Where’s London’s oldest…tree?

The Totteridge Yew in 2016. PICTURE: David Skinner
(licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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.

Where’s London’s oldest….(continuously used) cricket green?

Mitcham Green. PICTURE: Google Maps

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.

Where’s London’s oldest…livery company?

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).

Saddler’s Hall in Gutter Lane where the Worshipful Company of Weavers is based out of.

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.

Where’s London’s oldest…(operational) fire station?

New Cross Fire Station in 2007. PICTURE: Danny Robinson (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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.

Where’s London’s oldest…(still-in-use) bridge?

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)

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 52 and 51…

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

52. Where’s London’s oldest…tea shop?

51. Lost London – The Hindoostanee Coffee House…

Where’s London’s oldest…street with house numbers?

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.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 60 and 59…

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

60. 10 (more) curious London memorials…3. William Wallace Memorial…

59. Where’s London’s oldest…public library?

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 62 and 61…

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

62. Lost London – London Bridge

61. Where’s London’s oldest…public toilets?

Where’s London’s oldest…surviving cabmen’s shelter?


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)

Where’s London’s oldest…cheesemonger?

With origins dating back to a cheese stall established by Stephen Cullum in Aldwych in 1742, Paxton & Whitfield are generally said to be the oldest cheesemongers still operating in London (and one of the oldest in the UK).

Cullum’s business was successful enough that in the 1770s he opened a shop in Swallow Street. By 1790 his son Sam had taken over the business and took two new partners – Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield.

In 1835 – with Swallow Street demolished to make way for the construction of Regent Street – Sam moved the business to new premises at 18 Jermyn Street (Sam died the following year).

In 1850, the business received the Royal Warrant of Queen Victoria and just three years later finally settled on the name Paxton and Whitfield which the company still bears to this day.

In 1896, the business moved to its current premises at 93 Jermyn Street and a flurry of Royal Warrants followed – that of King Edward VII in 1901, King George V in 1910, King George VI in 1936, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1972, Prince Charles in 1998 and Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.

The firm, meanwhile, has since passed through several hands but continued on at the same premises (albeit becoming, during the period between the two World Wars, an ordinary grocery shop due to the lack of supply of eggs, butter and cheese).

Business picked up after World War II and the company opened shops in Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath. In 2009 formed a partnership with Parisian cheese mongers, Androuet, and in 2014 it opened a new shop in Cale Street, Chelsea.

For more, see www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk.

PICTURE: Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

 

 

Where’s London’s oldest…bicycle shop?

Thanks to Guinness World Records, Pearson Cycles in Sutton, south-west London, is officially not just London’s but the world’s oldest bicycle shop.

The premises was established by blacksmith Tom Pearson in about 1860 (when Sutton was still a town in Surrey and not at that stage part of London) and he soon found his skills put to use in working on bicycles.

In 1889, Tom was succeeded by his son Harry who moved full-time into the manufacture of bicycles with the Endeavour the first model.

The shop, at 126 High Street in Sutton, is now run by a fifth generation of the family, Guy and Will Pearson. The company also has a shop in East Sheen.

PICTURE: Tony Monblat (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

Exploring London’s 10 most popular posts for 2019…Numbers 2 and 1…

2. Treasures of London – The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I…

and the most popular post of 2019…

1. Where’s London’s oldest…door?

Where’s London’s oldest…door?

Yes, London has an officially dated oldest door. In fact, it’s the oldest door in Britain.

The door is located in Westminster Abbey and is believed to date from the time of King Edward the Confessor, who founded the abbey which was inaugurated in 1065.

Made of five vertical oak planks – all cut from the same tree, most likely felled on abbey lands, possibly in Essex – and held in place by three horizontal iron straps, it opens from the Abbey Cloisters into the octagonal Chapter House’s outer vestibule. In 2005 it was dated, using ring-patterns in the wood, to around 1050.

The door now stands six-and-a-half feet high and four foot wide but it has been cut down. It’s believed the original door was nine foot high and slightly wider.

It’s thought to be probable that both faces were originally covered with animal hide (the iron straps are, unusually recessed into the wood on both sides to enable this, and were covered with decorative iron straps and hinges – only one of decorative straps remains today).

The door may have originally served as the door to the chapter house built for Edward the Confessor’s abbey. It is believed to have been moved into its current location in about 1250 when King Henry III’s Chapter House was built as part of extravagant reconstruction of the abbey.

WHERE: Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £23 adults/£20 concession/£10 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURE: Pjposullivan1 (licensed under CC- BY-SA 2.0)

Where’s London’s oldest…school?

One of the key contenders for the oldest school in London must be St Paul’s Cathedral School, originally established in the 12th century to cater for the education of choristers attending St Paul’s Cathedral (although there had apparently been a school associated with the cathedral since the 7th century).

The school, which has been described as one of the oldest educational institutions in the Western world, dates its establishment to about 1123 and started with just eight boys who were given a home and education in exchange for singing in the cathedral.

The school gradually became two separate institutions – a choir school and a grammar school – with the choristers graduating from the choir school to finish their education at the grammar school.

But in 1511, the grammar school was refounded by Dean John Colet as Saint Paul’s School. It’s now located in Barnes.

The former choristers school, now known as the St Paul’s Cathedral School, became known more for its acting in the 16th and early 17th centuries when the children performed regularly for Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich Palace.

The original school building, which stood in St Paul’s Churchyard, was destroyed in the fire of 1666.

In 1874, the school was re-established in Carter Lane. It moved to its present location in New Change in the 1960s.

While now independent of the cathedral, the establishment now offers a preparatory school for boys and girls aged four to 13 and a residential choir school for the boy choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral. New boarding accommodation is expected to open on the site next year.

PICTURE: The concrete buildings of St Paul’s Cathedral School on the right with the surviving tower of St Augustine’s Church, Watling Street, and St Paul’s Cathedral behind (Google Maps)

Where’s London’s oldest…French patisserie?

The oldest existing French patisserie in London is said to be Maison Bertaux, based in Greek Street in Soho. 

The premises, where you can still indulge in delights including eclairs, croissants and delectable fruit tarts, was founded in 1871 by one Monsieur Bertaux, apparently a French communard from Paris.

It lies at the heart of what was then the city’s French community and located at number 28, stands next door to another Soho landmark, the Coach and Horses pub.

Bertaux apparently ran the business until 1909 and it’s since passed through a number of hands with current owners, sisters Michele and Tania Wade, reported as having taken over in 1988.

Famous patrons have reportedly included writers Virginia Woolf and Karl Marx,  actors Steve McQueen and Nicole Kidman, artist Grayson Perry and musician Bob Geldof. The patisserie also famously made Lily Allen’s wedding cake and hosted the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s 25th birthday party.

Bastille Day celebrations are, of course, a highlight of the year.

For more, see www.maisonbertaux.com.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

Where’s London’s oldest…public swimming pool?


Given the heat, we thought it was a good idea to take a look at where London’s oldest public swimming pool can be found. There’s a couple of contenders but it’s the 
Dulwich Public Baths (now known as the Dulwich Leisure Centre) which we think take the title as the oldest public baths still in use.

Located in Dulwich in the city’s south, the baths opened on 25th June, 1892, and was the first of seven designed by Spalding & Cross. There were two pools for most of the bath’s history but one was covered in the early 1980s and now serves as the main gym area.

The baths were closed and used for as a hospital and refugee housing in World War I and the water in the pools were used to put out fires caused by air raid damage in World War II. The baths have also hosted dances and various sports events over the years.

The pools have been refurbished a couple of times, most recently having undergone a five year redevelopment ahead of its reopening in June, 2011.

The Grade II-listed baths located in Crystal Palace Road were opened just a couple of months before the Camberwell Public Baths, which were also designed by Spalding & Cross, opened on 1st October of the same year (again, one of the two original pools there has now been boarded over).

PICTURE: Top – Dr Neil Clifton (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Below –  (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

Where’s London’s oldest….chophouse?

London’s oldest chophouse, Simpson’s, can be found in the City of London, just off Cornhill, and dates from the mid-18th century.

Thomas Simpson had opened his first ‘Fish Ordinary Restaurant’ in Bell Alley, Billingsgate, in 1723, catering to a clientele made up largely of those working at the Billingsgate (Fish) Market.

When that was demolished, he retired briefly before purchasing the Queen’s Arms in Bird in Hand Court off Cheapside.

Located in Ball Court Alley, Simpson opened the current establishment in 1757 (although the Grade II-listed building itself dates from the late 1600s or possibly early 1700s). It was a gift from his father.

Customs at the restaurant included having meals were presided over a chairman who would ensure lunch started promptly as one (their job also included introducing notable guests and measuring the cheese – a task related to a tradition of placing bets on the height, weight and girth of the cheese).

Seating is arranged in stalls and the layout is apparently consistent with that of the 19th century (although some things, thankfully, have changed – ladies were finally admitted in 1916).

For more, see www.simpsonstavern.co.uk.

PICTURES: Elisa.rolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Where’s London’s oldest…public building with electric lighting?

The Savoy Theatre, located next to the Savoy Hotel just off the Strand in the West End, was the first public building in London to feature electric lighting.

Built to the designs of CJ Phipps and decorated by Collinson and Locke, its construction was instigated and financed by Richard D’Oyly Carte with the specific intention of hosting WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s operas.

Opening on 10th October, 1881, the first show at the new premises was Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, which had been previously playing at the Opera Comique. It continued to solely show Gilbert and Sullivan’s works until 1886 when a falling out led to the end of the partnership between Gilbert and Sullivan.

The theatre subsequently hosted comedic operas by other composers as well as productions of Shakespeare (Henry Irving was among those who trod the boards here in the early 20th century).

It was rebuilt in just 135 days in 1929 and the new premises featured an exterior designed by Frank Tugwell and interior designed by Art Deco expert Basil Ionides.

A fire caused considerable damage in 1990 after which the theatre was again renovated, this time under the guidance of the theatre’s then chairman Sir Hugh Wontner and architect Sir William Whitfield, with the public areas returned to how they had looked under Tugwell and Ionides’ scheme from the 1920s. It reopened in July, 1993, with a Royal Gala performance by the English National Ballet (Diana, Princess of Wales, was among those in attendance).

Now owned by the The Ambassador Theatre Group, the Savoy these days it shows a range of different productions. It’s currently hosting Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5: The Musical. For more, see www.thesavoytheatre.com.

PICTURES: Above – Neon sign for The Savoy Theatre advertising a previous production with the hotel and theatre entrance (Loren Javier/image cropped/licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0); The Savoy Theatre with a Westminster City Council Green Plaque commemorating it being the first public building with electric lighting in London (David Adams).

10 most popular (new) posts of 2018…Numbers 8 and 7…

The next two on our countdown of most popular (new) posts for 2018…

8. 10 islands in the Thames – 1. Chiswick Eyot…

7. Where’s London’s oldest…umbrella shop?