Aldwych, WC2B

Road in/near Holborn, existing between 1905 and now

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Road · Holborn · WC2B ·
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2018

The name Aldwych derives from the Old English eald and wic meaning 'old trading town' or 'old marketplace'; the name was later applied to the street and district.

This map from the Aldwych and Kingsway 1905scheme gives some idea of the scale of the works. The buff area of development covers many of the streets that were demolished.
Credit: London County Council
In the seventh century, an Anglo-Saxon village and trading centre named Lundenwic ('London trading town') was established here approximately one mile to the west of Londinium. Lundenwic probably used the mouth of the River Fleet as a harbour or anchorage for trading ships and fishing boats. It was recorded as Aldewich in 1211 but then the name Aldwych largely disappeared from history for some 800 years.

The Aldwych and Kingsway scheme was the London County Council's first large urban improvement scheme in central London. It was opened in 1905 and signalled the council's vision of London as a modern city of tree-lined boulevards, office blocks and free-flowing traffic.

There had long been calls for a new route for traffic between Holborn and Fleet Street, but it was not until the London County Council came into existence that the scheme took shape. A new road was proposed between Holborn and Fleet Street. The slum properties and crowded alleys at the east end of the Strand would first have to be cleared, which was seen as a further advantage of the scheme.

Although modern in spirit, the scheme respected London's past. The new crescent at the south end was designed around the historic church of St Clement Danes. The Saxon-sounding name given to the new crescent, Aldwych, was chosen as a reminder of London's long history of continuous settlement.

The scheme's large boulevard, running north to Holborn, was named Kingsway in honour of Edward VII. A hundred feet wide, it was London's widest street and thoroughly modern in spirit, not least because a tunnel for electric trams ran beneath it. The building plots on either side of the new boulevard were leased to speculative builders, the intention being that this would become London's new commercial district.

Lundenwic - the original Aldwych - was 'rediscovered' in the 1980s after the results of extensive excavations were reinterpreted as being urban in character. Recent excavations in the Covent Garden area have uncovered an extensive Anglo-Saxon settlement, covering about 600,000-square-metre stretching from the present-day National Gallery site in the west to Aldwych in the east.


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This map from the Aldwych and Kingsway 1905scheme gives some idea of the scale of the works. The buff area of development covers many of the streets that were demolished.
London County Council


 

Holborn

Holborn is both an area and also the name of the area's principal street, known as High Holborn between St. Giles's High Street and Gray's Inn Road and then Holborn Viaduct between Holborn Circus and Newgate Street.

The area's first mention is in a charter of Westminster Abbey, by King Edgar, dated to 959. This mentions 'the old wooden church of St Andrew' (St Andrew, Holborn). The name Holborn may be derived from the Middle English hol for hollow, and bourne, a brook, referring to the River Fleet as it ran through a steep valley to the east.

It was at first outside the City's jurisdiction and a part of Ossulstone Hundred in Middlesex. The original Bars were the boundary of the City of London from 1223, when the City's jurisdiction was extended beyond the Walls, at Newgate, into the suburb here, as far as the point where the Bars where erected, until 1994 when the border moved to the junction of Chancery Lane. In 1394 the Ward of Farringdon Without was created, but only the south side of Holborn was under its jurisdiction with some minor properties, such as parts of Furnival's Inn, on the northern side.

The Holborn District was created in 1855, consisting of the civil parishes and extra-parochial places of Glasshouse Yard, Saffron Hill, Hatton Garden, Ely Rents and Ely Place, St Andrew Holborn Above the Bars with St George the Martyr and St Sepulchre. The Metropolitan Borough of Holborn was created in 1900, consisting of the former area of the Holborn District and the St Giles District, excluding Glasshouse Yard and St Sepulchre, which went to the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury. The Metropolitan Borough of Holborn was abolished in 1965 and its area now forms part of the London Borough of Camden.

In the 18th century, Holborn was the location of the infamous Mother Clap's molly house but in the modern era High Holborn has become a centre for entertainment venues to suit more general tastes: 22 inns or taverns were recorded in the 1860s and the Holborn Empire, originally Weston's Music Hall, stood between 1857 and 1960, when it was pulled down after structural damage sustained in the Blitz. The theatre premièred the first full-length feature film in 1914, The World, the Flesh and the Devil, a 50-minute melodrama filmed in Kinemacolour.

Charles Dickens took up residence in Furnival's Inn, on the site of the former Prudential building designed by Alfred Waterhouse now named Holborn Bars. Dickens put his character Pip, in Great Expectations, in residence at Barnard's Inn opposite, now occupied by Gresham College. Staple Inn, notable as the promotional image for Old Holborn tobacco, is nearby. The three of these were Inns of Chancery. The most northerly of the Inns of Court, Gray's Inn, is in Holborn, as is Lincoln's Inn: the area has been associated with the legal professions since mediaeval times, and the name of the local militia (now Territorial Army unit, the Inns of Court & City Yeomanry) still reflects that. Subsequently the area diversified and become recognisable as the modern street.

A plaque stands at number 120 commemorating Thomas Earnshaw's invention of the Marine chronometer, which facilitated long-distance travel. At the corner of Hatton Garden was the old family department store of Gamages. Until 1992, the London Weather Centre was located in the street. The Prudential insurance company relocated in 2002. The Daily Mirror offices used to be directly opposite it, but the site is now occupied by Sainsbury's head office.

Hatton Garden, the centre of the diamond trade, was leased to a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Christopher Hatton at the insistence of the Queen to provide him with an income. Behind the Prudential Building lies the Anglo-Catholic church of St Alban the Martyr.

In the early 21st century, Holborn has become the site of new offices and hotels: for example, the old neoclassical Pearl Assurance building near the junction with Kingsway was converted into an hotel in 1999.

Holborn station is located at the junction of High Holborn and Kingsway. Situated on the Piccadilly and Central Lines, it is the only station common to the two lines, although the two lines also cross each other three times in West London.

The station was opened by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNP&BR, now the Piccadilly Line) on 15 December 1906 with the name Holborn (Kingsway). Kingsway was a new road, cutting south from High Holborn through an area of cleared slums to Strand. The suffix was dropped from tube maps in the 1960s.
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