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Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

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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A guest blog post by London Historians member the artist Liam O’Farrell who describes a London Historians tour of  Smithfield Market in August this year. 

The tour I attended was for Smithfield Market and St John’s. The St John’s Gate visit was just as interesting though for the sake of this blog I have just featured Smithfield Market, and the painting of Smithfield Market.

Arriving at Smithfield Market
The Market opens at 2am would you believe? This is far too early for a visit for even the most intrepid tourist that said we were all still mustered outside Barbican Station at 7.00. I am not a morning person at all though thankfully Peter Twist is, and got us all up and rolling in no time at all.

About Peter Twist (London Historians member)
Peter is a qualified as a City of London Guide since 2012. You may recognise him from the recent groundbreaking Channel 4 show, The Audience. He is a retired Metropolitan Police Senior Officer and brings a wealth of life experience and good humour to bear upon his guided walks.

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Peter Twist leading a group around Smithfield, here at the modern poultry market.

About Smithfield Market
Once on site Peter took us over the history of the market. A livestock market occupied the area as early as the 10th century. That said, it was always a bit of a butchers’ yard as this was where London performed its most gruesome executions. Here in 1305 William Wallace was hanged, drawn and quartered after upsetting Edward I. Wat Tyler too met his end here in an equally revolting fashion after leading the ‘peasants revolt’. You can add to this the protestant martyrs and lord knows how many others.

Thankfully public executions have long since come to an end, and the site we have here today was opened in 1868. It was designed by The City Architect, Sir Horace Jones. In true Victorian style he saw the new meat market as a cathedral of meat complete with its own grand avenue. No expense was spared over its ornamental cast iron, glass, stone and red brick features. Time has proven that from did follow function though the form is certainly impressive.

Once the talk on the history and the outer buildings were complete we passed through the cast giant cast iron doors into the main part of the market. These doors weigh 15 tons each, yet they are so well balanced that you can open them with one finger.

The painting of Smithfield Market
As Peter took us around the market I busied myself in making written notes and drawings around the site, and inside too. The view I finally chose was the three quarter view showing the majestic sweep of Horace Jones’ design with the towers on each corner.

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I produced a small watercolour on site to add to my notes and produced a larger one back in the studio. A print of Liam’s painting will be one of London Historians’ December prizes, see forthcoming newsletter for details.

Inside Smithfield Market

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Once you are inside the market you can really see the advantages of a tour guide as opposed to a guide book. Over the years Peter has got to know many of the market traders and they are more than willing to share stories and traditions of the market.

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Biffo.

The self-styled ‘Biffo’ is more than willing to hold court, and told us that if someone is getting married they are likely to be stripped and covered in flour below the market clock.

He recalled when he first joined workers would fight each other for the best jobs. It was a heavily unionised, hard man’s world. Not a place for a sensitive artist!

In the old days things could seriously get out of hand between the traders to such an extent that the market still has its own police station and police force too. The current police force no longer have powers of arrest, though they can occasionally still be called on to sort out disputes.

The traders and workers traditionally have almost all been white, male, Londoners. These days the market is much more cosmopolitan with even the occasional woman. Biffo said that without the foreign workers willing to do the punishing hours the market would simply die.

Peter took us around the whole site and despite the tough reputation of the market it has a very friendly atmosphere and all the traders were very willing to chat to you about their work and their families’ history of the market.

Visitors are often surprised to know that the market is not totally wholesale. There is no minimum spend and some real bargains can be had. It is not all traditional goods either, as on a few days a month even seagulls eggs can be purchased.

Once the tour was complete we were all pretty hungry and were ready for a big English breakfast at one of the traditional cafes on the square. I stuffed myself!

Tours
I can really recommend this tour. There is a real advantage in having someone on the inside to guide you around the real nooks and crannies of the market. It really made the tour work, and that’s coming from someone who hates mornings!

The City Guides offer a walking tour of Smithfield Market. Tours take place once a month, starting at 7am and lasting an hour and a half. Booking is essential.

Liam O’Farrell
Liam is an extremely talented painter and illustrator who specialises in landscape and cityscape scenes, many of which are on London subjects. His web site.

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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.

National Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was an English architect known for his work on such structures as Liverpool Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge, Bankside Power Station, Battersea Power Station and also for the design of the iconic red telephone box. He came from a family of architects. His father was an architect, himself the son of Sir George Gilbert Scott, known for designing the Albert Memorial and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.

Scott was born at 26 Church Row, Hampstead. He was one of the six children and third son of George Gilbert Scott Jr and his wife, Ellen. He attended Beaumont College preparatory school and in January 1899 he became an articled pupil in the office of Temple Moore, who had studied with Scott’s father. In later years Scott remarked to his friend John Betjeman, “I always think that my father was a genius. … He was a far better architect than my grandfather and yet look at the reputations of the two men”. As a boy Gilbert and his brother Adrian were taken by their mother Ellen on many cycle trips, which he called ‘church crawls’ visiting some of the masterpieces of church architecture on the Kent-Sussex border. It is possibly these field trips that inspired the young Scott to become one of Britain’s greatest modern church architects.

In 1903, when still only 22, he won a competition to design Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. However, due to the sheer size of the building, which took over 60 years to complete, and which became his lifelong project, he died before the building was completed. While working in Liverpool, Scott met and married Louise Hughes, a receptionist at the Adelphi Hotel. The marriage was a happy one and lasted until Louise Scott’s death in 1949. They had three sons, one of whom sadly died in infancy.

As Liverpool Cathedral arose Scott’s fame grew, and he began to secure commissions for secular buildings. One of the first was for Clare College, Cambridge, Memorial Court, which was in a neo-Georgian style. The style was also used for a house he designed for himself in Clarendon Place, Paddington in 1924. This won the annual medal for London street architecture of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1928. An English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorates his residence here from 1926 until his death in 1960.

He went on to design huge buildings across the UK. Amongst them was Battersea Power Station, which was completed in 1933. It became one of the most admired as well as conspicuous modern buildings in London. After many years of neglect, it is currently being refurbished as the centre piece of a new development at Nine Elms.

Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station

Scott also designed London’s new Waterloo Bridge although at the time there was a lot of controversy over the demolition of John Rennie’s Greek Doric Bridge. It is often referred to as the women’s bridge due to the fact that many of the builders were women during the Second World War, although this was never officially acknowledged. The bridge was formally opened in 1945.

Waterloo Bridge

Waterloo Bridge

After the Commons chamber of the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by bombs in 1941, Scott was appointed in 1944 to rebuild a new chamber. He felt that it should be congruent with the old as anything else would have clashed with the Gothic style of Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin.

Inspired by the mausoleum that the Neo-Classical Architect, Sir John Soane had designed for himself in St Pancras Old Church Yard, Scott designed two versions of the telephone box for the General Post Office. These iconic pieces of design, of which there are still some 9,500 around the country, are now being put to other uses thereby giving them a new lease of life. The design of the red telephone box and his work on Liverpool Cathedral, led to him receiving a knighthood in 1924.

Mayfair.

Mayfair.

Phone box sculpture, Kingston upon Thames.

Phone box sculpture, Kingston upon Thames.

 

Possibly his greatest impact on the City of London was Bankside Power Station on the south bank of the Thames opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. In designing this building, Scott demonstrated that power stations could be fine buildings in their own right. Completed in 1960, the building had a relatively short life as a Power Station closing in 1981 and is now the Tate Gallery of Modern Art.

Scott remained working into his late 70s. He was working on designs for the Roman Catholic Church of Christ the King, Plymouth, when he developed lung cancer. He took the designs into University College Hospital, where he continued to revise them until his death aged 79 on 8 February 1960. Scott was buried outside the west entrance of his masterpiece, Liverpool Cathedral, alongside his wife.


Unless otherwise stated, all images: London Historians.

 

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Review: Mr Barry’s War by Caroline Shenton.

mrbarryswar“What a chance for an architect,” exclaimed 39 year-old Charles Barry as he observed personally the 1834 fire which destroyed the old Palace of Westminster. This was the subject of Caroline Shenton’s previous award-winning book, The Day Parliament Burned Down (2012).

And now the sequel. It’s all about how Barry won the bid to design and supervise the building of a new Parliament. Little did he know what troubles lay ahead, hence the title of this book, published today.

Sir Charles Barry was thoroughly a Westminster person, man and boy. Son of a local stationer, he was born a stone’s throw from the ancient parliament and the Abbey: he knew the area intimately. Orphaned at 10, he was raised by his stepmother and apprenticed to an architect’s practice. Substantial travel through Europe and the Near East combined with his natural talent turned him – by the mid 1830s – into one of the leading architects on the scene, a rising star. Sir John Soane by this time was on death’s door and Barry was clearly the superior of Robert Smirke, the man best positioned politically to win the job of rebuilding Parliament.

But it was decided to have a competition for the project. This involved the customary procedure of competitors submitting anonymous sealed designs. Barry won. His entry was Number 64 and his accompanying rebus – the diagram on all his drawings – was a distinctive portcullis with chains. This logo device featured heavily in the decor of the designs and eventually became the official logo of the Houses of Parliament to this day. That’s one of many interesting things I learned from this book and I shall try and keep further spoilers to a minimum.

From here, the narriative of Mr Barry’s War, takes us through the challenges, problems and obstacles that were the architect’s constant companions for the next 20 years and more. The first, and as it turned out probably the easiest, was about engineering. How to build an integrated four-storey estate with two massive towers on the swamp that was Thorney Island? Barry sorted this with brilliant common-sense solutions which worked but nonetheless drew criticism that he didn’t know what he was doing, it wouldn’t work etc. This was a taste of what was to come.

Barry’s problem and the main narrative of the book was to do with having over 1,000 masters: the MPs and Peers who waited impatiently for their new accommodation. He found himself answering to a great many of them in addition to corporate the strangely-named Office of Woods (which became the Office of Works late into the project), the Fine Arts Commission and over a hundred select committee enquiries. They meddled, they carped, they criticised. While royal visitors, heads of state, journalists, newspapers and the public were full of enthusiasm for the building; while RIBA presented Gold Medals and the queen bestowed a knighthood, many insiders were openly hostile to Barry (and indirectly, Pugin). For running over budget, for making alterations without informing anyone, and hundreds of other perceived shortcomings, large and small.

Much of the budget overspend and delay was entirely due to the demands of the critics themselves, but they didn’t see it that way. Barry did have supporters in Parliament, of course, otherwise he couldn’t possibly have won through. But his chief antagonists were Ralph Osborne MP and Joseph Hume MP, who never missed a chance to slight Barry in the House (but rarely outside). Then there was the ventilation expert, Dr Reid, appointed without Barry’s approval or reference. The Scotsman was responsible not only for ventilation, but also heating in winter. Unless the two men worked completely in harmony, delay and cost would escalate. They were barely on speaking terms throughout. Reid was eventually replaced, but too late.

In addition to all of this, the project encountered an all-out strike by the masons, the Great Stink of 1858. And managing Augustus Pugin.

Central to the story is, of course, the partnership of Barry and Pugin who largely uncredited and underpaid undertook most of the decor of the palace. Utterly reliant one on the other, the two in the main got on remarkably well considering their wholly contrasting personalities. Pugin was constantly fractious, lovelorn, angry and often emotional as the author demonstrates liberally with extracts from his letters to Barry, but more tellingly to his confidante and supplier John Hardman.

“I am almost wild… I will not go on as I have been – I will either give up altogether or I will not be the servant of a set of architects who get the jobs & leave me to do their keyholes.”

But Barry was always able to soothe the bruised Pugin with charm, flattery, kind words and fulsome praise – genuinely meant, one feels. But ultimately they both shared the same vision so completely that they were chained together, prisoners to the project, literally unto death. After a spell in Bedlam and other institutions, in poor Pugin’s case.

The historical backdrop to this story is also very influential of events. Chartism is at its height and organised labour is emerging (mason’s strike, above); railways have just arrived and London’s great termini are rising from the streets; the old regime under Wellington, Peel is leaving the stage as Gladstone and Distraeli begin to loom.

There are walk-on parts from many leading or interesting players of the time: the queen, Prince Albert, John Ruskin (hostile), Edmund Beckett Denison M.P. (a truly mediocre amateur architect with massively inflated self-worth: great character), Joseph Bazalgette, Thomas Wakley (founder of The Lancet), and more. But one of my favourite bits of the book was Barry’s tour of the country with geologist William ‘Strata’ Smith in search of the perfect stone for the palace. They visited dozens of quarries: thorough doesn’t nearly cover it. The stone they eventually selected was subsequently thought not to be the exact stuff they actually meant to order, but unbeknownst to them!

This is a wonderful tale, brilliantly told. I shan’t ever look at the Houses of Parliament quite the same again and can’t wait to visit soon with new knowledge from this exceptional book.


Mr Barry’s War: Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after the Great Fire of 1834 (288pp) by Caroline Shenton is published by Oxford University Press. Cover price is £25. Kindle edition available. It is London Historians book prize for September and there’s a special price offer for London Historians members coming up in next newsletter!

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A guest post by LH Member Wendy Forrest. 

The Landmark Trust recently invited London Historians to 13 Princelet Street, Spitalfields. Just outside the bounds of the City, the area has long been home to those living on its fringe, servicing lifestyles from which they were themselves largely excluded. Spitalfields has sheltered Hugenots fleeing religious persecution, the Irish forced out by famine, Jews escaping pogroms and Bangladeshis remaking their lives after a genocidal war of independence.

The desperate living conditions of most 19th and 20th century residents left the Georgian dwellings in need of their own rescue. Militant conservationists and artistic gentrifiers turned Princelet Street and its neighbours from slum to swank. But the area is now threatened by a new and devastating wave of speculative development. Plans for Bishopsgate Goodsyard would create a looming wall of glass towers, some over 40 storeys high. British Land propose to bulldoze historic Norton Folgate retaining just a few Potemkin facades. Princelet Street would stand but its neighbourhood would be destroyed.

The history of No 13 Princelet Street is intimately tied to that of its neighbours and the street is full of stories that reflect the changing fortunes of Spitalfields. The invitation from Landmark Trust prompted a look at the way the street was developed and at the events that shaped some of the most extraordinary houses in the street. The visit felt especially timely as this area, the largest collection of early Georgian terraced houses in London, may soon be changed beyond any possible restoration.

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The first houses on Princelet Street were built just after 1700 on land used for market gardening after the priory and hospital of Street Mary Spital were dissolved in 1539. Leonard Gurle moved to the area in the 1640s to create a nursery for fruit trees, jasmine, honeysuckle and lilacs and was so successful that he was made the King’s Gardener in 1677. Spitalfields was still horticultural when construction began on Princelet Street. The plot was known as Joyce Garden, part of an estate bought by Charles Wood and Simon Michell after some shady dealing and at least one Chancery case. These two gentlemen of Lincolns Inn were also involved in the new business of sewage. They won the right to construct a local sewer system, along what is now Hanbury and Wilkes Street, ensuring they benefitted from all neighbourhood development.

Shortly after Wood and Michell acquired the land, Parliament resolved urgent action to counter the spread of non-conformist Protestantism. Fifty new Anglican churches, financed by coal taxes, were planned to serve the ‘godless thousands’ outside the City. Spitalfields, where a thriving Hugenot community now lived alongside established dissenters, was an obvious early site for one of these Queen Anne churches. Hawksmoor was appointed surveyor and designed six of the twelve actually built. The land for Hawksmoor’s masterpiece, Christ Church Spitalfields, was sold to the Church Commissioners by Wood and Michell and was linked to the sewer serving Princelet Street. As intended, Christ Church towered above the neighbouring Hugenot chapels, as it still dwarfs the synagogues and mosques which some of these chapels became.

Wood and Michell sold a couple of plots on Princelet Street outright but then decided to parcel out the land on leases of no longer than 99 years. Development fell to speculative builders including several carpenters, a stonemason, a painter, a bricklayer and a blacksmith. Samuel Worrall, carpenter, was chief amongst these and lived at No 18 himself using the back yard, which also had access from Fournier Street, as a timber yard. Worrall was a significant figure in Georgian Spitalfields: carpenter at Christ Church, churchwarden of the parish, overseer of the poor and a trustee of the almshouses in Crispin Street. A Samuel Worrall, probably his son, later rose to become Master of the Masons Company.

The stately Georgian townhouses of Princelet Street are sometimes seen as typical of the houses in which silkweavers lived and worked. Certainly many were built or adapted for silk production with wide windowed lofts designed to illuminate the looms within. Spitalfields was the centre of the industry and by 1832 a parliamentary report noted 50,000 people in the weaver’s district of Spitalfields and Bethnal Green – half the population – entirely dependent on silk manufacture. But the houses of Princelet Street are hardly the average weavers’ lodgings. Most silk workers were poor and, as the industry declined in competition with foreign silks and Indian calicos, many desperately so.

George Godwin (London Shadows 1854) weaving as misery.

George Godwin (London Shadows 1854) weaving as misery.

The master weavers who lived in Princelet Street often put work out to as many as 200 journeymen and apprentices. Its likely that some of these houses would have been targeted during the periodic weavers riots, most intense during the 1760s, when silks were slashed on the loom by ‘cutters’ protesting poor rates of pay. Other early Princelet occupants included a weaver, a glover, a brewer, a cutler, a doctor, carpenters and clergymen who would also have been amongst the wealthiest in their respective trades. The local dominance of the textile industry is confirmed by the presence of weavers, a tailor, a needlemaker, a dyer, a knitter and silk brokers.

No 13 was built by a stone mason, Edward Buckingham and his first tenant was probably a tailor. Several early occupants had Hugenot names and local trade directories list silk merchants at this address. But by the second half of the 19th century Spitalfields silk was in decline and new trades arrived at No 13. By 1861 these included a poulterer and a mangler or washerwoman suggesting a dip in the fortunes of the tenants. The house was now multi-occupied, shared between four families by 1871. There were also new names: Guttenberg, a jeweller, and Levy, a boot ‘clicker’ who cut out leather for shoe uppers. By the time Peter Lerwill bought the house in 1984 decades of poverty and overcrowding had taken their toll. He took on a slum but one that retained its original plan, partitions and panelling. Lerwill left the restored house to the Landmark Trust in 2004.

13 Princelet Street.

13 Princelet Street

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No 19 was built by Samuel Worrall in 1719 and the first occupants were a silk weaving Hugenot family, the Ogiers, who were followed by a number of poorer weaving families and their looms. Later it became home to Polish and Irish immigrants and in the 1860s a synagogue was built into a garden extension. Israel Zangwill tells us ‘Its furniture was bare benches, a raised platform with a reading desk at the centre, and a wooden curtained ark at the end…The worshippers dropped in, mostly in their workaday garments and grime, and rumbled and roared and chorused the prayers with zeal which shook the windowpanes’. A secret room below the synagogue hosted anti-fascist meetings in the 1930s including preparations for the battle of Cable Street. Children from the Kindertransport found a first sanctuary there in the 1940s. In 1980 the attic was unlocked to reveal cabbalic writings and scattered texts in fifteen different languages, traces of the erudite caretaker who had disappeared suddenly and without trace over ten years earlier. This house is now the Museum of Immigration.

Number 19.

Number 19.

No 2, a three storey house with roof loft on the corner of Wilkes Street, was one of the last to be built by Samuel Worrall. Initially tenanted by a glover, it was soon home to Anna Maria Garthwaithe, one of the most celebrated designers of the 18th century. She lived in Princelet Street for 35 years creating flowered patterns for silk damasks and brocades, nearly a thousand of which are still held by the Victoria and Albert Museum. Anna Maria was a Lincolnshire vicar’s daughter and it was only when her father died that she was able to establish an independent life living with her widowed sister. At the age of 40, she came to Spitalfields to work directly with the highly skilled weavers who bought her designs. The house was later tenanted by the Goldsteins, the Venicoffs, the Marks, the Hellers and then by a number of Bengali families before it was restored in 1985.

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Number 2.

No 4 is a handsome double fronted house taken in 1724 by Benjamin Truman, third generation brewer responsible for a major expansion of the family firm. The Truman Brewery on Brick Lane was a major employer well into the 20th century and is still a local landmark. Ben Truman supplied beer to the Prince of Wales and was knighted by George III when he took the throne in 1760. Truman was painted by both Gainsborough and Romney and his portrait graced beer labels well into the 1970s. By the mid 18th century No 4 was also occupied by Hugenot weavers who added the characteristic loft. Today it trades on its history and is hired out as a location for photographs and films. The house can be seen in the scene where Sharon Stone ties Hugh Dancy to the bed in Basic Instinct 2 or where Rupert Pendry-Jones finds the victim of a Ripper copycat killing in a 2009 episode of Whitechapel.

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Number 4.

No 6 became London’s first Jewish theatre in 1886. Public funds were raised by a local butcher and Sir Samuel Montagu, Liberal MP for Whitechapel. This enabled Abraham Goldfaden, an actor-manager from Riga, to set up the Hebrew Dramatic Club. Jacob Adler, an actor who rose to great fame in New York, performed there after fleeing Odessa. A character in Israel Zangwill’s Children of the Ghetto claims the Jargon or Yiddish theatre is ‘the only real theatre in London’. In 1887, during a production of The Gypsy Girl, the firm alarm was raised in error and 17 people were killed in the rush to the exits. The theatre closed shortly after. It is not the street’s only link to the arts. Lionel Tertis, international viola player and professor at the Royal Academy of Music, lived at No 8, his father was the reader and circumciser at the synagogue at No 19.

As the Jews moved on, the Bengali community tenanted the Spitalfields slums. From the early 19th century Syleti men had travelled to Calcutta and found work crewing British ships, often in the sweltering boiler rooms. Some were marooned in London, some jumped ship. Their new London homes were close to the docks and a 1964 survey showed that the highest concentrations of Pakistanis in East London (Bangladesh was still East Pakistan) were in Princelet Street and old Montague Street. The 1971 Bangladesh genocide and War of Independence led to another great refugee influx and by 1971 there were 200 Bengalis occupying just sixteen addresses in Princelet Street. Living conditions were Victorian and Spitalfields was one of the most deprived and overcrowded wards in the country. The campaign for decent housing was led by the community itself through organisations like the Spitalfields Housing Co-operative which took over and improved twenty houses in Princelet Street in the 1970s and manages more than 600 local properties today.

Demolition and redevelopment threatened the whole area in the 1970s and the militant campaign to protect and restore Spitalfields was hard fought. No 13 Princelet Street is a wonderful example of what was saved. On 17 and 18 September The Landmark Trust are holding an Open Day and London Historians are warmly invited to attend. To find out more about developments in Spitalfields:

www.landmarktrust.org.uk for holiday lets and open day news
www.morelightmorepower.co.uk for the campaign for Bishopsgate Goodsyard
www.thespitalfieldstrust.com for plans for Norton Folgate
www.19princeletstreet.org.uk for visiting No 19 and the Museum of Immigration
www.princelet.co.uk interior details at 4 Princelet St for filmmakers and the curious
www.bishopsgate.org.uk for local history learning and research


More images of Princelet Street on our Flickr space.

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Last Saturday London Historians went on an awayday to St Albans; 12 of us. We were led by fellow Member and guide, Rob Smith, a longstanding resident of the city who gave us a wonderful tour.

I was aware, of course, of the ancient Roman town very near by, Verulamium. And that it has a fine old abbey, now a cathedral. But I was unprepared for quite how much of this city’s historic fabric survives. You can walk entire streets where the newest building might be Victorian. I was particularly pleased to see lots of old coaching inns which today shops, pubs, flats, whatever. But still there. St Albans escaped WW2 bombing but importantly it’s less careless about its heritage than London: I gather the St Albans Civic Society has a fearsome reputation.

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The cathedral itself, like many large and ancient survivals, is a hodge-podge of styles, and none the worse for that. At the beginning of its timeline, still an abbey, we have its beautiful Norman tower. At the other end we have the much-derided west front by Victorian architect Edmund Beckett Denison who took over the building’s restoration from Sir George Gilbert Scott. It looks okay to me but will never compare with – for example – Hawksmoor’s west front towers at Westminster Abbey.

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Inside is the shrine and tomb of St Alban himself, a local man who during the Roman persecution, took the rap for a Christian priest, and was beheaded. Like today, pilgrimage was massive business in the Middle Ages, only more so. When the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett turned Canterbury into a serious rival destination, St Albans successfully petitioned Rome for Alban’s beneficiary, Amphibalus, also to be sanctified.  Two saints!

Shrine of St Alban.

Shrine of St Alban.

Shrine of St

Shrine of Amphibalus. Some TLC needed, though.

In addition to these two blameless fellows, notable St Albans residents included Matthew Paris, who was a monk at the abbey, and a medieval chronicler; Francis Bacon, the scientist and philosopher who developed the Scientific Method. Queen Anne’s friend Sarah Churchill, who preferred St Albans to Blenheim; and Samuel Ryder, a seed magnate originally from Preston, who sponsored the first Ryder Cup.

The Wars of the Roses. Did you know they kicked of at St Albans? In May 1455, the armies of the Dukes of York and Somerset fought it out in the streets, alleys, ditches and the market square. The issue was that the King, Henry VI, was mentally ill, so who ruled England in his stead? York prevailed on this occasion, but not before St Albans, which had no investment in the quarrel whatsoever, got horribly sacked.

St Albans is but two stops on the train from St Pancras and therefore – for me – takes no more time than to reach fair Greenwich, which I visit quite frequently. You may find the same. No excuses. Rob has another scheduled tour coming up on 9 July.

Rob tells us about the ancient Great Gate to the Monastery.

Rob tells us about the ancient Great Gate to the Monastery.

View from St Albans's town Clock Tower in the market square.

View from St Albans’s town Clock Tower in the market square.

Clock Tower bell, known as Archangel Gabriel, case in Whitechapel c1400!

Clock Tower bell, known as Archangel Gabriel, cast in Whitechapel c1400!

Roman mosaic, in situ.

Roman mosaic, in situ.

I’ve put more pictures on our Flickr space here.

Finally, in view of my previous post, on the pipe organ, here is St Albans Cathedral’s tribute to David Bowie.

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The Shocking Case of Sarah Trimmer School, Brentford.

THE SARAH TRIMMER SCHOOL Instituted in the year 1786 For Religious Instruction and Industry Supported by annual Subscriptions and Benefactions and the produce of the Children's work

THE CHURCH SCHOOL
Instituted in the year 1786
For Religious Instruction and Industry
Supported by annual Subscriptions
and Benefactions
and the produce of the Children’s work

This sign adorns the street-side wall of 367 Brentford High Street, widely known as Mrs Trimmer’s School Room. Built in 1806, it is Grade II listed and historically highly significant. First, as recent research by historians James Wisdom and Val Bott has made clear, it is probably the only surviving example of a Georgian industrial school. Second, its association with its founder, Mrs Sarah Trimmer, a well-known educationalist of the time. It survived in its primary role – and also as a Sunday School – deep into the 19th Century, long after its founder’s death. Hence the building’s importance and heritage is unquestionable and something of which Brentfordians can rightly feel proud.

This view is not shared by the developers IDM West London Limited.

These developers who – to the consternation of many locals – have caused severe damage to the fabric of the building over the past two months, violently removing chimneys and roof and causing cracks to at least two of the main walls. Following the unauthorised removal of the roof, a Hounslow enforcement officer ordered them to protect the building with a cover and to cease further work. It was only after several downfalls that the cover was installed, a good 10 days later. Late last week and in breach of the order, the builders on site sand blasted the paint from two of the outside walls, forcing the council to intervene again on 9 June, this time with a Temporary Stop Order. The problem is that breaking the order can result in a maximum fine of only £20,000, hardly a deterrent to a rapacious developer.

Chimneys violently ripped out.

Chimneys violently ripped out.

Severe cracks have appeared.

Severe cracks have appeared in two of the walls.

The roof, apart from existing damage by the developers, in generally good shape.

The roof, apart from existing damage by the developers, in generally good shape.

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The roof: gone!

Having been told to suspend work on the building, the developers sandblasted two of the walls in a way you probably won't see in any English Heritage manual.

Having been told to suspend work on the building, the developers have sandblasted two of the walls in a process you probably won’t see recommended in any English Heritage manual.

A horrible extra side effect of the roof destruction is the loss of an interesting structure in the beams which was probably a flue of some sort – long disused – from an earlier incarnation of the roof. There can’t be many examples around – but now it’s gone. (see pictures below)

The truth of the matter is that the workers on this site have been attacking this poor old building like a troop of drunken chimpanzees with jackhammers. As a lay person it’s difficult to say, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the structural integrity of this building has been compromised as a result of its violent treatment.

The interior of the building in January 2016. Note the rectangular frame in the beams.

The interior of the building in January 2016. Note the rectangular frame in the beams.

Detail.

Detail.

Some weeks ago, I contacted IDM West London to see if they could adequately explain their actions. To be fair, their Project Architect, Bal Heer, returned my call, chatted at length and sent me quite a detailed email of what they had done and why. Subsequent events have caused me to revisit it and this leapt off the page:

“2nd week of May the main contractor commenced temporary support of the chimney structure as recommended by the Structural Engineer. It is clear to see the extent of the chimney leaning into the roof in the photo below: Leaning chimney. During this propping process the large double chimney became unstable and had to be removed from the existing roof. Further investigation showed the extent of the damage to the roof structure and the decision was taken to remove as much of the load from the damaged roof structure, ie the tiles were removed carefully so they could be used again.”

Aha! Did they tell the council or seek advice? Of course not. This is the old oh-dear-what-a-shame routine beloved of developers when they wish to justify wrecking something inconvenient to themselves. It was used by another outfit very recently less than a mile up the road to smash down the frontage of some Victorian terraced houses (that’s a whole other story).

Sadly this case is by no means unique. But it typifies what developers get up to and, most of the time, what they get away with. Their sole ambition is to build ’em high and sell ’em high. They will milk the last penny from every square inch of a site, regardless of the consequences for our heritage or for local people. If an opportunity arose, say, to smash down the Cenotaph itself and put up a unit of “luxury apartments” called The Warrior Quarter, believe me there isn’t a developer in London who wouldn’t do it.

I am not a Nimby. We have to build new things and replace old things. But developers want it all. How do we stop this desecration of our heritage? As in this case, it’s vital that local people especially, and Londoners generally, continue to be vigilant and kick up a fuss immediately when they see or suspect heritage vandalism by developers. But more importantly – because they are able actually to do something – local authorities must intervene with maximum and swift vigour. Westminster Council did exactly this recently when a developer smashed down the Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale, a viable and thriving pub.

Well done them. All councils have a duty of care for their local heritage. I’d like for my council – London Borough of Hounslow – to build a fearsome, rottweiler reputation against developers who swan in here and smash up the fabric of our historic structures. Play by the rules and you’re very welcome. Do not, and you’re in big, big trouble. I’m hoping for more from them in this case. Let’s see how they go.

To repeat: if IDM West London contravenes the stop order, the maximum potential fine is £20K. Puny. This isn’t going to slow down any developer whose massively profitable project is held up by pesky council officers. More sanction need to be made available against law-breaking developers, and that must be jailtime. Go to Jail. Go Directly To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect 20 million. That’ll learn them to have some respect.

The perps.

The perps.


More images on our Flickr space, here.

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