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.

This Whitechapel establishment, located a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge, is a remarkable survivor with roots going back to the Victorian age.

The pub originally dates from around 1880 but the current building was constructed in 1913.

The pub was named in in honour of Princess Victoria (aka “Vicky” to her family), daughter of Queen Victoria, who married Fredrick William, Crown Prince of Prussia, in 1858, and who, following their marriage, went on to have eight children including  Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Once an outlet for Truman’s Brewery in East London (and later for Scotland & Newcastle), the pub is now part of the Shepherd Neame chain.

The property at 15 Prescot Street has only recently undergone a renovation (one of several over its lifetime) which saw signboards removed and earlier Truman, Hanbury Buxton & Co signs revealed. It has a dark timbered Victorian interior and a rear garden.

For more, head to www.princessofprussia.co.uk.

PICTURES: Top – Google Maps; Right – R4vi (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

MOLA archaeologists have started excavating the site of The Boar’s Head Playhouse in Middlesex Street, Whitechapel, before construction of a new student housing complex. The playhouse, the location of which is known from historical accounts, was created in 1598 when inn owner Oliver Woodliffe converted his establishment by adding tiered galleries, a stage and central open air yard (extra galleries and a roof over the stage were added a year later). The playhouse hosted popular acting troupes including Lord Derby’s Men and the Lord Worcester’s Men, later the Queen’s Men, led by the famous actor and playwright Thomas Greene, and among the plays performed was the comedy No-body and Some-body as well as a chronicle of the life and reign of Elizabeth I, If You Know Not Me, You Know No Bodie. It is hoped the excavations will provide new insights into the theatre. The accommodation, being developed by Unite Students, will provide housing for 915 students and is expected to open in 2021. PICTURES: Top – Archaeologists record an 18th century clay tobacco pipe kiln built against 16th century walls associated with the Boar’s Head playhouse © MOLA; Below – Reconstruction of the Boar’s Head Playhouse from 1598, by C Walter Hodges.

 


Long out of active service, London’s Mail Rail service has recently made a comeback as a tourist attraction (which means you can now experience it for yourself!)

The Mail Rail – more officially known as the London Post Office Railway – was initially opened in 1927 as a more efficient means of moving the mail than fighting traffic congestion above ground.

The six-and-a-half mile (10.5 kilometre) route linked the Paddington sorting office in the west, the centrally located Mount Pleasant sorting office and depot, and the Whitechapel sorting office in the east. The main tunnel sits at about 21 metres underground.

The system operated for 22 hours a day and hauled tons of mail through up to nine stations. There were even plans to extend it to the north and the south.

The Mail Rail was eventually closed in 2003 with the Royal Mail, rather ironically given its origins, apparently citing the costs of using it compared to road transport.

These days, the Mail Rail serves as one of the attractions at the new Postal Museum and, located in the former engineering depot, offers a 20 minute ride through stalactite-filled tunnels beneath what was the Mount Pleasant sorting office.

WHERE: Mail Rail at The Postal Museum, 15-20 Phoenix Place, Mount Pleasant, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations are Chancery Lane and Russell Square); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily (except from 24th to 26th December) COST: £16 adult/£14.30 concession/£8 child (includes donation/timed ride on Mail Rail and general admission to exhibition); WEBSITE: www.postalmuseum.org/discover/attractions/mail-rail-ride/.

PICTURES: Above and right – The Mail Rail as it is today; and a curve in the tracks (© Postal Museum); Below – London Post Office Railway cars from 1930, now at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre (Oxyman/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

• It’s another weekend of celebration in London with events including Trooping the Colour and the Hampton Court Palace Festival taking place. With Diamond Jubilee fever in the air, expect crowds for this year’s Trooping the Color – the annual celebration of the Queen’s birthday – held at Horse Guards Parade on Saturday. The procession down The Mall kicks off at 10am  with the flypast back at Buckingham Palace at 1pm (organisers advice getting your place by 9am – for more, follow this link). The Hampton Court Palace Festival, meanwhile, kicks off today with a performance by Liza Minnelli and runs through next week until John Barrowman performs at the festival’s closing next Saturday (24th June). The festival, set against the backdrop of Hampton Court Palace, this year celebrates its 20th year – among other performers are Van Morrison, James Morrison, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and this Saturday (16th June) sees the holding of the 20th Anniversary Classical Gala and fireworks. For more, see http://hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com/. PICTURE: Trooping the Colour 2011.

• Park Lane’s central reservation is now hosting three new large scale sculptures by artist William Turnbull, considered a pioneer of modernism. The three works – 3×1 (1966), Large Horse (1990) and Large Blade Venus (1990) – have been installed as part of Westminster City Council’s ‘City of Sculpture’ festival. The works are on loan from the artist as well as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Chatsworth House, where they have been recently displayed.

• Professor Keith Simpson, a pathologist who has conducted post-mortems as part of the investigation into some of the country’s most infamous murders, has been honored with a green plaque at his former residence at 1 Weymouth Street by Wesminster City Council. The cases he worked on include the 1949 Acid Bath Murders (John George Haigh was hanged for the murder of six people in August that year) and the murder of gangster George Cornell, shot dead by Ronnie Kray in Whitechapel’s Blind Beggar Pub in 1966. Professor Simpson, who died in 1985, worked in the field of pathology for more than 30 years, taught at Guy’s Hospital in London and was renowned as having performed more autopsies than anyone else in the world.

• Now On: Londoners at Play. This exhibition at the Getty Images Gallery in Eastcastle Street explores through images how Londoners spent their leisure time – from the 19th century through to today. The display features 57 images including an image of ‘Last Night of the Proms’ from 1956 featuring conductor Sir Malcolm Sergeant, a print taken from a glass plate negative showing Londoners cycling in Royal Parks in 1895 and a crowd watching a Punch and Judy show in Covent Garden in 1900. Admission is free. Runs until 25th August. For more, see www.gettyimagesgallery.com/Exhibitions/Default.aspx.

• Now On: Gold: Power and Allure – 4,500 Years of Gold Treasures from across Britain. This exhibition at the Goldsmith’s Hall showcases more than 400 gold items, dating from 2,500 BC through to today. Admission is free. Runs until 28th July. For more information, see www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk.