Category Archives: Architecture

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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

The lonely tower of St Augustine Watling Street: The history of St Paul’s next door neighbour

The story of the former church, which dates back to the 12th century.

St Pauls Augustine © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

St Augustine, Watling Street was the closest church to St Paul’s Cathedral

St Augustine church tower autumn © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The tower overlooks Festival Gardens

Standing just a few feet besides St Paul’s Cathedral is the remains of St Augustine, Watling Street. Today, all that’s left of the Anglican church is the 17th century tower and spire, which has been incorporated into a prep school.

St Augustine, Watling Street dates back to the 12th century when it was built in dedication to St Augustine of Canterbury (d.604). The Benedictine monk was sent to England as a missionary in 597 and converted King Æthelberht of Kent to Christianity. The earliest recording of the church dates back to 1148. Located on the corner of Watling Street and Old Change, the Medieval church was around 61ft long, with a 59ft long extension added in the 13th century. It was partially rebuilt in 1630-31 for £1,200. Writing about its renovation, historian John Snow (1524-1605) called St Augustine “a fair church”, adding “every part of its richly and worthily beautified”.

Prior to the Great Fire of London, St Augustine was one of 109 churches in the City of London. The terrifying blaze of September 1666 ravaged 89 of these, with only 52 being rebuilt. Like most buildings in the City, the Medieval St Augustine was destroyed along with the neighbouring Old St Paul’s Cathedral.

St Augustine's steeple © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The spire was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor

As rebuilding began, the parish of St Augustine was united with St Faith’s, whose congregation had worshipped in the crypt of the cathedral prior to the fire. Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) designed a new St Augustine, along with 50 other City churches and the current St Paul‘s Cathedral. The main church was opened in September 1683 and was 51ft long, 45ft wide and 30ft high. An arcade of Corinthian columns separated the nave from the aisles with a barrel vaulted ceiling and three skylights on each side. The interior walls had up to 8ft of panelling, while galleries were erected on the north and west sections of the church. The Portland stone tower was rebuilt in 1680-84, with oculus windows and a belfry, topped with a Baroque parapet, obelisks and pinnacles. It was completed with a lead spire designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) in 1695-96.

While the church probably sounds lovely to our 21st imaginations, it didn’t impress one 19th century critic. In the 1838 book, ‘The Churches of London: A History of the Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Metropolis’, architect and journalist George Godwin (1813-1888) writes: “The interior of the present church is plain and very small; and consists of a nave and ailes (sic) formed by Ionic columns that carry a waggon-headed ceiling. These columns are raised on exceedingly lofty plinths, which render the height and consequent diameter of the columns so small as to degrade them to mere props and produce altogether a bad effect.” Read the rest of this entry

Little Dorrit, Dickens and debt | The remains of Marshalsea prison in Borough

Discover the history of one of London’s most famous prisons, where Charles Dickens’ father John was jailed.

Marshalsea wall Borough © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The remains of Marshalsea Prison in Borough

Up until the late 19th century, there were dozens of prisons in central London. While a few, such as The Clink or the Tower of London – are still standing (albeit without prisoners), most have been long demolished. One of these lost London prisons may have been closed for over 170 years, but its name has been immortalised thanks to Charles Dickens (1812-1870).

The Marshalsea prison stood in Southwark for nearly 500 years. The Marshalsea originally opened at what is now 161 Borough High Street in 1373. The name is adapted from the old English word “marshalcy” which means “the office, rank, position of a Marshal”. In its early years, it housed men accused of crimes at sea, as well as other ‘land’ crimes. Among the famous prisoners of Marshalsea included the playwright Ben Jonson (1572-1637), who was imprisoned in 1597 for his “lewd” play The Isle of Dogs, which caused much offence and was suppressed by order of Queen Elizabeth I. Prior to prison reform in the 19th century, prisons were run for private profit. Prisoners had to pay for rent, food and clothes and furnish their own cells. A community sprung up within Marshalsea, with shops and restaurants being run by prisoners.

By the late 16th century, the prison was already in bad condition, but it wasn’t until 1799 the government decided it was time to rebuild. The new Marshalsea was rebuilt 130 yards at the current site of 211 Borough High street, costing £8,000. When it opened in 1811, it was split into two sections – one for debtors and another for mariners under court marshal. By the 18th and 19th century, debt was responsible for nearly half of England’s prison population. Usually, those in debt only spent a few months in the prison. Conditions were cramped and unpleasant, with sometimes up to four people sharing a cell measuring 10ft 10in by 8ft high.

Marshalsea wall © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Most of Marshalsea Prison was demolished in 1870

Read the rest of this entry

Discovering the World War II shelter-turned-memorial at Stockwell

The history of the colourful pillbox memorial on a Stockwell traffic island.

Stockwell War Shelter © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Stockwell deep-level shelter has been turned into a war memorial

Around the country, many a traffic island is home to a war memorial. However, one particular south London island has a rather more colourful tribute to the war dead in an unusual format. In fact, this memorial started life as an important space to shelter Londoners from the Nazi bombs during World War II.

At the junction of Clapham Road and South Lambeth Road, just moments from Stockwell tube station, is the Stockwell War Memorial. The memorial is in two parts – the oldest of the two is dedicated to the fallen of World War I, while the more recent one was built during the World War II.

Stockwell War Shelter © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Poppies cover the pillbox entrance shaft

In the early part of the Second World War, some civilians and government officials were concerned the available shelters weren’t quite robust enough to withstand the bombing. Time was of the essence so a plan to build deep-level shelters underneath existing tube stations was deemed the speediest and most cost-effective option. Originally 10 shelters were planned, but in the end only eight were constructed. Building began in 1941, and by 1942 they were complete. The shelters were mostly located by Northern line stations, including Stockwell, Clapham North, Clapham Common, Camden Town, Belsize Park, Goodge Street and Clapham South, with another near the Central line station Chancery Lane.

The Stockwell deep-level shelter is located below Stockwell station and features two parallel tunnels, measuring 16ft in diameter and split horizontally with upper and lower levels. The shelters were accessed by two, pillbox-shaped entrance shafts – one being the war memorial on Stockwell’s traffic island, and the other on Studley Road. The tunnels would have fit hundreds of beds to accommodate Londoners overnight, while there were further spaces for toilets, medical assistance and ventilation. The Stockwell shelter was completed in September 1942, but was initially used by the government until it opened to the public in 1944. With the war finishing a year later, it fortunately didn’t get much use. After V-day, the Stockwell shelter was briefly used to house military personnel.

For decades, the shelter remained an ugly eyesore on the South Lambeth Road. However, Brian Barnes and Myra Harris turned it into a war memorial in 1999. Brainstorming with schoolchildren at nearby Stockwell Park School, the images were inspired by local history. Among the famous faces pictured include actor Sir Roger Moore – who grew up in Stockwell – and artist Vincent Van Gogh, who briefly lived in nearby Hackford Road during 1873-74. It also depicts the MV Empire Windrush ship, which brought Caribbean emigrants to Britain, with many settling in Brixton and the surrounding areas. Some new arrivals ending up sleeping in a makeshift hostel in the Clapham South deep-level shelter until they found more long-term accommodation.

The mural was expanded in June 2001 with the addition of war hero and special agent Violette Szabo (1921-1945), who spent her teen years living in Stockwell. The top of the mural features a quote from Robert Laurence Binyon’s (1869-1943) poem ‘For the Fallen’, originally published in September 1914.

  • The Stockwell War Memorial can be found on the roundabout at the junction of South Lambeth Road and Clapham Road, Stockwell, SW8 1UG. Nearest station: Stockwell.

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Two Temple Place | A look inside a unique Neo-Gothic office built for the world’s richest man

The history behind this Victorian office, now home to exhibition and events spaces.

Two Temple Place exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Two Temple Place looks over the Victoria Embankment and River Thames

Standing on the eastern edge of the City of Westminster is a striking neo-Gothic building. Overlooking the River Thames and the Victoria Embankment is Two Temple Place. Although today the building is an events space and exhibition venue, it started life as an office for the world’s richest man.

The Great Hall gallery is supported by ebony columns

William Waldorf Astor (1848-1919) was an American attorney, publisher, philanthropist and politician. After an initial career in law and politics, Astor inherited his father John Jacob Astor III’s fortune in 1890, making him exceptionally wealthy. The same year, he financed the building of the original Waldorf Hotel in New York City, which opened in 1893 and stood for 36 years before being demolished to make way for the Empire State Building.

Astor cut short his life in the Big Apple following a family feud and relocated to Britain in 1891. In addition to falling out with his aunt Caroline Astor, he also believed England would be safer for his children against the threat of kidnap. He bought a plot of land in legal district of Temple and commissioned Gothic Revival architect John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897) to build him a London office. Although intended as an office, Astor also wanted residential space. As Two Temple Place was being built, Astor bought the Buckingham estate Cliveden for his family to live in. He later expanded his property portfolio with Hever Castle in Kent in 1903, as well as bank-rolling the building of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in London’s Aldwych.

Two Temple Place Great Hall © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The hammerbeam roof is made of Spanish mahogany

Two Temple Place entrance © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

William Silver Frith’s lamppost sculptures of cherubs holding telephones

Originally named the Astor Estate Office, it was completed in 1895. Two Temple Place is a two-storey building, with a Gothic-Elizabethan-style exterior made of Portland stone. Among the rooms included were the great hall, library and strong room with two fortified safes to protect Astor’s riches. English sculptor Nathaniel Hitch (1845–1938) created ornate features, including gargoyles, on the exterior, while a golden likeness of Christopher Columbus’ ship La Santa Maria – which he used to sail to America – was erected as a weathervane. British sculptor William Silver Frith (1850–1924) made the ornamental lamppost sculptures of cherubs holding early telephones at the portico front entrance. The communicative angels celebrate the fact that Two Temple Place was one of the first houses in the capital to have a working telephone.

With such a fortune at Astor’s disposal, there was no expense spared on the entirety of the building project. The rooms were all decked out in wood-panelling, giving it an ‘olde world’ feel. English metal worker J Starkie Gardner (1844-1930) created ornate metalwork for the interior and exterior of the building. Meanwhile, the Astor family’s interior decorator John Dibblee Crace (1838-1919) took inspiration from the French Renaissance for the furnishings. Astor was a huge fan of symbolism and wanted the building to link the old world with the new world. Around 54 characters from history and fiction are depicted in carvings in the entrance hall or on the gilded frieze in the Great Hall, including Marie Antoinette, Pocahontas, Anne Boleyn, Niccolò Machiavelli, Marc Anthony, Cleopatra, Macbeth, Othello, and characters from The Three Musketeers – Astor’s favourite book. One of the building’s main attractions is the grand, oak staircase. Standing on the inlaid marble floor, you look up to see wood carvings, a square gallery and a square-domed, stained glass ceiling supported by ebony Corinthian columns. Read the rest of this entry

Baroque and art nouveau collide at Old Finsbury Town Hall

The history behind the Old Finsbury Town Hall.

The Great Hall in Old Finsbury Town Hall

Finsbury Town Hall exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The red brick façade facing Rosebery Avenue

Around the capital, there are many town halls no longer being used for the purpose for which they were originally intended. For example, Bethnal Green Town Hall is now a five-star hotel, Battersea Town Hall has been reborn as the Battersea Arts Centre, while Deptford Town Hall is now part of Goldsmiths University campus. A string of town halls were built in the late 19th century and early 20th century as civic responsibility increased and the population boomed. When the London Metropolitan boroughs were established in 1900, the boundaries of London were considerably smaller than they are today (with most current London boroughs in zones 4-6 excluded).

One Victorian town hall still standing, but no longer in use as a local government building, is Old Finsbury Town Hall in Clerkenwell. Located on Rosebery Avenue, it is built on the site of Clerkenwell Vestry Hall. The Vestry Hall was originally the Spa Fields watch house, which was built in 1813-1814. Designed by the New River Company’s surveyor W.C. Mylne, the watch house was a two-storey building on the junction of Garnault Place and Rosoman Street. The building included two prison cells, a commissioners’ boardroom and a yard for holding stray cattle. It then became a local police station following the founding of the Metropolitan Police in 1829, later becoming a meeting hall in 1856.

The art nouveau canopy entrance on Rosebery Avenue

By the late 19th century, the Vestry Hall was much maligned and too small to host local meetings. Finsbury was being redeveloped with slum housing being demolished and the building of a new road named Rosebery Avenue. English architect Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930) – famous for designing the Victoria & Albert Museum and Admiralty Arch – was appointed to judge a competition for designs for replace the Clerkenwell Vestry in 1892-3. A design by rising architect Charles Evans-Vaughan (1857-1900) beat out a dozen or so others, with Charles Dearing of Islington winning the £14,724 13s contract to build it. Evans-Vaughan is also responsible for designing the Bridge House Farm Estate in Brockley, south-east London and the Welsh church in Falmouth Road, Southwark. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1887, but sadly died in his 40s of typhoid fever just three years later.

The existing Old Finsbury Town Hall you see today was built in two stages. The first part of the building was erected between 1894-1895 and was named Clerkenwell Vestry Hall, adjoining the early 19th century Vestry Hall. It was inaugurated in summer 1895 by Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929). The Earl was Prime Minister at the time of opening and the inspiration for Rosebery Avenue, which was named in tribute to him for being the first chairman of the London County Council (LCC). The new Vestry Hall entrance was on the new Rosebery Avenue and featured the stunning iron and stained glass, art nouveau canopy. The new building was designed in the fashionable ‘contemporary free style’ of the time, with a mix of Flemish Renaissance, Baroque and art nouveau influences. The façade features Red Ibstock brick and Ancaster stone dressing, Portland stone, tiled gabled roofs and a clock and weathervane.

Read the rest of this entry

Shopping in Style – Part 6 | The lost Lowther Arcade on the Strand

A late Georgian shopping arcade became a toy mecca for Victorian children until its demolition in 1902.

The Strand 1901 © Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

The Lowther Arcade (left) in 1901 – a year before its demolition
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The West End has been a shopping destination for Londoners and tourists for over two centuries. Along with popular thoroughfares like Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street, there is also a selection of shopping arcades, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the elements. Today, two of the capital’s existing shopping arcades are over 200 years old. However, one Georgian shopping arcade barely survived into the 20th century, let alone the 21st century. This post is a long-delayed addition to Metro Girl’s Shopping in Style series, which explores the history of London’s shopping arcades.

After the success of the capital’s first two shopping arcades – the Royal Opera and Burlington, plans were made for another arcade on Strand. Lowther Arcade was designed by architect Witherden Young and built by William Herbert in 1830 (see Young’s architectural plans). It was named after William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872), who was Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests from 1828-1830. Lowther Arcade ran from the Strand to Adelaide Street and was 245 foot long, 20 foot wide and 30 foot high. The arcade featured 24 small shops, with two storeys above the shop level. The arcade was designed in a Greco-Italian style and was topped by a series of glass domes, flooding the aisle with light. Its classical design complemented the eastern end of Strand (No.s 430-449), which had been redeveloped by Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835) in 1830. Although shorter in length, Lowther Arcade was often referred to as the ‘twin’ of the Burlington Arcade in Mayfair. Just like the Burlington, the Lowther management also employed a Beadle to maintain order.

An 1883 illustration of the Lowther Arcade shops
(From “London Town” by Felix Leigh, illustrated by Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton on Wikimedia Commons)

After opening, Lowther Arcade quickly won over Londoners with its architecture and atmosphere. In his 1834 book National History and Views of London and Its Environs, Volumes 1-2, Charles Frederick Partington wrote: “The Lowther Arcade is decidedly the most elegant establishment of this description erected in the metropolis… When we compare the costly and elegant bijoutrie exhibited for sale, it will be found the dealers lose nothing by comparison with those celebrated in the Arabian Nights and other works of eastern fiction.”

At the north end of the arcade was the Adelaide Gallery, a forerunner to the Science Museum. Opened by American inventor Jacob Perkins (1766-1849), it didn’t prove that successful and was replaced by an amusement hall in the 1840s. It then became home to Signor Brigaldi’s Italian Marionettes in 1852, and during another period was used as a music hall. Read the rest of this entry

The story behind Fleet Street’s boldest art deco façade | The Express Building

Discover the history of this 1930s London office block, which was once home to Britain’s biggest newspaper.

The Daily Express Building is one of the boldest Art Deco structures in the capital

Along Fleet Street is a bold Art Deco building, which stands out amongst its more muted, grey neighbours. No. 120-129 is a Modernist remainder of the street’s journalism heyday in the early 20th century. Until 30 years ago, the building was home to the Daily Express newspaper. Founded in 1900 by Sir Arthur Pearson (1866-1921), the Express was originally printed in Manchester before moving to Fleet Street in the early 1930s.

The newspaper’s name remains on the building

The bold black and glass building was constructed from 1930-1932 to a design by architects Herbert O. Ellis and W.L. Clarke. The duo were commissioned by the Express’s then owner, William Maxwell Aitken, Baron Beaverbrook (1879-1960) to extend the existing newspaper buildings towards Fleet Street. Their original designs featured a steel-framed structure, clad in Portland Stone. However, the narrowness of the plot and Aitken’s requirements for room to have printing presses in the basement, meant their first proposal was canned. Aitken then brought in London-born architect and engineer, Sir Evan Owen Williams (1890-1969) to improve the plans. Although he started out as an aircraft designer, Williams won fame with his buildings for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 (including being the engineer for the old Wembley Stadium) and later designed the Dorchester Hotel, the Boots factory in Nottingham, the Peckham Pioneer Health Centre and the first section of the M1 motorway. Williams redesigned the building’s exterior, with black Vitrolite panels and chromium strips replacing the Portland stone façade. Meanwhile, Robert Atkinson (1883-1952) designed the ground floor entrance, with a chrome canopy and the Daily Express spelt out in Art Deco lettering. Atkinson’s striking lobby features two plaster reliefs – ‘Britain’ and ‘Empire’ – by British sculptor Eric Aumonier (1899-1974). as well as silver and gilt decorative features and a grand oval staircase. The finished building is widely considered one of the best examples of Streamline Moderne architecture in the capital.

The building certainly stands out on Fleet Street

The building was joined by neighbouring Aitken House to the east in the mid 1970s, erected on the site of some smaller Victorian buildings. It was clad in similar black panels to the original Daily Express building so the two buildings looked like one huge building on Fleet Street (see a photo in 1990). While the extra office space was needed for Daily and Sunday Express staff, Aitken House ruined the shape and symmetry of the original 1930s design.

In March 1972, the Express building was Grade II* listed because of its Art Deco features, as well as its concrete frame structure. After over 50 years on Fleet Street, the Express group followed in the footsteps of many other newspapers and departed the building in 1989.

By 2000, the building was entirely refurbished and neighbouring Aitken House was demolished. John Robertson Architects restored the original building, including the façade and glazing, as well as replicated and reinstated the lost Art Deco features of the lobby. Investment bank Goldman Sachs leased the building until 2019. It will be interesting to see which tenants move in next…

  • The Express Building, 120-129 Fleet Street, City of London, EC4. Nearest stations: City Thameslink or Temple.

Discover the history of the Daily Telegraph building on Fleet Street.

Find out the story of No.186 Fleet Street.

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The Swan & Edgar building in Piccadilly Circus | One of London’s lost department stores

The history of the Swan & Edgar department store in Piccadilly Circus.

The former Swan & Edgar building at Piccadilly Circus

The decline of the department store is a frequently mentioned casualty of the ever-changing retail industry. A host of department stores in London have been closed down over the decades, with the buildings left behind leaving little trace of the retail giants which one inhabited them. Once household names such as Pontings, Pratts, Bourne & Hollingsworth, and Gamages, have been consigned to the history books. Among these lost London department stores was Swan & Edgar, whose flagship building still exists, looming large over Piccadilly Circus.

Cumbrian-born William Edgar (1791-1869) met George Swan (d.1821) in the early 19th century. At the time, Edgar was running a haberdashery stall in St James Market, while Swan had a shop on Ludgate Hill in the City of London. They went into business together in Ludgate Hill, before moving to 20 Piccadilly in 1812. Business was soon booming and they made over £80,000 in their first year. Nine years later, Swan sadly died, but his business partner Edgar honoured his memory by continuing to trade in their joint name. Swan & Edgar moved to 49 Regent Street in 1841. By 1848, business was going so well, the store expanded to numbers 45-51 Regent Street and the corner of Piccadilly Circus.

Edgar ended up outliving with business partner by over four decades, passing away in 1869. He lived the last two decades of his life with his wife Frances and their five children at Eagle House on Clapham Common’s South Side. The Georgian building was mostly demolished after Frances’ death in 1889, although parts of the south wing exist today as mews housing. The couple are buried in one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries: West Norwood Cemetery in south London.

Swan & Edgar 1909 Wikimedia Commons

The Victorian Swan & Edgar store in 1909
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Although both founders had died, their names continued to live on through the department store as it continued trading. An 1883 advert boasted the huge range of articles offered for sale, billing the store as “wholesale and retail silk mercers, drapers, furriers/ Mantle and costume makers and seal skin merchants/ Novelty and economy in dress/ All articles of fashion of the latest styles and reliable quality”. The department store’s popularity was boosted by the opening of the nearby Piccadilly Circus tube station in 1906 and became a popular meeting place for friends and lovers to rendezvous. In December 1901, the managing director Walter Morford (who had been in the role since 1895), ended up in trouble with the police over the store. People complained his moving window displays were causing congestion on the pavement, with sometimes hundreds of people blocking the pavement to look at the action. Morford ignored several police summons, complaining he had spent over £100 on designing the windows to attract customers. Read the rest of this entry

Hoxton Hall | Step inside one of the East End’s surviving Victorian music halls

Hoxton Hall has been entertaining Londoners for over 150 years

Long before TV and cinemas captivated Brits, music halls were a popular form of entertainment. Starting in the 1830s, music halls originally began cropping up in taverns and coffee houses. Landlords started putting on a variety of entertainment for the punters, along with providing them with food and drink. By the 1850s, these variety shows had become so popular, many theatres and pubs were knocked down and replaced with music halls. Hoxton had several popular music halls, including The Eagle on Shepherdess Walk and the Britannia Theatre on Hoxton Street, both of which no longer exist today. At the peak of the entertainment genre’s popularity, there were an estimated 375 music halls in the capital. Performers such as Marie Lloyd, Dan Leno and Little Tich became household names and were in high demand by music halls owners to top their bills.

Hoxton Hall railings © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The original railings

Although most Victorian music halls are long gone, there is one that is still being used for entertainment today. Hoxton Hall in Hoxton Road was originally erected by builder James Mortimer in 1863. The building followed the traditional music hall design, with balconies on three sides overlooking the stage and open floor. Today, the galleries of seating feature the original iron railings and are supported by cast iron columns. Although more modest in size than many music halls at the time, Hoxton Hall is unique for being purpose-built as a music hall as many were converted from pubs. Originally, Mortimer gave his own name to the building – Mortimer Hall – which opened on 7 November 1863. On the opening night bill were singers and conjurers. However, Mortimer didn’t want his hall to just entertain, he also wanted to educate locals with lectures. Unfortunately for Mortimer, his education program wasn’t quite so popular and by 1865 the building was being used by a waste paper merchant.

In 1866, music hall manager James McDonald Jnr bought Mortimer Hall and renamed it McDonald’s Music Hall. He knew what the people of London wanted and offered affordable entertainment for the working classes, including music, circus and performing dogs. Business was booming and McDonald was able to extend the hall in 1867, raising the ceiling and adding a new upper balcony. However, by 1871, McDonald lost his license following police complaints so it was sold. The subsequent owners applied for a new license in 1876, but were refused.

Two tiers of seating overlooking the stage and ground floor

Philanthropist William Isaac Palmer (1824–1893) bought the hall in 1879 for the use of the Blue Ribbon Gospel Temperance Mission, a sobriety movement. Today, Palmer is honoured with the Palmer Room at the hall. The building became home to the Girls Guild for Good Life, a group founded by Sarah Rae, wife of the secretary of the Blue Ribbon Temperance Society. In contrast to its bawdry music hall origins, the hall was being used to educate working class girls with cooking, dressmaking and elocution classes in a bid to warn them away from the ‘sinful’ hobbies of gambling and drinking. The hall was also used for talks and events to encourage temperance by the Blue Ribbon Mission. Read the rest of this entry