Progress on City of London Blogs

Above: Outline map of the City of London showing the names of the 13 areas of study. Those underlined have an Overview blog which briefly describes the area of study.

Having completed another academic year of blogs for the City of London, City of Westminster and the other Inner London Boroughs, this blog will consider the progress made on completing blogs for the City of London. When the Website was set up, the intention was to try to emulate a six-year course I have been running for many years. Instead of lectures, blogs would be written, each one telling the history of one small part of Inner London, which would gradually grow year by year. The blogs follow the original time span – of devoting the Autumn Term to a part of the City of London over a six-year cycle.

The Website has been well-received by so many readers. They fall into two categories. Firstly, there are the regular ‘Followers’ who continue to increase as the years roll by. There are now more followers reading the blogs as they appear three times each week than the total number of people who attended my weekly lectures. Such is the appeal of the Internet! Secondly, there are thousands of people who just ‘dip into’ the Website – usually looking for a particular topic. They do not read the Know Your London blogs on a regular basis. They use a search engine to look up a topic and often come across one of my blogs as a result of their enquiry. Sometimes, however, they become regular readers as a result of reading just one blog which is taken as a compliment.

For those interested in studying the City of London, we have reached the stage where there is now a good range of topics. The following list shows the names of the areas of study followed by the numbers of blogs for each one. The names used are those appearing in the Categories list of the Website.

/City of London (27)

/City-Aldgate (18)
/City-Billingsgate (20)
/City-Bishopsgate (32)
/City-Broad Street (2)
/City-Castle Baynard (10)
/City-Cornhill (18)
/City-Cripplegate (12)
/City-Fleet Street (19)
/City-Queenhithe (5)
/City-Smithfield (14)
/City-Tower (12)
/City-Vintry (14)
/City-Walbrook (16)

There are nearly 30 blogs relating to the City of London as a general topic. The history of the City of London is the most complex in all of London and is divided into 13 areas of study. Most of the 13 areas now have 10 or more blogs relating to their individual history. If you want to know what the definition of each area of study is, then use the search box and enter the words ‘City of London’. Among other topics that the search shows up, there will be headings like ‘City of London (Year 3)’ and other years where the definitions are provided. All six years are yet to be completed but the process is heading in the right direction. Looking down the list, there are a few areas of study which are rather thin on the ground. These will be increased in due course.

Finally, there are the ‘Overview’ blogs. These give a quick summary of what each area of study offers. It is only after the blogs first started that the idea for ‘Overview’ blogs was developed. The above map shows how many areas of study have an ‘Overview’ blog at the time of writing. As the years roll by it is hoped to complete the map so that all areas of study have an Overview.

London is a fascinating place but so few people know much about its history. This is probably because many of them have come to work in the capital who originally lived somewhere else. Unfortunately, many Websites contain so much incorrect information they can often mislead the reader. This Website prides itself on its accuracy. The author has been privileged to know many researchers on London’s history who have provided much-needed clarity on such a complex subject and helped make sure that the information is as accurate as is possible.

-ENDS-

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Tower House, No 29 Melbury Road

Above: The house in Melbury Road, Kensington.

Tower House, situated on the bend in Melbury Road, has the most unusual architecture. It is a copy of an old Welsh castle – Castell Coch – which lies about 12 miles (19km) north of Cardiff. The house was built by the architect and designer William Burgess for his own home. The interior is lavishly decorated in the style of a medieval baronial hall.

The house was designed between 1875 and 1881, in the French Gothic Revival style, it was described by the architectural historian J Mordaunt Crook as ‘the most complete example of a medieval secular interior produced by the Gothic Revival, and the last’. The house is built of red brick, with Bath stone dressings and green roof slates from Cumbria. It has a distinctive cylindrical tower with a conical roof. The ground floor contains a drawing-room, a dining room and a library, while the first floor has two bedrooms and an armoury. It’s exterior and the interior echo elements of Burges’s earlier work, particularly the McConnochie House in Cardiff and Castell Coch. It was designated a Grade I listed building in 1949.

Burges bought the lease on the plot of land in 1875. The house was built by the Ashby Brothers, with interior decoration by members of Burges’s long-standing team of craftsmen including Thomas Nicholls and Henry Stacy Marks. By 1878 the house was largely complete, although interior decoration and the designing of numerous items of furniture and metalwork continued until Burges’s death in 1881. The house was inherited by his brother-in-law, Richard Popplewell Pullan. It was later sold to Colonel T H Minshall and then, in 1933, to Colonel E R B Graham. The poet John Betjeman inherited the remaining lease in 1962 but did not extend it. Following a period when the house stood empty and suffered vandalism, it was purchased and restored, first by Lady Jane Turnbull, later by the actor Richard Harris and then by the musician Jimmy Page.

The house retains most of its internal structural decoration but much of the furniture, fittings and contents that Burges designed have been dispersed. Many items, including the Great Bookcase, the Zodiac settle, the Golden Bed and the Red Bed, are now in institutions such as The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, while others are in private collections.

In 1863, William Burges gained his first major architectural commission, Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, in Cork, at the age of 35. In the following twelve years, his architecture, metalwork, jewellery, furniture and stained glass led Crook to claim that Burges rivalled Pugin as ‘the greatest art-architect of the Gothic Revival’. By 1875, his short career was largely over. Although he worked to finalise earlier projects, he received no further major commissions, and the design, construction, decoration and furnishing of the Tower House occupied most of the last six years of his life. In December 1875, after rejecting plots in Victoria Road, Kensington and Bayswater, Burges purchased the leasehold of the plot in Melbury Road from the Earl of Ilchester – the owner of the Holland Estate. The ground rent was £100 per annum. Initial drawings for the house had been undertaken in July 1875 and the final form was decided upon by the end of the year. Building began in 1876, contracted to the Ashby Brothers of Kingsland Road at a cost of £6,000.

Above: Detail of one of the gargoyles on the exterior of the house.

At the Tower House Burges drew on his own ‘experience of twenty years learning, travelling and building’ and he used many of the artists and craftsmen who had worked with him on earlier buildings. An estimate book compiled by him and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum contains the names of the individuals and companies that worked on the project. Thomas Nicholls was responsible for the stone carving, including the capitals, corbels and the chimney-pieces. The mosaic and marble work was contracted to Burke and Company of Regent Street. The decorative tiles were supplied by WB Simpson and Sons Ltd of the Strand. John Ayres Hatfield crafted the bronze decorations on the doors, while the woodwork was the responsibility of John Walden of Covent Garden. Henry Stacy Marks and Frederick Weekes were employed to decorate the walls with murals. Campbell and Smith of Southampton Row had the responsibility for most of the painted decoration. Marks painted birds above the frieze in the library and the illustrations of famous lovers in the drawing-room were by Weekes. The stained glass was by Saunders and Company of Long Acre, with initial designs by Horatio Walter Lonsdale.

It is a great shame that the house is private. With so much detail to be seen of such remarkable quality, one would love to be able to walk around the building and see all the fine craftsmanship that has gone into making this one of the most remarkable private houses in London.

-ENDS-

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Victoria and Albert Museum

Above: The main entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

London has no shortage of museums but among the many, there are just a few that are not only important in the capital but they rank among the most important in the world. The Victoria and Albert Museum is among that select group. It is the world’s largest museum of applied and decorative arts and design, as well as sculpture, housing a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The museum, known as the ‘V&A’ for convenience, is situated in the Brompton district of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Not far away is the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum. The V&A is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. As with other national British museums, entrance is free.

The V&A has its origins in the Great Exhibition of 1851, with which Henry Cole, the museum’s first director, was involved in the planning. Initially, it was known as the Museum of Manufactures. It first opened in May 1852 at Marlborough House. By September that year, it had been transferred to Somerset House. At this stage, the collections covered both applied art and science. Several of the exhibits from the Exhibition were purchased to form the nucleus of the collection.

By February 1854 discussions were taking place to transfer the museum to the present site and it was renamed South Kensington Museum. The site had been occupied by Brompton Park House which was extended in 1857. Within the building, the first refreshment rooms opened. The museum was the first in the world to provide such a facility. The official opening of the museum was by Queen Victoria on 20 June 1857.

The V&A covers 12.5 acres (5.1 hectares), with 145 galleries. Its collection spans 5,000 years of art – from ancient times to the present day. There are examples from the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. However, the art of antiquity in most areas is not collected. The holdings of ceramics, glass, textiles, costumes, silver, ironwork, jewellery, furniture, medieval objects, sculpture, prints and printmaking, drawings and photographs are among the largest and most comprehensive in the world.

The museum displays many artefacts relating to the history of London – like Roman and Saxon coins as well as items of jewellery, ceramics and metalwork. There are also a few façades of buildings rescued from demolition on sites in London that are on show in the V&A galleries. The collections showing items from London’s history complement those on display at the Museum of London.

Since 2001, the museum has embarked on a major £150m renovation programme. New 17th- and 18th-century European galleries were opened on 9 December 2015. These restored the original Aston Webb interiors and host the European collections of 1600–1815. It should also be remembered that the V&A Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green, in East London, is also a branch of the museum.

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Kensington Square

Above: The private garden in the centre of Kensington Square.

One of the oldest squares in London, it dates from 1665 and became a popular place for a residence after the arrival of William III and Mary II at Kensington Palace in 1689. Many of the buildings in the square date from between 1700 and 1900, with most being built during the 18th century. Nos 11 and 12 were built between 1693 and 1702 and are the oldest unaltered houses in the square.

Above: An old canopy over a doorway in Kensington Square.

In 1685, Thomas Young, a woodcarver, acquired land in Kensington which he sought to develop, and as he later described it, in 1701, ‘did sett out and appoint a considerable part thereof to be built into a large Square of large and substantial Houses fit for ye Habitacion of persons of good Worth and Quality, with Courts and Yards before and Gardens lying backwards’.

Hubert Parry (1848-1918) lived in the square – at No 17, where there is an LCC plaque on the house. He was an English composer, teacher and historian of music. He was also an enthusiastic cruising sailor and owned successively the yawl ‘The Latois’ and the ketch ‘The Wanderer’. Among many famous compositions, Parry is best known for the choral song ‘Jerusalem’ written in 1918 setting the words of the poet William Blake. It starts with the line ‘And did those feet in ancient time’.

Another resident was the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. He lived at No 41. He moved to the house after his wife, Georgiana ‘Georgie’ MacDonald, had given birth to their second son, born in the winter of 1864 who died soon after birth. Georgiana had become gravely ill with scarlet fever. He lived in the house with Georgina and their first son. While at the house, their daughter was born in 1866.

In London, St James’s Square, Soho Square and Golden Square are a few years older but, in contrast with these, Kensington Square still retains its residential character. The houses stand around the square which has a garden at the centre, laid out in 1698. The garden is restricted to use by the residents. After the noise from the busy Kensington High Street, it is rather a surprise to find such a tranquil square such a short distance away.

-ENDS-

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Trellick Tower

Above: View of the Trellick Tower reflected in the canal with a curved section of Westway overhanging the waterway.

The Trellick Tower is probably one of the most iconic of all the Brutalist architecture examples in London. The large block of flats stands at 31 stories, being 322 feet tall. It dominates the immediate skyline which is itself one of the more unusual in London. Its great height means it can be seen from vantage points across London. The tower stands on the Cheltenham Estate which borders the Grand Union Canal. The canal has several curves as it follows the contours of the land. In the 1970s a major road was constructed on stilts, weaving its way through West London. Called Westway and forming part of the A40 trunk road, its line at one point overhangs the canal, forming an altogether ‘other world’ vista with the Trellick Tower in the distance. The view can be seen above.

The Trellick Tower is loosely based on Erno Goldfinger’s earlier and smaller Balfron Tower of similar style and construction situated in East London. Its completion in 1972 marked the end of an era of high-rise tower blocks, which were losing popularity due to the social problems that were being encountered with tower blocks in general across London.

For those who live in the Trellick Tower, most would agree that it is a positive experience and the residents have a love for the building. That has not been the experience of those living in other tower blocks, many of which have been demolished since they were put up in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1990s the tower had become a desirable place to live, and although it still contains predominantly social housing, demand for private flats has remained high.

The tower was Grade II* listed in 1998. It was commissioned by the Greater London Council (GLC) and opened in 1972. The tower was planned to replace outdated social accommodation. It was the last major project that Erno Goldfinger worked on, and featured various space-saving designs, along with a separate access tower containing a plant room.

Above: Looking up at the top floors of the tower, with the service shaft on the right.

The tower has a long, narrow profile, with a separate lift and service tower linked at every third storey to the access corridors in the main building, which contains 31 floors. Flats above and below the corridor levels have internal stairs, while the 23rd and 24th floors are taken up by maisonettes split over the two floors. Overall, the building contains 217 dwellings and was originally owned by the GLC with the flats rented as council flats. All the apartments have balconies. Goldfinger planned various communal areas and deliberately added slight variations in the structure so that each apartment would look different. He included a number of space-saving designs, such as using sliding doors to access bathrooms and light switches embedded in the door surrounds. Throughout the design, quality materials were used in construction, including better fixtures and finishing of the balconies with cedar-wood. It was intended to be a good example of social accommodation alongside modern design. It seems to have stood the test of time.

Goldfinger was an unusual architect in many ways. For the Trellick Tower, he took his inspiration from the Balfron Tower, where he had moved into one of the apartments in order to experience what life would be like for the tenants. He then invited residents round for regular cocktail parties to tell him their likes and dislikes of that building.

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Kensal Green Cemetery

Above: One of the many avenues within the cemetery.

Kensal Green Cemetery was established as one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries in Metropolitan London – an area of land we know as Inner London today. North of the Thames they were – Kensal Green Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, Abney Park Cemetery and Tower Hamlets Cemetery. South of the Thames, the final two were both in south-east London – Nunhead Cemetery and West Norwood Cemetery. These cemeteries were created by Act of Parliament but they were privately run by companies who were permitted to operate at a profit.

At Kensal Green, the General Cemetery Company was formed in 1830. It was the first of the great commercial cemeteries to be opened in London. It was also the largest of the Metropolitan Cemeteries. Its site extends across the boundary of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The southern boundary of the cemetery is the Grand Union Canal – the Paddington Branch. It is said that some the funerals brought the coffin to the cemetery by the canal but that story has never been confirmed.

In 1831, an area of 54 acres of land was purchased. It opened in January 1833 with 39 acres of the ground being consecrated by the Bishop of London. The remaining 15 acres were reserved for Dissenters. It should be pointed out that there were very few places for Dissenters to be buried in London until the opening of the new cemeteries. Those who did not wish to worship in the format of the Church of England were known as Dissenters because they dissented from the rules in the Church of England Prayer Book. Such people were only too pleased that, at last, they had a place to be buried that was not under the control of the Church of England.

Kensal Green Cemetery is unusual in having catacombs. The lift to lower the coffins under the ground was raised by hydraulic power from 1839. The water power was disconnected about 1956 and the lift then had to be hand-cranked. It is hoped to get the lift working again using oil for hydraulic power. All the original machinery from the first hydraulic engine remains near the lift. Hydraulic lifts are remarkably powerful and lift heavy objects – like large coffins. Their main advantage is that they operate completely silently which is befitting for interment in a cemetery.

The list of famous people buried in Kensal Green Cemetery is almost endless. The list below contains names that most people have probably heard of –

Duke of Sussex, son of George III – died in 1843 and was buried in the cemetery. See notes below).

Elizabeth Fry – died in 1845 and was buried in the cemetery. She was a prison reformer.

Thomas Hood – died in 1845 and was buried in the cemetery. He was an English poet, author and humorist.

Robert Smirke (Elder) – died in 1845 and was buried in the cemetery. He was an architect.

Princess Sophia, daughter of George III – died 1849 and was buried in the cemetery.

Marc Brunel (Engineer) – died in 1849 and was buried in the cemetery.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Engineer) – died in 1859 and was buried in the cemetery. His son was later buried in the same grave and other members of the family, who survive today, still intend to be buried in the same grave.

James Leigh Hunt – died in 1859 and was buried in the cemetery. He was an English critic, essayist and poet. Hunt co-founded ‘The Examiner’, a leading intellectual journal expounding radical principles.

William Makepeace Thackeray – died in 1863 and was buried in the cemetery. He was an Indian-born English novelist, author and illustrator. He is known for his satirical works, particularly his 1848 novel ‘Vanity Fair’.

Philip Hardwick – died in 1870 and was buried in the cemetery. He was an English architect, particularly associated with railway stations and warehouses in London and elsewhere.

Charles Babbage – died in 1871 and was buried in the cemetery. He was a mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer. He originated the concept of a digital programmable computer.

Decimus Burton – died in 1881 and was buried in the cemetery. He was one of the foremost English architects and urban designers of the 19th century.

Anthony Trollope – died in 1882 and was buried in the cemetery. He was an English novelist and civil servant of the Victorian era.

One final name associated with the cemetery is that of Gilbert ‘GK’ Chesterton, who died in 1936, was born in Kensington, but is not buried in the cemetery. He wrote the poem ‘The Rolling English Road’ which carries the lines –

‘For there is good news yet to hear
And fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise
By way of Kensal Green’.

The cemetery is open to the public on all days of the year. It extends over an enormous area which stands between the south side of Harrow Road and the north side of the Grand Union Canal (Grand Junction Canal). It has, over the years, provided five ways of being buried –

1 – Wooden coffin. It is buried in the ground, sometimes several coffins deep.

2 – Multi-layer burial. A hole is dug, sometimes up to a depth of 20 coffins. The first coffin is interred and bars ar placed over the coffin to hold the next one and so on.

3 – Vault. Coffins can be buried in vaults covered by a three-inch-thick stone.

4 – Mausoleum. Coffins are laid on shelves in family mausoleums.

5 – Catacomb. Space can be bought in the catacombs.

Notes on the Duke of Sussex

Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (27 January 1773 – 21 April 1843) was born at Buckingham Palace, the sixth son of George III and Queen Caroline.

His first marriage was to Lady Augusta Murray, in 1793, without the knowledge or consent of the king. Their marriage was annulled in 1794 on the grounds that it contravened the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.

In 1831 he married Lady Cecelia Letitia Buggin, daughter of the Earl of Arran and widow of Sir George Buggin. Lady Augusta had died the year before but the marriage was also against the Royal Marriages Act.

In 1840 his second wife was created Duchess of Inverness in her own right. The Duke of Sussex was the favourite uncle of Queen Victoria and gave her away at her wedding.

He died at Kensington Palace in 1843 and had written in his will that he was not to be given a State Funeral. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery on 5 May 1843. This was because he wanted his second wife, a commoner, to be buried beside him. His wife, the Duchess of Inverness continued to live at Kensington Palace until her death, in 1873. She was then buried next to her second husband.

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Brompton Cemetery

Above: Brompton Cemetery Chapel.

The subject of Victorian cemeteries is one that would fill several large volumes. Victorians were not scared of dying and they were not as squeamish as we are today about talking about death. In fact, there is a well-known Music Hall song that started with the line ‘Wouldn’t it be grand to be bloomin’-well dead’. The problem that was sending shivers up and down the spine of a thinking Victorian was not dying but whether there was space in the church cemeteries around London in which to be buried. With a population in London that was forever expanding – and, therefore, dying – the cemeteries in London were full to overcrowding.

It should be remembered that cremation was not declared legal until February 1884. The first cremation took place on 26 March 1885. So, with a shortage of space for burial of an ever-increasing population, the idea of cremation to save having a cemetery plot did not start until the 1880s. What were the family to do about a burial in, say, 1850, with insufficient space for a public burial and no possibility of having a cremation? The problem was discussed in Parliament and the answer was, obviously, to provide more land. It was not practical to increase the size of a churchyard in a built-up area like London which meant that other open space had to be acquired. It started with the Metropolitan Burial Act in 1852 and that led to what became known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries being created in Metropolitan London – which we know as Inner London today. North of the Thames they were – Kensal Green Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, Abney Park Cemetery and Tower Hamlets Cemetery. South of the Thames, the final two were both in south-east London – Nunhead Cemetery and West Norwood Cemetery. These cemeteries were created by Act of Parliament but they were privately run by companies who were permitted to operate at a profit.

All this brings us to consider Brompton Cemetery. It had been founded in 1837 and known as the ‘West of London and Westminster Cemetery’. The land was consecrated in 1840. In 1852 it was bought by the General Board of Health and thus became the first London cemetery under state control. As a cemetery it has always been well maintained and – if you are into that sort of thing – it is well worth a visit.

A few of the more famous names of those buried in the cemetery include –

Dr John Snow – anaesthetist and epidemiologist. He demonstrated the link between cholera and infected water. He died in 1858.

Fanny Brawne – John Keats’ muse, who died in 1865 and was buried under her married name of Frances Lindon.

Francis Fowke – the architect of the Royal Albert Hall, who died in 1865.

Henry Cole – the organising genius of the Great Exhibition and of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who died in 1882.

Hiram Codd – inventor of the Codd bottle, for holding fizzy drinks, hence the expression ‘Codd’s wallop’, who died 1887.

Emmeline Pankhurst – leading suffragette, who died in 1928.

The large cemetery is situated in the SW corner of the old Metropolitan Borough of Kensington, extending north from just north of Fulham Road to Old Brompton Road. It is now managed by the Royal Parks. it is one of Britain’s oldest and most distinguished garden cemeteries. Some 35,000 monuments, from simple headstones to substantial mausolea, mark more than 205,000 resting places. The site includes large plots for family mausolea and common graves where coffins are stored deep in the earth. It also has a small columbarium (or a room with niches for funeral urns to be stored) and a secluded Garden of Remembrance at the northern end for cremated remains. The cemetery continues to be open for burials.

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St Mary Abbots, Kensington

Above: The impressive interior, looking towards the altar.

The church at Kensington was the original parish church. It was founded in the 12th century. A new church was built in 1370, named from its connection with Abingdon Abbey, in Oxfordshire. The See of Abingdon appointed the vicars of St Mary Abbots. The church was rebuilt in 1696, except for the tower.

The present church was built 1868-72, to designs of George Gilbert Scott. It has some unusual features, one of which is the entrance from the street to the nave which is via a cloister that was built 1889-93, designed by John Oldrid Scott, the son of George Gilbert Scott. Within the church is the pulpit which dates from 1697 and remains from the former church.

This church has the tallest spire in London – rising to 250 feet (76 m). It certainly made a statement in Victorian London that Kensington was an important village, lived in by wealthy residents. Even today, with many buildings being much taller than in the 19th century, to catch sight of the spire leaves the visitor impressed with its height.

Being a Victorian building, the windows have the characteristic colourful stained glass. Entering on a sunny day presents the visitor with an overload of rich colours. The church, and its railings, are listed Grade II* on the National Heritage List for England.

The church stands at the corner of Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street. This is a busy location and for some peace away from the traffic, it is recommended to walk around the outside of the church to the small churchyard. In fact, Kensington Church Walk and Holland Street nearby are both well worth exploring.

Attached to the church is a church school with the same name. The school buildings were designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1711 but demolished in the 1870s to make way for a town hall nearby. The present buildings date from 1875 and are notable for the painted stone statues by Thomas Eustace of a boy and girl, dating from about 1715, now on the north face of the school. The school playgrounds are close to the churchyard. The school maintains close links with the Church of England.

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Notting Hill Gate

Above: A Victorian print showing the booth in the middle of the road. It has a chimney conducting smoke from a fireplace which, on cold days, kept the gate-keeper warm. There do not appear to be any physical gates across the road.

The place called Notting Hill Gate is distinct from Notting Hill, although the two are often confused, with ‘Notting Hill’ being used as an abbreviation of ‘Notting Hill Gate’ and ‘Notting Hill Gate’ suggesting to outsiders that it is the full description of Notting Hill. It should be noted that the street named Notting Hill Gate is well to the south of the hill – whose summit is at the junction of Ladbroke Grove and Kensington Park Gardens. It gave its name to the area known as Notting Hill long before the establishment of the Notting Hill toll gate.

In 18th century London, many of the main roads were not free to use. Some of the roads were newly-built by companies in order to make money. Other roads were ancient routes whose surfaces were in poor condition so they were taken over by companies who maintained a good surface and, of course, charged users for the privilege. In order to collect the money for maintenance – and also to make a profit for the business – toll gates were set up across the road. Only those who paid the toll could then use the road. There was not the volume of traffic that there is today. Local people lived where they worked and hardly ever travelled any distance from their homes. Stagecoaches used the roads and had to pay to use them although Mail Coaches – carrying the Royal Mail – were exempted by Act of Parliament. Drovers had to pay to use the road at a cost related to the number of animals being driven. Typically, private individuals on horseback would have to pay and a few people on foot who were walking a long distance would also have to pay.

The toll roads were set up by parliament and their operation was defined by various Acts of Parliament but the roads themselves were in the hands of private companies. Such gates across the roads often had a small gate keeper’s hut beside them. They were, for the most part, well-known locations and their names passed into local usage. Although there were many toll gates in what is now Inner London, few of the names are remembered today. Notting Hill Gate is an example of a toll gate that has given its name to an area. In SE London, a similar story is true of New Cross Gate, near Deptford.

The gate was across a road that was originally the Roman road to Silchester, in Hampshire. It was removed in 1864. There would have been a large notice beside the gate informing users of the charges. Nothing remains of the gate today but the name lingers on. The whole street has been rebuilt and there are probably not even any houses that are contemporary with the old site of the gate.

If you are wondering about the name ‘Notting Hill’, the earliest recorded spelling was in 1356 as ‘Knottynghull’ and later in 1550 as ‘Notynghyll’. The name probably means ‘hill occupied by the Knotting family’.

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Milestone at Kensington

Milestones still standing beside a road in Inner London are quite rare. Of those that remain, most of them record a whole number of miles to or from a certain destination – for example, ‘6 miles to London Bridge’. This milestone is a rare example of a milestone that shows distances to within half a mile. Its position records ‘one and a half miles to London’ and ‘eight and a half miles to Hounslow’. There are, therefore, several things to be learned from this particular stone.

Milestones were placed beside roads that were on routes out of London. They were, of course, placed beside routes out of cities and towns all over England. As coaching routes developed and grew across England, the services charged by the mile to travel. For example, if a journey by coach was 60 miles, the cost might be 2 pence per mile making the total charge 120 pence which, because there were 12 pence in a shilling, the payment was 10 shillings.

Having paid for the fare (travelling one way), the coach may have been able to travel faster than was predicted by the timetable and some passengers, surprised to arrive ahead of schedule, would complain to the coach office that they had been overcharged because ‘the journey could not possibly have been as long as was advertised’. This escalated to questions being asked in Parliament. Eventually, it was decreed by an Act of Parliament that markers should be placed beside all roads to indicate the distances. Most routes had wooden markers placed beside coaching roads. The wood, of course, rotted and each marker was replaced by one made of stone – hence the name ‘milestone’. Each stone was incised but, with time, some of them became illegible. This led to the milestones being cast in iron. The ‘stone’ in Kensington is, in fact, of the cast iron type.

The Act sometimes decreed that a route should be marked by stones every half mile and occasionally every quarter mile. When a passenger complained about being short-changed for a journey, the coach office simply invited the disgruntled traveller to inspect the nearest milestone to establish the facts.

As far as is known, there are no ‘quarter-mile’ stones in Inner London. This ‘half-mile’ stone is also rare in the Inner London area. As can be seen, the stone is not at the edge of the pavement (near the road), but actually mounted on the private ground behind railings. That ground is actually part of a hotel property. Because of where it stands, the building has the appropriate name of the Milestone Hotel. It is situated on the south side of Kensington Road, near the junction with Kensington Court.

The ‘stone’ is always looking in very good condition and well painted. Whether the hotel takes responsibility for its maintenance is not known. You can see from the picture that the milestone is even illuminated at night by two small spotlights. Perhaps it should be added that, if they do maintain it, they are going a grand job!

Looking at the information on the milestone we observe that it is ‘one and a half miles to London’. That is the distance from Hyde Park Corner which, in those times, was always considered to be the start of London. The other information reads ‘eight and a half miles to Hounslow’ a village in those days that was to the west of Hammersmith. It was probably an important stopping point for the stagecoach route. The village was situated near Hounslow Heath – a notorious haunt of highwaymen. Being so large and so remote there are numerous accounts in newspapers of the day of passengers being robbed of their valuables and even all their clothes on the heath. In the 18th century and the early-19th century, it was a common nuisance for wealthy travellers using stagecoaches to be robbed in this way. Today we call it being mugged and, unfortunately, it still persists in the 21st century.

-ENDS-

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