Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant, Islington/​Camden

A densely built-up street and locality in north-west Clerkenwell

Mount Pleasant sorting office

This locality used to be known as Coldbath (or Cold Bath) Fields, from the cold baths estab­lished here in 1697 for the cure of rheum­atism, convul­sions and other nervous disorders. The street (originally a country track running down to the Fleet River) called Mount Pleasant gained its name in the 1730s after locals had begun to dump cinders and other refuse here. Wherever a place is called ‘Mount Pleasant’, the name usually has ironic origins.

Coldbath Fields were renowned for the prison that was opened here in 1794. With accom­mod­ation for 1,800 inmates, the Middlesex House of Correction was the largest British jail of its time. The essayist Leigh Hunt and his brother John were detained here in 1812, awaiting trial for libelling the Prince Regent.

The neigh­bouring fields were the site of a protest meeting in 1833 at which a policeman was stabbed to death – yet the inquest jury returned a verdict of justi­fiable homicide.

The prison closed in 1877 and ten years later the Post Office adapted its former treadmill houses for use as a parcel depot, subsequently extending opera­tions here to create the largest sorting office in Europe. The mail centre (as it is now called) was rebuilt in 1934 and extended in 1996.

An imagin­ative altern­ative vision for the future of Mount Pleasant

The building has recently been beauti­fully repainted (as shown in the photo­graph at the top) yet its long-term future is uncertain. At least part of the site is likely to succumb to redevel­opment of the kind seen at most such ‘brown­field sites’ in London nowadays – almost certainly ignoring an imagin­ative altern­ative vision published by the Legatum Institute and Create Streets.

Assuming regret­fully that it doesn’t happen here, Hidden London hopes that something like this delightful propos­ition will see the light of day elsewhere in London, though this may require an attitu­dinal sea change among skyscraper-smitten developers and the politi­cians who indulge them.

An under­ground rail service used to carry letters and parcels from Mount Pleasant mail centre to district offices to its west and east. The line extended 6½ miles (10.5 km) from Paddington to Whitechapel, originally with six (later seven) inter­me­diate stops. Owing to increased running costs and the progressive relocation of most of the sorting offices along its route, the Mail Rail service was shut down in 2003 and a fleet of vans and lorries nowadays distributes the mail instead.

The Postal Museum exists “to reveal the fascin­ating story of Britain’s postal heritage in an engaging, inter­active, educa­tional and fun way.” On 4 September 2017, the museum will reopen a very short section of the Mail Rail line as a visitor attraction. The former locomotive workshop will house a visitor centre and café, while the larger depot space has been converted into an events hall and exhib­ition space.

North of the mail centre a 400-room Holiday Inn replaced the Mount Pleasant Hotel in the 1990s. Across Farringdon Road, Exmouth Market has become a popular place to eat and drink. At the southern end of Mount Pleasant, the narrow street is crowded with tenements and council flats.

Postal districts: EC1 and WC1
Website: The Mount Pleasant Association
See also: Little Italy