Peter Rabbit’s grave

On 28th July 1866 – one hundred and fifty years ago this week – there was born at 2 Bolton Gardens (since destroyed by German bombs) a girl that many regard as the world’s greatest children’s author. Beatrix Potter’s father was a barrister sufficiently wealthy to live in this expensive neighbourhood and with enough spare time to regularly take Beatrix to the Natural History Museum allowing his daughter to sketch the many exhibits there.

[T]he mention of Beatrix Potter conjures up the huge tracks of land she purchased on the royalties she earned from iconic books. But surprisingly much of the stories could have been derived from London.

Beatrix wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit around the turn of the last century and after having it turned down by six publishers had Peter privately printed in 1901.

The son of the company’s founder, Norman Warne, changed the company’s initial decision to reject the book and went on the publish 24 works by Beatrix.

In part his attraction to the author might have been a deciding factor as they became engaged in 1905; unfortunately he died before they married.

There is a possible London connection for Cumbria’s favourite adopted daughter. Close to her childhood London home is Brompton Cemetery and while it is easy to give credence to an urbane myth is takes a dedicated individual to prove it.

Step in James Mackey, a member of the Friends of Brompton Cemetery committee. Hoping to win Lottery funding for the cemetery Mackay investigated the recently computerised burial register at Chelsea library which had on its database 250,000 burial sites, which was a great assistance as the cemetery itself had lost many of the headstones and some, of course, were interred in an unmarked grave.


George and Susannah Nutkins’ gravestone

First an old edition of Beatrix’s writings had the character Jeremiah Fisher and Mackay was able to track down that individual’s headstone. Others whose mortal remains lie in Brompton Cemetery include: Peter Rabbett, Mr. Nutkins, Mr. Brock and Mr. McGregor.

The final resting places of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail at the time of writing remain undiscovered.

Picture: Nutkins’ gravestone Rehan Qayoom

London’s lavender

Recently on a holiday in Jersey the tour guide took us to a lavender farm it was during the inevitable spiel about how the crop is processed the farm’s owner mentioned that London was once a huge producer of this aromatic herb.

Like many I had once heard that Lavender Hill in Battersea had a connection and assumed this was the only area that cultivated the crop.

[A] young Mr Yardley paid a grateful Charles I for the concession to manufacture soap for the entire city of London. This is now how most of us perceive the only use of lavender scent is for little old ladies. But in its time there was a huge market, once centred in South London.

Strewn on church floors during religious festivals, it was said to drive away evil spirits; as a laxative; Roman women used it to give lustre to their hair; used as a nosegay to prevent contagion during the plague; while wives would use it to ward off amorous advances ‘the panting and passion of the hart’ as it was euphemistically called.

It was regularly used to keep lice and flea infestations at bay and there was hardly a medical condition that lavender was said to be unable to relieve.

Strangely Battersea’s Lavender Hill and nearby Lavender Sweep does not appear to be an area ever used in the herb’s cultivation. The area known to be huge producers was Croydon, Beddington, Wallington, Cheam, Carshalton and Sutton. In fact Carshalton’s Banstead Road once had clauses written into their house deeds prohibiting them from planting lavender for commercial purposes.

Street sellers were forbidden under London by-laws to knock at doors selling their little posies and so would hawk their wares using the time honoured ditties to advertise. I can remember an old girl who up to the last decade sold lavender posies on Romford’s streets.


Now the only vestige in London of what was once a thriving horticulture trade is a small producer in Banstead in the area where the aforementioned growers were concentrated. Here 25 acres are grown which originally were helped by Yardley. After a promising start, in 2002 Mayfield Lavender which has had their fare share of knocks, Yardley withdrew their support. They still manage to produce a wide range of lavender products and offer tours during the summer.

Photo: Mayfield Lavender, Woodmansterne looking across to the pergola, with the lavender just about in full bloom Peter Trimming (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Featured photo: Lavender growing, Mayfield Lavender Farm by Christopher Hilton (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Down Your Alley: Cloth Fair

With a slight nod to Brexit last month we went down Little Britain that at its western end lays one of the few parts of London seemingly untouched with the passage of time. Turn right at the end of Little Britain into Cloth Fair, here there are numerous passages and alleys. The first alleyway is on the right is Barley Mow Passage which undoubtedly derived from a predecessor of the Barley Mow public house which stands on the east side at number 56 Long Lane.
[T]he first tavern on this site was probably built in the early 17th century but the present house is modern – although in a tasteful style. Whilst only dating back to the early years of this century it retains an atmosphere typically encountered in a hostelry of much more ancient times. The decor is solid – heavy cast-iron tables, real wooden panelling to the walls and Victorian mirrors in the servery.

Barley Mow Passage

Barley Mow Passage

Almost every corner along the length of Long Lane once sported a tavern. John Stow, on his perambulations down the Lane, summed it up thus: ‘the rest of Smithfield from Long Lane end to the bars is enclosed with inns, brew houses, and large tenements.’ Of these long departed taverns the Old Dick Whittington was a particular favourite. It stood in Cloth Fair and was reputed to have been the oldest licensed establishment in London. Its doors closed for the final time in 1916. Now, the Barley Mow is one of the few surviving in the vicinity of St Bartholomew’s.

Cloth Court

Cloth Court

The next alley on our left is Cloth Court and it would be reasonable to assume that somewhere back in time there might have been a drapers shop around here. Cloth Fair and its surroundings have a long history associated with the drapery and tailoring trade. However, the history of the area goes back a little further than the establishment of the clothing trade. It all started when Rahere, one of Henry I’s favourite courtiers, woke up with a start and decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. While he was there he caught a bug and became violently ill with sickness, diarrhoea, the shakes and other conceivable symptom. It was touch and go but within a few days, as though affected by some divine power, he was miraculously restored to full health. Feeling assured that this was the work of heaven, he vowed, in gratitude, that when he returned home he would build a hospital for the treatment of those of unsound financial means. As he stepped back onto the shores of England he was halted in his tracks by a vision of a towering man before him. The vision declared himself to be Bartholomew and he told Rahere that along with his hospital he was also to build a great church. Both of these projects he undertook to the best of his ability and by 1150 his great church, or priory, was completed. The Augustinian Order of monks took up residence, with Rahere as the first prior. Funding of the priory and hospital were not easy so Rahere applied to the King and was granted permission to hold an annual August fair to raise money. The scheme was an immediate success and soon became an established event, initially held every August. By tradition, the official opening ceremony was performed by the Mayor from the steps of the Hand and Shears tavern, in Middle Street. His loud declaration was followed by letting loose a dozen or so rabbits into the milling throng, which were chased by a noisy gang of ruffians. Cattle traders from far and wide set up a market here, later designated as the official London cattle market with the stipulation that no other was to be opened within seven miles radius. Clothing traders and drapers soon latched on to the idea of opening stalls and before too long the fair developed into the largest cloth and clothing event in the country. It first of all lasted for three days and from the 16th century it was extended to a fortnight.

Like all good things, someone had to spoil it. The fair became a place of riots, looting and murder, and it was finally ordered to cease in 1855. However, although the fair ceased to be recognised, in 1884 an article in a local paper reported that trading was still in evidence, stating that the price paid for women varied from one penny to twenty-five guineas. When we considers that the twenty-five guinea quality were as rough as they came, I wonder what one might expect for a penny.

Punters and traders alike would no doubt have called into Ye Olde Dick Whittington tavern which stood on the corner of Kinghorn Street until it was demolished in 1916. The eventual total demise of the fair obviously contributed in a major part to its down fall. Although it had undergone many modifications, like the addition of an 18th century frontage to the ground floor, it held the noble reputation of being London’s oldest tavern. A proud claim indeed, but even in those days competition was tough and just like the present day, there were probably a dozen or more other contenders reaching out for the title.

An exceedingly fine example of a 17th century house (built about 1640) comprising of numbers 41 and 42 Cloth Fair should not be missed. Although it has been renovated it offers an opportunity to see a very small part of the city as it was, prior to being swallowed up by the fire. When gazing at this house it is very easy to slip back a few centuries into the time of Pepys and visualise the London of his day.

Rising Court

Rising Sun Court

The next passage we find is Rising Sun Court this attractive but simple court, brought into full glory in summer months by a display of hanging baskets and window boxes adorning the Rising Sun tavern. A tavern has occupied this corner of Cloth Fair for centuries and many years ago the court running alongside formed its busy yard. During the early 1970’s it seemed that the Rising Sun was destined to go the same way as the dozens of other taverns which once graced the precincts of St Bartholomew’s. It was boarded up with all glimmer of life extinguished from its bowels. Its signboard hung as a weather-beaten faded hue, but Samuel Smith’s came on the scene and injected an overdue dose of revitalisation. In 1573 Inigo Jones, a notable designer of stately buildings who became Surveyor to Prince Henry in 1611, lived near to this Court. He died in 1652.

East Passage

East and Back Passage

The last alleyways to be found along this short street are East Passage and the rather unfortunately named Back Passage. This short passage is a fairly narrow way, covered throughout its length with brick buildings lining both sides and leads to East Passage. In this Passage is Ye Old Red Cow, one of the earliest ancient taverns of Smithfield. It is a place of compact proportions and space within its walls is, to say the least, severely restricted and consequently the luxury of seating around its central servery is very sparse. A painting in the Guildhall depicts the tavern as it appeared in 1854.

The area dates back over 400 years and takes its name from the cloth merchants and tailors of Bartholomew Fair who first began setting up their stalls around here in the mid-12th century. During the 16th century, on the 24th August – St Bartholomew’s day – it was customary for the Lord Mayor to emerge from the Hand and Shears, after sufficiently lubricating his vocal chords, and proclaim the opening of the fair in a very loud voice. However, this procedure was only the ceremonial show put on for the benefit of the gathered crowds of the morning; the actual opening was performed by a group of tailors who spent the evening supping ale. As the clock struck midnight they issued forth into the street waiving shears above their heads proclaiming ‘the proceeding shall begin’. In an upstairs room of the Hand and Shears was held the Court of Pieds Poudres – Dusty Feet, set up to try the cases against traders accused of selling short measure and other unethical practices.

Bartholomew Fair officially ceased in 1855 but the Meat Market, built on the site of a cattle market established at Bartholomew Fair when general traders were authorised to sell their wares, is still operating. Built in 1867, it occupies a site covering over ten acres, constituting the largest meat market in the world.

Barley Mow Passage Oxyman (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Cloth Court Alan Murray-Rust (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Rising Sun Court Ian S (CC BY-SA 2.0)
East Passage Derek Harper (CC BY-SA 2.0)

CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

Behind the black door

With the political turmoil we are experiencing these last few weeks, now seem to good time to return to the world’s most photographed door.

CabbieBlog is old enough to have driven down England’s most famous short street in his car, turning round at the end and driving out again. Times have changed and the last time the cab went into Downing Street every corner of the vehicle was checked and checked again.

[B]uilt in about 1680 by Sir George Downing, Member of Parliament for Carlisle for persons of ‘honour and quality’, which presumably excluded many of today’s Members of Parliament, the building’s frontage is remarkably unaltered.

Of the original terrace only numbers 10, 11 and 12 remain, acquired by the Crown in 1732, George II offered Number 10 as a personal gift to Sir Robert Walpole, he being an honourable politician would only accept it for his office as First Lord of the Treasury, a gift that a recent incumbent, now moved to Connaught Square, would have bitten His Majesty’s hand off to acquire.

Since that date it has been the official residence of the Prime Minister although many early Prime Ministers did not live there, preferring to remain in their own grander town houses and letting Number 10 to relatives or junior ministers.

Extensive alterations have over the years been made, including incorporating a further two properties at the back, internally improvements to the property have been made by such eminent architects as William Kent and Sir John Soane.

By the middle of the 20th century however, Number 10 was falling apart again. The deterioration had been obvious for some time; the number of people allowed in the upper floors was limited for fear the bearing walls would collapse; the staircase had sunk several inches; some steps were buckled and the balustrade was out of alignment. An investigation ordered by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1958 concluded that there was widespread dry rot; the interior wood in the Cabinet Room’s double columns was like sawdust; baseboards, doors, sills and other woodwork were riddled and weakened with disease.

After reconstruction had begun, miners dug down into the foundations and found that the huge wooden beams supporting the house had decayed. Incredibly there was some discussion of tearing down the building and constructing an entirely new residence. But the Prime Minister’s home had become an icon of British architecture, instead it was decided that Number 10 (and Numbers 11 and 12) would be rebuilt using as much of the original materials as possible.


Some unless Number 10 trivia:

  • During expensive alterations in the late 1950s remains of Roman Pottery and a Saxon wooden hut were found in the foundations
  • 10 Downing Street celebrated its 280th birthday in 2015
  • Built with shallow foundations on marshy ground, Winston Churchill to remarked that the homes on Downing Street (including Number 10) were “shaky and lightly built by a profiteering contractor”
  • The zero of the number ‘10’ is set at a slight angle as a nod to the original number which had a badly-fixed zero
  • After the IRA mortar attack in 1991, the original black oak door was replaced by a blast-proof steel one, regularly removed for refurbishment and replaced with a replica, it is so heavy that it takes eight men to lift it
  • The brass letterbox still bears the legend ‘First Lord of the Treasury’
  • The original door was put on display in the Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms.
  • Number 10 has been the official home of the Prime Minister since 1735 when Sir Robert Walpole first took residence
  • It has been home to over 50 Prime Ministers
  • William Pitt the Younger chose to have a cyst removed in 10 Downing Street rather than go to a hospital
  • Downing Street stands on the site of a former brewery
  • Renovations to the building shortly after World War II uncovered that the bricks were actually yellow and had blacked over the years from a combination of soot and air pollution.Rather than go back to the original colour, the bricks were painted black to be in keeping with everyone’s expectations
  • Number 10 was originally Number 5
  • The last private resident of Number 10 was a Mr Chicken
  • The Cabinet usually meets once a week in 10 Downing Street, normally on a Thursday morning, in the Cabinet room
  • The door has no lock
  • Larry a rescue cat from Battersea has been installed as ‘Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office’ and was was honoured with a blue plaque at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in October 2012
  • Number 10’s postcode is SW1A 2AA

The London Grill: Charlotte Gunnell

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.


[C]harlotte Gunnell started her blog, A Peace of London, in 2015 after she’d been living in the capital for four years. Like many people in the city, she was spending over 10 hours of her week commuting and yearned for smaller museums with fewer crowds, quiet cafés and peaceful corners where she could forget the world outside. Charlotte couldn’t find any sites dedicated to these quiet places, so she created her own, and A Peace of London was born! Follow her on Twitter @APeaceofLondon.

What’s your secret London tip?
My big tip for anyone visiting (or living in) London would be to seek out alternatives to the main tourist-traps: instead of paying £30 for The View From The Shard, pay £2.50 to see the magnificent 360-degree view from Severndroog Castle; instead of waiting a week to go to the Sky Garden, relax in Crossrail Place Roof Garden whenever you like; instead of Camden Market on a Saturday, give a local market such as Brockley Market a try.

Oh, and visit the Petrie Museum, Grant Museum of Zoology and Hunterian Museum (all free) if you’re fed up with the crowds at the British Museum and Natural History Museum. With a bit of effort, you can see some great places, have a more relaxing day and save some cash at the same time. If you need a bit of help finding these lesser-known places, then try a geeky socialising club such as Thinking Bob or a tour from a London expert such as Yannick Pucci.

What’s your secret London place?
Camley Street Natural Park near King’s Cross. It’s hard to believe that there is a nature reserve within a five-minute walk of King’s Cross station, especially since it’s so hidden, but it’s there and it’s the perfect place to rewind.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
The lack of personal space in busy areas, especially on the Tube — it does come with the territory, but it’s the one thing that makes me want to leave London. Hence the blog about quiet places!

What’s your favourite building?
That’s a tough one. I have so many! But if you’re twisting my arm then I’d have to go with Dr Johnson’s House. I started a six-week volunteering placement there last year and six weeks turned into six months, simply because I love being there. The house still has the original floors and staircase that Samuel Johnson would have walked on when he made this his home, as well as the original 18th-century security system on the door.


Garrett in Dr Johnson’s House

I also love that the building has been kept as a historic house rather than being turned into a traditional museum: the building is the main attraction. Walking in the front door feels like stepping back in time and it was a lovely place to end my week for six months. When I win the lottery, I think I’ll just work there for free . . .

What’s your most hated building?
Madame Tussauds, inside and out. I guess it comes down to personal taste, but I can’t understand why people pay so much money just to see waxworks of celebrities when there are so many beautiful and unique places in London to experience instead.

What’s the best view in London?
As mentioned, the view from Severndroog Castle in east London. You get a 360-degree view and you’re at the top of a castle. What could be better?

What’s your personal London landmark?
Two of my best friends got married at Orlean’s House Gallery in Richmond in 2014; everything about it reminds me of a very happy day.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Does Sherlock count? Well, the episodes are as long as a film… I just love how good the city looks in each episode, from the Tower of London to St Bart’s Hospital.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
I love Sale E Pepe in Knightsbridge for fantastic Italian food (and singing waiters!)

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Start with a sunny weekday. Get into London at 9am in time for tea, pumpkin bread and book shopping at Stanford’s, then spend another half an hour browsing at Any Amount of Books.


Hampstead Heath pergola

Walk north, stopping off at the Japanese Roof Garden at SOAS on the way to Skoob Books and the Grant Museum. Have a quick cup of winter spice tea and maple syrup granola at Bloomsbury Coffee House, before popping into the Treasures Gallery at the British Library. Get the Tube to read a book in the sunshine at Hampstead Heath Hill Garden and Pergola. If I had any time left, I’d pop into Sutton House on the way home.