Located on the South Bank of the Thames opposite Whitehall is the former vast headquarters of the London County Council and later, the Greater London Council. The Grade II* listed building, first opened in 1922, these days houses everything from the London Sea Life Aquarium, the London Dungeon and the visitor centre for the London Eye as well as hotels, restaurants and even flats.
It’s a big year for the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch – not only 300 years since the almshouses were first opened to house the poor and elderly, it’s 100 years since the almshouses were converted into the museum which now occupies the site.
With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at the almshouses themselves (we’ve looked at the museum – which features 11 period rooms from the 17th to 20th centuries – a couple of times previously). The Grade I-listed almshouses were built in 1714 by the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, using funds that had been bequeathed to them by Sir Robert Geffrye, a Cornishman who became twice-master of the company and a Lord Mayor of London (there’s a fine statue of him adorning the front of the building).
They comprised 14 houses, each of which had four rooms, and provided accommodation for up to 56 pensioners. Arranged in a U-shape around a courtyard, the two storey almshouses came complete with a chapel which still stands at the centre of the the complex and where residents were expected to attend each week (a walkway which runs around the back of the chapel was added in 1914 offers some great views of the garden).
The almshouses, which had originally been built in what was a largely rural context, remained in use until the early 20th century by which time the area had become one of London’s most crowded with poor sanitation. In 1910, the Ironmongers’ decided to sell off the almshouses and move out to the safer, cleaner area of Mottingham in Kent.
In 1912, the houses and gardens were purchased by the London County Council – attracted by the public open space – and following representations from members of the Arts and Crafts movement, the museum opened its doors in 1914.
It’s still possible to visit a former almshouse – number 14 – which was restored and opened in 2002 and has been furnished to show what life was like there for the pensioners (contrast the sparse furnished there with that with some of the more opulent rooms on display in the museum – and don’t forget to allow some time to visit the gardens; there is also a shop and cafe on site).
WHERE: 136 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch. Nearest tube is Liverpool Street or Old Street (a fair walk) or Hoxton Overground Station (next door); WHEN: The almshouses are open on select days only – check website. The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am-5pm (gardens open until 31st October); COST: £3 for admission to almshouses/admission to the museum and gardens is free; WEBSITE: www.geffrye-museum.org.uk
The return for 2013 of our series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Thanks for the comments Parktown but this ship is not in Rotherhithe nor does it have anything to do with Lloyds! This is part of the decorative scheme of Chelsea Bridge which crosses the Thames between Chelsea and Battersea Park in London’s west. Initially known as Victoria Bridge, the first bridge here opened in 1857 (Albert Bridge, which opened later, is located further west). But increased traffic eventually led to its demolition in the 1930s (it had been renamed some years earlier to avoid the association of a royal name with a bridge which had become structurally unsound) and the current bridge, the first self-anchored suspension bridge (that is, the suspension cables attach to the deck and don’t extend to the ground) in Britain, was opened on the site in 1937. This gilt galleon sits atop a decorative lamp post at the bridge’s entrance (there are several) and below it is the coat-of-arms of the now defunct London County Council.
A residential district in inner west London, the origins of the name Earls Court apparently go back almost to the time of the Norman Conquest when the area was granted to the de Vere family as part of the Manor of Kensington.
The de Veres, who held a court at the manor, were named the Earls of Oxford in 1141 and hence, according to Cyril M. Harris, author of What’s in a Name?: Origins of Station Names on the London Underground, came about the name Earl’s Court. The courthouse, which was demolished in the late 1800s, apparently stood on a site by Old Manor Lane now occupied by gardens.
Originally fertile farmland, Earl’s Court’s development took place in the mid to late 1800s after the arrival of the railway line (the station was built in 1869). The area officially became part of London in 1889 when the London County Council was formed and the city’s boundaries extended.
The area became famous for the Earls Court Exhibition Grounds – established by John Robinson Whitley in 1887 – which featured rides and an arena which hosted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. A giant wheel was added 10 years later.
After the Second World War, the area attracted large numbers of Polish immigrants leading to Earl’s Court Road being named ‘The Danzig Corridor’. The arrival of large numbers of Australian and New Zealander travellers in the late Sixties saw it earning a new nickname – this time ‘Kangaroo Valley’. The area is now undergoing gentrifcation.
Notable buildings include the art deco Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, former home of the Royal Tournament and site of the volleyball competition during this year’s Olympic Games, while notable residents have included the Egyptian archaeologist Howard Carter, film director Alfred Hitchcock, and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
• The London Transport Museum Depot’s ‘Open Weekend’ kicks off on Saturday. The weekend of events at the depot in Gunnersbury Lane, Acton, will feature model railways, the chance to ride the Acton Miniature Railway – on either a replica 1938 tube train or a Metropolitan steam train – as well as heritage buses, and talks by author and broadcaster Christian Wolmar on his books Engines of War and Subterranean Railway. There will also be events specifically for children. The depot is home to more than 370,000 objects including road and rail vehicles, posters and artwork, and ticket machines. Events run from 11am to 5pm (last entry 4pm). There is an admission charge. For more information, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/events
• Brixton Windmill, the only surviving windmill in inner London, will be open to the public from 2nd May after a major restoration project. The Grade II* listed building, located in Windmill Gardens in Brixton, south-east London, was built in 1816 and was owned by the Ashby family until it ceased production in 1934. It was purchased by the London County Council in 1957 but had since fallen into disrepair. The restoration project, which kicked off in October last year, was partly funded by a £397,700 Heritage Lottery Fund grant obtained by Friends of Windmill Gardens and Lambeth Council. It is envisaged that interpretation materials will be installed and a programme of educational activities run at the site – including growing wheat and mixing flour – after the completion of the restoration work. See www.brixtonwindmill.org for more information.
• Giant Olympic Rings were unveiled at St Pancras International earlier this month. The 20 metre wide and nine metre high rings, which have been suspended from the station’s roof, weigh 2,300 kilograms and are made from aluminium. Built in Hertfordshire over four weeks, they took seven nights to install. They’re the first in a series of Olympic Rings that will appear around the city in the lead-up to the 2012 Games. The Olympics was last held in London in 1948.