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Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

A guest post by LH member Lissa Chapman. This article first appeared in London Historians members’ newsletter from February 2014.

I remember exactly where I was at 1am on 1st February 1994. Standing at the top of an eighteenth century staircase in Hackney at the end of a sixteen-hour day, wondering if I had the energy left to walk down the stairs, let alone organise a press launch later that morning. This was the culmination of six years’ hard work involving hundreds of people: Sutton House was about to reopen after its restoration – although that one word hardly does the story justice.

Twenty years on, Sutton House has the glossily cared-for, slightly corporate look of most National Trust properties It is hard to remember, and must be harder still to imagine, that only seven years before that triumphant reopening, Sutton House was derelict, filthy, much of its past forgotten and its future likely to take the form of redevelopment as private flats. Yet it had been in National Trust ownership for half a century.

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Sutton House from Homerton High Street.

The background to this unlikely-seeming story is this. Sutton House was presented to a less than enthusiastic National Trust in the 1930s, long before such a modestly sized house in a run-down urban area was much valued. So it was given basic repairs and let, latterly serving as offices to the trade union ASTMS until their sudden departure in the early 1980s. At that point the house, empty, leaking and forlorn, was regarded by the management of the National Trust as a “Pandora’s box of problems”. And soon those problems were compounded when squatters moved in. It was at this point that the conversion proposal was put forward. And it was a close-run thing.

Three local residents wrote separate letters to the Hackney Gazette deploring the neglected present and uncertain future of Sutton House; this quickly resulted in the birth of the Save Sutton House campaign, and the first open day was held in December 1987. I first visited the following summer. The poster had described a Tudor house: I almost walked past it. But once in, I soon became involved – early memories include rare breed sheep in the courtyard, fortune tellers in the west cellar and baking vast numbers of cakes to sell. Almost anything went – on one occasion a group of decorous young folk dancers were joined by a patient from one of the supposedly locked wards of Hackney Hospital. It took the audience a few seconds to realise he was naked from the waist down, and a few more to conclude that he was not a new sort of Morris man.

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The state of the courtyard in 1991.

Once the National Trust had changed its mind about Sutton House, planning began for its future. And the final agreement was that the house should be made available after restoration not only for formal education purposes and individual visits, but as accommodation for meetings, parties and performances. One room on the second floor became a National Trust office, and into this moved a project manager and fundraiser – It was discovered that it would be necessary to spend over £2 million to restore the house.

While these battles raged, the true history of the house began to emerge, winkled shred by shred out of Hackney and other archives. Much of it was unearthed by a photographer called Mike Gray. It turned out that the name “Sutton House” was the invention of a Victorian historian who knew that Thomas Sutton had lived somewhere in Hackney (he was almost right – Sutton’s house had been close by). In Sutton’s time, Hackney was a village, famous for its healthy air and its market gardens, located at a convenient weekly commuting distance from London. Wealthy City merchants built houses for their families here, conveniently close to their place of business yet away from the ever-present risk of disease in the crowded city.

The true builder of what was at first known as the “bryk place” turned out to be a man named Ralph Sadleir, a self-made millionaire who began his career in the household of Thomas Cromwell and who survived not only his master’s fall but lived to be an octogenarian and the richest commoner in England. This was the house he built when he was on his way up in the world, and the home where his children spent much of their early years. By the end of Henry VIII’s reign he was not only established as a valued royal servant, but had become rich, owning thousands of acres across southern England. So he sold his modest Hackney property, and the house became home to a succession of mercantile families, later serving as one of the girls’ schools for which Hackney was known in the seventeenth century (the ever-susceptible Samuel Pepys made special trips to the local church so he could ogle the school girls, stopping off at a pub for cherries and cream).

Over the following centuries the “bryk place” was transformed, extended, renamed, given new identities, new surroundings and new neighbours. It was in turn one house, two houses, flats, several different schools, a church youth club, a warehouse and assorted offices. Its 30-acre home farm shrank to a small courtyard: it was refaced, re-fenestrated, re-roofed and re-used. It was small enough and useful enough to survive while every one of the other Hackney mansions was destroyed.

All these transformations had left their evidence in the fabric – and these layers of time were kept when the house was restored. Now visitors can open inset doors in panelling to see what is beneath, lift floorboards in the Great Chamber to see the structure of the joists, walk through a room that looks unequivocally Victorian, open the door of the adjoining Tudor garde robe and examine preserved cobwebs, then go up a floor and see one of the squatters’ wall paintings still in place.

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London Historians’ group visit to Sutton House in 2015.

The next chapter Sutton House’s history began in late 2014 when the plot of land next door, which was a car repair yard in 1994, opened as a community garden. Archaeological investigation had revealed some of the brickwork of the house that stood next door in Ralph Sadleir’s day.

For the record, I did manage to get to the bottom of the stairs. And most of what could then still be termed Fleet Street wrote about the house and its restoration. In 1994 few journalists found it easy to believe anything good could be happening in Hackney. But a lot has happened since then.


Lissa Chapman is co-founder of Clio’s Company which specialises in London-based site-specific theatre. Among many previous adventures, she was the first press officer for the newly-restored Sutton House. 

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A guest post by LH Member Valerie Colin-Russ.

London’s oldest lion statues are not native Londoners but took up residence here many years ago.  The very oldest pair, five thousand years old, were two of three brought to London at the end of the nineteenth century by the eminent Egyptologist, Sir Flinders Petrie.  Both unfortunately broke into fragments on the journey and remained in the crates in which they arrived until archaeologists reconstituted them between 1980 and 1982, since when they have found a home in University College.  The third lion was smaller and arrived intact and was used as a model for the others’ reconstruction.  This smaller one now lives in the Ashmolean at Oxford.

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London’s oldest lion, one of two held in University College London.

Various London museums are home to several other ancient foreign lions (who have not been shattered and reconstructed) who are now long-established London residents.   For instance in the British museum can be found several such, including two beautiful Egyptian ones, made of  red granite, dating from 1400 BC, an Assyrian lion dating from 860 BC  and one from Halikarnassos from the fourth century BC.  One from Knidos (the date is disputed between the fourth and second centuries BC) stands in the museum’s Great Court.

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Halikarnassos Lion in the British Museum.

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Egyptian Lion, British Museum.

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Assyrian Lion, British Museum.

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Knidos lion in the Great Court of the British Museum.

The oldest native London lion dates from Roman London and was found in Camomile Street  in a bastion of the City wall but probably came from a Roman cemetery nearby and was  then reused as building material in the construction of the wall.  This lion has an animal in its mouth and is thought to represent the all-devouring jaws of death.  He dates from the fourth or fifth century AD and now lives in the Museum of London.

The oldest London lions still in their original position, although inevitably considerably weathered, are the pair on the York Watergate dating from 1626.  The gate is all that remains of York House, the home of the Duke of Buckingham, and once led from his garden to the river when the Thames was much wider before the construction of the Embankment.  One other seventeenth century lion survives in much better condition, standing guard (with a companion unicorn) at the beginning of Palace Avenue, the road leading from Kensington Road to Kensington Palace while a rather grumpy-looking pair sit atop the Lion Gate at Hampton Court and date from about 1700.

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York Watergate near Victoria Embankment.

However, the heyday of London’s lions was from the beginning of the nineteenth century until the start of the second world war; it was essentially in the days of Empire that the London lion really flourished!


DSC00653_250These facts have been extracted from a book by one of our members, Valerie Colin-Russ,  which was published in 2012 by Frances Lincoln Ltd called “London Pride”; she had tracked down over 10,000 lion statues in Greater London. All images in the above article are by Valerie Colin-Russ.

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gavin stamp.jpgSorry to hear that we’ve lost Prof. Gavin Stamp, heroic defender of our historic built environment, enemy of lackadaisical councils and clueless planners. He wrote as ‘Piloti’ for Private Eye for many years up until very recently, only last week a devastating critique of the new George Orwell statue at Broadcasting House (and modern portrait sculpture generally).

Earlier this year we exchanged several emails resulting in an excellent piece in the Eye on the wanton destruction of the historic Sarah Trimmer School in Brentford under the noses of Hounslow Council. He kindly contacted us later to ask if the item had had any effect (it hadn’t).

Around that time I invited him, as a fellow disciple of the great Ian Nairn, to join us on our annual Ian Nairn Pub Crawl, but he explained he was too poorly to venture out much. Well, now his race is run, he’s done a great service to cities and towns up and down the land. Thanks, Gavin. RIP.

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Most of us have heard about the City church which was rebuilt in America, but not many have actually visited. A guest post from the USA by LH Member Penny Jennings. 

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It is unknown when St Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury was first built but there is reference to the church in 1181. After the great fire of 1666 it was ruined, Christopher Wren commissioned its reconstruction. He utilised the Gothic building of 1437 and ensured that the structure would preserve the English Renaissance style. It stood in London for the following three centuries until it was gutted during the London Blitz in 1940.

Dr Robert LD Davidson had a vision that what remained of the church, which had now lay as a charred shell for 20 years, could be dismantled and relocated in the USA. After negotiation and the raising of funds to finance the project in 1962, the 7,000 stones were carefully disassembled and transported as ballast. After arriving in Virginia USA they were then loaded on railroad cars for their journey to Fulton, Missouri. The stonemasons and waiting builders reconstructed the jigsaw of stones to the original design and dimensions. They faithfully adhered to the vision of Christopher Wren. Finally in 1969 the church of St Mary, Aldermanbury was reconsecrated; 10,000 people attended it was described as “Fulton’s finest hour”. Winston Churchill’s daughter, Lady Mary Soames, described Missouri as “very lovely” it reminded her as she said “ of our Cotswold region in England with its lovely rolling green hills”. The church is located at the Winston Churchill Memorial, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, USA.


Today, there is a memorial garden in the City of London where this church once stood. More on St Mary Aldermanbury. 

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A guest post by LH Member Brian Cookson. This article first appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from November 2013.

Like several other Thames bridges, Richmond Bridge replaced a ferry which from medieval times had provided a crossing for horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians at about the same location on the river.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Richmond developed into a thriving and fashionable town. Although Henry VII’s magnificent Palace became neglected and was pulled down, Richmond, kept its royal connections and was the favourite country resort of George II and Queen Caroline.

Whereas Richmond was in the county of Surrey, Twickenham on the opposite side of the river was in the county of Middlesex. The Middlesex bank was less developed, but much favoured by aristocrats, artists and writers. Alexander Pope was among the first to build himself a villa here in 1719. Of the several artists who lived in Twickenham at this time, two were very much connected with the Thames and its bridges – Samuel Scott and his pupil, William Marlow, who both painted central London river scenes in the style of Canaletto.

As a result of the developments here on both banks of the Thames the need for a bridge to replace the ferry was becoming overwhelming. Local inhabitants put forward their proposal which formed the basis of the Act of Parliament which received Royal Assent on 1 July 1773. The Act nominated 90 Commissioners who were to be responsible for building and maintaining a bridge of stone construction. The Commissioners included the landscape gardener, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the writer, Horace Walpole, the actor, David Garrick and Sir Charles Asgill who was the local MP and former Lord Mayor of London who had recently presided over the removal of the houses from Old London Bridge. The Act also gave a number of key directions to the Commissioners, including the punishment for anyone convicted of damaging the bridge. Convicts were ‘liable for transportation to one of His Majesty’s colonies in America for seven years’. However the colonies decided to declare independence in 1776, a year before the completion of the bridge, so this punishment could never be handed out.

Among the first decisions made by the Commissioners was to choose to use Portland Stone as the main construction material and to appoint James Paine as the architect. Paine had trained as an architect in London where he caught the attention of Lord Burlington, the leading proponent of the now fashionable Palladian style of architecture.

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Richmond Bridge in 1813.

Construction was put out to tender and a contract was signed on 16 May 1774 for Thomas Kerr to build the bridge for the sum of £10,900. It was now time to raise the money to pay him and cover all the other expenses such as for building the approaches and compensating local landowners. The method chosen was known as a ‘tontine’, named after Lorenzo Tonti who had originated the idea in France in the 1650s. £20,000 was raised by the sale of shares which paid an initial annual dividend of four per cent. As each investor died, his or her share was divided between the survivors until the last survivor received the whole of the dividend amounting to £800 per annum. When there were no more survivors, dividends would cease. The list of shareholders held in Richmond Local History Library contains an unusually large number of investments made in the name of children. It is not therefore so surprising that the last survivor did not die until 1859 at the age of 86, having received the maximum £800 for the last five years of her life. A local historian relates an amusing story about one of the investors, an elderly lady, who ‘called on the paymaster, William Smith, for her biannual dividend and found it was the same as her previous one. She exclaimed in a discontented tone “What, has no one died since I was last here – all still alive?” But it was the last time she complained. When the dividends were next due, death had removed her, thus adding to the amount to be shared by those that survived her.’

The bridge was declared open for carriages on 12 January 1777, although not finally completed until December 1777. The author of an article in The London Magazine of September 1779 wrote ‘…it presents the spectator with one of the richest landscapes nature and art ever produced by their joint efforts, and connoisseurs in painting will instantly be reminded of some of the best performances of Claude Lorraine.’ In the 1820s Turner produced about 20 sketches of the bridge from various viewpoints as well as one finished watercolour which can be seen in Tate Britain.

When the last survivor of the first tontine died in 1859 all tolls ceased and the tollhouses were later replaced by iron seats dated 1868, which are still situated in the recesses of the bridge on the Richmond side.

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Richmond Bridge today. 

During the early years of the twentieth century there were many arguments about how to solve the problems of the increasing congestion over the bridge. In the end a new bridge was in fact constructed in 1933 to the north of the town to take the Chertsey arterial road over the river to Twickenham and beyond. By then Surrey and Middlesex County Councils had finally agreed that the old bridge should be widened and its control was transferred to public ownership. Work proceeded to number each of the facing stones on the upstream side before taking them down so that the inner portion of the bridge structure could be widened and subsequently refaced with the original Portland Stone. The result was a bridge which was widened from 24 ft 9 in. to 36 ft. but looked exactly the same as before. The effect of the widening can be noted only by looking up from underneath the arches where the newer bricks on the upstream side are clearly differentiated from the original brickwork. Richmond Bridge’s bicentenary was celebrated on 7 May 1977, and today is the oldest existing structure to cross the Thames in London.


Brian Cookson is a Founder Member of London Historians, Blue Badge guide and author of Crossing the River: The History of London’s Thames River Crossings from Richmond to the Tower (2006).

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This is an update from a post from June last year, but I think deserves a new one, such is the outrage of this case. Observe this lovely riverside image in Brentford, directly opposite Kew Gardens.

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It is the developer’s own picture of its redevelopment of the St George’s Chapel site, until relatively recently the home of the Musical Museum. Looks lovely, I’m sure you’ll agree. Look at the small white building with the red roof to the left. Let’s zoom in a bit.

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That building is – or was – the historic Sarah Trimmer’s School, dating from 1806. It is – or was – significant as the first and only remaining example of an industrial training school in this country, mainly for young women. Historically highly significant.

Here is all that is left of it as of Sunday.

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Only the west and south facing walls remain. They almost certainly will not survive. The developers – IDM Properties – have sneakily, deliberately and steadily destroyed the building while they got on with the chapel development next door.  Why? Because they can maximise their take by building three teensy bungalow apartments against all advice of local historians and council denial of their planning application for same. Hounslow Council gave them a bit of a slap on the wrist last year, but now seemingly have given up the candle.

The developers are greedy scumbags (show me one that isn’t). The Council are cowardly and lazy collaborators. If they could wash their hands of the hassle of protecting our heritage, they would. I live in this borough. I am ashamed of them.

I say again, delinquent developers must do jail time. I bet that’s in nobody’s manifesto!

 

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I live a matter of a few hundred yards from the major trunk road in question, so when I spotted this in a shop in Kew last week, I had to have it.

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It’s a print commemorating the opening of the Great West Road in 1925 by George V and Queen Mary (who’d be a monarch, eh?). Made of tissue and folded like a paper napkin, it would have been dished out to the local crowds, or perhaps sold for a penny or two. It’s in really good condition, a remarkable survival.

The text badly spills over into the border decoration. This tells us, I think, that the souvenir printers made large stocks of coloured templates and then customised them for different occasions by overprinting text etc in black.

“The new Great West Road which has just been completed at a cost of £1,000,000 , will be opened by the King, accompanied by the Queen to-day. 

This new arterial road, which is eight miles in length, has for the greater part a width of 120ft. It extends from the Chiswick High-road near Kew Bridge, by-passes Brentford and enables traffic to avoid the congestion bottle-neck in the town.

The road continues through Isleworth and meets the main road again at the Bath Road, just beyond the Hounslow Barracks Station, then crosses the main road and passing through Hatton Village, joins the main Staines Road at Bedfont.” 

The building of the Great West Road was essential. Historically, the route to Bath and the west ran through Brentford. There was bad enough congestion during the days of horse-drawn vehicles, but once cars, buses, lorries and especially trams hit the streets, the narrow high street became all but impassable.

It didn’t take long for large businesses to realise the potential that the new thoroughfare offered. Beautiful industrial art deco buildings sprang up, giving us Brentford’s “Golden Mile”.

LH Member James Marshall wrote a book about this back in 1995. It’s out-of-print now, so available copies are very pricy. They are easily borrowed from local libraries however.

 

 

 

 

 

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