A New River for London

There cannot be many commoners who have given their name to so many parts of London as Sir Hugh Myddleton (or had their name mis-spelt as much), and today marks the 400th anniversary of the opening of his venture to bring water into London from Hertfordshire. Londoners only had access to water from wells or from the filthy Thames, via a large waterwheel at London Bridge. A challenge issued by King James that finally brought a solution to the problem.

[H]aving made his fortune in London as the Royal Jeweller to King James I,  Sir Hugh Myddleton proposed to construct a water conduit from Amwell in Hertfordshire into the capital. His scheme was to run the water’s flow along the 100ft contour line but he met with vociferous opposition to the scheme as it ran its sinuous path across farmers’ fields on its route to London.

220px-Statue_Of_Sir_Hugh_Middleton-Royal_Exchange-LondonSir Hugh Myddleton’s statue on the Royal Exchange

Some evidence of his venture can still be seen, in Enfield Town a little park has the New River running through it before going underground. Popping up again at Bush Hill Park as it wends its way through Palmers Green disappearing underground again when it reaches Myddleton Road at Bowes Park. It next appears alongside the two reservoirs constructed for this venture by the Amhurst Park and Seven Sisters Road junction before going underground at – yes, you’ve guessed it – Myddleton Avenue, with a final above ground appearance in Cannonbury at New River Walk.

The original venture comprising of over 38 miles terminated at New River Head was opened on 29th September 1613 when water was let into the Round Pond at New River Head at the site of the Thames Water Board’s headquarters (now converted into flats) at the corner of Rosebery Avenue and Hardwick Street.

Water was then taken from the reservoir into the city in pipes made from hollowed elm logs and then into individual houses through lead pipes. By 1670, up to two-thirds of houses in many parts of London had running water thanks to the New River.

The cost of the scheme proved beyond the means of Myddleton’s private fortune and he approached the King for help. As he was the Crown jeweller the King agreed to pay half the cost of the whole undertaking for half the profit as a sleeping partner. It proved a good investment by 1700 a single share paid about £200 a year but and by 1766 it was worth £8,000 a year.

The New River Company remained London’s most important water supplier for 300 years and the venture is commemorated in many ways around the Islington area of north London.

Sir Hugh Myddleton’s house at Myddleton Corner was at 140-3 Upper Street, built in 1595 the building was rebuilt in 1891 and a terracotta plaque on the first floor attests to this. Myddleton Hall is to be found in Almeida Street and now used as the Almeida Theatre.

Sir_Hugh_Myddleton,_Islington_Green_-_geograph_org_uk_-_320766 Sir Hugh Myddleton’s statue Islington Green

Islington’s finest square is Myddelton Square just south of the Angel, off the square is River Street which runs into Amwell Street commemorating the source of the water supply in Hertfordshire. Almost opposite the old Water Board’s headquarters stands Hugh Myddelton Junior and Infant School in Myddelton Street and Myddleton’s statute is to be found on Islington Green facing towards the end of his venture.

There is a fountain playing at the corner of Rosebery Avenue and Arlington Way where Sadler’s Wells still stands which and marks the New River’s final destination.

myddelton arms Myddelton Arms Canonbury Road, Islington

Other London streets that bear Myddleton’s name include: Myddelton Close EN1; Myddelton Gardens N21; Myddelton Park N20; Myddelton Passage EC1; Myddelton Road N8; Myddleton Mews N22.

The Shock of the Old

Nothing quite prepares you for what must be one of the greatest experiences in London: you’ve enjoyed a pre-theatre drink looking across the Thames at Wren’s masterpiece, itself a view not seen outside any other London venue.

Entering a bland modern foyer and milling around, it has the same buzz of anticipation all theatre audiences experience before curtain up.

[T]he usher examines your ticket as you approach the auditorium, if that is the right word, and you enter one of London’s most amazing spaces. A perfect circle about 100ft in diameter gives an immediate sense of intimacy. You might be sharing this space with 1,500 other theatre-goers, but you feel almost part of the performance.

Three tiers of wooden benches tower above you giving height to this amazing structure, and on the roof, thatch, not seen on any other building in the capital since The Great Fire.

For those theatregoers used to the Edwardian proscenium arch with the stage below and the audience kept at a safe distance, watching a production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a truly memorable experience.

GlobePit_&_Main_stage For the Globe has a thrust stage that projects into a circular yard where for £10 ‘groundlings’ can stand and watch the performance, but a word of warning here, the roof only covers the stage and the seating areas. So if it rains, and well you are in London, as a groundling you get wet.

If you splash out for the dearer seats invest in a cushion, they can be hired before the performance to protect one’s posterior from the unforgiving oak benches.

Performances are designed to replicate Elizabethan theatre, staged often during daylight hours, no microphones, speakers or amplification, with music played on period instruments.

The entire building has been constructed from English oak using traditional joints making it an authentic 16th century timber-framed building.

There are some nods to modernity, the thatched roof is protected with fire retardant and sprinklers (it’s how the last Globe burnt down), the pit where you stand as a groundling is concrete unlike in the 16th century where compressed earth strewn with rotting reeds was beneath your feet. The capacity of the modern Globe has been reduced by 50 per cent with a nod to health and safety.

Last year the World Shakespeare Festival as part of the Cultural Olympiad celebrated London 2012, all of Shakespeare’s 38 plays were performed in 38 different languages, at the Globe Theatre, next year we celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and in 2016 the 400th of his death. Let’s just hope we don’t burn down the Globe again.

This article has been written to recognise the author’s contribution to travel and tourism by
Avis Car Hire on the A-List Awards 2013.

Out-Eiffeling the Eiffel Tower

Riling the French has been a national sport since before Waterloo, but no one has taken it to the lengths that Sir Edward Watkin did 150 years ago in Wembley.

In 1869 he proposed constructing a tunnel under the English Channel and had actually started digging when it was pointed out that he lacked the necessary planning permission both in Kent and on the French side.

[U]ndeterred he planned to beat the Frenchies by building an Eiffel Tower – only taller. He established the Metropolitan Tower Construction Company and attracted many anti-Franco loyal subscribers.

He contacted M. Eiffel to design the tower but with the stipulation of making it 150 ft higher than the original, although unsurprisingly the French engineer declined the generous offer.

Sir Edward then announced a competition, with a prize of 500 guineas which attracted dozens of designs for his tower. The submissions came from as far afield as Sweden, Turkey and Australia, and included the Leaning Tower of Pisa – only erect. One bedecked with hanging gardens and with a nod to modernity it was intended to house a community of vegetarians.

The winner designed a copy of Paris’s original and in 1891 work began on 280 acres of the hallow turf that Wembley Stadium now stands.

More than 100,000 people came to see the work in progress, but it quickly became obvious that funds were not available to complete this monument to patriotism.

The tower became known as ‘The Shareholder’s Dismay’ and stopped at 150ft prompting locals to demand recompense for spoiling their views with his ugly stump.

It wasn’t until 1907 that fewer than a dozen people turned up to watch as demolition experts blew up the whole sad assembly.

Rising from the wreckage of Watkin’s folly 16 years later was the Empire Stadium the centrepiece of the British Empire Exhibition. With its twin towers it soon became the shrine to English football until it was demolished in 2003.

The London Grill: Mick Ford

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.


[M]ick Ford is an actor and screenwriter best known to cabbies probably for playing Chris in Jack Rosenthal’s The Knowledge. He was also Archer, the vegetarian rebel, in Scum, and worked at the RSC and The National. These days Mick’s a script writer and has been responsible for three series of William and Mary, episodes of Ashes to Ashes and George Gently, as well as Single Father with David Tennant and more recently, The Last Weekend. Mick is married to Rudi Davies.

What’s your secret London tip?
For LSO concerts at the Barbican, children under 16 get in for £4 – whatever the seat: buy a top price one, and they sit next to you – for £4.

What’s your secret London place?
Bird Cage Walk on any Armistice Day from 10:10 to 10:50. I take my children each year – there are very few people there but you get to see all the Military Bands marching by, playing – and every member of the royal family attending the ceremony.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Too expensive – everything’s too expensive – especially for a family.

What’s your favourite building?
Westminster Abbey – surround yourself with history – feel the past.

What’s your most hated building?
City of London Boys School, opposite Tate modern – hideous bunker.

What’s the best view in London?
Waterloo Bridge: the view from the south side just past the National Theatre, both ways, up and down the river, is so beautiful at night.

What’s your personal London landmark?
Sadler’s Wells rehearsal room – it’s where I first set eyes on Rudi Davies in 1986.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
London: The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
The Lord Stanley – Camden Park Road. Good beer – good wine – good food – no TV – a garden – just round the corner…..

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Walk my dog on the Heath, watch the Cricket at Lords for a couple of hours, then it’s Arsenal v Man U at the Emirates, (don’t ask who I’m supporting), and a loud concert at the Hammersmith Apollo.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

Sentinels of our streets

Boris described it as “a national treasure of global importance”, and yet one of London’s least known museums boasts an average of just 10 visitors a day; it is the British Postal Museum & Archive. We now live in a world of emailing, twittering, texting and Facebooking each other. I’m as bad as the next techie-junkie (for why should I be writing this post!), but for over a century-and-a-half we managed to get by with the Royal Mail – Thank you very much.

[C]urrently situated behind Mount Pleasant Sorting Office the archive in its title doesn’t do it justice. A collection of old phone boxes; every sort of pillar box ever built; two million stamps, many never issued and worth thousands; and all houses in two-and-a-half miles of archives.

The museum has its own 6-mile private underground stretching from Paddington to Whitechapel which was in use by the Post Office until 2003. There is also the British Postal Museum Store at Debden, Essex for larger objects.

When producers of the BBC series Lark Rise to Candleford want to recreate an authentic Victorian post office counter, they borrowed an original from here.

During the Blitz, the pillar box was often the only thing left standing on East London’s streets so deep are their foundations, but that should keep these sentinels of our streets immune from thieves with a JCB digger.

In 1874 the Post Office switched from green pillar boxes to the familiar red to make them more visible in urban fog – people kept bumping into them.

As with the telephone box letter writing and posting is becoming rarer, we have need of a museum to celebrate this lost art. With £20 million from the National Lottery and a further £5 million from the sale of some of their collection the British Postal Museum & Archive plan to open a proper museum attracting 80,000 visitors a year, and it has plans to reopen a section of the old London Post Office Railway for tourist journeys.

With the imminent sale of Royal Mail we might one day need a museum to show future generations this uniquely British institution.

Photo: Freefoto.com.