British Empire Exhibition, Wembley, 1924

I am a couple of weeks late with this post, as it should have been towards the end of April to coincide with the opening on the 23rd of April, 1924, of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

A look at the exhibition is interesting as it shows how much has changed in the space of one hundred years. Physical change at a place where London was expanding in the 1920s, change in Britain’s place in the world, and a change in attitudes.

I have a copy of the plan of the exhibition site, and it is wonderful example of mid 1920s graphic design:

British Empire Exhibition

The plan was created by Stanley Kennedy North (a small box to lower left states “Done by Kennedy North 1923”).

Kennedy North was an interesting character who worked across a wide range of media including stained glass, maps and advertising posters.

The plan was created 10 years before Harry Beck’s innovative map of the London Underground, which still forms the basis of the map in use today, so Kennedy North portrayed the routes across London leading to Wembley Park in his own style, and across the lower part of the map are the routes and stations that will take the visitor to the stations in Wembley for the exhibition.

The text at the bottom left corner of the plan informs the visitor that “The Exhibition is 6 miles from Marble Arch by road. There are 120 stations in the London area from which it may be reached in an average time of 18 minutes, and from 120 it is possible to travel to the Exhibition without changing. Trains from Baker Street and Marylebone take 10 mins; Piccadilly Circus 15 mins; and Charing Cross 18 mins. Trams pass the South Entrance from Finchley, Hampstead, Paddington, Willesden, Hammersmith, Putney, Acton, Ealing. Omnibus services run to all the entrances”.

Wembley in the 1920s was an area transforming from a rural landscape to a built suburb of London, and many Londoners would probably not have known the area, or visited before, so the travel details in the plan with timings demonstrated how easy it was to reach the exhibition site.

The Wembley site was chosen in 1920, when the Government gave the go-ahead for the exhibition, and it would be built on the site of some pleasure gardens built in the 1890s Sir Edward Watkin.

The focus of the 1924 exhibition was the new stadium, which had been built for the exhibition, and would be the site for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as a wide range of events during the exhibition.

It was intended to demolish the stadium after the exhibition, however it was kept open afterwards and used for major football events, as well as hosting the 1948 Olympics.

The Britain from Above website has a number of photos showing the site, with the stadium to the south, built alongside the railway, and the Empire Exhibition site around the east, west and running north of the stadium:

British Empire Exhibition

Source: https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW010737

The idea that the stadium was intended as a temporary structure may seem remarkable given the size and construction effort, however a glimpse of the overall site as shown in the above photo gives an indication of how much building work was required to complete the exhibition site.

This was also a time when Wembley was transforming from a rural landscape of fields, hedges. trees etc. into a fully built part of the wider London.

The following photo of the exhibition, looking to the east shows that fields were still surrounding much of the overall exhibition site. The tracks of the railway which would facilitate much of the development of the land can be seen to the right of the stadium, and along the northern edge of the site, splitting off at Neasden which would be at top right:

British Empire Exhibition

Source; https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW010844

Britain from Above dates the following photo of the stadium to 1923, and again it shows how rural Wembley was, one hundred years ago:

Wembley Stadium

Source: https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW008545

This photo is looking north, with the very first stages of construction of the new stadium. The photo is dated 1922, and the trees in the photo appear to be in leaf, so if 1922 is correct, then the stadium would be built in less than a year which seems remarkable if the date is correct:

Wembley Stadium

Source: https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/EPW007831

The aim of the 1924 Empire Exhibition was to demonstrate and celebrate Britain’s place in the world, along with the British Empire which was portrayed as “Co-operation Between Brothers”.

The exhibition was opened on the 23rd of April, 1924 by King George V. Some excerpts from his opening speech serve to show some of the thinking behind the exhibition:

“The Exhibition may be said to reveal to us the whole Empire in little, containing within its 220 acres of ground a vivid model of the architecture, art, and industry of all the races which come under the British Flag.

It represents to the world a graphic illustration of that spririt of free and tolerant co-operation which has inspired peoples of different races, creeds, institutions, and ways of thought to unite in a single commonwealth, and to contribute their varying national gifts to one great end.

This Exhibition will enable us to take stock of the resources, actual and potential, of the Empire as a whole; to consider where these exist and how that can be best developed and utilised; to take counsel together how the peoples can co-operate to supply one another’s needs and to promote national well-being.

It stands for a co-ordination of our scientific knowledge and a common effort to overcome disease and to better the difficult conditions which still surround life in many parts of the Empire.”

The speech demonstrated a very paternalistic view of the Empire, and that the focus of the Empire was on the common good, but the sentence that “of all the races which come under the British Flag”, and the comment that the exhibition will “enable us to take stock of the resources, actual and potential, of the Empire as a whole”, demonstrate why the Empire was considered important to the country, and Britain’s place in the world.

Built to the north, and around the stadium were a whole series of buildings and pavilions, as well as a lake.

The buildings and pavilions were each dedicated to a specific country or region in the Empire, as well as two large buildings, one each for Industry and Engineering, and a smaller building for Art.

The size of the country buildings perhaps illustrates the relative importance at the time of each, with large buildings for Australia, Canada and India, and smaller buildings for South Africa, East Africa, the Gold Coast etc. down to Malta which appears to have had the smallest building on the site.

Each of these buildings featured displays from the country, customs, resources, products and people, and many of the country buildings included indigenous people demonstrating some of their local crafts. Looking at some of the film from the exhibition and it is hard to see these indigenous people as being just part of the exhibits on show to the visitors to the exhibition.

If you were a visitor to the 1924 British Empire Exhibition then you may have wanted to return home with a souvenir, and some of the most popular were a range of postcard packs showing various scenes from the exhibition.

I have a couple of these, and they show what it would have been like to walk around the exhibition, and to appreciate the substantial scale of the exhibition which had been built on a green field site in a couple of years.

British Empire Exhibition

The first shows the approach to the Empire Stadium as it was named for the exhibition, with the twin towers on either side of the main entrance. Of the two buildings in the lower part of the photo, the Australian pavilion is on the right, and that of Canada on the left:

Wembley Stadium

The first game of football hosted by the Empire / Wembley Stadium was in the year before the exhibition, when the 1923 FA Cup Final was held between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham, and which Bolton went on to win 2 – 0. The stadium had only just been completed and there was some doubt whether it would be ready in time. The Football Association were though keen to stage the event in the new, large stadium.

The result was crowds of much higher numbers than the stadium could accommodate, and scenes of chaos before the match could be completed.

The stadium had been built for 127,000 people, however the numbers that crammed in to watch the final were anywhere between 200,000 and 300,000. There were too many to make an accurate count, and the higher number was the estimate by the Police.

Headlines from the following day given an indication of the problems at the stadium, for example, from The People (London, Sunday April 29th 1923):

“1,000 Casualties at the Cup Final, Mob Overruns the Ground, Barriers Stormed and Pitch Invaded, Unparalleled Scenes, 200,000 Crush into Space For 127,000, Mounted Police 40 Minutes Tussel, F.A, Disclaim Responsibility.

Scenes without parallel in the history of football occurred at Wembley Stadium yesterday when mob-law spoiled the match for the Cup between West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers, which the latter won by two clear goals.

Crowds swarmed onto the playing pitch and for some time perfect chaos reigned. It is estimated that about 1,000 people were treated for minor injuries. mounted police were sent for, and they had to be used to clear the ground, the players themselves doing their best to persuade the unruly spectators to give them sufficient space to play the game.

Eventually, after wild scenes, the teams managed to begin the match, but even then the crowd persisted in interrupting play, and at one period the game had to be suspended for 12 minutes while the pitch was again cleared.

Mr. F.J. Wall, Secretary of the F.A, made the following statement – The F.A. greatly regret the inconvenience caused to the spectators during the match, but can assure the public that the arrangements were not in their hands and that they cannot, therefore accept responsibility.”

The F.A, were indeed correct, as the responsibility for managing the stadium during the F.A. Cup Final had been transferred to the management of the British Empire Exhibition, who do not seem to have been prepared for such a large, public event being held at the site, much of which was still under construction.

The following photo is from the 1920’s books Wonderful London, and although it is not dated, it may show the 1923 FA Cup Final:

Wembley Stadium

The crowds and numbers on the pitch are similar to the newspaper reports, and there seems to be little building around the stadium, which would have been the situation in April 1923, one year before opening of the Empire Exhibition.

The postcards continue to show the site in detail. The following photo is looking to the north west, and the two large buildings in the upper right corner are the Industry Pavilion (top) and the Engineering Pavilion (below and to the right):

British Empire Exhibition

Industry and Engineering focused on Britain’s expertise and capabilities in these areas, and a statement from the Gas Industry explains why they wanted to be at the exhibition:

“As you are doubtless all aware, the British Empire Exhibition will be opened at Wembley in April, and the Gas Industry felt it should do something worthy of the Exhibition and of itself on this occasion. The industry is arranging a suitable exhibit, and this Company is contributing its share in providing money for this purpose.

The main object of the British Empire Gas Exhibit will be to show the public the domestic and industrial applications for gas and educate them in all the ways in which gas can serve in the house and in business. I hope that those of you who visit Wembley will not omit to visit the Gas Exhibit in the Palace of Industry.”

With the inclusion of major exhibitions of Industry and Engineering, the 1924 Empire Exhibition was very similar to the 1851 Great Exhibition and the 1951 Festival of Britain.

It is one of the strange trends of the last 50 or so years, how industry and engineering have gone from being an important part of the country’s core capabilities and national pride, to be something that only really gets mentioned now when a factory closes.

Industry and engineering feature on TV in programmes such as Gregg Wallace Inside the Factory and programmes on projects such as Crossrail which often seem to focus on the created tension of “will X activity be finished on time”.

I suspect that much of this was down to the closure of so much industry during the 1970s an 1980s along with the transfer to foreign ownership of so many British industrial and engineering companies.

For a fascinating, but depressing read about how this happened, “The Slow Death of British Industry: A Sixty-Year Suicide 1952-2012” by Nicholas Comfort is excellent.

Back to a walk around the Wembley exhibition site, and this is the Canadian building:

Canadian Pavilion

The photo shows the scale of some of the buildings at the exhibition, and also shows the boating lake that was set between the Canadian and Australian buildings and those of Industry and Engineering.

Part of the Australian building on the right (Australia had the largest building of all the countries represented at the exhibition), and the building of Malaya on the right:

Australian Pavilion

It was a common theme of 20th century exhibitions that they also had / needed an amusement park. For example, the 1951 Festival of Britain also had the Festival Gardens at Battersea.

The 1924 exhibition was no exception and the following photo shows the entrance to the amusement park:

British Empire Exhibition amusement park

What was in the amusement park was probably one of the final parts of the planning and build process, as the plan of the site, created the year before, shows the area covered in blue and white stripes, with a flag bearing the text “The unrivalled and entrancing mysteries and the miles of smiles in the amusement park will be disclosed when this fine dustsheet is removed on opening day”.

The Newfoundland (part of Canada) Pavilion:

Newfoundland

The Burmese Pavilion:

Burmese Stadium

Many of the country buildings, were constructed in the style of traditional architecture from the country concerned, as with the Burmese (now Myanmar) Pavilion shown in the photo above.

Another view of the boating lake:

Boating lake

The Indian Pavilion, along with Australia and Canada was one of the largest pavilions, and was built in the style of grand buildings in India:

Indian Pavilion

The following postcard is labelled the Palace of Industry, however apart from what may be in the display cabinets, there does not seem to be much industry on display:

Palace of Industry

As well as exploring all the country pavilions, and then going to the amusement park, the stadium was the scene of major events throughout the time of the exhibition.

One such event that ran for a couple of weeks until the 1st of June, 1924 was titled “London Defended” and could be watched in the stadium every evening starting at 8:15pm.

London Defended consisted of: “Two hours of intense yet joyous excitement. Thrill follows thrill, with not one moment of dullness. deeds of daring that claim your admiration and hold you spellbound with the wonder of it, the skilful horsemanship of the Metropolitan Police, the dash and daring of the London Fire Brigade, the breathless exploits of the Royal Airforce, Massed Bands, counter marching to the flickering glow of 200 torches, London Scottish pipers and Highland Dancing; and then the Great Fire of London, giving a fitting finish to an amazing night of adventure”.

Who could resist that for 4 shillings for the best covered seat, down to 6 pence standing on the upper terraces or free on the lower terraces.

Another event featured “a spectacular chariot race”, with six Roman chariots racing abreast. The race was supported by “Hundreds of Performers, Troops of Wonderful Horses, Flocks of Clowns, Marvelous Acrobats, Daring Trick Riders, hers of Elephants, Performing Bears, High Wire Acts, Dare-Devil Raymond in 100 foot Land Dive, Roman Riding, etc. etc.”

In 1924, there was no public television service, the first public radio transmission had only started four years earlier in 1920, and films with sound were not widely available until 1927, also the majority of the population had not travelled outside the country, so this type of entertainment, and the pavilions at the exhibition, would have been a significant and exciting experience for the majority of people.

View along the lake:

British Empire Exhibition boating lake

The British Empire Exhibition was open between the hours of 10 am and 11 pm, with admission costing one shilling six pence for adults and nine pence for children.

The exhibition was the first major event in London where I have seen specific mention of the car as a means of transport to the event. Publicity material for the exhibition stated “Visitors are advised to park their cars in the B.E.E. Official Car Park ONLY. Accommodation for 2,000 vehicles at popular prices”.

The 1920s were the start of wider car ownership, which would explode after the 2nd World War, and would influence planning for the city over the 20th century.

The Sarawak (a Malaysian state) Pavilion:

Sarawk pavilion

The South African Pavilion, which featured along the front a colonial architectural style of a long covered terrace and a colonnade:

South African pavilion

The above photo also includes a rather strange means of transport that appears in a number of photos of the exhibition. Obviously motorised, with a driver in the front, and a row of covered seats behind.

And a reminder of British involvement in the middle east – the Palestine Pavilion:

Palastine Pavilion

The New Zealand Pavilion:

New Zealand Pavilion

The area between all the pavilions was landscaped, as shown in the following photo with the caption of Lake, Gardens and Indian Pavilion:

British Empire Exhibition

The Palace of Arts:

Palace of Arts

The Palace of Arts was divided into a number of rooms, including period rooms of 1750, 1815, 1852, 1888, and 1924, rooms covering the art of the theatre, watercolours, oil paintings, sculpture, modern oil paintings and art from India, Burma, Australia and Canada.

The guide to the Palace of Arts introduced the exhibition with “The British Empire Exhibition has for the first time made possible the assembling under one roof of the paintings of today, not only from the United Kingdom, but from every Dominion of the Crown. now first can be seen in one place how the Daughter Nations have developed their art from that English School which is represented so splendidly in the Retrospective Galleries.

All the Dominions were invited to send the best of their own choice, and if it be questioned that the space given to the painters of the past is small compared with the whole of the varied collection, the answer is that, in a living Empire, the art best worthy of study is the work of living men.”

The guide apologised for the lack of sculpture from the countries of the Empire, but explained that this was due to the difficulties and risk of transporting sculpture over such long distance.

A rather strange part of the exhibition was a recreation of Old London Bridge, as shown in the following three photos:

British Empire Exhibition

The sign on the right of the photo, by the ramp is indicating that the station for trains to Marylebone can be found across the bridge.

British Empire Exhibition

I do not know what was used as the source for recreating London bridge, but it does not look like the majority of prints and drawing of the bridge.

British Empire Exhibition

Although the plan of the exhibition shown at the start of the post stated it was the British Empire Exhibition 1924, it actually ran over two years, and was open from the 23rd of April to the 1st of November 1924 and then from the 9th of May to the 31st of October 1925. The second year of opening was not originally planned, however the success of the exhibition led to the second year of opening.

The final closing ceremony on the last day of October 1925 was held in a very full stadium and was attended by the Duke of York (the future George VI) who gave the closing speech.

The ceremony suffered some very typical British weather as it was held in pouring rain, however the papers of the time reported that “In spite of the mist and the fog which enveloped the British Empire Exhibition today, thousands of people travelled to Wembley to attend the final scenes”.

The Duke of York closed the exhibition with the words “Further, the Exhibition, in its pavilions and by its spectacles in the Stadium has presented a picture of Empire which has kindled our imagination and stirred our pride in the Union Jack. In declaring the British Empire Exhibition closed, I am confident that its results will endure for the benefit of the British Empire and of its peaceful mission in the world.”

The British Empire Exhibition was considered a major success.

As well as the photos above, a number of films were made of the exhibition, a sample of which are below:

The videos cannot be played in the version of the post sent out via email. Click here to go to the post on the blog where the videos can be played.

First, some remarkable colour film of London, building the site, the opening and the exhibition site (note that in the film it states that the closing ceremony was held 6 months later by the Prince of Wales. this was the closing ceremony for the first year, and a full ceremony was held as at the time it was not certain that the exhibition would open again in 1925. The decision to reopen would be taken in the following months):

A British Pathe film showing King George V and Queen Mary walking around the exhibition site:

The State Opening of the British Empire Exhibition, including a fly past by RAF byplanes:

Will It Be Ready In Time – film of the site during construction following concern about delays due to a strike by workers:

Film of one of the pageants held in the Empire / Wembley Stadium:

A variety of scenes from the exhibition:

I started the post with a comment that a look at the exhibition is interesting as it shows how much has changed in the space of one hundred years. Physical change at a place where London was expanding in the 1920s, change in Britain’s place in the world, and a change in attitudes, and I hope the above has shown how.

Wembley as a place is now so very different. A built up place, part of the wider London. The original Wembley Stadium, built for the 1924 exhibition was closed in 1999, demolished, and the stadium we see today opened in 2007.

The rest of the festival site is now full of apartment blocks, hotels, shops, and what is now the SSE Arena, was the Empire Pool Wembley, which was built over part of the artificial lake shown in some of the above photos, and completed in 1934.

Britain’s place in the world has changed dramatically. No longer an industrial and military power (of any size) and a lost empire.

And a change in attitudes from 1924, when you look at the paternalistic approach to the countries “under the British Flag” and the emphasis on resources, along with the sentence in the guide to the Palace of Art “how the Daughter Nations have developed their art from that English School“.

The 1924 exhibition did indicate some aspects of the future. it was the first major event which recognised the car as a significant means of personal transport, and it was the first time that the King’s voice had been heard via the radio, as the fledgling BBC had broadcast the opening ceremony.

The one thing that has not changed, as can be seen in the films, are the uniforms, carriages, and approach to Royalty.

The opening ceremony was probably one of the first big stadium opening events, and these continue, for example with the opening of the 2012 Olympics in Stratford.

I wonder how this will be looked at, one hundred years later in 2112.

alondoninheritance.com

The London Data Store

One place has just become free on my walk “The Lost Landscape and Transformation of Puddle Dock and Thames Street” on Sunday the 5th of May. For details and booking, click here.

London has always been a complicated place, and today is probably more complex than it has ever been, and it is really impossible to comprehend what London actually is (if that makes sense).

To understand aspects of London’s history, there are a range of different data sources, and I have used some of these in previous posts to show how we can understand the city.

In the post “Bills of Mortality – Death in early 18th Century London”, I used published Bills of Mortality, weekly and annual records of the numbers and causes of death in London, to understand what caused death in London, the diseases and accidents that could have killed you in 1721. This also included a look at a book by John Gaunt who studied these records and made 106 observations on births, deaths, sickness, disease, how information in the Bills of Mortality was used, London’s population, comparison between the City and Countryside etc. The book is a fascinating window on the late 17th century, and explains much of what we see in the 1721 Bills of Mortality.

In my post, “John Snow and the Soho Cholera Outbreak of 1854” I looked at the work of John Snow who used data on the location of cholera outbreaks to pinpoint the source of the infection in Soho.

And using 1881 census information, I took Bache’s Street, an ordinary city street to the north-east of Old Street, and looked at who was living in the street, where they were born, ages, family and household size, profession etc. to really understand what a typical London street would have been like, if we could have walked along the street in 1881.

So whilst these data sources can help us understand the city, in the past, there was only a limited amount of readily available data for us to interpret today.

That has now changed dramatically, and with the use of technology, a vast range of data is now available through an online resource, the London Data Store.

The London Data Store has been created by the Greater London Assembly, and has made available a very extensive range of raw data, and information, freely available, to view and download, and to use to understand different aspects of London today, how the city has, and continues to evolve.

There is data in the London Data Store on things you would expect (such as population growth) as well as unexpected data, such as a spreadsheet of every recording studio in the city.

So for today’s post, I have used a sample of the data available, to take a look at different aspects of London, data about life in the city, data which shows how the city is changing, and data about everyday services such as the London transport system.

All is available to download and interpret, and for today’s post I have taken a rather random look at some of the data available, to produce some different views of the changing city.

If you do not want to download data and make your own interpretations, the London Data Store holds a single document: “The State of London – A Review of London’s economy and society, January 2024”. This 144 page document provides an overview of many aspects of London.

I have taken the first two tables from “The State of London”. The first table provide a comprehensive overview of geography, demography and economy statistics for London:

Some of these, such as the City Resilience Ranking require some interpretation. Resilience ranking is where a city is judged on a range of criteria such as good governance, environmental credentials and climate targets, and London ranks 3rd in the world behind New York and Tokyo. London score highly for its knowledge economy and tech ecosystem. The nearest European city is Paris at number 7.

The report also compares London with the top two ranked global cities, as well as Paris, the nearest European competitor (the resilience rankings are different to the above as the above are the latest 2024 figures):

The above table shows that London is a very green city compared to some of its global competitors, and is geographically smaller and with a lower overall population.

The foreign born population percentages are very similar in London and New York, lower in Paris and very much lower in Tokyo. London is ranked at number 36 in the City Happiness Index, which just keeps it within the Gold ranking of happy cities.

Fly Tipping

The above tables come from a very high level view of London, but the London Data Store also has plenty of very detailed statistics about specific aspects of the city, for example, the following table lists incidents of fly tipping in 2022 – 2023:

The above table shows that there were 422,078 incidents of fly tipping, and whilst there were high numbers of actions taken, warning letters and fixed penalty notices, by the time we get to prosecutions, there were only 135, so only 0.03% of fly tipping incidents resulted in a prosecution, which seems rather low.

What is interesting is that the prosecution rate does not reflect the number of incidents in each borough, so for example, Enfield had 5,505 incidents which resulted in the highest number of prosecutions across all London boroughs, with a total of 44, whilst Camden had 31,457 incidents which resulted in 0 cautions, injunctions or prosecutions.

There is obviously more behind this, such as the type of incident, how well the council is resourced etc. It also helps to understand how an anti-social aspect of life such as fly tipping has changed over time, and the following table is from the period 2009 – 2010, when there were 358,572 incidents:

Again, we need to be careful without knowing some of the detail behind the figures in the tables, however what is clear is that there were more prosecutions in 2009 – 2010, so it could be assumed that the drop in council funding over the last 15 years may have resulted in councils having insufficient resources to prosecute an anti-social crime such as fly tipping.

The benefit of data in spreadsheets is that you can manipulate the data to show different views. I use a mapping application on the blog which allows a spreadsheet to be imported and the data within the spreadsheet to be viewed on a map.

The following two interactive maps may not show in the emailed version of the post. If not, go to the post on the blog here to fully view the maps.

London Museums and Public Galleries

There is a whole section in the London Data Store on the city’s Cultural Infrastructure in 2023, and the first example I have used is Museums and Public Galleries. I imported the spreadsheet into the mapping application to produce the following map (click on each marker for the name of the institution):

London Music Recording Studios

There are spreadsheets covering all manner of Cultural sites and instructions, for example, if you wanted a list of all the music recording studios across London, then there is a spreadsheet for that, which I have imported to produce another map:

London Pubs

There is also a spreadsheet of London’s pubs and bars in 2023, however with over 4,000 entries I did not want to overload the site on which the blog is hosted by importing and creating a map, so I will use a graph on the number of London pubs between 2001 and 2022:

What is interesting about the graph is that whilst there has been a general decline in the overall number of pubs, this has mainly been a result of the closing of small pubs, those employing fewer than ten staff, whilst larger pubs employing more that ten have increased in number.

This can be seen on the streets, with the dramatic decline in the small corner or terrace London pub, and the increased number of pubs such as Wetherspoon’s which are generally much larger and employ more people.

As could be expected, there is a large amount of detailed information about London’s transport system in the London Data Store, and the following example show what is avalable:

Temperatures on the London Underground

Coming out of winter and with the rather chilly spring, the experience of being on some of London’s underground lines on a hot summer day may be a memory at the moment, however the London Data Store has a spreadsheet recording the temperature on the underground lines over the year, and I took the column showing the maximum recorded temperature for each month to create the following graph:

The graph shows that the Bakerloo Line reached the highest temperature of the whole system in July / August, closely followed by the Central Line.

As could be expected, the sub-surface lines (Circle, District etc.) have the lowest maximum temperatures. apart from a short peak in July where they exceed the Waterloo and City, which is probably because lines such as the Circle and District respond quickly to external temperatures, whereas deeper lines probably take more time to absorb the heat from above.

Numbers of Journeys

These graphs show that by the end of 2023, the numbers of journeys taken had still not returned to their pre-Covid numbers, and that although an initial post-Covid rapid increase had taken place, this seems now to have slowed down.

The first graph shows journeys on London’s buses and the underground:

And the second graph shows journeys on the DLR, Trams, Overground and the Cable Car across the river on the Greenwich Peninsula:

Again, journeys across these methods of transport have not returned to their pre-Covid peaks, although the Overground rail network is almost there.

London Buses

As well as reducing passenger numbers on London buses, there has been a decline in the number of buses travelling the streets of the city.

The following table shows the number of buses by type, between 2013 and 2023 and shows a decrease in the number of diesel powered buses, and an increase in the number of electric. There has also been a decline in the total number of buses from 8,717 in 2013 to 8,643, and whilst this is a very small decline, it masks a much larger drop from a peak of 9,616 in 2017:

By putting this data in a graph, the decline in bus numbers from their 2017 peak is rather dramatic:

Annual Bike Hires

There is also a spreadsheet of the number of hires of bikes within the Santander Cycle Hire Scheme:

Whilst this shows an increase since the early days of the scheme, starting in 2022 there has been a significant drop off. This may be due to the significant number of other bike hire companies now operating across London, as there now seems to be so many different bikes cluttering the streets of the city.

Numbers and Types of Police Officers

Crime has long been an issue in London, and features in the campaigns for the upcoming London mayoral elections.

The London Data Store has a variety of spreadsheets with details on the type, frequency, locations etc. of crime across the city, as well as details about policing in London, and the following graph is taken from a spreadsheet of police numbers in London:

The graph does show that there has been an increase in the numbers of Police Officers in the ten years between 2013 and 2023, but there has also been a reduction in the numbers of Police Staff (those who support the front line Police Officers) and also a reduction in the number of Police Community Support Officers (PCSO).

So in 2013 there were a total of 45,835 officers, staff and PCSOs and 46,140 in 2023. A small increase, but whilst there has been an increase in Police Officers, is their effectiveness reduced by a smaller number of supporting police staff, and a reduced number of PCSO’s?

There are also other factors involved, such as:

The Growth in London’s Population

There is a range of demographic data covering London in the London Data Store. The first example I will look at is the change in the city’s population, along with comparisons with the rest of the country:

The above graph shows population changes between 2011 and 2021 in a number of regions and counties across the country.

London is the second pair of columns on the left, and in 2011, London had a population of 8,173,941, and the population ten years later based on the 2021 census was 8,796,628.

So between 2022 and 2021, there has been a 7.6% increased in London’s population. Although not exactly the same years, going back to Police numbers, we can see that between 2013 and 2023 there had been an overall rise of 0.66%.

Again, the years being measured are not exactly the same, but the data shows that there has been roughly a 7.6% increase in population and a 0.66% increase in Police staff, so assuming there is roughly a linear relationship between the two, Police numbers have not kept pace with population growth over the last 10 to 12 years.

The London Data Store contains many different views on London’s population. One data set lists the annual births in the city, and the following graph shows these numbers between 1992 and 2024:

The number of births was stable between 1992 and 2002, but then had a rapid increase until 2015, when the numbers being born in the city start to decrease towards the 1992 – 2002 average.

The London Data Store also records the number of live births by mother’s place of birth, which mirrors the increase then reduction in numbers shown in the above growth, but here we can see the impact of immigration into the city:

The impact of events in London and the country can be seen in the above graph. For example, look at the dark green bars which record the number of births to women from “Post-2004 EU accession countries” (Poland Czech Republic, Hungry etc.).

Births to mothers from these countries increase rapidly from 2004, then start to decrease from 2016, the year of the Brexit vote.

We can also compare London with the rest of the country:

Which shows that London has by far the highest number of births, whether viewed as an absolute number or a percentage, to mothers born outside of the UK than any other region of the country.

We can also look at how London’s population has changed over a longer time period, and the following bar chart shows how the numbers have changed across inner, outer and greater London between 1939 and 2011:

The chart shows that Inner London’s population is still well below the numbers of 1939, which demonstrates that before the last war, inner London was a really densely populated place.

The loss of the docks, industry etc. resulted in the post war population decline, that reached a low in the late 1979s and early 1980s before starting to increase.

Outer London was stable between 1939 and 1988, but has increased since, and Greater London’s overall population was still smaller in 2011 than it had been in 1939, all down to the significant reduction in Inner London’s population.

London’s recent growing population all need somewhere to live, so we can look at:

Living Costs

This graph shows the increase in weekly rent charged by social landlords or private registered providers across all London boroughs:

The above graph shows that weekly social rents have increased at a near uniform rate for all boroughs, we can also look at individual boroughs, and the following graph shows the increase in weekly rent in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea between 1997 and 2023 (the vertical axis on the left is the cost in Pounds):

As well as somewhere to live, jobs are needed, and the following graph shows the number of jobs, by job type between 2004 and 2022:

Whilst job types such as construction, energy and water, distribution, hotels and restaurants have shown relatively small changes over time and have not shown long term, significant increase or decrease, the two job types of public admin, education and health (dark brown line) and banking, finance and insurance (red line) have shown a continuous increase in the numbers employed.

All these jobs result in people being paid, and we can look at the mean income of tax payers, by borough:

No surprise that Kensington and Chelsea, the City of London and Westminster make the top three, but what could be a surprise is Camden being in fourth position.

The London Data Store is a wonderful resource and I have only just scratched the surface of the data and information available, and the range of subjects covered is remarkable.

For example, there is a spreadsheet covering “Shut in lifts incidents attended by the London Fire Brigade”, and there are a surprising number of these. Between 1st of January 2024 and the 31st of March 2024, there were 1,409 shut in lift incidents, which I found really surprising.

The spreadsheet includes the address and building where the lift in each incident was located, so if you need to know which lifts are best to avoid, you can sort the spreadsheet based on the frequency of each address.

I covered the data on the bus types and numbers earlier in the post, and for the London Fire Brigade there are similar spreadsheets covering the number and types of fire appliances across London.

There is another spreadsheet covering 13 years of stolen animals across London. Not surprisingly, dogs are the most common, but also within those 13 years, two Arachnids, 161 Fish, 1 Rabbit, 15 Insects and 327 Birds have been stolen.

Looking back over the 13 years of stolen animal records, by far the majority are marked as not recovered.

Much of the detailed information in the London Data Store does not go back that far, with the majority covering the last ten to fifteen years, with higher level data going back a bit longer, around the last 25 years.

One of the benefits of this type of data being available is not just for the snapshot it provides of London, but also for long term trends, and if the London Data Store continues for many years to come, it will be an invaluable resource for future historians.

The London Data Store can be found here, and if you are so inclined, it is easy to waste a few evenings searching through, and playing with the wealth of data available.

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Post Office Tower and Tower Tavern

If you would like to explore the history of Puddle Dock, Thames Street and the area between Queen Victoria Street and the Thames, one place has just become free on my walk this coming Thursday, the 25th click here for details and booking, and one place on Sunday the 28th, click here for details and booking.

In February, BT announced the sale of the BT Tower to MCR Hotels for a sum of £275m, and that MCR Hotels plan to “preserve BT Tower as an iconic hotel, securing its place as a London landmark for the future”.

The BT Tower has been a significant London landmark since completion in 1964, and opening for operations the following year, however in the intervening 60 years, the original technical requirements for the tower’s design and construction have become redundant, and as I will explore in today’s post, the tower has now outlived its original purpose, and it will be interesting to see how it transforms over the coming years.

In this post, I am going to call the building the Post Office Tower rather than the BT Tower, simply because that was the original name of both the tower, and the organisation responsible for building the tower, and I must admit (probably age), but I still think of the building as the Post Office Tower.

Located just to the west of Tottenham Court Road, and south of Euston Road, the Post Office Tower is a major landmark within the surrounding streets:

Post Office Tower

The above photo is from April 2024, and towards the upper part of the tower, there is an open section which looks almost as if the tower is still being built, however it is this open section of the tower which was the reason why the tower was built.

I took the following photo in 1980 of the Champion pub, at the junction of Eastcastle Street and Wells Street, with the Post Office Tower in the background, and at time of the photo, there were some strangely shaped objects fitted to this open section:

Post Office Tower

The following photo of the top section of the tower shows the upper part where the kitchen, cocktail bar, revolving restaurant and public observation floors were originally located. Below these floors is the open section with the round, concrete core of the building at the centre:

Post Office Tower

View from close to the base of the Post Office Tower:

Post Office Tower

I have one of the wonderful large (A0 I think) posters produced by the General Post Office (GPO), after the opening of the building. The GPO was the combination of what is now BT, the Post Office and Royal Mail, and was then a state run organisation before being broken up and privatised.

The poster shows in detail the functions of the Post Office Tower:

Post Office Tower

The poster records that “the Tower is 620 feet high, and weighs 13,000 tons. It is constructed of concrete reinforced with high tensile and mild steel and has no less than 50,000 square feet of glass on its outside covering. It will withstand high winds with the minimum of deflection – so as not to upset the alignment of the radio beams. Gusts of 90 mph are estimated to induce a deflection of only 15 inches at the very top of the Tower!”.

It was built between 1961 and 1965 and was designed by the Ministry of Public Building and Works Architect’s Department with Eric Bedford as the Chief Architect and G.R. Yeats as the Senior Architect in Charge.

The core of the tower is a reinforced concrete cylinder with a height of 582 feet. Not that obvious when looking at the Post Office Tower, however this concrete cylinder does taper, starting at 35 feet in diameter with two foot thick walls at the base, tapering to 22 feet in diameter and one foot thick walls at the top of the tower. This taper means that the lower floors are smaller than the upper floors.

This tapering of the central core is not that visible from outside the tower, but look at the poster above and the difference in the size of the core is very obvious between the lower and upper parts.

Reinforced concrete floors surround the concrete cylinder, with seventeen floors of equipment rooms and offices below the level where the radio antennas were mounted.

Working down from the top of the Tower, there was a storm warning radar mounted at the very top of the Tower, below which there was a circular room where lift and ventilating equipment was housed, along with water tanks. Below this was the kitchen, cocktail bar, revolving restaurant and public observation floors:

Post Office Tower Restaurant

The restaurant was appropriately named as the “Top of the Tower” and was opened on the 19th of May 1966 by the Postmaster General, Anthony Wedgwood Benn, and Sir Billy Butlin, as the Butlin Organisation were the operators of the restaurant.

It was Britain’s first revolving restaurant, with the arrows in the above image showing the direction of travel, with one revolution taking 25 minutes.

The restaurant and viewing area were a huge success with over one million visitors in the first year of operation. The intention of the GPO was that entry fees to the Tower would help cover some of the costs of the building.

Public access came to an end after a bomb exploded in the men’s toilets in the restaurant on the 31st October of 1971. There was limited public access until 1981, but after that, the floors at the top of the Tower were used for invited meetings, presentations, charity events etc.

We then come to the section of the tower which is the reason for the Post Office Tower’s existence, height and shape. This is where the radio antennas were mounted:

Microwave Radio Network

In the post war period, the amount of telephone use was growing rapidly, and this was joined by the growth of television, services which both required a method of transmitting telephone calls and television signals across the country.

This had traditionally been achieved by copper cables running the length of the country, and connecting key cities from where further networks of cables ran out eventually reaching individual homes and telephones.

TV signals were distributed between outside events, studios and transmitter sites.

The copper cable network was not a cost effective or technical means of supporting this rapid growth through the 1960s and 1970s, so a new network was designed whereby both telephone calls and TV transmissions would be carried across the country using microwave radio signals – linking up key locations where signals would then be converted back from microwave radio signal to electrical signal for local transmission via copper cable.

The key problem with microwave radio is that the signal is line of sight. The sending antenna needs to see the receiving antenna, so to send a signal between geographically spread locations, antennas had to be mounted on high towers, capable of seeing their adjoining towers without any obstructions in-between – hence the height of the Post Office Tower.

This diagram from the above poster shows graphically how this worked:

Microwave Radio Network

For the Post Office Tower, the height of the antenna platforms was dictated by the height needed to “see” a surrounding network of towers, and the space where they were mounted was circular to give maximum flexibility for moving and pointing antennas in any direction, as well as the space to add additional antennas, as and when needed.

This circular shape was then mirrored across the whole of the tower, and it was a shape that also resulted in minimum wind resistance. The tower needed to be stable, as a small change could mean that the microwave radio beam between the Post Office Tower and an adjacent tower would become out of alignment.

To support this new, cross country communications system, a network of towers sprang up across the country.

But the towers had another, more secretive purpose.

I have a copy of The Sunday Times Magazine published on the 28th of January 1973, and in the issue there is an article titled “The National Guard”, by Peter Laurie and developed from his book “Beneath the City Streets”.

The article explored what else the towers supported, in addition to telephone and television signals.

At the time of the Post Office Tower’s construction, the Cold War was in full flow between the West and Russia. The risk of a nuclear war was all to real, and the Cuban Missile Crisis took place in October 1962, whilst the tower was being built.

There were a number of radio networks across the country, as well as telephone and television, the Gas and Electricity boards had a network to control their nations grids, there was a network for Civil Air Traffic Control, and a separate network for the United States Air force for their fighter and bomber control.

Peter Laurie’s article explained that the towers also included a network to “safeguard vital national communications in the interests of defence” – which seemed to include both air defence warning and control systems against an attack by Russian nuclear bombers, and to provide Government communications to dispersed underground national and regional seats of Government across the country.

The Sunday Time Magazine article included a collection of photos of towers across the country, of which the Post office Tower was part:

Microwave Radio Network

You can still see how the network works today. If you go to the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street on a clear day, and look to the east, on the far horizon who can see the ghostly outline of a tower.

This is the tower at Kelvedon Hatch in Essex, and in the above matrix of photos, it is the tower in the top row, second from the left.

My photo shows the tower, just visible on the horizon to the right:

Microwave Radio Network

As can be seen in the above photo, being up a high point in London, enables a line of site to another, distant high point, over which a microwave radio signal could be transmitted.

Other towers surrounding London include a tower near High Wycombe, which is next to the M40 and very visible if you drive along this motorway, along with another tower at Bagshot in Surrey. These are both in the matrix of photos above.

The network extended across the whole country, with each tower serving as a local connection into the network, as well as the relay point to surrounding towers.

In the matrix of photos above, the caption to the Kelvedon Hatch tower states that it was “near a regional seat of government, north of Brentwood”.

This was the underground bunker at Kelvedon Hatch which would have formed a regional seat of Government in the event of nuclear war. I worked in the bunker a couple of times as a Post Office Apprentice in the late 1970s, and wrote about the bunker in this post.

The microwave radio network was a vast improvement in the volume of data that could be transmitted across the country over the previous copper network, however technology does not stand still and during the 1980s and 1990s, a network of fibre optic cables was being laid across the country.

Fibre optic cables were relatively cheap, and small bundles of cables could carry very large volumes of data, considerably more than a microwave radio network, and with the coming of the Internet, data volumes started to increase exponentially, therefore the new fibre optic network started to take over from the microwave radio network.

The last elements of the radio network were switched off between 2006 and 2007, and the radio dishes and horn antennas were removed in 2011 due to concerns regarding their condition and the safety of the surrounding area.

Permission for removal was needed because the tower is Grade II listed, and planning approval was granted by Camden Council. There was a proposal to install dummy dishes to replicate the appearance, however BT rejected this on the grounds of cost.

This is why this section of the tower looks almost as if it is an unfinished part of building works.

Postcard from the 1960s soon after completion of the Post Office Tower showing the horn and dish antennas mounted on the tower, and at the base is the Museum telephone exchange, with the small tower providing some of the local radio links:

Post Office Tower

The Post Office Tower was opened in October 1965, and the following news report is typical of the reporting of the opening of the tower:

“FROM BIG BEN TO BENN’S BIG TOWER – The Post Office Tower symbolises 20th century Britain in much the same way as Big Ben symbolised 19th century Britain, said Postmaster General, Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, today.

Both speak eloquently for the age in which they were built.

He added: Big Ben represents the fussy grandeur of the Gothic revival that epitomised Victorian imperial influence, built on the foundation of the first industrial revolution.

The Post Office Tower, lean, practical and futuristic, symbolises the technical and architectural skill of this new age.

Mr. Wedgewood Benn was speaking at the ceremony at which the Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, inaugurated the operational working of the Tower.

Mr. Wilson talked over a microwave telephone link from the Tower to the Lord Mayor of Birmingham; and audiences in each city watched the ceremony by means of a closed circuit television link via the Tower.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn continued: This new, bigger Big Ben captures the sprit of our time, and visitors to London will remember it as the dominating feature of our capital city. Significantly, it is a great communications centre, that will allow the vast expansion in telephony, telegraphy, data transmission and the distribution of sound and television programmes, linked to the world satellite system.

He added that there was a great growth in telephone traffic. Trunk calls were increasing at a rate of about 17 per cent a year.”

Birmingham also had its own microwave tower, connected into the national network, and which was 500 feet tall, and cost £3 million to build.

We can now continue down the Post Office Tower, and the poster shows the apparatus rooms on each of the floors, which contained apparatus for telephone and television systems, and any other systems that would have used the microwave radio network:

Post Office Tower

These rooms continued down through all the floors wrapped around the central concrete column:

Post Office Tower

Since its’ completion, the Post Office Tower has been a significant feature on London’s skyline. Apart from Centre Point (which was built over the same period as the Post Office Tower), there are no other tall buildings in the immediate vicinity.

In 1980, I took the following photo from the viewing gallery of the Shell Centre building on the South Bank, showing the Post Office Tower:

Post Office Tower

This photo was from a few years ago, taken from St. Paul’s Cathedral:

Post Office Tower

And this is from the viewing galleries of the Shard, where unusually, you are looking down on the Post Office Tower:

Post Office Tower

One question about the tower I have not answered is why it is located where it is in London?

The answer comes from London’s historic distribution of telephone exchanges, as the site of the tower was the site of the Museum Telephone Exchange.

Prior to the all number system of telephone numbers we use today, London’s telephone system used a combination of three letters and four numbers. This was called the Director system and used due to the large number of telephone exchanges in London, with three letters identifying each exchange, so if you had a telephone connected to the Museum Exchange, your number would be of the format MUS 1234 (this was when telephone dials had letters as well as numbers around the edge of the dial).

The Museum Telephone Exchange was already a hub for London’s telecommunications network, including audio and video circuits, and the Museum exchange included a link to the BBC’s Broadcasting House, so it was the logical site for a tower that would network and connect London with the rest of the country.

Before the Post Office Tower, the Museum Telephone Exchange already had small mast on the roof, and a name used in the early days of planning for the Post Office Tower was the Museum Exchange Tower.

After construction had been completed, Peter Lind, the company responsible for construction, had large adverts in many newspapers advertising that they had constructed “Britain’s Tallest Building” and although calling it the G.P.O. Tower in the headline, in the text under a photo of the tower it was called the “Museum Telephone Exchange and Radio Tower”.

The tower is still surrounded at its base by a number of BT buildings which have long been used for telecommunications equipment. Whether any or all of these are included in the sale of the Post Office Tower is not clear.

Whilst the tower is listed, the surrounding buildings at the base are not, so it will be interesting to see what happens to these in the coming years:

Post Office Tower

The above photo shows the view along Cleveland Street with BT buildings on the right, and in the following photo are more BT buildings at the junction of Cleveland Street and Maple Street:

Post Office Tower

Whilst we can see the majority of the Post Office Tower from the surrounding streets, there is one really interesting part of the structure that can only be seen from one side street

Walk down Cleveland Mews, and this is the view:

Post Office Tower

As mentioned earlier, the tower needs to be as stable as possible so the microwave radio beams could maintain their alignment with distant masts. To help provide this stability, towards the base of the tower there was a “collar” which extended from the ground level buildings around the central concrete column. As well as providing stability, the collar also provided access to the tower:

Post Office Tower

The collar can be seen in this extract from the poster, where it is described as a connecting bridge and brace for the tower:

Post Office Tower

in the above image, we can also see the concrete conical pyramid on which the tower was built, and which helped spread the load over the concrete foundations below.

The foundations of the tower below the conical pyramid consisted of a large layer of reinforced concrete, below this was a layer of oil which formed an anti-friction gasket, below which was a thin layer of concrete, and then natural ground.

Looking up at the Post Office Tower from Cleveland Mews, and we can see the central concrete column at its widest diameter, then the collar / brace, and then the tower rising above London.

Post Office Tower

The Post Office Tower is a remarkable bit of engineering and construction, all to raise a set of antennas to a sufficient height so that they could communicate with a network of relay towers in the counties surrounding London.

The Post Office Tower seen from Fitzroy Square:

Post Office Tower

Many historic landmarks have a local pub named after them, and the Post Office Tower is no different as at the junction of Cleveland Street and Clipstone Street, is:

The Tower Tavern

Tower Tavern

The Tower Tavern is not exactly the most attractive pub in London, and the style of the building probably comes from the period when it was built, as the pub dates from around 1970:

Tower Tavern

It was built following the demolition of an adjacent pub (the subject of a future post about the area), and was a pub frequented by Post Office / BT workers as well as those who lived and worked in the area, and despite its outward appearance was a perfectly decent pub.

Soon after opening, the Tower Tavern was regularly advertising in the papers that you should “Make a date to meet at The Tower – a fine Bass Charrington House”, and in 1971 it claimed to have a model of an original telephone box in the pub.

In 1993 the Tower Tavern was advertising that you could buy:

  • Carling Black Label 80p per pint
  • Tennents Pilsner 80p per pint
  • Tennents Extra 95p per pint
  • Bitters £1.20 per pint
  • Double Spirits £1.50
  • Indian curries and rice £3.00

The Tower Tavern closed in 2021, possibly due to the impact of COVID / rent increases etc. The pub is owned by the University of Westminster who also have the buildings that surround the pub.

The pub has a lovely sign, with a rather dramatic painting of the Post Office Tower with its full compliment of microwave radio dishes and horns across the upper levels:

Tower Tavern

The Tower Tavern pub sign with the real Post Office Tower behind:

Tower Tavern

I do not know what plans the University of Westminster has for the old Tower Tavern, but I would be surprised if it opens again as a pub. I hope the pub sign is saved though, and put on public display as a reminder of the Post Office Tower’s history.

The Post Office Tower in Film

As you would expect, the Post Office Tower features in numerous films, TV reports etc. Below are a selection that provide an overview of the tower’s design, construction, purpose and use, visiting the tower, the restaurant, and how the tower often appeared in popular culture.

If you receive this post via email, and the embedded videos do not appear, click here to view the post on the website to see the films.

The Post Office Tower of London

This 19 minute film has some wonderful aerial shots of London, covers the purpose, design and construction of the tower, with some good technical detail, along with visiting the tower and the restaurant:

Top Of The Tower

This 2 minute video again has some wonderful views of London from above, and within the Post Office Tower, the film focuses on the restaurant at the top of the tower:

Look At Life – Eating High

This film includes an overview of other restaurants at the top of tall structures as well as a detailed look at the Post Office Tower restaurant.

The film also includes the mechanism that rotated the restaurant, and shows how remarkably simple this was:

GPO Tower Construction

This silent film shows views from the tower, as well as construction of the tower. If you work in construction health & safety, then best not to watch:

The Goodies

And finally, the Post Office Tower frequently appeared in popular culture, one example was when it was demolished by a giant kitten in an episode of the Goodies:

The Post Office Tower is an iconic London landmark and when you look at the tower, you are looking at something built to serve the explosion of telephone calls, television distribution, and data from the late 1950s and through the 1960s.

You are also looking at something where the design, height and shape was dictated by the leading edge telecommunications technology of the early 1960s.

You are looking at a building in a specific location that was dictated by how the telephone network had developed across London, and where a key telephone exchange was located, and it was part of a network of towers that spanned the country, and linked to Europe via a microwave radio link across the Channel, and the rest of the World via the Goonhilly satellite station in Cornwall.

And it also had a resturant.

Whatever happens to the tower in the future, I hope that some of this heritage survives.

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The Prospect of Whitby and Pelican Stairs

For today’s post, I have another of my father’s photos, taken on a boat trip along the River Thames in August 1948, this time looking across to Wapping, the Prospect of Whitby and Pelican Stairs:

Prospect of Whitby

The same view in 2024, some 76 years later:

Prospect of Whitby

The 1948 photo shows an area just three years after the end of the war, and the bombing that badly damaged the whole area of the docks. It was a dirty, industrial place, still important in supporting the trade of London and the country, with imports and exports through the docks.

Only a few buildings have survived the intervening 76 years. The Prospect of Whitby pub, today a brightly painted white building along the river. The brick building behind, the steeple of the church of St. Paul’s, Shadwell, and on the left edge of both photos is a warehouse (1948) now converted to flats.

The following extract from the 1949 edition of the OS map shows the area along the Thames featured in the photo, as well as the area behind  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Pelican Stairs

The Prospect of Whitby can be seen roughly in the middle of the map, and to the left of the pub is Pelican Stairs and Pelican Wharf. Just to the left of the P in Pelican is a square which marks the position of the chimney seen in the photo.

An extract from the photo provides a closer look at the Prospect of Whitby and surrounding buildings:

Pelican Stairs

On the left is Pelican Wharf, then the Prospect of Whitby, with Pelican Stairs descending immediately to the left of the pub, then in the background, the large brick building of the London Hydraulic Power Company.

The same view today:

Pelican Stairs

A new apartment building has been built over Pelican Wharf. The first mention I can find of Pelican Wharf dates from December 1866, when the wharf was mentioned in an article about a collision in the river opposite the wharf.

Many of the apartment buildings in my 2024 photo were part of the late 1980s development of the area, and there is an article in the Brentwood Gazette from the 22nd of April, 1988 which mentions Pelican Wharf, and provides a reminder of the transformation of the 1980s:

“Six months after Black Monday the Docklands property market is experiencing a ‘new realism’, says Stephen Miles-Brown of estate agents Knight Frank & Rutley.

The Essex bookmakers and the South London car dealers – the ‘Top Gun’ speculators of yesteryear – have all but disappeared, says Mr. Miles-Brown. In their place has come the traditional buyer with a mortgage, a career and even a few children.

Docklands developers are in the middle of the strongest buyer’s market for years. They have responded quickly and imaginatively. Immediately post Black Monday, there were incentive schemes, buy-backs, chain breaking and mortgage discounts, now the latest and perhaps best news of all is the return to good old fashioned ‘value for money’, a code word for keen prices, more space and upgraded specifications.

These developments with a large degree of space and higher specifications are far removed from some of the earlier ‘little boxes’ and are to be found throughout Docklands in such places as Timber Wharf on the Isle f Dogs, Greenland Passage in the Surrey Docks, Lime Kiln Wharf and Duke Shore Wharf in Limehouse, Pelican Wharf and Eagle Wharf in Wapping and Millers Wharf by St. Katherine Docks.

April marks the start of the 1988 ‘Docklands Season’ with no less than 10 major residential developments coming forward over the next few weeks.

They offer the choice of over 500 new homes, from first-time buyer studios at under £100,000 to – only for the seriously rich – 3,000 sq. ft. penthouses at £1.5 million !”

The later half of the 1980s and into the 1990s really was a development rush along the banks of the Thames, and although the article described the situation as a buyers market, prices for river facing properties in the 1980s were expensive. A first time buyer’s studio for under £100,000 may seem really cheap today, but in 1988 this was expensive.

In the above 1948 and 2024 photos showing the Prospect of Whitby, a set of stairs can be seen running down to the foreshore to the left of the pub. These are Pelican Stairs.

Pelcian Stairs are listed in the Port of London Authority listing of access points to the Thames as being in use in 1708, and they are certainly old stairs. Their location next to a pub is typical of many of the stairs in Wapping, as many users of the stairs, whether arriving back, or waiting to leave via the stairs, would have headed to the pub, and the combination of stairs and pubs were centres of local activity.

The Prospect of Whitby was originally called The Pelican, but it is not clear where the name was used first, either the stairs or the pub.

The PLA listing (published around 1995) recorded that the stairs then had “Steps missing dangerous, derelict”.

As can be seen today, the stairs are now very much in use:

Pelican Stairs

The first written reference to Pelican Stairs I could find was from the 30th of August, 1746, when the Kentish Messenger reported that “On Tuesday Evening, a Fire broke out in the House of Mr. Pelham, near Pelican Stairs in Wapping, occasioned by a quantity of Okum taking Fire; which burnt with such Violence, that the same, and the House of Mr. Beane, a Distiller and Grocer, were consumed, with their Stocks in Trade, which amounted to several hundred Pounds; two other Houses, both inhabited, and other small tenements were much damaged.”

It is remarkable the number of fires that occurred, but perhaps not surprising when you consider that there were many houses, warehouses and factories where highly inflammable goods were stored, and where both building and working practices lacked the approaches needed to prevent the start and spread of fires.

The entrance alley to Pelican Stairs alongside the Prospect of Whitby:

Pelican Stairs

The large brick building behind the Prospect of Whitby can be seen in both 1948 and 2024 photos. This was the Wapping pumping station of the London Hydraulic Power Company.

The London Hydraulic Power Company (LHPC) was formed in 1884 by Act of Parliament, although the provision of hydraulic power by the company had started in the previous years with a station at Bankside, as the Wharves & Warehouses Steam Power & Hydraulic Pressure Company.

The aim of the company was to provide hydraulic power (water under pressure), across London, and the docks were a major consumers of this form as power, as there were numerous cranes, lifts, swing bridges, dock gates, windlass etc. which needed a reliable source of power to operate.

The LHPC established a network of pipes across London, interconnecting their pumping stations and their consumers – much like the electricity network of today – and as well as the London Docks, the company provided power to the numerous, power hungry industries and businesses across London, even extending to the raising and lowering of theatre safety curtains in the West End.

The Wapping pumping station was built between 1889 and 1892.

The station was equipped with up to six steam engines which used coal delivered via the adjacent Shadwell Basin, and took water from boreholes below the station and from the water in Shadwell Basin.

The large brick building we can see in the photos was were the accumulator tanks were located. These held water at pressure, so the hydraulic pressure across the distribution system could be delivered at a constant pressure, and the London system was at a pressure of 750 psi (pounds per square inch).

The Wapping station transitioned to electric pumping rather than steam and coal due to the Clean Air Act which had been brought into force due to the smog’s of the 1950s.

Remarkably, the Wapping station did not close until 1977, as hydraulic power was still being used, however by the 1970s, the reduction in the use of the London docks, and the transition to electric power for remaining uses of hydraulic power resulted in the closure of the station, and the network used to deliver the hydraulic power delivered by these stations.

With the 1980s liberalisation of telecommunications, and the forming of Mercury Communication as a competitor to BT, Mercury purchased the pipe network of the London Hydraulic Company to use as a ready made distribution network for their cables.

Although Mercury as a brand name disappeared in 1997, the pipes continued to be used by Cable & Wireless, and they still carry fibre optic cables today, so rather than distributing hydraulic power, the pipes are distributing voice and data across London.

The Wapping pumping station has had a number of temporary uses since closure, including activities such as an art gallery and café / restaurant, and there have been proposals for long term use, but as far as I know at the moment, there are no firm plans for the building.

Looking at another part of my father’s photo, and there was a bit of a mystery, but which shows how features remain hidden and then are revealed.

The following photo shows the area to the right of the Prospect of Whitby in my father’s 1948 photo:

Shadwell Basin

And this is the same view today:

Shadwell Basin

The 1949 OS map shows this section of the photo, as shown in the extract above, and the black cars parked in a line (possibly awaiting loading on a ship for export), are parked where the words “Mooring Posts” can be seen  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Shadwell Basin

The map also shows the low warehouse behind the cars and what also likes rather like a domestic house to the left of the photo.

The mystery is that in 1949 photo and map, at the side of the river there is a continuous and straight line of wooden posts forming the edge of the land, however if you look at my 2024 photo, today the wall along the foreshore is curved, and to the right there is a solid, curved, concrete wall.

If we go back to the 1897 OS map, we can see a very different place  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Shadwell Basin

We can still see the main entrance between the Thames and Shadwell Basin at the upper part of the map, but in 1897, below the main entrance, was “Shadwell Old Entrance”.

The London Docks were a continuous building site, and in Shadwell, the “Shadwell Old Basin” and the “Shadwell Old Entrance” were the first part of the docks to be built in Shadwell.

The success of these docks was such, that they were soon expanded and the much larger Shadwell Basin was built, just north of the Old Basin, which was included within the overall Shadwell Basin.

The old entrance would then be closed off, with the single main entrance shown in the 1949 map remaining as the eastern entrance to Shadwell and the London Docks complex.

I assume that the the original entrance was built over, probably not completely removing and filling in the entrance, rather building over it to complete the view we see in the 1948 photo and 1949 map.

When the area was redeveloped in the 1980s and 90s, this structure was then removed, and the curved concrete wall built across what remained of the Shadwell Old Basin entrance.

It is fascinating how across London, the evidence of former land use, industries etc. have survived and can still be seen today.

To see the street side of the Prospect of Whitby and the lifting bridge over the Shadwell Basin entrance, see this post from 2016, where I explored my father’s photo taken in Glamis Road.

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Iron Gate Stairs

Underneath the northern tower of Tower Bridge, there is a late 19th century version of one of the old Thames Stairs, which has a name that refers to one of the gates that controlled access into the Tower of London. This is Iron Gate Stairs.

The stairs are shown before Tower Bridge was built in this extract from Langley and Belch’s, 1812 New Map of London (underlined in red):

Iron Gate Stairs

Today, Iron Gate Stairs are reached via a tunnel which runs through the northern tower of the bridge, and comes out to a well maintained set of stone stairs:

Iron Gate Stairs

As far as I can confirm, by checking and aligning a number of maps, the stairs today appear to be in the same location as the stairs shown in the 1812 map.

It shows the importance of these access points to the river, that they were included in the design of Tower Bridge, and it must have cost more, and been more complex, to route the access to the stairs through the tower, rather than relocate them to one of the sides of the northern tower of the bridge.

The Port of London book “Access to the River Thames, a Port of London Guide”. includes these stairs in the listing of all points of access to the river along the tidal Thames, and the PLA record for Iron Gate Stairs reads:

  • Stairs and Causeway
  • Constructed of Stone
  • A landing place in 1708 and 1977 and in use at the time of the book (around 1995)
  • Structure is listed
  • The stairs are gated
  • Bathing from these stairs is extremely dangerous

I cannot find a separate listing for the stairs on the Historic England website, so I assume that the stairs are included within the overall Grade I listing of Tower Bridge, as the access to the stairs is part of the structure of the bridge.

The name of the stairs is interesting, and it appears to refer to a gate that once controlled access to the south east corner of the area between the walls of the tower and the river.

In this 1852 plan of the Tower of London, there are a cluster of buildings in the lower south east corner, with a black line, indicating some form of gate, controlling access (red arrow):

Tower of London

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

Although not named, the stairs can be seen running down to the river, next to the gate.

After the construction of Tower Bridge, the name Iron Gate is retained, and although the stairs do not appear to be named (perhaps because they are under the bridge), iron Gate is used next to the tunnel underneath the approach to Tower Bridge, where today you can walk from the St Katherine Dock area, to the area between the Tower of London and the river.

In the following extract from the 1897 OS map, Iron Gate is shown just to the east of the bridge  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Iron Gate Stairs

And in the 1951 revision, the name is still in use, but on the western side of the bridge (not also the name Irongate Wharf in use in both maps)  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Iron Gate Stairs

So Iron Gate in the OS maps seems to continue to refer to a gate across this access through the wall created by the approach road to Tower Bridge.

As with all Thames stairs, there are references to the stairs in multiple newspaper reports over the centuries. For example, the following is from the Public Ledger and Daily Advert on the 9th of October, 1826, and unfortunately it does not record what Samuel Pearce did, which required such a public apology:

“CAUTION TO WATERMEN – I Samuel Pearce, Waterman, plying at Iron Gate Stairs, near the Tower, beg publicly to acknowledge and express my grateful feeling to John Morrison, Esq. for foregoing a prosecution against me, which I well merited, in consequence of an unprovoked and unwarrantable outrage committed on him on Friday evening; for which I cheerfully make this public apology, which he accepts, in consequence of the distressed state of my wife and infant family.”

Iron Gate Stairs were also the boarding point if you wanted to travel to “Harwich, Yarmouth and Places Adjacent”, as the 80 horse-power Steam Packet Swift sailed from the stairs on Sundays and Thursdays in the 1820s.

Indeed, Iron Gate Stairs feature in papers across the 18th and 19th centuries with all the usual stories of activities that happened at these places which formed a key access point between the land and the river.

As with other stairs, Iron Gate Stairs was a place where bodies recovered from the river were brought up to land.

The Historic England Monument Record for the Iron Gate refers to it being a gate tower constructed during the reign of Edward III (who reigned between 1327 and 1377), and that it was built to strengthen the defences of the Tower on the southern side of the complex, and that it commanded a “walled causeway through to the Develin Tower at the south east corner of the outer wall.

Stow in the early 17th century refers to the Iron Gate as being great and strong but not often opened”.

The Iron Gate was demolished in 1680 following a review of the Tower’s defences, and whilst looking for space to expand accommodation.

So whilst the gate tower was demolished, as shown in the 1852 map, a gate seems to have remained in place, although rather than the gate tower, just a standard gate.

After demolition, there also appears to have been a cluster of buildings around the location of the gate which seem to have been used for accommodation, storage and small industrial activity.

Construction of Tower Bridge cleared these buildings, and today we can see the area where the Iron Gate was located when looking towards the bridge, from the west:

Tower of London

And with some lovely historical continuity, the area of the Iron Gate is still gated, with a gatehouse and barrier across the road:

Tower of London

And looking through the walkway under the approach road to Tower Bridge, we can see gates part open across the walkway, as well as much larger and stronger gates set against the sides of the walkway:

Tower of London

In the following photo, the entrance to the walkway tunnel under the approach road is on the right, and the arch on the left provides access to the entrance to Iron Gate Stairs:

Iron Gate Stairs

Which, as the PLA description of the stairs records, is gated:

Iron Gate Stairs

Through the gate, and we can see the railings around the top of the stairs. The surrounding walls are covered in the white tiles that are common to the majority of the places where you can walk under the bridge:

Iron Gate Stairs

View of how the tunnel exits the base of the northern tower of Tower Bridge, and the steps leading down:

Iron Gate Stairs

As the PLA document records, a causeway is part of Iron Gate Stairs, and for the stairs this is one of the largest causeways to be seen. It covers a large space at the base of the stairs, both in terms of width and length into the river:

Iron Gate Stairs

The stairs are part of the construction of Tower Bridge, and I assume that the causeway may well date from the same time (assuming it has been continuously repaired). I doubt whether the stairs would have had a causeway of such size prior to the bridge being built.

The need for a bridge at or around the location of Tower Bridge had been a pressing issue for many years prior to the construction of the bridge. In the later half of the 19th century, there was so much cross river traffic that an urgent solution was needed.

In 1884, the Southwark recorder and Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Advertiser was reporting that “The Corporation also propose to establish a steam ferry across the river, from Iron Gate Stairs, Little Tower Hill, to Horselydown Old Stairs, near Horselydown Lane. Another scheme for crossing the Thames is proposed by the Tower (Duplex) Bridge Bill. The structure would cross the river from Hartley’s Wharf, Horselydown, to Little Tower Hill, having in the centre of the river two loop bridges.”

The following year, the Eastern Argus and Borough of Hackney Times, was reporting about the construction of the new bridge, and that “the work will be done by the City Corporation which has set down five years as the period for completing it. It is to be formed from a point westwards of and near the Iron Gate Stairs to Hartley’s Wharf. The cost will be £750,000, and the structure will be of such a character as to admit of the passage at all times of the tide of vessels navigating the river. The bridge will be a great convenience to East London”.

The above report does call into question whether the current stairs were built on the site of the original Iron Gate Stairs, as the article states that the new bridge is to be built “westwards of and near the Iron Gate Stairs”.

A later article in June 1886 does though seem to confirm that the northern tower, and the stairs we see today are on the site of the original stairs, as when describing the works for the new bridge, the article states “On the north side, as already stated, it touches the shore at Irongate Stairs, from which a road will lead directly up to the Minories”.

In 1889, Watermen were complaining about the disruption to their trade “THE TOWER BRIDGE AND THE LONDON WATERMEN – The Select Committee of the House of Lords appointed to considered the Tower Bridge Bill proceeded to-day to hear the evidence of numerous watermen who claim compensation for disturbance of their occupation between Irongate and Horselydown Stairs in consequence of the construction of the works,. George William Shand was the first claimant”.

I would have thought that the watermen would have been far more concerned about the forthcoming loss of their trade between the two stairs once the new bridge had been opened.

Based on the majority of newspaper reports, aligning maps, and the Port of London Authority listing of Thames Stairs, I am as certain as I can be that the stairs we see today are in the same place as the original Iron Gate Stairs.

The railing by the side of the view over the stairs seem to have acquired evidence of many of the tourist visits to the site:

Tower Bridge

I had a good look around, however I could not find any signs that name iron Gate Stairs.

They are though yet another example of historical continuity, with the stairs being in roughly the same place after the construction of Tower Bridge, and being named after a gate dating back to the 14th century, located where there are still a barrier and gates in position, to close of the south eastern entry to the space between the Tower of London and the River Thames.

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A New Walk – The Lost Landscape and Transformation of Puddle Dock and Thames Street

I will have dates for my existing walks covering Wapping, Limehouse etc. in the summer, but for April and early May I have a new walk, which has the rather long title of “The Lost Landscape and Transformation of Puddle Dock and Thames Street”.

Dates and Eventbrite links for booking are as follows, and more details of the walk are below.

Or to see all the dates together, my main Eventbrite page is here.

In terms of distance, this walk is shorter than my Wapping and Limehouse walks. It starts at one end of Queen Victoria Street, outside Blackfriars Station, and ends further up Queen Victoria Street not far from Mansion House, and covers the historic area between Queen Victoria Street and the Thames.

The walk tells the story from the Roman period up to post-war redevelopment, and why the area is as we see it today.

Having been transformed after the war, the area may soon be transformed again as there are plans for the possible redevelopment of the area around Puddle Dock, Baynard House and St Benet’s Church, between Queen Victoria Street and the Thames.

Queen Victoria Street and Thames Street

This area is in need of some change. It is a product of planning first developed in the 1940s for the post-war transformation of London. A plan where the car was a priority for transport through the City.

Post-war redevelopment exposed the remains of 15th century Baynard’s Castle. Puddle Dock was filled in and Upper Thames Street extended on land reclaimed from the river.

Puddle Dock

The original route of Upper Thames Street was lost, and St. Benet’s Church isolated between roads and the City of London School.

The walk explores this long history of the area between Queen Victoria Street and the Thames.

Rubbish dumps, Thames Stairs, Roman and Medieval remains, post war planning, and how this created a very unfriendly environment for the pedestrian. How apparently historical streets are not what they seem. The first theatre built in the City of London for 300 years, within the walls of an old warehouse, St. Paul’s sightlines and some remarkable industrial building decoration.

Thames Street

The possible future development of the area will also be considered.

The walk will use plenty of my father’s photos from the late 1940s, and my photos from the late 70s / early 80s, along with 1940s and 1950s redevelopment plans, and earlier maps to show how the area has changed.

The walk will take about 2 hours and starts outside Blackfriars Station and finishes at the northern end of Queen Victoria Street with a look at a driving force behind the post-war greening of the City.

I look forward to showing around part of the City of London that could well be changing in the coming years. All booking dates here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/a-london-inheritance-walks-33326287375

New Deal for East London – Greenwich Part 2

Following last week’s post, this is part two of my exploration of Greenwich, looking for the locations marked as potentially at risk from development in the Architects’ Journal of 1972.

In last week’s post, I started at the Royal Observatory (the black buildings under number 82 in the following map), and then explored the streets and buildings to the lower left of the map.

Greenwich Market

In today’s post, I am working through the upper part of the map, either side of the old Royal Naval College and National Maritime Museum, starting with the following building in Nevada Street, on the corner with Crooms Hill:

Spread eagle Yard Greenwich Market

This was the Spread Eagle, an old coaching inn, which still has the name Spread Eagle Yard above the arched entrance to the yard where horses were stabled to the rear of the building.

The current building dates from a 1780 rebuild of the inn, and it was closed comparatively recently in 2013.

The brown plaque on the left of the building is to Dick Moy (1932 to 2004) who was an historian and art dealer who restored and worked from the inn.

Just to the left of the Spread Eagle, Croom Hill changes to Stockwell Street, and we can see a mix of architecture, with buildings from the 18th century through to the 21st century University of Greenwich Galleries on the left:

Greenwich Market

On the corner of Crooms Hill and Nevada Street, opposite the Spread Eagle is Ye Old Rose and Crown which claims to date from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, however the brick building we see today dates from 1888:

Rose and Crown pub Greenwich

You can also see from the above photo that the Rose and Crown is surrounded by the Greenwich Theatre, with a new entrance on the right and original buildings on the left.

The original buildings date back to 1855 when it was a Music Hall. A change to a cinema followed in 1924, and the theatre opened in 1969 following a campaign to save the building from demolition in the 1960s.

St. Alfege

Continuing down Stockwell Street, and we find a superb view of the church of St. Alfege:

St Alfege Greenwich

There has been a church on the site for around 1000 years, however the church that we see today dates from between 1712 and 1718 and was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. It was one of the so called fifty new churches planned to be built in the areas around the then outskirts of London, in the places that had been expanding rapidly and did not have the number or size of churches needed to support increasing populations.

The previous church on the site had suffered a roof collapse during a storm, and to save money, the tower of the earlier church was included in the new church, although this was not Hawksmoor’s original plan.

In 1731, the earlier medieval tower was extended and clad in limestone, so presumably, parts of the medieval tower are still within the structure today.

On entering the church, we see the altar at the eastern end, and two galleries running either side of the church:

St Alfege Greenwich

In the above photo, on either side of the arch leading to the altar, there are two ornate panels, which list benefactors dating back to 1558, when William Lambarde “Founded and Endowed a College, the first Public Charity after the Reformation for 20 poor men and their wives. 8 to be off this parish and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth”:

St Alfege Greenwich

Other benefactors include in 1577: “William Riplar, Fisherman gave his house called the Peter boat to the poor for ever” and in 1605, Joyce Whitehead gave 5 shillings to repair the church every year. All fascinating local tales of charity.

In front of the altar is a plaque which records why the church is dedicated to St. Alfege, and why it is on this site:

St Alfege Greenwich

The plaque is hard to read in the photo, but it states that “This church stands on ground hallowed by Alfege Archbishop of Canterbury martyred here 19th April 1012”.

St. Alfege (the spelling of the name includes variations such as Alphege), was born in a village near Bath, and became the Abbot of Bath and then the Bishop of Winchester. In 1005 he was appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the early decades of the 11th century, the Danes were invading much of southern England and in 1011 they attacked Canterbury, burning the Cathedral and plundering the city.

Alfege was taken hostage, apparently to be held for ransom, and he was transported by ship to Greenwich.

It was here that he was killed. It is impossible to know exactly how this happened, but many stories tell that Alfege told his captors that the ransom was too high, and that it should and would not be paid. In a drunken rage, they pelted him with cattle bones and an axe head, which killed him.

It was this event which resulted in Alfege being made a Saint (although there has been some dispute about this, and whether he died because of his faith, or the size of the ransom), and to the first church being built on the site of his death later in the 11th century.

St. Alfege is not buried in Greenwich. After his death he was buried in St. Paul’s, then soon after, his body was moved to Canterbury Cathedral, where it remains to this day.

Although Alfege is not buried in the church, there are a number of well known names who have been, including one who may also have left musical evidence of his connection with the church.

Thomas Tallis was a 16th century English composer who was organist in St. Alfege from 1540 to 1585, and is believed to have lived in Stockwell Street close to the church during the later years of his life.

In the church is the keyboard from one of the earlier organs. The majority of the keyboard dates from the 18th century, however it is believed that parts may date back to the 16th century and may have been in use when Tallis was the organist:

St Alfege Greenwich

Another burial in the church is that of General James Wolfe (Wolfe’s statue is the one on the hill next to the Royal Observatory – see last week’s post). Wolfe had a house in Greenwich and also a family vault in the church.

He died in Canada during a battle to take Quebec from the French, and it is for his part in the wars to capture French possessions in north America that Wolfe is best known, although this was the culmination of a long military career.

There is an interesting monument in the church that includes a reference to the invention of the “Dinwiddy Rangefinder”:

Dinwiddy Rangefinder

Conrad Dinwiddy was born in Greenwich in 1881, and was the son of London architect and surveyor, Thomas Dinwiddy who had an architectural practice based in Greenwich.

During the First World War, German Zeppelins were making bombing attacks on London and Conrad Dinwiddy saw one of these attacks on Woolwich by Zeppelin L13. He saw that although there were several searchlights trained on the Zeppelin and many guns attempting to hit the attacker, none were actually hitting, and that it appeared impossible to accurately aim a gun and fire a shell to hit a target at height, which was also moving at speed.

Like his father, Conrad was also a surveyor, so was familiar with use of instruments such as theodolite, however working out the positions of a moving target were far more complex that traditional surveying of fixed objects.

He came up with a plan for two stations, based 500 yards apart. One was a primary observation station and was connected by telephone to the secondary station.

The rangefinder worked by the primary observation station making measurements of position and height which were then adjusted to improve accuracy with the measurements of the second station which was, at 500 yards distant, on a fixed baseline.

The Dinwiddy Rangefinder was put into production, but as the war progressed, the threat from bombing changed from Zeppelin’s to aircraft, and rapid technical advances improved other methods for defending London against aerial threats, however the Dinwiddy Rangefinder remains as an example of the rapid response to a threat from a Londoner who saw the potential impact to their city.

Conrad Dinwiddy joined the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1916, where he was posted to the Western Front in charge of a six inch howitzer battery. He would continue inventing improvements to how guns were aimed, firing from barges, and the methods for transporting ammunition.

He was wounded by German battery fire on the 26th of September, 1917, and died the following day. He is buried in a military cemetery in Belgium. The memorial in St. Alfege has the wrong date, as he died a day earlier on the 27th of September.

A fascinating story from this small plaque in the church.

As I left the church, I had a look in a small room on the left as you exit, which has a number of display cabinets on the history of the church and I noticed the following: The Festival Guide – Greenwich

St Alfege Greenwich

If you have read the blog for a while, you are probably aware of my interest in the Festival of Britain, and this guide is another example of how the festival was intended to reach across the country, and towns and villages, and suburbs of London were also having their own interpretation of the festival, with local events and guides.

Outside the church, on the corner of what is now Greenwich High Road and Nelson Road is a Bill’s restaurant in a rather ornate corner building:

Greenwich Market

I did wonder if the building was a new build on the site of bomb damage to the terrace you can see to the left, however the style of the building shows that it is pre-war, and it was indeed built in the early 1930s for the Burton menswear chain.

The road then changes to Greenwich Church Street, and here we find one of the entrances to Greenwich Market:

Greenwich Market

The terrace buildings on either side come to what looks like a designed end where the entrance to the market is located, and this indeed was the plan.

The terraces on either side of the entrance were built as part of an overall redevelopment of the market area around 1829 / 30. They are all Grade II listed, and if we look to the left we can see how the symmetrical design of the terrace curves along the street:

Greenwich Market

Further along Greenwich Church Street, at the junction with College Approach, the Spanish Galleon pub is on the corner:

Spanish Galleon pub Greenwich Market

The Spanish Galleon pub dates from the same market redevelopment as the terrace houses featured above. As with so much of Greenwich, the pub is Grade II listed. A pub is believed to have been on the site for many years prior to the 1829 / 1830 redevelopment.

The market can be seen in the following map, located in the centre of some of the streets we have been walking along (on the left of the map) (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Greenwich Market

Up until the start of the 19th century, this was an area of narrow lanes and alleys, and with the growing importance of Greenwich, a redevelopment of the area was needed, and the architect Joseph Kay was commissioned, and it is his work we see today.

Joseph Kay (1775 to 1847) worked on a wide range of building projects across the country. In London, he was appointed surveyor to the Foundling Hospital in 1807, he laid out the gardens in Mecklenburgh Square, he was employed by the Marquis Camden on his Camden Town Estate, and in 1823 he was appointed surveyor of Greenwich Hospital.

The view along College Approach, with the Spanish Galleon on the right, and the terrace along the right being on the northern side of the market:

Greenwich Market

Greenwich has had a market since the 14th century, however the current market dates from a charter granted in 1700. It was originally located on part of the Seamen’s Hospital site, close to the West Gate. It relocated to the current site as part of Joseph Kay’s redevelopment of the area, and was originally a market selling fruit and vegetables, fish caught by Greenwich fishermen, plants and seeds, with sellers of pottery, glass and household goods around the edge of the main market area.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the popularity of the market as a place for fruit, vegetables etc. declined, and the market transformed into in place where stallholders sell all manner of arts and crafts products, with a cluster of food stalls at the northern end.

The market is open seven days a week, but gets really busy at the weekends.

A view through the market:

Greenwich Market

The market, and the surrounding buildings of the 1830 redevelopment are part of the buildings marked in black in the Architects’ Journal article, and with the decline of the traditional use of the market, the market could have been so easily lost during the 1970s / 80s, however the market is owned and managed by Greenwich Hospital who fortunately have both a historic and long term view of the importance of the area.

A message to those leaving the market:

Greenwich Market

Just to the east of the market entrance in College Approach is another Grade II listed pub, the Admiral Hardy:

Admiral hardy Greenwich Market

Greenwich is very well served with pubs. The Admiral Hardy was again part of the 1830 redevelopment, and to the right of the pub in the above photo is a small part of what was the Royal Clarence Music Hall, built over the entrance to the market.

The music hall was named after the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV, and the street outside, College Approach was originally Clarence Street.

At the end of College Approach is the Grade I listed West Gate into the old Royal Naval College. The listing includes the gates, piers, globes and brick lodges on either side:

Greenwich West Gate

The globes on top of the piers are fascinating. Each globe is of Portland Stone, of 6 feet diameter and weighs around seven tons.

The globes date from the early 1750s, and were installed to commemorate Commodore George Anson’s around the world voyage, which is a remarkable story, and resulted in the surviving crew becoming rich through the capture of a Spanish treasure ship.

The globes are marked with lines of latitude and longitude in copper strips

It was common practice in the 18th century for the story of voyages such as Anson’s to be published as partworks, and Anson’s voyage was covered in 15 issues starting in August 1744, and was written by “An Officer of the Fleet”.

Adverts for the publication enticed the reader with hints of the dangers faced by the crew and descriptions of a part of the world that the majority of people knew very little about:

“This Work contains a very faithful and exact relation of the many Difficulties and Dangers the Fleet met with in the Voyage. An Account of the Loss of their Ships, and what dreadful Miseries and Hardships the poor sailors met with, being forced on desolate islands, where many of them perished for want. Also an Account of the manner of their Living in the Voyage on Seals, Wild Horses, Dogs and the incredible Hardships they frequently met with for want of Food of any Kind. The Loss of the Wager (one of the ships) and the Behaviour of the Captain (who shot one of his Mates), his Officers and Crew, fully and faithfully related. Their plundering and destroying of the City of Payta, where the Commodore got immense Riches, and his sailing afterwards into the East-Indies, where he was well received by the Vice King of China, who furnished him with Provisions and Necessaries to enable him to pursue his Voyage to England. With a particular Account of his taking the rich Aquapulco Ship.

This Book will give a complete Description of the several places where the Fleet touched, how they plundered and distressed the Spaniards; the Manners, Customs, Religion, Trade and Manufactures of the People who inhabit this large and almost unknown Part of the World.”

All for two pence an issue, with a free print of Commodore Anson with the first issue.

From the West Gate, I turn left and head down to the river, with the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which I have written about in a dedicated post, here.

Greenwich foot tunnel

An obligatory photo of the Cutty Sark:

Cutty Sark

From here I headed along the walkway by the river to find the locations in the Architects’ Journal map to the east of the Royal Naval College.

At the start of this walkway is the monument to a young lieutenant of the French Navy, Joseph Rene Bellot who went in search of Sir John Franklin. It is a fascinating story, and I have a dedicated post about Bellot, here.

Bellot monument

Looking through the old Royal Naval College, to Queen’s House, with the Royal Observatory just visible on the hill in the distance:

Greenwich Royal Naval College

At the end of the walkway alongside the river is the Grade II listed Trafalgar Tavern, which has a remarkable display of colourful flags outside:

Trafalgar Tavern Greenwich

Greenwich must have been a hive of building activity around 1830. As well as the market development and of the surrounding streets, the Trafalgar Tavern also dates from the same time. It was built on the site of an earlier pub, the Old George Inn.

The Historic England listing states 1830, however the pub website states 1837, and in this instance the pub website seems more accurate than Historic England as I found a newspaper report mentioning an event at the pub in 1833.

Crane Street alongside the pub was equally decorated, and it was along here that I walked to get to more sites on the Architects’ journal map.

Trafalgar Tavern Greenwich

At the end of Crane Street is the (Grade II*) Trinity Hospital and Greenwich Power Station:

Trinity Hospital Greenwich

I have written a dedicated post about these two buildings, which you can find here.

In the Architects’ Journal map, Trinity Hospital is coloured black, indicating a building of concern, and one that should be protected from potential future development of east London, however the power station was not.

I suspect that if today there were plans to demolish the power station there would be a campaign to save the building. As well as part of Greenwich’s industrial history (off which there is not much left), it is also a major landmark, made prominent with the chimneys.

The power station is not listed.

View of part of the jetty where ships bringing coal for the power station once docked and unloaded:

Greenwich power station jetty

Ships moored in the river:

River Thames Greenwich

Walking past the power station, I reached the eastern end of the Greenwich buildings in the Architects’ Journal map, which included the Cutty Sark pub (Grade II listed):

Cutty Sark pub Greenwich

With the terrace of houses and at the end the Grade II listed Harbour Master’s Office for Ballast Quay:

Cutty Sark pub Greenwich

As this post is getting rather long, here is a link to where I have written about the pub and part of Greenwich Peninsula that follows on from the Harbour Master’s Office.

I still had to visit the buildings shown on the map that are between the power station and Greenwich Park, so I headed back past the Cutty Sark pub, along Hoskins Street, where there is an interesting example of how most of a terrace was demolished leaving only two houses remaining.

Hoskins Street Greenwich

The LCC Bomb Damage Map does show bomb damage here, so this may have been the cause of the loss of the rest of the terrace.

This is a very different part of Greenwich to that which I have explored in the first post and so far in this post. Here are the houses built for those who worked in the industries between Greenwich and Woolwich, and on the river, and the essential businesses that frequently occupy such areas:

Greenwich garage

Rear of the power station:

Greenwich power station

I do not know the purpose of the tower on the right. It may have been for water storage, but it looks rather small.

The road alongside the rear of the power station is the Old Woolwich Road, and as the name describes this was once the main route between Greenwich and Woolwich.

A nice reminder of the original purpose of the power station, and who consumed the electricity generated:

Greenwich power station

The rear of Trinity Hospital:

Trinity Hospital Greenwich

At the corner of Old Woolwich Road and Greenwich Park Street is the Star of Greenwich pub:

Star of Greenwich pub

I really like the bay windows projecting from the pub on the two sides of the building.

The Star of Greenwich is a wonderful story of a pub saved from closure by the community.

A mid-19th century pub and originally called the Star and Garter, the pub closed in August 2021.

Three friends worked to reopen the pub as a community pub, a pub that would support a wide range of community services and would be an inclusive place for the people of Greenwich.

The pub reopened at the end of April 2023, and there is a BBC video about the pub, here.

A side street off Greenwich Park Street is Trenchard Street, which has some wonderful houses:

Trenchard Street Greenwich

These houses, along with others in the surrounding streets are part of the Trenchard Street Estate, and were built by the Greenwich Hospital Estates from around 1913 and into the 1920s.

They are a considerable improvement on typical 19th century housing, and from the outside they can be seen as larger buildings, and have sizeable windows to let in as much light as possible.

At the end of Greenwich Park Street is Trafalgar Road, the main road today between Greenwich and Woolwich, and the road which replaced the Old Woolwich Road that runs at the rear of the power station and Trinity Hospital.

Mural on the side of a building alongside Trafalgar Road:

Greenwich Mural

Crossing Trafalgar Road, and I am heading back to the northern side of Greenwich Park, and the proximity to the park can be seen by the type of house, which are generally larger and more expensive than those between Trafalgar Road and the river.

This terrace is alongside the southern section of Greenwich Park Street:

Greenwich Park Street

Park Vista runs along the northern edge of the park. There are no houses alongside the park, and houses line the northern side of the street, and as the street name suggests they have a wonderful view across into Greenwich Park.

The buildings are far from uniform, and show a wide range of styles and dates.

This is the Grade II listed Manor House, which the listing records as being early to mid 18th century:

Manor House Greenwich

The whole house is wonderful, however the roof has a unique feature, which the listing describes as “Hipped, tiled roof broken in centre to hold renewed weatherboarded gazebo with pyramidal, tiled roof.”

The gazebo is ideally placed for providing a view across the park, and would be a brilliant place for a summer evening with a beer.

In contrast is Park Place, dating from 1791:

Park Place Greenwich

To the west of Park Place is another Greenwich pub – the Plume of Feathers:

Plume of Feathers, Greenwich

The pub’s website claims that it is the oldest pub in Greenwich and dates from 1691.

There is a small cluster of buildings in Samuel Travers map of Greenwich from 1695 in what seems to be the right place for the pub, so this could well be true. It is a really good pub, and well worth a visit.

Just past the pub, Park Vista curves slightly to the north, allowing houses to have been built between the street and park. A strange mix of styles, ages and later additions:

Greenwich Meridian

But one of these houses has a rather unique feature. There is a small square sign on the wall to the left of the lamp post in the above photo.

The sign refers to the Greenwich Meridian, and there is also a metal strip in the pavement:

Greenwich Meridian

Which continues with studs across the road:

Greenwich meridian

So you do not have to join the queue for a photo of a foot in each hemisphere at the Royal Observatory, just head to Park Vista where you can take as much time as you want for photos.

The building at the western end of this cluster of houses is the Grade II listed St. Alfege’s Vicarage:

St Alfege Vicarage

The listing starts the description of the building with “Rambling building of various dates”, although most of the building seems to date from around 1800, however at the very end of the listing there is the following “The old parts of this building formed part of Henry VIII’s palace of Placentia”, which is intriguing and would dates parts of the building back to the 16th century.

From here it was a short walk to the open space in front of the Queen’s House and the National Maritime Museum:

Greenwich Market

And just to show how everything has had some form of building work over the years, the large grassed area hides the cut and cover railway that runs underneath (part one of these Greenwich posts showed a view of the railway), as it runs between Greenwich and Maze Hill.

And from here there was only one place to go. It was a lovely sunny March day, so I headed back to the Cutty Sark pub, one of my favourite places to watch the river:

Cutty Sark Pub

In these two posts, I have covered area 82 from the Architects’ journal map and list of places identified as worthy of preservation, and at risk of possible development as the east of London (north and south of the river) was expected to radically change in the following decades after the closure of the docks, and the loss of the industry and businesses associated with the docks and trade on the river.

From memory, there was never any significant risk to Greenwich, but the 1972 article has served as a reminder that Greenwich really is a wonderful part of the wider London.

Wander away from the park and there is plenty to be explored.

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New Deal For East London – Greenwich

Back in 2017, I started a series of blog posts about an article in the Architects’ Journal on the 19th of January 1972. This issue had a lengthy, special feature titled “New Deal For East London”. The feature reported on the challenges facing the whole area to the east of London, which by the 1970s had been in continuous decline since the end of the last war, along with the future impact of some of the very early plans for major developments across the whole area to the east of London.

The article identifies a range of these challenges and developments, including:

  • The impact on the London Docks of the large cargo ships now coming into service
  • The lack of any strategic planning for the area and the speculative building work taking place, mainly along the edge of the Thames
  • The location of a possible Thames Barrage
  • The impact of the proposed new London airport off the coast of Essex at Foulness
  • The need to maintain a mixed community and not to destroy the established communities across the area
Greenwich Park New Deal for London

A key focus of the article is a concern that should there be comprehensive development of the area in the coming years, then a range of pre-1800 buildings should be preserved. The article included a map that identified 85 locations where there are either individual or groups of buildings that should be preserved. The area includes parts of south London, although still to the east of the central city area, therefore considered as being east London.

The map was split across two pages and the locations were divided into five categories, identified by their historical origins:

A – Areas that were developed as overflow from the City of London

B – Linear development along Thames and Lea due to riverside trades

C – Medieval village centres

D – Early 19th century ribbon developments

E – Medieval village centres along southern river bank and around London Bridge

Between 2017 and 2019, I went in search of a large number of locations listed in the article, and followed up with posts documenting what had survived, and also where there had been changes, however after 2019 I did not finish working through the list of 85 locations, so today’s post is the first in a final set of posts for 2024, to finish of writing about all the 85 locations recorded as places at risk of redevelopment in the years following 1972.

The second page of the map included a list of the buildings, along with the area that is the focus of today’s post – Greenwich:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

Greenwich is a bit of an outlier in the article. There is very little written about Greenwich in the article, and where many other individual buildings had their own numbered entry, the whole of Greenwich is covered by a single number, 82 in the map of “locations, grouping and number of buildings that should be considered for preservation if comprehensive redevelopment of East London were undertaken”.

Of the five categories of location in the article, Greenwich is identified as “E – Medieval village centres along southern river bank” and the map highlighted pre-1800 buildings in black:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

In the first series of articles, there were a number of comments raised about classing places south of the river as being in East London.

This was the definition used in the article, and if you ignore the traditional north or south of the river,, they are all to the east of London. They also all shared a common relationship with the working river. They were the location of docks, industry dependent on the river, people would live and work on opposite sides of the river, they had institutions that were there because of the river, people who arrived by the river would stay and live on both sides etc.

So classing these places as East London is a classification I rather like as they had much in common, and a considerable amount of their development was dependent on the river, and of being east of London where the major developments needed to support the growing trade and commercialization of the river, had space to be built.

The map for Greenwich covers a considerable area, from all the streets to the west of Greenwich Park, through the centre of Greenwich, the Royal Observatory and the old Royal Hospital and Naval College buildings, then to the east with some houses along the river, then around the power station.

Rather than have one extremely long post, I will therefore cover the Architects’ Journal map of places that should be preserved in two posts, with today’s post covering the Royal Observatory and the streets to the west, so starting at the top of the hill in Greenwich Park, where we find the:

Royal Observatory

The Royal Observatory sits at the top of the hill that rises from the land alongside the river, and through the Prime Meridian, or 0 degrees Longitude, which runs through the observatory as defined by the astronomer Sir George Biddell Airy, and recognised internationally in 1884. The Prime Meridian is one of the reasons for the Greenwich name to be known internationally.

The Royal Observatory was founded by a Royal Warrant of King Charles II in 1675, and the first building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and still stands at the top of the hill, and is named Flamsteed House after the Reverend John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal at Greenwich:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

Whilst the Royal Observatory has hardly changed in the 50 plus years that I have been visiting Greenwich Park, the area around General Wolfe’s statue, and the hill in front, are undergoing some major changes:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

The statue of General Wolfe was unveiled on the 5th of June 1930, and is by the sculptor  Dr R Tait McKenzie. The statue is Grade II listed, and the Historic England listing includes the reference “Plinth much pitted by bomb fragments”, so hopefully these physical reminders of the way Greenwich was bombed will be retained.

It looks like a larger viewing area is being built in front of the statue. The view from this area must have been photographed millions of times and in summer does get very busy, so the additional space will help.

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

My father’s first photo of the view from here was in 1953, and my first photo dates from 1980. I wrote a post on how the view has evolved over the years in this post.

The current work is not limited to the area around the statue, the hill in front of the statue is also being changed:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

This hill was a rough grassy slope running from the viewing area down to the flat grass in front of Queen’s House, however this hill is now being terraced:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

The work is to restore the 17th century landscape of the park. Greenwich Park had been a hunting ground, but Charles II wanted a more formal Baroque landscape, so he engaged André Le Nôtre who had designed the gardens at the Palace of Versailles.

You can read more about the restoration work at this page on the Royal Parks website.

The following print from 1676 shows the new observatory on the hill, and to the left is a formal set of terraces running up the hill, confirming that these were a feature of the park in the 17th century:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

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

Comparing the above print from 1676, with the photo below from 2024 shows that this view has hardly changed in 348 years. the main change to the building being the addition of the post on the left of the two central small towers with the red ball.

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

The red ball was added in 1833 and was possibly one of the world’s first public time signals, and was installed on the observatory so it was visible from the ships on the Thames, for whom time keeping, and being able to accurately set their clocks and watches was important for tides and navigation.

The ball rises to the top by 12:58 pm, each day, and then drops at 1pm as an early, visible equivalent to the “pips” which would provide an accurate time signal years later on radio transmissions.

Although you cannot look at the view from the area in front of General Wolfe, the walkway directly around the base of Flamsteed House is still open, and from here we can still look at the view.

To the east, with the Dome and Power Station:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

The ever growing field of towers that now inhabit the Isle of Dogs:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

Looking west to the City of London:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

This path runs around the back of the oberervatory buildings and through gardens:

Greenwich Park New Deal for London

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich started closing in 1948 when the move to a new site in Herstmonceux, East Sussex  commenced. The buildings were too dated for modern equipment, and the pollution of London was not ideal for visual astronomy.

Flamsteed House opened to the public in 1960, so I doubt the site was ever really at risk, despite being one of the black coloured buildings in the Architects’ Journal map, although being at risk is not just about the building, but also the wider environment and if large new tower blocks had been built in Greenwich and around the park, the setting of the observatory would today be very different.

To find more of the buildings highlighted in the map, I am leaving the park by one of the gates on the west, to find:

Crooms Hill

Crooms Hill runs along the western edge of the park and has a range of buildings of different architectural style and ages. It is the type of street where you are never more than a few seconds walk from a listed building.

Close to the exit from the park is this structure:

Crooms Hill

Which my father also photographed in the 1980s:

Crooms Hill

In the 1980s photo above, there is a plaque below the window on the right, which presumably provided some information about the building, however that has disappeared by 2024.

I did though find some information in the Historic England listing, as both the wall and the building are Grade II listed, and are of some age. From the listing:

“C17 high red brick wall. Gazebo of 1672, probably by Robert Hooke, perched on wall but accessible from higher ground level inside. Pyramidal tiled roof with oval wood finial. Moulded wood eaves cornice with carved modillions. Red brick North-west wall blank. South-west wall has open round arch which once contained detached Roman Doric columns and entablatures with moulded round architrave above. South-east wall has square headed opening, with shouldered, moulded brick architrave and cornice, which once contained a round inner arch. On North-east (road) front square opening with moulded brick architrave resting on band raised in centre.”

On the side of the building facing the road, there is a shield with presumably a coat of arms. The Historic England record does not mention the arms, and I can find no reference to what appears to be four scallops or shells in black and white and in this arrangement:

Crooms Hill

One of the things about a street such as Crooms Hill is the sheer diversity of architectural styles and the building materials used, as well as the changes that have been made to the buildings over the centuries.

I cannot find the following building in the Historic England list of listed buildings, but it still is of interest, with a large three storey curved end to the building, which then steps back as a relatively normal house:

Crooms Hill

In 1746 not that much of Greenwich to the west of the park had been developed. Rocque’s map shows Crooms Hill along the western edge of the park, with a number of buildings lining the western edge of the road. These are many of the buildings that we can still see today (Crooms Hill marked with red arrow):

Crooms Hill

One of the buildings that was marked in Rocque’s map is the Presbytery. Grade II* listed and dating from 1630, but with some 18th century alterations:

Crooms Hill

The following house dates from the mid 18th century, and the house, railings, wall and gate are all Grade II listed:

Crooms Hill

Just to the right of the above photo can be seen the edge of a church. This is the Roman Catholic Church of Our Ladye Star of the Sea, which again is Grade II* listed:

Crooms Hill

The following print from 1862 shows the church and Crooms Hill, which at the time appears to have been a relatively narrow, unpaved track. It is not that much wider today:

Crooms Hill

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

The church owes its origins to the maritime history of Greenwich.

In the late 18th century there were many Catholic occupants of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich. Estimates of up to 500, with numbers coming from Catholic countries such as Portugal which gives an indication of the residents of the hospital.

In 1793 a Chapel of St. Mary was built for these Catholic seamen. in the following decades, the chapel became rather inadequate, and a proper church was needed.

There is a tradition associated with the church that following the rescue of her two sons following an accident on the Thames, a Mrs. Abraham North vowed to build a church.

Fund raising covered the majority of the costs for building the church, and in recognition of the importance of the church to the maritime community, the Admiralty donated £200.

The North family donated the land for the church, and the architect William Wilkinson Wardell was employed.

Wardell was a friend of W N. Pugin, and Pugin worked on the design of the majority of fittings and furnishings within the church. Work started in 1846 and the church was completed in 1851.

Walking through the main doors into the church reveals a rather impressive interior:

Crooms Hill

The high altar was by William Wilkinson Wardell, and it was exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition:

Crooms Hill

Side chapel:

Crooms Hill

The Church of Our Ladye Star of the Sea is a magnificent example of mid 19th century church design and decoration, and a reminder of the connection between Greenwich, and those who worked and sailed on the Thames and the sea.

Continuing along Crooms Hill and we see plenty of one off house designs.

The tall house with the bay along the first and second floors in the following photo is Grade II listed, and indeed all the buildings in the following photo appear to be listed:

Crooms Hill

There is no single design theme running along Crooms Hill, and here is another example of the mix of styles. I suspect much of the building was speculative, made use of available plots of land, for different occupants, and variable amounts of money available to build and decorate etc. Whatever the reasons, it has resulted in a fascinating street:

Crooms Hill

The house on the left has a Greater London Council blue plaque recording that Benjamin Waugh, the founder of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children lived in the house:

Crooms Hill

Again, the houses in the above photo are listed, and looking further along the street there is another house with a tall, central bay running up all three floors.

There is enough in Crooms Hill to fill an entire post, and one of the buildings in the street houses the Fan Museum, however the Architects’ Journal map included more streets to the west of Greenwich Park, so I turned down King George Street to find more of the buildings marked on the map.

King George Street

The houses to the west are generally smaller. Those on Crooms Hill were facing Greenwich Park, and were the first buildings in this part of Greenwich. They were larger, and in a better position and were therefore built and occupied by the more wealthy residents of Greenwich. As we head into the streets to the west, we find houses that were built from the late 18th century onwards and were probably for the working class, tradesmen and those who worked in the many river related professions.

King George Street

This large three storey building stands out along the terrace of two storey houses. Whilst it is now a private house, it was once a pub – the Woodman:

King George Street

And almost opposite the Woodman is another closed pub. This one looking more like a pub. This was the Britannia:

King George Street

Hidden behind the terrace houses on King George Street is a large, 19th century school, one of the impressive schools built by the London Schools Board. There is an entrance to the school playground from King George Street, with separate entrances for Girls & Infants, and for Boys:

King George Street

Whilst the main school building behind is still a school, it looks as if the old entrance has been converted to residential.

Half way along King George Street is Royal Place, which has two storey workman’s houses on one side, and three storey, presumably more expensive houses on the opposite side:

King George Street

At the end of Royal Place, we come to:

Royal Hill

And turning left along this road, we find a pub that is still open – the Prince of Greenwich:

Royal Hill

The Prince of Greenwich is not the original name of the pub, it was originally the Prince Albert, and the street Royal Hill has an interesting history. It was originally Gang Lane, but renamed Royal Hill after Robert Royal, the builder of a theatre in Greenwich in 1749.

The street, Gang Lane is shown in Rocque’s map below, and is believed to date from the medieval period:

Royal Hill

In the above map, it is shown running from London Street, then curving round to Lime Kiln Lane. Today, only the section to the right of the “L” in Lane remains, and to the west, the street now continues as a straight street, rather than continuing the curve.

Terrace houses in Royal Hill:

Royal Hill

Along Royal Hill is another closed pub, the Barley Mow, although rather than residential, after closure in 2003, it was converted into a restaurant:

Royal Hill

Above the main corner door is a lovely mosaic sign which dates from the time of the Barley Mow, with the Whitbread brewery name at the top and the pub name at the bottom, with presumably what was meant to be a stack of barley as the main feature:

Royal Hill

After the Barley Mow pub, the buildings become more recent, although there is a stub of Royal Hill to the right with buildings from the 19th century, but here I turned around and headed back as there was still much to find from this section of the Architects’ Journal map.

Further back along Royal Hill, is another pub, thankfully still open. This is the Richard 1st, and comprises the two lime green buildings and the slightly taller building to the left. The pub dates from around 1843:

Royal Hill

Going back to the Architects’ Journal map, and to the west of the park, there is a longer, slightly curvered section where the houses have been marked in black:

Gloucester Circus

This is leading off Royal Hill and is:

Gloucester Circus

Large building with full height bay to the rear at the western end of Gloucester Circus:

Gloucester Circus

As can be seen in the Architects’ Journal map, the highlighted section is along the south east side, with an open space in the middle, and unmarked buildings to the north west of the open space.

View along Gloucester Circus from the southern end, near Royal Hill:

Gloucester Circus

The development of his area was in two stages. The curved terrace shown in black was built by Michael Searles and completed between 1791 and 1809. This work included the gardens in front of the terrace.

In the 1840s, a terrace was added along the other side of the gardens, and the curved terrace was known simply as The Circus, and the 1840s terrace as Gloucester Place.

Wartime bombing resulted in the destruction of the 1840s terrace which is why there is post war building along this stretch with the Maribor Estate, named after Maribor in Slovenia, one of the three towns that Greenwich is twinned with.

There was also damage to the curved section, the Circus, including considerable damage requiring a rebuild to part of the central section.

The houses damaged during the war were rebuilt in the same style, but the difference can be seen today by the different coloured brick of the original and post war building work:

Gloucester Circus

The terrace is Grade II listed, and is a lovely example of a late 18th / early 19th century terrace design and construction.

Renaming of all the buildings around the central gardens as Gloucester Circus came in 1938. The northern end of the curved terrace:

Gloucester Circus

View along the central residents gardens, the curved terrace is to the left, and the post war buildings following bomb damage are to the right:

Gloucester Circus

And at the end of Gloucester Circus, I have almost come full circle as I am back at Crooms Hill, and at the junction between the two streets is this large Grade II listed building:

Gloucester Circus

Built during the late 18th century, there has been some significant rebuilding of the upper floors.

The chimney stack along the Gloucester Circus side of the house has a nice feature which my father photographed in the 1980s:

Circus

The Circus – the original name of the curved terrace that is now part of Gloucester Circus.

And that was just the western section of the Architects’ Journal map.

It is strange to consider that in the early 1970s, places such as these buildings and streets to the west of Greenwich Park were considered at risk from redevelopment, but London was a very different place then.

With the closure of the docks, loss of industry, population reducing considerably after the war, so much of east London was becoming derelict, and the vision to see what these places could really become was not, with some exceptions, really there.

So many lovely 18th and 19th century buildings were demolished in the post war period, and it is good too see places such as Greenwich, where they have survived as whole streets, rather than isolated blocks.

In part two, I will be following the Architects’ Journal map, heading towards the area of Greenwich around the Cutty Sark, then along the river to the streets surrounding the power station where there are some gems to be found.

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Tavistock Square

I have a new walk available – The Lost Landscape and Transformation of Puddle Dock and Thames Street – For details and booking, click here.

Tavistock Square is one of the many open spaces in Bloomsbury, built during the development of land owned by the Dukes of Bedford as London expanded north from the mid 18th to the early 19th centuries.

I have marked Tavistock Square with a red rectangle in the following map:

Tavistock Square

The name comes from the Duke of Bedford’s second title, the Marquis of Tavistock, a title created in 1694, and named after the grant of land belonging to Tavistock Abbey to the family.

As can be seen from the above map, Tavistock Square is one of a number of open spaces in a built up area. The Euston Road is just to the north, and the A4200 runs along the eastern side of the square, a busy road that carries traffic between the Euston Road and Holborn.

Euston Station is a short walk to the north.

Standing in places such as Tavistock Square today it is hard to imagine that a couple of centuries ago (a relatively short period in the history of London), all this was fields and pasture on the northern boundary of the built city.

An area crossed by tracks and walkways across the fields, streams and ponds.

Rocque’s 1746 map of London shows the northern limits of the city. Queen Square had recently been built, along with Bedford House, and Montague House is located where the British Museum can be found today. I have marked the location of Tavistock Square with the red rectangle:

Tavistock Square

Russell Square would be built just north of where Bedford House is shown (Russell is the family name of the Dukes of Bedford / Marquis of Tavistock), and the family were major landowners across this part of London.

The Duke of Bedford and his landholdings featured in a map created in 1909 by William Bellinger Northrop and titled “Landlordism Causes Unemployment”.

Landlordism Causes Unemployment

Map from Cornell University – PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography and reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) Unported License

The aim of Northrop’s map was to show how “Landlordism” was strangling London, with large areas of the city being owned by the rich and powerful. Northrop claimed that the Duke of Bedford owned 250 acres, and that this estate produced an annual rent of £2,250,000.

Northrop claimed that Landlordism:

  • Paralyses the building trade;
  • It Pauperises the Peasantry;
  • 12 Landlords “own” (?) London, taking £20,000,000;
  • 500 Peers “own” (?) and entire one-third of England;
  • 4,000 Landlords “own” (?) and entire half of England:
  • the Land Octopus Sucks the Lifeblood of the People.

In many ways, this has not changed that much across the country, although in many instances the landed aristocracy has been replaced with very wealthy individuals, foreign investment, often state owned companies, and private development companies.

Tavistock Square was laid out in the late 18th century, and a terrace of houses along the eastern side of the square had been completed in 1803. These are believed to have been built by James Burton, a prolific London builder, and perhaps one of the most important since Nicholas Barbon.

The houses built by Burton in Tavistock Square had an unusual feature, where the staircase was configured to rise towards the front door, so when you went upstairs, you were walking towards the front of the house, with a landing at the front of the house, and the main rooms towards the rear, looking on small gardens at the rear of the houses, rather than the square.

These houses were demolished in 1938.

The following photo was taken from the southern part of the central gardens, looking north:

Tavistock Square

On the south west corner of the central gardens, we find Virginia Woolf:

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, the writer, lived in Tavistock Square between 1924 and 1939, in a house along the southern side of the square, which was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, indeed there was a considerable amount of bomb damage around Bloomsbury, which explains why many of these squares, and some of the surrounding streets, have lost their original terraces of houses, and why you often find a post-war building in the middle of an early 19th century terrace.

In the south east corner of the gardens, is a memorial to Louisa Brandreth Aldrich-Blake (1865 to 1925):

Louisa Aldrich-Blake

Louisa Aldrich-Blake was a pioneering surgeon, from a time when it was difficult for women to have such roles in the medical profession. She was Dean of the London School of Medicine between 1914 and 1925, a Consulting Surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital between 1919 and 1925, and a Surgeon to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital between 1895 and 1925.

The memorial dates from 1926, and the base, seating and plinth were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, with the bust of Louisa Aldrich-Blake being by the sculptor A. G. Walker.

The monuments to two pioneering women sets the tone for the rest of the gardens, as they contain different memorials to the normal London square, and there is not an aristocrat in sight.

Walking along the central path in the gardens, to the north, and there is a Maple Tree which was planted in 1986 by the League of Jewish Women:

Tavistock Square

In the centre of the square is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the lawyer and campaigner for India’s freedom from British rule:

Mahatma Ghandi

The memorial looks recent, but dates from 1968, and was unveiled by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in May of that year. It is Grade II listed, with a base of Portland Stone, with the bronze figure of Ghandi by the sculptor Fredda Brilliant.

The relevance of Tavistock Square to Gandhi is that he attended University College London in Bloomsbury where he studied English literature, and also learning law at the Inner Temple.

Ghandhi’s approach to non-violent protest is reflected in many of the memorials in Tavistock Square, such as the International Year of Peace shown above, and also with another tree, the Friendship Tree planted in 1997 by the High Commissioner for India:

Freindship Tree

And another tree was planted in 1967 in memory of the victims of the atomic bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima in Japan:

Tavistock Square

At the northern end of the gardens is a large stone memorial which dates from 1994 and is to Conscientious Objectors, “To all those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill“:

Tavistock Square

The Tavistock Hotel is a large, red brick building, that occupies the whole southern part of the square:

Tavistock Square

The space occupied by the hotel was originally a run of terrace houses. but these were badly damaged during the war. The remains of these buildings were demolished, and the Tavistock Hotel was built in 1951, and became the first hotel built in London after the war.

One of the houses that once occupied the site, was the one where Virginia Woolf and her husband lived whilst in Tavistock Square, and to the side of the entrance to the hotel there is a plaque recording her residence on the site:

Virgina Woolf

All sides of Tavistock Square suffered bomb damage, with the southern, eastern and northern sides being completely rebuilt.

The western side of the street suffered bomb damage at the ends of the long terrace, leaving the majority of the terrace undamaged:

Tavistock Square

This lovely stretch of terrace houses was completed in 1824, and were built by Thomas Cubitt. Although Burton’s terrace on the eastern side of the square were demolished long ago, they were described as being inferior to Cubitt’s terrace, and the terrace is well built, with a pleasing symmetry along the length of the terrace, which is in an Italianate style, with Ionic columns in rows of four, running the height of the terrace from above the ground floor to the balustrade and roof line.

A number of the houses in the terrace are Grade II listed.

Although the terrace looks as if it is comprised of individual terrace houses, the terrace is owned by the University of London and University College of London, and the interiors have been modified and combined to accommodate this new use.

Along the terrace, at number 33, is a plaque between the two ground floor windows:

Ali Mohammed Abbas

The plaque records that Ali Mohammed Abbas lived in a flat in the house between 1945 and 1979.

Abbas arrived in London from India in 1945 to study law and became a Barrister. Following the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan on the 14th of August 1947, Abbas used his flat as an unofficial Pakistan Embassy until the new country set up a full embassy in London.

After Pakistan became an independent country, Abbas remained in London and continued work as a barrister. He also helped set up twenty eight schools all over the country to help Pakistanis who had arrived in the country, speak, read and write in English.

The house in Tavistock Square was his home until his death in 1979.

At the north western corner of the square is another red brick / Portland stone building – Tavistock Court:

Tavistock Square

Tavistock Court is an apartment block, built between 1934 and 1935. It did suffer some light damage during the war, but this was repaired, and the building today looks impressive in the sun, hopefully as the original architect intended.

Next to Tavistock Court, along the north side of Tavistock Square is Woburn House:

Tavistock Square

This a post war building, due to bomb damage to the building originally on the site.

The building is owned by Universities UK, the organisation that represents 140 member universities across the UK, and is another example of the concentration of educational establishments across this part of Bloomsbury.

There are two plaques on the corner of the building which can just be seen in the above photo. The one on the left is to Otto Schiff, who was the founder and director of the Jewish Refugees Committee, which was based in a pre-war building on the site:

Otto Schiff

Otto Schiff and the Jewish Refugees Committee were responsible for persuading the Government to allow Jewish refugees to enter the country, and that they would be funded by Jewish organizations, charities and individuals. The committee also helped with the travel arrangements of transporting refugees from Germany to the UK, and their housing and general support after they had arrived.

The plaque illustrates the dreadful impact on the Jewish population of Europe before and during the second World War, and the second plaque on the corner of the building illustrates another way the war impacted London:

Tavistock Square

There was a significant amount of bomb damage around Bloomsbury. Whether this was trying to target the railway stations along the Euston Road, or just the indiscriminate bombing of London, I do not know, but the plaque does provide a reminder of those in the fire service across the City.

The Auxiliary Fire Service was formed in January 1938 to provide a large uplift in the number of fire fighters to assist the full time fire service. Those who staffed the Auxiliary Fire Service were usually those who were too young or too old for service in the armed forces,

Although being an auxiliary force, they faced the same dangers as the main force, and Stanley and Harry were two of the 327 fire fighters who lost their lives across London during the war.

Standing next to Woburn House, and looking at the north east corner of Tavistock Square, we can see the northern part of the buildings of the British Medical Association:

BMA

The rest of the BMA building is shown in the following photo taken from the gardens at the centre of Tavistock Square:

Tavistock Square

BMA House is an impressive building, and the organisation have occupied the building since 1923 when they purchased the lease. The BMA had originally been based in the Strand.

BMA House was originally designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for a very different organisation, the Theosophical Society, as the future site for their offices and temple. Construction started in 1913, however the First World War intervened and the parts of the building that had been completed were taken over by the Army Pay Office.

When the war ended, the Theosophical Society appears to have run out of funds to complete construction, and the site was taken over by the BMA. The Theosophical Society are still based in London, but at much smaller premises at 50 Gloucester Place.

Sir Edwin Lutyens was reemployed to complete parts of the building and the interior, and to finish the overall site,  Cyril Wontner Smith completed the central entrance from Tavistock Square between 1928 and 1929, and Douglas Wood worked on extensions to the overall building between 1938 and 1960.

The building is Grade II listed.

There is another plaque on the BMA building, recording that Charles Dickens lived in a house near the site of the plaque between 1851 and 1860, his last London home before moving to Gads Hill in Kent.:

Charles Dickens

So there is much to discover in Tavistock Square, where just over 220 years ago there were just fields.

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Free Trade Wharf, Ratcliffe

The following photo was taken by my father in August 1948, and shows the buildings of Free Trade Wharf in the old area of Ratcliffe:

Free Trade Wharf

The same view, seventy six years later in 2024:

Free Trade Wharf

Despite the loss of the central Free Trade Wharf buildings, there are some features that can be found in both photos.

On the left of both photos, there are no buildings along the edge of the river, and trees can be seen in an open space leading back from the river. This is the King Edward VII memorial park.

The park, and the space it occupies, has a fascinating history which I wrote about in this post.

Staying on the left of both photos, a church steeple can be seen in the background. This is St. Mary’s Cable Street.

The central part of the photo is very different. The Free Trade Wharf was purchased by the Inner London Education Authority in 1977 with the intention of building a campus for the City of London Polytechnic, which had been formed in 1970 with the consolidation of the City of London College, Sir John Cass College and the School of Navigation.

These plans did not follow through, and the site remained vacant until the early 1980s when the growing trend for the construction of residential properties along the banks of the Thames resulted in the purchase of the site for residential development, and the building on the site we see today was built.

It is one of the more distinctive residential buildings along the river, and was designed by the architects Holder Mathias Alcock, who are still practicing today, although the name Alcock has been dropped.

Their distinctive design has been described as being of “dramatic ziggurat-style terraces”, and also looking as if it could have been made out of Lego.

Faced by red brick, the building does look good in direct sunlight, and the from what I have read, one of the reasons for the shape of the building, where the sides step back towards the centre, was to maximise the number of apartments that had a river view, rather than being a flat building along the river.

This new development retains the name Free Trade Wharf, and looking at an extract of the 1948 photo, we can see this name was displayed in white lettering along the side of the building facing the river:

Free Trade Wharf

Although this very clear naming of the Free Trade Wharf did throw me into a momentary bit of doubt about whether I had identified the correct location for the photo, as in the OS map, published a couple of years after my father’s photo, the building is marked as Charringtons Wharf, as can be seen in the following map, along the river and to the right of the park  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

Free Trade Wharf

To confirm, I checked in the book “London Wharves and Docks”, published by Commercial Motor in 1953, and the entry for Charringtons Wharf included a reference that “Occupier: Free Trade Wharf Co. Ltd”.

The Charringtons name came from the ownership of the site by Charrington, Sells, Dale and Company, who traded in coal and coke. I cannot find exactly when this part of the site became known as Free Trade Wharf, however as you can see from the above map extract, this name was also in use for the buildings to the right, which are on the right of my father’s photo, but hidden behind the cranes, and the black coloured ship on the right.

The Commercial Motor book provides some detail on trade at the wharf in 1953:

“Facilities: a. General, b. Rubber, matches, canned goods. Maximum cranage (cwt) 45, Storage space (cubic feet, covered); 869,450, Storage Space (cubic feet, uncovered): 5,000.

Customs facilities included Sufferance Wharf, Dry Bond, Captain’s Imperfect Entry (a Sufferance Wharf is a licensed private wharf where goods can be kept until the duty is paid. A Dry Bond is where goods can be stored before customs duty is paid. Dry refers to the type,, so dry goods unlike wet goods such as alcohol. Captain’s Imperfect Entry is a strange one. Captain’s Entry is where the Captain of a ship has provided the details of the goods he wants to unload to the warehouse, but I am not sure what Imperfect refers to).

The wharf had a jetty and a quay, with 250 feet being the maximum length of ships accommodated at the jetty and 210 feet at the quay. and the depth of water went from 24 feet at high water down to 2 feet at the jetty, and from 19 feet to drying out at the quay. “

Just to the left of the site today, is one of the construction locations for the Thames Tideway Tunnel:

King Edward VII Memorial Park and Thames Tideway Tunnel

The OS map shows the buildings to the right of my father’s photo, labelled as Free Trade Wharf. These buildings are much earlier than the main block, but are hidden behind the ship and cranes in my father’s photo.

An extract from this photo showing the dark coloured ship, with part of these buildings just visible in the background:

Free Trade Wharf

The buildings, the ones labelled as Free Trade Wharf in the OS map as can be seen in 2024:

Free Trade Wharf

These buildings are Grade II listed and they date from 1796, although there have been many alterations over the years.

They were built for the East India Company, and handled a variety of goods, including saltpeter, which was used in the manufacture of gun power.

The site later became a place where colliers from the coal fields in the north east of the country would unload, and is presumably where the Charringtons connection comes from.

There are two ships in the 1948 photo. the ship on the left has no visible feature to help with identification. I use a high resolution scan for my father’s photos, and despite this, I cannot read the name of the ship on the bow.

The ship on the right has no visible name, presumably it is on the bow and only the rear section of the ship is visible in the photo. What can be seen is the funnel, and this has the letters CL in a white diamond.

Ships with the identifier of the owning / operating company were once a frequent sight on the Thames, and as kids in the late 1960s / early 1970s, we would often go down to the Thames by Coal House Fort, through East Tilbury (which always fascinated with its village and Bata shoe factory in this isolated part of Essex).

I had the Observer’s Book of Ships and used this to check of the passing ships. I still have the book and checked it to see if the CL in a white diamond is listed, and fourth down, on the left column, I found it:

Observer's Book of Ships

Turning to page 35, and CL is for Comben Longstaff & Co. Ltd of London, and who were listed as Colliers.

The company was named after William Comben Longstaff, who was born in Lambeth in 1896.

Comden Langstaff & Co. Ltd was originally involved in a range of maritime services including insurance, owning, managing and operating a fleet of ships that delivered raw materials and goods to the ports around the coast of the UK.

Newspapers of the time have many references to the purchase of new ships, sale of older ships, trade, routes etc. and the company seems to have been reasonably active.

The majority of their ships seem to have been built by John Lewis of Aberdeen, and the following article from the Aberdeen Press and Journal on the 9th of June 1948 is typical of the company’s coverage in the press:

“STEAM COASTER LAUNCHED – I have great faith in this country, but its only salvation is hard work, said Mr. Comben Longstaff at a gathering after the launching yesterday of the steam coaster Lancasterbrook, built by Messrs John Lewis and Sons Ltd, Aberdeen, for his firm, Messrs Comben Longstaff and Co. Ltd, London.

Mr. Andrew H.S. Lewis said the Lancasterbrook was a sister ship of the Londonbrook, built by his firm two years ago. She was an oil burner and was fitted with patent steel hatch covers.

They were building two other ships for the same owners.

Mrs. Comben Longstaff named the vessel which is 200ft in length and is of the raised quarterdeck type. The rudder is semi-balanced and streamlined and was made to the owners’ own design.”

The article mentions the Londonbrook, which had been built by the firm two years earlier, so presumably in 1946, and from checking photos of the Comben Longstaff ships, I believe the ship to the right of my father’s photo is the Londonbrook.

The company was sold in 1954, and William Comben Longstaff died in 1966.

Their ships continued operating around the coast of the country and in the late 1970s, two new ships were built, the Durhambrook and Devonbrook, continuing the Comben Longstaff tradition of adding “brook” to the end of their ship names.

The company ended operations in 1981, and all the ships were sold.

Both the Free Trade Wharf and the ships that docked at the wharf are from a time when you could sit on the river wall at Tilbury on a summer’s evening, and watch the ships passing along the river, checking them off in your Observer’s book.

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