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    The French Chapel in Marylebone

    By the Survey of London, on 7 September 2018

    A reminder of the once notable French presence in Marylebone is the French definite article in the name. The old name was Marybone, a corruption of Maryborne, referring to the church of St Mary by the bourne built in the early 1400s. Although ‘Mary le Bone’ and variants were in widespread use throughout the eighteenth century, Marybone was still the most common name until the early nineteenth century, when it began to fall out of use, (St) Marylebone subsequently becoming the invariable form. But even today, there are alternative pronunciations, essentially English and French.

    There was a French church off the High Street by 1709, perhaps earlier, and from the late seventeenth century French émigrés ran a well-known school near by, patronized by the nobility as a prep school for Westminster and Eton. The French population then was Protestant, part of the Huguenot diaspora particularly associated in London with Spitalfields. But a century after Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes, prompting the main Huguenot exodus, the Revolution brought a new wave of French refugees to Britain, this time Roman Catholic and royalist, many of them priests, many of them aristocrats. A large number settled at least temporarily in the fashionable and still-developing district of south Marylebone, where the executed Louis XVI’s younger brother the Comte d’Artois (from 1824 to 1830 Charles X of France) held court in Baker Street. Consequently, Marylebone became a vital counter-revolutionary centre and it is likely that this association with France helped to bring about the dominance of the French-sounding form of the place name.

    The French Chapel in 1890. Watercolour by Thomas G. Appleton. (© Westminster City Archives)

    One of thousands to flee to Britain was the Bishop of St Pol-de-Léon, Jean François de La Marche (1729–1806), who landed in Cornwall from a smuggler’s boat in 1792. As the effective leader of the exiled French clergy, working with the Vicar Apostolic of London, Bishop John Douglass, de La Marche was behind the opening of several French chapels including that in Marylebone. There was already a Roman Catholic chapel there, recently opened in association with the Spanish embassy in Manchester Square, the forerunner of present-day St James’s, Spanish Place. But a makeshift French chapel was soon set up in Paddington Street, in a house on the corner of Dorset Mews East (now Kenrick Place), under the charge of the Abbé François Bourret of the Society of Saint-Sulpice.

    Extract from the Ordnance Survey 25-inch map, 1875, showing the French Chapel in Little George Street, just south of King Street. (Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland)

    In 1798 the site for a permanent chapel was found on the Portman estate in Little George Street, a now-vanished mews just east of Gloucester Place between King Street (part now of Blandford Street) and George Street. The street was as yet only half built up. Funds for building came from French exiles and English sympathizers, Protestant as well as Catholic, including the Marchioness of Buckingham who had converted to Catholicism in 1788. A substantial grant came from the Montreal branch of the Society of Saint-Sulpice. Much of the physical work was carried out by priests and their compatriots. Dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation, the chapel opened on 15 March 1799 with a grand service of consecration attended by French royalty and senior ecclesiastics. Over the following decades, the chapel saw many important services, attended by many of the leading members of the royal houses of Bourbon and Orléans.

    Front elevation, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

    In its original form, the chapel was exceptionally modest, externally plain and comprising a narrow space with a single aisle. In 1815, following the restoration of the monarchy, Louis XVIII formally granted it the status of Chapel Royal and a grant sufficiently large to allow pew-rents to be abolished. This led to the attendance of many poor Catholics, Irish and English as well as French, and the chapel had to be enlarged, resulting in a second aisle, gallery, and additional accommodation. Financial support from France stopped with the revolution of July 1830, but was later reinstated, finally ending under the Third Republic in 1881. Thereafter the chapel depended, as originally, on voluntary subscriptions and became effectively a private chapel. A fund-raising campaign for repairs and a new lease from the Portman Estate was set up under the leadership of Cardinal Manning, who rededicated the chapel to St Louis de France. Improvements to the building in 1886 were overseen by the architect Henry Petit of Welbeck Street (1847–1926), whose Paris-born parents had eventually settled in Marylebone. But when the new lease was obtained it was for only 25 years.

    Ground plan, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

    As described in 1886, the interior of the chapel was ‘scarcely larger than an ordinary drawing room’, with the main altar and ‘a diminutive stand for an American organ’ at the far end, facing the gallery, which was at one time set aside for royalty. There were windows only at the front, and the space was therefore dependent on toplighting. A winding staircase to the side of the gallery gave access to the priests’ living quarters and ancillary rooms.

    Upper level plan, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

    The chapel was to acquire a number of valuable furnishings and artefacts, but perhaps the most remarkable was the original altar painting of the Annunciation, the work of the Roman Catholic artist Maria Cosway, then living at Stratford Place in Oxford Street, with her husband the miniaturist Richard Cosway. This was destroyed in 1858, when velvet hangings over the altar caught light at the funeral of the Countess de Lavradio, wife of the Portuguese Ambassador.

    Long section, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

    By the end of the century, Marylebone was no longer a particular centre of the London French community and the building had largely been superseded by the church of Notre Dame de France in Leicester Place, opened in 1868. Closure followed soon after the death of the long-serving priest, the Very Rev. Louis Toursel or Tersel, in 1910, a final service being held on 12 February 1911. Soon afterwards the seating and other fittings were stripped out. The lease had only a couple of years to run and although there was some negotiation for a new one the unauthorized removal of the fittings caused difficulty and the building was surrendered together with a payment apparently for reinstatement. Later that year the London County Council decided to rename Little George Street after Sydney Carton of A Tale of Two Cities.

    Section, 1886, by Henry Petit, architect. (© Portman Estate)

    The chapel was used in 1912–14 by Anglicans as their Chapel of the Annunciation, while their church, the former Quebec Chapel on the corner of Bryanston Street and Old Quebec Street, was rebuilt. During the First World War it was used for training women and girls to make toys and gloves, items which until the war had been imported from Germany and Austria. Later it was used as a furniture warehouse, as an undertaker’s chapel and as a public hall, called Carton Hall. From 1946 until the completion of a new synagogue in Crawford Place in 1957 it was occupied as the Western Synagogue, housing a congregation bombed out of their old West End building. In 1958 it was acquired by Angus McKenzie, who employed the cinema architect Leslie C. Norton to turn it into the original Olympic Sound Studios. Recordings made there included Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’ in 1964. By that time redevelopment schemes for the whole block were being pursued. The building was demolished in 1969 and Carton Street itself ceased to exist.

    Maria Cosway’s altarpiece painting. Mezzotint of 1800 by Valentine Green. (© Trustees of the British Museum)

    Doorcases in South-East Marylebone

    By the Survey of London, on 27 July 2018

    In 2017 the Survey of London published two volumes (Nos 51 and 52) covering South-East Marylebone, an area comprising much of the West End north of Oxford Street. Historically and architecturally, this is an area of extraordinary richness and variety, resonant with famous names and associations, from the Adam brothers’ Portland Place and Nash’s Park Crescent to the medical specialists of Harley and Wimpole Streets, and much more besides.

    We would like to present here a varied assortment of doorcases in the area, from handsome eighteenth-century survivals and neo-Georgian designs, to plain doorways for blocks of modest flats and elaborate entrances for shops and institutions.

    Hereafter, the Survey of London’s blog will take a summer break. Posts will resume in September.

    Mansfield Street was laid out by the Adams on the Portland estate from c.1768, and was largely complete by 1772. Elevationally the Mansfield Street houses were typical of the Adams’ approach to terrace compositions, with the exteriors generally subservient architecturally to the interiors. The plain but elegantly proportioned brick façades resembled the less-decorative ranges of the Adelphi, any ornament being reserved for the entrance door surrounds. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    13 Mansfield Street and other neighbouring houses exhibit an early use of one of Robert Adam’s most successful designs for street architecture – a grand door surround with a wide semicircular fanlight comprising concentric inner and outer rings of delicate glazing, but extending beyond the width of the doorway to embrace slim rectangular side-lights. There are obvious similarities with Serliana, but it has been suggested that Adam derived this idea of a wide semicircle from the Porta Aurea of Diocletian’s Palace in Spalatro (now Split). It was a form that recurred throughout his work, both externally and in internal features, such as mirrors. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    29 Beaumont Street, a house built c.1890 for the livery-stableman William Burton, with an elaborate entrance in rubbed brick. Burton ran livery stables and a horse dealership in Marylebone High Street from 1857. From about 1872 he was also operating as a job master from stables in Paddington and Notting Hill, and in 1877 in Oxford Street. By the late 1880s the Marylebone stables were mostly or wholly used for dealing, and in 1890–1 Burton had them rebuilt, together with a saddler’s shop (now 30 Beaumont Street) and a house for his family (now 29 Beaumont Street). Thomas Durrans was the architect, and H. C. Clifton of Bayswater the contractor. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    93A Harley Street (Harley Lodge), frontage to Weymouth Street. This is a fine example of the double-fronted mews house rebuildings, this time of the early 1900s. Like its dourer stone-fronted equivalent at 90A Harley Street, it was designed in 1911 for the developer Charles Peczenick by Sydney Tatchell, but on this occasion in a more playful red-brick and stone neo-Georgian manner, with a semicircular-headed entrance set in an Ionic doorcase. In medical use from the beginning, it is now, like many of its type, a private dental surgery. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    This purpose-built institute and club connected with the Mission of the Good Shepherd in Paddington Street was designed by the architect and vestryman Thomas Harris. The foundation stone was laid by the Duchess of Portland in July 1898 and the completed premises, built by H. H. Sherwin of Waddesdon, were opened in January 1900 by the Duke and Duchess of Fife. For the front elevation Harris produced an interesting and eclectic design, executed in red sand-faced brick interlarded with blocks of buff terracotta produced by J. C. Edwards of Ruabon. Though the overall manner is Arts and Crafts, Gothic is there in the ogees over the windows and emphatically in the canopied figure of the Good Shepherd, sculpted by John Daymond III or possibly his son John Dudley Daymond. It is mounted over a panel of arty lettering. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    In 1923–4, 17 Cavendish Square was taken by the piano-makers John Brinsmead & Sons Ltd, previously across Wigmore Street, and an ostentatious refurbishment ensued. The architects T. P. Bennett & Hossack oversaw the Adamesque stucco embellishment of the Wigmore Street elevation with a new entrance and shopfront. Gilbert Bayes was the sculptor responsible for lower-storey reliefs of classically draped standing figures representing Science, Music and Art, and a panel depicting an orchestra of eleven naked child musicians. These received gushing encomiums – ‘a delightful conceit’, ‘a captivating piece of work’, and an eight-page spread in the Architects’ Journal(© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    4 Moxon Street (formerly known as Paradise Place) incorporates a plain doorcase and a gateway designed to give access to the premises of W. N. Davis, of Davis & Son, old-established dyers and cleaners with adjoining premises at 91 Marylebone High Street. Davis’s architect was E. V. New of New & Son. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    View of the entrance to 4 Moxon Street. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    11 Queen Anne Street was one of ten houses built by George Mercer between Chandos Street and Harley Street, and completed in 1764. From 1777 to 1780, the house was nominally occupied by ‘the Wicked Lord’, Lord William Byron, great uncle of the poet, but it is doubtful whether he spent much time there. The timber doorcase to this house, Doric columned with a deep open pediment, is similar to that at No. 24. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    No. 68 Harley Street was rebuilt in 1905–6 for Alfred Herbert Tubby, an orthopaedic surgeon. The architect was E. Harding Payne, the builder A. J. Vigor of Westminster. The front is of stone and red brick with some Wren-inspired detailing. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Melcome Regis Court at 59 Weymouth Street is a block of flats built in 1934–5 by Gee, Walker & Slater Ltd. The architects were Marshall & Tweedy, but elevational design and supervision of details were undertaken by Colonel Blount at the Howard de Walden Estate, the result characteristically heavy-going. The pointed-arched Gothic doorway is framed by a doorcase with tripartite leaded windows and a stepped motif, and flanked by shopfronts. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    No. 28 Welbeck Street was completed and first occupied in 1770–2. It has a handsome Doric doorcase with attached fluted columns and a frieze with paterae. The adjoining No. 27 was rebuilt in 1893 by J. Simpson & Son to designs by C. H. Worley, lessee and architect, replacing the original house built by George Mercer. The façade features a canted bay through all five floors, with a gabled attic. The detailing is straightforward except for an oversized hooded front door. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Two curiosities on the London Hospital estate in Whitechapel

    By the Survey of London, on 6 July 2018

    The Governors of the London Hospital acquired a large tract of land to the south and south-west of their hospital in the eighteenth century. Initially this was a buffer, to preserve healthful open space. But it was soon built up, largely with streets of houses, and has more recently been redeveloped in parts for hospital expansion. This post presents two unconnected but differently surprising sites on this territory, one on either side of New Road.

    London Action Resource Centre, 62 Fieldgate Street

    This building has a remarkable chequered, yet consistent, and distinctly Whitechapelian history. It was erected in 1866–7 as a mission house and infants’ school for the parish of St Mary Matfelon Whitechapel. First plans were to extend on the garden of an existing house, but in July 1866 the Rev. James Cohen gained the London Hospital’s approval for complete rebuilding, displacing two houses on Charlotte Street (as the east end of Fieldgate Street was called until 1894), the second so that the top end of Parfett Street (formerly Nottingham Place and a cul-de-sac) could be narrowly opened up. The establishment was known variously as St Mary’s Mission House and the Charlotte Street Infants’ School, the building’s purpose signalled through the use of simple Gothic Revival forms. The originally single-storey rear range had high-silled segment-headed windows and a glazed roof to a room for mothers’ meetings, evening readings and mission work. It communicated with the main block through a wide pointed-arched opening. Double-iron handrails on the main block’s stairs seem designed to provide for young children. Mission use continued up to about 1918.

    62 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, as built in 1866-7 as the Charlotte Street Infants’ School and Mission House. (from the parish of St Mary Matfelon’s annual report of 1883-4, Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives)

    The building was next used for a few years by Jewish anarchists as an International Modern School, following the inspiration of libertarian and non-coercive ‘modern’ schools established in Barcelona by Francesc Ferrer I Guàrdia. Attendance rose to more than 100, but funding difficulties prevented longevity. Arbeter Fraynd (Worker’s Friend), a Yiddish radical weekly paper, and its Jubilee Street anarchists’ club premises had been shut down in 1915. For a time the building at 62 Fieldgate Street was also used as the New Worker’s Friend Club, and by the East London Anarchist Group.

    In 1925 the building was converted into a synagogue for the Linus Hazedek and Bikur Cholim congregation, founded with a mission to help the sick, and moving here from Burslem Street on the other side of Commercial Road. Parfett Street had been further widened to the west in 1902–3, and a new door was formed in that side elevation in 1934, but the synagogue did not survive beyond the 1940s. Abraham Spitalowitch, a tailor, was in occupation by 1951, and other garment-makers passed through. Conversion works for continued rag-trade use that included raising of the former classroom to the rear were intended from 1978, but not carried through, though a shopfront for a showroom was inserted in 1981 for Sophia Fashions. Thereafter the building fell into dereliction.

    The London Action Resource Centre, 62 Fieldgate Street, view from the north east in 2016. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

    In 1999 a group arising from that decade’s Reclaim The Streets movement conceived the need for a base or action resource centre for direct-action and anarchist groups. Without awareness of the building’s history, 62 Fieldgate Street was purchased, largely through a single supporter with inherited wealth. Refurbishment works for office, workshop and library use as what was initially the Fieldgate Action Resource Centre were carried out in 2001–2 to plans by Anne Thorne Architects Partnership. These involved rebuilding and raising the rear section, which was given a roof garden. Figural graffiti on the shutters is by Stik.

    Shuttered shopfront at 62 Fieldgate Street, with graffiti by Stik. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

    Front door at 62 Fieldgate Street. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

    The Survey of London gratefully acknowledges information supplied by Mark Kauri, Laura Oldfield Ford, Tina Papanikolaou and Aikaterina Karadima.

    The Blizard Building, 4 Newark Street

    This sleek glass-fronted block was constructed in 2003–5 to provide a medical research centre for Queen Mary University of London. It was designed by the late Will Alsop in collaboration with AMEC, with Adams Kara Taylor as structural engineers. The building occupies an extensive site on the London Hospital estate, bounded by Newark Street to the north, Turner Street to the east, and Walden Street to the south, with its western boundary abutting the university’s Abernethy Building and Biosciences Innovation Centre.

    The Blizard Building, looking north in early 2018. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

    The Blizard Building is composed of two narrow glass-clad steel-framed pavilions east and west, separated by a central paved yard. These discrete monolithic blocks are connected at first-floor level by a slender bridge encased in panels of bright pink and red glass, and an extensive concrete basement that engulfs the larger part of the footprint of the site. The glass cladding of the pavilions is adorned by a series of colourful panels designed by the artist Bruce Mclean, and incorporates words chosen by Professor Mike Curtis and Professor Fran Balkwill, scientists based at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University. The building is named in honour of Sir William Blizard, the eminent surgeon and one of the founders of the medical college which opened at the London Hospital in the 1780s.

    The west elevation of the east pavilion of the Blizard Building, showing a few of the abstract panels designed by Bruce Mclean in collaboration with professors at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. The white elliptical Cloud pod is visible inside the building. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

    The east pavilion of the Blizard Building comprises offices and study spaces skirting a large void, occupied by four pods of pioneering constructional complexity, each ‘playful, curvaceous, hollow and equally outlandish in different ways’. [1] Supported by a series of steel props and suspended steel hoops, Centre of the Cell is a two-storey children’s educational unit and exhibition space encased in an orange bubbling structure inspired by the nucleus of a cell. Its smooth surface contrasts markedly with Spiky, a prickly steel-framed structure zipped in a black PVC-coated polyester membrane. Both structures were designed and assembled in collaboration with Architen Landrell. Design & Display was contracted to produce Cloud, a steel-framed elliptical structure raised on steel legs, and Mushroom, an open deck supported by three vertical concrete posts. Cloud and Spiky contain spaces for seminars and meetings, and Mushroom is a staff social area.

    The east pavilion of the Blizard Building, looking towards Spiky, a pod designed by Will Alsop in collaboration with Architen Landrell. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

    The narrower west pavilion contains a double-height entrance foyer with a cafe, service plants, and a lecture theatre with tiered seating for 400 spectators. The large basement extends beneath the pavilions and the yard, receiving natural light from circular skylights and the light well in the east pavilion. It contains an assortment of open-plan and separate research laboratories.

    The latest ‘neuron’ pod in the course of construction, May 2018. (Photographed by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

    At the time of writing, a ‘neuron’ pod is in the course of installation at the north end of the bleak yard between the pavilions. Accessed via the central glazed bridge, this addition is intended to provide space for educational workshops, events and exhibitions. Designed by Will Alsop to represent a nerve cell, the new pod will be a prefabricated steel-framed structure resting on three legs, its main body encased in a steel skin sprouting acrylic fibres.

    The Blizard Building from Turner Street, showing the reflection of the modern block of the Royal London Hospital and the Yvonne Carter Building, a neo-Georgian block of 1975–7 designed to imitate the scale and materials of houses built on the hospital’s estate in the nineteenth century. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)


    [1] Building, Vol. 270, No. 8383 (27 May 2005), pp. 38–45.


    By the Survey of London, on 15 June 2018

    In 2012 the Survey of London published the 48th volume in our main series, on Woolwich. Among recent Survey volumes this has been a best-seller, comparatively speaking, but it has only been fully accessible as a substantial printed book, published for English Heritage (then the Survey’s host institution) by Yale University Press on behalf of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

    The front cover of Woolwich shows the Crimean War Memorial (1861–2, John Bell, sculptor), the female figure representing Honour, and beyond the Royal Artillery Barracks (1774–7 and 1802–6). Photographed by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London. (© Historic England)

    Many with an interest in the area have found the book difficult to get at, or, we surmise, failed to discover its existence. Draft text files that were placed online before publication to seek comments have remained accessible, but these are no substitute for the finished publication, with its numerous beautiful drawings and photographs. We are pleased now to be able to make illustrated pdfs of Woolwich openly accessible here (link). The whole volume is available, divided up into chapter files. Volumes 1 to 47 of the Survey of London have all been online for some time via British History Online (link). Printed copies of Woolwich can be purchased from Yale University Press (link) and other retailers.

    Beresford Square from the north-west in 2009. Photographed by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London. (© Historic England)

    Woolwich was the first Survey volume to cover any part of south London in more than fifty years, and the first ever south-east London parish volume. It deals with one of London’s most intriguing districts, a place with a vigorously independent record.

    A Thames-side settlement with pre-Roman origins, Woolwich grew from Tudor times into a dynamic military and naval centre, crucial to the country’s defences. In the Royal Naval Dockyard and the Royal Arsenal, both beside the Thames, vast skilled workforces wrought ships and armaments in ever-expanding series of specialized structures that are fully chronicled and analysed in this volume.

    Gates of the Royal Arsenal’s Shot and Shell Foundry, 1856, designed by Charles Baily and made by the Regent’s Canal Iron Works. Drawing by Jon Bedford for the Survey of London. (© Historic England)

    In due course, pressure on space pushed the military to expand onto the open uplands of Woolwich Common. Here the grand set pieces of the Royal Artillery Barracks and Royal Military Academy survive, along with the training landscape of Repository Woods.

    Between riverside and common, the town of Woolwich benefited from this military presence, but also struggled with poverty. It maintained a proud life of its own, expressed in buildings that include a noble Edwardian town hall set in an early municipal enclave; big co-operative department stores that represent a strong local history of mutualism; distinctive churches, including one by Pugin; and fine 1930s cinemas. Shops have thrived on Powis Street, and Woolwich has always been an important point for crossing the Thames – its Free Ferry still operates. Most of the domestic fabric is of post-war date and there are historically significant housing estates. Manufacturing departed in the 1960s and Woolwich declined. Since the 1990s there has been new investment, bringing great change.

    Woolwich Town Hall, 1903–5, Alfred Brumwell Thomas, architect, long section through the entrance hall and detail of an electrolier. Drawings by Jon Bedford and Hannah Clarke for the Survey of London. (© Historic England)

    With a Crossrail (Elizabeth Line) station in the offing, that change has accelerated since our book was published. In 2018 Woolwich is faced with several controversial development schemes: between the High Street and Powis Street; on the former Woolwich Polytechnic ‘island block’ north of Wellington Street; west of General Gordon Square, where a 27-storey tower is proposed; at the north end of Woolwich New Road and round to Plumstead Road (the Spray Street site); at the Morris Walk Estate; and in the far north-west corner of the parish. Some of these sites are illustrated below. We hope that the historical information we are now making more accessible will help to inform discussions.

    Furlongs Garage, Woolwich High Street, multi-storey block of 1938–9 to the rear with service forecourt and showroom of 1955–6 to the front. Redevelopment proposed in 2018. Pen and ink drawing of 2009 by Peter Cormack for the Survey of London.

    Aerial view from the south in 2008, showing Woolwich Town Hall (centre front) and the former Woolwich Polytechnic or ‘island’ block (right) which is set for redevelopment in 2018. Photographed for the Survey of London. (© Historic England)

    The former Royal Mortar Hotel, Woolwich New Road, 1890–1, Henry Hudson Church, architect. Part of an otherwise Edwardian range of buildings threatened with demolition in 2018. Photographed in 2009 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London. (© Historic England)

    Morris Walk Estate, 1962–6, built for the London County Council as Britain’s first housing estate to deploy the Larsen-Nielsen industrialized building system. Demolition underway in 2018. This is page 321 from Woolwich, with drawings by Andrew Donald for the Survey of London (© Historic England), photographs from London Metropolitan Archives.

    Park Crescent: John Nash, Charles Mayor and one of the severest bankruptcies in London building history

    By the Survey of London, on 25 May 2018

    The Park Crescent of today is a post-war replica. A combination of poor original building methods, wartime damage and heavy-handed reconstruction policies has left little or no old fabric from the ‘semi-circus’ conceived by John Nash and built with much difficulty between about 1812 and 1822. Even that was only half of the full circus Nash had planned. Yet despite those early failures, despite also its present lack of authenticity, Park Crescent remains one of London’s most memorable episodes of urban planning.

    Park Crescent. Eastern crescent. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Three colonnaded circuses featured in Nash’s immortal scheme to link Whitehall and Westminster with Marylebone Park by way of what became Regent Street, as first published in 1811. All occupied critical junctures or points of transition, where traffic-ridden east-west routes broke the new line of procession, for Nash believed that the circus form invested such crossings with dignity and lessened the psychological sense of a barrier – something he strove to overcome so as to make the Crown’s developments around Regent’s Park feel accessible and eligible to Londoners of high standing. Confusingly, all three rond-points went at first by the informal name of Regent or Regent’s Circus. Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus, carved laboriously out of existing building fabric by compulsory purchase under the New Street Act of 1813, had to be quite small and in the event lacked the colonnades Nash had hoped for. Both have long gone, and though Oxford Circus survives as a concept, it is higher and slightly wider than Nash’s original creation.

    The third circus was to be different altogether. Over 500ft in diameter, it came at the point where the city eased into a gracious modern suburb, beyond the final obstacle of the New (now Marylebone) Road. But the shape and texture of that suburb shifted greatly over the years of its creation, with implications for the third circus. So much can be gathered from the fate of a fourth circus, the largest of all, devised by Nash as a central focus for Regent’s Park. Marked the Great Circus on the plan of 1811, when bands of continuous housing were anticipated within the park as well as on its periphery, it was then reserved for concentric terraces. Ultimately, it acquired a bare smattering of villas and became the Inner Circle, a low-key feature in the park landscape. With the opening-out of that landscape in the 1820s and the failure to develop the northern sector of the third circus, Park Crescent turned into a prelude to the park rather than the transitional interlude Nash intended.

    Park Crescent and Portland Place area from the west in 2011. (© Historic England, Damian Grady)

    If the circus was the most striking of the crop in town-planning terms, it was also among the first elements of the Office of Woods and Forests’ plan for Regent Street and Regent’s Park to be implemented. Its site, Crown farmland, was in hand, so that it could be started even before the New Street Act authorised the complete scheme in 1813. Not surprisingly, Nash invested energy and urgency in getting it along. By the end of 1811 the hunt was on for a single builder brave and resourceful enough to take on both the whole of the circus, where Nash envisaged large first-rate houses, and the extension of Harley Street, for which he proposed brick-faced houses on narrower frontages. By March 1812 he had hooked his fish. ‘Mr Mayor is willing to adopt the elevation I had proposed to him, which is to encircle the whole with a collonnade of coupled columns surrounded [sic] by a ballustrade’. [1] Charles Mayor had started out as a jobbing carpenter and undertaker. In 1800 he successfully took over the north side of Brunswick Square from James Burton and built other houses near by. More to the point, he and Nash had been collaborating over a house in Foley Gardens south of Portland Place.

    By May 1812 Nash and Mayor had worked out a detailed plan and schedule. Together they increased the diameter of the circus to 724ft, giving some houses frontages of up to 100ft but in consequence making them shallower and cramping the mews spaces behind. The timetable stipulated the first roofings-in and issuing of leases at the southern end to be by August 1814 and the final ones in the northern sector by August 1816. Nash projected Mayor’s overall outlay at about £300,000 and urged the Crown authorities to buy the improved ground rents so as to guarantee his liquidity. Mayor got the final go-ahead in July. Soon afterwards Nash was arranging to show his whole plan to the Prince Regent, telling Alexander Milne of the Woods and Forests: ‘It will be very impolitic not to pursue this course if we wish HRH to take up the measure con amore’. [2]

    92–98 Portland Place. Original plan of houses as leased to Charles Mayor in 1813. From plans in the National Archives, CRES2/752. (Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    Mayor got going fast enough to ask for his first leases between December 1812 and August 1813. These concerned the southernmost houses on both sides of Regent’s Circus and also some smaller brick-fronted ones that were to connect Portland Place with the circus (Nos 77–81 on the west and 92–96 on the east). Though these leases were duly issued, little finishing work can have taken place within the carcasses. For financial reasons Mayor evidently hoped to secure as many leases as he could as fast as might be. To that end he appears to have embarked upon the cellars of almost the whole of the southern semi-circus and even to have done some excavation on the northern side of the New Road.

    Then things started to unravel. With the Napoleonic Wars reaching their climax, it was a bad time for builders. Few people were in the market for houses, yet building materials were going up in price. Mayor seems to have done nothing elaborately tricky: with Nash egging him on, he just miscalculated and was drawn into one of the severest bankruptcies in London building history. His slow-down during 1813 must have been well-noted. ‘Every stimulus should be applied to Mr Mayor to complete his Circus,’ urged Nash in a report to the Commissioners on changes planned for the park that December, ‘which will carry that character of respectable building into the heart of the Park and tempt the higher classes of society to come there’. [3]

    Park Crescent. Western crescent. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The first half of 1814 saw little progress apart from an intended pub built by James Smith of Norton Street on back land between Harley Street and the circus. In the autumn Mayor appealed to the Woods and Forests for a loan, admitting: ‘I am absolutely at a Stand Still’. Nash, asked for advice, reported just before Christmas with his usual optimism that with eleven houses covered in, another six up to the chamber floor, excavation in some state of forwardness for the whole of the circus and a million and a half bricks on site, the developer ought to have enough security to win through – ‘if the half circus can be completed in the course of the next year (I mean externally)… his speculation will have a favourable issue’. [4] With the Crown declining to lend, vary terms or purchase ground rents, the creditors deemed otherwise. Mayor was carted off to the Fleet Prison early in 1815 and the grindstones of bankruptcy began to turn.

    Like other bankrupts, Mayor was allowed out on day release, and made efforts to realize his assets. He managed to let the Foley Gardens house, but a severe injury, incurred while inspecting one of the Regent’s Circus houses in February 1816, cannot have helped. One bankruptcy commission superseded another. So persistent was the post-war slump that Mayor’s assignees were wary of trying to finish the speculation themselves and disappointed when they tried to sell off assets. Meanwhile the carcasses in sundry states of scruffiness and dereliction scared off buyers.

    Park Crescent and the New Road, looking west towards Marylebone parish church. From Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, 1822. (Wikimedia Commons, from

    John Shaw, the architect and surveyor to the Eyre Estate, claimed that it was thanks to ‘a very extraordinary man, Mr. Farquhar’, who put money in as a speculation, that building resumed at what was to become Park Crescent. This was the former East India Company’s gunpowder contractor, John Farquhar. He died in 1826 leaving property in the vicinity of Park Crescent, but no further evidence of his involvement has come to light. [5] In 1817 the Great Portland Street builder William Richardson, apprised that Mayor’s assignees were not going to complete the development themselves, sought terms for both the Harley Street continuation and for finishing the western half of the crescent, where foundations were partly laid. A bigger, City-based contractor, Henry Peto, then bought the three carcasses on the east side of Portland Place (Nos 92–96), completing them ‘in the first style of elegance’, and went on to take most of the eastern quadrant, excepting its tip, assigned to Samuel Baxter and the corner house No. 15. Peto bought the ground rent from this last from a mortgagee, but the house itself was evidently completed by Mayor’s assignees, who decided to sell it in 1820.

    In the early stages Peto was hampered by the collapse of a party wall between two of the Portland Place houses during a storm in March 1818. There had been a bad fire in one of these in 1814, on which Nash blamed the fall. Peto was adamant that the houses had been built with bricks ‘mostly of the very worst description and totally unfit for use’, and laxly supervised – accusations that have haunted the Nash developments and Park Crescent in particular ever since – and commissioned an independent report to prove it. ‘I must beg to be allowed to treat the insinuations of my inattention and that of my clerks with contempt’, riposted Nash, adding that Peto ought to have noted the state of the houses when he bought them. [6]

    On both sides of the crescent, finishing off Mayor’s carcasses generally preceded the building of the other houses. The western crescent went up mainly in 1819–20; at the same time Richardson undertook the east side of Upper Harley Street, essentially following the original Nash-Mayor plan. Judging from a sketch of Park Crescent in 1820, Peto had as yet made little or no progress with his side. Beyond Mayor’s houses at Nos 13–15, the eastern quadrant was just excavated ground and derelict-looking pavement vaults, while No. 13 was in a ruinous state, with bare roof timbers and fallen brickwork. Perhaps the last of the houses to be started were Baxter’s at Nos 1–6, the first two of which were still in carcass in July 1821. The whole can have been barely finished when Ackermann published his prospect of The Crescent, Portland Place in 1822.

    Park Crescent. Eastern Crescent. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The name ‘Park Crescent’ is first encountered in the year 1821. By then it was abundantly clear that the half-circus north of the New Road would never go ahead. Ideas about the form of the park had radically changed, with a greater openness of landscape prevailing. Around 1820 Nash therefore scrapped the northern crescent altogether in favour of Park Square, square-sided with an open north end. The crescent furnished the park, the New Road and indeed London as a whole with a fresh and uplifting piece of unified urban scenery. Its semicircular profile, albeit only half of what had been planned, offered a decisive depth of sweep that an elliptical crescent would have lacked. On closer inspection the composition, as often with Nash, was sleek but shallow. Minimal projections and pediments at the ends do something to relieve the simple economy of the plastered elevations (originally in Roman cement, Bath-stone coloured, with the jointing perhaps sharper than it is today). But the main compositional trick is in the enfilade of the continuous ground-storey colonnade with coupled Ionic columns, a device integral to Nash’s overall New Street plan and surviving only here. The original agreement with Mayor lays some weight on the balustrades topping the parapets and colonnades, which were to be of stone, and on the iron fencing, which both fronted the deep continuous basements and ran laterally to shield the entrance bridges. As for the houses themselves, they were not the monster 100ft mansions Nash had first dreamt of, just good first-raters with fronts typically of 32ft, backs several feet wider, and ample stone staircases.


    [1] The National Archives (TNA), CRES2/748.

    [2] Ibid.

    [3] TNA, CRES2/742.

    [4] TNA, CRES2/752; B3/3365.

    [5] Report from the Select Committee on Crown Leases, p. 50.

    [6] TNA, CRES2/763.

    Looking for a lost painting of an Oxford Street chemist’s workshop by W. H. Hunt

    By the Survey of London, on 4 May 2018

    Can anyone help the Survey of London trace a remarkable lost watercolour of the chemist Jacob Bell’s workshop in Oxford Street by the famous early Victorian painter William Henry Hunt? Today the painting seems to be known only from a splendid print. But the original was in the library of the Chemists’ Club of New York in the 1930s, so the likelihood is that it is still somewhere in the United States.

    John Simmons and his apprentice working in the laboratory of John Bell’s pharmacy in Oxford Street. Engraving by J. G. Murray, 1842, after W. H. Hunt. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

    W. H. Hunt (1790–1864), sometimes known as ‘Birds Nest’ Hunt to distinguish him from his later contemporary William Holman Hunt, was among the finest and most delicate of English watercolour painters. Nearly all his works show intimate rural scenes, or close-up details from nature, among which his studies of bird’s nests and fruits are outstanding. He very seldom painted large or urban compositions – which makes his study of Bell’s workshop, originally entitled A Laboratory, the more intriguing.

    The story behind the painting appears to be as follows. Jacob Bell (1810–59) was the son and successor to John Bell, a chemist who founded a firm in Oxford Street still in existence today as John Bell & Croyden in Wigmore Street. Jacob was a man of wide interests and initiatives, in politics, art, photography and, above all, the better organization of his profession. He was effectively the founder of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. That took place in 1841, the very year in which A Laboratory was painted. It shows the workshop behind Bell’s shop, with John Simmonds, Bell’s apothecary and one of his father’s early apprentices, seated on a barrel stirring a crucible, while an apprentice boy, William, cleans a mortar. It seems a reasonable guess to suppose that the painting and the founding of the society are connected, and that Jacob Bell wanted to commemorate the charming but rather primitive state of the chemists’ premises at the time, before they were modernized.

    Jacob Bell had had some art-training himself and enjoyed many friends among artists, principally Edwin Landseer. So it is likely that he knew Hunt well, and asked him to paint the picture as a special favour. It was exhibited at the Society of Watercolour Painters’ annual exhibition in 1841, and then again at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, when it was lent by Jacob Bell. After Bell’s death the painting disappeared from view. Much later, in 1931, it was spotted on the walls of the library in the Chemists’ Club of New York and cleverly identified by an American scholar, Elsie Woodward Kassner. It was known to be English, and had been anecdotally known in the club as Michael Faraday washing apparatus for Sir Humphry Davy. Kassner wrote an article for the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association (Volume 20, number 3) correctly identifying the subject.

    That ought to have been that. But unfortunately the premises and holdings of the Chemists’ Club were sold in the 1980s and ‘90s. Some items went to the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, but the Hunt painting was not among them, and efforts to trace this unique work of art have so far proved unavailing. Fortunately we have a fine lithographic print of it by J. G. Murray, published in 1842, but to find and republish the original would be thrilling.

    Whitechapel pubs (and a brewery)

    By the Survey of London, on 13 April 2018

    As part of the Survey of London’s ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ project and for eventual publication in our Whitechapel volumes, Derek Kendall has been photographing the area. Lately, through the winter months, he has been concentrating his attention on pubs. These recent photographs illustrate a range of interiors and exteriors, some of better-known pubs and others less well known.

    The Princess of Prussia Public House, 15 Prescot Street. Built in 1913 and a good example of an attractively legible Trumans façade. (© Derek Kendall)

    Bar Indo, 133 Whitechapel Road. Built in 1854 as The Blue Anchor Public House after its predecessor was destroyed in a fire. Until the 1760s the pub on this site was called the David and Harp. (© Derek Kendall)

    Interior of Bar Indo, 133 Whitechapel Road, recast with the front window in 1928 for Charringtons. The Blue Anchor sign is in storage above the entrance lobby. (© Derek Kendall)

    View of bar with owners Peter and Katy Clarke. Bar Indo, 133 Whitechapel Road. (© Derek Kendall)

    The Blind Beggar Public House, 337 Whitechapel Road. A Tudor ballad about Henry de Montfort, who died in the Battle of Evesham in 1265, imagined that he survived blinded to be rescued by a woman from Bethnal Green, where he ended his days begging. That parish once hosted other pubs of the same name. This establishment’s origins seem to be late seventeenth century. The present building dates from 1894 when it was erected to designs by Robert Spence, the engineer and architect to Mann, Crossman & Paulin. (© Derek Kendall)

    The Blind Beggar, 337 Whitechapel Road. The blood-red ceilinged interior has been much remodelled. Latter-day notoriety turns around this pub being the site of the shooting of Georgie Cornell by Ronnie Kray in 1966. (© Derek Kendall)

    Exterior of The White Swan Public House, Alie Street, Whitechapel. Originally built in the early nineteenth century, this pub’s fabric has undergone substantial changes since then. (© Derek Kendall)

    The Brown Bear Public House, 139 Leman Street. This pub was in existence by 1745 and is said to have been rebuilt in 1830. (© Derek Kendall)

    View from the east of The Black Horse Public House, 40 Leman Street. An inn and public house has stood on this site since the late seventeenth century. The present building appears to date from 1879. (© Derek Kendall)

    View from the south of The White Hart Public House and Gunthorpe Street Passage. The White Hart is the only long-standing pub left on the north side of the High Street. On the corner of Gunthorpe Street, an alleyway established by the sixteenth century and formerly known as George Yard, it was certainly here by 1723, when sixteen apparently smuggled bushels of coffee ‘concealed in a Load of Faggots’, were confiscated from the yard of the White Hart Inn. The pub was probably rebuilt in the 1770s and its pilastered frontage dates from a modernisation of the 1830s. (© Derek Kendall)

    Front bar of the White Hart Public House. The interior is typical Brewers’ Tudor, from further renovations in the 1920s and 1930s, with dark panelling and suburban-deco leaded-glass panels in the roof light in the rear bar. (© Derek Kendall)

    View from the south of Albion Yard, formerly The Albion Brewery, 331–335 Whitechapel Road, which grew from origins in 1807 to become one of London’s major breweries under Mann, Crossman & Paulin, a major local employer and supplier up to closure in 1979. The brewery has been included here partly on account of its links to the longer-lived Blind Beggar public house immediately to its east. (© Derek Kendall)

    View of the clock tower of Albion Yard, formerly The Albion Brewery, 331–335 Whitechapel Road. The Albion Brewery was established behind the Blind Beggar in 1807. It was rebuilt and extended in 1863–8 and 1894–1902 for Mann, Crossman & Paulin. In 1958 merger with Watney Combe Reid & Co. created Watney Mann but a restructuring scheme led to closure of the brewery in 1979. The building was converted to flats in 1993–5. (© Derek Kendall)

    South elevation of Albion Yard, formerly The Albion Brewery, 331–335 Whitechapel Road. As The Buildings of England has it, this ‘brewhouse’ or fermenting house at the rear of the entrance courtyard is ’embellished in show-off Baroque style’. [1] That work of the late 1890s is likely due to Robert Spence, who was then Mann, Crossman & Paulin’s engineer and architect. The boldly sculpted St George and Dragon panel is the brewery’s trademark, a reference to the patron saint of Albion. (© Derek Kendall)


    [1] Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, 2005, p. 431.

    The Davenant Centre, 179–181 Whitechapel Road: part two

    By the Survey of London, on 23 March 2018

    A previous blog post (2 March 2018) presented the history of the Davenant School in Whitechapel from the 1680s through to the rebuilding of the Whitechapel Road front building in 1818. The two centuries since are accounted for here. Following closure of the Davenant Centre in 2017, the future of the site seems uncertain.

    Foundation School enlargement

    The formation of the Charity Commissioners in 1853 led to amalgamation of Whitechapel’s parish charities and the building of a Whitechapel Charities Commercial School on Leman Street. The Education Act and three Endowed Schools Acts of the years around 1870 and growing demand for school places were further backdrops to protracted discussions between the Whitechapel Trustees and the Charity Commissioners. Eventually in 1888 the Whitechapel Charities (embracing St Mary’s School and the Leman Street School) and the Davenant School were merged to form the Whitechapel Foundation, unified in adhering to Church of England religious instruction and amply provided for by historic charitable endowments. What had been Davenant’s Endowed Free School on Whitechapel Road, which had gone through a rocky period, was henceforward the Foundation School, a secondary school for 250 boys which was to be improved with new buildings (and a specified need for a chemical laboratory and workshops). The elementary schools (St Mary’s and Leman Street) were now, confusingly, called the Davenant Schools.

    Block plan showing Davenant and related school buildings and principal nearby sites as in 1953, buildings of 2016 in grey. (Drawing by Helen Jones for the Survey of London)

    With the new scheme settled, meetings chaired by the Rev. Arthur James Robinson in 1888 quickly approved plans for new buildings by Frank Ponler Telfer, the 24-year old son of one of the new Foundation’s Governors, John Ashbridge Telfer, a pawnbroker of 88 Whitechapel High Street. Another Governor was John Ashbridge, a solicitor based on the south side of Whitechapel Road (where the East London Mosque now stands) and the brother of Arthur Ashbridge, the District Surveyor for Marylebone who on occasions also acted as a surveyor for the Whitechapel Foundation. They were cousins to John Ashbridge Telfer. Their fathers, John Simpson Ashbridge and Somerville Telfer (who married Maria Ashbridge), and grandfather, John Ashbridge, had all been East London pawnbrokers. John Ashbridge and J. A. Telfer were the only Governors besides Robinson to attend a meeting with the Charity Commissioners in July 1888. The young Frank Ponler Telfer, whose mother Mary Ann was the daughter of John Ponler, a Wapping timber merchant, identified himself as a surveyor. He had served an apprenticeship in the City with George Andrew Wilson, architect and surveyor, during which the firm, as Wilson, Son & Aldwinckle, had in 1881 overseen alterations to the Duke’s Head public house immediately east of the school.

    Engraved view of the Whitechapel Foundation School, as designed by Frank Ponler Telfer in 1893. (Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives)

    A first complication to arise in 1890 was to do with the loss of light and air to the west of the school with the building of the Victoria Home (rebuilt in 1995–6 for the Salvation Army as Victoria Court at 177 Whitechapel Road). Arthur Ashbridge dealt with this and Telfer prepared new plans for what was to be called a Commercial School, now working with a new headmaster, Henry Carter. In 1891 the Governors split five to four against a new roadside building and in favour of a new building in the ‘garden’ (the playground and former burial ground), envisaging the road frontage being freed up for shops. Land along Old Montague Street was purchased to supplement what was already owned and four courts of small houses were cleared. On behalf of the Charity Commissioners Ewan Christian approved building in the playground, seemingly unaware that this would contravene the Disused Burial Grounds Act; his suggestions were otherwise largely bypassed. In 1892 nine firms of architects were invited to submit anonymised plans for a building behind the old school on the playground, to be on ‘columns and girders’ for an open ground floor so as not to lose the play space. Five schemes were received. That by Telfer was selected as the best, his father being one of the four inspectors. Other local architects, John C. Hudson and Herbert O. Ellis, placed second and third respectively. Telfer worked up his scheme in 1893 and building work followed in 1894–5 with J. S. Hammond and Son of Romford as contractors. Telfer was asked to ensure that the words ‘The East London Commercial School’ should appear in the floor and that a tablet should commemorate the governors. But the Charity Commissioners disapproved of the name and insisted it be the Whitechapel Foundation School. Fitting out followed in 1896. Already in 1898 most of the sixth-form boys were of Jewish origin, fathers being teachers of Hebrew, a furrier, waterproof manufacturer, butcher, tailor, and poultry and horse slaughterers, coming from as far as Stoke Newington, Camberwell and Upton Park.

    The assembly hall with covered playground and staircase of 1894–5 from the south in 2017. (Photograph by Shahed Saleem for the Survey of London)

    Stylistically ‘splendid Neo-Jacobean’, [1]  perhaps influenced by E. W. Mountford, Telfer’s two-storey building is of red brick with terracotta dressings, including mullion and transom windows, some with leaded lights, and scrolled gables. The competition brief forced formal ingenuity and resulted in a distinctive parti that is something of an architectural statement, albeit devised from Board School precedents. The ground-floor covered playground was outwardly articulated by arcaded piers. Within, cylindrical cast-iron columns and composite girders support the superstructure. The five-bay east–west assembly hall is grandly gabled – an intended flèche was vetoed by Christian. It has an arch-braced and barrel-vaulted wagon ceiling with turned tie beams and king posts. The south façade was visible from the passage through the old building across a now cleared yard, and the hall was approached by an eye-catching covered staircase with a stepped open arcade. This had been designed to be central, but was moved to the east bay and given a lobby at its head at the building committee’s suggestion, presumably for the sake of a larger yard. A nine-bay north–south range housed six classrooms and staff accommodation.

    The covered staircase of 1894–5 from the west in 2017 (photograph by Shahed Saleem for the Survey of London)

    Telfer was evidently accomplished, but despite this youthful opportunity his career did not take off. He identified himself in 1901 as an auctioneer, no longer a surveyor. He died in 1907, age 43.

    The assembly hall and staircase of 1894–5, south elevation and north-south section looking east. (Drawings by Helen Jones based on record drawings prepared for the Greater London Council in 1984)

    From 1900 to 1980

    The London County Council and the Board of Education imposed alterations and the addition of a Neo-Georgian north range parallel to Old Montague Street in 1908–9. Designed by Arthur W. Cooksey, this provided four more classrooms, a physics laboratory and an art room. There was no space or money for a gymnasium, but an enclosed fives court was added in 1915–17. This seems to betoken a consciousness of status in what became the Davenant Foundation School in 1928. It was, however, one of the smallest secondary schools in London and the only one unable to provide hot dinners. At the behest of the LCC, negotiations for an amalgamation or a move away from Whitechapel began in 1937, but these were interrupted by war and evacuation. There were wartime alterations to the front range for use as a centre for the Heavy Rescue Service. In the early 1950s voluntary-aid grammar-school status was granted and, despite a falling roll, a new range was added along Old Montague Street for a biology lab, library and two additional classrooms. As one pupil of the 1950s has recalled, ‘there was a large Jewish contingent who had to endure Christian hymns and prayers at morning assemblies. Many of us were already atheists so that side of things just washed over us!’ [2]

    Meanwhile, in the face of a decreasing local population, the LCC planned comprehensive redevelopment of the area. The school moved to Loughton, Essex, in 1965, a shift first suggested by the Ministry of Education in 1956. The Greater London Council’s Inner London Education Authority took the Whitechapel site and up to 1971 it was used for Walbrook College’s East London College of Commerce. The Victorian Society, Ancient Monuments Society and GLC Historic Buildings Division resisted a plan for clearance behind the already listed front building, use as a youth centre being suggested. This led to the listing in 1973 of the assembly hall and its staircase. Plans in 1975 to convert the school buildings to be an old persons’ club for the intended ‘Davenant Street’ housing development came to nothing and demolition north of the hall block ensued.

    Davenant Centre

    A scheme for refurbishment of the two surviving school buildings to be a community centre emerged from the GLC in 1984. In a project spearheaded by George Nicholson, Chair of the Planning Committee in the GLC’s last and defiantly radical days, more than £1m was made available for the formation of the Davenant Centre. This ‘community resources and training centre’ was to extend to include a new building on the empty site at 181–185 Whitechapel Road, all to house eight local groups: the Asian Unemployed Outreach Project, Dishari Shilpi Ghosti (musicians who had left the scene by 1988), the Federation of Bangladeshi Youth Organisations, the Progressive Youth Organisation, Tower Hamlets Advanced Technology Training, the Tower Hamlets Trades Council, the Tower Hamlets Training Forum, and the Jagonari Asian Women’s Resource Centre (which ended up with the adjacent new building – that is another story). With the Historic Buildings Division in close attendance, plans for the adaptation of the listed buildings were drawn up in 1984–5 by Julian Harrap Architects with Peter Stocker as job architect. Harry Neal Ltd carried out the building works in 1985–7, completion coming after the abolition of the GLC and despite an attempt by Westminster City Council to stop the works. The open ground floor under the hall was largely enclosed and the front block gained new stairs and partitions, an upper-storey tiered lecture room being preserved. The Centre’s Chair was Manuhar Ali and Adam Lazarus was its Development Worker. First use was as a youth club and for computer training, welfare advice, trade-union offices and meetings in the assembly hall. There was no reliable source of revenue so the hall had to be advertised for hire and the centre opened as a music venue in 1990.

    View to the back of the Davenant Centre’s front building in 2017. (Photograph by Shahed Saleem for the Survey of London)

    The Davenant Centre could not sustain itself. Led by Aliur Rahman it was obliged to instigate a further conversion in 2002. Carried out in 2005–6 through ESA Architects (Nic Sampson, job architect), Peter Brett Associates, consulting engineers, and Killby & Gayford, contractors, this introduced much more lettable office use, retaining space for a youth club on the west part of the front block’s ground floor. To maximise floor space a mezzanine floor was inserted, the loft was converted, and a glazed staircase in a ‘cylindrical pod’ was added to the rear. The 1890s hall was also adapted for office use, the interior retained. Despite debts and with support from Tower Hamlets Council the complex continued as the Davenant Centre up to 2017 when, rents having increased, it was obliged to close.

    1. Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, 2005, p. 400.

    2. ‘Davenant Foundation Grammar School’, Survey of London Whitechapel, July 2017.

    The Davenant Centre, 179–181 Whitechapel Road: part one

    By the Survey of London, on 2 March 2018

    An undemonstrative road-side building of 1818 and a showy but concealed rear addition of 1895 are all that is left standing in Whitechapel to represent a significant educational history. This spans more than three centuries and a site that extended from Whitechapel Road to Davenant Street and Old Montague Street. Until 2017 this history was sustained by a youth centre that perpetuated the name Davenant. Its closure in 2017 leaves the future of the two listed buildings uncertain. The history of the Davenant School in Whitechapel will be presented here in a two-part blog post.

    First Davenant School

    Ralph Davenant was the Rector of Whitechapel from 1668 who oversaw the rebuilding of the parish church of St Mary Matfelon in the 1670s. He was a fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and a descendant of Bishop John Davenant, a moderate Calvinist who had represented the English church at the synod of Dort in 1618; he was also a cousin to the historian Thomas Fuller. Planning for a school for the poor children of Whitechapel began in earnest in 1680, possibly following up an idea conceived by Davenant’s predecessor and father-in-law John Johnson. Johnson’s daughters, Mary Davenant (Ralph’s wife) and Sarah Gullifer, endowed two of three shares of an estate in Essex (Sandon, near Great Baddow) to be overseen by a newly formed body of trustees to maintain the school. When Davenant died in 1681 his will directed that £200 he was owed go directly to the building of the school, and that his goods be sold after his wife’s death to raise money to see the plan through.

    Mary Davenant lived on and the trustees struggled at first to find a site. However, the easterly stretches of Whitechapel Road were not fully built up in the 1680s and the parish held a large plot on the north side to the east of present-day Davenant Street for almshouses and a burial ground. The easternmost part of this land, a frontage of 50ft, was given up for the school in 1686 and building work ensued. Endowments proved insufficient and in 1701 an anonymous benefactor gave £1000 to clothe as well as educate the children at the ‘School House of Whitechappel Town’s End’. In 1705 the Rev. Richard Welton invested this money in Thames-side land at East Tilbury.

    The first Davenant School of the 1680s. (From Robert Wilkinson’s Londina Illustrata, 1819)

    The school building of the 1680s was a brick range with a seven-bay front, a single full storey with pairs of hipped dormers in a hipped roof flanking a pedimental centrepiece, all set behind a forecourt garden and enclosing brick wall. The main room on the west side was for the teaching of forty boys, that on the east for thirty girls, above were living spaces for the master and mistress. A single central doorway gave on to an open passage through to a garden at the back, the schoolrooms evidently entered from the sides of this passage. An aedicular niche above the main entrance rising up to the open pediment is said to have stood empty until the late eighteenth century, awaiting a figure of Davenant for which funds never stretched. Samuel Hawkins, the school’s Treasurer, then acquired and saw to the painting of a scrapped wooden statue of a figure in clerical dress to make up the deficit. There were further benefactions and by the 1790s the premises, already enlarged westwards after 1767, had been extended at the back.

    In early 1806 the Trustees decided to double the number of children and a shed and ‘dust-bin’ behind the school were converted to form an additional schoolroom. Anticipating the increased attendance, one of the Trustees, William Davis (1767–1854), the co-proprietor of a sugarhouse on Rupert Street who was to found the Gower’s Walk ‘school of industry’ in 1807–8, saw to it that the Rev. Andrew Bell was invited to Whitechapel to introduce his monitorial (Madras) system of education which had as yet made limited impact. Bell attended the school daily in September 1806 and with Davis’s fervent support and the employment of a trained assistant (Louis Warren, age 13), and then of a schoolmaster (a Mr Gover), both from Bell’s base in Swanage, they successfully established a showpiece in Whitechapel for wider evangelisation of the benefits of Bell’s monitorial system. This gained influential Anglican support and led in late 1811 to the foundation of the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales. The episode has caused the Davenant School to be hailed as the cradle of England’s ‘National’ schools.

    Block plan showing Davenant and related school buildings and principal nearby sites as in 1953 (buildings of 2016 in grey), drawing by Helen Jones for the Survey of London. Please click on the picture for a larger view. 

    St Mary Street School

    There followed in September 1812 the formation of the Whitechapel Society for the Education of the Poor, as a branch of the National Society. Daniel Mathias, Whitechapel’s Rector since 1807, headed this initiative towards educating more of Whitechapel’s poor children. A survey of the parish had uncovered 5,161 children under the age of seven and 3,204 above that age. Of the latter, 991 attended the thirty-two schools already in the parish, leaving 2,213 uneducated. Few parents attended church, providing an additional motive for the evangelical Society. A scheme coalesced for the establishment of a new school with a hall large enough for 1,000 to be taught on Bell’s (National Society) principles; it would also be used for religious service on Sundays. The first thought was to procure an adaptable building, but by early 1813 there were plans to build on land to the north of the 1680s school and a lease was agreed. In the event the Society decided to use this land to extend the parish’s burial ground eastwards and to build the school on the west part of the burial ground to face the recently formed St Mary (now Davenant) Street. The Vestry gave up the land and the Bishop of London approved the project in the summer of 1813. However, funds were wanting; despite a grant of £300 from the National Society, the building fund was more than £1,000 short of its target of £2,500. The Duke of Cambridge laid a foundation stone on 12 October 1813 in an opulent ceremony said to have been attended by thousands; that brought in £677 11 6 in donations. Completed in 1815, the building was among the earliest purpose-built National schools. It was also, as Nikolaus Pevsner had it in an unconscious recognition of the intended secondary use, ‘like a chapel’. [1]

    Davenant (formerly St Mary) Street in 1973, showing the National School of 1813-15. (Photograph by Dan Cruickshank at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives)

    Its architect remains unknown, though for circumstantial reasons Samuel Page is a candidate, as will be explained. It was a single-storey stock-brick barn of about 80ft by 120ft. Its round-headed window openings, some very tall, had cast-iron Gothic tracery. There were porches at both ends and a western clock turret. The main square room to the west was for the teaching of 600 boys, with a half-sized room beyond for 400 girls, all convertible into a single space. Two rows of square timber posts helped support a vast queen-post truss timber roof. There was a hot-air heating system, devised and paid for by Davis with John Craven, another Goodman’s Fields sugar-baker. Tom Flood Cutbush (the son-in-law of Luke Flood, see below) procured an organ, which he played himself, also arranging performances of oratorios in the 1820s.

    In 1844–5 the Rev. William Weldon Champneys oversaw reconfiguration of the east end, the girls’ room reduced, raised and given a railed balcony to create space below for an infants’ school, with living rooms for the master and mistress. Other subdivision for classrooms in the western corners followed in 1868–9 with G. H. Simmonds as architect.

    Ordnance Survey map, 1873, showing the Davenant and St Mary Street schools.

    The west porch was lost when St Mary Street was widened in 1881–2. George Lansbury, an alumnus around 1870, recalled ‘what a school-building! No classrooms, one huge room with classes in each corner and one in the middle.’ [2] The east part of the burial ground, disused from 1853, was taken for a playground from 1862. This was shared with the Davenant School as well as the Whitechapel Union, for which a disinfecting house was inserted in the ground’s north-east corner at the south end of Eagle Place in 1871. This workhouse shed gained notoriety as the mortuary to which some of the victims of ‘Jack the Ripper’ were taken in 1888. It was thereafter replaced. The National School was also known as the Whitechapel Society’s School, St Mary’s School or St Mary Street School. In 1874, 360 children were presented for examinations, a decade later 443. It had less cachet than the Davenant School, which, to Lansbury, was for ‘“charity sprats” – girls and boys dressed in ridiculous uniforms’. [3] After administrative changes there were adaptations in 1889–90, including the addition of a caretaker’s house to the north. The school continued under London County Council maintenance as Davenant Elementary Schools, its roll gradually declining from 784 in 1900 to 300 in 1938. It closed in 1939. After post-war use as a second-hand clothing warehouse and despite calls for its preservation, the building was demolished in 1975.

    St Mary Street School in course of demolition in 1975. (Photograph by Michael Apted, courtesy of Historic England Archive)

    Davenant School rebuilt

    Rebuilding of the original schools of the 1680s by the Charity School Trustees followed hard on the heels of the opening of the National School. Larger premises were wanted to accommodate 100 boys and 100 girls, again for the application of Bell’s system. The funding of this project had been given a start by Samuel Hawkins, who had donated £600 in 1808 for building a new school, and a coachbuilder called Lewis (possibly Thomas Lewis, a coach-master of 45 Leman Street), who gave £500 in 1817. Mathias was still the Rector and the Treasurer for the trustees was Luke Flood (1738–1818), a painter, corn chandler and corrupt magistrate and commissioner of sewers who had premises on Whitechapel Road (on the site of No. 57). Flood left £1,000 to the school when he died in February 1818; this was the most munificent of the period’s gifts. Flood’s son-in-law was the architect Samuel Page who had been acting as a surveyor for the parish since at least 1807. Around 1813 Page was also involved in securing an improved endowment for the school. It seems likely that he was charged with designing the school building; it is a characteristically sub-Soanian work. He was probably working with Thomas Barnes, the local bricklayer and house-builder, another trustee and commissioner of sewers who contributed £100 to the fund in 1818. Major Rohde, a Leman Street sugar refiner, was also a trustee. Another was William Davis, who succeeded Flood as Treasurer. The foundation stone was laid in June 1818 by the Duke of York; completion evidently followed quickly.

    The Davenant School’s front building of 1818, photographed as the Davenant Centre in 2017, by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

    The two-storey and basement five-bay yellow stock-brick building, roughly square on plan, was laid out to align with the workhouse. It originally had steps up to a raised ground floor at its central entrance arch, with a deeper railed area in front of the basement, and a dedicatory stone plaque in a blind arch above the entrance. There was a central staircase and a single classroom to each side on each of the main storeys. In the 1860s, after outbuildings to the west were given up, two blocks were built in the yard for boys, the front range being given over to girls. The plaque had been taken down before major changes in the mid 1890s that were part of a thorough reformation (of which more in the second post). The steps and the staircase were removed with the railings pushed back for a ground floor at pavement level for improved access to new buildings behind – a return to the open passage arrangement of the 1680s. The tympanum of the entrance arch gained a foliate terracotta panel (lost around 1980) and the legend above was changed from DAVENANT-SCHOOL to THE FOUNDATION SCHOOL in 1896, retaining WHITECHAPEL SCHOOL on the central blocking-course parapet above. The schoolrooms were converted in the 1890s to be a chemical laboratory and two workshops, a lecture room, library and dining room, with caretaker’s quarters.

    To be continued.

    Do you have any memories of the Davenant School? The Survey of London has launched a collaborative website titled ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ and welcomes contributions. Please visit:


    1 – Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London except the Cities of London and Westminster, 1952, p. 426.

    2 – As quoted in Roland Reynolds, The History of the Davenant Foundation Grammar School, 1966, p.51.

    3 – Ibid.

    Francis Sheppard (1921–2018)

    By the Survey of London, on 9 February 2018

    The Survey of London is sad to announce the death of Francis Sheppard at the advanced age of 96. Francis was the first General Editor of the Survey, between 1954 and 1983. During those 29 years he published sixteen volumes in its main or ‘parish’ series, an amazing rate of better than one volume every two years. Incomparably the most successful and productive editor the Survey has had, he stands second only to its founder, C. R. Ashbee, in stature and attainment.

    Francis Sheppard soon after his appointment to General Editor of the Survey of London in 1954.

    Francis came to the Survey of London at one of the many turning points in its history. For the first half of the twentieth century, the writing, research and publication of the series had been precariously balanced between an amateur committee of scholars and the London County Council, which over the years had taken on increasingly more of the costs and tasks involved. After the Second World War the committee could no longer continue, so the LCC was faced with bearing the whole responsibility. At first the editing work was undertaken by the remarkable Ida Darlington, who had started working on the Survey as an assistant in the 1920s but was promoted after the war to be the Council’s chief librarian. She produced two excellent volumes on Southwark (Volumes 23 and 25 in the series). But she could hardly carry on doing both jobs. So the LCC advertised for a full-time General Editor, with the brief of producing the Survey more regularly (once a year was the aspiration). The editor was to work closely with the LCC’s developing Historic Buildings Division, which would go on supplying the illustrations and the old-fashioned ‘architectural descriptions’ then still prevalent.

    Francis Sheppard at work.

    It was Francis’s achievement to turn this delicate assignment into a triumph, by dint of brilliant scholarship, tact, utter trustworthiness, amiability of manner and sheer hard work. He soon won the confidence of the LCC’s small Historic Buildings advisory committee, which at various times embraced such luminaries as John Summerson, John Betjeman and Osbert Lancaster. When the first of the Sheppard series, Volume 26 on South Lambeth, appeared in 1956, it was hailed by Betjeman (not yet on the HB committee) as ‘this great book’. Next he concentrated at the Historic Buildings Division’s request on the West End of London, where many Georgian streets faced possible redevelopment. There had previously been little in-depth scholarship on areas rich in architecture like St James’s, Soho and Mayfair. Between 1960 and 1980 Francis and his colleagues transformed the position, and in the process helped tip the balance towards the preservation of whole swathes of urban fabric. The most famous case was Covent Garden, where the Survey’s investigations, published in Volume 36 of the series, led to the listing of many previously overlooked buildings and helped lead to the drastic modification of the Greater London Council’s redevelopment plans for the area. The Survey and the Historic Buildings Division had been transferred over from the LCC to the GLC in 1965, and the planning controversies over Covent Garden were among many struggles within the Council. But Francis always wisely kept his head down, proving the Survey’s value by the reliability, quality and presentation of his team’s findings.

    Bird’s-eye view of Covent Garden Market area. Drawn by F. A. Evans and T. P. O’Connor. (Survey of London, Volume 36, Covent Garden, 1970)

    Never one to put himself forward, Francis always attributed much of the Survey’s growing reputation in those years to his colleagues. They included Marie Draper, who began working on the Survey in Ida Darlington’s day and did much of the research for the early history of Covent Garden, before becoming archivist to the Bedford Estate; Peter Bezodis, who took on the ground-breaking Volume 27 on Spitalfields almost single-handed, became Francis’s official deputy, and carried on with the Survey into the 1990s; and, latterly, Victor Belcher, John Greenacombe and Andrew Saint. But throughout his editorship Francis was the series’ mainstay and most productive writer. The Survey’s texts have always been firmly anonymous, but it is not hard to spot his direct and driving style of narrative writing. He loved nothing more than to piece together the complex story of some famous building. Examples of Sheppard setpieces are the accounts of Burlington House in Volume 32, the Pantheon in Volume 32 and the Royal Opera House in Volume 35.

    Royal Albert Hall, section looking south in 1932. Redrawn by F. A. Evans. (Survey of London, Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area, 1975)

    The Survey has always evolved. In the 1970s Francis turned its attention to Kensington, where he had been brought up. In Kensington, notably North Kensington, the first area to be tackled, the totality of the Victorian townscape was of greater moment than individual works of architecture. It became the Survey’s task to tease out how the original building development had come into being. Always eager to learn, Francis at this stage was greatly influenced by the new holistic urban history championed by his friend Jim (H. J.) Dyos, Michael Thompson, Michael Robbins and others. Volume 37, Northern Kensington, published in 1973, represented a fresh breakthrough. It has been many people’s favourite volume of the Survey ever since, with its beautiful drawings arranged in a freshly graceful format by the architectural editor of the time, James Stevens Curl, and largely drawn by the gifted John Sambrook. As to the text of Volume 37, packed with revelations about the doings and dealings of hitherto obscure local builders, Francis always attributed many of its innovations to Victor Belcher.

    Nos. 2–8 (consec.) Lansdowne Walk, plans, elevations and details. Drawn by F. A. Evans. (Survey of London, Volume 37, Northern Kensington, 1973)

    By the time Francis retired in 1983, three of the four Kensington volumes had been published. The unique formula on which the Survey prides itself today was by then in place: an all-but complete coverage of the built fabric of each area covered, with architecture to the fore, but underpinned by a full treatment of the social and economic character of the locality. Francis found the Survey of London a partial history of the best buildings in each parish. He left it a thriving and integrated record of London’s urban history, without a rival in any other major city.

    Nos. 56 and 58 Queen’s Gate Terrace, plans, elevations and details. Drawn by John Sambrook. (Survey of London, Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area, 1975)

    Despite his formidable work-rate on the Survey, Francis found time to write widely in his own name: learned articles, reviews (often for the now defunct Books and Bookmen) and books. His classic London, The Infernal Wen 1808–1870 came out in 1971, and a history of Brakspear’s, the Henley-on-Thames brewery across the street from where he lived, in 1979. Believing that his family deserved more space and better air than ‘the wen’ could afford, he had moved to Henley in the early 1950s, putting up with the punishing commute to London almost daily.

    Nos. 93–98 Park Lane, details of decorative ironwork. Drawn by Frank Evans. (Survey of London, Volume 39, The Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part I, 1977)

    Astonishingly he was also deeply involved with Henley’s civic life, where he served as councillor, alderman and mayor in 1970–1. That all began with a conservation struggle to save the venerable Catherine Wheel Inn in Hart Street, Henley. After his triumph over the developers, Francis set up the Henley Society. In his retirement years he wrote a history of the Museum of London, where he had been employed before working on the Survey, and a general history of London. He had a wide circle of friends in and around Henley, closest among them perhaps the historian Christopher Hibbert.

    Pelham Crescent, site and house plans, elevations and details. Drawn by John Sambrook. (Survey of London, Volume 41, Brompton, 1983)

    None of this was familiar to his colleagues, because Francis was a private and reticent person, though he could be excellent company, a warm friend and very funny when he chose. He is greatly honoured by his surviving colleagues and present-day successors.

    Survey of London ‘Main Series’ volumes published under Sheppard’s editorship.