Survey of London: Volume 22, Bankside (The Parishes of St. Saviour and Christchurch Southwark). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1950.
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CHAPTER 22: BLACKFRIARS BRIDGE AND BLACKFRIARS ROAD
In 1756 the Mayor, Aldermen and Commons of the City of London obtained authority by Act of Parliament (fn. 243) to build a bridge at Blackfriars, the third bridge across the Thames to be erected in the London area. It was designed by Robert Mylne. (fn. n1) The first pile was driven in 1760; it was made passable as a bridle way in 1768 and was opened to traffic in 1769. It was made free of toll in 1785. Mylne's bridge lasted just over 100 years. Its decay was hastened by the increased scour in the bed of the river following the rebuilding of London Bridge. The present Blackfriars Bridge, which was designed by Joseph Cubitt, was commenced in 1864. (fn. 245)
The Act of 1756 gave powers to form approaches to the bridge but they were considered insufficient and in 1768 a further Act was obtained to make a new road from the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge to "The Dog and Duck," and Newington Butts. It was to be eighty feet wide and a "Circle, Area, or Place," was to be made where it crossed the turnpike road in Saint George's Fields, and a toll-gate was to be set up there. The road was known as Great Surrey Street until 1829 when its name was changed to Blackfriars Road.
Most of the original houses in Great Surrey Street were built between 1765 and 1790. The greater part of the land belonged to the Barons, the then lords of the manor (see p. 98), who let out plots of ground on building leases to individual builders or speculators. Only a few 18th century houses now remain.
Nos. 2–12 (West Side)
Nos. 1–16 were formerly a terrace of four-storey houses in yellow stock brickwork and Nos. 2–12 retain to some extent their original character. The ground storeys have been altered by the insertion of shops. No. 1 has been rebuilt and Nos. 13–16 have been pulled down on account of damage by enemy action.
At the rear of No. 3 are the much mutilated remains of the Rotunda or Surrey Institution. The Rotunda was built in 1788–9 for James Parkinson to house the natural history collection of Sir Ashton Lever which had previously been exhibited in Leicester House, Parkinson having won the collection in the lottery held after Sir Ashton Lever's death. The collection included the tropical and other curiosities collected by Captain Cook on his voyages. Half a crown was charged for admission but financially the venture proved a failure and the collection was sold by auction in 1806. In the following year the house was taken by the newly established Surrey Institution. An elaborate description of the building at this time is given in Ackermann's Microcosm (fn. 246) —
"The entrance to this academic mansion is in Blackfriarsroad, beneath an elegant portico of the Ionic order, which is crowned with the appropriate statue of Contemplation, and forms a very pleasing object. In the hall there are communications with the dwelling-house of the secretary and his office. A vestibule then opens into a spacious anti-room, which is intended for the reception of the larger kind of philosophical apparatus; and from thence, through folding doors, is the entrance to a very elegant apartment, fitted up in the style of a Grecian temple; whose dome and entablature are apparently supported by eight Corinthian columns, between which are placed bronze statues of the different fathers of science and literature, such as Homer, Bacon, Locke, Newton, Franklin, &c. Beneath the intercolumniation are four large niches, which contain the philosophical apparatus employed by the professor of that department in his lectures. On the right and left are the reading and pamphlet-rooms, which are of handsome proportions . . . they are lighted by skylights. Contiguous to these apartments are the conversation-rooms, one of which opens into the theatre where the public lectures are delivered. It may be said . . . that this theatre is one of the most elegant rooms in the metropolis. It contains two galleries; one, which is the uppermost, is supported by eight Doric columns, of Derbyshire marble, whose entablature is crowned by a balustrade of the same materials. The gallery beneath is curiously constructed, being sustained by iron columns and their projecting cantalivers or trusses. The diameter of the theatre is thirty-six feet; and the parterre, or ground part, contains nine rows of seats, which rise above each other in commodious gradation. The first gallery contains two, and that above it three rows of seats. The light is received from the dome, and warmth is administered in the winter season by flues containing heated air, which are concealed in the wall. Great attention has also been paid to its necessary ventilation. In this noble apartment, which is calculated to contain upwards of five hundred persons, the lectures are delivered. . . .
"Adjoining the theatre . . . is the chemical laboratory, in which convenience, compactness and elegance are united. Contiguous to it is the committee-room. On the other side of the theatre is the library, which is sixty feet in length, with a gallery on three sides, and an easy access to it by a flight of steps. This room is rendered peculiarly pleasant by the garden in its front, which is calculated to convey an idea of rural retirement. . . . The reading-rooms were opened for the proprietors on the 1st of May, 1808. Lectures on chemistry, mineralogy, natural philosophy, and other subjects, were commenced by Mr. Accum and Mr. Jackson in the November following."
The circular rotunda still survives though the dome and the drum which supported it have been removed following damage by enemy action. They have been replaced by a temporary roof. The entrance hall has a flat ceiling from which rises an oval-shaped dome with skylights. This is intact, as are the two small circular rooms on either side of it, which are lighted by central openings in their domed ceilings. All these rooms are now used for commercial purposes.
The Surrey Institution gradually declined and the Rotunda was let for other purposes. It was used intermittently as a theatre and in 1830 it was taken by Richard Carlile, the free thinker, for public discussions of his views. (fn. 65) Two years later there were complaints "that the Noises nightly made in the House commonly called the Rotunda in Great Surrey Street and the Crowd thereby collected is a Common Nuisance." (fn. 247)
"In the house No. 6, opposite the York Hotel, lived Sir Richard Phillips, and in the rear, Bride Court, he published his Monthly Magazine. Here . . . [he] formed a collection of original portraits of English authors and artists." (fn. 244)
The front of No. 7 has rectangular modelled panels of Coade's artificial stone above the first floor windows with reclining figures representing the arts. The centre window has a moulded architrave with brackets and cornice supporting an urn in Coade's stone, the whole being set within a round arched recess (Plate 82).
Nos. 74–83 and 85–88
These are late 18th-century brick houses though the ground floor fronts of Nos. 75, 79, 80 and 81 and the upper part of No. 74 have been rendered in stucco. In the latter house a wood shopfront has been inserted with end pilasters terminated with robed figures supporting a cornice.
Nos. 75 to 78 have French casement windows on the first floor opening on to iron balconies. Nos. 80 and 81 also have well-designed continuous cast-iron balconies to the first floor windows. The entrance passages of several of the houses have good moulded plaster ceilings decorated with rosettes.
No. 79 has a plain Doric pilastered doorcase, while Nos. 80–83 have round arched doorways with panelled soffits flanked by Corinthian columns supporting dentilled cornices. No. 88 has a free-standing porch of two Doric columns supporting an entablature with triglyphs and mutule cornice.
No. 74 was occupied by Charles Lines, coachbuilder, from 1814 to 1851 and by the terra cotta works of Mark Henry Blanchard & Co., from 1853–80. (fn. 248) The figures on either side of the doorway were probably installed during this period. Since 1881 John Hoare & Son, builders, have been the occupiers.
Edward Cowper, inventor, lived at No. 82 from 1819 to 1820. He patented a number of improvements in printing processes and "he may be said to have done for the printing machine what Watt did for the steam-engine." (fn. 65) He entered into partnership with his brother-in-law Augustus Applegarth, who was living at No. 24, Nelson Square (see p. 132), and together they established a printing business in Duke Street, Stamford Street, Southwark. This was subsequently taken over by William Clowes.
Gilbert Handasyde, a member of the family of iron founders, who were carrying on business at Falcon Wharf (see p. 65), tenanted No. 84 from 1805 to 1819 and his widow, Ann, continued to live there until 1824.
No. 86 was occupied by John Gilbert Meymott, solicitor, from 1809–45, and by John Meymott and William J. Meymott until 1856. The office of steward of the Manor of Paris Garden was held by members of this family from 1828 until 1881. (fn. 203) William J. Meymott compiled a history of the Manor which was published in 1881. (fn. 249)
Nos. 174, 181–184 and 186–189 (East Side)
Nos. 174 and 184 have been demolished with the exception of the ground floors. The wood porch with Doric columns and pediment of No. 174 remains. Nos. 181–184 are later in date than the others in this group. They are of yellow stock brick and comprise four storeys and basements. Nos. 181 and 182 have continuous iron balconies of a plain diagonal pattern. A shopfront has been inserted in No. 183. The doorways to Nos. 186–189 have broad arched rusticated surrounds. Some of the rooms are panelled. These houses have been badly damaged by enemy action and parts of the upper storeys have been taken down.
The site of Nos. 181–184 is shown as open ground on the 1st edition of Horwood's Map (1794–99) and these were nearly the last houses in Blackfriars Road to be completed. They are shown as tenanted in the rate book for 1808.
No. 182 (formerly 103) was occupied by John Bunnell Davis, physician, from 1815 till his death in 1824. He was trained at Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospitals and was appointed physician to the troops invalided home from Walcheren. He published several medical works. (fn. 65)
No. 184 (formerly 105) had as its first tenant (from 1808–1813) Ralph Blegborough, physician, who specialised in midwifery and gave generously of his services to the poor. (fn. 65)
Nos. 186–189 were part of the terrace of houses called St. George's Place, built circa 1777 by William Conquest and John Noad of Virginia Street, Ratcliff Highway, carpenter. (fn. 250) They were, therefore, among the earliest houses in the road. It is interesting to note that Thomas Giffin, who acted as entrepreneur, became a bankrupt a few years later. These houses have all been used for commercial purposes from an early date.
No. 196 (formerly 117)
The house at the south-east corner of Blackfriars Road and Union Street (formerly Charlotte Street) was from the period of its erection at the end of the 18th century until 1931 in the occupation of various firms of ironmongers. The house had for its sign a brass Dog and Pot, a sign which was used as a trade mark on coal plates and other iron work. Charles Dickens, when he was a poor boy living in Lant Street, often passed the shop with the sign of the "golden dog licking a golden pot." (fn. 251) The house was destroyed in 1940–1. The fine brass and wood sign (Plate 86) was sold in 1931 and is now in the Cuming Museum.
The Surrey Chapel, later The Ring
Surrey Chapel was built in 1782 by the Rev. Rowland Hill and Sir Richard Hill, bart., his brother, on the north-east corner of Blackfriars Road and Union Street. A lease of the ground was assigned (fn. 252) to Sir Richard Hill and others in 1785 by Mathias Peter Dupont in trust for the "Protestant Dissenters" of Lady Huntingdon's connection. Rowland Hill had been admitted to deacon's orders in the Church of England as a young man and he never entirely severed his connection with the Church. Though he was always considered to be the pastor of Surrey Chapel it was not licensed in his name and he generally spent a great part of the summer in visiting various parts of the country. (fn. 253) He was reputed to be eccentric—among other things he was an advocate of vaccination and "himself performed the operation on many thousands of people" (fn. 231) —but he drew great congregations to the chapel. He died in 1833 at his house, No. 45 Charlotte Street, and was buried in a vault under the pulpit of the chapel. (fn. 6)
In 1876 the congregation removed to the newly erected Christ Church in Westminster Bridge Road, and the old octagonal chapel was finally closed as a place of worship in 1881. (fn. 6) Views of the exterior and interior are reproduced on Plate 85. The building was used for a time as a factory (fn. 220) and afterwards for boxing, when it became known as "The Ring." It was badly damaged during the war and has now been entirely demolished.
In 1717 Edward Edwards, of the parish of Christ Church, executed a deed by which he transferred certain lands to trusteés to be used after his death for charitable purposes. These included the endowment of the charity school, an annual distribution of beef and bread on Christmas Day and the purchase of land for almshouses. (fn. 56) By 1752 sufficient profit had accrued from the land to enable the trustees to purchase from Thomas Jordan a piece of ground called the Physic Garden. This lay to the south of what was then Green Walk (now Burrell Street). (fn. n2) The first almshouses were erected in 1753 at a cost of £150, Richard Hall being the contractor. (fn. 55) Subsequently 44 almshouses were built. In order to obtain a revenue they also built 15 houses on the Blackfriars Road frontage of the ground (Nos. 216–230) and houses in Robert Street, Charles Street and Edward Street.
The present almshouses in Burrell Street date only from 1895, but a
stone from the original building has been affixed to the wall facing Burrell
Street. It bears the inscription—
The Albion Mills
The Albion Mills were designed by Samuel Wyatt and John Rennie for the purpose of grinding flour on a large scale by means of Watt's steamengines. The mill was completed in 1786 and attracted many visitors. The millers and workmen regarded the machinery with suspicion and dislike and the fire which destroyed the whole building in 1791 was probably caused by incendiaries. (fn. 6) The mills occupied copyhold ground on the east side of Blackfriars Road between the river and Upper Ground. The site is now covered by the railway goods depot.
The Goods Depot, British Railways (Southern Region)
In 1863 the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company acquired the land between the river and the newly-formed Southwark Street on the east side of Blackfriars Road for the formation of a goods and passenger station. The engineering work was carried out by Joseph Cubitt and T. Turner and the architectural work by John Taylor, junior. The station was opened for traffic on 1st June, 1864. A contemporary account describes the building as comprising two levels, the lower one entirely for goods and the upper for goods and passengers; the main portion of the upper or passenger level being carried upon iron columns and girders. (fn. 254) The station is now entirely used for goods traffic.
The building presents an imposing elevation to the southern approach to Blackfriars Bridge. It is 420 feet long and 60 feet high and is divided into eleven bays by broad flat piers. There are two tiers of arcading in which the wide entrances below the platform level are spanned by boldly treated segmental arches. The windows above and below platform level have either semicircular or flatly pointed three-ring vari-coloured brick arches. They are grouped in pairs except in the third bays from each end, which have three windows each. Over the whole length runs a deep moulded brick cornice returned around the piers, and a plain brick parapet with two squat stone terminal finials.
The elevation is of stock brickwork relieved by bands of red and pale buff terra-cotta, with ornamental voussoirs and cornice corbels in the same material. An effect of entasis is imparted to the facade by a slight outward curve on plan.
The building is of interest as an early essay in railway architecture and in the use made of the Italianate Gothic style which was to dominate English architecture for an era. Unfortunately it has for many years been disfigured by unsightly hoardings and its features probably go unnoticed by the great majority of passers-by.