Tag Archives: London alleys

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.


XX Place

Recently, for no apparent reason, I decided to write about the first alphabetical entry in my map index. All went swimmingly until reaching X, not one entry, no Xanadu Drive, Xylophone Gardens, even that fine organisation Xerox seems to have missed a trick when it comes to naming thoroughfares.

In fact, there isn’t a single X-road in the country, even America only has nine.

With a little research, I found my first, and the only X featured in a little book written by Hugh Pearman, a London cabbie. I then realised that Hugh Pearman (no relation) had once written a Guest Post about Curious London: An illustrated guide to the curious places and curious things in the twenty-nine boroughs and cities that make up the county of London.

Much of the small book by the ‘Cabman Psychogeographer’ was devoted to facts such as where the Brighton Road ends: “Where Craven Hill Road makes a ‘T’ junction with Porchester Terrace”. It’s the sort of trivia loved by cabbies.

As you might have expected Pearman found some very curious locations, among them was XX Place which he describes as:

Half hidden in Globe Road is a little turning with the oddest of all odd names, XX Place, so-called, it is believed, because it was built to house their workers, by the owners of the huge brewery in whose shadow it stands. lending colour to that belief is the two little beer barrels, carved in stone, high up in the wall of one of the cottages.

XX Place was built in 1842 for locally employed workers and was only a short street of 10 small terrace houses running along one side of the street. About 10 feet wide with the majority of those living in the street were employed at the nearby Charringtons Brewery.

The local name for the street was either XX Place, 2X Place or, as known by older locals, Double X Place.

These were typical two-up two-down properties without a hall, with the front door opening onto the living room. Each had a small yard at its rear.

London Inheritance has researched this little cul-de-sac and discovered that a family of 10 once lived in one of these little houses.

XX Place in Globe Road, just off Mile End Road, was demolished around 1957/58 being replaced with Stock Court student dormitories.

Research by retired Head of Highways at Tower Hamlets discovered:

XX Place, Globe Road E1, was a narrow street, first on the left off Globe Road from Mile End Road, serving ten small cottages on the north side. One of the houses in this narrow passageway had an inscription on a stone projection that showed a half-barrel marked XX and the initials I.S. XX Place with the date 1823. “I” was a character frequently used in earlier times for the modern letter “J”. This indicated that the owner was J Stayner, a brewer by trade and there used to be a small brewery near this alley. Note Stayners Road just to the west. It is listed in the LCC 1901 volume as both “Double X Place” and XX Place. All the houses in XX Place were demolished about 1956 in an LCC clearance area and the street closed. It no longer exists as a street although the name has been revived commercially on a number of occasions, probably for its novelty value.

Further research by A London Inheritance led to a book titled A Londoner’s Own London by Charles G. Harper, published in 1927. Here the author visited XX Court and sketched the alley and also a plaque which gives a date of 1823 and not 1842.

As a final curiosity to this little alley has been used by criminals according to this website’s account:.

There used to be an XX Place in Stepney, east London. It was demolished in 1956 but every so often someone tries to use it illegally. I had to have one cast-iron street sign taken down on the instructions of the naming and numbering officer for the area in the 1980s. The owner of the cast iron plate never claimed it back so a few years later I had it mounted on wood and gave it to the head of Highways as a leaving present.

Featured image: XX Place 1956 London Metropolitan Archives, City of London, catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_406_56_3582

Down Your Alley White Hart Court

White Hart Court is on the west side of Bishopsgate, just south of Liverpool Street.

‘Next unto the parish church of St Buttolph is a fair inn for the receipt of travellers’. So says John Stow in his Survey of 1598.

He probably called in at the White Hart for a swift one while taking time out to catch up on his notes before going on to the ‘hospital of St Mary Bethelem’.

[T]HIS WAS ONE of the two main London hospitals for ‘distracted people’ and occupied the site of the present Liverpool Street mainline station. It was founded by Simon Fitzmary, a sheriff of the City, in 1246 as a priory, the monks offering an open house to the Bishop of Bethlehem whenever he had business in London. Within 100 years of its foundation the priory was transformed into a hospital for lunatics and the monks, for most of their time, were engaged in begging money to support themselves and the inmates.

At that time everybody in London had heard of Bethlehem Hospital, it was the source of daily conversation and became shortened by some to Bethlem, but more in evidence was the corruption to Bedlam. This latter gives rise to the present day usage indicating a noisy disturbance. Stow would have had no difficulty in gaining access to the hospital, it was open to the public as an entertainment venue on payment of a small entrance fee. On Monday 8th May 1775 Johnson and Boswell, always eager to investigate the talk of the town, came to view the ‘mansions of Bedlam’. Referring to the visit Boswell noted in his journal ‘the general contemplation of insanity was very affecting.’ What they found at the hospital was quite obviously not a pleasing sight but to the majority, it was an amusement of great delight. Over 100 people at any time, each having paid their two pence entrance fee, could run riot up and down the wards tormenting the miserable inmates. For those who wanted an additional dose of excitement and an element of risk, on payment of an extra penny they could join the patients for dinner. Naturally, the management holds no responsibility for the frequent casualties.

The church of the original priory remained standing until the mid-16th century when it was pulled down and replaced by houses for Christ’s Hospital. As for Bethlehem Hospital, it survived on this site until 1676 when it moved a little way to the west on London Wall and then, in 1815, it was transferred to a new building in Lambeth Road providing accommodation for a thousand patients classified as mental. Bedlam building remained for few more years until the site was acquired by the Great Eastern Railway Company with plans to extend the line from the Shoreditch terminus into the heart of the City. Liverpool Street Station, occupying over ten acres of land, was opened in November 1874.

The White Hart Inn was conveniently situated first for pilgrims visiting the priory and in later years it was used as a night stay by those travelling a long distance to experience the spectacle of Bedlam. At the height of its popularity, in the 15th century, there would have been a daily turnaround of about 50 guests staying at the Inn. Not all of these were mad-house spectators; a large proportion would be travellers arriving either too late at night to enter the City, or those wishing to pass through the gate before curfew in order to make an early start the next morning. All of the City gates had the facility of accommodation outside the bounds of the wall and their landlords made rich pickings from frequently overcharging. To assess the magnitude of business passing through these establishments we only need to consider the profusion of inns in Southwark, largely established on the strength of traveller leaving and entering the City via London Bridge, which was also barred by curfew gates.

Of course, the White Hart of today is a modern pub, tarted up and brought into line with the expectations of the up-to-date fraternity of City workers. But the Inn has not forgotten its root, the very history in which its foundations lie, of priories, monks and pilgrims; of mad-houses, lunatics, and the crowds that came to revel at the expense of the unfortunate few. The history of the Inn goes back to at least the time of the foundation of Bethlehem Priory. It was then a much larger place with galleries surrounding the courtyard where during the summer months guests were treated to regular theatrical performances. All this has long gone but the Yard remains, much changed in character, but still as an accompaniment to the Inn and as a reminder of the days when over laden stage coaches rattled and rolled over its cobbles from early morning until dusk.

Featured image: White Hart Court by Baldwin Hamey (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) more information on the history of White Hart Court can be found at London Street Views.

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.

Down Your Alley: Herbal Hill

‘Take ginger, galingale, cinnamon, nutmeg, grains of paradise, cloves bruised, fennel seed, caraway seeds, origanum, one ounce each. Next, take sage, wild marjoram, pennyroyal, mint, red roses, thyme, pellitory, rosemary, wild thyme, chamomile, lavender, one handful of each.

Beat the spices small, bruise the herbs, put all into a limbeck with wine for twelve hours; then distil.’

[I]f taken four times daily it was claimed to cure dropsy, prolong life to eternity and probably scare evil spirits out of their wits. In our day of sophisticated medical remedies it would take the courage of a hero to contemplate swallowing such a preparation, but until less than 100 years ago it was a typical remedy, at the finger tips of every dedicated housewife.

The secret of a successful mixture was to have a goodly number of ingredients; that is, as many as necessary to convince the patient that it was going to do him good. Thus, a cure for a simple illness, such as the common cold, might have included merely two or three varieties of herb whereas the most popular cure for the plague, known as ‘plague water’, included the combination of fifty-nine varieties.

Herbal Hill

Herbs and spices have been the basis of every medicinal preparation ever since the cure of illness was first thought of. On the kitchen shelf of every household, there was a mighty tome of recipes for the treatment of all kinds of ailment; the housewife diagnosed the problem and prescribed the treatment. Only when in immediate danger did anyone think of calling in a physician, or more commonly a herbalist. Treatments varied widely and no two herbalists held alike views on remedies; they were all independent in their thinking and everyone claimed to have ‘invented’ the cure for all ills.

The demand for herbs in a large city like London was such that some gardeners dedicated their entire grounds to the cultivation of herbs; these were the main suppliers to the herbalists, but every gardener choosing to set aside a plot for the growing of herbs would be sure to sell his yield. We know that in the 16th century there was an established garden on the site of Herbal Hill wherein a variety of herb plants were grown; whether this was an expanse entirely given over to the purpose, or a section of a multi-purpose garden is not known. Also unknown is the owner or tender of the garden. There are various possibilities but three distinctly come out as clear contenders. Firstly, there was St Mary’s Nunnery which occupied the site to the east of Farringdon Road; the nuns owned numerous acres of land but their boundary is unlikely to have extended further west than the line of the present main road. Then there was the garden of the Bishops of Ely, notable throughout London for its quality orchards and a fine strawberry patch of which Shakespeare found necessity to mention in Richard III: ‘My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn I saw good strawberries in your garden there.’ The Bishop’s garden was a sizeable estate but presumably, the northern limit was on a line with that of the garden of Sir Christopher Hatton who gained his plot from the Ely estate with the help of Elizabeth I. This means that the Herbal Hill site would have been just outside the Bishop’s garden.

Coming in very strongly is John Gerard, barber-surgeon and native of Cheshire, who moved to London in 1577 and took up the position of head gardener to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Gerard bought a house in Holborn, about midway between the two gardens he was commissioned to tend; one at Lord Burghley’s mansion in the Strand and the other at Theobalds, to the north of the Ely estate. On these plots, he continued the work he had been following for many years, that of refining the art of rearing and nurturing an unrivalled array of herbs, fruits and flowers. The high degree of his dedication inspired the writing of Herbal, published in 1597, the first comprehensive catalogue of herbs, ever compiled. In 1602 Gerard’s skill was recognised by Anne of Denmark and as a reward for his commitment to the subject he was granted the lease of a two-acre plot of land on the site of the present King’s College. All evidence does seem to suggest that it was the activities of John Gerard that led to the naming of Herbal Hill.

There are no herbs or flowers here now, not even a solitary ghost of Gerard’s skilful creation desperately trying to poke its head between the cracked paving. Today, Herbal Hill gives the impression of not knowing where it is; it seems lost in its surroundings of the not quite inner city, yet not quite anything else.

Image: Looking south from its junction with Ray Street. This narrow street runs right through to Clerkenwell Roadby Dr Neil Clifton (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.

Down Your Alley: Alderman’s Walk

Alderman’s Walk is one of those names that tend to spark off thoughts of summery strolls along well-kept tree-lined avenues. Indeed, if we were contemplating our walk in a suburban village or almost any place other than the City of London that is what we may very well expect to find.

However, the City of London is where we are and Alderman’s Walk is not remotely like that.

[O]N THE DOORSTEP is Liverpool Street Station, the modernised gateway to eastern England; only yards away and visible from all angles of the City, the Natwest Tower reaches skyward; a mere stone’s throw away is the Bank, the ‘old lady’ who has her thumb on the hub of financial London.

This has been a busy section of the City for centuries; carts and trucks have been rumbling around here ever since the Romans built the Bishops Gate and opened up a main thoroughfare into the City. Despite all this turmoil Frances Dashwood, an 18th-century Member of the Common Council of the City, liked it so much that he built his house here, on the south side of the Walk near to Old Broad Street. When Dashwood received a Knighthood the place became known as Dashwood’s Court until he was elected to the Court of Aldermen of the City of London and from that time the name changed to Alderman’s Walk.

Adjoining the Walk, on the south side, is the church of St Botolph, Bishopsgate, one of three surviving churches dedicated to the seventh-century patron saint of travellers. The first church on this site was built about the beginning of the 13th century and was probably twice replaced before the 17th century. On Tuesday the 4th September 1666 St Botolph’s was shaking in its foundation as the Great Fire swept across the lower reaches of Bishopsgate, moving round to Throgmorton Street where it took the Drapers’ Hall. Although there was a sigh of relief when the danger was past, St Botolph’s was not in the best of repair and sixty years after the fire (1725) the church was demolished and rebuilt by James Gold. The unusual interior has two aisles separated from the nave by enormous Corinthian columns supporting a gallery running around the north, south and west sides. Strangely, the square tower is at the east end and therefore above the chancel and sanctuary, an arrangement only occasionally encountered. The marble fluted font is a relic of the 18th century, doubly celebrated because John Keates, poet, was baptised in it in 1795. In the graveyard of the old church, Ben Jonson and his family gathered to mourn the passing of his young son, a tragic victim of the plague.

The church once controlled a charity school for fifty poor boys and girls. In 1861 the classrooms were transformed into the parish hall and it can be seen to the west of the church with two charming statues of the charity children; a boy and a girl each wearing a badge and holding a book.

Featured image: Bishopsgate Churchyard, London, EC2 by David Hallam-Jones (CC BY_SA 2.0)
With the footpath that passes through St Botolph’s-without-Bishopsgate churchyard behind them, pedestrians heading in the direction of New Broad Street find themselves passing the entrance of this former underground Turkish Bath establishment. Apparently, there had been baths of one kind or another on this site since 1817. These “new” (replacement) baths were opened as “The New Broad Street Turkish Baths” on 5 February 1895. They were situated partly underneath the original New Broad Street House (since demolished) and partly beneath Alderman’s Walk (now called Bishopsgate Churchyard). Potential bathers entered the kiosk topped by an onion-shaped cupola and decorated with a star and crescent and went down a faïence-lined (earthenware tiled) winding staircase to a vestibule where s/he bought his ticket. Although protected, it seems that they have been adapted into a restaurant.

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.