Archive for the ‘Local History’ Category

This article first appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from June 2017. 
by Rob Smith. 

explosion at silverown police news April 1880

Police News Illustrated 24th April 1880

January this year marked the hundredth anniversary of the explosion at the Brunner Mond factory in Silvertown, one of London’s most devastating disasters. The explosion at the plant, where TNT was being made for the British war effort, killed 73 people and injured more than 500, flattening nearby homes and factories. The explosion led to a rethink about locating dangerous manufacturing plants close to residential areas; a memorial to the explosion has recently been relocated in a new housing development on the site. The disaster has become an important part of East London history. However, the 1917 Silvertown Explosion reprised another event from 1880 at a factory just next door. Unfortunately, industrial accidents in this part of London were depressingly common.

The 1880 explosion took place at a creosote plant owned by Burt, Boulton and Haywood. The company had been set up by two railway engineers H P Burt and S B Boulton with the idea of producing a chemical preservative that could make railway sleepers last longer. Coal Tar creosote had been patented in 1838 by London-based inventor John Bethell. Burt and Boulton set up their works in what was at that time known as Lands End – the strip of industries set up between the Thames and the Plaistow Marshes. This was a desolate location at the time, served by a railway built by George Parker Bidder to connect Kent with the City of London via a passenger ferry at Woolwich – a railway known as “Bidder’s Folly” so unlikely did it seem to succeed. Bidder had the last laugh though, when investors were looking to build the vast Royal Victoria Dock, they had to take him on as a partner as his railway owned the land in the area. When the dock opened in 1855 Burt and Boulton’s factory was in a prime location – able to bring in timber by ship and with the raw materials for making creosote being brought by rail as the by products of London’s many gas works. Soon the plant was busy creosoting tens of thousands of railway sleepers for India’s growing railway network. This unglamorous factory played a small but vital part in making rule of the British Empire possible.

The area now known as Silvertown grew up as housing for workers at Samuel Silver’s rubber and gutta percha works, where the coating which made Transatlantic telegraph cables possible was made. By 1880 the area was home to a sizeable population with a school and a rather fetching church built by S S Teulon. Dangerous industries were no longer on an isolated part of the Thames but in the midst of workers housing

Monday 12th April 1880 had started as an ordinary day at Burt, Boulton and Hayward, with the workforce of three or four hundred boys producing barrels of creosote, as well as by-products like insecticides and sulphuric acid, which went on to become fertilizer. The factory, at a location called Prince Regent’s Wharf, was constructed around a yard which at its centre had a group of four stills containing 2500 gallons of tar each. Two workers oversaw the stills which were heated to separate naptha and creosote from the coal tar. At around 2pm a worker in the yard saw a blue flame erupt from a manhole at the top of the still. A man attempted to pour sand on the flame and shortly afterwards another worker called Benjamin Price attempted to use a portable fire appliance on the blaze. Before Price could do anything, a huge explosion ripped through the still, and the lid went flying into the air, despite weighing several tons. Witnesses say the men on the lid of the still were blown high in the air, and that the still lid rose up like a hot air balloon. Workers in the yard ran in panic as they were showered by burning tar, falling bricks and twisted metal. Two men panicked and ran to hide in a building filled with sulphuric acid fumes, dying instantly. Another still had cracked in the blast and there were fears that it would explode too, while a 50-tonne water tank was knocked over causing more destruction. Barrels of creosote caught fire, setting fire to adjacent buildings. The blast had also damaged ships in the neighbouring Royal Victoria Dock. Terrified horses bolted through the streets of Silvertown

Twenty-five fire engines raced to the scene. It was to their credit that the blaze was brought under control in three hours but not without further problems. A horse pulling the Leyton fire engine panicked and crashed into a lamppost – injuring the crew and killing the horse. The next day the grim task of identifying the dead began. The explosion had been so huge it was uncertain of the death toll. Body parts were put on display at the nearby Graving Dock Tavern while family members filed past in the hope of identifying some of them. One man was identified by his wife recognising his whiskers. In all, eleven men were found to have died in the blast. The sad funeral took place on the Sunday, the victims’ families all agreed that the funerals should be held together and a grim but stately procession of 250 people from the local community followed the eleven hearses that had been paid for by the factory owner.

An inquiry into the accident began shortly afterwards. It was found that the “worm” part of the still that allowed pressure to be released had become blocked. This was quite common in the factory the inquiry was told, but this time the worker in charge had not noticed. A verdict of Accidental death was given in the inquiry, which was over in a day. This infuriated some people, including the press. It was like having a kettle being boiled with the spout blocked and the lid bolted down, claimed the London Evening Standard – any schoolboy could see that this was dangerous. A simple safety valve could have prevented the accident. Why had there not been stricter regulations on the plant, under the 1875 Explosives Act? The factory owners said that it did not apply as tar was not explosive. Eventually the factory was rebuilt and creosote produced there until the 1960’s. There is no memorial to the explosion, but the site is now occupied by the rather lovely Thames Barrier Park.


Thames Barrier Park – on the site of the 1880 explosion at Burt, Boulton and Hayward.

This was far from the end of the industrial accidents in Silvertown. In 1886, fire broke out at a guano storage works; in 1887, a huge fire starts in an oil storage facility; in 1897, a worker at the Silver factory was killed in an explosion; and in 1899 the Keiller jam factory was destroyed in a gas explosion. The Brunner Mond explosion needs to be seen in that context: the largest incident but not an unusual one.

London’s industry during the Victorian period made a huge impact on the world, something it rarely gets credit for. However, with every great innovation there are dangers and learning to minimise the risks in industrial production was an important breakthrough in itself. We often talk of “health and safety gone mad” but the Silvertown Explosion is an example of what life was like for workers without the protection of health and safety rules.

Rob Smith
Rob Smith is a guide with Footprints of London. You can find out more about his industrial-related walks at their website.


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in our time

I am a massive fan of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time, BBC Radio 4 most Thursdays at 9am. There are various ways you can search it, but as a service to our readers, here is a list of the London-related ones.

Aphra Behn
Annie Besant

Thomas Becket
The Black Death
The Bluestockings
The Book of Common Prayer
Robert Boyle
Fanny Burney

Caxton and the Printing Press

Mrs Dalloway
The Death of Elizabeth I
The Domesday Book

The East India Company
The Enlightenment in Britain

Michael Faraday
The [Great] Fire of London
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

The Gin Craze
The Great Exhibition of 1851

William Hazlitt
Octavia Hill
Holbein at the Tudor Court
Robert Hooke

[Samuel] Johnson



The Novel

Titus Oates and His ‘Popish Plot’

The Peasants’ Revolt
[Alexander] Pope
The Putney Debates

The Restoration
The Royal Society

The Scriblerus Club
Seventeenth Century Print Culture
The  South Sea Bubble

The Trial of Charles I
The Tudor State


Oscar Wilde
Mary Wollstonecraft

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This article first appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter of December 2013.
by Caroline Rance.

Charlotte Street, following the line of the modern A400 leading off Bedford Square (and distinct from the Charlotte Street west of Tottenham Court Road) became home in around 1862 to an elusive and morally dubious fellow named Dr Charles Daniel Hammond.

Detail from Smith's Map of London 1860

Quack Central. Bloomsbury from Smith’s Map of London, 1860.

Perhaps ironically for someone with a website and book called The Quack Doctor, I try to avoid branding nineteenth-century medicine vendors ‘quacks’. The demarcation between orthodox physicians and the practitioners on the fringes of their profession was blurred. Treatments from either were often ineffective or harmful. Medical qualifications came with no guarantee of trustworthiness, and a lack of certificates was no guarantee of incompetence.

There are cases, however, where I have fewer qualms about referring to ‘quackery’, and that’s when evidence suggests a practitioner was deliberately out to extort money. Hammond and his associates fall firmly into this category.

They were involved in a lucrative field of bogus medicine centred on historically specific anxieties about masculinity. The fictive disease of ‘spermatorrhoea’ – an involuntary leakage of semen thought to render its sufferer physically and morally weakened – is less well-known than the comparable phenomenon of female hysteria. Yet it ‘existed’ as a medical expression of the anti-masturbation rhetoric that remained under the influence of the eighteenth-century Onania and the work of Samuel-Auguste Tissot. Widely accepted by doctors, the condition was subject to unpleasant treatments that enabled quacks to denounce the medical profession and promote their own comparatively easy and discreet cures.

Perhaps it would be wise not to go into too much detail about this background in case it gets London Historians’ fine newsletter condemned to the spam bins, so I’ll focus instead on some of the practical methods Hammond and those like him used to attract and retain patients.

Francis Burdett Courtenay, a surgeon who used the pseudonym ‘Detector’ to expose the activities of quacks in a series of letters to the Medical Circular, cited the case of an anxious young man who answered Hammond’s advertisement for an ‘Electric, Curative and Phosphoric Vitaliser.’ The reply asked for two guineas for a ‘self-curative’ belt – the man sent the money, but received only some medicine and lotion in return. Annoyed that he didn’t get what he paid for, he wrote back to complain.

Hammond’s reply was calculated to induce terror. He had looked further into the case (even though he had never actually seen the man) and decided ‘a slight disease of the kidneys’, was causing semen to drain away.

‘This vital waste is not only capable of causing all the symptoms you detail, but such is the sympathy existing between the generative functions and the brain, that should this drain of the most vital of all your secretions be not immediately arrested, your whole system must suffer very serious derangement, whilst the organs of generation themselves will become vitiated and relapse into a state of utter impotency.’

Added to this was the horrifying prospect of ‘withering and wasting’. In case the lad wasn’t already anxious enough, Hammond predicted that his case would end in insanity. But, thank goodness, he had sought help just in time!

The patient ended up sending another two guineas, and while it would be easy to call him gullible for throwing good money after bad, there’s nothing funny about being inexperienced and scared that there’s something seriously wrong with you.

The belt – when it eventually turned up – was an ordinary suspensory bandage, holding up a circle of metal pieces through which the patient had to place the part concerned. This was supposed to provide ‘a continuous current of electricity, which is taken up by the whole system, infusing new life and “manly vigour” into the debilitated or relaxed frame.’ Unsurprisingly (and perhaps fortunately) it did not work. Hammond’s patent, filed in 1864, shows that it had no way of generating a current.

Dr Hammond's Curative Vitaliser

Eye-watering. Patent diagram of Dr Hammond’s Curative Vitaliser.

But how did Hammond reach prospective patients like this young man?

In the newspaper advertising columns of the 1860s, it is common to find a plethora of competing practitioners all targeting such ‘nervous’ male readers. They promote their own books and electric belt devices, using eye-catching straplines such as ‘Electricity is Life’ and ‘Electricity at Home.’ The reader worried about his health could take his pick from Dr Hammond at 11 Charlotte Street; H. James, (Medical Electrician) at Percy House; Dr Watson at No. 1, South Crescent, Bedford Square; W. Halle Esq. at 1 South Crescent, Store Street, and W. H. Hill Esq. at Berkeley House.

What choice! Yet his letter would arrive at one of only two actual buildings – the changing identities of the practitioners were as fluid as the patients’ own spermatorrhoeic bodily state.

These advertisements were not aimed at the Londoner who could walk to Store Street or Charlotte Street and readily discover the duplicity. Instead, they were placed in newspapers across the country in the hope of attracting mail order custom. The dissatisfied punter of one practitioner could try his luck with another, unaware that his money was going into the same pocket.

Dr Hammond advert

A typical ad, this one from The Edinburgh Courant in 1869.

While Hammond and ‘Henry James’ operated from one address in Charlotte Street, Dr Charles Watson and William Hill Esq. were based just down the road in South Crescent. They advertised information on the:

‘SELF-CURE OF NERVOUS AND PHYSICAL DEBILITY. Wasting of the Vital Fluids, and withering of the Nervous Tissues, Lassitude, Loss of Energy and Appetite, Groundless Fears, and other Disorders of the Sexual System; presented to Sufferers, in order to lay bare the hidden causes of those maladies which afflict Humanity, and afford such advice as will effect a cure in the majority of cases, without dangerous Medicines and expensive consultations, which may be dispensed with.’

Courtenay viewed the Watson-Hill partnership as distinct from the Hammond-James one, but the striking similarities between them make it possible that the two concerns were linked. They used almost identical false qualifications, both subscribed to voluntary hospitals in order to imply that they had an official connection with them, used similar language in their advertising and both held genuine patents for galvanic devices. The name ‘Watson’ is occasionally cited by Hammond’s critics as one of the latter’s aliases, suggesting that they were considered part of the same group even if the technicalities of who was who are rather obscure.

By advertising in the provincial press under multiple names and addresses, the mid-nineteenth-century quack could take advantage of both geographical and personal distance from his patients, advising them by standard letter that he had ‘given their case mature consideration’ and concluded that they were in danger of impotence. As well as reducing the chance of repercussions if patients were dissatisfied, this system also enabled the compilation of mailing lists of likely prospects, who could be sent pamphlets from more than one alias in the hope that they would respond.

The system of distance, however, could also appear advantageous to the patient, who need not take time away from his business or domestic roles, and was not even obliged to give his real name. It is easy to see that this had some appeal compared with the prospect of consulting the family doctor and admitting one’s embarrassing concerns face to face. The agreement of anonymity in remote diagnosis served the immediate purposes of both practitioner and patient, enabling the perpetuation of practices that ultimately left the latter out of pocket.

London Historians member Caroline Rance is the author of several books on the subject of the history of medicine, including The Quack Doctor: Historical Remedies for All Your Ills (2013) and The History of Medicine in 100 Facts (2015). 

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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.


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.


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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A guest post by Roger Williams, LH Member.

1. Exterior

Sandycombe Lodge, the country house that JMW Turner built in 1813 in Twickenham behind Marble Hill, is now open to the public for the first time. It had been bought in a run-down state in 1947 by Professor Harold Livermore, an Hispanic scholar, and his wife Ann, who wrote about Spanish music, and they immediately began trying to restore what had been a small wartime factory. On his death in 2010, Professor Leverhulme bequeathed their house to the nation. Now, after a £2.4 million conservation effort, it has been brought back to what is believed to be as near as can be to Turner’s original home. This involved knocking down extensions, removing external white rendering and uncovering the initial decoration, including marbling on the stairway. The house was designed by Turner, but if some of the detailing echoes Sir John Soane’s house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, it is because the two were friends and contemporaries, Turner being appointed the Royal Academy’s Professor of Perspective just a year after Soane was made Professor of Architecture.


On first sight it is an unprepossessing, late-Georgian villa, with just two first-floor bedrooms. The larger one is at the back, facing Marble Hill House and the Thames, and although the view is now constricted by subsequent developments, a telescope has been installed (above) through which visitors can spy a re-created picture of the view Turner saw in his day.


In the basement is the kitchen and range (above), the domaine of Turner’s ‘Old Dad’ who looked after the house and garden until he was 80. His father had been a barber and wig-maker in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, where Turner was born on St George’s Day, 1775, and had tirelessly promoted and helped his only child. Turner’s mother had died in Bethlem Hospital nine years before Sandycombe Lodge was built, and William Sr continued to help in the running of Turner’s Gallery in Marylebone, hitching lifts into town for the 10-mile journey.

4.Eel pots

Nothing in the house is labelled, and visitors, in limited numbers, are shown around by knowledgeable guides such as Ken Osbourne, pictured here in the kitchen with fishing rod and eel trap. These and the late-Georgian items of furniture, such as the ‘Turkey’ rugs, have been hunted down by Catherine Parry-Wingfield, Chair of the Turner’s House Trust, who has been instrumental in creating the house-museum.

5. Turnerships

Prints on the walls include some from Turner’s teaching manual, the Liber Studorium, from Professor Livermore’s own collection, but there are no original artworks. Turner bequeathed his drawings and paintings to the nation, and these are now in changing displays in Richard Sterling’s 1986 Clore Wing of Tate Britain, while the Royal Academy has his fishing rods and paint boxes. Security issues mean these cannot be loaned, although, Parry-Wingfield is hopeful that this may one day happen.

The Tate also has custody of the model boats Turner owned and used as aids to his paintings. The Trust commissioned variations of two of them from model maker Kevin Thatcher to go on display in the sitting room . Many of these were originally made by French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars.

Turner was a keen fishermen, but the enormous pond he created, apparently almost the size of a football pitch and stocked with fish, has long since disappeared beneath urban housing. He sometimes went fishing with his friend Soane, both self-made men, both at times socially uneasy and irascible. But Turner enjoyed gatherings, too, and a cunning key in the door of a longcase clock in the dining room starts a recording of an account of a picnic enjoyed by Turner and his friends on Ham Common on the opposite side of the river.

Turner was also instrumental in starting the Royal Academy Dining Club’s annual river jaunts which began at Eel Pie House in Twickenham, not far from Sandycombe Lodge in 1818. Five years later Turner proposed they went to the Crown and Sceptre in Greenwich, which was famous for its whitebait dinners. The RA Dining Club’s annual Whitebait Dinner has continued ever since, now taking place during the Summer Exhibition under the enthusiastic eye of the RA’s current CEO, Charles Saumarez Smith, whose recent blog gives a report of this year’s outings and the riverside architecture seen en-route to Greenwich.

For details and opening hours, see http://turnershouse.org

Roger Williams’ latest book is Whitebait and the Thames Fisheries.


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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.


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.


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.


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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A guest post by LH Member Colin Davey.

Forget your Silk, your Garrow’s Law, your Rumpole of the Bailey. For a real dose of legal stimulation, enter the world of conveyancing.

Perhaps you are not convinced. London renters might say that since conveyancing is related to home ownership, its more suitable entertainment connection should be Game of Thrones or some equivalent fantasy world.

However, those who have been lucky enough to own a freehold property will probably at some point have encountered that mysterious creature, the restrictive covenant.

Imagine the scene. Your property purchase is moving steadily forward, the survey has been done, and your mind is turning to whether that new king-size bed with built-in TV will manage the turn in the stairs, even in pieces ready for easy home assembly.

At that moment your solicitors present their report on title, and inform you gravely that the property is affected by an 1838 restrictive covenant under which the land cannot be used for glue making, rag boiling, beer brewing, or any other noxious or noisome activity.

Luckily your solicitors follow immediately with robust advice that the restriction is unlikely to have an adverse material effect on the value of the property, advice surely alone worth the entire fee they will earn from the transaction.

So does that mean restrictive covenants are not to be taken that seriously?

Not at all. We might change the scenario to a developer building an estate of new homes. As the developer goes forward phase by phase, it wants to ensure that homes already built and sold are not altered externally to damage the character of the estate (for which substitute damage the potential sale prices of subsequently built properties). Thus it imposes restrictive covenants covering what cannot be done to the earlier built homes.

Which brings us to Leicester Square and the 19th century case of Tulk v Moxhay.

The case may be old , but it is not to be dismissed for that; indeed, it might deserve the accolade groundbreaking.


Leicester Square circa 1790. British History Online

First, some background. The area in and around modern day Leicester Square was during earlier years the subject of a labyrinthine web of conveyances, wills, codicils and settlements, peppered with periodic trips to the courts.

One aspect of the development of the Leicester Square area will be relatively well-known – Leicester House, built 1631-35 on the northern side of today’s square, for Robert Sidney, second Earl of Leicester.

The land used for the building was four acres acquired by Lord Leicester in 1630 from Hugh Audley. From his dates (1577-1662) we could presume this Hugh Audley to be the same as he who bequeathed to Mary Davies the 500 acres that became the foundation of the Grosvenor family’s London fortune.

The Tulk name first appears in the mid to late 1700s, when a property interest in the area was acquired by James Stuart Tulk, described as being of Tottenham, merchant.

In 1808 a successor, Charles Augustus Tulk sold the gardens of the square for £210 to Charles Elms, a dentist living around the square. The conveyance contained an obligation for Elms to maintain the gardens “uncovered by any buildings”.

Under Elms’s ownership, the gardens degenerated, to the evident disquiet of surrounding owners.

Various transmissions of ownership then took place – this is critical to the legal argument that followed. Finally in 1839 one John Inderwick, ivory turner, sold the gardens to Edward Moxhay.

Inderwick, who was subject to the obligation to maintain the gardens “uncovered by any buildings”, attempted to impose the same obligation on Moxhay. Moxhay refused to accept the obligation; this was not surprising, as Moxhay was a builder. After various negotiations, Moxhay eventually acquired the gardens free of the obligation.

After completion of his purchase, Moxhay started immediately to cut down trees in the gardens. Tulk responded by seeking an injunction to restrain Moxhay from despoiling or building on the gardens.

The case was heard in the Court of Chancery. Connoisseurs of Jarndyce v Jarndyce may prick up their ears at this point, but in this case at least, the parties appeared to have been spared the law’s delay.

Tulk’s problem was that he could not enforce the maintaining the gardens “uncovered by any buildings” covenant contractually against Moxhay. Up until Moxhay’s purchase there was a chain of indemnity. In other words, if there is A, B, C, D and E in the chain covering a piece of land, and a covenant is passed on each time the ownership of the land is transmitted from A down to E, then, in theory, at least, A can (indirectly) enforce the covenant against E by virtue of the chain.

I say in theory, because anyone can immediately see that the procedure is pretty clunky. What happens if, for example, C cannot be traced? Tulk wanted a direct remedy against Moxhay to stop him in his tracks, and this is what the court, presided over by the Lord Chancellor, gave him.

The court was able to reach this outcome through ruling that:

  • Tulk retained other land in the area that could benefit from the restrictive covenant
  • The covenant “touched and concerned” the land for which it had been imposed; in other words it related directly to the land
  • The covenant had been intended to “run with the land” – here, Elms had entered into the original covenant both for himself and for future owners of the gardens.
  • Moxhay had notice of the covenant.

The case has been overlaid by subsequent decisions refining the application of the law created by the court, and today notice to subsequent owners is achieved by registering the restrictive covenant against the ownership of the affected land when the covenant is first imposed. But the case is a good example of courts, counter intuitively to the perception today by many of how the judicial system functions, achieving an appropriate result.

The case of Tulk v Moxhay was not the end of aggravation concerning the use of Leicester Square Gardens, but that is enough of the law for now and for this article.


Leicester Square, yesterday (08/03/2017).

The case may not be as exciting as some that have gone through the courts, and the restriction discussed may not be as racy as the context for the same word in the film you can see promoted (if you peer carefully) in the photograph above of today’s Leicester Square, but I think that it is a story worth telling.

© Colin Davey

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