intro b4kxstp
dunghill or game
an absolute rake
suburban wits
charles dickens
the banality of the sublime
maps b4kxstp
rural middlesex

b4kxstp1.0: kin, kith & strangers in the fields of london, 388pp

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“The rev’rend spire of ancient Pancras view,
To ancient Pancras pay the rev’rence due;
Christ’s sacred altar here first Britain saw,
And gazed, and worshipp’d with an holy awe,
Whilst pitying Heaven diffused a saving ray,
And heathen darkness changed to Christian day”.
St Pancras, Anon. Gentleman’s Magazine (July 1749)

A history of King's Cross St Pancras, London UK, describing the C17 and early-C18 agricultural and pleasure industries; featuring local individuals and family biographies over several generations; plus also local connections to global trade and New World migration

Against the backdrop of the ancient St Pancras parish church and graveyard (the site of a Roman temple to Mithras at which early-C4 Christian legionnaires are believed to have worshipped clandestinely), and with some considerable local detail of the English reformation, civil war and Commonwealth period, the volume recounts the life history of Randolph Yearwood, Congregationalist preacher and then vicar of St Pancras from the years of Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate to the eve of William & Mary's 1688 revolution.

Yearwood came from a Cheshire Yeoman family and was educated at Cambridge University, both locations contributing considerable detail to the telling of the tale of the mid-century disruptions. His successor at St Pancras was John Marshall, whose son Nathaniel succeeded him. The Marshalls originated from the South Holland Fenlands of East Anglia (Oliver Cromwell had been the local member of parliament) and just as with Yearwood’s kin the book uses genealogy websites to trace family members’ origins and their migrations to the New World.

But St Pancras itself was the destination of farming families migrating from the surrounding countryside, bringing skills passed down from father to son over generations to settle the high rent farmland on the skirts of the capital (by far the largest and wealthiest market in the kingdom), renting or managing rapidly improving and highly profitable merchant capital farms.

The Nichols, for example, who cultivated hay and grazed cows at the St Pancras Prebendal Manor farm (its fields now in advanced development as King’s Cross Central) hailed from beyond the Northern Heights of Harrow, Hampstead and Highgate, owning properties in Finchley and Golders Green; as did the family of John Marsh, who married Sarah Nichol and took over running the farm following the premature death of her brother Thomas jnr.

The Stauntons, who owned some freehold and farmed land and manufactured bricks and tiles at the Pindar of Wakefield innship on Gray’s inn Lane (their patriarch an important radical Presbyterian preacher in the Long Parliament) had come from rural Surrey, while the Gray’s who leased land from them originated from Essex owning properties in the village of Shoreditch.

The Tows, meanwhile, who leased a brickworks at the Brill (the site of the St Pancras British Library) and fattened cows for Smithfield live meat market on land now occupied by the St Pancras International rail terminal had migrated from Berkshire, owning a freehold brickworks near Windsor Great Park.

Of humbler origins, the Gurneys worked as labourers in the fields and brickworks, the women serving in the local inns and taverns. On his death James, the patriarch of the family,  is described in the St Pancras registers as ‘stranger’, his having moved to the parish from neighbouring St Mary’s Islington but never acquired a settlement. The license to run the King’s Arms public house by the Battle Bridge and crossroads will have been granted in lieu of a parochial pension.

His simple alehouse was immediate neighbour to the higher status White Hart tavern, run by Mr Robert Kettlewell, a cadet member of a local gentry family. In the King’s Aid rolls from which the exact locations of these and other family businesses and households have been identified, and also in the parish registers, several individual householders are given the title ‘Mr’ although technically as non-gentry families they were not entitled to it.

However, as successful businessmen (and women, the economically active widow Mrs Roakes received the title in the registers, even though her late husband when proprietor of the Brill Farm had not) the honorific was acknowledgement of the rising importance of trade and business in the life of the country, the future King’s Cross St Pancras then positioned at the head of steadily accelerating agricultural, commercial and social revolutions that would in time transform the world.

excerpt from b4kxstp1.05: black mary's hole & bagnigge house:

black mary's hole...

“Black Mary’s little Sodom, famed of old
For odious prostitutes, more fit to fire
The reins, than cool the am’rous youth’s desire.
Where all the scum of infamy repair’d
To sooth their flaming lusts for small reward”.

The Field spy, Ned Ward (1713)

The landscape that gave cause for the site to be so named has by now been lost, the hillside scalped during the C18 for brick clay for use by a neighbouring tile and chimney pot works and the road and buildings subsequently raised from the valley floor with up to 15 feet of built earth. Dominated nowadays by the King’s Cross Holiday Inn, the tree-lined terrace of early-C19 villas on Lloyd Baker Street opposite, rising above the Union Tavern on the corner to Amhurst Street, looks pretty enough; but the topography represented on Roque’s 1746 map (which uses hatching rather than contour lines) yet suggests that while by no means Alpine, Pennine nor even Chiltern in its grandeur, the natural feature here this close to sea level would have undoubtedly impressed visitors.

It certainly made a strong impression on the antiquarian, John Conyers, citizen apothecary of Shoe Lane, Holborn; so much so as to lead him to believe he had discovered here the valley of a long lost and mighty river that in a great arc had at one time surrounded the site of the City of London. His great scheme resulted from his discovery in December 1679 of elephant bones and tusks, “in ye side of ye River over against Black Mary’s in great pits that were made for Gravel, where in some places 9 foot deep & others at 12 was found here and there sometimes one tooth & sometimes another...”

The Fleet had flooded that summer, the torrent likely to have exposed the archaeological finds. But while the topography of the Thames Plain was indeed prehistorically refashioned by vast movements of water following the retreat of glaciers 12,000 years ago (and the sinking beneath the North Sea of the continental land bridge now named Doggerland), it is unclear how Conyers dreamt up his River Mores, as he called his discovery.

It apparently flowed to the River Lee east of the City from as far as the Cambridgeshire Fens, “passing down by Circumference from thence to Finchley Common & so leaving Hampstead on ye right by a natural Course coming down to Pancras, and so along leaving Pindar of Wakefield on ye right at last Disembogues into ye Thames; going down by Black Mary’s hole where it appeareth to have reached formerly crossing the highway going to Gray’s Inn going from ye Pindar of Wakefield, the breadth of which being near twenty Score of my Paces up & down”.

Conyer was an important antiquarian. His methodical approach to his collection of ancient objects purchased from workmen at City sites such as St Paul’s Cathedral earned him the reputation as the first Englishman to “fully collect, excavate, classify, describe and analyse the physical remains of our human past”,1 considered by some to be London’s first archaeologist.

His speculations were also to prove of some commercial value to the local pleasure industry, adding to the spurious antiquarian claims of the district. Digging at Black Mary’s Hole he had also discovered “a British weapon made of flint dextrously shaped by their extraordinary skill…” and proposed that the elephants had died in the battle between the Romans and the army of Bodicea.

Further discoveries of a 3ft 10in anchor in the Fleet at Black Mary’s, and another in the river near the Elephant and Castle, just north of St Pancras old church are recorded by Pinks. He claimed them as proof of a Danish fleet having navigated upstream. Certainly parties of Viking raiders were quite capable of sailing in shallow streams, their flat-bottomed boats light enough to be carried overland on their shoulders when seeking new watercourses. The river will, however, certainly have been used for more peaceful purposes, its waters too valuable a means of transportation not to be utilised.

But the nearest in size the Fleet ever got to the Great Morus would be at times of flood. The earliest of several recorded deluges was in 1317 when, following a prolonged drought storms sent a raging torrent down the valley, destroying the wooden Holborn Bridge and carrying away houses, men, women and children. The 1679 flood had sent the carcases of cattle and barrels of ale and spirits crashing into Hockley in the Hole on the edge of built up Clerkenwell.

And even after 1692, in which year the Hampstead Aqueducts Partnership was incorporated to dig the ten still surviving Hampstead and Highgate ponds on the two branches of the river on the Heath, over the following century several storms yet turned the valley floor below into a vast temporary lake. As late as 1818 water stretched for over a mile from the church to Black Mary’s, submerging Battle Bridge village, the newspapers reporting dramatic rescues from basement premises: the district was by then undergoing its accelerating development of terraced housing

The first enclosure at the southern end of Bagnall Marsh had been in 1663, with the grant by the manor court of a plot of waste measuring just under 50 square meters to Abraham Hargreave.2 He cultivated the land for a few years, selling it in 1670 to Thomas Alcock who built a house he let to George Bradshaw, the property coming into possession of the Morgan family in 1707. The Morgans built a good brick wall around the property that survived for many years as a local landmark, the property known as the Garden House.  

The leet court had powers to impose restrictions on the uses new copyholders could put their land to. In 1665 George and Grace Touffie were granted an approximately 60 square meters parcel of waste between a small Fleet tributary near the wooden footbridge over the river at Black Mary’s Hole, and a footpath that ran to Pindar of Wakefield. Conditions were attached to prevent Touffie from burning bones there, which practise in the past had caused great offence to his neighbours in both St Pancras and Clerkenwell parishes. If he continued to do so he would lose possession of the copyhold (it would be “lawful for the Lord to re-enter the premises”), such noxious trades the cause of controversy locally for many years to come.

Touffie retained his copyhold until 1701, when he sold it to William Clarkson who three years later was presented at the manor court for encroaching on the highway by digging a ditch there and planting trees. Three further copyhold parcels between the road and the river were granted to Londoners during the reign of Charles II, records including references to neighbours the Midwinters and the Beckets, a servant Mary Waring who died in September 1704 having served in both households. The southern-most plot came in time into the possession of a William Camden, citizen cloth worker, whose widow Mary in 1759 sold it to Bryan Philpot, a City merchant. By now the site was already occupied by several small cottages known as Brook’s Gardens and Brook’s Row (later Clarke’s Place),

The exact sites of the original alehouses and brothels are unknown, but the Proceedings recount how in April 1690 three men in soldiers’ uniforms attacked the main tavern here, Black Mary’s House kept by Elizabeth Kennedee, widow. They took away pewter plates, porringers, some pots and linen and divers other small goods. The men, Andrew Browne, William Rolph and William Bristow, “came in at the House window, swearing that they would kill the first that should oppose them”. The specifics of the prosecution case were vague, that “Bristow had some Linen found in his Breeches” and “some Plates were thrown over the Pales, which Kennedee owned to be hers… the House was full of People before they came, and beset, roundabout, it being an ill house”.

But the defence was even vaguer, only that “They endeavoured to extenuate the Crime, notwithstanding they were all three brought in Guilty.” In fact only Bristow had ever served as a soldier. All three hanged.

The rolls show Lucy Lee as landlady in the following decade and soon after Isaac and Margaret Gibbes kept the house, registering childbirths in 1704 and 1705. George Mills, “a poor soldier from Black Mary’s House”, was buried on New Year’s Day 1714. Perhaps he was a resident bouncer, although serving soldiers might be billeted in such houses. The previous summer the Field Spy had confirmed the area’s continuing low reputation. Having depicted several prostitutes and their cullies roaming the Mantels in search of one another, Ward describes the central role Black Mary’s Hole has in the proceedings, how: “Towards this spot, which in a hollow stands,

Shy lechers steered with Harlots in their hands,
High dressed with daggled tails, and out at heels,
Picked up as strolling round the dewy fields...”

The newly met couples are seeking temporary accommodation in the riverside huts, to hire a bed in which to consummate their lust.

1.      John Conyers, London’s First Archaeologist, J Burnby, London &Middlesex Archaeology Society # 35

2.      LCC Survey of London vol 24 (1952)

 ... & bagnigge house

“But if you would have good Liquor and good usage, with a Dish of Innocent Fun, repair to Andrew Andras’s at Bagnigge House.” Vade Mecum for Malt Worms, Ned Ward (1712)

Soon afterwards a Mr Reynolds taking-over the main tavern changed its name to the Fox at Bay, possibly a pun on ‘Raynard the Fox’ but alluding also to the fugitive situation of many of its patrons. There was also a low alehouse nearby called the Rising Sun, whose keepers John and Sarah Beckett had buried two children in 1704. The drowning in their pond of a servant, John, the son of their neighbours the Midwinters, suggests the possibility of some melodrama; or maybe not.

Over the following century the magistrates regularly suppressed the main house, which in the 1740s was renamed the Spaw Tavern as part of a failed re-launch intended to exploit the waters of the ancient well. The projector of this scheme was John Rhodes, landlord of the Goat and Leek in equally fearsome Black Boy Alley, one of the most notorious Clerkenwell rookeries (he also had connections to the Brill, and so probably also to the Rhodes farming family). By the 1760s the house was called the Bull and Pound, its present name Union Tavern finally adopted on New Year’s Day 1800 in celebration of the Act of Union uniting the crowns of Great Britain (England and Scotland) with Ireland.

The new pub was respectable enough, having a minor tea garden between 1844 and 1860, in which year the premises fell into the cut and cover trench dug on its doorstep by the builders of the Metropolitan line (the first ever underground railway). It was replaced with the surviving be-mirrored gourmet pub premises, for many decades an upstairs room a popular venue for folk music: in the late-1960s Christy Moor made his London debut appearance here at a club run by Ewan MacColl, the Clash’s some-time fiddler Tymon Dogg also running a club here in the 1980s.

Hotels, small shops/eateries and housing now line King’s Cross Rd (anciently the Bagnigge Wash) including the remnant of a terrace of early Victorian houses separating the old tavern from the modern Farringdon and neighbouring Royal Scott King’s Cross Travel Lodges. Clarke’s Place opposite was knocked down in 1894 to make way for the 678-bed Rowton House hostel for workingmen, from 1960 trading as the Mount Pleasant Hotel providing cramped and substandard accommodation for homeless families. It was demolished in the 1990s following the tragic death of a resident child who fell down a stair well, making way for the 405-bed luxury King’s Cross Holiday Inn.

For many years the most significant property hereabouts, Bagnigge House took its name from the marsh. It was by no means palatial, but by local standards still rather grand, built in 1676 on a 40 sq meter plot next to the river by Mrs Elizabeth Cooke of St Giles’s Cripplegate. The widow of a 1665 plague victim Simon Thriscrosse, Elizabeth had soon after married a Holborn butcher Thomas Cooke, possibly a relative of the John Cooke recently granted the nearby copyhold.

The couple never lived here, residing at the husband’s house in town. But in 1681 Elizabeth acquired a copyhold on an additional 50 square meters to the immediate north of her new house. The double gabled building with its large garden was let on a 40 years lease to Richard Salsbury, his membership of the Vintners Company a license to sell wine, a general license for the sale of alcohol obtained from the court leet in 1689.

Cooke joined ownership of the copyholds with her son Mr Simon Thriscrosse, a citizen goldsmith with premises at Ludgate, who now set his initials on a stone inscription to a carved head set in a roadside wall: ST - This is Bagnigge House neare the Pindar of Wakefield, 1680.

The removal and preservation of the stone when the old property was knocked down, and its survival today in the façade of 61 and 63 King’s Cross Road (part of a mixed row of mid-C19 houses) is due to the efforts of a then unique pressure group set up in the early 1860s. The successful campaigners went on to establish the Blue Plaque scheme which, adopted by the Royal Society of Arts in 1866, has since placed commemorative tablets on the residences of more than 800 famous Londoners.

Phillip Moore is shown to be the landlord of the tavern in 1693-94, paying a substantial £3.4s aid on the premises, though he died in October that year with the license taken over by John and Elizabeth Wright: when this Elizabeth died, the register refers to her husband as “a carpenter of Hatton Garden, but died at Cooke’s house in Black Mary’s Hole”. By 1712 Andrew Andrews (aka, Andras) was the landlord, Ned Ward celebrating the house in an unapologetic plug, the Vade mecum for malt worms. Andrews was still alive in 1721 when he served as constable of the St Pancras southern division, although it is unclear whether he remained at the tavern.

In 1698 Simon Thriscrosse had migrated with his wife Hannah and two children to Barbados, dying the following year. Elizabeth Cooke died in 1714, aged 86, the copyhold passing to another son, the 46-years old Thomas Cooke who was also a goldsmith. His mother had earlier disinherited Thomas with just 1s, for “the extravagance and stubbornness of his person and the wickedness of his nature”. According to her will, he “did expose me to the world and bring several women to search me if I was not a witch to have me burnt…”

It is possible that Elizabeth had become senile, having left the bulk of her estate to a Holborn neighbour, Thomas Houley (“who has been very assisting to me in my necessity...”). The son challenged the will and had the Bagnigge copyhold made over to him, though when he made his will there is no trace of his mother’s further freehold and copyhold tenements and land in Essex, mostly around Plaistow, and a lease in Southwark held from the Bishop of Winchester. Perhaps he had sold them off.

On his death in 1719 Thomas left the Bagnall Marsh copyholds to his wife Hannah. Their daughter, also Hannah, had been christened twenty years earlier, and although there is no mention of her in his will she could have already received a share of her grandmother’s estate.

Over the following decades ownership of Bagnigge House was further disputed, by 1715 the name temporarily changed to the Garden of Eden when a Thomas Bonfield was landlord. A crime tsunami sweeping London and its environs at this time might have discouraged the better class of patron attracted to the tavern during Salsbury and Andrew’s management, especially with ever dangerous Black Mary’s Hole close by.

With further development of the fields disrupted by the financial crisis occasioned by the bursting in 1720 of the South Sea Bubble, development of the wider district faltered. But when Thomas Hughes purchased the by then abandoned Bagnigge House his discovery soon after of springs in its garden prompted the rebuilding in 1758 of the house and the following year the launch of the Bagnigge Wells Pleasure Gardens. The resort grew rapidly, taking over neighbouring copyholds and farmland to be laid out as walks with covered bowers, and long and pump rooms.

While Vauxhall and Ranelagh Gardens to the west of London attracted the Ton, Bagnigge Wells after a brief period of ultra-fashion became the resort of commoners. In a short while it became more famous than White Conduit House or even Sadler’s Wells as the most popular resort of the Citizen and mechanic classes, many of them in the 1770s adopting (or perhaps more accurately ‘adapting’) their own mode. The tale of the local C18 pleasure gardens will be told in The Macaroni mash-up: popular fashion, luxuries & the fancy, with also an account of style among ‘those without fashion’. 1

During the C19 the house became a gin palace with a small though not insignificant stage for variety acts and penny concerts, its grounds the main works and yard of the Cubbit brothers, William and Thomas, the builders of large tracts of Victorian suburban London, including the King's Cross mainline terminal. The site is now occupied by the low-rise brick houses of the 1980s late modern New Calthorpe estate, built around the Fleet and Wells Squares, with more recent social housing and des res properties built on Cubbit Street.

  1. The London Pleasure Gardens of the C18, Warwick William Wroth (1896); Bygone pleasures of London, WS Scott (1948) 

table of contents

excerpt from chapter 1:
(b4kxstp1.01: see preview)

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