Lock: lock

During this time of Lockdown, it seems rather appropriate to be writing about a Lock. [OK – it’s a contrived connection. I happen to like contrivance!] Two little girls who were pupils at the School in 1851 share a history of waterways which converged, you might say, in a lock on a Hertfordshire river. Well, to be fair, only one of them ended up at the Lock and even then only briefly and the other nowhere near it but what the heck – why waste a contrivance?

Ann Morton and Jane Maria Morton – the same surname is not a coincidence – were both pupils between about 1849 and 1855. Both lived in Bishop’s Walk, Lambeth before arriving at the School.

Above image of Bishop’s Walk from http://www.ideal-homes.org.uk/lambeth/lambeth-assets/galleries/lambeth-north/bishops-walk-1860

Their addresses made the Archbishop of Canterbury a neighbour although popping round to borrow a cup of sugar was probably not high on a list of priorities. The girls were in fact cousins, daughters of two brothers, Richard and George, both Thames watermen.

The London waterman’s job was to transport people across the Thames before there were many bridges. London Bridge had been the only crossing for centuries. The next bridge upstream was at Kingston which is an awful long way to go if you were in Westminster and you wanted to get to Lambeth.


The watermen of London carried passengers safely – mostly – across the river and they continued to ply this trade until road transport improved enough to make the risks of a water-crossing less palatable than the chances of meeting a highwayman or other brigand on the roadways. Additionally, steam boats were making an appearance in the early C19th and for George Morton in particular, this spelled disaster. The petition for his daughter to attend RMIG gave that his trade as waterman and his business of hiring out boats had been damaged by the steam boat trade. Although he continued to operate as a waterman, he also became a Customs House officer, probably to make ends meet, and possibly using his own boat. Smuggling, against which the Customs House waged war, was big business and required big solutions. Although Customs House would have had its own boats, it also hired other boats which

‘were generally taken up with their crews complete, [and] only one Customs officer shipping with them when there was work to be done.’ https://www.shippingwondersoftheworld.com/customs.html

Whether George acted as the Customs House officer on his own boat or was one of the ‘surveyors, land waiters, tide waiters, coast waiters, boatmen, riding surveyors and many other ratings’ that were part of the service is an unknown.

His older brother Richard seemed to fare worse and shortly before his daughter Jane Maria joined the School, he left the watermen’s trade and took up a job as a licensed victualler, appropriately enough at the Waterman’s Arms. Paris Street, Lambeth. In 1847, however, he was to be found in gaol, quite possibly for debt. When Jane left the School in 1855, she was ‘Delivered to her father residing at Lambeth – who said he should find employment for her at home.’ (Minute Book 167) so by that stage he was no longer a gaolbird.

Jane’s cousin, Ann, had left school a year earlier and been returned to her family in King’s Bench Walk, Lambeth. As the name suggests, this was a road near to the King’s Bench prison in Southwark.

King’s Bench Prison and Horsemonger Lane Gaol section of “Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace”

The map above shows the position of the prison, which is possibly where Richard had been held previously, and tucked away in the north-west corner can be seen King’s Bench Walk.

In 1860, Ann married Charles Stolte, a printer’s compositor, and she continued to live in close proximity to the river for the rest of her life: Lambeth, Bermondsey and Southwark. She had six children and outlived all but two of them as the 1911 census informs us. It also tells us that Ann was a state pensioner which, from 1909, paid people over the age of seventy the sum of five shillings a week. Currently it is £175 per week (before tax).

Jane, meanwhile, had left the Thames but staying in the vicinity of water was found with her father at Ware (Where? Yes, it’s an old joke.) Specifically in the lock keeper’s cottage, as Richard had become said lock keeper.


The name Ware, incidentally, is from the Anglo-Saxon for weir so Ware Weir is tautology.


http://www.leeandstort.co.uk/Ware_Lock.htm Modern day image of Ware Lock from By Stephen Dawson, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4337269

Richard and his wife Sophia were at the lock from at least April 1861 and were present there for two census returns, including the one that Jane was living with them (1861). The original seventeenth century lock had been replaced in 1832 and the photograph (above left) dates from c1900, showing it at its original width of 14 feet. It was widened in 1922 to 16 feet. In 1793, the lock keeper was paid £18 3s per year and there was a toll of 1s 6d to use it. A modern lock keeper on the R. Lee (2012) was paid c£13,000 a year and the job entailed not just aiding boaters to navigate the lock and the upkeep of the lock and its workings but also to control water levels by the use of the lock and weir. In times of flood, this becomes very important.

Image of Ware Weir By Jamsta at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7747116

The lock keeper was granted use of a cottage so that he was available at all times.

It is unclear whether either of these is the cottage lived in by the Mortons but they suffice to give an idea of the sort of accommodation supplied.

Jane Maria Morton married in 1863 and went back to London where she remained for the rest of her life which was, in fact, shorter than her slightly older cousin as she died in 1896. Jane was technically the lock keeper’s daughter but probably only briefly before she scurried back to the City. A pity because, otherwise, we might claim the following extract from John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga to be appropriate.

Ware has a nice literary connection of its own as one of Chaucer’s pilgrims hailed from the town. The Cook identifies himself as Hodge [ie Roger] of Ware: “I highte Hogge of Ware”

But we cannot leave Ware without drawing attention to another literary connection relating to the School’s history. Around the Great Hall today can be found the Frampton literary windows created in the 1890s and transferred from Clapham when the School moved. 36 windows illustrate various literary works and one of these is Cowper’s comic poem John Gilpin. Or to give it its full title: The Diverting History of John Gilpin Shewing how he went Farther than he intended, and came safe Home again.

From the Cowper window

The story of the poem is that John Gilpin’s wife decides it is time for a holiday but, as there would be no room in the coach for John, what with all the children and the luggage etc, he must follow behind on horseback. Unfortunately not being the most proficient of horsemen, John soon finds himself in bother.

The snorting beast began to trot,            

  Which galled him in his seat.

So, ‘Fair and softly,’ John he cried,                 

  But John he called in vain;         

That trot became a gallop soon,

  In spite of curb and rein

John ends up hanging on for dear life. He loses his hat, he loses his wig and passers-by think he must be in a race for a £1000 prize and cheer him on. He reaches Edmonton, the holiday destination, but the horse gallops on and in vain does his wife hang out of the upstairs window telling him ‘Stop, stop, John Gilpin!—Here’s the house!’ The horse races on possibly because he has scented home – ‘Full ten miles off at Ware.’

Having arrived in Ware, minus hat and wig, his friend invites him to supper but John quite rightly points out that his wife is in Edmonton, it is his wedding anniversary and it would look a bit odd if ‘[My] wife should dine at Edmonton, / And I should dine at Ware’

He sets off again back to Edmonton. Alas and alack (as all good Victorian potboilers are inclined to say) the horse didn’t take kindly to it and galloped once more past the inn where Mrs Gilpin is waiting. She then sends the postboy after him on another horse which frightens the Gilpin steed even more. Then someone sees Gilpin galloping ahead of (apparently) a pursuer and sets up a cry of ‘Highwayman!’

It is comedy capers of the best sort only resolved when the horse runs out of puff back where he started in London. This long comedy narrative is far less well known today than it once was and we are fortunate that Frampton chose it for illustration in stained glass. The story’s connection to Ware, and the Morton connection to same, allows us to draw attention to it. Lockdown does have its positives.


Grateful thanks to SuBa for her sterling research into the Mortons and Ware Lock.

In the Somers time

1788 must have been an extraordinarily busy year for the Charity behind the School. Officially, it began on March 25th: ‘the Royal Cumberland Freemasons School, initiated Lady Day 1788’ (Morning Herald).  Until 1752, Lady Day was the start of the legal year, one of the quarter days (the others being Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas) and when year-long contracts were begun. Between this date and 5th January 1789, when the first pupils were taken in coaches to the Schoolhouse in Somers Town, all the preparations had to be made. This would have been an undertaking of no small proportion if it had proceeded like clockwork but in fact the School was not intended to be in Somers Town at all. The intended place was ‘Logie’s Academy’ [otherwise Lochee] in Little Chelsea.

London Chronicle, July 24, 1788

However, the Patroness, the Duchess of Cumberland, ‘took agin’ this – the records do not state why – and so another property suitable as a school had to be found and all the preparations begun again. This time it was successful and it was to the property in Somers Place East in Somers Town that fifteen little girls and a Matron were transported by coach in 1789.

Time to have a look at the first Schoolhouse and Somers Town itself.

Somers Town lay to the north of what we now call Euston Rd but which, at the time, was still referred to as the new road. This land ‘was acquired in the seventeenth century by the Cocks family, a member of whom was ennobled as Baron Somers in 1784 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)’ http://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-project/streets/somers_place_east.htm  The baronetcy had originally been created for John Somers in order that he might enter the House of Lords as Lord Chancellor to William III. On his death, it fell into abeyance but his sister, and heiress, married Sir John Cocks and their grandson became Baron Somers on his ennoblement.

The area now known as Somers Town was undeveloped until Euston Rd was built. It was mostly fields and some parts of it were used as rubbish dumps in an eighteenth century version of that modern scourge, fly-tipping.

‘When London ended at Euston Road in the 18th century, it was famous for being where the city chucked its rubbish in mountainous landfills.’ https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/jan/18/lets-move-to-somers-town-one-of-londons-best-kept-secrets

https://londontraveller.org/2014/04/03/bradshaws-hand-book-to-london-day-8-bagnigge-wells-exmouth-market-no-52/  writes that ‘Early in the last century Somers Town was a delightful and rural suburb, with fields and flowergardens [sic]. A short distance down the hill … were the then famous Bagnigge Wells, and close by the remains of Totten Hall, with the ‘Adam and Eve’ tea-gardens’

Image from http://www.sub-urban.com/lost-bagnigge/

Bagnigge Wells was a popular and fashionable spa with ‘a banqueting hall, gardens, bowling green and other entertainments on the banks of the Fleet River.’  (The London Encyclopedia) However, they gradually fell into disrepair and attracted a poorer class of clients and eventually closed in 1841.

The ‘Adam and Eve Tea Gardens [were] thought to have been established sometime in the early 1700s. With spacious gardens of fruit trees and arbours in the rear and side of the tavern, it became a destination for tea drinking parties, with room for skittles and Dutch-pins in the forecourt which was shadowed by large trees, tables and benches were placed for the visitors. A monkey, heron, parrots, wild fowl and gold-fish pond were also once boasted attractions.’ (ibid) Unfortunately, these began to be frequented by criminals and prostitutes and in the early 19th century they were shut by the magistrates.

In Somers Town, Jacob Leroux became the principal landowner under Lord Somers. He built a handsome property for himself and it is probable that his hand in design can be seen in the Schoolhouse and some extant buildings in Chalton St. In addition to housing and the laying out of basic streets, ‘a chapel was opened, and a polygon began in a square.’ Edward Walford, ‘Somers Town and Euston Square’, in Old and New London (1878), cited by British History Online.

‘The Polygon was a housing estate, a Georgian building with 15 sides and three storeys that contained 32 houses.’ https://www.theundergroundmap.com/article.html?id=51223


This image showing the Polygon on the left dates from 1850, long after the School had gone elsewhere, but it existed contemporaneously with the Schoolhouse. Mary Wollstonecraft died in childbirth there in 1797. The child that was born, of course, went on to write Frankenstein as Mary Shelley. Another author who lived in the Polygon, perhaps only briefly, is one whose name seems to crop up rather frequently in the School’s history: Charles Dickens. He ‘lived at No 17 in the 1820s shortly after his father, John Dickens, was released from debtors’ prison.’ www.theundergroundmap.com (cf) Dickens later made the Polygon a home for his Bleak House character Harold Skimpole. This somewhat unpleasant character, ‘in the habit of sponging [off] his friends’ (Wikipedia citing Nuttall) perhaps implies Dickens’ emotional response to his residence at the Polygon.

Map from http://www.theundergroundmap.com (cf)

The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1813 describes the area that became Somers Town as having ‘an excellent private road, belonging to the Duke of Bedford, and the fields along the road are intersected with paths in various directions. The pleasantness of the situation, and the temptation offered by the New Road, induced some people to build on the land, and the Somers places, east and west, arose’

All was going well ‘when some unforeseen cause arose which checked the fervour of building, and many carcases of houses were sold for less than the value of the building materials.’ Edward Walford (cf)

It would appear that his grand scheme did not bring as much profit as he would have liked and ‘war and recession forced down the value of property, and the neighbourhood soon acquired ‘shabby genteel’ status.’ https://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/somers-town/

The exact location of the School in Somers Place East is not recorded in the Minute books which supply much of the information about the School itself but it was a terrace on the north side of Euston Road just east of Chalton Street with houses numbered consecutively from 13–23, west to east.

‘According to the Survey of London, Somers Place East was “a commanding block of houses” (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952) presumably intended for well-to-do tenants’ http://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-project/streets/somers_place_east.htm

The only image we have of the first school house is an artist’s impression showing, presumably, the rear of the premises as it appears to have been drawn from the garden.

With any artistic impression, it is unknown how much liberty has been taken with the truth. However, the tree on the left and the steps mounting to an upper floor together could imply the end of a row of houses. Might this suggest that this property was therefore No 23, the last in the row?

When we consider today Georgian architecture and terracing, we envision a row of identical properties something like the image below:

The sketch of the School does not fit this idea. However, taking a modern photograph of part of Chalton St (from https://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/somers-town)

and putting it in juxtaposition to the above drawing reveals an interesting parallel:

It is clear that taller Georgian-style architecture was interspersed with lower pitched-roof buildings which suggests that the drawn image is an accurate rendition. As one building is shown from the front and the other from the rear, it is impossible to be sure but it gives food for thought. Could it be that the first Schoolhouse looked like that shown below and that this was Leroux’s signature architectural style?

The image above is an extant building in Chalton St whereas the original Schoolhouse has gone – as has Somers Place East. It appears on early maps but a combination of the misfortunes of Mr Leroux and further building in the area, eventually it becoming quite overcrowded, meant that ‘this district, rents being cheap, was largely colonised by foreign artisans, mostly from France, who were driven on our shores by the events of the Reign of Terror and the first French Revolution’ and the ‘rather fine’ terraces became attractive to ‘the exiles of the poorer class’ Edward Walford (cf) The area had started on a rapid downward slide.

Map of 1790
1837 map

In this later map, Somers Place East is still shown, as is the passageway to its rear – Weir’s Passage. By the time of the 1837 map, the School had long since left the area, moving south of the river in 1795. Within a few more years, Somers Place East had gone although Weir’s Passage remains which enables us to fairly accurately pinpoint where the Schoolhouse had been.

This modern map from https://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/somers-town/ showing Chalton St and Ossulton St allows that Somers Places East and West are now buried beneath a hotel (The Pullman, formerly Novotel) which incorporates the Shaw Theatre.


In fact, seated in the Shaw Theatre might place one almost exactly on the spot from which the drawing of the Schoolhouse may have been made all those years ago.

If land could speak, what stories might it tell of the school house that once occupied this very spot?