Friday, 29 June 2012

Houses in Three Colt street

This row of seventeenth century houses in east end on Three colt street represent the picturesque appearance of many London's streets at turn of the last century.

The houses were of a basic design with weatherboarding and three of them with  gables. Weatherboarding was a common form of cladding which protected brickwork or a less resilient material from erosion. Each building had a shop on the ground floor and accommodation on the upper floors. For most of their lives they would have been overlooked as architecturally insignificant and were similar to many other buildings in London, once being a common occurrence. It is only now after the demolition of most of these buildings that they seem to be significant, no house such as these with weatherboarding and very few of the same age have survived. They were seen as slums or just old and withered in their time today if they had survived today they would have been conserved and appreciated for their likeness for how much they represented pre-modern London. These buildings which lasted for centuries would no doubt outlived their 1950's replacements if they hadn't been lost. 

 Using evidence from old maps it seems the two buildings highlighted in  red were demolished some time between 1916 and 1919. The other three survived for a few more years as in 1923 there is photographic evidence (bottom) showing the remaining three still  standing although in a extreme state of decay in which two were derelict. Between 1923 and 1947 the remaining buildings disappear from the map. I can only speculate how they were lost as they seemed insignificant and unworthy of recording. They could have been damaged in the war, although its more likely they fell down or were demolished as a dangerous building. From a map of 1947 it can be seen that Lance street was extended, passing through the site of the houses to join up with the street Ropemakers fields. Currently on the site is Padstow house, a bleak 1950's housing block. Lance street no longer exists nor does ropemakers fields opposite the houses, both have been swallowed up by roadless large post-war housing  estates. 

The image above is superimposed on current location with the older image dating to 1900. The older image was used on the front cover of Phillip Davies's 'Lost London'. The image left © shows the row in a advanced state of decay in 1923. They appear to be in a dire state with no windows. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Aldgate high street

Aldgate high street was once a street leading to one of the eight gates of London and was thus a important travelling route in and out of the city. Due to this the street developed a collection of grand timber framed buildings, of which many used as pubs and inns for travellers. Most of the buildings on the road dated from the seventeenth century, although there were too some of the mid sixteenth century. The great fire of London left the area untouched, it stopped only 50 meters from the street which allowed many of these buildings to survive until the Victorian era.

The image left shows the south side of the street showing an area known as 'the shambles'. One of the most interesting set of buildings on the high street (in my personal opinion) are the two buildings on the right of the photograph. Unlike many ordinary buildings of a similar date (look at those to the left) they seem to be elaborately carved with some interesting fine detail on the woodwork. The work could of course be entirely fake, perhaps a Victorian concoction, but from the photograph there is really no way of knowing. If they are original then it may suggest they were occupied by a wealthier owner and perhaps they were up to their demolition as they look better kept than others in the photograph.

The photograph left shows the Saracen's Head Inn which was also on south side of Aldgate (on the corner with Jewry street) with a name taken from crusades. However, the inn is not as old as might be suspected as there is only evidence for its existence after 1721. The building itself on the other hand is older, perhaps mid-late seventeenth century with rectangular bays, quite similar in design to the Hoop and grapes pub. Through the passage which can be glimpsed when you look to ground level (under the left bay) led to 'poor' Jewry lane. By 1868 the Inn had gone and by 1909 the building was being used as a restaurant (photograph taken in 1880) the building was demolished sometime after 1909. It stood on what is today Jewry street (just off the high street) and there is a plaque marking the site of Saracens head yard.

On the North side of Street were more timber framed buildings, most of them were pubs and inns. Most of the pubs had a coaching Inn attached and a yard to the rear. They were built to serve travellers as accommodation when visiting the city, the street was on route to Aldgate gate (an exit & entrance to the city) hence the large number of coaching inns. The pubs had a variety of names, there was the Black horse pub as well as the Bull yard (image shown left), the strangest name perhaps was the Three nuns yard. The Bull yard left is typical of most of these inns, a pub at the front with a passageway through the ground floor usually leading to accommodation in the lane at the rear. The image was drawn in 1890, and the building must have survived until the late Victorian era, through the passage is Aldgate high street.  

The late Victorian period changed the look of Aldgate drastically. In less than five years most of these buildings mentioned were destroyed. They were demolished as they stood in the way of progress, more specifically the development of London's railway infrastructure. Much of the north side was demolished first to build Aldgate station in 1876, although some of the pubs survived (e.g Bull inn) but they were too demolished later for offices. Most of the south side was then demolished in 1880 to build the south bound extension of the Metropolitan railway to tower hill which was completed in 1882. Today much of the street feels drained of character with many empty gaps on the south side and large modern office buildings on the north. Quite a contrast to the medieval buildings which stood compactly on small pieces of land.

Although much has gone from the medieval built past, there is a small row of buildings still remaining huddled together on a large junction at the east end of the street. The Hoop and Grapes and two adjacent buildings make a row of Sixteenth century timber framed survivors of the destruction of the street. The pub, the Hoop and Grapes was built around 1593 with the other two buildings probably from a similar period some time at the end of the sixteenth century. The building to the right was refaced in the eighteenth century in brick but behind the facade is a sixteenth century core which still survives. There is evidence for the buildings age in the gable on the roof above the parapet. Underneath the pub are a impressive set of thirteenth century cellars from an earlier building on the site. 

The pub has recently reopened after refurbishment, although not as drastic as when it and next door left were completely restored in the 1980's. The 1980's restoration by Lewisham based contractors Wynn involved the very expensive operation of propping up the fragile original timber frame with a specially designed steel frame, at a cost £1.2m. The timber frame was weak and the building had sheared sideways by 18inches, it was in danger of impending collapse and was served a dangerous structure notice. The timber is no longer a structural element to the building, it was stripped back to frame and decaying timbers were replaced with the building being rebuilt to the original design. This restoration has saved the building and the final medieval composition of the street.

There was once a forth building completing the composition which had a gable and a double height bay window. It was demolished sometime after 1908 and stood next to the right brick building where there is now a advertising board on a empty site. 

Monday, 11 June 2012

St Etheldreda

St Etheldreda is a rare medieval Catholic church just off high Holborn in the centre of London. The name originates from the Anglo-Saxon saint who founded the monastery at Ely in 673 by the name of AEthelthryth (or Etheldrea). She was a popular saint at the time of the churches construction and many religious buildings commemorated her. The church was built in the thirteenth century around 1290 as a chapel. built by William De Luda the bishop of Ely on top of an earlier possibly roman structure. From its construction to 1570 it served as the bishop of Ely's town chapel in London, once part of a palace for the bishops of Ely for their visits to the city. The picture bottom left shows the palace complex, with the chapel in red and the Bishops palace below it. The area around the chapel was not damaged by the Great fire in 1666 as it stood some way out of the city walls. In the eighteenth century the bishops were forced by an act of parliament to sell the chapel to the crown. The crown then sold to Charles Cole, an architect and developer who demolished everything on the site but the chapel. He built Ely place which is lined with fine Georgian houses and restored the chapel which was reopened in 1786.

Barely a century later the chapel changed hands again as it was bought in 1874 by the Roman Catholic church. This makes St Etheldreda one of only a few medieval buildings own by the Catholic churchIt became a scheduled ancient monument in 1925 by the royal commission on historical monuments who recognising its importance. However, it came under attack from German air raids during the Second World War. It was badly damaged when a bomb tore a hole in the roof, destroying much of the roof and shattering the Victorian stained glass. Thankfully the fine thirteenth century tracery in the west window miraculously survived the bombing unscathed. After the war the church was sensitively restored and remains a interesting piece of history in a quiet corner of the busy centre of London. 

The church consists of two levels, a chapel above and a under croft below, a layout typical in private chapels. The most distinguished feature of the church is its fine thirteenth century early decorated tracery in the west window (the Ely place street side of the chapel). The church is a rare example of the decorated style in the city of London, the tracery being some of the only of this style and date in the city. The west window also claims to be the largest stained glass window in London which seems unlikely but is in fact true.