Site Unseen: Maggs Bros

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past, they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

You probably pass 50 Berkeley Square on any journey from the West End to Bayswater without realising you’ve passed what some regard as the most haunted house in London.

[B]uilt around 1750 this mid-terrace townhouse is one of the few remaining original properties which once flanked the famous square, much of the north and west now given over to expensive car showrooms.

In the spirit of Halloween, I’ll recount those sighting which in all probability are tales to frighten the local populace and little else. A young girl (it always is a ‘young girl’) named Adeline apparently threw herself out of a window on the top floor in order to get away from an abusive uncle. As early as 1789 newspapers reported sightings of seeing Adeline clinging to the windowsill about to fall to her death.

A brown tendrilled misty mass is reported to inhabit the upper floor of 50 Berkeley Square. A maid reported to her employer in 1879 of seeing this apparition and died the following day in an asylum.

A Mr Myers who had rented the house was jilted y his future bride, spent years as a reclusive at number 50 before he too lost his mind.

The house became dilapidated and two sailors decided to spend the night within the property. One awoke to find a tendril strangling his colleague, and ran from the house to seek help. A police constable returned with him to find the second sailor dead, reports vary in the manner of his demise. More likely the sailor had killed his compatriot and blamed the apparition.

Today on antiquarian bookseller occupies one of the finest Georgian townhouses n Berkeley Square.

London Trivia: Road to Hell

On 29 October 1986 the first ring road around a British city was finally opened by Margaret Thatcher as the last section – London Colney to South Mimms – was completed. Not long afterwards at 11.16 am the first breakdown occurred on the completed orbital road, the start of a fine London tradition. The tradition of being the biggest car park in England continues, severe weather in 2010 caused the Red Cross to provide blankets and tea for motorists stranded in their cars for 17 hours.

On 29 October 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh was executed at The Tower of London – his discovery of tobacco has been killing people since that time

Found a shed on Tottenham Court Road were the remains of 100 corpses victims of body snatching deposited there before being sold to surgeons

Tottenham Court Road stands on land leased to Queen Elizabeth I that came to be known as Tottenham Court because of its royal connections

The coffin of Dr. Thomas Barnardo was carried in funeral cortege on an underground train in 1905, one of only two occasions this is known to have happened

United States President Theodore Roosevelt got married in London, at St. George’s, Hanover Square. His wife’s middle name was Kermit

The historic Anchor Tavern on Bankside was the location for a scene for Mission Impossible starring Tom Cruise

Holy Trinity Church in Beechwood Road, Dalston is home to the annual Clowns Service attended by clowns in full makeup

Born in 1775 the inventor of the boxer’s uppercut, ‘Dutch Sam’ Elias, from Whitechapel trained on gin and lost just 2 of his 100 boxing fights

The last manually operated doors on Tube trains (pneumatic sliding doors were introduced on tube trains in 1919) were phased out in 1929

In the 18th Century John Harris, head waiter of Shakespeare’s Head, Covent Garden annually produced a Who’s Who of Whores

The 28-inch Greenwich refracting telescope is the largest of its kind in Britain and the seventh largest in the world

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Down Your Alley: Gunpowder Square

I had intended this month’s Down Your Alley to be Guy Fawkes related and Gunpowder Square seemed the perfect place to start. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information about this little alley which calls itself rather grandly a square. Its only association with anything ordinance related is a gun. Its three neighbours, located between Fetter Lane and Shoe Lane seem to have a more interesting history.

[W]ine Office Court is visited by tourists from every nation, Wine Office Court must be one of the most frequented courts in the whole of London. With its narrow covered access, darkened rough brickwork, worn paving, and treasured buildings storing over 300 years of history, it is a typical representation of our image of old London. But the average tourist does not come here to revel in the hollowed out stones beneath his feet or to venerate the age-old walls; he comes to eat, drink and make merry in the famous Old Cheshire Cheese. For decades its bars and restaurants have been a major attraction on the visiting lists of British and foreign tourists alike.

Wine Office Court

Wine Office Court including ‘gun’

There has been a tavern on this site ever since the late 16th century, but resulting from a spark in Mr Farriner’s Pudding Lane bakery it went the same way as everything else in Fleet Street. No time was wasted in rebuilding and the new tavern was open again for business in 1667, only months after the Fire had reduced the site to a smouldering heap. The Cheshire Cheese has a well-chronicled association with the literary set, going back to the time of its foundation. If we are to believe the claims of successive landlords down the centuries, Samuel Johnson, that great lexicographer, writer, and wit is supposed to have spent half his life here. In fact, there are items of Johnsonian memorabilia at almost every turn. For many years a painting of Johnson and his biographer, Boswell, has hung over the restaurant door, ‘Come, let us dine at the Cheese’ reads the caption below. Inside the restaurant, at the head of the long ‘Johnson table’ is what is claimed to be ‘the favourite seat of Dr Johnson’ and hanging above is a copy of a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Boswell, in his Life of Samuel Johnson, seems to indicate that the Doctor’s favourite tavern was the Mitre, which used to stand on Fleet Street. He makes no bones about it when he states that ‘I had learnt that his place of frequent resort was the Mitre Tavern in Fleet Street, where he loved to sit up late’. The Mitre Tavern was pulled down in 1829 so that Messrs Hoare could extend their banking premises. Although there is no reference in ‘the Life’ to the Cheshire Cheese it is difficult to believe that Johnson never ventured into the place, particularly when we recall that for much of his life in London he lived just around the corner.

Oliver Goldsmith too must have been a frequent customer. He lived across the passage at number 6 Wine Office Court where he wrote The Vicar of Wakefield. And how can we mention such an old tavern without a peek at Dickens who must have walk in and out of these Fleet Street courts by day and by night? Few people know it, but Dickens kept a rule of life that compelled him to visit every tavern in the City of London daily; at least this is what some will have us believe. With this knowledge to hand, it seems very likely that the renowned pub goer downed the odd vessel or two in the ‘Cheese’. He gave a hint of the tavern in his Tale of Two Cities where he says, ‘Down Ludgate Hill to Fleet Street and so up a covered way into a tavern’. It does appear that the covered way may have been Wine Office Court.

Fleet Street is not generally considered as one of the most favoured sauntering areas for tourists but ‘the Cheese’, as it’s affectionately known, attracts visitors from far and wide. Squashed in the tiny bar you can brush shoulders with sightseers of all tongues. Americans sipping pints of English beer and commenting on Dr Johnson and the sawdust-covered floor. The tavern also attracts local workers from a variety of professions and trades who prefer to gather at the serving hatch in the corridor. Impenetrable men of advertising huddle together telling dirty stories and laughing very heartily.

John Ogilby and Hugh Morgan, two of the earliest scientific cartographers, lived in Wine Office Court while compiling and printing their 1677 map of London. At the time these two were diligently engraving their blocks they would have heard outside, the occasional tramping of those visiting the wine office. It occupied part of the west side of the Court, from where licenses for the sale of wine were formerly issued.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, there was certainly an abundance of taverns in Fleet Street and it has been said that the ‘Hind’ was among them. It is quite true that the sign portraying a female red deer was a popular inn sign of past years but I can uncover no trace of such an inn sign in Fleet Street.

Beneath its covered access and beyond, Hind Court is a quiet place compared to its next-door neighbour, Wine Office Court, where, on a summer evening the multitudes quaffing at the Old Cheshire Cheese can render its passage impassable. There are no taverns here and for that matter, there is precious little else. With the gentle intervention of Bolt Court joining from the left, it slinks effortlessly into Gough Square and that is where it ends.

Hind Court

Hind Court

Curious Bolt Court takes its name from the ‘Bolt in Tun Tavern’ which stood on the opposite side of Fleet Street, on the corner of Bouverie Street. ‘Bolt’, in this peculiar title, is presumably a bolt as fired from a gun or possibly an arrow. A ‘tun’ is a large wine cask with a capacity of 252 gallons.

Bolt Court

Bolt Court

From the yard of this one-time famous old coaching inn, coaches rumbled out into the density of horse-drawn traffic in treacherous Fleet Street en route to places as far afield as Cambridge, Lincoln and Winchester. To add to its fame the ‘Bolt in Tun’ was the scene of tears of sadness and drunken celebration as the final long-distance stage to leave London rattled through the gates of its yard. For a long time, after the inn was demolished, the yard continued to house the properties of sundry small businesses and provided space for off-street parking, but the site was built on in 1950 and all trace of the yard has now completely disappeared.

Another derivation of the name suggests that the entrance to the Court had a gate which was bolted at night to keep out thieves. a rather unlikely implication.

That crotchety old genius, Dr Johnson moved from number seven Johnson’s Court to take up residence at number eight Bolt Court in 1776 ‘still keeping to his favourite Fleet Street’. When James Boswell called on his great friend at the doctor’s house in Johnson’s Court on the 15th March you could have knocked him down with a feather when he found out that the man was no longer living there. He recorded the event of the removal in these words: ‘I felt a foolish regret that he had left a court which bore his name; but it was not foolish to be affected with some tenderness of regard for a place in which I had seen him a great deal, from whence I had often issued a better and a happier man than when I went in, and which had often appeared to my imagination, while I trod its pavement in the solemn darkness of the night, to be sacred to wisdom and piety.’ The last time that Boswell saw Johnson was on the 30th June 1784 at the Fleet Street entrance to Bolt Court. As Johnson climbed down from the coach in which they had returned from dining with Sir Joshua Reynolds he called out to his friend ‘Fare you well’ and made off, ‘with a kind of pathetic briskness’, down the dark alley to his house. Two days later Boswell set out on a business trip to his native Scotland and was not to return to London before Johnson’s death on the 13th December 1784. All the old properties have long been demolished but a plaque marks the site of the Doctors house. The Stationers Company established a school for boys here in 1861. It later moved to Hornsey.


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.

Toxic Tunnel

Yesterday saw the commencement of the Toxic Charge for London. Anyone driving a vehicle not coming up to the stringent standards set by Transport for London can now expect a hefty surcharge on top of the Congestion Charge.

But the single most offensive assault on one’s olfactory receptors is to be found in the Rotherhithe Tunnel approached via the inspirationally named road – Branch Road.

[Y]es it actually is a branch off from Commercial Road named Branch Road; then driving forward into Tunnel Approach to reach our subterranean airless river crossing. The lack of original thought doesn’t end with the road names, we are informed that the designer of this Edwardian tunnel is a Maurice Fitzmaurice.

Upon entering the tunnel two things become immediately apparent. After the first 100 yards down a gentle slope, there is a dog-leg to the left. This gentle slope was necessary for horses to be able to carry their burden and the sharp turn was to stop those same horses bolting when they literally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. There is another sharp bend at the other end serving the same purpose.

There is a 20mph limit imposed, reinforced by using speed cameras, and with good purpose.

The second feature of this tunnel is that you cannot breathe, and feel the need to bolt to the other end, in the manner of the aforementioned horses.

When built and opened by the future George V in 1908, it was regarded as a great success even though 3,000 people lost their homes. As the inscription above the entrance reminds us, most vehicular traffic was horse-drawn, presumably with just the occasional car. The aroma of horse manure must have been exquisite, compared to the noxious fumes which fill this mile-long tunnel. Four ventilation shafts designed for 2,600 vehicles a day during the Edwardian era, now struggle vainly with the exhaust fumes from 34,000 daily journeys.

Realising I’ve survived this ordeal by carbon monoxide reaching Culling Circus is always a relief. This small, curiously named roundabout must have got its title from the tunnel’s ability to kill motorists who dwell too long in its cavernous bowels.

London Trivia: The wrong box

On 22 October 1910 Dr. Hawley Crippen was convicted at the Old Bailey of his wife’s murder. The police had found the gruesome remains of a body beneath the coal cellar of his house, wrapped in a male pyjama jacket and identified as his wife Cora, it had no head, no limbs, no bones and no genitals, but there were traces of a poison that Crippen was discovered to recently purchased. Recent analysis of the remains indicate that the corpse found in his house were not female.

On 22 October 1974 a bomb exploded in Brooks Club injuring three members of staff, one of the first on the scene was Conservative Party leader Edward Heath who was dining nearby

At Newgate 1789 Catherine Murphy was the last woman to executed by burning however all was not so as she had been hanged first for coining

The 5-star Lanesborough Hotel was built by James Lane, 2nd Viscount Lanesborough in 1719 before becoming St George’s Hospital in 1733

When Augusta of Saxe-Coburg married Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1736 she was sick down her dress, an ill omen he died before being crowned

Longest Budget speech ever: Gladstone, 1853 – 4hrs 45mins. Drank sherry and beaten egg, the budget only time any MP is allowed alcohol in the chamber)

Ray Davis originally wrote about Liverpool sunset in a nod to The Beatles but was persuaded to eulogise about the city that he loved

In the 80s Cynthia Payne was convicted of running a brothel at 32 Ambleside Avenue, Streatham, luncheon vouchers paid for personal services

The Wimbledon Championships held annually since 1877 at the All-England Club is the oldest tennis tournament in the world

Over 47 million litres water are pumped from the Tube each day, enough to fill a standard leisure centre swimming pool every quarter of an hour

A Billingsgate porter’s hat aka ‘bobbin’ is made of wood and leather to support heavy boxes of fish. The upturned brim captures the fish juice

The TARDIS, (Dr Who’s transport) can be found outside Earl’s Court station. Or at least an old police call box can

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.