Interact

17 March 2017
Author: Howard Service

Howard Service's research for Hidden Traces

Last year we commissioned Gabriele Reuter and Mattef Kuhmley to create Hidden Traces, a sound journey which documents the history of the streets surrounding The Place through the eyes and voices of local businesses and residents. As part of the research and subsequent audio tour Gabriele interviewed a wide range of people including Howard Service, who grew up in these streets and still has a strong connection to the area today. Howard proved to be a valuable source of knowledge and offered a huge contribution to the project, helping Gabriele to build up a picture of the area and how it’s changed. Following the success of the initial project, we invited Gabi and Mattef to bring Hidden Traces back for 2017 and also invited Howard to share his in-depth research to go alongside the audio tour. We are grateful to Howard for compiling this for us, and for sharing his stories for Hidden Traces.


For the past two hundred years the development of the handful of streets surrounding The Place coincided with the rapid growth of London as a major world capital. During this period, in this concentrated neighbourhood just off Euston Road, a vast assortment of people from contrasting backgrounds called this area their home. Alternatively, a wider population also earned their living here through a collection of small factories, workshops, offices and establishments, visited places of worship and attended political meetings, or were educated, entertained, fed and refreshed.
I lived here for the first fifteen years of my life, mainly as a child in the 1960’s, where this local environment was my extended playground, and my contemporary world met the past. This helped fuel my early imagination which eventually grew into a historical appreciation. At this time a gritty, mostly working-class neighbourhood with a mixture of older and younger families, individuals and characters who were either local, from other parts of London and the UK, Irish and some European immigrants contrasted well with the ornate beauty of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings and houses, and some modern structures too. Unfortunately, most of the older premises had seen better days due to the long term effects of damp, decay and general neglect. Thankfully, a number of these original buildings continue to survive today due to later preservations and refurbishments. 
My childhood ‘urban education’ was further enhanced by a constant flow and variety of international tourists, week-end visitors, day trippers, commuters and workers, tradesmen (some with horse and cart), students, mods and rockers, hippies, football fans, gangs of other local kids, drunks, eccentrics (or non-eccentrics who were just drunk), occasional street performers, and homeless men and women going back and forth through these streets. This was mainly due to the close proximity of the three main railway termini of Euston, St. Pancras and King’s Cross and accompanying Underground stations. Most people were just passing through, but some were friendly and would stop to say hello, chat, tell stories and jokes or have a game of street football or cricket. Others would just ask for directions, on their way to and from a ‘swinging sixties’ London that was now going through another change, that of popular and counter culture. This history of ‘passing through’ these streets still exists today, and will hopefully continue well into the future. 
Enjoy your Hidden Traces walk.  

                                     (Howard Service, ex-resident of 28 Burton Street).


DUKES ROAD
A small street of some description, just off the New Road (now Euston Road), had existed here since the 1760’s. On the western side of the road almost opposite The Place entrance, St. Pancras New Church was completed in the Greek Revival Style in 1822. The back end of the church appeared in Dukes Road about the same time as the Woburn Walk development of terraced shops (now offices), which completed the rest of this side of the road. 
On the eastern side a modern hotel now stands between Euston Road and The Place where buildings were ‘damaged beyond repair’ in the London Blitz during the Second World War. Further on Grafton Mansions (1890) is a smaller version of a new type of privately owned flat that was being introduced to central London at this time, where its period features, as well as those of Woburn Walk, have been used in historical feature films and TV dramas. Next door, the office on the corner has had a number of functions over time, one being Callard & Bowser’s butterscotch sweet factory which was replaced in the 1930’s.

 

THE PLACE

This site has had a varied history connected to the Arts. In the mid 19th century it was a venue for musical entertainment that went under various names including The Lord Nelson Music Hall in 1846. It was redeveloped as a military drill hall in 1889, and was eventually taken over in 1908 by the Artists Rifles Territorial Army. Following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, contemporaries who volunteered for service in this unit included, amongst others, the artist Paul Nash, the poets Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas, sculptors Charles Sargeant Jagger and Frank Dobson, and the drill hall’s original architect Robert Edis. These premises remained part of the military for almost another half a century until they were acquired as a dance school in 1969, where ‘the headquarters of Artists in War had become the headquarters of Artists in Peace’. Further expansions took place in 1976 resulting in the development of the stage door entrance in Flaxman Terrace, followed by further renovations in 1999. The Place is now home to The London Contemporary Dance School and The Robin Howard Dance Theatre.

 

WOBURN WALK

This walkway was developed in 1822 as the first purpose built pedestrian shopping street in London. The shops catered for a wider affluent Bloomsbury population, but also for the local professional classes that were now moving into the area, particularly into Burton Street. However, towards the end of the 19th century this walk and surrounding streets were becoming less salubrious. An indication of how this area may have deteriorated could be found by the Irish poet W. B. Yates continuing to live here at No. 5 (then 18) Woburn Walk between 1895–1919 because the area was seen as cheap, unfashionable and near ‘the people’.

 

FLAXMAN TERRACE

Flaxman Terrace was finalised in 1908. To make way two parallel streets – Brantome Place (formerly Draper’s Place until 1885) and North Crescent Mews were all swept away. In the 1860’s this was described as a vile slum where ‘squalor, disease and death were rampant with immorality and crime’ and where typhus and gaol fever were rife. This gives a good impression of the variety of classes who lived here at this time, literally side by side.

Before 1908, the western side (nearest Euston Road) of Brantome Place had a history of accommodating small businesses and workshops, where in the late Victorian period the piano factory of Eavestaff and Sons stood where the stage door entrance of The Place is today. This small factory/workshop heritage probably continued after this development. During the Blitz, the majority of buildings in Euston Road backing onto Flaxman Terrace, as well as a majority on this side of the road, suffered varying degrees of bomb damage. Therefore, most of the buildings that had stood here pre-war were either rebuilt or refurbished, some more than once, after 1945. The corner opposite Mabel’s Tavern pub was the site of a former tyre factory/warehouse, which included a small stone model of ‘Bibendum’ the Michelin Man above the door, and a smell of rubber in the air. This was demolished in the early 1970’s to make way for the UNISON Trade Union building, which has just been refurbished again in the past few months.

As part of the 1908 project, Flaxman Court took up most of the eastern side of the street. These flats were built by St. Pancras Council as rented accommodation for working people. Air raids during the Blitz were responsible for this whole block being damaged, resulting in them being refurbished post-war. Yet despite this, externally at least, all of these flats are almost identical to the original Edwardian design. The two cupola towers on the smaller house just before Burton Street, originally the caretaker’s lodge, are of an identical design to the larger ones on the roof of the flats.

 

MABEL'S TAVERN PUB

By the late 19th century three pubs existed in this vicinity. However, with the development of Flaxman Terrace, a public house that stood approximately where the pub is today was the only one that either survived or was redeveloped. During the Blitz this pub was ‘damaged beyond repair’. It was replaced post-war with the ‘Kentish Arms’ until the 1960’s when it was renamed ‘The ‘Escape’ a themed pub complete with World War II prisoner of war memorabilia, and then became ‘Mabel’s’. Everybody asks who is Mabel? It is probably nothing more than a sound alike, shortened version of Mabledon Place, where the main entrance of the pub stands, or somebody at the brewery couldn’t spell, by getting their l’s and e’s mixed up.

 

BURTON STREET

This street, the largest in our area, was developed from 1809-1820. New four and two storey houses were almost wholly occupied by professional and well-to-do families, with servant’s quarters in the basements of the larger ones. It was originally split into two housing estates or halves which met at a then unnamed street (now Burton Place). It started as a gated community and was a cul-de-sac at both ends, with stone stairs at the north-eastern and north-western corners of the street being the only connection to and from Dukes Road or Draper’s Place. The street mainly consisted of houses, but with some exceptions (see below). However, as the decades progressed, with the environmental effects of the industrial revolution, the coming of the railways on the doorstep and the disruption this caused, and the growth of the suburbs, the rich started to move out of this part of London while the poor, mainly a regular influx from other parts of the UK and Ireland, began moving in searching for employment and accommodation.

In the 20th century this street also started to follow another trend that was not only prevalent in surrounding areas such as Somers Town, but in other parts of London also, which was to allow large numbers of Georgian and early Victorian houses to gradually deteriorate. This was due in part to a lack of will and vision, but mainly it was the inability to raise the finances to refurbish, or greedy landlords cashing in on the rapidly growing population, with little reinvestment in the properties. Some houses were left to their own fates, some were just patched up, while others were demolished to make way for new projects.

In the wider post-Blitz London, bombed out buildings and a lack of housing development both before and after the conflict led to a housing shortage. As a result, the majority of the houses in this street were now gradually being rented out as ‘rooms’ where up to two or three working class families or individuals occupied each house on different floors, with minimal self containment. This form of housing was also a cheaper option for newcomers to London who found it hard to get onto council housing waiting lists. Most premises were unchanged from their original state, where the majority were without baths and hot water, heating was only in one room by a laborious to ignite and dirty coal fire, and the shared toilet facilities were outside. There was some refurbishment in the late 1960’s, but by the late 1970’s these premises were almost derelict. They were saved from demolition by a Housing Association in the 1980’s and early 1990’s which redeveloped them into rented self contained social housing with modern facilities.

BURTON STREET HALL

eligion and politics featured in the history of this street, where the earlier developments also included a synagogue. Burton Street Hall, which was almost half way down the north-eastern side of the street, was built for The Particular Baptists in 1811. It was also used on a regular basis by the Welsh Social Reformer Robert Owen for meetings, where the London Co-operative Society held its inaugural session in 1824. The Swedeborgians and the St. Pancras Free Church, an offshoot of St.Pancras New Church, also used these premises. This hall later became St Mary’s RC School then a Salvation Army citadel before it was demolished in 1927.

 

BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (BMA)

he builder of Burton Street who, not surprisingly, was called Burton, had his own gated home of Tavistock House built on this western side of the street where the BMA stands today. This and further houses had been swept away just before the First World War to make way for a Lutyens designed building for the Theosophical Society. The conflict interrupted these works and while the building stood empty the Army Pay Office took over the unfinished building. It was eventually sold to the BMA in July 1925. The Burton Street entrance was for a time the main BMA structure, but this suffered some ‘general’ to ‘serious’ damage during the Blitz. The premises that we know today, with the main entrance in Upper Woburn Place came much later with further expansion between 1938-1950 and 1959-1960.

 

BURTON STREET SOUTH

The early development of Burton Street produced a substantial villa that stood in its own grounds at the southern-end cul-de-sac. This was later replaced by the Burton House Collegiate School. The building that existed here during the Blitz, along with three houses in the south-west corner of the street, suffered ‘general damage’ during the bombing. Post-war a British Rail garage was constructed at this southern end, with the Burton Street entrance being its only access. In the early 1960’s this garage was rented out to park large grocery trucks overnight, and was then taken over by Express Dairy who used it to recharge their electric milk floats for the morning rounds, where in both cases the big wooden blue doors were locked overnight. This garage was eventually redeveloped as social housing in the early 1990’s, where as Leonards Court it still remains a ‘dead end’  today, true to its original intention.

 

BURTON PLACE

The founder of the London Co-operative Society Robert Owen lived at No. 4 Burton Place between 1832 and 1840 (see blue plaque). This was then an unnamed street that was part of the Burton Street estates. This house backed onto Burton Street Hall, a place Owen knew well. South Crescent Mews, which ran behind the south-eastern side of Burton Street, was also in existence then, and ran all the way through to Marchmont Street, coming out beside the current Lord John Russell pub. The houses on this southern corner of Burton Place and Burton Street were eventually demolished and in the 1960’s served as a gated/fenced outdoor bus station along with a long and narrow indoor garage where South Crescent Mews used to be. The buses were of a school/local authority variety and not London red or leisure coach, and no passengers got on or off here. In 1994 the Housing Association built new accommodation here to replace the outdoor garage, Virginia Court, which is a pastiche of the houses opposite, and Woolf Mews where the original mews and the indoor garage used to be. 

 

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