Category Archives: History
A bit of historical background and historic events
The history of the City’s pioneering, art deco office block and the hotel which came before it.
Standing on the north side of London Bridge, two impressive buildings form the unofficial gateways to the City – Fishmongers Hall on the western side and Adelaide House opposite. While the Hall dates back to 1830s, Adelaide House is a 20th century, Modernist construction. Although Adelaide House has only been standing a little shy of a century, its name has origins dating back to the same period as the current Fishmongers’ Hall.
In 1831, the New London Bridge opened slightly west of the original location of the Old London Bridge. Opening the capital’s iconic crossing were King William IV (1765-1837) and Queen Adelaide (1792-1849), with the monarch honoured with the road approaching the bridge being named King William Street. The old London Bridge Waterworks had been demolished to make way for Adelaide Place and a neo-classical block, the Adelaide Hotel. With four storeys visible on the London Bridge side, the building featured Corinthian pilasters and a ornamental balustrade on the roof level. Looming over the London Bridge Wharf, it was a perfect location for a hotel. The wharf guaranteed a regular hotel clientele as it was busy with cargo and passenger steamships. One company operating out of the Wharf was the New Medway Steam Packet Company, which offered cruises down the Thames to the Essex and Kent coastline. The Adelaide Hotel was open by 1835 and had expansive views over the river, as well as typical amenities such as a restaurant and ladies’ coffee room. The Handbook of London, published in 1849, describes the Adelaide as a “third-class hotel”, although Adams’s Pocket London guide two years later is more complementary: “A spacious establishment in high repute”. Despite the handy location, the Adelaide Hotel wasn’t a huge success and was converted into offices in the 1850s and renamed the Adelaide Buildings.
The Adelaide Buildings were home to various companies over the decades, but one dominant tenant was the Pearl Insurance company. Originally started in the East End in 1857, the company expanded and moved to the Adelaide Buildings in 1878, where it remained until 1914 when it headed west to High Holborn. (See a London Metropolitan Archives photo of the building in 1913). Read the rest of this entry
This City of London road was named after a 13th century religious order.
Prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, the City of London was home to several monastic orders. Although a few buildings were preserved in existing churches, others were demolished and their legacy today is often only a street name. After King Henry VIII established the dramatic religious change so he could marry Anne Boleyn, he swiftly closed a succession of London monasteries. Those shuttered include the Bermondsey Abbey, Blackfriars, Charterhouse Priory (Smithfield), Crutched Friars, Grey Friars, Holywell Priory (Shoreditch), St Bartholomew’s Priory, St. Helen’s priory (Bishopsgate), St Martin’s le Grand, Whitefriars (Fleet Street), among others.
One order within the City of London boundaries was Austin Friars – located in between the present stations of Bank and Liverpool Street. The Austin Friars was an Augustinian order, believed to have arrived in England in the 1260s. They acquired land from two older churches, with St Olave Broad Street apparently being demolished to make way for the friary. Over the years, the friary’s wealth grew, allowing them to gain more land, eventually covering 5.5 acres. The complex was surrounded by a high wall, bordering London Wall, Throgmorton Street and Broad Street. Within their boundaries were a church, accommodation, garden and other buildings for dining and studying. The complex was entered by at least three gates, the main entrance being on Throgmorton Street. The friary was home to about 60 friars by the 13th century and was popular with London’s elite.
On the western edge of the friary, courtier Thomas Cromwell, Earl Of Essex (1485-1540) began leasing a home from the friary in the 1520s. It was a three-storey building with 14 rooms and a garden. By 1532, Cromwell’s power and influence at Henry VIII‘s court had grown so he expanded his Austin Friars home to reflect his rising status. He ended up with a huge property covering 2 acres with another 1.5 acres of garden. A few years later, Austin Friars came to an end in November 1538 during the dissolution of the monasteries. Sir William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester (1483/5-1572), took over the Friars’ house and cloisters and erected a townhouse on the site, which was later demolished in 1844. Two years later, Cromwell’s days at Austin Friars were also over after he was imprisoned and executed for treason and heresy. His house was acquired by the Crown and sold three years later to the Drapers’ Company for their hall, but was burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and rebuilt. Read the rest of this entry
Visitors can safely check out the grounds, Painted Hall, and other buildings of the iconic Greenwich attraction.
The historic heart of Greenwich, the Old Royal Naval College, is reopening to the public this month following lockdown. Implementing safety measures in line with government guidance, the iconic 17th century complex will be opening its doors to its building and grounds from 13 July 2020. Londoners and tourists alike will be able to safely visit the stunning Painted Hall, King William Undercroft and interpretation gallery. The safety of visitors and staff will be prioritised with people advised to book in advance, with limited tickets available daily to ensure social distancing. As well being able to check out some of the college’s famous sights, there will also be special events and entertainment for the remainder of the summer season.
The Old Royal Naval College’s buildings were designed by Sir Christopher Wren and date back to the 17th century and early 18th century. Its glorious Painted Hall, painted by James Thornhill, re-opened late last year following several years of restoration. (Read about Metro Girl’s visit to see the ceiling up close during the project).
Visitors to the Old Royal Naval College can learn about its centuries of history with a new smartphone tour, free on the Smartify app. Families will enjoy the Building Detectives treasure trail tour for children aged 5-12 years.
Kicking off on 28 August – 12 September is the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, with plenty of events taking place within the grounds. This year’s festival will celebrate the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic – the NHS, along with the strength of community spirit and the environment. Roaming film club Luna Cinema will also be pitching up for alfresco cinema screenings in August. Meanwhile, Amber Markets are also planning to return later this year with global street food.
To mark Black History Month in October, the ORNC will launch a new exhibition exploring the history of the black sailors in the British Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries, curated by black British historian S.I. Martin.
- Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich, SE10 9NN. Nearest stations: Greenwich, Cutty Sark or Maze Hill. For more information, visit the ORNC website.
- The grounds will be open daily 7am-7pm. The Painted Hall, King William Undercroft, Visitor Centre Shop and Ticket Desk will be open daily from 10am–5pm. The Chapel will be open from 10am–2pm for private prayer. (The Victorian Skittle Alley remains closed). Spaces must be booked in advance for tours and the ORNC recommends visitors bring their own headphones for use with the multimedia guides. Guided tours will be limited to a maximum of five people. Groups larger than 25 will not be permitted to visit the site. No cash payments will be accept: Card and mobile payments preferred.
The history of 17 Fleet Street, a 17th century building that survived the Great Fire of London.
Standing on a Fleet Street is a rare piece of Jacobean London. Thanks to the Great Fire of London of 1666, hardly any buildings originating prior to the mid-17th century exist within the confines of the Square Mile. Among the few exceptions are 41 – 42 Cloth Fair in Smithfield, a handful of City churches, the Tower of London and St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse. Another one of these survivors is a Jacobean townhouse at 17 Fleet Street.
The site was originally part of an estate owned by the Knights Templar, an order of Catholic soldiers. Following their dissolution in 1312, the land passed to their rivals, the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Among their tenants were lawyers, who established the legal district of Temple which still exists today. With its origins as a Roman route, Fleet Street was named and established as a residential road in the Middle Ages. By the early 16th century, one of the Hospitallers’ tenants was the landlord of an inn called The Hand at 17 Fleet Street. After the Hospitallers was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1540, a lot of the Temple district passed into the hands of the Crown and other landowners.
In 1610, the owner of 17 Fleet Street rebuilt the tavern, by then named the Prince’s Arms. Some have claimed the tavern was named in honour of the investiture of Henry Frederick Prince of Wales (1594-1612) – son of King James I of England – while others claim the tavern’s name dates back to before his birth. Another theory suggests No.17 was built for the Council of the Duchy of Cornwall and that first floor had been reserved for Prince Henry’s use. The building features a three feathers motif on the façade – the symbol for the Prince of Wales. This symbolism appears again in the large room on the first floor, which boasts one of London’s best examples of Jacobean ceiling plaster. It contains the three feather motif, along with the initials P.H. Read the rest of this entry
The story behind a Neo-Gothic office building-turned-holiday let on Fleet Street
Fleet Street has its fair share of striking architecture – from the bold Art Deco design of the Express Building to the old Tudor frontage of Prince Henry’s Room. However, one particular building’s design suggests it’s from an earlier age that it actually is – the Mary Queen of Scots House at 143-4 Fleet Street. The building is situated just two doors down from the temple-like Peterborough House and next door to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. The Mary Queen of Scots House has two entrances – the eastern one accessing the upper storeys, while the west is the shop door (currently a Pret a Manger). Just to the left of the shop entrance is Cheshire Court, a small alley previously known as Three Falcon Court.
Long before Pret A Manger arrived, and indeed, even the current building was erected, the site had a varied history. In the 1770s, a publisher named Joseph Wenman was operating out of his premises at 144 Fleet Street, producing mostly theatrical reprints. By 1833, No.143-144 was owned by a Sir John Marshall, with one of his tenants being a baker, according to an insurance policy taken out at the time. In the 1840s, wood engraver Edwin Morrett Williams and cutler/hardwareman William Sutton worked on-site. By 1882, 143 had become a restaurant. Nine years later, optician Samuel Poole was operating out of 144.
In the early 20th century, Scottish landowner and liberal politician Sir John Tollemache Sinclair (1825-1912) acquired the land of 143-144 Fleet Street. He commissioned architect Richard Mauleverer Roe (1854-1922) to design an ornate, Neo-Gothic office building in 1905. At the time, Gothic revival was steadily falling out of fashion in architecture, although the new dawn of Modernist design was still a way off. The building has five storeys, one of which being a roof storey. The ground floor is surrounded by a stone arch with zigzag mouldings.
Long demolished, this West End venue was home to a museum, art exhibitions, Victorian ‘freak shows’ and magic shows.
Over the centuries, many London landmarks have come and gone. Sometimes bombs or fire were to blame, but others have fallen victim to changing tastes. One these lost London buildings was the Egyptian Hall, a piece of architectural pastiche that was home to many attractions and exhibitions during its 93 year history.
The Egyptian hall was originally a museum on Piccadilly, built in 1811-1812 on the site of the original Hatchards book shop (now at 187 Piccadilly) and the White Horse Inn. Following Horatio Nelson’s (1758-1805) victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1799, public interest in Egypt began to grow. By the early 19th century, wealthy Europeans were desperate for a genuine piece of Egyptian history. For those who couldn’t afford it, seeing millennia-old antiquities in an exhibition would have to suffice. English traveller and naturalist William Bullock (1773-1849) commissioned architect Peter Fredrick Robinson (1776-1858) to design a museum to house his collection. Erected on a budget of £16,000, the Egyptian Hall was the first English building to be influenced by Egypt architecture. It took inspiration from the Egyptian room at collector Thomas Hope’s (1769-1831) house in Marylebone. He filled his Georgian terrace in Duchess Street with antiquities from ancient Greece, Egypt, Italy and Turkey and opened it to the public.
The hall’s grand façade outshone the simple Georgian terraces surrounding it. Many of its details were copied from the Dendera Temple complex in Egypt, such as the winged mundus, scarabreus, columns and hieroglyphics. Above the entrance were two huge Coade stone figures of Isis and Osiris by either sculptor Lawrence Gahagan or his son Sebastian (1778-1838). Inside, was a Grand Hall, lecture rooms, a bazaar and a large central room called ‘the Waterloo Gallery’. Over its lifetime, the hall was also known as Bullock’s Museum or the London Museum. In 1816, an exhibition of Napoleonic relics was a big success. Bullock made £35,000 from the 220,000 visitors to the display, which included Napoleon’s field carriage from the Battle of Waterloo. In 1819, Bullock sold off his collection of objects in an auction lasting 26 days and embarked on more adventures.
The building was then converted into an exhibition hall. Italian adventurer and strongman Giovanni Battista Belzoni, aka ‘The Great Belzoni’, (1778-1823) showcased his collection from May 1821, acquired from his extensive travels. Four years previously he had taken the white sarcophagus of Seti I from his tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. A year later, Belzoni put up his collection for auction. English architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) bought the sarcophagus (now found in the Sir John Soane Museum) for £2,000 – the most expensive item in his collection. Over the next few years, the hall was used for exhibiting art by the Old Water-Colour Society and the Society of Painters in Water Colours, costing only a shilling to enter. Paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) were among those displayed in the early 1820s. Read the rest of this entry
The history of one of Roman London’s first gates.
Today, the City of London covers the area of the original Roman settlement of Londinium. Although the capital’s population spread out far beyond these boundaries in more recent centuries, the City gates remained until the mid 18th century.
One of the four original gates of London was Aldersgate, located in the north corner. It’s believed it was built by the Romans in the late 4th century to replace an older gate to the nearby Cripplegate Fort. It was built into the defensive City wall, which had been erected between 190-220 AD. The gates were designed to control traffic in and out of Londinium so taxes could be imposed on incoming goods. The first Aldersgate is believed to have had semi-circular towers with a pair of roadways and a platform for catapults.
After the Romans abandoned the City in the early 5th century, Londinium rapidly deteriorated over the years. It wasn’t until the 9th century that the Saxons began to resettle the area under Alfred the Great (847/9-899 AD). At some point in the Medieval period, the gate was named Ealdredesgate (AEldresgate). When it comes to what inspired the name, there has been much debate. In his 1603 Survey of London, John Stow (1524/5-1605) wrote some Londoners claimed it was named after a Saxon man Aldrich, while others believed it was after the alder trees which grew nearby. However, Stow theorised it was called so due to its age, writing: “The next is AEldresgate, or Aldersgate, so-called not of Aldrich, or of Elders, that is to say, ancient men, builders therefore, nor of Eldarne trees, growing there more abundantly than in other places as some have fabuled, but for the very antiquity of the gate itself, as being one of the first 4 gates of the city and serving for the Northerne parts, as Aldegate for the East.” The Anglo-Saxon word ‘Aeld’ was used to describe the type of tree or an older person. Another suggestion is the gate may have been named after Ealdrād, Archbishop of York (d.1069), who crowned King William I (1028-1087) in 1066. It’s likely we’ll never know for sure which theory is correct.
Throughout the early centuries of the second millennium, the gate was frequently used by Londoners heading to nearby Smithfield, known for its fairs, markets, executions and jousting competitions, as well as St Bartholomew’s Priory. During the mid 16th century, the gate was home to Protestant printer John Day (1522-1584), who printed the Bible dedicated to the young King Edward VI (1537-1553) from the building in May 1551. His work was forced underground during Catholic Queen Mary I’s (1516-1558) reign and he was arrested and imprisoned at the Tower of London in 1554. He was later released and returned to live at Aldersgate during the reign of Mary’s Protestant sister Queen Elizabeth I (1553-1603). Read the rest of this entry
The story behind London’s Art Deco riverside structure and the buildings which came before.
Most of us would agree that the Elizabeth Tower (known more popularly by its nickname ‘Big Ben’ – actually the name of the bell), is one of the world’s most famous clocks. When it comes to iconic symbols of London, the Palace of Westminster’s time-keeper is up there with the Tower of London. While the clock faces of Big Ben are 23ft (7m) in diameter, there’s actually a bigger clock in the capital – just under a mile down river from Parliament.
Shell Mex House at No.80 Strand is a few years shy of its 90th birthday. Overlooking the River Thames and dwarfing the nearby Cleopatra’s Needle, the Art Deco structure is the latest in a series of interesting buildings to stand on the site over the centuries.
The Earls of Bedford at Russell Place
The land was first owned by the Bishop of Carlisle prior to the 16th century. It was around the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it came under the ownership of the famous landowning family, the Russells. John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford (1485-1555), acquired some of the Carlisle estate in 1539, naming his home Russell Place (also known as Russell House and becoming later Bedford House). Eleven years later, the Earl took possession of more land in nearby Covent Garden. Following his death at Russell House in 1555, his home and land passed to his son, Francis, 2nd Earl of Bedford (1527-1585), who also died there. Francis’ grandson and heir to the peerage, Edward Russell, 3rd Earl of Bedford (1572-1627) built a second Bedford House on the north side of Strand in 1586, which remained the centre for the family’s estate until it was demolished in 1705-6.
It appears it was a case of musical chairs houses for the aristocratic families of Russell and Cecil. While the Russells moved the name Bedford House from south of the Strand to the north, the Cecils started north before expanding south. William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (1520-1598), originally lived in the 16th century Burghley House on the north side of the Strand, where the Strand Palace Hotel is today. It was renamed Exeter House in the early 17th century when William’s son Thomas Cecil (1542-1623) became the 1st Earl of Exeter. Meanwhile, Thomas’s younger brother Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (1563-1612), expanded the family land across the road, acquiring the site of the original Bedford House in 1599. Read the rest of this entry
The former offices of Royal Doulton still stand in Lambeth, although the factory is long gone.
From the 16th century to the mid 20th century, the riverside district of Lambeth was a hub of industry. The old village of Lambeth has existed since at least the 11th century and during the Medieval period was on the outskirts of London. In 1570, two Antwerp potters, Jasper Andries and Jacob Janson settled in Lambeth and started trading. Janson later anglicised his name to Johnson and is believed to be the first maker of what became known as Lambeth Delftware. Many Delft potters followed and settled in Lambeth, as well as Southwark and Vauxhall during the 17th centuries. These small potteries soon helped Lambeth establish its reputation as the centre of the industry, with many springing up on Lambeth High Street – previously known as Back Lane until the late 18th century. The potteries made various designs of earthenware, although pharmaceutical containers and accessories were prevalent. One prominent business was James Stiff & Son’s Pottery, which was established in 1751 and acquired by James in 1840. Located on a two acre site on the High Street, it was one of the largest potteries in London and employed 200 people, had 14 kilns and had its own dock on the River Thames until 1913. Other industries in the area included glassmaking, candlemakers and soap manufacturers.
Turning to the early 19th century, we meet the father of the famous Royal Doulton company, still trading today. Founder John Doulton (1793-1873) started his career as an apprentice to John Dwight’s Fulham Manufacturing Company from 1805-1812. After completing his apprenticeship, he joined widow Martha Jones at her small pottery in Vauxhall Walk. He soon invested his life savings of £100 in the pottery, which traded as Jones, Watts & Doulton from 1815, along with foreman John Watts. After Jones retired in 1820, the pottery continued as Doulton & Watts. The company specialised in salt glaze stoneware, making bottles, jugs and jars. They acquired a large pottery on the High Street in 1826, expanding their business to making glazed sewer pipes. By 1834, they were employing 12 men working across two kilns at 28 Lambeth High Street (see a Lambeth archive sketch of the factory in 1840). Fortunately for Doulton & Watts, demands for glazed pipes rose dramatically in the 1830s-1840s as they were hailed for their safety at the time.
In 1835, Doulton took on his son, the future Sir Henry Doulton (1820-1897) as a teenage apprentice. Within 11 years, his son had set up his own independent Lambeth pottery, Henry Doulton & Co, next door at 63 Lambeth High Street. HD & Co established the world’s first stoneware pipe factory. The Victorians were swiftly embracing better sanitary habits and soon the company had become renowned for its sanitation products. In addition to running his own company, Henry continued to assist his father’s business. Both company’s wares were exhibited at the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851, with both winning prizes. Read the rest of this entry
The history of a Georgian office block in the City of London.
Standing on the corner of Cheapside and King Street in the City of London is a grand piece of Italianate architecture. While much of the road has been significantly altered over the decades with new architecture and changing traffic layouts, this Georgian office block has remained fairly close to its original design.
For over 130 years, Atlas House was the headquarters of the Atlas Assurance Company. The fire and life insurance company was originally founded by a group of merchants and bankers in 1807 at Will’s Coffee House – a popular meeting place for London movers and shakers. Their first office was at Bush Lane (near Cannon Street station), then Coleman Street (near Guildhall), before acquiring the site on the corner of Cheapside and King Street in the mid 1830s. At the time, Cheapside was one of the city’s most busiest roads and renowned for being a hub of business and trade. By choosing it as the location for their head office, it would give the business prestige and good exposure to potential customers.
The Atlas Assurance Company directors enlisted one of the country’s top architects, Thomas Hopper (1776-1856) to design their new headquarters. Kent-born Hopper was popular with King George IV (1762-1830) and had worked on the royal residence, Carlton House. Throughout his career, Hopper was mainly focused on country houses, including Penrhyn Castle and Margam Castle in Wales, Alscot Park in Warwickshire, and Gosford Castle in Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland.
Hopper’s 1836 design took inspiration from classical Italian architecture. The ground floor is made of Cornish grey granite, while the upper storeys are Portland stone. The upper storeys’ windows feature alternate curved and triangular pediments, with single, Corinthian palisters between. The top of the building was framed with a balustrade. Business was so going so well for the company, the directors splashed out on the new technology of internal gas lighting. They also didn’t seem concerned about paying window tax as the building has many windows.
In 1857, the building was extended northward, and again in 1893-94. Celebrated English architect Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905) designed the late 19th century alterations, including a grand entrance at 1 King Street, topped by a sculpture of Atlas. The piece was carved from Portland Stone by Thomas Tyrrell for Farmer & Brindley. Read the rest of this entry