A Travellerspoint blog

October 2017

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ROMANS

A short historic street in the City of London recalls one of the great roads that the Romans used when they occupied Britain.

Watling Str looking west

Watling Str looking west

The existence of Watling Street predates its naming. Before the Romans arrived in Britain, the road existed as a track between modern Canterbury and St Albans. It acquired its name after the Roman occupation from the Old English ‘Wæcelinga Stræt’, which means the road of the Waeclingas (an Anglo-Saxon ‘tribe’ that lived in the St Alban’s area after the Romans left Britain in the 5th century AD). This was after the Romans had established it as a major road, improved, and lengthened it.

It is accepted that in Roman times Watling Street ran from places in East Kent (e.g. Richborough, Reculver, Dover, and Lympne) to modern-day Southwark, and then across the Roman London Bridge, through London (‘Londinium’), and onwards via St Albans (‘Verulamium’) to Wroxeter (‘Viroconium’) in Shropshire. Its detailed route through London is uncertain. Archaeological evidence has determined that the Roman Watling Street went through the north of Southwark to the southern end of the Roman London Bridge (see: “London City of the Romans” by R Merrifield, publ. 1983). North of the Thames, the road’s course through London is less well-defined. It is highly likely that the road followed the course taken by today’s Edgware Road (the A5). There is little evidence to define the road’s route between London Bridge and Marble Arch, where the Edgware Road begins.

After the Great Fire of London (1666), a portion of the paved Roman Watling Street was discovered whilst the Church of St Mary-le-Bow was being rebuilt in the early 1670s. Aga’s 1561 map of London (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/london-map-agas/1561) shows a stretch of road named ‘Watling Streat’ running east to west just south of ‘Bowe church’. John Rocque’s 1746 map (see: https://www.locatinglondon.org/) marks the same road, but in greater detail. It ran from Queen Street (which did not exist in 1561) westwards towards St Paul’s Cathedral churchyard. This short stretch of what might be part of the course of Roman Watling Street exists today, and is well-worth exploring.

The present-day Watling Street begins at the point where Queen Street meets Queen Victoria Street, a few yards south-west of the (3rd or 4th century AD) remains of the Roman Temple of Mithras. These used to be visible from the pavement of Queen Victoria Street but now (October 2017) they are hidden below the new Bloomberg Building. Eventually, they will be accessible to the public again.

Cordwainer sculpture

Cordwainer sculpture

Heading west along Watling Street from Queen Street, there is a sculpture of a seated cordwainer (a shoemaker as opposed to a cobbler, who repairs shoes) at work. The sculpture was made in 2002 by Alma Boyes, who teaches at the University of Brighton. It stands in Cordwainer Ward, an area that was a centre of shoe-making in the mediaeval City of London. The word ‘cordwainer’ is derived from the Spanish city of Cordoba, where some of the finest leather was produced in the Middle Ages.

Across the road, there is a plaque commemorating the fact that the building to which it is attached is on the site of the headquarters of the London Salvage Corps between 1907 and 1960. This organization, whose job it was to reduce the loss and damage following fires, was founded in 1865 by the insurance ‘industry’. In 1984, the Corps was disbanded. Then, it became incorporated into the London Fire Brigade.

Watling Str

Watling Str

St Mary Aldermary

St Mary Aldermary

Bow Lane leads south from Watling Street to St Mary Aldermary church, a lovely gothic building with a tall tower, also adorned with gothic decoration. There has been a church on this spot since before 1080. It was rebuilt in 1511, but not completed until about 1629. The lower bit of the tower of the present church is a part of the 1511 church, but the rest was rebuilt in 1682 after The Great Fire to the designs of Christopher Wren (1632-1723).

St Mary Aldermary

St Mary Aldermary

St Mary Aldermary

St Mary Aldermary

In Kenneth Clarke’s book “Gothic Revival An Essay in the History of Taste” (first publ. 1928), he argued that maybe the taste for gothic never actually died in Great Britain. What we describe as ‘gothic revival’ or ‘neo-gothic’ should be regarded as part of a continuum, which began with early gothic in the mediaeval era. I feel that Wren’s St Mary Aldermary is a good example of this. Built when many people would say that the era of ‘true’ gothic was over, this church is a perfect example of all that is pleasing about early gothic. The most impressive feature of the church’s interior is its delicate fan vaulting, both above the nave and its two parallel side aisles. Unlike earlier gothic churches (e.g. Kings College Chapel in Cambridge), this is not stonework but plasterwork, and therefore has no structural function. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner wondered whether by using this fan vaulting, Wren was trying to imitate the vaulting that had been present in the 1629 church, which was built during a time when fan vaulting was still being created in some buildings.

Ye Olde Watling

Ye Olde Watling

Wren's study at Ye Olde Watling

Wren's study at Ye Olde Watling

Cleveland Court

Cleveland Court

Returning north along Bow Lane, we reach a pub, Ye Olde Watling, on the corner of Watling Street. Built in 1668 to replace its predecessor, which was burnt down in the Great Fire, it is said that Christopher Wren occupied rooms above the pub while he was designing the new St Pauls Cathedral. A room on the first floor, now used as a dining room, is said to be the room Wren used to prepare his architectural plans and drawings. However, the pub was rebuilt in 1901, and then again in 1947 after bomb damage during the Blitz. So, how much remains of what Wren used is questionable. Having said this, the study on the first floor has an authentic feeling if you use a little imagination.

St Mary le Bow

St Mary le Bow

Bow Lane continues north, passing some narrow alleys such as Groveland Court, to reach the eastern end of Bow Churchyard. The main part of this yard opens out onto Cheapside. The church of St Mary-le-Bow was founded in about 1080 as the London headquarters of the archbishops of Canterbury (see: http://www.stmarylebow.co.uk/history/4535373215). It was the bells of this church that the young Dick Whittington, who was to be thrice Mayor of London, heard as he rested at Highgate. Legend has it that he thought that their chimes were telling him to return to London. To be a cockney Londoner, one is supposed to have been born within hearing of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow (rather than Bow Church, which is in the East End). Long ago, these bells could be heard as far away as Southwark, and much of north and east London, but now with high ambient noise levels they can only be heard in the City of London and Shoreditch (see: “Daily Telegraph”, 26th June 2012), where few people are now born.

St Mary le Bow

St Mary le Bow

The mediaeval church was destroyed in the Great Fire, and was rebuilt to the designs of Christopher Wren between 1670 and ’80. Pevsner writes that the northern positioning of the church’s tower is because Wren built it on a Roman gravel roadway running from east to west (discovered eighteen feet below ground level while preparing the site for the new church), which made a solid foundation for it.

The church’s wide nave is covered by a barrel-vaulted ceiling supported by pillars with Corinthian capitals. Since Wren’s time, the church has undergone repeated renovations and restorations.

Site of Eleanor Cross at St Mary le Bow

Site of Eleanor Cross at St Mary le Bow

A paving stone with a carved inscription outside the western doorway of church’s tower records the former existence of an Eleanor Cross nearby on Cheapside. This cross was one of a series of such monuments marking the places where the corpse of Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I, rested on its way to Westminster Abbey in 1290. This cross was demolished in 1643 during the English Civil War (1642-51).

Capt John Smith outside St Mary le Bow

Capt John Smith outside St Mary le Bow

There is a statue in the churchyard. It depicts the cordwainer Captain John Smith (1580-1631), who was amongst the first settlers in Jamestown, Virginia (now in the USA). He set off from the docks at Blackwall in 1606. Wearing knee breeches and boots with very wide rims, the bearded figure stands with his right hand holding a book, and his left resting on the handle of his sheathed sword. The statue, cast in the USA and erected in 1960, was presented to the Corporation of London by Jamestown Foundation of the Commonwealth of Virginia (see: https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/captain-john-smith). It is a copy of an earlier one originally sculpted in 1907 by William Couper (1853-1942), which stands in Jamestown.

23 Watling Street

23 Watling Street

23 Watling Street

23 Watling Street

Returning to Watling Street, number 23 has a façade covered with short pilasters which separate the windows from each other. Its two entrances are adorned with lions’ heads, scrolls, floral festoons and crests. Its ground-floor now houses a cricket-themed pub.

Admiral Arthur Phillips memorial

Admiral Arthur Phillips memorial

Admiral Arthur Phillips memorial

Admiral Arthur Phillips memorial

Near the western end of Watling Street there is a stone monument shaped like a small classical building. This celebrates Admiral Arthur Phillip, who was born in Cheapside in 1738. He died in Bath in 1814. In 1788, he established a penal colony in New South Wales (Australia), which was later to become the city of Sydney. The monument originally stood in the Church of St Mildreds, where it was placed in 1932. The church was destroyed by bombing in 1941, but the bust and the bronze commemorative plaques were salvaged, and then placed on a new monument near the present place in 1968. Recent redevelopments caused it to be moved to its present site.

St Augustines's tower east of St Pauls

St Augustines's tower east of St Pauls

Between the Phillip monument and St Pauls Cathedral, there is an old church tower with an elaborate spire covered in lead. This is attached to a far newer building, a choir school designed by Paul Paget (1901-85). The tower is all that remains of St Augustine Church that was designed by Wren between 1680 and ’83. The spire was added later in 1695.

Site of Chapter House of Old St Pauls

Site of Chapter House of Old St Pauls

Watling Street ends here, but from Aga’s time up to WW2, it ended at the eastern end of St Paul’s Churchyard. Whether or not this Watling Street is part of the actual Roman Watling Street matters little, because it is close to, or actually where, it ran. Short as it is, it is full of interest, and, also, provides a nicely framed view of St Pauls Cathedral.

West end of Watling Street

West end of Watling Street

PS: Some of the traffic using the Watling Street route in Roman times and before London Bridge was built might have travelled through what is now the London area by the following approximate route (using modern place names): Elephant and Castle to a ford across the Thames between today’s Westminster and Lambeth Bridges. Interestingly, if one draws a straight line from Marble Arch to this point, it becomes a notional straight continuation of the Edgware Road.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 08:09 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london st_pauls gothic romans christopher_wren watling_street Comments (6)

MONKS AND MAMMOTHS ON THE MERIDIAN

A stroll from historic Waltham Abbey along the River Lea to industrial Ponders End reveals many interesting surprises.

Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290), first wife of King Edward I, died near the city of Lincoln. Her body was transported to London. The journey took twelve days and nights. Each night, her body rested somewhere along the route. These resting places were later remembered by a series of carved ‘Eleanor Crosses’, one placed in each stopping place. On the tenth night, Eleanor’s remains rested in the church of Waltham Abbey in Essex. This is now west of the present-day Epping Forest, but was once within it, when the woodland was then known as ‘Waltham Forest’. This stopover was later commemorated by the placing of an Eleanor Cross at the place now known as Waltham Cross.

Waltham Abbey ruins Gateway

Waltham Abbey ruins Gateway

The station at Waltham Cross makes a good starting point for an exploration of an area that once contained the largest Augustinian monastery in Britain.

If those who were accompanying Eleanor’s corpse were to revisit the Waltham (the name means ‘weald’ [or ‘forest’] ‘home’) area today, they might still recognise a few things, but would be surprised to discover that what was a rural parish in their time is now a suburb of London.

The Small River Lea at Station Rd

The Small River Lea at Station Rd

A busy road lined with occasional recently-built edifices runs east from Waltham Cross Station to the ‘town’ of Waltham Abbey. After a while it crosses a bridge with balustrades (rebuilt 1924), under which flows the Little River Lea (or ‘Lee’), a tributary of branch of the larger River Lea (or ‘Lee’). Beyond this, a little further east, the road leaves Hertfordshire and enters Essex. The boundary between the counties is the River Lea and its various channels including The River Lea Navigation (see below).

entering Hertfordshire

entering Hertfordshire

Entering Essex

Entering Essex

Waltham Abbey is the settlement in Essex immediately to the east of Waltham Cross. In the 7th century AD, its locals were converted to Christianity, probably by Mellitus (died 624), bishop of the East Saxons and first bishop of Saxon London. In about 1030 AD, Tovi the Proud, King Canute’s standard bearer, built Waltham Cross’s first parish church. Tovi had lands in Somerset. It is said that when a ‘wondrous’ cross was found there, Tovi had it placed in a cart to be taken to Glastonbury. However, the beasts drawing it, refused to move. When they were next asked to transport the religious object to Canterbury, they still refused to budge. When Tovi thought of Waltham, where he had built himself a hunting lodge, the creatures eagerly moved the cross to that place, and that is why he built a church there, The Church of the Holy Cross.

The town’s history is detailed in “Waltham Abbey Chronology” by R & B Sears (publ. 2000). In 1059, after Earl Harold (later King Harold II) was cured of paralysis at Waltham, he erected a Norman church on the site of Tovi’s. This became the nucleus for an abbey. When King Harold died at Hastings in 1066, he was buried in front of the high altar of his Waltham Abbey Church. After the assassination of Thomas à Becket in 1170, the repentant King Henry II enlarged Harold’s church and founded an Augustinian priory, Waltham Abbey, beside it as partial penance for Becket’s death. A small town grew up around it.

Waltham Abbey was the last of the monasteries to be ‘dissolved’ by King Henry VIII. This happened in 1544. Just over sixty years later, in 1604, Guy Fawkes bought gunpowder (for treasonable purposes) from the Waltham Abbey gunpowder factory. For many centuries, Waltham (for example The Waltham Abbey Mills, founded 17th century) and various other places (see below) along the River Lea have been associated with the manufacture of explosives.

Highbridge Str

Highbridge Str

The Old Courthouse

The Old Courthouse

Highbridge Street retains the appearance of a typical old-fashioned, small country town. Number 31 bears the date 1704. It is named The Old Courthouse. It faces the site of a newer courthouse, which was destroyed by a V2 missile in 1945. The town was hit by many enemy weapons, probably because of its proximity to the explosives factories in the Lea Valley. The Town Hall is further east along the street, almost opposite the west front of Waltham Abbey Church. The brick municipal building trimmed with white stone was erected in1904. It was designed by WT Streather, who had been surveyor for a suburb of Bournemouth before joining Waltham’s council. The tower above the main entrance and the roof of the meeting hall behind sport attractive ‘fin-de-siècle’ mansard windows.

Waltham Abbey Town Hall

Waltham Abbey Town Hall

Rear of Waltham Abbey TownHall

Rear of Waltham Abbey TownHall

Almost opposite the Town Hall, there is a small tourist information office, where its friendly staff plied me with free information leaflets, and sold me a couple of interesting local history booklets. A small building next to the northwest corner of the Abbey Church is The Rectory. Part of it, the western section, was already built by the 15th century. The part nearest the church was added in the 17th century.

Waltham Abbey Church rectory

Waltham Abbey Church rectory

A path runs north (of the west side of The Rectory) along Cornmill Stream to a bridge that crosses it. The path it carries leads to the ruins of the main entrance of the former monastery grounds. The smaller of its two stone gothic arches was for pedestrians. The larger one was for vehicular traffic. The weathered remains of two stone heraldic crests can be seen on either side of the larger arch.

Waltham Abbey ruined Gateway from outside

Waltham Abbey ruined Gateway from outside

North side of Waltham Abbey Church and rectory

North side of Waltham Abbey Church and rectory

Monastic figure by H Stylianides

Monastic figure by H Stylianides

Passing through the arches, one enters a large park containing some remnants of the abbey. In addition, there is a fine view of the north side of the church with its mixture of Romanesque and gothic windows. Standing in the middle of a lawn, there is tall wooden sculpture, carved from a single oak trunk in 1992 by Helena Stylianides. It depicts a hooded monastic figure.

The Stoney Bridge

The Stoney Bridge

Northeast of the sculpture, another small bridge traverses the Cornmill. Cross this, and follow the stream a few yards eastwards to reach a metal fence which encloses the remains of a 14th century stone bridge (restored in 1902), the Stoney Bridge. It was built to carry carts coming to and from the monastic farm of Waltham Abbey without having to pass through the walled precinct of the monastery.

A  wall of Abbey House, formerly the Chapter Hse

A wall of Abbey House, formerly the Chapter Hse

Returning from the bridge back towards the church, we reach the long wall, part of what was once Abbey House, and before that the north wall of the Chapter House of the abbey. Following the dissolution of the abbey in 1540, Anthony Denny (1501-1549), one of Henry VIII’s favourites and a member of his Privy Chamber, leased (and later purchased) the lands of the abbey. Denny not only built Abbey House (demolished 1770), but also set up a mill (on a tributary of the Lea), which used to supply Henry VIII with gunpowder.

Outer entrance to cloisters

Outer entrance to cloisters

East end of Waltham Abbey Church and Harold Stone

East end of Waltham Abbey Church and Harold Stone

A 12th century archway in the north wall leads through a short passage into what used to be the abbey’s cloisters. I could see no remaining evidence of the cloisters. Standing where the cloisters used to be, one gets a good view of the east end of the abbey church, or, at least, what remains of it. The church that stands today, the parish Church of the Holy Cross and St Lawrence, is about one third of the length of the original abbey church (see below). The external features of the east wall of the parish church include elements that were once part of the interior of the larger church before it was truncated. For example, the rose window is surmounted by an almost semi-circular stone arch, now part of the external wall, which must have been a Romanesque arch supporting part of the long nave of the earlier longer church.

The Harold Stone at Waltham Abbey

The Harold Stone at Waltham Abbey

A few feet east of the parish church, there is a small upright stone, the so-called Harold Stone, which stands behind a larger horizontal stone bearing a carved inscription. This tells that the Harold Stone marks the site where King Harold is said to have been buried in 1066. It stands behind the place where the high altar stood in the 11th century. Now outside the body of the existing parish church, this simple monument still attracts wreaths with personal messages to King Harold written on labels attached to them.

Waltham Abbey Church west front

Waltham Abbey Church west front

Waltham Abbey Church

Waltham Abbey Church

Norman pillars Waltham Abbey Church

Norman pillars Waltham Abbey Church

The parish church is well-worth entering. Its nave and aisles are survivors of the once longer nave of the much larger Norman church that was built between 1090 and 1150 AD. The circular pillars, some of which are carved with zig-zag chevrons or spiral helices, support Romanesque arches on either side of the nave. There is a fine Tudor funerary monument to the Denny family at the south-east corner of the church, and close to this some other old funerary sculptures.

Ceiling detail Waltham Abbey Church

Ceiling detail Waltham Abbey Church

In 1860, the church was extensively restored under the direction of William Burges (1827-1881), who reconstructed Cardiff Castle and built one of Kensington’s most curious buildings, the Tower House in Melbury Road. The spectacular painted ceiling above the nave was created by the artist and one-time President of the Royal Academy Edward Poynter (1836-1919). Its diamond-shaped panels contain various symbolic images as well as the signs of the zodiac.

Burne Jones windows Waltham Abbey Church

Burne Jones windows Waltham Abbey Church

Poynter’s contemporary, the pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) designed the stained glass in the rose window above the high altar. Each of the seven smaller circular windows depicts one of the Seven Days of The Creation. The central, larger window, depicts a seated crowned regal figure with a halo. He holds an orb and behind him there is a group of figures, some with musical instruments.

Market place Waltham Abbey

Market place Waltham Abbey

Green Dragon Inn Market Sq

Green Dragon Inn Market Sq

Welsh Harp Inn

Welsh Harp Inn

I visited Waltham Abbey on a Tuesday, which has been market day since time immemorial. Several market stalls (selling clothes, shoes, food, stationery, and tools) were crowded into the small market square at the western end of Sun Street. On one side of the square stands the half-timbered Welsh Harp Inn whose structure dates from the 16th century. The Green Dragon pub, whose windows were boarded up on my visit, was built in the 19th century on the site of the Market Hall (and an earlier Moot Hall, where the Abbot held courts of justice in mediaeval times).

Sun Str and The Sun Inn

Sun Str and The Sun Inn

Drain 33 Sun Str

Drain 33 Sun Str

South Place

South Place

The Sun Inn on Sun Street is a timber-framed building that was already standing in 1633; it has been enlarged considerably since then. Its next-door neighbour, now an estate agent, has a clapboard façade. The drainpipe of number 33 Sun Street, now Kalik Coffee House, has a picturesque feature decorated by a fleur-de-lys and two thistles. The short South Place leading off Sun Street, has some pretty cottages dating back to the 17th century. The double cottage (it has two adjoining roofs) at the south end of the Place was occupied by a farmer in the 17th century. He farmed the open land, which was, in his time, immediately south of his home.

Former police station Sun Str

Former police station Sun Str

Epping Forest District Museum

Epping Forest District Museum

Number 35 was built as a police station in 1874. It is now no longer used for that purpose. Its neighbour is the town’s library. This is adjoined to a half-timbered building, which houses the small but excellent Epping Forest District Museum. Much of the half-timbered house, first built in about 1520, has been restored, but the rooms of the museum, which are part of that house display parts of its original wooden structural elements: doorways, fireplaces, and timber beams. The building has been beautifully restored and conserved, skilfully blending original elements with new features including a lift for handicapped visitors.

The first floor Epping Forest District Museum

The first floor Epping Forest District Museum

Lucien Pisarro in Museum

Lucien Pisarro in Museum

Amongst the numerous exhibits, several caught my attention. On the top floor, there is a painting by the impressionist Lucien Pisarro (1863-1944), who first visited the UK during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), and then returned to settle permanently in London in 1890. Just after he married (in 1892), he lived in Epping between 1893 and ’97. The painting depicts the garden of his house in Epping, where his daughter the artist Orovida Camille Pissarro (1893-1968) was born.

Museum. Possibly Edward III

Museum. Possibly Edward III

There is a carved stone head on the floor below. This was carved in the 14th century, and was originally in the Abbey’s Chapter House. It is believed to be a portrait of King Edward III, who was a patron of the Abbey, which he visited often. According to the museum label the beard and hair of this sculpture bears traces of the gold that used to cover the whole piece.

Museum -  part of pannelling from Waltham Abbey

Museum - part of pannelling from Waltham Abbey

The ground floor contains some elaborately decorated wooden panelling (dated about 1526) that has survived since the demolition of Waltham Abbey. It is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, which has lent it to the Epping Museum.

Mammoth tusk found Waltham Abbey

Mammoth tusk found Waltham Abbey

The oldest exhibit in the museum is in a cabinet on the wall of the main staircase. Dated roughly 12,000 BC, it is the curved tusk of a woolly mammoth, which was discovered near Waltham Abbey. It is believed that these beasts roamed around today’s Lea Valley during the ice ages.

The museum has a pleasant little garden decorated with a large mosaic. From the garden, there is a good view of the east end of the museum, which, although restored, looks like it must have done several centuries ago.

Lea Valley Church

Lea Valley Church

Facing the eastern end of Sun Street, there is a brick building trimmed with white stone and topped with a tiled steeple supported by slender columns. This was built in 1902 for the Methodists (Wesleyan). In 1974, it became a Roman Catholic church, and then later it became the Lea Valley Church (see: https://www.leavalleychurch.org.uk/), which is neither Methodist nor Roman Catholic (nor Church of England).

Greenwich Meridian line Sun Str

Greenwich Meridian line Sun Str

Returning westwards along Sun Street, we reach a mosaic that stretches almost the width of the pedestrianised roadway. A red line runs in the middle of it from north to south. This marks the path taken by the Greenwich Meridian, which separated the east from the west. Along with Greenwich, the town of Waltham Abbey has at least one thing – the Meridian – in common with Accra in Ghana. According to recent measurements, the line of the Meridian may, really, be some 334 feet east of its present accepted position (based on observations made in 1884) at Greenwich (see: The Daily Telegraph, 20th October 2017). The Waltham mosaic was constructed before this discovery.

Leaving Waltham Abbey along Highbridge Street, we pass an undistinguished looking modern (yellow and red) brick building facing the large traffic roundabout. This is the current ‘avatar’ of the Francis Greene Alms-house. The original alms-house on this spot was built by Francis Greene in 1626. It was rebuilt in 1818, and survived until 1945 when it was destroyed by a German V2 missile. The present building replaces the post-war building, which was constructed in 1953.

Francis Green almshouses: old memorial stone

Francis Green almshouses: old memorial stone

'WD' stone Just west of Francis Greene House

'WD' stone Just west of Francis Greene House

The alms-house stands on a corner plot separated from its neighbour by a small street, Grove Court. The brick wall on the western corner of Grove Court and Highbridge Street is of recent construction, but it includes a much older corner stone (not brick), which bears the letters ‘WD’ separated by an upside down ‘V’. This resembles, but is not identical to, the letters carved on stones by the War Department (after 1954, the Ministry of Defence). On old large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, a surveying benchmark is marked close to the position of the stone that I spotted.

The western end of Highbridge Road is the bridge crossing the River Lea Navigation. The River Lea, which rises in the Chiltern Hills near Luton, flows mainly through north-east and east London, and joins the River Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf (described elsewhere) near Canning Town. Along much of its course, the Lea divides into various separate channels, some of them narrow clogged-up streams and others much bigger.

During the 16th century, efforts began to create a navigable channel along the course of the Lea. The civil engineer John Smeaton (1724-1792) was largely responsible for designing what is now called the River Lea Navigation, work on which was completed by 1771. Smeaton’s work, effectively a canalised part of the river, ensured that there was a wide enough channel that always contained sufficient water to keep it deep enough for vessels to navigate its length. Modifications and improvements on his canal have been made subsequently. A good footpath runs alongside it.

Waltham Town Lock

Waltham Town Lock

The Waltham Town Lock is just north of the bridge to which Highbridge Road leads. It is surrounded by the greenery of the southern end of the Lea Valley Regional Park. I explored the part of the Lea Navigation (‘Lea’) that flows from this lock southwards towards that at Ponders End.

Waltham Town Lock house

Waltham Town Lock house

River Lea Navigation Entrance to small dock near Station Rd

River Lea Navigation Entrance to small dock near Station Rd

Just south of the bridge on the western shore of the Lea, there is a currently disused brick building (whiteish bricks with occasional rows of red bricks). This was the lock house built in 1878 beside the old Waltham Town Lock (see: http://www.leeandstort.co.uk/Waltham_Town.htm). The latter was removed in 1922, when the present lock was built further north on the other side of Highbridge Road. A short footbridge crosses the watery inlet to a small dock next to the disused lock house. Before WW2, this dock had its own travelling crane for loading and unloading goods. Now, it is being converted into a water feature for a new housing development.

Pumping station near Waltham Abbey

Pumping station near Waltham Abbey

We next pass a Water Board water treatment plant whose grounds contain an elegant yellow brick building with stone trimmings. It has tall circular arched windows and a porch supported by pillars with Doric capitals. This was built as a pumping station, constructed in the late 19th century (between 1884 and 1898, according to detailed maps).

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing looking west

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing looking west

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing looking east

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing looking east

A little further south, the canal and its footpath pass beneath a large bridge that carries the busy traffic on the M25 London Orbital motorway. There was a pitched tent and a vandalised car as well as various bits of junk under the bridge. Although I saw no one, this encampment had the look of still being in use. South of the bridge, the Lea flows through open countryside. To the west, there is the vast expanse of Ramney Marsh. To the west, there is a wide swathe of uninhabited land separating the Lea from a housing estate.

Ramney Marsh from River Lea Navigation

Ramney Marsh from River Lea Navigation

River Lea Navigation Ramney Marsh Lock

River Lea Navigation Ramney Marsh Lock

River Lea Navigation Ramney Marsh Lock cafe

River Lea Navigation Ramney Marsh Lock cafe

Ramney Marsh Lock was first built in 1768, and rebuilt several times since then, the last time being 1902. Parts of the supports of the footbridge across the lock consist of blocks of Portland stone recovered from the old Westminster Bridge, which was demolished in about 1862. The footbridge leads east to the Narrow Boat Café, at which I did not stop. A map surveyed in 1895 shows that there was a nitro-glycerine factory on the land east of the lock. For years, this area was used for testing munitions, but now it has been rendered safe for all. Its presence is remembered today by naming the open land, now a public open space, ‘Gunpowder Park’.

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

South of the lock, the canal was lined with moored barges, electricity pylons, and occasional small canal-side gardens, often quirkily decorated. After passing the stone supports of a demolished bridge that once carried pedestrians and a large-bore pipe over the river, a stream branched off from the Lea at the northern point of a slender island.

Remains of bridge  south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Remains of bridge south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Northern part of Government Row River Lee Navigation

Northern part of Government Row River Lee Navigation

Southern part of Government Row River Lee Navigation

Southern part of Government Row River Lee Navigation

On its west shore there are rows of identical terraced two-storied houses built of brick along a road named Government Row. These were once homes for workers at the Royal Small Arms Factory, which was behind them to the east. The factory was opened in 1816. It produced rifles and other small arms for the British Army throughout the 19th century. Its products included the famous Martini Henry and Lee Enfield rifles, as well as the Sten (Shepherd, Turpin, and Enfield) Gun. The factory and its site closed in 1988. Since then, a housing development has been built on the land behind Government Row.

Enfield Lock looking north

Enfield Lock looking north

Enfield Lock seen from the north

Enfield Lock seen from the north

Enfield Lock is situated at the southern end of Government Row. This was first built by 1722. The present structure was built in 1922. It is located next to the Lee Conservancy headquarters. This organisation was founded in 1868 to look after (maintain) the Lea Navigation, to keep it clean and navigable. The lock house at Enfield Lock bears a sign that states it was built in 1889 by the Conservancy. The headquarters of the organisation is immediately south of the lock on the Lea’s west bank. It is housed in a low brick building (cruciform in plan, built 1907) with a reddish tiled roof with a small centrally-located clock-tower surmounted by a weather-vane.

Enfield Lock Lee Conservancy 1907

Enfield Lock Lee Conservancy 1907

A Swan and Pike Pool River Lee Navigation

A Swan and Pike Pool River Lee Navigation

The charmingly rustic Swan and Pike Pool, an old dock surrounded by trees and joined to the Lea by a short channel, is opposite the Conservancy, across the water. The Pool was “…once a bathing pool and a turning point for barges that serviced the nearby Gunpowder Mills” (see: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/). It is named after a pub, the ‘Swan and Pike’, which existed close-by until the early decades of the 20th century. This hostelry existed as an isolated structure in the marshes lining the Lea Navigation before the 19th century and the construction of the small-arms factory (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp212-218).

Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Out of curiosity I decided to explore south along the Lea to Ponders End Lock, a distance of just over two miles. Take it from me that unless you are fascinated by electricity pylons there is not much point walking along this stretch of water. Immediately south of the Conservancy, there are several modern factories. For most of the distance, the Lea is bordered to the east by the high grassy bank of King George’s Reservoir. Constructed between 1908 and 1912, it was opened by King George V. It is the largest of London’s reservoirs. The steep bank of the huge reservoir is grazed by sheep. I also saw horses wandering amongst the pylons in the muddy fields between the water-storage area and the Lea. The west side of the Lea is bordered by vegetation which conceals various industrial concerns.

Sheep on the reservoir slopes  Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Sheep on the reservoir slopes Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

A sculpture  Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

A sculpture Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Apart from a group of Geese that landed in the water with balletic precision, and one barge travelling slowly, there was little of interest to see. At one point, I came across four small metal sculptures by the footpath. Why they were there is not clear to me. As with the path north of Enfield Lock, I met with several other walkers and some cyclists, but far less than I had encountered above that lock. Eventually, I reached Ponders End Lock, a double lock with two parallel lock chambers. The lock was first built there in the early 18th century. The second chamber was included as part of a rebuild done in the 1950s. Canal users now have the choice of using the newer mechanised lock or the older manually operated one.

Ponders End Lock looking north

Ponders End Lock looking north

Between the lock and Ponders End railway station, I passed a small square bungalow with neo-gothic windows. This building on Wharf Road was once part, an entrance lodge, of the former Wright’s Flour Mill. It was built in the early 19th century. There had been mills on this site since the 16th century, maybe since the Domesday Book’s era. George Wright took over the mill in 1870. Originally water-powered (by the River Lea), it was later run by electricity when the waters of the Lea were diverted to fill the nearby reservoir.

Mill Lodge, Wharf Rd, Ponders End

Mill Lodge, Wharf Rd, Ponders End

When I was about ten years old, I managed to persuade my grandmother, then in her seventies and visiting from South africa, to join me on a series of bus journeys using a Red Rover. This ticket, costing six shillings (30 pence) in those days, allowed its holder a whole day’s unlimited usage of London Transport’s red buses. Granny and I set off from Golders Green, and after a few hours ended up in Ponders End, which looks no more attractive today than it did then. Having reached this place, which neither of us had ever heard of, we decided that enough was enough, and then returned to Golders Green. This is how I felt many decades later having reached there from the far more attractive Waltham Abbey.

Waltham Abbey, which still resembles a small country town far from London, is now a part of the city. Its well-preserved historic centre is surrounded by modern housing. The River Lea and its various channels supply London with water, now via the reservoir, and earlier via the New River. It has been one of London’s important transportation arteries, which has served industry in the past (before motorised road transport and the railways), and is now a valued leisure facility. Exploring the area described above brings one into contact with many aspects of history from prehistoric times until today: from wandering mammoths to mammoth motorways.

Reservoir slope  Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Reservoir slope Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 14:51 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged monastery lee essex enfield pylons locks lea explosives hertfordshire waltham_abbey river_lee pre-raphaelite Comments (2)

SELL THE WIFE AND HEAD FOR ISLINGTON

Enjoy a slice of London's history by walking from Smithfield through Islington to Highbury Corner.

“He married Jane Carter,
No damsel look’d smarter;
But he caught a tartar,
John Hobbs, John Hobbs;
Yes, he caught a tartar, John Hobbs.
He tied a rope to her, John Hobbs, John Hobbs;
He tied a rope to her, John Hobbs!
To ‘scape from hot water,
To Smithfield he brought her;
But nobody bought her …”

“John Hobbs” from "Modern Street Ballads", ed. J Ashton (publ. 1888).

Smithfield Market

Smithfield Market

Clerkenwell’s St Johns Street was described in 1170 as the street: … which goeth from the bar of Smithfield towards Yseldon [i.e. Islington]” (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp203-221). It was a well-worn route from the country into town, and was lined with coaching inns for travellers and hostelries for cattle drovers bringing their animals to market. Before exploring the street, we will look at St Peters Italian Church in Clerkenwell Road just west of Farringdon Road.

St Peters Italian church

St Peters Italian church

St Peters Italian church

St Peters Italian church

This church is in the heart of what was once known as ‘Little Italy’ because of its Italian community, which was began growing rapidly at the beginning of the 19th century. St Peters, designed by the Irish Sir John Miller-Bryson, was consecrated in 1863. The congregation originated in the 18th century when Roman Catholicism was outlawed in England. Then, Catholic services were held clandestinely in the chapel of the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Sardinia (see: “La Chiesa italiana di San Pietro a Londra”, by LM Stanca, publ. 2001), which was in today’s Sardinia Street near Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

WW1 monument St Peters Italian church

WW1 monument St Peters Italian church

Its narrow façade belies the church’s large interior. In the porch, there is a monument to Italians who died during WW1. With an inscription by Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863-1938), the monument gives the war’s dates as 1915-1918, 1915 being the year when Italy joined the forces allied against Germany. The monument, which bears the symbol of Mussolini’s fascists is dated both as 1927 and as ‘Anno VI’, that being the 6th year since Mussolini assumed power. Above the war memorial, there is a monument to the victims of the ‘SS Arandora Star’, which was sunk in 1940 while carrying Italian internees and POWs to Canada.

St Peters Italian church

St Peters Italian church

Entering the spacious body of the church is like stepping out of London and into a typical late baroque church in Italy. The central aisle is flanked with polished marble pillars topped with Ionic capitals. Apart from various monuments including a list of those lost on the Arandora Star, there are many paintings, the oldest of which ‘l’Orbetto’ was painted by Alessandro Turchi (1578-1649). When not being used, this church is an oasis of peace in a busy area of London.

Farringdon Rd and Middlesex Session House

Farringdon Rd and Middlesex Session House

Descending Clerkenwell Road eastwards, we pass: Hatton Garden (of diamond-trading fame); Saffron Hill and Herbal Hill, where once there were gardens in which herbs and saffron were grown. Farringdon Road follows the course of the (now buried) Fleet River.

Well Court

Well Court

Well Court

Well Court

Well Court is in Farringdon Lane. A sign on its exterior reads “Clerks’ Well”. Through the windows, you can see a circular well lined with bricks, and some old piping. This was used to carry water from the well. Behind the well, there is brick facing that covers the mediaeval wall of the former St Mary’s Nunnery. Above it, there is a commemorative plaque that used to be located above a pump, which was formerly located in the street near the well. The notice informs that the water that supplied the well was “greatly esteemed by the Prior and Brethren of the Order of Jerusalem and the Benedictine Nuns in the Neighbourhood”. These establishments were closed by King Henry VIII. The well, which gives its name to Clerkenwell, continued to be used until the mid-19th century, when it became polluted, filled in, and built over. In 1924, it was rediscovered during building works.

Turnmill street in 2 languages

Turnmill street in 2 languages

Farringdon station

Farringdon station

Moving southwards, we pass the newly restored Middlesex Sessions House (described elsewhere), and approach Farringdon Station via Turnmill Street, an old thoroughfare which was close to mills powered by the waters of the River Fleet (before it was covered in the 19th century). Farringdon Station serves both the Underground and the Overground railways. Its Cowcross Street entrance hall, designed by Charles Walter Clark (1885–1972), who designed several other ‘tube’ stations, was opened in 1922.

Cowcross St and pawnbrokers sign

Cowcross St and pawnbrokers sign

Faulkners Alley off Cowcross St

Faulkners Alley off Cowcross St

Turnmill and Cowcross Streets mark the south-west boundary of the land owned by the former Priory of St John of Jerusalem (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp182-202#h2-0001). A building at the west end of Cowcross Street has a projecting bracket with three gold coloured spheres, the sign of a pawnbroker. Faulkners Alley, one of many alleys in the area, is visible through a narrow arch decorated with a pretty cast-iron metal screen.

70 to 75 Cowcross Str

70 to 75 Cowcross Str

Denmark Hse Cowcroft Str built 1879

Denmark Hse Cowcroft Str built 1879

Cowcroft and Peter Streets

Cowcroft and Peter Streets

Number 70-75 Cowcross Street is a large four-storey, glass-fronted, steel-framed building, designed by the London architects Smee & Houchin, and built in 1921. Almost opposite, is Denmark House constructed 1878-79. This building and number 70-75 were two of several buildings constructed in the area for use as warehouses or stores. At Peters Lane, Cowcross street turns southward towards to meet St Johns Street, which commences at the north side of Smithfield Market, an indoor wholesale meat marketplace.

Smithfield north side with Barbican behind

Smithfield north side with Barbican behind

Smithfield mkt

Smithfield mkt

Smithfield’s central Grand Avenue is entered through an archway flanked by two heraldic dragons and a pair of stone sculptures. The Avenue runs beneath a high roof supported by ornate painted ironwork arches. Side aisles are lined with the meat dealers’ stalls and glass-covered display cabinets. In 1852, London’s livestock market was moved from Smithfield to Copenhagen Fields in Islington (off Caledonian Road, where the Caledonian Park is now located). This cleared the area for the construction of the present meat market, which was completed by 1868. Constructed in an era before refrigerators were used, the market was designed to keep out the sun and to take advantages of prevailing breezes.

Smithfield mkt

Smithfield mkt

In mediaeval times, Smithfield had a bad reputation. It was known for criminal activity, violence, and public executions. In the early 19th century, when obtaining divorce was difficult, men brought their unwanted wives to Smithfield to sell them, then a legal way of ending a marriage (see: “Meat, Commerce and the City: The London Food Market, 1800–1855”, by RS Metcalfe, publ. 2015).

At the southern end of Saint Johns Street (‘SJS’), the gable of number 5 bears a bas-relief of a boar and the date 1897, when the building (used for commerce and retail) was re-built by W Harris. Just north of this, St John widens temporarily to form an oval space.

5 St Johns Str

5 St Johns Str

South end St Johns Str showing widening

South end St Johns Str showing widening

Number 16 on the east side of the oval bears a cross-keys symbol near its roof, and the intertwined letters ‘A & M’ above its central first-floor window. This building housed the ‘Cross Keys’ pub until before 1983. There had been a pub on this site, a coaching inn, since before the 18th century. Its neighbour, number 18, is a Victorian gothic building was formerly a warehouse built 1886-7. A disused crane arm can be seen projecting from between the building’s two main gothic arches. In 1889, the building was let to Oppenheimer & Co, sausage-skin manufacturers. Now, it has other uses.

16 and 18 St johns Str

16 and 18 St johns Str

22 St john Str

22 St john Str

26 St John Str

26 St John Str

The slender number 22 was already built by the early 18th century. It is the only surviving member of a row of three similar houses. Close by, number 26 was built in the early 19th century on a site once occupied by an inn called ‘The Swan with Two Necks’, which was already established by 1670. There used to be quite a cluster of inns in this part of St Johns. They catered for the coaches and the drovers who made much use of this thoroughfare.

34 to 36 St Johns Str

34 to 36 St Johns Str

Number 34-36, with its magnificent late Victorian stone and brick facade was once the premises of George Farmiloe & Sons, lead and glass merchants. This building and its neighbour are built on land once occupied by yet another inn and its yard. In 1999, Farmiloe’s moved their business from SJS.

Building with bulls heads in Peters Lane

Building with bulls heads in Peters Lane

Building with bulls heads in Peters Lane

Building with bulls heads in Peters Lane

Take a small detour into Peter’s Lane to see a tall brick building adorned with realistic bulls’ and cows’ heads (sculpted by Mark Merer and Lucy Glendenning) standing at its northern end. This tower was built in the late 1990s. It is attached to a boutique hotel, The Rookery, which occupies some modernised Victorian (or 18th century) buildings.

White Bear St Johns Str

White Bear St Johns Str

71 St John St

71 St John St

72 St Johns Str

72 St Johns Str

Returning to SJS, number 57 is occupied by the White Bear pub, which was rebuilt 1898-99. Nearly opposite it, number 71 has a neo-classical shopfront with Ionic pilasters. This building was built 1817-18. The shop was first leased by John Newton, a cork manufacturer. Opposite it, number 75 is a slender brick building with brick arches above its first-floor windows. It was built in the 1830s.

78 to 80 St john Str

78 to 80 St john Str

Passing Alley

Passing Alley

Passing Alley St Johns Str end

Passing Alley St Johns Str end

Passing Alley is no longer where it used to be in monastic times. The present alley is further south from its original location. On Rocque’s 1745 map and an earlier one (1676), it was named ‘Pissing Alley’. The current name first appeared on a 1790 map (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp142-163). It leads from SJS to St Johns Lane. From the latter end of the alley, there is a good view of the historic archway of the Order of St John (see elsewhere). This end of the alley emerges from a building labelled ‘Lovell and Christmas’, a former grocery built in 1897.

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Further north along St Johns, there is a red brick building with a large street opening guarded by ornately decorated wooden gates. This was once the ‘Cannon Brewery’, descendant of a brewery founded in the 1670s. The Brewing Yard Offices were built in 1875, the date on the lovely clock that can be seen within the courtyard. The brewery faces a large white stone-faced building, which was designed by Malcolm Waverley Matts (1874-1960) and built 1925-27 for Pollard & Co Ltd, shopfitter suppliers (shopfronts, shelving, etc,). The company invented ‘invisible glass’, concave sheets of glass used in shopfronts.

158 to 173 St Johns Str

158 to 173 St Johns Str

Aylesbury Str

Aylesbury Str

Woodbridge Chapel

Woodbridge Chapel

After crossing Clerkenwell Road, take a detour along Aylesbury Street passing a new glass-fronted five-storey building with some black tiling on its facade, and then enter Woodbridge Street, where the Woodbridge Chapel stands. This was built in 1823 (architect: Thomas Porter) for a Calvinist sect. After having been used as a liquor store by Nicholsons (see below), this became a school, and then later a medical facility that is still in use. It is also still used for religious purposes.

St Johns Str old Nicholson's distillery

St Johns Str old Nicholson's distillery

A former Finch pub on Compton Str

A former Finch pub on Compton Str

Back on SJS at the corner of Compton Street, there is a former pub. Rebuilt in 1901, this was once ‘The George’ (already established at the beginning of the 19th century). The large building just north of this on the other side of St Johns, is decorated with eleven pilasters and has a central archway leading to an inner courtyard. This (built in the 1890s) and the building immediately to its north were part of Nicholson’s Distillery. The Nicholson’s, who had been distilling spirits in Clerkenwell since the 1730s and in Bow since the 1770s, established the origins of the present site in 1802. In 1872, the company bought the Three Mills Distillery on the River Lea at Bow (which I describe elsewhere). This supplied grain alcohol which was processed in the Clerkenwell works. The distillery has been converted into flats.

Liberty Hse former gas meter factory

Liberty Hse former gas meter factory

Former Scholl factory now refaced St Johns Str

Former Scholl factory now refaced St Johns Str

Another former factory that has been used to provide accommodation is Liberty House, number 218. Now a students’ residence, this was once Thomas Glover & Co.’s gas meter factory. This was built in 1868, designed by Alexander Peebles (1840-1891). Next door to it, there is a handsome modern glass-fronted office block, which stands where once the Scholl factory stood. The building’s current Mondriaan-like façade was created in 1989 by Brandon-Jones, Robinson, Sanders & Thorne.

North end of Sekforde Str

North end of Sekforde Str

Just opposite this, Sekforde Street, with its rows of 19th century terraced houses (built 1828-42), is well worth a glance. These rows are interrupted by an elegant neo-classical façade, that of the former Finsbury Savings Bank, built in 1840 (designed by Arthur Bartholomew). This institution was founded in 1816 for servants, labourers, tradesmen, and so on. In 1845, the author Charles Dickens deposited some of his money here.

The Peasant St johns Str

The Peasant St johns Str

North of Skinner Street, SJS changes character. It has less of a history of industry and commerce than the section south to Smithfield. Whereas the latter half was urbanised by the 17th century or earlier, the northern section remained almost rural until the late 18th century. The imposing, decorated Peasant pub was built in 1890 as the ‘George and Dragon public house and coffee tavern’.

Finsbury Library

Finsbury Library

Finsbury Library at number 245, a sweeping curved sixties’ construction (built 1967) that has a certain elegance celebrated 50 years of its existence in 2017. It was designed by the German Jewish refugee Carl Ludwig Franck (1904-1985), who collaborated on other buildings with Tecton (see below). The library houses a local history department. The Islington Museum is in the basement.

Islington Museum

Islington Museum

Lenin in Islington Museum

Lenin in Islington Museum

New River pipes in Islington Museum

New River pipes in Islington Museum

The Museum is well laid-out and interesting. Many of its exhibits tend to stress the socialistic aspects of Islington’s history. A prominently displayed bust of VI Lenin and an exhibit of local ‘radicals’ are in character with this. A recently created tapestry illustrates Islington’s many associations with socialism. One exhibit that particularly interested me was of some wooden water pipes that had once been used to convey drinking water from the New River (see below) to its consumers. I saw similar pipes, which are hollowed-out tree trunks, in a museum in Edinburgh. One end of each wooden section is carved to a taper so that it can be slotted into the uncarved end of another wooden section.

City University

City University

Across the road from the library, stands a grand brick and stone building of City University (completed 1898), which was designed by Edward William Mountford (1855-1908), who also designed The Old Bailey court house. This was first home to ‘The Northampton Institute’ founded in 1852 to teach a range of skills to young men and women from the less-affluent parts of the populace. In 1966, the college received its Royal Charter, and became a university. The Inns of Court School of Law, attached to the University in 2001, proudly includes amongst its alumni: ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and my wife. These people graduated before the law school joined the university.

Spa Green

Spa Green

Spa Fields is a small park at the western end of the short Lloyd’s Row. It contains a WW1 memorial (erected 1921) with a statue of a winged Victory. In the early 18th century, this was an area where various violent sports, such as prize-fighting and bull-baiting, were enjoyed. In 1815, during riots against the Corn Laws, there was a large meeting at SpaFields, where: “… a tricolor flag and a revolutionary cap had been paraded before cheering crowds who had later broken into a gunsmith’s shop and marched towards the City” (See: “George IV”, by C Hibbert, publ. 1976).

Site of New River Head

Site of New River Head

Site of New River Head

Site of New River Head

Across Roseberry Avenue, which flanks Spa Fields, there is a large brick building with white stone trimmings, now a block of flats. Completed in 1920, New River Head House was designed by Herbert Austen Hall (1881-1968) as the headquarters of the Metropolitan Water Board. Above two of its windows, there are carved inscriptions. One reads “Erected MDCXIII”, and the other “MDCCLXXXII”. These dates are 1623 and 1782 respectively, which are carved in archaic lettering. The inscribed stones must have been saved from an earlier building. The land on which the house stands was formerly the ‘New River Head’.

The New River, a canal constructed to bring fresh water from Hertfordshire into London ended at the reservoir called ‘New River Head’. It was high enough above what was the city of London in the 17th century to allow the flow of water from it to be ‘powered’ by gravity alone (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol47/pp165-184). The brick-lined reservoir was constructed in 1623, when the first building at the reservoir, the ‘Water House’, was also built. The architect Robert Mylne (1733-1811), surveyor to the New River Company, repaired, enlarged, and refaced it in the 18th century. The refacing was done in 1782. So, the two inscriptions on the present building derive from Mylne’s time. The old building, which had been enlarged many times, was demolished by 1915.

Former Lab building Site of New River Head

Former Lab building Site of New River Head

New River Head House is close to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, where my parents used to take me to see opera during the 1960s. One of the first operas I saw was ‘La Traviata’. I remember finding it very tedious watching the heroine taking ages to die. This was performed by ‘The Sadler’s Wells Opera’, which moved to the larger capacity Coliseum Theatre in 1968, and later changed its name to ‘The English National Opera’. Standing between the theatre New River Head House, is an elegantly curved brick building, the former ‘Water-Testing Laboratory’. This was built 1936-38, and designed by John Murray Easton (1889-1975).

Spa Green Estate

Spa Green Estate

St Johns Str opposite Spa Green Estate

St Johns Str opposite Spa Green Estate

Returning to SJS via Lloyds Row, we pass a distinctive block of council flats with balconies punctuated by a semi-circular tower containing a staircase. This is part of Spa Green Estate (built after WW2), which was designed by the architectural firm Tecton, which was under the direction of Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990) and other leading architects. Incidentally, this firm also designed the private block of flats, High Point, in Highgate. The estate was built on land that had been covered with slum-dwellings. Across SJS, older buildings face the newer ones.

Old Red Lion theatre pub

Old Red Lion theatre pub

The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub stands on SJS near its northern end at Pentonville Road. The pub has a long ancestry. It was first established in what was the tiny village of Islington in 1415. The present building decorated with lions painted in a lurid red was built in 1899. In 1979, a small theatre opened on its first floor. I have seen several plays well-performed in this very intimate little space.

Former Angel Hotel built 1903

Former Angel Hotel built 1903

SJS becomes ‘Upper Street’ after it crosses Pentonville Road at The Angel. There is a grand salmon-pink stone building with pilasters and an elaborately decorated dome at the corner of Upper Street and Pentonville Road. This was designed by Frederick James Eedle and Sydney Herbert Meyers, and completed in 1903 as the ‘Angel Hotel’. It stands where in the 17th century (by 1614) there was an inn called ‘The Angel’. By the 18th century, this had become an important staging post for coaches. The present building stands at the southern end of Upper Street, which, with no shortage of eateries, is one of London’s most popular places of refreshment. The street was so-named to distinguish it from the former ‘Lower Street’, now named Essex Road.

Upper Str former LCC electrical substation

Upper Str former LCC electrical substation

A long, single-storey building (on the east side of the street) built with yellow bricks and trimmed with white stonework was once an electrical sub-station for the London County Council Tramways This was designed by Vincent Harris (1876-1971), and built 1905-06 (see: “London 4: North”, by B Cherry and N Pevsner, publ. 1998). The pavement across the road from this is elevated, and lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. Prior to the building of the substation and other buildings close to it, the southern section of Upper Street, which used to be part of the ‘High Street’, was wider than the rest of Upper Street to its north. This widening, such as was seen earlier at the southern section of SJS, and is also evident in Hampstead’s High Street, is typical of the widened sections of High Streets where markets were/are held in country towns.

Phelps Cottage 1838

Phelps Cottage 1838

Just north of the substation, a single two-storey cottage stands on a short road linking Upper Street and the Islington High Street. Dated 1838, this is Phelps Cottage, a solitary reminder of earlier times when Islington was a small town, rapidly becoming absorbed into the spreading city.

View of Islington High Str from Upper Str

View of Islington High Str from Upper Str

Camden Passage, with its many antiques dealers, is the northern continuation of the narrow High Street. There is a shop on the Passage, which has a first-floor terrace enclosed within a pretty wall of glass panes framed by interlocking gothic arches. This shop forms part of a terrace of 18th century buildings, which were present before Islington became a part of London.

Business Design Centre Islington

Business Design Centre Islington

The contemporary-looking Business Design Centre on the western side of Upper Street, designed by Frederick Peck (c1827-1875), was opened in 1862 as the ‘Royal Agricultural Hall’. Its vast glass-covered hall was used for a variety of shows and exhibitions until 1943, when it was used temporarily as a postal parcels’ office, the nearby Mount Pleasant postal centre having been damaged by bombing. Between the 1970, when the Post Office stopped using it, and 1986, the building stood empty. In ’86, it was bought by the businessman Sam Morris (1917-1991), who converted it to its present reincarnation, which is still used for exhibitions - I attended a contemporary art fair there not long ago - and for offices and conference usage.

Sir Hugh Mydelton

Sir Hugh Mydelton

At the triangular Islington Green (which was already on 18th century maps), Essex Road branches off from Upper Street at an acute angle. At the apex of the triangle, there is a statue of Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631) sculpted by John Thomas (1813–1862). He stands bare-footed, wearing a ruff and breeches, which stop short of his uncovered knees and lower legs. Below his plinth, two carved children sit or kneel with pitchers between their legs. Once, they issued water, but no longer. Myddelton, a Welsh entrepreneur, was the driving force behind the creation of the New River water supply project (see above). The 38-mile-long canal, which he helped to finance, was constructed between 1608 and 1613. The statue was presented by Sir Morton Peto (1809-1889), a politician and civil engineer. Local financing paid for the fountain and the pedestal, dated 1862.

Islington War Memorial on Islington Green

Islington War Memorial on Islington Green

Islington Green is often filled with people relaxing on park benches. At its western edge, there is a circular sculpture resembling a three-dimensional Möbius Strip. This is Islington’s War Memorial designed by John Maine, and completed in 2007. It replaced an earlier memorial (an obelisk), which had fallen into disrepair. The ring was carved in China using stone from Fujian Province before being shipped to England. Today where there is a branch of Waterstones bookshops (numbers 10-11 Islington Green), there used to be a music hall, ‘Collin’s Music Hall’. This staggered on until it was damaged by fire in 1958 (see: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Collins.htm). In 2008, there was a plan to build another theatre on the site, which was already occupied by the bookshop, but this has not happened.

The Screen on the Green

The Screen on the Green

The Screen-on-the-Green cinema with its distinctive façade, surmounted by a semi-circular pediment the width of the building, faces the memorial across Upper Street. Built in 1911 as ‘The Picture Theatre’, this has survived (unlike the music hall). Modernised in 1981, this establishment is now part of the Everyman group of cinemas.

Congregational Chapel Upper Str

Congregational Chapel Upper Str

The distinctive brick building with triangular gables (one of them bearing the date 1888) and large upper storey windows at the corner of Gaskin Street was once the ‘Congregational Chapel’. This was the last building to be designed by the architect HJ Paull. It is no longer used for religious purposes.

Kings Head pub and theatre

Kings Head pub and theatre

Further north, is the Victorian King’s Head. I have visited this pub often, not so much to drink but, instead, to enjoy dramatic performances in the tiny theatre behind the bar-room. This theatre was founded by theatre producer Dan Crawford (1942-2005) in 1970. I have seen several great performances there. One, which I remember, was “Phallacy” by Carl Djerassi (1923-2005), a playwright and scientist who helped to develop the contraceptive pill. On that occasion, we took advantage of a service which used to be offered by the theatre. That was to eat a meal in the auditorium before the show. Although the play was wonderful, the food was disappointing. In 2018, the theatre is moving from behind the pub to a new location.

St Marys Church

St Marys Church

St Marys Church

St Marys Church

west end of St Marys Church

west end of St Marys Church

St Marys Church is opposite the pub. Its façade and steeple were built in the early 1750s to designs by Launcelot Dowbiggin (1685-1759). The rest of the church, having been destroyed by bombs in WW2, was rebuilt in a newer style designed by John Seely (1900-1963) and Paul Paget (1901-1985) in the early 1950s. The church’s post-war interior is worth visiting to enjoy its feeling of spaciousness and some paintings by Brian Thomas, who specialised in paintings for churches. Next to the church, is its large red brick vicarage, which was built when William Barlow (1833-1908) was the church’s vicar (from 1886-1902).

Vicarage of St Marys Church

Vicarage of St Marys Church

The Mitre Upper Str

The Mitre Upper Str

Former Old Parrs Head pub

Former Old Parrs Head pub

North of the church, there are two former pubs. The ‘Mitre’, which was already in existence by the mid-1850s, closed in about 2002. The ‘Old Parrs Head’, a Victorian pub, on the corner of Cross Street, now being used as a shop, retains its original ground floor tiling and lettering. It stopped serving drinks in 2007.

Almeida Theatre

Almeida Theatre

Almeida Street, named after a town in Portugal that featured in the Napoleonic Wars, is just north of Cross Street. It has become famous for its theatre, The Almeida. Formerly, the ‘Literary and Scientific Institute’ built 1837-38 by architects RL Roumieu (1814-1877) and AD Gough (1804-1871), this later became a music hall, then a Salvation Army ‘citadel’, and later a warehouse. In 1982, Burrell Foley and his colleagues converted this neo-classical building back into a theatre. Since then, it has undergone other ‘improvements’. Although it has a great reputation amongst its audiences and theatre critics, I do not like attending plays there. The auditorium is full of supporting pillars, and it is difficult to find a seat which does not have at least one of these in the line of sight between audience and stage.

Myddelton Hall  30 Almeida Str

Myddelton Hall 30 Almeida Str

Opposite the theatre there is a brick building with arched doorways and brick pilasters. This was formerly Myddelton Hall. It bears the date 1891. It contained an auditorium and a stage, and in 1892 it was licensed for musical performances (see: https://database.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/2194-myddelton-hall). Part of its ground-floor now houses a restaurant.

Highbury Mansions

Highbury Mansions

Highbury Mansions on Upper Street is faced with decorative brickwork and stucco. The stucco is decorated with some terra-cotta coloured panels. Some of these bear the motto ‘labor omnia vincit’. For what reason, I cannot say. Nearby, on the corner of Upper Street and Waterloo Terrace, Waterloo House has its main entrance surmounted by a picturesque ogival arch.

Waterloo Hse 155 Upper Str

Waterloo Hse 155 Upper Str

Islington Town Hall

Islington Town Hall

Tyndale Mansions built 1926

Tyndale Mansions built 1926

The next major building on Upper Street is Islington Town hall, with its neo-classical stone façade. This was built in 1923 to the designs of Edward Monson (1872-1941), who also designed the nearby Tyndale Mansions (1926) with 102 flats. Almost opposite this residential complex, there is another one, a block of flats called Sutton Dwellings, which was built in 1917. This building was financed by The Sutton Model Dwellings Trust set up by William Sutton (1833-1900), the founder of Britain’s first door-to-door long-distance parcel delivery service.

Sutton Dwellings

Sutton Dwellings

Compton Terrace Gardens

Compton Terrace Gardens

The eastern side of the northern end of the road that began at Smithfield has a long thin garden, a pleasant shady strip with trees and planting beds called Compton Terrace Gardens. The facades of Compton Terrace (built from 1806 onwards) are interrupted midway by a gap that contains the Union Chapel.

Compton Terrace started 1806

Compton Terrace started 1806

Union Chapel

Union Chapel

The present Chapel, a fine, imposing Victorian gothic structure in brick and stone, was designed in the late 1870s by James Cubitt (1836-1912). His building replaced one of a series of earlier buildings (i.e. chapels), the first of which was built in 1806. The name ‘Union’ refers to the fact that the congregation was founded by a union of Anglicans and non-Conformists in 1799. The large church is also used for concerts. Sometime before 1993, I attended a concert at the Union Chapel. I was fortunate to see the minimalist composer Steve Reich (born 1936) performing music with his ensemble.

V1 memorial Highbury Corner

V1 memorial Highbury Corner

The northern end of Compton Terrace Gardens ends abruptly above a large, busy traffic roundabout at Highbury Corner. A plaque on the north facing wall of Compton Terrace recalls that on the 27th of June 1944 a German V1 flying bomb destroyed Highbury Corner, injured 150 people, and killed 26.

Old Highbury tube station

Old Highbury tube station

Our exploration ends at Highbury and Islington Station. Its present entrance was built in the 1960s. Opposite, there is a disused station entrance to ‘Highbury Station’ dated 1904, but closed in the late 1960s following the construction of the Victoria Line. Here we end a stroll that began in a part of London that was already developed in the 12th century, and end in another part, which was barely inhabited in the early 19th century. St Johns Street and its northern continuation, Upper Street, resemble the historical equivalent of a geological core sample, displaying different phases of London’s long history along its length.

Compton Terrace Gardens

Compton Terrace Gardens

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 00:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london market islington clerkenwell farringdon smithfield the__angel Comments (3)

BENEDICTINES, BASTIONS, AND BATA - a trip east of London

Barking in east London was once an important fishing port. East of it, East Tilbury once helped to defend London, and was also home to an industrial enterprise run in a novel way.

large_BATA_5b_Th..ta_memorial.jpg

In Saxon times (7th century AD) when the place first began to develop, East Tilbury was a settlement on a raised piece of land surrounded by marshes close to the River Thames. Where the church of St Catherine stands today, there may well have been a Roman settlement because the small village stands on what was once an ancient ridgeway running from Chelmsford in Essex to Higham in Kent. Once described as a “small town”, this now tiny village is an interesting place to visit, as I will explain soon. On my way to East Tilbury, I stopped off at Barking, which I will describe first.

Barking: old shop signs

Barking: old shop signs

Barking’s name derives from ‘Berecingum’ (meaning Berica’s people). Many of the town’s current multicultural population are unrelated to ‘Berica’s people’. Incidentally, it was Berica (aka: ‘Bericus’ or ‘Verica’), who was exiled from Britain in the first century AD, who persuaded helped persuade Claudius in Rome to attack Britain (see: “Roman Britain and the English Settlements”, by RG Collingwood and JNL Myres, publ. 1937).

Barking:  The Catch  by Loraine Leeson

Barking: The Catch by Loraine Leeson

Barking was one of the earliest Saxon settlements in Essex. For more than 500 years, before the development of railways that could transport fresh fish (without it rotting) from places further from London (e.g. Yarmouth), Barking’s most important industry was fishing. The town developed around Barking Abbey beside Barking Creek. It was to see the remains of this abbey that I visited Barking. However, on arrival there I took a wrong turn, and headed towards Barking Abbey School, where I assumed the abbey ruins were located.

To reach this school, I passed a large traffic roundabout in the centre of which there is a metal sculpture called “The Catch”. Designed by Loraine Leeson in 2002, the work consists of two net-like structures that contain many metallic fish. This piece of art celebrates the town’s historic association with fishing. Beyond the roundabout, there is an entrance to Barking Park on Longridge Road. The park was opened in 1898 by Barking Town Urban District Council. It is a vast, pleasant grassy open space with trees, a lake, and sporting facilities. Until 2005, it also boasted a miniature narrow-gauge railway.

Barking Park

Barking Park

When I had arrived at the end of the long park furthest from the station, I could see no signs of either an old abbey or directions to it. I entered the Royal Oak pub and asked the five people in it where I might find the ruined abbey. They looked at me blankly. They must have thought that I was barking mad.

Barking market

Barking market

I reassessed the situation with the help of the internet on my mobile telephone, and discovered that I had to retrace my steps to the station, and then go further through the centre of the town. A vibrant street market was in progress on East Street. All manner of merchandise was on sale (except books and CDs). People of many different ethnicities were either buying or selling. Part of the market was in a square in front of a Victorian brick building with gables and stone trimmings, bearing the date ‘1893’ and the name above its main entrance ‘Magistrates Court’. It is no longer used as a courthouse.

Barking Old Magistrates Court

Barking Old Magistrates Court

Barking Old Magistrates Court

Barking Old Magistrates Court

At the corner of East Street and the Broadway, near the Broadway Theatre, there is a shop whose upper floors are faced with decorative whitish stone in an art-deco design that includes pilasters topped with elephant heads.

Old Burtons store in Barking's East Street

Old Burtons store in Barking's East Street

This was once a branch of Burton’s menswear stores. It was built in 1931. This was the year that the firm adopted the Leeds based architectural firm of Harry Wilson as the company’s in-house architects. In 1937, Wilson was replaced by Nathaniel Martin. The Burton company favoured corner plots for their stores, as typified by their shop in Barking. Their shop exteriors were designed to look like ‘temples of commerce’.

Barking market

Barking market

Barking Town Hall tower

Barking Town Hall tower

The centre of Barking is overlooked by a tall brick clock-tower, which ‘sprouts’ from Barking Town Hall. This building was completed in 1958. Prior to 1931, when Barking became not only a town but also a borough, the town hall had been housed in what used to be the Magistrates Court (see above). Demolition of buildings to create a space for the present town hall began in 1939, but WW2 delayed further work on it. The present town hall’s construction began eventually in 1954. The building was designed by Herbert Jackson (1909-1989) and Reginald Edmonds.

Barking St Marys Cof E Church

Barking St Marys Cof E Church

Just opposite the former Burtons store, there is a park called Barking Abbey Grounds. This contains a graveyard and St Margarets Church, whose earliest parts date from the 13th century. It was built as a parish church in the grounds of Barking Abbey (see: http://www.stmargaretsbarking.org/the-abbey). The gothic church was enlarged greatly in the 15th and 16th centuries. The famous explorer Captain Cook was married there in 1762.

The Abbey was founded in the seventh century by Saint Erkenwald (Bishop of London from 675-193) for his sister Saint Ethelburga (died in about 686 AD). In 1173, Mary Beckett was made abbess of the nunnery, as a reparation for the murder of her brother, St Thomas à Beckett, in Canterbury Cathedral. At the time of the Dissolution, the Abbey was the largest Benedictine nunnery in England. The nunnery was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. Four years earlier, it had been the third most wealthy nunnery in England.

Barking Abbey Curfew Tower

Barking Abbey Curfew Tower

Barking Abbey view from Curfew Twr

Barking Abbey view from Curfew Twr

All that remains of the extensive abbey is a 12th century stone ‘rood’, which is now in the church, and the Curfew Tower. This stone tower with gothic features now functions as the entrance to the east side of the graveyard. Its construction began in the 14th century, and then it was reconstructed in 1460. Having seen what I wanted in Barking, I took a train to East Tilbury.

East Tilbury

East Tilbury

Older cottages East Tilbury

Older cottages East Tilbury

East Tilbury The Ship

East Tilbury The Ship

James Thorne wrote (in his “Handbook to the Environs of London”) in 1876: “East Tilbury is curiously out-of-the-way and old world like…”. It retains its feeling of being out-of-the-way, but no longer looks old world. Apart from the church, its rectory, and the fort, there are four cottages dated 1837. The rest of the buildings are much newer. The same goes for the village’s only pub, The Ship, which was rebuilt in 1957 when it looked the same as it does today. There has been an inn on its site since the 18th century, and maybe earlier. I had a mediocre lunch in the pub. I thought that was nowhere else to eat in the small village, but later discovered that the Fort (see below) has a café.

East Tilbury St Catharine

East Tilbury St Catharine

The flint and rubble gothic church of St Catherine contains much fabric dating back to mediaeval times, back to the 12th century. When viewed from the north or east, the church does not appear to have a tower. The reason is that the tower and part of the south aisle were destroyed by naval artillery in a battle between the British and the Dutch at Tilbury Hope in 1667. According to contemporaneous church records, by 1667 the tower was already in a poor state. Some say that it might have collapsed without the help of military intervention.

'Tower' of East Tilbury St Catharine

'Tower' of East Tilbury St Catharine

From the south side of the church, you can see an ugly square-based stone addition to the old church. This stump is all that was built of a replacement tower begun in the First World War by men of a garrison of the Coalhouse Fort (see below). It was to have commemorated those fallen in WW1. However, the authorities stopped the building works because the builders were not following correct procedures.

East Tilbury The Rectory

East Tilbury The Rectory

Across the road from the church, stands the Rectory, an elegant brick building with large windows. It was built in the early 1830s to replace an earlier one which had been badly damaged in the battle mentioned above.

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort

The village’s only thoroughfare continues downhill, almost to the north bank of the Thames. It ends at the car park for visitors to the Coalhouse Fort. During the early 15th century following an infiltration of the Thames by the French, King Henry IV allowed the inhabitants of East Tilbury, at that time classed as a ‘town’, to build defensive ramparts. In 1540, King Henry VIII ordered that a ‘blockhouse, be constructed at Coalhouse Point. This point on a curve in the Thames is so-named because by well before the 18th century coal was being unloaded from craft at this ferry point close to the village. The coal was transported westwards towards Grays and Chadwell along an ancient track known as the ‘Coal Road’.

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort bunker with Thames in background

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort bunker with Thames in background

In 1799, when it was feared that the French led by Napoleon Bonaparte would try to invade via the Thames, a new gun battery was built at East Tilbury. In the 1860s, when another French invasion was feared, a series of forts were built along the shores of the estuary of the Thames. One of these was the Coalhouse Fort at East Tilbury. Thus, the by then somewhat insignificant village became part of London’s defences.

The moat at Coalhouse Fort

The moat at Coalhouse Fort

The Fort was built between 1861 and ’74. Surrounded by a semi-circular moat and raised on a mound, the Fort is not particularly attractive. However, it is set in beautifully maintained parkland. From the slopes of the mound, there are great views of the Thames, which sweeps around the point, and its rural southern shore. The moat is separated into two sections by a short sharp-ridged stone wall, which was likely to have been built when the Fort began to be constructed.

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort

When I looked for the Fort on old detailed (25 inch to the mile) Ordnance Survey Maps (pre-1939), the moat is marked, but the Fort is not – probably, in the interests of security. A ‘Coalhouse Battery’, which ran more-or-less parallel to the village’s only street was marked as “dismantled” on a 1938 map, but not the Coalhouse Fort.

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort

The outer walls of the Fort have had all manner of later structures built on them: gun-emplacements, searchlight emplacements, and other shelters, whose functions were not obvious to me. There is a large concrete bunker outside the Fort, between it and the moat. Its shape might be described as three intersecting concrete blocks.

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort minefield control tower with Thames in background

East Tilbury Coalhouse Fort minefield control tower with Thames in background

This is marked on the tourist map as a ‘minefield control tower’. I believe that was it used to control electrically-fired mines in the estuary. Nearby and closer to the river, there is a smaller concrete bunker.

Coal House Fort East Tilbury

Coal House Fort East Tilbury

The Fort’s interior was closed when I visited it, but I was able to get a peek through its main gates, which were open. Tramway tracks lead into the Fort. Old maps show that these led from the Fort to a small landing stage at Coalhouse Point, which is a short distance southwest of the Fort. The Fort ceased to be used after 1957.

Bata factory

Bata factory

Just over a mile north-west of the Fort, the road to East Tilbury Station passes through a most fascinating place. One of the first things you will see along the road from the Fort is a vast factory, which closed in 2005. Made of concrete and glass, but in a poor state of decoration, its flat roof carries a high water-tower labelled ‘Bata’. This was part of the factory complex that the Bata Company began building in 1932.

Bata factory gatehouse

Bata factory gatehouse

Bata factory

Bata factory

Bata factory buildings

Bata factory buildings

The Czech Thomas Bata (1876-1932) was born in the Moravian town of Zlin. He became the founder of Bata Shoes in 1894 in Zlin. He modernised shoe-making by moving it from a craftsman’s process to and mechanised, industrialised one. Bata’s company also revolutionised the way industrial enterprises were run, introducing a profit-sharing system that involved all of its workers, and provided a good reason for them to work enthusiastically. During the period between the two World Wars, the forward-thinking Bata opened factories and individual companies in countries including: Poland, Yugoslavia, India, France, Holland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the USA. The company in India is still very active, almost every small town or village having at least one Bata retailing outlet. I have bought many pairs of comfortable Bata-manufactured shoes from Bata stores in India.

Bata factory building

Bata factory building

In anticipation of WW2, Bata’s son, the prudent Thomas J Bata (1914-1980), and one hundred other Czech families firm moved to Ontario (Canada) to form a Canadian Bata company. After WW2, the Communist regimes in Czechoslovakia and other ‘iron-curtain’ countries nationalised their local Bata firms. Meanwhile, Thomas J continued to develop the Bata firms in Canada and the UK, and opened up new Bata companies and factories in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Bata workers' houses

Bata workers' houses

Bata workers' houses

Bata workers' houses

Bata senior was keen on the ‘Garden City Movement’. He was concerned that his workers lived (close to his factories) and worked in a pleasant environment, and lacked for nothing. A pioneer of this in the UK was Titus Salt, who built his gigantic mill in the 1860s near Bradford in West Yorkshire. He created a new town, Saltaire, around his textile factory. This consisted of better than average homes for all of his workers (and their families) from the humblest to the most senior. In addition, he built schools, a hospital, open-spaces, recreation halls, a church, and other requisite of Victorian life. In Zlin, Bata created something similar, a fully-equipped town for his workers in park-like surroundings around his factory in the 1920s. The homes he built for the workers are still considered desirable today.

Bata workers' houses

Bata workers' houses

The factory at East Tilbury, was another example of a town built specially for its workers. One lady with whom I spoke there told me that she had worked for Bata’s for twenty-seven years. She told me that in its heyday the Bata ‘town’ was self-sufficient. It had workers’ homes, shopping facilities (including a supermarket and a Bata shoe store), a restaurant, a hotel, a cinema, a school, a library, farms, and playing fields.

The factory buildings at the East Tilbury site, some of which have been adopted by other businesses, were built using a construction system devised (employing reinforced concrete frames that allowed for great flexibility of design) by the Czechs Frantisek Lydie Gahura (1891-1958), Jan Kotera(1871-1923), and Vladimir Karfic(1901-1996). The site bought by Bata in Essex in late 1931 was ideally placed in level open country near to both the railway and the river. His intention was to build a vast garden city around his factories, which was to produce boots and shoes in East Tilbury.

Mr Bata senior was killed in an air-crash in 1932 near Zlin, and so never saw the completion of his creation in Essex, whose construction only began in early 1933. Construction of the factory buildings and the workers’ housing went on simultaneously. By 1934, twenty semi-detached houses of the same design as those in Zlin were built by local builders, and equipped with Czech fittings. The houses look just like many houses built in Central Europe. As Steve Rose wrote in The Guardian newspaper (19th June 2006):
“East Tilbury doesn’t look like it belongs in Britain, let alone Essex, and in a sense it doesn’t. It’s a little slice of 1930s Czechoslovakia, and the most Modern town in Britain.”
Later, more homes were built, but designed like many British suburban houses.

Former Bata Hotel and supermarket

Former Bata Hotel and supermarket

There is a huge building across the main road opposite the factory buildings. Part of its ground floor is now home to a Co-op supermarket. The whole building, which has now been converted to flats, was the ‘Bata Hotel’. Until recently, the Co-op was still named the Bata supermarket. One man, who has lived in the Bata Estate for many years, told me that he recalled seeing swarms of workmen in white protective clothing crossing the road from the factory and then entering the hotel during their lunch-break. He told me that the first floor of the hotel was a ‘restaurant’ for the factory workers. I met this man in what is now called ‘East Tilbury Village Hall’. This was formerly the Bata cinema.

Bata cinema

Bata cinema

Foyer of Bata cinema

Foyer of Bata cinema

Bata cinema entrance seen from foyer

Bata cinema entrance seen from foyer

Looking somewhat Central European in design, the former cinema was undergoing much-needed electrical re-fitting. In a way, I was lucky because the workers had left the door open to a building that is often locked closed these days. I entered the foyer, which was being used to store the stock of the local public library. An office to the left of the foyer used to serve as the cinema’s ticket office. A couple of old-fashioned film posters have been put on the foyer’s walls to recreate what it used to be like.

Bata cinema hall stage

Bata cinema hall stage

Bata cinema stage original stage lights

Bata cinema stage original stage lights

Bata cinema stage original lighting controls

Bata cinema stage original lighting controls

A man, who oversaw the hall’s maintenance, showed me the auditorium. It had a new wooden floor marked out for indoor sports. He explained that the floor had been ‘sprung’ when it was laid originally. This was so that it could be used as a dance-floor. The banked chairs for the audience were originally designed in an ingenious way, only lately beginning to be employed in other much newer buildings, so that they could be folded away when the hall was needed for, for example, a dance. There was a proper theatre stage at the far end of the hall. This still has the original stage lights that were fitted when the hall was built. The old-fashioned control panel for this lighting was still in place.

Bata cinema stairs to bunker under stage

Bata cinema stairs to bunker under stage

Bata cinema thick walls of under stage bunker

Bata cinema thick walls of under stage bunker

My guide then told me that beneath the stage, there was a reinforced bunker for use during air-raids. He took me through a door at the back of the stage, and then down some concrete steps. At the bottom, there was a heavy metal sliding-door painted grey. He slid this open to reveal the large reinforced concrete bunker beneath the stage. Its walls were thick. It is now used as a storage area.

Bata war memorial WW2

Bata war memorial WW2

After seeing the old cinema, I entered the large grassy area to the south of it. In the centre of it, raised on a stepped plinth, there is a war memorial. The memorial bears the words: “… to the memory of those of the British Bata Shoe Company who gave their lives for freedom 1939-1945”. To the south of the memorial park, there is a large field, now used for agricultural purposes, that was once a Bata playing field.

Thomas Bata memorial

Thomas Bata memorial

Across the road from the war memorial in the grounds of the factory, there is a statue of Thomas Bata senior, who died in 1932. When I visited it many years ago (in the late 1980s), it stood in a small green area, a little park. During my recent visit (October 2017) it was surrounded by tall piles of sand being used by building contractors.

Some of the Bata factory buildings have already been modernised and are being used for industrial or commercial operations. The main large derelict building, which is surmounted by a water tank, might be destined for conversion into ‘loft apartments’ for residential use. One building, a small tall construction near the main road, remains derelict at present. It might, one informant suggested, have been used for milling activities.

Bata workers houses

Bata workers houses

During the early 1980s, British Bata began greatly reducing its production activity at East Tilbury. The Bata industrial estate finally closed in 2005. With the closing of the British Bata firm, Bata shoe-retailers, which were common in British high streets, have disappeared. The nearest Bata shoe store to the UK is now in Best (just north of Eindhoven) in the Netherlands.

From having been one of the bastions defending London from naval attack along the River Thames, East Tilbury became home for an exciting and successful industrial enterprise. Now, the extensive vestiges of this are being restored and re-used in an attempt, which looks like being successful, to keep the area alive and prosperous.

Bata Avenue East Tilbury

Bata Avenue East Tilbury

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 03:32 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london shoes bata essex barking garden_city east_tilbury coalhouse_fort Comments (3)

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