Forgotten Images: Before Aldwych and Kingsway

In October 1905 King Edward VII officially opened Kingsway and Aldwych; “The largest and most important improvement in London since the construction of Regent Street in 1820.” London County Council produced a special souvenir programme for the event.

This map from the programme give some idea of the scale of the works. The buff area of development covers many of the streets that were demolished.

Map showing part of the Kingsway & Aldwych development of 1905

Map showing part of the Kingsway & Aldwych development of 1905

The programme was written by Laurence Gomme, Clerk to the Council, who was also a keen historian. Gomme  helped to found The Victoria County History series and The Survey of London and it was he who persuaded LCC to adopt the Blue Plaque scheme. Incidentally he also suggested naming the development “Aldwych” to reference the ancient nearby settlement.

The programme enthusiastically details the construction of the whole development but such an enthusiast for London’s history and architecture couldn’t let the new development open without also documenting what had been destroyed.

So Gomme provides us with numerous superb and unique images of  many of the old streets and courts, immediately prior to their demolition in 1901.

I haven’t seen such a fine collection elsewhere and can’t find any equivalent on the net.

I’ll post more details in future posts but for now I’ll let these hauntingly beautiful images speak for themselves.

Plummer's Court, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Plummer's Court

Sardinia Place, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Sardinia Place

Sardinia Street, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Sardinia Street

New Inn Banqueting Hall, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

New Inn Banqueting Hall

A Corner in New Inn, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

A Corner in New Inn

New Inn, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

New Inn

Hall's Yard, Little Wild Street, showing rear of Mission Chapel, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Hall's Yard, Little Wild Street, showing rear of Mission Chapel.

Holywell Street (eastern end) , circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Holywell Street (eastern end).

Holywell Street (western end), circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Holywell Street (western end).

Houghton Street and New Inn Passage, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Houghton Street and New Inn Passage

Wych Street, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Wych Street

Wych Street, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Wych Street

Corner of Wych Street and Holywell Street, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Corner of Wych Street and Holywell Street

Windsor Court, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Windsor Court

Sheffield Street, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Sheffield Street

Little Wild Street, circa 1901 about to be demolished as part of the Aldwych and Kingsway development.

Little Wild Street

And finally, the one that got away, still standing in Portsmouth Street.

The Old Curiosity Shop, Portsmouth Street (said to have been the original of Dickens's "Old Curiosity Shop").

The Old Curiosity Shop, Portsmouth Street (said to have been the original of Dickens's "Old Curiosity Shop").

In a companion post  Forgotten Images: Destruction & Construction in Aldwych & Kingsway I  look at the demolition of the area and some of the subsequent construction work.

The author of this blog is a qualified and insured City of Westminster Tour Guide who runs unique walking tours and private tours in London. All my public tours are bookable through Eventbrite.

19 Responses to Forgotten Images: Before Aldwych and Kingsway
  1. Roger Bridgman
    April 23, 2012 | 3:00 pm

    These are indeed haunting images. I had no idea of the scale of destruction involved in the creation of Aldwych and Kingsway. I have always thought of these as two of London’s more boring streets and now I know why!

    • Daniel
      November 17, 2012 | 10:03 am

      Aldwych I don’t mind but Kingsway actually annoys me because it is so boring. I recently started writing a piece on it for a blog on London pubs and before researching it I would have sworn there were no pubs on it (I still refuse to actually call them ‘pubs’). I only use Kingsway when in a rush (on foot) to get to Fleet Street but there are far better ways to get there.

  2. Ken Barrett
    April 24, 2012 | 6:29 am

    Despite the fact that much of this area was a slum, the streets seem to be extremely clean. And we have certainly lost some architectural treasures, such as New Inn and the old pre-Great Fire buildings in Wych Street.

    Aldwych itself always seems a bit of a waste of space to me, and Kingsway lacks any kind of grandeur because its buildings are mediocre. The most interesting thing about Kingsway is underground, with the old tramway and the associated passages, but entrance to these are I believe restricted to special interest groups.

  3. KEB
    April 24, 2012 | 9:01 am

    Absolutely wonderful to see these. Nowadays most people have no idea of the destruction that was inflicted on that part of London. But why is your URL on every image? Are they not in the public domain?

    • Peter Berthoud
      April 24, 2012 | 9:29 am
      Peter Berthoud

      Hi Katy,

      Thanks for your kind comment. I have started putting my URL on everything because I have been getting a lot of stuff “borrowed” without even the basic courtesy of a back link. At least this way anyone wanting to use images I have discovered can either spend a little of their own time recropping/photoshopping them or at least give me a little credit! Hope that doesn’t sound too bitter!

      All the very best,

      Pete

      • catherine
        June 1, 2012 | 2:38 am

        I have a slide that appears to be of the Waterloo bridge circa late 1930’s. While doing research, I came across these most wonderful images. I just cant get enough of vintage photography-fascinating!I was hoping that you might be able to confirm or deny whether this is Waterloo or not. I can send you a file, please let me know.
        Thanks Cat beason

        • Peter Berthoud
          June 1, 2012 | 7:19 am
          Peter Berthoud

          Hi Cat, I am glad you are enjoying them, thank you. I’d love to have a look at your Waterloo Bridge image. Please do send me a copy. All the very best, Pete

          • Gillian
            March 3, 2014 | 4:01 pm

            I have loved looking at these pictures, thank you for putting them on. Is it ok to save some of them to put on my face book page of Paulsgrove and Portsmouth? I love these old photos but I don’t have a lot of my own.

          • Peter Berthoud
            March 5, 2014 | 10:16 am
            Peter Berthoud

            Hi Gillian, I am glad you enjoyed the images. If you think they would be of interest to your Facebook fans you are welcome to share them if you give me a credit. All the very best, Pete

  4. James Balston
    April 24, 2012 | 4:57 pm

    Fascinating old pics, and interesting to see the old and new plans overlaid. The history of London is all about continual change, which is what makes it such an interesting city. Equally fascinating are the schemes that never got off the drawing board. Everyone’s seen Wren’s amazing masterplan, and Abercrombie’s post-war vision which would have destroyed much of central London, but how about Nash’s scheme for a boulevard linking Trafalgar Square to the British Museum? Rather sad that one never saw the light of day.

    • dominic
      May 8, 2012 | 2:09 pm

      oh my! Wren’s grandiose plans for post-fire London would have been a disaster!

  5. dominic
    May 8, 2012 | 12:35 pm

    yes great pictures especially of the lower end of the development around Wych Street.
    GB Shaw wrote a play Widowers Houses about the owners of the rookeries around there, who packed them with tenants so they could claim huge compensation when they were compulsorily purchased.
    Photogenic indeed but must have been a night mare to live there.

  6. Ruth
    June 10, 2012 | 12:31 am

    Wonderful images and also the map: Thank-you! The saddest thing about the whole development is that some of the houses razed to the ground had survived the Fire of London, and their foundations were not deep enough to have damaged the Saxon village OLD Wycke – which probably occupied the height of where Bush House & the bottom end of the boulevard is now. Archaeological work in recent years has unearthed fragmentary evidence of burial grounds and foundations of really ancient buildings slightly to the west of the area demolished for Kingsway – so not only did that development obliterate some important Tudor architecture, but the very deep basements (& the tunnel) excavated out any historic and ancient remains that might have survived beneath them. The pity of it is too, that no proper archaeology was done – it was all executed incredibly fast – and there was no exhaustive or even adequate recording of the surviving buildings. The photos on your site are splendid, but they are not a street by street survey of what was destroyed. The records are amazingly thin for the destruction of such an important part of Old London. And I quite agree with one of your correspondents that the ‘boulevard’ that replaced them is thoroughly arid and completely uninteresting – people tend to walk along it as quickly as they can – it is a useful highway (especially for cars & buses) but windy, boring and dull.
    Thank-you so much for having these images online. I spent ages tracking them down myself in hard copy, and they were so precious the library would not allow copying! So it is an utter pleasure to see them here. How did you get hold of them??
    The best discussion I have seen of the whole development is in James Winter’s book, London’s Teeming Streets ( wonderful book!).
    Kind regards – Ruth Richardson, historian.

    • Peter Berthoud
      July 5, 2012 | 10:44 am
      Peter Berthoud

      Thank you very much Ruth. Praise from you is praise indeed! Thanks too for the additional information and suggested reading. I was lucky enough to find a copy of the programme and simply scanned it, no permission required. All the very best, Pete

  7. edlondondog
    July 16, 2012 | 8:04 pm

    Some extraordinarily interesting lamp-posts. Thank you Peter.

  8. Mark Eller
    March 3, 2013 | 12:53 pm

    Peter,

    As everyone says, these are haunting pictures, presumably taken after the process of emptying the properties had started, to judge by the lack of people and general cleanliness in what was a fairly notorious and highly populous area. I have been tracing my family history to this area in the latter decades of the nineteenth century and wondered whether there were any other photos ? Specifically of Denzell Street, Holles Street, or the south end of Drury Lane ?

    Cheers,

    Mark.

    • Peter Berthoud
      March 4, 2013 | 8:47 am
      Peter Berthoud

      Thanks Mark,

      I am afraid these are the only photos I have but I am always on the lookout for old photos of London that haven’t been online before. If I find any of Denzell Street, Holles Street or the South end of Drury Lane I’ll be sure to publish them here.

      All the very best,

      Pete

  9. Todd
    May 6, 2014 | 11:15 pm

    9&10, and 11 Sheffield are still there as well. Number 11 still has the same (though faded) frontage.

  10. Deborah
    August 8, 2014 | 6:29 pm

    Do you know exactly when 275 and 276 The Strand were demolished. Thanks

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