Brewers and beer engines

My walk today started where two roads meet. On the left in the photo is the famous City Road, immortalized in the rhyme1, and on the right, the less famous but equally important Goswell Road.

The latter road takes its name from a garden once owned hereabouts by Robert de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, which was called Goswelle or Goderell. That name itself is said to be derived from “God’s Well”, which referred to one of the many wells in this area known for its spa waters. (Nearby Spa Fields and Sadler’s Wells are further reminders of this property of the locality.)

Where two roads meet
Where two roads meet

On the right of the photo, above the vans waiting at the traffic lights, you can just see a Georgian House, an end of terrace building.

Dalby House
Dalby House

The area where Goswell Road and City Road meet was anciently common land that was used for, among other things, prize fighting and executions. Housing development ended that use and in 1803, Dalby Terrace (or “Dalby Tarrace”, according to the original ceramic name plate, still in place) was built by a certain Mr Dalby (first name unknown), who retained the end house, suitably named Dalby House, for his own use. Mr Dalby was a manufacturer, who was credited with the invention of a successful beer pump.


On a previous ramble around here (see A stroll along Goswell Road), I showed you this sad and neglected building on another corner. Shortly after I photographed it, the bulldozers moved in and it disappeared for ever, along with any memories people may have retained of it.

Derwent Point, apparently
Derwent Point, apparently

This is what has replaced it, something apparently called Derwent Point. Is it any better? Doubtless it is, according to the developers at least, who would have made a handsome profit on it. And probably there is an architect somewhere congratulating himself on his innovatory design, having forgotten that he played with building bricks when he was a child.

Angel Gate, Islington
Angel Gate, Islington

At one stage, I conceived the notion of collecting “Angels”, that is, of photographing all buildings, premises, pubs, etc. with “Angel” in the name. The above Angel Gate was an early candidate. However, it turned out that there are so many “Angels”, not only in Islington but throughout London, where it is one of the most popular names, that I soon abandoned the idea. The place is littered with “Angels”.

Fireplaces left from rooms long gone
Fireplaces left from rooms long gone

I don’t know whether this is bomb damage left over from WWII or the remains of a more recent demolition. Either way, it is strange to think that fires once burned in those grates and people sat comfortably in front of them, perhaps reading or listening to the radio.

The Hat and Feathers
The Hat and Feathers

Whenever I pass this way, I stop to admire this handsome Victorian pub, the Hat and Feathers. Note the statues on the upper level. This site has been declared a development area but the pub is a listed building and will be preserved. There are plans to incorporate it into a hotel complex.

Perhaps once a warehouse
Perhaps once a warehouse

Across from the pub is this large and intriguing building. I know nothing about it but suspect it was once a warehouse because at the side one can still see the hoist for lifting goods and the loading doors with their drop-down landing platforms, a design commonly seen along the Thames in the old wharfs.


That this was once a proud building on which money was lavished can be seen from the surviving decorations.

Northburgh Street Northburgh Street
Startling new building in Northburgh Street

Leaving the beaten track, I entered Berry Street and then Northburgh Street. Here, I discovered this rather startling building being put up. It’s a pretty bold design with a rather whimsical flower decoration.

A glimpse...
A glimpse…

I turned around and caught a glimpse of this building. At this point, I had lost track of where I was but then realized: I had stumbled on the Cannon Brewery (see Around Clerkenwell) from behind!

Cannon Brewery yard
Cannon Brewery yard

The brewery yard, where the drays would have turned and been loaded, is now occupied by a garden in a huge concrete planter, making it necessary to photograph the building from an awkward angle. You can see the arched street entrance and the clock, unfortunately not working, that proudly proclaims the date of 1875.

The brewery door
The brewery door

Hop decoration

The building is fairly plain and functional but this is offset by a very fine doorway – the one no doubt used by the management. It has pillars, an elegant arch, and sculpted decorations representing hops (see right). I don’t know whether the lamps are original but they look to me as though they could once have been lit by gas.

Although this building has been preserved (I heard it had changed hands for £4m), the area seems to be under intensive development.

Not a furniture shop, then
Not a furniture shop, then

This is an example of the dull, boring, out-of-a-box architecture that is becoming ever more common in the area where businesses display descriptions using terms like “ergonomics” and “design” but not, strangely enough, “furniture”, which is what they sell.

Churchyard of St John's
Churchyard of St John’s

Another big influence in the area is that of the Knights of St John, also known as the Knights Hospitallers. Nearby St John’s Gate is the headquarters of the modern incarnation of the order, the St John Ambulance.


Opposite the Cannon Brewery is this diminutive churchyard, perhaps a frag­ment of the original, belonging to the priory church of St John, and now a tiny park. Here I met a blackbird who, while attentive to my movements, seemed singularly unafraid, perhaps used to being fed by workers eating their lunchtime sandwiches here in better weather. I had nothing with me: another time, perhaps.

It had been interesting to experience an unexpected encounter with a familiar building and to meditate briefly on the depth of the history of this area with which I am still only slowly getting to grips. Now, though, it was time to go home and warm up with a good cup of coffee!

The brewery clock: will it ever tell the time again?
The brewery clock: will it ever tell the time again?

1Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Brewers and beer engines

  1. WOL says:

    I like Dalby House. Those first floor bow/bay windows just beg for a comfy chair +ottoman and a little side table with an undershelf, for a reading nook, or depending on which way they face, a little table and chairs for an eating nook, or an artist’s easel or drawing table. Or maybe a fancy wrought iron backer’s rack full of lovely little plants. The top ones would make perfect windowseats. That building in Northburgh street is actually kind of pretty. At least it has some style and color to it. Not your typical reflective glass cube. I like it better than the Derwent Point pile. I wouldn’t mind living upstairs from the Hat and Feathers. It’s a very pleasant looking building, nice yellow with white ornaments (and not the least of its attractions, the proximity of a pint!). I’ll take the top floor, please, although the first floor corner windows are very tempting. That wall with the fire places. Things like that fascinate me. Doesn’t something like that just make you long to hear the stories it has to tell? I wonder if the reason there are so many stopped clocks on buildings is that there’s nobody who knows how to fix them. Somebody ought to set up a “Historic Clock Trust” and solicit donations from clock/watch making firms and other businesses, with the object being to repair and maintain all those clocks like the brewery clock. They could have apprenticeships to train people. And owners/residents of buildings with clocks could subscribe to a service. The National Trust seems to be big on preserving historic trades and skills, why don’t they spearhead something? At least then the building’s owners would know who to turn to if they wanted their clock fixed.

    • SilverTiger says:

      If Mr Dalby was as smart a businessman as he was an inventor, then I imagine that the return on his investment in Dalby Terrace not only paid for his house but left him with a handsome profit as well. Most of the houses in that terrace today accommodate commercial companies of various kinds.

      I imagine that the problem with the older exposed clocks on buildings is that they are now so decayed that they would have to be rebuilt. The cost would be great and few landlords or owner-occupiers would want to foot the bill.

      Maybe there is – or needs to be – a clock preservation society that might seek to raise funds to restore deserving cases.

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