This Southwark establishment was built to the designs of Surrey surveyor George Gwilt in the 1790s and survived until the late 19th century.

Constructed adjacent to the Sessions House as a replacement for a former Tudor-era jail, it was once the largest prison in the country housing as many as 300 inmates, male and female. Quadrangular in shape, it featured three wings for criminals and a fourth for debtors and was three stories tall.

The prison had a constant turnover of temporary residents – during 1837, it’s recorded that some 1,300 debtors and 2,506 criminals spent time here.

Famous inmates included writer and intellectual Leigh Hunt (imprisoned for two years for libelling the Prince Regent – he met Lord Byron for the first time here) as well as Colonel Edward Despard, an Irishman found guilty of high treason and, along with six others, sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (commuted to hanging and beheading and carried out on 21st February, 1803).

The prison was also a site of executions and more than 130 men and women were apparently executed here (Charles Dickens wrote to The Times of his horror after attending the hangings of murderers Maria and Frederick Manning here).

The executions initially took place on the roof of the gatehouse but were later moved inside the prison.

In the mid-1800s, the prison was renamed the Surrey County Gaol or New Gaol (Horsemonger Lane was renamed Union Road and is now Harper Road).

The gaol was closed in 1878 – it no longer met required standards – and demolished three years later on 1881 and the site is today a public park called Newington Gardens.

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Erected around the turn of the 19th century to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (some put the date  of its erection at about 1897; others in about 1905), the clocktower replaced an obelisk that had previously stood in the centre of St George’s Circus in  Southwark.

The rather ornate tower was designed by architect and engineer Jan F Groll and featured four oil lamps to help light the intersection, described as the first purpose-built traffic junction in England.

It survived until the late 1930s when it was demolished after being described as a nuisance to traffic.

Meanwhile, the Robert Mylne-designed obelisk had been first erected in 1771 and marked one mile from Palace Yard, one mile 40 feet from London Bridge and one mile, 350 feet from Fleet Street (Mylne, incidentally, was the architect of the original Blackfriars Bridge).

Following its removal, it was taken to Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park where it stood until 1998 when it was moved back to its position in St George’s Circus where it now stands. It was Grade II*-listed in 1950.

There’s a replica of the obelisk in Brookwood Cemetery – it marks the spot where bodies taken from the crypt of the Church of St George the Martyr, located in Borough High Street, in 1899 were reinterred to ease crowding.

PICTURE: Once the site of a clocktower, the obelisk has since been returned to St George’s Circus (Martin Addison/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

Looking across the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court of the British Museum, off Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. Designed by Foster and Partners, the two acre court opened in 2000 and was at the time the largest covered public square in Europe. It’s glass and steel roof features more than 3,300 panes of glass, no two of which are the same. The court features a Reading Room at its centre.

PICTURE: Viktor Forgacs/Unsplash

Opened on 22nd January, 1876, this short-lived building at the junction of Tothill and Victoria Streets in Westminster – across the road from Westminster Abbey, was designed as an entertainment venue offering a space for art exhibitions, concerts and plays in similar fashion to that of the famous Crystal Palace then located in Sydenham.

The classically styled and highly ornamented two storey building was designed by Alfred Bedborough and built of Portland stone and red brick. Its initial board of directors included composer Arthur Sullivan (he of Gilbert and Sullivan fame), retailer William Whiteley, and financier Henry Labouchére, covered an area of almost three acres.

It featured a central hall which stood 340 feet in length and 160 feet wide and was covered with a barrel-shaped iron and glass roof. The interior featured palm trees and other exotic plants, fountains, sculptures, space for a 400 member orchestra, and, 13 large tanks for sea creatures which were fed with fresh and sea water from four cisterns

These tanks, which gave the premises its name as well as its nickname, ‘The Tank’, didn’t prove all that successful. They were initially left empty, prompting author Charles Dickens to note that they become something of a “standing joke”, and even as late as 1896 were described as providing a “beggarly show of fish”.

As well as the main hall, the premises also boasted multiple smaller rooms including eating and drinking establishments, an art gallery, ice-skating rink, reading room, telegraph office, and, at its west end, the Aquarium Theatre, which in 1879 was renamed the Imperial Theatre. There was even apparently a division bell installed for MPs visiting from the nearby Houses of Parliament.

By the 1890s, the entertainments had become more low-brow and the building had become associated with illicit sexual liaisons. Its popularity declined.

In 1903, it was sold to the Methodist Church and Methodist Central Hall was built on the site in 1911. The theatre, however, wasn’t demolished until 1907 – the interior, however, was saved and apparently re-erected as the Imperial Palace of Varieties in Canning Town in 1909 (which itself was destroyed by fire in 1931).

PICTURE: A from 1896 book, The Queen’s London: a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, showing the Royal Aquarium in c1876.

PICTURE: Jack Finnigan/Unsplash

Pontack’s was a City of London eating house specialising in French cuisine that took its name from owner Pontack.

Pontack (his Christian name is apparently unknown) was said by some to have been the son of the president of the Parliament of Bordeaux, Arnaud de Pontac although this claim has been disputed by Brian Cowen, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Regardless, Pontack used a portrait of Arnaud as his sign and as a result, the establishment – which he opened on the former site of the White Bear Tavern at 16-17 Lombard Street after the Great Fire of 1666 – was popularly known as “Pontack’s Head”.

Arnaud de Pontac owned French vineyards which produced renowned wine and Pontack also capitalised on this connection in selling fine French wines to his clientele.

Cowen records that Pontack’s was relocated to the east side of Abchurch Lane in 1688-90 (his old premises were occupied by Edward Lloyd, founder of the famous Lloyd’s Coffee House).

The eating house was favourite of the elite, patronised by everyone from Jonathan Swift to Sir Christopher Wren and John Evelyn and was the location of the Royal Society’s annual dinners following its relocation until 1746 (when the society moved the dinners to the Devil Tavern).

It’s apparently not known when Pontack died – a date of about 1711 is suggested – but after his death, the establishment was taken over by one Susannah Austin who was married to a Lombard Street banker. It is not known when the establishment ceased trading.

PICTURE: Looking northward along Abchurch Lane today (Google Maps).

This grand mansion, which once stood on the south side of Soho Square (then called King’s Square), was built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and ill-fated illegitimate son of King Charles II) in the early 1680s during the early development of the square.

The duke only lived in the property briefly before he headed off to the Netherlands (and was later, in 1685, was executed on Tower Hill for his failed rebellion against the king).

The three storey brick house stood around three sides of a courtyard (some suggest it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren).

The house, which was left unfinished, stood empty for some time after the duke’s death before, in 1689, part of it was briefly turned into a chapel for Huguenot refugees, known as the L’Église du Quarré (they located in 1694).

The house was sold by the Duchess of Monmouth to Sir James Bateman, Lord Mayor of London and a Sub-Governor of the South Sea Company, in 1716, and subsequently remodelled, apparently to the designs of architect Thomas Archer.

Bateman died in 1718 and his eldest son, William (later 1st Viscount Bateman), lived here until 1739. The property was late let to a succession of dignitaries – including the French and Russian ambassadors – and briefly was under consideration for use as a boy’s school.

It was eventually demolished in 1773 and Bateman’s Buildings now occupy the site. A plaque identifies the site as the former location of the mansion.

PICTURE: An 18th century engraving of Monmouth House.

A monumental-sized building on Old Street in the City of London, St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics was founded in 1751 to treat the poor who suffered from mental illnesses.

The new hospital – which was built partly through concerns about abuses patients suffered at the more famous Royal Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam) – was initially located on a site in Moorfields which had been formerly occupied by a foundry. But in 1786 it moved to the purpose-built palatial premises in Old Street where it remained until 1916.

The new building, which was designed by George Dance after an competition for its design apparently failed to find a suitable candidate, had a 150 metre long street frontage with a central entrance and male wards on one side and female wards on the other.

The building contained some 300 individual cells – each had a small window, but no heating. There were gardens located behind it and in the basement were cold water baths used to treat patients.

The hospital building was enlarged in the 1840s when infirmaries and a chapel were added.

By the 1860s, the hospital appears to have abandoned its target market of the poor – the 150 or so patients were then described as being of “middle class”.

In 1916, the patients were transferred to other institutions – the charity running the hospital set up a ward in Middlesex Hospital – or sent home and the buildings were acquired by the Bank of England.

The premises was used to print banknotes until the 1950s and the building, which had been damaged during World War I, was eventually demolished in 1963.

The archive of St Luke’s have been digitised and are held by the Wellcome Library.

Located behind what was once Montague House (now the site of the British Museum) in Bloomsbury, this field – also referred to as the Brother’s Steps, so the story goes, was once the site of where two brothers both died after fighting a duel.

The more romantic version of the story has the two men – both soldiers in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 – fighting over a woman they were both in love with; another version said they had taken different sides in the conflict.

Either way, it was said that after the duel, no grass would ever grow on the 40 footsteps where they had trod (and, in the romantic version, no grass also grew on the tussock at the centre of the field where the woman had watched the tragedy unfold).

The field apparently became something of a tourist attraction during the 18th century – poet Robert Southey was among those known to have gone there (although he apparently counted 76 footprints). It was suggested by some wags that, rather than a supernatural explanation, no grass grew on the steps because of the number of people treading on them.

The story continued to attract public interest in the ensuing years with theatrical productions and newspaper articles and even a children’s book in the 1970s.

The exact site of the field remains a matter of conjecture – among sites suggested are a carpark behind Senate House to the west of Russell Square, Tavistock Square and Torrington Square.

PICTURE: Field posed by a model. (Elizabeth Lies/Unsplash).

Little remains of this priory which once stood on the banks of the River Wandle in Surrey (and is now encompassed in Greater London).

The priory, which was founded as an Augustinian house in the early 12th century, rose to become one of the most influential in all of southern Britain.

The institution was created thanks to Gilbert, the Sheriff of Surrey, Huntington and Cambridge, who was granted the village of Merton by King Henry I. Gilbert came to live in Merton and there established a priory, building a church and small huts on land thought to be located just to the west of where the priory was later located.

Gilbert had been impressed with what he’d seen of the Augustinians, also known as the Austin friars, at Huntington and so gave control of the new church to their sub-prior, Robert Bayle, along with the land and a mill.

It was based on Bayle’s advice that the site of the priory was then moved to its second location and a new, larger wooden chapel built with William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, coming to bless the cemetery. The canons – there were now 17 – moved in on 3rd May, 1117.

Among the high profile people to visit the new priory was Queen Matilda, who brought her son William with her. In the early 1100s, a certain Thomas Becket (later the ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury) received an education here as did Nicolas Breakspeare (later the first English Pope, Adrian IV).

The priory expanded considerably over the next century and in 1217 its chapter house was the location of a peace conference between King Henry III and Louis, the Dauphin of France. The Statutes of Merton – a series of legal codes relating to wills – were formulated here in 1236.

The connection with royalty continued – in the mid-1340s, King Edward III is thought to have passed the Feast of the Epiphany here while King Henry VI apparently had a crowning ceremony here – the first outside of Westminster Abbey for more than 300 years – in 1437.

The priory remained in use until the Dissolution of King Henry VIII. The demolition of the buildings apparently started even before the priory had been formally surrendered to the commissioners – stones from its building was used in the construction of Henry’s new palace – Nonsuch – as well as, later, in the construction of local buildings.

The site came to be referred to as ‘Merton Abbey’ and, passing through various hands, was used to garrison Parliamentarian troops during the Civil War. It later became a manufacturing facility, works for the dying and printing of textiles, one of which became the workshops of William Morris.

Some of the priory buildings survived for some years after but the only remains now left as sections of the perimeter wall (the arch which now stands over the entrance to Merton parish church is reconstructed – there’s another ornamental gateway in the outer court wall which was also replaced with a replica in the 1980s).

The foundations of the unusually large chapter house, meanwhile, have been excavated and are now preserved in a specially constructed enclosure under a roadway. Construction is now underway to build better public access to the remains.

PICTURE: A ceiling boss from Merton Priory which still bears traces of its original red paint and guilding. It was found during excavations at Nonsuch Palace in 1959-60 is now on display in the Museum of London. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) (licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0).

This medieval-era church, located on Broad Street in the City of London, survived the Great Fire of 1666 but was demolished in the early 20th century when, due to the lack of residents in the City, it was no longer needed as a church.

The church, also sometimes referred to as St Peter-le-Poor, was in existence by the end of the 12th century but it’s thought the name ‘le poer’ (generally said to refer to either the poverty of the surrounding area or its proximity to an Augustinian monastery) didn’t come to be added until the 16th century.

The church was rebuilt in 1540 and then enlarged and repaired – including the addition of a new steeple – in the first half of the 17th century.

By 1788, the church had, however, fallen into such disrepair that it had to be rebuilt and the new building, designed by Jesse Gibson and located further back from Broad Street (into which it had previously projected), was consecrated in November, 1792.

The layout of the new church was somewhat unusual – the altar was located on the north-west side of the church, opposite the entrance (altars were traditionally located in the east), and the nave was circular with a wooden gallery running around the interior.

There was a large lantern in the centre with glass walls. The entrance on the eastern side of the church, featured a facade which gave no hint of the circular nature of the building behind – it featured a square tower and columned entrance.

With the declining population living in the City of London, the church was no longer needed as a place of worship by the early 20th century and so it was demolished in 1907.

The parish was united with St Michael Cornhill and the proceeds from the sale of the site were used to build the church of St Peter-le-Poer in Friern Barnet. This church was also given the City property’s font, pulpit and panelling.

 

Famous for its mentions by Charles Dickens, Jacob’s Island – located in Bermondsey – was not actually a true island.

It was a small parcel of land formed into an “island” thanks to its location in a loop of the Neckinger River and, on the south side of the loop, a man-made ditch which was used as a mill run for Bermondsey Abbey.

The “island” – which on a modern map was located just to the south of the street known as Bermondsey Wall West, east of Mill Street, west of George Row and north of Wolseley Street, was home to a notorious slum or “rookery” between the 18th and early 19th centuries,

It was most famously mentioned in Charles Dickens’ book, Oliver Twist and was where the notorious Bill Sikes died in the mud of ‘Folly Ditch’ – a reference to the ditch surrounding the island – as he attempted to elude the authorities.

Dickens describes Jacob’s Island in the book as a place “where the buildings on the banks are dirtiest and the vessels on the river blackest with the dust of colliers and the smoke of close-built low roofed houses, there exists the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London”. In the preface to the 1867 edition of the book, he even wrote of its ongoing existence which was apparently doubted by one City alderman, saying “Jacob’s Island continues to exist (like an ill-bred place as it is) in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, though improved and much changed”.

The slum itself existed until the late-1800s – much of it was razed in a fire of 1861 – in subsequent decades, the ditches surrounding it were filled in and the area redeveloped into warehouses.

The River Neckinger, incidentally, is one of London’s ‘lost rivers’. Its name means ‘devil’s neckerchief’ or ‘devil’s necklace’ – a reference to the hangman’s noose – and it is believed to refer in here to the gibbet from which pirates were hung close to the mouth of where the river entered the Thames at nearby St Saviour’s Dock and where their bodies left to deter others from taking a similar path.

PICTURE: Top – Jacob’s Island and Folly Ditch, an engraving from a book published in 1873 (Internet Archive Book Images/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Right – ‘Folly Ditch’, pictured here in about 1840.

 

Humans might be struggling to stay warm as the ‘Beast from the East’ hits the city but at ZSL London Zoo, the penguins are feeling very much at home. PICTURE: © ZSL London Zoo


An ornate turreted building in South Kensington, construction of the Imperial Institute began in 1887 – the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Designed by Thomas Edward Collcutt and paid for almost entirely by public subscription, the huge 213 metre long building featured three “Renaissance-style” towers with copper covered domes. Foremost among them was the 87 metre high Queen’s Tower (initially known as the Collcutt Tower after the architect).

Officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1893 (although the building was apparently never completed), the building – which was built to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – was intended as an exhibition space to showcase the Empire’s industrial and commercial resources and also as a location for research and meetings.

The idea for a permanent exhibition space for colonial “produce” had apparently been enthusiastically backed by the Prince of Wales (and the Queen herself) following a series of exhibitions showcasing the wares of India and the colonies in preceding years.

But the enthusiasm for the institute, said to have cost more than £350,000, quickly waned (perhaps because of a vagueness over its purpose) and despite efforts to encourage people to use it through introducing “attractions” like a billiards room, the financial position of the institute became somewhat straitened.

Help came from the University of London which took over half of the building just six years later in 1899 and other tenants followed in attempt to keep money for maintenance flowing. Various government departments took on responsibility for the building in the following years.

With its purpose increasingly questioned by the middle of the 20th century, when Imperial College needed to expand, it was decided to demolish the building. Demolition started in 1957 and ran into the mid-1960s. Thanks to public protests led by Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, the Queen’s Tower, however, was preserved and is now part of Imperial College.

The tower, which once had a public viewing gallery (now closed) contains 10 bells, known as the Alexandra Peal, which are hung about halfway up the tower. They given by a Mrs Elizabeth A Miller, of Melbourne, Australia, in 1892 as a gift and are named after Queen Victoria, the then Prince and Princess of Wales, and other children and grandchildren of the Queen. They are rung on important college occasions.

Meanwhile, the institute, renamed the Commonwealth Institute, relocated to Kensington High Street. It later went into liquidation. That site now houses the recently unveiled Design Museum.

PICTURE: Top – Imperial Institute during the Edwardian era (public domain); Below –  The Queen’s Tower is all that now remains of the institute (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

This rather large fountain once stood in Mayfair as a tribute to literary greats Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Milton.

Designed by Thomas Thorneycroft (and apparently funded from wealth of a lady who died intestate but who had apparently always advocated for the location of a fountain on the site), the fountain stood on the centre of what is now a roundabout at the intersection of Old Park Lane and Hamilton Place.

Unveiled in July, 1875, it featured the three poets standing on various sides of a central pillar (Shakespeare taking pride of place looking towards Hyde Park). Below them sat three muses and above them, on top of a central column, stood a figure representing fame, blowing a trumpet.

The fountain,  and survived until World War II during which it sustained damaged. It was dismantled in 1948 and only the figure of ‘Fame’ is believed to have survived.

 


Two Blackfriars Bridges – a vehicle and pedestrian bridge, and a railway bridge – still span the River Thames from the City of London on the north bank to South Bank. But just beside the railway bridge stand some large red pylons – the remains of the first Blackfriars Railway Bridge. 

This bridge was built in 1864 to accommodate the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) when it was extended north across the river to what was then named St Paul’s Station (at least until 1937 when it became Blackfriars Station).

The ornate bridge was designed by Joseph Cubitt but within 20 years of its being built, the second, still existing, railway bridge was constructed alongside it to provide more space for trains (the original bridge apparently only had four tracks).

The ornately decorated first bridge was supported on three rows of pylons – the third was incorporated into the second bridge (which is why we now only see two rows).

After 1923, when train services began to terminate at Waterloo Station on the south side of the river, the bridge was rarely used but it wasn’t until many years later, in 1985, that it was declared too weak to support the current crop of trains and removed.

As well as the pylons, on the south side of the river can be seen a massive abutment of Portland stone featuring the ornate cast iron insignia of the former LCDR (above right). Grade II-listed, it was restored in about 1990.

PICTURES: Top – The wub/licensed under The wub; Right – SyndVer/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The countdown continues…

4. Lost London – Pasqua Rosee’s Coffee House…

3. Where’s London’s oldest…street sign?

Come back tomorrow for the two most popular posts…


More correctly known as the crypt of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, this subterranean chamber dates from the 12th century and is the oldest surviving part of what remains of the priory.

Based close to St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell – another surviving section of the monastery, the partly Romanesque crypt features some magnificent 16th century monuments including the rather skeletal-looking funeral effigy of the last prior, Sir William Weston, who apparently died on the very day the priory was dissolved in May, 1540 (he apparently collapsed on hearing the news).

The crypt also contains a 16th century tomb effigy (pictured below) believed to be that of Don Juan Ruiz de Vergara, a Castilian Knight Hospitaller who died fighting the Turks at sea off the coast of Marseilles (it had apparently formerly been located in Valladolid Cathedral in Spain and was donated by a member of the order (and first Keeper of the London Museum, now known as the Museum of London), Sir Guy Francis Laking, in 1915). Understood to have been the work of Esteban Jordan, sculptor to King Philip II of Spain, the knight bears the eight pointed star of the order on his breastplate.

Meanwhile, the stained glass in the crypt chapel’s east lights depict the entombment of Christ as well as Raymond du Puy (Grand Master of the Order of St John from 1118–60), St John the Baptist and St Ubaldesca. Other stained glass windows in the chapel depict saints like St George, Andrew, Patrick and David and some of the English branch’s priors and knights.

Other items of interest in the crypt include a 13th century font, originally from a church in Buckinghamshire, and a stone fragment from the pavement of the Grotto of the Nativity at Bethlehem.

The priory once served as the English headquarters for Order of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller. The order was founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to care for the sick and poor, and spread across Europe. The English ‘branch’ established on 10 acres just outside the City walls apparently by a knight, Jorden de Briset. It was dissolved, as we’ve already heard, in 1540.

WHERE: Crypt, St John’s Church, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: The crypt can only be visited on tours – public tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; COST: Free (a suggested £5 donation); WEBSITE: www.museumstjohn.org.uk.

Designed by Witherdon Young, this 24 metre long arcade on the Strand was built in 1830 and was famously topped with glass domes. 

Named after Lord Lowther, Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests, when this section of the Strand was improved, the arcade’s 24 small shops initially sold luxury goods and various items but by the mid 19th century they were nearly all toyshops, making this a popular place for children (and particularly so, one might assume, at Christmas time!).

The northern part of the arcade was initially home to the Adelaide Gallery, described as a “National Gallery of Practical Science, Blending Instructions with Amusements” – this part of the building later became an amusement hall and then a puppet theatre.

The arcade was demolished in 1904 to make way for the construction of Coutts Bank.

PICTURE: Lowther Arcade as seen in an engraving published in a periodical in 1832.

The moniker of this Soho street owes its origins to the Greek Orthodox Church – London’s first – which was built in the area following an influx of Greeks in the 17th century.

The street was laid out in the 1670-80s and along with taverns, coffee houses and tradesmen’s workshops, also had some aristocratic tenants such as the 5th Earl of Anglesey. Casanova stayed in the street when visiting in 1764 and writer Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater, also lodged here temporarily.

Other tenants have included Josiah Wedgwood who had a warehouse and showrooms here from 1774 to 1797. Number 1, the House of St Barnabas, was once the home of twice Lord Mayor of London, William Beckford, and also the location where Sir Joseph Bazalgette commenced work on designing the city’s famed sewer system (it was then the offices of the Westminster Commissioners Sewers). It’s now a private members club.

The church, meanwhile, was soon taken over by the French Protestants who came into the area and eventually demolished in 1936. A remnant of the church, an inscription which was once embedded in the wall of the church, was salvaged and apparently taken to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia in Bayswater.

Current premises based in the street include pubs like the Pillars of Hercules (number 7) and Coach and Horses (number 29) as well as establishments such as The Gay Hussar restaurant (number 2) and French patisserie Maison Bertaux (number 28).