By Survey of London, on 24 July 2020
Central House on the south side of Whitechapel High Street is in the middle of a transformation, not its first.
The building began as a flatted factory, that is rentable spaces for small-scale industry, an important aspect of post-war reconstruction and planning in east London. Another roughly contemporary flatted factory survives close by, on the west side of Adler Street. This post presents both these buildings of the early 1960s, also accounting for what has happened to them since.
The County of London Plan of 1943 prescribed distinct zones of activity, recommending the dispersal of industry away from London’s inner boroughs. It was recognised, however, that small factories and workshops, heretofore scattered hither and thither, could not realistically be banished but would need in some degree to be kept close to the housing of those they employed, preferably gathered together in low-rent premises.
The plan therefore recommended the building of flatted or ‘unit’ factories, ‘which have proved suitable for clothing, some types of light engineering, light chemicals and chemists’ preparations, and furniture, although the latter will require more room for saw benches.’  In keeping with this the Stepney–Poplar Reconstruction Scheme of the late 1940s envisaged an industrial enclave to either side of Plumbers Row, a heavily bombed area that extended west to Adler Street. Denys Munby presented formidable evidence in favour of industrial relocation in Industry and Planning in Stepney: A Report presented to the Stepney Reconstruction Group (1951). But, having investigated multi-storey flatted factories, the LCC reaffirmed their desirability in East London in 1954 as redevelopment began to swing into action. A Unit Factories programme was begun and an exemplar followed at Long Street in Haggerston in 1958–9. Further support for this approach to keeping employment local had come from Michael Young and Peter Willmott in Family and Kinship in East London (1957).
Compulsory purchase and other difficulties meant that Walter Bor, the planner–architect in charge of redevelopment in Stepney in the LCC Architects’ Department’s Town Planning Division, had to revisit plans for the Plumbers Row area in 1959 to accept mixed use before he had worked up a scheme for unit factories/workshops. He turned to another site on the west side of Adler Street (beyond the zone), where houses of the 1780s flattened in the war had been cleared. Alternatives for a two-storey building were prepared and revised and in 1961 Yorke, Rosenberg & Mardall were engaged to see the job through. They prepared a scheme for a five-storey block to house fifteen units of from 600 to 2,200 square feet for light industry or wholesale showrooms above seven ground-floor shops, with access galleries off two stair and lift landings to permit subdivision. A specification for fair-faced concrete finish of the highest standard was questioned but approved as being of ‘architectural importance’. When tenders came in too high, the architects were obliged to reduce the estimate of £124,520 by £22,000. In the event the contract went to William Willett (Contractors) Ltd in 1963 for £110,430 and the building was completed in 1964. Early tenants were mostly in the rag trade, largely tailors.
Built with a reinforced-concrete frame and grey-brick infill panels on a regular grid, the Adler Street building has cantilevering that with its recessed galleries gives the long elevations dramatic Modernist geometry of the kind to which the term Brutalist is now often applied. Much of the fair-faced concrete has been painted, rougher aggregate staying exposed on the gallery rails. Parts of the building have been adapted for educational use, the second and third floors unified for the Icon College of Technology and Management London.
Meanwhile, close by to the west, planning for the roadworks that were to create the Gardiner’s Corner gyratory system meandered through the 1950s. The intended rerouting of the end of Commercial Road precipitated the compulsory purchase of a site on the south side of Whitechapel High Street that had for many decades housed Davis’s Feather Mill. In 1959 Lush & Lester, architects, a partnership formed in 1956 by Cecil Lush and Alfred Lester, approached the LCC to propose an eight-storey building on what would remain of this site, suggesting warehouses and showrooms below a flatted factory. This fitted well with the LCC’s approach to Stepney’s comprehensive development and was favourably received.
Reduced to six storeys, Lush & Lester’s scheme was granted planning permission in 1961. Central & District Properties Ltd of Berkeley Square secured a 99-year lease from the LCC and carried forward the development, starting with site clearance in 1963. Central House went up between June 1964 and June 1965. Taylor, Whalley & Spyra were the engineers, responsible for precast-concrete panels, and Tersons Ltd the contractors.
Lush & Lester responded to the challenge of building cheaply and sturdily with a pragmatism that was characteristic of their work. Central House has a simple reinforced-concrete frame of six bays east–west and ten bays north–south. Continuous windows wrap around all sides of the building. On the short north and south elevations, off-centre open staircases are recessed above projecting balconies over entrances for access to the workshops on the second to fifth floors. Seven ground-floor showrooms were given corresponding first-floor warehouses or workshops. An eastern service lane off Manningtree Street snakes around a semi-circular substation to underground parking. The ground and first floors were immediately occupied by textile businesses, but other intentions were diverted. The Sir John Cass School of Art was accepted as the main tenant of the rest of the building. Modular partitions made it readily adaptable to educational purposes, but the logic of the flatted factory was lost.
In 1978 Roy Sandhu, a lower-storey tenant through Roy Manufacturing Co. (Fashion) Ltd, acquired the Central House freehold. With the rag trade on the wane, in 1986 Sandhu turned to property development. He commissioned Ian Ritchie, a Wapping-based architect, to reimagine a site that stretched from Commercial Road to St Mary’s Gardens (Altab Ali Park), taking in Central House and involving the closure of White Church Lane. The speculative scheme tested the appetite for a monolithic banking centre just east of the City, presenting a potential rival to Canary Wharf.
The proposal consisted of a semi-cylindrical office tower of sixty storeys, taller than any tower in Europe at the time, inflected with High-Tech nuance. Dealing floors clad in translucent glass were to be punctuated by open garden levels at strategic intervals. A four-storey mixed-use podium was a concession to the urban context, so too was new parkland behind the tower, envisioned to extend and upgrade St Mary’s Gardens. Sandhu’s project was widely reported, at least in part on account of his rags-to-riches story and bold ambition. Roy’s Corner, as the scheme was mockingly dubbed, was not well received by Tower Hamlets Council and local residents. Criticism focused on the tower’s high proportion of office space, its potential impact on the rag trade, and its unprecedented scale. An unfavourable political climate ensured the controversial scheme was shelved. Even so, it was resurrected in 1988 with only a slight reduction in height. It failed once more, though Ritchie claimed, to the incredulity of critics but with some foresight, that ‘the tower will be hardly visible from street level until you look upwards and then it will be like gazing into the 21st century.’ 
Via a series of mergers, the Sir John Cass School of Art was subsumed into London Metropolitan University (LMU) in 2002. Central House had been retained throughout, used for teaching art, craft and design since the 1960s, with additional workshops at what had been the London College of Furniture to the east on Commercial Road. In 2011 the University moved its Architecture Department from Holloway Road premises to Central House to create a unified ‘creative hub’. All floors of the building came into the possession of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture and a thorough refurbishment was undertaken by Cartwright Pickard, architects. Reorganization of the ground floor and basement created new entrance, gallery, café, gym and studio spaces.
Robert Mull, LMU’s Director of Architecture and Dean of the Cass Faculty, commissioned insiders Florian Beigel, Philip Christou and the Architecture Research Unit (ARU), to re-conceive the upper floors of the building to facilitate the teaching of architecture. Their scheme reasserted the original structure, but deliberately sought to disrupt its pragmatism to allow informal connections between disciplines to emerge serendipitously. After relocating to Central House in 2013, students and staff acknowledged the efficacy of Beigel, Christou and the ARU’s sensitive interventions. Moreover, the ‘Aldgate Bauhaus’ benefited from proximity to the East End art scene and the Whitechapel Gallery. Confidence in the future culminated in July 2015 in a proposal for a large installation of external signage designed by art Professor Bob and Roberta Smith. It was to proclaim ‘Art Makes People Powerful’. Subsequent events suggested otherwise.
In October 2015, under heavy financial pressures, LMU’s management presented a ‘one campus, one community’ plan, anticipating the closure of nineteen courses and a much-reduced student body. Central House was designated for sale and the Cass was to be relocated to Holloway Road, its new custom-designed teaching spaces discarded. The proposed closure was met with fierce opposition, perceived to be a short-sighted commercial decision, and indicative of an identity crisis afflicting former polytechnics. A ‘Save the Cass’ campaign drew widespread support, including from David Chipperfield, Richard Rogers and Nicholas Serota. The sale of Central House was debated in the House of Lords, but the government declined to take action and LMU’s management kept its resolve.
In February 2016 Frasers Property purchased Central House from LMU for £50m, a price the University noted was ‘significantly above the expected market level’.  The Cass vacated on 31 August 2017, relocating to Calcutta House off the north side of Whitechapel High Street. Initial plans for a retail, hotel and office tower of around thirty storeys, with outline designs prepared by Arney Fender Katsalidis, were scaled back in 2018 in favour of an office-block scheme by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. This was approved and is being carried forward by BAM Consruction. It adds six storeys to the existing building in somewhat mirroring form, though in steel and darker hued, a parti that claims inspiration from Rachel Whiteread’s Fourth Plinth.
1 – J. H. Forshaw and Patrick Abercrombie, County of London Plan, 1943, pp. 97–8
2 – East London Advertiser, 6 August 1988
3 – Building Design, 23 February 2016
By Survey of London, on 26 June 2020
Our latest blog post is the third piece in a series of extracts from the Survey of London’s volume 53, on Oxford Street, published in April 2020. This piece includes four photographs of Frascati’s Restaurant by Bedford Lemere & Co., making use of a new facility on the Historic England Archive’s online catalogue. We are aware that these photographs might not appear for users of the Safari web browser and recommend using an alternative such as Google Chrome.
Once among the West End’s most famous restaurants, Frascati’s operated in spacious premises behind 26–32 Oxford Street between 1892 and 1954. Frascati’s had a chequered early history. It emerged from plans to redevelop the former Star Brewery to the west of the Oxford Music Hall. By 1887 the brewery had been acquired by a speculating mine owner, R. B. Lavery, on whose behalf a builder, J. Evans, applied to erect shops and offices at Nos 26–28. Briefly that scheme was superseded by a plan for a music-hall-type ‘theatre and opera house’, for which the theatrical manager and entrepreneur Andrew Melville was to act with Lavery as sponsor. Designs for this so-called New Oxford Street Theatre came from the Birmingham architects Essex & Nicol, with whom Melville had been working in the Midlands. Two versions were sent in to the Metropolitan Board of Works in quick succession during the summer of 1887. The first included a show front in Franco-Flemish style towards Oxford Street and a three-tiered, east-facing auditorium behind with a refreshment room and promenade serving each floor. The revised version, incorporating better exits and more up-to-date iron construction for the roof and cantilevered balconies, won approval. But Melville must have backed out, for nothing more is heard of the theatre.
In about 1888–9 the front block at 26–32 Oxford Street was erected in carcase. This severe, four-storey brick building was probably the work of the City-based architect J. Lewis Holmes, once more representing Lavery. It included generous entrances in the centre and east position, reserved for whatever would be built behind. In 1889 Holmes brought forward plans for a grand café to fill the back space, with Henry McDowell, an art dealer and entrepreneur of New Bond Street, as the prospective tenant. The project was spatially ambitious, involving an iron and glass structure behind the existing block of Oxford Street shops, centred upon an octagonal dome 40ft in diameter and overlooked by deep galleries, to which there was separate staircase access. Though the design was somewhat crude and old-fashioned, it seems to have been largely built, and a music licence was obtained for the prospective Frascati Winter Garden. But when McDowell asked in March 1890 to extend the licence to selling alcohol, the London County Council, by then the pertinent authority, declined, pointing out that the original licence had been granted on condition that the building was not to be a music hall or casino with a bar attached. The refusal led to McDowell’s withdrawal, leaving the structure untenanted.
A more exotic taker now came to the fore in the person of A. W. Krasnapolsky, a Dutch businessman of Ukrainian descent. Krasnapolsky had risen to fame by creating a fashionable café and winter garden in the heart of Amsterdam, enhanced by electric lighting. Drawn to London and the Frascati’s site, he commissioned elaborate alterations from the well-known Dutch architect Jan Springer. These were in the planning stage by the end of 1890, and in hand during the summer of 1891, when it was reported that Dutch carpenters were on site despite a lock-out in the London building trades. Representing Springer in London was his assistant Willem Kromhout, later an architect of greater distinction than Springer; a third designer of note, Alban Chambon, a Belgian who had previously contributed to various London theatre interiors, was also involved. Under the hands of these collaborators the structure was fitted out and enriched in a florid Renaissance taste. The Krasnapolsky Restaurant, now so called, was inaugurated by the Dutch ambassador, Count de Bylandt, at the end of November. It was advertised for its winter garden, billiard tables and lager beers; a painting of the young Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands by Hubert Vos held pride of place. Besides the winter garden behind, it took in most of the front block at 26–32 Oxford Street.
But Krasnapolsky had miscalculated. Too much money was spent (according to one source £100,000) and too little arrived from Holland. Within six months the restaurant was in trouble and the creditors were closing in. The business was sold in the summer of 1892 to the proprietors of the Holborn Restaurant for £70,000, who reinstated the name of Frascati’s. The enterprise now began to flourish at last.
The Holborn Restaurant stood formerly on the south side of High Holborn, about half a mile east of Frascati’s. Founded in 1874, it flourished under the management of Thomas Hamp as a large-scale establishment for the professional classes. In the mid 1880s the hotelier Frederick Gordon bought the Holborn and doubled it in size. Hamp remained in charge, and probably initiated the acquisition of Frascati’s. At any rate a company under his name was responsible for minor decorative alterations early in 1893. These were limited, the essential arrangements and décor having been created by the Krasnapolsky designers. The facilities at this stage consisted of two large billiard rooms in the Oxford Street basement, a buffet and marble-lined grill room on the ground floor above, and the large domed winter garden behind. To one side was an elliptical alcove, perhaps for the orchestra, and on the other a kitchen. Two ample curving stairs led up to balcony level, where the Alpha Saloon occupied half of the front. Above again were an opulent Banqueting Hall and the earliest of what was to be a series of masonic rooms. But the winter garden was the space everyone remembered. ‘There are gold and silver everywhere’, noted the restaurant critic Col. Newnham-Davis:
The pillars which support the balcony, and from that spring up again to the roof, are gilt, and have silver angels at their capitals. There are gilt rails to the balcony, which runs, as in a circus, round the great octagonal building; the alcoves that stretch back seem to be all gold and mirrors and electric light. What is not gold or shining glass is either light buff or delicate grey, and electric globes in profusion, palms, bronze statuettes and a great dome of green glass and gilding all go to make a gorgeous setting.
Like the Holborn, Frascati’s earned its way by hosting private dinners for clubs, companies and associations. If its fare was not of the highest class, it was remembered for the élan of its central space and for the pleasures of dining there to the accompaniment of a string orchestra, not yet usual in 1890s London. An early aficionado remarked,
Frascati’s really does supply a perfectly innocent and a rational plan of recreation to a class of persons … who never enter ordinary so called Music Halls. It provides an orchestra solely, without songs or any scenic attractions, and hence is the one place of entertainment in this immense city of its kind … There are many who like myself dine at clubs or elsewhere, and like to saunter in afterwards to smoke a cigar and hear some pleasant music.
Winter Garden at the Krasnapolsky Restaurant in 1892 (Historic England Archive). If the photograph is not visible, please switch to another browser such as Google Chrome.
The various minor changes made to Frascati’s during the mid 1890s were probably designed by T. E. Collcutt. Fashionable just then in the West End on the strength of his Imperial Institute, his extensions to the Savoy Hotel and his opera house at Cambridge Circus, Collcutt was a neighbour to the Hamp family in Bloomsbury Square, and in 1894 was commissioned to aggrandize the Holborn Restaurant with the King’s Hall. He also designed an iron and glass canopy for the Frascati’s entrance at 32 Oxford Street, but it was refused permission by the LCC. In 1895 Frederick Gordon gave up his controlling interest in the two establishments, which were reorganized as a public company, Holborn and Frascati Ltd. Hamp stayed on at the Holborn, but a new manager, J. W. Morrell, took over at Frascati’s. Morrell had ideas of his own, so the canopy finally erected in 1896 may not have been Collcutt’s.
Banqueting Room at the Krasnapolsky Restaurant in 1892 (Historic England Archive)
Instead, Morrell chose to employ C. H. Worley to undertake a series of additions at Frascati’s from 1899 onwards. In particular the restaurant was enlarged with extra rooms and services along the south side of Hanway Street, where Worley supplied a run of two and three-storey fronts in his idiosyncratic style. At ground level the winter garden restaurant was extended on both sides, with the York and Connaught Rooms at first-floor level and new masonic temples a further floor higher. Worley lived only to see the western masonic room built, for he died in 1906, to be succeeded by Reginald Blomfield, who next year designed a small elliptical domed room on the eastern end of the Hanway Street front, and altered the Oxford Street basement. The builders Godson & Sons undertook most of these jobs. The total capacity of Frascati’s at this stage was about 1,500.
Winter Garden at Krasnapolsky’s Restaurant in 1892 (Historic England Archive)
After the First World War the Collcutt firm returned to Frascati’s. Stanley Hamp, one of Thomas Hamp’s sons, had been articled to Collcutt in the late 1890s and became his partner in 1906. After Collcutt’s retirement Hamp updated Frascati’s in an effort at Empire style. The York Room came first (1920–1). Recasting the interiors facing Oxford Street followed in 1927, when Hamp created a spacious new foyer and pepped up the dour brick frontage with gilt metalwork, electric lighting and a glass valance over the entrance. Godson & Sons were once again the builders for this work, with decorative panels by Eleanor Abbey and plaster relief panels by Percy Bentham. Collcutt & Hamp added a small extra building to expand the service accommodation of Frascati’s on the north side of Hanway Street, at No. 18, in 1925.
Frascati’s Restaurant in 1920 (Historic England Archive)
Though the restaurant was re-equipped after the Second World War, once again under Collcutt & Hamp, it closed in 1954. The Land Securities Investment Trust bought the premises and hired Fitzroy Robinson & Hubert H. Bull, architects, to adapt them to a mixture of commercial uses. The conversion took place mainly in 1957. The front building at 26–32 Oxford Street was reclad with a modern front and divided between shops on the ground floor and a language school above. The great domed space behind survived in carcase, concealed from sight. Floored over and shorn of all ornament, its upper level became an open-space banking hall for Lloyd’s Bank in 1983, numbered as 32 Oxford Street. The whole premises, back and front, were finally demolished in 2013, so that no trace of Frascati’s now remains.
- Lt.-Col. Newnham-Davis, Dinners and Diners, Where and How to Dine in London, 1899, pp. 220–1
- R. W. Lewin, 2 October 1893, in LMA, LCC/MIN/10811.
By Survey of London, on 31 May 2020
This blog post coincides with London History Day, an annual celebration launched by Historic England in 2017. The event falls on the anniversary of the completion of Big Ben in 1859. The theme of this year’s festival, a necessarily virtual occasion, is the resilience of London’s people and places. The celebration may be followed on Twitter via the hashtag #LondonHistoryDay.
The Survey’s recently published study of Oxford Street has explored the evolution of the road from its Roman origins to the present day. For more than 250 years, Oxford Street has been an important and successful destination for shopping in London. In a recent review of the Oxford Street volume for The Guardian, Gillian Darley has pointed to the resilience of shops and the culture of shopping along Oxford Street, while contemplating the as yet unknown effects of the pandemic on its future. Christopher Howse’s review for The Telegraph also hints at the uncertainty.
There are other aspects to Oxford Street’s activities and building typologies than shopping. Notably, it has housed places of entertainment. The first and most famous was the Pantheon (1772), followed by a succession of theatres, music halls and cinemas, alongside pubs, restaurants and cafés of all sizes and types. Only one true pub survives today, the Flying Horse close to Tottenham Court Road.
The Flying Horse (formerly the Tottenham), 4–6 Oxford Street, and 1 Tottenham Court Road
In 1793 the leases of the original houses built along the frontage at the eastern extremity of Oxford Street were running out. They were then renewed en bloc by the freeholder, Anne Hinde, for terms of 41 years, in exchange for some repairs and rebuildings. Next west from the corner house with Bozier’s Court, these included a small pub with an alley behind called the Flying Horse, a typical name in this vicinity of coaching inns and major thoroughfares. By 1880, when it was renumbered 2 Oxford Street, it was under the control of Meux the brewers. Meux’s headquarters lay close by in the massive Horse Shoe brewery behind the east side of Tottenham Court Road, in front of which stood the Horse Shoe Tavern, rebuilt to Edward Paraire’s designs in 1875.
In 1890 the Horse Shoe and the Flying Horse were taken over from Charles Best by the ebullient Baker Brothers, namely William Henry and Richard Baker. From lowly beginnings the brothers had made a fortune from London pubs and restaurants and recently turned themselves into a limited company, linked with Meux & Co., and with Nicholson & Company, the gin distillers. With the aggrandisement of the neighbouring Oxford Music Hall and the removal of the Bozier’s Court island in the offing, the Bakers spotted – or perhaps took over from Best – a golden opportunity for rebuilding a grand new pub, shops and offices on this future corner site. That also suited the joint freeholders of 4–6 Oxford Street together with the flanking properties along the west side of Bozier’s Court. These had been allotted by a recent division of Hinde family property to W. F. H and H. N. G. Hinde, army officers both; the former was keen to raise money on the security of the scheme. So the Hindes and the Bakers signed an agreement in April 1891 whereby Nos 4–6 and the buildings behind were to be rebuilt by the end of 1893 at a cost of not less than £8,000 in return for a long lease at £1,200 per annum. In fact a sum nearer £13,000 was spent, most of it coming from Meux.
As architects the Bakers employed their regular firm, Saville & Martin, who were simultaneously employed across the road on a lavish reconstruction of the Horse Shoe Tavern; the contractors were Kirk & Randall. The resulting building of 1892–3 is a major surviving monument of London’s late Victorian pub boom. There were three elements: a new pub at 6 Oxford Street, rechristened the Tottenham; shops at No. 4 at the corner and along the Tottenham Court Road flank, mostly taken by the West End Clothiers Company, whose emblem was prominently displayed over the corner; and workshops and offices above, originally Tottenham Chambers, including space for Baker Brothers.
The elevations were in the banded idiom of brick with Portland stone strips and trimmings of terracotta then in vogue, punctuated by arched windows with elaborated heads, and overtopped by a vigorous roof line of gables and chimneys and a tourelle at the corner. The Tottenham had a slightly richer front, with an inset bay and some carving. Only here does the roofline survive, the Tottenham Court Road side having lost its excrescences. The pub is exceptional today for its surviving interior, complete with panelling, mosaics, back-painted mirrors supplied by Jones & Firmin, and paintings personifying the seasons, by Felix De Jong & Company. Now the only true pub remaining on Oxford Street, it reverted to the name the Flying Horse in 2014.
The Hinde brothers put up the ground rents of the completed development for auction in 1898, but in the event the freehold was sold by private treaty next year to Balliol College, Oxford, which retained it till 1972. Only in 1901 was the eastern flank opened up to view by the removal of the Bozier’s Court island. Since then the corner block (4 Oxford Street) has seen many vicissitudes; in the second quarter of the twentieth century it was a prominent branch of the tailors Horne Brothers, and sported a shop front installed around 1923 by the fitters Stanley Jones & Co.
Next north is 1 (originally 1a) Tottenham Court Road, built soon after Tottenham Chambers in 1893–4 and in a likewise lively style but by different architects, Wigg, Oliver & Hudson (Walter Gladding, builder), all Whitechapel based and working for the executors of a James Henderson. It has two multi-storey bays inset within arches, topped by a pretty open timber cupola over a gable. The southern half and back premises housed Malzy’s, a billiard and supper room, latterly a fish restaurant, which had been on or near the site since 1875. It was probably much patronized like the Tottenham by habitués of the Oxford Music Hall, whose back entrance came next north. The front shop was originally occupied by a tobacconist.
Please visit the Historic England website to find out more about London History Day and how to follow the festivities online.
By the Survey of London, on 15 May 2020
To mark the publication in April of the Survey of London’s volume 53, on Oxford Street, and recognising that the volume itself is not as accessible at present as we would like, we will be posting extracts about particular Oxford Street sites here in the coming weeks.
156–162 Oxford Street, mostly erected for the silversmiths Mappin & Webb in 1907–8 to the nominal designs of John Belcher but always attributed to his assistant and partner J. J. Joass, may be claimed as Oxford Street’s most distinguished piece of architecture. It was originally called Sheffield House, later Mappin House.
Mappin & Webb derived from a successful manufacturing business started by the Sheffield cutler Joseph Mappin in 1825 and much expanded as Mappin Brothers by his four sons. In 1845 that company opened its first London shop in the City, benefitting like other Birmingham and Sheffield firms from the introduction of electroplated cutlery to widen the availability of smart tableware. The youngest of the four brothers, John Newton Mappin (1835–1913) – not to be confused with his uncle of the same name, a brewer who left money for the founding of the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield – joined Mappin Brothers in 1857. But following disputes between the partners he elected in 1859 to start his own firm, originally Mappin & Company, with separate works in Sheffield and a shop at 77 and 78 Oxford Street (old numbering), next to the corner with Winsley Street. Early advertisements for this establishment offered to supply cutlery, electro-silverplate, dressing bags and cases, razors, penknives and scissors at Sheffield prices. Mappin Brothers took the new firm to court in 1860 for using the family name, but lost. Soon however the junior company adopted the name Mappin & Webb, J. N. Mappin having always acted in partnership with George Webb of Clapham, whose sister he married just after the lawsuit. For years the rival firms co-existed, both running works in Sheffield, trading from City and West End branches plus a few provincial shops and exhibiting separately, until Mappin & Webb absorbed Mappin Brothers in 1903.
Mappin & Webb made extensive alterations to its Oxford Street premises in 1867, the year of a Paris exhibition at which its displays were commended. This may have been when the so-called Winsley Works were added. In due course it also grew eastwards by one shop, taking over the former No. 76 (after 1880 No. 158), so giving the firm the whole of Nos 158–162; this address was rebuilt to designs by Augustus E. Hughes in 1889–90. Meanwhile in 1870 Mappin & Webb opened conspicuous City premises at the apex of Poultry and Queen Victoria Street. That building, designed in a bold Victorian Gothic by the architects J. & J. Belcher, was to be the most prominent casualty of the so-called Mansion House Square redevelopment, later ‘Number One Poultry’, championed by Lord Palumbo towards the end of the twentieth century (HEA, DD000378).
A link with the younger Belcher must have been maintained, for it was to him that J. N. Mappin turned when a total rebuilding of the Oxford Street shop at Nos 158–162 was contemplated. That followed the two Mappin firms’ amalgamation and Mappin & Webb Ltd’s inauguration as a public company with strengthened finances in 1903. Minor works took place to the Oxford Street premises around then, but the first evidence of Belcher’s involvement comes in 1906, when a perspective of the building much as built was shown at the Royal Academy, drawn by J. J. Joass, his chief assistant.
Joass had been recently taken into full partnership; his Scottish training in classical masonry added force and rigour to the Belcher practice, along with a Michelangelesque twist to the mixed menu of so-called Edwardian Baroque. Here and in his contemporary Royal Insurance Building on a similar corner site in Piccadilly, Joass sought to endow the space-saving frame with glamour and energy coupled with a structural logic absent from the exuberant Waring & Gillow block, brand new and immediately next west. Uniting movement with astringency, his architecture sets up (in Brian Hanson’s words) a ‘delicious tension between the transparency of glass and the apparent weight of stone’.  The elevation is deliberately top-heavy, divided between a hefty attic and mansard level surmounting three main storeys gathered under arches and then to all appearances propped on single elongated monolithic columns, isolated against the glass expanses of ground and mezzanine floors. Each storey is differentiated in detail, combining tripartite fenestration of American derivation with the language of the Laurentian Library. The whole is clad in Pentelic marble, allegedly the first occasion this famous material had been specified for the complete exterior of a British building. The bronze shopfronts were made by Frederick Sage & Co., and the first-floor balconies, since removed, by J. W. Singer & Son of Frome.
In plan the building was straightforward and open, with central access to the shop from Oxford Street and an entrance to the upper floors from a side door in Winsley Street marked Sheffield House (HEA, BL20232, BL20232A). The structural frame combined steelwork for the stanchions contributed by Edward Wood & Co. with floors and roof constructed according to the Kleine patent floor system, which combined tension rods and brickwork. The premises, erected by Belcher’s favourite builders, Godson & Sons of Kilburn, took a full twelve months to build, starting with the new basement before the old premises were destroyed, so that trading could continue. Mappin & Webb occupied only the ground and mezzanine for their own purposes, the latter being taken up by a board room (HEA, BL20236) and counting house; the upper floors were let (HEA, BL20237). The main shop interior was divided into open compartments featuring showcases spaciously deployed so that wares could be seen from all sides (HEA, BL20233, BL20234, BL20235). It was partly lit from a central circular light well, and lined with Carrara and Sienna marble supplied by Farmer & Brindley. The electroliers were made by Oslers of Oxford Street to the Belcher firm’s designs. Heraldic stained glass was contributed by A. J. Dix.
In 1912 Belcher & Joass (as the Belcher firm was by then formally called) extended the building to include 2 Winsley Street at the back, as had already been contemplated. It was further enlarged in 1929, when Joass returned to add in No. 156 on the east flank in an identical style – the addition is almost imperceptible. Finally in 1936 Yates, Cook & Darbyshire took in 4 Winsley Street, adopting a plain stone elevation. By then the whole building was known as Mappin House. A thorough refurbishment of the premises took place in 1952–3. But the nearby Regent Street branch (inherited from Mappin Brothers and rebuilt to quieter designs by Joass in 1914–15) was by then proving more successful. A fresh board imposed more entrepreneurial policies, using Mappin & Webb’s assets to buy other concerns and go into property speculation. So the headquarters shop was let in 1956 to Swears & Wells, the furriers, on the grounds that ‘the character of this particular part of Oxford Street having changed so much since the War, it had become manifestly unsuitable for our class of business’.  Thereafter Mappin & Webb’s London outlets were their Regent Street, Queen Victoria Street and Brompton Road branches. But the board continued to meet at Mappin House until the firm was sold to Charles Clore’s Sears Holdings in 1959. Mappin & Webb continues today in various locations as an up-market dealer in watches and luxury goods, but is no longer represented in Oxford Street.
 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
 Financial Times, 6 January and 18 June 1956.
By the Survey of London, on 17 April 2020
During the Blitz in 1940–1 a Whitechapel building, the Commercial Road Goods Depot, housed the East End’s single biggest bomb shelter. The history of what was known as the Tilbury Shelter seems timely, if only as a reminder of how different that crisis was from the one we are presently living through. What follows is based on research and text prepared for the Survey of London by Rebecca Preston. We would like also to acknowledge help from Robert Thorne, Tim Smith and Peter Kay.
The Commercial Road Goods Depot was a behemoth of a building that extended from the Commercial Road near its west end as far south as the viaduct of the London and Blackwall Railway, beside Cable Street. It was built in 1884–7 by the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway Company as a receiving and forwarding depot for merchandise dealt with at the East and West India Dock Company’s Tilbury Docks, which opened in 1886. The premises comprised ground-level vaults with viaduct-level sidings, a shunting yard and a branch line, and a goods station below the colossal warehouse. It was all demolished in 1975.
The London, Tilbury and Southend became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company (LMS) in 1923 as part of the ‘grouping’ or reorganisation imposed on private railway companies following the experience of government-run railways during the First World War. The lower levels of the Commercial Road goods depot served as general stores. The warehouse above was bonded and used by the Port of London Authority (PLA), the public trust that succeeded London’s private dock companies in 1909, as vast tea stores containing 78,000 chests.
In April 1940 the LMS agreed to the use of the Commercial Road Goods Depot as an air-raid shelter, provided Stepney Borough Council scheduled sufficient wardens to work under the company’s police, and that notices prohibiting smoking were put up in English and Yiddish. Initially the plan, probably a temporary measure, was to create two adjoining shelters, one for LMS personnel and a second ‘PLA Shelter’, above, for 1,400 members of the public. There were fears that ‘people caught in the streets would rush for this shelter as they did during the last war’.1 In preparation, the PLA’s engineers, Rendel, Palmer & Tritton, oversaw the bricking up of lower windows. However, when Stepney Council proposed using both the PLA and LMS sections as an official public air-raid shelter, the lower LMS section was refused approval by the Ministry of Home Security because it would involve ‘dangerously large concentrations of people in one shelter and because the Railway Company insisted that the roadway through the LMS sections be kept open for traffic’.2
The LMS Chief Engineer, R. C. Cox, noted that should the building be hit by a large bomb there was ‘a rather large calamity factor’, but that this was a necessary risk in the absence of other shelters in the area. In early September 1940, when the night raids of the Blitz began, the London Civil Division Region Officer told the Stepney Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Controller that ‘we must face facts as they are: this is not a public shelter but large numbers of people are using it as such and we cannot keep them out in present circumstances’.3 The LMS Goods Manager then agreed that about two-fifths of the low-level depot, the northern parts, could be used as a shelter under Stepney’s auspices with police protection, especially at Hooper Street, to keep out crowds.
The public, however, took possession of both the official (PLA) and unofficial (LMS) parts, thereby creating London’s largest air-raid shelter, which quickly became known as the Tilbury Shelter. Stepney was told that it must accept the situation and install sanitation. Works undertaken through Rendel, Palmer & Tritton were held up by labour shortages and were not complete in the official shelter until at least December. They eventually included bunks, lights, WCs, canteen facilities and medical supervision. When a head count was first taken in October 1940, some 8,000 people were found across both sections of the shelter. It was reported that on most nights the shelter held 14,000, thronging on a rainy night to form a ‘grim haven of 16,000’.4 There might have been exaggeration, but even so, in December official sources counted 4,244 people sheltering in the unofficial (LMS) lower-depot section, which remained ‘bare of amenities except hessian screened chemical closets’.5
This unofficial shelter was managed internally by the Communist Tilbury Shelter Committee, the leading organisers of which in its early years appear to have been its Secretary, a Mr Neidle, and Miss M. Ackerman, the Honorary Secretary, who gave her address as 153f Back Church Lane. To the PLA Police, which held jurisdiction at the Tilbury Shelter, the mass of people in the unofficial section in particular presented the threat of unrest whipped up by political agitators. The social research organisation, Mass Observation, sent observers to report on life in the shelter, ‘to make a complete study of the sociology of the largest underground concentration of humans yet known’.6 It noted that the efforts of the PLA Police to prevent the sale of the Daily Worker were usually outwitted by the occupants, ‘by no means all of whom are Communist sympathisers’, on freedom-of-speech grounds.7
Bunks were installed in 120 triple tiers in the PLA or warehouse section of the Tilbury Shelter in late October 1940. Within a month the vaults of the unofficial LMS or goods depot section had also been ‘fully bunked’.8 Nina Hibben, a Mass Observation worker, recorded that ‘The first time I went there, I had to come out, I felt sick. You just couldn’t see anything, you could smell the fug, the overwhelming stench … there were thousands and thousands of people lying head to toe, all along the bays and with no facilities … the place was a hell hole, it was an outrage that people had to live in these conditions’.9 Despite such accounts, it seems that a kind of order prevailed as necessary routines were established. Life in the cavernous interiors of the Tilbury Shelter was depicted by Henry Moore, as an official war artist, by Edward Ardizzone and Feliks Topolski, as Civil Defence artists, and by Rose Henriques, a local resident and philanthropist.
Both sections of the Tilbury Shelter were ticketed and monitored by the police, the official part accessed from Commercial Road and the unofficial part, now cut off by a brick wall, from Hooper Street. Closure of the unauthorised part of the warehouse, if tickets for other shelters were provided, was pursued and resisted in early 1941. Colin Penn, an architect with Communist sympathies, appears to have been to the fore among five architects from the Association of Architects, Surveyors and Technical Assistants who compared the Tilbury Shelter with alternative accommodation. On finding that the majority was less safe than the unofficial LMS section, the architects refused to recommend dispersal and occupants broke down the dividing wall. The police prevented a subsequent meeting, at which the architects were due to speak, called in protest against the eviction of the remaining occupants, which now numbered between 1,200 and 4,200 depending on the severity of raids. Public resistance to evictions and closure of the unofficial shelter continued. By May 1941, however, after the last major attacks of the Blitz, the unofficial sections were ‘not of course used at all now’ and were soon taken over as an official shelter in readiness for further bombing.10
There were still rumblings of discontent during 1942 and 1943, when low numbers of occupants were recorded. Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Tilbury Shelter with King George VI in October 1942. Other interventions were made by Rear-Admiral the Rev. A. R. W. Woods, Chaplain of the Red Ensign Club (sailors’ hostel) on Dock Street. In November 1944, a deputation from the Hindustani Markaz (Indian Centre), 14 White Church Lane, was received by the Ministry for Home Security, the Stepney ARP Controller and the High Commissioner for India. It complained of offensive behaviour, that officials had on numerous occasions insulted members of the local Indian community in the shelter or prevented their entry on racist grounds.
Meanwhile the warehouse had itself been bombed. In early November 1940 a direct hit destroyed practically all of the roof and much of the top floor. This caused the PLA to wind up use of the building as a tea warehouse. Part of the warehouse was taken over by the Ministry of Supply and the US Army, which formed a large canteen at the north end. By 1946 the US Army had left, the Ministry of Supply was storing ‘portable house’ or Prefab parts, and the PLA had returned with tea. The vaults and ground floor once again became an LMS goods depot. The depot ceased operations in 1967 and demolition followed in 1975. The site was redeveloped for the National Westminster Bank as a computer centre. In recent years it has once again been redeveloped with tall blocks of housing.
The only substantial surviving reminder of the railway goods-handling complex is its former hydraulic pumping station on Hooper Street, which was converted to office use in 2002–4.
1 – The National Archives (TNA), HO207/860
2 – Ibid
3 – Ibid
4 – Illustrated, 5 October 1940, p. 14
5 – TNA, HO207/860
6 – University of Sussex Special Collections, Mass Observation Archive, 486, Sixth Weekly Report for Home Intelligence, November 1940
7 – University of Sussex Special Collections, Mass Observation Archive, 431, Survey of Voluntary and Official Bodies during Bombing of the East End (RF/NM), September 1940
8 – TNA, HO207/860
9 – As quoted in Gavin Weightman and Steve Humphries, with Joanna Mack and John Taylor, in The Making of Modern London, 1983 (2007 edition), p. 260
10 – TNA, HO207/860
By the Survey of London, on 6 April 2020
Many of our readers will already be familiar with Colouring London, a map-based crowdsourcing platform designed to collect information on every building in the capital. We would like to share a blog post previously published to coincide with the launch of Colouring London in October 2019, in case any of our readers are looking for an interesting and rewarding distraction during these difficult times. Over the last six months Colouring London has collected large amounts of data about buildings in Greater London, and welcomes contributions from the public. This blog post offers some guidance on contributing to Colouring London by searching for data in the Survey of London series, an essential source for information about the city’s buildings and places.
Colouring London 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.
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 stages of testing, which makes your involvement and feedback all the more important.
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 were launched, including location, age, size and shape, planning and ‘like me’. Type and sustainability are now available for editing, while a land use category is set to become live soon.
Size and shape
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.
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)
- King’s Cross Road and Penton Rise area
- Amwell Street and Myddelton Square area
- Percy Circus area
- The Angel and Islington High Street
- Pentonville Road
- Rosebery Avenue
Volume 48, Woolwich (2012)
Volume 50, Battersea (2013)
Volume 51, South-East Marylebone (2017)
- Marylebone High Street
- Cavendish Square
- Portland Place
- Queen Anne Street and Chandos Street
- Devonshire, Weymouth and New Cavendish Streets
Volume 52, South-East Marylebone (2017)
Populating Colouring London with age data from Survey volumes
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.
By the Survey of London, on 3 April 2020
The Survey of London team is continuing with its work in isolation due to the current public health crisis. While it has been unfortunate but necessary to postpone two major events in our calendar, the launches of the Jewish East End Memory Map and a new volume on Oxford Street, these milestones can still be marked. Other projects in South-West Marylebone and Whitechapel continue to move forward.
We are looking forward to the publication of Oxford Street, the fifty-third volume in the Survey of London’s main or parish series, on 14 April 2020. In the Survey’s 126-year history, Oxford Street is the first volume to focus on the development and architecture of a single street. In recent weeks images of Oxford Street have proliferated in the news, showing closed stores and pavements cleared of the vibrant street life and crowds that usually attract and repel visitors in equal measure – a reflection of these extraordinary times. The volume charts the history of the remarkable and enduring success of Oxford Street as a magnet for shoppers, examining its buildings and transport links as well as its social and cultural life.
The Survey’s new volume offers insights into the history and growth of shopping in London, along with the reasons for Oxford Street’s unique and enduring success – initially, its advantageous position between Mayfair and Marylebone, and later the fast and convenient transport networks that brought customers to its shops from the suburbs and beyond. Oxford Street is organized in a linear format, covering both sides of the street from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch. Twenty-two chapters cover discrete chunks of Oxford Street between the cross-streets, with an interest in existing buildings and those that have been demolished.
The Survey’s research on Oxford Street followed on from the publication of two volumes on South-East Marylebone in 2017. That study covered an extensive portion of the West End north of Oxford Street, or the area bounded by Marylebone Road at the north, Cleveland Street and Tottenham Court Road at the east, and Marylebone High Street at the west. A fourth volume, South-West Marylebone, is currently in progress, examining the area immediately west as far as Edgware Road. This research on the West End is balanced by ongoing work towards two volumes on Whitechapel that are expected to be published in 2022.
As one of the longest continuous shopping streets in Europe, stretching for more than a mile in length, Oxford Street has a distinctive topography and character. It has been a major road since the Roman times, when it formed part of an arterial route leading westwards from the City. This highway came to be known as the Tyburn Road, a name derived from a brook (the Tyburn or Ay Brook) that has long since been overrun by urban development. By the time of the Norman Conquest, a hamlet had sprung up near the brook. In 1200 there was a small roadside church on the north side of the highway; its site may be identified today as somewhere between the two arms of Marylebone Lane.
Tyburn as a place name was eventually replaced by Marylebone, after the dedication of the church following its relocation to a site further north in the fifteenth century. Tyburn carried dreadful associations of the public executions that were carried out on the site of the present junction at Marble Arch from 1196 to the 1780s. The highway served as the last route of condemned prisoners, who were often accompanied by riotous and drunken crowds of onlookers. By the seventeenth century the name Oxford Street was in common use, reflecting the highway’s status as the main route to Oxford. The emergence of the alternative name preceded the beginnings of bourgeois development on the estate of the Cavendish–Harleys from the 1710s, yet its use and adoption conveniently helped to shake off the notoriety associated with the gallows at Tyburn.
Today Oxford Street is better known as a popular centre for shopping, drawing in crowds of tourists and shoppers from the capital and its suburbs. Through the research towards the volume, it has been possible to pinpoint Oxford Street’s transition into a major shopping destination to the 1770s. By this time, the executions at Tyburn had ended and the road was resurfaced with granite blocks. The street lighting was also enhanced by increasing the number of lamps. Shopkeepers were attracted by the opportunity to establish shops on a major road within reach of the upmarket residents of Mayfair and Marylebone. Many entrepreneurs were connected with the drapery trade and set up in small shops based in single houses, often with staff accommodation on the upper floors.
In the nineteenth century the dominance of small shops was challenged by the rise of covered bazaars for small traders, often tucked into former yards or stable areas behind modest street fronts. The bazaar has often been understood as a precursor to the department store, which began to appear in Oxford Street with the rebuilding of Marshall & Snelgrove in the 1870s. Other major department stores of the late nineteenth century included John Lewis and D. H. Evans, which started as small drapery businesses before gradually engulfing entire blocks. These household names were joined by Bourne & Hollingsworth, Waring & Gillow and Selfridges in the Edwardian years. Department stores were furnished with comfortable amenities such as restaurants and rest rooms for customers, while staff were increasingly transferred from ‘over the shop’ accommodation to separate homes. Selfridges in particular represented a new scale of ambition, consumption and glamour among department stores in London and internationally.
The arrival of improved transport links in the Edwardian period extended Oxford Street’s appeal to shoppers, securing its status as the capital’s most continuously successful shopping street. Oxford Street was serviced by a range of underground lines connecting to four stations at Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus, Bond Street and Marble Arch. The Central Line was opened in 1900, followed by the Bakerloo Line in 1906. In the following year, the Northern Line opened at Tottenham Court Road. In 1969 the Victoria Line opened at the newly remodelled Oxford Circus Station, boasting a new concourse accessed from each quadrant of the circus. With the impending arrival of the Elizabeth Line, connections will be further improved.
Despite the concentration of shops and stores, Oxford Street has also long been a hub for entertainment, including restaurants, music halls, theatres and cinemas. The celebrated Pantheon, an entertainment venue first built to designs by James Wyatt in 1769–72, is the focus of a chapter that was written by the late Francis Sheppard and first published in Volume 32 on St James Westminster (1963). From the 1890s onwards tearooms and cafés sprung up at street level, led by the J. Lyons chain. Another well-known establishment was Frascati’s Restaurant, which operated in spacious and elaborate premises between 1892 and 1954. An early picture house was established at No. 165 in 1906, followed by Cinema House at No. 225 in 1910, when it was hailed by the Building News ‘the last word in living-picture theatres’. Social and cultural life continued to develop in Oxford Street during the Second World War, with bars, clubs and exhibitions along the street. The future 100 Club was established in 1942 as a venue for live jazz in the basement of 100 Oxford Street, where it continues today. Another remarkable survival is the Flying Horse, the last true pub in Oxford Street. The volume includes an appendix of Oxford Street pubs that conveys the extent of the pubs formerly in the street.
Oxford Street contains more than 350 illustrations, including drawings and maps by Helen Jones, the Survey’s architectural illustrator, and a variety of historic photographs. New photography has been carried out by Chris Redgrave of Historic England with support from the Portman Estate. The volume also contains photographs of the sights and atmosphere of Oxford Street, recorded by Lucy Millson-Watkins in 2016. The volume has been edited by Andrew Saint and produced in the Survey’s current house style, designed by Catherine Bankhurst under the supervision of Emily Lees at the Paul Mellon Centre. The volume is now available from Yale Books for £75. The draft chapters have been made available online via our website, in advance of a fuller online version in the future.
By the Survey of London, on 30 March 2020
We hope this finds our readership well. We intend to continue to publish posts on the Survey’s blog through these extraordinary times. We are still able to work from our respective isolations, and feel that short reads about aspects of London’s history are likely to be more than usually welcome diversions. An unfortunate consequence of our new circumstances is that, as has been the case everywhere, we have had to cancel events, including two launches, one of a website that was to have taken place at Sandys Row Synagogue on 29 March, another of a book, volume 53 in the Survey’s main series, about Oxford Street, that was to have happened at the London College of Fashion on 20 April. Our continuing posts will start with accounts of those two projects, the website first, then the book.
In collaboration with the artist and writer Rachel Lichtenstein, the Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, the Space Syntax Laboratory and the Survey of London have together created a new website. It is a ‘Memory Map of the Jewish East End’.
By 1900 the East End was home to over 100,000 Jewish people, most had recently arrived as refugees from Russia and eastern Europe. They settled predominantly in Whitechapel and Spitalfields, the heart of a thriving Jewish quarter, joining an already established community of Jewish migrants from Holland, Germany and other places. By the outbreak of the Second World War, the Jewish population in the area had already started to dwindle. Today very few tangible traces of Jewish East London are left —the kosher shops and restaurants, social and political establishments, synagogues and theatres have nearly all disappeared. The Jewish East End is on the verge of slipping from living memory.
The new website is an interactive ‘Memory Map’ allowing visitors to explore the social and cultural history of the Jewish community in east London. Rachel Lichtenstein’s substantial archive of audio interviews with former and current Jewish residents of East London is brought together with new and archival photographs, material from the Survey of London’s recent work in Whitechapel and other original research, some previously unpublished. Covering more than seventy significant sites, the website aims to become a lasting document of the history and memory traces of the former Jewish East End and to bring the stories, memories, voices and images of this vanishing landscape to new audiences.
To begin exploring the map, visit https://jewisheastendmemorymap.org/.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.