The Angel Centre, Islington
This is the 1799 Horwood map of the Angel Crossroads, with the site of the 2009 Angel Centre Building imposed on it and coloured. The map comes from the Archaeological Evaluation Report, June 2008, made before the new Angel Centre was built.
In 1799 the New River Company owned the Sadler's Wells Field, at the corner of Pentonville Road and St. John's Street. It stretched along Pentonville Road from the crossroads to the top of the hill, at the corner of Amwell Street. There, at the highest point, they built a square reservoir to supply water under pressure to the houses lower down. This reservoir still exists behind the bus stop.
The corner of the field was set out in small rectangles which were probably small vegetable allotments, worked by the people of the village. South of the allotments was a Cow Yard. This and the huge Sadler's Wells Field, held large numbers of cattle which had been driven along the drove roads, to London from the north and east. This and other nearby fields, were the collecting point for all these cattle before they were driven down to Smithfield for slaughter.
There were similar collecting points for animals at Hyde Park and in the Penfold Street area in Paddington, for animals being driven from the west.
Sadler's Wells Field in 1819
By the 1820s the Sadler's Wells Field was being developed by the New River Company and its architect/surveyor William Chadwell Mylne. The field was far too valuable to be left to the cattle. Presumably these were boarded out in some neighbouring fields. This was the same period when Compton Terrace, by Highbury and Islington Station was being built on the other side of the Vestry, so Islington was on the move.
By 1819 some of the allotments had been built over by new houses with long front gardens. These front Gardens are 50 feet long and some of these very early houses and their gardens still exist. They are the last of thousands like them and are extraordinary survivors, as we shall see.
At this time a few of the allotments and the Cow Yard were still in use but they would not last long as the local house building continued.
This piece of the map shows Skinners Field, further down St John's Street. Clearly it was used to hold animals in the same way to the Sadler's Wells Field. The Skinners Company dealt with animal skins of all sorts, to be sold as furs, leather and, in the case of sheep, as parchment for legal documents. The field had a stream which would have suited the animals.
Between Sadler's Wells Field and Skinners Field were The New River Basin, an open pool of drinking water and Sadler's Wells waswhere it stands today. On the other side of the road were the Spa Gardens. These were Pleasure Gardens offering tea and entertainments. Beyond all this was Skinners Field.
Starting to Build Houses on the Sadler’s Wells Field
By 1819 a row of houses had been built on the north-ease corner of the field. The corner block has been demolished and the Angel Centre stands there there. The second terrace still exists and takes us back directly to 1756 and the Duke of Bedford.
1757 and the New Road
This portion of the map takes us back in a unique way to 1756 and the New Road, which we today call Marylebone Road, Euston Road, Pentonville Road and City Road. The New Road was the Second London Bypass, and the 50 foot front gardens to the houses between the Angel Corner and the Reservoir, are a reminder of this controversy.
The first London Bypass had been Watling Street. No doubt this had been a field track from earliest times, but the Romans paved it and re-named it. London had only one bridge at the time so the road south which we call the Edgware Road, which crossed the River Thames via the ford at what is now the Houses of Parliament, was a valuable route. It was more direct and saved congestion in London.
Building the New Road in 1757
Until the late 1750s, Oxford Street and Piccadilly were still the only two roads into London from the west. They had to take all the traffic to the City of London, including the unruly herds of cattle and sheep being driven to Smithfield for slaughter. Every day there were quarrels between shop-keepers and drovers as cattle blundered into shops. Bulls in china shops were not welcome.
Before 1757 cattle used to be driven along Piccadilly from Edgware Road to Smithfield for slaughter. The New Road was built, to bypass London and ease the congestion.
Today we call the New Road Marylebone Road. Euston Road , Pentonville Road and City Road .
In the end the congestion became unbearable. What was needed was a completely new road through the fields north of Oxford Street to bypass the existing City streets. Incidentally, this would open up the whole of Marylebone for estates of good houses, but this was not its original purpose. Indeed, the Bill giving permission for the New Road was strongly opposed by the Duke of Bedford, who owned the large estate which included Bedford Square and who would eventually profit enormously by the development. Horace Walpole wrote:-
Although the Duke's amendment opposing the Bill was rejected, a clause was added prohibiting the erection of buildings within fifty feet of the new road. As a result, the houses were built with very long front gardens, making the road 'one of the finest avenues in the metropolis'.
We think of road building as a complicated civil engineering enterprise, but the New Road was a simple affair. The ground was gravel, so it drained well and offered good going for coaches and drays. The Act authorising it was passed in 1756: a few ditches were filled in and streams culvetted, fences built on either side, toll houses built at frequent intervals to collect money from the users to pay for the road and it was completed within a few months. The road opened, in 1757, only a year after the Act was passed.
After a wash drawing by Hieronynous Grim in Westminster City Archive
This would have been the view from Bedford Square, through the New Road fences.
The New Road ran from Edgware Road, through King's Cross and The Angel, Islington, to the City of London, completely bypassing Westminster. Today it is called Marylebone Road, Euston Road, Pentonville Road and City Road. Later the long front gardens made possible the unusual widths of these roads and, when the time came to build the Metropolitan Underground Railway under the centre of the road by 'cut and cover', there was plenty of room between the houses.
The Metropolitan Railway
The Metropoltan Railway was built to link all the London railway terminii, so that people coming to London could change easily from one railway network to another. The railway terminii were built above ground and the Metropolitan Railway to link them was only just below the surface.
A huge trench, wide enough to take two tracks and their platforms, was cut from PaddingtonStation to Liverpool Street Station. This trench was lined with brick and covered with huge brick arches. Above this were built new roads. The system worked well as far as King's Cross, but Pentonville Road is a steep hill. The cattle being driven to Smithfield could plod up the hill but trains could not have done so. The ‘Cut and Cover' method could not have continued up the hill. Luckily it did not need to do so. It was going to Liverpool Streeet Station, not Smithfield, and Liverpool Street was on the level.
The larger area of the 1871 map shows houses with 50 foot ftont gardens stretching all the way down from the Angel to the bottom of Pentonveille Road and also along City Road. At the foot of Pentonville Road, the ‘cut and cover' trench turned through Farringdon Road to Liverpool Street Station on the level, and the long Pentonville Road front gardens were spared for a number of years. It is interesting to imagine the sighs of relief from the peope living on Pentonveille Hill as they watched the enormous trench turning suddenly towards Farrindon at the bottom of the hill and leaving their front gardens untouched. Gradually road widening has taken away the front gardens until today factories and blocks of flats have encroached on the gardens until, so far as I know, none of the long front gardens remain except for this terrace of houses in Pentonville Road.
The one I measured seemed to be a few feet short of the full 50 feet, but these front gardens are still an extaordinary length. They are fossilized reminders of the Duke of Bedford's petulant ammendment to the Act of Parliament, in 1756.
In 1871 there were still 50 foot front gardens all the way from The Angel to the bottom of the hill. After this date the old rule of long front gardens in the ‘New Road' began to be broken and today only these few examples near The Angel still remain.
Nos. 25-75 Pentonville Road.
This is part of the terrace of houses with 50 foot front gardens built on the New Road ( Pentonville Road ). The terrace was started before 1819 and later the houses were extended right up to the Reservoir at the top of the hill. Houses numbered 1-23 were later demolished and a large office block was built on the corner by the New River Company. In 2009 this was replaced with the Angel Centre, built by Derwent.
The Terrace and long front Gardens from Claremont Square, beside the Reservoir.
Today, all that remains of the old Sadler's Wells Field is the Reservoir at the top of Amwell Street. The field had long been filled with houses. Claremont Mews, between the long gardens of Pentonville Road and Myddleton Square, would have been full of Hackney carriages. The large block of buildings at the corner was built round on all sides, so that they had to have deep light wells to bring light to the inside rooms. No doubt they were lined with white tiles to help in this.
This map shows that large mansions had been built on the corner of St John's Street and Pentonville Road up as far as 25 Pentonville Road. We can tell that these were large blocks of mansion flats by the white light wells in the centre, which carried light down to the bottom of the buildings. This footprint is typical of mansion flats. They reached down St John's road as far as Field Place. On the west side was a narrow carriage way between the mansion blocks and 25 Pentonville Road, which led to a mews for hackney carriages.
This is the corner now occupied by The Angel Building, built by Derwent, 2009-10.
Claremont Square Covered Reservoir
Claremont Square Reservoir is still a functioning covered reservoir.
When the New River was built there was a large open reservoir at the New River Head, near Sadler's Wells. There the water settled and became clear enough to be drinkable.
This was lower than many of the surrounding houses, so it had to be pumped up to an open reservoir in Sadler's Wells Field, above the level of the highest local houses to give enough pressure to supply them.
This would have been only to the ground floor of the houses. At that period the water was carried in pipes made of elm trees with a hole boed through them. They were joined end to end and leaked at the joints. Increasing the water pressure to force the water to the tops of the houses, would have sprayed the pedestrians below at every joint. It was not until cast iron pipes were invented that water could be forced to the tops of houses.
From 1708 to 1720, the water was pumped from the Round Pond to the Upper Pond by George Sorocold's windmill with six sails. From then a horse mill was used instead. In 1767/68 Smeaton employed his Atmospheric Engine, or " Fire Engine" to do the same work.
In 1846 there was an outbreak of cholera in London, and in 1852, filter beds to purify the water were constructed in Green Lanes, Stoke Newington. A large pumping station, disguised as a castle (which I as a child, was convinced was the Chateau d'If) pumped water to a service reservoir at Dartmouth Park Hill. Other covered reservoirs were built at Crouch Hill and Hornsey Lane.
After the Second World War Thames Water built the Thames Water Ring Main which circles London. Water is now supplied to Claremont Square Reservoir by a 24" pipe from the TWRM. All clean water supplying Claremont Square has already been treated at a number of Water Treatment Works including, Ashford Common, Hampton, and Walton, so it is quite impossible to tell exactly where the water is treated before it reaches Claremont Square.
Claremont Square Reservoir is now used as an additional off peak storage reservoir for the Crouch Hill Zone and supplies the local area, and also Crouch Hill water zone at peak demand.
St Mark's Church, erected in 1827, was designed by William Chadwell Mylne, who was architect and surveyor to the New River Company.
See ‘Streets with a History’ by Eric A. Willets, FLA
Sadler’s Wells Field
Map showing the tramlines and thus the routes.
At this time the Angel Inn was still at the corner
The Creation of the 1939-45 War Damage Maps,
Local Boroughs knew the damage in their own area, but a full picture was needed so that repair, demolition and rebuilding could be organised. People were desperate for homes. Town Halls were full of people demanding accommodation, so planning and the best allocation of scare building materials were urgent and the pressure to work quickly immediately after 1945 was intense.
By a lucky chance Finsbury has left us a few sketches which show how the final Bomb Damage Maps were compiled. Each borough must have been asked by the London County Council to make detailed sketches of their own damage. Architects and assistants traced small areas of the Ordnance Survey maps in Indian ink, coloured them in to show the degrees of the damage to each property, and sent them in. By doing it in small patches, the work could be shared out in the local offices and the task completed quickly. This was decades before coloured photocopiers, so the small pieces of map, with the damage marked with coloured pencil, were then sent to County Hall to be built up into the Bombing Maps we have today. The final maps became the basis for the Abercrombie Plan for the re-planning of London. No doubt most of the local sketches were then thrown away but by chance, about half a dozen Finsbury ones have survived.
In 2005 ‘The London County Council BOMB DAMAGE MAPS, 1939-1945' were printed by the London Topographical Society. This volume is invaluable and some small pieces have been reproduced here by kind permission of London Metropolitan Archive which owns the copyright. The book is out of print but a number of people have put down their names for copies if and when it is reprinted. Try the Internet but expect to pay a good price. It is a rare book.
The 1939 - 45 Bombing Map
From The LCC Bomb Damage Maps 1939-45
London Topographical Society 2005
The Colour Key to the L.C.C. Bomb Damage Map
At this time the tramlines were being removed as
In 1955 some of the houses had been patched up and some were occupied but one site was shown on another map as ‘Ruins'.
In 2009 the whole site has been cleared and The Angel Centre is being developed.
The Angel Centre under Construction.
The New River Company Angel Building
About 1980 The New River Company, which had owned the complete Pentonville Road / St. John's Street corner field from the time of Charles II, decided to develop a large building at the very corner of the site. It was set back from St John's Road because a planned Roundabout at the Angel Corner was already on the drawing board.
As a result the New River Company had to set its building back from St John's Road to allow space for the future roundabout. The extra ground was devoted to a temporary garden. Later the roundabout scheme was withdrawn and the gardens remained untouched.
No plan of the proposed Roundabout has been found, but from verbal reports it was to be like the Old Street one. If it had been built, the whole nature of the Angel crossroads would have been altered, the corners of buildings cropped and the roundabout would have resembled a racetrack like the one below.
Old Street Roundabout in 2009 with all the grace and beauty of a Disneyland helter-skelter.
Large numbers of buildings were demolished and a civilized space destroyed. Years later tall new buildings towered over the desert.
At about this time London was in an uproar about a planned Ring Road for London. It had reached Westway and people were appalled by the raw ends of terraces, unending screech of people trying out their cars in this new racetrack, and the utter confusion in the streets below. So far as I can see, the Islington Corner was not on the proposed route but the 1960s road building mania had become so unpopular that this particular scheme may well have been slipped under the carpet as planners ran for cover. If anyone finds the Roundabout Plan I should be glad to hear of it.
The Proposed Camden Town Elevated Road Exchange Tangle
Camden Town was to be the junction for roads from west, north and east, swirling in every direction and destroying communities. The route is outlined in the plan above, linking Acton in the West and Poplar in the East, with feeders from the North. No part of London would have been unaffected. This model was reproduced in countless leaflets and there were protest meetings all over London. Local Authorities began to list their important buildings to save them from the planners. At this time half of Covent Garden was put on the Protected List, so it was not just the general public which protested. Local Authorities saw their complete fabric being threatened.
For further information see The Growth of Camden Town pp 126-129 and The Growth of St. Marylebone and Paddington, pp 181-2, both by Jack Whitehead.
New River Company merged with Derwent London to form a very large company.
At the turn of the Century Derwent London planned a new Angel Building on the 1980s site but, by this time the Roundabout idea had been scrapped and the layout could be altered. The new building was advanced to be in line with the existing St John's Road buildings but the new road was splayed, curving away to the left to reveal the Angel Corner. The Angel Corner is a handsome listed building and this splaying will show it to advantage from St John's Street.