Capper Street, WC1E

Place Name

The Capper family were tenant farmers on this land in the 17th and 18th centuries. Thomas Capper was farming here as early as 1693 and the family farmhouse, which survived up until the First World War, stood behind Heal’s in Tottenham Court Road. The farm which raised cattle and grew crops sold in the London markets was eventually passed to Thomas’s son Christopher Capper who had three children, a boy and two girls. His son chose not to become a farmer, but instead entered the church, eventually becoming a lecturer at St George’s Church in Bloomsbury. However, his daughters, Esther and Mary, continued to live in the family’s farmhouse after the passing of their parents. John Thomas Smith writing in A Book for a Rainy Day: Or, Recollections of the Events of the Years 1766 – 1833 gives a fascinating description of the two women sometime around 1774: “The ground behind the north-west end of Great Russell Street was occupied as a farm by two old maiden sisters named Capper. They wore riding-habits and men’s hats; one rode an old grey mare, and it was her spiteful delight to ride with a pair of shears after the boys who were flying their kites, in order to cut their strings. The other sister’s business was to seize the clothes of the lads who trespassed on their premises to bathe. From Capper’s farm were several straggling houses; but the principal part of the ground to the King’s Head, at the end of the road, was unbuilt upon. The Old King’s Head, opposite to the Adam and Eve, forms a side object in Hogarth’s celebrated picture of The March to Finchley, which may be seen, with other fine specimens of art, in the Foundling Hospital.” The Regency Redingote website continues their story: “In 1756, along the northern boundary of the Capper Farm, the Duke of Grafton built a new road on his land for the purpose of driving sheep and cattle to the Smithfield Markets. Named Euston Road, this new roadway would provide him with a direct route to the markets by which he could avoid both Holborn and Oxford Street. However, the Duke had not counted on the strong resistance which he encountered from the Capper sisters. They petitioned the House of Commons to prevent the construction of the new road on the grounds that the great clouds of dust raised by all the animals driven along it would spoil their valuable hay crops. Eventually, the Duke and the Capper sisters came to an agreement, and the Act of Parliament which granted the Duke permission to build his new road specified that no buildings could be constructed within fifty feet of it. Euston Road was laid out in May and built later that year. It opened to the public in September of 1756.” In 1768 Hans Winthrop Mortimer of Caldwell, Derby bought and started developing the land (roughly corresponding to the area between Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street, University Street and Capper Street). While it was small, it was a significant development. The UCL Bloomsbury Projects explains that the eastern end of the site – at the end of University Street and the northern part of Gower Street – was on the Duke of Bedford’s land and was sold at auction in 1825 for residential development. However it was acquired by John Smith, Benjamin Shaw, and Isaac Lyon Goldsmith as the site for the new University of London (now UCL) instead. When it was first laid out, this street was originally called Pancras Street, after the parish of St Pancras, which includes this north-western portion of Bloomsbury. It was renamed in 1886. 

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