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The Creation of the Aldwych and Kingsway in 1902

A postcard showing the King and Queen at the opening of the Aldwych and Kingsway in 1903

Above - A postcard showing the King and Queen at the opening of the Aldwych and Kingsway in 1903

 

Wych Street, one of the casualties of the creation of the Aldwych in 1902 - Click for details.The Aldwych in the Strand, London, was created in 1902 but had been mooted for the previous decade. When the plans were finally agreed a great swath of London's familiar streets was soon to disappear and along with them four of London's great Theatres were to disappear too. The new circular road scheme was named the Aldwych, after the old Wych Street which was one of the casualties of the new scheme. (Arthur Lloyd lived at 39 Wych Street for a short period in 1892.) Also created in the Aldwych scheme was the street now known as Kingsway which reaches all the way up from the Aldwych to Holborn.

Right - Wych Street, one of the casualties of the creation of the Aldwych in 1902 - Click for details.

The four Theatres which disappeared for the construction of the Aldwych were the Olympic Theatre in Wych Street and the Opera Comique in the Strand which were both closed in 1899; the Globe Theatre in Newcastle Street which closed in 1902; and the old Gaiety Theatre in the Strand which closed in June 1902, although the Gaiety would be rebuilt on a new prominent site at the head of the new Aldwych scheme and reopen in 1903. Two other new Theatres would also be constructed on the Aldwych to accompany the Gaiety; the Waldorf and Aldwych Theatres, which were built either side of the new Waldorf Hotel as one huge block in 1905.

There are some wonderful photographs of Wych Street and the surrounding area's demolition from a souvenir brochure published by the London County Council for the opening of Kingsway in 1905 here and here.

The Standard published an article on the proposed new road scheme in their 21st of September, 1892 edition called 'Vanishing London' which I have transcribed below. And the Daily News published a report, and a map, detailing the proposed scheme in their 17th of August 1900 edition which I have also transcribed below.

 

Vanishing London - On the proposed creation of what would become Kingsway

From The Standard, 21st of September, 1892

An early postcard showing Kingsway from Bush House.It might be worth the consideration of the London County Council when, or if, that august body is enabled to sweep away the foul and decaying congeries of streets which will have to be demolished for the purpose of forming the proposed new "Broadway" from Holborn to the Strand, whether the scheme of reconstruction can be made to include the provision of a new market. It is understood that by the adoption of either of the alternative plans for bringing the new thoroughfare into the Strand, by Newcastle-street, or by Wellington-street, to Waterloo Bridge, many hundreds, if not, several thousands, of poor tenants will be unhoused, and will have to be provided with dwellings at no great distance from their present habitations. Farringdon - the successor of the old Fleet Market, which was itself "a good step," by way of Portugal-street, Cursitor-street, across Fetter-lane - is extinct, and Clare Market is so little more than a name that it requires a very vivid imagination to picture the beautiful young wife of John Scott (she was formerly Bessie Surtees, and he was afterwards the great Lord Eldon) going from Clam Market to the lodging in Cursitor-street with a pint of sprats for supper, and calling on the way for a pot of porter.

Right - An early postcard showing Kingsway from Bush House.

The middle-aged rambler in Vanishing London looks in vain to-day for the brisk and busy Clare Market of his early youth, in the days when Johnson's famous a la mode beef house was the resort of those whose purse was light, but whose appetite was large. The taste for beef a la mode seems itself to have disappeared, though there are still two or three establishments in the City where clerks of limited income can secure the savoury indulgence of a fourpenny swear."

The original record of Clare Market is of somewhat aristocratic pretention. It took its name from William Holles, Baron Houghton, who, living in the parish of St. Clement Danes in 1617, became Earl of Clare in 1624. At a later date Howell wrote:— "There is towards Drury-lane a new market called Clare Market; there is there a street and palace of the same names built by the Earl of Clare, who lives there in a princely manner, having a house and a street, and a market, both for flesh and fish, all bearing his name." The market became of considerable importance, the shambles were famous for meat, and on market days - Wednesdays and Saturdays - country butchers and higglers made the place lively, while the dealers in all kinds of wares were in full cry at their stalls and booths. Pelham Holles, Duke of Newcastle, the Minister of George II, succeeded to the property, and as ground landlord took the market toll. His house was at the corner of Great Queen-street, in Lincoln's-inn-fields, having an arched passage under its side, and was called Newcastle House. The Duke built a chapel for the butchers near Clare Market, at the corner of Lincoln's-inn-fields; but John Henley, an erratic preacher, who had for some time been holding forth in Newport Market, by Long-acre, came to Clare Market and set up what he called an oratory.

Of Newport Market scarcely a vestige now remains; the last of the slaughter-houses was converted into a night refuge for the destitute and a boys home, and they have long disappeared. "Orator Henley" as he came to be called, set up his irregular chapel and his "gilt tub," as Pope called his pulpit, actuated thereto by his rejection for the lectureship for the parish of Bloomsbury, and for a considerable tune his performances at Clare Market on Sundays and weekdays provided themes for the satirists. He might have been forgotten but for Pope having preserved him and his antics in the "Dunciad" in the passage beginning

"Embrowned with native bronze, lo! Henley stands,
Tuning his voice and balancing his hands.
How fluent nonsense trickles from his tongue!
How sweet the periods neither said nor sung!"

And among the sleeping worthies-

"Henley lay inspired beside a sink.
And to mere mortals seemed a priest in drink."

The charge for admission to Henley's lectures was a shilling. The reputation of Clare Market was very considerable, and some people of distinction living in Great Queen-street, in the houses designed by Inigo Jones, as well as in some of the adjacent thoroughfares, were frequently to be seen there.

Kingsway in 2008 - Photo M.L.Those streets are now silent, even that one where the scanty vestiges of the market remain in half a dozen stalls, in front of the few shops not yet abandoned, where cheap haberdashery, green-grocery, and flabby common fish are exposed for sale. As though in mockery of the time when the jovial butchers played chimes upon their cleavers, and shouted for customers to buy their prime joints, or to inspect the delicately prepared tripe and neats' feet, for which Clare Market was famous, there are now only two or three places where stale and revolting-looking portions of the internal parts of animals, or foul-smelling remnants of inferior joints, cooked or uncooked, are offered to unwary customers.

Left - Kingsway in 2008 - Photo M.L.

At the doors of these decaying tenements which are not closed and untenented, gaunt, poverty-stricken women crouch, and children huddle. There are no vehicles passing through the streets. Men stand about at the door of the casual ward hard by, many of them with a furtive, deprecatory look, and bearing in their worn faces the marks of disappointment and hunger, and a sense of the general wrongness of things, but without interchanging more than the occasional muttered word or two expressive of weary, but patient waiting for the opening of the door. The dark shed-like building at an opposite corner is, as one may see, the parish soup kitchen, and two short streets off is the mission hall, where at the moment, this being time for the evening service, there is a sound of singing, which comes with pathetic suggestion, from a few voices of women and children; but there is scarcely any other sound. The men - many of them in the lowest stage of poverty - who hang about the streets, already look like evicted tenants. The district, where no prevailing industry seems to have survived, bears the signs of being doomed: the houses here and there have, something of the look of the old abodes that are still to be seen about Gough-square and Bolt-court -genteel houses with outside shutters, and the shabby remains of what was once acknowledged respectability - but they are like dwellings avoided because their inmates have been smitten by the plague. Indeed, this district of Clare Market suggests what a London neighbourhood must have been when each house-front had been marked with a cross, and the few surviving tenants crept out, silent and desponding, to breathe in greater freedom the already tainted air.

Yet, between thirty and forty years ago, four hundred sheep, and, according to season, from fifty to about two hundred bullocks were slaughtered weekly in Clare Market, while fish was sold in considerable quantities. In the first half of the last century the neighbourhood was still bright with the dramatic fame of the Dukes Theatre in Portugal-street. This theatre seems to have been the successor of the one founded at the Restoration under that name by Tom Killgrew, at what had been Gibbons Tennis Court in Vere-street, Clare Market. The company that played here afterwards removed to Drury Lane, and the Duke's company, which had been at the playhouse in Salisbury-court, Fleet-street, under Sir W. Davenant, came to a new theatre built in Portugal-street, Lincoln's-inn-fields. Here they stayed till the rebuilding of the theatre in Salisbury-court was completed, when they returned, under the management of Betterton and Charles Davenant, the second successor of Sir William, in 1695, Betterton, with Congreve, opened the house in Lincoln's-inn-fields, which had been rebuilt in the Tennis Court.

There seems to have been some confusion in the descriptive titles of the later theatres, for though the new structure is described as in the tennis court, it is doubtful whether it was in Vere-street. Certainly, the Lincon's-inn Theatre, the distinct records of which remain, was not in Vere-street, but not far off, in Portugal-street, at the back of the College of Surgeons, and, after being converted into a warehouse, was pulled down for the extension of the Museum of the College. To the original theatre in Vere-street Pepys was constantly paying visits, as we may see from his Diary. It was there that in 1660 an actress first appeared on the stage in England, and there Pepys first saw a woman act in public. There were frequent scuffles at the theatres, when some of the gentlemen among the audience sat on the stage, and many of the ladies were masked. Betterton was the leading actor at Portugal-street, and a little later Mrs Bracegirdle and Mr. Mountford - the latter the victim of a ruffian named Hill and the scoundrel duellist, Lord Mohun, who aided Hill in an attempt to carry off Mrs. Bracegirdle. He remained, when the attempt was frustrated, to waylay and slay the unfortunate actor, who had, without fault or design, roused the jealousy of the assassin. Mr. Congreve, who was an intimate friend and neighbour of Mrs. Bracegirdle in Essex-street, brought out three of his plays at the Portugal-street Theatre, and the latest proprietor of the place was Rich, who produced Gay's Beggar's Opera. Rich had been a harlequin, and introduced the spectacular drama at this theatre, as, until the success of Gay's piece, which ran for sixty nights, he could not compete with Drury-lane.

An early postcard showing Kingsway.But there are no landmarks remaining of the playhouse which attracted to the neighbourbood of Clam Market so much distinguished company; nor is it easy, in these days, to persuade ourselves that the now sordid streets and confined, dingy houses were some of them once inhabited by members of the gay and brilliant company whose names have come down to us as a part of the history of society and of the world of art and letters.

Right - An early postcard showing Kingsway.

Mrs. Bracegirdle, it is said, went frequently into the market, where she distributed money among the poor unemployed basket-women; and her charming face and figure were familiar to the market people, who doted on her.

Of the streets which would be demolished, or intersected, by the new road, Little Queen-street would have the eastern side removed, and the new thoroughfare would intersect Great Queen-street, avoiding the houses that remain of those designed by Inigo Jones, who named the street after Henrietta Maria, Queen of Charles I. Sir Godfrey Kneller, the painter, and the famous Doctor Radcliffe, who frequented the Bull Head, in Clam Market, lived in Great Queen-street. Lord Herbert of Cherbury was an earlier inhabitant, and Hudson, to whom Sir Joshua Reynolds was apprenticed, a later. Sardinia-street, Vere-street, Stanhope-street, and a number of courts, the names of which, like Holles-street and Denzill-street, remind us of the families who were the holders of the property, will probably be considerably changed, if they are not practically demolished; in fact, it has been proposed that the street shall be symmetrical, not less than 100 feet wide, and that a circus of 200 feet diameter shall occupy the site of Sardinia-street and Vere-street. Denzill-street was so named by Gilbert Holles, Earl of Clare, after his uncle Denzill, Lord Holles, one of the five members whom Charles I vainly attempted to seize. An inscription on the south-west wall of the street formerly recorded the reason for the name having been given to the street as a memorial of the event. Sardinia-street is a modem name for what was Duke-street, where the Roman Catholic Chapel was burned down in the Gordon Riots of 1780. Nollekens, the sculptor, was baptized there, and there, in 1793, Fanny Burney, of whom Dr. Johnson had so high an opinion, was married to General d'Arblay, after having been nearly killed by the harassing formality of attending as one of the Maids of Honour to Queen Charlotte. It was opposite this Chapel that Franklin lodged when he was working for Watts, the printer, in Wild-court, Lincoln's-inn-fields.

Kingsway in 2008 - Photo M.L.The dirty, dreary, and ruinous yards and courts that lie behind the houses on the south side of Great Queen-street were built on the gardens of those fine houses, in two of which Kneller and Radcliffe lived. Radcliffe's garden had a wall, in which was a door leading into that of the old painter, who, possessing some choice flowers, did not care to see the bluff, and not over scrupulous doctor, walking amidst his bothers. He therefore intimated by a message that he desired to close the door, and received a reply that he might do anything with it but paint it, to which he retorted that he would take anything from his neighbour except physic.

Left - Kingsway in 2008 - Photo M.L.

Portugal-street was named when the old name of Portugal-row ceased to be given to the south side of what is now Lincoln's-inn-fields. It was known as Portugal-row in the time of Charles II., so that it was not named in compliment to his Queen. It was here, in fact, that "the quality" lived about the year 1668. Sir Charles Waldegrave, lady Fitzharding, Lady Diana Curzon, Lady Wentworth, Lord Cardigan, Lady Coventry, Judge Weld, Lady Davenant, widow of Sir William, and Wilmot Earl of Rochester "at the house next to the Dukes play-house in Portugal-row." Portugal-street had not been named at that time. Strype had proposed to call it Playhouse-street. Its associations of late years have been mostly those on the shady side of the law - Bankruptcy Court procedure - and before the alteration in the laws of imprisonment for debt it reeked of civil process, spunging-houses, extortion, and the exorbitant demands of Sheriffs' officers, who would extract the last guinea from a debtor under arrest before consigning him to the Fleet. There were several of these houses with barred windows, grimy doorways, and caged yards; and some of them in the immediate vicinity of Cursitor-street and Chancery-lane have survived, as awful examples, but are now likely to be removed.

But the question remains, whether a market will come within the scheme of the Council Broadway? The last remaining ghost of one in this neighbourhood is the gruesome and ruined area once known as Brook Market, reached by a narrow turning in Brook-street, Holborn - one great shed, the very walls of which are falling in powder, the red-tiled roof threatening to collapse, the space in which it stands a mere heap of the dust of bricks and the refuse of former stalls and sheds, not one of which remains. There are two or three mere huts, where commodities which there is nobody to buy are displayed in the windows; and a gaunt shed or shanty of tarred boards, used as a depot of soot by a sweep. A band of children run in and out of the gaps in the rough hoarding placed round the area of fallen brick and mortar for the purpose of keeping them out, and preventing their sudden extermination by the effect of their shrill shouts on the fabric of the shed. Yet the elderly lady who is sitting at the door of the soot store, contemplating the pavement, and waiting for the cataclysm which never comes, remembers when there were near by some excellent butchers' shops, and greengrocery, and a lively market.

The above text was first published in the Standard, 21st of September, 1892.

 

HOLBORN TO THE STRAND - WHAT THE NEW STREET WILL BE LIKE

From the Daily News, 17th August 1900


A map showing the Aldwych regeneration scheme in 1900Nearly ten years ago, a direct thoroughfare between Holborn and the Strand began to be talked of, but those were the days of the old Metropolitan Board of Works, and talk was all that came of it, under that regime. In the fulness of time, the London County Council came into existence, and after it had settled down to its work, began to consider the ways and means of making the much-needed street. The greatly-debated "Betterment" principle was then introduced and led, with the claims of rival routes, to years of contention and delay. There is a huge official literature on the subject, collected in an immense book, adorned with a bewildering variety of plans, and published by the Council, to which the future hrstorian must bare recourse; but meanwhile, one route has prevailed over all others, property has been acquired, and a beginning has been made at the Strand end of the work.

Right - The Black Line marks the New Streets and the Property to be Acquired and
Demolished. The Tinted Areas indicate Clearances to be made.

The accompanying plans show the route taken by the new street, and the comprehensive character the improvement will assume. Beginning with the sweeping away of Holywell-street, and the inclusion of its site in the roadway of the Strand, the houses on the north side of the Strand, as far as Wellington-street, are to come down, and the new building line set back. At the same time, the land at the western end of St. Mary-leStrand will be thrown into the roadway, and St. Clement Danes will lose its churchyard for the public good. Wellington-street and the open space by St. Clements will be the two great points where the new street will (as seen by reference to the plan) receive and discharge its traffic east and west.

 

The Original Gaiety Theatre, Strand, London, formerly the Strand Musick Hall - From 'The Sphere' 1950.

Above - The Original Gaiety Theatre, Strand, London, formerly the Strand Musick Hall - From 'The Sphere' 1950.

 

A programme for 'Joan Of Arc' at the Opera Comique in 1891 - Courtesy Ken Claydon - Click to see entire Programme.The property within the half-circle formed by the two arms is acquired by the Council, and, equally with that to be demolished for the thoroughfare itself, will be torn down and rebuilt. It is here, chiefly, that the interest centres. Within this space four theatres, a great newspaper office, enlarged not more than five years since, and that gaunt and dismal property called "New Inn" are to disappear.

A Programme for 'The Glass Of Fashion' at The Royal Globe Theatre - Monday 26th November, 1883 - Click for details.The theatres are the Opera Comique, the Globe, the Olympic, and the Gaiety. Of these the only one with any pretensions to architectural qualities is the last-named, and it is to be rebuilt on a site allotted by the Council on the line of the new thoroughfare, as will also be the case with the "Morning Post" building. It will be noticed that the Lyceum Theatre will occupy a very striking position when these works are completed, fronting a broad, open space, with only a triangular plot (probably not to be built upon) facing it.

Right - A Programme for 'Joan Of Arc' at the Opera Comique in 1891 - Courtesy Ken Claydon - Click to see entire Programme.

Left - A Programme for 'The Glass Of Fashion' at The Royal Globe Theatre - Monday 26th November, 1883 - Click for details.

This western horn of the new street will afford ready communication with Waterloo-bridge, itself already too narrow for modern traffic, and certain to be inconveniently crowded when these works are completed, and when the Great Northern and Strand Electric Railway comes to its terminus close by.

 

Programme for 'The Acrobat' at the New Olympic Theatre, Wych Street, Strand in 1890 - Click to see entire Programme.The straight course of the new street, from Stanhope-street away through the purlieus of Clare Market to Little Queen-street, Holborn, cuts through a most degraded neighbourhood. Just here, on either side, wide areas of slum property have already been cleared under the provisions of the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890, at an estimated cost of £216,000, quite apart from the cost of the general improvement scheme. These clearances include the pulling down of Holles-street, Clare street, and the great insanitary area bounded by Stanhope-street, Stanhope-street, Drury-lane, Catherine-street, and White Hart and Blackmoor-streets.

Right - A Programme for 'The Acrobat' at the New Olympic Theatre, Wych Street, Strand in 1890 - Click to see entire Programme. The New Olypic Theatre was built by the respected Theatre Architect W. G. R Spraugue.

Within the last few weeks a new thoroughfare has been driven through a part of this now vacant land, forming a continuation in a north-easterly direction of York-street, Covent-garden, into Drury-lane, over the ground partly occupied by that loathsome burial-ground in Russell-court, whose horrors were so poignantly described by Dickens in "Bleak House." Through this criss-cross maze of mean streets, which it is difficult to realise was a fashionable neighbourhood in the time of Charles the Second, the route penetrates a vaguely charted region of dingy warehouses and frowzy yards, coming suddenly upon the extensive premises of the Metropolitan Electric Supply Company, to be removed and rebuilt on another site. Finally Little Queen-street is reached, through the buildings of the Army Clothing Factory fronting Great Queen-street. The line of Little Queen-street will be followed and widened, chiefly on the East side, where the furnitute dealers most do congregate. The Holborn Restaurant, on the other side of the street, will remain untouched. Beyond the Holborn to Strand improvement, the Southampton-row widening, to a junction with Theobalds-road, takes up the tale, at a cost of £162,000.

The Aldwych road scheme which was constructed in 1902/1903 and the Gaiety Theatre which fronted it, here shown in 1934 with Stanley Lupino and Laddie Cliff in 'Sporting Love' which ran for 302 performances.

Above - The Aldwych road scheme which was constructed in 1902/1903 and the Gaiety Theatre which fronted it, here shown in 1934 with Stanley Lupino and Laddie Cliff in 'Sporting Love' which ran for 302 performances.

The total cost of these huge works will entirely throw into insignificance the improvement schemes previously undertaken. In its thirty-three years of existence the Metropolitan Board of Works expended £11,500,000 in various projects, or at the rate of £348,000 per annum; but this scheme alone involves a total cost of £4,442,400 for land to be acquired. We must not, however, be too hard upon the old Board, for these things would have been quite impossible in its day. Those times were not ripe for the betterment principle, of which a modification is applied to the property improved by the present scheme; nor was London then so well able to bear the cost of such extensive public works. Not that the cost will in the present case be great, according to the calculation of the County Council; for recoupment by building leases and sales of land is estimated to bring back the whole of those four millions and nearly a half, with the exception of £354,100. To this cost must be added the necessary expenditure for rehousing the working-classes dislodged in these demolition, a sum estimated at £300,000, thus bringing the net cost to the ratepayers to £774,100. For this sum London will obtain a sorely-needed main channel of communication between those two great east to west arteries of traffic, Holborn and the Strand, and may obtain, in the buildings to rise on either side of it, a street worthy of this Imperial city. But such things are yet upon the knees of the gods. With fine thoroughfares like Shaftesbury-avenue and Charing Cross-road lined with wretched old houses or vulgar, flaunting, modern ginshops, we must not speak with too sure a voice of the future of a street yet in themaking.

The above article was first published in The Daily News, 17 August 1900.

There are some wonderful photographs of Wych Street and the surrounding area's demolition from a souvenir brochure published by the London County Council for the opening of Kingsway in 1905 here and here.

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.