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Monday, 4 November 2013

Baker Street


Robert Rowland was an amateur radio ham who lived in Wimpole Street, which is about half a mile away from Baker Street. The time was 11.00 pm on Saturday, 11th September 1971 and Rowland was trying to contact a fellow ham in Australia, but every time he touched the very sensitive dial, between the whistling noises and crackling, he kept hearing other voices coming through much louder and clearer. He didn’t take any notice at first, of what was being said, as his main interest was to bypass them and get a clear contact with his Australian friend.

The voices however, were not quite so easy to bypass as he first thought, as they were coming through on a wavelength only used by walkie-talkies, and were undoubtedly coming from a source within a one to two mile radius of his own location. Rowland had experienced problems like this on other occasions, and while he did find it annoying, there were ways around it, even if somewhat time consuming.

What Rowland suddenly heard however, was one man’s voice talking in hushed tones, telling his accomplice on the other end of the line, to switch off all equipment and stop hammering, as the ‘old Bill’ (criminal slang for police) had just pulled up, and were parked very close by. At first Rowland thought it might be someone having a joke, but as he listened in more, he heard more expletive laced references to digging and the ‘old Bill’, as well as the rooftop where the first man was seemingly located.

After a few minutes, the conversation continued again, the police had apparently left the location, and the next thing he picked up was a man with a strong South London accent declaring that they now had about 400,000, and would let him know when they were coming out. The man then asked if he was being heard OK, to which his accomplice replied that he could hear him loud and clear, and wanted to know how much longer they would be in there.

Rowland was pretty certain by this time that he was listening in to a robbery taking place somewhere within his immediate vicinity, and with the reference to 400,000, he thought the most likely outcome would be a tobacconist shop with 400,000 cigarettes being the most likely theft.

Rowland phoned the police and reported his suspicions to them, but for one reason or another they did not act immediately upon his call, probably assuming that he was just ‘another of those crazy radio hams’. It was at this point that Rowland began to record the radio exchanges, while still trying desperately to get through to someone else within the police, who would take him seriously.

Shortly after midnight, the conversation between the man on the roof and his accomplices was still continuing. The voice of a man who identified himself as Steve came through, telling the rooftop lookout that he wanted him to switch off his walkie-talkie and stay on the roof all night, and then come back on the air with both radios at six o'clock in the morning. The lookout however was very worried about the plan for him to remain in place while the gang left for the night, but Steve argued with him, telling him that the place was filled with fumes and if security came in and smelled them they would have to beat a hasty retreat, which would mean leaving with nothing, whereas this way they would have 300 grand to cut up.

At this point another gang member chipped in, telling the lookout that he wasn’t prepared to go at this point as they were almost there. There was a series of heated exchanges between the lookout and various members of the gang, including one voice, which was definitely that of a woman. At one point the lookout shouted ‘Money may be your god, but it's not mine, and I'm f***ing off.’ After a few more minutes and a further intervention by the female member of the gang, the lookout relented, and agreed to remain on the rooftop overnight before signing off.

Rowland meanwhile had made several more phone calls to the police, and finally one to Scotland Yard, who allegedly stated that the uniform branch didn’t know what they were doing and that they would send two Scotland Yard officers over immediately. The Scotland Yard officers were joined by two other officers from the Met, and between them they listened to the tapes that Rowland had recorded, and then stayed there all night until 9am on Sunday morning when gang member, Steve came back on air again and told the lookout that they were going to finish off in here. It was at this point, that he actually mentioned the word, bank, and said that they would be coming out early that afternoon. He went onto tell the lookout that he would have to bluff his way straight down off the roof.

At long last it seemed that the police had started to take things seriously, admitted that a bank robbery was taking place somewhere in the immediate area. They called in radio detector vans in an attempt to trace the transmissions, but unfortunately, by the time Post Office engineers could be brought in from weekend leave; the walkie-talkie conversations had ceased.

Police officers then checked on 750 banks in the inner London area, paying special attention to the 150 banks within a mile of Wimpole Street. On Sunday afternoon, they visited Lloyd's Bank on the corner of Baker Street and Marylebone Road, but found no signs of a forced entry; the 15-inch thick doors of the vault were intact and secured by a time lock. What they did not know at this point, was that the raiders were just over 12 inches away from them, still inside the vault. It was not until Monday morning when the bank opened for business after the weekend, that the robbery was discovered. Scores of empty safety deposit boxes were found broken open and lying all over the floor of the vault, their contents had been looted in what was then Britain’s biggest ever robbery.

News of the raid broke at 9am the next day, Monday, September 13th 1971. The gang had dug a 40-foot tunnel from the basement of Le Sac, a leather goods shop, which they had leased, two doors away from the bank. The robbers tunnelled under a Chicken Inn restaurant and then, using a Thermic Lance, through the 3ft of reinforced concrete which formed the floor of the vault. The floor was not wired to the alarm system, as it was thought to be impenetrable. Eight tons of rubble was excavated and left behind in the shop when the gang escaped with their haul consisting of the contents of 268 deposit boxes. The haul was estimated at the time to be in the region of £500,000. It has since been alleged that the haul was in fact in excess of £3million, which, in 1971, made it the largest ever bank robbery on British soil. For the next four days, the story dominated the news, the national press were full of it, one headline screamed ‘The Moles of Baker Street’, while another exclaimed ‘Sewer Rats’, and then, as suddenly as it started, the story disappeared. The last reports ran on Thursday, September 16. This was followed by complete silence.

One might be forgiven for wondering why such a big story as this was suddenly shelved after just three days. One might also wonder why when a reporter visited Mr Rowland on the morning the story broke, and asked about his involvement, he was immediately warned off by a detective. Mr Rowland’s tape recordings and his phone were also confiscated by the police, and not given back to him for six years, after the police discovered that a reporter was telling his editor about Rowland’s story. Mr Rowland also allegedly claimed that the police told the editor of a D-Notice on the story, banning publication.

Mr Rowland stated that D-Notices are for security situations not bank robberies. He was told not to talk to any more Press. He seemed to think at the time that it was to hide the police incompetence, although the secrecy could also have come from MI5. The police even threatened to prosecute Mr Rowland for listening to an unlicensed radio station, a blow softened by a £2,500 reward from Lloyds Bank.

The Press embargo however, did not seem to stop the fresh allegations that were now starting to rise. A new theory was being bandied about, not just about a gang of bank robbers, or incompetent police officers, but about a member of the Royal Family. It was alleged that the police were very interested in the activities of a certain Michael X, who was a well-known Trinidadian activist and gangster operating here in Britain. Through underworld contacts, they found out that Michael X was holding compromising photos of Princess Margaret, which are said to have been taken on the Caribbean island of Mustique. They wanted to prosecute Michael X for a number of crimes, one of which was murder, but while he had the photos he was untouchable.

It is further alleged that the robbery was then masterminded by MI5, who offered it out to a gang of well known villains, who were told they could keep all the valuables and money as long as they turned the photos over to the contact in MI5, who could then use them to neutralise Michael X's threat. Shortly after the bank raid Michael X was tried in his native Trinidad for the murder of Joseph Skerritt, a member of his Black Liberation Army. Michael X was hanged in 1975.

The photos of course have never been publicly shown, if indeed they ever existed in the first place, but rumours about Princess Margaret's 'colourful' life have long been bandied about. She was rumoured to have had affairs with lovers including Peter Sellers and a string other well known and some not so well known faces about town.

One such character was the late tough-guy actor and gangster John Bindon, boyfriend of baronet's daughter Vicki Hodge, an actress and model. Bindon was definitely a regular visitor to Mustique, and did indeed meet and attend parties where Princess Margaret was present. It is alleged that she thought he was very amusing, and that he was a favourite of the princess, and that he often impressed her with his party trick of balancing five half-pint beer mugs on his manhood. A recent television documentary took this into account, while offering no real proof. A book also suggested that they conducted a six-month affair, which had the authorities so concerned that MI5 was brought in to keep it under wraps.

The real story behind the ‘walkie-talkie robbery’, as it became known, will probably never come to light. It is similar in one aspect to one solved by Baker Street resident Sherlock Holmes in The Red-Headed League.

In this case, however, countless questions remain unanswered. In 1973 four men were convicted over the robbery, though most of the loot was never recovered. When the gang departed the scene of the crime, they left a parting message for police. Spray-painted on the inside of the vault was: ‘Let Sherlock Holmes try to solve this.’

The story has now been made into a film, The Bank Job, with Jason Statham.

The reference the robbers made to Sherlock Holmes, was of course because the bank was located in the same street as the home of the great fictional detective and his assistant Doctor Watson. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, he also created a fictional address to go with him, which was 221B Baker Street.

Baker Street was originally known as York Place and Upper Baker Street. Then in 1930 the entire length of the street was renamed Baker Street and the houses were renumbered. Number 41 Upper Baker Street was redesignated as 221 Baker Street but later on that same year it was demolished to make way for Abbey House, which eventually occupied 215-229 Baker Street, serving as the offices of the Abbey National Building Society.

There is, however, now such an address as 221b Baker Street, recognised even by the Post Office with a designated postcode. 221b Baker Street is now the official address of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. But just to confuse visitors perhaps and give them something of a somewhat Sherlock Holmes quandary to mull over, the site of 221B Baker Street is actually 239 Baker Street!

Another very important, but perhaps not so well known address in Baker Street was number 64. In March 1938 with the threat of war with Germany looming ever closer, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, Admiral Sinclair, had Major L.D. Grand seconded from the Army into MI6, and ordered him to form a new section within MI6, with a mission to devise and formulate plans which could adversely affect any possible enemy country’s actions against Great Britain. Thus section D of the Secret Intelligence Service came into being. Number 64 Baker Street was chosen as the ideal location for this operation, as it was not part of any Government building, and blended in perfectly with the normal office building that surrounded it.

By 1939 yet another secret department was in the process of being set up in the same building, by the Foreign Office. This was headed by Sir Collin Campbell-Stuart, an acknowledged media expert and former Managing Director of The London Times. Its brief was to devise and plan all forms of propaganda. A small research department based in the War Office specialising in all forms of irregular warfare, had already formulated its own plans for clandestine and covert warfare, later to be known as M.I.R. These three departments were eventually integrated into the one building in Baker Street and presided over by the Foreign Office.

Upon the outbreak of war in 1939, the Foreign Office decided the need for secrecy of location was not so great, and by the July of the following year, the S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) was formed and occupied most of the building. The S.O.E was soon after the fall of France, to foster resistance among the civil population in Nazi-occupied Europe and to promote sabotage and subversion. Winston Churchill inspired the formation of S.O.E. and continued to support it until it was dissolved in 1946, its wartime task completed.

Before it was dissolved in 1946, the S.O.E occupied virtually all of Baker Street and the surrounding streets. It employed over 14,000 people, of which 3,100 were active agents. The houses and offices in the surrounding streets were used mainly for interviews and for briefing agents. Number 64 however still had overall control of nationwide operations such as houses set in the countryside and suburbs, known as ‘stations’.

Stations were used for training agents and for carrying out research, and manufacturing equipment and material for sabotage, such as derailing trains, while others manufactured false documents, identity cards, military passes and ration cards etc., while others packed and stored containers, packages and parachutes. Last but certainly not least in importance were the stations that exchanged wireless messages with our agents in Europe.

Somewhere between number 64 and number 83 Baker Street, the exact location is unsure, is where Winston Churchill once held some of his most critical wartime meetings. When visitors stand back and look at Baker Street today, it is difficult to imagine that so much went on here that played such a crucial roll in helping Britain win WWII.

One of London’s most famous institutions is the famous waxworks exhibition, Madam Tussauds’, which is just around the corner to Baker Street, in Marylebone Road.

Madam Tussauds however, did not start out in Marylebone Road. Madam Tussauds was born in Paris in the 1770s. She learned the art of wax modelling from her art teacher, Dr Philippe Curtius. So good was she at her art, that by the time she was just 17, she became art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister at the Palace Of Versailles.

During the French Revolution, she was forced to prove her allegiance to the then ruling party by making death masks of the executed aristocrats. Madame Tussauds wasn’t happy with being forced to do such work, and so decided to come to Britain in the early 19th century alongside a travelling exhibition, consisting of revolutionary relics and effigies of public heroes and villains.

Madame Tussauds’ exhibition was an instant success with the British public, touring the country and providing an insight into global events and bringing the ordinary public face-to-face with the people in the headlines. Priceless artefacts from the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars were brought vividly to life. Bearing in mind that at this time, newspapers were still in the infancy, so by the time the public got to hear of what was happening in Europe for instance, the story could be months old, and figures such as kings and queens were only names in most people’s eyes.

Madame Tussauds didn’t just tell the stories that were in the news; she showed the stories to the people. She showed figures of leading statesmen set in replicas of their original surroundings; she also added another attraction called the Chamber of Horrors, where notorious villains who had previously been known only by their names, now had faces added to their names.

So successful was Madame Tussauds’ touring exhibition, that in 1835, she established a permanent base in London in Baker Street, which became known as the Baker Street Bazaar. Visitors paid ‘sixpence’ for the chance to come face to face with some of the biggest and sometimes infamous names of the day.

Madame Tussauds died in 1850, and her grandsons took over the business. In 1884, after a very successful 49 years in Baker Street, the exhibition eventually moved to its present, and much larger site in Marylebone Road.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Old Barge House Alley

Dick Payne was 27 years old, married with two young sons. He had moved to London from his village in Hertfordshire in March 1665 with the intention of making his fortune there. He had set up home in rented accommodation close to Barge House Stairs, which was approximately where Old Barge House Alley is today. The stairs led down to the Royal barge house, which was overseen by the Royal Barge Master, who maintained and prepared the barges for every state occasion.

Payne had spent what little savings he had on a small boat called a wherry or a skiff, with the sole intention of using it as his new business, in ferrying paying customers back and forth across the river.

A good friend of Payne, who had lived in his village, had reliably informed him that travelling even a short distance through the streets of London during this time could be a formidable task. There were no streets or roads as we know them today, most were just dirt tracks, full of pot holes, and great cart track ridges, that were formed during the rainy weather, and hardened in the winter to form even more hazardous tracks that often brought what little traffic there was to a complete standstill.

To add to the general mayhem, farmers would also drive their herds of cattle to market through the narrow streets, and were a constant obstacle to carriages and pedestrians alike, making accidents a frequent occurrence. Not even the Royal Coaches could escape the confines and disruptions of the city streets. The River Thames offered the only, clean and uncluttered alternative. You could hire a boat and oarsman, just like you would hire a taxi today, and travel in relative comfort, at reasonable cost, and arrive at your destination a lot quicker than you would overland, through the miserable and filthy streets.

One thing that Payne’s friend had neglected to tell him, was that the River Thames was absolutely teaming with watermen plying their trade, as well as various other craft of all types, sometimes making the river almost as crowded, dangerous, and difficult to navigate at the London streets. Payne was nevertheless determined to make his living on the river, and went to such extremes (in those days) as displaying an advertising hoarding outside his house, complete with destinations and prices. He also painted his skiff bright red, with a colour resembling gold around the top edge, with the idea of making it look as much as possible like King Charles II Royal Barge, which he had studied meticulously from the window of his house.

Whether it was the distinctive paintwork, his reasonable prices, his affable manner, or maybe an amalgamation of all three, but Payne’s efforts started to pay off, and before he knew it, he was earning a fairly comfortable living, and had built up a considerable list of regular customers, one of whom was the diarist Samuel Pepys, whom Payne would pick up every morning from his home in Woolwich and take him to his place of work at the Admiralty in London, and sometimes back home again later.

Payne had been relatively healthy all his life, so the stories he was starting to hear about the Black Death, didn’t particularly worry him too much. Living by the water’s edge and being surrounded by water all day would surely protect him he told himself. When his youngest son suddenly fell ill and large black lumps started to appear on his little body, he knew in his heart that it was undeniably the Black Death. A neighbour had told him some weeks earlier that it was cats and dogs that were spreading the disease, and the only way to combat it, was for everyone to get rid of their pets. Payne immediately got rid of his pet cat, as did many other people throughout London. It was estimated that 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats were destroyed that year, which of course did nothing to halt the ever-growing menace of the plague. It was found out much later that the plague was caused through a certain type of flea, which was carried by rats, meaning that without the cats and dogs, that were the rats natural enemies, the plague spread even faster than it would have.

Getting rid of his cat did nothing to help of course; his poor son, along with so many others, was getting worse every day, and the population were becoming frantic with worry. When it became known that anyone in a house had become a victim of the plague the house was sealed, a red cross painted on the door, and no one in the house was allowed out until 40 days after the victim either recovered or died. Fearing for his wife and second son, Payne quickly sent them away, back to the countryside, and said nothing to anyone. Three days later Payne’s son died, and a distraught Payne quietly buried his little body in the garden of his house without telling anyone. It was only when Samuel Pepys saw the tears in his eyes as he ferried him across the Thames that Payne admitted to him what had happened.

Pepys was as worried about catching the plague as the next man, which was the main reason he had moved out of central London, to Woolwich, which at that time was still very countrified. But being the educated man he was, Pepys knew that a casual encounter such as he had with Payne would in all probability cause him no harm. Pepys also afforded himself the added protection of the tobacco plant, which when either smoked or taken as snuff, was said to protect the user from the plague. It most definitely worked for him as he lived through the epidemic and much beyond, recording life and death around him as he did so.

Payne wasn’t so fortunate however, and within days of burying his son, found the telltale black lesions upon his skin, that he had been dreading. He had heard of victims being attacked in the streets and beaten to death, and others being thrown into the Thames and drowned. On the 27th August 1665, just after nightfall, Payne dressed from head to foot in black, so as not to be recognised, and took his skiff out onto the Thames, ignoring the calls from people on the bankside who required his service.

At daybreak the following morning, Payne’s body was found washed up on the shore of the Thames, close to Barge House Stairs, the wreckage of his skiff was also found close by. The cause of his death was recorded as being a victim of the plague, as anyone could see at first glance the ugly black wheals upon his face and body. No mention was ever made of how his boat came to be smashed up and his body washed overboard.

There was much talk and rumination amongst the watermen as to the real cause of Payne’s death. Some said he must have collapsed because of the plague, and have fallen into the water and drowned. Others said that he had killed himself after the tragedy of losing his son and then finding out that he had the plague himself. One man however had a completely different theory as to how Payne had died. The man was a carpenter, who said he had been called out just after Payne’s body had been found, to carry out some urgent repairs to the Royal Barge. The man swore that the red paint on the damaged boards of the barge, matched the red of Payne’s skiff exactly.

Was Payne’s death due to him collapsing and falling into the water, or did he kill himself, or was he in a collision with the Royal Barge, which was then quickly hushed up? The truth will never come to light now; it is buried along with all the thousands of victims of the Great London Plague of 1665.

The history of watermen, plying their trade on the River Thames, goes back for hundreds of years. All trade carried out on the river, used to come under the jurisdiction of the Crown, until 1197 when King Richard I sold the Crown's rights to the Corporation of the City of London, but it still remained under Royal prerogative until 1350 when King Edward III passed an Act of Parliament prohibiting any obstruction of the River. So many structures had been built jutting out into the river for fishing and milling purposes that it was fast becoming almost impossible to navigate around, especially with large vehicles, such as the Royal Barges.

Henry VIII was particularly perceptive to the watermen and their needs, and in 1510, granted them a licence, giving them exclusive rights to carry passengers on the river. An Act of Parliament was also passed, which set up a trade body to govern tariffs and help reduce accidents. The trade body was overseen by the London mayor and aldermen, who chose eight watermen each year, to make and enforce regulations. The body had jurisdiction over all watermen plying between Windsor in Berkshire, and Gravesend in Kent. They also produced other rules and regulations, many of which were not very popular with the watermen, such as trying to implement a seven-year apprenticeship for all watermen, and ordering them to pay quarterly contributions. These rules and regulations caused a great deal of grievance amongst the watermen, who accused the trade body of taking bribes to supply licenses to so called apprentice watermen, and also lining their own pockets by imposing the quarterly charges.

The watermen finally managed to oust the ruling body and introduced a more representative form of management. The 55 leading towns and stairs between Windsor and Gravesend would then choose each year, representatives, who would in turn propose candidates to govern their body.

Thames watermen played an important part in the very early movements that ultimately led to the creation of the modern trade union movement in the United Kingdom. In the 1600s they successfully petitioned the curtailment of the growth of hackney coaches, and by 1644 they were deemed so important to the economy that the House of Commons exempted watermen from military service. This might have saved them from death on the battlefield, but it didn’t save them from premature death due to circumstances surrounding their jobs. There was no effective police force in London during the 1600s, and watermen were often attacked and killed as they plied their lone trade, by mobs and vagabonds in a city prone to riots and mob violence. They also faced further risks, such as accidental death by drowning, but perhaps the biggest threat to their lives was their susceptibility to Bronchial Diseases caught from working and living close to the murky waters of the Thames.

Two hundred years later, when the health of the greater population of the country was improving rapidly, one would have thought that the watermen would also have benefited, but unfortunately, the invention of the flush toilet in the 1840s quickly turned the Thames into a giant sewer causing Typhoid and Cholera outbreaks and the Great Stink of 1858. The whole of the city’s sewerage system had to be redesigned, starting with the Embankment area, which was a popular area for watermen to ply their trade. The sewage had to be re-routed away from the river, but in doing so, it also meant removing the stairs and sloping incline to the river, and replacing the access points with piers.

In 1865 Charles Dickens set out the grim lives that watermen led in his novel ‘Our Mutual Friend’. Dickens was always interested in social reform, and would use his popular novels to get such messages across to the public. He also wrote a short essay entitled Silent Highwaymen in 1879, again highlighting the plight of the watermen; both works proved very controversial at the time, and sparked a new social conscience.

In 1893 the Amalgamated Society of Watermen, Lightermen and Bargemen was formed, eventually merging with the Transport and General Workers' Union in 1922. During World War I many watermen turned their barges over to government use for the transport of coal and goods that were of particular importance during wartime. In 1934 the British Tug Owners Association was founded, allowing watermen to use their skills, particularly in close quarter manoeuvres, in ports overseas, skills that in recent years with the use of newer technology have seen a decline in use. In 1938 speed trials took place on the Thames for Armed high speed launches, some of which would latter form the fleet of boats used in Air Sea Rescue piloted by watermen during the 1940s 400 barges or Thames lighters were turned over to military use as bumboats (small boat used for ferrying supplies or goods to a ship at anchor or at a mooring) or simply beached during the Normandy landings of 1944.

During the Blitz of World War II the London docks were severely damaged, putting thousands of men out of work, but by the 1960s, newer container technology and relocation to Tilbury had brought back some of the work, but had made the work of watermen and lightermen obsolete. One consolation came a little earlier during the Festival of Britain in 1951 when lightermen were encouraged to set up river cruise companies. The cruise companies offered a good service and provided many ex watermen with fresh employment. They also utilised the river further by buying up surplus barges from smaller lighterage companies that had gone into decline, and capitalised on this opportunity by using the empty coal barges, on return trips, to transport rubbish from London's streets.

Regular and fairly well paid work for Thames watermen in times of economic downturn was on the so-called Bovril Boats, (Bovril Boat was a slang term used to describe the specially designed sewerage dumping vessels, also known as "Sludge vessels" that operated on the River Thames from 1887 to 1998). EU legislation prevented the dumping of sewage at sea and forced this process to stop in 1998, thus cutting off yet another valuable source of revenue for the ever-declining watermen.

You will not find watermen waiting to take you across the river today, in their small boats, but you can still take a trip on a river-cruiser along the Thames, probably the modern day equivalent of the watermen’s skiffs of yesteryear. You can still also visit Old Barge House Alley, which once led down to Barge House Stairs, and the Royal barge house, where the King’s barges were moored. The Alley is conveniently located, approximately halfway between the Tower of London, and Westminster.

It is difficult to imagine today, that this street, which looks more like a trendy Chelsea mews, or a West End yard, with craft shops, restaurants, and art galleries, was once a narrow alley leading to the Royal barge house.

The adjacent, Gabriel's Wharf, also houses more shops and restaurants, and caters almost entirely, for the passing tourist trade, most of whom could never envisage this area as it was just fifty or sixty years ago. It was then filled with tall, smoke blackened warehouses, sitting edge to edge, blocking out all traces of sunlight, along the banks of the Thames, but how many visitors, or even locals, come to that, really know that the ground they are walking on, in the beautifully laid out park, and the nearby shops and cafes, was once the very ground which King Henry VIII, walked upon, on his way to his Royal Barge.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Downing Street

DOWNING STREET

Downing Street


The name, Downing Street, is synonymous with one house in that street, which sits at number 10. No other country in the world can boast of such a world-renowned name, and certainly no other country can boast of such a world-renowned leader, as Sir Winston Churchill, who took office there on May 10th, 1940 and remained there, all through WW II as British Prime Minister, until 1945, when he surprisingly lost the General Election. He did however return as Prime Minister again in 1951 until 1955, and remained a Member of Parliament until 1964. But it was as Britain’s wartime leader, that most people remember Winston Churchill.

To get to this point in time we need to go back some months, to September 3rd 1939, when the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, announced in a radio speech, that the British deadline for the withdrawal of German troops from Poland had expired. He said the British ambassador to Berlin had handed a final note to the German government that morning saying unless it announced plans to withdraw from Poland by 11.00, a state of war would exist between the two countries. Mr Chamberlain continued: "I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and consequently this country is at war with Germany."

That very same day, Chamberlain appointed Winston Churchill into the government as First Lord of the Admiralty. In May 1940 Neville Chamberlain resigned after pressure from Labour members for a more active prosecution of the war, and Winston Churchill became the new head of the wartime coalition government.

Churchill loved the historical significance of Downing Street, but like the pragmatist he was, he also realised that number 10, and indeed, all the buildings in the street, were not of first class construction, and would certainly not stand up to German aerial bombardment. Downing Street, was built by Sir George Downing, who has been described as an enterprising rogue - a spy, traitor and shady property developer, who saw building houses on prime London land as a means to getting rich quick.
Downing didn’t have any intention of building quality properties, he was in this purely for the money, and so his houses were cheaply built, and lacked proper foundations, which they should have had, considering the boggy ground they were built upon. Downing even cheated on the brickwork, and instead of neat brick façades; they had lines drawn into the mortar to give the appearance of bricks.

There was nothing much that Churchill could be taught about building, as he had most famously built a very large wall at his house, Chartwell in Kent some years earlier, and at one time had held a card in Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers.

“One solitary German bomb” declared Churchill, “could demolish this building, and wipe out the entire British Government within minutes”. He demanded a bombproof bunker, large enough to hold the entire Cabinet, to be built immediately. He was informed that work had already begun the previous year, in adapting some humble storage areas, ten feet below ground, in King Charles Street, which runs adjacent to Downing Street. The site was originally planned to house the central core of government and a unique military information centre. The events of the Munich crisis in the early autumn had speeded up the process.

Churchill’s demand, of immediately, wasn’t possible, as he had made demands, which were not part of the original plans for the site. He was assured however, that the remaining work could be finished within weeks. In the meantime, somewhere else was needed, which could be used until the Cabinet War rooms were finished to his specifications.

Underground railway stations (the Tube) were at this time being considered as temporary air-raid shelters for the populace. When Churchill heard about this, he commented, “If they are good enough to protect the people of London, then surely one can be found to protect me and my cabinet?” A list of disused Underground stations was drawn up and it was found that ‘Down Street’, which was situated between Dover Street (now renamed Green Park) and Hyde Park Corner, had been redundant as a station for some years, and was currently being used as the headquarters of the Railway Executive Committee. Churchill immediately took control of the station, under the Railway Control Order of 1939, and within days it was being used by Churchill's War Cabinet, who nicknamed it, the Burrow.

The Burrow was put to good use during the limited time it was used, and several cabinet meetings, chaired by Churchill, took place there, but as soon as the new Cabinet War Rooms were ready, the entire operation moved to there, which of course was much closer to Downing Street, and the Houses of Parliament.

Churchill’s calling for the new Cabinet War Rooms, had nothing to do with personal fear, it was based entirely upon his need for an operational headquarters, as close as possible to Downing Street and Parliament, where his entire Government would be relatively safe from German bombing raids. In fact, later on, during the Battle of Britain, Churchill would often go up onto the roof of 10 Downing Street, to watch the RAF do battle with their German counterparts, in the skies above him.

When the new Cabinet War Rooms were at last ready, Churchill rushed around the corner from Downing Street, to view them, and to make sure his orders had been carried out to the letter. He was more than pleased at what he saw, with the entire site stretching over an area of three acres, and including, the Cabinet Room, the Map Room, Churchill’s own private room, complete with a bed for overnight stays, should it be necessary, a canteen, a hospital, even a shooting range.

Another room, which could be almost overlooked, if visited today, was the Transatlantic Telephone Room, which was used by Churchill to keep in touch with Washington. This room was, and still is, probably the smallest room in the whole complex, used originally as a broom cupboard, but converted on specific orders from Churchill himself, in order that nobody else could be present there when he was using the Transatlantic line to Washington. As a further precaution, to make sure his telephone conversations were kept absolutely top secret, Churchill had a complicated telephone system, installed, which had a scrambler device, codenamed Sigsaly, which was so large, that it had to be housed in the basement of the Selfridges store in Oxford Street. Sigsaly was developed by the American Bell Telephone Laboratories, to partially encipher telephone conversations from Churchill’s Telephone Room, and transmit them by cable from the 'hot-line' to the Selfridges site where it was then enciphered and sent by radio waves to the President in Washington, thus ensuring Churchill to talk to Roosevelt in complete privacy.

In 1984 the Cabinet War Rooms was designated as a historic site and opened to the general public. It has been kept, as near as possible, to how it was left at the end of WWII, even including such touches as one of Churchill’s cigar butts, left in an ashtray on his desk, and the Map Room, which ceased to be operational on 16th August 1945, the day after VJ Day, and was left almost exactly as we see it today, every book, map, chart, pin and notice occupying the same position now that they occupied then.

Not every part of the Cabinet War Rooms however, is open to the general public. It is alleged that there are underground tunnels leading from 10 Downing Street to the Thames, and from Buckingham Palace to the Thames, as well as a tunnel leading from the BBC Radio centre to Admiralty Arch. All these tunnels are supposedly inter-linked, and all link directly to the Cabinet War rooms. These tunnels were allegedly built in Victorian times and extended during WWI and further extended again in WWII.

For security reasons we will probably never know the truth about these alleged tunnels; do they really exist, or are they just wildly exaggerated stories, made up by the press and other writers over the years? The Buckingham Palace Tunnel for instance, could be the tunnel, which supposedly runs along the Mall to the underground citadel called Q-Whitehall, which is rumoured to stretch as far north as Holborn. Supporters of this theory, point to the huge extractor fan which can be seen outside the gent’s toilets in the ICA, which the ICA deny as being anything to do with them. There is also the “top-secret fortress” on the corner of the Mall and Horse Guards Road, which is said to be an entrance to Q-Whitehall, although there are supposed to be others scattered around London. The Q-Whitehall complex is also alleged to connect to 10 Downing Street via the nuclear bombproof bunker, which was built under the Ministry of Defence building at a cost over £110 million in the early 1990s.

Much of the affairs of Government, are kept for security reasons, as closely guarded secrets, and as such, we will probably never know the true facts regarding the alleged tunnels connecting Downing Street, with all these other locations. We do know however, the historical facts regarding the building of Downing Street, which has already been briefly dealt with here. That it was built by Sir George Downing, a shady property developer, who built it as a means to getting rich quick.

But how many know that Downing once worked for Oliver Cromwell, as his Chief of Intelligence, and part of his inner circle? But when Cromwell died in 1658, Downing immediately changed sides, and offered his services to King Charles II. When the diarist, Samuel Pepys heard of his U-Turn, he described Downing as “a perfidious rogue”.

After the Restoration, King Charles II rewarded Downing with honours and money, but it seems this wasn’t enough for him, and so he set about making his fortune elsewhere. With the type of contacts he had, he was soon tipped off about a piece of land around Hampden House, which was originally called Knyvett House, after Lord Thomas Knyvett, the Keeper of Whitehall Palace, who was famous for capturing Guy Fawkes in 1605 and foiling his plot to assassinate James I. The previous year, Knyvett had moved into a house next door, approximately where Number 10 Downing Street is today.

From this time, members of the royal family and the government usually lived in Hampden House. Princess Elizabeth lived there from 1604 until 1613 when she married Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and moved to Hanover. She was the grandmother of George the Elector of Hanover, who became King of England in 1714, and the great-grandmother of King George II.

Downing registered an interest in the land in 1654, but had to wait until 1682 before he finally secured the leases to the property, which allowed to him to start building there. He immediately set about pulling down what was left of existing properties, and building a cul-de-sac consisting of approximately 15 to 20 terraced houses along the northern side of Downing Street.

Houses at that time were not numbered in sequence, as they are today. They tended to be known by the name or title of their occupants, and those that were numbered, were done so quite haphazardly. The current Number 10 started out life as Number 5, and was not renumbered until 1779. The present Number 10 is actually made up of two houses joined together, with Downing’s cheap terrace house stuck on the front, on the Downing Street side, as we know it today, and a much grander building, adjoining it on the back, and overlooking Horse Guards Parade.

The grand house on Horse Guards Parade was built around 1677, as the home of the Countess of Litchfield, daughter of Charles II. The Countess was very proud of her house, and not at all happy when the cheap row of terrace houses were built so close to her property. Her father, King Charles, advised her to have a high wall built around her property in order to preserve her privacy. Her surveyor, who just happened to be Sir Christopher Wren, set about the task immediately, and that terrible row of cheap houses (Downing Street) were obliterated from her site.

When the Countess of Lichfield eventually left the house, it passed to Lord Overkirk, who was William III’s Master of the Horse, and when he died it passed yet again to Count Bothmor, and renamed Bothmor House. The last private resident of Downing Street, was Mr. Chicken. Nothing much is known about him except that he moved out in the early 1730’s. In the 1730s Number 10 began to be linked to the office of prime minister. It was a period of great change. Rule by a powerful monarch had given way only a few decades earlier to a different style of government led by Parliament and party politics. It became important to house the chief ministers in buildings grand enough for their status.

King George II took possession of both the house on Downing Street, and the house overlooking Horse Guards, and in 1732 offered them as a gift to Sir Robert Walpole, who held the title First Lord of the Treasury and effectively served as the first prime minister. Walpole however, accepted them on the condition that they were a gift to the office of First Lord of the Treasury rather than to him personally.

In 1766 it was found that parts of the house were in desperate need of repair. It was decided to take down the front adjoining the street as well as the eastern wall, which flanked the wall of the hall. In 1781 further extensive works were carried out and in June 1781, the Board of Works called attention to the dangerous state of the old part of the house inhabited by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was during these extensive works that the fronts of number 10 and its adjoining buildings were rebuilt with bricks, as we see them today.

Downing Street today is a cul-de-sac, which runs from Whitehall to St James's Park and consists of a row of buildings numbered as 10, 11 and 12. Number 10 Downing Street is arguably the most well known address in the world, and is the official residence of the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Number 11 is the residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and number 12, the office of the government whips. Number 10 however, is not just the family home of the Prime Minister, it is also a workplace for the many civil servants who support the Prime Minister. There is also a large staff, which includes the secretaries of the basement Garden Room, a busy press office, switchboard clerks, a unit to handle correspondence, as well as security, cleaners, and kitchen staff. The Prime Minister has his own office where he works, meets colleagues, receives important guests, and gives interviews. Regular Cabinet meetings are held in the Cabinet Room at number 10 every Thursday while Parliament is in session, and this has been going on since 1856. As number 10 was built as a private house, with another house adjoining it, the offices are spread across many rooms on different floors.

Official functions, meetings, receptions, lunches and dinners are held at number 10 almost every week. The State Dining Room holds up to 65 guests seated around a huge D-Ended mahogany dining table. For small events, such as lunch, the small dining room seats a maximum of 12 guests.

It isn't just important heads of state and official dignitaries who visit number 10; functions are also held on a regular basis for people from all walks of life and all areas of the UK, including notable achievers, public service employees and charity workers. Receptions tend to be informal gatherings, where drinks and canapés are served, as guests are encouraged to meet and talk to the Prime Minister and other hosts, and wander through the historic staterooms enjoying the art and historic objects on display.

Prior to 1989, the general public used to be able to walk into Downing Street, and pose, as many tourists did, outside the famous black door of number 10 to have their photograph taken. But in 1989, following a bombing campaign by the IRA, cast iron security gates were installed at the entrance to Downing Street on the orders of Margaret Thatcher. It is unlikely the gates will be removed in the foreseeable future, as Britain's security services still perceive there to be a threat from overseas militant/terrorist organisations, as well as other less hostile pressure groups.

There are many strange things about Downing Street, some of great significance, and others to a much lesser degree, but one curious little piece of trivia that is not widely known, is that the front door of number 10 has no keyhole and can only be opened from the inside. For the sake of the country, let us hope that there will always be someone at home to answer that famous door.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Lambs Conduit Passage

Mademoiselle Lia de Beaumont - or should that be Charles?



On a warm summer’s evening in 1765, David Hart was on his way home from his job at the newly built Whitbread Brewery in Chiswell Street. Working in a brewery, and being able to drink almost as much beer as he wanted, didn’t deter David from fancying another pint to cool him down. The Lamb Public House in Lamb’s Conduit Street was on David’s way home, and it was as inviting then, as it still is today, so without hesitation, David pushed the door open, and smelt the warm, inviting odours of beer and tobacco smoke, waft up his nostrils as he went in. Even though it was still quite light outside, the interior of the Lamb was relatively dark, with the heavy curtains and wood panelling, the light from the candle-lit lanterns just about allowed David see those closest to him.  

David paid for his pint and moved away from the bar, to a table close to the door, where he could watch to see if any of his friends came in. Within a couple of minutes, the door opened again and a very elegant looking man came in, accompanied by a beautiful young lady, who was dressed in the highest of fashion. The man looked around for somewhere to sit, and seeing that David’s table was the only one available, he politely asked David if he would mind if his companion and himself shared the seat with him.

The man went to the bar to buy drinks, leaving the young lady sitting down almost opposite David at the table. She was certainly very attractive, thought David, as he supped on his beer, peering over the top of his glass at her, as he did so. Was that a little reciprocal smile he saw on her lips he wondered? After all, she was not wearing a wedding ring, and even if David did think so himself, he was quite a good-looking young man.

Whether or not, the young lady’s partner had spotted the little mischievous glances going on between David and the young lady, was not exactly clear, but when he did return to the table, he positioned himself in such a way that she had to turn away from David to face the man. Unperturbed, David carried on drinking his beer and watching the door, just in case a friend should walk in. The couple were by this time, deep in a very hushed conversation, with the man doing most of the talking, and from what David could see, the man looked quite angry and was wagging his finger at her. Suddenly however, she turned the tables on him, her voice louder now as she started arguing back at him. This was the first time David had heard her speak; she had a low husky voice, and was most definitely not English, more likely to be French he thought, as he recognised a word here and there that he knew to be of that language.

The argument between the couple grew more agitated, with both the man and the woman, now talking in raised voices at each other. David could not understand anything they were saying as they were both talking in French, but by this time the woman had got to her feet and started to leave, only to be shoved down into her seat again by the man. David grew more perplexed, as the woman now kept turning to him, not saying anything to him but her eyes were pleading for him to help her.

Other people in the bar were now turning to look at what was going on, but before David could think about what course of action he should take, the man sprung to his feet and was pulling the young lady out of her seat. She looked again towards David as if appealing for help, and then started scrabbling about with her purse. Surely she wouldn’t hit the man with that, thought David, it was hardly big enough to hit a mouse with, let alone a big strong man. Within seconds the man had dragged her out the door, and they were gone, much to the relief of the rest of the pub’s clientele.

David gulped down the rest of his beer, feeling that he needed it by this time. As he did so, he noticed a small white card on the seat where the young lady had been sitting, which must have come out of her purse by accident, or maybe not such an accident he thought. He picked the card up and sure enough it was the young lady’s business card, with the name, Mademoiselle Lia de Beaumont, and an address in Millman Street, which was just around the corner from Lamb’s Conduit Street. 

As David walked home to his flat in Lamb’s Conduit Passage, which he shared with his parents and two younger brothers, he couldn’t stop thinking about Mademoiselle Lia. She was young, and beautiful, and obviously a woman of class. He kept asking himself why she had left her business card for him, was it that she liked the look of him, or was it that she needed help in some way? Whatever the reason, he decided that he would call on her the next day.

David didn’t go to work the following day: he spent the best part of two hours getting himself ready, washing his hair and getting dressed in his best Sunday clothes. On his way to Millman Street, he wondered what he would do if she couldn’t speak any English. He knew how to say bonjour and au revoir, but after that, he was completely stuck.

Suddenly he found himself there, at Lia’s house in Millman Street. His hand was shaking as he took the business card out of his pocket again, as if to be sure he was at the right address. He pulled the bell on a chain, which was hanging next to the door and waited; several minutes elapsed and still no one answered the door. Maybe she wasn’t in, he told himself, or maybe the man she had been with had injured her, and she was in hospital, or maybe…. The door suddenly swung open and David was confronted by a young man in a dressing gown, who stared at him for several moments without saying a word, as if angry at him for having the audacity to ring his bell. David stammered out that he had come to see Mademoiselle Lia de Beaumont. The young man nodded his head, almost as if to say he was expecting David, and then with a flourish of his hand, waved him into the house, telling him to wait in the drawing room, and Mademoiselle Lia would see him in a few minutes.

Twenty minutes later, the drawing room door opened, and Lia came in. She smiled demurely at David, and held out her hand for him to kiss. She remembered him from the previous night, and thanked him for coming, in her wonderful broken English, which David loved. After preliminary introductions, she poured them both a glass of Sherry, and they sat in the window seat, where she started to tell David a story of spies and intrigue. She told him that she was a friend of King Louis XV of France, who had forced her to spy for him against the Russians, by becoming a confidant to the Russian Empress Elizabeth. The man whom David had seen her with the night before, worked for the Russian embassy in London, and had taken her out to dinner that night on a supposedly friendly basis, but he became angry when she denied any knowledge of her spying activities, and if it hadn’t been for a passing police officer, she thinks he might well have killed her.

This was all too much for David to take in, after all he was just an ordinary worker in a brewery, what possible reason could she want him involved for? Was it that he looked as if he could be trusted, or maybe that she thought he would make a good bodyguard?  When David woke the following morning with Lia lying beside him in her bed, he knew exactly what she wanted him for.

David only returned to his parent’s house in Lamb’s Conduit Passage from time to time during the following years, to supply them with money and other gifts, for as his relationship with Lia continued, so his personal wealth increased, so much so that just one year after their initial meeting, he acquired his own house in Millman Street, just a few doors away from Lia’s.

One might well ask at this point, what is so important or different about this story to warrant its inclusion in this book? The answer to this is the mystery surrounding Mademoiselle Lia de Beaumont, for Lia was really Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée D’Eon de Beaumont, who was born a male in 1728 into a noble French family. D’Eon was first noticed by King Louis XV when he appeared dressed as a woman at a masquerade ball in Paris. The King and the Prince de Conti formed the idea of hiring him as a spy to engage in secret diplomacy while disguised as a woman. In 1755 he was sent to Russia disguised as Mademoiselle Lia de Beaumont, where he became a confidant to the Empress Elizabeth.

The King rewarded D’Eon for his services and made him a Captain of Dragoons. He resumed to wearing male apparel and continued working for the secret service, and as a member of the French Embassy in London from 1763 was involved in many political intrigues. Around this time various rumours started to spread to the effect that the Chevalier D'Eon, as he was now known, really was a woman, who disguised herself in men’s clothes. King Louis XVI granted D’Eon, a large state pension in return for some state papers and a sworn oath never to reveal the King’s involvement in D’Eon’s earlier spying missions. To cover up any Royal implications, he also insisted that the state pension would only be paid on condition that D'Eon henceforth dressed in the garments of the female sex.

D'Eon returned to London, where he started living a lavish lifestyle, but when he decided to publish damaging diplomatic papers, he was outlawed by France. It was from this point that he adopted female clothing as a disguise to disappear. In the 1770s, even though still involved with David, D'Eon was missing his native Paris, and so came to an arrangement with France, part of which included him permanently wearing female attire, as a means of controlling his actions.

During his residence in England, more speculation arose as to his sex, and several very large wagers were laid upon the outcome, if it could be proven one way or the other. One such wager was so large that it ended up in court where one witnesses declared that D'Eon was a woman concealed in man's clothing. There was of course no proof of this other than from the Chevalier himself, which wasn’t forthcoming, and so the trial was terminated by the judge, Lord Mansfield. The verdict was given for the plaintiff for the recovery of the wager.

After the trial, D'Eon once again put on female dress and continued to earn a living as a kind of theatrical performer, giving demonstrations as a swordsman while wearing his female clothes, which he continued to wear until his death, when all doubts regarding his sex were at once put to rest, an examination of the body being made in the presence of several distinguished personages. Charles D'Eon, or Mademoiselle Lia de Beaumont, as he was more oft known, died at the house of his friend and partner, David Hart, in Millman Street, on the 21st of May 1810. The two men had lived together as partners for 45 years.

After David’s parents died, their old home in Lambs Conduit Passage, was eventually demolished; not for street widening or improvement, as one would imagine in such a narrow passage, but purely because it was literally falling down and had become a danger to other residents and passers by.

Lambs Conduit Passage is still a narrow passageway to this day. It derives its name from William Lamb, a gentleman of the Chapel Royal under Henry VIII. In 1577 Lamb put £1500 of his own money, which was a great sum at that time, into rebuilding the old conduit, or water duct, which fed water to Smithfield, from a spring at Holborn. He connected several springs to form a head of water, which was conveyed by a leaden pipe, about 2,000 yards in length, to Snow Hill, where he rebuilt a conduit, which had been in disrepair and unusable for some years. His generosity didn’t stop with the rebuilding of the conduit, he then gave out 120 pails (buckets) to the poor women of the neighbourhood so they could fetch and carry their new water supply. 

The area surrounding Lambs Conduit at that time, consisted mainly of open fields and pastures, and formed a favourite promenade for the local inhabitants. A record of the period relates how one such local man, speaking of the herbs, winter rocket, and cresses, says: "It groweth of its own accord in gardens and fields, by the way-side in divers places, and particularly in the next pasture to the Conduit Head, behind Gray's Inn, that brings water to Mr. Lamb's Conduit, in Holborn."

During the Great Fire of London in 1666 most of the City’s conduits were consumed and destroyed by the fire. The Lambs Conduit however, was deemed so important to the City that in 1667 it was rebuilt, from a design by Sir Christopher Wren. In 1746 all the conduits in the City, including Lambs conduit, were dismantled and destroyed for so called health reasons, but it has been alleged that this was an underhand move by City Councillors to force the citizens to pay for the water of the New River laid on to their houses.

Then as now, people tended to reminisce about the past, about the ‘good old days’. A letter from a former resident of the area to a friend, dated April, 1857 says: "About sixty years since I was travelling from the West of England in one of the old stage-coaches of that day, and my fellow-travellers were an octogenarian clergyman and his daughter. In speaking of the then increasing size of London, the old gentleman said that, when he was a boy, and recovering from an attack of small-pox, he was sent into the country to a row of houses standing on the west side of the upper part of the present Lamb's Conduit   Street; that all the space before him was open fields; that a streamlet of water ran under his window; and he saw a man snipe-shooting, who sprang a snipe near to the house, and shot it. He further said, that he once stated the fact to an old nobleman, whose name he mentioned, but I have since forgotten it, and he replied: 'Well, when I was a young man, I sprang a brace of partridges where Grosvenor House now stands, and bagged one of them.' I have myself seen a pump reputed to be erected on the Conduit Head, and standing against the corner house of a small turning out of Lamb's Conduit Street, on the right-hand side as you go towards the Foundling, and nearly at the upper end of the street."

Lambs Conduit Passage, formerly called Little Conduit Street, lies at the north-eastern corner of Red Lion Square. Similar alleys originally existed at all four corners of the square, but road alterations have removed most traces of the other three.

The British Humanist Association have their base at the southern end of the Passage and on the south-west corner is Conway Hall, home of the South Place Ethical Society, a liberal religious organisation formed in 1793. Nicholas Barbon laid out Red Lion Square in 1684. It took its name from the famous Red Lion Inn, a large thriving hostelry that occupied a site near to the Pearl Assurance Building in Holborn.

In 1661 the bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw were exhumed from Westminster Abbey and carried to the Red Lion Inn where they were kept over night. The next day they were dragged through the streets on sledges to Tyburn, where they were beheaded and burnt near to the gallows. It has been alleged, but never proven, that Cromwell was buried in Red Lion Square, and that his ghost haunts the square.

At the north eastern end of the Passage, on the corner with Red Lion Street, sits the flower bedecked Dolphin Tavern, which looks like a typical 18th century pub with plenty of old world charm, wooden panelling and original style windows. One of the main attractions of this pub is in the clock that hangs on the wall, with its hand frozen at the time the original pub was destroyed by a bomb from a Zeppelin Airship in 1915, during World War I. The clock was the only thing to survive intact, and remains on the wall of the rebuilt pub as a monument to the people killed that day.

Lambs Conduit Street, which is not to be confused with the Passage, is just 100 yards away, across the other side of Theobald's Road, which runs parallel with the north side of Red Lion Square, and separates Red Lion Street from Lamb's Conduit Street. Even though they are two different thoroughfares, both names derive from the same source, which is that of Mr William Lamb and his conduit.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Chenies Street

On a warm evening in May 1944, General Dwight D Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of all allied forces during WW II was hosting a dinner, and briefing session with some of his most important chiefs of staff, at his private suite at the Dorchester Hotel in London’s Park Lane. A light on the front of the bright red telephone to his right, started to flash, prompting him to pause the briefing for a moment while he answered it. All eyes were on him as he spoke a few very brief words in very hushed tones, and then placed the phone back on its cradle.

A very sombre General Eisenhower addressed the men around the table, telling them that they were going to abandon their meeting for the time being, as that was the Prime Minister, mister Winston Churchill, on the phone, and that something very important had come up, which needed his urgent attention. He excused himself and rose from the table, telling his guests that his secretary would be contacting them to make alternative arrangements to convene this meeting as soon as possible.

As General Eisenhower picked up his cap and briefcase, a young man who had been seated to his left, and had briefly left the room, returned and informed the General that his car was ready and waiting. Saluting quickly, Eisenhower left the room.

Outside the hotel, the doorman of the Dorchester rushed to open the door of the sleek black Buick limousine, which was parked directly outside on the forecourt, and Eisenhower climbed in. From the driver’s compartment, which was set separately from the passenger section, a sophisticated female voice, with just a hint of an Irish brogue, asked, very knowingly, ‘Where to sir, Bushy Park?’

The General had already started to look at some papers, which he had taken from his briefcase. A small light beside him illuminated his reading material, but the chauffeur’s compartment at the front of the car remained in darkness. He looked up from his papers to acknowledge the driver’s question, but could see nothing of her, apart from the reflection of her eyes in the interior mirror. Kay Summersby was Eisenhower’s driver, and sometimes personal assistant. She had beautiful eyes; in fact she was a beautiful young lady, and had worked for Eisenhower since his arrival in England in March 1942.

Bushy Park was the site of a large U.S. base called Camp Griffiss, which was headquarters to a number of Allied departments. Because of the constant threat of German bombing in London, Eisenhower had made Camp Griffiss in Bushy Park, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) the centre for planning Operation Overlord, also known as D-Day. Eisenhower also had sole use of Telegraph Cottage on Kingston Hill, which was very close to Camp Griffiss.

With this information, it was only natural that Kay Summersby would assume the General wanted to go to Bushy Park, ‘Not Bushy Park tonight Kay, take me direct to Chenies Street’.

Summersby knew how much Eisenhower hated working in London, which is why he had purposely chosen Bushy Park as the centre of his operations, and after his lengthy meeting at the Dorchester, she wondered what the purpose of this Chenies Street meeting was going to be. Just over ten minutes later, she turned off Tottenham Court Road, into Chenies Street, and pulled the Buick to a halt outside a rather modernistic looking building, consisting of two concrete blocks, one of a circular pillbox design, and the other, a slightly smaller one of octagonal shape. Eisenhower explained to Summersby that he might be some time, so she should park the car in an underground garage nearby and report back here to the centre, where she would be given her usual private room, where she could stay the night if need be.

A small metal door in the wall that connected the two buildings opened, and an armed guard appeared and saluted as Eisenhower approached him. The door was quickly closed once the General was inside, and the guard started to lead him, first down an iron spiral staircase, and then through a series of metal lined tunnels and passageways, each one having to be unlocked by the guard first before they could proceed through. They eventually stopped at a brightly painted green metal door, where the guard went to ring the buzzer, but was stopped by Eisenhower, ‘My driver will be arriving in a few minutes’, he said, ‘you know where to take her don’t you?’ The guard saluted Eisenhower and snapped ‘Yes sir, the room next to yours sir?’ Eisenhower confirmed that was correct and indicated that the buzzer could now be pushed.

Inside, the room was in stark contrast to the metal lined tunnels the General had just passed through. This could have been a boardroom or one of the many other conference rooms in 10 Downing Street, with its wood panelling, carpeted floor, bookcases, and a large oval mahogany table in the centre, a movie projector, and a map of Berlin mounted on an easel. The only thing that differentiated this room from those others was the fact that there were no windows. At the head of the table was the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who rose from his seat to greet Eisenhower as he came in. Only three other people were present, they were the Labour War Cabinet member, Ernest Bevin, the Conservative Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, and Churchill’s personal secretary, Elizabeth Nel.

No records have ever been published, as to what was said and what actually went on at this meeting, but according to a member of staff who worked there at the time, his job was to set the room up and make it ready for the meeting, and to be on call during the meeting to take in further documents, charts, and maps, as and when called for.

The following information is what was alleged to have happened during this meeting:

Originally Operation Overlord (D-Day) had been planned for some time, depending on weather conditions, towards the end of June 1944. Now, it seemed that Churchill had been presented with evidence that Hitler’s so called nuclear programme was indeed real, and much more advanced than had been expected.

In typical Churchillian style, Churchill was raving about the Nazis development of weapons capable of reversing the course of the war. One of our agents, trained in the skills of nuclear science and technology, had apparently infiltrated the Nazis' top-secret weapons plant at Peenemünde in Germany where this weapon, which they called the “disintegration bomb”, was being developed.

A few days later our agent travelled to what is now the holiday island of Rügen, just off the German coast, where he watched the detonation of such a weapon. According to Churchill’s report, our agent stood alongside two German and one Russian scientist in a
concrete bunker, where they all had to wear dark goggles, and view what was going on outside, through a narrow slit in the concrete. There was a countdown lasting one minute, followed by a serious tremor in the bunker. This was followed immediately by a blinding flash, and then a thick cloud of smoke in the shape of a column, which then developed into a mushroom shape cloud on top.

No one was allowed out of the bunker for several hours because of the effects of the explosion. When they did eventually leave, they were made to put on a sort of all in one suit made of some kind of asbestos material. They were then allowed to view the scene of the explosion, which was about one and a half kilometres away. There was nothing left of the plants or trees in the area, just carbon patches and stumps, where they had once stood. There were no birds, and no insects to be seen, although they did find several sheep, which looked like they had been burnt to death on a barbeque.

When Eisenhower asked how did we know if this was true, Churchill indicated towards Anthony Eden, who passed some papers across the table to the General. The papers were from the German Patent office, dated 1941, and showed that German scientists had lodged a patent claim for a plutonium bomb during that same year. ‘As you can see General, our agents have not been exactly idle during the last few years’ quipped Churchill, ‘but we didn’t expect them to have developed it, ready for use, quite this soon’.

Eisenhower starred long and hard at the document, seeming to turn things over in his mind before asking Churchill what was his thoughts on the matter. Churchill replied that his thoughts were that they had no time to lose, if the Nazis decided to drop these bombs on Britain, then we would be finished, and they will win the war. He paused and looked around the table in a typical Churchillian, and theatrical manner. The silence was almost deafening; even the smoke from his cigar seemed to pause in the air above him until he spoke again, stating simply, ‘we must bring Operation Overlord forward’.

The conversation around the table went on for several hours, with each party arguing their different points of view on the subject. Eisenhower was very worried about the amount of landing craft needed to get all the men ashore that day, could Churchill guarantee they would be ready, if the date was pushed forward as suggested?

At just after 1 a.m. Churchill had placated Eisenhower’s fears regarding the landing craft, and an agreement had been reached. Operation Overlord was now to take place on June 6th 1944.

Churchill, as usual, had his driver take him directly back to Downing Street, in open defiance of the German bombing raid which was taking place at the time, for he liked nothing better than to go up to the roof of Downing Street, donning a tin-helmet, and armed with a pair of binoculars, to watch the dogfights taking place over London between the British Spitfire pilots and the German Messerschmitts, which were there to protect their bombers.

Eisenhower meanwhile, retired to his private room in the underground complex. The room was not overtly large, but it did have everything needed to comply with his needs, including, beside the large double bed, two armchairs, a small coffee table, a desk, phone, filing cabinet, and a variety of wall-maps. It took Eisenhower just a few minutes to get into his pyjamas and climb into bed, where he immediately switched on his bedside light and started going over some of the notes he had made earlier whilst in the meeting with Churchill. He then pressed a buzzer beside his bed, and within a few seconds, an intercommunicating door to his left, opened up and Kay Summersby, attired only in her dressing gown, came into the room. She smiled at Eisenhower, asked how the meeting went, and remarked how tired he looked. Eisenhower patted the bed beside him, and smiled back at Summersby, and told her to sit down, saying that he needed her to take a few notes for him.

It was alleged that Kay Summersby and General Eisenhower had an ongoing affair throughout the war years. She did in fact write two books about her time working for him, the second of which, she admitted to the affair. Whatever the truth was, when Kay Summersby’s room was cleaned the following day, there was rumour amongst certain members of the staff that her bed had not been slept in.

But who are we to judge? What we do know is that Operation Overlord did take place on 6th June 1944, and was judged a success. We also know that the Germans never did launch their planned nuclear attack on Great Britain, but after the war, many German scientists were enlisted by the USA to help in their building of the first Atomic bomb, which was used by the Americans against Japan, and helped to end WW II.

The underground centre, which Eisenhower and Churchill used with great success during those now far off war years, still exists today in Chenies Street, which is a side street off Tottenham Court Road, almost opposite Goodge Street Underground Station. It has since been painted in cream and red, with the name ‘The Eisenhower Centre’ emblazoned across the front.

The idea for this remarkable structure was first formulated in the 1930s, when congestion on the Northern Underground Line was starting to increase. It was decided to build a second pair of tunnels, parallel with the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line that would act as an express route through London. Work was halted however, at the outset of the Second World War, but as the Underground platforms became increasingly used by the general public as overnight air raid shelters, it was then decided in 1940, to go ahead with the work on the new tunnels, which would initially be used as deep level shelters, and thereafter as the platform tunnels for the new express route.

The Goodge Street shelter, as it was called, was not alone, upon the outbreak of war, a total of ten shelters were originally planned, five to the north of the Thames and five to the south. All of these were to eventually form part of the new Northern Line express route. The shelter's shafts were designed to prevent a direct hit from a bomb penetrating into the underground system. The two tunnels were interconnected at various places along their length, and provided two layers of accommodation. Ventilation, medical, and catering facilities were provided and electricity was obtained from two sources in case bombing caused one to fail.

Almost everything was thought of, in order to make these shelters as safe as possible, from double staircases in each shaft, to toilet facilities which were constructed near the lift shafts, sewage being periodically pumped up to a sewer close to the surface, storage facilities, and water being supplied from the local water supply There was even two, 3000 gallon water tanks, should the original supply fail.

Much thought had been put to the ventilation, especially when you consider that the shelter had been originally designed for 12,000 people, but was probably more likely to accommodate a much more sensible and comfortable, 8,000. Air entered the shelter in a normal way, through the entrances, and along the tunnels into the shelter area. Stale air was sucked out of the shelter through metal pipes through a ventilation shaft in the roof. When the fans were running at full power, the air in the shelter would be completely changed 15 times every hour. In case of a gas attack, the air was filtered, and all doors were designed with gas seals when closed.

With all these perfect amenities in place, what could have been better than the use of the Goodge Street shelter, as the central London headquarters, for General Eisenhower's headquarters during the second world war?

It was hoped that when their wartime use had come to an end, the tunnels would be interconnected, in the hope of restarting the original express route project, but the idea was shelved, and then ultimately dropped, as money for the project wasn't available. The site was later used as an army transit camp until a serious fire closed the camp on the night of May 21st 1956. Officials were alarmed by the fire and the deep tunnels beneath were no longer considered suitable for accommodation. They are now used by a private company, to store films and videotape.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Stangate

During the early 1800s, the famous clown Grimaldi lived in a house in Stangate Street. He was at the height of his fame at this time, and certainly the most well known clown in England, if not the world. Grimaldi was one of that special breed of people, who could make people smile and laugh, just by looking at him.

Joseph Grimaldi was born in Clare Market, London, the son of an Italian, Signor Giuseppe 'Iron Legs' Grimaldi, ballet-master at the Drury Lane Theatre. Giuseppe was something of a reprobate, with children by several different partners, one of whom (Rebecca Brooker) was the mother of Joseph. By the time Joseph was born in 1778, Giuseppe had set up home in Little Russell Street with Rebecca. They were doing quite well for themselves, and had four maids and an African footman named Sam.

Giuseppe, who was also known as the Signor, was a talented dancer and man of the theatre, but he was a ferocious teacher and father, who drilled his children mercilessly. His idea of training children for the theatre was to put them in the stocks or suspend them in a cage 40ft above the stage. He routinely beat his wife and terrified the household with his obsession with his own death. He had once dreamt that the devil had spoken to him and told him that he would die on the first Friday of the month. After the dream he kept vigil on that day, every month. He filled the room with clocks and calendars, to be sure he would not miss the exact date and time, and would pace up and down for hour after hour, until the dreaded time had passed, and he was free to live his life once again.

He became obsessed with death, after reading a book entitled, ‘The Uncertainty of Signs of Death’ and had a great fear that he would be buried alive. When he died in 1788, he stipulated in his will that his children should sever his head from his body before he was buried. His daughter duly obliged by keeping her hand on the saw worked by the surgeon, who had been hired for the purpose.

No sooner had Giuseppe died, when his youngest son, John, who was so eager to escape his late father’s influence, and the bad memories of what he had endured, that he immediately signed on to join a ship’s crew. When he learnt that the ship was not departing for another ten days, he abandoned his possessions, dived into the murky waters and swam to a neighbouring vessel, due to sail the next day. He signed on as cabin boy – he was just eight years old.

Joseph Grimaldi was not so fortunate, for he had by then been under the influence of his father for some nine years, since he was born. Under this influence he had made his stage debut at the age of three at the Sadler's Wells Theatre. He was later to become the mainstay of the Drury Lane Theatre before settling in at Covent Garden in 1806 in 'Harlequin and Mother Goose; or the Golden Egg'. His three year contract paid him one pound a week, rising to two pounds the following year, and finally three pounds a week. Grimaldi wasn’t very happy with the production, which he claimed had been hastily put together on a sparsely decorated stage. Sparse it may have been, but it eventually ran for 92 nights, and took over £20,000.

The lack of great theatrical production allowed Grimaldi to project himself to the fore, 'he shone with unimpeded brilliance' one critic wrote. Another marvelled at his performance 'whether he robbed a pieman, opened an oyster, rode a giant carthorse, imitated a sweep, grasped a red hot poker - in all this, he was extravagantly natural'

Grimaldi’s rise to fame wasn’t an easy one. A very turbulent time in his early career came in 1809, when Thomas Harris and Charles Kemble opened the rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre. In order to raise funds to pay off the builders, prices were raised across the board, and the “Old Price War” was instigated. Regular theatre goers turned up night every night and stopped the performances, by chanting “OP” and staging fights. These nightly skirmishes lasted an incredible sixty-seven days.

It wasn’t just the audiences that were aggrieved, for the workers, who were still waiting to be paid, also took their revenge on the production, but in doing so, they also took revenge on the artistes, who included Grimaldi himself. They would deliberately leave trapdoors unlocked, which led to Grimaldi falling through on several occasions. Fires broke out, management teams went bust, and arguments of all sorts led to unrest and stars walking out on the productions. All the while, Grimaldi’s celebrity grew, but at the same time, his injuries, due to the open trapdoors, as well as the gymnastics and stunts, which became necessary to entertain the disgruntled audiences, resulted in many broken bones and severe muscle injuries.

Grimaldi nevertheless kept going, like the true trooper he was, he felt that not only must the show go on, but it must also improve with every performance. In one particular show, which was on the verge of collapsing at any day, he pulled all the stops out and reinvented not just his act, but the whole production.

Within days the word started to spread and people flocked for miles to see the wonderful surreal brilliance of his new creation. He had tables and chairs hovering above the stage as if by magic, with no visible strings attached. Live birds flew out of enormous apple pies. Actors jumped off balconies and disappeared before they hit the floor. Men in soft hats took them off and rang them like bells. Six large bottles were opened to release a swarm of bees, which then mysteriously vanished as quickly as they had appeared. In between all this madness and mayhem, Grimaldi strutted the stage, serenading a pretty girl by singing and banging out the tune on an old tin bath.
Grimaldi ended the show by running back and forth across the stage, leading a group of dancers, and juggling and smashing crockery as he went.

Still in his early forties, Grimaldi was starting to feel more exhausted with every performance. It was at this time that he moved to the house in Stangate Street, in order to be closer to the theatres.

It was whilst living in Stangate Street that he started what some saw as paranoia. He started talking more and more about his early life, and how his father had disciplined him, and forced him into a life on the stage, which was now killing him. He became very superstitious, and engrossed in ghosts and the supernatural, and swore that his dead father paid him nocturnal visits.

He befriended a bookseller who sold books on the occult, and who also lived in Stangate Street, and together they would go for midnight walks to the nearby gloomy area of St George's Fields, where they would discuss various superstitions and legends until the early hours of the morning.

Grimaldi had started to develop the same fears that his father had, that he would collapse one day and be wrongly diagnosed as dead, and therefore be buried whilst still alive. His friend the bookseller lent him a book called "The Uncertainty of the Signs of Death," which worried him even more, so much that some said it unbalanced his mind, and led eventually to his early retirement.

Close friends tried to break him of his morbid fears of being buried alive, telling him that he would outlive them all. In 1823 they even arranged a party for him at a local inn in Stangate Street, but when the now crippled Grimaldi staggered in, he looked round at all the smiling faces around him and declared “I used to say that I was Grim-all-day and made people laugh all night, now I am afraid I will be permanently grim forever”. He walked out of the party and retired the following day. He was forty-five years old. The years of acrobatic jumping and tumbling had taken their toll on his body, making it almost impossible for him to even walk, and the morbid thoughts of being buried alive most certainly took a grim toll on his mind.

Two years later he found himself running desperately short of money and had to sell the house in Stangate Street, moving then to lodgings in Pentonville. By 1828 he had become penniless, and a benefit performance for him was held at both Sadlers Wells, and Covent Garden. In his farewell speech he told his audience 'Like a vaulting audition, I have overleaped myself and pay the penalty in advanced old age. It is five years since I jumped my last jump, filched my last oyster, boiled my last sausage and set in for retirement'.

He received a pension of £100 a year from the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund, which enabled him to spend his last years beside the fireplace of 'The Marquis of Cornwallis' tavern, in Pentonville The landlord of the tavern would carry Grimaldi, piggy-back style, home each evening. On the morning of May 31st 1837 after being deposited back home on the previous evening by the tavern’s landlord, in the usual manner, he was found dead in his bed. A post-mortem was held, which found Grimaldi died of natural causes, brought on by what was described as premature old age, and most definitely not premature burial, as he had long feared.

Today, Stangate is just a short stretch of roadway extending from Westminster Bridge Road to Lambeth Palace Road, with Westminster Bridge to its south, and the Houses of Parliament standing directly opposite. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Royal Barge was kept there after the King's Barge House in Upper Ground fell into disuse. State barges of several of the City Companies including the Armourers, the Goldsmiths and the Barber Surgeons, who were succeeded by the Drapers, were also moored there. The Dukes of Richmond and Montague, who had houses across the Thames at Whitehall, also kept their barges there.

Stangate dates from at least the mediaeval period, and it is possibly of Roman origin. The name probably derives from ‘Stone-Gate’, as all Royal Moorings would have had gates attached to stop site-seers and possible looters. The path leading through the open fields of Lambeth Marsh towards the Thames at this point, became known as Stangate Street, which then led to Stangate Stairs, and to the mooring itself.
During the eighteenth century, Thames Watermen provided a ferry service from Stangate Stairs for ordinary passengers who wanted to cross the river.

The Stangate Street path, which led through Lambeth Marsh and eventually became Stangate as we know it today, was a carefully laid out path that had to manoeuvre its way around its high and low points, as the Marsh was a flood plain caused by the Neckinger River. Although the Neckinger was more a stream than a river, it could still prove dangerous at high tide, before it eventually flowed out into the Thames at the point where Waterloo Bridge now stands.

South of where the National Theatre is situated, lies Upper Ground, which was previously called Narrow Wall, after an old river wall made from earth, which originally extended south as far as the gateway to Lambeth Palace, which allegedly constituted the boundary between the grounds of the Archbishop's house and the river. The wall remained a footway for many years, known in the 19th century as Bishop's Walk, but it never developed into a road until the formation of the Albert Embankment and Lambeth Palace Road.

The ground that now lies in front of the National Theatre was originally reclaimed from the Thames, and was used mainly as timber yards during the late seventeenth century. Where the Royal Festival Hall now stands, was the site of the only wind-powered sawmill in London.

St. Thomas's Hospital lies at the foot of Westminster Bridge, and extends along the bank of the river towards Lambeth Palace. The hospital stands on between eight and nine acres of ground, and was purchased from the Board of Works, at a cost of about £100,000. The ground where the hospital now stands, was always known as Stangate Bank, and has a long disreputable history. Over the last 200 years or so, it has been known as being a place of poor design, with bad housing and foul smells. Not even the construction of the Houses of Parliament on the opposite shore, or the building of one of the finest bridges in Europe, (Westminster Bridge) failed to redeem this “stinking shore-line”, with its rat infested tenements, and filthy boat yards. What we see today of the land on which the present St. Thomas's Hospital stands, nearly half of it, was reclaimed from the mud of the river, which was due to the decision to construct the Southern Thames Embankment.

This particular area of London has always enjoyed a close association with the theatre, dating back to Shakespeare and even earlier. Between Westminster Bridge Road and Stangate Street, stood the Canterbury Music Hall, which was opened by Charles Morton in 1849, and was the first music hall established in London. It survived until World War II, when the building was destroyed by German bombers. Another popular place of entertainment was the Bower Saloon, which stood at the junction of Upper Marsh and Stangate Street. The Bower was not as grand as the Canterbury, probably more of an inn than a theatre, but it did have a theatre room and a music room, which were used for crude melodrama and variety entertainments in the mid 19th century.

A popular London magazine of the Victorian period, was “The Night Side of London”, which was published by J. Ewing Ritchie in the mid 1800s, and one of the first such publications which delved into London’s social history. In 1858 J. Ewing Ritchie wrote the following in his magazine: "The Upper Marsh, Westminster Road, is what may be called a low neighbourhood. It is not far from Astley's Theatre. Right through it runs the South-Western Railway, and everywhere about it are planted pawnbrokers' shops, with an indescribable amount of dirty second-hand clothes, and monster gin-palaces, with unlimited plate-glass and gas-lights. Go along there at what hour you will, these gin-palaces are full of ragged children, hideous old women, and drunken men. The bane and the antidote are thus side by side. Let us pass on. A well-lighted entrance attached to a public house indicates that we have reached our destination. We proceed up a few stairs, along a passage, lined with handsome engravings, to a bar, where we pay sixpence if we take a seat in the body of the hall, and ninepence if we ascend into the gallery. We make our way leisurely along the floor of the building, which is really a handsome hall, well lighted, and capable of holding 1,500 persons; the balcony extends round the room in the form of a horseshoe. At the opposite end to that which we enter is the platform, on which are placed a grand piano and a harmonium, on which the performers play in the intervals when the professional singers have left the stage. The chairman sits just beneath them. It is dull work to him; but there he must sit, drinking, and smoking cigars, from seven till twelve o'clock. The room is crowded, and almost every gentleman present has a pipe or a cigar in his mouth. Let us look around us. Evidently the majority present are respectable mechanics or small tradesmen, with their wives and daughters and sweethearts. Now and then you see a midshipman, or a few fast clerks and warehousemen. Every one is smoking, and every one has a glass before him; but the class that come here are economical, and chiefly confine themselves to pipes and porter. The presence of ladies has also a beneficial effect: I see no signs of intoxication. I may question the worth of some of the stanzas sung, and I think I may have heard sublimer compositions, but, compared with many of the places frequented by both sexes in London, Canterbury Hall is, in my opinion, a respectable place; though, to speak seriously, I have my doubts whether all go home quite sober."

Today, Stangate and the immediate area surrounding it, still offers much to see and do for visitors and tourists. Only minutes walk away from the South Bank Centre, The Old Vic and The National Theatre, as well as plenty of traditional watering holes, and a large selection of modern restaurants and shops. Probably of most importance, and still there, all around, for everyone to see, is the true history of the area which stretches back centuries, and hopefully will continue for centuries to come.