Time Travel Explorer Blog

Mapping Jack the Ripper: 3. Elizabeth Stride and Berner Street

by Matt Brown 11. February 2011 10:59

The third 'canonical' victim of Jack the Ripper, Elizabeth Stride, was found with her throat cut in a yard off Berner Street, south of Commercial Road, on 30 September 1888. The body was discovered still oozing blood - the Ripper had almost been caught in the act.

As with other posts in this series, I won't dwell on the circumstances surrounding her death, as the internet is already full of such accounts. Instead, this post will look at how the area around the site has developed over the centuries, using the Time Travel Explorer app.



The two earliest views, 1749  and 1799, show the area as undeveloped. Commercial Road, to the north, was not constructed until the early 19th Century, although a similar east-west track (White Horse Lane) is in existence. The murder site sits on the boundary of two parcels of land. In the earlier view, farmland or orchards lay to the north while pasture land is to the south. A few cottages and farm buildings can be found nearby on Church Lane.


Stride forward, if you'll excuse the pun, thirty years and we see a very different picture. Commercial Road has been constructed, linking the docks to the City, and with it came countless streets of houses and tenements. For a shocking account of life in these slums at the turn of the 20th Century, I recommend Jack London's The People of the Abyss.

Elizabeth Stride, like most prostitutes, was a denizen of these mean streets and lived in the notorious criminal rookery of Flower and Dean Street, Spitalfields at the time of her death. The place where she met her end, off Berners Street and known as Dutfield's Yard, is indicated by the red dots. The yard is not labelled as such in any of the views, but you can see what a warren of passages and service spaces the area supported. Happy hunting ground for a knife-wielding man of shadows.

Today, Berners Street is known as Henriques Street after philanthropist Basil Henriques. The yard is long gone, although its location was photographed before development. An image of the site today can be found here.

Previously: Annie Chapman, Mary Ann Nichols

'Thank God for the quiet grave'

by Peter Watts 3. February 2011 10:00

So far on this blog we have concentrated on the ways in which old maps allow us to see the ways in which London has changed, but now let us consider how it can sometimes stay the same, for centuries. And where better to start than a graveyard, the ‘quiet grave’ spoken of by Keats in the blog title.

St George’s Gardens in Bloomsbury, close to the Foundling Museum, was once the burial grounds of two churches - St George-the-Martyr in Queen Square and Nicholas Hawksmoor’s St George, Bloomsbury. These days they are a peaceful and well-tended spot, containing little of note other than a Chapel of Rest, a statue that used to belong to the Apollo Theatre on Tottenham Court Road and – for fans of Iain Sinclair – a decent-sized obelisk in one corner. The burial grounds were said to have been laid out by Hawksmoor, and he is also believed to have designed the monument for Robert Nelson, who was the first man buried here in 1715.

Then, St George’s Gardens were a spot on the very edge of the city and these were the first London burial grounds to be laid out at a distance from their church. As can be seen in the map of 1746, they were in the middle of fields north of London with barely a building in the sight. The two burial grounds lie at an angle, adjacent to each other – and today a series of stones down the centre shows how the cemetery was once divided into two parts, one for each of the two churches that shared the space.

Fifty years later, in 1799, strikingly little had changed and the burial ground was still adrift amid the fields of soon-to-be London.

Skip forward to 1830, though, and we are looking at a different picture. Bloomsbury was now very much in evidence, with streets surrounding the burial grounds on all side. Still, though, they retain their distinctive shape and were almost certainly still in use - most central London burial grounds were only closed in 1850 when the Burial Act led to the construction of the giant cemeteries at Nunhead, Kensal Green and elsewhere. It's believed St George's carried on burying the dead of London until 1855. 

After closing, many burial grounds were simply built over, but St George's survived. Here it is in 1862, almost completely unchanged.

In 1885 it was converted into a park, but most of the graves and memorials were left intact. And here it is today, a serene scene of familiar constancy for almost 300 years, while London has changed all around it. People often find graveyards to be a peaceful retreat from the modern world, and this could be one of the reasons why.

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.


Mapping Jack the Ripper: 1. Mary Ann Nichols and Durward Street

by Matt Brown 19. December 2010 18:36

Shortly before dawn on the morning of Friday 31 August 1888 the body of Mary Ann Nichols was discovered north of Whitechapel Road, in Buck's Row (now Durward Street). Her throat was torn and her abdomen haphazardly sliced. The unfortunate Mary was to go down in history as the first ‘canonical' victim of Jack the Ripper.

Thousands of books and newspaper articles have been written about the Whitechapel murders of 1888, so I refer you to the Wikipedia article, which contains a decent reference list. In this series, I will instead focus on the streets of East London in which the murders were committed, and explore the local history using Time Travel Explorer.

The murder of Mary Ann Nichols took place just behind Whitechapel station, in the interstices between rail routes that now carry the District and London Overground lines. A map from around the time of the murders (not on TTX) shows the spot.

If we now travel back in time to 1746 (see above), we find a very different picture. The area is largely undeveloped. Even the plots fronting what is now Whitechapel Road are chiefly taken by orchards and gardens. The murder scene is a broad track known as Ducking Pond Row. Fans of psychogeography might point to an historical resonance here - that the scene of this first Ripper murder has a long history of maltreatment of women. If you scroll east on the 1746 map, you'll see the ducking pond, where nagging wives and suspected witches were once punished. Today, according to Time Travel Explorer, the pond is a Sainsburys car park.

The Mount, Whitechapel.

Still in 1746, and just south of the main road, we see an unusual patch of land known as Whitechapel Mount. Contemporary illustrations show this to have been a substantial mound, and its origins - whether manmade or natural - are uncertain. The area adjacent was known as Mount fields, and stands empty in the 1746 map.

Moving forward to 1799 (above, right, compared with the 1746 map, left), and both the Mount and the ducking pond have seemingly vanished (although this is more to do with the mapmakers' choices of what to include rather than actual absence; the Mount was disassembled in the early 19th Century). The area north of Whitechapel Road remains largely undeveloped and the murder site retains the name Ducking Pond Row. This is also the earliest map in which we see the London Hospital, just south of Whitechapel Road. This was constructed on the Mount fields in 1757, with clear views across open fields to the south.

As we leap forward to 1830 (above, left), big changes are afoot. The name Ducking Pond Row is still present, but we now see Bucks Row along its northern stretch for the first time. The area is becoming industrialised, with the presence of a distillery and warehousing. To the north-west a quaker burial ground has been established. South of the main road, the area of the Mount has been replaced with Mount Street, Terrace and Row (Mount Terrace remains to this day - a final reminder of the long-vanished landmark).

Finally, we head to 1862 (above, right), 26 years before the murders. The road is now firmly established as Bucks Row, and their is no mention of the ducking pond. Smith & Co.'s distillery and other industrial buildings remain, along with large residential developments. The area was to change once again before the murder of Mary Ann Nichol. A contemporary map (not in TTX) shows the changes reaped by construction of the two railway lines through the area.

Soon after the murder, the street was changed to Durward Street, as it remains today. A walk along Durward Street still reveals a mish-mash of residential and warehouse buildings. The area is set for further big changes, however, with the construction of a new Crossrail station over the coming decade.

Mapping London's gates

by Peter Watts 14. December 2010 11:07

Walk just west of St Paul's Cathedral along Ludgate Street and just before you reach Old Bailey - the street not the building - switch your TTX app to John Rocque's 1746 map. The thick black line in the middle of the road is Ludgate, one of the seven London gates that marked the old entrance and exit points to the City. Scoot up and you'll see another at Newgate and east of that is Aldersgate. Elsewhere was Cripplegate, Mooregate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate. 

These gates were not destined to last much longer after Rocque mapped them so diligently. In 1760, the City asked Parliament for permission to widen 'inconvenient avenues' arguing that these gates no longer provided any real security and, hilariously, 'obstructed the free current of air'. Demolishment began that year.

Ludgate had existed as a prison since Richard II and was said to be named after King Lud. Newgate was also, infamously, a prison and had been restored by Dick Whittington, but these historic buildings were swept away without little thought to what else could be done with them. Cripplegate was sold to a carpenter for £91. Moorgate was used to shore up London Bridge, the rest just disappeared. Should the City have done more to preserve these extraordinary buildings, as it did Temple Bar, now relocated from Fleet Street to Paternoster Square?

Perhaps, but preservation of the past has never been London's strong point. Still, it's comforting to know these gates still exist on London maps and can be reconstrucuted once again by the TTX app, a physical reminder of the security of the past. 


Unmapped: why Ordnance Survey tried to hide the Post Office Tower

by Peter Watts 18. November 2010 10:22

Post Office Tower


Thanks to Rocque, Horwood and Greenwood, London mapping was already an established art by 1848, but despite some extravagant detailing, none of these commercial cartographers took accuracy quite as seriously Ordnance Survey. That’s because the OS were a military body who made their first maps (of the South Coast) in anticipation of a French invasion from Napoleon, so considered forensic accuracy to be their martial duty. Their staggeringly detailed maps of the capital took two years to produce and the results were remarkable, if completely unusable for the average punter, who really didn’t need to know the size and shape of every single office within the Bank of England – unless they were preparing the mother of all bank jobs, that is.

The OS also cartographers wanted to incorporate height differences into their maps – something that even the likes of Wren had ignored in his post-fire map – so they set up a succession of highly placed ‘control points’ or ‘observatories’ from which they could view the streets of London from above to better gauge its hills and valleys. One such vantage point was placed right on top of St Paul’s Cathedral, which must have provided an extraordinary viewing point over London in the days before tower blocks and skyscrapers. Other high points selected for this process included natural hills and factory chimneys.

Ironically given its supposed accuracy, Ordnance Survey later became best known for an absence of one particular high point. For years, the unmistakable – and unmissable - Post Office Tower was deliberately left off OS maps because it was deemed to be an ‘official secret’ and therefore of such great military importance nobody was allowed to know about it even though it had become one of the most recognisable buildings in Britain as soon as it was opened by Tony Benn, and had even appeared in early episodes of Doctor Who. It did not make it onto OS maps until well into the 1990s, by which time the tower was more than 30 years old.

Men Behind the Maps: John Rocque

by Matt Brown 12. November 2010 17:23

The earliest map on Time Travel Explorer London is also one of the most famous in the capital’s history. The John Rocque map of 1747 was far and away the most detailed up to that time, surpassing many of those that followed. Unlike earlier maps, the Rocque charts show the innumerable alleys and courts as well as the main thoroughfares. It stands as one of our greatest sources on the early Georgian city.

But who was John Rocque? His early years are a little shady. We know he was born no later than 1709, when he moved to London from France with his parents and three siblings - a family of Huguenots fleeing religious persecution on the continent. ‘Jean’, as he was originally known, seems to have taken to horticulture as a young man, and produced plans and diagrams of several notable gardens in the south-east in his 20s and 30s while living with his brother Bartholomew, himself a landscape gardener. He built up a solid reputation as a cartographer and engraving, working from premises in Great Windmill Street, Soho.

His masterpiece came in 1737. The map of London took ten years to produce, and was carried on 24 separate sheets. It is a work of both beauty and clarity, as can be readily seen in Time Travel Explorer. As well as recording the centre of London in great detail, it also stretches out to regions of farmland and hamlets that we now think of as relatively central parts of London. To the North, much of Bloomsbury and Kings Cross are little more than fields, with the River Fleet still flowing openly down from Hampstead. West, and Knightsbridge is shown as ‘the Five Fields’. South of the river, villages such as Newington and Walworth are surrounded by open country. While to the East, development is limited mostly to the ancient tracks of Old Kent Road and Mile End Road.

The map’s success led to Rocque’s appointment as cartographer to the Prince of Wales in 1751. He went on to construct maps of other cities, counties and the whole country. He married twice, first to a lady known as Marthe, and later to a Mary-Ann Bew. The latter carried on the family business after Rocque’s death in January 1762.

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