Asphalt is a sticky, black, highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum which has been extensively used since the 19th century, mostly as a waterproofing material at first, but later as a component in the construction of road surfaces. A particularly rich source of this material was in the region of Seyssel, department of Ain, France. In the 19th century the area was dotted with asphalt mines and factories, including this complex in Pyrimont:
One British company that exploited asphalt on an industrial scale was the Asphalte de Seyssel Company of Thames Embankment who developed a wharf in Cubitt Town in 1861 and named it Pyrimont Wharf.
The company also gained agreemeent that a nearby new street would be named after it.
Survey of London:
In the 1870s the asphalt-production business on this site was taken over by Claridge’s Patent Asphalte Company.
The manufacturing process employed at Cubitt Town involved the heating of bituminous limestone in six large uncovered cauldrons, producing vapours considered offensive by many local residents.
The material was used predominantly for covering and protecting the foundations of buildings. It was employed, for example, at the Tobacco Stores at the Victoria Docks.
In 1870 Seyssel Street was still hardly built upon – just four houses close to its western end.
At least two of these houses were built by local builder, William Buckland. The architect named in the clipping, J.W. Stocker, was also the applicant to have the street named Seyssel Street (see above).
During the 1880s William Buckland was significantly involved in building more houses in Seyssel Street (and in Cubitt Town in general, 109 in total). By 1890 all of Seyssel Street west of Manchester Road was fully developed. Buckland’s address at this time was given as 1 College View (the terrace at the southern end of Saunders Ness Road) with premises at ‘The Railway Arches, Manchester Road’.
On the north side of Seyssel Street east of Manchester Road was a small parcel of land that was formally part of Dudgeon’s Wharf, but which was not yet developed. Later the land would also be used as the site of large oil tanks.
Seyssel Street was a typical Island residential street. Not much happened, but like other Island streets many of its families suffered heavily from the loss of their men during World War I (text, Commonwealth War Graves Commission):
- Coats, George / Serjeant / Army Veterinary Corps, Depot / 11-Aug-1916 / aged 42 / Greenwich Cemetery / Only son of Elizabeth Coats, Dorchester, and the late Thomas Coats; husband of Maria Maud Coats, 1 Seyssel St.
- Letton, David Robert / First Engineer / Mercantile Marine, S.S. Gravina (Liverpool) / 07-Feb-1917 / aged 70 / Tower Hill Memorial / Husband of Elisabeth Meriton Letton, 9 Seyssel St. Born at Deptford, London.
- Elliott, John Frederick / Private / London Regiment, D Coy. 20th Bn. / 10-Jun-1915 / aged 18 / Fosse J Military Cemetery (Quality Street), Mazingarbe, France / Son of Frederick James and Ann Elizabeth Elliott, 13 Seyssel St.
- Bruce, William Ernest / Sapper / Royal Engineers, 154th Field Coy. / 11-Sep-1916 / aged 26 / Villers Station Cemetery, Villers-Au-Bois, France / Son of Walter and Harriet Bruce; husband of Susan Grace Bruce, 18 Seyssel St.
Although much of Cubitt Town was seriously damaged during WWII, including the almost complete destruction of Cubitt Town School and of houses in Stebondale Street and Manchester Road, houses in Seyssel Street were relatively unscathed.
On a sad note, however, the bodies of three members of the Elderley family were discovered by emergency workers in Seyssel Street after their home at 137 Stebondale Street received a direct hit on 9th September 1940: Alice Maud Elderley (aged 41), Queenie Irene Elderley (aged 34) and Bill Elderley (aged 37). Similarly, when much of Billson Street was destroyed by bombing on 19th April 1941, the bodies of Alice Stamp (aged 31) and Thomas Stamp (aged 34) of 16 Billson Street were also found in Seyssel Street.
Life carried on, and people picked up the pieces after WWII. This photo does show some bomb damage to the house next door.
In the 1960s, Seysell Street – and the Island – changed dramatically. Most of what wasn’t destroyed during WWII was swept away to make room for new housing estates, many of which were built to solve housing problems in other parts of East London (our family also moved from Whitechapel to the Island at the time). One of the first was the Manchester Estate – with Salford House which backed onto Seyssel Street.
For a short few years after the construction of the Manchester Estate, the old houses on the other side of Seyssel Street remained standing.
But, these were also cleared away to make room for another estate, my estate, the Kingfield Estate (nobody called it that, and nobody had probably heard the name, I only found out it had a name when researching Island history).
Survey of London:
In 1964 Poplar Borough Council decided to round off and complete their Kingfield Street Estate by the construction of seven blocks of flats and maisonettes in Glengarnock Avenue, Stebondale Street, Seyssel Street and Manchester Road, and appointed Geoffrey A. Crockett of Adelaide Street, as architect. The scheme was inherited by Tower Hamlets Borough Council. The south-easterly ends of Glengarnock Avenue, Parsonage, Billson and Kingfield Streets were closed, to allow development along Manchester Road. Construction was carried out by Rowley Brothers, at an estimated cost of £1,016,075.
Seyssel Street hasn’t changed that much since the late 1960s which feels recent to me but it is more than half a century ago! The Kingfield Estate flats have not changed, but Salford House has had a bit of a revamp (since the homes became privately-owned not all owners invested in the revamp so there are still one or two flats with the same facade).
Looking in the opposite direction, over Manchester Road, no chimneys or firms, but it still resembles its old self.