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A branch line in London N1 perhaps? Nope. Its a part of London that’s been known by this name since the sixteenth century and also because of a well known pub, once a music hall, famous for hosting Charlie Chaplin and Marie Lloyd. Its a central London location but also a sort of in-between area, being sandwiched between Islington, Shoreditch, Hoxton and De Beauvoir Town, though it was originally denoted part of Hoxton.

The Rosemary Branch area was a strong industrial area (as indeed were these other four corners) and its the only one which has substantial remains in spite of the intensive bombing throughout the area which gave way to Shoreditch Park and Rosemary Gardens. It has remained quite an important area because of its main roads and its proximity to central London.

How did Rosemary Branch get its name? Originally there was a tree known as the Rosemary Branch (spelt Ros Brach) in the sixteenth century. This was the most northern extremity of the area known as Finsbury, and the area was used for archery by the Company of Finsbury Archers and the Finsbury Marks. Thus the name Rosemary Branch has a long lineage which filters down to the present Honourable Artillery Company, based in Moorgate.

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Map of 1594 – the earliest record of the location known as Rosemary Branch. Source: The Worshipful Company of Bowyers

By 1737 a place of entertainment had been built and this was known too as the Rosemary Branch. In 1811 a new venue of the same name was built at the point where the Regent’s Canal passed through the area. There was music, entertainment and a circus.

The older public house became a Victorian music hall, hosting famous people such as Chaplin and Marie Lloyd. The venue influenced place names in the area, with Rosemary Street on one side (no longer extant) and Branch Place on the other.

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The Rosemary Branch in 1841. Source: Islington Gazette (Note: The Gazette has deleted its images in that article thus one from the Internet Archive is now used.)

Over the years a number of properties have adopted the name, such as Rosemary House, Rosemary Works, and Rosemary Works School, whilst of course the bridge over the canal is known as Rosemary Branch bridge.

A tramway was even built through here and it went across Rosemary Branch bridge and at Mintern Street it joined up with the other tram route on New North Road. The tramways belonged to the North Metropolitan Tramway company and was in fact the forerunner of the 141 bus route which still plies much of the same route today.

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The former tramway’s successor – the 141 bus – seen in Baring Street. The tram was replaced by Trolleybus 641 & in 1961 the 141 replaced it. Until the 1990s the 141 was a long bus route – Wood Green to Grove Park!

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The Rosemary Branch tavern with its next door competitor, the Southgate Arms, now closed.

The Rosemary Branch tavern is a noted theatre venue and despite its fairly small size, it has put on some excellent shows and even has drawn the allure of famous names to front its theatre plays. Its of course a reminder the area was actually known as the Rosemary Branch!

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Nice large clock inside the Rosemary Branch tavern!

One would perhaps be curious as to how the locality could support two pubs right next to each other. This wasn’t a rare thing at all, many areas with a strong industrial flavour were able to support several public houses within an arm’s reach of each other because of their numerous staff who kept these hostelries busy after working hours had finished!

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The Southgate Arms and the adjacent Thomas Briggs works in Southgate Road.

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The Thomas Briggs works.

Thomas Briggs had quite an early presence in the area. The company was founded in 1815, and the earliest building established here by 1823, no doubt taking advantage of the newly opened Regent’s Canal. The present works (late 19th Century) were the main tenting supplier to the Government for its military services.

There’s another lot of writing on the side of the building facing the canal and it says Thomas Briggs (London) Limited. Its quite odd because the main frontage (shown here) has the abbreviated version of that. Possibly when the premises were first built the company thought it more prodigious to advertise itself to the trade boats on the Regent’s Canal?

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Nice skull in Canal Walk, next to the Briggs building. This road was once known as De Beauvoir Crescent.

The fact Canal Walk was once De Beauvoir Crescent shows how large De Beauvoir Town once was. Its still called that name but its not the original bit with its posh town houses. A lot of this was bombed. The remaining parts of the original De Beauvoir Town is to be found north of Downham Road, with just one town house left on the whole south side of that road.

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View of the Regent’s Canal from Rosemary Branch bridge looking east. The view looks towards the southern part of De Beauvoir Town. Much of it was bombed in WWII and thus it has all been replaced by council estates.

Many new properties have sprung up along the Regent’s Canal and indeed some of the sixties council blocks further east have now been demolished to make way for more user friendly family estates. The council blocks seen in the picture have been retained rather than replaced.

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The former Rosemary Works, directly opposite Briggs’ premises. The ghost signs on the building’s wall are now virtually unreadable. There used to be a wharf adjacent to this. It was known as Stone Wharf, however the Rosemary Works eventually expanded and built its extended premises on the site of this wharf. The company however made a small section available for the continued loading of barges.

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A general view of the Rosemary Branch canal bridge with the tavern itself at left, the Southgate Arms centre, and the Rosemary Works at right. I want to point out something on the bridge itself…

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The bridge’s brick parapet close up. There’s this plaque on it….

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I have written elsewhere about this plaque. Its one of several that can be found across North London and apparently it was part of the Green Chain Link walk – which can now only be found in South East London!

There was an attempt in the late 1970s to bring the Green Chain Link Walk across to the north side of the Thames but it was never completed. Hackney and Harringay were involved in the scheme and it ultimately became a detached section of the main Green Chain Link Walk. It ventured no further south than Shoreditch park and no further north than both Finsbury Park and Springfield bridge on the Lee Navigation.

In fact there used to be a Green Chain Link Walk signpost on the canal towpath at Rosemary branch bridge (as well as several others along the canal – I know that because I used to live just down the road from the Rosemary Branch.) All these plaques and posts made up a Green Chain Link network that I still have yet to fully fathom.

The Rosemary Branch area is unique that it still retains TWO plaques from this long vanished, mysterious North London Green Chain Link walk!

If one goes along to the next bridge, New North Road, its there the other plaque will be found!

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The other Green Chain Link walk plaque!

From these two plaques it can be seen the Regent’s Canal was an important piece in this long forgotten Green Chain Link walk network.

There are several other Green Chain Link walk signs that can still be seen in Hackney, at Stoke Newington and by the Lee Navigation at Springfield. Yet there is nothing to suggest these were all linked at one time.

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The plaque is on the parapet wall in Baring Street, by New North Road bridge.

Talking of Baring Street, its a pretty new road round here. There’s two Baring Streets! The original still exists and goes through the posh housing estate to the north. Its no longer a main road however. The new one was built to the south alongside the Regent’s Canal when the area was bombed and the space became available.

The bus services through the area used to follow the former tramway route however when the wartime bombing occurred much of Shoreditch was laid bare, including its roads. The newer Baring Street formed an easy and readily available route between New North Road and Southgate Road and since then the bus services, including the 76 and the 141 have used this route.

The properties that are alongside this new part of Baring Street are post war. This part of the area fell under the old Islington Metropolitan Borough (abolished 1965) and so its new council houses were built on the bombed sites. The one facing right onto Baring Street has this lovely and particularly old representation of the Islington Metropolitan Borough’s coat of arms…

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Islington Metropolitan Borough’s coat of arms in Baring Street.

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The coat of arms can be seen on Baring Court, at the west end of Baring Street.

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I can’t remember when these buildings went up, however I think they are 1980s or early 1990s. The land itself was vacant for years as I remember. These properties are built in the apex between the old and new Baring Streets. But there’s something else…

Its the telegraph pole in front of these premises! To find a wooden telegraph pole in London is a rarity and to find one near the centre of London an even bigger rarity. But whats even more rare is this one still has its ‘steps’ (the steel brackets telephone engineers used to ascend these poles.) I’m not aware of any other places in London that still has any telegraph poles with these ‘steps!’

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Looking straight up the telegraph pole – the step brackets are very obvious!

One more thing, and that’s Oh Mr Porter! You know, that comical famous film featuring the exploits of the station staff at the fictitious Buggleskelly on the equally fictitious ‘Southern Railway of Northern Ireland,’ with Will Hay? A good bit of the interior shots were filmed in a huge building almost opposite the Rosemary Branch. This was known as the Gainsborough Studios. The buildings I remember very well and these stood until the 1990s when they were controversially knocked down to make way for the rubbishy modern ‘Gainsborough Studios’ – which has absolutely nothing to do with films – bar the fact there’s a huge sculpture of Alfred Hitchock’s head!

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The modern ‘Gainsborough Studios’ with New North Road bridge alongside the Regent’s Canal.

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The Gainsborough Studios in the 1930s. Source: Hackney Council

The studios were originally the power station for the Great Northern and City Railway between Finsbury Park and Moorgate. They were bought up in 1919 and converted into a film studios. Although they were called Islington Studios they too had Gainsborough Studios written on the sides and that existed until the 1990s as I clearly remember.

The Great Northern and City ran underneath the canal at this point and the power station was actually adjacent to the railway itself. Ironically the Regent’s Canal has leaks and proves to be troublesome to this day – thus from the very start of the railway’s operation in 1904 pumps have had to be employed to keep the tunnels dry – the pumping station itself is sited right beneath the canal at this location by New North Road. The access from the street above to this pumping station was also the point which the power cables accessed the railway itself.

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A wrap up! Shoreditch Park is adjacent to the studios and just over 150 metres from the Rosemary Branch. Some people think this part of London is ‘way out.’ It isnt! The large council block is almost on top of City Road, and then two of the City’s smaller skyscrapers can be seen behind. From some parts there are spectacular views of the City of London and the new 22 Bishopsgate is indeed becoming the main piece de resistance.

The City of London itself is just over a kilometre distant and a lot of people put this particular location (Shoreditch Park, Rosemary Branch, Hoxton) in their minds as a somewhat remote corner of London. In fact Shoreditch Park’s much further south than a good bit of the new development at King’s Cross, including Granary Square and Coal Drops Yard! By the time one reaches Old Street one is much further south than either Regent’s Park or Baker Street .

The Rosemary Branch Tavern/Theatre, Islington, N1