City from Crystal Palace

At this time of year, the trees in London start to become green once more and the cycle of nature tells us that ‘summer is just around the corner’. Much of London is completely flat. Its cross-section has been likened to a saucer – with hills rising around north and north-west of London and also around south and south-east London. Crystal Palace is an area of London on some of its highest ground. If you pick the right spot, you are treated to some of the grandest views of the tall buildings in Central London – and all for free!

There are several spots that have spectacular views and each one is a little different from the other – both in the angle of view of Central London and of the buildings that are visible. The view above was taken in early April from a steep hill at Crystal Palace called Woodland Road. The particular feature of this view is that it is almost exactly due south of London Bridge which means that its position would be almost in the centre of the view in the picture.

Woodland Road falls sharply from Westow Hill and it is from that T-junction that the view was taken. Along the bottom of the picture are the flat roofs of some low-rise flats and then there is a wooded part formed by the many trees in Dulwich, including Dulwich Park. Above the trees are lines of red-roofed flats, many of which are on and around Dog Kennel Hill.

If you have forgotten the view that you would have seen in the 1970s, it is worth pointing out that one of the only high-rise buildings is the one that is today just to the left of the Shard of Glass. The bulky block is Guy’s Tower which was then the only modern building on the large site of Guy’s Hospital. Since that time the City of London has developed into the large collection of offices that you can see in the picture. One building that the public particularly liked when it went up – and they continue to admire it today – is the ‘Gherkin’. Its nickname arose for obvious reasons, its proper name is 30 St Mary Axe. One of the most hated modern buildings – which happens to be the latest to be added to this view is the ‘Walkie-Talkie’. Its proper name is 20 Fenchurch Street and it is the tall one with the white sides and white top.

Tallest of them all is the Shard of Glass, designed by Renzo Piano and extending 1,017 feet into the sky. Apart from the Shard and Guy’s Tower (which stand in Southwark on the south side of the Thames), all the other tall buildings stand inside the boundary of the City of London.

For subscription members, there is a large pdf version of this image which can be downloaded. It has labels on all the main buildings explaining their names. A link will be sent out by email to all members.


Comment 03 – Updates

In these days of ‘fake news’ on some news Websites, there is also plenty of ‘fake history’ on other history Websites – blogging and otherwise. There are plenty of authors who search for their chosen topic on the Internet and, after finding a couple of suitable write-ups, they copy down the information, edit the text, add a few extra comments of their own then, lo and behold, a new blog has been written. The only problem is that the author, not being a historian, has no idea whether what has been copied is correct or just made up. Sadly such people make little effort to carry out rigorous research to verify what they have created.

Some of us have spent many years researching the information in our blogs. In my case, I am happy to say that my blogs should be free of any hint of fake history.

Since starting these ‘Know Your London’ blogs, most of them have been left unchanged. In just a few cases updates have been made for reasons that are usually (1) a blog has been found to contain factual errors which have come to light since it was written (2) a blog was complete at the time but additional information has been found which has been added or (3) an additional picture has been added to the blog.

Shown below is a list of blogs that have been updated since they were first put on-line. They are listed in the order in which they first appeared. Those of you who are keeping copies of the blogs might like to make updates accordingly.

22 May 2015 – Lyncombe, 1 Crescent Wood Road
The blog was correct apart from details about the life of Lily Payling – which were in error. The blog has been updated under its original date and title.

20 July 2015 – Melon Road, Peckham
A new image related to the original site was found on 30 Nov 2015. The blog has been updated under its original date and title. (The second blog of 30 Nov 2015, announcing the corrections, has been deleted).

12 Aug 2015 – Charlton Lane Crossing
Some of the text was corrected and updated on 25 April 2017 under its original date and title.

21 Aug 2015 – Jamaica Road Tram
Additional information was added to the original article. The blog has been updated under its original date and title. (The second blog of 29 Aug 2015, announcing the corrections, has been deleted).

20 June 2016 – Hay Barges on the Thames
Details about the sepia picture were later found to be incorrect. The blog has been updated under its original date and title. (The second blog of 28 June 2016, announcing the corrections, has been deleted).

13 March 2017 – Paddington Station
Additional text was added on 6 April 2017. The blog has been updated under its original date and title.

29 March 2017 – St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington
The history of building the hospital was later found to be incorrectly described. It has been rewritten and an additional picture has been added. The blog has been updated under its original date and title.

31 March 2017 – Deptford Creek Pedestrian Swing Bridge
A second image was added on 9 April 2017. The blog has been updated under its original date and title.


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Plough Pub, Clapham

“A Moment in Time”

The picture shows a busy scene at Clapham, with the shops in the foreground and trees on Clapham Common in the background. The main road is at the point where Clapham High Street changes its name and runs further south as Clapham Common South Side. The smaller road (to the right of the clock tower) is the start of a turning called The Pavement. The Clock Tower beside Clapham High Street, seen in this picture, was unveiled at a ceremony on 19th July 1906. It had been given to the Parish of Clapham by Alexander Glegg, Mayor of Wandsworth (which included Clapham from 1900 until 1965). The tower was dismantled and rebuilt when the new booking hall was built below it for the underground. The tower has the address of 5 The Pavement, Clapham Common.

Knowing about the clock tower helps with dating the picture which obviously has to be post-1906. It would be a brave man who followed in the footsteps of the gentleman in the foreground (towards the left). Crossing that busy road is now a dangerous business and few people attempt to wander across it, as he is doing. It can also be seen that he is walking across tram tracks, set into the road. The tracks contain a third centre rail which means that they were electric by the time of this picture. This means that the picture was taken at an interesting time in public transport.

Notice that, behind the clock tower, there is no entrance building for Clapham Common Underground Station – as there is today. The underground station was opened in 1926. Not only do we see the evidence for electric trams but the number 4 bus facing the camera is motorised. The other two vehicles are horse-buses. One is moving away from the camera and the other one has stopped beside the pavement, in front of the Plough public house.

As was common at such times, the photo was being taken using a large camera mounted on a tripod. Exposures were long – due to very slow photographic film or plates – and therefore the cameraman chose his moment when there was a minimum of movement that might show as a blur on the final photograph. Taking such pictures was always rather a performance and we can see that bystanders on the right are looking at what the cameraman was doing.

A few of the buildings in the picture, with shops at pavement level, are still in existence today. The Plough continued in use until the 1920s when it was rebuilt on the same site in mock-Tudor style, with heavy timbers. The pub – still with the same name – closed around the 1980s. Since 2014 the building has been in use as a privately run pub called ‘The Stane Street Syndicate’. It should be explained that Clapham High Street follows the ancient line of the Roman road which the Saxons called ‘Stane Street’.

The view, which was reproduced as a postcard, is seen to be bursting with life. It also contains three interesting public-service vehicles from a bygone era. In one sense the view has hardly changed at all but, if you go there today, take care when you cross the road. It seldom has as little traffic as it was when the picture was taken.


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George Inn, Borough High Street

The 23 April is a saint’s day in England – not just a saint’s day but St George’s Day – celebrating the patron saint of England. The pub name of ‘St George’ or ‘St George and the Dragon’ were once even more common than they are today. The name has been shortened over the centuries to ‘George’ – as in the case of the George Inn, Borough High Street.

There are also pub names of the ‘Royal George’. They are, in the main, derived from the 100-gun Royal Naval ship, built at Woolwich Dockyard and launched on 18 February 1756. At the time it was the largest warship in the world. She saw service during the Seven Years’ War including being Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s flagship at the Battle of Quiberon Bay and later taking part in the Battle of Cape St Vincent. The end for the ship was less heroic because she sank undergoing routine maintenance work whilst anchored off Portsmouth on 29 August 1782, with the loss of more than 800 lives, one of the most serious maritime losses to occur in British waters.

The name of ‘Royal George’ has nothing to do with St George and the Dragon. The last monarch of the House of Stuart was Queen Anne. On her death on 1 May 1707, her reign was followed by four kings called George – George I, George II, George III and George IV – members of the House of Hanover. It was a new name for British monarchs and many pubs were named ‘George’ – after the kings and the warship.

Returning to the picture, the pub sign is one of three that hang outside the George Inn. One sign hangs above the pavement of Borough High Street but there are two more, including this one, which hangs on the wall of the pub in the large courtyard. The design of the sign is unusual in that is in the form of a Victorian stained-glass church window.

Here’s wishing you a Happy St George’s Day!


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Clapham Common Underground Station

Above: Looking along the island platforms from the original (western) end.

The underground station only has two platforms which form an island between the northbound and southbound tracks. There were three stations which had this layout. One was Angel Underground Station, at Islington, but due to the large number of passengers that used it, the island platform was considered too dangerous in rush-hours and a new layout was incorporated into a redesigned station, with two separate platforms. That means that Clapham Common is now only one of two underground stations to have this layout – the other being the ‘next stop’, called Clapham North.

The original entrance to the station, from street level, is the western end, via a domed building dating from the 1920s. A later entrance was added to the eastern end of the island platform via a modern curved steel and glass pavilion. As a platform layout, the station is becoming a ‘museum piece’ of underground railway design.

The station is on the Northern Line which runs south from Edgware and divides into two parts at Camden. One route passes through Tottenham Court Road and Waterloo with the other route running via Bank and London Bridge. The two lines come together again at Kennington and end at Morden. The history of that line is complex. Parts of it were the first of the underground lines to be constructed by boring deep below the surface of London. It was also the first to be operated by electric traction. The part of the line relating to Clapham Common was opened in 1926. Clapham Common Station was one of seven new stations, all designed by Charles Holden. This had been decided by Frank Pick, who was Assistant Joint Manager of what was then the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Limited (UERL).

Above: Looking at the platforms from the top of the stairs leading from the original (western) entrance.

For anyone reading this article who lives in London, it is worth taking a look at the cramped platform conditions. With Angel Station already pronounced unsafe for public use at peak times and converted to a new layout, one gets the feeling that it will not be long before the two remaining examples of island platforms are consigned to the scrap-heap of history. At least you will have had early warning if it comes to pass.


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Windmill Inn, Clapham Common

Above: The Windmill Inn today. When compared with the painting below, it will be seen that the Georgian windows on the façade are remarkably similar.

A mill and a house once stood on or near the site of today’s pub. They are mentioned in a lease of 1631 but they may have been in existence long before that time.

The Windmill Inn is first recorded in the early 18th century and the present building dates from about 1790 – although it has undergone several alterations since that date. According to Lillywhite’s ‘London Signs’, the earliest records go back to 1760, which points to a similar date.

Above: Painting of the Windmill Inn in 1836.

The building was at one time used as a coaching inn – probably from the 1750s until the railway era in the 1840s and 1850s. The British artist James Pollard (1792–1867) painted the scene of the London-Clapham coach arriving at the inn. The oil painting is dated 1836. Pollard exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1821-1839 and also at the British Institution in 1824 and 1844. He died at his house in Chelsea.

In 1848 Young’s Brewery of Wandsworth acquired the freehold of the Windmill Inn and the premises became one of the last to which their beer was delivered by horse-drawn dray. It was here, in an upstairs room, that the founder of the Boy Scout Movement drew up his first Guide to Scouting.

One of the great advantages of the inn, as far protecting its architecture is concerned, is that the building was last erected well off the main road. The site has not suffered from road widening and it therefore still has an air of ‘yesterday’ about it, even though it is surrounded by cars in the car park. The inn now has rooms in which to stay and, as well as being a traditional pub, it is now listed as a hotel.


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Clapham Common Bandstand

The Victorians were very keen on social events and, having laid out many parks in London, they often provided a bandstand – particularly for musical entertainment on Sunday afternoons. In the case of Clapham, the bandstand was not erected inside a park but on Clapham Common itself. Due to a petition by the locals in 1889 to the London County Council (LCC) this splendid bandstand was built a year later at a cost of £600. Although it sounds like a small amount of money by today’s values, it was a substantial figure at the time. The Bandstand was a copy of the two erected in 1861 in the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens in South Kensington.

The bandstand at Clapham is known to have been in regular use until well after the Second World War. By the 1960s the structure was in need of considerable renovation and by 2001 it was thought to be in danger of collapse and had to be shored up with scaffolding for five years. The structure was covered in graffiti, the columns were rusting, pigeons were nesting in the rotting cupola. The surrounding area, where deck-chairs had once been laid out for the audience, was also in a ruinous state.

The Friends of Clapham Common, along with the Clapham Society persuaded Lambeth Council – who were the owners – to come up with a restoration plan. Architects Dannatt Johnson led a team to prepare a plan for a Heritage Lottery Fund bid which eventually provided £895,000. Lambeth Council contributed £300,000, along with over £100,000 raised by the local community.

During 2005-06 work was carried out to replace the wooden frame for the cupola, clear the blocked drainage columns and replace the land drains. Care was also taken to determine the paint colours for the original patterns and colours for the cast iron work. The zinc of the cupola came from France and an Indian factory supplied the cast iron balustrade. A new base was installed with wooden decking. Newly designed ramps – to allow wheelchair and equipment access – were incorporated into the updated design. The nearby café was refurbished, including new toilet facilities. The bandstand reopened in June 2006 with the Merton Brass Band being invited as the first to play for the event.

It is the largest bandstand in London and is Grade II listed. It is now home to many musical events from July through to September each year. It is good to know that the gentler pleasures from a Victorian era are still being enjoyed today. Long may they continue!


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St Paul, Rectory Grove, Clapham

Above: The west front of the present church of St Paul.

The first parish church in the village of Clapham was the church of St Mary – at the northern end of Rectory Grove. It was first mentioned in 1232. It could have been in existence for some time before that date. By 1774 the church had become so dilapidated that an Act of Parliament authorised a new one and a new site on the edge of Clapham Common was chosen which became holy Trinity. That church is still there today.

The old church of St Mary was demolished, leaving only the north transept which became used as a sort of chapel where funeral services were held for burials in the ancient churchyard.

Above: Looking across part of the large churchyard at the entire south side of St Paul’s church showing Blomfield’s eastern end (on the right).

In 1815 a new Chapel of Ease to Holy Trinity was built on the old site of St Mary. The Chapel became a separate parish and was dedicated to St Paul. A new east end was added by the architect Reginald Blomfield in 1879. Since 1969 the church has been used as a community centre.

Above: Some of the many ancient tombs in the old churchyard.

The impressive church building stands in a large churchyard which includes some quite ancient tombs, including several large sarcophagi which date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Because the site is in a quiet back-street, called Rectory Grove, the whole setting still has a ‘country church’ atmosphere. The position of the church is on the edge of the flat plateau on which most of Clapham is situated. Looking northwards, the land drops away with interesting views across London, particularly toward Chelsea and Fulham.


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