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Story Of London

Capper Street

Capper Street
by Stephen Montgomery

The street is named after Capper’s farm which once stood behind what is now the British Museum. This farm was, in the mid eighteenth century, managed by two spinster sisters who were the scourge of the boys who flew kites in the fields and bathed in the ponds. When the proposal to build the New Road (now Euston Road) from Paddington to Islington was announced, the sisters were in the vanguard of the protesters. The elder Miss Capper petitioned parliament but all to no avail – and where is Capper Street……?

Capper Street

by Stephen Montgomery
Find Capper Street on the Map

This street was named after Capper’s Farm which originally stood behind the gardens of Montague House, now the site of the British museum. The farm was established on lands owned by the Duke of Bedford by Christopher Capper in the early 18th century and occupied the bulk of the Duke’s farmland on this northern fringe of London. Christopher Capper left behind two unmarried daughters who were jointly managing the farm in the mid 18th century.

These outlying fields were used for duelling and there were reports of vagrants and of a vile rabble of idle and disorderly people often insufficiently dressed who played cricket and suchlike games in the fields. And then there were the boys who flew kites and bathed in the ponds. The great scourge of the latter unfortunates were the Capper sisters. They were described by an official of the British Museum thus:
“They wore riding habits and men’s hats. One used to run after boys flying kites with a large pair of shears to cut the strings. The other seized the clothes of those who trespassed to bathe”.
Marylebone in 1740

In 1755 a scheme was put forward to built the New Road from Paddington to Islington which was to relieve the traffic congestion of Oxford Street a half mile to the south. The farm occupied the “Long Fields” behind the west end of what is now Great Russell Street and the energetic sisters were loud in their objections to the scheme. In view of the clouds of dust and dirt that the new road would occasion, and which would be detrimental to their hay, they would seek a reduction in their rents. “And”, they asked, “what would happen to the view, for the road would certainly attract building?” Miss Capper went further and wrote a submission to the House of commons committee which was considering the scheme.

The objections were to no avail and the road went ahead, being made even wider than the original scheme had planned. It was forty feet wide and building was forbidden within fifty feet on either side of it so that long gardens lined its route. The scheme was a thoroughgoing success and made immediate and substantial profits for some of the landowners who turned their fields over to brickmaking. It also provided the route for London’s first Omnibus service. Euston Square was built in 1827 and named after the Dukes of Grafton who were also Earls of Euston. The road was re-named Euston Roadin 1857 and the south side of the square was renamed Endsleigh Gardens in 1880. And the scourges of all those boys were not forgotten – with supreme irony and justice for the tormented boys, Capper street runs between Tottenham Court Road along the south side of the maternity wing of the University Hospital.