Walking the City of London

Category: Maps

A more cheerful wander around Smithfield

Last week’s blog was largely concerned with the rather gruesome events that took place in this historic area so I’m aiming to be a bit more lighthearted this week.

Looking up as you walk can be very rewarding. Just opposite Smithfield Central Market on Charterhouse Street I spotted this frieze at the top of one of the buildings …

Here is a close up of the panel on the left …

And here’s the one on the right …

Aren’t they wonderful! I’m pretty sure that’s a bull in the foreground.

And, whilst in livestock mode, if you look just around the corner in Peter’s Lane you will encounter this sight (EC1M 6DS) …

Now look up …

Here’s the bull at the very top …

Surprisingly, they only date from the mid-1990s and are made of glass reinforced resin. The bovine theme was used as a decorative motif because for centuries the appropriately named Cowcross Street was part of a route used by drovers to bring cows to be slaughtered. The tower forms part of The Rookery Hotel and also dates from the mid-1990s, although it looks much older due to the use of salvaged bricks.

I reckon this is a top class piece of sympathetic redevelopment by the architects Gus Alexander. Read all about how they approached the work here.

I’ll say a little about Smithfield’s history.

It appears on some old maps as Smooth Field …

In the Braun and Hogenberg map of 1560/72 it’s Smythe Fyeld …

In the Agas Map of 1633 it’s Schmyt Fyeld …

By the twelfth century, there was a fair held there on every Friday for the buying and selling of horses, and a growing market for oxen, cows and – by-and-by – sheep as well. An annual fair was held every August around St Bartholomew’s Day and was the most prominent and infamous London fair for centuries; and one of the most important in the country. Over the centuries it became a teeming, riotous, outpouring of popular culture, feared and despised like no other regular event by those in power… ‘a dangerous sink for all the vices of London’. This image gives a flavour of it …

In the foreground, a man digs deep into his pocket. It looks like he’s just about to place a bet on a ‘find the pea’ game – a notorious confidence trick being operated here by a distinctly dodgy looking character. In the background musicians play and people dance.

Here’s another view that captures the sheer exuberance of the event …

Bartholomew Fair by Augustus Pugin & Thomas Rowlandson, courtesy Bishopsgate Institute.

In this 1721 image the behaviour looks more sedate …

In 1815 Wordsworth visited the Fair and saw …

Albinos, Red Indians, ventriloquists, waxworks and a learned pig which blindfolded could tell the time to the minutes and pick out any specified card in a pack.

Alongside the entertainment of the Fair there was an undercurrent of trouble, violence and crime. In 1698 a visiting Frenchman, Monsieur Monsieur Sorbière, wrote …

I was at Bartholomew Fair… Knavery is here in perfection, dextrous cutpurses and pickpockets … I met a man that would have took off my hat, but I secured it, and was going to draw my sword, crying, ‘Begar! You rogue! Morbleu!’ &c., when on a sudden I had a hundred people about me crying, ‘Here, monsieur, see Jephthah’s Rash Vow.’ ‘Here, monsieur, see the Tall Dutchwoman’ …

After more than 700 years the Fair was finally banned in 1855 for being …

A great public nuisance, with its scenes of riot and obstruction in the very heart of the city.

As far as livestock trading was concerned it had always been a place of open air slaughter. The historian Gillian Tindall writes: ‘Moo-ing, snorting and baa-ing herds were still driven on the hoof by men and dogs through busy streets towards Smithfield, sometimes from hundred of miles away. Similarly, geese and ducks were hustled along in great flocks, their delicate feet encased in cloth for protection. They were all going to their deaths, though they did not know it – till the stench of blood and the sounds of other animals inspired noisy fear in them’.

In Great Expectations, set in the 1820s, young Pip comes across the market and refers to it as ‘the shameful place, being all asmear with filth and fat and blood and foam [which] seemed to stick to me.

Eventually slaughtering was moved elsewhere and the open air market closed in 1855 …

Smithfield Market’s last day.

The present meat market on Charterhouse Street was established by an 1860 Act of Parliament and was designed by Sir Horace Jones who also designed Billingsgate and Leadenhall Markets. Work on Smithfield, inspired by Italian architecture, began in 1866 and was completed in November 1868. I think this picture was taken not long after construction …

The buildings were a reflection of the modernity of Victorian city. Like many market buildings of the second half the nineteenth century, they owed a debt to Sir Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in their creative use of glass, timber and iron …

One aspect of the London Central Markets, as the Smithfield buildings were known, was particularly revolutionary, though largely hidden. All the buildings were constructed over railway goods yards. For the first time ever, meat was delivered by underground railway direct to a large wholesale market in the centre of a city. In this picture, an underground train whizzes past where the old tracks used to be …

The spectacular colour scheme today replicates what it was when the market opened …

The church of St Bartholomew the Great is always worth a visit but today I’ll just mention the Gatehouse entrance. These pictures show the site before and after the first world war …

The Zeppelin bomb that fell nearby in 1916 partly demolished later buildings revealing the Tudor origins underneath and exposing more of the 13th century stonework from the original nave. By 1932 it was fully restored.

Looking out towards Smithfield you can see the 13th century arch topped by a Tudor building …

Finally, in the Great Avenue (EC1A 9PS), there is this monument commemorating men, women and children who perished both overseas and nearby …

The original memorial (above the red granite plinth) is by G Hawkings & Son and was unveiled on 22  July 1921. 212 names are listed.

Between Fame and Victory holding laurel wreaths, the cartouche at the top reads …

1914-1918 Remember with thanksgiving the true and faithful men who in these years of war went forth from this place for God and the right. The names of those who returned not again are here inscribed to be honoured evermore.

At 11:30 in the morning on 8th March 1945 the market was extremely busy, with long queues formed to buy from a consignment of rabbits that had just been delivered. Many in the queue were women and children. With an explosion that was heard all over London, a V2 rocket landed in a direct hit which also cast victims into railway tunnels beneath – 110 people died and many more were seriously injured. This picture shows some of the terrible aftermath …

The monument was refurbished in 2004/5 and unveiled on 15 June 2005 by the Princess Royal and Lord Mayor Savory. The red granite plinth had been added and refers to lives lost in ‘conflict since the Great War’. On it mention is made of the women and children although the V2 event is not specifically referred to.

This is the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Butchers who helped to fund the refurbishment, along with the Corporation of London and the Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association.

The crest translates as : ‘Thou hast put all things under his feet, all Sheep and Oxen’.

Plans have been made for the market to be moved, along with Billingsgate and New Spitalfields markets, to Barking Reach power station, an abandoned industrial site at Dagenham Dock earmarked for redevelopment. The Museum of London will relocate to part of the old market site.

If you want to read more about Smithfield and its history, here is a link to some of my sources:

Smithfield’s Bloody Past by Gillian Tindall.

Today in London’s festive history – The opening of Batholomew’s Fair.

St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse | A rare survivor of 16th century London.

Underneath Smithfield Market – The Gentle Author.

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Debtors’ prisons -‘Mansions of Misery’

Yesterday I came face to face with the harsh reality of life in the 18th century.

In the Museum of London I went and stood in a room constructed using cell walls from the old Wellclose Square debtors’ prison and looked in awe at the names and images inscribed by unfortunate inmates. Although we can read some names we will never know more about them which makes this an even more melancholy place.

For example, John Knolls and Edward Burk were there in 1757 …

And William Thompson in 1790 or 1798. Just above his name someone has scratched what looks like a gallows (sometimes people were held here on their way to be punished more severely at places like Newgate) …

Some just left their initials …

Others chose to carve elaborate representations of buildings …

And this person sent out a poetic plea …

All You That on This Cast an Eye, Behold in Prison Here I Lie, Bestow You in Charety, Or with hunger soon I die.

The lighting is set low to represent candlelight …

This is how it looked just after assembly …

The Gentle Author, in his empathic and beautifully written blog about this room, writes …

Shut away from life in an underground cell, they carved these intense bare images to evoke the whole world. Now they have gone, and everyone they loved has gone, and their entire world has gone generations ago, and we shall never know who they were, yet because of their graffiti we know that they were human and they lived.

When walking along Whitecross Street one day I was intrigued by this spoof blue plaque on the wall of the Peabody Buildings …

British History Online confirms the Nell Gwynne story but I cannot find another source. It also tells us that …

A man may exist in the prison who has been accustomed to good living, though he cannot live well. All kinds of luxuries are prohibited, as are also spirituous drinks. Each man may have a pint of wine a day, but not more; and dice, cards, and all other instruments for gaming, are strictly vetoed.”

A pint of wine a day doesn’t sound too bad.

The prison was capable of holding up to 500 prisoners and Wyld’s map of London produced during the 1790s shows how extensive the premises were …

Prisoners would often take their families with them, which meant that entire communities sprang up inside the debtors’ jails, which were run as private enterprises. The community created its own economy, with jailers charging for room, food, drink and furniture, or selling concessions to others, and attorneys charging fees in fruitless efforts to get the debtors out. Prisoners’ families, including children, often had to find employment simply to cover the cost of the imprisonment. Here is a view of the inside of the Whitecross Street prison with probably more well off people meeting and promenading quite normally …

‘Inside the Debtors’ Prison, Whitecross Street, London’ by an unknown artist : City of London Corporation, Guildhall Art Gallery.

Creditors were able to imprison debtors without trial until they paid what they owed or died and in the 18th century debtors comprised over half the prison population. Prisoners were by no means all poor but often middle class people in small amounts of debt. One of the largest groups was made up of shopkeepers (about 20% of prisoners) though male and female prisoners came from across society with gentlemen, cheesemongers, lawyers, wigmakers and professors rubbing shoulders. For example, Charles Dickens’ father, John, spent a few months at the Marshalsea in 1824 because he owed a local baker £40 and 10 shillings (over £3,000 in today’s money). Here is his custody record dated 20th February 1824 …

Charles – then aged just 12 – had to work at a shoe-polish factory to help support his father and other members of his family who had joined John in prison. It was a humiliating episode from which the author later drew inspiration for his novel Little Dorrit. Many years later Dickens described his dad as ‘a jovial opportunist with no money sense’!

This was the notorious Marshalsea

It was located in Southwark, the historic location of theatres, bear-pits and whorehouses and in the mid-17th century it settled into being exclusively a debtors’ jail. Then it was full to bursting and people could be thrown in for owing as little as sixpence. In such a case, he or she was charged in “Execution”, which immediately increased the indebtedness to £1 5s 6d, making it much less likely that the prisoner could ever get out. ‘More unhappy people are to be found suffering under extreme misery, by the severity of their creditors,’ one commentator noted, ‘than in any other Nation in Europe’. Without money, you were crammed into one of nine small rooms with dozens of others. A parliamentary committee reported in 1729 that 300 inmates had starved to death within a three-month period, and that eight to ten prisoners were dying every twenty-four hours in the warmer weather.

Not surprising when you look at this 18th-century engraving of the Marshalsea sick ward and the poor souls incarcerated there …

Part of the old prison wall is still there …

And appropriately an old grille from the prison is preserved in the Charles Dickens Museum

Imprisonment for debt was finally abolished in 1869, ending centuries of misery. I found this quite an addictive subject and if you are as interested as me in knowing more here are the major sources I used :

The Museum of London website.

An absolutely fascinating description of one man’s first 24 hours in Whitecross Street prison. Particularly interesting is the description of some of his fellow inmates and what the charges were for ‘extras’ like sheets on your bed or a piece of paper to write on. Ignore the fact that it is mistakenly illustrated with a picture of a hanging at Newgate Gaol.

In British History Online there is a description of the Whitecross Street establishment at the end of Chapter XXIX.

An article entitled DEBTORS’ PRISONS WORKED: Evidence from 18th century London.

An article entitled : In debt and incarcerated: the tyranny of debtors’ prisons.

The distinguished London historian Jerry White’s book specifically about the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison : Mansions of Misery.

A presentation : The Real Little Dorrit: Charles Dickens and the debtorsprison.

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More pics from my Instagram collection

I set up my Instagram account because I found I was taking more pictures outside the City and also because some City images didn’t fit into any neat category. You will find details of how to follow me at the end of the blog. Some of the other pictures here I just took for fun.

I hope you enjoy them – I’ll start with evidence as to how the local animals are practicing social distancing …

I love ducks. These two were fast asleep on the Barbican Highwalk in the early morning …

Still there later on (I didn’t wake them up). They are completely relaxed about having their picture taken and obviously like to strike a pose …

Now that people have deserted the City so have the seagulls. This is good news for the little ducklings who often provided the gulls (and the visiting heron) with a tasty snack. There are quite a few families now growing up quickly …

Mum keeps a watchful eye.

Another bird, a moody parrot near Whitecross Street …

I managed to snatch this picture of the Red Arrows flypast accompanied by their French equivalent the Patrouille de France (PAF). They took to the skies on June 18th to mark the 80th anniversary of a famous wartime speech by General Charles de Gaulle …

Still on an aviation theme, every now and then a Chinook helicopter practices landing in the Honourable Artillery Company’s field just off Moorgate. The noise sounds like you are in a Vietnam War movie …

What about this enigmatic message on an optician’s window on London Wall …

On the other hand, I thought these models in an Eastcheap shop looked really creepy …

Like creatures out of a Doctor Who episode.

I suppose these bony teaching aids glimpsed through a Bart’s Hospital window are also a bit disturbing …

High spot of the easing of lockdown – getting a haircut …

Second high spot …

I do like to tuck into a Penguin …

Oh how the simple pleasures of life take on a new importance when you are deprived of them!

The hotel I stayed at in Eastbourne last week had some very interesting items displayed on the walls. I liked these pictures of The Beatles in their early days but they made me feel a bit sad and nostalgic too …

To my delight the hotel also had a reproduction of a very early map of London …

Note particularly Smooth Field and the three dimensional representations of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.

This was fascinating …

The picture is entitled …

Ice Carnival held at Grosvenor House, Park Lane, 31st October 1930 in the presence of the Prince of Wales with Mrs Wallis Simpson who was always seated three places from him in public.

There was some nice stained glass too …

The hotel is the Langham and I highly recommend it.

Our Car Park attendant and concierge has green fingers and has improved the environment immeasurably …

I like these golden lions outside the Law Society …

Royal Wedding teabags are still available at this shop on Ludgate Hill …

Hurry hurry hurry while stocks last!

Pharmacy humour …

Another pop group caught my eye – a picture in a music shop window of the Rolling Stones in May 1965. Who would have thought they would still be touring 55 years later (apart from poor Brian Jones, of course) …

And finally you will be relieved to hear …

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The Pump of Death and a walk towards St Botolph’s

At the junction of Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street people usually hurry past this old water pump without a second glance, not knowing anything about some gruesome aspects of its history …

There was a well here for centuries and one appears to be shown on the Agas map of 1561 …

Look under the ‘A’ of Aldegate

After a pump was installed in the sixteenth century the water gained a reputation for being ‘bright, sparkling, and cool, and of an agreeable taste’. In the early 1870s, however, people started noticing the taste deteriorate and become foul. Then people who had drank the water started dying in great numbers in a tragedy that became known as the Aldgate Pump Epidemic.

It was known that Thames water was dangerous as illustrated by this 1850s drawing entitled The Silent Highwayman

But Aldgate water originated in the healthy springs of Hampstead and Highgate and flowed underground – so it should have been safe.

The bad news broke publicly in April 1876 …

An investigation by the Medical Officer of Health for the City revealed the terrible truth. During its passage underground from north London it had passed through and under numerous new graveyards thereby picking up the bacteria, germs and calcium from the decaying bodies. The pump was immediately closed and eventually reconnected to the safer New River Company’s supply later in 1876. You will find a fascinating history of the New River Company if you access the splendid London Inheritance blog.

The epidemic was obviously a distant memory by the nineteen twenties when Whittard’s tea merchants used to

… always get the kettles filled at the Aldgate Pump so that only the purest water was used for tea tasting.

I have discovered a few old pictures …

The pump in 1874- picture from the Wellcome Collection.

And in August 1908 a little East End boy refreshes himself using the cup attached to the pump by a chain …

The full picture …

The wolf’s head spout is said to reference the last wolf killed in the City of London …

Nice that it has survived intact into the 21st century.

Walking towards St Botolph’s church I saw on the left this magnificent drinking fountain ‘Erected by permission of the vicar and churchwardens’. It has a connection with the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association which I have written extensively about in my blog Philanthropic Fountains

It’s dedicated to the memory of Frederic David Mocatta …

A wealthy bullion broker, after he had retired from the business in 1874 he devoted himself to works of public and private benevolence, especially in the deprived East End of London. It was people from that area who raised the money for this memorial and you can read more about him here.

A little bit further on is this 1950s police call box …

This is the third one I have discovered in the City and you can read more about the others here.

As you walk up the steps to visit St Botolph’s, turn around and look across the road. There are some old late Victorian buildings that have survived redevelopment and I was struck by how much care had gone into the decoration at roof height, even though very few people would be looking up to see it …

Next week I enter St Botolph’s and will write about some of the best and most interesting monuments and memorials in the City.

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Exploring Aldgate – including a terrible event in the past

On Sunday 30th September 1888 at about 1.45 in the morning Police Constable 881 Edward Watkins turned into Mitre Square, a regular part of his beat.

In the southernmost corner, clearly picked out by the bullseye lantern on Watkins’s belt, lay the terribly mutilated body of a woman. Watkins ran across to Kearley and Tongue’s warehouse, knowing that the watchman there, George James Morris, was a retired police officer. Watkins found the door to the warehouse ajar, pushed it open, and found Morris sweeping the steps that led down toward the door.

‘For God’s sake, mate, come to my assistance,’ cried Watkins.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Morris, to which Watkins replied, ‘There’s another woman cut to pieces.’

The woman was Catherine Eddowes* and she was destined to be named as the fourth victim of the Whitechapel Murderer, more commonly known as Jack the Ripper.

Around this time Charles Goad was compiling maps for use by the fire insurance companies and this is one of his earliest prepared just 20 months before the murder. The red spot indicates where the body was found …

The murder scene …

The Square today – I think I am standing approximately where she was was discovered …

The fact that ‘Jack’s’ identity has never been agreed upon has led to the practice commonly called Ripperology in which the crimes and possible perpetrators are endlessly debated and discussed. Needless to say there are numerous sources online but I found this one to be one of the most interesting including as it does a poignant list of poor Catherine’s possessions. You can find an account of her funeral here. (By the way, you can see an authentic police bullseye lantern in the City of London Police Museum and a picture in my blog The City’s Little Museums).

In the centre of my photograph of the Square today is an example of the Sculpture in the City initiative …

This is Climb by Juliana Cerqueira Leite. In this fascinating YouTube clip she explains how it was created.

As you stand in Mitre Square you can often hear children playing. They are pupils at Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School …

Note the red goose quill.

Sir John Cass was born in the City of London in 1661 and during his lifetime served as Alderman, Sheriff and the City’s MP.

In 1710 he set up a school for 50 boys and 40 girls and rented buildings in the churchyard of St Botolph Without Aldgate. Cass intended to leave the vast majority of his property to the independent school but, when he died in 1718, had only initialled two of the eight pages of his will. The incomplete will was contested, but was finally upheld by the Court of Chancery thirty years after his death. The school, which by this time had been forced to close, was re-opened, and the foundation established.

There is an old legend that he had a haemorrhage of the lungs which stained the quill pen with which he was initialising his will, and it is for this reason that the pupils of the school still wear red goose quills when they attend St Botolph’s Church on the anniversary of their Founder’s birth each year.

Two statues of children in blue coats stand over the previous girls’ and boys’ entrances …

The school was rebuilt in 1909 and I think these statues are reproductions. I don’t know if the originals still exist.

Blue was the distinctive colour for paupers, charity schools and almsmen, (hence Bluecoat Boys and Girls) and Cass’s School would have been called a Bluecoat School. By extension it typified the dress of tradesmen so that ‘To put on a blue apron’ meant to take up a trade. Incidentally, the great diarist Samuel Pepys, recording a trade riot in London in 1664, tells us that ‘At first, the butchers knocked down all the weavers that had green or blue aprons.’ Those were the days.

Here’s a bust of Sir John as displayed in the nearby church of St Botolph Without Aldgate, which I shall write about in a later blog …

Someone had tucked a two pence coin into his flowing locks but I didn’t like to remove it in case it was part of some arcane tradition!

On the school gates I noticed this very appropriate instruction …

I took this picture of St Botolph’s whilst standing behind another Sculpture in the City exhibit by Jyll Bradley …

Made from coloured sheets of edge-lit Plexiglas turned on their side and leant against a south-facing wall, Dutch / Light (for Agneta Block) creates an open-glasshouse pavilion that is activated by the sun. The work references the so-called ‘Dutch Light’ a horticultural revolution that hit British shores over three centuries ago as Dutch growers pioneered early glasshouse technology.

There is lots more to see around Aldgate and St Botolph’s so I shall return next week.

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*None of the research I have done suggests that Catherine was a prostitute and this is confirmed in a new book, The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold, which you can read more about here.

Secret & Sacred Rivers

I’m always intrigued by Londoners’ capacity to ignore odd behaviour. For example, I spent a good ten minutes bending over this grating, some of it virtually on my knees, and no one showed the slightest curiosity …

Junction of Greville Street and Saffron Hill (EC1M 3JF)

I was, of course, trying to hear the sound of running water since, directly underneath, runs probably the most famous of London’s ‘lost’ subterranean rivers, the Fleet. Its headwaters are two streams on Hampstead Heath, each of which was dammed into a series of ponds in the 18th century. At the southern edge of the Heath these descend underground as sewers which join in Camden Town. The waters flow four miles from the ponds to the River Thames, just underneath Blackfriars Bridge. Incidentally, it didn’t run down Fleet Street, it merely ran past its eastern, lower end.

This map, showing the route of the Fleet and various other waterways, is on display at the excellent Secret Rivers exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands …

Because of its later reputation, I always had a view that the Fleet where it joined the Thames would be a deeply unpleasant place, so this picture rather surprised me …

This painting (by a follower of Samuel Scott) was obviously influenced by Canaletto, who was based in England until 1755. Looking north across the Thames, it shows the entrance to the Fleet circa 1750 with Bridewell Foot Bridge, the City Wharf and Dock, and Blackfriars Stairs. The Fleet was developed into a canal up to Holborn, lending this view a Venetian appearance. This grand aspect, however, did not last long as the wharves proved unprofitable and Londoners continued to dump their rubbish in the river.

Originally a green river valley, the Fleet River had been gradually transformed into the Fleet Ditch, infamous for being a source of filth, corruption and disease. Observing a flood during a storm in 1710 Jonathan Swift penned the following lines …

Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts and Blood,
Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.

Pope made this small literary contribution in 1728 …

To where Fleet Ditch, with disemboguing streams, rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.

On display at the exhibition is sad little exhibit. Found during excavations of the old river bed, it’s a dog’s collar with the inscription ‘Tom at Ye Greyhound Bucklersbury’. Poor Tom.

There is a reminder in the exhibition of how muddy and dirty the City’s streets were. This pair of wooden pattens date from the 15th century and were used to protect shoes and raise the wearer above the mud. They have a leather hinge to aid walking …

London’s population grew rapidly through the seventeenth century from about 200,000 to about half a million which resulted in a significant rise in the need for coal. This was brought from the north east of the country in barges which offloaded at wharves in the tidal Fleet. Street names that survive today remind us of this …

And the thoroughfare that ended at the canal, so you couldn’t go any further …

The Fleet Valley from Clerkenwell to the Thames housed many of London’s prisons and all manner of vice was practised in the dingy, stinking claustrophobic rookeries (slums). Nor was there much privacy if you had to go to the loo. This medieval oak three-seater toilet seat was found over cesspit in a yard behind buildings that faced on to modern day Ludgate Hill …

This picture tells a story. It’s an 1841 drawing by Antony Crosby of the Fleet River at Holborn Bridge – note the wooden latrine projecting over the ditch on the left …

Holborn Viaduct was built between 1863 and 1869 in order to span the Fleet and provide level access from east to west – a great improvement in an era of horse-drawn traffic. You can see it reaches over a deep valley …

Looking north whilst standing on what was the bank of the old Fleet canal.

When I climbed the stairs to take a picture from above a curious City dragon popped his head up to see what I was doing …

Gradually the entire river was enclosed in Victorian sewer tunnels and it now flows into the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge (just below where the banker Roberto Calvi was found hanged in 1982) …

Rivers, such as the Thames and the Walbrook, influenced where the Romans founded Londinium and the Museum of London exhibition also illustrates the fact that our connection to water goes beyond the practical, reaching into the spiritual. While most objects found in London’s rivers are lost items, rubbish or remnants of river-related activities, some cannot be explained so easily. These bear witness to the spiritual importance of rivers.

On display, for example, is this first or second century AD small representation of a river god, possible Neptune, apparently cast or placed into the Walbrook …

And this piece of a marble offering is particularly fascinating …

The inscription has been translated thus:

To the Divinities of the Emperors (and) to the god Mars Camulus. Tiberinius Celerianus, a citizen of the Bellovaci, moritix, of Londoners the first …

It is the first example from the capital to use the word Londiniensi or ‘Londoners’. The language suggests a man who hailed from northern France and probably traded or travelled regularly within that region but whose home seems to have become London.

If you want to read more about Roman London I have written three earlier blogs on the subject: The Romans in London – Mithras, Walbrook and the Games, The Romans in London … and two Roman ladies and The Roman Wall revisited.

The Museum of London Docklands exhibition runs until 27th October this year. I highly recommend it.

Down by the River – wharves, beaches and desperate immigrants

Once upon a time, access by foot to the River Thames was absolutely essential since it was London’s main highway. These ‘Watermen’s Stairs’ were also of great benefit if you were unfortunate enough to fall into the river. A Waterman would usually be nearby plying for hire and might be inclined to rescue you (and the stairs were often adjacent to a public house, where such accidents could be more likely to happen!).

Although wharves and later rudimentary docks began to be used to offload goods, most ships simply moored in lines in the middle of the river and their cargo was rowed to shore and carried up shoreline stairs.

John Rocque’s London Map of 1756 showed literally dozens of such access points and last Sunday I decided to go in search of what was left of them, starting at the east side of the Millennium Bridge. These are the steps leading to the foreshore …

This is the exact spot where the ancient Trig Lane access to the River was located and back in the 1970s redevelopment work revealed a 14th century wharf. Here is a picture of some of the site taken in 1974, now totally covered by riverside office development …

Read more on Adrian Procter’s blog

There was some amateur excavation taking place when I visited …

Looking all around you see lots of pieces of pottery, tiles and bricks along with lumps of chalk …

Large chalk beds were once laid down to provide a soft settling place for barges at low tide.

It’s rather a strange feeling standing on the river bed and gazing along the foreshore …

As I walked east I looked back and spotted a sandy beach. You can see the Trig Steps in the distance …

My next stop was the Cousin Lane steps next to Cannon Street railway station …

As is common along the River, you can see the remains of old wharves …

And a barge resting nearby …

I got a distinct feeling that I was trespassing.

These steps at London Bridge are no longer open to the public. Again the remains of old wharves are visible at low tide …

Further along the Thames Walk a capstan reminds us of the days when this part of the river was a major commercial shipping hub …

Looking over the riverside wall, lots more lumps of chalk are clearly visible …

Next on my list was Custom House Stairs – here is how they appear in Roque’s Map of 1746 …

And here they are today …

I encountered lots of oyster shells on my walk, once a very cheap source of food for Londoners …

An old winch still decorates the pedestrian walkway …

As I walked past the Tower I was reminded of pictures I had seen of the beach there that was opened up in July 1934 for the use of people who couldn’t afford to go to the seaside. Apparently 1,500 bargeloads of sand were used to create it …

It was finally closed in 1971 due to river pollution. There is a nice blog about it here.

My final set of stairs were located just past St Katharine Dock along St Katharine’s Way. The entrance is easy to miss since the signage is quite high up …

Here I hesitated …

It’s all a bit slimy and slippery …

When you reach the bottom it’s clear you are definitely below the level of high tide …

The view looking west …

As I looked back up the steps I was reminded of a story in the London Inheritance blog.

On the 24th April 1847, the Illustrated London News reported on arrivals at Alderman’s Stairs …

IRISH IMMIGRATION INTO LONDON – The importation of Irish paupers, so much complained of in Liverpool and Glasgow, begins to wear a threatening aspect in London. On Sunday, the Prussian Eagle, from Cork, and the Limerick, from Dublin, landed 1200 Irish Paupers at Alderman’s Stairs, Lower East Smithfield. The new comers, who were in the most wretched state of distress, were forthwith distributed over the eastern part of the metropolis. The same vessels landed 1200 Irish paupers on Sunday week.

I hope these steps led to a better life for some of those poor souls, many surely victims of the Great Irish Famine of 1845 to 1849.

The scene at Skibbereen during the Great Famine, by Cork artist James Mahony (1810–1879), commissioned by The Illustrated London News.

Fun and Miscellany – my 100th blog!

Thank you so much for subscribing to my little publication – especially those of you who have been with me since the very beginning almost two years ago.

For the first anniversary I included things that I had come across that had made me smile and I want to do that again this week. I want as well, however, to include a few items that I thought were interesting but didn’t fit under any broad heading.

One of the great pleasures of doing research is the occasional joy of serendipity. I recently discovered that encouraging people to cycle to work is nothing new and magazines were being published almost 40 years ago which included maps to help cyclists navigate.

I came across this persuasive cover of On your bike! magazine from 1982 …

And now something a bit more surreal, a piece of art that was on display at the Guildhall art Gallery until a few weeks ago …

Marcello Pecchioli’s eye-catching stained glass Alien Priest was part of the Gallery’s ‘Visionary Artists’ exhibition. I like the flying saucers in the background.

Next up is this picture in the Gallery entitled Garden of Eden by Hugh Goldwin Riviere (1860-1956). Painted in 1901, it depicts a young man and girl walking in a misty, wet park with a horse-drawn cab rank in the background.

I like it because to me it’s one of those pictures that immediately gets you making up a back story to the characters. Surely this is an assignation – a secret lovers meeting, he clasping her hand and she gazing lovingly into his face. Then it struck me: Garden of Eden! A place of dangerous temptation and banishment!

Apparently guides point out that this picture is actually about a mismatch between a wealthy woman who has fallen for a man much below her station: note his clumpy shoes, lack of gloves and his rolled up trouser bottoms. Also the way he’s carrying not one but two umbrellas, intertwined like the two lovers. There are tiny raindrops hanging from the black branches. Surely they represent tears to come? Or am I getting completely carried away? Another commentator has said that she is simply a smartly dressed maidservant on her day off, out walking with her beau.

In Cullum Street I was stopped in my tracks by this stunning sculpture by Sarah Lucas entitled Perceval

Part of the ‘Sculpture in the City’ initiative – EC3M 7JJ

It’s a large-scale replica of a traditional china ornament of the kind that took pride of place on many British mantelpieces forty years ago. Perceval was a knight of the Round Table and apparently there is fertility symbolism in the giant concrete marrows on the cart. You can read more about this work here.

Also for us to admire as part of the Sculpture in the City project is this example entitled Crocodylius Philodendrus by Nancy Rubins at 1 Undershaft (EC3A 6HX). I love it because it’s completely bonkers …

See how many animals you can spot

I keep meaning to spend some time in the Blackfriar pub on Queen Victoria Street recording the brilliant brasses there (EC4V 4EG) but I still haven’t got around to it. So in the meantime, here is the advice on one of them …

‘Don‘t advertise – tell a gossip

Don’t forget to look down when crossing the Millennium (‘Wobbly’) Bridge and see if you can spot some of the witty work by the artist Ben Wilson. He has painstakingly painted literally dozens of pieces of discarded chewing gum …

I have written more about him in my earlier blog Tales from City Bridges.

There is a Banksy rat painting in Chiswell Street that has been altered by another artist. Banksy’s piece originally depicted a stencilled ghetto rat holding a placard which read ‘London doesn’t work’ …

Photograph taken by ‘Noodlefish’ 26 August 2006

However, Robbo, Banksy’s rival graffiti artist, reworked the placard by adding his name in red letters. Robbo was known for leaving his mark on many Banksy pieces but I read in the interesting Londonist blog that Robbo died in 2014, bringing the rivalry to an end.

I haven’t been able to find out more about the strange ‘Life is beautiful’ figure next to it.

It is hard to imagine now but many of London’s roads were once paved with wood. However a map of London by Bartholomew’s in 1928 shows clearly the expansive reach of the wooden block road paving method. In the map excerpt below, the yellow roads are all paved with wooden blocks …

Read more in the excellent blog ‘Ian Visits’

Many were destroyed in wartime bombing and many also dug up by local residents for burning as heating. Since they were impregnated with tar they burnt furiously and, of course, made a major contribution to London’s filthy air.

For some people this was an entrepreneurial opportunity. This is Alan Sugar being interviewed for the Daily Express in 2010 about when he noticed old blocks being uncovered when roads were being resurfaced …

The workers showed me the blocks, which were impregnated with tar, and they chucked a couple onto the fire – they burned like a rocket. Bingo! It occurred to me that these discarded wooden blocks could be made into fire-lighting sticks. I could cut them up into bundles of sticks and flog them.

And you can still see a section of wooden road today at the junction of Chequer Street and Bunhill Row EC1 …

Looking over the wall on the Embankment one day I noticed these lions heads with mooring rings …

They were sculpted by Timothy Butler for Bazalgette’s great sewage works in 1868-70 and it is said that, if the lions drink, London will flood.

And to end with, two more items with watery themes that make me smile.

Firstly, a famous satire on the quality of the Metropolitan water supply in 1828. An elderly lady displays her horror and shock on looking at a speck of Thames water through a microscope …

Copyright: British museum

It’s by the artist and caricaturist William Heath (1795-1840) and is entitled Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water being a correct representation of that precious stuff doled out to us! You can read more about the efforts made to get fresh water to Londoners in my blog Philanthropic Fountains.

And finally I always say hello to this miserable dolphin on The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB). I also tell him to cheer up – the pub is a listed building and therefore so is he …

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Underground history at Moorgate station

I love old photographs, and there is a selection of them on display alongside the platforms at Mooorgate Station. For those of you who don’t board or alight there I have reproduced them here. For those of you that do, I have added a little more history.

First up is this distinguished looking gentleman …

Lord Ashfield posed with his daughter at Moorgate Station in 1924

Ashfield was then Chairman of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London. He had joined the organisation as General Manager in 1907 when it was in such poor financial shape that he reserved the right to leave after a year and return to America where he was running the New Jersey transport system. A charming but tough character, on arrival he demanded and got resignation letters from all the UERL senior management, post-dated by six months.

An extraordinarily competent businessman, he turned the operation into a success and went on to hold numerous senior positions with the Underground railway as well as becoming President of the Board of Trade in 1916.

Here is a copy of the first Underground Map of 1908 showing the UERL’s lines and those of the other Tube lines including the Metropolitan Railway …

I still find it quite amazing that the Metropolitan opened for business over 150 years ago in 1863 as a possible solution to London’s desperately overcrowded streets. It was a great success, carrying over 30,000 passengers on its first day, despite the foul and disgusting atmosphere created by the steam trains that pulled the carriages. The Metropolitan’s owners claimed the ‘invigorating’ atmosphere ‘provided a sort of health resort for people who suffered from asthma’, but they also allowed drivers to grow beards in a futile bid to filter out the worst of the fumes. An attempt to ban smoking was thwarted by Parliament and a total ban didn’t take place until 1987 as a result of the King’s Cross fire.

This drawing of circa 1865 shows early morning commuters arriving having taken advantage of cheap fares on ‘workmen’s trains’ …

Available if you travelled before 6:00 am, the cheap workmen’s tickets were incredibly popular. Interviewed by the journalist Henry Mayhew, the labourers he spoke to all voiced their enthusiasm for a service that allowed poorer Londoners to live further out, sparing them a six-mile walk to work and allowing their families to live in two rooms rather than one.

Commuting from the suburbs was portrayed in this poster as a very civilised experience …

Stamp issued in 2013 the celebrate 150 years of the Underground

Isn’t this poster from 1911 by Alfred France splendid, look at the silhouettes …

The Underground really was for everyone

There was also a horse-drawn omnibus available at Moorgate for onward journeys. In fact, the very last journey of this nature in London was between Moorgate and London Bridge on October 25th 1911 …

The last journey

The station was busy enough to require a signal box …

1933 – Signallers operated their levers in a cabin by the Station

By 1955 a signaller controlled Moorgate’s section of track from a new push-button signalling cabin …

I think this is a great picture from 1965 of Underground workers stopping for a tea break during a shift realigning the Metropolitan line tracks …

‘I’ll be mother’. That’s a proper workers’ teapot!

An entrance to the station survived the Second World War bombing that destroyed other parts of the building …

Picture taken in 1955

I found these pictures during my research and hope you find them interesting …

A heritage Metropolitan steam train at Moorgate in 2014 – Picture by Christian NX

There is a Greathead tunneling shield which was left in place below the station in 1904 when the Lothbury extension to the Great Northern & City Line was abandoned …

You can find this picture and read more fascinating facts on the Subterranea Britannica website. I have also written about Greathead and where you can actually walk through one of his shields in an earlier blog. You can find a link here.

The City before the Great Fire

Just suppose you could go back in time and were approaching London from the north in Tudor times. If you were coming from modern day Lincoln or York, you would be following the old Roman Road, Ermine Street, which would lead you to Bishopsgate, one of the principal gates into the City. Stow’s 1598 Survey of London describes this area as part of the ‘suburbs without walls,’ and throughout the 16th century wealthy citizens were beginning to build properties for themselves in that vicinity. One of them was Sir Paul Pindar (1565?-1650), and when the Venetian Ambassador, Pietro Contarini, lodged with him in the early 17th century he described Bishopsgate Without as ‘… an airy and fashionable area … a little too much in the country‘.

It’s wonderful to know that you can today, in the 21st century, get some idea of the house’s scale and beauty since its facade is preserved and on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum …

A close-up of one of the brackets

Contarini’s chaplain described it as ‘a very commodious mansion which had heretofore served as the residence of several former ambassadors’.

Having unfortunately lent generously to Charles I, poor Pindar died leaving considerable debts and by 1660 the mansion had already been subdivided into smaller dwellings. It survived the Great Fire of 1666, but was soon given over to the London workhouse, with wards for ‘poor children’ and ‘vagabonds, beggars, pilferers, lewd, idle, and disorderly persons’. The street-level rooms on the front were used as a tavern, known as Sir Paul Pindar’s Head.

The house was demolished in 1890 to make room for the expansion of Liverpool Street Station, but we do have an idea as to what it looked like in 1812. There are more pictures and commentary on the Spitalfields Life blog which you can access here.

What would you see going on elsewhere in this area north of the City walls? We are extremely fortunate to have this map that gives us some idea …

The Copperplate Map circa 1556-1558

This is one of the earliest maps we have of London and you can take an imaginary walk thanks to its fascinating detail. Approaching from Shoredich in the north, the already dissolved hospital of St Mary Spital would be on your left. On your right is the lunatic hospital of Bedlam before its destruction in the 1666 Great Fire. As you approached the Bishop’s Gate itself, the illustration appears to show some spikes exhibiting the gruesome remains of traitors who had been hanged, drawn and quartered. Moor Gate to the left seems to have a similar display and leads directly on to Moor Field, an area drained and ‘laid out in pleasant walks’ in 1527. There is a lot going on there.

Washing is being laid out to dry, goods are being carried to market, a lady carries a pot on her head, archery is being practised, people have stopped to chat and there is a rather elegant Dogge Hous. See if you can find the man with the horse and cart driving what looks like a sow and piglets in front of him.

To the right you can see that the wealthy and the religious orders have enclosed their land within private walls, windmills can be seen on hilly ground.

Now take a look at this map …

The ‘Agas’ woodcut plan from 1633 – a ‘cheap and cheerful’ version of the Copperplate Map

At a quick glance it looks the same but there are differences and this map is nowhere near as detailed. For example, fewer figures are shown in the fields and they are not so well drawn (the Dogge Hous is still there though!). Known as Civitas Londinum, it was first printed from woodblocks in about 1561 and obviously drew on the Copperplate map for much of its information. Widely, but erroneously, attributed to the surveyor Ralph Agas, no early copies survive and the small section above is from a modified version printed in 1633.

One of the things that fascinated me was how many of the streets exist to this day and have the same name. Here is another section of the map …

With some serious concentration I found Old Street, Chiswell Street, Beech Street, Cheapside, Aldersgate, Whitecross Street, Aldermanbury, Milk Street and a few others – all pretty much located exactly where they are today.

If you want to study an enlarged version of the map in more detail, pop into the Guildhall Art Gallery. Here it is displayed in all its glory …

The architect Simon Foxell, in his outstanding book Mapping London – Making Sense of the City, (ISBN 13: 9781906155070) states …

Civitas Londinum is the essential view into the teeming streets of Tudor London. It shows us the interrelationship between churches and streets and houses and how, outside the walls, London rapidly transforms into fields and villages. It shows the windmills that must have dominated the horizon and the regular lime kilns that must have filled the sky with smoke. A recognisable view into a past beyond living memory.

The Great Fire of 1666 devastated the City and, luckily for us, the etcher Wenceslaus Hollar was there to produce this ‘groundplot’ of the damage. His drawing of 1666 is a bird’s eye view of the City and gives us some perspective as to the vast extent of the catastrophe. The non-shaded area shows the extent of the destruction …

What else can we see today that pre-dates the Fire apart from the street names?

St Paul’s Cathedral was lost in the inferno but there was a remarkable survivor …

The effigy of John Donne, 17th century poet and Dean of the Cathedral, survived the Fire but you can still make out the scorch marks on the urn (you have to go into the Cathedral to see it). I have written about Donne in an earlier blog which you can access here.

And finally, there is the oldest house in the City …

41-42 Cloth Fair  EC1A 7JQ    

Built in 1615, it survived the Great Fire due to its being enclosed and protected by the priory walls of St Bartholomew. Incidentally, you’ll notice the building has no window sills. The post-Fire Building Acts required window sills at least four inches deep or more to be installed in homes in order to reduce the risk of fire spreading upwards. I have written about this and other City dwellings in an earlier blog City Living.

I hope you enjoyed this trip back in time. I love old maps, so will probably be exploring the history of the City in a similar way in the future.


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