“Belle Isle” (the name is ironic!) refers to an area to the east of York Way (previously known as Maiden Lane – see maps below) as it crosses Brewery Road, which throughout the 19th century was notorious for the noxious industries and trades which were carried on there. It is relevant to our history in two ways. Firstly, it seems reasonable to assume that a number of the residents of the Cloudesley Estate were employed there, and the Occupations revealed in the records tend to confirm this. Secondly, the toxic presence of Belle Isle has been cited as a major reason for the decline in the area, particularly west of Caledonian Road, as those who could afford it fled to more salubrious and sweeter-smelling localities further North.

Belle Isle Map LargeBelle Isle Map 1830












The following extracts from the highly entertaining “In Strange Company”, by James Greenwood, 1874gives a flavour of the place:

“The spot that holds the horse slaughter houses is modestly called "The Vale;" the first turning beyond is, with goblin like humour, designated "Pleasant Grove." It is hardly too much to say, that almost every trade banished from the haunts of men, on account of the villanous smells and the dangerous atmosphere which it engenders is represented in Pleasant Grove. There are bone boilers, fat-melters, "chemical works," firework makers, lucifer-match factories, and several most extensive and flourishing dust yards, where - at this delightful season so excellent for ripening corn - scores of women and young girls find employment in sifting the refuse of dust-bins, standing knee-high in what they sift.”

Greenwood also describes the "London Necropolis Company" where bodies were stored before being transported by rail to out of town cemeteries!  Just across York Way is Agar Town, known locally as "Ague Town" or "the worst slum in London", now the fairly pleasant looking Elm Village estate.


Agar TownLondon Necropolis








 According to British History Onlinethe enterprises located at Belle Isle include the following:

Tilekilns (Adams, later Tylor’s)
Coach and Cart Grease Factory (Warner’s)
Chemical Laboratory (Margett’s)
Varnish Factory (Wallis & Sons, also Schweizer’s, Turner’s and others
Soap-Boiling (Adams again)
Enamel Black and Japanning
Blood Manure (Fretwell’s)
Fat Melting
Gut-Scraping (Sausage Skins)
Condemned Meat Processing

Many of these trades were associated with the many slaughterhouses located in Belle Isle or nearby, of which the most important belonged to John Atchelor. According to one account:

Jack Atchelor

“The Granddaddy of London horse slaughterers was Jack Atcheler. He held the royal warrant and, as 'Knacker to the Queen' and something of a sporting man, he was a minor mid-Victorian celebrity... A sign on the wall outside Atcheler's office at 186, York Road read:

John Atcheler

Horse Slaughterer To Her Majesty
Horse Grease Harness Oils
Patent Grease For Axles
Orders Promptly Attended To
Commit No Nuisance"

As time went on the factories at Belle Isle appear to have become a little more respectable. By 1970, Adams’ tilekilns had been taken over by John Tylor & Sons, an instrument manufacturer. Tylor built a large tower for delivering constant water pressures to test the instruments. The firm also appears to have expanded into engine manufacturing (see image). Later on the works was taken over by a plastic manufacturer which emblazoned it with the logo “Ebonite” and as such it remained a conspicuous landmark until 1983 when it was demolished. For a more detailed account see here, page 10.

Tylor Ebonite Tower 2Tylor Engine











Recently. I visited present-day Belle Isle as part of a self-guided walk - "Wrong Side of the Tracks" - starting in King's Cross.  There are few remaining signs of past glories but the area is still a hive of entrepreneurial activity, with small factories, workshops and a host of design studios and small media firms in extremely smart offices.  How times change!

Old Warehouse