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Friday, 8 May 2015

Summer’s Strolling On for the Senior BEEs

The summer programme for our Senior BEEs began last week with a walking tour in Hackney and Islington. The tour focused on exploring developments happening in both boroughs on either side of City Road – an area that is fast transforming and combined with its rich history, makes for fascinating discussion and walking discoveries.

The group met on 1 May at a local café for a catch up chat after our short spring break. Located on the crossroads of Provost Street and Vestry Street, the café was an ideal meeting point to start the walk by venturing towards City Road for the first of a few discussion stops.

Although there was tough competition from traffic noise, the discussion at the City Road stop focused on the new skyscraper buildings that are increasingly dominating the skyline to the north of Old Street. As construction continues, the area is rapidly developing with old and new clearly juxtaposed on opposite sides of the road: modern towers on one side, and the 19th Century Moorfields Eye Hospital building on the other. 
Crossing over City Road and walking to the back of the hospital building, the group learned that the hospital had struggled to survive at the beginning of the 20th Century and was saved from closure by a generous donation from the Prince of Wales’ Hospital Fund. In the 1930s, the hospital raised funds to build an extension to the City Road building.

Walking further behind the hospital building, the group reached the most recent extension: the award-winning Children’s Eye Centre designed by Penoyre and Prasad Architects. This innovative building’s entrance features a series of aluminium fins creating an interesting and textured façade. Some of the group admired the eye-catching façade which despite its ultra modern look and feel adds a light and quirky flare to the streetscape.

Walking through St Luke’s Estate and passing by the Pleydell Estate, the group circled back to City Road to view the 1930s art-deco inspired Eagle Black residential development from Mount Anvil and designed by Farrells. From this street perspective, it was interesting to see how the building heights taper, getting lower and lower the further north of Old Street along City Road one goes.  

From here, the group herded up Shepherdess Walk passing the renowned Eagle pub and the former grounds of the 18th Century St Luke’s Workhouse which later became St Matthew’s Hospital, demolished in the 1980s.

The walk continued along Nile Street and Jasper Walk, where the group learned that the street had been named after A. S. Jasper, author of A Hoxton Childhood – a book of memoirs depicting London life in the area during the First World War.  Although the area has vastly changed, its history remains alive in street names and a small number of surviving building facades and brickwork.

The walking tour ended by coming full circle back to Provost Street and taking a brief look at the Provost Estate.

The Senior BEEs were able to contribute and exchange their varied historical knowledge of areas covered on the walk, with some sharing personal memories. The group also learned about and discussed the current changes and developments occurring in an area which reminds us that London throughout history remains in constant flux.
The walking session was a great way to saunter into the summer season, and we’re looking forward to more exciting explorations over the summertime months!  

In addition to kick-starting the summer programme for our Senior BEEs, the tour also marks the beginning of our exciting new project Our Place Too. We have been awarded funding from the People's Health Trust (using money raised from Health Promote through the Health Lottery) to work with older people living in two neighbourhoods either side of City Road. Our Place Too will recruit older people living in these areas into our existing older people's groups with the aim of increasing health and wellbeing, and facilitating discussion about the enormous changes taking place on their doorstep.


Friday, 1 May 2015

Milling Around the Wandle

As our Wandle Treasure project begins to draw to a close we are receiving the last of the various treasures from our volunteer-researchers. Included in the heritage themes that the treasures range across is industrial heritage. The River Wandle has a rich industrial heritage, playing a significant role in the historical development of London.

Part of this industrial heritage can be found in the various mills and factories that were scattered along the banks of the River - at one point the Wandle supported 90+ mills, producing waterpower for various enterprises and providing employment for local people.
One such example is the Snuff Mills: two, grade II listed, 18th Century mills located on either side of the Wandle in Morden Hall Park.

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, taking snuff (ground tobacco, often perfumed with spices or floral flavours) through the nose was highly fashionable. Tobacco for snuff was produced at these mills from c.1750 to 1922 by which time snuff was declining in popularity. At one point, it is estimated that 6,000Ibs of snuff per month was being produced and supplied to London. Famous snuff takers included Napoleon, Lord Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

The east-bank building of the Morden Hall Snuff Mills was first to be built, and was initially leased by Peter Davenport and subsequently by Nathaniel Polhill, a banker, brewer, tobacco merchant, and MP who passed on the mills to his son Edward.  

The Snuff mills ended up in the possession of Taddy & Co - which became one of the most important tobacco companies in Britain. The company was owned by the Hatfeild Family, and the final owner Gilliat Hatfeild (who lived within and also owned Morden Park), closed the mills in 1922.

The Ravensbury Mill is another example, and again an 18th Century, grade II listed building, which allegedly was the last working mill on the River Wandle.

It is believed that a mill has occupied this site since 1680, and that the present 18th Century building, which housed two water wheels, was originally used for the production of snuff from c.1755 and later for tobacco as well. This mill was used to produce the famous ‘Mitcham Shag Tobacco’, which was awarded a gold medal at a Brewers exhibition in 1906. Between 1868 and 1884 it is said the mill was also used to produce flock, recycling wool and old clothes for stuffing mattresses and flock paper. At this time, the mill was owned by the local Rutter Family. Gilliat Hatfeild, who owned the Snuff Mills downstream in Morden Hall Park, took a leasehold interest in part of the Ravensbury Mill in 1884.

During WWII, the mill helped generate electricity and occasionally powered wood-turning machinery in the 1960’s. The building was last commercially occupied by Whiteleys, a sports goods manufacturer, until 1980. Following this, it was converted for residential use during the 1990s, excluding the older north wing and the surviving mill wheels.

These remnants of former mills provide a reminder of the layers of history that can be uncovered in this area. Why not get away from the daily grind and go see for yourself!

*The Wandle Treasure is a volunteer-led local heritage project where we identify lost treasures along the course of the River Wandle, which spans four London boroughs (Wandsworth, Merton, Sutton and Croydon). The final selection will then be drawn by artist StephanieTheobald and uploaded to a website with an interactive map.

The project is delivered in collaboration with Living Wandle Landscape Partnership Scheme as part of the Industrial Heritage Recording Project.