Category Archives: An urban view

Europe’s smallest crescent

Keystone Crescent, just a few minutes walk from King’s Cross, reputedly has the smallest radius of any crescent in Europe, and is unique in having a matching inner and outer circle.

This tiny street consisting of only 24 houses is to be found at the southernmost end of Caledonian Road. Robert James Stuckey, whose father was a bricklayer, built the crescent in 1846 and imaginatively called it Caledonian Crescent, its shape was probably chosen to make the most of an unusually shaped site.

The houses would have initially been those of lower/middle class, working families. According to London Living History, in 1851 there were 240 people, of 76 families, living in 22 houses, with many properties rented out by the Stuckey family, with 2A acting as the estate office.

Up until recently, the area has had a reputation for deprivation and prostitution, and in the early 1900’s Algerton Stuckey, Robert’s grandson wanted to redevelop his investment. The plans fell through, however, he did change the name to Keystone Crescent, presumably to make it sound more appealing. Ninety years later, when the Channel Tunnel was being proposed, a new station was planned next to King’s Cross, this would have involved half of Keystone Crescent being demolished to dig the hole required to build the station.

Researching the history of Keystone Crescent, Jack Chesher from Living London History came across a dramatic story about the Stuckey family:

A stash of letters and personal items belonging to Robert Stuckey was discovered by his descendants under the bed at number 2A. They are generally about everyday occurrences, however also reveal a shocking secret: he had a second family!
Robert first married Hannah Bennewith, with whom he had 7 children. He then married Sarah Culver in 1864, with whom he also had 7 children, this time using the surname ‘James’ (his middle name). Hannah died in 1857 but the letters reveal that the two relationships ran alongside each other. Indeed, Robert’s first child with Sarah (the 2nd wife) had arrived in 1841. Whether Hannah knew she was sharing his affections with another woman is unclear but this was all certainly news to Robert’s descendants.

Bob Stuckey has had the letters transcribed and you can buy them here.

Keystone Crescent, King’s Cross, mid 19th century terraced houses in a crescent just off the Caledonian Road. Grade II listed by Jim Osley (CC BY-SA 2.0)

London’s hamlets: Bopeep

Iam indebted to Diamond Geezer who has unearthed a dataset of London’s populated places from the Ordnance Survey’s Open Names.

Hardly surprising London has no towns, although several exist just beyond the boundary. The Capital comprises three cities: London, the City of London, City of Westminster. There are 25 villages, which don’t include developers pseudo-villages, but I’m more interested as to how Ordnance Survey defines London’s 8 hamlets, and just where they are.

Bopeep, Edgware Bury, Farthing Street, Hockenden, Kevingtown, Nash, Newyears Green, Rowley Green.

Today we’re going to look at one which could have been lifted out of a children’s poem.

Bopeep is close to Chelsfield and just south of the Maypole public house on Hewitts Road, are a separate group of buildings collec¬tively named as Bopeep on some maps, consisting of Hewitts Farm Cottages, Bo-peep Cottages, Keepers Cottage and the Bo-Peep restau¬rant and public house.

The Bo Peep public house was built in the year 1548 during the reign of King Edward VI and is said to have served as a base for wool smugglers. It only adopted its current name in 1972, at the time of its construction it was known as Seagraves Alehouse, later in 1709 becoming the famous nomenclature for English pubs: The White Hart.

NB: A hamlet is a small settlement that has no central place of worship and no meeting point, for example, a village hall. Picture a handful of houses dotted along a road or a crossroads, perhaps separated from other settlements by countryside or farmland.

Bo Peep, Maypole by Malc McDonald (CC BY-SA 2.0). The Bo Peep pub in the village of Maypole, on the outermost fringe of South East London.

London Bridge reopens

This Sunday fifty years ago, London Bridge that had been sold, dismantled and moved to Lake Havasu was opened. On 10th October 1971, London Bridge reopened in Lake Havasu City, Arizona with all the razzamatazz you’d expect.

Ivan Luckin, a Common Council Member of The City of London proposed the idea of selling the bridge, which was initially received as pure lunacy. Five weeks before the closing date there had been lots of inquiries – but no firm offers. The idea looked like collapsing in fiasco.

He persisted, went to the States and at a press conference at the British-American Chamber of Commerce in New York the sale was made to American oil tycoon Robert P. McCulloch for a sum of $2.46 million.

The oft-repeated tale that McCulloch believed he was buying Tower Bridge is a myth, there had been a fully illustrated sales brochure produced, and I suspect the extra publicity, gained from this urban myth later promoted property sales in Arizona.

Only the shell was shipped off to the States, the bulk of the stone that didn’t go to America went to Merryvale Quarry in Devon.

Each stone of the cladding was individually numbered to aid in reassembly. It was then transported to California, via the Panama Canal, and trucked to what would become Lake Havasu City where it was reassembled spanning a newly built canal in the reservoir, providing access to an island.

McCulloch had obtained a sizable portion of desert land, along the shore of Lake Havasu, which had been dammed off during the 1930s. He had every intention of developing it, which meant that he needed to make it interesting, and in the case of the island, accessible.

Following the completion of the bridge, his gamble paid off, and the bridge made people curious about his new development. He recouped his entire investment in the bridge through land sales in the area, and Lake Havasu City was born.

Maggie Blake’s Cause

Maggie Blake’s Cause is a small alleyway connecting the Victorian cobblestoned Shad Thames with the riverfront alongside Butler’s Wharf.

So who was Maggie Blake and what, or when, was her cause?

Butler’s Wharf was a large Victorian warehouse complex built in the early 1870s, so successful at the time it earned the sobriquet: London’s Larder. I can remember the area, before gentrification, still smelling of the spices stored in its warehouses.

Containerisation and the development of large, deep-water docks downriver at Tilbury spelt the end of London’s wharves and warehouses, including those at Butler’s Wharf. The last cargo ship sailed away from Butler’s Wharf in 1972.

The warehouses became empty and partly derelict until Sir Terence Conran and his backers won planning permission in 1981 to redevelop them into restaurants and apartments by the London Docklands Development Corporation, with their plans sealing off the riverside frontage, making more space for their restaurants.

As with all these developments for the rich exclusivity was demanded.

Enter Maggie Blake a local community activist who, together with other Bermondsey residents, successfully campaigned to retain access to the riverfront for both locals and visitors.

There is one oddity though, early documents call it Maggie Blake’s Causeway, while today it seems to have dropped the ‘way’.

In a way, that makes the causeway better named, as it was the cause that she fought for.

Featured Image: The Thames Path near Butler’s Wharf Pier by Tim Heaton (CC BY-SA 2.0). This part of the Path’s access to the Thames was made possible by Maggie Blake and other local residents: Developers of the derelict warehouses along Butler’s Wharf “… wanted to limit riverfront access to the owners, occupiers and guests of Butler’s Wharf [new] restaurants and apartments. Maggie Blake and her supporters thought otherwise. They fought a spirited and eventually successful campaign which saved the historic riverfront and its wonderful views of Tower Bridge for ordinary folk”.

Maggie Blake’s Cause by Steve Daniels (CC BY-SA 2.0). Alley that connects Shad Thames with the waterfront. Maggie Blake, along with other activists wanted to ensure that local people and the general public could walk freely along the south bank of the Thames.

 

Shakespeare Wos ‘Ere

Historians aren’t certain that William Shakespeare was born on St George’s Day 1564, although he was baptised on 26 April that year, what we do know that he died on this day 405 years ago.

For several years of his life, Shakespeare’s home was London, although we don’t know where most of them are, there are a couple where we have proper documentary evidence.

1592:

William Shakespeare first moves to lodgings in London

1593:

Now lodging somewhere in Bishopsgate

1596:

Now lodging somewhere in the parish of St. Helen’s in Bishopsgate

1599:

Now lodging somewhere on Bankside, near the Globe Theatre

And that’s not the current Globe Theatre, which is too near the Thames. Back then a row of theatres ran slightly further back, within the ‘Liberty of the Clink’, an ancient enclave whose laws permitted entertainments banned a few streets away.

The site of the original Globe can be found by crossing Southwark Bridge and then taking steps down immediately beyond the large office block, before reaching the traffic lights.

Information boards on Park Street, which runs parallel to the Thames and below Southwark Bridge Road, reveals that the site lays before you, beyond the railings, within the protective realm of a block of flats. The limit of the Scheduled Ancient Monument area is defined by a change in the cobbles, with a late Georgian terrace plonked straight across the middle of it, because nobody back then cared about heritage.

The Globe had burnt to the ground in 1613, ignited by a cinder during a performance of Henry VIII, and only a few minor archaeological traces remain. It’s believed that Shakespeare might have lived in a house adjacent to the theatre, but that’s mere speculation, and nobody knows precisely where.

1604:

Shakespeare now lodging in Cripplegate

By this time, he’d already written most of his classics like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and Othello, perhaps in response to his increased reputation he moved back north of the river and rented lodgings in the City.

His landlord was Christopher Mountjoy, a French Huguenot refugee and a maker of ladies’ ornamental wigs in the elaborate Elizabethan fashion. We’d know none of this was it not for a family dispute following the marriage of Mountjoy’s daughter Mary to his apprentice Stephen Belott. When a promised dowry failed to materialise in full, Bellot took Mountjoy to court and Shakespeare was called as a witness. His words, in this case, weren’t particularly useful, but modern scholars were bequeathed a rare example of his handwriting as a result, and also a precise address. The Mountjoys’ house was situated on the corner of Silver Street and Monkwell Street, on the boundary between the wards of Farringdon and Cripplegate.

The catch is that neither the house nor either of the streets still exists, the house disappeared in the Great Fire, and then the local area was wiped from the map again during the Blitz. Pretty much the whole of Cripplegate was consumed, and the street pattern substantially remodelled during the erection of the Barbican estate. The location lies just outside this modern development, either underneath or fractionally to the south of London Wall, which despite its name is another modern interloper on the A-Z. Head to the section east of the Museum of London, close to the actual remains of the actual London wall on Noble Street. The best clue to the precise site of the Bard’s lodgings is St. Olave’s church, a small place of worship whose churchyard abutted the street corner in question. This was also destroyed in World War II, but its footprint remains as a tiny garden, with a raised lawn and a footpath winding through, and an old stone bowl which might be a font or maybe a birdbath, it’s hard to be sure. The City has erected a plaque by a bench to confirm the Shakespearian connection, using the usual convention of ‘Near Here’ to confirm there’s no remaining wall to properly attach it to. If you’re planning on getting up close and maybe taking a photo, best hope there isn’t a modern-day Romeo and Juliet canoodling on the bench when you visit. But if it’s free, take a seat and look around you at the lofty offices and high walks, and try to imagine that Macbeth and King Lear were likely written right here.

1613:

Now with property in Blackfriars

With more than a third of London’s adult population watching live theatre every month, Shakespeare had become a wealthy man he had retired to a fine house in Stratford but was now rich enough to be able to buy a second property here. Maybe it was his bolthole in the capital, maybe simply an investment or a holiday home, there isn’t even enough documentary evidence to prove he ever stayed the night. Whatever the reason, when he bequeathed it to his daughter he left us one of only six confirmed signatures still in existence today.

The best guess is that the property may have occupied the north side of Ireland Yard where it joins St Andrew’s Hill, which is where the City of London have placed another blue plaque.

Things would have been a lot busier around here in early Jacobean times, not least because of the Blackfriars Theatre where Shakespeare’s troupe played out the winter months. These days the bypassed quadrant of backstreets to the south of Ludgate Hill goes mostly unnoticed except by those who work here, which is a shame because it’s almost quaint in parts. It’s also easier here than at the Barbican to imagine our greatest playwright stepping out from home… until that fateful day exactly 405 years ago when Will’s will suddenly become important.