Author Archives: Metro Girl

Shoreditch Town Hall | Electricity, boxing, music hall and gangsters in 150 years of history

Discover the history of the progressive former Shoreditch Borough Council and its headquarters.

Shoreditch Town Hall exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Shoreditch Town Hall was built in different phases in the 19th and 20th centuries

Standing on Old Street amidst the tech companies and hipster coffee shops is a towering monument to civic duty. Shoreditch Town Hall hasn’t had its own council for over 50 years, but was known in the Victorian era for being progressive. Before establishment of Borough Councils in the late 19th century, parishes of London were administered by vestry halls. The ancient parish of Shoreditch had boomed in population during the early Victorian era, with over 129,000 residents by 1861. Before building the Town Hall, the site contained the old Fuller’s Hospital, a collection of almhouses founded in 1605. Shoreditch district surveyor Caesar A Long designed the original town hall, which was smaller than the building you see today (see a 1865 sketch of the building). The façade was made of Portland stone, with five bays across the two-storey building. The exterior features Corinthian columns at the front entrance and allegorical keystones, representing Justice, Labour, Mercury and others. Inside, it impressed many with its Doric columns, stained glass windows, glittering chandeliers and ornate interiors. The entrance hall still features the original Victorian details, such as a triglyph frieze, ceiling roses and red Minton tiled floor. Its grand façade and interiors led to it being described as ‘the grandest Vestry Hall in London’.

Shoreditch Town Hall exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The striking entrance hallway with its Doric piers and Mintons tiles

When it opened in 1866, there were 120 members of the Shoreditch vestry. As well as being a civic centre for the vestry members, the hall was also a local entertainment centre. It was used for the popular Music Hall style of entertainment, with big names such as Arthur Lloyd (1839-1904), Max Miller (1894-1963), Dan Leno (1860-1904) and George Leybourne (1742-1884) performing there. The vestry’s main hall (now the Council Chamber) hosted the inquest into the last Jack The Ripper victim, Mary Jane Kelly, in November 1888.

In 1899, the Shoreditch Vestry became the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch when London’s local government system was re-organised. The new council adopted the motto, ‘More Light, More Power’, which is seen frequently throughout the building. This referenced the council’s innovative approach to bringing the new technology of electricity to the area. In 1897, the vestry had built the St. Leonard Shoreditch Electric Light Station, (later known as the Shoreditch Borough Refuse Destructor and Generating Station). Revolutionary at the time, it burned rubbish to provided steam for an electricity generator, with the waste heat heating the public swimming baths next door. Today, the generating station is now the National Centre for Circus Arts school. Shoreditch Vestry was the first municipal energy company to generate electricity by burning waste.

Shoreditch Town Hall exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The western extension and tower from 1899

Increasing council duties meant more space was required so architect William George Hunt (b.1870) was enlisted to design a western extension at a cost of £30,000. Hunt lived in Kensington and had also worked on an extension for his local town hall in 1898-9, as well as the Harrods Furniture Depository in 1894. Hunt added the large Assembly Hall, a tower, caretaker’s cottage and more offices. A new staircase was added with cast iron balustrades, along with a stained glass window depicting a municipal crest His designs retained the old Vestry chamber to be used as a council hall. The tower united the original and new extension and featured a female sculpture of Progress, which alludes to Shoreditch’s innovative reputation at the time. Progress wears a winged helmet (symbolising speed) and is holding a torch (to shine the light of progress) and an axe (to cut through forest to make way for civilisation). The extension features more allegorical keystone heads just like the original: Labour, Justice and Protection. Meanwhile, the top western pediment features two reclining figures, with a shield in between and the council motto underneath. Read the rest of this entry

The red house in Spitalfields | The story of No.4 Princelet Street

Discover the history of the Georgian terrace and the people who lived there.

4 Princelet Street © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

No.4 Princelet Street in Spitalfields is nearly 300 years old

Number 4 Princelet Street is probably the most Instagrammed house in Spitalfields. With its bold pinkish red colour, its shabby façade and charming shutters, it’s proved the perfect backdrop for many a photoshoot – both professional and candid. Today, the building isn’t a home, but is rented out for events or filming locations. However, like many other Georgian terraces in E1, No.4 has an interesting history.

In the early 18th century, the area we now know today as Spitalfields was the edge of London – with fields spreading out east just beyond Brick Lane. The area had been a hub for industry since the 15th century when it was known for brick and tile manufacturing. Over a century later, a young man named Joseph Truman Senior (d.1719) joined the William Bucknall’s brewery near Brick Lane around 1666. Thirteen years later, entrepreneurial Joseph acquired the brewery’s lease following the death of Bucknall. Throughout the 17th and 18th century, the Truman family rapidly grew the Black Eagle Brewery, later known as the Truman Brewery (but more on the Trumans later).

With London’s population rapidly expanding in the early 18th century, housing development on the city’s fringes continued at pace. Two London lawyers Charles Wood and Simon Michell started developing the roads known today as Fournier Street (aka Church St), Wilkes Street (aka Wood St) and Princelet Street between 1718 and 1728. When the latter was built, it was known as ‘Princesse Street’ or ‘Princes Street’. It appears to have renamed Princelet Street in the 1890s. Wood and Michell leased the land to master builders, who built terraces of townhouses for both sale and lease. Although these houses are expensive and sought-after today, at the time they were aimed towards working Londoners and migrants, particularly the Huguenots, who had been fleeing religious persecution in France in waves since the 1680s.

4 Princelet Street © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

No.4 has a wider frontage than some of the other houses

When it was built in 1723, No.4 Princelet Street was actually numbered No.2 Princes Street. Together with No.1 Princes Street (now No.2 Princelet Street), the pair were the last houses to be built on the road. Wood and Michell had granted local carpenter and builder Samuel Worrall 99 year leases to erect the two terraces, as well as No.6 Wilkes Street around the corner. In June 1724, Worrall leased 1 Princes Street and 6 Wilkes Street to a glover for £756 per annum.

Back to the Truman family, whose business was booming in the early 18th century. Joseph Snr’s grandson Sir Benjamin Truman (1699-1780) had joined the family-run Black Eagle brewery and it was under his watch the business saw rapid expansion, becoming one of the biggest breweries in London. He supplied beer to the Prince of Wales and was later knighted by King George III (1738-1820). Benjamin moved into 2 Princes Street in 1724, which was a perfect location due to its close proximity to the brewery. Four years later, Benjamin would have a next door neighbour in textile designer Anna Maria Garthwaite (1688-1763), who moved to 1 Princes Street in 1728 with her sister Mary. Today, a blue plaque commemorates Anna’s residency at the house. Read the rest of this entry

Virtual tours of London’s best buildings | How to explore during the Covid-19 lockdown

Visit some of London’s most iconic buildings without leaving your sofa.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Head to Somerset House… virtually

Most Londoners would agree they often take the city for granted normally, let alone now. As our ongoing lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic continues, many of us are looking lustfully over #throwback photos on social media wondering when we’ll be able to explore the capital again. Or perhaps, you’re a would-be tourist whose trip to London was postponed or cancelled.

During the current Coronavirus crisis, I’ve put a lot of my usual events and ‘what’s on’ content on hiatus and have instead been focusing on London history and architecture. While researching the background of some of the capital’s most iconic buildings, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find how many of their websites provide virtual tours.

So if you’re feeling bored and missing walking around the capital, why not enjoy a virtual stroll around some of these iconic London sights.

Check out Metro Girl’s round-up of 10 art and museum exhibitions you can view online.

Ten virtual tours of London buildings

  • Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Foreign Office © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Explore the striking Victorian government offices of Whitehall, which were built in the 1860s. Gaze at George Gilbert Scott’s designs, such as the Grand Staircase, the Locarno Suite and Durbar Court. Although usually off-limits to the public, you can usually get a peek during Open House London in September.

– For a virtual tour, visit the FCO website.

  • Middle Temple Hall

The public rarely gets to step inside the 16th century hall in the Temple legal district. This historic building has an impressive hammerbeam roof and is said to have hosted the first ever performance of William Shakespeare‘s Twelfth Night in front of Queen Elizabeth I.

– For a virtual tour, visit the Middle Temple Venue website. Read about the history of Middle Temple Hall.

  • Sky Garden

The ‘Walkie Talkie’ is the nickname for the City of London skyscraper 20 Fenchurch Street. Its top floors are home to a garden, bar, restaurants and viewing platform, giving wonderful views of the capital.

– For a virtual tour, visit the Sky Garden 360 website. Read a review of a visit to the Sky Garden.

  • Somerset House

The multi-space arts and entertainment venue has a contrasting mix of old and new architectural features inside the 18th century riverside building.

– For a virtual tour, visit the Somerset House website. Read about the history of Somerset House. Read the rest of this entry

Artistry, education and tragedy | The Pugin home on Great Russell Street

The history of the London home of artist Augustus Charles Pugin and his architect son Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin.

Pugin Great Russell Street © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Pugin family lived at 105 (now 106) Great Russell Street

The name Pugin will be familiar to many as it comprised a dynasty of talented artists and architects. The family name has been immortalised as the creators of many great buildings in the UK, mostly notably the Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster (aka Big Ben). While the architects of the family designed many grand structures, their own abodes were rather modest in comparison. One of the Pugin family’s only surviving London homes stands on Great Russell Street on the Bloomsbury/Fitzrovia boundaries.

Augustus Charles Pugin by Joseph Nash 1861

Augustus Charles Pugin (by Joseph Nash, 1861 – from Wikimedia Commons)

Great Russell Street was first established around 1670 and followed an old path named Green Lane. The road took its name from the local landowners, the Russell Family and Dukes of Bedford. John Strype’s (1643-1737) ‘Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’ in 1720 described Great Russell Street as “a very handsome large and well built street, graced with the best buildings, and the best inhabited by the nobility and gentry, especially the north side, as having gardens behind the houses: and the prospect of the pleasant fields up to Hampstead and Highgate. In so much that this place by physicians is esteemed the most healthful of any in London.” One such early resident was the celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), followed by Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835), who designed a row of white stuccoed, terraced houses on the street in 1777-8 and lived at No.66. By the 19th century, the road’s fortunes were somewhat mixed. Although the north side has remained relatively well to do, the south side had become more downmarket and commercial, with the Meux brewery premises nearby.

When it was first built in the late 17th century, 106 Great Russell Street was numbered 105. The three-storey terrace is made of yellow brick, with an attic featuring dormer windows. Today, the ground floor features an early 19th century shopfront with a projecting window, that is currently a showroom for the Italian lighting company Artemide. There are two doors on the ground floor – one on the left providing entrance to the shop and the other providing access to the floors above (what would have been the home of the Pugins).

French artist and writer Augustus Charles Pugin (1762–1832) arrived in Britain in 1798 after leaving France during the revolution and enrolled at the Royal Academy school in London. He soon found work as an architectural draughtsman for John Nash, sketching his buildings such as Carlton House Terrace and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. In 1802, Pugin Snr married Catherine Welby (1769-1833), of the wealthy Lincolnshire Welby family. By 1809, the couple were living at 39 Keppel Street (now Store Street) in Bloomsbury, where Pugin Snr also had an office. Their only son Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852) was born at the home in 1812. Read the rest of this entry

Ye olde gaol door | The lone survivor of Tothill Fields Bridewell prison

Learn about the history of one of Westminster’s prisons and its only visible remains.

Tothill Prison © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The old gateway to Tothill Fields Bridewell

Today, London prisons are few and far between. While today, prisons tend to be extensive and house large populations of prisoners, in previous centuries, houses of punishment were quite different in more ways than one.

In past centuries, Westminster only had a couple of prisons in comparison to many in the City of London. There was the substantial Millbank Prison (on the site of the Tate Britain) and Tothill Fields Bridewell. During its over two century history, the latter was known by various names, including Westminster House of Correction (Tothill Fields), Westminster Bridewell, Westminster Prison or Westminster County Gaol.

The location was Tothill Fields, a marshy section of land in between Westminster Abbey and Millbank. When it first opened, it was originally named Bridewell after Bridewell Palace and Prison in the City. Formerly a royal residence, the original Bridewell (on the current site of New Bridge Street near Blackfriars) became a prison, hospital and workrooms in the 16th century. When the Westminster prison first opened in 1618, it was deigned as ‘house of correction’ for paupers. It was relatively small and was built near the site of the House of Fraser store on Victoria Street. It was enlarged in 1655 as its population grew. During Queen Anne’s (1665-1714) reign in the early 18th century, Bridewell started to incarcerate criminals.

The 17th century prison was demolished in 1836, two years after a new prison opened. The new larger prison was built on an eight-acre site near Vauxhall Bridge Road. Designed by English architect Robert Abraham (1773-1850) at a cost of £186,000, the new prison was in the shape of an ace of clubs. This was inspired by social reformer Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832) Panopticon design, which meant guards could keep an eye on a large body of prisoners from a central point. Each ‘leaf’ featured a separate cell block, which collectively held 900 inmates. The centre of the leaves included a courtyard, with exercise yards located between each cell block. The main entrance was located on Francis Street. Aside from the main prison buildings, there was also a chapel and governor’s house within the complex (see the original ground floor plan of the new prison). When the new prison opened, it had one block for untried male prisoners and debtors, one of male convicted criminals and the last of female convicts. Inmates were put to work, usually oakum picking (here’s an image of women picking oakum in 1906), carpentry, mending clothes and the exhausting treadmill. Among the noted prisoners were Scottish soldier and trickster Gregor MacGregor (1776-1845), tea broker and schizophrenic James Tilly Matthews (1770-1815), and revolutionary war veteran and artist John Trumbull (1756-1843). Read the rest of this entry

Kings, hills and prisons | The story behind Ludgate in the City of London

The history of Ludgate in the City of London… and does a part of the old gate still exist?

An image of Ludgate from a 1680 map after it was rebuilt following the Great Fire
(Wikimedia Commons)

Centuries ago, when London was significantly smaller, the City was enclosed by a wall with several gates providing entrance to the Square Mile. After the population boomed in the Georgian and Victorian era, the capital spilled over the boundaries of the City, spreading east, west, north and south.

One of these City gates was Ludgate – or the Lud Gate – situated on Ludgate Hill. The latter was one of three ancient hills in London, the others being Tower Hill and Cornhill. There have been a few theories about the origins of the name Ludgate. The idea that the gate was named after King Lud (who is claimed to have founded London before the Romans arrived) has been widely discounted. Many historians believe the word derives from the Saxon term ‘hlid-geat’, which means swinging gateway into a city. Another popular theory is Ludgate evolved from Flud-gate – a potential barrier to the flood waters of the nearby Rivers Fleet and Thames.

Ludgate sign © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

A plaque marking the site of the Lud Gate

The first Lud Gate was built around 200AD as an entrance into the fortified Roman settlement of Londinium. It was the most western of all the gates into the city. After the Romans abandoned Londinium in the 5th century, the city was largely uninhabited for several centuries. However, it started being used a settlement again around the 8th century as the old Roman walls provided perfect protection from the frequent Viking invasions.

By the 12th century, the area of Lud Gate has become known as Lutgatestrate. Around 1215, the old Lud Gate was repaired or rebuilt when the wealthy rebel barons captured London and strengthened the walls and gates of the city as they battled King John (1166-1216). In 1260, the gate was apparently repaired again under King Henry III’s (1207-1272) reign, with statues of King Lud and other monarchs added to the façade. Read the rest of this entry

Borough Market extends delivery service within M25 and brings foodie community online

The iconic market is extending its delivery service amid the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

© Borough Market Bikes

Life in London has changed rapidly for most of us in the past couple of weeks amid the current Covid-19 outbreak. However, while things are obviously different, it’s important that Londoners support each other and our local businesses during this difficult time.

London’s famous Borough Market has extended its online delivery services to customers within the M25. While the market remains open with strict hygiene and public health measures in place to protect shoppers and traders, it is also offering food and drink delivery to those Londoners who can’t get to SE1.

Borough Market launched its deliveries by zero-emission electric bikes in November 2019, initially within a 2.5 mile radius. However, in light of the Coronavirus crisis, the radius has been extended to any location inside the M25 from 19 March 2020. Electric bikes couriers will be used for a reasonable distance of the market, but vans (hybrid whenever possible) will be used for deliveries further away. Traders and couriers will follow strict hygiene practices with food securely packaged and an option of contactless delivery system if needed if customers are self-isolating and want to avoid contact with others. Meanwhile, the click-and-collect service is also available daily from 12pm-9pm if you’re able to reach the market.

In the coming weeks, Borough Market will be supporting the local community. Trader Bread Ahead is offering free yeast to locals who want to bake their own bread at home. Foodies can also find plenty of inspiration for their home cooking with hundreds of free online recipes, as well as live cooking demos and cookalongs from top chefs and market restaurants on the Borough Market Community Facebook Group.

To find out the history of Borough Market, click here.

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Making art affordable and accessible as Roy’s Art Fair returns to the South Bank

Roy’s Art Fair returns to the South Bank in April

Important update 17/3/20: Due to the continuing Coronavirus pandemic, Roy’s Art Fair is being postponed until September 2020.

The Spring edition of Roy’s Art Fair returns to the South Bank this April. The 6th fair will kick off at the riverside Bargehouse from 2 – 5 April 2020. Roy’s Fair is a bi-annual show which makes art affordable and accessible, where art lovers can peruse and buy art in a relaxed environment. With free entry and no hard sell, visitors can enjoy a comfortable afternoon checking out some art. The fair is fully inclusive with an equal balance of men and women artists exhibiting.

The next Roy’s Art Fair will feature a new addition of talks and tours. The talks will feature experts giving advice on introduction to buying and curating for your own space, unleashing your own creativity and the benefits of having art within your workplace. “Disappointman” will be hosting a cartoon workshop, inviting partcipants to create your own cartoon superhero based on your insecurities, feelings, and thoughts.

The fair will be partnered with artist Jonny Concrete, who is famous for creating concrete door stops using waste concrete. Fifteen concrete door stops will be hidden around the capital for the public to find and keep. Follow the journey on Jonny Concrete’s website or Roy’s Art Fair on Instagram.

  • Roy’s Art Fair is on 2-5 April 2020. At Bargehouse, Barge House Street, South Bank, SE1 9PH. Nearest station: Blackfriars, Southwark or Waterloo. Register for a free ticket online. For more information and tickets, visit the Roy’s Art Fair website.

For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.

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Scenes in the Square: Meet icons of cinema on Leicester Square’s art trail

Goodwin’s Court: Step back in time in a quaint Georgian alley

Is this small passageway near Covent Garden the inspiration for Diagon Alley?

Goodwin Court © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Goodwin’s Court is like stepping back in time to the 18th century

Goodwin's Court © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The narrow passage leading out of the Court to Bedfordbury

In between Covent Garden and Leicester Square, is one of London’s most interesting alleyways. Known today as a cut-through for busy Londoners or a destination for ‘Muggles’ in search of Harry Potter, Goodwin’s Court could be easily missed. The alley is about 280ft long, two metres wide and is accessed from St Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury.

Goodwin’s Court was built in the old parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Following the dissolution of the Monasteries, King Edward VI (1537-1553) gave seven acres of land in the area to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford (1485–1555), in 1552. Subsequent earls started widespread building in the area, Covent Garden being one of their most famous creations. During the 17th century, lots of courts and alleys began to pop up on the fringes of the Bedford estate. One of these was Fishers Alley, which was in existence by 1660, at some point evolving into Goodwin’s Court.

The existing houses on the south side of Goodwin’s Court were built in 1690, although feature late 18th century shopfronts. One of the rumoured early residents of the Court was actress and royal mistress Nell Gwyn (1650-1687), who was linked to Covent Garden and the Parish – along with many other London spots – during her short life. However, we’ll likely never know for certain if she was a Goodwin’s resident.

Goodwin's Court © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

No.1 Goodwin’s Court

Walking down Goodwin’s Court is like stepping back in time. Ignoring the more modern creations on the north side of the alley, your eye is drawn to the Georgian terraces of No.s 1-8. The two-storey, brick buildings feature shiny, black front doors with brass knockers and knobs. The wooden bowed shopfronts were added in the late 18th century and certainly give the Court a real Dickensian vibe. You can easily imagine the shopkeepers of the time displaying their wares in a bid to attract the eye. Dotted along the façades are three mid-19th century gas lamps, which are restored and still working today. No.1 Goodwin’s Court still has its original window, front door and some fairly old looking steps.

Unsurprisingly, it was not the most prestigious address, with directories and censuses of the 19th century giving an insight to the tough lives for those who lived at Goodwin’s Court. The Post Office Directory of 1855 shows piece brokers (who traded in shreds of cloth) did business at 2, 4 and 7. A few decades later, the 1881 census showed a lot of people were crammed into the small terraces, with many different families sharing a house. Among the professions of the residents included tailors, a coach body maker (likely working one of the coachmakers on nearby Long Acre), waiters, clockmakers, an oystermen, a printer and an upholsterer. Victorian author and journalist George Augustus Sala (1828-1895) described the alleys off Bedfordbury as “reeking courts”. Amazingly, Goodwin’s Court managed to survive destruction when the Metropolitan Board of Works demolished the east side of Bedfordbury during a slum clearance plan in 1890. Read the rest of this entry