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Adelaide House | The story of London’s first skyscraper

The history of the City’s pioneering, art deco office block and the hotel which came before it.

Adelaide House London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Adelaide House stands on the north side of London Bridge

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.

Adelaide Hotel London Bridge

A photo of the Adelaide Hotel (circled) and the ‘New London Bridge’, (both since demolished) in the mid 19th century.
(Close-up from J Davis Burton image on Wikimedia Commons)

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

Austin Friars | The history of one of London’s lost monasteries

This City of London road was named after a 13th century religious order.

Austin Friars road © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The winding road of Austin Friars

 

Austin Friars gateway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Victorian gateway to Austin Friars

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.

Drapers Hall © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Drapers’ Hall was built on the site of Austin Friars

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

A Jacobean tavern, waxwork museum and Victorian barbers | The many guises of Prince Henry’s Room

The history of 17 Fleet Street, a 17th century building that survived the Great Fire of London.

Prince Henry's Room © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Prince Henry’s Room on Fleet Street dates back to the 17th century

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.

Prince Henry's Room © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Prince Henry’s Room stands opposite the Royal Courts of Justice

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

Mary Queen of Scots House: This Neo-Gothic building is younger than you think

The story behind a Neo-Gothic office building-turned-holiday let on Fleet Street

Mary Queen of Scots House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 202

Mary Queen of Scots House dates back to the early 20th century

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.

Mary Queen of Scots House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The carver of the Mary Queen of Scots statue is unknown

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.

Read the rest of this entry

In search of Aldersgate | The story of the City of London’s northern gate

The history of one of Roman London’s first gates.

Aldersgate sign © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

A City of London blue plaque marks the site of Aldersgate

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.

Aldersgate Wenceslaus Hollar 1690 Wikimedia Commons

Aldersgate by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1690 map.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

A map of Roman London by Walter Thornbury from ‘Old and New London’, 1873.
Image from British Library/Wikimedia Commons.

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

Atlas House, Cheapside: Italianate architecture, Greek gods and insurance

The history of a Georgian office block in the City of London.

Atlas House Cheapside © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Atlas House is one of the few Georgian office buildings left on Cheapside

Atlas Assurance Company (1871) © Coast Review on Wikimedia Commons

Atlas House in 1871, before the Cheapside entrance became a portico
© Coast Review on Wikimedia Commons

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.

Atlas House Cheapside © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Atlas sculpture by Thomas Tyrrell

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

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.

Ludgate Queen Elizabeth © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Lud Gate’s Queen Elizabeth statue is now on a Fleet Street church

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.

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.

Ludgate sign © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

A plaque marking the site of the Lud Gate

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

Follow the words of Virginia Woolf with ‘Around The Corner’ from Culture Mile

One of the ‘Around the Corner’ installations by St Paul’s Cathedral

If you’ve walked near St Paul’s Cathedral or the Barbican recently, you may have noticed the appearance of some gold word sculptures dotted around. These installations are part of Culture Mile’s new commission ‘Around The Corner’.

From the north side of the Millennium Bridge to Aldersgate Street by the Barbican tube station, a series of 12 installations quote a line from Virginia Woolf’s 1922 novel Jacob’s Room: “What are you going to meet if you turn this corner?” The piece has been created by architects Karsten Huneck and Bernd Truempler from KHBT.

Starting at St Peter’s Hill with the word ‘What’, you can follow the sentence along points of the walk, with each sculpture featuring information to help you find your way.

  • ‘Around the Corner’ is on in the City of London until 30 April 2020 (update – it appears to have been extended due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is still on show in June 2020). For more information, visit the Culture Mile website.

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William Blake’s Ancient of Days projected on to St Paul’s Cathedral