near Temple Station. I did my initial training in 74 at Cardinal House which was next to Farringdon Station. There was also Falcon House which was across the road from The London Museum not far from St Paul’s.
      BT did seem to like that area for their offices.
      I revisit the area a couple of times a year and walk along Farringdon street and surrounding areas. I have good memories of the area from the 70s and 80s.

  4. Shuna Rose

    Fascinating read. Thank u so much. I love wandering the streets for glimpses of history. I do find it depressing how ugly and huge our modern editions are.

  5. Nicholas A

    You speculate about the arches under Holborn Viaduct. If you go under the bridge you should be able to see large sets of doors on both sides of the road leading into the arches. It’s 20+ years since. I worked in the area – but there used to be a wine merchant occupying the arches on the eastern side, and a business connected with Smithfield Market on the western side.

    And speaking of Smithfield, you also fail to mention the redevelopment of the General Market and the Poultry Market into the new home of the Museum of London. The landscape of the western edge of the City along New Bridge St/Farringdon St/Farringdon Road – from Blackfriars Bridge to Clerkenwell Road – has completely changed in the last 40 years. As a result of the Thameslink project and the redevelopment of Holborn Viaduct Station (and the bomb site behind it) even the old street pattern (normally required by the City to be preserved) has disappeared.

    1. James Burke

      I remember Oddbins wine merchants, under the arches. I worked off Fleet Street as a messenger for IPC photo labs at the time and often passed by. Thanks for reminding me.

  6. John Sheridan

    Fascinating, thanks!
    One would have thought the Victorians would have found uses as workshops, storage, stables etc for the arches under Holborn Viaduct.

  7. Philip Ellaway

    There are significant vaults still in use as a wine bar under the Eastern side of the viaduct – previously I think, Snow Hill Station ? Certainly the tracks ran North from Blackfriars Station and East from Farringdon Station on and under Smithfield Market. The enormous retaining wall that holds up the street and holds in the river is visible on the West side of the tube line from Farringdon to King’s Cross.

  8. Jonathan L

    Fascinating, and as you say, very topical. I shall seek out these plaques next time I cycle up Farringdon Street. Quite a steep climb…the Fleet River must have deserved its naming.

  9. David Ayres

    Good morning
    Another great post so appropriate with the Labor Party winning, the general election almost uncanny
    You mention the name, Tillet, who is was instrumental in the dock strikes
    Keep up the good work
    David Ayres
    Archivist for the worshipful company of upholders

  10. David Ayres

    Another great post
    Quite unbelievable, as labour win in the general election that you should flag up there very early roots
    I noticed the name Ben Tillett. who changed the Way. Dock labour was being mistreated.in 1889
    Well done again thank you
    David Ayres hon archivist the worshipful company of upholders

  11. Annie

    I agree, I am troubled by some of these developments. Not because London should always retain older buildings, many of which would not be suitable for modern working practices and technology, but because the constant building of faceless and charmless windowed blocks are deeply impersonal. As for the pub…I visited it during the summer of 2020 when the street was practically deserted and the pub had literally just reopened. I sat outside in the pub garden, under shady trees. Google Maps reveals that has vanished, a genuine loss in such a built-up area. What really irritates me is not the rebuilding but the lack of humanity and originality in the new designs. But, as you say, the shelf life is always brief. Wasteful and brief. Hey ho.

  12. Justin Ward

    Wonderful stuff, esp. for those of us who remember the City a generation (or two) ago.

    I feel your struggle. We are now looking at a third or fourth generation of short-life (20-year) office developments, which are simply about providing the collateral for international corporate finance, rather than places to be useful, habitable, let alone beautiful. Architecturally, London has become a city where the divide between ostentatious rich and abandoned poor areas is ever more marked.

    The accelerating world trend is dehumanisation, as much as for buildings as for shops, services or for that matter, wars. Glasgow, where I live now, is filling up with template-built drywall & concrete ‘apartments’ that will not last a quarter of the time the ‘obsolete’ tenements – that give Glasgow its human scale – have survived.

  13. Steve Nash

    Excellent post again . My wife works at Johnson Matthey PLC whose head office is just along the road (near Fleet Place) so I will now take a closer look myself at your interesting viewpoints, especially the viaduct construction visible from the building site, when we next meet up after work. Thanks for a most interesting feature Looking forward to anything you might do on the area of Aldwych near the Law Courts as that’s another area redeveloped and as a result demolishing a pub/restaurant which meant a lot to us in the 70’s – The Olde Charles Dickens.

  14. alison homewood

    A very poignant post. My first ever job was in a small publishing house at 103-105 Fleet Street (essentially on Ludgate Circus, opposite what was then The Old King Lud pub (latterly a Leon’s restaurant if my memory serves me well). If ever I have to plan a quiz, I will include a question on where the Labour Party was founded, I bet everyone would guess at it being in the north of England. Thank you once again, and here’s to the Hoop and Grapes.

  15. lynne edwards

    Thank you for filling in missing history within this area.
    I run this street as a child. And. Was always aware it was deep routed. I’ve been told that Labour was big in that area. With their help they arranged free health care via barts hospital for those who couldn’t afford to pay for a doc before the nhs.

  16. Geoff Fairbairn

    The artist’s impression of the Hoop & Grapes development shows an open space to the south of the pub (site of 81-82). With the newly buttressed blank side wall of the pub, I think it will look like an undeveloped bomb site.
    Shepherd Neame has continued to renew the pub’s licence so are apparently intending to reopen or sell the building as a pub.

  17. Peter Browning

    The new buildings going up everywhere totally characterless-the history lesson of the plaques super


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