Beyond London's glimmering skyscrapers and grand institutions, there is a twilight zone of burnt-out factories and decaying mansions. Few people know this world as well as Paul Talling. The incorrigible urban explorer has released a revised edition of his book, Derelict London. Here's a selection of abandoned buildings from this wistful tome.
1. A Cooke's Pie & Mash, Shepherd's Bush - A beloved eating emporium
Established in 1899, this family-owned pie shop traded from its Goldhawk Road site between 1934 and 2015. In its prime, the café was popular with Queens Park Rangers fans on their way to the nearby Loftus Road stadium, as well as with celebrity customers including Pete Townshend of The Who and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols. It also features in Phil Daniels’ and Ray Winstone’s scenes in the 1979 film Quadrophenia. Ultimately run by the great-grandson of founder Alfred Cooke, it was popular to the end and its closure caused a local outcry: it was subject to a compulsory purchase order due to the redevelopment of the surrounding area. The Cooke’s company lives on, with the family now offering an online frozen delivery service.
2. Wilson & Kyle Brentford, Brentford - A tank and aircraft factory
Originally based around the corner in Catherine Wheel Yard, Wilson & Kyle moved to these buildings on Brentford High Street in the 1950s. The company made prototype tank parts, anti-aircraft gun equipment and assembly jigs for aeroplanes, and during the second world war, specialised in fuel-injection equipment for ships’ diesel engines. Having once employed 160 people, the company closed in 1998, and the factory has remained derelict ever since. The site is one of a number of abandoned buildings in Brentford. The whole area between the High Street and the River Thames has become run-down, with Hounslow Council issuing compulsory purchase orders on the remaining businesses. Plans are in place for a waterfront development that has been described by the Evening Standard as ‘West London’s Next Big Thing’.
3. Stanwell Place, Stanwell - A house that hosted a king
These gate piers are concealed in the undergrowth mere metres from the southern edge of Heathrow Airport. They once marked the entrance to Stanwell Place, a country house that was first built in the 17th century. During the second world war, the house and estate played a crucial role in the Allies’ military strategy. Sir John Watson Gibson, who lived at Stanwell Place until his death in 1947, helped design the portable Mulberry Harbours that were used to drop cargo in France after the D-Day landings. And in 1944, the house hosted two crucial military meetings attended by senior US commanders including general Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The house was latterly owned by King Faisal II of Iraq; it was demolished after his assassination in 1958. Today, most of its grounds are overgrown or used as gravel pits.
4. VIP Garage, Limehouse - Where sails were made
This workshop was built in 1869 as a sail-maker’s and ship-chandler’s warehouse. It was occupied by one company, Caird & Rayner, from 1889 to 1972, and was never substantially altered, so the building retains its original cast-iron window frames and two double loading doors that open on to the Limehouse Cut. Caird & Rayner were engineers and coppersmiths who specialised in the design and manufacture of seawater-distilling plants, which were supplied to Royal Navy vessels and Cunard cruise liners. The building is the only original ship’s store surviving in Tower Hamlets.
More recently, the building was used as a vehicle repair shop. Previous owners planned to demolish the premises to make way for a block of flats but planning permission was refused. The current proposal is to keep the oldest sections as offices, and build flats on the land to either side.
5. Lambeth Waterworks, Surbiton - Instrumental in sighting cholera
The Lambeth Waterworks Company, founded in 1785, originally occupied the current site of the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. It moved to Seething Wells, Surbiton, in 1852 amidst growing concern over the quality of the drinking water being taken from the Thames.
Clean water from Surbiton subsequently played a major role in proving that cholera was a waterborne disease. In 1854, Dr John Snow compared families drinking water piped from Seething Wells with those using water from the Thames. He concluded that people who drank Lambeth Waterworks water did not contract cholera. From 1855, the Metropolis Water Act made it illegal to extract Thames water for domestic use.
6. York Road station, Barnsbury - A Leslie Green gem
This Underground station, a short distance from King’s Cross, opened on what is now the Piccadilly line in 1906. Always awkwardly situated in a run-down industrial area, the station never received many visitors. From 1909 some trains didn’t stop at the station during the week, and by 1918 there was no Sunday service. It closed completely in 1932.
The station was designed by Leslie Green, the architect responsible for dozens of stops on the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Northern lines. He was famous for using ox-blood red tiles and elegant Arts & Crafts lettering. The raised writing on York Road’s façade was chiselled off in the 1930s, so that the new owners had a flat surface on which to mount their signs; these were removed in 1989, and the distinctive white-tile signage has been visible ever since.
With the recent redevelopment of the King’s Cross neighbourhood there have been proposals to reopen the station.
7. The Spotted Dog, Forest Gate - Henry VIII's hunting lodge
In part dating to the late 15th century, this building was once a hunting lodge used by King Henry VIII, who had kennelling for his dogs here. In the early 19th century it was converted into a pub. According to one correspondent on derelictlondon.com, there was once an underground passage that ran between the dog and the Boleyn Tavern a mile to the south. He says the entrance to the tunnel is still visible in the basement of the Boleyn, but the rest has been filled in with concrete.
The pub finally closed in the early 2000s. It remains derelict, despite efforts by a campaign group to have it reopened as a pub or community facility.
8. Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Whitechapel - cast the Liberty Bell
The UK's oldest manufacturing company operated on this site from 1738 to 2017. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, founded in 1570, cast some of the most famous bells in the world, including Pennsylvania’s Liberty Bell and Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. After 9/11, the company made a tribute bell — the Bell of Hope — as a gift from the people of London to the city of New York.
The Hughes family, who owned the foundry from 1904, recently sold the premises, citing economic pressures and the poor condition of the building. The very last tower bell to be cast there was for the Museum of London, to which the foundry has donated many artefacts.
The site has been bought by a property company, although a conservation group is attempting to have the building listed to prevent it from being redeveloped.