A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about romans

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)

A RIVER IN LONDON: FROM TRICKLE TO TORRENT

An exploration of parts of a large, and once important, tributary of London's River Thames.

When I was a child living in the Hampstead Garden Suburb, my friends and I used to play beside a rather odd-smelling little stream that flowed near to the Market Place on Falloden Way. In those days, I had no idea that the water in this rivulet, Mutton Brook, eventually flowed into the Thames. This essay describes two parts of one of London’s longer tributaries of the River Thames, the River Brent. The first part deals with Mutton Brook, one of the sources of the Brent. The second explores Brentford, where the River Brent merges with the Thames. I wrote this following a recent visit to Brentford, where my wife was representing clients at the local County Court. While she was in front of the judge, I explored the estuary of the River Brent and its historic surroundings. The following day, I revisited Mutton Brook.

A heron on the Decoy Pond

A heron on the Decoy Pond

The River Brent begins where the waters of Dollis Brook and Mutton Brook merge near Golders Green. Dollis Brook has its sources near Arkley and Mill Hill in the London Borough of Barnet (see: https://www.ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=Dollis+Valley+Greenwalk), about nine miles before it converges with Mutton Brook (the name being associated with sheep washing in the past).

Sketch map of the River Brent

Sketch map of the River Brent

Mutton Brook

Mutton Brook

The Brook rises from Cherry Tree Wood (formerly ‘Dirthouse Wood’, a remnant of the historic mediaeval ‘Finchley wood’ that was once well-known for its highwaymen). It is not far from East Finchley Station, which is where my ‘exploration’ begins.

East Finchley Station

East Finchley Station

East Finchley Underground station is above ground. Art-deco in design (architects: Charles Holden and LH Bucknell), this was built in the latter half of the 1930s. A ten-foot-tall sculpture of a kneeling archer, sculpted by Eric Aumonier (1899–1974) overlooks both the platforms and the station’s forecourt. It recalls that East Finchley used to be at the edge of the ancient Royal Forest of Enfield where both royalty and commoners once hunted.

Old White Lion at  East Finchley

Old White Lion at East Finchley

The Old White Lion pub on The Great North Road (A1000) next to the station has some interesting eye-shaped features in its roof tiling. These resemble the similarly shaped slits that appear in roofs of old buildings all over central Europe. This pub (in an earlier building) was in existence at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when it was known as the ‘White Lion’. Until 1900, there was a toll-gate on the Great North Road next to the pub.

Belvedere Court

Belvedere Court

The western part of Bishops Avenue, home to many wealthy people, leads to the A1 where it is called ‘Aylmer Road’. Belvedere Court on Aylmer Road is an unmissable brick and stone building with an un-British appearance. This block of flats, built 1937-38, was designed by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s youngest son, the architect Ernst Ludwig Freud (1892-1970). Trained by the architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933), a pioneer of modern architecture, Ernst came to the UK with his father in 1934. At first, the flats in this building were rented mainly to Jewish immigrants fleeing from Nazi-occupied Europe. During his childhood, the TV personality Jerry Springer lived in Belvedere Court.

Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in Norrice Lea

Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in Norrice Lea

Norrice Lea leads south from Aylmer Road, and is home to the Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, which has an Orthodox Jewish congregation. The synagogue was designed by Maurice de Metz and completed in 1935 (see: http://www.hgstrust.org/documents/area-13-holne-chase-norrice-lea.pdf). With its elegant main portico, it was consecrated in 1934, and then enlarged far less elegantly in the 1960s (see: http://www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/London/hampsteadgs/index.htm).

View of Hampstead Garden Suburb from playing fields near Norrice Lea

View of Hampstead Garden Suburb from playing fields near Norrice Lea

A narrow pathway leads from Norrice Lea between private gardens into Lyttelton Playing Fields. There is an excellent view across this grassy expanse of the upper parts of Hampstead Garden Suburb with its churches designed by the architect of government buildings in New Delhi, Edwin Lutyens (St Judes with its spire and The Free Church with its dome).

Bridge over Mutton Brook at Lytttelton Playing Fields

Bridge over Mutton Brook at Lytttelton Playing Fields

Mutton Brook at Lytttelton Playing Fields

Mutton Brook at Lytttelton Playing Fields

Next to a small café, which forms part of a Jewish kindergarten, a short path leads a few feet northwards to a small bridge. It is from this brick-walled bridge that we first catch sight of Mutton Brook. Confined between banks maintained with wooden planking and lined with bushes on both banks, it is no more than about two feet wide at this point.

Houses at Kingsley Way

Houses at Kingsley Way

Bridge at Kingsley Way

Bridge at Kingsley Way

By the time that the Brook reaches the brick and stone bridge which carries Kingsley Way over it, its width has almost doubled. A gauge next to the bridge projects vertically from the water. Its presence is suggestive of the possibility of the brook becoming much deeper during times of heavy rainfall. Near the bridge, there are a few houses with art-deco features, notably their upper storey windows. The water flows under the bridge after passing over a small waterfall (the first of many), and then leaves the bridge via two more step-like waterfalls.

View upstream from  bridge at Kingsley Way

View upstream from bridge at Kingsley Way

'Rapids' at Kingsley Way

'Rapids' at Kingsley Way

The Brook flows towards Northway in a stone-lined channel that curves gently through a strip of cultivated parkland. When I was a child, there was a small putting-green in this park, but that has gone. The single-arched bridge carrying Northway over the stream has iron railings.

Between Kingsley Way and Northway

Between Kingsley Way and Northway

Northway Bridge

Northway Bridge

The water flows next through Northway Gardens between almost vertical banks like a groove cut into the lawns. It passes some tennis courts on its left bank, and flows over another low waterfall. The Gardens, which vary in width, are flanked to the north by the back gardens of houses on Falloden Way, the westerly continuation of Aylmer Road. To the south, they are flanked by the gardens of the houses on Oakwood Road.

Falloden Way   bridge

Falloden Way bridge

Emerging from the Falloden Way Bridge

Emerging from the Falloden Way Bridge

Mutton Brook curves northwards and then disappears under Falloden Way beneath a bridge with brick walls topped with white stone slabs. It emerges from under the main road in two channels that merge into one. Brooklands Drive crosses the Brook over a bridge made from wood and bricks.

Brooklands Rise bridge

Brooklands Rise bridge

The part of Hampstead Garden Suburb north of Falloden Way, which includes Brooklands Drive, is sometimes called ‘Across the Jordan’ because of its large Jewish population. The stream then flows over another waterfall before before entering a concrete-lined conduit that carries it back under Falloden Way.

Conduit under Falloden Way west

Conduit under Falloden Way west

Between its emergence from under Falloden Way to where Finchley Road crosses it, Mutton Brook winds its way between steeply sloping meadows on its right bank and wooded land on its left bank. Walking beside it, one could imagine that one is in the middle of the countryside if it were not for the sight and muted sounds of traffic flowing along the Falloden Way.

The Brook just after it re crosses the Falloden Way

The Brook just after it re crosses the Falloden Way

Brook near east side of Finchley Road

Brook near east side of Finchley Road

Mutton Brook disappearing under east side of Finchley Road

Mutton Brook disappearing under east side of Finchley Road

At Finchley Road, the Brook flows unceremoniously beneath the roadway near to what used to be known in my childhood as ‘Henlys Corner’. This important junction of Finchley Road and the North Circular Road was so named because between 1935 and 1989 there used to be a branch of the Henlys Motors group of garages on its south-western corner. This has been demolished, and where it stood there is a widened roadway and grass. The junction is sandwiched between the merging of Falloden Way with the North Circular on its eastern side, and between the latter and the Great North Way (A1) on its western side.

La Delivrance

La Delivrance

La Delivrance

La Delivrance

Finchley Road continues across the North Circular Road and becomes ‘Regents Park Road’. A spectacular sculpture depicting a naked lady holding a sword aloft stands on a traffic island immediately north of the Henlys Corner junction. This is the ‘La Délivrance’ statue (aka ‘The Naked Lady’), sculpted by the French artist Emile Guillaume (1867-1942), a pacifist. It is a cast made from the original that was exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1920, where it was seen by the proprietor of the Daily Mail newspaper (and an advocate of appeasement with the Nazis) Viscount Rothermere (1868-1940). Rothermere commissioned the lady who stands looking north with her backside facing the North Circular Road. The statue was unveiled in 1927 by a former prime minister, David Lloyd-George (1863-1945).

Kinloss Schul

Kinloss Schul

Henleys Corner

Henleys Corner

Close to the Naked Lady stands the ‘Kinloss Schul’ also known as ‘Finchley United Synagogue’. It is a striking building with its multiple external vertical reinforced concrete elements. Home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish congregations, capable of accommodating two thousand people, this edifice was completed in 1967 by the architects Dowton and Hurst.

Between Finchley Road and North Circular

Between Finchley Road and North Circular

Mutton Brook continues west of Finchley Road almost parallel to the North Circular Road. It flows through pleasantly rustic parkland, lawns and woods, until it reaches a point where the North Circular Road has begun curving in a south-westerly direction.

Between Finchley Road and North Circular

Between Finchley Road and North Circular

Under the North Circular

Under the North Circular

After passing a fading sign that declares “Polluted Water Keep Out”, both the footpath and the brook pass under the main road in a large diameter concrete-lined tunnel, circular in cross-section. This is surveyed by a cobwebbed CCTV camera. The footpath follows the Brook for about one third of a mile from the tunnel before reaching the last bridge that crosses Mutton Brook. This footbridge with wrought-iron railings crosses the stream a few feet from the point where it joins Dollis Brook at right angles.

Lowest Bridge over Mutton Brook

Lowest Bridge over Mutton Brook

Where Mutton Brook flows into Dollis Brook to form The Brent

Where Mutton Brook flows into Dollis Brook to form The Brent

This almost insignificant meeting of two streams is where the River Brent is deemed officially to begin its passage towards the Thames at Brentford.

Bridge Lane bridge

Bridge Lane bridge

Bridge Lane Bridge

Bridge Lane Bridge

The Brent at Bridge Lane

The Brent at Bridge Lane

A few yards away from its commencement, the River Brent flows under a road bridge with white stone balustrades. This bridge marks the southern end of Bridge Lane, which begins in Temple Fortune, and Bell Lane, which leads towards central Hendon. At this point, the River Brent is many times wider than Mutton Brook was at Lyttelton Playing Fields several miles upstream. After crossing Bridge Lane, another footpath enters Brent Park, which is, like all the green areas that have been described already, maintained by the London Borough of Barnet. The River Brent flows along the northern edge of this strip of parkland, which runs parallel to the North Circular Road until it meets the A40. A more picturesque name for this busy road might be ‘The Brent Valley Highway’.

Brent Park Decoy pond looking east

Brent Park Decoy pond looking east

Brent Park bench with Barnet crest

Brent Park bench with Barnet crest

Brent Park, which was opened to the public in 1934, contains a piece of water of historic interest, the Decoy Pond. Decoy ponds were used to capture waterfowl for food. When the birds entered such a pond, the hunters lured them with food to narrow inlets where they were easily trapped in tapering nets. The age of the pond is uncertain, but by 1754 there was a house ‘Decoy House’, named after the pond, in existence (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp5-11). The pond is now a good place to spot a variety of waterfowl including ducks, moorhens and herons. It is surrounded by decorative iron benches in various states of disrepair. Each of them bears the coat of arms of the Borough of Barnet. While the waters of the pond are placid, and covered in many places with a good growth of green weeds, the Brent that flow past its northern edge is quite a torrent in comparison.

The BRENT in Brent Park

The BRENT in Brent Park

At one point, the river drops about five feet over a spectacular waterfall. Meanwhile, on the south side of the pond, but high above it, traffic rushes along the North Circular. Oddly, this hardly disturbs the peace of the lovely park.

Brent Street Bridge

Brent Street Bridge

Brent Street crosses the Brent over a brick bridge with wrought-iron railings. Beyond this, the river flows south-westwards between the back gardens of buildings on both sides of it, and there is no footpath to follow.

Weir at former Brent Bridge House

Weir at former Brent Bridge House

Garden structure by the weir at former Brent Bridge House

Garden structure by the weir at former Brent Bridge House

On the eastern side of the bridge, and only just visible through the dense vegetation, it may be seen that the river flows through a narrow artificial weir built between two ruined circular towers covered with graffiti. Each of these has a conical roof with several tiles missing. They appear to have been designed as viewing points or gazebos. These stand in what used to be the grounds of Brent Bridge House, which was an 18th century stuccoed building, once the seat of the Whishaws (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp5-11). Charles Whishaw had converted it from a farm house into a ‘gentleman’s residence’ by 1828. A John Wishaw, who was a son of the lawyer Richard Wishaw (1707-1787) also lived there (see: http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_whishaw.html#pope). Later, parts of this building were incorporated into the now long-since demolished Brent Bridge Hotel (opened just before 1914). In 1963, eleven years before it was demolished, my parents spent a few nights in the hotel whilst our damp house in Hampstead Garden Suburb was being dried out. It had been left unheated during the three winter months that we had spent in the USA.

The Brent   east of Brent Street

The Brent east of Brent Street

Having explored something of the source of the Brent, we now shift several miles downstream, south-westwards to its ‘estuary’, where it flows into the River Thames at Brentford. The name ‘Brentford’, which appears in an early 8th century (AD) record, might either refer to a ford over the River Brent or the River Thames, which was in earlier times quite shallow where the Brent enters it. In any case, during the 1st century, there was a settlement there on a Roman Road from London to the west country. Archaeological evidence has been discovered (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol7/pp113-120), which suggests that there was a Neolithic settlement in what is now Brentford.

Brentford County Court

Brentford County Court

I began my exploration of Brentford outside its simple but elegant County Court, which was designed by CG Pinfold, and opened in 1963. Despite its age, it looks almost contemporary.

Alexandra House

Alexandra House

Next door to it, is Alexandra House, an asymmetric brick building with some circular windows and flat roofs at different levels. It was built as a health centre in 1938. It was designed by LA Cooper and KP Goble (see: http://www.brentfordhistory.com/category/places/page/11/) in a ‘cubist’ design that looks bit like a three-dimensional version of a Piet Mondrian painting.

Old Fire Station Brentford

Old Fire Station Brentford

Both of these buildings are on the High Street, as is the Old Fire Station, which is east of them. The gables of this lovely red brick building are decorated with terracotta tiles bearing floral designs. Designed by Nowell Parr (1864-1933), it was opened in 1898. The fire station was closed in 1965, and then used as an ambulance station until 1980 (see: http://laytoncollection.org/index.php/thomas-layton-brentford/the-layton-trail/). Since 1990, it has been used to house a restaurant.

Ferry Lane leads from the High Street to Soaphouse Lane, passing the Watermans Arms pub, which was first established in 1770, but the present establishment occupies a much more recent building.

Watermans Arms Ferry Lane Brentford

Watermans Arms Ferry Lane Brentford

Facing a small dock at the end of the eastern ‘arm’ of Ferry Lane, where canal longboats serving as houseboats are moored, stands the 18th century Peerless Pump Building. This was built in about 1720 (although it bears a sign with the date ‘1704’). It was home to the Rowe family, who were proprietors of the former ‘Thames Soap Works’, which flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries. By the end of the 19th century, the soap works occupied almost all the area between the High Street and the two branches of Ferry Lane. The small dock, an inlet from the Thames near the mouth of the Brent used to be called ‘Soaphouse Creek’ (see: http://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/local-history/industries-and-crafts/the-thames-soap-works-messrs-t-b-rowe-of-ferry-lane-brentford/).

Thames Soapworks creek

Thames Soapworks creek

Peerless Pump Building 1704 Brentford

Peerless Pump Building 1704 Brentford

The company prospered until the early 20th century, when it began to go into decline. Between 1916 and 1933, Lever Brothers tried to keep it going, but eventually closed it down. In 1952, some of the premises were used by Varley Pumps, and then later by Peerless Pumps (until 1989). In the 1990s, Rowe’s 18th century house was restored to its former glory, and retains the name ‘Peerless Pump Building’.

Travelling Crane rails

Travelling Crane rails

Lock Gates at Thames Soapworks creek

Lock Gates at Thames Soapworks creek

A cobbled lane with inset steel rails, along which a travelling crane once used to move, runs along the eastern edge of Soaphouse Creek towards the Thames. At the end of the tracks, there stands a large beautiful curved, curtain-like, steel sculpture, whose silvery surface is covered with delicate patterns. This is called ‘Liquidity’, and was created by Simon Packard in 2002.

Liquidity

Liquidity

Liquidity  detail

Liquidity detail

After it was completed, some locals objected to it, and wanted it pulled down (see: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/dec/01/arts.artsnews), but it has survived … so far. It stands close to where for many centuries a ferry used to cross the Thames to Kew. This ferry was free to locals until 1536, when John Halle was appointed its keeper and charged one quarter of a penny to pedestrians and twice that to horsemen. The ferry continued to operate from this spot close to the former soap works until 1939.

Mouth of the River Brent at Brentford

Mouth of the River Brent at Brentford

From the sculpture, it is easy to view the mouth of the River Brent. The wedge of land formed between the two rivers is now covered with housing that surrounds Brentford Marina. This piece of land, reached by driving along Dock Road, was formerly dockland: ‘Brentford Docks’. In addition to the docks, there was a vast, now demolished, railway marshalling yard reached by a side-line that branched off the main Great Western Railway (‘GWR’) at Southall. Opened by the GWR in 1859, it continued working until 1964. A few years later the former dockland was re-developed for other purposes.

Between Brentford and southern Hanwell, the River Brent shares its waters with a branch of the Grand Union Canal. Until 1794, when the lower stretch of the Brent was engineered to become part of the canal system, the river could only be navigated by small craft (see: http://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/publications/the-journal/journal-6-1997/the-history-of-brentford-bridge/).

Thames Lock on River Brent

Thames Lock on River Brent

Thames Lock looking towards the Thames from River Brent

Thames Lock looking towards the Thames from River Brent

A few yards from the Brent’s estuary, there is the ‘Thames Lock’, which is overlooked by the bridge carrying Dock Road. This lock was built to bypass the last waterfall over which the Brent flows before entering the Thames. At the lock, the river bifurcates, some water going via the lock, and the rest via the falls. A small island covered with boat-repair yards exists between this fork in the river and where the two branches re-join downstream.

Boat repair yards near Thames Lock

Boat repair yards near Thames Lock

Routemasters for hire on Dock Road Bentford

Routemasters for hire on Dock Road Bentford

Boat repair yards near Thames Lock

Boat repair yards near Thames Lock

Lowest waterfall on the River Brent view under Dock Road Bridge Brentford

Lowest waterfall on the River Brent view under Dock Road Bridge Brentford

The small Johnsons Island is immediately upstream from the lock and the waterfall. It was named after Dr Wallace Johnson (1730-1813), who lived in The Butts (see below). A map dated 1900 marks it as the home of ‘Staffordshire Wharf’.

Johnsons Island Brentford

Johnsons Island Brentford

Entry to creek surrounding Johnsons Island Brentford

Entry to creek surrounding Johnsons Island Brentford

Since the 1990s, the island has been used as an artists’ colony (see: http://www.johnsonsislandartists.com/). Further upstream, Augustus Close crosses the Brent obliquely over a bridge, which is in the same spot as that which used to carry the railway to Brentford Docks. This bridge incorporates parts of the original rail bridge built as part of Isambard Brunel’s (1806-1859) last great engineering project.

Augustus Close bridge, formerly railway bridge to Brentford Dock

Augustus Close bridge, formerly railway bridge to Brentford Dock

Brentford Bridge

Brentford Bridge

The Brent curves northwards and passes under Brentford High Street which is carried across Brentford Bridge. This stone bridge, which is largely hidden by ugly metal cladding and parapets, was built in 1818. It is the latest ‘reincarnation’ of the first bridge, which was built in 1284.

The Six Bells near Brentford Bridge

The Six Bells near Brentford Bridge

The Six Bells pub is close to the bridge. Already licensed by 1722, the present building has existed from 1904. The ‘six bells’ refer to six bells that used to be rung in the nearby St Lawrence Church on special occasions.

A short distance upstream from the bridge, the Brent widens where the Brentford Gauging Lock with its two lock basins stands. This was once one of the busiest places on the Grand Union Canal. Its name refers to the fact that it was there that the toll-keeper assessed how much cargo was being carried by each barge (see: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/places-to-visit-pdf/Brentford_Gauging_Lock.pdf).

Brentford Gauging Lock

Brentford Gauging Lock

Toll house Brentford Gauging Lock

Toll house Brentford Gauging Lock

Milestone at Brentford Gauging Lock

Milestone at Brentford Gauging Lock

The present toll-keeper’s office was built in 1911. It contains a small exhibition. A mile-post next to the western lock basin informs that the lock is 93 miles from Braunston (in Northamptonshire), a central location on the canal system of the Midlands.

Weir just upstream from Brentford Gauging Lock

Weir just upstream from Brentford Gauging Lock

View up River Brent to Great West Road

View up River Brent to Great West Road

The Brent divides above the lock. One branch serves as the canal, and the other, which curves around an island covered with new housing blocks, falls picturesquely over a waterfall. The Brent then continues towards the A4 road, and the view along it is dominated by the recently built GlaxoSmithCline skyscraper. After viewing the lock, I left the Brent and entered the town of Brentford.

The Weir, formerly The White Horse

The Weir, formerly The White Horse

Turner lived here at The Weir

Turner lived here at The Weir

The Weir Bar, clad with green tiling around its ground floor, is a short distance from the waterfall mentioned above. Before 2004, it was called ‘The White Horse’. The pub has been in existence since the beginning of the 17th century, or earlier. The building that now houses it once belonged to the butcher William Marshal. His nephew, the greatest (in my opinion) British painter William Turner (1775-1851), lived here with his uncle between 1785 and 1787. It is said that Turner painted some of his first watercolours while living in this building.

The Butts

The Butts

The Butts

The Butts

Beaufort House, The Butts

Beaufort House, The Butts

Corner of The Butts and Upper Butts

Corner of The Butts and Upper Butts

A small road next to The Weir leads into The Butts, so-named from 1596. A ‘butt’ is an archery or shooting target or range (and, also, it can be a piece of raised ground, a word derived from the French ‘butte’). Whatever its meaning, the Butts is an open space surrounded by beautiful houses built mainly in the 18th century. Some of them are even older, dating from the late 17th century. Being so close to what is quite a mundane High Street, this historical ensemble comes as a delightful surprise, and it alone makes a visit to Brentford worthwhile. With their lovely architecture, well-tended gardens, attractive doorways, these buildings are worthy of close examination.

Boatmens Institute on The Butts Brentford

Boatmens Institute on The Butts Brentford

One building on the Butts is newer. Bearing the date 1904, this is the Boatmens Institute. Designed in the Arts and Crafts style by Noel Parr (1864-1933), who built many pubs for the west London Fullers Brewery, this was built on the site of an old mill (close to the waterfall mentioned above) for the London City Mission. Its original purpose was to educate the children of boatmen and to provide medical assistance for the boatmen’s wives (see: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1380286 & http://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/publications/the-journal/journal-13-2004/the-brentford-boatmens-institute/). The ‘boatpeople’, who, like the Roma and Travellers, lived a life in constant motion, lived apart from the rest of the population, and were barely catered for. Therefore, the Institute, which cared for them, was much appreciated by them. It is one of only five or six examples of such an establishment to have ever been set-up in the UK.

St Marys Convent Brentford

St Marys Convent Brentford

St Marys Convent Brentford

St Marys Convent Brentford

Near to the Butts, there is another charitable institution, the St Mary’s Convent, also known as ‘St Raphael’s Convent’. The oldest part of the convent, which is almost opposite Beaufort House, was built in about 1792, and was originally the home of a Dr Cooper. It was bought in 1880 by Mother Mary Magdalen, a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism who had nursed in the Crimean War in the 1850s. The convent was gradually enlarged (with an unattractive brick building) in the early twentieth century. It houses, and caters for, women with learning difficulties and other problems.

Brentford's former court house

Brentford's former court house

The Butts was an extension of the Market Place. Its most interesting structure is now occupied by The Verdict, a beautiful café housed in the ground floor of what was once the Court House. This stands on the site of a market building for almost 300 years until it was demolished in about 1850. The present building, built as a town hall in 1852, was never used as a town hall. Instead, it became used as a courthouse. In 2012, the court was closed, and the building converted into flats above, and the restaurant below (see: http://www.brentfordhistory.com/2013/11/11/magistrates-court-2/#more-1243).

Returning along the High Street towards the present County Court, we reach the Brentford Monument. When I visited it recently, it was enclosed in a wooden casing as it is about to be restored. However, I have seen this tall cylindrical stone monument on a previous visit. Originally, this granite pillar stood at one end of Brentford Bridge (see above). According to a historian of Middlesex Sir Montagu Sharpe (1857-1942), it was at Brentford that Julius Caesar crossed the Thames in 54 BC during his exploration of Britain (see: http://www.brentfordtw8.com/default.asp?section=info&page=localhistory042.htm). The monument records that a confederation of British tribes led by Cassivellaunus “bravely opposed” Caesar’s advance towards Verulamium (near the modern St Albans). The monument also commemorated both Edmund Ironside defeating the Danes (led by King Canute) in 1016, and the Civil War Battle of Brentford (1642), a Royalist victory over the Parliamentarians.

Former court house,  now cafe

Former court house, now cafe

This concludes my exploration of a source and the mouth of the River Brent, a once important tributary of the River Thames because of its inclusion in the Grand Union Canal network. At Brentford, we encounter sites that figure early in the history of London, and at Mutton Brook we travel through a part of London that was open countryside until the beginning of the twentieth century. In the future, I hope to explore the rest of the Brent, much of which flows, like Mutton Brook, through park land.

Footbridge over Brent at Brentford

Footbridge over Brent at Brentford

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 06:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london river thames brent romans river_thames river_brent mutton_brook barnet brentford Comments (4)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]