Winchester Palace and the Great Hall, Clink Street

Clink Street in Southwark is close to Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market, and the street is part of the busy walk along the south of the river. Converted warehouses line the river side of Clink Street, but on one part of the southern side of the street, a remarkable survivor, the Great Hall of Winchester Palace can be seen; the Southwark residence of the Bishops of Winchester.

Winchester Palace

The following map extract shows the location – the green rectangle towards the middle, top of the map is the part of the palace that can be seen alongside Clink Street (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Winchester Palace

The first evidence of a palace for the Bishops of Winchester dates back to the 12th century, with an eastern boundary wall, and some building of stone construction.

The 13th century saw the expansion of the palace estate with some major construction work. This work included a number of two storey blocks, a hall, chapel and courtyard. Work also included improvements to the wharf along the River Thames.

The 13th century also included the surfaced road that would become Clink Street, with the name Clink Street being in use by the start of the 17th century.

One of the earliest references to Winchester House (as it was also known) comes from the life of St. Thomas à Becket by William FitzStephen, who wrote that Archbishop Thomas received hospitality at the house of the Bishops of Winchester before making his final journey to Canterbury where he would meet his death.

The Bishops needed a London residence, not just for their religious duties. At the time there was not that much separation between religion and government, and the Bishops of Winchester also frequently held some of the great Offices of State.

The Palace was also frequently used for entertaining, and hosted events for the rich and powerful of the land. For example, in 1424 the wedding feast of James, King of Scotland, and Joan, daughter of the Earl of Somerset was held at the palace.

The palace appears to have been in possesion of the Bishops of Winchester through to the mid 17th century, when it was turned into a prison for Royalists during the Civil War. In 1649 it was sold for £4,380 to a Thomas Walker of Camberwell, but after the restoration of the monarchy, the palace estate was returned to the Bishops of Winchester.

It was during the 1640s that a parliamentary survey of the palace was carried out, and around 1647 the artist Wenceslaus Hollar completed a drawing of the Palace, or Winchester House, the words Palace and House are frequently used in reference to the Bishops of Winchester residence  (Prints in this post are ©Trustees of the British Museum):

Winchester Palace

Hollar’s drawing shows an extensive range of buildings alongside the river. The Great Hall is to the right, with the rest of the buildings housing accommodation blocks, storage, kitchens, a chapel and stables. There were also extensive grounds to the palace.

The text below the above print provides some detail about Winchester House: “Winchester House founded in the year 1107 by William Gifford Bishop of Winchester as a Town dwelling for himself and successors on a piece of ground rented of the Priors of Bermondsey and which was situated at a small distance from the fine convent of St Mary Overy on Bankside Southwark. It was much enlarged by Succeeding prelates particularly Bishop Gardiner, in the reign of Mary and covered with its gardens &c. three acres and a half of ground”.

The small drawing at the bottom of the print shows the Great Hall, and it is the remains of this building that we can see alongside Clink Street today.

Although the palace was restored to the Bishops of Winchester on the restoration of Charles II, it was not really used again as their London residence. They now also had a property in Chelsea, provided to them by a 1661 Act of Parliament. Perhaps the location of their palace was not as pleasant for the bishops due to the growing population, the location of industry, entertainments and markets that were not allowed in the City of London, displaced to the south side of the river, and around the bishops palace.

The buildings of the palace were now let out to a large number of tenants and sub-tenants.

The bishops cannot have been too morally fussy in previous centuries, as the local area of Southwark and Bankside had a history of prostitution long before the Bishops left their palace in the 17th century, and they had a role in the governance, and profited from the brothels or “stews” that were found in the area. These had been banned in the City of London, so their south bank location, close to London Bridge was an ideal place to relocate.

The bishops let out buildings to be used as brothels and were also responsible for managing the “Ordinances Touching the Government of the Stewholders in Southwark under the Direction of the Bishop of Winchester” set out in the 15th century.

These ordinances dictate 36 specific rules and the fines associated with breaking these rules, for example:

  • Number 6: Owners of a stew (stewholder) could not lend a sex worker more then 6s 8d (this was done to prevent a stewholder from having too much control over a sex worker)
  • Number 9: a sex worker who paid the rent of 14d must be allowed to come and go at will. The owner of the stew must not interfere
  • Number 15: a fine of 40s if a stewholder’s wife solicited at a stew

Perhaps the most serious was for any sex worker who established a relationship with their procurer or what we would now call a pimp. For this they would be fined, they would also suffer a dunking on the cucking stool, possible imprisonment, and would also be banished from the borough.

Stewholders were also banned from selling food, drink and fuel from their premises.

The Bishops of Winchester profited from the rents from the buildings occupied by the stews and from the fines generated by any transgression of the rules. They were also expected to ensure the rules were adhered to, and manage law and order in the area.

The association of the Southwark stews with the Bishops of Winchester was such that the sex-workers in the stews became known as Winchester Birds or Winchester Geese.

The Bishops of Winchester probably made a considerable sum from the rents and fines, and it would be interesting to know if as supposedly religious men, they had a moral conflict with making money from women involved in sex work.

If they did feel any moral responsibility, it did not extend to the treatment of these women after death who were buried in unhallowed burial grounds, many at the nearby Cross Bones burial ground, today on the corner of Redcross Way and Union Street.

The Southwark stews were closed in 1546 when Henry VIII banned them.

During the late 17th and 18th centuries, the land occupied by Winchester Palace was further broken up and sold. Warehouses and docks now occupied the area as trade along the river expanded, and walls that remained from some of the old palace buildings were included in the new structures that grew up along the river and Clink Street.

As was common in the 19th century, in 1814 a large fire destroyed a number of buildings in Clink Street, but whilst the fire appears to have destroyed later building, it did reveal part of the old Great Hall of Winchester Palace, and the following print from 1828 shows the remains of the Great Hall exposed after the fire, looking very much the same as they appear today.

Winchester Palace

The following photo shows again the west wall of the Great Hall and Clink Street alongside. The three openings that look to be windows were doors from the first floor of the Great Hall to the kitchens on the other side. The space below was occupied by an undercroft or cellar.

Winchester Palace

A small part of the southern wall of the Great Hall remains, up against the west wall. A ground floor door below with a first floor doorway above:

Winchester Palace

In the years after the 1814 fire, warehouse space along this part of river was in short supply, so it would not be long until a new warehouse was constructed over the site of the Great Hall, however, the approach of minimising costs by including any existing stone or brick structures into a new build continued, and the west wall and rose window of the Great Hall were included in the new warehouses.

There was some damage to warehouses in the area during the last war, however this does not appear to include the two warehouses that had been built either side of the west wall. In 1943 a Mr. Sidney Toy, of the Surrey Archaeological Society removed the brickwork on the seperating wall on the 3rd and 4th floor of the warehouses, and found the rose window, still showing blackened markings from the 1814 fire and with parts missing, and used in other parts of the structure.

There have been a number of early excavations of the palace, such as a 1962 excavation on the site where a new warehouse was planned. The major excavation of the site of Winchester Palace took place during 1983 and 1984. These excavations revealed a considerable amount of evidence of the original palace, including parts of the eastern range of the early 13th century building which were found under the current location of the Cafe Nero, on the corner of Palace House.

The following photo shows the other side of the west wall. The majority of the wall has been covered over by a glass frame that appears to be part of the new building to the right. The edge of a Pret coffee shop can be seen to the right.

Winchester Palace

In the above view we can again see the three doors that led through to the kitchens that would have occupied this space.

The following print from 1815 shows the same side of the wall as in the above photo. The print was a year after the 1814 fire.

Winchester Palace

Behind the wall we can see the tower of St Mary Overy (today Southwark Cathedral), and on the left is London Bridge. The text at the bottom of the print provides some details as to the size of the Great Hall:

  • Total length of the Hall from East to West within the Walls, 108 feet, 5 inches
  • Width of the Hall within, 30 feet 3 inches
  • Thickness of the Wall, 3 ft, 6 inches
  • Diameter of the Circular Window, 12 feet
  • Each side of the Triangular Compartments (of the window) 2 feet 8 inches

The following print is dated 1812, so before the fire of 1814.

Winchester Palace

The print shows the south view of the Palace of the Bishops of Winchester. It is not clear whether it is a view of the Great Hall, however it does show the state of the buildings just over 150 years after the Bishops of Winchester had left their palace, and the buildings had been sold and let to multiple new owners and tenants.

It is interesting to compare the above view, with the following view of the same building on the right of the above print. This print is dated 1800, so just 12 years before the above print.

Winchester Palace

Given the age of the west wall of the Great Hall, and the amount of rebuilding over the centuries, it is a remarkable survivor from the original Winchester Palace.

The following map extract is from a map of the Parish of St. Saviours Southwark by Richard Blome (late 17th century but published by John Stow in 1720). Clink Street is in the centre of the map, and the location of the Great Hall is under the word Street.

Winchester Palace

There is no mention of the palace that was once of considerable importance, so perhaps by the time of the above map, it was just another part of the buildings that lined the streets of the area. The white space in the centre of the block bordered by Clink Street and Stony Street is probably one of the old courtyards of the palace, possibly the space in front of the buildings in the above two prints from 1800 and 1812.

The palace occupied a far larger area than the remains of the Great Hall we see today. The Museum of London Archaeology Service published a richly detailed report in 2006 (Monograph 31) covering the history of the palace and focusing on the excavations of 1984 and 1985 and the finds discovered under the new and redeveloped buildings that occupy so much of this area.

The wall of the Great Hall has survived for so long because it was included in the structure of later buildings. This is how a number of other very old structures have survived in London, for example the Roman and Medieval bastions at Cripplegate and much of the Roman wall.

When we rebuild today, the approach seems to be a complete demolition of the previous building, including all the foundations and basements. It is interesting to consider how much 20th and early 21st century architecture will remain to be discovered in whatever form London takes in the future.

When the weather improves, and we can go out walking, sit outside the Pret with a tea and sandwich, in what was the kitchen of the Great Hall, and imagine the feasts that were prepared here and taken through the doors into the hall.

alondoninheritance.com

The Willesden Oil Well

For just over a week, the blog has had a fault connecting with the subscriptions package, so although I wrote a new post last Sunday, it appeared on the blog, but did not get e-mailed out. The connection has been rather unstable for the last few days, but now looks better, so I hope the problem is fixed. To test, here is a post with the strange story of when Willesden was the centre of oil exploration in London.

I have mentioned before one of my fascinations with old books is that you never know what previous owners may have added between the pages. I was looking through a copy of Haunted England by Christina Hole (1941 – A Survey of English Ghost-Lore), and between the pages were a couple of clippings from newspapers about an oil well that was drilled in Willesden in 1947:

After the war, the country was desperate for foreign currency, and was trying to export as much as possible, as well as to limit any imports that would have to be paid for in a foreign currency, such as dollars.

One of the major dollar imports was oil and as the article mentions, any source of oil that would enable a reduction in imports would have been highly important to the economy.

The fact that there were traces of oil deep below the streets of Willesden had been known for a number of years. In 1911 a laundry business in Willesden had been drilling a borehole as a water source, but instead found traces of oil. This resulted in a search for oil by drilling the borehole much deeper to see if there might be commercial quantities available, as reported in the Pall Mall Gazette:

“Is oil present in paying quantities in Great Britain? Is this country to be to some slight extent independent of its coal measures?

That is an interesting question which, often mooted before, is prompted again by the recent announcements that oil had been discovered in a well-boring at the White Heather Laundry, Willesden. In the days when ‘booms’ are only too readily created, the owners of the Willesden property showed commendable reticence in refraining from making public their discovery until the news leaked out through a channel which has not yet been discovered.

It must be remembered that the oil obtained at Willesden so far only amounts to a very small quantity, and the question whether it is there in commercial quantity is not likely to be settled for some time; the boring was started in January, 1911, and the first indication of oil was obtained at a depth of 1,200ft on September 6th. The depth of the boring is now 1,735ft. The people concerned are now definitely ‘going for oil’ and the success or failure of their experiment will be watched with absorbing interest”.

There were further positive news reports including:

“One of the directors of the laundry (which was founded about ten years ago by four young men from Cambridge) said: ‘We have had several members of City companies up here already, including representatives of the Standard Oil Company. We had found a splendid quality of water at a depth of 1,000ft, but the quantity is short of our requirements, and that is the chief reason why we are going deeper. We prefer to test the real value of the oil discovery before making any sort of deal”.

The borehole found very salty water at a depth of 1600ft, which was assumed to be water from an old sea formation.

Water was rising to the top of the borehole, and variable amounts of gas would also bubble up through the water.

The 1911 borehole did find traces of oil deep below Willesden, but not sufficient quantities to be economically viable, so the “four young men from Cambridge” did not make their fortune from oil.

Another attempt at finding oil was the 1947 borehole in the article at the start of the post. It may well be that the need to restrict imports encouraged another attempt at finding oil after the failure of the 1911 borehole.

The 1947 borehole was drilled by the D’Arcy Exploration Co. Ltd, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. This was the oil company that was formerly known as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which was the first oil company to extract oil in Iran. The company would later become British Petroleum (BP), so this new exploration in Willesden was being undertaken by a company with some serious oil exploration heritage.

The cost for drilling the borehole and examining the results came to a total budget of £10,000, a considerable sum for such a speculative undertaking.

Expectations were high, and the planned borehole made the national press with the Daily Mirror reporting that there was a strong possibility of oil being found, and that “One of the officials on the site yesterday said ‘I think the prospects are good’ “.

Work on the borehole commenced in November 1947, with even the serious Illustrated London News stating that “North London could become another Kirkuk” (the city in Iraq that was producing 4 million tons of oil a year before the war). The borehole was being drilled in the Gibbons Road Recreation Ground, an area of open space we can still find today. In the following map extract, a red circle marks the approximate location of the borehole (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

An 87 foot high “jack-knife” derrick was used, powered by a Caterpillar diesel engine. The following photo gives an impression of the derrick in operation:

The borehole went down to the remarkable depth of 2,680ft, and the original bore hole logs by the D’Arcy Exploration Company can still be found online. The British Geological Survey has an online portal which maps all the boreholes that have been notified to them, and clicking on each borehole location will identify if the logs are online with a link for access (see link at the end of the post).

It is remarkable how many boreholes there are across London, and it is fascinating to look for patterns in their locations on the British Geological Survey site.

The borehole log for Willesden reveals the following rock strata as the drill headed 2,680ft below the surface of London.

The log pages reveal interesting details of what was found at different levels.

Pyrolised wood was found at about 60 feet (pyrolised refers to the decay of wood in the prescence of heat).

The Cuvieri Zone seems to refer to a zone where a specific type of plankton fossil called Orbulina was found.

A fractured zone with fish remains was found at a depth of 1085 feet.

Although trace amounts of oil were found, it was clear that Willesden would never be an oil producing area, and drilling of the borehole ended in January 1948. The borehole record contains the single word “Abandoned” at the end of the list of strata.

The borehole was capped, and concrete was used to fill the hole from a depth of 1000 feet to the surface – strange to think that this long concrete column now sits below Gibbons Road Recreation Ground – for comparison, roughly the same height as the Shard, and the overall borehole drilled down two and half times the height of the Shard.

Drilling had been met with an air of excitement in newspaper reports at the start of work, however by January 1948, the only reports were a small paragraph stating “Experts have abandoned hope of striking oil at Willesden, but work will continue to obtain general geological information”.

The geology of London is fascinating. In the Willesden borehole, thick layers of chalk were found. These form a sort of bowl underneath the city, curving below the city, rising up to form the Chilterns to the north of the city, and North Downs to the south.

The following graphic shows how the chalk layer dives under the city. The Willesden borehole drilled through London Clay and Chalk layers to the much older rocks below.

London Clay formed as a sediment at the bottom of a sea, formed around 56 to 34 million years ago. The chalk layers are much older and also built up on the bottom of a warm sea in the Cretaceous period over 65 million years ago.

The geology of London goes some way to explaining why there are far more Underground train routes north of the river than to the south. London Clay is a relatively easy substance to tunnel through, and although I have shown it equally spaced in the above graphic, in reality there is far more London Clay to the north of the river than the south.

London Clay is impermeable – water does not easily pass through the clay, chalk is permeable and explains why boreholes such as the 1911 borehole for the Willesden Laundry, were sunk to access water. Rain from outside the area of London Clay would flow through the chalk and water would collect in the layers of chalk under the city.

The British Geological Survey map of boreholes provides so much information on the geology below London. The chalk layer has provided London with water for centuries. The record for a borehole at 1 Bankside, performed in the late 19th century for the Belfast and London Aerated Water Company identified a minumum water flow of 3,000 gallons an hour. Water was found at a depth of 114.5 feet. The purity of the water was measured at 27.1 parts per 100,000 of total solids, or which 12.7 were Chlorine.

A note at the bottom of the borehole record states that the site was visited on the 11th July 1946 and that the borehole had not been filled in, but was boarded over and had not been used for some 30 to 40 years. The note remarked that the borehole probably could not be used anymore due to dirt and rubbish.

St Paul’s Catherdral sits on a hill, however in the distant past water has washed over this area. A 2008 borehole at One New Change identified a 6m thickness of River Deposits below the built layer near the surface. this layer consisted of dry sand and gravel for the first 4.5m, followed by a 1.5m layer of wet sandy gravel.

This may all seem rather remote as we walk the streets of London, however the strata below the surface impacts the location and design of so much of the infrastructure we take for granted.

For example, with the extension of the DLR from the Isle of Dogs to Greenwich and Lewisham a detailed geophysical investigation was undertaken along the route of the tunnel under the Thames. There was concern that a geological fault, (a fracture between two different blocks of rock) could have caused problems for the tunnel. The fault line was found slightly to the east of the tunnel’s proposed route.

The Thames Barrier sits astride the Greenwich Fault, and there are horizontal and vertical shifts of up to 50 meters and 5 metres respectively between the rock strata in the area around the barrier.

Seventy three boreholes were drilled during the planning of the Thames Barrier to check the ground beneath. There was concern that the chalk under the southern half of the site had been damaged during the ice age when frozen conditions could have resulted in the top layers of chalk crumbling into rubble, which would not have created a stable base for construction. Fascinating that we still have to consider the impact of the Ice Age on present day construction.

If you have exhausted the TV schedule, and Netflix, run out of alcohol, and the pubs are still not open, why not spend an evening browsing the British Geological Survey borehole portal. There are hundreds across the city. (The link brings up the UK map, click on the borehole scans at top left, geology transparency at top right to 100%, then zoom in to parts of London where the coloured dots of boreholes appear. Click on one of the dots to bring up information as to whether there is a scan available).

Boreholes for the Jubilee Line Extension, the new Thames Tideway Tunnel, historic boreholes drilled for water, such as the 600ft borehole beneath BBC’s Broadcasting House that was yielding 1,272 gallons of water an hour. Confidential or Restricted boreholes are spread across London. There are no online records for these, and it is intriguing to guess at the reason.

There was a potential attempt at drilling again at the original Willesden site, when London Local Energy applied for a licence to drill and search for oil and gas in 2014. The company believed that whilst small quantities had been found in the earlier boreholes, new fracking technology would allow an economic quantity to be recovered. The application did not make any progress.

Despite the considerable number of boreholes, no commercial oil has ever been found in London, so Willesden, or anywhere else in London will never see an oil bonanza.

alondoninheritance.com

Limehouse Cut and Angel Underground Station

Before starting on this week’s post on the Limehouse Cut and Angel Underground Station, can I thank you for all the feedback following last Sunday’s post. It is really appreciated.

I also hope that if you receive my posts as a subscriber, this one does reach you. For the last few days there has been a rather obscure error message in the component that links the blog with the WordPress tool that manages e-mail subscriptions. The hosting company is investigating, so my apologies if it does not reach you automatically.

You may well be wondering what on earth brings the Limehouse Cut and Angel Underground Station together in one post. I can assure you there is a common theme linking these two locations, which I hope will become clear as you read through the post.

Limehouse Cut

If you walk east along Narrow Street in Limehouse, over the bridge that crosses the channel from Limehouse Basin to the Thames, then turn towards the river along the Thames Path, and at the end of the new apartment buildings that go by the name of Victoria Wharf, you will find a short channel in from the river:

This was the original river entrance where the Limehouse Cut connected to the River Thames.

The Limehouse Cut was opened in 1770 to provide a direct route between the River Thames and the River Lea at Bromley-by-Bow.

The River Lea entered the Thames to the east of the Isle of Dogs, so the Limehouse Cut provided a much shorter route for barges heading to the City and east London by avoiding the need to travel around the full loop of the Isle of Dogs.

The following extract from the 1816 edition of Smith’s New Plan of London shows the Limehouse Cut running as an almost straight line from the River Lea at top right to the Thames, where I have marked the point where the Limehouse Cut connects to the river with a red circle – this is the short channel in my photo above.

The area to the lower left of the Limehouse Cut was mainly open space, with a limited number of buildings and streets, however this would be changing very soon.

Soon after the 1816 map was published, another canal was built to help with transport across the city. The Regent’s Canal ran from Limehouse and headed north to loop around north London, allowing goods to be transported from the river to the north of the city, thereby avoiding the congested road system.

Part of the Regent’s Canal included a large basin, an expanse of open water just before the point where the Regent’s Canal entered the river. There were warehouses around the basin, and barges would gather, waiting to transit to the river when tides allowed the locks to be open.

The Regent’s Canal Basin, and the entrance to the river was built immediately to the west of the Limehouse Cut.

For eleven years between 1853 and 1864, the Limehouse Cut was diverted into the Regent’s Canal Basin, however after 1864 the original entrance was back in use, with a new bridge carrying Narrow Street over the canal. This would last for another 100 years.

The following extract from the 1955 revision of the Ordnance Survey map shows the Limehouse Cut running from top right down to the River Thames, with the Regent’s Canal Basin immediately to the left, labelled as “Dock” (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

By 1968 industrial activity in the area had been in long decline as was trade on the Regent’s Canal and Limehouse Cut. The entrance to the river was again closed, and the Limehouse Cut diverted into the Regent’s Canal Basin that was renamed as the Limehouse Basin.

The following extract is from a map of the area today. Limehouse Cut is coming in from top right and diverting straight into Limehouse Basin, I have again circled the original entrance with a red circle (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

The pink road that appears to loop across the north of the Limehouse Basin is in reality underground as this is the Limehouse Link Tunnel.

The following view is looking across the old entrance to Limehouse Cut. The wooden boards may well be the original planks that lined the entrance to the canal.

A couple of high explosive bombs landed in the immediate vicinity so the area surrounding the wooden planks may well be repaired bomb damage.

A very faded information board at the old entrance to the Limehouse Cut:

Between 1853 and 1864, the Limehouse Cut had been diverted to the Thames via the Regent’s Canal Basin. In 1864, the original entrance was restored, and a new wrought iron girder bridge was installed to carry Narrow Street over the Limehouse Cut. This 1864 bridge remains in place, although because of the filled in entrance, the bridge is not that obvious apart from the iron side walls as the street is carried over the Limehouse Cut. This is the view from Narrow Street looking south towards the Thames:

The view looking north:

Looking over the northern edge of the bridge, we can see the section of the Limehouse Cut that was originally the lock that controlled access between the non-tidal canal and the tidal river. Much restored late 19th century lock keepers cottages line the western side of the old lock (to the left in the photo below):

The old Regent’s Canal Basin, now the smaller Limehouse Basin, today hosts a marina, and provides links with the River Thames, Regent’s Canal and via the Limehouse Cut, the River Lea, and are all really interesting walks.

The old Limehouse Cut entrance is evidence of the canal’s original 1770 route into the River Thames for one of London’s early transport systems.

Angel Underground Station

Today, the entrance to Angel Underground Station is on the corner of a modern brick office block, facing onto Islington High Street. It has not always been in this position.

To find the original station, you need to walk south to the junction of Islington High Street with Pentonville Road, and walk a short distance along City Road and on the left is a rather strange looking building:

This is the original Angel Underground Station.

The Angel Station opened in 1901 as part of the City and South London extension from Moorgate. Six years later in 1907, the line was extended on towards Euston station. Today, Angel Station is on the Bank branch of the Northern Line. The following extract from the 1954 Ordnance Survey Map shows the original station in the centre of the map, on the corner of City Road and Torrens Street. This is the station building photographed above (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

The location of the old and new stations can be seen in the following map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

When Angel Station was built, it had a narrow central platform, with both tracks running either side of the platform. Whilst this was probably fine for the short period of time before the line was extended, it was a rather dangerous place when the platform was crowded, and busy trains ran in both directions.

The following clip is from the 1989 BBC film Heart of the Angel (link at the end of the post), showing the crowded platform.

From the same film is a clip of the 1989 entrance to the station, looking down City Road and is on the right of my photo of the station at the top of this section of the post.

The platforms were also served by lifts from the ground level building. The exterior cladding around the original brick building was a later addition to provide extra space. The view down Torrens Street with the station on the right:

By the late 1980s, the station had a long history of overcrowding along the narrow single platform. It would frequently be rather chaotic when two trains pulled in, with passengers leaving both trains onto a narrow platform full of passengers waiting to get on the trains.

The lifts were also relatively small for the number of passengers at busy times and would also frequently break down. At the end of the 1980s a major rebuild of the station began.

A new tunnel was excavated to take the northern branch, thereby separating the northern and southern tracks so each could have their own platform. The southern branch today occupies the space of the original tunnel so has a rather wide platform compared to a normal station, as the platform occupies the space of the original platform and the northern tracks.

Escalators were installed to avoid the use of lifts, and these took passengers between the platforms and the new station entrance on Islington High Street.

The new station opened in 1992, leaving the original station building to sit on the corner of City Road and Torrens Street.

Crossrail 2 includes a station at Angel, and the complete eastern side of Torrens Street, including the original station building, was designated in the safeguarding map of sites for Crossrail 2 construction and operation.

The following view looks along Torrens Street at the buildings included in the safeguarding map.

The buildings along this side of the street are an interesting mix of old warehouses.

Candid Arts Trust occupies a 19th century warehouse:

And at the end of the street is an early 20th century building that was constructed on the site of a smithy and may have been used to stable horses, however it would be occupied by a metal working and plating company.

And there is still evidence of this activity:

The building is now occupied by the “Islington Metal Works” – run by a hospitality company and the site is used for Wedding Receptions, Corporate and Christmas events.

The link between these two very different sites, in different parts of London is hopefully now clear; that they are the redundant entrances to once busy transport links that have now been diverted.

The entrance to the Limehouse Cut was once a busy route for barges moving between the Lee River and the River Thames, with the Limehouse Cut now diverted into Limehouse Basin.

The original entrance to the Angel underground station has now been closed for some thirty years, with passengers now diverted along escalators rather than lifts to the new station entrance on Islington High Street, with a considerably improved and safer platform layout at the station.

There are many examples of these across London where the ever changing transport system adapts to changing technology, different patterns of use and improvements.

A film was made for the BBC 40 Minutes series in 1989 documenting 48 hours in the life of the Angel station.

Heart of the Angel was made by the BAFTA award winning director Molly Dineen, and it is a very honest portrayal of a station struggling to cope with the numbers of passengers using the station and the creaking infrastructure supporting the station.

if you have a spare 40 minutes, it is well worth a watch and can be found here.

alondoninheritance.com

7th Year of Blogging – A Year in Review

Somehow, I have reached the end of February 2021 without missing a Sunday post for seven years. I really did not expect to get here when I started at the end of February 2014.

At the end of the 6th year of the blog, the COVID virus was across the news, but had not really affected everyday life. A year of lockdowns and restrictions, and the horrendous death toll were yet to come.

It seems rather trivial given the impact on so many people, however it has been a difficult year for walking and exploring London. Luckily I always have a sufficient backlog of posts to cover periods when getting to places is not possible. I still have very many of my father’s photos which need a visit to research and take a comparison photo. I also had a long list of places to visit, long walks to explore and research to carry out which has just not been possible; hopefully later this year.

One thing I did manage to achieve was pass the Clerkenwell and Islington Guide Course.

Walking and exploring London has been a passion for so many years. Writing the blog is a rather solitary activity behind a computer screen and I have been thinking about how to develop the blog and transferring the blog onto London’s streets seemed a perfect combination.

The course was brilliant and I learnt so much from the lecturers and others on the course, and I have to thank those running the course for managing completion in such a difficult year.

I am working on a number of walking tours covering areas such as the Southbank, Bankside, Barbican, Wapping, Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and Islington and hopefully towards late Spring and early Summer, walking in groups will be possible.

So if you really do want to hear me on the streets of London, unfortunately with even more stories and detail than in the blog, I will announce details in the blog during the coming months.

That is for the future, for now a quick review of the last year.

I have a number of photographic themes which I have tried to maintain for many years. Pub’s, hairdressers (no idea why, but a theme my father started in the early 1980s), closed shops, buildings and places about to be demolished etc.

One theme has been newspaper stands. They fascinate me as they represent a specific moment in time. Newspaper headlines are also very transitory; they seem of the utmost importance at the time, but are quickly replaced by the next days news, and soon fade into history. These stands are glanced at by people rushing by, occasionally picking up one of the papers. They have been a feature of the London streets for many years.

They also tell a story of how an event develops, and so it was with the virus.

The 6th February 2020, outside Charing Cross Station, and the virus still seemed to be  restricted mainly to China:

7th year of blogging

Walking round London that evening and the streets were as busy as normal – outside Green Park station in Piccadilly:

7th year of blogging

Another photographic theme is tracking down some of the hidden views of London. There are so many places which are not normally visible simply walking the streets.

If you walk down Allsop Place, off the Marylebone Road by Madame Tussauds, there is a point where the row of buildings along the street ends and a high brick wall fills the gap. The wall is just too high to look over, but hold your camera above the wall and a hidden world opens up:

7th year of blogging

Part of Baker Street station is visible, the brightly lit platforms surrounded by the dark walls of the surrounding buildings. In February the underground system was just as busy as usual.

On the 21st February, a news stand in Piccadilly was warning that the killer virus was now spreading fast:

7th year of blogging

Despite warnings that the virus was spreading fast, by the 27th February, the country’s borders were still wide open and large sporting events continued to go ahead, mixing supporters from home and abroad.

Arsenal were playing Olympiakos in the Europa League on the evening of the 27th February. This was the home match, with Arsenal going into the game with a 1-0 advantage following a win in Greece the previous week.

Olympiakos would go on to win 2-1 and knock Arsenal out of the Europa League. As with any London game, the away fans from Olympiakos were in central London before heading out to the Emirates Stadium and when I walked by, they were loudly clustered in Piccadilly Circus.

7th year of blogging

Other news did continue to make the headlines, and on the 6th March a “Hammer Blow For Heathrow Runway” was reported:

7th year of blogging

This referred to a court of appeal decision that the Government’s decision to go ahead with the runway was illegal as they had not considered their climate commitments in coming to a decision.

This decision was overturned by the Supreme Court last December, meaning that the third runway can now move forward to the planning permission stage.

Whether the impact of the pandemic on air travel and the finance of airport operators will influence the need and business justification for a third runway remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, commuters at Waterloo Station were still dashing from Underground to station concourse for the train home as the “Virus War Enters Next Phase”:

7th year of blogging

On the 12th March outside Great Portland Street station, there was an appeal as the “Country Needs You To Join Virus Fight”:

7th year of blogging

But on Sunday 15th March, the previous Friday’s headlines were hinting at the coming lockdown, and that the lockdown may risk even more deaths:

7th year of blogging

Headlines continued in much the same way, and on the 23rd October, headlines had shifted from the risk of the virus to the help needed to overcome the restrictions and challenges of lockdowns:

7th year of blogging

When a packed underground train was a normal expectation, travelling on the underground, even out of lockdown, was a rather strange experience. Having an empty train carriage became a common, rather than an exceptional event.

7th year of blogging

And empty stations – this was Highbury & Islington Station at 3:55pm on Saturday 24th October 2020:

7th year of blogging

Even before the first lockdown in March, the streets were empty. Outside the Natural History Museum:

7th year of blogging

Piccadilly Circus – so much quieter than when Olympiakos fans had gathered there less than a month before:

7th year of blogging

Trafalgar Square:

7th year of blogging

Travelling across Tower Bridge:

7th year of blogging

Piccadilly:

7th year of blogging

I mentioned earlier that pubs are one of my photographic themes. I had long planned to walk around the City to find and photograph all the pubs, and in July 2020 I spent a day doing just that. The majority were still closed, having been closed since the start of the March lockdown. Tiered restrictions and the lack of workers and tourists in the City meant there was no point in reopening – customers were just not there. This continues to be the situation, and even when restrictions are reduced there will probably be a considerable delay until there are sufficient people back in the City to make the number of City pubs economic.

One pub that will not reopen is the Still and Star in Little Somerset Street.

7th year of blogging

The Still and Star is the one remaining “slum pub” and has been under threat for some years, however in December 2020, the City of London Corporation approved revised plans for a 15-storey tower to be built on the land in Aldgate High Street, including the space occupied by the Still and Star.

The new plans include a “reimagining” of the Still and Star with a new pub built facing onto Aldgate High Street. A very sad loss of a one off City pub.

7th year of blogging

In August, I climbed the O2 Dome with my 12 year old granddaughter, something that she had wanted to do for some time. In the following photo, the view is looking across to the water of the Royal Victoria Dock. It looks almost certain that the new “City Hall” will be the low, long building to the left.

7th year of blogging

In 2020 I finally managed to take my father’s old Leica IIIg camera out for a walk around London. The camera that was used for the 1950s photos in the blog, and the lens that was used for all my father’s photos from the 1940s and 50s.

The camera was last used towards the end of the 1970s and needed a repair to fix a sticking shutter, but I was really pleased with the first photo after more than 40 years.

7th year of blogging

As lockdown ends I will be ordering more black & white film, and an attempt at developing my own films is the next challenge.

I also continued to revisit some of my early photos, including the following photo of the Globe in Borough Market which I had taken in 1977:

7th year of blogging

The same pub in 2020:

7th year of blogging

In October, the City was still quiet:

7th year of blogging

The view down Ludgate Hill from St Paul’s on a Saturday afternoon:

7th year of blogging

Two of the businesses hit the most by the lockdowns and lack of people in the City – travel and hospitality:

7th year of blogging

City Thameslink Station:

7th year of blogging

The majority of my posts were not about the impact of the virus, and my most popular post of the year, in terms of the number of times the page was viewed, was my post on Broad Street Station, a station I had photographed in 1986, not long before the building was demolished:7th year of blogging

The same view today:

7th year of blogging

Whatever happens after the pandemic, London will reinvent and thrive, as it has done so many times before, and it will continue (in my fully biased view) to be the best city in the world to walk and explore.

There will be differences. More home working and reduced numbers of people working 5 days a week in the city. Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail has predicted that leisure and holiday travel by train is set to increase, while commuter traffic is likely to continue to fall.

Hopefully many of the trends that have had a negative effect on living and working in the city will change, such as the sale for overseas investment of so many of the flats and apartments being constructed, and there needs to be a reduction in the cost of housing in London.

London also needs its local facilities. it needs local areas with their own specific identity. Some of the recent changes in Soho risk the destruction of the identity of a unique and historic area.

Crossrail (the Elizabeth Line) will finally open. The Museum of London move to Smithfield opens up so many opportunities (and risks) to the area, however the proposed concert hall that was to take the museum’s place at the Barbican has been cancelled due to “unprecedented circumstances” and will be replaced by an upgrade to the Barbican complex.

The upwards growth of the City does look to continue, with at least five new glass and steel towers being planned.

At the end of the 7th year, can I thank you so much for reading the blog. I learn so much from the comments and am grateful for the corrections when I (thankfully not that often) get something wrong. There is a considerable amount of knowledge and experience of London out there.

I also hope that later in 2021 I get the opportunity to take you on a walk around some of the places I write about and show more of the history and stories of this fascinating city.

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Topping’s Wharf and the Wharves between London and Tower Bridges

In August 1948, my father was on a boat sailing from Westminster to Greenwich, taking photos along the route. The following photo is after having just passed under London Bridge, looking down towards Tower Bridge, with the cranes and warehouses of the wharves that line the river opposite the City of London.

Topping's Wharf

The Southwark side of the river between London Bridge and Tower Bridge was very different to the City side of the river. The Southwark side was full of wharves, warehouses, cranes and moored ships and barges.

The City had Billingsgate Market, the Customs House, New Fresh Wharf and the Tower of London. The difference between the two sides of the river can be seen in the following map from Commercial Motor’s 1953 edition of London Wharves and Docks:

Topping's Wharf

This fascinating book lists all the wharves and docks between Teddington and Tilbury, and provides details of the trade that they handled and their facilities. The following tables cover the Southwark wharves between London and Tower Bridges:

Topping's Wharf

Topping's Wharf

There was a remarkable 20,250,000 cubic feet of storage space within the warehouses along this relatively short stretch of the river, and there was a wide range of goods being stored. Chances are that if in 1953 you were drinking your morning cup of coffee, it would have been imported through one of these wharves.

By 1953, all except the Tower Bridge Wharf were owned by Hay’s Wharf Ltd, a business that had been expanding rapidly, and a name that can still be found in this transformed stretch of the river.

Many of these wharves had been in existence for hundreds of years, and they would have had individual owners with the name often reflecting the original owner / builder of the wharf.

There is so much history associated with each wharf, and they can demonstrate how trade was conducted, and what life was like in this part of London. Close to London Bridge in the above map is Topping’s Wharf, and I have taken this single wharf to see what can be found of its history.

The first reference I could find of Topping’s Wharf was an advert in the Newcastle Courant on the 17th December 1774 where the new owners are setting up a cargo route between London and Newcastle and advertising Topping’s Wharf as a safe and insured site for goods to be stored:

“To the MERCHANTS, TRADERS and SHIPPERS of GOODS to and from London and Newcastle. We take this opportunity of acquainting you, that having lately taken a new, commodious, and convenient Wharf, situate in Tooley-street, Southwark, and adjoining to London bridge, known by the name of Topping’s Wharf, where there are exceeding good warehouses for lodging and securing goods from damage by weather, and where vessels of 300 tons burthen or upwards may load by cranes, which will be a considerable saving of expense and risk, incurred by the present method of shipping, by lighters from above bridge. The goods will be lodged in warehouses, upon which an insurance of £4000 from fire will be made till shipped and the policy deposited at the Bank of Newcastle. A set of good accustomed vessels are engaged, one of which will sail every week. We therefore solicit your favours, and assure you, that the greatest care will be taken to ship your goods with regularity and dispatch, by Your humble servants, CHINERY, RUDD and JOHNSON, London, December 9th 1774”.

These newspaper adverts and reports are interesting because they shed some light on how trade was conducted in the 18th century. They also mention fire insurance as a key feature of Topping’s Wharf, and from later events we can see why.

Warehouses held large volumes of highly flammable materials, and fires in London’s warehouses were very frequent, with often significant destruction of buildings, the goods stored in the warehouse and ships moored alongside.

I have already written about one fire in the area, called at the time the “Great Fire at London Bridge” in 1861. There had already been another major fire eighteen years earlier in 1843. This fire had destroyed Topping’s Wharf, as reported in the Globe on Saturday, August 19th, 1843:

“TERRIFIC FIRE THIS MORNING – Never since the too well remembered fire at the Royal Exchange in 1838, has it fallen to our lot to record a more terrific one than that which took place this morning at an early hour, at the premises known as Topping’s Wharf, situate on the east side of London bridge, near Fenning’s Wharf, which it will be recollected was destroyed by a similar calamity in 1836.

In magnitude it exceeded the above-named disaster, or any other that has occurred on the banks of the River Thames for many years past; for, in addition, we regret to say that Watson’s Telegraph, formerly a shot tower, the large turpentine and oil stores of Messrs. Ward and Co, in Tooley-street, and St Olave’s Church, all fell a sacrifice to the devouring element, besides doing extensive damage to a tier of shipping moored alongside Topping’s Wharf”.

The fire had started just before two in the morning and was spotted by a Police Constable. The Fire Brigade was soon on the scene, led by the superintendent of the brigade, Mr. James Braidwood (who would be killed in the fire in Tooley Street eighteen years later).

By four in the morning, St Olave’s Church, just behind Topping’s Wharf was on fire and the Globe reported that “there appeared very little chance of any of that ancient building being saved”.

The following print shows the 1843 fire at Topping’s Wharf  (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Topping's Wharf

The report in the Globe newspaper mentioned Watson’s Telegraph, and in the above print, just to the right of the church tower you can see the word Watson. I knew about Watson’s Telegraph, but did not know that the central London telegraph was based by St Olave’s Church and Topping’s Wharf, just to the east of the southern end of London Bridge.

The British Museum has a print of Watson’s Telegraph before the fire, with St Olave’s Church to the right, and Topping’s Wharf to the lower left  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Topping's Wharf

Watson’s Telegraph was the creation of a Mr. Watson of Cornhill. The purpose of the system was to rapidly pass messages to and from the coast and key ports. It was important to traders and ship owners in the City to know when their ship and cargo were getting close, or events such as a tragedy at sea.

Watson’s Telegraph system comprised of a number of towers with a semaphore signaling system on top. These were located at strategic points to allow a message to be passed along a chain of stations to the required destination. Each telegraph station needed to be able to see the telegraph stations on either side in the chain.  For example, to pass a message between the City and Deal in Kent, the telegraph chain consisted of: “London-bridge; the second at Forest-hill; the third at Knockholt; and others at Wrotham-hill, Bluebell-hill, and three or four elevated spots between there and Deal”.

An article in the Illustrated London News provided the above list of locations, and I love the introduction to the article which paints a futuristic view of communications:

“In this miraculous age of improvements and discoveries when ‘the annihilation of time and space’ is no longer regarded as an idle chimera of the brain, it might hardly be considered necessary to occupy our space with a detail of the various schemes that have been adopted and put in operation to facilitate this most paramount and prevailing desire. So many of our readers must be naturally unconversant with those experiments in arts and science which the ‘great metropolis’ is continually eliciting, that we feel it a duty which we owe to our friends and supporters at a distance, to place before them those objects of interest and real usefulness in which the metropolis abounds, and which are only known to them by name”.

As well as the telegraph stations, a key part of the system was a Telegraphic Dictionary which was kept at each station and contained “several thousand words, names, phrases and directions, such as are likely to be most useful and required, and names of vessels, places, and certain nautical terms which have been selected with great care, as may best suit the object in view”.

The message entries in the dictionary have an associated unique number and the positions of the arms on the semaphore corresponded to different numbers, thereby allowing the position of the arms to send a message from the telegraphic dictionary.

The system was created in 1842. It is remarkable to think that 179 years later, on the evening before writing this post, I was watching a live stream over the Internet from the US of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars, with photos of the surface coming minutes after landing. How communications technology has changed in less than 200 years. I suspect the readers of the Illustrated London News in 1842, could not have imagined this new ‘the annihilation of time and space’.

It is difficult to track the ownership of Topping’s Wharf over the centuries of its existence. It seems to have been owned by Magdalen College, Oxford for some time, as in the Globe on the 28th October 1907, there is a record that: “the leasehold of Topping’s Wharf, Tooley-street, London-bridge, which Messrs. Jones, Lang, and Co. are to offer by the instructions of Magdalen College, Oxford”.  There was also a description of Topping’s Wharf:

“The premises, which comprise ground floor, basement, and three large upper warehouse floors are supplied with loopholes to each floor, with hydraulic lifts, and cranes, back and front, and have recently been fitted with a London County Council staircase”.

I cannot find who took the lease in the 1907 auction, but in 1912 Topping’s Wharf was let to Nestle and the Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Company.  Hay’s Wharf Ltd seem to have taken on Topping’s Wharf in the 1920s.

Back to the view of the river between London and Tower Bridges, and another view of the wharves along the river, and the ships that used these wharves is shown in the following photo which my father took from the open space outside the Tower of London.

Topping's Wharf

When my father took the above photo and the photo at the top of the post, the wharves along this part of the river were really busy. Cranes lined the river and ships loaded and unloaded their cargo at this stretch of wharves which were then nearly all owned by Hay’s Wharf Ltd.

The introduction to the 1953 edition of Commercial Motor’s London Wharves and Docks gives an impression of how trade on the river was increasing:

“Commercial activity on the River Thames has increased considerably in the post-war years, due in large part to British Industry’s successful efforts to expand its export trade with world markets. Arising out of this intensified traffic in the industrial reaches of the Thames has come the need for an up to date, comprehensive guide to the many wharves and docks which line the banks of the River from Teddington to Gravesend”.

Despite the post-war increase in trade on the river, the wharves between London and Tower Bridges would not have too many years left. The increasing size of cargo ships and containerisation meant that inner London docks quickly became unsuitable for the type of shipping and new methods of moving cargo.

To show how quickly river trade changed, 26 years after the above description of increased activity on the river, I took the following photo in 1979, looking along the river from London Bridge:

Topping's Wharf

The cranes lining the river have gone, some of the warehouses were still being used for storage, but the majority were derelict. The space where the cranes once moved cargo between ship and warehouse was then used for parking space.

Another photo from 1979 looking down the river. A few of the remaining cranes can be seen just to the right of HMS Belfast. These would have been on Mark Brown’s and Tower Bridge Wharves.

Topping's Wharf

I took a couple of “now” photos in August 2020 to mirror my 1979 photos, and the following photo shows the redevelopment of the Southwark side of the river. Part of Hay’s Wharf remains, but the rest of the area has been transformed.

Topping's Wharf

A riverside walk now runs where cranes once transferred goods between ship and warehouse, and where cars parked in 1979.

The following photo is an August 2020 view of my second 1979 photo and shows the redevelopment at the Southwark end of Tower Bridge, with the Mayor of London’s City Hall.

Topping's Wharf

So what occupies the location of Topping’s Wharf today? The whole Southwark stretch of the river between London and Tower Bridges was marked for development in the 1980s, and by 1986 “Number 1 London” had been constructed. A two part building complex with a 13 storey tower adjacent to London Bridge and a smaller 10 storey section on the site of Topping’s Wharf.

In the following photo, taken from the top of the Shard, London Bridge is on the left. The two buildings of Number 1 London are of similar design and materials and can be seen to the right of the bridge, directly on the river. The smaller of the two buildings is where Topping’s Wharf was located.

Topping's Wharf

A view of the location from the river. Topping’s Wharf was located where part of the glass canopy and the building to the left of the canopy now stand.

Topping's Wharf

In my father’s 1948 photo at the top of the post there are a line of identical cranes between the warehouses and river. These are the 240 cwt. or hundredweight (approximately 12,192 kg) cranes listed in the Commercial Motor specifications for each wharf.

The most newsworthy appearance of the cranes was during the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965. His coffin was carried along this stretch of the Thames, and the cranes bowed in turn as the boat carrying his coffin passed. This can be seen in a British Pathé film of the funeral, which can be found here – the cranes can be seen starting at 9 minutes.

If you want to see part of the street that ran behind the warehouses at the Tower Bridge end of the river, then see my post on the Lost Warehouses of Pickle Herring Street.

There is far more to discover along this stretch of the river. The 300 year history of Hay’s Wharf and the lost church of St. Olave are just two examples. These will have to wait for future posts.

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Fleet Street in 32 Exposures

Before taking a walk along Fleet Street, a quick update on last week’s post.

Thanks for all the feedback via comments, e-mail and Twitter, which demonstrated that you cannot believe everything that you read in the papers, even back in 1915. Readers identified the following statues as earlier than that of Florence Nightingale, so my list of the first statues of women (not royalty) in London is now as follows:

  1. Sarah Siddons, unveiled at Paddington Green in 1897. Sarah was an actor, also known as the most “famous tragedienne of the 18th century”
  2. Boudicca, unveiled at the western end of Westminster Bridge in 1902. Some discussion about Boudicca as she could be classed as “royal” which the 1915 papers excluded, however I will keep her on the list
  3. Margaret MacDonald,  unveiled at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1914. Margaret was a social reformer, feminist and member of organisations such as the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies
  4. Florence Nightingale, unveiled at Waterloo Place in 1915

So that would put Florence Nightingale’s statue as the 4th public statue of a women unveiled in London (excluding royalty, or perhaps 3rd if Boudicca is classed as royalty).

Leave a comment if you know of any others.

The other point of discussion was the initials on the 1861 lamp post next to the Guards’ memorial. The combination of letters appeared to be SGFCG. Possibilities included the names of Guards Regiments, or a royal link with Saxe-Coburg Gotha (the Prince Consort as Colonel of the Guards was at the unveiling).

I e-mailed the Guards’ Museum and their feedback was that they had not seen the initials of the three Foot Guards Regiments combined in such a way elsewhere, however the initials do appear to fit the Regiments as they were known in 1861 – Grenadier, Coldstream and Scots Fusilier Guards.

Thanks again for all the feedback – there is always so much to learn about the city’s history.

On to todays post. Last summer I took my father’s old Leica camera out for walk. The first time this 70 year old camera had been used in 40 years. To test the camera I had purchased a pack of Ilford black and white film, and as there were some spare, I decided to take my old film camera out, a Canon AE-1 which was my main camera for around 25 years, but last used in 2003.

The Canon AE-1 was a significant camera when it came out in 1976. I purchased mine in 1977 from a discount shop in Houndsditch in the City on Hire Purchase, spreading the cost over a year. It replaced a cheap Russian made Zenit camera which had a randomly sticking shutter as a feature.

The Canon AE-1 was a revolution at the time. The first camera to include a microprocessor, it included a light meter and once the desired speed had been set on the ring on the top of the camera, the aperture (how much light is let in through the lens) would be set automatically. It was also possible to set both speed and aperture manually.

Focus was still manual, via a focusing ring on the front of the included 50mm lens.

My Canon AE-1:

Fleet Street

The camera was powered by a battery in the compartment to the left of the lens in the above photo. Having not used the camera for almost twenty years, my main concern was that on opening the compartment, I would be met by a corroded mess, however the battery, although flat, was in good condition, and after replacing with a new battery, the camera came back to life.

Inserting a new film was much easier than the Leica as the film did not need to be trimmed, simply pushing the end of the film into the take up spool and winding on until the rewind knob moved.

I took the camera for a walk along Fleet Street, hence the title of the post – Fleet Street in 32 Exposures. I was using a 36 exposure film, so lost some in initial testing to make sure the film was winding on correctly.

Fleet Street seemed a good choice, as the street is lined with fascinating buildings. Substantial buildings from when newspapers occupied much of the street, to tall, thin buildings which are evidence of the narrow plots of land that were once typical along this important street. Many of the buildings are also ornately decorated.

This will be a photographic look at the buildings rather than a historical walk. Fleet Street has so much history that it would take a few posts to cover.

So to start a black and white walk along Fleet Street. I started at the point where the Strand becomes Fleet Street and the Temple Bar memorial:

Fleet Street

The Temple Bar memorial dates from 1880 and was designed by Sir Horace Jones. It marks the location of Wren’s Temple Bar which marked the ceremonial entrance to the City of London. The original Temple Bar now stands at the entrance to Paternoster Square from St Paul’s Churchyard.

Statues of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales are on either side of the monument, which is also heavily decorated and shows the Victorian fascination with the arts and sciences, with representations of these lining either side of the alcoves with the statues.

Fleet Street

The Grade I listed Middle Temple Gatehouse which leads from Fleet Street into Middle Temple Lane. The building originally dates from 1684:

Fleet Street

The Grade II* listed Inner Temple Gatehouse between Fleet Street and the Inner Temple location of Temple Church:

Fleet Street

Cliffords Inn Passage and the entrance gate to Cliffords Inn:

Fleet Street

The church of St Dunstan in the West:

Fleet Street

The head office building of the private bank of C. Hoare & Co. Founded by Richard Hoare in 1672, the bank has been based here in Fleet Street since 1690:

Fleet Street

Offices of publishing company DC Thomson, who still publish the Sunday Post and People’s Friend as well as the Beano. This is their London office, with their head offices being in Dundee (hence the Dundee Courier):

Fleet Street

Mitre House, with the entrance to Mitre Court:

Fleet Street

The original home of the London News Agency, also known as the Fleet Street News Agency. The business was here in Fleet Street from 1893 until 1972 when the business moved to Clerkenwell, where it was based until the agency closed in 1996.

Fleet Street

The entrance to 49 and 50 Fleet Street, a Grade II listed building that dates from 1911. Originally Barristers’ Chambers, in 2018 the building was converted into an extension to the Apex Temple Court Hotel.

Fleet Street

The following photo is of 53 Fleet Street and is a good example of where black and white is the wrong film to capture the features of a building. The upper floors are decorated with dark red bricks with green bricks forming diamond patterns, which can just be seen in the photo. It looks much better in colour.

Fleet Street

The following building is the Grade II listed former office of the Glasgow Herald built in 1927. The building is relatively thin and tall and the challenges with photographing the building using a fixed 50mm lens are apparent as I could not get in the top of the building without the front being at too oblique an angle.

Fleet Street

The 1920’s Bouverie House, with entrance to St Dunstans Court at lower left:

Fleet Street

Almost opposite Bouverie House, Whitefriars Street leads off from Fleet Street. A plaque on the wall records that this was the location of the office of the Anti-Corn-Law League between 1844 and 1846.

Fleet Street

A wider view of the building on the corner of Whitefriars Street and Fleet Street. The above plaque can be seen on the wall to the left of the corner entrance. The pub just to the right of the corner building is the Tipperary at 66 Fleet Street.

Fleet Street

The following photo shows a view along the northern side of Fleet Street and highlights the mix of different building ages, materials and architectural styles that make this street so interesting. One of the oldest building on the street is in the centre of the view. The Cheshire Cheese pub dates from 1538 with the current building dating to 1667.

Fleet Street

Next to the Cheshire Cheese is this rather ornate building which is currently home to a Pret on the ground floor. This is the Grade II listed, 143 and 144 Fleet Street. The statue in the centre of the first floor is of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Fleet Street

The building in the above photo was constructed in 1905 for Sir John Tollemache Sinclair, a Scottish MP, and designed by the architect  R.M. Roe.  Whilst researching for the reason why the statue is on the building (Sinclair was a fan of Mary Queen of Scots), I found the following newspaper report from The Sphere on the 17th August 1946 which provides a description of the use of the building:

“Although at first glance, this life-size statue of Mary, Queen of Scots appears to be in an ecclesiastical setting, it is, in fact, situated above a chemist’s shop and a restaurant in one of the older and grimier buildings of Fleet Street. No. 143-144 Fleet Street, known as Mary, Queen of Scots House, contains a typical selection of Fleet Street tenants – newspaper offices, advertising agents and artists agents”

Next to the above building is a lost pub, the building in the following photo was once the Kings and Keys pub.

Fleet Street

The name of the pub can still be seen carved in the decoration between the first and second floors.

Fleet Street

The Kings and Keys closed in 2007, and in the days when Fleet Street newspapers had their local pub, this was the pub for the Daily Telegraph. Although the building dates from the late 19th century, a pub with the name Kings and Keys had long been on the site. A newspaper report from 1804 highlights the dangers for those travelling through London and stopping at a pub:

“Last week a young midshipman, from Dover, going to Oxford on a visit to his relations, stopped at the King and Keys, in Fleet-street, for refreshment, when a fellow-traveler, whom he had supported on the road, attempted to rob him of his box, containing his money and clothes, which was prevented by the waiter; the ungrateful villain unfortunately made his escape”.

Across the road is a closed and boarded Sainsbury’s Local. One of the casualties of the lack of people travelling to work in Fleet Street during the lock-downs.

Fleet Street

On the front of the above building is a plaque recording that it was the site of Bradbury and Evans, Printer and Publisher of Dickens and Thackeray between 1847 and 1900.

Fleet Street

And to the left of the building is a memorial to T.P. O’Connor, Journalist and Parliamentarian 1848 to 1929 – “His pen could lay bare the bones of a book or the soul of a statesman in a few vivid lines”.

Fleet Street

Next to the old Kings and Keys building is the old offices of the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Built for the newspaper in 1928 and now Grade II listed.

Fleet Street

The building is a good example of the power and authority that the newspapers wanted to project when they were still the main source of news, before radio and television had become a mass market source of news.

Next to the Telegraph building is Mersey House, built between 1904 and 1906:

Fleet Street

Mersey House is yet another Grade II listed building, and was the London home of the Liverpool Daily Post (which is probably the source of the Mersey name after the River Mersey). The newspaper cannot have been using all the space in the building as in 1941 they were advertising:

“Do you want a London Office with a Central and Appropriate Address? Accommodation can be had in Mersey House, Fleet Street, E.C. 4 – Apply the Daily Post and Echo, Victoria Street, Liverpool”.

There are substantial stone clad buildings on many of the corners of Fleet Street. This is 130 Fleet Street on the corner with Shoe Lane:

Fleet Street

And a typical bank building on the corner with Salisbury Court. The plaque to the right of the door records that “The Fleet Conduit Stood In This Street Providing Free Water 1388 to 1666”.

Fleet Street

The majority of buildings that line Fleet Street are of stone, however there is one spectacular building of a very different design and using very different materials. The following photo shows the lower floors of the Grade II* listed Daily Express building dating from 1932.

Fleet Street

The above photo shows the limitations of using a fixed lens. impossible to get the whole building in a single photo. These are the upper floors:

Fleet Street

The art deco building was designed by architects H. O. Ellis & Clarke with engineer Sir Owen Williams. The materials used for the building could not be more different than the rest of Fleet Street.

Vitrolite (pigmented, structural glass) along with glass and chromium strips formed the façade of the building, to give the building a very modern, clean and functional appearance at the start of the 1930s.

Four years after completion, the building was used as an example in an article on “Architecture – the way we are going” in Reynolds’s Newspaper to demonstrate the battle of architectural ideas, and the type of design and materials that will be the future of office and industrial buildings

The building can really be appreciated when seen as a complete building, and the following postcard issued as construction was finishing, shows the building in all its glory:

Fleet Street

On the opposite side of the street is the old building of the Reuters news agency, one of the last of the news agencies to leave Fleet Street in 2005. The following photo shows the main entrance to the building and according to Pevsner is recognisable as the work of the architect Sir Edward Lutyens by “the wide, deep entrance niche on the narrower Fleet Street front”. Above the door, in the round window is the bronze figure of Fame.

Fleet Street

View looking down Fleet Street, with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance:

Fleet Street

The following photo is looking back up Fleet Street. in the centre of the road is one of the old police sentry boxes introduced during the early 1990s in response to the IRA bombing campaign in the City of London.

Fleet Street

I have now come to Ludgate Circus, where Fleet Street meets Farringdon Street, and where the old river that gave the street its name once ran.

The clock on Ludgate House:

Fleet Street

That is Fleet Street in 32 exposures, and it proved that my 44 year old camera is still working.

The Canon AE-1 was a joy to use. Taking photographs with a film camera does feel very satisfying. After each photo, the act of pulling the lever to wind the film feels like you have done something a bit more substantial than just the shutter click of a digital camera.

There is a story that Apple used the sound of the shutter on the Canon AE-1 as the sound when taking a photo on an iPhone – it does sound very similar, but I am not convinced.

Black and White photography is good for certain types of photo. It does bring out the texture in building materials, but I still have much to learn to use this type of film for the right type of photo (when using the Canon I mainly used colour film).

The fixed 50mm lens was also a problem with trying to photograph larger buildings in a confined space. In my early years of using the camera I could not afford any additional Canon lens, but did buy compatible Vivitar 28mm and 135mm lens which I need to find.

Fleet Street has such a rich collection of architectural styles, and the legacy that the newspapers have left on the street is still very clear. It is a fascinating street to walk.

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First Public Statue of a Woman in London

I find it fascinating the random bits of information you discover when researching London’s history. Last year I had taken some photos of the cluster of memorials in the centre of Waterloo Place, just north of Pall Mall. They perhaps give the impression of a cluster erected at the same time, commemorating aspects of the Crimean War, however they are from different centuries, parts were very controversial at the time, and in 1915 newspaper reports of an addition to the cluster reported that it included “The First Public Statue of a Woman in London” – other than those of Royalty, such as Queen Ann or Victoria.

It is an interesting statement from 1915. Firstly that even with the Victorian love of statues, there had not been a statue of a woman (apart from the many statues of Queen Victoria), and secondly, that it was an event that newspapers recorded, perhaps an early indication of changing attitudes, however reports were just a statement of fact and there was no further discussion.

Statues often seem to generate polarising views, the latest example being the sculpture by artist Maggi Hambling for Mary Wollstonecraft at Newington Green which was unveiled last year, and those in Waterloo Place were equally controversial at the time. They also signify events and people who were considered important at the time, and views change over time.

The following photo shows the cluster of statues in Waterloo Place, viewed from across Pall Mall, from the southern section of Waterloo Place.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The cluster is facing to the south east, so the best view is after walking up the steps from The Mall and through the lower part of Waterloo Place. Regent Street St James’s is directly behind the group, leading up from the north western side of Waterloo Place towards Piccadilly.

A closer view of the cluster of statues on their island location:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Although the cluster of statues may give the appearance that there were part of a single installation, there were fifty four years between the central monument (1861) and the two statues at the front of the cluster (1915).

The “First Public Statue of a Woman in London” is one of the statues installed in 1915, and I will come to these later in the post.

The central monument is the Guards’ Memorial and was erected in 1861 as a memorial to the 2,162 soldiers of the Brigade of Guards who had lost their lives in the Crimean War. It was the work of the sculptor John Bell, who was also responsible for the 1856 marble Crimean memorial in Woolwich and the “America” group on the base of the Albert memorial.

The current location of the memorial was the third option, after sites in Hyde Park and St James’s Park had been considered.

At the top of the monument is the figure of Honour, standing with outstretched arms.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Below the figure of Honour are three soldiers dressed in full marching uniform representing the Grenadier, Coldstream and Fusilier Guards.

The figures were cast at the Elkington and Co. foundry in Birmingham and they were made from guns taken from Sebastopol in the Crimea. The old guns were broken up at Woolwich, then sent to Birmingham.

One hundred tons of granite was used for the pedestal and surrounds of the monument. The granite came from the Cheesewring quarries in Cornwall.

The Illustrated London News on the 13th April 1861 was very scathing about the new monument:

“The Guards’ memorial as it now stands before us, must be confessed to be an eyesore, and an obstruction of the public view of one of the most agreeable outlooks which our crowded thoroughfares afforded; and suggests the absolute necessity of some provision being made in this ‘testimonial’ age to prevent our streets and squares being blocked up in all directions with unsightly effigies to departed worth, however honourable the sentiments which may lead to their construction.

As a work of art this memorial is almost beneath criticism. It may be said of it with perfect truth that it is unique; nothing like it has ever been seen – nothing else like it, we trust, ever will be seen. It is neither sculpturesque nor architectural, nor jointly both. A heavy, irregular structure of granite is the principal object, filling up a considerable area in the roadway. 

Independently of the hideousness of the granite pile, the arrangement of the figures outrages all accepted rules of artistic treatment, That of ‘Honour’ is the only one which can be seen from all sides, but from her attitude it is obvious that it is only intended to be viewed from the front; its character and vocation being problematical from all other parts, sometimes suggesting the idea to the irreverent multitude of a street acrobat throwing his four rings. The guardsmen can be seen only from the front – not the front facing the public thoroughfare, but that facing the vacant space between the Athenaeum and United Service Clubs, where nobody goes, except on purpose”.

The Illustrated London News article continues in a similar vein for several more paragraphs – they really did not like the new monument. These views were common across many other newspaper reviews of the Guards’ Memorial, for example, from the Illustrated Times on the 4th May 1861:

“Our monuments are unfortunate. In the vacant space between the Athenaeum and the United Service Clubs in Waterloo-place, stands the ‘Guards’ memorial’ and it may be doubted whether anything more incongruous in design can be discovered in the metropolitan streets. The principal figure – if the figure of ‘Honour’ which surmounts the pedestal may be called the principal when the others consist of three massy Guards in their great coats and bearskins – although it may be well proportioned, stands at an attitude at once ungraceful and dubious, while the wreaths which adorn the hands and wrists are held out as though they were a species of circular dumb-bell of considerable weight, and requiring some muscular exertion to extend at the requisite angle.

It is painfully evident, too, that the whole monument is only intended to be seen directly from the front – a fatal mistake in street sculpture, and one which utterly disfigures one thoroughfare for the sake of another,

With respect to the pedestal, it is like nothing in the world, and the palpable ill-combination of sculpture and building (not architecture) has an effect absolutely painful”.

Criticism of the monument was not just limited to the sculpture, plinth and setting, but also how the inscriptions were written. From The Atlas on the 24th November 1860:

“Unfortunately, as though to convince the world how necessary are competitive examinations, the military committee have drawn up inscriptions, in which the laws and maxims of the English language are violated and by which a great scandal has been proclaimed against the heroes of the Crimea. ‘To those who fell by their companions.’ In aiming at the epigrammatic, the author has descended in nebulas infernas. Would it have been too much trouble to have added ‘by the side of’, and thus saved the honour of those to the memory of whose glorious achievements this monument forms a cruel though unintentional charge?”

There were even questions in the House of Commons regarding the text on the memorial:

“Mr JAMES asked the First Commissioner of Works what was the meaning of the figures inscribed on the Guards’ memorial in Pall-mall, which seemed to mix together the masculine and neuter gender.

Mr COWPER sad the inscriptions were temporary, and could be removed. Perhaps the remarks of the hon. gentleman would be useful to the gentleman who had charge of that monument”.

Those responsible for all aspects of the Guards’ memorial must have been thoroughly depressed after reading all the newspaper reviews which seem to have been highly critical of all aspects of the new memorial – design, architecture, construction, location and inscriptions.

Many of the criticisms regarding the location of the monument were about the direction that the main figures of the monument were facing. The longer approach to Waterloo Place is along Regent Street St James from Piccadilly, and this approach road offers a view down to the location of the monument, however it is the rear of the monument we see from this approach.

The following photo is a view of the rear of the monument. Colours look a bit weird as the sun behind the monument caused the detail to be too dark so some extreme processing was needed.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The plaque on the rear of the monument  states “To the memory of 2162 Officers, Non-Com Officers and Privates of the Brigade of Guards who fell during the war with Russia in 1854, 5, 6. Erected by their comrades”.

The side panels on the monument are shields recording the names of battles at Alma, Inkerman and Sebastopol.

Plaque recording how the monument was funded (which strangely states that it was erected in 1867 despite all newspaper reports of the Guards’ memorial being in 1861):

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

This is the view from alongside the monument, looking up along Regent Street St James towards Piccadilly, and illustrates why those writing when the monument was completed in 1861 claimed that it was facing the wrong way as when travelling down this street, you would see the rear of the monument.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Base of lamp post, installed at the same time as the Guards’ memorial.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

After unveiling in 1861, the Guards’ memorial stood in Waterloo Place alongside Pall Mall, exactly as designed by John Bell, however changes were to come and in 1914, the Guards’ memorial was pulled down and re-erected 30 feet north of its original position, to allow the installation of two new statues.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The change in position can be clearly seen in these before and after Ordnance Survey maps (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Which means that we can finally come to one of the two new statues that was described in the newspapers of 1915 as the “First Public Statue of a Woman in London” – the statue of Florence Nightingale:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Florence Nightingale came to public prominence with her work in the Crimea and at the military hospital at Scutari. The conditions for wounded soldiers taken to military hospitals were appalling and more died of disease than on the battlefield.

Her work, along with the rest of her team of nurses in the Crimea would greatly improve conditions for wounded soldiers, and she is credited with turning nursing into a profession, and following her return from the Crimea published “Notes on Nursing” in 1859, and was instrumental in promoting the training of nurses and the better design of hospitals for the rest of her life.

The proposal for a statue of Florence Nightingale was made at a public meeting in the Mansion House in March 1911. At the same meeting it was also proposed to create a fund that would give annuities to trained nurses who had been unable to provide for old age or infirmity. A total of £4,000 was provided for the creation of a Trained Nurses Fund and six nurses were immediately identified as needing help.

The funds were mainly raised by many small donations from nurses, soldiers and sailors.

The panel on the front of the pedestal shows Florence Nightingale standing at the doorway to a hospital as wounded soldiers arrive.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The new statues were unveiled with very little ceremony. On a chilly February morning in 1915, two workmen put a ladder up against the statue to pull of the covers:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Newspaper reports of the Florence Nightingale statue were much more appreciative than those of the original Guards’ memorial. A typical syndicated newspaper report from the 24th February 1915 read:

“A NATION’S GRATITUDE – BRITAIN PAYS HONOUR TO FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE. Without ceremony the statue raised to the memory of Florence Nightingale will today be privately unveiled. The event is of special interest at a time when the sailors and soldiers, fighting for the country’s very existence, are reaping the fruit of the great work set on foot by Florence Nightingale. The statue has been erected in Waterloo Place, London, by the side of Foley’s statue of Sidney Herbert, with the Crimean Guards’ memorial a few yards in the rear, the whole forming an interesting and imposing group.

It was the suggestion of Lord Knutsford that Florence Nightingale’s statue should be placed alongside that of the man through whose instrumentality she undertook her great Crimean mission and by whom she was supported, and that two figures prominently associated with the Crimean War should be brought into close proximity to the Guards’ memorial”

There were however some negative comments about the low-key way in which the statue was revealed. A typical letter is from a Mary E. Pendered in the paper “Common Cause” (a weekly paper that supported the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies):

“MADAM – I was truly astonished to see your acquiescence in the insult to Florence Nightingale, for it was surely an insult to that great woman to let her statue be unveiled at 7.30 a.m. by a workman; and not only to her, but to all the nursing profession which she founded, if not to womanhood in general. There could have been no better time to raise as demonstration of the national homage to one who served her country so splendidly than the present, when our nurses are so valiantly doing their duty at the front, and are acknowledged by all the world as a valuable part of the army’s organisation. It is amazing and it is enraging to find that such an opportunity as this should have been missed”.

Inspecting the new statues in April 1915, a couple of months after they were unveiled:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The second statue unveiled early the same morning in February 1915 was the one on the right in the above photo, a statue of Sidney Herbert:

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

Sidney Herbert, or 1st Baron Herbert of Lea was the Secretary of State for War during the Crimean War.

He had known Florence Nightingale when along with his wife Elizabeth, they had met in 1848 whilst travelling in Italy. Elizabeth Herbert was one of the governors of the Establishment for Gentlewomen During Illness where Florence Nightingale had her first professional nursing job.

Following growing public anger at the conditions of military hospitals in the Crimea, Sidney Herbert commissioned Florence Nightingale to go out to the Crimea and lead nursing efforts.

Herbert’s statue was originally installed in front of the War Office in Pall Mall, however following the demolition of the building, it was relocated to stand adjacent to that of Florence Nightingale within the overall Crimea memorial cluster.

The plaque on the plinth of Sidney Herbert’s statue again shows an image of Florence Nightingale standing in the door of a hospital watching over wounded soldiers.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

The claim that this was the first public statue of a woman in London was made in numerous newspaper reports in 1915 (apart from Royalty), the reports were not syndicated (an early version of cut and paste the same report into different newspapers), so many different papers made the same statement in their own words.

After this post was published, I received a comment from Joanna Moncrieff of Westminster Walks that the first was actually a statue to Sarah Siddons at Paddington Green, and that her statue was unveiled in 1897, which would put it 18 years earlier than Florence Nightingales statue.

No idea why the 1915 papers made the claim regarding Florence Nightingale’s statue. Perhaps they were unaware of the Siddons statue, or perhaps they considered Paddington Green as outside central London, the City to Westminster area.

One hundred and three years later, it is still unfortunately a headline when a similar event occurs and in 2018 a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett was unveiled as the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square.

I photographed the statue with the continuous flow of people wanting to see and photograph the statue soon after unveiling.

First Public Statue of a Woman in London

In a link between Florence Nightingale and Millicent Fawcett, the statue of Florence Nightingale was a focal point for the suffragist movement. In May 1915, the suffragist newspaper Votes for Women included the following article:

“Wednesday in this week being the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday, an interesting little ceremony, arranged by the Women’s Freedom League, will take place that afternoon after we go to press. Some ten or twelve Suffrage Societies are sending representatives, including Mrs Ayton Gould from the United Suffragists, to lay wreaths on the newly-unveiled Florence Nightingale statue in Waterloo Place.

Owing to the somewhat incomprehensible opposition of the authorities to any demonstration in memory of a woman whose name should be revered in every British family just now (which led to the secret unveiling of her statue by a workman at 6 a.m. on a wet winter’s morning), no speeches or procession will be allowed.

But perhaps this silent tribute to her memory will not be out of keeping with what we know of this great woman’s hatred of publicity; and the speeches will be made afterwards in the Essex Hall at 8 p.m. where a meeting will be held, also under the auspices of the W.F.L, who are to be congratulated on having arranged this commemoration as so appropriate a moment in our history”.

If you are ever in Waterloo Place, take a look at the Crimea memorial complex, and consider the difficulties in designing a monument and getting the location right, along with the sacrifices of those who died in the Crimean War.

Also appreciate that after Sarah Siddons, you are looking at what should have been reported in the papers of 1915 as the “Second Public Statue of a Woman in London” – unless you know any others?

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Priory Church of the Order of St John

A couple of months ago, I wrote about St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell which was once part of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The priory occupied a large amount of land in Clerkenwell, and today I am exploring another part of the history of the area with a visit to the Priory Church of the Order of St John.

The Priory Church of the Order of St John visible when standing outside today is a post war building, but down in the crypt there is still evidence to be found of the original Norman and Medieval building, part of the church’s long and fascinating history, and some of the oldest in London.

The following map is from my earlier post on St John’s Gate showing the outline of the inner and outer precincts of the original priory. The solid blue rectangle is the location of the gate and I have added the location of the church, in the heart of the old inner precinct, by a blue, dashed rectangle.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

If you walk up from the location of St John’s Gate, cross Clerkenwell Road and stand in St John’s Square, you will find the Priory Church of the Order of St John, a rather fine brick building. The main body of the church is to the left, and the entrance to the Cloister Garden is through the large central entrance.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The current church is built on the site of the original 12th century priory church. The design of the 12th century church was based on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, in that it had a large round nave, leading back to a narrow raised chancel built over a crypt.

This design was used by both Hospitaller (the order which occupied the Clerkenwell priory) and Templar churches. We can get an idea of what the circular nave may have looked like by comparing with the London Temple church:

Priory Church of the Order of St JohnParts of the original circular nave were discovered in 1900, and today the outline of the nave is marked by granite setts which we can see in the photo below, in front of the church:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

As the Priory grew in wealth and influence, so did the church, and the church was quickly expanded, including rebuilding the circular nave as a more traditional rectangular nave.

Prior Thomas Docwra carried out some major restoration work on the church at the end of the 15th century, and the English antiquarian William Camden would describe the church as “increased to the size of a palace, and had a beautiful tower carried up to such a great height as to be a singular ornament of the City”.

A similar description of the church was recorded by Stowe who wrote: ‘a most curious peece of workemanshippe, graven, gilt, and inameled to the great beautifying of the Cittie, and passing all other that I have seene’

Docwra’s work on the church included the addition of his own private chapel on the south wall of the church.

It must have been an impressive sight, however the church would soon suffer the same fate of many other buildings connected with religious orders, when King Henry VIII seized the properties and dissolved the original Order of St John, including the Priory Church.

Various parts of the fabric of the church were taken to be used for buildings within the Royal Palace at Westminster, and in 1549 the nave and tower of the church were blown up by Lord Protector Somerset so the materials could be used for the construction of his house in the Strand (Lord Protector Somerset. or Edward Seymour, took the title of Lord Protector between 1547 and 1549 following the death of Henry VIII and whilst Henry’s son, King Edward VI, was still a child. As was typical with many ambitious members of the Tudor court, he would have a rapid fall from grace and was executed at Tower Hill in January 1552).

The remains of the church were then used for various purposes, storage, further demolition, and some locals used Docwra’s chapel as a place of worship, parts of the church were converted to a private house, and the chancel being rebuilt as a private chapel.

It was not until the early 18th century that the building became a formal church again. It was used as a meeting house by the Presbyterian preacher William Richardson, who would go on to be ordained as a Church of England minister. He then reopened the church as a Church of England building, which was a timely decision as during the early part of the 18th century, London’s rapid expansion created the need for additional churches to service a rapidly growing population.

Richardson proposed to the commission that had been set up to build fifty new churches across London, that they should acquire the church as a second parish church for Clerkenwell as the only other church (St James, just north of Clerkenwell Green) could not support the number of people then living in Clerkenwell.

Richardson’s proposal did not succeed and lawyer Simon Michell then purchased the church, and had better luck with the Commission as they agreed to purchase the church for the sum of £3,000. The building was consecrated as St John’s, Clerkenwell’s second parish church on the 27th December 1723.

Following building works between 1721 and 1723 carried out by Simon Michell, and further work between 1812 and 1813 by James Carr, the church took on the appearance of a more traditional London church, although with a small rectangular tower, rather than the larger tower and spire seen on many other London churches. The following print shows St John’s, Clerkenwell, in 1818  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Priory Church of the Order of St John

St John’s would continue as the second parish church of Clerkenwell until 1931. The population of Clerkenwell had been in decline during the first decades of the 20th century. Industry was transforming from small workshops, to larger establishments requiring larger buildings which were replacing many of the 18th and early 19th century housing.

The modern Order of St John was formed during the later years of the 19th century in the original gatehouse of the Priory between the inner and outer precinct, known as St John’s Gate.

The modern Order provided a perfect solution for the future of the church, as the Order had been using the church for their religious services since the 1870s, and the Order had contributed to the maintenance and restoration work that took place towards the end of the 19th century.

In 1931 the parish of St John was returned to St James, and the church of St John was formerly handed over to the modern Order, thereby reuniting the gatehouse and church for the first time in almost 400 years within a modern Order of St John.

Use of the church by the Order in the form of the original parish church building would not last for long. During bombing raids on London in May 1941, the church was hit by incendiary bombs and the resulting fires destroyed the interior of the building along with the roof leaving only the outer shell of the building standing.

The following photo from 1946 shows a service taking place in the roofless church, the Order’s annual service on St John’s day with the Archbishop of Canterbury who had recently been enthroned as the Prelate of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Soon after the destruction of the church, the Order of St John had started planning for a rebuild, and as the original outer walls were intact the intention was to rebuild around the walls rather than a complete new church.

The first new design came from the Gothic architect J. Ninian Comper.

In his 80s, Comper was known for his extravagant and expensive designs, and his proposal for the new priory church was based on a recreation of an original Hospitaller church, with a large, ornate octagonal nave. The cost of the design was estimated at £200,000 – a considerable sum of money to be raised when so much else needed to be rebuilt in the city.

Comper’s age was also a concern and he tended to work on his own. When asked who in his office would take over his design if he died, his response was apparently “Did Michelangelo have an office?”.

Comper would go on to design the magnificent new window in St Stephen’s Porch at the south end of Westminster Hall. A magnificent 50 foot high, 28 foot wide ornate, stained glass window. The window is the main memorial to members and staff of both Houses of Parliament and replaces an earlier Pugin window that was destroyed by bombing in December 1940.

The architects Paul Paget and John Seely were called in to provide an alternative and much cheaper design for a rebuilt church. They had already been responsible for restoration of some historically significant houses in nearby Cloth Fair where they lived and had their office, and they both had the role of surveyor to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Their design was for a much more restrained building. Brick facing St John’s Square and a relatively plain rebuild of the church using the original outer walls.

The following drawing from 1955 shows their proposed design.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The church today looks almost identical to their original design, however if you look at the main body of the church on the left and the domed front of the church we can see that some decoration did not get built – probably to save money.

The interior of the church is relatively plain, with the white painted original walls and a black and white checkerboard floor.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

On the left of the church as we face the altar are the banners of the other priories of the Order of St John, in countries such as Canada, the USA and South Africa:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Whilst on the right are the banners of the current Knights and Dames of the Order:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

On one of the walls is a reminder of when the building was a parish church for Clerkenwell:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The plaque reads: “This wall was rebuilt at the sole expense of the inhabitants of Clerkenwell, Nov AD 1834. the Reverend William Elisha Law Faulkner, Rector”. The surnames of the churchwardens at the bottom right have been lost.

In a corner of the church is some of the original equipment used by the St John Ambulance which the new Order of St John set-up in 1877.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

If we want to see parts of the original 12th century Norman church of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem we need to descend to the crypt. The fact that the church was hit by incendiary bombs rather than high explosive meant that the crypt survived the war with minimal damage, and as we enter the crypt, we have the following view:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The stained glass at the end of the crypt gives the impression that this is above ground and that sunlight is behind the windows. In reality, artificial lighting is behind the stained glass.

As we look towards the altar, the first three arched sections are mid 12th century and the two furthest are slightly later dating from around 1170.

The white painted crypt today is a bright space, but during the crypt’s years as part of the parish church this would have been a very different place, with the crypt piled high with coffins.

The crypt was finally cleared in 1894 following the burials act of 1853 which outlawed the use of London’s crypts and churchyards for burials. Many coffins were removed to Brookwood Cemetery, however some were bricked up in the side vaults that line the central part of the crypt and older remains were discovered in 1903:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Just to the left of the crypt entrance is part of one of the original mid 12th century arches:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Although the crypt is today painted white, it originally may have been more colourful. P.H. Ditchfield writing about the church and crypt in 1914 in his book London Survivals states that “Traces of colour can still be seen on the arches and ribs”.

The Islington Antiquary Society visited the crypt in 1910 and were told two interesting stories about the crypt:

  • That when the crypt was used for burials, a sexton was working with body snatchers and on investigation, many of the coffins were found to be empty
  • That Fanny Parsons, also known as scratching Fanny, the young girl who convinced visitors that the sounds she created were caused by the Cock Lane ghost, had been buried in the crypt. An attempt had been made to find Fanny’s coffin, but it was believed that the name plate had been removed

The view along the crypt towards the entrance.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Along the side of the crypt are low stone benches running the length of the wall, implying that these may have been used for communal seating and during the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit in 1946, Knights of the Order were seated along these benches.

To the side of the crypt is a rather impressive effigy of a knight. Donated by a member of the Order in 1915, the effigy is believed to have come from Spain, and does portray a member of the original Order, with the Maltese Cross emblazoned across the knight’s chest.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The identity of the knight is not known for certain, however it is one of the most impressive alabaster figures in the country.

Towards the end of the crypt, there are two rooms on either side of the central crypt. The room on the left as you face the altar may have been used as a Treasury by the original Order. the room on the right is today the South Chapel:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Turn left as you face the altar and there is a morbid reminder of death:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

This is all that is left of the canopied marble monument to Prior Weston, the last prior of the original order at the time of the reformation.

The windows above show the four saints of the British Isles, with figures and shields representing former priors, including Prior Robert Hales. Again, the window is backlit by artificial light to give the impression of natural light.

The monument was erected in St James Church, in nearby Clerkenwell Close, but was pulled apart when the church was demolished for a rebuild. The effigy remained in the crypt of the new church, but was moved here in 1931.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The effigy is a momento mori, where the figure is portrayed almost as a hollow eyed, emaciated corpse. The intent was to remind people of the fleeting nature of earthly pleasures, and to focus their minds on the afterlife.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The following print from 1842 shows the effigy of Prior Weston in the vaults of St James Clerkenwell along with an effigy that may have been Lady Elizabeth Berkeley  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Priory Church of the Order of St John

There is one more feature of the Priory Church of the Order of St John to explore. This is back outside and through the entrance and gates in the building to the right of the church, where we find the Cloister Garden.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The entrance to the garden is formed by the Docwra Memorial Gates.

Thomas Docwra was one of the 16th century Priors of the Order, when the fortunes of the priory were at their highest and substantial building work was being done around the Priory.

As an example of the centuries of continuity that you can often find in the city of London, the same Docwra family donated the money for the gates as part of the post-war creation of the gardens.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Following the post war restoration of the church, the garden was relatively plain, consisting of grass and a central fountain. A recent grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Wellcome Trust has supported a redesign of the garden and new planting.

Planting takes us back to the original Medieval Hospital of the Order of St John, as the planting consists of a range of herbs which would have been used in the treatment of patients for a range of complaints.

  • Rose petals – antiseptic qualities
  • Peppermint – helps relieve stomach aches
  • Lavender – used to treat burns, scratches and other minor skin ailments
  • Chamomile – used to reduce swelling and helps to heal wounds

Priory Church of the Order of St John

From the garden. we can see the south wall of the church and the mix of architectural features, brick and stonework that come from the centuries of different use of the building, many of which have left their mark in the walls.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Prior Docwra had his own memorial chapel in Jerusalem Court which originally ran along the garden, with the chapel up against the church. In the following extract from the 1894 OS map, up against the south wall of  the church are two buildings labelled Side Aisle. These were later buildings, one of which was reported to still contain evidence of Docwra’s chapel  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Jerusalem Court is shown running from St John’s Street on the right, then through a ground floor gap in the buildings (the box with an X), and alongside the buildings up against the church wall.

This section of Jerusalem Court is now part of the Cloister Garden, directly in front of the camera in the photo below.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The intention with the post-war development of the Cloister Garden, was to have a four sided cloister which would form a memorial for those of the St John Ambulance Association and Brigade who had lost their lives during the two world wars, but again money was short so the planned cloister and memorial was only built along the eastern end of the garden.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The gardens form a tranquil and peaceful place, in what in more normal times is a very busy part of Clerkenwell, and whether it is the herbs we are surrounded by, or the medieval stone work of the southern wall of the church, the garden brings to the 21st century both the origins and the current work of the Order of St John.

The Priory Church of the Order of St John is a fascinating place. A tangible link with the original medieval Order, the present day Order and the crypt where part of one of the oldest buildings in London can be found.

Tours of the church will be available through the Museum of the Order of St John at St John’s Gate, and the Cloister Gardens are often open.

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Essex Road, Islington

One of the pleasures of London is a random walk through the city’s streets. I have found very few streets where there is not something of interest. Unusual buildings, hidden bits of history, the new and the old showing how the city’s long expansion and development has taken place, and continues. One such street is Essex Road, Islington, and for today’s post, join me for a walk along part of this busy north London street.

Essex Road starts at Islington Green, where it runs from the north east corner of the green up to Balls Pond Road. To keep the post a manageable size, I will only cover the southern section from Islington Green up to the New North Road.

This stretch of the road is shown in the following map, starting at the Start (S) at upper right, and finishing at the Finish (F) at lower left (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Essex Road is an old street, going back very many centuries. In 1746, the upper part of the street was called Newington Green Lane – because that is to where the street led, with the lower section called Lower Street, which continued on along the eastern edge of Islington Green. The Lower part of the name was because of the drop in height across Islington Green from Upper Street on the west, down to Lower Street on the east.

In 1746, the area was still rural. Fields surrounding the upper part of the street, with a number of large houses and inns lining the lower section. The New River crossed and ran under the street in a tunnel which continued further south to where the river emerged as it headed to New River Head.

London was fast approaching these Islington fields, and whilst Essex Road would continue as a main route from Islington Green, the large houses and fields would soon disappear under a dense network of new building that would leave the area unrecognisable by the end of the 19th century. The following map shows the area in 1894. Islington Green is the triangle of land at lower left, and Essex Road as it was now called, follows the same route, up from the north east corner of the green (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

I am starting at the junction of Essex Road and the New North Road (S) in the map at the start of the post, and walking south to Islington Green.

The New North Road is, as the name suggests, a new road, although new is relative. It was not on the map in 1746, but was constructed in the first couple of decades of the 19th century as a more direct route from Shoreditch to what is now Highbury Corner.

On the southwest corner of the junction is Essex Road station, opened in February 1904 by the Great Northern and City Railway, and is now part of the Great Northern rail network, with trains running to and from Moorgate in the City of London.

Essex Road

The station is unusual as it is the only underground station in London operated by a rail company. The original British Rail symbol can still be seen on the corner of the building:

Essex Road

On the opposite corner to the station is the old Three Brewers pub, now the Akari Japanese restaurant.

Essex Road

Most sources seem to date the pub to around 1830, however this may be the current building. The earliest reference I can find is to December 1808 when the Morning Advertiser carried an advert for a sale of general household furniture at a location near the Three Brewers, Islington. Pubs were often used as landmarks when describing a local location.

The view south along Essex Road near the station – a wide, busy street.

Essex Road

Heading south, we come to a rather ornate old cinema building. This is the old Carlton Cinema which opened on the 1st September, 1930.

Essex Road

The cinema really stands out due to its Egyptian façade which was the creation of Architect George Coles. The Egyptian theme was probably due to the discovery in 1922 of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The Carlton offered not just film, but also stage shows, and in February 1931 the residents of Islington could be entertained by Al Davison and his band.

The Carlton became the ABC in 1962, but closed as a cinema ten years later in August 1972, when it was then converted into a Mecca Bingo Club, which would run to 2007. It was then purchased by Resurrection Manifestations, who use the old building as a place of worship.

The view along the side road (River Place, which runs up to the old route of the New River), shows typical cinema construction of a very ornate front façade, with a simple and functional rear of the building.

Essex Road

The old Carlton Cinema is Grade II listed.

To the left of the cinema, an end of terrace building extends into the street, and on the side of the building is a part exposed sign.

Essex Road

The sign refers to the Eagle Dining Rooms. I found a couple of references to the dining rooms to confirm the full name in the Islington Gazette. On the 1st July 1902, there was an advert for:

“Wanted, a young girl for Stove Work; one used to the business. The Eagle Dining-rooms, 159 Essex Road, Islington”, and on the 13th June, 1910, under the advertisement section of the Islington Gazette, which had the remarkable title of “Servants and Girls Wanted”, there was;

“Respectable Girl Wanted, about 18, to Assist House and Kitchen; sleep out; closed Sunday. Eagle Dining Rooms, 159 Essex Road”.

Adverts mentioning the Eagle Dining Rooms in the Islington Gazette appear limited to between 1902 and 1910, so perhaps this gives an indication of the period of time that the establishment was in operation.

The following photo shows the opposite side of the street. Essex Road has a mix of architectural styles and building age. The photo shows some buildings (the smaller central terrace) that probably date back to the early years of the development of Essex Road, and where their original front gardens have been replaced with shops as the street developed and there was a growing population to serve.

Essex Road

The Green Man pub on the corner of Essex Road and Greenman Street.

Essex Road

Greenman Street was named Greenmans Lane in the 1828 C&J Greenwood map, so is probably an old lane.

The site of the Green Man pub was apparently the site of the first Congregationalist Chapel in Islington. The chapel was built in 1744, and grew during the following decades as the congregation expanded. The lease on the building expired in 1865 and the chapel moved to a new location in River Street.

In March 1866, there was a license application by a George E. Muddyman, and a Mr Sleigh opposed the application as there were already many licensed houses in the district. The license was granted as the Peabody Buildings just behind the pub (which are still there) had recently been completed and were now occupied by “700 or 800 persons” and the Superintendent of the Peabody buildings stated that “all the tenants had signed the petition in support”.

So the Green Man pub probably dates from 1866, the occupants of the Peabody buildings behind the pub must have made up the majority of the pubs initial customers, and it was built on the site of the first Congregationalist Chapel in Islington. The pub must have originally been larger, as if you look at the photo, the Domino’s take-away occupies the ground floor of a building with exactly the same architectural features as the pub.

Opposite the Green Man is the closed shop of Attenborough Jewellers, who have now moved to their original main branch in Bethnal Green Road (I have some 1980s photos of the Bethnal Green branch to re-visit).

Essex Road

The shop also operated as a pawnbroker. Note the door marked as the entrance to the Pledge Dept on the left.

Essex Road

And the traditional sign of a pawnbroker on the front of the building:

Essex Road

Continuing along Essex Road and we come to the South Library:

Essex Road

The foundation stone was laid in 1915 and the library opened in December 1916. A plaque inside the library states that it was presented by Andrew Carnegie, so it must have been one of the many libraries that Andrew Carnegie, the wealthy Scottish-American industrialist funded.

Essex Road

The coat of arms above the door of the library provides a quick history lesson on original land ownership in Islington. This version of the coat of arms was granted in 1901, and the four quarters of the shield are each part of the coat of arms of significant Islington landowners.

The Order of St John is at top left. George Colebrooke who owned the Manor of Highbury is at top right. Below that the arms of the landowners the Berners family and at bottom left is part of the coat of arms of Sir John Spencer who owned the Manor of Canonbury.

These arms were replaced in 1966 when the larger borough of Islington was formed, and the council probably thought that historical landowners did not reflect modern Islington, but it is good to see that the earlier coat of arms can still be found.

Opposite the library is this terrace of houses, which again reflect the diverse range of architectural styles, and the haphazard way that the buildings lining Essex Road have developed over the years.

Essex Road

The third building to the left is strange, The upper floors jut out without being in line with the adjacent building of the terrace. It would be interesting to understand the reasons behind this unusual design.

The small road to the right of the above terrace is Dibden Street, and in the entrance is a mural of Gandhi by graffiti artist Gnasher.

Essex Road

The text reads: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Further south at the junction with Cross Street is this collection of small shops with some interesting, concrete, architectural detail running along the top.

Essex Road

A short distance further along is the Alpaca pub:

Essex Road

The Alpaca is a very new name, dating from when the pub reopened in March 2020 – unfortunately probably the worst time for a new pub to open in recent years.

It was the New Rose, and originally the Half Moon.

The Half Moon dates from the early 19th century, and the first written record I can find of the pub dates from the 15th July 1824, when the London Sun recorded an inquest being held in the pub “on the body of Thomas Smith, aged 23, a Kentish town stage-coachman, whose death was occasioned in a pitched battle with a person of the name of Harry Bastie”. The inquest records how Thomas Smith’s brother described the battle, when he found him at:

“Copenhagen-house; he spoke to him, endeavouring to persuade him from fighting, saying that he was too fat, and had not an equal chance with the person he was going to fight, who was a good man, and had two ways of fighting: the deceased replied that unless he was to fight now that it had come to such a pitch, he would not be able to stand by his coach and get a single passenger.

A ring was formed, and his brother entered the ring first, and threw up his hat. The deceased was knocked down several times by his antagonist, who had the knack of tripping him up: witness was informed that the fight lasted two hours and fifteen minutes. During the fight the witness entered the ring and saw his brother lying on his back and was desirous of ending the fight, but the seconds interfered and turned him out of the ring.

He did not go to his brother until the fight was over, when his brother said ‘I’ll fight no more’. The deceased requested to sit down on witness’s knee, and he died soon after”.

The inquest was adjourned so the seconds could be found and interviewed. What the report does not record is the reason for the fight and why Thomas Smith would not be able to get a single passenger in his coach without going ahead with the fight.

The scene of the fight, Copenhagen-house is also in Islington, and I have written about the site in a previous post.

Opposite the Alpaca is another early terrace with on the side of the terrace facing Popham Street, another faded advertising sign.

Essex Road

The sign is advertising an American treatment which was advertised as a night cure of problems such as Catarrh and Influenza. The product went by the rather unusual name of X-Zalia, which probably sounded scientific during the first decades of the 20th century when it was sold.

Essex Road

A view of the same terrace from the opposite end, another good example of the mix of architectural styles of the early houses along Essex Road.

Essex Road

The tallest building on the right is Grade II listed as it dates from the early 18th century and was one of the buildings on the 1746 map. The building was once the home of John C. Aston & Sons, Wholesale Ironmongers and Builders Merchants and behind the house, running along the lane we can see in the photo was a long, two-storey range of warehouses. The shop facing onto the street was the shop for John C. Aston’s business. Today it is a very different shop providing hair extensions.

Across the road is a business that has been in operation for over 100 years. Established in  1918, W.G. Miller is the oldest family run funeral directors in Islington.

Essex Road

Further on is the Cumming Estate:

Essex Road

A rather functional block of flats, however they are named after two brothers who were responsible for much development around Islington and Pentonville. The brothers were John and Alexander Cumming who were one of the main developers of the Penton Estate in the late 18th century.

The brothers were Scottish and had built a reputation as watchmakers and businessmen. Alexander appears to have had royal and aristocratic patronage which probably explains their ability to fund their developments along Pentonville Road, centered around Cumming Street.

The housing block in Essex Road was developed by the London County Council and bears the typical coat of arms of the LCC, which can be found on many of their developments, although the one in Essex Road looks to be in a rather poor condition.

Essex Road

On the opposite side of Essex Road is Horse Yard. A narrow, cobbled alley that leads up to a yard, and which almost certainly was once the site of stables.

Essex Road

We now come to another pub, the Kings. When I was walking Essex Road, the pub was boarded up, which is always a very worrying sign with London pubs, however it was only for a change in ownership and the pub reopened at the end of 2020 – again not a good time to open a pub.

Essex Road

The pub was until recently called the King’s Head, and although the current building dates from the 19th century, this is an old pub and was probably one of the cluster of buildings on Lower Street in the 1746 map, as this stretch of Essex Road was then named.

The earliest reference I can find to the pub dates to the 22nd July 1758 when an article in the Oxford Journal reads:

“Sunday Morning early died Mr Cupit, master of the King’s Head in the Lower-Street, Islington. He went to bed on Saturday Night seemingly in good Health, and ordered his Wedding Sheets to be put on his Bed, saying, as they were his Wedding Sheets, perhaps they might be his Dying Sheets”.

An article that raises more questions than it answers.

And almost opposite the King’s Head is rather appropriately the Old Queen’s Heads (Essex Road really does have a lot of pubs).

Essex Road

The Old Queen’s Head is a lovely tiled 19th century pub, but like the King’s Head, a pub has been here for a long time. and the earliest reference I can find dates to the 24th February 1748, when the following incident was reported:

“On Sunday Evening, about Seven o’Clock, three Persons returning to Town, were attacked in that part of Frog Field that leads to the Queen’s Head in the Lower Street, Islington, by three Fellows, but Mr John Scott, Foreman to Mr Gregory, a Taylor, Old Broad-street, thinking to save what he had, ran from them, when immediately one of the Roques followed him with a drawn Hanger, and cut him down on the back Part of his Head, so as to let out his Brain; they then made their Escapes, leaving his two Companions, whom they had robbed, to take care of him”.

18th century newspapers were always graphic in their descriptions of violence. A Hanger is a small sword.

The Frog Field does not exist anymore, however the 1746 map at the top of the post shows Frog Lane and Frog Hall to the east of Lower Street. At the time the area was still rural and after dark, it was a dangerous place to be.

I like photographing shops and this is Natur House on the corner of Essex Road and Colebrooke Row.

Essex Road

And a final pub before we reach Islington Green – the Winchester on the corner of Essex Road and St Peter’s Street.

Essex Road

Originally the Market Tavern and the Carved Red Lion, this is the first of the many pubs on Essex Road that travelers heading north along the street would meet.

And we now reach Islington Green after a short walk along part of Essex Road. To keep the post a manageable size, I have missed out a number of buildings and have tried to show a sample of what can be found in just one London street.

Digging a bit deeper into the streets and buildings around us is what makes walking London so interesting.

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74 Miles from London

Before getting into this week’s post, can I thank readers for all the feedback on last week’s post, and the mystery building to the left of the National Theatre. This was identified as the curved riverside end of a multi-storey car park and some of the comments included links to photos which clearly show the overall building, and the end wall that was in my photo.

The building partly visible behind this structure was the London warehouse of HMSO and also the Cornwall Press print works. This building can still be found along Stamford Street, and is  now part of King’s College.

Again, my thanks for all the feedback.

Now for today’s post. I have always been interested in London’s relationship with the rest of the country. Frequently, this is seen as a negative. The north / south divide, London getting the majority of available infrastructure investment, higher wages in the city etc.

London’s central role in the country started many hundreds of years ago with the founding of the Roman City of London, located on a crossing point on the Thames, and where the new city was accessible from the sea.

Roads spread out from London, and the city became a cross roads for long distance travel. This was accentuated with the city becoming the centre for Royal and Political power, the Law and also a centre for trade and finance.

Look at a map of the country today, and the major roads that run the length and breadth of the country still start in London (A1 – London to Edinburgh, A2 – London to Dover, A3 – London to Portsmouth, A4 – London to Bath and Bristol, A5 – London to Holyhead).

Many of these major roads have been upgraded and follow new diversions, but their general routes have been the same for many hundreds of years. These A roads have now been mirrored by a similar network of Motorways.

The railway network follows a similar approach, with the main long distance routes running across the country to stations in London – (Waterloo, Liverpool Street, Euston, Paddington, St Pancras, Kings Cross etc.).

There are still tangible reminders to be found across the country’s roads that London has long been a destination for long distance routes, and in this post I will explore examples from around the counties close to London, starting with this 18th century milestone to be found in Southampton, indicating that it is 74 Miles from London.

Milestone

A number of these milestones can still be found in central London. There is a very fine example on the side of the Royal Geographical Society at the junction of Kensington Gore and Exhibition Road:

Milestone

This rather fine example, with pointing hands, dates from 1911, with Hyde Park Corner being the London point from where distances have been measured.

Milestone

To get really geeky, on the same wall as the above milestone, there is another marker that was used to measure the country. Loads of these can be found across London, and in the days before GPS they had an important role with accurately mapping and surveying the country.

This is a benchmark.

Milestone

It was used during the 1931 to 1934 re-levelling of Greater London, when the height of the city above the Newlyn reference point in Cornwall was measured. The flush bracket rather appropriately on the side of the Royal Geographical Society was on a survey line from Staines to the British Museum, and was levelled at a height of 67.8260 feet [20.6734 metres] above mean sea level at Newlyn.

This was how the Ordnance Survey were able to show all the contour height lines on their maps.

The above milestone measured the distance to Hyde Park Corner, and before there was any standard for where distances to London should be measured, routes usually used the first point at the boundary of the city that the route reached.

The Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe has a milestone set into the wall of the building.

Milestone

This example indicates a distance of 2 miles to London Bridge, which would have been the entry point to the City of London.

Milestone

The 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows the Mayflower milestone marked as M.S. to the front of the pub (P.H.) in the following map extract, and includes the distance to London Bridge.

Milestone

For centuries, London Bridge was the main crossing point from south of the River Thames into the City of London, and then to the northern routes which stretched out from the City, There is another fine example of a distance marker in Rochester, Kent where, on the front of this 1928 building above the word Furniture:

Milestone

Is this example, indicating a distance of 29 miles from London Bridge.

Milestone

Although the building dates from 1928, it replaced an earlier milestone or wall sign, as the OS map revision of 1896 shows a marker and distance of 29 miles at the same spot as the above building. This is circled red in the extract below (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Milestone

Milestones marked the long distance routes from London. Camberley in Surrey is on the road that now has the designation of the A30. This was originally the main London to Exeter road.

The following photo shows the A30 at the eastern boundary of Camberley. Traffic lights, road signs, a car dealers – all the signs of 21st century travel, but look to the lower left of the photo and an old stone can be seen.

Milestone

Indicating 29 miles to London. If you were a coach traveler from Exeter, bumping along poorly maintained roads for many hours, you would be counting down these milestones till you reached your destination.

Milestone

As well as London, the milestone indicates the next village, town, turnpike boundary etc. that would be found on the route. These are shown on the side of the milestone facing traffic heading in the destination of the name. So, for example, Bagshot is on the opposite side of the milestone to the town of Bagshot as if you were travelling to Bagshot you would see the name and distance as you were heading to the town.

Coach travelers passing the above milestone would have to tolerate a very tough journey. In 1790, the typical times for a journey from London to Exeter would be:

  • Leave London at 8pm
  • Arrive Bagshot at 11:55 pm
  • Arrive Salisbury at 7:15 am
  • Thirty minute stop in Salisbury for breakfast
  • Arrive Blandford at 10:45 am
  • Arrive Dorchester at 12:55 pm
  • Thirty minute stop in Dorchester for dinner
  • Arrive in Honiton at 6:40 pm
  • Arrive in Exeter at 8:50 pm

So if you were traveling the full journey from London to Exeter, you would have been on the coach for 24 hours, 50 minutes, covering a distance of 179 miles. We can now fly from London to Australia in the same time.

In the days before any form of electronic communication, these long distance routes supported mail coaches, and individual riders who were carrying important news and information to and from London.

A good example of this is commemorated by a plaque to be seen in Salisbury which commemorates the route taken by Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere in October 1805 when he brought the news of the Battle of Trafalgar, and the death of Nelson from Falmouth in Cornwall to London. A journey that took 37 hours to cover the 271 miles with 21 changes of horse.

Milestone

Although Camberley is not mentioned on the map, Hartford Bridge and Bagshot are listed. These are the two locations shown on the Camberley milestone, so Lieutenant Lapenotiere would have passed along the same road carrying the news to London.

Signs indicating distance took many forms. In Wroxton, Oxfordshire, there is an unusual example:

Milestone

This Guide Post dates from 1686 and is a marker on one of the routes from Wales and the west to London. Allegedly used by salt merchants, the route follows the A422 down to Wroxton where it breaks from the road and heads to the south of Banbury.

The top of the guide post was originally a sundial and around the middle of the post are carved hands pointing to the towns along the adjacent roads.

The guide post was restored in 1974 and still looks in good condition with the directions and carved hands clearly visible.

This would have been the route to travel between London and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Milestone

As well as milestones and guide posts, the first printed route maps were of the strip map form showing the full route of a road from source to destination. John Ogilby was one of the first to produce this type of map in the 17th century and the following is one of his maps showing the route from Chester to Holyhead, one map of a sequence showing the complete route from London to Holyhead (Attribution: John Ogilby (1600–1676), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Ogiby map includes the incremental distance in miles marked along the road, and milestones would have provided physical verification as the traveler passed along the road.

Many routes out of London still have lots of milestones tracking the distance from London.

This is the village of Ingatestone in Essex.

Milestone

Ingatestone was on the original London to Colchester road, and has now been bypassed by the dual carriageway of the A12. In the centre of the village is a Grade II listed milestone from when the road was a turnpike and carried traffic from London to north Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

Milestone

23 miles to London, 6 miles to Chelmsford and 5 miles in the direction of London to Brentwood.

Milestone

The passing coach trade was often a reason for the expansion of villages on major roads, as they needed Inns and horse changes to serve the coaches.

Today, if a house for sale is close to a train station with a good service to London, it will increase the value of the property, and estate agents will emphasise the fact in their advertising. This was exactly the same in 1822, when the following advert appeared in the Morning Post:

“Stock Lodge, near Ingatestone, Essex – To be Let, handsomely Furnished or Unfurnished, for a term of five or seven years. The above healthy and cheerful Villa Residence, erected within these five years, for the reception of a Family of respectability, in the pleasant village of Stock, 26 miles from London, six miles from Chelmsford, three miles from Ingatestone where numerous coaches pass daily”.

Although this was almost 200 years ago, proximity to a good transport network, with numerous coaches passing daily was just as important as it is today.

Coaches would depart London for Essex from multiple Inns. In 1804, the Spread Eagle Inn, Gracechurch Street, was advertising:

  • Chelmsford, Ingatestone and Brentwood Coach, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoon, two o’clock
  • Chelmsford, Ingatestone and Brentwood Post Coach every morning, half past seven o’clock

Today, the train has replaced the coach to carry commuters between Ingatestone and Liverpool Street station, and the eastern end of Crossrail terminates at Shenfield, one stop towards London from Ingatestone further improving connectivity for this part of Essex with London.

This stretch of the London to Colchester road still has many milestones in place. These were frequently installed at each mile point, and were often a mandatory requirement when the road was administered by a turnpike. A turnpike trust was responsible for the maintenance of a major road, and for collecting fees from those travelling along the road to fund the upkeep.

Heading out of Ingatestone towards Chelmsford is a milestone that has the original stone marker to the rear, with a later metal marker in front. We are now 24 miles from London.

Milestone

Then 25 miles from London.

Milestone

Heading from Ingatestone towards London and 21 miles:

Milestone

The coach route through Ingatestone went to Colchester, a town from where you could transfer to other coaches heading across north Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Many milestones extended their London connection on past Colchester. This was often the case where the end point was of some importance, and there would be frequent direct travel to London.

An example can be seen with the following milestone in the village of Bradfield in north Essex on the road to the sea port of Harwich.

Milestone

Harwich has long been an important port, serving northern Europe and also serving as a Royal Naval dockyard for periods, dependent on who the country was at war with at the time. A good coach service between Harwich and London would have been essential, and the milestones along the route between Colchester and Harwich provide a reminder.

The perils of travelling along these roads is clear from an inquest held in the Spread Eagle Inn in Ingatestone in 1828:

“Friday an Inquest was held at the Spread Eagle Inn, Ingatestone, on the body of a Yarmouth pilot, named Simkin, who was killed by the Telegraph coach, about nine o’clock on Wednesday night. The deceased was returning from London as an outside passenger on the above coach, and when at Ingatestone, the coachman, perceiving he was very much intoxicated, prevailed upon him to get inside; but this, it appears, was rather against the will of the deceased, who frequently expressed a wish to be ‘aloft’, and opening the door whilst the coach was proceeding at a brisk rate, he fell out, and the hind wheel passed over his thigh and across his body. He expired in a short time”.

There are still plenty of these milestones to be found across the country, however so many have been lost over the years. Road widening, vandalism, hit by passing vehicles, general lack of care, have gradually reduced their number.

They serve no purpose today. Travel these roads and a SatNav is probably guiding you to your destination, and telling you exactly how many miles you have to go, however they are an important link to when road travel was far more difficult than it is today, and coaches provided an important link between London and the rest of the country.

What has not changed is the importance of good travel connections, and looking at estate agent adverts for houses around Ingatestone and Stock today, they still list the benefit of frequent connections to London, but this time by train rather than by coach.

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