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The Gunmakers’ Company’s Proof House complex, 46–50 Commercial Road, Whitechapel

By the Survey of London, on 21 February 2020

An irregular group of buildings on the south side of Commercial Road near its west end is a unique survival. Here a City Livery Company continues to exercise an original regulatory function on a site it has occupied for nearly 350 years. The buildings are the Gunmakers’ Company’s proof master’s house, proof house and receiving house (alternatively shop, office or room), all largely of the 1820s, and, to the west, the Company’s former Livery Hall, built in 1871, possibly incorporating earlier fabric from an East India Company storehouse of 1808.

The Gunmakers’ Company’s Proof House complex, showing the former receiving house and Gunmakers’ Hall, 46–48 Commercial Road, view from the north-east. Photographed in 2018 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers was instituted by charter in 1637, nearly fifty years after a group of gunmakers drew up draft procedures for proving the safety of firearms. Opposition from other interested parties – the Blacksmiths and Armourers – delayed the creation and adoption of the Company until a Royal Commission of 1631 recommended its institution. It received its charter from Charles I, but the proving of guns did not start until the charter was enrolled in 1656. This enabled the Company to test all new hand guns, great and small, pistols and daggs (heavy pistols), produced in London and for ten miles around, or imported, to search for the same, and to ensure that gunmakers had served a seven-year apprenticeship and produced a proof piece to the satisfaction of the Company. The Company’s first proof house, for testing the security of gun barrels by subjecting them to firing loads a quarter to a third heavier than normal, was built in 1657 near Aldgate on land owned by John Silke, a gunmaker. An explosion that damaged Silke’s premises may have encouraged the Company to take a new site in 1663, probably in the Minories or East Smithfield, the centre of the London gunmaking industry.

In 1676 the Company moved to its current site. This appealed, no doubt, because it was then in an open field and had no neighbours to disturb or damage. The site formed part of a larger holding bounded north and east by Church Lane, west by Goodman’s Fields, and extending south as far as present-day Hooper Street. This property was held in 1691 by John Nicoll, probably a Holborn soapmaker who had a family connection with Whitechapel through the Darnelly family, and from 1692 to 1703 by John Skinner, an apothecary with property in Whitechapel High Street. Skinner’s profession may account for the land being denominated the Physick Garden, though the name Jackson’s Garden was also in use. Skinner sold the entire property freehold in 1703 to Benjamin Masters, a mariner, and part was leased to Jonathan Keeling, a gardener, in 1720.

The Gunmakers’ site was at the north-west corner of the Physick Garden. It was an irregular rectangle of ground, approximately 85ft wide by 58ft deep, bounded north by a ‘mudd wall’ and ‘a passage made by and through the mud wall’, west by a ditch and a ropewalk, east by ‘the hedge next to the dung road’,1 and south by another ditch separating it from the rest of Masters’ land. The proof house of 1676 was built by Michael Pratt, a carpenter, who held a lease on the ground.

That proof house had to be rebuilt in 1713, this done by one John Rogers on a new sixty-one-year lease from Masters. Thereafter the Gunmakers acquired the freehold of the site. A proof master’s house was present by 1733 when the master, Humphrey Pickfatt, was taxed for the proof house and a dwelling.

Ground plans of the Gunmakers’ Company’s Whitechapel complex in 1752 (top) and in 1920. Drawing by Helen Jones for the Survey of London

In 1752 a boundary dispute arose with Sir Samuel Gower, who had become the freeholder of land adjoining to the south and west. A plan accompanying the agreement that resolved this dispute reveals that the Gunmakers’ site did not extend eastwards quite to what had become Gower’s Walk, from which it was separated by a long 10ft-wide strip of land, occupied by a greengrocer’s shop with a small house behind. At this stage the Gunmakers’ premises included the proof house, roughly 20ft square, to the east adjoining the greengrocer’s, a privy at the south-east corner of the yard, the 35ft-wide (so double fronted) proof master’s house to the west (on the site of No. 46), the charging house (for charging weapons prior to proof), a shallow building about 20ft wide on Church Lane, with a smaller marking room (for stamping proofed weapons with the Gunmakers’ proof mark) on its east side abutting a narrow yard intruding into the greengrocer’s site on the Gower’s Walk corner.

Datestone on the back wall of the former receiving house. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Thus lay the Gunmakers shortly before a major rebuilding, prompted because the proof house was once again ‘ruinous’. It was reconstructed in 1757–8 ‘on a more beneficial and useful plan’,2 with the proof master’s house adjoining. A date-stone survives, reset on an inner wall of the receiving house (see above). In 1760 the charging house, marking house and counting house, also ‘ruinous’, were rebuilt on the same sites.3 Contention arose in 1781 when Joel Johnson and others complained that the proof house damaged their investment in houses they had built nearby on Gower’s Walk, but the Gunmakers reasonably pointed out that the proof house had been in that location for more than a hundred years, builders must have been aware of this before they chose to build nearby. Further additions and improvements were made, though Johnson refused to sell the easterly strip of land he then held.

Further development happened on the establishment’s west side in the early nineteenth century. The East India Company had been acquiring arms from London gunmakers since 1664. From 1709 to 1766 and again from 1778 it used the Gunmakers’ Company’s facilities to prove its arms. The East India Company built a storehouse and inspection room in 1807–8 on a westerly strip of the Gunmakers’ site, of which it took a ninety-nine-year lease in 1815. A door gave access to the Gunmakers’ yard through which barrels were transferred to the proof house. Beyond, the westernmost end of the Gunmakers’ holding was also developed, with two street-side houses with rear workshops, built in 1812 by John Williams, a bricklayer, on a fifty-seven-year lease. These properties were occupied over the next thirty years by a hairdresser, a bootmaker and a watchmaker, and were together gradually taken over by George Story (1805–1874), a scale-maker and the leaseholder from 1839.

By 1823 the proof house was again dilapidated, and the master’s house ‘likely to endanger the lives of the proof master and his family’.4 Hereafter the site was rearranged much as it is today. The freehold of the easterly strip of land between the proof house and Gower’s Walk was acquired from George Waller, more amenable to a sale than his father-in-law, Joel Johnson. The new proof house and proof master’s house were built in 1826–7 at the north-east corner of the enlarged site, with a single-storey and basement receiving or entrance building adjoining to the west. These buildings were designed by the Company’s surveyor, Robert Turner Cotton (1773–1850), perhaps with input from his son, Henry Charles Cotton (1804–73). John Hill was the bricklayer, and James Bridger of Aldgate the carpenter. Foundations for the proof house, dug and redug, were five bricks thick and more than 12ft deep.

The Gunmakers’ Company’s proof house, Gower’s Walk, view from the south-east in 2015. Photographed by the Survey of London

The proof house itself, up against Gower’s Walk behind the proof master’s house, is outwardly entirely utilitarian, a rectangular stock-brick building with segmental-headed windows at upper levels, of a height necessary to cope with the pressures and gases generated by proving. Most of the windows are blind, though some at least originally had iron louvres to dispel the smoke and pressure. The interior was essentially one space under a cast-iron framed roof, though subdivided in its lower half into two unequal open-topped proving chambers, one the main ‘proof hole’, containing a bed of sand where multiple barrels could be tested at once, the charges set off by a trail of gunpowder. In 1835 the upper part of the proof room was lined with cast-iron plates by Graham & Sons to protect the structure from damage from exploding gun barrels. The original cast-iron roof frame and these plates survived until 1994.

The central bay of the former Gunmakers’ Company’s receiving house of 1826–7. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The proof master’s house on the corner is of conventional three-storeyed design, also in stock brick, with a round-headed ground-floor window, gauged-brick arch heads and a stuccoed door architrave and cornice. The single-storey receiving house, possibly incorporating fabric from the marking house of 1760, originally had a copper-lined gunpowder magazine within its attic. Its three-bay façade, again stock brick but heavily stucco-framed, makes a stronger if entirely conventional classical statement. Four pilasters frame openings, including a central entrance with consoles to a segmental pediment. A rectangular panel atop the entablature announces: ‘THE PROOF HOUSE OF THE GUNMAKERS COMPANY OF THE CITY OF LONDON. ESTABLISHED BY CHARTER ANNO DOMINI 1637’.

By 1857 the East India Company building was unoccupied as small arms for India had come to be supplied by the War Office. The Company surrendered its lease in 1860 and, following a report by the local architect G. H. Simmonds, the building was converted in 1863 to be a committee room for the Gunmakers’ Company. This room seems to have been largely incorporated, rather than rebuilt, when the Gunmakers redeveloped the west side of their property in 1871, extinguishing Story’s lease. Gunmakers’ Hall went up to designs provided by John Jacobs, the builder, but possibly the work of Simmonds. It included the old committee room and a new court room to its west with a new two-storey stock-brick front range in a lumpen Italianate manner. Portland stone dressings, now painted, include an arch-headed central door surround and a pierced cornice balustrade. The impressive panelled court room, with a slightly canted south end, has a bracketed coved ceiling with a central lantern. A heavy court room table was grandly set off on the east wall by a huge trophy of arms, a starburst of more than 1,000 bayonets, military swords, hammers, ramrods etc. In 1893 a further room was created above the committee room, with a staircase inserted at the front of the east side of the entrance lobby, this to designs by W. J. Lambert.

The persistence of the Gunmakers on the increasingly urban site had been challenged since Joel Johnson took issue in 1781. In 1802 the Gunmakers successfully resisted the trustees of the new Commercial Road’s plan to acquire the site, though an Act of Parliament limited the hours of the day when guns could be proved. The Gunmakers succeeded in keeping the site from the Commercial Road trustees once again in 1824, and also saw off further limitation on the hours of proving. In 1882 the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway Company pressed to acquire the site for a vast warehouse that went up to the south, but the Gunmakers had only to relinquish a small strip with sheds. Even so, the south walls of the proof house and court room had to be heavily buttressed following excavations for the railway warehouse’s north yard and extensive vaults.

Gunmakers’ Company’s workshop on the west side of the inner courtyard, view from the north with the inner wall of the proof house visible through the window. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Piecemeal repairs and improvements were made from time to time, mostly reflecting changes in the requirements of proof. The shift from muzzle-loading to breech-loading guns and the consequent need for more complex proving accounted for additions in the yard, a small proof house for testing breech-loading guns in 1866, by when secondary proofing could be conducted with a gun fixed in a frame firing into a bed of sand, and other proving-chamber sheds thereafter. By 1920 low-level viewing shops and proofing rooms snaked around the southern boundary including behind the court room, and a loading shop opened off the receiving room. The Company endured lean years in the 1920s and was obliged to sell Gunmakers’ Hall in 1927, the trophy of arms transferred to the Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House.

Gunmakers’ Company’s inspection bench in the workshop on the south side of the inner courtyard, with the inner wall of the receiving house visible through the window. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The buyers were Israel Eichenbaum (1874–1935), the owner of a wholesale drapery at 20 Commercial Road, and his son-in-law, Pinkus Segalov (1902–1959), and the building was let to the Order Achei Brith and Shield of Abraham Friendly Society. Jewish friendly societies were similar to other such societies, operating a subscription on which members could call in times of sickness. Mainstream societies sometimes excluded Jews, so specifically Jewish societies came into being from the 1790s. The Order Achei Brith (‘Brethren of the Covenant’), founded in 1894 out of a friendly society founded in 1888, was the first fully to embrace a Masonic character, operating as a Lodge with ceremonies, elaborate regalia and rituals. It merged with the Shield of Abraham Society in 1911 and, in common with other registered friendly societies, was empowered to administer the National Health Insurance Act of that year. It was one of the largest such societies by 1928 when alterations were made by Bovis Ltd to close up the connections between Gunmakers’ Hall and the courtyard of the proof house. The building, now called Absa House, was opened as the Order’s headquarters by Lord Rothschild on 14 October 1928, the consecration conducted by the Chief Rabbi. In 1933 the Order had around 25,000 members. What had been proofing rooms in the yard behind the court room were then rebuilt as an office, reached from a door formed from one of the court room windows. The new room was fully lined in modish vaguely art-deco wooden panelling.

The creation of the welfare state and the loss of the powers bestowed in 1911 reduced the practical need for friendly societies. Meanwhile the Order’s membership dispersed and failed to rejuvenate. By 1948 it was down to around 5,000 members. Amalgamation with the Order Achei Ameth in 1949 formed the United Jewish Friendly Society. From 1955 to 1958 what was now 46 Commercial Road was let to the St Louis Club, a social club, with alterations made by H. J. F. Urquhart, architect, for a restaurant in the former court room, a lounge in the former committee room, and a first-floor billiard room. Thereafter the basement was relet to the Gunmakers for arms storage, with alterations for access through the party wall overseen by Morris de Metz, architect. No. 46 reverted to being offices for the Friendly Society, part let off to Joseph Textiles Ltd, until 1976, shortly before the society’s dissolution in 1979.

To return to the east part of the site, in 1927 the imminent loss of Gunmakers’ Hall caused the Gunmakers’ Company to knock the first-floor rooms of the proof master’s house together to form a new court room, tie-rods being inserted; R. Hewett was the builder. Following war damage, the Company made further alterations in 1952 to designs by Albert Robert Fox, architect, with Wilton & Burgess, builders, to convert the receiving house basement into the court room, the proof master’s house altered back to form a first- and second-floor maisonette. In 1959 glazed timber-framed lean-tos for workshops and rifle storage were added on the south and east sides of the courtyard by Morris de Metz and James Jennings & Son Ltd, builders.

Detail of the inner or west wall of the proof house, showing stone tablets commemorating the rebuilding of 1826 and the refurbishment of 1995. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The only major modernisation of the proof house itself took place in 1993–5 when Thomas & Thomas, surveyors, and E. F. Whitlam, engineers, oversaw works by W. M. Glendinning Ltd, builders. Two floors and a reinforced-concrete ring beam and lateral (spreader) beams were inserted, with a light steel-truss roof replacing late-Georgian cast iron. The extra floors, reached by a new staircase at the north end of the building, allowed for four smaller proofing chambers on the ground floor, equipped with ‘snail-catchers’ to contain the fired bullets, depleting their energy in complex bending lengths of metal tubing, in place of the traditional sandbanks, with ammunition storage, loading rooms, a testing laboratory, gun-mounting room and instrument room on the first floor. The second floor was reserved for storage.

Proof House interior, showing a Lee Enfield rifle set up for proof firing. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The former hall at No. 46 was sold by the United Jewish Friendly Society in 1976 to the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), a private bank based in Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands, founded in 1972 and rapidly expanding to become the world’s seventh largest private bank. It closed in 1991 when it was revealed to be a giant money-laundering scheme. The former court room became a banking hall with desks and cashiers, the floor in the canted bay removed to create a double-height space, connecting to the basement by a spiral staircase, with a vast window filling most of the south wall. Six new openings were made on the north and east sides, connecting east to the former committee room, now subdivided into a manager’s office and corridor, and north to the lobby. The one-time first-floor billiard room became a conference room. The architect was Harry S. Fairhurst. After the winding up of BCCI, the Gunmakers’ Company offered the liquidators £80,000 for the building. This was rejected and the building sold at auction for £120,000 to Itzik and Adrienne Robin and Robert and Stephanie Itzcovitz. The Gunmakers finally reacquired the building for £1.1m in 2007. After the departure of BCCI No. 46 was used as a textile showroom until conversion to educational use in 2002, first as an outpost of the City of London College at 71 Whitechapel High Street, and since 2009 as the London College of Christian Revival Church Bible School, founded in South Africa in 1944.

Following the closure of branch proof houses in Manchester and Nottingham in 1996 and 2000, Gunmakers’ Company proofing of military weapons in Whitechapel has increased. By 2008 the proof master’s house was no longer residential, being reserved entirely for offices.

Proof House interior, proofing bay mechanisms. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

 

Display of cartridges in the proving workshops. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

A hundred years ago, the Builder observed of the Gunmakers that ‘[t]he history of the Company is devoid of the romantic and historical associations connected with most of the misteries (sic), and is that of a well-organized and managed commercial undertaking, doing much useful work and deriving the necessary income from the fees charged for testing and proving weapons’.5 That still holds true.

References

1.  London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), CLC/L/GI/G/001/MS05231

2.  LMA, CLC/L/GI/G/001/MS05227/001

3.  LMA, CLC/L/GI/G/001/MS05220/009

4.  LMA, CLC/L/GI/G/001/MS05227/001

5.  The Builder, 8 October 1920, pp. 400–1

London buildings photographed by the Survey of London’s students

By the Survey of London, on 24 January 2020

Since 2015 the Survey of London has been responsible for teaching a module in the Bartlett School of Architecture’s Master’s degree course titled Architecture and Historic Urban Environments. Our module, ‘Surveying and Recording of Cities’, includes instruction in architectural photography, led by Chris Redgrave of Historic England, with whom we have been delighted to work in recent years. Students may submit photographs as an aspect of their coursework.

This year, the course has its largest cohort so far, thirty-one students, and we have received some excellent photographs. This blogpost looks away from the work of the Survey proper to share some of the best photographs by this year’s MAHUE students.

Alexandra Road Estate (photographed by Iason Ntounis)

Old St Pancras Church (photographed by Tyesha McGann)

Frobisher Crescent at the Barbican (photographed by Yumeng Long)

Church of St Andrew Undershaft (photographed by Zhan Shi)

The British Library (photographed by Steve Ge)

St Christopher’s Place

By the Survey of London, on 25 December 2019

Tucked away up a narrow alley off Oxford Street’s north side, St Christopher’s Place has been a characterful shopping destination for many years. Almost all the buildings are Victorian or later, but the street dates back to the 1760s. When it was first built up most of the surrounding area belonged, as much of it still does, to just a couple of landholdings – the Portman estate and what is now the Howard de Walden estate. There were a few smaller holdings too, one of which was Great Conduit Field, named from the City of London Corporation’s medieval water supply system which ran through Marylebone Fields and on to Cheapside. Great Conduit Field fronted Tyburn Road, as Oxford Street was then known, and extended west from the Ay Brook – part of the river Tyburn, now covered by the buildings on the west side of Stratford Place – to halfway between Duke Street and Orchard Street. Selfridges covers the line of the old field boundary. In the mid eighteenth century this ground came into the hands of Thomas Barratt of Brentford, one of a number of prosperous brick and tile makers digging and baking clay all along Tyburn Road and beyond for the London building trade. In 1760 his only child Ann married Thomas Edwards of Soho, heir to a Shropshire baronet. Barratt died a couple of years later. By this time much of the wider area was being laid out in streets and built up, and in 1765 two partners – Richard Forster, a bricklayer, and John Crowther, a plasterer – agreed to build houses on Great Conduit Field in return for long leases.

St Christopher’s Place as Barrett’s Court, running north from Henrietta Street, c.1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

Part of the new development was Barratt’s or Barrett’s Court, the narrow street now called St Christopher’s Place. The wider Barrett Street at its south end was originally (and until 1879) called Henrietta Street, and as the name implies was intended to have gone on eastwards, to join up with present-day Henrietta Place near Cavendish Square. But the creation in the 1770s of Stratford Place, a gated enclave on land belonging to the City Corporation, put paid to the plan. That may have had a lowering effect on the value of Great Conduit Field generally, which became a mixed area of trades and crafts with some notably poor and over-crowded patches.

Barrett’s Court can never have been other than a fairly lowly address. Even so, it is interesting that it was called a court, as the often down-market term was mostly applied to blind alleys or yards with only pedestrian access, not proper streets. The reason is that when Barrett’s Court was first laid out the west end of Wigmore Street did not exist, sothe north end, near the field edge, would have been closed. That changed a little later, when Wigmore Street was extended west to Portman Square. Not that it was actually acknowledged as such – amour-propre on the part of the landowners meant that one end of the extension took the name Edwards Street, and the Portman-owned remainder became Lower Seymour Street. A pub was built there on the corner of Barrett’s Court, the Pontefract Castle, opened in 1771 and closed only in recent years.

Corner of Barrett Street and James Street leading to St Christopher’s Place, December 2019 (Photographed by Ecem Ergin, PhD student at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL)

Barrett’s Court became part of the long-standing Irish colony in this part of Marylebone, packed with inhabitants most of whom worked outside the district. In 1838 one of the dilapidated houses collapsed, though with enough warning for the occupants to escape. An old woman who refused to leave was rescued from beneath the rubble. Like the even narrower Gee’s Court connecting it with Oxford Street (named after its builder in the early 1770s, John Gee), Barrett’s Court was typical of the slum courts found throughout central London, in which unchecked sub-letting of rooms and a fundamental inadequacy of fresh air and daylight militated against almost any conceivable sanitary improvement. An instance of the prevailing conditions in the area is given by the report of an inquest in 1857 (held at the Lamb and Flag on the Barrett Street–James Street corner) into the death from respiratory disease of a labourer’s child at the truncated end of Barrett Street, characterized as a ‘low, dirty by-street’. There were said to be 30 to 40 people in the house altogether, and the household in question comprised a widower and sister-in-law with their respective several children living in the basement. There was no ventilation other than the area doorway and, in the coroner’s words, ‘not sufficient air for a mushroom to grow’.1

In the late 1850s the parish Vestry did manage to bring about some improvements, and the condition of Barrett’s Court was mentioned in proof of this by the local Medical Officer of Health in 1858. But it remained a poor address, and when Mandeville Place was planned in the early 1870s hope was expressed that it would be taken all the way to Oxford Street, with associated slum clearance sweeping away ‘those fever dens, Barrett’s court and Gee’s court’.2 Instead, both courts were subsequently improved and rebuilt, preserving their back-alley dimensions for posterity.

The north end of St Christopher’s Place, looking towards 78–80 Wigmore Street. An outlet of the Danish bakery chain Ole & Steen occupies the former Pontefract Castle public house at 71 Wigmore Street (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

A further attempt at improving the locale was the parish’s erection of a surface street urinal in Barrett Street in 1865. Tradesmen in the neighbouring streets, including the landlord of the Lamb and Flag, soon wanted it removed. Put euphemistically, ‘it was made a water-closet, a brothel, and was such a great nuisance that the lodgers were leaving the different houses adjacent’.3 But it was decided that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks. In 1910 it was replaced on the same site by the surviving underground convenience.

The housing reformer Octavia Hill’s involvement at Barrett’s Court began in 1869–70, with the purchase of eleven leasehold houses by her associates Julia, Countess of Ducie, and Emma Brooke, wife of the popular preacher and writer Stopford Brooke. Lady Ducie offered practical assistance as well as money – Emma Brooke was an invalid and could not do so – but at least early on the management of Barrett’s Court was largely in the hands of Hill’s disciple Emma Cons, who later founded the Old Vic. More houses were acquired, until Hill and her helpers were in effective control of most if not all of them. Her approach being essentially personal, moral and exemplary, there was no thought at first that the houses should be rebuilt along model-dwellings lines, and as they were leasehold that would not necessarily have been possible anyway. When some of the houses were declared unfit by the Medical Officer and had to be rebuilt, she was ‘obviously annoyed’.4 Rebuilding, however, allowed for more and better dwellings as well as lucrative shop units.

23 Barrett Street (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

‘Blank Court; or, Landlords and Tenants’, her account of Barrett’s Court, was first published in 1871 and was at once denounced by the Medical Officer, Dr Whitmore, as ‘a clever fiction, rather than a narrative of actual facts.’5 He thought she was sensationalizing the subject and exaggerating both the bad condition of Barrett’s Court in 1869 and the extent to which her management had improved it. She replied with a detailed list of what had done by way of repair and improvements in drainage, cleaning and management, and the two met. Somewhat mollified, Whitmore declared himself ‘strongly impressed with the earnestness of her purpose’.6 But there was a further clash with the Medical Officer and Vestry in 1874.

Rebuilding took place in three stages, beginning with houses on the east side, replaced by Sarsden Buildings in 1873, and continuing in 1877 on the west with several more, rebuilt as St Christopher’s Buildings, subsequently designated North St Christopher’s Buildings. The final block, South St Christopher’s Buildings, followed in 1881–2.

The area in the 1890s (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

Sarsden Buildings was financed by Lady Ducie (1829–1895), whose London residence was in Portman Square, and named after her birthplace in Oxfordshire. Its building followed her acquisition of the freeholds of the houses on the site when these were put up for sale with other properties on the now fragmented Great Conduit Field estate in 1873. In their original form the individual tenements were very basic, consisting of small two-room ‘sets’ accessed from open balconies at the rear. This remained the arrangement until the block was modernized in the 1960s to make proper flats, each with its own compact bathroom and kitchen. By then the upper floors of No. 1, the sole survivor of the original houses in the street, had been added to the ensemble.

In the basement, entertainments were organized by Emma Cons and the author George MacDonald, who wrote plays to be performed there. A visitor in the 1880s found it ‘the most cheerful by far of the many club rooms for the poor that I have seen’, but gives an impression of some awkwardness: ‘On the little round tables I noticed all sorts of illustrated papers – the Graphic, and Illustrated News, and even Punch. There was excellent tea and coffee at a penny a cup, and a kind of concert was given by some good-natured amateurs. The people seemed to enjoy themselves a good deal, in a quiet sort of way. The women brought their babies – wretched-looking little mites most of them … Miss Hill and some of her lady-helpers moved about amongst the people, and seemed to know them all by name’.7

Sarsden Buildings on the east side of St Christopher’s Place (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

St Christopher’s Buildings were built on long leases from the freeholder H. J. Hope-Edwardes, a descendant of (Sir) Thomas Edwards. Although Emma Brooke had bought the old houses, she died young in 1874 and the rebuilding was seen through by her brother, the banker and Liberal politician Somerset Beaumont. Another very plain structure, the north block originally comprised tenements of one, two and three rooms, with shops and a basement laundry. The southern block at least was designed by Octavia Hill’s favoured architect Elijah Hoole, who gave it a red-brick Gothic front with distinctive curved doorways on the street. The name of the development was suggested by Octavia herself: ‘The world would fancy it was named after some old church; and I should hear the grand old legend in the name. Is it too fantastic a name?’8 In 1884 the street became St Christopher’s Place.

Though the Victorian rebuildings have survived, some of the old tenements are now luxury apartments. But the tradition of social housing here continued with the construction in 1964–5 of the modern-style flats, over shops, at 6–8 St Christopher’s Place, designed for the St Marylebone Housing Association Ltd by Green & Monk, architects, of Forest Gate.

14–15 St Christopher’s Place (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

Following the improvements in housing brought about by Octavia Hill and her followers, in the early twentieth century there was another notable female enterprise, at the corner of St Christopher’s Place and Barrett Street. Much rebuilding was going on around this time, including the redevelopment at 3–5 Barrett Street, undertaken speculatively by Charles Pedlar, an engineer and gas-fitter of Bird Street, who developed several sites in the area. No. 5 became his own new premises, while the greater part of the block was first occupied by the newly incorporated Women’s Dining Rooms, Ltd, whose restaurant exclusively for women opened there in 1904. Its founders included May Tennant, the first woman factory inspector, her husband the Liberal politician H. J. (Jack) Tennant, and Thereza Rücker, wife of the physicist and principal of the University of London, Sir Charles Rücker. Young shop assistants and typists were the typical intended clientele. The shareholders, most of them women, were drawn mainly if not exclusively from the upper classes. Larger subscribers included the Wigmore Street store owner Ernest Debenham; the promoter of model dwellings and the Rowton Houses, Sir Richard Farrant; the future peace campaigner Lord Robert Cecil; and the barrister Henry Bonham Carter. May Manning of the Ladies’ Empire Club in Mayfair became manager.

Christmas decorations at St Christopher’s Place (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

It was acknowledged that good midday meals were unaffordable for most working women, and that charity restaurants would only encourage the acceptance of less than living wages. The need for such meals had been ‘felt and successfully met in many foreign towns’ and it was hoped the same could be done in London.9 The kitchen was at the top, and dinners, to a basic menu of meat, fish, vegetables, soup, bread and cake with tea or coffee, were served below from midday in two rooms seating nearly 300 in all. They cost only a few pence, but there were flowers and white tablecloths, and lavatories and a rest-room with newspapers and magazines, available without extra charge. Although similar to the Dorothy Restaurants begun in Mortimer Street, Bond Street and Oxford Street in the late 1880s, the venture was hailed as a novelty. A conference and entertainment, overseen by the National Union of Dressmakers’ and Milliners’ Assistants, was held there in 1906, and the restaurant may have been set to become a centre of the women’s movement. But it did not pay and in 1909 had to close.

The premises were subsequently occupied by the London Home Delicacies Association Ltd, run by Harriet Converse Moody of Chicago, who held the Earl’s Court Exhibition catering contract. She was the wife of the American poet and playwright William Vaughan Moody, and the friend of literary figures including Robert Frost and Rabindranath Tagore. As a professional caterer, she had contracts with the Marshall Field store and Chicago railways. The business was not a success, however, and from the First World War or soon after the building was used as garment workshops. The Antique Supermarket was started there in the 1960s, an establishment which helped put St Christopher’s Place on the map for trendy shoppers.

The Lamb and Flag public house at the corner of Barrett Street and James Street (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

The secondhand furniture trade was well established in Barrett’s Court by the mid nineteenth century. It survived the street’s extensive redevelopment, and in the early twentieth century there were also businesses in related fields such as cabinet making, art metalwork and gilding. By the 1930s St Christopher’s Place was known for its rather picturesque concentration of antique shops. The writer E. V. Lucas found it comparable in atmosphere to Cecil Court off Charing Cross Road, but instead of the antiquarian prints and books found there it specialized in furniture and bulky objets, with ‘life-size statues, carved overmantels, bureaux, often encroaching on the pavement’.10 An old-fashioned ambience survived the Second World War but by the early 1960s the picture was beginning to change. A modern furnishings showroom was opened at No. 10 by the Custom Design Group, which had been set up by a consortium of companies ‘to raise the standard of British design’.11 This sold relatively upmarket product ranges for the home including commissions from well-known names such as Lucienne Day. Bennie Gray’s Antique Supermarket, opened in 1964, tapped into the nostalgic, often off-beat, taste for Victoriana and Art Nouveau which was swiftly developing alongside that for ‘Contemporary’ design. The basic idea, of independent stalls operating under one roof in the manner of a bazaar was not a new one to London, and a successful precedent in the antiques trade had been set as early as 1951 by the Red Lion Antiques Arcade in Portobello Road. Gray followed the original supermarket with a series of antique centres – the Antique Hypermarket in Kensington, Gray’s in Mayfair, Alfie’s in Church Street off Edgware Road, and Antiquarius in King’s Road.

The Lamb and Flag (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

Planning permission for redevelopment on the west side of St Christopher’s Place had been granted when in 1967 the property was bought by the developer Robin Spiro, in conjunction with Allied Land. Spiro was taken by the street’s character and instead of redeveloping set about renovating the buildings, employing the Irish designer William Graham, and re-letting the shops. Graham was also commissioned to fit up one of the shops as the Redmark Gallery, which opened in 1968 and was associated with contemporary and avant-garde artists including the experimental film-maker Stephen Dwoskin.

With this new approach, St Christopher’s Place and streets in the immediate vicinity became a shopping destination in their own right, a much-needed counterweight to the hectic, hard-sell atmosphere of main-street retailing and fast-food catering typified by Oxford Street. St Christopher’s Place became well-known for unusual shops selling such items as jewellery and crafts products. Hiroko, the ‘first fully authentic’12 Japanese restaurant in London, opened there in 1967 and was followed by Kazuko on the corner of James Street. In 1968 the still-extant Amjadia Indian restaurant opened in Picton Place near by. The neighbourhood is now home to restaurants of many ethnicities, and the east end of Barrett Street is an oasis of eateries with outside seating.

1 Barrett Street (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

In the 1970s, working with the Imperial Tobacco Company Pension Fund, which owned property locally, Spiro planned a retail ‘village’ named Craftown, partly modelled on San Francisco’s Ghiradelli Square. The idea was to turn the block north of Barrett Street, between St Christopher’s Place and James Street, into a glass-roofed precinct, with shops and restaurants specializing in national or ethnic, particularly third-world, crafts and cuisine, together with exhibitions and other promotional activities. Agreements for participation were made with numerous countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Greece and Iran.

The full vision of Craftown remained on paper, but St Christopher’s Place was successfully improved and regenerated during the 1970s and 1980s. On the west side, the old tenements were refitted as luxury apartments and offices, while the street was repaved and buildings refurbished as craft and other specialist shops, galleries, restaurants or wine bars. By the early 1980s it was becoming established as a centre for high-class fashion and fashion accessories. Well out of the retail mainstream was Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s Nostalgia of Mud at No. 5, in 1982–3, conceived to display an earth-coloured clothing collection of the same name based on Peruvian ethnic dress, and as much art installation as shop. The shopfront was obscured by an exterior hanging in the form of a world map fashioned in relief in plaster, and the interior incorporated a brown ceiling drape, a pit of ‘mud’ bubbling under a grating, and scaffolding apparently to suggest to the unadventurous that building was still in progress and the shop not yet open.

View looking south along St Christopher’s Place (Photographed by Ecem Ergin)

References

  1. Morning Chronicle, 4 Sept 1857
  2. Marylebone Mercury, 14 Jan 1871
  3. Marylebone Mercury, 22 July 1865
  4. Robert Whelan, Octavia Hill and the Social Housing Debate. Essays and Letters by Octavia Hill, 1998, p. 66
  5. Marylebone Mercury, 18 Nov 1871
  6. Marylebone Mercury, 18 Nov 1871
  7. Norfolk News, 12 Jan 1884
  8. C. E. Maurice, ed., Life of Octavia Hill: As Told in Her Letters, 1913, p. 351
  9. The National Archives, BT31/10556/79790
  10. Sunday Times, 26 Sept 1937
  11. Sunday Times, 7 Jan 1962
  12. The Guardian, 8 Dec 1967

Oxford Street

By the Survey of London, on 29 November 2019

The Survey of London looks forward to the publication of the 53th volume in its main series in April 2020. Oxford Street is among the world’s great shopping streets, renowned for its department stores and the vitality of its crowded pavements. After well over 200 years of retailing, it stands unchallenged as London’s most continuously successful magnet for shoppers. As a thoroughfare Oxford Street is far older, going back to Roman times. Under its earlier name of Tyburn Road, it was notorious for centuries as the route of the condemned to the gallows on the site of the present Marble Arch. The volume will be the first in the Survey of London series to deal with the development and architecture of a single street. No major London street has ever received such a complete analysis, offering fresh insights on the growth of shops and shopping in the British capital and illuminating the variety of buildings and activities that have given Oxford Street its striking and fluctuating character. It also explains the reasons underlying Oxford Street’s unique success – at first, its position between opulent Mayfair and Marylebone, later, the array of underground lines affording fast and easy access to its shops.

Following the success of making draft texts of Woolwich, Battersea and South-East Marylebone available online, the Oxford Street texts have now been released on the Survey of London’s website. The draft chapters may be viewed or downloaded as pdf files. The chapters include references but not illustrations. The print volume will follow next April, published by Yale University Press on behalf of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The Survey of London’s website contains a catalogue with links to online versions of volumes in the main series and monograph series. For some time, volumes 1 to 47 of the Survey of London have been available via British History Online. Print copies of the most recent volumes, including Oxford Street (which may now be pre-ordered), are available from Yale Books and other booksellers.

Here follows a selection of illustrations specially created and commissioned for the forthcoming Oxford Street volume, with links to the relevant draft chapters.

3 Tottenham Court Road, front of the former Lyons Oxford Corner House in 2015. F. J. Wills, architect, 1927–8 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read the account of the Oxford Corner House in Chapter 1

Oxford Circus Station, former Central and Bakerloo Line Stations, in 2018. The Bakerloo Line Station to the left with its superstructure is in the foreground, with the Central Line Station across Argyll Street (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read a full account of Oxford Circus Station in Chapter 12

Ground and first-floor plans of Joseph Emberton’s second reconstruction of HMV, 1938–9 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). Read more about the HMV store at 363–367 Oxford Street in Chapter 20

Debenhams, Oxford Street, front in 2019, showing overcladding installed in 2013 to designs by the Californian artist Ned Kahn (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read more about the Debenhams flagship store in Chapter 8

The 100 Club in the basement of 100 Oxford Street, 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read more about Century House and the 100 Club in Chapter 2. Earlier this year, the 100 Club was the subject of a blog post

Frascati’s Restaurant, 26–32 Oxford Street, section c.1905 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). Read the account of Frascati’s Restaurant, located at 26–32 Oxford Street between 1892 and 1954, in Chapter 1

Marks & Spencer, Pantheon Branch, front in 2018. W. A. Lewis & Partners with Robert Lutyens, architects, 1938, extended eastwards in 1962–3 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). The Pantheon store is included in Chapter 17, and was the subject of an earlier blog post

John Lewis, Oxford Street and Holles Street fronts in 2018. The revised fascia with the firm’s new title John Lewis and Partners was incomplete (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Chapter 6 covers the block entirely taken up today by John Lewis

Etam shop, 264 Oxford Street, plan and section, 1959 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). The redevelopment of the ‘East Island’ site by Land Securities may be found in Chapter 5

164–182 Oxford Street, former Waring & Gillow store, in 2019. R. Frank Atkinson, architect, 1904–6 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read the account of Waring & Gillow in Chapter 4

Peter Robinson, former restaurant on top floor of Oxford Circus block, now accounting department of Topshop, in 2013, with murals by George Murray (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read more about Oxford Circus and the Peter Robinson department store in Chapter 12

Selfridges, block plan showing phasing of the original building between Oxford and Somerset Streets, and inter-war acquisitions of sites further north up to Wigmore Street (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). Read the full account of Selfridges and buildings previously on the site in Chapter 10

London College of Fashion, detail of the front, 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). The London College of Fashion building (LCC Architect’s Department, 1961–3) above the ‘East Island’ site development by T. P. Bennett & Partners for Land Securities may be found in Chapter 5

Tottenham Court Road Station, vestibule with mosaics by Eduardo Paolozzi in 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read about Tottenham Court Road Station and its surroundings in Chapter 13

Studio Two, plans of the new cinema in 1936. Leslie H. Kemp & Tasker, architects (© Survey of London, Helen Jones). Read more about Studios One and Two in Chapter 19

Main entrance of Selfridges in 2018, showing bronze doors and flanking figures of Art and Science by William Reid Dick, sculptor, 1929 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Chapter 10 is devoted to the large block occupied by the Selfridges store, with a summary of buildings previously on the site followed by an account of the store’s convoluted origins and growth

156–162 Oxford Street, former Mappin & Webb building, in 2013. Belcher & Joass, architects, 1907–8 and 1929 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). Read about the Mappin & Webb store at 156–162 Oxford Street in Chapter 3

Marylebone Literary and Scientific Institution

By the Survey of London, on 1 November 2019

The Marylebone Literary and Scientific Institution, which lasted from the 1830s to the 1860s, occupied a site on the south side of Wigmore Street, now covered by an office block backing on to Edwards Mews behind Selfridges. No trace of the building is left, but Grotrian Hall, the concert hall which originated as the institution’s lecture theatre, is still within living memory.

Marylebone in the middle third of the nineteenth century was firmly established as one of the richest, most fashionable parts of London, and with the Reform Act of 1832 became a Parliamentary borough with its own MPs. There was an extraordinary concentration of wealth, influence and talent in its streets and squares. So it is not at all remarkable that it should have started its own literary and scientific institution – such establishments were springing up in communities all over the country, middle and upper class counterparts to the equally popular working-class mechanics’ institutes. A little surprising, given its many distinguished members and supporters, and the high quality of its speakers, is that the Marylebone Lit & Sci should have flourished for such a relatively short time. The proximate cause of its failure was financial, but there seems to have been a general running out of steam in what began with a burst of energy, confidence and idealism at a time of some political optimism as well as ongoing technological and intellectual advance. At the start there was a strong emphasis on science, experimentation and discovery. Latterly the literary side came to dominate, comparatively unchallenging entertainment such as readings from well-known authors taking over from more demanding subjects. The original institution was always meant for both sexes, and an account of the inaugural meeting of 1835 refers to the biting asides of a learned but ‘ill-natured Bluestocking’ in the audience during Lord Brougham’s grandiloquent speech as patron.1 The final attempt to keep the institution going split it into two, one part nominally carrying on the original idea of learning and lectures (but literary not scientific), the other a conventional men-only club. Meanwhile the locality itself was changing in its social character, and the story of the institution and its building has links with this process, in particular with the redevelopment of one of the most notorious spots in Marylebone in the first half of the nineteenth century, Calmel Buildings, which stood behind Wigmore Street roughly where the western half of Edwards Mews now runs, more or less adjoining the institution itself.

Laid out and first built up in the 1770s, this end of Wigmore Street, west of Marylebone Lane, was originally named as two streets, reflecting landownership (link to Horwood’s plan of 1792–9). The western part, on the Portman estate, was Lower Seymour Street, and the rest was Edwards Street after the Edwards, later Hope Edwardes, family. This unnecessary distinction was eventually abolished in 1868, when the whole stretch became Lower Seymour Street, but it was not until 1923 that the further step was taken of merging it with Wigmore Street. As part of such an important thoroughfare connecting Portman Square and Cavendish Square, Edwards Street and Lower Seymour Street were good addresses, but the presence of Calmel Buildings must have been a continual nuisance to the residents on the south side. This court was an exclusively Irish, Roman Catholic enclave, possibly as far back as the late eighteenth century, and certainly by the early nineteenth century, when it was overcrowded, insanitary and violent. In 1810 a Frenchman staying in Orchard Street was kept awake all night by street-fighting in Calmel Buildings adjoining, and overheard two parish watchmen discussing whether to intervene – one saying ‘If I go in I know I shall have a shower of brick-bats’, the other replying ‘Well, never mind, let them murder each other if they please’.2 A few years later, giving evidence given to a Commons select committee on education, Montague Burgoyne, a well-off local resident who tried to set up a school in Calmel Buildings, referred to a recent murder there and described it as crowded with some 700 people in twenty-three houses and ‘upwards of a hundred pigs’.3 In 1831 it was recorded as consisting of twenty-six houses with a total population of over a thousand, and in 1845 investigators taking a census there witnessed two fights and a woman nearly beaten to death. When it was emptied for redevelopment in the winter of 1853–4, nearly 1,500 people were reportedly turned out into the streets.

In October 1833 Joseph Jopling, an architect and civil engineer, put forward a plan for the demolition of Calmel Buildings to make way for a public building with space for meetings, lectures and conversation, a library and reading rooms, recreation and refreshment rooms and even baths. The density of population there, he thought, ‘should not be permitted anywhere’ and the boxed-in site was in his view unfit for housing ‘even on an improved plan’. Jopling was living in Somerset Street, a now vanished street which ran just south of Calmel Buildings, where the painter George Stubbs had lived for most of his career, the site of which is now covered by Selfridges. Jopling’s paper4 opens with the statement that it had been selected to ‘commence a series of suggestions for the progressive improvement of Mary-le-bone’, and if this was not directly in connection with the actual Marylebone Literary and Scientific Institution it must have been done in full knowledge of its formation, which extended over several years.

The first that is heard of a Marylebone literary and scientific institution is the report of a prospectus being issued in 1831, and the project took shape the following year under the leadership of John Hemming, an ‘experimental and operative chemist’, still remembered for his work on the industrial manufacture of soda, who already lectured at the London Institution and who became the new institution’s first president. As Hemming recalled, the project ‘first beamed forth its infant scintillations around the parlour fire of a scientific neighbour, the ravages upon whose Turkey carpet could well tell, in a short time, the increasing numbers of the lovers of useful knowledge in the borough of Marylebone’.5 Who this neighbour was was not revealed. In Lower Seymour Street around this time were James Hope, a pioneer cardiologist, and William Spence, a noted political economist and entomologist; a short walk away Charles Babbage was already established at his house in Dorset Street. Wherever it began, the new institution found its home at what was then 17 Edwards Street, which had been the residence until his death in 1815 of Viscount Wentworth, a personal friend of George III and the uncle of Byron’s wife Annabella Millbanke. The house had recently been occupied by the Count and Countess Morel de Champemant. A substantial library was accumulated, subscriptions to newspapers and journals were taken out, a reading room and a chess room were fitted up, and a museum and a laboratory were planned. In December 1833 the premises opened with a first public lecture, on astronomy, given by the well-known scientific writer and speaker Dionysius Lardner.

The inaugural meeting of the Institution in March 1835, by T. M. Baynes (City of Westminster Archives)

Next year the Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham, a keen promoter and supporter of such institutions, and a close associate of their pioneer George Birkbeck, agreed to act as patron. Extensive alterations to the house were made and a lecture hall for 600 was built. Crowded for an opening concert in February 1835, this proved gratifyingly ‘well-adapted for sound’ but oppressively stuffy. At the formal inauguration the next month, the skylight windows were consequently left open. As the speeches got under way there was a sudden squall, hailstones showered down and there were grabs for cloaks and umbrellas. Brougham, dressed for the occasion in a green frock-coat, black velvet waistcoat and grey and black checked trousers, rose to his feet with ‘Shut down the windows, I say, and let every Lady and Gentleman who likes it put on their hats and bonnets sans ceremonie’. Brougham went on to entertain the listeners with a two-hour speech, in which he set out the history of literary and scientific institutions and the urgent need for the education of the middle and upper classes. Without it, they would find the working classes rightly treading on their heels, challenging their position. ‘It was always his Lordship’s wish and earnest hope that the working classes to the lowest grade should drink deep of the well of science and of letters. The days were gone when the progress of knowledge could be stopped. The days were gone, too, when Gentlemen merely read a stupid newspaper article and Ladies spelled their way through the fashions of the month… In such a time it was no wonder that the servant could read neither the one nor the other. It was laughable to look back at those venerated times when the majority of country Gentlemen knew very little more than the horses they rode or the wild animals they chased; and when, if the names of Bacon, or Locke, or such a one as Bentham, were mentioned in their baronial halls, it would be imagined that they were the names of so many horses’.6

The new institution fully reflected Marylebone’s elevated social and intellectual character, and was always aimed at the middle classes and above, for whom the annual subscription of two guineas was modest. Prominent names involved in its formation or early development included Edward Wedlake Brayley, the topographer; the distiller Sir Felix Booth, who financed his friend John Ross’s arctic explorations; the traveller and writer James Silk Buckingham; Sir Anthony Carlisle, surgeon and anatomist; James Copland, physician; Raikes Currie, the banker and politician; John Cam Hobhouse, the politician, Byron’s friend and executor; the lawyer Sir William Horne, Brougham’s associate and MP for the new constituency of Marylebone; the law reformer Basil Montague; and the surveyor and geologist Richard Cowling Taylor. Hemming was in time succeeded as president by the Oxford Street pharmacist and collector of Landseer’s paintings Jacob Bell, and Bell after his premature death by the Anglo-Jewish community leader Sir Francis Goldsmid. Sir Robert Peel, Lord Broughton and the art patron Henry T. Hope later became vice-presidents. Early lecturers included the antiquary and topographer John Britton on castellated architecture, Lardner on Babbage’s calculating engine, Benjamin Humphrey Smart on elocution, and Thomas Southwood Smith on ‘animal economy’, a melange of physiology and embryonic psychology. Subsequently, speakers included Peel, on poets, and the composer Charles Kensington Salaman.

Another well-received speaker in the mid-1850s was Cardinal Archbishop Wiseman, a resident of York Place (now part of Baker Street) who lectured on the effect of words on thought and civilization, and later on the collection and arrangement of paintings for a national gallery. A few years earlier, in 1851, Wiseman had stood on a platform in Calmel Buildings before an Irish crowd put at 3,000, denouncing the local non-denominational ragged schools. These and their associated social work were one response to the squalor and violence of not just Calmel Buildings but other impoverished courts and streets in the area. Nearby Gray’s Yard Ragged School, begun in 1836, was a particular success, carrying on well into the twentieth century, with a gospel hall and hostel.

Around the time Wiseman lectured at the institution, Calmel Buildings was finally being replaced – by the Anglican church of St Thomas, opened in 1858, a project which owed much to the efforts of John Pelham, the evangelical rector of Marylebone, subsequently Bishop of Norwich. The erection of this church, it was suggested, somewhat ludicrously given that they were Roman Catholic, might prove the reformation of the erstwhile inhabitants. The church was allocated a district extending from Portman Square to Cavendish Square, and offered such a good stipend that when the incumbent died in 1891 more than 600 applications for the post were received in a week. Schools were built in the 1860s, and a mission and soup kitchen set up near by for the local poor, and in time St Thomas’s became a rather fashionable church, known for high-society weddings. Churchwardens included the decorator J. D. Crace, and Florence Nightingale rented seats there for her servants.

The area c.1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

The Literary and Scientific Institution did not own 17 Edwards Street, but rented it from an Oxford Street upholsterer, John Balls, whose ‘liberality and philanthropy’ were duly acknowledged at the 1835 inauguration. It was responsible for repairs as well as rent, and in 1846 a fund was launched with the aim of building rent-free premises on a larger scale. Brougham gave £100, and others, including Sir Benjamin Hall and Sir Charles Napier, contributed. Although the plan did not succeed, in 1851 the existing lecture hall was enlarged and remodelled, with a gallery, so that there was now room for 1,000. Underneath were fitted up various ancillary rooms including class-rooms and retiring rooms for lecturers. The theatre opened with Macbeth read by the actress Isabella Glyn.

Finances fluctuated, with periods of debt and falling membership. Besides rent and repairs, the cost of getting top speakers was high. In 1852 Thackeray, who gave many talks at the institution, was paid £150 for six lectures on English humorous writers, already given at Willis’s Rooms, while in 1860 a too-high admission fee was blamed for empty seats at Louis Blanc’s lecture on Parisian fashions in the eighteenth century. A crisis of debt led to the institution’s reorganization in 1864 under new management as the Marylebone Literary Institute and Club. Referring to the great clubs of St James’s and the proliferation of working-men’s clubs, a supporter demanded, where were the clubs for the middle class? ‘They nowhere exist. But are they not needed?’ Membership of the ‘Literary Department’, as in the original institution, was open to ladies and gentlemen; the club, ‘of course’, was for men only. The lecture theatre was redecorated, and rooms were fitted up for smoking and billiards.7

The new regime did not last more than a few years, and the staging of readings from Scott by an obscure speaker indicates the level of decline. When the actress Fanny Stirling gave dramatic readings at the hall in 1870 it was for a new organization, the New Quebec Working Men’s Club, later the Quebec Institute, a self-improvement venture for men and women based on the Birkbeck Institution, with which Mrs Stirling, the Earl of Lichfield, Lord Lyttelton, and other local figures including the Presbyterian minister Donald Fraser and Oxford Street decorator Peter Graham were involved. Among the speakers in 1876 was Anthony Trollope, on reading. During this period the lecture theatre was hired out as Seymour Hall for public meetings and concerts – Father Ignatius the monk of Llanthony Abbey being one well-publicized turn. In 1878 the Quebec Institute closed or moved away, and the premises were taken over by the American piano makers Steinway as their first London Steinway Hall.

The area in the 1890s (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

Despite the clearance of Calmel Buildings, the area retained a considerable Irish Roman Catholic population, and several houses adjoining the hall became a convent and mission run by the Order of St Vincent de Paul. This was initiated by Mary Teresa, Lady Petre, wife of the 12th Baron Petre, whose London residence was then in Portland Place. Lady Petre had set up a French-style crèche near Marylebone High Street in the 1860s, and later a home for destitute girls off Marylebone Lane. In 1873 she conceived the idea of a ‘Night Home’ for working girls, to serve as a memorial to the pilgrimage that year by English and Irish Catholics to the shrine of the Sacré Coeur at Paray-le-Monial in Burgundy. The home was opened in 1878 by Cardinal Archbishop Manning in a remodelled house a few doors from the old Literary and Scientific Institution. More houses were annexed in subsequent years, including that adjoining the hall, occupied since 1858 by another charitable institution, the Samaritan Free Hospital for Women and Children. By this time the Catholic establishment included an orphanage and a school for girls and infants. Steinway Hall itself was eventually acquired, with plans to turn it into an assembly hall when Steinway’s lease ran out in 1920. Ultimately these plans were superseded, and in the 1938 the whole establishment moved into new purpose-built premises in Blandford Street, where the school remained until some years ago.

Steinway Hall was transformed in 1925 for new occupants, the piano makers Grotrian-Steinweg, ‘by the complete removal of several awkward architectural features, a number of which were an eyesore’.8 As Grotrian Hall, it was considered as comfortable as any music venue in London, and for certain ‘concerts of an intimate character’, the best.9 Its closure in 1938, the departure of St Vincent’s, and the demolition of St Thomas’s a few years before were all on account of Selfridges. Harry Gordon Selfridge had wanted to extend his store up to Wigmore Street and spent years piecing together the site, a patchwork of leasehold interests taking up the whole block from Orchard Street to Duke Street. After the war Selfridges decided the land was not all needed after all, and having acquired the entire freehold, sold off the Wigmore Street frontage for redevelopment. In 1955–7 three matching office blocks, designed by the architect Cecil Elsom, were built there for a consortium including Metropolitan Estate and Property Corporation, letting to such names as IBM and 3M. This was one of the biggest office developments London had yet seen. The whole site has been redeveloped again in recent years.

References

  1. Morning Post, 5 March 1835
  2. {Louis Simond}, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain during the years 1810 and 1811, vol. 2, Edinburgh 1815, p. 259
  3. Report from Select Committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into the education of the Lower Orders of the Metropolis, 1816, pp. 461–2
  4. City of Westminster Archives Centre, D. Misc 197
  5. Morning Post, 5 March 1835
  6. Morning Post, 5 March 1835
  7. Marylebone Mercury, 2 January 1864; 3, 10 September 1864
  8. Aberdeen Press and Journal, 1 October 1925
  9. News Chronicle, 8 April 1938

Colouring London

By the Survey of London, on 4 October 2019

Some of our readers will have noticed the Survey of London’s recent appearance alongside Layers of London in The Telegraph, which published an interview with Peter Guillery under the title ‘Meeting the historians bringing London’s past to life with maps’. We would now like to share tidings of an inspiring map-based project that is working to advance understandings of London’s history and evolution, while contributing to issues relating to its future. Colouring London is a new crowdsourcing platform designed to collect information on every building in the capital, launched formally only yesterday. This innovative project has been developed by the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), part of the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment at University College London, with funding from several academic and government organizations. The Greater London Authority, Historic England and the Ordnance Survey are core partners. The Survey of London is one of the project’s collaborators, offering advice on how to incorporate historical detail and sharing data from current research in Marylebone, Oxford Street and Whitechapel.

The Colouring London website, showing building age data in Camden

Colouring London has been designed to collect and visualize information about the built environment, inviting participation from any and all. The website provides a free knowledge exchange platform for data relating to all of the capital’s buildings and structures. As users contribute data, the footprints of individual buildings are colour-coded instantly to build legible maps about the city. In addition to submitting information, reading and interpreting the maps, users will be able to download the data. The website is currently in the early stages of testing, which makes your involvement and feedback all the more important. This blog post offers some guidance on contributing to Colouring London by mining for data in the Survey of London series, an essential source for information about the city’s buildings and places.

Polly Hudson, a researcher at the Bartlett and the instigator of Colouring London, has designed the website to harness information on building age, characteristics and lifespans. Data on the built environment is currently incomplete, fragmented and inaccessible, as organizations are slow or reluctant to release information to the public. The difficulty of collecting information about buildings and places is at odds with its inherent value. The Survey of London traces its beginnings to the Arts and Crafts architect, designer and social thinker Charles Robert Ashbee, who believed that to mark down a record of the historic environment is an essential and enriching public good. In the present day, accurate and comprehensive data about the city is also instrumental for urban analyses that contribute to research on significant issues, from sustainability to the housing crisis. These data also feed into scientific research on the reduction of energy use through the adaptive reuse of buildings and the use of predictive models relating to the vulnerability and resilience of cities in the future. For this type of research to be successful, knowledge needs to be converted into numerical data.

In the long term, there are plans for Colouring London to collect, store and visualize a broad spectrum of data relating to the built environment, spanning twelve categories such as land use, building type, designer and constructional details. For the initial testing phase of the project, a smaller number of categories have been launched, including:

Location

Location: This category covers the basic but essential data required to locate buildings accurately, such as address and coordinates. The colours on the map indicate the percentage of data collected. This screenshot shows that the locational information for King’s Cross Station and St Pancras Station is almost complete, whereas smaller buildings in the neighbouring streets are still waiting to be coloured in.

Age

Age: This section includes estimated construction date and façade date, with options to add sources and links. This screenshot shows the grid of streets east of Langham Place, covered in the Survey of London’s South-East Marylebone volumes (published in 2017). If you have used the Survey’s volumes to find construction dates, please use the drop-down box to mark ‘Survey of London’ and include a link to the online version.

Size and shape

Size and Shape: This category relates to the form of the building, including the number of storeys, height and area. This screenshot shows the streets lying west of Tottenham Court Road and expresses the height of the Post Office Tower in relation to its neighbours.

Planning

Planning: This category links the building to conservation areas, local lists and the National Heritage List for England administered by Historic England. This screenshot shows buildings which are located in conservation areas around Aldwych and the Strand.

Like me

Designed to welcome positivity and inclusivity, the ‘like me’ function is a tick-box inviting users to pinpoint buildings that are admired and thought to contribute to the city. This screenshot shows the British Museum and Bedford Square.

Since its beginnings in 1894, the Survey of London has amassed a wealth of information about the city, its districts and buildings. Fifty-two ‘main series’ volumes, which generally cover historic parishes, and eighteen monographs on individual sites of particular interest have been published, with the next ‘main series’ volume on Oxford Street expected to follow in Spring 2020. The hallmark of the Survey of London series is accessible and readable writing, based on a combination of detailed archival research, secondary sources and field investigation. The volumes contain a vast amount of reliable information – data, essentially – relating to the construction, form and evolution of buildings over time. All of these data may be uploaded to Colouring London.

It is possible to sign up to the Colouring London website within a few minutes, and start colouring building footprints immediately by adding data. If you would like to focus on making contributions about a particular building, street or area, please start by referring to the Survey’s Map of Areas Covered (see below). This map provides a guide to the geographical remit of each volume in the series. From here, a catalogue on our website contains links to online versions of volumes, available via British History Online or in the form of draft chapters uploaded to our website. The detail and scope of the volumes vary significantly, with a shift from the 1970s towards a more inclusive and contextual approach. Today the Survey aims to deal with buildings of all types and dates; with this in mind, it may be worth turning to the latest volumes if you would like to produce a fairly comprehensive map of a particular area. On the other hand, referring to earlier volumes will present an interesting challenge, with the opportunity to trace separately the recent history and evolution of a street or wider area.

Map of areas covered by the Survey of London (please click here to download a pdf version)

Alternatively, contributors to Colouring London could upload information from one of many gazetteers printed in Survey of London volumes. These lists contain concise descriptions and facts, such as key dates, architects and builders. Maps printed in the volumes will assist in comparing buildings listed in the gazetteer to building footprints on the Ordnance Survey’s MasterMap, which is the base for Colouring London. If you are not familiar with a particular street, it is worth visiting it in person or referring to online street views to check whether buildings still exist.

Gazetteers in recent volumes:

Volume 46, South and East Clerkenwell (2008)

Volume 47, Northern Clerkenwell and Pentonville (2008)

Volume 48, Woolwich (2012)

Volume 50, Battersea (2013)

Volume 51, South-East Marylebone (2017)

Volume 52, South-East Marylebone (2017)

Populating Colouring London with age data from Survey volumes

If you are entering construction dates on Colouring London, please use the drop-down box to indicate the source and include a link to the online version of the relevant publication. This screenshot shows Farringdon Road, covered in the Survey’s Clerkenwell volumes (2008). For the purpose of simplicity, the database does not allow ranges to be entered. When the construction date for a building is listed as a range (such as 1882–3), please choose the earliest date (1882). If the façade date differs from the remainder of a building (for example, in cases of façade retention), please enter it in the box below.

We hope this guide will inspire our readers to contribute to Colouring London, and make use of the wealth of information collected and compiled by the Survey of London. This innovative website provides an exciting opportunity to collaborate with a broad network of people – from architects, historians and amenity groups to citizen scientists, local residents and students – to produce beautiful and meaningful maps of London.

Useful links

Colouring London

List of Survey of London volumes

Survey of London on British History Online

125 years of the Survey of London

By the Survey of London, on 6 September 2019

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Survey of London, a venerable institution that produces architectural and topographical studies of districts of London. To mark that milestone this blog post traces the Survey’s remarkable history, from its origins as a recording project undertaken by a band of volunteers to its present-day work carried out from its current base at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London.

C. R. Ashbee, photographed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1900

The Survey traces its roots to the Arts and Crafts architect, designer and social thinker Charles Robert Ashbee, who established a Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London in 1894. Ashbee’s efforts to produce a ‘register’ or a list of buildings were prompted by the demolition of a Tudor hunting lodge in Bromley-by-Bow to make way for a Board School, which coincided with a growing sense of unease around the destruction of historic fabric in London. Members of the Committee decided to focus their work initially on the east side of London. Drawings, photographs and notes were produced to record buildings of interest and inform conservation. The first publication was a monograph on Trinity Almshouses in Mile End Road, which was threatened with demolition at the time. The resulting volume (published in 1896) interwove architectural history with social and cultural threads, contributing in no small part to a successful campaign for preservation of the almshouses.

Bird’s-eye view of Trinity Almshouses from Mile End Road, looking north. Illustration by Matt Garbutt

Two elderly sea-captains playing draughts. Illustration by Max Balfour

The Committee soon started to collaborate with the London County Council (LCC), which agreed to cover the cost of printing volumes relating to the more confined area under its jurisdiction. From this point onwards, the geographical remit of the Survey has been restricted to the area within the County of London as between 1889 and 1965. The LCC subsequently published the first volume in the main or ‘parish’ series, which focused on Bromley-by-Bow (1900). The project was infused with Ashbee’s social ideals, particularly his conviction that to mark down a record of historic buildings was an essential public good that would enhance the lives of Londoners: ‘We plead that the object of the work we have before us, is to make nobler and more humanly enjoyable the life of the great city whose existing record we seek to mark down; to preserve of it for her children and those yet to come whatever is best in her past or fairest in her present; to induce her municipalities to take the lead and to stimulate among her citizens that historic and social conscience which to all great communities is their most sacred possession.’

Progress report of the Committee printed in 1897, including a list of honorary members, who received a copy of the volumes in return for a subscription

Despite the early links with the capital’s governing body, the Survey was not formally associated with the LCC for some time. In 1907, after Ashbee’s relocation to Chipping Campden, management of the Committee passed to Philip Norman, Percy Lovell and Walter H. Godfrey. After protracted discussions, an agreement between the Committee and the LCC was finally reached in 1910. The Committee agreed to deposit its extensive collection of material with the LCC, in exchange for the Council bearing the cost of printing the volumes. This arrangement continued for more than forty years. Under the auspices of the LCC, the Survey shifted gradually from being a project led by amateurs and enthusiasts – ‘whose’, to borrow Ashbee’s words, ‘best work is done on Saturday afternoons and summer holidays’ – to one undertaken by professional historians. The LCC embarked on a study of the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which coincided with its plans to form Kingsway and Aldwych and in the event contributed to the preservation of buildings. The production of the series was balanced between the LCC and the Committee, which published volumes alternately under a Joint Publishing Committee.

Pamphlet circulated to mark the publication of Eastbury Manor House (1917) the eleventh volume in the monograph series

The early volumes were consequently uneven in style and selective in scope, often focusing on the oldest or most high-status buildings in a parish. Each volume followed a similar format, comprising a map of the study area, an introduction, a register of buildings and a sequence of illustrations, including photographs and measured drawings. A separate series of monographs, focusing on single buildings and individual sites of particular interest, was published in parallel with the main ‘parish’ series.

Ida Darlington and Marie Draper, c.1950

After the completion of four volumes on St Pancras in 1952, the Survey Committee was disbanded. It was a decision reluctantly taken, brought about by a lack of ‘recruits for the heavy unpaid work which an earlier generation undertook with enthusiasm.’ [1] The editing work was at first taken on by Ida Darlington, who had started working on the Survey as a research assistant in 1926, but it proved impossible to balance with the considerable demands of her existing role as head of the record office and library at the LCC.

Francis Sheppard, the first General Editor of the Survey of London

From 1954 the Survey was managed entirely by the LCC, which appointed a General Editor to lead a small team of full-time staff. The first General Editor was Francis Sheppard, who oversaw the production of the series until his retirement in 1983. During those twenty-nine years, Sheppard published sixteen volumes in the Survey’s main series and developed a unique and enduring formula for its work: a complete record of the built fabric of each study area, integrated with social and economic detail.

 

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)

Note to Francis Sheppard from John Betjeman, 1959

After the abolition of the LCC in 1965, the Survey transferred to the Greater London Council (GLC). In an interview with The Daily Telegraph in 1976, Sheppard described the approach to choosing study areas: ‘Basically we have to decide where surviving buildings are thickest on the ground and where they are most likely to be demolished most quickly, but of course we don’t only describe existing buildings. We also list those which have been destroyed.’ Sheppard concentrated the Survey’s investigations on the West End, where many Georgian streets were threatened with demolition. Research in Covent Garden resulted in the listing of many buildings and helped to alter proposals for drastic redevelopment.

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

Following the dissolution of the GLC in 1986, the Survey became part of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, where work continued on volumes on County Hall (Monograph 17, 1991) and Poplar, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs (Volumes 43 and 44, 1994). Studies were subsequently made of Knightsbridge (Volume 45, 2000), Clerkenwell (Volumes 46 and 47, 2008) and the Charterhouse (Monograph 18, 2010). In 1999 the Royal Commission merged with English Heritage. The team next moved its investigations south of the river to Woolwich (Volume 48, 2012) and Battersea (Volumes 49 and 50, 2013). The Survey remained under the purview of English Heritage until 2013, when it joined the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London.

The Survey of London team in 2013, photographed in the year of the publication of the fiftieth volume in the series

The Survey continues to produce detailed topographical studies from its new home at the Bartlett, earning recognition for its scholarly rigour and pioneering approaches. In 2018, the Survey was honoured to receive the prestigious Colvin Prize from the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain for two volumes (Nos 51 and 52) covering south-east Marylebone (2017).

The Langham Hotel, Langham Place, drawn from measured survey by Helen Jones and Andy Crispe (Survey of London, Volume 52, South-East Marylebone, 2017)

All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, view towards the east end (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave, published in Survey of London, Volume 52, South-East Marylebone, 2017)

John Lewis, detail of Oxford Street front at the corner with Old Cavendish Street in 2018 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The Survey is continuing its work in Westminster with a volume covering Oxford Street (Vol. 53), which is set to be published in Spring 2020, and a volume on south-west Marylebone (Vol. 56). The current study of Whitechapel (Vols 54 and 55) has been supported by a major grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which has funded the development of a public collaborative website to experiment with integrating memories, moving images and texts, illustrations and experiences by numerous others with the work of the Survey. Research has also commenced towards a monograph on UCL’s campus in Bloomsbury.

St George’s Lutheran Church and School, Alie Street, Whitechapel. Drawn by Helen Jones of the Survey of London

Map of the London Hospital and its surroundings in Whitechapel, showing the footprint of the main hospital building, specialised departments, and nurses’ homes. Redrawn by Helen Jones from Ordnance Survey maps of 1913 and 1948

The Survey’s detailed investigations do take time, and even after 125 years a good deal of the map remains untouched. As the architectural historian Sir John Summerson said, ‘The Survey will never be finished. If the time comes when a final “coverage” seems to be in sight it will be time to begin again. London changes. So does the writing of history. The Survey as the continuing illustrator and expositor of the fabric of London has a function with no imaginable term.’

Areas and buildings covered by the Survey of London. Please click to expand

[1] Walter H. Godfrey, lecture at the University of London, 5 January 1954

St George’s German Lutheran Church and Goodman’s Fields

By the Survey of London, on 9 August 2019

St George’s German Lutheran Church on Alie Street is located in an area known as Goodman’s Fields in Whitechapel. Though now associated with the recent Berkeley Homes development to the east of Leman Street, for many centuries ‘Goodman’s Fields’ extended much further west, all the way to Mansell Street. It was named after the Goodman family, who held much of the open pasture land regarded as the ‘fields’ in the late sixteenth century. A hundred years later, under the Leman family, the principal streets – Mansell, Leman, Prescot and Alie Streets, were laid out, and the first proper wave of building development took place.

Second and third waves of development saw these streets and others close to St George’s lined with a mixture of substantial mercantile houses, smaller house-workshops, and large factories. However, industries such as sugar refining and gun making increasingly characterised the area, and, by the middle of the nineteenth century, rows of densely occupied terraced houses were constructed on the last remaining open ground. After population dispersal and extensive bomb damage during the two world wars, Goodman’s Fields suffered a loss of identity and a period of decline, becoming home to many large speculatively built office blocks by the early 1990s. In 2019, the area is undergoing a further transformation, with only a limited proportion of the historical built environment remaining, increasingly overshadowed by tall blocks of flats.

The Survey has prepared a new exhibition centring on buildings local to St George’s German Lutheran Church in Goodman’s Fields. It will be displayed at St George’s on 21st and 22nd September, and thereafter migrate around other Whitechapel venues. This post presents a sample of the exhibition, exploring the history of this quickly changing area.

Alie Street elevation of St George’s German Lutheran Church and associated buildings, from an illustration by Dolfer, 1821. Redrawn by Helen Jones for the Survey of London

 

St George’s German Lutheran Church

St George’s German Lutheran Church is the oldest surviving German church in Britain. Since the eighteenth century, St George’s has been a haven for thousands of German Protestants seeking economic opportunity and religious asylum in the Whitechapel area. Sugar refining is interwoven with St George’s history, having served as a major economic driver for the German immigrant community. Dederich Beckmann (c.1702–66), a wealthy sugar refiner, was a key founding leader of the church and donated substantially towards its construction. The site of St George’s was purchased in 1762, with construction beginning soon after. Joel Johnson and Company served as builder, possibly also architect, and the chapel was consecrated on 19 May 1763. Before fitting out was complete, the building was enlarged at its north end in 1764–5. The church’s vestry was also built at this time.

The church’s external appearance does not demonstrate any clear German architectural connection, rather it is in keeping with other English Nonconformist chapels of the period. Composed of stock brick, its Alie Street façade is symmetrically arranged and features a central Venetian window flanked by identical doors. Centred above the window is a lunette, perhaps at one time glazed, that now reads ‘Deutsche Lutherische St Georgs Kirche Begründet. 1762’ (St George’s German Lutheran Church. Founded 1762). The church’s slate roofline was initially crowned by a bell turret, clock, and weathervane. This was dismantled in 1934 when rot and woodworm were discovered after several decades of deferred structural maintenance. A plain cross can now be found where there was formerly the clock’s face.

Alie Street elevation of St George’s. Photographed in 2017 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Several sequences of repairs and restoration works resulted in replacement of all the original windows. Little else has been altered externally. However, the present juxtaposition between the simple church and towering neighbouring buildings reflects broader local shifts that have taken place in recent decades. Extensive restoration was undertaken in 2003–4, following the transfer of St George’s to the Historic Chapels Trust in 1999. In 2019, St George’s continues under the care of the Trust in partnership with the Friends of St George’s German Lutheran Church. Together they host talks, tours, concerts, and other public events to connect St George’s to the wider community.

Interior of St George’s, c.1930 (Courtesy of Friends of St George’s)

The arrangement of the sanctuary space reflects the evolutionary process of the church’s use, but also retains its original orientation, laid out in a typical Protestant fashion. Pews and galleries are centred around a main speaking platform, giving liturgical emphasis to preaching and the reading of scripture. This focus became a point of contention when the congregation’s first pastor, Dr Gustavus Anthony Wachsel (c.1735–99) incorporated hymn-singing and other musical performances into the more ‘pious’, word-focused liturgy, earning the chapel the critical nickname ‘St George’s Playhouse’. By 1802, the railed sanctuary had been made smaller, giving congregants closer proximity to the altar, and an organ had been installed. This was replaced by a larger instrument in 1885–6 resulting in the removal of upper galleries, which may have been made superfluous by declining attendances.

Mätzoldzimmer, c.1933 (Courtesy of Friends of St George’s)

In the first few decades of the twentieth century, the St George’s community faced numerous difficulties under the strong and steady leadership of Pastor Georg Mätzold (1862–1930). During the First World War, anti-German sentiment was high, and many congregants returned to Germany or were interned. Despite these challenges, the congregation continued to meet, and following Mätzold’s death, the much-diminished community turned to reviving their religious home. This work included a reorganization of the chapel interior, in which a committee room was made under the south gallery. Dr Julius Rieger commemorated his predecessor by dedicating the room as the Mätzoldzimmer, as it is still known. During and after the Second World War, the congregation not only continued to meet but increased in size as new German refugees entered London’s East End. In the second half of the century, attendances declined. A plan for re-arranging the interior by the architect J. Antony Lewis in 1970 would have removed much of the intact joinery, including the pews and large portions of the galleries. This, however, never came to fruition, allowing the eighteenth-century interior joinery to remain intact. It is a significant survival.

Proposed interior reorganisation by J. Antony Lewis, 1970 (Courtesy of Friends of St George’s)

 

St George’s Schools

A burial ground east of St George’s church was gradually built over. By 1800, a substantial four-storey parsonage adjoined the church adjacent to which stood a modest clerk’s house, likely constructed when a single-storey school replaced stable and coach-house buildings further east (see the drawn elevation above).

St George’s church foundation included ‘German and English Schools’ from 1765, but an operational school was only formally established in 1805, when the parsonage and clerk’s house were given over for educational use. By 1808 a small school building had been erected, accommodating a mixed class of girls and boys aged seven to fourteen. Pastor Christian Schwabe, who served at St George’s from 1799 to 1843, was instrumental in all this and an experienced teacher. Schwabe moved to Stamford Hill where he established a school for distinguished German families, many of which, with other wealthy German merchants, some involved with sugar refining, supported the new Whitechapel school. Voluntary contributions enabled a proportion of less well-off children to attend on scholarships. The numbers of pupils increased rapidly, and girls were separated from boys after a decade with the girls’ classes moved to the parsonage. Other rooms in the parsonage were given over to a new infants’ school, established in the 1850s.

Watercolour of St George’s Infant School of 1859 (Courtesy of Friends of St George’s)

A two-storey infant school was completed in 1859, funded by W. H. Göschen, a banker who was the son of Goethe’s publisher. Held to be the first of its kind in the city, the school allowed mothers to go out to work during the daytime, ‘an urgent necessity amongst London’s growing German population’. By 1877, 283 children were registered at the infants’ school, and the intake of the junior schools had increased to the extent that the existing accommodation on Alie Street was unsuitable. The whole frontage east of the church was then redeveloped, with E. A. Gruning, himself an immigrant German, being the architect. The most significant benefactor was local sugar baker, James Duncan. The rebuilding was spurred on by the enthusiasm and energy of the Rev. Dr Louis Cappel, minister between 1843 and 1882.

St George’s German and English School. Photographed in 2017 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The elementary school closed in 1917 when Pastor Mätzold was deported to Germany. The lower floors were soon used by tailoring businesses, and the upper storeys let out. By 1949 the infant school was disused. In 1983 St George’s converted the first floor into a student hostel/dormitory and retained the basement as a church hall. Both the schools were wholly converted into residential premises in the 1990s.

17 Leman Street

Opening in 1861, the German Mission Day School replaced an eighteenth-century tenement and family-run bakery. Designed by City architect Edward Ellis, the purpose-built school was one of a handful clustered around Buckle Street and the east end of Alie Street, primarily serving the large local German population. This school was supported by a group of German churches and funded through subscriptions from wealthy German individuals. Its initial aim was to educate the poor children of seamen, and it was in some ways a complement to St George’s Infants’ School. It was well attended, with enrolment reaching 150 within a few years of opening. However, by the end of the nineteenth century many German families had moved out of Whitechapel. This, coupled with the establishment of Board Schools following the Public Schools Act of 1868, led to the school’s closure in 1897 and the building being let out for commercial purposes.

Entrance to 17 Leman Street (now demolished). Photographed in 2007 by Danny McLaughlin

By 1903, the former Mission School was in use by the Jewish Working Girls’ Club (JWGC), which began in 1881 as a small sewing circle. It initially met in a house in Prescot Street and moved to the Gravel Lane Board School in Wapping in 1886. After its relocation to Leman Street, the JWGC purchased the freehold through the support of a Jewish-American philanthropist, Mrs Charles Henry, to serve as a goodwill gesture at a time of restricted US immigration policies. The building was lightly adapted for its new use by the architect M. E. Collins to include recreation rooms, a kitchen, scullery and library. The club was successful through the 1920s, with regular attendances of 160 for classes such as needlework, cooking, Hebrew and religion, singing and drill. Reliant on voluntary contributions from the local Jewish community for its operational expenses, the Club experienced periods of financial instability and closed at the beginning of the Second World War.

Jewish Working Girls’ Club. Reproduced from Living London, George R. Sims (ed.), 1902

Soon after the war’s outbreak, the War Office requisitioned the building for use as a hostel for black seamen from British colonies. Many West Africans and West Indians supported the British war effort by joining the merchant navy and serving in perilous situations at sea. Their arrival on British shores, however, posed difficulties. Those who found themselves in East London encountered underlying racism at the docks and were often turned away from other seamen’s hostels. As the Colonial Office hostel, this building provided a place for twelve men to stay for three weeks at a time, with shared spaces including a dining room, kitchen and common room. Despite the good intentions of providing camaraderie and support, those staying often struggled to find work and settle in the country, leading to criticism of the institution’s management. After much debate over the role of the Colonial Office in providing this support, the hostel’s ownership was transferred into private management in October 1949, in part facilitated by the London Council of Social Service. By 1959, the building was in use as a dress factory by H. Bellman & Sons Ltd. The former school was demolished in 2013, the site now contains a twenty-two storey aparthotel.

The Eastern Dispensary

The Eastern Dispensary was one of the oldest institutions of its kind in London. Founded in 1782 to provide free healthcare to poor local residents, the dispensary was first sited on Alie Street. It claimed an ‘on-call’ midwife, able to care for women in their homes, and a resident medical officer, alongside visiting surgeons and physicians of some standing. By the mid-nineteenth century, against the backdrop of a swollen local population, the old Alie Street premises were deemed no longer fit for purpose. Many London livery companies, local merchants and sugar bakers subscribed to the rebuilding project. The ‘new’ Eastern Dispensary opened at 19A Leman Street in February 1859 to designs by G. H. Simmonds, a local surveyor and the secretary of the dispensary who was also involved with the Royal Pavilion Theatre and the Davenant School. He deployed an Italianate palazzo style, but it is not clear that the original exterior design as seen in The Illustrated London News was wholly implemented.

The Eastern Dispensary in Leman Street. Reproduced from The Illustrated London News, 19 February 1859

The popularity of the dispensary remained high until the 1930s. It drew patients not only from Whitechapel, but from all around London and surrounding counties to visit clinics, many of which were held in the evenings to ensure patients did not lose income, nor employers man-power. Some alterations to the façade were made in 1929, and further repairs followed in 1936. By this time, attendances were dropping due to the improved general health of local people. The loss of population and staff during the war, as well as bomb damage to the building, precipitated the dispensary’s closure in 1940. Governors hoped to re-open it, but the establishment of the National Health Service in 1946 rendered the dispensary redundant. In 1944, the building was briefly occupied by the Jewish Hospitality Committee, who undertook substantial renovation and restoration, purposing the interior as a canteen and social club for the allied forces. Thereafter the lease was transferred to the Association for Jewish Youth. The building was sold in 1952, and then used for several decades by second-hand clothes merchants, S. Turner & Co.

The former Eastern Dispensary. Photographed by Derek Kendall in 2017 for the Survey of London

By 1980 the building was vacant and it suffered some neglect prior to listing in 1986. It was refurbished and insensitively adapted to use as a pub in 1997–8, with little or none of the original interior fittings remaining intact. It is only as a result of this refurbishment that the seven-bay Leman Street façade now does resemble exactly the scheme as published in 1859. Rustication extends across the lower storey, the first-floor windows are pedimented, and the roofline is articulated by a projecting cornice, above which sits an inscribed ‘Eastern Dispensary’ panel. The Dispensary Pub closed in mid-2019 and the building currently stands vacant once again.

The last jellied eel men in Whitechapel

By the Survey of London, on 12 July 2019

Jellied eels are a delicacy that divides opinion. The cold, viscous texture, and a colour that can only be described as grey, are not immediately suggestive of epicurean treats. But to many East Enders they are the taste of home. This is especially true if they now live a long, long way from Aldgate Pump. Mark Button, managing director of Barneys Seafood, the last jellied eel company in Whitechapel, knows this only too well. ‘We send them all over the country… We post them up to Scotland and Wales, a lot to the South coast, the Kent coast is still a very good area for jellied eels and even down to Devon and Cornwall.’ But sadly, though Mark plans to carry on jellying eels, from the end of September it won’t be in Whitechapel. Gentrification has caught up with the railway arches in Chamber Steet, in the south-west corner of Whitechapel, a stone’s throw from the Tower of London, that have housed Barneys for more than fifty years.

Mark Button, right, Managing Director of Barneys Seafood, outside the shop door at 55 Chamber Street, with his son Harry. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

Jellied eels are a cheap, traditional London dish going back to the eighteenth century. Eels were formerly plentiful in the Thames downriver towards the estuary, and the method of preparation served both to cook the eels and to preserve them. Though nowadays you are more likely to find them on a day out to the seaside at Southend or the south coast, both areas that buy Mark’s eels in large quantities, up until the 1970s jellied eels were readily available on market stalls and in pie and mash shops throughout east and south London. Only a few of these vendors now remain.

The most famous of jellied eel stalls in Whitechapel was Tubby Isaacs at Aldgate, at the south end of Petticoat Lane market. The original Tubby Isaac was Isaac Brenner, who opened his stall in Whitechapel in 1919, but emigrated to the United States in 1940.[1] Tubby Isaac’s or Isaacs, as the stall came generally to be known, was taken over by Soloman Gritzman – with Brenner’s departure Gritzman ‘became’ Tubby Isaacs.[2]

Solly Gritzman had a brother, Barney, who was in the same line of work and it is from Barney Gritzman that Barneys Seafood is descended. But, as with many East End stories, this was no tale of brotherly love. ‘There was a feud between the two brothers’, says Mark. ‘They had stalls opposite each other but they didn’t speak… they’d even spit at each other.’ This went on for more than twenty years.

Barneys Seafood, tucked under in railway arched a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

Barney Gritzman had taken over the railway arches in Chamber Street as a lockup for the stall at Aldgate. At that time they really were railway arches, sitting under the junction of two different railways – the surviving line which had begun as the London and Blackwall, one of London’s earliest railways, leading to Fenchurch Street station, and the London and North Western Railway branch leading up to the Haydon Square goods depot, between Mansell Street and the Minories. That branch line closed in the late 1960s, when Barney’s shop and factory became a railway arch without a railway. This was the point at which Mark Button’s father, Eddie, took over from Barney Gritzman.

‘My Dad was one of fourteen children of a builder but decided he didn’t want to do that so he started to look around for other work. He started in a pie and mash shop, handling eels. He worked for Cooke’s pie shop in Stratford, and he then got a job at the old Billingsgate Market in Lower Thames Street working with eels, being a blocksman with fish, where they would prep fish for West End restaurants, and finally he bought Barney’s seafood stall at Aldgate in 1969.’

It was in the Chamber Street arches that Eddie Button developed the eel preparation and wholesaling business. The Gritzman brothers’ feud carried on even after Eddie Button took over Barneys, though, when, as Mark relates, Solly ‘Tubby Isaacs’ Gritzman ‘decided he didn’t want to do his own jellied eels any more and asked my father to do his eels as well, with the understanding that no one could know it was the same supplier supplying both Tubby Isaacs and Barneys’.

The cleaning room, at Barneys Seafood, 55 Chamber Street, the first stop fot the shipments of eels. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

Mark joined the firm in 1983, when he was 18, and despite the enormous demographic and culinary changes in East London in the past thirty-five years, has sustained and developed the business. ‘When I first came here we did ninety per cent jellied eels and ten per cent other shellfish … now we possibly do forty per cent jellied eels and sixty per cent other shellfish, but that forty per cent is still a large percentage of the eels industry for the south of England.’

A bucket of cleaned eels awaiting preparation. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

The processes that go on in the arches have not changed much over time. In the summer months shipments of wild eels are flown in overnight from Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, arriving fresh for processing at Chamber Street in the early hours of the morning. In the winter the eels come in container lorries, once a week or once a fortnight, from eel farms in the Netherlands.

The eel preparation room at Barneys Seafood, 55 Chamber Street. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

Ginger and Simon gutting and cutting eels in the preparation room at Barneys. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

Ginger guts the eels before they are chopped into bite-size pieces prior to boiling. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

‘The eels are then cleaned and gutted, as one process, then they’re cut in to mouth-size pieces, then it’s all washed and then the raw material is cooked in boiling water.’

Eels chopped into pieces at Barneys Seafood before they go to the boiling room. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

Vats of boiling water, salt, gelatine, parsley and a blend of spices await the chopped eels in the boiling room at 55 Chamber Street. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

‘We add some salt and some spices just to take off any earthiness the wild eels might have, and because of the volumes we’re cooking we have to use a gelatine-based product to set the eels in. It’s a boiling liquid that then gets put in to a fridge overnight and the following day they are set as jellied eels.’

Chopped eels bubbling away in steel vats in the eel-boiling room at Barneys Seafood. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

Portioned jellied eels and liquor. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

The stall at Aldgate closed about six years ago. ‘With the red routes, no parking, double yellow lines, no taxi drivers allowed to stop, changing it all back to a two-way system from one way, the Congestion Charge, all these things put people off coming in to certain areas so it slowly killed the trade.’ But as one door closed another opened – literally. ‘When I first came here, we’d walk in in the morning and we used to close the door behind us, because there was so much work going on in the factory, my father didn’t encourage anyone off the street to come in. We were so busy no one had time to go and serve anybody. It’s only possibly been in the last ten or twelve years, since my father hasn’t been around, that we’re not doing as much work. So you open the doors, you put some freezer display cabinets in, people can come in and see what you do.’

‘We open the doors about 4.30 am and we’re here most days till about 1.30 in the afternoon. We’ve had to develop with the times … it’s about thirty per cent of the business I think now, people that walk in off the street. We supply cool bags and we’ve got a good little following, whether it’s people visiting for the day, students staying here, people sailing their boats into St Katharine’s Dock … we get everyone coming here. And you don’t know who they are till you start talking and … you know they’ve been sailing for six months and they come back here every year or so, and they come and find us again. And it’s retired people from America, all walks of life, you know, whether they’re scraping together a few pennies to buy something or they’re multimillionaires who just love a bit of jellied eels and seafood.’

Charles ‘Frank’ Mathews at the shop counter. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

The changing demography of the area around Chamber Street has been a boon to Barneys. ‘This was already a busy area, most of the time, but at weekends we’ve got more Europeans moving in, Leman Street has got a lot of Chinese and Asian students coming in from the Far East. It creates a different dynamic in the area, there’s the bars and restaurants, there are City people during the week and a lot of students at weekends, but they also like fresh fish and live produce, so we’ve got busier in our local trade over the last two to three years.’

There is a slightly bitter irony to this, of course. Last year Mark had a bit of a shock. ‘We got a letter from Network Rail, our landlord, saying the site had been sold. After fifty years of paying our rent on time, every time …’ In January 2019 the new owners, the developers Marldon, told Mark that Barneys would have to leave at the end of September. Mark is philosophical: ‘Well, they are developers. I think they’ve got an apart-hotel planned for the site.’

‘We’re looking at a few options at the moment.’ They may move in to Billingsgate Market, but that may itself soon be on the move for the same reason as Barneys. ‘In 1982 the fish market moved from Lower Thames Street to Canary Wharf which was the great move at the time, with readymade car parks and readymade cold stores, and it was hi-tech at the time. It’s not hi-tech today and the land values of Canary Wharf have outstripped the usage of a fish market which only trades from 3am until 9am.’ The market owner, the Corporation of London, has been contemplating moving all the old produce markets – the fruit and veg at Leyton, fish at Canary Wharf and, oldest of all, meat at Smithfield to a single site at Barking. ‘With the prospect of moving to Barking, with the new market, we’ll see what that brings with a multicultural type of market. There’s still a call for traditional shellfish. The jellied eel side of the business is declining but with trends changing and different types of people moving in to the area, people are willing to try these things again.’

So he is not downhearted. ‘You know, I could have panicked, shut up the shop and said “That’s it, had enough, going to do something else.” But because I came here at the age of 18 and apart from the 3am alarm going off most mornings …  I’m fortunate my son’s now in the business, he’s 21, he wants to carry on doing it, he enjoys it, in some sad way as we all do. Once it’s in the blood I think it’s always there.’

Mark Button reflected in the frontage of Barneys Seafood, 55 Chamber Street. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

Mark Button was talking to Aileen Reid from the Survey of London at 55 Chamber Street on 26 June 2019.

Barneys Seafood will be at 55 Chamber Street, London E1 8BL till the end of September 2019: https://www.barneys-seafood.co.uk/

Solly Gritzman can be seen at his Tubby Isaacs stall, talking about Petticoat Lane market, in a BBC documentary from 1968, about four minutes in on the timer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00t3mkz/one-pair-of-eyes-georgia-brown-who-are-the-cockneys-now

References 

[1] Ancestry.co.uk: Daily Mail, 2 Sept 1926, p. 3

[2] The People, 17 March 1974, p. 2

The Baker Street Bazaar

By the Survey of London, on 14 June 2019

The Baker Street Bazaar was a group of buildings hidden behind houses and shops on the west side of Baker Street, between Blandford Street and Dorset Street. It was a famous place in Victorian times and well into the twentieth century, but the name was going out of use before the Second World War and what now seem to have been the great days of the establishment were by then long over. Burned out in the Blitz, the Bazaar was demolished in 1941 and its site became an American military car-park. In the 1950s it was redeveloped with the head offices of Marks & Spencer, coincidentally the pioneers of Penny Bazaars half a century earlier. Marks & Spencer moved there in 1957 from scattered offices, including those across the road at 82 Baker Street, where the company had been for many years. This was a time when important sites in Baker Street and elsewhere in this part of the West End were being redeveloped with corporate headquarters. Marks & Spencer’s were the biggest, and there was space for part to be let at first to another corporation, Metal Box, for its own offices. The buildings, known until Marks & Spencer’s departure in 2004 as Michael House, are still there but hardly recognizable following enlargement and remodelling by Make Architects in 2005–8, as 55 Baker Street.

In their origins, the blitzed buildings were neither a bazaar nor even in Baker Street. When the district was first laid out in streets, two of the main developers were Abraham Adams, originally a carpenter, and Thomas Elkins, a bricklayer. In 1771 they entered into agreement with the landowner Henry Portman for one particularly large site, with a plan involving a market square on the east side of Baker Street. Ten years later, the market having failed to appear, most of the ground had to be handed back to Portman. But a certain amount of work had been done round about, including one development still under construction. This was a barracks for the Second Troop of Horse Guards, one of several cavalry barracks called into being by the Napoleonic wars and conveniently close to Hyde Park. It seems that in the end Adams and Elkins had to give up the barracks too, for in 1791 Portman leased it to George and John Elwes, sons of the financier and legendary miser John Elwes, who were able to relet it to the government on lucrative terms. By that time, the occupying troop had been reformed as the Second Regiment of Life Guards, with men of lower social background replacing the previous complement of ‘gentlemen troopers’.

Quadrangular in layout, with a central parade ground and a riding house at the north end, the barracks was entered by passageways from the street on the south side, then King Street and only redesignated as part of Blandford Street in 1937.

The Horse Bazaar (Westminster Archives)

In 1821 King Street Barracks was replaced by a new barracks in Regent’s Park, and in 1822 reopened as the Horse Bazaar, the latest venture by the businessman and politician John Maberly. He had managed to get the premises at half the rent the government had paid, but was pouring money into the place. Maberly’s was a coachmaking and leather-dressing family, and he had married the daughter of William Leader, the Marylebone-based coachmaker to the Prince of Wales. With a fortune inherited from Leader, he plunged into manufacturing, contracting and finance, setting up banks and a soapworks, acquiring textile mills and supplying the army with uniforms. As an MP from 1816, for Rye and then Abingdon, he was a vociferous advocate of tax reform. At Shirley House, his seat near Croydon, he maintained racing stables. Maberly’s businesses were largely sound enterprises, but he became heavily involved in stock-market speculations and risky overseas loans. In 1832 his bank John Maberly & Co. suspended payments, and within weeks he was bankrupt. Only a fraction of his debts was ever paid off. He died abroad in obscurity some time later, but his son William Leader Maberly was able to pursue a successful career in the army and civil service, running the Post Office before Rowland Hill took over and living near his father’s Bazaar, in Gloucester Place.

At first the Bazaar was just for sales of horses on commission, but soon the business expanded, as carriage sales were introduced, advances were made on horses and carriages brought for sale, and harness and saddlery was sold. When it opened, it was described simply as comprising 300–400 stalls, with a large riding house and high-walled exercise ground – much as it must have been as a barracks. But subsequently it is clear that a great deal was spent. Accounts vary, but it was in the tens of thousands of pounds. There were light and spacious galleries capable of displaying 500-plus carriages, and the auction room itself was a top-lit hall with an elegant viewing gallery. Most expensive, no doubt, was the vast and lavishly decorated ‘Subscription Club’ room built over the riding house. This was once thought to have been the former officers’ mess, but it was too grand even for a guards’ regiment. It proved too grand even for the Subscription Club.

Although the word bazaar had been in use from the start, it was only with the opening of the ‘New Bazaar’ in 1826 that the establishment took on the character of a general retail market, aimed at the most fashionable and affluent shoppers. Encouraged by sales of tack, Maberly launched this fresh development based on John Trotter’s Soho Bazaar. Applications for stalls were sought from independent traders, and provision was made for the sale of furniture, pictures and other articles on commission, on which, as with carriages, advances were offered. A vast range of goods was promised, ranging from watches and jewellery to perfumery and toys. The furniture department was at the King Street end, while dozens of stalls comprising the Ladies’ or Fancy Bazaar occupied the gallery floor of the long eastern range. A house in Baker Street was acquired to form the entrance, and so the site in due course acquired its memorably alliterative name. At the north end the former Subscription Club room, renamed the Great Room, was fitted up with more stalls. Ante-rooms included one displaying glassware, one for music, another serving as a dressing room for ladies buying millinery. Refreshment rooms, reading rooms and private subscription rooms completed the ambience of leisure and luxury, while the female stallholders had ‘a more than ordinary share of youth and beauty’. According to an old story, Thackeray based Becky Sharp on Tizzie Reeves, an adventuress whose mother was one of these girls. ‘When these alterations are completed,’ it was claimed, ‘there will be assembled, under one roof, the most extensive collection of the luxuries, necessaries, or conveniences of life, probably to be met with in Europe; presenting the nearest approach we have yet seen to that Eastern market, from which it has taken its title’. [1]

The auction room at the Horse Bazaar (Westminster Archives)

With Maberly’s bankruptcy, the Bazaar was bought by the auctioneer Matthew Clement Allen, proprietor of Aldridge’s Repository, the horse and carriage mart in St Martin’s Lane. Allen’s brother-in-law William Boulnois, a City wine merchant, became involved, and in time took over parts of the premises, including the carriage and furniture departments. Horse sales were transferred to Aldridge’s in 1838, after which Boulnois had the whole Bazaar to himself.

Born to a French emigré family, Boulnois became squire of Gestingthorpe in Essex, where he died in 1862. Thereafter the Bazaar was run in partnership by two of his sons, William Allen Boulnois, architect and surveyor, and Edmund, who became a  prominent figure in Marylebone as a businessman and in many public roles, including JP, Guardian of the Poor, LCC member and Conservative MP. Percy Boulnois, another brother, became the borough engineer of Portsmouth and a close friend of Arthur Conan Doyle. As Doyle’s biographer Andrew Lycett suggests, although the Bazaar never figures in the Sherlock Holmes stories, the Boulnois connection may have prompted the choice of Baker Street as Holmes’s address.

In 1840 William Boulnois announced the opening of an ironwork department, grandly called the Panklibanon. Manufactories on site were to permit the undertaking of contracts ‘of any magnitude’. [2] Unfortunately, all this was in breach of a covenant in the head lease against noxious trades. The new forges had to be dismantled and the manufacturing side of the business abandoned. Consequently the Panklibanon was reduced to showrooms only, with a range of goods from stoves and baths down to pans and tea trays. It passed through a succession of proprietors, before being taken over as the lighting and glassware showrooms of Apsley Pellatt.

The Bazaar’s use for exhibitions went back at least to 1827, when George Pocock’s experimental kite-powered carriage, the Charvolant, was put on display. After horse sales were given up it became an important venue. The Smithfield Club, founded in 1798 under the Duke of Bedford’s presidency to improve livestock standards, held its annual show there from 1839. Boosted by the development of the railways, which enabled animals to be brought from afar, this was a pre-Christmas extravaganza of grotesquely overfed cattle, sheep and pigs combined with displays of the latest advances in farm equipment, and it was enormously popular and prestigious.

Smithfield Club cattle show in 1843 (Westminster Archives)

At first it was makeshift, with a temporary canvas roof and the ground so filthy that ladies in their long skirts were unable to attend. Later, improvements were made including a permanent iron-framed roof built to W. A. Boulnois’s design. Prince Albert was a regular exhibitor, and he and Queen Victoria visited on several occasions; red sand was put down in the show-yard. But the show outgrew the Bazaar, and from 1862 was held at the new Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington.

More important even than the Smithfield show was the waxworks exhibition of Madame Tussaud and Sons, which moved in 1835 from the Royal London Bazaar in Gray’s Inn Lane to the Great Room at Baker Street, where it would remain for half a century. It reopened with ‘the splendid Golden Corinthian Saloon, and two new figures of the Duke of Sussex and Sir Walter Scott’. [3] Following the departure of Tussauds, their old premises at the Bazaar were briefly used in 1885–6 as the Baker Street Picture Galleries, for the sale of paintings on commission. They reopened in 1886 as a venue for hire called the Portman Rooms. Among the first activities were Miss Chreiman’s classes for the Hygiene and Remedial Physical Training of Girls. In 1889 refurbishment and redecoration was carried out by the famous Newman Street decorators Campbell, Smith and Campbell, under the joint supervision of the architects Sir Arthur Blomfield and J. S. Paul. It was a lavish transformation, involving mirrors, velvet, stained glass, embossed papers and anaglypta, stencilling and Classical sculpture, coloured in yellow, white, bronze, gold, indigo, cream and Pompeian red. The Great Room was remodelled as the Large Ballroom, with a new coved and moulded ceiling treatment, and other principal spaces were remodelled to provide a second ballroom and a supper room.

Madame Tussaud’s waxworks in the Great Room, probably 1880s (Westminster Archives)

The Portman Rooms became one of the best-known London venues for dances, concerts, charity bazaars, political, religious and social meetings of all sorts, including many events promoting women’s suffrage. An early form of cinema, the Anarithmascope, was exhibited there in 1896–7. But the place seems to have fallen on hard times after the death of the Boulnois brothers. In 1913 the main ballroom was declared structurally unsafe, and it was suggested by the authorities that the ‘inmates’ should be transferred to Marylebone workhouse. Repairs were carried out, and in 1916 the Portman Rooms were requisitioned as a military hospital and Royal Army Medical Corps barracks. After the war, Tussauds were keen to move back to their one-time premises, but found too many difficulties in meeting safety regulations and had to give up the idea. Instead, the Portman Rooms re-opened to the public in 1919 as the grand ballrooms and function rooms which they remained until the next war.

Over the years there were various temporary exhibitions. The big attraction of 1843 was the Glaciarium and Frozen Lake, a skating rink with painted Alpine scenery, employing a chemical ice-substitute. A ladies-only morning session was followed by general admission and after dark the lake was artistically lit – ‘the moon rises, stars glitter, and music enlivens the whole scene’. [4] It proved popular, and Prince Albert was among those who tried it out, before it was replaced by a bigger version set up elsewhere in 1844.

Carriage sales continued through the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth gave way to sales of motor-cars. In 1870 the Boulnois firm branched out into another venture, with specially built storage warehouses on the west side of the site in what is now Rodmarton Street. These were converted in 1922 into a social club for shopworkers, with its own dance floor, billiard rooms and restaurant.

Meanwhile, the furniture department grew into an important separate business following its acquisition in the 1840s by a Regent Street draper and upholsterer, Thomas Charles Druce. He died in 1864 but his family firm was eventually to take over the entire Bazaar site. Druce’s developed into a department store, though always specializing in furniture, took over the businesses of warehousing and sales from W. & E. Boulnois, and also branched out into undertaking and estate agency.

Plan of the Bazaar site, about 1900 (Portman Estate). Please click to expand. 

The name of Druce will be forever associated with the wild goose chase set off in the 1890s when T. C. Druce’s widow claimed that her husband had not died in 1864 but had been in reality the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, who died in 1879, and therefore that her son was heir to the Portland estates. The duke (briefly in the Second Life Guards, though not until shortly after the regiment left King Street) was alleged to have come and gone in disguise through a secret passage – his London residence was not far away, in Cavendish Square. Physically, the Bazaar was a warren, organic in its development, with little exterior presence on account of its being corseted by the houses and shops along the street frontages of the nearly two-acre block. Possibly this gave credence to a sense of mystery and fuelled Mrs Druce’s fantasies of double identity. The passage, however, was merely a fire exit, not actually installed until after T. C. Druce’s death. The celebrated but preposterous Druce–Portland case was not resolved until Druce’s coffin was opened to reveal his well-preserved body in December 1907.

In December 1940 almost the entire premises burned out in an air raid. Further damage followed. For five successive Sunday mornings traffic was diverted so that the ruins could be safely brought down. Thereafter, Druce’s continued to operate from more than one Baker Street address but the business contracted, with the closure in the 1950s of the department store and auction rooms, and the name is now just that of the estate agency.

References

1. Morning Chronicle, 17 March 1826

2. The Standard, 8 June 1840

3. Morning Chronicle, 26 March 1835

4. Bristol Mercury, 17 June 1843