It’s that time of year again – our annual countdown of our 10 most read posts for the year!
First up are numbers nine and ten…
Not just said to be the oldest perfumer in London but in the UK, Floris London started life as a barber-shop and comb-maker in Jermyn Street, St James’s, by immigrant Juan Famenias Floris.
Floris arrived in London in 1730, having travelled from the island of Menorca in the Balearic Islands which had become a British possession after it was captured in 1708 in the War of the Spanish Succession.
The story goes that Floris was missing the sweet scent of the flowers of his youth on the island and so he and his wife Elizabeth began creating and selling perfumes (and living in a premises above the shop).
Floris was granted his first Royal Warrant in 1820 soon after the accession of King George IV as ‘Smooth Pointed Comb Maker’ to His Majesty. It was to be the first of many.
Customers have included everyone from Admiral Lord Nelson (who kept a room Lady Emma Hamilton on the building’s third floor) and Florence Nightingale to Mary Shelley, Beau Brummell, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe and members of the Royal Family including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, creating a bespoke fragrance for their wedding in 2016.
Writer Ian Fleming was also a customer – the No 89 Eau de Toilette was to become a favourite of James Bond. The company’s other pop culture references include a mention in the Al Pacino film, Scent of a Woman.
Still a privately owned family business, Floris is still run by Juan’s’ descendants today and the London store at 89 Jermyn Street, which was renovated in 2017, remains in the same building Floris first established his business. The current shop front was added in the early 19th century and over it sits the original coat-of-arms granted by King George IV.
Inside, the Spanish mahogany cabinets were purchased from the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park in 1851. The four storey property, which these days features a small museum at the rear, is now Grade II-listed.
Floris opened a second store at 147 Ebury Street, Belgravia in 2012.
For more, see www.florislondon.com.
Founded as far back as 1790 and still serving customers today, DR Harris & Co Ltd is London’s oldest pharmacy.
The company, which specialises in “traditional gentleman’s grooming products” and these days also sells unisex haircare products, skincare products and soaps, first opened its doors when Henry Harris, a surgeon, set up shop at number 11 St James’s Street under the name of Harris’s Apothecary.
The DR became part of the name when Harris’s cousin, Daniel Rotely, an early pharmaceutical chemist, joined the company and together they developed a range of luxury perfumes and remedies, becoming particularly known for their lavender water, colognes and English flower perfumes.
Located at the heart of what was known as “Clubland” thanks to the many gentlemen’s clubs once found in the surrounding streets, its clients quickly grew to include the gentry and the court of St James’s.
In 1938, the company was awarded the warrant as chemists to Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother, an honour which it held until her death in 2002. In 2002, it was awarded the warrant as chemist for the Prince of Wales, and in 2012 was awarded the warrant as pharmacist and pharmacy suppliers to Queen Elizabeth II.
The company’s premises at what is now 29 St James’s Street was refurbished several years ago. For more, see www.drharris.co.uk.
There’s a couple of contenders for this title – the ferry service at Woolwich and that at Hampton.
Ferry services linking the north bank of the Thames at Woolwich North to the south bank at Woolwich have operated on the Thames since at least the 14th century.
While they were previously commercial operations, in 1889 a free passenger and vehicle ferry service started operation. By the early 1960s increasing demand saw the paddle steamers retired and the ferry service upgraded to a roll-on/roll-off model. The Woolwich Ferry service, which has been run by numerous authorities over the past century, is currently run by Transport for London.
Another contender for the title of London’s oldest (still operational) ferry service is the Hampton Ferry, a pedestrian service, which operates on the Thames about a mile west of Hampton Court Bridge between Hampton on the north bank and Hurst Park, Molesey, the south bank.
The ferry service, which was first used by fishermen and agricultural workers, dates back to 1514 and was incorporated by statute, making it one of the oldest British companies. The ferry, which costs £2 for a single crossing, operates seasonally from April to October.
Actually the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the entire UK, the Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London was built in 1701.
The synagogue has historical ties to the city’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, known as Sephardic Jews, which first started meeting together in a small synagogue in Creechurch Lane in 1657 after it become possible for Jews to openly practice their religion under the rule of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
Increasing numbers in the community soon meant a larger premises was required and a committee was formed which signed a contract with Quaker builder Joseph Avis in February, 1699, to build a larger premises (tradition holds that Avis returned the money he made on the job to the community, saying he would not profit from building a house of God). In June that same year, the community leased a tract of land at Plough Yard, Bevis Marks, on which the new building would be built. Construction commenced soon after.
The property’s design is said to emulate, at least in part, that of the 1675 Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam (it’s also thought the design was influenced by the works of Sir Christopher Wren). There’s also a story that the building included an oak beam from one of the Royal Navy’s ships presented by Queen Anne.
The rectangular building, which features three galleries inside, was eventually completed and dedicated in September, 1701.
The roof of the now Grade 1-listed building was replaced following a fire in 1738 and the synagogue only suffered minor damage during the Blitz. It also suffered some collateral damage from the IRA bombing in 1992 and the 1993 Bishopsgate bombing but remains mostly intact.
Sermons at Bevis Marks were in Portuguese until 1833 when they changed to English.
Features inside include an oak Renaissance-style ark containing the Torah scroll which, painted to resemble coloured Italian marble, is located at the centre of the eastern wall. There are also seven hanging brass candelabra which symbolise the seven days of the week. The largest, which hangs in the centre of the synagogue – represents the Sabbath and was donated by the community of the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam. There are also 10 large brass candlesticks representing the Ten Commandments. While the upright oak seats are said to “reflect the Puritanism of 17th century England”, the backless oak benches at the back are the original seats which were brought from the Creechurch Lane premises.
Twice Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s 1804 birth is recorded in the register but after his father had a falling out with the synagogue officials, Disraeli was in 1817 baptised at St Andrew’s Holborn.
The synagogue is temporarily closed to visitors and tour groups. For more information, head to www.sephardi.org.uk/bevis-marks/visit-bevis-marks/.
Another ‘oldest’ question that’s not as simple as it might seem.
Austria has occupied a building at 18 Belgrave Square in Belgravia since it moved there from Chandos House in Queen Anne Street in 1866.
But the embassy was vacated with the outbreak of World War I and the building entrusted, firstly to the protection of the ambassador of the United States, and following the severing of their relations in 1917, to the Royal Swedish Legation.
The Austrians returned in 1920 but following Hitler’s incorporation of Austria into the German Reich in 1938, it was used as a department of the German Embassy.
Following the outbreak of World War II, the Swiss legation room over protection of the building and following the end of the war the damaged building fell under the care of Britain’s Ministry of Works.
The Austrians returned in September, 1948, with the new ambassador arriving in 1952. It continues today to serve as the residence of the Austrian Ambassador.
Not to be confused with the Austrians, the Australian High Commission resides in ‘Australia House’ which claims to be “the longest continuously occupied foreign mission in London”.
In 1912, the Australian Government bought the freehold of a site on the corner bounded by Strand, Aldwych and Melbourne Place. Following a design competition, Scottish architects A Marshal Mackenzie and Son were selected as the designers of the new Australia House with Commonwealth of Australia’s chief architect, Mr JS Murdoch, arriving in London to assist them.
Work began in 1913 – King George V laid the foundation stone – but was interrupted by World War I and in 1916, former Australian PM and now High Commissioner Andrew Fisher moved into temporary offices on the site even as the work continued around him. King George V officially opened Australia House on 3rd August, 1918, with then Australian Prime Minister, WM “Billy” Hughes, in attendance.
Amid controversy over plans for a new Holocaust memorial in London and the marking of Holocaust Memorial Day this week, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at where the oldest public memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in London, which actually isn’t that old, is located.
Unveiled in 1983 in Hyde Park at site just to the east of the Serpentine, it consists of a grouping of boulders surrounded by white-trunked birch trees. Designed by Richard Seifert and Derek Lovejoy and Partners, the largest of the boulders is inscribed with a text, in Hebrew and English, from the Biblical Book of Lamentations. It reads: “For these I weep. Streams of tears flow from my eyes because of the destruction of my people.”
The Holocaust Memorial Garden, which was actually the first such memorial dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust in Britain, was erected by the Board of British Jews.
Plans for a new memorial to the victims of the Holocaust – to be located in Victoria Tower Gardens, just to the south of the Houses of Parliament – were approved by the government in the middle of last year following a controversial public inquiry. But a High Court judge subsequently granted the London Historic Parks And Gardens Trust permission to appeal that decision.
London’s oldest seafood restaurant is generally said to be Sweetings, the origins of which go back to the opening of John S Sweetings, Fish and Oyster Merchant, in Lad Lane, Islington, in 1830.
Additional premises at 159 Cheapside and 17 Milk Street soon followed, promoted as “Very Superior Oyster Rooms”. In 1889, Sweetings Restaurant opened at its present site at 39 Queen Victoria Street, inside the Grade II-listed Albert Buildings which was constructed in 1871 and the shape of which (if not the scale) has been compared to New York City’s Flatiron Building.
The food aside, Sweetings is famous for its signature ‘Black Velvet’, a mix of champagne and Guinness which was created in 1861 in response to the death of Prince Albert.
Famous patrons have reportedly included the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as well as the late George Francis, reportedly an associate of the Kray twins, who is said to have offered £1 million to buy the restaurant (an offer which was refused).
For more, see www.sweetingsrestaurant.co.uk.
The oldest continuously operating film studio in London also happens to be the oldest in the world, according to Guinness World Records.
Ealing Studios in West London has been operating at the same site – the White Lodge on Ealing Green – since 1902.
Originally founded by silent film pioneer Will Barker (and so originally known as the Will Barker Studios), the studios were further developed by Associated Talking Pictures who opened the sound stages in 1931.
In 1938, film producer Michael Balcon took over and it was he who named them Ealing Studios. Later owners included the BBC and then in 2000 the studios were bought by a consortium including independent production company Fragile Films and the Manhattan Loft Corporation.
Among the famous films made there was one of first screen versions of Hamlet in 1910, as well as classics such as The LadyKillers, The Lavender Hill Mob, and Passport to Pimlico. More recent films and TV shows have included the St Trinian’s franchise, The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), Shaun of the Dead (2005), and The Theory of Everything (2014), as well as recent TV series The Durrells and Downton Abbey.
The White Lodge bears an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating Sir Michael Balcon’s time working here between 1938 and 1956.
The oldest flyover in central London was actually built well before the first automobile.
Spanning the Fleet River valley, it was built between 1863 and 1869 and, spanning Farringdon Street below (which follows the line of the Fleet (now beneath the ground), it linked the City of London with Holborn (or more specifically Holborn with Newgate Street).
The flyover was designed by City of London surveyor William Heywood. It was part of a number of improvements designed to create better access to the City from the West End.
A number of old buildings and indeed some entire streets had to be demolished before construction could begin and thousands of bodies buried in St Andrew Holborn’s northern churchyard had to be relocated.
Made of cast iron, the flyover is about 1400 feet (425 metres) long and 80 foot (24 metres) wide and features three spans – the largest in the middle – supported on granite pillars.
Pavilions containing stairs allowing pedestrians to move between levels were built at either end on both sides of the roadway (the two northern buildings are both replacements – the previous versions were demolished after being damaged during the Blitz and have been replaced in more recent years).
The decorations include a series of four bronze statues featuring Agriculture and Commerce on the south side (the work of Henry Bursill) and Fine Arts and Science on the north side (the work of firm Farmer & Brindley).
There are also statues of winged lions and globe lamps (the current lamps are replicas with the originals thought to have been destroyed during the Blitz) as well as well as the City of London’s coat-of-arms and dragons.
The buildings containing the stairs, meanwhile, each feature a statue of a famous medieval Londoner on the facade – merchant Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), engineer Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631), and Mayors Sir William Walworth (d.1385) and Henry Fitz Ailwin (1135-1212).
The viaduct was opened by Queen Victoria on 6th November, 1869. It was listed as Grade II in 1972.
There are a number of ancient trees in London but the oldest is generally believed to be the so-called Totteridge Yew.
Located in the churchyard of St Andrew’s in the village of Totteridge in London’s outer north, this tree was named by the Conservation Foundation, the Ancient Yew Group, and tree officers from Barnet Council in 2008 as possibly the oldest in the city.
It’s estimated the tree – which is on the Great Trees of London list – is some 2000-years-old (some have at it at between 1,000 and 2,000 years-old). It has a 25 foot girth and was a focal point in the area long before the church was built, including for so-called “hundred courts”.
The earliest written mention of this majestic tree reportedly date back to 1677 when Sir John Cullum recorded its girth. But it’s believed that the tree may have been extant as far back as the Roman settlement of Londinium.
Another, possibly apocryphal, story associated with the tree is that of a foundling who was found abandoned under its branches and then brought up by the parish.
While Lord’s and The Oval may be more famous, the honour of being London’s oldest (still-in-use) cricket ground goes to a rather less-well-known ground in Mitcham, south London.
Once located in Surrey but now part of greater London, Mitcham Green has been the home of the Mitcham Cricket Club since 1685 (cricket was reportedly being played earlier elsewhere in London but the grounds haven’t survived).
There are reports that Lord Nelson was among those who came to watch a game here (he lived nearby) and in the 19th century, Mitcham Cricket Ground was used as a practise wicket by the visiting Australian team (the team would apparently stay at the aptly named pub The Cricketers, which formerly overlooked the green).
The ground is rather unusual for the fact that the club’s pavilion, which was built in 1904, lie on the other side of a road (the A323).
In July, 2002, the ground hosted a game between Mitcham and Hambledon, a Hampshire village which boasts a team founded about 100 years after Mitcham. Known as the Golden Jubilee Challenge Match, it was played in honour of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and resulted in a draw.
There are 110 livery companies in London, representing various “ancient” and modern trades. But the oldest is said to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers.
What was then known as the Weavers’ Guild was granted a charter by King Henry II in 1155 (although the organisation has an even older origins – there is an entry in the Pipe Rolls as far back as 1130 recording a payment of £16 made on the weaver’s behalf to the Exchequer).
In 1490, the Weaver’s Guild obtained a Grant of Arms, in the early 16th century it claimed the status of an incorporated craft, and, in 1577 it obtained ratification of its ordinances from the City of London.
By the late 16th century, the company – its numbers swollen by foreign weavers including Protestants fleeing persecution in Europe – built a hall on land it owned in Basinghall Street. A casualty of the Great Fire of London, the hall was rebuilt by 1669 but by the mid-1850s had fallen into disrepair and was pulled down and replaced by an office block.
After the office building was destroyed during World War II (fortunately some of the company’s treasures which had been stored there had already been moved), the company considered rebuilding the hall but decided its money could be better used, including on charitable works.
For many years, the company’s business was run from various clerk’s offices outside the City of London but since 1994 it has been run from Saddlers’ House.
The company, which ranks 42nd in the order of precedence for livery companies, has the motto ‘Weave Truth With Trust’.
For more, see www.weavers.org.uk.
The closure of two fire stations in 2014 – Clerkenwell (which opened in 1872) and Woolwich (which opened in 1887) – has left New Cross Fire Station in the city’s south as the oldest in London (and, according to the London Fire Brigade, the oldest in Europe as well.)
The station, which was designed in a rather grand “chateau-style” by the brigade’s chief architect Robert Pearsall, was opened at 266 Queen’s Road in New Cross in 1894. It was built to accommodate the divisional superintendent, a station foreman and 16 firefighters – eight married and eight unmarried – as well as two coachmen and stables for four horses.
The fire station initially housed a steam-powered and a manual firefighting appliance as well as a hose cart and van, a long ladder (which had its own shed in the yard) and four fire escapes.
The fire station underwent a major upgrade in 1912, improvements included the addition of more flats for married officers and self-contained houses for the superintendent and foreman as well as a sliding pole to give firefighters a quicker trip to the engine house. In 1958, a third appliance bay was added.
One of the most infamous incidents the firefighters from New Cross attended was in November, 1944, when a V2 bomb hit a Woolworths store in New Cross just after midday on a busy Saturday. Some 168 people were killed, 33 of whom were children, and a further 123 were injured in the attack.
The station is now Grade II-listed.
There’s several candidates for the title (and, of course, it depends on what exactly we mean). So here we go…
First up is the Clattern Bridge, which crosses the River Hogsmill (a small river which runs into the Thames), in Kingston upon Thames in the city’s south-west.
The earliest known reference to this three-arched bridge dates back to 1293 and the medieval name, ‘Clateryngbrugge’, is thought to refer to the sound horses’ hooves made as they clattered across.
While the bridge (pictured above and right), which had replaced an earlier wooden Saxon bridge, was altered in the 18th and 19th centuries, its Historic England Grade I listing notes that it remains a “good example of a medieval multi-span bridge which survives well” and includes some “impressive medieval masonry”.
Second is another Grade I-listed bridge that doesn’t even cross a river but rather a moat at Eltham Palace in the city’s south-east.
The stone north bridge, now the main entrance to the palace, is described by English Heritage as “London’s oldest working bridge” – although it’s not as old as the Clattern Bridge.
It was constructed in 1390 on the orders of King Richard II, replacing an earlier wooden bridge (it was apparently Geoffrey Chaucer – yes, that Geoffrey Chaucer – who supervised the building works as part of his job as Clerk of the Works to Eltham Palace).
The bridge features four arches, pointed cutwaters with chamfered tops on the outside and a red brick parapet on top.
Thirdly, is the Richmond Bridge which, although not in the same (medieval) league as the previous two, is the oldest bridge crossing the Thames.
The now Grade I-listed structure was built between 1774 and 1777 as a replacement for a ferry crossing and while it was slightly altered in 1939-40, it remains substantially original.
PICTURE: Top – Clattern Bridge (Maureen Barlin/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – Julian Walker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Middle – The bridge at Eltham Palace (John K Thorne/Public domain); Bottom – Richmond Bridge (Marc Barrot/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
OK, so we’re not absolutely certain which street is the oldest in London to have introduced a number system. But one contender – according to The Postal Museum at least – is Prescot Street in Whitechapel.
That comes from a mention, in 1708, when topographer Edward Hatton made a special note of the street’s use of numbers instead of signs in his New View of London, in a rather clear indication that the use of numbers was still at that stage rather unusual.
The following century saw the numbering of properties become more common. Some suggest that the banning of hanging signboards (under an 1762 Act of Parliament) and the subsequent requirement that names to be fixed to all thoroughfares (under the Postage Act of 1765) both played a significant role in encouraging the use of house numbers.
Interestingly, not all numbering schemes are the same. The first schemes introduced in London involved numbering houses consecutively along one side of the street – this can still be seen in streets like Pall Mall and Downing Street, where Number 10 – official residence of the Prime Minister, is located next to number 11 – official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The system used in more modern times, typically, involves numbering one side of the road with odd numbers (usually the left with the lowest number closest to the city or town centre) and the other with even.
But it’s fair to say that the numbering of houses was, initially at least, rather haphazard and it wasn’t until the passing of the Metropolitan Management Act that the numbering of properties become more standardised with the then new Board of Works given the power to regulate street numbers.
PICTURED: Number 23 Prescot Street, said to be the street’s single 18th century survivor.
The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…
More than 60 of these shelters were built at major cab stands around London between 1875 and 1914 in order to allow cabmen to seek refreshment without leaving their vehicle.
The narrow, rectangular, green huts were constructed by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund – which was established in 1875 by a philanthropically-minded group including the newspaper publisher Sir George Armstrong and the Earl of Shaftesbury (the group also had the support of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII).
The story goes that it was Sir George who pushed the idea forward after a servant he sent to find a cab in some inclement weather took a long time in returning thanks to the fact the cabbies were all off seeking a hot meal in nearby pubs.
The shelters, which police specified were not allowed to be larger than a horse and cart given their position on a public highway, were initially very simple in design but become more ornamental as time went on (architect Maximilian Clarke, who designed a shelter for Northumberland Avenue which was built in 1882, was a key proponent of this more ornate style).
Most were staffed by attendants who sold food and drink to the cabbies (there were also kitchen facilities for them to cook their own as well as tables to sit at and a variety of reading materials). Drinking and gambling, as well as swearing, were apparently strictly forbidden.
The first of these shelters, which reportedly cost around £200 each, was erected in Acacia Road, St John’s Wood, but that shelter is long gone. Just 13 of the huts now survive and all are Grade II-listed. They have various nicknames assigned to them by London’s cabbies – one on Kensington Road, for example, is apparently known as ‘The All Nations’ thanks to its proximity to the site of the Great Exhibition of 1850, while another at Temple Place is simply known as ‘The Temple’.
As to which is the oldest?
Well, that’s proved a bit of a vexed question. According to listings on the Historic England website, the oldest we could find dated from 1897. They included one located in Hanover Square, another in Russell Square (this having been relocated from its previous position in Leicester Square), and a third in Thurloe Place in South Kensington, opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum.
But there were three for which we could find no details of the date on which they were built. They include one on the Chelsea Embankment near the Albert Bridge, another in St George’s Square in Pimlico, and the final one in Wellington Place in St John’s Wood near Lord’s cricket ground.
Update: According to our cabbie correspondent – see comments below – the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund have said the oldest shelter is that in Kensington Park Road, which they dated to 1877. Historic England have this one listed as dating 1909 – perhaps a rebuild?
Correction: The shelter known as ‘The All Nations’ is in Kensington Road, not Kensington Park Road as originally reported.
PICTURES: Top – The Russell Square shelter (David Nicholls, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Below – the Cabmen’s Shelter in Thurloe Place opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington (Amanda Slater, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)