Vic Keegan’s Lost London 8: hidden history of Holborn Viaduct

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 8: hidden history of Holborn Viaduct

Amazon’s swanky new London office at 60 Holborn Viaduct is built adjacent to the site of the world’s first coal-fired power station and also on the site of the oldest pub in London, The Three Tuns, the remains of which are still buried underneath it. 

The power station, which began operating in January 1882, was built at Number 57 and by the indomitable Thomas Edison as a trial run for his later projects in New York. It had a Babcock and Wilcox boiler and was able to supply electricity for lighting  along Newgate Street from the City Temple and the Old Bailey to the General Post Office.

This was thanks initially to the existence of underground culverts built as part the Viaduct‘s construction, itself one of the great feats of Victorian engineering, which required the demolition of over 4,000 mainly slum homes. This enabled Edison to cock a snook at the gas companies which enjoyed a monopoly on digging up roads for underground cable laying at that time.

Although the experiment was ended after two years, mainly because of cut-throat competition from gas, it paved the way for Edison’s triumph in New York and for the mistaken view of many Americans that the first public coal-fired power station was built in the Big Apple rather than London.     

However, to beer drinkers the more interesting discovery was the unearthing by Museum of London archaeologists (pictured above) a few years ago of the extensive remains – including walls 2.5 metres high – of a the pub beneath Number 60. This dates back to medieval times, though it was enlarged in the 16th century and later. The pub buildings, which included a brewery and a taproom, straddled Snow Hill, which was then part of the main road from Newgate to the west. 

The discovery added a new dimension to the thorny problem of deciding which is London’s oldest pub. This is the oldest whose original walls still exist, but there are others that claim to have existed for just as long, but whose structures have since been completely rebuilt.

Categories: Culture, Lost London

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