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Ossulston Street (continued)

Ossulston Street continues it’s life connected to Wilsted Street until the mid 1860s and would probably have stayed that way if it hadn’t been for the development of St Pancras station in 1868

After it’s construction Wilsted Street gets the chop and Ossulston Street continues through to the Euston Road. Why this should be is a bit of a mystery as the construction work cleared the areas adjacent to both streets.

Lord Ossulston

One possibility is that the name was retained in honour of the politician Charles Bennet, Lord Ossulston who had served in the “Ministry of All the Talents’” (an early form of coalition government) and had died some years previously.

Following the development of St Pancras station the area remained the same for about ten years, until another wave of development was undertaken. The map shows a region known as Clarendon Square. The map depicts it as a circle and the name denotes a plane figure with four equal straight sides and four right angles. However the houses which sat upon it formed a polygon, a fifteen sided block and apparently looked very imposing and grand. Between 1784 and its demolition in 1894, the Polygon was home to writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, her daughter Mary Shelley, and Charles Dickens, who included the building in Bleak House as the home of Mr Skimpole. Unfortunately there appear to be no other graphic depictions of what it looked like other than this one, which only conveys a vague idea.

The Polygon buildings on the left and St Aloysius Chapel on right.

127 Ossulston Street

Due the development in the surrounding areas, the social standing of Clarendon Square diminished and the residents became more transient. One such group based themselves at 127 Ossulston Street. Olivia, Helen and Arthur Rossetti, nieces and nephew of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti used it as the home of the Freedom Press and printed the The Torch, a journal of anarchist communism. The authorities considered this a seditious publication and although no moves were made to shut it down there was always a plain clothes officer keeping it under surveillance day and night. Charles Booth in footnotes to his poverty map in 1898 gives a description of how the area had fallen when describing Chapel Street a small street that lead off of Ossulston Street. “A narrow thoroughfare of bad repute — the worst spot in the immediate neighbourhood and a good many prostitutes and amateurish thieves are living here. The local name for the street is Little Hell“.

The photo above shows Ossolston Street at the junction with Hampden Street around 1928 and by then the dwellings that lined the street were under notice of demolition. In the 1930s the area was completely redeveloped and the same view today looks like this.

Once the terraces of houses had been swept away the London County Council (LCC) in a very bold move created the Ossulston Estate. It was unusual at the time both because of its inner-city location and also its modernist design, and all the original parts of the estate are now Grade II listed buildings.

Today the street backs onto the British Library (Top right) and in a nice little quirk of history in the library’s catalogue you can request to see a copy of The Torch, a journal of anarchist communism which was printed in a dingy terraced house not a hundred yards further down the street over a hundred and twenty-five years ago.

#Dickens #History #London #Walking

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