An Awayday – Centre Point

In London, I had some time on my hands so decided to have a wander around Charing Cross and the Centre Point tower, located at the junction of Charing Cross Road and New Oxford Street. I’ve passed this building many times, its name has remained in my memory since childhood. Despite my love of modernist architecture, I’ve always viewed Centre Point as a place that has a certain darkness hanging over it.

From the Middle Ages to the 15th Century this busy crossroads was the site of a gallows and a cage for prisoners.

I found an account from 1761 of a bricklayer called John Duke who was buried beneath the crossroad with a stake driven through his body. Duke had murdered his wife and then committed suicide. In the past, suicides were often buried at crossroads, this was to confuse their wandering souls. The stake was used to ‘earth-fasten’ the body.

‘..buried in the centre of a quadrivium, or conflux of four roads..with a stake driven through his heart, And over him drives the ever uproar of unresting London’

Iain Sinclair. Lud Heat. 1975

Up until the 19th century the area was the site of a ‘Rookery’, a term used to describe the poorest of slums. The St. Giles Rookery, nicknamed ‘The Holy Land’, was a notorious place, a network of alleyways occupied by the lowest strata of society, the destitute, criminals and prostitutes. The St. Giles Rookery was the location for William Hogarth’s 1751 engraving, Gin Lane.

This 1870 engraving by IR & G Cruikshank also depicts the Rookery. Its title, Tom & Jerry Masquerading it amongst the Cadgers in the Back Slums of the Holy Lands.

The slums were eventually cleared during the 19th century to make way for New Oxford Street. In 1964 work began on the Centre Point tower. On completion, the 36 storey building became London’s first skyscraper. Ernö Goldfinger called it ‘London’s first pop art skyscraper’.

Developer, Harry Hyams wanted to lease the building to a single occupant and allowed the building to remain empty for a number of years. Hyams was happy to leave the building unoccupied, sitting on his investment as it escalated in capital value. Being empty, the building was not liable for the payment of rates to the local authority.

In 1974 London housing campaigners organised a successful occupation of the building to draw attention to the housing crisis in London.

In the 1980’s the building became the headquarters for the Council for British Industry (CBI) called by some, ‘the bosses organisation’. It has also been the HQ for the Saudi national oil company, Aramco, and the Chinese oil company, Petrochina, amongst others.

In 2015 work began to convert the building from commercial to residential use, the building became ready for occupation in 2018. A combination of unsold flats and flats being bought by overseas concerns have meant that few flats show signs of occupation, this is most noticeable on an evening when much of the tower is in darkness. The tower has joined the growing list of London’s ‘ghost towers’.

The tower became a Grade II listed building in 1995

1, 2 & 3 bedroom apartments are currently on sale with a price range of between £1.8m – £8.5m. The current price of a penthouse is undisclosed. In 2018 the Guardian reported the cost of a penthouse as £55m.

The housing crisis in the capital continues to worsen. In 2021 The Evening Standard reported that 250,000 Londoners were on waiting lists for council homes.

Postcript

I was discussing my thoughts on the tower with my friend and native Londoner, Clive Martin, his thoughts on the area.

Charing Cross in general feels like a bit of a dark portal, no matter what they do to it… There’s this walkway near the station, that was home to this slightly sinister magic shop for yonks. The Paul Daniels posters only added to the eeriness.

Sources

Hidden London

Londonist

Wikipedia

Lud Heat. Iain Sinclair. 1975

Occupation Image via Working Class History

The Guardian – How Centre Point attracts the rich and sidelines the poor 2018

The Evening Standard – London is ‘epicentre’ of housing crisis as 250,000 Londoners await council homes. 2021

Historic England

Clive Martin

Maps

National Library of Scotland

Library of Congress

The Corpseway

A friend wrote to me in 1871 to say that at Redcar in Cleveland, in the earlier part of this century, a funeral was preceded by a public breakfast. Then the coffin was carried slung upon towels knotted together, and borne by relays of men to Maroke (Marske?), up the old ‘ Corpseway,’ and bumped upon a heap of stones, three times. This was an ancient resting-place at the top of the hill. The ‘Lamentation of a Sinner’ was then sung, and the procession moved to the churchyard, every man, woman, and child receiving a dole of sixpence as they entered.

Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, York & the Ainsty. Collected & Edited by Mrs Gutch. Publications of The Folklore Society. 1901

An incantation to accompany a dead person into the grave

In Askrigg, Mad Martha of Muker used to sing the following words over every new filled grave

Ancram, Sancram, Ah say Aneran,

rue an’ sorrow weeds binnds mah bru.

A corpse glow leights ma, wick wraiths greet ma.

Neean hears what Ah hears,

neean kens what Ah kens.

Shout Roller.

Marvels, Magic & Witchcraft. David Naitby’s Bedale Treasury. David Kirby. Summerfield Press. 2005

Death & Burial – The Backside of the Church

Still-born and unbaptised children, persons executed in accordance with the law, felo-de-se,* and in fact all persons who laid violent hand on their own persons and brought themselves to an unnatural death, persons excommunicated either by ecclesiastical or civil law, and a variety of other offences deprived those so transgressing of the benefit of Christian interment – that is, there was neither service nor tolling of bell. They were also buried “within the night on the backside of the church.”

This antipathy to interment on the north also in a minor degree extended itself to the west end of the church. Witness the west end of the cemetery garth at High Coniscliffe, near Darlington, where till almost within the period of living memory no interments had taken place, the south and east portions alone being used.

*suicide

DT 1859

Croft-on-Tees Pt.2

Carroll

FYH

What I tell you three times is true

Cheshire Cat

‘Well I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice; ‘but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life’

Aumbry

Marble

Dead Seas

Oh Death Begin at the beginning and go on…

Death & Burial

Bob Fischer kindly invited me to contribute a weekly item to his Thursday night BBC Tees show.  These are the notes from a show a few weeks ago on the subject of death & burial traditions from our area

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On the coast it was believed that a person couldn’t die until the tide was out and couldn’t be born until the tide was in.

It was believed that a person couldn’t die on a mattress stuffed with the feathers of pigeons or wild birds.

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Following a death all fires must be extinguished in the room where the corpse is kept and any animal that jumps over the coffin must be killed immediately and without mercy.

If a person is drowned, it is said that their body will float to the surface on the 9th day.

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When searching for a drowned body it was said that a loaf of bread soaked in quicksilver will swim towards the location of a corpse.

At funerals there was a custom to hand ‘burnt wine’ to the funeral goers in a silver flagon, out of which every one drank. The drink was a heated preparation of port wine with spices and sugar and if any remained, it was sent round in the flagon to the houses of friends for distribution. The passing bell was then tolled at all hours of the night to keep away evil spirits.

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Some folk had an aversion to be taken to the church by hearse, choosing instead rather to be carried by hand. The coffin was carried by slinging linen towels beneath it. Women were carried by women, men by men, and children by children

If a woman died in childbirth, a white sheet was thrown over the coffin.

If an unmarried female died, a garland was carried in front of the coffin and hung up in the church after the funeral. The garland consisted of two hoops intertwined, decorated with white paper flowers and ribbons, in the centre was a white glove, often home-made, of paper or fine linen, upon which was stitched or written the name and age of the deceased. A couple of these garlands have been survived and can be seen in St Stephens church at Robin Hoods Bay.

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When a girl, or an older unmarried female was carried by hand, the bearers were all young or single women dressed in white wearing white straw bonnets. If the body is taken to the gates of the churchyard by the hearse, the plumes of the vehicle and the hatbands of the carriage drivers were entwined with white ribbons

It was customary to send gloves to the friends of the deceased, white for the funeral of an unmarried person, black for the married.

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The Maiden’s Garlands of Robin Hood’s Bay

Cupola

St. Stephens church is a lovely box-shaped Georgian church built in 1821 replacing an 11th century building. The church is no longer used and is owned by the Churches Conservation Trust.

The interior of the church has painted plaster walls and numbered box pews. There is a three-decker pulpit and a gallery on the west and north sides.

Inside the church, behind a glass panel are two Maiden’s Garlands, a third, modern replica, is hung in the nave. The garlands were made by the friends of a young woman who had died before she was married. Her coffin bearers would be young girls dressed in white, the garland was carried in front of the coffin and hung up in the church after the funeral.  Of the two original garlands in the church; one was made for Elizabeth Harland with died in 1848 aged 19, the other was made for Jane Levitt who died in 1859 aged 20.

The garland consisted of two hoops intertwined, decorated with white paper flowers and ribbons, in the centre of which was a white glove, often home-made, of paper or fine linen, upon which was written or worked in some fine stitch the initials or name in full and age of the deceased. According to locality this garland was either carried in front of the coffin by one of the deceased’s dearest companions, or laid upon it.

R Blakeborough. Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore & Customs. 1911. Saltburn