Tag Archives: Islington

The Dome at Islington Green

Last weekend I was in Islington Green for the first time in a few years. It was a perfect opportunity to photograph a rather unusual building, last photographed in 1985:

Islington Green

The same building in February 2020:

Islington Green

Before getting into the history of the building, there are two key differences between the views in 1985 and 2020 which typify what has happened across all London streets, not just Islington.

The first is the loss of many one-off shops, many of which were traditional to a specific area. There were a number of antique shops around Islington Green, today they remain clustered around Camden Passage. All too often chain shops have taken over from so many one offs.

The second is the CCTV camera. Initially I was frustrated with having the pole, CCTV camera and equipment boxes in front of the building, however they do provide a perfect demonstration of the growth of CCTV monitoring across the city, and the amount of street furniture. These are all too often installed without any apparent consideration of the impact on the surrounding street scene and buildings, as the 2020 photo illustrates.

The building has an interesting history. It was purpose built as the Electric Theatre and opened in February 1909. The domed section was originally open at the sides and formed the entrance vestibule to the cinema. Passing through the vestibule was the foyer which was built into the ground floor of the three storey building we can see from the street, and behind that was the single storey auditorium.

The Bioscope on the 11th February 1909 recorded that “The new Electric Theatre at 75, Upper Street, Islington, opened on Saturday last, is a very handsome and artistically decorated hall, both inside and out. Everything for the comfort of its patrons has been studied, and as it is owned by Electric Theatres (1908) Limited it will no doubt prove as successful as the other well-known theatres run by that company.”

The Electric Theatre company was one of the first to open a chain of cinemas across London. The interior of vestibule leading into the Electric Theatre is shown in the following photo. The decorated interior of the dome can be seen. Imagine this view if you walk in today for a coffee.

Islington Green

There is an interesting statue on top of the dome. The following photos show the 1985 statue (left) and 2020 version (right).

Islington Green

The figure on top of the dome, in 1985, was painted and holding a lighted torch above the figure’s head. By 2020, the coloured paint had been removed and the lighted torch appears to be missing.

The Electric Theatre in Islington did not last too long, closing in 1916. It is good to see this unusual building still facing onto Islington Green, and being Grade II listed, the building is protected.

Islington Green is a reasonably small, triangular green space to the east of Upper Street (the main A1 road). The street to the east of the green space is called Islington Green. The following map extract shows Islington Green as the triangular green space in the centre (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Islington Green

The area is very built up today, and was part of the late 18th, early 19th century expansion northwards of London, however the twin roads and road junction that forms the triangular space where Islington Green can be found has long been a feature.

The following extract from John Rocque’s 1746 map of London shows the familiar shape of Islington Green where the two roads come together. There was ribbon development along the roads and some streets just to the north, but the rest of area is still fields. Note the New River running through the area between Hertfordshire and New River Head, just to the south.

Islington Green

One hundred years later in 1847, Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London shows the area has transformed from fields to streets. Islington Green is still a feature where Upper and Lower Streets meet towards the top centre of the map.

Islington Green

This is the green space of Islington Green looking north. There was a council event occupying the wider northern width of the space at the time.

Islington Green

If you look to the top right corner of the green and you can just see a row of terrace houses.

I wanted to find this terrace as it provides a good illustration of Islington before it transformed to the area of expensive housing it is today, and how you can never really trust the age of a building by looking at the exterior.

Walking to the north-east corner of Islington Green and this is the view of the terrace across the road. The view shows what looks to be a complete row of late 18th, early 19th century terrace houses.

Islington Green

This was the same view in 1979:

Islington Green

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_188_79_1227

To confirm that this is the same view, look at the building on the far left of both photos, just across the side road where the terrace stops and it is the same building, although the terrace looks very different and the fourth house from the left is missing.

Although many of the 18th / 19th century buildings in Islington were in a poor state in the 1970s, the reason for the condition of this terrace is a bomb in the last war. The London County Council bomb damage maps have the terrace marked as “general blast damage”. The bomb that caused the damage probably landed behind the terrace as the building behind is marked as “damaged beyond repair”. The house on the far left of the terrace still looks as it probably did after the war with smoke marks and missing top floor window frames.

The fourth house in the terrace from the left is completely missing – metalwork can be seen supporting the walls of the houses on either side of the missing house.

But look at the terrace today, and it looks original. The missing house has been replaced with a house identical to the others, and just looking at the terrace you would assume a complete survivor from the time of the original build.

The open space to the right of the 1979 photo was a Gulf petrol station – today the space is occupied by a Tesco store.

The following print of Islington Green from 1750, just a few years after the 1746 map shown above, shows what appears to be the same terrace to the right of the green. The view is looking north, with the church of St Mary in the background.

Islington Green

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p5379292

90 years later, and more substantial building lines the northern edge of the green.

Islington Green

The structure on the green in the above print, is probably the one mentioned in the following extract from a report in the Islington Gazette on the 12th of March 1859, which also provides an indication of the state of the green, prior to Victorian improvements:

“A short time since the police gave up possession of their old quarters, the Watch-house on Islington Green, which was built in 1779, and this elegant structure now belongs to the parish. The best use it can be put to is to sell it as old building materials, and this will immediately be done. The Green will then pass into perhaps its final condition.

This open space, for which so strenuous a battle was lately fought and won, was formerly a piece of waste ground, uninclosed, and was granted to Trustees for the use of the parish by the lord of the manor in 1777.

For a long time, however, it was made the common laystall for a great part of the dirt and filth of the parish.

A watch-house, together with a cage, engine-house, and a pair of stocks, stood in the middle of the Green until the present watch-house was built. Upon its site, the Vestry have now determined to place a drinking fountain and a better situation could certainly not be found for it. it will be erected at the apex of the Green which divides the Upper from the Lower street.”

The word “laystall” refers to a place where  “waste and dung” is deposited, so this gives a good idea of how Islington Green would have been used for prior to the mid 1700s.

In the 1860s Islington Green was “improved”. The green was grassed, trees and shrubs were planted, and Islington Green was transformed to the Victorian view of an improved city green space.

The next time that Islington Green would be transformed was in 1938 when in preparation for the expected war with Germany, and the use of air power to bomb cities, air raid trenches, along with more substantial shelters were being dug across the green.

The following photo from 1938 shows “labourers engaged in the construction of trenches in one of the smaller open spaces of north London”.

Islington Green

Whilst the following photo from 1939 shows the conversion of one of the trenches from an open trench to a more secure, enclosed shelter made of concrete and steel. The photo shows Sir John Anderson, Lord Privy Seal inspecting the new shelters.

Islington Green

It would be interesting to know if there are any remains of the shelters still under Islington Green.

Time for a walk around the green. The following photo is looking north along Upper Street with the dome of what was the Electric Theatre on the left.

Islington Green

As well as the location of the Electric Theatre, the above photo shows the location of a second, early 20th century cinema on Islington Green. To the right of the photo is “The Screen on the Green” cinema, the wonderful facade of the cinema is shown in the photo below.

Islington Green

The cinema opened four years after the Electric Theatre, in 1913 and named the Empress Electric Theatre. In the early years of the 20th century, cinemas still used the name theatre, and the word “electric” was often included, as in Islington, to accentuate the modernity of the form, and the use of electricity in the display of film.

Not long after opening, the “Electric” was dropped and the name changed to Empress Picture Theatre, which was retained to 1951 when the name changed to the Rex Cinema, followed by Screen of the Green after the Rex closed in 1970.

Watching a film at the Screen on the Green is a very difference experience to the typical multi-screen cinema.

In addition to the two cinemas, another building facing onto Islington Green was an entertainment centre, although this was music hall rather than film.

Facing the northern side of the green is the facade of the building that was Collins Music Hall.

Islington Green

The building is now a Waterstones bookshop, but it is still possible to imagine the building as it appeared when it was entertaining the people of Islington:

Islington Green

A pub, the Lansdowne Arms originally occupied the site, and in 1862, Sam Vagg, a chimney sweep who had built a stage career as Sam Collins  turned the pub into a music hall. Three years after opening, Sam Vagg died at the age of 39, however the music hall would continue and retained the name of Collins in honour of the founder.

The entertainment on offer can be appreciated by taking a random edition of the Islington Gazette and checking what was on the bill. The 15th September 1887 edition details the following “Varied Star Programme”:

“The Five Jees, in the Musical Smithy, Sisters Bilton, the enchanting duettists; Dan Leno, the champion comic of all comics; Ethel Victor, the dashing serio-comic; Florrie West, the charming serio-comic; Brothers Passmore, variety artists; Arthur West, extempore vocalist; Sisters Dagmar, the pleasing duettists; Charles Murray, comic; Jessie Hart, the sprightly serio-comic; Fred Carloss, the ‘Sloper’ comedian, Professor Wingfield, with his educated dogs; Swiss Mountaineers, the vocal trio.”

How was that for a night out in Islington – who could not be tempted by Professor Wingfield, with his educated dogs.

The music hall was rebuilt in 1897, this date is still visible on the front of the building.

In the following decades, Collins would continue to put on variety shows in the music hall tradition, and names such as Norma Wisdom, Benny Hill and Tommy Copper performed at Collins in the early years of their careers.

Collins Music Hall was very badly damaged by fire in 1958. Only the front and side walls survived, and the core of the music hall was lost, and the remains of the building (apart from the front wall) was demolished in 1963.

Collins Music Hall was also used for other purposes, which also give an indication of the poverty that existed in Islington. On the 24th December 1912, the islington Gazette carried a report titled “Christmas Dinners – Distribution Today at Collins Music Hall – Over 8,500 Dinners”:

“Through the medium of the Daily Gazette fund between 8,500 and 9,000 persons, or one in every 40 of the population of Islington, will participate in these Christmas gifts. the dinner parcels consist of meat, tea, milk, sugar, cake, rice and sweets, and will represent something like 10 tons of food.”

Up to 9,000 people sounds an enormous number, however this appears to have been only a proportion of those who applied. At the end of the article, the following appears in large, bold text:

“The Editor regrets exceedingly that he is unable to reply to the large numbers of letters received from poor and needy people in the four divisions of Islington, asking to participate in the distribution of dinners to-day at Collins’ Music hall.

Having regard to the enormous population of Islington, and the wide-spread poverty existing in the borough, it naturally follows that large numbers of applicants cannot be administered to.

The Editor hopes that the applicants who have been turned empty away will accept this explanation. Had the fund been half as large again as it is, most of the cases which unfortunately have been rejected could have been dealt with. Some of these, it is hoped, will be relieved from other charities.”

A clear reminder of the poverty that existed across London on a considerable scale.

The following photo shows the Fox on the Green. A pub at the north-west corner of the green.

Islington Green

Originally called just the “Fox”, reference to the pub dates back to the start of the 19th century, however I am not sure if the current building is the original. There are a number of newspaper references to the widening of the road north from Islington Green, starting from the Fox, and also one reference specifically referring to the Fox when describing how the Metropolitan Board of Works would preserve a licence to sell alcohol when they had demolished a pub, and before the replacement had been completed.

Apparently the Metropolitan Board of Works would install a temporary “shanty” on the site which would sell a minimum of a single drink a day. This would allow the licence to be preserved.

One newspaper report from 1881 which covered many of the improvement schemes in the area stated that St Mary, Islington was the “most populous in the metropolis”. An indication of how the area had developed from the fields of the 1746 map.

I need to research more to check the date of the current Fox, however whether this building, or a previous version, there are very many references to a large number of inquests held in the pub, adverts for staff, a suicide from one of the upper floor windows, theft and fatal accidents outside the pub – it was a busy place.

A view along Upper Street, to the west of the green showing a mix of architectural styles.

Islington Green

The larger brick building in the centre has a blue plaque stating that the singer and entertainer Gracie Fields lived here.

More mixed architecture and colour schemes.

Islington Green

At the southern end of Islington Green is a statue of Sir Hugh Myddelton, the wealthy City Goldsmith, who took up the scheme for the New River, and saw construction through to completion. He is facing towards New River Head, a short distance further south where the New River terminated, and water was distributed onward to consumers across London.

Islington Green

The statue was erected in 1862, with the statue being funded by Sir Samuel Morton, and the pedestal and fountains on either side of the pedestal, by voluntary subscriptions and aided by a grant from the Vestry of Islington.

The following drawing from the year the statue was unveiled shows the fountains in operation. It also shows the words “New River” on the plan Myddelton is holding in his left hand – not sure this is still visible today.

Islington Green

Walking back to the Angel underground station, and this is the view looking back up to Islington Green with Upper Street to the left, the street with the name Islington Green to the right, and the green in the centre, with Hugh Myddleton looking back towards New River Head.

Islington Green

Although it is only a small bit of grassed open space, Islington Green is a very old feature. Formed where the road from the City split into two, the green was there when the rest of what is now Islington was still covered in fields and open space.

It has been used as a dumping ground, improved by the Victorians, seen a tremendous growth of traffic on the surrounding roads, along with building on all sides.

The green has seen the changing forms of entertainment, from pubs, to the Electric Theatre, the Music Hall, and now retaining one of London’s unique small cinemas.

Bombed at the north-east corner, and dug up for air raid shelters, Islington Green continues watching the changes in one of London’s northern villages.

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Rosebery Avenue, St John Street and Amwell Street

A couple of week’s ago I wrote about the New River Head. Whilst in the area, I took advantage of a walk along Rosebery Avenue, St John Street and Amwell Street to visit the location of some of our 1985 photos, and also to explore the area in a bit more detail. What follows is therefore a rather random walk, but as with any London street, there is so much interesting architecture, history and people to discover.

The following map shows some of the key locations in this week’s post (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Rosebery Avenue

  • Location 1 is the starting point, at the junction of Rosebery Avenue and Clerkenwell Road
  • Location 2 is the site of a hairdressers photographed in 1985
  • Location 3 is a row of 18th century houses which in 1985 looked doomed to demolition, and also where Rosebery Avenue meets St John Street
  • Location 4 is a long open chemist in Amwell Street
  • Location 5 is an old engineering business also in Amwell Street
  • Location 6, for reference, is New River Head, the location of the post a couple of weeks ago.

Rosebery Avenue runs from points 1 to 3 on the map, and is one of those late Victorian streets, built to support the increasing volume of traffic across London, and to provide a wide through route where before only a maze of narrow streets existed.

Clearance of the route commenced in 1887, and the new street was opened in July 1892. The new street was named after Lord Rosebery, the first chairman of the London County Council. Lord Rosebery had resigned from the LCC a few days before the opening of Rosebery Avenue, so John Hutton, the vice chairman took on the task of formally opening the street.

Compared to many other 19th century London street openings, that of Rosebery Avenue seems to have been rather subdued. The Illustrated London News reported simply that:

“The new street from the Angel at Islington to the Holborn Townhall, Gray’s Inn Road, called Rosebery Avenue, was opened on Saturday, July 9, by the Deputy Chairman of the London County Council. It is 1173 yards long, straight and broad, with a subway under it for laying gas and water mains and electric wires. It has cost £353,000, but part of this expenditure will be recovered by the sale of land”.

As well as being the first chairman of the LCC, Lord Rosebery was a prominent politician of the late 19th century and was a Liberal Party Prime Minister between March 1894 and June 1895 after William Gladstone had retired. In 1895 Rosebery’s government lost a vote of confidence and the resulting general election returned a Unionist Government. He continued to lead the Liberal Party for a year, then permanently retired from politics.

Lord Rosebery after whom Rosebery Avenue is named:

Rosebery Avenue

The following map extract is from “Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London; Showing The Grand Improvements for 1847”, and shows the area before the construction of Rosebery Avenue.

Location 1 is the same as in the above map, where the future Rosebery Avenue would meet Clerkenwell Road. Point 3 is where the new street will meet St John Street and point 6 is New River Head, with the ponds as they were in 1847.

The red oval is around a House of Correction. This was Coldbath Fields Prison, where the Mount Pleasant Post Office buildings would later be constructed. The south-east corner of these buildings are close to Rosebery Avenue.

Rosebery Avenue cut across the Fleet valley, cut through numerous streets, and cut short many streets including Exmouth Street which originally ran up to the site of the prison.

The following photo is at location 1, looking from Clerkenwell Road, across to the start of Rosebery Avenue:

Rosebery Avenue

Construction of Rosebery Avenue would displace a large number of people, as housing would be demolished to make way for the new street. The LCC mandated the construction of new housing to the south of the street before work commenced on the northern sections.

A short distance along Rosebery Avenue we can see the evidence of the LCC’s requirement with two identical blocks of flats lining the street – Rosebery Square, east and west. The following photo shows Rosebery Square east.

Rosebery Avenue

The new buildings were completed and ready to house those displaced by the new street in July 1891. A plaque on the wall records the names of the parish church wardens at the time of construction:

Rosebery Avenue

Parts of the southern section of Rosebery Avenue, between Laystall Street and Coldbath Square, are higher than the surrounding land. (See this post on Laystall Street) This allows extra lower floors to be part of buildings such as Rosebery Square, and also requires a viaduct as shown in the photo below where the street crosses Warner Street.

Rosebery Avenue

The photo above also shows how the buildings facing onto Rosebery Avenue drop down below the level of the street, and are therefore much larger than they appear.

A short distance further along, just before the junction with Mount Pleasant and Coldbath Square is the first of the locations photographed in 1985. In 2019, this is the Pleasant Barbers:

Rosebery Avenue

Who twenty-four years ago, were The Pleasant Gent’s Hairdresser, but at the same location:

Rosebery Avenue

It is interesting how the name of a trade changes over time. In the 1980s, to get your hair cut (for a man) you went to a Hairdresser. Today, you go to a Barber.

Hairdressers / Barbers are a type of shop we have been photographing for the past 40 years. They are usually local businesses, not part of a chain and have individual character. One of the few types of business that is not under threat from the Internet.

A few years ago I wrote a post about Hairdressers of 1980s London, featuring a selection from 1985 and 1986. Many have since disappeared, but there are still plenty to be found across London.

After the building with Pleasant Barbers, we find the south-east corner of the Royal Mail sorting office at Mount Pleasant.

Rosebery Avenue

The area occupied by the Mount Pleasant sorting office was the site of the House of Correction shown in the 1847 map – a location that deserves a dedicated article.

On the opposite side of Rosebery Avenue is the Grade II listed, former Clerkenwell Fire Station.

Rosebery Avenue

A fire station had existed on the site before the construction of the building we see from Rosebery Avenue. The site increased in importance over the years, becoming the Superintendent’s Station for the Central District by 1890.

The original fire station was extended over the years, and the section facing onto Rosebery Avenue was constructed between 1912 and 1917, and included parts of the original fire station buildings and the 1896 extensions to the building.

The architectural quality of the building draws from the London County Council’s development of London housing, as architects from the LCC housing department also had responsibility for fire station design from the start of the 20th century.

Clerkenwell Fire Station closed in 2014 – one of the ten London Fire Stations closed in the same year due to budget cuts when Boris Johnson was Mayor.

A reminder of the London County Council origins of Clerkenwell Fire Station:

Rosebery Avenue

The fire station stands at the south-eastern corner of the junction of Rosebery Avenue and Farringdon Road. This is where Exmouth Street was shortened slightly. In the photo below, I am looking across the junction to Exmouth Street.

Rosebery Avenue

If you look at the 1847 map, Exmouth Street was originally on a main route between Goswell Road and Gray’s Inn Road, along with Myddelton Street (a New River reference).

The construction of Rosebery Avenue faced a number of legal challenges and one of these was from the Marquis of Northampton who was after £22,000 of compensation due to the impact on his properties around Exmouth Street and that “the remainder of the estate would be seriously depreciated by the diversion of traffic from Exmouth Street to the new thoroughfare, thus converting that street into a back street”.

Exmouth Street today is a back street as far as traffic is concerned, but now is the location of the Exmouth Street market.

The Marquis of Northampton, or Lord Northampton and his landholdings in Clerkenwell featured in a map created in 1909 by William Bellinger Northrop and titled “Landlordism Causes Unemployment”.

Rosebery Avenue

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

The aim of Northrop’s map was to show how “Landlordism” was strangling London, with large areas of the city being owned by the rich and powerful. Northrop claimed that Lord Northampton owned 260 acres in Clerkenwell and that this estate produced an annual rent of £1,600,000.

Continuing along Rosebery Avenue and the gradual increase in height is more apparent now, showing again why New River Head was located at close to the end of Rosebery Avenue as the drop to the city aided the flow of water from reservoir to consumer.

There are plenty of interesting buildings along the street, and a mix of architectural styles, one rather ornate building is the old Finsbury Town Hall:

Rosebery Avenue

Finsbury Town Hall was built between 1894 and 1895 on land cleared following the construction of Rosebery Avenue. The original vestry building was in a southern corner of the same plot, however a much larger triangular plot of land had been reduced to a much smaller triangular plot as Rosebery Avenue cut through Rosamond Street (now Rosoman Street).

In the following extract from the 1847 map, the red line is the rough alignment of how Rosebery Avenue would cut through the area. The blue rectangle is the original vestry building, and the red dashed lines show the location of the Finsbury Town Hall which now faces onto Rosebery Avenue.

Rosebery Avenue

Soon after completion, in 1900, the building became the town hall of the new Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury.

As well as conducting council business for the borough, the town hall also had two large rooms available for council functions and public hire.

Typical of the events held in the town hall was a Carnival Ball of Costermongers belonging to the National Association of Street Traders held at Finsbury Town Hall on the 30th January 1928:

Rosebery Avenue

Local government changes meant that in 1965 the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury was integrated with the London Borough of Islington, and the majority of council functions moved to Islington Town Hall, with only a small number of council operations remaining in the old Finsbury building.

The building entered a gradual state of decay, and by the end of the 1980s, council functions had to be moved out of the building.

Finsbury Town Hall almost fell to the “luxury flat” fate of so many other buildings across the city, however in 2005 the dance school, the Urdang Academy commenced the redevelopment of the building, moving in, in 2006.

The building continues to be the home of the Urdang Academy, with some of the large halls still available for hire.

The ornate entrance to the old Finsbury Town Hall from Rosebery Avenue:

Rosebery Avenue

Leaving Finsbury Town Hall, we reach New River Head, which I explored a couple of weeks ago, and then Sadler’s Wells, which demands a dedicated post, so I will continue to the end of Rosebery Avenue, and to the junction with St John Street, where the next location of my 1985 photos is to be found.

Across St John Street, and just to the south of the junction with Rosebery Avenue is a short stub of street by the name of Owen’s Row, with a terrace of late 18th century houses. In 1985 these were boarded up, and appeared to be at risk:

Rosebery Avenue

Thankfully in 2019, they are still here and looking in good condition. A wider view in the photo below to the 1985 photo, showing Owen’s Row with the terrace, and the former Empress of Russia pub on the corner with St John Street.

Rosebery Avenue

The Empress of Russia pub dates to the early 19th century. The pub closed in 2000, went through a series of food related businesses, before returning to a pub in the form of the Pearl and Feather.

From 1985 the Empress of Russia was the regular London performance venue of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, where it was usual to hear the music of the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground played on the Ukelele.

The alignment of Owen’s Row is down to the New River.

Building of a row of houses along the eastern bank of the New River commenced in 1773 by Thomas Rawstorne, who started building from the St John Street junction. When built, the houses faced onto the New River.

Look in the centre of the following extract from the 1847 map. Just above the S in the word Street of St John Street, is the word Owens, and to the left of this is the channel of the New River, flowing to the bottom of the map towards New River Head. In 1847 this section of the New River was still uncovered.

Rosebery Avenue

Owen’s Row would not become a street until 1862 when this section of the New River was enclosed and covered.

Today, the terrace consists of just four houses, but following the start of the street in 1773, houses extended further along the eastern edge of the New River. The following photo from 1946 shows the extended terrace, with a row of three floor buildings after those with four floors. These were later demolished, and the end of the original Owen’s Row is now occupied by the Sixth Form College of the City and Islington College.

Rosebery Avenue

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_087_F3305

What is interesting in the above photos, is that in all photos of the remaining terrace, the bricks of the fourth floor are a very different shade to those on the lower three floors. It is more clearly visible in the 1946 photo, and would indicate that the terrace was originally built with three floors, with a later addition of a fourth floor.

Really good to see that part of the terrace remains, and that although boarded up in 1985, they were not demolished. Owen’s Row is also a physical reminder of the route of the new river, and when this terrace of houses looked out onto water flowing through the channel to New River Head.

Although I still had two 1985 photos to track down, I find wandering the streets fascinating, and in the streets around St John Street there are so many interesting places.

On the corner of St John Street and Chadwell Street are Turner & George, butchers.

Rosebery Avenue

The Turner & George business is new, only opening in the last few years, however the shop has long been a butchers.

In the tiling below the windows is the word BLAND. This refers to the Bland family who ran a butchers in St John Street from 19th century.

In 1882, there was a Mrs Sarah Bland recorded as Butcher of 563 St John Street-road, Clerkenwell, The present building is at number 399 St John Street, so Sarah Bland’s butchers may have been at a different location, or more likely, at the current corner location, which has changed number, as streets were frequently renumbered as streets changed over the years.

On the corner of Arlington Way and Chadwell Street is the business of Thomas B. Treacy – Funeral Directors.

Rosebery Avenue

I have not been able to find any evidence, however I suspect the building may have originally been a pub. The corner location, and the round corner for the building are typical of 19th century pubs.

One pub that does survive is The Harlequin in Arlington Way.

Rosebery Avenue

The Harlequin was first recorded as a beer house around 1848, with the current name being in use by 1894.

Although there is plenty of interest in the streets around Rosebery Avenue and St John Street, I had two more 1985 photo locations to find, so I walked across to Amwell Street to find the location of W.C. & K. King, Chemists, who had this wonderful lantern hanging outside the shop in 1985.

Rosebery Avenue

In 2019, the shop is still a chemists, and the same shop front survives, however the lantern has disappeared.

Rosebery Avenue

The lantern claims 1839 as the year the business was established, however I can find no evidence of when the business opened, or when W.C. & K, King where proprietors.

I continued walking down along Amwell Street, past the point where I photographed the base of the New River Head windmill, and then found this rather magnificent building – giving the appearance of a large brick built castle guarding Amwell Street:

Rosebery Avenue

This is the Grade II listed Charles Rowan House.

Built between 1928-1930 to provide accommodation for married police officers, the building was design by Gilbert Mackenzie Trench who was the architect for the Metropolitan Police.

Built of red brick, the large rectangular building provided 96 two and three-bedroom flats, arranged around a central courtyard. The longer sides of the building are along the roads leading off from Amwell Street, and it is in these two side streets that the arched entrances to the central courtyard and the flats can be found.

The building transferred to local council ownership in 1974. I am not sure how much of the building remains as council provided housing. I suspect many of the flats have transferred to private ownership through right to buy, and today, a 2 bedroom flat in Charles Rowan House can be had for £650,000.

The building is named after Sir Charles Rowan, the first Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and his obituary published on the 11th May 1852 in the London Daily News, reveals a link between the Metropolitan Police and the Battle of Waterloo:

“Death of Sir Charles Rowan K.C.B. – Sir Charles Rowan, later Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, died at his residence in Norfolk-street, Park-lane on Saturday the 8th inst. he entered the army as an ensign in the 52nd Light Infantry, in 1797, and served with that distinguished regiment in the expedition to Ferrol in 1800; in Sicily, in 1806-7; and with Sir John Moore’s expedition to Sweden in 1808. He joined the army in Portugal after the Battle of Vimiera, and served from that time with the reserve forces of Sir John Moore, and in the Battle of Corunna. he also served with great distinction both in Spain and Portugal, and commanded a wing of the 52nd at the Battle of Waterloo, when he was wounded; he was also wounded at Badajoz, on which occasion he received the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1815 he was appointed companion of the Bath. From 1829, the year the Metropolitan Police Force was instituted, until 1859, he was chief commissioner, and for his services in that capacity was, in 1848, nominated a knight commander of the Bath”.

Fascinating that the building is named after someone who fought at the Battle of Waterloo, and that same person became the first chief commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

The construction of Charles Rowan House obliterated a street and a large number of houses, and it was here that Amwell Street ended.

In the following extract from the 1896 edition of the Ordnance Survey map, I have marked the location of Charles Rowan House with the large red rectangle.

Rosebery Avenue

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Amwell Street ran to the northern tip of what would later become Charles Rowan House, and from then down to Rosebery Avenue, the street was named Rosoman Street.  Today, Amwell Street extends onto Rosebery Avenue, replacing the Rosoman Street name.

This is relevant as it helped me find more details of the following location, photographed in 1985:

Rosebery Avenue

In the 1901 census, the address was 95 Rosoman Street rather than 13 Amwell Street.

The building was occupied by:

  • Frederick Bowman, aged 52 and occupation Brass Founder
  • Ellen Bowman, aged 39, his wife
  • Irene Bowman, aged 14, daughter
  • Ruby Bowman, aged 13, daughter
  • Theophilus Bowman, aged 11, son
  • Christie Bowman, aged 7, daughter
  • Helen Munto, aged 32, servant

If the business was founded in 1865 as recorded on the front of the building, then I am not sure it was the Frederick Bowman of the 1901 census, as he would have been too young, and all his children were recorded as being born in Chingford, Essex.

I cannot find any reference to an earlier F. Bowman. In the 1911 census, Frederick Bowman was still living at 95 Rosoman Street, aged 64 and still working as a Brass and Aluminium Founder. All his children still lived at home, however Helen Munto had left (perhaps returning to her native Scotland), and the new servant was Edward Redgrave, aged 30.

Frederick seems to have been a name used by the family over the generations, as Theophilus middle name was Frederick. Chingford also seems to have been a family connection as Theophilus would marry Florence May Jerome at Chingford in 1922.

Theophilus would go on to live in Chingford, but he would also carry on the family trade, as in the 1939 census, his occupation is given as Brass Moulder – what is not clear is whether he worked in Chingford, or commuted to the Rosoman / Amwell Street business.

The same location in 2019:

Rosebery Avenue

The 1985 photo implies that the entrance to the business was in the centre, with the entrance to the family home to the right.

In 2019 it looks as if the building has been converted to a home, with a single entrance door to the right, and the paving leading to the business door removed to open up the cellar.

Frederick Bowman’s name still looks onto Amwell Street.

A short distance on, and I was back on Rosebery Avenue. Although the walk did not have a theme, to me it is the fascination of what can be found on random walking across London, on this walk using some 1985 photos as a guide.

Businesses that continue to (hopefully) thrive on London’s streets such as the Pleasant Barbers, Lord Northampton’s hold over the land of Clerkenwell, a row of houses that owe their alignment to the New River, a block of flats named after a Waterloo survivor, and a street named after the first chairman of the London County Council, and future Prime Minister are typical of the fascinating stories to be found all over London.

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New River Head and London’s Water Industry

Last week I had the opportunity to research the New River, and to walk around the site of New River Head, where the New River terminated, just south of the Pentonville Road.

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

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

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

New River Head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following map from Stow’s Survey of London, dated around 1720, shows the location of New River Head, still in fields to the north of the city, with the New River feeding in from the right.

New River Head

The New River project was a success, however by the end of the 17th century, the New River Company was supplying water to a considerable part of London, and had reached the organisational and technological limits of the time.

Whilst there were no significant problems with transporting water from Hertfordshire to New River Head, the real problems were distributing water onward across the city, where a system of pipes had grown over the years without any integrated planning, and no real understanding of the implications of water pressure, pipe size, height profiles etc.

Users were starting to complain, water could be cut off for days, pressure was frequently low, and the number of consumers continued to grow rapidly, for example in the ten years between 1695 and 1705 an additional 600 new consumers had been added in the West End, an area of considerable growth for the New River Company.

The West End also had unique problems as it was higher than the City and the difference in height required different distribution methods, rather than just adding more pipes to an already overstretched network.

Sir Christopher Wren was asked to help with understanding the problems of distributing water to Soho Square in the West End, however Wren looked at the whole system and recommended that the problems could only be addressed by effectively replacing the entire system with a new, integrated design.

The New River Company also commissioned John Lowthorp (a clergyman, who was also a member of the Royal Society) to look at the distribution problems,

Lowthorpe established that it was not water supply problems to New River Head (indeed the New River supplied enough water for the whole of London), as with Wren, Lowthorpe identified the distribution network and the organisation of the company.

The New River Company undertook a significant reform of their operations over the course of the 18th century. An integrated approach to distributing water, placement of valves and cisterns, use of different pipe bores and careful surveys of the height profile of the distribution network, and the locations of consumers.

The New River Head location also expanded with additional holding ponds, and in 1709 a new reservoir called the New or Upper Pond was constructed, a short distance north from New River Head, where Claremont Square stands today towards Pentonville Road.

The following plan shows the New River Head in 1753. The original Inner pond, built for the 1613 opening of the New River, surrounded by later ponds, and to the upper left, the New Pond dating from 1709.

New River Head

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p5440560

The New Pond was higher than the main New River Head site, so a means of pumping water was required and initially a windmill was constructed at the New River Head site to pump water up to the New Pond, however this was an inefficient method. Water could not be pumped at times of insufficient wind and the windmill was also damaged during times of high wind. The windmill was soon replaced by horsepower, and then by steam pumps in a new pump and engine house.

The following print shows New River Head in 1752.

New River Head

The New Pond is at the bottom of the picture, the ponds at New River Head are just above and the windmill can be seen to the right of the New River Head ponds. This print also shows how the buildings of the city are gradually creeping towards New River Head, when compared to the map from 1720 – all new consumers for the New River Company.

This print from the 1740s shows New River Head and the windmill.

New River Head

The growing demand for water also meant that the capacity of the original Hertfordshire springs was insufficient. The New River Company had started to use the River Lea as an additional source of water and in the 17th century had constructed pipes to take water from the River Lea to the New River.

Bargeman and Mill owners along the River Lea were not happy with the impact of the New River on the volume of water and rate of flow along the River Lea, resulting in a number of disputes.

Parliament provided their approval to an agreement drawn up between the trustees of the River Lea Navigation and the New River Company in 1739, which allowed the New River Company to continue drawing water on payment of £350 per annum to the River Lea Navigation.

There is so much history to New River Head, however this post is already far too long, so a brief look at a couple of maps to show how the site then developed to the site we see today.

This 1913 revision of the Ordnance Survey map, shows New River Head, with the central round pond, and surrounding filter beds. The map also shows the level of development during the 19th century with the fields that surrounded the site in the 17th century, now covered with housing and streets.

New River Head

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Fast forward to the 1952 revision, and we can see the large head office of the Metropolitan Water Board (discussed further down the post) dominates the site, and covers much of the original location of the round pond, with only parts of the northern edge remaining (which we can still see today).

New River Head

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

In the map, I have marked the location of the New River Head viewing point (see further down the post) by a blue circle, and the red circle outlines the base of the original windmill used to pump water to the Claremont Street reservoir.

The following photo from Britain from Above, dated 1952, shows the New River Head location. It is really only with an aerial view that you can appreciate the head office of the Metropolitan Water Board in the centre of the photo.

New River Head

Time for a walk around the site today, to see what is left of New River Head.

As part of the New River Path, developed to follow the route of the New River between Hertford and Islington, Thames Water created a viewing platform to look over the site of New River Head. To get to there, i walked up Rosebery Avenue, and just before the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, turned left into Arlington Way, then just before the Shakespeare’s Head pub, turned left into  Myddleton Passage.

New River Head

At the point where Myddleton Passage does a 90 degree bend up to Myddleton Square (both named after Hugh Myddleton), there are two metal gates, the one on the right provides access to the viewing platform.

New River Head

There are a number of information panels lining the fence providing some background to the New River and New River Head.

New River Head

The concept of having a viewing platform at the end of the New River Path, overlooking the place where water emptied out into the ponds and the infrastructure to distribute the water onward across London is brilliant, however I must admit I was somewhat disappointed by the limited view. Much of the original history of the site is either obscured by plant growth, or buildings, or is just too low to be visible.

The following panorama shows the view from the viewing platform, and I have marked some of the key features which are either visible, or hidden.

New River Head

Fortunately, taking a walk around the wider area reveals much more of New River Head and the New River Company, so here is a tour round the site starting with the magnificent Head Office of the Metropolitan Water Board constructed in 1919 / 1920. This is the view of the building as you walk up Rosebery Avenue from the south.

New River Head

It is hard to appreciate the full size, or shape of the building from ground level. The Britain from Above photo shown earlier in the post shows what a magnificent building this is when the full building can be appreciated.

There are multiple reminders of the original function of the building and New River Head, to be found all over the building:

New River Head

Walking further north along Rosebery Avenue, and this is the view looking back towards the Metropolitan Water Board head office. The full area on the right is part of the original New River Head.

New River Head

In the above photo, where the head office building ends along Rosebery Avenue, there are gates which provide a glimpse of the original round pond. The photo below shows part of the retaining wall of the round pond behind the far fence – later upgrades and restorations so not exactly the 1613 walls, but retaining the position of the original round pond.

New River Head

To the north of the site is the magnificent Grade II listed, 1938 Laboratory Building, designed by John Murray Easton and formerly the water testing centre for Thames Water.

New River Head

The Laboratory Building is now home to 35 apartments. On the rounded corner of the Laboratory Building is the seal of the New River Company:

New River Head

The seal depicts the hand of Providence bestowing rain upon the city. The motto “et plui super unam civitatem” translates as “and I rained upon one city”.

This is the turn off from Rosebery Avenue to get to Myddleton Passage:

New River Head

The view along Myddleton Passage. The passage can be seen along the northern boundary of New River Head in the maps above. The wall on the left is the boundary wall from 1806-7.

New River Head

In the 19th and early 20th centuries this passage, alongside the water works was a dark and isolated place at night, and a number of crimes were reported in the press of the day. For example from the London Daily News on the 26th March 1846 “Robbery from the person of Mr Thomas Woods, of Number 9 Wardrobe-place, Doctors Commons whilst passing through Myddleton-passage, Clerkenwell, a striped silk purse, containing twenty sovereigns and twenty shillings in silver”.

The presence of police officers in Myddleton Passage can be seen through “collar numbers” carved into a section of the boundary wall along Myddleton Passage.

New River Head

The Survey of London identifies a number of the officers who recorded their numbers along the wall. One being Frederick Albert Victor Moore, from Cornwall, who joined G Division of the Metropolitan Police in 1886. Prior to his transfer to London he had served at the Devonport Naval Dockyard, and in Myddleton Passage recorded not only his London number, but also his original 365 PLYMOUTH number, seen in the middle of the second from bottom course of bricks in the following photo:

New River Head

Fascinating to imagine Metropolitan Police Officers of the 19th century patrolling this lonely alley on a dark night, with the waters of New River Head just behind the wall.

Walk to the end of Myddleton Passage, stop off at the viewing platform then head north.

At the end of Myddleton Passage, we reach Myddleton Square, a large square with the church of St Marks, Clerkenwell in the centre. Both passage and square named after Hugh Myddleton.

New River Head

Along the northern terrace of Myddleton Square, there is a distinctive change in brick colouring:

New River Head

Not due to cleaning, rather bombing of the site and a rebuild of the terrace as recorded on a plaque adjacent to the black door in the centre of the above photo:

New River Head

The plaque records the New River Company rebuilt this section of Myddleton Square between 1947 and 1948, and it also gives a clue as to how the New River Company evolved.

The Metropolis Water Act of 1902 transferred the responsibility of the many local water companies serving London to the newly created Metropolitan Water Board. The New River Company ceased the role that it had been created for almost 300 year before.

As well as supplying water, the New River Company had long been a significant owner of land and properties, both along the route of the New River and the surroundings of New River Head. In 1904, the New River Company re-incorporated as a property company.

In 1974 the New River Company was taken over by London Merchant Securities, but still operated as a separate division.

Today, the New River Company is a subsidiary of the property company Derwent London plc (I am constantly fascinated by how you can still find evidence of centuries old institutions across London).

A turning off Myddleton Square is Chadwell Street – after one of the original Hertfordshire springs.

New River Head

Leading north from Myddleton Square is Mylne Street.

Mylne Street is named after Robert Mylne (1733 to 1811), who became the New River Company’s second chief surveyor in 1771. Mylne had already worked on Blackfriars Bridge (completed in 1760), he was surveyor of St Paul’s Cathedral and worked on numerous canal and architectural construction and engineering projects.

I have a load of 1980s photos that we took around Clerkenwell and Islington, and one of the reasons for my visit to the area was to photograph the same locations today. The following is a photo from 1984 showing one of the first buildings in Mylne Street from Myddleton Square.

New River Head

It is a lovely building, with ornate ironwork fronting the street, but what was of interest is the street name carved between the ground and first floors. Also, from the perspective of 2019, the parking meter that was once so common across London streets.

The same building in November 2019:

New River Head

At the northern end of Mylne Street we reach Claremont Square. This was the location of the New, or Upper Pond. In a wonderful example of continuity of use, over 300 years later, the centre of the square is still occupied by a large, covered reservoir, with grassed, earth banks surrounding the centre of the square.

New River Head

Lining three sides of the square are early 19th century terrace houses. Pentonville Road lines the northern edge of the square.

New River Head

Steps leading up from Claremont Square to the top of the reservoir:

New River Head

The original reservoir was uncovered, however as the reservoir contained filtered water ready for distribution to consumers, the Metropolis Water Act of 1852 required such reservoirs to be covered to prevent any form of contamination entering the water from the wider environment.

In the 1850s, the reservoir was drained, brick piers built, covered and turfed over. The reservoir was also raised in height to give a total depth of water of 21 feet, and the capability to hold 3.5 million gallons.

Four million bricks were used in the reconstruction and covering the reservoir, and the following print showing work taking place, and the internal construction provides a good view of how the reservoir was built and covered.

New River Head

Whilst New River Head could provide water for large parts of London in the 17th and 18th centuries, new sources and reservoirs were being developed, including reservoirs in Stoke Newington, where the New River now terminates and feeds the east and west reservoirs just south of Seven Sisters Road.

The Claremont Square reservoir was already integrated into a wider water distribution network in the 19th century, as in the 19th century, large pipes had been installed between the reservoirs in Stoke Newington and Claremont Square, so the reservoir could be stocked with water from both New River Head and Stoke Newington.

Today, the reservoir is fed with water from the London Ring Main, and the reservoir was Grade II listed in the year 2000..

The western edge of Claremont Square is at the top of Amwell Street (named after one of the original Hertfordshire springs), so I turned into Amwell Street and headed south.

Passing the junction with River Street (after the New River) and Lloyd Baker Street (see my earlier post on the Lloyd Baker Estate), I reached the point where you can peer through railings surrounding the New River Head site, and see the base of the windmill that was built to pump water from New River Head to the Claremont Square Reservoir in 1709:

New River Head

The plaque above the door reads:

“The round house, remains of the windmill used C. 1709 -1720 to pump water from the round pond to the upper pond (now Claremont Square reservoir)”.

Locks on the entrance gate between Amwell Street and the New River Head site – they really do not want you to get in:

New River Head

Which is understandable, as New River Head is still a key location in the distribution of water across London.

In another fascinating example of how locations across London maintain a continuity of use across centuries, the information panel at the viewing point shows where a deep shaft at the New River Head site connects to the London Ring Main, a core part of the infrastructure that now distributes water across London.

Pumps raise water from the ring main for distribution via the Claremont Square reservoir.

New River Head

As well as the London Ring Main interconnect, the New River Head site also hosts a bore hole used to extract ground water.

For centuries, water intensive industries such as breweries, tanneries etc. drained London’s ground water, resulting in an ever dropping level of ground water.

With the decline of these industries, ground water has been gradually rising. Whilst a good thing to return to natural levels, rising groundwater does create problems for the infrastructure now buried deep under London. For example, TFL has to pump 47 million litres of water a day from across the network, with 35 litres per second needing to be pumped from just Victoria Station.

The bore hole at New River Head is to the left of the old windmill base, but appears to be out of operation at the moment as stabilisation works are required, however when back in operation, the New River Head bore hole can extract between 3 and 3.46 million litres per day from London’s rising ground water.

Again, I have only scratched the surface of the history of the area and New River Head. Within the Round Pond, there is the Devil’s Conduit, a chimney conduit originally from Queen’s Square, Bloomsbury and moved to New River Head in 1927. The original 17th century oak room from the Water House building, built next to the Round Pond, and dating from around 1693, is now in the Metropolitan Water Board head office building (open during Open House, London).

Thames Water (the successor to the Metropolitan Water Board) have long left the New River Head offices, and are now based in Reading. The old head office building has been converted into flats.

To research this post, as well as walking the area I have used a number of excellent books, including:

  • The New River by Mary Cosh
  • The Survey of London, Volume 47 on Northern Clerkenwell and Pentonville
  • The History of the London Water Industry 1580 to 1820 by Leslie Tomory
  • Online reports from Thames Water and TFL
  • Online reports by the General Aquifer Research Development and Investigation Team

The book by Leslie Tomory is a fascinating read if you want to understand how the water industry developed across London from very simple beginnings, to an industry that could serve an industrialising and rapidly expanding city.

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Caledonian Park – History, Murals And A Fire

Caledonian Park in north London in the Borough of Islington is today a green space in a busy part of London, with few reminders of the areas rich history.

I have much to write about Caledonian Park so I will cover in two posts this weekend. Today some historical background to the area, some lost murals and finding the location of one of my father’s photos. Tomorrow, climbing the Victorian Clock Tower at the heart of the park to see some of the most stunning views of London.

Caledonian Park is a relatively recent name. Taking its name from the nearby Caledonian Road which in turn was named after the Caledonian Asylum which was established nearby in 1815 for the “children of Scottish parents”.

Prior to the considerable expansion of London in the 19th century, the whole area consisted of open fields and went by the name of Copenhagen Fields. There was also a Copenhagen House located within the area of the current park.

The origin of the Copenhagen name is probably down to the use of the house (or possibly the construction of the house) by the Danish Ambassador for use as a rural retreat from the City of London during the Great Plague of 1665.

Copenhagen House became an Inn during the early part of the 18th century and the fields were used for sport, recreation and occasionally as an assembly point for demonstrations, or as Edward Walford described in Old and New London, the fields were “the resort of Cockney lovers, Cockney sportsmen and Cockney agitators”

The following print shows Copenhagen House from the south east in 1783, still a very rural location.

1125319001 ©Trustees of the British Museum

During the last part of the 18th century, Copenhagen Fields was often used as a meeting point for many of the anti-government demonstrations of the time. Old and New London by Walter Thornbury has a description of these meetings:

“In the early days of the French Revolution, when the Tories trembled with fear and rage, the fields near Copenhagen House were the scene of those meetings of the London Corresponding Society, which so alarmed the Government. The most threatening of these was held on October 26, 1795, when Thelwall, and other sympathisers with France and liberty, addressed 40,000, and threw out hints that the mob should surround Westminster on the 29th, when the King would go to the House. The hint was attended to, and on that day the King was shot at, but escaped unhurt.”

The meetings and threats from groups such as the Corresponding Societies led to the Combination Acts of 1799 which legislated against the gathering of men for a common purpose. It was this repression that also contributed to the Cato Street Conspiracy covered in my post which can be found here.

The following is a satirical print from 1795 by James Gillray of a meeting on Copenhagen Fields “summoned by the London Corresponding Society” which was “attended by more than a hundred thousand persons”.

140569001

©Trustees of the British Museum

Copenhagen Fields continued to be used for gatherings. In April 1834 there was a meeting in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who had been sentenced to transportation to Australia for forming a trade union. Walter Thornbury provides the following description: “an immense number of persons of the trades’ unions assembled in the Fields, to form part of a procession of 40,000 men to Whitehall to present an address to his Majesty, signed by 260,000 unionists on behalf of their colleagues who had been convicted at Dorchester for administering illegal oaths”.

The final large meeting to be held in Copenhagen Fields was in 1851 in support of an exiled Hungarian revolutionary leader. The role of this rural location was about to change very dramatically.

Smithfield in the city was originally London’s main cattle market however during the first half of the 19th century the volume of animals passing through the market and the associated activities such as the slaughter houses were getting unmanageable in such a densely populated part of central London.

The City of London Corporation settled on Copenhagen Fields as the appropriate location for London’s main cattle market and purchased Copenhagen House and the surrounding fields in 1852. The site was ideal as it was still mainly open space, close enough to London, and near to a number of the new railway routes into north London.

Copenhagen House was demolished and the construction of the new market, designed by the Corporation of London Architect, James Bunstone Bunning was swiftly underway, opening on the 13th June 1855.

A ground penetrating radar survey of the area commissioned by Islington Council in 2014 identified the location of Copenhagen House as (when viewed from the park to the south of the Clock Tower) just in front and to the left of the Clock Tower.

The sheer scale of the new market was impressive. In total covering seventy five acres and built at a cost of £500,000. There were 13,000 feet of railings to which the larger animals could be tied and 1,800 pens for up to 35,000 sheep.

Market days were Mondays and Thursdays for cattle, sheep and pigs, and Fridays for horses, donkeys and goats. The largest market of the year was held just before Christmas. In the last Christmas market at Smithfield in 1854, the number of animals at the market was 6,100. At the first Christmas market at the new location, numbers had grown to 7,000 and by 1863 had reached 10,300.

The following Aerofilms photo from 1931 shows the scale of the market. The clock tower at the centre of the market is also at the centre of the photo with the central market square along with peripheral buildings in the surrounding streets.

EPW034971

The 1930 edition of Bartholomew’s Handy Reference Atlas of London shows the location and size of the market:

Caledonian map 1

As well as the cattle market, the construction included essential infrastructure to support those working and visiting the market. Four large public houses were built, one on each of the corners of the central square. The following Aerofilms photo from 1928, shows three of the pubs at corners of the main square. The two large buildings to the left of the photo are hotels, also constructed as part of the market facilities

The clock tower is located in the middle, at the base of the clock tower are the branch offices of several banks, railway companies, telegraph companies along with a number of shops.

EPW024272

A 19th century drawing shows the clock tower and the long sheds that covered much of the market:

Die_Gartenlaube_(1855)_b_089

By the time of the First World War, the cattle market had started to decline and was finally closed in 1939 at the start of the Second World War, with the site then being used by the army.

After the war, the slaughter houses around the market continued to be used up until 1964, when the London County Council and the Borough of Islington purchased the site ready for redevelopment. The Market Housing Estate was built on much of the site, although by the 1980s the physical condition of the estate had started to decline significantly, and the estate had a growing problem with drugs and prostitution. Housing blocks were built up close to the clock tower and there was limited green space with many concrete paved areas surrounding the housing blocks and the clock tower.

A second redevelopment of the area was planned and planning permission granted in 2005. The last of the Market Estate housing blocks was demolished in 2010 and it this latest development which occupies much of the area today.

In 1982 a number of murals illustrating the history of the market were painted on the ground floor exterior of the main Clock Tower building of the original Market Estate. In 1986 my father took some photos of the murals during a walk round Islington. As far as I know, these murals were lost during the later redevelopment of the area.

The introductory mural providing some history of the market:

Cattle Market Murals 1

A scene showing the opening of the market by Prince Albert in 1855. A lavishly decorated marquee hosted a thousand invited guests to mark the opening of the market.

Cattle Market Murals 2

The central clock tower painted on the Clock Tower building of the housing estate:

Cattle Market Murals 3

Other scenes from around the market:

Cattle Market Murals 4

Cattle Market Murals 5

As well as the photos of the murals, almost 40 years earlier in 1948 my father had taken a photo of the aftermath of a fire. I was unsure where this was and I published the photo below a few weeks ago in my post on mystery locations.

Old Pub Road 1

One of the messages I had in response to this post (my thanks to Tom Miler), was that the building at the back of the photo looked like one of the pubs at the Caledonian Market.

I took a walk around the periphery of the site trying to work out which of the streets and pubs could be the location of my father’s photo and found the following:

Pub Road 1

This, I am sure, is the location of my father’s photo. The street is Shearling Way running along the eastern edge of Caledonian Park. I probably should have been a bit further back to take the photo, however the rest of the road was closed and full of cars unloading students into the student accommodation that now occupies the southern end of Shearling Way – an indication of how much the area has changed.

The pub is hidden behind the tree, although it is in the same position and the chimneys are clearly the same and in the right position. The old yards and sheds that had burnt down on the right of the original photo have been replaced by housing.

I was really pleased to find the location of this photo, it is one I thought I would not be able to place in modern day London.

This Aerofilms photo from 1948 shows the pub from the above photo at the top left of the main market square with the road running up to the right. Above the road is the area that was the scene of the fire.

EAW015857

This is another photo of the scene of the fire and the housing in the background can also be seen in the above Aerofilms photo, further confirming the location.

Unknown Locations 17

Walking down the street I took the following photo of the pub, the front of the pub has the same features as on the 1948 photo.

Pub 1

The pub was The Lamb, unfortunately, as with the other pubs on the corners of the old cattle market, it is now closed.

To the left of the first half of the street, adjacent to the park, the original market railings are still in place:

Market Railings 1

A short time after the opening of the Cattle Market, a general or flea market had become established alongside. This market grew considerably and was generally known as the Cally Market, a place where almost anything could be found for sale. By the start of the 20th century, the size of the Cally Market had outgrown the original Cattle Market.

The journalist and author H.V. Morton visited the market for his newspaper articles on London and later consolidated in his book “London” (published in 1925) and wrote the following:

“When I walked into this remarkable once a week junk fair I was deeply touched to think that any living person could need many of the things displayed for sale. For all round me, lying on sacking, were the driftwood and wreckage of a thousand lives: door knobs, perambulators in extremis, bicycle wheels, bell wire, bed knobs, old clothes, awful pictures, broken mirrors, unromantic china goods, gaping false teeth, screws, nuts, bolts and vague pieces of rusty iron, whose mission in life, or whose part and portion of a whole, Time had obliterated.”

The Cally Market was also used during both the first and second world wars for major fund raising events. This poster from the first world war:

IWM PST 10955

 © IWM (Art.IWM PST 10955)

Along with the murals, my father took a photo of the Clock Tower in 1986. The original housing blocks that reached up to the clock tower can be seen on either side. The clock tower is surrounded by concrete paving.

Old Tower View 1

This is the same scene in 2015 from roughly the same point (although I should have been more to the left). The old housing blocks have been demolished and the clock tower is now surrounded by green space.

New Tower View 1

Looking at the above photo, the wooden steps that provide the route up inside the Clock Tower can be seen through the two windows.

Join me for tomorrow’s post as I climb the tower to the viewing gallery at the top for some of the best views across London.

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London Streets In The 1980s – Part 2

Back in May I published a number of photos we took showing London streets in the 1980s. Judging by the number of page views they were very popular (and can be found here), so for this week’s post, please join me in another walk along the streets of London in 1986.

We will start in East London.

In the mid 1980s, London still had very many independent corner shops selling a wide variety of goods from premises that had not really changed for many years. This is Fowlers Stores in Old Ford Road, off Cambridge Heath Road between Bethnal Green Underground and Cambridge Heath Overground stations.

1980s - 17

A general stores in Fordham Street, one of the many side streets between Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road.

1980s - 4

Corner shop in Parfett Street, again one of the side streets between Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road.

1980s - 1

Hessel Street at the junction with Commercial Road. The wall advertising has long gone and the café has been replaced by the Shalamar Kebab House.

1980s - 2

Not sure the exact location, but a side street off Commercial Road.

1980s - 3

There was always plenty of colourful graffiti to be found whilst walking round East London in the 1980s.

I like this one as it was obviously important to get the spelling correct:

1980s - 5

Back in 1986 Rupert Murdoch was well on his way in building up his reputation as a controversial character. This was the time of the printers strike when News International had built a new printing plant in Wapping and started the move of newspaper publishing out of Fleet Street.

1980s - 22

A quick hop across the river to Deptford. Graffiti on the side of a house in Grinstead Road:

1980s -18

Now back to Bethnal Green and the railway arches leading out of Liverpool Street Station, doing what railway arches always seem to do and host car maintenance businesses.

1980s - 19

Railway arches alongside Three Colts Lane, Bethnal Green:

1980s - 20

This is G.J. Chapman, located at 10 Penton Street, just off the Pentonville Road. The type of general hardware store that had an early morning and evening custom of moving many of their goods for sale out and then back into the shop. Closed I beleive about 20 years ago and now replaced by flats.

1980s - 14

Another corner store.

1980s - 13

Despite the very poor condition of the building that is home to the Boleyn Pet Stores, the building is still there. Fully repaired although the pet shop has long gone and the last time I passed was a café. The location is on the corner of Bradbury Street and Boleyn Road, Dalston.

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Cannot remember where this was, but typical 1980s posters.

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Street sign advertising the butchers….

1980s - 18

…. and a café. There were many of this type of pavement advertising. I included a number in my previous 1980s street photos post.

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The Nobody Inn. A pub in Mildmay Road, Islington. Last time I walked past it was a completely refurbished pub and restaurant with a new name.

1980s - 21

An upholstery business on the corner of Alfearn Road and Millfields Road, between Clapton and Hackney. Established 1950, but no longer there.

1980s - 12

Allen Road, Stoke Newington / Newington Green. You would not find a scrap metal dealer on this road now, although the building is still there.

1980s - 11

Florists in Dalston.

1980s - 10

Butchers:

1980s - 9

French’s Dairy in Rugby Street, Holborn. The plaque on the wall states that in the rear is the White Conduit (circa 1300), originally part of the water supply to the Greyfriars Monastery in Newgate Street.

The dairy has gone, but the plaque and building are still there.

1980s - 8

Whittington Park, Islington.

1980s - 23

An old shop front, brightly painted for a furniture business which seems to have gone out of business.

1980s - 24

Many of the buildings featured above are still there, but they now provide a very different function and the days of the individual general store, pet shop, dairy etc. are now mostly long gone or disappearing fast as the process of gentrification moves from one London street to the next.

Whilst the streets of London are now in a much better state of repair, they are loosing much of their individuality and colour (but I still enjoy walking them !).

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