Wednesday, 25 July 2012

London Trivia - #1 - Pavements.

Craig's Court, London - photo courtesy of R Sones.
To celebrate the arrival of the London Olympics 2012,  I'm starting a short series of blog posts about the more unusual aspects of London's history. Let's start with the story of how pavements came to become common place in the capital.
Before the mid 1750's the pedestrian was much neglected! Roads occupied the total width of the street between the buildings on either side. Most of the roads were also very narrow and it was incredibly dangerous for anyone on foot because on coming vehicles could crush them against a wall. Like a lot of things, it took someone of power and influence to be inconvenienced before anything was done to solve the problem.

Widget says: "Do what I say or the toy gets it!"

This person was the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr Speaker Onslow. One day in the early 1760's he set off to visit the Earl of Harrington at home in his large house in a small square just off Craig's Court, London. Harrington's house was approached by a narrow alleyway (see header photo) and as Onslow pushed on in a large, stately carriage, the wheels stuck fast to the houses on either side. It was jammed so tightly that the coach's doors couldn’t be opened and Mr Speaker Onslow became a prisoner inside his own vehicle. After many fruitless attempts to move the vehicle the humiliated Speaker was rescued by cutting a hole in the roof of the carriage and pulling him out that way.

Carriage photo courtesy of John Lloyd.
            On his return to parliament Onslow helped institute a bill decreeing that all householders must pay for a row of kerbstones in front of their property, to warn and thereby stop drivers progressing before they got stuck.
Once the kerbstones marked a boundary to show the limit of a road's width, pavements evolved on the building side as a safer place for pedestrians to walk.

The modern day House of Commons, as seen from the Thames.

And finally, a black market in kerbstones developed with the unscrupulous stealing them to use themselves in front of their home or to sell on. Since the Admiralty was also duty bound under the pavement act of 1762 to provide kerb stones, they marked them with an arrow to discourage theft. The arrow was a traditional mark introduced by Elizabeth I to denote army and navy property, and apparently is still used today for this purpose.

Kerbstone marked with an arrow - courtesy of Roger Templeman.


  1. What a fascinating and informative post! I'm going to keep an eye out for those arrows next time I'm in London. Surely other English cities must have had similar difficulties with the width of their streets?

    1. Hi Patricia,
      I'm sure other cities did as well, but London being London tends to grab all the attention.
      Thanks for leaving a comment,
      Grace x


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