The Angel

Known colloquially and ‘Angel’, in the 1960s it could have easily gained the nomenclature of Toucan Turnpike.

Utilising at bomb site on its south-western corner (now a Jamies Italian) a huge hoarding proclaimed the proud boast that ‘Guinness was good for you’. The area now takes its name from the original Angel coaching inn dating back to 1639.

[T]HE EXISTING BUILDING in pale terracotta stone with a corner cupola replaced the earlier building in 1899. It was a pub until 1921, then until 1959, the building was used as a Lyons Corner House. Today it is a branch of the Co-operative Bank.

The original Angel stood near a toll gate on the Great North Road (now the corner of Islington High Street and Pentonville Road), at the bottom of Islington High Street.

Its religious name suggests even earlier origins, possibly as a hostel for pilgrims.

Travellers would rest here overnight rather than risk the open land between Islington and the City, which was infested by highwaymen and other thieves. There were also large fields for farmers to rest their animals before the journey to Smithfield meat market. For those travelling north the Angel was a coaching inn, the first northward staging post outside the City of London.

(Map of Angel crossroads, the black square indicates total destruction)

It became a local landmark and was mentioned in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, in connection with Oliver’s first meeting with the Artful Dodger: ‘it was nearly eleven o’clock when they reached the turnpike at Islington. They, crossed from The Angel into St John’s Road’.

The area in which it was situated used to be called Merry Islington because from time immemorial it had been a great entertainment centre for Londoners. The Collins Music Hall, the Grand Theatre, and the Philharmonic Hall were all situated here. Today, because of its numerous restaurants, Upper Street is known as Supper Street.

In 1935 Victor Watson and his secretary Marjorie Phillips had been on a flying visit around the capital in a taxi, finding names for a board game that Watson had bought from Parker Bros., in Atlantic City. They had chosen many but still needed a name for one last square to go on their Monopoly board.

At a loss, they stopped for afternoon tea at the Lyons Angel Corner House Tea Rooms. Rather than looking further, Watson chose ‘The Angel’ as the last name, making it the only site on the board named after a building.

A plaque describing this event was unveiled by Victor Watson’s grandson, also named Victor.

Featured image: The Angel, Islington, opened in 1903 as the Angel Hotel, this landmark building was chosen in 1935 as one of the sites for the British version of the Monopoly board game. It is now home to a branch of the Co-op Bank by Des Blenkinsopp (CC BY-SA 2.0)

London Trivia: Habeas corpus

On 27 May 1679 Habeas Corpus Act received its Royal Assent. Instigated by the First Earl of Shaftsbury, the ancient prerogative writ of habeas corpus, with later amendments, is a procedural device to force the courts to examine the lawfulness of a prisoner’s detention in order to safeguard individual liberty and thus to prevent unlawful or arbitrary imprisonment. It was subsequently incorporated into the American Constitution.

On 27 May 1541 Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury one of the last Plantagenets was beheaded at the Tower of London for her son’s criticism of Henry VIII’s divorce

In 1517 ‘Evil May Day’ saw riots against traders from Flanders, Italy and France led by John Lincoln he and other ringleaders were later hanged

Christopher Wren had originally wanted a stone pineapple on the dome of St Paul’s he saw them as a symbol of peace and hospitality

The first baby to be born on the underground was born at Elephant and Castle in 1924, she was named Marie Cordery

Harold Wilson lived at 5 Lord North Street, during his last term serving as Prime Minister spurning the official residence in Downing Street

With over 45 million visitors since it opened in May 2000 Tate Modern has become the most visited modern art gallery in the world

Waterstone’s Piccadilly London’s largest bookshop claims to be Europe’s biggest, 6 floors, over 8 miles of shelves, with over 200,000 titles

On 27 May 1851 German Adolf Anderssen won the first International Chess Master Tournament which was held in London winning £335

As Princess Elizabeth, the Queen travelled on the Underground for the first time in May 1939, when she was 13 years old, with her governess Marion Crawford and Princess Margaret

One of the Crossrail tunnelling machines is named Phyllis, in honour of Phyllis Pearsall who invented London’s A to Z map

London’s Camden Square has twice returned Britain’s highest recorded temperatures May 1949 – 29.4C and in June 1957 – 35.6C

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: Sugar Bakers Court

With wedding fever in the air this month, we turn our attention to where the wedding cake originated.

To find this inconsequential street, walk along Aldgate High Street, cross Houndsditch and then turn right into Mitre Street. Continue to the end of Mitre Street and turn right into Creechurch Lane. Sugar Baker Court is to be found on the right.

[I]N THE TRIANGLE bounded by Bishopsgate, Bevis Marks, and Leadenhall Street there is a whole treasure of fascinating passages. About the tiniest of these is Sugar Bakers Court, a narrow passage branching from Creechurch Lane between numbers 22 and 24. It is now a dismal place with brick paving and a single post at the entrance bearing the City of London coat of arms. This one-time busy little cul-de-sac used to reek with the sweet smelling essence of the baker’s craft, but now it reeks of nothing.

Sugar Bakers Court

The Court stands on part of the site of the cloisters of Holy Trinity Priory, prematurely dissolved and given into the hands of Henry VIII in 1532. In the same year the King gave the Priory and its church to Sir Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor, who then offered the church to the parishioners, but the Prior had not been a respected man and fearful of having any association with the place, they refused it. Even when Audley offered the stone free of charge to any man that would take it down, there were no volunteers. He then hired labourers and took it down himself, replacing it with buildings annexed to the useful priory and lived there until his death in 1544.

Lord Audley’s only daughter married Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and the priory, house, and grounds then fell into his hands, being named the Duke’s Place. He lived here in grand style, trooping around the City attended by a cavalry of 100 mounted men until he met his end on Tower Hill in 1572. The Duke of Suffolk, a descendant of Thomas Howard, afterward sold the whole estate to the City of London who flattened the site and built the street layout that is still evident today.

The whole of this triangle miraculously escaped the Fire of 1666 and so, when most of the City was suffering the aftermath, it was a much sought after area. About this time a gathering of sugar bakers appear to have set up business here and was well established by 1677 when the place first appeared as Sugar Bakers Yard. It was not until 1912 that it was changed to Court.

A sugar baker was the equivalent of a present-day confectioner – a baker of sugary things. There is a story that tells of an 18th-century sugar baker who once moved his business from this Court (or Yard) to a convenient location in Ludgate Hill. From there he could look out of his window and model wedding cakes on the spire of St Bride’s church.

Featured image: Sugar Bakers Court by Christopher Hilton (CC BY-SA 2.0). This is a collection of various passages, courts, alleys, paths, pedestrian tunnels and pavements in the City of London. Many of these date from the medieval street plan and have survived the redevelopment of recent years, some of which travel under buildings. The term ‘footway’ is used in a fairly wide sense to describe any path or track for pedestrians, where motor vehicles are not normally allowed.

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.

Peel House

Back in the mid-1980’s, when I was on the Knowledge, Peel House was nothing more than one of several Metropolitan Police section houses, providing accommodation for serving officers, that were supposedly favoured by Mr. Miller on an appearance. I never did get asked a police section house on my appearances and it was only whilst researching this article that I realised how important Peel House was to the Met.

[N]AMED, OF COURSE, after the founder of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Peel, Peel House itself was not built until 1907, six decades after the death of the eponymous founder. It was here that all Metropolitan Police cadets were trained before they were let loose on the streets of London. This continued until the opening of Hendon Police College, or Peel Centre, in 1974.

For a while, Peel House became a section house before becoming empty for several years. It was then purchased by the Candy Brothers so that they could fulfill their contractual obligations by providing affordable housing in return for developing what became known as No 1, Hyde Park.

In 2010 Peel House was reopened, after being converted into 70 residential dwellings run by the Octavia Housing Trust. It was as I was driving past the building a couple of years ago that something caught my eye. Just to the left of the main entrance is a huge, 4.3m by 1.2m bronze panel depicting an all too common scene in Victorian London – a policeman wrestling with a runaway cab.

Stuart Smith, sculptor

I don’t know if the sculptor, Stuart Smith, had a particular episode in mind when he cast the bronze plaque, and as will be noted later, I think the scene is highly stylised. The scene depicts a hansom cabman, who is most probably drunk, with two terrified passengers, presumably a mother and her son. The cab is careering down the road, only to be brought to a stop by the brave actions of a policeman.

Unfortunately, such scenes were all too common, though the driver was not always drunk, the danger was the same. Sometimes, the drivers were not even at fault:

In 1838, just before the drivers were licensed for the first time (with a badge and bill), a cab horse managed to escape from its harness and began running wildly down the street. It hit an old lady called Pritchard, fatally injuring her. Although this case is different from a runaway cab, what is notable about it is that a deodand of 1s is put on the horse. A deodand was, in effect, the price put upon a murder weapon, whether it be a dagger, sword or gun or, as in this case, the horse. The owner of the horse would have had to pay the shilling (5p) to the Crown in order to regain possession of the horse. This was not the last instance of a deodand being used against a cab through this archaic law was abolished in 1862.

In 1841, as a driver was assisting his passenger with the luggage, the horse bolted, crashing through a rank of cabs at Kennington Cross before hitting and killing a 61-year-old woman. At her inquest, the jury pronounced that under no circumstances should a cab and horse be left unattended.

In 1842 a driver lost control of his cab as he drove down Waterloo Place. The horse continued and went down the Duke of York Steps – making a “tremendous leap, carrying part with it…” The unnamed driver was thrown and sustained serious injuries to his head. Fortunately, the passenger escaped unharmed. The horse, after being “apparently lifeless” made sufficient recovery to clamber back up to the top of the steps but, as the Morning Post reported, “it is supposed to be of little value”.

By 1846, William Birch was one of the largest cab proprietor’s in London, it would be his direct descendant, John Birch, who would develop the diesel taxi in 1952. Birch had just purchased a horse and was driving it home to Horseferry Road, when, just as he passed the House of Commons, the horse bolted. There were no passengers in the cab but as the horse careered down the road, it hit a post and was killed instantly. The sudden impact propelled Birch from his seat and he sustained serious injuries. It just so happened that the accident occurred outside the Westminster Medical School where Birch was taken. He later requested to go home but his injuries proved fatal and he died at home.

Plaque detail

A horse took fright as it was waiting outside Somerset House early in February 1849. The horse and cab drove off towards Charing Cross, the driver was unable to control the horse as the reins had snapped. The cab hit the front windows of The Globe Newspaper (whose later editor Colonel Armstrong, would establish the first cab shelters to stop cabmen waiting in pubs). The windows were smashed and the grating above the machine room was damaged. An actor, by the name of Serle, was then seriously injured, as was a youth who was standing nearby, and who was carried lifeless to the nearby Charing Cross hospital. Next to be destroyed was a jewellery shop, whose windows were smashed sending the display in all direction. Several people were injured here but the owners of the shop, fearful no doubt of losing their stock which had been cast everywhere, refused any help to the injured. They were instead assisted by the owner of a nearby cigar shop. Further on, a woman was struck, breaking her arm in two places. The cab eventually came to a halt after striking a lamp post – the severity of which caused one of the shafts to enters the horse’s chest. “And the horse” reported the Daily News, “which was a fine, spirited animal, being thus rendered useless, was conveyed to a knacker’s and speedily placed out of its miseries. What became of the cabman, none of the accounts which have reached us state.”

Holborn Hill no longer exists – the construction of Holborn Viaduct removed the need to traverse the valley caused by the river Fleet (now buried under Farringdon Street). On 30th June 1858, as Holborn Hill was crowded with “omnibuses, cabs and other vehicles, and the pavement with persons who had come out for an evening walk…” a cab was seen approaching Farringdon Street at full speed. “The driver was on the box” reported the Daily News, “but had not the slightest control over the animal, which dashed frantically down the hill amidst the shouts of alarmed spectators [shocked] at the inevitable catastrophe.” As the runaway cab approached St Andrews Church, it struck a phaeton (a private carriage), “The shock was terrific, and in one instant the body and shafts were seen with the horse in one part of the road, the hind wheels in another, and the poor driver at a distance from both.”

A policeman attempted to stop a runaway cab as it drove wildly down Kennington Park Road in September 1894. Despite the gallant attempt of the officer, the cab crashed, smashing a lamp and one of the shafts. The driver was thrown and sustained serious injuries to his head. His passenger, an actor, crawled out of the wreckage with bad cuts to his legs.

On 1st October 1897, the Daily News reported the following:

A PLUCKY CONSTABLE:- At midday yesterday there was a scene of great excitement in Queen Victoria Street. A cabman driving a hansom stopped to water his horse at the trough at the Baynard Castle. Leaving it unattended, the animal suddenly bolted, and dashed down Queen Victoria Street, scattering the foot passengers right and left. After going some hundred yards, City Constable 212 jumped on to the back seat, and, seizing the reins, managed to stop it just as it was running into a railway van, the sudden stoppage throwing him from the “dicky” into the roadway, where he was picked up severely shaken and bruised.”

This last episode shows that the bravery in stopping a runaway horse and cab was not singular to the Metropolitan Police – which brings us back to the plaque outside Peel House.

Centre stage is the policeman attempting to bring the cab to a halt and save the life of its passengers. He is wearing a top hat. The top hat was part of Met police uniform until it was replaced by the more familiar helmet in 1863. This, therefore, puts a later date on the scene; but hold on, look at the background. Sculptor Stuart Smith used “contemporary Frith photographs” to compile the scenery. At the top of the tableau, we can see the dome of St Pauls. Just above the cabman’s head, we can see the “scar across the face of St Paul’s”. This is the railway bridge that existed until the early 1990’s across Ludgate Hill. In an amazing instance of aesthetics over practicality, the bridge was removed and the railway line into Blackfriars station was rerouted under Ludgate Hill. The bridge was constructed in 1865 – two years after the last Metropolitan Police officer wore a top hat. Also, the alleged scene can only have taken place in Fleet Street (the railway bridge cannot be seen from the Strand) – Fleet Street is in the City of London, which has its own police force separate to the Met. It’s likely that sculptor Stuart Smith was more than aware of the geographic boundaries between the two police divisions, but, for reasons best known to himself – he has a Met police officer coming to the rescue of a woman and child within the City boundaries.

CabbieBlog-cabThis is not a sponsored post. Sean Farrell has written this Guest Post for CabbieBlog. Sean collects information about the history of the London cabbie and its ancient trade. If you have or require information, he can be contacted via the Contact Page.

London Trivia: Albert’s Hall

On 20 May 1867 Queen Victoria laid the first stone of the The Royal Albert Hall. Originally it was given he catchy nomenclature `The Hall of Arts and Sciences` which to Victorian ears tripped off the tongue nicely. Her Majesty was having none of it and to our eternal gratitude insisted it be named after her late husband. It was the first building to be built top down, the dome was assembled in Manchester taken apart and transported to London.

On 20 May 1913 the Royal Horticultural Society having been forced to relocate from Temple Gardens chose the Royal Hospital Chelsea attracting 200,000 in its first year

Journalists known as running patterers went to executions to record the executed’s last words, they then printed and sold exaggerated versions

10 Hyde Park Place is London’s smallest house: 3’6″ wide constructed in 1805, it has only ever had one tenant

Constitution Hill’s name is nothing to do with the constitution – it’s because it’s where Charles II took his daily constitutional

When Soviet spy Guy Burgess lived at 38 Chester Square, Lower Belgravia he cunningly decorated his flat in red, white and blue

Hitchcock’s first film The Lodger – 1926 had him making a cameo on the Tube now the Underground’s Film Office handles over 200 requests a month

Gordon’s Wine Bar reputed to be the oldest in London, in the same building that was home to Samuel Pepys in 1680 and is owned by the Gordons family since 1890

The Surbiton Club in 1891 requested members playing billiards partaking of snuff to ‘leave no nasal excreta’ on the baize

The total length of the London Underground network is 250 miles; Tube trains travelled 76.4 million kilometres last year

When the south portico of the British Museum was built the colour of the limestone didn’t match, builders used French limestone not English

There is a 19th century time capsule under Cleopatra’s Needle containing money, a rail guide and portraits of ‘pretty English ladies’

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.