Time Travel Explorer Blog

Mapping Jack the Ripper: 2. Annie Chapman and Hanbury Street

by Matt Brown 28. January 2011 09:48

The second in a series looking at the changing street patterns around the Jack the Ripper murder sites.

Previously, I explored how the neighbourhood around Whitechapel Road changed before and after the murder on Durward Street of Mary Ann Nichols, the first Ripper victim. Today, I visit perhaps the most familiar of the murder scenes - Hanbury Street - where prostitute Annie Chapman met her end a few days after Nichols.

Today, the area is a bustling hive of activity, as the trendy set make their way among the various shops and venues of Spitalfields and Brick Lane. At the time of the Ripper, the neighbourhood would have been greatly impoverished. Many of the houses from that period remain in the streets south of Hanbury, although the murder site itself is now dominated by an unattractive car park building from the 1970s. However, an eerie record of the fatal back yard can be found on the excellent short film The London Nobody Knows, in which James Mason visits the soon to be demolished property in 1969.

But what can we learn about the location from maps? Booting up Time Travel Explorer lets us view these streets in five different periods.


Area around Hanbury Street in 1746 (left), 1799 (middle) and 1830 (right). Use the app to zoom in for more detail.

The first thing to note is the name. For much of its history, Hanbury Street was known as Brown's (or Browne's) Lane, after the original developer of the 17th Century. By 1746, the area is densely built up. A strong Gallic influence can be seen in the map, reflecting the neighbourhoods large Huguenot population, many of whom were silk weavers. The French Charity House, for example, stands roughly where you might find the All Saints store today. A French chapel can also be seen just south of Browns Lane. What would become the murder site stands almost opposite, in Black Swan Yard.

The remaining two maps shown above (1799 and 1830) reveal little else about the area, other than the growing influence and spread of the brewery, which came to dominate the area. Its buildings, although now used for other things, are still a prominent feature of Spitalfields.


Hanbury Street area in 1862 (left) and today (right).

Moving forward a half century and we note Commercial Street for the first time. It was cut through Whitechapel and Spitalfields in 1843-45 in order to clear slum property and better connect the two markets. The 1862 map shows how the Truman Hanbury Buxton brewery has now spread to cover several blocks. The French Chapel is now labelled up as a Wesleyan chapel, reflecting the area's ongoing non-conformist character. The map does not show the murder site in any detail, but the house (number 29) would have been in place by this time. Four years before the crime, a shelter for women was set up on Hanbury Street by Florence Soper, daughter-in-law of Salvation Army founder William Booth, offering a means to survive without resorting to prostitution. Sadly, its facilities did not prevent Annie Chapman from meeting her destiny on 8 September 1888.

Crossing the river: how bridges changed London maps

by Peter Watts 24. January 2011 11:57

I mentioned in my previous post the importance the building of new bridges had on London's topology, and that clearly be seen in the following sequence of images.

The first shows the bend in the Thames before Waterloo Bridge was built. This comes from the John Rocque map of 1746, at which time Westminster Bridge was being built and was soon to open. Until Westminster Bridge was completed in 1750, London had just the one bridge - London Bridge - between the City and Putney making large tracts of marshy south London almost completely unvisitable to North Londoners (no jokes please).

While the impact of Westminster Bridge can already be seen in the form of the main road that leads from the southern bank towards Newington, there are almost no buildings at all on the south side of the river, and the area around what will soon become Waterloo is almost completely unused.

This was even more pronounced in 1799, with the area leading from Westminster Bridge becoming denser and the road larger and more priminent, lined with houses and shops, while nearby Waterloo - even though Blackfriars Bridge had gone up in 1769 - is still all fields. 

That was to change abruptly with the arrival of Waterloo Bridge in 1817.

This map of 1830 shows how quickly the building of Waterloo Bridge effected the surrounding area on the south bank, as it rapidly became inhabited by roads, shops and houses. Many bridges were built across the river at around this period, including Lambeth Bridge in 1862, Hungerford Bridge in 1845 and Southwark Bridge in 1819. The jewels of south London were suddenly available to all. 

The railway lands of South London

by Peter Watts 17. January 2011 15:20

The Great Fire and Blitz did their damage, but it can be argued that nothing changed the topography of London quite as much as the railways. From 1836 these industrial interlopers began to arrive in London, the first in Bermondsey and Deptford, causing houses to be demolished and huge tracts of London to become divided by high-rise red-brick arches carrying trains above the streets.

North of the river, the stations were kept out of the centre by Parliament and developers and were slung instead in a great line from Paddington to Liverpool Street, like the new gates to an old metropolis. But in the south, they encroached right up to the river, often taking root in land that had only recently been inhabited. Here you can trace the arrival of the station at Waterloo, on land that in 1746 was almost completely unoccupied.

Here is the same land in 1830, now more densely occupied thanks to the explosion of bridge-building that allowed traffic to cross the river more easily than ever before.

By our next map of 1862, the station has arrived, plonked messily in the middle of the map with railway lines shooting off it. 

It's these lines that would have so much impact on South London, which to this day can resemble a face that has been slashed and scarred by raised arches, embankments and bridges. The area between Waterloo and London Bridge around Southwark Street is particularly bad. See the map of 1862, with just a single east-west line, and compare it with the spider-web of lines on a modern map.


This vast network of interlocking and overlapping lines goes a long way towards explaining why some people find South London so confusing and alienating. The railway line create dead ends where none should be and force the roads to take confusing shapes to find their way through bridges and arches. Felix Barker and Peter Jackson wrote in 'A History Of London In Maps' that 'with the excitement of children laying out nursery tracks, prodigally financed companies spread networks so liberally that by the end of the (19th) century maps resembled cats' cradles.

But there are some benefits to this South London railway land. The huge number of railway arches can easily be transformed into cheap commercial space, granting parts of south London around Vauxhall, London Bridge and Waterloo a night-time economy that people are happy to cross the river to take part in.

Travelling Through Time: Elephant and Castle

by Matt Brown 6. January 2011 11:47

No one knows for sure how Elephant and Castle got its curious appellation. The favoured explanation traces the name back to a local coaching inn owned by a cutler, whose guild arms include an elephant with a castle on its back. In turn, this emblem may be a rebus for ‘la Infanta de Castilla', any of a number of Spanish princesses who married into the English royal family in Medieval times. But it's all a bit vague and uncertain.

What is certain is that this busy junction has a long and fascinating history. As the site prepares for its latest transformation - a major redevelopment bringing new homes, shops and green spaces to the area - we can look back with Time Travel Explorer at previous incarnations.

The earliest record of settlement comes from the 13th Century, when the area was known as Newington. It remained a small village for the next few hundred years. If we go back to the earliest map on Time Travel Exploere (1746) the area appears semi-rural, with enclosed fields to the west and cultivated land to the east. Many of the major roads we know today are already present. Note the prominent triangle of land between the road known as Newington Butts and what we now call the Walworth Road. This precursor to the modern roundabouts is thought to be the ‘butt' in Newington Butts, as the word often refers to a miscellaneous corner of land.

Elephant and Castle in 1746 (left), 1799 (middle) and today (right).

Many of the buildings around the junction are named in the 1746 map (although you'll need to use the app to zoom in). On the junction with Newington Butts we find St Mary's church and churchyard, much of which remains today as a park and play area. Further north, the most prominent buildings are the fishmongers' alms houses. These attractive buildings last

ed until Victorian times. At the northern tip of the junction, where today Newington Causeway begins, we find a turnpike toll gate, standing beside the wide open space of St George's Fields. All these details remain in the more sketchy 1799 map, with the addition that St George's Fields are beginning to build up with developments. This is the E&C of Michael Faraday, who was born in the area in 1791. A memorial to the great scientist can be found in the centre of the modern roundabout.

Jump forward to our next map, 1830, and we see a very different picture. The entire area is now covered with housing and commercial buildings, although the triangular ‘butt' can still be discerned. The name Elephant and Castle appears on the map for the first time. Our final stop, in 1862, is most notable for the rail line, which cuts through the eastern side of the map. The toll gate has now been removed, and there is no sign of the ancient ‘butt'.

Elephant and Castle in 1830 (left), 1862 (centre) and today (right).

Although the area was devastated during the Second World War, the road layout remains essentially the same today - with the exception of the infamous roundabout system. However, a Victorian resident who could see the housing stock at Elephant today would be dumbfounded. In place of the simple two-storey dwellings of his or her day, the area is now replete with distinctive - if often unattractive - housing blocks. The slab-like 1970s Heygate and Aylesbury estates to the east and south of the roundabout would be utterly alien. Few people will lament their loss when they are finally demolished in the coming months. North-east of the roundabout is the somewhat more attractive Metro Central Heights by Ernő Goldfinger - a set of white apartment buildings from the 1960s. Looming over all is the distinctive Strata tower, completed last year and resembling a giant electric razor.

The changes to Elephant and Castle have been monumental, but greater changes are on the way.