I was taught in my youth that the streets of London are still laid
out very much as they had been in the middle ages; that the pattern
of land occupation was a limiting factor on the rebuilding of London
after the Great Fire of 1666. While there is some truth in this there
are also so many variations from the rule that they are hardly
exceptions. One was the establishment of Farringdon Road; associated
with that was the building of the Holborn Viaduct around 1860. The
viaduct spans the Fleet valley and carries the road that links
Newgate in the east to Hyde Park in the west. That was the ancient
route travelled by the condemned on their way via Oxford Street to
execution at Tyburn, near the present Marble Arch.
The Fleet River, often referred to as a ditch now flows
underground north-south toward the Thames approximately on the
alignment of the present Farringdon Road, which becomes Farringdon Street at the Holborn Viaduct.
The Fleet Prison had been
somewhere around the present site of the City ThamesLink Station.
First came the Regent’s Canal connecting the Paddington terminus
of the Grand Union Canal to Limehouse Basin in The City. Farringdon
Road was established to connect the City with the New Road, the
inner ring road that connected Paddington, Marylebone and King’s
Cross. Then came the trains. The Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863
and was extended from King’s Cross towards Barbican and Aldgate in
1865. I have mentioned these developments before because they are
critically important in several respects to the history of the
family. A vitally important feature of the eastward extension of the
Metropolitan was a link to the main railways lines north, rail access
to the new West Smithfield Markets and other goods depots beside the
line, including a depot at Whitecross Street close by St Giles,
Cripplegate. There was another goods depot on the former Castle and
Falcon Yard, at the back of Tubbs Lewis’ head office, abutting
London Wall, though I can’t see this had a rail connection. By
London Wall I mean the ancient City wall, not the current street
name, which is mostly a modern confection.
The Farringdon Market never really flourished in the face of
competition from Borough Market and Covent Garden, let alone
Smithfield. It was a fruit and vegetable market which replaced the
Fleet Market and perhaps a less structured pattern of trading on the
streets which incorporated the later Farringdon Road. The market was
open only from about 1829 at the great cost of around £250,000 on a
site 232’x150’, lying between Farringdon Road, Shoe Lane,
Stonecutter Lane and Plumptree Street. This is about 1.5 of our
English acres, but see below. By 1875 it was reported that revenue
was barely £200 per year and it was resolved to move the trade to a
fruit and vegetable section at West Smithfield which is more
associated with livestock. The Wikipedia entry quotes Mayhew the
author of London Labour and the London Poor (1851) describing street
vendors buying watercress at the market. The Wikipedia entry closes
with the decision of the Corporation of London to close the market.
It was another fifteen years before the site was sold at auction.
Here we pick up the story as found in St James's Gazette -
Saturday 19 March 1892
SALE OF FARRINGDON MARKET. Mr. James Green (of the firm of Messrs.
Weatherall and Green) offered the site of Farringdon Market for sale
yesterday at the Mart/Tokenhouse-yard. There was a very large
attendance. The property, which is freehold and covers an area of
nearly an acre and three-quarters (mot 1.5 acres then, ed) , was
acquired by the Corporation of the City of London in 1824 under an
Act of Parliament. As to the conditions of sale, Mr. Green slated
that the property was offered with all the advantages which were
vested the Corporation at the time they obtained the Act. He was
submitting it as a freehold building site, [ fairly unusual as the
Corporation usually retained freehold and granted a ground lease
ed.]. Any purchaser would have a perfect right to build over the
burial-ground forming part the property. Whatever powers the
Corporation had he was now disposing of, but whoever bought the
property would do so with his eyes open. The area was a most
exceptional one, and in his experience of thirty-five years as
auctioneer he did not remember a freehold property of such extent in
the City being offered for sale in one lot. There was no right of
pre-emption…. The property, which was situate in the ward of
Farringdon Without [outside London Wall ed.], had an area of 76,000
superficial feet, and it was acquired by the Corporation at a cost of
£180,00. It had been valued by Sir Horace Jones, the late City
architect, and subsequently by his successor, Mr. Peebles, who was a
most cautious man, at £100.000 and a reserve price had been fixed.
The first bid made was for £50,000, which was speedily followed by
another for £60,000; the next offers being £61,000, £65,000,
£66,000, £67,000, and £70,000, which was soon increased to
£76,100. A few further remarks from the auctioneer increased the
bidding to £80,000 and when an advance of £400 had been established
he stated that the property was now in the hands of those present and
would be sold. After £85,000 had been offered, the bidding proceeded
rather slowly and mainly by advances of £100; the offers proceeding
from two quarters. The property was at length sold for £98,100 to
Messrs. Charles and Tubbs, of Gresham-street, on behalf of a client.
That client of course was Henry Thomas Tubbs, father of Walter
Burnell Tubbs who was the brother-in-law of his partner Richard
Charles themselves auctioneers, surveyors and estate agents. Despite
the observation of the auctioneer that good title was being passed by
this sale HTT was not satisfied and took the Corporation to Court. In
a report which I can no longer find HTT continued to be on a losing
wicket and was obliged to complete the sale at the further cost of
£20,000, very much more than any normal mortal would have been able
to pull out of their back pocket at the time.
I have yet to find any photographs of the developments made by HTT
on the site other than a post-war aerial photograph which clearly
shows their street plan and the alignment of his creation Farringdon
Avenue. There are advertisements from Tubbs and Charles who had an
office on Shoe Lane, later Tubbs on his own at 68 Shoe Lane. I found
a near miss while pursuing one of my other interests, photographic
history. The Linked Ring, a group of late 19th century pictorialist
photographers, included Rooftopper (nothing new about avatars), who
specialised in roofscapes, had his studio on Shoe Lane but he
manipulated his pictures and I don’t believe he photographed the
market site. It is reasonable to assume that by the time of the Blitz
there was little or no family financial interest on the site but it
remains of interest nevertheless.
Pontifex and Wood later Merged with Haslams of Derby.
Post-war redevelopment seems to have been delayed to around 1955
when the new building was to be London’s largest telephone
exchange. Around 1960 Dorothy Annan was commissioned to produce a
set of nine painted tile murals to ornament the facade on Farringdon
Road and that was on display there until the building was scheduled
for demolition. I visited the site in 2009 and photographed only a
couple of the murals and caught a glimpse of the foundation stone in
the entrance lobby, then closed. By then the weeds were encroaching.
It reads “This Stone was laid on the 20th October 1958 by The Lord
Mayor of London Sir Dennis Truscott TD in the Presence of the Right
Honourable Ernest Marples MP”. We may doubt just how honourable
that is. The infamous Ernest Marples was the subject of the
proto-viral “Marples must go” campaign. When he did go he
mysteriously disappeared. Exit pursued by taxman. Lord Marples as he
became is not to be confused with Lord Marples of Thornbridge Hall
(and the present day micro brewery) who adopted a title to which he
had no right.
It was with a happy heart that I learn that the murals have been
moved to Cromwell High Walk in the Barbican, that they enjoy the
protection of statutory listing Grade II, that they are under cover,
open to public view and well lit. Top marks to somebody. Annan spent
much time researching the work of what was then the General Post
Office (GPO). It gradually separated from the Royal Mail and became
British Telecom in the Thatcher years. The old Strowger automatic
telephone exchanges were replaced by System X and later computerised
developments, all much more compact than their mechanical ancestor.
Annan’s murals for Farringdon road being on tiles are strangely
not considered to be murals by the purists, though in my opinion they
meet the strongest criterion for being murals which is their design
for a specific client and site and being on a wall.
The Masters of the Universe are touchy about preying eyes outside
their new sandcastle, especially those with cameras. Goldnen Socks'
new edifice is on the site of the former Farringdon Market, the later
Tubbs and subsequent Post Office developments The Annan murals
faced along Farringdon Road at street level.