Pratt By Name…

Today, folks, I bring you the reason I was pouring over old maps on Monday. I managed to get myself very confused indeed over a bit in Henry Richardson’s history of Greenwich.

In it he talks about all the fabulous improvements made in the early part of the 19th Century (most of which were actually pretty good…) but from the maps I was looking at I had some trouble working out exactly what he was talking about in the following story. I think I’ve worked it out…

“The most recent improvement” he talks about was the happy result of an ‘accident,’ though it is interesting to note that the redevelopment idea was not in any way a new concept…

The middle of Greenwich was an absolute bottleneck in the 1820s – houses were all crammed in on top of each other, hanging over each other and generally getting in the way of traffic. Stockwell Street was a major thoroughfare and it all converged on Church Street in one big unholy mess.

Enter one Mr Pratt. He was a grocer, whose premises communicated with those of a Mr Teulon, and the Mitre Tavern. On Tuesday, February 10th, 1829, a fire broke out in Mr Pratt’s shop. It spread quickly, and destroyed pretty much everything, with the exception of a few buildings at the back of the pub.

A meeting was held in the Vestry to discuss this ‘terrible accident,’ where it was unanimously decided to purchase the freehold from none other than Sir John Roan’s charity (Greenwich has always been carved up between several very powerful charities – and remains so to this day…) The tenants were bought-out too.

Richardson alludes to “protracted discussions” – not least about the power of the Charity feoffees (great word, eh…) to actually sell the land. In the end it was decided that one house would be rebuilt – a public house, the Mitre Tavern – which, of course, is still with us. I don’t know whether the lease-money still goes to the charity.

The rest of the land was carved up to make St Alfege’s churchyard bigger, allowing “the throwing open of that splendid edifice to public view” – but also (and more pressingly) extra room “for the interment of the parishioners…” Perhaps the most important thing that happened was the widening of the road around the church so there was more room to directly enter Nelson Street.

Don’t bother, btw, looking for the impressive “iron pedestal with three lamps, which was fixed Feb. 26th 1833″ and “imparts a handsome appearance to the centre of the town.” I went specially to find it and it eluded me – replaced by the traffic lights, which can’t really be regarded in the same terms…

So was Mr Pratt actually as butter-fingered as it’s made out? He was presumably not left out of pocket by the loss of his premises, and enjoyed the gratitude of the local parish. And let’s face it, accidental fires in inconvenient buildings are a time-honoured tradition that continues even today.

Richardson’s not telling…


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