A London Inheritance documents exploration of London using the photographs as a starting point. To try and identify the original locations, show how and why these have changed and how the buildings, streets and underlying topography of the city have developed.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about XX Place in Stepney. It was a location I found in the little book Curious London by Hugh Pearman, published in 1951.
Pearman divided the city up into ‘towns’ and identified six locations of interest in each of these towns.
The book is fascinating as it provides a whole range of different locations to visit, places I may not normally visit, to see if the items of interest in each of the areas Pearman defined as a town are still there, and to learn a bit more about London.
I was recently in Westminster and checked the book for any interesting detours, and found a reference to Goodwin’s Court, with the following text:
“This unique row of delightful bow-fronted cottages forms one side of Goodwins Court, an old-world thoroughfare off S. Martin’s Lane. In one of the cottages lived Nell Gwynn the orange seller at the nearby Drury Lane Theatre, who became the sweetheart of the ‘Merry Monarch’ and the darling of the populace. The narrow windows are still iron-barred, although the dungeon like cells have been empty for many, many years.”
The book included the following rather grainy photograph of Goodwin’s Court showing a dark alley, with the bow-fronted cottages on the left.
Goodwin’s Court is a narrow alley running between St. Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury, a busy area in the West End, just north of Trafalgar Square. The entrance from Bedfordbury is through an alley in two of the houses which look to be contemporary with the buildings in the court and have the same style of bow fronted windows.
A plaque along Goodwin’s Court dates the houses to 1690:
The view along Goodwin’s Court from the Bedfordbury end. The original 17th century terrace is along the southern side of the Court. Each has a bow fronted window on the ground floor with two additional floors above.
Compare this photo with the 1951 photo at the top of the post and it can be seen that the court has hardly changed.
If the houses were built in 1690, they would have been over 50 years old when John Rocque printed his map of London in 1746.
The following map extract shows Goodwin’s Court as one of a number of narrow streets or alleys between St. Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury (which looks as if it may have been two separate words in 1746). Goodwin’s Court is at the top, just below New Street.
As well as Goodwin’s Court, some of these other alleys can still be found, including Hop Gardens and May’s Court, although in 1746 the name was May’s Buildings.
One point I cannot reconcile between the age of the houses and Rocque’s map is that the map shows a much wider open space on the left of the alley and another open square space on the right with only a short straight section between. The map does not mirror the straight line of terrace houses along the majority of the southern side of the court, if they were indeed built around 1690.
All the sources dating the houses to 1690 seem to refer to the same rate book reference as appears on the plaque in the Court, so perhaps an error in Rocque’s map or perhaps the terrace of houses was built later.
The view from half way along the court looking towards St. Martin’s Lane.
As can be seen, the houses run all the way to the covered alley which leads under the buildings along the side of St. Martin’s Lane. The alley does indent to the left here so perhaps the surveyors of Rocque’s map just made an error, or did not investigate the court in detail.
For the whole time I was in Goodwin’s Court there were no other pedestrians using the route as a short cut between St. Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury, despite the surrounding streets being busy. It really was like walking into a hidden court as no one else followed, the only exception being two tour groups. Both groups seemed to focus on a Harry Potter reference for the street.
One of the groups was in English and the tour leader was describing the alley as the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films, and that the location could not be used for filming as the alley was too narrow for the required equipment.
The second tour group was Spanish, but the words Diagon Alley and Harry Potter were mentioned several times so I assume the theme of the visit to Goodwin’s Court was the same for both tour groups.
I have no idea whether there is any truth in these references, however there are numerous Internet references to Goodwin’s Court being Diagon Alley, but also many Internet sites that claim Cecil Court to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley with Harry Potter fans apparently split between the two options.
I much prefer the fact that there is a terrace of houses along Goodwin’s Court that are probably over 300 years old.
In curious London, Pearman stated that “In one of the cottages lived Nell Gwynn the orange seller at the nearby Drury Lane Theatre”. Given that Nell Gwynn died in 1687 it would not have been in one of the existing houses in Goodwin’s Court and I can find no reference to confirm that she ever did live in Goodwin’s Court, however I did find an Internet reference to one of the houses having a plaque above the door stating an association with Nell Gywnn – I did not notice this on my visit.
What ever the truth behind the inspiration for Diagon Alley, or Nell Gwynn, Goodwin’s Court is a perfect example of the many alleys that could once be found in this part of London.
Old photos of London provide views of a very different city and old postcards provide a wide range of photos of the city, and often a very brief insight into the lives of the many millions of people who have passed through the city.
For this week’s post, here are a selection of old photos of London found on some of the postcards I have come across over the years.
To start, here are some views from above the streets of London. This first postcard provides a rather unusual view as it was taken from the top of the Shot Tower which once stood on the Southbank.
The view is looking towards the City and shows the industrial nature of the south bank of the river.
The photo was taken from the top of the Shot Tower which survived the demolition of the area in preparation for the Festival of Britain, along with the general post war reduction of industrial sites along the south bank. The use of the Shot Tower as a feature during the Festival of Britain is probably the main reason why it is known as “the” Shot Tower however look at the photo and there is another tower that looks like a lighthouse, with circular windows running up the tower and a dome-shaped roof at the top.
This was another Shot Tower owned by Lane Sons & Co, Lead and Shot Works. The towers were used for the production of shot balls by dropping molten lead from the top of the tower which would form into circular lead shot during the fall.
As well as the industrial buildings along the south bank, the photo shows the multiple landing stages into the river.
The scene is so very different today with the space along the river now being occupied by the river walkway, the National Theatre, IBM offices and the office tower and studios of the London Television Centre.
The next postcard is a photo of the river taken from the top of Tower Bridge, looking towards the west and London Bridge.
The view shows a low-rise City with the Monument, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the steeples of the City churches still standing well above their surroundings.
On the south bank of the river is the tower of Southwark Cathedral, and past that we can just see the towers and chimneys that feature in the previous postcard.
The view in the following postcard is looking down on Ludgate Hill, leading up to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The bridge is carrying the railway along to Holborn Viaduct station, and the building to the left of the bridge is the King Lud pub.
The King Lud finally closed in 2005, I took a photo of the pub in 1981 whilst walking the route on the evening before a royal wedding. It was a shame to lose this lovely Victorian pub.
Photos of Westminster Abbey are usually from ground level so it is difficult to appreciate the scale and full architecture of the building.
This view is from the south and I have been trying to work out from where the photo was taken, which I suspect was from the top of the church of St. John’s Smith Square, and this view does fully demonstrate the overall size of the building.
Old photos of London also frequently featured street scenes across the city. The photo on the following postcard was taken at the junction of New Oxford Street (the road running into the distance on the right of the photo), Charing Cross Road on the right and Tottenham Court Road on the left.
What I find interesting is that the photo includes the large brewery that occupied the space where the Dominion Theatre now stands. This was the Horse Shoe Brewery.
The brewery opened around 1764 and gradually expanded to occupy a large site as one of London’s largest breweries.
The brewery was taken over by Henry Meux in 1809 and five years later the brewery was the scene of one of London’s more unusual disasters – the great beer flood.
The following account of the event, titled “Dreadful Accident” is from the Morning Post on the 19th October 1814:
“The neighbourhood of St. Giles was on Monday night thrown into the utmost consternation and delay, by one of the most melancholy accidents we ever remember. About six o’clock, one of the vats in the extensive premises of Messrs. Henry Meux and Co, in Banbury-street, St. Giles’s, burst, and in a moments time New-street, George-street, and several others in the vicinity were deluged with the contents, amounting to 3,500 barrels of strong beer. The fluid, in its course, swept every thing before it. Two houses in New-street, adjoining the brew house, were totally demolished. the inhabitants, who were of the poorer class, were all at home. In one of them they were waking a child that died on Sunday morning.
In the first floor, in the same house, a mother and daughter were at tea – the mother was killed on the spot. The daughter was swept away by the current through a partition, and dashed to pieces. The back parts of the houses of Mr. Goodwin, poulterer, of Mr. Hawse, Tavistock Arms and several others in Great Russell-street, were entirely destroyed. A little girl, about ten years of age, was suffocated in the Tavistock Arms.
About six o’clock, three of Mr Meux’s men employed in the brewery, were rescued with great difficulty, by the people collected to afford relief, who had to wade up to their middle through the beer.
To those who even approached the scene of ruin, the fumes of the beer were very offensive and overcoming. It is therefore presumed that many have perished by suffocation. No time was lost to set about clearing the rubbish. Great numbers of men have been incessantly employed in this work.
Several persons have been dug out alive. Many of the cellars on the south side of Russell-street are completely inundated with beer; and in some houses the inhabitants had to save themselves from drowning by mounting their highest pieces of furniture.”
The disaster did not seem to harm the Meux brewing company as there were no financial penalties on the company and they were also able to reclaim the tax paid on the lost beer.
The brewery continued in production until closure in 1921 as there was no available space for expansion and savings could be achieved by consolidation of the multiple breweries that operated across London at the start of the century.
As with the view from the Shot Tower, the photo of the Meux Brewery shows how much industry there was in central London in the early years of the 20th century.
The next postcard is also of New Oxford Street, but is looking down the full length of the street. Awnings are over the shop frounts along the entire north side of the street as these shop windows were facing south, and would therefore get the full impact of the sun.
The following postcard of Piccadilly and the Institute of Painters was posted in Paddington on the 9th April 1904 to an address in Yeovil. The reverse only carries the address and there is a brief note on the frount describing the sender as “Here in London tonight”:
The sender of the following postcard of Covent Garden Market was also on a trip to London and staying in Harold Road, Upton Park. It was sent on the 10th October 1907 to an address in Gorleston on Sea in Norfolk. Both the houses still exist.
The sender appears to be having a good time in London as they write:
“Dear Martha, I have sent you a postcard. I have not had time to send it for I have been out all day long from morning till late at night. I went and spent a day at the Crystal Palace, it is very nice. I am enjoying myself all right.”
London Bridge was a regular subject for postcards of London, however the majority were from the early decades of the century, or later colour photos. A view across the bridge in the 1950s was an unusual find (the postmark dates the sending of the card to 1956).
London Bridge has always been a busy walking route from London Bridge Station across the river to the City, and in this photo there is also a long queue of 1950s vehicles in the opposite direction.
The five cranes on the opposite side of the river are alongside New Fresh Wharf, a busy wharf that handled very large volumes of general goods, fruit and canned goods as well as operating as a terminal for passenger ferries. The buildings were demolished in 1973.
Houndsditch (note the spelling mistake on the postcard) was known for many years as the part of London where there were shops piled high with cheap clothing, novelties etc.
The church at the end of the street is St. Botolph Without Aldgate and the photo was taken roughly at the junction with Stoney Lane. Whilst all the buildings have changed and the street is now lined with recent office buildings, the alignment of the street and view to the church is much the same.
I bought my first proper camera, a Canon AE-1 in a long gone camera shop in Houndsditch in 1978.
Objects In A Photo
Old photos of London also show objects in the view which would not be expected from looking at the scene today.
The following postcard, sent in 1912 shows the Queen’s House in the background and the entrance to the Royal Hospital School. The photo was taken from the Romney Road in Greenwich, and shows what appears to be a fully operational sailing ship some distance from the river.
The ship is a purpose built training / drill ship that was built for the boys of the Greenwich Hospital School. There were three variations of the ship with the first being built in 1843 and the final ship, named Fame, (seen in the photo) built between 1872 and 1873 and demolished in 1933.
The ship even made it onto the 1895 Ordnance Survey map where it is shown as a “model ship”. It may have been a model, but it does look rather impressive in the above photo.
The next photo is of the church of St. Clement Danes in the Strand. To produce this postcard, the sky has been coloured while the rest of the photo is in black and white – an early attempt at producing more realistic views.
What interested me in this photo is not the church, but the street light in the centre of the photo. This is an example of an electric arc light, the first type of electric street lighting. These were fed by DC current and whilst the lighting column design was different across London, the design of the glass bulb where the arc was produced at the end of the metal fitting was the same. The original lamp posts can still be found on Tottenham Court Road as shown in the photo below (see my post about the Regent’s Park Power Station And The First Electric Lighting In Tottenham Court Road).
The following postcard has the title “Old Roman Bastion in Cripplegate Churchyard”.
The whole area around the bastion was heavily damaged during the blitz, and the bastion now sits within the Barbican complex. I was hunting for my photos of the bastion today, however the only one I found was the following which shows the bastion on the right, covered in sheeting, however it does illustrate the new surroundings for the bastion compared to the above photo, however this is only one change in the many changes the bastion has seen over the centuries and will no doubt see many more changes.
Crossing The River Thames
The following postcard shows the paddle steam Duncan, one of three such steamers that formed the Woolwich ferry at the end of the 19th century.
The Duncan was built in 1889 and was not replaced until the 1920s. The lower deck appears to be full of people, including many in military uniform whilst the upper deck appears to have vehicles and cargo.
An alternative method of crossing the River Thames was by going underneath and the..
When I started this post, it was going to be a brief mid-week post about a bowling green in the King Edward VII Memorial Park, Shadwell, East London, sandwiched between the River Thames and the very busy road that is now called The Highway. Instead, it has turned into a much longer post as I discovered more about the area, and what was here before.
One of my favourite walks is from the Isle of Dogs to central London. There are so many different routes, all through interesting and historic places. A couple of routes are along the Thames path, or along the Highway. Both routes take you past the King Edward VII Memorial Park and it was here that I found a scene, more expected within a leafy suburb than in Shadwell.
Last November I walked through the park and found the rather impressive bowling green. I am not sure if it is still in use, the grass, although still very flat and green, does not look perfect.
The pavilion at the far end:
It appears to be used as a store room:
The site was used by the Shadwell Bowls Club. The last reference I can find to the club is in the Tower Hamlets King Edward Memorial Park Management Plan January 2008, when the club was listed as active. In the 2016 Masterplan for the park, the site of the bowling green is shown as tennis courts, so the green may not be here for much longer.
Looking back over the green, with the well-kept hedge running around the edge and the wooden boarding around the side of the green, it is not hard to imagine a game of bowls in this most unlikely of places:
The following map shows the location of the King Edward VII Memorial Park. Just to the north east of the Shadwell Basin and between the Highway and the River Thames. The map shows a road crossing the park, however this is the Rotherhithe Tunnel, so instead of running across the surface of the park, it is some 50 feet below.
After the death of King Edward VII in May 1910, a memorial committee was formed to identify suitable memorials to the king. One of the proposals put forward was the creation of a public park in east London, on land partly owned by the City Corporation.
Terms were agreed for the transfer of the land to the council, funding was put in place and on the 23rd December 1911, the East London Observer recorded that the plan for the King Edward VII Memorial Park was approved by the City Corporation, the London County Council and the Memorial Committee, and that “unless anything unforeseen occurs, it will become an accomplished fact in a very short time”.
Unfortunately, there was an unforeseen event, the First War which delayed completion of the park until 1922 when it was finally opened by King George V on the 26th June.
The park is a good example of Edwardian design. A terrace runs the full length of the park along the Highway. In the centre of the terrace is a monument to King Edward VII, with steps leading down to the large open area which runs down to the river walkway.
There were clear benefits of the park to the residents of east London at the time of planning. It would provide the only large area of public riverside access between Tower Bridge and the Isle of Dogs and it was the only public park in Stepney.
Over the years, the park has included glasshouses, a bandstand and children’s playground.
The following photo shows the pathway through the centre of the park from the river up to the monument on the terrace. There was a bronze medallion depicting King Edward VII on the centre of the monument, however this was apparently stolen some years ago.
On the wall at the rear of the monument, between the terrace and the Highway is the following plaque:
“The King Edward, Memorial London Committee, of which Colonel the Right Honourable Sir Vezey Strong KCVO, Lord Mayor 1910 – 1911 was chairman acquired the freehold of this site for the purpose of a public park out of funds voluntarily subscribed. The Corporation of the City of London who were the owners generously cooperated with the subscribers in thus perpetuating the memory of King Edward VII”
The view along the terrace to the east:
The view along the terrace to the west. The church steeple is that of St. Paul’s Shadwell.
The view down from behind the monument towards the river. When the park was opened, the view of the river was open. It must have been a fantastic place to watch the shipping on the river.
At the river end of the central walkway is one of the four shafts down to the Rotherhithe tunnel. Originally this provided pedestrian access to the tunnel as well as ventilation, so it was possible to walk along the river, down the shaft and under the Thames and emerge on the opposite side of the river.
There is some lovely London County Council design detail in the building surrounding the shaft. The open windows have metal grills and within the centre of each grill are the letters LCC.
It was possible to walk along the river without entering the park, however this is one of the construction sites for the Thames Tideway project to build a new sewer and provide the capacity to take the overflow which currently runs into the Thames. The site at the King Edward VII Memorial Park will be used to intercept the existing local combined sewer overflow, and when complete will provide an extension to the park out into the river, which will cover the construction site.
There are many accounts of the popularity of the park after it opened. Newspaper reports call the park a “green lung” in east London and during the summer the park was full with children of all ages.
During the hot August of 1933, access to the river from the park was very popular:
The following photo dated 1946 from Britain from Above shows the park at lower left. Note the round access shaft to the Rotherhithe tunnel. In the photo the shaft has no roof. The original glass roof was removed in the 1930s to improve ventilation. The current roof was installed in 2007.
The King Edward VII Memorial Park is interesting enough, however I wanted to find out more about the site before the park was built.
The 1895 Ordnance Survey map provides a detailed view of the site, and I have marked the boundaries of the park by the red lines to show exactly the area covered.
There were some fascinating features. In the lower right section of the park, was the Shadwell Fish Market – I will come onto this location later in the post along with the adjacent refrigeration works.
Above the fish market is Garth Street. The public house (PH) shown in Garth Street was the King of Prussia. I cannot find too much about the pub apart from the usual newspaper reports of auctions and inquests being held at the pub, however there were a number of reports of a disastrous fire which destroyed the pub on the 14th November 1890. Two small children, Agnes Pass aged seven and Elizabeth Pass aged two died in the fire which started in the bar and spread rapidly through the pub. The location of the pub today is just in front of the eastern terrace, about half way along.
Interesting that in the map, there are urinals shown directly in front of the pub – a very convenient location.
To the left of centre of the park can be found a large building identified as an Oil Works. The left hand part of this building is covering part of the bowling green.
One of the streets in the lower right is called Labour In Vain Street, an interesting street name which could also be found in a couple of other London locations.
In 1895 the Rotherhithe Tunnel had not yet been built (it was constructed between the years 1904 and 1908), so the access shaft does not feature in the map. It would be built over the riverside half of the Kent and Essex Wharf building.
The main feature in the map is the Shadwell Fish Market. This was a short-lived alternative to Billingsgate Fish Market.
In the 19th century there were a number of proposals to relocate Billingsgate Fish Market. It had a relatively short frontage to the river and was located in a very crowded part of London with limited space to expand.
Shadwell was put forward as an alternative location. In September 1868, the Tower Hamlets and East End Local Advertiser reported on the petition put forward by the Board of Works for the Limehouse District to campaign for the Shadwell Fish Market. The petition put forward a number of reasons why Shadwell was the right place to relocate Billingsgate:
That it is the nearest site to the city of London, abutting upon the river for the purposes of a fish market;
That an area of land upwards of seven acres in extent could be obtained upon very reasonable terms;
That by means of a short branch of railway to be constructed, communications can be made with every railway from London north and south of the Thames.
That by means of the Commercial-road and Back-road (recently renamed Cable-street) and other thoroughfares, convenient approaches exist to the proposed site of the market from all parts of London;
That in consequence of the bend in the river at Shadwell, which forms a bay, ample accommodation exists for the mooring of vessels engaged in the fishing trade, without interfering with the navigation of the river;
That easy communication can be made with the south side of the Thames by means of a steam ferry, which would also be available for ordinary traffic, and which to a large extent would prevent the overcrowding of the traffic in the City, especially over London-bridge;
That there is no other site on the River Thames which presents so many advantages as that proposed at Shadwell;
That the establishment of a fish market at Shadwell would be a great boon to the whole of the East-end of London;
That should Billingsgate-market be removed, the fish salesmen are in favour of the market being established at Shadwell.
A very compelling case, however there were a number of vested interests in the continuation of the fish market at Billingsgate and no progress was made with approval for a fish market at Shadwell.
However the issue never went away, and in 1884 a company was formed to “give effect to the London Riverside Fish Market Act of 1882”. The company had “on its Board of Directors, three of the best known and most popular men in the East of London – men who taken a considerable interest in the welfare of the people of the district, and have embarked in this enterprise, feeling assured not only of its value to the public, but with confidence that it will prove a commercial success.”
The Directors of the company were Mr. E.R. Cook, Mr. Spencer Charrington, Mr. T.H. Bryant, Mr. E. Hart and Mr. Robert Hewett.
Robert Hewett was a member of the Hewett family who owned the Short Blue Fishing Fleet and was keen to leave Billingsgate due to the lack of space. He would transfer his fleet of ships from Billingsgate to Shadwell.
Work progressed on the construction of the market and at a ceremony to mark the pile driving, the local MP, Mr Samuel Morley, “confidently communicated to the assembled company the burning desire of the Home Secretary to find remunerative labour for the unemployed in East London. Mr Morley is now in a position to inform that the fish market at Shadwell will afford employment to many working men”.
Shares in the fish market company were advertised in the East London Local Advertiser and “those of the East London public who have not yet practically interested themselves in a scheme which promises so well, the opportunity once more offers itself. Applications for shares should, however, be made without delay.”
The new market opened at the end of 1885 and whilst it appeared to start well, the challenges of attracting business from Billigsgate were already very apparent. The London Daily News reported on the 1st March 1886:
“The new fish market at Shadwell has been going now for about three months, and the fact that a hundred tons of fish can be readily disposed of here every morning indicates pretty satisfactorily that already buyers have begun to find out that the market has at least some advantages over Billingsgate. As regards the supply of this new market, so far as it goes it cannot very well be better...
The streets north of Cheyne Walk in Chelsea were a centre for the manufacture and decoration of china during the 18th and 19th centuries. I wrote about one factory in my post on Cheyne Row, and in today’s post I come across another, earlier factory where Chelsea china and porcelain were manufactured in the 18th century.
I am in Lawrence Street, to find the location of one of my father’s photos from 1949:
This is the same scene today:
I was standing on the steps up to one of the houses to try to recreate the same view, with the railing shown to the lower left of both photos. The plant was growing up from the small garden space in frount of the house, I thought it best not to try to bend or break to remove from the view.
The view is much the same (although whilst I was sure I was standing in the same place, the perspective is slightly different between the two photos, possibly due to camera and lens being very different).
The major difference is the number of cars which now seem to line almost every street in Chelsea, making is really difficult to get good, full length photos of the buildings. The single car in 1949 has now multiplied many times.
Lawrence Street can be found in the following map, running north from Cheyne Walk in the centre of the map:
The street name comes from the Lawrence family who lived in the manor house that was on the land to the north of Lawrence Street and Upper Cheyne Row.
The first Lawrence to arrive in Chelsea was Thomas Lawrence, a London goldsmith who arrived in the sixteenth century, the manor remained in the hands of the Lawrence family until 1725. Thomas was originally from Shropshire, but moved to London where he married Martha Sage. They would go on to have eleven children, with only five surviving.
The Lawrence Chapel in the nearby Chelsea Old Church is named after Thomas and includes a memorial to him
The manor house was replaced by Monmouth House (after the Duchess of Monmouth who occupied the house on the site from 1714).
As you walk up Lawrence Street from Cheyne Walk, the age of the houses gets older as you approach the top of the street. The size of the houses also reduces, starting with the four storey house shown below:
To these smaller, terrace houses at the top of the street:
It may have been one of these houses that was the subject of an advert in the Morning Advertiser on the 13th January 1818:
“To be LET a small modern genteel HOUSE, at 26 guineas per ann, well laid out for saving of window lights, box window to the parlour, and French sashes, and balcony to the drawing room. This house contains six good rooms, two kitchens, with dry wine and coal vaults, is in a very healthy situation, being in Lawrence-street, Chelsea, from whence a Stage goes six times a day to town – Enquire of Mr Lewer, 30, Eaton-street, Pimlico.”
At the top of Lawrence Street is the junction with Upper Cheyne Row.
From here we can look back on the houses on the western side of the top of the street.
There is a London County Council blue plaque on the end house:
Tobias Smollett was a Scottish poet and novelist who originally had a career in medicine, including as a naval surgeon which provided the opportunity to travel widely.
Before Chelsea he was living in central London with his wife and daughter, however with his only daughter suffering from tuberculosis, the family moved to Chelsea with the hope that the air would benefit his daughter. Living in Chelsea did not have the desired effect, and his daughter died aged 15, after which Smollett left Chelsea, and with his wife, went travelling in France “overwhelmed by the sense of domestic calamity, which it was not in the power of fortune to repay.”
The plaque also makes reference to the manufacture of Chelsea China at the north end of Lawrence Street.
It is not clear when the production of china started in Chelsea, however the first recorded owner of the Chelsea china works was Charles Gouyn who arrived at the works in 1745. In 1749, the works were managed by Nicholas Sprimont who had arrived in London from Belgium. Originally a silversmith he changed his trade to working with clay. His influence changed the design of Chelsea china, with his experience of the design of silver products being mirrored in the designs of Chelsea china and porcelain.
The range and output of the Chelsea China Works increased steadily during the 1750s and received Royal patronage from George II. Royal support continued with George III who purchased a dinner service for the considerable sum of £1,200 as a gift for the Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
Nicholas Sprimont retired a wealthy man in 1769 and the Chelsea China Works was taken over by William Duesbury who had apparently arrived from Derby. Duesbury ran the Chelsea works for a further ten years, however in 1779 the lease on the factory premises expired, and within five years the Chelsea China Works closed.
William Duesbury returned to Derby, taking many of the moulds with him, and the buildings of the china works were demolished.
Fragments of china were found in 1970 in the garden of number 15 Lawrence Street (the house to the left of the house with the blue plaque) which helped to confirm the location of the Chelsea China Works.
The British Museum has a number of examples of the output from the Chelsea China Works, starting off with one of the earliest examples from 1745 – a “goat and bee” jug made from soft paste porcelain. Goats are on either side of the base and a bee is climbing up to the lip of the jug.
The two sides of a porcelain vase, dating from 1750:
A rather ornate porcelain clock case dating from between 1752 and 1758:
The following pair of figures are known as the “Tyrolean Dancers” and date from the years 1755 to 1757:
A porcelain dish dating from between 1750 and 1752:
For a brief period, Chelsea was manufacturing china and porcelain probably as good as anywhere else in the country, however after the closure of the Chelsea works, it was the factories around Derby and Stoke-on-Trent, where companies such as that run by Josiah Wedgwood would further develop the technical skills and scale of manufacturing to continue in business for the following centuries.
Lawrence Street would continue as a quiet, residential street.
When I started this blog, four years ago, I thought I knew London reasonably well – the last four years have taught me how little I really know.
As well as walking in London, over the last four years I have been reading a lot more London books. It is a wide field, books have been written about London for centuries, as well as what seems like a continuous flow of new books. There are also books about almost every aspect of London that you could imagine.
I find books through a number of routes, browsing both new and second hand bookshops and online, finding books as a direct result of something I have found on a walk, and through recommendations I have received as a result of some of my posts.
For this last post of the weekend, here are the London books that I have read over the past year, books that have taught me so much about the city.
I will start off with:
This – Is London
This book came from a second hand book shop in Alton, Hampshire. Browsing the shelves, I came across a book with the word London in the title. It looked interesting, was £4 so I took a chance and purchased.
This – Is London is by Stuart Hibberd who was a BBC Announcer in the early days of the BBC, when an announcer was the person who introduced all the programmes, read the news, looked after guests, and generally appears to have done almost everything (apart from the technical work) needed to get BBC programmes on air.
The book takes the form of a narrative diary, starting in 1924 through to 1949, a period which included so many events of historical importance, as well as the development of the BBC from the very early days through to the post war status of an established national and international broadcaster.
The book is very much of its time – written by a BBC announcer, when a Vice-Admiral was a BBC Controller. It feels that to read the book you need to be dressed in a dinner jacket, pipe in one hand and glass of whisky on the side table, however it is written by someone who was there at the time and includes some fascinating insights into how radio programmes were put on air (I did not know that the BBC had a studio in a warehouse on the Southbank in the 1930s) and some interesting stories of working in London.
The following is an example, and will be familiar to anyone who has experienced a last minute platform change at one of London’s stations, however I bet Southern Railways would not do this for you now, even if you did work for the BBC:
“On Saturday, 9th November 1935, after a long day at Broadcasting House, ending at midnight, with the help of a waiting taxi I managed to get to Charing Cross station about a minute before my train was due to leave at 12:10 a.m.; and I walked past the barrier on to Platform 4, above which was displayed on a board marked ‘Orpington and Chislehurst’. The train was not standing at the platform, but, as it was Saturday night, when trains are sometimes a little late, I thought nothing of that. When at 12.13 I went up to the ticket-collector and asked him what had happened to the Chislehurst train, he answered with surprise, ‘It has left from No. 2 platform on time’. This rather shook me, as of course I knew it to be the last train, and I also knew that the Orpington and Chislehurst board had been over the entrance to Platform 4 when I passed the barrier. There were five or six other passengers there bound for Orpington, who now came up and, in no uncertain tone, corroborated what I had said. As they raised their voices, along came an inspector. They were furious with him, saying, ‘How are we to get home?’, ‘We’ve all been fooled’, ‘I’ll report you’. and that sort of thing.
Realising that this would get us nowhere, and knowing that there was a train from London Bridge to Bromley at 12.45, and that I could if necessary walk the three and a half miles from there, I got into a train then leaving for London Bridge.
While in this train I did some quick thinking, and remembered that London Bridge was the Divisional Headquarters of the railway. Arriving there I went straight to the Inspector’s office, and told him what had happened, beginning in a rather causal tone of voice, ‘Nice game at Charing Cross tonight Inspector. Your men put up the Orpington train-board on No. 4, and then ran the train out of No. 2; and as it was the last train, I look like being stranded, unless I walk home from Bromley.’ He was incredulous, and said, ‘You must have made a mistake.’ No I assured him, I had made no mistake, and what is more, I warned him that he had better be prepared for the other angry passengers dropping in at any minute, who would not relish the walk from Bromley to Orpington at one o’clock in the morning. At this he opened his eyes and began to look worried, but was obviously reluctant to take any action to put things right. I paused for a moment or two; then decided to play my trump card. ‘It isn’t as if I had been out enjoying myself at the theatre or something,’ I said. ‘I’m B.B.C., and have been broadcasting on and off all afternoon and evening, and am pretty tired.’ The three magic letters, B.B.C. did the trick, and he at once decided to ring up the night controller on duty. At that moment, as I had warned him, a bunch of angry passengers from Charing Cross burst in to demand retribution. I explained that I had forestalled them, and that the Inspector was now talking to the night controller about it. We had to wait ten minutes or so while he checked up, then he sanctioned a special train, which drew into London Bridge station, just after one o’clock”.
You would not get a special train arranged for you today!
Stuart Hibberd signing autographs at a BBC exhibition – these were the days when a radio announcer was considered a true celebrity.
Again, the book is very much of its time, however as a first hand account of the early days of the BBC in London, This – Is London makes a fascinating read.
The White Rabbit
Last August I wrote a post about Queen Square, it was the location of one of my father’s photos as he had taken a photo of the water pump that can be found in the square. At the northern end of the square is Queen Court, a rather nice brick apartment building that has an entrance on Queen Square and Guilford Street. In the photo below is the Guiford Street entrance (see how money was saved in construction – the cheap bricks in the middle and the expensive bricks where the main facades face onto Queen Square and Guilford Street.)
To the right of the door is a blue plaque, to Wing Commander F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas:
Forest Frederic Edward Yeo-Thomas was born in London on the 17th June 1902. At a young age his family moved to France where he became fluent in French as well as English. He served in the First World War, and between the first and second world wars, he worked as a Director of the French fashion house Molyneux.
He returned to Englad at the outbreak of the Scond World War and joined the RAF and transferred into the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1942. His knowledge of France and the French lanquage, as well as his desire to help with the liberation of France made him a natural candidate for becoming a secret agent, working in occupied France,
The connection with Queen Court is as the location of the flat he would share with Barbara Dean after she acquired the flat in 1941. It was from Queen Court that he would leave when he was to be dropped into occupied France to make contact with the resistance, arrange supplies and organisation and report back to the SOE.
I walk past so many blue plaques, but this one demanded more research. I had heard of his code name ‘White Rabbit”, but did not know the full story of his work.
After 10 minutes online I had ordered the following paperback, published in 1954 by Pan Books with the rather dramatic cover illustration:
Although not written by Yeo-Thomas, it was written by his friend Bruce Marshall who had also lived in France and had worked in the Intelligence Services during the war.
Yeo-Thomas had already been dropped twice into occupied France, however in February 1944 he left Queen Court for his final drop into France, one that was to be the most challenging, and one that he was very lucky to eventually return from.
He was captured by the Gestapo during this third trip, interrogated and tourtured and eventually sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp along with 36 other prisoners from the allied forces.
The book is a raw account of the inhumanity of a totalitarian regime and should be required reading in order to understand the depths a once civilised society can sink to when others are regarded as sub-human.
The following paragraphs are from the description of Yeo-Thomas’ first days in Buchenwald:
“Guignard also corroborated what Perkins had already told them, adding dismal details of his own. They were, he told them, in the worst camp in Germany. Their chances of survival were practically nil: and if they did not starve to death, they would be worked to death; and if they were not worked to death they would be executed. Every single day more than three hundred prisoners died from starvation or from being beaten by the guards while working in Kommandos. Each Kommando consisted of hundreds of prisoners quarrying stone, dragging logs or clearing out latrines under the supervision of Kapos and Vorarbeiter. But the SS guards were also there and so were their Alsatian hounds, and when enough amusement couldn’t be derived from bludgeoning a man’s brains out there was always the alternative of setting the dogs upon him to tear out his throat.
They soon saw for themselves that these reports were not exaggerated. Walking up and down in the sunlight behind the barbed wire and conversing in makeshift esperanto with the other inmates of the Block, they saw groups of SS men wandering about the camp. They noticed too, that prisoners tried to avoid them and that when they couldn’t they politely removed their forage caps. But this salute did not prevent the guards beating up any prisoner whose appearance attracted their displeasure; and their new companions informed the thirty-seven that anyone attempting to resist this attention was punished either by shooting or strangulation or, if he were lucky, by twenty-five strokes on the small of the back with the handle of a pick axe.
A squat black chimney just beyond the Block was pointed out to them. ‘That’s the crematorium,’ they were told. ‘It’s the surest of all escape routes; most of us will only get out of this camp by coming through that chimney as smoke.”
After Buchenwald, Yeo-Thomas was transerred to other camps as the German lines collasped before he finaly escaped and made his way through to the Americal lines, returning home to Queen Square in 1945.
Afte the war he would help bring several Nazi war criminals to trial, he returned to work in Paris and from 1950 was the French representative of the Federation of British Industries. He died in 1964.
Yeo-Thomas was awarded the George Cross and Military Cross. From France he received the Croix de Guerre and was made a commander of the Legion d’honneur.
The White Rabbit is a remarkable story of a remarkable man, one I only discovered after walking past a blue plaque.
The First Blitz
The next book is also a result of my Queen Square post. In the central square, there is a plaque on the ground recording the night when a Zeppelin bombed the square:
Again, this is a subject I knew a little about, but not in any great detail. In the comments and messages I received after the post, there was one from the author of a book on the Zeppelin attacks on London during the First World War – the long suffering credit card came out and I ordered the book.
The First Blitz by Ian Castle is a very detailed account of the bombing of London during the First World War, covering the background to the raids, the technology used by the attackers and defenders, a detailed account of each raid, richly illustrated with photos and maps showing the route taken by Zeppelins over London and showing the location of where each of their bombs landed across the city.
The book starts when Zeppelin airships were the method for attacking the city and ends with the Whitsun raid on Sunday 19th May 1918 when 38 Gotha aircraft took off to attack London with 19 reaching London. 48 people were killed and 172 injured in this final raid – an indicator of the type of mass attack from the air that would arrive 22 years later.
This Is London
When walking the streets of London, travelling on the Underground or the bus, do you ever wonder about the people around you? Who they are, what are their stories.
London is such a multi-layered construct and there are people all around the city who live and work in their very own confined view of London.
This Is London by Ben Judah is subtitled The Stories You Never Hear. The People You Never See.
The book starts at Victoria Coach Station at 6am in the morning where new arrivals to the city stumble of coaches and buses, and then takes the reader along a journey through London meeting the type of person who are there in the background of the city – office cleaners, builders, beggars, gangs and drug dealers, Filipina maids, the Arab daughters of incredibly rich fathers, witch doctors. The book is a relentless journey through so many of the different sub cultures and people that call London home for just a couple of months or for a lifetime.
In many ways I found the book a concerning read, the poverty, the almost slave like conditions, the lack of opportunity and the almost total isolation of many communities does not give much cause for hope, however it is an important book, a book that will make you look at the people you pass in the city in a new light.
Big Capital by Anna Minton, whilst tacking a very different subject to This Is London, raises a similar set of questions – who is London for, what is London becoming and who owns London.
Big Capital is about housing in London and those who struggle to find a place to live. Big Capital examines how housing has become a financial investment rather than a basic right.
As with This Is London it can be a concerning read, however it is also an important read to understand why there is a housing crisis in London, even though there is a never ending conversion of existing buildings into flats and new tower blocks of flats are constantly rising above the city.
The following extract from Big Capital summarises how housing is moving further into expensive, private renting and (also a theme in This Is London), the poor, slum housing that is growing at the bottom end of the market:
“For the last generation Britain’s economy and culture have been predicated on the ideal of home ownership, fueled by the Conservative vision of a property-owning democracy. But despite the mythology, Britain exceeded the European average of 70 per cent home ownership only in the early noughties. It has now fallen to 64 per cent, the lowest level in thirty years; the last time home ownership was this low was in 1986, when Right to Buy and the deregulation of the mortgage market were sending home ownership upwards. As home ownership falls and social housing is eradicated, expensive private renting is becoming the only option; in 2017 private renting overtook mortgaged home ownership in London. This is a middle class issue now, that people want to talk about, Betsy Dilner, director of Generation Rent, the campaign group for better private renting, told me, although she added: ‘People think we represent this middle-class professional group, but if you can find a way of making the private rented sector work for the most vulnerable people in society then it will work for everyone.’ Today, 11 million people in Britain rent privately in an overlapping series of submarkets ranging from the poor conditions and slum housing at the bottom end to student accommodation, micro ‘pocket living’ flats. apartments for professionals and luxury housing at the top.”
As you walk around London and see the endless building, the advertising hoardings outside new apartment blocks and the new towers rising above the city, Big Capital helps explain how we have reached this point and provides another view of London – it is an important book.
The Boss Of Bethnal Green
The Boss of Bethnal Green by Julian Woodford is genuinely a book that is hard to stop reading once started. It tells the story of Joseph Merceron who grew wealthy through his control of the vestry, the funds destined for the poor, funds that were destined for infrastructure improvements such as the Commission of Sewers, and much else.
The church of St. Matthew’s plays a central role in the story. The church is one that featured in the Architects’ Journal list of sites at risk in 1973 and I visited the church last year. I just wish I had read the book before my visit as walking around the site, knowing more of the remarkable events that happened, makes a site visit so much more interesting.
Joseph Merceron was also buried at the church and his grave is one of the very few remaining, and as Julian Woodford points out, his grave (and that of one of his key partners Peter Renvoize) survived both a late 19th century graveyard clearance and Second World War bombing.
I accidentally included Merceron’s grave in one of my photos of the church – in front of the corner of the church to the right.
My first experiences of walking London were back in the late 1960s when our parents took my brother and I for walks around the city. I cannot remember too much about them, but something must have sunk in as it is still something I enjoy doing today.
Hoping to pass on an interest in the city, we have taken our granddaughter on a number of walks including one last year which started at the London Eye and ended up at St. Katherine Dock and the Tower of London. I gave her my camera and let her take photos of what she found interesting, so for today’s post, here is a child’s view of London.
My name is Keira and this is my first blog as a guest. I have been invited to write a blog for the fourth anniversary of ‘A London Inheritance’. I have a blog coming soon and it will be about book reviews, days out, information and much more. It will also be more for kids. I will try to make it entertaining and interesting.
We started off by going on the London Eye and got some amazing views of the Houses of Parliament, the busy London roads and the tall buildings.
Random, Funny and Amazing
London is an amazing place with people making sculpture, singing, dancing and showing their outstanding talents. It is also a place where lots of random and funny things are made. These pictures show why London is such an excellent place.
The Old Bridge
These are the piers of an old bridge, which was taken down, however, they left the piers there.
The Walkie Talkie and the Cheese Grater
This is a picture of The Walkie Talkie and the Cheese Grater. They are both magnificent buildings and I would definitely like to get some pictures from that high. I’m certain it is amazing.
It started raining so we found shelter. While we were waiting for the rain to stop I got some lovely pictures.
Lovely London Shopping Time And Others
We went shopping and found some random things on the way
Harry Potter Bridge
This is the bridge used in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Finally, we stopped at Zizzi where we had some delicious pizza. On the way there, we went past the Queen’s barge! It looks beautiful.
I had an absolutely lovely time in London and would love to come again. Even after it rained I got some good pictures:
So, overall I had the best time in London and I’m very proud of the pictures I took. I have loved being a special guest especially for the fourth anniversary of this amazing blog. I might be able to do this type of thing on my blog (when I get it) but for now,
This weekend is the fourth anniversary of the blog – a point I did not expect to reach when starting out.
I would really like to thank every reader and subscriber, for your comments and e-mails, and just for knowing that there is someone out there reading my weekly exploration of London.
For this anniversary, I hope you will permit me three self-indulgent posts, today, Saturday and Sunday.
The post today is a return to the site of my most read post from the last year. Back in August I wrote about the closure of St. James Gardens as part of the preparations for the HS2 developments at Euston Station.
I have been trying to find the time to get back to the area and see what has happened since August, and finally had some spare time a couple of Saturdays ago.
The day of my visit was unfortunately wet and gloomy however this was rather suitable for the subject.
I started my walk around the area in Melton Street, along the western edge of Euston Station, where there is an information stand with a map of the area.
I have put a red rectangle around the streets that I will walk today. The map still shows the area before the closure of St. James Gardens which can be seen at the top of the red rectangle.
HS2 platforms and concourse will occupy this space as the station extends to the west to accommodate the extra rail tracks.
Starting off in Melton Street, this is the view towards Cardington Street (which runs past St. James Gardens), and is now closed off. White wooden hoardings now block any further access along the street.
There is a small window in the hoarding blocking off Cardington Street. The transparent plastic of the window did not help with a clear view, however this is looking down Cardington Street.
An Ibis Hotel occupied the building on the left, and just past the hotel is St. James Gardens.
I took some photos of Cardington Street last August just after St. James Gardens were closed. The following photo shows the corner of the Ibis Hotel with the trees of the gardens in the background:
The following photo was looking down Cardington Street towards the Ibis Hotel and Euston Road. It appears that all the trees in the gardens have now been removed.
Even relatively recent buildings will suffer the same fate as their older neighbours. This new building is on the corner of Melton Street and Euston Street. Further along is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive underground station designs. This was the entrance for one of the Hidden London tours I wrote about in this post on the lost tunnels of Euston Underground Station.
This is the view looking up Euston Street.
The opposite side of Euston Street. Buildings on both sides are now closed with hoardings protecting their ground floors.
At the junction of Euston Street and Cobourg Street is the pub, the Bree Louise.
The pub dates from the early 19th century and was the Jolly Gardeners until being renamed by the most recent landlord as the Bree Louise, the name of the landlord’s daughter who died soon after birth.
The Bree Louise was a basic, but superb local pub and it is sad to see how quickly after closing at the end of January, the pub has taken on such air of being abandoned.
The pub sign is still in place:
As are adverts of when the Bree Louise was North London’s Camra pub of the year in 2016:
This is the view in Cobourg Street looking back towards the Bree Louise. There is a row of houses, which although not yet closed off, and some still looking occupied, will also be under HS2’s platforms.
On the corner of Cobourg Street and Drummond Street is the old Calumet photographic shop:
Cobourg Street continues after crossing Drummond Street and it is along here that the rear of the old Ibis Hotel can be seen, again closed.
There are now a number of information posters along the old hotel. One example covering the history of Euston Station:
And another covering the St. James’s burial ground:
Looking down Cobourg Street towards the junction with Starcross Street. All these buildings will be demolished.
Back to the point where Cobourg Street crosses Euston Street, looking down towards Euston Station:
The old underground station at the junction of Euston Street and Melton Street:
A wider view with rain drops on the camera lens:
Walking back along Melton Street and some of the trees have colourful cloths wrapped around their trunks. This was the result of a “yarn bombing” where hand knitted scarves are wrapped around the trunks of trees to draw attention to their fate.
The opposite corner, on the junction of Euston Street and Melton Street, also with hoarding around the building.
A partly visible sign carved into the stone around the entrance records that this was once the home of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association.
The impact of HS2 will not just be felt to the west of the station. major developments will take place all around the station and the gardens between the station and Euston Road are already being fenced off.
The weather added to the rather sombre mood that covers the area around Cobourg Street. The closure of Cardington Street seems to have added to the traffic in the area. Both sides of Euston Street and Drummond Street were occupied by parked cars, many of which appeared to be Ubers waiting for their next passenger. A single line of cars were trying to squeeze between.
I was pleased to finally get to photograph these streets and buildings before they disappear, however still more to visit when I get time and hopefully with better weather.
There have been numerous studies over the years looking into how London should develop and that detail a vision and proposals for the future that are frequently very different to the past. Many of these proposals get no further than the written page, however it is fascinating to see how London could have developed into a very different city if some of these proposals had been implemented.
In the early 1970s, East London and the London Docklands were suffering from the closure of the docks, loss of industry and employment and the gradual exodus of people. The area had also never fully recovered from the significant damage of wartime bombing.
My posts on the 1973 Architects Journal issue covering East London have explored some of the original issues, and these can also be found in a strategic plan published in 1976 by the Docklands Joint Committee.
I found the 1976 publication documenting the strategic plan in a second-hand bookshop, having been originally from the Planning Resources Centre of Oxford Brookes University.
The front cover provides an indication of the type of change proposed for the London Docklands, from derelict docks and industrial buildings to housing and schools more likely to be found in the suburbs, rather than East London.
The 1970s were a decade of confusion in the development of the London Docklands.
Dock closure had started in 1967 and continued through to 1970 with the closure of the East India, St. Katherine’s, Surrey and London Docks. Although the West India and Millwall Docks would not close until the end of the decade, the future of these historic docks was clear due to their inability to support the rapidly increasing containerisation of goods passing through the docks. Development of docks at Tilbury, Southampton and Felixstowe were the future.
The area covered by the docks, the industries clustered around the docks, and the housing of those who lived and worked in East London was significant, running from Tower Bridge to Beckton where the River Roding entered the Thames.
The Conservative Secretary of State, Peter Walker was clear in his views that the task of development was outside the scope of local government, and as a result a firm of consultants, Travers Morgan were hired to investigate the possibilities for a comprehensive redevelopment of the area.
The proposals put forward by Travers Morgan in their 1973 report proposed a number of possible development scenarios which included office development, housing and even a water park, however their proposals had minimal input from those who still lived and worked in the London Docklands. The Travers Morgan report was opposed by the Trades Unions and local Labour authorities and the Joint Docklands Action Group was setup to coordinate opposition.
Labour took control of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1973, and in the 1974 General Election, Labour formed a minority government. The Travers Morgan proposals were abandoned.
The Secretary of State for the Environment established the Docklands Joint Committee in January 1974. The objectives of the committee are summarised in the opening paragraph of their report:
“The overall objective of the strategy is: To use the opportunity provided by large areas of London’s Dockland becoming available for development to redress the housing, social, environmental, employment/economic and communications deficiencies of the Docklands area and the parent boroughs and thereby to provide the freedom for similar improvements throughout East and Inner London.”
The committee was comprised of representatives from the GLC and the London boroughs both north and south of the river that came within the overall boundaries of the docks (Newham, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Greenwich and Lewisham). The Government also appointed representatives to the committee and community organisations were represented through the Docklands Forum who had two members on the committee.
The proposals produced by the Docklands Joint Committee were very different to those of the earlier Travers Morgan study. Travers Morgan had identified a future need for office space, along with housing and retail, however the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee focused on what the existing inhabitants required and how their skills could best be used and therefore developed a future based on manufacturing and industry.
Another difference to the earlier Travis Morgan study was in the way that the Docklands Joint Committee aimed to involve and consult the local population of the docklands. Public meetings were arranged, a mobile exhibition of the proposals toured the area, and in the words of the preface to the proposals “every effort will be made to ensure that everyone affected has the chance to know what is being proposed, and why, and to make his or her views known.”
The Strategic Plan as a draft for public consultation was published in March 1976 with a request that comments should be sent by the 30th June 1976.
The plan was very comprehensive including the routing of roads, public transport, industry and housing. Four maps within the plan provided a summary of the Docklands Joint Committee’s recommendations for how land use across the docklands would transform over the coming years.
Docklands Development Phase 1 – Up To 1982
The first phase of docklands development would start to expand established district centres and new housing would be built in Wapping, around the Surrey Docks/Deptford area (expanding the existing Redriff estate) and new housing in the south-east quarter of the Isle of Dogs.
The development of large industrial zones would commence, centred on the Greenwich Peninsula and along the river to Woolwich, the areas around the River Lea and Beckton.
The targets of the district centres were:
Wapping could have about 20,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred round a supermarket, together with a health centre, although this might be in temporary accommodation;
On the Isle of Dogs the southern centre could have a shopping centre of about 60,000 sq.ft together with a health centre;
Surrey Docks could also have roughly 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, centred around a large supermarket together with a health centre;
The East Beckton centre could be the furthest developed, with around 60,000 sq.ft of shopping, a secondary school. health centre, and community centre
For transport, short-term improvements would be made to the North Woolwich and East London line along with improvements to bus services and existing roads.
Docklands Development Phase 2 – Up To 1986
The second phase of docklands development continues the work of the first phase with expansion of housing in Wapping and the Isle of Dogs, with substantial new housing in Beckton. The plan proposed that by the end of phase 2 development across the Surrey Docks would be complete.
The plan was rather vague on new transport projects, however by the end of phase 2, the intention that a new underground line from Fenchurch Street Station would have been extended to Custom House. The strategy document described this new underground line as:
“New tube line (River line) – The Docklands Joint Committee have endorsed the proposed route from Fenchurch Street to Custom House but there are two alternative routes from Custom House to Thamesmead, shown dotted, which are to be further examined.”
In the map below, the River line is shown as a line of wide and narrow dashes out to just north of the Royal Victoria Dock. Other diagrams in the report show the two options for extending the route on to Thamesmead, one via Beckton and the other option via Woolwich Arsenal.
Docklands Development Phase 3 – Up To 1990
Phase 3 up to 1990 is where the major changes were implemented and would have resulted in a very different docklands to the area we see today.
Phase 3 included the filling in of the majority of the old docks, with the exception of the Royal Albert and King George V docks. The report does acknowledge that the ability to make these changes is very dependent on the future operations of the Port of London Authority on the Isle of Dogs and the Victoria Dock in Newham. This highlighted one of the key challenges for the Docklands Joint Committee in that they did not own any of the land across the docklands so the implementation of their proposals would be very dependent on large owners such as the Port of London Authority and the availability of significant funding.
Phase 3 aimed to address the lack of open space available to the residents of the Isle of Dogs and Poplar. In the north of the Isle of Dogs there is a new large area of green which the plan proposed as:
“The open space area not only provides space for playing fields for a secondary school associated with the district centre, but will also help relieve the deficiency of playing fields and open space in Poplar.”
Phase 3 would see the work in Beckton complete with new housing east of the district centre. In Silvertown and North Woolwich the release of land around the Victoria Dock would allow the extension of the Poplar and Silvertown industrial zones to the east.
For transport, phase 3 identified the possible route of a new road, the southern relief route (shown by the line of circles in the diagram below). The route shown would have involved two river crossings, complication by the need for opening bridges. The benefit of the route across the Isle of Dogs was, although dependent on the future of the Millwall Dock, it would pass mostly through vacant land. A disadvantage of the route was identified as the significant additional traffic the new road would feed into Tooley Street and the resulting addition to the congestion on the approach to Tower Bridge.
Docklands Development Phase 4 – Up To 1997
Phase 4 completed the development across the docklands, however still with options for train and road routes.
In the Isle of Dogs, there would be further additional housing, however the main feature is continuous open space from the north, through the centre of the peninsula, to link up with Mudchute in the south.
In the Silvertown and North Woolwich area, there would be additional housing and open space to occupy the area once covered by the Royal Victoria Dock.
The map shows the route reserved for the proposed road, and the two options for extension of the proposed River line on to Thamesmead.
The map for phase 4 shows how different the docklands would have been if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee had been implemented.
By completion, the allocation of the 5,500 acres within the Docklands area would have been:
1,600 acres for industry
1,600 for housing
600 acres of public open space and playing fields
600 acres for community services and transport
The remaining 1,100 acres was assumed to be still held by the Port of London Authority (the Royal Albert and King George Docks), the Gas Corporation at Greenwich and Beckton and the Thames Water Authority, also at Beckton.
Although the report documented the considerable redevelopment of the whole Docklands area, the report also identified as a priority the need to retain many of the older buildings that could still be found across the area.
An appendix of the report listed 101 buildings that were a priority for retention. An extract from the appendix is shown below with one of the maps, and following a list of the buildings in the Poplar and Isle of Dogs area.
The number in the third column is the floor space, not a financial value.
The need in the report to list buildings that should be retained is similar to the 1973 Architects’ Journal on East London which also listed buildings across East London that were at risk. There was considerable concern that wholesale development of such a large area of land would include the destruction of many of the historic buildings that could be found across East London. Many of these had lost their original function which placed them at further risk.
Following publication, a number of problems were quickly identified with the proposals.
The emphasis on industrial and manufacturing space rather than office space did not align with the wider environment across the country with the gradual decline in manufacturing and the potential growth in financial services and wider service industries that was taking hold in London.
The Docklands Joint Committee had no real powers and no direct access to finance for the purchase of land and the implementation of the proposals. This was further complicated by the lack of local authority finance due to the economic conditions of the mid to late 1970s.
The Docklands Joint Committee was also intended to coordinate the response of the individual local authorities that covered the docklands, however all too often these local authorities acted in their own interest. Examples being the work of Tower Hamlets to relocate Billingsgate Market and to bring the News International print works to Wapping in the early 1980s.
The Docklands Joint Committee did try to bring in private finance late in the process, however this was opposed by some of the local action groups who did not agree to the use of private finance in the development of the area.
In the meantime, the people of the Docklands were getting more and more frustrated with the lack of action, endless studies and consultations, but no significant development. Jobs and people continued to leave the Docklands. When the Docklands Joint Committee report was published in 1976 the population of the Docklands was round 55,000 and by 1981 this had reduced to 39,000.
The House of Commons expenditure committee examined the work of the Docklands Joint Committee in 1979 and came to the conclusion that since the committee had been formed, very little had been done.
As well as coming in front of the House of Commons Expenditure Committee, 1979 was also the year of another event that would seal the fate of both the Docklands Joint Committee and their proposals when a Conservative Government was elected.
Michael Heseltine as the Secretary of State for the Environment created Urban Development Corporations, one of which would focus on the London Docklands as the London Docklands Development Corporation.
The objective of an Urban Development Corporation was stated in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act:
“Shall be to secure the regeneration of its area by bringing land and buildings into effective use, encouraging the development of existing and new industry and commerce, creating an attractive environment and ensuring that housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area.”
The Conservative ideology was also that private rather than public money would fund and drive much of the development of the Docklands.
Financial deregulation would also drive the demand for a new type of office space consisting of large open floor trading areas with the space to install the complex IT systems and their associated cabling that was a challenge in the more traditional buildings of the City of London.
The Docklands would change beyond recognition over the following years. The London Docklands Development Corporation published a glossy summary of their work in 1995 titled “London Docklands Today”. To emphasise the degree of change, the publication included a few before and after photos, including these of Nelson Dry Dock, Rotherhithe:
And these of the West India Docks in 1982 and 1993:
The Docklands area today continues to develop. The Isle of Dogs seems to be a continual building site, however it could have all been very different if the proposals of the Docklands Joint Committee were not now just an interesting footnote in the development of London.
One of my father’s photos of the Horn Tavern has been in the blog header since I started the blog, and today I finally get round to covering the location.
He took two photos of the rather ornate light on the corner of the Horn Tavern which was at the junction of Sermon Lane and Knightrider Street, just to the south of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
This is the same view today, the frame of the light is still there, however there have been some changes to the pub and the surrounding streets have changed significantly.
The differences in the photos highlight what has happened to the pub since my father took the original photo. The pub had a long history as the Horn Tavern, with references to the pub going back to the 17th century (although it is sometimes difficult to confirm that whilst the name may be the same, it may not be the pub at this location).
The pub changed its name to the Centre Page in 2002. I have no idea why the name changed, or the meaning behind the current name. I would have thought that a name as old as the Horn Tavern would have been preferable, especially given the location on the walk up from the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s with the attraction of an old name to the passing tourist trade.
I will continue referring to the pub as the Horn Tavern as I much prefer the original name.
The frame of the light in my father’s photo looks to be the same as the light in place today, however the wonderful glass with the pub name has been replaced with rather bland clear glass.
The original light must have looked brilliant and very inviting when lit on a dark London night.
There have been many changes in the immediate vicinity of the Horn Tavern. In my father’s photo, the name plate for Sermon Lane can be seen. Sermon Lane still exists but only really in name rather than as a lane.
To set the location and changes in context, the following map shows the area today. Peter’s Hill is a wide walkway from Saint Paul’s Church Yard down to Queen Victoria Street.
Just over half way down on the left can be seen Knightrider Street. Where this meets Peter’s Hill, the Horn Tavern is on the upper corner of the junction. There is a truncated street running up and down from this junction and within Peter’s Hill can be seen the words Sermon Lane.
Peter’s Hill is one of the major changes to the area. The area between the cathedral and the river was once densely packed with office buildings, warehouses etc. Peter’s Hill carved through these buildings and streets to provide a wide pedestrian walkway from river to cathedral and opened up the view of the cathedral from the river and Bankside.
The following map is from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London. In the middle of the map can be seen Sermon Lane, when it was a street with buildings on either side. To the right of Sermon Lane is Knightrider Court – this has had a strange move which I will cover later in this post.
The 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the area in more detail. The Horn Tavern is the P.H. on the corner of Sermon Lane and Knightrider Street.
Going back further to Rocque’s 1746 map, we can still see Sermon Lane, however to the right, Knightrider Court was then called Doolittle Alley (the second ‘o’ is missing from the map).
Doolittle Alley was the Doolittle Lane mentioned in Ben Jonson’s plays, for example from “The Magnetic Lady”, licensed for performance in 1632 and first performed by the King’s Men at the Blackfriars Theatre in the same year:
“She dwelt in Doolittle Lane, atop o’the hill there, I’the round cage was after Sir Chime Squirrel’s. She would eat naught but almonds, I assure you.”
I had assumed the origin of the name Sermon Lane was religious given the proximity to the cathedral, however the London Encyclopedia states “perhaps named after Adam Sermoneinarius, a 13th century property owner, or since it was once known as Sheremongers Lane, its name may have come from the sheremongers, who sheared or cut, and rounded the silver plates used in the minting of coins”.
There appears to be a common explanation leading back to John Stow’s Survey of London for the name Knightrider Street and Court. In the Streets of London, Gertrude Rawlings states that “Stow says it was supposed that the name refers to knights riding this way from Tower Royal to the tournaments at Smithfield. It has also been stated that a “knightrider” meant originally a King’s messenger, but no such word is known in our dictionaries”.
Photos of the area today show the changes to these streets. In the following photo, the Horn Tavern is on the corner and the paved area edged by the trees, leading up towards the cathedral is Sermon Lane, however this is all open space and the steps on the right form the only boundary with Peter’s Hill.
A large sign on the corner of the pub documents a link with Dickens and also states that the pub was formerly known as the Horn Tavern – again why change, there is even a Dickens reference to the original name.
View of the entrance to the Centre Page in Knightrider Street – again with the reference to the former name.
The current Horn Tavern building dates from the 19th century. Remarkably with the level of destruction around St. Paul’s Cathedral, the building survived the blitz.
The Horn Tavern appears in newspapers over the years for all the usual reasons – the meeting place for clubs, adverts for staff and rooms, people staying in the tavern being involved in local events etc. In October 1874 there was a rather intellectual contest held between teams from north and south of the river when twelve of the best players from the City of London Chess Club, played against twelve of the best players from the Bermondsey Chess Club. Unfortunately I cannot find any results to confirm whether the north or south of the river came out on top.
This is the view looking down what was Sermon Lane from the end near the cathedral. This space still retains the name Sermon Lane, however it is only a line of trees and steps that separate Sermon Lane from the main part of Peter’s Hill.
Looking down from the centre of Peter’s Hill, Sermon Lane is on the right.
In the above photo, Knightrider Court once ran through the buildings on the left, as can be seen on the 1940 and earlier maps, and Sermon Lane terminated directly on Knightrider Street, however fast forward to today, and Knightrider Court has moved.
The name is now used for the small section of street from just before the pub, and includes a small space after the junction with Knightrider Street.
In the following photo, One Knightrider Court can be seen above the entrance to the building to the right of the Horn Tavern (although today it is separate, this entrance and the building above was part of the Horn Tavern).
From the above viewpoint, turning slightly to the left and looking straight down there is this small length of street which also has the name Knightrider Court.
So although the original Knightrider Court has been lost, the name has transferred to take over the end of Sermon Lane and an additional small length of land in front of the opposite building.
I like the fact that names are retained, however it is deceiving that the name looks to be in the right place (it is a court shaped stub of land off Knightrider Street) but in reality it is in the wrong place.
This is the view looking down Knightrider Street.
As can be seen in the maps at the start of this post, Knightrider Street once continued on towards Friday Street, however Peter’s Hill now terminates the street. I explored the extension of Knightrider Street, past the church of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey in an earlier post: Distaff Lane – How London Streets Have Changed Over The Centuries, which also covers how the streets have changed in the area to the south of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
I would be really interested to know why the Horn Tavern’s name was changed to the Centre Page. I would have thought that retaining such a historic name would have been a good commercial decision. It would also be great to see the light with the name of the pub once again etched into whitened glass and shining on a cold London night.
The area between Cornhill and Lombard Street has largely avoided much of the Victorian street widening and development, and more recent post war construction. Within this area can still be found alleys and courtyards that have retained their street plan for many centuries.
One such place is Ball Court, the home of this week’s location, Simpson’s Tavern – the oldest chophouse in London.
This is the photograph my father took in 1947 of Simpson’s Tavern:
I walked down Ball Court during a walk through the City between Christmas and New Year, and took the following photo of Simpson’s Tavern today:
My father took his photo during the day, however the shade of the surrounding buildings gives the impression of this being a twilight photo. There have been cosmetic changes to the front of the building, however the building that houses Simpson’s Tavern is basically the same. In 1947 it looks as if wooden planks had been put in front of the window on the left of the door.
The main entrance still has two circular windows on each door and there is a single light above the tavern.
I suspect the circular windows may have been relatively recent in 1947, however the 1947 view probably also looked much the same in the previous century.
Simpson’s Tavern in the Ball Court location opened in 1757 by Thomas Simpson following an earlier restaurant opened in 1723 in Bell Alley, Billingsgate and then the Queen’s Arms, Bird in Hand Court, Cheapside.
Simpson’s Tavern is a busy daytime restaurant and bar serving traditional food – the breakfasts are rather good after an early start.
The building is Grade II listed, and the listing states that the buildings are of late 17th or early 18th century construction.
The entrance to the alley that leads down to Simpson’s Tavern is shown in the photo below. A narrow, covered alley leading off from Cornhill.
Ball Court is not often named on maps. I have ringed Ball Court in the following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map.
The large X in the grey area where the alley leads off from Cornhill indicates that there is a building above the alley. The small court is shown with the P.H. letters for two pubs on either side, the one on the left being Simpsons Tavern. There is a further building over the alley leading out from the court in the opposite corner.The map also illustrates the number of little alleys and courts in this part of the City.
The alley and court can also be seen in John Rocque’s map of 1746 (just below the first L of Cornhill), however in 1746 the court looks to have been a slightly different shape. This was eleven years before Simpson’s Tavern would open.
The entrance to Ball Court from Cornhill:
I stood in Ball Court for 15 minutes and did not see another person. It was quiet and it felt almost like being in one of the recreated streets you can often find in museums.
The interior of the restaurant retains a much earlier layout with wood paneled booths seating diners. Looking through a window into the tavern:
Opposite the entrance from Cornhill, another alley leads off to Castle Court:
The entrance to Ball Court from Castle Court:
To walk along Ball Court and visit Simpson’s Tavern is to walk through a much older City when narrow alleys, courts in almost perpetual shade and hidden taverns could be found in between the main streets, It is also good to find a place in the centre of the City almost unchanged since my father took his photo in 1947.