Category Archives: 1800s

Unanswered Questions

From time to time I am asked a question which I think is worth mentioning – or sometimes where I actually don’t know the answer! Here are some such and in most cases some answers.

UNANSWERED (if anybody can offer answers then please leave a comment)

Where are the Rotherhithe Tunnel ventilation towers?

Was St Paul’s Shadwell rebuilt in its original style?

Where exactly was the News International print works?

Is Wapping station Art Nouveau?

Were there many churches in Limehouse?

Why is St Anne’s, Limehouse so big?

What is served at an Execution Breakfast?
This relates to the Magpie and Stump pub which stands on the street called Old Bailey opposite what was once the site of public executions. The landlord made a nice earning by providing guests with a first floor room where they could watch the action at the gallows whilst enjoying an Execution Breakfast.


ANSWERED

Where are the four Rotherhithe Tunnel ventilation shafts?

From south to north:-
1. Corner of Brunel Road and Canon Beck Road in Rotherhithe
2, Octagon Court, Rotherhithe (visible from shaft 3).
3. King Edward memorial park, Shadwell (visible from shaft 2).
4. Corner of The Highway and Heckford Street, Shadwell. This is not the original building which was demolished in 1967 for a road widening scheme.

Which churches can fly the White Ensign apart from St Anne’s Limehouse?

There are 8 other churches, the only one in London is St Martin in the Fields.

How much must a vessel pay to have Tower Bridge opened?

Not a penny, it is free.

What does the Birchin in Birchin Lane mean?

The Lane of the Barbers.

From whom did JMW Turner inherit the two cottages which became the Old Star pub?

From his Uncle Joseph Marshall, his mother’s brother, who was a butcher in Brentford in West London.

Why and when is a bale of straw hung under London bridges?

An old tradition last observed at Millennium Bridge in December 2023. It is to indicate that workers are underneath the bridge and that headroom is reduced as a result. By night a white light is used instead,

Where can one buy Lord Mayor’s honey?

Some of it is sold on City Giving Day.

Is JP Morgan an American bank?

The original JP Morgan was a British Bank formed in the mid 1800s which merged with Chase National Bank in 2000 to form JP Morgan-Chase. Today, therefore, it is American.

Did Lloyds insure the Titanic?

Yes, the policy was for £1 million and was paid out within 30 days of the sinking.

What did Judge John Jeffries die from?

He died in the Tower of London from kidney disease of which he had been a chronic sufferer.

Where were the pumps feeding the Hydraulic Ring Main?

These were found at Bankside (Southwark), City Road (near Liverpool Street station), East India Dock (Blackwall), Mansell Street (City of London/Tower Hamlets), Pimlico, Rotherhithe and Wapping Wall (Shadwell).

Is the Import Dock (West India Quay) smaller than it was?

The north wall by the Museum is original but part of the south dock has been reclaimed.

Was St Anne’s Limehouse rebuilt in its original style?

Yes

How long does the Plague virus last?

It’s a bacterium rather than a virus. In dry conditions or when exposed to sunlight it lives no longer than 72 hours. In damp dark conditions survival for up to 24 days has been recorded. No long term data seems to be available though bacteria in general cannot survive more than three years without sustenance (unless frozen when they can last for millennia – 120,000 years is the current record).

Was Mozart a freemason?

Yes, initiated into a Vienna lodge at the age of 28.

Did St Anne’s Limehouse suffer bomb damage?

It suffered minor damage during both world wars but nothing structural.

How many churches are there in the City?

I didn’t know the exact number and hazarded a guess at fifty, I was not far wrong.

What are the entry requirements and fees for Christ’s Hospital school today?

Pupils must show “academic potential”. Boarding fees are £14,000 per term though bursaries and the occasional free place are offered. Day pupil fees are £7,000 to £9,000

What was the City population in 1066?

Around 15,000.

Pillar Boxes

You may know Anthony Trollope for his books but we was also responsible for a familiar sight on our streets.

Trollope worked for the Civil Service and on his recommendation a French designed pillar box was trialled in the Channel Islands.

Next year the first ones appeared in London. These were not the familiar round red ones of today but rectangular. They were painted green so they would not be considered an eyesore. This, however, proved impractical as postmen had trouble finding them in the dark. They were painted red from 1874. There is a green survivor in the City in St Martin Le Grande.

Although pillar boxes are basically the same, each postal area had its own designs so watch out for the variations.

Look for the symbol on the side denoting the monarch of the time. If it’s a V for Victoria then you are looking at the oldest. Most common are those from the reign of Elizabeth II – around 70,000 out of a total of 115,000. The rarest example is Edward VIII of which there are between 134 and 171 – and none in the City Of London.

Marc Isambard Brunel

1769-1849

Born in Normandy, Brunel trained as a carpenter in his youth and became a competent cabinet maker. He then joined the navy as a cadet and made his own octant.

This was the time of the French Revolution and in 1793 Brunel – a Royalist – made some unwise remarks about Robspierre, the revolutionary leader.

His life at risk he managed to flee to the USA where he worked as a civil engineer before coming to England where he invented several items of factory equipment. He invested heavily in machinery for making boots for the army but failed to gain the expected government contract. As a result his business was bankrupt and he was sent to a debtors’ prison.

He began correspondence with Alexander 1 – Tsar of Russia who was interested in discharging Brunel’s debts if he’d come to work in Russia.

Potential loss of one of the country’s talented engineer caused alarm. Several influential figures – including Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. – petitioned successfully for a government grant to clear his debts and he was released from prison.

The Wapping Tunnel was the pinnacle of his career and, due to ill health, his last project.

Tower Subway

A little way north of the Uber boat station by the Tower Of London you might notice a small cylindrical building called the Hydraulic Tower,

Today it carries a water main, hence the name, but its heritage is rather different.

Quite possibly you have used the nearby Tower Hill underground station which is not far from the site of the old Tower Of London station which opened in 1882 as a terminus for the Metropolitan Railway.

Even this, though, was not the first railway on Tower Hill.

In 1870 the Tower Subway, a 2’6” narrow gauge railway, was built from Tower Hill under the Thames to Vine Lane off Tooley Street by London Bridge station. There was a single carriage which was pulled by cables connected to a static steam engine at each end. It proved unreliable and a passenger died in an accident with the lift.

In 1871 the railway was taken up and it became a pedestrian tunnel with a toll of a halfpenny. It attracted a million transits each year. A bit of maths: 480 halfpennies to the pound, divide by 52, works out at £40 per week which was not a bad bit of bunce in the late 1800s – equivalent to £4,700 in 2020.

In 1898 it went out of business because of the free crossing afforded by Tower Bridge which opened in 1894. Today it carries a water main and phone lines. You can, however, see the original entrance.

The tunnel was bored by pioneer engineer James Greathead using an adaptation of Marc Brunel’s tunnelling shield as used to build the Wapping Tunnel.

The Tower Subway features on my Tower Hill tour.

Wapping Tunnel and Station

Wapping station opened in December 1879 as part of the East London railway but its story began over 50 years earlier.

in the early 1800s there was a need to connect the north and south docks. There were two unsuccessful attempts to dig a tunnel but these were thwarted by the soft clay and quicksand which caused the tunnel rooves to collapse. The project was declared impractical.

A French engineer, however, believed that he had a solution. Although he he no record of tunnel building he persuaded investors to finance a tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping. One of those investors was Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. That engineer was called Marc Brunel who had patented a device called the tunnelling shield.

How did this work? Brunel had chanced upon a marine creature called a Shipworm. This bored tunnels through wood but in its wake secreted a coating of limestone particles on the tunnel walls to stop them collapsing.

The shield had similar principles, a round framework accommodating a dozen or so men who would dig into the sand and mud whilst bricklayers reinforced the tunnel walks behind them.

Construction started in 1825 and progress was slow, about a foot per week. There were often leaks and noxious river water would poor through. Other hazards were methane which was inflammable and hydrogen sulphide which was poisonous.

In 1827 the roof was breached and Brunel’s son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, repaired it using a diving bell lowered from a boat. Afterwards they held a dinner party in the tunnel to celebrate!

It was finally completed in 1843 at a cost of £630,000. Instead of being a thoroughfare between the docks it was ornately decorated and accommodated London’s second shopping arcade!

The tunnel was fashionable to visit, charged an admission fee of one penny to over 2 million people each year.

In 1865 is was purchased by the East London railway and became it’s northern terminus.

It is now the deepest underground station on the Overground network.

In the 1860s a young engineer called James Greathead, inspired by Brunel’s shield, developed his own version and used this to build the second tunnel under the Thames from Tower Hill to Southwark (if you want to know more, come on my Tower Hill walk). Greathead’s shield was subsequently used to build the first tunnelled underground lines including the Waterloo & City and Northern Lines.

The Wapping Tunnel is part of my Docklands North Bank walk.