Swanscombe Peninsula and the London Resort – Part 1

Before heading to the Swanscombe Peninsula, if you would like to explore the Southbank or the Barbican, there are still a few tickets left for my final walks for the year. I have also added a limited number of tickets as many walks have already sold out. Click here for details.

If you have been reading the blog for a while, you will probably be aware of my interest in the River Thames. Not just the part through the city, but the whole of the river, out to the estuary. The Thames is the reason why London is located where it is, and has been the route for the trade that made the city so successful.

Just over a week ago, on probably the last, hot and sunny day of a late summer, I went to the Swanscombe Peninsula. A place that is currently threatened with some significant development.

The Swanscombe Peninsula is a large area of land, pushing out into the river, well to the east of the city. According to the Kent Past website, the name comes from the Old English “camp” meaning a “field, an enclosed piece of land”, along with the Danish name of Swaine, so Swanscombe could have originated as describing “Swaine’s enclosure’’.

The area of the peninsula is 205 Hectares, or 506 Acres. In the following map, I have circled Swanscombe Peninsula in red (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors)..

Swanscombe Peninsula

The western part of the peninsula has long been seen as a development opportunity, and in the Strategic Planning Guidance for the River Thames (1997), the area was identified as a “riverside opportunity for an urban village”. Current plans are for a very different use as a considerable part of the Swanscombe Peninsula is currently planned to be developed as the London Resort, described on the project’s website as a “world-class, sustainable, next generation entertainment resort known as the ‘London Resort’, on the banks of the River Thames”.

The London Resort will also be the “first European development of its kind to be built from scratch since the opening of Disneyland Paris in 1992”.

Development of the London Resort will bring considerable investment into the area and many, much needed jobs.

The London Resort has been planned for many years, in 2008 it was designated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, however there have been a number of delays, and major supporters of the project have withdrawn and also rejoined over the years.

Plans for development now seem to be making progress, and the London Resort’s website claims a start date of 2022, with the first part of the resort opening in 2024, and the site being complete by 2029.

If I have understood the planning documents correctly, the core of the London Resort is shown outlined in red in the following map:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The red rectangle covers pier developments as numbers of people travelling to the resort are expected to come via the river, and land on the opposite side of the river in Tilbury is being being included in this scheme.

Whilst the map shows the core of the resort, there will be considerable additional surrounding development, bath in support of the resort, and as the large number of visitors and supporting businesses draw in additional development.

The Swanscombe Peninsula is not a pristine, natural environment. It has long been surrounded by the type of dirty industrial complexes that were to be found to the east of London. Paper Milling, Cement Production and Lead Refining were some of the industries that could be found here, and their impact extended over the peninsula, for example rail tracks extending to river piers.

The site has also been used for waste disposal, gas works, a sewage works, and in recent decades provides the infrastructure for a high-voltage electricity crossing of the river, and where the HS1 railway linking St Pancras with the Channel Tunnel dives under the Thames.

The following extract from a mid 1950s Ordnance Survey map shows the peninsula, with industry covering the southern boundary. Note also the split between the Broadness Salt Marsh and Swanscombe Marshes where a drain was constructed to recover the southern parts of the peninsula (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Swanscombe Peninsula

To visit the site, I took the train from Waterloo East to Greenhithe. I planned to follow the recommended route on the Save Swanscombe Marshes website, which can be found here.

Starting at Greenhithe Station, an almost circular walk would take me to Swanscombe Station to catch the train back to Waterloo East. I ended up walking almost six miles, by taking some detours and also on the eastern side of the peninsula, I carried on along a footpath rather than turn onto the road, the footpath almost took me back around the peninsula.

There is so much to be found in the area. I got distracted in Greenhithe, found where the Cutty Sark was moored, saw some wonderful electrical infrastructure, and was just stunned by the beauty of the place, and whilst much could be described as a brownfield site, it shows how nature can recover and reestablish.

I have split today’s post about the Swanscombe Peninsula into two separate posts. One at the usual time this morning, and a second post later this evening. I will also include a number of links for further information at the end of the second post.

So, for the first post, I am starting at Greenhithe Station (blue circle to left) and covering the route marked by the blue line.

Swanscombe Peninsula

To reach the western end of the peninsula, I walked through Greenhithe to get close to the river. Greenhithe is a historic, small town, where the streets alongside the river reflect the towns early relationship with the river.

The name has similarities to Queenhithe in the City, with “hithe” meaning a wharf or landing place. It seems that Green just refers to the town as being a green landing place.

There were wharves, ships were built and maintained, goods and people transferred between ships and land.

In Greenhithe High Street is the Sir John Franklin pub, named after the commander of the expedition that sailed from Greenhithe on the 19th of May 1845, in the Erebus and Terror, to try and find a north west passage across the top of Canada, between the Atlantic and Pacific. Greenhithe was the last place that the crew would set foot in England. After a final sighting on the 26th July 1845, the two ships and their crew, including Sir John Franklin, were not seen again.

Sir John Franklin

A newspaper report on the 20th May 1845 describes their departure along the Thames;

“The Erebus, Captain Sir John Franklin, and the Terror, Captain Crozier, left Woolwich on Monday, towed by the African and Myrtle steamers, for Greenhithe. The Terror having previously tried her screw-propeller, on this occasion resolved on trying it again, and made such excellent progress, that she cast off her towing steamer and proceeded down the river without any additional assistance whatever. The crews of the Erebus and Terror were paid in advance today and tomorrow (Saturday) sail for their destination, accompanied by the Monkey and Rattler steam-vessels, ordered to tow them to the Orkney islands. The Baretto Junior transport with live stores and various descriptions of preserved meats and other articles, most liberally supplied for the use of the officers and men of the discovery vessels, will be sent at the same time, and accompany them to the borders of the ice. The compasses of the vessels have been adjusted by Captain Johnson, and the most perfect arrangements made for the peculiar service in which the vessels of the Artic expedition are to be engaged.”

I have written more about the expedition, and the search for the crew in a post on the The Bellot Memorial at Greenwich.

At the back of the Sir John Franklin pub is one of the old wharfs, now a rectangular inlet, with new housing on one side and an old, decaying boat below.

Greenhithe

As well as the name of the pub, Greenhithe High Street retains other links with the previous life of the town (assuming the sign is genuine, and not a modern creation).

Greenhithe

There are some wonderful old houses in the High Street, and it is a lovely place to walk on a sunny, September day, however in the 18th century, this would not be a very safe place to be when the press gangs were roaming as this report from a number of newspapers on the 24th May 1740 indicates: “On Tuesday there was a smart Pres on the River below Bridge, that from the little Town of Greenhithe they have taken no less than 17 Men for the King’s Service”.

Greenhithe

Before the High Street takes a sharp right to turn in-land, there is another pub, this is the Pier Hotel:

Greenhithe

In the first half of the 19th century there was an attempt to turn Greenhithe into a tourist destination, perhaps trying to attract the boats passing on the river that were starting to take Londoners out of the city for a day trip to Southend or Margate.

This included the construction of a short pier, shown in the following drawing by Henry Cole, dated 1836:

Greenhithe Pier

To get back to the river, and continue on to the peninsula, I walked past the Pier Hotel, and took a quick look down to the river, where there is a rather hidden red telephone box, before taking a cut through to the river walk.

Greenhithe

From where there is a superb view of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, part of the M25 Dartford crossing:

Queen Elizabeth II bridge

And looking in the opposite direction, I could see my destination, the peninsula curving out into the river, with the electricity pylon a clear landmark of where I was heading.

Swanscombe Peninsula

This stretch of the river has a walkway with superb views across the river. In the following photo I am looking back towards Greenhithe. This stretch of the river has had a considerable amount of building over the last few decades, with a large housing estate on the left, facing onto the river:

Thames Walkway

View in the opposite direction, towards my destination:

Thames Walkway

Part of the land on which the housing in the above two photos was built, originally formed part of the Ingress Estate, an ancient manor that once belonged to the Priory of Dartford.

in 1833, an Elizabethan style house was built on the site and named Ingress Abbey, allegedly using stones from London Bridge which had been demolished in 1831. The house was surrounded by land, including land sloping down to the river. When researching the site, I found the following photo from the Britain from Above archive:

Cutty Sark

The photo is dated 1939. Ingress Abbey can be seen looking down to the river, where two ships are moored. The larger ship is HMS Worcester which at the time operated as the Thames Nautical Training College. The smaller ship is the Cutty Sark which at the time was also part of the training college, operating as an auxiliary cadet training ship. The Cutty Sark would continue in this role, before being moved to Greenwich.

Walking further towards Swanscombe Peninsula, and the walkway changes, now with a high concrete wall protecting the housing from the river.

Thames Walkway

Not sure what these rails in the base of the walkway are, possibly left over from the site’s industrial activity:

Thames Walkway

As well as the land of Ingress Abbey, the housing in the second above photo was built on a large industrial site, the Empire Paper Mills. I have highlighted the paper mills within the red oval in the following extract from the 1966 Ordnance Survey map:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The paper mills included a large jetty projecting into the Thames. This was used to receive raw materials from cargo ships, that were then transported to the mill for processing. Completed products were then sent via the rail network, and a rail line can just be seen leaving the lower left of the mills, heading to the mainline at Greenhithe.

The following photo from Britain from Above shows the scale of the paper mills in 1927. The Swanscombe Peninsula can be seen in the background:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The paper mills continued into the early 1990s, but were struggling to operate and make money. They finally closed in 1992, and in the decades that followed the site was cleared and is now occupied by housing.

The following photo, also from 1927, is looking west, with the paper mills, the grounds of Ingress Abbey and at the top right of the photo, the town of Greenhithe:

Swanscombe Peninsula

In the above photo, part of Swanscombe Peninsula can be seen in the lower left half of the photo. Part of the space is occupied by Cricket and Sports grounds, showing how there has long been a degree of human influence on the peninsula.

Also in the above photo, there is a triangular inlet from the river where the paper mills meets the peninsula. This inlet is still there today, and is where the river walkway ends with steps up to Swanscombe Peninsula.

Swanscombe Peninsula

Walking up the steps, and I was finally on Swanscombe Peninsula:

Swanscombe Peninsula

A raised bank protects this part of the western side of the peninsula from the river. One of the old piers from the area’s industrial past juts out into the river:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Along this stretch there are two raised banks, with a low lying ditch between:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Windswept bushes line the river:

Swanscombe Peninsula

A good view of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. It is only from viewpoints such as this that you can appreciate the length of the central section and the two slender towers that provide support.

Queen Elizabeth II bridge

Below the bridge, to the lower right can be seen the red and white of the Stoneness Lighthouse, a working lighthouse on a piece of land jutting out into the river. This model of the lighthouse will soon be replaced. The Port of London Authority have issued a Notice to Mariners that from the 29th September, work will begin to replace the lighthouse, and that it will be out of operation until the 9th of October.

Inter-tidal mud and grasses:

River Thames

The above photo highlights how important an area with low lying marsh is along the river, and will be in the future with expected rises in the level of the Thames on the eastern side of the Thames Barrier where water levels will rise, as the barrier protects the city.

Looking inland, and this part of the peninsula is covered with dense, tall grasses and reeds:

Industrial Archeaology

There are two, rusting towers visible in the above photo. To the south of the peninsula was a large cement works, and the towers were part of an aerial cableway that stretched from a wharf and pier on the river to the cement works and was used to transport materials between ships in the Thames and the factory. The cable operated alongside a railway between wharf and factory.

I have highlighted the route of the cableway which is marked on the following extract from the 1966 Ordnance Survey map:

Industrial Archeaology

Closer view of one of the towers, showing one of the cables that once ran along the route carrying materials to and from the cement factory:

Industrial Archeaology

As well as the factory to the south of the peninsula, and the transport system across the peninsula, the production of cement was also responsible for the legal dumping of cement kiln dust, which has raised the height of the land in some western parts of the peninsula.

Looking to the right of the above view, and there is a dense area of grass growth up to a distant tree and bush line:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Along the inland base of the second bank is a road which runs up to the location of the old wharf and pier:

Swanscombe Peninsula

An open barrier still stands as the land around is reclaimed by nature:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Track leading to the location of the old wharf and pier:

River Thames

Which unfortunately appears to have a double row of fencing restricting access:

River Thames

Getting closer to the electricity pylon:

Swanscombe Peninsula

There are a number of tracks which make it clear that parts of the peninsula are private land and that these tracks are not public footpaths:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Exploring tracks on a warm September day:

Swanscombe Peninsula

In the following photo, I am looking inland. There are a number of large areas of water, and in the distance on the left is the bridge that carries the A226, London Road, and on the right, the white chalk cliffs can be seen, highlighting that the site has been subject to extensive chalk quarrying:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Strange to come across some Network Rail infrastructure in a small, fenced compound. The reason for this will be come clear in the second post on Swanscombe Peninsula.

Network Rail

Although much of this part of the peninsula is covered with dense grasses, reeds and low bushes and trees, these can be deceiving as the area is also very wet, with water appearing in clear pools which emerge from the grass:

Swanscombe Peninsula

As well as walking, the peninsula is a place to just stop and enjoy what is a very special place. There is plenty of insect life both within and away from the water. My insect identification skills are almost non-existent, however I hope I am right in claiming the following photo is of a dragonfly, one of many that were around me in the above photo.

Dragonfly

The main landmark on the peninsula is the electricity pylon:

Electricity Pylon

The pylon is one of a pair that support cables spanning the Thames. The other pylon is on the north bank of the river, and they carry several 400,000 Volt (400kV) electricity circuits, transporting power across the country.

They were built in 1965, and are 623 feet (190 metres) in height, apparently the tallest in the country. The height was needed to ensure sufficient clearance for the cables above the River Thames so the river is clear for shipping. Not just the height of the ship, but also to provide enough distance between cable and ship, so the high voltages carried by the cables would not arc between cable and ship.

The cables running over the Thames, connect to the grid network north of the Thames that transports electricity into London. From Swanscombe, the cables run towards east Kent where there were former coal fired power stations, which have been replaced by gas, as well as undersea interconnector cables to the Netherlands and Belgium which land on the Isle of Grain and near Richborough in Kent.

The height of the tower, along with the two platforms on the tower has resulted in the tower being popular with base jumpers – people who jump with a parachute from a high structure. In March 2006, one base jumper died at Swanscombe when it appears his parachute failed to open.

That is a sport I could not imagine ever attempting, however I really do like these structures.

Following photo shows the platform at the very top of the 623 feet tower, along with some of the insulators that carry the cables. These are of some length as they need to separate the 400kV running through the cables from the metal of the tower.

Electricity Pylon

The cables from the top of the tower then run down to a smaller tower that separates and routes them off to more traditional electrical pylons.

Electricity Pylon

A sideways view of the above tower shows a work of industrial art:

Electricity Pylon

I have now reached the end of the blue line in my map of the route through the Swanscombe Peninsula. The post covering part two of my walk through this very special place, the industry on the eastern edge, HS1, the wildlife of the peninsula, the status of a Site of Special Scientific Interest along with links to further sources of information will be sent out this evening.

alondoninheritance.com

Whitecross Street – Sunday 31st May, 1953

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

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

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

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

The Lost Streets of the Barbican

Now, to Whitecross Street.

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

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

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

Whitecross Street

The Whitecross Tap:

Whitecross Street

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

Whitecross Street

Street art is visible along much of the street:

Public Art

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

Public Art

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

Whitecross Street

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

Public Art

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

Whitecross Street Market

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

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

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

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

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

Whitecross Street Market

With almost any combination of street food you could want:

Whitecross Street Market

With queues forming at many of the stalls:

Whitecross Street Market

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

Whitecross Street Prison

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

Whitecross Street Prison

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

Whitecross Street Prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whitecross Street Prison

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

Whitecross Street

More street art:

Public Art

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

Whitecross Street

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

Whitecross Street

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

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

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Middlesex Guildhall, City of London School and White Swan Pub

One of the brilliant things with writing the blog posts is the feedback from readers in the comments section. Readers frequently provide additional information, or clarify questions that I had not been able to answer, and last week’s post was no exception.

The reason I could not find any further UK census information or references to the later life of Llewellyn Wooderson is that it appears that he emigrated to New Zealand. The answer to the age difference between Henry Wooderson and his wife Sarah in the 1881 census appears to be an error in Henry’s year of birth, in addition to the spelling of Leicester Square as Lester Square – you cannot always believe everything in census data and need to double check with multiple sources where possible. There was also some feedback on the Toronto, Canada birth of their son.

I had taken the 2021 photo of the old shop not that long ago, and Cards Galore, the shop that now occupies that of L&R Wooderson is reported to have closed. If so, a sad casualty of the lack of office workers in the City.

My thanks for the feedback to last week’s post, and indeed, feedback to all posts.

Now to the subject of this week’s post. Two rather lovely London buildings, and an update on another city pub at risk.

Middlesex Guildhall

The Royal Aquarium was the subject of one of last year’s posts, and to illustrate the location of the building, I included the following map. To the right was another building, marked as “Guildhall”, circled in red in the map below:

Middlesex Guildhall

Middlesex Guildhall is a rather impressive building, facing onto Parliament Square. Once the home of Middlesex County Council and Quarter Sessions, the building is now home to the Supreme Court.

The inclusion of Middlesex in the name refers to the old County of Middlesex that once included much of London, dating from a time when the country was split into counties, rather than many of the City and Metropolitan Boroughs and administrative divisions that we have today, for example Greater London, which took over much of the County of Middlesex following the London Government Act 1963, although London had already been chipping away at the boundaries of counties such as Middlesex and Essex for some time.

The site of the Middlesex Guildhall was the site of Westminster Abbey’s Sanctuary Tower and Old Belfry. The name sanctuary refers to the expectation that fugitives could claim sanctuary from pursuers if they could make it into the building. The name can still be found today as I will show later in the post.

An old court house had existed on the site during the 19th century, however in 1889 this was replaced by the first Middlesex Guildhall, however this was too small for both the administrative and legal functions carried out in the building, and the building that we see today was built between 1906 and 1913. This was the building in the early 1920s:

Middlesex Guildhall

And 100 years later the building remains exactly the same, although now cleaned, and the trees in the foreground have grown:

Middlesex Guildhall

The architect was James Gibson, who designed a late Gothic style building, faced with Portland Stone, although with a steel frame which helped take on much of the load bearing functions and supported features such as the tower which rises from the centre of the façade facing onto Parliament Square.

Gibson’s other work in London included West Ham Technical College, completed in 1895.

Some of the very distinctive features of the building are the sculpture by Henry Charles Fehr, which can be found across the building. Fehr was also responsible for some of the carving on the wood seating and panels in the Court Rooms. The Middlesex Guildhall would be considered the peak of his career.

The following photo shows the cluster of sculpture above the main entrance to the building:

Middlesex Guildhall

This shows Henry III (on the left), granting a charter to the Abbey of Westminster. Above are the arms of the County of Middlesex (the three Seaxes, or swords, with the crown above), and below is what looks to be a view of Westminster Hall:

Middlesex Guildhall

There is more on either side of the main entrance, including Lady Jane Grey being offered the crown by her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland:

Middlesex Guildhall

And King John with the Barons at Runnymede:

Middlesex Guildhall

Fehr’s work is finely carved and very detailed:

Middlesex Guildhall

The building was designed with courts of law for the administration of justice, and this role has continued to this day as the building is now home to the Supreme Court. Figures holding the symbols of Justice:

Middlesex Guildhall

The courtrooms within the Middlesex Guildhall have seen many trials over the years. Some of the more unusual were possibly the court martial of spies during the First World War. For example from the Evening Telegraph on the 14th July 1915:

“TWO GERMANS ARRESTED ON CHARGE OF BEING SPIES, On His Majesty’s Fleet – The authorities announce the arrest of two alleged German spies. Their trial will take place by Court Martial on Friday next at Middlesex Guildhall. The whole proceedings will be held in camera.

They will be charged with collecting and attempting to communicate with the enemy, information about His Majesty’s Fleet.”

The above trial followed an earlier trial of the alleged spy Robert Rosenthal which was the subject of some publicity at the time as the London Daily News reported on the 7th July 1915:

“TRIAL OF ROSENTHAL. Proceedings in Camera at Middlesex Guildhall – The trial of the alleged spy, Robert Rosenthal, began before a general court martial at Middlesex Guildhall yesterday. He is accused of coming to this country for the purpose of obtaining information both of a naval and military character.

Originally it was announced that part of the evidence would be taken in public, but at the last moment it was decided that the whole trial should take place in camera.

Prisoner was defended by Mr. Frampton. A large crowd assembled outside Middlesex Guildhall to witness the arrival of the members of the court. None of the public was allowed in the building. The entrance to the court where the trial was conducted was guarded by soldiers, and inside Rosenthal was placed between soldiers with fixed bayonets.”

Robert Rosenthal was a German, born in Magdeburg in 1892. At the age of around 16, he went to sea, and spent time in America where he presumably learnt, or improved his American accent as in 1914 he was in England using the assumed name of Harry Berger and travelling as an American.

He travelled between England and the continent a couple of times without any problems, but on his final trip in May 1915 he was arrested as he tried to board a ship.

His arrest was down to a strange error in the direction of post. He would travel back to Copenhagen as travel to Germany was not possible, and when in Copenhagen he had posted a letter to Germany, detailing his plans. This letter was accidently put into a mail bag heading to England, which was opened on arrival by the postal censorship authorities, revealing his identity and travel plans.

The court martial at Middlesex Guildhall found Rosenthal guilty and he was sentenced to death as a spy. Rather than the typical execution by firing squad, Rosenthal was hanged at Wandsworth prison just 8 days after the trial, on the 15th July 1925.

Whilst the Middlesex Guildhall today does not see any court martials, as the home of the Supreme Court, the building will now often see the ultimate determination of justice. Probably the most high profile recent cases have been the challenges to the Brexit vote and the process of leaving the European Union a few years ago.

As well as the historic and legal sculpture, there are also a number of cultural references, including the following reclining figure with an artist’s palette and brushes.

Middlesex Guildhall

A walk to the rear of the Middlesex Guildhall will be rewarding. The name of the street, Little Sanctuary, recalls what was here when Westminster Abbey allowed privilege of sanctuary to law-breakers who took refuge in its north west precincts.

Middlesex Guildhall

More of Henry Charles Fehr’s ornate sculpture can be found:

Middlesex Guildhall

And then there is a rather different entrance:

Middlesex Guildhall

The stone gateway surround is all that remains of Bridewell or Tothill Fields prison which originally stood roughly where Westminster Cathedral is today, set back from Victoria Street.

The plaque above the door reads:

“Here are ….. Sorts of Work for the Poor of this Parish of St Margaret’s Westminster. As also the County according to Law and for Such as will Beg and Live Idle in this City and Liberty of Westminster. Anno 1665.”

A sign adjacent to the door explains how the gateway arrived at the Middlesex Guildhall:

Middlesex Guildhall

The Middlesex Guildhall is Grade II* listed, however this did not stop some significant internal change when the building was reconfigured to be ready to function as the Supreme Court.

The three Court Rooms, with the main court room originally being the Council Chamber for Middlesex Council, were planned to have much of their wooded seating, paneling and decoration removed and many of the internal rooms reconfigured for their new purpose.

Save Britain’s Heritage campaigned for the changes to be abandoned, however although they had the support of many in the arts and architecture communities, judges and MPs, Westminster Council approved the plans, and on appeal it was decided that it was in the national interest to have a Supreme Court and for the court to be located in Middlesex Guildhall, and that these national interests over-rode listed buildings law.

The original plans had included the removal of the arms of Middlesex from above the main entrance doors, however, as the photograph shows earlier in the post, the arms remain as a reminder of the original function of the building.

The second building for this week’s post is the:

Old City of London School

Viewed from across the River Thames, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge, and between the cranes of the works for the Thames Tideway Tunnel is the building that was home to the City of London School.

City of London School

The origins of the school date back to around 1442, when John Carpenter, a former Town Clerk of the City left a property for the education of four choristers at the Guildhall Chapel.

In the early 19th century, the City of London decided to review the provision of education in the City, including that provided to the Guildhall Choristers, and in 1883 decided to found a school for the “religious and virtuous education of boys, and for instructing them in the higher branches of literature and in all other useful learning”.

The result was the first City of London School which was built on the site of Honey Lane Market, north of Cheapside. This market was not far from the site of last week’s post on the corner of Wood Lane and Cheapside, see the same map from the post showing the location of Honey Lane Market:

City of London School

The Honey Lane Market school opened in 1837, however by 1878 the school was becoming far too crowded, and the decision was taken that a new site and larger school was needed. The school was described as “affording educational facilities, to, on an average, upwards of 600 boys at one time. The sons of people residing in, and within a few miles of the City of London, and engaged in commercial, professional or trading pursuits, at moderate cost, and without removing them from the care or control of their parents”.

The original school on the site of Honey Lane Market:

City of London School

Source: Wikimedia Commons – Engraving by J. Woods of the City of London School in Milk Street. Original steel engraving drawn by Hablot Browne (1815-1882) after a sketch by Robert Garland (1808-1863). This was published in The History of London Illustrated by Views in London and Westminster (1838)

By coincidence, Henry Charles Fehr, who was responsible for the sculpture on the Middlesex Guildhall, had been a pupil at the City of London School on the Honey Lane Market site.

A site alongside the recently constructed Victoria Embankment was chosen, and in December 1882, the new school was opened by the Prince of Wales.

The new school would support up to 700 children and was intended to provide a level of education that would “lead to Universities for those who seek it”.

The new school photographed at the end of the 19th century, about 15 years after opening:

City of London School

To the rear of the building facing the Victoria Embankment were a number of additional school buildings along with a large playground and gym. Below ground there was a rifle range.

In 1937 for the centenary of the school, a biology lab was opened along with “one of the finest swimming pools in London”. In 1956 a Junior School was added to the site and two years later new Science rooms were added.

View of the school from Blackfriars Bridge, partly hidden by the Thames Tideway Tunnel works where a new intercept junction is being built, so that flow from the city sewer system can be intercepted and fed into the new tunnel. A new public space will be created when the work has completed.

City of London School

In the above photo, it looks as if the new river wall to the new space is being installed. Taking a closer look at this I was fascinated to see that the words “Bazalgette Embankment, Tunnel 48m Below”. Brilliant to see that the creator of the Embankment is being remembered, along with the latest engineering project at the site, with the depth of the tunnel far below.

Detail on the new river wall:

City of London School

A side view of the old City of London School shows the different materials used, with stone facing to the front of the building and much cheaper brick to the sides:

City of London School

The school on the Embankment would continue in use until 1986, when a new school was built, a short distance along the river, on a large site between Queen Victoria Street and the river. Part being constructed over Upper Thames Street.

The front of the building from the Victoria Embankment:

City of London School

If you look at the above photo, just below the parapet that lines the base of the roof, you will see four statues which reflect the educational focus of the school in literature, poetry and science with Shakespeare, Bacon, Milton and Newton being represented, however one of these has a strange spelling:

City of London School

Look at the statue to the left, and the spelling of the name on the plinth is Shakspeare, missing out the “e” between the k and s, as in the normal spelling of Shakespeare.

I know there have been alternative spellings of Shakespeare’s name, however the version with the “e” seems to have been the standard for many years.

Was it a simple spelling mistake? Did one letter need to be dropped so the longer name would fit across the plinth? or is there some other reason? I would love to know.

Following the move of the school in 1986, the building was refurbished and is currently occupied by the asset management company J.P. Morgan.

The Middlesex Guildhall and the City of London School have found new uses, and appear safe for the time being from any further redevelopment, however for my final building of this week’s post, there is a pub that may be at risk:

The White Swan – Fetter Lane

I photographed and wrote about the Swan in Fetter Lane last July when I went on a walk to find all the pubs of the City of London.

White Swan

Plans have recently been approved for the redevelopment of 100-108 Fetter Lane, however these plans include two options for the pub:

Option A is for a new office building, but with the White Swan Pub relocated and “reimagined in an enhanced manner”.

Option B is for flexible office space, a pedestrian route, gardens and the White Swan retained as part of an extension of new commercial space.

Source: Buildington

Option A, where the pub appears to be demolished, and a new pub built in the dreaded words of “reimagined in an enhanced manner” sound rather ominous.

White Swan

Just three buildings out of the thousands that can be found across London, and representative of the change that always has, and will continue to take place across the city’s streets. I do hope though, that the White Swan survives. A fine example of a 1950’s brick built, London pub.

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On the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street

For this week’s post, I am in Cheapside in 1986, looking across to the shop of Shirt Makers L&R Wooderson, on the corner of Wood Street:

Wooderson

Thirty five years later and the building is still there, however L&R Wooderson have now been replaced by a card shop, Cards Galore:

Wooderson

A wider view, showing Wood Street leading off Cheapside to the right:

Wooderson

The location is shown in the map below, by the red circle. For reference, part of St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen to the left  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Cheapside

There is much to discover in this small, corner plot of land, part of which has a large tree which towers over the top of the shop, and can just be seen in the above photos.

The tree has been a significant landmark on Cheapside for very many years, and it was mentioned frequently in newspapers throughout the 19th century, for example in the following from the London Sun, when on the 1st April 1846 the paper reported:

“A ROOKERY IN CHEAPSIDE AND A CHERRY TREE ON LONDON BRIDGE – It is a singular fact that at the present times there are two crows’ nests on a lofty tree at the corner of Wood street, Cheapside; the birds are mated. One day last week, a furious fight took place between the four of them, which ended in the partial demolition of one of the nests. The damage has been since repaired. On the City end of London bridge a cherry tree, growing from one of the chinks in the granite, is now putting forth leaves. It is almost three years old.”

The tree appears to have been under threat in 1881, when multiple newspapers carried the following report:

THE CHEAPSIDE TREE – A flagrant act of arboricide is about to be perpetuated of malice aforethought and in open day. If there is one tree in London the position of which, apart from all personal charms and apart from the rest due to venerable age, deserves to be saved from the innovating axe, it is ‘the Cheapside tree’. For generations its pretty group of foliage has peeped out as a surprise and contrast to the surrounding masses of stone and brick. It has been a standing emblem to thousands of fagged and dust-stained city clerks of their annual fortnight holiday. It is blessed amongst trees. A tree of the street is infinitely more precious than ‘a tree of the field’. But it is doomed, and bad luck to the ruthless contractor or avaricious land-jobber by whose instigation the Cheapside tree is to be laid low.”

The tree did survive, no doubt helped by the number of references to the possible destruction of the tree in newspapers using such graphical descriptions as in the above report.

The tree was also used in adverts and references to shops and businesses in the immediate vicinity of the tree, adding the tree to their location to help potential customers find their business. L&R Wooderson were also using the tree as a reference in the 1986 photo, as shown by the following extract from the photo of the shop door:

Wooderson

The term “Under the Tree” was used by a number of businesses operating in the terrace of buildings of which L&R Wooderson is part, for example:

  • Illustrated London News: 13th August 1853 – Rowe’s 25,000 Cab-Fares to and from all the Railways, Public Buildings, &c in London. Samuel Row, Under the Tree, Cheapside
  • Kentish Mercury: 31st January 1890 – The Express Dairy Company’s new branch at 130, Wood Street, Under the Tree, Cheapside is now Open for Business
  • The Bystander: 2nd August 1905 – For Gentlemen, the H.W. Velvet Grip Boston Garter. The Acme of Comfort, the Height of Perfection. L&R Wooderson, Under the Tree, 122/4, Cheapside, E.C.

It is difficult to determine the age of the tree. It is a London Plane tree, and the Woodland Trust define the tree as a cross between the Oriental plane and the American sycamore. They also state that the tree was first noticed in London in the mid 17th century, and that planting across London started in the late 18th century, so the tree probably dates from at least the late 1700s and must be around 250 years old.

A view of the tree from Wood Street, looking back towards Cheapside shows the impressive height and spread of the tree:

Wood Street

The tree also featured in the following photo from the book Wonderful London by St John Adcock, from the first decades of the 20th century:

Wooderson

The shop of L&R Wooderson is also in the above photo, looking much the same as it would many years later in 1986. Friday Street, and the plaque on the right of the above photo will be the subject of a future post.

The first written reference I can find to L&R Wooderson is an advert in the Daily Telegraph and Courier on the 27th September 1899 for:

“HOSIERS – Improver WANTED – apply personally or by letter, L.R. Wooderson, 45, Eastcheap, E.C.”

However whilst the name is correct, in 1899 their address was at the eastern end of Eastcheap, towards Great Tower Street. The 1895 Post Office Directory confirms their original Eastcheap address and gives their full names as Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson.

This is where researching these posts always leads me down different routes, as having their full names, I wanted to know a bit more about them.

Searching the census records resulted in a bit of a mystery. The 1881 census records Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson living at 47 Lester Square, St Anne Soho (the parish).

I am not aware that there was a Lester Square, or that Leicester Square was originally called Lester Square, and could not believe there was an error in the census data. Reading through the census entries for 1881 there is also a St John’s Hospital at 45 Lester Square. There was indeed a St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin at number 45 Leicester Square from 1865 to 1867, which confirmed that the spelling of the square was wrong in the 1881 census.

In 1881, Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson were part of a large family at number 47 Leicester Square, which consisted of:

Cheapside

Llewellyn and Robert were aged 8 and 6 in 1881, and whilst the rest of the children were born in London, Robert is recorded as being born in Canada.

Their father, Henry Wooderson is listed as a Fruit Salesman, as is the eldest of the sons, also a Henry, however although son Henry has the same first name as his listed father, he cannot have been his biological father.

There is a 12 year age difference between Henry (28) and his wife Sarah (40), and if Henry had fathered the younger Henry, he would have been 11 at the time, so possibly Henry, George and Edwin are the sons of a previous marriage of Sarah’s with Llewellyn and Robert possibly being Henry’s biological sons.

The two Henry’s worked in Covent Garden market as a Henry Wooderson & Sons is listed in the 1913 book “Covent Garden, Its Romance and History” by Reginald Jacobs. The younger son George may well have gone into the same business as a George Wooderson is listed as having a shop in the north row of shops at Covent Garden.

By the 1891 census, the father Henry could possibly have died as there is no mention of him in the census. The eldest son Henry was now married to Harriet and they were living in Tavistock Street. Llewellyn who was now 18 and Robert, 16, were living with them. By 1891 they had started in the profession that would result in their shop in Cheapside as their were both listed as Hosiers Assistant, and not long after they would open their first shop in Eastcheap.

By 1901, Llewellyn had joined the commuting class having moved out to Somerset Road in Reigate, to a terrace house which is still there. Married to Alice, and with two sons Llewellyn (2) and Malcolm (0). The business must have been doing reasonably well as also living in the house was a domestic servant

In the 1911 census, Robert Wooderson was married to Nellie Geraldine and had two sons. In the 1881 census, Robert was listed as being born in Canada, however the 1911 census adds the city of Toronto. It would be fascinating to understand why, of all the family members, only Robert was born in Canada, and what his mother was doing in the country at the time.

Also in 1911, Robert was listed as a Gentlemens Hosier, and he was living along with his family in Lessar Avenue, Clapham. His house is still in the street.

By the 1939 Register, Robert had moved to Atkins Road, Wandsworth, and his son Thomas was aged 40, single and listed as a Master Hosier so had probably joined the family business in Cheapside. Robert would die in 1957.

I cannot find any reference to Llewellyn’s later life.

They also seem to have had the two shops, the original on Eastcheap, and the shop featured in the photos at the start of the post on the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street. It would have been fascinating to try and find out more about their life, however I am always constrained by time within the scope of a weekly post.

Behind the old L&R Wooderson shop, and where the tree is located is a small patch of open ground facing Wood Street:

Cheapside

This was the churchyard of the church of St Peter West Cheape. The churchyard can be seen in the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map, on the left, above the “C” of Cheapside:

Cheapside

In the above map of 1746, a row of buildings is shown between the churchyard and Cheapside, following the line of buildings that we see today, however in the earlier 1682 map by William Morgan, the churchyard (above the E and A of Cheap) is an open space up to the edge of Cheapside:

Cheapside

The appearance of the buildings, of which L&R Wooderson was a part, gives the impression of being of some age, however there is no (that I can find) confirmed dating of the terrace, however they do follow the alignment shown in the 1746 map, so they do follow the property boundaries of the post Great Fire rebuild.

The church that once occupied the space, along with its churchyard, was one of the churches lost in the 1666 Great Fire, and not rebuilt.

In the book “London Churches Before The Great Fire” by Wilberforce Jenkins (1917), the old church was described:

“The ‘Church of St Peter, West Chepe, stood on the corner of Wood Street, Cheapside, and was not rebuilt after the Fire. The well-known tree in Cheapside marks the spot, and a small piece of the churchyard remains. It was sometimes called St Peter-at-Cross, being opposite the famous Cross which stood in the middle of the street, and was at one time an object of pride and veneration, and at a later period the object of execration and many riots, until pulled down and burnt by the mob. The date of the ancient church is uncertain, but there would appear to be a reference to it in 1231. In the ‘Liber Albus’, one Geoffrey Russel is mentioned as having been present when a certain Ralph Wryvefuntaines was stabbed in the churchyard of St Paul’s and being afraid of being accused, fled for sanctuary to the Church of St Peter.

Thomas Wood, goldsmith and sheriff, is credited with having, in 1491, restored or rebuilt the roof of the middle aisle, the structure being supported by figures of woodmen. Hence, so tradition says, came the name of the street, Wood Street.”

The “famous Cross” mentioned in the above extract was one the crosses erected by Edward I in 1290 on the corner of Wood Street, to mark the resting places of Queen Eleanor’s coffin on its way from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey.

The cross was a large structure and was decorated with religious iconography including images of the Pope and the Virgin. From the mid 16th century onwards, the cross was the subject of attack by puritans who objected to the religious symbols on the cross.

On the 2nd of May, 1643, the cross was demolished, which was illustrated in the following print produced by Wenceslaus Hollar in the same year (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cheapside

The illustration at the bottom of the print shows the “Booke of Sportes upon the Lords Day” being burnt on the site of the cross.

The Book of Sports was a book first published in 1617 during the reign of James I to define what sports were allowed on a Sunday. Initially only covering Lancashire to try and resolve a dispute between Puritans and mainly Catholic gentry, the guidance within the book was applied across the whole country in the following year.

Republished by Charles I, the book was a constant problem for Puritans who considered any playing of sport on a Sunday against their religious principles. As the influence of Puritanism grew in the lead up to the English Civil War, Parliament ordered that the book be publically burnt, one of the burnings was on the site of the cross, on the 10th May 1643.

The old churchyard of St Peter, West Chepe is now a small open space with a small number of gravestones. In the following photo, the brick rear of the building on Cheapside, including the old shop of L&R Wooderson is shown on the left:

Cheapside

Some of the graves are from the early 19th century showing that while the church was not rebuilt after the Great Fire, the churchyard continued in use.

Side gate between the buildings facing Cheapside and the graveyard:

Cheapside

On the railings facing onto Wood Street is an image of St Peter, along with the cross keys frequently shown with St Peter as the “keys to heaven”.

Cheapside

And on the rear of the image of St Peter, is the date 1712 and the names of the churchwardens, which appears to date the railing to 1712:

Cheapside

I would have liked to have had the time to find out more about the Wooderson family. For how long the family was involved with the shop and when it finally closed. Cards Galore who currently occupy the shop seem to have been expanding during the 1990s, however I cannot find their Cheapside shop listed during this decade, so perhaps it was in the 2000’s that L&R Wooderson finally closed.

This has been an incredibly interesting corner of Cheapside, tracing the family of the shop, a church destroyed during the Great Fire and the Cheapside Cross destroyed in the years leading up to the English Civil war, however as usual, I am just scratching the surface.

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Bagnigge Wells, House and Gardens

Although today there is very little of it to see, water has shaped much of London. The alignment of streets, property boundaries, rise and fall of the land have all been shaped by water. Whilst these are all subtle indicators of the historic presence of water there are still a number of more visible signs that hint at an areas history, and one of these is on a building on the western side of King’s Cross Road.

Bagnigge Wells

The sign reads “This is Bagnigge House Neare the Pinder A Wakefeilde 1680”.

The Pinder of Wakefield was a pub that dated back to the early 16th century in Gray’s Inn Road. A pub with the same name was on the same site until 1986, when the building was purchased by the “The Grand Order of Water Rats” charity, renamed the Water Rats, and is now a performance venue.

Bagnigge House and the Wells that were found in the gardens of the house are the subject of today’s post.

The house in King’s Cross Road with the Bagnigge House sign:

Bagnigge Wells

The location of the Bagnigge House stone, along King’s Cross Road is shown by the red circle in the following map  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Bagnigge Wells

The red rectangle highlights the area covered in the post.

If you look to the left side of the red box, you will see Cubitt Street, a street which unlike the rest of the streets in the area, does not follow a straight line and is curved around an area of land between Cubitt Street and King’s Cross Road.

To the left of Cubitt Street, the map shows the light blue line of the old River Fleet. I have double checked with my go to reference for London’s old rivers; “The Lost Rivers of London” by Nicholas Barton and Stephen Myers, and the routing of the Fleet shown in the above map is roughly right.

Before the streets and buildings of London had extended this far north, this was an area of fields and agriculture. The River Fleet ran through the fields, the area was low lying and rather wet, especially after heavy rains when the Fleet would have flooded.

Rocque’s map of 1746 provides a view of the area in the middle of the 18th century. Fields cover the majority of the area, but in the upper centre of the map there are buildings and formal gardens bounded by the River Fleet and a street named Black Mary’s Hole.

Bagnigge Wells

The street to the left labelled “Road to Hampstead and Highgate” is today, Grays Inn Road.

Black Mary’s Hole is now King’s Cross Road. There are various interpretations of the name, but the majority of sources refer to a black woman called Mary, who sold water in the vicinity from a well or fountain.

As well as the Fleet, the Rocque map extract also shows the irregular shape of a number of ponds, confirming that this was an area where there was plenty of water.

By 1816, streets and buildings had started to reach the area, and the following extract from the 1816 edition of Smith’s New Plan of London shows the area between the Fleet and King’s Cross Road (in the centre of the map) now labelled Bagnigge Wells.

Bagnigge Wells

To the right of the map is New River Head and on the edge of the map, Sadler’s Wells, further illustrating how water has shaped the area.

Turning off King’s Cross Road into the side streets, and we can get a view of the drop in height down to King’s Cross Road and the rise in height on the opposite side. An indication of the river valley of the Fleet.

The following view is looking down Great Percy Street from Percy Circus, with the rise of Acton Street across the junction. The River Fleet would have run from right to left along the lowest part of the view.

River Fleet

The area of land shown in the Roque map between the Fleet and Black Mary’s Hole appears to have been enclosed at some point in the second half of the 17th century. The land was to the east of a field called Action Field that occupied the area west to what is now Gray’s Inn Road. The name of the field is preserved in the present day Acton Street.

When a Thomas Hughes purchased the land in 1757, he had the waters from a well that was already in use, tested by a Doctor John Bevis, who reported that the water from the well had chalybeate properties (in the context of water, the name chalybeate means that the water contains iron, see also my post on the Chalybeate Well in Hampstead).

To capitalise on these findings, Thomas Hughes opened the gardens and the well to the public in 1759. This was the period when there were many pleasure gardens opening up around the City. Outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, in places such as along the south bank of the Thames, in Islington, and in Bagnigge Wells.

They provided a pleasant place to visit, away from the smoke, dirt and noise of the City. St. Chad’s Well was another well a short distance away from Bagnigge Wells that had gardens and a pump house where customers could drink the water. I have written about St. Chad’s Well here.

The gardens around the well were attractively laid out, entertainment, food and drink was also provided to customers, both to attract customers to the gardens as well as for profit.

Bagnigge Wells seems to have been a success as some of the land on the opposite side of the River Fleet was purchased to expand the gardens.

A print from 1843 appears to show the stone that is now in King’s Cross Road above the garden entrance (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Bagnigge Wells

The inscription on the stone in my photo at the top of the post has the date 1680. In the print above it could be 1689, so either an error, or a later updating of the inscription over the years has changed the original date on the stone.

The date does pre-date the time when the gardens and well were part of the pleasure gardens so the house referred to must have been one of the earliest houses on the land.

Although the caption to the following print does state “The Original Garden Entrance To Bagnigge Wells, Established in 1680”, the gardens and wells were not a public gardens at that time (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

River Fleet

Presumably, the view is looking north with the garden entrance on the left and Bagnigge House behind the trees on the right.

The river running along the middle of the print must therefore be the River Fleet, which looks rather serene and calm, however it was not always so, and heavy rains around the source of the river in Hampstead could quickly result in the river flooding as the following article from the Derby Mercury on the 9th September 1768 reports:

“And about One o’clock yesterday morning the water came down in such torrents from Hampstead that the road and flat fields about Bagnigge Wells were overflown; the water rose eight feet perpendicular above the usual height of the drain, and was nearly four feet above the foot bridge at that house; the Pleasure-garden, cellars, and Out-houses belonging thereto were overflown, and several of the Pales broke down by the Violence of the stream. Great damage was done to Mr Harrison’s Tile-kiln near the said Wells, where three young men were sleeping in an Out house and were surprised by the Flood, and two of them drowned. The house of Dr. Sharpe, near Bagnigge Wells, was four feet deep in water, and a man and woman behind the House narrowly escaped being drowned.”

The article mentions Mr. Harrison’s Tile-kiln and if you refer back to the extract from Smith’s New Plan of London, you can see the tile-kilns just to the north east of Bagnigge Wells.

The rain was probably caused by the brief, very heavy showers we have also seen in London recently which cause a flash flood. Today, this volume of water falling in north London would now be carried by the same sewer in which the old River Fleet in now buried.

The following print is from 1777, eleven years after the floods in the above article and shows the buildings at Bagnigge Wells, with the entrance to the gardens on the left (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

Today, roughly where the River Fleet once ran, is Cubitt Street (originally Arthur Street). This is the street that curves slightly to the west of King’s Cross Road and is where the River Fleet formed the original western boundary to Bagnigge Wells as shown in Rocque’s map of 1746,

The view south along Cubitt Street:

Cubitt Street

And the view north along Cubitt Street:

Cubitt Street

In the above view, the River Fleet would have run roughly along the line of the street. Bagngge Wells was originally to the right, and following the commercial success of the gardens, expanded to include the left of the photo, with wooden bridges providing access between the two sections of the gardens.

Seats were arranged along the River Fleet for those who wanted to smoke or drink ale or cider. Tea, cake and hot buttered rolls were served, and concerts were held in the main room of the house. A small temple shaped building was created to house the wells from which water was taken and sold.

London’s pleasure gardens and their visitors were often the subject of satirical prints. The following print from 1781 shows “Mr. Deputy Dumpling and Family enjoying a Summer Afternoon” at the entrance to the gardens at Bagnigge Wells (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

18th century pleasure gardens were intended to be peaceful places in London’s countryside, away from the noise and dirt of the City. Where people could spend an afternoon or evening, being entertained, or just drinking and eating and seeing and being seen by others at the gardens, however they were not always places of peace.

in May, 1784, Bagnigge Wells was the scene of some violence between two opposing political groupings, as documented in the following newspaper report:

“Yesterday evening the gardens at Bagnigge Wells exhibited a strange scene of riot and confusion. How the affair began is not easy to be determined, but, at the same moment, several hundreds of Stentorian lungs vociferated the cry of ‘Hood and Wray’ and these were answered by the exclamation of ‘Fox for ever’. Intoxicated with liquor and politics those who were for Hood and Wray boxed with the friends of the Coalition and Fox, and many on both sides were knocked down with the canes and sticks of their adversaries. So sudden a disarrangement of the tea-table apparatus was perhaps never before seen and innumerable fragments of china shone on every walk, and served to give issues to the inflamed blood of the fallen and sprawling heroes. Those peace officers were sent for, the tumult was not appeased for near two hours and a half. Three men, who had been active in fomenting the disturbance, were taken into custody and were soon rescued”.

The same newspaper also reported on a “violent fracas” between the same two opposing groups in the Piazzas, Covent Garden.

Wray was Sir Cecil Wray who was a member of Parliament but was highly critical of proposals to raise taxes by a “receipts tax” which he claimed would fall “on the middling ranks of people and very partially and unequally laid”. Wray preferred a land tax, which in his view had always been too low in the country, but was opposed by the land owning classes (some things do not change).

He also presented a petition that had been drawn up by the Quakers calling for the abolition of slavery, which he called “an infamous traffic that disgraced humanity”.

The MP Charles James Fox put forward the East India bill which proposed nationalising the troubled East India Company, and Wray was strongly opposed to such an action.

At the general election Wray and Lord Hood stood against Fox with Wray standing as an Administrative candidate in Fox’s Westminster constituency. It was a violent election period as indicated by the trouble at Bagnigge Wells, however Fox won and Wray then appears to have abandoned any plans to try and get back into Parliament. He was described as being “one of the most upright, one of the most virtuous, one of the most honourable and independent men” in Parliament.

Up until the end of the 18th century, Bagnigge Wells continued to be a fashionable place to visit, however its days were numbered as the buildings and streets of London started to surround the gardens.

Less desirable and the “lower class of tradesmen” were now to be found in the gardens, and there was petty crime and prostitution, as illustrated by the following print from 1799 titled “The Road To Ruin”, where a young man, possibly an apprentice, in poor fitting clothes, stands between two prostitutes who appear to be berating him (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Bagnigge Wells

In 1813, the manager of the gardens went bankrupt, they reopened somewhat reduced the following year and attempts to rejuvenate the place by building a concert hall in 1831 led to nothing as the customers of the concert hall were described as being of the “disreputable sorts”. The concert hall closed in 1841 and what was left of Bagnigge Wells was built on.

With the River Fleet now buried in a sewer, there are today no signs above the surface of the waters that once made this area an attractive place to visit, away from the noise and dirt of central London.

I have photographed the plaque before, however there was a bus stop directly in front which made the plaque rather difficult to photograph. The following photo is from about 18 months ago and shows the bus stop in its original position.

Bagnigge Wells

If you refer back to the second photo from the top of this post you can see that the bus stop has now been moved to the right. No idea why this has been done, but it does make the plaque easier to see, which is to the good, as it is the only reminder of Bagnigge House, the Well and Gardens now to be found in the area.

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The Death of the London Telephone Box

Before exploring the London Telephone Box, an update on the walk exploring Islington’s place in the history of London’s water supply and some of the original buildings at New River Head, that I wrote about in a post a couple of week’s ago. I will be guiding on some of these walks and whilst most of walks have now sold out, the only walk that has tickets remaining is on Friday 10th September (PM). They can be booked here.

I cannot remember the last time I used a telephone box, or when I last saw anyone else using one. The mobile phone has effectively killed off the need to find a telephone box, yet they are still to be found across the city.

I have a number of photographic themes when walking London’s streets and for the last couple of years, London’s telephone boxes has been added to my theme list. So long a key part of the city’s street infrastructure, I wonder for how long they will survive.

The majority do not work, many have had their phone equipment removed, and many are not in a state that you would wish to stand in and make a call, even if they did work.

Some have found new uses. The most common being advertising as they are often in prime street locations, with full length advertising covering their windows.

The original red telephone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a design he entered into a Post Office competition in 1924. The model K2 telephone box was the result, which first appeared on the streets of London in 1926. He would then update the design to the K6 which first appeared in 1934 and is the traditional red telephone box we see across the streets of the city.

There have been many modifications, and significant redesigns, the majority of these coming after the Post Office / British Telecom was privatised in the 1980s.

The technology in the phone box has changed over the years. I can just remember the manual method of paying for a call when you had to Press Button A to put coins into the phone to make a call, then if the call was not answered, Press Button B to return the coins.

Having the right change for a phone call was always a problem, and hearing the dreaded pips when the money was running out and you had no more change was a challenge for calls of more than a few minutes.

There are some 2,390 telephone boxes which have been listed by Historic England. The majority are Grade II, but some Grade II*. Historic England have a spreadsheet available for download here, which details the location of all listed telephone boxes.

I have to admit to finding telephone boxes rather scary. I know exactly why. As a young teenager I watched the short 1972 Spanish horror film La Cabina, or the telephone box on TV. It is why whenever I used a telephone box I would always keep my foot in the door, to keep it slightly open. The film is on Reddit, here.

So, still never letting a door shut me in a phone box, here are a selection of photos of London telephone boxes, starting with Charterhouse Square:

Telephone Box

Grade II listed (the larger K6 models) telephone boxes at Smithfield Market:

Smithfield Market

One of the modern versions of the telephone box, also showing how so many of these are now used for advertising. This one is in Aldersgate Street:

Aldersgate Street

Advertising is a potentially profitable business for the reuse of telephone boxes. They are in locations where they are easy to be seen, and where there is a high footfall, so they originally could be found when you wanted to make a call. These original reasons for locating a phone box also apply to sites where advertising works best, and as advertised on the phone box in the photo below, at the junction of London Wall and Moorgate, there is a company (Redphonebox Advertising) that specialises in this new use.

Telephone Box

Perhaps the most photographed telephone box in London is this one in Great George Street / Parliament Square:

Parliament Square

Before Covid, there would frequently be queues of tourists waiting to get their photo taken in a London red phone box with the Elizabeth Tower, or more probably Big Ben to those taking photos, in the background.

With the lack of tourists this phone box is now much quieter, and looking inside, even in such a prominent position, the telephone does not work, with the front panel being pulled away from the rear.

Telephone Box

The following telephone boxes in Parliament Street are also a frequent destination for those wanting a photo with a phone box.

Parliament Street

The following phone box is by the side of Grosvenor Road:

Telephone Box

Internally, whilst the phone still has power, and the display reads BT Payphones, there is no chance of talking to anyone with the vandalised handset:

Telephone Box

This view of the telephone box shows changing street furniture. The old, unused telephone box alongside a TfL cycle dock:

Telephone Box

The above telephone box was made by Walter Macfarlane & Co, at their Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. It seems the company took on the manufacture of phone boxes in the late 1940s after their traditional markets started to disappear. The foundry closed, and the site demolished in 1967, however the company has left their mark on multiple telephone boxes across London:

Telephone Box

Outside Pimlico Station:

Pimlico Station

Duncannon Street, looking towards Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery:

Telephone Box

St Martins Lane, opposite the Duke of York’s theatre:

Telephone Box

Great Newport Street:

Telephone Box

The large blue plaque in the above photo records that the artist Joshua Reynolds lived there between 1753 and 1761.

Charing Cross Road, looking up towards the junction with Shaftsbury Avenue:

Charing Cross Road

The telephone box in the following photo is in St Giles High Street with the church of St Giles in the Fields in the background. The door was left open, and at the time, it was not a phone box you would want to make a call from, even if it was working.

St Giles high Street

Shaftesbury Avenue:

Telephone Box

Bloomsbury Street, opposite the Bloomsbury Street Hotel:

Telephone Box

As with many telephone boxes across London, despite being in Bloomsbury Street, the phone box is used as a litter bin. The telephone equipment has been removed.

Telephone Box

Outside the British Museum:

British Museum

Telephone boxes have been converted to other uses. In Russell Square, two have been converted to a take away coffee shop:

Italian Tiranisu and Coffee Shop

Known as the Italian Tiramisu and Coffee Shop:

Russell Square Gardens

Walking further around Russell Square Gardens and there are another three, which according to the Historic England spreadsheet are Grade II listed:

Russell Square Gardens

At the entrance to Regent Square Gardens on Regent Square:

Regent Square

Looking inside the Regent Square Garden’s telephone box:

Regent Square

At the junction of Euston Road and North Gower Street:

Euston Road

Upper Street, Islington:

Upper Street

Across the road from the above phone box is the following:

Islington

Waterloo Place, looking up towards Piccadilly Circus:

Waterloo Place

The Strand, close to Charing Cross Station:

Charing Cross Station

Opposite Charing Cross Station are these four telephone boxes:

Charing Cross station

They are usually more obvious, however the black hoardings to their right are slightly obscuring them.

Hard to imagine seeing a row of four, empty telephone boxes, however they were sited together in an area of frequent use. In a high footfall area, between the Strand, Charing Cross Station, Trafalgar Square and the theatres of the West End, they would have attracted a considerable number of users.

When I commuted into and out of London during the 1980s, train distruption would always lead to long queues at the phone boxes as the only means of communicating with those at home, or who you were to meet, that you would be late.

Later conversions of telephone boxes have tried to keep them relevant, however Internet access on a mobile phone renders WiFi from a phone box a failed model for their continued use.

Telephone Box

These two telephone boxes are Grade II listed, so even if there are no customers who have an urgent need to make a telephone call from in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, they will probably be here long into the future:

St Paul's cathedral

In the triangle of land where St Martin’s le Grand meets Cheapside:

Telephone Box

Telephone boxes advertising the time when cards as well as coins could be used to pay for a call:

Telephone Box

Euston Road:

Euston Road

Outside St Pancras Station, with the sex work adverts that were once common across central London telephone boxes:

St Pancras

I titled this post the Death of the London Telephone Box, however that is not quite true. Many of them are listed so presumably will be around for years to come, and they are valuable assets as an advertising platform, however what they will not be used for is their original purpose of making telephone calls.

What is clear is that many are not maintained or cleaned. I have found very few that actually work. Many have had their equipment removed, others have been vandalised and many of the remainder are just dead.

I suspect the majority of people under the age of thirty have never used a telephone box, and find the concept of a fixed, wired phone rather antiquated.

They are a left over from a time when the only way to make a call when out on the streets was from a telephone box. When you needed to call for a lift home late at night, meet with friends, change an appointment, check on a place to meet, or just simply calling someone for a chat, the red telephone box was an essential part of street infrastructure.

One of my other photographic themes is information panels, intended to show the passerby what can be seen in the area. I walked by this one a couple of weeks ago, close to the Bank junction:

Bank junction

The plaque was unveiled by the Queen in October 2002, and shows the City’s skyline as it was, just 19 years ago,

Thr highlighted buildings include the London Stock Exchange, Tower 42 (the old NatWest Tower), 30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin) and the Lloyds of London building.

it is a strange location as none of these buildings can be seen from the location of the plaque. I cannot remember if it has been moved from a different location. The “You Are Here” label on the map implies it is in its original location.

Bank junction

Walking further into the Bank junction and only Tower 42 remains visible, although now partly obscured.

Bank junction

London’s streets will continuously change, as technologies change as do the buildings lining the streets.

As with the transition from telephone boxes to mobile phones, there seems to be another transition gradually underway with the introduction of low traffic neighbourhoods, closure of many city streets to vehicles, cycle lanes etc.

It will be interesting to see how this impacts the city’s recovery from the pandemic, Does it enhance the city, or restrict its viability as a place to work.

In future, will the car in a city be seen the same as a telephone box today, an essential in the past, irrelevant in the future?

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Churchill Gardens and Battersea Power Station

If you travel along Grosvenor Road, the road that runs along the Thames embankment in Pimlico, opposite Battersea Power Station, you may catch a glimpse of a tall, round tower between the blocks of flats that form the Churchill Gardens estate.

It looks rather out of place. An industrial construction within an area dedicated for residential housing. It is now 70 years old, and is the remains of an innovative solution to make use of waste heat from Battersea Power Station to warm the homes of those living on the opposite bank.

Churchill Gardens

The tower is the most visible part of a highly complex system, that took hot water from Battersea Power Station, pumped it under the Thames through specially constructed pipes, stored water in the tower, then distributed it across both the Churchill Gardens and Dolphin Square estates for heating and hot water.

The system is described in considerable detail in a book published in 1951 for the Festival of Britain by the Association of Consulting Engineers. A large book that celebrates the work of civil engineering and construction across a wide range of projects.

The introductory paragraph to the section on the Churchill Gardens project provides an excellent description:

“In the ancient City of Westminster, almost within the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, so severely damaged by German bombers in 1942, great blocks of new flats are rising to meet the needs of London’s teeming millions, thousands of whom are still living in bomb-shattered houses built a century ago.

It is perhaps indicative of Britain’s will to survive and to surmount her economic troubles, that this great new housing estate, together with, it is expected an existing group of flats – probably the largest in Europe – is to have complete space heating and water heating by means of a district heating plan, thus banishing the dust and drudgery of the open coal fire, and the nuisance caused by the delivery and removal of fuel and ash for each block of flats. This plant is unique in two respects: it’s the first public heat supply in London, and it is also London’s first district heating plant wherein the heat is the byproduct of electricity generation. By this means the thermal efficiency of electric generating stations may be raised from its present figure of 25 per cent, to a figure approaching 75 per cent, for stations generating both electricity and heat.”

The section in the book is titled “District Heating Scheme, Pimlico Housing Estate and Dolphin Square”, as at the time the book was put together, the estate had not yet been given the name of Churchill Gardens.

The book includes diagrams and photos of the project.

In the following diagram, we can see Battersea Power Station at lower left, pipes leading under the river to the Churchill Gardens estate which is bounded by Lupus Street, Claverton Street, Grosvenor Road, and Westmoreland Terrace on the western boundary (now an extension of Lupus Street).

Churchill Gardens District Heating System

In the lower centre of the estate is the tower, labelled as the “Hot Water Accumulator”. Dolphin Square, which also received hot water from the scheme is to the right.

The pipes under the Thames were installed in a pre-existing Metropolitan Water Board tunnel, and they consisted of 12 inch bore pipes for feeding water from Battersea and pipes for the return of water. They were insulated by being covered in 2 inches of compressed cork.

The water sent from Battersea Power Station was up to a maximum of 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius) and was stored in the tower, or to use its correct name, the “Hot Water Accumulator” before being distributed across the estate.

Hot water was fed directly to radiators for heating and to a calorifier for hot tap water (a calorifier is basically a coil of pipe inside a tank of water allowing heat to be transferred between the two, so water from the mains supply was delivered at the tap, rather than water from the power station).

The purpose of the tower was to store a sufficient supply of hot water to balance demand, for example when there was higher demand than could be provided immediately through the pipes under the river.

Water temperature was regulated by the injection of the cooler return water to the hot water as by the time water had been used to heat the estate and it was being pumped back to Battersea, it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit cooler then originally sent.

The following diagram shows the supply chain from power station to flats:

District Heating System

The hot water accumulator tower, along with the rest of the heating system was constructed at the same time as the rest of the Churchill Gardens estate:

Churchill Gardens

The system had a number of safeguards built in as the Ministry of Health required assurance that the system would prevent the release of water at 200 degrees onto anyone who was working on the system. This included measures such as automatic stop valves which would operate when a fall in pressure was detected.

The outer surface of the tower consists of a steel framework with translucent glass panels.

Within the tower was the accumulator vessel which was 126 feet in height, and 29 feet in diameter. Constructed of mild steel plates and with a 3 inch layer of cork to provide insulation.

Hot Water Accumulator Tower

The project would save a considerable amount of coal, with the text in the book calculating a total of 10,000 tons of coal saved each year by taking the waste hot water from Battersea Power Station.

The amount of heat supplied to the individual flats across the estate was not measured, and a standard charge was applied to all residents for the service. For other buildings, the charge was based on the surface area of the installed radiators.

The hot water accumulator tower, and the first blocks of flats on the estate on the day of the official opening in 1951:

Hot Water Accumulator Tower

The following map shows the area today, with the Churchill Gardens estate within the red box, Dolphin Square with the blue box, and the hot water accumulator tower marked by the orange circle. Battersea Power Station is across the river marked by the light blue box (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Churchill Gardens

I went for a walk through the Churchill Gardens estate to find the accumulator tower and to take a look at the estate. Starting at the eastern side of the estate, I walked through the road that runs through the centre of the estate – Churchill Garden Road.

This is the view looking into the estate from Claverton Street:

Churchill Gardens

Map of the estate at the entrance from Claverton Street:

Churchill Gardens

Along with an early speed limit sign:

Churchill Gardens

The A.G. Dawtry. Town Clerk mentioned on the speed limit sign was Sir Alan Dawtry, who was town clerk, then chief executive of Westminster City Council from 1956 to 1977. He lived for 61 years in the nearby Dolphin Square complex and was instrumental in saving the building when in the 1960s the company that owned Dolphin Square was going through financial problems, and there was a risk that the buildings would be sold off and converted to a hotel.

The above sign probably dates from the later part of the 1950s, as the estate was being completed.

Pre-war, the area occupied by the Churchill Gardens estate had consisted of industrial buildings and terrace houses. Bomb damage during the war, and the slum conditions of the housing meant that the area was ideal for redevelopment.

The 1943 County of London plan had proposed the development of large, well planned estates, and at the end of the war, Westminster City Council launched a competition for the design of a new estate.

The competition was won by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, who were also responsible for the design of the Skylon for the Festival of Britain, the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster and the Museum of London building at London Wall.

The winning design by Powell and Moya included buildings with a variety of heights, consisting of eleven storey blocks to three and four storey houses and maisonettes. This was intended to break up any monotony across the estate, and to attract a broad cross section of residents.

Gardens and playgrounds would be provided between the buildings, and to address the urgent need for post war housing, the estate was designed to accommodate a high density of 200 people per acre, which was the maximum allowed at the time.

The first part of the estate that we reach from Claverton Street was the last finished. Built in the early 1960s, this part of the estate makes more use of glass than the rest of the estate:

Churchill Gardens

One of these 1960 to 1962 blocks crosses Churchill Garden Road, almost creating the impression of a gateway to the rest of the estate:

Churchill Gardens

Looking along Churchill Garden Road, we can see the main blocks of flats:

Churchill Gardens

The road curves as it runs through the estate, so the main blocks of flats do not form a continuous wall along the road. They are also aligned north – south so as to maximise the amount of day light that would fall on their main east – west facing windows.

The blocks that were built during the first phase of construction, from 1946 up to 1951 have large, glazed stairways protruding from the sides of the blocks. Later blocks would have galleries running along the length of the blocks.

Churchill Gardens

Well kept gardens between the blocks:

Churchill Gardens

Shelley House with a glimpse of the hot water accumulator tower to the right:

Churchill Gardens

In the above photo, a blue plaque can be seen on the wall.

Shelley House was one of the first four blocks completed by 1950 and the blue plaque is a Festival of Britain Award for Merit granted to these first blocks. These four blocks (Chaucer House, Coleridge House, Shelley House and Keats House) along with Gilbert House and Sullivan House on the western edge of estate, and the accumulator tower are also Grade II listed, and indeed the whole estate has been designated as a conservation area.

The Festival of Britain Award for Merit:

Festival of Britain

Looking back along Churchill Garden Road, and the block on the left has another plaque:

Churchill Gardens

This plaque marks the official opening of the estate on the 24th July 1951 when the first phase of the estate, including the hot water accumulator tower, had been completed:

Churchill Gardens

In the 1951 book by the Association of Consulting Engineers, the estate was called the “Pimlico Housing Estate”, as the estate had not yet been given an official name. A newspaper article in the Westminster and Pimlico News dated the 23rd March 1951 provides the sources of the name:

“It was disclosed at Westminster Council meeting that the name ‘Churchill Gardens’ was the brainwave of Housing Committee chairman, Councilor Miss Paton Walsh.

Mrs. Winston Churchill has agreed to perform the opening ceremony of the estate and of the district heating undertaking on Thursday, July 19.

Miss Paton Walsh pointed out that Mr. Churchill had many connections with Westminster in that he had lived and worked there and he was also their first honorary freeman of the city.”

The official opening covered the first phase of the estate and construction would continue into the 1960s. The 1950s were a difficult time for construction as there were so many competing demands for workers and materials as post war reconstruction gathered pace. This was also having an impact on Churchill Gardens as this article from the 3rd of August, 1951 edition of the Westminster and Pimlico News reported:

“Heartbreaking – It will be heartbreaking for home-seekers if flats at Churchill Gardens are held up while huge Government buildings started in the city are favoured and supplied with all the steel they need.

Sir Harold Webbe, Westminster’s MP attended the opening of Churchill Gardens. He is fully acquainted with the position. If there is a grave delay in the building of these flats he will undoubtedly use his influence in an effort to get things moving.”

Although the streets and houses that Churchill Gardens replaced had suffered bomb damage, with many regarded as slums, they were still occupied, and people were only moved when building had reached their part of the future estate. In 1959, contractors were preparing for demolition of the houses on the eastern edge of the estate ready for construction of the blocks that would be built in the early 1960s, however as the Westminster and Pimlico News reported on the 31st July 1959, there could still be delays:

“Demolition of houses in Claverton Street and Ranelagh Road, Pimlico on the site of Section IV of Churchill Gardens housing estate depends on rehousing the families still there.

Ald. C.P. Russell, chairman of the housing committee, said this at the Westminster Council meeting in a reply to a question put by Cllr. O.M. Boyd.

If rehousing proceeded at the anticipated rate, he expected demolition to start in the sprint of 1960.”

Another plaque from A.G. Dawtry. Town Clerk, this time banning Hawkers, Canvassers and Street Musicians, along with cycling on paths, throwing stones or other missiles, and that exercising dogs on the paths and lawns is not allowed.

Churchill Gardens

It is at this point in the estate that we meet the hot water accumulator tower:

Hot Water Accumulator Tower

At the base of the accumulator tower are buildings that house equipment for the heating system.

The supply of hot water from Battersea Power Station ended in 1983, when the final generators at the power station closed.

The system supplying heat to Churchill Gardens was then converted to what we would now call as District Heat and Power system. In the buildings at the base of the accumulator tower are boilers along with heat and electricity generating systems which produce heat for distribution across the estate, along with electricity which is fed into the National Grid, which provides revenue to help subsidise the costs of the system.

A poor view through the fence into the equipment rooms at the base of the tower, along with a graphic of the tower on the glass:

Churchill Gardens

The range of the system has extended from the original 1951 installation. As well as Churchill Gardens, the system now provides heating for Abbots Manor, Russell House and Lillington Gardens, with 5km of underground pipes serving 3,250 homes along with schools and commercial premises.

Another view of the equipment rooms, with the brick base of the hot water accumulator tower in the right:

Churchill Gardens

When you get up close, you can see that the tower is built within a deep pit, the following photo shows part of the side walls to this pit:

Belgrave Dock

These walls look as if they have some age, older than the Churchill Gardens estate, and their original purpose is rather surprising.

Before the war, there was a considerable amount of industry in the area now occupied by the Churchill Gardens estate. A distillery, saw mills, engine works and a furniture stores. There were also a number of wharves and docks, including one long dock called Belgrave Dock. This can be seen in the following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey Map (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’:

Churchill Gardens

In the map, I have outlined the area occupied by Churchill Gardens in red and Dolphin Square in green. Note the difference in street layout between the area to the south of Lupus Street and the area to the north, which still remains much the same.

In the centre of the map is a long stretch of water – this is Belgrave Dock. I have marked the location of the hot water accumulator tower with the orange circle, and you can see that it stands in the middle of the dock.

The brick walls that can be seen in the pit next to the tower are the original surviving walls of Belgrave Dock. Rather amazing that these reminders of the areas industrial past survive.

Belgrave Dock seems to date from the early 19th century. The first written reference I can find is from the 26th February 1832 when the London News reported on a number of accidents during some of the very thick fogs that were covering parts of London at the time. As well as the Belgrave Dock, the report mentions the Grosvenor Canal, which was just to the left of the railway tracks on the left of the above map:

“FATAL ACCIDENTS DURING THE LATE FOG – Between eight and nine o’clock on Friday evening, a police constable discovered a woman in the Grosvenor-canal, Pimlico, quite dead: with assistance he got the body out, and conveyed it to the station-house, in Elizabeth street. The body was owned yesterday, and proved to be Mrs. Ann Hart, aged 72 years, residing in St George’s-row, near the wooden-bridge, Pimlico. There is no doubt that the poor old woman had, during the intense fog, walked into the Canal, which is very dangerous from its unguarded state, as she had her clogs on and a basket in her hand when found. She had merely gone out on an errand.

On Friday morning, john Dillon, a police-constable of the B. division, discovered the bodies of two men at the entrance of Belgrave Dock. They proved to be the bodies of Mr. Wilson, of No. 22, Prince-street, Lambeth, a wadding manufacturer, and his son-in-law, Mr. York; who it is supposed walked into the water during the fog.

The place is in a most dangerous state, particularly in foggy weather; and the only wonder is, that more accidents have not occurred. The place belongs to the Marquis of Westminster; and it is to be hoped that his Lordship will give immediate orders to have the evil remedied. We have heard that another female was brought out of the Canal yesterday morning.”

The report provides an impression of what the area was like in the early 19th century, and I like the address for poor Ann Hart as “near the wooden-bridge, Pimlico”.

Walking down the side road to the tower, and this is the view of the tower from the south:

Accumulator Tower

In the above photo, and in the photo below there is a large building completely covered in scaffolding, including scaffolding stretching across the road, presumably to provide some buttressing support to the building.

Balmoral Castle

Buried underneath the scaffolding is a closed pub – the Balmoral Castle. A painted sign can just be seen on the side of the pub.

Balmoral Castle

The Balmoral Castle dates from the mid 19th century and was part of the original development of the area. It can be seen in the 1894 Ordnance Survey extract above under the dark blue circle.

The pub seems to have been the focus for a number of sporting clubs, with the Metropolitan Cabdrivers Rowing Regatta and Mechanics’ United Rowing Club, along with the Pimlico Athletic Club all using the Balmoral Castle as their meeting place.

It was retained during the development of Churchill Gardens as the intention was to include community facilities for the residents. The pub closed in 2004, and the scaffolding was erected in 2014.

There have been plans to redevelop the area occupied by the pub and nearby Darwin House, but these do seem to be progressing rather slowly. In the meantime, part of the pub also seems to be supported by an incredible growth of what looks from a distance like a form of ivy.

Balmoral Castle

Continuing along Churchill Garden Road, and we can see blocks built during later phases. These do not have the multiple external stairs, but have galleries along each floor.

Churchill Gardens

There are design features such as concrete canopies over the entrances to the blocks:

Churchill Gardens

As well as the Balmoral Castle pub, a school was retained during the construction of the estate. This is St. Gabriel’s Church of England Primary School.

Churchill Gardens

The block of flats behind the school has the distinctive white rendered, rooftop drums for water tanks and lift equipment found on the top of the blocks across the estate.

At the end of Churchill Garden Road, I reached the western end of Lupus Street which forms the western boundary of the estate. The following photo is looking back through the estate:

Churchill Gardens

We then walked along Grosvenor Road, along the Thames for another view of the hot water accumulator tower, with the scaffolding surrounding the Balmoral Castle to the left:

Accumulator Tower

Part of the Churchill Gardens estate faces directly onto Grosvenor Road, however there are some original buildings that have survived:

King William IV

One of which was another pub that has recently closed and is now being redeveloped. This was the King William IV, originally from the mid 19th century and rebuilt in 1880:

King William IV

The future of the old pub seems to be some form of housing. The Health and Safety Executive Notification of Construction Project taped to one of the windows states that the address is now “Travel Joy Hostels Ltd” and the project will consist of 6 new apartments being designed and built, an extra floor added, and a basement to be constructed to the rear.

The old doors to the pub, with a gutted interior behind:

King William IV

A short distance along Grosvenor Road is Dolphin Square. This large estate was also provided with heating from the original Battersea Power Station / Churchill Gardens system:

Dolphin Square

My original reason for exploring Churchill Gardens was to find the hot water accumulator tower, and there was one final part of the original system that I had to visit, and this was Battersea Power Station, which supplied the waste hot water across the river to heat the estate.

Battersea Power Station seen from across the river:

Battersea Power Station

I also wanted to see how development of the old power station and the surrounding area was progressing. In the above photo, the large, glass apartment block that now sits between the power station and railway bridge can be seen on the right.

In the following photo, the additional building on top, and to the side of the power station can be seen:

Battersea Power Station

Crossing the river on Chelsea Bridge, and the apparently random jumble of towers that are spreading along the side of the Thames in Vauxhall can be seen:

Vauxhall

Battersea Power Station closed in 1983, and for many years the building was empty, roofless and derelict. After many false starts, much of the old building has been redeveloped. This included the complete reconstruction of the chimneys as the originals were structurally unsafe.

One of the chimneys is planned to included the Battersea Power Station Chimney Lift, which will lift visitors to the top of the tower to get a view from above. It is planned to open in 2022.

The redevelopment of the area follows the standard plan for any London developments – glass and steel apartments above, restaurants, cafes, shops and entertainment venues at ground level.

Alongside one of the new apartment blocks, restaurants, bars and a cinema have been built into the arches that line the railway viaduct:

Battersea Power Station

From the Battersea side of the river, we can look across the river to the blocks of Churchill Gardens, and the hot water accumulator tower that was once supplied by the power station:

Battersea Power Station

The new apartment block on the right closes in on the power station. There are restaurants on the ground floor and a small area of landscaping up to the river:

Battersea Power Station

Looking between the power station and apartment building. A similar glass and steel building has yet to be built on the opposite side of the power station as the area links up with the tower blocks currently being built along Vauxhall.

Battersea Power Station

The area behind and to the east of the power station is still blocked off for construction work, so there is not that much to see, apart from the area in front and around the new apartment building.

On a sunny Sunday, the cafes and restaurants seemed to be doing reasonably well.

The district heating system for the Churchill Gardens estate was the first of its type in London, and probably in the country. There have been a number of systems built since, the latest is the Bunhill 2 Energy Centre, built at the location of the long closed City Road underground station. Rather than waste heat from a power station, Bunhill 2 is unusual in that it takes heat from the Northern line tunnels below.

Bunhill 2 is an addition to the existing Bunhill energy centre built in 2012, which makes use of the more traditional gas powered engine to produce heat and generate electricity. The energy centre is open during this years Open House London event.

That was a rather long post, so thank you if you made it this far.

As usual there is so much to explore and discover. I find the combination of the hot water accumulator tower, built into the old Belgrave Dock, with the original side walls fascinating – relics of two very different industrial activities in Pimlico.

Churchill Gardens does have its problems, but is an estate that shows what can be done to provide housing with innovative design, well chosen materials, and importantly continuous maintenance of the buildings and landscape.

It was a fascinating walk.

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Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration and New River Head

House of Illustration is a small arts and education charity dedicated to the art of illustration – an art form that can be found on almost every aspect of modern life. Originally based in King’s Cross, the charity is moving to a very historic location and transforming into the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

Quentin Blake has been one of the most prolific and high profile illustrators of the 20th and early 21st centuries, with his work across many forms of illustration, including illustrating the works of the author Roald Dahl.

The new location for the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration will be at New River Head in north Clerkenwell / Islington, the site of the reservoir that terminated the first man made river bringing supplies of water to the city of London in the early 17th century.

Having been empty for many years, the base of the early 18th century windmill, the engine house and coal store at New River Head will be sensitively transformed over the coming year into the new centre. This transformation will ensure that these buildings are preserved and after being hidden away for so many years, will be given a new life hosting one of London’s small, but so important charities and exhibition spaces. The centre will also eventually be the home for Quentin Blake’s archive.

So why is this the subject of this week’s blog post? A while ago, a colleague from the Clerkenwell and Islington Guide (CIGA) Course was offered the opportunity to visit the site and create a walk that would illustrate how water has been key to the area’s development, and to visit the interior of the windmill and coal stores and the exterior of the engine house before work begins to create the new centre. 

Offered the opportunity to be involved, it took about a second to say yes, and for one week only there is a series of walks exploring the Fluid History of Islington, which, with the support of the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, includes access to the base of the early 18th century windmill, the coal stores and around the outside of the engine house at New River Head. I will be guiding on some of these walks, and colleagues from CIGA will be guiding the rest.

This is a unique opportunity to explore how water has influenced the development of the area, see these historic buildings up close, and learn about their future use.

The full set of walks are available to book here

As an introduction to the walk, the following illustration is the proposed plan of the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, Tim Ronalds Architects

In the above plan, the round building to the lower left is the base of the early windmill. I took the following photo of the building on a recent visit:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

The large building to the right is the old engine house. The interior will not be open for the visit as it is currently difficult to navigate, however we will walk around the outside of the building and talk about the part the engine house played in the development of New River Head and London’s water supply, along with the future of the site.

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: New River Head © Justin Piperger

The old coal store forms the longer building to the right, and will be open during the visit:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

As can be seen from the following illustration, when transformed to a new exhibition area, the fabric of the building will retain its industrial heritage:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, Tim Ronalds Architects, Prospective Gallery

The location for the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration is at a place that played a key part in the supply of clean water for London’s growing population for a considerable period of time.

The New River and reservoirs at New River Head were the first serious attempt at bringing significant volumes of water into London from a distance, and avoiding the need to draw water from the Thames, which by the end of the 16th century was not exactly a healthy source of drinking water.

The New River dates to the start of the 17th century, a time when there was a desperate need for supplies of clean water to a rapidly expanding city. Numerous schemes were being proposed, and the build of the New River tells the story of how the City of London, Parliament, the Crown and private enterprise all tried to gain an advantage and ownership of significant new infrastructural services, the power they would have over the city, and the expected profits.

The New River proposal was for a man-made channel, bringing water in from springs around Ware in Hertfordshire (Amwell and Chadwell springs) to the city. A location was needed outside the city where water from the New River could be stored, treated and then distributed to consumers across the city.

The site chosen, called New River Head, was located between what is now Rosebery Avenue and Amwell Street. The red rectangle on the following map shows the area occupied by New River Head (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

The story of the New River dates back to 1602 when a former army officer from Bath, Edmund Colthurst who had served in Ireland, proposed a scheme to bring in water from Hertfordshire springs to a site to the north of the city.

As a reward for his military service, he was granted letters patent from King James I, to construct a channel, six feet wide, to bring water from Hertfordshire to the city.

Colthurst’s was not the only scheme for supplying water to the city. There were a number of other private companies, and the City of London Corporation was looking at similar schemes to bring in water from the River Lea and Hertfordshire springs.

Whilst Colthurst’s project was underway, the City of London petitioned parliament, requesting that the City be granted the rights to the water sources and for the construction of a channel to bring the water to the city.

In 1606 the City of London was successful when parliament granted the City access rights to the Hertfordshire water, a decision which effectively destroyed Colthurst’s scheme, which collapsed after the construction of 3 miles of the river channel.

It was an interesting situation, as Colthurst had the support of the King, through the letters patent he had been granted, whilst the City of London had the support of parliament.

The City of London took a few years deciding what to do with the water rights granted by parliament, and in 1609 granted these rights to a wealthy City Goldsmith, Hugh Myddelton. He was a member of the Goldsmiths Company, an MP (for Denbigh in Wales), and one of his brothers, Thomas Myddelton was a City alderman and would later become Lord Mayor of the City of London, so Myddelton probably had all the right connections, which Colthurst lacked.

Colthurst obviously could see how he had been outflanked by the City, so agreed to join the new scheme, and was granted shares in the project. Colthurst joining the City of London’s scheme thereby uniting the rights granted by James I and parliament.

Work commenced on the New River in 1609, but swiftly ran into problems with owners of land through which the New River would pass, objecting to the work, and the loss of land. A number of land owners petitioned Parliament to repeal the original acts which had granted the rights to the City, however when James I dissolved Parliament in 1611, the scheme was given three years to complete construction and find a way to overcome land owners objections, as Parliament would not be recalled until 1614.

There were originally 36 shares in the New River Company. Myddleton had decided to enlist the support of James I to address the land owners objections, and created an additional 36 new shares and granted these to James I who would effectively own half the company.

in return, James I granted the New River Company the right to build on his land, he covered half the costs, and Royal support influenced the other land owners along the route, removing their objections, as any further attempts to hinder the work would result in the king’s “high displeasure”.

The New River was completed in 1613. It was a significant engineering achievement. Although the straight line distance between the springs around Ware and New River Head was around 20 miles, the actual route was just over 40 miles, as the route followed the 100 foot height contour to provide a smooth flow of water, resulting in only an 18 foot drop from source to end.

The New River Head location was chosen for a number of reasons. A location north of the city was needed to act as a holding location, from where multiple streams of water could then be distributed through pipes across the wider city.

The location sat on London Clay, rather than the free draining gravel found further south in Clerkenwell, and it was also a high point, with roughly a 31 meter drop down to the River Thames, thereby allowing gravity to transport water down towards consumers in the city.

The site already had a number of ponds, confirming the suitability of the land to hold water.

By the end of the 17th century, London had been expanding to the west and developement was taking place around the area now called Soho, including Soho Square.

The challenge the New Rver Company had with supplying water to London’s expanding population was down to having sufficient volumes of water available, and with maintaining water pressure.

The City of London was much lower than New River Head, and water pressure was generally good, however further to the west of the city, the land was higher, and the difference in height between places such as Soho and New River Head was insufficient to provide a good supply to new developments.

This is when the windmill appeared. The New River Company built a new reservoir at Claremont Square, towards Pentonville Road. This new reservoir provided extra storage capacity, and was also higher than New River Head, thereby able to deliver water at greater pressure.

A method was needed to pump water to the new reservoir and the method chosen was a windmill. This was in operation by 1709, but was never very efficient and the top of the windmill was severely damaged by a storm in 1720. Newspaper reports of the storm refer to “the upper part, quite to the brickwork, was blown of the Windmill at New River Head”

The storm also damaged large numbers of ships anchored in the Thames, and: “The Horse-Ferry boat, that passed to and fro from Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs was lost and is not yet found, and the Storm was so violent as to lay the Isle of Dogs under Water by the beating of Water over the Banks”

The following print shows the windmill in the 1740s with the sails and top section missing after the storm  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

By 1775, the top of the windmill appears to have been castellated. The first engine house is in operation to the left. The engine house replaced the windmill and later horse power by providing the power for the pumps.  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

The following print from 1752 shows the New River Head complex with the remains of the windmill after the 1720 storms  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

New River Head

To the lower left of the windmill is a small building that would have housed the horse-gin, used between the storm and the installation of the steam engine to power the pumps, pumping water to the reservoir which can be seen in the lower part of the view.

If you look closely between the reservoir and the windmill, you can see what appears to be a couple of pipes running between the windmill and a building on the edge of the reservoir from where water is pouring into the reservoir.

Although now reduced to just the base, it is remarkable that part of the windmill has survived over 300 years, and it is the base of the windmill that we will see inside during the walk.

After the storm, a “horse gin” was employed which consisted of a small building adjacent to the windmill that provided room for a horse to walk in a circle whilst harnessed to a wheel. The rotation of the wheel was transferred to the pumps to provide the power to move water from New River Head to the higher reservoir.

Later in the 18th century, this was replaced by a steam engine. Whilst we will not be able to go into the engine house, we will walk alongside to explore the history of the building:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: New River Head © Justin Piperger

Behind the engine house is a coal store used to store the fuel for the steam engines in the engine house. The following photo shows the coal store buildings on the left, with a storage area marked with dimensions on the right:

New River Head

Some photos of the interior of the engine house:

New River Head
New River Head
New River Head
New River Head
New River Head

New River Head would continue to play a part in the supply of water into the 20th century.

Reservoirs eventually built at Stoke Newington were of the size needed for London’s ever growing population, and the New River would come to terminate at these reservoirs rather than continuing on to New River Head.

The central Round Pond was drained in 1913. The remaining filter beds had disappeared by 1946, and New River Head became the head offices of the Metropolitan Water Board, along with supporting functions including a large laboratory building.

New River Head continues to be a key part of London’s water supply with one of the shafts to the London Ring Main on the site. The shaft is one of the 12 main pump out shafts across the ring main where water is taken out and distributed locally.

New River Head appeared in a 1748 print with astronomical drawings describing an eclipse of the sun. New River Head is at the bottom of the print, then fields and with the City in the distance  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

New River Head

One of the two characters at bottom right is using a telescope, presumably to observe the eclipse which took place on the 14th July 1748.

The above print is the type of find that sends me searching for something that is not really related to the subject of the post, however as New River Head is in the view, there is a tenuous link.

The 1748 eclipse was an event well publicised in advance, and numerous papers published recommendations on how to view the eclipse, which sound very similar to what we would do today (apart from the candle).

1. Make a pin-hole in a piece of paper, and look through it at the eclipse. Or,

2. Hold a piece of glass so long over the flame of a candle, till it is equally blackened; and then the eclipse may be viewed through it, either with the naked eye, or through a telescope. Or,

3. Let the sun’s rays through a small hole into a darkened room, and so view the picture of the eclipse, upon a wall, or upon paper. Or,

4. Transmit the image of the sun through a telescope, either inverted, as usual on a circle of paper or pasteboard.

In London the eclipse would start at four minutes past nine in the morning and end at ten minutes past twelve. The eclipse was partly visible, however for much of the time it was obscured due to what were described as “flying clouds”.

I can guarantee that there will not be an eclipse at New River Head during the week of the walks, however the walks will provide a unique opportunity to view some of the buildings that contributed to the development of London’s water supply, learn about their future use, and to hear how water has influenced the development of Islington.

The walks can be booked here.

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The Angel, Islington and Plackett’s Common

Even if you have not visited the area, or travelled to the underground station with the same name, you probably recognise the name of the Angel, Islington.

This is probably down to the game of Monopoly, where The Angel, Islington can be purchased for £100, and is one of the light blue board positions, along with Euston Road and Pentonville Road.

Monopoly is probably why the name Angel is nearly always followed by Islington. Unlike the majority of other places on the Monopoly board, the Angel, Islington is not a street, and when you buy a hotel for the location in the game, you are bringing some historic reality to the game.

The original Monopoly game was a US invention, and its migration to the UK happened when the board game makers John Waddington licensed the game for UK sale. The game required UK locations, and the story is that the Managing Director of the company, Victor Watson, along with his secretary, Marjory Phillips, visited the capital looking for locations for the game. Dependent on different Internet sources (always a dangerous thing), they either met, or had lunch at the Angel, and decided it would be a good location and name for inclusion in their new game.

The Angel, Islington had been a key London landmark and meeting place long before its appearance on the Monopoly board.

It appeared in the 1896 book “The Queen’s London”, published as a pictorial and descriptive record of London in the 59th year of the reign of Queen Victoria.

In the book, the Angel, Islington is described as:

“Trams and omnibuses give an invaluable gratuitous advertisement to the inns at certain points on their route; and one of the hostelries best known in all London – by name at least – from this cause is the Angel. For here trams start and stop, and innumerable omnibuses converge and diverge. The Angel occupies a commanding position at the corner of the High Street, Islington, and of Pentonville Road, leading to King’s Cross, while it faces the end of the City Road, Goswell Road, and St. John’s Street Road. It is no wonder, therefore that the pavement in front of it should be always thronged.”

The photo from the 1896 Queen’s London showing the Angel, Islington:

Angel Islington

The text from the Queen’s London sums up why the Angel, Islington became such a well known location – its position at the junction of four important London Roads.

In the following map, I have circled the location of the Angel (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Angel Islington

To the left is Pentonville Road, opened in 1756 as the eastern section of the New Road. It took its current name in 1857 after the Pentonville Estate which had been built on land around the road.

To the right is the City Road, completed in 1761, to continue the New Road on towards east London. These streets formed an 18th century “North Circular” allowing traffic to pass around the City, and to reach the best street for entering the City. One of these was Goswell Road which in the map above branches off to the south from City Road.

To the south is St John Street which led to the City and provided a direct route to Smithfield Market.

To the north, Islington High Street now forms the A1, indicating the street’s importance as the start of a key route to the north of the country.

The Angel, Islington was therefore located where drovers and farmers bringing their sheep and cattle to Smithfield Market would stop off before making the final journey. Where those heading north or south would stop before continuing their journey. Where those travelling around the City would stop, as the junction was a key meeting point, a place where people could relatively easily travel to and meet others from across both London and the rest of the country.

The area has long been associated with livestock. Local cattle farms as well as the fields around Islington providing stopping off points to feed and fatten cattle on their way to Smithfield Market. The Royal Agricultural Hall, built a short distance away in 1862 continued this tradition.

Long before the construction of Pentonville Road / New Road / City Road, the Angel had been a key stopping point. In the following extract from Rocque’s map of 1746, I have circled the location of the Angel, at the junction where the road that would become the start of City Road, with the branch of what is now Goswell Road, meet the street that continues south to Smithfield.

Angel Islington

Looking towards the upper half of the map, we can see how three key streets converged just before the Angel, which also contributed to the location’s importance.

The Angel, and the buildings lining the road up to Islington Green, Upper and Lower Streets are surrounded by the fields that were used for livestock and for the temporary provision of grazing prior to completing their journey to Smithfield Market.

The building seen in the photo from the Queen’s London was originally built in 1819, however by the time of the 1896 photo it had been heavily modified over the years and was known as the Angel Hotel. It was demolished to make way for a new version of the Angel, built by the owners of the site, Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. – the London brewery company.

The 1903 building (again, modified a number of times over the years) is the building that we see on the site today:

Angel Islington

The location of the Angel has long been the site for an inn or tavern. Some of the first references are to an inn on the site towards the end of the 16th century, when the property on the site was called Sheepcote.

The name Angel for the inn appears around 1614. There is a Wikipedia reference as to the origin of the name, however I cannot find any written references, either to confirm the Wikipedia suggestion, or to offer an alternative. When researching these posts, I prefer to have at least two different written sources, so for the purposes of the post I cannot find the source.

The excellent “Streets with a Story – The Book of Islington” by Eric A. Willats does state that early in the 17th century, the Angel had a sign of the Angel of the Annunciation, with wings outstretched, however the sign only aligns with the name, and does not identify the source.

The inn was a staging post for travelers from and to the city, and it was a good place to spend a night before entering the city. There are numerous 18th century newspaper articles about thefts and muggings across the fields, paths and roads between Islington and the built edge of the city, so after dark it was not a safe place to travel, and the Angel Hotel was the perfect place to stay until the following morning.

The following print shows the Angel as it appeared in 1808  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Angel Islington

The view is from what is now Islington High Street. The singe storey buildings to the left of the picture are stables that were on land owned by the Angel, located where Pentonville Road now runs, and extending across the street to the opposite side of the Angel.

The following print shows the view from the Angel, looking down the City Road. Goswell Road is the road branching off to the right  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Goswell Road

The print mentions the Blue Coat Boy public house. This is the building on the left of the print.

The print is also a perfect example of how easy it is to go off on a tangent with London’s history. The text at the bottom of the above print mentions Jack Plackett’s Common as the space where the obelisk now stands, (to the right of the print) at the junction of City Road and Goswell Road.

I suspect that Jack Plackett was John Plackett who was executed on City Road in 1762. A newspaper report of the time reads: “Yesterday the report was made to his Majesty at St. James’s, by Sir William Morton, Knight, Recorder of this City, of the Six Capital Convicts in Newgate, when John Plackett, for robbing Mr. Jacob Faye, was ordered, for Execution on Wednesday next, near the Turnpike-House, on the New Road from Islington to Old-Street”.

John Plackett was a career criminal who had already served seven years transportation for house robbery. At the end of this sentence, he returned to England and continued to commit a series of robberies between Islington and London.

The crime that led to his execution happened on the 10th June 1762, after he had spent the day drinking in a pub in Wapping. He left the pub around midnight and met the Norwegian merchant Jacob Faye (also written as Fayne).

Faye was trying to find his lodgings in Shadwell, however because of his poor English he could not explain where he wanted to go, or get any directions. Plackett met him and indicated that he should follow. Faye assumed he was taking him to Shadwell.

They walked for a lengthy time, and ended in the fields around Islington. It was here that Plackett hit Faye on the head from behind. Faye collapsed to the ground and after a while awoke to find that Plackett had stolen all his clothes and possessions, including his pocket book and money.

A reward was offered, and Plackett was quickly found, still in possession of Faye’s shirt. He was sentenced to be hung, and was executed on the 28th July 1762, on City Road, close to where he had committed his crime in the fields of Islington.

Although the obelisk has gone, there is still a landmark where City and Goswell Roads divide and at the point where Jack Plackett’s Common was located.

A short walk down City Road from the Angel, and this is the view where the roads divide:

City Road

A clock tower is now at the space once occupied by the obelisk – the area identified as Jack Plackett’s Common in the print.

Apparently, the obelisk was replaced by a clock tower, which in turn was replaced early in the 20th century by the clock tower we see today.

City Road

Around the base of the clock tower are the words from the third verse of the nursery rhyme “Pop goes the weasel”, as the City Road in the rhyme passes to the left of the clock tower:

Up and down the City road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel

The clock tower was made by the St Johns Square, Clerkenwell firm of J. Smith & Sons, and they donated the clock to replace the previous version. It was originally clockwork, and the company retained responsibility for maintaining and winding the clock. It is now electric.

It was somewhere on the space that stretches south from the clock tower that John Plackett was executed for the crime he had committed in the surrounding fields.

The view looking back towards the Angel, from where City and Goswell Roads divide, shows how both the height of the land, and the corner location contributed to the Angel being in such a prominent position for those travelling the roads in and out of the City of London:

Angel Islington

Although many of the 18th century newspaper references to the area around the Angel often refer to crime, there are the occasional reports that bring to life the people that once walked these streets. A report from the 5th January 1793:

“Saturday, a cutler, in the City road, undertook for a wager of five shillings, to hold by the spokes of a carriage wheel, while it was turned round for a given distance. A Hackney Coach was in consequence procured, and he placed himself on the outside of the wheel, holding the spokes with his knees and hands, and in this position continued from the Angel at Islington, to the turnpike, the coachman driving for the most part of the way with great velocity. At the turnpike he leaped from the wheel while in motion, and when the horses were in a smart canter, resumed his station on his return, eating with much composure, an orange”.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are many adverts for staff, adverts for auctions taking place at the Angel, and also references to the many meetings that would take place, many with an agricultural theme, continuing the Angel’s long term association with those bringing their livestock to Smithfield Market, and also those visiting the nearby Royal Agricultural Hall. For example, in December 1900, there was a meeting of the Cotswold Sheep Society, who held their annual general meeting in the Angel Hotel.

The Angel was also a stopping place for coach and mail services. The following print dated 1828, shows the Royal Mails at the Angel Inn, Islington, on the night of his majesty’s birthday  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Angel Islington

The destinations listed on the side of the coaches are Holyhead, Manchester and Liverpool, illustrating the routes that would be taken by those passing the Angel.

Lettering on the side of the building reads “Angel Inn Tavern and Hotel for Gentlemen and Families”.

The Angel would change significantly in 1921, when the lower three floors of the building were converted into a Lyons’ Café, with a Grill in the basement, Café on the ground floor, and cafeteria on the first floor.

The Lyons’ Café lasted until 1959, with the site then being sold to the London County Council.

The Angel had long been at an important road junction, with an ever increasing volume of traffic moving through the junction in front of the building. In 1932, Harold Clunn in The Face of London was describing the junction as “the busiest traffic centre of north London”.

The road junction was the reason for the London County Council’s purchase of the Angel site. There had long been proposals for ways in which the junction could be improved, however in the 1960s and early 1970s, a rather large roundabout was proposed as the solution for the amount of traffic using the junction, and the traffic bypassing the junction and using residential streets as alternative routes.

In January 1973, Mr. George Cunningham, the MP for Islington, South-West asked a parliamentary question about the plans for the junction and whether the Greater London Council or the national Government would be funding the costs.

Cunningham describes “The proposal at the Angel is for an enormous roundabout, the central island of which will be an acre or perhaps 1.1 acres in area. It will be surrounded by a relatively narrow carriageway of 20 yards—relatively narrow, that is, in relation to the central island”

There was strong opposition to the loss of the Angel, and such a large roundabout taking so much space, and in 1975 the GLC started researching less ambitious options for the junction. There was an updated proposal in 1979, however with political changes, proposals for the junction disappeared and the junction remained as we see it today.

The Angel, along with the Angel side of Islington High Street is now part of the Angel Conservation Area. In 1979 it was sold by the GLC to the New River Company, which by then was a property company and a subsidiary of London Merchant Securities. The building was refurbished and opened as offices and a bank on the ground floor. It now appears to be owned by an offshore property company.

The western side of Islington High Street, with the Angel at the southern end has an interesting range of buildings, that tell part of the story of the evolution of this part of Islington.

Angel Islington

In the above photo, the old Angel Hotel is on the far left. To the right is a Wetherspoons pub called the Angel. This is on land that was part of the original Angel Inn.

The narrow building with the tower is the remains of the Angel Cinema, built in 1911, the building was the narrow entrance foyer to the cinema, which led back to a large auditorium on land behind the buildings that face onto Islington High Street.

The building to the right dates from 1891, then the large brick building, along with the much smaller three story building on the right edge of the photo mark the site of another old inn, serving the people passing along these roads. This was the Peacock Inn that lasted from 1564 to 1962.

The large brick building was the final version of the Peacock and dates from 1931. The small building on the right is all that survives of the terrace that formed the 1700 version of the Peacock.

This was a fascinating walk around a very small area, and as usual there is so much to discover. Opposite the location of the clock tower was the original entrance to Angel underground station, which I covered in an earlier post.

The Angel is still a well known landmark, as it was well before the game of Monopoly brought the name to the attention of those who had never been to the area.

When exploring London, it is always interesting to find long lost places and place names, that tell some of the history of London life, and discovering Jack (or John) Plackett’s Common was a perfect example.

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The Strange Story of the Biddenden Maids

I ran out of time this week to complete the research and writing of the London post I had planned, so as it is summer, how about a trip to Kent, to visit the village of Biddenden, and discover the strange story of the Biddenden Maids.

This is not a random choice. As long term readers of the blog will know, as well as London, my father took lots of photos whilst cycling around the country and staying in youth hostels. This was with friends from London, and from his period of National Service.

I am also trying to visit the location of as many of these photos as possible, and take an updated photo to mirror the original.

One trip in 1948 included a route through the county of Kent. I have already written about the visit to Canterbury, however they also passed through the small village of Biddenden, and this was the view of the village green on a summer’s day in 1948:

Biddenden Maids

This was the same view in July 2021:

Biddenden Maids

Although there is 73 years between the two photos, the area around the central village green of Biddenden still looks much the same. For a change, I even managed to take the “now” photo with similar weather to the original, although this was more through luck than clever planning.

The main difference is the number of cars parked, and the more organised road markings and boundaries.

The central green area has also lost the original iron railings, and the village name sign has also been moved back further into the green.

Biddenden is one of the many very picturesque villages in the Weald of Kent, the area of once forested land that stretched across the south of the county.

I have marked the location of Biddenden in the following map . The town of Ashford is the grey built area to the right of the map, with Maidstone to top left of the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Biddenden Maids

The Ordnance Survey map from around the time of my father’s visit shows a small village surrounded by fields  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Biddenden Maids

The village green in the above photos is located at the road junction to the right of the street with buildings lining both sides. There has been some development, mainly to the north of the village, and west of the church, however Biddenden is still very much a village surrounded by fields.

Many villages in this area of Kent have rather ornate name signs, which frequently include a historic fact about the village, however few illustrate a story as strange as that of Biddenden.

Biddenden Maids

Looking closer at the name sign, it shows two women standing beside each other (1948 above and 2021 below):

Biddenden Maids

They are the so called Biddenden Maids, or the conjoined twins Eliza and Mary Culkhurst.

A newspaper article from the 15th May 1885 provides some background to the Biddenden Maids:

Among the various charities in the parish of Biddenden, in Kent, is one which has acquired some celebrity. On the afternoon of Easter Sunday a quantity of small flat cakes, made only of flour and water and impressed with the figures of two women, united at the sides after the fashion of conjoined twins, are distributed in the church porch to all comers. Bread and cheese, to a considerable amount, are given at the same time to the poorer parishioners. This, says tradition, was the legacy of the twin sisters, called the Biddenden Maids, who lived for many years united in their bodies after the manner represented in the cakes, and then died within a few hours of each other. There is also given to the recipients of the cakes a printed paper bearing upon it a representation of the impression on the cakes, and purporting to contain ‘a short and concise account of the lives of Elisa and Mary Culkhurst, who were born joined by the hips and shoulders, in the year of our Lord 1100, and in the county of Kent, commonly called the ‘Biddenden Maids’ .

It then proceeds- ‘The reader will observe by the plate of them that they lived together in the above state thirty-four years, at the expiration of which time one of them was taken ill and in a short time died. The surviving one was advised to be separated from the body of her deceased sister by dissection, but she absolutely refused the separation by saying these words ‘As we came together we will also go together’ and in the space of about six hours after her sister’s decease she was taken ill and died also.

By their will they bequeathed to the churchwarden of the parish of Biddenden, and his successors, churchwardens, for ever, certain pieces or parcels of land in the parish of Biddenden, containing twenty acres, more or less, which now let at 40 guineas per annum.

There is usually made in commemoration of these wonderful phenomena of nature about 1000 rolls, with their impressions printed on them, and given away to all strangers on Easter Sunday after Divine service in the afternoon; also about 500 quartern loves and cheese in proportion, to all the poor inhabitants of the said parish”.

At a distance of 900 years, it is hard to know the truth of this story.

Edward Hasted, writing in the “The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent” referenced the story as follows:

“There is a vulgar tradition in these parts, that the figures on the cakes represent the donors of this gift, being two women, twins, who were joined together in their bodies, and lived together so till they were between twenty and thirty years of age. But this seems without foundation. The truth seems to be, that it was the gift of two maidens, of the name of Preston; and that the print of the women on the cakes has taken place only within these fifty years, and was made to represent two poor widows, as the general objects of a charitable benefaction.”

Hasted did not seem convinced about the original story of the Biddenden Maids, however he does not give any further details or sources for his suggestion as to the truth of the story.

The money for the cakes and loaves came from the rents received from twenty acres of land known as Bread and Cheese land. If you look back at the Ordnance Survey map of Biddenden earlier in the post, two large fields to the upper left of the village were still called Bread and Cheese Land.

The first newspaper reference I can find to the Biddenden Maids is an article in the London Evening Standard in 1829. There are then numerous articles, mainly reporting on the Easter Sunday charity distribution, and the large number of visitors to the village who came to see and participate in the distribution of the cakes.

Popularising the Biddenden Maids would have helped the economy of the village.

According to Biddenden’s web site, the charity distribution still takes place:

“Once a year Bread and Cheese are given to local widows and pensioners at the Old Workhouse. Biddenden Biscuits, baked from flour and water, are distributed among the spectators as souvenirs. They bear an effigy of two female figures whose bodies are joined together at the hips and shoulders.”

A close up of the village sign in 1948:

Biddenden Maids

In 1948, the wording between the two women was “IN KENT” – a continuation of the village name above to show the county of the village, however by 2021, the names of the two women, Mary and Eliza had replaced the county name.

Biddenden Maids

The origin of the sign dates back one hundred years. In 1920, the King discussed the revival of village signs during a speech at the Royal Academy.

The Daily Mail then organised a village signs competition and exhibition with a fund of £2,200 being available in prizes. Of the ten awards made, the design for the sign at Biddenden received a special prize of £50.

There are a number of subtle differences between the signs of 1948 and 2021. This is probably down to the complete refurbishment of the sign in 1993.

This may have included the changes, such as, moving the sign back further into the green. replacing the county of Kent, with the names of the twins, and replacing the pole as the original square pole is now round, with some gold spiral decoration.

The photos of the village in 1948 and 2019 tell a story of how villages change, and stay the same. If you go back to the 1948 photo at the top of the post, there is a sign on the very first building on the left. The sign is for a bank, and looking at the high resolution scan from the scanner it seems to be a Lloyds Bank. Remarkable at a time when bank branches are disappearing by the day that in 1948 a small village of the size of Biddenden would have their own bank branch.

The building that was once the bank is shown in the photo below:

Biddenden

Not visible in the 1948 photo, but there is a terrace of rather special houses continuing on from the bank. These were Flemish Weavers cottages, dating from the 17th century:

Biddenden

Directly opposite the above terrace, there is a pub and café:

Biddenden

As we had travelled by car, the pub was out of bounds (Biddenden did have a railway station, however this branch of the Kent and East Sussex Railway closed in 1954), so we went into the Bakehouse Café, which was excellent, and which had the following inscription on one of the windows overlooking the street:

Biddenden

The main street through Biddenden village:

Biddenden

Behind me, in the above photo is the entrance to Biddenden’s church which stands at the western end of the village:

Biddenden Church

Parts of the church date from the 13th century, however there has been much later rebuilding. Unfortunately it was locked on the day of our visit so no opportunity to take a look inside.

Biddenden Church

At a distance of 900 years, it is almost impossible to be sure of the origins of the story of the Biddenden Maids, however the story is still central to the village, and it has been the driving force behind a charity distribution which has taken place for hundreds of years, and in a world where places get more and more standardised and similar, it is good for a place to retain its own unique identity.

For next Sunday, I will be back in London.

Southbank Walks

A couple of tickets have become free on two of my Southbank walks. If you are interested in exploring the history of the Southbank and the Festival of Britain, there is:

All other walks have sold out.

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