A Walk through Town I

It has taken a little time for this post to be compiled as a result of an eclectic collection of snapshots taken on a warm Spring evening 26 April this year. The only connection between the photographs is that boz paused long enough to look and wonder on the way from Clerkenwell to a destination in Covent Garden.

First stop Red Lion Square which has since resulted in a confusion with numbers. Being a rare occassion when not in a hurry to be elsewhere, it was possible to stop and photograph two buidings I have oft admired. The first being a rather nice example of interwar architecture at number 25 Red Lion Square:

Conway Hall

Building commenced 1926 and completed 1929 for the congregation of the South Place Ethical Society, a group of non conformists formed 1795 known as the Philadelphians or Universalists. Originally based in a building at 11 South Place, Finsbury  where William Hazlitt was a regular attendee and from which they retained the name on moving to the larger premises at Red Lion Square. Apparently Red Lion Square was numbered differently with the site of Conway Hall being number  37 not 25 as it is today. Have been unable thus far to find any evidence of renumbering and no Census from 1881 to 1911 lists a number 37. The site of Conway Hall was supposedly purchased as a tenement block but again no such building is in evidence by 1911.

The Charles Booth notebooks have little to say about Red Lion Square though do note the existence of flats and a lodging house:

“A few inhabited homes. Many are business premises. At the corner of Leigh Street are flats. Pink as map. There is a common lodging house on the NE side of this square which is not registered because it takes a stipulated sum per week and does not put more than a given number in a room. This seems to be the difference between lodgings and a common lodging house.”  Booth Notebooks B354 p21 As observed by George Duckworth walking with Police Constable Turner Tuesday July 12th 1898.

It is doubtful that the flats noted are the tenements that later became Conway House being that Leigh Street was on the opposite side of the Square. It is likely that the lodging house that perplexes George Duckworth was the Girls Friendly Society lodgings at number eleven present until the 1911 Census with boarders being young women only. Any information as to the renumbering of Red Lion Square would be very well received.

The development to build Red Lion Square was commenced 1684 on the site of Red Lion Fields by Nicholas Barbon, a surgeon who diverted into speculative builder, notorious for his sub standard buildings and dubious land acquisitions. As a result not many of Barbon’s buildings have stood the test of time and most houses in Red Lion Square were rebuilt throughout the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The exception being numbers fourteen to seventeen which remain the originals built by Barbon refronted in the nineteenth century of which number seventeen is well known:

17 Red Lion Square

17 Red Lion Square

It is here that Danté Gabriel Rossetti is reputed to have briefly lodged in 1851 and later recommending the same rooms to William Morris and Edward Burne Jones in 1856 which were apparently damp and decrepit. Given that these were within the original building the condition is to be expected of Nicholas Barbon’s standard of construction indeed it is to be wondered upon that the house was still standing at all in 1856. 1861 saw the firm Morris, Faulkner & Co. established at number 8 Red Lion Square.

There is of course much more of interest in Red Lion Square and numerous notable residents, but that is not for this post lest we forget that we are on a walk and dusk is approaching so must continue our journey en route to Seven Dials. Down Red Lion Street and along High Holborn takes us by Grape Street where it is deemed necessary to capture the stage door of the Shaftesbury Theatre. Although disappointingly lacking in thespian activity at such an early hour in the evening it does retain a couple of original sash windows (to the right of the picture) sash windows being of particular attraction for boz. Opened 1911 as the New Prince’s Theatre and becoming the Prince’s Theatre 1914 it was acquired by EMI 1962 to be renamed the Shaftesbury Theatre 1963. The Booth notebooks make little mention of this site as the area was being rebuilt as our guide George Duckworth notes on his travels of 1898 with Grape Street as yet not in existence.

Srage Door at the Shaftesbury Theatre

Across Shaftesbury Avenue into Neals Yard. Colourful now but according to George Duckworth report for the Booth Notebooks all stables in 1898 the Poverty map showing Black edged with Purple.

Neals Yard

Continuing onto Long Acre via brief visit to Stanfords’ excellent emporium of maps and printed goods back into Rose Street by the establishment of the Lamb and Flag public house. Being suit time on a clement Tuesday evening there is a throng at the bar spilling into the street. Reputedly the oldest pub in Covent Garden although records are sketchy, the earliest date at which the house is recorded as licensed premises in the Greater London rate books is 1772  as the Cooper’s Arms. According to Strypes Survey 1720 Rose Street was originally named in two parts as White Rose Street being the northern arm and Red Rose Street the southern part over time the distinction is lost. Another example of confusion with numbers the building which is the Lamb and Flag at number 33 was originally 11 Rose Street and listed as such in the 1881 Census with one Caleb Cullen and his wife Hannah in residence as wine and spirit merchants.

Whilst considering if time would permit the wait to be served at the bar, and reluctantly conceding that it would not; a hitherto unnoticed building was observed:

Westminster Fire Office

At the time of taking the photograph it was not realised that the building would be later encountered in researching the career of Arthur Rackham; stalwart readers will recall this from the last post as being the one time workplace of the illustrator. Now part of Garrick House which incorporate numbers 27-32 King Street and housing solicitors offices. It should be noted that the rather unnecessary and quite dreadful plastic bunting to the left of the picture was a temporary nod to patriotism given impending nuptials and fortunately not a permanent fixture.

From here through Mercer Street where we find a lovely example of the work of Ben Eine:

Ben Eine Mercer Street

For the best available accounts of the work of Ben Eine I can do no better than refer you to the inimitable writing of the Gentle Author to be found within the highly esteemed                 Spitalfields Life http://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/08/23/the-rise-of-ben-eine/

Onward to Shorts gardens almost at the destination. Dusk is by now apparent serving to enhance the light in the shop windows making one notable cheesemonger appear quite magical:

Neal's Yard Dairy Shorts Gardens

This shop which opened and took its name from Neals Yard in 1979 later moved to 17 Shorts Gardens 1992. There is no number 17 Shorts Gardens listed on the 1881 Census as yet it is unclear if this presents another instance of renumbering. Of the area the Booth Archive Police Notebooks have this to say:

“small shops, Irish, rough poor, working class, ‘fling bricks at the police but are not criminal’ DB (Dark Blue) as map.” Booth Notebooks 354 p107

Thus noted George Duckworth citing Police Constable Tait’s observation 26 July 1898.

Being much too interested in the business of others boz wonders if the flat above number 17 is now let; who has taken it; what sort of a person they are. In pondering this the journey ends at the Crown in Monmouth Street so must take leave with a sketch for now.

Little bit of a big print

4 thoughts on “A Walk through Town I

  1. Wonderful and evocative post of an interesting walk Jane. Had you gone a bit further you would have found Chippendale’s house in St Martin’s Lane ~ another day another walk!

  2. Pingback: This Year Past | sketchesbyboz

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