Tag Archives: buildings of london

Weather we care

They must have done something at the recent Copenhagen Conference to prevent global warming for since then it hasn’t stopped snowing and with London temperatures dropping to levels not seen for over 20 years you have to feel sorry for those sleeping rough on the streets of London.

It was when I started the Knowledge of London that first I noticed, with shock and dismay, the number of people sleeping rough, it was, I suppose when trying to be more observant to increase my knowledge that I then noticed just how many people were to be found in shop doorways at night.

[L]ondon has always had a homelessness problem, William the Conqueror forbade anyone to leave the land where they worked, if by so doing they effectively made themselves homeless, and as far back as the 7th Century, laws were passed laws to punish vagrants. In the 13th Century Edward I (He of Braveheart fame) ordered weekly searches to round up vagrants.

Bridewell Palace The Unilever building at the north end of Blackfriars Bridge stands on the site of Bridewell Palace (shown right in an early 19th Century imaginary reconstruction of Bridewell Palace in 1660 showing the entrance to the Fleet River). First built by Henry VIII and later leased to the French Ambassador at which time the interior was used by Holbein for his painting The Ambassadors. By the time Edward VI took possession the palace was in a state of disrepair and he gave it to the City for the reception of vagrants and homeless children. Later becoming a prison, the name Bridewell became synonymous with an institution providing unsanitary conditions and cruelty for the poor and homeless, but it was here in the 16th Century that the State first tried to house vagrants rather than punish them. It began introducing Bridewells, places meant to take vagrants in and train them for a profession, and in 1788 prisoners were given straw for their beds (other prisons had neither beds nor straw) but in reality Bridewells were dirty and brutal places.

bridewell_gate By the 18th Century workhouses had replaced the Bridewells, but these were intended to discourage over-reliance on state help. At best they were spartan places with meagre food and sparse furnishings – at worst they were unsanitary and uncaring. By 1863 the building which started Bridewell prison was demolished, after transferring prisoners to Holloway, and now only the gateway built in 1802 remains (pictured left), it can be seen at No. 14 New Bridge Street.

The numbers of vagrants has risen and fallen, and precise figures are hard to estimate, but by the 1930s eighty were found sleeping rough during a street count in London, but after the Second World War in 1949 a low of only six people were found sleeping rough in London.

Street counts provide a useful snapshot of the number of people sleeping rough on a single night but are best regarded as indicators of trends, rather than exact numbers of men and women who sleep rough. The annual estimate of the numbers sleeping out in England on any single night is published in September each year. The 2007 annual estimate found there were 248 people sleeping rough in London on a single night, which equates to around 3,000 people sleeping rough in London each year, while the 2008 figure was no better at 4,077.

This year homelessness has jumped by 15 per cent with Eastern Europeans, who have lost jobs and have fewer means of social support, now constitute nearly one in seven of those living without permanent shelter. The annual returns, compiled by the charity Broadway on behalf of the Government, show that 4,672 rough sleepers were counted in the capital and only around 60 per cent were UK nationals.

The Government’s target of ending rough sleeping in the capital by 2012 is unlikely to be achieved unless more is done to break the link between mental health problems and homelessness.

I now return, like any good Englishman, to talk about the weather. Why is it that every year at Christmas we open, to great publicity on television, makeshift shelters for the homeless only to close them after the holiday at a time when London’s temperature starts to fall? Even in 1788 vagrants were given straw to sleep upon?

Somers Town

[M]ost people have probably not heard of this area which has as its borders; Hampstead Road, Crowndale Road and Euston Road. But the Victorians certainly favoured it when building their termini for railways bound for the north, first building Euston Station (1837), King’s Cross Station (1852) closely followed by St. Pancras Station (1868). Once completed they then left the buildings to gather dust for 100 years.

Apart from a small excursion into modernity in the 1960s which proposed demolishing St. Pancras Station (saved at the 11th hour by John Betjeman); an early use for MDF to cover King’s Cross façade providing prostitutes and drug addicts shelter from the rain; and completing this hat trick by removing Euston Arch from the front of the station.The arch was in its time the largest Doric column ever built.

After that spate of vandalism they all sat down to rest and leave London’s stations alone for another 30 years.

300px-Kings_Cross_ILN_1852 This 1852 illustration shows King’s Cross Station after opening. It was constructed on the site of a smallpox hospital.

Thomas Cubitt’s original facade will soon be visible without the concourse extension, which is currently scheduled to be removed.

Now after another decade of development and an unprecedented level of investment, which has provided the finest fleet of shuttle buses in the Northern Hemisphere, this Sunday on the 29th November the Northern ticket hall to the west of King’s Cross mainline station will open. Quite why you call a ticket hall situated on the west flank of the station, the Northern ticket hall eludes me.

The old Great Northern Hotel is expected to reopen its 100 rooms to guests in 2012.

The old gasometers to the rear of King’s Cross Station will be re-erected and the King’s Cross Central development team, have set aside £2.4 million to create a new public space around Gasholder No. 8.

Central Saint Martins Art School has revealed it also has plans to move to a purpose built complex at Kings Cross in 2011. The move will create one college site thereby unifying the five schools at one location.

Exciting times for the area, unless that it, you’re a working girl looking for punters trying to shelter from the rain.

Cabinet of Curiosities

[A]ll men like to collect and catalogue ‘stuff’ and Victorian gentlemen were no different from today’s men. Amongst their collections could be found animal skulls, fossils, shells, a miniature book or maybe a small timepiece. They would display their finds in a cabinet , a cabinet of curiosities. In the same spirit of inquiry CabbieBlog gives you its London Cabinet of Curiosities.

Rose Square A pastiche of a pastiche
In Rose Square on the Fulham Road all is not what it seems. When these very smart apartments are finally pulled down, it will reveal a 21st century re-working of a mid 19th century re-creation of a Tudor college or cloister. It was built originally for a hospital for consumptives in 1844 by architect F. J. Francis who promptly vanished into Victorian obscurity.

Ely Place The Holborn Fens
Ely Place is the archetypal London street, tall, prosperous Georgian buildings, solid trustworthy, elegant and private, it’s even gate and guarded by a beadle. His tiny one-roomed lodge is nothing more than a door, a window, a fireplace and a chimney which is curiously supported by the window. This quiet cul-de-sac was the site of the Palace of the Bishops of Ely in Cambridgeshire, and therefore out of the jurisdiction of London.

1561712927_d09325835c Elizabethan Toolshed
This octagonal building was designed as a summer house to form part of a £200 improvement in 1886 of what was then a private square. It is now one of the most picturesque garden sheds you will find in London. A fountain previously stood on the site with four jets, representing the Thames, Severn, Tyne and Humber rivers, but has vanished just as have Centre Point’s fountains nearby.

Old Curiosity Shop The Old Curiosity Shop
This charming one-bay, two-story, 17th century shop with an overhanging upper story is conspicuously picturesque but obliterated by the dull buildings towering around it. In Dicken’s story of the same name, Little Nell and her grandfather fled the shop leaving it in the hands of the evil dwarf Quilp. Dickens described the shop as ‘the old house was a patch of darkness among its gaily lit neighbours’. Today the roles are reversed, Portsmouth Street where it stands, is one of the bleakest, most anonymous byways in central London.

Hornor’s Panorama

1400px-London_360_from_St_Paul's_Cathedral_-_Sept_2007 A panorama of modern London, taken from the Golden Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral

[T]he United States Capitol Building, Taj Mahal and Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore all have their admirers, but for CabbieBlog standing head and shoulders above them all is the largest Cathedral in England, Sir Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

It is remarkable that St. Paul’s should have been built under the supervision of only one master-builder, Thomas Strong and one architect. Construction took over 35 years, so long in fact that a lazy workman at the time would have been called a St. Paul’s workman.

In Florence no building is allowed to dominate its beautiful cathedral. It’s a simple principle that has enhanced their city. Unfortunately this has not been the case in the area surrounding St. Paul’s. The buildings after the Second World War were dire and it has only been after the intervention of Prince Charles that adjoining Paternoster Square, completed in 2003, is harmonious.

180px-PaternosterSquare-TempleBar The arch connecting Paternoster Square to St. Paul’s is Temple Bar designed by Wren and originally positioned at the western end of Fleet Street as a ‘bar’ to people approaching the City of London. In 1880, a brewer Sir Henry Meux bought the stones (at the instigation of his wife, Valerie Susan Meux, a barmaid he married amid much scandal) and re-erected the arch as a gateway at his house, Theobalds Park, between Enfield and Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. It remained there, incongruously sitting in a clearing in a wood, until 2003.

Before satellite imagery, before airplanes, and before photography, the only way of obtaining large-scale and factual panoramic views was to get to a good observation point and draw away. Thomas Hornor did just such a thing in 1821: taking advantage of the cross being removed for cleaning from the top of St. Paul’s, he somehow convinced the powers-that-be to allow him to construct an observation post for himself in its place for a long term, uninterrupted and altogether fabulous view of the city of London. He set up shop up there, about 400 feet above the ground, in a shack that was, well, not the safest-looking construction ever to grace atop a cathedral, making minutely detailed drawings of the cityscape, working with a telescope and a great deal of reserve.

hornor panorama

The end result was an enormous, fantastically detailed acre-sized painting which was installed and displayed in a pleasure dome on a site between Albany Street and Cambridge Terrace, on the fringes of Regent’s Park. It was eventually to be called the Colosseum and it was conceived on a suitably grand scale. Designed by a young architect called Decimus Burton, its central feature was a rotunda with a dome 30 feet wider than St. Paul’s and 112 feet high at its apex. The installation was as much an artwork as the painting – it was affixed to the walls and people would view it from a multi-story observation deck in the middle of the building. For those who didn’t want to climb the stairs to get to the viewing room, an ‘ascending car’ was fabricated, making the structure one of the earliest buildings to have an elevator. There is some sort of irony in that: people would pay to see a painting using London’s first elevator to get to the top of a small structure inside another structure to see a painting made from the top of a large structure of a scene that could be viewed for free by walking outside. Nonetheless, the fantabulous painting was viewed by more than a million people before moving on.

As a footnote: Temple Bar’s secondary purpose was a public space to display the severed heads of traitors, something along the lines of the recently concluded One & Other on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. Do you think not, maybe some traditions are worth preserving, for people who are paid to despoil London?

Goodbye Piccadilly

180px-Simpsons_of_Piccadilly_2005 When was the last time you had your inside leg measured? Or for that matter you were asked rather discreetly “and on what side does Sir dress?”

One of the last bastions of sartorial elegance is hanging up its tape measure for the last time at the end of the year.
Baron of Piccadilly one of London’s quirkier outfitters is to close, as Crown Estates their landlord plans to pull down their block for re-development.

Further along the road was Simpsons of Piccadilly, now a Waterstones book store. Simpsons opened in 1936 in what is now a listed building, the Art Deco design was the first shop in Britain to have an uninterrupted curved-glass frontage. This new style was made possible by arc-welding a wide-span steel frame, rather than earlier techniques which involved using bulky bolted joints.

[T]he company built as a quality clothing store specifically for men had the ethos that Simpson of Piccadilly was to be a purveyor of ‘quality clothes for the well-heeled’. Indeed, the store regularly attracted the ‘tweed set’ including Royals, MPs, dignitaries and country landowners.

During the early 1950s, scriptwriter Jeremy Lloyd was employed as a junior assistant at Simpsons; he drew on his experiences to come-up with the idea for the highly-popular television sitcom Are You Being Served?

At least Fortnums are still in Piccadilly, the store that gave you such exotic foods as Harts Horn; Gable Worm Seed; Saffron and Dirty White Candy, and incidentally were the first in 1886 to stock the entire output of a Mr Heinz’s newly invented canned food.