Monthly Archives: June 2015

Walking The Streets On The Evening Before The 1981 Royal Wedding

A couple of weeks ago I published the photos my father took of people waiting for the Coronation in 1953. That post can be found here.

Just under 30 years later there was another royal event in central London, and on the evening before people were finding the best position along the route to watch the events of the following day.

This was the wedding of Charles and Diana that took place on the 29th July 1981 and on the evening of the 28th July I took a walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral and along Fleet Street and the Strand to take some photos.

Starting at St. Paul’s Cathedral, this is where the best positions were and large crowds had already found their place ready for an overnight stay.

I must have had a couple of photos left on some Black and White film before moving to colour.

Outside St. Paul’s Cathedral:

Royal Wedding St. Paul's

Crowds at this perfect position looking across at the steps leading into the Cathedral: Royal Wedding St. Paul'sI must have then switched to a colour film:Royal Wedding St. Paul's

Looking back up Ludgate Hill. Although this was the evening before, the road had been closed and a large number of people were just walking the route, taking in the atmosphere and watching the people who were settling in for the night along the edge of the route. It was a warm evening and I remember there being a real sense of a big event taking place the following day.

Royal Wedding Ludgate Hill

The same view today looking back up Ludgate Hill towards the cathedral. St. Martin Ludgate on the left is still there, along with many of the buildings on the right.

Ludgate Hill

Just to the right in the above photo in 1981:

Royal Wedding Ludgate Hill

Now in Ludgate Circus. This was when the railway bridge still ran across the start of Ludgate Hill.

Royal Wedding Ludgate Circus

Just to the left of the railway bridge is the Old King Lud pub, decorated for the event. This was a lovely Victorian pub, built-in 1870,

Royal Wedding Ludgate Circus

After going through some changes in the 1990s, the pub finally closed in 2005 and became yet another of London’s lost Victorian pubs. The site is now occupied by a fast food store with offices above:

Ludgate Circus

Moving up into Fleet Street. This road was still open and the pavements were busy with those walking and those waiting:

Royal Wedding Fleet Street

This was when Fleet Street was still occupied by newspaper publishers. The Express offices on the left and those of the Star on the right. I remember walking along Fleet Street and the side roads leading down to the Thames on a late Saturday afternoon / early evening and listening to the sound of the newspapers being printed and the amount of activity to get the next day’s edition distributed. All very exciting when you are young and exploring London.

Royal Wedding Fleet Street

Prepared for a night’s wait:

Royal Wedding Fleet Street

Along the side of the Royal Court’s of Justice:

Royal Wedding Law Courts

The George pub in the Strand which fortunately is still there:

Royal Wedding Strand

Most of the decorations were put up by the owners of the buildings along the route. “Official” street decoration was very limited, mainly these pennants hanging from lamp posts. Union Jacks along with red, white and blue bunting was out in abundance.

Royal Wedding Strand

One of many events that have taken this route to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but a special event for me as this was my first opportunity to get out and photograph the streets and people preparing for the following day.


Cardinal Cap Alley And No. 49 Bankside

If you visit Bankside today, by far the main attraction is the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, however I would argue that there is a far more important historical building right next door to the Globe.

The following photo was taken by my father in 1947 and shows Cardinal Cap Alley. The building on the left of the alley is No. 49 Bankside, a building that exists to this day and has somehow managed to survive the considerable rebuilding along Bankside, and whilst having a well documented history, No. 49 also pretends to be something which it is not.

Cardinal Cap Alley

In the above photo, No. 49 and Cardinal Cap Alley are between one of the many industrial buildings along Bankside (Craig & Rose, paint manufacture’s ) and a short terrace of houses that were damaged by bombing in the last war.

The following photo is my 2015 view of the same area and shows No. 49 and Cardinal Cap Alley are now in between the Globe and the rebuilt terrace of houses, which were also reduced from three down to two houses in the post war reconstruction.

Cardinal Cap Alley

Cardinal Cap Alley and No. 49 have a fascinating history that tell so much about how Bankside has changed, and also how the history of the site can be traced to what we see along Bankside today.

As a starter, the following is from the London County Council Survey of London, Volume XXII published in 1950:

“The name Cardinal’s Hat (or Cap), for a house on the site of the present No. 49 Bankside, and for the narrow alley which runs down beside it, dates from at least the time of Elizabeth and perhaps earlier. The suggestion that it was named in compliment to Cardinal Beaufort is attractive but untenable, for Beaufort died in 1447, and the original Cardinal’s Hat was not built till many years later.

The site was described in 1470 as “a void piece of ground”. It is possible that it was named after Cardinal Wolsey who was Bishop of Winchester from 1529-30, although no buildings are mentioned in a sale of the site from John Merston, fishmonger, to Thomas Tailloure, fishmonger in 1533. Stowe lists the Cardinal’s Hat as one of the Stewhouses but he may possibly have been mistaken, including it only because it was one of the more prominent inns on Bankside in his day.

It is shown in the Token Book for 1593 as in occupation of John Raven and as one of a group of houses which in the book for 1588 is described as “Mr. Broker’s Rentes”. Hugh Browker, later the owner of the Manor of Paris Garden, was in possession of ground there in 1579 and it seems likely that he was responsible for the formation of Cardinal’s Cap Alley if not for the building of the original house.

Thomas Mansfield was the tenant of the inn when Edward Alleyn dined there with the “vestrye men” of St. Saviour’s parish in December 1617.

A few years later John Taylor, the water poet makes reference to having supper with “the players” at the Cardinal’s Hat on Bankside. Milchisedeck Fritter, brewer, who tenanted the house from 1627 to 1674 issued a halfpenny token. He was assessed for seven hearths in the hearth tax rolls.

The freehold was sold by Thomas Browker to Thomas Hudson in 1667. The later died in 1688 leaving his “messuages on Bankside” to his sister Mary Greene, with reversion to his great nieces Mary and Sarah Bruce. It was at about this date that the older part of the present house was built. During the 18th century it was bought by the Sells family who both owned and occupied it until 1830. in 1841 Edward Sells of Grove Lane, Camberwell, bequeathed his freehold messauge and yard and stables, being No. 49 Bankside, then in the tenure of George Holditch, merchant, to his son, Vincent Sells. The house is now owned by Major Malcolm Munthe. It has previously been occupied by Anna Lee, the actress.”

Although today the main Bankside attraction is the adjacent Globe Theatre, what does draw the attention of visitors to Bankside is the old looking plaque on No.49 with ornate script stating that Sir Christopher Wren lived in the building during the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral and that Catherine of Aragon took shelter in the building on her arrival in London. This can be seen to the left of the doorway to No. 49 in my 2015 photo.

Sir Christopher Wren

But a close-up of the 1947 photo shows no evidence of the plaque to the left of the door and there is no mention of it in the 1950 Survey of London.

Cardinal Cap Alley

The origin of this plaque is documented in the really excellent book “The House by the Thames” by Gillian Tindall.

As the name suggests, the book is about the history of No. 49 Bankside, the occupiers of the house and the industries around Bankside. It is one of the most interesting and well researched accounts of a single house and its’ surroundings that I have read.

In the book, Tindall confirms that the plaque is a mid 20th Century invention. Malcolm Munthe, who purchased the house just after the end of the war, probably made the plaque himself and installed on the front of the house. There was a plaque on a house further up Bankside, claiming the occupancy of Wren, however this house was pulled down in 1906.

A close-up of Cardinal Cap Alley and the entrance to No. 49, showing the Wren plaque to the left of the door.

Cardinal Cap Alley

Also note that Cardinal Cap Alley is now gated. This use to be freely accessible and I took the following photo from inside the alley in the 1970s. Could not deal with the contrasting light very well, I was very young and this was with a Kodak Instamatic 126 camera – my very first.

Cardinal Cap 11

I did not take a photo looking down into the alley, probably thinking at the time it was not as good a view as across the river, however it is these views which are so important as they show, what at the time, are the day to day background of the city which are so important to record.

I am very grateful to Geraldine Moyle who sent me the following photo taken in 1973 looking down into Cardinal Cap Alley:

1973 Cardinal Cap Alley

The garden of No. 49 is on the left. Just an ordinary alley, but so typical of all the alleys that would have run back from the water front, between the houses that faced the river.

Tindall’s book runs through the whole history of No.49 and demonstrates how the history of a specific site over the past centuries has influenced the site to this day.

The occupiers of No. 49 and the adjacent buildings ran the ferry boats across the river, were lightermen and watermen and then moved into the coal trade. The Sell’s family who lived in the house for a number of generations, and who built a very successful coal trading business, finally merging with other coal trading companies to form the Charrington, Sells, Dale & Co. business which generally traded under the name of Charrington (a name that will be very familiar to anyone who can remember when there was still domestic coal distribution in the 1960s and 1970s).

How the history of Bankside has evolved over the centuries:

– the original occupations of many Bankside residents of ferrymen, lightermen and watermen. Working on the River Thames with the transportation of people and goods.

–  as the transport of coal became important to London, the development of many coal trading businesses along Bankside, including that of the Sell’s family

– the local coal trading led to the development of coal gas and electricity generation plants at Bankside (the Phoenix Gas Works are shown on the 1875 Ordnance Survey map covering the west side of the current Bankside Power Station / Tate Modern.)

– the first electricity generating plant being replaced by the Bankside Power Station that we see today and is now Tate Modern.

To quote Tindall:

“And this is why at the end of the twentieth century, a huge and distinctive brick red building was there to make an iconic focus for the regeneration of a Bankside from which industrial identity had by then fled.

Thus do patches of London’s ground, which are nothing in themselves but gravel and clay and river mud, and the ground down dust of brick and stone and bones, wood and wormwood and things thrown away, acquire through ancient incidental reasons a kind of genetic programming that persists through time”

This last paragraph sums up my interest in the history of London far better than I could put into words.

I really do recommend “The House by the Thames” by Gillian Tindall.

Going back to 1912, Sir Walter Besant writing in his “London – South of the River” describes Bankside at the height of industrialisation:

“Bankside is closely lined with foundries, engineering shops, dealers in metals, coke, fire-brick, coal, rags, iron and iron girders. the great works of the City of London Electric Lighting Corporation, which lights the city, is also here. On the river-side is a high brick building containing the coal-hoisting machinery. All is automatic; the coal is lifted, conveyed to the furnaces, fed to the fires, and the ashes brought back with hardly any attention whatever, at an immense savings of labour.”

Standing in Bankside today, the area could not be more different.

Another view of No. 49 Bankside. The street in front of these buildings is the original Bankside. As can just be seen, this comes to an abrupt stop due to the land beyond being occupied by the Bankside Power Station complex. It is perhaps surprising that N0.49 and Cardinal Cap Alley have survived this long given the considerable redevelopment along this stretch of the river. It is ironic that perhaps the false plaque claiming Sir Christopher Wren’s occupancy may have contributed to the survival of the building during the last half of the 20th century.

The Globe Bankside

My father also took a photo from Bankside across the river to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The larger ship traveling from left to right is the Firedog, owned by the Gas Light & Coke Company. Originally founded in 1812, the company had a fleet of ships to transport coal to the gas works it operated around London (this was before “natural” gas was discovered in the North Sea. Prior to this, gas was produced from coal). The Gas Light & Coke company absorbed many of the smaller companies across London before being nationalised in 1948 as a major part of North Thames Gas, which was then absorbed into British Gas.

St. Paul's Cathedral

The same view in 2015. The only building on the river front to have survived is the building on the far right.  Note the building in the middle of the 1947 photo. This is the head office of LEP (the letters can just be seen on the roof), the company that operated the last working crane on the Thames in central London, see my earlier post here. It is really good to see that the height of the buildings between the river and St. Paul’s are no higher today than they were in 1947. A very positive result of the planning controls that protect the view of the cathedral.

St. Paul's Cathedral

There is one final reminder of Bankside’s past. Walk past the Globe and on the side of a modern building with a Greek restaurant on the ground floor is the Ferryman’s Seat:

Ferryman's Seat

The plaque states;

“The Ferryman’s seat, located on previous buildings at this site was constructed for the convenience of Bankside watermen who operated ferrying services across the river. The seat’s age is unknown, but it is thought to have ancient origins.”

Although there is no firm evidence of the seat’s antiquity, the 1950 Survey of London for Bankside includes a drawing of the seat in the building on the site at the time and states that “Inserted in a modern building at the corner of Bear Gardens and Bankside is an old stone seat said to have been taken from an earlier building and to have been made for the convenience of watermen.”

Ferryman's Seat

Read Gillian Tindall’s book, then visit Bankside. Ignore the crowds around the Globe and reflect on Cardinal Cap Alley, No. 49 and the lives of countless Londoners who have lived and worked on Bankside over the centuries.


Defending The Thames – Coalhouse Fort

Coalhouse Fort on the River Thames at East Tilbury is a short distance further towards the Thames estuary from Tilbury Fort, the subject of my last post.

As with Tilbury Fort, the purpose of Coalhouse Fort was to protect London and the towns and industries along the river’s edge from any naval force that attempted to penetrate the river.

The location of Coalhouse Fort can be seen in the following map. A key location on a bend in the river enabling any attacking force to be shelled on the approach and as it rounds the bend in the river. Two forts on the opposite bank of the river at Cliffe and Shornemead would also have engaged with any attacking force and if they managed to pass through this part of the river, they would then come into the range of Tilbury Fort.

This level of defence highlights the fear that the River Thames could have provided easy access to London, and shows how well London was protected.

As with Tilbury Fort, the origins of Coalhouse Fort are with one of Henry VIII’s blockhouses, constructed in five locations along the Thames following the break with Rome and fears of invasion from Catholic Europe. Unlike Tilbury Fort, Coalhouse was not upgraded or used during the time of the Armada and it fell into disuse.

The original fort was not utilised during the time of the Dutch Admiral, de Ruyter’s incursion into the River Thames and there are local traditions that during this raid the church at East Tilbury was damaged by cannon fire from the Dutch fleet.

Due to continuing threats of war with France during the late 18th century, new fortifications were planned at East Tilbury and building work finally commenced in 1799. A semi-circular defensive structure was built which could support cannon and behind this were constructed the buildings to house supplies and barracks for those manning the fort.

No attack was forthcoming and after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the fort was again abandoned.

Ongoing tensions with France during the 19th century resulted in a plan for significant upgrades at East Tilbury. The original fort was demolished in 1861 and the new fort was constructed at a cost of £130,000.

It is this fort which is still substantially in existence today.

Unlike Tilbury Fort, Coalhouse Fort today is run by a volunteer group, the Coalhouse Fort Project who run occasional open days and are gradually restoring the fort and attempting to stop further decay.

Coalhouse Fort is found at the end of the road that passes through East Tilbury and the original site of the factory and village created by the Bata Shoe Company. (The history of Bata in East Tilbury and the factory / village Bata created is fascinating and there is a website dedicated to the history of the East Tilbury site which can be found here)

On arrival, the solid construction of the fort is clearly visible, now surrounded by landscaped parklands. The fort was constructed to be defendable from land based attack as well as to attack enemy shipping on the Thames.

Coalhouse Fort

The entrance gate to the fort:

Coalhouse Fort

Once inside the fort, the archways ringed around the river facing side of the fort can be seen, these are the gun casements, each originally housing an 11 inch gun (with some 1877 upgrades to 12.5 inch guns), with above the casements, space for a range of 9 inch guns on the roof.

These had a range of 3.1 miles with the whole fort capable of firing many rounds per minute at any attacking force coming up the Thames.

The later brickwork buildings along the top are from the 20th century.

Coalhouse Fort

The view of the fort from the roof. The Gatehouse is on the left, with the barracks for those manning the fort to the left and at the far end of the photo:

Coalhouse Fort

Underneath the gun casements are a series of tunnels and storage rooms to store and move the ammunition needed by the guns. Some of these tunnels are still accessible:

Coalhouse Fort

Storage rooms run the length of the tunnel:

Coalhouse Fort

The bright light at the end of the room is an electric light in the original lighting window. The challenge with lighting underground ammunition storage rooms was to eliminate any possibility of sparks or flames, whilst still providing sufficient light for work. The window was completely sealed of from the room, and held an oil lamp which was lit and refueled from a separate set of tunnels which provided access to these lighting windows. This approach ensured that light could be provided whilst separating the two areas and preventing any sparks or flames being exposed to the contents of the ammunition stores.

Following the initial armament of the fort, upgrades continued, including placing quick fire guns, controlled from the fort, nearer to the river to counter new threats from fast-moving torpedo boats.

Guns with increased range (7 miles) were installed and some of the earthen embankments at the front of the fort were added to improve the camouflage of the fort.

During the 1st World War, an Artillery Company along with the 2nd Company of the London Electrical Engineers moved into the fort to man the guns and the searchlights used to monitor traffic on the river.

Minefields were established in the Thames to manage the traffic flow along the river, with tugs in the river checking incoming vessels. In support of this activity, Coalhouse Fort had the role of firing a warning shot at any suspect vessel, or any vessel that refused to stop for examination.

As with Tilbury Fort, Coalhouse Fort was used as a transit and training camp for troops on their way to the battlefields of France and Belgium.

During the 2nd World War, the fort served a number of functions.

Whilst new gun batteries had been set-up closer to the sea, along with greater naval protection, Coalhouse Fort was one of many batteries along the banks of the Thames designated as anti-invasion weapons, tasked to provide protection to the ports and docks of London from any fast moving cruisers and torpedo boats that had evaded the outer defences, as well as being able to attack any mass landing of enemy troops on the flat lands of the Thames estuary or the river.

The whole area around the fort was heavily defended. Bofor anti-aircraft guns were installed on the roof along with further batteries of anti-aircraft guns and searchlights in the immediate locality. These saw a considerable amount of action during the bombing raids on London as the Thames was a perfect navigation aid providing a route direct from the coast to the docks and central London.

Parts of the roof are still accessible. A single Bofor anti-aircraft gun remains on the roof as an example of the types of weaponry used at the fort and in the locality in the defence of London.

Coalhouse Fort

The view from the roof shows why this is an ideal location for defending the river. This is the view looking downstream towards the point where the river curves to the east. The white fuel tanks are those at the Coryton site and Canvey Island. To the left of the tanks is the new DP World London Gateway Port. The latest incarnation of docks along the River Thames, gradually moving further downstream in order to support the ever-growing container ships and the volume of land needed to manage the growth in container storage and movement.

View from Coalhouse Fort

Later additions on the roof including positions for the control of searchlights and also range finder equipment:

Coalhouse Fort

There were many installations around the fort, a few of which remain. The tower in the middle of the following photo adjacent to the Thames is a 2nd World War Radar Tower which was used to control the approaches along the river and through the minefields.

View from Coalhouse Fort

During the war, the fort also had a special role in protecting shipping leaving the London docks. One of the many threats to ships leaving the Thames was the magnetic mine, capable of detonating at a distance from a passing ship without any contact and either sinking or causing considerable damage, without even being seen.

To counter the threat from magnetic mines, it was found that moving a cable with an electric current along the hull of the ship would, for a relatively short time “de-gauss” or remove the ships magnetic field sufficient to allow the ship to leave London, pass out through the Thames estuary and the Channel into open waters where magnetic mines were less of a threat.

To ensure that ships leaving London were sufficiently de-gaussed, sensors placed on the river bed, fed signals back to a monitoring station on the roof of Coalhouse Fort. Ships which still had a magnetic field capable of triggering a mine could be identified, contacted, and sent back for further attention.

One of the now empty gun emplacements on the roof:

Coalhouse Fort

The construction of the new Coalhouse Fort in 1861 was the result of a Royal Commission recommendation for a whole series of forts around the country to defend strategic rivers, ports, dockyards etc. The recommendation was supported by the Prime Minister of the time, Lord Palmerston. As well as Coalhouse Fort, many others still exist, perhaps the most dramatic being the forts built in the Solent to defend the approaches to Portsmouth and Southampton.

Solent Forts

Although sea based, these forts had exactly the same purpose as the Thames forts, to provide a platform for heavy artillery to fire on any attacking naval force.

After the last war, Coalhouse Fort was used for a short time for the training of sea cadets, and then by the British Bata Shoe Corporation for storage.

The fort is now owned by Thurrock Borough Council with the volunteer Coalhouse Fort Project taking on the task of restoration and enabling open days throughout the year.

Tilbury and Coalhouse Forts provide an example of how London has been dependent on a much wider area around London. For four hundred years Tilbury and Coalhouse Forts have played many roles in the defence of London from the risk of attack along the river and in the last century, from the air.

Details of open days at Coalhouse Fort can be found on the Coalhouse Fort Project website which can be found here.


Defending The Thames – Tilbury Fort

As well as publishing my father’s photos and tracking down their location, one of my aims with this blog is to give me a push to get out and explore more of London’s fascinating history, locations such as Tilbury Fort.

The history of London is indelibly linked with the surrounding countryside, towns and villages, and what has always interested me is how London’s influence spreads so far beyond the original walled city. Central to London is also the River Thames, without which London would not have come into existence and developed in the way that it has. The influence of the Thames is often somewhat neglected these days, frequently just a scenic backdrop to the developments alongside.

If you follow the river from central London towards the estuary there are two forts at Tilbury that have played a key role in protecting both the River Thames and London from a range of threats over the centuries.

Tilbury today is best known for the Tilbury Docks (the first major commercial docks this far east of London, opened in 1886), as a cruise terminal and with a ferry across the river to Gravesend, however Tilbury has also been the location since Tudor times of a Fort to protect the River Thames and the approaches to London.

The River Thames provided access directly to the City of London, it carried all the import and export trade to the docks, and along the banks of the river were many of the yards that constructed and equipped the countries naval and commercial shipping (for example the Woolwich Arsenal and the Deptford Dockyards).

The relative ease with which these could be attacked was highlighted in June 1667 when a Dutch fleet entered the Thames estuary and sailed up the River Medway to attack the naval shipping at Chatham, burning a number with fire ships, capturing and sailing away a number of others. After this event, the diarist John Evelyn visited Chatham and wrote “a Dreadful Spectacle as ever any Englishman saw and a dishonour to be wiped off”.

The construction of the first Tilbury Fort was a result of Henry VIII’s separation from the Church of Rome. Fearing attack from the Catholic powers of Europe, five “blockhouses” were built along the Thames at West and East Tilbury, Higham, Milton and Gravesend.  The blockhouses had artillery installed on the ground floor and the roof, aligned to provide crossfire across the Thames in conjunction with the blockhouse on the opposite side of the river.

Any attacking force moving up the river would have to pass these five blockhouses, all firing multiple artillery rounds.

Fortunately for Henry VIII, there were no attacks along the river so the blockhouses remained untested. When Mary 1 became queen in 1553, the papal supremacy was restored so the threat of invasion from Catholic Europe was lifted. The blockhouses were disarmed and left.

When Elizabeth became queen in 1558 the Tilbury blockhouse was repaired and re-armed with additional reinforcements during the threat from the Spanish Armada in 1588. The following plan from The History of the Town of Gravesend by Robert Peirce Cruden shows the site in 1588 with the blockhouse in the lower centre surrounded by embankment defences.


The site was completely rebuilt after the 1667 Dutch attack, with construction commencing in 1670 and completion in 1685 resulting in one of the most powerful forts in the country, equipped to protect the City of London, the docks and industries along the river from any attacking force that ventured up the Thames. The new Tilbury Fort also included major defences to protect the fort against any land based attack.

It is this Tilbury Fort which is still substantially in existence today.

Approaching Tilbury Fort today, walking alongside the River Thames, entrance is through the ornate Water Gate, completed around 1682. The plaque above the main entrance reads “Carolus II Rex” – Charles 2nd and there was probably a statue of the King in the niche above.

Tilbury Fort 1

The Water Gate stands out well in this 1849 painting by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield titled Wind Against Tide (source: – click on image for original link) showing the fort on the right with shipping on the river experiencing rather rough conditions.


On entering the fort, the large parade ground gives an indication of how many soldiers would have been stationed here at the height of operations. Throughout the life of Tilbury Fort, numbers were in the range of between 100 and 300.

The officers barracks are at the back of the parade ground.

Tilbury Fort 2The layout of the rebuilt Tilbury Fort and the considerable defences can be seen in this plan of the fort in an engraving from a 1725 plan from The History of the Town of Gravesend by Robert Peirce Cruden. The Water Gate is at the lower centre of the plan. Note the markings for low and high water showing that at high water the river originally came up to edge of the fort.


It is hard to get an impression of the overall scale of the fort from ground level. The following photo is from the Britain From Above website and was taken in May 1934. Tilbury Fort can be seen at the lower right of the photo. The defensive moat that runs around the fort was partially dry at the time and shows up as white. The Tilbury Docks can also been seen, along with a considerable amount of shipping in the river between Tilbury and Gravesend on the opposite shore.

EPW044217As well as defending the river, Tilbury was also a mustering point for soldiers from London.

In March 1587, Queen Elizabeth 1st requested the City to provide a force of 10,000 men, fully armed and equipped. The following table lists the numbers of men from each individual ward:

Farringdon Ward Within 807 Broad Street 373
Bassishaw 177 Bridge Ward Within 383
Bread Street 386 Castle Baynard 551
Dowgate 384 Queenhithe 404
Lime Street 99 Tower Street 444
Farringdon Without 1264 Walbrook 290
Aldgate Ward 347 Vintry 364
Billingsate 365 Portsoken 243
Aldersgate 232 Candlewick 215
Cornhill 191 Cripplegate 925
Cheap 358 Bishopsgate 326
Cordwainer 301
Langbourne 349
Coleman Street Ward 229 Total 10007

These numbers give some idea of the population density of each of the wards, The Earl of Leicester was in command at Tilbury and received 1000 of the London force, only on the condition that they brought their own provisions.

The description of their arrival at Tilbury gives the impression of  London men being dressed for show, rather than for work and fighting:

“The London men wore a uniform of white with white caps and the City arms in scarlet on back and front. Some marched in companies according to their arms. Their officers rode beside the men dressed in black velvet. They were preceded by billmen, by a company of whifflers (trumpeters) and in the midst marched six Ensigns in white satin faced with black sarsenet and rich scarves The dress of the officers and men was just as useless and unfit for continued work as could well be devised. It is melancholy to find that the Earl of Leicester who was in command at Tilbury held a very poor opinion of the London men.”

It was also at West Tilbury that Elizabeth 1st met the Earl of Leicester on the 8th August 1588 and the following day addressed the troops with the speech:

“And therefore I come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even the dust. I know I have the body of a week and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too; and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realms; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms.”

Although there are a number of different versions of this speech, the evidence appears to be strong that Tilbury was the location where Elizabeth 1st addressed her troops at the time of the Armada.

For those stationed at Tilbury Fort, it must have seemed a remote and barren location. Today, the fort is surrounded by docks and a power station, but up to the building of the docks the area was mainly barren, flat land. To get an idea, the following photo from 1938 is also from Britain From Above and shows the fort in the bottom right hand corner with only a water treatment works before flat fields stretch into the distance. Much of this is now occupied by Tilbury Power Station.


At the far end of the parade ground are the officers barracks. These were originally built in 1685, rebuilt in 1772 with further modifications during the 19th century. These barracks would have been used by the senior officers along with their families. Unfortunately the solders barracks were demolished in the early 1950s. They also faced onto the parade ground.

Tilbury Fort 3

There is an interesting connection between Tilbury and Greenwich. When Charles II approved the construction of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the King allowed £500 towards the new building, together with a supply of bricks from Tilbury Fort, where there was a spare stock, so some of the fabric of both locations is from the same stock of bricks.

As well as acting as a mustering points for troops, the main function of the fort was to protect the river.

Tilbury is the point in the Thames where the river starts to narrow on the approach to London, so it is an ideal location to site guns to fire at any invading ships attempting to move up river. Gun emplacements are arranged along the fort providing firing points looking across the river with Gravesend in the background:

Tilbury Fort 8

Shipping still passes Tilbury Fort, but of a very different type from when the fort was in use:

Tilbury Fort 9

The fort also stored a considerable amount of gunpowder and munitions, both for use in the fort and as a general reserve for the army. Two magazines held large quantities of gunpowder. These are the only powder magazines to remain in Britain from the early 18th Century. Very strong, with a large blast wall around the perimeter.

Tilbury Fort 10

As well as gunpowder, munitions were stored in tunnels constructed under the earthworks. One of the tunnels leading to storage rooms for artillery shells and other munitions:

Tilbury Fort 6

One of the storage rooms leading off the tunnel:

Tilbury Fort 7During the 18th and early 19th centuries there was the occasional threat of an attack on London via the river, although the majority of wars were being fought on the continent or at sea.

Tilbury Fort was permanently manned with numbers being ramped up or down dependent on the perceived threat level. The troops at the fort were also responsible for defending the fort and surrounding area from any land based attack. The fort was very well protected from land based attack with a series of moats and land defences. To the rear of the fort, a reconstructed bridge leads across to one of the island defensive locations, then on to the flat lands north of the river.

Tilbury Fort 4

Soon after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-6 Tilbury Fort was used as a prison for survivors of the rebellion whilst they waited for trial in London. Off 303 that sailed from Inverness, 268 survived to Tilbury. They were imprisoned in the gunpowder magazines in such dreadful conditions that a further 50 died. After trial in London in 1747 they were either executed or transported to Barbados and Antigua to work on the sugar plantations as slave labourers.

Another view inside the fort. The Water Gate is on the left with the guard-house and chapel on the right:

Tilbury Fort 5

The gunpowder held at the fort was used for many purposes. In May 1838 the Brigg, William had been run down by a steamer opposite the fort and was causing an obstruction in the river. The people of Gravesend petitioned the Government to have it removed and a party of sappers and miners led by a Colonel Paisley arrived to sink a large amount of powder under the wreck by means of a diving bell. A special fused pipe led to the surface allowing the fuse to be lit from the surface and the sappers to get back to shore in time. There was an “awful explosion” with “waters rising mountains high followed by clouds of black coal and pieces of wreck”.

Tilbury Fort continued in use throughout the 19th century with occasional upgrades as technology provided new and more efficient guns and threats changed, however by the start of the 20th century naval technology had increased so much that large shore forts along the river had become obsolete and naval protection of the Thames was considered a more effective form of defence.

The fort continued to be used for storage and also as a transit centre for troops, a key role during the 1st World War, given the adjacent port of Tilbury.

During the 2nd World War, the fort had a brief role as an anti-aircraft operations centre, controlling the fire from guns along the river.

Tilbury Fort finally ceased any military role in 1950 when it was transferred into the Ministry of Works as a historic monument and the fort is now in the care of English heritage.

2nd June 1953 – Coronation Day In London

The 2nd of June 1953 was Coronation Day in London and a public holiday. As usual for such an event, people started lining the route between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey well before the procession to ensure a good position to see the new Queen.

The weather during the previous May had been excellent with lots of warm, sunny weather broken only by the occasional thunderstorm. This weather broke by the end of May, for the last week of May and the rest of June the country was under many low pressure areas moving from the Atlantic bringing cold temperatures for June and rain.

My father took a number of photos of people as they lined the route, along The Mall and round into Trafalgar Square.

These show people wrapped up for the weather and rather more formally dressed than you would find at such an event today.

This photo was taken in The Mall. They look well prepared for the wait. The man is obviously not interested in people watching, he looks engrossed in his book. The group in the background also seem very well prepared judging by the number of boxes they have.

Coronation 1

Sleeping in The Mall:

Coronation 2

Again in The Mall and the crowds are growing. In the top left is the faint outline of one of the arched decorations that spanned The Mall:

Coronation 3

A wider view of a very busy Mall.

Coronation 7

The morning of the 2nd of June was more like an autumn day with rain showers and temperatures reaching only 12 degrees centigrade. Very low for early June.

This is Trafalgar Square. On the left is one of the commentary boxes set-up along the route. This was the first Coronation to be televised.

Coronation 4

Photo of the small group of people on the lion. Not sure how long the man on the far left was going to balance in that precarious position:

Coronation 5

Another view of the same scene:

Coronation 6

These two look cheerful despite the long wait and the weather:

Coronation 8

The newspaper between them was the Daily Mirror from the 29th May. The headline “The Shame Of Piccadilly” and “The rich street forgets” refers to the complete lack of decoration in Piccadilly for the Coronation. There are two photos on the page. The top photo shows Piccadilly without any decoration, the bottom photo shows, what is assumed to be an ordinary working class street decorated with flags and bunting and a Long Live The Queen banner stretched across the road. (I also have a series of photos taken in Hoxton showing the street decorations – a subject for a future post)

Coronation 10

Another group reading and watching the world go by:

Coronation 9

Some of the elaborate decorations that lined the Coronation route:

Coronation 11Coronation 12Coronation 13The expectation at the time was of a new Elizabethan era with comparisons back to Queen Elizabeth 1st as shown by the following tableau along the route of the procession. The text on the left is abbreviated from a speech given by Queen Elizabeth 1st to the Houses of Parliament on April 10th 1593 (1558 was the year that Elizabeth 1st became Queen) and that on the right from Queen Elizabeth 2nd from her first Christmas broadcast in 1952. Coronation 14

For those lining the route of the procession, I suspect that despite the weather, it was an event that was well worth the wait and long remembered.