Category Archives: History

A bit of historical background and historic events

National Archives launches 20sPeople events and exhibitions to celebrate release of the 1921 census

The National Archives are hosting special events and activities to mark the publication of the 1921 Census for England and Wales

A century later, the decade of the 1920s continues to fascinate many of us. In between two World Wars, it was a time of great change, with many discovering new freedoms and exploring their creativity following the restrictive constraints of Victorian and Edwardian society. The fashion and architecture of the period remains popular today, with events and parties often opting for 1920s themes.

If you’ve ever wondered what life was like in the 1920s, particularly for your ancestors, the publication of the 1921 Census for England and Wales will answer some of those questions. To celebrate the release of the Census in January 2022, The National Archives are hosting a programme of events and activities, entitled 20sPeople.

The main part of the programme will be The 1920s: Beyond the Roar exhibition. Visitors can explore the decade’s politics, social changes, design and more as they happen upon a series of encounters walking down a typical 1920s street. Using the Archives’ vast collection of records and artefacts, you can find out the truth behind the era’s stereotypes and the turbulence, as women fought for the right to vote and people recovered from the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic. The exhibition will take visitors to a newspaper stand, polling station, draper’s shop, and typical 1920s home, before ending in a nightclub. A reimagining of popular Soho nightspot, The 43 club, tells the story of the venue, which was owned by Kate Meyrick and entertained film stars and gangsters of the day.

Along with the exhibition, there will be a series of events (both online and in-person), along with digital activities and access of learning resources. 20sPeople events, such as online talks, audio dramas and webinars on how to research your family history are already taking place from November 2021.

  • The 1920s: Beyond the Roar exhibition runs from 21 January 2022 until TBA. 20sPeople events are on from November 2021 onwards. The National Archives, Kew, TW9 4DU. Nearest station: Kew. For more information, visit the National Archives website.

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Middle Temple Gatehouse | Step through a 17th century gateway to London’s legal heartland

The story behind the neo-classical grand entrance to Middle Temple, which has prompted debate over the identity of its architect.

Middle Temple Gatehouse stands on Fleet Street

Fleet Street is one of London’s most famous streets – after all it has coveted spot on Monopoly board! However, it is also home to some of the capital’s most varied architecture; from the Neo-Gothic splendour of St Dunstan-in-the-West to the Art Deco temple of Peterborough Court. One of these interesting buildings is the Middle Temple Gatehouse, a grand 17th century entrance to the district of Middle Temple. Located across the road from the Royal Courts of Justice, it stands at the western end of Fleet Street.

Today, the Middle Temple is home to one of London’s legal districts. The name Temple comes from the Medieval group, the Knights Templar, who based their headquarters in the area from the 1160s until they were dissolved in 1312. Temple became synonymous with legal industry later in the 14th century, establishing accommodation and offices for lawyers and students.

The current building you see today is the second gatehouse on the site. The original was erected in the early 16th century by English official and soldier, Sir Amias Paulet (d.1538), who served as treasurer for Middle Temple. Although it’s not clear if it was damaged during the Middle Temple fire of 1678, it was certainly in bad condition by this stage and needed to be replaced.

The emblem of Middle Temple – a lamb holding a St George’s flag

When it comes to the architect of the current building, there has been much debate about who was responsible. Historic England, British Listed Buildings and architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) all state it was designed by Roger North (1653-1734). However, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Museum of London have cited the gatehouse as the work of Sir Christopher Wren. North was a lawyer who trained at Middle Temple and an amateur architect, as well as a friend of Wren. While it’s unlikely we’ll never know for sure, who knows… perhaps both men dreamt up the design over an ale or two in the pub?

The current red brick and Portland stone structure was built in 1684 and Grade I listed in 1950. The ground floor features a central carriageway sandwiched between two arched footways, all featuring black gates. Above the carriageway is the Agnus Dei symbol of the ‘lamb of God’, holding a flag of St George. The symbol can be spotted throughout the district and is part of the Middle Temple’s arms. As a gatehouse to London’s prestigious legal district, it is given an air of superiority with the classical details of four Ionic pilasters, with the top storey crowned by an entablature and pediment. The first floor features two full-length windows which open out to iron balconies, situated underneath a narrow stone band depicting the Latin phrase: ‘SVRREXIT . IMPENS . SOC . M . TEMPLI . MDCLXXXIV.’

  • Middle Temple Gatehouse, Middle Temple Lane, Temple, EC4Y 9BB. Nearest station: Temple.

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The Panyer Boy of St Paul’s | What is the story behind this 17th century relic?

Just a few feet from an entrance to St Paul’s tube station stands an old relic of London.

Panyer Boy is an ancient plaque erected by St Paul’s tube station

Aside from St Paul’s Cathedral, there isn’t much left in the City of London from the 16th and 17th century. Wars, fires and redevelopment have dramatically changed the architecture and even road layouts of the original Square Mile. With large-scale buildings being completely wiped from existence over the years, it’s impressive when a small piece of London’s heritage manages to survive.

The Panyer Boy is an ancient plaque in Panyer Alley, near the entrance to St Paul’s tube station. It depicts a naked child – likely a baker boy – sitting on a bread basket. Underneath the cherubic boy, are the words: “When ye have sought the City Round. Yet still this is the highest ground. August 27th 1688.” The quote is by English historian John Stow (1524/5-1605) and dates from 1598 – nearly a century earlier than the date below on the plaque. “This is the higher ground” refers to the long-held belief that Ludgate Hill was the highest hill in the City of London, however it’s actually Cornhill, which currently stands at 58ft (17.7metres) above sea level.

Panyer Boy plaque

The inscription is dated 1688

Despite the date stamp of the late 17th century, the mystery of the origins and original location of the Panyer Boy still continues. This stone effigy has been remounted from building to building as the surrounding environment has changed around him. Panyer Alley has existed for centuries and takes its name from ‘pannier’ – the basket or box from which the young baker boys would sell bread. Pannier is an Old English term deriving from the old French word ‘panier’. Some historians have speculated Panyer Alley was named after The Panyer inn, which stood nearby on Paternoster Row until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The carving of the child has somewhat eroded over time, making it even harder to work out what’s actually going on in the carving. Is the child holding a bunch of grapes or a loaf of bread? Stow certainly believed he was holding the fruit as he wrote in his Survey of London: “…a boy fitting upon it, with a bunch of grapes as it seems to be, held between his naked foot and hand, perhaps of Plenty…” This part of the City of London was known for its bakers, with nearby Bread Street the location of the capital’s bread market from Medieval times. Read the rest of this entry

Open House Festival 2021: All you need to know about the festival of architecture

Highlights of this year’s Open House festival, which takes place 4 – 11 September 2021.

Leadenhall Building view of Gherkin

Open House Festival returns to London in September

The full programme of events and buildings for this year’s Open House Festival 2021 is now live. Previously known as Open House London, what was a weekend is now a nine day festival. For the uninitiated, Open House gives the public the opportunity to step inside some of the capital’s most interesting buildings, from heritage landmarks to modern creations. You’ll be able to see historical features, and dramatic design up close by looking in buildings that are usually off-limits the public. Among the variety opening their doors will be government departments to offices to private homes. As well opportunities to enjoy guided and self-guided tours, there are also walking tours, workshops and children’s activities.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, many participating buildings will be following a booking system and enforcing limited visitor numbers. Last year, many buildings were offering online tours, but fortunately a good chunk of those will be re-opening in 2021 for in-person visits. In previous years, some popular spots have seen long queues to gain access, so it’s worth planning in advance and checking which buildings are offering walk-ins.

On 11 September, the festival will host Open City Families at Canary Wharf, featuring a host of architecture and design-inspired activities and events for children.

As a seasoned Open House London visitor and an Open City supporter, here are some of Metro Girl’s recommendations for 2021:

Open House Festival 2021 highlights

Brixton Windmill, Windmill Gardens, Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, SW2 5DA. Nearest stations: Brixton or Streatham Hill. Built in the early 18th century, it’s the only surviving windmill in inner London. Open Sat 11 and Sun 12, guided tours at 1pm-5pm.

Caroline Gardens Chapel, Asylum Road, Peckham, SE15 2SG. Nearest station: Queen’s Road Peckham. Ageing Georgian chapel now used as an arts centre and events space. Open Sun 5 10am-5pm.

Charlton House, Charlton Road, SE7 8RE. Nearest station: Charlton. London’s only surviving Jacobean mansion, originally built for the tutor of Prince Henry, son of King James I. Open Sun 5, guided tours at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm.

City Hall, The Queen’s Walk, SE1 2AA. Nearest station: London Bridge or Tower Hill. Step inside the London government building overlooking the River Thames. Open Sat 4, walking tours between 10am-4pm.

Dorich House Museum, 67 Kingston Vale, SW15 3RN. Nearest station: Norbiton, Putney or Kingston. Striking 1930s artists’ house, formerly owned by sculptor Dora Gordine and her husband, the Hon. Richard Hare. Open Sat 4 and Sat 11, self-guided visits between 9.30am-5pm. Read the rest of this entry

Totally Thames 2021: Celebrate the capital’s river as the heritage and culture festival returns

Enjoy walking tours, talks, workshops, art exhibitions and more as the annual festival returns 1 – 30 September 2021.

The Rivers of the World exhibition returns for the Totally Thames festival
© Milo Robinson

Without the River Thames, London wouldn’t be the city it is today. With the capital returning to life following the end of lockdown, why not head to this year’s Totally Thames? The annual festival returns for the 25th year from 1 – 30 September 2021, boasting a host of events celebrating the heritage, environment and culture of the Thames. From mudlarking to art exhibitions to light installations and walking tours, there’s a variety of events for all ages. While many events are in-person, there will also be plenty to enjoy online as well.

This year’s festival will feature a series of mudlarking events, including an exhibition of fascinating finds, portraits of mudlarkers, an immersive talk, an online writing workshop and Archaeological Foreshore Walks. Meanwhile, the riverside neighbourhoods of Silvertown and Woolwich will be the focus of heritage events, such as walking tours, a photography exhibition and history talks.

The Rivers of the World exhibition will return to the riverside by the Tate Modern with children’s artwork inspired by the river. Children and youth from Greenwich have teamed up with Ghanian schools and professional artists to produce a collection of artworks.

There will also be a series of events marking the completion of Leo Villareal’s Illuminated River project. The world’s longest public art installation sees the bridges of Lambeth, Westminster, Golden Jubilee, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Millennium, Southwark, Cannon Street and London lit up from sunset to 2am. Illuminated River will curate a three-day celebration from 23 – 25 September, including guided tours, talks and sketching workshops.

  • Totally Thames runs from 1 – 30 September 2021. At various locations on and around the River Thames. Prices for events vary, but many are free. For more information and booking, visit the Thames Festival Trust website.

Find out what else is on in London in September 2021 here.

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Serpentine Pavilion 2021: Counterspace’s tribute to London’s community spaces

Leadenhall Market celebrates 700 years with a series of free events

Enjoy live music, art exhibitions and guided history tours at the City of London’s iconic market hall.

Leadenhall Market will celebrate 700 years of history with a series of events
© Leadenhall Market

With so many of London’s original market halls no longer serving their original purpose, it’s a notable feat to still be trading centuries later. This summer, Leadenhall Market will market 700 years of selling with a series of events.

The City of London market was established in 1321 on the heart of what was Roman London, meaning people have been trading on the spot for nearly two millennia. The site is still owned by the City of London Corporation, who were gifted it by former Lord Mayor Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington back in 1411. When the current Sir Horace Jones-designed building was erected in the Victorian era, Leadenhall was known for being a meat, poultry and game market. Today, it is now a destination for diners and drinkers, as well as boutique shopping.

This July and August, there will be a series of free events exploring the market’s vast history. From live music to exhibitions, to organised tours and self-guided walks, there will be plenty of activities on offer.

  • Leadenhall Market guided tour (Wednesdays 6.30pm-7.45pm, 7 July – 4 August)

Discover the secrets of the Victorian arcades of Leadenhall Market on a guided walking tour. They are free to join, but limited spaces require booking.

  • Lunchtime Lives (Thursday and Friday lunchtimes, 15 July – 6 August)

Enjoy live music from across the decades, from Victorian music hall to ’50s jazz and street bands.

  • Legends of Leadenhall self-guided tour

Discover the characters of Leadenhall’s past and its fascinating tales with an interactive audio guided tour. Find the QR code on posters within the market to download the app and play at your leisure.

  • Electric City exhibition (open daily until midnight, now until 31 July)

The team behind God’s Own Junkyard in Walthamstow have curated an exhibition of stunning neon art, from film sets of the past 40 years. Free to visit. An information hub is open 11.30am-7pm Wed-Sat.

  • UAL Graduate Showcase (Open daily until late August)

Check out the designs of final year students from the University of the Arts London. One of the market’s shop windows will be displaying costumes for theatre productions, animal models, set design maquettes and creative boards.

  • Leadenhall Market are celebrating 700 years during July and August 2021. At Leadenhall Market (access from Gracechurch Street, Lime Street and Whittington Avenue), City of London, EC3V 1LT. Nearest stations: Monument or Fenchurch Street. For more information, visit the Leadenhall Market website.

Find out what else is on in London this August.

Read more on the history of Leadenhall Market.

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Top London podcasts to inform and inspire

Discover these seven audio series dedicated to exploring the capital’s history and culture.

During lockdown, many of us have been kept entertained and informed by some of the tens of thousands of podcasts out there. Whatever your interests, there is guaranteed to be umpteen episodes on offers to whet your appetite.

If you’re interested in London history, trivia or culture, then check out some of these audio discoveries, along with some handy links to get listening straight-away:

Ladies Who London Podcast

Blue Badge tour guides Alex Lacey and Emily Dell started their London history podcast at the beginning of lockdown. Every week they choose a different area of the capital or Londoner. They often highlight lesser-known Londoners, particularly women or people of colour, who have been usually been under-represented by the history books. The Ladies Who London podcast is not all serious though and expect plenty of banter in between the facts.

Open City Podcast

The Open City team – who are famous for organising Open House London – started a radio show platforming conversations about the capital in summer 2020. Exploring everything from its people to buildings to its organisations, from past, present and future. Recent episodes include the Guildhall, Old Kent Road and rethinking London’s green spaces.

Macabre London Podcast

Whether you love Halloween… or are just intrigued by the more sinister side of the capital all-year round, the Macabre London podcast is for you. Host and writer Nikki Druce tells gruesome stories from London’s past so expect murder, mystery, and perhaps the odd ghost or two. Recent episodes include the Central Line, an Edwardian cold case set in Battersea and London’s killer weather.

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The lost Moorish palace of showbiz and sin: The story of Leicester Square’s Alhambra

The history of the West End theatre and music hall, which stood on the current site of the Odeon Luxe cinema.

The Alhambra in Leicester Square in 1879
(Engraving from The Illustrated London News, 1874)

Situated in the heart of the West End, Leicester Square is known for its cinemas, casinos, chain pubs/restaurants and cheesy nightclubs. As a lifelong Londoner, I’ve always gone out of my way to avoid it if I’m honest. However, I can appreciate it’s a destination for film fans, thanks to the premieres and awards ceremonies which take place there. Of course, it wasn’t always cinemas which drew people to Leicester Square, as the area has long been a destination for Londoners and tourists seeking nocturnal entertainment. One of the lost Victorian venues which lured in the crowds was the Alhambra, previously on the site of the current Odeon Luxe cinema.

Leicester Square was established in the 17th century, taking its name from Leicester House, the grand home built by politician Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester (1595–1677). It was largely residential in the early centuries, but started to evolve into a hub for tourism and entertainment by the 19th century. Before the Alhambra was built at 24-27 Leicester Square, it was occupied by four houses, dating back to the 1670s. These buildings were homes to Lords, Ladies, Barons and Earls over the years, although No.27 was converted into a bagnio (bath house) in the 1720s.

In Victorian London, Leicester Square boasted a host of attractions to amaze and entertain. Among the delights on offer were Wyld’s Great Globe, the Savile House museum, and the Empire Theatre of Varieties (the predecessor to the Empire cinema). The first Alhambra was first built in 1854 as an attraction named the Royal Panopticon of Science Arts. Designed by Thomas Hayter Lewis (1818-1898), it opened in March 1854 and hosted art exhibitions and scientific demonstrations (see a 1854 sketch of the interior). The façade was a bold Moorish style, feature two minaret-esque towers and a dome. Although initially a hit with a reported 1,000 visitors daily, it soon fell out of favour and prompted the owners to sell up for just £9,000 in 1857. The new proprietor, E.T. Smith was an experienced theatre owner and envisioned the building as an entertainment venue. He had a circus ring constructed in time for its re-opening as the Alhambra Circus in April 1858. Smith managed to secure a license for music and dance performances later that year and went on to host ballet and variety shows. After a few years, he sold the building to William Wilde Jnr, who used it for music hall and circus productions. The famous French acrobat Charles Blondin (1824-1897) performed in front of the future King Edward VII (1841-1910) at the Alhambra soon after his successful Niagara Falls tightrope. In May 1861, the venue hosted another legendary French acrobat, Jules Léotard (1838-1870), who wowed with his flying trapeze act over the heads of the audience below. As he proved a huge draw, Léotard was paid £180 a week – an impressive salary at the time. Read the rest of this entry

White Hart Dock | Boat sculptures pay tribute to a lost riverside hub

Today, wooden boat structures give a clue to the hidden dock, which has existed in some form for centuries.

White Hart Dock in Vauxhall, London

The art installation and benches at White Hart Dock in Vauxhall

The River Thames has always been the life blood of London, but before the rise of motor vehicles, it was a dominant way to travel. The river was a hub of industry and transport, with factories, wharf, docks and stairs lining its quaysides. As our demands on the river changed in the latter half of the 20th century, the volume of wharfs and docks has dramatically shrunk.

White Hart Dock slipway

The slipway is hidden behind brick walls and leads to tunnels (left) leading towards the Thames

One remaining dock that has managed to survive is White Hart Dock in Vauxhall. With a road separating the dock from the Thames, it would be easy to miss it if you walked past. However, today there are modern boat sculptures giving a clue to what lurks behind. Situated at the junction of the Albert Embankment and Black Prince Road, there has been a dock or slipway at the site since the 14th or 15th century. On a 1767 map, White Hart Stairs are marked just a short distance south from the famous Horse Ferry embarkation, an ancient river crossing. At the time, Black Prince Road was named Lambeth Butts and led from White Hart Stairs to Kennington Palace (which existed from 12th to 16th century). By the early 19th century, the riverside end of Lambeth Butts had become Broad Street, with White Hart Stairs a popular drop off for water transport.

In 1868, the Albert Embankment was constructed by London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, creating a riverside road and walkway and allowing for the construction of piers for the many large-scale industrial premises, along with improving flood defences for the regularly flooded Lambeth. Prior to construction, White Hart Dock was a draw dock, but was rebuilt facing south. With the main road in between the dock and the Thames, boats would have to pass at an angle at low tide to access it (see a 1872 photo of the newly-built Albert Embankment with the tunnel leading to the dock). Around the same time, many other inland docks were built for Lambeth and Vauxhall factories, including the Royal Doulton potteries. It is believed the White Hart Dock served the Lambeth and Salamanca soap works, although was deemed for public use.

To those disembarking at White Hart Dock in the mid 1800s, one of the first things they would see was the enticing Crowley’s Alton Ale Wharf. The pub chain was run by the Alton Brewery, founded by a Quaker family from Alton, Hampshire. The Crowleys were early pioneers of the traditional pub lunch, offering a glass of ale and a sandwich for 4 pence. Charles Dickens had commented on the popularity of Crowley’s Ale Houses throughout England. Their signature offering grew so famous, the Crowleys had to take out an advert warning Londoners that the Ale Wharf at Vauxhall was their only genuine London branch, accusing rivals of opening “ale and sandwich” venues. (Check out a 1869 photo of the Crowley’s Alton Ale Wharf overlooking White Hart Dock).

Timbers in the shape of bows crown the dock

The dock’s decline began in the 20th century as industry started to move away from the river. During World War II, the dock was used as an Emergency Water Supply, with the letters EWS still visible today on a sign from the period. In 1960, the local council Lambeth sought parliamentary powers to close White Hart Dock as it hadn’t been used by commercial vehicles for many years. However, the closure was never realised, but the dock continued to lay unused.

After decades of neglect and uselessness, in 2004 Berkeley Homes purchased the land adjacent to the dock for development of a luxury apartment block. It was agreed, the surrounding environment should be enhanced, including White Hart Dock. A public art panel was established and the public invited to give feedback on six shortlisted proposals for the space. Sheffield artists Handspring Design won the commission with their ornamental boat-themed sculptures in 2009. Made of sustainably sourced, FSC English oak, the dock is now crowned by bow-like arches, with boat shaped benches facing the river. The dock itself is enclosed by high brick walls, with flood gates at one end. Peering over the walls you can see the slipway and under road tunnels leading to the river.

  • White Hart Dock, junction of Albert Embankment and Black Prince Road, Vauxhall, SE1 7SP. Nearest station: Vauxhall. To find out more about the artwork, visit the White Hart Dock website.

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